Taking Flight

Taking Flight

Even youths grow tired and weary,

And young men stumble and fall;

But those who hope in the Lord

Will renew their strength.

They will soar on wings like eagles;

They will run and not grow weary,

They will walk and not be faint.

            – Isaiah 40:30-31

We all face times in our lives when we need to step into the unknown, when a rejection of taking this risk would result in self-protection based in fear. Some of these situations happily force themselves upon us, such as marriage or graduation from high school or from the university and the necessity to set the course for the next stage of our lives. Others slam us hard, like a job loss or an unforeseen change in relationship. And still other opportunities are created from a calling, an unrest, a longing.

Whatever the situation, the question all Christians must answer in transition is this: Do I have enough trust – enough confidence – in my God to move forward?

One year ago, Josh and I boarded a plane bound for China. There is something eerie and terrifying about leaving your children on the other side of planet Earth.

Flight Map

That May flight, the first of five 24-hour flights that we would make in the course of three months, began our look-see trip, the one in which we visited the prospective city to make sure we wanted to go ahead with applying for the job opportunity.

But in those three summer months, and in the five months before that, what impacted me most was not the physical flight, but the spiritual and emotional flight that accompanied the transition.

I think that the Lord knows I need recurring themes in my life so that I can finally learn the main point of whatever He is trying to teach me. Those themes don’t usually come in the form of mental pictures, but I am grateful that one did, which I will tell you about now.

Twelve years ago this summer, I stepped into my first season of work and career. I sat at a round table with five other new staff, in a room of 200 more just like us. In the midst of a highly intense 10-day training, and at this table, God placed an image in my mind. I was visibly shaking and sobbing as I emotionally processed what this might mean.

My group leader asked me what was going on, and I explained the picture to him. In this image, I saw myself standing at the edge of a high cliff. Everything beyond the cliff was enshrouded in darkness. I sensed the Spirit of God beckoning me to jump off of the edge, into the abyss.

It was obvious to me that this referenced the new work I was stepping into, since I had little clear idea of what lay before me for the next five plus years. All I knew was that I did not want to fall off of that cliff.

I no longer remember my group leader’s exact response (and I’m pretty sure there’s a meme around now with this same idea), but the essence was this: What if, instead of falling, God gives you wings to fly?

And He did.

A few moments over the next eleven years of work felt like I got banged up on the side of the cliff, but even with that, my trust and confidence in God built as I saw Him come through for me over the long haul. He developed in me strength, endurance, vision, and faith that I didn’t have before responding to His invitation into the unknown.

10 ½ years later, I again sat in a room full of staff, this time 2,000 of them. I had grown restless, feeling trapped and looking for a new passion.

I shared with a colleague that my husband, just that week, began pursuing a potential job in China. I asked my colleague to pray for discernment in the situation, and he wisely asked me how I was feeling and thinking about all of this. He listened intently as I explained my desire for a new adventure and opportunity for myself and for my family.

When I had finished, my colleague described to me the image God placed in his mind as I was speaking. He had envisioned wings on my back, spreading out more and more as I spoke. I was ready to fly.

Of course, taking flight did not come easily. I grieved the loss, albeit temporary, of people and places that I loved. And once again, I found myself launching off into the darkness, this time unsure of my purpose, my passion, and my calling.

I don’t know what risk God is asking you to take. Obviously, assessing God’s call needs to be done with wisdom and with the counsel of wise people. But after discerning clearly, going for it is the best thing you can do for your spiritual life. Maybe your risk of faith looks like serving your spouse, or giving up your summer plans, or giving your life to Christ, or moving overseas. The size of the risk is not important – after all, Jesus tells parables about servants who are faithful in small matters being put in charge of larger matters.

When you take a risk, you might not get the outcome that you expect. This is why the Bible says that those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength, as opposed to those who hope in a certain outcome. When you answer God’s invitation to take a step of faith, you are saying, “Yes”, to the God who knows and loves you.

Taking a risk of faith, even a small one like tangibly loving someone or speaking truth, is… risky. But it’s exhilarating and freeing. It places us in the position where we HAVE to depend on God to come through for us. Trust deepens when we experience that the God who asks us to jump will teach us to fly.

I will leave you with the song that has been my anthem of trust for a year and a half now. To borrow the words of the song, may your faith be made stronger in the presence of the Savior.

Chinese New Year Through the Eyes of a Laowai

Chinese New Year Through the Eyes of a Laowai

People in our part of the world have been talking about the lunar new year for a long time. As a first-time expat to China, I had low expectations. After all, this is not “my” holiday. The new year celebration caught me off guard, and here I present to you a small window into my first Chinese New Year experience as a foreigner.

The Lead-Up

Most of us who grow up in the States know the feeling of anticipation that comes along with the Christmas season. A sense of excitement fills the air, everyone chats about the holiday and their plans, and preparation begins for meals, decorations, and gifts. Spending my first lunar new year in China, I was struck by the oddity that I could feel that same anticipation. Even though I speak very little Mandarin and had no background in this holiday, I could just tell that the excitement was building all around me.

People cleaned their homes thoroughly. Employees received bonuses. In addition to a bonus, we gave our ayi a fancy box of frozen fish, and she reciprocated with a huge box of butter cookies for the kids.

My husband’s company held their annual Chinese New Year party. All of the employee’s families were invited, and the planning team worked for weeks to arrange a location, a catered meal, prizes, and entertainment.

My daughter’s school invited all of the parents to watch a Chinese New Year performance. I was so proud when my girl spoke into the microphone in Mandarin – with good tones! The children did a dragon dance and lots of songs to celebrate the year of the goat.

The Decorations

Of course, decorations also added to the excitement. My daughter even came home with some window flowers and paper lanterns that she had made in school, and we used those to prepare our home.

Local malls set up lunar new year displays.
Local malls set up lunar new year displays.
People decorate trees and shrubs near their houses.
People decorated trees and shrubs near their houses.
This guy delivers flowers that already have new year baubles attached.
This guy delivered flowers that already had new year baubles attached.
Hotel lobbies welcome the lunar new year.
Hotel lobbies welcomed the lunar new year.
Folks hang red lanterns near their doorways and place greeting signs and paper cut-out flowers on windows and entryways.
Folks hung red lanterns near their doorways and place greeting signs and paper cut-out flowers on windows and entryways.
Apartment lobbies join in the festivity.
Apartment lobbies joined in the festivity.
Red lantern decorations hang from street lamps.
Red lantern decorations hung from street lamps.
Owners deck out their businesses to celebrate the new year.
Owners decked out their businesses to celebrate the new year.
And, of course, it wouldn't be a holiday without decorated Coca-Cola bottles.
And, of course, it wouldn’t be a holiday without decorated Coca-Cola bottles.

The Travel and Meal Prep

For 1-2 weeks before the lunar new year began, people started traveling in droves. Most people left the city to go back to their hometowns and spend the holiday with their extended families. Subways going to railway stations and airports were packed with people carrying luggage and boxes of alcohol, fruits, or nuts to take home with them. Schools let children out for almost one month at this time of the year.

CNY Travel

Small family shops closed down early, even a week in advance of New Year’s day, to factor in travel time.

Businesses Closed For CNY

In my husband’s family, the Christmas eve dinner is an event all to itself. The meal spread takes time to cook, but it looks and tastes amazing. Similarly, in China, the New Year’s eve meal maintains a special place in the holiday tradition.

People pack out a supermarket to buy food two days before the lunar new year.
People packed out a supermarket to buy food two days before the lunar new year.

Of course, the Chinese have traditional dishes that they cook and eat for the big meal. Since I know almost nothing about these dishes, I thought it would suffice to ask our ayi to make some jiaozi for us before she began her vacation. These dumplings taste so yummy dipped in a spicy chili paste and vinegar mixture.

Our ayi taught my daughter how to prepare the jiaozi.
Our ayi taught my daughter how to prepare the jiaozi.
The jiaozi waits to be boiled.
The jiaozi waits to be boiled.

I would love to someday share in a New Year’s eve meal that is truly Chinese. In the meantime, we ate our own concoction of American and Chinese foods to celebrate. I enjoyed our evening together as a family, but to be honest, I felt like we were missing something… it was like having Christmas alone, without grandpas and grandmas, aunts, uncles, and cousins. Maybe we can convince someone to visit us to celebrate next year.

Spahr New Year's Eve Meal

The Fireworks

The fireworks in China during the new year holiday are fantastic. Personally, I think that since China invented fireworks, they ought to be spectacular. A good friend put it this way: It’s like all of the 4th of July shows you’ve ever seen, and ever will see, rolled into one night.

Although the police were cracking down a bit more this year on people who might go overboard, fireworks here are basically a free-for-all. Many of our friends have told us stories of their balcony windows being shot out by stray fireworks, or of having to cover their children from fireworks that turn on them from the other side of the street.

One of my Chinese friends explained that people shoot off one set of fireworks to say good-bye to the previous year and another set of fireworks to say hello to the new year. Each night of the week also gives a different reason for fireworks, and the most popular is the fourth night, when fireworks are lit to welcome the money god. The amount of fireworks on the fourth night rivaled the amount the we witnessed on New Year’s eve.

Firework stands popped  up on every block the week before the new year.
Firework stands popped up on every block the week before the new year.
Notice the "No Smoking" sign on this one.
Notice the “No Smoking” sign on this one.

On New Year’s eve, our family went out and lit some sparklers, one fountain, and some ground spinners. On our walk outside, I noticed that our security guards had also prepared for the new year fireworks.

There are no firework restrictions in our neighborhood, so the guards have to be ready. I'm not sure this is enough preparation.
There are no firework restrictions in our tree-filled neighborhood, so the guards had to be ready for potential fires.

Around 11:40pm, the booms began to accelerate. We stood out on our bedroom balcony to see more clearly. The sights were beautiful, with bright blasts and golden fizzles. The flashes of light bounced off of city buildings  and lit up the sky in every direction.

Almost more incredible were the sounds. With pings and explosions ricocheting through the city, our neighborhood turned into an audio war zone. Our neighbors uncoiled a massive roll of firecrackers, which stretched from the beginning of our “cul-de-sac” to the post near their house that they attached the end of the firecrackers onto. They had this down to a science. A little before midnight they came out, laid everything out, and lit it up. Once the firecrackers started popping, they went into the house to save their eardrums. Josh and I stayed out to watch and hear the spectacle, and my ears rang for minutes afterward.

Fireworks 1 2015

Fireworks 2 2015

Fireworks 3 2015

It seemed that there was an entire fireworks show on every block, which made it challenging to take everything in at once. Our incredible children slept through the entire production.

The next morning, our neighbor went out again to unroll his coil of firecrackers, this time to welcome the new year. I was just loading the kids into the car when I noticed activity next door, so I pulled them all out and we watched from the sidewalk. Our neighbor was kind enough to smile at us as we all gawked at him and as I tried to explain to the kids what was happening.

Our neighbor used a coil of firecrackers similar to the rounds in this photo, except that his was bigger.
Our neighbor used a coil of firecrackers similar to the rounds in this photo, except that his was bigger.

As soon as the noise subsided, our neighbor came back out of his house and handed each of our kids a red envelope, which brings me to the next aspect of the lunar new year.

The Gifts

I could be wrong on this because I haven’t seen it in person, but my understanding is that on the morning of the new year, children wake up early with excitement to rouse their parents out of bed. The children bow in respect to their parents and ask for a hongbao, a red packet or envelope, which contains a gift of money.

Hongbao

My eldest daughter had been begging for a hongbao for weeks before the lunar new year. She learned about it from her Mandarin class at school, and she received an envelope from her teacher which contained chocolate coins.

Josh and I thought it would be a fun tradition to observe, so we surprised the kids with one hongbao each. My two-year-old had been crying about something, but when she ripped into the hongbao and pulled out the contents, her face lit up and she exclaimed, “MONey!”

I told one of my American friends about how generous and thoughtful it was for our neighbors to also give a hongbao to each of our children. We observed that in our culture, giving money is a cop-out gift, the kind of thing that you give to someone when you don’t want to take the time to be personal and creative with a gift. But here, at least at this time of year, a gift of money feels like something special. For us, it was also a great opportunity to work on the kids’ math skills and to teach about saving, giving, and spending our resources.

Many children also receive clothes, since wearing new clothes is a tradition on new year’s day. It reminded me of the American tradition of getting a new dress or suit for Christmas and Easter. It’s a big deal. However, the only new thing our kids received was toothbrushes (because they needed them!). They don’t know anything different, so they were actually quite excited about their little prizes.

New Year Hope

Everyone beings a new year with hope, with expectations for what this uncharted year could bring. One of the best questions asked of me in college was, “Why do you get out of bed in the morning?” The answer cannot be as simple as, “Because I have to go to class” or “Because I have to go to work”. You don’t HAVE to do those things. Some motiving factor underlies those decisions. Why do you work? Why do you go to class?

It’s worth asking: What do you live for?

So much of what we live for is merely trinkets, stuff that will rot or go with us to the grave. But I’ve been reminded lately that the hope of the nations, the one that won’t fade, is Jesus Christ. And He gives so much joy – like the blow out your eardrums with firecrackers, dance in the streets, eat huge meals with people you love – kind of celebratory joy.

I don’t know about you, but I spend far too little time celebrating my hope.

That being said, my prayer for the Year of the Goat is this:

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” – Romans 15:13

To all of my Asian friends, happy lunar new year!

A Letter To My Fellow Mamas Working Outside The Home

A Letter To My Fellow Mamas Working Outside The Home

Twelve months ago, I worked 30 hours a week outside of my home and in my “free time”, I cared for my three children, all under the age of five. Six months ago, I moved overseas and began a new season, in which I worked, and still work, fulltime within my home as a “stay-at-home” mom. I have lived on both sides of the street in the same year. It is out of the beauty of these two experiences that I write to you, my fellow mamas. Happy Valentine’s Day, mamas; you are loved.

TO MY FELLOW MAMAS WORKING OUTSIDE THE HOME

I sat at a tall restaurant table with two local businessmen, both highly respected in the community. I had called them together to request their help in networking with others who would possibly have an interest in partnering with my organization. Being very perceptive and knowledgeable in the business world, they began offering ideas and asking questions. At some point in the conversation, one of the men turned to me and queried, “How are you involved in the community outside of your work? What do you do to connect with people?”

That question hit my weak spot like a sharp arrow. I couldn’t control myself; I started crying as soon as I answered, “I don’t do anything. I have three kids.” The two men stared back at me dumbfounded. The meeting was a disaster.

When I had my first child, I discovered that my work life changed. For the sake of the child that I loved, I put boundaries on the time and energy that I spent working. For the sake of the work that I loved, I left my child in someone else’s care each week and was absent from home often on evenings and weekends. I felt that I could do well in both roles, but because my energy and attention were divided, I felt that I could not be excellent in either.

And so, after five years of pouring my entire self into two different worlds and juggling my time and energy between my children and my work, the businessman’s question brought my inadequacies to the surface. Of course I knew that I should be involved in the community. Of course I wanted to be involved in the community. But I was a mama stretched thin, who felt guilty for neglecting something that I had no capacity for.

Aimee speaking B&W
Snapshot of Life as a Professional
Snapshot of Life as a Mom
Snapshot of Life as a Mom

At some point, working mamas, we will fall short of expectations. Even with all of our energy and best effort, we will fall short of our employer’s expectations of us, or of our children’s expectations of us… or more likely, of our own expectations for ourselves.

Interestingly, the Bible paints a picture of what some people see as the “ideal” woman. Talk about pressure.

One thing I appreciate about this theoretical woman is that she works. She works hard.

Below are some excerpts from Proverbs 31:10-31.

“She considers and field and buys it;

Out of her earnings she plants a vineyard.

She sets about her work vigorously;

Her arms are strong for her tasks.

She sees that her trading is profitable,

And her lamp does not go out at night.

In her hand she holds the distaff

And grasps the spindle with her fingers.

She opens her arms to the poor

And extends her hands to the needy.”

“She speaks wisdom,

And faithful instruction is on her tongue.

She watches over the affairs of her household

And does not eat the bread of idleness.

Her children arise and call her blessed;

Her husband also, and he praises her:

‘Many women do noble things,

But you surpass them all.’”

“Honor her for all that her hands have done,

And let her works bring her praise at the city gate.”

This lady knows business. And investments. And finances. And social justice. And the right thing to say at the right time. And she receives the respect of her children and her husband. I want to be like her.

But seriously, when does she sleep?! Her lamp does not go out?!

Listen, mamas. You and I cannot be perfect women. I know, it’s difficult for those of us who care about meeting goals and reaching desired outcomes to admit that. But falling short opens us up to receive grace and truth.

Mama, you are a person of worth and value apart from your children. You are a person of worth and value apart from your career. Producing many well-behaved children does not make you worth more. Making a name for yourself or earning more money does not make you worth more. You have worth because God loves you.

Before Jesus began his ministry work, he was baptized. As he came up out of the water, God announced, out loud, “This is my Son; with him I am well pleased.”

God the Father was pleased with Jesus before Jesus accomplished anything. God the Father was pleased with Jesus because of their relationship.

Mama, God is pleased with you because you are His loved one, the one that He created and formed. Think about your own newborn baby. Before that baby could even smile back at you, you loved him or her. Because he or she was yours. And God loves you, regardless of your accomplishments, because you are His in Christ Jesus.

Even the Proverbs 31 description hints at this:

“A wife of noble character who can find?

She is worth far more than rubies.

Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting;

But a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.”

What gives a woman noble character? Even our best efforts toward perfection are not good enough to meet God’s standards. Only trust in Jesus Christ can give you a right heart. This ideal woman has a major thing going in her favor. She lives in honor and awe of God.

When you build your life on a foundation of loving and honoring God, He will give you the strength and wisdom that you need to make a mark in your home and to make a mark in your workplace.

One thing from Proverbs 31 is clear. This woman’s work blessed her family. You also bless your family through your work, in more ways than bringing food to the table.

Your calling as a professional and your calling as a mom are not separate callings; they are linked by you and who God created you to be.

Can you lead a team of people? You can invest in your children with long-term intentionality.

Can you network? You can instill in your child the gift of knowing how to connect with people and show them grace.

Can you responsibly oversee finances? You can teach your children to manage their money for good purposes.

Can you speak with authority? You can direct your children to proclaim truth with gentleness and clarity.

Can you work ethically and faithfully in your field? You can influence your child to live with integrity.

Can you strive toward accomplishing a big vision? You can encourage your child to expect seemingly impossible things to become a reality.

Can you talk about your work with honor and pride? You can give your children hope to have a job for themselves that they can also enjoy.

The skills that your job refines are the skills that your kids need from you at home. God knew what He was doing when He called you into your work and also called you to raise up little ones to be wise men and women. And you, a mama loved and valued by God, are enough for your calling. May your children grow to look up to you and call you blessed.

Snapshot As A Professional Mom
Snapshot of Life as a Professional Mom

A Letter To My Fellow Stay-At-Home Mamas

A Letter To My Fellow Stay-At-Home Mamas

Twelve months ago, I worked 30 hours a week outside of my home and in my “free time”, I cared for my three children, all under the age of five. Six months ago, I moved overseas and began a new season, in which I worked, and still work, fulltime within my home as a “stay-at-home” mom. I have lived on both sides of the street in the same year. It is out of the beauty of these two experiences that I write to you, my fellow mamas. Happy Valentine’s Day, mamas; you are loved.

A LETTER TO MY FELLOW STAY-AT-HOME MAMAS

On a normal morning at home, I decided to call a friend who lives in the States. While we chatted, I prepared and fed my kids a snack, cleaned up the living room, and took toys up two flights of stairs to put them away in drawers.

After we talked awhile about the conference she was attending, she asked me a sometimes terrifying question, “How are you doing?” As I searched myself for the honest answer, I replied, “Not well. It feels strange to say that because life here is going really well. Nothing is wrong, we have good friends, we have all the things we need; I just know that I’m not doing well.”

My friend spoke gently, “I’m sure you hear this all the time, but I’m going to tell you again anyway. You are a good mom. God sees you. He sees all of the things that you do, all the little things like picking up toys and doing laundry. Every small thing you do for your children has worth and value to God.”

My sudden outpouring of tears caught me by surprise, and I realized that I had just heard words that I needed, but I didn’t know why I needed them.

Three days later, I dragged my exhausted self and my two kids out of the house to attend a moms’ group. A friend and I had arranged to try it together, and although I just wanted to stay home and sleep, I pushed myself to follow through on my commitment. After arriving, the leader first invited us to spend some time praying and worshipping the Lord. During a pause in between songs, a lady behind me, whom I had never met, started praying. Then she began sobbing and said out loud for the whole group, “God sees you. He knows what you are going through, and everything you do is of worth to Him.”

That’s when I decided that I’d better take this message seriously. I asked my husband for 24 hours by myself for my birthday, and during that time away, I started asking God why that truth was so important to me.

As moms who work all day at home with our children, our work never reaches completion, at least not within a year or two, or even a decade. In the middle of putting makeup on in the morning, one child frustrates the other, who proceeds to whip their toy at the instigator, pelting them in the back. In the midst of the screams, we pause everything for a “teaching moment”, aware that we will have the privilege of at least twenty more teaching moments before the sun sets. The laundry still tumbles in the dryer while a child dirties another pair of pants. Every dish is finally placed in the cupboard when a child asks for their third snack in two hours. While we pour the milk, popcorn seeds free-fall from the bag and scatter, bouncing across the floor. When the children lie in bed and the house sits hushed and quiet, we moms still reside in our workspace, with a list of a dozen tasks yet to begin.

We mamas know that it is a gift to work all day with the children we love, for little kisses and chubby-armed hugs; but it is not easy. We pour out our best work when we are alone, with little to show for it in the short-term, for small people who do not even think about giving us accolades for all of our labors.

Sleeping Spahr Kids

But mama, God sees you. He knows what you are going through, your love for your children poured out in a hundred ways per day, your energy and ideas given freely for others. Because God sees you, you are not alone. Every little thing you do for your children holds great worth to Him. He values your many roles as master chef, toy repairman, teacher of all subjects, counselor, social coordinator, nurse, athletic coach, entertainer, housekeeper, organizer, cheerleader, moral guider, security guard, etc. He knows that you are a good mom.

There is a famous story about how Jesus reacted to little children. You know, the one displayed in the paintings of Jesus with multitudes of serene children sitting on his lap. I think an artist should create a more realistic version of this scene, in which children race in circles around Jesus’ legs and shove each other over in order to sit in His lap first.

The real version, what we know for sure, is this:

“People were bringing little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.’ And he took the children in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them.” Mark 10:13-16

Simply put, God loves children and values taking the time to hold them and bless them. He considers children to be of so much worth that He even gets emotionally upset about a disregard for these little ones.

When you love your children, you engage in work that aligns with the heart of God. The long-term effects of your work are unparalleled. You bless ones who have open and tender hearts, who have the capacity to grow into men and women of strength and grace. You have influence.

I found this verse, which I now have posted on my kitchen cupboard.

“For the eyes of the Lord range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to Him.” 2 Chronicles 16:9a

As you serve your children, even when you feel weary or alone or of little value, the Lord strengthens you for your work.

God sees you chopping vegetables.

God sees you spraying stains.

God sees you picking up toys.

God sees you bandaging wounds.

God sees you teaching children to forgive each other.

God sees you raising up the next generation of men and women who will love Him and change the world. And that is a work of highest worth.

IMG_6906

Building a Life in My Foreign City: A New Year’s Resolution

Building a Life in My Foreign City: A New Year’s Resolution
Wheat Field Credit: Brooke Jacobson
Wheat Field
Photo Credit: Brooke Jacobson

I grew up in this beauty. I spent so much time in the sun and fields that my hair turned the golden color of ripened wheat. I loved the prairie, the fields, the wooded groves, the creeks, and the freedom of walking for miles without seeing another soul.

This is me in the middle of a wheat field, hoisting my little brother up for a photo
This is me in the middle of a wheat field, hoisting my little brother up for a photo

I noticed a few adults who had lived their childhoods on farms but had defected to the city when they were grown. I always judged them silently, viewing them as traitors. I never understood how they could leave the land and lifestyle that had raised them.

After college, I worked at a university campus, so it made sense to live in town. A few years later, I married a man who worked at a company in the same town, and it made sense for us to find a house there. A few years after that, we had kids. And it made sense to raise them… in town. I had always planned on raising farm kids, allowing them to experience hard work, cooperation with their family, caring for animals, and the need to trust in God when you deal with uncontrollable conditions such as weather. Developing town kids did not make my list of 10-year goals.

As if town life weren’t stretching enough, six months ago we landed in a city of roughly 24 million people, with a commitment to do life there through the next three years. Just visiting a city in our home country counted as culture shock for me; living in a cosmopolitan city in another country added even more hurdles. Having traveled to China twice previously, this particular city was the last place in this country that I would have chosen to live.

To clarify, I was not dragged here kicking and screaming. I chose to live here, and although I have a deep appreciation for agriculture, I understand that it would not be the right fit for me. I am happy to be in this city. We have been blessed with so many friends and opportunities here. It’s just that sometimes the place where we find ourselves is such a world away from what we know that it’s a bit of a shock.

Shanghai Cityscape Photo Credit: Brooke Jacobson
Shanghai Cityscape
Photo Credit: Brooke Jacobson

After staying here for our first five months, we visited our home country to celebrate Christmas with our families. The spoken phrase “Welcome home!” warmed my heart. When our three-week vacation ended and we returned to our new house, I asked my eldest where her home is. She declared without a minute’s hesitation that her home is in America.

The Land That I Love
The Land That I Love

I feel the same way.

But one of the thoughts that came to me over and over as we stayed with our families was “How do we make this new place homey?” Problem #1: our house is reminiscent of a hospital (think expansive and completely white). How do I turn this house into a home of refuge and peace? How do I stabilize my children and myself with a life-giving routine? What do I cut out to make time for the people who are important to me?

I suppose that the overarching question is this: How do we settle down and make our home in a place that is foreign, unfamiliar, and so far from the place I envisioned for myself when growing up?

Although we are far from being in exile, I am reminded of God’s words to His exiled people.

“This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: ‘Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.’” – Jeremiah 29:4-7, emphasis mine

This is the prelude to the often taken out of context verse, Jeremiah 29:11: “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’”

I imagine that I feel a little bit like these people may have felt, at least without the forced relocation. I’m in a new city far from home, trying to understand an indiscernible language, and navigating an unfamiliar culture. As I walk around, it’s painfully obvious that I don’t belong here. Transportation and shopping require effort and thoughtfulness, and to be honest, it’s exhausting.

The Bund Shanghai Skyline
The Bund
Shanghai Skyline

As the experience is similar, so God’s word to me is similar. In the midst of all of the change, I am called to bless this city. The settling down, the building a life, the seeking the good of the foreign city, the praying for this place to prosper is what opens our eyes to see the hope and the future that God has for us. We must not spend years, even just a few, biding time until we can leave a place, when we could instead make our home there and bless it.

So this is my new year’s resolution: to build a life here, in my foreign city.

I Love Shanghai

Our Seven-Year Journey, Perfectly Completed

Our Seven-Year Journey, Perfectly Completed

Seven years ago this November, I first stepped foot into this amazing country.

My first trip to the Great Wall of China.
My first trip to the Great Wall of China.

My husband led me on a whirlwind trip around Beijing. Every day for one week, I saw something new, I ate something new, I went somewhere new, and I met someone new. By the end of the week, I was one exhausted introvert.

To cap it all off, I got sick from hotpot on the last day of our trip. I puked in the hallway of a friend’s apartment on our last night in country and slept during the entire flight home. Our friend thought I would never come back to China again.

The number seven in the Bible signifies completion or perfection.

And here we are, seven years later, making our home in the Central Kingdom.

Seven-Year Anniversary to the Great Wall
Seven-Year Anniversary of my first visit to the Great Wall.

Life has changed in seven years. We have three kids. My youngest sister has graduated from high school AND college and has come to visit our new place. Much like the Great Wall itself, we have traveled a good, challenging, winding and beautiful road since my first arrival, and now we begin the next leg of our journey.

In the words of my daughter, here’s to “tons of adventures.”

Taking My Husband’s Life

Taking My Husband’s Life

Eight years ago today, I married this man.

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I am so ridiculously blessed.

That day in our small city was just like today in our expansive city: sunny, warm, a bit breezy. In a word, perfect.

Fast-forward six years. My husband and I were happy and content, raising three kids in a good town surrounded by amazing people that we love.

Then, over a year ago, Josh and I began talking in earnest about the possibility of moving to China. No concrete opportunity had presented itself, but his company was getting a new CEO and restructuring a bit, so it appeared that something could open up.

I was intrigued at the idea of a change but also extremely hesitant, for several reasons.

One day early in the summer, I got a babysitter for the kids and took my monthly required “retreat of rest”, as my supervisor called it. I walked through a local garden and spent some time talking with God. While there, I was reminded of a concept that I had lost hold of during the ups and downs of six years.

During high school, I attended a church where we watched videos featuring Ray Vander Laan. He had traveled the Middle East and connected Jewish culture with the life and teachings of Jesus. So much more about Jesus made sense when understood in context.

In one of the segments, Vander Laan explained the traditional process of betrothal. Of course, the process was intricate and the fathers of the woman and man were involved, but what struck me was the moment of the “ask”. The man took a cup of wine, drank from it, and offered it to the woman. This gesture was as if to say, “Here is my life and everything that it holds. Will you accept it?” If the woman drank from the cup, she essentially took the man’s life as her own. Whatever the “cup” of life held in store for them, they would take it together.

On that summer day a year and a half ago, I pondered what it meant to take my husband’s life. Not in a “bumping him off” sense (obviously!), but with the idea that the course of our lives would be one. Whatever he would be called to in the future, I would also be called to.

I couldn’t honestly say that Josh’s interest in China blindsided me. After all, he had studied Mandarin in Beijing for two years, we met at a picnic for new Chinese international students the summer that he returned, he talked about China all the time when we were dating, and for our one-year anniversary he took me to visit Beijing. I could not claim ignorance. I knew what I was getting into.

And yet, I had forgotten. I had forgotten that when I said, “I do”, I accepted his life. His course and direction would also be my course and direction.

Let me clarify. Josh is not the kind of man who would dictate that I bow at his feet and yield to his wishes. I knew before I married that I needed a husband who understood my calling and could encourage me in it. In fact, the second time that we visited China together, it was because I realized that even as a mother, I had to continue to grow personally and to keep my love for the nations alive. And so it was that Josh took time off and we brought our toddler and several college students to China for a month.

But the truth is that it’s hard sometimes to bend, to give a little or a lot, to live out the opportunity or dream of your spouse. Sometimes we ask the unvoiced question, “What about me?” I read a great book recently entitled Just How Married Do You Want to Be? by Jim and Sarah Sumner. They rightly noted that marriage is not a competition. Because you are ONE with your spouse, whatever success your spouse gains is your success as well.

China bride and groom

A while ago, we saw this bride and groom arrive to an apartment complex, preceded by shots of fireworks. I’m sure, like most of us, they felt full of anticipation, hopeful for their future together. Do any of us really get what it will mean, what it will cost us, to take on someone else’s life? Their successes, their failures, their dull days? Probably not. I think it’s the same for those of us who have given our lives to Jesus Christ. We don’t really get what it will mean, what it will cost us, to exchange our life plans for His plans. And yet, like marriage, this commitment sets us off on an unparalleled adventure. It’s totally worth it.

A friend asked me last week if I’m happy that we moved to Shanghai. I don’t know. However, I do know that I am happy to share this adventure with my husband. And because of that, there’s really no place I’d rather be.

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Happy anniversary, Josh. I love you lots! Isn’t it ironic that we married during a Chinese holiday? I guess God has a sense of humor…

Driving the Road Between the Ditches of Apathy and Fear

Driving the Road Between the Ditches of Apathy and Fear

My friend arrived into Shanghai last December, with her two daughters in tow, on the worst air quality day this city has ever seen. As she walked off the plane and into the airport, she thought, “What is that smell?” Soon, an unfamiliar taste filled her mouth and she began to feel small particles on her tongue. Instead of greeting her with flowers, her husband greeted her with facemasks.

Since my family relocated, I’ve swerved between the ditches of apathy and fear, specifically concerning food safety and air quality.

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I love the variety of food in this city. My family has tried at least one new dish or food per week. Some of the vegetables that I’ve eaten from the wet market taste straight out of the garden, not like the bland U.S. supermarket veggies. The fresh carrots have spoiled me already, and the tomatoes that make incredible pasta sauce took me by surprise. And they are cheap. Enough vegetables for my family for one week cost 60RMB, a little more than $10.

But the horror stories are everywhere. 30,000 tons of chicken feet, tainted by hydrogen peroxide, seized by the government last month. 53,000 children sickened in 2008 by powdered milk with the plastic melamine added – and that was Nestlé, a trusted brand. Children are annually checked for high amounts of lead in their bloodstreams, much of which comes from the dirt and gives people ample reason to wash their produce well. Even a well-known supermarket that caters to foreigners and upper middle-class locals is rumored to have sprayed their produce with Raid. And expats absolutely DO NOT consume the local milk or honey. The city water is clean… until it goes through the pipes to people’s residences. At that point, it could contain a mixture of bacteria and (more likely) heavy metals.

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As for the air quality, it has been clear and beautiful since we arrived. The consistent rain keeps the pollution at bay and we can open windows to bring in a nice breeze and the rich smell of flowering plants. My son has even noticed some planets shining in the clear night sky. Our compound hosts vibrant greenery and today, my son and I spotted this butterfly just outside our front door.

Then there is the rest of the story. In the winter, the weather patterns change and farmers burn their fields. Everyone has an app on their phones that monitors the official air quality. They check it every morning in the same way a person would check the weather in order to decide what to wear for the day but in this case, the question is, “Do I wear a facemask or not?” If the air quality index is 200+, most people send their kids to school with facemasks on. The day my friend arrived, Shanghai hit over 500. That same day in Beijing, the AQI was over 700, the point at which you can’t see your own hand fully extended in front of you.

Because of these issues, I’ve been thinking quite a bit about how to avoid both carelessness and paranoia.

You may live in a very different environment than I, and yet I have confidence that you have come across this dilemma at some point in your life.

Carelessness and paranoia, or more generally apathy and fear, are the attitude extremes. We are all given ample opportunities to respond to situations with one of these two attitudes.

Let me give you a sampling of some of these opportunities.

In raising our children.

In developing our marriages.

In building our careers.

In pursuing our studies.

In maintaining our health.

In addressing conflict.

In combatting injustice.

In stewarding our money.

Take a quick self-check.

Are you apathetic or fearful in raising your children?

Are you apathetic or fearful in developing your marriage?

Are you apathetic or fearful in building your career?

Are you apathetic or fearful in pursuing your studies?

Are you apathetic or fearful in maintaining your health?

Are you apathetic or fearful in addressing conflict?

Are you apathetic or fearful in combatting injustice?

Are you apathetic or fearful in stewarding your money?

Are you apathetic or fearful in some other area of your life?

Apathy.

The “I don’t care” attitude. Apathy lulls us to sleep like the tryptophan after a big Thanksgiving meal. All hell could break loose around us and yet we would be content to continue on as if we never knew. Better yet, we don’t even have to know that something should or could be different in this area of life. We can live in a false bubble. And if, by chance, that bubble should break, we can always blame the mess on someone else. After all, we never did anything. And the people we love are left questioning why we didn’t step in.

Fear.

The “Danger is lurking around every corner” attitude. Fear either paralyzes us or transforms us into living monsters. We are driven, compelled, or overwhelmed by fear. News, advertising, and even weather forecasts play on our fears, knowing that it will lure us into watching more, buying more, or tracking more. We begin to hover, control, panic, run, over-analyze, hoard, worry, or… the list goes on and on. We smother or wound people and then wonder why we have pushed them away.

Listen. Our apathy or our fear impacts people. It hurts people. To do life well, you and I must learn to spend our time driving the road between the ditches of apathy and fear.

The name of the road between apathy and fear is wisdom.

The portion of the Bible entitled “Proverbs”, aptly dubbed the “Book of Wisdom”, contains 31 chapters of one-sentence pithy sayings. Chapter 2 answers the question, “Where do I start to get wisdom?”

Proverbs 2:3-6

“…indeed, if you call out for insight

and cry aloud for understanding,

and if you look for it as for silver

and search for it as for hidden treasure,

then you will understand the fear [respect, awe] of the Lord

and find the knowledge of God.

For the Lord gives wisdom;

from His mouth come knowledge and understanding.

The Lord and wisdom are linked because when you are lacking something, you have to get it from somewhere outside of yourself. If you don’t have wisdom, you can’t work harder by yourself to produce it. If you desire to find wisdom, you will go to a person who can give it to you. It just so happens that the wisest, most just, fair, and right person is… God.

God does not respond to you with apathy. He cares about your life, He involves Himself in your world, and He loves you deeply even when you run away. He died in your place.

God does not respond to you with fear. He has confidence in His own power and strength, He sees all sides of every situation, and He brings justice to the oppressed. He crushed sin and death when He came to life from the dead.

In order to learn wisdom, you must come close to the God who shows neither apathy nor fear. When you understand, with all of your being, how He responds to you with love and justice, you will begin to live wisely also.

Practically speaking, if you lean toward apathy or fear, try reading one chapter of Proverbs a day. This crazy book covers everything from nagging wives to the value of children to how to take criticism to having integrity in business.

My personal October challenge is to read one chapter of Proverbs each day. Will you join me? Let’s do life well.

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If you are curious about our response to the environmental challenges in Shanghai, read on.

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We buy this water and have it delivered to our house. It’s not as high-end as buying a filter for your sink faucet but it’s a middle-of-the-road solution that is very common here. We take brush our teeth with the tap water and take showers and baths in it as well.

IMG_5089   Asahi milk

Most foreigners drink shelf-stable UHT milk and cream. I tried the milk and immediately had to get the taste out of my mouth, so we’ve landed on this fresh milk imported from Japan.

Shanghai boasts several semi-organic food delivery websites that cater to foreigners. We buy our meat and milk from there. I will continue to get most of our fruits and vegetables at the local wet market. Many people I know in the States are also concerned about the additives that come along with their food and produce, so that aspect of food safety is not new.

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I use this spray and the drinking water to wash food that we will eat raw and unpeeled. We peel as much produce as possible. However, when my sweet vegetable lady hands my kids carrots that she just peeled with her antiquated rusty knife, I won’t blink an eye. People are just more important than worrying about contaminants.

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We invested in air purifiers for our home. They will likely run constantly in December and January. While we can, we will leave the windows wide open.

vogmask photo

We will be buying one of these vogmasks, or something similar, for each of our family members. They look a bit like gas masks, which is unnerving, but they are high quality and will protect our kids’ lungs.

In essence, we are actively planning for what we can while enjoying the really great aspects of this experience overseas. We will face challenges, but we will not be anxious about what we encounter, knowing that the God who brought us here will take care of us here.

Finding Hope

Finding Hope

My heart is heavy. Between Ferguson, world upheaval, ebola, friends back home who have desperately prayed for their child’s life, and others who are wondering “why” about their situation… there is so much struggle. So much pain.

I have several posts in mind about our journey to Asia, but I want to write about the things that matter, about the things that are hitting deep. My words will not do justice to what I feel and think at the moment, but here is my feeble attempt.

 mother child necklace

This is my mother and child necklace, with a birthstone for each of my four children. As my kids and I walk the streets of Shanghai, bystanders ask “San ge?” incredulously. Three of them? All yours?

Yes! I will gladly claim all three of my kids, and yet we are missing one. Our first.

I was eight weeks pregnant, expectant and joyful, waiting to tell our families until my first doctor’s appointment. Josh and I went out to a movie for my birthday and got to bed late. That night, I awoke to massive cramps and bleeding. I remember sitting in the bathroom, sobbing as I realized what was happening, while Josh, unable to help me, tried to get some sleep.

The calls to our families the next morning were bittersweet. “I was pregnant… but the baby died.” My mom gave me good solace and wisdom, saying, “Never say that you lost the baby. It’s not your fault.”

Josh and I bonded in this, our first big challenge as a married couple. We grieved, we wept, we loved a child that we never held. Even now I wish that I could have seen that baby for a moment and told her that I loved her.

In the midst of the doctor’s appointments that day, the tears and sense of deep loss, God gave us hope. I can’t explain it. There was no good answer to the question, “Why?” There were rational explanations, physiological explanations, but no explanation to satisfy the ache.

And yet, I had hope. It was not a peace per say, or a resignation to reality. It was an expectation for the future and an assurance of God’s goodness. I knew that something beautiful could, and would, grow out of the ashes.

After all, this is what Jesus Christ came for. The prophet Isaiah describes Jesus: “The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion – to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.”

Miscarriages in particular are awkward because there is little public space to grieve. There is no funeral and few people share this private experience with others. But Josh and I chose to make room for remembering. We named our baby Xiwang (Hope). Josh bought my necklace with her birthstone. We would not pretend it didn’t happen or that it wasn’t painful, but we would remember and expect God’s goodness.

hope plaque

My dear friends throughout the world, much of what you are going through is significantly harder than my experience. I wish I could sit down with you face to face, listen to you, and cry with you. You are courageous, and you are my heroes. I don’t have platitudes for you because nice words will not satisfy your ache. As my friend and colleague Rick Mattson says, evil is not a respecter of persons. We live in a battlefield where there is disease, death, hatred, and it hits all of us in different ways whether we have been “good” or “bad”. No one is exempt. No, what you are going through or what your loved one is going through is NOT fair. Satan doesn’t care about fairness. He is not just.

So where is hope? The Bible speaks frequently of suffering and hope linked together. If you are in a place of hurt, I ask God to fill you with hope. He loves to give us good gifts like that. Psalms 42 and 43 are raw songs of grief and hope. I wish for you, like the author/s of these psalms, the space to grieve, to be honest, to remember what God has done for you, and to renew your trust in Him. Know that Jesus Christ has felt EVERYTHING that you are feeling and is not a stranger to suffering. May something beautiful grow out of your ashes.

Although we are in the battle, the war has already been won. God’s kingdom has broken through into the world through Jesus. Evil and injustice will be eradicated when Christ returns. Some days, I just long for Christ to come and set things right, for tears and pain to be wiped away.

In the meantime, those of us who are followers of Jesus Christ get to be His ambassadors to bring hope into the world, to give folks a little taste of what the fullness of God’s kingdom will be like.

If you are a Christian reading this, who is God asking you to bring hope to today? It may be your own child. It may be your spouse. It may be a friend. It may be someone you’ve never met. It may be an entire people group. You can’t be everything to everyone, but you can make a difference for someone. Be their financial contributor. Be their cheerleader. Be their safe place. Be their prayer warrior. Be their advocate.

Final words: “May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by His grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word.” 2 Thessalonians 2:16-17

11 Ways That Your Freshman Year of College is Like Being a First-Time Expat

11 Ways That Your Freshman Year of College is Like Being a First-Time Expat

After being a university student for four years and then working with InterVarsity for the next eleven years, I still live according to the rhythms of college life. So naturally, I connect experiences as a newbie expat with the experiences of a typical newbie college student.

 

1. You don’t know where anything is except for your room/house/apartment.

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Welcome to your new campus or country! Find an exploration buddy and work outward from your location in concentric circles.

Don’t worry about wandering around with campus map or iPhone in hand. Everyone else who was a newbie did the same thing. Residents might laugh at you and mutter “Freshman!” or “LaoWai!”, but that’s better than getting lost.

The good news: wherever you wander, you can always find your way home.

 

2. You buy expensive food because the store/restaurant/cafeteria is closest to you and that’s the only place you know of.

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Yes, you do buy that tiny $3 bag of chips and that $1 chocolate chip cookie. How could you not when the C-store is in your residence hall and driving to the nearest gas station would require you to lose your sweet parking spot? The cafeteria offers lots of good food fast, and you have a meal plan, so you don’t even see the money leaving your fingers.

In the States, I would reject Starbucks in favor of my local coffee shop. Here, while we lived in our transition apartment for two weeks, I gladly waltzed over to the expensive Starbucks EVERY DAY because it was nearby and familiar.

In time, I’ll be going to the local wet market for vegetables and will probably turn into a tea-drinker. And you, incoming freshman, will eventually find the grocery store and figure out how to cook for yourself. Noodles may not be as tasty as the cafeteria food, but it’s a whole lot more economical.

 

3. You make do with what you have.

 supplies photo

This is my only knife. My only frying pan. My only cutting board.

Sure, there’s a bunch of stuff coming in the air freight shipment, but that’s stuck at customs for four weeks until we get our residence permit. The frying pan is the only one of these items that we brought in our luggage from the States. To conserve space in the luggage, we put the kids’ stuffed animals inside (fried horse, blue monkey, or pink elephant, anyone?).

In a dorm room, you don’t even have SPACE to get a whole set of dishes. So you use the one cup that you got from a student org the day before classes started. I literally made mac and cheese in a cup for my entire first year of college because, aside from a spoon, that’s the only dish I had.

And you know what? Living simply and being inventive is good for us. It makes us grateful.

 

4. You willingly participate in the shuffle of fast friend-finding.

 Asher and Jackson hug

The university world and the expat world are both highly transitory. Most undergrads are around for 4-5 years (if they don’t transfer halfway through). Many expats have contracts for 3-5 years.

This means that lots of people come and go, affording ample opportunities to find friends who are also searching for new friends. In the hunt to gain close friends, many people will spend time with whoever they can. After all, “beggars can’t be choosers”, as the saying goes. Your freshman year, the question of the day often becomes, “Who will I eat lunch with???” And the highlight of the day is having someone ask you first if you would catch a meal with them.

By the time the dust settles after your first 4-6 weeks, you discover that you have some real gems that stick with you for the rest of your life and that you may also have a few folks you’ll eventually drift from. And that’s okay. Every person is a blessing.

 

5. You take comfort in connecting with people who know your background.

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One of the greatest elements of the university and of living overseas is the diversity. Thousands or millions of people with unique cultures and worldviews give you the opportunity to grow. At the same time, familiarity gives some foundation in the midst of change.

I’m a farm girl. As a freshman, it didn’t take me long to find every true farm kid who lived on my floor. Bonus points if they lived West River. They “got” my values and my way of life.

I’m an American. As much as I love diversity, it brings peace to have some people around who can give a fairly close guess about what I really meant when I said or did something. Speaking the same language is huge, too. And hey, I’m actually living West River again! Thank you, Puxi!

We can push ourselves to avoid those like us, or we can be tempted to insulate ourselves within a homogenous community. Don’t fall into either ditch. Enjoy the gift of knowing people who “get” you, and make the effort to love and learn from people who are different from yourself.

 

6. You rely on people who are happy (or paid) to help you.

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In the university world, these people are the admissions ambassadors, the RAs/CAs, Greek brothers or sisters, and whatever kind-hearted upperclassmen take pity on you.

They are great go-tos for questions like, “How do I buy books and still have money for food?” or “What groups can I get involved in?” or “Where do I pay my tuition fee?” or “Is it worth skipping Spanish 101 and going straight to 102?” or “When my roommate said (or did)… what WAS that?”

Overseas, these people are your company’s local employees, relocation agents, and whatever experienced expats take pity on you.

They are great go-tos for questions like, “Where can I buy milk that’s safe for my kids to drink?”, “How do I hire a helper for the house?”, “How do I get a cell phone plan?”, “What kind of moped should I get?” or “When the local on the street yelled at me, what WAS that?”

These people, especially the happy and unpaid ones, are priceless. Thank them profusely and become that kind of person for someone after you.

 

7. You discover ways to develop your spiritual life.

 Chaya praying

The statistics are miserable. It’s often said that 60-80% of kids who grow up in church in the U.S. will walk away from their faith in college. It makes sense. Maybe they’ve gone to church for years and were bored out of their minds, or they had a terrifying experience one time and will never go back. Or maybe they just don’t care and get busy doing other things.

On the flip side, the university can be one of the absolute best places for up-and-coming adults to explore or strengthen their faith. Everyone is trying to figure out their life’s purpose, their strengths and personality, and what really matters to them. As a freshman, you walk in with lots of questions that need answers.

In fact, ANY life transition is a good time to seek God and find answers.

When I stepped foot on campus, one of the first things I did was to check out some Christian ministries. It was there that I found my life-long friends and grew in love for God and for people, not to mention in leadership skills. And they are so accessible. I’ve met dozens of students who knew little to nothing about Jesus when they came to campus, only to find out that their Christian friends were smart and really fun! And then they discovered that Jesus wasn’t just a good teacher, but is God, cares about them and the world, and is worth giving their lives to.

A couple weeks ago, I met a really great lady from Singapore. She told me that when she came to this city, her faith was pretty flat, but after joining an international church, her faith in Jesus Christ has come alive.

I expect the same for me and for you. Our understanding of God will grow and flourish as we seek Him in a new place.

 

8. You take risks you wouldn’t normally take.

 window washers

See the black dots in the middle right of the skyscraper? Those are people washing the windows!

Within my first two weeks on campus, I met dozens of new people. One upperclassmen guy, after meeting me once, called me (on my dorm room landline – gasp – so outdated!) and asked if I wanted to go with a group of mostly upperclassmen to a city 50 miles away, at night, to play laser tag. “Of course!” flew out of my mouth without hesitation. Complete strangers, the dark of night, in their vehicle, no cell phone, no escape plan… sounds like a great idea!

Within my couple weeks in Shanghai, a friend invited me to get a pedicure with her. Seems fairly simple. Except that it meant meeting her there, which meant finding transportation. Jump in a taxi with no Mandarin language skill, tell the driver where to go in toneless Mandarin, sit back for twenty minutes and trust that he knows what I said, answer all of his questions with a “yes” (no idea what he asked me), tell the driver where to stop without knowing where the spa actually is, and try to avoid getting yelled at by said driver… sounds like a great idea!

And both turned out well. Some risks are worth taking, especially if you make great friends out of the deal.

 

9. You get homesick.

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Yep, I had my first cry session this week. My daughter got an ear infection and woke up screaming in the middle of the night. We made it to the clinic in the morning, but before we left Chaya said, “I wish we lived in an apartment instead of this house” and I thought, “Me too!” A lady showed up at our patio door with her cousin in tow, who wanted to be our ayi (house helper / nanny), and I tried to gesture that my daughter was sick. Said good-bye to them, after the lady assured me that her cousin was an amazing ayi and I was told to call her to let her know if she is hired, and off we went. I had to get all three kids home in a downpour. I banged my son’s head on the taxi door trying to get him out of the rain, and Chaya wailed because she thought we were leaving her behind at the clinic with some woman she’d never met.

We got home, I cried, and I literally just wanted to call my mom.

What’s that? You’d never just want to call your parents? Ha! Just wait until your first semester.

When I was a freshman, I thought I needed to be strong, so I called home about once a month. Probably not the best idea. However, I do remember forging a note mid-October, in which I cried out to God that I had no idea why I was in college because it was lonely and I had no purpose there.

In college and overseas, you miss some of the events that happen at home. You might find out that your dog died a week ago or that your family went on a vacation without you. It’s tough to be away. And it’s okay to grieve.

Thankfully, rainbows show up after the rain. By my second semester, I had a place and a purpose. My four years at the university remain one of my favorite periods of my life so far. And it WILL be the same overseas. Eventually, I will be able to say that these three years remain one of my favorite seasons of life.

 

10. You study hard.

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University, Day 1. The easy day. You get your syllabus, which lists every single project due throughout the entire semester. And you return to your room in freak-out mode.

You try to learn equations that kick your butt. You memorize a map of France only to begin your quiz and discover that you have to DRAW the river before you label it. You form study groups, go to study sessions, find your regular spot in the study room.

Overseas, Day 1. You are half asleep from jet lag, forcing yourself to stay awake as long as possible, manage to order food at some restaurant, go upstairs to use the toilet and discover that you have no idea how to use a squatty potty AND you didn’t bring your own toilet paper with you.

You begin to learn a new language. You try to cross the street with three children without getting smashed by a truck. You observe people and start to discern if that person acted like that because it’s normal in this culture, or if it’s just them.

Your new lessons may not get easier, but you’ll find a rhythm to your studies. And hopefully you will be a lot smarter in the end.

 

11. You make some mistakes.

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We went to a jiaozi restaurant near our house this week. While my husband ordered, this guy who had finished his meal came over and observed. After Josh had completed the order, this guy started smirking and shaking his head. He shook his head and smirked all the way out the door. He even shook his head outside as he peered back in at us! I felt embarrassed, and I didn’t even know what I was supposed to be embarrassed about.

In college, I dated a guy that I liked as a friend but wasn’t really into romantically. I felt that I should date him because he was a good guy. It made sense, but it didn’t turn out well. We both hurt each other and I ended up calling it off. Dating him was a bad idea in the first place and even now, I wish I could undo that segment of my time in college.

This is life. We do things not-the-right-way, or we unintentionally (or intentionally) hurt people, we say the wrong thing, we do something in a time that’s not right… or we do something we never should have done at all. 

One of the reasons we moved overseas is because our kids need to see us receive grace. They need to see us accept undeserved favor from each other and from God. Because we are going to fail. And when we do, we can say “I’m such a terrible person” or we can say, “I’m good because I’m not as bad as that other guy.”

OR we can say, “I’m a broken person in need of Someone who can give me grace.” We can take grace from Jesus Christ and clutch it tight, like the gift that we’ve been asking for our whole lives. We can let Him put us back together and make us new.

So, whether you’re entering college for the first time or entering any new stage of life, may you accept grace and take delight in your journey.

 

“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” – Ephesians 2:8-10