Day 4: Wasted Gifts {31 Days of Re-Entry}

If you read my post yesterday, you know that I struggle with pride, so it will come as no surprise to you that when watching the movie, The Incredibles, I identify with being an undercover super hero.  If you haven’t seen the movie, a super hero couple marries and decides to try and live a “normal” suburban life without using their powers, until, of course evil forces threaten and they are coerced into using their powers once again.  Currently a stay-at-home-mom in America, I sometimes feel like some of my gifts for language, culture and teaching have gone into hiding. I am Elastigirl incognito.

From childhood, we develop gifts that we often use only for a season, or they are latent in us until we have an opportunity to feed and water them once more.  Those who have changed careers, left jobs to stay home with children, immigrants with PhD’s working at McDonald’s in the states, those who were concert pianists, on the varsity team or on the traveling dance team in their childhood can probably relate. 

Missionaries develop a unique skill set that is often less useful if they return to their passport country:  tribal languages, cultural knowledge, bargaining skills, and the ability to live without running water and electricity aren’t skills that are usually in high demand in the western world.   If you return home, are you wasting your gifts?  Will you ever use them again?

I returned to the states to marry an amazing man, an actor who had just begun recording audio books full time, but did theater on the side.  He studied theater in college and has his MFA in acting.  In addition to loving God (and me), His passions in life are books, theater, Frisbee and craft coffee (in changing order depending on the time of day).

Before I met my husband, I got my Masters in Intercultural Studies and spent five years studying Mandarin Chinese, including two years of full time study, fully intending to spend the rest of my life in China.  Weeks before we met, I began applying to PhD programs in cultural studies.  

But God had different plans for us.

It seemed that each of us, in being called to marriage, were being called to lay our most precious gifts on the altar.  Missions and China for me and theater for him.

Upon returning to the states, one of the most painful questions someone could ask me was, “Are you using your Chinese?”  It triggered a sense of shame that I was perhaps squandering a gift I had spent hours in honing.  Likewise, my husband now knows to brace himself for sadness when he attends his friend’s plays or is asked what show he is currently in.

In the past five years of being back in the states, my husband and I have each had some opportunities to use these latent gifts, which I may go into in another post, but for the most part, we have had to leave these talents buried in the ground.

From the world’s perspective, this is “waste,” but God seems to operate by a different economy and at times, His equations just don’t seem to balance.  Living overseas, I was always surprised when the most “qualified” people (fluent in the language, with deep relationships, culturally savvy) were the ones that seemed to leave. How could God want that when they were “doing so much to help the kingdom?” 

Similarly, in Scripture, I have always been baffled by the fact that God called Paul, who seems like he would have been the perfect candidate for ministry to the Jews, to preach to the Gentiles.  Not logical.

Paul must have felt this loss.  It seems to come through in Philippians 3, where he recounts his qualifications as being a Pharisee from the “right” lineage.  He knew what he was capable of by the world’s standards.  And yet.  He counts all these as LOSS for the sake of Christ.  He is willing to lose all–his status, education, gifts and abilities–for the sake of knowing Christ.

This is the kind of man God wanted to use to spread His kingdom in the world. 

Jesus, take my gifts.
I break this valuable alabaster jar and pour it out for you.
You are worthy of my every sacrifice because you already sacrificed your life for mine.
Nothing done for you or for your glory can ever be considered “waste.”
Thank you, Jesus.


Do you feel that you have latent gifts?  What gifts is Christ asking you to lay at His feet until He chooses to use them again?

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This post is day 4 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 3: No One Is Special {31 Days of Re-entry}

This short story is my gift to you.  It’s my favorite.

Before I met my husband, he needed to have his wisdom teeth removed.  As many of us have done, he thought to himself, This anesthetic isn’t going to work on ME.  I’m special.  And then he woke up.  Soon, he began getting tons of text messages from friends he hadn’t heard from in years.  “We think you’re special, Adam!” they said.  Or, “Praying for you!” Confused, he checked back in his sent box on his phone to see if perhaps he may have sent something in his drugged state.  Sure enough, he had sent a message to EVERYONE in his contacts–old professors, clients, acquaintances…everyone:  a picture of himself with puffy, black and blue cheeks and bloody gauze sticking out of his mouth with the caption, “No one is special.”

With the exception of a few places in the world, when you go to live in a non-western culture, you feel special.  Living in the middle of nowhere in northwest China with four foreigners in our entire city, I literally caused fender benders.  

When I visited spots like the Terracotta Warriors or the Great Wall, people would ask to take their picture with me (seriously!  I counted 10 different people once!)  Once I was reading in a noodle shop when I looked up to see a group of Hui (Muslim) men decked out in National Geographic-worthy garb, holding their cell phones up to sneak a picture of me! 

People would jab their friends to look up at us as we walked down the street (even after living on the same street for three years).   We were called foreign “experts.” Ha.  I’m still not sure what I was supposed to be an expert at.  In large meetings at our university, we would always be given the best food, hotel rooms and seats–simply because we were their guests.  I certainly felt special.


It was a bit more tame, but the pedestal effect was present in the U.S. as well.  I mean, I must have been special to have multiple invitations to speak in small groups and in front of churches, right?  People supported me financially, prayerfully and just socially as they prioritized my yearly visits.  Missionaries receive a certain kind of fame within the church that is just hard not to enjoy.  In the eyes of the church, you are a Super Christian.

And then you’re not.

You step down and walk among all the normal, “boring” Christians again.  You go to Target, get a “secular” job and are no longer sought out by people at church who once wanted to meet the “missionary who lives in China.”  As annoying as the attention could be on those days back in the country where you just wanted to be anonymous and buy a tube of toothpaste without everyone commenting on your decision, it somehow sunk into your brain that you should be noticed.  You’re special, after all.

So now I believe that one of God’s greatest gifts to me was to bring me back.  The painful process has reminded me that I am not special.  Am I loved by God?  Yes.  But special?  Jesus Himself, though He was equal with God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but took the nature of a servant (Phil. 2).  My motives in serving overseas had slowly shifted as I had begun to selfishly enjoy that I was “special.”

I love this quote from Amy Young about her return to the states after living in China for over 20 years:
“Was I willing to stay in a story I thought was interesting on the surface so that people would think I am interesting even though I was fading in it? Was I the kind of person who cared so much about others opinions I was willing to prostitute myself to being interesting? Was being interesting my altar?”
(From the post “A Great Fear {As Pertaining to the Story of my Life}”, by Amy Young of The Messy Middle, Dec. 6, 2013.)

After being back in the states for 3 months, I copied this down in my journal from My Utmost for His Highest, by Oswald Chambers (Oct. 16):

“No Christian has a special work to do.  A Christian is called to be Jesus Christ’s own…and someone who does not dictate to Jesus Christ what he intends to do.  Our Lord calls us to no special work–He calls us to Himself.”

Stepping out of the spotlight, we are stripped down to the essence of who we truly are–and that can be terrifying.  This is grace.  He is grace.  And our identity is found through our humble acceptance that we are nothing without Christ, but are complete in Him and Him alone.

Have you ever noticed that you have begun enjoying the feeling of being special just because you live overseas?  Do you think missionaries are somehow more special than others?  If you have returned, how have you dealt with this realization?



Resources:
Jonathan Trotter wrote this article (that I wish I had written!) for the website, A Life Overseas, called “The Idolatry of Missions.”  Such a poignant and true testament to some of what I have experienced.
 

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This post is day 3 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)
 Also linking up with Velvet Ashes. 


Day 2: Grieving {31 Days of Re-entry}

Sipping wine out of plastic cups, chatting and laughing about our attempts at painting, my mom and I got to be “creative” (aka paint the same picture as 30 other women in the room) at Studio Vino a few weeks ago.  The teacher kept reminding us to take a break from our painting, back up and look from a few steps back.  From far away, our paintings actually looked halfway decent! 


It has been almost exactly five years since I returned from China and I feel like I’m just now benefitting from the big picture view.  Most of my posts this month will include some journal entries from my time of re-entry and, like re-watching a movie with the commentary turned on, I will comment on my thoughts as I share them with you.  In eastern (as opposed to western) fashion, these posts may not be as linear as I would like, but more cyclical, repeating similar themes and thoughts.  (Or maybe that’s just the female brain?)

Journal
One month before leaving China…

June 18, 2010 
“Father God, I give you my grieving over leaving China, my uncertainty about living in Chicago, my fears about transition, identity and purpose, and my hopes and anxieties about marriage.  Please prepare my heart for the next step. 

Yesterday Adam texted me Joshua 1:9 ‘Be strong and courageous!  Do not tremble or be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.’ Joshua was a man in transition (to say the least).  

And I just ‘stumbled’ on this in Isaiah 46: 3-4:  ‘Listen to me, O house of Jacob and all the remnant of the house of Israel.  You who have been borne by me from birth, and have been carried from the womb; even to your old age, I shall be the same, and even to your graying years I shall bear you!  I have done it and I shall carry you; and I shall bear you, and I shall deliver you.'”


After being back in the states several months…

Nov. 11, 2010
Lord God, I have so many emotions and thoughts swirling within me and I don’t know how to make sense of them  But I know I miss you.  You comfort me from the inside.  You don’t change my circumstances, but you change my perspective.  Last night it’s as if you were saying, ‘I never promised that you or your life would never change, but I did promise that I would never change.’  Lord, I just feel this massive sense of loss when I think about how much time I put into learning Chinese and studying culture.  Am I really supposed to just let all that go?”

Dec. 8, 2010
“…Do you want me to do some counseling regarding my reverse culture shock?  Most days I’m fine, but when it hits me, I feel almost like despairing of life.  Is this a sign that I’m out of step with your will, Lord?  Please give me wisdom.”

 Dec. 12, 2010
“Under the circumstances, this can’t be anything but an uncomfortable time.  Not only is everything in my life changing, but the ground I am standing on now feels more like a floating island (where it is constantly raining). 


So Psalm 139 was comforting this morning: ‘Where can I go from Thy Spirit? Or where can I flee from Thy presence?  If I ascend to heaven, Thou art there; if I make my bed in Sheol, Thou art there.  If I take the wings of the dawn, if I dwell in the remotest part of the sea, even there Thy hand will lead me, and Thy right hand will lay hold of me.” (v. 7-10).  Lately, I wonder if the darkness will overwhelm me, but you say ‘even the darkness is not dark to Thee, and the night is as bright as the day’ (v. 12). Thank you, Lord.” 


Reflection
This all sounds so dramatic, but leaving China was very similar to grieving the loss of a loved one.  First, you feel that you are drowning and can’t catch your breath, but slowly the grief begins to come in waves, then ripples, then surprises you as it laps at your feet even years later.  Leaving a place you love and truly felt called to is grief.  But the Lord has been with me each step of this confusing journey.  And it has been such a comfort to know that He is the SAME.  In retrospect, I wish that I had actually found some counseling.  In future posts, I hope to add some resources for those experiencing this that I myself would have appreciated having at the time.

In spite of not getting help (and consequently having weekly meltdowns with my fiancé in the months after the return), one thing I think I did right was turn to Scripture.  I find I used many surging wave/lost at sea/drowning metaphors in my journals at the time and Christ was certainly my rock/anchor/true north in a time of life churning all around me.


Have you felt like leaving a culture was like grieving?  How have you coped?

Resources:
Check out my friend, Kim’s post on Re-Entry on Velvet Ashes. Her description of the grieving process really resonated with me. 

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This post is day 2 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)

Picture from www.canva.com

Day 1: Introduction {31 Days of Re-entry}

Re-entry for me was when life became like a rope that was forever being pulled from my hand–always moving and impossible to grasp.  In the past five years since leaving China and returning to the states, I got engaged and married, had two babies, lost a father-in-law, changed jobs twice and moved across the country. It’s been eleven months since our cross-country move and the rope is still in motion, though I’m beginning to hold it long enough to feel the texture of the coils in my hands.  And it doesn’t burn as much as it once did.

This series will be on the topic of re-entry, or reverse culture shock, but I hope you will find some solace, strength and hope for whatever transition you are experiencing.  Re-entry specifically describes the experience of living abroad or in another culture for any amount of time and then assimilating back into your “passport culture.” 

Re-entry is about being changed by your experience abroad, yet being expected to live the life you once lived in a culture in which you no longer fit. 

Disorienting and confusing, it is no wonder re-entry is analogous to a spaceship returning to earth from space. 

I first experienced reverse culture shock in high school after returning from an amazing summer camp experience in the hills of North Carolina.  I had no idea what was wrong with me.  My other experiences of it spanned 10 years and were after spending 6 months in Uganda, 5 weeks in Tajikistan and 5 years in China.  This series will mainly be about my return from China, including past journal entries about the themes, lessons and resources that have impacted me as I have attempted to process this experience.

I wrote this series in response to a challenge to write during the entire month of October, called Write 31 Days.  The table of contents is below.  Please visit multiple posts and leave comments–I’d love to hear about your experience and get to know you.  So glad you stopped by! 

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)

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Linking up with Velvet Ashes

Keeping Your Bearings When Living Cross-Culturally

It is easy to feel lost when you cross cultures.  Really any of the analogies will suffice—lost at sea, stranded in a crowd, wandering in the forest or in a new place in the dark.  A few years ago I learned how to scuba dive and the most terrifying feeling was when you became so disoriented that you lost track of the surface of the water. Living cross culturally can feel just like that (though re-entry can feel much the same)—you are swimming along enjoying the experience when you’re suddenly lost, alone and scared.  Here are some of the ways to keep your bearings when you begin to lose track of who you are, where you are and what you’re even doing there in the first place.

1. Die to yourself, but don’t lose yourself.  You are going to have to die to yourself daily and most of the time you won’t get to choose the crosses.  You may as well accept this.  God will honor your sacrifice.  At the same time, look for ways the Lord is trying to bless you by allowing you to be the person you were before you moved overseas.  For me, it was running and cooking.  In China, I lived near the countryside, so I could run without everyone in town elbowing their neighbor to come out and check out the strange white girl running without being chased, but I know other foreigners who had gym memberships and used that as their outlet.  When I lived in Africa, I laced up and ran through the village in my long skirt at the crack of dawn.  You can make it work.


2. You are not going to change the culture, so you may as well start noticing some of the great parts about it.  Anyone who has visited China knows those aspects of Chinese culture that just grate westerners the wrong way (no lines, pushing in crowds, never actually saying no even when you mean no—to name a few), but what about those aspects of non-western culture that we need to learn from?  Those parts that are actually, possibly MORE biblical, like not being so darn independent and individualistic that we can’t ask for help?


 3. Stay calibrated and keep your bearings. Have you ever had to “calibrate” your printer? According to dummies.com:


 “Calibration refers to the proper alignment of the inkjet cartridge nozzles to the paper and each other; without a properly calibrated printer, your print quality degrades. You’ll want to calibrate your printer when you see lines appearing fuzzy in artwork or when colored areas in printed images start or stop before they should.” 

 If your “print quality” is “degrading” or your lines are appearing “fuzzy,” then it’s back to the cross with you for calibration!  This is often easier said than done, but taking an hour or two out of my day or week to sit at the feet of Jesus can do wonders for my perspective.  Do you need to spend some time being “calibrated” and realigned to Jesus again? 

Most of us are familiar with this verse (though the Message version was new to me):

“Even though I am free of the demands and expectations of everyone, I have voluntarily become a servant to any and all in order to reach a wide range of people:  religious, nonreligious, meticulous moralists, loose-living immoralists, the defeated, the demoralized—whoever.  I didn’t take on their way of life.  I kept my bearings in Christ—but I entered their world and tried to experience things from their point of view.  I’ve become just about every sort of servant there is in my attempts to lead those I meet into a God-saved life.  I did all this because of the Message.  I didn’t just want to talk about it; I wanted to be in on it!”  1 Corinthians 9: 22-23 (MSG) 

We need to keep our bearings in Christ—not our bearings in ourselves, our culture, our expat community or even in the culture we are striving so hard to adjust to, but our bearings in Christ first.  He is our true North in the disorienting confusion of a culture that we start to understand just in time to be eluded by another question.

4. Lastly, enjoy the gift of Kingdom Culture.  Kingdom Culture is that sweet spot of culture sharing made possible by belief in the same Savior; the center of a Venn diagram where insider and outsider culture collide into a central culture of love, sacrifice and humility at the foot of the cross. There is nothing like the cross to serve as the great equalizer.  I finally discovered this through relationships with other brothers and sisters in Christ who just seemed to “get” me even though our cultures collided in so many ways.  This is a special gift of grace made possible by a gracious Father.
 

All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.
 
From the ashes a fire shall be woken
A light from the shadows shall spring;
Renewed shall be blade that was broken
The crownless again shall be king.
 

 

What are some of the ways you have creatively been able to retain parts of your identity even though you are living overseas?  Are you staying calibrated to the cross?  What changes to you need to make to be able to do this?  How have you experienced Kingdom Culture?

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Linking up with Velvet Ashes

 

Here are a few related posts that I found interesting:

“The Seven Lies of Living Cross-Culturally,” http://www.thecultureblend.com/?p=2172

“Living Well Where you don’t belong,”   http://www.alifeoverseas.com/living-well-where-you-dont-belong/

“17 Things that Change Forever When you Live Abroad,”  http://masedimburgo.com/2014/06/04/17-things-change-forever-live-abroad/

 

Photo: By Jeremy Harbeck (NASA) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

 

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.

Soon Enough

March in Chicago is a quiet, agonizing torture.  Like waiting in line at the check-out and you are next in line, but no—the lady in front of you grabbed something without a price tag and you are still waiting, waiting, waiting.  I admit that I harbored some serious resentment towards the woman on the radio this morning who was going on about the  grey days, slushy streets and pelting sleet being officially over today—yay!, the first day of spring!  Glancing down at the temperature on the dash of my car registering 17 degrees, I smashed off the radio with more vehemence than was necessary, stomping out into the bitter, windy, winter day.  This Florida girl is running out of patience with this scene. 
The Voice and I went to see Hubbard Street Dance/Alonzo King downtown to belatedly celebrate our anniversary.  It was moving, disturbing and beautiful.  The oldest dancer on stage probably wasn’t much past 30, which was a sobering thought for us as 30-somethings.  A career in professional dance will only last about 20% of your life.  Life is long (God willing), but the seasons within that life are varied and will never repeat.  Lord, help me to live fully in every season you have me in.  Let me not wish that I were in spring when there is still so much sledding, cocoa drinking and fire cuddling to do right now.  Soon enough, Spring will dash in with her own flaws for me to complain about.

Missionary Gone Rogue

I am a missionary gone rogue.  Funded by supporters and my organization to live in China, I received a masters in Intercultural Studies and spent two years in full-time language school studying Chinese.  I had relationships, was living in a Chinese community complete with neighbor visitors, vegetable gardens, and a live-in pet bunny.  I was called.  I was thriving.  I was fluent.  And then I came home. 

I remember discussing missions with friends in high school.  “I’ll go if God really wants me to go, but I want to stay,” they’d say.  I’d surprise them with, “I’ll stay if He really wants me to stay, but I want to go!”  I finally had my chance to go to China and lived there, loving it, from 2005 to 2010.  So when God had other plans and led me back to the states, it was with great difficulty that I surrendered to His mysterious plan.

His plan included rerouting my path from China, missions, language study and a PhD study to changing diapers, making goofy faces at my 6-month-old and quiet evenings with my husband.  My plan was to marry a missionary in northwest rural China, while God’s plan for me included marrying an actor living in the northside of Chicago.  This blog will hopefully serve as an outlet as I reconcile my desire to live a ruggedly adventurous life serving God where most people will never go with the journey that He has me on, serving God on the normal, domestic path that many mamas have tread before me.