A new slower journey (plus a bonus adoption update!)

My dad is a story teller.  His fish are big, his journeys are long, and they are always uphill.

There is one story I vividly remember him telling me as a girl.  I have no idea if this is an original or true story – I just know it made an impression.

His story started with him being a lad on the farm with a chore to complete.  (I am sure he used the word “lad!”) His dad gave him a metal bucket to fill with water from the drudge ditch and bring to the big barn. It was a warm afternoon and as he carried the bucket he was enjoying the walk through the golden fields under the blue cloud filled sky.  To his dismay, when he arrived at the barn the once full bucket was empty.  He set out to try again aiming to please his father.  He went faster the second time around, but the pail still did not hold the water from the ditch to the barn…since it had a hole in the bottom.  Trying to get his chore done he tried many solutions: running, patching the hole with mud, and a few more that slip my mind.  (My dad is a better story teller than I.)

I recently thought of this story during a visit to a guest house in January.  It had been a long, hard, but very good semester.  Honestly, I think we could safely say the hardest semester we have had living overseas.  But, I also wouldn’t be lying if I said that I have learned more in this hard season than in the previous 10 years as an expat.  Maybe some day I will be able to tell the story of this semester, but for now you can just imagine me as a lad on a farm running hard trying to get my work done.

My natural reaction to a hard season…work harder, try harder, run faster.  The thing is, a bucket with a hole in it won’t carry water no matter how fast you run or how hard you try.

When I took time to slow down, reflect and get real with Jesus – well, the crazy thing is – I think rest is what He wanted to give me.  I don’t think He wants me to try harder or work faster.  I think He would be pleased if I simply would ABIDE.

I am not good at abiding.

Sabbath.  What?!

In general, I am not a disciplined person.  But when it comes to the spiritual disciplines, this is the one I am worst at.  I blame it on being a perfectionist.  I rationalize it away by saying that hard work is good for the soul.  I have small children how can I rest?  What will others say when they find out I had to take a break?

Really, it is pride.  All excuses that keep me from making space to abide.

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We took a much needed break.  Some very generous souls took over my responsibilities for several weeks to give us a rest and to allow us to attend a training conference.  I sat on the beach.  I went to bed early.  The dear folks who run the guest house for “workers” like us did our laundry, cooked all our meals and just gave us space to rest.  We made memories as a family and I read some great books (Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light: The Private Writings of the Saint of Calcutta and  In the Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership by Henri J. M. Nouwen. Both so very good.  Read them.  You won’t regret it.) We took space to prepare for the next season, got more training, and fell on our faces before our Creator.

Through it all, I felt a still small voice in my heart asking me to abide – to stop trying harder and just trust Him.

I needed it.

We are now back home and starting a new semester.  Not just any old semester, but one that holds many demands, high stakes and a new baby (to us) as well.

Isn’t God so good to give me the generous gift of a break right before another busy season?

As we start classes again, put together a toddler bed, dive back into our homeschool books, soak beans for dinner, and pack for an adoption trip….I keep coming back to the idea that I don’t need to try harder.

We leave to go get our new son in one week…maybe two.  Ekkk!  (Did you read that little adoption update in this long, ranting, personal growth blog post?!  We also have a name for our new sweet guy.  Call me.  I will tell you!  A hint: his middle name is after that story telling grandfather.) With a new little one on his way, life isn’t going to slow down any.  I need to slow down my soul.  I am taking deep breaths.  Going to bed earlier.  Reading a few phrases of my book.  Smiling. Walking. Trusting.

Abiding.

I am on a new slower journey.  Tell me how you abide.  I could use some tips!

 

She squats

Once upon a time, a crazy American art teacher was super thirsty and downed a whole bottle of water before class began.  Half way through the class she had the desperate need to use the bathroom.  Usually she does not leave her dear art students in the middle of a messy paint project, but nature called.

At the orphanage the bathrooms are not private.  There are four squatty stalls with no doors.  On the first floor you can find an adult bathroom with more privacy, but the art teacher was on the 4th floor.  She wanted to be quick.  Other teachers have done it before.  So, she took her cue from those local teachers and slipped into the public bathroom, locking the outer door.

She heard the lock click.  All was good, until she heard a different class in the hallway.

She tried to hurry not wanting the kiddos to wait.  That should have been the least of her worries as the door began to rattle – then open.

“Someone is in here!”

The joy of teaching this group of special kids comes due to their innocence and curiosity.  That was not in Art Teacher’s favor when trying to keep the kids out of the bathroom.  Before she knew it, there was a mixed audience of 8 children as she struggled to finish with dignity.

They stood there and watched like good, curious, Chinese children.  One of the more observant fellows mentioned to the others, “Foreigners pee too!”  To which his friend replied, “Did you know Teacher could squat?” Thankfully none of the other teachers came in to witness the grand event of foreign teacher squatting.

Just a day in the life of an art teacher at an orphanage.  The children learned how to paint leaves on fall trees, and they learned that even their foreign teacher squats.

The end.

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Broken Hearted

bingoglassesIt comes every year.  I try to prepare my heart – but frankly the pain and injustice, I just can’t get used to it.

Due to our summer travel plans, this week marks my last art class of the semester.  Children who live at an orphanage….well summer vacation has a whole different meaning for them.  They live where they go to school and since it is often better to keep the kiddos busy and on a schedule, they don’t take long breaks from classes.  I explained to my kiddos that I needed to travel with my family so there would be no art classes for July and August….but I would be back to start art classes again in September.  The kids often will ask me over and over again….”Are you really coming back?”  One little guy who was in a near panic over missing art, just couldn’t drop it.  Finally I asked him, “Friend, will you be here in September?”  After thinking a moment he said, “Yes, I am always here.”  My reply, “Then I will find you when I come back.”

But, that isn’t always the case.

When a teen turns 17 years old – they must leave the orphanage and are sent to a social welfare institute.  It is not a nice place.  This week I said goodbye to a student I have had since the beginning of my days at the Children’s Home. He cried as we hugged. He wasn’t upset about the idea of missing art class for two months.  He was crying because he knew this was the end.  He will not be living at the orphanage when I come back.

I cried too.

I cried because I will miss him.  I cried because he has no hope for the future.  I cried because if he had been adopted his life would have been so different.

These boys who were never chosen….Lord have mercy.

Kids need families.

Let’s make a difference. Foster. Adopt. Give. Tell their stories. Cry for the orphan. Pray.

 

Just what the doctor ordered

When you live in a city of 1.5 million people, a day in the forest is a much needed break, especially for Hubby and I.  We both grew up country.  Although I am not sure I could ever really fit back into rural farm life, at times my heart needs a hike in the woods, mud on my shoes, and the sound of birds rather than cars.

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This week was “Sports Week” at the university.  It is a week of track and field activities and no classes.  The Chinese teachers must participate.  They let the foreign teachers off the hook.  So, Hubby had the week off.  We used the break to rent a driver to take us out of the city for the day.  Hiking and a picnic were good for our souls.

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This is one of the first times we have hiked with Little Man not riding on my back.  Keep in mind that his prosthetic doesn’t have an ankle joint. (Once he is older and we don’t live in a remote area, there is an option to make a leg with a moveable ankle.)  At the beginning of the climb, he told the family, “This is the first time I will climb a mountain.”  He picked a walking stick and set his mind to it…and did it.  He kept asking if we were climbing Mt. Everest.  HA.  Someday Little Man, someday.  He really is a wonder and I don’t doubt that he could climb Everest if he decided to.

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Little Man’s favorite part of the day was conquering the mountain, but my favorite was find a clearing with a stream.  We sat and rested while the kids played with sticks, dug in the mud, and got wet.  A perfect afternoon in my book.

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I am so thankful for God’s creation and His provision of a day off when it is needed most.

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Ending the post with a few bonus pictures of the kids for Nana.  They sure have grown.  Probably was all the fresh country air.

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Saying Goodbye

IMG_6016There was a well worn path in the dirt road from our house to my grandmother’s two bedroom home.  I could make it there on my purple bike with the plastic streamers coming out of the handle bars in five minutes flat if the red-winged black birds in the oak tree at the corner didn’t take me out.  Grandma knew I was scared of those birds.  I told her everything.

 

On one of my visits, she proudly pulled out a large pinwheel.  I was confused when I first saw it. Then she told me I should hold it over my head as I rode to her house.  The pinwheel whistled as I rode my bike and scared those stupid birds.  Nothing would keep us from our afternoon visits.

I’m not really sure how we filled all of the hours we spent together.

She helped me with my homework.  I always was up for a ride to “the city” to help her buy groceries.  We ate red licorice together and painted our nails….always with clear polish.  I watched hours of Gospel Sing TV with her, and she attended every band concert, play, and art show.  She taught me to drive and took me on my first airplane ride to visit the cousins in Florida.  When I was all grown up and traveling on my own, she wrote to me weekly on her old typewriter and mailed me phone cards.

When I was a self-conscious middle schooler, she taught me to sew.  She had this way of making me feel like the most talented kid while at the same time telling me truth without sugar coating.  Her words still ring in my ears: “You don’t have to be perfect.  It will all iron out.”  What seemed like a lesson in stitching a seam on my latest 4-H project, really was so much more.  She knew me and my struggles.

This week, I lost part of my heart.  Alzheimers (what I now call the cruelest of all diseases) has slowly been stealing her from me.  Robbing us of any new memories.  But, I guess I am still the little girl on that purple bike….hoping to race faster than the black birds.  Every time I was able to sit next to her on the couch in her nursing home, I was hoping for one more moment.   We had always been good at sitting together and not doing to much.  I could take in her smell, feel her presence, and pretend we were just watching the Gaithers together.

Even that is now gone.

I have gone back and forth about writing this blog post.  I usually save this space for stories about living and teaching cross-culturally and how that affects raising my family.  I wasn’t sure if writing about the death of my grandmother fit that.

This week, as I have cried over her death, the miles between my childhood home and Asia have felt even longer. I wanted to stand at her graveside.  I wanted to cry with my family, who would understand why I am 40 but a weeping mess over losing my grandmother friend.

 

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But, it is even more than that.

Some of my tears this week are over my mother and my own children.  I am crying because my kids can’t ride their bikes down the road and eat licorice with a grandparent who loves them with extravagance.  In my grief, I question the stolen moments that might shape my own children.

Living cross-culturally, it is what we are called to, but man, sometimes the cost is high.  I want to write and say it is all worth it.  But, honestly, I am not sure if I will ever know if it is or not.

What is worth something…following Jesus and trusting him with my heart.  I guess that means I should trust him with the heart of my kiddos and be thankful for video chats.  So much easier to write that then to truly live it out.

Years ago, Dr. Kinlaw gave a sermon at a summer camp that included a story of a young single woman who was living cross-culturally.  She was asked if she was scared of living so far from home in a strange land by herself.  Her response.  “I am more scared of NOT living where God wants me to be.”  I can’t remember the rest of that sermon. Actually, I am pretty proud of myself for remembering anything from 20 years ago!  Funny, the things that come to mind as you are grieving.  The simple answer that young woman gave….I want it to be my answer as well.  With all my heart, I want to be where God calls us.

Lord, help me in my weakness. Help me when the days are hard and my tears fall in abundance.

Often, when I sat next to Grandma at church, tears would gently slip from one eye.  She joked with me that she had a leaky eye and not to worry.  The one time I really remember seeing Grandma cry was when she said good-bye to me as I was leaving for college.  She sobbed – deep heart wrenching cries as we hugged in the driveway.

Now, I am the one sobbing as I have to say good-bye to her.  There are no promises about Christmas and spring breaks….but I am thankful to know there is the promise of eternity.

 

And then he did a face plant…

My first mistake was telling Little Man he could ride his tricycle to the market.  An unseasonably warm day made me unusually optimistic on how much I could carry with a kindergartener and a tricycle in tow.  Lesson learned.

A box in one arm, several days’ veggies and fruit in a bag on the other with the tricycle slung over my shoulder, Little Man and I started crossing the road to start the trek home.  He was holding the hem of my jacket as we stepped off the curb.  I am not really sure what happened next.  It all went so fast and slow at the same time.  We had plenty of time to cross the road in front of the white car that suddenly seemed to be barreling down on us when Little Man’s leg came off.  Velocity taking over, his body kept going and he landed hard on the pavement near the other side of the road.

 

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You know those moments?  The moments when you are standing in the road deciding if you should let the car run over your son’s leg or scoop him up and comfort him — all the while trying to untangle yourself from a bag of broccoli, apples and tomatoes.  AND while doing all this, you are thinking in the back of your mind….”Wow, I guess his leg really isn’t fitting that great these days!”  See what I mean?  Never in my life did I think there would be such a moment.  I chose wiping tears and checking for broken bones and blood.  Little Man was not happy with that choice, and he began screaming even louder that his leg was about to be road kill.

In enters a stranger.

Just a little cultural context.  It is not common to help strangers.  Friends and family, absolutely. Strangers, no. It is culturally common to stop and watch, but not to help.  Let’s just say, in all of my years living in Asia I have been stared at A LOT more than I have been helped.

Wednesday was different.

A man stepped out into the road, rescued Little Man’s leg, retrieved the roll away tricycle and was at my side helping me steady a weeping boy.  He held a little hand while I checked for wounds (there were none) and slid an intact prosthetic leg back in place. When I finally had enough wits to look up at the man, I said.  “You are a very nice man.”  His reply was with typical Asian modesty, “No, not at all.”

And he walked away.

We made it back home with a story to tell over dinner.  All of the kids marveled at the nice man who stopped to help.  “I want to be a nice Chinese man like that.” Little Man exclaimed.  It truly is amazing how a few moments of help can make a deep impression on those around us.  It reminds me of a statement our pastor in Michigan used to say often, “Small things done with great love make a big difference.”  Okay, rescuing a prosthetic leg from being run over by a car actually was kinda a big thing.  But, the few minutes he took to help us…well that was a small moment from his life and I am very thankful.  It made a big difference to us.

I want to be that type of person…willing to stop for a moment and help.  We can make grand plans on how to live out our faith and how to love those around us, but if we aren’t able to slow down and embrace the unexpected moments – well, it is worthless.  I am striving to live a life of service that will encourage those around me and I am so thankful when the blessing is turned my way.

 

 

Silence

Been pretty quiet over here on the blog lately.  Oh, we have been doing stuff.  Two of my kiddos have celebrated birthdays.  We traveled to Thailand for a training conference and some much needed vacay time.  That, of course, says nothing about art lessons, orphanage visits, English classes and homeschooling.  So there has been stuff.  I just haven’t felt like writing about it.

This past Fall I have had my heart broken like never before.  I couldn’t really explain it, write about it, or even verbalize it.  I just cried.  Jesus was taking me on a journey into the depths of his heart and it hurt to weep with him, but that is what I felt called to do. Children who wait for families.  Not enough families.  Kids without access to medical care or education.  Sweet loving children with no hope of a future.  Students who have never heard.  Not easy stuff and – for sure – not stuff that makes for award winning, light-hearted blog writing.

Through my tears, I have tried to come up with many plans to do something about it all.  Maybe I should get my masters in social work in order to have more influence.  Should we adopt again?  Maybe if we were in the States, we could tell more people about the needs and more families would feel led to adopt or give towards adoptions?  How could I advocate more?  Is becoming a foster family the way to go?

I want to DO something.

Silence.

More weeping.

 

I had the opportunity to hold two pretty special kiddos this week.  After I teach, I go to the third floor of the orphanage where children who are bed ridden spend their days.  They are not able to feed themselves, move from their wheelchairs or beds and many of them are unable to communicate.  I go there to help feed these precious souls.  I spoon feed them mush, wipe their faces, and rub backs.  You wouldn’t believe the smiles that are my rewards.

This week, I walked in and immediately noticed that one of the teens was laboring for breath and was swollen.  My heart knew.  His time is coming to an end.  I sat next to him, held his hand and brushed back the hair from his face as a prayer bubbled up from within me.

Last night we hung out with some special friends who have unexpectedly become foster parents.   I took a turn holding the smallest of babies with perfect eye lashes and tiny fingers.  I marveled at the perfection, wondered about her future, sighed with contentment knowing that she is in the best of care while she waits.  A prayer bubbled up from within me.

This business of weeping – I think it is teaching me to pray.

When I am surrounded by situations that are out of my control and when the river of tears can not be tamed…praying is the only response.