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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Eight years ago today, I married this man.
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.
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.
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…
Of course, one of the first items on our agenda after arriving in Shanghai was to scope out a supermarket. Carrefour, being the most familiar from our other trips here, became the store of choice.
Side note: Everyone who relocates with kids needs an “Ama” to come with them – someone who can freely play the tourist without feeling weird about it, makes the whole process feel like a vacation, takes tons of photos, and watches the kids on the side. Ama brings excitement to the transition.
We loved Carrefour, we will go there frequently I’m sure, and below are photos that Ama took of some of the most unusual (to us!) items in the grocery department.
Fellow Americans, you may want to finish your meal before continuing. Enjoy!
Two ladies walked by us, snickering and pointing, while Ama took this last photo. Yes, ladies, we are gawking at normal grocery store offerings. We will just laugh at ourselves along with you!
So then we ate at a beef and noodle restaurant. No seafood or pork for us, at least not that day!
If you didn’t see it yet, you can read Part 1 of this story.
Wednesday 7:30pm Pacific Time.
Los Angeles to Chicago.
Flight 3 of 4.
Abigail thankfully fell asleep right away and snoozed the entire four hours. Mid-flight, Tammy came to me, saying that Asher’s legs were itching and that he was having a hard time sleeping. I realized that Asher was half crying, half screaming. I switched spots with Tammy with the plan to help Asher sleep.
One exhausted, itchy three-year-old. One tired, stressed out mama. This was not a good concoction. Asher would not stop cry-screaming no matter what I did or said, and the more he cry-screamed in the dark, quiet airplane, the angrier and more stressed out I became. At one point, I literally wanted to shake him. I held myself back but hissed forcefully into his ear, “Stop crying and go to sleep!” Not my finest mommy moment.
Even with that, Asher pressed into me and drifted off as I rocked him. I am often thankful that God is not like me. He does not get tired or stressed.
Lord, forgive me and make me like You. Sometimes I am so far off.
When my kids cry-scream externally, God is not anxious about what judgmental thoughts other passengers or bystanders might bear toward my children or me. He gives grace to my kids, holds them closely, and speaks to them gently. He has compassion on them, and He is good.
Dear friends, when you or I cry-scream internally because we feel weary or because life is beyond our control, God does not flip out or react harshly. He gives grace to us, holds us closely, and speaks to us gently. He has compassion on us, and He is good.
May we press into God and rest in Him, receiving His grace so we can give grace to others.
Our family finally arrived in Chicago (with Chaya falling asleep standing up, but Asher and Abigail wide awake and excited to run around!) and spent four short hours in actual beds at a nearby hotel.
Ironically, it took us 20 hours to fly from Sioux Falls to Chicago, when we could have driven there in nine.
Thursday 10:30am Central Time.
Chicago to Shanghai.
Flight 4 of 4.
The kids did amazing well on the 14-hour flight. They enjoyed the toys and snacks sent along by their Nana and two of their aunts. Chaya beamed with excitement about being able to walk around on the big plane. Little things were tough but manageable, like not having any kid meals because of our last-minute rebooking. The only things Abigail ate were two buns.
Friday 3:00pm Shanghai Time.
Friday 2:00am Central Time.
Tired and a bit bedraggled, we stepped foot in Shanghai. We made it to our temporary apartment roughly 48 hours after we started our trek.
Overall, all three of the kids traveled incredibly well. Josh and I were so proud of their adaptability and willingness to step up to help out. Tammy was a lifesaver, with the kids and with luggage. And Josh’s leadership made everything go as smoothly as possible within our given context. I’m just glad I didn’t have to rebook our flights!
Apart from the obvious mechanical problem, I don’t know why we were diverted from China for an extra day. For now, we’ll just chalk it up to a good lesson in flexibility, for the kids and the grownups alike.
And, Asher and I had fun together on the van ride through Shanghai. I love you, Asher! I’m so glad to be your mom. Thank you for giving me grace even when I am ungracious.
“Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He will not grow tired or weary, and His understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.” – Isaiah 40:28-29
In the spirit of Gilligan’s Island:
Just sit right back and you’ll hear a tale,
A tale of a fateful trip…
Six passengers took flight that day
For a 24-hour tour,
A 24-hour tour.
You can hear the original song here.
We got up Wednesday at 4am, with the intent of going from South Dakota to Shanghai for a 3-year stint with my husband’s job. I have no photo because you don’t want to see what we all looked like at 4am.
Wednesday 6:30am Central Time.
Sioux Falls to Denver.
Flight 1 of 3.
The kids were quite excited. Chaya claimed the seat next to Ama (the kids’ “grandma” term for my stepmom Tammy), and Asher chose to sit by me. Abigail kept looking out the window to see the land, the sky, and the clouds.
I breathed a sigh of relief that we got all of our checked bags taken care of, and got everyone and everything through security and onto the plane. I was thankful that we wouldn’t have to go through that process again.
Wednesday 10:30am Mountain Time.
Denver to Los Angeles.
Flight 2 of 3.
Asher and Abigail enjoyed the surroundings while waiting to board the plane.
This flight was a bit longer than the first, but aside from some earaches upon landing, the flight was great.
Wednesday 1:30pm Pacific Time.
Los Angeles to Shanghai… or not?
Flight 3 of 3.
We boarded the aircraft, the new Boeing Dreamliner. Josh, my ever-techy husband, couldn’t wait to use the personal screens and option of choosing movies. The kids promptly began watching Rio 2, which they had heard about from Josh for days beforehand.
Halfway into the kids’ movie, we realized that we were still sitting at the gate. The pilot announced, “I’m sorry, but the mechanical crew has found an issue with a hydraulic line. They will take the aircraft to the hangar where they have more tools available to fix it. We need all of you to deboard the plane and wait at the gate for further instructions.”
The crew hoped that we would be able to board another plane around 5pm and leave for Shanghai the same day.
The kids found sweet spots to sleep and to play at LAX while we waited, and in the midst of their playing, I got the phone call from Josh. “Can you get back here right away? Fast? Our flight is cancelled. We need to get our luggage from baggage claim and rebook.”
While we quickly gathered our belongings and headed to baggage claim, Josh rebooked over the phone. He told the person on the other side, “Yeah, that should work fine,” then turned to me and explained, “We will check back in here, go through security again, and leave for Chicago tonight. We’ll arrive around 1am and take the flight to Shanghai in the morning.”
My heart sank.
Another flight. In the wrong direction. Late at night. With three kids.
Thank God we had another adult with us.
So we did it. We hauled all of our luggage around, had Chaya pull her own suitcase and her backpack laden with toys, rushed through security, and found ourselves at the same gate in LAX that we had just left.
Read the rest of the story, Roundabout Route, Part 2.