Here in Beijing, I’ve been living life with as minimal spending as possible. I’m doing the best I can to keep my regular budget at around 12 Yuan a week, which is roughly $2.00. My food and lodging are completely covered by the school, so that 12 Yuan is mine to spend as I choose. Even so, I hesitate to spend it on anything that is not absolutely necessary, since you never know what larger, unforeseen costs may come up in the future!
I’ve also found this to be an ideal time to really apply the challenge I’ve wanted to give myself to literally not spend money on things I can live without. It hasn’t exactly been easy! I love food and snacks and ice cream and chocolate (and chocolate ice cream to be specific), and it’s hard to walk by a stand in the market with the most incredible smells wafting up from it, knowing that whatever they’re selling would only be a few Yuan…
Beginning this challenge, I thought I would learn a lot from saying “no” to myself. But God seems to have had a different lesson in mind, at least for now!
At the very beginning of the week, Marcus presented me with a bottle of maple syrup he had been given that he thought tasted nasty. Morning after morning, I’ve been dipping my flavorless steamed breakfast roll in the syrup – pancakes? Who would have thought! I smile every time I think about how God gave me such a little thing to remind me that He knows me inside and out.
On Monday, I was craving something to snack on, and telling myself, “suck it up.” I walked into the big room where all the teachers have their desks, and discovered a little gift bag full of some form of packaged Chinese treats. They were labeled “Glutinous Rice Cakes” (sorry, Rachel). And they were delicious. There were over a dozen in my little bag, along with a few other Chinese candy treats, and it brightened my day just knowing they were sitting on my desk.
On Friday morning, I ate the last little rice cake. I was a little sad, knowing I wouldn’t have anything to snack on, any just-because-I-like-it treat that day, or the next, or the next… But God hadn’t taught me my lesson yet! That afternoon, just before all the teachers went home for the weekend, one came up and offered me a bag of… cookies?! Yes. Cookies. Wonderful, western-ish, glutinous cookies. Enough to share, even! And then bring back to my dorm room. I had a huge smile on my face, not because I liked the cookies (which I definitely DID), but because I was starting to understand God’s little lesson.
By Saturday morning, the cookies were gone. I prepared for a long weekend of self-denial. But then – again – what showed up on my bed but two packaged Chinese loaves of “French Style Bread,” a sweet bread given to Rachel and I as a gift. It was the most perfect breakfast, and then the most sweet dinner. Not because the bread was good (which is WAS), but because I ate it knowing the God was providing for me. It was almost like manna for the Israelites, except that it was completely unnecessary for my survival. It was a just-because-I-love-you gift from God.
So this morning, I wondered what my glutinous gift from God might be. I figured that I shouldn’t expect God to give me something. Maybe this would be a good day to just buy myself something. But I didn’t. Somehow I kept that resolve. After dinner, as my old Chinese teacher and I were washing our bowls and chopsticks, four students came into the little kitchen and asked in their broken English if I wanted to come to a little birthday party they were having in their classroom. So we went. And ate cake. Totally delicious, very glutinous cake. Birthday cake!
And the party favors were big tomatoes. Mine is ready to snack on sometime tomorrow. Maybe breakfast. Maybe later.
Yes, God has been teaching me a very simple lesson: I love you. Trust Me.
Tomorrow might bring another cookie. It might bring a gallon of ice cream. It might bring the beginning of a long period of no little treats to savor and enjoy. But my lesson has already been learned.