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As I write this update, I can hardly believe that 9 months have gone by since we first held our baby girl in our arms. I still recall the knots of nervousness and anticiption as we approached the entrance of the Kaohsiung High Speed Rail Train Station to meet Holly and Ashleigh, workers from the orphanage, and our baby girl, Audrey. I could hardly contain all the emotions that I was experiencing knowing that our lives were about to completely change in sheer minutes. I knew I was smiling ear to ear and I could feel the trembling of my hands as I pulled my luggage behind me trying to keep up with my husband, Keith, who probably didn’t realize it but was walking extremely fast! He later told me he was lost in his thoughts over how to react upon meeting Audrey – wanting to completely allow his emotions to pour forth but also realizing the somewhat awkwardness of meeting our baby for the first time at a train station in a foreign country.

To be honest, what happened during the actual first moments of meeting our daughter is quite a blur in our minds. There were definitely a flurry of excited high pitched words exchanged, which I believe included ‘Oh my gosh!’ and ‘She’s so beautiful!’ and ‘I can’t believe this!’ along with many warm embraces, heartfelt smiles and what can best be described as an emotional out of body experience filled with overwhelming love and complete joy as we held Audrey for the first time. This was the culmination of years waiting on God. This was the first day of the rest of our lives together as a family. It was everything we had hoped and imagined but more. Our perfect gift from our Heavenly Father.

Fast forward 9 months to August 2013 and all I can say is how thankful we are each and everyday for this amazing little girl in our lives whom we have the privilege to call our own. She has brought so much joy, laughter and warmth in our house with her beautiful smile, funny personality, amusing sounds and sassy attitude 🙂 She has taught us many lessons of patience, grace, and unconditional love especially in those not-so-blissful parenting moments that saw us waking up for the third time in the middle of the night, taking over an hour to sit with her as she slowly ate her food, or struggling to understand her needs expressed through her only method of communication at that point – crying. But such moments have been clearly outweighed by the tremendous love and affection she has showed us with each bear hug, each kiss, and each ‘mama’ and ‘dada’ that has come out of her sweet little mouth.

God has used some truly special people in our journey as his instruments in delivering our little gift and we are deeply grateful to each and every one of them. I think of our incredible families who have been unconditionally loving and supportive of our desire to adopt from day one and who have done nothing but endlessly love on Audrey since she came into our home. I am thankful to the countless friends who have extended words of encouragement and care each and every step of our journey, especially those who provided incredibly uplifting and affirming references for our application. Of course, there are the several individuals working at both the Canadian adoption agencies and the Taiwanese orphanage who have helped us to navigate through some of the most convoluted applications and bureaucracy we have ever had to face. But there is one person who has an absolutely special place in our hearts and that is Audrey’s birthmother. I think of her every now and then with a mix of deep gratitude and loving concern of someone who doesn’t know the first thing about the other but has no doubt that what she’s been through was nothing short of life changing. I wonder about what she’s doing at particular moments in time, whether she thinks about Audrey often and how her thoughts about Audrey may change in the years to come. I wonder about our possible future encounter if Audrey decides to seek her out but I find myself at a loss in these thoughts as there are simply too many unknowns. All I know at this point is I want to say to this beautiful girl who gave birth to our baby and made the decision to give her up for adoption, I will forever be thankful. And in those inevitable times when she will think on Audrey with pain in her heart, I pray to God that He will love her, watch over her and extend to her His peace that surpasses all understanding.

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Waiting

Waiting is something we all have to at one point or other in our lives. So many things in life require us to wait and the more important these things are the more difficult the wait. I remember waiting to hear back from law schools for about 5 months. I was just finishing my last semester of my undergrad and working part-time so it wasn’t as if I had a whole lot of spare time, but still the waiting felt like it consumed my every thought from the moment the sun came up until I rested my eyes to sleep at night. I also remember the frantic moments of fear and anxiety that would cause me to ultimately break down in surrender to God knowing that no matter what happened I would have to find my strength in Him to carry on even if it meant a tremendous sense of personal failure.

There have been many other moments of waiting since, which involved very similar types of emotions of enormous expectation coupled with underlying anxiety and fear that things would not pan out how I had hoped. This most recent experience of waiting for Audrey will likely go down in our history as one of the most prolonged, difficult yet precious and meaningful periods of waiting in our lives. The sense of hope that has grown from a small seed of prayer and longing to a living, breathing, smiling baby girl waiting for us to embrace her with our arms and our lives. The times of fear that perhaps the very thorn in my side that has prevented me from fulfilling many of my dreams these past years will be the very thing that stands in the way of this family becoming one. The periods of suspended living when the waiting must be replaced with busyness and continuing each and everyday with purpose in spite of wanting to let go of everything, hop on a plane and go. This wait has been like no other I’ve experienced and I’m beginning to see that the depth of emotional longing, loving anticipation and hopeful optimism is truly a good and perfect gift from God.

There is an apt parallel to be drawn in this experience that has given me a unique glimpse into God’s love for His children. Just as I wait longingly and with great expectation for Audrey even as I do not have control over when she comes and what obstacles stand in the way now or in the future, our heavenly Father waits for us His children to drawn near to Him time and time again with that same hope and expectation but even more so. He waits as a Father for His children to return to Him and to be adopted into His family and time and time again, He waits for His children with lovingly open arms but selfless patience that says He wants us to come to Him in our time. He waits without knowing exactly when we will turn to Him once again while at the same time knowing with the faith of a Father that one day we will be with Him when the time is right. It is the type of waiting that loves, gives, and does not expect in return but hopes and dreams with great expectation.

As I wait for each and everyday to pass before we can finally hold Audrey in our waiting arms, I am reminded to pause and to see the selfless love and undying patience our Heavenly Father has for each one of us.

Endings and beginnings

On January 1, 2012, Audrey was born in Taiwan as Lu En Xian. My only recollection of that day was that we had celebrated new years eve at my brother-in-law Jim’s house just the night before. So as we went about our new year day, most likely lounging around in our pyjamas resting from what are usually blissfully busy Christmas holidays where the days and nights blend into one another over laughter and full stomachs, Audrey came into this world.

One month later in February 2012, I received a phone call from our local Vancouver adoption agency that we had been matched with a baby girl. I remember immediately abandoning the pile of clothes I had been folding just before running for the phone and taking a moment to lean over my knees and cry out in thanksgiving and joy to God. From there, I made the first of many phone calls to Keith and we celebrated the evening by sharing the amazing news of our match with Audrey and our first glimpses of her from the beautiful baby photos with our nearest family members.

Fast forward 8 months and several hours of completing forms, getting documents notarized, reading adoption books and websites, exchanging long-awaited emails with representatives from both Vancouver and Kaohsiung adoption agencies, staring and re-watching the many photos and videos posted by amazingly loving people God placed at the orphanage, waiting, praying, waiting some more through the delays and near disappointments, and then the baby showers, the many conversations of excitement, anticipation and curiosity with people from every facet of our lives, to the moment we received our First Decree on September 27, 2012. That marked the beginning of the end to our wait for Audrey as the last of the legal proceedings took place and the court issued its first ruling on our adoption (basically officially rendering Keith and I Audrey’s parents in a legal sense).

This past week has been filled with such an inexplicable sense of peace, joy, and loving anticipation of what is to come. We have booked our flights for October 22 to travel to Taiwan and pick Audrey up and we are now heavily focused on preparing ourselves in packing, reading, lining up appointments and other necessary steps to fulfill various requirements (immigration, health, future daycare to name a few). Through it all, we have to frequently stop and just break out in laughter or excited little moves of joy and silliness over the fact that this is actually happening. That the baby we prayed for and lifted up to God more than 2 years ago and trusted in God to provide, protect, love and deliver to us is finally coming home. We’ve also realized that this marks the end to our journey as a family of 2+1 dog and there have been many moments of exclaiming that too and remembering to cherish each free and relaxed moment, each full night of sleep and each lazy moment lounging around as our house will soon be filled with Audrey’s laughter, cries, needs and wants all the time.

I am reminded of this passage from Ecclesiastes 3:

“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens:

a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot…a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance…He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.”

Our journey of adoption really started even before we knew it back in 2005 when we suffered our first loss as a family. As I reflect back on the many ups and downs since then, all I can really see looking back is God’s completely perfect, beautiful and sovereign provision. His genuinely deep and profound love for us in every aspect of our lives. This is not to say that things have been smooth and painless in any way but that God is and has always been present and that this faithfulness and protection over us has been more than sufficient along the way. And now we are blessed with so much more joy, hope and love than we have ever experienced and we have not even held our little baby girl in our arms yet. We can only imagine (and are doing so everyday) how much more amazing this journey is about to get. Thank you, Lord Jesus.

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Exactly one year ago, we were on our knees before God praying for direction in the midst of a sense of restlessness and feeling God was calling us out of Calgary. At the time, we were still firmly rooted in our lives in Calgary, having just moved into a newly renovated dream home, both holding steady jobs, and enjoying community at church and with family. One year later life looks completely different and it is hard to believe that so much has happened in a little less than one year. God has been so incredibly faithful! Recounting some amazing highlights, we are so thankful for our two precious months at CRASH Japan, the opportunity to move to Vancouver and begin our ministry at Pacific Grace MB, reuniting with old friends and family in Vancouver, and now preparing to start our new family as we continue to wait on the Lord in our adoption process.

It has been almost six months since we came to Pacific Grace and we are so thankful to say that we are blessed by a new community of loving, supportive and committed believers, who thankfully all seem to share our love of good eating and provide no shortage of food-related church events! Keith is the English pastor over a congregation of about sixty people with a large number of high school and university students and a handful of young adults and young families. As expected (for those of us familiar with the Chinese church), Pastor Keith is a jack of all trades in the ministry, doing everything from preaching regularly, leading small groups, teaching Sunday School, vision planning, counseling, discipling, worship leading, and financial budgeting. It has been such a joy for me to watch him serve and grow while making an obvious connection with the people around him, especially the youth. Between the two of us, we are currently a part of each group from junior high, senior high, university, to young adults and adults, which keeps our weekends quite busy as you can imagine! Still, we are so thankful for each individual in our community, for the opportunity to know each person and love them the way God has called us to and to learn from them the things God shows us. Not to mention it is fun getting to know everyone and getting to do it together 🙂

As a “Ce Mo” (pastor’s wife), I’ve had the opportunity to serve alongside others in Sunday school teaching and leading a group of grade 9 girls where I get to re-experience the ups and downs of being a 14-year old girl again 🙂 Beyond the joys, there are obvious challenges in ministry where the immensely rewarding experience of building into peoples’ is also what makes it such a great weight and responsibility. But the sum of our experiences and relationships so far have really affirmed for us that God has placed us here for His purpose and we are grateful to be in the center of that.  Please continue to pray for us but especially Keith as he leads this congregation so that he may have great wisdom, faith, strength, sensitivity, and above all love.

Beyond our church community, we’ve been blessed to have the support of extended family and friends who have made the transition better than we could have imagined. We are so thankful to have Jim and Freda and the kids, several cousins on both sides (so many so that we were able to create a co-ed soccer team made up of 80% cousins), and aunts who care for us with good food as is the Chinese way 🙂 Living in Yaletown, we’ve been further blessed by the absolute abundance and never ending supply of amazing food and activities in the heart of this beautiful city all of which is pretty much within walking and biking distance.

The transition to Vancouver has been a blessing in other ways as well. After spending the first few months getting set up with all my new doctors (4 out of 5 of which are right here within walking distance – praise God!) my most recent tests have come back with marked improvement from last spring. I have been feeling much better since last year’s tremendously cold winter back home and am enjoying the fact that it is early February and it looks like summer outside. God has also been gracious in providing me with continued work with CRASH Japan that I was able to do remotely from Vancouver as well as a couple other law-related contracts I have been working on. I am currently  transferring my license to practice in BC which means I’m back to student-mode for now. Please continue to pray for guidance and direction for my work as I try to find the right balance between my work, health and future time management with the adoption process moving along.

While we are so thankful for the smooth transition, we miss all of you back home so very much. It was so much fun to hang out with you guys back home who came to Vancouver (mom, dad, Cayla, Clagnes, Sharon, Mel, Keith’s mom and dad, JT, Hoyee and Nick, Sherwin and Joy, and Dave, Dave, Dave who came 3 times so deserves 3 mentions)! We really hope to see more of you. You always have a couch to crash on if needed (For full disclosure, I should probably state that it is Carman’s old couch though!) We will be home to visit in July for Emily and James’ wedding in mid-July but if any of you come out before then, we’ll promise to take you somewhere fabulous for good eats 🙂

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Originally, I had hoped to blog about Japan on a weekly basis. After how long it took me to write my first blog entry, I modified that to monthly basis. After a month had flown by at CRASH and I still had not found time to sit down and write, I once again modified that plan and decided to blog during our last week as sort of a Finale blog. There is no way of turning back time at this point nor is my memory sufficient enough to retroactively blog on a weekly or monthly basis…so I’ve decided to do a top 5 list Letterman style instead! Top 5 things I loved about our June and July 2011 in Japan in no particular order (…drumroll):

5. Awesome people. Some people you meet and you just know it’s going to be a fun ride. We met Ramona on our first day at CRASH and went on to spend hours together working, eating, stressing, laughing, and more eating together. Actually, it was more like Keith and I ate while she watched in amazement at the fact that we were still eating…Ramona’s story is awesome. She is originally from Illinois but has been in Japan for 19 years and worked in the finance industry right up until before the earthquake hit. When the earthquake hit, she packed up her bags and got on the first flight she could, which landed her in LA. She left abruptly despite her life, her ministry (she was the substitute teaching leader for BSF in Tokyo for several years) and everything being in Japan. While in the US, God called her to return to Japan. He moved her to see that this is the time to be in Japan for Him. And so she returned and ended up CRASH! She is one of many selfless and passionate volunteers whom God has brought to serve Him at CRASH during this crucial time. Ramona’s story is unique yet many others we met had similar stories of God calling them out of various backgrounds to be a part of His restorative work in Japan. Some from within Japan and others from the US, Europe, Canada and beyond. It was so interesting to hear peoples’ stories and humbling to meet so many people actively living out their faith and obedience in God at CRASH.

4. Northern Japan trip. During our last week in Japan, we had a chance to join a work team to Ichinoseki, one of the 5 bases operated by CRASH. There were 7 of us from headquarters and a group of students from Campus Crusade in the US. About 18 of us helped to clean out a lady’s garden that had been affected by the disaster. We had the privilege of meeting this 80 year old lady who walked half an hour to bring the team drinks and refreshments. She told us the story of how her daughter in law drove up to the property to pick up things in preparation for the tsunami but tragically died nearby where they found her body by the parked car. We were working right by this area. We also met one of the CRASH volunteer base leaders who had grown up in the town of Rikuzentakata, where our work site was located, and listened as she told us where she attended school and where she had lost many family members to the tsunami. We drove for kilometers and kilometers barely seeing anything but devastated land, never ending piles of garbage towering over surrounding machinery.         

It was clear to me that there is still a long road to recovery ahead. It is the goal of the Japanese government to place all those who have lost their homes into temporary housing by the fall and there are many people going to the various volunteer centres of these affected areas to lend a hand each day but it is a tremendous task that is and will no doubt continue to test the strength of this country. The Japanese people are strong, proud and determined and they seem unified as a country in their desire to move forward in recovery, which is admirable for all of us watching. Yet I am certain that the enormity of this challenge is not lost on anyone. For me, this experience certainly reminded me and put into perspective how small we really are in the scheme of God’s entire creation and how much we need Him when there is so little truly in our control.

There was actually a news article written in Tokyo’s equivalent of the Wall Street Journal about overseas students volunteering in northern Japan, which featured several members from the team we worked alongside. Here is the link to the article: Nikkei article

3. Exploring Tokyo, Hiroshima, Osaka, and Yokohama. Although we spent 2 months in Tokyo, by the time we left we really felt that we had only touched the surface of the city. There are virtually endless areas in Tokyo that you could spend all day exploring, each with their own distinct character and unique offerings of cafes, shopping, historical beauty and architecture, and of course food! Some of our favourite areas were Kichijoji (hip boho area with great shopping and cafes plus a sweet park); Harajuku (shopping shopping shopping!) and Daikanyama (relaxed slightly higher end boutiques mixed in with little bars and cafes in an almost maze-like criss crossing of sloped streets). Over a long weekend, we also had a chance to visit Hiroshima and Osaka, both in southern Japan. Definitely a worthwhile visit for both the historical significance and the chance to see another major city in Japan. My main overall obvservation was that the atmosphere seemed more laid back down south and almost had a European feel to some of the streets.

        

2. Food. No explanation needed here. Food in Japan is basically awesome. Here are some pictures of favourites.

        

        

1. Growing in my faith. This was truly an experience of a lifetime that I have been so blessed by. To be a part of an organization whose very existence is to bring God’s restoration into a region where brokenness is evident in both the land and the people was both meaningful and exciting. It was a privilege and an encouragement to be among people who have dedicated their lives to serve others in any and every capacity God has called them to, whether it be pastoral, music, film making, teaching, or secular work to name a few. I learned a lot about how God can use anyone who is truly willing to serve with an open heart and willingness. The needs at CRASH changed each and everyday and with the different volunteers coming in, some long term (2 months +), some short term (2 weeks), some local and others from overseas, it became very evident that an open, willing and flexible attitude can be used by God in so many different ways and that through that, He can show you things and do things through you that you never imagined or thought yourself capable of!

Keith had an opportunity to share our story during one of the morning devotion sessions at CRASH. He shared how we watched as God changed our hearts this year to begin to say yes more to Him without our own agendas. Once that happened, He was able to speak to us more clearly and lead us down paths that we could not have imagined for ourselves. We have experienced so much blessing through His divine guidance, His endless provision and His loving faithfulness. It has been an exciting, fast paced, sometimes scary and very uncertain past 8 months, yet we would not have it any other way. To watch God lead our every step has been awesome and has helped us to trust more to see how great our God is.

CRASH Japan

End of week one at CRASH Japan in Tokyo. Time to reflect on all that has happened this past whirlwind of a month.
I am so overjoyed and excited as I type this post! Just the fact that I am writing about how God has been so evidently moving sends little goose bumps up my arms. We came to serve in Japan yet as always, we are the ones being humbled and blessed by God.
In January of this year, we began praying and exploring the idea of serving overseas as missionaries. We felt a sense of restlessness and wanted to find out what it would look like to serve as overseas missionaries and what things we need to consider as we decide whether this is where God is leading. Japan was one of the places we considered along with Hong Kong and Taiwan. We exchanged emails with a few missionary organizations, one of which was the C&MA and had coffee with one of Keith’s former profs who turned out to be in charge of training and guiding new missionaries with the C&MA . Following these conversations, we prayed and waited to see how God would lead. In March, 2011, two things happened that led us to decide it was not the best time to serve overseas long term at this point. 1. Our adoption was approved (praise God!) and 2. The earthquake and tsunami hit in Japan, after which we thought, ‘okay, Japan is out.’ Now that I look back, in our natural selfishness and fear, we walked away from the idea of serving in Japan once the earthquake hit and the need actually became greater than ever. Nevertheless, we gradually felt God closing the door on the long term idea and this is when we began exploring the option of serving within Canada. We were however deeply moved by the events of the earthquake in Japan and said to ourselves that if God did not open a door to full time ministry by fall, perhaps we could go serve on a short term basis for 3 months. This conversation never really went beyond the two of us but sat in the back of our minds.
Fast forward less than a month, Keith received a job offer to pastor at Pacific Grace church in Vancouver, which was a bit of a whirlwind itself but we felt that He was leading us to stay in Canada at this time. Merely days after the PG offer came in, Keith received an email from one of the C&MA missionaries who started serving with CRASH after the earthquake. She had been cc-ed on one of the original email exchanges we had back in January about serving in Japan. She said to him, “I know this is a long shot but we need someone to come for 3 months and I remembered that you had expressed an interest in serving in Japan and that you have an accounting background. Would you come to HQ to help for 3 months?” We were pretty much in awe when we received this email! It seemed although God closed the long term door at the moment, He was definitely opening up the short term one. At that point, there was much to consider as we had decided to accept the offer in Vancouver, which meant we had to move our lives west in just a few months. We had both not yet resigned at that time and a number of key things had to fall in place before Japan could even be a possibility. Still, we decided walk until God closed the door. And then God sort of just blew each door wide open. His favour was clearly present in how gracious our employers were and how supportive our families and friends were. He also helped us take care of Nikki (thanks Em!), our house matters, and other important areas of our lives to make this possible.
It took about one month from the time Keith received that email to us landing in Tokyo with our bags packed for 2 months! It has been such an adventure and we feel so overjoyed, humbled and blessed to be here.
As for what CRASH is actually about, it stands for Christian Relief, Assistance, Support and Hope. Prior to the earthquake, it was literally made up of a handful of Christians providing relief assistance around the world. Since the earthquake, it has has grown exponentially and virtually exploded into a network of countless Christians from Japan and all over the world working together to provide assistance to the victims in Japan. Headquarters is in Tokyo and this is where Keith has been helping out as the finance section chief and I have been providing legal counsel. Headquarters alone has around 40 people at any given time and there are long term and short volunteers coming in and out of the doors virtually everyday along with teams of volunteers being sent to the 4 bases in northern Japan every week to bring supplies and minister to the people there. God’s hand is moving here and mobilizing so many volunteers to serve! Although CRASH is moving full speed ahead to develop policies, planning, structure, obtain ngo status, and perform the enormous task of getting that all in place to continue operating effectively, the goal of CRASH is to essentially work itself out of a job and mobilize the Japanese churches to step up to continue the work of ministering to those affected by the earthquake.
The need is so great in Japan still! It is kind of sad to see how the news of Japan has all but died off in N. America and the only thing that makes news nowadays is the nuclear plant while the victims have been almost forgotten. I totally get it because I barely knew what was going on in Japan while we were stil in Calgary. However, being here and being directly involved has helped us see the need is definitely still great and it will be for years to come. Here is the website if you are interested in finding out more about CRASH (www.crashjapan.com).
Week one has come and gone and we have been pretty overwhelmed by God, the people here, the work, and the sheer newness of this all. We are super excited to be here and still wake up some days not believing that we are actually living in Tokyo for these next 2 months! To give a little idea of what life here in Tokyo looks like, we have been staying at a church guesthouse for the first week, a freestanding traditional Japanese house with tatami rooms and futons on the ground. We’re located in a suburb just west of Tokyo called HigashiKurume, about 40 minutes from central Tokyo. We are moving into a family’s house on Monday as they left after the earthquake and have offered their house to be used by volunteers. We walk about 5 minutes to the CRASH headquarters, but often get sidetracked by the endless restaurants, bakeries, convenience stores, and vending machines along the way so it takes us more like an hour at times 🙂 We work from 9-6 along with all the others at HQ. There are different sections – finance, planning, operations, screening, etc. and the office is divided up into little areas of people but it is pretty much at max capacity most of the time and can get quite chaotic in there (creeper photo of HQ attached!) although we have morning devotions together, which is always a good time of quiet before work. One of the most amazing things for us has been to hear each person’s story of how God brought them to CRASH. Each of us were on different paths prior to the earthquake yet God steered us all in this common direction and now we’re on the same page even though we come from such different backgrounds and experiences. I love seeing this mosaic of believers come together.
Life in Tokyo as a whole seems virtually the same as when we visited last year. There is a sense among the ex pats here who are serving/working in Japan but grew up or have families in N. America that the media has played a very damaging role in exaggerating certain issues while ignoring important ones about actual people, which has led to a lack of response from many North American churches due to fear. Although there are many many volunteers coming, the sense I get is there could be many many more and northern Japan needs help. Please pray for this particular challenge and also for CRASH as it continues to play this crucial role of connecting those who want to serve with those who need help and partnering with the Japanese church and many other international organizations along the way.

Reference point

I was reminded that each of us have a reference point in life. As a Christian, if we allow Christ to be our reference point, He will be whom we place our trust in. He will be whom we gauge ourselves, our decisions, and our lives against. His will is done when He is our reference point.

More often than not, I am my own reference point. What do I feel like doing? Do I love this person because it feels good to do so? Do I hold a grudge because I cannot let go of what he or she did? Do I miss service or bible study or worship practice because I am too tired and too busy and I don’t feel like I’m getting fed? For so many of us it seems, life and all its necessary decisions revolve around what we want, what we feel, what helps us, what gets us further ahead, what is good for us. Me me me and us us us…

“Store your treasures in heaven, where they will never become moth-eaten or rusty and where they will be safe from thieves. Wherever your treasure is, there your heart and thoughts will also be.” Matt 6:20-21

Whatever our reference point is, that is our treasure. That is what we trust in.