Monday, December 29, 2008

Ancient places and sacred spaces.

I have been thinking about ancient places and sacred spaces lately.

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

It's a wonderful life.

The bells are tolling from the church behind my apartment this cold, gray, Sunday morning in China. I love the sound of bells - deep, steady, and strong. Christmas has come and past, but the meaning of this holiday and the questions and thoughts it has evoked as I am here alone, continue.

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

Be still.

Be still, my soul; the Lord is on thy side;
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

At Peace: Christmas Musings...

Christmas is only 4 days away.

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

At home in my room.

I love coming home to my room:

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.

And I like it a bit more right now because of my Christmas tree!!!
(of which I am a tad bit proud and extremely pleased with)

It even has a popcorn chain that I made! I haven't done it since I was a kid...

Popcorn chains are much more tedious and time consuming than I remembered. My boyfriend reminded me: "That's because when you're a kid, you string about 10 pieces, and then your mom does the rest." ha. true.

I also have one of my family's plastic Christmas wreathes from the 50s that has been around forever. My mom mailed it to me and it now decorates my window, along with a little bit of plastic fall. ha.

I do what I can...

Here's to Christmas in China!
It's going to be say the least.

Sheng dan kuai le!

Friday, December 5, 2008


Because Shantou sunrises are breathtaking...

Quiet, still, soft.
That moment just before the noise, traffic,
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

Chinese medicine, dumplings, and McDonalds.

The past month has afforded me a few adventures and random happenings here in Shantou and though I have no deep and profound thoughts to attach to them, I do have poor quality photos. ha. So for your enjoyment...

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.

This tea was to help with my cough and the box looked like it said "666".
uh oh...

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.

Dumpling goodness.

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!

That's all for now.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Thanksgiving in China.

It actually happened. I actually had a successful Thanksgiving dinner in China, one that I cooked, from scratch...well, mostly.

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.

carmelizing onions...

attempts at sweet potatoes

mashed 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!