Sunday, October 8, 2017

When I Didn't Trust My Dentist

I stretched myself out--a little nervously--on the dentist chair, positioned my ear buds and pressed play on the most recent episode of the upside down podcast I had pre-selected on my phone. I hoped to focus my attention on something besides the drilling noises that would very soon be happening inside my mouth.

The dental assistant smiled as she secured the paper bib around my neck and handed me a pair of sun glasses to protect my eyes. I tried to relax and even imagine that I was soaking in the sun at the beach, but when the noise of the drill became deafening and the pressure in my upper mouth intense, I was beyond the point of distraction and began to seriously doubt that this dental work was a good idea.

I didn't trust my dentist.

During my check up/cleaning the week before, he had suggested having two adjacent silver fillings replaced because one was beginning to show a gap between the filling and the tooth. After the hygienist had confirmed that our insurance would cover it, I had naively agreed to make a follow-up appointment. I was pretty sure I had heard somewhere that old silver fillings were best removed from your body, so it seemed to be a good idea.

Increasing the volume of the podcast didn't drown out the drilling vibrations. Surrounded by unrelenting noise, imagining a black hole forming in my precious tooth, I feared the moment that the drill would create unbearable pain beyond the coverage of the anesthesia injection.

Calm down, I told myself. You don't want to have an anxiety attack in the dentist's chair.

Even though I tried hard not to listen to the conversation between the dentist and hygienist as they tossed ideas of Halloween costumes back and forth above my head, I vaguely caught part of a discussion between them that one of the instruments had broken in my mouth and could not be fixed.

What if he breaks my tooth???

I decided then that I didn't really needed to get those fillings replaced. This new young dentist, who had just taken over the practice from the dentist whom we knew and trusted, probably just wanted to create more work for himself. But I was already committed and could not turn back.

I took a deep breath and swallowed as best I could, while my mouth remained forced open with a clamp, and reflected on the chapter on Fear in Louie Giglio's book Goliath Must Fall.

Fear grips us whenever we believe that apart from, or in spite of, our best efforts, something undesirable is going to happen and we can't stop it. Sometimes fear is irrational and sometimes it's rational. But no matter what kind of fear it is, it always affects us.

The dentist--I had now decided I didn't trust at all--told me when the dental work was finally done that one of the fillings he removed was larger than he expected, reaching almost to the root. And because of that, I could expect to have sensitivity for 1-2 days, up to a week.

Later that afternoon the pain began and I decided to distract myself by googling my condition, to discover what kind of outcomes I could expect. I was disheartened when my search led me to some internet horror stories from victims who had silver fillings replaced only to have up to a year of dental disasters, with subsequent filling replacements, unending nerve pain, and root canals.

This was a definite mistake I decided with an overwhelming sense of dread.

I wished I had read up on the pros and cons of filling replacements before I had so quickly and unwisely consented to a potential lifetime of mouth problems. But I could not rewind and redo.

Almost the entire next day I was in bed, with pain both in my mouth and in my head that medication did not touch.

If only I hadn't received dental work from a dentist I didn't trust.

Louie Giglio says, “We don't minimize the situation; we maximize our view of the only One we can totally trust. We don't simply deny the problem we are threatened by; we relocate it to the hands of the only One who can manage it well.

He goes on to say, “Worship and worry cannot occupy the same space; they can't fill our mouths at the same time. One always displaces the other. We either speak doom and destruction, kicking into high gear our worrying and stressing. Or we recount the size and character of the Almighty. We release our outcomes to him and center our thinking in his sovereign plans.”

Thankfully, three days later the pain is much better. But whether I am in pain or not, I really want to work on filling my mouth with worship, not worry. I don't want to be so easily caught up in the fear of future doom, but to focus on the size and character of God. I want to release my outcome to Him (not to a dentist or to a google search), for He is the only One worthy of my complete trust.

Friday, October 6, 2017

A Veiled Face in a Muslim Land

My white face was still white. But the traditional black head covering kept my light hair under wraps so that it didn’t broadcast my outsider-ness. Wearing black, not only on my head but all the way down to my toes, I was disguised. Sitting on a slab of kindling wood around a table just five inches off the ground at a Sufi memorial festival in a local village, I was hidden even from my husband. He had briefly left his position of serving tea at the men’s tables and stood just 50 feet away from me, taking pictures of the thousand or so women dressed in black, gathered around tables, to honor the anniversary of the death of the founder of the village Sufi order.

I didn’t see you,” he told me when our family had reconnected after the festival, back in our host family’s courtyard. I was pleased to point out to him in his photos exactly where I was sitting among all the black-clad women. This strange Western woman for once had not stood out in all of her whiteness. For the first time ever since we had moved to China 15 years earlier, I had blended in with those around me. Almost unbelievably, I actually looked like one of the local women.

Facing an environment where everyone else belongs, with cultural expectations that everyone else knows, with a common language that everyone else speaks, the foreignness of the foreigner feels glaringly obvious.

But if the facing of the new environment can be done with a face that doesn’t draw so much attention, there can be a greater sense of entering in, without feeling the weight of stares that so often penetrate the unspoken question in people’s eyes:

Why is she here?  

No one is really noticing me, I marveled, while I tried to slurp down my spicy noodle soup before the next course was served by the young men of the village...

(You can read the rest of the post here at Velvet Ashes)

Thursday, September 28, 2017


A lot had changed in 20 months. In October of 1995, my parents had driven us to LAX for our international move to the Middle Kingdom with 4 month old CJ who slept peacefully for most of the flight. In June of 1997, they picked us up from the same airport a few days shy of CJ's 2nd birthday, for 7 month old Joshua's first visit to America. Regretfully we had saved money and not paid for a child's seat because CJ still qualified as a “lap baby.”

As bad luck would have it, there were no empty seats on the plane for us to spill on to so we had to hold our on-the-go boy for the entire flight. During the longest 20 hour trip Charly and I have ever experienced, from our door at Tianjin Normal University to my parents' door in southern California, CJ slept for only one hour.

We were tired.

Our family of four squeezed into two bulkhead seats, unable to take advantage of the clip-on bassinet--all ready for us as we boarded--because our 95th percentile height and weight baby Joshua did not fit.

Because car seats were non-existent in China, CJ had not been in one since our trip to LAX when he was four months old. And he wanted nothing to do with being buckled in for the 45 minute drive to my parents' home from the airport. Somehow Charly ended up in complete freedom, riding in my Dad's car, and I got stuck in my Mom's car with our hysterical toddler, who I ended up illegally holding in my lap the whole way home.

After a few days of recovery at my parents' house, I wrote them this letter about how I was struggling with homesickness:

I feel like we've come home to family and I know that we're so important to you. It has been so nice to have you all to ourselves and that you don't have a lot of other commitments. I've enjoyed talking with both of you about all kinds of things in a non-rushed way. It has been so great to see you play with CJ and Joshua. CJ has fallen in love with you guys, and I feel like it's going to be hard to leave. He is so happy here. Part of me wishes we could just stay here the whole summer (but maybe we'd all get tired of each other by then!)

I haven't been able to sleep well because I've been thinking about not seeing you for two more years and it makes me feel so sad inside I can't bear it. I really hope we can see you next summer. I love you so much and I wish we didn't live so far away. I think now is maybe the hardest it's ever been for me think about it. I believe that God wants us in China, its just not always very easy. I think being with you these last few days has made me feel overwhelmed with how wonderful it is to be with family. In China we have friends, but it really isn't the same.”

When my Mom shared this 20 year old letter with me a few weeks ago, it transported me right back into that season of homesickness. I could remember how much I struggled with insomnia that summer. I remembered how fun it was to introduce Joshua for the first time to most of our family (Charly's mom and stepdad had traveled to China just after Joshua was born and were the only ones who had met him). And I remembered the joy of watching our boys connect with extended family in person instead of just knowing them from pictures. I remembered how difficult it felt to count down the days until we boarded our end-of-summer transatlantic flight (we decided to pay a little extra to ensure that CJ had a seat for the return trip) because we expected it to be another two years before we would see our family again.

At that point I didn't know that we would be back again the following summer for Jordan to be born in Lawrence, Kansas as Charly was starting his Masters there, and that we would experience the blessing of living closer to our families for a year before returning to Tianjin. I didn't know then that for the 20 years we would live in China, we would get to see my parents at least once a year as they made a commitment to come visit us every year that we didn't travel back to the US.

CJ and Joshua soaking up time with our family

Overseas living brings sacrifice--both for the ones leaving and for the ones left behind.

A longing for togetherness.

A desire to be with those we know and who know us.

An ache for the familiar.

A wish that we could stop time and freeze those special moments before they slip away.

A heart that feels split in two when we (or ones we love) are not present for family traditions and important events.

I wonder if Jesus felt homesick for heaven when He was misunderstood and mistreated here on earth...

When his friends slept during his agonizing night of prayer.

And when they ran away in fear as He was whipped and nailed to a cross.

He was confident that He would be reunited with His Father when the time had come.

And He knew His purpose on earth until that time.

But I imagine that there were times when He ached to be with His Father the way He had before He walked our dusty streets and maneuvered the crowds, handling with incredible discernment those whose hearts were drawn to Him, those who wanted to kill Him and those who demanded from Him.

I imagine that Jesus' heart ached in much the same way that our hearts ache with homesickness.

He knows us and understands our struggles, even better than we do. And because He has promised to always be with us, we can trust that He can sustain us when we are far away from family and all that feels dear to us. So that we never feel truly alone. In creative and tangible ways, He can show us how our new home in a foreign land can feel more like a real home, so that the unfamiliar becomes familiar. But at all points in our journeys, He gives us permission to grieve.

How has being homesick affected you?

*******Linking up with Velvet Ashes this week on the theme of Homesick*******

Monday, September 25, 2017


I never thought I would be adopted,” David wrote yesterday in chapter 2 of his life story for his 6th grade English class.

It was the first time I had heard him articulate that he given up hope as an 8 year old, having seen too many other kids leave the orphanage to join their forever families.

He had thought he would be an orphan for the rest of his life.

My own life story was different than David's. As a biological child in a family with two adopted brothers, I never even considered that I needed to be adopted.

I had my place at the table from birth. Felt entitled. Went to church. Checked the boxes. Was “better than most” in my prideful opinion.

But one incident stands out in my childhood memory bank, filling me with deep shame. In the 6th grade I had a special needs classmate named Terri. One day in the gym, I laughingly imitated the way she walked with so much struggle. I hate that I acted like that and wish I could turn back time and tear that page out of my book. I so wish I hadn't been hurtful to someone who was already hurting and taken that path of meanness toward Terri, a potential friend to whom I had the opportunity to show kindness and compassion.

Three years ago David was on the receiving end of mockery in a similar situation. As we walked home together from Chinese school for his lunch break, one of his 2nd grade classmates walked a few steps ahead, with the exaggerated in-toeing of David's club feet. I was horrified. How could this boy be so cruel?

But I was actually just the same. Maybe even worse. My mom was a special education teacher. I should have known better.

Still, God chose me in all of my pride and cruelty. He adopted me to be one of His own children. Not because I was the cream of the crop. But because in His great mercy, He desired to show me a better way. He wanted to reveal my sin to me in a way that I would feel horrified not justified. In His grace, He chose to pour out His transforming power on someone as hard-hearted and self-righteous as me.

He humbled me so that He could lift me up. He helped me to realize that I come to Him with absolutely nothing of value apart from Him. Needy with all of my own special needs, I can only cling to the Vine.

As I gave Daniel a piggy back ride home from school last week because of his injured foot, I remembered when we brought him home from the orphanage almost four years ago, early in his post-encephalitis recovery, and he was unable to walk. Charly, Joshua, Jordan and I had taken turns piggy backing him up the nine flights of stairs in our Lanzhou apartment building. 

Adoption Day

When Daniel became a Pine and we pulled his wheelchair up to our table, he had nothing to offer. Such a visual for me to realize that this is the same way God receives me and calls me His daughter.

I didn't know I needed to be adopted. I didn't know that what God really desired was from me was not a list of accomplishments to prove my worthiness, but to place my hand in His and to call Him Abba Father.

I tell you the truth,” Jesus said, “unless you change and become like little children you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:3)

“But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; he chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of the world and the despised things and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him.” (1 Corinthians 1:27-29)

I am so grateful that God has chosen and adopted me, and that He is continuing to teach me about His adoptive heart through the privilege He has given me of being the mother of two boys whose identities have changed from orphans to sons.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

The Courage to Let Yourself Be Spoken

“All that we have and are is one of the unique and never-to-be-repeated ways
God has chosen to express himself in time and space...

With endurance and perseverance we must wait for God to make clear what he wants to say through us. Such waiting involves patience and attention, as well as the courage to let yourself be spoken.
This courage comes only through faith in God, who utters no false word.”
(Brennan Manning, The Signature of Jesus)

Today I've been soaking in this beautiful image that we are God's hand-crafted design in our personalities and unique expressions of Himself.

Have the courage to let yourself be spoken.

In China as a young mom I wondered How does God want to express Himself through me? Both in the aspects of my personality that eventually came to thrive in that very different culture, as well as in the absence of other important parts of me that felt like they never got unpacked from my suitcase.

I learned how to live with my life on display.
I learned how to return curious stares and smiles at my fair-haired babies with smiles of my own, when my preference was to stay out of the spotlight.
I learned how to receive advice about my parenting as expressions of love and concern, not criticism.
I learned how to receive Chinese hospitality and offer it back as best as I could.
I learned how to ask for help.
I learned that tones in the language are very important, but that it was ok if I never truly mastered them and always sounded like a foreigner speaking Chinese (even when the rest of my family sounded like native speakers)
I learned how to laugh at myself.
I learned how to see situations from multiple points of view.
I learned how to bike in crazy traffic (and subsequently forgot how to drive a car when we returned to the US)
I learned how I could share my love for God and His Word with other women.
I learned that I have a life-long desire to learn from others, especially those who are different from me.
Ultimately, I learned how I could be myself in the Chinese context. Both in and out of my comfort zone. In the times when I understood what was going on and when I completely misunderstood what others were saying. When I could communicate reasonably well what I meant to say and when I felt limited in my language ability.

Through it all, God was speaking to me and through me in the unique way He had designed me.

I'm sure sometimes He chuckled over my blunders and other times He cried with me in my pain. But even when I felt disappointed with myself and felt that I had let God down by not representing Him as well as I should, I am coming to believe that He was actually never disappointed in me.

How have you grown in courage to let yourself be spoken?

*****Linking up with Velvet Ashes this week on the theme of Personality*****

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


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