Saturday, September 2, 2017

Need a shot of joy?

Ever feel like you'd pay just about anything to be able to pull up at a drive thru, make your order and pay your bill and drive away with a fresh top-off of joy?  Like a shot of espresso, but better... a shot of joy?  Or sometimes I feel like I'd even take a needle to the arm if I could get something better than B12 in me.

Well, here you go.

I dare you to try to watch these... just try to sing along...  watch their goofy silliness and listen to the sermons of truth in these happy tunes and try to miss the joy.

Bet you can't do it.  And I know... you don't want to.  I sure want to reap the full harvest of beauty and soul joy and dancing with my kiddos over all this....

I hope you can fill up your souls on the supreme joy, this bold evidence of the grace of God right here.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Of Grace and Grief and Gratefulness...

I've struggled quite a bit recently with keeping my heart and eyes down on the page here.... keeping my hand on the plow right in front of me, rather than letting my eyes drift to a dream, a fiction future that has no roots in reality.   I wonder how long the Father will keep us here, use us here?  When can we live nearer to family, know the great grands and grandparents and cousins and all better?  When will our kids get to go to a school?  When might our family be able to find a grassy field and run and play together?  When can we buy groceries that we enjoy, pull into the driveway and offload them right into the kitchen?  When can I find any book I need at the library?  When a church? When a home with a yard? When a dog?  When could we call all that our very own?

There's been a bit of a new kind of grieving, a new season of dying to self, for me lately.   I've never had such grown up kids to imagine futures for before... and now that I do, seeing their future here kinda scares me.  Lord, give me faith.  Help me to die to myself and lean hard into You for this.  

For most of the eleven years we've been in China, we've felt like China is home.  We're used to things here... the kids' bunk beds and their own pillows, their favorite toys and books.  We do life here well... at least we're used to living in the rut we've dug for ourselves and it works.  (Though I'm still illiterate!!)

And this is actually a great grace....  What a gift to not be able to call America or our human rights or culture comforts "mine."  Because even for Americans, none of it is promised you or due you or actually, fully yours.  Its a tender help that living here enforces this view of how alien we really are.... It's true:  We don't belong here.  Nothing in this world is Ours.  This is a sweet grace that I pray our kids won't miss being shaped by.

May they, may we, always know that we were made to be pilgrims in this world, made for an unfallen world with our King and Maker as The Glorious Light and Center.  We were made to be in the world and not of it, to be radically serving, radically loving, poured out offerings, exuberant evidence of JOY Himself, undistracted and unhindered- not storing up junk for ourselves here....  May they, may we, be heaven-smitten, cross-captured, simple sheep, delighters in this God of Majesty that made us for Himself, well worn as His image bearers bringing His kingdom down.

a similar scene, taken a few years ago in the south of our province

Two weeks ago, as I was walking home from the veggie shop, I stared into the face of a little beauty whose eyes were right level with mine.  I walked not too far behind her daddy and she stared at me right over his shoulder.   I was a little shocked to think of how deeply I'd miss her, miss all this one day, whenever we might not be here anymore.  

I'd have to find a way to bring it with me.  To capture it and capsulate something of the beauty-wonder-pain-sorrow-joy mix that it is for us to live here....

How could I ever contain in any way what it means that we live here now?  There's no amount of photography or video that could tuck these relationships,  these 360 degrees and depths of sights and smells, these expectations and assumptions of what's so everyday regular here, these experiences into any others in the world....   The six of us, who see it together, who process it and are growing up in our own K ways on this side of the earth while it wildly spins...This is ours, in a way.  (Just like every family gets to say.)  This mess of what we love and what we'd love to leave... this is our home, our place, the city we share with this precious mix of neighbors that will never fully understand, but brokenly fully love, and one day may never be with again anywhere in history, except before the Throne.

As I watched that little girl, I was pierced with grief, grief that was somehow all smothered in gratitude, for the life that the Father has given us in this great city.  Oh may You take our frailty and weakness and every crack in the pots that we are in your hands, and shine through us, Father.  Shine through us, your grace.

Thank You, that giving thanks for this land has been such a healing for my heart in this way, Lord.   Help me to live here, now...   slow and worshipful, rich in relationships, serving with joy.


So this has become a new hope for me.  I'm dreaming of and drafting up a few more posts that I want to link together under the label "U-Town".  I hope it will give you insight and joy and fuel prayers for the city and people we love and I hope and trust it will fortify my own heart too....

Sunday, August 20, 2017

The Damsel and the Villain

Oh so good....  The Damsel and the Villain .  Hope you can take seven minutes to enjoy a bit of cool jazz and this modern poetry retelling of the True and unbeatable Story.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

slowing down... {and some photography links}

Years ago I wrote about how nutty I am about getting a new page of artsy words, words to focus me, posted on our fridge.  I think I've made and remade a new schedule page for my days every twelve months or so for most of my mothering years.  It's silly that such a simple thing should be so re-creative for me... but it is.

I love Psalm 16:6 on one page:  These "lines {between days} have fallen for me in pleasant places."  Indeed I have a Soveriegn Father who loves me... and I can trust Him with my days, for all He allows to fall into those spaces.

This spring, when we returned from the states- a season I felt I could never schedule well- I wrote up a new weekly plan with a banner over the top:  Slow & Worshipful .

It's become the life mission statement (the kind that suits me.... more descriptive than measureable) that I've waited for for a few years now:  I long to live slow and worshipful, rich in relationships, serving with joy.   Yes, Lord.  Please make it so in me...

When I think of living worshipfully, I think of prayer and the Word.  And also of creation and creativity, beauty in song, in word, in moments lived lavishly, sacrificial generosity, delighting in seasons and places, choosing thankfulness, choosing joy, kindness and time to look long into strangers's eyes and her their story and to love on all the good folks I know well.  This is all worship... living well for my King.

And I don't know a way to it, but that it must be a slow approach.  I can't rush and race into a worshipful frame of heart or mind.  I can't show up and try to check it off the list.  I need to come ready to linger, be amazed, wonder deep, savor the magnificence.

* * *

This summer I've finally taken up photography.  I've been drawn to it and played at it for decades but I've never moved beyond Auto mode (or Aperature).  And it's time... just, time.  I want to develop it as a skill to serve people, to bless people.  (Hopefully I can get it together to go out on our streets and take some family portraits of neighbors?)  I want to develop it as an art to offer in worship.

And I think the thing that I'm struck by most of all as I consider what's hindered me so long in photography is that my hangup here has kind of been a major hinderance for me in a lot of areas of life.  It goes right back to SLOW.

I've always excused myself from thoughtful slowness, careful choosiness in photography because life happens so fast, the kids are racing by me, the moment will be gone.   I'd better just snap it quick.

But the photos look quick.  Fast and unplanned and unsavored.  Just like the life of hurried rushing, scattery, panic-paced, maybe unkind, frenzied action.  I so want out.

Both learning how to capture these moments and taking the time to put the learning to practice each and every time I set out... it's all slow work.

And I pray, just like a harvest growing in a field, that this work and all my life may bear fruit in season... a life lived slow and worshipful, rich in relationships, serving with joy..... and I hope it will be memorable with frames of the beauty I've enjoyed and witnessed along the way.

Ebenezer Stones...

* * *

There are too crazy many photographers online to even make sense of them.  Most of all that I've seen I've loved (unless their photos are over edited or stiffly posed) but there are two worth giving my humblest K Family Honors to....

Mary Anne Morgan:  This gifted, beautiful woman has mentored me (and I'm sure many others!) through her blog and has even chatted at email with me for a few photo tips.  I love what she captures and her heart to write it all up as a gift to return to her Father with praise.   So much beauty at her site...

Anthony Carbajal:   This man is astounding.  His talent is breathtaking and his story is heart-wrenching and wildly inspiring.  I've been so impressed by this young street photographer as he shares his photos and his life story of fighting ALS, the terrible disease that is slowly paralyzing him, and even mentions of his cute wife that loves him so well.  I'm praying for you, Anthony!  Go on capturing all the life, the joy, the sorrow you see... and thank you for sharing your heart.  Your art work is profound and your life is immeasurably valuable.

From the twenty-some photography tutorials I've watched and read... here are my favorite ones that have helped me the most.

I just like these guys: Mango Street Labs.  Some very helpful helps here and such creative talent!  Much that I haven't heard elsewhere (ie.  If you have to crop some of a person out of your frame, don't crop at the joints- it's just not going to be nice.  And about angles and S-curves in the storytelling aspect of your compositions.)

... And then these write-ups, all from

Creative Exposure- A Beginner's Guide

What Are Exposure Stops?

Low Light Tips

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Summer Adventures {the boys' bike trip}

In May, Matt and I began thinking over what fun we could plan for this summer.  For me, this weighed in kinda heavy with the voices of two wise women who had spoken with a bit of friendly-motherly love to me while we were in the states a few months ago:  "You really need to find a way, a place, to rest your souls there... and enjoy China."

I know well that I run the risk of sounding super complainy and totally unspiritual, but I'll just shoot straight with you:  China is very hard for me to enjoy a lot of times, and I don't know if I've ever felt refreshed, rested after any "time off" here.   We're here for the people but sometimes we get worn out and need a little pause to the action, the translation, the continual adjusting of perspectives. We enjoy sitting across a table for good conversation and knowing and sharing hearts with friends here.  But we don't enjoy being a public spectacle simply for being foreign, my heart sinks for every pile of trash, and my nose scrunches and my skin crawls anytime anyone (especially us girlies) in the family has to use a public bathroom.

But our kids are getting bigger and this seemed like a summer worthy of adventure.  Little did we know our dear friends who are especially drawn to a mountain minority group would plan a bike trip to be among those people... in this spectacular scenery.

the ancient mountain fort of Tashkorgan

Sadly, the biking was too heavy duty and the "ride in the van alongside the cyclers" option was of no interest to our girls, especially Marian, who was confident she'd be car sick the entire week.  

It felt really unfun and totally undesirable to go separate ways for a boys week of adventure a short flight to the south and a girls week a day's train-ride east... but that's what we did. 

The beauty on the bike is one of my best friends here... love this lady and love her love (His love) for the precious Tajik people.

Studly boys.... Isaiah is so grateful to have such a tight group of young men to be with in our city.  

And these two.... I get teary even thinking what to write about my husband.  He's too great a gift to me- generous with encouragement and affection and he serves us so kindly.  And this John Timothy?  What a joy....  he's super committed to his buddy Noah J (who just broke his leg rollerblading!  So glad he made it through the bike trip before he got couch duty for the rest of the summer!)

God's promise.  My treasures.

Our kids' former Chinese tutor, friend to many of the friends on this trip, went along for this journey too.  And I think it was while everyone was gathered for devotions one evening that she came running in, announcing "彩虹, 彩虹!!!"  My boys didn't even know the whole story, but I heard from others: she had decided after earlier rains she'd love to see a rainbow and she prayed for exactly that.  And when it came- doubly so, in radiant brilliance- she just about came undone and spilled over with the joy of this evidence of God's promise... and answer to prayer!

I can't hold off any longer to tell you how blown-away grateful I am for the friend who shared his talent with us in these photos.  Josh, of, is over-the-top in his collection and quality of talents.  Matt really loved connecting with him on this trip and I am crazy thankful to get to appreciate and keep in our family record all the beauty he so fantastically captured of their time.  

Josh has a drone... and our John is pretty starry-eyed over that flyer, just like I am over these photos!

The photo above and below are from another friend who I think snapped these on an iPhone!  The bikers were so excited to "stumble upon" a game of ___  (I forgot the local name but they call it "goat" in English, which is not a very accurate translation- just descriptive of the game.)  These two teams of horsemen are all after the goat carcass, and whoever gets it to their team's goal first wins.   

the Central Asian version of polo (upping the tough-guy-ness, minus the country club)

The first and last day of the trip they were in the biggest city in these parts.... the cultural capital of the people group we love.  Such a great place, such great people!!

We are so glad our boys could have such a great experience, with their dad and their dearest friends, seeing the richness and depth of beauty in this precious people.  May you plant deep in them, Father, a compassion and perseverance like your Son when he came so far to reach us.  And please stoke into flame in their hearts affection for you and ambition to serve the least reached and the most needy.  

And.. here's a video of their trip that Josh also put together.

The Girls' Adventure...

With our boys heading off for a week of cycling, we jumped on a (new) speed train headed for a city with a few girls we know who speak English.  Our girls have been hurting for more fellowship lately...  there are two girls in our town that they dearly love but sometimes two feels terribly few.  We went on a girl hunt, of sorts, and found several great girls for our girls to make some fun memories with.  

This is "Kanbula Forest".... except that there's no forest to it.  Still, it was beautiful.

So fun that they each had a friend come along for this day!  Marian (our most extroverted) told me "This whole trip got a lot better when Aria came along!"  And Vivi was pretty delighted to get to play with the ever-so-silly Keeva E..  And a treat for me too... Ryan (Keeva's daddy) drove and I got to talk long with his adorable wife who I just love, who gave birth just two weeks after our forest drive to the bundle she was carrying...  Welcome sweet Abel! 

winding through Kanbula

The Yellow River with it's rugged beauty cliffs in the distance...
and the mud pit - "quicksand" - they made with all their sloshy jumping!

After two days in town with friends, the girls and I headed out to the mountains for two nights, just the three of us.  They were brave but I think that all of us felt pretty lonely.  Still, it was a really sweet place we got to stay.  (Tibetan prayer flags kinda covered this area.)

They indulged me in a little posey posing... but my photo skills at this time, and still, have not yet appeared!  Where are you Manual Mode Magic abilities?  I'm taking a cheap online class and I'm really trying but I'm having such a hard time getting photos crisply focused!  Still... these girls are pretty cute even with a little fuzz, right?   And if you noticed Vivi's pajamas... she didn't take them off for three days.  Somehow warm clothes for our little girl never made it into the luggage, but pajamas worked.  Perfectly acceptable outer wear....  (and I'm not joking in the least!)

I know this might just sound ridiculous, but it's so very true.  Our normal, outside lives are pretty surrounded with plastic and trash.  This mountain retreat place felt so good to be able to fill up my eyes with natural materials- wood, brick, stone, even thatched roofs- and even with moss growing delicately.  This was one of my favorite things from our time there.  

Here's our little mountain town...  What a name, eh!?

Hello Mr. Yak!

more poor photography... but still sweet girlies.  

When this camel stood up, the girls faces went instantly from "how cool is this!?" to "too high, too wobbly, too scary... get us down!"

We loved our little room.  The girls called it our mountain cottage.

this patio was my favorite

Leaving this mountain town was when we stumbled into one of my favorite moments of our week.  We waited half an hour on the side of the road for the first of two buses we'd need to take toward the city.  When it finally came, I gathered luggage and let the girls hop on ahead of me.  Just as I stepped up to climb in, I heard the whole bus of about 40 people gasp and chuckle with delight.  I'm guessing there were at least a few Tibetan herdsmen on board who hadn't seen any little blondies before.  The whole bus seemed lit up with smiles as we squished our way to the back to find seats... where the girls put their feet up on bundles of mountain herbs and veggies being taken to market.

heading to the pool...

And for our last night away... (actually, our last-last night we slept on the train riding home, but our last stationary night away)...  we stayed in a downright fancy hotel.  It's plain crazy how sparkly this place was, and that we stayed there for the price of La Quinta by the Orlando airport... well, that's crazy too.  Such a treat to get to go swimming and eat a stupendous western breakfast!  And even better than the cushyness of all this, was that somehow our room came with four tickets to breakfast.  I pretty-pleased and the girls smiled big and they said we could invite two young ladies to join us as our "fourth ticket".  Such a gift to get these sweet sisters with us for the morning!

I hope so much that when our girls look back on the memories of this week they'll remember that the three of us can tough our way through hard things, we can trust God together and for each other, we can be content with instant noodles and we can be content with bacon and french toast, and we can step out- even lonely- and see the Father who is always with us, do great things in and through even us.   

Oh, girls, Love Him with all that you are.  There is none more worthy, more glorious, than our Savior!

And I love you too.  Love you so.  Thank you for this special week with you, my treasure girls.  
~ your mama

Monday, June 12, 2017

little bits of life...

I was given a beautiful new (to me) phone when we were in the states and it's taking some lovely photos but I'm not yet up on getting photos from the phone and from the camera all together on the blog....  so for now, here's just a little glimpse of life from a few scattered photos of the past few weeks.  

I love waking this girl up in the morning...

in the shadow of the mountain...  love how this girl is growing up!

This past weekend we had a real Baseball Tournament!  Shocking... to see all this come out of nothing...  About two months ago, two of the teams that played Saturday had not even begun to form, the boys probably hadn't heard of baseball before!  But now here they were, playing well and all observed by a guy who flew into our province to consider letting us host a much larger tournament next spring.  Looks like baseball is beginning to really get going!  So exciting!

(hello handsome umpire!)

This fine young man... he's growing up in strength in many evident ways and we are so. grateful. for. him.  

And this precious eight year old... can't believe he's so big or oh-so delightful.  His compassionate side and his humor and his care for others is such a blessing to see, to know, to get to love on.  John Timothy, we loved celebrating you this past weekend!  And it was a joy to see how you loved partying with your buddies and receiving such a generous gift box from Yeye and Nainai (and from us- his siblings were spectacularly generous to him too, which was another treat to see!)

Friday, June 2, 2017

New Mom, New Kid

I had heard of this book before and maybe I'd seen the cover.  I thought about it as a book for other people.  People who thought there'd be a quick fix or an easy formula to get parenting right- let them try it.  I knew better than that.

But in a very grey puddleslug season of mothering recently, a dear friend and mentor passed on this same title to me encouraging me to take a look.  Hearing it from her, I finally agreed and snatched up a kindle copy of How to Have a New Kid by Friday (by Dr. Kevin Leman.)

So... my humble pie?  The book is totally, especially, exactly for me.  It's a book that is positively about helping me be a stronger mom before I even think of focusing on getting any new kids from the deal.  You bet I want to see change in them, but I know I need change in me first.  Leman tells you in the book not to ruin the fun and tell your kids about the changes coming (when you start implementing the strategies in the book) but instead, just to make it a surprise for them.   No threats, no warnings, just consequences delivered on the spot.

At our house, I'm happy to tell them that I'm learning, I'm changing, I'm becoming a new mom who is aiming to do a much better job at helping my kids learn to obey, choose wisely, and work for excellence.  Seems only fair to give them just a tiny heads up that things, are, indeed changing around here....

I had heard that the book was about giving your kid real life consequences.  I thought I knew enough about that and that I was probably doing it about as good as could be done.  I was wrong.   This book is equipping me to change things pretty completely.

These have happened already....
Old:  "Hey kids, can you please pick up your roller blades and helmets at the front door?"
They'd "forget" and I'd steam a bit and holler louder and get testy and unfun and holler some more before the job would maybe, half-way get done, half an hour later...
New:  1- Give them the instruction one time (smiling firm with "I love you and I am your authority" certainty into their eyes (that's my little addition)) 2- turn your back, 3- walk away.  When I see half an hour later that they stepped over their rollerblades and went outside to play, I ask their brother to put it all away for them.  And add "and buddy, those two will be paying you from their allowance for this extra chore you're doing for them.  Good job."  And you know, he gets the job done well and they won't forget so easily again.

Old:  Rudeness and disrespect in classtime.   I used to lecture them about it- it never helped them one drip and it only heated me up with frustration and helped them not want to hear my words.
New:  "Hey loves, since you were unpleasant in classtime, I'm going to add extra classwork to make your afternoon less pleasant for you too.  Here's your extra math assignments.  I hope this will help you remember now that a kind and respectful attitude is absolutely expected of you in our family."

Old:  Bickering at the table.  For so long, I've felt like there's nothing that I could do for a bad attitude or for behavior like this.  I was wrong.
New:  "You two are excused from the breakfast table.  You'll have to sit in your room till you can speak to each other peacefully and solve this on your own."  And if plates have been removed from the table when they come out, a little extra hunger will help them remember to find a way to speak peaceably at the table next time.  (Dr. Leman makes a strong case for never doing things for your kids that they can do for themselves.  Peacemaking is a big one.  Their responsibility- more often than not- not my job to solve their squabbles for them.)

And... from the book Siblings Without Rivalry, a recent GEM that was loaned to me from across the country!, the authors say the same thing.... how parents can aim to guide kids to solving problems, making peace themselves without parents taking either side.  (I'll have to write more about this book soon too... it helps me so much to write to remember!)

This one hasn't happened yet, but I'm ready for it now...
Old:  Arguing in public or in the car.  Again, I would just lecture them about why they should stop and complain about how terrible it is to listen to them....
New:  Since parenting can be awfully inconvenient, strong parents need to be ready to be really inconvenienced for the sake of serving and training their kids well, the book reminds us.  I need to be ready to turn the car around and take them home hungry.   And not give in and fill their tummies with treats as soon as they show one tiny glimmer of repentance or some new kindness.  Hold your ground, mama.  "No dear, I'm really not going to take you to that friend's house even though you're speaking more kindly now.   I'm glad you're doing better but I need to see you choosing to keep yourself speaking respectfully.  We'll have to try again for next week."

Dr. Leman stresses, when giving consequences:  "B doesn't happen until A is done."  A is the consequence you give them..... and B is everything else that every child depends on their parents for....   money, driving privileges, phone access, time with friends and online....    I'm realizing that more up-front, real-world consequences over things that matter helps my kids see me for what I truly want to be for them:  the kind of mom that loves them fierce and true and will stand up and fight for them and dive in and get dirty helping them to learn character and skillful excellence. I want to be the kind of mom that will pour out my last comforts and conveniences for the sake of truly, really helping them grow up into maturity and honor.  Lecturing has never done the job.

Personally, I've felt handcuffed by fears of stepping outside what our culture (and this culture) insists is positive, polite parenting... Plus, I couldn't imagine a tolerable way to be a stronger HELP to our kids, rather than just telling them what I hoped they would do.  One of my dear friends joked on me for "hurling virtues" at our kids while I was cooking in the kitchen:  "Come one guys! Bravery!  Kindness!  You can do it!"  I think, in general, we are a generation of parents that doesn't know how to be strong for our kids,  to be a helpful, loving authority, training our children to get good things down.  I think our parental handcuffs and handicaps are plain as day when you look at kids in this generation.  And I'm glad there's some help and some hope to see things change for the better...

Friday, May 12, 2017

"Your promise still stands, Great is your faithfulness
I'm still in your hands...This is my confidence...
I've seen you move the mountains, and I believe I'll see you do it again
You made a way, where there was no way, and I believe I'll see you do it again"

Because there just might be a weeping mama around here who needs just that kind of supernatural confidence and faithful promise.... and this kind of fullness too: