Aware |vii

sleddingIn the fall I asked my students if anyone had a pink hat, we were trying to find one for our costume party because we were being the girls from Despicable Me. No one had one, my friend bought one. But Christmas week, my student comes up to me and re-tells the story of my search in October. Since she wasn’t able to find one, her mother MADE me this hat. Though the hat was not really for my costume or for me, my heart gushed at the sweetness of all of this. I don’t like hats. I hardly ever wear hats. But this hat, this hat is one that is big enough to not ruin my curls (on the good-curl-days), and so I wear it proudly with my hand-me-down earmuffs and northface (forthface) jacket that needs a desperate cleaning. My students are a blessing.

The other aspect of this picture that I want to explain is sledding. Sledding with a dilapidated piece of cardboard as my sled, on snow-packed stairs. My heart was light and giddy. I don’t think I’ve been sledding at all since moving here, and this was just a delightful experience, even though my rear froze and we were still outside for a long time. Oh well.

So here goes:

Cheers to 2014, a new year with many unknowns (even in the next few weeks!). Cheers to not making a bunch of lists and goals and just taking life a day at a time asking the Lord to change me. Cheers to the family that I belong to that hasn’t been all together in 5.5 years and will get to have exactly one breakfast together where we all overlap. Cheers to the friends that stick with me and want to see me when I’m in the states, even though I live on the other side of the world and sometimes stink at being a great long-distance friend. Cheers to local travels with neighbors and friends and the fun adventures of talking to taxi drivers over confusions in a dialect I don’t exactly speak. Cheers to the greatest customer service a hotpot restaurant could ever have, I’ll gladly take two more glasses of hot soy milk, thankyou. Cheers to grace and learning how much I need God to be transforming my selfish heart and the confidence that HE is the one who will do the transforming work.

What are you grateful for today?

Really, really

It’s everywhere; inundating our lives whether we realize it or not: love. Yet, do we really know what real love is? I’m learning that my idea of love wasn’t always really love at all. It was something manmade, something that I tried to muster up. Most times it failed, and failure is opposite of love because love is supposed to never give up. I give up, far more than I’d like to admit. I give up on so many different things that it would take hours to explain. Growing up I’d give up if I thought something was too hard, or simply out of my reach. Those bad habits that I fostered and held onto so closely have followed me in life and have been a difficult thing to change; especially when it comes to love.

I’ve been confronted with this aspect of my life so much recently. Realizing that love is the essence of everything I should be, and be doing. Love has to be my motivation or else what I do is a failure. Love also is not something that I can create in and of myself. My attempts are flawed, self-centered, and quite contrary to what I’ve been called to as a person and as a redeemed woman. I’ve been reading about unity in my study of Ephesians lately and have seen that we are called to be a loving, unified body. I fail because I’m looking to myself to create that love. I was never designed to create that love, but to have Christ’s love flowing through me. When I stopped to think about that some things started to click, again.

In one of my recent favorite albums (that I’ve been playing over and over since last summer and still love it every time) there are several parts that talk about love. One part compares a person flying a kite and the kites’ attitude towards the string holding it; thinking that it’s limited by the string.  But we all know that kites without strings are failures. Kites without someone or something holding them would either crash or just fly away with no purpose, only to eventually crash. Isn’t that how we act sometimes? We think that some things limit us in life and we don’t like the feeling of constraint, do we? I don’t. But the song goes on to say that Father’s love is like the kite string—everything we do matters and if love isn’t the string holding us when we “do” good things—those things are insignificant in the realm of eternity. It’s easier to read that or hear that and think wow, yeah—but then reality hits and our actions determine if we’re doing life with or without love.
[The song is The String that Ties Us Beautiful Eulogy]

photo 1

For each of our lives we’re doing different things. I teach—so my classes can be an avenue of watching my Father work. I can let go of the control I desire to have over that 90 minute period of time that I am with my students and ask Father to work through me and to love through me. Am I just going to go through motions? See this as just another mundane day of teaching? Or really grapple with life and think about the beauty of it and the utter inability I have to control any of it. I want to let the creator of love be seen by my students and the people who I interact with. I want even my ukulele playing to be done in love. Don’t forget the many meals cooked in my kitchen. I desire to love my Father first and foremost in each thing I do, because that will determine so, so much.

So after thinking about this a student arrives in class with some things that another student brought back to our school that I had loaned out during the winter. He also pulled out a box. I opened the box to find a bracelet [glow in the dark none the less!] that describes what Father has been teaching me. He’s the one that equips us and transforms us into the image of Christ. It’s not me. It’s not my strength. It’s His.

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I want to love, really. These people around me need to know what real love is. I want them to know the patience that has been shown to me. They can’t survive on the cultural lies about love, or the media lies about love. They were made for so much more. Their hearts can only be filled by this kind of love. I have that love, and I must not be a hoarder of it.

Stories

Aside

We all have stories. You have some, I have some. Our stories are part of the greater story of our life. Whether we realize it or not, there is a much grander story being woven together as I type. Yes! That excites me and scares me at the same time. Sometimes I think that I’ve got that moment under control. Truth is nothing is under my control. I read in a book yesterday that gravity is pushing me to earth at 9.81 meters per second squared. I don’t even know what that means, so thankfully the author explained that means I’m falling into the earth at 22 miles per hour. Okay does that mean anything to you? That is one way that God is showing me that I am not in control of this thing called my story.

So I thought I’d share a few stories from travels I’ve taken. I don’t really have extravagant amounts of time to go around this frozen city to take dreamy pictures to tell blog land how magical my life is. It kind of is just life. Just like you live your life, fulfilling your purpose– that’s what I’m doing. Just in a different part of the globe.

Okay so I traveled back here after just over a month traveling all over America. I was worn out. Seriously I was not ready to come back. I was fearful of it all. I was overly emotional and tired and just a mess. I think a HUGE reason was that for  three years I haven’t really made rest a priority. I lived a super busy life in college– and that rolled over into life abroad. Not to mention the energy life here consumes to teach and live in a cross-cultural environment. I took none of that into account and thought that I was young and could go at the speed of… well.. what ever I thought I could go at. That speed was sending me straight to burnout.

Before I had embarked on my America journey I had made plans to visit my student in her hometown while I had a week of downtime after getting back. I struggle with pleasing people and not knowing how to say no. Especially when the student already got my bus ticket to return from her city. Well, after several days of resting per my neighbors command I felt like I was ready to embark on a small adventure.

So there I was, in line at the bus station, when I noticed people had their ID cards and I remembered that I totally forgot my passport. Yo. Bad idea! Oh but when I bought my ticket it was no problem. Whew. Got on the bus (no passport needed). Listened to something and read a book and got a little nervous when the bus would kind of hit the rumble strips. Apparently that’s how they do on the highways here?

baishan_welcome

Arrived at my students town. There she was with her parents smiling as big as ever that her teacher would COME to her town. She’s such a blessing to me! We ate noodles– apparently that’s the traditional food people eat after a journey to show that the journey was successful. Her mom made the noodles by hand. She’s kind of a cooking pro and her kitchen was spotless (mine isn’t).

baishan_student

Then it started to snow, like a lot. These towns don’t have lots of snow removal equipment even though it is the frozen land of snow and ice. They made comments of concern that we wouldn’t get out of the town when planned (I had lesson planning and teaching to do! I needed to go home when we planned…). Sure enough, the next day it kept snowing and the buses weren’t going. We considered other options but held our breaths hoping that we could get out the following day when we planned to.

baishan_snow

When it snows, there isn’t a whole lot to do– except visit grandparents, eat food, and watch TV. I love meeting elderly people. I want to hear their stories. I want to understand them, but it’s a little difficult (or a lot). I loved her grandfather. He was precious, precious! His eyes smiled. He told me that they live a simple life but are happy. My heart ached as their house was covered with idolatry and fear, no true sense of lasting peace. Oh that God would Shine on this land and redeem those walking in darkness!

baishan_grandpa

Eating in one of these homes goes something like this… “come eat!” — go to the table that is overflowing with food that is way more than any of us can possibly consume. You eat until you cannot eat anymore– and the mother commands that you keep eating– it’s their happy-o-meter. If you eat more that means you like it and that makes them happy. Whew. I love eating Chinese food but sometimes I can’t.take.anymore.

Okay well fast forwarding to the following morning– the morning we had our bus tickets.  We could go! Per Chinese tradition you eat dumplings (or Jiaozi) when you depart on a journey, it’s their way of sending well wishes. So we ate dumplings for breakfast. As I said her mom is a pro. Then my student got notifications from others who had    left on earlier buses saying that they’re stopping by the police station to do ID checks. Oh remember who left their passport at home? This one. I sent an SOS to the parents and a close friend asking that they uphold this situation and that I could pass through the police check safely.

We drove across town and stopped. I held my breath. The policeman came on and walked past me and my student, he didn’t even collect her ID. He was looking for people who weren’t students. Oh how my heavenly Father was orchestrating this event that was entirely out of my control. I made it home without any problems.

baishan_snow

The trip was a graced trip. It was a short trip, but there were so many things that HE was teaching me. He was teaching me to trust Him and that sometimes I need to relax. I want to be the one serving. I want to be the one giving that cup of tea and that piece of cake to a guest. He was teaching me how to be a guest and accept their gift of hospitality, just as I wish people to accept when they’re in my home. He was also teaching me how He wants me to be receptive of what He’s doing around me. Slow down. Enjoy. Savor. BE.