Thursday, May 31, 2012


            I never know how to answer when people ask where I’m from.  Every answer seems somewhat dishonest.  I live in Boston, but I’m not from Boston.  I spent four years in Atlanta, but I’m not from there either.  I’m not from China, though I lived more of my adult life there than anywhere else.  I like Auburn, but I only went to college there.  I claimed Chattanooga for a long time, but my parents moved from that city fourteen years ago and I have few ties left.  I visit them in Birmingham now, but I only lived there the first year of my life.  I feel like I should carry around a chart to answer that question. 

            There was a rose bush in the yard behind the house where my dad grew up in Pelham, Alabama.  He doesn’t know when it was planted, but his earliest memories of it’s blooms were when his younger brother was born in 1953 and it was already old by that point.  The bush was often cut and shared with friends and family, so it was only natural for my Dad to take a clipping when he and my mother moved into their first house in Alabama.  Two years later they took a clipping with them to Crown Point, Indiana.  It survived a harsh winter and they took part of it again to Nashville, Tennessee.  It bloomed big and bright there for a few years before they took part of it to Sumter, South Carolina, where I have a picture beside it in my white confirmation dress, all skinny arms and legs and braces.  They took a clipping when we headed back to Tennessee and I took pictures in front of it’s reddish blooms in my red prom dress.  Now it’s thriving back in Alabaster, Alabama just a few miles from where they clipped it over thirty years prior.   My dad has shared it with almost everyone he knows.  Make a passing comment about it’s beauty or fragrance, and you’ll go home with a clipping and instructions.

Now I’m moving again and I’m wondering if a soul can be like a rose bush.  The night I told Maggie, she cried, “I won’t go!  I won’t start over!  I won’t leave my friends! I won’t leave my house!”  I held her and prayed as she tossed and turned and sobbed and finally fell asleep.  Then I crawled into my bed and tossed and turned and thought about leaving my friends and starting over and helping my kids through those transitions then I cried myself to sleep.  That was the low point.   However, things have started to look up.  We started keeping a thankful journal and the kids look forward to adding to it at night.  We memorized Psalm 46:1-2, “God is a refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.  Therefore we will not fear though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea.” And Joshua 1:9, “Have I not commanded you?  Be strong and courageous.  The Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”  We’ve been remembering and telling our stories of God’s faithfulness.  Much to my surprise (I confess), it’s working.  Along with the stress and sorrow and uncertainty, I am also feeling hope and even courage.  

Over the course of the next four weeks, we will say good-bye to places and people we love.  The tears have already started sneaking up on me as we start to experience “lasts”.  Then we will gather up our courage, strengthen feeble knees, and face a lot of “firsts”.  But a year from now, we won’t be new any more.  My kids will have friends.  I will have moved past small talk with some people.  I won’t get lost so much.  We will be un-packed (hopefully).  I will run into people I recognize at the grocery store.  Maybe I will I look out at my own bright pinkish red roses that grew from a vine that came from my Grandparents' yard.  I used to think we dug up the whole bush and re-planted it.  I didn’t realize that we left much of it behind and took part of new growth from the last location with us.  I have a feeling this longing for home is part of existence this side of Heaven, many moves or none, and I wouldn’t trade the memories of the places and experiences and, especially, the people I carry around with me if I could.    

Monday, May 14, 2012

Children's Literature

“Wilbur never forgot Charlotte…She was in a class by herself. It is not often that someone comes along who is a true friend and a good writer. Charlotte was both.”

            Along with spontaneous hugs, overhearing hilarious conversations, and watching my children grow in their understanding of truth and love, one of my joys in being a mom is getting to read with my children.  Of course, I could read children’s books even if I didn’t have kids, but I probably wouldn’t read out loud (which is a different experience entirely) and I wouldn’t be able to hear the stories through children’s ears.  I love the way books feed our imagination, fill our time, provide opportunities for snuggling, help us to put words to our experiences and emotions, and soothe us with their beauty.  Lately, I have been reminded of the therapeutic power of a well-written book.  Maggie and I recently checked out Anne of Green Gables and when all the pressures of life are closing in, it’s so nice to visit Avonlea and “Anne with an e.”  It’s hard to be completely down while reading Anne’s musings on life like, “Isn’t it good just to be alive on a day like this?  I pity people who aren’t born yet for missing it.   They may have good days, of course, but they can never have this one.” 
            I love recommending books (and I love to receive recommendations).  So, here are some of my favorite read-aloud books:

Because of Winn Dixie by Kate Dicamillo is the beautifully written story of 10-year-old Opal, her father “the preacher”, and Winn Dixie, the dog Opal finds at the local supermarket.  Opal is new in town and her new dog is the catalyst for meeting an eclectic group of friends, forging a bond with her emotionally distant father, and processing the absence of her mother.  I think it is the perfect mix of humor and sorrow.  Maggie and I laughed and cried.  I can’t wait to read it with Isaac and Derek one day and I look forward to reading more of Dicamillo’s books.

The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder is my favorite book in one of my favorite series of all time.  They are all beautiful stories and I encourage you to read the whole series in order, but the images in The Long Winter are especially poignant.  It is so well written that I felt cold and hungry while reading it!  I started reading the Little House books to Maggie when she was in kindergarten and I was pleasantly surprised by her interest.  She was even Laura one Halloween and we tried to make maple syrup candy on snow two winters ago.  

Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White is, in my opinion, the quintessential children’s book.  Maggie and Isaac loved it when I read it to them a couple of years ago and we recently  checked out the CD version read by E.B. White to listen to while running errands.  Even Derek got into the story of the terrific, radiant, humble Wilbur who was certainly “some pig.” 

The Trumpet of the Swan by E.B. White tells the story Louis the trumpter swan who must use a stolen trumpet to make the “koh koh” sound in order to win his love, Serena.  The kids and I loved that a significant part of this story takes place in Boston.  It has wonderful characters, beautiful prose, and a compelling story. 

Ramona and her Father by Beverly Cleary is my favorite book in the 8 book Ramona series (though I love them all).  Isaac and I have read all the Henry Huggins books and we are working our way through the Ralph S. Mouse books.  He loves them, but I think the Ramona books are in a class all by themselves.  Ramona and her Father especially captures the wonder of everyday life and the humor, joy, and sorrow of growing up. 

I think the scene in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C.S. Lewis when Eustace turns from a dragon back into a boy is a perfect allegory for redemption and spiritual growth.  Again, I love this whole series, but The Voyage of the Dawn Treader and The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe are my favorites in the Chronicles of Narnia series.  I’m not much of a fantasy person, but that doesn’t apply to these books.  

My kids loved Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl.  All of Dahl’s books have a dark side (I understand why after hearing his life story on a radio show earlier this year), but we loved the magic of the chocolate factory and the underdog, Charlie.  The Big Friendly Giant was also a hit.    

Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery is one of the books I’ve been dying for Maggie to get old enough to enjoy.   Mark Twain said it best when he called Anne, “the dearest and most lovable child in fiction since the immortal Alice.”

Other “honorable mentions”:
The Cricket in Times Square by George Seldon
The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett
The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate Dicamillo
The Year of Miss Agnes by Kirkpatrick Hill
Stuart Little by E.B. White
The Princess and the Goblin by George MacDonald
Mr. Popper’s Penguins by Richard and Florence Atwater
American Girl historical series (various authors)

So, what books did I miss?  What would be on your list?

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Lost and Found

“God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.  Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,” –Psalm 46:1-2

Next week marks the four-year anniversary of one of the scariest days of my life.  Danny and I were packing up to leave China to move back to the States.  In addition to packing, we were making efforts to say good-bye to all of our favorite people and places.  We had already taken the kids to the zoo to bid farewell to the pandas and we had set up dinner and lunch dates with special friends.  It seemed appropriate for us to take a taxi one last time to go downtown, where we went on our first date at a two-story KFC (romantic, I know) and where we a year later visited, engaged, a nicer restaurant.  It took roughly thirty minutes to get there and we decided it would be easier to go in the afternoon.  Our friend, Christie, who was like an aunt to our children, was happy to watch a movie with Maggie (then 5 years old) while Isaac and Derek (almost 3 years old and 9 months old at the time) took their nap. 

The first place we went was the Xinhua bookstore and as we were perusing the English section, I noticed one of the shelves vibrating and a few DVDs fell off near me.  Our city was in the midst of a massive subway build and we were used to hearing explosions and experiencing slight tremors, so I didn’t think much until I saw everyone, workers included, rush for the door.  When we made it outside, we saw thousands of people rushing out from every building in sight shouting, “dizhen” (a word we soon learned meant earthquake).  We headed towards the crowded taxi stand and tried to call Christie with no luck, calls weren’t going through.  We finally got into a taxi with another man and I finally got a call to go through; I could barely hear Christie say, “we’re out of the building, but we can’t find Isaac,” and then the call cut off.   For the rest of the ride, we prayed and dialed, prayed and dialed.  In the traffic it took us 45 minutes to get home. 
We lived on the 11th floor of a 31 story building in a complex made up of six equally large building surrounding a courtyard about the size of 2 football fields.  The courtyard was swarming with people when we arrived, but we quickly spotted Christie, Derek, and Maggie, but they still hadn’t found Isaac.  I stayed with them and Danny went to search for Isaac.  It only took one trip around the courtyard before a woman from our building, who had been holding Isaac, saw Danny.  She was extremely frightened and angry as she yelled in Chinese, “Where were you?!  I have been looking everywhere for you!”  The woman had grabbed Isaac in the crowded stairwell in order to help, she assumed we were close by, and she panicked when she couldn’t find us in the courtyard. Apparently, she and Christie had been circling the courtyard missing each other.
By that time, it was safe to enter the building again and we made our way back to our apartment.  Isaac had stopped crying and eventually I followed, then Maggie, then Christie.  We gathered to pray and I don’t think I have ever, before or since, offered thanksgiving with more sincerity. 

            A few weeks prior to the earthquake, the kids and I read the story of the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son in their children’s Bible.  We talked about losing and finding things that were precious to us, like the time we thought we had lost Maggie’s beloved teddy bear, Carter.  However, nothing could compare to the fear and joy that we felt the day we lost and found Isaac.  Although Isaac and Derek do not remember that day, Maggie has amazed us with explicit details: they were barefoot because they didn’t have time to grab shoes, Isaac tried to press the button on the elevator but it didn’t work, and Sponge Bob Square Pants (the show they referred to as “the guy who looks like cheese”) was playing (in Chinese) at the small store in the bottom of one of the apartment buildings.   
            That day has become a monument to God’s provision in our lives.  I know God would still be good even if things had not turned out as we wanted and prayed.  I know there are many godly people who have lost children and I know God would have provided grace and strength even if the unthinkable had come to pass.  Oh, but I am so glad that He allowed us to find our precious “Bubby” and, even though Isaac was scared, he was in the arms of a woman who held him the whole time.  And in the arms of his Heavenly Father.  And we were, too.  And we are still. 


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