Monday, January 31, 2011

A Preview

It's 10:02pm. Too late (for me, anyway) to start the long, newsy, picture-filled post that I had intended to write tonight. Instead, I'll give you a preview. The long, newsy, picture-filled post that I won't be writing has to do with this:More next time!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Love this girl.

She's a funny one, our Christin. I know I've been saying for awhile how she cracks us all up with the things she says, but it's really true! Lately she invented her own term of endearment by adding "s" to the end of a name. Two examples: "Hi Moms!" (said sweetly to me) and "Babes" added to the end of her baby doll's name, like "Mommy, where's my Sarah babes?" I guess to her it's a cute, shortened name instead of saying "mommy" or "baby." Makes me laugh! I sometimes can't believe I have such a verbal two year old. She truly can express herself so well and make us all laugh in the process. Love you, Christin!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011


Taken on New Year's Eve, 2010. Yes, Clara Anne and Chloe are wearing dress-up clothes, but hey, you take what you can get!

Monday, January 17, 2011

Planting the Flag

Several of my online friends put up posts at the new year about their ONE word resolutions for the year ahead. I was intrigued by the idea. What if I were to do the same? What if I prayed and asked the Lord what one word He would have me to focus on this year?

In light of our recent news, I've been praying earnestly about what this year will look like. Certainly it will be filled with transition. We feel excited about the opportunity before us, and at peace about where the Lord is leading us. He has confirmed in many ways that this is the path we are to follow. But, I will confess that there's a huge temptation for me to worry about the changes ahead. Packing up our house, saying goodbye to friends here, leaving behind the only life my girls have ever known, transitioning our family to a whole different culture and lifestyle, affording an expensive degree, finding a place to live, wondering about finding new friends and "fitting in" to life in the States...all of these are a bit daunting, especially taken together. I find it easy to pray about these things, put them in the Lord's hands, and then pick them right back up again! Some days not ten minutes passes and I find myself turning things over in my mind again, wondering, worrying, contemplating.

So as I thought about the concept of simply asking the Lord for one word for this next year, He immediately brought it to mind: TRUST. This year has the potential for great spiritual growth, in that I will be challenged to trust Him in many new ways. I must remember that there is nothing that I will face this year that I cannot trust Him with. He is trustworthy, today, tomorrow, forever. The Lord can be trusted whether I live in Asia or America or somewhere in between. He is worthy of my whole hearted trust, no matter what circumstance I am facing.

We had a long bus ride last week to visit a friend and I re-read The Mom Walk by Sally Clarkson. In it, she talked about an experience where she "planted a flag" in her heart to walk with the Lord through a particularly difficult circumstance. The imagery stuck with me and I felt the Lord calling me to the same.

So, here it is. I am planting a flag in my heart for 2011 that has TRUST emblazoned upon it. When I am tempted to worry, to fret, to be afraid, I hope to say to my soul, "None of that! Remember, this is a year to TRUST. This circumstance, too, (whatever it is) can be another opportunity to trust Him."

Already I am finding that when I actively put my trust in the Lord for the concerns on my heart, He brings an amazing peace and joy through that process. How thankful I am for His gracious love which is always at work changing me! And how I want to be changed! Lord, may this year be a year to trust you with every situation I find myself in.

What am I trusting specifically? Words like these:

Hebrews 4:15-16: For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

1 Peter 1:3-5: Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God's power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.

Psalm 91:1-2: He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say to the Lord, "My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust."

Hebrews 13:5: Keep your life free from the love of money, and be content with what you have, for He has said, "I will never leave you nor forsake you."

These few brief verses only scratch the surface of His precious promises! But how wonderful they are. He is with me, He will not leave me. He understands my weakness. He is preserving for me a living hope, my salvation, forgiveness of my sins. He is my fortress and refuge, no matter what changes or difficulties may come. He is trustworthy.

How about you? Is there some area in your heart where you need to "plant a flag"? Is the Lord impressing on you a word that He wants you to focus on this year in your spiritual walk?

Saturday, January 08, 2011

New Year News

Many, if not all of you, are on our list to receive our letters once a month. (Or as often as I get them out!) But in case I have a few readers here that don't get those letters, I wanted to share some news with you. Actually, John wrote this, so just consider it a "guest post." :) And, by the way, this is an edited version. Contact me if you'd like the full letter emailed to you!

New Year Greetings from the Winds!
Not only does every January 1st mark the beginning of the new calendar year, it also marks the beginning of a new year of work here for our family. We first arrived 7 years ago, on January 1, 2004. In fact, just tonight we were looking at some old pictures from those first few months and couldn't believe how quickly the years have passed and how much has happened!

This year as we mark the completion of 7 years of work, we are also anticipating some significant changes for our family in 2011.

After multiple months of prayer and discussion, we have begun on a path that we hope will lead to John beginning a Ph.D program in the upcoming fall. It would be a four year program at SBTS in Louisville, KY. Our family would plan to relocate to Louisville for those four years, meaning a departure from our work here.

Making this decision has not been easy as we have planted our lives here during the last 7 years, intending to stay indefinitely. We studied a new language, started a family, built a team, and opened a business. We shared with many and saw many lives changed. The possibility and the idea of pursuing the Ph.D came upon us unexpectedly in 2010. But as we began to seek Him in this matter, He began to confirm that He was, in fact, leading us to pursue this course. So the sadness of our expected departure is also mixed with the peace and confidence that His plan is best.

Our plan is to return to the US in 6 months, at the end of June. We hope to arrive in Louisville mid-July and begin settling into a new home in preparation for the beginning of John's fall semester. The next six months, then, will be focused on completing this 7 1/2 year leg of the race that has been marked out for us. When we first left for Asia 7 years ago, the hardest part was saying "goodbye" to all of our family and friends in the States. Now after living here for 7 years, the hardest part will be saying "goodbye" to our many dear friends and brothers and sisters here! Please pray for us as we seek to finish well our work here.

And, though our time here is not yet complete, it is never too early to say "Thank YOU" for all the wonderful support you've given us over the last seven years. You have played a key role in what He has done here!

We pray that the Lord will fill you with His superabundant joy, faithfulness, and fruitfulness in 2011!

the Winds

Wow. Big news. I have several posts percolating in my head as I think about these upcoming changes. You can bet there'll be lots of reflections, musings, and ponderings coming soon as our family anticipates this major transition, so stay tuned. Thanks for reading!

Monday, January 03, 2011

Memory Lane Strikes Again!

At the risk of boring you all with yet another trip down memory lane, I couldn't resist posting these old photos after all of that reminiscing the other night! First: here's our student dorm room upon arrival. Can you see the layer of dirt on the desk? And notice the cement floors! This room hadn't been lived in for awhile; it was a bit more expensive since it was prime real estate--a whole 30 square meters! The moment we walked in and agreed to live in this room, I stopped and said to John: "Don't touch anything!" We found the Clorox wipes that I had packed and immediately set to work. Our first meal, as mentioned before. I look a little grimy around the edges, but not bad for having traveled for three+ days!
Later on, about two weeks later I think, we finally figured out where to buy some plastic flooring that we could lay over the cement. We paid a LOT for it but didn't know how to bargain and by that point, didn't care! John went to work with his exacto knife to make it fit our room.

Above, a view of the provided furniture before the floor was laid...Below, also before the floor, when we were a bit more settled. Yes, we did take our own sheets and pillows, a special quilt and throw blanket. Those things made it seem like home right away.

Here's a picture from early days when I was newly expecting Clara Anne. I did NOT feel well and didn't know very well how to deal with the constant nausea and fatigue. Since we didn't have a kitchen, I survived the first few months of pregnancy on Sprite, a kind of instant breakfast cereal, egg sandwiches from the student snack bar, and mantou (a kind of steamed bread). No wonder I lost 10 pounds in the first trimester!
Mother's Day 2004: John bought me some beautiful roses to symbolize our new family of three.
This next picture is of my first female friend in our city. It's actually quite amazing--she is a teacher of the native language to foreign students, and actually corresponded with us over email when we were registering at the university. She helped to choose our local language names. She and her boyfriend helped us buy our first phone, eat at our first restaurant, and shop at our first grocery store. She came over to tutor us occasionally and we became good friends. In the picture below she had invited us to her house for lunch in the first few months that we lived here. Notice that "clean" kitchen!

The amazing part is that she is still one of my dearest friends! She and her boyfriend-turned-husband (we were at their wedding) now have a 3 year old son and live a few floors above us in our apartment building! We lost touch for awhile but then reconnected by seeing each other on the street one time. I love her infectious laugh, her humble, sweet spirit, and her love for Father. So thankful for my friend Angie!

These two pictures are from when our books arrived via M-bag from the States. All the books we couldn't do without were shipped at about a $1 a pound. Wow, those days sure are gone! Shipping overseas now practically requires a small fortune!

Here's a picture of John and I on a break from our language classes on the balcony overlooking part of the campus where we lived and studied. The other students came out to smoke, we just came out for a bit of "fresh" air and conversation before plunging back into another language.
I mentioned in my previous post that I had to change my habit to shower at night. Here's proof! A cup of decaf never hurt anything either!
This picture is from a dinner we had in our very first few weeks here. We had been introduced to a young college student with excellent English and he helped us get to know the city a bit. He became a real friend. We enjoyed this hot pot meal together.
He took us downtown to see the city square and its famous blue statue, meant to represent the natural underground springs unique to this city. Little did we know the smog we experienced that day was to become a regular part of our life!

This young man and his girlfriend also took us to visit another city landmark: the Lake. It was winter, gray and cold, but we had fun anyway! I remember the girlfriend linked her arm through mine as we walked along and I wasn't sure what to do about that!

Here's a few pictures of our student dorm, which we turned into a cozy refuge:
A "leather" chair next to the bed...

Plastic flooring and a pretty rug on the floor, our magnet collection on the radiators, a curtain (really just a sheet with a loop sewn into it for hanging) to separate the living area from the sleeping all helped!

The bed, spread with our special quilt made by John's grandmother (this is our Select Comfort bed that we packed from the States by deflating and taking it apart!).

And John's desk workspace. Behind his head you can see just a glimpse of our "kitchen": we owned two bowls, two spoons, two sets of chopsticks, and two mugs. We got creative with hot water: instant oatmeal, instant noodles, coffee and tea, those were all staples in those early months. Until of course, we bought a toaster and I thought I had really struck it rich! Some things haven't changed too much...this is still how I get around town! I just took about a five year hiatus in the middle there (being pregnant, having a new baby, repeat x3). Now I usually have one or two kids with me on the bike!

Our bathroom in that dorm room also doubled as the drying room for our laundry, which I could wash on the bottom floor of our dorm building. We strung up clothesline and it worked just fine. I was so thankful for that bathroom! (especially as morning sickness took its course!)
A final picture of the inside of our room, this is looking from the living area toward the front door. We made the most of that space!

Ahh, memories! Isn't it fun to look back and remember how things used to be? Hope you enjoyed these old photos!

Saturday, January 01, 2011

Seven Year-aversary

Today marks seven years since John and I arrived in this country! We had left the States on our 7th anniversary, December 28 2003, but then were delayed for two days in LA. We finally arrived in Hong Kong early on the morning of January 1st, having missed New Year's Eve because of the time difference and crossing the international date line. We had a long layover in HK, then boarded an afternoon flight to our city. We were met at the airport by the only person we knew in this city of six million people: the guy who worked in the international student office at the university. He crammed us and our 8 pieces of luggage into a little "bread taxi" (like a mini-mini-van) and I sat on John's lap for the trip back to the school. We moved into a dusty, dirty fifth floor apartment with cement floors and thankfully, no bugs. Bonus: we had our own bathroom! That was a huge relief to me! Our first meal that evening was bottled water, some sort of greasy cracker and a package of cashews (bought at the student snack bar). How thankful we were to have arrived, with all our luggage, to a completely foreign city but knowing that we were exactly where we were supposed to be.

Somehow the number seven seems significant to me, I'm not sure why. It feels like it wasn't that long ago, and yet so much has happened since that day! What have we learned in seven years? Here's a few thoughts for you:

We arrived speaking none, almost absolutely none, of the local language. I think we could say "hello" and "thank you." For a long time we had a "hello" ministry...we said "hello" to everyone we met, very unusual in this culture. But that was about all we could say! Now, though we're certainly not close to true fluency, we can hold our own in a variety of topics. John's listening comprehension is better than mine, especially as regards to spiritual vocabulary. He hears well and knows a lot more words than I do. But I can use more of what I know, and use it more smoothly, which sometimes gives people the illusion that I speak better than I do! I could teach you how to bake a cake easily in the local language, or talk about parenting or marriage or family issues or the price of eggs or any of those kinds of daily use topics. And since I gave birth here, I even know random things like "Is the amniotic fluid adequate?" and "The contractions are five minutes apart and I am 2 centimeters dilated." But don't try to describe to me how the transmission on your car is acting up or ask me my opinions about George Bush's foreign policies. I won't be able to give intelligent answers!

We arrived in this country having been married for seven years and without children. Now, we just celebrated our fourteenth wedding anniversary and have three precious daughters, as well as one child we didn't get to meet. Our family has certainly changed! How thankful we are for this wonderful change, even when it's a rough discipline day or the stomach flu hits. Clara Anne was added to our family on December 25, 2004, Chloe on June 26, 2006, and Christin on April 28, 2008. And get this: they were all born in different countries! Hong Kong (sort of a country, you have to go through customs to exit the airport so I'm counting it!), Thailand, and the Big Chicken respectively. Hmmm, that's a little bit crazy. They are all already quite the little travelers and we've had to add pages to both Clara Anne's and Chloe's passports because they were running out of space. The girls have only ever visited America, this is truly their home. I think there's something really special about that.

Well, we've certainly made some progress in this area. Now we can ride bike and zip through the traffic like the natives. We are wary of accepting big gifts from people we hardly know (there's usually a request in there somewhere). We don't get fazed when people regularly comment on our weight. We have learned how to negotiate "guanxi" in this culture; i.e., use relationships to get things accomplished. We have made true friends despite cultural differences. We have gotten used to simple errands taking all day. We aren't baffled by the displays of fireworks at random times and for all sorts of reasons. We can eat local food for weeks on end, and enjoy it if we have to. But, there are things we'll never get fully used to: feeling like a perpetual outsider; having our teaching or training dismissed because "you Americans just do things differently, it's not like that here;" seeing children relieve themselves any old place, including inside the home on the floor (!!!); and people not looking before crossing busy streets!!! I know WHY they don't look (it has to do with fault, if I didn't see you coming then it wasn't my fault) but's crazy! There's danger on the streets, let me tell you! So there remain many cultural areas where we're still learning.

How to Live in Another Culture
Only a few weeks after first arriving here, some seasoned personnel gave us this wise advice: During your first year, just focus on learning how to live there. Make friends. Figure out how to make life do-able. Focus on making life as "normal" as you can so that you can go about your work. I thought this was excellent advice and it stuck with me. Simple daily life skills in another culture can be tough at first. Learning how to buy necessities, how to get around and then get home again, learning how to understand the accent of people who are trying to speak English to you, figuring out how to do laundry, and what about meals. . . all of those skills take time to learn! For example, when we first lived in a student dorm, there was only hot water at certain times of the day. So though I had always taken showers in the morning, I had to switch my habit to evening because that was when the hot water was more reliable. Also, at first we ate our meals at the student cafeteria. Then we found and bought a toaster (our dorm room didn't have a kitchen) and it really improved my quality of life! It took awhile before I figured out how to order an egg sandwich at the student snack bar that did NOT have mayo, ketchup or lettuce. But when I first learned the phrase to say "no extra toppings, just the egg" it made life easier. I was eating a lot of egg sandwiches in those days since I was expecting Clara Anne and no garlicky, gingery stir fry sounded good to me! So, figuring out the food, how to cook in another culture and how to eat in another culture were certainly important to our adjustment. I think there's no doubt that we've learned both since our arrival 7 years ago! (Just note our recent Christmas menu!)

I wish someone had told me this before I moved here. I thought I was moving here and was going to stay put, living in this one place and getting used to it. But in fact I should have had different expectations. We have lived for significant periods of time in many different places, partially because we had babies in different places but also because of required travel for meetings. I used to romanticize the idea of travel, oh, it's so fun and exciting to see different places and experience different cultures. And while it can be fun and exciting, it also can be amazingly frustrating when you can't communicate, get lost, don't know where or what to eat, forget to take your passport (YES we have done this on more than one occasion!), take the wrong passport, take the wrong bus, forget the value of the currency and pay way more than you intended, have difficulty figuring out the public transportation system, don't know where to buy groceries, suddenly need some medicine in the middle of the night, etc and etc. Add kids into the mix and traveling can seem downright daunting! Thankfully the vast majority of our travel has been very enjoyable. Those things can be aggravating, and it's always wonderful to come home again, but we have seen some beautiful places. I have a special place in my heart for Hong Kong--love the beauty of the islands mixed with the hustle and bustle of downtown, and of course, Clara Anne was born there in a nice hospital on the Island--and Phuket, Thailand where we had an amazing vacation when Clara Anne and Chloe were little. Phuket was one of the most naturally gorgeous places I've ever seen. God's creation in that part of the world filled my city-smog-ridden, noisy-neighbors, traffic exhaust-and-cigarette-smoke-oppresed soul with peace and joy. I'm thankful for the travel we've been able to do, even though I didn't anticipate it when we first moved here!

In many ways our life over these seven years has been one of constant transition. We ourselves have changed, our family has changed. We've had major, significant change in almost all aspects of our life--our friends, our partners, our work...and it's not stopping! But such is life in this world. We weren't meant to be here on earth forever. This isn't heaven yet. So any time I get my heart too set on any one thing, I remind myself that things won't be this way forever--for good or for bad!

So there's some thoughts about our seven years. How thankful we are for the Lord's faithful sustaining of us through this time! I hope we have learned more about following Him in these seven years as well. He has been the Rock through these life lessons and transitions, in fact, He is using them to shape and change us. We rejoice in His excellent care of us. Nothing that has happened to us was outside His control. It was all for His purposes, for His glory.

And that's a great thought to end this New Year's Day post. As He's been faithful, He will continue to be faithful, to guide the future as He has the past. Our confidence is sure, it cannot be shaken. His promises are true, He will not and cannot fail! That's our hope for 2011. Lord, may this next year be one for our good and your glory! Amen.