the flip side of how I feel about going back to China

Usually when people ask about what I'll be doing in the future, about China-things, I give them very happy and excited answers.  Because I am excited, thrilled, to have the chance to go back.  But also partly because it is hard to hold onto too many emotions at once and deal with that conflict, let alone try to express it to others.

Tonight though that came up in conversation with some friends from church, and I decided I should write about it -- the deep sadness that accompanies my plans to go back -- since I've been thinking about it anyway.

As summer turns to fall, I'm constantly reminded of how grateful I am to be in Bloomington for a second year.  It is beautiful and good to get to know a place and to build deep relationships, to discover short cuts and favorite houses and breath taking gardens.  And the thought of saying goodbye to it breaks my heart.

A baby is going to be baptized soon at Hope, and that is a deep joy to me.  Because I've known his family since last fall, the whole time his momma was pregnant with him.  I've grown to love them.  I let myself into their house and play with (and scold) their kids; they feed me and give me rides all over creation and I love them like family, because they are.  So I'm overjoyed to get to be at his baptism and to be a part of the community that helps to bring him up in the covenant for the first years of his life -- and heartbroken at the thought that he probably won't ever have much memory of me, that I won't really get to see him grow up.

When I met with Dan and Chris (my pastors) back in the dead of winter to discuss the possibility of going back to China long(er) term and what that would look like and mean, I cried.  Hard.  Because the thought of saying so many goodbyes, of all of the saying no to good stories and friendships and relationships and conversations and weddings and seeing kids of friends grow up and being around for random trips to Steak and Shake or hanging out at a bar that is wrapped up in saying yes to going back to China -- oh, it feels like a death.  Like a hundred million death of good things that could be and it hurts.  So much so that it's far easier for me to shut it behind a tightly locked door of excitement and anticipation.

Yes, I think it is a good decision to return to China.  I think that it will teach me to know God more deeply and I think that it's a good use of ways that He has equipped me and talents He's given me and I am content and joyful to be going back.

But the goodbyes -- they are awful.  I don't want to leave this place, Bloomington or America.  I don't want to leave these people -- Hope or the regulars at Crumble, my family or my friends from college. The song Far from the Home I Love from Fiddler on the Roof has long resonated with me, and it continues to do so.  I want to stay here.  I want to keep worshipping with Hope and babysitting these kids and studying the Bible together and eating together and going on walks and doing life together.

I have no neat and tidy resolution to offer to this maelstrom of emotions that swirls around in my heart; not for myself, not for anyone else.  But for Caroline and Susan and Elizabeth, and for all of my other good friends who are willing to push with me into the hard questions of how I actually feel about leaving -- here's the flip side of it.  It feels like death.  Like no part of me wants to say these goodbyes.  But it also feels like life, like this is what I'm meant to do.

So in that fine contradiction, I find the words of Derek Webb's song What Is Not Love running through my mind:

What looks like failure is success
And what looks like poverty is riches
When what is true looks more like a knife
It looks like You're killing me
But You're saving my life

And also I reread the words that a friend sent to me right before I left for my first year of teaching as I sobbed with frustration and fear:

God is good...
In pain...
In tears, losses, death, injustices, crucifixions...
Stupid students
Missing friendships
Aching loneliness
Rebellious wanderings
In all these things... God works.

Oh, my feelings are a fine, tangled mess, to be sure.  And that is valid, and it is okay.

But it's not the end of the story.  Praise God.


  1. It IS valid. It IS okay. And it IS awful.
    Needed the reminder today that it isn't the end of the story. Thanks for that.
    ~Val Browne

    1. Isn't it crazy how it can be all of those things at once? I so want life to be more black and white! I am so thankful for you guys. <3

  2. I pretty much think we don't think enough about what the words "die to self" mean in real life.


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