It was Christmas time a few years ago while we were in language school, hunkered down in a bitterly cold northern China city. I had just spent the afternoon baking and decorating cookies with the boys in preparation to hand them out to friends and attend a cookie exchange party.
I had been utilizing the things I was learning in class with my neighbors on a daily basis. (A huge perk of studying the mother tongue in-country!) Gone were the days of repeating “I don’t understand” over and over. (Why is it that when you say one sentence—that declares our inability to speak to them—they jump into a conversation?!) I was enjoying the real-life practice and the small steps toward building actual friendships.
Our downstairs neighbors consisted of a family of grandparents, parents that I rarely saw because they lived and worked in another city, and a six-year-old girl. By Christmas, I still couldn’t carry a conversation, but I could at least ask and respond to some simple questions.
Since we saw each other often, I decided to deliver a plate of cookies to them. I knocked on their door, and once opened, I saw their very simple living room that catered to the grandpa, who had to walk with crutches. I happily gave them the cookies and told them “Merry Christmas” in Chinese. The little girl’s eyes grew huge at seeing the plate of treats she had probably never tasted. I was thrilled to share with them! There wasn’t much conversation to be had, so I quickly left. Whew, I did it!
Less than five minutes later, I heard a knock on my door. I was perplexed, since we rarely had uninvited visitors. I opened the door, and there was the little girl. She thrust an apple at me paired with a nervous smile. Confused, I took it, and she ran away.
Then it all hit me—they couldn’t, could not, accept a free gift. Something had to be returned in thanks. And quickly.
Fast forward a few years to our current city. Our building mostly housed our American teammates, except for an Italian/Chinese couple. Our first Christmas here, I decided to try to befriend the gruff old man and rarely-there woman. Again, I knocked, with a plate of cookies in my hand, more ready this time to use the proper verbiage to let them know this was a gift of kindness, a tradition for us to share with others. I was kind of hoping for the Italian man to answer, since he would have been more familiar with our traditions.
You guessed it. The Chinese wife, who really was almost never home, answered. I explained what I had made and why I was gifting it to them. A free gift! No strings attached! Merry Christmas! She thanked me ten times. Whew, I did it better this time!
Five minutes later…a knock on the door. Really?! She couldn’t stand it, either. This time, the gift was a doily-type thing that I’m pretty sure she either pulled off her shelf, or had been a freebie for buying a bottle of Coke.
Giving and receiving gifts is a tough thing in this culture. If someone gives you something, they are either indirectly telling you that in the future, they’re going to ask something of you, or they expect something back in return. The back and forth never ends. And if it does, then something is wrong with the relationship.
I get that non-believers don’t know how to grasp a free gift, especially when the cultural norm doesn’t include such a thing, but lately I’ve been having to challenge some local brothers and sisters in this area. The Body is a beautiful thing. Everyone plays a vital role to keep it alive and moving. If everyone is working together, then there is no need to feel indebted.
Then I started to look inwardly. How have I learned how to receive? It has taken many years; I still don’t have a great record, but I’m learning to accept gifts and acts of kindness with joy. If I make a big fuss over what I’m receiving, I’m robbing the giver of the joy in blessing me. Right? I’m pretty sure Jesus doesn’t want me to be a joy stealer.
One huge gift we received recently was from our teammates. Our ten-year anniversary was in March, and we really wanted to take a trip somewhere. We aren’t returning to the States anytime soon, so pushing it off to let grandparents take care of the kids wasn’t an option. We stuck our necks out there and asked if anyone would be willing to watch our three littles for four days while we traveled to another city. Yikes! It was such a big ask!
They responded with joy! Everyone stepped up, pitched in, and worked hard to love on and take care of the kids while we were gone. You know it was no easy task! Especially for my sweet toddler girl who is still way attached to her mama. But they saw the bigger picture of blessing a marriage; letting us take a break from our busy lives to just pour into each other, without interruption. Praise Jesus!
I still fight waves of guilt and feeling like I owe them something every now and then, but I have to remind myself that they actually did agree to bless us in this way, and did so without complaining. As I continue to learn how to receive gifts and blessings with joy and open hands, I hope to share the same no-strings-attached joy with those around me.
How have you learned to receive gifts, big and small? How do the locals where you serve receive gifts?
When we were young marrieds, we would splurge on Red Lobster every once in a while. We’re not huge seafood fans, buts we are huge cheesy biscuit fans. You know the ones I’m talking about, right?! I’m sure just like others, we would barely touch our entree because we had already devoured 3-4 biscuits. We happily took the leftovers home, along with yet another few biscuits. They were so good! A few years ago, I stumbled upon this copycat recipe and oh my, it’s dead-on! Let me know if you agree!
Cheese in biscuit dough. Genius.
I’m sure you already know this trick to make buttermilk: add about a Tablespoon of lemon juice or white vinegar to a measuring cup, then fill up to 1 cup. Let sit for 5 minutes. Done!
Cooled, melted butter mixed with the buttermilk will help make the flaky layers of the biscuit.
This little helper is pretty demanding when it comes to mixing. I’ll let her get away with it for now. 😉
This dough is wet and sticky, unlike other biscuit dough. I spray a 1/4 cup measuring cup with cooking spray, which helps the dough plop right onto the tray.
They won’t be perfectly round, but who cares when you pull apart the flaky, cheesy goodness!
Brush a little more extra butter mixture on top before devouring.
If I still had high metabolism, I’d still just eat biscuits and skip the entree. (Soup pictured here: ham and potato, made with ham I cured myself! Anyone interested in learning that process?)
Slight crunch on the outside, crazy soft on the inside, oozing with cheesy goodness.
Ready in 40 minutes
Makes 9 large biscuits
Slightly adapted from Brown-Eyed Baker
For the biscuits:
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon garlic powder
4 ounces cheddar cheese, shredded (about 1 cup shredded)
1 cup buttermilk, cold (hack: pour 1 Tbsp. lemon juice or white vinegar in measuring cup; add milk to 1 cup mark; mix, then let sit for 5 minutes)
1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted and cooled for 5 minutes
For the Topping:
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
½ teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon minced fresh parsley (or ¼ teaspoon dried)
pinch of salt (if using salted butter, omit)
1. Preheat oven to 475 degrees F (245 C). Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a non-stick baking mat; set aside.
2. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, sugar, salt, and garlic powder. Stir in the cheddar cheese; set aside.
3. In a medium bowl, stir together the buttermilk and melted butter until the butter forms small clumps.
4. Add the buttermilk mixture to the flour mixture and mix gently with a rubber spatula just until a dough forms and no dry ingredients remain. Use a greased ¼-cup measuring cup to scoop out portions of dough. Place on the prepared baking sheet, leaving a little more than an inch between biscuits.
5. Bake until the biscuits are golden brown, about 12 minutes. While the biscuits are in the oven, stir together the 2 tablespoons melted butter, garlic powder, parsley, and salt. Remove the biscuits from the oven and immediately brush with the topping mixture. Allow to cool for at least 5 minutes before serving. Leftovers can be stored in an airtight container or zip-top back at room temperature for up to 3 days. (If you have any!) This recipe can be easily doubled or tripled!