The Traditional Chinese Home

Building a home is something that has been a consuming priority since I arrived in China with my little family. Get there, get comfortable, change the world. While I understood that things don’t exactly happen in that sequence, my ideals of changing the world had their beginning in my making a comfortable abode for myself and my family. As a young mother and an aspiring wife, the goal really was to bring about change by beginning with my own home.

Everything is different in China. While I do enjoy the luxury of living in a city that houses an IKEA, finding all other home decor, grocery, and daily necessities has not been such an easy task. Not a particularly docile person, it took me a minute to learn how to grocery shop, print pictures and have curtains made. The process of making China my home and finding solid ground was a lengthy one and at times, very unpleasant. I was determined, however, to go against the odds and design a comfortable, functional living space. After months of trial and error and pairing suggestions from others along with my own fortuitous finds, we had a home.

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Far from perfect, the space was our own. I loved it. I spent time and energy hanging every picture, stocking every cupboard and thoughtfully arranging every piece of furniture. My oldest, Lois, had her first very own room in that home. Abigail was not even a month old when we brought her to that house and she learned to crawl and walk on those floors. Naomi was born in China and before she reached thirty hours, we carried her through that front door. That little home has a lot of history and it has been flooded with family memories. After a long day of language school, it was my haven. Neal held classes and Bible studies in our living room and the early stages of our ministry were developed within the walls of that place.

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After “A Hard Day in China”, my heart was broken to leave that place. It provided a sense of security for me. It was something that I was able to control in a world that was a constant cultural battle for me. I was admittedly overly attached and that alone was what made our sudden move a painful life lesson for me.

The battle raged within me as I knew in my head that it was just a house, while my emotions fought back without reason or sense. Living “out and about” was bearable as we were in “survival mode” and simply trying to get from one day to the next. The battle truly began when we finally found a new house to rent. Again, I told myself we would make it our own and it would be an adventure and we would adjust, but my emotions didn’t retreat. One day we went to clean it and I found myself sobbing into the palms of my hands, bent over in the bathroom. It was an ugly cry and not one that I’m proud to declare to the world.

The house is a traditional, Chinese home. It has a large courtyard in the center and every room of the house connects to that courtyard. Most of the rooms cannot be entered without first passing through the yard.  I’ve never seen one like it and I’ve certainly never dreamed of living in one. I hear that other countries have a similar style of living and it’s not as outlandish as I had thought.

Our courtyard home is a perfect square and thankfully, our yard (unlike 99% of others) has a glass roof to protect one from the elements. By elements, I mean that most of the rain is diverted. Occasionally, on a rainy day, I find myself kissed by a sloppy raindrop while walking from the kitchen to the living room. It could be much worse. In the winter, the yard is not heated and while the rest of the rooms are warm, the dart from the bedroom to the kitchen can be a chilly one. As the weather cooled, we found ourselves adding layer after layer to our daily clothing. It’s humorous now to think about walking around the house caped in a blanket. At the time, it wasn’t my favorite. Another fit of tears came one day as I was so “sick of being cold”. This Canadian girl can’t handle constant, bone-chilling cold. Eventually, we bought a small coal-burning stove for the yard. While it didn’t completely heat the yard, it took the edge off of the cold and we were the wiser.

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Church in our courtyard

There’s a squatty potty in the master bathroom and while this also rubbed me the wrong way in the beginning, I eventually saw the bright side when I realized that my two-year-old didn’t need help getting on the potty.

The trademark of the house is the kangs that we sleep on. What on earth is a kang? My thoughts, exactly. As found in the dictionary, a kang (autocorrect is throwing a fit right now) is a  masonry or earthen platform at one end of a room, heated in winter by fires underneath and spread with mats for sleeping. Our kangs (ironically autocorrected to “kings”) have a little wrought iron door on the opposite side of the wall it bears on. That magical door leads to a magical little cove where one lights a magical fire to keep the “earthen platform” warm at night. The process of getting a little fire going is not so magical. With face planted on the floor (those little doors are inconveniently close to the ground) I reach my arm into the hole and place my kindling strategically on the bottom of the cove. I then stack larger sticks and wood on top to be sure a good fire gets roaring. When the flames are hot and thick, I then reach in with my special gloves and place a large lump of coal on top of the thickest flames. Then I fold my hands and beg God to light the coal! If you’ve never had to burn coal, take it from me, it is not an easy task. After weeks of having black hands, Neal came home with a pair of gloves made specifically for moving coal. I had never imagined that “coal gloves” would be such a desirable or romantic gift, but there I was, in tears again and looking forward to seeing the white of my hands after just a few days of profuse scrubbing.

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The Kang

The challenges have been many and the tears a mickle, but eventually this place became home. It didn’t happen because of any willing consent on my part, but rather, by the firm hand of the Lord pushing me in a direction that I didn’t want to go because I was what I didn’t need to be. At times, I would just curl up and cry because I so wrongly thought that it wasn’t fair to have to be stripped of that security and comfort that I had worked so hard to achieve. My tears were selfish ones as I simply wasn’t willing to let go of my wants and desires. To be honest, the change was exactly what I needed. I have often thought that the Lord allowed this move for the sole purpose of teaching me a lesson that I wasn’t learning the easy way. I needed to be more pliable and flexible. I needed to be free of ties and selfish desires. I needed to find my security in Him rather than in my situation. So, although I can’t see his mind and while on this earth I will never know the full extent of His reason for this circumstance, I firmly believe that He had a plan for me in all of it. The process was a long one as I failed test after test and finally, God got a hold of my heart and He changed me. I’m thankful. I’m thankful to have been changed. I’m thankful to not be living in our old home with my selfishness un-checked. I’m thankful that the Lord, in His love, took the time to teach me how to lay aside the weight that was besetting me and to run with patience. It is only through patience that we can be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.

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That’s Why This

E.A. Ray

I’m a human, nothing more

I complain, react, and doubt

I question God’s plan for me

In my anger, I cry out

~-~

Dear God, am I not your child?

Did you plan this all amiss?

Crying here, I’m on my knees,

Why me, why now, why this?

~-~

Gently with a soft rebuke

He begins to mold anew

He prods, “Child, I’ve more for you

But first, yield to the truth”

~-~

You can’t understand my plan

You can’t understand my thoughts

All you need to know is plain

I love you, and that’s why this

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We will soon be moving to Xi’An and settling into our third home in four years!

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My first trip to Xi’An and Seven years with this sweet guy!

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Traveling Abroad with Kids

I have a quiet evening all to myself. In case you didn’t read that correctly, I’ll repeat: I have a quiet evening all to myself. Spring has decided to stay and everyone has a little bit of rose in their cheeks from the sunshine. My girls are in bed and Lois and Abby are chattering and tickling and oh, I’ll just let them carry on. Sometimes I just let them talk and play and, let’s be real, develop a relationship. Their little whispers are filled with mischief and imagination and sisterhood. I love it. With five siblings, I know just how important it is to develop that relationship. It’s one that never goes away. It’s one that doesn’t disappear with distance and it is one that is given to us by God.

Back to that quiet evening…

My mother-in-law told me a while back that I need to write a list of everything that I did on our flight from China to America to make it easier. I don’t have it all figured out, but I’ve made that flight a few times, and this last time we had two toddlers and a baby. My plan of attack when it comes to flying has been slowly developed over the last few years. It is the product of trial and error as I’ve tried to find what works best. It is not perfect and it is not for everyone. It is simply an agglomeration of suggestions and in many ways a note to self for future reference. If you’re interested, continue reading. If it does not apply to you or interest you, I hope you enjoyed my sentiments in the first paragraph!

The Game Plan

  • Book the afternoon flight. This was the first time that Neal had booked us an evening flight. We were always getting up at three or four in the morning to catch the eight or nine o’clock plane and it was brutal. Pulling sleeping babies out of their bed and patting their cheeks to try to wake them up is just hard. Arriving at the airport already exhausted is hard. The evening flight was amazing. I let the girls sleep in and get completely rested. They got up and got showered and fed and we arrived at the airport, rested, full-bellied (it is a word, maybe) and clean! Starting the trip on the right foot can make a huge difference. This flight isn’t always an option, but when it is, I highly recommend it!
  • Get some sleep. When packing for a trip of this magnitude, it’s easy to get caught up in last-minute details and work into all hours of the night packing, cleaning out the fridge, getting the house in order and a million other “must-do” things. However, flying with kids is draining and it’s worse when you arrive at the front end of the trip exhausted.
  • Make a list. Have a list of things to do and grab before you head out the door and don’t lock that door behind you until those things are done. You don’t want to walk out the door without your stroller!
  • Bring a stroller. Oh, it’s a hassle. Of course it is. But it is also a bed for your infant when you’re waiting at your gate for two hours. It can also be a life-saver if you have to make a mad dash for your gate with three kids in tow. It can also be an extra place to store the diaper bag or your kids’ backpacks when they get tired. In some cases, it is even a cup holder.
  • Bring a kangaroo. Not the animal. I’m talking about those things that you strap to yourself and then stick your child in and then clip a million clips to secure them. This might be extreme. However, I found that the stroller and the kangaroo both had their purposes and I thoroughly appreciated having both. With the kangaroo, I could carry Naomi close to me and Abby could sit in the stroller if  we had to walk all the way through the Chicago Airport (who am I kidding, we always have to walk all the way through). Also, the kangaroo keeps your baby right up close and attached to you if you doze off at the gate or on the plane. It also will free up both of your hands to purchase a cup of coffee.
  • Drink a cup of coffee. Enough said.
  • Bring a backpack. Bring as many backpacks as you have able-bodied packers! Lois and Abby both carried little backpacks on this last trip and it worked out beautifully. They were the perfect size and they both had a free hand to pull a mini carry-on and tuck a blanket under their other arm. I had a backpack and Neal had a backpack. It’s just another way to keep two hands free.
  • Have a seat bag and a stow bag. The girls used their backpacks for everything they would use on the plane. Toys, sippy cup and slippers. The small bag fit perfectly on the seat next to them while the roller bag is stowed over-head with the “emergency items”. No one wants to get up and down pulling heavy suitcase from overhead. However, those suitcases are necessary in case of spills, soiled clothes or an unexpected overnight stay. Also, if that little backpack can fit inside the carry-on then while you’re walking through the airport, you would have less bags to think about. Then, right before you board the plane, pull out the back pack and you’re good to go.
  • Pack sparingly. Lois and Abby were each allowed one toy, one stuffy, and one coloring book. Keep in mind that what you bring heading “to” will also have to come back “from” that place. Don’t worry about your kids being “too bored”. It doesn’t matter how many toys and activities you have for them, they will always be bored of all the activities (whether three or ten) within the first thirty minutes. Or maybe my kids are just “special” and everyone else’s children have thirteen-hour attention spans. Anyone?
  • Bring a sippy cup. Remember that I’m talking toddlers. When the airplane beverages come by, they always come in plastic cups that are placed on a little, wobbly fold-out tray. Anyone else smell a disaster? We spill every time. Again, it might just be my kids. However, no-one likes a wet seat, or clothes, or blanket. So, when drinks come by, have those cups ready and kindly ask the attendant to pour the water in. My cups have little handles on them that hook right onto the pocket of the seatback and the girls can continue coloring or playing without having to clear a space for their drink. It’s beautiful.
  • Drink water. I try to avoid letting the girls have sugar drinks while flying. Every mom understands that and I know that’s a no-brainer!
  • Let them sleep. Letting yourself and your children get a “head-start” on overcoming jet lag sounds great in theory, however, it is not great. No matter what you do, you will have to fight the jet lag battle when you arrive on the other side of the world. No exceptions. So, instead of making your children stay awake for thirteen hours of being buckled to a seat, just let them rest and fight that “stay-awake” battle once you’re on the other side. Two of my girls slept for ten hours of our first flight. Abby slept for eight hours with a short break in the middle. That left only a few hours of awake time in which they played with their toys and ate a meal. It was quiet and we arrived in Chicago rested. (Another reason to get that evening flight… you’re flying during everyone’s bedtime!)
  • Smile and stay calm. There are people who love you on the other end. Pouting and getting worked up only makes things worse.
  • Sleep some more. Once you reach your destination, let everyone get to bed and sleep for as long as they will. That first night will be a long one and your kids will be tired from the flight. They will probably sleep deep and long so, let them. The next day, keep everyone active and awake until the second night and that’s when jet lag shows it’s true colors. When my girls wake up in the night, I go to them, make sure they know I’m there and keep the lights off and keep everyone still. They might not sleep, but if their bodies are at least resting, it will help. Don’t let them get up and play. Don’t turn the lights on. Just stay with them. A few nights of brutality and a few days of staying busy and only allowing for half-hour naps will be well worth it. Don’t drag it out for weeks and weeks, just hit it hard on night two and within a week, you should be basically swapped over.

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Lois got invited to try out the pilot’s seat. Big day.

Now, the evening is almost over and the girls have drifted off. Naomi (who is growing way too fast and can now crawl!) is down for the count and I’ve checked something off of my to-do list! All good things. Now, after talking about sleep so much, I’m tired and I think I’ll sleep.

A Hard Day in China

October 21, 2016

Two little blonde heads followed me up five flights of stairs. The tiles and walls along with the hollow sound of our voices bouncing back at us were so familiar and yet, they were strange to me as so much had transpired since I had last made the climb that had been a daily event for me over the last three years. At the top loomed the door to our house. I set the baby carrier down and turned the key. The thump of the bolt turning twice was clearer than it had ever been. Again, so familiar and yet a thing of the past. I opened the door and the girls rambled into the house. my eyes were glossed with tears before I could even step inside. Everything was just so sweet and homey. Neal’s suit jacket was hanging over the back of the dining chair, his books and sermon notes sitting on the window sill. Every bed was neatly made with bedding that had been cleaned the day before leaving. It was home.

The tears didn’t stop. Rather, they turned into little sobs and quick gulps as I tried to reign in the emotions. The girls were running to their toys and prancing around the house in perfect step. Everything was just where we knew it would be. I quickly found my bearings and went to work. suitcases and bags came out and began to fill up with our things. Frames came off the wall in far less time then they had gone up, rugs were rolled up and bedding stripped. The more we tore down, the less it was home, the less it hurt.

I called on a dear friend to come help me. She showed up at my door with understanding in her eyes and ready for a big soppy hug. I cried and cried and let out just about all of the frustration from the previous twelve days. She understood and she didn’t judge me for being human and having weaknesses. Then the truth came out as I half cried, half shrieked, “I just feel like this freak has ripped my home away from me!” And that was the least of the events that had happened in what had been the hardest twelve days of my life.

Two weeks earlier, October 6, 2016

Neal came home from his camping trip with the teen boys. After a hot shower and a very long nap, he found me in the kitchen. That day he brought up a subject that surprisingly the two of us had never discussed. He opened with, “I had some time to think while we were camping and the way I figure, we will probably face persecution at some point or another during our ministry in China. I’ve come to the conclusion that no matter what happens, I’m not leaving China.” I was slightly baffled and my heart felt like it had been weighted down. Obviously the Chinese government doesn’t like Christians. We all know that. Yet, leaving or being confronted by the police has never been something that was going to happen to us! Neal continued, “If the police ever come for me, or if the government ever tries to make me leave, I’m going to do everything in my power to stay. I’ll run if I have to run. I’ll hide if I have to hide.” Then he brought me into the conversation. “What are your thoughts? What would you want to do? I just want to know how you feel about it and what you would be willing to do.” I chuckled and responded with a lighthearted (although I wasn’t feeling that way), “Well if you’re not leaving, I’m not leaving!” We continued to talk on the matter. Neal said, “There’s a great possibility that we will have to face this in our lifetime if we ever have an effective, longterm ministry here. We need to be ready for it.” He continued to ask questions that continued to pierce my heart and test my faith. Was I really willing to do this? Was I really willing to live anywhere or in any situation? Was I willing to take my kids through it? Would I want to stay here with him or go back to North America? I tried to keep things lighthearted and ignore the sinking feeling. I sarcastically said, “Well, I’m willing to leave this house and all of our things, EXCEPT my Royal Doultons. Those stay with me.” Neal laughed and called me crazy. Little did we know that two days later a man in our church would bring about the very situation we had talked about. God’s timing is perfect.

October 9, 2016

I woke up early. Very early. Neal had spent most of the night on his knees beside our couch with his brother. Their pleas to God were that He would protect our church and give us His grace. The night before a man in our church had threatened that he was going to call the police during our Sunday morning service. The outraged member was angry and acting like a mad dog. His wife had just miscarried a baby and as far as we could tell, that set him off as he exploded over several things that had been secretly building up inside his heart. Many of the men from our church tried to reason with him, but he remained unmoved.

We bustled around the house getting ready for church. I was whisking about in constant prayer and silence as the little things I was doing seemed so very very small compared to the overhanging issue. While I was in the nursery changing the baby, Neal said, “You need to pack a bag in case we can’t come home after church.” The notice seemed like it came straight out of a book. Even nine weeks later, my heart is thumping to just think about it. These things are far more romantic in biographies. They’re very shaking in real life. I replied with a simple “ok” as he left and carried on with his Sunday morning study. I stood beside the change table and asked myself, are you willing to give all of this up? As soon as I had thought it, I followed with a yes, I am. I’ll blog later about how that was a whole lot harder than simply saying it in my heart! We left for church still in prayer.

Sunday went along as usual: choir practice, good morning greetings and light chatter. No sign of the mad dog. The choir opened the service and people continued to show up for church. Minutes into the song service, the wife of the outraged man, along with their four kids, showed up and positioned themselves in the back row. I stared at her and was confused as to why her coward husband wasn’t there. During the very last song, he showed up. There aren’t words to describe that moment. I’ll do my best. His face was hard and his eyes set. He was looking but not really seeing. He was a man being used of the devil and that is not a pretty sight. He stood behind his family in the back of the auditorium. His very presence put a shadow over the room. He stared hard toward the front of the church. I stared hard at him with a knot in my stomach and a lump in my throat. How dare he!

Pastor got up to preach and just as soon as he did, the man in the back shouted, “I have something to say!” No one cared and pastor continued to preach. He shouted again. At the time, I could’t even understand what he was saying. All I could hear was a mad, screeching bark coming from the back. I sat on the edge of my seat on the front row and like a mother hen, pulled both of my girls close to me with the baby carrier right at my feet. My bags were right next to me and ready to go. The girls had their coats on. With the second shout, people started to squirm in their seats and stretched their necks to see what was going on. Pastor calmly invited everyone to pay attention to him and not worry about the man in the back. There was an eerie feeling as pastor preached and we all stared at him and heard him, but didn’t really hear. At the same time there was a constant stream of noises coming from the back of the building. Brothers confronted the man about his disruption, he pulled out his phone and threatened to call the police, ladies plead with him to stop and he shoved them away. All the while, pastor held his focus. A call was made to the police and a brother came to the front to inform pastor. The church members were notified of the man’s behavior and he was immediately removed from our church with a unanimous vote. They were then told to leave church immediately and head to their homes. Neal came and with a brief, “Let’s go” started to lead me out of the church, girls in tow. We walked right by the wife and four children. I whispered an “I love you” to his oldest daughter who had spent a lot time at our home and continued on my way. We headed out the back door and by the shouting, angry mad dog. His one-man (and wife with four kids) show was nearly over.

We were in the van and on the road just as silent as when we had left that morning. Our hearts were still heavy and minds racing. The girls sat sweetly as we drove to a coffee shop. We spent the next hour with Neal’s dad and brother and another sweet family as the men discussed our next move. Going home wasn’t an option. Phone calls were made as dear sisters and brothers called to offer their homes to us. Message after phone call after message was sent our way as our dear church members tried to encourage and support us. In the midst of the whirlwind, there was still an infant who needed to be nursed, toddlers who had to be fed and a husband who needed to be loved and obeyed and helped. The craziness didn’t change any of that!

For the next two weeks we lived in four different places. Hard beds, soft beds, small beds, big beds, air mattresses. Apartment complexes, vacation homes in the mountains, hotel rooms. No mascara, no coffee, no text messaging, no books, no hot water. I can remember one day as we headed back to where we were staying, I told the girls that we were headed home. Lois asked, “Which home are we going to today?” She wasn’t sad or scared, just curious. I had to chuckle. That was our life at the time, different every day with only one constant: God. It really was only His power that carried us through. It was only by His grace that we were safe and still there. This story is a long one and it’s still not over. I have yet to tell of the crazy move, the unshaken faith of our church family, the wisdom of a husband who loves God, and the many many tears that were shed as the Lord stretched me, changed me, convicted me, corrected me and loved me. Whatever His master plan is, I know that He is in control. Everything that happened was seen by Him and allowed by Him. And if nothing else comes of it, I’ve been changed forever and that’s enough for me.

Language School. Check.

Language school is done. Maybe you read that sentence with a sense of hebetude, but please don’t allow yourself to be fooled for those four simple words have left me nothing but elated as I transfer from a life of chaos and survival to a life of quietude and thriving growth.

Two and a half years have passed since we landed in China. We spent two months trying to establish our home and become familiar with our surroundings before language school were to begin. Not long after moving into our home, the courses began and I, completely oblivious to the heartache to come, was chomping at the bit to get started. The first few weeks of language school give a false sense of confidence as one breezes through characters and learns the simplest of words and phrases. Although simple, however, those very words are the words that transform a person from being a captive, tied down and trapped by a lack of understanding, to being a free and functioning member of society. “Free” and “functioning” are relative terms. Beginning as someone who comprehended zilch to a person who could buy their own vegetables and say “good morning” can indeed be defined as “freeing.”

Those weeks of bliss come to a grinding halt as that first semester reaches it’s halfway point. All of that confidence and energy turns into self-doubt and weariness. The Lord’s strength is truly the only thing that can help to maintain any amount of sanity during the three and a half semesters to follow. God knew I would need a good husband and cute kids to pull me through. Every time someone would kindly “correct” me or giggle at my mistakes, I would try to remind myself that they were helping and that this was all a part of the process. Just keep trying Beth. Practice makes perfect. Laugh at yourself. It’s ok! When my little pep talks didn’t work I’d wait until I had a private moment with Neal and I would pour out my frustration. He was always kind, patient and as understanding as a “half-Chinese” person could be. My other resort was to spend time with my girls. They always brought smiles and helped me to forget my language struggles.

The final stretch of school concluded as I walked down an empty hall, listening to my boots click on the tiled floor and watching the lights flicker on as I walked along. The classroom was empty as I had arrived thirty minutes early for my last. exam. ever. I sighed and thought, I won’t miss this. Students wandered in, the teacher arrived, we wrote our test and then it was over. One final flurry of characters, sentences and racking my brain for the right words came and went. The other students worried about their grade, talked about their plans for the break and took pictures with each other. I gave a little squeal and might’ve jumped up and down for a second as I kissed the work, pressure and tears of the last two and a half years goodbye. No one understood my relief, nor would I have expected them too. It was my private victory, a small part to a bigger plan. It was the breaking down of what had been the largest hindrance to our ministry in China. It was getting to spend all day every day as wife and mom.

All of that behind me, I am officially, by definition, a stay-at-home mom. Last Thursday was the beginning of this stage of life, a stage that I pray will last a long, long time. Friday Lois jumped up on the couch with me. It was ten o’clock and we were still in our pajamas because we had nowhere to be. Nowhere to be? Whaaa?` She looked up at me, blanket crumpled in her arms and asked, “Mommy, will you read me this book?” My throat expanded as I unhesitatingly replied, “Of course!” Oh, the beauty of a peaceful moment at home reading books with my babies. How I’ve longed for this time. How I’ve longed for these moments. The last week has been a giddy time for me. Every morning I talk with my girls while enjoying a cup of coffee. I always laugh at their silliness and soak up their soft little cuddles.

Lois is learning and growing faster than I can blink. She “translates” for me, herself and anyone who cares. She listens and remembers everything. The other day she was sliding down her indoor slide (that her daddy bought for her that I was totally not as enthusiastic about) and after climbing up the two rungs of the slide she looked at me, grunting and breathless and said, “I’m just working on my motor-skills.” Apparently she’s heard me tell people that Lois has good speaking skills and Abigail has good motor skills and she decided to close that gap! She tells me at least ten times a day that I’m beautiful and her favorite thing is to be chased by mommy. She doesn’t very well like my “zombie” impression though.

Abigail is 18 months and speaks a handful of Chinese words and a handful of English words, none of which are especially articulate. She seemingly understands everything that we say to her. I asked Neal if there was anything I should do to help her speed up the speaking process. He said, “She’s a kid growing up with two languages. This is normal.” Normal. She’s processing a lot in that little brain and she always prates in her own dialect while I answer back in English. We understand each other. Abigail is a joy to be around. She has a smile a mile wide and when she hears anything that resembles a cry her brows etch deep into her face and she points in the direction of the pitiful sound. Sorry for the character sketch, but I’m loving my babies!

I have a lot to look forward to and I can do it with the ability to speak to people and understand what is going on around me. I’ve put in my time and there is nothing more rewarding than confidently following my husband toward what the Lord has called us to. Goodbye language school. Hello to the rest of our lives!

 

Prove it!

I came from a monkey. Our ancestors are the same and our genetics have only a 1.6% difference. It is only after billions of years of gradual change that us humans have finally come into existence.

Or so I’ve been told.

Maybe “told” is a bad descriptor word. I should say that this information has been drizzled over my ears for several hours this week as I’ve been studying Chinese at my college. Conveniently enough the book that I am studying from has several paragraphs and excerpts about evolution. I was surprised and sick to my stomach the first day my teacher projected Darwin’s theory on the overhead screen. The situation got worse as I had to not only listen to the teacher express such heresy, but I also had to participate in the class. I wasn’t very cooperative that day.

My teacher asked, “Mei Jia, is the statement,’the earth is 14 billion years old’ true or false?”

“Well I personally don’t believe it is that old, but that is what the text states.”

And thus began the debate. My teacher moved on to the next question and I simply had to sit there in agony as I listened to a series of questions and participate in several other reading and speaking exercises. It was all, of course, “according to text.” Once the class was over, my inner struggle came out with as much grace and patience as I could muster.I  voiced every thought and argument that I had worked up while she was teaching.

“Do you believe in evolution? Do you believe we were once monkeys?”

“Yes I do. We all believe it.”

“Why?”

“Because that’s what we were taught in school and that is what my parents taught me. And I trust them.”

“Have you never studied anything else? Have you never considered anything else?”

“Never. Why?”

My teacher didn’t appreciate my curiosity and questions. In all honesty, I was being as cordial and christian as possible. Had you heard me, you might’ve even accused me of being overboard nice. It was evident by her tone and huffed laugh that she was not feeling as coridal as myself. It was obvious that she thought I was just an uneducated foreigner who knew nothing of life.

She tried to escape the conversation and I watched her eyes dart to the door more than once. I wasn’t going to back down and she knew it. I walked with her to the elevator as I continued to press and with my still-very-limited Chinese and not-super-scientific brain I did my best to point out the discrepancies with her (all of China’s) view. She couldn’t respond to any of the points I brought up and it quickly became clear that she knew relatively nothing about evolution. She gave hesitated laughs and tried to excuse herself with one final comment: “I think everyone can believe what they want to believe.” I personally consider that comment to be a cop-out when a person is out of answers. As she stepped onto the elevator I left her with one final ignored comment.

The doors closed on her snooty laugh. I waited for the next elevator.

Two days later I sat in that same teachers class and after all the students had arrived and before she began teaching (this time on the exciting topic of steel and alloy) she made a very pointed and direct stab at me. She bluntly and, might I add, blindly said, “Mei Jia and I had a conversation the other day about evolution and I told my fellow teachers about it and they all said, ‘doesn’t she know we have evolution?’ and I told them she did, but she believes God created the world and people. None of the other teachers agreed. They all believe evolution like me because that’s what all the scientists believe.” A million rebuttals flooded my head, but I kept silent. I wasn’t going to embarrass her in front of the class or try to make her look bad even though that was clearly her intention with me. No, telling her that many scientists across the globe believe Creation and that I expected that all of her friends, who were also only ever taught evolution, would believe like her, wouldn’t accomplish anything. This battle wasn’t going to be won in a day.

The fact that she felt the need to rally some troops behind her and support her belief for her instead of knowing herself why she believed it was evidence enough that she wasn’t entirely clear on what she believed. Our conversation was the first time anyone had every confronted her with an opposing idea. It rattled her.

It rattled me.

Satan has a strong hold and he has developed a cunning plan to divert the world from a belief in God. At one point in the conversation my teacher said, “We don’t have God here so we believe evolution.” She didn’t know how true that statement was. It broke my heart. No God. That is a bleak future indeed.

It was a good reminder. Our purpose is to show them God and to bring them to an understanding of His existence.

Ordinary Days

Days pass here. It’s just like anywhere in the world. They come with frustrating moments and mundane tasks. I spill nail polish remover on my dresser and burn my clothes with the iron. I teach a two-year-old how not to pick her nose and remind her every day that God made her and that He loves her. It’s nothing out of the ordinary or surprisingly different. We still face the same challenges and responsibilities that we would if we lived in North America.

We also have the oridinary “china” days. The other day I rode my bike passed an old man just as he was putting a finer on one nostril and blowing hard out the other. A large “wad” flew out and onto the ground. He proceeded to wipe his nose with his sleeve and kept on walking. I turned my handle bars just in time to miss the slimy present he left in my path. My first thought was, “winter’s here”. Somehow, the whole scene didn’t even phase me. It was just another ordinary day.

I have crying days too. I caught myself choking up while I was talking to my parents the other day. Dad was talking about his recent trip to Costco and mom went on about all the presents she had to wrap. She showed me her pile. I’m a solid witness… it was huge. They rambled on about their toasty fireplace and early morning coffee. All at once I wanted to be there. I wanted to feel my toes warming up on the warm bricks of the hearth. I wanted to curl ribbons with mom and try peeking in all my boxes. I wanted to walk up every aisle of Costco with dad and just be together. I quickly turned my iPad camera to face Abigail while I wiped tears off of my cheeks. I put my brave face back on and continued talking.

I was asked recently what it was like when Iam with all of my siblings. I replied, “It’s like there’s only one person in the room. We don’t explain anything. We can finish each other’s sentences. We find the same things funny and sometimes laugh when there’s nothing to laugh at.” I was thankful. Thankful and homesick. The ache just comes. My mother-in-law recently told me that when I got engaged to Neal, my sister, who was in China with us at the time, said, “This is the best day of my life.” I smiled, knowing it was just like my sister. All I could think to say was, “I miss her so much.” The words “so much” came out painfully and diluted with tears. I knew I was blessed to have a sister who thought my engagement day was the best day of her life. It truly is a hard time of the year to be so far away.

I recently face-timed with my family as they celebrated my nephews birthday party. Everyone was there. Everyone but us. Lois couldn’t get enough of it. She kept saying, “I go your house?” to every aunt, uncle and grandparent. She couldn’t handle being on the wrong side of the iPad. I watched her little face stare at the presents and food and family and wished I could put her there and let her be a part of it.

These moments are hard and yet, for every hundred of these comes a moment that takes your breath away as you watch God work and move.

One evening we had some friends over at our house and they brought a couple of young ladies with them. They were Christian ladies who wanted to learn and grow. Neal talked with them for a while and I listened quietly. He began talking with them about the Bible and soon retrieved one from his office. They had read the Bible before, but they’d only been in contact with the government-church produced Bible. Neal soon placed his Bible in the hands of one of the young ladies. She took it carefully. Her eyes lit up as she gently slid her hand over the cover. She scooted to the edge of her seat and began to flip through the pages. She couldn’t drink in the words fast enough. Her eyes darted back and forth as she read as fast as her eyes would allow.  I was moved as I watched her cherish the Word of God. It was so precious to her. It was so powerful. It was the essence of the reason we are here. It was a moment worth every tear that ever slid down my cheek.

Another moment came just a few days ago while visiting with a girl whom Lois and I have befriended. She is someone that God just put in my path. We’ve kept in touch and I’ve never been shy or discreet about my Christian life or my belief in God. She has recently been married and she wanted to introduce her husband to me. It was a Sunday evening and the girls and I were exhausted from a long, busy day, but nevertheless, we welcomed them into our home and visited for several hours. Neal was busy at the time and so I spoke (in my very insufficient second language) for close to four hours. My brain was hurting and Abigail was especially cranky and distracting. Neal finally made it home through traffic and the six of us enjoyed a meal together. After we ate they talked with Neal about everything they had just talked with me about. This time, instead of it taking four hours, it took about thirty minutes. Neal’s Chinese is a little lot better than mine. The worth-it-all moment came when they simply and sincerely asked Neal, “What would we have to do to become Christians?” Neal began to answer them and for several minutes neither of them spoke a word. They just stared and intently listened.I watched their countenance change as they were confronted with the reality of God’s love for the very first time. I’ve never seen it before. The Word of God fell on fresh ears and instead of having that look of I’ve heard it before, they sat in astonishment as they were given the greatest news that man has ever heard.

And those are the moments we work for. Moments like these brief happenings are what make those ordinary days so worth it.

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Culture Shock: It Goes Both Ways

America. The grass, it was green. I found myself in the Chicago, O’hare airport staring out the window (which was so clean you wouldn’t even know it was there) at the beautiful grass. It was perfectly manicured and not a fleck of brown could be spotted! It was lush and healthy. Oh, how pretty! I could’ve stared at it all day. Like a child, I commented to Neal, “Look at how pretty the grass is!” He, clearly not as enthused as I, replied, “Yeah.” Listening to me, you would have thought I’d never seen green grass in my life. In reality, it had only been a year. A year was long enough to forget how perfectly stunning and wonderful something as simple as grass could be.

It wasn’t our plan to spend our short summer in the states. Circumstances left us with no choice. So, back we went. It turned out to be exactly what I needed… right when I needed it. Culture shock was setting in hard and heavy during that last month in China. Every little thing was getting under my skin and my Mandarin was hardly up to par.

People talking about me (right in front of me) in the market was aggravating. “Where do you think she’s from? Probably Germany.” “Look at her child, she needs to put more clothes on her.” “Do you think she’s married to a Chinese man? Or maybe she’s working here.” I felt like telling them I could understand what they were saying about me and that I found it rude. I couldn’t seem to get the sentences out, so instead I listened… and fumed. Even if I had said something, it wouldn’t have made a difference. The conversation would have carried right on without a glitch. And that too was annoying.

Perfect strangers rubbed Lois’ face as if she was a doll. They even called her a “foreign” doll.

People gave me their opinion about everything. “You shouldn’t wear high heals when you’re pregnant. You’re hurting your baby.” “Don’t drink cold water, it’s bad for your health.” “Put more clothes on your child, she’ll get sick!”

I was rude to turn down any food offered to me, while my own Western dishes were declined with a wrinkled nose and an odd stare.

In WuMart I was approached by a perfect stranger. A man, who appeared to be younger than myself, came within just a few feet of Lois and my pregnant self and without a word, started snapping pictures of us. You can imagine that in my pregnant state, I wasn’t very welcoming of candid photos. He finished his business of invading our space and concluded with a “thank you” before turning and walking away. I all-too-quickly snapped back, “You didn’t even ask us, so why are you thanking us?” He didn’t reply and I left the market… fuming.

All of these experiences and many more were piling up to a mountain of culture shock. America was a welcome sight. I was expecting all of my troubles to disappear with the rumble of the plane wheels on the tarmac. And for a while that is exactly what happened. I soaked up every ounce of everything that I had missed. I was carefree and relaxed. However, after eating my weight in queso dip and hitting all my favorite stores within four days of arriving, I found myself less than fulfilled. I missed home. After only two weeks I was missing the sights and sounds of China. I was even missing all the free advice!

It was then that American culture shock set in. I was expecting culture shock in China. After all, everything about the place went directly against my grain. I was adapting to a completely opposite way of life than what I was used to. I was NOT expecting to culture shock in the states. I wasn’t expecting to find myself opening my mouth to speak a Chinese word only to remember at the last second that this was an English speaking country. A slight twinge of sadness always pricked me when that happened. I missed it. I wasn’t expecting to find myself constantly making excuses for Lois. She would say, “shu shu hao” (a common and respectful greeting to older men) to strangers in restaurants or stores. In the beginning I would tell them, “Oh we live in China and she’s greeting you in Chinese, she’s not talking baby talk.” Most people just shrugged it off and after a while I simply stopped explaining. There were a few occasions when Lois saw a cellphone and automatically smiled at it. More explaining. “In China she gets photographed every time she leaves the house. She doesn’t LOVE the camera, she’s just used to always having to smile when she sees one.” Again, no one was interested. Our friends and family were patient and understanding, but life outside of that was different. It was awkward and I felt oddly out of place. I was still me, yet there was a whole part of me that no one knew a lick about or would even expect. And so, I tried my best to bury it for our few weeks there.

Coming back to China, TWO babies in tow, I was over-joyed. This was our life. This was the plan God had for us. All of a sudden, those little things that were driving me crazy when we left were the very things I found myself smiling at and embracing when we returned. A dear sweet friend of ours approached me only a few days after arriving to remind me that our newborn should have a hat on every single day. I smiled, threw my arm around her old shoulders and told her I loved her and had missed her. She returned the love and hug and I was smiling on the inside at the irony of how perfectly happy her comment had made me.

Culture shock comes and goes. As we change and grow and accept new people and places, we are challenged. The more we overcome these challenges, the more this place becomes a part of us and the harder it is to keep China and our family here from creeping into our hearts and changing us.

Finally Home

The days are getting hotter, much hotter. My belly is getting bigger. My baby, well, she’s a toddler now and a big sister at that. Am I too young to be thinking that life is flying by way too fast? I want to stop it. I want to freeze time, but it seems the seconds keep on ticking by and the sun continues to rise and set. The other day I listened to Neal tickle Lois in the living room. Her sweet uncontrollable laugh mixed with his loud roars was the sound of perfection. I soaked it up and smiled to myself while the baby inside me kicked and squirmed. What could I want more than all of this? Sometimes I forget that I live in China. While life outside is full of reminders that I’m not from around here, when I’m with my little family I just absorb them and forget to realize that I’m in a “different” place living a “different” life.

Every time I leave my home I get stared at, pointed at and even photographed. It doesn’t really bother me. Sometimes I stare back and play the game, then I applaud myself when they break the stare first. Sometimes I get cheeky and stick out my tongue when a complete stranger practices no discretion in the process of taking a picture. They already think I’m strange enough to take a random picture of me, so why not make it interesting!

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Lois being photographed in Tiananmen Square

While riding the bus one day, we stopped at a red light and another bus pulled up next to mine. A few elderly people from the other bus caught sight of me and I could read their lips as they expressed “外国人!” or “a foreigner!” The staring continued and I imagine they had a long conversation about which country they thought I was from and what I could possibly be doing here in China. I shrugged and looked away. It’s normal. At times I don’t even notice it. I even manage to forget that I’m different sometimes. I forget until I catch a stare or over-hear people chattering about me.

One day I was buying fruit at our local market and I over-heard an elderly lady say “Look at the foreigner!” I turned to her and teasingly asked, “Where’s the foreigner!?” She immediately responded in a matter-of-fact voice, finger pointed in my direction, “YOU are the foreigner.” I slipped a chuckle and she grinned. I couldn’t help but be amused by how she felt the need to stress that I, indeed, was a foreigner. I had thought it rather obvious and didn’t see the need to inform all of the other strangers there that I was a foreigner, but clearly she thought she was the only one to have noticed. She continued to ask a long strand of questions and I politely answered each of them to the best of my abilities. She looked long and hard and made every possible observation. It was simply another day in China. I walked home with my groceries and then spilled the story to Neal as soon as I walked in the door. I spent the rest of the day trying to understand why the white skin and accent was so terribly captivating.

Then one day I understood. I made the connection. It was the day l I noticed an older white man walking across my school campus. I stared and said to my class-mate, “look, a white person!” I shocked myself. How dare I! I had pointed and gawked and stated the obvious! Being the only white-skinned, blonde-haired, blue-eyed person at my school, I was always the receiver of such comments and stares and yet there I sat doing the very thing I had found it impossible to answer “why” to. I laughed at myself and exclaimed, “I’m SO Chinese!”

I continue to have little moments that connect me to this place and culture. Little by little I notice changes that I’ve unconsciously made.  I’ve carved out a new way of thinking and a new opinion of “acceptable” and “unacceptable”.

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Friends in the neighbourhood

The day I walked arm-in-arm with my friend and didn’t feel the least bit awkward was a definite give-away that I am not the same girl I used to be. My friend and I simply get off the bus, link arms and walk to school together. It happens every day and no-one looks twice or thinks it weird.

Somehow I’ve become accustomed to things that were initially uncomfortable and weird to me. Somehow I’ve learned to love and appreciate (and even adopt) many of the Chinese ways. Neal and I spent two hours drinking tea the other night. We went to a friend’s house for a tea ceremony and drank tea from 200-year-old tea leaves. We loved it. We even have our own little tea set to do it ourselves at home. Somehow I just changed. I stopped being shocked by anything and everything different. I almost expect it now. A switch has slowly been flipped and with no warning at all, I became a different person. Not completely different for I’ll never be completely like the Chinese. And yet, I have a strange feeling that I’ll never again be completely Canadian either. It’s a funny feeling and I’m not sure exactly how to deal with it yet.

And then there’s home.

Home. don’t know when it happened, but this vast, culturally rich country became my home. This smoggy, people-packed city became my city. This little community filled with murky ponds and far too many dogs became my community. It’s not just “the place we live.” It’s home. For years I was telling people that I would be moving to Beijing, China. When we first arrived I was largely out-of-place and I was simply “living” here. It was always that far-off place. Lately, however, it’s been this place, my home. It just happened. I’ve disconnected a small part of me that once held strong ties to the “true north strong and free.” I’ve not only left North America, but the roots have been cut. It feels strangely normal to call this place home. It’s an experience I don’t understand well enough myself to clearly convey it to others.

This has been my last few months. It has been the switch from everything being new, crazy, adventurous and foreign to things being familiar, normal, comforting and finally home.

How He Does It

I’ve been asked, “How do you do it?”

I’ve been told, “I know I could never do that.”

I’ve even been called “Strong.”

So what exactly is all this heroic stuff that we do?

It’s hugging your sister on the driveway and not wanting to let go because you know she’s the last one to be hugged. The others have already left and she’s the last one you’ll see for a long time. The hug itself is more of a desperate cling. You bury your face into her shoulder and say nothing. You simply both stand there clinging… and shaking from the sobs… and sniffling. Then you let go and silently watch them pack up the car and drive off… and you cry some more, only this time you’re standing alone with your arms wrapped around your stomach. You cry because every childhood memory plagues you at that very moment. You cry because every argument wasn’t worth it. You cry because you love your family and each member takes a little piece of your heart with them.

It’s watching your child poke and kiss an ipad as opposed to a real face. It’s watching your little girl learn “peek-a-boo” via facetime. She literally runs into the living room when she hears the familiar ringing on the ipad. She know what it means. She knows “gamma” or “papa” will be on the other end… if not one of her aunties and cousins. It’s heart wrenching at times. People tell me that “technology is so wonderful”. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard the phrase, “just imagine if you were a missionary a hundred years ago…”. I know I know, they had it much worse than I do. I know I know, technology is wonderful. But whether a hundred years ago or yesterday, the ache is still there and I am still on the other side of the world. And so is my little girl.

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It’s calling your dear sweet friend and telling her that you wish you could be there for her birthday to make a cake for her. It’s knowing she’s spending the day aching for her husband and not being able to give a hug or take her out for dinner. It’s knowing you’re too far. Much too far.

It’s waking up on Christmas morning to the sound of car horns honking while 20 million Beijingers head to work, school or anywhere else they wish to go. It’s being the only one to stay home and dive into a stocking or pull the strings off your gifts while the special day goes over-looked and unnoticed by those around you. It’s studying for your class the next day because, let’s face it, you still have school in spite of the fact that the culture you grew up in would’ve taken two weeks off school! It’s being a weirdo with a massive tree and lights inside your house.

It’s spending far too much time and money to dig your teeth into a fat, juicy, beef burger. A manly burger. It’s even letting the juice run down your chin while you embrace the moment.

It’s watching olympic curling for four hours straight because that’s all that’s on. But, no worries, it’s all in Chinese, making it that much more thrilling. It’s turning that event into a house party and inviting your friends over for tacos and cookies. It’s waking up the next morning to find out that once again, the Chinese’ favorite olympic sport is still in session and yes, CCTV 5 has curling on… again, to satisfy all your curling needs.

It’s having a home that none of your family has seen or had dinner in.

It’s jumping in the air over a single card received because someone remembered, they remembered that you were so far away.

And how exactly is it done?

My answer: it’s only by God’s perfectly awesome amazing grace. He does it. Not me. It’s not about my capabilities, for they are few, but it is about His omnipotence and His willingness to use me. As for being strong, I’m not. I cry like the rest and probably more. I struggle and strive to learn, but still forget sometimes. I make mistakes and then spend a day moping about it. No, I’m not strong. He is. And that is how He does it.

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*Check out my poetry page for a challenging poem by my one and only brother.

Learning Mandarin Chinese

Five thirty comes way too early. I peel my eyelids apart only to realize our room is still dark and the only thing on my schedule is “study Chinese.” And literally, that is all I ever do. If you’re wondering where I’ve been, I can only say that studying has literally taken over my life. I have class every morning and then study all afternoon. I make dinner then prepare for my next day of class. It is an endless cycle and yet so rewarding. Every so often I say a few words to someone and when the “light of understanding” brightens their eyes, I smile and think, so it IS working. 

My commute is usually an hour and five minutes. I time it. Every day. I take a quick taxi to the bus. Every day my driver gives me a bright “早上好!“ (Yes, I typed that myself.) I usually smile back and return the “good morning.” Sometimes I grunt and think, seriously dude, it’s 6:45. We’ve become quite good friends, he and I. I then get off at the bus stop and try desperately to squeeze my little white self onto a bus with a hundred of their brown-eyed, black-haired selves. One day I got caught in a mob. Fifty people were madly rushing for the bus that was about to arrive and I was in the middle. It was run or be trampled. I ran. Once free from the mob I told myself I would never be that desperate for a bus and I would NEVER stand in the middle of a crowd again. Once on the bus I pull out my books and “stand study”. Twenty minutes and a million bus stops later, I reach the subway station.

People from all directions mill toward the station entrance. They come from everywhere. I often think, how are all of these people going to fit in there? Somehow they do and I’m amazed every time. Every morning there are “the runners”. They make a mad dash to the station entrance because they don’t want the 7:15 subway, they want the 7:14 subway. So, they run and beat at least ten people. I chuckle at their wasted energy and their now sweaty t-shirt. WHY?

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The line to enter the subway station is usually several hundred people long. Every morning we mash together to form one school of bodies shuffling in the same direction. Shuffle is the word that describes everything. Our feet move inches at a time as we press forward. The dirty ground scrapes the bottom of our shoes and that is the only sound to be heard. Heads are down and people listen to their ipods or watch movies on their phones. Some are on a mission to maneuver through the mass of bodies and again I chuckle as they usually only advance by three or four feet. Nevertheless, I applaud their effort… and chuckle.

Nothing can describe this scenario. The smell is a combination of a million food carts selling every imaginable breakfast item, the breath of the man next to you (usually garlic), and the exhaust of a thousand busses pulling into the station.

The sound is simply that… sound. No one speaks. It is the thunder of the subway rumbling in every minute. It is the moving of bodies. It is the honking of a thousand horns during rush hour. It all clamors together to create the description of every morning in China.

The feeling is the breathing in of polluted air. It’s soggy shoes on a rainy day. It’s having a stranger’s elbow in your rib. It’s feeling like cattle as everyone prods along, heads down, being directed by the bodies pressed around you. You are simply another fish swimming in the sea and once on the subway you will never see those other faces again.

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The subway. Let me explain the Beijing subway at rush hour. There is nothing in my culture, upbringing or past knowledge that could’ve ever prepared me for the subway. My stop is where the subway starts. It is the farthest north station on line five. For this reason it is always extra crowded and extra feisty. The subway arrives empty (obviously) and the seats are limited. The awaiting commuters wait anxiously for the doors to slide open. Once open, the first fifteen people at each door usually get a seat. Being the ignorant foreigner that I am, I stood in shock  that first morning. Imagine shaking a bottle of Pepsi and then giving the cap the slightest twist you could give. That brown liquid quickly finds the smallest hold and sprays it’s way out of the bottle in a raging foam. It happens so fast you can’t hardly see it. This is the best description I could find for the “spray” of people onto the subway.

The doors slid open that first morning and bodies flung in and dove for seats faster than I could say “wow”. So I stood there, jaw dropped wondering what disaster was headed our way to bring on this kind of mad dash. I realized it was the simple pleasure of having a seat while commuting to work. I got on and made myself comfortable standing somewhere in the middle. My stop is only seven stops down and takes only fifteen minutes. In those seven stops the subway packed full of people. After the fourth stop I thought, no one else is getting on this subway. We’re out of room. To my amazement, ten more bodies wiggled their way on at the next stop. I’m still amazed every day when this happens. I’ve even seen a grown woman take five steps back before running and jumping on. The force of her body, along with a little desperation won her a spot on the subway. After arriving at my stop I realized that eight bodies were touching mine (don’t doubt me, I took the time to count.) I also realized that the door was six feet away and there were thirty bodies between me and it. I pushed and shoved and said “excuse me”. No one heard or cared. Finally I got the elbows out and as the train slowed to a stop I made a desperate leap for the door. I got off just as the doors slid closed behind me. Note to self: stand by the door tomorrow. Now every day I plant my feet firmly beside the door and refuse to be moved. Bodies shove and wiggle yet I hold my ground.

Once off the subway I take a fifteen minute walk to school. I pass over eight lanes of traffic by way of a walking bridge and look out to view beautiful Beijing. I can often see hundreds of high rises and a backdrop of mountains. When the clouds sit low and the pollution is thick, my mountains disappear. I always check. it does my heart good to see the mountains standing tall and beautiful. It also does my heart good to see God’s beautifully created nature!

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The walk brings me panting to my class and giving a breathless “hello” to my classmates. I usually cram for ten minutes before class starts and then I sit… and learn.

My teachers give instructions (in Chinese). They tell us to teak a break (in Chinese). They ask us questions (in Chinese). We stare (in English). I tell people all the time, “My teachers don’t mess around!” That’s the truth. They say it once and expect you to repeat it. They give a quiz on characters they haven’t taught you how to write, but since they used it in class, they have every right to expect you to know it. They assign homework that takes two hours on top of your studying. They give you 95% even when nothing was wrong because “You can do better”. (Literally, I’ve had that happen). They push us… and we learn. Oh, we kid with them and play around. We have fun and they love us, but they don’t ever go easy.

After an hour commute to school, four hours of class and an hour commute home, I then climb five flights of stairs to our home. I breathe a breath of relief, drop my bags and eat a quick lunch. Then I study. 3-4 hours usually gets the job done and prepares me for the next day. To not study isn’t an option. To not study means I fail my quizzes and fall behind in class. That’s not an option. So I study. Lois naps and I study. Lois plays on the floor next to me and I study. It is my life. In between these hours of study I find moments of giving my baby tickles and enjoying dinner with my family of three. I rock my baby to sleep and give her her evening bottle. I then tuck her in, kiss her head and study a little more. I go to bed early like an old person and start it all over again the next day.

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And this is how a person learns Chinese. This is how I learn. This is my life. And every minute is worth it. Every minute will make a difference. Every minute will pay off. So, I say to tomorrow, bring it on! (And then after acting strong I beg God for help!)