The End and the Beginning.

On our flight from Beijing to Dallas, we were exclaiming over all the leg room that we had, saying this plane was the one of the best we’d been on, and definitely the best for a long haul flight.  A little bit into the flight, I got up to use the restroom and noticed that not everyone had the leg room that we had.  Weird.  When I got back to my seat, I observed that the label on the overhead bin said Economy Plus.  Y’all.  All five of us were in upgraded seats at no cost to us!  It was the easiest 13 hour flight we have ever been on.

orange.pngArriving home always invokes all the warm fuzzy feelings.  Seeing the people you love for the first time in months and getting to hug them is indescribable.  The best feeling!  I wish I could bottle it up and experience it every time I need a pick me up.  This return home, although we’d only been gone for 6 months, was no different.  There was anticipation and excitement and a feeling of relief that we wouldn’t have to say long goodbyes anymore.

Then jet lag set in.   Suddenly I had the wee hours of the morning, before the world awakened, to quietly process all the changes that had taken place in our life.  My heart felt so much joy in these first moments.  There was an underlying terror in my soul, that would rear its nasty head later, but I mostly felt glee.  The kind that makes you want to dance.

The first full day we were back, we went house shopping.  Our realtor happens to be the mama of our sister-in-law (Cameron’s brother’s wife) and has been a part of our family longer than we have been a family, so she had been showing houses to my mom for us for a couple of weeks before we arrived.  We were prepared to hit the ground running!  As we walked in and out of houses that needed so much updating and work, my heart started to drop.  The joy was leaking out like a balloon with a pinprick hole and the fear was started to bubble up in a slow boil.  We only had so much money we could spend and it didn’t feel like enough.  Satan was doing a real good job of stealing our joy.

A good friend of mine reminded me before we left China that Satan would try to do this.  That he wouldn’t want us to experience the joy of walking with Jesus; that he would try to infiltrate our minds with all the negative things he could find.  How wise her words were!  After a few days of weepiness and house hunting and arguing at home, I realized that I had let my worry overtake what should be a sweet, fun time in our lives.  As I let the worry go and chose instead to sit right next to Jesus and let Him direct us, peace flooded my mind once again.  It’s amazing to me how quickly I forget how good it feels to let God carry my burdens.  He is capable and willing to take all the things I worry about, stress about, and get upset about and figure them all out for me.  I just have to let Him.  Sometimes I have to just stop and roll my eyes at myself.

After what felt like walking through every. single. house. for sale in our city over the next two weeks, we walked into one that caused me to lose all objectivity.  I wanted it from the moment we pulled up.  It is in the neighborhood I was hoping for.  It is red brick, which is my favorite.  It has a big, white kitchen with so much space to bake.  Split bedrooms.  A master bathroom with two closets and a bathtub.  Let me just pause and soak that in.  For a bath-loving girl, this is huge!  I have lived for the past 5 years in homes with no bathtubs.  When we were fortunate enough to stay in a hotel with a surprise bathtub, I would take two baths a day.  I know.  Hotel bathtubs give me the creepy crawlies too, but y’all.  I was desperate for a good, long soak.  I was also desperate for this house.

With fingers crossed, we submitted an offer that afternoon.  It was kicked back with a counter offer.  Neither of us were willing to pay closing costs.  Remember that time about 24 hours before this, that I figured out Satan was stealing my joy?  I let him do it again.  Stupid.  I know.  <insert yet another eye roll here>

I went into this attitude of, “Whatever.  Just pick a house.  I don’t even care.”  I did care, obviously, but I was acting like a two year old.  I was also feeling numb.  We had barely been back in America for two weeks at this point.  I was in a place that I get where I can’t make choices well and I cry a lot.  I was also starting to really doubt if we heard God correctly, and it wouldn’t be the last time I was filled with doubt.  Things just didn’t seem as smooth as I expected.  We still hadn’t found vehicles.  Or a house.  We were both starting work in about two weeks.  The girls were still sleeping on air mattresses.  We sat down and looked at financial numbers (bad idea).  I just felt…scared.  And I had, at some point, taken the burden of my life off Father’s shoulders and decided to carry it myself.  Again.  So I gave it all back to Him and asked Him to just figure it all out.

And of course, in His faithfulness, He did.

The realtor called and the sellers decided to pay closing costs after all.  Some distant friends/church members who own a car dealership were going to auction to find us vehicles.  They were able to find exactly what we asked for within our budget.  It was immediate.  When you let go and allow God to work things out, He does a far better job than you can even imagine doing on your own.  For some reason, even though I know this truth, I can’t seem to remember not to be controlling.

Early the next Saturday morning, I was spending some quiet time with Jesus and asked Him to provide a bed for Ellie’s room.  We had decided to build bunkbeds for the big girls (I decided this, and I hope Cam, when he reads this, remembers that I asked/told him he was building them built-in bunkbeds.  Yay!), but I wanted to find Ellie a wooden bed with a  trundle pull out.  About the time I finished praying, Cam walked in and asked if I wanted to go check out the garage sales around town.  I love garage sales.  Cheap things that you can transform and breathe life back into are some of my favorite things.  And guess what we found?  Yep.  A wooden bed with a trundle for Ellie.  For $25.  As I told the older gentleman who was selling it that I had prayed for this just that morning, I was really struck again at how Father cares for me and the little things that matter to me.

Amazing, y’all.  We love an amazing God!

 

 

 

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The Middle, Part 2

As we started to think through the logistics of a move back to Texas, our minds went into a hyper speed where coherent thought and speech became nearly impossible.  It reminds me of the time Cameron and I watched an internet-downloaded version of Planet of the Apes.  Because it was downloaded, the subtitles didn’t transfer.  We watched that whole movie trying to figure out what the Apes were saying when they grunted.  We mostly had to make our own commentary using context clues, but oh the laughs we had!  I don’t think there was a lot of laughter as we contemplated a move across the world.  Again. But there was definitely grunting!pinkstipesyellow.png

When we sat the girls down and told them we were praying about moving back to Texas, their responses were surprising.  One started crying and said she didn’t want to leave China.  One was excited because Chick-Fil-A is in Texas (go ahead, you can roll your eyes. We did too.), and the other was stunned and began immediately thinking of the friends she would have to say goodbye to but also the possibilities of social activity in a world where most people speak her language.  I honestly had expected them to squeal and jump up and down in excitement, but I am so thankful that I got to see how God had turned their hearts towards our life in China too…that it wasn’t us being “mean” to make them live there, but rather a joy that God had allowed this life for them.  Very soon after we told them, we started to field questions.  Thousands of them that had no answers.  The top of the list was schooling.  Where would they go to school?  Would they be homeschooled?   Could they please go to Wall because my best friend goes there?  (Wall, Tx is a tiny farming community about 10 minutes outside of San Angelo and has a FABULOUS, very highly ranked school).

I had no idea what to even tell the girls, but I was pretty sure that last option wasn’t really an option.

I texted a friend who is a teacher in Wall ISD and asked her if they accepted transfers.  This text was before anyone knew about the decision we were fighting to make, and her response was so in line with who she is.  She, without asking questions, said she would find out.  Then she got excited and encouraged my socks off.  Over the past couple of years, this friend has prayed for me, cried with me, loved on me, and encouraged me so much more than she will ever know.  She replied back and said transfers weren’t allowed but that a Teacher’s Aide position was coming open and it would allow my girls to transfer into the district.  She said she would talk to the principal and explain everything.  The next thing I knew, I was scrambling to create a resume, after not having held a job in 18 years.  Y’all.  It was blank.  I told Cameron that this principal was crazy if he called me for an interview.  Yet, he did exactly that.  We face-timed an interview; me in China, him in Wall, Texas.  I had a peace and excitement growing in my heart and felt that, deep down, this is what God had lined up for us.  We began praying about it as a family and it became a joke among us that if God could do this impossible thing (me getting a job), then anything really is possible!

When the email came offering me the position, the smiles in our house were blinding.  We had one thing about our future lined up.  Now on to a home and vehicles and furniture…

When we called Cam’s parents to fill them in on our upcoming life changes, they immediately offered us everything in their house.  You see, God’s timing is perfect.  It leaves no stone unturned and nothing left to chance.  The doors were bursting open and our path was highlighted in neon.  Cameron’s parents were moving to another state to retire/take care of Cam’s grandma/work in a new area.  They didn’t need to take anything with them and were getting rid of all the things we were needing to buy.  A refrigerator, couch, bed, television, kitchen things.  Everything.

It seemed like every time we started to doubt whether or not the decision to leave China was right, God did something big to pull our eyes back and affirm to us that we were indeed following after Him.

As we began to sell all our things, again, and pack our lives into 13 boxes, God used everyone around us to help.  The body of Christ truly stepped up and became family.  I had two friends travel up by train to help me organize and pack and, honestly, to calm me down.  They kept me grounded, encouraging me and reminding me that God already had the details figured out.  The students that were there working with us kept us laughing and constantly sought out ways to serve us and our girls.  Our local friends threw dinners and goodbyes for us.  There were emotional goodbyes that broke our hearts.  I saw a side of Cameron that I hadn’t ever glimpsed before when his closest friend, an older gentleman, grabbed him into an embrace and told him he would miss him and that he was unlike any other foreigner he had ever met because he cared so much for the people around him.  And it is so true.

Over the past 18 years that we’ve been married, God has spiritually transformed Cameron into a man that is almost polar opposite from who he was when I married him. God has a way of stripping you in order to use you, and China did a number on us both.  Cameron has become such a servant.  I have watched him give his heart, his time, his sleep, his comfort.  He would travel any distance on our island to help a brother in need. The leaders he worked with soon began to realize that Cameron was different.  He wasn’t going to give them money, but he was going to walk with them.  He would be there for every event, he would train them, he would encourage them, he would show them by example how to lead their churches into becoming healthy churches that could make disciples and reach the nations.  He would laugh with them, joke with them, be REAL with them.  He shared hotel rooms, ate very questionable food that would make most of us gag, and he became one of them.  They let him inside their circles and their hearts, and he couldn’t have been happier.  In fact, I have never seen Cameron enjoy life the way I did when we were in China.  He was truly working right in the middle of the giftings that God had given him, and the goodbyes were heartbreaking.  When you watch your husband weep because sending the email resigning a job he loves is too hard to do, but is what you are supposed to do, you can’t help but to fall in love a little bit more.  And feel thankful and humbled that God allowed you to be his wife.  I also felt so much trust.  Remember how I told Cam on our walk that I didn’t think he would ever leave China…this moment was when I knew I had been allowing Satan to steal my trust from Cam.  Cam walks tightly with Jesus and is sensitive to the leading of the Lord.  I knew that in my head, but somewhere along the way it got disconnected to my heart.  Following Christ isn’t easy, y’all.  There’s a reason we have to commit daily to following after Him, and it’s because it goes against what the world says is good and right.  It’s like swimming upstream when the current is unrelentingly pushing you the other direction.  Everything in you wants to just let go and allow the stream carry you, but, friends, we are called to fight!

Press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.  Philippians 3:14

When we got on the bus that carried us away from the life we’ve known for the past five years, our eyes turned toward the new battlefield that was waiting in front of us.  Girded with Truth and the knowledge of being in His will, we entered our homeland once again.

 

 

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The Middle of the Story

As we began to process and pray over this new opportunity, God began to open doors.  I don’t mean crack them, I mean He threw them wide open and put flashing arrows above them to let us know He wanted us to walk through them.

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In an effort to make sure all our i’s were dotted and t’s crossed, we reached out to our immediate supervisor.  He and his wife are kind and full of Jesus, and we knew we could trust them to help guide us.  He encouraged us to get away separately for a time of prayer and fasting and to also reach out to someone whom we trusted that would be unaffected by our decision (not family or IMB personnel).

So, we both reached out to trusted friends and asked them to pray with us and share their wisdom.  Both gave encouraging words and asked hard questions and ultimately led both of us closer to the decision to return.

Then, we planned overnight getaways at a local hotel for each of us.  We decided not to talk about what the Lord was telling us until we both were finished with our time.  When we came together to share what the Lord had spoken to us individually, we learned that Father had used the same scriptures to speak to both of us.  We had both meditated on the book of Philippians and then over to Ephesians.  For me, these are the scriptures Father used to bring peace to my heart about the decision to return to America:

And I am sure of this, that He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.  Philippians 1:6

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.  Ephesians 2:10

Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever, Amen.  Ephesians 3: 20-21

Our family had memorized Phil. 1:6, so it was already on our hearts.  I am positive that was no accident.  He is faithful to direct our paths way before we know they need to be directed, as we would soon see in numerous ways.  As I reflected back on my life, He began to remind me of my prayer to someday live near my family.  Then, as I read Ephesians 3:20, about Him doing far more than we ask or think, I was struck that He was answering my 10 year prayer.  He wasn’t just sending us back.  He was sending us back to the church all my family attends.  Where my Dad is on staff.  Doing a job that Cameron is uniquely gifted for.  He had worked it out so much better than I could have even imagined it.  And He wasn’t finished yet, as we would soon find out.

I really had to wrestle with what felt like failure.  For so many people, the calling to move overseas is a lifelong calling.  We have never held tightly to the calling, never claiming that it was forever, but we were prepared for it to be.  The Bible (James 4: 13-17) tells us that we don’t know what tomorrow holds and we are arrogant if we say tomorrow this, or tomorrow that.  We should say “If the Lord wills”.  We have tried very hard to live by this standard, re-evaluating with Christ the things we are doing and making sure we are continuing to walk down the path He desires.  We were ready and willing to live in China forever.  Frankly, we expected to. But we never wanted to live there forever if Christ didn’t want us to, regardless of how easy it would have been to do so.

That last statement may make you scratch your heads a bit, wondering how I can say that when just yesterday I said that living in China was hard.  The hard part about living in China for me was the distance between myself and my family.  There were smaller “hard things” in each city we lived in, but the biggest was always the longing to be near my family.  The rest of living overseas was such an adventure!  Growing up, I always told my dad that I wanted to live in a big city.  I wanted hotels and airplanes and what, then, I felt, was the rich life.  After living in a city with 14 million people, flying on airplanes more times than I can count, and staying in hotels more often than I want to remember, I was ready for the empty mountains of Colorado where all I could hear was the roaring of the gushing river.  I wanted to feel the brisk coldness of mountain air on my face as I unzipped a tent to walk to the fire where I could smell the percolating coffee.  All the things I hated as a child, I longed for when I was in the midst of the life I thought I wanted as a child.  BUT.  I wouldn’t trade the adventures.  We played with baby tigers, zip lined through the mountains of Thailand, vacationed in Taiwan, and saw more beautiful beaches that I ever thought possible.  We rode scooters as our main transportation, had heart conversations in Chinese with friends the Lord gave us, held hands and prayed with friends as they made the biggest decision of their lives, to follow Jesus.  All those longings in my heart as a child were fulfilled in spades.  I loved it. It also made me realize that I love the simple things too.  I don’t need fancy hotels and airplanes.  Powdered donuts and tents, crammed into overflowing trucks, and family are more than enough.  More than that, being in the midst of what God wants for me, is exactly what fulfills my heart.  I never would have learned that He is all I need if He wouldn’t have taken me out of a world that I could control.  I am so thankful.  Living in China will always be one of the greatest blessings in my life.  He gave me friends that will forever will be my friends. He gave me an eternal perspective that changed my life.  Staying there, friends, would have been okay with me.

As Cameron and I shared with each other what the Lord spoke to us during our time away, we made the decision to move back.  Phone calls and emails ensued, and after what felt like years, but was, in fact, only days, we were able to share with our families and friends.  There was shock.  There were tears.  There was uncertainty and there was excitement.  There still is.

But there was more to come.

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