There and Back Again

While our recent 2.5 month stint in the States may not have been quite so dramatic as the infamous hobbit’s tale, it was not without event! I (Jessica) actually have a whole other post that I wrote while we were in the US, but after starting it, I was never able to get back around to editing it. I apologize for dropping the ball on communication with those of you who we did not get to see in person. Here’s to a new and more consistently communicative chapter in our lives!

img_8215Instead of trying to summarize all that has happened in the past months; I’d like to share a couple moments when we saw the hand of God at work around us. The Lord has been so faithful to us, and we are so thankful to Him!

Small Town Church, Still a Big God

We were honored to be invited to speak at many churches throughout the southeast (well, I guess some weren’t in what a true Southerner can rightfully call the “south”east but you get the idea). At one church in north Georgia, God gave us a sweet surprise. Holly Springs UMC has been unbelievably kind to us over the past couple years. They are a little country church that doesn’t let their small size get in the way of how big they share God’s love. They send us notes of encouragement, birthday and Christmas gifts for the kids (like, a lot!), and basically just remind us that we aren’t forgotten. So we were really looking forward to the Sunday we would speak in their service and get to thank everyone in person for their above-and-beyond support.

After the service, I noticed across the room that Josh was approached by a woman who looked kind of Taiwanese. I knew that was pretty unlikely because in my entire childhood in that city I’d never once met someone from Taiwan and that little church was the last place I’d expect someone from Taiwan to wind up. But when I asked Josh about it later, sure enough, she was Taiwanese! She had only been to the church once before–just in time to hear that missionaries from Taiwan would be coming to speak– and she made sure to come back to meet us. God went out of the way to encourage all our hearts through that meeting. Praise the Lord for divine encounters!

Hosanna’s Hospitalization

I don’t often share much detail about Hosanna’s medical life. This is partially to protect her privacy and also because we often have far more questions than answers and don’t know what to write. Thankfully, coming back from the US we have many more helpful techniques and medical answers to make moving forward “on our own” in Taiwan a less daunting task.

One year ago, August 2018, Hosanna began having absence seizures, sometimes called staring seizures. At first I thought she was just ignoring us or being silly at mealtimes. Once or twice a week swiftly turned into episodes at every meal, and then became hundreds of seizures all throughout the day– in the car, at therapy, while playing– anywhere and everywhere. At the time, we didn’t know if these were seizures, a behavioral issue, or a response to some unknown stimulus. It was terrifying. I remember driving her back from therapy, watching her “pass out” over and over again in the rearview mirror with nothing I could do to stop it.

After receiving inconclusive test results in Taiwan (“just try to keep her from getting stressed” was not the most helpful advice we could have received) we decided to pursue further testing in the US. This is part of why our stay was as long as it was; we needed a lot of time to fit in many specialized appointments throughout GA, KY, and OH. We started with a 1 hour EEG at Cincinnati Children’s (which we LOVE!) but Hosanna didn’t have any episodes until they removed the monitors. So they requested we come back for a 24 hour EEG, which we were hard pressed to find any time in our already packed schedule to do! Thankfully we had exactly 2.5 days when we were in KY that they were available to schedule us; and so on the Fourth of July, after attending the Wilmore parade and cheering on the lawn mower brigade, we packed up our crew and headed back to Cinci.

We were kind of dreading the 24 hours with Hosanna stuck in a hospital room… that’s a challenge with any 3 year old, but with one who has some unique behavioral issues and pretty much refuses to sleep if there’s a person nearby, we were expecting the worst. We prayed that God would give us all grace, and especially peace for Hosanna through all the new procedures (and new boundaries to be tested!).

We bought Hosanna a new doll as a special toy to take with her to the hospital. For the first time in her life, she chose a name for a toy. The doll’s name? Grace. When Hosanna had to lay still while they attached electrode after electrode, she held on to Grace. When she played in her big hospital bed with the assortment of toys brought by the staff, Grace was always right next to her. When she got scared by the blood pressure arm cuff or was going under anesthesia for her MRI the next day, Grace was held tight. I couldn’t help but thank the Lord for such a precious picture of His perfect grace in our lives. How I long to hold onto the Lord’s grace in the way that Hosanna held onto her baby Grace– as a constant companion, come what may.img_7699

Hosanna did AMAZINGLY, and the test results were, for the most part, good news. While we don’t know why she has the seizures, we do know it isn’t caused by any malformation in her brain, which means she will likely outgrow them. The frequency has already decreased from over 100 a day to about 5-10 each day, sometimes none at all. We praise God for these medical improvements and answering our prayers for her peace during our stay at the hospital.

Thank You!

The Lord blessed us through so many people who hosted us in their homes, gave us medical and therapy advice, babysat our kids, gave financial gifts towards God’s work in Taiwan, listened as we shared our story, and shared their stories with us. If that was you– thank you! While I’m not sure we would ever feel like we had “enough” time to visit with everyone as much as we would enjoy; we are grateful to be back in Taiwan.

img_8116

We FINALLY have a routine, and can step back into the community and ministries we’ve been away from all summer. More on that in our next Mailchimp update, but the stories you’ve just read were on my heart and I wanted to share them and thank the Lord for them publicly while they were still fresh!

We love hearing from you, so please leave a comment or shoot us an email: jwilliamson@onemissionsociety.org.

Peace to you,

-Jessica (on behalf of the other 4- Josh, Hosanna, Judah, and Evangeline)

img_8357

Twinning in Taiwan: Part 2

Last we left off, the twins were days away from making their entry into the world. Today we’ve got month-old twins, precious little sleep, and lots more love in our home than ever before! Welcome to the world, Judah Joshua and Evangeline (pronounced “-leen”) Elisabeth! Here’s a bit of the story of their entry into the world and our adjustment to becoming a family of 5…

On November 6 we were told to arrive at the hospital at noon to get checked in for my cesarean section. Another mom was scheduled for a c-section with my doctor before me, so we knew that it would be later in the day when we finally got to meet the twins. That was one of the longest mornings of our lives! We’d already scrambled to get everything ready over the previous few days, so we had nothing to do but wait… and wait and wait… for noon to roll around.

When we finally left for the hospital we gave Hosanna lots of hugs and kisses and left her in the capable care of Josh’s parents Rod and Beth. Beth stayed with Hosanna at our house through our entire hospital stay, took her to therapy, and helped her “meet” the twins through pictures in videos while she waited for us to come home. Rod brought us all our meals, plus all the items we forgot to pack the first time. We really could not have done it without their help!

Going in to the twins’ birth, I tried not to have too many expectations for what I thought would happen… I knew from our experience with Hosanna that too many expectations can sometimes lead to a whole lot more stress when things don’t go as planned! I spent a lot of time praying in advance that God would give me contentment to accept the situations that came up that were simply out of our control, and the Lord was gracious to give me His peace each time that happened. And we certainly had some surprises!

DSC_0971

Two surprises that we were really thankful for were that Josh was allowed to be in the operating room when the twins were born, which is not usually allowed in Taiwan, and that we were able to get a single room on the first night. Often, the single rooms are all taken and you have to stay in a double or triple room until one becomes available.

We also had a few unexpected events that were a little less welcome. We were told we could have skin-to-skin time with the babies immediately (in the operating room), but it ended up being nearly 3 hours before we were able to see or hold either one of our babies! We still don’t know why, but the nurses showed us the babies and let us give each one a kiss right after they were born, then whisked them away to the nursery and refused to let Josh come in. In addition to that, Judah had aspirated a small amount of amniotic fluid, so they kept him in NICU for the entirety of our hospital stay to monitor him. I was not able to see him until the next day which was frustrating, but thankfully Evangeline was totally healthy and able to stay with us the rest of the time. (Judah was pretty much fine the whole time and is perfectly healthy now!)

Two big differences between the American and Taiwanese views on postpartum care stood out during our five day stay. In Taiwan, and many other parts of Asia, women are expected to take a month of rest after giving birth. No cleaning, no leaving the house, no washing your hair! A mother or mother-in-law will often step in to help during this time. I completely forgot about the Taiwanese views on washing your hair, and washed mine the second night in the hospital. When I went out to visit Judah in the NICU afterwards, the nurses on duty were appalled to see my wet hair air-drying and immediately offered to bring me a hair dryer so I wouldn’t catch a cold. Ironic, in my opinion, since the hospital doesn’t even provide hand soap in the rooms, which I would think could do a bit more to prevent colds from spreading!

Pain management is different here, too. After my c-section in the US, the nurses would frequently remind me to “stay ahead of the pain” by taking strong painkillers before the pain got too bad. Here in Taiwan, I was offered one strong painkiller per day and only allowed to take acetaminophen or ibuprofen the rest of the time. Additionally, some nurses seemed to think even that was too much, and if I wasn’t crying they would tell me that I should wait until the pain was more serious! Thankfully once I got past those first two (excruciating) days of recovery, my healing seemed to go much more quickly than it had in the US, and I was completely off of all medicines before we left the hospital.

Having Judah and Evangeline in our family has already been such a delight. They are completely different little people, and it doesn’t feel so much like we have “twins” (which makes it sound like they are some kind of matching set) as it does that we just have two babies at the same time. Judah, born first, is a big snuggle bug. He looks so much like Josh did as a baby, and seems to grow every time we lay him down for a nap! He’s working hard to keep his head up all the time so he doesn’t miss out on what’s going on around him. Evangeline, with her darker hair, calm and quiet disposition, and petite little figure, reminds me of Hosanna as a baby. She makes adorable little squeaking noises in her sleep and loves to watch the world intently with her big blue eyes when she’s awake.

Both of them, like Hosanna, love music, so we sing all throughout the day! Hosanna wasn’t sure about the babies at first, but now she really enjoys taking care of them by bringing pacifiers when they cry, rocking their swings, and giving them “pat-pats” on the back after they eat.

We can’t wait to see what the next year of our lives will bring, and we feel incredibly blessed by both the joys and growing opportunities life with lots of little ones brings.

Last reminder: send us your mailing address if you haven’t already so we can send you our Christmas card!

Peace to you and your family in this precious Christmas season.

DSC_1393 (2)

Twinning in Taiwan

Almost immediately after finding out we were expecting, Josh told me, “I think it’s going to be twins.” As a kid I’d always thought twins were the most efficient way to have babies– a two for one deal, plus twice the cuteness! In the back of my mind I kind of hoped he was right, but I knew statistically speaking we were pretty much in for the same deal as last time: one pregnancy, one sweet baby at the end of it.

When we went in for our first ultrasound to confirm the pregnancy, there was one tiny little amniotic sac, with one even tinier little bean inside. One baby, as should have been expected. Somehow I still felt a little surprised (probably because Josh kept talking up the twins thing) but very happy to see that precious little one doing well on the screen!

Next appointment, I told Josh not to bother coming since we’d already proven his twin theory wrong. So I went in by myself, and since in Taiwan you get an ultrasound at almost every prenatal visit, I got to see the little bean again. But this time, the doctor hovered over the bean for only a moment saying, “there it is…” and then moving along to another little bean and announcing very calmly, “and there’s the other one.”

“The other what?” I asked, knowing that it had to be another baby but still not quite believing it since we’d already established there was only one!

“The other baby,” the doctor responded, seeming mildly amused by my reaction.

“No way!” I said. “Are you serious? You aren’t allowed to joke about stuff like this, right?”

And at this she really did laugh and asked me what she had to gain by joking to pregnant women about whether or not they’re having twins. Fair enough.

By the time I got home to tell Josh he already knew what I was going to say just because of how excited I was coming in the door. Perhaps it was father’s intuition, but he was right! God had given us two new little ones to love.

My pregnancy with Hosanna was unbelievably easy and symptom-free, so much so that I really didn’t understand what other women were complaining about. Pride goeth before a first trimester with twins, my friends. I was basically out of commission for about two months; eating all my meals (i.e. toast and cheese quesadillas) in our bedroom so I didn’t have to see or smell anything else Josh or Hosanna ate. I think there were a couple weeks where I cried every night because the headaches and nausea were so overwhelming… but that is the miracle of pregnancy, I suppose, because once that phase was over I could barely remember it, save for the fact that Josh was a constant witness!

The second trimester was a lot more fun because, since I was actually able to get out of the house without vomiting again, I got to learn lots of new Chinese phrases regarding babies and pregnancy and twins. I also learned quite a bit about the Taiwanese mindset towards birth. Fear of pain can impact women in any culture, but it’s definitely more acceptable here to jump at the chance for a c-section to avoid labor. Practices that have been discontinued in the West for decades are still routine here. Last I checked, Taiwan had the 3rd lowest VBAC rate in the world, so for me, my hopes of a VBAC were pretty much shot down immediately once we found out we were having twins… and I checked with four different doctors just to make sure!

Prenatal appointments start with a kind of DIY check-up. You record your blood pressure and weight for the nurse to write in your official pregnancy book. The nurse asks if Chinese is okay, and you respond “yes” and hope that your Chinese actually will be okay enough to comprehend half of what she says when she quickly runs through that particular week’s routine information. My approach is to just keep saying (in Chinese), “Ok, ok, ok,” to everything the nurse says until she looks at me funny because I’ve just said yes to a question that wasn’t really a yes or no question. That method turned out surprisingly well, as anything I really didn’t understand I could have my doctor explain in English once in the office. At least… I think that’s what happened!

Then, of course, you see the doctor. Dr. Liao, who is probably in his 70’s, sees about 80 patients in one half-day session. If he has two sessions in one day, he might see 200 patients, plus performing surgeries and being on call for delivering babies! Because he is such a highly respected doctor here, he has two rooms, so while they are bringing you into one room and pulling up your file, he is signing off paperwork and talking to someone in the adjoined room. As soon as he finishes with them, he’ll come to your room, discuss whatever needs discussing as quickly as possible, then head back to the other side. It’s not common for patients to ask questions, so when I kept showing up with lists of questions each time, I think Dr. Liao and the nurses were both a little surprised! After a few weeks of me stopping him when he was halfway out the door, though, Dr. Liao would ask me if I had any questions (which I always do). Dr. Liao has delivered more babies than anyone on the East coast of Taiwan. We are very thankful to have a doctor with such a kind heart and so much expertise to take care of us.

On your way out, you might pass by signs reminding you that girl and boy babies are both equally good and should be equally valued, in response to the old cultural preference for boys. You may also see signs informing you that all days are “good days” to have a baby, and that you should not risk your baby’s health to try to have them born on an auspicious day. Then, you go to check out and pay about $4 per visit (including the ultrasound which can be in the hundreds of dollars in the US!). And that about sums up the Taiwan protocol for prenatal visits!

We’ve been so blessed by the care we’ve received not only from our doctors and nurses but also from friends in our church small group and friends who have twins, who have passed along twin gear for us to use. As previously mentioned, because Hosanna was born via c-section, the twins will be born the same way. And the big day is less than a week away– unless the twins make a surprise move, we are expecting to meet them on Tuesday, November 6! We really can’t even imagine what life will be like adding these two little ones into our lives, but are trusting that God has already given us the grace we need to adapt to life as a family of FIVE. If all goes well, we should be home from the hospital just in time to celebrate Hosanna’s birthday on November 12. Then my mom will arrive on November 15 to meet the twins and help us out for two weeks (which means hooray, she will be here for Thanksgiving!).

Thank you for your encouragement and prayers over the past several months. We can hardly wait to meet these two little ones and introduce them to the world when they arrive next week!

One Year In

It’s official, our first year in Taiwan is in the books! What better way to celebrate than to have our first family visitors to Taiwan– what a gift to have my (Jessica’s) parents and youngest brother Caleb here to stay with us for 20 days in June! (pictured below)

Paretns temple

Being a parent has made me realize more than I ever did as a child how precious grandparent relationships are. It brought us so much joy to see Hosanna find new ways of enjoying time with her Nonna and Paw Paw that she wasn’t yet old enough to discover when she was with them last May.

Fam

Watching her two uncles have a blast together playing sports and Wii was probably one of her favorite activities! (Below: Here’s Josh taking them down despite a 2 on 1 sneak attack. Hosanna cheered and laughed from the sidelines, though I’m not sure who she was cheering for!)

Josh Wrestling

Just before my family headed back to the US we surprised them with a little gender reveal party for the twins. If the ultrasound was correct, we’re expecting Hosanna to have a little brother AND a little sister in November! A big answer to prayer was that we found a doctor we trust and can easily communicate with to do prenatal care and delivery.

Baby Reveal

Another answer to prayer is that Josh has been presented with a couple of opportunities that will lead straight into his post-language school ministry, but that he can start working on within the next month or so. In Taitung, which is the city south of us, a friend and fellow missionary asked Josh to help pilot a garden club at a special needs school starting in August. This is exactly the kind of opportunity we had praying for, and God put it right in Josh’s lap! This will involve 3 hours of travel every Friday, but will be a great way to connect with the school and community in Taitung, where we expect God is leading us to serve after language study. Josh will also get to learn lots of farming and administrative terminology he wouldn’t learn in the classroom as he talks with supervisors, meets local farming suppliers, and trains the students at the school. Another possible opportunity is to teach woodworking at a local outreach center, but that one is less certain, and we still need prayer to discern if that’s a door God wants Josh to walk through. (Below: fields of pineapple, rice, and betel nut along the road to Taitung)

Farming Scenery

For me, I have learned so much in this past year about the ways of the Lord. I didn’t realize how much of my theology had been unknowingly tainted by a bit of prosperity gospel (and it doesn’t really take much more than a bit!). I am learning to stop envisioning my life in Taiwan filled with activities I like, friends that match my life stage and heart language, ministry that I’m competent for and have plenty of time to do. I am learning to say yes to the situations God leads me into that are not what I think are best, are not “what I signed up for,” and don’t leave me feeling blessed/happy/satisfied.

Sometimes that means giving up little things… nice yarn to make baby blankets for the twins, or fake plants to stick on a sunless shelf. Sometimes it’s releasing more personal desires, like wishing I had a walking buddy I could easily chat with when I take Hosanna for a ride in her stroller. Sometimes, it’s saying yes, yet again, to a “change of plans” — not a change in God’s plans, but in my own for my life. Saying “yes” to being Mama to Hosanna and the twins–which I am very happy to do!– will mean saying “no” to countless ministry opportunities, which is something I never envisioned. But God hasn’t given me the strength to be Supermom and Supermissionary, so I embrace the grace He has given me to train up our little ones in His perfect ways, knowing that any opportunities I “miss” along the way will only be those which He never intended me to have anyway.

(Below: last group picture before taking my family back to the airport)

Family together

Ways to Pray

The Angel Heart small group is hosting a camp in August for kids with special needs in our community. Josh will be teaching a simple woodworking craft along the theme of God as Creator. Pray for his preparation and for the campers to know God better as a result of the camp.

A new Taiwan field director is chosen every 3 years. Our new field director begins their term today! Pray for wisdom in our leadership and for our field to move in the direction God wants for us as a team.

Ask the Lord to protect our twins as they grow, and to help us prepare Hosanna for all the changes being a big sister will bring.

Language school is great because we have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to focus intensely on learning the heart language of the people God has sent us to serve! That said… it’s also really frustrating sometimes, because we don’t feel very productive. Please pray that God will show us the purpose in each day and will guard our hearts from discouragement as we begin our second year of language study.

An Attempt to Summarize

After an unintentional hiatus from the blog these past few months, I thought it would be easier to find topics to write about since more had happened. However, I’m now finding it pretty difficult to sum up all the events that have taken place! In the last month, though, we’ve gone through two particularly significant events that I am super late in letting everyone know about. It was hard to know how to write about these things, so even though they don’t really “go together” I’m putting them in this post just so I can finally let everyone know.

Many of you will remember Champ, the little boy Josh and I often shared about in the States. Champ was fostered by Josh’s parents Rod and Beth for the last few years here in Taiwan, and Champ was the reason our hearts were turned towards ministry to families of special needs children. In August, Champ was moved to an institution because he could no longer be cared for in Rod and Beth’s home.

DSC_0551

Hosanna saying goodbye to Champ in August

Champ had been getting progressively sicker and weaker for months, and the 24-hour care was more than they could handle. Once he moved to the institution, his health deteriorated further, and he spent most of November through January in the hospital going back and forth from the regular ward and ICU. He was in so much pain that he cried whenever he was awake, and he went through several paid caregivers during those few months because no one wanted to deal with the challenges he presented. One even walked out in the middle of his shift because they didn’t want to face the situation any more.

Champ Nursing Home3

Champ having a more peaceful moment at the nursing home

Though we all longed for Champ to have a family and to be healthy, we also frequently asked God to relieve him of his suffering, even if that meant being made whole in eternity instead of being here with us. On January 31, Champ’s oxygen levels dropped, and within just a couple of hours, he had gone to be with Jesus. Within minutes of his passing, his biological mother called to inform Beth, and she and Rod were the first ones at the hospital to take care of Champ’s body and prepare for funeral arrangements while waiting for his bio mom to arrive by train a few hours later.

We grieved for the life we had hoped for Champ to have, and for the hole he left in our lives. But we praise God that this is not the end for Champ! His heavenly body (whatever that might look like) is made whole, and can rejoice in the perfect presence of the Lord in all the ways he never could on earth.

20180201_202752

Please pray that Champ’s bio mom will come to know the Lord. Pray that those of us who were impacted by Champ will not stop advocating for those who have no voice. Praise God for the salvation of Tommy, the “Betel Nut King,” who gave his life to Christ in large part because of his interactions with Champ, Rod, and Beth. Tommy went on to raise all the money to cover Champ’s funeral expenses in just one day. Praise God that in spite of the pain we see in the world, God is still good, and He is making all things perfect and new.

Less than a week after Champ’s passing, our city, Hualien, was hit by a level 6.4 earthquake which collapsed several buildings, killed 17 people, and injured hundreds more. Our house is directly on the fault line, but we were very thankful to have received no damage at all, just a little less sleep. (Below left: some of the many government messages we received each time we had an earthquake higher than level 4.) Many of the buildings that collapsed were visible from our house. (Below right: a building down the road from us–some of our friends had just recently moved out of this building.)

A couple days after the biggest quake we were still having aftershocks all throughout the day. For our family, it was merely distracting, not really scary, but we knew that many families were not so fortunate. Many homeless families were being temporarily housed in schools, so we went to see if there was any way we could help. Thankfully, the government, in combination with social and religious organizations, had the situation very well taken care of and practically begged us not to bring donations, as they had more than they could use already! It was encouraging to see the Taiwanese church’s maturity and eagerness to immediately reach out to those in need.

IMG_6665

One of the temporary shelters for earthquake victims downtown

Please continue to lift up the families who lost their homes, precious possessions, and loved ones due to the earthquakes. We saw multiple church organizations providing food, water, and electrical and plumbing repairs–thank God for mobilizing the church so effectively to partner with the government to meet needs.

I realize this post is different from our usual and is a bit more sad. However, despite these events these past few months have held many blessings and great opportunities for our family and community, and we look forward to sharing more about those in our next update.

What I Thought Would Be Hard

Imagining our life in Taiwan was, at minimum, a daily occurrence while we were preparing to move from the States. My constant wonderings probably drove Josh nuts, but I couldn’t help it! By the time we got on the plane I’d thought through every scenario I could predict regarding our lives in Taiwan- not out of fear, just out of excitement. In the long list of ideas I had about our new life, there were definitely some things I expected to be challenging for us. Four months in, it’s been intriguing to see which expectations have been met and which ones were way off. Here are some of the things I expected to be hard, and the reality.

Learning Mandarin

I had already studied Mandarin for a couple years prior to graduating from college, so I knew I wouldn’t have as difficult a start as someone coming with no background in Chinese language or history. That said, I have heard for as long as I can remember that Chinese is hard, foreigners can’t be fluent no matter how hard they try, etc. I am delighted to say that learning Mandarin continues to be a joy, and both Josh and I are making unprecedented progress through the curriculum (faster than Josh’s dad, who grew up here, which I think Josh is quite proud of).

Missing Family

Do I miss my family? Of course! But I think we talk more regularly now than we did when we lived just 6 hours away in Kentucky. And living overseas, continuing to have their support from the other side of the world, and getting to share our struggles and celebrations with them throughout the week, has made me so thankful for their constancy. Not everyone has family that they can laugh with, cry with, and call just for fun. Though the distance is hard, it has made me more grateful than ever for family.

Not Having Chick-fil-A

Yep, I was pretty much spot-on with this one. If you weren’t aware, Chick-fil-A is basically Jesus’ favorite restaurant, so it’s a real bummer that we are totally deprived over here. There are times in your life when you just need waffle fries or a cookies-and-cream milkshake. I guess this is where the “fasting” part of prayer and fasting comes in? (Mostly joking, guys… mostly…). If you are looking for a sign that your calling in life is to open a Chick-fil-A franchise in Taiwan, this is it.

Driving

As Josh describes it, the road system in Taiwan is like a river- the cars are the big fish and the scooters are the minnows. As long as you go with the flow, it doesn’t really matter where you swim; the others will move around you. Since that is totally his personality and not mine, I thought driving here was going to be really stressful for me. But actually it’s very freeing to realize that the driving rules are more like thoughtful guidelines which people around you may or may not follow, and nobody has a problem with it. Now I just have to get my scooter license so I can really test my skills!

What I Didn’t Know Would Be Hard

As soon as we got to Taiwan I started getting more and more familiar with the many things I don’t know. It’s an impressively long list, and growing every day. And there were so many aspects of life here which I just had no way of predicting, including a lot of things that are sometimes downright hard.

I didn’t know that the sounds of the baby toys we brought from the States would jolt me into memories of cozy winter days spent with Hosanna and her buddy Josiah playing in our living room.

I didn’t know that when I glanced at our cheap IKEA porch rug I would feel a pang of sadness missing the many friends we enjoyed so many evenings with sitting on our porch on Kenyon Avenue.

I didn’t know that living in a country surrounded by native Chinese speakers, it would still be a challenge to find opportunities to practice speaking and listening in Chinese. (I am excluding conversations which involve someone saying to me, “Your baby is so cute” more than three times.)

I didn’t know how much I would miss worshiping surrounded by people who sing in my heart language. (I now tear up watching hipster worship videos on Youtube.)

I didn’t know how much I relied on my passion for and calling to ministry to fulfill me- I am relearning again how to rely on Jesus alone for my joy.

This past month hasn’t been super easy. Don’t get me wrong, nothing bad has happened, and from a logistical standpoint things couldn’t be better. But it can be hard to accept that things (and places and people) we loved in the States are out of reach now. To those of you who have emailed, messaged, Skyped, and snail-mailed, thank you. To those of you who continue to faithfully support us financially every month, thank you. To those of you who pray for us without us even knowing your names, thank you. As we grieve the things we’ve left behind (poor Josh is still struggling to come to terms with the lack of a Lowe’s or Home Depot around here), it is SO encouraging to be reminded of your love for us, and your love for our Lord who is at work in all things and all places!

IMG_5444

My Toddler, the Gecko Hunter

In the past month we’ve tried to be a little more adventurous with our social life and language skills. Life has rewarded/punished us accordingly.

For example, last week we decided to make pulled pork. I don’t think we had ever actually made pulled pork before, and I definitely had no experience buying pork shoulder. The supermarket wasn’t open yet, and we knew we had to get this thing in the slow-cooker pronto if we wanted it ready by dinnertime, so off I went to the morning market. We don’t usually buy meat at the market because… well I’m sure it’s clean… but it doesn’t look clean when the vendors are cutting everything on the same surface, handling money, and doing who knows what else, all without a place to wash their hands. So I was a little nervous going in. I also hadn’t bothered to look up the word for pork shoulder (I had already decided not to try to ask for “pork butt” for reasons you can imagine), nor did I even know what pork shoulder looks like (see above note regarding my pork-shoulder-buying experience).

dongmen-morning-market

Not my picture! But is a very accurate representation of what our morning market looks like.

The entire market is open air, but the meat section is on the interior, meaning it’s not super well lit and all the meat juices kind of hang out on the floor in the places where there isn’t great drainage. After writing that, I feel I should point out that it’s not as bad as it sounds; no rotting meat or anything like that. But still. I picked the busiest meat stand because I figured they’d have the freshest cuts. Something, perhaps my look of vague confusion or maybe just my astonishingly white face, must have suggested to the workers that I needed help because one came over to ask what I needed. I’d looked up the word for pork shoulder while standing there trying to decide what to do, so I showed her the character and said it a few times. Blank stare. “Pig, pig,” I said in Chinese, tapping my shoulder. She and the other workers started talking amongst themselves trying to figure out what I meant, as my translation app had apparently failed me.

They started making suggestions to me about what I might have meant, all of which were words I didn’t know. “You want *****? “We have *******. Are you saying ****?” and so on. I just kept saying the Chinese word for pig and tapping my shoulder, and eventually they started making hand motions like a pig walking on the ground. “Yes, yes!” I said. “Pigs walk on the ground, yep! That’s what I need.” The boss asked me to wait a moment while he went to retrieve my pork shoulder, and a few minutes later he came back– with the entire leg of a pig, complete with the foot and toes and everything. Seriously, if he had put that thing down it would have just hopped away all on its own.

I definitely wasn’t taking that home with me, so I looked up the word for a human shoulder and tried that along with the word for pig. The ladies gave me a funny look and asked, “You mean the thing right here in front of you?” I glanced down at the chopping table, and behold, a large pile of pork shoulder! For the record, I didn’t feel like I could assume it was pork shoulder since I’d never actually purchased it before. After figuring out how many jin (Taiwanese weight measurement) of pork I needed, I thanked them and apologized about a million times while they laughed and told me it was no problem at all. Thank you again, kind butcher ladies!

DSC_0478

Josh doing some culture-blending.

Making mistakes do to cultural ineptitude feels a bit different to me than other mistakes. When you mess up in your own culture, you know it was pretty much just you. But when I mess up here, whether it’s funny or embarrassing or whatever, I realize how small my worldview was before coming here. How tiny our worlds are when we live among our own people and comfort zones and language. I have developed a whole new level of empathy for those who move to the US and don’t speak English or know American customs. Adapting to a new culture is a full-time job!

Hosanna has also been expanding her horizons. Earlier this week, Josh and I were taking a break from studying and playing cards in the kitchen. Hosanna crept away from where we could see her and suddenly I heard her making her “silent noise,” aka the eerie noise small children make when they’re doing something sneaky: absolute silence. “Hosanna! Where are you?” I said as I got up to find out what she was up to. I turned the corner and there she was, about to put what looked like a wad of hair into her mouth for a little snack. (Hosanna is fascinated by tiny objects and their ability to fit into her mouth and subsequently make her gag.) “No, no, that’s not for eating.” I told her, putting out my hand for her to give it to me as I walked towards her. Cute as can be, she shook her head “no” and kept slowly putting that little fist closer and closer towards her mouth. “Come on Hosanna- AAAAAAAHHH!!” The little wad of hair had suddenly started wiggling, and I realized that the long piece sticking out wasn’t hair but a tail!

DSC_0530Hosanna had caught a live gecko and was holding it about an inch from her mouth, ready for her own version of an East Asian delicacy. I don’t remember screaming, actually, but Josh assures me it happened. I grabbed her arm and started waving it up and down as fast as I could to make her drop the gecko. (I am terrified of tiny creatures that move quickly and unpredictably; hence not simply removing it from her hand.) The gecko was actually just a baby, about an inch long, and by the time she let go of him he was little squished and probably had a concussion, but was actually still breathing. Josh reintroduced him to freedom on our porch, while I did some deep breathing in the kitchen and tried not to gag at the thought of a live gecko going down my child’s throat. Hosanna was annoyed by my intervention but otherwise totally fine. Please pray we never have this situation happen with a cockroach; I really might not survive.

So there you have it! Life as a family in Taiwan is so many things… it’s fun, it’s boring, it’s sad, it’s happy, it’s lonely, it’s hilarious, it’s different, it’s boring, it’s an adventure, it’s bringing our family closer together and closer to Jesus, and it’s definitely where we are meant to be. We welcome you to send us an email or blog comment and let us know how you are doing- we think of our family and friends in the US often and are so thankful for you and your encouragement.

DSC_0483

Our New Normal

Moving to the other side of the world and planting yourself in foreign soil means that each day is packed with new sights, sounds, faces, customs, and surprises. It’s a lot to take in, and even harder to describe. So this blog will be just over 10,000 words… assuming that each picture is worth 1,000. 😉

Enjoy these small snapshots of what our new normal looks like!

IMG_4647

This is the city where we live! Our house is (quite literally) across the street from a small mountain which we hike each morning (more or less…). Our city, Hualien, is notorious around Taiwan for being one of the most beautiful places on the island. All we have to do is look out our window and see the mountains to be reminded of God’s majesty.

IMG_2223

Taiwan’s streets are packed with cars, scooters, attempts at bilingual storefront signs, and street vendors offering anything from sausage on a stick to fried dumplings to “stinky tofu” which you can often smell from a block away. If you enjoy running outdoors, be prepared for high heat and humidity, plus a generous supply of barking dogs to keep you on your toes. On the bright side, you can make someone’s day when they realize they can practice a little English with you by calling out “good morning!” as you pass by.

IMG_5026

Speaking of Taiwan driving, we got our licenses this month! Most drivers here have to pass a difficult test in order to get a license. However, Taiwan has a reciprocal license agreement with only a few U.S. states… and one of them happens to be Kentucky. So we got to skip the test and instead just walked up to the counter to have our brand new licenses printed off! The OMS field purchases a car for missionaries when they arrive on the field, so here we are looking at cars with our lovely new friend, Ms. Chen. Please pray that wherever we travel we will shine Jesus’ light and love in the lives of those we encounter.

DSC_0442

In addition to getting around the city, we’ve also been working to make our apartment feel like home while we wait for our furniture to arrive on our container. That means potting some plants, spreading our few books across every shelf in the house to make it look like we really live here, and best of all, new paint! Hosanna is a great helper when it comes to spreading things around the house, and she’s also not too bad at painting, as you can see.

IMG_4979

Language study is off to a great start! Our tutor, Achilles, is hardworking, creative, and a good friend to us. We are making quick progress, and in addition to the daily language study Achilles often gives us conversations to get out and practice. It’s kind of intimidating to strike up a conversation when you know you’ll probably run out of Chinese vocabulary after only a few sentences, but we’ve gotten to meet some wonderful people we might not otherwise have spoken to! This month we celebrated Achilles birthday with the other missionaries. Achilles feels the Lord leading him to one day serve as a cross-cultural missionary, so please pray for him as he follows the Lord in that calling. Please also pray that God will give us favor as we learn Chinese, and that every phrase we learn and pronunciation we perfect will be used for His glory.

IMG_4937

Thank you for your prayers over Hosanna’s therapy situation! We are blessed to have Teacher Yang coming to our home each week to work with Hosanna on a wide variety of skills. She is a great fit for Hosanna because she uses music for most of her activities, which Hosanna loves! Please continue to ask the Lord to provide a way for Hosanna to receive speech and physical therapy, and pray that she will not be overwhelmed while trying to figure out new skills taught with a combination of English, Chinese, and sign language.

Early this month we were able to take a day trip to Taroko Gorge, one of the most famous places in Hualien. At the top of the mountain lies a large temple overlooking a beautiful valley. In the picture above (left), a Buddhist nun is preparing an offering to an idol. Temples here often combine Taoism (which has many gods that impact your daily life and well-being), ancestral worship (which involves the dead blessing or cursing the living, depending on how well you treat them) and Buddhism (which is technically atheist, but often in practice is not atheist at all). Views on religion here are very different from the West- we even had a Pakistani Muslim thank us for coming to Taiwan as Christian missionaries! Please pray for our Father to be known as the one true God in Taiwanese families and communities.

Another answered prayer is that we’ve begun to make some dear friends here already! This past weekend we went to a river with our new friends Wenwei and Miao, and their son Yulong, who is close to Hosanna’s age. The little ones loved the water and we loved having a chance to just hang out with friends our age. Please pray that the Lord will bless their family greatly!

IMG_5017

And finally, a picture of Hosanna playing in her new ball pit, because this much joy just has to be shared!

This weekend we will travel to Taichung on the other side of the island for the Taiwan Missionary Fellowship conference, which brings together Christian workers from all denominations and mission organizations to retreat together. When we aren’t in sessions, I will be volunteering in the nursery and Josh will be helping out moving furniture at the new One Mission Society office building in Taichung. Please pray for the Lord’s name to be glorified in every city to which these missionaries will return home at the end of next week!

The Pebble in My Shoe

We made it!

Tomorrow night will make one full week since arriving in Taiwan. We travelled about 32 straight hours to get from my parents’ house in Georgia to our new home in Hualien, Taiwan. During that trip we experienced no problems and were thankful to have a toddler who slept well on the planes and trains and has adjusted to jet lag even faster than her parents!

I’ve been in Taiwan twice previously, first for two weeks, then for a month. I don’t think I experienced any culture shock on either of those trips… I was a tourist, a visitor without strings attached, and I was swept away in the excitement of new experiences. Of course there were plenty of new and unusual things to adjust to, but I never felt overwhelmed by a desire to go back to the States or a sense of being out of place. So, coming to Taiwan this time, I figured I had a good three, six, maybe even nine months to enjoy life here before culture shock really set in.

Wrong!

IMG_1883

Our local supermarket

They told us in training that culture shock will hit you when you least expect it, usually about things you don’t really even care about. For me, this has definitely been true. Shopping in the nearby supermarket I was panicking when I couldn’t find any women’s shaving cream… yes, it occurred to me that I could just buy the men’s or use soap, or any number of other reasonable alternatives, but between not being able to read the signs, find my husband, or ever feel “out of the way” of my fellow shoppers, I was close to a full-blown freak out. And that was on day three!

When God told us to come to Taiwan, he didn’t guarantee anything except His faithfulness. Our obedience isn’t rewarded with friendships, fluency, or easy cultural acclimation. I tried to be realistic before leaving the US, but honestly every time I pictured myself in Taiwan I was speaking Mandarin easily with lots of Taiwanese friends, seeing hearts open to orphaned children regularly. It requires a lot of trust for me to say, “Yes, Lord,” when our time here will initially often involve “trivial” day-to-day responsibilities and a lot (a lot, a lot, a LOT) of mistakes regarding things that the average Taiwanese person does correctly without a second thought.

DSC_0159

The 榮 character for Hosanna’s Chinese name meaning “glory” is on this sign downtown!

When God told us to come to Taiwan, he didn’t guarantee anything except his own faithfulness. Our obedience isn’t rewarded with friendships, fluency, or easy cultural acclimation. I tried to be realistic before leaving the US, but honestly every time I pictured myself in Taiwan I was speaking Mandarin easily with lots of Taiwanese friends, seeing hearts open to orphaned children regularly. It requires a lot of trust for me to say, “Yes, Lord,” when our time here will initially often involve “trivial” day-to-day responsibilities and a lot (a lot, a lot, a LOT) of mistakes regarding things that the average Taiwanese person does correctly without a second thought.

Just before leaving the States, God put the word “power” in my heart and prayers. I thought God wanted me to pray for His power in our future ministry and our daily witness to those around us. Now, on the ground in Taiwan, there are moments where it’s hard to even think about how “power” relates to what we’re doing. Figuring out how to buy groceries, paying attention when people speak Chinese instead of letting others translate for me every time, getting Hosanna (and ourselves!) back on a regular sleep routine… these aren’t things I would usually even think to ask God to empower us for. They’re so… normal.

DSC_0176

Daoist temple to a fertility goddess

And I guess that’s part of my training from the Lord in these early days. I’ve learned how to live my normal, easy, comfortable life in the US without needing much of God’s power at all. I could rely on myself to plan our schedule, drive, ask questions, get directions, and make small talk. I knew when to wave while passing someone on the sidewalk, which direction to step aside if I was in someone’s way, and how to read people’s facial expressions. I certainly relied on the Lord in our ministry, but I had forgotten how to rely on His power for each moment, each breath. Now, I am out of step with the rhythm of life around me. I am constantly jostled by a new pace; nudged by this feeling that there’s something really simple that I can’t figure out. My new life fits on me like a shoe with a tiny pebble inside, and I am over and over again trying to kick it off, to return to my normal level of comfort.

This is where Jesus’ power breaks through. When I don’t want to take one more step in my pebbly shoe, Jesus promises His arm for me to lean on, to take some of the pressure off. When I am desperate to do it myself, to know what in the world is going on, and have some level of control, God says, “allow me.” And while it’s not always a fun learning process, I am truly grateful that God has not allowed me to continue through life in my comfort, relying on my own “power” to get through each day. As I learn to leave my independence behind, both culturally and spiritually, again and again I pray Psalm 23 which begins,

“The Lord is my Shepherd: I lack nothing.”

DSC_0152

The view from our balcony

The good news about the ups and downs of culture shock for us is that there have been many, many “ups”! We’ve enjoyed delicious food and beautiful views, found the nearest breakfast shop we can walk to, practiced our Chinese at restaurants, grocery stores, church, doctors offices, and the market, and experienced the peace of God upon us as we settle in. We plan to wrap up orientation this week and begin language tutoring next week. The next few days will include a trip to Costco in the capital city of Taipei, a night market visit, and our first ever meal with all ingredients purchased and cooked by us with no help from other missionaries!

We greatly appreciate your ongoing prayers as we continue to learn the Taiwanese way of life. You can check out our most recent prayer requests on our Partner with Us page.

Praise God for His enduring faithfulness!

DSC_0175

Faster, Daddy!

In December 2014, Josh and I spent our first Christmas together in Taiwan with his parents. We visited potential ministry partners around the island and God clarified His vision for ministry through us. As the time to return to the States came nearer, we consoled ourselves with the thought that we could graduate early the following year and be back in Taiwan for good by January 2016. Two days before we left Taiwan, however, Josh’s dad informed us that due to a visa requirement, we would need to be employed by a mission agency or church for two years before we could come to Taiwan long-term.

IMG_2674

December 2014: Christmas with our Taiwan team

Two years!? In my twenty-year-old mind that sounded like a small eternity. We brainstormed ways to make something work faster, or to find another way to get to Taiwan, but in the end Josh’s dad asked us, “Do you want to force your way, or wait for God to give you His way?” And so, with a more grumpy attitude than I like to admit, we gave up our scheming and starting praying for God to make His way.

God didn’t do what I had hoped for or expected. He didn’t give us a shortcut or alternative. Instead, he gave us patience. He gave us deeper relationships with our friends and family here in the States. He gave us opportunities to give Hosanna great medical care when she was struggling during her first months, ministry experience and a whole lot of fun with our college students at Asbury, and time to grow together as a couple before diving into the unknown. I didn’t want any of those things until I was able to look back and realize how much I needed them.

Last week, I was walking through the grocery store and passed a father and his little girl. The daughter hopped onto the front of the shopping cart and, as her dad began to push her slowly down the aisle, she exclaimed with delight, “Ooh, this is fun!” and, without pausing for breath, continued, “go faster, Daddy!” And instantly I realized that I was (and maybe still am) just like that little girl. I didn’t care about safety or my Father’s plan… and certainly wasn’t concerned about Walmart shopping cart regulations– I mean, Taiwan visa requirements. I’d had a taste of the fun and I wanted more of it, on demand. “Go faster, Daddy!” I prayed. And now, I am so thankful for Father’s gentle “no” as He prepared us over the last two years for the adventure of a lifetime.

It’s now starting to feel like I’m one of those cartoon snowballs rolling down a hill, getting covered in more and more snow (or, in our case, yard sale clothes and last-minute Amazon Prime orders) without one bit of control over my speed or final destination. Next Wednesday we will take all our belonging to One Mission headquarters to be shipped to Taiwan in a container later this summer. Then, on May 16, we will move from Kentucky to Georgia to spend some time with my family before we leave. Throughout all this we are still speaking at churches and small groups as well as applying for our visa! In order to leave by May 31 we must be fully funded and have our visas approved prior to that date. Please ask our Father to work all these things according to His will, and to continue to encourage our spirits as we work and wait just a little longer.

Since we’ve been so busy packing I’ve hardly taken any pictures this month… so please enjoy these pictures of packing, packing, and more packing!

IMG_4449

Two weeks ago…

IMG_4485

Today! (If you’re looking for signs of progress compare the top right corners)

And sometimes you need a break from putting clothes and kitchen appliances in boxes, so you make a box maze for your baby instead.

IMG_4441

Hosanna’s box maze

We are 86% funded! If we have 6 more partners give $100/month, 12 partners give $50/month, or 24 partners give $25/month we will be able to purchase our plane tickets. Please continue to ask Father to bring these partners onto our team! We are so close!

For more information about how to partner through monthly financial giving, check out this link. For more ways to partner in prayer, visit our Partner with Us page.