Saturday, March 23, 2013

just for cute

So... do I sound like a real North Dakotan saying that?  Or maybe the title should have been "ohh for cute".  Anyways, this post's for you, dear North Dakotan Grands and Greats.  Wish you could have played peakaboo behind the curtains with us this morning!

Friday, March 22, 2013

VHTL turns two

Vivi Heavens Treasure Love turned two this week.  I don't know why I call her that but I have to call her something and in the effort to try to put into words the crazy many aspects of beauty and joy and delightfulness in this sweet gift we've been given, this is the name that's stuck for her over-the-top verbal mama.  Or sometimes she's just Treasure of Vivi Love.  Regardless of the term of endearment, she. is. dear.  We are profoundly grateful to the Lord to have her a part of our family!

And... we're grateful for packages in the mail and grandparents who spoil our kids to the moon!

I made another tasty, shabby-looking cake... this time chocolate strawberry... but I didn't get any good pics of it since we were at dear friends' house for the evening and I didn't have my camera.   Her party was mostly just cake and lots of good cheer...

These big girls in our building have been coming by our place to play more often lately and Vivi just loves them.  It's so sweet that Chinese doesn't close her down anymore...  she tunes in and is making sense of the words that's she's hearing and she's even beginning to speak more and more at preschool.  Often, from our bike, she'll yell out to people that we pass on the street "Ni hao, shushu" (hi uncle- which is how she should address an older man) or "xie xie ayi" (thank you auntie) if someone holds open a gate for us to ride through.

We praise the Lord for this girl...
and we're super grateful for the Texans that we're blessed to have nearby too... 

... Boots!

Happy Birthday Isaiah

Our big guy turned SEVEN this past weekend.  I can't believe *he's*so*big*. 
Pollution was gross (it's clearing up now though, Praise the Lord!) so our park outing with two cool buddies turned into an adventure at an indoor play place.  What a treat for our kiddos!

Isaiah sends his humongo thanks to you Grandma and Grandpa for this gift..... just what he was hoping for!

(sometimes a mom has to be very sneaky to get pictures of a camera dodger, and thankfully, only sometimes is he one!)
This was earlier in the morning... making the birthday cupcakes together.
 (side note:  I really should learn some cake decorating tips and maybe even get some basic tools so as not to embarrass my kids with cakes in the future!  But for now, at least, I'm so glad he was still thrilled with our very amateur baseball cupcakes.)

And this is some of the fun from our gift to Isaiah... a knight suit for him and for a friend (to battle!).  Every little boy birthday this fall in the states got one of these from us...  so grateful to have found them on super sale!

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

A New Guard at the Door

Years ago I wrote a post about setting guards "at my mouth, to keep watch at the door of my lips." (Psalm 141:3)   Those two, guarding my face and my voice, have helped me lots, but I still need all the more help I can get.  So I'm so glad that those two guards have made a new friend to stand watch with them at that weak and vulnerable place in me.  Introducing "Closely."  

This has been such a gift to bring into our home!  I'm trying to speak to our kids only while I am near to them.  It means I have to move around often, move to them, lower myself to see into their eyes. And sometimes it means asking for them to come near me.   Usually there's enough time for this movement to give me a chance to breathe deep and pray quick and then looking into their eyes, I melt with love for them again.  Being close, I can communicate to them once again, ever so clearly, that " what Mama is asking of you, I'm asking/ telling because I love you..."  Being close them, I can end each request or instruction or correction that I give them with a lovey snuggle or a pat on the head or a wink and a kiss or a tickle.

I've also asked our kids to speak closely with each other and with me too.  Someday I'll get it up on the fridge, that our family is to speak Kindly, Truthfully, and Closely.  I've told them, "instead of yelling a request down the hall to me, kiddos, please come to me if you have something to ask Mama.  If you can see that I'm talking with someone else or doing something else, you'll have to wait a minute.  As soon as you see my eyes and I say "Yes, love, what is it?..." then we're ready to talk and I'll be so glad to hear from you."

My own heart tension is so much lighter when we're working together like this.  It will take time for this to become the normal pattern of our home, our family, but it's worth working toward.  And I know it won't always work... there will be times when I have to holler out something to them, and I'll need them to listen then too.  But for the normal pattern of our communication to be face to face, eye to eye, this helps my heart so much!  And as Rachel Jankovic says so perfectly (in the superb Loving the Little Years) "It is no abstract thing, the state of my heart is the state of my home."

A few months ago I remember overhearing a quarrel across the house and yelling from the kitchen, where my hands were deep in dough, something about....  please stop, c'mon guys, let's be kind.... and I remember thinking, "When I speak like this, I'm totally training my kids to not pay attention to me, to the words that I say."   Oh God, help me not to do that!

Speaking closely as a default rule of communication has brought peace to my own heart, has helped me communicate more love and has helped my kids to pay better attention to me.   I am so grateful the Lord for such a guard to stand watch at my lips..... that instead of toxic complaints or nagging or background babble to be completely tuned out, my lips could more easily flow with true and life-giving words of grace and strength and thanks and praise.

Perhaps this guard has already been a constant in your home or perhaps this little introduction might encourage you to invite "Closely" over to your place too? If so, I hope it is a helpful guard at the door of your lips too, dear friends....

with much love,
to Christ's glory,


bold and beautiful words of challenge

I read this aloud to Matt in the kitchen last week, teary-eyed and overflowing with glad thanks...

This is John Jefferson Davis writing in Meditation and Communion with God...

“....The very practical point that should not be missed in this claim that the reality of heaven is now in some sense “accessible” to the church on earth is that the very transformative energy of the age to come (“the powers of this coming age[ Hebrews 6:5]) is already being made available to the church for it’s ministry and mission.  Alas, all too often the church today is being run on the natural energies of this age, rather than the supernatural energy loosed by the resurrection of Jesus and the descent of the Spirit!  If we have lost our heavenly imagination, we will be disinclined to access, by faith and prayer, the heavenly energy from above.  Which energy does your church run on? (p 75)"

Friday, March 15, 2013

pollution update

Friends here saw my post yesterday with a link to a 2 month old article and they decided I should know the facts.  Our air quality is worse (ahh.... much worse) than I thought.   Everyone here calls the nasty grey-hazy-brown-red-glowing days "dusty."  Sadly, there's a lot more junk than just empty farmland's top soil blowing around in the air.  Where James Fallows, author of the Atlantic post above, was moaning about 300 levels and 700 levels... our city had 1324 two days ago.

We prayed this morning together for the pollution to lift and for their to be fruit growing here despite all this filth, which would make it eternally worth it all.

Our friends who are more up on this stuff than I am, sent me these pics from their windows...  Before on top (you can see the three buildings are small, but that was probably just a few months ago) and then during recent smog last Saturday.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

phone photos

While we were in the states, my cell phone was cancelled for me.  I was on a pre-paid arrangement and since I used every last minute before I left they decided to give my number to somebody else....  So, I ended up with a new cell phone plan and the free phone that came with it...  and it's a smartie.  Me!  With a fancy phone!   Camera and all....

the first day of school for Vivi, this was my view as I peeked at the students...

Pineapple on a stick (use #497 for why we love chopsticks!).  A little celebration of the coming weekend.  

I was feeling thoroughly Chinese...  iPod humming (language lessons),  "The Cool Pose" (this is the pose so many Chinese friends want to do with our kids for photos on their phones), and standing in front of the impressive gate - sign of some place super spectacular.
And... it's been gray here lately.  Check this link for some perspective on the pollution.  The author shows a pic of nasty Beijing pollution in 2008 and tells you how much worse the pollution is measured at this year 2013.   Our city has not had pollution levels as high as Beijing this year.... but it's been pretty severe the past few days especially.    Yuck.   Wishful thinking.  I just heard news from a friend who pointed me to a monitroing site that tells the real story:  our pollution has been much worse.  See the next post for the update.  

A Gift Restructured: Prayer

I attended a “School of Prayer” for a sweet season of my life, while I was in grad school and working part-time.  The School of Prayer was a highlight, absolutely a privilege to attend.  It was really called the “School” but it was just this:  a weekly prayer meeting, just half hour before an evening worship service.  There was no sharing or discussion other than kind greetings between early comers.  And then there was prayer:  scriptural, powerful, intimate, united.  Unspeakable grace to have spent hours there...

Besides that time, I’ve been through some less .... something....  prayer times where I’ve felt like I’m checking chores off a list or waiting for Chemistry class to be done.  There certainly are prayer meetings that have earned the reputation, the stereotype "Boring." But it doesn't have to be like this!  

A precious group of friends in our city recently heard from a pastor about prayer and since then, our times in prayer with them have been restructured to something like this:
  • We gather to worship and to pray.  He is not our servant or simply our supplier.  He is God.  We start with worship because it’s right in every way.  This might mean a song but very often it means Scripture may be read aloud or praises just prayed aloud to extol our God.   (Consider the Lord’s Prayer, the Psalms, how most of the pastoral letters open with worshipful prayers.)
  • We seek our Father’s heart together.    His kingdom and His righteousness are our first aim.  (Matthew 6:33).  We don’t need to spell out all our issues and concerns to each other first (though we may also need another time to visit for that purpose.)  We pray aloud the things that are most concerning us, burdening our hearts.  Those who are listening and praying with us can then pray for us, for this need too.  
  • We pray united.   Since there’s no pressure for who has to pray next, we can listen fully and pray in agreement with others while they’re praying.   "Devoting ourselves to prayer", "with one accord".....  Acts 1:14.  
  • We pray for a time...  maybe 10 minutes, maybe hours.  We might read Scripture aloud at different interludes between prayers.  We might close with worship again- musical, scriptural, or words prayed aloud.  No checklists, chores or assignments... although there is labor, fervency, sweat and tears to be poured out.  Hebrews 13:12-14.  Oh for the exceeding joy of this:  Prayer!  
That’s it.  Pure Grace.  This is the stuff that marked the early disciples and martyrs as they gathered together, it marked the filling of the Holy Spirit in the lives of the disciples, it marked the expansion of the church! Intimacy with the Father, together with His children.   His Word pulsing, the lifeblood of the branches that wrap themselves tight to the Vine.  His Word directing and fueling our prayers for each other and for His kingdom and His glory.   

Let's not squish this most holy, privileged work and joy, our responsibility as disciples, into the last few minutes of our time together.  May we be a people who enter into prayer together, for each other and for the world!

Oh God, teach us to pray!!  Lead us in your joy, near to your heart, and bring your kingdom, Lord!

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

grounded and grateful

I've had two weeks on the ground now to think of how grateful we are to be home and to muse over words to communicate all our  crazy glad-gratefulness and all the still-feeling-foreign emotions.  Here's a little list to try to give you a picture....

You know you're home when:

*Two friends bring you a bouquet of flowers to say welcome home....  and several more friends left a fantastic sign and a PILE of fruit on our table for us.

* Your kids fight over getting to use chopsticks again.

*People. Stare. At. You.  (Culturally, staring is a fine thing to do!) And touch your kids' face and hair and clothes.  And talk about you like you don't understand a word they're saying.... and almost every one of their comments has the word "FOUR!!!" (Four kids in a one-child nation.  We are a circus of fruit juggling monkeys blue-eyed, blonde-haired kids.)

*There are Lots.of.Fireworks...  we made it back in time for the Lantern Festival, 15th day of the new (Chinese) year when the fireworks rival new years eve at midnight.  ahh... the sounds of living in a war zone!  Fireworks everywhere!!!

* Your kids bite their pillows and shrill with delight to Simply Be Home.... to be on their own beds again!  (most especially Isaiah)

* Your family dines in a restaurant with a structure like a tent but with vinyl instead of fabric walls....  the commercial-sized wok of rice and carrots and lamb steaming just out front.  One of very favorite meals!

*You can't get online like you used to....  We need a VPN (internet tunnel for secure connection) to access lots of non-Chinese sites (blogger, facebook, CNN, etc) and things aren't working so smooth on that front lately.

*You cry with thankfulness to see your fruit vendor friend again....  and hear about her young daughter that her in-laws are raising out of the city.

* Dozens of neighbors ask how your visit with family went and most importantly, how was your Chinese New Year?

* Your kitchen sink (& countertops) rise to just above mid-thigh (thus making dishes an exercise in posture/squatting-balance/humility).

* Toilet paper goes in the trash can and you don't drink the faucet water anymore.

* You find yourself brain-twisted from texting in three languages.

*  Everyday is weighted with the purpose of God.... our entire existence here is for naught without his grace.  We are compelled to pray much for His favor and help and guidance.

In other big news...  we've got one little bike-riding, studly, 3.5 year old.  The first day we went downstairs to play, Matt just thought it was time to give John a chance to ride with no training wheels.  We took off and I ran behind him, holding on to his seat, for about ten steps before he launched completely on his own.  He needed help the first two days to start peddling, but since the third day, he won't let me touch him on his bike.  He's solid and madly in love with riding.

ahhh...  we missed the helmet this time.  Honest, he does wear his helmet most the time!  (yikes!)

and one more pic just for fun!
Isn't she cute? ... little fashion model!   Sisi is one of Marian's closest friends here.  

Vivi's a Sparkler

on the way to school...  she really wasn't so upset as she looks here!
Still a sad look....  I just want you to see her "pack pack" that she's so committed to carrying herself.  
there's our silly love.... just before we headed out 
Our precious little love, Vivian Hope, started at the same preschool as her big siblings last week.  She’ll be two in a few weeks and it’s certainly early for her to start in morning preschool but we see it as such a gift from God to have this excellent school nearby.  Our kids are learning from precious Chinese believers, playing with a great group of friends, being nourished (lunch) with local tastes, and speaking Chinese all morning long.  Such a gift!

She's in the Dian Dian Ban, loose translation:  "sparkle class."  (Marian is in the sun class,  no K for the moon class this year, and John is in the star class.)  Sadly, the Saturday before she started school she got knocked into the corner of a low table that was perfectly her eye-level.  Our little beauty had a black-eye!!  She was much braver about it than I was.... I'm so grateful she's healing up well and never really seemed bothered by it.  
The first week, Vivi needed a lot of reassurance at school.... and she got it.  Marian has held Vivi often throughout the day, I’ve been told.  But now, into the second week, Vivi has warmed up more to her teachers... letting them hold her when her class takes walks outside.  

Since I did such a poor job getting shots of her first day, here are a few more of our girl playing at the playground in our complex.  

As for me...  I’ve been spending the mornings interviewing a few ladies to see about being a tutor in our home (Isaiah’s Chinese teacher for our homeschool time) and I’ve been searching for a language tutor to continue teaching me the minority language I’m studying.  (All my girlfriends from before have gone back to their hometowns or have graduated!)  It’s been a good time on the home-front preparing all this.... but I am eager to be studying again!!