Nine months empty

I am nine months not-pregnant.

Nine months ago, I found out I was incubating life, expecting what my husband and I hoped would be our third child. Six months ago, that ended. Life is now a (guilt-free) glass of wine with dinner, nights of mostly uninterrupted sleep, making plans for the get-away we are taking next week to Joshua Tree. When I see friends with burgeoning bellies, I’m sad, but not despondent.

It hasn’t always been this way.

They say one in four women will experience miscarriage. For me, the numbers sink in most when I’m filling forms at the doctor’s office. Number of known pregnancies? Five. Living children? Two.

….

The first was six years ago. My husband and I decided it was time to start our family and, after four months of trying, I was slightly apprehensive—friends had struggled with infertility and we lived, at the time, in an East Asian city without the full resources of modern Western medicine. The non-profit for which we worked did not cover infertility treatment and our non-profit paychecks provided no margin for extra expenses.

It was with relief that I saw a faint second line appear on the pregnancy test I took after my period was about a week late. Then, two days later, I took another pregnancy test, this one negative. I was confused. Shortly after that, my period started, longer and heavier than usual. I wasn’t sure what was going on, but internet searches showed I had most likely experienced what is known as a chemical pregnancy: a very early miscarriage that takes place before anything can be seen on an ultrasound. I wasn’t deterred, feeling a bit melancholy but mostly grateful to know my body could conceive. I shared the experience with a few friends (who hadn’t even known we were trying), but assured them my main feeling was excitement for the pregnancy I felt was in my future.

A few months later, I dropped my sister, who had come to visit, at the airport. I also had a flight to catch, and while I was there, took another pregnancy test in a crowded public restroom. It was positive. So was the next one. That night I would tell my husband. I was joyful, but overwhelmed by the changes parenthood would bring. After a few weeks we told our families, but no one else. I began to feel nauseous, and complained about the indignities pregnancy visits on the bodies of women. I exercised, ate carefully, and then one day, while I was FaceTiming a friend in the States, started to cramp. I hadn’t told her I was pregnant, but made excuses and quickly got off the phone. The blood was bright and there was lots of it. My husband, the eternal optimist, told me (and himself) that it would be fine. It wasn’t.

My heart broke. Was there something wrong with me? Two in a row can’t be normal. (Surprise: it’s not abnormal, doctors refer to it as “bad luck.”) Still, I was hopeful. But my body had other plans, and what followed was nearly a year and a half of fertility struggles.

I’ll skip that part. Suffice to say: it sucked, and I cried (a lot) when friends told me they were pregnant, when I looked at FaceBook, when I attended baby showers. I was happy for them, but my heart ached. I wasn’t at all sure things would work out the way I hoped, and I wasn’t sure what to do with the deep sadness and dissonance of my uncertainty. I also felt guilt over my previous ambivalence to the experience of pregnancy: I’d take all that, every bit, with joy–if only it ended in a child.

When I did finally become pregnant again, my main emotion was terror. What if it happened again? Why bother to hope when the simple fact of pregnancy in no way meant the thing ended with a live baby in your arms? I held my breath through the first trimester, and finally dared to breathe after I passed the magical 13th week mark. Still,  my wonder was tinged with surprise when, in June of 2013, I clutched my tiny daughter to my chest. After another two years, her brother was born. While my pregnancy with him was not as full of overt fear, it was filled with grateful tears: I’ll never again take the prosaic phrase the “miracle of life” for granted.

….

This time, it was at my nine-week appointment that they couldn’t find a heartbeat. My husband had stayed home to watch our kids, and I called him, crying, to let him know. The doctor wasn’t sure it was over—she thought maybe my dates were wrong, and the baby was there, just not as big as we expected. Three nausea-filled weeks later, at what should have been my 12-week appointment, the OB confirmed: this little one was gone.

The nurse in the office squeezed my arm compassionately. “Sometimes it’s worse when you already have one,” she said, “then you really know what you’re missing.” That wasn’t how I felt, though. I was sad, disappointed, but the tears came just the once, back at that very first visit. Mostly I felt oddly numb and un-surprised: “Well, this is how it goes. And I’ve already been granted more than I would ever have dreamed.”

In the months since, my emotions have continued to be mostly stoic. Sometimes I feel bad about this. Does it mean I didn’t care about that tiny one? Where is the heartbreak that ruled me last time? But the truth is I do care, and I’m trying to grant myself grace for the sways of my emotions. I am a finite human with limited capacity, and this time, my grieving hands are full with two very busy little people. While I’d rather be planning post-partum meals than vacations, my now is still very, very good.

Another thing that’s different, besides my miscarriage emotions, is the way we handled the pregnancy. This time, we told our community—even friends we didn’t know as well—almost as soon as the test was positive. We did so, not because we were certain there would be no problems, but because isolation didn’t help the sadness. We didn’t announce it online or anything, but I told most people I saw regularly, and all the distant friends with whom I chatted in that season. After the miscarriage, more than one friend asked if I regretted this choice. I didn’t and I don’t. It’s not for everyone, but the assurance that friends were praying and folks knew there was sadness under the surface brought me great peace. My only hesitation was one I didn’t consider ahead of time: could other people handle the knowledge that things don’t always work out? Did my openness make them uncomfortable?

Perhaps it did. Perhaps it does! But I ultimately decided that is fine with me. These things happen—a lot!—and for me, sharing the burden helps.

I still hope to have another child. While the specific grief of miscarriage has not been as debilitating as in the past, my arms yearn for a tiny life. There are others longing too, I know: those who face the barrenness of singleness, and those who face the loneliness of infertility together with a spouse. I’ve no easy assurances, but share the sadness of what was not to be.

For now? I’m sad for what is not, but grateful for all that is.

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On racism

Seventeen years ago, a classmate at my small, private Christian high school climbed atop the local Super Wal-Mart one night and planted a Confederate flag atop the squatty structure. He came to school and bragged about his derring-do.

When I was in college, I saw the movie Sweet Home Alabama at the theater the night it came out. In a humorous scene set in a Civil War reenactment, a main character uttered the line, “The South’s gonna rise again!” The entire movie theater stood up and cheered.

One of my grandfathers—actually the only family member who was a northern native and not a Southerner—warned me repeatedly to never date a black boy. At an elementary school sleepover, a friend explained that it was against God’s plan as revealed in the Old Testament for people to marry across racial lines.

Within the last five years, I had an extended conversation with someone close to me about whether or not it is okay to use the n-word.

Just a few months ago, a friend (who is not white) came to dinner and told us his co-worker (also not white) had been chased through the Los Angeles neighborhood where he was doing sales surveys by a car of neo-Nazis/skinheads.

I am not a white supremacist.

But I am American. An Alabamian, actually, although I don’t live there right now.

I don’t want anything to do with racism, but I don’t think the above incidents are all that isolated. Each was shocking to me, but probably they are not that surprising: I just don’t want to see it.

As I’ve watched current events (I wrote this after Charlottesville but the list goes on and on), I’ve swayed from horrified, to too tired to engage, and back to horrified. I’ve felt self-justifying thoughts (I’m nothing like those people) and guilt (my skin is white so I’m associated with this, like it or not). I lived overseas most of the past decade, and it’s times like this I wish I could run back across the ocean and disengage. I don’t want to own this. Yet it refuses to go away.

You are probably tired, too. Tired of all the fighting, tired of animosity, tired of the mountains of hurt. I don’t know what to do but, as a believer in Christ, I’m thankful the Bible addresses every issue known to humanity, including this. Discrimination against people of a different race was actually a huge issue in the development of the early church. In God’s good timing (and due to the fact I’m quite behind in my Bible-reading plan), I saw Scripture showing just this last week.

In Acts 10, Peter has just received a vision showing him that unclean foods are now clean, and has been called to share the Good News with an unclean Gentile named Cornelius. After all this revelation upended his understanding of how God relates to different peoples, “Peter opened his mouth and said, ‘Truly I understand that God shows no partiality.’” (Acts 10: 34) God makes clear he is not the God of one people, but that all are equal in Christ.

I like the story of Peter because Peter, you see, was not the kind of person you would describe as never having had a racist bone in his body. No, Peter actually waffled back and forth. Depending on who he was hanging out with, Peter sometimes upheld the gospel truth that there is no division in Christ, and sometimes got scared and decided he couldn’t eat with Gentiles any longer (Gal. 2:11-14). I like the story of Peter, because truth be told, I have racist bones in my body, too.

I wouldn’t admit that, even to myself, for a long time. The sins of the fathers are visited upon the children. Often those sins are visited on the children by becoming the sins of the children. The truth is, as an American and an Alabamian, I probably am the descendent of people who actually owned other humans. Even if I’m not, it’s certain that my family, even the poor parts of it, benefited from being white in a place that looked down on blackness. When Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote his famous Letter from a Birmingham Jail, my mom was growing up right down the street and my grandparents were literally the “people of goodwill” with “shallow understanding” of whom he wrote. My history doesn’t define me, but it is a part of me. While I don’t want to claim it, that legacy seeps down and dirties the water.

In the book Homegoing, Ghanan-American (and native of Huntsville, Ala.) author Yaa Gyasi wrote, “Evil begets evil. It grows. It transmutes, so that sometimes you cannot see that the evil in the world began as the evil in your own home.”

My family did not teach me to be racist; no, they taught me “all men are created equal.” And yet, just like millions of people who have believed that line, I haven’t lived up to that creed. I fall short of it the way I fall short of the glory of God.

In the summer of 2016, the denomination of which I’m a member confessed of how it had, as an institution, supported racism, including as recently as the Civil Rights movement. I was deeply encouraged by this resolution. But truth be told…I wasn’t alive during that era, and it’s easy for me to point the finger and condemn sins which I’m 100 percent sure I didn’t personally promote. I’m glad to say other people’s sins are wrong, but find it difficult to deeply engage my own. I sometimes feel resentment because I don’t consider myself a part of the problem, but an innocent bystander. What I’m trying to say is my lack of personal ownership is a problem.

It’s hard to see racism in ourselves, in our families, in the simple, everyday ways we operate. But—please help, God!—I’m trying.

J.R.R. Tolkien wrote, “It is not our part to master all the tides of the world, but to do what is in us for the succor of those years wherein we are set, uprooting the evil in the fields that we know.” What in heaven’s name can I—can we—do for the good of these years in which we are placed? Perhaps we can start by reflecting, deeply, on how we have allowed evil to grow in our own fields. We can cry. We can ask God for his mercy on us, and we can ask friends for their mercy to us.

I don’t have any answers. But I’m going to pray. Not just for the stuff out there, but for the stuff inside me. I’m going to pray for what’s happening out there, too. And I’m going to believe that, although painful, God is using this season of sorrow and suffering to purify and pursue his beloved, wayward Bride.


The craziest of all the hot takes

All of life is theology.

What do I believe about God? What do I believe about people? What do I believe about how God interacts with this world, his creation? My beliefs about who God is and how he interacts with people profoundly shape the way I see the world. That theology informs everything about how we humans, image bearers of God, are called to move in this world.

I believe God loves his creation—his fallen, broken, marred and often evil creation. I believe that through Jesus, God paid the ultimate price of death to restore this creation to himself. I believe that God calls people to himself, naming those who trust in his name as his beloved sons and daughters. I believe that, if you are his child, then you are an ambassador of God, a representative of the Creator, to this crazy, unjust, greedy, power-hungry world. If you are a child of God, it is your responsibility to display the difficult, sacrificial, life-altering and life-changing love of God to to others. This includes not just our friends, but especially our enemies. (Mt. 5:43-48)

Perhaps you know where I’m going with this. Yes, I’m talking about refugees. I’m talking about Trump’s recent order to: halt for 120 days the entry of all refugees; to totally stop Syrian refugee resettlement until further notice; and his ban on citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the US on any type of visa. (Thanks The Atlantic for the 411 on what the order does and doesn’t do.)

If you know me, you know I’ve made some unusual choices with my life. For most of my life since college, I’ve lived overseas. I’ve spent my life sharing the Gospel with those who don’t yet know Jesus and discipling those who do. I don’t think that every single Christian is called to move overseas and do this. But I do believe that every single Christian is called to spend your life on the mission of making God’s name great among the nations. That means that whether you go or whether you stay right where you are, sacrificially working to see God known and loved in places where he is not is not optional. I’ve been so grateful to be the recipient of the radical and self-sacrificial generosity of so many who haven’t gone, but have given to the point of pain to allow me to do so. I’m so grateful for that partnership, and I’ve learned so much from the Christ-exalting generosity of others.

And guess what, America? Right now the nations have come to us. The reality of the current “wars and rumors of war” means a global scattering is currently underway. The question we face is not whether it will impact us, but how we will respond to the opportunities this dispersion presents.

It’s hard for me to be back in America, truth be told. I loved my life overseas, and I miss many, many people who were dear to me beyond words. But for this time and this season, God has me living on the outskirts of Los Angeles in the immigrant suburb of Alhambra, Ca. There were hard moments in my time overseas. I’ve had visa problems, I’ve had a knock on the door in the middle of the night, I’ve been scared for myself and for my friends. I’m a fraidy-cat by nature, as much of a natural worrywart as anyone I know, and my fearful tendencies have been exposed and amplified time and time again. Usually the fears were nothing but my own ephemeral imagination. Sometimes they were based in reality. But despite all that, despite my fears and despite the times my fears were realized, working with people who are radically different from me is a privilege. Along with being married to my husband and parenting my two children, working among the nations is the greatest joy and privilege of my life.

I’m not going to get into what the rules for vetting refugees and immigrants are. According to my understanding and the experience of people I trust, the process is thorough, and the process works. I’m not going to deal with the role of government policy in national security. (If you’re interested, please read this. I found it quite wise.)

But I’ll say this, crazy and controversial though it may be. If you believe that God deserves to be worshiped by people of all tongues, by people of all skin colors, by people of all cultures, then you should hope and pray and work to do everything you can to allow those people here. I don’t personally think there’s much chance that a refugee to America will perpetrate terror. (The process is extensive and the vetting is thorough. This is America, shielded by two oceans, not Germany, which refugees can reach more easily. Have I even mentioned this?: those refugees, by the way, are desperate, hurting people who are longing for a safe place to raise their children.)

But here’s the really crazy thing that I believe with all my being: in God’s upside-down kingdom, victory comes through death. That might be death to dreams of success or money or stability, or it might be through actual physical death. God’s glory is worth death: my own or even that of my family.

Those are difficult words. But I believe them with everything in me. In North Korea, Christians are asked to deny their faith. If they refuse, it can mean the most dire consequences, not only for themselves, but for their families. I recently re-read Hudson Taylor’s Spiritual Secret. Taylor’s wife and four of his children died as the price of his work in China.

Is Jesus worth it? Is the glory of His name worth this steep a price? I believe, I wager my life, on the fact that he is.

So no, I don’t lose sleep over a refugee killing me in my bed. But Christians—every Christian, not just crazy ones who move overseas—ought to be willing to give up their life for the sake of the name of Jesus. In America, we have been shielded from the persecution and difficulty and self-denial that Jesus himself tells us is the cost for following him. (“Then Jesus told his disciples, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.’” Mt. 16:24-25) This isn’t a special price for super-Christians. This is the price that every believer should expect and be willing to pay.

Remember how I mentioned Germany just above, where refugees are pouring in, not trickling? Refugees from Syria and Iraq and all over the torched landscape of the Middle East are coming to Germany and there, in the churches where the fires of the Reformation were first lit, they are finding that Jesus IS the Son of God. And yes, I’ll agree with you that terrorists are likely hiding among the refugees of Europe. But God is merciful, severe though that mercy may be. And in this case I believe his mercy is being extended through allowing people, refugees, to find him, the Pearl of great price—although they lose lands, home, and father and mother to do so.

May Christians in America open the door to welcome them with gladness.

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This is my foreign daughter reading with and being loved well by her classmates during our time overseas. Just a little levity and a picture of how much of a difference kindness can make in the day-to-day life of someone who’s new to a country/culture. 🙂

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This new adventure

In the summer of 2005, I packed two bags and one carry-on and moved to East Asia. One year later, Michael did the same. Since we boarded those planes over a decade ago now, Asia has been  home. But after years of joy and heartache and hope and disappointment and a life bigger than we could have ever dreamed, something new is on the horizon.

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Stella’s last day of school in Asia. Zane is in super-serious mode apparently.

In another month or so, we will pack those bags again and move to Los Angeles. It’s certainly not the direction we ever expected life to take us, but we are grateful for and excited about the opportunity to continue to be a part of reaching the world with the Good News of Christ’s life, death and resurrection. It’s just that, this time, the world is in America, not Asia.

Click the link below to find out more about our big move!

way june 2016


Hello Dear Internet Diary (aka my parents),

Long time no see! There’s been lots happening in life lately, but little—nothing—showing up on this here blog. Reasons? Not because I’m busy, but because the simple act of sitting down to write about the current state of affairs seems far too overwhelming to contemplate. But here I am, and here goes a recap of life, lately:

We are in Atlanta. Living by the grace of God and other people’s generosity, in a mother-in-law suite attached to someone else’s home. It blows my mind that this is available to us, but it’s real, and we are–maybeperhaps–just beginning to figure it out. The first six weeks we were back in the States, Michael had a few classes in Atlanta and the three of us bounced around like a ping pong ball between Alabama and Tennessee. We are gloriously glad to be (semi-)settled, particularly because all that transition was hard on the Bean, leading to clinginess and unsettled sleep patterns. Michael starts class this week, and we are trying to ease ourselves into some semblance of routine.

It has been–and here’s the Dear Diary aspect of this post–a difficult transition for our family. It has been obvious that the Lord is leading us and He has abundantly provided for our needs, but there has been much uncertainty, little alone time, the stress of our different personalities responding to events in different ways, and (particularly on my part) grief for what we left behind. As we begin to settle into life in the States, I’ve realized that this season has placed me in a bit of a pressure cooker. Living overseas, we often talk about how life in a second culture (in the recent words of a friend) “lowers the water level” and reveals the ook and grit we’d prefer to keep hidden beneath the surface. For me–at least at this point–it seems that this year in America is placing me in a place of uncertainty and instability and revealing bits of me I’d prefer no one (least of all myself) to see.

Unknowingly, I’m realizing that I took quite a bit of pride in my ability to “live well” overseas. After six years, I could speak the language; had long-lasting friendships in the midst of the constant transition of ex-pat communities; knew how to cook and go to the market and just generally accomplish things; loved our apartment complex and loved how well our neighbors loved StellaB; and found our daily lives purposeful. This year, I am confused by Publix; feel anxious and awkward making small talk; have great friends near-by-ish but not in my vicinity (or at least my life stage); am intimidated by American fashions and styles; and–maybe this is the kicker to my pride!–am not an expert on anything in daily life.

I’d love to tie this all up with a pretty bow and summarize why this is healthy or how it’s going to help and change me, but right now I believe instead of feel all these things and so have no neat wrapping with which to package this. I’m grateful for where we are, but learning to deal with all of this is certainly a process.

Annnnnd Stella is crying to get up from her nap, so there’s my cue. Next time maybe I’ll have cute pictures to post, at least?


Nest for the StellaB

One day out from moving back to the good ole US of A, and I figured maybe it was finally time to put some pictures of the Beaner’s nursery up. For posterity, you know.

It seems surreal that Stella is nearly one year old, and it breaks my heart to leave this place so soon. It wasn’t what we had planned, but it is what is happening.

So, one last look before we go.

IMG_6962Stella’s crib. Hand-built by her Daddy, with oh-so-much-loving care.

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IMG_6969 The crane mobile. Hand-folded origami birds + sticks. I love it, and Stella does, too!

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Michael’s mom made the gown above her dresser for her going-home-from-the-hospital outfit.

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The camel is from Egypt, and the puzzle from Ethiopia. Both gifts from my little sister who lives in Africa.

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More paper magic with the chain of yellow flowers.

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We bought this little wooden animals in Bangkok back when we thought StellaB was a he, not a she. My friend Cat made the “Jesus Loves Me” artwork.

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I adore this rocking chair. (Michael isn’t as in love as I am, but he just doesn’t know what he’s missing out on.)

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All the artwork are free downloads from Vintage Printables.

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And that, friends, is StellaB’s room!


What it’s like to be the center of the universe

Have you ever wondered how it would feel to have the paparazzi on your tail, stalking your every move, documenting your tiniest sneeze, analyzing your clothing choices, rating your performance?

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Well, wonder no more. Just ask Stella!

This girl is princess of the playground, ruler of the one-and-under crowd, queen supreme of have it your way. That’s her taking over some kid’s portable keyboard. (FeiLong, in the gray sweater, is public enemy number one as he also likes to have it his way. Kid is half-American: sensing a pattern here?)

On the downside, this means Stella’s clothing choices are regularly criticized and bringing her out with a runny nose and short sleeves leads to looks of death and judgment. On the plus side, if I’m feeling tired, I just head outside and I betcha 10 bucks I can find someone else who’s willing (desperate! dying!) to hold the Bean.

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There are a lot of things that make me nerve-y about being back in the States for a year. Maybe the biggest? Who’s gonna take care of my baby?

Yes, that’s right: other people regularly grab Stella and go. This is her with her name twin: XuanXuan jiejie (that’s XuanXuan Elder Sister, also known as Stella) and XuanXuan meimei (XuanXuan Younger Sister, who’s smaller by two months). This picture was taken a month ago; on Sunday, Stella danced for 30 minutes or so to XuanXuan meimei‘s stroller boom box and then, like the tyrant we all know is bottled up in there somewhere, made XuanXuan meimei‘s mom walk her around for another 10.

Last week, I was eating lunch with a friend at a fine local establishment. Stella was in the stroller making faces at the people at the next table (who asked if I was ever worried someone would steal her because she was so cute). Next thing I knew, Stella was out of the stroller and the waitress was bouncing around the restaurant with her. Lest you think this was odd, this was the second visit in a row where this happened.

Sometimes I should probably be a little more hands off. But y’all. Seriously. People are happy to entertain my child while I enjoy a leisurely meal. They are happy to make faces and coo at her when she cries on the elevator. They are happy to get the door and open the gate and happy to share their kid’s toys and happy to laugh at her when she pitches a fit about wanting to take said toy home with her.

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I swear that Stella must think her name is yang wawa (foreign baby doll) because honestly, people scream it every time she shows up. And it’s not just around the local crowd.

Our friend group here is disproportionately young and single and that means Stella is disproportionately the center of it all. She does have a few friends her age (see above: hi Jack and Luke! Addie and Noah, we miss you!), but the numbers are so far out of whack that there are always at least 5 or 6 people available to coo and giggle and clap and cheer.

Girl has got a cush life. Oh, well–all that’s coming crashing down in T-minus 25 days when we pack it up and head for ‘Merica.* Tell me, are Americans generally happy to be seated next to one-year-olds on trans-Pacific flights? No? And how do they feel about happy babies who have been traveling for 24 hours before they sit next to you on the Dallas-Atlanta leg? Not great?

Oh well, Asia. Stella (and Stella’s mama) are in for a cruel wakening in the real, harsh world of the SouthEast USA.

 

*Who am I kidding? Gran and Grandpa and Bebe and Papa will pick up the slack right where Asia dropped the ball. Stella, honey, you’ve got it made.