Monday, December 29, 2008
How I wish I had imagery for my thoughts right now, but my hard drive is currently undergoing severe life-saving surgery by the IT dept. at Lafayette in attempts to salvage my LIFE that is locked within it's tiny, black, plastic catacombs.
It was a gray, cool, and windy day today. The kids were mellow, people were quiet, and I am much in thought. I wandered down the street from my house to the huge Holy Family Catholic Church that opened recently. It looks so bright, white, and modern in the shabby and dirty neighborhood in which it is nestled. I was stopped by an old man at the gate and questioned in Chinese. He asked if I was French and was surprised to find out that I was an American teaching English at a primary school. Yes, I understood, but don't be too surprised, it was like 4 sentences. ;)
The church, though big, white, and clean, seemed cold and hollow. I wanted to wander inside wishing to find huge arching stained glass windows, old wooden pews, and the smell of 100 year old religion in practice, but it was closed, he was locking the gate, and my venture into this Chinese Catholic church will have to wait until another day.
There is something inexpressibly wonderful and holy to me about wandering into an ancient church and sitting down quietly in the dust of hundreds of years of prayers, songs, and liturgy. I have been thinking a lot about my 2 trips down to Baja, California, as this year's class is soon to leave. How that place captured my heart, my head, my eye, and my imagination.
I am in need of an ancient place and sacred space right now, a place of age, stories, memories, but find myself wandering between new buildings, industralization, and shacks. I find China, at least the part I am living in, is filled with quick construction, cheap materials, white paint, and money making, all sandwiched between lives with no hope of going upward or outward. The city wears on me. I am thankful to be nestled between several plant nurseries on the edge of town, but the roar of the traffic and the continous sounds of construction and progress cannot be escaped, not even in a huge Catholic church. They are not bad, but my heart and soul longs for the quiet right now.
Maybe someday I'll get to visit those parts of China, where ancient tradition, stories, and it's shaping past are still visibly evident to the observer. Is it strange that at times I want to trade my new and modern apartment, for a small hut in a farm community somewhere in the mountains? But Shantou is my place and space now and in it I must search for my ancient and sacred. It's proving to be hard in this city of 4 million...
Baja, I will miss you this January.
Sunday, December 28, 2008
I watched Frank Capra's "It's A Wonderful Life" yesterday. I have seen this movie dozens of times, but once again was struck and filled with tears at the grace and love this story portrays, the truth that life is a gift, that our lives touch others, and I as a a believer, am never without hope.
As I watched the story of George Bailey, a dreamer and adventurer, choose to give up his dreams to save his family's business, I thought about sacrifice and love. Many times in life we are asked to make sacrifices, selfless sacrifices, that seem unfair and take character. As I watched, I thought about HIS sacrifice for all of us - He didn't have to do it, we certainly didn't deserve it, but he chose it out of immense love. George loved his father and believed in his business in a city potentially on it's knees before Mr. Potter, a rich, old, miser, that he chose to carry the flag and continue to give hope to the less fortunate.
As I watched the movie take it's classic turn, Uncle Billy misplacing $8000, George taking the blame for it desperately before Potter, suddenly questioning his life, his worth, his significance, I saw that universal struggle among human beings. Regardless of the situation: financial, relational, or physical, those doubtful questions have come up in almost everyone's life. But the hope in this story, the timeless beauty, is his encounter with Clarence the wingless angel, and the chance to see what life, the lives of others, would have been like without him.
People make mistakes. In his fear, George angrily yelled at his family, friends, others, destroyed part of his house, and ran off into the night. As prayers were lifted upward for a struggling husband, father, and friend, the love of others pours in. The ending of this movie gets me every time. George seeing what a wonderful life he truly had, rushes home to see his loved ones, now joyfully accepting his supposed fate of imprisonment. But his wife, Mary, in her immense love and faithfulness had a surprise and reminder: George is deeply loved and will not be abandoned when in need. Friends, family, the whole town pours into that drafty house dropping money, savings, penny banks, anything they had in order to save the life of their friend, their friend who deeply touched their lives in more ways than he realized. What a beautiful story of love, grace, forgiveness, and a second chance to see just how wonderful life is.
As the bells toll outside my window this morning, I think about my life, the struggles I have had here, the questions, doubts, fears, and insecurities that have bubbled to the surface of my heart and soul. I am reminded about a lot from this 1946 black and white film: about grace, love, forgiveness, and the faithfulness and support of true friends. And that life is a precious gift to use for His glory to touch lives and be touched by others.
New Years is just around the corner and the shaping of my heart and life deeply continues.
It truly is a wonderful life.
Friday, December 26, 2008
Bear patiently the cross of grief or pain;
Leave to thy God to order and provide;
In every change He faithful will remain.
Be still, my soul; thy best, thy heavenly, Friend
Through thorny ways leads to a joyful end.
Be still, my soul; thy God doth undertake
To guide the future as He has the past.
Thy hope, thy confidence, let nothing shake;
All now mysterious shall be bright at last.
Be still, my soul; the waves and winds still know
His voice who ruled them while He dwelt below.
Be still, my soul, though dearest friends depart
And all is darkened in the vale of tears;
Then shalt thou better know His love, His heart,
Who comes to soothe thy sorrows and thy fears.
Be still, my soul; thy Jesus can repay
From His own fullness all He takes away.
Be still, my soul; the hour is hastening on
When we shall be forever with the Lord,
When disappointment, grief, and fear are gone,
Sorrow forgot, love's purest joys restored.
Be still, my soul; when change and tears are past,
All safe and blessed we shall meet at last.
Sunday, December 21, 2008
It seems like just yesterday I got on that plane in San Diego. As I sit listening to Chinese Christmas music, the weather about 68 degrees outside with a clear evening sky, I cannot help but dream of a white Christmas. But tropical trees and a classic movie will have to suffice this year, as I spend my fist Christmas away from home, my first Christmas in China.
As this holiday has approached, I have more than ever before met with the reminder that Christmas is not about Santa Claus, Christmas trees, sleigh rides, or presents. Maybe that is because it's hardly celebrated in China, or because the few stores here with decorations have everything BUT a manger scene. Or perhaps it is because I am away from home for the holidays. Or maybe in living here, amongst this culture, I have started to see just how much they are truly missing this Christmas, especially as I get to know them better. My roommate said her parents wouldn't even know what day Christmas was if someone didn't tell them. As I plan my lessons for school leading up to Christmas, the kids making cards to send to Lafayette in New York and other donors, I cannot help but be saddened that my teaching of this holiday is limited. New words like Santa Claus, Christmas tree, card, and presents are asked of me daily, but I want so much more to tell of the birth of a King. A King who came for each and everyone of their beautiful faces 2,000 years ago with a free gift. I am humbled, sobered, and reminded this Christmas that while lights are pretty, presents are fun, and Christmas trees sure make a lonely home cozy (I love mine!), the birth that happened that night is the reason I am in China, the reason I have hope, and the reason that I live.
In my musings about this season, I have been given tremendous peace; that unexplainable, inner peace that only comes from Above. It began a few weeks ago. First, something slightly magical began to happen at school – just barely noticeable, easily overlooked. A few kids who usually don't pay attention, don't seem to care, don't try, started raising their hands, answering questions, and trying. Kids who never came into my office nor said much of a hello outside of class, started to peek in curiously, and grab my hands playfully between classes. There is one little boy who comes in before his class to help me carry my stuff. What change has happened? Is it Christmas? Is it coincidental? Is it them finally accepting me? I don't know, but it has begun my Christmas season with a bang.
Secondly, I was visited by angels this past week in the form of a mysterious box from America. I assumed it was from my parents or boyfriend, a surprise Christmas gift they didn't tell me about. But I opened it to find a dozen beautiful wrapped, bowed and ribboned goodies and surprises sent with love from my small group at the church I attended my last semester of college. I was speechless, shocked, and blown away. This group of about 15 people of all ages and walks of life, many of which do not know me too well, decided to put together a surprise package for me filled with love, encouragement, and support. I have never received so unexpected of a gift nor felt so loved by brothers and sisters. I now have presents under my tree filled with promises from the Boss that He provides, He listens, He cares, and that I truly am never alone. Thank you, Grace family, for blessing me beyond words and truly showing me what the Body looks like. I cannot thank you enough and praise and thank the Father for you all!
I am happy here in China. The peace that has descended these past few weeks is something I have been praying for (and perhaps all you have been too - thank you!) I am determined to make this a magical and memorable Christmas. Though we have school on Christmas day, we have Friday through Sunday off. We also have the school's Christmas program the night of the 25th where the kids will dance, sing, and share what they are learning with their families. I cannot wait! The have been practicing for the past month. Jimmy and I are going to cook a holiday meal Friday night and invite several people over to join us. While they might have to bring their own plate (what can I say? we live simply...), the meat might be chicken again (or even Mexican!), it will be a time of fellowship and bringing people together, from all walks of life here in China. I am determined to love someone that day and share with them the love of my Best Friend, however I can. If that means sitting on the floor, borrowing plates, mock turkey, and people who barely speak English, I will take it. I will take it all because this is where I have been placed, and these are the people I have been called to love, right now.
Wishing you all a Merry and Blessed Christmas with your families and loved ones. We, your brothers and sisters around the globe, are thinking of you here across the seas. May the true Reason for the Season be close to your heart now and always.
I am at peace. Truly.
Thursday, December 11, 2008
1. Because it is my space
2. Because it is cozy and familiar and filled with little things reminding me of people, places, and things that I love...
Note the awful, gaudy, impressionistic painting that hangs above my bed.
It's a print on canvas with a few brushstrokes on top.
(of which I am a tad bit proud and extremely pleased with)
I do what I can...
Here's to Christmas in China!
It's going to be interesting...to say the least.
Sheng dan kuai le!
Friday, December 5, 2008
and hustle bustle craziness of the day begins.
One of my favorite things to do every morning is roll up my awful pink flower printed curtains to reveal the sleepy street below me. One or two elderly people might be out walking, a bike cart might pass with it's driver slowly peddling the heavy contents for the days vending, the security guard booth is still closed up tight, the world letting out it's first yawn of a new day.
And I, a redheaded dreamer, American, full of questions, wanting to touch, learn, and love this world, get to greet my morning, my Maker, and my home.
Here's to another day.
Tuesday, December 2, 2008
Working with kids, the changing weather, and oh, I don't know, a complete life change, have left me with a poor immune system and thus a few colds. With them came an array of unknown Chinese medicines. I documented these little herbal mysteries:
This one looked like small syringe vials and came with mini straws to drink the thick, brown liquid with. It tasted like the raw syrup one might use to make Coke - with a bitter aftertaste. yum.
But then I figured out it was "999". whew.
We made dumplings with the Headmaster and a few other people from the school. This girl helps cook and clean the school. She's super sweet.
I went to a Chinese McDonalds.
I hate it in America...don't know what made me think it would be different here. But they did have chocolate milkshakes...sort of.
Ronald is indeed a world traveler. Clotting arteries, one country at a time!
Monday, December 1, 2008
Yes, the meat was chicken (there's no turkey in this country), the potatoes were a bit sweet (due to a cream we tried to add to make them creamier), the gravy was a tad lumpy, the sweet potatoes were too sweet, and the imported apple soda was disgusting (buy hey, it looked interesting), but over all I had a successful and rather tasty Thanksgiving in China.
After school this past Thursday, Jimmy and I headed back to his apartment to attempt to prepare a traditional American meal. After about 2 ½ hours of cooking, a messy kitchen, and a bunch of "made up" inventions using what ingredients we could find here, we sat down to a full table of chicken, mashed potatoes, gravy, stuffing (mailed from the US by my dear parents), green beans with carmelized onions and toasted almonds (yum!), bread, jam, sweet potatoes, apple soda, and homemade chocolate chip cookies for dessert. Though not as perfect as home and mom would have made it, it was quite delicious and we were able to share it with Timothy, Jimmy's roommate, and Tina and June, 2 young designers from the Company.
attempts at sweet potatoes
carving the chicken. yes.
On a scale of 1 to 10 we had our guests rate our cooking and the meal overall, and the lowest we got was a 7 (on the sweet potatoes - no surprise, but I insisted on having them. It's tradition!) Jimmy and I high-fived and with big grins and happily watched them devour with hungry tummies EVERYTHING we had made. This was the first Thanksgiving I haven't had leftovers. Of course, this is my first Thanksgiving away from home, and in China, so I guess it's a season of many firsts.
TADA! our Thanksgiving feast!
Jimmy, Tina, Timothy, me, and June
We finished the evening by decorating Jimmy and Timothy's little Christmas tree, an activity neither of the girls had ever done in their lives, and after finishing off the cookie dough baked in Jimmy's mini toaster oven, we said our goodbyes. Overall it was a wonderful evening, far better time that either of us expected.
I am missing home, especially during the holidays, but I am determined to make my holidays here the best I can. I am decorating my little tree this evening and will enjoy it to its plastic fullness (or lack thereof. Ha). The true Reason for the Season is close to my heart as I am away from what I know, but He is just as present, just as close, and just as significant. No geographic location can change that.
Happy belated Thanksgiving from China, the land of no turkey!
Tuesday, November 25, 2008
It's time to fix what's been broken too long
Time to make right what has been wrong
It's time to find my way to where I belong
There's a wave that's crashing over me
And all I can do is surrender
Whatever You're doing inside of me
It feels like chaos but somehow there's peace
It's hard to surrender to what I can't see
but I'm giving in to something Heavenly
Time for a milestone
Time to begin again
Reevaluate who I really am
Am I doing everything to follow Your will
Or just climbing aimlessly over these hills
So show me what it is You want from me
I give everything I surrender to
Whatever You're doing inside of me
It feels like chaos but somehow there's peace
It's hard to surrender to what I can't see
but I'm giving in to something Heavenly
Time to face up
Clean this old house
Time to breathe in and let everything out
That I've wanted to say for so many years
Time to release all my held back tears
Whatever You're doing inside of me
It feels like chaos but I believe
You're up to something bigger than me
Larger than life something Heavenly
Whatever You're doing inside of me
It feels like chaos but now I can see
This is something bigger than me
Larger than life something Heavenly
Saturday, November 22, 2008
After our two Saturday morning classes, Jimmy and I started out on our walk home. As usual, we have several students who walk with us, as they live in the same direction. They usually straggle behind, doddle on the sides of the road talking, or run ahead. Today, however, the kids were a bit more clingy and eagerly grabbed our hands and walked beside us. We usually go around the alley they all live down and take the main road, but today, with the insistence of the kids, we walked with them into their neighborhood.
Small, poor homes and rickety shops opened to the narrow alley sandwiched between old, small apartment buildings. This alley lead to many others, each branching off in it's own mystery and level of poverty. It felt like we were a small parade. Here we were, 2 tall white foreigners, and 20 Chinese children walking, talking, and laughing. Adults looked up from their work, poked heads out doors, peeked around doorways, to see us coming. We passed a massive, old, vine covered tree where several kids had gone before and were already playing. They eagerly jumped from its mighty branches to join our little band. I held the hand of several girls, but one stuck by the whole walk. Her name is Mary.
Mary is a 5th grader and probably one of the smartest kids at the school, in her English as well as other studies. She is a little lady, very responsible, always watching the world around her, loving, and eager to learn. She, I believe, is the oldest child in her family and therefore has had to grow up much faster than most kids her age. She cooks, cleans, does housework, homework, and looks after younger siblings while her parents work all day. Though Jimmy is her teacher and she loves him dearly, I've always felt this little pull in her to be near me, to talk to me, most likely because I am female. As we walked and she talked of her home and neighborhood with her limited English, I couldn't help but smile. What a beautiful opportunity I have been given this year, to love these kids. As we came to the cross street where she lives, she tugged on my arm to go home with her. "Not today," I said. I do so hope someday though...
I am learning perspective in China. Many people here have asked why I would come here; to a busy, dirty, traffic congested, industrial city to teach poor kids. I always smile. Yes, I am getting paid and with that am able to pay off some student debt, yes, I get to see the world and live abroad, but there is so much more than that. It's all about perspective. I have been called this year to live and to love these people, these kids. Seeing the joy on their faces, watching them learn, understand, and apply their learning, watching my often frugal attempts to teach them a language and give them hope for a brighter future - it's priceless. It's about who I serve, who He is my life, and how that flows forth. That is why I am here. I daily am reminded of that. On days when I don't want to teach, I'm tired, or discouraged, the old motto from my summers at Indian Hills Camp rings through my brain, "This may be your 8th week of camp, but it's these campers' first!" Well for me in China its, "This may be your 3rd English class today, but it's their 1st - make it the best one ever!"
Perspective. It changes everything. He changes everything. He changes how I live, how I love, why I love. I truly do have the coolest job in the world.
In my life be lifted high
In my world be lifted high
In my love be lifted high
Thursday, November 20, 2008
Tuesday, November 18, 2008
As I lay on my bed editing photos and listening to Chinese Christmas music, I thought about the map that hangs on my wall. It is of the world, all the country maps, and timezones, surround by photos of my loved ones. I stopped as I realized how symbolic it is of my life.
The photos (unpurposefully) form a heart around the globe. Ironic. Here I am living in China. I have traveled to several places in this world (each highlighted on the map) and I have loved/do love it. But all those people in those photographs are not here. My heart has been stolen by this world, by it's needs, and it's people. But it is also so taken with people back home, in America.
Sometimes I ask why I have been brought here. Why me, an art major, with no experience teaching, who struggled in school, who dearly loves family and friends, would leave all that behind and come to China to do the very thing I don't know? Why would I choose to leave the culture I was born in and the familiarity, security, and freedom of home? Why has my heart been wrapped around this world only to have to say goodbye and leave some of the things I care about most?
The title of my senior show at Biola came to my mind: A PART. Also a few choruses from an old garage worship band I loved in highschool called Vella, began to stream from my computer:
And I have fallen for you
God there is no one else
I have left, I am here, because I am a part of something greater - we all are. But I am also apart from many people I deeply love. It is hard at times. It is lonely at times. My heart has been wrapped around this world, it's countries, it's cultures, it's languages, and it's lost souls. But it has also been wrapped around people I dearly love in America. Sometimes it feels like it's being stretched too far, that the distance is too great to bear alone. But then I remember truth and words like what Vella sings:
And I will follow you
With all that I am
I will run to you Lord
With every breath I breathe
I give to you
You're the only thing I want
If that is what being in China is all about for me then it's worth it. If going, being, serving, and falling in love with people all over is all about leading me back to Him, then it is worth it. His heart broke first for this world and as his follower, mine will too. That sometimes means saying goodbye, being alone, being foreign, being white in a sea of yellow. But it's worth it.
I miss: fall leaves, the smell of home, pine trees, San Diego beaches, raw vegetables, Mexican food, hugs, being known.
I love: Asian smiles, eating with chopsticks, Shantou sunrises, tea, my school, my students, Chinese markets, unexpected gifts from new friends.
It's worth it. So very worth it.
Saturday, November 15, 2008
I have been fighting the symptoms of the flu today, so after my Saturday classes this morning, I have been home resting, trying to sleep, and fight it off with vitamins, herbs, and water. My Mom has trained me well!
After being cooked a simple dinner by my dear roommate Sammy, I crawled into bed with my heavy head and aching body to watch the 1958 movie, The Inn of the Sixth Happiness, a story based off the life of missionary Gladys Aylward. As I watched this old movie, with the old view of China, now so changed in our 21st century, I smiled, a bit tearfully, in humble sympathy. A stubborn, independent, visionary woman, leaves her home of England by herself, for an unknown land, not knowing the language, not knowing what will happen, to share love with it's people - true, honest, genuine love.
Though I'm sure this movie is an overly dramatized version of the true story (one I now commit to read!), I felt her tears, her frustrations, her disappointments, her heartbreaks, her joys, her successes. The impact she made throughout northern China, the people she connected with, the lives she touched and saved in so many ways, is absolutely inspiring. I don't know how much of the movie's rendition is accurate, but if it is, it leaves me speechless at her courage, her bravery, her perseverance, her commitment, her dedication, her love. I want to love the beautiful people of my modern day China like that. It's not as easy, I'm not a remote village, but the potential is equally as great.
Sammy asked me tonight if I will stay in China. She has asked me that many times since I came. I told her I do not know. There is much at this time that would make me consider staying longer: the kids, the future of the school, continued learning of the language, planting my roots firmer in this community of people, consistent pay. But there is much at home that draws me back as well. I do not know. All I know is right now I am being called to China, to Rong Chang Hope School, to Shantou. The rest of up to Him.
Thank you, Gladys Aylward, for inspiring this one, young, American girl similarly walking in your footsteps so many years later. Your life, your testimony, brings tears to my eyes, courage to my heart, and hope to my soul.
I think this journey was meant for me.
Friday, November 14, 2008
Today was one of those days.
After a successful day of fun classes and review games, myself, all the other teachers, and 8 select kids, waited around the school for about an hour to go out to dinner together with Mr. Siu. While waiting, I was able to do one of the raddest things ever: watch those kids play and practice their Chinese instruments for our upcoming Christmas program at the school. Yes, all those beautiful, mysterious, Asian sounds so stereotypical to this region, were being plucked and strummed right before me. Two of my students showed me how to hit a few notes on the Yanqin, another few let me attempt to play on this little violin type thing called an Er-Hu (which when I tried, ended up sounding more like a dying chicken rather than music), another few let me plunk on the Chinese piano, or Guzheng. Absolutely amazing. wow. SO beautiful. SO rad. SO very fun!!
We then all piled into vans and headed to a Northern Chinese restaurant. It was so fun to listen to the kids giggle and watch them enjoy this special feast. They got to show off their English knowledge to Mr. Siu and the other company guests and I took pride in hearing them answer with confidence my English questions. It made me feel like all my hard work in teaching these past 2 months is truly paying off. They are indeed learning.
After dinner, Mr. Siu, myself, Jimmy, the kids, and Mrs. Wong all headed to McDonalds to get ice cream - or "bin qi lin", as they say in Mandarin. It was here my "I have the coolest job in the world" feelings were completely confirmed. Why? Because after stuffing our faces with chocolate sundaes, I got to crawl around the McDonalds playplace with my kids. Oh yes, teacher Jen, waaay to big for the slide, slid anyways, surrounded by the sounds of laughter, cheers, applause, and hands pulling me up, in, and down over and over again. It was absolutely amazing. These kids don't have much, and seeing the joy on their faces was priceless. Their smiles, their sweaty faces, their laughter was so worth my dirty knees, being crammed in a plastic tube reeking of stinky feet, and crawling through a space far to small for my 23 year-old body to go.
I truly have the coolest job in the world.
Here are some photos to share with you just a glimpse of it. They're not good, but they say so very much, and they are priceless.
My confession and realization is that I need to actually work on my photos before posting them. One, to be professional, and two, to keep up my editing skills - which are, essential, in digital work these days. Not a ton, but just a bit. My apologies for my lack of profession.
So here's to photoshopping...but only a little.
Wednesday, November 12, 2008
Our adventure began early in the morning at a Chinese bus station. It's truly crazy to enter a building where the only sign you can read is "TOILET." We drove 3 hours through gorgeous green China countryside.
A cool strong breeze, dark clouds, the green churning sea = AMAZing.
Shantou, Jiexi, Hong Kong, Xiamen.
4 cities down.
Now like 10 gabillion more to go...isn't China exciting?