It seems another person boarded a plane for China thirty years ago.
She was timid and scared of the path that lay before her, a new mom with a daughter one-year in age. She had never been out of the country of her birth, let alone to the other side of the world.
How could she leave the safety of the known, her family, and friends, for the unknown?
Thirteen hours after boarding a plane, she landed in Shanghai, China with her husband and child. The flight was smooth as her daughter slept most of the way. Slowly disembarking the plane, weighed down by carry-ons and with their daughter in a stroller, she and her husband were taken aback when soldiers made a beeline directly towards them. They seemed so fierce in camouflage green uniforms wearing stern looks on their faces.
Had they taken too long getting off the plane?
Motioning for the small family to follow, her heart sank as she wondered what they had done. Walking together from the plane to the concourse where lines of people waited to go through immigration, they were ushered to the front of a very long line. The soldiers un-expectedly turned towards the family and smiled. They gestured with a sweeping motion of their hands for them to go on through, as if they were saying, “Welcome to China!”
Letting out the breath she hadn’t realized she’d been holding, they stepped up to the immigration booth. It was a nice way to enter the country and begin their new journey. Making their way through, gathering their wits and their luggage, they entered the otherworldly environment that waited just outside the doors.
The kindness of the soldiers was too easily forgotten. Having traveled across the world from the cornfields of Ohio where she grew up, and the rolling hills of northern Virginia where she and her husband spent the first years of their marriage, to the crowded streets of Shanghai, 11 million strong; it was all so overwhelming. She felt adrift on a raft in the middle of the ocean.
Her daughter attracted crowds like a movie star. The people wanted to feel her Shirley Templetype curly soft hair and squeeze her cheeks. People tried to take her daughter out of their arms to pose for photos. In her mind’s eye, a madness seemed to come over the people as if a celebrity were in their midst. While touring a temple area and park, the crowd swarmed around the little family. She was separated from her daughter who was snugly in her husband’s arms. There are probably stories to this day of a crazed foreign woman pressing through the crowds of Shanghai, screaming for her child, like a ferocious momma bear chasing after her cub. After what seemed an eternity, she caught up with them.
With the crushing crowds, roads that seemed to have no rules, volume levels turned on high, and a language she did not understand swirling around her, she wanted to turn around and board a plane. She wanted to return to the known.
She thought, “What were we possibly thinking?”
She told her husband that first day, “I think we made a mistake.” He lovingly said, “Let’s make it a week.” After all, hadn’t they rearranged their life, said goodbye to family and friends? She reluctantly agreed to “try” to make it a week.
After a few more days in Shanghai, the family boarded a small plane and flew down south. Landing in another new city, where her husband would be teaching at a university, she committed to “try.” It all still felt otherworldly and impossible. Her husband went off to teach, she nested, striving to create a home for their little family. She wanted to keep her commitment to try. Unbeknownst to her, the students waited to meet her and their daughter. Her husband invited them to come visit. The students gave her a Chinese name, Yi Wen. She was told it meant “clean or fresh like immediately after a rain.” They filled their home with laughter and their hearts with joy. They made her feel accepted, they made her feel loved. The fear began to subside within her. She could take a breath, look around, and settle in.
Two months after touching down in Shanghai, she faced a new challenge. She became pregnant with their second child. She was again afraid, faced with the unknown. She carried her child in this new environment that she was not quite sure of. Her husband took care of her. Her little girl comforted her. The students, who weren’t much older than she was, supported and encouraged her.
However, her pregnancy was difficult and she was encouraged to return to the States to give birth. Seven months later, she was on another plane heading back to the US. Though not without its drama, most babies enter the world this way, they celebrated the birth of their bouncing baby boy!
Returning to China with her husband, daughter, and one-year-old son was a much easier transition the second time around. She learned the language, understood more of the culture, and fell in love with the people.
Little did she know what was on the horizon. She could never have imagined what the journey would look like back then.
“We never know what God has up His sleeve. You never know what might happen; you only know what you have to do now.” – Elisabeth Elliot
Looking back, it’s hard to imagine that girl was me. Thirty years have passed since that day I first boarded a plane for China. In the attic of my parent’s home in Ohio, there sits a box that contains an old worn-out passport, which bears the stamp from China’s immigration dated August 28, 1987. These first steps set the course for a meaningful, exciting adventure.
Like all adventures, it has been fraught with snares, disappointments, and mistakes. There have been times when a re-do would have been nice, but that’s not life; it marches forward and not back. However, those moments, along with facing the unknown, have created in me a strength I never imagined I could possess. Strength acquired each step of the way for the next unknown step to come.
God set my feet to wandering and our family has lived in ten different countries while visiting many others. There have been times I’ve felt like a ping-pong ball. Our suitcases barely landed for long before being repacked, dragged through airports, reloaded onto planes, then unpacked and settled for a while. Each move, each country, has been for a reason and a purpose. I’ve gone through an inordinate number of passports.
The last thirty years have flown by as if riding a high-speed train, out of control at times, racing down the tracks as I grip the armrests with white knuckles. Life too quickly passes.
However, there is an importance to pausing in remembrance. To look back and view the path journeyed from a forward vantage point. Moments come to mind of peace amid extremely difficult situations. Moments of hurt that I thought I would never move past, only to gain strength from the pain. Failure experienced where a better way was born. Times when we as a family did without, creating within me an appreciation for when we had all that we needed and more. Moments my head was bent in sorrow, creating within me a great appreciation for times of joy.
It is important to take time to remember with thankfulness, for there is much to be thankful for. I am thankful for the loving, caring husband God brought across my path thirty-four years ago. For two amazing children, now grown, who have been on this same adventure and who I count as good friends. For extended family and friends who love me despite my wandering feet. Even for those difficult moments. For the many times when God provided and stepped in to calm a storm. For all the good that I have experienced in great measure.
From the mega-cities of China to the mountainous regions; from the crowded vibrant streets of Hong Kong and Macau to the beautiful open spaces of Mongolia; from the beautiful beaches of Indonesia and Thailand to the dusty streets of India, and more; I am overwhelmed with gratitude for these amazing places I’ve seen, the wonderful memories that have been created, the unforgettable people I’ve met, and the meaningful opportunities God has given me to help and to love.
Exciting and discouraging, amazing and ordinary, the ups and downs of life mixed together have created a paradoxical wonderful life up to this point in time. On the scale of life; the joy, wonder, amazement, meaning, and all the good have outweighed the bad. I love the life God has breathed into me and am thankful for the journey He has set me on.
Here’s to thirty more!!