Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Chinese New Year :: This Is the Way

We just finished two weeks of rest together at home with no work, and no school, thanks to the Chinese New Year holiday that takes over the land. For many foreigners living in China, this holiday means jetting somewhere warm and far away from the cold, the billions-of-people-trying-to-get-back-to their families-migration, and the shut down of stores and conveniences all over the country. We dream of maybe doing something warm and wonderful someday too... but for the last 7 years, we have stayed put, and it has been one of the best building blocks of a life loved here in China. Here's why:

1. We have built traditions, built because they are not natural to us or our heritage, but over time spent in country and with our Chinese friends, they have become a special time of the year for us. Making jiaozi is a Chinese New Year family tradition and we love to get together with friends to master the art of securing little meat filled dumplings and then cooking them together for a grand feast. Our entire family adores this meal and we like to keep track of who has the best jiaozi making skills.

2. It's a unique time to spend with our local friends, meeting their families and being invited into their lives. We get to see them in their element, learn about their family dynamics- the good and the bad, the unique strengths and burdensome pressures.

This is my friend and her grandma. She loves to tell stories about the old days. Her life spans 7 children, and a history in China unlike any other generation. 

3. Our children get to see and practice the art of seeing a whole different way of living. 

We were brought with our friend's family to visit a local Buddhist temple. For our hosts it was more about social prestige (in knowing the head monk) and cultural affiliation. For us, it was deeply spiritual as we felt the weight of the beliefs so sunk in the hearts and minds of the place and people who were there. I prayed much of the time I was there. I grieved for anyone bound to a life where hope is tied to a god that is approached through karma and spells, through incense and offerings, none of which you can be sure are heard, or that even if they are heard are not offset by something done in your past life. I sat with the monk, and asked about his life, and the meaning of the bracelet he gave me. He does not like his life. I told him who I know, and that with Him there is a relationship that is real. I left feeling heavy with all those unheard prayers, and the man's life who for all its sacrifice can earn him nothing. I know a Man who lived the sacrifice for you! I still think of that monk.

4. We get to travel in the People's Way. At least I like to call it that. We love to take trains in China. It's an experience, and a good one. It's slow, and crowded, and full of interesting, regular old people of every shape and color of life. Our girl always, always finds some kind of friend she can talk to. And for a few dollars we get to experience the "thrill" of going somewhere, of window gazing, and of building our own store of family memories made of moments that can only happen on a slow train in China.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Bullet Point Thoughts :: Rats and Breakfast, Facebook and Puritans.

  • There has been a rat in our house. He is pretty brazen; thinks he owns the place. One morning when my eyes were still a little blurry before the coffee had done its magic, it skittered across the counter top and jumped off, then ran right under my feet and into the living room. Needless to say, we are all pretty much skeeved out and determined for this rat to never ever EVER AGAIN set foot in this house. 
  • My children have been making breakfast in the mornings. It is Chinese New Year break so we have not been getting up for school, and they are surprising me with the kind of meals they can pull off. I was encouraged to realize that even if I don't spend a ton of time walking them through step by step tutorials on how to bake, cook, etc., just by proximity and the amount of time they spend watching me do it all, they are picking things up. So in the past week we have had pancakes, ham and cheese egg sandwiches, french toast, and one muffin attempt. The fractions were going well until 3/4 cup milk became 3 cups of milk out of 4. And the oven does not work just by matter of placing something inside it, you must turn it on. Still, I think it's clear that lessons are being learned. And they are having a ton of fun...and their chests stick out a little further each morning as they roll their creation out of the kitchen.
  • Social media is driving me crazy. It's just driving me crazy. I have pulled out before, "fasted" from it. But right now I just feel resigned and lethargic about it. The complaining. The negativity. The insensitivity. The look-at-me-ness of it. The sheer amount of thought that should be kept private or between two people that gets exposed to the world. It's all part of the price we pay to "keep in touch" I suppose. 
  • I think the Puritan writers make great virtual pastors. Since moving to China, and throughout much of my life really, I have not had a pastor who shepherded me in the way all believers need to help them grow into maturity. It is one of the things that can feel lonely or even a little helpless while living here. But every time I pick up a book written by a Puritan, I immediately feel "pastored" as though I were one of their little flock, and they were looking into my heart, determining my soul sickness and needs, and administering just the right tonic through the Word and teachings of either conviction or explanation or encouragement or instruction. If I remember correctly, the Puritans were even called something along those lines... Soul Physicians. I recently picked up Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment by Jeremiah Buroughs and I am finding the same old thing is happening again. If you can't have the warm body of a real pastor, these guys are the most relevant dead men your soul may ever need.
  • We are getting on a train tomorrow. To go visit one of our local friends in a smaller city a short distance from here. She invited us to come spend some time with her family and celebrate her grandma's birthday together with them. I love doing things like this. It will be a day full of some discomfort for sure... lots of travel with little kids, meeting new people and struggling to speak their language or understand them, feeling awkward and unsure of how to act appropriately, wanting to say so much more than you can express, and watching my friend struggle with the dynamics of her family. But it is the kind of thing we live for.