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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
That’s Why This
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
We will soon be moving to Xi’An and settling into our third home in four years!