It's nothing, what we do. We like our lives in China. We want to stay here, to raise our children here. I don't know what we would do if we went back to America! We are nothing special. Anyone could do this. It's not that different. It's nothing.
I say these things, and I mean them. Some days I think our lives are so easy. Sure we don't have dishwashers or avacados, but how much does that matter? We can buy cheese in our city! We can talk to our families on Skype! Why do people think this is difficult?
We talk about missing guacamole, but what we truly miss is much harder to express. We miss libraries and t-ball and seeing our own childhood experiences played out in our children's lives. We miss telling friends "See you this weekend" instead of "See you next year." We miss births and weddings and deaths and a thousand ordinary moments in between.
We talk about jetlag, but the upheaval in our lives is deeper than that. When we return "home" we live in someone else's home, and though we love the time with family, we lose the rhythms and routines of our own family, along with some of the sanity that holds us together. We see our children's stress play out in areas like sleep, potty training, and behavior. Our bodies work hard to fight off unfamiliar germs.
We jump in and out of lives, asking friends to suddenly make a place for us in their busy schedules. Some welcome us back so enthusiastically it is as if we were never gone. Some are so busy connection seems impossible; it is as if we never even came home. The years go by and we so gratefully hold the friendships that stand the test of time and distance. Perhaps we will always fear being forgotten. "What ever happened to Kevin and Ruth...they were in China or Japan or something, right? So what is for dinner?"
We leave friends and family behind to come here, yes, but so often we are also the ones also left behind. The ebb and flow of the foreign community is greater than the most transient city. When we try to settle down, to put in roots, we are reminded that we gave up our right to that kind of security. Our clinging fingers are pried off once again. We hold so little control in our own lives.
Packing, unpacking, boxes, suitcases...they are the stuff of our lives. Our clothes go in a new wardrobe, our pictures on another wall, but the transition takes longer than that. Finding the good restaurants and the places to buy vegetables. Finding a new ayi. Meeting new students and neighbors and leaders. Starting over and starting over takes so much time and energy. Weeks and months go by and we wonder at our ineffectiveness.
Some days it is all so easy. But other days...
I watch oh-so-social Juliana deal with the daily frustration of not being able to communicate. She looks disappointedly after a little friend. "I asked him to play with me; why won't he play with me?" She discovers a Chinese writing book and happily says, "Now I can speak Chinese with my ayi!" Her optimism makes my heart ache; I wish it were so easy.
We struggle to get our students to pronounce a sound or just speak English in class. After weeks of pronunciation class, she still can't say the "th" sound. After a semester of culture class, they still think Bush is the president of America. After years of learning English, he can still barely stammer out a sentence. Are we teaching them anything?
We spend months forming a friendship and then he leaves. Or we leave. Or she becomes too busy. We form dozens of acquaintances that never get past the most superficial of questions ("Do you like China? What cities have you visited?"). Or we go deep and explore the real questions of life, but then we hit a wall. Does it matter that we are here?
Some days everything seems to click. We talk to friends. We plan for the future. A neighbor stops seeing us as 'that new foreigner.' We hold a long conversation in Chinese. Juliana excitedly welcomes her now familiar ayi. Our students give an understandable, enthusiastic presentation. We share about things close to our hearts. It all seems worth it.
And on the other days, the harder days - It is worth it too. We are here because we love China. But on the days when we don't, we are here because we love the One who loves China. We are here because we were asked by the One who sacrificed everything. Is there any sacrifice he could ask that would be too great for us to give? Some days the cost seems high, but it is worth it. He is worth it.
I will waste my life
I will be tested and tried
With no regrets inside of me
Just to find I'm at your feet
Just let me find I'm at your feet
I leave my father's house and I leave my mother.
I leave all I have known and I'll have no other
Oh how I love you, and there is no cost
Oh how I love you, and there is no loss...
- Misty Edwards
[This post was inspired by a couple of recent posts I read at Velvet Ashes, a community for women living overseas:The Grove: Sacrifice and From Dr. Pepper to a Big Backyard: A Look at Sacrifice]