The Sophomore Slump

The Sophomore Slump

The sophomore slump.

 

I came up with that term after working for several years with university students. Most of the students I interacted with had a fantastic freshman year, full of intense growth and exciting experiences. Although they began their sophomore year with anticipation, most became discontent, disillusioned, and critical. Of course, there were always exceptions, but the trend was so great and so terrible that it deserved a name.

 

This summer closed the books on our second year of living overseas as a family. In the late winter, I had encountered my first personal sophomore slump. Just as I had never identified exactly what triggered university students to slip into it, I have yet to completely rationalize why and how my despondency came.

 

I have no doubt that this is a common experience among people living abroad, and whether it comes in their first, second, or tenth years makes little difference. Even some of you who don’t live overseas may have experienced or may be experiencing a deep downturn. For that reason, I’ll write a bit about what the slump looked like for me.

 

Crying. Lots of tears. For three months, from January through March, I cried every single time I went on a date with my husband. Once a week for three months. Can you imagine? My poor husband. We would be at a restaurant when I would break down, and because staring is accepted as normal in this culture, people would start looking. And because it’s rude to blow your nose in this culture, I would dab at my nose with dozens of tissues, while all of the people would stare even more at this strange foreign lady who had tears streaming down her face.

 

In addition to the tears, I became withdrawn, critical, negative, and decidedly lacking in joy. Even things that would become the greatest blessings to me in the spring began for me with no emotion. A friend had asked me about the beginning of something new, “Are you excited about this starting this week?” I shot back a quick reply. “No. I’m not excited about anything. But it will be good.”

 

What I can say for certain about those three months is that I felt as if I were drowning in purposelessness. And comparison wasn’t helping me feel any better. I knew coming in that I would have six months of resting and waiting to see what it was that I was supposed to be doing in this place while my husband was working. But after a year and a half of learning humility and patience, I was done. I found it incredibly stretching and difficult to have such a wide background in public speaking, administration and event planning, advising and supervising, leading and facilitating, and to now be known solely as the mother of three children. I wanted to be happy and thankful for the gift of time to work at home with my kids. While I had always viewed being a wife and mother as one of the highest callings, I couldn’t suppress the sense that there was something additional that I was made for and wanted to do. But I didn’t know what it was, and I didn’t want to add more activities to my life just to fill the void.

 

At the same time, I felt alone. We were contemplating a change of schools for the kids along with a potential change of homes, the house we lived in had problems that I needed to somehow address with our landlord by using my broken Mandarin, one child developed itchy eyes due to an unknown allergic reaction, and another child began wrestling with questions of what is real. At the time, all of these things were under my jurisdiction. All together, they overwhelmed me.

 

In the midst of that season, I had thoughts about my life that a person doesn’t dare to speak aloud. All I can say is that I am so thankful that I’ve been trained to reject those lies immediately and to replace them with truth.

 

Having come out on the other side of those months, I’m amazed at the grace I received in the midst of it. I learned some things that seem now like no-brainers, such as the fact that I have a husband who is wise and can help me with some things! A group of extraordinary women from several countries unknowingly influenced our decision to keep our kids in the same school, and that decision was confirmed quickly after we made it. I saw clearly some of the darkness in my own soul that affected my marriage, and I kicked it out. My children have grown in relational and emotional development, and I’ve savored the deep conversations that we’ve shared together.

 

I recently read a Psychology Junkie article from August 2, 2015 entitled How Each Myers-Briggs Type Reacts to Stress (And How to Help). While personality and temperament indictors do not dictate how a person lives, they can be helpful in understanding more about yourself and why you respond in the way you do. For me, this article stated what I experienced but would not have been able to put into words.

 

Here are some of the things, according to the article, that stress my personality type.

 

“Having to focus too much on sensory/concrete details” – check. Think laundry, housecleaning, cooking, and all of the tasks that consume a mother’s time.

 

“An overload of sensory stimulation or noise” – check. Think renovations next door that sound like a jackhammer in your living room from 9am to 6pm, and when going out to get some relief from that, there are always the 24 million people who call this city home.

 

“Interruptions” – check. What can I say? I’m a mom.

 

“Not enough alone time. Too much extraverting” – check. People in my house, people outside of my house, people everywhere.

 

“Lack of appreciation or understanding” – check. It’s getting better actually, but there’s not much affirmation by little ones for all the tiny things you accomplish for them each day.

 

“Unfamiliar environments with overwhelming amounts of details” – check. Moving to a new country will do it.

 

“Not having a clear direction” – check. I’m still waiting…

 

“Not being able to use their intuition or envision the future” – check.

 

“Having to focus too much on the present” – check.

 

Having a basic understanding of these stressors will hopefully enable me to take better care of myself in the future. I can find a place of quiet, I have a plan for alone time thanks to my husband, and I can let housework go sometimes so I can have space to dream.

 

The most important thing is that I know Someone who gives hope instead of despair and joy instead of mourning. And that Someone has not abandoned me.

 

I’m quite happy to say good-bye to year two because I’m planning to take into year three the things that I loved: my friends, my good conversations, my stronger marriage, my commitment to raising my children, and my joy.

 

And junior year is always better.

 

So long, sophomore slump.

How To Love Your Expat

How To Love Your Expat

I’m going to say this for my expat friends, those who have taken a job assignment overseas, so that they don’t have to say it for themselves. I am going to offer you, those left behind, some ways to show your long-term care for your friend or family member who lives abroad.

 

By no means an exhaustive list, the following seven items represent what has proven helpful in my life and in the lives of some other expats that I have spoken with on this subject.

 

  1. SPEAK POSITIVELY.

For many, this presents a formidable task. After all, the expat you know and love is the one who chose to move in the first place. Most of my friends and I agree that it is easier to be the person who leaves rather than the person left behind. Increased physical distance between you and the one that you care about can really hurt, especially when you have a strong connection.

 

But unless this aforementioned expat happens to be a senseless jerk, he or she also acutely feels the loss that accompanies residing far from loved ones. In spite of this, he or she had valid and compelling reasons for living overseas for a time.

 

I’m a believer in honesty. If it hurts, say so. Lovingly. And then, for the sake of the one you care about, grieve, heal, and forgive so that you can become a source of encouragement.

 

Get to the place where you can authentically celebrate when your expat is happy and authentically empathize when your expat is sad.

 

Actually, this is in your best interest. If you harbor bitterness or pain about your expat’s decision, those emotions will find a way to leak (or lash) out. An expat who encounters guilt trips from those at home will likely want to distance themselves from the negativity and hurt, resulting in further loss of relationship.

 

Your expat will encounter days or weeks when they feel that life is against them, or for that matter, their new country, or their new job, or their new school. There will likely be days when it seems that entire world is against them. Except for you. They will know that you are on their side.

 

Be that source of encouragement.

 

  1. ASK QUESTIONS.

Showing curiosity about the new environment and life of your expat can speak volumes.

 

A friend of mine once commented that grocery store clerks in his home country sometimes ask more questions about his life than those close to him do. I’m not sure why that is. Maybe many of us assume that people we love won’t change much over the course of six months to two years. Or maybe because of a lack of shared experiences, we don’t know what to ask.

 

Regardless, asking good questions is a must for growing strong relationships. Specific questions seems to be the most helpful, rather than, “How’s [insert country name]?

 

Here are several examples:

What is your social group like? Do you spend more time with foreigners or locals, and why?

What do you miss from your home country?

What are your favorite places in your host country?

How do you travel around your city or area?

How do you shop in your host country?

What surprises you about your host country?

What is your work like? How has your work style or environment changed?

What are the greatest joys for you in your host country?

What are the greatest challenges for you?

 

 

  1. FIGURE OUT THE TIME DIFFERENCE.

The time difference can be a huge barrier to communication, but it takes very little effort to memorize how many hours apart you are from your expat.

 

If you feel that you don’t have the mental or time capacity to think about things such as time zones, you could buy a small clock for yourself and set it according to the time zone in which your expat lives. I’ve even seen digital clocks with room for photos. You can place pictures of your overseas loved ones next to the clock that bears their current time.

 

Due to their global lifestyle and their care for people in their home country, your expat will be very conscious about the time difference. Your matched resolve in this area will demonstrate attentiveness and will promote communication.

 

  1. TAKE THE INITIATIVE.

Hopefully, your expat will take time to contact you frequently. Most expats expect to return to their home countries at some point, so they will desire to continue current relationships with folks back home, even while they live abroad.

 

The reality of life overseas is not always glamorous. Just like moving domestically, your expat will need to navigate a new job position, develop a social network from scratch, and organize all of the physical necessities to live in a new environment. Add to that a new culture (including unfamiliar worldviews, values, thought processes, and ways of living), new modes of transportation, new language, new foods, new climate. Even after months or years of living in that host country, taking the initiative to go outside for groceries or taking the initiative to meet up with a new friend can be exhausting. One major activity per day can max some people out. Often, an expat’s life is largely comprised of putting themselves out there.

 

That’s why you taking initiative in the relationship, you being the first one to call or text sometimes, is such a big deal. Most people enjoy two-way friendships anyway, but your initiative toward your expat can be one of the strongest signals that you continue to value and think about them. It also gives your expat a bit of a break from usually being the one to have to muster up the strength to act first.

 

You can be the one who keeps your expat updated on life back home. Few people in an expat’s home country will think about what the expat may or may not know regarding their family and friends. Expats will inevitably miss out on changes or big events, but you can find ways to help your expat feel included and to know in advance what is happening.

 

The skill of taking initiative is a prerequisite for the following three ways to love your expat.

 

  1. WRITE A LETTER or SEND A PACKAGE.

It’s a whole lot easier to send a text message, but everyone, especially children, love to open up a real hand-written letter once in a while. Flat letters can usually be sent directly to your expat’s address in their host country. Some companies will also forward flat letters to their overseas employees, which means that you only need to bear the cost of a letter sent domestically. You could include items such as stickers and photographs.

 

Packages can be more expensive and difficult to ensure delivery, but trust me when I say that opening a care package feels like Christmas. Things that are ordinary to you, but are difficult to find or expensive to buy in the host country, make great and easy treats to send overseas.

 

  1. CALL THEM.

Twenty years ago, it would have been insane to think of seeing your loved one’s face while they were standing on the other side of planet Earth. But now, technologies like FaceTime and Skype make it easier to talk to your friend virtually face-to-face than it is to write a letter to them. If you don’t want your expat to look at you while you talk, you can do a straight phone call with the same programs.

 

We have already tackled the issue of time differences, which could be a problem if you are thinking of calling someone in the middle of their night. But since you will buy a clock to keep track of it, that’s not a concern anymore.

 

Now the biggest hurdle to calling is mental. Let’s face it. We may not feel like we have time to call people who live near us, but we call them anyway because we have some sort of motivation or reason to make time for it. If you have the motivation to call your expat, then do it without wondering whether they have time to talk with you. It’s just like in your home country. If they are available, they will take the call. If not, they can call you back when they are free. You don’t need an appointment.

 

One of the best sounds is that of the familiar voice of someone you like, and you can provide that for your expat. With audio, your expat can hear the inflection, tone, and support behind your words.

 

  1. VISIT THEIR HOST COUNTRY.

Visiting your expat overseas is far and away the most tangible show of your commitment, for several reasons.

 

  1. No matter how much your expat explains to you about their life, you will not fully understand or care until you’ve witnessed it firsthand.
  2. History, your culture, your friends, and television, among other things, have likely formed your ideas of your expat’s host country. Some of your concepts will be spot on and some will be way off. Visiting will give you clarity about your expat’s new environment and what the real advantages and real concerns are in that country.
  3. You will share a common experience with your expat. Most friendships are based on shared experiences. After visiting, you will have fun adventure stories to reminisce about together. You will meet the friends who have become vital in your expat’s life. You will get a sense of how your expat has stayed the same and how they are changing. You will be able to connect sounds, colors, and smells with a place that your expat mentions… because you’ve been there.
  4. Your expat understands the cost of a visit, in terms of time, energy, and money. After all, your expat pays that cost every time they go back to visit you. The sacrifice you make to spend time with your friends or family overseas will not go unnoticed.

 

Many of you reading this have raised, trained, and invested in expats like myself. Thank you for giving us the confidence and freedom to take a risk. You are treasured and loved. I hope that you find joy in connecting with your expat in the days to come.

 

 

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.

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.”

Language Blunders Part 1

In an instant, my reputation as a mother shattered in the eyes of our ayi.

I’ve finally begun Mandarin lessons. This past week, I learned the word for juice. I sat at the kitchen table with my tutor and made a mental note that it sounded similar to the English word for juice.

Fast-forward one hour. I took the leftover apple cider out of the fridge to give to my kids and thought it might be fun for ayi to try some. I poured a small glass and offered it to her, saying in my slowly deliberate Mandarin, “This is apple juice,” which I hoped would be close enough to “cider” and she could figure it out from there.

And here begins our conversation, in which I became a terrible mother.

Note: This all happened in Mandarin, aside from my thoughts, and ayi’s Mandarin has been paraphrased for the reader’s understanding.

Ayi, pausing: “Jiu?”

My thoughts: “That sounds like what I just said, with better tone, and it’s close to juice. That must be it.”

Me: “Yes.”

Ayi: “I don’t drink that.”

My thoughts: “That’s so strange. Maybe she thinks it will mess up her digestion or something.”

I put her cider down and pour three small cups for my three children. As I warm it in the microwave, ayi turns from doing the dishes to watch me.

Ayi, very strongly: “They (the children) shouldn’t drink that.”

Me, reassuringly: “It’s okay. It’s okay.”

My thoughts, as ayi coldly turns back to the dishes: “What’s the deal? Maybe the Chinese don’t let their kids drink apple juice? There was that one fruit that she said they shouldn’t have too much of. Maybe it’s like that. Too much sugar? Bad for digestion?”

Me: “Just a little bit is okay for them.”

I give the cider to the kids, and then ayi turns to me again.

Ayi: “I can’t drink it because I have to drive my scooter to my other job.”

Me, horrified, as I realized the word she had used: “No, no, no! Not ‘JIU’!”

I quickly grab the bottle of juice out of the fridge: “This one!”

Ayi, after scrutinizing the label on the bottle: “Oh, ZHI!”

And then she smiled, realizing that I give apple juice to my little ones… not apple wine.

Welcome to the world of language, where a simple error can wreak havoc in real life conversations.

My husband and I shared a hearty laugh about this episode, partly because of ayi’s horror at my parenting and partly because of my embarrassment. As a child learning to speak, adults give us so much grace and patience. I think of one of my nephews who recently tried to say the lovely phrase, “Nana’s beach.” It came out sounding like something that I won’t write here. We laughed and enjoyed the moment, but we didn’t reprimand him or became angry because he accidentally blurted out something else. We expect that toddlers won’t get their words or pronunciations correct all the time, especially at first, and we listen carefully to understand what they try to say.

I wish that we adults would have the same grace for other adults and for ourselves when we learn a new language. I’m a big perfectionist. I don’t like to fail. I don’t like to be incorrect. I want to say something the right way the first time and every time after that. But it’s not possible.

While I desperately want Mandarin speakers to display patience toward my attempts to speak, the only person I can control is myself. So I hope to be patient toward students or friends I meet who are learning English, realizing that their trying means they actually care to communicate with me. And I want to give myself grace to know that I will fail linguistically but that I am free to try and to learn and to laugh at myself.

Oh, and ayi drank her cider and said it tasted delicious.

Taking My Husband’s Life

Taking My Husband’s Life

Eight years ago today, I married this man.

Spahr_0582

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…