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
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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 Love Looks Like After 5 Years of Marriage

My husband and I just celebrated our fifth wedding anniversary and our love is so different from the mushy ideals presented in the fairy tales I loved as a girl.

I’m not sure yet how I feel about having my daughter get into princesses, princes, and fairy tales.  The first princess items made their way into our home recently and to be honest, I inwardly groaned when they did.  This is new to me, so the jury’s still out, but I want my daughter to know what love really looks like.   My husband and I just celebrated our fifth wedding anniversary and our love is so different from the mushy ideals presented in the fairy tales I loved as a girl.

My husband compliments me, but he does not complete me.  He fills in so many voids, but does not meet every desire of my heart.  

Instead, love looks like changing sheets–twice–together at 2 am after your son has vomited all over them.  It is the inordinate delight of having someone make and deliver coffee to you as you sit nursing a baby before the sun has come up.  It is someone who lets you put your icy cold feet on them as you are curled together in a C as you fall asleep.  Love is a husband who eats anything you put in front of him and never makes fun of or criticizes you–ever.  

Love is being told you look beautiful when you can’t remember if you brushed your hair, are not wearing make-up and are certainly wearing the same hoody you wore three out of the last seven days. It is praying and seeking community together.  It is catching each other’s eye across the room when your son says something hilarious and you are trying to be serious and not crack a smile.  

It is having a constant in your life after years of being alone.  My mom reminded me of a time many years ago when I had to sign a heap of paperwork at the hospital and I just started crying and said, “THIS is why I want a husband.  So I don’t have to do all of this by myself!”  I had similar feelings when I had to drag all my luggage with me into airport bathrooms, fill up my gas in -15 degree weather, pay bills, figure out my taxes (I gave up, to be honest–thank you, dad…), and viciously guard my possessions when traveling alone in China.  I prayed for someone who would BE with me in life’s transitions.  Someone I wouldn’t have to explain my complex web of relationships and history to.  A constant would be there for holiday meals and wouldn’t send my host rushing to pull up the “extra” chair because I made our numbers odd. 

Love is in the physical intimacy that you share, though I’ve been shocked by how much NOT like the movies it is.  Hollywood conveniently leaves out the humanizing moments of laughter over surprising bodily noises, mishaps, head and teeth bumps and the aspects that just don’t work, in spite of your aspirations towards creativity.  The movies don’t account for the mess of it all (in so many senses).  But love is in those times, too, imperfect as they are, as they give you an opportunity to connect on bad days and good days.  On days when it feels like the world is going to end and you can’t trust politicians or world leaders to keep you protected, there is comfort in the nearness of another human soul and the closest connection two humans can have.  It is a taste of Eden in a world of chaos.  A vulnerable love that sheds your skin of shame.  That leaves you feeling loved because you are accepted and celebrated in your nakedness.

Love looks like understanding and doing what you can to meet each other’s needs, whether that be for  deep conversation, sex, alone time, or just the need to meet a craving for French Fries or a cup of coffee (even if it means driving 10 miles out of the way).  It is knowing that your husband is an introvert and wants to shut down after an evening with people, but that your wife, an extrovert, will want to chatter away for an hour after you get home.  Love tries to understand that you have different thresholds for people that you need to make allowances for as you schedule your time.

These are the moments I actually longed for when I was single–not the sweep-me-off-my-feet, passionate thrill of love, but the togetherness, the commitment, the security of knowing that someone would love me, respect me and serve me even on the rough days.  Love is having a man to share about my day with and offer to cook me omelets when I am exhausted and standing dejectedly in front of the refrigerator at dinner time.   It is being parents, lovers, friends, partners, co-conspirators, and each other’s greatest fans.  

It is a piece of art made up of a thousand moments recorded, which together tell the story of love.

After five years of marriage, this is what love looks like for us.  We are tired, have made personal sacrifices, put passions on the shelf and are still working on communicating well.  So though life is perhaps not being lived perfectly “happily ever after,” I am sometimes made to feel like a princess in disguise.   

What does love look like for you?  I’d love to hear some real life examples in the comments!

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My husband and I just celebrated our fifth wedding anniversary and our love is so different from the mushy ideals presented in the fairy tales I loved as a girl.

 

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)

Day 13: Longing for Home {31 Days of Re-entry}

This is the painting I chose to hang in my bedroom when my parents moved houses during my freshman year of college.  That was 18 years ago and since then I have moved my possessions 11 times, living in 3 different countries, 2 different states and 6 different cities.  Each time I would return to my parent’s house, I would study that painting and imagine I was the girl in the pink dress, wondering how to get home.

In her, I found a kindred spirit and someone who looked as homeless as I felt. 

She always seemed to be longing for something more, but never finding the strength to get there.  Many Jim and Elisabeth quotes get tossed around, but one of their quotes from a letter written before they were married made an impression on me:  “Let not our longing slay the appetite of our living.”

When I was in college, I longed to know which roads I would take–which job I would end up doing and in which city.  Who I would befriend and if/when I would get married.

After college in the thick of teaching public school in Chicago, I wondered if life would always be like this.  Would I ever meet someone?  Have a family? Go overseas like I had always wanted?

When I was finally in China, I longed for a partner and someone to be my “constant” in a world that was ever changing.  I yearned for that man and hoped for a family of my own. I wanted to make a difference in a country that makes up one fifth of the world’s population.  And yet I still longed for America and the familiar.

And after returning from China, getting married and having children, I now long for a meaningful life.  I hope our family can live counter-culturally and stand out from the seemingly homogenous culture that is now our “home.”

Longing.

Let not our longing slay the appetite of our living.

On a run one dreary spring day in Chicago before leaving for China, I ran under the elevated train (El) tracks that were stained, rusted and tagged with graffiti.  There was a railing that ran parallel underneath and in it someone had planted a tiny garden that pierced the day with its cheerfulness.  Even though you are miserable because of the cloudy days, the crowded streets and the lonely commutes home, you can grow here, God seemed to say.  

Many years later, on another run, this time in China, I passed a dried up field in the outskirts of the city which had become a dumping ground for trash and refuse.  I had a holy moment when I noticed a single yellow flower bursting through the sad field, thriving in spite of its environment.  You can grow anywhere, God seemed to be saying to me.

Let not our longing slay the appetite of our living.

I believe humans will always long for more.  We long to know the future and to make a difference.  We long for love, community, belonging, peace, healthy challenges, beauty and meaning.  This is not just true to the Christian experience, it is true to the human experience.

But the Christian takes the longing one step further by naming our hope and defining our longing for an eternal home.

Yes, there is a place for contentment, being thankful and having a grateful heart, but some degree of longing is appropriate and reminds us that we are out of place here.  We are a garden in a concrete jungle and a flower in the wilderness.  Our longing is good, but it is temporary.  And in the meantime, we are to beautify our surroundings–wherever God places us.

(For practical ways I’m trying to do this, check out Readjusting: Same Tools, New Work Space)

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This post is day 13 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)


Linking up with #WholeMama

Painting: “Christina’s World,” by Andrew Wyeth (American), 1948.

My Story: When Marriage is Viewed as Selling Out

I had always heard those stories of people being “called” to missions, then meeting someone, falling in love and never actually going.  Or, even worse, going and then returning home…for a man (dun, dun, dun).  After being “called” to missions myself during a conference at 16, I knew I never wanted to be that girl.  I hardly dated in college, wanting to keep myself freed up to be able to go on the mission field.  I even broke up with one guy a few years later, telling him, “I don’t want the ‘white picket fence’ kind of life because God has called me to missions.”  After going overseas, I was a bit dismayed when I was placed in a city with one female teammate and only two other foreigners in the entire city, both in their upper 50’s. How was I going to meet the godly, single man who was also called to my specific people group in my tiny corner of China? (seriously)

So I tried online dating.  “At the very least, you’ll be encouraged by how many matches you get!” another single friend encouraged me.  I signed up for EHarmony, filled out my profile and waited for my numerous matches to encourage me that if I tried hard enough, I really could find Mr. Right.  But nope.  Just one match.  (It just may have been the fact that I checked the little box, “Am not willing to leave my current location (China) for someone…”).


After that, I came up with a Grand Plan.  I decided the best thing for me to do would be to marry a Chinese American.  Perfect.  That way we would already have both cultures in common.  So I picked the ONE single Chinese American in our organization and dropped a few hints….nothing.

I finally gave up the search, which is of course when I met someone who was out of the question: a guy from Chicago (the city I had dramatically exited with tears, commissioning and prayer meetings five years previously)—an actor with no “calling” to live overseas.  Wrong.  Wrong. Wrong.  This was not The Plan.  I was too embarrassed to tell anyone that I was “leaving for a guy,” so I said I was taking a “home leave.”  When we soon got engaged (3 days after I flew back from China), I was actually nervous to tell people.  I knew what they’d be thinking…I thought you were “called.”  You sure are quick to abandon your “call” as soon as you meet a guy.  Don’t you need God more than you need a husband? Did you mishear God’s will for your life? Why are you selling out? 

No one actually said any of these things, but I knew what they’d be thinking because I had thought the same things about others in the past.  I felt ashamed of “forsaking my call” for something as “weak” as marriage. 

I think part of the problem was that throughout all my years of singleness I had fortified myself with verses affirming my marital status.  1 Corinthians 7:32-35 seemed to portray married people as distracted and bogged down by the world and single people as holy and completely sold out to the Lord.  Isaiah 54: 5 called the Lord my “husband and maker,” which I took literally and thus felt completely guilty about when the Lord wasn’t enough of a “husband” and I had to replace him with an earthly husband.  When I feared I would never have children, I found comfort in Psalm 17: 13-15 that seemed to say that people with children would have their “portion in this life,” while  those who didn’t have children would be satisfied in the Lord.  With these verses, I was impenetrable.  I wasn’t even open to the prospect of God bringing a man into my life.  So when I met the Actor, I was completely blind-sided.  I really think it was the only way that I would have let down my guard.

Fast forward ten years, after lots of grieving over the loss of China (weekly tears for the first year), running parallel to the joy of an incredible husband and two devious, yet delightful children, I’ve come to these conclusions:

3.    God can and does use any state of being—single or married—to refine us and make us holy.
4.    Being a missionary isn’t the ultimate expression of your love for Christ.

I’ll unpack these a bit more in some other posts, but for now I will comment on #3.  1 Corinthians was a huge stumbling block for me as I found myself falling in love, but as a married woman, now I think:  Am I more distracted than I was when I was single? Yes.  Do I need to worry about meeting my family’s needs?  Yes.  Am I more worldly?  Possibly. But the ultimate question is this:  Do I love God less? No.  And more importantly, does He love me less?  Absolutely not. 

So far, marriage and missions have been mutually exclusive for me.  Grief, loss of identity and loss of purpose are just a few of the emotional pits I have found myself scrambling out of in the past five years of re-entry, but I have slowly found more peace about “leaving my calling.”  One help was reading in Matthew 22, which includes the parable of the marriage feast and Jesus answering the Sadducees’ incessant questions on marriage in heaven. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that He seemingly skirts their questions about marriage and instead reminds them to love the Lord with all their heart, soul and mind.  It turns out that marriage wasn’t the issue at all–the issue was always about God having ALL their hearts.  Marriage can certainly muddy the waters of devotion, but nothing can change His love for me.  In fact, it gives me a pretty good forum to work out that second command to love my neighbor as myself.

 

Have you ever felt that singleness is viewed as more holy than marriage?  Have you felt guilty about leaving the field to get married? How did you reconcile your “call to missions” with your “call to marriage”?

Linking up with Velvet Ashes.


Photo by:  “Sandra and the ring” by Lbartley – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Because You are Single: A Letter to my Younger Self


I once was an “expert” single person. After five years in China, I knew how to travel across the world with 100 pounds of luggage, stay in hostels alone, barricade myself on bunk beds at night on 27 hour train rides, and cook for one. 
 
Sometimes it was fun, but often it was lonely. 
 
At 32, I did end up miraculously getting married to a man I wouldn’t have picked at a time I wouldn’t have planned. But that is another story.

Ten years later, I write this to my 26 year old self who had just sold her car and possessions, quit her job and left all her prospects for marriage to go live in the middle of nowhere (only four foreigners in the entire city and an eight hour bus ride from an airport) and obey the call of her Jesus. 

Dear Younger Self,

I know you are scared of being lonely.  The following may not assuage your desire for marriage, but it may help you to see the value of this season on the days when you just want someone to rub your feet and listen to your day.
 
First of all, because you are single, God is going to meet your needs in very tangible ways.  This is hard to accept, but sometimes God purposely leads you into the wilderness.  Loneliness can be His means of grace in your life.  He has demonstrated this through the heroes of the faith who have gone before you and in your wilderness, He wants to:
 
~ Tell you that He sees you and wants to give you something to quench your thirst as He did for Hagar (Gen. 16:7-11, 21:17-21).
 
~ Bring you to the end of your own strength so that you will rely on Him alone to give you the nourishment you need for the journey ahead as He did for Elijah (1 Kg. 19: 4-8).
 
~ Provide for your very basic needs through His daily provision of manna as He did the Israelites (Exodus 16:1-36).
 
~ Simplify your priorities when you have been stripped down to only what you really need like John the Baptist (Mat. 3:1).
 
~ Test your faith in Him as He did Jesus–and then send angels to minister to you in your need (Mat. 4: 1-25).
 
Married people feel lonely, too, but when you are single, you must rely on God alone to provide for you in your wilderness.  Some days you will find yourself face-down in a dusty field, wondering what you’re doing and why you’re doing it–alone.  It is those who are the most thirsty who are most ecstatic over the provision of water.  God will see you, provide for you, hold you and strengthen you.
 
Because you are single you will have the opportunity to go deeper in your relationships more quickly than married people.  I know you don’t want to hear this, but you have the gift of time.  Time to wander the markets, time to accept spontaneous dinner invitations, time to visit new friends at their homes in the countryside, and time to study language.  A married person doing marriage well will just not have the time that you have to delve into relationships in your new culture.

You are also more likely to have more satisfying relationships with other singles on your team and in your organization than you would have if you were married. 
 
There will come a day when you will miss the sweet friendships you naturally developed with other women just because you had to share a room with them at your yearly conference or eat meals together because the families on your team were all busy.

Because you are single, you are going to fall in love with Jesus in ways you might not have if you were married.  Those times when you are bumping along in a crowd, with families on your team or eating a delicious meal that you cooked and ate alone, you will feel that twinge of self-pity and longing, yet you will also have a deep sense that Jesus, Immanuel, is there with you. And He knows you to your core.
 
If you so choose, you will have hours to seek, find, hear His voice and know Him. You will not only sit at the feet of Jesus, but you will lean on his chest. Yes, you will have guilt that you just binge-watched an entire season of Gilmore Girls instead of spending time with Him, but the minutes you spend in His presence will create a reservoir that you will one day, especially if you do marry, draw from daily.

Finally, because you are single, you will be called (forced?) to come to grips with sacrifice. You feel like the greatest sacrifice you are making in going overseas is surrendering your desire for a husband. Like the article you ran across many years ago entitled “Chastity: Love Wasted on God,” about the woman breaking her jar of precious perfume on Jesus’ feet, you, too, will feel that you have so much love to give that is being “wasted.” 

All I can tell you is that the joy, peace and pleasure of Christ Himself that will wash over you as you pour yourself out for your first love will sustain you. And don’t be ashamed when you leave your gift at the altar only to run back and scoop it back into your arms again. He is a loving Father. A kind Father.  A forgiving and giving Father. 

He does not give His children gifts of rocks or snakes, but only the best gifts are reserved for those He calls His children. 

And nothing we give Him is ever—EVER—wasted. 

Keep handing your desire over to Him. 
Keep walking. 
Keep living. 
Keep learning. 
Keep loving. 
Keep growing. 

It is not too hard a thing for the Creator of the earth to bring someone into your life if that is His plan. He brought Eve to Adam in his sleep, after all.

And I know that you know this, but if you are not content now in your singleness, you are certainly not going to be content in your marriage. Nothing can fill the true longing in your heart for intimacy like intimacy with Christ. 

Not even a man.  

In His thirst-quenching, never-changing, always fulfilling love,

Your Older Self

Related Post~Serving Single in China

Next Post~When Marriage is Viewed As Selling Out

Linking up with Blessed But Stressed, #InspiremeMondays
#Write31days
and
Velvet Ashes



Check out my #Write31days series: Re-Entry: 31 days of Reflections on Reverse Culture Shock

I write this to my 26 year old self who had just sold her car and possessions, quit her job and left all her prospects for marriage to go live in the middle of nowhere (only four foreigners in the entire city and an eight hour bus ride from an airport) and obey the call of her Jesus.