Thursday, October 9, 2014

I never imagined writing a blog again after leaving China, and I guess now that I'm in America the title of my blog is no longer applicable. I'm no longer "Racher in Chiner." More like "Chiner in Racher." You can take the girl out of China, but you can't take China out of the girl.

I really don't care if anyone reads this. In fact, I probably could have just written it in my journal. But as I was driving down the road today thinking about my life, I realized that I would like for there to at least be a chance that someone would read it. It's basically all the things I feel like I need to say out loud but I'm not sure who to say them to. So this is my compromise.

I've found lately that life is just easier if I avoid thinking about China. I can go several days without really dwelling on any memories or thoughts and I feel relatively normal and ok. Then, all it takes is a text from a friend in Chinese that just triggers something inside of me and I almost feel like my heart could explode.  I try not to think about my kids, about my friends I left behind, about my apartment, about my community, about my travels, about anything. Right now it's just too painful. I've already woken up twice in the night crying because I was dreaming about my kids. In my dreams I'm seeing them but I know I won't see them again... and I just cry. I do talk to some of them via text, but its not the same. It's hard to communicate when we can't incorporate our sign language and body gestures. And it's impossible to receive hugs through the phone. Somebody work on that, please?

Even though I've been consciously trying to avoid thoughts of China, they subconsciously pop up in my mind every day. And I still find myself doing weird things, like trying to throw away my toilet paper, panicking for a split second because I realize I've bought more groceries than I can carry home, wondering if it's safe to click on a controversial link about China, or responding to every comment with "mei shi." I try not to speak Chinese, because I know no one understands what I'm saying and it could get old really quick, but it does occasionally just slip out.

I think another reason I try to avoid thoughts of China is because as soon as I start thinking about it, it all builds up inside me and then I have no way to get it out. It's really hard to talk about China with people who have never been and just can't relate. Sometimes I find myself on the edge of bringing it up, and then I back out. I guess I'm kind of afraid to talk about it. Afraid that they won't care and don't want to hear it. Afraid that they're already tired of hearing about it. Afraid they won't understand why being back in America isn't the greatest thing that ever happened to me. Part of me is also very protective. It's like my memories are sacred and I don't really want to share them with outsiders because I know they won't appreciate how precious they are to me.

There's also this problem of people actually listening. Americans are not great listeners. Can we just take a second to acknowledge how much everyone in America talks? I have truly been overwhelmed by how much people talk at me every day. It makes me not want to tell people things because I know all they're going to do is turn it around to be about themselves and that will probably launch us into another hour long story. I guess this whole paragraph is a little hypocritical.  Apparently I don't want to listen to them either.

So now that I've gotten some of that off my chest, lets talk about a few good things.

I love the grocery stores in America. I have dreams about those too. If I wasn't worried what the people in Ingles would think about me, or how much money I would spend, I would probably just go once a week and slowly walk up and down every single aisle. I try to act as normal as possible in grocery stores but inside I am still overwhelmed and in awe.

I have a car. I love my car. It's pretty amazing how quickly you can get across town, even with what we consider "bad traffic." It's also amazing how quiet and roomy my commute is compared to a Beijing subway ride. I no longer feel exhausted by going out to lunch or a trip to the store. Life in general is way less exhausting because of how easy it is to get around. As I drive down the road I am constantly saying, "Thank you, God, for my car."

Being close to family is awesome. My sister just had her first baby yesterday, and I was there. I got to see her through the last 4 months of her pregnancy and watch her cute little belly grow. I got to leave work today during my lunch break and go to the hospital and hold sweet baby Cohen. If I was in China, best case scenario I would have met him in January, but most likely I would have had to wait until next summer. I'm so very thankful to be close enough to swing by for kisses and cuddles whenever I want.

There are many more good things and many more hard things. Life is hard and life is wonderful. Transition is always a little of both. Through it all, I'm thankful to know without a doubt that I'm right where God has called me for this season of life. Who knows what the future holds. Right now I'm just working on living fully and contentedly where I am.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Saying Goodbye

I wrote a similar post about this at the beginning of the year, but the Father is once again trying to open my eyes and give me a deeper love for others. So I'll share again.

This week has been incredibly hard for me. Even as I write this, I'm crying. I have truly grown to love my sweet children these past two years and the thought of never seeing them again is breaking my heart into a million little pieces. I don't like crying and I would almost rather just skip all these goodbyes, except for the fact that I really need all those final hugs from my babies.

As I prepared to say goodbye I thought about each of my classes and which children would probably take it really hard and which ones would be ok. So far I've had two big surprises.

In class 6 I have a boy named Mike that I've taught for two years. Last year he was a pretty good student. He talked too much, but he always participated in class and was excited to speak English. This year he has been a very different child; very disinterested and I would say one of my problem students. So when I went into his class for a party last week I didn't expect Mike to be upset at all. I really thought he just didn't like me this year.

A few minute after the party started I noticed Mike was crying quietly at his desk. I thought, "Mike must have gotten in trouble." It didn't even cross my mind that he was upset over me. Later on, Mike got up in front of the class to sing a song with a few of the other boys, and about a minute in he stopped singing and started sobbing uncontrollably in front of the class. I still wasn't sure what was going on but I thought, ok, maybe he IS crying about me, so I asked my co-teacher Monica what was wrong and she said, "Mike is crying because of you. As soon as you walked into class he began to cry." I said, "But I didn't even think Mike liked me. He's very naughty in class." Monica said, "Mike lives with his grandparents. His parents are not with him. I don't know where they are, but maybe he doesn't have a good family situation, so he doesn't know how to express himself." Man, that hit me in the heart. How many times have I dismissed his behavior because he's just a "bad kid" and there's nothing I can do about it? How many times have I left class frustrated with him and not taken the time to talk with him about it?

Mike and I, post onstage meltdown. 
This morning I walked into another class, class 2, thinking this would be an easier class to say goodbye to. I have only taught this class for one year, and although I love the kids, I'm naturally more attached to the kids I've had for two years. This class has also been one of my most challenging behavior wise. There are a lot of low level kids and in general the whole class just has a chatter problem!

For each of my classes I put together a video of all the pictures I've taken of them throughout the year. I turned on the video for class 2 and started walking around the room as we watched it together. Most of the kids were laughing and talking as they saw each other on the screen, so I didn't notice that Felix was crying until I walked by him. Felix is one of my lowest students in all of grade 3. Cute as a button, but very low and very talkative and hyper. He talks ALL CLASS, EVERY CLASS. I usually don't get too frustrated with Felix. It's more like a joke with the class that I'm constantly calling him out and saying, "Felix! Be quiet!" and he'll say, "Yes, yes, Ms. Rachel," and nod his head. He's so darn cute. But again, I didn't expect him to be too upset to see me go. I thought he'd just be kind of apathetic.

So I see Felix crying, and this is no "fake cry" like some of the kids pull. This is an all out shoulders shaking, can't catch his breath, tears streaming down his face kind of cry. Again I was surprised. I though, what have I done to make this child love me? To make him this upset to see me ago? And how many opportunities to love on him have I passed up because I just didn't think he cared? Could I have inspired him to work harder at English if I had just invested a little more time with him? I don't know what's going on in Felix's little head. I don't know why he acts out in class or doesn't pay attention. But I know that when I saw him sobbing in my class my heart broke, and I wished for more time to spend with this boy and love on him.

Felix is the cutie second from the right. :)
Sometimes teaching feels like a constant struggle to just make them LISTEN TO ME. Sometimes I leave class so frustrated with my kids and wonder why they can't just behave and act like civilized children. And then I am reminded that they are just 3rd graders and full of energy like any normal children, that some of them have really bad stuff going on at home, and just because they don't act like perfect angels every single day doesn't mean they don't like me or that they're even bad students. These children are a gift. Such a wonderful gift. My life has been forever changed by each of these children and I wouldn't trade these two years for any of the things I've always thought I wanted. These have truly been some of the best years of my life, mostly thanks to these kids.

So whats my point... I did start out with one in my mind. I guess the Father's just still reminding me, even as I'm getting ready to leave, that sometimes I need to take a step back and try to see things through his eyes. I might have a student that drives me crazy every class, but how does my Father see this child? That's easy. Through the eyes of love. If I just stopped to remember that a little more often, I might not have missed out on making more of a difference in these two little boys lives. It really breaks my heart to think I could have done more.

I have this verse written on my desk from I Corinthians 16:14: "Let all that you do be done in love."
It was the verse I held onto last fall when things were really tough at work and I didn't feel like doing anything period, much less doing it in love. It's still a work in slow progress, but this week was a good reminder for me to keep love as the center of all I do.

I'll be stateside in 6 days. Please bear with me if I don't always seem ecstatic to be there. I'm leaving little pieces of my heart scattered among 200+ 3rd graders in Beijing. Nevertheless, I am so excited to see you all and reconnect with all my family and friends. I love you all. Thank you for all your support these last two years. I could never have made it without you.
More class 2 cuties.

Class 4 childrens. So thankful for these kids!

Wednesday, April 23, 2014


I just got finished teaching an Easter lesson to all my sweet students. My teammate and I were just talking the other day about how fortunate we are that we have this opportunity. What we are able to share in our Chinese classrooms would not be allowed even in a US classroom. What an awesome privilege! This year I showed a short Easter movie and read a book, then did a quick Easter craft. They remembered a little about it from last year and they were also able to connect the Christmas and Easter stories together. Hopefully they will hear this story for at least the next 3 years!

This year for our Easter craft I gave the kids a piece of paper with an egg outline that they got to decorate however they wanted. Crafts are hard in China, especially since I have over 200 kids. We just don't have any supplies. So an Easter egg was the best I could come up with!! My students are very creative and they made some beautiful eggs. Several of them were also made into monsters by my little boys. Oh well.

Here are some adorable pictures from class...

One of my favorites- the minion egg. In Chinese they call them xiao huang ren which literally means small yellow person.

I think he's a friendly monster.

Happy Easter everyone!!

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Watermelon, Watermelon

For the past month or so the English department has been diligently practicing a new dance routine to "We're All In This Together" from High School Musical. Our school entered us into a citywide competition (we're not sure what this competition is really about) and then informed us that we needed to prepare a dance to be filmed and submitted. Our schedules are already a tad on the overwhelming side right now, so fitting in dance practices was sometimes a challenge. Also, anyone who knows me can just imagine how awkward I look dancing to ANYTHING, let alone High School Musical.

About 2 weeks into rehearsal the school approached our team leader and asked her if we could also be part of the middle/high school performance. They were preparing a song. They practiced 3 1/2 hours every week. Although we usually try to accommodate such requests, we really didn't have 3 1/2 hours to spare so she graciously declined their invitation. They asked again. She declined again. Finally, they said don't worry about coming to practice, just show up to film the performance. They gave us the lyrics to Auld Lang Syne and said to practice on our own. This was the only direction we were given.

Our dance came together at the last minute and we filmed it in 2 takes, then went directly to the song performance. We had not been given any instructions about what to wear for the performance. (Dance costumes were silver sequin pants and angry bird sweatshirts, by the way.) We were also under the impression that we were going to be joining the English department of the middle and high schools, because that's who performed for the elementary department. Then we walked into the room and saw about 30 Chinese teachers dressed in navy suits. Uh oh. Missed that suit memo.

Despite the fact that we weren't properly attired, they put us all on the first row. Gotta showcase those foreigners. We started with a vocal warm up. And that's when we realized we were in way over our heads. The lady leading the "choir" was obviously a professional vocalist. She had a beautiful voice! But she also thought that we were all professional vocalists, and when the ladies start to struggle to hit that high F and G (for those of you that don't know, that's beyond what a normal person can or should sing) her angry side came out. She began to assure is in the most animated language of the violence of her displeasure (Pride and Prejudice reference) towards our singing. Actually, I had no idea what she was saying, but her gestures got really pointy and she had a scary look on her face.

After about 30 minutes of torturous warm up during which I mostly just pretended like I was singing, we finally started to practice the song for the performance. But, oh dear, the first song is in Chinese. We weren't prepared for this. We all looked at each other like, do they know we don't actually speak Chinese? Someone eventually noticed our discomfort and told us to just try our best and move our mouths. Try to pick up on the words, they said. At first I thought, yeah there's no way I'm just going to "pick up" this Chinese song, but then we sang it at least 30 times and I finally started to catch on. Apparently we really weren't capturing the emotion of the epic ending (maybe because it was way out of our range?) so we sang it again and again with that angry face judging our every strained note.

So an hour into our "filming" session we didn't seem to be any closer to actually filming and we hadn't even sung Auld Lang Syne yet. It was probably about 6 pm at this point and I was starting to get hungry and very cranky. Actually the crankiness had started quite some time ago. FINALLY, we either satisfied our maestro, or it's possible she just gave up hope, and we moved onto the English song. Or.... so we thought. Turns out they were also singing Auld Lang Syne in Chinese, but we were going to be the featured soloists for the second verse, in English, which was also in a ridiculously high key. We tried our best but they were less than impressed with our singing abilities and kept asking us to sing louder. No really, this is for the best... you don't want to hear my high F any louder than this. It's not a pretty squeak.

I realize this story is getting long so I'll try to tie it up quickly... after another 30 minutes or so of rehearsal of Auld Lang Syne, we finally started filming and after a few takes we were finally done. The whole process had been over 2 hours. I left feeling less than pleased how our night had turned out. The whole thing just seemed so ridiculous and pointless. Why did we really need to be there? We certainly didn't add anything pleasant to their sound. We didn't even look good. It had been a long day and a long week. Why, why, why??

Rule NUMBER 1 about living in China: don't ask why. You will never find an answer and you will become even more frustrated trying to find one. Apparently I'm a slow learner, because it's year 2 and I'm still asking the question.

I got home that night and was piddling around my apartment not doing much of anything and suddenly I realized I had been absent mindedly singing something, a hymn. I grew up in a Church that sang the good ol' hymns, for which I am grateful, because they have awesome, deep lyrics that are now engrained in my mind. I stopped to think about what I was singing and this is what my heart heard:
  1. "Day by day, and with each passing moment,
    Strength I find, to meet my trials here;
    Trusting in my Father’s wise bestowment,
    I’ve no cause for worry or for fear.
    He Whose heart is kind beyond all measure
    Gives unto each day what He deems best

    Lovingly, its part of pain and pleasure,
    Mingling toil with peace and rest."

Talk about putting me in my place! You think the Father doesn't hear every thought you think? He certainly heard all the ugly ones I had been thinking that day and He had something to say about it.
I took a minute to think about the lyrics and got really hung up on that little part about giving unto each day what He deems best. Was that ridiculously long and frustrating singing session really what He deemed best for me that very day? You bet! And I'm pretty sure it had something to do with learning how to be patient when I'm put in difficult cultural situations such as these. I've already had several of these lessons in patience and I really thought I had learned something, but apparently I hadn't learned enough and this was the Father's gracious way of reminding me that EVERYTHING I do is for His glory, not my comfort. I'm sorry to say I really failed that night. *Hopefully* most of the Chinese people there couldn't understand my sweet little comments muttered under my breath throughout the rehearsal, but I'm sure they could tell by my demeanor that I was less than pleased to be there. I had an opportunity to be the picture of grace and service to our school and I failed. I really failed bad.

Little things have happened since that night that have triggered that tempting "WHY?" and I have been reminded again of the lyrics of this beautiful hymn. I believe those words with all my heart, I just have to constantly remind myself that I believe them. Hopefully the next time I'm put in one of these lovely situations those words will be the first thing in my mind and I'll handle myself with a little more grace.

This is my anthem
My life for Your fame
My every move bring
Glory to Your Name
 -Chris Tomlin

And here is a random picture of my team on Christmas Day!

Monday, November 4, 2013

The last few weeks in the classroom have been a struggle. Lots of behavior problems that lead to chaotic lessons. It's really easy to just get frustrated with the kids and leave class feeling like a mean person for spending 35 minutes having a yelling contest and getting onto them every 5 seconds. Every class has those one or two bad kids that really just make matters worse. They are the ones it's REALLY easy to get angry with because they hold so much more power over the class than I do. However, lately I've been finding some things out about these "problem" students and it has help me put some things into perspective.
One of my little boys is a bully and gets in fights in class. His Chinese teacher's cant control him either. His dad is abusive (it's been seen happening at school) so it's easy to see where he get's his anger from. I saw him the other day crying hysterically and begging his home room teacher not to call someone, I'm guessing his parents? It makes me wonder what happens at home when he gets in trouble at school.
Another boy is always causing a ruckus in class- bothering his classmates, playing with his things, talking, just generally doing anything but sitting quietly and listening. He is always behind in his homework with his Chinese teachers and doesn't even finish tests when I give them. He just doesn't care. Well, I found out last week that the lady I thought was his mom all last year is in fact his dad's employee. She brings him to school, picks him up, takes care of him on the weekends and comes to his school events. His parents don't live in Beijing. I don't know where they are, but not here.
Yet another boy (all my problem students are boys) doesn't try in class and most of the time has his had on his desk. Anytime I ask him how he is he says, "I'm very bad." About a month ago I was out walking on the school track on a Saturday and saw him and 2 other boys with a dorm mother, which means he stayed at school all weekend. The next weekend I asked him if he was going home and he said no, I will stay here. I asked where his parents were. He said his dad works in America. I don't know about his mom.
It breaks my heart to think how different their lives would be if they were just loved and given attention by their parents. These kids are from wealthy families. Their parents pay a lot of money to send them to school here and they probably get whatever toys or electronics they want, but they're missing what they need the most right now. Knowing this doesn't really make my classes any easier- I still leave some days feeling like I've been run over by a mob of crazy children- but it does help me think about all of my children differently. You never really know what's going on in people's lives that makes them act the way they do.
I have this verse on my desk to help me remember how to deal with life, and it applies so well to these dear children:

"Let all that you do be done in love."
1 Corinthians 16:14

Here are some picture of the little ones at a flea market we had at school last week...

These two are all boy!

Sally (on the left) is a quiet, sweet little girl. Lily is cute as can be but quite a handful!

Melissa and Irene are great students and kind hearted little girls.

These boys are best buds but nothing alike. Fred is a sweet little student and Jerry is a trouble maker!!

Wednesday, October 23, 2013


I got this text from my sister this morning-
"You should start blogging again. I feel so disconnected from you life."
So Lyd, this is for you.
I must confess that writing is not my favorite thing to do, nor my second favorite, and if we're being honest it's not even my 100th favorite, but I'll try to be more consistent.

About this time last year I wrote a post about our boss coming back from holiday and surprising everyone with the announcement that she had gotten married to a teacher at school no one knew she was dating. Well, it's kind of happened again.

Picture with me a girl who is engaged to be married and has a wedding date set and in the works. She is also looking for a new job. In the US, it would play out something like this...

The girl goes in for a job interview. One of the first things she says is, "I'm getting married on such-and-such day and I'll need this much time off." If they don't agree she'll probably keep looking for a job elsewhere. If they do, she'll start her new job with her wedding vacation already scheduled, and in the months leading up to her wedding a lot of the talk with her co-workers will revolve around her big day. They may throw her an office shower. She will probably invite some of them to her wedding. She will probably have asked off for a few days before the wedding and a whole week after for the honeymoon, of course. Before she takes her leave of absence everyone will be wishing her well. When she gets back, everyone will want to see pictures and hear every detail of how everything went. She will probably be on a "just married" high for a few weeks.

And here's how it goes in China...

The girl goes in for a job interview. She says nothing about her wedding and she is hired. The job is high stress with lots of expectations and demands, and because she is new she decides to keep the wedding a secret so no one will think her wedding is affecting her job performance. A few weeks before the wedding she tells one foreign teacher of her secret plans. The Friday of her rehearsal, she has a meeting that lasts until 5:30 pm. Her rehearsal starts at 8 across town. She leaves work, goes to rehearsal, gets married the next morning, spends one and a half days as a married woman, then comes back to work on Monday morning like nothing happened. She announces her marriage to her co-workers by giving them candy. No one really talks about it, and life goes on as normal. There is no honeymoon.

This happened with my new co-teacher last weekend. I don't know if it's good or bad, probably a little of both, but it's definitely different. It didn't seem to phase her, or anyone else in the office, and with all the surprise weddings going around I don't suppose it should.

So that's my story for today. Thanks for reading! 

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Easter: China vs. America

I'd say the biggest difference I experienced on Easter would definitely be... CLOTHES.
In America, Easter is a day for girls to wear something new and fancy. Get all dressed up! Ditch the jeans and wear a cute dress for once. Bring out those sassy heals. Going to Church on Easter is something like a fashion show. And that's totally doable, because even if its 50 degrees outside and your dress is sleeveless, or you can barely walk in those sassy heals you've got on, all you really have to do is walk a few steps to your warm car, a few more to get inside the warm Church, and then back out to your warm car and home again.

Not so in China! As I got dressed yesterday morning I thought, oh, wouldn't it be nice to wear something cute today? My white lace skirt? Maybe that one pair of heals I brought but haven't even thought about wearing yet? And then I considered what it took to get to Church. First, a 15 minute walk to the subway in 40 degree weather. A 40+ minute ride. Another 10 minute walk from the subway to Church. Get to Church and it's cold inside (there is a pre-determined date for turning off the heat, and that was 2 weeks ago). Then reverse that all on the way home. After considering all of this I decided on Toms (those are cute, right?), jeans, and a somewhat cute shirt that no one saw because I was never warm enough to remove my jacket.

The good news is, NONE OF THAT MATTERS! The Savior has still risen and is alive today!
I had a wonderful Easter Sunday, surrounded by brothers and sisters from all over the world who came together to celebrate the Good News. To end the day, I went over to some friends apartment at a nearby college campus to eat waffles, decorate eggs and cookies, and have a good time. About half way through the evening we all stopped our talking and decorating to listen to a Chinese brother tell the Easter story in his own language. Although I have no idea what exact words he used, I know the story, and I was so honored at that very moment to be in China, at that school, in that apartment, with all of those dear students.

If I had to sum up my China vs. America Easter experience in a few words, I'd have to say...
"Same same, but different."
While on the outside things might look a little different, everything that matters is still the same:
He is risen! He is risen indeed.  

These are two of my precious boys, Andy and Danny, proudly displaying their Easter artwork.