Friday, June 14, 2013

Is It Worth It?

Everyday we have opportunities to make choices; some big, some small but every choice has the potential for gain or loss. We weigh the risks, calculate the possible benefits and then come to a conclusion about whether or not to take the leap. Some people are natural risk takers. Their personalities scream for excitement and adventure, while others avoid taking even the smallest risk unless they have factored in all the variable. As for me, I usually fall somewhere between “I’ll try anything once” and “What’s the worst that could happen?” As for a biblical comparison, I can certainly be as impulsive as Peter and as stubborn as Paul; but my heart is usually in the right place and my motives are generally toward toward doing the right thing~in spite of my impetuousness. As an ex-pat living in China, I ask myself this question many times a day. Today was one of those days when “Is it worth it?” became very real. While crossing the road on my 40 minute rush hour bike ride to work, my reading glasses popped out of my purse and landed in the middle of a busy intersection.
I heard the thud as they landed and realized that I was going to have to make a quick decision. Do I get off my bike when I reach the other side of the road, turn around and make my way into oncoming traffic to get my glasses or do I leave them and wait 2-4 weeks to get new ones sent from the States? If you know anything about China’s traffic, you know that to go after them would mean literally risking life, limb and the possibility of being a foreign fatality. The alternative didn’t look much more palatable since I have lots of papers to grade at the end of the semester. Decisions, decisions! I looked at the yet unsquished glass case on the pavement, considered how long it would take for me to snag the glasses, and weighed out whether or not I could be nimble enough to maneuver my way between the oncoming cars. “Is it worth it?” I asked myself again, but In a matter of seconds I decided it was~ so I hopped off my bike, pulled out my game face and
used my car dodging ninja skills to narrowly avoid the oversized buses, bazillion bicycles and steady stream of honking cars all racing my way.
  As I snatched up the glass case, I felt both a sense of relief and horror over what I had done. I had cheated death and avoided becoming the ever dreaded “flat foreign”. Success was mine but at what cost? As I reflect back on those few minutes, I am keenly aware that every decision has a price. The Bible says in Luke 14:25-31 that we are to “count the cost” of discipleship and know what you’re signing up for. I have counted the little costs and inconveniences of being here and I’ve also calculated the bigger costs of being without my family, living in a polluted environment, and making myself known as a Christian in country where foreign believers are not always welcomed.
I have counted the physical, financial, mental, emotional, and spiritual and every other kind of cost it takes to be in China long-term and in a not so impulsive way, have decided to be more of a Paul than a Peter on this one. I count it all but loss (Phil. 3:7-14) Is it worth it? Definitely! Sometimes a little sadness creeps in, but all in all~no regrets!



Thursday, February 14, 2013

Humble Pie Anyone?

It never fails. Just when I start to turn a corner and feel successful about something I am trying to accomplish, BOOM! I self-sabotage! What the heck is that all about? I know the things I should do and the things I shouldn’t do, yet for reasons unbeknownst to my conscious self I always end up doing the wrong thing and sidetrack or completely derail the things I want the most. Case in point~ Today I invited my small group over for a brunch so that we could have fun eating, hanging out and reconnecting after a long period of not seeing each other because of the Chinese New Year holiday break. I made a delicious breakfast casserole from scratch and had assorted juices as well. One couple brought french toast, another friend brought crepes with fruit, and there was banana bread, too. It was like a never ending table of awesomeness. As my eyes beheld such scrumptiousness, my appetite grew larger than life. I gave into the temptation to have a hearty helping of everything, fully aware but not caring that my very healthy diet of 6 weeks would be annihilated in 25 minutes.
Then to add to the devastation, I had already made the dough of mass destruction for Valentine's Day sugar cookie that I promised to bake and decorate with my “other” granddaughter Sami who came with her dad. She was super excited to try this new thing. Half an hour after we finished eating, we pressed out, baked, frosted and decorated 2 dozen of those little gems, most of which we ate~save for the plate I sent home with her for her sick mommy. So with a belly full of delicious remorse, I laid on the couch all afternoon watching movies and wallowing through the regret of my impulsivity. Good thing I’m not a closet bulimic because it would’ve taken a whole day of purging both body and soul to remove my guilt.Why is it so hard to say no to the wafting scent of bacon that seems to wave me toward the plate? How come no one else around me seems to have the same compulsive desire to keep shoving food into their face long after they are satisfactorily full? I honestly don’t know. I suspect that despite my 14 pound weight loss since the first of the year, my old nature is still very much in play. I can only keep it in check so long and then it rears its ugly head again. Isn’t that the way sin always is? Gluttony is a sin. One of the 7 deadly sins in fact, and sin alway has regret and fall out that I’m sure I will see in the next few days on the scale. But even more that this, I think it comes back to human nature. We are all sinful. We all have a nature that wants our own desires, our own way, and we often impulsively or in a premeditated way do whatever it takes to get what we think we want, even when we know full well it’s not what we should do. It’s about dying everyday to my self will and there’s no way I can do that alone! That’s why grace and Spirit empowerment are so very important. It’s hard to be gracious with myself when I know I'm responsible for my own mess. It’s hard to be gracious with others when they too are being selfish, greedy, prideful or just plain dumb. Thank God, He freely gives the grace my heart really needs and hungers for and the Spirit to help me in my struggle to be under his control...not mine. I don’t deserve it, but he offers it anyway. Sometimes I think He uses my character defects to give me a taste of humble pie and grace in the same serving. Today, I’m glad that neither of these items on the menu has any additional calories!


Monday, July 16, 2012

Shoulder Shennanigans

You'd think a rapidly developing country like China would have a somewhat comparable health care system to that of the US~ at least in a big city of 12 million like Tianjin. Unfortunately, I have often been sorely mistaken by my wishful thinking. About 10 months ago I started having pain in my left shoulder. I have a pretty high tolerance for pain, so I figured I just slept on it wrong or it was some sort of pulled muscle and I ignored it. After 3 months of increasing pain, my PT friend from the States checked it and gave me some exercises to do but she didn't seem too concerned.
The pain persisted for another 3 months until I'd finally had enough. I sought help from a Chinese doctor friend who was also a PT. He started doing therapy for me twice a week, but nothing changed. Then I got an MRI which indicated that something was not exactly right, but showed nothing specific. Two more months of therapy and still no big improvement. I was getting frustrated and so was my doctor. He suggested that I see a friend of his to use simulation machines and another kind of therapy so I agreed. As of today I have been seeing this doctor for 2 weeks. He's really nice, but he speaks no English, so I am trying to teach him phrases as we go. You never really think about the little things that are important for a doctor to know how to say like, "Does it hurt? More painful, less painful or about the same? Move over, turn over, lie down and sit up." Just as important for him to understand are the English phrases, "It's better, it's worse, not too bad, holy *@%!, and for the love of God, STOP!"
Today the therapist said he was going to use a machine to "loosen my meat," a phrase directly translated from the Chinese-English dictionary on his IPhone. OK, I thought. I had seen a couple of other Chinese patients there with the vacuum modulator hooked up to their shoulders and backs, so I figured it had to be relatively safe. I decided to give it a try. He proceeded to put 8 round suction cups around my shoulder and in my armpit. They felt strange going on but I figured it was just part of the deal. I was then unpleasantly surprised when he turned on the stimulator and my skin was sucked up into the cups while my muscles were repeatedly given electrically pulsating shocks...for 20 straight minutes.
It wasn't a 10 on the pain scale but it felt like someone was digging their thumbs into my pit and vibrating. Not fun. After 20 minutes, he came back to unhook me and discovered that my body is apparently not as tough as Chinese bodies. I had serious red marks and suction marks where the equipment had been. He seemed a bit shocked, but because he had no English, he had no words to say. He looked like he wanted to crawl in a hole and disappear. I wish my Chinese was better, but when it comes to medical Chinese, I'm as clueless as he is in English. I didn't have a mirror to look at the damage at that time, but I knew it was bad by the look on his face and the pain in my pit.
10 hours later after arriving home from a full day of work, I finally took a look. I was more than a little shocked. Even after that long, the red was still there and the bruising was very visible. If this happened in the States, there would be a malpractice law suit or at the very least there would've been some warning beforehand about the possibility of this happening. Not here! There are just looks of horror and people pretending that they don't see it or it doesn't look that bad. Unbelievable! So now I have two problems. My shoulder is still frozen and still hurts, plus now I have bruises in places that I didn't have before and they are also painful. What's a girl to do? Not sure, but one thing I do know. The octopus armpit stimulation/sucker is going to be the one getting a shocking punch in the pulsator if it ever tries to come near my pit again!


Thursday, April 19, 2012

Complete Hair-acy

They say that a woman's hair is her glory. Well, I don't know about all that, but it is one of the most important parts of being a woman. How you care for and deal with your hair says a lot about you and your style or personality. My hair is unusually thick, naturally wavy and unruly most of the time, so I don't often just let it dry naturally. It explodes into a big hair afro which looks like a nest ready for some mother bird to lay her eggs in. I usually give it a quick blow dry and resort to straightening it every time I wash my hair. Thankfully, this is only twice a week because the air is so dry here that doing it more often would lead to breakage. I grew up as a toe-headed blonde and although I have changed my hair color many times over the years, I have returned to my roots (so to speak) and have decided that dying my hair blonde is so much more natural than allowing the gray to take over my head. The style I am most comfortable with is an easy to care for, one length, long bob. I can pull it back into a pony-tail and not have to mess with it too much. I say all this to set the stage for my story.
When I first came to China in 2003, I had no fear of getting my haircut. Ignorance was bliss until my first experience at a countryside salon where I was sheered like a sheep in spring, much to the shock of my Chinese students who couldn't cover up the fact that they were both horrified and embarrassed about the haircut I received. I dubbed it the "Chemo-Barbie" look. Five years later when I returned to live long-term in China, I vowed never to get my lovely locks cut in China again. I was determined to wait 3 years and only cut it again when I returned home to America for a visit. After 2 years of growing my very thick hair and looking like a complete hippy, my American friend, Natalie convinced me to go to the place where she had her hair done. I resisted at first, terrified that I would have another scalping experience, but after a few more months of coaxing, I decided to take the plunge. Natalie went with me and held my hand as 2 young hairstylist work on my in synchronized fashion, each taking one side of my head. I could only close my eyes and pray that when I opened them again, I wouldn't have my former "chemo-barbie" look.
Thankfully, I was pleasantly surprised at what a nice job they did. I was all too happy to pay the $6.00 and be on my way. Since that time I have only had my hair cut twice, each time at that same place and each time holding my breath recalling my first unpleasant experience. Both times have been fine...until today. Last week I colored my layer free, long pony-tail styled hair and felt confident that when I went to the salon today, the stylists would do as well as they had done on the two previous occasions. I walked into the salon, told them exactly what I wanted, they shook shook their heads, smiled and assured me that they understood...and proceeded to do exactly what they thought would look better on me! Not at all what I wanted! Apparently when I said, "I want you to give me a tiny trim, thin it out, and I don't want layers," it meant "Make me look like an 80's Malibu Barbie!" For the love of God! How is it that those two things are the same? I know I said it very clearly, but after he took the first big chuck out of my hair and I realize that this first cut would be the measuring stick by which all the other cuts would be gauged, there was nothing I could really do about it, except resign myself to the inevitable dissatisfaction of paying for a haircut that I despised!
Walking to the place where I parked my bike was (for me) like the walk of shame. As if I'm not obvious enough as a foreigner, my hair looked like the second story of my tall body that had taken on a life of it's own. You know it's bad when the puff that is your hair is flipped up at the ends and sprayed so heavily that even the wind from the bike ride home won't mess it up. In my head I was screaming, "Hair-acy! Hair-acy" It was ridiculous! So here I am, kicking myself for letting my need for manageable hair override my better judgement about getting my hair cut in China. I know it's just hair and the layers will grow back. At least he didn't cut it all off, so I think I can still get most of it into a ponytail~and I still have a straightener. Good thing it's only another 7 months 'til I get home!


Friday, July 1, 2011

A Close Call With Reality

There’s no way around it. As a foreigner living in China, I will always have attention drawn to me~simply because...well for one, you can see my white skin and blonde hair glowing from 100 yards away. Secondly, I am almost always taller than the average male here, not to mention that my blue eyes are like the blinking lights of the old K-Mart blue light specials. It’s twice as bad in the countryside. You might as well bring a blue smurf into the center of town because the locals’ jaws literally drop as you walk by. You can feel their stares continue to blaze into your back long after you’ve walked away. No matter how hard I want to live my life inconspicuously here, it will never happen. For the most part, I have grown accustomed to these things and they usually don’t bother me. Sometimes I even forget how different I am and I get careless. That was the case today. It’s been really hot here, so when I’m home alone in my own apartment I strip down to the least possible amount of clothing I can wear and still have time to throw on a presentable cover up just in case someone unexpectedly knocks at my door. This afternoon I was really hot and tired and wanted to try and get in a quick nap before heading off to my part time job at the pre-school. Unfortunately, I ran out of bottled water today, so I called the water delivery people to come and exchange my empty bottles for full ones. I knew it would take them a few minutes to up to a few hours to get here, so I grabbed the jugs out of my kitchen, stuck the coupons in the top of the bottle and prepared to put them outside my door for an easy, impersonal exchange. I opened the door and snuck out to the stairway half naked quickly attempting to put the bottles in their usual spot of exchange. I guess I must’ve been in too big of a hurry because I dropped one of the jugs and it went thumping down the stairs to the landing of the apartment below me. After being in and out of China for the last 8 years I should’ve know better, but I just wanted to get that doggone jug, put it on the steps and get my nap started. I scampered down the stairs, scooped up the jug and just as I was turning around a big gust of wind blew through the open window in the stairwell. I was horrified as I watched the door to my apartment slowly start to swing closed. I’m sure you’ve seen similar scenes in the movies, where a disaster unfolds right before the eyes of the only person who can stop it and they are just inches away from prevent the inevitable. The panic was intense! In my mind I was doing the slow motion scream, “NOOOOOO!” realizing that if that door did indeed close, I would be locked out of my apartment with nothing on but a T-shirt and skivvies! A foreigner in China dressed (or not dressed) like this would certainly cause an uproar...not to mention a probable spot on the nightly news highlighting the promiscuity of foreigners in China! In my desperation to save myself from such a fate I made a dive for the door, willing to sacrifice my fingers and my body to the cement stairs, rather losing all my dignity and taking the walk of shame to my neighbor’s apartment to ask for help. Thankfully, I was able to grab the door just before it slammed shut. Now as I sit here recalling the event and writing it all down, I really do have to laugh. Seriously! Can you imagine the stories in my neighborhood about the crazy, foreign lady with the pink bikini underwear? Good Lord, that would’ve been embarrassing! Thank you God for your grace...especially, when it’s hot, I’m tired, and a little impulsive!


Saturday, June 18, 2011

Happy Father's Day!

Maybe it’s just that I’m getting older, but lately I’ve been really appreciating my dad more and more. When I look back on my childhood, I can honestly say it was pretty darn good. Back then, most dads were the primary bread winners and moms either stayed home and took care of the kids, or had part time jobs. A dad’s role was to bring home the paycheck and take care of things around the house. By the standards of the day, my dad was awesome! He worked really hard to provide for a wife and 5 kids and I never, ever remember going without things that we needed. The cars were always taken care of, the lawn always got mowed, and never once did Dad come home late after work because he was drinking at the bar with his buddies! Every Sunday (twice on Sunday) and every Wednesday without fail we were in church. Although there were many times I complained about not being able to do the things other kids did on Sundays, it was good for us kids, and taught us to value God, family, and taking a day of rest. Dad went above and beyond what a lot of fathers did for their kids. He attended our sporting events, took the boys hunting, saved like a mad man so we could all have a college education, and took us on a family vacation each year. After 50 plus years, we still go to Minnesota every summer to spend a week together fishing and having fun as an extended family with our own kids...and their kids! So many traditional family values have gone by the wayside in today’s world. Some dads don’t take any responsibility for their kids, while other dads are single parents through no fault of their own. Dads are pulled in all directions to be more and give for while being marginalized by society as a whole. As a result, many have forgotten what it’s like to be men, to be leaders in their families without being tyrants in doing so. Was my family perfect? Heavens no! I probably complained more about my dad and his ways of doing things than any of my siblings; but at some point, I grew up and realized that my dad was my dad. He had his ways of doing things and that was not going to change. He had his way of loving, even if it wasn’t what I could understand at the time. He had his way of disciplining and as much as I hated having the fear of God (and my dad) put in me, it was probably what kept me out of a lot more trouble than what I got into. The Bible says, “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, and I reasoned like a child, but when I became a man (or grew up) I put away childish things. (I Corinthians 13:11) It took me a lot of years to realize I was a pretty lucky kid, and I had a pretty great dad. We often express our emotions toward our moms, because~well, they’re moms, and we can do that. Dads usually only get appreciated this one day a year. I know my dad won’t always be here with us, so there’s no time like the present to say the obvious. Here’s to you, Dad. You’re an exceptional man and I’m thankful that I’m your daughter!


Life is Fragile~Handle With Prayer

I was pretty shook up yesterday when I came up on an bike v. electric scooter accident while walking home from school. The woman was lying on the ground, unconscious, and bleeding with dozens of people standing around her watching and only one guy holding her head against her backpack. The first miracle was that she was wearing a helmet, which was trashed and at the side of the road next to her. I ran as fast as I could toward them and told someone in Chinese to call the police and the hospital. Fortunately, in this day and age everyone has a cell phone. I tried talking to her as she came in and out of consciousness, but every time I got eye contact her eyes would suddenly roll back into her head and she would be gone again. I didn't even know if she could speak English, but I knew that no one else standing around could. I went into crisis mode. The police and ambulance arrived quickly and several passersby helped paramedics put the 28 year old foreigner into the ambulance. I hopped in the ambulance and frantically dug through her backpack hoping to find some ID so I could at least know her name, where she was from and maybe even who to contact. I was so relieved to find her UK passport with her name on it. She obviously had a serious head injury and since we were near the SOS clinic for foreigners, the ambulance took her there first. Another miracle~she had once been a patient there and they had all her emergency info on file! The doctor jumped into the ambulance and I got out. They took her to the Number 1 Hospital immediately, and that's all I knew. All I could do was pray and hope that she would be OK.
This morning the principle of the school where Ashley was teaching called me, thanked me for helping and said she was she was stable but had a broken cheek bone, and a head injury with some bleeding in her brain but they thought it would eventually absorb. She was still in and out of consciousness and didn't remember anything. They were planning to move her to Beijing, but needed to get a statement from me for the police report. As I walked into the 16th floor ICU I was met by her boyfriend, 2 other friends, a translator, and a police officer, all who looked concerned and wanted to know what happened, so I filled in the blanks. As is typical in Chinese hospitals, Ashley was in a big room with 6 other critical care guys and had all their family member in there, too. The guy next to her had just died an hour earlier. In spite of her condition, I was thankful to see Ashley looking more coherent than the day before. At least she was able to open her eyes and talk a little. After giving the police officer my statement, I went back into the room and asked her boyfriend if I could pray for her, and I did.
As far as I'm concerned, Ashley is lucky to be alive. The helmet saved her life, the SOS clinic records made treatment and notification of her significant others possible, and the guy that accidentally hit her didn't just run off like most would have after injuring a foreigner... All miracles! I am sure this will be quite a recovery process for this young woman, but I keep praying that she will recover and that she will see the hand of God in this incident, protecting her from what could've been sooo much worse. I normally don't wear a helmet when I ride, and hardly ever think about walking everywhere in crazy traffic. This has been a wake up call for me, too! We never know what today will bring. We focus on our daily happenings, our petty troubles, or our dreams for the future when the truth is, we aren't guaranteed a tomorrow. We only have today, and that's all; so let's make sure we live it well, and have our eternity settled. It's the only thing we can guarantee ahead of time.