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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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.

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 Calm

Growing up with five siblings provided for a bustling home. There was never a moment when I was the only person in the house! I’ve almost always shared a room with one of my sisters. I got accustomed to being around people all the time, and I loved every second of it. If Jess and I weren’t playing dolls in our room, I was out in the backyard playing catch with dad or at the kitchen table getting my craft on with people constantly coming and going. To this day I cannot remember a spending a birthday without a bunch of family and friends around. There was always a cake with lots of candles and never any leftovers. Even last year when Neal and I were first married my birthday landed on the day that we took our annual family and friends trip to Canada’s Wonderland. It was perfect. Being surrounded by the people that I loved was the best gift of all.

This year was my quarter century birthday. We spent it in Tennessee! Dad and Mom Ray have gone back to China along with Ben and Zach. Neal and I have had the house to ourselves since we’ve been back. It was almost eerie the first day we were here. There were no doors opening and closing, no cars coming and going, no basketball games playing on the tv and no bustling in the kitchen. We soon adjusted to the quiet by running errands and getting together with friends. The most unusual feeling, however, came on my birthday. I woke up to a quiet house with Neal still sleeping soundly. Where was everyone? He fluttered his eyes and whispered a sweet “Happy Birthday” to me. Before long my Facebook page came alive with birthday wishes and ecards were sent to my email. My sister even posted a video of my niece and nephew singing to me! Neal made me breakfast and he even whipped up a cake! I was impressed. At one point he ran out and came back with a perfect purple orchid. He knows I love purple. It was special. I basically relaxed in the sun all day and checked my phone every time it buzzed with a new notification of a birthday wish. It was quiet and peaceful and completely out of the norm for me! It wasn’t bad in any way, just different… special. Next year I will have a little baby to keep things lively and loud and for the rest of my life things will continue to be loud and busy. This year was just a special treat. I spent my birthday entirely with Neal. I smiled and thought, This IS my family. My whole family is right here with me. My husband and my baby are making this day as perfect as all the rest! It was unforgettable.

I learned that although I wasn’t surrounded by six or eight family members, I was a blessed girl. Blessed to HAVE that many family members who loved me. Blessed to be sent so many hugs and notes. Blessed to have a husband who spoils me rotten! Blessed to have my own little family of three. Blessed to start new traditions. Blessed to look forward to many more bustling birthdays with my own children.

This year was simply the transition year. It was the calm that made me reflect on the blessed life I’ve had and to anticipate the blessed life I will have. It was the perfect birthday and probably the only one I will ever have with just Neal. That makes it invaluable! So this one’s going in the books as record-breaking!

And don’t worry… after Prayer meeting we had some friends from church come over to the house and help us polish off some cake and ice cream. (That was after I’d had time to conclude that this quiet birthday was one I will remember forever as one of the sweetest, most perfect birthdays ever.)

Dedicated to my handsome, loving husband who I will forever cherish.

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.

More than Enough

Salvation first and foremost
Laughing til it hurts
Hugs “they’re my favourite”
Maple lattes
Extra foam, but only the good, frothy, smooth micro foam!
The feeling I get when stepping off a plane. No more cramped legs. Fresh air!
Memories- good and bad for they both build a person
Zebra ANYTHING
My husband
Orange roses
Tim Hortons – Always Fresh
My “Canada” mug that I drink coffee from every morning
Deer jerky (clearly)
Making new friends
Neal
Hearing from old friends
Time with family
Support!
My silver crochet hook… I’m lost without it
VCA 5th and 6th grade class
Edward Neal Ray III
Packages in the mail *hint/cough*
My Birthday MONTH
Sleeping in
Slippers!
Good ol’ Southern fish fry’s
Lipstick pink Louis Vuitton wallet
Mac and Cheese-gotta be KRAFT!
Surprises

A LOVING GOD WHO KNOWS ME AND MEETS MY NEEDS! I couldn’t ask for anything more. If I had to describe all that I have and what’s it worth, I could sum it up by saying I have “more than enough” and it’s worth everlasting thankfulness!