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Before I was a Mom overseas

Before I was a Mom overseas I never woke up to the sounds of a rooster’s crow

I brushed my teeth with Colgate spear mint instead of Darlie green apple

Before I was a Mom overseas
I unloaded groceries from the trunk of a car.
I never had to shop for butter four hours away from home.
I didn’t worry whether or not I can make sour cream or whip cream from scratch.
I never thought about running into a dead rat or two at my front door.

Before I was a Mom overseas I had never crouched down by a tree, any tree, with my toddler to pee and not get frowned upon.
I had complete control of my mind and my thoughts with Starbucks, a good friend’s phone call and movie theater sour candy….

Before I was a mom overseas, Facebook was a click away and I didn’t need to talk to my husband always, always, always
I saw people, people like me.

 Before I was a Mom overseas
I never had to test out bicycle chairs: wicker or plastic instead of Chicco or Infantino

I never shopped for chicken drumsticks next to butchered dogs.
I never rejoiced over KFC.
I never gave up my lunch to visit a sick baby in the hospital and suck out his snot, many many times.
I never sang a hymn over and over again just to taste Him.

Before I was a Mom overseas
I never laid my hands on a sick person and heal him in the most powerful name of all
I never felt my heart break into a million pieces when I saw my child sitting alone while the others are playing.
I never knew that spiritual battles make your head feel like it is exploding, literally.
I never knew that I could love so much.
I never knew I would love being so weak.

             Before I was a Mom overseas
I didn’t know with Christ, ALL things are possible through pain
I didn’t know how special it could feel to stand up for the poor who has no voice.
I didn’t know that I am mothering my own and those born spiritually
I didn’t know that seeing my kids grow up having so little can make me feel so rich

Before I was a Mom overseas
I never had to fight the good fight with a four and a two year old, to put them out there too.
I had never known faithful provision, the wonderful provision, the renewal, the revival, the humbling, the weeping, the stress, the victory, the silence, the waiting, the becoming all things to all people, the intimacy, the helplessness, the golden surprise, the heavenly appointments, the pleasure of having a good sister around either in your heart or 10 minutes away on a bike ride.

I didn’t know I was capable of feeling so much before I was a Mom overseas.

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  Sometimes I really really wonder if Lauren Atchley Lee, my three year old, is human or celestial. She seems to be able to transcend understandings and circumstances even at her age. And this has little to do with my parenting because I know how flawed it really is. But the things she says out of her mouth and the actions which follow can only be from her pure understanding of God. But her knowledge is not like how I know God. She knows him like she came from Him and still remembers what heaven looked like, and anything that reminded her of that place made her glow.

Yesterday I took her to play on the swings, and I noticed a boy who shyly came down the stairs to play. He hesitated when he saw us there, probably wondering why my girls look so different. But I have never seen him before either in the neighborhood. But unlike other kids, he had his head partly shaved and there were visible scars on his scalp. It was obvious this 10 year old boy did not attend school like the other kids since we were out during school hours. And he also moved about like a two year old. He never made eye contact with me though I tried to wave him over.

Has he been hiding from the other kids this whole time we have been living here and I have now just discovered him? His mom came down and the boy began to want to be held by her, though he is as tall as she is. She said she cannot play with him until all the laundry are done and they went back up.

It is hard to explain the compassion that welled up in me. I asked God if it is from Him and how can I reach out to this boy and his isolated mom. So I looked at Lauren and explained the situation and I asked her if she would be willing to go invite him to come and play with us. To do this, she would have to enter into a different building than our own home, up a flight of stairs that towers over her, and knock on the door and in Chinese say, “gege, yiqiwan.” (older brother, come play with me.) These feats would even make adults second guess themselves.

I said, “would you be willing to invite him?” She said with a smile, “yes, I would like to do that.” And off she went happily and did all of the above.

Well, the boy did come down, and he brought his teddy bear with him. He puts his teddy bear on the swing and Lauren started swinging it for him. Then he threw the teddy bear at the trees time and time again. And each time Lauren picked it up for him and placed it back in his hands. Then all the school children came home from school, and they started staring at this boy. And I was starting to wonder where the mom is. But there they were, this mixed blood girl (that is what they call lauren and Mia around here) and a mentally challenged boy playing happily without prejudices. And around 8 kids just staring, plus grandmas pointing and discussing. In this culture where handicapped children are all aborted to have that ONE perfect kid, they wonder how on earth did this boy make it thsi far. I have NEVER been so sad and ashamed for them, and at the same time so proud of my girl.

The mom comes down and tells me the tale of her son — a kid with epileptic seizures all his life, daily, autistic too, until he had brain surgery three months ago. I cry with her in the midst of stares and I say, ” have you ever heard of Jesus? Have you ever tried praying?” She invited me to her home and we talked more about mothering, God’s love in the midst of a fallen world, and how to carry on with hope in God.

I walk away so humbled at her love for her son. And I ask Him for help, “please God, please bring help. You know what kind. Let them feel seen by you.”

Then at night when I tuck Lauren in, I tell her how proud I am of her. How she opened the door for God to minister to that family. Lauren says, “yeah, my job is to bring joy and happiness to people by telling them about God. God is happy when I do that. And when that boy kept throwing the bear, I just kept picking it up for him cause it makes God happy. (giggle giggle) Because I want to obey Him.” She said it perfectly, and I sat there in amazement.

Isn’t that what an angel would say?

Doubt

Discerning how to love people while I am such a broken individual is like walking on a teeter totter. When there is sin, my flesh wants to come down harsh and let them know my first reaction–which is always, “arghhhhh!” Now in my 30’s, I know to act like that will be foolish. But maybe I can craft my words in ways that still says “arrghhhhhh!” but without the exclamation mark. It kills me to “restore gently” which means saying words like, “I want the best for you, for your marriage, and holding off on words that follows — “buying a new business that you cannot afford when you still  have a nursing infant just because you want to be rich is not a good idea.”

So I obeyed, but I still walk away from that meeting with a lump in my throat and a rock in my stomach.

And today I read in Luke that Jesus says he has come to “bring fire”, so I wonder again if I should have been more truth telling?

Nonetheless, the new business owners coax their 4 year old daughter into calling me and saying she misses me so I can provide some desperately needed babysitting, probably for 8 hours. “Arghhhhh!”

I go and pick her up and leaves my own at home alone.

I feel mad.

There on their new business door, I see incense, Daoism stickers for good luck, omens of evil….

I feel like going crazy.

The battle is being lost, and I am powerless.

“oh we didn’t put those things up,” they say, “it was our sister who also owns the business.”

what am I fighting against here? Not just superstition, but people living on auto-pilot and their default mode of doing what is easier–the wider road. How do you transform that? How long do I have?

And I am comforted only by this passage from The Peace Child

“your idealism means nothing here. Your Christian gospel has never scrupled the conscience of my children. You think you love them, but wait until you know them, if you can EVER know them! You presume you are ready to grapple with me, understand my mysteries and change my nature. But I am easily able to overpower you with my gloom, my remoteness, my heedless brutality, my indolence, my unashamed morbidity, my total otherness! Think again, before YOU commit yourself to certain disillusionment! Can’t you see I am no place for you…(for your family)…”

And Don Richardson says, “It’s all a bluff, I thought. This swamp also is part of MY FATHER’S creation. His providence can sustain us here as well as anywhere else”

And I read again in Luke after Jesus says that He has come to bring fire, in the Message, it says, “how I long for it to be finished!”

O Lord, how I long too, for songs of praise to fill every corner. Then if I long, I must be patient to endure and wait with God.

But I will wait courageously.

a garage with chickens

A group of them always gathered in front of one of the garages and in their local dialect, they “gan gou” (chit-chat). Inside the garage are organically raised chickens and black ducks. On a recent unhurried stroll with Mia, they invite me to sit down on a hand made wooden stool to do the same. This garage is one of many in a row, the best way I can describe it is that it looks like a Public Storage from California where it’s just rows and rows of garages. But here above the garages are also apartments.

And while we talked, the ducks quacked, and one of the grandmas chopped cabbages and mixed it with rice to feed the chickens. A whiff of chicken poop now and then, but now enough to make me want to leave any time soon.

“Can I tell you a story, ” I asked them.

“yes, yes tell us.”

And in my broken, toddler like, local dialect, I tell them about The Most High.

The response was warm and inviting. And they helped me through words I do not know like
“On the sixth day.” “Is it the day sixth” or “day the six” I am still figuring out how to count in this language. But they help me with the counting.

I am convinced that God is not  a control freak. He trusts people like us with His Word! I talk like a toddler who is half blind because I have my eyes closed half the time to recall the words I memorized. And yet His spirit guides us all. Somehow I am able to catch it when they name God, Sky, and I say, “no, no, he is not the sky.” “Ahhhhh,” was their response.

“come back tomorrow at 2,” they say as I left yesterday.

And today I return with my notebook and pen to take notes on words they teach me like afternoon, rib bone, marry, and of all words– butt, cause Lauren kept saying it in Chinese. And I find 3 more sitting there. During the course of my 1 hour conversation with them, they learn about prayer, idols, and suffering after death. They wanted me to confirm there is no reincarnation. And something about heaven being a real place with real streets bring them enormous comfort.

“how do you pray” they ask me.

“you tell him what is on your mind and ask for help”

they look puzzled at how good that sounds.

“do you pray to your chicken, can it help you?” I ask again, hoping the answer is not yes.

“no”

“then why pray to a piece of wood you carve out?” I emphasize again.

“yes! yes!”

“if he is real, it says He knows your thoughts before you say it, and he knows the number of hair on your head.”

We end our time with a time of prayer, and my language is so broken that kept mixing up they, we, I.

But at the end, the grandma hands me a bag of oranges and haw flakes as payment. And I gladly take it and hug them. “I will be back in two days at 3pm,” I say. This is not a hugging culture, but how can one not want to hug them? When I said, “peace, you get peace from praying, though your life may not get easier,” one of them started crying….

I said, “He loves you. He is a God who is interested in you. He cares about you so much so that He had me learn your language so you can hear about him.”

Smiles all around.

And in my broken language I say, “did you feel hot hot in your heart when I told you about him?” I meant to say feel warm in your heart.

They say, “yes, it feels warm.”

“Then that is Him working.” “don’t hurry, get to know him, how can you trust someone you do not know?”

And I leave with so much joy that I almost burst.

 

 

“So is my word that goes forth from my mouth, it will not return to me void.” Isaiah 55

We must have talked their ears off with all the new acrynoms and words we have thrown at them: MTR (metro rail in HK), three-wheeler (an open back taxi that runs on three wheels and on diesel), HK-SZ bus and SZ-NN (names of cities), fast bus, country bus, border bus, and experiences that will never have the same meaning to them again like bathroom breaks, fried corn, baby back ribs, and shopping for food for the month…
What was it really like for them when we left our housing in Hong Kong and walked hundreds of steps and rode narrow elevators then boarded subways to get to our China bus? I now think back and muse that they are used to living in open country where deers roamed and sightings of bears happened in winters. And they went from that to traveling underground most of the time like cockroaches and rats. Haha. And we at least walked at the speed of those creatures on our travel day. And when we finally stopped for lunch at the Chinese side, we were all dying of fatigue.
And once we get into China, they observed how the men and women acted differently towards each other, towards children, wore uncomfortable outfits like spiked heels on bicycles…then there were things they never mentioned like middle of nowhere bathrooms that looked and smelled as terrible as the name suggested, the fish sellers in our town who dyes the ground red with blood and fish guts where you walk, and the Muslim noodle shop that should use a gallon of bleach to sanitize itself but never did.
What can I say? They were troopers.
They raised one. I know!
But now when they return to their serene and beautiful countryside where deers roam, and someone asks them, “what did you see in China?” They can say, “we saw where the Emperor sits, the marble walkway built for God, the water basins large enough to fit three adults in at the Palace, the mile and miles of hand carved and chiseled stones on the backs of mountains, the 10 houses in a village at the foot of mountains that you’d think nobody can get to, a water buffalo with his owner in a straw hat just like out of a painting, and this family in the market that sells bamboo baskets — just learning to pray.”

How Little I Know

Why does living in China make one so weary at times? I don’t think I am living more in God’s will now than when I was in America, because there too I followed him as my heart best knew how. And here I am the same person as far as I can tell. I don’t change my clothes nor wash my hair quite as often, nor do I use breath mints half as much. But I carry with me, if I am honest, the same set of prejudices, weaknesses and sense of humor. One does not fare well when her faults enlarge under a new set of circumstances. And these new things only expose more sin.

Lauren and I walked along the river today in pitch dark at a friend’s invitation to do some BBQ, and it had just rained all day long. My shoes were muddy, the kids have been playing in sewer water and dirt, I probably kept them out way too long, and our well intentioned friends bought my girls toy devil horns to wear. (They are lit by a tiny red light bulb underneath, so they shone in the dark as the girls wore them as hair bands.) I am thinking to myself: so many things are going wrong right now, on top of that, my girls are wearing a symbol of Satan. Where should I start? Should I go there with these people on how this is indeed significant spiritually, or should I let it go? I chose to let it go this time, for I do not want to go into how the western world has corrupted too much of the other parts of the world. And Lauren kept telling me, “look mama, I am a cow!” In my head I was hearing what someone from Alabama would tell me, and also what someone from California would tell me about this. But I chose to listen to myself, “don’t confuse the people here.”  Then before I knew it, Lauren had taken a few steps too close to the river bank than I am comfortable with, and I yelled out, “you, stay away from the water.” She looked at me, and my heart broke. She looked sad.

Then there it is, on top of my previous argument about principles in my head — guilt.

I turn to look at the locals waiting for me with a dish of spicy duck feet, and I think to myself, “if only you’d know what I am really like inside. How little I know, yet I pretend to know. How little I let on. And how I am not like the One who loves me.”

And at that moment, I really felt totally alone. Call it self-pity or self doubt. I know it was not true, but can it be true that the Sovereign King has no idea how I feel? Oh, but I know He DOES know. I have known that he KNOWS. He lets me go up and down, but at the right time, maybe in a day or two, He will address this very matter in my head.

Tomorrow when I wake up, the same fear will be present. Sometimes life is just hard. I count on though, one day, gratitude within me will come quicker, and grace too. Perhaps with age, perhaps when I accept His work in my life at the speed and way He is doing it as the best for me.

But tonight I am glad, at this very moment, to know that something in me is wrong, yet it is wrong enough for me to hear from the Truth. He is the Truth, not a moment of truth, but the Truth on whom I can base all fleeting emotions and wrongful thinkings, in this land, especially in this land.

Bacon Potato Soup

Preparation Time: Start a month in advance

Serves: 8

Ingredients:

Chicken Stock: See below for instructions

6 peeled and cut potatoes

1 carrot

1 celery head

1 small onion

dash of pepper

1 tsp salt

paprika

1/2 c of milk

6 strips of bacon: see instructions below

Directions:

1. Buy a frozen or thawed whole chicken from the wet market with head and feet attached. If it is frozen, thaw and then have your husband chop off the head and feet to discard or give away to a grateful Chinese neighbor. The chicken’s eyes will be closed, but try not to stare too long into it.

2. Put this into a crock pot that can be purchased in China. They call it the purple clay pot. Put half an onion in there and boil it until the meat falls off the bones. Then save the chicken meat and de-bone it. The meat can be used for other purposes. It makes a nice chicken spaghetti casserole. And put the stock into tupper wares to freeze. The stock will fill up three square Glad wares. Use two for the bacon potato soup and 1 for a creme of mushroom base later.

3. When you are in the capital city, purchase a gigantic bag of bacon that is already frozen. If you bring a cooler with you, and I recommend you do on these trips, you can put the bacon in that on the 4 hour bus ride home, and it should just be ready to be curled up one by one and put into medium sized Glad bags to freeze for future use. I put 12 bacon pieces per bag usually. When ready to use, thaw and fry as usual.

4. All the veggies can be bought in the wet market for really cheap!

Now you got the chicken stock made, the bacon fried and cooling, use the bacon grease to cook the chopped celery, carrot, and onions and salt.

5. Boil the potatoes in the chicken stock until soft and then take all the potatoes out into a bowl and leave the stock in the pot. Then mash the potatoes.

6. Put all the stir fried veggies into the stock with the bacon (oh, got to chop up the friend bacon into bite sized pieces too).

7. Put in the mashed potatoes last. Nowt the soup will have  a creamy texture, and your house will smell wonderful.

8. Lastly put in the 1/2c milk, or 3/4C if you are making a lot and like it creamier.

9. Serve with green onions or paprika!