It has been 2 months since my family moved to China. I am writing from the back porch of my first floor apartment, admiring the tiny but tidy garden cage I was quick to cultivate. Most of the sky is blocked by 30 story apartment buildings, and I can see faint blurs of color through the hedges as residents stride purposefully home. If I were to go outside I would smell fumes,cigarettes, faint sewage and sometimes rain, oil, garlic, and meat. The air is hot and heavy here, and if you stand in one place the mosquitoes find you and bite quickly. The foliage is lush and diverse, and thrives without much care. Lakes and rivers are ubiquitous, and provide visual respite from the high rise apartments that crowd the skyline. The sky is often cloudy, but when it comes out the sun pierces my face, and I have taken up the parasol habit of fair skinned Chinese ladies.

My husband has said that China seems more civilized than the U.S. There are several contrasts you might find interesting. They are mostly a cashless society, and pay for bills, groceries, even pay back friends through the WeChat or Alipay apps on their phones. They buy their groceries, order dinner, and other necessities online so that one could live here for a long time without even leaving her home. And all these services are cheap or free. Good Chinese food is also cheap- half or less than US prices. Labor is too- our ayi (househelper) works 10 hours a week for $50. This is the rate she requested and is standard here. We do need some extra help without a dishwasher and only an economy sized washer/dryer! So it is possible to have a higher standard of living on less money. The Chinese people are tolerant of discomfort and inconvenience. I got onto a bus when it was 100 degrees outside, and the driver wasn’t running the AC. In the US 5 people would have asked him to TURN IT ON!, but no one said anything. My kids are loud, messy, and frequently run in front of, block or slow down other pedestrians. No one has complained or shown annoyance. Many times people have run to get the door or gate for us, and stood there patiently while we walk our bike (and trailer) through. This is an insider culture, and friendliness to strangers isn’t valued. Most people I pass on the street don’t make eye contact. Many smile back when I initiate. Some stare without smiling. I haven’t seen anyone yet who can resist  my 2 year old’s “Ni hao!”. We feel safer here. In the US the risk of violent crime hung over us like a high altitude but potential storm cloud. People don’t seem to worry at all about being attacked, at least in the areas we’ve been. They caution us to watch for thieves, but we have left our (nice) bikes barely secured many times and had no problems. Most people don’t have cars, and don’t miss them. Buses, subways and taxis are ubiquitous and convenient. It took us about a week to learn the routes to our common places, even though we can’t read Chinese.

We have felt some stress adjusting to our new land. The hardest thing for me is being constantly immersed in an urban jungle. There is an unconscious weight of the thousands of souls living above and all around me. We all share the same air, and there is no private space outside our small apartment. Even within there is minimal privacy when you have 3 young children. So there really isn’t anywhere I can go to get away from  people. In the past I have been most able to feel God’s presence out in nature, and I haven’t found a nearby place to escape to here. Communication and illiteracy are another stress. I studied Mandarin for several years before moving here, so I have enough language to accomplish many survival tasks. (I would add that I highly recommend studying ahead if you are planning to move abroad!) But I can’t communicate effortlessly, and every conversation adds the stress of unknown words and not knowing how to respond. Many of the online conveniences are off limits to us, since we can’t read the characters. We have several Chinese friends who have helped, but of course as Americans we feel a bit off depending on others to shop for us. Grocery shopping has become a lot more complicated without my minivan. I kept overfilling my cart and getting through checkout only to remember I actually had to carry this stuff for 20 minutes plus take the bus. We are here to work and be good stewards of what was invested in us, so we have volunteered for many outreach opportunities and filled our schedules quickly. But we also have the goal of Chinese fluency, so we have to study at night when the kids are (finally) in bed. We need to memorize thousands of words and the tones that accompany them in order to make meaningful conversation. We realized that we have run out of time in our day to talk to each other or just decompress. So life feels more hectic here, with less margin.

Our kids seem pretty happy, I think because we spend more time together as a family. They dislike the long (10 minute) walks to the bus stop, but they love riding the bus and going up and down the escalator at the subway. Our apartment grounds are nicer than our neighborhood in the US, with many winding trails, columns, gardens and playgrounds. There is plenty of exploration for the young imagination. We have renamed the route to our bus stop the “secret garden way” because it winds through manicured cobblestone trails and past ornate rotundas. I can see their minds expanding past the cozy places of our Midwest town. In time, our previous life in America will be forgotten, and this will be the first home Nick and Noel remember. Those precious first memories will happen here. For years I invited a tutor and tried to interest them in Chinese without effect. But now they really want to learn and are repeating phrases and asking what things mean. They have realized that there is a real world this language is useful in; and they just might need it to make friends and survive at school. They find some of our annoyances exciting, and thrill over cold showers and de-icing our dysfunctional freezer. Bob and I both lived abroad in our 20’s, and were able to fully immerse ourselves in language and cultural experiences. It is different now, with so much energy spent surviving. But there is a whole new dimension to this experience being on adventure as a family. We laugh at our Mandarin goof ups and cheer for each other when we accomplish a simple task without embarrassment. We have had to leave the comforts of our old world and search for new ones together. We need to be a team more than ever before to build a new life together. Our struggles and delights have become more intertwined. Our kids sometimes see us weak and vulnerable and not knowing things. We have a common mission and vision: our life is not just about giving them what they want. Our next step is to take them to the harder places and allow them to see poverty and suffering, so that they can have a right perspective on their own blessings and hardships.

I genuinely feel transplanted after two months of life in China. My roots still sting from places they were broken, and they miss the soil of certain deep friendships in the U.S. The ground here is both exotic and exciting and strangely uncomfortable. I think we’ve hit some culture shock, and probably there is more to come. I got bronchitis this week, and realized how fatigue and illness changes your lens. I suddenly lost my desire to go anywhere and interact with China; I wanted to insulate myself at home. But other times I have felt deep satisfaction and even exuberant joy just walking down the street. We are really here! After years of waiting and preparation this has really happened. I feel a carpe diem urgency to make the most of every day, to know that I have given this my best. I know many others who have wanted to go and it hasn’t worked out for them. Most days I feel God’s hand in bringing us here and don’t want to take it for granted. And some days I long for my native land where living and communicating took less effort and I had time of my own. We have received sunshine and storms here as we did before. We try to have simple hearts, release expectations, and receive the provision that comes to us, sending our roots deeper and enlarging our branches towards this intriguing new world.





China Birds


I have been trying to move to China for half a decade. My husband and I traveled here in 2013 with two toddlers to explore work and ministry opportunities. The trip confirmed several things for me: I still loved Asian culture, and there was meaningful work happening there that I could be a part of. After we returned, we encountered several obstacles that stood between us and our goal. My longing for a baby and infertility surfaced again, as I pictured us overseas and unable to fulfill that. We began our third adoption. My cousin’s husband got cancer and passed away at 34, leaving her with five young children. I wasn’t sure if we should leave her a widow. We had to raise a large amount of monthly support, an amount that seemed humanly impossible. There were so many times that this decision was almost undone- my husband having second thoughts, our adoption taking longer than we expected, family obligations, lack of response from fundraising. But slowly, month by month, we felt momentum, circumstances nudging us steadily closer to the precipice. At last our adoption was complete, we were free of family obligations, and our support was raised. Yet more mountains loomed ahead: our son, adopted from Taiwan, was told he could not get a Chinese visa. We had a house to show and sell, with three young children living in it. We had to reduce thirteen years of accumulated possessions to a 10×10 storage unit, which is what we could afford on our new budget. Somehow our most important belongings must fit in our airplane luggage; the process of whittling down thousands of objects and making decisions on each one was exhausting.

And then there were the goodbyes. We were taught in our training that it is healthiest to allow yourself to grieve them, because then you will be able to let go. The people who had shared our lives for 9 years- the ones who felt our pain of infertility and loss, and rejoiced with us as we added 3 children to our families. Book club, cooking club, church, play dates, work colleagues. Hundreds of memories with people we will probably never share a city with again. Our friendships will not be the same, the chapter is closed, and that must be properly mourned. We said goodbye to two jobs that were very important to us. My husband left his successful practice he had worked hard to build. I left a faculty position that was my first serious job after residency- my affiliation with this organization touched a deep place in my identity. I felt a literal ache in my chest when I turned in my pager. I cried when we drove away from our house for the last time. The three tree swings had been taken down. I could still see the sign stretched across our garage welcoming our first son home. I saw our boys learning to walk, and then as toddlers running wildly down the halls. Climbing the bush in the back yard. I pictured them making Christmas cookies at our scratched up table, as Salvation army hauled it away. I touched their rocking chair one more time before it was hauled onto the truck, the chair where I rocked each baby I had been so desperately afraid I would never have. We threw away so much stuff that was full of memories, though worthless to anyone else. Shutting down a life is hard. Loss of identity, possessions and friendships was emotionally and physically painful. I grieved them strongly for a month. Sometimes after I wake up I remember that I have a new life, and miss my old one. Some days if I was given the chance to go back to the security of that life I would take it.

I don’t share all this just to complain. Many people consider a move overseas, and most of us know someone who has done this. It is exciting, a dream fulfilled. We faced many obstacles to make this move, and I believe we prevailed because we were meant to do this and we didn’t give up. I rejoice in that- it is a privilege to finally be here. But to romanticize this journey is to cheapen it- it was exponentially harder than we imagined. It was a sacrifice, a death to self, just to get to this place where we are called to serve. It was a test of faith, a painful stretching process. Perhaps that was for a reason.

We flew out from Denver 2 weeks ago. Things went pretty smoothly regarding luggage, the kids on the plane. We weren’t 500 pounds overweight and nobody threw up. We have not had our own home for 2 months. We are living on the 6th floor of a temporary apartment with no elevator. Our stuff is in storage because no one wants to carry it up the stairs. Our son starts school in 3 days, and I have no idea what he needs for uniforms or school supplies. We found out we have to pay federal taxes on our support, as well as a year’s rent and tuition in advance, bleeding our (previously) comfortable support fund to…basically zero. And we are finding this out right before I was going to start shopping for the basic stuff we need to restart our life.

But you know what? After the last several years, I have a new perspective on these problems. I feel peace that it will be ok. There were so many times that China could have fallen off our life map- but it didn’t. There were so many times I threw up my hands and said “If you want us there, you’re going to have to fix this problem”. And He did. There are so many beautiful and hard differences about the way people live here, but this post is getting long, so I will save it for the next one. This has not been a romantic journey, and at times it has felt really raw. There is no guarantee that we will see or accomplish the things we hope for. I renamed our blog “China Birds on a Wire” because I now see how fragile and full of failure we are. If we are passive and live to impress others we will miss the purpose of our lives. I am so thankful to be here, and believe that this is where we’re meant to be. I feel God’s presence and purpose here as I did in the other places. Yet a new life has begun. And I plan to live every day believing that we are here for a reason.

Past the Crossroads

Well, we’re moving forward at last. We have been seriously researching and pondering an international move for the past 4 years, and the time has come to make it happen. The first mountain before us is the raising of support, the process by which we become financially dependent upon our friends, acquaintances, and church. I have dreaded this stage for a long time- the awkwardness of asking people for money, and the feelings of rejection when they don’t write back. This is a unique experience for Bob and I, as we have previously been on the receiving end of these requests. I have been warned to avoid expectations; that my good friend I expected to support me will look away, while a stranger responds enthusiastically. I have been told that this is a spiritual journey in which we will have to trust God like never before, and our faith will grow when he responds. I have been exhorted to see myself as a minister of Christ wherever I go and seek to serve and bless others rather than raise money.
All helpful advice. But this introvert has to find her own way to navigate the exhausting emotional minefield of support raising with 3 children in tow. I want to find myself on the other side of this mountain excited about the work happening in China, closer to my friends ( and not bitter at anyone), and with a fresh sense of divine calling and provision.
When I give our presentation people sometimes ask me, “Are you excited?” I know the right answer. When I began this process I wasn’t that excited, I just felt that it was time to start. Honestly, we’re in a stage of life right now where we pray for enough energy to make it to the end of the day. I remember my trips overseas. I remember the sense that God was moving and calling; the joy with which people received Truth for the first time. The sense of being fully alive, of fulfilling God’s destiny for my life. And yes, there was some youthful passion and romance woven in there too.
Life looks different as I approach 40. When I am really tired and dysphoric, I would say that I don’t feel that kind of passion anymore. But that’s not really true. As I talk about the work that is happening in China and see people engage and get excited, my joy returns to me. When our friends decide to come beside us in support, I feel honored and challenged. It makes me want to be a better person. To be worthy- and that thought leads me back to a place of total dependence on God. Ultimately, He is the only one who can make this happen, and the one who makes us worthy and fruitful. We are at a stage in life where we are better able to count the costs. We know it will be hard, and we will sacrifice a lot. We also believe that it will be worth it.
This is a strange time of life to move to China, with 3 children 6 and under. And yet, it feels the time is right. My excitement is like the hopeful expectation one feels when facing a new day after a good night’s sleep. Not the giddy energy that comes from too much coffee.

Crossroads II

I title this post as a sequel to the first one published almost 2 years ago. Then our trip to China still loomed before us, full of uncertainty and expectation. I feel like we’ve done a 360 degree loop since then and want to catch the story up. I recorded in my China post how we returned from our trip more united than we’d ever been on a location in central China, impressed by the local workers there, and ready to commit a year of our lives to the ministry they were doing.

And then the small voice of longing, the persistent whisper that can be ignored but not silenced, began again in my heart. A daughter. I really wanted a daughter, and I didn’t want to go to China without one. I imagined the insensitive comments: “Couldn’t you have your own children?” The pity, and even the shame, exacerbated by a different cultural environment. I couldn’t fix my infertility, but I could face these things with a full heart, and a full family. I asked Bob if we could start another adoption first, and he agreed, though later regretted he didn’t ask me to choose one or the other. Last year was a year of chafing, waiting for a process we (shouldn’t have) expected to move quickly and instead filled with delays and false leads. Bob stuck in a job he didn’t like waiting for China. The timeline was stretching too long for him, and he made it clear at some point if we weren’t going to do this we were going to give it up and start a practice here in America. In The Wildness of God I told the story of Noel and how God spoke to me and brought her to us in March of this year. He brought her at the last possible moment, as I had told Bob if we didn’t hear anything by March 31st I would agree to move and settle somewhere in the U.S.

But here we are- hopeful to finalize her adoption this year, and China is still an option. I feel more surrendered about going overseas than ever before. I hold it with an open palm. Now almost 40, I have lost much of the romantic idealism, the thrill of adventure for adventure’s sake, that I had in my 20’s and early 30’s. I know this will be hard. Our children will face new risks and deprivations. Our marriage will face new tensions. It will cost a lot to move overseas; financially, emotionally, relationally. There are times I have asked myself if I still want to go. My daily vision is as myopic as ever- the fruitless daily quest for adequate sleep, my mind consumed with disaster prevention, conflict mediation, responsive parenting and the meeting of a thousand little needs every day. When we started the adoption I stopped studying Chinese as much. My tutor moved back to China. I had been skyping our contact there, but this also ceased when we got baby Noel. I feel disconnected- China feels a world away. I’m also guarding my emotions, because I recognize Bob’s right to say no to this. I honestly don’t want to go unless he does too, because I need for us both to be fully on board, fully committed. Our marriage is pretty egalitarian, but I feel compelled to let him take the lead this time. I need for him to, because then I will know his feelings are real. Sometimes I control too much with the strength of my enthusiasm.

During this time of limbo I’ve realized some important lessons. I don’t need to move overseas to realize my spiritual potential. Nothing has shaken or rebuilt me like my experience of infertility and pregnancy loss. I doubt that any cross cultural challenge can compare to that. I have so many opportunities here to help, minister, love, more than I have time or energy for. If we stayed in the U.S. God would use me, and those opportunities would continue. Openness, not location is what matters. I needed to really learn this, to let go of that deep seated belief that I would always be inadequate without a missionary experience.
Bob says he wants to move forward soon, and is contacting our agency here. He is doing seminary training which he hopes to use there. He is discussing timelines. He wants to commit to one year, with the option of staying much longer if the right opportunities open up.
I’m not getting excited yet. We will have to raise thousands of dollars in monthly support. Another test if this is what we’re meant to do. Guarded heart.
Yet hopeful. I just called the library and reserved those Mandarin cds again. We’ll see our contacts when they’re in the U.S. That long held dream of living and working for His kingdom in another culture hadn’t died, just gone dormant to survive life’s storms. Like waiting for the spring, we watch and see what will burst forth.

CHINA: Seeing clearly through the haze of jetlag, pollution and misunderstood dreams




We found ourselves over Beijing, a bejeweled outpost of light on a backdrop of black velvet, as all cities look by night at 30,000 feet. We landed with our sleepy boys and made our way through the spacious airport. It was close to midnight. Grand oriental murals with spired mountains and cascading waterfalls reminded us that we had entered a new country. I looked to the right and left. So many Chinese people! I always take note of an Asian person when I see one in Oklahoma and smile. I feel a natural affinity- my child came from them. But now they surround us, sometimes smiling and pointing at Nick.
We make it to our hotel via the free shuttle, despite a cunning attempt by a slick taxi driver to price gouge us 10x the going rate. Two jetlagged adults with 7 suitcases and 2 kids will be too overwhelmed to convert to yuan. He underestimated us. The first night was spent walking the halls with Nick; an almost endless corridor of plush carpet and shiny mahogany doors with tall windows at either end facing the airport. I didn’t care- I was in China!
I have wanted to come here for many years. As I shared in “Crossroads”, I first fell in love with Chinese culture in college, and my desire to work with Chinese people has grown over the past several years. This trip has been long in coming; delayed by finances, Bob’s residency, and the addition of our youngest child. I approached it with anticipation and anxiety. Would we accomplish our purpose: evaluating long term medical opportunities? Would there be a divine connection or open door? What about a major setback or tragedy that would turn us off of this country forever? Would Bob and I return still pointing in different directions; me wanting to come here and him not?
Our first stop was Wuhan. We were met at the airport and escorted to the home of a family who has been living there a decade. Fluent in Chinese, they have adapted to the culture and embraced a way of life that includes not owning a car. They cheerfully carried our luggage up 6 flights of stairs. Yes, in China an elevator is not required unless a building is 7 stories or higher. (I don’t think they’ve passed the same disability legislation here) Our hosts set up meetings with their team, shared their vision and took us to hospitals, schools and offices of developing ministries. We saw earnest and amiable cooperation between Americans and Chinese nationals. We saw European expats and Chinese mentally ill patients. We toured a beautiful international school and cozy Chinese kindergarten (a great opportunity for the Jade to learn his birth language) We met people they had poured their lives into, and understood the value of long-term discipleship to transform one’s relationship with God and help her stay on The Way despite pressure from the culture (and all cultures!) to be selfish, competitive and unforgiving. We had in depth conversations with this couple about life in China as a family, and the unique challenges, blessings and opportunities they have found here. I felt like Mrs. C really reached out to me, and encouraged me to stop performing in my relationship with God. She said, “if you’re like me you have these really high standards for yourself, and always feel you’re falling short. You feel like God is a little disappointed with you, and you need to pray more and do this or that more before He’ll really use you. But the thing is, He is using you, and working through you, whether you are able to reach your standards or not”. She encouraged me to have more grace with myself, and be open to God’s grace towards me.
Bob enjoyed talking with Mr. P. He is a visionary entrepreneurial guy, and seemed excited about Bob’s idea of PACT teams for homeless mentally ill patients. He was also able to tour a hospital and see severely mentally ill patients, an opportunity we didn’t think would work out. We visited a Chinese “house church”, not an overcrowded rural shack hounded by police, but a large well furnished building that looked like- a church. There seems to be more freedom in this province. The pastor showed a breadth of vision and depth of insight. He told us that the Chinese Christians are reaching out to their country by holding a national Christian blood donation day. Apparently donors are few and the need is great, therefore blood is scarce in China. He was mobilizing his own congregational for this beautiful application of incarnational theology.
The day before we left, we drove over the mighty Yangtze and hiked a mountain along East Lake. The air was pure and fragrant, and we stood on the balcony of an ancient palace overlooking the river, forest and pagodas below, shrouded in mist. I was encouraged that there are places one can truly escape to be alone and talk to God, even in China. I had those internet pictures in my mind of vacationing Chinese on the beach so packed together you couldn’t see the sand.

We mostly overcame jetlag while in Wuhan. It was a mixed blessing; Bob experienced the stillness of one sleepless night where he felt led to Christ’s words in Matthew 10:37-39:”Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” Stark words that request one’s deepest sacrifice and stir up one’s longing for eternal purpose. At other times the kids awoke us, hyper and hungry, and we spent our deep night hours snacking and trying vainly to soothe them by the reading of endless books.

I was sad when our week in Wuhan ended and we boarded the plane, but excited to see what awaited us in Shenyang. We were stunned by how much colder it was here, and scrambled through our bags for winter coats. A smoggy haze hung over the city. We arrived at the apartment of our new hosts. Both physicians, they graciously opened their 3 bedroom apartment to us despite the fact that 6 people were already living there. We added our 2 kids to their 4 and crammed our suitcases into their homeschool room. We saw the 5 hamster cages in their living room and thought, this is going to be a long week. The Jade and Nick enjoyed harassing these fluffy rodents, and there were several frantic searches for escapees. But despite the cozy living quarters I am so thankful we spent the week with them instead of in a hotel. Mrs. E is an energetic, compassionate lady who juggles the needs of her children, ministry relationships and medical work, rising early and staying up late into the night answering emails. While we were there her husband flew off to the Philippines to do disaster relief medical work. It requires patience, intelligence and creativity to create a secure and welcoming home environment in a foreign land, but they have succeeded. In both homes we felt the preservation of American tradition and cuisine utilizing what is made and grown in China. A few imported and mailed items add a layer of comfort, a cozy tie to their native America. When they leave their apartment they respect local customs and communicate well in Mandarin. But their home is their haven, and I sensed that here, in this cold and hazy city, it must be so for them to survive long term. The program here is more developed with outreaches to orphanages, rural sites and nursing homes, as well as an expatriate clinic. I experienced each of these for half a day, especially enjoying the orphanage and village outreaches. On the long bus ride I chatted with Miss H, a physician who arrived recently to begin her long-term work. She shared about the struggle of singleness but showed a strength of calling and commitment to be here, trusting God for her future. We shivered in the unheated rooms of a donated church, seeing patients presented by the Chinese residents. They were eager to learn and happy we took the time to explain our differential, physical exam findings, and the various aspects of a diagnosis. One resident told me that Chinese physicians are too busy to teach or explain these things. We stopped at a Chinese restaurant on the way back and ten of us feasted on a round table of Chinese entrees for 25 USD. We visited a very nice orphanage and examined children who ranged from healthy to severely handicapped. Mrs. E told me that their other orphanages were less funded and the children more severe. As always, my favorite part was playing and interacting with the children. One 2 year old girl captured my heart, and my desire to have a Chinese daughter continues to pulse within me.
Bob had the opportunity to meet with Chinese psychiatrists at Chinese Medical University. They compared notes on patient care, and he was frankly asked about his income in the U.S. “Why would you want to come to China?” they asked. We were touched by the team dynamics here, the open sharing on everything from cultural to spiritual struggles. Christianity in this part of the Bible belt is characterized by the pressure to be positive, to shine forth the perfect Christian life. When further influenced by an excessive American affinity to privacy, isolation results. We have found it difficult to experience true vulnerability within a group of believers in the U.S, but in Shenyang they were bonded by their common vision and struggles.
We spent our last day touring the Imperial Palace, residence of one of China’s emperors hundreds of years ago. It was interesting to see the ancient buildings, historical artifacts, and especially to peer into the throne room, ornate with gilding and entwined with writhing dragons around the pillars. A glimpse into the glory and mystery of ancient China; this complex and advanced civilization that was writing its own history while western civilization was being born. We were mobbed by baby loving paparazzi at the palace; young people snapping pictures of the Jade and Nick, asking us why we had a Chinese child. Pulling down their pants legs in fear that they were cold. My limited Chinese was put to the test. So much for uninterrupted family time.

Bob and I began to envision our family living in China; to consider what we would gain and what we would lose. We would gain the opportunity to shape a new generation of Chinese family medicine and psychiatry physicians. To touch the lives of patients we would never meet in the U.S. To do medical outreach to the underserved and have ready access to natural disaster prone SE Asian and Pacific nations. To come alongside Chinese churches and offer encouragement, English training, discipleship to young believers. For Bob to start a counseling ministry, teach theology and church history. To immerse ourselves in another culture and begin to understand it. For us and our children to learn to be bilingual. For our children to grow up with a global perspective, an openness to those who are different, and the relative moral protection of a more regulated society. The community of our team united around a common vision. To have the rare and unique experiences which only come to those who take the chance on a big adventure. To experience God’s presence and provision in a way that only happens when we are not in control and must cast ourselves on Him. What we would lose: much, from a typical American perspective. A double physician income, comfortable house and lifestyle, the opportunity to easily add more children to our family, the relative security of a familiar culture, language and place. We open ourselves to environmental hazards; exposure to pollution, driving without carseats, antibiotics in our meat, and cultural hazards; intrusive questions, lack of privacy, and strangers’ unsolicited parenting advice. The loss of a backyard for our boys, our familiar things and their toys.
Throughout this trip I had to guard my heart. Sharing life with long-term workers stripped away my romanticism, bringing a healthy realism about what life here is really like. Despite the very real challenges I felt that this is where I want to be. I boarded the subway in Shenyang to find myself the only foreigner, packed in with Chinese people all the way down on both sides. I prayed for them- so many people, most of whom would never know Christ’s love and the welcome of God. I loved the challenge of utilizing my Pimsleur Chinese phrases, the thrill of communicating in another language, even in a limited way. The adventure of shopping, of guessing what might be inside by the pictures. I sensed that Bob didn’t feel the same way. He agreed that Wuhan had some opportunities for him, but they seemed theoretical and unsure. What about the pollution, and other risks to the kids? Was this really better than taking care of patients in the U.S? He had a lot of good ministry ideas for here too. The day before we left we worshipped at a three self church. The pastor preached in Chinese and it was translated. He preached on marriage; that together a husband and wife reflect the image of God. He shared the story of Abraham and Sarah in Egypt, when Abraham asked Sarah to lie to the pharaoh to protect himself. She complied. God asks a wife to respect and honor her husband knowing that he won’t always make the best decisions, or the ones she agrees with. Because Sarah honored her husband by following his wishes God stepped in in a miraculous way to deliver them. The pastor said that wives will only see this divine presence and leading if we have the faith to honor our husbands despite our disagreement. Through this sermon I felt God telling me to trust him with the things that seemed to pull Bob and I apart; our divergent dreams and callings. I had to trust that they were both good;though they seemed to conflict, in the end they would lead us where we were meant to be.
We returned to the U.S. with the gracious provision of two extra airplane seats. Sensing that Bob didn’t want to commit to China, I emailed our contacts that we were going to look around some more. I tried to steady myself in limbo between fulfillment of a long held hope and the acceptance of its loss. I realized that we may never make the great leap across the ocean at all. I felt the call of China fall to the floor, and I left it there. I felt new grace to let go, that I had done all that I could do. I had kept this calling alive through one and a half decades, I had cultivated relationships with Chinese people, taken Perspectives, studied the language and made the trip. God wasn’t asking me to manipulate my husband and endanger my marriage to make this happen; that wasn’t my job. I didn’t resent Bob because he had been willing to make the trip, and I knew that he had tried to be open. Two weeks went by. Then one night when I was flossing my teeth Bob came to me: “I think we should ask them to process our application to move to Wuhan for a year”. My heart stopped. “What!?” I waited for his explanation: “This is an opportunity, and I don’t think we should just let it pass”. Later Bob revealed that he had been struggling with this decision for a year. He had felt while we were in Wuhan that we might be coming back there. There was so much for him to process and give up since his own medical opportunities were less secure than mine. And yet his seminary and teaching callings fit perfectly within a culture of young believers needing discipleship. He read the words of Pope Francis about making room in our hearts for the poor, and not letting our love of material things cut us off from the love of God. A thousand questions and considerations brought him to the moment of decision: “Let’s do this.”
I still hold China with an open hand. Many barriers still stand before us. We have broadened our commitment to 1-2 years with an option to stay longer if we have a reason to. But is this enough? Will we be able to raise support? What about resistance from family, bewildered looks from friends who can’t fathom why we’d make this choice? If we do make it there will we be able to navigate the “slow earthquake” of ministry there Mr. P described. Contacts and opportunities fall through, the landscape is constantly shifting, and we must not loose heart. There are no guarantees, but I do know this: I have seen God work within my husband and our marriage in ways I couldn’t imagine a couple years ago. We have never been more united than we are now. I know that Bob’s decision came from God’s working and not my own. This gives me hope that He is behind this venture, that this misunderstood dream, fraught with human weakness and challenged by a hundred distractions, is still His dream for us.

This is a strange post for Christmas, coming a month after our return. I’ll blame that on a typical hectic American December, made worse by a late start and lingering jet lag. But one of the most striking and miraculous things about the birth of Christ is that God showed up when no one was expecting Him, and that He graced the lowly places with His presence. Throughout this China journey I have felt Him speak grace to me, felt His attention and intervention on behalf of a long-awaited dream. So Christmas came a little early this year.



two roads

Have you ever stopped in the middle of a crisis or decision and realized that the choices you were making would affect the rest of your life? My college parking lot, deciding whether to pursue teaching or apply to med school. An upstairs cram school in Kyoto, determining whether I wanted to return to the U.S. or stay overseas. Jogging around a west Texas football field, debating whether this was the man God had for me to marry. Big decisions. Decisions you can’t undo or turn back the clock on. You can say “yes” or “no”, but you can’t remove them from your life, and either way they leave a mark.

We are facing that kind of decision. We are at a fork in the road of our united lives. The road well-traveled leads us to a prosperous income, comfortable house, security, family and fairly predictable journey. The “road less traveled”, well it promises financial struggle, narrowing practice opportunities, spiritual warfare, relearning how to speak, unknown diseases and dangers, and a lot less prestige.

Why do we want to do this? For me, this desire has been building for a long time. When I came to Dallas Baptist I had just done the Bible study “Experiencing God”. I was convinced that the key to a fruitful Christian life is knowing where God is working and joining Him in His work. I stepped onto campus and saw international students everywhere. They seemed lonely. They smiled and looked happy when I talked to them. And when I walked away I had the sense that I was doing the right thing. That simple impression led me into international ministry for four years. Dozens of students came to my house. Many came to a ladies Bible study in my room, and many came to Christ too. I took trips to Taiwan and Japan. When I was there I felt like I came alive in a way that I couldn’t within American culture. I lost my shyness and inhibitions. I reached out and embraced life’s adventure. All of this made me want to work overseas someday. I wanted to minister cross culturally; to take on another language and culture as my own while sharing the light and hope of the gospel. I remember sitting on a hilly meadow at DBU, and felt God lay two choices before me: “You can have a safe life, and you will be in control, but it will be small. Or, you can surrender your life to me, and let me stretch and enlarge you, and your life will be open and impact many”.

At that moment I chose the larger life, though not knowing what it meant at the time. Yet much of what was planted in me in college has laid dormant or even been dissipated by a hundred worries, distractions and entanglements. I could never have imagined the physical and personal investment med school and residency would be. Marriage is God’s gift and calling for me, but it exponentially complicates one’s decisions and ability to be clearly “called”. Bob and I have had to grapple with double med school debt, and the ensuing fatigue that weighs the travelers on this road. And then came the children. I hope to write about them in depth later, the heart melting, miraculous gifts they have been. But they do turn the telescope around. Instead of dreaming, scanning the horizon for opportunities to serve nobly and embrace adventure, I struggle to accomplish simple coherent tasks in the face of constant distraction and imminent minor disasters. Myopia sets in as I fret about the tiniest things. Fatigue drags us down to survival mode, resigning us to the most basic level of existence, where we crave only food and rest. Our sense of higher purpose can be lost. Yet I feel like, in my mid 30’s, that God is energizing me again for something. Some of my life’s purpose has lain dormant, and now the circumstances are coming together for it to be fulfilled. I want to serve God in a difficult place, a place where not enough people are working. A place with spiritual darkness and people longing for the light. I want to meet medical needs, but in a way that addresses the spirit. I want my life to be oriented around the soul needs of others. I am intrigued and haunted my the people yet unreached, almost dumbfounded to consider that there are billions who have never known the hope of peace with God and the promise of eternal life. How can so many have no clue about the Truth I take for granted every day?

For many years I have wanted to work for the kingdom in another culture. I took medical trips to Malawi, India, Haiti and Mexico. I found myself tearing up and getting goose bumps when I heard what God was doing all over the world, but especially in China. I’ve studied different languages, and lately have been learning Chinese from library cds and my Chinese neighbor. I took the Perspectives course and realized how much I had to learn about strategy and effectiveness abroad.I feel like this dream of serving overseas has already shaped my life a lot. I chose my residency because of its broad training, working countless hours to gain skills and see difficult cases I might encounter overseas. Even as we’ve built our home, we’ve purchased used furniture and avoided high priced items that might be difficult to give up later. We didn’t register for china. We structured our financial planning with a roadmap to get out of debt as quickly as possible. When I see friends move into bigger houses I remind myself that our three bedroom is probably a lot nicer than what we’ll have overseas. I’m trying to create expectations in myself for a lifestyle that would work in a less prosperous country. This dream challenges me to complain less; I catch myself and think, “if I can’t handle this, how will I face the challenge of cross cultural judgements and misunderstandings”. A friend once shared a poetic verse with me from Jeremiah: “If you have run with footmen and they have worn you out, how will you compete with horses?”. It is human nature to jump just high enough to clear the lowest bar. By living with a readiness and willingness to drop everything and go, I believe that I have learned to live under a higher standard for my life than I otherwise would have.
Not that being an overseas worker requires just an extra measure of asceticism and self-discipline. No work is successful without the calling of God and His spirit in the middle of it. I’ve received an abundance of good teaching on vocation; that God’s calling to any work is holy, and that the geography where the work occurs is unimportant as long as one is faithful and obedient to Christ there. Certainly there is more kingdom work to be done in the U.S. than will get done. Why this fixation on going overseas? Why does that matter?
The only way I can process this is to acknowledge that God’s calling on each person is very individual. I don’t know His purpose for someone else, so I should not judge them if they are not passionate about the same cause I am. Those who belong to Christ engage in the work He is doing where they are. Those who have not given him their hearts do not engage, even if they are living overseas. This was a breakthrough for me that occurred just a few years ago.
And yet this journey has not been simple. As we explore the possibility of going to China, a new algorithm opens before us. We are interested in this place because of its openness towards family medicine, as well as its spiritual needs and receptivity. But beyond that, there is the draw of a hundred smaller things. The memory of my first overseas trips to Asia, my dozens of Asian college friends, our own child adopted from Taiwan, and a natural love for and comfort within the Chinese cultural system with its emotional restraint, love of diligence and scholarship and appreciation of nature. But the way is not open yet. Bob is a psychiatrist; will China let him see their patients? If he can’t will he be able to practice his vocation in the way God called him to? What if we make this trip, and decide that the door just isn’t open for both of us to serve there? Do we: a. explore other opportunities in Asia b. explore countries more friendly to western doctors, such as African countries or c. give up and decide that it wasn’t God’s will and just stay in the U.S. I’ve realized as we get ready to really do this that I’m not as open and ready to go anywhere/do anything as I was in my twenties. I want to help people in physical need, but I don’t want to work 80 hours a week in a mission hospital seeing 100 patients a day. Even though I could probably help a lot of people and there is real need, I don’t want to do that, and I don’t think it’s just because I’m too lazy. I’ve learned that I need balanced life of work and rest, physical and spiritual ministry. My heart and compassion stay engaged, and I just work better that way. So besides doing medical care I want to talk to people about God. And share my story and help others on their spiritual journey. But even after saying that, I’m not totally open to geography either. Some of North Africa and the Middle East is too dangerous for us with two young kids. What about the rest of Africa? SE Asia? Malaria, tropical diseases, and limited medical care if our family gets sick. As unspiritual as this sounds, these are real concerns for us when the rubber meets the road. How is daily malaria prophylaxis going to affect the boys’ growing livers? The Jade’s asthma attack with the ER trip was scary enough, and he runs fevers to 105 with a virus. How are we going to deal with fever of unknown cause without good access to medical care (being a doctor doesn’t help much in these situations)? Then, there’s the culture. Every culture has it’s lovely and it’s grating features. Which ones can we see ourselves working with, and which ones are unbearable? At this point in my life, I don’t think I can function well in a Muslim culture long term being viewed as my husband’s property and unable to leave my home without a male escort. Neither of us feel drawn to the Middle East, though I’m glad many people do. All of this puts us in the “count the cost” portion of our spiritual journey. What do we want? What do we need? We are real people with real fears and struggles, and we need to be in touch with those, however “unsurrendered” that feels. And what is God saying in the midst of all this? Are we truly open to His plan in the midst of all our hesitations and preferences? And are we willing to give it all up and start over?

This is not an easy place to be. But it is an exciting one. This is the place where decade old dreams, the needs on the field, the gifts we can bring and the calling of God collide into one unpredictable trajectory. As I reflect on all the roadblocks, hesitations and struggles we’ve faced along this journey I still have a sense that we’re on the right one. I still want to make the sacrifice if it’s God’s plan for us. I want to take the risk because I think at the end of our lives we will say it was worth it. I close this rambling post with a poem by Robert Frost. I like it for its simplicity and understated tone. Many times I wish I could make both choices. Or at least know where they would lead. But our lives pass quickly, and we don’t always realize we have transitioned from one chapter to the next, leaving certain opportunities behind forever. We may pass that fork in the road and not even realize it. It is important to see the crossroads in our lives, and try to make the choice we won’t regret.


Robert Frost (1874–1963).
The Road Not Taken

TWO roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.