Friday, December 30, 2011

Old Rooms, New Paint

It’s almost 2012. 

Time to make new resolutions—except I gave up on doing those a long time ago.

This past week, as I was painting the interior of a huge house, I reflected on this traditional but futile exercise. What is it about the New Year that brings such hope of transformation in some habit or lifestyle? It’s as if a hidden room reveals itself on January 1 filled with treasures of old dreams and new motivations. Like Harry Potter’s Room of Requirement, all I have to do is stand in front of it, think hard about what I need to do for the coming year and poof! I’m standing inside the room where all the needed resources and motivations to change are available to me.

Unfortunately, like the students of Harry’s special school of wizardry, I still have to work hard to learn new habits and make the desired changes. After a while, it gets too hard to even think about what I need in order to get in. The room disappears for another January 1.

Perhaps what’s needed is not the special Room of Requirement (the title may reveal the possible problem), but just a fresh perspective of the old rooms.

There’s something euphoric about putting fresh paint on the walls of a well-worn room. All of a sudden everything seems new. There’s a different feel to the room. Painting a room ends up including a process of cleaning, cobweb removal and repairing. Hidden flaws are exposed. Concealed creatures, usually dead, are uncovered. Dusty surfaces are revealed. Once the room is cleaned and painted, it is transformed into something new.

But it’s not really new. The room is still the same old room. It just feels new and vibrant with life.

I wonder if this is what’s really behind our need for January 1. I wonder if my resolutions disappear by February because I view the need for transformation as being a change from bad to good instead of old to new. I can’t sustain being good when I never feel good enough. But I can live into the new since the old always has an opportunity to become new, whether through refreshment or replacement.

As I painted and reflected, I couldn’t help but imagine what hope for the new year would look like if I concentrated on refreshing old rooms instead of disappearing into the Room of Requirement. Instead of forcing a new lifestyle or habit change through resolutions, I imagined cleaning and refreshing old rooms through new thought patterns and values. I imagined my fears as creatures needing to be removed, lies as flaws to be exposed and repaired, and the deep truths of my faith as furniture to be dusted off and revealed in all its beauty and strength.

What I want for the New Year is to feel new and more alive than the year before. Through the years of following Christ, I have found that newness and aliveness comes through deep transformation of old rooms in my life. What’s freeing to me is that this transformation still preserves the real me. I don’t have to make a resolution that’s unrealistic (for example, “I’m going to train for a marathon like my other 50+ year old friends”). Instead I can identify thought patterns that keep me from putting on my sweats and going out the door for a two-mile walk around the block.

What I want for 2012 is to be available for continued remodeling of the rooms of my soul, to be a more refreshed and life-filled “house” to share with others:

By wisdom a house is built, and through understanding it is established;
Through knowledge its rooms are filled with rare and beautiful treasures.
                                                                                    (Proverbs 24:3-4)

I want to wake up on January 1, 2012 with anticipation of newness.

Therefore if anyone is in Christ, she is a new creature;
The old things passed away; behold, new things have come.
                                                             (2 Corinthians 5:17)

I want the same for you – HAPPY NEW YEAR!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011


Neverland. The place where you never grow old. 

Jon and I watched the two-day mini-series, Neverland, in one sitting (thanks to the DVR). This Syfy movie is the prequel to J.M. Barrie’s, Peter Pan. It’s the story of how Peter becomes Peter Pan and how Captain Hook loses his hand and his tick tocking watch. But mostly it’s the story of how Peter and Hook end up being enemies. The storywriters provide a compelling, creative and surprising answer to a question no one has really asked about this classic. The answer is also tragic. And it’s rooted in the age-old story of betrayal, heartbreak and loss of trust.

In the story, Peter is an orphan who looks up to and loves James “Jimmy” Hook, who seemingly cares for him like a father. Jimmy is the mentor to Peter and a small band of boys (later the “lost boys”) and teaches them to survive in the streets and on the rooftops of London. Peter’s dream has been to grow up and be just like his “Jimmy.” If he proves himself worthy, he hopes someday that Jimmy will treat him as his equal.

But Jimmy’s personal ambitions have no room for another. The opportunity comes through Neverland to realize his goals of attaining respectability, even deity, in the dark world of London by exploiting the almost heavenly world of Neverland.

Through most of the movie, Peter saves, defends and serves a man who continually lies to him, betrays and uses him. But as the one with the innocent heart trying to protect Neverland, Peter repeatedly ends up in a sword fight against his mentor who eventually exposes his selfish, scheming heart.

In one climactic scene, Jimmy reveals that he was the one who killed Peter’s father out of jealousy and hatred. Jimmy had loved Peter’s mother, but his father had won her heart. Peter is broadsided by a double betrayal. In that moment, he realizes that Jimmy is not the man or “father” Peter thought he was. And his world and his dream is exposed for what it is—a fantasy.

At the end of the movie, what now becomes the beginning of the classic story, Peter chooses to leave his fantasy world and stay in Neverland, his new reality. But so does Jimmy, now Captain Hook minus one hand. In this story, it’s Peter who severs Hook’s hand, not the dreaded crocodile. And when he does, he has the opportunity to end Jimmy’s life and be rid of his betrayer who murdered the only one who probably loved Peter as a true father. But Peter chooses not to kill Jimmy. He chooses not to be like his mentor/fake father. Peter proves to be the better man.

As I thought about what Peter’s new reality would now entail, it occurred to me that I’m not sure Neverland would be a better world for him. Neverland. The place where the child remains a child and the adult an adult. The place where people never change. Neverland is now Peter’s world of constant betrayal. He can never grow up and move on and his enemy will never die of old age since Peter has chosen to spare his life. Neverland is a Foreverland of conflict and reminders of his deep pain, of the terrible Betrayal.

I would not want to live in Neverland—even if I could fly with pixie dust. I have my own story of being betrayed as do others I know. Just that afternoon, before I watched Neverland in the evening, I sat with someone and heard her story of a terrible betrayal, even two: a brother who forged her name on financial documents while she lay in a hospital bed fighting for her life against a dreaded cancer and a father who chose his son over a daughter who needed his protection.

There are other stories, like the brother who stole the money needed to care for a mother suffering from Alzheimer’s…the father who did despicable things to an innocent young girl…the pastor who used power to damage his flock or seduce one of the sheep…the husband or wife who found comfort in the arms of another, and not necessarily of the opposite gender...

…the religious leaders who should welcome the Messiah but instead crucify him…the disciple who should have loved Jesus but instead betrayed him.

In those moments when I think about the one who betrayed me (don’t worry – it’s not my husband!) and I start to feel the pain again, I redirect those thoughts and the pain toward the Cross and I remember the Betrayal of Christ. It had to happen that way. Betrayal is what brought hope and redemption and a real Foreverland. Betrayal opened up possibilities of reconciliation in our dark world as well as certainty of reconciliation in our Forever World.

But in this in-between time, in our “stories in the middle,” we struggle through the “how” of a resurrection life in the midst of a broken world where we might not get the “I’m sorry” and we might not be able to have the relationship we once had. Forgiving the betrayer is difficult and forgetting is nearly impossible. And if there are moments when you are forced to face the betrayer, you have to choose between either getting in a sword fight or walking away. Or maybe you choose imperfect reconciliation.

Or, because you are not strong enough to constantly face the betrayer, you have to leave and find a new community. This one is tough on two fronts. It gets complicated to know how to continue relationships from the old community because no one knows the full story of the betrayal. Not even the betrayer. Not even the betrayed. But what can be known is often rejected because most people, especially Christians, don’t know what to do with stories of betrayal. It’s too threatening. The fantasy world must be preserved at all costs.

On the other front, because the betrayal has torn down your fantasy of the community you were in, it raises questions of what was real and what was not. If you are fortunate, you start to re-engage a new community but it’s with the condition that authenticity, honesty and brokenness are celebrated alongside reconciliation, redemption and a lot of patience with each other. And there’s no guarantee you’ll get it. If you were fooled once, who’s to say, you won’t be fooled again. It takes a lot of faith and trembling to step back in and risk once again.

The only answer is a new perspective of the fantasy world and the “real” world. It can only be found at the Cross. It can only be gained through repentance. It can only be understood through the Gospel story that takes my past, my present “middle” and my future and offers healing, hope and eventual reconciliation, even with my betrayer.

In Christ’s “Neverland” we will never grow old. And we will never be betrayed again.
    Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” (Rev. 21:1-4) 
Neverland was a good story---but I like this one better.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Green gecko

Here's a different "story in the middle" for you...a green gecko.

Actually, a dead green gecko.

I told this story to a dear friend who was describing the battle she was having with geckos in her house (she lives in Tanzania). So far the score was Gecko 2, Friend 0, Tie 1. Growing up in Okinawa meant growing up with geckos and cockroaches. In my mind geckos were good while cockroaches were gross. Geckos were good to keep around for eating mosquitoes and spiders. It only got gross if I accidentally shut the door on them and their tails dropped off, wiggling at my feet. (Geckos would then escape and grow their tails back.)

So here's my story:

When I was in elementary school, I was invited to a birthday party for a boy from my class. Unfortunately, I had procrastinated in getting to the store to buy a gift. So on the day of the party, I frantically looked around the house for a suitable treasure to wrap and take to the party. As I looked in my bedroom, I was delighted to find sitting on the window sill a perfectly preserved skeleton of a large green gecko. Of course, it was no longer green. Apparently it had been caught in the middle between the screen and the glass window and probably died of starvation. I picked it up carefully, found an appropriate sized box and wrapped it. As my father drove me to the party, I couldn't help but grin, expecting my gift to be the hit of the party. And indeed, the boy loved it! But I don't think it was a hit with the other kids.

After the party, my father picked me up to take me home. Either remembering he had not driven me to the store to buy a gift or realizing he had not seen a gift on the way there (I had tucked the small box in my pocket), he asked me what I had given my friend. So I told him. Boy, was my dad furious! And probably embarrassed that I had given such a grisly gift. He didn't believe me when I told him the boy liked the gecko skeleton and was not insulted.

He promptly drove me to the store, made me purchase a leather wallet (I secretly wished for a gecko-skinned wallet out of spite), and drove me back to the boy's house so I could hand him this proper, but boring gift. Deep down I still believed my gecko was the better find.

Sunday, November 13, 2011


"Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel..."

The story of Jacob in Genesis 32 has always been one that I identified with during much of my spiritual journey. My normal MO was to figure out life on my own until I ran out of ideas or resources and then turn to God if I have to. Sometimes God would interfere with my plans and suggest another one. My first response was to resist and wrestle. Like Jacob, I ended up losing - God is definitely GOD.

However, over the years, I have noticed a slow but definite change taking place in my normal pattern. I find myself going to God sooner and resisting less. Instead of wrestling, embracing. Rather than pushing against Him, resting into Him.

Last weekend while on a retreat with a group of women, I came to the end of my wrestling career. I decided that from now on I want my pursuit of God to be characterized by a pursuit of rest, stillness and contentment in Christ. Admittedly I expect that there will still be times of wrestling in my future, but no longer will I describe my spiritual life predominantly in terms of wrestling as I have for most of my life. In fact, last week I came to embrace my new name.

What new name you ask? While I was in China, my translator had given me a new name. This is a common practice there, at least in the context I was in as a foreign Christian speaker and teacher. I could not choose my Chinese name; someone else had to give it to me after observing me and getting to know me.

After hearing most of my talks which varied in topics, FangFang chose one: An Ran (安然). It means one who is at rest, safely, peacefully. I loved the name she chose, though I struggled to pronounce it accurately. But I didn't understand the significance of my new name until last weekend. Before I could embrace that name, I had to leave behind my old one: one who fights God.

Then this morning at church, Pastor Rick preached on Jacob's renaming and I realized that I needed to leave behind another old name - Harriet.

Don't worry. I'm still expecting to be called "Harriet." But I'll confess that I have always disliked my name. During my childhood I hated it when some jerk called me "Harry It" (from the TV series, The Munsters). Lamenting my given name, I asked my father why he chose such an old fashioned one. He said it was the closest English name he could think of to my mother's, Haruko. (He also used the same logic for my middle name, Nori, which was the closest Japanese equivalent to my grandmother's name, Nora. Unfortunately, Nori means either glue or seaweed. Lovely.)

Trying to reconcile with my name got even more difficult after I became a Christian. Constantly confronted with descriptions of the ideal Christian woman and wife (quiet and submissive), I felt like a failure in trying to live up to those qualities since I was raised to be independent and self sufficient on top of having the personality of a fighter. I felt more hopeless when I found out what "Harriet" meant: ruler of the home. I was doomed!

Until this morning.

My spiritual journey has brought me to this place of renaming. Living with Jon for the past 32 years has taught me to co-rule our home in mutual love, respect and submission. But living with Christ for even longer has taught me I am no longer ruler of my heart. Christ is. My new name is An Ran.

"Your name will no longer be Ruling, but Resting..."

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Lend me your ear

“I don’t want it to go in one ear and out the other.”

There was a time when idioms were dangerous territory for me. Whenever I shot off my mouth and used an idiom, I would regret it as soon as I saw looks of puzzlement on the face of the unfortunate listener. To avoid anyone thinking I was not playing with a full deck, I’d feign an intelligent expression on my own face. That way they might question whether it was their own fault for not listening better or for not understanding my complex thinking.

From the time I arrived in the United States for college after graduating from high school in Japan, I’d listen for American idioms, analyze their usage and then insert them into my own conversations. More often than not my attempts at sounding like an “American” with slang and idioms went down like a lead balloon. It drove me up a wall.

Why do we use idioms? I decided to ask Google and found this answer at one site: “We use idioms to express something that other words do not express as clearly or as cleverly. We often use an image or symbol to describe something as clearly as possible and thus make our point as effectively as possible.”

Today was the kind of day I should have had the book, 101 American English Idioms. I spent three and one half hours discussing a long letter I had written presenting some important concerns and arguing for a certain viewpoint. I worked hard to communicate my passion without making the reader feel like I had an axe to grind. The person with whom I was conversing was sympathetic to my concerns and wanted to discuss how I could make my letter more “effective” for the group of people I was addressing.

He recognized that I had poured my heart out in this letter. But I also had to make it clear that I was not demanding that we all be on the same page, though I certainly hoped for it. I just didn’t want my concerns to go in one ear and out the other. Interesting idiom.

In the context of an attempt to be persuasive about anything, how does one avoid your words “going in one ear and out the other”? Put another way, if you are trying to explain or even convince another of your viewpoint, how do you make it settle “between the ears”?

Aristotle identifies three modes of speech that must be used in order to persuade well: logos (appeal to reason), ethos (appeal to a way of being), and pathos (appeal to the affections). In my situation, I was shooting for pathos while desiring but not demanding agreement in my use of logos and ethos. In my letter, I chose to tell my story as an invitation to enter into my world, to feel something of my struggle and to empathize with me.

Of course, I also included logical and theological reasons, but my definition of effectiveness included more than just understanding those reasons. I would reckon my letter to be effective if the recipients understood and felt the reasons why I wrote it. Because of the highly charged issue I was addressing, it would require them to discipline their own feelings and resist knee jerk reactions of possible defensiveness, intimidation or outright rejection in order to leave their own world of understanding and enter into my world. I know this is not easy to do. And it leaves me open to the accusation that I have a chip on my shoulder.

So, in the terms of this particular idiom, my definition of “effective” communication is the successful transfer of my story between my own two ears to the space between my listener’s ears. Then perhaps my words won’t go in one ear and out the other. I have no idea if I will be successful, but all I can do right now is ask,

“Please, lend me your ear.”

Thursday, October 20, 2011

"What do you do?"

“So, what do you do?”

For now I hate that question. But I understand why the question was asked by many of the newly reconnected friends. I was recently at my high school reunion. It had been 37 years since I graduated so the yearbooks scattered in the hospitality suite were a lifesaver. I did not recognize most of the faces, but neither did anyone else. No matter how our current body images compared to our yearbook pictures, one thing was certain. We all had aged.

And we all had stories to tell from our journeys since leaving the tiny subtropical island of Okinawa. I would venture to say that most, if not all, probably had stories we never could have foreseen. At this stage in our lives, we had no reason to compare and compete with each other’s stories. We were way past that. As I heard many stories, good ones as well as painful, I observed an absence of masks, a willingness to be vulnerable. The stories were told without excuse or defense. The atmosphere was fragrant with honesty and unpretentiousness.

The only thing that unsettled me was that question. As I said earlier, I understood the question to be a natural one. It was not framed by a need to compare, but by a desire to know me. Yet this question exposed my current “story in the middle.”

I’m not sure what I do.

I mean, I do a lot, but I don’t have a focused “do.” I don’t have a job or career. I’m not pouring myself into one ministry. My weeks start out fairly free but then fly by because I find plenty to do and people to meet with. Now that my husband is retired (sort of), we are enjoying our time together, making up for all the time we sacrificed to raise our kids and he sacrificed to provide so I could stay home. But I am not ready to retire.

Instead I find myself in this in-between life stage. I’ve lived 55 years, been a Christian for 39 of those 55, a wife for 32 and raised 3 sons. In those years I have accumulated stories that are beginning to reveal themes and to lay a pattern that I hope reveals God’s purposes for the last stages of my life. Lord willing, I may have 30 more years of productive life to live. But I have yet to hit my stride. I have yet to say with confidence, “This is what I was born for. This is what I was created to do.”

So I wait. I stay in this “story in the middle.” I resist discouraging thoughts like “It’s too late” or “I’m too old” or “I’m not good enough.” Instead I keep pursuing Christ who knows me, grows me and shows me, not necessarily the road, but just the next step. And I remember that “late” is irrelevant to the eternal and sovereign God, “old” is appreciated when accompanied by wisdom and maturity, and what is truly “good” can only be declared by God.

If anyone else asks me “What do you do?” this is what I will answer.

I can tell you what I’ve done. I can tell you what I hope to be doing. But what I am doing now is enjoying everything I can do while I wait for God to connect what I’ve done with what I will be doing.

Monday, September 19, 2011

The In-Between Place

It was my first Sunday back in church since I returned from China.  I had missed three weeks in a row including the weekend I spent in prayer and solitude at the beach before departing Portland. It was wonderful to see my own community of believers again, but to be honest there were some mixed feelings.

On one hand, I am deeply grateful for this large church which has become a place of healing and growth. I love Rick’s preaching (and anyone else who is in the pulpit) and the church’s commitment to mission. I love our home community and the depth of relationships I experience there. Its support of the arts has reawakened the creative side of me. The School of Theology is a perfect place for me to exercise my teaching gifts and share how I do life with God. There isn’t any doubt in my mind that God led Jon and me to Imago Dei Community five years ago.

On the other hand, there are great advantages to being a smaller church, which is mostly what I observed in Beijing. Every person matters. No one is invisible. Every gift of the body is critical to its survival. Even though Mao Zedong was the one who liberated women from misogyny – Mao was the one who said “women hold up half the sky” - the church has benefited from this. Women serve alongside men by teaching, preaching and administrating. They don’t have time to debate gender equality. Instead they assume it because everyone is needed as they focus and serve in the midst of very difficult circumstances.

Discipleship is automatic and always in high gear because growth and commitment are a given rather than an option. And by necessity, leaders are raised from within the community, often after minimal time and training. The leaders are identified by a willing and teachable heart and a commitment to the community. They are committed to team leadership, being called co-workers rather than elders, pastors or deacons. They avoid exalting any one person from becoming a main leader or powerful figure in the church. Visions of grandeur or fame or wealth were not on the minds of those I met, contrary to what I saw in Uganda. This is from my own limited observations and conversations with the Chinese believers so I know that somewhere in China there are exceptions to the above descriptions.

I’ve been trying to understand why I experienced a level of discontentment at Imago prior to leaving, but felt deep contentment and excitement in Beijing. Perhaps it’s because Beijing sounds more exciting than Portland for now but it would eventually lose its thrill if I end up going back more often. Then again, maybe God is calling me to Beijing and not to Portland. Or maybe I’m tired of American church politics or debates that seem to trigger insecurities, discourage parts of Christ’s body or contribute to a lack of balance in the church. Perhaps the condition of the churches in Beijing has clarified for me what is really important and has put things in perspective. Probably it’s all of the above.

I anticipate a period of processing what I experienced in China in light of what I currently experience in Portland. It happened before when I got back from Uganda. I’m sure it’s necessary this time too. After Uganda, my processing led to a conviction that if I ever went overseas again, my small part in the Kingdom would be the training and teaching of church leaders. Having experienced that in China, the conviction is now certain. The location is not.

As I sat in church Sunday and listened to Rick preach on Jacob, my ears perked up. I have always described my life with God as being similar to Jacob’s. When God asks me to do something, I usually resist and end up “wrestling” with Him in prayer until I submit. My typical response is to go “kicking and screaming” into God’s will. Funny, I also have a small limp, except it’s from falling off the roof five years ago.

But Rick hasn’t gotten to that story in Jacob’s journey yet. Sunday’s message revolved around Jacob’s escape from Esau and his “stairway” dream. As Rick worked his way through the passage, it occurred to me that I had another connection with Jacob.  I had never noticed Jacob’s response to his dream before:

Then Jacob made a vow, saying, “If God will be with me and will watch over me on this journey I am taking and will give me food to eat and clothes to wear so that I return safely to my father’s house, then the LORD will be my God and this stone that I have set up as a pillar will be God’s house, and of all that you give me I will give you a tenth.” (Gen. 28:20-22)

Like Jacob, my initial prayer of belief as a teenager came with conditions. I remember clearly what I was thinking as I said that “prayer.” If there really was a God, then He had a perfect will for my life, a will that must include success (I shared this “success” motivation in an earlier blog). I would accept Jesus as my Savior because I wanted that perfect will. Forgiveness from sin was secondary, especially since I didn’t feel very sinful.

Did I really become a Christian that night? I believe so – I experienced some immediate changes. It was an imperfect faith, but it was enough to establish a relationship with God through Christ. The rest of my journey would entail a constant correction of my initial theology, just as God accepted Jacob’s small faith and did not correct him in the moment after his response to the dream. Jacob’s correction in theology happened through Laban and Esau.

My journey of failure and correction as well as growth and discovery has been long. But just recently, God spoke to my heart after a time of reflection on the last eighteen months in which I learned to rest in Him. During those months, Psalm 46 became my guide as I learned to “be still and know” that God was God. I had to come to a special place, an “in-between place,” as Rick framed it in his message Sunday, where I truly believed that He delighted in me even if I did nothing with the rest of my life.

On this particular day of reflection, God reminded me of my motivation in receiving Christ as my Savior, the motivation of wanting His perfect will, what He had to offer by way of meaning and purpose. It was then I received a deep peace and an affirmation in the Spirit that my motivation to follow Christ had changed in two significant ways. First, through failure and repentance I had come to understand the cross of Christ and my need for a Savior. Second, through rest and repentance I had come to desire God above all else, above His perfect will, above my purpose for life. This in-between place has been transformed into a sacred place, which is what I believe happened to Jacob as he wrestled God for the last time before meeting Esau again.

I know I probably fall back into conditional faith here and there, but I’m finding it easier to find that sacred place and avoid the in-between place. My kicking and screaming is less frequent and less prolonged. I’m still a Jacob who wrestles with God, but then I feel my “limp” and remember to let go of what I think is God’s will and hang tight onto God Himself.

So back to my discontentment…all of those feelings are centered in what I do. But I realize that deep contentment does not come from discovering what I am to do in God’s kingdom, but it comes from holding tight to God Himself and knowing I am secure in Christ. However my journey turns out, especially after this brief trip to Beijing, I am assured that as long as I cling to Christ, the journey will be just as God wills.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Home at last!

Jon, Jerri (full time staff in Beijing), Hope, Peggy, Fangfang
I am now home in Portland! After another delay because of difficulty finding a taxi (we needed 2 taxis to carry the 3 of us and all our bags), we finally left the hotel, got to the airport, and flew 12 hours to San Francisco and then on to Portland. I slept most of the trip from Beijing. If I get to bed at the normal time tonight, I should avoid the jet lag. I hope.

It was wonderful to see Jon and everyone else at home - my mother, son, daughter-in-law, and especially little Ethan and Emma. Life is quickly getting back to normal. And not normal. How does one process two weeks of seeing God in China? Of meeting wonderful Chinese believers who are in great need of encouragement and teaching yet have taught me so much more? I won't miss the traffic and the smog, but I'll miss everything else about Beijing, especially the people. (I'll also miss the looks of surprise when I told them I had 3 grandchildren - they always made me feel young!) I am honored to have been given the opportunity to go and to be used by God there. Thank you to those who prayed. Thank you to those who supported me financially. And thank you for reading my blog posts. I plan to keep this blog open for future posts as I walk this journey with God and consider where He may take me next. On the car ride home from the airport, Jon asked me if I would like to go back to China. I didn't hesitate. Yes! And he agreed I should. What a wonderful husband!

For those of you who are in or near Portland, I am planning a gathering for whoever would like to get more details on my trip or just hang out. Peggy is also in Portland until next Saturday - she has been scheduled to speak at a retreat here and her daughter lives in Lake Oswego as well. I am tentatively scheduling next Thursday, Sep. 22, probably in the evening. Please let me know if you would like to come.

Blessings to you all and thank you for your encouragement and support!

Jufang's group and the Artists' group

It's hard to believe this is the last full day in Beijing for us! It feels like it's been longer than two weeks since it has been such a packed time. Wednesday is proving to be another whirlwind day of speaking and a little sightseeing.

We started out from our hotel to head out to a huge apartment complex that has a number of foreigners as residents. It is nicely laid out with buildings probably 30 floors high built around common spaces with playgrounds and picnic areas. We found our way to the basement of one of these high rises where the rooms had been nicely arranged and decorated for group meetings. It was own by a local Christian Chinese man. The meeting was hosted by Jufang who led a worship time as well as greeted guests when they arrived. Eventually 25 women crowded into our room, another unique experience for two reasons: the age range was the widest yet, from the 20's into the 70's and the group was for married women only. Several of the women were seekers invited by Jufang. She is quite the evangelist. When the shawls and hats were given away by drawing, it turned out that the seekers were the winners. This has happened so many times these last two weeks that we aren’t surprised, and it is fun to let them know that a group of women are praying for the winners stateside.
Jufang and Peggy

I spoke on idols we worship while Peggy followed up with being beautiful to God. Peggy then wrapped our session with the “dissolving” paper activity asking them to write down their idols and any physical features they didn’t like about themselves. A bowl of water was placed in the center of the floor. After praying, everyone placed the papers in the water, not knowing what was going to happen. As the papers dissolved in the water, they gasped. It was a great object lesson.

Afterwards, we went to the common area and enjoyed a potluck lunch. Before we departed, the wonderful women sang us a farewell song “We love you. Jesus loves you.” Peggy and I were amazed at the freedom they had to sing this Christian song loud and clear in this public area.

During the afternoon, Hope took me to see the Temple of Heaven, an ancient site where the emperor sacrificed to a supreme God. We walked around like all the other tourists, but I ended up using the time to get to know Hope, quite a phenomenal young woman. We talked and walked and walked and talked. We laughed at how similar we were. I connected easily with her and I know we’ll continue our new friendship long distance.

 In the evening, Peggy, Jon, Hope, Fangfang and I made our way to another part of Beijing to meet with an artists’ group of 14 young people that gathers for Bible study and encouragement. In an attempt to connect with them, I shared how music is a huge thing in Jon’s family and how art is a part of my life and our church’s life. I talked on idols again while Peggy spoke about worries. We did the dissolving paper activity which the young men and women really liked as usual.

We were able to leave the location at a decent hour, but we ended up waiting and waiting for an empty taxi. It became obvious we needed a plan B. So plan B became the public bus system, and we caught a very nice articulated bus just like the ones we have in Portland. The cost was ridiculously inexpensive – 1.5 yuan or about 23 cents. The subway system is fairly good too and only costs 30 cents. Taxis are more expensive but still not too bad. Most of our trips were fairly close to the hotel and cost anywhere from $3 to $6. Considering the driving in Beijing, the taxis have been well worth it.

I was exhausted when I got to the hotel and thankful that I had packed most of my suitcase a few days earlier so that I could go to bed. It felt a little strange that tomorrow would be the end of my adventure with God in China and the beginning of my trip back to the U.S. Maybe this will be the beginning of a new adventure yet to unfold!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Mawei's house and the tea company group

Tuesday was another memorable day. I started the day at 6:30 a.m. and got back to the hotel at 11 p.m. feeling exhausted but exhilarated.

In the morning, Peggy and I spoke at a women’s Bible study led by a woman named Mawei, with nine women and one man present. The man was the husband of one of the women and didn’t care that our topics (“Beautiful to God” and the story of the woman with the perfume bottle in Matt. 26) were directed toward the female presence in the room. Peggy said this is not uncommon, that Chinese men are not offended by gendered topics. They just like to attend these sessions even if they are in the background. I usually work so hard to include both genders when I speak to a mixed group that it felt rude to me to keep to my notes. Peggy said it was totally fine - he would not be offended, although I wonder if he got a little uncomfortable when Peggy mentioned breast implants. If you think about this group dynamic a bit, there is an advantage to men participating in women’s conversations. Perhaps they would understand us women more like we understand men…or maybe not. ^_^

Mawei’s group of women was really responsive and fun. Afterwards a few of them wanted to take Peggy and me out for lunch at a local Chinese restaurant. One of the women, Anna, was a Muslim from western China near Mongolia. Her facial features were definitely more Middle Eastern. She won a shawl and she understood that winning it would mean a group of women in the U.S. would be praying for her. Near the end of our tasty Chinese lunch, Anna told us that she would consider what we had shared. She said she felt accepted and loved by this group of women. Peggy gave her the “story” bracelet and Anna accepted it!

Us with Anna and her bracelet
BTW, I haven’t explained the “story” bracelets that Peggy sells or gives out. It’s a beautiful bracelet made of pearl and gemstones with the colors of the “wordless” book, an evangelism tool to share the gospel. Hudson Taylor in China used it, and many responded to the gospel because the colors “spoke” clearly. Peggy hired a local jewelry maker at the Silk Market to make the bracelets and she gives them away at the venues while sharing the “Story” at the same time. This is my “story” bracelet – would you like to hear the Story? She also sells them here in China and stateside to raise funds for her trips to China.

Back to my day…After lunch I spent the rest of the afternoon preparing for my evening session in which I was going solo. Peggy had another appointment to go to. I was not feeling very good about my presentation and I confess I was fretting a bit. Peggy kept encouraging me to not be a perfectionist. She has been a wonderful leader and good friend on this trip!

Fangfang and I made our way to a business district and ended up in a prestigious tea company where the host of a women’s Bible study was employed. I saw pictures of her boss with George H.W. & Barbara Bush, Condoleezza Rice, and the presidents of Taiwan and Korea. They must have good tea!

It was a small group of four women, besides me and Fangfang, but I ended up having the best time as I presented “The Story of the Bible.” They were serious students of the Bible but very young in their understanding of it. They admitted that they knew very little of the Old Testament and only studied parts of the New. So I gave them a thematic overview of the whole Bible while at the same time offering specific information that would help them understand the Old Testament. I was glad I brought a Bible with maps as I explained the history of Israel, the divided kingdoms and the pagan nations that threatened them. I gave examples of OT passages that were helpful to understanding NT ones. At the end they expressed surprise at the relevancy of the OT.

During my presentation, I suggested they try doing a “read through” the Bible (if any of you know Dr. Ron Frost, this is his passion). I encouraged them to meet and just read through the whole Bible from beginning to end as fast as they could without comment or interpretation. I had emphasized that the Bible was a “love” story (the Chinese interpretation became “romantic”) between God and his people, and reading it fast with this view of the Bible would be powerful, especially if they did this together on a weekly basis. One of the women, Helen, got really excited and shared that their recent inductive Bible study in the book of Ruth had been very difficult to understand because they did not have enough knowledge or background in the Bible. She felt the read through would be a better way to start in their pursuit of understanding God’s Word.

Later, Helen sent me this email:
Thank you for your time last night and teaching us about Bible story. Your teaching is really helpful and eye-opened to me.  Because of you, I have changed my understanding to the book. It's not just a historical & instruction book, which is a little bit hard to new life like me. Now it's becoming an attractive true & inspiring love story.  Last night I went home very excited and had a sleepless night, planning how to start our study and how much it takes.... Sounds like there's a little voice encouraging me to read the whole story from the very beginning as quickly as possible.  I cannot wait to see what a big picture it is...Thanks again for your feeding us like a good shepherder.

I am on cloud nine! Thank you for your prayers!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Great Wall and Hutong

Monday was the Chinese traditional holiday of the Mid-Autumn Festival. It falls on the day of the full moon and is a celebration of family and friends. A special dessert called a moon cake is prepared for this celebration and it is offered everywhere from restaurants to private homes. It is expected that you bring moon cakes when you visit anyone during the weekend. One can easily end up with bags of moon cakes which may last years if you have lots of friends. It has a filling of lotus seed or a sweet bean paste (very dense). Some have a small yolk in the center while others have various nuts and seeds mixed in the paste. This morning (Tuesday - they must still be trying to get rid of moon cakes) I had a fruity tasting cake.

Fancy entrance in hutong
We decided to spend Monday doing some sightseeing. We went to the Great Wall and to a hutong, a neighborhood section of Beijing that still has the traditional homes and alleyways. Many of these hutongs were demolished to make way for more modern buildings in preparation for the Olympics. The people were paid a hefty sum to move. Our translator and guide, Hope, thought it was funny that the hutongs in Beijing have become a tourist destination. These neighborhoods are all she knew growing up outside of Beijing.

The trip to the section of the Great Wall we were to visit took almost two hours. Unfortunately it was a very smoggy day so the pictures did not turn out as good as I hoped. I borrowed some pictures from Dana, a new friend from Escondido, CA who was here teaching at the Crown University, which is also connected to Global Partners. He went to the same section of the Wall earlier in the week but they enjoyed clear blue skies.

We took a lift chair up to the top, walked a small portion of the wall and then returned down the mountain on a tobaggan slide (this was fun!). On one hand you get your exercise walking any part of the Wall but on the other hand, you feel like you've just smoked a pack of cigarettes because of the smog.

The Wall is almost 4000 miles long and can be seen from space. Started as early as the 5th century BCE, sections of it were still being built in the 1400's CE. We went to the Mutianyu section which is the only location that has a tobaggan ride down. There were guys stationed along the route to watch out for everyone's safety. I think several yelled at me to slow down. ^_^

How would you like to be hanging out at
that corner when an earthquake hits?
We had hired a driver with a Mercedes van to take our team to the Great Wall.  He was an excellent driver - which means he drove fast, passed 5 cars on a two-lane highway with no shoulder, created a fourth lane on a three lane freeway going in one direction, and drove up the opposing lane to the front of the line of 10 cars trying to get into the parking lot of the Great Wall area. And they let him in! Peggy, Jon and I discussed the driving habits of the Chinese. We observed some honking but not excessive, no angry yelling or obscene gestures, no turning signals, minimal driving distances between cars (on all four sides) and crazy merging patterns that looked like a well orchestrated dance of cars at rush hour. We decided to call it "polite chaos."

This city is amazing. Most of the time it is quite smoggy - they call it "foggy" but it sure smells funny for fog. After a rain, the skies clear up to reveal even more of the skyline from our hotel window. On our excursions away from the hotel, I have seen some incredible architecture. They really love to be creative in their designs!

I haven't even begun to tell you about the food which is yummy and cheap. Suffice it to say - I'm not losing any weight and I'm afraid to get on the scale in my hotel room to see if I've gained any pounds. So much for trying to look good for my high school reunion next month in Florida!

Monday, September 12, 2011

A Memorable Sunday

Fangfang, my translator

In this adventure with God in China, Sunday stands out as being the most memorable day so far. Because I am more Asian looking, my translator felt it would be safe to let me visit her house church which meets in her apartment. She picked me up at 9 a.m. so that we could get there by 9:30 a.m. when the worship and singing began.

The room was fairly empty of people when I arrived but I noticed that her living room had been transformed since I last saw it Friday evening. A curtain was pulled aside to show a shallow space behind. A projector was set up for showing the powerpoint slides of worship songs on the wall behind. There must have been at least 60 or 70 chairs set up. By the time the singing started, most of those chairs were filled and there were people standing in the hallway to the side. Though I didn’t understand a word they sang, Fangfang gave me a brief description of the theme. Between each song, there was a brief discourse and introduction to the next song. At the end of the singing, which lasted about a half hour, they all read the Apostle’s Creed together.

Then the preacher was introduced and was I in for a treat! It happened that on this particular Sunday a foreigner had been invited to speak. Her name was Doris Rinell. She was 83 years old and had been born in China to missionary parents who were also born in China to missionary parents. Her grandparents came to China in 1893 at the invitation of Hudson Taylor. Originally from Sweden, she now lives near Seattle. It had been 65 years since she was last in China! And she still remembered her Chinese, which she used that morning! She had come with her daughter and son who recorded her story as she told it in Chinese. It was quite moving to see a room full of young believers, riveted by her story, and to know that they were the living legacy of her grandparent’s sacrifice.

We then had communion, which was deeply meaningful. This church usually has communion on the first week of the month, but apparently something happened so that they had to delay it a week. I was grateful because I miss communion at my church. And then I thought perhaps God did it for me so that I could participate in communion with a people I’ve grown to love. The reality of the Church unseen and the communion of the saints around the world struck me hard.

After communion and a closing prayer, the church celebrated the ministry of a couple, originally from Taiwan but now residing in Houston. They had been sent to China two years ago by their Chinese church there. They were returning home this week. It was obvious from the sharing and gifts of love that they had a deep impact on this community. They were an older couple, about my age, and the young believers looked to them as spiritual parents. Their wisdom and maturity will be missed here.

After lunch was served, Fangfang and I had to hurry to catch a taxi and get to my next speaking venue, Mana church where I had spoken there last Wednesday with Peggy on discipleship. The topic for the afternoon was “The Theology of Sexuality.” About 25 young men and women were present - I think there was only one married person in the room. The response was really wonderful in light of the level of theology I was presenting. Many expressed deep appreciation for a clear and challenging teaching. Fangfang told me she had never heard such a teaching before. I had quite a number of women wanting to talk to me privately, during the breaks (it was a three hour session) and afterwards.

The most significant conversation was with a young Chinese woman almost immediately after our closing prayer. I ended up counseling with her for over an hour. I can’t go into details, but the timing of my session was an answer to the cry of this woman’s heart who had just last week asked for God to send a sign as to what she should do in her situation. Through the topic and the stories I told, she understood that God was giving her that sign. The step she needed to make was clear. I can’t tell you enough how humbled I was by God’s sovereign work of crossing our paths. And it was a brief crossing because she was leaving for Dubai where she lived and worked the next morning. She had only been in Beijing for a few weeks. Please pray for Sunny – she needs strength to do the right thing and she needs to find Christian fellowship and support in Dubai.

I was pretty exhausted when I got back to the hotel but deeply blessed to be used by God. Thank you for your prayers!

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Two very busy days

I've had to set aside some huge blocks of time in order to prepare for upcoming speaking sessions. It's especially helpful to Fangfang, my translator, to receive my notes beforehand so that she can look up any unfamiliar words I use and find the Chinese equivalent. For example, I am speaking on sexuality for Mana church tomorrow (Sunday) afternoon and I already know she doesn't know what "pornography" or "masturbation" means. This is going to be interesting...

Teaching on Habakkuk in the Upper Room bistro.
It's been a busy two days. I had to spend all day Friday preparing for Saturday afternoon's workshop on the book of Habakkuk. Then Friday evening, I went to Fangfang's home to meet with some believers from the house church that meets there. After an early breakfast, our team found our way to a Christian bistro where our workshop was being held. I had to miss Peggy and her husband's presentation on biblical marriage in the Saturday morning's workshop in order to prep for Sunday's session on sexuality along with Tuesday morning's session on Matthew 26 (the story of the woman pouring perfume on Jesus). Then I gave my talk on Habakkuk after lunch and I was able to cover the book in two hours. I'm exhausted and want to go to bed, but I also want to keep up with this blog. So if I write anything that sounds weird or I make some typos, please forgive me. I'll fix them later.

Over the last couple days, I've come to observe a few things that are making this trip a memorable one. At Fangfang's home Friday evening, my topic was supposed to be God's rest, but it became apparent that this was not a felt need, at least for this evening. So I decided to drop the talk and do an impromptu Q&A with the five people who came. From the questions that were posed and other conversations I have had, the lack of godly, marriageable men is a huge problem for the women. Hmmm...that sounds like something I have heard at my church. Of course, there are a few differences - the ratio of women to men in these urban churches is five to one. Here's an interesting comment made by a woman in the group at Fangfang's.

Non-Christian men are in general confident and assertive leaders while the men in our churches tend to be weak and not courageous about their faith. But the non-Christian men don't feel a need for Christ because they are strong while the Christian men use their weakness to say they are more humble and realize their need for Christ. It's hard to find strong men in the church.

There was a young man sitting with us at the table while this woman made this assessment. So I asked him if he agreed with her statement. Pause...might be better to sidestep the question. He said he was not ready for marriage. However there was a male leader in the community that was putting pressure on the young men to step up and date Christian young women. Poor guy. How do you choose which woman to date when you are outnumbered 5 to 1? He also added that there was a group of guys meeting with a leader to discuss "how to be a man." I told him our church had had such group meetings as well. Things aren't all that different in China.

Another observation concerns the young women I meet at these venues, whether a house church, Bible study or workshop. Wow! Am I impressed with the women! I have met some incredible leaders with pastoral hearts and administrative skills. And most of them haven't been Christians for very long. Fangfang is one of these amazing women. After being with her a week, I finally had an opportunity to speak with her extensively. She became a Christian 5 years ago. Within 6 months she was placed in leadership and within a year she was preaching, teaching several Bible studies, and equipping other Bible study leaders in the area. Oh, and she has been the taking care of the financial books for her house church. Because her apartment is the location for the church, she often gets phone calls related to church business or needs. On top of that, she teaches English for 3 hours every day. She only recently was able to delegate some of her responsibilities to others so that she could have some margin in her life. Of course, our team filled up her margin this week!

It was in the taxi ride back to the hotel that I learned all this. Before I left her to go back in, I asked Fangfang to think about a question I had and I wanted to know her answer the next day (today). My question was, "What is your greatest need right now?" After the workshop today, Fangfang gave me her answer. While she sat next to Peggy and me in the taxi, she said her greatest need was for a spiritual mother. So both Peggy and I volunteered for the job! I love Fangfang!

With Yolanda at the workshop
I met another amazing woman today at the workshop. Peggy had told me about her earlier this week and said that I would love her. I now know why. Yolanda has been a Christian for only 3 years and she too has been thrust into church leadership. Most of her growth has been self-initiated and motivated. She's a firecracker!
GPiH staff translator

Every time I ask people how long they have been believers, I am amazed at how much they grow in such a short amount of time. To be fair, I know the leaders are also struggling with weak believers who waver in their commitment to following Christ. Yolanda expressed a lot of angst as we discussed mentoring and what frustrates her about the women she is discipling. But I'm super impressed with the leaders I am meeting and most of them are women who haven't been believers for very long.

Tomorrow I get to go to a house church service in the morning - I'm excited to be able to go. From there I'll travel to Mana house church to talk about sexuality. Again that should be about 10:30 pm Saturday PST.

Friday, September 9, 2011

A day of shopping and an evening with the FaithHopeLove church

The Silk Market. Wow! Earlier this week Peggy had taken me to this shopping mecca to introduce me to its craziness and to scope out gift ideas. One hour just about did me in. On this day, we endured four hours of persistent sales people (and that's putting it mildly) and an occasional grab of the arm. I didn't intend to do Christmas shopping but I couldn't resist the great deals. I think there were at least 5 floors and I read there are over 1500 stalls. For a person who hates shopping, this definitely stretched my limits. Peggy was helpful in helping me barter. It was weird - I tried to be polite and kind and rude at the same time. Don't make eye contact. Ignore their sales pitch. Smile. And say, "Not today. So sorry. Not interested." BTW, it's required that they understand English.

Of course, if I can't get all these gift into my bags, the extra baggage fees may not be worth the hard work of bartering and running through the gauntlet. Peggy assures me we will get it home somehow without the fees.

I really wanted a Chinese t-shirt - most everyone dresses quite casual here. I finally found one I liked and got the price down to a reasonable one. Then it was a matter of trying to find the right size. This is where it got depressing. The Chinese are so thin and petite that the size I ended up with was an XXXL! And even this size was tighter than what I like around my midsection. I am definitely less inclined to buy clothes in China.

Getting to the Market and getting back proved to be a challenge. The traffic was horrible! It took us twice as long to get there. I had to close my eyes as vehicles came within an inch or two of the taxi. I'm not exaggerating! The driver made the ride to the Market a little more enjoyable however. He really wanted us to understand his attempts to communicate. He was so dramatic. ^_^ He kept looking back at us though after Peggy explained in broken Chinese that we were from America. He kept pointing to what I thought was his ear. Then it dawned on us what he was trying to say. He had been pointing to his hair. He was perplexed that I had hair like the Chinese but could not speak Chinese while Peggy, obviously a foreigner, was doing a fair job communicating in the language. I get looks like this all the time. Peggy thinks I may have less trouble attending a house church on Sunday than she because of my Asian look (we had been asked to avoid them on Sunday morning because of recent incidences).

The attempt to find a taxi to get us to our evening meeting also proved to be difficult. As a result we were over a half hour late. But the group of young people were so patient and grateful that we had come. The church is called FaithHopeLove. It is a church plant from another that was started by Hope, an employee and translator for Global Partners. She and her roommates had just moved to a new apartment two weeks earlier and were still in the process of moving their new church there. The location was in the outskirts of Beijing and it took a while to even find the apartment complex located within a gated community.

Most of the 4 men and 5 women, not including Fangfang our translator, were ones we had met before in previous meetings. The topic was "How to be a good husband." Peggy was bit perplexed at the topic because there were women present. But Hope insisted that Peggy focus on the men because the women often heard talks on how to be good wives but the men did not hear as much about being a good husband. It also gave the women an opportunity to learn what to look for in a husband. Peggy took the lead on this topic since she had already prepared a talk (she and her husband who is arriving into Beijing as I write this post will be speaking on marriage tomorrow morning). She had to tweak it a bit to focus on the guys. After a couple of the guys had to leave to catch the last subway, I interjected a few brief thoughts for the women about what warning signs to pay attention to when deciding on who to marry. It was a really fun evening. I love the Chinese young people! They are so sincere about their faith and really love their church community!

Tomorrow (Saturday) will be a long day. Peggy and Jon (yes, her husband's name is Jon too and he likes to wear a fanny pack just like my Jon!) will be speaking on marriage for the whole morning. Then I have  all afternoon to cover the book of Habakkuk, the theme being Hab. 2:4 - "The righteous will live by faith." Again, we appreciate your prayers! If you haven't figured it out by now, China is 15 hours ahead of Portland. So I'll be starting my session about 10:30 pm Friday night, PST.

BTW, I finally see blue sky in Beijing today! It's typically hazy because of pollution (though it's not too bad) and yesterday it actually sprinkled and cooled down from the 80's into the 70's. The rain cleared the air for us today.

Blessings to you all and thank you for your prayers!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Mana house church

Tonight's small Bible study group was my introduction to Mana house church which is a community of around 50 believers. With Peggy's help I presented some concepts of discipleship and mentoring to the 3 women and 5 men gathered in a fairly large apartment-turned-church. I will be returning Sunday afternoon to this church to teach on the theology of sexuality and then next Wednesday to teach on God's rest. This is one group that knows Peggy well and loves to have her teams come and teach.

It was a great time because I made time for their responses and questions throughout the presentation. The leader indicated that this was a hot topic and by their questions, I believed him. They were so engaged and fun to be with. Their questions were challenging and revealed they were tracking with the concepts I presented. I soon discovered that my attempts to keep to the big picture was difficult for them to grasp. I wanted to share principles and qualities, not present a whole programs or steps to accomplishing discipleship. They kept wanting the details and we kept wanting to avoid them. But one thing is for sure. They are desiring to be faithful followers of Christ and they have a burden to disciple well the growing number of Chinese that are responding to the gospel.

I'm looking forward to going back again especially to meet more of their members. Thanks for praying for me! Tomorrow is shopping day at the Silk Market and then in the evening we'll be at another house church. Peggy will be leading this one on the topic of "how to be a good husband" and I'll certainly tell them how wonderful mine is! ^_^

Sidebar: Traffic in China is really scary!