Another Christmas!

xmas1Christmas comes in all different shapes and sizes…and times of the year when you live overseas. xmas2We knew this box was on its way weeks before Christmas, but for some reason, the mail decided to hold it hostage until weeks after Christmas.  We actually kind of like stretching out the boxes of love, so we were thrilled to have a whole ‘nother round of Christmas!xmas3Cam’s parents spoil us silly, and we knew this time would be no different.  This package was full of gaily wrapped gifts that spoke to the places in our hearts that only grandparents and parents know about.xmas4I’m still not sure how Kelly is able to choose clothes for all of us that everyone loves…I can’t even do that!  The girls were thrilled with their new wardrobes, and Cam, despite his less than excited expression, also was happy with his gifts.xmas5I got fabulous, FABULOUS, things, but only this picture (let’s not talk about its awfulness, okay?) was taken.  And I LOVE those towels.  All things Texas!

Really, we were once again overwhelmed with the love we were shown.  We are so blessed to have families that love and support us the way they do.  We know it isn’t common, and we try so hard not to take it for granted!  Father is good to us.  Always.

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Chronicles of China

Chapter 12

As I sit in the quiet of the house, before the sun has fully made its ascent, praising God for all the good things He has done for me, my eyes land on a picture of my firstborn; the daughter that made me a mama.  The daughter who, while only in my arms for four short months, changed everything about my life.

Chloe Michelle.

My prayer stumbled.  How do I thank Him for her when she isn’t here?  How do I thank Him if that means I am thanking Him for taking her?  My heart wrestled with my mind and in that moment, I could feel her smooth, soft skin and hear her sweet baby giggle.  I could hear the lawnmower running in the background and feel the all-consuming joy of my life.  The carpet, soft under my knees, was the perfect place to play with my baby.  To teach her new things and to read her books about silly things.  It was ordinary.  It was perfect.  It was my last night with her.

I was transported back to a life that didn’t know a lot of heartache yet.  A life that held back parts from Jesus.  Then, the earth shattered and life, my perfect life, was gone.  It had to be rebuilt and reconfigured, and I had to learn how to define myself.  A mother with no child.  Am I still a mama?  Do I talk about her?  Do I protect others and keep her a secret?

How do I thank Him for this?

My eyes roam to the pictures next to Chloe’s: Gracie, Faith, Ellie.  Those I can thank Him for.  But my eyes keep bouncing back.  I know He not only desires, but requires, my thanksgiving.

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming from the Father of Lights; with Him there is no variation or shadow of turning.  James 1:17

Then a memory came.  A beautiful, heartbreaking memory.  Father gave me a new friend last week.  Quite an unexpected friend, but she shouldn’t have been.  I have prayed for her, begged Him to bring someone into my life that I could share Him with, that I could know and love and meet with regularly.  As my girls ran around outside in the public square, playing with their new friends, bits of broken Chinese and laughter floating over their shoulders as they ran, He began to stir my heart.  I looked around to figure out why He was making me restless and my eyes lighted upon a pregnant woman that I had tried to talk to earlier in the week.  She didn’t come across as real friendly and my pride was a bit stung, but when I glanced at her, I heard Father telling me to talk to her.  I argued with Him.  I didn’t want to be ignored again.  I didn’t want to try to make my brain think in Chinese when it is so hard and has forgotten so much.  But my heart wouldn’t stop.  I felt worried and anxious and uncomfortable.  So I took a step closer and asked when her baby was due.  I think the heavens opened and the angels rejoiced at my simple obedience and the Lord decided to rain down His goodness on this moment.  She turned and smiled, and we talked for an hour.  The next morning, she came over to my home and we talked for two more hours.  She is 35 (same as me).  Her name is Fan Er.  Mine is Fei Er.  The similarities kept popping up.  Then the one thing I wouldn’t wish upon anyone got moved to the list of things in common.  I was trying to explain to her that I have four daughters, not three like I had told her.  My purpose was to open the door to share the best Truth she will ever hear, but then she looked at me with watery eyes and said, “You must feel heartbroken.  I know because I had a daughter last year that died when she was 15 days old.”  My breath caught in my throat, and I was stunned speechless.  She told me her daughter was born too small, only 2.5 pounds.  She never saw her daughter; never touched her or held her or smelled her sweet baby smell.  Her family thought that if she saw her, she would miss her too much. She wasn’t given a name because that would have been bad luck.  As the tears began to drip from the corners of her eyes, I put my hand on hers and said, “It looks like you miss her anyway.”  As suddenly as the topic was opened, it was closed.  This culture usually doesn’t reveal such intimate details so soon, and I think she was a bit embarrassed at her emotion.  But I know the One who can heal all her hurts, who can turn her weeping into joy.

The memory faded, and as I thanked Him for Fan Er and asked Him to reveal Himself to her in mighty ways so that she may become a child of His, I thanked Him for giving me Chloe.  I thanked Him for the way that He opened my eyes and heart to Him in a new way after she went to live in Heaven.  I thanked Him for choosing me to be her mama for her time on Earth.  I thanked Him for the way her memory and her story lives on and helps open doors to share His name.  I thanked Him for the good and perfect gift she continues to be.

 

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Welcoming 2016 with an “I Do”

wedding1We went to our first Chinese wedding on New Years Day in a small village town about two hours away.  I have been waiting for three years to attend a wedding here, and it wasn’t at all what I expected!  It was warm, heartfelt and incredibly simple leaving me with the feeling that I had just witnessed a remarkable occasion where the church was truly a family.

wedding5My favorite part of the ceremony was the confetti cannon that was shot off as the bride came down the aisle.  It was so fun and festive and made me thankful I wasn’t the one who had to clean up afterward.  I told my girls that we would definitely have to remember these canons when they get married. The bride continued the ceremony all glittered up, looking as though she had just won a big prize, which I suppose she had.wedding2The decorations reminded me of a junior high dance complete with drapey fabric as the background (and we certainly can’t forget about the customized bride and groom poster!) and balloons taped to the wall in clusters.  While it isn’t at all what you would see in an American wedding, nor could you call it traditionally beautiful, it was something they were proud of and the community that pulled together to make this day special for the young couple made it one of the grandest weddings I have been to!  Besides that, her dress was GORGEOUS!wedding3The wedding had a full choir come and stand around the bride and groom to sing some songs, then the pastor came and preached a solid sermon (I assume it was solid based on the length and reactions of people).  Finally the time came to say their vows.  The groom screamed out, “I AGREE!!” (My translation.  You’re welcome.)  After they pronounced them, I perched ready to take the” first kiss” picture, but it was very long in coming.  They were so embarrassed!  They hugged each other, then the crowd started yelling to kiss, so he went for the kiss, but she turned her head, then she turned back, and it was…awkward.  Finally they connected and sealed their union with a kiss.  You would think they wedding was over at this point, but much to my surprise, it wasn’t at all!  They sang a song to each other, thanked their families for all they have done for them, then passed the microphone to their dads and let them say a few words.  Then they gathered and signed the marriage certificate.  As they walked out, we got to see more confetti canons go off (I really loved those things!).  The event concluded with lunch served by their church family to everyone in attendance.  It was an intimate affair that felt more like a church service than a wedding, but I was so honored to have been invited.  It felt like a glimpse into another world, and I loved that God was the most important part of the ceremony.  You could feel how nothing mattered more to them than sharing their joy in Christ and praising Him for putting them together.  All the little things, from the balloons and fake flowers, the ten year old flower girl in a sweat suit, the old lady in the front who answered her phone and had a conversation during the vow exchange, and the confetti stuck to the bride’s face as she walked toward her soon to be husband won’t make this day any less than it was…a blessing from the Lord that will forever be remembered with the greatest fondness.

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A little bit of this. A little bit of that.

misc5 Now for the post that has no grand topic to belong to.  Over the past couple months, we have just lived life.  There hasn’t been anything earth shattering or life changing, but we have lived life well.  It may seem odd to you to hear me say that, but living in a culture different from our home culture brings with it tidal waves of emotions.  Sometimes they are good emotions and other times they knock you off your feet and leave you feeling disoriented and confused.  This isn’t to say that we haven’t faced some hard things recently, but I am saying that we have felt the Lord’s presence and He has kept our heads above the waves and our feet firmly planted.misc6 We have done things like go for facials and drastic haircuts, make donuts after reading Homer Price, and I tried my hand at homemade marshmallow cream so we could have marshmallow buttercream topped cupcakes.  I also made some friends a hot/cold rice pad in a matching sack to spread some Christmas cheer.scienceWe did science experiments to see if chemical reactions would snuff out a candle while breathing in the unmatched aroma of freshly baked bread, and some of us thought safety goggles were a necessary accessory.selfiesI decided to take selfies, apparently, with most of the people I love.  Some of them didn’t even know…tea partyWe had a grand tea party, complete with cake stand and lovely tablecloth, while reading Mary Poppins because sometimes you just need an excuse to make Peppermint Mocha cupcakes (Faith needed the excuse this time!) and drink English Breakfast Tea in the middle of an ordinary afternoon.

Life feels like it spins so fast, and the moments fly by us without us ever pausing to savor the time with the little ones we are so blessed to raise.  I am thankful to stay home with my girls; to watch them grow and learn and develop into the young ladies God has designed them to be.  These are moments I wouldn’t trade for anything, for I can’t imagine anything greater than this time spent with them.

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Christmas 2015

IMG_9076Christmas this year had a few new traditions that we are excited about keeping around.  I had this brilliant plan (hear my sarcasm) back in the summer to make little felt ornaments that correspond with The Jesus Storybook Bible.  I got the idea last year while browsing a new blog about living overseas, but had neither the time nor the inclination at that time to actually make anything.  This year, I started very early (July-ish) making ornaments for my family and a few friends.  Quickly, I realized this was going to take a LOT of time.  So, I enlisted my mama when she came for a visit and we whipped it out (let’s be honest.  SHE did the most work).  But, alas, they were complete and oh so beautiful!

Each night in December we read a story from Jesse’s tree that led to the birth of the Messiah.  We also lit the candles for Advent each night (building up to the 5 candles on Christmas Day), making for some very special evenings!  It was enjoyed by all and truly lent a sense of what Christmas is all about and kept our focus on why we are celebrating the birth of Jesus.Christmas1christmas2Christmas Day came bright and sunny and early. Our little monkeys woke us up at 6 a.m., on the money. They were so excited about the day and the surprises it held!  In spite of the excitement in our home, the girls opened their gifts so slowly, almost as if they were savoring each moment, which, undoubtedly, they were.christmas3They divided the presents into piles (this was done before we came out of our bedroom!) and opened them one at a time.  They exclaimed and showed excitement for each person as they opened their gift.  This whole method of opening presents really surprised me.  It wasn’t suggested or talked about, but rather decided between the three girls that this is how they wanted to do it.  I loved seeing the way they encouraged and teased one another and rejoiced with their sisters.  christmas4This year, the girls got really excited about buying/making gifts for each other.  They haven’t ever really shown the desire to give they way they did this season.  Gracie took a sewing class online and learned to make cross body bags, so she made Ellie one after scouring the online shops for the perfect fabric.  Although she couldn’t be bothered to wrap the bag, the delivery was something that will live on forever with the picture of Ellie waiting!Christmas5Stockings were full of chocolate and Dr. Pepper and the always embarrassing new pack of panties.  Funny how girls can get so embarrassed about an unopened package of panties but are not embarrassed at all to walk around in them.  Some things we won’t ever understand.Christmas7Ellie started asking for a black baby doll about two weeks before Christmas.  She specifically wanted an American Girl Bitty Baby.  When asked why she wanted a black baby, she would say, “Black babies are the prettiest babies”.  I looked online and found ONE black baby for sale on this side of the ocean!  With a few clicks, Faith had bought her sister a new doll to love.  Honestly, Ellie was a little disappointed it wasn’t the one she asked for.  Despite us telling her over and over that she wasn’t getting a Bitty Baby, she just knew Santa would bring her one.  I even told her there wasn’t a Santa.  She doesn’t believe me at all.  So, she is using her Christmas/Birthday money to buy herself another black baby that can be the big sister to this one.  Despite her want for the Bitty Baby, she still loves Paige (this new doll) and sleeps with her every night.  I wonder if there is something telling about her desire for babies of different races.  She has already told us she plans to adopt a baby when she is married because having them hurts too bad (ha!), and she hopes she can adopt a black child.  I pray her heart stays tender and willing to follow where He leads.Christmas8Bose Headphones!  As much as we travel, a good pair of headphones is soothing to the ear.  Gracie got a pair for her birthday, and to my delight, Bose came out with a new model and deeply discounted the old ones.  I snagged these two pair, planning to give them to our littlest girls for their birthdays.  However, when Ellie’s birthday arrived, I just couldn’t give her a pair, making Faith the only one in the family without good headphones.  Sometimes it feels like Faith gets lost in the mix of life and I just couldn’t, wouldn’t, do it intentionally.  So, the lucky ladies got them for Christmas instead!

They also all got ukuleles.  I may borrow their headphones to help keep myself sane during that new endeavor. Christmas9Gracie and Ellie were extremely excited to give Faith their gift.  They chose a jewelry box for her to keep all her lovely baubles in.  I’m really not sure who was the most pleased…the givers or the receiver!Christmas10I was not left out of the wonderful day of gifts.  Ellie painted me a gorgeous picture and wrote a note on the back that will live in infamy:

Dear Mama,

I love you and I’m your favorite.  

Love, Ellie  

She also gifted Cameron some batteries she took from his desk with a note attached:  Present not included.  She keeps us laughing.  Always.Christmas11The day really couldn’t have been nicer.  We had a huge breakfast, lazy day, and sweet friends over for Christmas Dinner.  Our hearts were filled with the love of family and the love of our Father, who gives the best gifts of all!Christmas12P.S.  If anyone wants FUN games to play, we got Pass the Pig, Wig Out, and Bananagrams this year.  Great games!

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Gingerbread Houses

ghouse1Making gingerbread houses at Christmas time is something we thought about and occasionally did.  We would buy the little kits and half-heartedly put them together.  Then I would get irritated at the ugly little messes and throw them away, to the dismay of no one.  This year was different.  ghouse2This year I baked all the pieces homemade.  I mixed and rolled and carefully cut, then trimmed after baking to make perfectly even pieces.  I was nervous.  If my cookies weren’t firm enough or even enough in size and shape, the whole house would be a mess.  My friend Katie and I each baked our own children’s house pieces and she made all the royal icing.  Her family had sent some candies from America and we bought what we could here to give the kiddos plenty of festive options.  Katie even shared spoons made of peppermint candy, that were sent especially for their family to enjoy, with all the kids during a break for hot chocolate while the icing dried.ghouse5Much to our relief, the cookies not only tasted fabulous, but they held up well to the pressure of icing and little hands.  The kids had an incredible time designing their houses, and the creativity they all showed was amazing to watch.  The Lord truly made us all so unique from one another, and it was never more evident as it was when we stepped backed to see their creations.ghouse4There was also a moment or two of silliness when the sugar high got the best of them and the icing bags turned inward and found its way to their faces.ghouse7I was really surprised at how intricate the houses ended up and how closely they all paid attention to detail.  Gracie, Faith, and Ellie displayed their houses on our “mantle” for the next week, and all our visitors couldn’t believe they were handmade.  There were moments when I couldn’t believe it either.  I wish their attention could be so finely tuned in to schoolwork!cmas6From beginning to end.  While the houses were pretty awesome, the time with our friends is what really made it special.  What a gift true friends are!

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Our own little children’s program

cmas1Our community of like-minded workers has grown in the past few months, raising the number of children, all school-aged, to 11.  What a blessing it has been to my girls!  We now have an abundance of friends, and thankfully, all of them get along beautifully.  For the Sunday before Christmas, the moms decided that we wanted to do something special; something similar to what we would be doing if we were stateside.  cmas2So, a Christmas skit was found on the depthless world wide web and divided up into a perfect ten (one child chose to be a spectator instead of participant) parts. Each child got to choose one prop to bring that they felt epitomized their character.  Our little Ellie played the role of Mary and her baby, Abby, was Jesus. cmas3There were three narrators, with Gracie filling one of those roles quite well, who told the story in its entirety.  The other children were the actors who had to act out what the narrators narrated.  Faith joined in as a shepherd and brought sweetness with her bow tied headpiece and cheeky grins.cmas4I also was sporting a pretty cheesy grin the entire performance.  I didn’t realize how much I missed these little milestones for my girls.  Being in the church Christmas program was something I took for granted while we lived in the states, and I was definitely feeling pressure behind my eyes while watching them with smiles on their faces interacting with a group of other children who live the same life they live.  These kids are extraordinarily special.  All of them.  Their parents have followed a call that led them away from what they know as normal, so they are caught in the middle of two worlds and forced to make it work.  We call them third culture kids (TCK’s), and let me tell you, these children are strong.  They are brave, and they will know things and see things that most people can’t even imagine.  They will miss out on a lot of “normal” things, but I know that these sweet babies will grow up knowing the love of two families, one on each side of the ocean.cmas5The kids also had Secret Santas, a first for most of them!  They drew names a few weeks prior to the party and no one knew who anyone else drew.  There was so much excitement and chatter and giggling between the day they drew names and the day the were able to reveal who they had shopped for.  It was a sweet, sweet time for all of us as we watched each child give a gift to their friends with joy written all over their faces and a perfect ending to a truly spectacular evening!

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Christmas in a new way.

localclub3This year, we had the privilege to be involved in a few activities that truly impacted my soul and the way I have always viewed Christmas.  On Christmas Eve, we attended a candlelight service at a local fellowship that Cameron works very closely with.  We met with them a few weeks prior to Christmas to explain what a candlelight service is and why we thought it would be a great opportunity for them this season to share the true message with their friends.  The leadership grew more and more excited as we discussed and soon began to take ownership with their own ideas and ways to do things.  We sat back and let them talk and plan, feeling like new parents, full of pride that the little chicks were branching out on their own.  Don’t get me wrong, this fellowship is bold and growing by leaps and bounds, but there is now a trust between us due to the relationships that Cameron has been given the opportunity to foster and it was heart warming to see their whole heartedness in this service.  As the evening approached, we both began to feel dread and wished we never brought up the idea of a Christmas Eve Service.  The enemy was trying his best to steal our joy with whispers about it being late and missing out on family time and the “specialness” of Christmas Eve.  We were committed, however, and said a prayer asking for Father to overcome our flesh.

His faithfulness never ceases to blow me away, but this night was especially a blessing to me.  As the familiar tune Amazing Grace filled the room of more than 100 people, all around me voices rose singing in a language not my own.  My eyes filled with tears and an indescribable emotion overtook my heart.  My Jesus, the One whom I gave my life to and love so dearly, was here in this place.  He was in the midst of these local believers accepting their worship and loving them as much as He loves me.  In that moment, I understood our sameness.  These people are my family.  We have the same Father and the same future and will spend eternity striving to give our praises to the same King.

That night ten people went forward as new brothers and sisters!  The joy in the room was contagious and captured what Christmas is all about.  He was born so that He could die to save us, and ten more people are now covered by His grace!  Amen!localclub1Those feelings have rested within my soul and changed the way I see the people around me.  My head always knew the facts, but my heart didn’t feel it.  On Sunday morning, we went to another gathering that blew me away.  While people here do not celebrate Christmas in the tradition-filled way that we do, they do celebrate the birth of the Savior.  The effort and time put into their service struck a chord within me.  So often, I am judgmental about how things are done here because it is so different from what is “normal” to me.  As I sat through skit after skit from college students that shared the message boldly and through dances and performances that were intended to praise the King, I was humbled.  It may look different, but it was every bit as good.  It was intentional and moving and required a response.localclub4And respond they did!  More new brothers and sisters joined the family this day.  Amen!

Despite the awkward and most embarrassing moment when Cam and I were forced asked to sing (my adamant no went unheeded as a microphone was shoved into my hands) and the appearance of the ancient, skinny Asian Santa, I couldn’t have planned for a better way to spend this Sunday morning than being in that place surrounded on all sides by family.

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October Fall Party

fall1We love parties.  Let me rephrase that, the females in the house love parties.   With Halloween approaching (just go back in time with me and pretend this was written a couple months ago!), the girls really wanted to host a party for all their foreign friends.  I was feeling generous in spirit and quickly agreed to aid and assist the little party planners.fall2The girls and I had a ball choosing activities and snacks.  We went with a more generic Fall theme for multiple reasons, and it really turned out to be such a sweet party!  Unfortunately, I didn’t think to pull out a camera and take pictures of the fabulous pumpkin spice cupcakes with marshmallow buttercream and a chocolate leaf (that melted in the humidity, but looked great in the fridge!) or the chocolate cupcakes with caramel frosting.  The dirt cups with sour worms and frothing orange punch, the decorated table and house.  All of it completely undocumented.  fall3Planning party games seems to have taken a back burner to all the fanciness of parties these days, but, over here, we don’t exactly have stores that can fulfill our beautiful party dreams, so we fall back on the activities.  We sat around and talked about the things we miss in America during the fall season, and some of the things mentioned were the games at the Fall Festival our church always hosted.  We decided it would be a great time to recreate a few of those fun games we love, and more than likely, introduce some of the kids who have grown up overseas to them as well.  fall4We printed and cut and laminated until we had the perfect number spaces for a cake walk.  We set up the music and had the cakes all lined up.  Then we worked some more on Fall themed Bingo cards, with little cups of candy for the markers.  Jello was made in little cups, ready for slurping through a straw.  Props were set out with a selfie pole, ready to indulge the generation who loves to take pictures of themselves.  Apples were washed and water boiled and cooled for a bobbing for apples station.  Ribbons were prepared for a three-legged race.

Sidenote here…ribbons cut tender skin, regardless of the width and softness.  oops.  And Bingo is still a favorite to kids all ages alike.

Not wanting to overload on sugar, or deplete the pocketbook further, we decided to do a point system for the winners.  Every game had points available to earn.  The winner got to choose one of the losers, ahem, non-winners, to receive a whipped creamed pie to the face.fall5Had I known that all the kids would be clamoring to be the one who received the pie to the face, perhaps the award system could have been reworked.  I also would have tripled the amount and sweetened the whipped cream when I made it.  They may have been both a little disappointed and disgusted at the plain, unsweetened whipped cream.  Regardless of the flavor and quantity, immeasurable amounts of fun was had and memories they will never forget were made.fall7After the two winners who tied with the most points chose their people to pie, by random drawing due to the excited number of participants, everyone started re-using the whipped cream to cream all their friends.

In my living room.

Thankfulness for the tiled floors rose up in my chest and spilled over into the parts of my body that would be cleaning later in the day.fall8The palpable joy felt in the room and squeals of delight, selfie pictures that will live on in infamy, and warm hearts after an afternoon spent with the friends and family God has blessed us with on this side of the world will always make me grateful when I think back on this little afternoon party.  Sometimes it feels lonely over here, but when we take a step back, we can see that Father has given us a community of believers to work alongside that can be called on to make the hard days a little easier and to join in on the silliness of western traditions when our hearts need to feel a little bit of home.

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