You are Beautiful

I was at the supermarket earlier this week when suddenly I was surrounded by about 5 children (approximately age 12). They were working hard to communicate with me (one child whispered to the other, “what…is…your…name?) After our short conversation in Chinglish, one child proclaimed, “You are beautiful!” The other children all echoed, “Beautiful, beautiful!” And then we went our separate ways, but I saw them several other times and they would shout, “Beautiful!” and keep going.

Lately, I’ve been reflecting a lot on the word beautiful. Maybe it’s because I’ve been called beautiful more in the last two years than I’ve been called beautiful in my whole life combined. Really it probably only took 2 weeks in China to be called beautiful more than in my whole life combined.

My friend (another blond-haired foreigner) and I were discussing whether the word beautiful means as much to us anymore when we hear it so often. Sometimes I would say it doesn’t. It lacks sincerity. But other times, it’s still touching, like when my student pulls out her phone and points to a picture of us together and says, “I show everyone this picture, so they can see my beautiful English teacher.” Or when I’m at the supermarket looking about my absolute worst and those cute little kids shout out “beautiful.”

I read an article a few years ago (that I was going to link to, but couldn’t find at the moment) about not calling little girls pretty..  It was thought-provoking.  It talked about how often we define girls by their looks. But as I was thinking about it, I wondered if the bigger problem is not about defining girls by their looks, but rather how we define beauty.

Do we truly see beauty as we look around us? By beauty, I don’t just mean the perfect symmetry that our mind thinks as beautiful—but beauty in the mundane, in the ordinary, even in the seemingly unlovable. Do we look at the world around us and do we see beauty, or do we only see ashes?

This year as I reflected upon a word I wanted to emphasize, I could not shake the word beautiful. What would it look like for me to look at the world around me and truly see beauty? How would it look for me to look around me and see the faces I interact with, the crowded masses on the street—and sincerely say—“you are beautiful?”   Can I say this not because of what they have to offer, or what they look like, but because I believe that each person is created in image of the one who declared it is good?  Do I sincerely believe He can bring beauty from ashes, light from darkness and in the words of Gungor, He “is making beautiful things out of us?”

A Misplaced Christmas

Call me crazy, but there’s something I love about airports at Christmas in the US. The hustle and bustle. The waiting areas packed with people as you trip over luggage and have to sit on top your suitcase on the floor.  There is a sense of excitement (okay, yes sometimes also stress) in the air.  Christmas is coming. For a moment, it feels like we are all on the same team. We are all looking forward to something together.

That’s the strangest thing when I walk outside on Christmas in China. It’s like the world is going on around me—a world where Christmas is maybe a passing thought, an apple on Christmas Eve, but not an overshadowing reality.

It makes me think of the first Christmas. Our imagery of Christmas is so often homecoming—the happy glow of family and friends. (This week I listened to a Christmas version of Michael Buble’s Home by Blake Shelton and Miranda Lambert—I must say tears were running down my cheeks.) But that wasn’t the reality of the first Christmas. Everyone was not excited and aware of what was going on.  A young pregnant woman and her husband had to journey away from home. They were uncomfortable, misplaced—a yet in that moment is where we see great redemption.

Here in this place, Christmas can too seem misplaced, but just as there is joy for me in crowded airport waiting areas, I can also discover joy in sharing Christmas with those who may have never really known what it is.  It’s a joy to receive giant earmuffs, fancy boxes with apples (in Chinese the word for apple “pinguo” and the word for Christmas Eve/Peaceful Night “pingan” sound similar so it is a custom to give apples on Christmas eve), and boxes of candy. It’s a joy to bake hundreds (literally over 300) cookies and get to share Christmas stories, songs and customs with students. It’s a joy to have nearly 90 students come through my house…taking about that number of selfies each with my Christmas tree.

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Christmas Open House with my students!

It’s a joy because even though Christmas can seem misplaced, I still know that true joy has come—to the whole world. And even moments where Christmas can seem misplaced, misunderstood or out of place, I’m reminded that those are the moments when redemption shines through.

Fears and Far Away

When I told people I was moving thousands of miles away, on the other side of the ocean, to a land where I didn’t speak the language, far from everything familiar, the response so often came, “You’re so brave.” Or, “Aren’t you afraid of what could happen?”

In many ways, moving to the other side of the world requires facing fears. I have to say some “normal” fears rarely enter my mind. I’m not so concerned about things happening to me in daily life, about travel, about crossing the street (which can be a pretty scary thing!). But it can also cause a whole new pile of fears and uncertainties to creep in.

Will people forget me? Will I be able to really adjust?  Where will I fit?

A few weeks ago, with several of my teammate we discussed our biggest fears being in China.  For me, the biggest fear has long been the same—something happening to my family and not being there.

Two days later, my grandpa died.  My grandfather—the man who I hurried across the gravel driveway to see every morning as a small child. The man who taught me all about cars, boats, houses, James Bond and John Wayne.

And there I was 7000 miles away.

Yet, as I set on my bed crying I couldn’t shake the unmistakable peace upon me.

My word for the year is dependence. And I realized I had to depend that my Father was taking care of my family.  I had to realize I’m not in control.  That the hands that hold the universe hold me and my family—even on opposite sides of the world. And He tells me, “Do not fear, for I am with you.”