Friday, July 14, 2017

Quotes by Daniel part 4

That's the biggest storm I've never seen!” Yesterday afternoon as we watched the rain pelt against our living room windows and witnessed the neighbor's flag pole swaying wildly with the strong winds.

Definitely!” when we arrived at Walgreen's yesterday morning after a very long to Daniel 10 minute walk (I think he meant to say “Finally!”)

I think my hair is dry now,” patting the top of his head. “Yes, but with the gel in your hair it still looks like it's wet,” I told him. “It does?” and a big smile lit up his face. And I smiled big on the inside, thinking that our days of excess water to cool his hair were now over.

 “What does I Am Salty mean?” from the back seat of the van in the middle of singing his heart out to “I Exalt Thee.”

If you do a good job, I'll clap for you. If you don't, I won't.” clapping his approval to one of the songs on a Chris Tomlin CD. I'm sure Chris Tomlin would be happy to know that Daniel likes his singing.

That very not make sense to me,” when we read in his Jesus Storybook Bible about the mountains and hills singing praise to God or when we try to work on math problems like 2+___= 5+5.

"Do you pray to God while you're sleeping?" he asked me. "Well, sometimes when I can't sleep, I do. Do you?" "Yes," he answered. "What do you pray about?" I asked him. "I don't know..." he struggled to remember. But I was encouraged by this little window into his heart, to see that he is developing his own relationship with God.

“I need to go to the bathroom. Bad,” as he passed me on the stairs, taking them two at a time. The next thing I know he's calling out, “Mommy. You want to come see?” “See what?” I called back. “I spit,” he answered. When I opened the bathroom door I realized that his two big bowls of Charly's beef noodles for dinner and then my reminding him that he hadn't finished drinking his noodle broth was a mistake. There had been no room at all for the mugful of broth in his overstuffed tummy.

“STICK!” Every time he sees a new one on our walk to/from the school/park he gets super excited. Yesterday I heard him having his own stick conversation as he used one stick to drag another one toward him on the ground. “'Thank you for finding me,' said the second stick. 'You're welcome,' said the first stick. 'That's very kind of you to say.'”

Is Daddy your servant?” I have no recollection of what happened just before that to prompt his question. Maybe I was being bossy without even being aware of it. Since then I've been more conscious of my potential bossiness.

“Nooooooo!” grabbing his arm away from the nurse who wanted to take a blood draw this week. “I'm going to need you to hold his arm down.” The nurse told me. “Daniel, you're getting yourself worried. This isn't going to be so bad. She's going to be really fast,” I tried to calm him down. On the drive home he agreed that it wasn't as bad as he thought. “I can forget about the worrying thing now.”

I think you eat a lot,” pointing to my upper leg, while he was sitting beside me on the couch. “You have a lot of meat!” Hmmmm. This is why I don't often wear shorts, I thought. And then I felt the need to explain to him that in Chinese, the same character refers to meat (in animals) and muscle (in people). It was better to use the word muscle.

No, not really,” his honest answer when my Mom asked him during a skype call this week if he was enjoying being the only kid at home, while David has been spending a fun week with my parents.

“I'm very excited that David is coming home today!” this morning as we walked to his summer school reading class. “I missed him.”

 Linking up with Velvet Ashes this week on the Theme of Top 10
(even though Daniel's most recent best quotes are a few more than 10)

Thursday, July 13, 2017

No More Water

Daniel loves water. In abundance. When he catches sight of me heading to the basement to start a load of laundry, I know I will soon hear the patter of his following feet on the steps. And then his voice full of anticipation, “Can I watch?” I'm not sure why he gets such a thrill out of the water pouring into the washing machine, but he does. And I have to give him a time limit on how long he can stand there before the lid needs to be closed so the spin cycle can begin.

Yesterday afternoon I was lying on the couch with an ice pack and a migraine. Daniel wanted to be in the backyard playing with his sticks while it was raining. After he felt he'd gotten wet enough, he came in. And I told him he could choose a shower or a bath. He chose a shower and was in there a super long time. Recently, I've sort of taken on the role of water police with Daniel because he'll just keep letting the water run when he's washing his hands or filling up his water bottle...

Yesterday though I just could not get off the couch to tell him he'd been in there long enough, so I told myself (multiple times) to relax and let him take as long of a shower as he wanted this time. Finally I heard the water stop. And then a couple of minutes later it started back up again. Then off. Then on again. About five times. What in the world? I can't even. What is it with this boy and water.

And then I heard the bathroom sink turn on. Full force. And off. And on again.

Eventually he came down the stairs. “Hi,” he said as he put his arms through his shirt sleeves to cover his wet upper body.

“What was going on with all the water up there?” I asked him.

“I needed to cool my hair.”

After checking his reflection in the mirror, he ventured back upstairs and turned the light on in David's room.

“What are you doing now?” I inquired when he appeared in the living room again.

“Brushing my hair.” In his hand was a toothbrush that came from an airplane travel bag. (Don't tell David. He's at my parents' this week for his special 12 year old camp.)

“That's a toothbrush!”

He had no clue. He just wanted to cool his hair. So I took this picture of him with his cool hairstyle.

Maybe this boy needs some gel. And then he wouldn't need to use so much water to get the look he's trying for.

Or, what if I just let him use all the water he wanted?

We have a Max Lucado children's book, translated into Chinese called 你所需要的. The English title is All You Ever Need. It's the story of a generous well owner and his son who distribute water to the townspeople. “你要多少就来多少吧!” (Take as much as you need.) They left a man to be in charge of the well while they were gone, and he began to make all kinds of rules on how much water he felt the people deserved. They all got angry with him and complained that they were going to die of thirst. 

Then one day a stranger came to the well, with his head covered. The water manager yelled at him, demanding to know what right he had to get water here. The stranger then uncovered his head to reveal his identity...the well owner's son. His father had instructed him to return to the well in order to distribute water to everyone. The townspeople were relieved to be able to receive their water freely again, but they didn't want the water manager to receive any because of how badly he had treated them. The son challenged them, “如果我只把水给好人,有人喝得到吗?” (If I only gave water to good people, who would be able to drink?)

Everyone can have as much water as they need.

While I want Daniel to learn not to waste water, I also want to stop acting like the water police. When I hear the sound of water running in the house, I don't want my immediate reaction to be, “No more water! That's enough.” I want to be reminded of our generous well owner and his son who delight in giving water to those who are thirsty. And to give thanks that this gift of abundant grace is poured out in Daniel's life. And in mine as well. Undeserved and free.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Life as a Muslim Woman in America

What is it like to be a Muslim woman in America today? My friends Nawal and Tasneem, both from Malaysia, graciously agreed to answer my questions about their experiences. It has been an honor for me to get to know them through our Daughters of Abraham connection (a book club designed for Muslim, Jewish and Christian women to grow in our understanding of each other as we discuss faith-related books). I hope that their responses will both encourage and challenge you, as they have had a great impact on me. My heart's desire is that as a global community we would work together to transform Barriers into Bridges.

with Tasneem (left) and Nawal (right) at a Daughters of Abraham picnic

What has been your best experience living in America? Your worst?

Nawal: The best experience living in the US would be to meet new people and to make new friends from all walks of life who had no idea where I was from. To engage in a conversation where people are interested to know about me and my religion is a breath of fresh air. My worst so far would be an account with a man who thought I was part of terrorism.

Tasneem: The best is being able to see more of the world. I’ve always been a traveler, and have lived in 3 different continents before moving to the US. The worst would be Islamophobia and microagressions in daily life.

How does your experience as a Muslim woman in America compare with your experiences in other places?

Nawal: We basically think that we're in a spotlight most of the time. Whenever we hear things on the media about terrorism or another killing by any other Muslims, we will feel that all eyes are on us. But that was how I felt in the beginning of my years in the USA. Now, I don't really feel/experience the "look" from masses anymore.

Living in Malaysia on the other hand, is pretty easy. Since it's a Muslim country, daily rituals are carried with ease (prayers, halal food, etc). There are certain expectations to behave in Malaysia for example: People know that you are wearing hijab so it is not acceptable to ride on a motorcycle with your boyfriend and your skirts can't be adjusted to reveal part of your legs.

Tasneem: I am just shocked by how ignorant some people here are about Muslims and the Islam faith. We are not a monolith - culture plays a huge part in how we live and practice our faith and I think a lot of people forget that.

How are you treated differently when you wear the hijab or not?

Nawal: It really depends on where you are at. The West? The East? Before, we always associate the ones with hijab as quiet, less creative, backward, book smart, less fashionable, traditional, close minded, not outspoken. Those were the misconceptions about hijab wearers. After donning the hijab in 2011, my perceptions have changed and took a 360 degree turn completely. You can be empowering, world changer, creative extraordinaire, basically anything you can be regardless of the hijab. 

Before wearing the hijab, I have men coming to me asking me for my numbers etc. This can be super annoying. After wearing the hijab, that stopped completely. Maybe they were not interested in ladies covering their heads but who cares. Less drama! People that come up to me and talk to me, I feel that they are more genuine and want to know me more as a person and not by how I appear in front of them. It creates more genuine conversation and friendship. In Malaysia, Hijab is so IN! Hijab businesses flourish where one has a vast selection of hijabs and brands. You can look good at the same time guarding your modesty.

Tasneem: In a hijab, I’d been given suspicious looks, and have seen people quickly look away when I look at them, even though I wasn’t doing anything.
It is also amazing how some people would be bashing Islam/Muslims with me standing right there (when I am not wearing a hijab) then suddenly change their tune once they find out I am Muslim. I see you.

What do you wish your non-Muslim neighbors/friends/family understood about you?

Nawal: That I am friendly, happy go lucky human being just like anybody else. We despise terrorism and we are a peaceful community who cares about each other.

Tasneem: That we are just regular people like you – we want a good life, a happy life, space to practice our faith and raise our children, acceptance. That it is not okay for them to tokenize me and my child as their token POC (person of color) friend/family to excuse their –isms.

What is hard for you to understand about your non-Muslim neighbors/friends/family?
Nawal: I pretty much grew up in a very diverse background where we respected each other's norms and traditions. Coming to the USA, I've met and known personally people in abusive relationships and despite how the other party treated them...they kept on being in that relationship. They complained and did nothing about it. This I find hard to understand. People that "enjoy" it.

Tasneem: How they can be apathetic about what is going on in this country, and how they can turn a blind eye to other people’s suffering because it doesn’t affect them directly.

What are your hopes for your own future and that of your husband and children?

Nawal: My hope for my family and my future is that we grow to be strong, caring and loving Muslims who follow the Quran and emulate the teachings of Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him).

Tasneem: We have freedom to practice our faith without fearing for our lives. May Allah protect us all from any harm, insya Allah.

What are your fears?

Nawal: People losing their empathy and stop educating themselves about issues that evolve around them. The fact that being ignorant is ok.

Tasneem: That bad things happen because ‘good’ people sit and do nothing as the world crumbles around them. Silence in the face of injustice is complicity with the oppressor.

What do you most want to pass on to your children about their identity?

Nawal: Being proud of who they are. Practicing their beliefs with utmost pride and love. I want to provide them a strong foundation that they will take with them that shapes them to be strong, focused, caring for one another and loving towards the environment and God's creation.

Tasneem: That our faith and cultural traditions are the roots to who he is as a person, and he should cherish that. Recognizing his intersectionality is very important as well - he will have his own challenges as he navigates this world, and as his parent, I will be there to guide him insya Allah.

What does your faith mean to you? And what does freedom mean to you?

Nawal: Faith is belief in my creator and belief that He alone is sufficient. Freedom is to be able to practice your religion wherever you are and being able to be who you want to be. 

Tasneem: My faith guides me as I navigate the world. It teaches me I should always be kind to others, and to fight injustice, whether it is inflicted on me or others. Freedom to me means being able to do something without fear of persecution. That we will be able to pray at the mosque, wear our hijab, go for Friday prayers without fear of being harassed, assaulted, or killed.

Related posts:
Crossing Cultures
To Be a Foreigner
When I Was the Foreigner Who Was Welcomed
A Better Understanding

Linking up with Velvet Ashes this week on the Theme of Savor 
I am savoring these cross-cultural friendships,
because they help me to grow and to see the world through a different lens.


Monday, July 3, 2017

Real Fireworks

After our honeymoon in Colorado 23 years ago, a friend offered Charly and me the opportunity to make some money selling fireworks. The first 8 of our 10 days hanging out in the tent (just off of I-70 in Odessa, Missouri) were pretty boring. We played a lot of Chinese chess to pass the time and waited for that occasional person to show up and make a purchase. The last two days were completely different. We actually had crowds of people—those who had noticed our tent as they drove by during our days-in-waiting and were finally ready to buy their fireworks.

The night before the crowds arrived, we had returned from celebrating our two month anniversary with a dinner date at Stephenson's Apple Farm. Charly's mom and stepdad had stopped by to watch the tent for us while we were gone. We had said goodnight to them, and after staking down the tent securely we climbed into the back of our covered Toyota pickup truck (temporary home).

God then gave us a lightning show that was incredible—God-made fireworks like we'd never seen before. And we were in awe. We pondered the idea that we were selling man-made products to thrill-seekers to make a few explosions, when God could simply speak beauty and power into the the night, to which there was no comparison. This was the real deal.

In C.S. Lewis' The Last Battle, an ape named Shift devised an evil scheme of tying a lion skin to his reluctant donkey friend Puzzle, after they discovered it in Caldron Pool.

Puzzle said, “I don't think it would be respectful to the Great Lion, to Aslan himself, if an ass like me went about dressed up in a lion-skin.”

But Shift insisted and Puzzle, who could never seem to stand up to his intimidating friend, went along.

A good deal of Puzzle's gray nose and face could be seen through the open mouth of the lion's head. No one who had ever seen a real lion would have been taken in for a moment. But if someone who had never seen a lion looked at Puzzle in his lion-skin he might just mistake him for a lion, if he didn't come too close, and if the light was not too good, and if Puzzle didn't let out a bray and didn't make any noise with his hoofs.”

King Tirian heard the news that Aslan had returned, and that he had commanded the Narnian forest to be cut down. Surprisingly, the Talking Beasts were also to become slaves of the Calormenes. Tirian went to see for himself and discovered an Ape, who was speaking on behalf of Aslan. Apparently Aslan was tired of speaking to stupid animals and was waiting inside the tent to pass on his messages to the Ape. The Ape told everyone that Aslan and Tash, the god of the Calormenes, were actually the same.

Tirian said this couldn't be and “meant to go on and ask how the terrible god Tash who fed on the blood of his people could possibly be the same as the good Lion by whose blood all Narnia was saved. If he had been allowed to speak, the rule of the Ape might have ended that day, the Beasts might have seen the truth and thrown the Ape down.”

But Tirian was captured and tied to a tree, unable to warn the Beasts of the great deception they were under. When Puzzle-dressed-as-Aslan made his appearance that night, Tirian was able to see his form.

From where Tirian was he could not make out very clearly what the thing was; but he could see that it was yellow and hairy. He had never seen the Great Lion. He had never seen a common lion. He couldn't be sure that what he saw was not the real Aslan. He had not expected Aslan to look like that stiff thing which stood and said nothing. But how could one be sure? For a moment horrible thoughts went through his mind. Then he remembered the nonsense about Tash and Aslan being the same and knew the whole thing must be a cheat.”

And Tirian called out, “Alsan! Aslan! Aslan! Come and help us now.”

But the darkness and the cold and the quietness went on just the same.”

Let me be killed,” cried the King. “I ask nothing for myself. But come and save all of Narnia.”

And there was still no change in the night or the wood, but there began to be a kind of change inside Tirian. Without knowing why, he began to feel a faint hope. And he felt somehow stronger.”

Strength comes in being able to distinguish the false from the real. The imitation from the genuine. The deception from the truth.

And there is hope in knowing there is something greater out there than our current reality.

We need the discernment that Tirian had, don't we? We can be too much like sheep, easily led astray.

We need discipline to tune our ears to listen for the Shepherd. And then we need determination to only follow His voice, wary of the thief who only wants to steal, kill, and destroy. (John 10)

This morning I read about King Solomon and his building of the Temple. How interesting that he spent 7 years in its construction. And then spent 13 years building his own palace. (1 Kings 7)

God had been pleased with Solomon's request for a discerning spirit to govern well, when offered anything in the world. God then chose to bless him with not only discernment and wisdom, but with riches and honor as well, so that he became famous for miles around. (1 Kings 3)

I wonder how Solomon's life might have turned out differently if he had asked for self-control. 700 wives and 300 concubines seems pretty excessive, doesn't it?

Spending almost twice as long building a palace for himself as he did in building the Temple for the God of the universe may have been a mistake.

Maybe Solomon stopped focusing on God's greatness because he became too enamored by his own.

His life is a reminder to me of the need to distinguish between the real and the false. The genuine and the imitation. The truth and the deception.

The truth is there is only one God, the Creator of real fireworks. And He is not me. 


Friday, June 30, 2017

When My Shelter Left Me Soaked

It was the summer of 1996. Our family of three had called China “home” for 9 months. Baby #1 had just celebrated his first birthday. Baby #2 was on the way. We had been married for all of two years. And I told Charly I now knew why people considered divorce.

We were hosting a summer program of 6 American college grads, and Charly was committed full-time to planning and carrying out all of their activities with his English students at the university. Our home at the time consisted of two connected dorm rooms in the Foreign Students Dormitory on campus and our living room/bedroom was often full of students (stretching for my introverted personality). I participated in the group activities as much as I could, but found myself growing resentful of all the time Charly was gone. My needs were, very obviously to me, not being met.

We were out for a family walk on campus one evening when the sticky heat was more bearable. Charly stopped to talk with one of his students and I knew it was going to be longer than a couple of minutes. So I decided not to wait for him. The raindrops starting to fall from the gray clouds overhead matched my mood, and I quickened my pace, gripping the handles of the stroller more tightly. As I paused under a tree with large branches, I looked straight up and thought to myself, “These branches should keep me from getting wet.” But they didn't. I got soaked.

That night I realized that the shelter I wanted to work in my life wasn't working. It was the beginning of my journey of learning, as a new wife and young mom, that I couldn't expect Charly to meet all of my needs. Only God could. My unrealistic expectations of him were not good for me or for our marriage. My Creator alone would always be with me, and He understood my needs even better than my hormone-imbalanced self. Only He promised to be my Shelter, Protector, and Refuge. Not my husband.

Our friend Fitz recently sent this to me from Jill Kelly's Prayers of Hope for the Brokenhearted, and I love what she says about God as our Shelter:

“No matter what’s going on around me and in me, I am safe with You. I’m safe in You. You are the place I run to, the place where I hide. The place where nothing and no one can hurt me. The place where I am fully known and accepted. You are always safe.

When I don’t know where to go or what to do, I can rush to where I know You will be. When I don’t have the words and my mind is cluttered with fear, I can seek You and find You.

You are not far from me. You will not hide Your face from me. You are near to the brokenhearted. You are always with me. I am never alone.

Because You are safe, I can be who I am. I don’t have to pretend. You have chosen me and will not reject me. I will not be dismayed or discouraged. You will strengthen me and help me. You will uphold me.

As I wait patiently for You to deliver me from this place of deep sorrow and heartbreak, I will trust You. I will not be anxious or fret.

I will come to You when I am weary and burdened, and You will give me rest. In You I find rest for my wounded soul. Because You are able to do beyond what I can fully comprehend, I will wait for You, and in Your perfect timing all will be made new.

You are the Good Shepherd. You gather Your lambs in Your mighty, loving arms and carry them. You carry me close to Your heart, where I am held in the palm of Your hand. You will protect me and keep me safe. I am safe in You.

In the day of trouble He will keep me safe in His dwelling; He will hide me in the shelter of His tabernacle and set me high upon a rock. Psa27/5

This week I read this beautiful Reflection on Loneliness from Dare to Journey with Henri Nouwen by Charles Ringma:

“...we need to be alone. For we need to rediscover ourselves as much as we need to bask in the searchlight of God's love and light—to face our pain and lack of resolution with new hope and faith. In learning to be alone and still, we make a way to meet God with openness and honesty. It is there we can rediscover that we cannot blame others or live in unreality.

Nouwen speaks of the importance of embracing a loneliness “that cannot be removed by any other sinful human being.” For it is not to others that should first of all turn; instead we should create the necessary space to meet with God Himself. While we may fear this place of quietness and openness, it is the only road that will lead to new life. For from new insights come new motivations, which can give us new strength, and this will only come when we are loved, sheltered, and affirmed, as well as corrected by the One who truly knows and loves us.”

Shelter me, O God. In You alone I find my refuge, as well as renewed strength and hope for the future. Thank you for helping me return to You when my other shelters fail.


Linking up with Velvet Ashes this week on the theme of Shelter

Monday, June 26, 2017

Enemy to Brother

Last night we watched Remember the Titans, based on a true story about the newly integrated T.C. Williams high school football team in Alexandria, VA in 1971. These are two powerful scenes from the movie that demonstrate the incredible change in Gerry and Julius, a white and a black player, whose relationship changed from one full of hatred toward each other to a bond in which they considered each other their brother. 

In the first scene, the two of them are unhappy roommates during their pre-season football camp and are forced to learn some facts about each other so that their coach will ease up on their 3-a-day workouts.

"What I have to say, you really don't want to hear. Cause honesty ain't too high up on your people's priority list," Julius challenged. "Honesty?" Gerry countered. "You want honesty? Alright. Honestly, I think you're nothing. Nothing but a waste of God-given talent. You don't listen to nobody."

This conversation turned out to be transformative as Gerry (the team captain) took Julius' final words to heart: "Attitude reflects leadership." When he then exploded at his long-time friend Ray for not blocking for his black teammate, the atmosphere began to change. The ice melting between these two leaders, combined with the leadership of Coach Boone (their new black coach) and Coach Yoast (the white previous head coach), set the stage for most of the players overcoming their prejudices toward each other and learning how to play together as a real team. 

Their transformation and resulting winning streak that season had a huge impact on the whole town. While celebrating their victory at regionals, Gerry was tragically struck by a car and the second scene shows Julius arriving at the hospital after he heard the news.

"I was afraid of you, Julius," Gerry confesses. "I only saw what I was afraid of. And now I know I was only hating my brother."

This movie is both inspiring and sobering to me, when I think about the racial tensions that still exist in our country today, 46 years later. How desperately we need to get to know people who are different from us so that we can see the "other" as our brother or sister, as Julius and Gerry were able to do.

Thomas' sermon this morning at Pulpit Rock went right along with this theme: "Being us is better than being right."

We want to be about "seeking common ground as we seek higher ground."

"If Jesus put Simon the Zealot, an insurrectionist who hated the Romans, on the same team with with Matthew the tax collector, a collaborator with the Romans, and made them roommates, I'm not sure why we can't set aside some differences for the common good."

We need to really see and really hear the people around us in order to experience the kind of self-sacrificing love Jesus intended for us. 

And if we find that the people around us are too similar to us, then we need to go beyond some borders to find brothers and sisters who look different and have different beliefs than us.

As Thomas said, "We are known for our beliefs but remembered for our love."

Who might God be asking you to step out of your need to be right in order to love? Do you have enemies who could become your friends, if you let go both of your desire to be separate and your need to be right?

Friday, June 23, 2017

Be Loved

As David was telling me about his dream last night, he seemed to be glowing. His whole countenance was unusually peaceful and reflective.

“I was fighting in a battle with Legolas,” he smiled as he remembered the scene. “We were a team. I was kind of like—you know—his vice president.”

I nodded.

“He gave me one of his arrows to use. But his bow was broken so I couldn't shoot the arrow. I had to use a gun instead and it was too heavy.”

“We were fighting the dwarfs, and there were too many of them so we lost.”

“But it was really cool to be with Legolas. He's really kind and I can always count on him.”

“I wish I could have more dreams like that....I wish I could meet the REAL Legolas!”

What an honor it was for David to be Legolas' vice president. He felt so treasured and valued in his dream.

This afternoon he was working on an exercise to distinguish linking verbs from action verbs. I was thinking about the word beloved (the theme for Velvet Ashes this week) and how the word could be separated into two: be loved where “be” is a linking verb. There is a necessary receiving on our part. God calls us his beloved but we don't always feel that way.

Shame, self-condemnation, perfectionism, and pride can block our ability to experience God's love.

As I was reading The Jesus Storybook Bible to the boys today, we got to the parable of the Hidden Treasure again. And David said, “I bet I know what that's about. God is the farmer who dug up the treasure and the treasure is us.” I really like that view of the parable, not just that our greatest treasure is God but that His greatest treasure is us!

Daniel, as you know, often asks the same question multiple times. One of his favorites as we're reading through the Storybook Bible is, “Am I God's children?” Each time I answer, “Yes, you are,” he gets such a sweet smile of contentment. Being reminded of that truth is very comforting to him.

Don't we all need that reminder?

We can get so focused on the activity around us that we forget the truth that God calls us His beloved. His treasure. His sheep that He would search the ends of the earth  to bring back to Him. He longs to carry us close to His heart. Because we belong to Him. He has written us on the palms of His hands. He delights in us. He wants us to Be Loved. To receive His Love.

As we long for the day that we will see Him face to face.

Which will be even more incredible than meeting Legolas.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Wearing the Hat of Motherhood for 22 Years

22 years ago CJ's premature arrival presented me with the gift of motherhood. There have been days when I thought I knew what I was doing as a Mom and days I was sure I didn't know what I was doing. But motherhood has been one of my biggest blessings in life and I wouldn't trade it for anything.

Some of the different hats I have worn these past 22 years (as my hair underneath the hats has been turning more and more white):
New Mom
Toddler Mom
3 kids 3 and under Mom
Mom of TCK's (third culture kids)
Stay at Home Mom
Foreign Mom (in China)
Special Needs Mom
Mom of Adult/College kids

Out of all the Mom hats, the one that I won't wear for a long time is the one for the Empty Nest Moms.

A friend told me last summer after we'd spent time at the park together that her 11 year old daughter said how sweet it was that God had given us David and Daniel so that when Jordan left for college Charly and I wouldn't be bored and lonely at home with no kids.

We are not bored or lonely. That is true.

We have traveled the road of teething, throw up, temper tantrums, and tattling.

We have laughed, we have cried, we have worried, we have prayed.

We have walked the difficult line of giving boundaries and giving freedoms, sometimes better than others. Our kids have usually told us when we haven't done it well.

We have tried to find the balance in practicing Sabbath, teaching our kids about God and building character with times of being silly and just having fun together. Our kids have pointed out to us those times when they thought we were taking the fun out of life.

We have had heartwarming moments and heartbreaking moments. Moments when our family was truly united and moments when we really struggled with unity.

We've lived out of our comfort zones in different cultures, and adapted in ways unique to our personalities.

We've been separated both by oceans and by time zones across America (skype has been our great connect point). Times that all 7 of us can be together are truly a gift.

We've been learning how to parent all over again through adoption, as we try to understand the different needs and life stories our boys have (so much that we missed of their early years).

Now our kids' ages span from 11 to 22. You could call us parents who are seasoned and very much aware of our shortcomings.

On the way back from CJ's graduation in Indiana last month, I was taking a turn driving across Kansas when it began to get very windy. So windy in fact that I felt like our van might get blown off the highway. As I looked ahead at the dark threatening sky and saw the first drops of rain hit the windshield, I knew it was time for me to pull over and let Charly drive. But no sooner had I gotten out of the driver's seat when Jordan asked, “Can I drive?” “Of COURSE not!” I replied. “These are bad conditions.”

“I've never driven in the rain before,” her voice sounded hopeful. Charly (with no worry at all) agreed for her to take the wheel. She had a sparkle in her eye as she braved the storm head-on, while my eyes were tightly shut in the seat right behind her.

She did great. And I learned yet another lesson about letting go and trusting God with my kids, in scary situations that cause me to get a little panicky.

Even though I want our kids to be safe, I also want them to have courage and not be filled with doubt or shy away from the hard. And God has given each of them this brave desire to do hard things. They are willing to take risks, when they're unsure of what the outcome will be.

As my children demonstrate courage, they are teaching me to be more courageous too. (But I am almost positive that I will never personally want to drive in a thunderstorm!)

That's ok because as our kids get older, much of Motherhood is not in the driver's seat anyway, but coaching from the passenger's seat or praying hard from the back seat.

Bless all you mothers who can relate. My hat is off to you.

Friday, June 16, 2017

A Letter to the Birth Fathers of My Sons

Dear birth fathers,


On Mother's Day last month I wrote a letter to our sons' birth mothers. Since I've been thinking about you too, I wanted to write to you on Father's Day.

Earlier this week I took David to a physical therapy appointment. In the waiting room, I noticed an Asian couple with their child in a baby carrier. When the nurse said it was their time to see the doctor, the dad carried the baby back. And I thought about you and how you were with our boys when they were this young. This scene reminded me of how important dads are and how much you might be missing David 丁一凡and Daniel 华明安. Maybe there are certain dates that especially cause you to wonder how they're doing: their birthdays (we have estimate dates in December of 2004 and 2005 but you know the days they were actually born), the days they were taken to the hospital and secretly left in places where they would be found but you wouldn't be discovered for abandoning them, June 1 儿童节 Children's Day...

When I think about a Dad's role in his child's life I think about providing and protecting. I can't imagine how heart-wrenching it must have been for both of you, after waiting with great expectation for 9 months for the births of your children, to discover that they had medical conditions you didn't feel you could provide for. You did your best to care for them for an estimated 1 and 3 months before you and your wives decided that you were not able to keep them. So you protectively wrapped them up, kissed them goodbye, and left them in a safe place in a hospital. Maybe you hid in the shadows, with your heart pounding, until you saw that someone had discovered them and you knew that they would be taken to the Lanzhou orphanage. And then you returned home heavy-hearted and empty-handed.

As I've been reading The Jesus Storybook Bible to Daniel recently, he's been asking questions and telling me his thoughts about the Bible stories. This week as we were reading about how God the Father abandoned Jesus temporarily on the cross, in order for Him to bear the full weight of our sin, I read that Jesus' heart was torn in two. Daniel commented that he thought His Father's heart was torn in two as well.

Just as David and Daniel's hearts were torn with the loss of a father in their lives for 7 and 8 years, we know that your hearts were torn too. A huge loss on both sides.

David has gotten interested in books that are part of a series. He really wants the story to go on. And so it has, in their lives. Book 1 began with their birth families, book 2 was called the Orphanage, and now God is writing the pages of book 3 with our family. Each part of their stories is significant and has shaped them into the special young men that they are.

I believe that you would be proud of them for their resilience, their courage, and their strength. They are both fighters with hearts of compassion. They are overcomers. (Maybe they got these qualities from you.) And they are growing in their understanding that God loves them and has had His hand on them for their entire lives.

You haven't had the opportunity to see your precious sons grow up. We missed years of their lives as well. But we believe that they are children of God and that He has been their Father, their ultimate Provider and Protector, all along.

Even though you didn't hand them directly to us (we wish that could have happened), we thank you for entrusting them to us. We would love for David and Daniel to get to know you.

Happy Father's Day. 父亲节快乐


God bless you,
The Pines


Detoxify=to counteract or destroy the toxic properties of. To remove the effects of poison from.

I'm starting Day 4 of a detox program, trying to help my body get healthier. This morning as I watched a video of a comedian transparently sharing her story of coming to accept her daughter's down syndrome, I was struck by the similarities of the need to be cleansed of toxic thoughts related to special needs parenting.

The past few days, Daniel's limitations have been very much on the surface of life, and I've felt a sadness in my soul.

The school district generously provided summer boxes for our boys with books and activities to stimulate their learning. Daniel's box had a “Bridges” workbook from 3rd to 4th grade. I flipped through it and saw at once that it was way beyond what he could do. But he was so excited about his new book that it felt like I was crushing him to tell him he couldn't start working in it because I wanted to see if I could trade it in for a different one.

Yesterday we picked up a 1st to 2nd grade Bridges book, and he told me he was so excited because he'd waited such a long time for his book. He started working on it before dinner, and I realized with discouragement that almost every page will require instruction, redirection, correction, and more redirection as it's still a stretch beyond where he is (maybe I should have asked for the K-1st grade book). But he's wondering why if he's going into 4th grade does he have a 2nd grade book? I just told him that this one is better for his level and he will be able to do more of the pages. David then pointed out to him that he will probably be the oldest kid at Pioneer next year because most kids are 10-11 in the 5th grade and Daniel is 11 ½. Because he was in the back seat of the van and didn't respond, I couldn't tell how Daniel actually felt about this concept.

The truth is that I don't know the best way to navigate this road of Daniel's growing awareness of the gap. But I feel sure that the key is for me to first accept the gap so that I can better help him accept it and then both of us can help others accept it as well.

David and Daniel came home hot and sweaty from playing basketball at the park yesterday. The first thing Daniel told me as he plopped down in the chair to take off his shoes was, “A boy made fun of me.” That's the first time I've heard him say those words and I felt my stomach tighten. “What happened?” I asked him. He said that the boy was joking about his feet. “What did you do?” I inquired. He said that he just told the boy he'd had surgery and they kept playing. I felt relieved that Daniel had handled the situation well, even though the boy's teasing continued, and that he didn't seem to feel that being on the receiving end of someone's mocking meant that he was less of a person. On the flip side, it was the boy who had a problem of being mean.

I wish that I could protect Daniel from all forms of teasing in his life, but of course I can't. What I can do is help him learn to have a balance of toughness and graciousness. To learn how to speak up for himself, to forgive and let go, and to not internalize insults.

The toxicity that I'm trying to rid my body of is also the toxicity that I want to purge out of my heart.

I can't harbor negative feelings toward insensitive kids who attack and tear down.

I can't dwell on the hurts and disappointments of Daniel's and my growing awareness of the gap between him and other kids his age.

I can't focus on fears of how far he's going to make it educationally, emotionally, socially.

As I drink enzyme-rich, life-giving vegetable juices these days I'm thinking about what I'm really hungry for. What do I crave?

More than delicious food I desire for my gut to be unclogged of years of toxic build up.

More than satisfying my sweet tooth I want to be full of the real Truth.

More than putting “whatever” into my mouth I want to be aware of what I am allowing in.

I believe that the most important truth for me to dwell on and to help Daniel to dwell on is that we are beloved children of God, fearfully and wonderfully made. And that God has a unique purpose for each of us. He enables us to hear His voice and to follow Him. Because only in Him will we find significance and contentment. My "craving" is that Daniel would grow in confidence in how much God loves him and delights in who he is. Fully known and Fully loved. And that he would walk with Him all of his days.

Daniel often talks about being afraid of snakes, but at the library last week he was brave enough to touch a red-tailed boa and even wanted to go back and hang around with the huge snake. He courageously overcame his fears. And so can I.

As I am becoming detoxified, I am trusting anew that
God's work is Unfinished and that He has great things in store.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

To Love Mercy

Watching the Disney movie The Hunchback of Notre Dame this week has caused me to think about outcasts and the idea of sanctuary. As people of faith, do we notice those people suffering on the outside and try to bring them to safety, in an attempt to protect them from harm? Or are we more about trying to keep people out, in an effort to protect ourselves?

Frollo, the villain in the movie, chased a gypsy woman to her death on the steps of the Notre Dame cathedral as she attempted to seek sanctuary for her newborn son. When Frollo discovered that the baby was half-formed he started to dispose of the "worthless" creature. But he instead listened to the priest who said he should raise him as his own. And he kept Quasimodo locked away as a slave in the bell tower.

Twenty years later, an outcast gypsy woman named Esmeralda stood up for Quasimodo at the Festival of Fools where he made his first public appearance and was ridiculed.

This scene from the movie is very moving:

God Help the Outcasts

I don't know if You can hear me
Or if You're even there
I don't know if You would listen
To a gypsy's prayer

Yes, I know I'm just an outcast
I shouldn't speak to You
Still I see Your face and wonder
Were You once an outcast too?

God help the outcasts
Hungry from birth
Show them the mercy
They don't find on earth

God help my people
We look to You still
God help the outcasts
Where nobody will

I ask for wealth, I ask for fame
I ask for glory to shine on my name
I ask for love I can possess
I ask for God and His angels to bless me

I ask for nothing
I can get by
But I know so many
Less lucky than I

Please help my people
The poor and downtrod

I thought we all were
Children of God

God help the outcasts
Children of God

In her book Invitations From God, Adele Ahlberg Calhoun writes, "Jesus' followers follow Jesus' example of humility and vulnerability. They risk his journey of descent--the journey that will be the making of us. Maturity, humility, patience, godliness--these are all fruit of following Jesus. These are the fruit of following Jesus down."

Esmeralda risked her life for Quasimodo at the festival, and he in turn risked his life for her by scaling the cathedral walls and carrying her to safety. A third character joined them in the risk-taking: Phoebus the soldier, who refused to follow Frollo's orders to kill innocent gypsies and courageously stood beside his two new friends. Instead of seeing them as beneath him, he recognized the genuineness of their character and realized that they could teach him the meaning of real friendship.

As these three transformed heroes selflessly protected each other through helping them to find sanctuary, they embodied the challenge of Micah 6:8: "What does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and walk humbly with your God."

Esmeralda and Phoebus did not focus on Quasimodo's deformities but on his true beauty, and they helped the townspeople to accept him as one of their heroes as well.

Calhoun states, "Each of our faces reflects a facet of the image and beauty of our Father in heaven."

"We were meant to see our value through the adoring gaze of the Father, who mirrors back to us our worth."

Frollo had convinced the gypsies that they were worthless and that the people of Paris would be better off to be rid of them. But he faced his own judgment at the end of the movie, and the mindset of the people was reversed.

This is the transformative power of love: "Kindness softens hard hearts, disarms the defended, mends the hurting, values the unnoticed, strengthens the weak and brings in God's kingdom. In a hard world, kindness shines with the face of God." (Calhoun)

How is the love of mercy changing your life?
What does the Kingdom of God look like to you?

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Greatness is Found in Humility

"We all have our story, the unique place and family that we come from." CJ shared in his commencement speech two weeks ago. "And during our time at Notre Dame, our stories have become interwoven and linked. We have lived and studied alongside people very different from ourselves, who have become our friends and family. I want to tell you about two of my friends who have shaped my vision for life while being here.

Walking into Jordan Hall for international orientation four years ago, I could not have anticipated that I would meet one of my best friends at school – Majak from South Sudan. This past semester, Majak has been in his home community, Bor-town, pioneering a school for 240 students, through his organization Education Bridge. I have learned deeper magic, the power of sacrifice, from Majak as he gives his life to service in the context of conflict and famine.

Coming to Siegfried Hall, a proud all-men’s residence, little did I know how much our time as Siegfried boys would be shaped by the songs and joy of Ms. Ellen, the champion housekeeper of Siegfried. Ms. Ellen is working in the hall today, serving all the families and visitors during this commencement weekend. She embodies a deeper magic that arises each day and shares God’s love with the world. To Ms. Ellen, I hope you are watching, and to every employee of the University of Notre Dame, in every department, every building, every function – when we say “We are ND” we mean you...

Class of 2017, we would not let our rights be taken from us or our futures dictated to us. Therefore, as you and I leave this stadium, we must fight for others, for their unalienable rights, so that their future becomes their own. Our generation must stand against the scapegoating of Muslims. Our concern for freedom of religion must mean freedom for all religions, not just our own, otherwise none of us is free. We must commit ourselves to make certain that all of our friends and classmates at Notre Dame receive equal rights and respect when they leave this stadium with us...

We believe that greatness is found in humility. It is in giving of ourselves — as we leave today — that we find ourselves. Our time at Notre Dame has taken place within a tradition that explicitly follows the deeper love of Jesus that crosses borders...

We are part of something bigger. We stand on the shoulders of giants, as we carry on the love of our families and the legacy of Father Hesburgh...

Father Hesburgh and Majak

Our calling as we leave this stadium is to get these gowns dirty together, as we wade into muddy waters, as our learning becomes service to justice. When we follow the deeper callings of justice and proclaim the deeper magic of love and sacrifice that connect all of us – no matter which corner of the world we come from, then we will be true to what we have learned at Notre Dame. Then we will be true to our humanity, to the person that God has called each of us to be."

Reverend Gregory Boyle's speech was also very powerful.

"You imagine with God a circle of compassion and then you imagine nobody standing outside that circle. You go from here to dismantle the barriers that exclude.

And there’s only one way to do that: and that is to go where the joy is, which is at the margins, for if you stand at the margins, that’s the only way they’ll get erased, and you stand with the poor, and the powerless and the voiceless. You stand with those whose dignity has been denied, and you stand with those whose burdens are more than they can bear, and you will go from here and have this exquisite privilege once in a while to be able to stand with the easily despised and the readily left out, with the demonized so that the demonizing will stop, and with the disposable, so the day will come when we stop throwing people away...

You go from this place so that other voices get to be heard, and you go equipped with values so eloquently articulated by C.J. earlier, values born in the Acts of the Apostles: see how they love one another. There’s nobody needy in this community...

The measure of our compassion lies not in our service of those on the margins but only in our willingness to see ourselves in kinship with them."


Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Who Said Returning Would Be Easy

If I could write a letter to my weary self in the spring of 2015, as I was surrounded by 20 years of our China life, packed in semi-sturdy fruit boxes from the market…

In that stressful season, when my sense of accomplishment each day was how many trash bags I could send down the trash chute from our 9th floor apartment. When my biggest dread every trip outside was discovering our rejected stuff in the overflowing trash heap—waiting for pick up by the Jingle Bells-playing trash truck–and then having second thoughts of maybe needing to rescue something that I might one day regret throwing away. When more than one person asked me if I needed someone to fly out to help me pack because they could see that I was not handling life all that well…

This is what I would write:

Dear self,

You need to let go of what you can’t keep. All of the memories and mementos will not fit in your well-worn suitcases or in the boxes that you’re shipping back...

You can read the rest of the letter by clicking over to Velvet Ashes:

Sunday, May 14, 2017

A Letter to the Birth Mothers of My Sons

Dear birth mothers,

你们好!I don't think we will ever have the opportunity to meet face to face (although I wish we could) so I wanted to let you know how much our family has been blessed by the gifts of your sons, 丁一凡 and 华明安, we named David and Daniel. They grew up in the Lanzhou Orphanage “like brothers” and we were able to adopt them together while we were living there in October of 2013, when they were 7 and 8 years old. So many people tell us what great smiles they have, and I wonder if they got their smiles from you.

David recently drew a picture of his Chinese mom in his life book for his English as a Second Language class. I noticed the dots all over her face and I asked if those were tears. “Yes,” he said. “I think she must have felt very sad to leave me at the hospital.” “I think so too,” I agreed. So although David doesn't know much about you, he does believe that you loved him and I'm sure that you still do and probably think about him often... 

Daniel frequently asks if I will read the Jesus Storybook Bible to him, and a few days ago as we were reading about Jesus' birth, he said, “I wish I was a baby.” “You know,” I told him. “I bet your birth mom held you, just like Mary held Jesus, after you were born.” “You???” he asked me with surprise. “No, you had another mom who gave birth to you, and later I got to become your adoptive mom.” “Oh,” he said with a question mark on his face, and I know he's still pondering what that means. Ever since his brain infection just before we adopted him, he has struggled with developmental delays and memory loss. So as he continues to process this idea of having two moms, I will keep letting him know how much his birth mom really loved him and wanted the very best for him, just like David's.

Because Daniel doesn't remember a lot about his life at the orphanage, David has filled us in on some details. He knows, for example, why Daniel has scar on his forehead because he witnessed the fight when another boy pushed him into the corner of a door. I remember the time last year when David told us proudly that he has lived almost his whole life with Daniel, first as friends and then as brothers. Even though they are almost exactly one year apart in age, when they joined our family 3 ½ years ago, Daniel had become like an infant in a 7 year old body.

Because of the brain damage from his illness and the 6 days of being in a coma, he had to relearn all of the basic life skills that he'd lost. David eagerly volunteered to help spoon feed him and assist him as he learned how to walk again. Even now he still offers to read to Daniel and help him tie his shoes. Most of the time he is a caring older brother who understands Daniel's limitations. After they both had major surgeries on their feet in February, they enjoyed having wheelchair races together. And now that they are walking again, one of their favorite things to do is to play basketball against each other.

It has been a joy to watch them grow and develop. But to be honest, being an adoptive mom has been one of the biggest challenges I've ever undertaken. Likewise, I can only imagine that leaving your precious boys in the hospital, so that their medical needs could be taken care of, was one of the most difficult things you've ever done. I still struggle sometimes with feelings of doubt that I am a good enough mom for them. And I imagine that you might still struggle with feelings of doubt that you made the right decision in leaving behind those tiny lives that you nurtured inside your bodies.

I hope that God has given you peace about that life-changing heart-wrenching decision, and I want you to know that I am thankful that you gave our boys the gift of life and cared for them in their first weeks.

We have a bird's nest in the wreath on our front door right now and this morning we were watching some videos my husband found online of house finches like ours hatching from eggs, being fed by their mothers and fathers, and then leaving the nest. It struck me how fragile the baby birds were and completely dependent on their parents. Their wide open beaks crying desperately for food, and then—just days later--they looked more like their parents and were ready to fly on their own. Daniel asked as we were watching, “When the baby birds fly away, do they need their mother and father anymore?” 

The picture of baby birds being fed by their parents has stayed with me and caused me to think about how you must have mothered our boys when they were newborn, fragile, and helpless. When you felt you couldn't care for them anymore, you put them in a place where you knew they would be found by someone who would take them to the orphanage. Neither you nor I got to see them “grow their wings” with their first crawl, their first steps, their first they were living in the orphanage during all of those milestones (although we were actually able to experience Daniel's 2nd round of those firsts). Our sovereign and gracious God had His hand on them during those years, like a protective wing, and He guided them to fly into our home when His time was right.

I want to wish you both a happy Mother's Day and thank you for bringing our boys into the world. David and Daniel are both very happy living in America, but Chinese food is still their favorite, especially 兰州牛肉面. I wish all of us could go out for Lanzhou beef noodles together. I'd like to see how much spicy you put in your bowls, as they pride themselves in being able to handle a lot of hotness. And I'd also like to see their smiles reflected in yours.



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