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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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.

Meeting Sharon

I shuffled through my purse. My fingers felt around as I hoped and prayed that they would find what they were looking for. Nothing. I searched through every little drawer in my jewelry box. Still nothing. My frustration began to slowly build up inside of me. I marched to my room and looked through my dresser and then through Neal’s. Hmph. I started to get frantic. I reached into every pocket of every coat and jacket in the house. Where could they be? My eyes started to sting as my frustration turned to tears.
I hate to lose things. It is one of my least favourite feelings in the world. I especially hate to lose special things. When it happens, it generally spoils my day. Last year at Christmas time, however, it spoiled my entire week when I lost my diamond earrings that Neal had given me the Christmas before. We spent only one Christmas engaged and Neal had given me the earrings to match my engagement ring as my gift. How perfect. How romantic. How sweet. How Thoughtful. How sentimental. How retarded of me to lose them! I was so mad at myself. I can remember getting home from work every day with a new place to look. I was always disappointed to discover that they weren’t there. I tried all the tricks. I thought about the last time I’d had them on, I thought about it before I fell asleep so that I would dream about it and wake up remembering! I quizzed Neal for ideas about where they could be. I PRAYED my heart out! They never showed up. I was becoming quite perplexed about it all. Neal finally told me to let it go and to stop worrying about it. It wasn’t helping anything. Eventually I stopped searching and obsessing. I dealt with it and remorsefully moved on. Sort of.
We continued with our Christmas bliss as newlyweds. We filled stockings, bought and decorated our first tree and made sugar cookies with our Chinese family. All the while those earrings were still in the back of my mind. I was still holding on.
One night our church family in Richmond Hill got together to go Christmas caroling. Neal and I had just started working at the church a few months earlier and the lady we were going to visit was someone whose health had kept her shut in to her home. Everyone else already knew her, but she was only someone we had heard about. She was someone we had prayed for. We walked up to the glass door leading into the lobby and waited for “Sharon” to let us in. Before long a crouched up little lady with matted hair and wilted skin reached up from her wheelchair to push the door open. Something jerked my heart. I didn’t know what I had been expecting, but I certainly wasn’t expecting to see a soul so disease-stricken and frail. It took every bit of her energy to reach up to the handle of the door and open it for us. Her stooped back proved to be quite a detriment. We all piled our way into the lobby with songbooks in hand. The others began to offer their hugs and words of encouragement. I couldn’t find a thing to say. What could I say? I didn’t even know this lady. She didn’t know me. I watched for a moment as she reached up and hugged another lady from the church. It was then that I noticed her eyes. They were glassy and distant. Her eyelids were drooping down, but it didn’t seem to bother her. My heart was tugged again. She was blind. The cancer had literally taken it’s hold on every part of her body. Many realizations took hold of me at that moment. I started to understand the need for our visit. I knew why she had been a prisoner to her little apartment room. Her neck, barely able to hold up her head, was only the beginning of her many handicaps. I realized what a strong woman she truly was and I shuffled my way over to her and squeezed her little shoulders. “Merry Christmas” I told her. “My name is Beth and we have been praying for you.” The Christmas carols began and we all gave it our very best. Sharon sat in her wheelchair and we were there just for her. That little lobby could barely contain “Joy to the World” or “O Come all Ye Faithful.” Before long people began to make their way down the hall to find out what was going on. As soon as they saw Sharon there they knew. All alone, she sat crying and listening. Inside that worn out little body was a beautiful lady who needed to be loved and blessed. She was radiant really. It was only moments before her strength decreased and her afgan was no longer keeping her warm enough. We all prayed with her and headed back to our homes, changed.
I sat myself down in our car and silently re-lived our evening as Neal pulled out of the parking lot. I couldn’t help but feel guilty. Just having Neal there was more than Sharon had. Having that car was a bonus. Tears mazed their way down my face. Neal asked what was wrong. I told him I had learned a valuable lesson. We had given a Christmas gift greater than anything we could ever buy. Humbled and renewed I said, “That sweet little old lady has nothing. No one. She can’t see or walk or do anything. She doesn’t have a single person spending Christmas with her… and I have the nerve to spend a week moping over some earrings…”
It was the truth and I knew it. I spent the rest of the drive drying my eyes and by the time we made it home the earrings were forgotten. For real.
Weeks later I reached into my purse and my fingers touched something small. What could that be? In complete and utter shock I pulled out a diamond earring! I reached in and found another one. Stunned, I sat on the floor and allowed myself to be amazed. The first place I had checked, and re-checked and triple-checked! Smiling, I thanked God. He gave me my earrings back… after I met Sharon.