Thursday, October 30, 2014

Lesson I've Learned - On Halloween!

I'm starting today and today's post with a revelation that God is slowly, and very kindly, knocking into my entirely too thick head.  I think its been a lesson, but I think, amazingly but not surprisingly enough - its a lesson that God has been teaching Julie this whole while too and I'm supposing will have really brought it home this past week in the LEAF sessions.  At least it was sounding like it was going that way before she even left.

Back up to the book that I was reading (and have now finished).  The Best Yes.  Its a book that Julie had asked me to bring with for a Bible study that she was doing and so making sure that I got everything that she requested even if I didn't understand why she wanted it or the urgency, I even had someone bend over backwards to go to a local bookstore and pick up all the material she wanted.

And I should have known that, if its a book that Julie said "you have to read it!", that I'll do whatever Julie says because she's so awesome :)  So - of course when I got here and we were going through the bags I pulled out all The Best Yes books and we were discussing and she said she had heard so much good about it and she was really looking forward to reading it and I should just use a copy while I was here and read through it.

Julie - I listen to you :)

So read it I did.  I suppose I should say - DEVOURED it!  It spoke to me.  It resonated with me.  It was something I need and have needed and will continue to need.  It was AMAZING!  It was God.

Its about budgeting your time and giving of yourself and using the two most amazing words "YES" and "NO".
Or in French "OUI" and "NON".
Or in Hungarian "EGEN" and "NEM".
Or in Chinese "DUI" and "BU".
I think you may get the idea.  Any language, they're two of the most powerful words because they can make you or break you!  You can say "yes" so much that you overload and short circuit, or you can say "no" too much and just be marked as the perpetual negatoid that should never be asked for anything.

I'm learning that there are yet two other options.... the "BEST YES" and the "COMPASSIONATE NO".  Long and short - theres a right time and right place to say yes so that when you do say yes you give your best and you know its a God-given opportunity and you're sure that its where and what you need to be doing.  And the compassionate no is the right way to give a no - not harsh, but honest "I am not able to give enough time right now and just can't do my best at this so I need to say no".  I love that - because its an honest answer that still says that person and their request is important but says - I'm human.

I'm pretty sure that we all have that one last thread that we're hanging onto sometimes and we just feel like we can't do or give anymore.  But yet it seems like society and, even more in the Christian realm, we're told to give give give - we need you, we can't do it without you, if you don't do it no one else will, if you're really a good person then you would do this.
Its the huge pressure of responsibility that falls on a lot our shoulders and weighs heavy and makes you feel like if you say "no" you're not super human and you're not doing everything you need to be doing.  I have so much more to add here on what I've learned about deciding yes and no, but I won't go into detail.  But I'll give my take away as - I'm slowly learning - and I know that Julie has been learning this too and just talking about it  makes me understand more.
WE DON'T HAVE TO BE SUPERHUMAN OR SUPERCHRISTIANS!"  AHHH!  I can't even wrap my head around this because I'm confessing that forever I've felt like I have that status I have to keep up.  And honestly - I can't blame anyone for putting that pressure on me except for myself!  No one has told me I have to do it all, its just the feeling that people stand back and look at you in amazement and talk about how God has used you, etc and so I keep on taking more because I feel like if I don't then I'm not letting God use me and people will think that I'm not giving as much as I should be.  I AM THE ONE WHO OVERLOADS MYSELF!

Lately I've felt the point of breaking.  I'm SUPPOSED to be superhuman and superChristian so why do I have these points where I just want to stay in bed all day and sleep and just say "chuck it" to everything going on in my life.

Sometimes our heads are so hard that God has to slowly reveal stuff to us because otherwise our little noggins would just EXPLODE!  What would I do without all the pressure of being needed and giving and meeting every need that comes up or every request given to me.

So God has slowly had to put me in a place where I feel I'm not superhuman, and introduce me to people who I DO BELIEVE are superChristians, but I think the reason I believe that is because I see they're NOT superhuman but are messy and tired and learning all these same lessons as me.

Yesterday, I'm not naming any names, but there was a certain child that had a little meltdown (not me thankfully :).  He's not been feeling well and he tends to wake up at like 4 a.m. (but isn't allowed to get up until 6 - thank goodness) and has had his parents missing all week and has been feeling that but hasn't been showing it.  And so yesterday when we were sitting in the family room and we had gone through a whole thing of how he didn't want to go to co-op so I got it called off for him since he wasn't feeling well, but then he decided he HAD to go to co-op and was obsessing about it and so, as I was sitting with a bunch of textbooks on my lap, I literally threw up my hands and then did an underhand toss of the phone to him.  Which - the phone then hit his shoulder but as I hadn't lobbed it at him and he was far enough away that the force was not great, it did not damage his to-be football shoulder :).  I honestly would admit if I abused the poor kid by throwing a phone at him.  I saw it - it was not abuse, it was a slight hit that didn't even  eave a mark let alone a great wave of pain.  Ok - that is MY interpretation.....

BUT - the reaction on his face and the full fledged tears in his eyes and his yelps of pain and protests that I DID hurt him and I wouldn't understand! said otherwise.
I'm not too big to apologize (even though I know it didn't really hurt him - which I said and then retracted in lieu of a sincere apology).
We then had a discussion about how this reaction of his said that he maybe shouldn't go to co-op.  That he wasn't feeling well and was very tired and in the light of the getting sick, maybe he should stay home.
We wound up going because he COULD NOT miss the first day of co-op.

About 15 minutes later, as we walked to co-op, unnamed boy turned to me and said "Alison, I need to apologize for the way I acted and for arguing with you."

Ok - see - thats why I love Zach and Julie - because they have kids that of their own accord will say "I'm sorry".  WOW!  Life lesson there :)

Anyways - I accepted the apology and then, I was trying not to be too preachy, but I was just explaining to him how sometimes our actions say a lot about where we are mentally and physically  and how sometimes we need other people to help us see that.  We just have a reaction and then someone looks and says "I can tell by that reaction that you're tired or you're sick or you're hungry" and that we should definitely be careful with our reactions, but we should learn to listen to people when they're trying to help us make decisions about what we should and should not be doing based on what they're seeing in our reactions.

BAM - right back in my face.  I felt it.  I'm kind of listening God?  Maybe?

And then today when I got on the bus, I have a habit of just reading scripture on the way to school and so today in my reading plan I'm on I Kings and in chapter 19 today.  And God used Elijah.

Forgive me - this is long - but my head is pretty thick and stubborn and so my lessons take a long time....

I Kings 19
Verse 3 starts talking about how everything Elijah had been through and had going on around him caused him to run off to the wilderness.  And when he got there he found a tree and lay down and just said "I don't care if I die - in fact - please let me die!"
And I thought here - I'm feeling you Elijah!  Been there done that...
And then it says he slept
And I thought - I know those times when you're exhausted and you can't sleep.  But then those times when you just sleep so deep - you know its a God gift.
God gave Elijah a gift - he slept so deep that an angel had to come and wake him up.
And the reason that the angel woke him up is because he had to eat and so the angel provided for him and told him that there was some bread and water there and he should eat.
So Elijah woke up and ate and then -
He was still human...
He laid back down and went to sleep again.
And once again God let him sleep deep and then sent an angel to once again wake him up and show him food and tell him to eat more...
And this time the angel told him "Get up and eat some more, or the journey ahead will be too much for you."

And here is where I'm starting to get blown out of the proverbial water!
God knows that we're human and we have those moments where we're just so exhausted that we want to up and die - and he doesn't condemn us for that!
He lets us feel that!
In fact - he gives us space and time to feel that!

But he doesn't just stop there at letting us feel that..
He give us the rest that we need to help combat that.
BUT - I think the thing is that we have to be willing to take that rest...
BUT - even when we're not, I think God lets us get to this place where our bodies just say "screw it - I'm just giving up!"
And so even though we're not willingly or mentally allowing ourselves to take the time - we just do without even thinking about it because we're so much at our end.

AND then - like giving us rest isn't enough - God feeds us like we need.
Sometimes, its time and time again, but he puts it there in front of us and if we're really synced with him - even in these bad times, we take that food even if we don't intentionally do it, but because God is there telling us in our deep stupor of tired "eat because you need the strength" - we do it.  We're not thinking "I need to do this" or "I HAVE to eat to survive"... we're just so tired that somewhere in our gut God is telling us to eat and we don't even feel ourselves doing it, but we do....
And nourishment doesn't come from us thinking "this will keep me strong" - it just happens by us doing what we're supposed to be doing (as in eating :)

Then - the continuance of the story - God let Elijah be human after he done all these superhuman things.  And Elijah had collapsed.  But God was there providing for him in the midst of his not even feeling or caring.  And after God provided all that...
Elijah went on to travel for 40 DAYS and 40 NIGHTS!  I think thats superhuman after a sure bout of being anything but superhuman!

And then the conclusion of it - after Elijah had gone for those 40 days and 40 nights... He once again ran off and said "ahhh!"  And so God kind of hit him on the head and said "Go out and stand before me on the mountain".  And then God sent all these extreme things that just got Elijah's attention (earthquakes, fires, etc) But it wasn't in those modes that God actually communicated to Elijah because He knew he had to get tough to get his attention, but that what He wanted to say needed to be in a loving way.  So "there was the sound of a gentle whisper".
I think, in my humble opinion, the gentle whisper is the point that Elijah knew "I have to listen but I don't want to" and so he took off and like he could hide or like he was a 2 year old, he wrapped his robe around his head.
Silly Elijah! :)
And then he went off and just stood there.

Here is where God came to him in his gave up - in his weakness - in his pouty I can't go on... And God gave him a little talking to but then gave him something to do that was pretty amazing and superhuman to do - but from everything that Elijah had gone through and what God had already done for him - I kind of think he knew.... I can do this!
And so he went and he did what God had told him to do - and what God had said would happen did happen!
And it was pretty amazing and pretty superhuman because it wasn't a superhuman who did it - it was God who did it and used a plain old human because he didn't change that human on the outside, but changed him on the inside!

LESSONS LEARNED/ING - after this long, wordy regurgitation of events and small God-voices....
My lessons that I'm learning slowly are -

Lesson #1 - I am human and I need to watch out for stretching myself too thin.  There are very appropriate times and places to say a compassionate no - or a firm no :)  Whichever the event calls for - but keep it real to what you feel your limit is.  But when you say YES - make sure that its the best place to say yes and you can really give your all to that situation and your best to that person or persons.  100 shallow committed "yes"s are not worth that one "yes" where you knock it out of the park and accomplish more than you could ever imagine and where you change lives - excuse me - God allows you to help change lives :)  I don't have to feel the pressure of being superhuman and people won't think less of me if I have to say no.  But the place where they will think less if I say "yes" to something and just do a mediocre job or don't follow through on my commitment.

Lesson #2 - Its ok for me to feel those times where I'm overloaded and I can't go on and I just want to lay in bed and sleep or cry. I can take those times because its those times that help me remember that I am human and that I do have a point of breaking.  TAKE THE TIME TO SLEEP OR CRY OR JUST STARE AT A WALL!  You need it!  God gives it and loves that we take that time! Because I think those are the times he uses the most to make us into the superChristians HE wants us to be.

Lesson #3 - In those times, do what you feel led to do - eat, pray, sleep, read.... Let God speak to you through the simple things that he wants to use to nourish you and keep you going.  Make sure that you let God's "angels" (i.e. our friends and family) be what God wants them to be in our lives and give to us and feed us and minister to us.  Don't feel like you have to refuse the help - TAKE IT!  LOVE IT!  CHERISH IT!  ALLOW IT TO HELP YOU SURVIVE!  Don't think of it as humility, even though it is, think of it as just a natural course of life that God has created to keep us remembering we're just a bunch of humans in this together trying to accomplish superhuman things and we need each other to do that!

Lesson #4 - Allow those "angels" to speak into your life - weigh what they're saying and have a take away.  Whether its full agreement or little points - God has those people in your life for a reason and the ones who know you the best - are the ones who know how they need to talk to us so that we respond.  God sometimes hits us over the head - but He is compassionate and He knows the times and our humanity that sometimes we listen more when we have to listen hard.

Lesson #5 - Keep on listening to God.  Even when you don't even know you're doing it, even when you wrap your robe around your head and go stand in a corner..... Let you heart never be so hard that you never take the robe off or never turn out of the corner.  Listen because God uses people, God uses His Word - and sometimes, like Henry Blackaby talks about in Experiencing God, sometimes those answers God just puts inside of us and keeps us coming back to because its a culmination of what we know and what we've learned and where God wants us to be.

End of lessons - now time for fun...
Today is Halloween!
And even in China they celebrate it so today.... Everyone at school has costumes on and the end of the day is culminating in a big Halloween party!  Jasper keeps on coming in my classroom and whining "when is the fun starting?  This isn't fun!  Last year we were having fun already."
Life lessons start early and hard sometimes :)

My little wizard and my even littler phantom :)

No costume?  Give a boy named Moses a staff - and then call him real Moses!

And Happy Halloween to me!  Zach and Julie get home tonight so - yay!  Julie is back!!!!!!  And who knows if its for Halloween or Zach and Julie, but they're having some crazy firework and drum display going on right now - at 11:30 am!  Those crazy Chinese and their fireworks! Always with the fireworks!  People don't even flinch when they go off - they just keep on working or walking or doing school - dont even look.  It's actually kind of fun:). FIREWORKS!

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

A Sad Day In China

Today was supposed to be back to the going to school schedule.  We all went to bed nice and early in order to make sure that we were up in time to walk to the bus.  Which we did at 7:20 in order to make sure we were there and waiting for the bus at 7:25.  Which we did and then 7:25 came - and then 7:35 - and then 7:45.... And we all started thinking - the time is coming, but not the school bus?  So I started texting Julie and long and short - we all got a freebie morning home today!  Eli and Jasper are super duper excited!  BUT - we still had to do school so Eli is doing all his laptop work and Jasper and I are going through his reading and spelling and its been a much easier morning with Jasper's school for some reason.  Words are coming easier and theres no whiny Jasper.  Maybe its the thankfulness at not being at Appletree.  I don't know but, whatever it is its working.

So we're sitting in the office and I'm looking out the window while Jasper is doing his writing and I see the park below and this is what I see....

And then a little later, I see all the old people coming out with the children.  This is another typical of China.  

You have your kids and your parents take care of them.  Its the cycle of life in China - you have kids so some day you can take care of their kids.  All the grandparents are out pushing baby strollers and picking kids up from school and taking them to McDonalds.  Most of the time the grandparents and parents live together but there are a lot of families that live totally separate.  I know I mentioned when I was here a year ago - one of the women I work with at the company here has a 3 year old daughter.  Jeri had her daughter and then had off work for like 6 months and took care of her daughter and then, she took her daughter to her parents who live about 3 or 4 hours from here and she left her daughter.  And he daughter has been there since then with the grandparents raising her.  Jeri will go out every few months and there are some times where her parents will come here and stay for a week or two, but for the most part, Jeri and her daughter are not together.  And when Jeri talks about this its just a normal way of life.  IN FACT, Jeri had gone to the states before she was married and she talks about how crazy it is in America that a woman has to take care of her children AND make meals AND do the laundry AND clean AND shop AND..... And this was all experienced from a woman she stayed with who was a stay at home mom and only had one child.  She just couldn't even imagine the pressure and high stress that would cause.

Back on today. 

So we're finishing up school and we took some time to make a welcome home banner for Zach and Julie since they come home tomorrow. 

And then we have lunch.
And then we have to walk over to co-op, two separate places, one for Jasper and one for Eli.  
And then we all come together again to go to a gym for PE.

And then we'll head home for melt in your mouth chicken.
And I have to say that its been fun cooking this week (I did spaghetti and meatballs last night and it turned out amazing!) I can't imagine being Julie and doing her schedule and then coming home every night and trying to be creative with dinner and not wanting to just cheat every night and go to KFC because the boys are always clamoring for it.  God love her!

And ending with one last site ... Ah, if you don't have a car, then you probably have a .......

Oh - and - just a picture of the 5 Ring Roads I mentioned.  The map at Eli's co-op...

To Eat Him Up Or Not To Eat Him Up?!

Just looking at that face - can you tell why I'm having a dilemma?!
Its the Jasper dilemma - is it really really wrong to want to eat an adorable little boy clean up?!

Jasper is seriously the cutest, sweetest kid ever!  Ok, Eli is too, but first we'll deal with Jasper.  He can be a little bit moody and he likes to play so much that when it comes time to do school its hard for him to concentrate and so he gets frustrated and you have to make him just slow down and think through things.  But all of that is outweighed by the fact that he'll just come up to you, out of the blue, and put his arms around you for no reason and give you the biggest hug and smile and tells you he loves you.  And then your heart does this melty thing and you'd do just about anything for him but you know the reason he did that was not to get anything, but just because he's a happy sweetheart!

And then he says the most adorable things!  Tonight alone - two within 30 minutes!
He's pretty laid back about stuff and, sorry Julie :( just hasn't really expressed that much that he's missed his mom and dad.  Tonight Eli was having a little missing session but I wasn't sure as he just laid down on the couch and closed his eyes.  When I asked what was wrong, he said he was ok but he was just missing his mom and dad tonight.  He then got up and walked to the bathroom, leaving Jasper with me who looked up at me and said "I don't miss my mom and dad at all!" in the most casual, bright voice.  It was actually just the funniest thing ever the way he was just so natural about it.  I know he just means that he knows they're coming home on Friday and he's had a pretty good time so - you can't hold the not missing against him if you're his parent!  Right?! :)

Shower time and I was helping him wash off.  I ended up taking off my running shoes so I could step in the shower and get the shower handle and when I did, I'm ashamed, but my feet were a little dirty from my shoes.  Jasper said how he knew all the dirt came off him because it was on the shower and I admitted that it was probably my feet (which I did wash right then and there :).  We were then discussing how I should or should not just get in the shower then and there and he commented that if I did then I wouldn't have to take a shower in the morning.  I told him I'd have to take one anyways because I usually get kind of hot at night and end up getting sweaty (true confessions....)
So the boys get in bed and we're talking about prayer requests and then Jasper says that he wants to pray.  He prays for everything and then adds
"And God please help Ali to not get much sweaty tonight!  Amen"
Its really hard not to laugh in front of kids when they're being so sincere but its honestly just the cutest/funniest thing ever....
And now can you understand why I want to eat my little Jasper up in one big gulp!  Besides Julie, I think I'm his biggest fan ever!

But I can't forget about my other buddy, Eli.  Eli is adorable in his own rights, but he's a really sensitive, compassionate little boy and that his claim to fame.  He cares deep about things and he gets super excited about things.  He's the one who was so anticipating my coming and was just over the moon elated when I got here and ran to greet me.  Today, we went to Starbucks and just hung out together while Jasper was at soccer.  Eli and I ended up having some really good conversations throughout the day just about life and feelings and things.  He's a super smart boy and will just, out of the blue, ask you how you're doing or if he can help you with anything.  He's the one who sure to follow the rules and make sure everyone else does as well.  He's like a little policeman but you know its just because he's a really good kid who wants to do whats right.

Julie and Zach have done an amazing job with both boys.  They are funny and smart and pretty independent.  They let them think for themselves but they've taught them respect and kindness.  They talk through things with them and help them draw their own conclusions about life but then they balance it all with what God says and how God wants them to live and how God loves them and how God loves people - and you put all those things together and you can understand why they're great kids who really care about other people and who understand right and wrong (most of the time :).  And its such a great thing to experience when you have two kids who are just so enjoyable and absolutely inspiring to be around.  I love their love and their wonder and their happiness - and I know that they're simply little mirrors of everything that Julie and Zach have taught them and shown them and it makes me love the whole family even more!

I did bring "big blue" with me so I'm wondering if I threw some candy in, if I could get at least one of the boys to come home with me.  Julie has two so maybe she wouldn't even notice if one were missing.... Hmmm.....

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Crazy China!

Its a home day today!  Yay!  Eli only had PE today, no Chinese classes.  So - we all just did homeschooling and then Jasper gets picked up at 1:30 to go to soccer.  I've already told Julie that I'm nominating her for mom sainthood as I don't know how she does it - the school thing and then get home so late and still do all the mom stuff.  She told me she'd either get sainthood or the looney bin!  Ah - practical Julie.....  Thats another reason why I like her so much :)

I have a few minutes before I have to make lunch so I figured I'd put out a quick blogpost.  No pictures today as crazy China - the wifi is often spotty and even if you have it you have to have a VPN otherwise "China" doesn't allow access to a lot of sites without, including blogs.  I have a VPN that Zach put on my laptop but it works really slow so getting picture uploads on my blog is impossible!  For some reason the wifi at the school lets it work more speedily so posting picts is a breeze there.  Tomorrow I'll reinstate pictures.

For today -
Some fun China things that I'm progressively noticing now that I've been here enough and am over my initial brain-fry of just experiencing life in China.

Music -
China is big on music.  Like their happy little Chinese tunes music.  They play music in the streets or from shops.  Between classes they don't have bells, they play happy little ding-dingy music..... I'm now in a bad habit of dancing between classes because it just elicits that from me as its happy, dingy, dancing music.
Every home item that has a shut off or timer on it - music.  The ayi ("domestic help") that comes in twice week to help Julie is here today.  She did the laundry and when the washer stopped, it played this music.  Not a short little ditty, but it like goes on and on and finishes out the whole melody.
I haven't experienced it here yet but I have to believe its somewhere - I know in Japan their toilets even have little ditties that they play while you're using it.  Theres a toilet top that goes on the toilet in the bathroom upstairs here where I'm staying - I have to believe its one of those toilet seats that heats and plays music and does whatever else a pleasant Asian bathroom experience should do.

As I've mentioned before - traffic here is INSANE!  They have 5 rings in Beijing - they're called ring roads and they're exactly that.  They're ring roads that circle out from the center of the city.  Outside the 5th ring road, if you have a car, you can drive whenever you want.  The 5th ring road in, you have assigned days - if your license plate starts with a certain letter than you can drive Monday - Wednesday or something.  And then the other days, your license plate has to start with another letter.  Its supposed to help control the traffic.  But its still crazy even with trying to control it.
But the thing is that people drive without emotion.  Riding the school bus the past few days, I'm just watching people and the driver.  Their faces are completely emotionless while driving.  If someone cuts in front of them or makes them stop, theres nothing on their face.  In the states, our heads would be splitting in two and our mouths would be moving as we release strings of words emoting our anger and our hands would be flailing.....
They just keep driving.  And that being said, its whatever you can do to get where you're going.  Lines in the road - doesn't matter.
Lights - don't matter.
Traffic flow - to hades in a hand basket with it!
School bus - doesn't matter - beat it!
Semi pulling out - doesn't matter, if there's an inch just take it and go.
And - no words, no gestures, no facial expressions.  Just driving.  I only note this because I can't drive without words, emotions, facial expressions and hand gestures and I think pretty much everyone reading this in one way or another would concur with that for themselves and most other Americans that they see on the road.
Driving with Julie and family is fun... :)  Zach is pretty Chinese-expressionless.... And Julie does the expression for him :)  Its extremely amusing and I find it an awesome example of teamwork!  Honestly, though, they do an awesome job as the traffic is seriously crazy and doesn't make sense so - kudos friends!

I can't say a lot more than
They all don't turn heat on until a certain time.  Literally, apartment buildings, schools, etc, have a specific time of year they (as in the people who own the buildings) turn their heat on so, until then - its every man for himself.
The flat has been not horribly freezing, but the school - every day I've been wanting to just bring big blankets and wrap up in them because its all marble and tile and then for some nutty reason they open the windows and its just a vortex of FREEZING.
And then every time you have to go to the bathroom you try to hold it for as long as you can because they have the windows open in there and you're just terrified that one of these times you're going to go and you're just going to freeze, literally turn into a frozen piece of ice, standing over a squatty potty.  I don't want to die that way:(
I think Julie said they turn the heat on for them like the middle of November so I'm just missing it.  I'd like to be here just to celebrate heat on that glorious day....

Bathroom humor
When I got here the other day I had to use the bathroom (do you notice how a lot of my observations and stories here have been bathroom related - I love those countries where the most traumatic/amusing thing you can talk about is the bathroom....)
When I went in, I immediately threw the toilet paper into the trashcan - and then I laughed because it was like a memory reflex that I've already developed from being here twice before...
Flush your toilet paper down the toilet?!  Are you crazy?!  Thats what trash cans are for - not toilets!

Time to close blogshop..... Make lunch and get little J into his soccer gear for a wonderfully polluted day on the field!  I don't have Julie's pollution meter, but I don't need it to see that today is pretty bad out there!

Foot massages
SO Chinese!  Every corner, every window advertises massage.  And they're like an hour and they're like $5 and I LOVE China for that!  Because even when I'm in Chinese area of San Francisco - old habits die hard for the Chinese and - FOOT MASSAGES!

Ah, crazy China!

Addition... Chinese people take FOREVER at the ATM!  There will be like 10 people in line always and for some reason each person is up at the machine for like at least 10 minutes!  Get it done people and move along!  Oh - and you can't forget how they stand smack dab up on your back while standing in line.  Back off my back and speed it along!  That's my message to China today!

How Much Does The Chinese Tooth Fairy Pay?

After enjoying curry and rice last night (I was quite validated as Jasper said several times "this is delicious Ali!" and "who thinks Alison is the best cook - raise your hand!" - he even ate the dreaded green beans!) Because they were so validating, I allowed the boys to eat one of the Airheads that their parents had left for them the night before.  And in the midst of enjoying the large taffy stick all of a sudden Jasper cried "my tooth!" and pulled the Airhead back to reveal quite a bit of blood.

I had him go to the bathroom and do the rinse spit thing and went to grab a paper towel while thinking that I needed to close the drain in case the tooth came out mid spit.  And right about then Eli yelled out "well - Jasper lost his tooth - and it went down the drain!"  Argh!  Oh well - its not like you really do anything with those teeth anyways except expect to get money and then, what does your mom or dad do with your tooth?  Maybe if they're hoarders they put it in a little box and save every one that comes out of your head, but I didn't think that was Julie's forte so I figured - no major loss.

But now comes the tricky part - I know that the tooth fairy comes in China.  This is Jasper's second tooth so theres an expectation there.  What I don't know is - how many yuan does she bring?  The change that we used to get would be absolutely nothing in Chinese so you're left with the option of a paper bill which just seems so monstrously large for a tooth. 
My friend the fairy :) (which Jasper asked me this morning if it was me.... to which I replied "what?!"  - thats not lying, right?) flitted in and left a 10 yuan note under his pillow.  I thought, but should have double thought, about the fact that he's a 6 year old boy and pillows never stay where they are all night.  Needless to say  - we have some searching to do tonight as the 10 yuan note has literally disappeared.  I had to let Jasper know that I know she left money as the fairy and I had a conversation on her way out where she told me where she left it.  And then I asked him how much she usually leaves and I was told "I don't know, like 20 yuan or something maybe?" 
Dang - I guess I'm a cheap Chinese tooth fairy!

Headed out to the bus today - and I always have to laugh at the Chinese elderly in the morning.  Everywhere in Asia, they're out doing their morning exercises, always in large groups.  Theres a park we pass where there are like 15 of them and theres one older woman up leading them with what they're supposed to do.  They're all probably in their 80s and theres this one woman who looks the oldest of them all who I'm quite enamored with.  This woman is probably a little under 5 feet tall.  They stand by these bars that are probably about 4 feet tall, and then they swing their leg up and do these stretches and then slap their ankles.  I'm just super impressed with old short woman because when you're barely 5 feet tall and this bar is probably about 4 feet - thats a super high height to swing your leg up.  She's like an old Rockette and I'm sure at her age, I'll be lucky to bend over and then stand up straight again in the same day.  
Old short Chinese woman is my new hero!

And then we get on the bus and drive and all the apartment complexes have these big gates and courtyards in the front - in all the courtyards are masses of old people doing calisthenics.  One of the apartments had a group of high schoolers with red uniforms and white gloves doing this choreographed exercise thing and leading a big group of old people who followed behind.  It was quite hilarious - but again, very admirable indeed!

Asian people are truly amazing, you know! :)  In Japan they all have these exercise groups too and then when I climbed Mt Fuji there were these 80 year old people blowing past me on the trail to the top.  I might need to move to Asia when I get old.  Just a thought - or I could start an American version of old people morning workout.... and then we'd all set our alarms for 7 but we probably wouldn't get up until 11 and by then we'd be needing to eat lunch because dinner wasn't too far behind.  And its best not to work out on a full stomach so - it would just be a series of good intentions that never actually evolved. 

I got to do fun subjects today with my 5 students.  I did reading - which means I was reading to them :)  Julie's reading The Black Cauldron by Lloyd Alexander.  He's Welsh so every name was like trying to pronounce something from another world.  Gywstyl, Eilonwy, Orgoch, Adaon, Ellidyr, Fflewddur... AH!  I would say - speak English, but - I guess they don't technically speak English in Wales?...  Anyhow - after about 2 sentences I really got into it.  I think I put on a little drama production for them because I started enjoying the story.  Its along the lines of The Lion The Witch And The Wardrobe so its pretty packed full of adventure and great description.  Every time I actually remembered where I actually was instead of in the forest of Caer Cadarn, I would look out and see 5 faces that were actually intently watching me.  I think its just because they were thinking "she's absolutely crazy!"  

Then the next two classes were The Story of the World - i.e. HISTORY!  They're learning about the spread of Islam and the Islamic Empire.  We even got to do a project with CANDY - they had to make an oasis.  They're a little pitiful looking for oasis, but I think its just because 5, 5th graders were overwhelmed with the CANDY that they were having to work with.  Who can concentrate with that!

Tonight, we dine at KFC!  Can you believe after one full day of being a "single mom" I'm already exhausted!  I suppose the defining factors here are:
#1 getting out the door at 7:20 a.m and not getting back until after 6 p.m. (several parents last night were not at the bus to meet their children so we sat there for like 15 minutes so it made us pretty late in getting back home).  If it was just me it would be one thing, but then you have to get two kids fed and ready for bed and in bed and then you try to do the things that you need to do including taking a nice run on the treadmill.  How DOES Julie do it?!
#2 we don't have to go into school tomorrow but will just do school at home 
#3 I'm NOT "single mom" - I'm Ali!  Super fake-aunt who's only here to have fun....
Thats how we get to eat KFC at night and watch Disney downloads at dinner and not wash our feet even though they're pretty stinky and eat candy when we get home from school.  Its fun being not "mom"!
But tomorrow I start being more mom-ish!  We WILL do school and we WILL wash our feet!   
But the rest - who cares....  :)

- BTW - Julie texted last night and told me she had already been doing a lot of crying, but its been good soul-cleansing crying and its leading good places so,  please keep praying for them if you think of it!  Thanks!

Monday, October 27, 2014

How God Uses Squatty-Potties...And Us!

I'm making waves with my titles this trip I think.  From death to potties.... I'm being out there-creative!

Memories flooded back as I made my first re-entrance today into the Appletree bathroom.  It was almost exactly a year ago today that God decided Julie needed a new iPhone in that raised-floor, tiled,  in-ground squatty potty stall.
Chinese Thanksgiving 2013 - tables were set, children were dancing in the halls and I made a quick last minute run to the bathroom before our guests'  grand entrance into the Thanksgiving room.

Forgetfully stashing my new work iPhone in my jeans' back pocket and then racing into the washroom I quickly entered the stall.
And in those moments - one might say I forgot my precious new phone in my back pocket... Or God had just pre-decided Julie, who needed a new phone quite badly, would inherit my phone.
For as I began my - hmm - "descent"... iPhone made its quick descent out of my back pocket and smack dab into the middle of that eternally deep squatty-potty.
Literally - do you know how deep those squatties are?!

I was horrified!
And even more so horrified at the decision that I now had to proactively make to actually get down on my knees on that squatty potty floor and reach elbow deep into that abyss in order to retrieve said phone.
I took a deep breath, I got to my knees, I rolled up my sleeve and inserted my hand and I prayed - and I begged and I, yes, I bargained.
I got that phone out and the screen actually still lit up when I pressed the button.
I was elated!  Maybe it was saved!

I nervously went back into the Thanksgiving room and found some rice (not hard to find in China) and put my phone in and covered it.  And then for an hour I proceeded to try and be present in my head at this glorious Thanksgiving celebration.  I figured that the longer I let iPhone sit in the rice the better.  Throughout the day the screen would light up and then make feeble attempts to tell me that it was not happy at the concept of being dropped head first into a toilet.
But it bravely solidered on.

And at 0-1700, when the battery was just beginning to wane, I plugged iPhone in and iPhone sadly said "no more, Alison.  No more" and died.

I was grieved.
I was worried.
I was in trouble.
I was phone-less.
Do you know what its like to be phone-less for over a week?!

But - two things came from the whole squatty experience.
#1 - being phone-less was actually refreshing as I couldn't communicate except via email on my laptop and I didn't even want to take the time to bring that up so - all I could do was face to face talk with Julie and so Julie and I talked and talked and talked and we bonded bonded bonded.  And now I love love love her.
#2 - my phone was dead so I had to get a new one when I got home, but - China happens to be technology central and so Julie had asked if she could have my old, dead toilet phone which I was more than happy to give to her even though very curious.
And you know what - those ingenious Chinese FIXED that dead toilet phone and so now Julie has a new-old-new iPhone which was a total upgrade from her previous phone!  And she's able to download sermons and podcasts and games for her boys and books and all kinds of things that her last obsolete phone wouldn't allow her to get.

And now a year later - new-old-new iPhone is no longer referred to as "ew - the TOILET PHONE!" but instead, its lovingly called "THE iPhone".

So - when God has your iPhone fall out of your back pocket into the squatty potty.... Don't think "ack! My iPhone is ruined!"  think "God what a creative way to provide someone with a new iPhone!"

And on to Momday -
Quick day recap - outside of the bathroom!...

Appletree backpacks lined up in a row for the start of a school day!

This morning the boys and I met the bus at 7:20 and rode near an hour to get to the school where we immediately went up to the classroom.

My five students were Orange, Moses, the twins Melanie and Mary and then Eli.  I did Julie's first three classes and LOVED them!  Its so fun to be back in the classroom - and even more fun to not be with high schoolers in the classroom.

We did two classes with science - we read and talked and experimented with solar eclipses...

And one class with Bible....
I must admit that I'm not only impressed with these little Chinese students' English (which has improved drastically since last year as I know these kids from 2013), but their thought process coming out in English and their writing!  I've never seen such beautiful handwriting, in English, with girls AND boys!

This was Julie's check in to see how everything was going - project done and (most) faces happy - CHECK!
Their reading class with their teacher Linda while Eli and I did some homeschooling.

And then it was DANCE time! :)  Half of the school comes out in the hall and one of the teachers takes them through this dance routine... If it were normal to me it wouldn't have been so amusing, but quite adorable....

Then lunch....
Which Eli and Jasper and I did on our own and then shared a delicious chocolate bar sent from the states!

And then history.  Just a test - yuck - I had to be THAT teacher... :(

Its unbelievable how super long their day is - we got here around 8:30 and classes started and then they don't get out until 4:40!  That is one LOOOONNNNGGG day - poor kids.  I guess it just gets them started in their life of long and hard days so - welcome to China!  I guess thats why you need American chocolate sometimes!

We're on our way home now and I'm struck by these adorable little kids that I just want to eat up and it hits me - they're like 5 and 6 years old and it's 5pm and they're just on their way home right now.  That's just crazy!  

And my buddies Eli and Jasper and I are on our way home.  We're gonna make chicken curry and rice and I'm going to be the bad sitter and let them watch some Disney downloads while we eat because "mom NEVER" lets them do that!  I think it's time for me to shake things up a little.  I'm so bad:)

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Why I Love Julie!

First of all - hooray!  Julie's pollution meter says that its only at 19 today!   Its bright and sunny and you can see the clouds and the blue sky and its warm because the sun can actually shine down and warm you.  Happy day!  Julie and I actually (bad influence that I am) skipped church this morning so we could go over all the kids' schedules and lesson plans but then after about 45 minutes of that we were done so we ended up taking a nice really long walk and wound up at the Starbucks where we were going to read but (bad influence that I am) we ended up just gabbing and gabbing and sharing and sharing - and it was so good to talk and hear her heart and where they are and what God is doing.

The sunny view outside Julie's apartment window...

And second - Why I Love Julie!
Well - why I love Zach and Julie!
So this LEAF program that they're going through is going to be hard.  Its going to be pretty gut wrenching and soul bearing hard.
They'll have to dig deep and share and bear their soul to a counsellor who can decipher the lies that they've believed about themselves and ones that they have allowed to govern themselves and make their decisions.
Some of their friends were just over who have gone through that program and were just saying they are really praying for them and that they should have their tissues handy and be ready to just go through a lot of emotions.
And thats why I love Zach and Julie.  That they're willing to do this.  That they're open to doing this.  That they're wanting to do this.  Its just so indicative of a God-heart.  One that is open to seeing where there are problems that are keeping them from being as close to God as possible and from showing others as much of God as possible.
I so admire them for telling me how God has been bringing them to this place where they've been seeing their need for changing so many habits and life decisions that have become ingrained in them and kept them from being all that God wants them to be.

I couldn't ask for better friends or for better God-life models than Zach and Julie.

So if you happen to think about them - please pray for them as they go through this week.  I'm here muddling through classes that I'm not sure of and kids that aren't used to me being their sole source of care and I'll cope and be fine - but Zach and Julie are there intentionally putting themselves through emotional suicide with the confidence that God will make something great from their weakness.  Thats faith and thats taking a leap and that needs prayer so - please pray for them.

And a little side note... as Zach and Julie pull out and I stand at their flat window watching the boys give them hugs and send them off for their week of emotion, I go to settle in with "The Best Yes" book I'm reading and I grab a cup of coffee and a handful of chips (bad Alison :) from a bag that Julie and I just bought yesterday.

Its a British chip that we got from this store called "Jennys" - this amazing store for foreigners opened by a Chinese woman who was just resourceful enough to start meeting the food and other such demands of the many foreigners who live in China.  All over the world stuff from India to America.  And this bag of British chips has this hilarious picture on the front that just amused me enough that I stood there for a second to laugh.  And then it kind of hit me - hmm, it looks like a familiar picture to me....

There I am calmly and delicately sipping my cup of tea and seated right next to me is my amazing friend bravely stuffing flaming swords down her throat!...
Ok - its metaphorical, but, all the same.... Julie, my friends in Thailand, my friends in India, Africa, Israel, Romania - so many other places where I go and bring my tea and my blissful little moments and the whole time they're living their lives bravely doing things that most sane people wouldn't do.  But its amazing what they do and so - I'm not quite sure who the sane one is in this picture?...
Me with my teacup going about life in such a humdrum normal way that it doesn't illicit any great movement or changes -
or my friend who trusts in the Master's plan so much that she's out there with her family living life on the edge and leaving a mark on people to where they say "do you remember ___ - I definitely couldn't live like her!"
But its said with that tinge of admiration and respect - and honestly, awe.
And me with my teacup - I may have little moments of exciting, but at the end of the day, my life is just a teacup life.
So - I just have to say to my sword swallowing friends!  Do you know how much I envy your brave lives - and I know they're not YOUR brave lives, because I'm sure you're not living them in and of yourselves but through God.  But you're still living amazing lives that inspire me and my fellow tea-drinking friends!
Prayers and kudos for even taking the risk of swallowing that sword!

And so I go back to my cup of coffee and I pick up the lesson plan I have to do for tomorrow's classes and I try to anticipate a little, maybe scalding, tea sipping week (thats my measure of danger :) that will let Zach and Julie bulk up to swallow even more flaming swords in years to come because - if you cant swallow swords - you might as well help your sword swallowing friends light their swords on fire! :)

And did I say - I get to stay here with their amazing mini sword-swallowing kids! :)  I'm so excited to get Jasper and Eli ALL to myself for the next five days!

Saturday, October 25, 2014

What It Feels Like To Die - Very Slowly..

Morbid title, I realize, but it definitely conveys what one feels being here in Beijing.  As mentioned yesterday, the pollution is really bad.

I mean really bad.

I mean REALLY bad.

This was at 3pm - the sun tucked up behind layers of dusty, smoggy, dirt.

Can you seriously SEE the filth in the air.  Its almost claustrophobic feeling sometimes, the air is so heavy.  You just want it to lift so you can see.

So Julie has an app on her phone that shows the PM (I have no clue what it stands for except something along the lines of PSI) - its like a pollution meter.  So apparently, a normal American city would be maybe 5 or 10.  The worst polluted city in the states is around 50.  Beijing, on a good day, a day that Julie and co feel like, its a nice day out, would be around 150/200.  Yesterday was around 400 and today - today was over 500!  I've had a headache off and on all day, which I'm blaming the pollution for.  You breathe and your nose starts to hurt.  Your lungs start feeling a little heavy throughout the day.  And then, you pass all of these asian men walking around puffing on cigarettes and you think ...
I believe I can feel myself dying.
And then you look at all these poor asian people who are always in this city and you think - they can't have long to go between all those factors.

And apparently Obama will be coming for APIC the middle of November so start like the 7th or so of November, they're going to close all the plants and start regulating the cars more so that when Obama comes, the air is actually relatively clean.  Apparently they do this other thing called "cloud seeding" where they fly above the clouds and drop like silver nitrate or something and it will make the clouds actually rain so that it helps to clean the air up more quickly.  So it seems that I will have a few days where, thanks to Obama, they'll be cleaning the air for me.  Yay Obama!

Today Julie met up with a friend, one that I knew, but honestly I just felt like reading this book that Julie had just asked me to bring over.  She wanted to do it as a Bible study with some of the teenage girls she works with and then while we were talking last night she suggested that I should just read it while I'm here.  So - because I do whatever Julie tells me :)  Almost always :) I took it up and started reading it and was so taken with it I could hardly put it down so I decided to go over to the Starbucks instead of Wedame where Julie and friend were meeting.  I sat over there for about an hour and read and was totally taken in by the book.  If you want an amazing read about time and where to spend it - well, I'm only 5 chapters in, but I'd say that this is the book for you.  Its called "The Best Yes" by Lysa Terkeurst.  I think I always struggle with saying the word "no" when I'm asked to do something, but I am getting better. 

Julie and Zach leave for their conference tomorrow after church and then I'm solo until Friday evening.  Its school everyday except Wednesday and I'm so sad that I won't have the time to spend with Julie, but I'm so excited for what they get to do.  Well, excited but apprehensive.

We were talking about this last night.  They were talking about how when they came here they were thinking they were coming to help the work here, but it seems as if its almost been more for them.  That God has been using this time as refinement with them and they've learned and grown so much in the past two year than they have in their whole time in Hungary.  

And then the beginning of the year they were attending this small group and several of the people there had been through this program called LEAF out of Dallas Theological Seminary.  They had all shared their LEAF stories and were talking about how God had really refined them through the program.  About a month or so later, Julie got an email inviting her and Zach to go through this program.  Its a pretty intensive program and can really put one through the proverbial wringer so she and Zach had talked about doing it and Zach had said, well, why don't we see if Alison can come and take care of the boys and if she can then we'll do it - but I really doubt that she's going to come all the way here for that.  

Don't you love God's sense of humor :)  Julie had texted me in April or so and asked "hey would you come watch the boys while we go to this conference - haha"  to which I replied - "let me pray about it and I'll let you know next week".  And for some reason, as soon as I started talking to God about it, it was just an almost automatic "yes" in my head.  And then I thought - I'll look at tickets and depending on price, I'll say "yes".  Which I looked at tickets and - jaw on the floor - a direct flight from Chicago to Beijing was just a little over $700.  The "Best Yes"!  Even before the week was up, I had texted Julie back and said - I'm coming.

So, this is the first that I really heard about the program and all last night and I loved how immediately I saw how God brought everything together for this to work.  And then hearing about the program, it will definitely be a hard and defining week for them.  There was a lot of intensive work they and others had to do before hand.  There will be conference time with other people, but then Zach and Julie will meet individually with a counsellor/mentor and they go over paperwork for others and paperwork they've done before hand.  And the jist of it is that they pull out the three words that you think of yourself as - three words that hold you back from being where God wants you to be - three lies that the world and your own self have made you believe about yourself.  And then they find the three words that God uses to describe you - the three words that can transform your view of yourself and the way you live your life and the way you glorify God and show others him.  

They're both expecting it to be a hard week and a long week, but a productive week as they grow their faith.  And I'm so excited to be able to help them and allow them this time.  They're seriously the most amazing people and I'm so privileged to have gotten to know them better and I can't wait to see where they wind up serving and how.

And in the meantime, I'm sitting watching Jasper finish his homework and I'm excited to see how God can use me this week and what fun I can have with two little blonde boys! 

But for tonight - that smoggy air has just crept up into my head and made me feel like I'm so thankful that at some point in the far/near future, I can go home and breathe clean air.  Thank you all the people who regulate and control things so we can actually see the sun and breathe fresh air.  I can't wait to come back so I can breathe without feeling like by doing so, I'm slowly killing myself.

Friday, October 24, 2014

So Happy!

After a long 14 hour flight, but pleasantly seated next to a little girl (well, started pleasant but then she wound up with her feet on my lap and slapping me in the face as she flailed around during sleep).  It was actually a really nice family from the states who had adopted this little girl from China about 4 years ago and now they were on their way back to adopt the little girls sister who is 2.  But here's the interesting and intriguing thing - both of the girls are, I guess you'd call them albinos.  The little girl sitting by me had this beautiful long white hair and she wore sunglasses most of the time but when she took them off her eyes were almost pupil-less.  She was an absolute sweetie though and was so excited to get her sister.  If I had to sit crammed in with people on a flight to Beijing - God couldn't have given me better seatmates!

And then Julie was texting me while I was in the eternal line for my visa, saying Eli was jumping up and down shouting my name... Which always makes a girl feel good to have someone jumping up and down and shouting her name:). And so this was the first wonderfully excited face I saw running at me when I came out!

And - ah- to be back in Beijing!  Take a deep breath of that beautiful fall air!  Oh wait - do you feel like dying today?  I believe the pollution levels are at some of their highest rates today.  And this was at around 4pm

But jasper came equipped with his slick new filter!

After our first Wedema (coffee) stop.  It was then across the bridge to the lovely street vendors where all I could really handle was something my mouth has been watering for!

And now, a melatonin later - I'm back in my good old room and ready to catch up on some much needed sleep!

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Go China - No China?

I'm headed to Beijing for a little over two weeks.  Work and helping a friend out who needs to go to a conference.  We were supposed to take off at 12:30 but its now almost 2 and were still sitting on the runway.  Something tells me this is going to be one long day:) I'm trying to think happy thoughts and asking God to keep me sane - and I'm thinking of other places that I'd rather be.  Somehow I know Ill make it:). And so I'm letting everyone know that you'll be indulging in photos and descriptions of duck feet and IKEA and heatless nights for the next two weeks.  Something to look forward to!

Ah -we might be taking off:)

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Romania To Hungary - Back It Up!

I've been back for a few days now but I realized I never circled back to my 6 hour Romanian drive! It was part adventure/ part speed racer / part tour of the countryside/ part really annoying.

As mentioned, Romania doesn't have a real highway system so this was literally the road the whole way - two lanes, some fast, some slow drivers, growing through little villages.  Quite interesting.  And a mental and physical challenge with my pukey little stick shift.  Well, it wasn't a little car, but it had the energy level of a 90 year old (forgive me if you're 90:).
You'd get behind a truck or a car going super slow and you'd try to pass it - first you have to try to see around it on the two lane road that was dipping up and down and curving.  When you finally did think you saw a chance you'd put your blinker on and pull out and then TRY to speed up.  Through little choking coughs and frantic shifting and literally standing on the floor with the accelerator pedal... Maybe just maybe you'd get past the offending vehicle in enough time to miss the oncoming speeding car.  Nerve racking - but kind of speed racer exciting! :)

And then there were the random farm animals that meandered onto the roads.

And then - like the roads couldn't worst, we went from two lanes to a 5 miles detour on a one lane gravel road.  I guess technically there wasn't even a lane - it was just a random road.  No chance to pass the tanker in front of me going 5 km an hour.....

Here's another interesting little thing that I noticed.
Romania is Orthodox so all of the churches have this look to it - kind of domey and crossy.  I know I made those words up, but I think you can get the idea looking at the pictures.

And then you cross into Hungary and the churches are Catholic and have that churchy look about them.

So here's the border.  Again, because Romania is not part of the EU pact that allows open commute between borders, you go through the border patrol going in and going out.

 And if you're not from Romania, they make you pull over to this lot and they hold onto your passport and does who knows what with it while they make you wait for 15 minutes and then saunter over to give you back you passport with a heavily accented "you can go".

And then pulling out, on the other side, this is the line of trucks as they have to go in a separate lane going in than cars.  Its FOREVER!  We passed it coming in as well but it was raining and it was night so we were just trying to figure out which lanes we were actually supposed to be in for cars with non EU passports.

 And this was the best part of coming back to Hungary!  Paprika sausages! Oh my word I wish I could bring them home for all of you so - so sad!

I miss paprika sausage..... 
I miss strudel.....
I miss the Danube....
I miss Corvinus....
I miss trams....
I miss all my Hungarian friends...