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 19: Is God Calling You Overseas? {31 Days of Re-Entry}

I was an odd duck in high school.  I didn’t wear make-up, didn’t want to go to prom and read missionary biographies for fun.  In retrospect, I was the prime candidate to go overseas. 

I remember talking to a friend in high school about missions.  “I’ll go if He really wants me to go, but I want to STAY,” she said.

I answered with, “I’ll stay if He wants me to stay, but I want to GO.” 

Once I had the opportunity to serve God in China as a 26-year-old, I never doubted my “call”–at least until I was called to leave.

But maybe you didn’t always have the desire to go and now feel that niggling beginning of an urge.  How do you know if you are being “called” to missions?

I remember talking with a friend serving in Tibet and he was agonizing over whether he should stay or not.  “ANYONE could do the work I’m doing here [teaching English], while many of my gifts that would be more useful in America are going unused,” he said. 

I remember telling him, “Anyone can do the work–yes–but not just anyone does.”  Just having the willingness to go does count as something because most people are not scrambling to quit their jobs, sell their possessions and move abroad.  

Willingness IS a viable first step. 

God uses a multitude of ways to lead people into missions and I think it should be a combination of many of the following that add up to the large arrow pointing to “GO.”

Here are 6 ways God can lead us to serve Him overseas:

1. The Bible.  Surprisingly, I actually don’t feel that this is the main or only signpost for whether or not a person should serve the Lord overseas because, like a fortune cookie, it can be manipulated to say what we want it to say.  I love this tongue-in-cheek post by Rachel Pieh Jones, where she uses stories from the Bible such as being swallowed by a whale, hiding behind suitcases and laying out fleeces to remind us that we can’t always directly apply every story in the Bible literally to our current situation. Yes, I believe God speaks to us through the Bible, but I believe He uses additional ways and means to show us His will.

2. Community.  I always see red flags for people going overseas when they can’t get along with the people in the church around them.  How will you operate on a team if you can’t humbly interact with others in your own church?  Are you willing to submit to authority in your church?  Are you able to deal with conflict in mature and healthy ways? People in your church community should be able to support and encourage your decision to go.

3. The Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon.  The Baader-WHAT? You know how when you want to buy a car, say a Toyota, you suddenly notice Toyotas EVERYWHERE?  Or you get pregnant and it seems like every other lady (because that’s what you become when you’re pregnant–a pregnant “lady”) is preggo? Well, my husband just informed me that this is a THING, called the Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon.  And this is exactly what God used in my life to lead me to China–China was everywhere!  This alone is not enough to assume that God is leading you abroad, but in combination with other means, it can certainly be a way God puts a certain people or places on your Divine Radar. 

4. Prayer.  I believe God speaks to us in prayer.  He gives us peace, pops phrases and images into our minds and brings verses and people to mind at uncanny times.  But I also believe there is a danger in relying only on the statement “I just had a peace about it” as the sole reason for making a life-altering decision that will most likely have a ripple effect into your every relationship.  Prayer should always be measured by Scripture and other brothers and sisters in Christ.  “God told me to” should never be the ONLY reason that you go into missions.

5. The Cloud of Witnesses.  God has used so many other Christians in my life over the years–living and dead–to guide me as I’ve made crucial life decisions.  The biographies of Amy Carmichael, Jim & Elizabeth Elliot, George Mueller, Hudson Taylor, Gladys Aylward and Bruce Olson fueled my desire to go to the nations. As I mentioned in my post about my calling to missions, the Lord used a quote from Oswald Chambers to influence my decision to move to a remote place in China.  I’ll repeat the quote below:

“We have no right to decide where we should be placed, or to have preconceived ideas as to what God is preparing us to do.  God engineers everything; and wherever He places us, our one supreme goal should be to pour out our lives in wholehearted devotion to Him in that particular work. ‘Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might…’ (Eccl. 9:10).” (April 23, My Utmost for His Highest)

God used this quote in combination with many of the above to lead me to China, but even this quote could be “fortune cookied” if needed to prove that I should have just stayed where I was in Chicago.

6. Open Doors.  I’m someone that likes to pray for “open and closed doors.”  Sometimes all of the above may line up, but the doors just aren’t opening for you.  Maybe you have thousands of dollars in loans or the mission board didn’t accept you.  Maybe you have health issues or need to care for an elderly parent.  I’m sure Paul wondered why God wouldn’t want him to go to certain cities when it seemed like that would be best.  God’s will is mysterious at times and we need discernment as to whether we should keep moving forward when doors keep slamming shut.  Timing is crucial when it comes to God’s will, and His timing is always perfect.



None of the above should be taken in isolation, but if several of these line up, then maybe God IS leading you to serve Him overseas.  When you think God might be calling you, I think the first step is to quiet your heart, possibly physically hold out your hands, palms up and say this simple prayer,

“Lord, I am willing. I will go if you want me to go and stay if you want me to stay.  Please show me what you want me to do.”

And then wait.  You don’t have to be especially gifted (look at the uneducated disciples) or a super Christian.  You just need to be willing, humble and submitted to Christ.  And if God wants you to go, he will pull you along in ways that are unmistakable.


In what ways has God used some of these ways in your life as you have sought His will?   



This post is day 19 of the series “Re-entry: Reflections on Reverse Culture Shock,” a challenge I have taken to write for 31 days. Check out my previous posts:

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: By 2x1meter (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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 17: Is Missions a “Higher Calling”? {31 Days of Re-Entry}

During one of my trips back to America while I was living in China, I remember bemoaning to a mentor of mine about being single. She comforted me with the statement, “You have a higher calling.”

You mean I have a more important call than my friend living back in America with three kids? I thought.   

“You have a higher calling.”

“You are DOING IT–you are going!”

“Be radical and sold out for Jesus!”

“Do big things for God.”

“I could never do what you do.”

“God has called YOU!”

It is statements like these that make it so difficult to return from the mission field to the humdrum life where you blend in with everyone else–and instead pursue a “lower calling.”

Growing up in the church, youth group, summer camps and Christian college, I had never really noticed these appeals to our pride until a few years ago. Our first year of marriage, my husband and I led a team of college students back to China with the organization I had been with. We had a week of training, complete with all the inspiring sermons, small groups, emotional praise and worship, prayer and individual devotionals I had been used to all my life. Not having grown up in the church, my husband would point out aspects of the messages I had never noticed before and how missions was made out to be the end-all, the only option for any Christian who was truly “sold out for Christ.”

An actor by trade, he actually saw many parallels between this group and all his acting teachers, who also considered the art to be a “calling.”

I was called to missions, but my husband was called to acting. Doctors feel called to save people. Artists are called to their particular art form–to dance, paint, sing, sculpt, compose or photograph. And the expectation is that you are either all in, or you are a sell out. Calling is not just a Christian term, it is a human term for people who are searching for purpose and meaning in life.

 A quick Google search will lead you to articles such as: “10 Ways to Determine God’s Calling in Your Life,” “Find Your Calling: 5 Steps to Identify Your Purpose,” “4 Steps to Finding Your Calling,” “10 Signs you Found Your Calling,” and “Oprah On Finding Your Calling–What I Know for Sure.”  It is not just Christians who want to make a difference in the world. 

In February of 2015, in an article in the Wall Street Journal titled “I Don’t Have a Job. I Have a Higher Calling,” one researcher noted that “those who can connect their work to a higher purpose—whether they are a janitor or a banker—tend to be more satisfied with their jobs, put in longer hours and rack up fewer absences.” God has put eternity in the hearts of man (Eccl. 3:11) and placed a desire to live for something or someone greater than ourselves within each of us.

The Purpose Driven Life, by Rick Warren, has sold over 32 million copies world-wide for a reason.  We want to have purpose.  “What is your calling?” is a common question in Bible studies and small groups that assumes that each person has a unique and purposeful calling from God, though the “call to missions” seems to be the golden badge while the others are silver and copper.

Karen Yates puts it like this in her article “Your Calling is Closer Than You Think,” “We have an expectation that our calling is discoverable. It’s the gold nugget buried within the river bank. Search for it, be patient, don’t give up, we’ll find it (or stumble upon it) one day, eventually, and our lives will never be the same.”

When I answered the call to missions, I thought that it was an “all-in or all-out” situation. I felt sure God wouldn’t call me to do something halfway, so I threw myself completely into my work overseas. As mentioned in previous posts, God’s will for me turned out to be very different than I’d planned and I was heartbroken when I began to realize that I was going to have to be in the “all-out” camp of “less-than” Christians.

Missions, as it turns out, was a call on my life, but not the call. My call was first and foremost to intimacy with Jesus Christ.

I had left my first love to serve at the altar of my usefulness and worshipped what I could do for Christ rather than what He had already done for me. I had made my call to missions my idol, tightly winding my identity all around it, so that when I returned home I unraveled. I had no idea who I was anymore if I wasn’t “Someone’s friend or sister or daughter who is giving up everything to serve God in China.” I was just me again–Leslie without the “higher calling.” Leslie who lives in Chicago. Leslie the teacher. Leslie the wife.

Like Gollum in The Lord of the Rings, my calling had become my precious ring I clung to for security and significance.  It took leaving, getting married and reentering American life to pry my fingers off of what had started out good, but had slowly become something I worshipped.  God had always only wanted me to hold it with open hands.

Karen Yates remarks, “The problem I see with that over-used, over-emphasized, over-preached word “calling” is that many of us have limited the definition of “calling” to a profession, a career or a role. In this view, calling is about what we do, not about who we are. Calling becomes about assignment—my calling to be a mother, or a psychologist, or a missionary, or a teacher; my “calling” to “go into ministry” or “go on the mission field.” And then when our children walk out the door, when we lose our jobs, when our spouses suddenly die, when the funding doesn’t come in, when we become desensitized with our workplace, or when we simply grow old and hunched over, what then? Where is our calling?” (Yates, “Your Calling is Closer than You Think”)

I do still believe God calls us to specific work at specific times. Sometimes it is through a burning bush moment, but often it is walking through one open door in obedience, then the next, then the next until we find that we are somewhere very different than where we started. And I do think that telling the nations about Christ is a privilege and a joy that is very different from other callings. But we need to be careful with the superlatives, lest we throw ourselves wholeheartedly at the altar of our call instead of at the altar of our Savior.

What other phrases does the church use to inspire us to go instead of remind us who we are in Christ? Have you ever struggled with this issue of calling? What have you learned over the years?

Related Articles:

Your Calling is Closer than You Think,” by Karen Yates, Relevant Magazine, May 28, 2013.

The Idolatry of Missions,” by Jonathan Trotter, A Life Overseas, Nov. 9, 2014.

Farewell to the Missionary Hero,” by Amy Peterson, Christianity Today, Sept. 14, 2015.

“I Don’t Have a Job.  I Have a Calling.” by Rachel Feintzeig, The Wall Street Journal, Feb. 24, 2015.


This post is day 17 of the series “Re-entry: Reflections on Reverse Culture Shock,” a challenge I have taken to write for 31 days during the month of October. Check out my other posts in this 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 Literacy Musing Mondays
and Taking Route

Day 16: The Story of My “Call” {31 Days of Re-Entry}

Today is a “step back and get the big picture” kind of day, as I take advantage of the re-entry theme to reflect on the past and its impact on my present reality.  The following is the story of how God called me to serve Him overseas.  I have some comments to share, but I’ll reserve those for a few posts on calling over the next few days.  For now, here’s the story as I tell it to those who ask,

“How were you called into missions?”

A tall, slim Caucasian man wrapped in brightly colored African clothing leaned over the podium while photos of his son holding spears with warriors in Uganda played across the screens on either sides of the church.  He shared the verse, “Look at the nations and watch, and be utterly amazed, for God is going to do something in your day that you would believe even if you were told,” from Habakkuk 1:5.  He spoke of the lives they had changed while living in Africa and shared exotic tales of hardship and reward. 

A 16 year old Leslie soaked in every word and joined just a few people of the hundreds in the service as the preacher asked anyone who felt “called to missions” to come forward. 

I had been “called.”

The summer before this I had been on one two week mission trip to Costa Rica with my youth group, traveling around the country performing a mime while a recording narrated in Spanish.  On the tour bus I stared out the window thinking, I could do this. God, is this what you want for my life?

Africa had my heart from that time on and I practically attacked any Africans or missionaries to Africa I met for the next several years.  But after spending six months in Uganda my senior year of college, I came back humbled and less sure of God’s driving will for my life.  Africa?  I didn’t think so anymore. Missions? Possibly.

So I lived life.  I taught middle school in the city of Chicago and volunteered with the church inner city youth group.  After several years, that feeling began to niggle at my heart again–the urge to go that I couldn’t ignore.

So since I was a teacher and had summers off, I told someone at church that I would volunteer to help a missionary from our church for the summer.  The first one I heard from was in Tajikistan.  Tajiki–what?  I ran to the map to find where it even was and told the man from church that I’d just wait to hear back from more.  Surely there’d be more.  After all, our church supported about 20 missionaries.  I heard from one in Canada, but other than that, nope.  Tajikistan.  I actually emailed the family back to tell them I couldn’t come, but quickly felt that I should go.  To Tajikistan.  Next to Afghanistan.

I lived with a missionary family in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, for five weeks, helping them with a few projects at the English school they worked for and manning the tiny English library a few days a week.  Since they didn’t have a ton for me to do, I basically had all morning free to spend sleeping, reading and listening.  And in that time and space, the Lord seemed to indicate that that would be my last year in Chicago and that I should pursue going overseas again to a “closed” country (to missionaries).

When I returned from Tajikistan, China was everywhere I turned.  On the radio, in conversations I overheard, in books and mentioned “randomly” by friends.  China seemed to be the obvious choice for where I would go.

When I applied and was accepted by an organization to go to China, but was still waiting for placement, I got a call (on the phone, not from God).  This wasn’t the way things were usually done, but would I be willing to serve in a very remote placement?  A placement with only one teammate?  Eight hours from the nearest airport (at that time)?  Oh, and it’s not the warm place that you had requested (my ONLY request).

Because of my previous experience with Muslims in Tajikistan, I was now on my organization’s radar as someone with experience in a Muslim area. 

I told them I would call them back.  I went home and prayed.  Within 12 hours, I had two “signs.”

The first was when I Googled the name of the city (a place many Chinese people don’t even know) and the first page I was directed to was about a group from Intervarsity traveling to that very city that summer.  The leader listed at the bottom was the sister of one of my best friends in Chicago who lived down the street.  Out of all the tiny remote villages in China, “coincidentally,” here was one I had a personal connection with right out of the gate.

The second “sign” was my reading that day in My Utmost for His Highest.  I nearly dropped the book as I read:

“We have no right to decide where we should be placed, or to have preconceived ideas as to what God is preparing us to do.  God engineers everything; and wherever He places us, our one supreme goal should be to pour out our lives in wholehearted devotion to Him in that particular work. ‘Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might…’ (Eccl. 9:10).”

These, along with a general peace that this what God was leading me to do, was what led to me spending three years in a remote city in China and two years in the capital city of that province for full-time language school.

I will say that answering my “call” to China was a bit like an arranged marriage.  I never had the fascination with China that I had with Africa and it certainly wasn’t love at first sight when I arrived on Chinese soil (I literally cried when I saw Africa for the first time from the air–not so much with China).  My first few days in China I felt like we were just living in a Chinatown that never ended, with more smells assaulting me than I had ever experienced before.

But I distinctly remember a moment at the end of my first year there where I felt myself beginning to fall in love.  It was as if God was urging me to go ahead and take the plunge and really be all there.  So I did–I allowed myself to fall in love with China and her people and committed myself to being there however long the Lord wanted me there.

I’ll unpack a few of my thoughts regarding calling over the next few days, so be sure to check back in!


Was your call at all similar to mine?  If you haven’t gone overseas, do you ever feel that God might be calling you to serve Him in another country?

~~~~~~

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This post is day 16 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: World Map, Wiki Commons

Day 15: Book Review–The Art of Coming Home {31 Days of Re-Entry}


The Art of Coming Home, by Craig Storti, is an excellent book about re-entry that my organization mailed to me when I returned to America after spending five years in China.  I wish I had read it.

The book is divided into five main sections:  coming home, the stages of re-entry, the return of the employee, the return of spouses and children, and special populations.  As I was a single person when I “re-entered” my passport country, I could relate most to the first two sections of the book.

Though he does not discuss it in the book, Storti experienced living abroad and returning first hand, which grants him credibility as a writer.  It is also obvious that he researched extensively for this book, as is evidenced by a vast bibliography, and I found myself starring and underlining items on at least every page.

Though Storti remains objective throughout the book, he has an obvious sensitivity to the struggle that many expats encounter when they return to their passport culture (and encouragement that they will survive and make it through in the end!).
  
In his first chapter on coming home, Storti states, “this very realization, that home is really not home, is at the core of the experience of reentry” (4).  He aptly spells out some of the main issues for the returning expat such as wrestling with the meaning of home, what makes it difficult to come home and the impact the return has on us and our relationships. 

Storti defines the stages of reentry as: leave-taking, honeymoon, reverse culture shock and readjustment.  His description of reverse culture shock is so familiar to me as he speaks about being judgmental, living in the margins as a “cultural hybrid”(54), doubting your decision to return, feeling overwhelmed, and resisting readjusting.  “It’s almost as if readjusting would mean that your expatriate experience never happened, that you would revert to the person you were before you went abroad” (58).

Chapter three outlines some of the issues related to reentering the work place and offers practical helps to reintegrate the employee into the work environment.  Colleagues trying to identify with what their coworkers or employees are experiencing as they return to work from another country would benefit greatly from reading this chapter.  In one of the many helpful charts provided throughout the book, Storti provides 9 questions that are “recommended content for a repatriation workshop,” such as:
1. “What did you like about being overseas and what will you miss the most?
2. Who are you now?  How has the overseas experience changed you?  What new skills, knowledge, attitudes have you acquired?
3. How has home changed? What the country is like now…” (88)

In Chapter four, Storti discusses some common issues of the returning spouse, such as returning to work, going back home alone at first, having less house help, adjusting to a more independent (less social?) culture, helping the children, spending less time together as a family, and guilt over children going through reentry.  The second half of this chapter focuses primarily on the issues that teens may face in reentering after spending time abroad and what parents can do to help them to weather this storm.

The final chapter, on special populations, addresses the problems of these particular subgroups of returning expats: exchange students, international volunteer organizations, military personnel and missionaries.  This is the only part of the book that seems to be a bit redundant as the issues and solutions are very similar to those described in chapter one and two, but it is possible that someone in one of these specific categories may find a different angle that is applicable to their unique situation.

The Art of Coming Home is a valuable resource for anyone returning from living abroad.  I know that I would have benefitted greatly from it had I taken advantage of reading it before returning to America. 

“Readjustment is the final phase of reentry, but it should not be understood as the closing of the book on the overseas experience, for in a larger sense, reentry never truly ends.  After all, people don’t actually get over experiences, especially profound ones; instead they incorporate them into their character and personality and respond to all subsequent experience from the perspective of their new self” (65). 

YES.

~~~~~~

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This post is day 15 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 14: Readjusting: Same Tools, New Work Space {31 Days of Re-Entry}

It has been five years since returning from China and I still haven’t figured out how to live, much less thrive, in my own culture.  I have struggled to feign interest when the culture, food, language and people just aren’t as colorful or fascinating. I am often convicted of feeling superior or judging others and I still haven’t reached a stride in building new relationships (could be the judging, perhaps?).

In college, I took a course where we had to do an ethnography on a people group in the suburbs of Chicago in preparation for going overseas to live for six months in a developing country.  An ethnography is a way of systematically studying people and cultures while trying to observe from the subject’s point of view.

The first rule of the study? 
Observe.  Just observe and take notes. 

I studied the third graders in the classroom I was aiding in at the time, but some classmates did a few more memorable studies on a Metra train and in a laundry mat outside of Chicago. 

A laundry mat.  Three months of watching to see what kind of people did their laundry, how much laundry they did, what they talked about, what they did while they waited, how often they came and where they sat…

Sounds boring, but it was actually remarkable what behavior patterns and social norms we discovered by simply observing.  I used the experience when I lived in Uganda for six months, in Tajikistan for five weeks and later in China for five years and felt like it helped me to enter a new culture as a learner. 

But after returning from China five years ago and assuming I understood my own “boring” culture, I’ve been wondering if I should pull out this tool again.  What would I observe if I were more intentional about noticing people in my seemingly homogeneous life?  What if I started really paying attention when I go to the following places:

The grocery store
The playground
My son’s preschool
Church
A local coffee shop or bookstore

What would I learn?  What would I see?  What would surprise me?

The second rule of the ethnography, which we weren’t supposed to do until we went abroad was:  Ask questions and seek to understand.  We were not to make suggestions for how to improve a situation or even help until we felt we had taken the time to understand before passing judgment.

Do I do this now?  Do I ask questions for the purpose of really trying to understand the people around me?  Or do I assume too much about them based on how they look? 

In China, one of my main goals in being there was to develop relationships with Chinese people.  My “manual” for doing that, were I to teach a new person entering China would be something along the lines of this:

Cross-cultural Relationship Building 101
1. Study and learn the language–get a tutor as soon and as frequently as you can.
2. Visit the same shops and visitors to chat with people.
3. Practice hospitality by intentionally having people over to your home and accept invitations to other’s homes. 
4. Be an learner first–ask questions.
5. Ask for help and find a local cultural informant.
6. Actively look for ways to serve and bless others.
7.  Pray for the people you meet because it is most likely not a coincidence that you are brushing shoulders with them right now.

These guidelines worked very well cross-culturally, but what about here?  I firmly believe that you will be the same person after going abroad that you were before you left.  But is the reverse true?  Am I the same now as I was in China? 

Five months ago, my family and I moved from edgy, diverse Chicago to probably the most boring mission field there is: a neighborhood of all white retired people in Loveland, Colorado. My husband and I have been convicted by how snobby we are (What! No pour-over, locally roasted, bird friendly, organic, shade grown coffee!!!???). I am also slightly guilty of reverse racism. It’s hard to believe, but what if God really does love my white pick-up truck driving neighbors as much as the Chinese students in my classroom or the child in the slums of Kampala? And what if I applied Relationship Building 101 here? Would it work?

I’m writing this here now mainly to keep myself accountable to follow through with my own personal challenge to live the SAME wherever I am and to use my “tools” to love the people in my village.  My Chinese sister in Christ would call them my “pang bian de ren”–the people next to me.  Please help me in praying:

Lord Jesus, show me more than what is on the surface. Show me people’s hearts. Teach me to love the people you have put all around me–wherever I am. Forgive me for being so judgmental and for making assumptions. Help me to not just survive where I am living, but thrive.

In review,
Step one: Observe
Step two: Ask questions
Step three: Build Relationships

I’ll be checking in later to report on how my family is doing!  We’ve been observing and asking questions, now on to the relationship building.

Have you ever returned from the field and felt a similar disdain for your passport culture? What kind of tools do you use to engage with your culture–whether that’s in your passport country or abroad?


(This is a practical companion to Longing for Home)

~~~~~~

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This post is day 14 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: “Handful of tools (1904 advertisement)” by Unknown – http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn88085187/1904-01-02/ed-1/seq-4/ (Tacoma Times). Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Handful_of_tools_(1904_advertisement).jpg#/media/File:Handful_of_tools_(1904_advertisement).jpg

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.

Day 12: Confessions of an Experience Junkie {31 Days of Re-Entry}

I am an experience junkie.  There, I said it.  I’m addicted to change, hilarity and the absurd, being stretched and emerging with ridiculous tales.  I don’t know how I survived college intact since I took advantage of as many opportunities as would possibly fit into my schedule. 

My sophomore year, I debated whether or not I should do a six month internship in a developing country.  When I asked a trusted professor in his 50’s, he told me, “I think you should do it.  If I died tomorrow, you wouldn’t have to mourn me at all for the amount of experiences I’ve already had in my lifetime.”

So I lived with a Ugandan family in a village with no indoor plumbing for six months, commuting into Kampala each day to volunteer at a Compassion International child project (don’t be too impressed–I mostly did filing and editing!).

But I thought of my professor’s words…

When I saw a woman balancing 20 pounds of water on her head and a baby on her back who would most likely never travel more than a few miles from her home in her lifetime.

When I saw dying women in the slums covered in flies and dirty children running all around them.

When I realized the girls my age that I befriended had to scrounge for food to feed me when I spent the night at their house. 

And later in China, when my students’ dreams were to “go to America,” and I knew they would most likely only be able to take a job teaching back in their poor village and marry a man chosen by their parents.


In Ningxia, China, with my student, the first in her village to go to college

And I wondered:  Would the sum total of their life experiences equal:

a less fulfilling life? 

a less abundant life? 

a less valuable life?

a less meaningful life? 

Using my professor’s words, would the reverse be true of their “limited” existence–that we’d have to mourn their lives more because they hadn’t had the chance to go to summer camp as a kid, travel to 10 different countries or earn a Masters degree?   

With every experience I am given, I am given more responsibility.  I am held more responsible to tell other’s stories, educate those back in my passport country, to be the one voice in the crowd and in the church that can honestly say, “But it isn’t done that way everywhere.” 

And I can honestly say that while these experiences are addicting, this kind of exposure to the world and the level of responsibility that it brings can be almost immobilizing.

I feel guilty that I can spend thousands of dollars travelling when it costs me $300 to educate a girl in Uganda for the entire year.

I am burdened when I think of visiting children in an orphanage in Tajikistan who were paralyzed simply because they were never held, sitting hours on plastic toilets in the courtyard.

I am sickened by the 12 year old Thai girls I saw in Chiang Mai in the arms of their 65 year old white tourist “patrons.”

And I ache for the countless women in China that were forced to have abortions because they would have exceeded the number of children allowed by the government.

Yes, I am an experience addict, but the more that I see of the world, the more I find that the experience math just doesn’t compute.  Every life is a valuable life, regardless of the amount of experiences.  That soot-stained old man selling sweet potatoes on the side of the road in China every day from 7 am to 10 pm is JUST as valuable as me.  

God has gifted me with these opportunities not because I am more loved or valuable, but because He expects me to do something with what I experience.

~~~~~~

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This post is day 12 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)