Thursday, May 29, 2008

And sometimes, we are ridiculous:

What happens when you have over two of your favorites for a night of America's Next Top Model? After 10 straight episodes (in two nights...), the camera shenanigans inevitably begin. Here are a few of the results:


TYRA MAIL!!!! (screaming with the models)

You're FIERCE! You're an Animal! You're a TIGER!

V's underwater/puddle shot

Marisol's "beefy" shot


Combining ALL that we learned for our "best shots for PANEL"
"You know our prizes. The first is a contract with one of the TOP modeling agencies in the WORLD, Elite Model Management. A $100,000 contract with Cover Girl Cosmetics and a six-page spread in Seventeen Magazine."

Marisol


(Marisol is DEFINITELY our Cover Girl!!! Sooooo bella!)

Virginia
(she was actually channeling Dominique, the contestant with the crazy man-brows)


(Even with the crazy brows--she pulls off some FABULOUS shots)

Lucy


(My attempt at Tyra-sass: "Wanna be on top?")


I promised I'd show "MY LIFE IN CHINA" on this blog--and this is it--good, bad and silly! Some days we are having conversations about the nature of pain and sadness, and on some days we are watching silly US reality shows and imitating them with friends. Ahhh...and life is good!

If a man insisted always on being serious, and never allowed himself a bit of fun and relaxation, he would go mad or become unstable without knowing it. 

Herodotus (484 BC - 430 BC), The Histories of Herodotus


Humor is the great thing, the saving thing. The minute it crops up, all our irritations and resentments slip away and a sunny spirit takes their place.

-- Mark Twain 

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

When it rains, steam rises from solar panels...

You can see them all from the window of my 5th floor apartment—large, heaving and tin-rusted solar panels connected to water tanks on the roofs of each building. On days when the sun actually shines, they cast a blinding metallic glint into my bedroom. But on most days the sun doesn’t actually shine—it just reflects off of and mushes through the vale of grime and haze that sulks over Wuhan.

Harper Lee has a line in To Kill A Mockingbird—something about it being so hot that summer that the men’s starched collars had wilted by 9 in the morning. Amy Tan has a line in The Bonesetter’s Daughter that Wuhan was a city “so hot that most people would rather bathe in a vat of boiling oil than live there.”

Yeah—it’s a little like that.

Like most hells on earth, it’s not so much the heat, but the humidity. It’s all sticky and muggy and mucky—the moment you leave the apartment your clothes and hair are clinging to your damp skin. We teach in buildings with only the luxury of ceiling fans—so you must yell over their humming drone through the class, pausing only to chug water and wipe your brow. You take a deep breath and even that hot air only makes you feel sluggish or moody or morbidly obese.

In the market the men roll their shirt hems up—like the little girls in America pretending to be Britney or Christina or whoever it is this year—they take the bottoms of their shirts and roll them tightly up and up, exposing their paunchy midriffs. The students are wearing basketball shorts and sleeveless jerseys and it seems that sweatband/headbands are back in style.

For a while it wasn’t actually that bad. Perhaps after the worst winter in 50 years, we also had a nice spring. For the past month or so, I’ve slept with the windows open and cool breezes wafting through the rooms. On some days I turned on the fan—but that was all that I needed. I kept saying (stupidly) that I wanted to avoid using the air conditioner so that I could acclimate to the heat.

And for a while it worked. The same coolness that turned my apartment into a frigid icebox of frozen despair in the winter actually became an asset—the cold cement floors on my bare feet in the mornings reminded me of crossing a river or creek on flat smooth stones barely submerged in the rushing water. The aerodynamics and drafts of the apartment allowed the wind to rush through and through all the rooms—keeping it fresh and pleasant. I woke up each morning with something of a smile (on the mornings when I could sleep in).

But then God flipped the thermostat to “miserably oppressive” and it’s been downhill ever since.

Day after day passes with the humidity dripping from you and everything and everyone—and day after day you look at the sky thinking that surely all this moisture that we’re gathering in our lungs like pneumonia with each breath will gather into clouds and rain—RAIN!!!—Why won’t it rain????

And finally you fall on your bed half-naked and give up and set the air conditioner at the lowest settings and aim the fan directly on you and think about getting up for a cool drink but decide that it would force you to leave the proximity of the fan so you stay there on the bed with your feet dangling off the sides because you don’t even have the willpower to take off your shoes. You lie there and wonder if you will ever feel cool or fresh or content again. You lie there and breathe in and out and wonder how much more you weigh with this oppressive heat forcing all the gravity of the world down on you. You lie there and suddenly realize that the birds have stopped singing and it’s awfully quiet. And the next thing that you hear is the steam.

It’s the hulking, antiquated, industrially ugly solar panels on the roof beside you. We use them to heat our water—only in the worst days of winter do we ever turn on the electric water heaters—the panels do that work instead. You learn what to look for on the digital temperature gauge in the kitchen—50 degrees Celsius is hot enough for a shower—anything below and you’d better go electric. In the summer, the water gets hot enough to scald instantly—the gauge has recorded as high as 110 C before (230 F).

So you hear the hissing before anything else. Opening the curtain—there it is, steam rising softly from the panels, the raindrops hissing and sputtering on the surface. It goes on for only about 45 seconds, I guess—this ethereal scene of steam and mist and sprinkle and hiss--before the downpour unleashes the buckets that have gathered in the troposphere for days and days and months.

The rain today lasted for about 30 minutes. 30 minutes and then it was gone. The buckets of water create a cool breeze—so you sit by the open window and watch all your Chinese neighbors poke their heads out the window—one mother brings her baby and lets him stick is hand out in the rain until he gets tired and falls asleep on her shoulder, one older woman is drinking her tea and staring down through the leaves at a bicycle. You eat fresh fruit that you now must keep in the refrigerator all day because it will go bad otherwise, and you play some music and wash your face and feet and say your prayers and breathe deeply. For 30 minutes. Maybe an hour, if you’re lucky.

Then the Wuhan summer returns—which is not so much a summer as it is a sauna—and you wait out the days till the flight home.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Introducing Zoe

This is Deng Lin, one of my FIRST friends on campus. I met her months ago when she was eating a pomegranate and I wanted to find one in the market. She's a second year student and an English major--but I don't have her as a student. 

She's SUCH a cutie--and when I told her that I wanted my mom to meet her someday, she decided that we should make a video instead. This is what she had to say....It's for you, mom, but hopefully everyone will enjoy hearing her speak as much as I do. There are some days when just hearing her voice say "Raaaallly?!" is all it takes to make me smile! 


video

Thursday, May 22, 2008

When you're in China, birthdays last (at least) 36 hours


It's 10:30 pm on May 22 in China--so there's an hour and a half left to my 24th birthday. 
BUT
It's 10:30 am on May 22 in Kingsport (eastern time)--so there are 13.5 hours left to my 24th birthday. 
AND
It's 7:30 am on May 22 in Los Angeles--so there are 16.4 hours left to my 24th birthday.

Despite the sadness of the recent events--my life in China has been more than wonderful on a personal level. Book studies and conversations are sooo much fun, my friends--both American and Chinese--are all incredible blessings to me, and I LOVE CHINA!!!

One of the things that's been best has been the growing balance between spending time with my Chinese friends while also getting some down time with my American/Foreign friends. A few weeks ago, I hosted a Daily Show party in my apt for all the foreigners--I had a HUGE fresh fruit spread in the kitchen (pineapple, watermelon, nectarines, bananas, honey, yogurt, mango ice cream, vanilla ice cream, and other sundries) and we all made smoothies and coke floats etc and watched the most recent two weeks of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. It was a blast--there were about 10-12 ppl who all represented various levels of the political spectrum and we had a lot of fun laughing about all the current events that we miss while we're over here.

I really love the group of American friends that I have over here. We all claim that we COULD do our Work without this network--but we're all glad that we don't have to. These friends are bonded to my heart for life. In such "extreme" environments...it's great to know that you can call up a brother or sister and relax together, support each other, and laugh about the daily adventure that is China.

Meanwhile--a book study has taken off with some Chinese friends and I've been able to have them over twice a week for food and fellowship. It's great to see some of my relationships going from Foreigner/Native or Teacher/Student to FRIENDS. Just friends! And I HOPE every day that someday it will be a step further...as Family.

As a final note: Today marks the ONE MONTH REMAINING date of my first year in China!!! I am flying home for summer vacation on June 22. I'm really looking forward to seeing home and my family/friends-but trying to keep my head and heart here for the next several weeks...

So here are some recent shots of life--several from my birthday party today and a few from elsewhere!

My birthday dress personally made by my tailor at the fabric market

Celebrating my 24th at Aloha Diner--THE BEST American food that side of the
Yangtze!

Sara turns 25 tomorrow! Us and a chocolate chip cookie dough milkshake--that's right--MILKSHAKE IN CHINA!!!

Johnny and Carole giving the VICTORY--(HELLO to Carole's MOM!!! We love your daughter!!)

The wonderful boys Johnny and Danny making me laugh...as always.

My eyes are nearly closed in this pic--but I still love it. Johnny, Me and Marisol!!!


The LADIES at my apartment for some Study time and American-style food!

I didn't have much time--so I had to keep the meal at the basics.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

After a very sad week...

Students gathered for a candlelight vigil to honor the victims of the earthquake.

At a student-led event to raise money for the victims--the middle girl is a student from Sichuan. The students presented her with t-shirts that they all signed and wrote notes on. Many tears...

The symbol on the t-shirts that we're all buying to raise money. I'm not sure what the Chinese characters are yet...


It's all because of a piece of fruit.

There are things that happen when you cook a meal or bake a cake or mix a drink. I barely stayed awake through chemistry and physics during my school days (all those many years ago)...but I was awake long enough to learn that there are these changes--scientific changes that occur when you introduce one ingredient to another. They mix---atoms and elements are rearranged and one new substance is formed from all the previous individual substances. You mix flour and sugar and vanilla and eggs together and add heat and you create a cake, or a cookie, or whatever....I think it's called a "chemical change," as opposed to a "physical change" in which no new substance is formed.

So G-- created the earth. And it was good. G--, by His very nature, is pure. Utmost Purity. And just like some elements repel other elements--His purity repels impurity. They cannot mix. It's like pushing two like-poled magnets together--the magnetic charges repel each other and simply cannot connect. So this environment that He created was pure--so that His Highest Purity could mix and move and walk and swirl through it.

Until the piece of fruit.

It was like adding heat to all those ingredients. Before the heat--all the ingredients are intact and whole, but just mixed. I think it's called a colloid or a suspension or a solution or whatever--the elemental nature of all the ingredients are still pure. But you add heat--and the atoms and clusters of elements start moving around--bumping and floating and exploding into pieces that connect with other pieces and a whole new SOMETHING exists.

And after the fruit--a different world existed. The heat had been added and now the whole environment contained a burned-in impurity. The elements were no longer in their pure state. And so G-- couldn't mix with it in the same way anymore. He couldn't connect with His creation in the same way--because His nature repels the impurity of the new post-fruit reality.

And in this new reality--there came the "curses." I've heard the curses described not so much as punishments--but as descriptions. G-- is telling them the nature of life in this new Fallen environment. The fruit was chosen--so now this is the way things work: there is a loss of relationship between humanity and G--. There is a loss of relationship between man and woman. There is a loss of relationship between humanity and the land. It was a "chemical change."

And the Story of our Book is of G-- creating a new environment in which connection and relationship can be regained. He consistently refused to leave us to our impurity. He kept teaching us ways to create a pure space in which He could dwell in this fallen world (the OT). But our flawed attempts weren't letting Him come close enough. So just like the elements of the world were altered with the fruit--another "chemical change" would occur. Another new environment would be created. It happened with a cross and a rolled-away stone--we'll call Him the "Catalyst Element."

And in the mix of this environment--with the introduction of what we'll call a "bonding element"--the elements of our impurities are bonded with the element of His Spirit--which cleans us up--continually--enough to experience a new reality. One in which we are able to experience His Pure presence--mostly--one in which the continual purification helps us to reconnect to Him, reconnect to each other, and reconnect to the land.

Mostly.

We regain the connection. The Bonding Element burns itself inside of us and teaches us how to exist in this new environment--and how to create or spread that reality so that we can get bonded even closer, even tighter, till we're sealed together with the element of His Spirit--both individually within ourselves but more importantly together, as a community.

However--the Story isn't over. Not yet. Because even though these 'chemical changes' have occurred--we still exist within the confines of the fallen post-fruit world. And the nature of that world still exists. So we still see the wars between the will of G-- and the will of humanity, wars between men and women...and we still see the wars between man and nature.

We see waves wash away whole countries. We see fires destroy homes and towns. We see storms break apart the strongest buildings. And we see the ground shake and quake and crack so that everything on it is shaken and crushed and cracked.

And we continue our Fallen fight on our own side--trying to contain waves with concrete and steel; replacing clouds of storms with our own versions--clouds of pollution; cracking and tearing and ripping into that ground for oil or coal or whatever else we want--all the while trying to prove to ourselves that we've got control, that we're winning the war...

It's the consequence of a piece of fruit....or, the decision to take the fruit...to choose relationship with G-- on our own terms rather than His... and these are what our terms brought about.

But there is the hope--the waiting--for the completion of the NEW environment that came with the cross and the rolled away stone. We have the beginnings--the chemical change created with the introduction of a Bonding Element--but we're still waiting for the heat to be added. The heat that will finish the job. The white hot dazzling transforming (i think I stole that phrase somewhere--it's not mine) heat that will alter it all--the heat that will completely purify.

And when the heat is added--those of us who have bonded ourselves to the Spirit, who have allowed the Bonding Element to burn and seal itself into us--we will be able to survive the burning purification and live free of that separating impurity forever.

And we know that the wars will end. We know because when the Catalyst Element was here--His very presence--His very words "Be still" spoken during one storm-- showed us a glimpse of what it will look like when all the storms are calmed, when all the relationships are restored, purified, made whole. No longer will nature cause pain in the life of man. No longer will man rage and destroy nature. This is the new environment that we wait for the coming of.

These disasters happen and we question the "acts of God." I guess what I'm trying to say is--I call these disasters "realities of Fallenness." We live in the midst of the Fallen world--and we cling to the Bonding Spirit that teaches us that the wars will end because the Catalyst Spirit began the chemical reactions that would bring about a brand new purified reality.

Perhaps my metaphor is incredibly clumsy--certainly my understanding of science is. Perhaps my theology is incredibly incorrect. Certainly, my expression of my thoughts is grrr..inept. Like I've said--I'm still learning. In the meantime--I have a blog and it forces me sometimes try to express the swirl of emotions that pass through my mind in times like these. I've comfortable with the idea of learning that my "reasoning" for the question of suffering is flawed.

And after all my rambling, I'll leave you with the coherent, lovely thoughts of Barbara Brown Taylor in her 'lesson' "Out of the Whirlwind" (found in the collection of her lessons called "Home by Another Way"). After this happened over here and I wanted to think about answers to rough questions--I picked up her lesson on Job. Here's her conclusion (abbreviations are mine):

"If there is an answer to the problem of unjustified suffering in Job, then, it is only this: that for most of us, the worst thing that can happen is not to suffer without reason but to suffer without G--; without any hope of consolation or rebirth. All other pain pales next to the pain of divine abandonment (ask JC about that), and what Job wants us to know is that G-- does not finally abandon us. When there is nothing left--when all the flocks have been stolen and all the children have been buried--when there is nothing left but a potsherd with which to scratch our sores, what is still left is the G-- of all creation, who laid the foundation of the earth, who has walked in the recesses of the deep, who has made Behemoth and Leviathan and everything that breathes. This is the L--d of all life, who never runs out of life, and whom we may always ask for more."

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Take off your pants and get in the ocean

Months ago, before China and all its adventures, I drove down to the coast. My China orientation/training session was near Mobile, so I went early--looking forward to some time alone on the beach--trying to get my heart and head ready for China.

Sitting on the beach, I think that I even asked for Father to give me the Lessons that I would need for my new Tasks. At this point—after His dramatic answer to my request that He hurry up and “do something” with my life (I lost my PR job THE NEXT DAY)—I should have known better than to idly request something without being ready for it.

 A woman and a young girl played in the surf in front of me on the beach, catching jellyfish in their net and pausing passers-by for a look. Given my intense (and I mean, pathologically INTENSE) fear of sea creatures, I must have been staring at the net with some seriousness—which the woman seemed to interpret as interest. She began walking towards me with the net—so I interrupted my cell phone conversation to wave her away. “That’s ok—I don’t want to see anything,” I said with a fake smile while my muscles tensed, ready to run if she came close to me with the blob. She went back into the surf and I went back to my phone.

Until she came up again. This time, she stood there over me, cocked her head to the side and said, “So what? You come all the way to the beach and don’t get in the water?”

Whaaaa? For all she knew, I could have been in the water all day—all WEEK! For all she knew, I could have a house just down the beach and could have lived there my whole life—spending YEARS of my life in the water with no travel needed!

So yeah—I told her that I’d been in the water (big lie) and would be getting in again tomorrow (another big lie—too afraid of the creatures) and that I was just trying to rest for now. She smiled and left and I went back to my thoughts or prayers or whatever it was at that moment.

Until she came back and without pause or intro said: “Take off your pants and get in the ocean with me.”

Good lord, I thought.

And then I paused and wondered…good Lord?

So I did it. I took off my pants and got in the ocean with her.

******

We always hear that phrase about entertaining angels in disguise and think about it as if we are the ones BENEFITING the recipient of our hospitality. Like—those lucky angels who get our hospitality… and we hope that we can be the ones who get extra heaven points by chancing upon the hidden angels. It’s as if we put the dollar in the beggars cup the same way we put a quarter in a slot machine—just MAYBE the dial will turn up ($$$--or angel!, angel!, angel!) and we’ll hit the heavenly jackpot—that angel will be waiting at the Pearlies, rip off the beggar costume, yell SURPRISE and tell us what we won…

What a silly view. And I confess to all of you that I’ve thought in those terms. Give the dollar, be hospitable—b/c it MIGHT be a test to pass or fail, win the big money or hear the big buzzer on J-Day. What we fail to see when we look at the verses this way is that WE are meant to be the beneficiaries of a visit with the angels. WE are getting the prize then and there—by the blessing of passing some time with heavenly beings--beings that KNOW the presence of God.

******

Even that day on Gulf Shores, I missed the point. I congratulated myself for being “open” and “reaching out” to this woman, Karen, and the young girl. We spent the evening chatting about our lives—the young girl was actually her best friend’s daughter. The friend was in the military and when she was sent to Iraq, she called Karen and asked, “Are you IN or are you OUT?” Karen said that she was IN and became the guardian of her friend’s daughter. Actually from Colorado, Karen was in the area to check on her father, who was getting old and maybe needed her to move down to take care of him.

After a while the sun set and Karen asked if I was hungry. Still thinking that I was supposed to be JC to her, the Bread of Life verses passed through my head…but I just said that yeah, I could eat. So we went across the street to a Mexican restaurant. During dinner, I congratulated myself on taking this lesson from the Big Guy on being open to others…thinking that the lesson was: You never know when He will place someone in your path to reach out to. I wondered if I should talk to her about JC…but ended up just sharing my Reasons for moving to China.

And maybe that was the lesson—maybe I did bless her or maybe it will help her view of Xianity—but I now think of that experience as a time when I tried to be alone with my own thoughts, and Father brought me a friend to teach me something instead. She was someone whose life seemed always intruded upon—by her friend, by her dad, by her husband whose job brought move after move, etc…and yet she still reached out. She still made new friends with strangers on the beach. She loved. She was IN. And she was a lot of fun to spend time with.

******

As I stay in China and am weekly approached in ways even more awkward than “Take off your pants and get in the ocean with me,” I think that there have maybe been angels along the way offering me special blessings—to rejuvenate my Spirit, to reconnect to Him, to learn a new lesson. And I’m afraid that in times of impatience with China, I’ve rejected them because they invaded my space or asked too much of me. I’ve pushed them away because, by mentally stating that I can’t be an impromptu English tutor to all of Wuhan or that I can’t reach all of China through bus conversations or can't have people over TONIGHT because the apt is just too messy and there's no food in the fridge—I’ve missed the point and made it about MY work to bless them—never assuming that perhaps they are a Gift sent to help me. I think I might be beginning to see that I was brought to China to be given more lessons and taught much more about His Ways than I will end up teaching others. After almost a year here, I have a feeling that I am still much more of a student of Him than a teacher of Him. And I’m thrilled about that.

Because here’s the thing: it was also on a beach that a man walked up to two fishermen and asked them to follow him—to be fishers of men—to take off their pants and get in the ocean. This seems to be the way He works sometimes—inconvenient and awkward, invading our time and space. If they had been too focused on their roles as hosts—they might have brushed him off and not “entertained” his request. But no, they followed. And by that first act of entertaining the request of a weird guy on a beach, they got to spend three years learning from the Son of Man. And then they became our teachers—telling us what He was like, who He was and how to be like Him. I only ask that I too can entertain the requests of that weird man and also be such a learner as they were.

Monday, May 12, 2008

I'm ok--but please Lift Up China in your Thoughts

Thanks to all of you who called, emailed, or facebooked me--here's the update: Wuhan felt slight shudders/vibrations around 2:30 p.m. yesterday afternoon, it was not enough to cancel classes or cause much alarm, from what I've heard. I was taking an afternoon nap and missed the shudders entirely.

We have a lot to be thankful for--because this earthquake has cause massive damage just one province over in Sichuan. Simply by virtue of the masses and masses of people packed into China, a natural disaster can have such a devastating result in these areas. 

I've taught two classes this morning and so far none of my students have family or friends affected by the quake. I'm checking around with a few informed students to see if there will be any volunteer relief efforts through my university--I'm not sure if I would be allowed to participate if there were though...

I have heard a lot of praise and confidence in the government's efforts to provide aid and information. There was a terrible earthquake in the 70's that was covered up--but thus far, death tolls and progress reports seem to be updated regularly and it seems that everyone feels well informed and knows that everything possible is being done. 

It's just really sad though--I can't imagine the amount of heartbreak that things like this cause. Please Lift Up China, please continue to Lift Up Myanmar, and all the areas in the US that have been struck with storms, tornados et al. 


Wuhan is located in Hubei Province in central China. Sichuan is to the west of us. 

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Happy Mother's Day Momma!!!

Sure, I miss deli sandwiches, Kroger, driving, non-polluted blue skies, movie theaters, soft clothes still warm from the dryer, radio, Chili's, Sunday mornings at ch_ch, cheese, bagels, orbit gum, the english alphabet, delivery pizza, ovens, mint ice cream, must-see tv, evening news, unfettered internet access, the couch, Nashville as a whole, pro football (esp the Titans), american clothes sizes, bookstores, libraries, air conditioning and heating...

But more than anything else, I miss you! 

However, I know without a doubt that it is you who equipped me to follow my Father and come here. I know that it is you who still gives me the strength and courage to brave the hard days here. I know that it is you who always reminds me to relax and let my Father take care of my future. I know that I couldn't be here if it weren't for you.

I love that my arms and hands are the exact same as yours. I know that it sounds weird, but sometimes I look down at my forearms, wrists and hands and it makes me miss yours. I love that sometimes I laugh like you. I love that I have some of your same gestures. I love that I dabble in painting the way you used to--you going to oil or watercolor painting classes when I was in kindergarten... I love that I go to art museums because you did, that I listen to classical music because you did, cook with olive oil because you did. 

But more than anything, I love that I love my Father because you did. I love that I have grown up in the light of your faith. I love that the Strength that you always held onto while we were growing up is the Strength that I know how to cling to too, the Strength that brought me here and that gets me through the days of missing you and everything else.

So I hope you have a great day today! I'll have to count on Dylan to make it special for you! I promise that in 43 days I'll be able to make up for not being there today! Until then, Happy Mother's Day Momma!

Friday, May 9, 2008

Then not just my feet, Lord, but my hands and head as well!



I wore flip-flops today. Wuhan is gross. Thought I'd share! 

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Henan Orphanage Trip











We had a great weekend with the children in Henan (not Hunan--my mistake). It was exhausting but fun. The kids all have really beautiful spirits--and though it's rough to know that they don't get fruit or milk each day, that they get meat maybe twice a month, that they live in old buildings without heat or a/c, that there are not nearly enough adults there to give them individual attention or love...we were still blessed to spend some time with them. The Chinese students who came on the trip had gathered clothes to give the kids, the group bought them toys and fruit, snacks and school supplies, and gave enormous amounts of love. At first I was sad that I couldn't talk to the kids--but then was reminded, as always, that love always translates. If you want to see more pics, you can view my album HERE.