In China there is no real grocery cart etiquette. It's kind of a free-for-all as far as lanes and traffic flow and right of way go. Much like the driving. The plus side of this is that people don't really seem to mind if you bump them with your cart or shove your way through a tightly packed aisle, nipping ankles and sideswiping bags and hips as you go. No one glares at you or curses your existence or voices disapproval. They understand (and you are expected to understand as well) that this is part of the game, the nature of the beast that is a country teeming with over a billion people and millions of them pouring into the cities each day. That, or they have more of a communal mindset than we westerners and sort of meld and morph as a group, even in the yogurt aisle.
As I gazed over the sea of ebony hair and felt my shining, towering awkwardness, I had a sudden glimpse back to those first few trips to this very place a few years ago. The smells were so strong; pungent, like a smoky, musky spice with a twist of fishiness. I even felt like I could smell their breath. Do westerners have distinct breath odor as well and I am just so used to the scent that it passes by me unnoticed? I could remember too, the foreignness of the food and how nothing looked even vaguely familiar or eatable to me. I think I bought saltines, and maybe some orange juice on that first trip. We were prepared for an onslaught of the flu but not dinner seven nights a week.
Things have changed so much since those opening days, when I was often found staring bewildered at the rows of dried shrimp and bins of frozen jiaozi. As I felt that twinge of reverie today, remembering how the crowds and the smells would get to me so quickly, I was struck by how normal in some ways it has become to me now. I can take the bumping and smushing and not leave weeping. I can stand in the vegetable weighing line and not get completely angry at the lack of queuing or the woman pushing her celery in front of my apples. I can possibly even, tak over the world.
It was good to think on those first days and to start remembering that I was brought here. I have been placed here and I have been helped here. I have not been alone here. I have so much to be thankful for, but not because I can somehow whip up all these great circumstances and start listing the positive things in my life. I can think of many positive things, but that is not what brings about a true heart of thanksgiving.
Do you know Corrie? Her story is not just inspirational, it is actually unbelievable, except that God laid his hands on her as well. One night in the dark belly of a concentration camp, Corrie and her sweet sister Betsie discover there is lice in their soiled mattresses. Corrie is nearly ready to curse it all but Betsie humbly submits that they ought to thank God for the lice. It's nearly the last straw for Corrie. How can they thank God for this. Later, you find that there was in fact a saving grace in the presence of the lice. But sometimes, we don't always find those reasons out. And so I have been thinking about how I drum up thanksgiving throughout my days, and how often it is trying to think about all the positive things I like that I can thank God for. When, really, that just leads me down a path of circumstantial joy. So if and when I have nothing but lice, how how do I lift my face up to mouth a grateful "thank you!" then?
My taxi ride home from the grocery store was shrouded in, you guessed it, another foggy day. It's the landscape of spring here and I grind my head against the concrete trying to accept it. The fog is here, and not a rolling landscape of tree covered hills and pleasant farms. Can I give thanks for the fog? I thought of all that I have here and do not have here, and was struck by what we always know is true but don't always really know... that it is all from him. Do I not thank him for his goodness? Do I not thank him because he is over all these things that are in my life, overseeing and directing, and yet not always able to disclose all the reasons why? I have been brought here by Him and so I can be thankful. I have been helped here by Him so I can be thankful. He is here so I can be thankful. He is in the fog and the crowds, so I can lift up my face and mouth a grateful "thank you!" with all my heart.
My friend told me today that the baby growing inside her may be touched with Down's Syndrome. My immediate reaction was to comfort, to grieve, to try to lift her up with all the "good" that could come from that, if it were the case. But my power of positive thinking fell flat to my own ears. Instead, perhaps the slightly less positive but slightly more robust truth of God's promise that he is good, and his love endures forever. That He plans all things according to his purposes which we can trust with every fiber of our being, that he carries us in our sorrows and is acquainted with our grief, but that we will not always grieve. That we can cast our burdens on him because he really does care and is able to take care of us.
I liked what she wrote about thanksgiving being a sacrifice. And there you have it. Sometimes it is not just the mango shakes and new clothing stores that should bring us to our knees with hands lifted up. And when we look deeper as we struggle to wrench our sacrifice deep from the linty depths of our pockets, and we lay it out there on the altar of praise to be given up and given over, a heart of true thanksgiving is born.