We like to say life is “seasonal,” but sometimes I wonder if this is an accurate description. Much of the world has four seasons, though some places have only one or two, but I think we can all agree that these seasons repeat. In life, our seasons will never repeat themselves. We have one chance at the season we are in before the next one begins, never to be repeated again.
Life is more like a book with chapters, complete with plot twists and complex characters, though it may have repeating themes and recurring symbols.
I am currently in a chapter I’d title “The Narrowing.” When we first got married, my husband and I coined this term because we suddenly had less than half the amount of time we used to have for personal pursuits and other relationships. We felt squeezed. And then we had kids. Now we wonder who we are and if we’ll ever see our old selves again. Life in this chapter can feel like an open pasture that is suddenly fenced. Beautiful and green at times, but limited.
When I returned from China, I had every intention of “using my Chinese” and staying in close contact with Chinese friends, but as I practically crash landed while hitting the pavement running on re-entry, those desires and expectations just became places of immense guilt and regret.
I have already written about feeling like I have latent gifts, but I do wonder sometimes if China was just a stand-alone chapter. Was it like the older TV shows that wrapped up neatly in every episode, or was it a show with a long story arc, spanning multiple episodes? Will I see the character of China again (or perhaps just eavesdrop on her doppleganger in America?)?
I had never lived in the mountains until six months ago, though it was always my dream. In Florida where I grew up, and Chicago where I lived as an adult, I would sometimes pretend the clouds on the low horizon were mountains in the distance. Now I am blessed to see mountains as I leave the grocery store. As novice mountain dwellers, we made the mistake of thinking we needed to live as close to the mountains as possible. I love knowing they’re there, but am overwhelmed with awe when we drive several miles away and look back at the majestic horizon.
I look forward to the day when I am not so close to the mountains in my story. One day I will have perspective. One day I will flip back through the story of my life and muse over the recurring themes and characters and perhaps be able to answer some of the “why’s and what?!’s” that I have scribbled in the margins.
When I decided to leave China, I had a conversation with a leader in our organization, Amy Young. I apologetically told her about my decision to return to America and that I was most likely going to get married. Expecting to hear disappointment in her response, she surprised me with, “Life is long.” God willing, life is long. I will have other chances to go. “In sha allah,” as my Saudi Arabian friend says, “As God wills.”
My husband and I went back to China after I had been in the states for a year to lead a summer trip for college students to teach English. On the trip, we met an American couple in their 70’s that was leading a separate trip for adults. They had been travelling to China every summer for 20 years. I was relieved to discover that they hadn’t even begun serving the Lord overseas until they were in their 50’s. It gave me hope that China might be a recurring character in my story.
As I begin to advance into the “not as young” group of life-livers, I am grateful for stories of goers who go much later in life. Young people have such a hard time imagining themselves past age 30 or 40, so it can be shocking when you realize that there can be so many more chapters yet to be written.
The following quote is my life motto of sorts. It gets recopied into my journals each time I get a new one and it helps me to center my prayers as I approach Jesus. It reminds me to live in my chapter and trust that God will begin the next one in His perfect timing. I hope it can lead you to the throne today as well:
Wherever He leads you and whatever it costs you.
Your part is to forsake the life you would choose for yourself and follow him to do what He shows you to do.”
If you are over the age of 50 and reading this, what have you been able to accomplish or experience in your 50’s and beyond that you never would have imaged while you were younger? If you are in the “younger” camp, which themes and characters do you hope you will see again in a later chapter?
This post is day 20 of the series “Re-entry: Reflections on Reverse Culture Shock,” a challenge I have taken to write for 31 days. Check out my other posts in the series:
Day 1: Introduction
Day 2: Grieving
Day 3: No One Is Special
Day 4: Wasted Gifts
Day 5: I Never Expected…
Day 6: Identity: Through the Looking Glass
Day 7: Did I mishear God?
Day 8: When You Feel Like Shutting Down
Day 9: Caring for your Dorothy
Day 10: You’re Not the Only One Who’s Changed
Day 11: 12 Race Day Lessons for Serving Overseas
Day 12: Confessions of an Experience Junkie
Day 13: Longing for Home
Day 14: Readjusting: Same Tools, Different Work Space
Day 15: Book Review: The Art of Coming Home
Day 16: The Story of My “Call”
Day 17: Is Missions a “Higher Calling”?
Day 18: And Then I Fell in Love
Day 19: Is God Calling You Overseas?
Day 20: Life Is Not Seasonal
Day 21: What I Took and What I Left Behind
Day 22: Groundless, Weightless, Homeless
Day 23: When the Nations Come to You
Day 24: The Call to Displacement
Day 25: Scripture Anchors for Re-Entry
Day 26: In the Place of Your Exile
Day 27: Resources for Re-entry
Day 28: A Time for Everything: A Prayer of Leaving
Day 29: Journal: 8 Months After Re-Entry
Day 30: 12 Survival Tips for Re-Entry
Day 31: A Blessing
(Day 32: Writing is Narcissistic (And Four Other Reasons Not to Write)–a reflection on this Write 31 Days experience)