Day 16: White in China + 14 Stereotypes Chinese Have about Americans {31 Days of #WOKE}

White in China + 14 Stereotypes Chinese Have about Americans

How to Become Famous in China

If you are white and live in China, you’ve probably heard of the Canadian known as “Da Shan” (Big Mountain). If you have never been to China, I’m guessing you have no idea who I am talking about.

When I lived in China, everyone assumed I knew about Da Shan. Da Shan first appeared on Chinese television in 1988 and quickly became a household name–in China, that is.  Known for his fluent Chinese, he hosted T.V. programs, performed comedy, acted in films and was sometimes a cultural informant between east and west.

If you were white and knew Chinese in the 80’s, you were an anomaly. It might even help you rise to fame.

Da Shan
Da Shan

But when I lived in China from 2005 to 2010, English was the currency of supremacy in northwest China. If you spoke English and were a “foreigner” you could get a job almost anywhere. And if you were an English-speaking foreigner with white skin, you were a rock star.

It was hard not to enjoy it. (You can read about God squelching my pride in regards to that here and here.)

Of course, being a communist country, there was suspicion. We could be spies. This was the main fear. But as long as we kept everything above board, we could live the “harmonious life” the billboards advertised. The organization I went with was up front about the fact that they only sent Christian English teachers. And we were told the government appreciated that Christians tended to adhere to higher moral standards than non-Christians.

Wrong or Different?

Unlike living in Uganda, when I lived in China I was also a graduate student formally studying culture. Because of this, I felt like I finally had a decoder to aid in deciphering the culture of the people around me. I knew better what to expect. I had a framework for our different perceptions of time, relationships and tasks. Instead of assuming “the Chinese” were doing it all wrong, I assumed they were doing it all different. I still got frustrated with last minute cancellation of class due to school-wide tree planting, but I eventually chocked inconveniences up to “cultural differences.” Sometimes I figured out ways to beat the system.

For example, when I was a language student during my fourth and fifth years in China, I invited my classmates who were from all different countries to my apartment on Friday nights to play games and practice our Chinese. After the first few weeks I altered the time I told each classmate depending on which country they were from. The goal was to begin at 6 pm, so I would tell the Chinese students to come at 6, the Americans to come at 5:45, the Pakistanis to come at 5 pm, and the Nigerians to come at 4:30. In the end, everyone arrived precisely at 6 pm.

White in China + 14 Stereotypes Chinese Had about Americans
Chinese Corner: My classmates from Japan, Kyrgystan and Pakistan

Stereotypes Chinese Had about Americans

My Chinese friends had many stereotypes about Americans that were sometimes offensive, but eventually just comical. I asked some Facebook friends to weigh-in on this question to jog my memory.

Apparently, white Americans all:

1.      Use facial whitener.

2.      Are “open.” (tolerant, free-thinking, independent—this wasn’t necessarily a good thing)

3.      Carry guns.

4.      Are rich.

5.      Have a lot of kids (so more than the one).

6.      Live in a 3+ bedroom home with a well-manicured yard and dog.

7.      Aren’t very studious because our schools are easier.

8.      Like the T.V. show “Friends” and act like those characters do (A.K.A. sleep around).

9.      Look like movie stars.

10.   And yet we’re all fat.

11.   Maybe because we all eat:

McDonald’s, KFC, cheese, drink milk, eat a lot of meat and have desserts all the time?

12.   And as a result, our homes smell like spoiled milk.

And from my friends of other races:

13.   “Black Americans are not American, but African.”

14.   “Chinese-Americans aren’t real Americans.”

I’ll refrain from posting the lengthy list Americans have developed of stereotypes about Chinese (for now, at least).

White in China + 14 Stereotypes Chinese Have about Americans

Changing Cultures, Changing Perceptions

The longer you live overseas as an expat, the more your “whiteness” morphs into a new culture. Sometimes, you even start to dislike your home culture, forming your own stereotypes. “Americans are so materialistic, consumerist, self-centered, individualistic and ethnocentric.” You tiptoe across the “third culture” line where you belong everywhere and nowhere.   

When you are a white person traveling to a non-white country, you usually climb the social ladder. But if you are a person from a non-white country migrating to America or another majority-white country, you can usually expect to slide down several notches in social status.

Everyone has heard stories of non-English-speaking physicians, lawyers or professors with phDs moving to the United States and only being able to get a job at MacDonald’s. Some are able to learn English and resume their work in the U.S., but even these immigrants experience discrimination. (i.e. here’s a quiz for you: If you had to choose a new doctor just by looking at the last name, how would you choose?)

Megan Lietz in her article titled Whiteness and White Identity, offered three dimensions of whiteness. They included the “power to define social norms,” assuming because the majority does things a certain way that this is the best way to do them. The second is that whites in the U.S. have a structural advantage over non-whites in terms of politics and economy because of sheer numbers. And the third, called “white transparency,” means that whites often don’t even need to think about race. 

“White transparency” in the U.S.—being ignorant of our race–becomes “white opaqueness” in China and many other non-European countries. You can’t escape the fact that you are being put on a pedestal for no other reason other than you are white. While it may be possible to ignore race as a white person living in the United States, if you travel to a country where the people are not of European origin, it gets much harder to ignore.

 

If you have traveled to a non-western country, what was your experience of “whiteness”? Were you treated differently because you were white?

If you are not white, what was your experience living abroad?

Check back tomorrow–a friend of mine will be sharing her story as a person of color in the U.S.!

New to the Series? Start HERE (though you can jump in at any point!).

A 31 Day Series Exploring Whiteness and Racial Perspectives

During the month of March, 2017, I will be sharing a series called 31 Days of #Woke. I’ll be doing some personal excavating of views of race I’ve developed through being in schools that were under court order to be integrated, teaching in an all black school as well as in diverse classrooms in Chicago and my experiences of whiteness living in Uganda and China. I’ll also have some people of color share their views and experiences of race in the United States (I still have some open spots, so contact me if you are a person of color who wants to share). So check back and join in the conversation. You are welcome in this space.

Falling Off the Missionary Pedestal {for SheLoves}

I was privileged to share this at SheLoves last week!  Things have been a bit, eh, busy around here since we had our baby on September 10th, so I’m just now getting around to sharing it on Scraping Raisins.  


 
As a twenty-something single missionary home for the summer, I sat quietly judging the other girls in the room who were laughing and talking about which color Kitchen Aid Mixer they had registered for at their bridal showers. I thought about my own home—a 300 square foot cinderblock apartment in China with one sink in the kitchen that looked like it belonged to an auto mechanic and a “shoilet”—a toilet that got wet when you showered because the shower was in the same tiny space.

As I listened to those girls, rather than feeling envy, I felt smug. I was doing the Hard Thing: purposely living a life of discomfort for the sake of the gospel. I had climbed the evangelical Christian ladder right up to the top, perching on the pedestal the church reserves for missionaries. I wasn’t going to waste my life like these other girls who could guiltlessly own a $300 appliance that would collect dust on their kitchen counters.

I had this “living for Jesus” thing all figured out. Hard always equaled holy, I believed. Discomfort was always best. And poverty was external and had nothing to do with the poverty of my own soul.
But have you ever strode confidently into what you wholeheartedly believed was the direction you were meant to go when out of nowhere a giant shepherd’s rod slips around your waist and yanks you backward … hard?

That was how my five-year missionary tale ended—abruptly and with little explanation from that “still small voice.” Before I knew it, I was back in America with the Kitchen Aid Girls, drinking La Croix and chatting about recipes we found on Pinterest.

And I was miserable.

***

That was six years ago.

Since living in China, life has gone from multiple roads, all wide open with glorious possibility, to an ever-narrowing path where I can only see enough of the way ahead to put one foot in front of the other. Getting married “late,” we were on the fast track and had three kids in four years. Sometimes I wake up stunned, wondering what happened to my life.

As a missionary, I had been a superstar, both in China and back home...continue reading at SheLoves.

~~~

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Serving Single in China


I recently had this essay published in a magazine for singles in Australia called SPAG Magazine.  The editor has given me permission to republish it here.  

Scraping Raisins Blog Post: Serving Single in China

Cowering behind the faded window curtain, I tentatively peered out into the darkness.  Another explosion sent me inching deeper into the tiny cinder block apartment for safety.  Slowly, logic began to overlap my irrational thoughts.  Perhaps the “gunfire” outside wasn’t a group of Chinese militants coming to kidnap the brand new single woman missionary after all.  Could it be that maybe—just maybe–it was simply fire crackers to celebrate a traditional festival?
In my five years of living in China, the first night was the most frightening.  But as anyone who has done the brave thing has ever experienced, reality often ends up being much tamer than our imagination.  So once I began to adapt to my surroundings, many irrational fears fled and left me with confidence.  In 2004, God had led me to move across the globe from the U.S. to live alone in China as a single woman missionary.
Here is my story.
Choosing Independence
If I told a psychologist three of my literary role models, they could probably psychoanalyze me fairly well.  Anne from Anne of Green Gables, Maria of The Sound of Music, and Jo from Little Women were my heroes.  Though each woman eventually married, marriage was never the goal of their lives.  Instead, they were strong, independent women who knew what they wanted and refused to let a man barricade the way to their dreams.  Like these women, marriage was never my endgame.   
I went to a Christian university where many women’s goals were to leave with the famed “M.R.S. degree.” My roommate’s father warned her that if she couldn’t find a man there, she would have a hard time finding one anywhere. Horrified, I vowed I wouldn’t get married during or immediately following college because God had called me to serve Him overseas and I didn’t want anything—or anyone—to get in the way of that call.
My Call to Missions
When I was 16-years-old, a missionary visited our church to share about his family’s work in Uganda.  Complete with a slideshow of his children growing up learning how to throw spears and wear war paint, I was enthralled.  At the end of his fiery sermon, the pastor did an altar call asking if anyone wanted to “give their life to missions.”  Heart burning and hands sweating, I made the trip forward to answer the call.
From that time on, I read every missionary biography I could get my hands on and absorbed myself in the lives of Amy Carmichael, Bruce Olson, Jim and Elisabeth Elliot, George Mueller and Hudson Taylor.  I copied Jim Elliot quotes into my journal and practically tackled visiting missionaries so I could find out about their lives.  I was enamored with the romantic notion of throwing my whole self into God’s service. 
In college, I led the Africa prayer team and signed up for a six month internship in Africa, where I was sure God was calling me to spend my life.  My first experience abroad was in Uganda, where I faced culture shock and came up against many of my unrealistic ideals about being a missionary.  I was less useful and life overseas was harder than I had anticipated.  After returning, I decided that if God wanted me to live abroad, then He would have to make it unmistakably clear.  A few years later, God showed me that it was time to go.  He led me as a 25-year-old single woman to a three-year commitment—which turned into five–to teach English to college students in China.   
Advantages of Being Single
Fear, excitement, hope, anxiety and wonder swirled internally as I prepared to leave for China in July of 2005.  I sold my car, quit my teaching job and said goodbye to friends and family.  Though I had moments of doubt when skeptical family members would question my decision, I was confident that if God called me to China, then He would be the one to sustain me there.
Once there, God proved that He was more than enough.  I was surprised that though the loneliness was acute at times and my marital status was a mystery to the Chinese, who almost always married by the time they were 30, there were so many advantages to serving God as a single woman.
Compared to my married teammates, I had the gift of time.  As I only taught about 16 hours a week, I was able to spend the rest of my time learning Chinese, meeting up with fellow teachers and teammates, having students over weekly to teach me to cook Chinese food, exploring the city, visiting my students in their homes in the countryside, and seeking Jesus in the long mornings.  I noticed that many expat married women with children were much more isolated as their time was spent homeschooling and creating a cocoon for their family.  They often seemed to be much lonelier than I was as they didn’t have time for many other relationships outside of their families.
I soon realized that I felt much more comfortable as a single woman in China than I did back home in the United States.  In China, I was a part of a team that felt like family and was always welcome at the table of my Chinese friends.  They eventually assumed that single women were the norm in my country, so they didn’t put pressure on me to conform to society the way my friends and family back home did.  After summers at home, I was often eager to return to China, where I felt a sense of belonging and like I was more accepted than I was in the church and society during my short stay in the U.S. 
                                                                                                                  
Missions: Sacrifice or Privilege?
My teammate and I had many visitors over the years I was in China.  Some were friends, others were on “vision trips,” but some came for the sheer purpose of encouraging missionaries on the field.  Many times these trips were made up of older married men in ministry with good intentions, but a narrow view.  Sitting down to bowls of spicy noodles, they would ask my teammate and me about the “sacrifices” we had made in giving up everything and going to China. I knew they referred to not being married or having a family, the comforts of home and missing out on weddings, births, deaths and life events back home.  I could tell they felt sorry for us.  Yes, there were sacrifices, but I felt like these men were missing the point.  Being in China felt more like a privilege than a sacrifice.  There is a supernatural peace that settles in your soul when you know you are right in the center of God’s will.  And you don’t want to be anywhere else.
Scraping Raisins Blog Post: Serving Single in China
The street I walked down everyday in northwest China.
Luggage, Logistics and Loneliness
In spite of the overall peace and joy I felt, of course I had my moments of wishing I were married.  Dealing with luggage on long journeys home and simple life logistics were often pity party triggers.  On cross-country train rides, I joked that I wanted a husband so I didn’t have to haul my suitcase up and down the staircases at the train station.  On plane trips, I wished I had someone to watch my luggage so I could run to the bathroom instead of having to lug it into the stall with me.  It seemed life would be easier with a companion. 
But I also longed for a “constant” in my transitory life.  If I had someone who knew both my China and U.S. self, I wouldn’t have to go into long explanations with pictures and diagrams to every single person I knew.  At least there would be one person who knew me on both sides of the globe. 
The biggest internal struggle I had as a single woman was feeling like I was giving up all prospects of marriage by moving to the middle-of-nowhere China.  Like Mary Magdalene, who broke her alabaster jar of perfume at Jesus’ feet, I felt that I was sacrificing all hope of marriage.  There were only three other foreigners in our entire city:  my female teammate and another single male and female from the U.K.—both in their 60’s.  Our organization didn’t allow us to date Chinese men, so I knew marriage would have to be a miracle if it was what God wanted for my life.
Missions vs. Marriage
“In your way, in your time, if it’s your will” was always my prayer when I talked to God about my desire for a husband.  But in a fight for contentment, I stopped praying about meeting someone.  I noticed prayer was sometimes a nice excuse to indulge in fantasizing, so I trusted my mother and other close praying friends to bring my desire before the throne. 
When I returned to the states for my brother’s wedding in the middle of my fifth year in China in January of 2010, I had no aspirations of meeting a man.  Some friends and I planned to spend the weekend at a cottage and I ended up carpooling with a guy who had mysteriously been included on the guest list.  Convinced that if God wanted me to get married, then he wanted me to marry a missionary, I chattered away with this actor from Chicago the entire three hour drive with my guard completely down.  No way could he be “the one.”  But by the car ride home two days later, I knew I was in trouble.  I was falling in love.    
Scraping Raisins Blog Post: Serving Single in China
On the outskirts of the city where I lived my first three years in China.

Questions about Calling
I flew back to the states in July of 2010 for a year-long furlough, but got married six months into it.  Though marriage itself has been easier and better than I expected, I’ve done a lot of soul-searching about what it means to be “called,” guilt over leaving the mission field and grief over giving up the life I thought God was leading me to live.
Though God made it very clear that this was His new plan for me, I still struggled with the fact that marriage and missions seemed to be mutually exclusive in my life.  It is much easier to step in to ministry than it is to step out of it.  It is even harder when you are trading in your independence and commitment to your call for a man. 

Amy Young, a woman in leadership with our organization at the time, was gracious as I apologetically confessed that I was leaving for a man.  “Life is long,” she said.  In a book she wrote titled Looming Transitions, she elaborated on this idea and said, “This transition will not become the sum of your life…It’s natural for people to mark things in terms of before or after events: graduation, marriage, a certain job, a baby, a painful breakup, a big move, or a serious health issue. But those events don’t become the story. They become a page in the story or possibly the beginning of a new chapter. They join a plot larger than the transition each one creates. Part of staying fertile, then, involves reminding yourself of the bigger picture–the bigger story–that came before and will live on after it” (pg. 37).   “You will outlive this season,” she says (pg. 47). 

I once met a couple in China who had been leading short term mission trips every summer for 20 years.  They were 70-years-old, which meant that they began their ministry when they were 50.  They were enjoying the fruits of a long life of walking with Jesus.  We have no idea what God wants to do in our lifetime of following Him.  The older I get, the more I appreciate the rear view of life more than the forward view because of all the glimpses I see of Jesus on the road with me when I never even realized it.
Looking back, I am thankful for the years that I was single.  I am now in my sixth year of marriage and pregnant with my third child.  I miss those long mornings in China spent in the presence of Jesus.  I miss the days of exploring, wandering and taking time to get to know people without tiny hands pulling me and high pitched voices demanding my attention.  I am grateful that I had adventures and grew into my skin before I met my husband so that I knew who I was and who I belonged to before I committed my life to someone else.  And I see the wisdom in God leading me home.  He knew I had begun to worship my call.  In the past few years, he has shown me that I am not called to missions, teaching, art, writing, marriage or motherhood.  My first call is to intimacy with Jesus.  And nothing compares to intimacy with Him.
Through going, returning, singleness, marriage and motherhood, God has been my anchor.  He has consistently reminded me that though my circumstances change, He remains the same.  His love is steady and my identity in Him is secure.  Just because I am not serving Him as an overseas missionary right now does not change His character or the way He sees me in any way.  He is still moving, breathing His Spirit and whispering His plans just as much at home in the states as He was when I lived in China.  And it turns out that He—not a man–was my “constant” all along.
References:
Young, A, Looming Transitions: Starting and Finishing Well in Cross-Cultural Service, 1st paperback ed, pp. 37 & 47, Createspace Independent Publishing Platform, USA. 2015
~~~
Used with permission from SPAG Magazine
Here’s the link to this edition of the magazine, which will only be active until the fall:  SPAG Magazine (June-August 2016)  

~~~

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Single in China~ The biggest internal struggle I had as a single woman was feeling like I was giving up all prospects of marriage by moving to the middle-of-nowhere China.

What activates your soul?


For me, it’s traveling and meeting people from other countries.  Parts of myself came alive that I never knew existed until I lived in China for five years.  New skills, talents, likes and dislikes emerged that made me feel like I had been a stranger to myself up until that point.  I used to be so immersed in Chinese that I would wake myself up at night speaking it.

Now that I am back in the states, it feels like many of those aspects of my personality are now lying dormant Like a part of myself sleeps. 

Two weeks ago we attended our first dinner sponsored by a Christian organization, but held for international students from the nearby university.  With my daughter on my hip, I snaked along the three 20-foot tables that showcased everything from fried chicken to ma po dou fu.  We joined my husband and three-year-old son at one of about 25 tables in the large church gym, settling down with our plates full of the foods of the world.  I spotted some Asian faces and after noticing they were speaking Chinese, encouraged them to sit with us.

I held back on revealing that I, too, could speak Chinese—partly so I could give them the chance to practice their English, partly so I could eavesdrop on their conversation before they knew I could understand.  When I finally did use Chinese to ask them how they liked the food, they immediately turned from being shy and cautious to being animated and full of warmth. 

My son, on the other hand, who had never heard me speak so much in Chinese, looked terrified.  It was as if someone had inhabited his mommy’s body and taken over.  “Are you speaking English?” he asked, horrified about what was happening.  I tried to reassure him by explaining that this was Chinese, another language, but he continued to look skeptical and begged me to stop.

In addition to getting the chance to speak Chinese again, God gave me a bit of a nudge that night through a divine coincidence.  In China, I lived in one of the lesser known provinces in northwest China.  Many Chinese had been sent from the populated east in the 50’s to develop this desert area of China, but it was far from a well-known travel destination.  By Chinese standards, the capital city where I lived was considered small.  And so I was shocked to discover that out of the 1.4 billion people living in China, I had sat next to a man who was from the very city I had last lived in before leaving China.  Some may call that a coincidence, I call it a tender touch from Jesus Himself, reminding me that He sees me. 

At the end of the dinner, my husband leaned over and whispered to me, “You should invite them over to make jiao zi!”  When I mentioned it to our new friends, they all answered with huge grins on their faces that they would love to.

So two of the men and one of their 5-year-old sons, Tu Tu, came over last night to make jiao zi (Chinese dumplings).  We chattered away in English and Chinese and my son and Tu Tu zoned out watching cartoons.  Seeing them sitting together on the couch made me smile—because before marriage I had always imagined my future children would have Chinese friends. 

I’m glad my husband had spent some time in China, because he wasn’t shocked when they asked how much our rent was for this place.  However, he wasn’t aware that culturally, our friends wouldn’t eat the snacks we had placed out unless we practically forced them to.

As we bid them farewell, my heart was skipping in a way I can’t explain except that I know some of those dormant aspects of my personality were allowed out of hiding for the evening.   

And this morning, my husband told me I had been speaking Chinese in my sleep again.

~~~

What activates your soul? 

What are some areas of your pre-kid life that might shock your children?
~~~

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White People Are Boring

Though I am as white as they come, most of the time I wish I didn't live in America--or at least didn't live surrounded by other white people.

Though Im as white as they come, most of the time I wish I lived in another country–or at least didn’t live surrounded by other white people.  Having traveled to multiple countries, I find other cultures, ethnicities, exotic foods and customs fascinating.  I especially love collectivist cultures in South America, Africa and Asia where spontaneous visits, eating off the same plates, invitations to family meals and sitting around chatting for hours are the norm, not the exception.  People are not seen as individuals, but draw their identity through being a part of the whole.  Because of this, the church instinctively knows how to move as one unit with more fluidity than we do in the west.

In China, I was close to a young Chinese couple that led a small house church.  When a couple in their group started having martial problems, they didn’t just refer them to a book to read or a counselor to go to, they MOVED IN WITH THEM.  Literally, moved into their house for several weeks to help them work through some of their issues.  Can you imagine something like that happening in western countries?

In Uganda, friends would go out on weekends and visit friend’s homes unannounced.  I remember meeting an African family studying in America at my college and they complained that they just didn’t know how to make friends in a culture that didn’t just “drop in” on each other, but had to plan everything weeks in advance.  In China, it took me weeks of being stood up to realize that I was planning too far in advance (one week).  When I asked my Chinese students when you should ask someone to dinner if you wanted to go on a Saturday, most said Friday–the day before.

Since returning from living in China five years ago, I’ve definitely struggled with some of my motives in wanting to live overseas.  Yes, I felt that God had “called” me overseas and to this day, I am in tears when I hear missionaries share in church or if I see videos meant to inspire people to go.  Just this Sunday a man stood up in church and shared about a short term trip to Ecuador and every part of me wanted to jump on a plane in July–with or without my family–and be there.  But I have also had to wrestle with the fact that I liked being viewed as different, special and radical–both in my own culture and in other cultures.  And I am addicted to adventure, the exotic and the Next Thing.  I live in the tension, wondering if I’m “called” or if I’m just eager for change.  

So instead of looking for ways to go abroad, I’m struggling to be content where I am.  And that means loving the people right here in my city in Colorado, which happen to be 92% white.  But so far many of those boring white people have certainly shocked me.

My first friend after we moved last year is a woman I met at the park.  We connected and since our kids were the same genders and ages, agreed to meet up again sometime.  Though colorful tattoos decorated her arms and back, I didn’t think she was too different from the other women I had seen around.  She mentioned that she and her husband own a martial arts academy, so naturally I googled it and her as soon as I got home.  Turns out before kids she was not only an instructor, but a world champion martial arts competitor.  

One of our neighbors is a stay-at-home dad who is in a band on the side.  A woman at church mentioned she takes snuff when she goes to her in-laws.  Out of a Bible study of 20 women I’m in, over half have lived abroad.  A woman we had over from church yesterday told us about her daughter who is a professional synchronized swimmer.  And I mentioned to two women at a moms’ group that I started a blog and both of them happen to be writers as well.

As I wrote last week about trying to notice people all around me, part of this is realizing that I am making unfair assumptions about people as “boring,” writing them off before I even have a chance to know them.  But what I’m really doing is not building a wall around others, but around myself.  Because I can’t know others well unless I also allow myself to be known.  

“If someone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen.  And this commandment we have from Him, that the one who loves God should love his brother also”  (1 John 4:20-21).  

We are called to a life of loving others, no matter their outer appearance.  

So I’m praying for open eyes to see people without prejudice or prejudgement.  I’m striving to be content where I am.   And I’m asking that God help me to see people as He sees them and love them as He does.  Because, truly, no matter what country, culture, race or custom, those who know Jesus are my brothers and sisters, “For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus…There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:26, 28). 

I, not God, am actually the one making the distinctions and declarations, because God Himself looks at us all and simply sees His beloved children.  And I long to see people of all colors (including my own) as He does–full of beauty, life, creativity and His very characteristics.


Do you ever feel like white people are boring?  Do you have any stories of people who have surprised you?

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Though I am as white as they come, most of the time I wish I didn't live in America--or at least didn't live surrounded by other white people.

A Team of Two

When I was first accepted to serve in China, I imagined being on a team of several strong believers and families who would simulate family for me, providing both my social and emotional stability in a foreign country. 
 
I never imagined that I would be in a remote city–with ONE teammate.
 
It is now ten years later and I just hugged Carolyn goodbye with yet another “See you sometime” farewell.  She is on home leave for six months and was able to stay with my family and I for a couple days.  It felt like China was last year instead of five years ago as we talked about our Chinese friends, laughed about ridiculous memories and discussed how the city has changed over the years. 

Leslie & Carolyn, August 31, 2005

This is one way that I am grateful for aging–for the distance to finally pause and look back, just as a runner runs out and is then surprised to look at how far they have come–and the beauty of the view from here.

 
Carolyn and I are about as different as you can get.  She grew up in a boarding school in Pakistan and really only lived in the U.S. during college. She is an introvert, loves cats and pours herself into a few relationships.  I, on the other hand, grew up in the U.S., am an extrovert, and have been accused of being a “friend collector.” But, though it was an unlikely friendship, we complimented one another in a way that made the “team” work. 
 
Even now, I often think of Carolyn during the holiday season.  We strove to create some semblance of normalcy when we were far from our home cultures in a place that had no concept of Thanksgiving or Christmas apart from cheesy Santa heads pasted up in storefront windows and gaudy fake Christmas trees in every color but green.  
 
We would plan Christmas parties with our fellow teachers and have a large meal with as much Western food as we could make using our tiny convection ovens.  On Christmas, we would read through the Christmas story, sing carols and drink hot chocolate.  My first Christmas in China, I worried about loneliness, but now that I am back in the states, I have actually missed how meaningful Christmas felt when I was far from the holiday clutter. 
 
One or two Easters, we climbed the local mountain (hill) for an Easter sunrise service–just the two of us.  I still remember huddling down as it began to snow and we sang hymns over the hillside.  Behind us, we heard wails of mourning as a funeral procession ascended.  It was such a contrast to the joy of resurrection to hear the hopeless cries of those who had no hope in death.   
 
The city we lived in did not have a legal church, so our only option for a Sunday church service was for us to worship together.  We’d take turns choosing a Scripture passage, download a sermon to listen to and sing hymns together along with Cyberhymnal on the Internet.  We were often off key, but we stayed fully engaged in the service because we WERE the service.
 
Life was so simple.
 
Leslie & Carolyn, November 7, 2015

Though I panicked when I heard that I would only have one teammate, God knew what He was doing.  Carolyn was steady, selfless and showed me how to build lasting relationships with those we rubbed shoulders with on a daily basis.  She encouraged me to take advantage of opportunities to visit my students at their homes in the countryside and take trains and buses to explore China. 

She was respectful of China, yet she had a great sense of humor and we would spend hours laughing about making fools of ourselves or about the quirks of Chinese culture. And her introverted personality gave me the understanding I would need to prepare me for my future husband, who is also an introvert.

 
Like so many friends since I got married five years ago, we haven’t kept in touch as I would have liked, but she is of the “pick up where you left off” variety of friends that I am increasingly grateful for the more narrow and insular my life becomes.
 
And for a friend collector, this one is definitely a keeper.

Day 22: Groundless, Weightless, Homeless {31 Days of Re-Entry}

It turns out that space travel is a perfect metaphor for living in another country. (Though you may feel more like the alien than the astronaut). You adjust to giving up control, eat strange food and do daily tasks in new and awkward ways.  Even common routines like using the bathroom require adjustments.  But adjust you must if you want to thrive in this new atmosphere.

Suddenly being weightless is your new normal.  But soon, whether it was scheduled or an emergency landing, your term is up and you are braving the dangers of re-entry to a planet that is no longer home. 

So why don’t you feel grounded now that you have gravity?

These are a couple journal entries written after I returned to America from spending five years in China.  They are a glimpse into how disoriented I still felt even nine months after my initial re-entry.


April 9, 2011
“I feel like I was driving at full speed in one direction and the Lord yanked the wheel and u-turned me back the other way.  It’s hard to adjust when you had one destination in mind all along and suddenly the Lord brings you back to the point of origin–only five years have elapsed since you left. 

Lord, please show me how to pour myself out for you here and now.  I still feel awkward at church and around new people because I’m not quite sure of who I am anymore and struggle to relate.  Help me, Lord.  I give you my pride, negativity, sense of guilt, heaviness and apathy.  Revive my spirit, Lord.  Remind me who I am in You.”

April 27, 2011
“Upset, though I’m not sure of the exact cause–just feeling groundless, weightless, homeless…unsure of the future and of my role or purpose in the present.  Confused.  Not just lost, but lost without a map, lost without a compass.  Unsure of my footing.  Not fear of going the wrong direction, but the existential fear that all this traveling will bring me no where.  That it is all futile.  Trying to hold on to the promises of Psalm 16: 8-11.  Trying to be in His presence.”


“I have set the Lord continually before me; because He is at my right hand, 
I will not be shaken.
Therefore my heart is glad, and my glory rejoices; My flesh also will 
dwell securely.
For You will not abandon my soul to Sheol;
Neither will you allow your Holy One to undergo decay.
You will make known to me the path of life;
In Your presence is fullness of joy;
In Your right hand there are pleasures forever.”
Over four years after writing this–even including two job changes, a cross-country move and the addition of two children–I can say that the Lord has not allowed me to be shaken.  When my house is built on Him as my rock instead of on the sand of my idols, I can dwell securely.  Though I still struggle with my foothold at times, He has helped me to reorient back to this country, though I struggle day by day to stay firmly planted on Him first, and on people and places second.  
~~~~~~

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This post is day 22 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)

Day 21: What I Took and What I Left Behind {31 Days of Re-Entry}

“We came, we saw, we took away and we left behind, we must be allowed our anguish and our regrets.”  
Adah in The Poisonwood Bible, p. 483

What have I taken away from China? 

I have taken some seedlings of customs and routines from China and attempted to transplant them into the soil of my life in America.  Some have taken root and some have shriveled because the soil is just not conducive to that sort of seed. 

I had grown accustomed to cooking Chinese food at every meal when I lived in China just because it was so inconvenient to make western food.  Now that I don’t have easy access to Chinese ingredients, I have gone back to more predictable culinary exploits such as meatloaf and spaghetti.

I have carried back a respect for rest and family.  I feel less guilty sitting down with a book and cup of tea for 20 minutes a day than I did before going to China.  I also now value proximity to family more than I once did, not having had that for five years and seeing how much my Chinese friends valued their family relationships. 

I am better with ambiguity than I once was.  Being on buses that would stop for hours at a time with no explanation, having classes cancelled last minute for tree planting and being essentially illiterate my first three years in China, I grew accustomed to living with less information.  I value this new-found flexibility and ability to find humor in the absurd.
 

What did I leave behind in China?

As it turned out, China was the conclusion to my Singleness Chapter in life, so I left behind long runs in the wilderness, staying up until 3 am binge-watching TV, two hour long quiet times with Jesus, having visitors stop by at the last minute and staying through dinner and traveling all over China during school holidays.

I left behind my pre-marriage, pre-children self that sometimes seems more confident, adventurous and faithful than I am now.

But what I mourn the most are the friends-become-family I left behind–the ones who became my sisters, brothers, mothers, fathers and grandparents because I was alone and needed family.  In their great value for family, they pitied the foreigner and, like Jesus, invited me in (to share their home), gave me something to eat (homemade noodles and dumplings), something to drink (tea) and something to wear (appropriate long underwear).  Even though most of them didn’t know Him, they were Jesus to me.  They were His hands and feet.  They were my family. 

“…we must be allowed our anguish and our regrets.”

If I allow it, the anguish I feel about leaving these relationships can be debilitating and the regrets I have about not keeping in touch with them can overtake me.  But, unlike Adah, I trust in a God with a grander story.  He is not disappointed in me for not keeping in touch with friends 10,000 miles away, nor is He dependent on me to keep watering the seeds that were sown in the hearts of friends who did not yet know Christ.  He allowed me a glimpse of what it will be like to worship with the nations, which is something I will carry with me until I see many of them again in eternity.  And that can never be left behind.


If you have moved, what have you taken with you and what have you left behind?  

~~~~~~

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This post is day 21 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)

 Photo: Linda Bailey [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Day 20: Life Is Not Seasonal {31 Days of Re-Entry}

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:

“To follow the Lord to the cross means this:
Every day you must surrender yourself–body and soul–and obediently do the work of your Father.
Wherever He leads you and whatever it costs you. 
I am speaking of the surrender to God of your whole life, each day, from now on. 
And each day God will lay out the work you must do. 
That is His part. 
Your part is to forsake the life you would choose for yourself and follow him to do what He shows you to do.” 
(Bernard of Clairvaux, Your Angels Guard My Steps, p. 16)


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?

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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)

Find many other great 31 day blogs here!

Photo:  www.canva.com


Linking up with Velvet Ashes


Velvet Ashes: encouragement for women serving overseas

Day 18: And Then I Fell In Love {31 Days of Re-Entry}

“In Your way, in Your time, if it’s Your will.”

This was always my prayer when I talked to God about my desire for marriage. This is the story of how He chose to answer that prayer.

“In Your way”
You never quite know how (or if) your love story is going to go.  As it turns out, mine shocked me.

I returned to the states for two months in the middle of my fifth year of serving in China.  I was about to finish my second year of full-time language school.  While home in Florida with my parents, I traveled to Chicago for two weeks to visit friends, which included a weekend trip at the beginning with about 10 friends in Michigan.  We had done those kind of get-togethers over the years and though there was a core group, there were usually a few different people each time. 

I ended up riding to Michigan with a friend, her fiancé, and another guy, Adam Verner, a voice talent and audio book narrator.  We had actually met many years before when he visited our small group, but for various reasons he hadn’t been able to get involved at church until after I had already gone to China.  We talked the entire three hours to Michigan and hung out all weekend.  Since I had always planned on marrying a missionary, my guard was completely down and I just kept telling myself to relax and enjoy him.  It wasn’t until the drive back that I thought to myself Oh crap.  I really like this guy.  And I live in CHINA.  (As he tells it, it was on the way there that he thought the same thing).

Being self-employed, he had time to spend time with me during the next two weeks in Chicago.  We talked a ton, but for once I didn’t let myself go too deep too quickly.  One of my best friends knew Adam well and could vouch for him and assured me that he was a quality guy.  “Don’t analyze and don’t fantasize” was my motto for those two weeks and I would blast the radio with dance music each time I got in the car to try and prevent myself from doing just that.

But I was falling in love.

After the fact, we both described the feelings as being caught up by a current where it would have been impossible to swim backward.  All we could do was allow ourselves to be swept along in the flow.  I finally understood why people called it “falling” in love, because it was a terrifying and wonderful free fall into the unknown.

After hanging out several times, he invited me over for dinner at his condo.  Walking in, I remember thinking There’s no way all my stuff will fit in here.  After dinner, I threw him off by sitting across the room from him instead of next to him on the couch.  He thought for sure I wasn’t interested, but I later told him that it was because I didn’t want to be distracted by how attracted I was to him.

We spent more time together the next week and he asked me out for Valentine’s Day.  It was then that he told me that he wanted to “intentionally pursue me”–even if that meant him coming to China–and had started researching ways to do a long distance relationship well.  I was leaving the next day to fly back to Florida for a few weeks before heading to China. 

“You know you ARE going to be in the states a little longer,” he said. 

“And you want to come visit me in Florida?” I said.  When he smiled and nodded, my entire body flooded with heat and I began sweating.  I told him that I hadn’t even told my family yet (my mom had a history of getting too excited too quickly anytime I talked about a guy, so I thought it would be best to keep this a secret for a little while).

So I flew home the next day and told my mom that not only was I dating someone, but that he was coming next week.  I had dated so little that she actually thought I was lying.  No one would believe me!  But after convincing the family I was telling the truth, Adam showed up in Florida to meet my entire family–and even jumped in the family picture. 

I flew back to China a few days later and we began our long distance relationship which consisted of 5 hour Skype conversations every other day and scanning hand-written letters to email for the next few months (the mail was too slow!).  That was in early March.  Mid-March he told me he loved me and during his week-long visit to China in May, we discussed marriage.  I flew back to America July 15 and we were engaged 3 days after that.  We got married January 15, just a few weeks shy of the Michigan weekend a year before. 

“In Your Time”
I’ve always thought it was strange when people said they “got married late,” as if God does anything “late.”  But that said, it certainly started feeling like I had missed my opportunity for marriage when my friends not only passed me, but began lapping me as they had one child after another.

I always loved the verses throughout the Song of Solomon that talked about not awakening love until it so desired and tried to trust that God knew what He was doing when I still found myself single on my 30th birthday (why is that always our “deadline” for marriage?).  Being 29 was a much harder year for me than 30 for that reason–because I was still single, with no prospects of marriage (and, did I mention I was living in the middle of nowhere China?).

But God brought Adam and I together when His time was right.  We often speculate on whether we would have ended up together earlier if I had been in the states, but ironically it was the fact that I was living in China that was intriguing to him.  That, and I had finally accepted God’s will for my life–even if that meant being single.  (I had decided to move forward with Plan B, which was becoming the most educated single person I could and getting my PhD!).

“If It’s Your Will”
How did I know that it was God’s will for me to leave China and marry Adam? 

I am certainly not an expert in discerning God’s will, but I will say that He had to do a work in my heart before I even met Adam to get me to a place of being willing to marry someone who didn’t fit a very specific profile.  Over the years of singleness, my long list of qualifications eventually boiled down to just three:

1. Loves God
2. Loves me
3. Loves others

Of course I had ideas of how I hoped these three would play out, but ultimately I had to lay my hopes and expectations down at His altar and trust that He would choose someone for me.

I have had many friends over the years who have really wrestled with whether or not someone was right for them.  That was not the case with me.  I think God knew that in order for me to leave China and my plans, the way would have to be undeniably clear.

Though I have had no doubt that marriage was God’s will for me, I will say that I have struggled with what other people think about my choice, which I hashed out in a separate post called “When Marriage Is Viewed as Selling Out.”

But I remember discussing my feelings with my married teammate and she assured me that leaving China to get married was completely valid and right.  This was also the friend who had had a dream that I told her I was dating a guy named Adam the week before I actually flew back to China!  

I am blessed to be married to a kind, generous, hard-working, talented, intelligent, gentle and thoughtful man who:
1. Loves God
2. Loves me
3. Loves others

He has supported me so well through all of the transitions of the past five years.  And while he may not feel “called to missions,” he is submitted to God and wants to live in obedience to Christ no matter where we live–even if that means going back to China.

~~~~~~

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This post is day 18 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)