Saturday, March 28, 2015

It's a....Gender Reveal Post!

On Thursday afternoon, I walked into the clinic for foreigners, wondering if I would find out the gender of our baby, but also really hoping that I would pass the glucose test. Man! I hate that test so much--it's the worst. I had resigned myself to not knowing whether the baby was a boy or a girl until the time of delivery because I am really quite okay with either another son or another daughter and it would be a happy surprise either way.

Yet, we have a lot of unknowns in our future right now, and sometimes the uncertainties feel heavy. So knowing at least one thing (i.e. should I keep Noah's baby clothes or sell them the following day when I had scheduled a kids' clothing sale) would definitely feel nice. According to my personality anyway.

The nurse asked me how many weeks along in my pregnancy I was....and I couldn't remember. That is how scatter brained and crazy I am right now. She had to count using their records to find out how many weeks I was. At least now I know that I am 26 weeks along. All the regular tests out of the way, she gave me a large paper cup of syrupy glucose and I chugged it as carefully as possible. Meaning, I was gagging in front of the nurses and doctor.

Then, with a now hyperactive baby bouncing around in the womb, we went to the attached Chinese hospital for an ultra sound. Apparently, they received an upgrade in machinery since I was pregnant with Noah and now have 4D capabilities. But it's still the same experience of laying flat on your back on a wooden table, while you can't see the screen, and everything is communicated in Mandarin. The technician was the same lady that did my last ultra sound and refused to tell me the gender of the baby. She also did most of Willow's and Noah's ultra sounds, as well as ultrasounds on my chest when we thought I might have breast cancer a few years ago.

She was strangely kind and friendly this time. So happy to see me, and saying she has done sooooo many ultrasounds for me in the past. She even hugged my legs while I was laying on the table. A little weird. She's an older woman, and I feel like she could be my grandmother. The nurse/translator asked me if I knew her really well....nope!

This was one of the longest ultrasounds I've ever experienced, and my back was really sore afterwards. I think it took at least 1 hour, possibly longer. I decided not to ask her about the gender, and just let her take her pictures and measurements. But occasionally we spoke, mostly in Mandarin. Something I wouldn't have been able to do as comfortably when I was pregnant with Willow. I told her some stories about Willow and Noah, and tried to tell some jokes in Chinese. We talked about my Korean heritage, since she was as curious as anyone else about it. I told her how I've been trying to teach Willow that she's 1/4 Korean, and how Willow becomes frustrated and yells, "I'm not Korean, I'm Chinese!" She was laughing....So I changed my mind and decided to ask her about baby #3:

me: Do you know if the baby is a boy or a girl?
Lady: I know. But I won't tell you.
me: oh....(awkward pause)
Lady: Do you want a boy or a girl?
me: Doesn't matter. I like both, both are okay.
Lady: really?
me: Yes. But my daughter really wants a little sister. She says she doesn't want another brother because she already has one.

More silence.


I looked at my nurse/translator and asked her, "So, does she know if the baby is a boy or a girl?" The nurse smiled and said, "Your daughter will get her wish."

Well, there you go! This roundabout way of finding out the gender is so typical here. I didn't hear it directly from the technician, and I didn't get a definite "boy" or "girl" statement. But, I think they were telling me quite clearly that the baby is a girl! This also matches the instinct I've had since the beginning of this pregnancy. This pregnancy has shared more similarities to my pregnancy with Willow than with the symptoms I experienced when pregnant with Noah.

The next day, I started selling all of Noah's outgrown clothes. Fortunately, I brought Willow's baby clothes (0 months through 24 months) to America two years ago. What a relief to know that I can leave all the baby clothes in China guilt-free, and have many girly clothes waiting for us in America! Willow is also thrilled to play with a sister in her near future and is wanting her name to be Masha. After a Russian cartoon she watches occasionally on youtube or youku.

Noah will be even more outnumbered, but I think he will have fun learning to be a big brother.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Paradox Life

Throwback to May 2014, when we were tourists in Beijing with Uncle Brad.
We will truly miss China and the expat experiences we have enjoyed here.  
As the picture above announces, we have some significant changes coming very soon! Some of you may already know about this news, while others might be finding out for the first time. I am writing this post to bring everyone in on our plan: we will not be signing another contract with Leadership Development International and so will be returning to the United States in the very near future. You might want to know why this decision was made, or maybe you are wondering what is next for us. You might want to discover how we are coping with these upcoming transitions and how you can be praying for us this year. Well, this post will hopefully answer many, many questions and also help me to process this life-changing announcement. Please read this post, and if afterwards you would like to leave a comment or send me a message or email, I would love to hear from you! 

Besides becoming a mom, I think this is the most crazy, life-altering, scary, uncertain, and terribly exciting thing I have ever done: move back to America. 

When I was a child, one of my favorite books was "Grandfather's Journey", a beautiful picture book written and illustrated by Allen Say. At the time, I was drawn to the nearly melancholy tone of the story, and its bittersweet message. As an elementary teacher, in a classroom full of Third Culture Kids, I once again fell in love with "Grandfather's Journey".  Now, as a mother of third culture kids, it speaks to my heart profoundly. If you want me to cry on command, just hand me a copy of "Grandfather's Journey". It's about the author's grandfather and how he lived either in Japan or the US at various times throughout his life. A genuine TCK before the term was coined and popularized. Here is a quote from the final page of the story: 

"But I also miss the mountains and rivers of my childhood. I miss my old friends. So I return now and then, when I can not still the longing in my heart. The funny thing is, the moment I am in one country, I am homesick for the other."  -Allen Say

This quote perfectly encompasses my feelings about leaving China. I can hardly believe our time here is coming to a close. It is a bittersweet time and I approach each day with hesitancy. Each moment is a paradox of loving and hating, grieving and rejoicing. But...more on that later! 

I will miss: the frigid cold of living that is living in China's Northeast. The fact that the government controls our heat, meaning they turn it on/off depending on pre-set dates. I will not especially miss feeling cold all the time and having to bundle up every time we go out since we rely entirely on either walking or public transportation. 

Why We are Leaving China

In every way, the decision to leave China has been both the most complicated choice and yet easiest decision we've had to make together as a couple. Adam often thought we would be here for at least a decade, if not longer.  There are many details to this story that I could drag up for inspection, however there is really only one reason that we are leaving. We believe the Lord is directing us back to America, and that He has given us permission to move on to the next chapter of our story.

We came to China because we both believed that God was leading us here. He clearly called us, opened the necessary doors, and worked in ways only He could to make certain we were in Shenyang in 2009.

In the following years, when we would discuss whether or not to sign another contract, the first question was always, "Does God want us to leave or stay?" As much as possible, we have wanted to live in a way that conformed to His will and not our own. If it had been up to me, we would have left years ago. As I watched my purpose shift from being an elementary teacher, to a part time drama director, to a full time stay at home mom, I have often wondered why God called me to China in the first place. Honestly, I am really pondering that question now. Why six years? Why not four or eight? What did I learn while I was here, and what am I supposed to do about it now?

We prayed. We waited. We prayed some more, and tried to hear what God had been so patiently whispering to us for some time. After over a year, we realized that there were only a few reasons we wanted to stay in China: we were 'safe' here and we were comfortable with what had become a familiar home. In all truthfulness, we did not want to leave our nest.

In retrospect, I see God shaking us in our nest. We were holding on to twigs and mud and clinging to our false sense of security with tenacity. So yes, things got a little rough. We spent months in uncertainty as we tried to discern if our situation was something we were called to persevere through, or a sign that it was time to move on. There are many things that happened in the last year that revealed our hearts desires were shifting...or maybe that the circumstances we were working in were no longer fitting God's call for our lives. When God starts to strip away all the excess, you can see the heart of the matter so much better. I think it came down to two issues for Adam....he might correct me later!

       1. Adam felt a strong sense of loyalty towards serving the students here, and felt it would be difficult to leave when there's so much work here. Until someone pointed out to him that if God wanted us to move, then He already had a replacement in mind, did Adam let go of this desire to see for the sake of teaching the students here.
      2. Adam also worried about the uncertain future. But was convicted this past Fall by the Spirit to not worry about where we will live or work. Because God is faithful, and He provides, and to stay in a place because it feels comfortable and financially secure is not walking by faith. Any earthly security we build around ourselves to make us feel safe is false. Truly, the safest place for each of us is in the center of God's will.

After Adam shared how God was answering his doubts, we immediately agreed that it would be a sin to sign another contract simply because it felt familiar and safe. It would be a sin to stay if God wanted us elsewhere.

With that mindset, we saw that the only reason we would potentially stay was because we would feel financially secure. But it would be terribly false because we would be relying on our own strength, making decisions based on our own will, dictated by our own wants. Like Jonah, we could no longer run from the Lord's plan.

A big fish spat us up on shore... 

We were shaken out of our doubt-ridden nest and ushered into a sense of overwhelming peace. True freedom is found in obedience to Him. The next chapter will be difficult, but it will be worth it. I do not know what He is preparing for us, but I do know that running towards the Lord is the only place I want to be.

I will miss the adventure of living in China. The fact that any time you step out your front door (and sometimes without even leaving your apartment), you are thrown into new and exciting experiences. There are possible and unlimited adventures surrounding you at all times. They will make you shocked, angry, enthusiastic, or deeply touched. You'll laugh, or cry, and think for the thousandth time, "No one is going to believe me about this!" 

Where We are Headed Next 

We're not really sure what is next. That is the gist of it! Which is both scary and exciting! Here's what we do know:

  • My brother is coming on April 28 to help us sell most of our belongings and pack our suitcases. He will also help us travel to America. Because of my pregnancy, I will be leaving three weeks before Adam. It would be impossible for me to travel with a load of approximately 20 bags, plus two little ones, all while eight months pregnant....I mean, I could probably do it if there was no other option, but thankfully my brother is coming to help!
  • Willow is having a Hello Kitty-Goodbye Willow party to play with her friends once more before we leave in mid-May. Brad is bringing a bunch of fun party stuff that she helped pick out on Amazon. The poor girl had to have something to look forward to in May! She is not happy about moving.
  • Noah needs surgery to separate his webbed fingers. I hope this happens in June.
  • Baby #3 is due on July 5. Wouldn't it be ironic if this little one was a 4th of July baby?
  • Sometimes I forget that I am pregnant. There's so much to do! My China bucket list, a trip to Korea over spring break, selling nearly all our earthly possessions, packing the rest, having a going away party for Willow (disguised as an early birthday party)....traveling to America, jet lag on my own with two kids, transitioning to the States, having Noah's surgery and recovery...and THEN, oh yeah, having a baby!
  • And then maybe moving somewhere else. Starting a new job. Finding new friends. Finding a home. Finding a Church....all while missing China, taking care of two culture-shocked kids, and caring for a newborn.

Did I mention that we will be missing China? It's a kind of grief that is hard to put into words, and maybe I never will be able to. When I think about leaving, I am a little sad but I am preparing myself for it and processing a lot. However, when I think about my kids leaving China, then I am nearly inconsolable. The pain is white hot in my heart.

We will miss the complete chaos of fireworks during Chun Jie. But we will not miss the crazy pollution levels. Geneticists theorized that Noah's birth abnormalities were a result of the pollution I was exposed to while pregnant. I took this picture the morning after the Lunar New Year festivities...the Air Quality Index clocked out at 999. Which basically means the air is cancerous. Most cities in the US are under 100, and we rarely have days that "good" here. We stay inside so many days because the air quality is considered dangerous and will result in health issues. 

What we're Working on Now 

  • Adam is applying and interviewing for jobs all over the US
  • Figuring out what to sell, what to give away, and what to pack 
  • Preparing Willow and Noah for our upcoming transitions 
  • Enjoying our last weeks (only 8 of them left!) in China as much as possible 

More things we'll miss: cheap fireworks that would definitely be illegal in the US.  

Prayer Requests 

  • That Adam would find a job teaching middle school science, math, or history in a place that shares his vision for education. On a semi-minor note, that the salary would be such that I could continue to stay home with the kids and not have to work as well. 
  • That we would be able to live in the moment and enjoy the 'now', even as we look ahead to the future. 
  • That we would not sow anxiety in our hearts, but that we would plant seeds of faith as we approach all the uncertainties and complexities of the future. 
  • That we would have meaningful and memorable times with our community here and that we would be able to find a new community in America. That we would be able to take what we have learned about living in community and apply it to our new location. 
  • That Willow and Noah would transition smoothly to life in the States. That Adam and I would have wisdom and patience and that we would grow closer together through it all.  
  • For Noah's surgery this summer
  • For the safe arrival of baby #3
  • On a minor note, that we would be able to find out the gender of this baby! We've once again had trouble finding out (due to the culture here) at the hospital.
Mainly, we're just coasting on fumes and feeling overwhelmed. So the desire to finish not only the school year well, but also dealing with heartache of saying goodbye to our home is sometimes keeping me all night. 

I've been trying to post this blog for months, and it has been so hard to get it out! Even now, I didn't want to do it--I just feel that I HAD to do it because I only have 8 weeks left and I would like to start processing my thoughts on here and elsewhere online. Read the captions below for more things that I will miss about China! I have much more to write about, but even this post is overwhelming I'll just publish it...

Here, my little family is enjoying treats sent by Aunt Erica. We will miss all the wonderful care packages we have been sent faithfully through the years! Even Noah is ecstatic when his dad walks in the door with a US priority mail package!

We will dearly miss our community here! In this picture, we were making pizzas to eat for lunch with all the little friends in our play group. The kids have wonderful friends and will miss their play group time!

I will sort of miss my little tiny toaster oven. Which I have learned to cook and bake with  proficiently. The pizzas are the shape they are (in this picture) because that is the exact shape of my oven and the largest possible pizza we could make. 

We will miss hanging out with our friends! Here we are, all staying in the same hotel together, in the city where we all live...just for fun! Does this kind of thing happen in America? 

We have great babysitters all within walking distance. 

We enjoy food like bacon (which Noah is holding with glee in this picture) and pop tarts because we rarely buy them.  I will miss the novelty of food and the profusion of interesting food that we're surrounded by. 

Really cheap and beautiful gel manicures. Just a few dollars! 

Buying our drinking water in large bottles because tap water is not safe to drink. 

Getting clothes custom made for just a few dollars.

I will miss sharing China with these two cuties. I think they will forever be shaped by their early experiences here, but I wonder how much of their time here they will actually remember in their minds and hearts.  

Friday, September 26, 2014

Frozen Birthday Party: Part 2

What I love about hosting is that Jesus calls us to open our home to both friends and strangers. It is a discipline in our walk with Christ. It pushes us past pride and towards contentment.  God is the very author of hospitality.  When we give of our time, provisions, and service by welcoming others into our homes, we are walking in obedience. 

I'm not saying I am perfect on this front. Believe me, I see how difficult it is to be hospitable. But in the last year, as I was studying through the New Testament, I was struck by the number of passages that encourage and exhort believers to show hospitality. The introvert in me wants to spend all my free time reading. The shy person in me wants to spend time with just my family. The exhausted person in me longs for rest and an evening of leisure. The selfish person in me wants to horde all of our material and immaterial gifts to myself. The lazy person in me doesn't want to clean before and after people come over. The type-A person in me doesn't like to see the wear and tear that hosting 4-5 times a week brings. Yet, my spirit acknowledges that hospitality trumps these self-centered reservations. When I try to push myself through the steps because of a sense of a obligation, I become weary and resentful toward being a hostess. But when God grants me the grace to see hospitality  through His eyes, I am confronted by my sinfulness and aware that there is joy in obedience. That joy only is born out of obedience. That joy is found in serving others, not because I have to, but because I want to please the Lord. If this is the case, please, let my front door NEVER close. 

When we exercise hospitality, we can consider that which truly matters. 

To foster true fellowship, to help those in need, and to show love in a tangible way. All the while putting others before ourselves. 

Peter instructs us to show hospitality without grumbling (1 Peter 4:9). Ouch! We do this, he says, because of love, and because we ought to be good stewards of the gifts God has given to us. This is not an obligation, but an extension of the grace that has been given to us. The purpose of these gifts is to serve one another! 

"Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good.  Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor. Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality." -Romans 12:9-13

Especially to those within the faith, be hospitable. 
Just as Titus' spirit was refreshed by the hospitality of the Corinthian Church, we can encourage fellow believers by welcoming one another into each of our homes (2 Cor. 7:13). Hospitality may be a spiritual gift that some exhibit beautifully, but it isa discipline all Christians are challenged to obey. It is not easy, and sometimes it is quite ugly. But there is often ugliness in refining processes, and God can surely use hospitality to refine His children. I think this is why He encourages us so strongly not to neglect hospitality. 

"Let brotherly love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares." -Hebrews 13:1-2

So, even if you never host an angel--we are called to care for those around us. Read this parable and be encouraged to continue showing hospitality to whoever you can, whenever you can: 

 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.37 Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.'" -Matthew 25:31-40

Okay...this rabbit trail on hospitality started because I was looking at the first picture in this post. As I was deciding on whether or not to delete it, I couldn't help but feel blessed by hospitality. The loving hospitality that has been shown to me by friends and family, and the times I have been able to show hospitality towards others flashed through my memory. It is all worth it! It is better to give than to receive; and I often feel that way about opening my home to others. 

It is a blessing to be surrounded by many friends. 

 It was difficult to settle on a guest list for Willow's birthday party. As you can see, our apartment is on the small side and we could not invite everyone we wanted to! 

from Brad's iPhone camera...the dessert table was set up at such varying stages that there are really so many versions of what it eventually looked like. 

On the right, playing the snow ball game where kids had to knock over a tower of cups with 'snowballs' made from felt and...wait for it...toilet paper stuffing.

Singing happy birthday to the birthday girl! 

Willow did a much better job (compared to last year) opening gifts with appropriate levels of enthusiasm and expressed thankfulness.

Our crafty friend, Lauren, made Willow her very own "Elsa cape". Willow was very excited about the matching headband!