Friday, December 21, 2012

Leaving & Receiving

Perhaps you've gotten the idea from my most recent posts that I'm utterly dreading returning to China.  But I surely can't ignore all the blessings that await us on the other side of the ocean.  While the leaving is hard, it would be foolish of me to get lost in that.  How providential it was for God to send a few sweet reminders of that over the past few days.

I'm sad to say that I haven't done the best job of keeping in touch with my local friends in China.  I'm a bit afraid that when I contact them when we get back, their response will be, "Becky who?"  Or I suppose it will be more like "Who Becky?" since in China, the family name goes first.  Perhaps I'm just a distant memory to many of them now.  So it was very encouraging to receive an email the other day from one of my best friends, Lisa.  She was my first friend and won me over by telling me I looked like Meg Ryan.  Not even remotely true but endearing nonetheless.  When I told her we were returning soon, she called it a "Christmas miracle."  

I also wandered across an old blog post I wrote last February as we were preparing to leave.  It made me remember that I really did like my China home, my China friends, and my China life.  It is a good thing to be returning to.  Here's what I had to say all those many moons ago:

So I'm leaving China now with a somewhat heavy heart.  Sure, we're looking forward to family, friends, Jason's Deli, Blue Bell, and the convenience of American life.  But when I think of China life now, I don't think of the difficulties that it often includes.  I think of the people & places that I love here.

Friends like this who welcomed Kevin into their home almost every week since we arrived here and who patiently helped him improve his Chinese.  And who gave our kids their first "hong bao," which is a red envelope with money inside that children receive during Spring Festival.

Friends like this who used to bless me by helping me out around the house but now bless me by loving on my boys and giving me an crate of dozens of apples shortly before I leave the country. (Fear not...we managed to eat them all!)

Friends like this who make my babies smile.

Friends like this whose enthusiasm & animation about life are infectious and who can replicate American pizza pretty darn well.

And friends like this who will sit on my couch and really share their life with me.  It's an amazing thing when hearts can truly connect across culture & language.

I'm thankful that I captured those sentiments because it's so very easy for the pessimist in me to control my thought life and cause me to dwell on the difficult things of trading American life for China life.  So in order to stick it to pessimism, here are a smattering of other things that I'm looking forward to in my Big Chicken home:
  • Regaining a more focused purpose to our lives
  • Welcoming the intellectual resistance that operating in a second language brings
  • Reconnecting with local friends
  • Hosting & having people in our home
  • Showing off my kiddos to our local friends (my fruit seller friend will be especially pleased!)
  • Having routine & rhythm again
  • Buying my produce without wincing from sticker shock
  • Channeling domesticity again
  • Wearing winter sweaters (because it can't seem to stay below 50 here for more than a week!)
  • Attempting again to make my concrete apartment home
  • Rejoining our small community of people who are your friends, coworkers, and family all rolled in one
  • Listening to 80's music with Brad & Amy
  • Staying up way too late playing Ticket to Ride with Brandon & April
  • Sitting on my couch at night after the kids go to bed and chatting with my husband
  • Listening to the neighbor man pee every night while I'm trying to fall asleep (I know it sounds weird but even though the walls are thin, it's still a sound of home)

It's not often that you're in a position to completely rethink and rework your life.  How will I work?  How will I parent?  How will I spend my free time?  Who will I invest in?  This move back to China is affording us that exact opportunity.  While it's a little overwhelming to think that Kevin & I are going to have to think through, discuss, and generate answers to all of those questions, the prospect of it is still exciting.

So it seems our Christmas present this year is going to be a new stab at life.  What a fabulous gift to receive!  May it be to God's glory!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Leaving & Grieving

Roots are the people, places, and experiences that have made me feel connected to our American life and grounded me here the past 10 months.  So here are my Austin roots...

Oh Town Lake!  How I love thee!  Watching the sunrise over the water during long runs with Leah, getting lost on the not-so-good side of I-35, enjoying Austin weirdness around every bend, walking the trail and chatting about life with Stancy, taking family pictures at nearby Barton Creek, counting turtles with Micah, making a long trek to P Terry's with our friends Troy & Stevi with all 6 of our children in tow.  

Oh Camp Gladiator!  The reason I can again wear pants that don't rely on elastic.  A high school friend of mine won the TV show American Gladiators and now owns & operates a boot camp here in town.  I got to participate in three sessions and really, truly did enjoy it.  Meeting people, pressing physical boundaries, and getting in a fabulous workout before the buddies are even out of bed.  5:30 AM will never be as much fun again!  

Oh Sonic!  What a vice you are to me.  Diet Dr. Pepper with vanilla, easy ice.  With America's favorite drive-in right next door to my pediatrician's office, I can neither confirm nor deny that I intentionally scheduled the majority of my kids' appointments during 1/2 price happy hour.

Oh friends!  Childhood friends, new friends, all kinds of dear friends.  Friends who really want to know you, even though you're not going to be here for a long time.   Friends who are patient with you when your English sounds funny.  Friends who visit you in the hospital when you have a baby.  Friends who collect loads of baby gear for you so your don't have to spend an arm & a leg on kid junk.  Friends who dig into their own closets when you admit to them that your entire fall wardrobe is in another country.  Friends who watch your kids so you can pack without going insane (and then apologize to you when your kid throws up at their house!).  Friends who throw you a going-away party and humor you by playing get-to-know-you games then entire time.  Friends who include you.  Friends who love you.  Friends who are just dear, sweet friends.

Three moms, a gaggle of little boys, an Indian summer that has stretched into December. 
It's what we call Cul-de-sac Happy Hour.  

My childhood friends from the neighborhood all grew up, their parents moved away, and fresh, young families took over.  I never would have guessed that these moms would become some of my favorite friends here.  I guess that's what happens when you spend time together nearly everyday, hanging out, talking over the finer points of parenting, trying to keep your kids from pulverizing each other with rocks.  Not to mention those other neighborly elements of grocery shopping for one another and borrowing a cup of flour.

Plus our kids just adore one another.  Even Sam knows all the cul-de-sac pals by name.  They climb trees, race scooters, collect acorns, drive the Gator, have races, go to each other's birthday parties, play with sidewalk chalk, and a million other little boy dreams.  We're even going Christmas caroling on Thursday.  

And the real heroes of it all... my parents!

Sharing your house with your grown child isn't an easy thing.  Sharing your house with your grown child and her posse of pooping, screaming, and roughhousing littles is an even more difficult thing.  How much clutter, noise, and chaos have these two put up with?  The even have to repaint a wall in the kitchen from all the meal remnants that kids deposited there over time.  Though the house might be a little quieter and a little cleaner after we've shipped out, I know those choice moments of connecting with the kiddos will be missed.

Morning iPad time with Pop

Watching the evening news & football games with Pop

Sandwich hugs before bed

These aren't traditions you can build with grandparents during a weekend visit.  My parents have been woven into the tapestry of our family in ways that are so unique and precious.   There was once a time that I feared they wouldn't accept or even love Micah & Sam because they aren't our biological children.  That notion is entirely laughable now after seeing G & Pop love on those kiddos while we've lived here.

The reason that these gifts have been so good is that they have come from a very good Giver.  So as these roots are pulled up and replanted, I'll keep trying to trust in His goodness.  Meanwhile, all that's left to do is be thankful.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Leaving & Believing

In my parenting journey, as short as it may be, I often feel that the one who is in more need of a parent is not my child but in fact is me.  For example, I have said to Micah countless times, "When you complain & whine, you are showing that your heart is discontent and is not trusting mama.  I love you, son, and I want to give you good things."  So how appropriate it was when I broke down in tears last week and sobbed to Kevin, "I.don'!!!!" that the Lord brought my own words to mind.  Or to put it in a more humorous way:

To be honest, there are many things that are appealing about American life that I would love to stick around & enjoy.  My parents probably top that list.  Sonic & streamed Netflix are somewhere on there as well.  We've put down roots here and pulling those up is a pretty painful endeavor.  When we left the first time, it was a grand adventure for Kevin & me.  A distant land, exciting twists and turns each morning.  We were living on love & free long distance.  But now kids have entered the mix, and our choice to live overseas seems to have a lot more collateral damage.  Our boys won't be able to interact with their grandparents in a conventional way, and I know this is not the way my parents envisioned acting out their grandparent roles.  It's hard.  And it hurts a lot more people than just me.

What my heart is lacking these days is a steadfast trust that God is good, even when it hurts.  So I've spent a few minutes the past few days (quite literally a few minutes--I can usually only capitalize that much time before someone cries or my mind starts making check lists of things to do) thinking on the promises of God & a few observations that are applicable to our pending departure:

Surely goodness & mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
~Psalm 23:6~ 

Whether we're in America or China, God's goodness & mercy are with me as I'm trusting Christ.  

Neither America nor China are home.  The house of the Lore is my true home, and that is where it is best to dwell. 

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose...What then shall we say to these things?  If God is for us, who can be against us?  He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?
~Romans 8:28&31-32~

Loving God is my greatest job.  The rest is His job.

On hard days, this one liner will be a lifeline for me: What then shall we say to these things?  
What shall I say to loneliness?  
What shall I say to the distance?
What shall I say to frustration?
What shall I say to the longing for comfort & ease?
God is for me.

He has given me much and is eager to give much more.  Namely, He has given me Christ and is eager to give me much more of Him.

But what I can't forget is that the same God who cares for me and invites me to trust & follow Him cares for and invites the people I love to trust & follow Him.  My parents.  My children.  China.  So while the next week will undoubtably be a very difficult time of uprooting, my hope is that all of us will be more deeply rooted in God because of His great love & care.

Friday, December 14, 2012

A Pinterest-Free Christmas

As you most likely know, it's December.  December means lots of fun things for our family.  Celebrating Jesus, decorating the Christmas tree, visiting Austin's Trail of Lights, enjoying 80 degree temperatures, and taking a 30 hours trip back to China with three babes.  Despite the busyness, I wanted to take advantage of the fact that Micah is old enough to actually take part in and maybe even remember family traditions that point to Baby Jesus and the wonder of His incarnate birth.

One idea I knew I wanted to pursue was the Jesse tree.  It basically links together several stories from the Old Testament to track God's faithfulness in bringing about the promised Messiah.  The name is derived from Isaiah 11:1: "A shoot will spring forth from the stump of Jesse and a branch out of his roots."   To make it fun & a bit different from our regular evening Bible time, there are ornaments that represent each story we read.

That's what got me...the ornaments.  I got over-ambitious and started cruising Pinterest in November.  I got overwhelmed and wanted to check myself into Pinterest time-out for not whittling my own Christmas tree out of a discarded wardrobe.  So I took a few weeks off from caring to let my crafty nerves recover.  No sooner had they bounced back from Pinterest PTSD did my friends & family begin posting their own Jessie tree creations.

Like my college friend Jenny.  She & her friends did a Jesse tree ornament exchange, and she ended up with winner ornaments like this:

Well, that's ok, I told myself.  Jenny had help.  I can't expect such amazing-ness without a group of crafty women around me.

Then there was my own sister-in-law:

Good grief!  She even embroiders in Hebrew!

But, I told myself, her skillz have been putting me to shame ever since I knew her.  Plus, I surely can't expect that caliber of craftiness when I live in China.

But the kicker was what my friend April produced.  From China no less!?!?

So I took matters into my own hands...and more or less gave up.  Not really gave up.  Just came to terms with the fact that something is better than nothing.  And this is my little something:

Yes, those are scribbled drawings that are ripped off a coloring sheet and then hung with an unfolded paperclip.  But here's the important thing that I need to remember:

Those smiles & that excitement in getting to read "the Bible book" each evening and continuing to plant seeds in their little hearts.  That is more important than anything Pinterest could offer. 

Another tradition I found that I wanted to start is called Shepherd Pouches.  It's a spin on Christmas stockings that shifts the emphasis to receiving to giving.  We talk to the boys about how we can give gifts to Jesus for His birthday just like we get gifts for our own birthdays.  Because He tells us in Matthew 25:40 "As you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me," we can give Him gifts like cheerful obedience to mama & daddy, kindness to friends, and considering brothers better than ourselves.  We take note of any time we see acts like that, write it down, and let them drop it inside their shepherd pouch.  Micah usually wants me to re-read every one he has, asking me, "What's this tell me?"  On Christmas, we'll convert their slips of paper to money and donate it or buy something to a cause we support.  This year, I think we're going to buy some copies of Sam's favorite book "Most of All, Jesus Loves Me" for Oak City Academy, an inner-city school that some friends of ours run.

So that's the story behind shepherd pouches.  Then there was the actual construction.  This is the only template I could find online:

Definitely not gonna happen!  Problem #1 was that I can't sew.  Problem #2 was that my SIL was too busy making her own family tradition crafts that she couldn't make them for me.  So this was my solution:

I do need to note that the stick figure people are my friend Ashley & her kiddos Beckett and Jolie.  Micah specifically asked me to paint them for him.
Plus, making them was almost as much fun as it has been to fill them.

So I've decided to come out of Pinterest hiding and commit myself to Pinterest Lite--reducing all inspiring ideas by 80% in order to make them moderately obtainable to this fledgling crafter.  Either way, Christmas will be merry, albeit not very crafty!

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Code Adam

We're now T minus 11 days from our launch to the Big Chicken.  That means 11 days to say goodbye (read: cry) with the dear people we love here.  That means 11 days to try to jolt my spacey mama brain into remembering and accomplishing things that require more concentration and forethought than singing "Itsy Bitsy Spider."  That means 11 days to purchase and cram the next 3 years of life into suitcases.  Suitcases which we don't yet have.

Which brings us to our adventure tonight buying said luggage.

We were at Academy, checking out their Contico trunks.  I had Sam & Hudson in a shopping cart and was cruising up and down the aisles looking for things I didn't know I need but I most definitely do.  Kevin was shopping for the real motivation behind our trip and had Micah in tow.  Since Micah's favorite words these days are "Do it all by self," Kevin obliged him by not requiring him to sit in a cart. I'm pretty sure you can guess where this story is going...

I had gotten separated from Micah & Kevin, so I drove my posse to the front of the store to see if I could find them.  That's when I heard the store manager talking on his walkie talkie saying, "Code Adam.  Lock down the store.  Nobody in or out."  Cue little voice in my head that said, "That's most definitely my kid."  I asked the manager if that meant a child is missing.  Turns out that little voice knows a thing or two from time to time because the manager confirmed that there was a child loose in the store.  

He then asked me for a description of my son.  Not remembering exactly what Micah was wearing that day, I compiled the two most identifying characteristics of my son and came up with this go-down-in-history response: 

"He's black and has a tattoo on his face."

Mind you, all of those things were true.  We had gone on a bakery tour that morning and he was given a temporary tattoo that he wanted to put on his cheek.  But I can't imagine what kind of a mother the employees thought I was with a description like that!  Perhaps a mini 3 year-old version of this:

In the end, Micah was found checking out the boats & bikes in a separate enclosed area of the store.  He later told us that ayi and shu shu (Chinese for aunt & uncle) came and found him.  So what unfolded as 5 minutes of drama will definitely be fodder for my speech accepting the Mother of the Year award.

Friday, December 07, 2012

It's Go Time

The two words we've been waiting for now for four months...medical clearance!  Hudson has been released from physical therapy, and the ophthalmologist doesn't see any problem with us continuing Sami's eye patching treatment overseas with occasional visits to Beijing.  So a few more waves of the bureaucratic wand and on our way we shall be!  We're looking at a flight that leaves Christmas day and will arrive in China on December 27th.  I know it might seem kind of heartless to travel on Christmas, but we figure the airports will be pretty vacant and ticket prices a bit lower then.  But more importantly, we'll still be able to be a part of Kevin's family Christmas the weekend before and to share some Christmas fun with my parents as well.

This news, of course, comes with lots of mixed emotions.  Excitement over finally going home.  Home to our work, home to our community & friends, home to our apartment, home to the roots we've been working to plant for the past three years.  Then there's the sadness over leaving this home.  Away from family, away from friends, away from a life here that's become our new norm.  I suppose it's just a part of the emotional dichotomy that embodies our life.

This news also brings a wave of busyness.  Packing, shopping, unpacking, packing again to make it all fit, organizing, weighing, spreadsheet-ing...the joy of making the next three years of life fit in a small number of suitcases!  

The hustle also creates a new sort's call it "freedom" for the boys.  For example, I left Sam in the kitchen for only 5 minutes while I was about 10 feet away going through some things. I came back to find him with the cabinet under the sink wide open, an open bottle of floor cleaner in his hands, and him muttering the word "Yummy!"  Fear not, the kid is still alive.  At another point during the day, I went to change what I thought was a dirty diaper.  In reality, Son #1 had just deposited his chili lunch in Son #2's pants.  Let's just pray that all of my children stay alive through this ordeal!  And while you're at it, pray the same thing for me!

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Hudson's Flowing Locks

Kevin made me do it.  He said that if I didn't get it done, he would do it himself, which would most likely mean a bowl or buzz cut.  I kind of had to agree since he had sideburns that rivaled Elvis' and a rat tail the likes of which I haven't seen since we lived in Kentucky.  So I bit the bullet and ushered in a milestone to Little Man's life that most babies get to put off for months or even years.  

Seriously?!?  A haircut at 6 months?!?  Say it ain't so.  But, alas, it is.

The same woman has been cutting my parent's hair since I was born.  (Do the math--that's kind of a long time.)  She graciously offered to snip Hudson's mane on the house.  So we stuck him in the Bumbo and let her go to town.  He even got a little blow dry at the end.

I now have an envelope full of his curls.  I'm not exactly sure what I'm going to do with it.  I'm sure Pinterest might have some crafty solution--like weaving it into a blanket or commemorative potholder.  At best, I might just stick it in our important documents folder and comment on how sweetly creepy it is when I come across it five years from now.  

Here is the finished product:

And then Day 2:

It does look a little bowl cut-ish in those pictures, but I found out when I washed it again (ahem...a full week points for me!) that it springs back up into his typical Einstein-like do.  Because he's not really Hudson unless his hair is sticking up in every direction.

Instead of a commemorative potholder, my dad did dig up these old photos of when yours truly had her first haircut:

Turns out Hudson & I have matching bowl cuts and chubby cheeks!