Monday, September 24, 2018

The Gospel: Life for Me

In Sunday school, we went through the book The Gospel Primer. At the end, our assignment was to write a poem or hymn about the Gospel. Ryan wrote a really cool hymn set to the music of Ode to Jupiter. My brain works a little differently, so I went with a poem that reflects on how the Gospel has impacted me in each season of life. It is encouraging to see God's faithfulness.

 “For God so loved the world,
He gave His one and only Son…”
I learned the Gospel with my ABC’s,
Until its truths my heart had won.

At four, I knew that God loved me,
Knew of His sacrifice so great;
It gave me peace and sweet assurance,
Even at such young an age.

In our family I see God’s faithfulness,
Passed from each generation to the one ahead.
Great-grandmother, grandma, mother…
To God their children have they led.

Through the Gospel each year I grew,
Convinced of the Bible’s Words so true;
At 12 I pledged again to serve my Lord
As faith and devotion sprang renewed.

The Gospel gave me strength to stand
Against the world’s whims and wiles.
Trusting God’s Word above all else
 Gave strength through each teen trial.

In singleness the Gospel was sweeter still,
To know my Savior’s amazing, personal grace.
To know that if my life looked different –
Well, He had assigned me my place.

His faithfulness was evident again
When He brought me to my man;
To serve together with Gospel-driven hearts:
This was our joyful plan.

As I became a mother,
I marveled at the Gospel once again.
That God would give His only Son
I imagined the greatness of that pain.

The Gospel sustained me as we moved
Into a foreign land.
The hope of heaven was more real
As I felt earth not my home firsthand.

The Gospel gave a strong place to cling
When loneliness struck time after time.
His faithful plan, foreknown ages past
Included me here; what peace is mine.

The Gospel showed me how we have such hope
When all around were those that didn’t.
To know the end, the goal, the place –
I prayed my friends would see the difference.

When our baby died while in the womb,
The Gospel promised that life has purpose.
It was rest and peace amid the tears,
And one day faith-made-sight assurance.

God’s faithfulness sustains me still
Through motherhood’s demanding days.
I have the privilege now to teach my own
The wonder of God’s truth and ways.

That Jesus died on a cross for us –
It’s my two year old’s favorite story.
So simple, and yet so profound.
May I never fail to give Him glory.

Thursday, August 9, 2018

The Birth Story of Owen Isaiah

On Sunday, July 29th, 2018 our son Owen Isaiah Wolfe, was born. I had joked to Ryan the week before that since he was named after a Puritan theologian (John Owen) and a Biblical prophet (Isaiah), it would be fitting if he was born on a Sunday, the Lord’s Day! And though he didn’t come that day like I’d hoped, he was indeed born on a Sunday the following week…

He was my third birth – my sweet promise of new life after a miscarriage. And, though my past births had involved longer labors, I had hopes for a shorter, smoother delivery. It seemed everyone I talked to said their third was early and easier, and I took steps to aid toward that. I went to a physical therapist to improve back aches and posture with various exercises, and saw a chiropractor weekly in the final weeks of pregnancy, to try to be in the best alignment possible. I faithfully walked every weekday morning before the girls were awake, and tried to avoid sweets and eat healthy overall.

But birth is unpredictable. Birth is messy. Birth doesn't usually follow your plans.

After all of my hopes for a baby born BEFORE due date were extinguished, we made it to the due date, Saturday, July 28th. We went for a 2 ½ mile walk around the lake the night before, and there was a full moon, so I had hope that something would happen soon! First thing in the morning I lost my mucus plug, and soon after light contractions began. I’d been having Braxton Hicks for weeks, but they never started this early, and these “felt” more, so I had hopes it was the real thing.

But I tried not to read too much into it, and did normal morning chores, puttering around cleaning up, and pushing the girls on the swing as I texted my midwife – “there’s the good possibility something will happen today.” By 10 AM, I was distracted enough that dealing with normal kid squabbles just felt harder. My thoughts and emotions were elsewhere. The contractions continued, though still very light. But I told my parents what was going on, and they decided to take the kids out for a day of fun: a visit to the local kids museum and eating out with their cousins. After all, this was my third. Things could progress quickly – right?

Not really… I went around the house tidying things up – for who knew when I’d be up to cleaning again? – and Ryan tackled the final two things we wanted to complete on our room before the baby was born: hanging decorative hooks for our robes and putting a Scripture decal on the wall. Our beautiful room was finally done, and just in time! I’d be spending a lot of time back there with a baby, and it would be a beautiful retreat.

It felt really quiet around the house, with the girls gone. We wondered if maybe we shouldn’t have sent them away for the day, and told my parents things weren’t really progressing and they could bring them home if they wanted. But they were busy having fun, and so we enjoyed a time of rest. We took a nap (as best as I could with the distraction of some contractions), went for walks… I wrote a letter and did a few more tasks. Waiting, hoping. It so weird when you’re hoping for pain, but I really wanted this baby to come! I received news that a friend had given birth to her son that morning, and thought how cool it would be if our sons shared a birth date! But… nothing to report, though the contractions felt harder.

My parents brought the girls came home, we put them to bed, and tried to settle down ourselves. I knew from past labors the importance of getting rest when you can, so though by this time my back hurt enough to use a heated rice pack on it, I laid down and tried to sleep.

I got about 1 ½ hours before intense pain woke me around midnight. These were definitely real. I couldn’t stand laying down anymore, so warmed up the heating pad, got my Scripture verse cards to meditate on, and sat on the exercise ball to time contractions. They were about two minutes apart, a minute long, and very intense. At least things hadn’t fizzled out! Maybe we would have a baby soon! Ryan woke and saw me sitting on the ball – my common labor position – and instructed me to call the midwife right away. She had to drive an hour, and he wanted to make sure she came in time.
Before long it was to the Ryan-push-on-my-back stage with contractions, and I read and prayed through Scripture to get through each one. “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us…” (Romans 8:18) and “To this end I labor, struggling with all his energy which so powerfully works in me.” (Colossians 1:29) Each time I’ve been in labor, the verses I memorized as I teen and wrote on notecards as labor aids have never ceased to be both applicable and life giving.

“Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame…” (Hebrews 12:2) With labor pain, meditating on the much MORE intense pain Christ went through on the cross is always so amazing. He went through that for me… I can endure this for His glory, in His strength. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen.” (2 Corinthians 4:17-18) We also had my labor playlist playing in the background, so words from songs gave me truth to meditate on as well. What a blessing music is!

My midwife, her assistant, and her trainee arrived around 2 AM. They took the baby’s heartbeat – very strong! – and though we told them to settle in for sleep in the guest room if they wanted, they stayed close by in the living room. They told us later that, with the intensity of pain they saw I was going through and the contractions about a minute apart, that they expected things to happen quickly.
Those minute on – minute off contractions, with intense back pain, are always so hard to endure. It never really gets easier, even third time around. I felt bad for Ryan too (though he always told me I was silly for even thinking that!), as he was tired, and battling a sore throat on top of it all. He had a minute of pressing as hard as he could on my back, then a minute to collapse exhausted or run to the bathroom or to microwave the rice pack yet again before I was calling out – “another one!” just 60 seconds later. Thankfully the midwives were wonderful, and stepped in for Ryan a few times so he could eat or have a tad longer break. But no one’s hands were quite as strong as my husbands, and I appreciated how selflessly he used them to help me.

And so the night wore on… As expected, with how long it took things to progress the day before and the intense back pain, whenever the midwife felt baby’s position, she would feel parts in front, indicating an OP position. “Sunny side up” again. Despite all of my walking, exercises, chiropractor… It was a bit disheartening that ALL of my babies turned out OP. But I had birthed two others. This one would come…

It just takes time. By 6 AM I was ready for her to do a cervix check. As terrible as it felt to lay on my back for a few minutes, I was aching for news that it was almost over… But while I was dilated to a 7 or 8, she said baby’s head was pretty high, and that he was still OP.

Throughout the night and into the morning, we tried many things to get the baby to turn. Side lying with my legs propped, using a rebozo, standing, swaying, lifting one leg, anything to get him to just turn around! I changed birth positions many times, from the ball to leaning against a couch or the wall, to the toilet to walking. I went outside on the porch to get sunshine, tried relaxing in our huge tub in warm water. Anything I could do, we tried. And we prayed. “Lord, bring Owen. Make him come, Lord!”

I felt completely drained, too. This wasn’t longer than my other labors, but it felt like it. And the pain became even more intense, continuing across my back and spreading in the front as well. For a while I had two people on me at all times, one squeezing my hips to relieve the back pain and another holding the heated rice pack in front. And I began to get discouraged.

“You aren’t made to birth babies” – the thought kept coming. I resisted the lies of the enemy, knowing God had made me able to give birth before. But with no visible progress, and thinking back on the stories of friends who gave birth in just a few hours, I felt so just bad at this. Crazy, because I know there really wasn’t anything else I could have done. Hard, long labors must be my cross to bear. I resisted, but the tempter knew my moment of weakness and kept whispering it to me. I had reached my pain threshold, my energy was depleted, and instead of working through the contractions, meditating on Scripture, I just endured them, and somewhat fought against them, which didn’t help at all. I even contemplated this baby just having to be my last one, because I didn’t know if I could go through this again. Anyone who knows me knows my life-long dream is to have a large family, so this shows how intense things were!

Finally, around 10 AM, I asked to be checked again. Surely there had to be some progress? But no – if anything I had regressed. I was more of a 6 now, my cervix was thickening, and the baby’s head was even higher. Nooo…. I sank back on the bed, and moaned. Defeated. We began to seriously consider transporting to the hospital. Even a c-section seemed better than continuing to endure this pain for who knows how long. Because, based on past births, once I was fully dilated and the baby’s head finally did engage (and this baby showed no signs of doing that!), there were still hours of pushing ahead. And I just didn’t know if I could last even another hour.

Ryan texted both sets of parents that we were considering a hospital transport. And people began praying. There were already some praying, but I know the prayers got kicked into higher gear.
But baby’s heartbeat was still strong, so at least there wasn’t any rush to do anything fast. If baby showed distress, we would have gone, no question. But with the intensity of pain, and sitting still being one of the WORST positions for me to deal with it, I also didn’t want to sit in the car for 20 minutes in order to get to the hospital. But, if we had been there, believe me, I would have considered an epidural! Again, not characteristic of me. But I was so so tired I could barely keep my eyes open. Curling up on the bed looked so nice, but then if I tried, the pain soon got me up again…

My midwife suggested going for a walk up and down the driveway, so I did with Ryan and L, her trainee. While out there I finally brought myself around to doing the last thing my midwife had suggested: an enema. I was feeling a tad constipated which increased back pain, and she said the enema could bring on harder contractions, which might bring baby’s head down. While any increase in the level of pain sounded like something to avoid, and an enema sounded like the most gross and uncomfortable thing ever, I was desperate, and wanted to try anything we could before going to the hospital.

So the midwife prepared a coffee enema. As I’ve never ever liked coffee, Ryan joked after the birth that I would never be able to say anything bad about coffee again. 😉 They administered it, I lay on my side for as long as I could, and then went to the bathroom. And Ryan started praying out loud. Strong prayers. Prayers full of hope. Something I could cling to as my brain just wouldn’t function anymore.

I also suddenly thought of chocolate ice cream. They had been trying to get me to eat to keep my strength up, but while I dutifully drank water with some electrolytes mixed in, and managed to get down some refuel drink, eating was really hard. I had choked down half a piece of zucchini bread at midnight, and had almost thrown up when they tried to get me to eat plain honey. I could only manage two raisins at a time, and chewing those took forever. But suddenly, chocolate ice cream sounded appetizing, so L ran to bring me a bowl and fed me a few bites.

Suddenly, my water broke! This was progress! It meant baby’s head had engaged! My water had always broken before when I started pushing. And as Ryan started praying, “Yes, Lord, give her another strong push, another contraction that does something” – I realized I WAS pushing. I was PUSHING! Maybe the end was in sight!

It’s amazing how fast we went from no hope, around 10 AM with news baby’s head was higher, to starting to push just an hour later, at 11 AM! The prayers of our families, friends, and my husband were making a difference!

The pain wasn’t as bad either – somehow the enema had cleaned me out enough to relax my back a little, and the front wasn’t painful anymore. Pushing started to feel good and I bore down with each contraction. Then, just a few minutes later, “I feel the head!” I yelled, and the two other midwives came running!

They spread things on the floor and yelled “hands and knees!” and I transitioned. Given my two past deliveries, where the girls got slightly stuck with shoulder dystocia, we had discussed birthing out of water this time, to see if that made a difference. That, combined with past experience to know better how and where to push, did seem to make a difference! I started yelling with the pain and exertion as I felt Owen crown. I hated that ring of fire yet again, but it meant he WAS indeed coming, and I WAS going to get him out! Ryan kept praying aloud and within 10-15 minutes on hands and knees, I felt my baby slide completely out. Relief! And no shoulder dystocia!

It’s amazing how quickly my most discouraging, seeming-to-not-progress labor changed into the best delivery I’ve had. I didn’t tear, I didn’t spend hours pushing, and Owen Isaiah, our “noble warrior” who declares “Yahweh is God!” was born safely. I had come to the end of myself, but God showed that He was more than enough. He was faithful to deliver me as we cried to Him for help. “The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.” (James 5:16)

Now, if I had had to transport, and had ended up with a c-section, God would still get the glory! He often uses those methods to bring babies safely when there is no other option and I am thankful those options are available. We would praise Him still, if that had been the outcome. But, I am relieved that it wasn’t. We made sacrifices and paid out of pocket to use a midwife, and it was so nice that we were able to fully complete with her. With each of my births I would likely have ended up with a c-section had I been in the hospital, so I am thankful for skilled midwives who, while giving us advice on what to do if we decided to transfer, and leaving it up to us without pressure, had so many natural things to try. They continued positively and encouragingly, giving me hope to keep trying. Just seeing that they weren’t worried helped me to persevere. And I am very thankful, with how well I feel one week postpartum, that I avoided the harder recovery a c-section would have entailed.

But back to the birth. 😊 Those precious moments right after baby comes out are amazing. Instantly, all pain is gone, and you have a squishy, beautiful bundle in your arms. Birth is such a miracle. I heard Owen cry almost instantly (he was behind me, so I couldn’t quite see him yet!) and as they brought him through to my arms, I was overjoyed. He was so perfect in every way. He did cough a lot and took a few minutes to fully pink up – they finally suctioned him, which helped – but in no time he was breathing easily, protesting if we moved him too much or got him cold. They threw towels and blankets over us, and just let us enjoy bonding. Ryan came down to our level, and we enjoyed those precious moments.

Once the cord was done pulsating, Ryan cut it and he had a chance to hold Owen while I moved to the toilet to deliver the placenta. Thankfully it came without too much cajoling, and I got to take my celebratory shower. Birth out of water was definitely more messy! But before long, the midwives had that cleaned up, and we were safely ensconced in bed. And Owen started nursing and nursing! It’s amazing how babies are born knowing what to do!

We called and texted our parents the good news, and received relieved and joyful replies. Prayer is powerful. I remained in awe of what God had done as I held my son, born at 11:27 AM! It had been a long trial – 24 hours of labor, 12 of those really hard hours – but he was so worth it.

A weird and random coincidence, we learned later, is that at church that morning, during the final song, the organ hit a note and then cut out, and there was a sudden “pop!” as if something had broken. My brother-in-law whispered to my sister, “I wonder if the baby was just born?” and she looked at her watch. 11:27 AM. Who knows if God made an intentional connection there, but it was quite the interesting coincidence!

We heard the family come home while the midwives measured and weighed Owen. Despite my trying to eat healthy and exercise, Owen weighed in at 10 lbs 2 oz and measured 22 inches long, with a 14 inch head – a big guy, which, combined with the likely shape of my pelvis, explains why he took a while to come. My midwife thinks that when the head floated up, he finally turned to be AP, as he then engaged, came quickly, and was born in the classic position – NOT sunny-side-up. So, God works in mysterious ways. And since my blood sugar measured low during pregnancy, not high, giving no indication of gestational diabetes, it seems that for whatever reason, I just grow big babies. We may try to do a stricter diet next time to see if it helps (and amazingly, I can think of a “next time” now even though the memory of the pain is fresh!), but at least, as my midwife pointed out, I have birthed two 10-lb babies, so my body can do it. It just takes a lot of pain and a lot of time…

And a lot of prayer. But God is faithful. And I am praising Him for another wonderful gift of life.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

A Chapter Ends.

I've put off this post for a while. Mostly because Ryan's new job didn't have his computer ready for two weeks so he had to bring our only working laptop and internet-capable phone to work each day. It turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Without the distraction of internet I got a lot more unpacking done and even started a daily tradition of reading for 30 minutes during the girls' naps. Yay for being 5 minutes from a library and house work taking SO much less time in America!

But mostly, it just seems so final. Our China chapter is done. There's so much to catch up on. So here it goes...

 After a week of packing and weighing and removing and repacking and too many goodbyes (TOO many...), we had our final dinner in Shanghai. Our last meal with this amazing group of people who became like family as we lived life overseas together. Our last tastes of yang rou char and the most amazing, fresh, thick yogurt with honey.

 The last dance on this stage. Not many restaurants can boast of one! ;)

 Our flight didn't leave until Friday evening, so Ryan took the girls out most of the morning so I could do the final packing and cleaning. Thankfully friends were going to move into our apartment, so we were able to leave a few things that didn't sell or get claimed as give-aways. So nice to have them willing to take care of it. Then, we made that final trek to the airport after teary goodbyes. It rained. Somehow that seemed fitting...

 And while we maxed it out at 8 maxed-out checked bags, a checked stroller, 2 rolling carry on suitcases, 3 backpacks, a diaper bag, a computer bag, and a carry on stroller, these two were still the cutest carry ons. ;)

Then, as we got there early to make sure all our bags got checked (thankfully there was no issue although a few were just over 50 lbs!), we had a lot of waiting to board our almost 10-pm flight. The girls did great all things considering, and mercifully slept for most of the flight. A couple who had just adopted a little boy graciously traded seats with us, so they could be all together in the middle aisle and we could occupy the very last 2 seat across seats on the side. Turned out to be perfect, as Ellie could lay across the two seats with me squenched on the ground in front of her. That way she could sleep comfortably and I could at least put my head on the seat and close my eyes, knowing she wouldn't roll off without rolling into me! But many many times I was glad this was our last 12 hour flight!

 After such a crazy flight, chairs for the girls to walk over and a strawberry smoothie was life giving.

 And at the end of the 30 hours or so of traveling, between three flights and three airports, having Ellie sleep on the last flight was such a mercy.

 Hadassah was more energized at the thought of seeing her grandparents and being in America. She told a stewardess very excitedly, "We're going to see my grandparents! First we're going to rent a house, then we're going to buy a house, then we're gonna get a pet!"

We were a bit crazy. But as we landed on Saturday morning and Ryan had to start work on Monday morning, we wanted to move in right away. My parents had wonderfully arranged the renting of a house we chose online, so we drove three hours (in four different cars!) to move in that day. But it didn't quite go as planned. We arrived and loved the house, though the first impressions of it were with girls who couldn't stop crying as we woke them up from their long car naps, and on jet lag it felt to them like the middle of the night. We discovered the water had gotten turned off because a leak had been detected and didn't have a wrench and couldn't find the valve in the mud. And my parents didn't arrive until almost 10 pm due to both of dad's back tires on his old truck SHREDDING, with him spinning around on the highway and ending up down in the median in the rain. But he was wonderfully okay. My mom was a bit behind so was able to stop and eventually find someone to replace the tires. It was all so so crazy. I told Ryan that if our first day was anything like what our life here was going to be, it was not a good sign!

So with no water and no parents there to help, we went to a hotel for the first night. It was comfortable, and the 24 hour Walmart provided food to eat when we were all wide awake at 2 AM on jet lag. Hadassah thought it was pretty funny to use a spoon as a straw for her yogurt. ;)

 The next day was much better, as we moved in with my amazing parents' help, and we discovered a lovely park just 2 minutes drive from home, against a beautiful blue blue sky...

 My sister who lives in town had brought over a ton of stuff her friends gave her for us (I'm still amazed at their generosity to people they didn't even know!) and also made a casserole to provide our first dinner in home on Sunday evening. With stuff my parents brought too, it was starting to feel like home.

 This chair was amazingly free from one of my sister's friends, and it has been SO comfortable. From bed time stories to cuddling jet lagged kids in the middle of the night, it has been a back saver!

 Then early Monday morning, Ryan was ready to go to work. First day at NASA. This man is seriously amazing. He did his first week still on jet lag, with long days learning things to craigslist pick ups in the evenings. He is incredible.

 And while unpacking plus jetlag plus girls ALSO on jetlag is NOT a good mix, it was aided a ton by our back yard. It's so easy to go outside. And our kitchen window overlooks it, so I can let them out as I do dishes. And tea parties are so much easier outside where I don't have to clean up the water they inevitably spill.

 Even amid the mess and stress of unpacking, with more whining and clinging that comes with jet lag, these two are such a bright spot amidst the chaos.

And having the help of grandparents all week was what made it possible. My parents stayed the first few days, then Ryan's mom arrived with her car stuffed full of wedding gifts we'd left stored in their basement. It's so nice to have a kitchen full of those amazing dishes and tools again! And we are enjoying this stroller friends in China gave (since elevator doors aren't wide enough for it there and sidewalks have poles on them preventing it from getting through!).

 We even found a park in OUR neighborhood, so perfect to walk to on warm evenings after dinner...

We truly love it here. What a wonderful, amazing blessing God has given to move us to this location of our dreams.

 And He keeps giving above and beyond! Mid way through the week we discovered that we had brought home an extra special gift from China! :D And yes, it gave me extra motivation to do as much as I could before morning sickness hit full force!

 We continued our letter-of-the-week fun the second week here, with treasure hunts for letter T made so much easier with our OWN back yard!

 And one of the best things about it is that the girls can go outside in their pj's! :) Our yard backs up to an open, empty field which adds a nice amount of privacy and nature. And yet we're just 5-10 minutes from so many stores and restaurants! It's crazy after being in China, where many things did NOT look appetizing, to pass so many things here that look delicious! ;)

 Our living room is great for twirls...

 And our yard has a little garden plot that Hadassah tends each day, pretending to water and dig and plant. Soon I hope to plant actual flowers and herbs to give her nurturing bent something to tend. :)

 We're swinging. OUTSIDE. Pretty much every day.

This one is LOVING all the outside time and being able to see grandparents more often, with them just a 3 or 4 hour drive away!

 There are wildflower bouquets given me,

 and picnics outside in the many green spaces around.

These two sweeties will continue to grow, and another will be added for them to embrace. Life is full and so so blessed.

We definitely do miss China. Especially the people. Goodbyes said on another continent are so much harder because there's no way of knowing if we will ever see those people again. Thankfully there are friends we know we'll see in heaven one day, but so many that don't have that assurance. We try to keep in touch, but it's not the same across the ocean....

But somehow "reverse culture shock" hasn't hit yet. Maybe because things are so much easier here. Laundry that was dirty that morning is clean and dry and in the closet again by noon. I hardly even have to iron as the dryer does it for me! My floors are not continually covered in dust so I don't have to sweep as often. The back yard and plentiful parks to drive to keep the girls happy and busy. And while the choices of what to buy can seem overwhelming, I'm loving the access to ALDI, the Walmart 5 minutes drive away, and the carts I can bring with kids and groceries straight to MY car waiting in the parking lot. No more struggling out the door with babies and bags in hand, hoping to find a taxi! And somehow, after a week of fresh air, Ellie's constant stuffiness, running nose and deep rattling cough disappeared. She'd had it for at least 6 months so it is pretty amazing (and wonderful!) to have it gone in a week!

I know there will be things we continue to miss. The cherry blossoms are full in bloom I've heard, and we're not there to see it. I miss walking 5 minutes over to my friends' house. We'll miss evenings discussing everything from politcs to parenting with our closest Chinese friends that felt like sister or brother despite the culture difference. As we've hardly gotten to know anyone as we're visiting a new church each week trying to find a place to land, the absence of community after having one so strong is especially hard. But, a new chapter is ahead. A new time to grow and connect and reach out. Only God knows exactly what it will look like.

And, as the China chapter ends, I'm bringing this blog to a close as well. It will stay online, and who knows, we may use it every now and then when we need a long post format. But with life just getting busier with a new baby on the way, and an ache for a more private life especially now that we're stateside, it's time. I'm relishing not being as connected online, with more time for reading and sewing and, hopefully soon, more in person connections. Of course I'll stay on email and Facebook and phone for long distance friends I definitely want to stay in contact with. But, at least for now, being an active blogger is a chapter that is ending once again.

To God be the Glory. Great things HE has done.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Last Saturday in Shanghai

How to spend your last Saturday? At goodbye parties, of course! Two of them, to be exact. We felt very loved.

One of Ryan's co-workers gave the girls these Chinese dresses. I will enjoy having this picture and these dresses to remind ourselves of how big our girls grew in China.

Now, of course with young kids it came with a price tag. Ellie decided (of course!) to wake up at 5:45 AM on Saturday. So she was in quite the daze at the lunch party. Then fell asleep in the stroller on the 15 minute walk back. Made the transfer to her bed, but woke up 45 minutes later NOT happy. I managed to get her back to sleep holding her (I was desperate, knowing what was ahead!) but she was still really tired as we taxied to our next party. For an hour. So wiggly! Then we got home late. And party food isn't the greatest for a one year old. I was planning to pack more, but had ended up holding a sleeping baby. ;) So either the food or lack thereof seemed to upset her digestive system, so she woke up scream crying at 10:30 PM after a later bed time (another 45 minute taxi ride home!). She thankfully went back to sleep, but woke again at 5:00 AM. Oh and Hadassah woke at 3:00 AM to use the bathroom. Needless to say, it was an exhausting Saturday! Just keeping it real...

But, looking back, I know we'll remember the love. We truly have been loved these last three years in Shanghai, and have loved many...

The first party was organized by E. Oh what a blessing this woman has been. She shares my love of cooking and organizing events, and is so so sweet. She's saved the day for me many times, calling the wuye to come and fix broken things in our apartment (and even going shopping to find the new part for us!), setting up water delivery for us, setting up bill paying through AliPay, and being just a phone call away when I need help translating what someone is trying to tell me.

She arranged for the rental of a beautiful garden and event spot on campus, and gave each person something to do, while she arranged the food,

The kids enjoyed all the fun spots to hang out...

 Dipping things and hands in the water...

 A treasure hunt to find balls to trade for suckers and special toys...

And we all enjoyed talking and lots of smiles!

The food was delicious - a good blend of Western and Chinese!

Ellie's always happy with a banana in hand!

 Then there were pictures to say goodbye... This family was our first neighbors and will always remain close to our heart. We will definitely stay in touch with them and hope to see them again, whether they visit us in America (perhaps even this summer!) or we come back to China. I saw "Beauty and the Beast" with Y Sunday night, and in the taxi ride home reflected on how she is truly a "bosom friend" and like a sister, and she said the same. We will so miss them.

 And oh I can't imagine daily life without this woman. She has shown me what it looks like to live in authentic, Christ-centered community with another mom. We share wechat messages to encourage and commiserate throughout the week, take our kids on outings to campus or play places, and can always count on the other to pray if we're just having a hard day. I will so miss her.

 This family is always so sweet and joyful when we see them out and about around our apartment! J always greets us with a smile an effort to communicate though he speaks little English and we not much Chinese. And F was a part of our study of the Word for half a year. We will miss their smiles.

 Speaking of smiles, this one did a great job smiling through all of these pictures! Not easy for an active 3 year old who wants to always explore! ;)

 E and her daughter C... Always a joy to see them on the playground and participate in lunches there or their help with parties we put on. E always came early or stayed late to help clean up. She was a true neighbor too, sharing my love of cooking and swapping recipes or borrowing peanut butter... I had always wanted a neighbor like her, and have thoroughly enjoyed the past two years. I will miss having her so close.

 These co-workers of Ryan have been friends since the first month we arrived in Shanghai. They've invited us for special outings, be it to see a train themed restaurant, a waterpark, or all the way to MoGanShan. And after working at Ryan's company for a while, he left to devote his time to a full-time to a Taobao business. Not everyone can say their daughters are models for a Chinese towel company! ;) But we've been happy to take pictures for them as needed, as they have always been so so giving to us. We will miss their sweet friendship and generosity.

We may leave China, but our daughters will continue helping sell towels on Taobao! ;)

 This family. The memories... We first connected to them through them being former college friends of someone at our church in Iowa. They helped advise us on things to bring to China, and helped us find both of our apartments. We ended up even living in the same building as them in our current place! It's been so nice to have friends just an elevator ride down. We've been inspired, encouraged, and challenged by their heart for reaching out, devotion to learning language and culture, and authentic parenting. We will miss their friendship and their community.

 As Hadassah would say, "I'm so attached to D & A!" We've only known this amazing couple for just over a month, as they've come to start their China adventure just as we're leaving ours. But it feels like so much longer. From dinners to praying and sharing to them babysitting - much to Hadassah's delight, with Ellie's feelings were much like her face here! ;) Though we've known them for such a short time, their impact will last and we plan to stay in touch! We will miss their sweet kindness and realness.

S & D have been our regular friends for play dates and studies of the Word. We've learned about parenting and kids together as her daughter is just a few weeks younger than Hadassah. We've explored and laughed and danced and played. S was always full of fun ideas and snacks that Hadassah couldn't wait to try. We will miss their exuberance and always ready attitude.

 Oh these goodbyes are hard. D remarked that finding a friend you can just talk to about anything is hard, even for them with other Chinese. And yet, we've found it in each other.

Then it was the home-ward walk from campus - one of our last times! - for naps before our next big party...

This one was put on for us by church friends. It meant traveling downtown, but they made it a time of joy. It was especially nice to see some friends who were part of the original gathering (we moved with the church plant last September) and catch up on their lives. We've seen God's faithfulness displayed in so many ways through these people.

This picture captures some of the great people we will miss. There's G & M, who was like a grandma to my girls and always ready to share ideas of her latest felt project and ooh and ahh over mine. She is a kindred spirit in the creative realm, and we plan to keep emailing each other our creations! D has the best Scottish accent - I always love hearing him read Scripture or hearing him sing out strong in the congregation. He and his wife have welcomed us into their home multiple times on a Sunday afternoon when we tried to stay downtown for lunch and naps. The same for C and his wife... And they've even traveled out to Minhang a time or two which is extra special!

B organized the party and J hosted. These ladies serve the church in so so many ways, untiring and with such sweet joy. I will miss their example.

Just a few of the great men Ryan has been blessed to know and engage as they spur one another on. As Ryan said in our goodbye remarks on Sunday morning, these churches have lived out the "one another" commands in Scripture so so well. We will truly miss them all.