Wednesday, December 29, 2010

“I lift my eyes up to the hills- where does my help come from? My help comes from the LORD the Maker of heaven and earth. He will not let your foot slip.”
Psalm 121: 1-3a

Happy Holidays!
Thanks giving, Christmas, New Years, and Chinese New Year (hopefully this reaches you before Easter!)

I sit here gazing into the shimmers of our green tinsel Christmas tree taped to the wall, and think, “for every season, there is a reason.” This year for us there has had MANY seasons.

It began with a season of peace and comfort:
January 2010
Kristine was a long term substitute teacher for first grade and Jeff was a Para Professional (working with special needs children in the classroom). We were renting a wonderful little house nestled in the heart of Sitka, AK. The coffee shop was just down the street, the ocean could be seen from our window, and our door was always open to our loving friends and family. Life seemed to flow like a gentle brook…but I could tell that there was something in the wind; some season of change would soon come to rustle up our time of contentment.

Winds blew the door shut into a season of upset and confusion:
May 2010
Kristine and Jeff were denied full time teaching positions in their little town of Sitka. Oh, did it hurt! It is even embarrassing to say it now. We kept asking, “Why?” but the only answer that seemed to come was, “When a door shuts, look for the window that opens”. Well, it is hard to see a small window when your eyes are full of tears of confusion. Luckily, we have you…you wonderful friends, family, and teachers that held us up with support and love. Thank you.

A window, a season of walking towards the unknown:
June 2010
On a visit to see family in Anchorage, AK we were blessed to see Jeff’s sister’s husband’s parents, Tom and Wendy Liesener. Randomly they asked, “Would you like to come and teach in China with us?” And because of the season we were in, I immediately said, “Yes”. (And later had to convince Jeff that this is the reason for the season, this might be our window). In late June we had a Skype interview with the principal of Xining International Academy. We got the jobs, Kristine as the Kindergarten teacher and Jeff as the fourth grade teacher. Now we had one and a half months to get ALL of the necessary paper work completed.

A season of stepping forward with faith:
Summer 2010
When you are unsure of what lies ahead, and you know you can’t just sit around, the only thing to do is to move forward, to take a step of faith and just hope and pray that HE is there to catch you or to guide your footsteps. So, that is what we did. Not knowing if our paper work was complete, or would go through, or if we’d have enough to get to China, or even if we were “fit” to teach over there…we began to step forward. We sold our things, ended our lease, tied up loose ends, get shots, physicals, doctors notes, letters from and to the Chinese consulate/embassy, passports, etc. I will spare you the long long story of all the hassle it was to get each piece of paper work done. I will tell you this, however, there were tears, fears, and frustrations, but again it was you…you friends and family who helped us get through. Thank you. And a special thank you to Dad Swearingen who came to Sitka to help us tie up the last and important loose ends.

Here we go, a season of not “good bye” but “see you later”:
August 2010
We had the most wonderful send offs. In Sitka the weather shined for our BBQ and so many of our wonderful Sitka friends came to show their support and love. It was such a splendid feeling to look out on this crowd and see that we have so many friends from all different walks of life…it made me really love our home that we have made in Sitka over the last 8 years. In Anchorage Mom Swearingen opened up her house for us to eat GOOD FOOD and give hugs to our friends and family of Anchortown. To SEE and FEEL all this love and support, we can’t begin to tell you how grateful we are. The comfort you have given us we carry with us.

A season of Comfort Zone demolished
September 2010
The day our airplane was to leave for China, Kristine sat in her mother’s kitchen eating her aunts chocolate cake, hiding back tears, and saying, “This is comfortable. I like this. I know this. Why do we have to go? Can’t we stay here?” Then her best friend and husband kissed her forehead and said, “This is the season.”
Our flight and first encounter with China was quite, well, I’ll just say it was NOT in our comfort zone. You can read more about it on one of our first blog post at

A season of a honeymoon period of hardships:
September 2010
The first month here in Xining, China we fought some “spiritual warfare”: flea bites, moving three times, no water, no electricity, not speaking the language, adjusting to the cultural differences…and so on. Truthfully, through all of this, within the first month, we seemed to keep a smile about us and be o.k. with it all…it was like the honeymoon period to our hardships. However, you can only smile so long while your foot is getting stepped on…soon the complaining will begin.

“Stop pushing me!” A season of growing pains:
October and November 2010
Yes, we’ll admit there was a time that our attitudes were not so pretty, that all the hardships were really starting to wear on us. Not knowing when or if our apartment or school would have heat, water, or electricity was getting old. The lack of supplies, curriculum, set up structure of our work place was becoming tiring. The stares from the locals were starting to pierce (and boy do they stare…not a quick glance…a STARE, which sometimes cannot be deterred by a smile). The pushing and lack of personal space was becoming insulting (there is no such thing as a line here, if you want on the bus you’d better push. And watch out for the old ladies and their sharp elbows!). The smoking, spiting, peeing and pooping in public, the selfish-crazy driving, being ripped off in the market because we’re white, the pollution burning our noses…you name it we felt it times 10. Oh, the pain. Then one day Mom Swearingen says, “These are growing pains. Put on your spiritual armor so these things cannot pierce you (Ephesians 6). Then you will be able to keep your fire inside burning and show them love. You are on a great adventure, have fun and grow.”

This is the season
December 2010
As they say on the Muppets Christmas Carol:
“Life is like a journey, who knows when it ends. If you need to know the measure of a man, you simply count his friends. Stop and look around you, the glory that you see is born again each day, don’t let it slip away, how precious life can be.
With a loving guarantee, that even if we part, we will hold you close in with a grateful prayer and a thankful heart.”

The reason for these seasons is growth.