Friday, December 30, 2011

just pics

 Our warriors...  
(don't miss the mesh drawstring bag tied around Isaiah's head)

And here's our winter scenery... 
See that bright yellow crane one block back?

We had lots of fun, wonderful friends with us around Christmas and the weeks leading up to it.

We got one of these test-your-IQ puzzles for Christmas...
... surely you're jealous.

Now, this is not what Christmas is really about, but a part of it still... The kids got all the stuff of dreams this year.  Isaiah made out like a lego bandit (and he knows the legos are for sharing with all the kids).  Thank you cool family and sweet "Auntie" Dawn!  Marian's dollhouse is fully furnished and populated now, thanks to our lavish family.

Our big two kids got roller blades from us.  And this little guy- who had all awesome owl gifts otherwise-  also got his first bike from his mom and dad.  

This little girl has her own beautiful growth chart and a beautiful blanket and sleep toy now... as well as two dresses that match with her big sister.  
Oh this little beauty.... she is really enjoying her baths these days, loving to stand up by furniture, and playing at copying a few syllables (ma and da being the most important... ok, the only ones so far).

More views from our window... Can you guess that we didn't move here for the winter landscape?
 I'll admit I get frustrated that although this country is so respected for it's high standards for education, 
dozens of people we pass on the street still burn piles of all sorts of trash- including plastics.  
The hard part is that so many people have no other warmth.  But seeing them inhale toxic fumes 
to add a bit of warmth doesn't really brighten the scene.  
Heartache... on many levels.  (oh, and head ache too!)

The big three had a fun Christmas performance at school.  May's song (above) was super cute and I'm really hoping that a video will upload for you to see a bit more... stay tuned...

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Merry Christmas! {2011}

Wishing you all the Merriest Christmas and a Joyful 2012!  

May the masterful, eternal significance of life weigh on each of us in this time of celebration... 
to draw us into wonder and marveling at the God who made us and loves us so greatly...
so greatly that he would send his Son into our polluted world to rescue us
and give us Hope and Forever Life with Him.  

We hope and pray that the new year will be a time of growing deeper and stronger in knowing 
His promises and sovereignty and love.

We love you too, dear friends, 
and we're so grateful for your love for us!

Matt & Jill, Isaiah (almost 6), Marian (4.5), John (2.5) and Vivi (9 mo)

(for the sillier shots from our Christmas photo shoot, scroll down a few posts)

Photo by Jake Bell, July 2011

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

her first Christmas

The standard portrait was too tricky for me to capture singlehandedly.... 
but who would want a standard pose over this...?

For some reason I just love this little glimpse of her nearly chubby legs...

Merry Christmas Vivian Hope.  We are delighted to have you completing our family this year.
What a joy of a gift you are to each of us!  We praise the Lord for you darling. 

Monday, December 19, 2011

2011 Blog Reader Awards

I have to take this opportunity at the end of the year to thank you friends that read the ramblings here, that email or pray for us.  Thank you.  I’m guessing that many of you have fantastic small groups or churches to attend on Sunday morning where you can connect with a great group of people who you love and who care about you.   Well... in a really important and very long-distance, high-tech sort of way , you are that group to us.   
Thank you for letting us hear from you.  Thank you for your feedback on these posts.  Thank you for the tips and treasures you share with us (sermons, posts, books, music...).  Thanks for emailing us your family photos.  It might sound like there are dozens in this precious group, but actually you are an elite few (with others of course welcome to join in!) Thank you friends!
And in the spirit of giving awards, there’s one more to give.  To the Kind Lady in McDonald’s.  Thank you for caring for our kids.  
Last night we took our kids to McDonald’s (we actually do value nutrition, but...).  It was a night to honor our beginning readers with an ice cream sundae.  Both our big kids have read 5 early readers now.  We are so delighted and proud!
I can’t even think of the last time that we’ve been out of our house when a stranger has said anything to our kids except “Oh look, foreigners.  Look at their white skin, blue eyes, yellow hair...”  (I’m sure I sound extreme, but I promise it’s true.  It’s as if folks here have all received the same 4 page script of things to say to foreigners and questions to ask, like: Where are you from? Do you know you can only have one child in China?  Aren’t you tired to death having four little kids?  Have you bought your apartment or do you rent? How much money do you make?...  It’s the same script everywhere we go and it’s not bad.  We are the fish trying to swim on this land... the oddball foreigners in this heritage-rich, full of wisdom and beauty culture that we still do. not. fit. in.)   
So...  to sit down across from one other American family and have that mom speak individually to each of our readers and tell them she thought they must be really smart and tell them good job for working so hard.... it just about makes this mama’s heart break with joy.  Thank you, Shelly.  Thank you, Lord. 
Thank you, Lord, for all these friends...

Sunday, December 18, 2011

This is Why...

When the first strum comes in on this song, my attention is drawn.... 
and then these lyrics.  This is the very word, the bread, my soul needs to live:     

"I am tangled up in contradiction
I am strangled by my own two hands
I am haunted by the hounds of addiction
Hosanna, Hosanna"

This is the song, the word for why I am a Christian. 

Matt and I have deeply delighted in this song, Hosanna, and this whole album Resurrection Letters Volume II from the greatly enjoyed Andrew Peterson.    If you're looking for a gift to give, I can't think of a better one....

Plenty of friends have told me, tried to encourage me, that I don't need to focus so much on my sin.  I don't need to worry about it. I'm really not so bad.... just look at how good I want to be.  That's good!

But that doesn't save me.  My sin is a reality.  I know it.  My kids know it.  My husband and the neighbors I pass by when I'm late.  And it's not ok.  It doesn't just evaporate.  God is holy and this is not.  I am not.  

But.... Salvation!  It is coming and not from within me.  Salvation that is flawless, changeless (how often am I at all like that?) is sure and promised and living and true.  Salvation has come!  (Merry Christmas!)

Since Hosanna isn't Enlish... it's worth sharing what the word is about:

It used to be what you would say when you fell off the diving board.. like when somebody pushes you off the diving board before you can swim and you come up hollering: "Help, save me . . . Hoshiya na!"
But it came to be what you would say when you see the lifeguard coming to save you! It is the bubbling over of a heart that sees hope and joy and salvation on the way and can't keep it in.
So "Hosanna!" means, "Hooray for salvation! It's coming! It's here! Salvation! Salvation!"
A few more lyrics for you:
"You have crushed beneath your heel the black serpent
You have carried to the grave the black stain
You have torn apart the temple's holy curtain
You have beaten death and death's own game
Hail the long awaited King come to set his people free!
Won't you tear the temple down, lift it up on holy ground!?
I will lift my voice and sing you have come and washed me clean!

Hail the long awaited King.... born in a manger.
He has come!  He will come again!  
May this be the glad anthem of all our days...

Friday, December 16, 2011

the out-takes

 Oh friends, we tried so hard to get that one shot of this whole crew. You know, the one sparkling pic to be framed forever?  We came close a few times... like the pic above.  The shots below were.... well, not so close.... but they still seem worth sharing :)

Matt is gone all day (before breakfast til after bedtime) with business classes on Thursdays and since he's usually the energy for the kiddo-fun in the late evening, the kids and I watched a dinosaurs documentary without him this week.  This is our dinosaur pose... notice the gentle herbivore and the ferocious carnivore...
Just the regular... Matt hitting himself on the head with a pillow to make the kids laugh for photos.  Most the pics of the real laughing are too blurry to notice any faces...  these are just little laughs here but you can still tell that this daddy is the best man in our whole world, right?

I would have loved to be able to get a photo shoot outside, but our heavy, dirty coats are just not at all as cute as these sweet dresses that Grandma and Grandpa sent.  Marian was *thrilled* to get to match with Vivi..... and Vivi?  She was mostly just thrilled with that teether.

This is their sleepy pose....

A Christmas Rearranged

A bit of history....  I wrote this post last year but since it wasn't finished till after Christmas here it is now.

This has definitely been the best of our M & J family Christmas's yet....  Several great
influences collided for us and led us to some sweet tweaks to our family traditions.  

Too often I have argued that "Jesus is the Reason for the Season" but sometimes I wonder if that is perhaps more self-defense that "I really am a Christian".... while I'm celebrating this fantastic Christian holiday exactly like the Christ-less world does, except for perhaps one or two additions.  Who is to blame then, for forgetting the reason for all this?  Has Jesus really been the consistent focus- start to finish- for this whole season of celebration or have we postured ourselves, our budget, our time around countless, unneeded, over-the-top gifts?  

Why do we do this to ourselves?

"When All the Gifts are for Him", posted at Christmas Change, rung in me like a clarion.  It  seemed like a no-brainer to read. Yes, Yes!  Of course we should be celebrating, feasting for, rejoicing in, and worshipping, serving our King who has come!  

And so, our rearrangement....  Lord order this celebration in our lives truly for Your Glory!

~  We have enjoyed a wonderful Advent season together, anticipating the birth of our Savior.  Candlelight nightly after dinner, a story from the Word and the picture hung on our Jesse Tree.  Then often this ends with worship tunes enjoyed together, maybe some dancing, maybe (probably) cookies.  This is without doubt the sweetest, most glorious time of the year.

~ At Matt's leading, we've held off on certain Christmas carols.  In this season of advent, we're building anticipation and anticipation is a gift in itself to be increasingly built and enjoyed until the revealing.  

~  For Christmas Eve we dressed the table and ate all in candlelight (amazing how candlelight seems to invite and encourage the best attention from our kids)....  We remembered Peter the High King of Narnia, as he rode to battle, raising his sword and shouting "For Narnia.... and for Aslan!"  The kids and I raised our glasses of grape juice and sprite and we all toasted "To King Jesus!  and His Glory!"  (It's really sweet to see how Narnia has enlivened my vision for feasting to our King's glory.)  Much joy all around.

~ After dinner we put up sandals on our Jesse Tree... heading to Bethlehem now... and we talked again about who we are celebrating this Christmas.  God's gift to us: Jesus!  I t's His birthday not ours!  But it would be just like him to give gifts to us on his birthday. And just like God gave us His Son to be our Savior, a gift too great for words, a gift we have never deserved, we can give a few small gifts to each other to celebrate his goodness too.   A few presents, just a small piece of the party.  And the night should end in glad thanksgiving.

~ Gifts~  It does seem to fit, and it is just like our King, with all his lavishness, that we could receive gifts at his birthday.   Since we hold off buying much at all throughout the year, the gifts given now can be really needed/useful things and not just junk for cluttering.   We buy the kids each one nice gift and maybe a little thing too.  (The grandparents and family....  they're not so into the "few gifts" bit...  We just might have to space out these gifts a little bit...  but hopefully our kids are still catching the point that serving and worshipping Jesus is the peak joy in this celebration.)

~ Christmas morn we woke to the glad proclamation: "Joy to the World!"  Now the celebration has come.  It is as complete now as it will be till he comes again and there is such shaping anticipation in our hearts for that future celebration!  We had the most special breakfast we could muster- French Toast with Cranberries and Huang Di Gar (like oranges, but better) and we're spending time in worship, and joyful play and rest together now.  Really, when this is His day, what should it be about other than worshipping Him, serving others (whatever you do for the least of these you do for me), and celebrating Him, honoring Him together?  This year plans fell through for a few service ideas we had, but we'll carol His joy to some neighbors here and give them fruit baskets.  A day of worship and celebration and joy in Jesus more than I think I have been mindful of much before...  

~ Serving ~ We really want this day to be about us connecting with others.  It seems like it can be entirely unAmerican (and we can confuse this with being un-Christian) to think of spending Christmas day with anyone but family.  But really....  haven't we been called to give?  Isn't his grace towards us so lavish and full that we should be overflowing into the lives of those who need to know, need his love, need his care?  I hope that serving others will mark our family life together and especially, that it would mark our Christmas celebrations together.  

Many prayers have gone up for our family to know and deeply realize the cause of all this celebration.  Oh may this day rightly change us!  May we rightly honor Him!  What a gift we have received at Christmas that our Savior would come to us, for us.  Praise be!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Sunday Afternoon

 He almost caught it!

I love (a thousand times love...) family time.  Love being together for something new or fun or maybe something ordinary (the same book we've read 99 times already now).  An indescribable joy that's tied up in my joy is that our kids love "family time" too.... It hits them, most especially Marian, like the best news she can dream of when we tell them that it's family time to cuddle and read or head out to a park together.  (Isaiah is pretty glad for alone time to draw or play legos and John is super glad for cuddle time with Mama...  But each one of us enjoy time when it's just us, together, for something special.)    Oh I love this crew so much!  And too, such a joy, such grace that we've all been healthy this week.  Thank you Lord!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Astounding Grace

A magnificent poem for the Christmas season....     

Astounding grace, that God the Son 
should choose to leave his Father’s glory 
and refuse to clutch his dignity
exploit his right
make himself a no one in our sight
The word made flesh
the Son of God
the timeless God clothed in a mortal span
now born a baby in a cattle shed
transcendent God who suffered and bled
Astounding grace that Christ should suffer death 
and know first-hand
the grave’s cold clammy breath 
that he the Prince of Life, creation’s Lord
should take the curse which we could not afford
He died our death, buried all our sin
He tore the veil, we boldly enter in
He saw our bitter hates, our dreadful lust
He bore our guilt and then declared us just
Astounding grace that I who could not hear God’s warning judgements 
now should come to fear impending death 
the certainty of hell 
yet find in Christ my fears completely quelled
Once I was blind 
in shoreless wastes I drowned
but now I see the lost sheep has been found 
my guilts forgiven I gaze upon his face 
exalting Christ 
and His astounding grace

D.A. Carson read this poem at the end of his excellent sermon “Sin and the Fall”   on Genesis 3.  I wish I had proper punctuation down for this poem but I just recorded it as I listened to his recorded sermon....  thank you for grammar grace.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

little moments

Just can't let these sweet moments be forgotten...

Marian was practicing some reading at the table earlier this week and she came across the word "HE" which she's seen before, but today she stumbled over it.... Was it "he"  (rhymed with 'me' or rhymed with 'the')?  This simple question turned into a wild rumpus for a little donkey with an accent..... and she must have been part hyena too because she could not stop laughing at the he-heh bit for ten minutes or so.    Silly Goofy Queen this girl!

Matt made pizza for us this week (Uyghur flat bread for crust, homemade tomato sauce with the whole garden blended up so no one can protest and cheddar on top, but at least it was white cheddar).  After the first two were almost done, Matt wanted to put the next two pizzas on the table, but someone needed to take the last piece.  Marian gobbled it up and John promptly scolded her for it.   Finger pointed firmly across the table, "No take pizza all done!"  And then it happened again and Marian did it just to show her brother she could.  This time he erupted!  I could see his little caring-for-others heart breaking.  "Marian take pizza all gone Again!  No Marian!  No!"  I don't think I've ever seen him so angry at her before.  And I cannot help but laugh every time I think of it!

Rapunzel Baby is a crawler!  We could not delight any bit more in this little treasure girl.   And she is little.... our littlest to be sure.  We've never had a baby that wasn't chubby and although she's still got that little baby squishiness to her, she's just not a chunker, especially like her big brothers were.

Baseball....  Matt is dreaming of a bilingual baseball league here one day.... (maybe not too far off in the future!?)

A round of hide and seek...

And one last one...  I just can't forget this regular potty moment either:
As we flush together (our lever is pretty tough to press down),  John's sweet voice:   "Bye Bye poo-poo...  bye bye my poo-poo... bye bye two poo-poos."

upper bunk art gallery

I had a large pile of artwork that I was saving for January... when we finally get to organize/ decorate (just a bit!) the "school room."  I've put up several pictures he's drawn, but I've been excited to see much more Isaiah's art on the walls then.....  but really, why wait!?   Isaiah jumped in and pasted up a few of his favorites on the walls over his bed this week.  

I'm so glad he did....  I sure love this boy and I love his art!  This one on the left is the machine that Clint Lockwood (Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs guy, thanks Auntie Amy!) built that turns the weather (see the water being poured in the top?) into food (ie. the hamburger at the bottom.)  The green guy on the right is Wall-E, of course.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

raising banners

For Thanksgiving this year we wanted to lift our eyes and hearts to remember the goodness of God to give us His good gifts (our lives are so full of His grace!).  It seemed sweet that we could be surrounded with thanks,  enclosed within gratefulness at each meal, our dining table encircled with banners of thanks.    We actually didn't get ourselves completely surrounded this year.... but next year we'll be on the job a bit earlier and we'll get it done and then some.... I hope!

What a joy to celebrate such a Giver as our God!  
And how good it is for us to lift our eyes and hearts, our voices and our pens to Him in THANKS!

The kids all loved the banner that Matt made for each one of them... all truly goofy and fun and complete with their names in the three languages we love
Our big girl bannered her thanks for her little sis....  and what'a letter or two out of place?
We all know that VIIV means Vivi, right!?  
And the banner next to it?.... That I could be his.... what lavish wonder!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Mother Prayers

"The Bible isn't mainly a book of's a Story" (we love The Jesus Storybook Bible)... and it's an Incredible one at that.  But it does have a lot of rules, and they're good for us, and its tough to hold both sides of this coin in view at the same time.   The  Rules ("Law") and the Rescue ("Gospel").  We can't pitch the rules to receive the rescue.   So what 'ya do?

The glory of following Christ is not that we no longer have rules to follow, but that we aren't saved by following them.  We're saved by following Him (trusting in his death for our sins, his life for ours) and in His light, we learn to see the beauty of His way of life.  So all this about love, and all these goals for my own walk with Him and for gentle mothering, this I strive after with all his grace which so powerfully works in me.... but at the end of the day, my joy is that I'm forgiven, not that I've ever reached any goal at all.  Ahh, the glory!!  He loves!  He forgives!  Me!... the chief of sinners.

Maybe this seems a little detail heavy to point out, but I'm writing this post about prayers, ideals, goals for motherhood and I don't want anyone to think either  a) that we could ever earn salvation by being just so good or b) that I have the least little bit arrived at any of these goals.  The reason I'm writng this at all is because I am *desperate* for the Lord's grace in these very areas....  So, although I haven't and really won't ever "arrive" I just can't pitch these prayers, these goals.  I am straining towards this nevertheless, with all of God's power working within me...

My Mother Prayers.  These words, bullet prayers, to help me remember His grace ways with me and how I long to love them too...

EMBRACE:  Compassion before Consequences

ABSORB:  instead of rubbing their noses in the list of all the work I do for them, just do it.  And for the times when 3 busy mouths are burning with bickering and complaining and requests all at once, "I am a Raquetball Court."  Absorb the shock.  Don't fire it right back!  (This from Rachel Jankovic's masterpiece, 55 star book "Loving the Little Years."  I'll write more about this soon... I hope!)

WAIT:   not tolerating disobedience, but respecting comprehension & transition time as they move towards obeying... and also, accepting their childish slowness

WORDS / SPEAK:  that my words, my voice, my face would show the love and acceptance and tender graciousness of Christ

ACCEPT:  Like the "teacup theology" that Linda Dillow wrote about in Calm My Anxious Heart...  Lord make me receptive to whatever you knowingly, carefully, sovereignly pour into my life today.

The WORD:  Pray it for them and with them.  Hide it in our hearts and sing it loud on our lips.  Submit to it so that it convicts, challenges, shapes, sharpens and empowers me.

LIGHTHEARTED (LH):  the picture in my mind is of that Prov 31 gal... open hands to the Lord, lifted eyes smiling, fearless trust, her laughing at the days to come.

ONE (ALONE):  This post from Sally Clarkson blessed me and excites me so much about getting one on one time with the kids.... that I can journey through the next 20ish years being this kind of mom to these precious kids growing up in our home?  Grace!  Wild, Wonderful Grace!

MARVEL:  at His Word, His creation, His character, and evidences of His image and love among us.  Go slow enough to notice beauty, to savor moments, to apprehend His majesty with us always in silence, storm or silliness...

DELIGHT:  Laugh!  with them.... and ok, at them sometimes too...

SERVE:  I am so grateful for this talk, this woman who shared the motto she found, "to serve with joy."  And doesn't all our training, caring for, disciplining come down to serving these little ones?

PREPARE:  Never Rush.  As Ann Voskamp says, "only amateurs hurry."  Aim to be ready 10 minutes early so as not to press the clock down on them.

GENTLE:  may there be a tenderness, a softness in me even if it comes across as weakness, unconfidence, to the world.  I can be gentle because I'm leaning into an all-powerful, competent Father to care for all of us. He promises to provide and assures that nothing can snatch us from Him.  Rest secure in Him, the True Gentle Shepherd.

Last year 1 Peter was my book for cross-sultural work.  This year James is my book for motherhood.  James 3:18  "A harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace."  Lord, by your great grace, please make this harvest and this sowing and this peace true in us, in my mothering, for your glory in their lives and in our home.

Monday, November 21, 2011

on brokenness and gentleness

In the midst of all our laughter, bickering, lego building, singing, bike riding... crazy lives, we never go long without Matt mentioning this:  that none of the parenting books and nobody's wise words ever prepared us for the lunacy we would regularly encounter with our kiddos.  Like all parents, we don't just see their lunacy and get to pass by like observers.  Nope, this is the stuff we're responsible for fixing, soothing, giving thanks for, rescuing from, forgiving, cleaning up, and not peeing our pants over....

This parenthood, it's worlds tougher than I ever recognized... even just after my mother journey began.  It's darn hard.

And sometimes there's funny stories and there's lots of cute stuff- and often all six of us are in stitches at once- but there are other times of heartache, failure, ex-huast-ion and general wretchedness that I can only cry over and lament aloud before God.

This past week has had more than it's share of that ugly stuff and it makes me endlessly grateful again for the story of Jesus, for the Truth about Him that makes me His:  that I belong to Him not because I ever have or ever could earn a single star on His chart but because He is a wildly, lavishly loving Savior.... He paid the price, the death price for my sin, and He gave me life with Him.  I live with this Sure Living Hope....   hope that remains even when clouded over on gray days.

They say "Don't cry over spilled milk," and I think it's intended for kids, but there are times when I've cried over it too.

Like last week....  I cried over spills when I was just too tired to clean another thing.  But the real low point was a certain moment involving throw up.  It wasn't Wednesday night when we had guests with us for dinner, (I had spent most of the previous two days flat in bed whole body fevered and aching from a nursing infection,) when after dinner I tossed up the only meal I'd eaten in two days into the basin beside me while I nursed our sweet little girl on our bed.  It wasn't the throw up that spurted randomly every half hour or so from our little guy a few days before that.  It was the one time our big guy threw up:  in the bathroom, sweet legs pressed against the toilet and face turned so that his bucketful of gross sloshed across the whole bathroom floor.

I broke.  It was a sorrowful moment for a mom.  I've never felt so wasted tired from motherhood, physically and emotionally (not anger but sorrow enough for a year of all this little stuff).  Never have I wanted my mom's help, her comfort and care more.  I ached and I broke.  And I still feel broken.

And broken isn't all bad.  It's really true, there's beauty in brokenness.  I can see that even from the place I am now, a little bit trembly still.  (Honest.)  I came across a reminder of gentleness and it made me smile and I lingered with that thought for a while.  Yea.....  Lord please make me a gentle mama.

It reminds me of our chat about one local friend recently.  How she seems so timid (maybe it's cultural misunderstanding, misconnects between us?).  And Matt's comment, "I wonder if when we meet Jesus, we won't see that her character is more His style than the Go Get 'Em Boldness we tend to admire?"  Maybe she's more gentle than timid?  Maybe it's not bad?

Gentle feels like God's perspective on my broken feeling.   Just last night I curled up on my knees and Matt prayed with me, for me, that I would dwell richly in gentleness, the gentleness of Christ, as a mom.  And just this morning he told he could see some newness there....  "It's a lot easier when I feel so broken and all I have strength for is pretty much a whisper."

I know I'm going to get my voice back and more strength back and get ambition-high and giddy over checking things of my daily list again.  But then too, I pray that the Lord will lead me in his gentleness, like I am enjoying this aspect of Him in this tender way, in this broken time now.

(I had planned on sharing a few more of our silly moments but....  I think I'll just wrap this one up for now and try to post again soon.)

Saturday, November 19, 2011


 There's my fantastic beginner reader, awesome artist big boy.  If only he wouldn't dodge the camera so much these days he'd show up here so much more often and make this mama so glad.....  

Here's our pretty little sitter.  How is it she's so big already!?  She's not up on her knees to high yet for a regular crawl but she can slither much faster than I would ever want to see a snake go!  
 Can you spot the slit on her bottom right gum where her first tooth peaked through on the eve of her 8 month mark this past week?