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.

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!)

Well Done

Well Done

E. A. Ray

To us the race seemed too short

Wasn’t there more to be done?

To Christ the plan was fulfilled

“Welcome home my child, well done”

***

Our hearts hold fear and wonder

How could this be the right way?

Our Creator offers peace

“My ways are higher than yours”

***

To Holland he was a light

Why aren’t there more like this one?

To Christ he’s His beloved child

“Bought with a price, he’s my son”

***

Our feeble minds just see loss

Could this be the fulfilled call?

Our God sees many lives touched

“Well done, thou good and faithful”

***

To us husband, father, friend, son

Though hurting to God we run

To Heaven sweet gets sweeter

“Welcome home my child, well done”

When Reality Hits

It’s not like a wave that gives you ample time to prepare to brace yourself against it. It doesn’t loom and roll and crest before making it’s final foaming crash. You can’t see it coming.

It’s more like thunder during a storm. It crashes all around you in a surprise event. It catches you off guard and shakes your world in a matter of moments.

It hits when you aren’t expecting it: reality.

The first time it reared it’s unexpected head was before we left North America. I had spent the day at the park with my sisters and their kids. I helped my niece climb every ladder to the very top rung. I watched Lois smile and clap as my sister gently pushed her in the swing and talked sweetly to her. I gave my nephew the world’s best under-doggie as only Aunt Beth can do.

As we strolled away, reality hit. I will never do this again. That had been my last time to take a trip to the park with my family. Lois wouldn’t grow up playing with her cousins as I had always assumed she would. Time with my sisters would no longer be readily available. I was leaving. Leaving for good. I put on my brave face and swallowed the lump in my throat.

The next unexpected crash didn’t occur until after we were in China. I was video-chatting with a friend about the simple things in life. I told her about our apartment and she told me about work. She told me about the bulletin board by her desk. She told me she would put our picture there and tell everyone about her friend in China. I cried. I won’t be the lunch-date friend anymore. I’ll be the picture… the one that sits on the desk and gets talked about. The face that never actually gets seen. 

These moments just hit.

I love my life here. I’m sincerely the happiest I’ve ever been. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. That doesn’t mean that I don’t hurt sometimes. Leaving did hurt. Leaving does hurt. Hug after hug tore my heart out. More than once I felt a physical pain for having to say good-bye.

These little epiphanies continue to happen as I realize my life has changed forever.

My friendships consist of smiles and hand gestures.

I have no Wal-Mart(But I do have a Wu Mart) 

Nobody even noticed that I’m wearing different make-up. 

Ground beef is a thing of the past.

Along with these moments, and in greater supply, are the moments I realize the abundant blessings we are and will be receiving. Many of them I can’t express in this blog, but they are real and worth it. Two of these blessings involve an elderly lady (who we have adopted as Lois’ Chinese grandmother) and a teen-age boy. Their “forever” has been changed for the better and that alone has been worth every good-bye, every missed birthday and every memorable moment that would have been.

So, these moments are just that: moments. They come and pass. Just like thunder, they crack and then they are over. And once gone, the sun shines again.

I was writing this blog late Tuesday night. Suddenly our internet stopped working and we haven’t had it back until today. I didn’t know while I was writing it that a dear friend of mine, Joel,  was in an accident in Holland. I did the math with the time change and realized that he probably died in the same hour that I wrote these words.

I re-read my blog post today and realized how petty it was. I came to the realization that life is short and we only get one shot at it. I scolded myself for having cried over my “problems” and thanked God for the awesome privilege of just being His child.

Joel’s wife, Collette is one of my nearest and dearest. She has stood by Joel’s side and been an example to me. She has shown wisdom beyond her years and she has encouraged me more than I’ll ever be able to express.

colletteThe reality is that she has taught and will continue to teach me. The reality is that I have nothing to complain about. The reality is that I need to stop these little pity parties. The reality is that we’re blessed. The reality is that next time a little “moment” pops up, I’ll remind myself of Joel and Collette and how much serving Jesus really matters. In light of that, everything else fades to almost nothing.

Reality is that Joel would’ve counted it a privilege to die in Holland.

Reality is that he lived his dream and today he’s in Heaven with his Creator… and that is a beautiful reality.

My Willows In Beijing

They line the road like a band of grandfather’s watching over me. Their long branches sweep and sway in the smallest of breezes. They hold warmth, vibrant colour and secrets. They’ve watched many people walk by under their protective branches. They’ve been through the changing of seasons and they’ve endured many generations. They’re my willows.

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If I had a dream yard, it would be one with a large, looming willow tree. I’ve always loved them. I’ve always been intrigued by their whimsical look. Whenever I see one I always let out a little squeal of excitement. “Oh, look! A willow!” Without a doubt, they’re my favorite. They seem to pull all the stress right out of one’s life. They bring about a calm sort of relaxing feel. Most importantly, they remind me that I’m loved. They’re my willows.

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God knew I loved willows. He also knew that I would live my life without a yard. Living in China means apartments. Apartments means no yard. I’m fine with no yard. I’m even fine with no willow trees. Yet, God in His sovereign omniscience knew that I loved willows. I like to believe that He planted this particular line of trees right outside of my neighbourhood just for me. He knew that I would walk this stretch of road every day. He knew I would see these trees and smile at them every time I walked by. He knew they would remind me of His love for me. He knew they would confirm that He cares about the little things. And that’s why they’re my willows.

The Unseen

There’s nothing like a family.

In the last month I’ve had four individuals tell me that they pray for me every. single. day. None of them are related to me or have even known me for more than a few years.

One lady upon meeting me for the first time said, “I have been praying for the Rays every day.” Talk about humbling. Another sweet lady that I’ve known for a few years was very convincing in her assurance, “Beth, even though I don’t always tell you this, or talk to you often, always know that I pray for you every day. I’m not just saying it. I actually do it. I don’t do it for everyone, but I do it for you.” I found it difficult to swallow after hearing those words. She taught me a lesson that day. While at a conference I happened to glance at the phone of a gentleman who was talking with Neal. He had a note page open with a list of prayer requests on it. My eyes fell upon this simple phrase: Beth language school. I smiled. Since then that man has kept in close contact with our family. He constantly asks Neal what he can pray for. I had the opportunity recently to bump into a lady that I’ve known since college. I haven’t seen her in about a year, yet she made a point to tell me that she has been praying for me every day. I love to hear that. She said, “I pray for YOU, Beth.” A specific prayer means so much.

Now that’s what I call a family. It’s a special bond that begins the instant you meet a brother or sister in Christ. I never take it for granted to be a part of this family. I can always use the prayer. I know it has seen me through many ups and downs and has probably protected me from many hurts and sorrows. Often we don’t physically see the results of our prayer. We simply pray… believing. God does the rests. He protects and empowers. He gives grace and comfort. He heals the unseen hurts. As we pray, He answers.

Not long ago I was driving our van to give Neal a break. A break was not exactly what he experienced. Rather, I thrust him into a state of unrest as I nearly ran our van off a very steep exit ramp. To this day I don’t know exactly how the “greyhound” (my name for our minivan) stayed on the road. I’m content to say that many people have been praying for us. That day God was answering those prayers.

Neal and I have been trying to get an apartment in China. We had the “perfect” place all picked out. It was amazing. It was more than we could have asked for. We were overwhelmed by the beauty, size and price. Shortly after an offer was placed to rent the apartment, the landlord took the apartment off the market. We were disappointed. It seemed SO RIGHT. We prayed and left the situation in God’s hands. Just a few days later the Lord provided another apartment. It was smaller, more worn down… less expensive! Maybe not the seemingly amazing place that we had looked at before, but we are certain that it is a far better place. It’s the one God gave us and to His all-seeing eye, it is way better than the other. We don’t doubt that many diligent prayer warriors have helped to protect us from a situation that wasn’t good for us. We may never know what God was protecting us from, but we are ever grateful for faithful prayers and God’s perfect will.

This family isn’t exclusive. It’s open and welcoming to all. It’s a network that encourages and uplifts. It is God’s plan and it. is. perfect.

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he. is. enough.

Two months. My “newborn” is two months. She’s turning into a little person. She holds her head up, smiles at me when I talk to her and adores her bath time. Life is different with this little girl. Traveling is now filled with quick stops to feed, changing diapers on the back seat of the car and finding a place to set up the playpen. Meetings are now filled with getting paged to the nursery, trying to keep track of who’s holding the baby and looking for a seat that is relatively close to the exit. Down time is now filled with scrubbing the lovely yellow stains out of bed sheets, playing baby einstein on the tablet and telling my baby girl how much I love her. Our lives have changed and we love it.

Since my last blog, We’ve had Neal’s ordination, Lois’ dedication and my brother’s ordination. In that order. Neal was interrogated on his position on life after death, communion, salvation, Heaven, Hell, baptism, church membership and all kinds of other things. I sat and listened with a proud heart. He answered with confidence and lots of Biblical support. The following morning we brought Lois up before our church and dedicated her to the Lord. She’s His and He is simply letting us take care of her while on earth. It’s a privilege and a huge responsibility! She got a little pink Bible. We’ll keep it forever. That night at church our pastor, Neal’s dad, my dad and several other men laid their hands on Neal and prayed as he was ordained. I had been strong all weekend but when they began to pray for him my heart just overflowed with excitement, emotion and a huge sense of responsibility! The tears flowed. I cried mostly out of a thankful heart. God is going to use Neal. I just know it. He is going to use him in a great way and I am so blessed to be a part of it. I am so blessed to take care of His little girl every day. I am so blessed to have the opportunity to go to China with him. I’m excited about it, emotional about it and yes, I feel the weight of responsibility.

Lately I’ve been pondering our future. China. Small word, big meaning! For me, it means learning a new language. Yeah, I’m scared. I always pray, “Lord, I know I can’t do it, so you’re going to have to do it! Work a miracle!” China also means that I’ll be raising children in a completely different culture. That means more to me now that I have a little baby. I grew up playing baseball in my backyard, having waterfights with neighbourhood friends and ice skating in the winter. I imagine my little girl riding subways, playing with Chinese kids and spending a month listening to fireworks at Chinese New Year. Of course, China means a new home. My home won’t be in Canada anymore. It won’t be in Jackson, Tennessee or on the road. My home will be with my little family. It will be a little “Can-Am” in the middle of Beijing. It will be colourful with fun quotes on the walls. It will be the place that my children will make their memories. It will be the perfect cove when life is getting tough. It will be a banquet hall for the  many friends we will make. It will be a place where God will grow our family and our ministry. Oh I can’t wait! I feel as though my heart is already there. I’m already picturing myself in China and loving it!

I’ve cried often over the last two weeks. Life can be overwhelming at times. I miss people. I miss having a home. I fear the unknown future. Yes, it is too much to bear at times, but thank God, He. is. enough. A wise woman reminded me of that just recently. We are never enough. No one is. Only HE is enough. So when life is crazy busy and there’s so much to worry about…don’t worry. You have a God who is enough.

In love with L.A.

Little tears gathered in my eyes as I stared at that perfect little face. Tears of joy. Tears of wonder. Tears of amazement. Tears of relief. Tears of exhaustion. Tears of excitement. It’s hard to sum it all up. There was so much to absorb as I held my new baby in my arms. She was fresh out of the womb and as soon as her head touched my chest she stilled her flailing hands and quieted her cries. I was her mommy and she knew me. I couldn’t believe it. Her sweet little eyes fluttered. Her little body snuggled up to mine. My baby.

 

My sister Jess explained how she had a whole speech prepared for when she first saw her baby, but when the moment came, she couldn’t say a thing. I was much the same way. I had a perfect little welcome speech to give to my baby, but when I saw her, my heart melted and my mind whirled. I can’t hardly remember what I said. It was just babble. Everything that came to my mind, came out. “She’s beautiful!” “Look at our baby!” “She’s perfect!” “Neal, she has your nose!” It was a wonderful, life-changing moment. I can remember thinking how long she looked, how perfectly her head was shaped, how she looked so much like my handsome husband… how blessed I was.

It’s been over three weeks now and I’ve been adjusting to life with a newborn… hence the lack of blogs. Those three weeks have been exciting and filled with exciting moments. Lois met grandma. She had her first visitors, Pastor and Mrs. Savage. Daddy changed her first diaper… and her second… and the third. What a man! I put her first dress on her. I kissed that perfect head. I snuggled her through the night in the hospital. We spent our first night at home without power. She ate by candlelight :D. She went to church for the first time.  Three aunts came over at once and spoiled Lois rotten! She loved it. We even managed to sneak in some shopping and eating out! She skyped with Aunt Klara. Daily pictures and/or videos have been sent to mawmaw and pawpaw Ray and grandpa and grandma Wood, along with Aunt Natasha and Aunt Heather. In the week previous to, and following her arrival, Lois received way too many packages. Of course, I got to open all of them. :D.

One night Neal and I found ourselves with a few moments together. The baby was sound asleep and we were finally getting some time alone. We talked and snuggled, but before long we found ourselves at the foot of our bed, peeking over the side of hers. With our faces side-by-side, we just stared at her and smiled. Our hearts were over-flowing with love for this sweet “bean”. We still can’t get over it! Just tonight I told Neal, “I love her more and more every day. As I get to know her and become familiar with her face expressions and her personality, I just become more excited and more in love.” A good friend of mine explained it like this, “the littlest thing I’ve ever put my whole life into.” How true it is!

We are blessed. We are thankful. We are overjoyed. We are in love with Lois Ann.

Building Bridges

People are my favourite. I love to meet new people and make new friends. Whether it’s a toddler who just wants to play games on my phone or an old lady who wants to tell me the same story five times, I am simply fascinated with people. A young child’s life with fresh, blank pages, inspires me. Their innocence and curiosity is a wonder. The history of a senior saint with so much in the past is also inspiring. Their wisdom and experience offers a lot for me to learn from. People my own age inspire me as they’re filled with excitement and enthusiasm for their future. Plans are being made and families are being established and it is (in my mind) one of the most exciting times to be alive!

I’m always looking for an opportunity to make a friend. Often at rest stops along the interstate I strike up a conversation with other travelers. Wal Mart never fails to give me an opportunity to ask someone how their day is going and being in a new church every week provides the perfect chance to find a new pen-pal or facebook friend.

In my fervor to be friendly and get to know others, I’ve discovered on a couple of rare occasions that not everyone wants me to talk to them. Not every stranger finds it enjoyable to be asked, “How is your day going.” In fact, some people seem to find it down-right annoying to have a chattering young lady interrupt their life. These are discouraging moments for me. They are moments of rejection. Sometimes I get all disgruntled and I think, well how dare they! And then the game begins… the game of “killing them with kindness.” I determine in my mind to make them like me. I use every means necessary to win them over. Once in college I delivered a fresh loaf of banana bread and an invitation to our church to a Wal Mart employee who was simply not “breaking.” I always tried to be kind and thoughtful, but every time I got shot down with disgruntled “hmphs” and the ever-effective rolling of the eyes. I saw a small glimmer of hope when I went out of my way to act kindly toward her. As I told her that I brought her a small gift her eyes seemed to lighten a little. Just a little. Then I explained how I always saw her working there and I just wanted to do something special for her. It seemed like a small barrier had been broken down at that moment. A very small barrier. It was enough to give me hope! I smiled and went on my way.

Recently I’ve been spending a lot of time at the Jackson Clinic for my OBGYN appointments. I love the staff there and most of them are Christians. It’s always fun to hear my baby’s heartbeat and to look forward to the “big day.” Side note: everything is going wonderfully and my doctor tells me that I’m right where I need to be! With only seven weeks to go I’m feeling great. Back to the point: there is one  particular receptionist who simply will not smile or hardly even make eye contact with me. I’ve conversed with one young lady about our travels and life on the road. Another was more than happy to look at my ultrasound picture and be excited with me. But this one was not breaking. She’s expecting a child in August and I’ve noticed her belly growing every time I’ve been in the office. With this in mind, I began to put together a cunning plan. I would bring her something for her baby! How could a person reject that! I pulled out a couple of little hats that I’d crocheted and stuffed them in my purse on my way to my next visit. After seeing the doctor and getting ready to head out to my van, I stopped by her desk and began the small talk. When are you due? What are you having? (Thankfully she was expecting a girl! I didn’t have any boy hats). What will you name her? She answered all my questions and then I hit her with it. “Well, I make these little hats and I’ve made several for my baby girl so I thought I’d bring some for your little baby too.” And that was all it took. As I handed her the little gift, a change came over her. Her eyes lit up and a big smile broke across her face. A little squeal of excitement broke out and then amazement filled her voice, “That was so sweet!” We talked some more and I left with a new friend. Sometimes it just takes a simple gesture to win someone over. Stuffing a couple hats in my purse didn’t take any extra effort but it was the bridge that crossed the divide! It would be easy to simply see a different receptionist every time. It would be easy to ignore her and let her be, but I read somewhere that “a man that hath friends must show himself friendly.” It’s a lesson that I’ve often over-looked. Maybe I’ve even missed out on some great friends because I wasn’t practicing “friendliness”, but if God is ever going to use me to make a difference in the life of others, it has to start with a little action on my end. A simple gesture…

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