Sunday, November 16, 2008

Exploding Chestnuts

There are little bits of chestnuts on my kitchen ceiling. They are hopefully all of the remaining evidence of a culinary catastrophe that occurred here on a recent Saturday afternoon - the day I was hosting a party for some international students from a local university.

Being the over-achieving perfectionist hostess that I am, I started getting nervous about the party days ahead of time. Did I invite too many people? Not enough? Did I forget anyone? What if nobody shows up? What if everybody shows up? What if people don't talk to each other, don't like the food, don't have fun...???? The night before the party I could hardly sleep. Right after breakfast on the day of the party I started cleaning and preparing for the event. I was too nervous to eat much lunch.

When my friend Jiadi dropped off the ingredients for the Chinese dishes she wanted to prepare and gave me hurried cooking instructions before rushing off to her class, I felt a sense of impending disaster. She assured me that it was simple, but I felt very inadequate to complete the task. How would I know when the steamed eggplant "looked done" if I'd never done it before? How could I "season to taste" when I didn't know what the sauteed sausage and vegetables was supposed to taste like? However, with only a few minor snags, the preparations actually went quite smoothly. In between calling to check on who was coming, giving directions to those who needed it, dusting, straightening up, and setting out paper plates and wooden chopsticks, I simmered and stirred and steamed and sauteed like a pro.

It was while I was on the phone with my Indian friend who was explaining to me why he couldn't come that I heard a loud bang inside the oven. It sounded like an oversized popcorn kernel popping. My mother, who had come home from her errands, opened the oven door quickly and shrieked, "Mi-CHELLE! What did you DO?" I calmly told my Indian friend that I had a little problem in the kitchen and hung up to see what was going on.

Apparently, the fresh chestnuts that my friend Jiadi had bought at the Asian market were exploding from the heat and pressure, splattering their insides all over the oven walls! Taking the pan of chestnuts out of the oven, my mom grabbed a knife and started jabbing at them furiously, telling me to help. I grabbed a knife too and started poking holes in the chestnuts as quickly as I could, to allow the steam to escape and keep them from bursting. But it was a dangerous mission. The chestnuts were still exploding as we worked, and soon we had bits of the soft yellow insides on our glasses, in our hair, and all over our clothes. When one of the popping chestnuts burned my mom's hand, I decided we should use potholders and oven mitts to protect ourselves and avoid getting hit by projectile particles. We'd hold the potholders over the chestnuts with our left hands and then jab at them frantically from the side with the knife in our oven-mitt covered right hands.

Finally, the popping stopped. Unsure whether the danger was really past, I kept stabbing the chestnuts with the knife for a few more minutes, until I was sure every last one had a slit in it. Then I stopped to survey the damage. There were specks of yellow chestnut flesh everywhere - on all the cabinet doors, on the walls, on the floor, on the stove and refrigerator, and on the ceiling! With just an hour until guests would arrive, I tried not to panic and quickly began the clean-up process. After scrubbing the whole kitchen and cleaning the inside of the oven, I quickly took a shower and changed my clothes just as the appointed time for the party arrived, so that I could greet my guests at the door with a calm and welcoming smile.

Needless to say, we didn't serve chestnuts at the party. And nobody would have known what had happened, except that it was such a great story I just had to tell everyone about it! And I was sure to point out the tiny yellow spots on the ceiling, the only evidence that remained - a silent testimony to my foolishness.

So if you get cravings for "chestnuts roasting on an open fire" (or in an enclosed oven) during this holiday, please don't make the same mistake I did. Be sure to poke a hole in them FIRST before roasting or baking to avoid exploding chestnusts in your kitchen!

p.s. Here are pictures of the exploding chestnuts and the specks in my mom's hair!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Sin and Sick Long Underwear

Because it's getting into cooler weather now, I'm reminded of the winters in northeast China, that begin in October and last until April! By now my friends in my town in China are probably wearing several layers already. With buildings not always heated sufficiently, you have to get very comfortable with your long underwear! Here's a story about this topic from my first year in China.

Monday, November 22, 2004

I was in the office of one of the schools where we teach, talking to the head of the English program (a Chinese woman who doesn't really speak English) about our class schedule when it happened. The department head, Nancy,* was looking critically at what I was wearing, which made me nervous, because she tends to be bluntly honest with her opinions. But this time she didn't say anything. She just reached out and grabbed my sweater and lifted it up to see what was underneath! Thankfully I was wearing long johns, as I've been doing since October, because it's pretty chilly in northeast China this time of year. Then she took some of my undershirt between her thumb and forefinger and rubbed it between her fingers, frowning disapprovingly.

"Too sin. Too sin." Nancy shook her head as she grunted her verdict of this random long-underwear test. Since I am now pretty fluent in Chinglish, I interpreted that she was saying I needed thicker long underwear. Before I could protest, she had pulled up her own sweater to reveal her superior long underwear. Then I had to feel HER undershirt myself to see how much better it was than mine.

My concerned supervisor then firmly declared that she would take me shopping to help me buy good Chinese "sick" long underwear. I thanked her for her kind consideration, but politely declined the offer to go shopping. I tried to explain that I had thicker ones at home, but I had worn my thin ones today, because it wasn't very cold yet. However, she wasn't satisfied until I assured her that I would wear my thicker long johns in the future.

From that day on, I was sure to wear my "sick" long underwear at that school, just in case I had another run-in with the underwear police!

* Not her real name.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Smoking Kills

(For your entertainment, from the China files - Written October 22, 2004)

Recently one of the staff at the high school was helping me with the fax machine in the office while puffing away on a cigarette. The small room was obviously a favorite spot for faculty to come and have a cigarette break, as evidenced by the overflowing ashtrays on the desk. The no smoking signs posted everywhere in the school must be just a suggestion...

Shortening my life span by inhaling second-hand tobacco isn't one of my preferred pastimes. But my cigarette-puffing buddy apparently thought my dramatic hacking and coughing meant that I wanted to join him in smoking a cancer stick. So he said something to me in Korean and then pulled out a big box of cigars from a desk drawer and graciously offered me one. It was a red package with gold lettering, and it looked pretty impressive.

I guess I should have felt honored to be offered such a gift. But even if I had been tempted to smoke a stoagie with my non-English speaking co-worker, I think I would have resisted the temptation after reading the big white label pasted on the bottom half of the box that proclaimed in bold black letters:


Needless to say, I politely declined.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

My Patriotic Duty

I wasn't feeling particularly patriotic when my alarm went off at 4:15am on Tuesday. Any sense of civic duty was squelched by the overwhelming desire to stay snug in my warm bed, under the covers. And, of course, it had to be raining. And cold. And pitch-black outside. The drizzling rain on the roof and windows was lulling me back to sleep, but I had to drag my unwilling body out of bed and get ready for the long day ahead of me. There was no backing out now.

The house was still and quiet as I took my shower, got dressed and gathered my things for the day, tiptoeing out the front door at a quarter to 5:00, trying not to wake up the rest of my family. As I started up the engine and drove down the empty streets, I wondered who else could possibly be awake at this hour. But when I got to the chrch where I had been assigned to work, I was surprised to see there were quite a few people up and about already this gloomy, wet morning. In their raincoats and boots, huddled under umbrellas, on folding chairs on the sidewalk, people were already lined up outside the door to take part in the big event.

It was November 4th. Voting day. And, as the media predicted, the citizens of the U.S. were out in record numbers to make their mark on history. As one of the "election officials" of this precinct of Virginia Beach, I was experiencing this monumental day from a unique vantage point.

I'd already been to my 3 hour training a few weeks earlier, with over a hundred other volunteers from my area, where we learned all about how to use the new voting machines, what to do if protestors showed up, how to handle the news media if they wanted to get a story, and how to help voters who may be blind or have other physical handicaps. I scanned through (but didn't read every word) my thick packet of instructions covering every possible situation and problem that could arise. And I stood in line at the Virginia Beach courthouse for early absentee voting for two and a half hours the Friday before election day.

But the real challenge was on Nov.4th. All the preparation and planning was for this one day. It was my first time to "work the polls" and with all the predictions of the flood of voters that would come and the likelihood of extending the voting hours to fit everyone in, I was trying to prepare myself for a long, hard day. My lunch bag was bulging with enough food for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, plus snacks for in-between times. I had 3 full water bottles. And I had a big bag of Hershey's Kisses, Kit-Kat bars, and Snickers to give me a perk when I needed it!

So when I arrived at the chrch at 5:00, I quickly put my things away, got settled, and helped set up for the gathering voters. By the time we opened the doors at 6:00, there was already a long line snaking around the side of the building, spilling over into the grass behind the chrch, and going into the back parking lot. Some people said they'd been there since 4:30am. They were cold, wet, and tired, but happy to wait as long as it took, just to be able to take part in the democratic process.

And they did. Hundreds of them. From 6:00am on we had a steady stream of voters. I was working with one other woman at one of the pollbooks, registering voters whose last names began with L-R. Our table and the table for names beginning with A-E were the busiest. If there was ever a bit of a lull, I'd get another roving election official to cover my spot at the table for me and rush out to the bathroom, or to get a drink of water, or to gulp down a few bites of my ham and cheese sandwich in the kitchen. (We weren't permitted to have food or drinks at our stations).

My job was to greet the voter, ask him to state his last name and first name, locate the name in the list, ask him to state his address, check to see that his name and address matched his ID, and then record which number voter he was at our station. The other woman at my table would then activate a card for the voting machines, give it to the voter, and direct him to the next line to wait to use the machine. We sat at that table and processed voter after voter after voter. All day long. From 6am to 7pm. For 13 hours straight.

I've never talked to so many individual people in one day. Even for an extrovert like myself, that was a lot of talking. A lot of people. A lot of smiles and greetings and questions and answers and "have a nice day" and "thank you for coming". At our table alone, we processed about 642 people! By the late afternoon and early evening, when the lines finally started thinning out a bit, and my smile was wearing out, I really had to make an effort to keep my voice cheerful and not snap at people who didn't have proper ID or who weren't staying within the blue taped areas for the lines. It gave me a new appreciation for workers at the DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles). No wonder they get crabby sometimes - I would too, if I had that kind of job all day, every day!

Throughout the day, I was struck by how many people came out to vote, of all races, all ages, all backgrounds. I talked to a tall blonde Russian woman, an older Hispanic gentleman, a friendly Filipino family, and a quiet Vietnamese couple. There were young mothers with babies in strollers or toddlers on their hips. There were wide-eyed 18-year-olds, voting for the first time. There was the buzz-cut young serviceman who had asked for early leave that day so he could make it to the polls in time. And there were the grandparents with canes and walkers and in wheelchairs, cheerfully waiting in the lines.

We even had the ambulance and paramedics show up - twice! Two elderly gentleman collapsed while in the building. One was at the voting booth when he fell, and one was waiting in the lines. Thankfully, the paramedics were able to stabilize both men. But one of the men was determined to cast his vote. While he was being wheeled out on a stretcher, he stopped at the voting booth and, with assistance, cast the ballot that he'd been waiting so long for!

By the time 7:00pm came around, all the election officials were very happy to close the polls and lock the doors! However, our job wasn't over yet! We had to stay to clean up, tally the votes from the machines, record the votes, call in the votes to the city registrar's office, and pack up everything. We didn't get out of there until 10:00pm, making it a 17-hour work day!

It was dark by the time I drove home. I hadn't been outside of that chrch building all day. From before the sunrise until long after it had gone down, all that long day, I had only seen glimpses of daylight through the crowds as I sat at my little voter registration table. When I finally got home, I was exhausted, and never so happy to fall into my bed. But I'm glad to be in a country where I can vote. What an amazing thing it is to think that the common, everyday people of this country have that amazing privilege and responsibility to choose our leaders. And now that the elections are over, whether the ones we voted for won or lost, our responsibility is to pr for those who rule over us. (I Tim 2:2) May they guide us with wisdom!

Monday, November 3, 2008

Karaoke Party Upstairs

(Another story from my China archives that never got shared - until now! From July 2, 2005)

What is it that compels middle-aged, tone-deaf Chinese men to sing karaoke at volumes loud enough to wake our neighbors in the city across the river? Social pressure and consumption of large quantities of alcohol have something to do with it, I’m sure.

Karaoke is hugely popular in urban China. Many families have personal karaoke machines, or karaoke VCDs (Video CDs) they play through their TV. Old and young, men and women, talented or otherwise, all take turns singing Chinese folk songs, patriotic songs, and love songs into the microphone, keeping time with the words as they appear on the screen. In a spirit of generosity, the would-be vocal superstars kindly share their warblings with all residents of the apartment building, so everyone can be a part of the festivities.

For the past 30 or 40 minutes, I’ve been treated to a string of songs belted out as enthusiastically as they are off-key, by the occupants of the apartment directly above ours. I’m sure they’re lovely songs, full of tradition and history and sentimentality. I have done some Chinese karaoke in the past myself. It’s a lot of fun, as well as a good way to learn more of the language and culture. But at this late hour of the night, exhausted from a day of teaching, I’m not in the best frame of mind for a music appreciation lesson.

These are the same neighbors who often have pulsating dance/techno music booming through the rafters way into the late night hours. It’s the local party house apparently. Recently, after a night of little sleep due to the activity and noise above me, I asked my roommate if it had kept her up too. She hadn’t heard a sound. So either I’m a lighter sleeper than she is, or it’s louder in my bedroom than in hers. Or both.

That particular night, as 10:00pm turned to 11:00pm, 12:00am, 1:00am, and 2:00am, and they were still partying hard upstairs, no amount of shoving earplugs in my ears, holding a pillow over my head, or humming other songs could get that pounding disco beat out of my brain.
Finally I decided that the Father must have had me awake for a reason. I figured maybe He wanted me to pr for my neighbors. So I did. Through clenched teeth, I alternated between prs. of “Make it stop, Lrd!” and “Blss them, Lrd… Just make it stop, please!!!”

It’s too easy for me to get caught up in the rhythm of daily activities here – shopping, cooking, eating, cleaning, teaching, sleeping – and forget about those all around me who don't know Him. Then the Father has to do something drastic, like keep me awake until 2:00am with party music upstairs, to remind me of the reason I’m here. And He tells me, in no uncertain terms, that I need to be pr-ing for all the millions in this nation who still have not heard of His love.

“But how are they to call on One in whom they have not belvd? And how are they to blv in One of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim Him? And how are they to proclaim Him unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” (Rm 10:14-15)

…There’s a strange sound coming from upstairs. Silence. The karaoke party upstairs seems to be over. How wonderful! I don’t know how long it will last, but I’m going to take advantage of it and try to get some sleep! Thank the Lrd!

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Signs That You're A Stranger in Your Own Country

I've heard that American-born Chinese call themselves “bananas” or “Twinkies” - yellow on the outside, white on the inside. So what do you call a white girl who's been living in China and thinks she's Chinese? What's white on the outside and yellow on the inside – an egg? That's kind of what I feel like right now as I'm trying to get used to American life again. I may look like I belong here, but I feel like a foreigner. If you've ever lived outside of your home country for an extended period of time, you may understand.

Here are a few signs that you may be a stranger in your own country:

1. You try to pay the exact price marked on products in the store, forgetting that this is the country of sales tax.

2. You forget to leave a tip in restaurants, because in the country where you've been living there is no tipping.

3. You haven't driven in so long, your drivers' license is expired.

4. Your driver's license has been expired so long that you have to re-take the test at the DMV.

5. You drive 35 mph on a 55 mph interstate and it seems really fast.

6. You have to think for a few seconds about what language to answer the phone in.

7. Little words like “thank you,” “excuse me,” and “you're welcome” keep coming out in the wrong language.

8. A trip to the supermarket is overwhelming, and simple things like choosing a bottle of shampoo from the myriad of options takes about 10 minutes!

9. You find yourself staring at all the “foreigners” everywhere (people who look like you!).

10. You eavesdrop on people's conversations in public places, because everyone is speaking ENGLISH!

11. You have the wrong currency in your wallet, and the cashier is not amused.

12. Explaining where you live and why and what you're doing here takes way too long, so you start avoiding the questions.

13. Filling people in on where your family is and what they're doing creates a lot of blank, incredulous stares. (“Well, my parents moved back to the US from Costa Rica, my brother Daniel is here from Argentina, my brother Michael is currently in Korea and China, but he's living in LA, Steve lives in DC but just got back from the Middle East...”)

14. You stare at the “home address” and “home phone” lines on application forms and registration forms, not knowing what address to put, and knowing that if you tried to put your real home address (in China), it would probably not be accepted (it would have to be in Chinese characters, which is especially complicated if you're filling things out online), and whatever was being mailed to you would probably never arrive. So you try to remember which address you used last time, to try to keep it a little consistent: “Was it Dad's work address? Was it my cousin's address? Was it Steve's address in DC? Or Grandma's address in Texas? Or was it our old home address in Va Bch, where my family doesn't live anymore...???”

15. You insist on walking to the nearest supermarket, because you don't have a car of your own yet and that's what you always do in China... Then you're frustrated by the lack of good sidewalks, the stares from people zipping by in their cars, and the distance that doesn't seem very far when you're driving but takes MUCH longer than expected when walking – because NOBODY walks to the store here!

16. You get all excited seeing Asian faces in the local Chinese take-out place and can't wait to try out your Mandarin, only to be received by blank stares and “We're from Vietnam.”

Sunday, October 12, 2008

The Suitcases in my Closet

They've been waiting.

Silently. Patiently. Day after day. Week after week. Month after month. Collecting dust. Sitting motionless. They're waiting - the suitcases in my closet.

There's the small black and gray rolling carry-on. The one that I got as a going-away present from Norfolk Chrstn Lower School the year I left. That was the last year I was "Senorita Jeter," the Spanish teacher. The year before I went to China.

One of my little pig-tailed students in her navy blue school uniform lugged it down the aisle that chapel service when the teachers surprised me with gifts for my trip. With all the teachers and students from kindergarten to fifth grade watching, the tiny blond girl solemnly pulled the suitcase all the way up to the front where I stood, teary-eyed and overwhelmed. The teachers said it was to get me started on my travels around the world. They made me open it, right there in front of everyone, and pull out the goodies they'd crammed into the pockets and compartments. Stickers, stamps, construction paper, flashcards, children's picture books, travel-size toiletries, and bags of chocolate and candy for the road!

That little carry-on bag has been around the world with me. I've taken it to China, Costa Rica, Germany, Korea and Japan. I've used it in L.A., Texas, Chicago, New York, Kansas, Minnesota and Miami. It's bumped and rolled its way through airports, trains, buses, boats, and planes. Five years of travel has taken its toll on my faithful little bag. There are places now where the seams are coming apart, and the handle comes out if you pull it up too far, and the wheels don't roll as smoothly as they once did. But it's still the perfect size for an overnight, a weekend trip, or an emergency bag for the plane with changes of clothes and toiletries in case my checked bag gets lost. The bright green duct tape "M" on the back makes it easy to identify, leaving no doubt as to its owner!

Beside my black and gray carry-on is my rolling backpack with the matching green "M" on the front of it. It's a newer addition to my suitcase collection. I inherited it a year ago from a friend in Wichita, Kansas, when I needed an extra little bag for a trip. It's since been all over my city in China, carting books and supplies to and from school, or lugging home fresh vegetables, eggs, meat, and fruit from the street market. I've used it for day trips to nearby cities - carrying it on my back with a map and a bottle of water at the beginning of the day and rolling it back to the train station with purchases I've acquired by the end of the day.

But I haven't needed my rolling backpack recently. Now when I go shopping I drive the car to the supermarket and fill the trunk with plastic bags of neatly pre-packaged food products. I don't have to lug my groceries home on foot. And I don't travel much these days. My biggest trips now are to the bank or the post office. I haven't needed a carry-on for a plane trip in quite a while.

So my little suitcases sit forlornly at the back of my closet, behind the tennis shoes and sandals, still and empty. Silent reminders of places I've been, yet with the hope of adventures still to come. Someday I'll pull them out again, dust them off, and hit the road again. And they'll roll on to new destinations, bulging with clothes and snacks and books and possibilities. But until then, they're waiting - the suitcases in my closet.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

The Little Emperor

This was written April 11th, 2007 about one of my most challenging students in China - who was only 4 years old! I just found it in a file and decided to share it.

An authoritative little voice echoing through the halls announces Tommy's* arrival. Floating up the stairs behind him is the patient, indulging voice of his mother, coaxing, pleading, and occasionally giving gentle reprimands which go unheeded by this 4-year-old "little emperor." Tommy's in charge of his little kingdom, and he knows it. As soon as he steps into a room, he surveys his new territory, like a general scoping out the area under his command.

But when Tommy enters my classroom for his evening English lesson, the battle of wills begins in earnest. Because in my classroom, I'm in charge. It's not a democracy. It's a monarchy. And the teacher is the ruling monarch. This little emperor has to learn that he can't rule my classroom as if it's his kingdom. So as soon as I hear his determined footsteps approaching, I take a deep breath and paste on a smile to greet him cheerfully as he marches in the door.

Tommy's always the first to arrive. I could set the clock by his dramatic entrance. Every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 4:40 p.m. he shows up for his English class - a full 20 minutes before class begins. If I'm not in the classroom on the 2nd floor, he'll come marching up to the 3rd floor office or computer room to search for me, with his weary mother always a few steps behind.

The very first time Tommy came to class, it was only the Father's grace that kept me composed and firm as he challenged every instruction, defying me to my face. He refused to participate in the songs and activities, he made faces at me, and he said very rude and disrespectful things to me (I could only understand some of it because it was all in Chinese, but the intention was very clear).

An hour had never seemed so long. As soon as the last student left, I locked the door of the classroom, turned on some music on my CD player, put my head down on my desk, and cried. For a good 5 minutes. Then I had to compose myself and prepare for my next class - which began in another 5 minutes. And I must confess, that night I pr-ed that Tommy would never come back.

At first I thought my pr was being answered. Tommy didn't come back. For 2 weeks. Then he suddenly showed up again, with as much attitude as ever. And the battles began again.

For all his stubbornness and defiance, Tommy is a very smart little boy. His English ability is more on a level with the 6 and 7 year olds than the 4 and 5 year olds. And if he wants to he can work quite diligently on the phonics worksheets or writing activities in class. But if he decides he doesn't want to something, woe to the person who tries to persuade him otherwise.

I insist that the kindergarten students ask for things politely in class, in simple English, saying "Eraser, please," instead of yelling the demand across the room, and saying "Thank you, Teacher," when I give them something. Tommy needs to be reminded of this every time.

Recently, when my Chinese assistant gave him a pencil for the worksheet, I gently prompted Tommy, "Say, 'Thank you, Teacher'." He immediately turned on me with flashing eyes and retorted in Chinese, "I WON'T say thank you! She hasn't given me an ERASER yet!!!"

Other times I repeatedly tell him to apologize to me or to another student for grabbing something or hitting and he stubbornly refuses to apologize, or yells "SORRY!" in my face like a verbal attack.

I've never seen such complete disrespect for authority in such a small package. He's yelled at me, slapped me, and even spit in my face! And the most maddening part of it is seeing his mother (who is always hovering nervously in the background) do nothing about it.

But I rejoice in the small victories. One night I was thrilled to see Tommy working steadily and quietly on his worksheets. He only had to be reprimanded a few times that night during "The Wheels on the Bus" song. And I almost hugged him when he said, unprompted, "Thank you, Teacher," as I handed him a pencil! I was careful to praise him often for his good behavior and I gave his mother a glowing report at the end of class. I was rewarded by a genuinely cheerful, "Goodbye, Teacher!" and a mischievous grin as he left. He can be pretty cute sometimes. I'm actually starting to like the little rascal.

I wonder how often the Father is tempted to give up on us completely. We can be pretty unlovable sometimes. We stubbornly insist on doing things our way, ignoring His instructions, thinking we're running the show. We laugh when He corrects us, we mock His words, and we've even been known to slap Him and spit in His face.

"While we were still sinners, (much worse than little Tommy), Chrst died for us." Did He wonder if we were worth it? Did He lock the door at night, put His head in His arms, and cry over our stubbornness?

My struggles with a willful 4-year-old in an English class in China seem very small comparatively. If the Father could love ME and even die for me when I'm such a sinful mess, I know He can give me the grace to love even little Tommy.

*Not his real name.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Today I want to go back to China

I think it started this morning when I was looking at a photo of some of my old students. I was sipping my morning coffee after a breakfast of Cheerios and Kix (I couldn't decide which, so I had both) when suddenly I was overcome by the desire to be in China again with those kids in the photo.

It's a picture we took of my 9-11 year old students for publicity purposes, to make fliers and advertisements for our school. The colored papers on the wall in the background are covered in smiley-face stickers and shiny stars - my system for rewarding good behavior. The kids are attentive and look eager to learn as they raise their hands to answer a question. Even my roly-poly 9-year-old troublemaker who always sits on the far right (closest to the door) looks like a good student in that photo!

A photo can be deceiving. It only shows one brief, silent, motionless moment of life. When you look at this photo, you can't see Rudy's mischievious pranks on the girls, or Daniel's continuous squirming. You can't hear Sally and Diana's incessant giggles, or David's whispered jokes to Rudy. And you can't feel the alternating moments of frustration, weariness, and pure joy that overwhelm you as you attempt to teach English vocabulary and share the Father's love with these wiggly, inattentive, yet loveable children.

So this morning, as I drank my coffee at the dining room table in my parents' house in Virginia Beach, my heart was in a small city in northeast China. Once again I was in a noisy classroom with unpredictable kids who often drove me crazy and made me want to give up teaching forever. But there were moments which I often forget - moments like this one in the photo, in which everyone is attentive, everyone is obedient, everyone is focused, everyone is happy.

And even though I know that moment is one in a million, that one moment makes me want to hop on a plane and fly back to the East, just to hug those crazy kids again. And I just might.

Monday, September 29, 2008

I should really make a t-shirt

"So how long are you going to be here?"
"When are you going back to China?"
"What are you going to do next?"

Every day, at least once a day, often more than once, someone asks me these questions. And I don't really have good answers. So someone suggested I should make a t-shirt with the answers. It would be so nice to just point to the appropriate responses on my t-shirt each time I'm asked:

a. "I don't know."
b. "I'm not sure."
c. "I have no idea."

I wish I had better answers. It would be so much easier if I had a 6-month, 2-year, or 5-year plan for my immediate future. I would like to be able to smile and respond confidently with my next steps and reasons for my decisions.

But I don't have any answers right now. I don't know what my short-term or long-term future looks like. I just know that I'm supposed to be here right now, in Virginia Beach, with my family, for this season. And I'm trusting that the Father will give me guidance and direction as I need it.

And I don't mind the questions. Friends and family want to know what's going on in my life. And I'm glad that they're interested and care. But it's hard sometimes to have to admit, over and over again, that I really don't know what I'm doing right now.

So, in the meantime, I think I'll make a t-shirt.