The Joy-Robber

The Joy-Robber

I’ve recently been thankful for the character growth that happens when school events give me an opportunity to help my kids to understand and frame their experiences.

As my daughter’s spring concert approached, she lamented that she wasn’t chosen for a speaking part or for a solo. I responded out loud that not everyone gets to do everything, and I reminded her that one of her friends had practiced hard every week to develop her singing ability.

It was a very short conversation, and we moved on. My daughter’s concert came and went, our whole family watched to support her and her classmates, and she loved it.

A couple of weeks later, my daughter mentioned during our walk home that some of the girls at school were asking their friend, “Why did YOU get to do the solo?” And my daughter said that she was sad that they had that attitude.

First of all, I totally understand that attitude – because I’ve felt it often before in my own self. Envy: it’s ugly, it robs us of joy, and it starts so early in life.

As I walked with my daughter, I tried once again to find some words to help her process this experience. I told her, “I’m so sorry that they are saying that. It probably hurts your friend. But the girls need to understand that…” And I trailed off, trying to find just the right words that were full of truth and grace.

“…that not everyone gets to do everything, but everyone gets to do important things,” my daughter filled in quickly.

I was in shock that an 8-year-old had just spoken words that I hadn’t even thought of, but words that are so true, not only for children but also for us as adults.

How often do we long for an opportunity that we don’t have? Or wish that we had a better yard for our kids to play in? Or constantly check social media, hoping for more re-tweets or likes? Or want a job that more enjoyable, or meaningful, or more financially beneficial?

Those desires are not wrong; often they can motivate us to learn, to take a risk, and to grow. It’s not wrong for a child to want a solo in a concert and to take the steps to make it a reality. It’s not wrong to want a fulfilling job or better experiences or more connection with other people.

The trouble comes when we see others who have those things and then begin the comparison game. Envy turns us against other people. We long for the opportunity that someone else has. We walk past our neighbors’ yards and wish that those yards were ours. We feel downcast and lonely because someone else is getting the amount of re-tweets and likes that we were hoping for. We do our jobs with drudgery because what we really want is the job that our colleague or our acquaintance has. Envy puts walls between us and others, and it steals the joy and delight that we could be experiencing. It’s no wonder that the Bible labels envy and selfish ambition as “demonic” (James 3:13-16).

It’s true – I have desires and plans for new things. I don’t want my life to be stagnant in relationships or in purpose. But I love the freedom that comes from knowing that what I’m doing now is also important. At this very moment, I cannot do everything that other people can do, but I am doing something important. Knowing that truth gives me freedom to cheer other people on and to savor the opportunities that I have right now. And I will refuse to allow envy to rob me of joy. I hope that we can experience that freedom together, and I will be ecstatic if my kids can grasp that early in their lives.

“Not everyone gets to do everything, but everyone gets to do important things.”

 

Why Parents Should Do (Some) Fun Things (Sometimes) Without Their Kids

Why Parents Should Do (Some) Fun Things (Sometimes) Without Their Kids

I went on a whirlwind trip to Japan last weekend. Without my children.

The timing made sense. It was the Chinese Dragon Boat Festival, so my husband had some days off of work and could be with our kids while I was away. I have a friend who has lived in Japan for four years, and it just so happened that Pentatonix was doing a concert in her city. I mean, seriously, who wouldn’t want to catch up with a friend and see Pentatonix live before Avi leaves the group?

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But for my kids, it wasn’t that simple. My son has mentioned, without having ever seen the place, that he wants to live in Japan when he grows up. And my daughter enjoys Pentatonix as much as I do. The day before I left, I reminded them that I was leaving, and they both broke down in tears: one because I was exploring Japan without him, and the other because I was seeing Pentatonix without her.

I am not a heartless mom. I felt terrible. But in the end, I’m content with my decision to leave them behind for a few days.

Here’s why it’s important for parents to do some fun things, sometimes, without their children.

  1. It teaches children the benefits of delayed gratification. I’m confident that my son will someday see Japan with his own eyes. I assume that my daughter will begin to enjoy other bands and probably see some in concert. Now is not the right time for them to do those things. But while they wait for the right time, they can develop patience, and they will actually enjoy those gifts more because they’ve waited.
  2. It gives children a sense that there are benefits to being adults. A good friend visited me a couple months ago, and she mentioned that when she was a child, she wanted to grow up. There were aspects of being an adult that she was excited about. In contrast, it seems that nowadays there are plenty of children and young adults who would rather skip adulthood. Sure, there are parts of adulthood that aren’t easy, but to be honest, there are also parts of childhood that are difficult. Being an adult does come with different responsibilities, but also with different benefits. And because I’m working on raising adults, I want my kids to see my husband and me enjoying adulthood, both our work and our play, so that they can look forward to the privileges that come with growing up.
  3. It refreshes the parent. I spent the weekend with constant people and sightseeing, which tends to be tiring for me. But surprisingly, by the end of the trip, I was full of energy and ready to get back to my work at home, probably due to extra sleep, meaningful conversations, and a change of environment. My heart was overjoyed when I returned home and could give my husband and each of my kids big hugs, and I had determination the next morning to do some hardcore house cleaning.
  4. It reminds children how much they appreciate their parent’s presence. My children did not suffer in any way while I was gone; actually, they thrived on extra special time with their daddy, and they discovered that he cooks really tasty spaghetti with fresh veggies. However, when I arrived home, those kids couldn’t wait to shout “welcome home”, nearly knocked me over in the doorway, and began to run around showing me all of their new tricks. My short absence gave them a renewed enthusiasm to spend time with me.

And so, I hope that you do (some) fun things (sometimes) without your kids…

In addition to doing (lots) of fun things (often) with your kids.

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When Mother’s Day is Hard

When Mother’s Day is Hard

Mother’s Day can be hard.

For me, this year at least, it’s because we are finally seeing light after a full 10 days of a virus coursing through our children’s bodies, causing our home to become a quarantine hospital and school, with me as the doctor and headmaster. I took two – yes, two – naps today. Eventually, I will recover. But maybe not before Mother’s Day.

Mother’s Day 2008 was harder. My work involved a camp that overlapped Mother’s Day, and one of our thoughtful male colleagues had bought flowers to give to each of the mothers who were spending their special day with university students instead of with their own children. It was so sweet, but my mind was already full of remembering my first little baby who had died from miscarriage just 5 months earlier. As he came around with the flowers, I was torn. I was a mother but had nothing to show for it, no child to hold.

Mother’s Day can be hard for a lot of other reasons as well, ones which are not so familiar to me but are well known to some of my dearest friends. Mothers and children are distanced from each other, either physically or relationally. Women long to have children, but that desire seems impossible to fulfill. Mothers have passed away, leaving so much wisdom untapped. Children have died, leaving an aching void in their mother’s hearts.

In our exhaustion, our loneliness, our wrestling, we thirst for a place where we can be honest about how we feel on a day like Mother’s Day. What I love about the Bible is that so many of its prayers, poems, and songs are incredibly raw, and the words resonate with those cries of our hearts that are difficult to speak aloud.

There is the story of Hannah, who was ridiculed and bullied because she was childless. 1 Samuel 1:10 records, “In her deep anguish Hannah prayed to the Lord, weeping bitterly.”

Then there is Psalm 13:

“How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?

How long will you hide your face from me?

How long must I wrestle with my thoughts

and day after day have sorrow in my heart?”

But the psalm ends with a change of tone so abrupt that it almost feels like whiplash.

“But I trust in your unfailing love;

my heart rejoices in your salvation.

I will sing the Lord’s praise,

for he has been good to me.”

How can the writer so confidently affirm his trust and joy, while still in the midst of sadness?

The answer is in the “salvation”. Isaiah 53 stirringly describes the agony and the beauty of the death of Jesus Christ that would actually take place hundreds of years after Isaiah’s writing. It explains that he took the punishment that we deserved because of the ways that we have rejected God and hurt other people, so that we could have forgiveness and peace when we trust in him. But the fullness of salvation doesn’t end there.

Verses 3-4 say, “He was despised and rejected by others, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem. Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering…” (highlights mine).

Luke records a time when Jesus stood up in a synagogue, read a portion of Isaiah 61:1-2, and claimed that he had fulfilled those words. These verses, along with verse 3, are helpful to our understanding of Jesus’ purpose. Here are some highlights.

“The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.

He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted…

to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion-

to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes,

the oil of joy instead of mourning,

and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.”

You see, with Jesus Christ there is space to be vulnerable and real, because he intimately knows pain. But we can also expect healing and restoration of joy, because he took our pain for us so that we don’t have to carry it forever. Sometimes we hang on to our pain because we don’t know there is another option or because it has become familiar, but Jesus wants to comfort us, to bestow us with beauty, to anoint us with joy, to clothe us with a spirit of praise. And because he defeated death by rising to life, we know that he has the power to give us these things.

There I sat, on Mother’s Day 2008, in a room with many other mothers, unsure of whether I was worthy to take a flower. Thankfully, I had shared very openly with my team about my loss and heartache, so everyone knew what I was processing. They had given me space to be real. As my colleague came near with the flowers, I decided to reach out and grab one. Even as I was still grieving in that moment, I received a measure of healing from my community and from the Lord. And the healing process would continue.

Maybe for you, this Mother’s Day will be the day that you will take your flower, that you will begin to receive healing and joy. Maybe you will seek out someone who can give you a safe space to be honest but will also believe and pray with you for the healing that Jesus offers. Maybe you will spend time with the Lord alone, handing your pain to him and asking him to give you joy and praise in return. My hope is that you know from experience, this Mother’s Day, that you are deeply loved.

And just because I can’t do it for you… feel free to go out and buy yourself a flower.

A special note of thanks: Thank you to the women – great-grandmas, grandmas, aunts and great-aunts, babysitters, teachers, and friends – who have invested in the lives of my children. Your love and support of them is priceless. Thank you also to my dear friends who remind me to enjoy the gift that my parents are to me.

10-year Anniversary… With Children?!

10-year Anniversary… With Children?!

Where I’m from, a 10-year anniversary is a big deal. We celebrate every decade of marriage, but especially years 10, 25, and 50.

As my husband and I approached our 10-year anniversary, I said to myself, “This is so sad. This is seriously how we will spend our anniversary together this time?” You see, we had booked tickets to Disneyland, and we would be staying at the Toy Story Hotel on the night of our anniversary. With our three children. How romantic.

I’m sure that some of you would dream of going to Disney for your anniversary, but I thought of all the places to which I’d love to travel… without children. New Zealand, Japan, South Korea, really anywhere. I thought back to Costa Rica, where we adventured and saw Arenal during our honeymoon, and to New York City, where we experienced “The Phantom of the Opera” for our 5th anniversary.

But now we live an ocean away from our parents, and our kids needed to be with us. So I resigned myself to the fact that we just wouldn’t be able to get away on a short trip alone together this time. We were stuck with the kids.

I moped internally, tossing around the sense that going to a theme park with children did not constitute an appropriate 10th anniversary celebration. I could almost hear Jim Gaffigan laughing at how exhausted we parents would be.

I compared what we did in Costa Rica on our honeymoon versus what we would do at Disneyland on our 10th anniversary. And strangely, the more I compared the two, the more my mindset and attitude began to transform.

Costa Rica perfectly suited us as newlyweds. We could go somewhere international, experience a bit of another culture, spend a lot of time lounging around together, eat beans and rice and paella, drive through the countryside, and hike through the rainforest. We needed that. We needed the time to get to know each other and to enjoy each other.

Now here we are, ten years later, not with only the two of us, but with three kids as well. Being ten years into marriage with children in tow shows a change in our relationship. Our children are a reminder of how far we’ve come as a couple. These kids are the tangible demonstration of the love that my husband and I have for each other. When we are gone someday, our children and their children will be part of our legacy.

Disney perfectly suited us as a couple with young children. Our theme park adventure was indicative of the stage of life that our family is in, and honestly, that stage of life is exactly where I want to be ten years into marriage.

While I’m still a big fan of husbands and wives getting away together for a date or a short trip, I hope that all of us who are parents can gain the perspective that our children are not nuisances preventing us from what we could be doing, but that they are gifts borne out of the intimacy and strength of our marriages. That’s the best anniversary gift.

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The two of us enjoying Costa Rica for our honeymoon.
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The five of us enjoying Disneyland for our 10th anniversary.

By the way, we ALL loved Disney and… we got fireworks for our anniversary!

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Happy anniversary, Josh! Thank you for 10 years of adventure together. I’m looking forward to many more!

The Sophomore Slump

The Sophomore Slump

The sophomore slump.

 

I came up with that term after working for several years with university students. Most of the students I interacted with had a fantastic freshman year, full of intense growth and exciting experiences. Although they began their sophomore year with anticipation, most became discontent, disillusioned, and critical. Of course, there were always exceptions, but the trend was so great and so terrible that it deserved a name.

 

This summer closed the books on our second year of living overseas as a family. In the late winter, I had encountered my first personal sophomore slump. Just as I had never identified exactly what triggered university students to slip into it, I have yet to completely rationalize why and how my despondency came.

 

I have no doubt that this is a common experience among people living abroad, and whether it comes in their first, second, or tenth years makes little difference. Even some of you who don’t live overseas may have experienced or may be experiencing a deep downturn. For that reason, I’ll write a bit about what the slump looked like for me.

 

Crying. Lots of tears. For three months, from January through March, I cried every single time I went on a date with my husband. Once a week for three months. Can you imagine? My poor husband. We would be at a restaurant when I would break down, and because staring is accepted as normal in this culture, people would start looking. And because it’s rude to blow your nose in this culture, I would dab at my nose with dozens of tissues, while all of the people would stare even more at this strange foreign lady who had tears streaming down her face.

 

In addition to the tears, I became withdrawn, critical, negative, and decidedly lacking in joy. Even things that would become the greatest blessings to me in the spring began for me with no emotion. A friend had asked me about the beginning of something new, “Are you excited about this starting this week?” I shot back a quick reply. “No. I’m not excited about anything. But it will be good.”

 

What I can say for certain about those three months is that I felt as if I were drowning in purposelessness. And comparison wasn’t helping me feel any better. I knew coming in that I would have six months of resting and waiting to see what it was that I was supposed to be doing in this place while my husband was working. But after a year and a half of learning humility and patience, I was done. I found it incredibly stretching and difficult to have such a wide background in public speaking, administration and event planning, advising and supervising, leading and facilitating, and to now be known solely as the mother of three children. I wanted to be happy and thankful for the gift of time to work at home with my kids. While I had always viewed being a wife and mother as one of the highest callings, I couldn’t suppress the sense that there was something additional that I was made for and wanted to do. But I didn’t know what it was, and I didn’t want to add more activities to my life just to fill the void.

 

At the same time, I felt alone. We were contemplating a change of schools for the kids along with a potential change of homes, the house we lived in had problems that I needed to somehow address with our landlord by using my broken Mandarin, one child developed itchy eyes due to an unknown allergic reaction, and another child began wrestling with questions of what is real. At the time, all of these things were under my jurisdiction. All together, they overwhelmed me.

 

In the midst of that season, I had thoughts about my life that a person doesn’t dare to speak aloud. All I can say is that I am so thankful that I’ve been trained to reject those lies immediately and to replace them with truth.

 

Having come out on the other side of those months, I’m amazed at the grace I received in the midst of it. I learned some things that seem now like no-brainers, such as the fact that I have a husband who is wise and can help me with some things! A group of extraordinary women from several countries unknowingly influenced our decision to keep our kids in the same school, and that decision was confirmed quickly after we made it. I saw clearly some of the darkness in my own soul that affected my marriage, and I kicked it out. My children have grown in relational and emotional development, and I’ve savored the deep conversations that we’ve shared together.

 

I recently read a Psychology Junkie article from August 2, 2015 entitled How Each Myers-Briggs Type Reacts to Stress (And How to Help). While personality and temperament indictors do not dictate how a person lives, they can be helpful in understanding more about yourself and why you respond in the way you do. For me, this article stated what I experienced but would not have been able to put into words.

 

Here are some of the things, according to the article, that stress my personality type.

 

“Having to focus too much on sensory/concrete details” – check. Think laundry, housecleaning, cooking, and all of the tasks that consume a mother’s time.

 

“An overload of sensory stimulation or noise” – check. Think renovations next door that sound like a jackhammer in your living room from 9am to 6pm, and when going out to get some relief from that, there are always the 24 million people who call this city home.

 

“Interruptions” – check. What can I say? I’m a mom.

 

“Not enough alone time. Too much extraverting” – check. People in my house, people outside of my house, people everywhere.

 

“Lack of appreciation or understanding” – check. It’s getting better actually, but there’s not much affirmation by little ones for all the tiny things you accomplish for them each day.

 

“Unfamiliar environments with overwhelming amounts of details” – check. Moving to a new country will do it.

 

“Not having a clear direction” – check. I’m still waiting…

 

“Not being able to use their intuition or envision the future” – check.

 

“Having to focus too much on the present” – check.

 

Having a basic understanding of these stressors will hopefully enable me to take better care of myself in the future. I can find a place of quiet, I have a plan for alone time thanks to my husband, and I can let housework go sometimes so I can have space to dream.

 

The most important thing is that I know Someone who gives hope instead of despair and joy instead of mourning. And that Someone has not abandoned me.

 

I’m quite happy to say good-bye to year two because I’m planning to take into year three the things that I loved: my friends, my good conversations, my stronger marriage, my commitment to raising my children, and my joy.

 

And junior year is always better.

 

So long, sophomore slump.

The Humility of Motherhood

The Humility of Motherhood

Four days after I gave birth to my first baby, I thought, “What did I get myself into?!” I simply wanted to eat when I was hungry, take a shower when I was dirty, and sleep when I was tired. But even that was a luxury in those early days and nights of three-hour feeding cycles. I prayed, “God, I really didn’t want to learn how to become unselfish…”

The second and third babies weren’t such a shock. I knew what to expect, and by then, I knew that I would come out of that phase to see daylight on the other side. I knew that five hours of sleep in a row makes a person feel like a normal human again.

The newborn stage thrust me into the graduate school of servanthood: learning to lay down my rights for the sake of someone else’s success. But now my youngest has just flipped over the three-year-old mark, and we have hit the preschool and elementary school stage.

I would love to say that I’m a rockstar mom, but my children know the truth. Most days we get along alright, but sometimes after interacting with my kids, I walk away with the sense that I totally said or did something wrong toward them.

Today, I took one of my children to the doctor for this child’s eyes have been stinging for over a week. It’s definitely not pinkeye, but it’s something strange that the doctor called “very unusual.” The doctor quickly added to try to stop said child from rubbing the eyes. Right. So at bedtime, I tried to say something that would motivate this one to keep the hands away from the eyes. I said goodnight, went upstairs to get ready for bed, and was immediately convicted that my “motivational” speech was fear-based, untrue, and hurtful.

Sometimes, exiting their bedroom, after tucking the kids into bed, is a miraculous feat. I really didn’t want to go back in for fear that I would never get back out. But I did. I laid down beside my child, and I said, “I’m so sorry for what I told you earlier. It was wrong for me to say that to you.” And I went on to explain the truth of the situation, and then the truth of who that child is and always will be: loved.

And I realized tonight that I’m in a new graduate course, the humility of motherhood. I could pretend in front of my kids that I always get things right, but they would know it’s a sham. So I want to be honest before them. I want to lay down my pride, admit when I’m wrong, and ask for forgiveness. I want to be sensitive and quickly responsive in those moments so that there is little time for bitterness or for walls to be built between us.

Each of us mothers (and fathers) have so much influence and authority over our children. What stops us from coming clean with our kids? Sometimes we are too arrogant because the truth is that we know more about almost everything than our children do. Sometimes we are too fearful that our children will despise us if we admit that we are imperfect. But our small children observe and internalize much more than they can consciously interpret or verbalize. The way that we respond to our own wrongdoings, whether ignoring our faults or dealing with our faults, will be noted and copied.

May each of us be filled with the courage to quickly and frequently humble ourselves in front of our children and ask them to forgive us when we have truly done something wrong. And may that example set the foundation for them to also have the courage to right their wrongs toward others.

One day, after my daughter stormed upstairs and cried about an argument we had, I went up and apologized first. I stated what I had done wrong, and I asked her to forgive me. She reciprocated, and we shared a good bonding experience together. She looked in my eyes and said, “I love it when we say sorry to each other. It feels so much better.” And I agree.

Head Wounds and Heart Wholeness: Receiving Love in the Midst of Chaos

Head Wounds and Heart Wholeness: Receiving Love in the Midst of Chaos

Have you ever had a day that is all planned out, and then something crazy happens? Yeah, me neither [dripping sarcasm].

This particular day began in the same way as most, except that my husband left that morning for a two-night business trip. We walked to the subway together, and we took trains heading in opposite directions: he on one train, and the two little ones and I on the other.

We walked through the park where the older folks practiced tai chi and the younger ones lined up to buy some aromatic breakfast fare. We turned around and went back to use the squatty potty in the park because one of the kids announced a need to pee and I told said child that they were getting too old to pee in bushes in the city. We counted all the water fountains we passed in the next two blocks and arrived a bit early to what I call “my moms’ group”.

I belong to this amazing group of moms who meet together as part of the International Church of Shanghai (ICS). I mentioned the group here. On this morning, the time with those ladies was so good and so sweet. Afterward, we decided to have some lunch delivered so we could avoid taking all of our children and babies out into the rain.

I was standing across the room when I heard a piercing scream. I glanced over to see my son kneeling on the floor with his head in his hands, and I immediately thought, “We might be going to the hospital.” He had run across the room and tripped just in time to bash his head on the metal-covered edge of a step.

I ran over, phone in hand, to pry his hands away and see a bloody gash on his forehead. Of course, any kind of head wound, even a tiny one, gushes disproportionate amounts of blood. But this one was dripping on his crocs, running through his fingers into his eyes, and splattering on my phone. The cut was too wide to heal without doctor intervention. I pulled him over to where I could grab some paper towels, and by now, all of the moms had realized the gory situation and were offering wet wipes, bandages, and suggestions on hospitals.

As I kneeled in front of my son, mopping up blood, I kept thinking of all the distinct issues of having this situation in China. In our home country, we would jump into our privately owned car and drive to the emergency room… five minutes away from our house. We don’t have that luxury here. Although I have my license to drive in China, we don’t even rent a car, much less own one. And sure, his older sister had to get staples in her head in China last spring, but at that time, my husband was home and could take her on his scooter while I stayed with the other two children.

As I consciously told myself, “You need to stay calm so that your son can be calm,” I verbally told him, “We will go to the doctor. It’s okay, no problem.” Simultaneously, I filtered through the options. Obviously, we wouldn’t have time to buy a winter coat for him in the afternoon. He might get upset about that. How will we eat lunch? I guess I will figure that out later. What about picking his sister up from school for gymnastics? Maybe I could have her ride home on the bus. And what about right now? Do we go out and get a taxi? It would be difficult to find one in the rain. Do we get an Uber? That’s the best bet, but probably no Uber driver would want blood on the seat of his car. Do we go to the clinic where I usually take the kids? I’m not sure if they have supplies for emergency stitches, but it is near my daughter’s school and we could pick her up right away after our emergency visit. Do we go straight to the larger hospital? Probably, but I don’t know the address or even the Mandarin name of that one.

But within five minutes, it was settled. One of the moms offered her van and driver to take us, another mom insisted that I leave my younger daughter with her, and the consensus was the larger hospital, where (thank God!) the driver knew the location and the exact roads to get take. Also by the end of that five minutes, my son had a bandage applied his forehead and a yogurt in hand to calm him down.

We had a peaceful, but seemingly forever long, ride to the hospital. When we arrived, I saw two different buildings that had emergency signs on them. I thought they belonged to the same hospital, and the writing was in English for both, so I chose the building with the big red sign and a smaller “pediatrics” sign as well.

I walked in and told the triage nurses that he needed stitches. One immediately said, “You can take him to the children’s hospital.” She named two crossroads that I had never heard of, and I thought, “I don’t even know how long it will take to get there.” She finally wrote the address for me in Chinese characters and began to say that I could take a taxi or bus number… I interrupted her and left, so frustrated. I messaged my friend to ask her driver to pick us up and take us to the other place, when she said, “Wait. Did you go to the local hospital?” Oh. Probably.

We walked into the second building, and from then on, it was pretty standard. My son got tape and some super glue, was super brave, and only cried when the glue stung his wound. The doctor and nurse kept asking me if he had passed out or vomited and then went on to explain that I should watch for whether he had a concussion.

And here’s the free advice interlude for those of you living in a situation similar to mine. Either carry your passport or a copy of your passport and visa at all times. I was asked for my son’s passport at the hospital and was so grateful that I had tucked a copy into my purse. You just never know when you will need it and won’t have time to go home to get it. Also, keep the hospital business card in your wallet with your insurance cards so that you can show it to a taxi driver and don’t have to take time to look up on the address on your phone.

We took my friend’s van back to where we had started, picked up my little one who had already been given lunch, got a ride home in the same van, called the school to have my daughter go home on the bus, and postponed gymnastics. I made my grandma’s homemade pudding and ordered burgers and fries for supper. It seemed like the right kind of day for comfort food.

When we arrived home, I had time and space to reflect on the previous three hours. And I wept. Sometimes there is so much stress that comes with living in a culture that is not completely familiar, and sometimes there is so much opportunity to receive love that comes with being in a culture that is not completely familiar. I cried from stress and I cried from thankfulness.

I’m thankful for three gifts that made my heart whole in the midst of the chaos. Maybe you can relate to these if you know life overseas or if you’ve found yourself an uncontrollable situation.

I’m thankful for the ways that my childhood prepared me for living here. We often lived or traveled in places that would require a lengthy drive time to a hospital. I also had the experiences of caring for one of my siblings when her tooth got kicked out by a horse and for another sibling when he cut his finger and fainted. My childhood enabled me to be calm in the moment.

I’m thankful for a community of foreigners who love each other so well. When you don’t have the option to be completely self-sufficient, it creates room to accept the strength of others. This group of friends stepped in to help and hand me tissues even when they seemed overwhelmed by the amount of flowing blood. A friend gave me a van and driver even though she didn’t know when I would return with them! Another friend bought lunch for my daughter and took care of her while I was gone, for an indefinite amount of time when she already had her own two kids plus a foster baby with her. A good friend and neighbor sympathized as I cried to her while waiting for the bus to come. A friend from another part of town sent a message asking how I was doing after she heard about what had happened. So many friends sent WeChat messages with prayers and notes of encouragement.

I’m thankful to know a God who loves me and my family. That same morning, I read this passage as a blessing for a friend’s 3-week-old baby: “Let the beloved of the Lord rest secure in Him, for He shields him all day long, and the one the Lord loves rests between His shoulders” (Deuteronomy 33:12). I know that I am also the Lord’s beloved (after all, that’s what my name means!), and I could see glimpses of that love again even in the midst of the stress of that day. The Lord has surrounded me with friends who rally together, who grieve together, who pray together, and who rejoice together, who serve together. Basically, they are what the church is meant to be, and they were Jesus’ hands and feet to me. There were smaller gifts from Him as well. Many moms stayed for lunch instead of leaving right away as usual, and they were present to help me. One friend tossed one yogurt into her bag this morning, thinking that it was an unusual thing to pack, but left it in the bag anyway; that yogurt gave my son enough distraction and nourishment to fill him with peace. My son didn’t show signs of a concussion or any issue other than a wide cut. And plans that I could have had that night had fallen through, giving me time to rest at home with my on-the-mend boy.

What are you thankful for? My dear friend, even as you read this, may you have the grace to recognize and accept the gifts that you’ve been given.

Happy early Thanksgiving from the other side of the world!