Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Is God Sovereign When...

...your dad discovers he has cancer?

The obvious answer, is, "yes." But does that mean it's less of a shock? No.

When Ryan and I were discussing whether or not to move overseas, a big reason to stay stateside was our parents. We both lived pretty far from our grandparents growing up, and wanted our children to be able to see and know their grandparents well. We've both been blessed with amazing parents, and wanted to pass that blessing on to our children! So living right in between our parents in Huntsville, Alabama seemed the perfect fit...

But when the job opportunity in China came up, we decided to take it. Our parents were all in good health, and what better time than now, when we only have one child and she's really young? Plus, in a variety of ways, God in His sovereignty fit things together. We knew we were to come.

Then a month after we moved, we got the news. My dad has bladder cancer. Quickly followed surgery to remove it, realization that they couldn't get it all, the start of chemo (though it won't cure this kind of cancer, it can give a few more years), and the plan to remove the bladder when those 5 months of misery are up. My dad had always seemed invincible to me, but now we were talking about the chances of survival and using the term "years." Not decades. Not life 'til 90+ since he was so healthy... years.

Now, I know we're blessed. Many get the news about cancer and speak in terms of "months" or even "weeks." And, I know that God can beat the odds, that He can heal, that all of our lives are in His hands anyway, that it's only in His sustaining power that we have our next breath. But... it's still hard.

And as the realization hit, I thought to myself "we could have been three hours away." We could have driven down and been there, instead of trying to arrange times to skype when we're both awake with a 13-hour time difference.

But... is God sovereign? Yes. I know that this is part of His plan, and He is growing us through it. We're learning to trust Him more. We're getting more of a longing for heaven, where there will be no more cancer and no more miles between loved ones, where all the tears will be wiped away...

Because there has been a lot of tears lately. There have been more mornings where I cry for seemingly no reason, and though there could be a lot of little reasons (life in a different country is not easy!)... but to me they're not reasons to cry. Yet the tears come... there's a heaviness.

Yet my dad inspires me. His words always ring with hope and trust in the Lord. My earliest memories involve my dad telling me "Since you believe in Jesus, what's the worst thing that can happen to you? You can die and go to heaven." And as he'd remind us with a twinkle in his eye, "that's actually a good thing!" And as a result of sharing with my neighbor about my dad, I was able to tell her what he always told me, and share some of the hope that we have, that this life is not all there is.

It does change things. When we decided to come, we told ourselves we'd stay for 3 years (with visits home at least once/year) and then evaluate. Now, we're talking about evaluating after a year, and going home even earlier if things get worse fast, which of course we're praying won't happen.

But we also are grateful for the fact that we had time with our parents - weeks at a time - because we moved over here. We'd never have had that time off of work if we hadn't been moving across the world... so those memories and pictures are worth so much more now.

We appreciate your prayers for my dad too. He's facing this, even the unpleasantness of chemo (which started yesterday), with good spirits and steadfast faith. He's strong and healthy, so we're not too worried about recovery. But cancer is no respector of persons.

Yet God is sovereign. We know this could only have come by His allowing it to, and His purposes and ways are higher than our own. It's not a fatalistic outlook... it gives hope. This world is not all there is, and He knows what He's doing.

So we pray that His peace, that passes all understanding, will guard our hearts during this time.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

In Which Company Comes

Finally, after 7 weeks in our apartment, we've officially had company come. First it took time to even be able to safely know we'd have enough food for just us for a meal, then I wanted to wait until our boxes came and we had real silverware and homey decor. But, after waiting and waiting and waiting for our boxes to get clearance (the fiasco continues... but the latest is that they should go through customs on Tuesday, a commercial inspection, and then be delivered by the end of the week!) - we decided we just needed to do it. So, with plastic forks and mis-matched cups and a nice set of dishes from the secondhand store, this week was the week.

On Tuesday we were going to have our neighbors over, but this time their son got sick and they had to cancel. Since I'd already planned food, I let Ryan know he could invite some co-workers over, and 3 of them ended up being able to come! It was nice meeting them and seeing what kind and generous people he works with. He really has been blessed with his team at work.

They each came bearing fruit as a gift - and LARGE fruit at that! Did you know bananas grew in such big bunches? :)

 On Friday both children were finally well, so we enjoyed having our neighbors over for a meal. Hadassah really enjoyed having a high-chair mate, and they stayed for a few hours, with some great conversation time. We continue to be blessed by their friendship.

On Sunday after church we headed to the airport to pick up my cousin Hope and her friend. On the way, we had to get lunch, so we stopped by the Bund. Because we had limited time, it was very much a "grab lunch from Subway, eat it while walking, snap a picture, and hurry back to the metro!" but know I've seen the iconic site, so I've officially "seen Shanghai" now. 

Hope and I share a birthday, though she was born in Korea and I in the US. Crazy thing is, we're both in Asia now (she's currently teaching in South Korea) and she and her friend decided to visit China over their break. She let me know and we got to host them for a night. They had a crazy introduction to Shanghai: a huge rainstorm and a taxi driver that took them WAY out of their way as they tried to get back to our place after seeing a water town, but I was able to make good home cooking that I hope made them coming way out of town to see us worth it.

It feels good to have opened up our home. Though cooking for others and the clean-up afterwards always leaves me tired, it's a good kind of tired. It's good to give back as we've been given so much by people here. So, praise God for guests! May there be many more to come...

Creation and Censorship

Romans 1:18-20 (ESV)
Men, ... by their unrighteousness [1] suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made.

Have you ever contemplated this passage?  If you believe the biblical testimony, you actually believe something stunning about human existence.  This passage tells us that everyone knows.  Everyone, Christian or non-Christian, in their subconscious, knows that God exists.

We know this through creation.[2]  Creation is God's common grace to man.  Anna and I just went to the park yesterday and had a chance to be in the outdoors.  It's really good for the soul to contemplate the cosmos.  Nature, creation, is kind of the kryptonite to the atheist inside all of us. Evolution's got nothing on the universe. There's absolutely no way anyone can ever make me believe that the true heart of anyone actually thinks Darwinian theory is a satisfying explanation for the beauty of a flower.  Too complex.  Too much glory.  Too much of God.  "Signature's in the cell."  So it's good to consider it.[3]

Maybe (and I'm completely kidding here) the reason for the "Great Awakening" in America was because all the British folks had to be out in the woods again.  Okay - I'm really just kidding with that one.  And I don't want to develop a weird unbiblical theology of camping or anything.  But this passage clearly says that nature tells us stuff about God.

The other thing this passage tells us isn't so happy: the human heart of a web of deceit.  Though we all know God, we are really, really good at censorship.  If evolution is ever abandoned as an idea for men to embrace, I think we should actually do as much as we can to document the theory and place it in museums as a reminder of the genius of man.  "This is how capable our minds are.  We can get ourselves to believe anything."  It takes a very smart man to do a successful cover-up operation.  Mankind is very clever.

Another implication (and this is kind of anticipating verse 23) of this passage is that really, Christianity doesn't believe much differently than atheists about the religions of the world.  The atheist believes religions are a crutch.  A way for people to suppress the truth (that there is no God).  Christians believe religion is a way of suppressing the truth about the One True God.

If you are a Christian today, be thankful that you believe.  Be thankful that despite your evil and deceitful heart, God opened your eyes to Him.


Anyways.  I can tell I'm back into my engineering self again.  Not as creative with my words.  The 9-5 seriously consumes so many of my words and thought categories.  But I had to talk about Romans 1:18-20 eventually.  And this ended up being the night I had available to do it.  So there you go.

[1] Unrighteousness, here, is clearly contrasted with the "righteousness" of verse 17.
[2] This is called "mediate" revelation, as opposed to the "immediate" revelation of things like the conscience.  Creation and conscience are what theologians refer to as "general revelation".  And general revelation, itself, is a subcategory of common grace.
[3] I find it a little ironic that the very thing that should be drawing men and women to God is actually, today, what they claim as their biggest stumbling block (evolution).

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Love is...

 This Saturday, July 26th, will be our 1 1/2 year anniversary. It's pretty crazy to think what has happened in just a year and a half. We got married, I moved to Iowa, we went through pregnancy, we spent two weeks in Egypt, we had a baby, we sold and packed and moved out, we spent two months traveling seeing family, and we moved to China. Wow.

But when I start to feel lonely about being so far away from family, I remember that I am right where I want to be. With my best friend. We were walking down the street this evening, gazing in each other's eyes for a minute, realizing how sweet this time is. We don't like being so far from the many people we know and love, but it's kind of nice being forced to just be with each other. "I get you all to myself" is how Ryan put it. :)

These days, love does look a little different than the roses and sweet nothings and long letters we used to write. Though we still have those things on occasion, more time is spent on the little things of life.

Love is...
..."eggs on toast" in the morning
... a closet of ironed work clothes
... a massage at the end of tiring day
... cookies and a carrot sent for snacks at work
... taking Hadassah to the playground so I can finish dinner for company without distraction
... ordering a rug for our living room - the excitement of a new home coming together
...  lunch together each day
... cooking food that makes him feel like he's not in China just for a moment
... reading God's Word together in the early morning hours
... kisses at the door whenever one of us comes in or goes out
... walking and praying and discovering new trails
... walking our little girl between us, and exchanging smiles...

It's still dancing together, though sometimes there's a little blue-eyed girl in the ERGO spinning along.

And so much more.

There still are many touches of the more romantic nature... him bringing flowers home I-don't-know-how. Splurging on a pastry at the local bakery and sitting at the table in the corner with my legs in his lap, feeling like newlyweds again... until our girl starts complaining about the lack of attention her way. ;) And the fact that every evening, no matter how long and busy the day has been, we get to be together. Just us. Then we stay up late talking even though we know the alarm will go off early, just 'cause we like each other so much.

I love that I can still get lost in his eyes even with tons of people around. That he is there to lead and guide and make us slow down if we're doing too much is such an amazing blessing for this "do-er." And I love making an apartment a home, for him. Cooking for him. Still holding hands across the table between spoonfuls of food given to the babe.

There have been hard times. Times we had to say "will you forgive me?" or ask for clarification on something not communicated correctly. Times we just hold each other and cry. Times we've not known what is around the corner, and have been scared, but know that we serve a faithful Savior. And He's been faithful. Time and time again...

Thank you, Lord, for these one and a half years...

Friday, July 18, 2014

Friday Togetherness

This week was supposed to be one where we reached out more - we planned to have a Chinese co-worker of Ryan's over for supper on Wednesday and invited our neighbors over for supper on Thursday. But then Hadassah got sick... Tuesday night she was up 6 times with a fever, which thankfully broke on Wednesday afternoon, but we didn't want to spread the cold to our neighbor's boy, so we canceled.

So this sight has happened a few times... until the cold she was great going down for naps, almost eager to get into her bed and drifting off peacefully. With this cold, though, sometimes it will be an hour of trying to get to sleep, as I try different things to help her. Being stuffed up is no fun when you're a baby who doesn't know why or what to do! So for the past few days an extra nursing before sleep seems to be the only way to clear her nose long enough for her to fall asleep, and a few times a pillow on our bed seemed to help. So, I've been learning to be flexible, and trying to focus on the joy of extra time to snuggle with our little girl instead of the disruption it causes to routine. ;) She's growing up so fast, so these are times to cherish.

And yesterday, the sky was blue again...

 Yes, this is China! It was like a little gift from God, who knew we were missing the beauty of creation. ;) And I'm getting a glimpse of the China Ryan fell in love with when he was here 9 years ago.

Ryan took us on the e-bike to a park he used to run to. It was such fun to ride in the breeze on a Friday evening, going away from tall buildings and seeing farmland, smelling dirt - good, earthy dirt - and fresh-cut grass!!

 And it's so good to just be a family. There are so many things to do, to figure out, so many ways we want to reach out and be a blessing, but it can be very overwhelming at times. We need times like this to just get away, to breathe fresh-er air and enjoy being together.

Hadassah was so excited to be able to get down and move. :) I have a feeling that when she starts walking alone she's going to take off running, she goes so fast!

Part of the outing was for our Friday "date night." I am so blessed to be married to this man!

We made it to the Huangpu River but didn't stay long as it was getting dark. But we hope to go back one day soon, take a picnic, and enjoy being out in nature once again. It does us all good.

Thank you, Lord, for Your many blessings...

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Remembering the beach :)

The sky was blue here in Shanghai yesterday. And yes, that's a rare site. I don't look forward to the day Hadassah is learning colors and I ask her what color the sky is and she answers "gray." Maybe it won't happen... we all hope the pollution will clear up soon! But yesterday, the sky was blue. And it made me want to dig out these pictures of our time in Jacksonville in May.

Just 5 days before we flew to China we drove to Jacksonville, Florida to see Ryan's Granddad. He's 90 years old and still going strong! We only had one full day and two half days to spend with him, but knew we wanted to see him before we came here.

As an added bonus, we got to see Ryan's aunt, uncle & cousin, and spend a morning at the beach!

 Hadassah loved extra attention :)

We were blessed by great conversations with Granddad, learning about the past and getting his thoughts on the present

 Part of Ryan's family's tradition is to go to the beach before it's fully light, so we arrived around 5:45 AM on a Friday morning.

Such beauty...

 We had to get a family picture, or course ;) It was unseasonably cool and we hadn't dressed for it (we thought it'd be warm!) so we made sure we stayed wrapped in towels.

 There were a few other people out, and quite a few birds :)

 The wind from the water made it even more cold, so Hadassah and I kept each other warm as best we could 

 We were cold and the sun was taking forever to rise so we thought about leaving. But then we saw a glimmer on the horizon...

 It was worth the wait. God's beauty is amazing.

 Our last glimpse of the beach...

Whether it's a beach or a lake or the trees or the mountains, or just the rare blue sky with buildings against it, take time to enjoy the world God has made. He is an awesome Creator.

A Sunday in Shanghai

Part of these posts are for our own benefit... one day I may print them as a collection for our family to look back on and remember our time in China. This is one of those posts, so if you don't want to read a long detailed "day in the life" feel free to skip. ;)

Sunday, July 13th. The morning came too soon after a later night since we had dinner with friends an hour away. But those times with friends are worth it, and at least our alarm went off at 5 AM - half an hour later than usual. ;) We had time in the Word, showered, and packed for the day ahead. Hadassah slept 'til 7 AM so I even had time to make breakfast before she was up. Once she woke it was all go-go. Feed her, dress her, pack the last few things, and run down the stairs, umbrellas in hand. We hurried through the rain to the small supermarket on the corner to buy diapers, bananas, and water. Stuffing them in our backpack, we rushed to the fairly empty street and were actually able to flag down a taxi. Usually we ride our e-bike to the subway station or walk, but since it was raining and we were running late, we enjoyed the rare ride.

Thus started the subway rides. Our new church met 1 1/2 hours away by subway, so we were in for the long haul, riding line 5 to line 1 to line 4. Hadassah enjoyed it to start with, smiling at new people and enjoying the activity, but as it wore on and the time for her morning nap came, a minor meltdown began. Into the ERGO she went with the hood up, and I stood to bounce and sing to her, hoping to coax her to sleep. Sometimes it works, but this was one when it didn't, even after the little walk to the hotel the church met in. I can't really blame her: noise and light and people all around wouldn't make me want to sleep!

So once we arrived, out she came, to lay on the ground and kick some energy out. Being held by mama all morning on the subway doesn't allow her to move as she likes!

The singing began and we entered into worship, enjoying the familiar songs by Sovereign Grace, Keith & Kristyn Getty, and classic hymns. Yes, we have to travel longer than we ever thought we would on a Sunday morning, but it's worth it. We feel at home, even though this is just our 2nd Sunday here, and are encouraged by the chance to dig deep with others and be fed by the Word. Hadassah made it through most of the songs, but was getting squirmy. So I held her hands to walk her up and down the side aisle. It worked until I accidentally stepped slightly on her foot. In her sleep-deprived, starting-to-get-hungry state, that was the end so I rushed out the door amid screams. At least there are a lot of young families there, so people understand.

Ryan brought the bag out to me, and I walked Hadassah around the hallway, singing along as the music continued in the meeting room. As the sermon began, I sat on the couch in the lobby (it's the most plush church surroundings I've ever been to!) and nursed the little one, hoping this would relax her into a much needed nap. Nope. She goes to sleep easily on her own in her own bed (usually!) but in new surroundings she just wants to explore. So I took her into the nursery area, but stayed to play with her. Last week she cried the last half of the nursery, as a recent I-want-mommy attachment has developed. That combined with her lack of sleep made me want to be merciful to the nursery volunteers. ;)

It was also a good opportunity to get to know some people, as I talked with the couple on duty that day. It's hard being the new person again, but it's a great opportunity to hear how God has worked in many lives!

Before long the sermon was done and I went to find Ryan, mingling with a few others in the hall. He soon told me we'd be invited to lunch, so we set out with a group on the subway, headed to the "largest mall in Shanghai." Best part about it? Hadassah finally fell asleep in the ERGO. She just slept for 20 minutes, but it gave her up enough to be pleasant for a little while. Great conversation and a delicious, authentic Mexican grill (yes, in China!) made it worth the trip out of our way.

It was 12:45 PM now, but the day wasn't over. Shanghai Secondhand was located just 2 subway stops from where our church was (though now 8 stops from where we'd eaten lunch). But we were closer than we'd be all week, so we'd made an appointment to come by and pick up the things we'd picked out online.

Located on the 18th floor of an apartment building, the place was pretty cool. The owner had brought everything we asked for out for us to check. A couch, a rug, a few toys for Hadassah, a crib, an air purifier, large computer monitor for Ryan, and some bedding... well worth the trip for the price we paid! Everything was brought down the elevator and a truck called to transport, but we'd learned only Ryan would be able to ride with him home. So... it was time for my first time on the subway alone. With Hadassah, of course. ;)

I rehearsed with Ryan the transfers I was to make, then set off. Mercifully Hadassah fell asleep in the ERGO almost immediately (2:30 PM on just 20 minutes of sleep is too much for an 8-month old!) so I had 45 minutes of peace. I stood for the first part, to make sure she'd keep sleeping, then after a 15 minute walk through "Shanghai Railway Station" to make the first transfer, I sat, closing my eyes a few minutes myself. One nice thing about having a baby is that you always get offered a seat, no matter if they're all full or not. :)

She woke half-way through the second line, but was entertained by the grandma next to us. She smiled for a few pictures from random strangers (it's just part of life here), and we made it to the end with me singing songs for her. Another transfer. More entertainment by strangers. Hadassah was lasting surprisingly well, and there was even a lady that spoke English standing near me, so we learned a bit about each other. Babies are really good conversation openers.

It was 4 PM now. But we weren't home yet. I walked outside the station, a baby on my front, a backpack on my back, and an umbrella held overhead. It's one of those times where everything in you doesn't want to keep going, but you know you have to, so you do. Each step meant closer to home, closer to rest...

I stopped at Christine's (our local bakery) as a surprise for my husband who had been craving a muffin all day. After a day like today, it's worth 8 kui (just over $1 USD). Up the stairs, every bone in my body aching and ready to relax inside... to find that the door wouldn't open. After knocking to see if Ryan had by chance made it home before me, I mildly panicked, tried the key 5 more times, and then knocked on our neighbor's door. A cousin who was visiting took my key to try our door a few minutes later, when it opened - Ryan WAS home! Everything had already been unloaded (he was amazing!) and, being a sweaty mess after trecking up and down three flights of stairs multiple times, he'd jumped in the shower, turning the inside lock without thinking. The weird thing about these doors, though, is that if you lock them from the inside they will NOT be unlocked from the outside. So... we're trying to break old habits.

Finally, I was home. Hadassah was relieved to be OFF of me and play on the floor, and I was just as relieved to be separated from her. Much as I love being with my little girl, 8 consecutive hours of always being connected and often carrying her leaves us both needing a break. ;)

Since Hadassah was happy to play, and things were all in the kitchen blocking everything, we decided to move things into place. After quite a bit of brainstorming, including drawing 4 potential living room diagrams, we decided on the arrangement, and put Hadassah in her bed to play with some toys so she'd be safe.

After hearing happy noises as we lugged heavy furniture between rooms, suddenly I realized all was quiet, and looking in, saw that Hadassah had put herself to sleep! I guess after the subway all day, a bed with toys and the light on was actually pretty comfortable. ;) I turned her light off, closed the door, and we got it all set up. Our home is starting to feel more like a home...

Our neighbors came over to help us complete our order on an online website in Chinese (we finally have it figured out thanks to them!) while I made supper. They left, I nursed Hadassah and put her to bed, ate supper, did dishes... After a shower I decided I felt human again, and after a massage by my amazing husband decided I could face the week ahead.

So, our definition of a normal Sunday has changed - no long do images of an afternoon nap appear in our head - but we're settling in, and finding the new normal. One subway ride at a time.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Imputed righteousness and "the righteousness of God" in Romans 1:17

"In [the gospel] a/the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith as it is written, 'the righteous shall live by faith'." - Romans 1:17

So if you look at the bolded words, you might see something interesting in that verse.  There's a "righteousness" in the first half of the verse and a "righteous" at the end of the verse.  You'd be tempted to say that the first righteousness applied to God and the second one applied to man - except that there's that little phrase in the middle: "as it is written".  "As" links 1:17a and 1:17b and says that the two phrases are like each other in some way.  So if the second phrase (1:17b) is talking about the righteousness of man, it's likely that the first phrase (1:17a) is talking about the righteousness of man too.

This becomes even more clear when you look at a similar phrase that happens in Romans 3:21-22.  Check this out: "[21b] God’s righteousness has been revealed—attested by the Law and the Prophets [22a]—that is, God’s righteousness through faith in Jesus Christ."  Woah.  Did you just see that.  "God's righteousness".. okay... "through faith" what?  How can God's righteousness, if it's an attribute of Himself, be through faith?  If we ignore the new perspective for now (which would say it's talking about faithfulness), we have to admit that this is a very puzzling phrase.  A phrase that only makes sense if you take "God's righteousness" to mean "the righteousness that God gives to man".

Is there further evidence?  There is.  If we look outside of Romans, Paul says very similar things.  The most famous is Philippians 3:9 - "and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith."  The Greek is very similar here.  It just adds the word "ek", or "from".  But can you see Paul's point?  In Philippians, he has a righteousness that is from God. And since this is the point Paul is making in Romans too, it's likely that's what the phrase "righteousness of God" means when he uses it.  There's also 2 Cor 5:21 which says that we become "the righteousness of God".  So it applies that phrase to man, not God.

So which is it?  Is it the righteousness which is an attribute of God, or the righteousness which is an attribute imputed to man?

One very common (probably 90 % of commentators?) solution is to say it's "both and".  Both God's righteousness and our righteousness.  I have to say that this seems like the most likely interpretation to me.  But my western brain has a really had time allowing a phrase to have two meanings.  One of the first rules I learned about exegeting texts is that there is always only one interpretation but several applications.  A phrase shouldn't have two different meanings.  I've been told (ESV Study Bible notes) that Hebrew writers often used this tool (phrases with multiple meanings) to add more layers and richness to their prose.

Do you buy it?  Do you think this phrase can have two meanings?  If not, which meaning do you think Paul had in mind?

Sunday, July 13, 2014

What is "the righteousness of God" in Romans 1:17?

So last time in our series on "Reflections on Romans" (our periodic break from our chronicling of Hadassah and China), we glossed Romans 1:16-17 and acted like figuring out what the "righteousness of God" referred to in these verses meant.  But here's the thing: it's a really difficult thing to figure out.

Commentators have given it all sorts of meanings down through the years and all their work can be grouped under two main categories: (1) Those who see it as an attribute (or activity expressing an attribute) of God, and (2) Those who see it as an attribute of man.

And then you have those that try to form a synthesis of (1) and (2).  More on that later.

The reasons for (1), for seeing it as describing God, not man, are many.  (1.a) First of all, this is how the phrase is used in the Old Testament.  It's applied to God.  (1.b), The whole of Romans sets out God's justice.  And especially here in the first two chapters.  Man has "no excuse." (Rom 1:20 and 2:1a).  God's judgment is righteous (2:5b).  God's judgment "rightly falls" on people who sin (Rom 2:2).  God shows no impartiality (Rom 2:11).  And many more.  God is just.  He is righteous.  This is the message of Romans.  (1.c) Many commentators go this route.  This was how everyone interpreted the phrase before Luther.  And even most of the recent scholarship sees it falling under this head (they apply it to God, not man).  The NPP (new perspective on Paul) folks (e.g. E.P. Sanders, N.T. Wright, James D. G. Dunn), also fall into this category and so do some of the folks (e.g. Kasemann) they were arguing against.  Maybe they differ on some particular points, but they mainly apply the phrase to God.  And the conservative literature always allows for this category, but they usually have a "both and" approach.

But the reasons for (2), for seeing it as describing man, not God primarily, seem even more compelling.  (2.a) First, you kind of feel like you're not protestant if you don't take this perspective.  I've even heard one preacher say that you might not be a Christian if you don't understand this phrase here in this way.  Luther's entire Christian conversion experience hinged on this verse.  This verse, and his interpretation of it, were largely what God used to spark the entire reformation.  I probably wouldn't be here writing this blog post if Luther didn't understand this phrase in this sense: he saw the phrase as being the righteousness that God imputes to man.  And it converted him.  And following him in his interpretation is almost everyone in the protestant tradition who takes a side in the debate.  So you really feel "out of bounds" if you disagree with, well, everyone that matters.  But! Sola Scriptura.  I will plow on with my other supporting reasons to adopt the "(2)" position.

But I'll do that in the next post on it.  It's getting late.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Shang-highs and Shang-lows

The title is a term a co-worker of Ryan's used when we had him over for lunch today and he asked how it was going. He's also an American, so knows the fun yet difficulty of living in a different culture.

It is fun. These are precious times giving us memories and experiences that will stay with us the rest of our lives.

Yet it is difficult. There are days I just want to be done with it all - and we've only been here less than 2 months! But those difficult times are also good, as they're growing perseverance. 

And though I hesitate to call them "sufferings" (as they're very minor compared to what others face!), I want to have the attitude of Romans 5:3-5: "Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us." (ESV)

But I don't always. Recently, it seems like I often don't. And I've hesitated to blog about it because 1) it's humbling, 2) you probably don't need to read about my struggles, and 3) I don't want people to just respond with "you're amazing - don't beat yourself up" because while I do beat myself up more than I should sometimes, I know that this struggle is real, and something to be fought. It's the struggle against sin. Against selfishness. Against pride.

Many of the struggles, the lows, aren't all that different than what I'd face day-to-day in America. But somehow, they seem more pronounced here. Or maybe God is just using this place to draw them out of me, to make me see more of my need for Him.

I don't like it. I'm used to being able to "roll with the punches" and be "sweet" all the time. But lately, my stinky attitude has come out more than it should. I've not wanted to be real with my husband and been resentful of how much time my daughter takes from doing what I feel I need, or at least want to do.

And that's what it comes down to: focusing more on doing than being. An age-old struggle.

Life takes longer in China. EVERYTHING it seems. We've spent 3 evenings on our own and another long evening with our neighbor trying to order from a site (that's only in Chinese) that sells things more in bulk and at better prices only to run into issues again. I finally got a phone after a month here without one, but it took us 4 1/2 hours! And the shopping and cooking and cleaning and endless dishes seem to consume so much time.

But then I realize: we're all given 24 hours. We need to sleep. God's given us work to do. We can't always control what gets thrown in our path and changes our plans. But we can make a choice in our attitude, in how we're going to respond. And best of all, we can ask the Holy Spirit to give us the mind of Christ and make us more reliant on God. Because that's often where I fall short. Instead of letting Him work through me, I rush around trying to do it all. And I can't.

So there are lows. I wasn't looking forward to my birthday this year. More often than not when I thought about it in the week leading up to it, I'd start to cry. I was far away from so many people that I love, and far from my family as some face tough things. And it seemed we were too busy to have any time to celebrate anyway...

But then God gave me a beautiful birthday. He held off the rain and gave me an hour in a Chinese gazebo (a place I certainly never thought I'd be!) to journal. He gave me a husband and daughter that made the day so special just because we were together. He took care of Hadassah more, picked out pastries from the local shop for me to enjoy, and just made me feel so loved. And I realized that that is what I wanted anyway. I'm in a new season, and it is very sweet, especially if I focus on the blessings and being thankful. My goal for this year of being 24. :)

Yesterday was another low. Hadassah woke up very early. Again. It threw the whole morning off as she was cranky and so was I. Mothering is tough. I don't like finding my joy in how well Hadassah is doing - I know it's not wise now or ever! - but too often I do. Ryan and I didn't communicate well and while we asked forgiveness and he treated me so gently, I felt so unworthy of the love. Hadassah then had a short nap and woke up in the middle of my Chinese lesson very fussy, wanting attention while I was trying to learn. Not a good combination...

But grace... God's grace. It's amazing.

Hadassah went back down for a long nap after my teacher left, and woke up pleasant and refreshed. I got an email from a friend in the states sharing some of her own mothering struggles, making me realize I'm not alone. Ryan brought home flowers. I don't know how he does it, but he does. 

And I made the choice yet again to choose joy instead of focusing on what I wish was different. May I do that more often.

Besides, if I focus on the joys of motherhood and what fun my little girl is instead of all the work to do - while still teaching her there are times Mommy needs to do chores and she needs to entertain herself - it's better for both of us.

So this is kind of a hodge-podge or ramblings you probably didn't need to read. But maybe you did. Maybe you're thinking that because we moved overseas we're a different kind of Christian, who doesn't struggle. Ha! Not at all. We're sinners saved by grace. Glorious grace that we want to share with others. God, give us the opportunities and the words.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

A trip to the post office...

When Ryan and I were courting and we were talking about desire to potentially live overseas one day, either he or my dad brought up the fact that "a trip to the post office can take all day!" Now I know what that means...

We are daily blessed by our neighbors, who not only provide friendship but also translate for us. On Sunday we got a text saying the mailman had left a package notice on the door to our building that was for us. Since we weren't home, we were to call him. So on Monday I called, only to have him hang up after I tried to explain in English what I was calling about. Evidently he didn't understand. ;) So that evening we asked our neighbors and they talked on the phone to him. It turns out the package (an amazing care package from our Iowa Northbrook Baptist Church!) had been broken in transport so we had to come and pick it up instead of them delivering it. No problem... right?

So I wrote a letter, thinking if we were going to the post office, I may as well have something to mail. Ryan figured out where it was using Baidu maps, and we set out on the bike on Wednesday around 5 PM. We drove the route, and pulled into what looked to be a warehouse. But it said "China Post." We were an unusual site, an American couple plus a baby on an e-bike, so a guy came out to see what we wanted. He didn't speak English, and we didn't speak much Chinese. Unfortunately we'd misplaced the packing slip they'd taped to our door too.

It was rather hilarious. Ryan pulled out his passport, hoping he'd recognize the name. Didn't work. He made the shape of a box with his hands, said the word for "things" and then said "BSSHHSHSHHH” and made his hands explode. Made the guy laugh, but he was still confused. Then I remembered: I'd learned the word for broken in my first Chinese lesson! "pò" I said... "package pò." He understood! Makes all those sessions of brain-spinning work worth it!

And, for the record, usually Ryan does all the Chinese talking and does it well. The fact that I knew a word he didn't know is VERY rare. And made me just a little happy. :)

He led us inside and by showing our passports, they located the package with our name. The first guy kept saying "BSSHHSHSHHH”while his hands exploded and then laughing - guess we'd made his day. :) They showed us the list of what was in the package, then cut it open and began taking things out to put in another box. It looked like the box had gotten stabbed with a forklift or something, which had also punctured the bag of cornmeal and spilled it all over everything else. But everything else - chocolate chips, mint chips, baking powder, candles, bath & body works soap, bows for Hadassah, and seed packets for herbs!! - was in great condition, and I still intend to use that cornmeal left in the bag. ;)

Ryan balanced the box between his feet on the e-bike and we made it home. But I still had a letter to mail, as where we'd been wasn't the place! Another search on Baidu maps, another trip on the e-bike, only to discover what we found didn't do mail out of country.

We stopped at a little courtyard park on the way home and had Hadassah walk between us and took turns lifting her and spinning around. We hadn't found the true post office to mail things yet, but we were a family. And right then, that was enough.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Americans in China

We got July 4th sooner here than in the states. I (Anna) really missed being away from all of the red white & blue decorations and going on a family picnic then watching fireworks. Being overseas really drives home how you miss those family traditions. But, we celebrated none-the-less.

We're also so grateful for the freedom in America. You notice the difference when you're in a country that's not free.

 We dressed in red, white, & blue!

 Our little firecracker keeps our lives sparkling!

 Strawberry Shortbread helped chase away the blues of missing home and all things July 4th ;)

 Since it was raining, we had a picnic in our living room. I splurged and bought beef to make hamburgers, and we listened to patriotic music as we ate, courtesy of YouTube. :)

Finishing off with watermelon!

It was good. :)

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Doing without

Our other 18 boxes have been stuck in Chinese customs all week. Evidently they weren't satisfied with the lists of what was inside (to be fair, the shipping company in the US had priced them rather low) and wanted more details. So, we spent 6-7 hours of Saturday making a very detailed list, with fair values of what each thing was worth. Not how we wanted to spend our Saturday, but with it being exactly a month since we moved in, we're more than ready to get the things we planned to use in the apartment.

We got it sent in, only to find that they needed the list of everything translated into Chinese. Yeah. What?? God has been very gracious in providing a wonderfully kind co-worker of Ryan's, who worked on translating a lot of it, and then Ryan finished using Google translate.

What seemed like it was an easy, "may as well bring this stuff since Ryan's company will reimburse us for shipping expenses" has turned into kind of a massive headache. But, the 18th list is sent in this morning, and we're hoping to get the boxes soon.

So, since our life is about to get a lot more "filled in" with things, I thought I'd make a list of things I've learned while doing without. You really can make do!

  • Chopsticks made good rolling pins, at least for homemade tortillas. They also make great stirrers for soups and batters, and if you're trying to get a curly noodle out of a boiling pot to test the done-ness while holding your baby in one arm, tada! They work great. :)
  • Without measuring cups or spoons? A small 8 oz glass works as a cup, and you get really good at estimating 1/3, 1/2, etc. A plastic spoon works as a Tablespoon and baby spoons work great as teaspoons!
  • Speaking of spoons, 4 plastic forks can last for a month with continuous washing. Plastic spoons don't fare so well - after two weeks they gave way. ;) But who said baby spoons were just for babies? ;)
  • Wanting to bake? A small pot you'd usually use on the stove, but is all metal, can be used to make pot pie, casseroles, and more!
  • No oven? We were there for two weeks and discovered that banana bread batter makes the most AMAZING pancakes. We're not going back.
  • Want whipped cream but have no blending device? Put heavy cream in a tupperware-type container and shake away! It didn't take as long as I thought it would!
Living with little has been refreshing, though. Less to clean and put back in its place. Less to get in the way. But I am ready for our shelves to have some books and to have family pictures in their place and a few more outfits to choose from and real silverware and... it will be great. :)

But we are amazed at the provision of God. We rented an apartment with a very kind landlady who has lent us sheets, pillows, towels, and let us use the few dishes and wonderful sharp knives that were in the cupboards. I don't know what we would have done without it.

And another amazing provision? I found a second hand shop!! Contrary to assumption, things over here really aren't cheaper than in the US, especially when you're used to thrift store prices. has me feeling like I've struck gold. Since it's 1 1/2 hours away from us, we will have to set up an appointment to go and rent a truck to bring stuff home. But with pictures of everything online, we can browse what we want before we arrive. Better yet? It's in the same exact area as the like-minded fellowship we were put in contact with, so we'll likely be going to that area every Sunday.

God provides.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Shopping in Minhang

Shanghai is a huge city. We live on the outskirts in the Minhang District which is nice (less crowded, more green space) unless you want to get together with other foreigners or go to any major store or church - then it takes an hour by subway to get there. And that's just to get to downtown! But for what we want - being close to Ryan's work so he doesn't have a long commute and being able to get to know Chinese neighbors - our location works perfectly.

Shopping for food has seemed like it consumes life since we've gotten to Shanghai. In Iowa, I'd take a few hours one afternoon, hit 3 stores in quick succession, and come home with a trunk full of groceries that would last a week. But here, it's a bit different:

Each morning I take Hadassah out soon after Ryan goes to work. We enjoy walking around, picking up pretty leaves, and sometimes talking to neighbors or other babies. She usually gets held and admired by someone along the way. ;) Then we go to the convenience mart right outside our apartment gate. I put her in the ERGO and carry home two 4 L bottles of water. 

It's not what we want to do long term - we're researching a water filter currently, as buying water adds up over time, not to mention all the plastic we're using. But in the meantime, it works. 

The Vegetable Stand
On Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings a vegetable stand is set up in our apartment complex. Talk about convenient! From it I buy potatoes, onions, garlic, and tomatoes to cook with. I also get fresh eggs!! After not one but TWO instances of buying eggs in the mesh bag they come in at the supermarket only to have them break on us in transport... Ryan was trying to convince me it wasn't worth the hassle and just to order them online at 3x the cost when our Grandma neighbor introduced me to this vegetable stand and I came home with eggs at LESS than supermarket costs! Win win. :) 

The Fruit Stand
This is just a five-minute walk from our apartment, so it's also very convenient! From it I buy any fruit that I can peel. Usually I go two afternoons a week, so I can keep a supply of good bananas on hand. :)

Our excursion looks something like this:

"Hadassah, do you want to go shopping?"

(Confession: This wasn't just before we left and she was clapping about something else. But too cute not to post!)

After Hadassah plays in her bed with toys while I carry the stroller down and we get our shoes on, I carry her down and we head out. She's always quite happy to see the world from her stroller.

There's our local fruit stand!

So far all of the fruit I've gotten has been delicious. The owners love seeing us come, too, as they get to play with Hadassah. There are always one or two or more people entertaining her as she's parked in front in her stroller while I shop. I found it funny that at first the owner would help me, holding bags open for me to put my fruit it. Now she just goes straight to Hadassah and I help myself to the bags. ;)

Back at the apartment with our loot! On this day I also got water, as 2 containers doesn't always last us for a full 24 hours. The basket underneath her stroller I'm afraid I overload, but how else do you get home a small watermelon, two things of water, and a bag of other apples, nectarines, and bananas?

It takes 3 trips to get everything up the stairs, but hey, all this stair climbing with weights is making me strong!

Online + Delivery
This is the more expensive option, but to get vegetables and fruit we don't have to peel or meat we can trust, this is the way to go. A few things are also cheaper than the local supermarket. It's really nice to be able to pick things out in English (the sites I use cater to foreigners) and if I place my order in the morning, often it's delivered that afternoon! They also carry the box of groceries up all the stairs for me, which is a great plus. :) And, above a certain total price (which isn't all that much) delivery is free!

The websites all sell organic food, free-range, grass-fed, etc. It makes it more expensive, though some things are comparable to US prices. But I do find it funny that it took moving to China for us to eat more organic, with local eggs and produce. :)

The Supermarket
By far the most difficult of the options, nonetheless it is needed for dry goods and diapers. Our cloth diapers are coming in our boxes, so soon we won't have to make emergency treks in the rain for them! ;) 

Ryan's gone with me quite a few times, as it's just easier. But I'm determined to do it myself, as it's exhausting after a day of work. Hadassah and I have made the trip together successfully twice now, with only a few minor meltdowns, so we're getting there. 

It involves a 20-30 minute walk both ways (which I enjoy - it's mostly on a sidewalk lined with pretty trees providing shade!) and then we lock up the stroller to enter the mall the supermarket is in. They have narrow openings to prevent shopping carts from leaving the premises, which incidentally prevents strollers from getting in. But Hadassah enjoys sitting in the cart, while I try to push and prevent her from eating the change to lock it up and prevent her from toppling over, which I've learned she doesn't enjoy. ;)

The supermarket has two levels, and was completely overwhelming my first few times. I can't look at overhead signs to find anything (they're all in Chinese!) so I have to examine each item to see if I can find one that has English to know what's in the bag. Finally, though, I feel like I somewhat know my way around, at least to find the regular things I need. I'm also trying to stock up little by little (since I can only transport things back in the stroller basket and in a backpack!) so as to hopefully only have to make the trek every-other week.

Shopping in Minhang... not for the faint of heart. ;) Takes the focus of a whole day to plan menus, shopping lists, order online and go to the supermarket, and that's just to get food for a week! But, it's definitely an adventure.