The Gift of Time Spent in China

Making dumplings in ChinaIt’s hard to have lived a life no one else understands. Even if it was only a piece of a life, it still matters. It has molded me and shaped me, creating the person I am today.

My experience living in China mattered. While I did not grow up there or spend a decade living there as my dear friend Rosie did, the year and half I spent in the Middle Kingdom influenced me.

It wasn’t just that I got to see first-hand how another culture operates. It wasn’t just that I tried new foods and actually liked them. It wasn’t just that I made friends that I now miss. There’s something more…

I have difficultly pinpointing exactly how I was changed, but I was…

In China, it was normal for me to carry toilet paper in my purse. I drank hot water. I used phrase such as, “take a rest.” I was called “teacher” as a sign of respect. My white skin was considered beautiful. Crowded buses were the norm. Being pushed and shoved in line at the supermarket was to be expected. We called the school cafeteria the “canteen.”

I ate more dumplings than I can count, slurped noodles like the best of them, and danced outside in the square on cool weekend nights. Most importantly, I truly loved people like I was never going to leave.

I realized early on that in order for me to make the most of the experience, I had to say “yes” a lot. I had to accept invitations while fighting the urge to retreat to my apartment with a book and a blanket. Experiencing the fullness of what God had for me in China meant being bold enough to try new things and be willing to look silly.

China helped me come alive in a way I desperately needed.

I needed to step away from expectations of both others and myself. I could be me.

The Gift of Time Spent in China

Amidst the chaos that comes with a country of 1.4 billion people, I learned a lot about patience. I started to see greater value in diversity, recognizing that different doesn’t necessarily mean wrong. God showed me unconditional love.

I bring up China tonight as I write this post because I just got off WeChat (essentially, the Chinese version of Facebook) and was reminiscing. When I get excited about China and think back on my experiences there, I realize how few people in my life can relate. Even those who do relate had different experiences than I.

Sometimes when I look back, it feels like a dream. Was that really my life for two different seasons? It was. And I loved it.

Do I miss China? Absolutely.

Even though I miss the overall experience and the individual people and places, I also see that time as a beautiful gift. God gave me the opportunity to step away from the status quo of American life and see the world from a different vantage point. In that time He ignited in me a greater love for Him, His word and His people.

I am forever grateful.

Emily Lofgren’s heart beats for authenticity. She craves true connection where we can be real about our struggles and find hope together. Emily became a Christian in college and since then has had a passion for writing in a way that helps others encounter life. Grab your free copy of her eBook Finding Hope Through the Fog.

A Wonderful Night in Muscatine

I have a smile that I can’t wipe from my face.

As I tramped up the stairs just now, my breathing became heavier, yet my smile widened.

I feel at peace. I’m happy and content with this new season of life.

This evening, I returned home to my beloved downtown dwelling after a long day of meetings and writing that ultimately ended with a nice reception event to honor the new community college president. I was ready to take a breather and relax on my new couch. I have to admit that spending time in my living room gets me all excited because having furniture is seriously the bomb. I never use that terminology, but I’m going to use it now because having furniture rocks. For nearly 7 weeks, I lived in an apartment without furniture before moving to my new place, only to wait a handful of days before the furniture was delivered. That being said, I am glad to have a place to relax. :)

I sat down for a moment before realizing that I wanted, and essentially needed, to take a walk.

Walking has played an important role in my life over the past several years. The idea of going out and exploring a new place on foot makes my heart race with excitement. It’s even better if it can be done after waking up in a hostel… Oh, traveling, how I adore thee.

While a wonderful way to experience a new destination, walking has also served as a way for me to decompress after a long day. While in China, the stress of my large workload as well as the language and cultural barriers made walking an appealing outlet. When I was missing my family, home or Jonathan, I would put on my tennis shoes, grab my iPod and walk circles around the campus. Some days, I’d meet up with my coworkers and go on a 4-5 mile walk just for fun. We’d tell stories and laugh about the crazy things we’d experienced. It was delightful.

Tonight, I ended up going out alone. I walked briskly, while taking in the soft breeze and warm evening air. It began to get cooler and cooler as the sun set. I ventured past Pearl City Station and toward south end along the Mighty Mississippi River, passing some faces I knew and other I did not as I went along.

When I turned around to head back toward home, I passed a group of three gentlemen with a lady a handful of yards in front of them. I commented to the lady that it was a beautiful night and that sparked a discussion between the two of us. We ended up walking and talking the rest of the way, which was a real joy.

That’s one of the things I love about Muscatine – the opportunities for community to blossom. While I had never met the woman I encountered, she knew my family. We were able to have a genuine conversation and enjoy each other’s company as we finished our individual walks together.

Living in Muscatine makes me happy. Tonight is just one example of why I adore this river city.

Emily Lofgren’s heart beats for authenticity. She craves true connection where we can be real about our struggles and find hope together. Emily became a Christian in college and since then has had a passion for writing in a way that helps others encounter life. Grab your free copy of her eBook Finding Hope Through the Fog.

A Labor of Love

3. Ribbon CuttingMan, am I wiped out!  I had a busy week, full of planning for a big event. I work as the Communications Manager for my beloved hometown’s local government and absolutely love my job.

On Thursday, we joined some of our Chinese friends to host the ribbon cutting and opening the Sino-U.S. Friendship House. The house is located at 2911 Bonnie Drive in Muscatine and is significant because it is the home where Chinese President Xi Jin Ping stayed in 1985 when he first visited Muscatine and formed relationships with the people here. To this day, he fondly remembers that visit and has spoken highly of his time in Muscatine, so much so that he even returned for a visit of the “old friends” in 2012.

Here is a little more information about the opening of the Sino-U.S. Friendship House.

All that is to say that this week was full, but also enjoyable. I really appreciate my colleagues at the City. We all work hard, but have a good time while doing it.

I am ready for a little rest and am embracing the mundane. Sitting here in my nearly empty new apartment, I have been thinking about how I live my life. As I folded laundry, did dishes and scrubbed the floors this week, I thought about what it means to truly do everything as if to the Lord.

In my past campaign experiences, I would repeat Colossians 3:23 to myself on hot days as I’d go door to door. I wanted to remind myself to “work willingly at whatever [I] do, as though [I] am working for the Lord rather than for people.” While I did not love every minute of campaign work, I wanted to help the candidates succeed because I believed in their message. Because of that, I volunteered to help. And –Whatever I do I want to do fully as if it’s for the Lord.

I thought about that verse as I got down on my hands and knees to scrub the hardwood floors of my new apartment. At first I was excited to have a cleaner place and knew they needed to be done before my furniture was delivered, but after a little time I was tired. I used that time to blow off steam from the relatively stressful week, but after that steam was gone I was wiped out. It was then when I reminded myself why I was doing it.20150918_215951

There’s a greater purpose behind why we do most things. It may not be clear at first, but as you dig deeper and examine your heart there is a reason. For my life and yours, I pray that the reason would be to glorify God.

It would be easier for me to not clean my floors very thoroughly. It would be easier for me to only eat out. It would be easier to hang out at home and watch Netflix all night. There are a lot of things in life that would be easier than what’s most meaningful and purposeful. But, the easier things may not have the greatest rewards. The greatest rewards are ones of eternal significance.

I have decided that I want my new apartment to be a peaceful place where friends can come and connect. I want it to be a place where deep conversations happen and true fellowship blossoms. That’s why it’s important to spend time cleaning, cooking and preparing a place that is welcoming and inviting. Sure, the alternative would be easier. But, the choice I have made is to labor in love.

I have a vision for a greater source of community, where friends gather and discuss the tough issues.

I’m praying for this space to be a gathering place, where true God-designed community happens.

Furniture will come tomorrow, so for now I will cuddle up with a good book and embrace the calm.

 

 

Emily Lofgren’s heart beats for authenticity. She craves true connection where we can be real about our struggles and find hope together. Emily became a Christian in college and since then has had a passion for writing in a way that helps others encounter life. Grab your free copy of her eBook Finding Hope Through the Fog.

Will You Choose to Listen?

Today, I’ve been reflecting on my life. I’ve been reading scripture and praying through God’s promises as I make the most of a “sick day” (Thank you, China and your toxic environment! ;) ). Earlier this morning I was also fortunate to have some conversations with friends that challenged me to think, to dream, and to get excited about living out my calling.

Some people realize early on what they “want to be when they grow up.” I didn’t. I always changed my mind. There were a million things I could see myself doing from being a firefighter (ha!), to being a doctor, to being President. When I went to college, I thought I finally had it figured out.

I was wrong.

God shook me up, and wow! As much as I’ve gone through some hard times of uncertainty, I wouldn’t trade any of it. God let things get messy as He showed me who I am as His daughter. And, that, my friends, is beautiful. The messy lives we live as humans redeemed in Christ show a picture of great love.

Part of living out a Christian walk involves intentionality. I’ve been challenged to be more intentional with my time and resources. It’s not enough to just go through the motions. I want my life to count. Don’t you?

So, in my pondering and seeking, I thought more about my current state of life in this sweet season. While I am still no closer to figuring out what I want to be when I grow up (at least not in the specific vocational way), I am at peace with the fact that I’m called to be a daughter of God. I want to live out that calling in a meaningful way.

I’ve only got 40 more days in this country that holds part of my heart (Did you know that? I’ve been bad about blogging and haven’t shared much. More on that in a later post!). I’ve thought about what I have been able to do here and how God has used me. Overall, I think I’ve been faithful, but there’s one area where I’m struggling.

Chinabridge

I recently realized that I need to be better about listening. I need to be prepared for my schedule to be altered and for interruptions to come up. Things in China don’t typically happen by the schedule I desire, but it annoys me more than it should. I have a pretty full schedule, so it makes sense that I quickly go from one thing to the next. However, I sometimes believe I can’t slow down when I actually can. I can listen to the needs around me. I can pay attention to people and offer more than a quick hello.

Something I’ve even resorted to has been pretending that I can’t speak Chinese. Honestly, my Chinese is not at a high level by any means, but I can speak enough to have simple conversations.

A few weeks ago, I was leaving a kindergarten job and a lady approached me on the sidewalk. She didn’t attempt to use English, so I figured she only spoke Chinese. Being tired, I completely tuned her out when she spoke and then told her I didn’t understand. I don’t even know what she asked. I didn’t listen because I didn’t want to.

Looking back, I realize I should have used my energy to at least try to hear her. I could have probably figured out what she was saying, but I was lazy. There are times when I should ignore people who try talking to me in China, like the construction workers who yell “helloooooo!” at me from their work site, or the creepy cars who drive past the campus, stopping and gawking. This lady, though, didn’t deserve to be ignored. I should have listened.

How often do we pretend we don’t hear people? How often do we listen only to pretend we didn’t actually hear? As I think about these questions, I keep going back to needs around the world. We hear there are people starving. We hear that millions of people are affected by AIDS every year. We hear that there are people in our cities and towns all across America (not to mention all over the world) who are victims of human trafficking.

We hear the statistics, but do we actually listen? Or, do we pretend that we don’t understand? On an even more local scale, think about people around you on a regular basis. Do people in your life have needs that you aren’t even bothering to notice because you’re too preoccupied by your own life? I’ve been there, but I want to change. God’s been teaching me what it means to really love.

Right now, I am making a commitment to listening. To stopping to both hear and listen to the needs around me. Will you join me?

When I think about the way we ignore needs around us, I am brought back to lyrics from “Keep Changing the World” by MIKESCHAIR.

Here are the lyrics to the beginning.

Something here is wrong
There are children without homes
But we just move along
To take care of our own

There’s so much suffering
Just outside our door
A cry so deafening
Oh, we just can’t ignore

 

The first few lines are convicting. How can we really just live our lives as if there aren’t huge needs all over the world? Children are without homes. That alone is heartbreaking enough to spur me on to act.

We, as individuals, cannot change the world ourselves, but God can. He can use us. It all starts with listening. Listen to the needs around you. Listen to the way God’s stirring your heart. Listen as He shows you His plans and purposes.

 

Emily Lofgren’s heart beats for authenticity. She craves true connection where we can be real about our struggles and find hope together. Emily became a Christian in college and since then has had a passion for writing in a way that helps others encounter life. Grab your free copy of her eBook Finding Hope Through the Fog.

29 Things I Miss About Living In China

I was fortunate to spend the 2012-2013 school year teaching in China. It was an incredible experience. If you happen to spend any in-person time with me, you’ve probably heard me say, “In China…” or “Chinese people…” I tend to talk about China all the time. I’m okay with that, though, because that time abroad grew my faith in incredible ways. Since being back, there are quite a few things I miss dearly.

1) My Students – They are wonderful. I love how sweet Chinese students can be. They smile and enjoy saying, “Hello, teacher.”

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2) Sweet Friends – I’m so thankful for the amazing people I was able to befriend. I learned a lot about how to give freely and show love to those in my life. They were such a great example to me.

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Emily Lofgren’s heart beats for authenticity. She craves true connection where we can be real about our struggles and find hope together. Emily became a Christian in college and since then has had a passion for writing in a way that helps others encounter life. Grab your free copy of her eBook Finding Hope Through the Fog.