You’re not alone

P1000433Every morning when I walk to class, I see stray dogs.  It may seem ridiculous, but I often feel close to tears as I watch these dogs.  Perhaps it reminds me of my own orphaned dog at home.  (Ok, Gordy is probably living a cushier existence than me with my parents…)  But something moves deep within me with compassion.  It makes me so sad that these dogs are alone as they look up at me with their sad faces.

But what stirs my heart even more is as I walk around our campus and see so many faces…and I wonder how many of the students feel completely and utterly alone.  This week in class as I talked about my family and friends, one of my students raised her hand and asked, “Miss Anna, are you lonely sometimes?”   I was a little caught off guard by the question, but I answered honestly, “yes, sometimes I am.”  My class seemed a little taken aback by my response.  I wondered if I’d said too much.  I wondered if I’d said too little.  Because living in a country of 1.3 billion people, it’s amazing how alone one person can feel—how lonely I can feel at times.

Yet even in my darkest moments, I can rest assured that I’m not alone.  Mother Teresa once said, “I have come to realize more and more that the greatest disease and the greatest suffering is to be unwanted, unloved, uncared for, to be shunned by everybody, to be just nobody to no one.” And while at first that seems like such a depressing thought,  there is so much hope in it.  Because there is no one who is unloved, uncared for, or unwanted, but there are many people who are unaware.  They don’t know that there is always the one who loves each person.  And we can bring that hope to someone who may not realize that she is beautiful, that he is more than enough, that there is someone who loves them not for what they can do or accomplish.

This week as I walked to class past  the normal stray dogs, I noticed something different.  Instead of there being just one or two by themselves, they were all walking together, playing and scavenging for food (and a few of them may have been trying to impregnate others…Bob Barker probably needs to do a tour here), and this time I almost felt happy tears come to my eyes.  Among these stray dogs, they had formed community.  And I was reminded that if even among these dogs they could form this community, how much more the creator can work among his children to create community—to bring love, hope and joy to lonely hearts—and what a privilege it is to be part of that story.  Because even in those moments where I may feel lonely, I know I never walk alone.

Lies White Christmas Taught Me

**Warning the following post contains references to both a classic movie and Anne of Green Gables.**    

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I remember the first time I made the devastating revelation that everything in my favorite Christmas movie might not be true. No, it wasn’t when I found out that Irving Berlin is, in fact, Jewish.  It was when I decided I would try a cup of buttermilk.  In White Christmas, buttermilk is the sure fire way to get a good night sleep. The perfect accompaniment to a liverwurst sandwich (okay, my defenses should have been up when I heard liverwurst).  But one Christmas, while baking, I decided I would try a cup of buttermilk.  Let me tell you, it was not at all what I had envisioned.  I nearly spewed it out.

Yet this week, as I set out on a journey on a 15-hour sleeper train to the historic city of Xi’an, I couldn’t help but think of the glorious train ride in White Christmas.  Okay, perhaps they didn’t get beds and ended up in a city without snow, in direct contrast to what they had been happily anticipating. But that train ride sure did seem romantic (in the Anne Shirley kind of way).  And yet, as I was on the top bunk mere inches from the ceiling, with the sounds of running children, the fragrant aroma of cigarette smoke and enough consistent jerking to make me feel like I was in a car of someone learning how to drive stick shift, I realized that White Christmas once again hadn’t told the whole truth.

In all seriousness though, even though the train might not have lived up to Anne Shirley’s romantic ideal, it was quite the cultural experience.  Especially, one our return trip when we were joined by around 8 children on our beds who were happily trying to speak English to us (you are beautiful, do you like the color blue?) and we got to witness grown men wandering around in long underwear.

So while, I didn’t ever end up getting to wear a really cool red velvet dress with fur trim, it was still quite the adventure.  And then again, perhaps Bing (or Bob) didn’t lie to me, because he too, did not get any sleep on the train.

The Big Question: What am I eating?

Finally, the post you all have been waiting for (or okay, maybe just Stephanie), where I talk about food.  I’m sure this will be the first of many posts on the subject…but for now, and introduction.

Many people have asked me questions, like “what have you been eating?” And no, the answer is not dog or cat.

In the first 3.5 weeks when I was in Beijing, the answer was fairly simple: Jiaozi and green beans. We found a great little “hut” of sorts with Jiaozi (dumplings) for less than $1.  We ate there almost every day.  And I just love green beans.

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Obviously, I did eat some other foods in Beijing. But those were the highlights.  But then at last I arrived in Yinchuan.  A place with a kitchen, (well, some might consider that an overstatement), and I have to figure out what I’m eating daily in my home.  We have a pretty great supermarket nearby, as well as a nice little import store, where I can find things like cheese and chocolate chips! Fresh fruit and veggies abound from local sellers. Every day is the Farmer’s Market.

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Yinchuan also has some unique local food–“Muslim cuisine,” which includes some very delicious kabobs. It is also well known for noodles (which are also quite tasty). I’ve actually been doing a lot of cooking at home…partly due to the fact that if there’s not a picture menu, I’m not really quite sure what I’m ordering.  (Hence, how I ended up with a milk tea featuring raisins, peanuts and black beans.)  There are definitely some limitations with a single burner and small oven (although I got a bigger one that fits a 9 x 13 pan!) and but cooking, just like life in China, is always an adventure.

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Don’t have chocolate chips?  How about some Dove chocolate bars?  Actually, the availability of Dove chocolate is probably both a blessing and curse for me.

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When in doubt, there are always eggs.  And, we can even order pizza! 🙂

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Fake eyelashes and foreigners

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“‘When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them.”

Yesterday I did some shopping.  Shopping.  Such an innocuous word that definitely does not fully convey the gravity of the task set before me. I was looking for a specific face wash, contact solution and a pillow.

Stop one was Watson’s.  Picture CVS or Walgreen’s minus the medicine.  I was quite pleased with the vast selection and even more excited to see they had Cetaphil (my face wash) and it was on sale on the big display! The shopping was going so well! And then I get to the register.  The cashier begins to gesture at me and then a college in student in line behind us explains that to get the discount price I need a card.  But I can’t figure out how to get the card.  Next the manager comes out (who speaks a little English) and tries to help.  With around three employees and a customer’s help I manage to get the card

Next stop, contact solution at the supermarket.  Picture a store kind of like super Wal-Mart, or Super Target or Meijer. As soon as I enter the section where contact solution might be several employees eagerly greet me.  Cue the game of charades as I attempt to signal what contact solution is. (I learned during training I’m not particularly good at charades in general.) After poking at my eye for a little bit I’m brought some night time eye cream, as well as some fake eyelashes.  Then I see a couple American girls.  They are pretty sure they don’t sell contact solution here. (And I actually did easily obtain it today at the eyeglass store with minimal charades.)

Finally, I head to bedding.  Either I’ve improved at charades or the pillow is just much clearer, but once again an eager employee shows me various pillows and I find one.

What did I learn from these exchanges?  Other than the obvious: I need to learn some Chinese.  I thought what would have happened to the Chinese person who speaks no English at home as they wander through a store?  How would I have treated them?  How do I treat the stranger, the foreigner in my midst?  And I was humbled by the kindness shown to this clueless foreigner.  And I was convicted realizing that I often had missed opportunities to show this same hospitality and grace to others. 

So, how do you treat the foreigner in your land? 

In Praise of the Struggle

I’ve already heard time and time again—things take longer in China. I think it’s hard to fully understand what this means unless you’re here—and obviously I haven’t really grasped the gravity of this, especially in my current hotel dwelling.  Yet, it has still been evident. Last night, I went with a group of fellow teachers to a Chinese tea house for a cultural show.  It ended and we thought we’d take a cab home.  After about 20 minutes of trying to navigate how to get to the street around a series of fences preventing us from getting there, at last we reach the street, and very unsuccessfully attempt to hail a cab. Finally, realizing we could have been halfway home on the subway, we give up.  Then we navigate some more fences to arrive at the subway.  And eventually about an hour later we are back at our “home.”

On our way home, my friend and I began to talk about values…and how when life gets easier it does not always translate to better.  Or at least better for our lives, our friendships, our souls. Even in my short time in China, I have more of an awareness, an appreciation for many things that can easily be taken for granted at home.

I am also reminded how often when everything is relatively easy and within reach we can lose sight of our dependence on one who is greater.  On our interdependence on one another.

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We’ve oft heard the quote: “anything worthwhile takes time.”  But I wonder how often we miss out on the reward because we don’t want to take part in the inevitable struggle.  But perhaps what is worthwhile is not only the outcome, but also the character produced from the journey.

When did I grow up?

Note: This is adapted from a blog post I wrote several years back, but seems pertinent as I think about vocation in my new context. 

When I grow up I’m going to be a teacher. An astronaut. A baseball player. The list goes on of the words that I heard as a child growing up.  I recall hearing one of my fellow teammates ask that question of a young child in Zimbabwe. An orphan. She couldn’t answer the question because the reality was she probably wasn’t going to grow up. A majority of the orphans where we were had HIV/AIDS. And even if she did grow up she really had no choice of what she was going to be.

It makes me wonder if we are asking the wrong question.

For years I talked about what I wanted to be when I grew up. Then one day I looked in the mirror and realized that I had grown up. I’m not sure when it happened. When I packed up my Honda Accord and headed off to college. On my 18th birthday near the end of my freshmen year. When I drove cross country to start grad school in Boston. As I spoke to my classmates at Baccalaureate. As I took my first real job far from home. I don’t know. All I know is that I grew up.

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And I needed to stop asking what I’m going to be, but rather who I am going to be. Not tomorrow or 20 years from now, but right now, every day. Who am I made to be? Who am I going to be?

I’m bought with a price. A child made in the image of the creator. A sinner saved by grace. I’m called to be peacemaker. A grace giver. A friend to the friendless. A light in the darkness. A lover of all.

And these callings of who I’m supposed to be remain regardless of what it is I’m doing.  Being who I’m supposed to be is not something that requires a certain job. I can’t wait until tomorrow to determine whom He has called to be. Because it’s here- every day- that I must come to the place of determining that I will embrace not only what I’m called to be, but also who I’m called to be. 

Beijing bellies and bunny ears

 

I look at the window at the crowded streets and sidewalks.  I can spot men with shirts rolled up to expose their bellies to cool them off in the sweltering sun. They call it the “Beijing belly.”  Apparently during the Olympics, they tried to discourage the Beijing belly as a form of impolite behavior, but alas, the tradition continues on.  And it hits me, once again.  I live here.  I live in China.  I’m not here on vacation (even though my current residence is a hotel) or for a semester abroad.  I’m here for two years…and perhaps much longer.

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There are moments when the sights and sounds of China seem overwhelming.  I know those moments will come and go, with some days being far more overwhelming than others.  I’m sure there will be times when I think, “did I really move to China?”  Okay, let’s be honest, there are times when I’ve already thought that. 

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But then yesterday, we had some English students take us around the city.  As we talked with these two students, my heart overflowed with joy.  And I was reminded of why I’m here.  To see their faces.  To hear their stories. To be a part of their lives. And of course, to stealthily capture some photos of the Beijing belly. 

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And yes, I’m wearing bunny ears.  They are pretty cool.