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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The Eating Thing

Wrinkled. Weathered. Worn.

These were the hands that held out a piece of corn to Lois and I. I smiled and tried to politely refuse. (It never works). I took the corn. Neal has taught me that when the Chinese give you food, you eat it. Simple as that. To not eat it is rude, showing a great disrespect. I shoved all hesitation from my mind and enthusiastically chomped down. I shared with Lois and she ate more vigorously than I.

We were just there to get some pictures printed. I didn’t even know her! She didn’t know me! Why would she do that? It’s so…

I chuckled to myself. This custom is one I would have to learn to love.

Neal was going to be a while at the print shop so I stepped out into the courtyard of the small shopping complex. Little stores lined the square with tiny homes nestled above each one. The occasional dog could be found making a meal of the garbage littering the street. Bikes and scooters crowded the small, uneven road.

I ventured across the street to buy my favorite bread. These warm, round creations are made by my friend with two very brown front teeth whose name I’ve yet to learn. We always share a smile and a nod. At first I wrinkled my nose at his filthy shirt and his dumpy shack. I batted at the flies and whined about the black pit he was baking the bread in. I dared to ask, “Does he wash his hands after touching the money?” Apparently he keeps a damp cloth beside him and taps it between serving customers and patting out his dough. But now… now I don’t see the flies. Now I wake up craving this bread and when I’m in the area I can’t help myself from picking up a few pieces. I grabbed four. Lois and I strolled back across the street.

I stopped to make conversation with a young lady standing outside her little restaurant. She touched Lois’ white skin and asked me a thousand questions. I smiled and nodded. I introduced Lois and used every word I knew. She could see I was trying and we smiled as I repeated the same things over and over. We drew a crowd. Several people peered out of the windows above while others poked their heads out of their shops. Some simply walked right up and tried to join the non-existing conversation. My newfound friend disappeared into her restaurant and came back with a treat for Lois. Go figure. She shared a small pastry and a bottle of juice. We shared a few bites and sipped a few sips. Pure joy flooded across the girl’s face. What is it about this eating thing?

As we enjoyed our snack a familiar face appeared. Mrs. Lee,  a sweet friend of the family owned a little shop and home in that complex. She beamed and excitedly chatted while scooping up Lois. I pointed at Neal (still in the print shop) and tried to figure out where she had come from. She grinned from ear to ear and pulled me to her shop. Out came a peach for Lois and a coke for me. I chugged. Lois chomped. We’ve got this eating thing DOWN!

The courtyard soon became a buzz. I shared my “nang” bread and watched Lois get hugged and fed.

Neal finally finished his business but our afternoon was far from over. We were soon ushered to the little plastic table sitting in the middle of the courtyard. Before I knew what was happening a large bowl of noodles, cucumber and tofu was placed in front of me. (And another coke). Neal and I dug right in. It was delicious. Even more impressive than the noodles, however, was the gesture. It absolutely made their day to be able to share their food with us.

I wrapped my arm around Mrs. Lee and struggled to thank her. I looked around at the sweet faces that had shared with us that day. Their houses were a single room above a tiny store. They gave what they would normally be making a living off of. They showed a desire to be a friend to someone who couldn’t even talk to them. “Thank you” was so small. I wanted to say, “You are just the sweetest to do all of this for us and you absolutely didn’t have to and I’m just so overwhelmed with your kindness and you are just so nice and thank you so much for being my friend when I can’t even talk to you.” I was humbled. I gave a smile and a squeeze in hopes that my meaning would be felt.

Neal and I finally left with bags of yogurt, cokes and gifts. More importantly, we left feeling loved, welcomed and accepted. The food thing had worked. They had expressed their friendship and we had accepted it.

Another day in China down for the records.

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.