Traveling Abroad with Kids

I have a quiet evening all to myself. In case you didn’t read that correctly, I’ll repeat: I have a quiet evening all to myself. Spring has decided to stay and everyone has a little bit of rose in their cheeks from the sunshine. My girls are in bed and Lois and Abby are chattering and tickling and oh, I’ll just let them carry on. Sometimes I just let them talk and play and, let’s be real, develop a relationship. Their little whispers are filled with mischief and imagination and sisterhood. I love it. With five siblings, I know just how important it is to develop that relationship. It’s one that never goes away. It’s one that doesn’t disappear with distance and it is one that is given to us by God.

Back to that quiet evening…

My mother-in-law told me a while back that I need to write a list of everything that I did on our flight from China to America to make it easier. I don’t have it all figured out, but I’ve made that flight a few times, and this last time we had two toddlers and a baby. My plan of attack when it comes to flying has been slowly developed over the last few years. It is the product of trial and error as I’ve tried to find what works best. It is not perfect and it is not for everyone. It is simply an agglomeration of suggestions and in many ways a note to self for future reference. If you’re interested, continue reading. If it does not apply to you or interest you, I hope you enjoyed my sentiments in the first paragraph!

The Game Plan

  • Book the afternoon flight. This was the first time that Neal had booked us an evening flight. We were always getting up at three or four in the morning to catch the eight or nine o’clock plane and it was brutal. Pulling sleeping babies out of their bed and patting their cheeks to try to wake them up is just hard. Arriving at the airport already exhausted is hard. The evening flight was amazing. I let the girls sleep in and get completely rested. They got up and got showered and fed and we arrived at the airport, rested, full-bellied (it is a word, maybe) and clean! Starting the trip on the right foot can make a huge difference. This flight isn’t always an option, but when it is, I highly recommend it!
  • Get some sleep. When packing for a trip of this magnitude, it’s easy to get caught up in last-minute details and work into all hours of the night packing, cleaning out the fridge, getting the house in order and a million other “must-do” things. However, flying with kids is draining and it’s worse when you arrive at the front end of the trip exhausted.
  • Make a list. Have a list of things to do and grab before you head out the door and don’t lock that door behind you until those things are done. You don’t want to walk out the door without your stroller!
  • Bring a stroller. Oh, it’s a hassle. Of course it is. But it is also a bed for your infant when you’re waiting at your gate for two hours. It can also be a life-saver if you have to make a mad dash for your gate with three kids in tow. It can also be an extra place to store the diaper bag or your kids’ backpacks when they get tired. In some cases, it is even a cup holder.
  • Bring a kangaroo. Not the animal. I’m talking about those things that you strap to yourself and then stick your child in and then clip a million clips to secure them. This might be extreme. However, I found that the stroller and the kangaroo both had their purposes and I thoroughly appreciated having both. With the kangaroo, I could carry Naomi close to me and Abby could sit in the stroller if  we had to walk all the way through the Chicago Airport (who am I kidding, we always have to walk all the way through). Also, the kangaroo keeps your baby right up close and attached to you if you doze off at the gate or on the plane. It also will free up both of your hands to purchase a cup of coffee.
  • Drink a cup of coffee. Enough said.
  • Bring a backpack. Bring as many backpacks as you have able-bodied packers! Lois and Abby both carried little backpacks on this last trip and it worked out beautifully. They were the perfect size and they both had a free hand to pull a mini carry-on and tuck a blanket under their other arm. I had a backpack and Neal had a backpack. It’s just another way to keep two hands free.
  • Have a seat bag and a stow bag. The girls used their backpacks for everything they would use on the plane. Toys, sippy cup and slippers. The small bag fit perfectly on the seat next to them while the roller bag is stowed over-head with the “emergency items”. No one wants to get up and down pulling heavy suitcase from overhead. However, those suitcases are necessary in case of spills, soiled clothes or an unexpected overnight stay. Also, if that little backpack can fit inside the carry-on then while you’re walking through the airport, you would have less bags to think about. Then, right before you board the plane, pull out the back pack and you’re good to go.
  • Pack sparingly. Lois and Abby were each allowed one toy, one stuffy, and one coloring book. Keep in mind that what you bring heading “to” will also have to come back “from” that place. Don’t worry about your kids being “too bored”. It doesn’t matter how many toys and activities you have for them, they will always be bored of all the activities (whether three or ten) within the first thirty minutes. Or maybe my kids are just “special” and everyone else’s children have thirteen-hour attention spans. Anyone?
  • Bring a sippy cup. Remember that I’m talking toddlers. When the airplane beverages come by, they always come in plastic cups that are placed on a little, wobbly fold-out tray. Anyone else smell a disaster? We spill every time. Again, it might just be my kids. However, no-one likes a wet seat, or clothes, or blanket. So, when drinks come by, have those cups ready and kindly ask the attendant to pour the water in. My cups have little handles on them that hook right onto the pocket of the seatback and the girls can continue coloring or playing without having to clear a space for their drink. It’s beautiful.
  • Drink water. I try to avoid letting the girls have sugar drinks while flying. Every mom understands that and I know that’s a no-brainer!
  • Let them sleep. Letting yourself and your children get a “head-start” on overcoming jet lag sounds great in theory, however, it is not great. No matter what you do, you will have to fight the jet lag battle when you arrive on the other side of the world. No exceptions. So, instead of making your children stay awake for thirteen hours of being buckled to a seat, just let them rest and fight that “stay-awake” battle once you’re on the other side. Two of my girls slept for ten hours of our first flight. Abby slept for eight hours with a short break in the middle. That left only a few hours of awake time in which they played with their toys and ate a meal. It was quiet and we arrived in Chicago rested. (Another reason to get that evening flight… you’re flying during everyone’s bedtime!)
  • Smile and stay calm. There are people who love you on the other end. Pouting and getting worked up only makes things worse.
  • Sleep some more. Once you reach your destination, let everyone get to bed and sleep for as long as they will. That first night will be a long one and your kids will be tired from the flight. They will probably sleep deep and long so, let them. The next day, keep everyone active and awake until the second night and that’s when jet lag shows it’s true colors. When my girls wake up in the night, I go to them, make sure they know I’m there and keep the lights off and keep everyone still. They might not sleep, but if their bodies are at least resting, it will help. Don’t let them get up and play. Don’t turn the lights on. Just stay with them. A few nights of brutality and a few days of staying busy and only allowing for half-hour naps will be well worth it. Don’t drag it out for weeks and weeks, just hit it hard on night two and within a week, you should be basically swapped over.

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Lois got invited to try out the pilot’s seat. Big day.

Now, the evening is almost over and the girls have drifted off. Naomi (who is growing way too fast and can now crawl!) is down for the count and I’ve checked something off of my to-do list! All good things. Now, after talking about sleep so much, I’m tired and I think I’ll sleep.

Culture Shock: It Goes Both Ways

America. The grass, it was green. I found myself in the Chicago, O’hare airport staring out the window (which was so clean you wouldn’t even know it was there) at the beautiful grass. It was perfectly manicured and not a fleck of brown could be spotted! It was lush and healthy. Oh, how pretty! I could’ve stared at it all day. Like a child, I commented to Neal, “Look at how pretty the grass is!” He, clearly not as enthused as I, replied, “Yeah.” Listening to me, you would have thought I’d never seen green grass in my life. In reality, it had only been a year. A year was long enough to forget how perfectly stunning and wonderful something as simple as grass could be.

It wasn’t our plan to spend our short summer in the states. Circumstances left us with no choice. So, back we went. It turned out to be exactly what I needed… right when I needed it. Culture shock was setting in hard and heavy during that last month in China. Every little thing was getting under my skin and my Mandarin was hardly up to par.

People talking about me (right in front of me) in the market was aggravating. “Where do you think she’s from? Probably Germany.” “Look at her child, she needs to put more clothes on her.” “Do you think she’s married to a Chinese man? Or maybe she’s working here.” I felt like telling them I could understand what they were saying about me and that I found it rude. I couldn’t seem to get the sentences out, so instead I listened… and fumed. Even if I had said something, it wouldn’t have made a difference. The conversation would have carried right on without a glitch. And that too was annoying.

Perfect strangers rubbed Lois’ face as if she was a doll. They even called her a “foreign” doll.

People gave me their opinion about everything. “You shouldn’t wear high heals when you’re pregnant. You’re hurting your baby.” “Don’t drink cold water, it’s bad for your health.” “Put more clothes on your child, she’ll get sick!”

I was rude to turn down any food offered to me, while my own Western dishes were declined with a wrinkled nose and an odd stare.

In WuMart I was approached by a perfect stranger. A man, who appeared to be younger than myself, came within just a few feet of Lois and my pregnant self and without a word, started snapping pictures of us. You can imagine that in my pregnant state, I wasn’t very welcoming of candid photos. He finished his business of invading our space and concluded with a “thank you” before turning and walking away. I all-too-quickly snapped back, “You didn’t even ask us, so why are you thanking us?” He didn’t reply and I left the market… fuming.

All of these experiences and many more were piling up to a mountain of culture shock. America was a welcome sight. I was expecting all of my troubles to disappear with the rumble of the plane wheels on the tarmac. And for a while that is exactly what happened. I soaked up every ounce of everything that I had missed. I was carefree and relaxed. However, after eating my weight in queso dip and hitting all my favorite stores within four days of arriving, I found myself less than fulfilled. I missed home. After only two weeks I was missing the sights and sounds of China. I was even missing all the free advice!

It was then that American culture shock set in. I was expecting culture shock in China. After all, everything about the place went directly against my grain. I was adapting to a completely opposite way of life than what I was used to. I was NOT expecting to culture shock in the states. I wasn’t expecting to find myself opening my mouth to speak a Chinese word only to remember at the last second that this was an English speaking country. A slight twinge of sadness always pricked me when that happened. I missed it. I wasn’t expecting to find myself constantly making excuses for Lois. She would say, “shu shu hao” (a common and respectful greeting to older men) to strangers in restaurants or stores. In the beginning I would tell them, “Oh we live in China and she’s greeting you in Chinese, she’s not talking baby talk.” Most people just shrugged it off and after a while I simply stopped explaining. There were a few occasions when Lois saw a cellphone and automatically smiled at it. More explaining. “In China she gets photographed every time she leaves the house. She doesn’t LOVE the camera, she’s just used to always having to smile when she sees one.” Again, no one was interested. Our friends and family were patient and understanding, but life outside of that was different. It was awkward and I felt oddly out of place. I was still me, yet there was a whole part of me that no one knew a lick about or would even expect. And so, I tried my best to bury it for our few weeks there.

Coming back to China, TWO babies in tow, I was over-joyed. This was our life. This was the plan God had for us. All of a sudden, those little things that were driving me crazy when we left were the very things I found myself smiling at and embracing when we returned. A dear sweet friend of ours approached me only a few days after arriving to remind me that our newborn should have a hat on every single day. I smiled, threw my arm around her old shoulders and told her I loved her and had missed her. She returned the love and hug and I was smiling on the inside at the irony of how perfectly happy her comment had made me.

Culture shock comes and goes. As we change and grow and accept new people and places, we are challenged. The more we overcome these challenges, the more this place becomes a part of us and the harder it is to keep China and our family here from creeping into our hearts and changing us.

All for the Love of Eggs

A toothless, wrinkled face stared blankly at me. I tried to explain, but it was pointless.

The wu mart (yes, that is actually what it’s called) down the road is my favorite grocery store. It’s close enough to walk to and it carries all the necessities: milk, butter, bread. Oddly enough these items can be difficult and expensive to find here in China. So, there I was shopping. I stared at my list. Eggs were at the top.

Crates of eggs. Eggs in plastic containers. Eggs in flat cartons. Eggs in bags. Eggs were everywhere. Which ones are the “normal” eggs? I figured the eggs in the packages were “special” eggs so I made the executive decision to draw from the crates. Now I just needed a bag. I glanced all around for plastic bags. None. I spotted a man with two in his hand and asked, “Where did you get those bags?” Blank stare. “The bags. I need a bag for my eggs.” Quizzical stare. Now what?

Finally I started gesturing and drawing an unnecessary amount of attention to myself as I tried to get my point across. The man finally caught on to my need and held out one of his bags to me. Embarassed, I took the bag and explained, “Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean for you to give me one of yours!” I chuckled. He had no clue. I figured I’d better apologize in Mandarin. “Bu ke chi.” Oh wait, that’s “don’t be polite.” I tried again,Dui bu chi!” Oops, that was “excuse me.” Oh well, close enough. He gets the point. I shrugged. He shrugged. I filled my precious bag with eggs.

I took my eggs to the attendant to weigh and price them. I waited patiently while he helped another customer weigh her melons. He finished with her then went back to his work. Hello! I’m standing right here with my eggs! I looked expectantly at him. No response. I held up my eggs and pointed at the scale. A blank stare answered me. He continued to help another customer. How dare he! He is just totally ignoring me! Well, I’d had enough of that. I walked right in front of him, “Can you please weigh these for me?” He got animated and began rattling off in some unknown tongue. His arms flew one way as he pointed at the trays of eggs and then he whipped himself around and pointed at the crates. It was my turn to give a blank stare. A bystander came to the rescue. “He says you have to buy the tray of eggs.” Her English was clear and welcomed! “WHY?” I asked, frantic and confused. She rattled off to him and he rattled back with his flailing arms. “He says that the crates are the eggs they use to package and price the trays for the customers.” Seriously? Apparently I’d made a poor choice. Shoulda picked the “special” eggs. 

Finally that disgruntled, wrinkled old man took my little bag of eggs and placed them on a scale. He rudely laughed and shook his head while muttering out a few choice words. I imagine he ways saying things like, “This dumb foreign girl just doesn’t know how we do things here in China.” He wouldn’t have been far from the truth!

I smiled and thanked him, “Xie xie.” Got that one right.

I left wu mart with my head held high. Mission accomplished! I had done it all by myself.

Seconds after leaving the store I had a little mishap. I peered down at my highly-faught-for bag of eggs to find several of them cracked and broken. They were oozing all over my precious plastic bag. Shoulda got a tray.

Spotted this little guy on my daily walk. He stared and I stared back. Then I acted like a tourist and snapped a picture! (He’s far more interesting to look at then a bag of broken eggs.)

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.

Adjusting?

Lois is snoozing in her playpen. I’m having a quiet moment all to myself. These moments have been rare since we arrived here a week and a half ago. I’ve managed to clean all the dishes and do all my laundry. I even ran out to the market today. I was looking for avacado and zucchini. I came home with green melon and cucumber. Close enough. It seems that every time I go out to hunt (that is literally what I do, hunt) for something specific, I can’t ever seem to find it. The grocery store was a bit of a scare. While they didn’t carry any of my beloved colby jack cheese, they did have pig snouts, live shrimp, dried fish, hundreds of spices, noodles galore and kellogs corn flakes (those were oddly out of place). I picked up a bag of chips and said to Neal, “These look like sour cream and onion.” He replied, “No, they’re green tea flavored.” Huh. I opted out and got the cucumber ones instead. I’m having really good luck with cucumber apparently. I tried to meal-plan for the week. Instead, I bought what looked familiar to me and hoped it would get us through! Bisquick doesn’t exist. I’ve made biscuits, pancakes, taco seasoning, cake and tortillas from scratch! Call me Martha Stewart. The good news is, we have fresh vegetables with no preservatives or pesticides. And of course, green melon and cucumber.

Often people look at me and start rattling off in Chinese. Why do they assume I speak it? I simply smile and talk back in English. Occasionally I throw in my limited Chinese and we get somewhere. Most of the time we just end up awkwardly smiling at each other until Neal comes to the rescue. I really am trying. Every day I learn new words and phrases, and every day I feel SO lost. I’ve learned the alphabet (talk about feeling like a child) and now when I hear words, I try to spell them out. At times I’m successful. Oh, to be able to speak! There have been many occasions where I would have loved to just tell someone I liked their blouse or ask them about their children, but I just can’t. For a girl who likes to talk, I’ve been awfully quiet. This motivates me to learn. I ask Neal a lot, “How do you say…”. I get the most help from the children. They’re always happy to teach me. I point at things and they say the word. I repeat and they giggle. I giggle too then I practice it over and over. This is the first step to communicating. Maybe it seems humiliating, but I’m just so eager to talk that I’ll do anything! At the market today I pointed to the mangoes (the only fruit I know how to say) and said the Chinese word for mango. The lady nodded. I then pointed at another fruit and she said the name of it. I repeated it. It’s slow, but sure. Everything is this way. Everything takes time and effort. I feel a bit like a prisoner. When I communicate just a little, I get a taste of freedom and it makes me work harder to escape this silent life! Language school will be a relief!

I elbowed my way onto a bus the other day. I learned fast that you have to be quick and a little pushy to get anywhere. We use public transportation all the time. Buses, taxis and subways get us to where we need to go. Getting onto a city bus is almost like a game. Everyone waits at the bus stop and when the bus starts to approach they all start walking toward where they think the door will end up. You have to be a good judge of speed and distance! People start moving faster as the bus slows down and as soon as those doors crank open, it’s every man for himself. Neal grabs one end of the stroller and I grab the other and we just charge on through the mob! I stick my elbows out and get my foot up on the step to block everyone else (in the kindest way possible) and we haul ourselves on in. Waiting isn’t an option. Waiting means everyone thinks you aren’t getting on. Waiting means you miss the bus. Waiting means you lose the game. It’s just the way of life and I’ve gotten rather used to it in this short amount of time.

Once on the bus (or subway) Lois is usually the main attraction. I’ve had people lean right in front of me to get a better look at her white skin and blue eyes. I usually hear them comment about how “pretty” or “cute” she is. Those are words that I’ve gotten quite used to identifying! On the subway I can usually count at least ten people with their eyes fixed on her. It doesn’t matter what time of day or where we are going, they always love to see her. If I put Lois on my lap she usually tries to grab the person next to us. This brings on a flood of ooohs, aaaahs, smiles and laughter. I always smile back. I’ve got a friendly little girl. From time to time certain people will hold out their arms to hold her. Lois goes willingly. Then the cameras come out! Everyone wants a picture with the cute little white baby. We’re going to have to work hard to keep her humble! I find it so amusing to watch as people surround her while we’re shopping. One day I counted seven grown ladies bent over in a circle around her stroller. Neal and I were trying to look at couches. All the sales reps were trying to look at Lois. What a dilemma. We just smiled and snickered. They always ask Neal how old she is and how many teeth she has. He’s a proud daddy and loves to show her off. I’m a task-oriented woman and I just think, can’t we just buy a couch! One day I’ll be able to speak and bringing Lois everywhere will provide a lot of open doors.

Just the other day a man tried to talk with me while I was holding Lois. It was useless. After finding I couldn’t understand him, he then decided he’d just like to hold Lois. I hesitated. He was filthy. I looked at Neal and he nodded his approval. I handed Lois off and the man grinned from ear to ear. That moment changed me. I was reminded that Lois wasn’t mine. She has just been given to me for a little while. I will cherish her, nurture her and do my very best to take care of her, but if I teach her to be friendly and to love people, she will have that forever. She was sweet to that man. I would’ve turned the other way and probably not’ve even noticed him, but a small door was opened as  I learned a lesson through my baby girl. I was also reminded that everyone is precious in HIS sight. Nobody gets overlooked. I accepted it and tried to change my attitude and outlook. IMG_0018

After we finally made it on the bus.

I’ve learned that if I pull her out of the stroller and hold her, I always get offered a seat.

(Don’t spill the beans on my little secret!)

I’ve had my challenges for sure. Every day I wonder what I’ll learn. I still have little moments when I miss home and family. I wait for the moment when something feels, looks, sounds, smells familiar. I’ve finally figured out how to get around in our apartment complex and that was a victorious moment! Baby steps. God has been good through it all and although I feel like adjusting will take several years, I AM adjusting… little by little. Hanging my clothes to dry is feeling normal, I’m developing a taste for fresh fruits and veggies (not hard to do) and stopping to let people talk to Lois is becoming old hat. I love it. Listen to me… it’s as if I’d been here for years!

The Journey to China

An old Chinese man snored loudly with his face pointed to the ceiling of the plane. The lady behind us smelled… interesting. The flight attendant was irritable and no matter how many sleepy smiles I cracked, she wouldn’t return one. Lois had a friend, Lily, who she shared her cheerios with. They sat on the floor by the exit row trying to grab each other’s faces and sharing a language that only the two of them understood. One kind lady continually smiled at me as I strolled up and down the narrow aisles with my baby girl. They fed us eggs at four A.M. I hardly ate. I hardly slept. Neal hardly slept. Lois slept like a baby, literally. Altogether, the flight was a good one. I prayed specifically for three things: an extra seat for Lois to sit, play and sleep in, our luggage to arrive safe with nothing missing and an easy pass through customs. Each of those prayers was answered above and beyond. My God is just like that. He answers prayers exceeding abundantly above what I ask or think. The wheels of the plane hit solid ground with a gentle thud and I knew we were there. Neal reached and pulled the blind up the window and I gazed out, drinking it all in. Four years is a long time to not see a place, yet so much of it became immediately familiar. The grey, rainy, Beijing sky welcomed us. In some ways it seemed more like it was daring us. Daring me. Daring me to build a life there. Daring me to tackle the tough, foreign language. Daring me to accept the people and culture. Daring me to try to make a difference. I was excited and intimidated all at once.

Before long we were stepping off the plane and onto Chinese soil… or concrete. Whichever is more fitting. Then it hit me in a wave of familiarity: the China smell. It’s nothing that can be described as good or bad. It’s simply different and there’s only one place in the world you can smell it. It was strangely comforting to me. I liked feeling familiar with something. We took a narrow escalator up to our floor. On the way up I stared out the glass windows. With Lois on my hip and bags slung over my shoulder I pointed outside, leaned in and whispered in her ear, “Look, it’s our new home.” The last word came out as more of a choked mumble. For the first time, I was calling this place home. I was emotional for many reasons. One, we were finally there and God had been so good. Two, I was calling a place home that I knew relatively nothing about. Three, I was exhausted. Five hours of sleep in forty-eight hours doesn’t help anything. I continued by smiling and sighing. This was it. We sailed through customs with only one person ahead of us. (We were moved up to the VIP line. Coincidence? I don’t think so.) We picked up our four bags of luggage (yes, only four. One of us has awesome packing skills. ahem.) and we were on our way.

A Chinese man, a friend of the family, met us in the airport. He quickly grabbed my cart and pushed it for me. I was thankful. I smiled and said “hello”. He nodded. I thanked him for taking the cart. He nodded. He and Neal struck up conversation and organized our way home. I had forgotten how loud the city was until we stepped outside. Every vehicle was seemingly honking. People everywhere were chatting on their phones and zig zagging to make their way to their destination. Our Chinese friend stopped to take a picture with Lois. I smiled. She was popular already. It all happened so fast for my still-sleepy brain. I found myself on over-drive as I absorbed the smallest of details. I noticed a lady walking by with brooches on the sleeves of her shirt. I smiled at a small girl with mouse faces on her shoes. I eyeballed a man in a suit who seemed to think he looked sharp. We were soon ushered to the van and on our way. Lois and I sat by the window and the smoggy air provided a welcome breeze. She was soon sound asleep in my lap.

The Ray’s apartment looked like Heaven. It was a place to stretch out, get cooled off and just relax. Lois explored the entire house. I listened as her hands patted the tile floor. She was never too hard to find. She finally slumped into a restless, jet-lagged sleep and Neal and I contacted our families. The lonliness set in. I couldn’t talk to anyone. The helplessness set in. I couldn’t understand anything. The exhaustion set in. I slipped off to bed for a night of crying from Lois and hardly any sleep for me. This was the beginning of our journey. After getting some rest I found my excitement. The next day was filled with little moments of joy and pleasure as the realization of our future dawned. This is the life we are called to, and it’s a good one. Jesus said, “He that loseth his life for my sake shall find it.” In many ways the life that I once knew and was so familiar with is lost to me. I am now on a journey to finding the life God has for me. I’m about to carve a new “normal” out of this intriguing culture. How exciting.

The Unseen

There’s nothing like a family.

In the last month I’ve had four individuals tell me that they pray for me every. single. day. None of them are related to me or have even known me for more than a few years.

One lady upon meeting me for the first time said, “I have been praying for the Rays every day.” Talk about humbling. Another sweet lady that I’ve known for a few years was very convincing in her assurance, “Beth, even though I don’t always tell you this, or talk to you often, always know that I pray for you every day. I’m not just saying it. I actually do it. I don’t do it for everyone, but I do it for you.” I found it difficult to swallow after hearing those words. She taught me a lesson that day. While at a conference I happened to glance at the phone of a gentleman who was talking with Neal. He had a note page open with a list of prayer requests on it. My eyes fell upon this simple phrase: Beth language school. I smiled. Since then that man has kept in close contact with our family. He constantly asks Neal what he can pray for. I had the opportunity recently to bump into a lady that I’ve known since college. I haven’t seen her in about a year, yet she made a point to tell me that she has been praying for me every day. I love to hear that. She said, “I pray for YOU, Beth.” A specific prayer means so much.

Now that’s what I call a family. It’s a special bond that begins the instant you meet a brother or sister in Christ. I never take it for granted to be a part of this family. I can always use the prayer. I know it has seen me through many ups and downs and has probably protected me from many hurts and sorrows. Often we don’t physically see the results of our prayer. We simply pray… believing. God does the rests. He protects and empowers. He gives grace and comfort. He heals the unseen hurts. As we pray, He answers.

Not long ago I was driving our van to give Neal a break. A break was not exactly what he experienced. Rather, I thrust him into a state of unrest as I nearly ran our van off a very steep exit ramp. To this day I don’t know exactly how the “greyhound” (my name for our minivan) stayed on the road. I’m content to say that many people have been praying for us. That day God was answering those prayers.

Neal and I have been trying to get an apartment in China. We had the “perfect” place all picked out. It was amazing. It was more than we could have asked for. We were overwhelmed by the beauty, size and price. Shortly after an offer was placed to rent the apartment, the landlord took the apartment off the market. We were disappointed. It seemed SO RIGHT. We prayed and left the situation in God’s hands. Just a few days later the Lord provided another apartment. It was smaller, more worn down… less expensive! Maybe not the seemingly amazing place that we had looked at before, but we are certain that it is a far better place. It’s the one God gave us and to His all-seeing eye, it is way better than the other. We don’t doubt that many diligent prayer warriors have helped to protect us from a situation that wasn’t good for us. We may never know what God was protecting us from, but we are ever grateful for faithful prayers and God’s perfect will.

This family isn’t exclusive. It’s open and welcoming to all. It’s a network that encourages and uplifts. It is God’s plan and it. is. perfect.

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Blessed

I don’t claim to be an exceptional poet, but every once in a while I get inspired. It is then, and only then, that I exercise my poetic skills, though limited they are! Often writing comes easily and even if I have nothing to write about, I can still sit down and blabber away. Not with my poems. With my poems, I have to have a reason, a purpose, a special inspiration! Today I was motivated by Philippians 4. Paul expresses that he learned to be content in whatever state he found himself. He directs us to make our requests made known to God with thanksgiving. He concludes by reminding us that our God shall supply all our need. So my goal for today was to focus on only the good! To be content. To be thankful. To remember how blessed I am. And friends… I had an exceptional day. A day of peace, laughter and joy!

Blessed

by: Elisabeth Ray

Staring in the closet
Piles of clothes
And yet nothing to wear?

Things for every season
Every day
Enough even to share!

I’m blessed

Stuck in traffic and rain
Frustrating!
Swollen from the long trip

In a paid-for, clean van
Dual air
A gift from our great God

I’m blessed

Finding it hard to sleep
Big belly
Can’t seem to catch my breath

A little hand pokes me
My baby!
Can’t get enough of her

I’m blessed

Never get to see friends
Missing mom
Faces are always new

Always have my best friends
God and Neal
More than most have, I know

I’m blessed

Half-way done with meetings
Discouraged
Still have half-way to go

Half-way done with meetings!
Praise the Lord
Only half-way to go!

I’m blessed

No place to call our own
No nursery
Suitcase for a closet

A mansion in Heaven!
With my King
For all eternity

I’m blessed

Worried for little things
A bit stressed
Focusing on the worst

Serving a God who knows
God who sees
A God who supplies needs

I’m blessed

Friend, don’t be discouraged
Stop blaming
Stop the despair and tears

Seek the Lord and His strength
He loves you
He died to set you free

You’re blessed

The JapaDOG!

I think in Vancouver it would be considered a sin to never have tried a Japadog. The Japadog stand on Burrard St. is a celebrity attraction. It’s the talk of every street meet connoisseur. And today… for Neal and I… It was lunch! The last time I was in Vancouver I had one for the first time. I have to say that there is nothing impressive about the red and white umbrellas stained with dirt and grime. The stand itself is a pathetic sight! Had I not been “in” on what’s hot to eat in Vancouver, I might have never tried it. BUT… I did try it and three years later I came back to that same little stand with a smile on my face and ordered me another Japadog. (Seaweed on a dog doesn’t even sound good, but somehow a person goes to another place while eating a japa.) It still looked the same, smelled the same and tasted perfect! The loooooong line was an excellent indication that this was still the happening place to get a quick fix at lunch. The saying “don’t judge a book by it’s cover” completely applies here. What else can I say? Yum…
Other than that blessed stop, Neal and I walked the streets, rode the sky train and tip-toed through a Louis Vuitton store. I felt only slightly out of place in that store. My outfit clearly gave away the fact that I wouldn’t be buying a $36,000.00 piece of luggage today, but somewhere in my mind I was picturing myself rolling it around. I think Louis would Be my guilty pleasure if I were among the wealthy! IF being the key word. For now… I’ll just dream and drool!

Fierce Flyer

Airports. They have a way of making a person feel anxious. Neal and I were up at five to catch a nine o’clock flight and I just did not want to start this day. My stomach started turning the second I rolled out of bed. I made some coffee to put in our matching travel mugs but I’m afraid it didn’t help the stomach situation. Getting to the airport made things worse. It seemed that every muscle in my body got a message from my brain to be stressed out! I got the jitters and I’m afraid it showed! Not only that but the coffee was taking it’s toll on me. I need to get a grip. We flew through check-in and security in ten minutes and then found our gate and just sat down. All that worrying and stressing was completely not worth it. I love to fly but I hate the hassle and anxiety it brings! Even packing is like solving a jigsaw puzzle. Put this liquid in this bag and make sure your carry-on is the right size. Don’t even consider bringing a water bottle and if your nail clippers are too sharp be sure to put them in a checked bag! Ayayay. This is too much for me. Yesterday I came to the conclusion that I’m in the wrong lifestyle to despise packing and flying. So, dearest Delta Air, bring it on! I love you and props to having comfy gate seating:).