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.