Monday, May 24, 2010

A reunion

This week-end, we got together with the other families that traveled together to adopt our girls from China. We've gotten together a number of times since we returned seven years ago. It's an interesting mix of people. We really have nothing in common except for that trip and having adopted girls from China but we keep getting together. The picture on the right is from the original trip and was taken the day before we headed back to the United States (April 22, 2003). Our Emma is the second one from the right on the couch. We had already adopted her in China but would also need to adopt her here when we got back. But as far as we were concerned, these girls were our daughters now.

My wife and son were originally going to go with me but then the SARS outbreak hit. It was recommended that as few people as possible make the trip so I elected to go alone. It was exciting and scary and lonely all at the same time. I missed my wife and son (we ran up really big phone bills while I was there) but I was excited to meet our new daughter and also to learn about this vast country that I knew little about. We visited the Great Wall of China (picture of me there at the left) and the Forbidden City. Then we traveled to Nanchang to meet and adopt our girls. It had been a long day for us (sightseeing then a plane ride to Nanchang) and the girls (they had an all-day bus trip to Nanchang). We finally got to meet them after dinner that night. Most of the babies were crying by that point but when they brought me to Emma, she screamed! She was deathly afraid of this hulking man with a bushy beard and silly hair (that's what she calls it now). I had to hand her off to a nurse to try to calm her down. She didn't want to have anything to do with me. I was devastated. How was this going to work out?

After some instructions from the nannies from the orphanage and some signing of papers and the taking of pictures, it was time to take the babies back to our rooms and get to bed. She screamed the whole way to our room. She screamed even louder when I took off her clothes and changed her diaper. Then I tried to feed her with a bottle and she managed to find the energy to scream even louder. This was never going to work. But finally, she wore herself out and fell asleep in my arms. I put her in the crib and crawled into bed. I couldn't sleep from worrying. I knew she'd wake up in a few hours and I'd have to deal with the screaming again. And I was right. She woke and I picked her up (screaming), changed her diaper (louder screaming) and gave her another bottle of formula (new highs in screaming) and she again wore herself out and fell asleep. I was desperate. and worried that the hotel security would be knocking at the door to find out what I was doing to this poor little girl.

Then at about 2 or 3 am I heard her stirring and prepared for the next round of screaming. I went over to the crib to watch her wake up. She turned over, looked up at me...and smiled! I broke down crying from exhaustion and joy. She let me pick her up and give her a bottle. She let me hold her and I sang to her, talked to her and walked all around the room. She still wasn't happy about my changing her diaper but I could live with that.

In the next few days, we did everything together. I carried her all around the city in a carrier so that she always faced me. The last picture (on the right) shows us at the Tengwang Pavillion in Nanchang. In those days before we left for home, we had a wonderful time together We ate and talked and sang and danced. We saw the sights and played with the other girls and families. It was a time I'll never forget but I was afraid for a time that I'd always be remembered as the only person to ever travel to China to adopt a child and come home empty handed. I didn't. I came home with the most beautiful girl in China.

Friday, May 21, 2010

A fire in the woods

On my walk today, I went into an area of the woods I haven't used for a week or so. It looks like there was a fire that consumed about an acre of the woods (I'm guessing the area is about 300 feet long and about 150 feet wide making it 45,000 square feet with an acre being about 43,500 square feet). I hadn't heard anything in the news and have seen nothing in the paper about it so, perhaps it was a controlled burn. That area was in a valley that collected a lot of water and was more overgrown than the rest of the forest.

But, I really wonder. I didn't see any tire tracks on the edges of the burn so they didn't have any big equipment there to stop it. You can see tire tracks in the top photo where a vehicle went through the middle of the area. Maybe they just had enough firemen (fire-persons?) there to keep it under control. As you know from my other entries, I can come up with all sorts of weird explanations and justifications for things when I don't know the facts. If I find anything else, of course, I'll enter it here.

As I mentioned last spring, the town paid to have a machine go through the forest and clear areas along the paths as a fire break and to allow fire vehicles to get into the woods in case of a fire. So, this could have been an event that showed the wisdom of that move or as a planned justification of that effort. Boy, could I go off on the conspiracy part if I wanted to!

[Update - 3:10 PM, May 21 (same day) - Well it was an uncontrolled fire! One of the guys in the office found a news report about ten fires in our county on Monday of this week, May 17. It had been longer than I'd thought since I'd walked in that area. Also, the fire department estimated that the burned area I saw was about three acres. So, I didn't see the whole area - or my size estimation skills are pretty bad!]

Monday, May 17, 2010

The fiery furnace

We had a really good sermon this past Sunday. I hope to comment on it some more later but the verses used for the sermon led me to remember something interesting from my college days so I'll write this down before I forget it.

This week's sermon was about anxiety and how we deal with it. The scripture came from Daniel and the story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego being threatened with death for not worshiping an idol that the Babylonian king had set up. The king said that if they wouldn't bow down to his idol, they would be thrown into a furnace.

In my junior year at college, among the many guys on my floor in the dormitory, we had a fellow whose last name was Shedrick and another fellow whose last name was Michak. All we needed was someone with a last name similar to Adednego and we'd have been all set for a lot of jokes and fun photos. Maybe we could have taken a photo of them with a cot and said it was a picture of Shedrick, Michak and a-bed-to-go.

OK - I'll never make it as a comedy writer.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Following the greener grass

We live right on a main road in our town. It's a state-owned road that connects our town with other towns. Sometimes it is hard to get out of our driveway and this morning it was really bad. Long lines of cars were coming in both directions so I had time to think (or to get mad - but I chose to think about it). I wondered if all of these people were going to work. If they were, it meant that a lot of people from other towns were coming to work in our town and a lot of people from our town were going to work in other towns (myself included). Why is this? I could see if one town or the other was a bad place to live but had a lot of jobs. Then it would make sense that everyone would want to live in the good town and work in the town with all the jobs. But people were going both ways. So, maybe it's a "grass is always greener" sort of thing. The jobs always look better in the other town but when you're at work, the living always looks better in the town that doesn't have your job. The Bible calls it envy.

"Then I observed that most people are motivated to success because they envy their neighbors. But this, too, is meaningless—like chasing the wind." Ecclesiastes 4:4 New Living Translation

Of course, most people traveling to work aren't doing it out of envy. I've always liked living as close to my job as possible. But while our company started in the town where I've always lived since moving here 32 years ago, we ran out of space - twice - and moved further away - twice. Now, I have to drive between 15 and 20 minutes to the next town to get to work. I used to ride my bicycle to work until the company moved - twice. And before I had this job, I worked for ten years in the same town where I was living.

Maybe things will change as fuel becomes more expensive but sometimes it costs more to live in one town or another. And sometimes there are more jobs in one place than another. But don't you think it would be better if more people lived in the town where they work? I guess that would be too organized. Human society, with all its attempts to be otherwise, has never been organized.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Bad pictures of a beautiful tree

These are pictures of a tree in the parking lot at our office. It is always beautiful every spring but this year it is more beautiful than usual. And every year, I try to get a good picture of it but I always fail. There are always cars, signs or the building in the background. I've tried to get the background unfocused but I can't seem to do that when I want to. I've tried to wait until cars have been moved from behind it but someone is always staying late and insists on parking next to the tree. So, for what it's worth, here are my latest attempts.

The first picture shows the tree on April 30 when the buds were swelling and getting ready to bloom. I took it from a bad angle and the lovely, pink buds blend in with the background.

The second picture was taken seven days later and shows the tree in full bloom. In a way, I couldn't take a really bad picture of the tree because is it so lovely. But I certainly could have taken a better picture.

I keep trying to get pictures where the subject is in focus and the background is blurred (photographers call this Bokeh - although that means creatively using blurring and not necessarily in the background). This link points to a webpage that helps you get this in your photos.

As you can see, I can't do it on demand. I really tried on the two photos of the trees. My last picture here shows that I can get the blurry background - sometimes.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Getting the whole story

I have another office kitchen story. I told a story in August last year about needing to get the other side of a story when I couldn't figure out why someone kept turning off the alert on the microwave ovens. There was a good reason for doing that.

Now, I was just in the kitchen as someone was making coffee. She is Japanese and I enjoy talking with her about different traditions in Japan and how they differ from similar things we do here in the United States (like Japanese students eating Kit-Kat bars before a big test). Today, she was making a pot of coffee in our big Bunn-O-Matic machine (similar to the one pictured here) and she had just finished pushing the basket holding the grounds into the machine and hitting the switch to start the process. Then, she clapped her hands three times and started to walk away. I thought this must be some Japanese tradition - clapping your hands for good luck or to make it work faster. Maybe it was a general tradition for making any food or beverage.

Luckily, I didn't just let my imagination run away and decided to ask her about the "tradition." She said, "No. The bag was leaking and I got grounds all over my hands. I was clapping to clean the loose grounds off my hands." Well, there you are. No ancient tradition. No wish for good luck. Just a practical matter. I guess I'm glad I asked and didn't start a false story about it. But it sounded so interesting when I explained it to myself. Maybe I should start the tradition.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Big day for our church

The big day was actually four days ago on May 2.  I'm a little late getting started this month. Our church is bursting at the seams. There is little room in the parking lot, little room for Sunday School and, to fit everyone in, there need to be three services on Sunday morning. This is a good situation in some ways (you always want to be spreading the Good News and getting more people to come and learn about Jesus) but it makes it very inconvenient to worship and learn.

So, it was decided that a new building was needed. Unfortunately, that also means a new location. The church is currently a five minute walk from our house. The new location will be about a ten minute drive from our house. I won't go into the specifics in this post. Those can be found here. The picture here is the architect's conceptual drawing of the proposed new church building and is from the page the link points to.

The building of the new church and the need to raise money for it was the subject of a story in some local newspapers. A letter writer, in the next edition of the paper, questioned the need for such a large, expensive new church and wondered why all that money couldn't be used to help the poor. Well, first of all, this church is quite active in helping people. This is no "just come to church on Sunday" congregation. It is very involved in helping the needy. But this new building is going to be very expensive. And the Big Day I refer to above was the culmination of a capital campaign to raise money for the church. Are you ready for this? A total of $2,325,835.11 was pledged over the next three years to cover the acquisition of the land and the building of the church. And that doesn't cover the operating expenses it will require. That's a lot of money. So, should we just take that money and help people? It's a fair question in a bad economy like this.

This reminds me of the story in John 12 about the time Jesus was in Bethany to visit Lazarus and Lazarus' sister Mary anointed Jesus with expensive perfume. Judas objected, saying,
"Why wasn't this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year's wages."   John 12:5  New Living Translation
Jesus answered, saying,
"Leave her alone," Jesus replied. "It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial. You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me."   John 12:7-8   New Living Translation
It has taken me a long time to realize what Jesus was saying here. He wasn't saying we shouldn't help the poor. On the contrary, he was always among the poor and helping them himself. And there were many laws and traditions for helping the poor in the Jewish religion. I think Jesus was saying two things here.

One thing I think Jesus was saying was that taking money and using it in a one-time-help to the poor isn't always going to really help them (an exception would be helping in time of an emergency). I remember a time when an acquaintance, who was complaining about the existence of government programs to help the poor, said that he was more likely than most of us to stop and give a beggar some money. He said that's what more people should do and so we could cut government "give away" programs, as he called them. What he didn't realize is that intermittent giving, based on a feeling of pity at the moment, doesn't really help. It's the old giving a man a fish versus teaching him to fish proverb. It takes time and commitment to teach someone to fish. So, just taking the money and using it to help the poor may help for a while. But the purpose of building the new church is to have more facilities and to draw more people into the church. The church, which has useful and continuing programs to help, will be better able to help people - both physically and spiritually.

The other thing Jesus was saying is that there are moments when it is appropriate to use our money and talents to worship and praise God. Jesus, when he was anointed with perfume, was on his way to Jerusalem to be praised for a short time and then crucified. The time was right for what Mary did. After a great deal of prayer and examination, it was decided that this was the right time to build the new church. It will be to God's glory that this new building and facilities will be dedicated. And this will be a new, useful and open-to-all facility that will last for decades - or longer!

All that being said, we should not be angry with the letter writer. They asked a valid question and we should treat it as a challenge. Jesus said something else in verses 7 and 8. We will always have the poor among us and it is our duty to help them when we can. I believe this new church will do that.