Moving Abroad, Chicken Feet, & Life-Long Friendships

This post orginally appeared on bestselling author Beth Wiseman’s blog on Tuesday. She is one of the fiction authors I work with at Thomas Nelson & I feel incredibly blessed to know her. Today’s post is a great way to gear up for next week’s guest posts. My friend Natalie will post on Monday about strength and weakness in relation to Chinese culture & the Gospel; Wednesday you’ll hear about The Red Light Outreach-a ministry to Chinese women trapped in the sex industry-from one of the founders. Exciting week ahead!

I stepped off the plane, my head still spinning from the rough landing, as the smell of fried noodles and strong spices wafted over me; instantly taking note of what appeared to be thousands of black eyes staring at my differences. I nervously pulled my hair back behind my ears and bit my fingernails- just 14 hours ago I was sitting in the Atlanta airport speaking English. I felt as Lucy must have when she discovered Narnia. The wardrobe was behind me as I was standing in an unknown world of fascination and intrigue—one where everyone stared at me like I was a life-size doll and the words consisted of intricate pictures. I was certainly not in Kansas anymore. I arrived across the globe in what would be my new home for the next two years: China.

I moved to China to tell a primarily atheist nation about the one true God who sent His Son to die for them. I was there to be the hands and feet of Christ—in a city where brokenness and sorrow reigned because a recent earthquake buried thousands of children underneath their schools. Overwhelming does not even scratch the surface of the emotions I felt walking around my new city of 12 million. The most daunting task was to learn to communicate in their heart language.

The honeymoon phase with my new home ended rather quickly. I grew frustrated with the people staring at me on every street corner, some touching my hair and face as if I was an artifact. The general hurry of everyone in public seemed unjustified, especially when elbows would find their way into my sides or worse when I was pushed off a bus one time. Pushed! I didn’t understand why the Chinese stood in line touching each other or why people would cut me in line if I didn’t press my body against the person in front of me. And why the hurry at the train station? I have never before experienced such massive chaos and panic as the train doors opened and we were allowed to find our (assigned, mind you) seats. Grocery shopping in China on a Monday morning felt like Y2K was looming. And everywhere I went, people snapped pictures of me (without permission) and school children giggled and pointed.

The language came with great difficulty, many embarrassing moments—the word napkin and menstrual pad should not be confused, esp. in a crowded restaurant—and many tears over the frustration of the large communication barriers.  With time, I began to form deep friendships with Chinese women. The cultural barriers came down, brick by brick, as I was able to truly recognize that while they looked different, talked different, and had different customs, we were in essence the same in longing for love, acceptance, and belonging. They needed a Savior just as much as I did. My housekeeper Xiao Li and I loved to laugh and share a good meal with friends. My friend Zhou Qiu Yu and I both loved to sit up late and eat ‘snacks’ and watch a movie (however her ‘snack of choice’ was chicken feet). My friend Zhou Xin and I like to run together. Elengi and I liked to watch The Office together. One night, I invited my Chinese friends over for a sleepover. And guess what we did? Danced, sang, laughed, ate way too much candy, went to bed at 4am, and talked about boys. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

Each day as I lived among the Chinese, spoke their language, and became closer friends with natives, the unfamiliar with the culture grew familiar. They laughed, desired acceptance, fought with their relatives, struggled with selfishness, loved deeply, had their hearts broken, wanted to be thinner, experienced anger, wanted more—just like us. While there will always be language & cultural barriers between me and the Chinese, my time in their midst was the most rewarding time in my life. Hard, yes. But richly blessed with friendships and experiences that forever change the way I view others.

Have you ever experienced life among people from a different culture or background? How did it challenge your faith?

He Chose Me | Fully Known & Fully Loved

I stood behind the closed French doors, the sweet notes of amazing grace telling me it was almost time. The wedding planner fluffed my satin dress & veil one more time.  Breath, I told myself.

The  doors opened and I knew the guests stood, the harp and violin grew louder, and the hot June breeze swept through the backyard.  But all I saw was him. My groom. He waited for me at the end of the aisle-tears welling up in his eyes-as he watched me make my way down the stone steps and closer towards him.

I can’t believe he chose me. I can’t believe he chose me. He chose me. He chose me!

I cried, even though I promised myself I wouldn’t. I was in disbelief that despite everything, Michael Dean chose me to be his wife.

The thoughts brought a feeling I’ll never fully be able to describe. Hundreds of eyes were on me, but all I saw was him. He knew the darkest places in my life-yet he chose me. The thought beckoned a deeper realization of the truth of the Gospel. Christ chose to endure death, that we may have life. He chose you and I, despite our shortcomings & promises to ‘get it right’—and the Bible says He calls us each by name. We are His.

On my drive back to Nashville yesterday, I talked with a friend about the ‘dark places’ in each of us—the areas we are often ashamed of and don’t share with even close friends. We both confessed a desire to be vulnerable with our friends, but we worry they won’t like us once they know who we really are. “You only love me, because you don’t know who I really am. You don’t know where I’ve been…” are the lies we often believe. Have you ever thought that once someone knew “the real you”, they wouldn’t love you anymore?

Michael is truly one of the greatest blessings in my life—and his love & daily choosing me reminds me of my Father’s love. He knows me fully and loves me completely. It is incredible. Our relationships with our spouses should echo the cry of the eternal God who choses us, despite the dark areas in our lives.

In the words of Joy from The Civil Wars, “The longer you know someone – and the longer you allow someone to know you – the more the light and shadows inside each person become more vivid. This song was our attempt at being as brutally honest about the dangerous and beautiful process of knowing and being known.”

Have you ever been in a relationship where you felt fully known and fully loved? Have you ever taken a risk and shared something hard with a close friend or spouse?

[Life Together] | On Friendship

 ”The Smallettes”. From L to R. Sarah, Sarah, Larissa, Me, Layne, Brooke (the bride), Mandy, Bailey. 

This past weekend, Michael and I went to Atlanta to join in the wedding celebration for our friends, Brooke and Lane. Congratulations Mr. and Mrs. Wooten!

The wedding ceremony took on the front lawn of Rhodes Hall, a large stone mansion on Peachtree street. The first sign of fall swept through the trees signaling the men in the crowd to give their jackets to the ladies beside them. We waited in eager expectation as we watched the immediate family come down the pathway, including our good friend Mandy [Lane is her older brother]. After much anticipation [and shivering], Brooke appeared and stunning doesn’t even begin to describe how beautiful she was. The tears in her groom’s eyes at the base of the large stone mansion said it all. He had waited for a woman like her. And now she walked towards him. What a beautiful day.

Three years ago, I came home from living in China for a short break from life overseas—lonely. Desperately needing friends who I could share life with and walk beside. I attended Buckhead Church and joined a ‘small group’, a group of 8-10 people to share life together centered around Jesus. It wasn’t perfect from day 1. Our meetings were a little awkward and I often wondered, “do I fit in with these girls?” We were all different in age, career, personality, amongst others.

We met week after week and shared life together. Laughed [a lot]. Celebrated our differences. Carried each others burdens. Talked and cried about boys. Broke off unhealthy relationships. Challenged each other to live our lives in a God-honoring way. Part of the hard part of keeping groups made up of single twenty-somethings is marriage changes everything. We no longer meet weekly, as many of us are in different stages of life [or live in different cities].  Now, we are celebrating each other’s weddings. I do believe God brought us together for a season, to learn and grow as His daughters together. I feel sad just thinking about living so far away from them in Nashville. I can’t wait to update this post with pictures from Bailey’s, Mandy’s, [English] Sarah’s, Larissa’s, and Sarah [W]‘s weddings. Michael has his eye open for each of you. I love you girls. xoxo

The "Smallettes" at My Wedding 06/04/2011

Andrea was the first to tie the knot! Gorgeous. 07/17/2010

We never had an official "Smallettes" picture taken at Layne’s wedding, but this one sums up Layne perfectly! She takes the cake for the best dancer. ["Teach me how to duggie"

We were created to be in relationship by someone who longs for a relationship with each of us. But it can be hard to find friends-especially in new cities or amidst busy work schedules. Do you have friends in your life you can be honest with? Trust? Do you think living in community is important?