I’m getting on a plane today to go home, for good. Our amazing adventure is over.
One year ago, almost to the day, I was also getting on a plane heading back to the United States. I had been in China for two weeks starting my new job and finding a place to live. I was coming home for a two-week trip to say my good-byes and attend my brother’s wedding.
I vividly remember standing in the Shanghai airport with a heavy, terrified heart. I had spent two weeks learning about my new home and asking any American-looking teenager I came across, “Are you happy here? Do you like living here?” All of them, every one, looked at me as you might imagine a teenager would look at a strange woman and answered, “Yes. We love it here. We are happy.”
I couldn’t believe it. My three children back home were grieving that I was ruining their lives. My family was grieving. Jay and I were in absolute turmoil, swaying between a state of near debilitating stress from closing down your whole life in one country in two months to sheer panic that we had surely lost our minds.
There wasn’t much time for excitement or anticipation. Only anguish. I remember one of my prayers being, “Please God, please, don’t let any of our parents die while we are gone.”
So there I stood in line to get on a plane, surrounded by other expat families making their annual trips home, unable to imagine myself in their same shoes.
How a year can change things. Through a series of unplanned twists our assignment has ended one year sooner than planned. And now, I again have children with broken hearts. Only Zane is thrilled to be returning home. Jay and I have heavy hearts as well.
We are all five very much looking forward to being back with the people we love. (And clean air, water and food, but who’s counting those things?)
But now our hearts long for Asia, too, and the amazing opportunities and experiences we have had here. Our adventure was cut short, and we are sad.
We’ve walked the Great Wall and gazed across Tiananmen Square. We’ve hiked rice terraces in Indonesia. Colin even helped to build one for poor families in a remote part of China. We’ve been diving and snorkeling in some of the most beautiful water that must grace the planet in the Philippines. We’ve ridden elephants through the jungle in Thailand. We’ve laughed, cried and prayed together more than ever before. We’ve become closer as a family.
We’ve also become stronger. Because of this experience, my children now know they can go anywhere in the world and they will be OK. They are braver, wiser and have a much broader view of the world than they ever could have had by sitting in 50 geography classes.
Leaving home was different. That was merely putting a bookmark in my favorite novel, to return later. This time it’s closing a new favorite, with little hope for a sequel.
It took about six months before all of us could honestly say, “I’m glad we came.” I hope it won’t take as long this time to reach the point where we can all honestly say, “I’m glad we came home because….”
I hope I’m changed. It’s easy now to give a list of all the things I’ll do differently. I know when reality hits most of this will fade away, but here’s my list nonetheless.
I want to be more intentional about carving out time alone with just our family. We created a new family ritual here that we call Dinner and a Movie. (Creative, huh?) Every Sunday night we make dinner together as a family and take turns picking the movie we’ll watch together. I hope to at least keep this one.
I want to rest more. That’s pretty easy to do when you move to the opposite side of the planet with no friends and no family, have a driver who does your grocery shopping and runs your errands and an ayi who comes to your house twice a week to do your laundry and clean. I’m pretty sure this one will be a failure in about a week, but I’m going to try anyway.
I want to prioritize the people in my life more. This one is completely opposed to #1 and #2, so I’m pretty sure this one will be a failure, too. But maybe I can be better about picking up the phone or going to lunch or taking time to spend 5 minutes chatting with someone. One thing I promised myself months ago. When I miss my sister and get an urge to see her, I’m going to get in the car and go do it. Even if she is four hours away. Because I can. I don’t care if I have to spend the weekend doing nothing special. It will be special because I get to be with my sister.
I hope I also don’t forget the lessons I’ve learned about life. Three stand out as I reflect on the year.
I learned to wait on God. Maybe it’s better to say I practiced waiting on God, because I still haven’t mastered it. I’m a huge planner, but these last 15 months have been a full-time course in waiting and taking things day by day. I never want to waste a hard thing, and I hope I don’t waste this one.
I learned that there’s no such thing as the perfect place or circumstance. Things here or there are not necessarily better or worse. They are just different.
I learned that you can’t have everything. Of course I knew this before I left, but now I’ve lived it intensely. As long as we are living in a place constrained by time and space, you can’t make lots of new friends from around the world and have deep, decades-long friendships. You can’t have terrific international schools and grandparents who regularly pour into your children’s lives. And you can’t have really good queso and really good xiaolongbao all on the same day.
As the days have progressed since our decision to move home, we are remembering more and more of the things that made us say, “Are we crazy to leave this wonderful life we have here?” I know soon we’ll, too, be saying, “I’m so glad we came home.”
God Bless Texas and God Bless the Middle Kingdom.
(This edition is dedicated to Dave, Gloria, Ryan, Aimee, Brad, Esme, Kellar, Dee, Josh and Felicia. Thank you, and until the day all 12 of us are together again, I’ll miss you.)