Most Common Words…

My wife and I have a joke about using a tree as a landmark. In most places, trees are too common for that to work. You need something uncommon, or less common, to ensure you keep following the right path.

In language study, of course you start by learning the most common words and sayings. That’s good. Sooner or later you’ve learned the most common 1000 or 2000 words. You can express a lot with these words, and you can understand a lot of what people around you are saying. You can get around, meet basic needs, and carry on basic conversations.

In my pride about learning so many of the most common words in Chinese, I didn’t expect I’d still end up lost, conversationally speaking, so often. Then I realized: the most common words in my mother tongue (English) are not always the words that carry the most significant meaning in conversation. The common words usually provide context for the most important words. (For example, in a paragraph about the Civil War, the majority of statements could be comprised of very common words. But the words that tell you that the paragraph is about the Civil War might be much less common.)

So we often find ourselves nodding while our friend talks away, hoping that although we don’t recognize several important words, the common words we do recognize will give us enough context to give us a general idea of what he’s saying.

The trees go flashing by, and we frantically hope we don’t miss an important landmark. Frantically hope we didn’t just miss a turn in the conversation, agree to something outrageous (or unbiblical), unknowingly commit ourselves to something we’d rather not have, or miss a cue to affirm our interest.

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Hey, somethings different!

Early this week we revisited the seacoast near our city’s downtown. Actually, our children had been asking to go for a while. We were just waiting for the right combination of free time and warm weather. This week delivered.

To get there, you have to take a ferry – a favorite part of the trip for our children. It was fun to take a friend who’d never been there, so we could introduce him to a place we like – the lighthouse, the old fort, the boardwalk, the beach, and the street full of vendors.

And we discovered something. We’ve changed a lot since our first family visit there. Over a year ago now, we stumbled around trying to get our bearings. The food was strange. We didn’t know where anything was and what food was available.

Now, there are still lots of strange things. But we’re so thankful for God’s grace allowing us to adjust. It’s good to have a familiar place. We know what street foods are available, and which kinds our kids will eat. We all have things we like.

And after enjoying the water, we know we can finish our trip with fruit over shaved ice at our favorite Fruit Ice place. Amazing!

Legos and Language Learning

I often think of my effort to learn and use Chinese in terms of playing with legos. Of course, language is much more complex. But for where I am in my language ability, I’m formulating thoughts in my mind using English, sorting through the bin of Chinese vocabulary I know, and picking out the ones I think will work to express my meaning.

My creations are pretty poor quality. But they usually have a roughly identifiable shape. With practice, the quality will improve as I gain familiarity with Chinese grammar, expression, and thought.

There are so many new words to learn. It’s fun to see what you can build with just the few you have – like my sons and I do with real Legos. Put them together in different combinations, and you can create amazing things.

Unfortunately, just writing down new words doesn’t mean you know them. Lego pieces are always getting dropped or set down in odd places, and they’re lost. Until the next time you clean, and you find them under a dresser. Then you think, “Oh, I remember that piece! I can use that to make…”

Shifting Gears

Anticipating a move to the mission field, we’ve approached our whole married life with the attitude that we’re not accumulating a lot of stuff. So we either got nice things that are worth taking with us, or we got cheap stuff that we could get rid of. As our departure for Taiwan drew near, we went into get-rid-of-stuff mode. Yard sale, trash, Goodwill, family. Either it’s coming with us or we’re getting rid of it. So we’ve ended up with just a very few things stored with parents.

Thankfully, that all happened in the spring. We’ve had a whole summer of not having to work on that. A summer of staying a few weeks at a time with friends, thinking about one feature of our life in Taiwan: we’ll get to furnish an apartment.

That shifted us completely out of get-rid-of, into accumulation mode. It’s really been fun to think through what we’ll need and what’s essential to get first. And I think it will be fun to look for appliances and furniture, trying to find deals and decide what we want the apartment to look like and feel like.

Lord willing, we’ll experience the Lord’s grace to stay patient and gracious while we find just what the Lord has for our family and furnish our apartment in a way that will provide a safe, comfortable (but not extravagent) home for our family, and at the same time an inviting, comfortable place for people we minister to. Here’s another chance to do everything for the sake of the gospel.

Down on the Farm

I mentioned in our recent prayer letter that we’re savoring extra time with our parents. We got to arrange our schedule to be at The Farm (it’s a proper noun to our children) to help Erin’s dad with a repair.

The steers had been breaking out of their lot, so the fence definitely needed repaired. Enter me (Brian), some of Erin’s siblings, and her cousin’s husband. For two days we dug post-holes, set rail-road tie posts, and put up board fencing covered with wire mesh fencing, topped with electric tape. My body is not used to that kind of work. But it was satisfying, and it transformed half the lot from a modest cow-pen to an escape-proof stockade.

There’s still another long section of fencing to replace. Since we’re here another week or so, I’ll probably get to help with it. I’m actually looking forward to it.

And those cows make me think of Psalm 2, which our family recently memorized. The nations rage against God and try to throw off His rule (bondage, the rebels consider it). Just like cows that are always on the alert for any hole, any weakness to break out and roam free – messing up the yard and garden while they do it. Thankfully cows aren’t as good at people as planning breakouts or we’d have to stand guard.

(Sorry no pictures this time.)

Meditation on Giving Something Up

We’ve been on deputation just over 5 years now – we started full-time deputation in January 2010. Thankfully, partners have pledged almost all our support, so we can begin detailed preparation to leave.

This 5 years has held a lot of good things for us and for our children. They’ve also held some challenges. Our children have become very aware of some of those challenges. Sometimes they express their wish to be at the same church every week, or get involved in school or community programs.

Now we’re adding more challenges: selling books, packing boxes, telling them that this visit with this relative will be the last in a long time. The other day we took apart the bunk bed so we could try selling the frame at a consignment sale. And we’re still facing some of the old challenges with a few more deputation meetings.

With all these things going on, I wasn’t surprised to hear more than one of my children say recently that they wish we didn’t have to do something specific related to going to Taiwan.

It wasn’t the first time, and won’t be the last. And I sometimes think the same thing. But the Lord gave us a teaching opportunity, reminding our children that Jesus left heaven to live and die on earth for us. If Jesus did that for us, can anything He asks of us be too much?

Our First Attempt at Chinese Pancakes

When our Taiwanese friends make Chinese pancakes, it looks so easy. And really the recipe is pretty simple. The steps are pretty simple.

Now that I’ve done it, I can say, yeah, it’s so simple… and messy.

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First attempt at kneading didn’t go so well. East meets West, and East is winning.

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Until we realize I started with half the amount of flour. Once we fixed that we had a smooth, thick dough.

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Add the scallions to the dough. Yum.

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Frying the cakes.

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Finished product!

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Yum. We love these things.

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We really love these things.

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And that’s all that’s left.