Week 21-25: the God Who calls –

It has been 6 months. Half a year. 25 weeks. 176 days. 18.7.19 SVCF campus-8

It has been 25 full weeks. 25 full weeks in China. 

6 months, mountaintops and valleys.
6 months: joy and sorrow, tears and laughter, hello’s and goodbye’s.
6 months building deep relationships and earning the trust of 56 Chinese orphans.

Tomorrow I get on a plane and fly the 16 hours home and I find myself constantly in tears. Today I whispered over Shi Wenli “how will I ever leave you? how could I ever leave any of you?” and yet I’m going back to my house in my land where I grew up.

Yes, I want to take them all in my suitcase. It breaks me that I’ll be away from them.
It breaks me that they know how to do goodbyes so well. It breaks me that they know someone they loved walked away from them for various reasons. It breaks me that they don’t all have families who will never walk away from them. It breaks me that I’m leaving. 
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The way things change….

The first month I was here, I thought I couldn’t do it. I cried more days than not. I questioned every decision I thought led me here and thought “What in the world did you just do??” 2 weeks later, I was bouncing around in the back of a Shepherd’s Field van on the floor giggling and thinking “I never want to leave.” How quickly things change. 

Month 3 or 4 I had a conversation with my boss and friend in a taxi on the way back from WalMart that went along the lines of “If I wanted to extend my stay, could I?” It was a definite yes. I knew I had the means to do it if I watched my funds, and I absolutely wanted to! I cried a little bit talking about why, and she got it, she 100% got it. 

I began hemming around decisions my parents asked me “oh, yep, maybe, we’ll see” and didn’t make any plans for the Autumn. I looked at changing my flights so many times, and I talked with many friends about staying. Most of all, I prayed deeply that the God Who called me here would make it plain to me if I should stay.
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Not my will but Yours….

What followed was 2 straight months of debilitating sickness that rendered me a shadow of the person who bounced around campus singing and hugging the kids. Not all of them were life threatening, but some were pretty darn close. Breathing is important to life! 

What has become made very clear is that although I longed to live here longer term like so many of my wonderful coworkers did, that China was not life-sustaining for me. 

In fact, it has given my body and my health a serious run for its money, hahaha. 

Not even a trip to Shaanxi was feasible since I only recovered with 3 weeks left in my stay, and so much to do in that time. When I was well I thought “I can do it. I can fight it. I can stay.” and when I was sick, I knew. God would sustain me to make it, but I needed to go home.

God doesn’t call us to ruin ourselves physically to make His will work better. 

His answers come in different ways than I would want, but I know that He knows that it would take something as strong as my health failing to lead me out of China. 18.7.19 SVCF campus-23

The God Who leads us on….

When I got back from Australia with 6 weeks left, I made an “Onward Home” playlist that I have been playing occasionally to remind me of the joy of going home. I was doing pretty well until a few days ago when it all hit me, and the deeper agony of “see you later”s is crushing me. I keep texting SF friends “how did you do thiiiiissss?”, and I think the answer is you just love as hard as you always have, take a million selfies, and get on the plane knowing you gave your heart and soul to the children at Shepherd’s Field. 

It SHOULD be bittersweet. It SHOULD be hard to say goodbye, and wonderful to say hello to your family back home. It SHOULD feel like you should be reunited one day because that is how family dreams. “See you again soon” isn’t an empty promise. We mean it.
We mean it because we can’t imagine a life without them anymore. They’ve become our family, they’ve become our siblings, they’ve become impossible to live without. They’ve become children I love deeply and long to see adopted into forever families!

A few weeks ago a friend & coworker asked me how I was processing going home, and I was so thankful to talk with her about it, and I want to share the words I’ve felt deeply for weeks:

God has been faithful to call me to China and is now calling me to come Home. He has shown me that even though some people can live long term in China, I am not one of those people and that is okay. It doesn’t lessen or take away the beauty of the season of these 6 months in China or how God has used me here (thank you Katy for that). It is good that I’m able to go back in joy, knowing that God is perfect in all His ways and perfect in His timing, and my time here has perfectly come up. 18.7.19 SVCF campus-24The God Who calls us continues to call us, continues to lead us, through EVERY SEASON.

…. He is calling me home. 

You take me in, You lead me out…

One of the songs I’ve loved singing while here in China is “Mountain to Valley” and part of it says “You take me in, You lead me out, what a journey walking with You, God.” 

That truth has greatly impacted my realization that God has led me here, and now is leading me home! Seasons don’t have to be permanent nor does one ending lessen my love or commitment or presence. This has been a beautiful and hard season, in a land I love so deeply, and now it is ending, but because all of God’s ways are perfect, it’s the perfect time for it to end. God knows that my prayers and advocating for these kids will go on. 18.7.19 SVCF campus-45My time here in China has cost me deeply. 

It has cost me physically. It has cost me deeply emotionally. It has cost me mentally.
It has cost me blood, sweat, tears, breath and family reunions. It has cost me more than I thought it ever could. It has cost me things I didn’t want to give up. 

And God was in it

And it was worth it18.7.19 SVCF campus-84

It has been an adventure, and it has been an honor and privilege to get to know these children, to build relationships, to earn trust and to leave knowing I left my whole heart and soul and love and life and on the line for these Chinese orphans who live so vibrantly. It seems impossible that 6 months flew by so so quickly. What an amazing season. I’m SO grateful and thankful to have lived & served here, in the good and the hard. I’m so thankful to have made it to the end without going home, that is such a gift! And I’m deeply thankful to be seeing my family again so very soon. I’m coming back!!!
I really am rather fond of the US of A, and I’ve missed my loved ones sooooo much!!
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I have seen Him. 

I have seen His face in the faces of orphans. I crossed oceans in His name and served for His glorious name, and don’t think I could ever get over all the ways He’s faithfully cared for me, provided for me, answered our deepest life-saving prayers for the kids, and shown Himself through creation and through the world’s “least of these”. 

I have SEEN Him, I have known Him more, and I have deeply trusted Him with my life.
He has been tangibly present, breath-giving, life-sustaining, ever-good, always kind. 

Oh, how His love provides for me! Oh, how His love leads me on in joy!
Oh, how His plans cannot be thwarted, and oh, how He reigns in victory!
His name, which nothing can stand against! His kingdom, which spreads to the nations!
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“Love lead me on, love lead me through, take me back Home, back Home to You. 
Love lead me on, love tried & true.” 

– JM

Continue to keep in touch on my Instagram (on the right in the sidebar), because I’m doing a special introduction project on there about these sweet and precious orphans!

Week 13-20: This one brief holy moment.

It was May 19th. Moody Bible Men’s Choir was visiting China and stopped by for a few days to visit SFCV and gave a short concert on a Saturday morning for the kids.

Isaac ran over and clambered up into my lap, and I hugged him tightly, unwilling to let him go. Tomorrow he would meet his new family and I longed to get every bit of love into him that I could. I pulled Leonard {Ling Daiwei} up next to me in his chair, so excited for him to hear some real live music since the kid loves good music. I amped them up “Time for the concert! This is so exciting! Yay!”.

I watched Daiwei’s face closely to see how he’d react to an all men’s acapella choir singing….his face looked like a thundercloud for the first song. I think it was too much? Then the second song started, and his face burst into sunbeams. Tears filled my eyes.

He understood.

The three of us sat there, our own little joyful club. Isaac entwined in my arms, Daiwei with his ever changing expressions on his face, and me watching and listening to it all.

It was in the middle of a rousing rendition of “He’s Never Failed Me Yet”….
“I know God is able, to deliver in time of storm.
I know that He’ll keep you, safe from all earthly harm.

Trust and never doubt, Jesus will surely bring you out, 
He’s never failed me yet, He’s never failed me yet.” 

… that I looked down. Daiwei had been waving his arms triumphantly with the music, and was now resting one arm over the side of his wheelchair, and Isaac was holding his hand. Isaac saw his hand was empty and slid his own in to be a friend. 

I gasped.

Brothers. 

I put my head down between the two of them and sobbed.
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They held hands for 10 minutes while I absolutely lost it. 

all I could think is……this one brief holy moment.

The video I took in those seconds, you can see it all over my face, the “whole world in my eyes”, the moment it all made sense and meant so much that it did. Suddenly all the months of hard work fostering 55 kids and hugs and goodbyes and hurts and prayers worries and heart wrenching stories and a million other things melted down into this one brief holy moment when I saw “strangers” be brothers and friends.

“He’s never failed me yet….”, nor does He ever have any intention or promise to.
He will always be Himself. He will always be unchanging Love, always be kind King, always be merciful and good, always be steadfast in every season, always be our Savior.
The God Who became little and small to be our Brother, the Brother who bought us one dark day with nail scarred hands, the second Adam who walked out of the grave, and the Father to the Fatherless to the millions of orphans worldwide.

To bring together orphans into families and boys into brothers and us to Himself.

Brothers: Leonard {Ling Daiwei} and Isaac {Dang Mengyang}. All my heart. 
Leonard Ling Daiwei 灵带伟 18.6.13-5

No, He hasn’t failed me and He never will. 

These words have been coming back to me over the months since May 19th. They were with me the day after when I sobbed behind my camera bittersweet tears of Isaac meeting his family and leaving. They have been with me every time since that I have seen Daiwei and seen his face light up with a million smiles.

I was reminded of how quickly it all can change and how months together can become your “brief holy moment” when a child is transferred back to their home orphanage. I was in Australia when I got a text that made my knees buckle and tears stream down my face. Maya was recalled back to her home orphanage. I was heartbroken and crushed. I would not be back in time to say goodbye to sweet Maya. Others cried over her at her going away party for me.

Maya, who taught me more about the Gospel than anyone I’ve ever met. 
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Suddenly all the pictures and videos and long back-aching moments bent over her seemed even MORE worth it….they became holy moments spent serving one of the sweetest, bravest and most tender among us.

She is receiving such good care back at her orphanage and several of our eating therapists have been able to visit her caretakers to teach them how to specially care for Maya. I was surprised and incredibly thankful, and then I thought of how just like our God and Father that is. How tenderly He cares for the littlest and least of these.

I know that He’ll keep you, safe from all earthly harm….”

oh, how He loves us.

The weeks have rushed by so swiftly and now I have just 5 weeks left. It has been awfully rough being in China due to being so sick, and yet it shatters my heart to leave these precious and vivacious kids who I so long to see grow up and have families.

This whole season in China has been so incredibly worth it, filled with victories and joy, hugs and tears, friendships and laughter, jokes and memories. I’ve been blessed to serve.

It has meant something in these orphans lives as I’ve captured their lives in photos and built their files, memories of a past and hope for a future. It has meant something for Jesus and His Kingdom. It has meant something: a million somethings to my heart.

It has seemed like so little and it has been beyond what I could handle. It has been agonizing and good. It has been brief. It has been long. It has been quiet and faithful.
It has been full of doing many “small things with great love” {Mother Teresa}. Many unseen moments of ministry. Many moments too deep for words or pictures.

It has been one brief holy moment in China.

and I’m so thankful to have been here through it all.

-JM

Week 4-12: The Good in the Hard

Quick explanation for being so faraway: I haven’t known how to get ALL the things done, so I simply haven’t. On the “recovery weekends” after such busy weeks, blogging is at the very bottom of that list, underneath things like “get laundry done”, “take a shower”, “sleep” ,”meal prep”, “answer e-mails” “yay, a walk outside” and “don’t be dead”. Somehow we all turn into pseudo-parents when we get here. We’re excited to go to bed at 9pm and love showers and love having clean laundry and get really excited about weekends. So forgive me for being absent….Instagram is the place you’ll learn the most about my daily life! (just click the pictures or link in the sidebar to your right). 

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“Our Lord has written the promise of resurrection,
not in books alone but in every leaf of Springtime.” {Martin Luther} 

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Spring has come to Northern China at long last. Even though Wintery days still crop up, green is covering the trees, puff balls of flowering trees are floating in the air and blossoms are bursting from all the trees that looked so very dead just a few months ago. Blue sky days have been appearing, along with Spring rains (plus fireworks), gentle breezes to blustery winds, and grass starting to grow. The world coming alive again. 30705194_10216127771970329_631693198506328064_o

I moved to China in the Winter on purpose. I wanted to see Spring come to China. I didn’t realize how hard that Winter would be, and now that Spring is here, I don’t know how to fully explain all it means to me. It continues to feed my soul with beauty and lift my heart with praise to our Creator who deeply loves beauty and gives beautiful gifts. 30728271_10216127772370339_3041541164369969152_o

The days are long, the weekends are short, yet I’m almost halfway through my stay, and I can’t imagine leaving. I long to see orphans become sons and daughters in person, I long to see all that God will do here, and I long to love on these children as they grow up.

Yes, it’s hard work. It’s so MUCH work, it’s hard work, it’s exhausting work. And it’s GOOD WORK. It’s work that is building a child’s future, it’s work that is sustaining a child’s life. My work in photography….it is work that is retaining memories in the hope that a Mother or Father will look on these pictures and see their son or daughter. It is work that is capturing all the things any proud parent would: the moment he learned to rollerblade after weeks of practice, the moment she smiled, the moment he took his first steps, the days after his surgery, the smiles on the playground, and the grumpy haircuts too. The naps, the lunches, the bottles, the ayis’ kisses, the moments that make up childhood life. 

It’s invaluable. It’s connection giving. It’s my job. It exhausts me. It’s worth it.

Something I’ve been thinking about heavily is this:
“Just because it’s hard doesn’t mean it isn’t where He has called you to be.” 
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I know without a doubt that God has called me here, and that only He could have made a way for me to return, only He could write such a story for me. At 4 weeks, I wondered what on earth I’d done to my life and wondered if it would ever get easier. At 6 weeks I was bumping around in the back of a van and thinking I never want to leave!

So I learn to look at the hours and hours and yet more hours of work and see it all as GOOD because it isn’t for my glory at all, it’s my calling by the Father to the Fatherless. It’s for another’s good: it’s work building and shaping an orphan’s future and memories and the best tangible gift I could give them. So I get up in the morning tired and go to bed tired and do the very best I can, all in the name of love, to show the world how lovely they are. What an honor. What a gift. What a privilege. 30728605_10216127772690347_2446272887716315136_o

Along with watching Spring come to China, and feeling at a loss for words to adequately explain…I haven’t known how to fully express how wonderful, sweet, energetic, smart and amazing these kids are here at Shepherd’s Field.

How do you advocate well when the rest of the world can’t possibly know all a moment means? How do you explain the wonder of one happy bite of a puff and how a video of the sweet girl eating that puff will reduce you to the happiest tears while standing in a Chinese restaurant? I tend to move towards the “it can’t be overstated deeply enough”, and it’s overwhelming to know how to tackle it, so we sit together and share stories and laugh and cry and “aww” and rejoice with each other here on campus. But I long for you to know, to really know how much it means and how much they mean to me, to us. 

Shepherd’s Field Children’s Village is a dream come true for any orphan. And yet. Everyone here longs so deeply for these kids to be adopted into forever families. 

Like Ella (Song Yuxuan), with her precious face and gentle eyes, loving, cuddly & sweet.
Ella Song Yuxuan 宋宇轩 18.3.19-1

Brody (Hu Minpeng), an intense learner and full of never-ending poses & smiles.
Brody Hu Minpeng 胡闽鹏 ChineseNewYear 18.2.15-1

Charissa (Ling Deting), incredibly smart and caring, full of spunk and laughter.
Charissa Ling Deting 灵德婷 18.3.26-4

Flynn (Zhao Angpen), brave and curious, full of mischievous joy and sweetness!
Flynn Zhao Angpeng 赵安朋 18.2.28-4

Francis (Dang Guanxin), courageous and smart, & the best sound mimic I’ve ever heard.
Francis Dang Guanxin 党关心 HopeRanch 18.3.15-3

Hanna (Song Yicai), who stole my heart the moment I saw her, full of joy and light.
Hanna Song Yicai 宋怡彩 18.2.13-4

Hector (Dang Guobu), one of the best, uncomplaining, kindest & fun boys I’ve ever met.
Hector Dang Guobu 党国部 EasterEggHunt 18.4.3-7

Leonard (Ling Daiwei), my pal & treasured friend, joyful, special, great encourager.
Leonard Ling Daiwei 灵带伟 18.2.28-3

Isaac (Dang Mengyang), tenderhearted, full of hugs & energy, adventurous & sweet.
Isaac Dang Mengyang 党孟洋18.3.11-4

Jean Marie (Kong Huangbei), full of sweetness, loves the outdoors, snuggles & kisses.
Jean Marie Kong Huangbei 孔黄贝 18.2.14-12

Lael (Zhang Youqing), those cheeks! precious one full of curiosity and inquisitive looks.
Lael Zhang Youqing 张又晴 18.3.19-14

Levi (Han Qiannan), sensitive & tenderhearted, full of the best laughter and hugs!
Levi Han Qiannan 韩乾南 18.3.5-5

Matthew (Zhu Wenlian), dearest little guy who loves to “just be” with you, gentle, joyful!
Matthew Zhu Wenliang 朱文梁 18.3.26-1

Maya (Dang Guan), teaches me what the Gospel is. Brave, strong, beautiful, courageous.
Maya Dang Guan Ai 党关爱 therapy 18.4.9-2

Olive (Zhang Rongxuan), tiny warrior, full of the best soft coo’s, mighty, beloved.
Olive Zhang Rongxuan 张荣轩 Therapy 18.3.6-3

Oscar (Shi Yitie), one of my best little pals, with the best smile ever, full of laughter.
Oscar Shi Yitie 石毅铁 18.3.4-2

Russell James (Song Xiping), the real life Russell from UP, shy, darling, loves cuddles!
Russell James Song Xiping 宋熙平 18.3.20-6

Rocco (Zhu Jingfen), contemplative, runs to give you hugs, sweet, adventurous, smart. Rocco Zhu Jingfen 朱景奋 18.4.8-1

Samuel (Dang Liming), excited to play with his friends!, oh those dimples!, a helper.
Samuel Dang Liming 党利明 therapy 18.4.10-8

Simeon (Shi Wenjia), loves to tease, playful, curious, smiles with his whole face!
Simeon Shi Wenjia 石文佳18.2.13-1

Wes (Ling Wudao), a great teacher of the long-haul friendship, smart, loves Pooh Bear!
Wes Ling Wudao 灵婺道 18.3.5-13

Zack (Shi Wenli), sweetest boy, steady, gentle, giver of love, full of light and joy!
Zack Shi Wenli 施文黎 18.3.5-10….. and this is only half of our incredible and precious kids!!
Feeling moved to tears and smiles? Me too!! Every day, every week. They’re incredible.

The best tangible gift you could give to these orphans? Sponsorship. Prayers. And advocating for their adoptions! On the other side of the world, it might seem like so little. To Shepherd’s Field Children’s Village’s kids? It’s HUGE. Please contact me if you’d love to know more! 

– JM