Chronicling Again

It’s been over a year since my last post and almost 4 years since I blogged regularly. You would have thought that I’d chronicle like crazy when I moved to China. And indeed, that was my plan. I just looked at my drafts folder and I have 37 posts started or planned–all from my first few months in China. image

So why didn’t I write?

Well, there are multiple reasons.

  1. Culture Shock: When I first moved to China, I was completely overwhelmed by everything that was happening to me. I didn’t realize how much I experienced culture shock until much later. And because everything was so new to me, I had a hard time processing it all in any sort of efficient or public manner. I was also overwhelmed by the sheer number of new things to write about. In a very short amount of time, I took hundreds of pictures and had so many new experiences, I got very far behind in writing and couldn’t keep up. And a closely related reason. . .
  2. Perfectionism: After I got so far behind in writing, I didn’t want to jump in with the current experiences. I was too much of a perfectionist. I should’ve just started writing about the things that I was experiencing at the time, but I kept thinking I should start at the beginning.
  3. Cultural Sensitivity: I didn’t want to say things that were culturally insensitive while dealing with culture shock. I  didn’t want to embarrass myself or others with what I wrote. I’ve read and heard–and probably said–horrendous things that foreigners say about China because of their culture shock. I want to be open-minded and accepting of the Chinese culture and people. As Chinese people often say, “China has a 5000 year history.” The American way is not the only way–or even the right way–to do things; while living in China, I want to learn more about the Chinese way of doing things. It’s extremely difficult to adapt to a new language, culture, job, and living situation; I don’t want to make it worse by approaching life in China from a proud, selfish, closed-minded, American-centric view point.  The whole reason I’m here in China is to show love and to help improve Chinese society, so I don’t want to set up barriers that will prevent me from having a good relationship with Chinese people.
  4. Un-originality: There are hundreds, if not thousands, of River Townblogs about moving to and teaching in China. I didn’t feel like I had anything new to add.  Indeed, when I read Peter Hessler’s River Town: Two Years on the Yangtze during my first year in China, I realized that many of my experiences as a new teacher in China were not unique.
  5.  Poor internet connections: In China, it is often difficult to access sites such as this. Internet speeds are slow, and many sites are blocked. Sometimes it is just impossible to access my blog.

So why am I going to start writing again now?

  1. Memories: I realized that by not writing down my experiences, I’m missing out on a valuable way of preserving memories. When I look back on my old posts, I’m reminded of the many places I’ve lived and visited, the people I’ve met, and the things I’ve learned. I’m afraid that I’ve already forgotten a lot of things that happened to me durging the first few years of living here in China, but as I look through pictures and write about things I experienced, I hope to recover and record some of those memories.
  2. Support: This summer, many friends and family members expressed an interest in hearing more about my life in China. I realized that my extremely infrequent status updates and pictures on Facebook and my completely non-existent blogs were keeping me from a valuable means of support. So because my friends are curious about China and want to know more about how to better support me, I’ve decided to write more frequently.
  3. Writing practice: Although I have written almost daily in my personal journals, I haven’t written anything for publication–even in such an informal venue as a blog–in a very long time. I want to become a better writer, and I know from my own experience and from a lot of research, that writing more will help me to improve my writing abilities.

So thank you for joining me as I begin chronicling my experiences in China.  I’ll focus on current events but I also plan on writing “flashbacks” of trips and experiences from my first four years here.

Is there something in particular you want to know about? Please leave a comment and I may write about that topic in the future.

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The Five People You Meet in Heaven: Last Words

Eddie’s Last Words

“How do people choose their final words? Do they realize their gravity? Are they fated to be wise?

By his 83rd birthday, Eddie had lost nearly everyone he’d cared about. Some had died young, and some had been given a chance to grow old before a disease or an accident took them away. At their funerals, Eddie listened as mourners recalled their final conversations. ‘It’s as if he knew he was going to die. . . .’ some would say.

Eddie never believed that. As far as he could tell, when your time came, it came, and that was that. You might say something smart on your way out, but you might just as easily say something stupid.

For the record, Eddie’s final words would be ‘Get back!'” (13)

Albom, Mitch. The Five People You Meet in Heaven. Hyperion: New York, 2003.

What do you think is the significance of Eddie’s last words?

Famous Last Words

The first “famous last words” that came to my mind were from the Bible. On the cross, Christ knew that He was making His final statements to His disciples and each is significant (although, I’m not going to take a lot of time to explain that right now). According to the books of Matthew and Mark, Jesus said, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mt. 27:46, Mk 15:34). According to Luke, His last words were, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit” (Lk 23:46). And according to John, He declared, “It is finished!” (Jn 19:30).

Before ascending into heaven, Jesus said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Mt. 28:18-20). I love this final reminder that Jesus is with believers as they spread the Good News.

Because I was already thinking about last words and the significance of them, I decided to look up some famous last words (see here and here); some realized they were dying, but others did not.

For example, P.T. Barnum said, “How were the receipts today at Madison Square Garden?”

Author of Peter Pan, James M. Barrie said, “I can’t sleep.”

And Lord Byron said, “Now I shall go to sleep. Goodnight.”

Thomas à Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury, said, “I am ready to die for my Lord, that in my blood the Church may obtain liberty and peace.”

Right before dying, people have said all sorts of things, ranging from the prosaic to the profound.

Our Last Words

WordPress’s Freshly Pressed feature recently linked to Mostly Bright Ideas, and one of his posts, “Arrivals and Departures,” was about the countdown to death he and his siblings are going through as they face the loss of their brother to brain cancer. You really should read the entire post because it’s a touching and poignant story, but here’s an excerpt that relates to our discussion of The Five People You Meet in Heaven and last words.

“What I’d really like,” I said, “would be to pull into the rental car place just as the Low Fuel light was coming on.”

And then Michael asked, “Do you think we’ll ever see Joe again?”

After a few long seconds of silence, Jackie said this:

“You never know if you’ll see someone again. Whenever we leave anybody, there’s a chance it’ll turn out to be the last time.”

We had been disagreeing and fooling around and acting like a bunch of immature children all week. But now my sister had said something true and perfect. Death sometimes announces itself months or years in advance. At other times it shows up without notice, and in a blink someone who’d always been there is gone. We may have just seen them a week ago, but we didn’t understand it would be the final time. We didn’t realize that good-bye was the real thing. Sometimes we don’t know. Is the tank half full? A quarter? Are we burning the last few drops? There’s no gauge to tell us how many days we have left.

The lesson, of course, is that we should treat every time spent together and every parting as though there may not be another. We hugged Michael several times before he hurried off to begin his journey home. Who knew when — or if — we would see him again? Or if he would see us?

I appreciate his point that we never know when might be the last time we see a friend or family member, so we should make the most of every opportunity we have with our loved ones. We don’t know when we might be saying our last words to someone, so we should take care to speak words of kindness and love.

Recap of discussion questions

What do you think is the significance of Eddie’s last words?

What is your response to Mostly Bright Idea’s post?

The Five People You Meet in Heaven: Endings and Beginnings

As we read through this novel, I’d like to talk about the narrative structure of the book, the meaning of life/our purpose for living, heroism, and heaven. And perhaps a few more things that I think of between now and the end of this discussion.

I invite you to answer the questions in the comment section. Please feel free to discuss each other’s answers or to just read what others have to say. I hope you’ll enjoy this book and the discussion.

To start off, here are a couple of pretty general questions about a main theme of the book.

One of the most well-known quotes from this book is “All ending are beginnings. We just don’t know it at the time.” We often hear words to this effect at graduation ceremonies: “Commencement means ‘beginning,’ so don’t think of your graduation as an end but as a beginning.” What other events or points in life do you think are a beginning as well as an end? Why is this concept significant?

Contentment: “I have learned”

It neat how the Lord arranged for several books, Bible studies, and messages about the closely related topics of contentment and gratitude to come across my path during one of the most difficult times of my life thus far. I’ve needed the constant reminders to be thankful for all the good and perfect gifts the Lord has given me. I wish I could say I’ve responded perfectly with thankfulness every time I’ve been tempted to complain and fret, but the lessons I’ve learned about gratitude and contentment have kept me from complaining all the time and from wallowing in discouragement.

I’ve been greatly encouraged and instructed by the little phrase “I have learned” from Philippians 4:11: “Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.” I tend to think of Paul as having instantly grasped everything about the Christian life at his conversion, but he also had to learn about Christ and grow in godliness. He had to learn contentment, too, and he did that during times of plenty and times of drought, great freedom and intense persecution.

In The Art of Divine Contentment, Thomas Watson writes, “This word, ‘I have learned,’ is a word which imports difficulty. It shows how hard the apostle came by contentment of mind; it was not bred in nature. Paul did not come naturally by it–but he had learned it. It cost him many a prayer and tear, it was taught him by the Spirit” (7). Even though learning contentment is hard work, this passage encourages me, because if Paul could learn these lessons, there’s hope that I can learn contentment too. The Holy Spirit teaches us through the Word, just like He taught Paul; in fact, we have more Scripture available to help us than Paul did! And as Paul followed after Christ, so we can follow his example of Christlike living (II Timothy 1:13).

“It is not enough for Christians to hear their duty–but they must learn their duty” (Watson 4). We have to learn contentment because it is a spiritual thing and “spiritual things are [against] nature” (7).

I’m praying that God will teach me more about contentment and truly resting in Him and thanking Him for all He has done.

A New Poem: “Cultivation”

I wrote this poem in response to a sermon I heard on John 15. As Pastor Herron was preaching, Christina Rossetti’s poem “Long Barren” came to mind. I used the last line of her poem as the first line of mine and then reversed her stanza form to create mine. I also extended her ideas of emptiness and feebleness to those of bearing some fruit, pleading for more fruit, and the pruning process that God uses in our lives so we can bear much fruit.

Feed Thou my feeble shoots,
Bearing no grapes.
O Flourishing Vine, Thy firm, stable roots
Refresh, revive
My dying branch. Thy strength produces fruit.

Trim Thou dead, sickly leaves
Hindering growth.

O Patient Vinedresser, my weakness needs
Thy tender care.
Lift up my limp branches. “More fruit!” I plead.

Tend Thou my thriving branch
Yielding plenty.
O Faithful Harvester, Thy constant touch
Nurtures and reaps.
My branches—grafted, pruned and purged—bear much.

by Natalie Cary copyright 2009

The Bible also uses the image of testing and refining metals (I Peter 1:6-7, Isaiah 48:10, Zechariah 13:9) to describe how God purifies us through trials. The sanctification process certainly isn’t easy or painless, but I was comforted today to remember that God is with me through the process.

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