Lessons from China: Why We Need to Thank God for Tunnels

As you may know, my daughter and her family live in China. However, this summer they are back in the U.S. for a visit. They arrived at O’Hare airport on June 24 after 38 hours of travel!

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In honor of their visit, I am reposting one of my “Lessons from China.”

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Anyone who knows me well, knows that I love mountains. I love to ski in the mountains, hike in the mountains, and simply gaze at mountains.

So one of the reasons I was particularly excited about my recent trip to China was that we were going to make a special journey to see the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain (pictured above). To get to this spectacular peak, which tops out at 18, 360 feet,  my husband and I took a nine-hour train trip with my daughter and her family through the mountainous terrain of the Yunnan province. My little grandsons are big Thomas the Tank engine fans so this was an adventure for them.

 

During the long trip, Aaron, the four-year-old, and I had an engaging conversation about what we saw whizzing past the train windows. As the train climbed higher and higher, sometimes up and over hills, I told Aaron about my passion for mountains. I told him that I loved the mountains because they are so big and beautiful and they remind me of just how immense God is. Since He made the mountains, He is even bigger than they are.

But the journey also took us through some loooong dark tunnels, which Aaron though were cool, but which I complained about. After all, when we were in a tunnel I couldn’t see the mountains.

Aaron asked me, ” What do the tunnels remind you of, Grandma?”  (That little guy asks some very insightful questions!) Unfortunately I didn’t have a good answer for him at the time. But the question stuck with me.

After some thought, I’ve decided that the tunnels remind me of the dark times of my life, the days when I can’t see God at work in my life, the hours when He seems far away.

I don’t like tunnels.

But then I thought of the purpose of the train tunnels. Although the tunnels were difficult to engineer and build, the effort was worth it because they made the train trip shorter and faster than if the train had to go up and down or around every mountain in its path. The tunnels are shortcuts to the destination.

What if the dark tunnel times in our lives are shortcuts to where God wants to take us? What if the times when we can’t see Him at work are fast tracks to the person God wants us to be?

During this same China trip we spent a lot of time in planes and airports. I used the time to read Soulprint by Mark Batterson. One of the many passages I underlined was this:

“In God’s grand scheme, it’s never about orchestrating the right circumstances. It’s always about becoming the right person. And sometimes the worst of circumstances brings out the best in us!” (p. 26)

It’s the tunnels of life that help us become the person God wants us to be.

I wish every day would be bright and sunshiny with a breathtaking view of snow sparking on top of majestic peaks. It would be wonderful if I always could sense God’s presence and understand what He was doing in my life.

It’s easy to thank Him for those mountaintop experiences.

But sometimes the tunnel experiences are necessary shortcuts to becoming the right person. The dark times are fast tracks to developing character. The days when I can’t seem to seem to see God through the gloom give me the opportunity to learn to  trust God no matter what.

When I remember that, maybe I can begin to thank God for tunnels.

Question: What do tunnels remind you of?

Lessons from China: Don’t Let Brokenness Destroy Your Beauty

The Black Dragon Pool in Lijiang, China was broken.

All the tourist guides and travel books I read about Lijiang told me to visit this beautiful site where you could see the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain reflected in a pool of clear blue water. Indeed, the pictures of it online were beautiful. This picture, in particular, made the Black Dragon Pool a must-see on our itinerary:

However, when we arrived in Lijiang and walked from our hotel to the Black Dragon Pool, this is what we saw:

Unfortunately, the pool part of the Black Dragon Pool was empty. All of the water was gone.

The woman at our hotel attributed this to the three-year drought that this part of China has been experiencing. But as we walked around the park we saw other parts of the park had plenty of water.

Then we noticed a bridge in the park that was in desperate need of repair. When we walked across it, many of the floor boards were broken or missing.

And underneath this bridge it appeared that construction crews had built a dam of sorts to hold back the water. The boulders piled beneath the bridge prevented water from reaching the most picturesque part of the park. We presumed that this dam was erected so the bridge could be rebuilt.

And yet no one was working on the broken bridge. No workers were present. The bridge remained broken. The pool remained empty.

The brokenness destroyed the beauty of the Black Dragon Pool.

Often this happens in our lives as well. Something in our life gets broken. Our hearts or our dreams are shattered. Our marriages or our careers fall apart. And it’s easy to think: I’m finished. I’ll never be useful again. No one will ever find me attractive. 

Sometimes we allow the brokenness to steal our beauty. We wallow in our regret or mistakes and remain splintered. We forget that God is in the business of fixing crumbled lives and making them whole.

In Ezekiel 34:16 God tells us:

I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak.

God delights in making broken things whole. He longs to be there to offer us strength when we are weak. He desires to restore our beauty through Jesus’ righteousness. We don’t have to stay broken.

Mark Batterson, in his book Soulprint, writes:

He (God) wants to resurrect your personality that has died at the hands of those who have hurt you. He wants to resurrect dreams that have died of disappointment. He wants to resurrect relationships and give them a fresh start. He wants to give you an abundant life, both quantitative and qualitative. (p. 137-138)

We don’t have to fear brokenness, because God can heal us stronger than we before. He can make our relationships better and our inner beauty shine brighter.

Don’t stay in a broken state. Bring the pieces of your life to God and watch Him put them back together in a new and glorious way.

Question: When have you seen God fix the broken pieces of your life?

Lessons from China: Don’t Build a Fake

The city of Lijiang in the Yunnan province of China is lovely, intriguing, and….. fake.

My husband and I heard from several people that this ancient Chinese city was worth the trip. I became excited about visiting this historic landmark when I saw pictures of it online.

The city of Lijiang is on the road to Tibet at the foot of the Himalayas. It is near the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain (read about our trip to this mountain here) and is full of traditional pagoda-style buildings. (In the words of my three-year-old grandson, they are the houses with the dragon roofs.) Some people even think that Lijiang was the original Shangri-la.

So my family and I took a long train trip to see this ancient city and what we discovered was … a fake.

It turns out that much of Lijiang was destroyed in an earthquake in 1996. Many of the the modern concrete buildings did not survive the devastation, but some of the traditional-style buildings did. So they decided to rebuild the city using the old ways. Now the city looks ancient, but is actually quite new. In fact, “Old Lijiang” is constantly expanding.

Even worse, while we walked the new cobblestone streets, we discovered that every “ancient building” was a souvenir shop. Everywhere you looked, the fake old buildings shouted out, “Look here! Buy this! Purchase that!”

Lijiang was a disappointment.

But it was also a reminder of what I sometimes do. When things in my life break apart, I try to fix them by myself. I attempt to rebuild my reputation in a way that looks real on the outside. I strive to form an image that draws attention. But it’s a fake. It’s not the real me.

What God wants is authenticity. David wrote in Psalm 51:6:

Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being, and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart. (ESV)

Often I’m trying to be something that I’m not because I don’t think who I am is good enough. Or like the Lijiang city planners, I think building a fake will get more attention.

Anyone else out there building a fake?

What I have to remember, what we all have to remember, is that yes, we are broken. The earthquake of sin has destroyed the people God meant us to be.

BUT, through faith in what Jesus did for us on the cross, God can rebuild us into something whole and lovely and authentic.

We don’t have to pretend to be beautiful. In Christ we already are.

We don’t have to fake righteousness. Jesus’ blood has made us pure.

We don’t have to act important. In God’s eyes, each one of us is precious.

When you start doubt this–when you begin to resort to rebuilding yourself in a world-pleasing and fake way–remember the words of Ephesians 2:10:

For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago. (NLT)

Question: When are you tempted to be fake?

Lessons from China: How to Listen Past the Noise

During my recent trip to China, I was struck anew by the beauty of Chinese characters.

And the seeming impossibility of reading them!

Here are some examples of some of the signs I saw there:

I mean–how can anyone actually learn to read these beautiful, but extremely complex characters!

But while I was there I began to notice some characters that appeared very often and my daughter (and her four-year-old son!) told me they meant:

big:

person:

and China:

When I started to pay attention, I made a tiny bit of progress in my understanding of Chinese.

It turns out that paying attention is the key to learning a new language, especially at the beginning.

My son-in-law told me of a phenomenon that he learned about when he was still in school in the U.S.

He said that if a person does not make a concerted effort to learn the language of the culture he is living in during the first 18 months of living in that culture, the mind will begin to interpret the language as noise. That person will of course, still hear the language spoken, but the mind will stop trying to make sense of it and simply file it under the category of senseless sound.

This got me thinking about God speaking to me. Often I complain I can’t quite hear God’s voice. I’m looking for direction, but I can’t seem to find it. I want Him to tell me His plan by writing it in the sky or blasting it on the car radio.

But could it be that I’m not understanding God’s words to me because I have been ignoring His voice for awhile? He’s been whispering in my ear, but I have been too busy to really pay attention, so my mind begins to interpret His words as noise in my head?

Isaiah 28:23 says:

Listen and hear my voice; pay attention and hear what I say.

I must admit that there are days when I read my Bible, but I don’t really pay attention to God’s voice. The words enter my eyes, my brain understands the letters on the page, but my heart doesn’t hear the message.

I do better when I prayerfully read God’s word, stopping periodically in my reading to ask questions like:

  • “What are You trying to teach me Lord?”
  • “What do You want me to do with this message?”
  • “How can these words change my heart?”

When I truly take time to listen, I hear God’s voice. I can hear His words of grace. His message of love echoes louder in my heart.

Question: What do you do to pay attention to God’s voice?

Lessons from China: Why We Need to Thank God for Tunnels

 

I’m back from a fantastic trip to China! This is a new post about my adventures there.

Anyone who knows me well, knows that I love mountains. I love to ski in the mountains, hike in the mountains, and simply gaze at mountains.

So one of the reasons I was particularly excited about my recent trip to China was that we were going to make a special journey to see the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain (pictured above). To get to this spectacular peak, which tops out at 18, 360 feet,  my husband and I took a nine-hour train trip with my daughter and her family through the mountainous terrain of the Yunnan province. My little grandsons are big Thomas the Tank engine fans so this was an adventure for them.

 

On the train

During the long trip, Aaron, the four-year-old, and I had an engaging conversation about what we saw whizzing past the train windows. As the train climbed higher and higher, sometimes up and over hills, I told Aaron about my passion for mountains. I told him that I loved the mountains because they are so big and beautiful and they remind me of just how immense God is. Since He made the mountains, He is even bigger than they are.

Mountain views from the train window

View from the train

But the journey also took us through some loooong dark tunnels, which Aaron though were cool, but which I complained about. After all, when we were in a tunnel I couldn’t see the mountains.

Aaron asked me, ” What do the tunnels remind you of, Grandma?”  (That little guy asks some very insightful questions!) Unfortunately I didn’t have a good answer for him at the time. But the question stuck with me.

After some thought, I’ve decided that the tunnels remind me of the dark times of my life, the days when I can’t see God at work in my life, the hours when He seems far away.

I don’t like tunnels.

But then I thought of the purpose of the train tunnels. Although the tunnels were difficult to engineer and build, the effort was worth it because they made the train trip shorter and faster than if the train had to go up and down or around every mountain in its path. The tunnels are shortcuts to the destination.

What if the dark tunnel times in our lives are shortcuts to where God wants to take us? What if the times when we can’t see Him at work are fast tracks to the person God wants us to be?

During this same China trip we spent a lot of time in planes and airports. I used the time to read Soulprint by Mark Batterson. One of the many passages I underlined was this:

“In God’s grand scheme, it’s never about orchestrating the right circumstances. It’s always about becoming the right person. And sometimes the worst of circumstances brings out the best in us!” (p. 26)

It’s the tunnels of life that help us become the person God wants us to be.

I wish every day would be bright and sunshiny with a breathtaking view of snow sparking on top of majestic peaks. It would be wonderful if I always could sense God’s presence and understand what He was doing in my life.

It’s easy to thank Him for those mountaintop experiences.

But sometimes the tunnel experiences are necessary shortcuts to becoming the right person. The dark times are fast tracks to developing character. The days when I can’t seem to seem to see God through the gloom give me the opportunity to learn to  trust God no matter what.

When I remember that, maybe I can begin to thank God for tunnels.

Question: What do tunnels remind you of?

 

Lessons from China: What is Your God Like?

I am in China for a few weeks. Please enjoy this post first published in November about a previous China experience. New posts about China soon!

When my husband and I visited China last year we got a glimpse of a Chinese view of God.

Some Chinese people are atheists or Buddhists or ancestor worshipers. Also there are many Chinese Christians who worship the true God.

But last year when we visited The Temple of Heaven, a large religious site in Beijing built in the 1400s, we found out what the emperor thought of God.

Out guide informed us the emperor would visit the Temple of Heaven twice a year–once in the spring and once at the end of the year. We first learned there were some similarities between this Chinese view of God and the Judeo-Christian view.

For instance: This building is where the emperor went each spring to ask the God of heaven for a good harvest. We also recognize the fact that God is control of weather and growing conditions.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And this building housed a tablet inscribed with the words “God of Heaven.” That reminded me a little of the Old Testament ark of the covenant that housed the tablets inscribed with the ten commandments.

 

 

 

 

 

But this circular altar is where the emperor went at the end of the year to report to God how the year went. I thought: What? Tell God what happened? Didn’t He already know? In the view of the emperor apparently not!

 

 

 

 

 

The Bible tells us that God is omniscient–all-knowing.

1 Samuel says:

There is no one holy like the Lord;
there is no one besides you;
there is no Rock like our God.

Do not keep talking so proudly
or let your mouth speak such arrogance,
for the Lord is a God who knows,
and by him deeds are weighed.

(1 Samuel 2:2-3)

I have to admit that I sometimes have a limited view of God like the Chinese emperor did. Sure I learned in Sunday School and church that God is all-knowing, all-powerful, and completely good. But there are times when I don’t act like I believe that.

I complain to God that He doesn’t understand how I feel.

I try to fix my problems myself, forgetting that the Almighty God is waiting for me to ask for His help.

I sometimes question what is happening in my life and doubt God’s goodness.

It’s then that I need the Holy Spirit to remind me that “the Lord is a God who knows.”

He understands my pain.

He knows the solutions to my problems.

In His might and wisdom He will work everything out for my good.

What is your God like? Right now is view of God limited? Or are you trusting in the God-Who-Knows?

Lessons from China: Why We Build Walls

I will be in China for a couple of weeks. Please enjoy this November post about a previous China experience.

 What man-made structure is 5,500 miles long and visible from space?

The Great Wall of China, of course.

Last year my husband and I had the opportunity to visit this astounding landmark. Simply standing on the Great Wall left me breathless. I could hardly believe the immensity of it. From where I stood, it seemed to go on forever.

Once we began walking on the wall, I became even more breathless. The wall is built on the ridge of a mountain range and is rarely level. While we were walking there, we were either going up or down. Although it’s hard to show the steep incline on a two-dimensional photo here’s a sample of what we experienced:

The Great Wall was built to protect China from invaders. Although parts of it date back as far as the 7th century B.C., most of it was built in the 14th century A.D.  It was built by soldiers, common people, slaves, and criminals.

Although the finished wall did indeed help protect China from the invading Monguls, it was built at great cost. Many people died during its construction and stories are told that often those who died were simply buried under the stones and bricks while others kept on working.

Thinking about the Great Wall and its cost in materials and human life, made me realize that often the walls I try to build to protect myself usually have a great personal cost as well.

One wall that I am often tempted to build is one to protect my pride and my control of my own life.

Instead of blocks of stone, I erect brick after brick of:

Insistence-On-My-Way

Directing-My-Own-Life

Stubbornly-Refusing-To-Yield

A few years ago I sensed a rift in my relationship with God.

My Heavenly Father seemed far away.

Prayers seemed to bounce off the ceiling.

Devotional time seemed dry and boring.

Reading the Bible brought no new insights.

God then showed me that I had built a wall of pride. Probably I built the wall as a testimony to my skill and abilities. I constructed it as a means to protect my own plans. I erected it to prevent the unthinkable–failure.

However, the wall ended up blocking my view of God. I could no longer see Him clearly. I felt distant from Him even though He was patiently waiting on the other side of the wall.

Psalm 10:4 talks about this experience:

In his pride the wicked does not seek him; in all his thoughts there is no room for God.

My pride had shut out God.

When I realized that my wall was doing more harm than good, I asked God to help me dismantle it. Brick by brick, I began to set aside my pride, my plans, and my self-sufficiency.

It was only then that I was able to clearly see God’s goodness, grace, and love.

Question: When have you built a wall that you thought was helpful, only to find out it was harmful?

Lessons from China: Why You Need a Guide

I will be in China for the next few weeks. Please enjoy this post from November about a previous Chinese experience.

 

I stepped up to the counter to check in for my flight home. I handed the attractive Chinese woman at the airport my flight information and my passport. She busily typed on the computer keyboard and then stood up to speak to me. Her forehead creased as she tried to find the correct English words to explain something to me. But she stopped and started and I didn’t understand.

I began to worry. Was there something wrong with the plane? Was the flight cancelled?

Thankfully, my Mandarin-speaking son-in-law stepped up beside me. The airport worker apparently asked Nate if he understood Chinese, he nodded yes and the relieved-looking woman went on to explain the problem to Nate.

Nate then interpreted to us that we had arrived at the airport a little too early and the computer system would not let us check our bags yet. We had to wait 10 minutes.

What a relief! The problem was really a non-problem. All we had to do was wait. But if we had not had Nate for a guide we would not have known that.

In a land like China where the typical American cannot speak the language or even read the signs, it is critical to have a guide.

When we toured Beijing last year, we hired a guide. That’s me with Ken above. (And yes, he is unusually tall for a Chinese man.) Ken expertly guided us to the Great Wall, the Forbidden City, and the Summer Palace. He helped us buy the needed tickets, told us where to go, and explained the historical significance of the sights we were seeing. Maybe even more important, he also helped us order food in restaurants and showed us where the 4-star potties were (those with Western toilets). Without Ken, we would have been lost in this beautiful but foreign land.

My experiences in China came to mind the other day when I read Psalm 48:14:

For this God is our God for ever and ever;
he will be our guide even to the end.

Just as my husband and I needed a guide to steer us through the foreign maze of Chinese culture, I need God to guide me through the twisting and turning path of life on earth.

This world is not my home and it is so easy for me to get side-tracked or take the wrong path. Life is confusing. I need Someone to say, “This is the way. Follow me.” I need direction. I need guidance.

Thankfully God promises to be my guide to the end. He is always there to hold my hand. Even when I sometimes let go and wander off, He is there to pull me back on the right path. He is my God and guide for ever and ever.

And sometimes when my problems are puzzling, God tells me all I really have to do is wait 10 minutes (or the equivalent in eternity’s time zone).

All I need is to pause while He fixes the problem.

All I have to do is stay close to Him while He takes care of everything.

Question: When have you appreciated the expertise of a guide?

 

 

Lessons from China

I will be in China for the next few weeks, visiting my daughter and her family. Please enjoy this rerun of a November post about China.

Some interesting facts about China:

China is considered the longest continuous civilization.
Geographically, China is the fourth largest country in the world.
One in every five people in the world is Chinese.

Five of the people I love the most live in China

We recently returned from a trip to visit those five precious people. My husband and I made the long journey to reconnect with our daughter Anna, her husband Nate, and their three little boys Aaron, Andrew, and brand-new Alexander.

In the weeks ahead I will share some of the lessons God has been teaching me through my two trips to China.

Today I thought I would start by sharing some pictures from the our most recent trip. Then I’ll talk about one of the lessons I learned from our journey.

Highlights of our trip:

That’s me holding new baby Alexander!

Happy heart! Being close to all three grandsons!

 

Baby Alexander–born October 6!

My husband John helping Aaron and Andrew to play with their bubble guns

The whole family: Aaron, Anna, Alexander, Nate, and Andrew

Lessons from China:

One of the most obvious lessons learned whenever you visit China is how very different the culture is. As soon as you step off the plane you realize you are not in Kansas anymore!

You can’t read the signs.

99.9% of the people around look different from you.

The food is different.

Yes those are brains in the pink plate on the top shelf!

I am amazed at how well Anna and Nate have adapted to this foreign culture. After a year and a half of living there, they can now speak the language fairly well and read enough signs to know how to get around their city and navigate the grocery store. They don’t eat brains, but they have adopted some of the Chinese eating habits into their menus.

I admitted to my son-in-law Nate that I didn’t think I would do as well. It would be very difficult for me to leave the Western culture that I have grown up in to live in a place where even ordering food would be a challenge. It would be hard for me to leave a place where I feel comfortable, to begin again in a foreign city where everyone stares at you because you are different.

Then it occurred to me that I actually do live in a foreign culture. Even though this environment is the one I’ve always known, it really isn’t my home. The apostle Paul reminds us:

Our citizenship is in heaven. Philippians 3:20

What I learned:

  • I live in this physical world, but I shouldn’t get too comfortable. My real home is in heaven.
  • While I am here on earth, I live in its culture. But I must be careful to not let it live in me.
  • I must be careful to not fit in to this environment too well. Because Christ lives in me I am different.

I’m glad that Anna and Nate have adapted to the foreign culture of China. It is necessary for them to do so.

But I pray that I will not get too comfortable in the culture of this world. I ask God to help me to remember that this is not my home.

 

Lessons from China: What is Your God Like?

When my husband and I visited China last year we got a glimpse of a Chinese view of God.

Some Chinese people are atheists or Buddhists or ancestor worshipers. Also there are many Chinese Christians who worship the true God.

But last year when we visited The Temple of Heaven, a large religious site in Beijing built in the 1400s, we found out what the emperor thought of God.

Out guide informed us the emperor would visit the Temple of Heaven twice a year–once in the spring and once at the end of the year. We first learned there were some similarities between this Chinese view of God and the Judeo-Christian view.

For instance: This building is where the emperor went each spring to ask the God of heaven for a good harvest. We also recognize the fact that God is control of weather and growing conditions.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And this building housed a tablet inscribed with the words “God of Heaven.” That reminded me a little of the Old Testament ark of the covenant that housed the tablets inscribed with the ten commandments.

 

 

 

 

 

But this circular altar is where the emperor went at the end of the year to report to God how the year went. I thought: What? Tell God what happened? Didn’t He already know? In the view of the emperor apparently not!

 

 

 

 

 

The Bible tells us that God is omniscient–all-knowing.

1 Samuel says:

There is no one holy like the Lord;
there is no one besides you;
there is no Rock like our God.

Do not keep talking so proudly
or let your mouth speak such arrogance,
for the Lord is a God who knows,
and by him deeds are weighed.

(1 Samuel 2:2-3)

I have to admit that I sometimes have a limited view of God like the Chinese emperor did. Sure I learned in Sunday School and church that God is all-knowing, all-powerful, and completely good. But there are times when I don’t act like I believe that.

I complain to God that He doesn’t understand how I feel.

I try to fix my problems myself, forgetting that the Almighty God is waiting for me to ask for His help.

I sometimes question what is happening in my life and doubt God’s goodness.

It’s then that I need the Holy Spirit to remind me that “the Lord is a God who knows.”

He understands my pain.

He knows the solutions to my problems.

In His might and wisdom He will work everything out for my good.

What is your God like? Right now is view of God limited? Or are you trusting in the God-Who-Knows?