We are a forward people.

As I read scripture this morning, specifically passages from Exodus, Ruth, and Paul’s epistles, I’m struck by the forward momentum of it all.  While the Bible isn’t often known for being a coherent narrative, here are a people, who though they never fully understood God’s vision, God’s plans, were constantly being told of promise and redemption, Church growth and Holy community, that lay emphatically in the future.

Wa minority church building in the mountains of Yunnan.

And I think about the weight of those promises, the power of that vision, especially in a land like China, where one was traditionally born into a family, a profession, and a role that would not change and shift for much of anything.

But I’m haunted, as I’m sure the Israelites were (I mean, remember the Golden Calf and the whining in the desert?  I’m not the only unfaithful one out there, it seems!) by such commands to leave one place for another unknown, and the very thought that my near future is not here in China, where I’ve made my life over the past two years, but somewhere back in the United States.

Dragon’s neck rice terraces–Guangxi, Ping’an.

And though I’ve found God’s peace in the midst of this time, in the interest of presenting a more real self to my readers and to God, I also have to admit to pangs of guilt and dis-ease as I found myself on the floor of the orphanage in Guilin just a few short weeks ago.

You see, all I’d ever wanted, in many ways, was to find myself sleeping on that orphanage floor.  I’d wanted the orphanage directors and the NGO partners to trust me, accept my research project, and treat me as one of them.  And after nearly two years of hard work, they finally had.

But there was a part of me who felt totally deflated that despite two years of hard work and research, I’d only just reached the tip of the iceberg when it comes to understanding China and Chinese family life.

Mother and child in Yunnan.

And while I’m so thankful for those last foster visits over the course of that week, I also struggled with feelings of ambivalence–of wanting to be so far from that place, and yet, also wanting to know all the people and the places far more deeply than would ever be possible, and then finally feeling selfish and disgusted with myself even as I slept on the orphanage floor by night and held special needs children by day.

It felt cathartic that evening to cry hot tears over the phone to my husband who understands a bit of the jumbled emotions that mark these kinds of cross-cultural transitions, but also this kind of loss.  I’m so fearful of the coming move, of the unknown feelings to come, that I’ve sort of been transfixed here in China and not very attuned to the present loss of this place, this life, these people, and even this self.

As I struggled a few days ago to get one of my foster families to pronounce the two, short syllables of my English first name (they only know me by my Chinese name), the cavernous distance between the two cultures, the two places made itself known.  There’s been these long looks from friends, even Evan’s trusted sellers at the market–perplexed, even a bit suspicious at how we can leave them.  And my gut cringes, then, and I start hearing a little voice that says, If you really loved China, if you really cared, then you wouldn’t be leaving.

Monastery on West Mountain, Kunming, Yunnan.

But at my most faithful, I realize that God is, too, and that’s not God’s voice.

I keep turning to the scriptures, to Ruth, to Moses, even to Paul, and finding that we are a forward people, that we seem hard-wired for pilgrimages, cross-cultural lives, and for growth.  And there’s some solace in that identity, some solace in being one of those stiff-necked people (Exodus 32 & 33) for whom God will go before into a unknown place, despite my failings and my doubts.

Flowers in the mountains. All photos by Evan Schneider.

So that’s my challenge for the moment: embracing this move as both a loss and a promise, and trusting God more than ever.

What’s yours?

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4 thoughts on “We are a forward people.

  1. Your blog posts always hit me at just the right time. We’re in a season of transition, too, both anxious-making and holy. We’re learning to lean into it. Embracing it is hard but the only way to make it, I think. Thanks for your thoughtful words.We know what it’s like to leave part of your heart on another continent. Praying for peace in the weeks to come.

    1. Thanks for your prayers and prayers to you and yours during your time of transition. The best part is that I’m finding that even thought I’m not all that great at being faithful, God is!

  2. Erin, your lovely and touching post here reminds of that old Switchfoot song called Dare You to Move; I always found it captured some of these kinds of sentiments. thank you for sharing yourself with us!

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