Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Even If

When we returned home in August, our thick winter boots were still by the door, a silent reminder of the last year. I am very easily visually stressed, so I work hard to keep things clean and organized – as much as possible when living with a bunch of people who don’t value clean and organized. But this past year, the chaos in our home reflected the upheaval in our lives.

I got sick at the end of April, when the weather was still cool. By the time I was getting out again nearly a month later, the air was warm but my children were still wearing winter clothes. I hadn’t had the energy to find their short sleeve shirts. When the girls and I left China the first of June, I was barely recovered enough to pack. Putting away winter boots – or picking up the random toys still on the kitchen counter – wasn’t a high priority. A plate of sunflower seeds sitting on the counter, a stack of books piled in the corner of the room, a half eaten package of crackers left on the nightstand – forgotten three months earlier - made our house look rapidly deserted.

We were so comparatively healthy this summer that I was a little nervous about coming back. We had been sick every single day of May, our last month in China, but when we returned to the US we stopped getting sick. I think we had two colds the entire summer. Only two colds in 3 months! As opposed to 1 flu, 1 pneumonia, 2 stomach ailments, 1 cold, 3 fever/viruses, and a head gash in the month of May alone. Would we get sick again as soon as we stepped foot into our apartment?

I am happy to report that since we returned almost 4 weeks ago, we have had had just a couple of colds and some stomach troubles – plus of course ridiculous allergies. We are doing pretty well. I unpacked our American treasures, filling our freezer with coffee and tortillas and our cabinet with dried beans and Mac and Cheese. I organized our medicine cabinet to accommodate all the new medicines we acquired over the summer. I sorted through the girls clothes. I washed at least some of our super dirty windows. And yes, I put away the winter boots.

There is nothing like a horribly unproductive year to make normal life feel wildly productive. I cook dinner (at least sometimes)! I have been able to keep up with laundry. I get outside multiple times a week and have gotten in some semi-regular exercise. I have had enough voice to read Juliana’s home school books aloud. All of these are things that were incredibly difficult for much of the last year.

And yet, I still wonder...even though Nadia is FINALLY (mostly) sleeping, I am always so tired. Life still often seems overwhelming. I get so easily behind. I feel so limited in what I can do outside the home what with all the home school and children, or after 8pm what with all the missing brain cells. Is this all normal, just a part of this stage of life? Will I ever not feel tired and overwhelmed?  Will I always have to work so hard to be happy? Will my children ever stop screaming?

I’d like to think we could just leave the last year behind but past experiences cling to us and shape us for better and worse. This summer a friend said, “This year has been pretty traumatic for you.” It seems so dramatic, but that was exactly how I was feeling. It did feel like trauma, not just from all the sickness, but from the anxiety and depression and helplessness surrounding it.

When I feel a hot forehead...when I lie in bed with a welcome-back-to-China stomach ailment...when I have those weird, dark thoughts...when Adalyn is freaking out and Nadia is wailing - the emotions of the last year come rushing back. This feels so familiar. What if it is all starting again? How will we get through that again?

Believe me, I really want to move on and not relive the last year. We are doing what is in our power to say healthy. Buying a better air purifier, eating more vegetables, making sure exercise happens, taking all the vitamins. We’ve got probiotics and elderberry and essential oils. I am hyper-vigilant to the first sign of sickness.

I am trying to stay self-aware and recognize warning signs of depression, anxiety, and burn out. I am trying to make sure those healthy, preventive habits make it into my daily routine. I grab moments of quiet whenever I can, sitting in the sun on the laundry porch. I have cut out most caffeine 😢😢 but still drink plenty of decaf coffee because it brings out the joy in life. I try to get enough sleep, if there ever can be enough.

But I’ve lived in Asia long enough to be somewhat fatalistic. We do what we can, but there is so much we can’t control. We could do all the right things and still get sick all the time because whatever we like to believe, illness – physical or mental – sometimes happens anyway. Our minds and bodies are much too complex to break down to a simple formula.

We might stay healthy or we might get sick. Happiness may come easily or I may still struggle with the weight of depression (I’m gonna say neither my genes nor my temperament are doing me any favors in that regard). The last year or two was kind of terrible. But we made it through. We learned and grew. In the midst of affliction, I deeply experienced the consolation of God. We made it through - not untouched, but not worsened either. We may look a little worse – or at least older - on the outside, but inside we are deeper, truer versions of ourselves.

When I pin my hopes on things being better, I feel anxiety. What if it isn't better? I could say, “It will be better! Be positive!” But my pessimistic self isn’t so easily persuaded. So I lay aside the pep talk and honestly ask, “What if it doesn’t get better? What if we get sick? What if my depression hangs around?”

If that happens, we will make it through. We will learn and grow. We will experience the love and grace of God. For better or for worse, in sickness and in health, in happiness and in depression, wherever the country or calling or season of life – He's in this with us to the very end.

I know You're able and I know You can
Save through the fire with Your mighty hand
But even if You don't
My hope is You alone
(Mercy Me: Even If)

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

You Might Be A China Foreigner If... abnormal number of your family pictures were taken in airports

  1. You frequently refer to yourself as “a foreigner.”
  2. When you walk in the house, the first thing you do is shed your shoes.
  3. You have a container of air filter masks beside your door.
  4. Most of your friends have a drawer of reused ziplock bags.
  5. You make home repairs with chopsticks, coat hangers, and random pieces of wood.
  6. Your friends think your home repairs are ingenious instead of trashy
  7. You give and receive cereal for Christmas.
  8. You have carried a stroller, a baby, and groceries up 4-6 flights of stairs.
  9. Taxi drivers frequently ask how much money you make.
  10. You have asked other people about their salary, age, weight, or how much they paid for their belongings
  11. You plan your laundry by how many clothes you can dry on your laundry porch
  12. You have favorite cities from which to browse the internet via VPN (I’m partial to Toronto)
  13. You have at least 25 backup locations for your VPN and routinely go through 3-6 of them trying to get a connection.
  14. People stop in the road, or slow down to drive right next to you, so they can stare at you.
  15. You have ever inadvertently caused a traffic accident because someone was staring at you while driving.
  16. A friend has told you you look fat to your face and doesn't expect you to be offended.
  17. Your children frequently confuse the American and Chinese flags, because they both have some stars.
  18. Some part of your ceiling is crumbling, but then so is everyone else’s.
  19. Your refrigerator is in a room other than your kitchen.
  20. One third of your small freezer space is filled with either coffee or cheese.
  21. You have been criticized for not dressing your baby in thick, padded layers when it is 80*F outside.
  22. Your 1-2 month old baby is met with horror instead of delight - because what are you thinking bringing them outside??
  23. Your “family vehicle” is half the size of a compact car and maxes out at 25mph.
  24. You have ever had a stranger show at your door and try to invite themselves in to hang out with you.
  25. You have ever had a stranger follow you around the supermarket, down the road, or back to your apartment, begging you to tutor their child or teach at their school.
  26. You have ever had a strange guy try to get your phone number - and he wasn’t hitting on you.
  27. A child has ever stopped and stared at you open mouthed or run away screaming.
  28. You have ever looked outside your window and noticed half a dozen new high rise buildings going up.
  29. One of your first thoughts when pregnant is, "What country will we have the baby in?"
  30. Your friends think you are strange for not leaving your baby in another country with the grandparents.
  31. Your unborn baby has ever been complimented on her "tall" nose and foreign features.
  32. You have ever had a doctor call out your weight, lift up your shirt, or discuss bodily symptoms in front of a room full of (fascinated) strangers.
  33. You have been asked why your 1 year old baby is still in diapers.
  34. You choose your clothing based on how well it will survive in the washer, how quickly it will line dry, 
  35. You choose pajamas that are acceptable for your neighbors to see, because at least 50 windows look into your own.
  36. You have an ayi who helps clean your house or babysit your children - amaaaaaazing.
  37. Your ayi loves your family and also thinks you are insane.
  38. Your floor looks dirty 30 minutes after mopping, even though you never wear shoes inside.
  39. You start to wonder if you did get sick because of going barefoot on tile, drinking cool water, or sitting in front of a fan.
  40. Your doctor or nurse has taken pictures with you or your children.
  41. Whenever you travel, you wear your heaviest shoes.
  42. You have ever traveled with a backpack that was heavier than your checked bag…and you weren’t backpacking.
  43. You prefer squatty-potties in public because you don’t have touch anything.
  44. You are shocked and excited to find soap in a public bathroom.
  45. You have ever carried a tiny cup of urine across an entire hospital to the lab.
  46. You have ever rifled through 50 strangers’ lab results to find your own.
  47. You request everyone buy your children small, lightweight toys.
  48. The concept of closets is now a little perplexing to you.
  49. You have a fruit lady, a bike guy, a milk guy, a vegetable lady, and a honey guy.
  50. You buy your meat in the morning before it gets too hot.
  51. Your milk, eggs, noodles, and soup all come in little plastic bags.
  52. Your children will only eat yogurt if it comes through a straw.
  53. When you have been to a restaurant the waitresses have “borrowed” your baby to show around - leaving you with free hands for eating!
  54. You have biked in a skirt or holding an umbrella.
  55. You consider any flight less than 6 hours “short.”
  56. You ask your friends questions like, “Where do you find three ring binders? Who is your online cheese seller?”
  57. Your children are photographed by strangers pretty much every day.
  58. There are literally thousands of pictures of your children all over the internet.
  59. Whenever you go to a tourist attraction, tourists are as interested in you as the famous site.
  60. You have ever gotten your picture in the paper for wearing short sleeves before May 1st.