A Late-Summer Night’s Dream

A Late-Summer Night’s Dream

Extraordinary. This is my life.

You know how Jim Gaffigan says that bedtime with children is a hostage situation – in reverse? On one of those nights, when my eldest daughter called me back into her room multiple times, she confided to me that she had some bad dreams. Nightmares, actually, in one of which an airplane crashed into the ocean and the people on board drowned and died. I helped her understand that she can use her imagination to create an alternate ending to the story, in which everyone is saved. With a smile, she observed, “That’s better!”

At that point, I could have left the room, and she would have been content. But I decided to go deeper. I prayed out loud that God would give Chaya good dreams. Then I said goodnight and let her fall asleep.

The next day, Chaya informed me that she remembered no dreams from that night. But the day after that, walking from her school bus to our house, she mentioned, “Mom, I had a dream last night.” I said, “Really. What was it about?” “We got a cat that had a broken leg. We brought it home and took care of it so that it could heal.” “Interesting,” I mused. Chaya added, “It was the best dream of my life. I hope it comes true.”

Chaya had been begging for an animal for over almost a year. I insisted on waiting until she showed enough responsibility to take care of a pet on her own, and my husband told her that we would talk about it after our summer trip to the States. Upon re-entry into China, Chaya reasserted, “When are you going to talk about getting a pet for me?” Josh and I discussed it and decided that a cat would be the easiest introduction into animal care for an elementary student who lives in a major city.

We did a quick internet search and found that our city has a couple of organizations which take in stray and injured animals. They give the rescued animals their vaccinations and find foster homes for them. We contacted one of these organizations and filled out a cat adoption application. The lady in charge of the feline adoptions replied and said that we could wait for a couple of weeks, and she would send recommendations to us of the cats that would fit best with our family.

We surprised Chaya with the news that we were getting a cat, and then we waited.

And waited.

And waited.

Chaya’s dream of the broken-legged cat came during that waiting time. After about a week, I asked, “What did the cat in your dream look like?” She didn’t know quite how to describe it. She said, “Black with… white spots. Well, not really spots… white stripes.”

After another week or so, Josh prodded me to send a follow-up email. So I asked my contact if she had any recommendations for us. I mentioned that my daughter was also very excited and had a dream about caring for a cat with a broken leg.

When my contact wrote back, she said that she had two recommended cats for us, which lived in the same foster house. And she said, “One of them has a broken leg! But it is completely healed. The bones calcified and scar tissue made it stable. You can’t even tell watching her that she has a broken femur.”

Josh and the kids went to visit the two cats, and shortly after their visit, the lady from the organization wrote again and said that it seemed the consensus that the cat with the broken leg was our ideal kitty. After all, she was the one that didn’t run away when the kids tried to play with her!

And so, less than a week later, our 6-month-old kitten with the broken femur arrived at our house.

What amazes me, aside from the laughter and playfulness that a kitten can bring to a home, is that God cares enough about a 6-year-old girl to give her a dream of the joy that was to come. A late-summer night’s dream about a cat seems trivial, but we asked God for a good dream, and He answered big.

Sometimes we don’t expect a living God to speak. On the other hand, our children are often open to hearing when God talks with them without demanding that He say something. It reminds me of the Lord’s call to Samuel (1 Samuel 3:1-10), in which Samuel responded, “Speak, for your servant is listening.” No wonder Jesus said we must be like little children to enter the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 18:2-3)!

A cat may not be able to change the world… but a cat, or a dream about a cat, can change my daughter, who can change the world. Welcome to our home, Lily!

Lily

Lingering

Lingering

Beautiful moments present themselves unexpectedly. If we move on busy, hurried, rushed… we will miss the treasure offered in that time and space.

The first time your newborn baby warms your chest. Nurses may have hands on their hips, boring holes into you with their eyes as they wait until they can weigh and bathe that little one. But this moment is worth lingering.

The walk through the canopy of cottonwood trees, tiny seeds wrapped in silky fuzz floating through the air by the thousands. You may be on the way to a meeting or running an errand. But this moment is worth lingering.

The sacred experience when the Spirit of God fills your soul, so tangibly you can feel it. The sanctuary may empty as others file out or pack up the sound system. But this moment is worth lingering.

Today, may you and I have the grace to push back the pressure of hurry and to embrace the gift of lingering.

A Letter To My Fellow Mamas Working Outside The Home

A Letter To My Fellow Mamas Working Outside The Home

Twelve months ago, I worked 30 hours a week outside of my home and in my “free time”, I cared for my three children, all under the age of five. Six months ago, I moved overseas and began a new season, in which I worked, and still work, fulltime within my home as a “stay-at-home” mom. I have lived on both sides of the street in the same year. It is out of the beauty of these two experiences that I write to you, my fellow mamas. Happy Valentine’s Day, mamas; you are loved.

TO MY FELLOW MAMAS WORKING OUTSIDE THE HOME

I sat at a tall restaurant table with two local businessmen, both highly respected in the community. I had called them together to request their help in networking with others who would possibly have an interest in partnering with my organization. Being very perceptive and knowledgeable in the business world, they began offering ideas and asking questions. At some point in the conversation, one of the men turned to me and queried, “How are you involved in the community outside of your work? What do you do to connect with people?”

That question hit my weak spot like a sharp arrow. I couldn’t control myself; I started crying as soon as I answered, “I don’t do anything. I have three kids.” The two men stared back at me dumbfounded. The meeting was a disaster.

When I had my first child, I discovered that my work life changed. For the sake of the child that I loved, I put boundaries on the time and energy that I spent working. For the sake of the work that I loved, I left my child in someone else’s care each week and was absent from home often on evenings and weekends. I felt that I could do well in both roles, but because my energy and attention were divided, I felt that I could not be excellent in either.

And so, after five years of pouring my entire self into two different worlds and juggling my time and energy between my children and my work, the businessman’s question brought my inadequacies to the surface. Of course I knew that I should be involved in the community. Of course I wanted to be involved in the community. But I was a mama stretched thin, who felt guilty for neglecting something that I had no capacity for.

Aimee speaking B&W
Snapshot of Life as a Professional
Snapshot of Life as a Mom
Snapshot of Life as a Mom

At some point, working mamas, we will fall short of expectations. Even with all of our energy and best effort, we will fall short of our employer’s expectations of us, or of our children’s expectations of us… or more likely, of our own expectations for ourselves.

Interestingly, the Bible paints a picture of what some people see as the “ideal” woman. Talk about pressure.

One thing I appreciate about this theoretical woman is that she works. She works hard.

Below are some excerpts from Proverbs 31:10-31.

“She considers and field and buys it;

Out of her earnings she plants a vineyard.

She sets about her work vigorously;

Her arms are strong for her tasks.

She sees that her trading is profitable,

And her lamp does not go out at night.

In her hand she holds the distaff

And grasps the spindle with her fingers.

She opens her arms to the poor

And extends her hands to the needy.”

“She speaks wisdom,

And faithful instruction is on her tongue.

She watches over the affairs of her household

And does not eat the bread of idleness.

Her children arise and call her blessed;

Her husband also, and he praises her:

‘Many women do noble things,

But you surpass them all.’”

“Honor her for all that her hands have done,

And let her works bring her praise at the city gate.”

This lady knows business. And investments. And finances. And social justice. And the right thing to say at the right time. And she receives the respect of her children and her husband. I want to be like her.

But seriously, when does she sleep?! Her lamp does not go out?!

Listen, mamas. You and I cannot be perfect women. I know, it’s difficult for those of us who care about meeting goals and reaching desired outcomes to admit that. But falling short opens us up to receive grace and truth.

Mama, you are a person of worth and value apart from your children. You are a person of worth and value apart from your career. Producing many well-behaved children does not make you worth more. Making a name for yourself or earning more money does not make you worth more. You have worth because God loves you.

Before Jesus began his ministry work, he was baptized. As he came up out of the water, God announced, out loud, “This is my Son; with him I am well pleased.”

God the Father was pleased with Jesus before Jesus accomplished anything. God the Father was pleased with Jesus because of their relationship.

Mama, God is pleased with you because you are His loved one, the one that He created and formed. Think about your own newborn baby. Before that baby could even smile back at you, you loved him or her. Because he or she was yours. And God loves you, regardless of your accomplishments, because you are His in Christ Jesus.

Even the Proverbs 31 description hints at this:

“A wife of noble character who can find?

She is worth far more than rubies.

Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting;

But a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.”

What gives a woman noble character? Even our best efforts toward perfection are not good enough to meet God’s standards. Only trust in Jesus Christ can give you a right heart. This ideal woman has a major thing going in her favor. She lives in honor and awe of God.

When you build your life on a foundation of loving and honoring God, He will give you the strength and wisdom that you need to make a mark in your home and to make a mark in your workplace.

One thing from Proverbs 31 is clear. This woman’s work blessed her family. You also bless your family through your work, in more ways than bringing food to the table.

Your calling as a professional and your calling as a mom are not separate callings; they are linked by you and who God created you to be.

Can you lead a team of people? You can invest in your children with long-term intentionality.

Can you network? You can instill in your child the gift of knowing how to connect with people and show them grace.

Can you responsibly oversee finances? You can teach your children to manage their money for good purposes.

Can you speak with authority? You can direct your children to proclaim truth with gentleness and clarity.

Can you work ethically and faithfully in your field? You can influence your child to live with integrity.

Can you strive toward accomplishing a big vision? You can encourage your child to expect seemingly impossible things to become a reality.

Can you talk about your work with honor and pride? You can give your children hope to have a job for themselves that they can also enjoy.

The skills that your job refines are the skills that your kids need from you at home. God knew what He was doing when He called you into your work and also called you to raise up little ones to be wise men and women. And you, a mama loved and valued by God, are enough for your calling. May your children grow to look up to you and call you blessed.

Snapshot As A Professional Mom
Snapshot of Life as a Professional Mom

A Letter To My Fellow Stay-At-Home Mamas

A Letter To My Fellow Stay-At-Home Mamas

Twelve months ago, I worked 30 hours a week outside of my home and in my “free time”, I cared for my three children, all under the age of five. Six months ago, I moved overseas and began a new season, in which I worked, and still work, fulltime within my home as a “stay-at-home” mom. I have lived on both sides of the street in the same year. It is out of the beauty of these two experiences that I write to you, my fellow mamas. Happy Valentine’s Day, mamas; you are loved.

A LETTER TO MY FELLOW STAY-AT-HOME MAMAS

On a normal morning at home, I decided to call a friend who lives in the States. While we chatted, I prepared and fed my kids a snack, cleaned up the living room, and took toys up two flights of stairs to put them away in drawers.

After we talked awhile about the conference she was attending, she asked me a sometimes terrifying question, “How are you doing?” As I searched myself for the honest answer, I replied, “Not well. It feels strange to say that because life here is going really well. Nothing is wrong, we have good friends, we have all the things we need; I just know that I’m not doing well.”

My friend spoke gently, “I’m sure you hear this all the time, but I’m going to tell you again anyway. You are a good mom. God sees you. He sees all of the things that you do, all the little things like picking up toys and doing laundry. Every small thing you do for your children has worth and value to God.”

My sudden outpouring of tears caught me by surprise, and I realized that I had just heard words that I needed, but I didn’t know why I needed them.

Three days later, I dragged my exhausted self and my two kids out of the house to attend a moms’ group. A friend and I had arranged to try it together, and although I just wanted to stay home and sleep, I pushed myself to follow through on my commitment. After arriving, the leader first invited us to spend some time praying and worshipping the Lord. During a pause in between songs, a lady behind me, whom I had never met, started praying. Then she began sobbing and said out loud for the whole group, “God sees you. He knows what you are going through, and everything you do is of worth to Him.”

That’s when I decided that I’d better take this message seriously. I asked my husband for 24 hours by myself for my birthday, and during that time away, I started asking God why that truth was so important to me.

As moms who work all day at home with our children, our work never reaches completion, at least not within a year or two, or even a decade. In the middle of putting makeup on in the morning, one child frustrates the other, who proceeds to whip their toy at the instigator, pelting them in the back. In the midst of the screams, we pause everything for a “teaching moment”, aware that we will have the privilege of at least twenty more teaching moments before the sun sets. The laundry still tumbles in the dryer while a child dirties another pair of pants. Every dish is finally placed in the cupboard when a child asks for their third snack in two hours. While we pour the milk, popcorn seeds free-fall from the bag and scatter, bouncing across the floor. When the children lie in bed and the house sits hushed and quiet, we moms still reside in our workspace, with a list of a dozen tasks yet to begin.

We mamas know that it is a gift to work all day with the children we love, for little kisses and chubby-armed hugs; but it is not easy. We pour out our best work when we are alone, with little to show for it in the short-term, for small people who do not even think about giving us accolades for all of our labors.

Sleeping Spahr Kids

But mama, God sees you. He knows what you are going through, your love for your children poured out in a hundred ways per day, your energy and ideas given freely for others. Because God sees you, you are not alone. Every little thing you do for your children holds great worth to Him. He values your many roles as master chef, toy repairman, teacher of all subjects, counselor, social coordinator, nurse, athletic coach, entertainer, housekeeper, organizer, cheerleader, moral guider, security guard, etc. He knows that you are a good mom.

There is a famous story about how Jesus reacted to little children. You know, the one displayed in the paintings of Jesus with multitudes of serene children sitting on his lap. I think an artist should create a more realistic version of this scene, in which children race in circles around Jesus’ legs and shove each other over in order to sit in His lap first.

The real version, what we know for sure, is this:

“People were bringing little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.’ And he took the children in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them.” Mark 10:13-16

Simply put, God loves children and values taking the time to hold them and bless them. He considers children to be of so much worth that He even gets emotionally upset about a disregard for these little ones.

When you love your children, you engage in work that aligns with the heart of God. The long-term effects of your work are unparalleled. You bless ones who have open and tender hearts, who have the capacity to grow into men and women of strength and grace. You have influence.

I found this verse, which I now have posted on my kitchen cupboard.

“For the eyes of the Lord range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to Him.” 2 Chronicles 16:9a

As you serve your children, even when you feel weary or alone or of little value, the Lord strengthens you for your work.

God sees you chopping vegetables.

God sees you spraying stains.

God sees you picking up toys.

God sees you bandaging wounds.

God sees you teaching children to forgive each other.

God sees you raising up the next generation of men and women who will love Him and change the world. And that is a work of highest worth.

IMG_6906

Our Seven-Year Journey, Perfectly Completed

Our Seven-Year Journey, Perfectly Completed

Seven years ago this November, I first stepped foot into this amazing country.

My first trip to the Great Wall of China.
My first trip to the Great Wall of China.

My husband led me on a whirlwind trip around Beijing. Every day for one week, I saw something new, I ate something new, I went somewhere new, and I met someone new. By the end of the week, I was one exhausted introvert.

To cap it all off, I got sick from hotpot on the last day of our trip. I puked in the hallway of a friend’s apartment on our last night in country and slept during the entire flight home. Our friend thought I would never come back to China again.

The number seven in the Bible signifies completion or perfection.

And here we are, seven years later, making our home in the Central Kingdom.

Seven-Year Anniversary to the Great Wall
Seven-Year Anniversary of my first visit to the Great Wall.

Life has changed in seven years. We have three kids. My youngest sister has graduated from high school AND college and has come to visit our new place. Much like the Great Wall itself, we have traveled a good, challenging, winding and beautiful road since my first arrival, and now we begin the next leg of our journey.

In the words of my daughter, here’s to “tons of adventures.”

Taking My Husband’s Life

Taking My Husband’s Life

Eight years ago today, I married this man.

Spahr_0582

I am so ridiculously blessed.

That day in our small city was just like today in our expansive city: sunny, warm, a bit breezy. In a word, perfect.

Fast-forward six years. My husband and I were happy and content, raising three kids in a good town surrounded by amazing people that we love.

Then, over a year ago, Josh and I began talking in earnest about the possibility of moving to China. No concrete opportunity had presented itself, but his company was getting a new CEO and restructuring a bit, so it appeared that something could open up.

I was intrigued at the idea of a change but also extremely hesitant, for several reasons.

One day early in the summer, I got a babysitter for the kids and took my monthly required “retreat of rest”, as my supervisor called it. I walked through a local garden and spent some time talking with God. While there, I was reminded of a concept that I had lost hold of during the ups and downs of six years.

During high school, I attended a church where we watched videos featuring Ray Vander Laan. He had traveled the Middle East and connected Jewish culture with the life and teachings of Jesus. So much more about Jesus made sense when understood in context.

In one of the segments, Vander Laan explained the traditional process of betrothal. Of course, the process was intricate and the fathers of the woman and man were involved, but what struck me was the moment of the “ask”. The man took a cup of wine, drank from it, and offered it to the woman. This gesture was as if to say, “Here is my life and everything that it holds. Will you accept it?” If the woman drank from the cup, she essentially took the man’s life as her own. Whatever the “cup” of life held in store for them, they would take it together.

On that summer day a year and a half ago, I pondered what it meant to take my husband’s life. Not in a “bumping him off” sense (obviously!), but with the idea that the course of our lives would be one. Whatever he would be called to in the future, I would also be called to.

I couldn’t honestly say that Josh’s interest in China blindsided me. After all, he had studied Mandarin in Beijing for two years, we met at a picnic for new Chinese international students the summer that he returned, he talked about China all the time when we were dating, and for our one-year anniversary he took me to visit Beijing. I could not claim ignorance. I knew what I was getting into.

And yet, I had forgotten. I had forgotten that when I said, “I do”, I accepted his life. His course and direction would also be my course and direction.

Let me clarify. Josh is not the kind of man who would dictate that I bow at his feet and yield to his wishes. I knew before I married that I needed a husband who understood my calling and could encourage me in it. In fact, the second time that we visited China together, it was because I realized that even as a mother, I had to continue to grow personally and to keep my love for the nations alive. And so it was that Josh took time off and we brought our toddler and several college students to China for a month.

But the truth is that it’s hard sometimes to bend, to give a little or a lot, to live out the opportunity or dream of your spouse. Sometimes we ask the unvoiced question, “What about me?” I read a great book recently entitled Just How Married Do You Want to Be? by Jim and Sarah Sumner. They rightly noted that marriage is not a competition. Because you are ONE with your spouse, whatever success your spouse gains is your success as well.

China bride and groom

A while ago, we saw this bride and groom arrive to an apartment complex, preceded by shots of fireworks. I’m sure, like most of us, they felt full of anticipation, hopeful for their future together. Do any of us really get what it will mean, what it will cost us, to take on someone else’s life? Their successes, their failures, their dull days? Probably not. I think it’s the same for those of us who have given our lives to Jesus Christ. We don’t really get what it will mean, what it will cost us, to exchange our life plans for His plans. And yet, like marriage, this commitment sets us off on an unparalleled adventure. It’s totally worth it.

A friend asked me last week if I’m happy that we moved to Shanghai. I don’t know. However, I do know that I am happy to share this adventure with my husband. And because of that, there’s really no place I’d rather be.

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Happy anniversary, Josh. I love you lots! Isn’t it ironic that we married during a Chinese holiday? I guess God has a sense of humor…

Finding Hope

Finding Hope

My heart is heavy. Between Ferguson, world upheaval, ebola, friends back home who have desperately prayed for their child’s life, and others who are wondering “why” about their situation… there is so much struggle. So much pain.

I have several posts in mind about our journey to Asia, but I want to write about the things that matter, about the things that are hitting deep. My words will not do justice to what I feel and think at the moment, but here is my feeble attempt.

 mother child necklace

This is my mother and child necklace, with a birthstone for each of my four children. As my kids and I walk the streets of Shanghai, bystanders ask “San ge?” incredulously. Three of them? All yours?

Yes! I will gladly claim all three of my kids, and yet we are missing one. Our first.

I was eight weeks pregnant, expectant and joyful, waiting to tell our families until my first doctor’s appointment. Josh and I went out to a movie for my birthday and got to bed late. That night, I awoke to massive cramps and bleeding. I remember sitting in the bathroom, sobbing as I realized what was happening, while Josh, unable to help me, tried to get some sleep.

The calls to our families the next morning were bittersweet. “I was pregnant… but the baby died.” My mom gave me good solace and wisdom, saying, “Never say that you lost the baby. It’s not your fault.”

Josh and I bonded in this, our first big challenge as a married couple. We grieved, we wept, we loved a child that we never held. Even now I wish that I could have seen that baby for a moment and told her that I loved her.

In the midst of the doctor’s appointments that day, the tears and sense of deep loss, God gave us hope. I can’t explain it. There was no good answer to the question, “Why?” There were rational explanations, physiological explanations, but no explanation to satisfy the ache.

And yet, I had hope. It was not a peace per say, or a resignation to reality. It was an expectation for the future and an assurance of God’s goodness. I knew that something beautiful could, and would, grow out of the ashes.

After all, this is what Jesus Christ came for. The prophet Isaiah describes Jesus: “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 proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, 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.”

Miscarriages in particular are awkward because there is little public space to grieve. There is no funeral and few people share this private experience with others. But Josh and I chose to make room for remembering. We named our baby Xiwang (Hope). Josh bought my necklace with her birthstone. We would not pretend it didn’t happen or that it wasn’t painful, but we would remember and expect God’s goodness.

hope plaque

My dear friends throughout the world, much of what you are going through is significantly harder than my experience. I wish I could sit down with you face to face, listen to you, and cry with you. You are courageous, and you are my heroes. I don’t have platitudes for you because nice words will not satisfy your ache. As my friend and colleague Rick Mattson says, evil is not a respecter of persons. We live in a battlefield where there is disease, death, hatred, and it hits all of us in different ways whether we have been “good” or “bad”. No one is exempt. No, what you are going through or what your loved one is going through is NOT fair. Satan doesn’t care about fairness. He is not just.

So where is hope? The Bible speaks frequently of suffering and hope linked together. If you are in a place of hurt, I ask God to fill you with hope. He loves to give us good gifts like that. Psalms 42 and 43 are raw songs of grief and hope. I wish for you, like the author/s of these psalms, the space to grieve, to be honest, to remember what God has done for you, and to renew your trust in Him. Know that Jesus Christ has felt EVERYTHING that you are feeling and is not a stranger to suffering. May something beautiful grow out of your ashes.

Although we are in the battle, the war has already been won. God’s kingdom has broken through into the world through Jesus. Evil and injustice will be eradicated when Christ returns. Some days, I just long for Christ to come and set things right, for tears and pain to be wiped away.

In the meantime, those of us who are followers of Jesus Christ get to be His ambassadors to bring hope into the world, to give folks a little taste of what the fullness of God’s kingdom will be like.

If you are a Christian reading this, who is God asking you to bring hope to today? It may be your own child. It may be your spouse. It may be a friend. It may be someone you’ve never met. It may be an entire people group. You can’t be everything to everyone, but you can make a difference for someone. Be their financial contributor. Be their cheerleader. Be their safe place. Be their prayer warrior. Be their advocate.

Final words: “May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by His grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word.” 2 Thessalonians 2:16-17