Saturday, May 31, 2014

Becoming Normal

These two neighbors are regulars at our house.  We're so grateful for such great friends for our family! 

We are finally, truly settling into our new normal... living in this great place, this wonderful home, beautiful weather, among this precious, dearly loved people.  

So, so grateful to be here!

We spent a day in the mountains last week!  Went to the closest place, run like a state park,  and it was *so*beautiful*!  We played baseball in a tiny patch of grass and it was bright and sunny and there was snow... and yep, my photography skills couldn't make a nice shot happen there!  So glad we'll get to get back to that place before too long- Lord willing!  Here's just one of me and Vivi and a shot of these cute nomad boys below.  This is probably their summer job, riding around all day looking for tourists to pay top price for a ride. 

to the butcher...
the center area of our apartment complex... this is where to hang out to hear all the news and meet all the neighbors.
Such community!

Caring for her little sis...
they know they're loved...
I would hold them and snuggle them and tickle love kiss them all day long if they'd let me

always the social center of a home

This precious friend of mine!  We love their 4, and soon 5, kids (and her beautiful braids!)

Someone is getting pretty opinionated lately... a switch was flicked somewhere on her inside and she's gotten wow-stubborn-fiesty in the past 12 days or so.  It was quite chilly today and I told her she needed to wear pants before I'd take her outside to play baseball with her daddy and siblings and she tried to put on a pair of pants but she just couldn't make herself go through with it.  (You should read that to mean- she had a little fit.)  She went back in her room and came out again, "mom, can I please wear my dress and tights?  I just have to wear dress up!"

Sunday, May 18, 2014

a bit of home

homeschool at the table… I love these learners
Our living room doesn't have much wall space (a window on one side and open to the entry way on the other side) so this hideout  under the stairs works perfect for a puppet theater, nerf arrow surprise attack center, and quiet place for lessons…. oh yea, and our K library and little piano.  

He's doing so terrific!  First day of school he never wanted to stop writing letters.  (ahhh… just the first day of school. ) I'm so proud of his perseverance and progress at the end of week two,  even though he's slowed his pace just a bit :) Also, he's taught himself to snap his fingers this past week.  "Mom, I can even snap "Jesus Loves Me."  yep… I heard it in there… What a great boy!

Our entry door is at the right, kids rooms and bathroom at the left.  That's the downstairs….
I planned for over a year for new rooms for our kiddos…  when we would finally move them from all four in "the kids' room" to a girls room and a boys' room.   So sweet that they all love their rooms (as much as I do.  That would be the hope, wouldn't it?)  More pics from both rooms soon…  (hopefully!)

Just a silly, fantastic boy here.
We're in the city, but it doesn't feel like inner city- skyscrapers- pure cement.  Every time I step out from our stairwell I am so grateful to see GREEN.  I think I might have a diagnosable complex/fear/ hatred of living in cement-only places, no green, sky crowded with towering buildings.  We Love This Apartment Complex!
And maybe there are social rules in the west about not hanging your laundry in public places?  Whenever I see neighbors' laundry like this it makes me smile that we have a (green!)  place for it, to see clean things, to feel community.  
This man often seems like the gate guard at our stairwell door.  He and his family live on the first floor and they've recently renovated their place to look like a mini palace (wooden arches, gorgeous carpets, heavy chandeliers- yea, I know, I wouldn't have guessed it either.)  Apparently, he's not allowed to smoke at home so he stands here by the door to get his smoke breaks and greets us every time we come in or out.    We even have spectacular neighbors too!
The girls…  this is their "store" where any interested buyer can find various grasses, twigs and dirt clods at a very reasonable price, or for trade.  Marian has also made a few sparkling finds from her grass hunting:  the quarter-pounder, plastic "diamond" from a chandelier, a braided purse strap that doubles as a necklace, and coins from China and Uzbekistan.  Bring your own treasures if you're looking for a good trade… Oh these spectacular, precious girls!

Our big guy has come alive and grown up a year I think, in the one month we've been here.   All our kids have had an onslaught of grass stains, scraped knees and ripped jeans… but this guy especially.   We love it.   Play hard, darlings!

He's learned Ka3…Do kids in the states play with round cards and try to flip each other's over?  It's all the rage here.  The mindless equivalent of marbles from Matt's childhood.  Isaiah has gotten rich on ka lately as he's rented his bike for kids to ride half way around the complex for only 2 paper cards and one plastic.

There is one special boy that Isaiah plays with most of all.  He's eaten many meals with us already…  we just love this kid.  We'll call him Ezra.  12 year-old, kindhearted and super honorable, son of a single-mom.  We are so happy to have him as a friend here and hopefully to get to know his mom well too in time.  

neighbors… I hope I meet this nice lady again at the center of our complex.   I didn't even learn her name!  She whispered and chuckled to me that her son looks like a little Chinese boy!  Most the local people have a tiny bit more Hispanic look (at least that's the way I describe this beauty from my So Cal perspective.)

There are so many precious ladies to know here... the one who was wobbling pregnant…. praying for her and her baby.  And the mom, covered all except for a slit for her eyes to see through, who has four kids just our kids' age range.  Oh…  to get to know these ladies and share with them...

So our place is on the sixth floor and it's two stories- the only places with two bathrooms in our complex.  (This is the view out the back, from our bedroom.)  Upstairs is one nice large room, that Matt and I get as our bedroom, and a bathroom.  It's a spacious enough room that had six kids for Sunday School up there this morning and it wasn't too pinched.  I never expected, never even dreamed to have a big bedroom like this… and get this… it has a vaulted ceiling.  Crazy I tell you.  I  never saw such a place in China before!  Oh… and I just have to mention, that my local friend told me that not only did we get a good deal on this place, we got a crazy good deal.  Our owner needed to sell quick to get married and it wasn't too desirable a place by local standards because it was so plain, with no fancy decor.   We couldn't be happier…..  It's just like Someone arranged this all with crazy kindness for us! 

And this girl… You might remember that she's been a bit of a Blay Blay (blankie) addict?  Well, when she cuddled it, she sucked on her finger and it was becoming clear, even to her, that it would be best to give that up.  I did not want to add addiction treatment to our early days here, but this girl did it!  I showed her the same pic that Marian looked at a few years back and she agreed that she didn't want wolf teeth either.  She was for it, but that didn't make falling asleep without sucking on her finger easy….  there were a few long nights there.  But it didn't even take her long and now she's sober.  She really did great.  We're set for an outing this week to celebrate!

This week I read in Exodus 28 (yea, I'm that far behind on my Bible reading plan- but I WILL get caught up this summer!) in verse 40 that the Lord commanded Moses to make garments for Aaron and the priests "for glory and for beauty."  I feel outrageously spoiled that I get to have such a nice home and I pray earnestly that our home would be first seen as giving glory to God and also a place of beauty for His people to be together.  May He make it so!

About those photos...

I think it was about a month ago that I told one friend "should be this weekend that I can get pics of our new place to show you"… and it hasn't happened yet.

And it hasn't been because we're not crazy grateful or totally smitten with our new home.  Yesterday morning Isaiah woke up early and I had some good talking time with him in the living room and he started off telling me he likes this place two times more than anywhere else we've lived.  Then he looked toward the kitchen and saw the surprise…  Daddy and I assembled three new bar stools for our breakfast bar the night before… and as we sat up there together, he upped it to "five times more…"  Vivi said the same thing to me today:  "I love our new home!"  We are all just so amazed that we could live in a place that we enjoy as much as this!  The Lord has blessed us exceedingly…

I mentioned in the last post that this move was a hard one for me.  It was much harder than I expected.  I was comparing it in my mind to our last move across town from one apartment to a nearly identical apartment, both of them were perfectly ready to move into.  We were out of boxes in two days.  This was different.   This place was in pretty good condition, but it did need work.  And there were dozens of things invisible to me at first, that needed fixing and tweaking….  like raising the bathroom mirror (and fixtures) that cut Matt's reflection off near his nostrils and the bathrooms that were just small rooms with a sink, toilet and shower head…. no arrangement for a place to keep things dry or a space for towels or toothbrush.  The first ten days of living here were the roughest.  Our neighbor asked us why we didn't do repairs before we moved in?  Well, we didn't have a home.  Truly, this apartment was not a place for a family to stay then…. but we did. (And we're still alive.)

I hope you don't hear this as complaining…  I'm just filling out the background of the story of my tiredness in recovering from this move.  And there have been a few more hard things I can share about later.

The six of us are getting in pretty good shape though. Did I tell you that our place is on the sixth floor of a building with no elevator?  Yea, perhaps that was another tiny factor in my flabby stamina level.   And we're picking up speed with homeschool hours every day again too.  So I've been tired….

But I got even more down than any of that justified.  I was tired and I think the bottom of my heart kinda gave out….  depressed.  The thought of taking a few pictures made me want to cringe (I'm pretty sure I cried when Matt asked me once if I wanted to bring my camera…)  I had no strength for it, hardly any energy for smiling or laughing with my kiddos.  The Lord has graciously awakened me this week to see that the cause of my tiredness isn't the messy house (when I let that eat at my soul, I'd get more tired and more sad because I didn't have the strength to clean and organize my tired sadness away.)

This week, more days have been happier, heart healthier days for me and I am profoundly grateful.  So grateful for praying friends, encouragers in my life, and for all the benefit of a simple change of focus:  from the cause of my pain (or so I thought) or the Source of my healing and hope?  More of Him who is my all…. more of His peace, more of His presence, more clinging to His promises… that's what I was needing.

 So…. all that to say… the pictures Are Still Coming.  Thank you for bearing with us dear friends!

I can tell you this, I am so excited for my place here.  I was praying for an apartment that might have a tiny "yang tai" (indoor porch-like area, usually where people hang laundry to dry) off our room that I could make into my place…. a little place to read and pray and journal and blog.  The Lord has exceeded all my wildest wonderings…

I'm so excited to write in, to share from, the place the Lord has given me in our new home.  And it shouldn't be too much longer til I can finally write a bit more and take some good pics and post them to share with you.  Today I even got our room moved out of survival mode:  the one month mark of being here.  (The last hurdle:  all the boxes and heap of clothes in our still unfurnished room!  Tubs under our bed are working great as a dresser...) Thank you so much dear friends for checking on us here even when I've been so slow to post lately….  I hope there will be much loveliness to share with you very soon now!

Monday, May 5, 2014

The many-miracled (and not-short) story of our home

The past month has been a harder time for me than I ever expected….no serious suffering, just hard going….  and right in the midst of this, the Lord has provided for us more exceedingly kindly and generously than I surely ever asked or imagined.  The pieces He brought together for us make me shake my head and gasp with wonder at His sovereignty and love to provide for us so.

We arrived a bit earlier than expected into our new city, checked into our little room at the JinJiang Inn and met friends for dinner at their place.  By morning we planned to hit the streets hard to find our new home.  Except that there were almost no options for us…. anywhere.  We got to look at a nice place that was for sale, but we needed to rent.  The landlord assured us she wouldn't budge- even for cute blonde kiddos in her would-be tenant family:  She was only selling.  The other 8 - 9 owners that Matt called said the same thing:  no possibility of renting, they wanted only to sell.

There were two rental options:  both far from our friends' home.  One was tolerable inside but the complex was in a bad area for what we want to do.  The other rental option was gross (Matt thought it was tolerable, I hated it).  It was in a super fancy, fake-fancy, apartment complex (fake gold everywhere, super gaudy and run-down, spray-paint graffiti over the cemented-in courtyard).  It was spacious enough, but pricey and… did I mention gaudy and awful?

The next day we looked at a place, also for sale.  3 bedrooms, 2 baths (we were praying for 2 bathrooms) and happily simple…. no smeared rose decor, fake gold or fluorescent paint in the living room .  It was a fixer upper but just needed a little bit of help to make it really great. I loved it.   Matt loved it.  Same complex, same building even, as our dear friends that we wanted to live near.  A complex filled with precious kids playing on grass….  a thing we've only dreamed of before in China.  But it was for sale.

Just checking on options, we asked if the landlord would consider renting to us short-term if we could eventually buy?  The guy needed to pay for his next home purchase.  He needed to sell.  He's getting married and time is short for him to buy a new place an hour north in the city, near where he works.

But… he decided he'd let us move in if we signed a contract of intent to buy.  He would let us move in that day.

And then… oh the emails!  We had no idea what it would take for us to get a mortgage for a place here.  US mortgages wouldn't work for international purchases.  China mortgage wouldn't approve us either.  For both, our income is just too low to start with!  We sent two emails to see if friends could help:  possibly they could become the owners and we would be their tenants?  Or if they could give us a mortgage?  And then a mentor-friend of mine from high school days emailed to plan a short visit to see us in our new town.  I wrote back to her and shared about our situation.

It wasn't a straight shot.  I was still questioning…  Is the Father redirecting us?  Did we miss His leading somehow? Should we not try to live near our friends here?  (That was the whole plan we came for!) Should we hold out for some better rental option to come available?  How long should our family hunker down in room 726 at the Jin Jiang Inn?

Our friends here were praying hard and thinking of every possible option for us too.    He shared our need with his dad and this Canadian man we've never met, offered to put up his own property as collateral to secure a loan for us from Canada.  There were words like "this is something only Christians would do."  And I thought a label like Ready-to-die-for-someone-else Banking was appropriate.   Such a picture of the Gospel.

In the morning, it was the friend that I didn't ask, the friends planning to come for a visit, that wrote back to say they wanted to be a part of this with us.  We didn't know what that meant, but it was encouraging… there were little sparks of hopeful joy.  But actually, that might have been the darkest day for us….Both Matt and I felt under a cloud….  There was a tremendous burden of living such an unknown even though we'd only been homeless for a bit over a week at that point.  When will we have a home for our family?  What home will it be?  Will we be able to do what we've moved here to do?

The same morning that the first miracle-email came, we woke up to an ugly call from the movers.  Our stuff arrived on the truck and had been unloaded in the warehouse, but they planned to charge us three times the price stated in our contract for renting space there til we found a home to move into.  (The movers on this end were nothing like the polite guys who moved our stuff out of our last home.)

We tried to find temporary housing.  Called every option we could think of for a different place to store our stuff or a different home we could rent for a week or two or maybe just stay for a few nights…. Every. Door. Shut.  

But right about this time, there was one great encouragement:  To begin the long process to register Matt's company, we need an office address, and if we buy a home, it would be easier (more possible) to register it at our home address than if we rent.  Matt went to the local police station and the society office of the apartment complex and began chatting with the decision makers to find out if that would be possible- if they would allow us to register our company in a home in this complex if we bought.  Everything looked good.  This could save us hundreds of dollars a month!!  (Matt's company doesn't need an office in this beginning season, but we thought we'd have to rent one simply to be able to meet the requirements for his company to be approved.)

For these days, those mentor-dear friends kept at it with us, kept emailing us and then not long at all after hearing about our need (I think it was 3 days), they emailed to offer us a mortgage.  Only it wouldn't really be a mortgage (because of China's real estate laws).  It would simply be a personal loan and we really don't have adequate collateral, but we will pay it back and they simply trust us and want to be a part of the work in this city.  Crazy.  Awesome.  Jesus-style-awesome.  

And then it all went scary quick:  another meeting with the landlord and we signed papers.  (We learned about a law that keeps buyers from turning places over too quickly but since this guy a young kid whose parents must have bought the place for him, had owned the place five years (the complex is 6-ish years old) he wouldn't have to pay extra taxes.  And there's rumor of a law that would lay heavy taxes on owners of multiple properties as well.  Two great reasons for lots of places for sale and none for rent).  The owner handed us the key and we went straight to the police station to register our family (and the company) in our new home.

This was the third of seven visits (long visits) to the police station that week.  Matt has done all this for us before and he's always been able to register his woman and children with him without us having to make an appearance.  (I've been so grateful for that as it's not always a nice situation for kiddos.)  He assured me our visit that day was totally normal, but I still took it hard.  We were treated with all  courtesy you'd expect to be given to dirty criminals.  Left to wait for hours.  Required to come back at a set time to meet people that wouldn't show up for a few more hours….  And there were three more visits for me and the kids, four more for Matt that week… in between the moving madness.

So, on a Wednesday mid April, we got keys, got the place cleaned up and called movers to bring our stuff the next morning and just one week- one scary, sad, hard, and then suddenly super incredible week- after arriving in town, we moved in to our home, a home we will own.  We never would have expected...

I was clearing stuff out of the new place (that the owner left and didn't want anymore) when Matt called me about the movers.  "I just want you to prepare your heart….  our stuff hasn't been nicely treated."   Dining room chair broken in pieces, most boxes gashed open, our one nice piece of furniture- an antique Chinese hutch- with two cupboard doors bashed in.  One computer screen crushed and many kitchen items shattered.  But there were only a few things missing…. and the box of photo albums was found- that was a bright find!  I shook with tears when I opened the box of our electric piano and my guitar:  it was all there, in good condition,  Praise the Lord for that grace.  Matt decided that a little bit of our savings from going with the super cheapest movers out there, would need to be slotted for a "Repair" line item in our moving budget.  I think in the end we saved well enough, but we still wouldn't recommend it to anyone.

The sweet guys that moved us in town, from the warehouse to our new house, did a terrific job.   {oops… I planned to get a photo here from my phone, but that got pick pocketed right off me this afternoon, first time at the local large veggie market, so you'll miss those shots.  Bummer.}

So far, for the record, the miracles of the Father's sovereign provision are:  giving us one fantastic place, and financing a loan to buy it, arranging that we should be able to register the company at this address and save hundreds a month for that, the location we could only have dreamed of, and the landlord agreeing to let us move in immediately- and oh yes! - he didn't charge us any additional rent for the three months we're living here until we pay in full…. he just let us move in with paying a deposit and agreeing to pay the purchase price (and we got a great deal) once the money has been brought into China, in three months time.

Second load of laundry in two weeks.  It was 60 degrees the day before.
So the miracles have been many….  but the hardship has been real too.  This has been by far the hardest move for me ever.  Somehow, despite my work and effort to plan and keep organized, our move has marked with utter disorder.  And our unpacking in our new place has been done over two + weeks, the first ten days of which were filled with repeated repair MESSES- the kind that break a wanna-be-clean mamma's heart. (I think I understated that...  our home was really not fit to be lived in for the first ten days we were here... but we had no where else to go.  Every room was covered in layers of thick construction dust and wet paint (over most the furniture as well as the walls)...)

Our kids have never lived with "travel rules" for so long:  more iPad time, more movies and screen time everywhere, terrible nutrition, crazy bedtimes, negligent mom and dad (on the phone with movers/landlord/police folks or cautioning them to stay out of hazardous something or other)… I think the very worst part for me was after we moved into this amazing place and needed to do a bit of work to it still…. living in the midst of that mess is what most nearly did me in.  I apologized several times for how hard all this was for me and once, when I was correcting Isaiah for something, he told me well, "Mom, this moving time is hard for all of us."  Sweet boy.  He's right.  I tried to quiet down with my requests. I love him so much.

There was also the deep breath and constant prayers on our two- week anniversary in our new home,  the morning we woke up to news of a terrorist attack in our city: bombing in the train station.  There's violence everywhere- probably more in America than China- but that kind of news does make you pray.  We are still so joyfully certain we're right where He wants us.  And how could we not be when the Lord has provided all this for us?

But we're not yet to the end of the miracles.  Not only do we have this long list of miracles, there's more.  From those first two emails we sent looking for help to get into this place, we got one final one back just a few days ago.  A group of friends, a sweet body of God-lovers where Matt grew up, decided to help us with our mortgage.  I can't even say how crazy a gift, how beautifully intentional, how excitingly supportive they are, how wildly grateful we are…..  May the Lord be praised in all this crazy giving and living...

Miracle after miracle the Lord has wrought to bring us into not only this city, but this very home.  We count it all His:  all our lives, all our home, our days, relationships…. all of it, all of us, all for Him.

Rejoice with us, dear friends, in the Lord's lavish goodness and purpose!  No plan of His will be thwarted!  He is good and His love endures forever….and for not only us!

more photos soon… a welcome tour of our new place (once we get it cleaned up just a bit better :)