Thursday, April 25, 2013

a revolutionary gift

This whole story is a wonder to me.  It's a dozen miracles all lined up and linked together.  

Pure, lavish, wonderful gift.

Nearly three years ago when we started dreaming of maybe one day owning a car in China, I thought it would simply make our lives a thousand times easier.  I'm seeing now that it's also streamlining our time and our energy and equipping us to be able to serve in more places, more people, all for the King.  And of course we are personally so helped and blessed by it too.  

We just couldn't be more grateful to the Lord and to his people.  

As soon as we knew we were finally, fully able to buy a used car for our family, we searched online for the model that our friends had already researched for us.  Handy, having a smart friend with one more kid than we do, who did all the research for the best quality, cheapest, safest minivan available.  But when we pulled up the long list of used models available in our humongous city.... well, it wasn't long.  For several days there was just this one car...

And we weren't sure it would be the best one for us... honestly, it wasn't our favorite color.  Silly, huh?  But Matt went to look at it and came home with the report:  it only had 4,000 miles but it had been driven hard, was scuffed up inside and out and it's been smoked in.... but how deep can smoke sink in just 4,000 miles?

Well, it's ours now, all by the grace of God, and it has scrubbed clean and it's been a fun family project to tackle together and air it out and sing loud in it for good measure too.  It's a stick shift (that on top of really getting chinese traffic norms has been a hurdle for me.  Matt's leading the way fearlessly, wonderfully.)   Our friends who first researched this model told me that they call it a "microvan" to more accurately communicate the size and strength....  And this is our car.  We're enjoying this gift so much!   What a GIFT!  Crazy how much a burden it lifts to simply be able to get to friends homes and to the grocery store !!! without sweating over how we'd go or get things home.  And we'll be looking for opporutnities to volunteer at an orphanage and will hopefully get out to some parks and mountains soon too.....  What a thrill to have this all possible for us now!   

 The Father provided a great car at a great price for us... we came out just a hair under budget!  When Matt showed our van to a local friend, he was very surprised to see how nice it was. Our buddy knew how much we paid for it and he expected that we'd gotten less of a good car.  I like that.  That's our kind of car :) ... and oh, have I said this yet?  We couldn't be more glad or grateful!

Thanks for your joy with us for a silly, huge, wonderful gift like this...   

And we are wide open to take your suggestions for names for our little van.  It's got to be a good one.  What do you think?

a little look...

Friends... we got a car.  I'm teary-eyed with thankful wonder and amazement for how the Lord has provided for us this tremendous gift.  The friends who helped....  I'm just in awe.  And I'm thankful.

The whole story will be posted soon... but here's just a few pics of an outing we took!  The botanical gardens right here in our town....  filled with spring color, life, beauty!

Because we live in Enchanted City...

I'm hoping to get something up in the next few days to rave about my love for the book we're reading aloud at home right now:  Kingdom Tales, by David and Karen Mains.  I hope you can read about Kingdom Tales to understand the backdrop of Enchanted City.... and then enjoy these *excellent* posts about raising our kiddos to fight for truth that's unseeable and beyond our dreams and inspiring them on the whole, to lives of courage and creativity and valor.

Breaking A Dark Enchantment

Top Ten Ways to Ruin Your Child's Imagination

Oh how I long to raise children of fierce passion and loyalty to the Truth and to the Kingdom unseen.  I'd love to hear your thoughts and prayers and plans towards that end too, dear friends...

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Cousins Coming!

New Years Eve brought the best news we could have hoped for that night....   Amy and Andrew Brown, filled with life!  And we found out yesterday that little baby Brown is a GIRL!  Welcome princess.....  we can't wait to meet you!

Then Valentines day, the perfect cheer for our dreaded drive to the airport (literally, we stopped to pick up mail on the drive there), we got the announcement.... another Grether cousin on the way too!  And to know soon boy or girl for this one too.....  we are so eager to hear!  Sept couldn't be looking better!

And so fun...  slipped in between these two, cousin Sarah is expecting her first too!  Amy and Sarah's birthdays are just weeks apart and anniversaries are just months apart and now their first babies will be just days...  what a joy!

We are overjoyed for all of you!  We are praying that as you, Amy and Heather and Sarah, carry these lives- distinct from you and yet within you- that you will be held by Christ's peace and deepened in trusting the God who knows every beat and every breath of your life and your baby's.  Even now you are making hard choices and bearing the burden of guarding and providing for these lives within you.  And as you do to the least of these, you are doing unto Him.

Andrew and Greg and Garret, as you love your wives through these weeks of knitting-life, and needing-backrubs,  of nausea, dreams and fears, prayers and preparation, appointments and announcements, may you be led by the One who knit you, who first loved you, who knows you, and who you need ever so desperately for wisdom, peace, strength, perspective.

Caring for this child is not about you, dear beautiful parents.  It's about the child and it's about you honoring God as you love and serve the little life he's given you.  If parenthood works out anything for you like it has for us, it won't always make you look good and you won't always feel like you chose the smartest plans for sleeps and eats and teaching or products of any kind, but you'll get to be humbled by love, humbled to love, and could there be any sweeter gift than his, Living Love?   Even with failure as constant as ours, the privilege is all ours to receive forgiveness and his grace and aim again for more love, more love.  Parenthood is (at least it should be) a journey in laying our lives down for others, for the helpless.  May He give you joy and peace as you become less (less limber, less strong, less rested, less able to figure it all out) and may He become much more central, more the strength of your lives and your marriages and your home, as you do together your part to guard and bless and serve these little living ones!

Oh, we couldn't be happier for you right now!

Babies, we can't wait till we'll get to snuggle and cuddle you and hopefully hear some first words from you as you might just be beginning then...  We are praying, waiting eagerly for your arrivals!

With joyful love and gratefulness for your precious lives,
Uncle Matt, Auntie Jill and cousins Isaiah, Marian, John and Vivian

Friday, April 5, 2013

Character {Heart and Home}

"May my character, not my circumstances, chiefly engage me."  
from the Valley of Vision, book of prayers

When we returned to China after 5 months in America, I was so relieved to be in our own place again.  We had stayed in 20ish places, usually with our gracious hosts, and almost always with a dozen (or a hundred) rules for the kids to follow about what they can and can't touch/ do/ play with...  Being in our own home again was like liberation for all of us.   We try to keep our place neat (and the kids are learning to be so much more mindful and helpful towards that end- so nice!)  but it is a busy, lived-in home.  

I often need this application of the prayer above:  "May the character of my heart, more than the character of my home, chiefly concern and engage me."  How many times do I get crispy-ugly-yucko with our kids while I'm aiming to get our home to some allusive state of near-perfection?  Lord, help me to lay it down.  

And Lord help me believe the truth that happiness does not come from having a clean home, but only from You.  May I not lay my own heart under the Enchanter's lie that I cannot be happy or have peace unless we are as tidy as can be.  Even when guests are coming.  Yes, even then.  

We really can live in a home that looks lived in.  We can live amidst a little mess.  It doesn't need to stress me out or bring me to the point of breaking down.   I can be broken instead, broken open with joy by serving people, meeting with my kids and bending low to look and love them in the eyes, and even to meet with guests in the midst of just a little organically growing, real, messy homelife.  

Now there is the true point to be made, that when I get dressed for the day, I accomplish worlds more in just a morning than I could make a pajamaed version of me get done in 24 hours.  Matt has seen it to, how dressing for business (which is much easier here than in America) hones his attention and somehow increases his efficientcy.  And I cannot afford to loose that in my home either.  But these prayers and this subtle ever-growing change in me means two things

First, I’ve got to adjust my standards for what I can feel effective in.  If I must have an absolutely spotless home in order to feel like I can get a good thing done in the day, well then, I’ll be spending vain hours cleaning and tidying and retidying my home.  And I'll be doing the exact same thing the next day too (we've got 4 kiddos on the loose here.)  Or if I can offer up a bit of lived in stuff strewn about my house to the Lord and find his blessing for it, his peace... even him in the midst of it... then I can move on to accomplish more, right there in our scatteryness. 

And I’ve also got to set my mind to doing the needed, most strategic amount of house work regularly so that I am helped to maximize my efforts and increase efficientcy every day for his glory.  

What joy it is to run a home, to serve and bless a family, to welcome guests!  Such joy in prayer and having a God who hears and loves me, his very own daughter, who he completely accepts while she is so far from a perfect housekeeper!   

Yes, Lord, may the character of my heart, not my home, chiefly engage me!   And too, may my home be a refuge of peace and rest and life and joy in this dirty, broken world...  all in You, for You,  for Your Glory, my King!

Thursday, April 4, 2013

the boys and the fish

Our boys are due for a little spotlight action on the blog, so here are our precious budding young men...

Easter morning: I love our family tradition of "running to the tomb".  I wake up the kids, telling them that I've just been to the tomb and they, the "disciples," need to run there with me to see....  Then Daddy, the angel, announces that Jesus is not there...  And when they came back home the kids each found a chocolate egg (what a treat to find a German import here- just like my mom used to buy!) and a little basket of jelly beans from Grandma and Grandpa hidden in the living room.  

Well, I guess that's the reason they haven't been showing up here much lately... I really need to get more pics of these stellar guys.   Here's hoping for some willing camera cooperation...

And now for a surprising announcement:   We Got Pets.  Six fish "as a present for daddy" for his birthday about two weeks ago (also worthy of a shout out on the blog: Happy Birthday Dear Love.)  We each got to name one.  Drum roll please.  Introducing...

Zoomy, Isaiah's
Swimmy Sunrise K, Marian's
Nemo, John's
Mo Mo, Vivi's (that's how she says Nemo)
Goldie Pretty Fish, mine (with counsel from Marian)
Fish 1.0, daddy's

I gave the kids "the talk," that we didn't know how long these fish might live.... we had heard they don't live long and we didn't know if it would be just a few hours or a few days or weeks.  Good thing they were prepared and a good thing the first loss was mine.  Goldie Pretty Fish died after about 6 hours in her glass bowl in our home.  Very possibly the bowl was just too small for 6 fish?  But they had much more water per fish than they did in the bucket we bought them from!

Nemo and Mo Mo were twins, beautifully dark orange and black and white.  Nemo and Swimmy Sunrise died the next day and then three of them lived on for 4 more days, a happy little family.  Then Zoomy and Fish 1.0 both died one morning, which we noticed right after Daddy headed out early for class so I was left to bear the brunt of the grief and the burial by myself.

And it has been a good lesson.... to learn about what happens to bodies that are not living anymore... and how Jesus' body never did decay (another thing missing from the blog:  Happy Resurrection Day!!!).  Life here is broken and it's a good thing to learn to grieve well, to grieve with the hope, the rock solid confident HOPE that one day it will all be made right.  When our King comes again and establishes His kingdom, there will be no more tears.... even no more toddler tears for tiny goldfish.

Mo Mo is beginning week two alone in the fish bowl now and we're all quite sad for his lonesomeness.  It's sweet to see the kids talk to him and try to love a little fishy pet as best they can.  I don't imagine he'll make it much longer and I don't imagine I'll pay any more tribute than this one post.  It was a sweet trip to pet land... and I think we'll be done again for a while.

Little Ten Percent

When we were in the states last fall, Vivi had her second ever visit to a doctor.... such grace that she's been so healthy since we just don't have clean and comfy medical facilities so easily available here.  And when we went, we were surprised to find out how little our littlest love was.  10% for age for weight (and so Matt called her that as a nickname.) We've never had a small kiddo before!  She's always eaten lightly and played happily and we've never been concerned but it is strange to hear occasional comments about skinny legs on a baby of ours!

But she might not be so petite if she keeps up her recent trends.  Du Laoshi, her teacher,  told me last week when I picked up the kids right after lunch, "we think maybe you need to feed Xi Chen (her Chinese name) a little more at home.  She's eating as much as a 4 year old.  She just keeps asking for more."  I told her that in recent weeks, she's been eating everything we put in front of her, with common requests for seconds and thirds at home too.... and yes, we do give her as much as she will eat!

And since I didn't write much about her growth at her birthday post I'll add a bit now about our darling...  She sings.  She loves to sing to herself and I'm always mesmerized by her sweet voice.  We recently bought fish (a birthday present "for daddy") and she sang to me about the one she named "Mo Mo a fish... Mo Mo a fish..."  (Momo is Vivi's way to say Nemo.)  She loves school now and wants to go every morning... eager to say bye bye to mama even!  At bedtime she often tucks a baby under the covers on top of her tummy or right beside her.  And, so precious, she's quick to say "Thank You" (or Day Doo, as she says it).    Sometimes she tells me Day Doo after the first sock and the second.... she just says it and likes to say it often and it deeply delights my heart and teaches me the goodness of gratitude every time I hear it from her sweet lips.

And she's a ham.  Recently she told me "Look-it Mama, I do this" and then commenced the rocker move with her head (but L to R instead of front to back) her wispy hair swishing over her face.  Another favorite move, her signature sillyness is this:  a sibling asks her "Vivi, are you cold?" and she opens her eyes WIDE, grits her teeth with an almost smile, and gives a shiverry face.  Everyone laughs.  She. Loves. It.

And we love her....  wonderfully terrifically much!