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!

 

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.

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.

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.