Last night, our Chinese friend and her husband came over for dinner. They have been married only a few months, and are both in their mid thirties. I know my friend really wants to have a baby. She tells me her husband wants to wait, and is unsure of the disruption and trouble a baby will cause. But I think she feels her biological clock ticking, and is anxious about her one chance to bring a child of her own into the world.
To sit and talk with a Chinese couple about marriage and family life is to be opened into a world vastly different from our own. To have a baby is to provide a child for the grandparents to raise. Your chance comes when you have your own grandchildren. A man's commitment is to his mother first, and then his wife. A wife must please her mother in law. Often the ratio is six adults to one child (one set of parents, two sets of grandparents).
So there we sat, with our four children... and zero grandparents within 10,000 miles. Our chinese friend is used to this, seeing me and the children running in and out of the Man's office on and off throughout the day. But her husband has rarely seen the entire crew in action. His eyes seemed big as saucers as he watched us pull dinner together. Plates flying, silverware getting handed out by a three year old, the Man holding the baby while I fished plates of food from the kitchen. I was proud of the relative smoothness we were able to pull off, but I still think it came off as One Giant Table of Chaos to him.
I'm not sure we helped them towards any decisions about having children.
There were more people for dinner tonight. A different group, with different needs. We had soup and bread and sat around telling stories about our most epic cockroach battles.
I feel energized in a way when these evenings are over. I feel good and thankful that we can do something as simple as make a meal, and open our small home with cramped seating, and somehow, hopefully, bring a small bit of peace and the feeling of being cared for into someone's life.
I must mention the Baby again because even though you may be rolling your eyes at me, I am just so thankful for him. I know it helps that he coos and giggles and always, always smiles at me, because if he didn't, surely I would be singing a different tune right now. But the fact is that I wasn't quite sure we could handle a fourth, or that we should be having one, and now that he is here I feel like I never enjoyed any of my babies the way I enjoy him. I could sit on the floor and just talk and play with him for hours. And sometimes I do just that. I didn't know I had it in me, to be honest.
I often look around here, at the roads hanging heavy with fog and the moisture sitting low in the air, or on a sunny day like today, the blue skies and glistening rooftops that stretch for miles and end in a row of apartment sky-rises, and I think on how all this looked to me just one year ago. I don't know that you can pray for joy and expect that it will be delivered, like something that is outside of your control and must be handed over to you. Do you have control in some way over the joy in your own heart? I'm sure there are many answers to this.
I know I have prayed for joy. And I feel it more often now than I used to. This is likely due to a large maze of events and reasons and dynamics that I don't feel the need to try to decipher or sound like an authority on. Others can say it better. I remember one... surprised by joy. I like that because true joy is not something that can either be either conjured up or dismissed if it is really given. Joy is perhaps one of the signs that this world with all its mishaps and brokenness, is really not all there is.