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!

 

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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”

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.

A Life

A baby. A perfect gift from God. I can’t explain how Neal and I felt when we first discovered there was a little life growing inside of me. We were excited. We were blessed. I was… exhausted and nauseous! The reason for my desire to sleep all day, every day became clear. I couldn’t figure out what my problem was. An hour after waking up I would feel the need to crawl back under the covers and drift off. The only comfort to feeling that sick was knowing that it was for a good cause! We booked an appointment at our local clinic and struggled to keep our secret. We were like little kids whispering back and forth and knowingly smiling at one another throughout the day. Everyone else was oblivious, but it was precious to be the only two people in the world who knew what we knew.
That first appointment came. I was lucky to have had the time and energy to splash some make-up on my face before heading out the door. We met with the doctor and our joyful news was confirmed. Our baby was already six weeks old. It wasn’t long before the doctor had a slight cause for some concern. I was sent for an ultrasound to double-check. I had no idea what to expect. I’ve never been pregnant before! Neal joined me in the ultrasound room. The nurse there was kind and she began the process. A little picture showed up on the wall and I just stared. She moved the picture around to look for any problems. I couldn’t tell what we were looking at. It was like a TV channel that had gone fuzzy. Before I knew it the nurse began to place little dots on the screen. they surrounded a tiny bean in the center of a small circle. I clued in! “Is that my baby?” She answered in the positive. I cried, “It’s so cute! It’s so small!” Again, she began placing tiny dots on the screen. This time they were surrounding a tear-drop sized circle that seemed to be moving. “What’s that?” The heart. My babies heart. It was moving and pumping blood through his (generic term) tiny little body. More tears came as Neal and I absorbed what we were seeing. I kept asking him, “Do you see it? Isn’t it cute?” Soon we heard a tiny pitter patter. It caught me quite by surprise. We were only expecting to have a doctor tell us what we already knew, but there we were in a whimsical moment drinking in the reality of our new family member. I whispered my amazement, “It’s a miracle. My little baby already has it’s own heart and blood.” The nurse never found any problems and I praise the Lord for that. We left as happy parents.
Life is a miracle. It is a gift, and it begins when that tiny bean is still inside. The Bible says that “life is in the blood.” When a baby has blood at six weeks (and even earlier), it has life. IT IS a life. I later said to Neal, “How could anyone see something like that and say it’s not a life?”
The weeks dragged on and every day was filled with nausea and exhaustion. My appetite was nowhere to be found and sleep was my best friend! I’ve never vomited, but I always feel like it! BUT, the Lord knew what He was doing. With our amount of traveling, I wouldn’t want to be vomiting in the car, on the side of the road, and definitely not in a strangers home! The nausea I can deal with. One Wednesday night I simply did not have the energy to get up out of our car. We had just pulled into a church parking lot for our final meeting in a conference, but my stomach was raging! I simply pulled a pillow and blanket from the back seat (I never go on a road trip without these key items) and snuggled up with heels and all! I slept right through that service, but I was thankful I wasn’t vomiting in the church bathroom! The Lord timed it perfectly and I’m starting to come out of the first trimester with more strength! I still haven’t been able to get over how God has blessed us. I feel my child’s personality already. Maybe it’s in my head… or maybe not. I keep telling people that my “inner woman” is telling me we’re having a boy. Neal insists it’s a girl. Again, my “inner woman” is telling me that he’s just saying that to keep me from expecting a boy. Either way, he/she is ours and we will LOVE him/her!
I’m open to advise from women who have had children. Someone told me to drink red raspberry tea! It’s supposed to strengthen the uterus and help with a smooth labour. I’ve been drinking it every day! My sister told me to use bio oil to strengthen my skin and avoid stretch marks. I’m giving it a try. (Can’t hurt right?) Also, a friend told me that she always ate sour candy to help with nausea. I tried it… she was right. Not forgetting the ginger candies my mother-in-law picked up for me to soothe my stomach. I’m learning. Learning what to eat, what not to eat, what to drink, what not to drink, what to do, what not to do and everything else that I question. One article I enjoyed was the one that said “highlighting your hair is not proven to be harmful!” I’m waiting until 13 weeks just to be safe. 😉 One article I did NOT like said, “don’t spend too much time in the sun!” REALLY?!?! That’s my favorite thing… AND we’ll be in Florida. I’m not sure if I believe that one. ANY comments? Please share your experiences with me. I’m curious and ready to learn!

Please pray for my friends, Matt, Lana and Maddison Cretzman. They just lost a precious member to their family: Azlynn. My heart has been heavy for this family. It’s hard to rejoice over my own child’s life while they’ve just lost their child. She was a precious, beautiful life and is now resting in the arms of our Heavenly Father. Please pray for this family.