Nostalgia


autumn-moments

{Octoberfest is my blog event in which I attempt to write every day during the month of October as a pre-cursor to Nanowrimo in November. Welcome to the insanity.}

Whenever I listen to Steven Curtis Chapman I am instantly transported to a car. The white Chrysler van with the single sliding door, the other two mini vans my family owned, the eggplant (ugly) truck that my dad traded his mid-life crisis car for, the various Hondas we’ve had. They all blasted his music at sometime or another.

Every time we moved as a family we played “The Great Adventure”. We played it loud and screeched the lyrics until we were hoarse, getting the lyrics wrong as often as we got them right. It was always the start of our next great adventure. I’m not sure when it became tradition, actually. I just know it happened.

“Signs of Life” was the song that was playing the first time we, as a family unit, saw my oldest sister a little toasted after drinking one too many strawberry daiquiris during a memorable Fourth of July. With four of us squeezed into the back of the truck, going to watch the fireworks from the mountains of Colorado, she burst into tears. “This is such a sad song!” We all paused before laughter bubbled up.

“What Now” was my song in high school, when that was my catch phrase. It was also the song that got me through the long, lonely nights of my freshman year during the fights with my flatmate. “Speechless” was another that helped me through that dark time. I would play them as I drove alone in my little red Dodge Neon (the little engine that couldn’t) and sing with tears in my eyes.

My mom and I went to a SCC concert shortly after “All Things New” came out and saw him perform so many of my favorite childhood songs. It was a pretty great night. We sang songs the whole way home.

My favorite song is probably “Dive” though. We came up with motions one day in that ugly truck with my dad. He’s so serious a lot of the time, I cling to the memories when he was just silly with us. “The river’s deep, the river’s wide, the river’s water is alive” was belted as we gestured wildly, startling the drivers on either side of us.

Now, in China, I don’t have a car. I just close my eyes and imagine that I’m back in those protected spaces. It’s the perfect bit of nostalgia in my day.

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My June


It’s been a little while since I’ve posted. Primarily because I’ve been a little busy. And I was sick. But here’s a roundup of my month thus far:

  • I’m a blog addict again. I have a list of blogs I visit every other day and I’m obsessed. I’ll compile a list and make a post about them later in the month.
  • I’m a bullet journal person now. I started yesterday, so maybe this is a bit premature, but essentially I’m making my own planner and it’s WONDERFUL. I’ll write a post on this too. Probably later today.
  • I’ve only finished one book this month. It’s weird. I’m working my way through quick-read #2. I have four audiobooks from Overdrive (GOD BLESS OVERDRIVE). They are part of the A Year of Weddings series. I liked A January Bride. It was cute. An author I know, Beth Vogt, wrote the November one, and I’m excited to read it. I enjoy her books a lot.
  • I had the flu and it made me realize I love my work. I hated not being productive. Even reading or writing blog posts is productivity for me. If I read 4 books in a weekend, it was a productive weekend. Even if they were easy books to read. When I was sick, I couldn’t really do anything. I had a fierce headache. I couldn’t read or watch movies. It was miserable. I spent my time listening to audiobooks and wishing I could die a little. But I hated doing nothing. It’s a new feeling for me.
  • I am obsessed with lettering. You’ll see some when I post pics of my new bullet journal. But I’ve joined Skillshare so I can get even better. I need to get a couple sketchbooks so I can indulge a little more. And more pens. Like calligraphy pens. I’m in love. I hope I never stop being this creative, because it pulls me in a million directions and I write more.
  • I’ve been working on Raina. It’s not great, but it’s good. As I go through the second draft, I thrust bits toward different people and demand that they read and give me a REAL opinion. And they do. I think it’s going to become really good. I’m hopeful.
  • God is always moving, always working, always loving. I’m showered by grace and beauty and love every day. Even when I feel alone and in despair, it shines through. It’s so good.

And that’s June so far. Yay.

What I Learned in May


I’ve never done one of these, but I always read them on Emily Freeman’s blog and this month I have learned a lot. So I’m throwing my hat in.

What I Learned in May

1. I love my family, but I don’t miss home. Sometimes I miss my family so much it physically hurts (today was one of those days), but after going to the USA for a week, I realized I don’t have roots and right now, that’s okay. I don’t miss the US like I thought I would and I have a very different worldview. It doesn’t mean I don’t love my family like crazy and it doesn’t mean I’ll never go back. It means that I’m in a state of floating and it’s good.

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This is Brianna in a shark onesie. This was me today. I was pretending to be Brianna who was pretending to be a shark in this picture.

2. Best friends don’t stay that way. My expectations of people have always been super high, but starting in the beginning of May, I realized I don’t have a healthy idea of what friendship is. People who were your besties won’t remain that way forever. Sometimes you’ll leave and find your way back to each other. Sometimes you don’t talk to someone for years, but when you finally do, you realize you’ve been best friends all along. Friendship status is forever fluctuating but the love remains. Always.

3. Creativity is my jam. In the past two or three days, I’ve offered all sorts of creative ideas at work. And I’m crazy good at it. I write during my office hours in the afternoon and do my office work when I go in early in the morning. Because I don’t want to waste time. Today I lettered a welcome board for our new people. I had so much fun. And Jen and I came up with an awesome idea for our teams to explore and enjoy some creativity. So go us. I’m genuinely excited for the upcoming months at my job.

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4. Bitten wasn’t that good. This was an important lesson for me. After binging the third season on Netflix, I was just really sad. I’m changing, because I didn’t even enjoy the badness that much. But I’ll always miss it. And I’ll re-watch the first season again, because I love it so much.

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5. Not all bad movies are good bad movies. I’m looking at you, In the Name of the King. It was the worst movie I’ve ever seen and not in a good way.

6. The Bible is not just communicating. It’s wooing. The Listening Life is tearing up my life. I’m learning so much and applying it. One thing that I’m learning is that the Bible isn’t just a manual. It’s not dry. It’s alive. It’s whispering poetry in my ear. It’s telling me stories and luring me in. The Word woos. Which is insanely awesome, in the old school ‘I’m in awe’ way. I mean, I’ve been genuinely spiritually attacked this week. I know, that’s not something you really want to be excited about (especially when you gave in to terror and temptation). However, it kind of means I’m growing. And that gets me excited. I want to listen. I want to be like Jesus. I want to change. I know that I’m moving forward, and I can see where I’m different even from a few months ago. My time reading…er…listening (because when you read and absorb, you’re listening to God’s words) is a huge factor in that.

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God has been so gracious with me this past month. I see how much He showed me and I’m so grateful to be moving forward. I still don’t know exactly what I’m going to do come August. But I know that whatever happens, I’m on a path toward perfection, toward beauty, and toward the One who chases me and woos me and genuinely loves me. I’m running, pursued by the Hound of Heaven. So thanks, May, for teaching me all these things.

Home


So I spent a week in the States. And ohmygoodness.

“How was it?” People have asked. My response?

“FREEDOM.”

Freedom of information, internet, love, laughter, angst, anger, food, drink, cheese, coffee, bottle sizes, hugs, awkwardness, driving, and grammatical errors.

“Did you have a good time?’

“FREEDOM.” I’m not joking, this has been a response. America is just so much easier than China. I stared at the white people when I arrived. I talked to every person because I knew they would understand. Everyone speaks English. I was able to help the Chinese people that were coming into the country, which was a beautiful thing.

“Such a short time!”

Yes. I wish it had been longer. I wish I could have gone to the beach and swam in the ocean. I wish I could have seen my other grandmother and grandfather (Hi, Gigi and Tommy!). I wish I could have seen my Chicago family and my Ohio family. It was far too short a time.

“I can’t believe you came back.”

Well, I made a commitment and my nest is here. And I discovered that leaving Shanghai will be very easy once I have the promise and security of a job and a new nest wherever I move.

“Are you going to move back?”

Yes. But maybe not when everyone thinks or expects I will. I’m not sure yet what God has in store, but I am going to apply for jobs and wait in the expectation that He knows my heart’s desire and will fulfill it if He pleases. I know exactly what I want, though I’m hesitant to voice it right now to others. I want to wait and see. But this trip home did clarify what I want from my future more than I expected it would. I got the answer I was looking for, I just have to work out the details.

I was ultimately struck by the amazing freedoms that US citizens have and take for granted. I relished every time I logged on to Facebook or my email without having to turn on my VPN. I enjoyed every sip of good wine. I loved the food and liberal amount of cheese that sprinkles everything. I also loved how EVERYONE spoke English. I’d forgotten what it was like.

But I wouldn’t trade my time here for the world, and I’m not sure it’s over yet. I’m excited to continue here for the next couple of months at least and see what happens. I missed my Shanghai family when I was gone (and I am soooooo looking forward to seeing them again soon).

I missed my family, but family and my home are two different places right now. And I’m okay with that. I hope that they can be closer soon though, because this trip broke the bank.

Listen


I stand alone.

Noise,

Noise surrounds me.

I can’t hear.

Where are you?

Is that your voice?

Hard to tell.

But no…

It’s not you.

I know that voice.

It’s me.

Was I always so loud?

Shh…

Quiet.

Be still.

Know.

Shh…

Quiet.

Listen.

Here’s what I learned clearing out my email inbox:


  1. That I wasn’t a slacker when it came to applying for jobs in the years 2013-2014. I deleted HUNDREDS of confirmation emails from places, confirming that they received my application. I feel like I probably didn’t pursue many of them as hardcore as I should have, but I put in a lot of effort. It’s good to know.
  2. That I emailed people with alarming regularity when I lived in King George. When I moved to Ohio, email became a thing of the past.
  3. I met some of the most awesome people ever in 2015. My Brio people meant the world to me and I have lots of emails regarding shift swaps to prove it. (I MISS YOU ALL SO MUCH MARK, ELLEN, CALEB, EMMA, ETC!)
  4. I actually wrote stuff. I sent it to Colin and he read it and sent me his stuff and I read it. I miss that a lot.
  5. Emails CAN taste like passive-aggressive. I could feel it from YEARS away.
  6. The Jane Austen Kappa Kappa Book Club was a HUGE part of my life. Until it wasn’t. It simply vanished from existence. Which is alarming.
  7. Also, my community group was ON POINT with the weekly emails. Do they still do that? I don’t get them anymore if they do.
  8. 2015 was the year of the gift card for birthday presents.
  9. I have (had?) awesome friends in Ohio who were always willing to spur me on. I have great friends here in Shanghai, but it is different. And I can’t even say how, except that I feel the love through emails.
  10. Mark’s story!!! OMG YES! Colin’s story! HA! ALL THE WRITING IN PROGRESS! Wait, is that…mine? Nope. Delete that shit.
  11. The email game upped my first two months here in Shanghai and then stopped. Like completely. Whoops.
  12. I am STILL receiving The Daily from Moody. MAKE IT STOP.
  13. Oh, look. A present from Dad. He’s so thoughtful.
  14. Amazon and I have an intimate relationship. I get emails from them practically daily.
  15. Ultimately this reminded me that I don’t suck as much as I thought I did and that I spend way too much money on books. I’m a good friend. I email people. They email me. I have good relationships. I’m not quite as lazy as I thought I was (SCORE!) and yeah…I read a lot.

I’m glad to have a clean inbox. Sigh.

When you feel unloved…


Cry.

Write.

Sing at the top of your lungs.

Drink tea.

Read the Bible.

“Cast your burden upon the Lord and He will sustain you; He will never allow the righteous to be shaken.” – Psalm 55:22

Immerse yourself in the character traits of God.

Read as many devotionals as you can.

Find powerful blogs.

Laugh out loud, even if you don’t feel like it.

Cry more.

Text a friend about chili and smoothies.

Create a “Sad and Lonely” playlist. (Starfield, Jaci Velasquez, and Switchfoot, make it old school).

Write letters to people who have hurt you (with no intention of mailing them).

Obsess over tattoo ideas.

“Every lament is a love song.” -Switchfoot

Create something.

Sit in silence.

Clean your room.

Don’t blame other people for your emotions. Own them. It’s no one’s fault that you feel this way, it just is.

Read ridiculous books (like the Twenty-Sided Sorceress series).

“Come, Lord Jesus, come.”

Write letters to friends you miss or who have been going through a hard time.

Know that you are loved, even when you don’t feel like it. Emotions are valid. It’s okay to feel unloved, but recognize the truth: you are loved and valued. If the people around you aren’t showing it to you, that’s okay. Everyone’s busy and involved in their own lives. Just like you are. Truth trumps emotions. Every time.

How Do They DO It??


So I’m addicted to stationary and planners. I love them soooo much. I have all these delusions about them that I can create beautiful organized things and that I will use it ALL THE TIME. I’m very Hyperbole and a Half during these times.

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Allie Brosh is my spirit animal. I don’t say that lightly.

I troll Pinterest and find all sorts of inspirational planner/stationary ideas. I visit blogs and I fall down the rabbit hole. (Side note: Thank God my blog is finally beautiful, because some of the layouts would make me want to kill myself otherwise.) It becomes desperately important for me to have a perfectly organized planner, as it demonstrates that I have a perfectly organized life. And I find myself in a hole of pity and self-loathing by the end of the night.

Which leads me to wonder, those people who pin on Pinterest and who blog and do all the organizing: HOW DO THEY DO IT?? What is their secret? Are they magic? Why can’t I do it?

I don’t know, but I’m asking, Internet. What is the secret to organizational success? If you have any insight, please comment.

Embracing the E-book


There have been fights. Wars have been waged. I used to stand in the middle of the road. Electronic books? Or physical books? I liked both. I still do. But I’m willing to be honest. I leaned on the side of owning a physical copy. Because there are few things in life that are comparable to the smell and tactile comfort of a book.

HOWEVER. Living in Shanghai makes getting your hands on English books a little…impossible. So I’ve expanded my ebook library quite a bit since living here. And I’ve used my online library app like it’s a real library. I put things on hold. And I never have to worry about late fees. It’s beautiful. *wipes tears away*

I have to admit now, that I may have been wrong. Ebooks are becoming a way of life for me. They are easier and cheaper than real books (and yes, I’m calling them “real”; obviously I’m still biased). Sure, I miss holding books and reading them. But allow me to live with my delusions and say that ebooks don’t suck and I’m ridiculously grateful to have access to them here in the land of censorship. I still spend more in a year on books than on anything else. It’s both terrifying and comforting.

I LOVE EBOOKS. End of story.

A Cure for Loneliness?


I started reading this book recently: The Listening Life: Embracing Attentiveness in a World of Distraction by Adam S. McHugh. It was a recommendation in Simply Tuesdays by Emily P. Freeman.

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Simply Tuesdays was a good book. It didn’t hand me an overwhelming amount of new information. I knew most of what she told me. However, it was a book that caused me to re-evaluate areas of my life and it took me months to finish it. She referenced the listening book multiple times and there was something in me that said, “YOU NEED THAT.” Maybe it was the Holy Spirit.

So I bought it. But, like the true rebel I am, I didn’t read it. It just sat on my kindle for a while. Chilling. Waiting for me to get around to it.

Today, I started reading it while I was waiting at the bank. I always bring a book to the bank because transferring money takes a few hours (not joking). And as I sat in the lobby, I felt my soul take a breath and thought, “This is what I’ve needed for a while. This book.”

This doesn’t happen to me often. I don’t often feel such an intense emotional need for a book besides the Bible and like, Jane Austen. So I’ve been reading it throughout my day, in-between classes, during meals. And I’ve wanted to cry multiple times and I’m only in chapter one.

The main quote that has gotten me is about why we fail to listen. One of the reasons he lists is loneliness.

We’re lonely. Mother Teresa called loneliness the leprosy of the Western world, maybe even more devastating than Calcutta poverty. Loneliness drives to talk about ourselves to excess and to turn conversations toward ourselves. It makes us grasp on to others, thinking their role is to meet our needs, and it shrinks the space we have in our souls for welcoming others in. That loneliness would keep us from listening, and others from listening to us, is a tragedy, because being listened to is one of the great assurances in this universe that we are not alone.

To be an unprofessional writer: Like, wow.

I can’t stop thinking about this idea. Loneliness is driving me to obsess about myself. To be needy and demand that others listen and it is preventing true fellowship. How do I rid myself of this disease? By listening. Listening to God, listening to others. By stopping, creating intentional space to breathe and just listen.

I’ll leave you with this:

Our longings for intimacy will not be satisfied through one-way conversations and interactions that feel like competitions. Our desire to be transformed will not be met through giving voice to all the noise in our souls. Our identities will not be discovered in finding our own voice independent of others, but in helping others find their voices.

That’s my job as a writer. To help others find their voice. It requires me to stop talking and listen. James knew what he was talking about: “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry,” (James 1:19, NIV). It’s becoming a theme in my life. I like it.

Now, go read this book, because it’s really good. Right now. Go. Stop reading this and get it already! Now!

Shanghai Seder


For those of you who don’t know, the Seder is the Passover dinner. It means “the order”. It is a tradition in my family that I believe I’ve spoken of before, but this year was my first time I’d ever thought of leading one.

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Being in Shanghai can sometimes be the worst when I miss my family. I avoid speaking to them when I miss them, because it just makes it worse. This year, I was thinking of my family and the lack of Seder in my life at Easter and I proposed to my small group leaders (Emily and Angus) that we do one. Emily’s response was, “You’d have to lead it.”

*Loud swallowing noise* I get nervous about leading. I seriously know the Lord’s presence in my life when I lead because I suck at it and somehow people always get something out of it.

The Haggadah (the telling) makes leading the Seder easier, but I was the only one who had done it before and I wasn’t sure what I needed to clarify. Emily is always helpful to have around because she asks questions for the group, when she knows people don’t understand.

It was decided we’d do it and I’d lead if Emily would be the mother and light the candles and speak bad Hebrew. We told the group, got food sign ups going and it was a set event.

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The day before I was going to shop for matzah. Someone had told me that Avocado Lady had it and so I hadn’t worried. However, as I sat at my desk checking off a mental list a horrendous thought crept its way in. What if she didn’t have it. Where would I find matzah in Shanghai??!! I began to frantically search on the internet for places that had it. I came to realize a few important things. There were a few places for Jews to worship in Shanghai, which is cool. I learned quite a bit about the history of Jews in China. And I learned that none of those places had an internet presence AT ALL. Searches for stores or restaurants that sold matzah were futile and I began to slowly panic. WE COULDN’T HAVE A SEDER WITHOUT MATZAH. LIFE WAS OVER.

I am the queen of hyperbole in all forms. Finally I started emailing. I emailed the three synagogues I had found online and I began to email every restaurant that served matzah ball soup. They had to make the balls from something right? After I emailed everyone I could think of, it was time for class and I pushed it out of my mind with a prayer. The Lord would provide, even if I had to make the matzah myself (I had bookmarked several recipes, just in case).

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After three or four classes my email “ding”-ed. It was from Tock’s Deli. The lovely lady informed me that they used matzah meal, but they got it from a store. And that store had Wechat. I WAS SAVED! She told me that they had boxes from last year’s Seder but that they wouldn’t get the new stuff until April to get ready for Seder this year. I was thrilled. I searched for the shelf-life of matzah online and found that generally it lasted for two years. BRILLIANT. I decided to taxi my way over there and she kept the shop open for me to get there and take a few boxes off her hands.

A big box and a little box was ¥100. That’s a lot of cash people. But I was so overjoyed to have found it, I didn’t care. I waltzed out of there and dashed home to make charoset with one of my new kindred spirit friends, Maddie.

The next day I made chicken with another kindred spirit friend, Pekka (who I discovered, is a culinary genius despite all his modesty) and we got all the remaining things we needed. Somewhere in the midst of all this, I remembered that we’d need cups to hold the salt water and added it to my mental list of things to do.

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Literally seconds after I remembered, Taisa sent me a voice message saying that she had brought home some mouthwash sized cups in case we needed them. I started laughing and messaged her back that Jesus knew and I had a specific use for those. Eggs, parsley, horseradish, etc made their way into two large bags and were carted by my Finnish friend to Taisa’s.

I was so exhausted by this point, I could have collapsed. Not joking. I was having some serious emotional mood swings that I somehow kept covered with a happy face and some light hysteria. It may have come across as me being manic. Plates were readied. I rested for a bit. Then all the food began to arrive.

Sam brought couscous and a delicious Indian chicken/rice dish. I made broccoli. Lydia brought mashed potatoes. Everyone brought wine. Deji brought sausages. Taisa also made this amazing apple crumble that looked soooo good. We hid it all in the kitchen for later and my heart began to feel light. People arrived. I settled. More people arrived. I took a deep breath and called for their attention.

The start was awkward. I wasn’t sure how to do this really, but I managed to get through the introduction with important history. No one else had done this, so I took some time to explain the words, the history, and made sure to read the parts that we normally skipped.  I tripped over my tongue a few times and laughed with everyone when we drank before we were supposed to. We drank wine, we spoke together, we read Scripture. And right before dinner, Nessa walked in. She had been sick and seeing her made my heart feel even more than I already did. I wanted to cry.

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Then we ate. Oh my goodness, we ate. It wasn’t kosher. It wasn’t what I normally ate at Seder, but it was some of the best food I’d ever had. Taisa, Sam, and I rushed to throw dishes into the microwave to reheat and bring them out for the masses. More people arrived. Finally I found myself on the floor looking and listening to all the beautiful people in my life. And I realized my heart wasn’t light anymore. It was full. Full to the brim with love and joy and contentment.

God was in that place in every conversation. He was showing love through the gestures, the words, the laughter, the smiles, the quiet moments, the wine, the hugs, the food. And I can honestly say I’ve never felt so full of all of the good things.

I posted on Facebook that it was the best day of my life. I know, better than most, that writers shouldn’t use hyperbole often. Superlatives are not for us. “Best”, “worst”, “favorite”, these are words that should be used sparingly and I don’t. I use them all the time. Because I’m a fickle creature and my favorite shifts like the wind. The best and worst are defined by my circumstances, not by any other standards. However, this day really was the best.

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I have found a family here. I don’t know any of them very well. Some of them just got here and are leaving very soon. Some have been here for years and have put up walls because so many people come and go in their lives. It doesn’t matter. They are my family. Because I’m coming to realize that knowing someone well doesn’t mean much when it comes to God’s family. We are brothers and sisters. Period. That means acting like it even when we don’t know each other. Even when we don’t necessarily like each other. On good days, bad days, and all the gray days in-between. And my Rhema Reign group acts like this most of the time.

I don’t know if words can convey it all to you. I doubt it. But, dear readers, God is here. He is present in my China life. He is present in Shanghai. He is always with me and I don’t think I needed the reassurance more. Thank you, my beautiful Shanghai family for a night above all other nights.

Next year in Jerusalem.

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