Winter in Qingdao is like the inside of an empty freezer. It's bare, it's boring, it's cold. Once in awhile you'll find a rare gem like that bag of Heath Bars you threw in to save from the melt of summer (unless your husband unknowingly downs the precious, irreplaceable stash for a late night snack). It can show up as a colorful new scarf that doesn't have any weird flowers crocheted on it. Or, a bag of chai tea given by a good friend who knows just how much you love it. Today, it came in the form of a warm coat I found and bought for my son and hoped it meant less tears tomorrow morning when he trudges off to school.
This morning I headed off to the grocery store, on my own this time because of the severe cold. I brought my camera with me, hoping to catch a few simple, bare winter shots of the city since I had no other hands holding mine. I wasn't able to take many, or find too much that grabbed my attention. But I did find that I was looking around a little more, taking time to notice people when often I am hampered by other things
The result of all this "noticing" was that I spent the rest of the day pondering what in the world I was really doing in China, wondering if what I spend my time doing is worthwhile, if I should be doing more with different types of people, if my pursuits and desires are misguided, and on and on it goes. Part of this is because being in China is the result of following a long desired and prayed for dream that started with my husband. We came here knowing we weren't going to change the world, but believing this was the place we were being Planted for the time-being. What to do but continue to learn to love our neighbors, do our daily tasks as faithfully as we can, and worship our Creator in everything we do. Sounds great. But then, on a cold winter day I head out my front door...
First stop, the fruit and vegetable stand at our front gate. The woman who mans it is a young mother whose 3 year old son is sometimes with her, playing in and amongst the baskets and crates of food, or most often is at school or with his grandmother. She is friendly and loves to talk about your skin, your health, what combinations of vegetables to eat for every malady, and of course how warmly your kids are dressed. We began talking, which quickly digressed into a mess of misunderstanding and embarrassment on my part. It kind of went as follows:
Her: "No children today?"
Me: "No, it's too cold."
Her: "The mandarins are really good today"
Me: "I know! The ones I bought yesterday were so yummy. My kids ate them all!"
Her: "no, those aren't good ones. these other one's are better. They're bigger and fresher."
Me: "Oh, I liked those because they were really sugar (meant to say "sweet")"
Her: (pauses, probably wondering what kind of fruit eaters we are anyway)
Are your feet cold?
Me: These eggplants?
Her: No, your feet, Are your feet cold?
Me: These vegetables (what the heck are these anyway)?
Her: No, your FEETMe: my FEET, oh... no, those aren't cold. are yours?
Her: Yes, it's very cold.
Me: My friend told me she talked with you the other day and you guys talked about Jesus and she started crying (this probably sounds as crude as I said it b/c my language ability is so simple)
Her: Oh yes, we were both crying! I was not feeling well that day. You are friends with her?
Me: Yes, she is a very good person, very good friend.
At this point we digress into a long conversation about what to wash your vegetables with wherein she tries to tell me about a friend she has who uses a special solution that is, of course, VERY GOOD and she tries to tell me when her friend is stopping by if I want to check it out... the language gets so mixed up at several points that at the end she says...
Her: So, your friend said she knows someone who is able to speak very good Chinese. That friend isn't you, is it.
Me: No... no. No, no. That friend is not me.
In China, everything is about guanxi, or "relationship." I know this and so my stumbly, rocky attempts at building relationships with anyone who doesn't speak English here are pretty discouraging. Sometimes I tell myself it doesn't matter. Maybe in 5 years, or 10 or 20 when I'm ready to leave or something I'll be able to speak the language well enough to really get to know someone. Sometimes I think that I'm doing what I can with what I've been given: the people and English-speaking neighbors around me. But, at other times, like today, I just wonder what in the world I'm doing or trying to do here at all.
Then I come home, to my warm home and healthy children, and wonder what I should be doing differently, since I have so much abundance? What kind of things do you do... radical or otherwise, to be part of God's redemptive balm on this world? Are any of them enough or do we just always feel like they aren't until He makes it all new?
I want to be thankful, but generous to overflowing; busy at home, but opening it and pouring out of it to others; "balanced" but ready to be out-of-balance if faith calls for extreme action (I'm thinking time or resource-wise here not bombing clinics or anything).
May your wintry days bring you pondering thoughts in this New Year...