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?
Run to him.
Arms open, body worn, heart rent.
The last month has brought upon our family, quite suddenly, a season of unexpected change. Where we live and how we spend our days are up in the air. I know that I am not defined by these outer characteristics, but in my heart, I sometimes feel as if who I am is being called into question. My heart is anxious, and my hands are busy.
In the midst of turmoil and uncertainty, what does it mean to observe the Sabbath? When your to-do list is linked with a ticking clock and there’s no escaping the tyranny of what must be done, how do you rest?
This one, at least, doesn’t seem to have any problems relaxing.
The dictionary defines Sabbath as a “special day of prayer and rest.” There’s value in that, in withdrawing and setting aside, in making space each week for respite. But to simply pause our activities is not, I believe, what we are asked to do. We are called to so much more.
In this time of uncertainty, Jesus tells me that true Sabbath rest is found in him. Again and again throughout the Gospels, he reminds Pharisees and disciples alike that Sabbath rules are not Lord of him, but that he–the Christ–is Lord of the Sabbath. (See Luke 6:1-11) He does not cease to do good or to care for the needy just because it is the prescribed day of rest, but he shows that true rest comes when we turn to him.
Should we rest? Yes and amen. But that rest must consist of turning from self and turning to him. In this time, for me at least, Sabbath rest means not less than ceasing my “deadly doing,” but much more.
28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.
Or, All’s Well That Ends Well.
Stress? Ha! I laugh in the face of such a tame, easygoing word. The last several weeks have been whooooooooPRESSURE, and it’s not likely to let up soon. Perhaps you are unconvinced? Last Saturday, I tried to eat a marble that Noah handed me. (Thankfully, I spit it out before swallowing.) I’ve taken to pacing around our apartment, and I gave Michael a super stellar haircut. In the midst of all the excitement, I also managed to lose, and find, Stella’s passport.
Wednesday morning. Up early, and subway into the city with Miss StellaB to pick up her passport. Her visa had expired, so it was at a government center while they renewed said visa. The trek into town is a doozy (hour and a half-ish subway ride + 15 minute walk off the subway), and although Stella slept in the Ergo much of the way there, she was wide awake, wired, and hangry by the time I left, passport in hand. So. I took a cab half of the way back. It was only about $5, and, you know, longdaylongweek I deserve it. I chatted with the cab driver, fed Stella, and was pleased with myself and my wise decision to save time and energy by the time I hopped out of the taxi and walked to the subway for the rest of the journey home.
Until. I. realized. I. left. her. passport. in. the. cab.
Cue: shaking, running back to the cab line (too late, that guy is long gone), a frantic hang up to Michael (what could he do anyway?), begging other cab drivers in the line to put something out on the radio (soooooo not that simple), looking for the police.
I ended up finding the police and they were kind and helpful, but about 45 minutes into the ordeal I realized that their plan was to have the local government just make us another American passport. Sadly, it doesn’t work quite that way. I asked them to make an announcement on the cabbie radios, but this they had no power to do. Finally, they sent me on to the local traffic radio station: to get an announcement out, I had to go in person and make a request. One 20-minute cab ride, 200 kuai, four station employees, and several forms later, our announcement was good to go. Careless American mom leaves her daughter’s passport in the backseat of kind local cab. Can anyone please help us get it back?
Let me insert here: those radio people, bless their hearts, were the bestest ever ever. I did have to pay 200 kuai ($25-ish bucks) for them to make the announcements, but they saw that I was low on cash (wasn’t prepared for all the day would hold and didn’t bring my ATM card) and actually threw in some extra announcements so that it would go on the radio every half-hour until the cab drivers changed shifts at 4. They also interviewed me so they could make a story of it, which they didn’t have to do, but was a huge help as that meant that my sad little tale would have more airtime and be more likely to be heard. My phone was also about to die (again, not prepared), so I kicked the guard out and spent about 30 minutes sitting in his shack outside the building charging my phone and making calls to Michael and other, helping friends.
By this point, Michael and a local friend had hopped on the subway to meet me in town and see what else could be done, so I made my way back to the scene of the original mishap. We had just headed back, again, to the police station on the hunt for security camera footage when the newly-charged-up phone rang with news of a discovered American baby’s passport! The cabbie, bless his heart forever and ever, chided me a bit for my carelessness, but the long and short of it is he found Stella’s passport in his back seat and dropped it off at his cab company’s headquarters.
He heard our little announcement and called to let us know where it was and heavens above I don’t know when I’ve been so relieved. All the horrible things that could have happened (baby gets desperately ill and is stuck in-country without passport or access to life-saving healthcare was one of the more vivid scenarios) started really running through my head. Stella and I hopped a subway back home (one big long exhale of it’s OK-ness the whole way), and Michael went to pick up the passport from our honest cab friend.
I’m often hesitant, honest truth be told, to ascribe these things to God. Last week, my friend lost her turtle, but God helped her find it, she told me. I smiled and nodded, thinking inwardly: “Uh-huh, I’m sure he would have turned up eventually.” But the crazy, unbelievable, hard-to-understand thing is: God does care. He cares about my carelessness, and my worries, big and small. About turtles and passports and things even more frightening than that. So often I struggle, but I am grateful that, even when I am faithless, He remains faithful to me.
27 Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 28 But if God so clothes the grass, which is alive in the field today, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you, O you of little faith! 29 And do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, nor be worried. 30 For all the nations of the world seek after these things, and your Father knows that you need them. 31 Instead, seek his kingdom, and these things will be added to you.
32 “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. 33 Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. 34 For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.
Years ago, on my first go-round in the East, a friend lent me her copy of Anna Karenina. At the time, I remember thinking: “Ah! So this is what that feels like!” Tolstoy’s descriptions of life, from birth to marriage to death to infidelity and everything in between, struck me as the genuine article. I had no idea what the moment of being married would feel like, but in reading, I lived it. (Isn’t that the beauty of literature? The opportunity to live experiences you haven’t had yourself through the written word?)
Following Stella’s birth, I looked up the passage when Levin, one of the main characters, becomes a father. I was curious if my memory of the vividness and truth of that written moment matched lived experience.
“The feelings which this little being awakened in him were entirely different from what he had expected! There was neither pride nor joy in the feeling, but rather a new and painful fear. It was the consciousness that he had become vulnerable in a new way. And this consciousness at first was so acute, his fear lest this poor, defenseless creature might suffer was so poignant, that it drowned the strange feeling of thoughtless joy, and even pride, that rose in his heart when the infant sneezed.”
Although there is (much!) joy and pride, the ring of truth is there as well. I think, perhaps, that this may be even more true for fathers than mothers.
Anyway. These pictures are from Stella’s 100 Days Celebration last week. She is wearing a traditional outfit that local infants wear, but unfortunately I’ve forgotten the word for it. Michael’s friend, the local mechanic who fixes our scooters, gave this to us before Stella’s birth.
Her actual 100 days (we were a little early last week), by the way, is tomorrow. Happy 100, Stella B!
Hi, friends. This is Stella. She’s the cutest (always), the smartest (duh), and the sweetest (except for when it’s time to sleep. Grrrrr.) Tomorrow, she’ll be three months old. Can you believe it?
Michael and I are smitten with this little munchkin, and can you blame us? Look at that mug. Basically, she is telling us that her adorableness makes up for the fact that she hates tummy time with all the vengeance her tiny self can muster and that she is about to start screaming any second. Just wait: that’s how it goes whenever you flip her onto her stomach.
Life has been busy for us (isn’t it always?) since arriving back in Asia seven weeks ago. See our exhausted faces below, crammed on the subway at the peak of Friday night rush hour to celebrate our anniversary at the beginning of September. We were more than a bit tired that day and I’m afraid it shows. Our friends Craig and Sarah babysat for us so we could make it to the other side of town for dinner, just the two of us. It was our first solo outing since the babester and it was great to be together on our own (after we got off that blasted, crowded subway, that is.)
Five years! I’m thankful for this guy, and also grateful for the years we had with just one another before hopping on board the parent train. God’s plans are truly perfect.
Stella really is a joy to be around. Her laughs, coos, and giggles are the best things in the world, and I never knew how much I could enjoy hanging out for hours with someone who can’t talk.
We continue to be amazed at just how quickly she is growing and changing. She was seven pounds when she was born, and she weighed in this past weekend at 13 pounds. Think about it: less than three months of life, and she’s nearly doubled her size! It’s the most normal thing in the world, but I am learning that normal doesn’t make it any less extraordinary. (Caterpillars turning into butterflies is normal, too, but wow! This world overflows with creativity and beauty.)
Stella and I have been making new friends. This is XunXun, a cute little neighbor boy who we’ve gotten to know since returning here in August. I’m grateful for his mom, who is joyful and open, and has welcomed me into her life with open arms. She’s introducing me around to other local moms, too, and gives advice without being bossy–a balance that’s hard to come by in a culture where so many people express their love and care of Stella by telling me that I’m doing it wrong. (Your baby is too hot/cold; she’s not wearing enough clothes/you shouldn’t carry her like that she is burning up; your baby is too young to leave the house; the stroller is unsafe; why does your family have a dog? that’s unhygienic!) Long before I had a baby, I knew this aspect of the culture would be a struggle. Most days I can laugh it off, but sometimes new mom neurosis gets the better of me and I wonder if Stella’s life really would be 100% better if I just made sure she always had on socks.
So, re: the title of this lil’ blog post. 100 Days: it’s a thing, and we’re celebrating. Stella won’t technically be 100 days until sometime next week, but Michael will be out of town for the week and I’m not gonna do it on my own. Locally, babies here are allowed out and about after 100 days, and most families make a big deal of this milestone. We will celebrate with a few friends. I’ve never been to a 100 Day celebration so this will be a learning experience for us (and I’m sure I’ll make at least a few cultural faux pas).
Other, random thoughts? I really, really love Stella’s baby leg warmers, and I think headbands might be a teensy bit tacky but I also love them and don’t care. Albus is adjusting well overall, but he’s a poor, neglected dog these days–I made it halfway home yesterday before I realized I left him tied to a tree outside the vegetable market. Confession: I didn’t even remember on my own, some passersby yelled at me from their scooter that I forgot my dog. Whoops! And Stella really is a sweetheart, but I will be a happy camper when she settles into a sleep routine. It’s three steps forward, two steps back: she slept through the night for more than a week straight and then reverted to waking up twice a night a few days ago. It’s hard not to feel like I’m doing something wrong which is keeping her (and us!) from sleeping well, but I also know that babies just change quickly and this stage, too, will pass.
That’s it for now. Life is good, and we are thankful. Oh! and hoping that neither Stella nor I catch the stomach bug Michael is battling. It’s a semi-regular part of life here, but would love it if you could say a prayer that it doesn’t latch onto either of us. And also that Michael gets better quickly!
For some reason, I feel more than a little silly writing a pregnancy update on the blog…but dang all, I want to remember details so here goes. We start with a nearly-38-week bump. Voila!
I’ve been in America for literally months now, since early April. We have many American friends who have delivered their babies in Asia, but for us there was not much debate: we always knew we would come back to the States for at least our first child. There are many reasons for this, one of the main being that it was not medically advisable to deliver in the city where we live. This meant our options were flying (at least a month ahead of the due date) to a large city on the east coast or to Thailand, both places where we have no friends or family. After the birth we would again have to wait at least several weeks (depending on if we were in or out of the country) for processing of birth certificates, passports, visas, and etc. Not only could this quickly get expensive as we factored in housing, but it would also be emotionally very difficult to be isolated during this unique time in our life.
We spoke with many, many families who have been through similar decisions and the consensus was that it is highly advisable to have the first child in the mother’s home country. The last thing you want is a stressful labor and delivery where you are struggling to communicate and understand what the doctors and nurses are doing to you–especially when you don’t truly understand what to expect yourself!
Another, not minor, consideration was being around family in this season. Of course, they will want to be with us but (let’s be honest, more importantly) with their grandchild. I personally want my mom to be able to help me out and show me how to do the myriad daily tasks that come with a baby! This summer, we are living in Chattanooga at Michael’s parents’ home. They will be at their nearby lake house for most of the summer, and have graciously allowed us to make their home, ours. This is great for many reasons, the biggest being that Michael and I will have the opportunity to get used to being a family of three. My family will be able to freely come and go for visits (like they would if we lived in the States), and we will also spend lots of time with the Gregory clan. Chattanooga is also where we lived for two years post-marriage, pre-Asian return, so we still have friends in the area, which makes life lots more fun.
When exactly we will be meeting this little one is currently the subject of all my waking thoughts. My regular doctor was out of town this week and the guy I saw didn’t do more than check the heartbeat, so I’ve no idea where things currently stand. At my 36 week appointment, she had started dropping and was already measuring a week and a half ahead of schedule–but these things are so subjective at the end that there is really no telling when to expect her. Michael is proud as can be because apparently this little girl is looking to be quite tall. He’s already talking of volleyball or tennis, though I keep reminding him that the poor thing has my genes as well as his so athletics might not be a big part of her life.
Since our very early ultrasounds, our doctors have talked about what an active baby we have, and that doesn’t seem to have abated. I don’t have anything to compare it to, but this little girl packs quite a punch. We thought that would slow down as the due date neared, but so far she is still kicking and squirming and pumping away in there. Sometimes her little jabs are quite painful! I’ve also reached the phase of pregnancy where I grunt when I stand up (just as attractive as it sounds) and where getting out of bed in the middle of the night (which happens often) requires a lot of effort. While I am so incredibly thankful to BE pregnant, honestly, the actual state of pregnancy is not on the list of my favorite things. We are hoping very hard she comes a little early. I’m ready to meet her (it seems ages since the teary-eyed morning I saw two lines)!–and it would also help a lot as we have a limited time frame to get her passport and visa processed before our already-purchased flights back to Asia. Unfortunately there’s not a lot we can do about it as we really don’t want to induce unless it becomes medically necessary.
Let the waiting continue!
Not even halfway through the morning, and I was already teary-eyed, several times over: at a quick e-mail from Michael, flowers from my parents, a certain hymn, and yes, even a video of a commercial I saw posted on Facebook. It’s Mother’s Day, and my heart is overflowing with gratitude. I’m thankful, of course, for my own wonderful mother, and the love and practical wisdom and service she’s given me all these nearly 30 years of my life. But I’m also beyond thankful for the privilege of, Lord-willing, getting to be a mother myself, oh so very soon.
Today, I can feel the little one kicking, and my heart (and perhaps my eyes!) overflow. This day can, of course, be hard for so many. Last year, those feelings of sadness came laden with guilt: shouldn’t I just be grateful for my own mom? Why must my emotions zero in on what I didn’t have? Why was it so hard to even look friends with children in the eye?
This year, I feel hope and joy and anticipation, but sadness, too. Sorrow, for my friends who are waiting with empty arms, and no red-circled calendar dates on the horizon. Grief, for the silent pain this day can bring to many, so often unacknowledged. Sadness, because while my obvious pregnancy makes this in some ways my first Mother’s Day, there are little ones I’ve never known who will never have a future and will never call me mom.
It’s a complex mixture of joy and longing that swirl in my heart this evening. Computer in my lap, my feet are propped on the coffee table before me, thanks to burgeoning varicose veins brought on by this pregnancy. While I hate those nasty veins and the awful, constricting tights I now wear because of them, I don’t know if I’ve ever been more thankful for anything. This physical marker, ugly as it may be, means hope. It speaks of life, surging and strong.
And so it is with our sorrows. Ugly and unmanageable, yet he can use them to point us to hope: hope outside of us and beyond the feelings ruling our hearts. Hope that, though weeping may endure for the night, joy comes in the morning. That no matter what that joy looks like (the kind we wish for or the kind we’ve never even imagined), it really is his best for us.
I’m glad today. Yes, my little girl’s kicks make that easier, unspeakably simpler, than last year. But I’m most glad because, no matter which way my stubborn heart goes, he holds on. His love is better than any mother’s.
There’s this thing going around the Facebook world. One day, one thing for which you’re thankful.
And so on.
I’ve not taken part in this, although I’m certain it would be a helpful exercise. But I have been giving thanks. Inviting friends over for tea, dried peas, and other snacks. Talking about Pilgrims and Indians and turkey and gratitude.
There’s this thing my family does every year before we eat Thanksgiving dinner. It’s not uncommon, your family probably does it, too. We go around the room in a circle and share why we’re thankful this year. It’s been a joy, this year to share that with my friends and to learn what moves their hearts.
It’s fascinating to note the different (and the similar) things those of us from divergent cultural backgrounds value. Here, successfully passing the infamous gao kao (the life-defining university entrance exam) is a recurring theme.
I’ve been struck with the importance and the difficulty of finding the line between appropriate vulnerability/what has genuinely moved my heart and talking just for the sake of reaction. Perhaps most surprising, however, has been the impact the simple act of sharing has on my friends.
I might be generalizing, but in my experience this type of honesty is not a regular part of Asian culture, where face is highly valued and reticence is a prized virtue. So when you gather friends and open your heart, it makes an impact. (On me and not just them.)
Surprisingly, again and again girls have been moved to cry by the simple act of sharing. It’s trendy these days to talk about how disconnected people are in this technological paradise where we now live. Yet it’s true. The seemingly innocent act of talking about something real is a deep-rooted desire within all of us. It may be true that “every soul is a mystery.” But we don’t want it to be that way.
We humans have an innate desire to know each other, to live in community, to be understood. I so often forget, but there is only one who can meet that need.
And he longs to do that. For all of us.