Having Josh and Rachel, and their daughters Emma and Samantha (almost both exactly the age of our girls!) with us in our city was like a dream come true. We knew we had really been missing the fellowship and encouragement that comes from having colleagues, but we didn't even realize how much until these dear friends moved here. I think the biggest change for me was the relief that came from having someone who knew me. Not just knew me as a language student or a foreigner, but knew who we were, why we were here, what we were trying to accomplish, and were also striving for the same things! What a joy that was!
Early on in their time in our city, we were invited to celebrate the Mid-Autumn festival with some friends. I think this was around September of 2006. The meal that night was held at a restaurant on the property of the lake that sits right in the center of our city. It was truly the only meal in this country that I can remember not being able to eat a thing that was ordered. I like the food here, I really do, but sometimes at banquets or special occasions the hosts order all this weird crazy stuff as an attempt to impress the guests. Lots of strange sea creatures, bugs, etc were on the menu that night. Plain old vegetables and meat were nowhere to be found! We didn't let it stop us from taking a picture though! (the first one below). I do remember being so thankful that Rachel and I both had to nurse our babies mid-meal so we were able to avoid pretending to eat too much. And John is always willing to eat anything, so his eating made up for my lack of eating! We took a little retreat in October of 2006 to a nearby city where there is a famous mountain, and thought it would be interesting to climb the mountain together. Actually the climbing is not climbing, it's steps. Thousands and thousands of steps. At that point, with babies and toddlers in tow, we opted for the cable car! After the cable car there were still plenty of steps to climb! A funny memory from that trip is that numerous--not just one, numerous--people asked me upon going up the mountain if the baby we were carrying was real. They thought she looked so much like a doll that perhaps it was possible that we were carrying a doll all of that way! More about that trip in the October 2006 archives on this blog.
Getting ready to climb. . . and below there's a picture of us with our friend Robert, a native of the city with the famous mountain. He joined us for the hike and for some delicious hot-pot afterwards. Notice Clara Anne's curly hair (you can only see the back of her head)! I must have been holding Chloe as I took the picture.
By the time Thanksgiving rolled around in 2006, we were SO excited to have other Americans to celebrate the holiday together! Rachel had a fabulous oven which would fit more than an 8x8 pan (unlike my teeny tiny oven, which was faithful for me for several years), so we had Thanksgiving at her place. We divided up the food and figured out ways to make the various components to have a traditional Thanksgiving meal. All of you who have lived overseas at some point can relate to the special-ness of having real American food. There's just something about pulling out all the stops, buying that expensive can of imported cranberry sauce, dipping into your stash of pecans, using up your only can of cream of mushroom soup, trying to make an imitation of french fried onions since there are none to be found. . . all of those things make for a really wonderful celebration. How thankful I was to have friends to share it with! Here's Rachel and Samantha on that special day... (don't you love the bright yellow cabinets in her kitchen? :)
And here's the dessert table that day. Deliciousness! Chocolate pecan pie, chocolate chip cheesecake ball, apple cake with cream cheese icing, hello dollies, and a cherry crisp. Good thing it was an all-day event! This was only the beginning of holidays that we would celebrate together. The last one was on July 4th, 2010 as we had an outdoor picnic the day before Josh and Rachel left the country. What a blessing to have friends to celebrate with! We made lots of memories on those special occasions. We often put our kids to sleep so that the adults could stay up and play games or whatever; that worked relatively well for a long time and even as our kids grew older, we found ways to help them play well together so the adults could have time to talk. These times of fellowship were so life-giving for us. There was always lots of laughter, fun, and good things to eat but there was also unity of purpose, honest sharing, and many wonderful seasons of prayer. I feel so blessed with my unique friendship with Rachel, partially because of how our entire families got along and enjoyed spending time together. I can remember Josh and John having lots of "strategy" conversations and that solidarity was really helpful to John. Living in close community with these friends was truly a delight and joy to our hearts. Thank you, Lord!
I plan to finish this series next time with some "best of the best" photos from the last 3 years or so. Many of these occasions that I spent with Rachel I've already blogged about, (feel free to read through the archives! I'm just sorry I don't have them organized other than by date!) so at the risk of being redundant I plan to simply give you a glimpse in photos of a larger period of time. So, until next time!