Friday, April 21, 2017

Springing from the Ground

In some years past, spring has crept up on me unawares. I looked out the window surprised to find the ground covered in fresh green grass.  This year the transformation seemed to come more slowly, probably because I was watching so intently. From the start of spring, I have looked out the window every day examining the ground five floors below. Dead yellow grass and bare brown earth. One day after a rain, I noticed the first hints of green. The next day the fresh grass had spread a little further, mixing with the dry remnants of the last year. Each day the green spread a little more until one day I discovered the whole ground covered in beautiful vibrant new life.
Spring often comes in slow, stumbling steps. One day the trees are covered with pink and yellow and white blossoms. The sky is blue and spacious. The air is warm and gentle, the world is friendly and accepting, bursting with life. The next day the clouds turn dark without the promise of rain. The wind picks up, cold and menacing. Even the flowers seem muted, disappointed. Perhaps spring was just a dream. Winter will not so easily give up the fight.
Healing also comes slowly when you are paying attention. Is today better than the last? Is anything really changing? Some days the world seems full of hope. Life is not so hard. I feel something like energy. Without great effort, my thoughts naturally turn positive. I find myself noticing the shine in Adalyn’s eyes and the softness of Nadia’s cheeks and the vivacious aura that radiates from Juliana.
Other days the world seems hostile again, irreparably broken, and I am broken in it. My thoughts swirl into darkness.  I find myself noticing the road that is torn and broken, the person in dark glasses watching me with a blank face, or a fluorescent light flickering in an empty window and think, “That is weird. Ominous. Something is not right.” I must remind myself that there is nothing inherently strange about sunglasses or road construction or dying light bulbs. But there is truth in my thoughts - the world is broken and waiting for healing.

The brokenness is real and so is the healing. Even Jesus, who saw the whole picture and knew the end of things, experienced grief and exhaustion because he was human. When his friend Lazarus died, Jesus didn’t just tell the sisters, “Stop crying guys, I’m about to raise him from the dead!” He also entered into their suffering and wept with them. He was grieved by the brokenness he saw in the world. He groaned with the weight of burden placed upon him. He was “a man of sorrow, acquainted with grief.” He understands us in all our humanness.

There was a moment all those years ago, a few days, when it seemed that death and brokenness and despair had the last word. The sky darkened and the earth shook. The people cried out in fear. The earth was torn apart, and his followers hid in despair. But it was not the end.

In fact, it was just the beginning. The day of greatest darkness birthed the dawn of greatest light. Cruel wounds brought healing, death brought life, despair brought hope, condemnation brought grace.
We look around and some days all we see is the brokenness, but we can look into it without despair. And we can also look for evidences of life - in the shimmering evening sky, in the sound of baby giggles, in a counter wiped clean, in the blessing of mercies and coffee new every morning. Each spring the new flowers and grass remind us that death does not win. Brokenness is being restored.  When we open our eyes, we see glimpses all around.

All this pain
I wonder if I’ll ever find my way
I wonder if my life could really change at all
All this earth
Could all that is lost ever be found
Could a garden come up from this ground at all

You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of the dust
You make beautiful things
You make beautiful things out of us

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Home Sweet China Home

We have now lived in the same apartment for over three years – a record! It has also been 5.5 years since we moved to Yinchuan! In honor of this unprecedented stability, I want to share my favorite aspects of our current home.
I wrote a while ago about our past apartment. I liked that apartment – despite the roaches and mold – but it would be hard to go back because this one is so much better. It may not be quite up to American dream home standards (one bathroom, no hot water in the sinks, a few spots where the wall or ceiling is falling apart), but it is a great China apartment.
 My favorite place in our apartment is the laundry porch. It's not because I love hanging up laundry. The “porch” is actually an enclosed area just off our bedroom which has windows on every side. It is the place that gets the most direct sunlight, making it very warm in the winter. I moved our ikea chair out there so I can sit in the sun. It is the furthest I can get from the general noise in the house (except for maybe the kitchen pantry, which is much less comfortable), and it takes the girls longer to notice I am there, giving me an extra 3.5 seconds of quiet. Even though the windows look into our neighbors' laundry porches, several classroom buildings, and a relatively busy campus thoroughfare, when I sit in my chair I mostly just see sky. And wet clothes hanging above me.
The girl's bedroom is warm and colorful, and it also gets lots of sunlight.  Natural light has always been important to me. I dislike artificial lights, and we get enough sunshine here I rarely have to turn on the lights during the day.
I had just cleaned their doesn't always look like this!
 A three-bedroom apartment leaves space to have an office/guest room/storage space/mud room. It is always a mess, therefore I try to avoid it. But Kevin is able to close the door and work on lessons with minimal disruption (he doesn't seem to mind mess). We have room for our big shoe rack (because of course we don't wear shoes indoors!), our big coat rack, and our bike helmet rack. Whenever we do actually have guests, we can clean up the bed/clutter gatherer.
Yeah, it usually looks like this.
The kitchen is another highlight, featuring a large window, bright blue cabinets, decent cabinet space, a two burner stove, and an actual pantry! It is a huge step up from our last kitchen. The attached eating area also houses the fridge, oven, and water machine. I like this area a little less because of the lack of noise absorption. Our mealtimes are very loud!
Some other nice features:
*Our recent paint job makes the walls look much cleaner and homier.
*The white tiles only look good when they are really clean, but they are nicer than gray tiles that never look clean.
*The large living room has enough room for running in circles, dance performances, slide tricks, and fort building. We also have a small home-school corner and enough seating for large groups.
*Our bedroom is small enough there really isn't room for it to get messy.
*The bathroom has space for a curtained off shower area. The whole floor still gets wet, but the rest of the room can stay dry. The bathroom also rarely smells like sewer gas.
Chinese bathrooms are never a thing of beauty, but I do appreciate having a shower area!
*Our laundry poles crank down to load and up to the ceiling so the clothes can be out of the way (thus allowing me to sit underneath them).
*We have no upstairs neighbors, so no sound coming through the ceiling. I cannot say the same for our poor downstairs neighbors...
*We have space to park our san lun che (3 wheeled vehicle) just below our apartment so we can run a super long extension cord from the 5th floor to charge it!
*Almost all of our furniture is school provided, but it is mostly decent and includes several nice bookshelves.
*On clear days, we can see the mountains from the windows.