When I moved to China, it was a forever move. I sold an entire house full of stuff, got rid of my car, closed all of my accounts and headed off to a foreign land where I thought I would spend the rest of my life. Or at least a large portion of it.
As my fourth year comes to an end and I head back to America, to go and do what God has called me to do, a reflection...
Year One: Adjustment of Expectations
I arrived in China, sure that I was going to be best friends with every Chinese person I knew. I was going to go to underground churches, be fluent in Mandarin, cook local food, immerse myself in the culture. I was going to learn this country inside and out, change lives, be changed- A Grand Adventure.
And then reality came crushing down. My first year, I worked 80-100 hours a week. I travel for a month during each semester. I was not a natural at learning Mandarin. I was surrounded by foreigners who spoke only English. I had NOT EVEN ONE Chinese friend. I had a roommate (who is a lovely woman of God) that I had nothing in common with. And I had some unattainable expectations placed on me that bruised my spirit a little around the edges. I had few friends, even less of an identity, lived in fear of failure, felt constant stress.
A difficult year to say the least.
Year Two: The Inner Struggle
I changed jobs, I changed houses, I changed friends. No more roommate, I lived alone. People came and left. My job held less stress and work and demands. Only 60 hour weeks, still traveling for a month each semester.
Oh how I wrestled with my inability to get into the Chinese culture, to make Chinese friends. A choice has to be made here and this won't really make sense to those who haven't lived in this kind of environment before: Choose the culture and people of the country you live in, or choose the culture and people of the international community. It is almost completely impossible to do both without getting burned out within a year. I've seen it happen. My choice was made for me though. The demands of my job made my choice- the international community. And it killed me. In fact, it probably took another year for me to find peace about it. Why would God bring me to a country that I can't even take part in? Why would He give me a job that won't allow for me to do anything else other than what I'm doing? Maybe this still doesn't make sense to you...maybe you're wondering why my job decided for me. Because of the traveling, because of the time demands, because of the program I managed, it used up all of my energy. All.of.it. I had little left to give. And what I did have left, I used for leading worship at my Fellowship, doing extra events at my school to get to know my students, spending time with friends building relationships. If you've ever lived overseas, you know how draining (and rewarding) it is to function in another culture that's not your own. Now add to that not being able to read or understand the language...it's impossibly difficult.
This all sounds like excuses, I know. Trust me, I know. I lived my first two years in frustration at myself, at my job, at God for not allowing me to do "what I thought He wanted me to do."
Year Three: The Fog Lifting
My job became much easier but my relationships became much harder. There was constant emotional upheaval, hurt, pain, stretching. Conflict was everywhere and it was life-draining. And it was beautiful. I spent hours learning how to communicate, how to be vulnerable, how to love others better, how submit, how to trust, how to allow myself to be pursued, how to pursue, how to find healing, how to admit brokenness, how to ask for forgiveness, how to forgive, how to allow the Holy Spirit to use those around me to transform me. I began to learn about community- what it is, what it looks like, how it works. It became my 'thing'. Doing community, being intentional, being purposeful in my conversations, in my friendships, in my pursual of others, in my relationship with Christ.
During this year, God began to work on the inner battle of my purpose for being here. I came with all these expectations of what I thought I would be doing with the Chinese and He slowly began to show me that wasn't my purpose here. Door after door closed on my pursual of Chinese friends. And even though I still struggle sometimes with all of it, I can clearly see that He had other plans for me.
This was such a difficult year. It's hard to do life when you are emotionally exhausted all of the time. But I wouldn't change it for anything.
Year Four: Purpose Found
This is a hard year to explain. It's like every lesson, every experience, every relationship, every hardship, every beautiful moment has led up to this year. The job that's been so hard, the students who've taken forever to let me in just a little, the friendships that have sharpened me, the travel to infinity and beyond, the time away from family, all of it has brought me to a place of clarity and vision. The Lord has used all of these experiences to show me what I'm passionate about, what I want to be doing for the rest of my life: loving on people and building relationships in the body of Christ.I want to be used in any way I can to help people to get connected to the body.
As this clarity came, so did the inner release. I was released from my inadequacy of meeting the expectations I set for myself when moving to China. I was released from being in the place and working at this job after this year. I was released from teaching in the capacity that I've been doing for so long, in the classroom. I didn't know I needed to be released. I didn't know that's what I was waiting for. God's timing is perfect. What's interesting to me is that even while this release came, so did a love and passion for my job. I have so enjoyed this year, doing what I'm doing. It has brought me joy and close relationships with my students.
Reflecting on the last 9 months or so, all I can see is the faithfulness of God. He brought me to this place and taught me about his unfailing love through constant pursual. He taught me pursual through faithful friendship. He taught me friendship through deep and authentic community. He taught me community by graciously communing with me.
To sum it up...
I am so thankful for every experience that I've had here. I am thankful for my job, the skills I've learned, the students I've had, the places I've traveled. I am thankful for my community of believers that have loved me, chastised me, held me up, pushed me, brought me such joy. I am thankful for this country and it's people, the culture, the language, the traditions, the beauty. I am thankful for a God who brought me to a place that gave healing, growth, love, revival, knowledge and experiences in ways that I couldn't have learned in any other place, with any other circumstances.
An adventure, indeed.