Archive for April, 2011

Growing Family

Friday, April 29th, 2011

When I first got back to the States, I threw myself completely into my nephews and nieces. It was like quenching a severe thirst after being out in the desert for so long. I missed them so much! Because there are now so many of them, I have the luxury of picking any one of them up at any hour of the day!

Avery and Joel

And there are a range of ages to choose from! My favorite age is the “cuddle age” when they are content to just sit on my lap. The good thing is that all of them are such good kids that they don’t mind cuddling with their “Koko” for long moments at a time.

Aiden, Aldridge, Nathan

It was also such a joy to meet and hold my newest niece, Trinity. She was born during the Easter season and her middle name happens to be Anastasia, which means “resurrection.” What a special little girl! Maybe because I’d been holding different babies throughout my time here that she felt incredibly light in my arms. She’s this fragile, little body … so sweet and gentle.

Trinity and Allister

Benefactors

Wednesday, April 27th, 2011

My visit to Shanghai would not be complete without spending some time with people who have supported me these last six years. These are people who have given so generously to me and my work in China.

Because of this couple’s gift, I lived in Guangxi without having to spend a cent on my own. They are faithful servants who have a heart for China and give freely to those who have been called out in the field. I gave them an update on my various projects while they continued to offer their support, even to my next season in Oklahoma. Thank God for their partnership!

Shens

From Day One, this couple gave me moral and emotional support. When I first landed in Shanghai, they were the ones who welcomed with with a very nice dinner and a stroll down Nanjing Road. We got together very often my very first year. They’ve met my friends and families, and I’ve visited their homes several times. Throughout the last six years, I’ve also seen them and their family through weddings, funerals, birthday parties, sicknesses, new house, new car … too bad I won’t be there for their new baby! Even though we don’t meet as often, we text and email and call. On this last night, we met up at a nice restaurant for a kind of farewell. I don’t know when I’ll see them again, but I hope they will come visit the States very soon.

Chuas

I stayed in this special lady’s home during my short visit. She and I would talk until the late hours of the evening. In the last three years, we have partnered together in gathering a small group every Thursday night. She is not only a partner, she is a very good friend and a mentor. Since she has a nurturing heart and mothers everyone around her, I have also benefited from her caring ways — from home-cooked meals, a listening ear, and patient counseling. During my stay, I also enjoyed the company of Sophie, her little terrier puppy!

Flora

Finally, if there is one person who has inspired me throughout my time in Shanghai, it is this person. Not only was she the one who hired me, but I also taught her son (who just graduated from college). I remember that she took me out to lunch for my first time off-campus. I admire her greatly for her poise, her wisdom, her intelligence, and her tenacity. I worked closely with her on various school projects and she has become a kind of role model for me. My most memorable moments were those cold Fall and Winter evenings when I’d have dinner with her and her husband. I would usually stay until almost midnight because we’d talk for so long. It was only appropriate that I had my final meal in Shanghai with her … it is like going full-circle.

ShuKuang

Treasures

Tuesday, April 26th, 2011

I was reminded of the many treasures I still have in Shanghai when I met up with the girls. Because I was there for the weekend, I was able to go to church with Mei and Sky. I was glad that Mei could make it even though she had an overnight shift. She had to go back after the service, but we made plans to meet up later that week for dinner.

Mei

Even before I headed back to Shanghai, Sky and I had already been making plans to meet. We had planned to have breakfast together before church. What a joy it was to see her! I almost didn’t make it because I was running so late (and my cell phone was out of minutes!). I was a little bit late but we had a great time catching up. Our paths always seem to run so parallel to each other that I wouldn’t be surprised if we end up on the same path again in the future. Here’s hoping …

Sky

Later that week, the girls and I got together for dinner. It’s strange to me that five years or so ago, they were just starting out in their early 20s. Now, most of them are planning on marriage and family. It was a time of encouraging one another to keep the faith and to walk the path the Lord put before us. It was also a reminder to me of the fruits that have been borne out of my years in Shanghai. These are fruits that never spoil — my true treasures.

jewels

Writing Project

Monday, April 25th, 2011

It seems I may have landed myself a new writing gig. Today, I was able to hold and touch one of the most intricately-made dolls I’ve ever seen. She is beautiful — a Tibetan princess, complete with traditional jade necklace earrings and necklace, silver chain-link and yak fur belt, real leather robe and boots with detailed design, silk chemise, finely braided hair, blown-glass eyes, and delicately-fashioned eyelashes. She is about a foot tall and very elegant. One could get lost in the stories that this beauty inspires.

fisimi

I’ll wait and see where my muse takes me. In the meantime, I will let the ideas sit and simmer in the seat of my imagination. When the time is right, maybe it could all come to life.

And yes, that is a new haircut I’m sportin’.

Another Niece!

Saturday, April 23rd, 2011

Trinity Anastasia

proud parents

Goodbye Guangxi

Friday, April 22nd, 2011

Before leaving Guangxi altogether, I made one more stop to see some very special people. I’ve met them only once before, but they are inspired people with some amazing stories. I spent one whole afternoon taking notes on their personal experiences. Someday, I will do something with the stories I’ve gathered.

new friends

There was another group I visited one night. They welcomed me into their home and we spent a whole evening chatting away. This was another group with some inspired personal stories. I could barely catch up with my note-taking. At one point, I was desperately wishing for more hours so I can ask more questions. In the end, the wealth of available information was just too much to fit into the time allotted to me. I had to content myself with what I could gather.

visitation

My time in Guangxi most fittingly ended with a very nice dinner. I had mentioned to the group earlier that I was craving shrimp, and sure enough, they ordered the dish for me that night. For having met this group for just a short time, we connected right away, and I could tell that they are true kindred spirits. I am almost sure that we will see each other again despite the time and the distance. I am so grateful for the opportunity to have met such awesome sisters!

last dinner

Bye Friends

Tuesday, April 19th, 2011

It was four straight weekends of potluck dinners, fun chatting, late night movies, and of course, post-movie discussions. What a joy it was to spend singles nights with these sisters! For this final night, we relished our time together, knowing it is probably be the last one. I don’t know if my experience would be as rich if it weren’t for the gift of their fellowship these last few months.

sunday nights

One of the few hiking trips I took was up this mountain with 1,000 steps. This friend dared to take it with me because I just had to do it before I left this place. We parked our bike at the foot and began our hike, stopping every now and then to catch our breath (in part because we were chatting so much). We spent a good hour or so up on the heights to enjoy the view — what a view! On the way down, it started raining, and since there was no shade anywhere, we huddled on the steps of the stairs under one jacket. And yes, we whiled away the time chatting. What special and memorable time! I’ll never forget it.

hiking trip

I was sad that I wouldn’t be able to see my friends’ baby when he/she is born late next month. I paid a final visit to their house to say goodbye and to wish them the best. They are a lovely couple. Maybe someday, our paths will cross again.

last visit

I was so touched when this family gave me a farewell dinner by making this very special Korean meal — all from scratch! That’s about how you do it here in this place. Earlier that day, I spent some time with these three lovely girls on their roller blades and skateboards. They are three of the most charming girls I’ve ever met. After dinner, I also ended up chatting with their parents until 2 a.m. They are an inspiring family, one from whom I learned much throughout these last six months.

korean dinner

From the beginning, this group served as my constant companions every week. It helps to have a kind of routine that normalizes life somehow. On this final night, I found myself thinking back to when I first came … how far I’ve come! I’m so thankful for the support that this family has given me throughout this experience. Though there are no tears in these goodbyes, there is the promise of a happy reunion in the future.

monday nights

Closure

Saturday, April 16th, 2011

guangxi mountains


Mountain

by Steven Curtis Chapman

I want to build a house up on this mountain
Way up high where the peaceful waters flow
To quench my thirsty soul
Up on the mountain

I can see for miles up on this mountain
My troubles seem so small they almost disappear
Lord, I love it here
Up on the mountain

My faith is strengthened by all that I see
You make it easy for me to believe
Up on the mountain
Oh, up on the mountain

I would love to live up on this mountain
And keep the pain of living life so far away
But I know I can’t stay
Up on the mountain

I said I’d go, Lord, wherever You lead
For where You are is where I most want to be
And I can tell we’re headed for the valley

My faith is strengthened by all that I’ve seen
So, Lord, help me remember what You’ve shown me
Up on the mountain

You bring me up here on the mountain
For me to rest and learn and grow
I see the truth up on the mountain
And I carry it to the world far below

So as I go down to the valley
Knowing that You will go with me
This is my prayer, Lord
Help me to remember what You’ve shown me
Up on the mountain

I cherish these times up on the mountain
And I can leave this place because I know
Someday, You’ll take me Home to live forever
Up on the mountain

Way up on the mountain
Way up high where the peaceful waters flow …

Fiddler on the Roof

Wednesday, April 13th, 2011

fiddler at sunset

“Because of our traditions, everyone knows who he is and what God expects him to do. Tradition, tradition … tradition!”

The music was a bit dated for my taste, but the message is timeless. The movie is about family, community, relationships, culture, politics, change, and of course, tradition. It is about a poor Jewish milkman in Russia during the early 1900s who has five daughters. His father’s heart compels him to marry them off to good and capable, if not rich, husbands, but his good intentions for them are thwarted. Each one of his daughters represents the economic, political, and religious change of that generation. Throughout the movie, the foundation of his very identity is challenged as the milkman consistently makes difficult choices between an unquestioning belief in tradition and a necessary paradigm shift in his worldview. It is a humorous yet profound look at what links family culture with changing beliefs in tradition and how these shape an individual’s choices. I was especially touched by scenes where the milkman carries on a conversation with God, always petitioning, constantly complaining, occasionally questioning, sometimes doubting, but never despairing. The movie reminds me again of the resilience of the human spirit. We hold on to what we know to be stable and true, but the world is capricious and unpredictable — change is inevitable. If there is one thing I learned from the movie, it is that we are the mercy of unknown forces in this world. However, with faith and love and hope, we can overcome. It is the gift of a gracious God to an otherwise fragile spirit.

Last Village Visit

Tuesday, April 12th, 2011

In less than a week, I will be leaving this place. It would be the end of a most memorable season in my life. Normally, for closure, I usually sit down and reflect on what I’ve learned, how I’ve grown, where I’d go from here, but these days, I’m finding it hard to do. Perhaps I’m not ready to say goodbye just yet. And so, I put it off until I find the absolute urgency to do so.

I visited yet another village today, and it is most likely the last one as I count down the days. We stopped by to drop off some food for this family. The father just suffered a stroke and is now confined to a wheelchair. The village had been closed off for a few weeks because of flooding, so we brought vegetables for them to eat. Before cooking them, the grandmother of the house cut off the roots from one of the vegetables. She took these roots to the backyard and planted them. I watched as she expertly used the hoe to dig the ground and carefully placed the roots at just the right depth. She also took a bittermelon we brought over, cut it open, and took out the seeds. She laid them out under the sun to dry. I think she plans to grow these seeds as well.

planting

As with all my visit to the villages, the family treated us hospitably, insisting that we stay for lunch. They prepared all kinds of food. While waiting for the water to boil, the grandmother sat chatting with us. When I asked to take a picture with her, she obliged and was happy to do so. She reminded me of one of the characters I wrote about in my book. I’m really going to miss this place.

posing

The husband had come back for lunch and was preparing the food. In this culture, the man usually does the cooking. He prepared several dishes and was particularly eager for us to try the eggs from their free-range chickens that they raise and sell. Everything on the table was fresh food from the farm. He was still in the kitchen when I took this picture.

partaking

Sometimes, I embarrass myself when I eat in the village because the food never fails to ratchet up my appetite. I end up eating more than I usually do when in polite company. I wonder if it has anything to do with the natural farm environment. I learned later that our village hosts actually consider it a compliment when we eat more, which alleviates my guilt some. I’m really going to miss these village visits.