PACKAGE TIME!!!!

We rarely get packages. In fact, in the past nine months I think we’ve gotten one. Sometimes we feel a bit cut off and need a boost so this year I actually prayed in advance that God would lay it on someone’s heart to send us a Christmas package. God is so gracious to answer prayer- we ended up having several friends offer to send us things. It’s not that we actually NEED anything so much as that boxes from America remind us that we are attached through ribbons of love to family and friends back home. And the fun items they send bring touches of the states to our China home for the holidays.

I thought you might enjoy some photos of the hoopla surrounding the packages that walked in our door today!

A friend in California organized a group of folks who have been or will be in our home to send these humongous boxes our way. Wooohooo!

Grace and Hope walked to the post office to retrieve them. They were pretty excited when they came in!

Since Grace carried the larger one home, she got to cut into it!

“Hmmm… what could this be?” Joy hams it up for the camera!

So much excitement- like Christmas morning!

Oh yeah! Chocolate chips, cow tails, tootsie rolls…. (Don’t worry, we won’t eat this all at once!) This came on such a good day. We had a grueling day yesterday making the border crossing so something fun this morning was just the ticket!

Doing the Snoopy happy dance! And, no, Stacy is NOT biting his finger here!

Ok, seriously, aren’t my Cow Tail models just the cutest?

Score! Strawberry Twizzlers are a favorite of Joy’s! (And Grace’s apparently!)

Hope is so happy, she started crying! Gotta love Cow Tails!

‘Nuff said! LOL

This made a great hit, too. Think of the Dexters huddled around their space heater in the cold of winter sipping specialty cocoas… Is God not good?

I’m really not trying to solicit packages through this post, but rather to give you a glimpse into the “party” we had this morning and maybe bring a smile to your face! It’s always fun to see God answer prayer and to celebrate the joys of life together.

Dodgson family, Natalie, Jeanne, Piper family, Baldivid family- THANK YOU! What extreme packages you put together! Our cup is full to overflowing.

Hebrews 6:10
For God is not unjust so as to forget your work and the love which you have shown toward His name, in having ministered and in still ministering to the saints.

Fun with Chinglish- Restroom Edition

Going to the restroom in China can be an adventure. During our 10 years of living and traveling here, we’ve just about seen it all. Squat pots are the least of our worries (in fact, I’d far rather use a squatty than a dirty western toilet). Many public restrooms are simply a shared trough separated by half walls…and no doors. A nice country rest stop has continuously running water through the channel. A more rustic version might have a clay pot that slowly fills with water and dumps occasionally through the trench, washing away most of the waste. Others just have a ditch that slopes slightly downhill into the pig pen in the back. It definitely makes one question their future pork consumption.

Two of my favorite restroom stories actually happened in one night, on a trip on a night bus from Shangrila to Dali. To start out with, the bus was one of the most malodorous places I’ve ever been trapped in my life. My friend told me that it was full of a particular people group who traditionally only bathed three times in their lives- when they were born, when they married, and when they died. Bless their hearts, apparently none of them were very near those desirable events. They crawled into their berths and kicked off their shoes, belched and aired themselves until it was truly a thrilling relief when they started smoking (and that is saying something, because I’m allergic to cigarette smoke).

I settled into my berth, comfortably stretched my six foot frame into the three feet of bed space, and determined to make the best of the 8-10 hour adventure. Imagine my relief when, four hours into our trip, the driver finally stopped at our first rest stop. Gulping great lungs full of fresh air, I staggered through the darkness towards what appeared to be rudimentary outhouses perched on an embankment. Strange, I thought I could hear water rushing somewhere. Fishing my penlight out of my backpack, I entered the rickety enclosure and stumbled to a stop before a hole in the floor. Shining my flashlight down, down, down through the opening, I could make out a raging river 30 feet below. Good thing I was prepared and packed that flashlight! Otherwise, in the darkness I could have easily fallen through that “toilet” into the frothing waters beneath…unless my western hips had saved me, in which case I would have certainly given my family something to talk about for years to come. “Remember that time we had to fish Joy out of the “toilet” on the way to Dali? She was stuck in it, tight as a cork. Ahhh, good times.”

Another four hours into our journey, we pulled into a small village in the middle of nowhere for our second and final rest stop (that driver must have had a bladder of steel). When I asked a local where the nearest W.C. was, he replied with a shrug “We don’t have toilets in this village. There’s an alley over there you could go in.”

Well okay then. That was definitely a new experience for me, but I was pretty desperate, so I was willing to give it a try. Using my trusty flashlight, I picked my way through the piles in the alley until I found a secluded corner. Trying to shut off my inhibitions, I prepared to do my business…until I heard skittering rats in the rubbish all around me. Nuh uh, no way was I foolhardy enough to go any further at that point! I grimly determined that I would wait until we reached a “proper” restroom (and by this point, my definition of that was extremely loose) if it killed me.

Perhaps you can understand now why I appreciate the following Chinglish restroom signs so much. They’re an indication that someone cares enough to make the business of using the necessary as pleasant and polite an experience as possible. For that, I’m truly grateful.

Here’s a clear, well-appointed sign showing the location of the latest facility…

…which on closer inspection is best used by people whose diets are a bit deficient in fiber.

Perhaps they should eat their Wheaties.

This attempt at political correctness falls just a tad bit flat, although I’m sure they didn’t mean to be insulting…

…but at least they’re equal opportunity.

Once you reach the restroom proper, it’s always good to know how to utilize the facilities. First, if you’re lucky enough to have a door, then you should…

I’ve never been all that mechanically inclined, so any explanation is appreciated.

For those used to using squatties instead of their western counterparts, this admonition might cramp their style…

…but I cannot imagine that even the most die-hard smoker would find it pleasant to take their cigarette break in the toilet.

Talk about a dirty habit.

The next sign I just find thoroughly confusing.

What does it mean? It wasn’t an electronic toilet. I find the idea of a “flush and run” or a “run and flush” for that matter, to be a bit disconcerting.

Finally, you know that you’ve come up from the world of alleys, troughs and squatties when you are invited to…

I can only surmise that this is a very luxurious experience. However, I personally am happy to settle for something with a light, no rats, and even (gasp) toilet paper.

So next time you take the opportunity to utilize one of your western restrooms, just remember the wise advice from your eastern counterparts- turn the little round lock, don’t step on the closestool or smoke in the toilet, and hurry to have flush. And for those days when you want to treat yourself a little special- have a spa for your rectum!

My Path through Pain

These past weeks and months have been a season of supporting in prayer dear friends who have had serious adversity in their lives. Our hearts have been heavy, as those we love have lost a child, a grandchild, a husband, and a father while others have suffered depression, illness, and financial distress. Indeed, we know that God tells us not to be surprised by the fiery ordeal that comes upon us for our testing as though some strange things were happening to us. (1 Peter 4:12) As believers we know that we WILL experience seasons of suffering.

My personal journey (which cannot begin to compare in scope to most of those mentioned above) these past few years has been through the valley of physical pain. I am up at 04:00 this morning once again visiting this “friend” with whom I’ve walked so closely for almost five years now. At present it is back pain, but for most of these years I have had a debilitating headache (caused by an old neck injury) which has wrapped itself around my brain twenty-four hours a day seven days a week. Often it has been difficult to speak cohesively or to think clearly, much less to carry out the many responsibilities that come with the task of wife, mother, home school teacher, homemaker, hostess, and Bible study leader. For a year, the pain stayed near a level 8 or 9 of 10 almost continually. Though I was pursuing medical diagnosis and treatment, I was in China where medical care is not as advanced as in America and where pain is French bread. (OK, that’s in France but, yes, I admit it, I am a big “Remember the Titans” fan!) But the point is that in China the medical community doesn’t tend to be overly empathetic and except for anesthetizing during surgery rarely medicates for pain so I was pretty much on my own, except for God (but fortunately, He is an awesome “except”).

This adversity brought me face to face with a long held fear. I had never wanted to be a “sick mother” and, yet, there I was- living smack in the middle of a dreaded nightmare! As a Christian, I believe that God is sovereign; I believe that He is wise; I believe that He is good; and I had a decision to make. How was I going to respond in the midst of the battle? I strongly considered whining about it and throwing a pity party, and I confess that I had days when I tried it, but that was obviously unproductive! Practically speaking, the pain impaired my abilities, but spiritually speaking, I knew that God had my best at heart and I wanted to somehow glorify Him in this passage.

Months went by and the headache didn’t stop. In fact, it increased until it felt like a horrendous beast inside my brain roaring at me night and day. As most believers would do, I thought a lot about James 1:2-4, “Consider it all joy, my beloved brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”  Through this, my gracious Lord led me to stop running FROM the discomfort, but rather to embrace this journey as a tool He was using to do a work of sanctification in my life. He convicted me that if I believed He really was in control, really was all wise, and really did love me perfectly, that He would only allow this headache in my life if it were for my best and His glory. Gradually the focus changed from “How can I make it stop?” to “How can I live with the headache in a way that glorifies God?” I can only attribute this switch to the amazing grace of Christ working in my heart, because in my own flesh such a thing would never have entered my mind. (And I want to add that I have never stopped praying that whenever God was done teaching me what He wanted me to learn from this, He would remove the headache.)

One problem with pain is that it is so consuming that it’s easy to focus inward, to magnify self, to want the whole world to cater to me. But that path leads only to despair and hopelessness. It was a trail I did not want to tread – but what a battle NOT to live in that dark place! In His grace, and as many sufferers through the ages have done, God led me to the Psalms. The Psalmists often began with crying out to Him with their troubles and concerns, but by the end of their song, they praised God for His mighty works and His holy character. Second Corinthians 10:5 also exhorted me to take my thoughts captive to the obedience of Christ, which became the discipline I desired, by God’s grace, to practice.

In the valley of intense pain, the Holy Spirit turned my gaze to the beauty and majesty of Jesus as shown through some favorite passages of Scripture two of which I will write at the end of this post. In the night watches when I had pain so intense I was in tears, I meditated on these verses, rejoicing in the sacrifices Christ made for us, in the humility He showed in His own sufferings, in the depth of His affliction on behalf of His children. And (this part sounds weird, but it really did help me) as I thought about my beautiful Jesus, I inhaled and exhaled deeply, intent on taking in the goodness of God rather than concentrating on the pain.

Many years ago, I approached a friend who was very joyful in her Christian life and asked her how she stayed that way. I didn’t really understand her reply at that time, because she said, “God has allowed many trials in my life. And I can’t explain it, but somehow at the bottom of them all, I found the joy of the Lord.” Friends, NOW I understand that answer! I can’t explain it either, but as God kindly drew my attention to His goodness and grace in a deeper way, I have exponentially more joy in Him than I ever imagined. He is SO sweet and SO lovely! His grace truly IS amazing!

Though I’ve had some times in the past six months of relative ease from the agony of intense headaches, they and other forms of pain continue to return regularly. I still have to fight my flesh, control my thoughts, and concentrate my attention once again on Christ. The battle is not over, and probably won’t be this side of glory. However, He has given me hope in the midst of the storm. He has shown me that His grace is sufficient, and it truly is sufficient, and it is and ever will be sufficient. And for that, I praise His name, and thank Him for the pain- that at the bottom of it, there can be joy in Him.

By grace alone,

Pat

Below are some Bible passages and the lyrics of a song that have ministered to me in my affliction.

Phil. 2:5-10

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Isaiah 53

Who has believed what he has heard from us?
 And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
For he grew up before him like a young plant,
and like a root out of dry ground;
he had no form or majesty that we should look at him,
and no beauty that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief;
and as one from whom men hide their faces
he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he has borne our griefs
 and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
 we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
so he opened not his mouth.
By oppression and judgment he was taken away;
 and as for his generation, who considered
that he was cut off out of the land of the living,
 stricken for the transgression of my people?
And they made his grave with the wicked
 and with a rich man in his death,
although he had done no violence,
and there was no deceit in his mouth. Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him;
he has put him to grief;
when his soul makes an offering for guilt,
he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days;
the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand.
Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied;
by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant,
make many to be accounted righteous,
and he shall bear their iniquities.
Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many,
 and he shall divide the spoil with the strong,
because he poured out his soul to death
and was numbered with the transgressors;
yet he bore the sin of many,
and makes intercession for the transgressors.

2 Corinthians 4 and 5 have been particularly helpful as well, but I won’t clip and paste those here!

Also, I found my heart’s cry in this song:

Jesus, Draw Me Ever Nearer by Keith Getty

Jesus draw me ever nearer

As I labour through the storm.

You have called me to this passage,

and I’ll follow, though I’m worn.

 

May this journey bring a blessing,

May I rise on wings of faith;

And at the end of my heart’s testing,

With Your likeness let me wake.

 

Jesus guide me through the tempest;

Keep my spirit staid and sure.

When the midnight meets the morning,

Let me love You even more.

 

May this journey bring a blessing,

May I rise on wings of faith;

And at the end of my heart’s testing,

With Your likeness let me wake.

 

Let the treasures of the trial

Form within me as I go –

And at the end of this long passage,

Let me leave them at Your throne.

 

May this journey bring a blessing,

May I rise on wings of faith;

And at the end of my heart’s testing,

With Your likeness let me wake.

Fun with Chinglish- Food Edition

During my years in China, one hobby I’ve taken up is documenting the amusing Chinglish translations on signs and packaging. When I moved here, I decided my sense of humor was going to be an invaluable tool for the transition, and I haven’t regretted it. :) Menus, park signs, packaging, and clothing provide an almost endless source of fun. Over time, I’ve built up quite a collection of signs that have given me a chuckle. I intend to share them in installments in hopes that you will enjoy them, too.

Please be aware that I am not making fun of my Chinese neighbors. Goodness knows, I’ve made enough language mistakes of my own to leave no room for finger pointing. When I visit the States, I frequently find similar mistakes in Chinese (for instance, one man had a prominent tattoo which he thought said “wolf,” but which actually meant “pig”…oops!). I only hope they enjoy my occasional blunders or quaint phraseology as much as I do theirs.

You can tell a lot about a restaurant by its name.

Something tells me this food will be quite tasty.

East meets West in this one…

…and creates quite a funny mental image. Think the Chairman with a big, polka-dot bow.

This bakery is bending over backwards to bring us a beautiful appointment, coming song.

Let’s see some of the tasty treats we might find inside this accommodating eatery.

Mmmmm, that’s hard to resist…literally.

Smokin’.

On occasion, I stumble across that rare gem of a restaurant that doesn’t make me come inside to discover their specialty.

You had me at “frog eggs;” although the “sticky nice balls with tar” were a close second.

Unfortunately, most cafes aren’t so forthcoming, and I have to peruse their menu to see their offerings.

Good thing I can be “surrounded by the sweety feelings” here, because I still have no idea what they’re selling. If their fish are on dialysis, I’m definitely skipping the sushi.

Let’s face it, most of us don’t have the luxury of eating in restaurants often. Grocery stores are where we buy our food, and we create delicious, well-rounded, healthy meals at home. I find when stir-frying it’s usually good to start with…

…that Inedible Blend Oil is just nasty.

Over in the refrigerated section, I like to search for all-natural ingredients, bursting with flavor, like…

…nothing says “farm fresh” like “Burger King Colored Burger Slice.” Yummmm!

I would say that Classy Kiss comes from classy cows, but that just sounds wrong.

When simple bacon just doesn’t make the cut, this bacon is a cut above.

For those people on a no-frills budget, try…

If disapproval, we will drawback; now how’s that for a guarantee?

There is also a wide assortment of appetizing snacks, for the “kitchen impaired.”

Or not so appetizing.

That’s more like it. Although, if I were the “Saying Plum,” I’m not sure it would be super smart to say, “Hey, so delicious, let us try it fast!”

I’m sorry, but as a Christian, I just wouldn’t feel right buying “temptable food.” How could I live with myself if I led it astray? I want my food to stay on the straight and narrow, even “while travelling.”

The more times I try this, the more “specious” I feel. This delicious snack really fit me.

So next time you’re in China, be sure to sample some of their culinary masterpieces. Whether you’re wowed by their frog eggs or lured into sampling the dialysis fish, we know that nowhere else can you get that same specious feeling as China. It is, indeed, a Delicious Place.

 

Called to Have Open Doors

People often ask us what an “average” week is like in the Dexter household in China. That question makes us laugh because we don’t have many average weeks. Life is full of unexpected and varied experiences. Learning to be flexible has been a big key to being content in China. But one constant of our lives is welcoming many friends and strangers through the door.

Recently I was researching the definitions of the word “hospitality” and found something surprising. When people think of hospitality, they often think, “Oh, my house is too small. When I get a bigger house I’ll invite friends over.” Or, “I’m not a very good cook. If I learn to cook I’ll have guests.” Then there’s, “I can’t afford to entertain.”  But hospitality doesn’t really have much to do with the size of our abodes, the quality of our cooking, or the state of our wallets.  Rather, the Biblical definition is “love to strangers” and according to one online dictionary it is the “quality or disposition of receiving and treating guests and strangers in a warm, friendly, generous way.” As with all of the important things in life, hospitality flows from and reflects our hearts.

Early in my life with young children, God convicted me about my attitude in offering hospitality. Everything had to be perfect! I’d get all stressed out, become impatient with my children, and just make life generally miserable for everyone. Everyone in the home almost hated having guests over because my attitude was so miserable. In my Bible reading, God in His kindness gave me Proverbs 15:17, which says, “Better are vegetables served with love than a fatted ox with hatred.” That became my goal in opening our door to family, friends, yes, and strangers! I have a few tips that have helped us enjoy this lifestyle God has called us to:

  • Make it a family affair. Involve children and teach them early how to take ownership of the joy of hospitality. If everyone works together to prepare meals, set up the room, and greet the guests, it’s just more fun. Interacting happily and cheerfully while working makes sweet memories and teaches practical life skills.
  • Keep it simple. It doesn’t need to be complicated, expensive or fancy to make friends welcome. Once in Texas when we were really broke, (really, really broke!) we had a friend whose wife and kids had just left him, so we invited him over once a week for a pancake supper! At that point we were eating pancakes four nights a week, and that was what we had to offer. The first time we had him it was a little embarrassing, but he just loved those pancakes and he was happy to get out of his quiet house once a week.
  • If you feel you want people to especially enjoy their meal, you can serve them almost anything for the main dish if you give them a good dessert! People remember what comes last! (And if it’s chocolate, that’s all the better, but maybe that’s just me!)
  • Hospitality is all about the people so work to have individual conversations with as many guests as you can. Ask questions, interact, and engage. Even if you have a room full of people that you want to greet, when you’re speaking to a person give him your FULL attention even if you have to move on quickly. Look her in the eye and listen when she answers!
  • Treat guests like home folks. Relax and enjoy the people God has brought into your life for that period of time.

I’ve had this subject on my mind lately because July has been the month of the open door in our household.

Our granddaughter, Angela, came and stayed for a few days. (Ok, that’s not really hospitality but I wanted to show her off!)

Lacy and Alyssa came for about three weeks to work alongside us.

Alyssa enjoys one of the babies at the orphan camp.

Lacy + violin = music therapy!

Grace doing her bit by giving Lacy a massage!

As I said, sometimes our guests are strangers. (Some are stranger than others!)

One week, while the “girls” were here, was especially full! On Friday, we hosted the orphan camp. It was not at our house, but together with our good friends at the Fountains we provided food, fun, and fellowship for the orphans and the staff from the orphanage.

We were blessed to be able to present gift bags to each member of the orphanage staff who came to this event, thanking them for allowing us to be involved with what they are doing for these precious kids. The bags contained some very fun things among which were specialty foods, travel bags, tea “bottles”, fish oil capsules (coveted by many Chinese because they believe American fish oil is the best in the world), compacts, sets of dishes, tote bags, and some most excellent reading materials.

This is a group shot of the orphans, the orphanage staff, and some of the volunteers who were there that day. Unfortunately, none of the superb staff of the Fountains (who are good friends of the orphans and share sponsorship of this event with us) were there for the final photo as other tasks had their attention at that time.

Then, two days later on Sunday, two families who are friends through adoption, Ruthi,  Amy and Bill along with their daughters (9 total), spent Sunday afternoon and evening with us. They were kind enough to bring us all kinds of things for both the orphans and our family, as we fellowshipped over a spaghetti dinner. Our girls had fun playing Uno with some of their daughters!

On Monday, our thirty-fifth wedding anniversary, Mark, Ryan, and Joe showed up on our doorstep after a few weeks of traveling around China. They get the vote for being the most fun to feed of anyone we’ve had in our home this year! Their hearty appetites and “Mmmm” sounds during the three days they were with us made our summer. I even got word that one of them was crying over the roast beef. They can put their feet under our table any time!

While they were here, on Wednesday we gave our friends an opportunity to invite their friends to our house for dinner and a lecture. As stated in a previous post, most Chinese are very community oriented and like to share their experiences with their friends, so every now and then we give an open dinner invitation. On this night we had fifty-five enjoying our menu, which was sort of a “Chinglish” mix- fried chicken strips, Chinese fried noodles, fried rice, white rice, dumplings, corn on the cob (not really a meal item here, more of a snack, but we serve it at meals anyway), broccoli, salad (with LOTS of ranch dressing! Our friends here LOVE ranch dressing and will literally use it as gravy on almost anything on the table!), rolls, several kinds of fruit, and oatmeal raisin cookies for dessert.

Oops, how did this photo of me holding my grandson, Josiah, end up HERE? Oh, well… That’s Josiah’s gong gong” on the left. (The “o” makes the long sound and it means his grandpa on his mom’s side.) You can tell that I’m saying, “Oh, MY! What a darling child!”

This is our foyer that evening!

As you see, we have a lot of cheap, portable accommodation for large groups. We set up small tables and plastic stools. We always try to rent apartments with spacious living rooms because we give a lot of parties. After dinner, all the tables were folded up and the stools were moved out into the room. Here, Joe is telling about his past life, his present life, and his expectations for the future.

The guys left on Thursday morning and you’ll never guess what we did THAT day? We rested! It was a great week- lots of people, lots of fun, and lots of work – a perfect mix. Thanks, Lord!

Lest I sound as if we are always on the giving end of hospitality, I’d like to relate some special memories we have of times in other people’s homes. We are often traveling when we are in America, and have been very blessed by so many along our path. I can’t possibly relate every episode in this space but will give you a variety! I hope this will encourage you and spur you on to open your homes to friends and strangers and give you ideas of ways you might make guests feel welcome!

  • On a recent trip to Los Angeles, Raj and Tracy welcomed us in, having never met us. Tracy had their guest bath set up with luscious organic hair and bath products that I would never purchase for myself. She also had a cute little shelf with all kinds of samples and small items we might need. Every trip to the bathroom was a treat and a luxury. I felt like I was in a spa!
  • We usually fly in and out of Raleigh, NC, arriving late and leaving early for those transcontinental flights. Two families there take turns hosting us during those transitions. Their homes seem like refuges to us, since those are very stressful times. Once, upon arrival, we found that Mary and Curtis had put Russell Stover chocolate covered marshmallow candies on each of our pillows- my favorite candy in the world! Another time, Tricia and Mark made us “to go” breakfast bags to eat at the airport. We felt so loved…
  • My friend Janice (who may be the most hospitable person in the world) usually has a little gift bag to greet us with things for our girls to do/play in the car as we travel along with clothing items she has purchased for us, knowing that when we get back to the states our clothes are pretty ratty. She has nice taste and purchases the things at thrift stores, so these items don’t bankrupt her, but her thoughtfulness and attention to detail make us feel special.
  • Laureen, another dear friend and busy mama, took two hours out of her always tight schedule to make a quiet two hours just to visit over glasses of iced tea. I treasure that memory! That meant even more to me than the huge fourth of July pool party she hosted on our behalf so that we could see friends in her area!
  • Carol and David, a brother and sister in Houston, had visited our home in China and remembered us mentioning what foods we most missed from America. When we arrived at their place, they had the freezer stocked with ice cream in my husband’s favorite flavors! They gave us freedom to make ourselves at home, to sit on their front porch and let Texas soak into our bones, and to rest our weary souls. It wasn’t just the food and rest that showed love to us (they took us out for yummy Mexican food- the favorite of many in our family), but they spoke many words of encouragement and prayed with us and for us.
  • We parked our camper in Stu and Pam’s driveway for several days and felt like part of the family as they and all of their children made us welcome. They allowed us to be silly, to laugh, and to be ourselves. (Some people treat folks in our position as if we forged the holy grail!) We truly did “Consider ourselves…at home. Consider ourselves…part of the family.. (Think “Oliver”) After a few days it was almost hard to see where one family ended and the other began! (Of course, it didn’t hurt that one of their daughters had lived with us for three years:-D)
Time and space do not allow for all the blessings others have given us through hospitality, so I hope no one I left out will feel overlooked. I hope those of you who leave comments will include some of your ideas for things that others have done that have encouraged you and ideas God has given you as you have sought to use your home to “contribute to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality.” (Romans 12:13)

 

Photo credit- Alyssa was the official photographer for these events!

 

Things to Buy on Your Next Shopping Trip in China

Today Faith and I took our two visitors to the wholesale market at Yi De Lu, where shopping is always an adventure. One day soon, we intend to write a longer post about the street where we buy everything from our foreign food to umbrellas to remote control helicopters to red envelopes. Tonight, I wanted to highlight a few must-haves next time you go souvenir shopping in our fair city.

Please excuse the quality of the photos- I only had my cell phone. :)

As we approached the wholesale building, what should greet us but this lovely exhibit? A trader was selling pelts of all varieties (one of which looked like Scrat on Ice Age…very attractive). Perhaps to convince us of the freshness and authenticity of the furs, the seller had put the head of one of them in the stone lion’s mouth, where it dangled artfully.

Hard as it was, we resisted this enticement, and headed indoors, where other delights awaited us. For the coffee and tea lovers in the group, a variety of mugs beckoned.

Hmmmm, which one of these doesn’t belong?

For that sporting, international set, who dream of the Eiffrl Tower in Paris…

And for that die-hard Starbucks fan, introducing Chachabucks Coffee, by Pullbbang. It’s an entertainment portal!

What to get for the really hard-to-buy for individual in your life, that serious minded one with weighty matters of national importance on his mind? How about this-

An Obama Ecoey Pet? It’s both politically correct and “green,” and will provide endless hours of amusement and delight. Not sure it can be as tasteful as advertised?

Now that is a Head of State if ever I saw one.

For the one who is looking to trim and tone just a bit-

Try the Arm Roller, by Little Devil Ver. Simply place the device over your arm and roll up and down for smoother, leaner, more sculpted limbs.

Lastly, for that elegant lady who wants to make a statement with her accessories, our friend Alyssa modeled this fabulous piece-

Breath-taking. Literally.

So next time you’re in Guangzhou, consider a less traditional route in buying gifts for your loved ones. I’m sure their response to such unusual gifts will warm your hearts, or at least give you all a hearty chuckle. :)

A Sense of Community

The longer we live in China the more we realize that Americans and Chinese approach life from different perspective. The American viewpoint is individual, whereas the Chinese viewpoint is communal. When we first arrived we often wondered “Why?”

Why do people here go outside in their pajamas?

Why do girls clean their boyfriends’ ears in public?

Why do people ask us how much we pay for rent or how old we are?

Why are there generational names by which they call strangers the same thing they call their family members?

Why do the ladies in Bible study wait to “go together” after the lesson even if they are just riding the elevator downstairs and then taking different buses?

Why are we constantly offered advice, especially about how to take care of our young children?

Why do the elderly still have friends from grade school?

And the list could go on (and on and on and on….)!

The answers to those questions would have many facets, but a common thread would be that Chinese live in community with others. You might wonder if this is part of being a Communist governed society, but I don’t think that has much to do with it. One contributing factor is likely that China has a long and varied history, which is shared by all people. It is not a “melting pot” of different cultures but rather a very homogenous society. While we Americans treasure the diversity and differences various ethnicities and races bring to our collective, my Chinese brothers and sisters value their shared roots, their well-known history, and their national pride. In America it tends to be “all about ME” whereas in China it’s “all about US!”

There are situations where we may tend to question that thinking, and, in truth, it is not always a good thing. However, our passion for individualism at the expense of the common good is not always healthy either.

Another reason for this mutual life would be sheer numbers. Masses of people living in high-rise buildings next to high rise buildings; crowded villages with open courtyards where people gather; cities of millions…. Many people plus little space equals cooperative lives!

Our purpose in having this blog is not to criticize our host country. We will share the good, the bad, and the ugly things we see to some extent, because every nation has its warts and we would be remiss not to mention some. However, neither will we be disrespectful of a country, which has welcomed us in and given us so much- including a daughter, two daughters-in-love, and many friends. With that in mind, I’m not telling you the downside of this equation, but highlighting the positives I see in this mindset.

• The elderly are included, respected, and not set aside.

• No need to worry about what others would think if they knew this or that, because they do know!

• No preoccupation with privacy

• Lack of self-consciousness

• More opportunities for the gospel

• Crimes, at least petty crimes, tend to be punished immediately within the community rather than before a court of law resulting in greater hesitation to do it next time!

• Less loneliness

• Within one’s own circle, people tend to take care of each other with a system of mutual support. (i.e. In your circle you have a doctor. You have made him sticky rice dumplings for Dragon Boat Festival. When you get sick, he will contact a friend in the medical field of specialty you need and help you get proper care.)

• If you don’t know or forget someone’s name, you can just call him a generational name!

• You know what relationship someone has with another by the name used. (There are special names for “younger sister’s daughter” or “grandmother on my dad’s side”. It’s very complicated to learn but once you’ve learned it you can save all that explaining of who’s who!)

• Safety in numbers

I am sure there are others, but those are off the top of my head. I’ve mentioned it briefly earlier, but one funny aspect of this is the “yiqi zou” idea, or “going together”. In America we see it a little in the example of ladies going to the restroom at the same time, but in China you see it continually. People just prefer to do things together. Recently I saw this during Dragon Boat Festival. Let me depart for a moment to explain this holiday so you’ll understand the context.

Dragon Boat Festival is celebrated on the fifth day of the fifth month of the lunar calendar. This year it was June 23. Legend has it that Dragon Boat Festival memorializes the patriotic poet Chiu Yuan who committed suicide by attaching a large rock to himself and jumping into the river. Chiu Yuan is said to have been the primary advisor of the Chu kingdom, making him the target of jealousy, which resulted in slander. When an interloper killed his king, Chiu lost his position and went to the countryside to write poetry. There, he is said to have met a peasant who didn’t care about the country but only about himself, so the disillusioned Chiu jumped into the river to drown. (Seems drastic but you know those poetic temperaments!)

According to the story, all the neighbors came out in boats to seek the fallen Chiu. (You see, they KNEW he had done this AND they came to help him!) They threw sticky rice pyramids (called zhong zi) into the river to attract the fish to keep them from eating his body, and they also beat drums to scare predators away. Somehow a dragon entered the story so villagers poured white rice wine into the water to make the dragon drunk, causing him to leave poor Chiu alone! Later, a drunken dragon-fish flew up out of the water with shreds of Chiu’s garments hanging from his whiskers. Thus began the festival today called Dragon Boat Festival!

What does all this have to do with communal living? Here it comes! This year, we live along the river, so we enjoyed watching the long, thin boats practicing the week before the event.

Local companies sponsor boats, as does every little village that can muster a crew to man one. The long, skinny watercraft can hold about fifty passengers most of whom row, but there is also one at each end of the boat yelling a cadence to keep the tempo, people who toss firecrackers in the water ahead, and, of course, a pair or two of drummers. Down river a short distance, we could see two gathering points for boats, which we hoped meant that we would see a race on the actual festival day.

But much to our surprise, there was no competition nearby. Guangzhou has one huge race featuring entries from all over the surrounding area. So why were they meeting outside our window? Yi qi zou! All the boats from this district- and there were tens of them- left at the same time to go down to the race. So though we got to enjoy the excitement of the continual drums and firecrackers all week, when race day came we only saw them join together and leave as a group! For us, it seemed anticlimactic.

But for our neighbors, this translated to great fun as huge numbers gathered around the river, cheering, shooting off firecrackers, and just generally giving their friends and colleagues a big sendoff. After all, what are holidays for except to gather together in community, making noise, eating traditional foods, and just hanging out? This is only one example of people going to great lengths to “go together” but I hope it demonstrates the idea at the same time as it educates you regarding one of the more popular celebrations of the year. At any rate, it provided me with a chance to post a few of the photos taken from our window, showing that there really was a plan behind my convoluted posting.

 

Tenth Year Reflections

Ten years ago this summer, we moved to China- 10 people, each with two seventy pound suitcases, a carry on bag, plus rather abundant “personal items”. We almost made “The Beverly Hillbillies” look classy! Our luggage contained everything from a frying pan, to bath towels, to spices, to silverware, to toys, to bleach. Yes, bleach. All of that goes to show that we really had no idea what was available in China and what was not. I admit to taking a lot of static for the bleach in the ten years between now and then. A confessed cleaning product freak, I couldn’t imagine living where my house wouldn’t smell clean! Neither did I imagine what a spilled bottle of bleach would do to my wardrobe, the spices, or the luggage.  Sigh. 

Doing the math on the above, we arrived in China carrying over a ton of “stuff”, schlepping it across the borders from Hong Kong into China through sheer muscle, determination, and stubbornness. Almost ten years later, we have enough “stuff” to fill an apartment and most of our muscle has either moved out or atrophied. (Why is it that stubbornness isn’t as easy to get rid of as muscle?) We have lost all three of our parents who were living when we moved, but we have added three daughters-in-love and four grandchildren, with a fifth on the way.

We’ve learned a lot of things since we’ve come to Guangzhou among which is that we can buy bleach in China. We’ve learned to find comfort in the smell of rice cooking in the rice cooker. We’ve learned to carry tissue packs in our purses at all times. We’ve learned to appreciate the melody of Mandarin Chinese spoken around us with its musical tonality. We’ve learned the economy and joys of public transportation. We’ve learned how to use squat toilets without sacrificing our footwear. We’ve learned that chopsticks can fix almost anything. Most importantly, we’ve learned much more about the sufficiency and beauty of our Savior, Jesus Christ.  Since He is the preeminent One, we want to give Him glory in our first home page blog post.

We came to Guangzhou expecting that God would use us here- and we hope He has. But much more than that, we have seen Him use China in us. Leaving behind the things we know and moving someplace totally unfamiliar in language, culture, and living conditions is humbling. Gradually selling one’s house, then selling one’s business thereby losing one’s stable means of support is unsettling.  Having children living half a world away is heart wrenching.  Yes, and we praise God for all of those things! There is a lot to be said for having some of the props knocked out of our lives.  Is it easy? No. Is it comfortable? Nope. Abraham Lincoln once said, “I have been driven many times to my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I have no place else to go.” Peeling off comfort in layers, does cause us to recognize the frailty of our flesh and to appreciate our sovereign and powerful God who is the same yesterday, today, yes, and forever.

One of my favorite Scriptures passages is: 2 Corinthians 4: 7 But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves; 8 we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; 9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; 10 always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body. … 16 Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. 17 For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, 18 while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.

Unlike the early disciples, we are not being delivered up to death day by day! But in small measure, we have experienced some hardships we had not previously faced. These things have helped us focus our gaze on Christ, to meditate on the eternal rather than focus on the temporal, and to see the beauty of the Lord more clearly. And those are very good things.

Therefore, when people ask us what the most amazing thing God has done since we moved to China, we say that He has shown us that His grace is, indeed, sufficient, and that His power really is made perfect in our weaknesses. As many who have gone before us, we have found Jesus faithful, able, and enough.

We still have a lot to learn about God’s faithfulness and about China; there are certainly many things I’ll never understand about both. So far it’s been quite a journey! We’re very glad we came and are looking forward to seeing what God will teach us in the future. Who knows? Maybe He will even help us to understand why our neighbor yells like Tarzan every evening!