Which leads me to the topic of calling. Because if Brian and I didn't feel called to our current placement, we would leave in a heartbeat. The only way we had just enough courage to quit our jobs in DC and buy one-way tickets to China three years ago was because we knew we could always return to the US. If this calling somehow turned out to be false, or changed to something else, we could always return. This year has been the first time we've seriously considered that option.
For now, however, we seem to be called to stay here. Thankfully, God has already redeemed much of our situation: we've found a wonderful apartment, with gracious landlords who are believers. Brian has found better employment (though it still has many profound challenges, there is also incredible opportunity for growth in his field). I've seen some positive breakthrough in my workplace, and am excited by new initiatives that are emerging. And gratefully, with the help of a kind therapist who has shown me much-needed dignity and integrity, my achilles tendon is healing.
Clinging to a call isn't easy. I won't pretend we have all the answers, or that we wake up every day super perky and ready to go. Some days are hard. HARD. Some days we ask God to take this cup from us, because our circumstances are utterly overwhelming. But He doesn't. Some days we want to throw in the towel and jump on the first plane back to the US. But we don't. Because we know that for better or worse, this is our calling.
We are in the thick of what God wants for us. To leave now would be disobedience, and in the long run, spiritual death. In Deuteronomy 30, Moses gives the people two options: life or death. There is no third path; no holding pattern, no "just for now" or "until something better comes along" option. We're either living according to God's will, or we're not.
Paradoxically, choosing the path of life (i.e. obeying a call) also leads to death. Oh yes, there has definitely been death. We've lost much in being here. We've lost the ability to figure things out on our own, as we still need to depend on Chinese-speaking friends for help with menial tasks. We've lost easy access to high-quality food, toiletries, clothes, clean air, professional development opportunities, and green space. We've lost proximity to loved ones, participation in the rhythms of cherished US holidays and seasons, and full social inclusion in what's happening back home. We've lost some of our health, as pollution has worsened our breathing and our ability to wear contact lenses. In short, we've lost much of the comfort we enjoyed from feeling grounded back in our previous life.
Some days, I'm tempted to concentrate on the losses. They are real, and they really hurt sometimes. While mourning the losses is important, God nonetheless doesn't want us to stay in a place of sorrow. We're instead invited to celebrate what we've gained by following a call.
The things we've gained in following a call have been surprising: they've reflected God's mysterious, loving, and even humorous character. There is no way we could have predicted what we would gain. Honestly, the blessings often bring laughter to us.
We've gained an identity that is absolutely grounded in knowledge of ourselves as God's children. As Romans 8 declares, nothing, absolutely nothing, can take that from us. We've gained continuously improving versions of ourselves, as our true selves shine forth. I LIKE the person I am much more than who I was before. We've gained confidence, peace, trust, and patience (and other fruits of the Spirit, I'm sure) that have only emerged on the other side of death.
We've gained a much better marriage, one that is so much deeper and healthier than anything we could have imagined. We've gained wonderfully improved relationships with many of our precious family and friends back home. Perhaps in forcing us to evaluate what's important, physical distance paradoxically encourages spiritual/emotional proximity.
We've gained a better knowledge and awareness of who God is; that God, as Three-in-One, is a God of perfect relationship. There is no "third wheel" in God. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit perfectly love each other. We've therefore learned that being dependent on others isn't a bad thing; it teaches us mutuality and gratitude, as well as how to image God more effectively by living in relationship.
We've gained hilarious memories from exhilarating adventures and opportunities. We've gained supportive friends. We've gained a silly cat, a rescue kitty who has come to trust us and to show his love in amusing and endearing ways. To be perfectly honest, all of these came as surprises, as we wouldn't have picked them or imagined them for ourselves.
In short, obedience to a call brings life. As we're reminded in Mark 8:35-37, "For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me...will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?" Obedience leads to abundance, surprise, laughter, love, and joy. Death leads to boredom, and scarcity, anxiety, and fear.
God has a calling for each of our lives. It may or may not involve moving to a new place. It'll definitely involve risk, and it will likely involve death to some aspects of ourselves. Yet I can testify that life on the other side of obedience is so much more precious than anything we could wish for ourselves. It's awe-inspiring, and wonderful.
Every day we all have a choice of two paths before us. I hope our story may encourage you to choose life, as well.