Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The Art of Coming Home

It probably seems weird to most of you that an overseas worker like me would find it anything but thrilling to be back in America during the holiday season. What could be better, right? Christmas trees, presents, family gatherings, time with friends and all the other trappings that the season brings. In some respects this is what I have been dreaming about for the past 2 years of living in China...wanting to be home with my family for this blessed season. But in another respect, just being home has been a big adjustment. It's very overwhelming! Some call it re-entry shock. In October when I first arrived back in the States, I was keenly aware of how different everything was. It was similar to what I experienced when I first went to China and was barraged by the sights, sounds, and smells that were so different than I was accustomed to in the States. Since this is the first time I've been home in more than 2 years, I experienced that feeling of being a foreigner all over again...except in my own culture of origin. I was taken back by the vast amount of space in America and the lack of people to fill that space. Many times I felt as though I were walking through a virtual ghost town compared to the crazy overcrowded-ness of living in a city of 12 million. It was so quiet that I felt like I was in a library and had to whisper. American food is still amazing, the ease of which I can do things and get around is fabulous and I never have to struggle to find the words to express myself. People in America are generally super nice and polite. They open doors for you, say please and thank-you and would never think of telling you how fat you are or giving you unsolicited advise about how you should lose weight and be more healthy. On the other hand, being in America has reminded me of the things I haven't missed very much. Americans seem to be oblivious to almost everything except what's in their own little world. As opposed to the Chinese way of communal thinking, Americans are driven by individual desires and opinions...and the amount of waste and self indulgence I see is staggering. Maybe because I'm here during Christmas this is more pronounced, but I am still having a hard time wrapping my mind around what it means to be "Home." Being in China has changed me forever. I'm different and I know it. Sometimes I feel like a human yoyo, up and down in my emotions, my thoughts about being here, my questions about when to return and what it will look like for me to be back home in China. I love being here, but I also miss my friends, my work, and the feeling that I am where I belong... at least for this season of my life. In spite of the fact that I also love my kids, family, my friends, the special people in my life, my freedom, and my country. It's like being caught between two worlds- and I love them both for different reasons. I know I'm not alone in these feelings. I'm sure a lot of military people, global workers, and foreign students have experienced this as well. Hopefully, I will continue to enjoy this time and fully appreciate this gift I've been given. Please remember me and all the others who aren't here and wish they were.


Friday, September 17, 2010

As a kid, I used to love a game called, "Follow the Leader." It was fun because everyone got to have a turn taking the group whichever way they wanted to and all I had to do was follow. In some areas of my life I am a leader and in some areas I am a follower. Both take discipline and skill. One of my dearest mentors, Susan, said something to me once that has always stuck with me. She said, "Until you learn how to follow, you will never be a great leader. The skills you will learn while following, will be the same skills you will learn to lead with." At the time I'm not sure I totally understood what she meant, but looking back I know she was absolutely right. As a follower, I had to learn to observe the leader and listen well to what they were saying. I had to be able to understand the task that was given to me and be willing to submit myself to the leader's requirements and direction. I had to learn humility, flexibility, and trust even when I thought I had a better way. Learning to submit to authority was one of the hardest lessons that I had to learn~and I had to learn it over and over again to drill it into my thick head. Leading also requires listening, observing, understanding the task at hand, being flexible, and willing to humbly submit myself to the authority, the requirements and direction of the One who is over me! As a Christian leader I cannot possibly expect anyone to follow me if I don't lead with integrity, and that only comes from following the One who is the definition of Truth. Paul said best in I Corinthians 11:1 when he said, "Follow my example as I follow the example of Christ." I mean, who could be a better example of servant leadership than Jesus? He was not only a great teacher, he was the epitome of leading by example...(Philippians 2:1-11)

I have been very blessed to have had some of the most amazing mentors throughout my life~beginning with my mom. She was, and still is the godliest woman I know. She taught me what it meant to follow hard after Christ on a daily basis...not by preaching it to me, but by living it day in and day out in the midst of life being life. My best friend, Becky, also showed me what it meant to be consistent, faithful and persevering in turbulent situations. Over the years I have watched many, many pastors, like my brother Corky, Jefferey D, Jeff P, Dar VW, Brothers Travis, Windel, and Al. They have inspired and encouraged me to become the woman of God He created me to be. Those who know me best have said that I never do anything half way. My motto is "Go Big or Go Home!" When I have a true passion for a cause, vision or out! I am unstoppable. For me a life without passion and purpose just isn't worth living. Let's face it. I'm a big hyper kid with big ideas, big dreams and a limitless God who inspires me to be better. Whether it's being an overseas worker, or a good friend to someone in need, spearheading a development project for the less fortunate, or quietly leading those around you to a deeper understanding of faith, it's important to keep your eyes, ears and heart in tune with the One who will leads you into all truth. I am determined to leave that kind of leadership legacy for the next generation. Nothing less will do.


Friday, September 10, 2010

A New Season

Wow! It's been a long time since I've updated this blog. The summer has already past and now we are in the middle of fall. Even the farmers know there's something to be said about taking a break and letting the ground lie fallow for a season. It helps the ground replenish it's nutrients and become rich again. This quiet season hasn't actually been fallow, but during all the summer busyness of traveling, studying and making connections for further projects, I have also taken a good deal of time to internally reflect about what I have learned in the past two years of living here.

In my attempt to more succinctly define my understandings of the Chinese culture, people and belief systems, (and my role here) I've had to undergo many paradigm shifts. For those of you new to that phrase, let me make this easy. When you look at the picture on the right, what do you see? A duck or a rabbit? Whatever you see, it's right! Both can be seen depending on how you look at it. A paradigm is like the model or structure that all your previous ideas have been filtered through. It comes through the paradigm of culture, education, experiences, and personal core beliefs. When I came to China my paradigms of how to live life here and interact with the Chinese were pretty much already determined. I had my ideas and a course of action. Now after two years of real life in China, my single vision "paradigm" lenses seem to have been replaced by bifocals, enabling me to see much more clearly from close up and far away. My paradigms have shifted. Perhaps the reason my thoughts and ideas are changing is because China is changing so fast. The name of the game here is flexibility. It is important to be both grounded in non-negotiable truths and flexible enough in your thinking to allow for those truths to be expressed in a culturally relevant way while still maintain their integrity. Sound complicated? It is...but it's no different in the West! I'm serious! Things are not traditional there anymore either. It takes a lot of creativity and flexibility to relate to people who don't have any frame of reference for dialoguing with you on the deeper issues of life. This much I do know. Truth doesn't change but expressions and forms expressing those truths will always be changing. We have so many traditions and sacred cows; ways we are convinced are "right" when the truth is, they are probably greatly influenced by our culture and history. I think our friend Paul said it best in (I Cor. 9:19-23) when he said, "I have become all things to all people.... Living truth with integrity is not an easy task and I am humbled by the challenge to do it in China. I also know this. China is changing me as I have a role in changing China. Maybe this is what's actually mean in the Lord's Prayer when it says, Thy Kingdom Come. When that day arrives there will be no "them or us" no "Western way or Chinese way" there will only be one way-His Way! And I think we all might be surprised at what that might look like. :)


Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Land of The Free~Home of the Brave

Four years ago today, 5:55am, Sgt. Matthew Webber (right) left this world and went to meet his Maker. It wasn’t without agony and torture that he woke up every day for 5 month in the critical care burn unit of a Texas military hospital, enduring the excruciating pain of wound care, amputations, surgeries and physical therapy. With no means to control his situation, and no way to change it, he fought for life, honor, and dignity. Flanked by his vigilant mother Jayne, who stayed by his side for endless hours everyday advocating and speaking for him when he couldn’t, and kept company by his younger brother Andy, who left Michigan to be there with him, Matt knew he was never alone. He was coached on by his ‘real dad’ Vince, who had been there for him since he was a tot, and had the endless love and admiration of his youngest brother, Josh, who never stopped believing that Matt would come home someday and ride the pontoon boat with him and Matt’s dog, Sarge. The cards, letters, prayers, visits by family and close friends did wonders for Matt’s spirits. He wanted with all that was in him to recover and be himself again. He refused to give up or give in to what others said was the inevitable. President Bush came to the hospital on New Year’s Day to see the 3 men left in Matt’s company, all who were all critical condition. He wanted to personally speak with them, give them their medals and meet with their families, Matt adamantly refused....not because he was angry about his condition or his sacrifice, but because doctors had removed his right arm and Matt knew he wouldn’t be able to salute his Commander-in-Chief. I was there at the time and remember thinking, "No, Matt! It's you that needs to be saluted!" It blew my mind. Just the night before, Jayne and I had smuggled New Year’s Eve party hats and blowers into his room, watching with him as ‘The Ball’ dropped in Times Square on the television, telling Matt that this was a new year and it would be a new beginning. As the ball began to drop, we counted down the seconds ‘til midnight, and tears poured down my face watching him mouth the words,... four, three, two, one...and in my heart I cried out with everything in me for God to do a miracle and raise him up from this horrible situation. He fought for another 4 months before he died, but just the same he died. So now when I see what is happening in America today, the political wrangling, the finger pointing, the erosion of our constitutional rights, the corruption, I often shake my head. It breaks my heart. Young men and women fighting with all their hearts to defend a country and freedom we all say we cherish, and yet we take so for granted. I love my country now more than I ever have, because my nephew, Sgt. Matthew Webber’s blood was spilled on behalf of the freedom I hold dear. I will never forget his bravery, his sacrifice, his agony, or the dignity with which he dealt with his suffering. I will never forget his courage, his never-die attitude, or the sparkling blue eyes that twinkled every time I walked into his room. He couldn’t speak to me then, but he didn’t have to...his life spoke volumes and everything I needed to know about him I understood.This day, and every anniversary of Matt’s death will be recognized as the day we lost a great man, a patriot, and the best kind of human being possible. I know I speak for many when I say that my comfort in all this is knowing I will see him again. After first seeing Jesus, that will be the highlight of heaven. Matt is gone, but will never be forgotten!


Saturday, April 10, 2010

...And Today's Transportation Is?

For overseas workers like me, traveling is such a natural part of the lifestyle that we don’t really think much about it. I am used to finding the cheapest way to get from Point A to Point B, often times using the ‘shoe leather express’. In America the standard mode of transportation is a car. It’s a right of passage for every 16-18 year old to obtain their license. In fact we think it’s a little weird if they don’t have one. In more populated cities public buses or subways are options, but I think that it’s much more common to own at least one vehicle...and we pride ourselves on what kind of v ehicle that is. When I left for China I sold my car and haven’t driven since. By the time I come home for a visit, my license will be expired and I will not have been behind the wheel for more than 2 years. I am used to riding my bike everywhere, using the basket to carry my daily necessitiesand calculating the time it will take to get from one spot to another. I only take a bus or a taxi when it’s too stinking cold to pedal, even with 2-3 layers of clothes on or when the destination is too far to bike and I have too much junk to carry. Planes on the other hand are the preferred choice when the time is short and the destination is long. I have taken overnight trains (18-24 hours) and have lived to regret it. I mean seriously! How do big, tall Americas sleep on short, narrow, hard sleepers designed for Chinese travelers? Not very well! I have ridden in rickshaws, motorized trolleys, on ferries, in the back of cattle trucks, and on bullet trains. The goal is the same no matter what you take...try to get to where you’re going safely, cheaply and quickly~if possible. I have been doing a lot of long distance traveling lately and to be honest I'm exhausted! Today in fact, I left a small island outside of Hong Kong, walked 25 minutes to a ferry, took the ferry to Hong Kong Central where I grabbed a taxi to a long distance bus going to the airport. I had a 4 hour flight to Beijing but still had to boarded yet another airport shuttle back to Tianjin where I could taxi back home. The whole ordeal took me 16 hours! Can you imagine? Am I incredibly thankful for ways to get to where I need to go? Of course! Think about how difficult travel used to be for overseas workers. Many left home and never made it back alive. Yes, I sometimes complain that life isn’t the easiest having to monkey around all the time with the logistics of travel, but the truth is I’m still lucky. In an emergency I can get home on an 18 -24hr. flight and that’s way better than coming home on the slow boat from China.


Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Training, Traveling, Tears

It’s been a year and a half since I left the US and up ‘til now I have not experienced culture shock as experts have described it. Of course, I have had some adjustments to make, but have adaptable fairly quickly to nearly everything that has come down the pike. I really thought I was the exception; the one to escape the cycle that I was warned about when transitioning to another culture. Culture Shock...the sense of euphoria and wonderment in a new culture followed by a slow descent into disappointment, discouragement, loneliness, grief, and disillusion with the culture, and finally the upward ascent again into embracing the reality (both good and bad) of your new situation. Secretly, I had believed that none of this would apply to me because I was 100% sure that I had already accepted and embraced China for the good bad and the ugly. I had already grieved the loss of family and friends when I left, so what more could there be to experience? That illusion was shattered this month after Ryan and Holly came to China to be part of a film/photography project promoting JianHua. I was the unofficial translator for the group, so I spent 3 weeks preparing travel language, familiarizing myself with specific areas of the country and planning some events following the project. Meeting the kids at the airport, I felt a rush of emotion seeing them for the first time in many months. All I could do was hug Ryan and cry...a mixture of joy and sorrow for the time I have missed with him and Holly, with Dave and Lacey all wrapped up in his embrace. Our traveling time was a combination of ups and downs, laughter and frustration, health and sickness. It was a refreshing rain to my thirsty soul that longed for some family time. It wasn’t until they left that I really understood the meaning of grieving in a way that I have not experienced before. In the aftermath of their departure, I suddenly realized that my role in my kids life was completely different. I was no longer ‘Mom’ in the sense of being the actively nurturing, protecting, guidance giving parent of former years, but I was now a detached outsider from the daily routines of their married life. Although they miss me and I missed them, they have in a very healthy way moved on, to to invest in their marriage and I to invest in my calling to China. It has been hard for me to wrap my mind around this fact, especially after spending most of their lives as a single parent. Fortunately, I had planned a short 3 day respite at Bethany House in Hong Kong before returning to Tianjin which turned out to be a godsend. There were pastoral staff there to talk with, there were quiet times for personal reflection and no one there to bother me or judge me for the things I was feeling. I know that I have not been the exception to the rule when it comes to culture has just taken me a little longer than others to feel it. When will I ascend from my grieving into true acceptance and serenity with this new 'Mom' role? I’m not sure, but if the experts are right, it will eventually happen. Until then I have no choice but to rest and trust that in due season I will again adjust and know that it is as it should be...and it will be well with my soul.


Saturday, March 6, 2010

Happy Birthday-Chinese Style!

I love celebrating birthdays in China. They are usually fun and festive, plus when we celebrate with Chinese friends we get to mix cultural traditions and you never know what you're going to get. Last Friday night, some friends and I celebrated with my friend "Vera" as she turned the big 30! Generally, Vera is pretty career driven and intense in her interactions with people. She has to think, think, think all the time....but this was her birthdays so we decided to take her out to play. Her best friend bought a beautiful looking bakery cake decorated with fruit fish and other delicious looking dainties. Actually, Chinese cakes look amazing, but they are nothing like western cakes in taste. They are rather bland because most Chinese do not like a lot of sweet tasting foods. The first time I had baked goods in China I was sorely disappointed with the lack of sweetness. I really expected it to taste as good as it looked. The Chinese characters written say 'Shengri Kuai le!' meaning 'Happy Birthday!' and a lot of the add on things are made out of dark and white chocolate so you can eat them. Sometimes there is an unusual Chinese-style candle that is placed on the top of the cake and when you light a single wick, it unfolds into a big, pink plastic flower and plays the happy birthday song over and over until you want to grab it off the top of the cake and stomp on it...OK, not really, but it is pretty annoying! We got to sing the Happy Birthday song to her in both English and Chinese, but there were no candles to blow out. In this case, Vera really wanted to blow out a candle because she had heard that you get to make a wish and apparently she had a big wish she wanted to ask for. We weren't sure if it was cute, funny, or sort of sad when she asked my friend and I how she should fold her hand and close her eyes to get her wish. So much of Chinese culture is tied up in rituals of 'praying to the right god/goddess' in a specific way to get your wish, that it seemed a pretty typical question to ask. We told her it was just for fun and not like a prayer, so she relaxed and pretended to blow out her imaginary candle anyway. In Chinese tradition the person having the birthday must eat long noodles boiled or rolled in sugar to signify long life. Great care must be taken to slurp them down whole without biting them to make sure that your life is not cut short. People eat peach shaped buns filled with lotus pate or red beans, which tradition says will bring long life. Jiaozi (dumplings) are also eaten which will make ones womb futile for child bearing. Like most people in the US turning 30, Vera lamented this milestone as a sign that she was growing old. In Chinese culture, turning 30 marks the age of being a 'true adult'... and that's when the real seriousness begins. The pressure to marry and have a child starts between the ages of 24-28 when young people have finished their university or graduate studies. Parents begin complaining, badgering, and hounding their children to find a suitable mate and give them a grandchild. It intensifies from there-so by age 30, it can be unbearable. Vera was especially concerned because she didn't have a boyfriend or any possibilities in sight. We assured her that she wasn't old and said this was something we could pray with her about. Even though prayer a new concept for her, she is learning more and more about these ideas and is closer and closer to taking them as her own. After we ate dinner, we made a spontaneous decision to go to Karaoke! You have never seen anything like Chinese Karaoke and the crazy videos that go with it! Everyone has to sing and everyone has to clap for the singer no matter how ear piercing the sound is! That's part of being in community and everyone knows it's all in the name of fun. We had a blast that night and I got to see a side of Vera I hadn't seen before. She actually seemed to be a happy person, instead of the 'ever-serious thinker.' Maybe she needs to celebrate more often...Maybe we all do!


Sunday, February 14, 2010

Happy Chinese New Year!

Since Valentine’s Day and Chinese New Year were on the same day this year, I decided to do two separate posts to honor both equally. Chinese New Year rotates around the lunar calendar and there are 12 animals represented in the Chinese zodiac. Every 12 years is a rotation and this is the Year of the Tiger. Many Chinese are very superstitious and have long standing cultural traditions which they religiously follow at this time of the year. People prepare for the new year by sweeping and cleaning the house. They wash their bedding to get rid of all the bad spirits, and welcome the good ones; much like our spring cleaning with a superstitious twist. They do whatever it takes to get home to their families in this annual mass migration of sorts. Most everyone buys new clothing to indicate the change of seasons from winter to spring, even if it is still really cold outside. It is more about the hope of forcing the spring to come by buying things associated with spring. If you were born under the Year of the Tiger, it would be especially important for you to wear red underwear all year to guarantee prosperity and good luck. Last year my teacher and I discussed that we were both born in the Year of the Ox, last years's lucky animal . Even though she is young and educated, she took great pride in telling me about (and showing me) the red chord she wore around her waist and NEVER removed to ensure that she would not have any bad fortune this year. Before Chinese New Year last year, I actually tried to buy my size red underwear as a joke, but no such animal existed. I did however get a kick out of watching the store clerks faces when I asked about it. Giving red envelopes (hong bao) with money inside to co-workers and relatives, eating jiaozi (Chinese dumplings) at midnight and lighting off massive firework displays to scare off the evil spirits and welcome all things good, are all time honored traditions in the Chinese culture. Of course, I bought few choice rounds of fireworks from the local street vendor. I had to do my part in adding to the celebration. Just before midnight, a couple of my foreign friends and I rode our bikes through the streets of Tianjin watching the amazing flurry of spectacular firework displays all simultaneously launching an intense barrage of pyrotechnics. It was a sight to behold. We could see at least 18 different shows at once, lighting up the skies above us...and those were just on our side of town! While stopping periodically to view one of these from a closer range, I could feel the debris falling on my head like rain and was choked by the massive amount of smoke that filled the air. I donned my face mask and covered my head, but still managed to get covered with soot and flying ash. To be honest I love this kind of over-the-top spectacle. It makes me laugh with joy and amazement in what I would call the Chinese version of “Shock and Awe.” It begins with loud firecrackers for hours before and intensifies up to the moment it hits midnight. Then it’s just an all-out war zone. Fireworks are non-stop for about 40 minutes and then start to dissipate over the next 5 hours. It really is an amazing sight. It was an illustrious start to 2010. The things is, we never really do know what the new year will bring, do we? We can prepare and hope, or do certain things to try and sway the future to be prosperous for us, but in the end, it’s not about what we do. It’s about what He’s already done. When we recognize that we have a future and a hope in spite of the good or bad that may come in our future, then we have peace. So even if you don’t celebrate Chinese New Year like I do or like the Chinese, I wish you peace and contentment in this new year, knowing your future is not left to chance.


Friday, February 12, 2010

Happy Valentine's Day

Cheers to all of you who find yourself again in the midst of celebrating that time honored tradition known as ‘Valentine’s Day.’ This post is a tribute to all those who are ‘in love’, are considering love, or who are in love with the idea of being ‘in love’. Let’s face it~ Love wins! As a Christian, I believe that this is because we were created by One who is the very essence of’s in our DNA. Everyone wants to be loved and to have someone in their lives that they can give love to and receive love from. It’s in our nature. Love is what makes us laugh and cry, brings joy and sorrow, and causes us to do both the stupidest and most courageous things imaginable. Love is what fuels our passion and allows us to sacrifice for family, friends, and even people in need that we’ve never met. Love is a healing balm after a devastating tragedy. It’s a high ideal that inspires us to be more and embrace more life than we ever dared to. Love is a choice that pushes us beyond our own selfishness and challenges us to risk far more than we have the emotional or physical resources to give. Real love, true love understands that its source doesn’t come from human will or determination. It doesn’t come from altruism, from a pure heart from within our own humanness, but rather from the One who is Himself, love personified. As He pours into us, we can pour into others. If you don’t know or receive from the Source, then you don’t know true love...only a form of it which will inevitably run out or be compromised by human frailty. I have been very blessed to have come from a family who knew this reality. My parents have been an example of true love for the past 53 years of their marriage. They have walked it out in front of 5 watching children and thousands of other people in those 50 plus years, and are still happily doing it today. Can I say that they did it perfectly? No. Can anyone? Were there times of gritting their teeth and choosing to love in spite of themselves...I’m sure! But in the end, what I see are parents who spend just about every waking moment together. They live together, laugh together, take care of each other, finish each other’s sentences, and wouldn’t have it any other way. They are the proverbial “two who have become one.” Without their knowledge of the Source of their love, would they have made it 53 years? Maybe, maybe not...I can’t say for sure. What I can say is that because they do know where true love comes from, they have lived well and loved well. They have left a legacy of love that their children have also followed with 20-30 year marriages of their own. So here’s to you Mom and Dad! Well done...and Happy Valentine’s Day to two true sweethearts!