Wednesday, August 28, 2013

land lady

Today my landlady came over to remove *most* of her furniture from the upstairs rooftop. She is somewhat of a mystery to me. Beautiful, with strong, balanced features and long, jet black hair that she usually wears down but today with all the stair climbing and directing movers, she had it pulled up in a knot-twisty thing.

She is nice to me, but you can see there is an edge to her just underneath the surface, so that if I ask a question she feels will put her in a bad position, or if she senses I am trying to get something out of her, she sort of bristles. It's unnerving. I also see the way she handles other people and I know she is one of those infamous "Landladies of Chengdu"types. They are known for being hard to work with. These kind of observations make any meeting with my landlady opportunities for an overall sense of nervousness and anxiety. I pace the floor all morning, mulling over the questions I need to address with her and the issues I am hoping to resolve... how best to approach her? And then I throw it all out the window when I realize I only know about five words to even try to get my point across. And then I just pray a lot and hope for the best.

In recent days, I keep coming back to this phrase:
In the morning you hear my voice, In the morning I prepare a sacrifice for you and watch. ˜Psalm 5:3
It has been a sort of watchword for each day. All three themes are so important:

  • He is near, and he hears. 
  • I have something to give, and it often costs me. 
  • The cost is worth it. If I watch and wait- He always has something He is doing. 
Maybe it seems a stretch to think of a meeting with a landlady as a sacrifice, but for me one kind of sacrifice is each and every one of these "stressor"situations that exacts something from me or causes me to have to lay down my desires on the line, knowing they may not be fulfilled as I wish. There has to be some measure of trust in every one of those moments, believing that the times are not in your hand, but the Hand that holds them is working for your good. Or that what may be asked of you in a single day does yield some sort of fruit if you do it unto Him, even if it is not evident in that span of time that you labored.

All that pretty hair, I wonder what sort of soul lies beneath it. Perhaps there will be a day when it won't be such a mystery, nor a means for a day of prayers.


Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Our New Home

Let me take some time today to talk about our most recent home. It's pretty amazing. It might get a little long here.

My expectation when we first moved to China was for pretty simple and even bare conditions, all based on what my husband told me of his situation back when he taught in Nanjing during his college days. I was thinking; concrete walls, exposed piping, one room apartment kind of thing. So I was more than overjoyed and surprised at how nice and somewhat normal the first place felt when we walked in six years ago, even if it was overdone according to my sparse American taste, with crystal chandeliers in every room and glossy wood built-ins everywhere you looked. At least it had several rooms and no exposed piping.

Living as a foreigner in China for the most part means a fair bit of transience when it comes to your home, which is typically an apartment of some kind. The reason for this is that, with few exceptions, most foreigners have to rent, not buy their apartments, and are therefore subject to the whims of each individual landlord (as apartments are owned individually much like condominiums) such as leases not being renewed, landlords selling the place or deciding to move in themselves, and of course the transience of the foreigner themselves who may decide they need to change location, or find a better place, a better rental price, etc.

In the past six years we have lived in three different apartments, and this one we just moved into is now the fourth. This latest move was because our school building is changing location and we were too far away for the commute in our old apartment. So before heading back to the States this summer, we had to find a place and then move our stuff in, three days before boarding the plane.

The place we had found was a true answer to my many little prayers, as over the last six months, I somewhat feebly and not very boldly asked for things I knew I didn't deserve or need but thought could make all the difference in helping our family thrive in this country. I asked for space; for four bedrooms, or at least more square footage (not easy to find in our price range, or sometimes at all. New construction in China is on the small side). I asked for light. Light is important when I am home most of the day and the skies here are often on the gray side. In many ways, I think light just makes everything in the world better. I asked for (and here I closed my eyes and squinted, sort of wincing out the request) the crazy extra bonus of in some way being able to garden, which meant a first floor or a rooftop.

After many tiring weeks of searching for new housing for our entire staff (I was on the housing committee for this task) and not seeing anything that would work without a lot of gulping and probably crying in the closet on my part, I went one day to see a place with some friends who had given me a lead. It was on the seventh floor, with no elevator. It was a rooftop, and it was huge. Four bedrooms, lots of light, an upstairs with a large room (like a basement for kids but on top, I thought!) and a garden/patio area. It was within our price range.  And it was completely trashed.

Josh and I decided it was worth the extra work and money to us to take this fixer upper on, and we planned to sign a four year lease on the place that week. At the contract signing with the landlord, our company GM and maintenance guy came along to do inspections. They found significant water damage coming from the rooftop area and showing in the apartment below. After much discussion with the landlord and among ourselves, our GM made the hard call not to rent the place if the landlord would not agree to fix the roof leak. She refused. We walked away.

I was pretty devastated. It was desperately hard for me to let go of what I had thought was such an answer to my unreasonable prayers, what I thought was purely a gift from God. I had told our kids about it as we left for the signing. They were beyond excited at this provision. So WHY, I cried out, did I have to even see this place at all, if it was not going to work out in the end? Why was that necessary?

For some reason I had been re-listening every morning to my good old friend, Elisabeth Elliot, who I have read off and on through the years but had not picked up in quite some time. She can have a hard message, or a stringent one at least to our modern ears. But I wonder if when your soul is most needy, it is only the real food, the good stuff, even if hard at first, that really nourishes and sustains you. Her message for me was, Trust. And in a thousand ways over those few days I had to work through that. I DO trust Him. He is certainly trustWORTHY. Why do I think when things go awry or look so wrong to me from this end that this means He is messing up. Of course it does not mean that. But it does mean that the trust I have to offer is that much more costly. It definitely cost me something this time to trust him. I had to offer that house, that house that wasn't even mine, right up there on the altar and watch it burn. It's just a house, I know. But the provision of it, and the house itself had meant so much to me. I let it burn, and trusted that God was making something infinitely more beautiful out of me in this process than if I had that house in hand. I felt silly comparing myself to Abraham, but at the same time I was so thankful for Abraham being there, with his Isaac on the altar story. Maybe a million times in my life or more, there will be big Isaacs and little Isaacs, and they all get given to the same God. He always provides.

A couple weeks later, I got a phone call from the GM. The landlord had called back. She said if she fixed the roof, would we still be interested in renting? There it was. The ending I thought would never happen. He gave me back my Isaac. I couldn't believe it. This house, with all it's neediness, was nothing short of a provision from the hand of God. And that is how we saw it and see it still. It's a great story for the faith of my kids. And I think better even as they had the opportunity to walk with me through the initial disappointment, the choice to trust, and the wonderful ending at last.

So it's true that this place needed and still needs a ton of work. But for now, let me tell you the things I love about it.

  • For the first time in six years I do not have a bathroom where the toilet is located in the shower. I think about this every day and am thankful for the separation of these two activities. Shower, and toilet. To each his own. 
  • I have four bedrooms. My parents did not even have a four bedroom house when they were raising their four kids, and I have seen other large families here cram into small spaces and make it work. This place with its rooms and the square footage is nothing short of a massive gift of space. I look at it every day and breathe a prayer of thanks. 
  • The light is everywhere, in every room. I don't have to leave lamps on during the day. They all stay off, and the light just blows me kisses.
  • The kitchen is huge. It has an arched window, an arched window!
  • It has a separate place for laundry. No laundry in the bathroom. No laundry in the kitchen. It's on a porch off my bedroom, tucked in its own corner. This, I love.
  • It has a rooftop. It's moldy, and the garden is in disrepair. It will need a ton of toil and labor and probably tears as it takes me longer than I want to get it together. But it's there. And I never ever thought I would have something like it.
That is all. That is my House Story. I love it and still think about it, and remind myself of it when other things about it are hard. There is so much overwhelming good to be thankful for and I truly feel like it is the most undeserved of gifts. 

And pictures, you ask? Well, I'll just have to try to pull some together here and post them next time.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Jitters and Joy

{first day of school}

They left me this morning, full of jitters and excitement. I was excited too, even though there is always a part of me that nags about how I should be doing more of their education myself instead of sending them off to an institution. I can listen to the nagging and feel bad about it, but in the end I have to come back to the fact that this is where we believe we need to be right now. And here and now that means kids in school. So, that's it. It wasn't entirely my idea and it's not always entirely my agenda but there is a measure of peace that comes from knowing it's not all in my hands.

And as soon as I get over that nagging feeling, I actually rejoice. This woman, in this place and at this time needs some space to get things done and to be able to breeathe.  So thank you to each one of you wonderful teachers who has put in time and thought and precious energy into planning lessons, thinking through curriculum, putting up inviting and stimulating classroom decor, and practicing patience and dedication to the end of helping my kids to grow as learners, individuals, citizens, friends, readers, children of God, and followers of Jesus. I see you as nothing short of God's loving and gracious provision. I am also hoping for lots of college scholarships so let's get crackin'.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

In the Last 6 months

For the first time in what feels like a long time, I made something with my daughter, and enjoyed every flour filled, hand licking moment from beginning to end and all the parts in between.

It has been a long six months since I last sat down to write. The days have been full, for both body and brain, and sometimes the end of one day and the start of the next seemed to lose their boundaries. I have often felt like even though I was getting food on the table, and the house was clean, and everyone had clothes in their drawers, that my ends were fraying and I had little to offer that was good and decent and nurturing.

In the last six months we moved houses again, though not cities, we wrapped up a hectic and trying school year, and then we went home to the States for a few weeks and saw family and friends not seen in 2 years.

Last week, we arrived back in China, to unpack in our new apartment that we are oh so grateful for, and to re-acquaint ourselves with a new neighborhood and all the quirks that this new place seems to be anxious to offer. The first few nights we were without power, our freezer full of meat had rotted over the summer, and the Man had to head straight back to work while I faced a mountain of unpacked boxes, unpacked luggage, and four little sweaty kids wanting food and play and (preferably) a mother who was not irritable.

The overwhelming flood of thankfulness I feel for this new, bigger, more accommodating space for our family (a true provision that came about in a very God-given way) has been tempered by a struggle to work through all the troubles that have splayed across our path since arriving. This summer a friend mentioned that sometimes it is good to know specifically what you are offering up to God as a sacrifice, rather than just thinking of life in general as sacrificial unto him. We are not martyrs. We are living sacrifices... not just to burn and char, but to become a beautiful, pleasing aroma.

The daily battle I face with attitude and understanding and strength to do the next thing is also tempered by the grace I see in so many little things. I ask for help, and he gives it: The afternoon of baking and cooking with my daughter, where I freely engaged and enjoyed her immensely and she found me teaching and guiding her and not scolding or shoving aside, the pleasure of well-behaved boys playing with a friend all day when his mother was in need of a sitter, the calm hand of a gentle and guiding husband even when we are faced together with so much that seems beyond us, the Daily Words that comfort and guide me when my heart so easily runs to other thoughts and ways that are not His.

I'm trying I tell you! I think writing about bits and pieces of it here always helps me and so I'm trying again.

Here's to hoping for another six months.