Hello, This is Beijing


Today I am joining in Sarah Bessey’s Synchroblog: In which we are saved, right now.

I received a phone call last night.

Sophia, our homestay student, approached me and said, My father would like to talk to you.

Uh-oh. I was making dinner and she didn’t know when he was going to call back. Just that he was going to call before the end of the night.

My head raced a little. Did I do something wrong? Was she upset? Was there something I missed?

It’s been one week since Grace and Sophia arrived from China. I picked them up last Thursday and I remember standing at school, with three little sheep around my hips, gathering in two more. They were a little hesitant at first. I tossed in a few Mandarin sentences when it looked like they were really confused, but I might as well have been speaking Zulu. (I’ll pretend it’s my Taiwanese accent.)

What I know about this week is, I’ve been cooking a lot: spaghetti bolognese, salmon, rice, gourmet macaroni and cheese (the recipe with the bacon), chicken in the wok, stir-fry vegetables. I’ve flipped pancakes, made waffles, baked muffins and cut up fruit. I’ve stood around the kitchen island, listening to Ann Voskamp’s One Thousand Gifts for inspiration, and made lunches deep into the night. I’ve poured apple juice, grape juice and soy milk. On Wednesday the dishwasher ran through three cycles.

I drive the girls to school for 9am and pick them up in the afternoon.

It’s been good and full and intentional.

Yesterday I had this thought while vacuuming: I guess this is true hospitality–taking in these teenaged strangers from the other side of the world and writing a welcome on the carpet. Perhaps I am living out my faith here. Reaching across, not always quite sure if I’m doing the right thing, meeting their needs quite right, because they don’t always want to ask … It’s hard to ask for what we need in ordinary circumstances, even harder in a stranger’s home in a foreign language. I remember what it’s like to be so out of place. I remember well.

So I try and anticipate. I open up space the way I imagine I’d want space to be opened up for me. I imagine these girls as my girls, in case they were to go to China at the ages of 12 and 14, all by themselves. I want for these girls what I would want for my own daughters.

I also want for these two girls to connect with a new culture and a people and think, These are good people.

I want my kids to not see Chinese girls, but friends with names. Grace and Sophia.

There was a moment, last Saturday night–when the girls were still a bit awkward, trying to find their voices and rhythm in our family–that lined up the universe for me in our little carpeted corner of the world. Gabrielle, our fearless eight-year-old and social butterfly, went downstairs to say goodnight to the girls. I was in my office, right at the top of the stairs. It wasn’t long before I started hearing the giggles …

The sound of their laughter rang up the stairs and I stopped my work. I wanted to hear, take in the moment.

They laughed and laughed and laughed and laughed. Girl giggles. Eight-year-old, 12-year-old and 14-year-old giggles. Canadian giggles. Chinese giggles. For 20 minutes they laughed.

I listened to the sound of laughter and connection across cultural differences and language barriers. I heard how laughter is its own language.

It turned out Gabi had started a pillow fight. And when they weren’t swatting pillows at each other, they were making bunny ears behind each other’s heads saying, “You’re the rabbit.”

“No, you’re the rabbit!”

After those laughter-filled 20 minutes on that Saturday night, I exhaled … This homestay first might just work out.

Until Sophia said her dad wanted to talk to me.

There was a night this week when she felt homesick and cried, but I hugged her and kissed the top of her head and then Grace, the 12-year-old, hung out with her when I went to pick up my other two girls from camp. She seemed fine after that.

Then the phone call.

At first he was hesitant, like he was warming up his brain for the English to flow out.

“I am Sophia’s father,” he said. Clear, confident. He started with small talk, about not wanting to interrupt me while making dinner earlier. I said it was no problem.

“It has been one week since Sophia came to your house,” he said.

That’s true, I said, trying to sound really friendly, not quite sure where the conversation was going.

“Sophia is very happy to stay with your family,” he said, “and my wife and I just want to thank you.”

My shoulders dropped. O, thank you, Lord.

“This is Sophia’s first time to be away from home and my wife and I are very grateful, because now we don’t have to be concerned any more.”

Then he added–the ultimate Chinese compliment: “Sophia said your cooking is delicious.”

Woo–hoo! All that work–she tasted it. She tasted the Love!

“She especially liked the fish,” he added. “You know, at home we can never get Sophia to eat fish.”

I smiled. Thank you, Lord, for Canadian salmon.

And thank you, Lord, for men like this who call and bridge the gap and make this beautiful connection across timezones and awkward sentences. Thank you for fathers who adore their daughters and say thank you so graciously.

Thank you, Lord, for moments like these when my heart feels alive and so full of gratitude that we really can be a bridge across foreign divides. Thank you, Lord, for moments like these that save me.

Because in the busyness of being a gracious hostess and a summer Mama and a website editor, there’s not been much time for the things that usually save me. No time for quiet moments, reading, writing, soulful sips or any kind of required serenity. Truth is: I was flapping my wings a bit.

Until this Friday night phone call reminded me: This is what I spend my life doing–this building of bridges, threading connections and spreading Love. It may sound strange, but it is the Big Picture that’s saving me right now. Like painting the ceiling of a large cathedral, lying on my back, right today the daily-ness is hard and my body is sore. But when I look up and out–into what God is doing and what I get to walk in, I smile. I love this.

This Bigger Story of connection and acceptance across culture and race and language and economic difference–bridging “us” and “them”–this story I am so hoping to write with my life and in our family and in our Sisterhood, moving into it, this is what’s saving me right now.

Lifting up my head, not knowing if I’ll ever see the eventual results, is saving me right now.

Just this faithful, steadfast walking towards a future I hope for … this, most honestly, is what’s saving me right now.

  • http://Delightfuldiction.blogspot.com Randi

    I love stories about bridging the gap between cultures. Laughter is definitely a universal language and what a wonderful experience for your children!

  • idelette

    Thank you, Randi! Like your experience in Spain, right? Love that. Our globalgirl hearts.

    • http://Delightfuldiction.blogspot.com Randi

      Yes! There is truly nothing like jumping head first into another culture. It makes a person stronger! How long are your international students with you?

  • http://steadfastjoy.wordpress.com Jenny

    Ah so much love! 😀 Please do keep us posted as to how the two girls are doing. I have such a heart for international students.

  • http://Danielaschwartz.com Daniela

    Beautiful idelette! I was just thinking I’d love to see a post by you. Your voice brings so much heart and revelation. I think I need you and your extended family at my table before they return home, a night off of cooking for you? xoxo

  • http://fionalynne.com/blog/ fiona lynne

    I just love this. When the father called I realised I was actually holding my breath as I read :) It’s so nice to get this little glimpse into your life, imagine your girls laughing and laughing. And that image of the ceiling-painter? That’s one I’m taking away with me…

  • http://www.sarahbessey.com Sarah Bessey

    You are just my favourite.

  • http://biscotti_brain.blogspot.com Erin Wilson

    I can attest to the fact that you make those in your home feel incredibly loved and valued. You have a gift… and these girls are at the perfect age to be impacted by your graciousness. I was an exchange student long, long ago, and I can tell you that I still remember the kindness of those who hosted me. They made a life-long impact. You’re doing the very same.

    I also love the graciousness of their father. We somehow think that fathers in most cultures are indifferent to the lives of their children. How lovely to see a father’s love and caring spill over to you.

    You’re amazing.
    Much love from Munich…

  • http://neritia.wordpress.com neritia

    Idelette….this post is such a testimony of who you are! I remember how walking into you home so many years ago made me feel like I arrived home. You have a way of embracing the people in your life that makes them feel valued (Erin is right).

    You see deep and you go deep without it feeling like being pushed….those girls are in the presence of love and I love how Sophia’s dad knows it.


  • http://www.carisadel.com Caris Adel

    This is amazing. I had a friend who had a Chinese exchange student, and (I personally think the problems lay with her approach) it was miserable for all involved. I’ve had good and bad experiences with exchange students, and I feel bad that she and a lot of people she knows are so turned off to the experience now. So, this is amazing. I love your attitude about it, and putting it out there to inspire other people. I can’t wait until we are able to do something similar.

  • http://melissafeddersen.com Melissa

    Oh wow…I am so excited to have found your blog. I’ve been nourished here…