Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Just a morning Bible study...

Maybe my successful Saturday excursion gave me too much confidence. Or maybe, I'm just starving. Starving for community, for spiritual conversations, for time to be with other moms and learn from them, ultimately looking to the One who is more than enough when we're not.

So, today, I decided I would stop making excuses, that it's too far. Just one time a week - I can do it, right? I'd never wanted to try before when Hadassah had a morning nap, and didn't think it worth trying when another baby was on the way and it soon wouldn't work again, but decided to seize the time I have. 

Last week I looked up Bible Study Fellowship, as they have quite a few meeting places in Shanghai. But, no - they are all in the more foreigner-friendly parts of the city. Makes sense. But, if I'm going to travel that far, I may as well try to get to know other moms from church. I remembered one mom saying she had a morning Bible study at her house, and looking her up in the directory I realized she was one of the "closest" people to us, so it was worth trying.

But sometimes I think where we live, way out almost at the end of the southern-most metro line, really shouldn't be a part of Shanghai. It's deceiving. You think "Oh - I live in Shanghai... there is so much available in this city!" and then you realize it takes at least 45 minutes by taxi or way more by subway to get almost anywhere...

I don't want to complain. Just keeping it real. It's a challenge. So, here's what a simple trip to a church Bible study looked like for me.

The morning passed quickly. I aimed to leave at 8:30 AM, but it was 8:45 before I made it out the door... Only when I got in the taxi did I realize I'd forgotten to put my Bible in the bag. Oops.

I've given up trying to walk to the subway station. An extra 20 minutes is just not something I have most days, and I've given up trying to navigate a stroller alone in the subway when elevators are scare and there aren't always escalators to count on, so I go ahead and spend the money on the taxi. I think it's ironic that a 5 minute taxi ride costs the equivalent of $2 while an hour long subway commute using three metro lines costs the equivalent of $1. I guess that's the beauty of a vast network of public transportation used by millions.

Hadassah was excited to be out. She's come to enjoy going in taxis and the "subway choo choo" more as she's gotten more observant and interested in surroundings. She pointed out taxis and buses and dump trucks, and once we got to the platform eagerly looked down the tracks for our "choo choo" to come. I love her sparkling curiosity.

We went to the end of line 5, and joined the masses waiting to board line 1. Some of the excitement had worn off for Hadassah, so we pulled out an early snack soon after taking our seat on line 1 and trying to answer the curious grandma's questions before running out of answers in Chinese and "I don't understand" being the go-to. She continued to look at Hadassah and make comments the whole time, causing Hadassah to avoid looking at her most of the time. As more and more people got on at every stop, "people! Lots - lots - people" became Hadassah's refrain. She is interested in them, but it's also a bit overwhelming for a 1 1/2 year old, especially when they are interested in her too!

From line 1 to line 4 it was a bit of a walk through the station, but Hadassah got to get some energy out as I told her to look for the big number 4 arrows on the ground. She practically ran, holding my hand, from arrow to arrow, as we announced "ding ding ding!" as we stepped on each one. I love how almost anything can be made a game to a toddler. A diaper change standing up (we're getting better at those these days - changing tables are a rare luxury in public places) and "just one more stop" I promised my little girl.

Thankfully the walk through the station and then to our friend's apartment only totaled about 10 minutes, especially since Hadassah wanted to be carried most of the way due to the busyness of the surroundings. My friend had given very detailed directions, which I was grateful for... I am always pretty amazed still when I make it through the maze of unknown streets and endless apartment buildings to the correct one though! 

I was just 15 minutes late. It had taken an hour and 15 minutes door to door. It's funny how that would have been unthinkable in the states - anything over a 20-30 minute drive was something to question "is this worth it?" But standards change when this is pretty much the closest anyone from church lives to you. Yes, a taxi would have cut down the time a little, but not a lot in the morning, as the roads are full of cars with workers on their commutes. Plus, paying $35 round trip for a Bible study isn't something to take lightly.

The study was good. It was refreshing to open God's Word with other women, and hear their insights and be forced to think more about a passage easy to read. It was half in Chinese, as some didn't speak English too well, and everyone else but me understood Chinese. The host graciously translated in a quiet voice for me as needed, and it wasn't a bother. It was really encouraging to be in a study with other believers in two languages.

It was a lot for Hadassah, though. She started crying as soon as we entered the house, something she almost always does when we visit a new person's home. I'm not sure why. She gets scared I'm going to leave her or something, though we've only left her twice before for friends to babysit, and I'd assured her multiple times on the way there that I would be staying with her. She quieted when I told her there were snacks on the table, and was fine for a bit, though wanting to stay by me. We found some new books she could read on the floor next to me, but when another little girl sat down and accidentally hit her hand lightly in the process, she lost it again. Complete meltdown, tears and sobs. I tried to calm her in the kitchen, knowing she wasn't hurt, telling her the other girl had an "uh oh" in sitting down. She really had a hard time stopping the tears, though, and as I tried to figure out what was wrong, kept saying "people people." Somehow, in a city of 24 million, we have a little girl who is very wary of anyone new... or perhaps it's a result? I know part of it is her young age, and part of it is a lack of a normal routine where we visit others.

There were 3 other moms apart of the study, so for the rest of the hour it was common that at least one mom was absent from the table, trying to calm a child, all of whom were under 3. It was hard to see the place set up for them to play, and while Hadassah did finally get a little more at ease, and venture off to play with a toy for a few minutes at a time, it was a constant back and forth. I didn't feel it right to try to make her stay out of sight, or to make her sit with me the whole time after she had to sit on my lap so long on the subway. She was the youngest there too, so more easily hurt/scared/toys taken from, etc. But, we made it through and I enjoyed looking at Mark 2 more closely.

The meltdowns escalated as lunch time neared, not just from Hadassah, so I knew it was time to leave. Hadassah had just discovered the stairs and was enjoying getting energy out climbing up and down with my supervision as we prepared to say goodbye. I told her it was time to go, and picked her up to get her shoes, and immediately there was a struggle, and then loud, piercing screams of rage. Never have I seen such a tantrum from her... We have been working on teaching her not to scream, as she does do it when things don't go her way sometimes, but it's usually just one, not continuous, almost out of control ones... I focused on getting out the door, a little embarrassed, but also realizing how hard the morning had been for my little girl. While there isn't an excuse for tantrums, there are factors that play into them being more likely, and she'd had many: being in a huge crowd while traveling for over an hour, being in a new place, with more new people (though she recognized a few from church, we know none of them well), not getting any outside time to run off her energy like she usually does in the morning, and the confusion of learning to play with other toddlers - but more often just getting things taken from her - without much supervision from mom.

So, feeling weary thinking about the commute we had ahead, we headed home. This time, thankfully, it didn’t seem as long since we had lunch to eat. There are times it’s nice that it takes a toddler as long as it does to chew her food! She even had fun smiling at the grandma who was copying Hadassah’s actions and pantomiming others across from us.

Hadassah always enjoys talking to her "friends" the cute stickers as we wait for our subway train to arrive. She points to each and has learned their names: Gēgē (older brother), Dìdì (younger brother), Mama, Nǎinai (grandma), Robot... :)
We made it home without any meltdowns. Food plus knowledge we were going home to take a nap helped. She may not have gotten her energy released outside, but she – and I! – had got worn out in other ways.

So, four hours for a Bible study. More time spent traveling than spent at the study. Worth it? It was refreshing to be with others, but it’s just not something I can repeat. I have to think about my daughter’s needs too, and this was stretching her a bit too far.

I am thankful for the Wednesday evening fellowship we’ve recently been having with two other American families in our area. They invited us into their meetings, and this will be the third week for a time of fellowship, then some songs, a story, and short prayer time with and for the children. We have to leave to put Hadassah to bed so we miss out on the adult prayer and meeting (they live in the same complex so it works for their kids to sleep while they meet), but it’s been good to have some regular people she sees once/week without a long commute (though a 15 minute walk can seem an eternity in a downpour – don’t ask how we know!). I’ve even met up for play dates once or twice with the other moms, so I am very thankful for this local fellowship that recently opened up. I am going to ask if they want to do a mom’s Bible study, and if that doesn’t work, perhaps I’ll find something online to be a part of.

But, at least I can say that I tried. And I will never take a close-by Bible study for granted again. I have a feeling that whenever we’re living in the states again, we’re going to be in awe of how little time it takes to get together with friends, and I’ve determined to be pro-active about being a part of church community when it is actually a possibility!

And one day, I'll have some crazy memories to look back on... Remember when I traveled 2 1/2 hours round trip to go to a Bible study?

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