Some things are left better unsaid.
That’s how I felt for a period of time about my transition back to America. I have purposely waited to write about it until I felt my emotions, hormones from having a baby, and the stress of our life had settled down.
This past June while driving with the kids all packed into the van, I reached over and turned the music down and shouted over their voices, “Hey, we’ve been back from China for one year today!” J’s mouth literally flew open and the others just stared ahead at me. “It seems like only yesterday we arrived!” Her thoughts were mine too.
How could a year have already gone by? After a year I still didn’t feel like GA was home yet, would I ever feel like this was home?
Now, after over a year since returning from serving in China, I am ready to process the question most asked of me, “What’s it like being back?”
My answer starts in the past, during the month of Sept. 2012 when we made the decision to return.
In order to go forward, I must go back, because it is in remembering the day we made the decision to leave, that I have been able to move forward this past year when emotions hurt and my heart wanted to return to my life in China.
The story less told by me is that I prayed for several years, about 3, for God to send us back to the States.
I can’t really pinpoint the “why” of the prayer, just that I felt I needed to pray it. Sure there were reasons: I was physically tired, emotionally tired of the culture, and spiritually drying up. But even in those hard moments, I knew how blessed we were. I could look around and see what a unique and special life we lived overseas and I didn’t want to trade it in before its time.
Our ministry was good, our finances were great, we had the 4-bedroom apartment we had wanted for so long; by all accounts, it seemed there was no reason to leave.
Knowing my desires teetered from wanting to stay to wanting to leave, I specifically asked God to have Peter approach me and tell me he felt like it was time to finish our work in China and return to the states. I kept my thoughts on the subject from Peter, not wanting to influence our move too early, and I simply trusted God to reveal it to him instead.
Yes, it was hard to keep my mouth shut!
In all fairness, I did occasionally ask him questions like, “How do you know when we should be finished here?” “Are you sure this is where God wants us to still be?” But even in asking those questions, I tried hard to not reveal too much of my thoughts on the subject. I really wanted this to be a God thing and not me manipulating it into being.
After years of waiting and praying, Peter walked into the kitchen one day while I was washing dishes and started talking. He says something like, “I don’t know how you’ll feel about this, but I’ve been thinking. If you’re okay with this, I’ll finish our contract in June and this will be our last year in China.”
GULP! There it was. Just like that.
I’m standing in the kitchen, heart hammering, soapy hands dripping in the sink, listening to an answer to my years of praying. I turn around to face him and simply state, “Okay.”
But, I am a doubter. Even after having my prayer answered so wonderfully specific like that. I started to doubt our decision to move away from our ministry, our community of friends who were more like family to us, and our love for the culture we lived in.
Peter made that proclamation to me in Sept., but our contract did not end until June; we had 9 months to finish up in China.
January rolled around and I learned I was pregnant with my fifth child. I remembered words that had come out of my mouth one time when talking to a friend, “I will never do five children in China!”
I was already exhausted most days with 4. I didn’t have an ayi (Chinese helper) to help me clean, shop at the market, wash-n-dice veggies, hang up laundry, watch my children, and all the other jobs that pile up when one doesn’t have the western conveniences like dishwashers, dryers, family, vans to drive, and canned/frozen food.
Being pregnant only confirmed to me it was time to leave.
But I’m a doubter and began to wonder if we shouldn’t really stay longer. Surely we could budget for an ayi like everyone else does. Maybe I could try harder, figure out how to maximize my toaster-oven-sized freezer and cook more meals ahead of time to freeze them for later use.
Surely I could muster up enough emotional strength to raise five children in a culture that will always be staring, pointing, and touching them. I could overlook the stares, tune out the comments about our family size, avoid their touches, ignore the invasion on my perceived personal space. I could, I knew I could, because if God wanted me to do it, I could. But deep down inside, I knew I couldn’t. I knew it was our time to leave.
Then March came and Peter learned he had been recorded while teaching in our home. We were told that the authorities were writing up charges and we needed to pack our bags, just in case things started to heat up and we needed to leave before our scheduled departure date.
For the third time God confirmed to me that our time had come to an end. It was okay to leave. Indeed, it was part of our journey.
Over the past year I have been so thankful for those 3 confirmations. When I have felt at my lowest, reminding myself of how God very specifically answered my prayer and then confirmed it three times has helped me get through, and in that remembrance, I reassure myself that I am right where I need to be.
Now that I have laid the ground work from the past, I’m ready to move forward with an answer to the question “What’s it like being back?” you can look for it in my next blog post titled, “When Jesus Isn’t Enough.”