#7-Just to Make You Smile

I didn’t get a chance to write my gratitude challenge last night. As you’ve noticed, a few of my posts have been late. I acknowledged it facebookishly last night, so I’ll have last night’s post this morning, and Sunday’s post sometime later today.
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Yesterday was a crazy day at Starbucks. Customers can be mean and make you want to scream or strangle them. There were 3 people who came through my Drive-thru who made my night.

The first is a regular customer. Honestly, I was in an awful awful mood when she came through and as soon she smiled I smiled. I believe smiles are absolutely contagious. You just have to WANT to brighten that persons day.

The next person who came was Stephen with our friend Christian. And it means a lot that Stephen would come see me and make me smile (and… yknow get something from Starbucks). And it put enough smile on my face for the next person who made my night.

Someone came through and remembered me from Chick-fil-A. Normally I remember my regular customers. Some people I serve at Starbucks now that I served sweet tea to for 3+ years. Now they get Pumpkin Spice Lattes. This guy I have no recollection of, but he said he had 4 kids and came through a lot… didn’t help me. Maybe I’d remember his kids. But he told me he remembered me because my smile was so vibrant. It made me feel like the little things I do matter.

I’m incredibly thankful to people who remind me to smile. Like strangers from Chick-fil-A in Starbucks and Stephen. Sometimes I feel God sends me someone to make me smile… just because he likes to see us smile. And I’m grateful for that.

The application for this is simple. I get to give this gift away just by smiling. =)

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Cheer: The Modern Wash Day Product

Today is laundry day once more. Laundry day consists of trips to the post office, buying coffee out of the vending machine to get coins for the washer, cleaning, grocery shopping and desperately looking for places to hang my clothes (everyone else appears to be doing laundry as well).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Laundry day for many people occurs everyday. There are always many many clothes hanging on hangers outside of buildings, on the street outside family owned restaurants, and hundreds of stories above the road in high-rises.

I love to sight see, I also love to observe life in Shanghai. (You may have noticed this by the sheer number of mundane things that I discuss in these posts–I will spice this one up with some photos.)

Monday afternoon I went exploring a bit after my experience at the post office. I wandered through some streets close to campus. The most fascinating thing that I saw was a market that I’m supposing is where many many Chinese shop. The market was filled with many shops/stalls in a large covered area. They sold everything from roasted sparrows with all their body parts still in-tact, to cucumbers larger than that of a child. Additionally, large cracker-barrels were filled with live crabs, some scorpion like creature,  什么的。 (That’s how you say ‘etc.’)

And speaking of odd animals, being sold on the street I have seen Goldfish in little balls that you carry on a string, crickets in little cages, live fish for butchering, live rabbits, small turtles, and today I saw a woman with a duck in her grocery bag hanging next to her purse. . .  and casually strolling down Yanchang Rd.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As far as food goes I would like to have it known that I did try a fish that was infact a whole fish, with bones and eyes still in it, it happened to be fried, which is besides the point. I did try it though. I’ve been getting lots of spring rolls 春专. Coffee is either instant or bottled/canned. And of course all the weird/delicious breads from the Bakery across from the South Gate.

Tonight Valerie and I went down to the Bund, it was absolutely beautiful this evening. The Bund is a German area (built in the early 1900s) with gorgeous European architecture and PRC flags blowing in the fierce wind by the Huangpu River. The river divides Pudong and Shanghai. Similar to Manhattan and New York City. The shopping is similar as well, but the bargaining is much more fantastic.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Haggling is an art, and I’m not always very good at it. I will say I got a few things that I could have easily found for cheaper, I got totally ripped off for being too ignorant and appearing too excited. There’s a trick to looking about half interested and being willing to lose the deal. A few days ago a few of us went to what we call the 买的东西地方。 Or “The buy stuff place.” It’s a market filled with fake knock-offs of famous things, anything from your Rolex watches and Swatches, to pirated DVDs, to cheap jade and pearls, your fake Jucci Courture, silk, TOMS, and any number of other items. And this place barters. I got a few decent deals, a Qipao (traditional, early Communist Era dress), a pair of fake TOMS (The human rights activist in me is dissapointted in myself), and a really great gift for my little brother which is a surprise and thus must not get to him via web (though I doubt he’d read my blog post). For one particular item I saw, I was mildly interested, so I ask “多少钱?“ “200 Yuan” is the answer. I widen my eyes and stare at him, “too expensive” I say. I name my maximum price as 10, he tells me I’m crazy, so I leave. He chases me down and says 20. I say no. I get it for 10. I have a lot more confidence in my haggling skills now.

I’m hoping to go back down to one particular market on Nanjing Rd. They sold some great items, like Mao’s little red book, lots of pretty chopsticks, tea-sets, jade, pearls, fans, and notebooks with Cultural Revolution Propaganda posters.

I began this post after Calligraphy today when Valerie called and wanted to go down to the Bund. It’s 10pm now and it’s like I’ve gone backwards in time, I’m still sitting, drinking the weird orange juice, typing up blog posts, and trying to get my episode of Glee to load enough to not stop 100x during a song.

All in all it’s been a good day. I hope to use even more Chinese tomorrow. I ought to study, that would improve my level of immersion most-likely. First I’ll go get my laundry, it should be dry now.

Day22 out of day 37. Signing off at 10:11 pm, 5/31, Shanghai, PRC.

Looking at Poverty but Seeing People

I won’t say that I have seen a lot of poverty, but I am aware of it, I have seen it. The poor have always been close to my heart. The places I saw in Colombia were nearly unbearable situations, shanties made of found materials, entire peoples displaced by guerrilla warfare, 12 year old children taking on the financial burden of a family. . . it goes on. The people were stunning, they were brave, many of them had firm faith. I watched many smile. I was invited into homes with dirt floors filled with smiling faces. It was obvious who had hope and who did not.

The poverty in Shanghai is different from what I saw in Bogota. China has no middle class. There are the very rich and the very poor. On one block I may see a Ferrari and a fisherman gutting some sea creatures. Each street is different and obvious according to class, some even vary building to building. I thought I was prepared to see both rich and poor but some of the poverty has been entirely shocking and difficult to stomach.

I may have seen one or two people begging for money, Stephen and I were even approached one night outside Starbucks, a woman was in tears and needed some money. I’ve seen homeless, and suffering, and hurting. What I have seen in Shanghai does not compare to what I have seen previously. There is nothing to prepare you for the discomfort you face at seeing these people so frequently.

Begging is simply not uncommon. I have seen old men who are obviously disabled (one man only had one leg), their bones show, their clothes hang on them like rags. Everyone shuffles to avoid them. I was told enough foreigners would give them money. I Twice I have seen people on the Subway trains, they carry a sound system with a mic and sing depressing songs, one was preceded by a woman scooting on the ground, the other held the hand of a small child. I saw a man lying on the ground as if he was dead, another man was screaming out, no one looked up too much. I saw a man lying on the ground on his stomach, I passed him going to Nanjing Rd. I passed him coming back. 3 hours must have passed. He was dirty, his hair was mangled at best, I couldn’t see his face because he kept it towards the ground. He didn’t even seem human. . .

And my heart breaks as I say it. He didn’t even seem human. And how could he? Who treats him as a human? He was alone, lying on the street, and no one did anything. He’s not the only one. The others I mentioned, who sees them? I have fallen into the trap with the others. Like the Levite I cross on the other side. Everyone else is lowering their head, everyone else is saying someone else will give, everyone else is questioning their motives. Are they really as poor? Couldn’t they sell their mic and not beg professionally? I’ve said it myself.

One thing is for sure, a person who begs is poor of spirit. They have lost hope. How wretched would it be to not only be without food, shelter, clean water, but to have no communication with another living soul, because to those who are living, you are not even human.

It’s so uncomfortable to see that it is easier to lower your eyes, to say nothing to them–how could you fix it? What would you say? “I won’t talk to them” I tell myself, “what could I say?. . . My Chinese is so bad. . . . they wouldn’t understand.” I gave what I had to a man who trailed our group after we arrived in Suzhou. He was a lovely old man. I smiled at him, but said nothing. I think that is my biggest regret. I didn’t want to make a scene, I didn’t feel like I had the time to attempt to tell him something, or anything, even when there’s so much I could have communicated, even without words. He smiled back and told me thank you, and then I followed the rest of my group.

We took a bus to Hangzhou a little while later. I leaned back in my seat and began to study what was outside. There were fields dotted with shacks similar to what I had seen in Bogota. A few workers were out in the fields wearing their straw hats, harvesting brown stalks. Some fields were surrounded by concrete buildings that looked as if they could nearly fall in. Laundry hung outside the block windows. They looked like barracks but I think they were work units: or communes. Many times I had to search between trees or over the tops, straining my eyes to see the rural areas. They were hidden from our view, as if someone didn’t want us to see.

I began to think about that. To really pray about it. We ask all these pointless questions, how poor must someone be to be in poverty? How their wrong methods make them unworthy of help? What if they just buy drugs with what we give them? People don’t associate with this class, especially the beggars. Yet, Jesus himself was homeless. He knew what the religious scholars were talking about, but he associated himself, not only with them (whom may have been hypocrites), but the real dregs of society: the lepers, the prostitutes, the crippled. . .  the beggars. He encountered beggars, they were in all the public places. They were despised by the Jews “and the Jewish communities are forbidden to support them from the general charity fund (BB, 9a; Yoreh De`ah, 250, 3). But the spirit of the law is evinced again in that it is likewise forbidden to drive a beggar away without an alms (ha-Yadh ha- Chazaqah, in the place cited 7 7).” (http://www.biblestudytools.com/encyclopedias/isbe/beg-beggar-begging.html).

Jesus gave more than alms. We open our eyes to look at poverty. Jesus looks at poverty but sees people. We often remove ourselves from the situation emotionally, physically, spiritual. Jesus is present. I’ve heard some talk of Jesus’ eyes. I know they must be beautiful beyond measure. You can see his love in them. When he looks at someone he doesn’t lower his head and peer out avoiding eye-contact, I bet he looks deep within with such love and raw emotion and passion for whoever he sees. He associated with those who make the rest of us uncomfortable for the most part. He reminded they, themselves, that they were worth being looked at, being smiled to, being helped, being human… and to be human is to be made in the image of God, and he has made us worthy because of the price he paid for us. He has made us priceless. The outcasts are included. No one is turned away. His arms are open. Ours should be too.

Tomorrow when I’m out on the streets of Shanghai once more I desire to walk in the footsteps of Jesus and seeing people as he sees them, treating them how he would treat them, and loving them.

 

Dealing With Dementors

If you’re a human, (and you no doubt are, since you’re reading and I don’t think otherworldly creatures read my blog), you probably often wonder “what if?” What if you hadn’t chosen this or that, what if you’d never decided to go out that day, what if you’d had a different family, or a different life entirely? I wonder that sometimes. Sometimes I just like to imagine things and sometimes, and other times, I look back and my regrets and I wish I could take them back. All those days, months, years, that didn’t go the way I would have written. I wouldn’t have written my story that way.

I really think life is much like a story, if you’re a writer (especially of fiction) you will understand what I mean. Writers pen things from their own imagination, the situation, the setting, all of these dynamic characteristics that make a story. When I write, I pick out the initial idea and the characters, but then everything just happens. My characters rarely do what I want them too. Maybe some writers control their characters, I’m sure Charles Dickens did (I really don’t like him or his writing, I doubt he was very artistic, I’m sure he was quite krumedgy). I often find my characters are writing their own stories. Not the ones I would have liked for them. They make all kinds of mistakes and they say things I really wished they hadn’t.

Characters are a lot like us. God has a story for us and sometimes we do things we shouldn’t, that aren’t part of the story. I think I’ll touch base with that some other time. But what a character does has a profound effect on a scene. We really have quite a lot to do with telling our story. There are a lot of things that we don’t control, and have no control over, things that happen to us. How we respond to them though, that’s a different thought entirely.

When I look back on my life, the grand struggles, those are things that I can pin point and say “that made me stronger.” It’s the daily parts that I regret the most. I wish I’d have handled things differently. I believe in times of grief, we have to express that emotion, but it’s when I held onto it past it’s time that I look back with regret. I really think there are a lot of things that are in our control. Like our attitude.

Emotions are not really things we can control, but we can control our attitude. We make the choice, whether we want to sit and think about all the what ifs, which will make us bitter, or if we want to change what we can change, and change our attitude. Regardless of how we got where we are, we have a specific set of circumstances, unique to us, and we can choose how we handle it. If I could change one thing about my past, I wouldn’t change what happened, but I would change my attitude.

Philippians 4:8 reads “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” If happiness is key to life, why do we spend so much time thinking about what we DON’T have, and what we CAN’T change, and what ISN’T how we would have it? We can choose to think about the good. We can choose to smile. We can choose these things. As Christians Joy is at our finger tips, and yes there are times that are so heart-breaking we cannot smile, or laugh, or do anything at all besides cry and grieve, but I know we hold onto grief much longer than intended. I also know that we make our lives unhappy during times in which they could be very happy. Part of being human is that grief process, that process that we just drag with us, but if we could change it… wouldn’t we be happy?

People constantly say, “IF… THEN I would be happy” “IF… THEN my life wouldn’t suck” and I really think we can decide to what degree we are happy and how much our life sucks. Think about what is good. My Great-Aunt repeated this verse in a Sunday School lesson about worry. “Think about what is good. Don’t think about what ifs.”

I recently read a book called “The Prize Winner of Defiance Ohio” a true story about a poor woman and her family of ten children in the 50s. Her husband had a drinking problem, and in some cases he was quite abusive. He didn’t make hardly any money. She raised her children winning writing contests for commercial products. She never said hardly one bad word about her husband. He told her “You’re too darned happy.” There was very little she could change about her life, with ten children and no real social protection at the time, she raised her kids with a smile on her face. Her attitude was inspiring. She never thought about a divorce. She loved her husband despite all the issues, she didn’t walk out on him or her 10 children. How many people would do that today?

Don’t think I’m saying we need to stay in abusive situations, that’s not true. But there are many times in our lives when we choose to bail, physically, mentally, spiritually, we go into this dark little corner of our souls and we think about everything that is wrong in our lives.

Of course things are wrong. This is the world. It isn’t fair. It isn’t right. It isn’t a happy place. But we have hope. Eternal hope. Hope that is more true than the world and we can grab onto that.

We let little annoyances become huge problems in our lives. Let me ask another what if: what if we decided to NOT let those bother us? What if we chose that? What if we decided we were not going to sulk over things we couldn’t change, especially the small things. It takes strength and courage. So let’s build up to being joyful. Let’s start with thinking about whatever is good. There is always a bright side.

I know I’m an optimist. I wish I would have held onto that through the hardest times, that I hadn’t thought the worst about things. There was a time in my life that lasted a span of a few years, where I let my circumstances control me and darkness took over. I was paranoid, I lied, and it just sunk me. Don’t let yourself be sucked into the black hole.

I realize a lot of Christians would never reference Harry Potter in devotional, but I will. The Harry Potter books contain these creatures called Dementors. The Dementors are these black ghostish things, and they attack by pulling out all of the happiness in the situation, they feel dark and cold. To protect yourself against them you have to think of the happiest moments in your life. The happy things protect you.

“Dementor” attacks can be those what ifs, they drop you to rock bottom, they fill you with bitterness because of what you don’t have, regret of all the what-ifs, fear of the future, and just darkness.

Do not let your soul be torn apart by dementors. Don’t let the holes in your life outweigh what you have. Do not let the darkness of bitterness, poverty (in any kind), worry, or great paralyze you. You have to fight to be happy. Do it with the same kind of effort you would to save yourself from the “Dementor’s Kiss” muster up what it takes, to say in the face of your dementor “Expecto Patronum!” and think about whatever is righteous and lovely and pure.

We’re so unwilling to take our circumstances and make the best of them, regardless of what they are. We are where we are, and maybe we can’t change that. But we can change how we act. If we smile. If we will slink back to our emo corner of what-ifs or if we will live vivaciously with what we actually have.

It’s about being grateful for what we have instead of dwelling on what we don’t have. A song by Nicole Nordeman (gratitude) asks God for circumstances to change and then says: “Maybe not, not today maybe you’ll provide in other ways, and if that’s the case we’ll give thanks to you with gratitude.”

With gratitude we remember everything we do have: God. Have we forgotten, all of the sudden, in the face of our daily trials, what we have been given? Have we forgotten God is in control? Have we forgotten that He loves us? Have we forgotten not to store our treasure on earth but store it in Heaven? We are rich because we are heirs of God and what we have is eternal. Don’t be swayed from what is pure because you’re tempted by what isn’t. Don’t let the small things ruin your attitude towards joy.

“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”-Philippians 4:8

Bringing the Kingdom: Part 1

In the New Testament, Jesus tells us that the kingdom of Heaven is at hand. We can reach out and touch us. He shows us to pray “let your kingdom come.” We can bring the kingdom. I’m talking about letting your light shine. When I was first saved I was about five years old, and I knew that Jesus was in Heaven, but I also knew I had asked him into my heart… This confused me, and I remember we were driving down the road near our house, and I was wondering if that meant that when I died I would somehow fold into my own heart, because that’s part of where heaven was? Not particularly, I’m not sure that’s a very theologically sound idea, but I do think that maybe I was on the right track. When you accept Jesus, the Holy Spirit comes and lives inside of you, you become part of the Kingdom of Heaven, and your heart is changed. The Kingdom is in you. You’re now almost like an electrical cord, you need to allow God’s power to flow you, into the world, to bring his power, and glory.  And if you think about it,  you’re now his hands and feet, doing the work of his character, and his character is very different from anything on earth. But how do you do that?

Sometimes we get really caught up in making new programs within the church in order to share the love of Christ or the joy of Christ. Now, programs are good things, they accomplish good things, but you don’t always need a program. You can’t live your life in a program. What about at school? What about at work? What does it look like to bring the kingdom there? What does it look like to reach out, grab it, and show it to them? Evangelism, of course, service, most entirely. But what about something even simpler?

Last year, I was working at Chick-fil-A, probably singing (I sing at work A LOT), when a young man came up to me and told me that my smile lit up the whole place, and to never stop smiling because it was beautiful. Now, I’ve heard some guys tell me some very odd things while at work… But this felt really genuine. I knew that I was smiling out of the joy in my heart, and I wonder if he saw that too. I’ve kind of taken what he said to heart, and it’s grown into a theory that if you smile at someone enough they will eventually smile back.

Smiles are infectious!  Sometimes, I play a game in drive-thru when I working, I try to get everyone to smile back at me just by me smiling. It’s surprisingly effective, you should try it sometime. I laugh, whenever I hear someone else laugh, because joy is just infectious. I love that. I definitely believe that you can change someone else’s mood just by sharing your own. The other person might not realize it, but it’s true. At work, this is especially notable, in customers and also in employees, one person with a bad mood can bring down the whole team, but a person with a good mood, can pull everything back together. That joy we feel with Christ, that can be easily shared, just with a smile.

I serve a customer at work every friday night, he orders two chicken sandwiches without pickle, a medium fry and always asks for exactly two BBQ sauces. I always wonder how the order taker can hear him because he’s extremely quiet. The first time he came through, I noticed he didn’t seem to be in a good mood, so I smiled at him, but he didn’t smile back, so I smiled wider. He comes through sometimes more than once a week, and I began to recognize him and his order, and with determination, I wanted him to smile. Every week, I smiled, he NEVER smiled back. It frustrated me SO much. All summer long, I smiled, I grinned, I laughed, trying to encourage him to grab onto the joy I had, even for just a second. I think if I was to ask him why he never smiled, he would say there wasn’t a reason too. He seems like the brooding type.

The other night, I took his order, and I knew it was him, so I put his sauce in the bag, and when he asked for the sauce I told him, “I already got it for you, you always get the same thing, so I made sure it was all in the bag” and I kind of laughed a bit, and he did too, he smirked, and replied “Yeah, I do, don’t I?” It made my night. My high-pitched, piercing laugh bounced off the wall when he drove away, and my coworkers looked at me strangely,  and I said to them “He smiled.”

It’s not a huge deal, a smile. But it carries so much weight at the same time. We share our lives everyday with people we may never really get to know, people we only see, and if we let our joy shine, people are bound to notice, and they’ll be able to see it just for a moment, some one cares, someone else thinks there’s something in this world to smile about. I want to get people to smile back.