A month before I left China, I already had this post written. Not this one in actuality, but at least a strong sense of what I had learned/was taking away from my year abroad. Maybe I’ll actually write that one someday.
I don’t really know how to explain the last month of my life in Shenzhen because it was so completely uncharacteristic of my year there and of me in general. For a while whenever I thought about it, I couldn’t put my finger on what changed in my life or in me that allowed for everything that happened that month to unfold. Now, with a bit more clarity, I think I can.
China, in more ways than I can explain, wore me down this year. There were cultural challenges, ethnic ones, teaching-related and relationship-related ones, but I felt the spiritual ones the most. I just missed Christians. I missed church. I missed communal worship. I missed testimonies. I missed praying with people. I missed it all. And while there were people around (some of whom spoke English, some of whom did not), as a Christian I felt alone and not understood much of the time. The best way I can describe it is that it felt like a blanket of loneliness was constantly over me, except for some treasured moments with close friends when it was lifted temporarily. Don’t get me wrong, God gave me wonderful people. I learned to love them so much. But there were times I felt like China was a total spiritual desert and I had been left desperately thirsty and alone.
So everything, but the loneliness most of all, dug at my faith so that lies and doubts dropped into my mind and stayed. Let me be clear, I let loneliness do that to me. I gave up. I cannot blame any trial or any feeling for choosing to take my trust out of God’s hands and place it in my own. The last month in Shenzhen, I made a lot of selfish and stupid mistakes. And I made them knowing that that was exactly what they were, in full. I acted out of the anger and mistrust and sadness and loneliness that I had let build inside of me, instead of being honest before God and asking for His strength and love in my weakness and disillusionment.
I couldn’t sleep for that entire month. I would just lie awake in bed and be tormented by my questions and doubts and the weight of my sinfulness. I had absolutely no peace.
I was supposed to leave China on June 30th. When I walked out of my door that morning, I was still trying to convince myself that it had been a good and worthwhile journey because in my heart, I believed the exact opposite. I felt worn and depleted, sinful and shamed, and completely worthless and unlovable. And I was so angry at myself. I had made it 10 months under the care of the Lord and then had given up in the final stretch of the race. And I should have known better. After all that God had done in my life, I had chosen to be unfaithful??
Long story short, I missed my flight home. So I returned to the dorm room I had just said goodbye to, even more sad and depleted than when I had left, and sat on my sheet-less bed in my electricity-less apartment and wept. And wept. And wept. For my sins, for my loneliness, for my stupid missed flight, and for the truth that somehow broke through all that I was feeling…that God still loved me. That there was kindness and mercy waiting for me as I repented. That killed me. I don’t know if there has ever been a time that I was as acutely aware of my sin as I was in that moment. I actually had the audacity to tell God..Don’t love me. You shouldn’t love me. Cast me from Your presence. Do it and I’ll understand.
But instead He just held me there, in complete security and rest, and I tasted the love of God. I spent the rest of the day repenting, crying, and speaking with Him as I hadn’t in a long time. I had to ask for an entirely new vision, for His eyes and for what He saw when He looked at this year of my life. I had to ask Him to help me see His goodness and faithfulness in the times that I had doubted and become wearied. And by the grace of God, I left my dorm room the next morning, this time for good, with all of that. I left China the way I was supposed to.
I arrived safely in America the following day to my two loving parents who had no idea what I had been through, but offered up kale salad and a made bed and their comforting presence. I took a 2 week trip with an amazing group of friends, who by their love and faith encouraged me and reminded me that Jesus is worth everything, forever and always. For a while, the only Bible verse I could read was Psalm 23, over and over again. When my mind was consumed with thoughts of China, I would whisper it to myself until I fell asleep, which sometimes took a long time. But eventually, maybe with the added help of jet-lag and sickness, I slept soundly again.
I got home from the trip 4 days ago and I can sleep and function just fine - praise the Lord. I have clear memories of all that happened, but I also have peace. Full, complete peace. I really believe that there is no peace outside of Jesus. I also do not feel worn or condemned or lonely anymore either, which I find amazing. I feel different, of course, because this year happened…but the mercy of God has restored me in a way I cannot claim to understand.
I am taking time to savor everything right now. I savor my friends, my conversations, my father’s criticism of my poor painting skills as I re-decorate my room, my food, my home, my new guitar(!), my time with Jesus. It all brings me delight. This is the place I am in.
Hallelujah Hallelujah Hallelujah
p.p.s. this is kind of a disclaimer but oh well. The aforementioned mistakes (if you ask me about them I will honestly share with you) may be small in the world’s eyes; I didn’t kill anyone, have sex with anyone, do any drugs, or whatever could be assumed. Nevertheless, they were still separation from God and His will and I felt their effects in very real ways. I praise the Lord that they have already been atoned for.