12 Days Until China

It was back in December when I was at the “Behold the Lamb” Andrew Peterson concert (my favorite) when I heard Andrew speaking about God being glorified in us when we are weak and using us in great ways when we rely on Him for our strength to do mighty things. I remember being moved, even to tears. I remember typing it into my phone.

That was early December. This is January 19th. It didn’t hit me until yesterday as I was hurtling down the highway what that meant in the here and now. I immediately pulled out my phone and recorded a voice memo to keep the words clear, but it didn’t feel great.

It’s all very disappointing, really. 

I might not ever be good at Wanderlusting.

Hold onto your hats. I’m starting this off with incorrect grammar. I know Wanderlusting isn’t a word.

“Wow, you’re moving to China? That’s amazing! You’re getting to see the world!” I’ve been hearing it for months, and yeah, I get shivers of joy and excitement every single time. But until I wake up actually IN CHINA, there’s been a mountain load of preparation to do, and guess what, ladies and gentlemen: IT’S BEEN HARD and NOT AT ALL PEACEFUL.

I’d watched all the travel tip videos from “Hey Nadine” on YouTube, I’d ordered things on Amazon Prime that made no sense to anyone unless you were headed into Asia (a smog mask? yes, I’ll take one of those, oh and also some lovely outlet adapters, and don’t forget 6 bottles of hand sanitizer). I made lists and re-read all my China info and started seriously studying Mandarin. I’d studied hiking pictures for months looking for the perfect hiking clothes & boots, I freaked out over the cold and bought boxes of fleece and leggings and yet more fleece. (yes, I’m a Floridian moving to a province just a hop, skip, and a jump from Inner Mongolia, also known as the sub arctic. This should go well.)

I ordered boxes of shoes and jeans and a several parkas amid a peaceful time I like to call PARKAGATE where I actually FaceTimed a best friend AT MIDNIGHT to influence my choices and talk me out of my chaos and show her some problematic pockets right after I tripped on Parka #4 on my floor. I was literally swimming in parkas. “There are so many parkas in here, it could be the Parks and Rec department!” 

What I didn’t take into full account when I started all this is that traveling out of the country for 2-3 weeks is NOT the same as moving to another country for 6 months.

You’d THINK that would have been clear …………………………………… it wasn’t, Janet

There hit a moment when I texted a friend who is going to SFCV and arriving the same day as I am this nice calm message: “I’ve realized all those YouTubers that say how easy it is to move to another country are FULL OF LIES.” I was like: “I’m going to be one of those wanderlust bloggers who zips away with no cares!”

NOPE. 

Take the opposite of that, add in a lot of emotional crying, 2am wake ups to worry, piles of fleece and uncertainty, huge stress, endless “I AM CRAZY.” moments and you get me.

China, the World that is not like mine.

I love China. From the minute I sobbed out some goodbyes and cried for 2 hours flying back to some semblance of North America, I mourned ever leaving. Going back is one of the most thrilling and peaceful things I can think of. She’s like a home I haven’t known long. Which is odd, because she is nothing like mine.

I wrote out a list (all in Caps Lock at the time, because I feel things very passionately) that I thought might help people understand why a completely organized and independent  American woman might feel a bit thrown off if she’s also the poster child against change:

List of Things I’m Changing:

1. Changing Churches 2. Changing Jobs 3. Changing Bosses 4. Changing Countries
5. Changing Languages 6. Changing Currency 7. Changing Holidays 8. Changing phones and texting 9. Changing Freedom & Rules 10. Changing Cultures 11. Changing Clothes and Climates 12. Changing time zones 13. Changing transportation 14. Changing availability to be present 15. Changing lives 16. Changing all familiar for the unknown.

It’s enough to make one dizzy. Or you know, an emotional wreck. It’s been stress and chaos, anxiety and tears and days so full I get excited about a 15 minute break to stare at the blue sky. It hasn’t been peaceful and it hasn’t been easy. There’s just been SO much to get done and not a lot of time to do it. As I speak, I stare at a bed full of things I need to have packed in 11 days, and it feels overwhelming, and I don’t know how I’ll do it all.

Wanderlust, make room for weakness.

Wow, even that header looks like disappointment.

The most common question I get when talking about China is “Why?”. To be fair, it’s a valid question. Why would I leave my perfect, calm, privileged, American, well-ordered yet impulsive life with my own company and dream job, surrounded by great friends and all my family and a wonderful church to a country I can’t speak the language and only know a few people in?

The answer is: because God is calling me, and I’d give up all of this to follow that call. 

Yet this has NOT been an easy transition for me. I assumed this 2nd trip to China would be identical in stress and preparation (with more packing) to the first trip. It is not. 

My first trip to China was just a few short weeks, and although there were tearful goodbyes, and yes, I left my parents with “See You in Heaven” letters plus my formal written will and funeral plans (just in case my plane was shot down), I knew I’d be probably be back home soon. But this time, I’m leaving everything and everyone for 6 months. You don’t have to tell me that a lot can happen in 6 months (or 6 days). I’ve probably even thought of it already during my 2am wake up calls from 1-800-Insomnia-You-Are-The-Worst. 

It’s surprised me how much this hasn’t been easy for me and how much I haven’t measured up to my own traveler stereotype of “travel the world, buy the ticket and go!”.

It’s surprised me how much I didn’t like that I wasn’t immediately good at packing up my entire life and moving it to another country for half a year. (insert eye roll) I didn’t like how much I felt like I wasn’t being enough, doing enough, and how I was failing all the strong women who had gone before me. I remember crying one night out of sheer stress and saying “All I want is to pack everything into one go-bag like Liz Bacon or The Archibald Project and just BE THERE!”

I didn’t like that I didn’t project the perfect image, and I didn’t like that I knew it. 
I didn’t like that my weakness was on display instead of my own strength.

Yesterday? Barreling down the highway? I thought of that time Andrew Peterson talked about God’s greatness in our weakness, and I thought about how my weakness HAD been on display (private or public!) but how I’d missed the opportunity to praise Him for making me weak and openly relying on Him for my power instead of being so dang frustrated that I wasn’t God Almighty.

The High Road means nothing if Jesus Isn’t on it.

Our American culture tells us to be strong all the dang time, so I guess I’m not surprised that we’ve equated public bravery with greater worth than a humble “I’m not the One who should be glorified right now.” Honestly even typing up this article feels a little bitter and a little like loss, a little like you’ll know more about me when you see that perfect picture of me standing on a Chinese street and think “Wow, she’s really in China.”.

Thank God that Jesus is in the business of calling us to serve and build His kingdom instead of our own. 

Even though I’d tried so hard to be the perfect traveler with no cares or worries, I’d simply pack it all into one bag, zip away to travel and never be sick!  Oh, and hike the Great Wall like you’ve been working out and have angels’ wings lifting up the soles of your brand new tennis shoes that fit you perfectly (these don’t exist. I’ve looked)! Even though I’d tried so hard to be so strong when emotionally and mentally I was just DONE, God had a bigger purpose in allowing me to realize my weakness, and I’m so glad He did.

Why would we choose frustration and that impossible Wanderlust image and loneliness when we could have Jesus and all His comfort that He will be who we cannot be? That He will teach us and guide us in all the ways that we fail? And that He will USE our proclaimed weakness to make us strong in Him, and bring him glory?

The choice is easy when you remember that when He calls us to lay it down, He doesn’t need us to pick any of it back up again. His burden is light upon us, and His care for us runs deeper and longer and wider; He will not leave us or forsake us when we are weak.

We can rest and sleep and walk an uncertain road for the next half a year and all the rest of our years knowing that our Sovereign God is working it all out for our good, and we don’t need to look good while doing it, we just need to point to the King worth praising.

The part where I wrap it all up because it’s 2am.

There are two things that drove this all home to me in the past 48 hours:

The first is this paragraph from my “Hope When It Hurts” devotional by Wetherell & Walton: “There is only one God of all comfort, and He does not sleep in your house or park next to you outside your church. He is Jesus. We cannot find true and lasting comfort in anyone but Him, and when He is all we have left to turn to, we discover He should have been the first one we turned to. By removing the earthly comfort of those around us, the Lord moves us in one of two directions: toward a deeper intimacy with our Savior, or toward the unveiling of an unrepentant heart – one which ultimately desires comfort more than Christ. So if you feel alone in your suffering, thank God that He loves you enough to allow this time in your life to draw you nearer to Him.” 

and the second is this from Melanie Shankle’s newest book “Church of the Small Things”: “God has a script written for each and every one of us, no matter who we are or what we’ve done or how ill-equipped for the adventure we feel. 

We are all climbing our own versions of Mount Everest and have no idea if our oxygen will last or if an avalanche will come, but God does. We can never underestimate the grace and the strength He will give us for whatever He is calling us to do and whatever challenges we’ll face. What He has planned for us is higher and deeper than anything we could ever hope to achieve on our own. 

It’s too much. It’s too much for us to do in our own strength because we will mess it up, but He knows that and uses us anyway. It’s never about creating or doing or being something that’s perfect. It’s not about having all the right answers. It’s about being His. It’s knowing that He who has called us is faithful. 

I’ve always loved this verse: “He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.” (Colossians 1:17). Notice how clear it is that we’re NOT the ones who are supposed to hold everything together? God is holding it all. He is before it all. He uses the sinners and the weak and the ordinary things that this world views as broken and hopeless. But in Him all those things come together and enable us to do things we never dreamed possible.” 

Do things we never dreamed possible, indeed.

“But He (God) said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
– 2 Corinthians 12:9-10

This week I found my rest in the reminder that the Sovereign God Who is calling me back to China doesn’t need my own strength, instead He delights in me resting in His.

And so I gratefully lay down my wanderlust hat, tie on my non-angelic shoes, strap on my 25lb gear backpack, and walk humbly and gratefully onto my China bound plane in just 12 days. He doesn’t call me to look like Instagram, He calls me to look like Jesus.

China, I’m coming, and I can’t wait to love on you. 

-JM

 

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