Meaningful, Enduring Relationships

beinspiredThis morning I read a very heartwarming email from my dear friend in Japan. Tomoko and I were college roommates at Pacific University several decades ago. The two of us forged a lasting bond in the months that we lived in a dorm room in Walter Hall.

A few years ago, she and our friend Keiko and I had a reunion in Portland, Oregon at her former host mother’s place. Bev lives in a very lovely neighborhood of gracious older homes, and the four of us had such a marvelous visit. We had wonderful long conversations, lots of laughter, and we went out for some delicious meals together. We also cooked frittatas, and made Dutch baby pancakes with fresh blackberries. As we listened to Keiko playing the piano, the melody of our memories transported us across the years. We visited the Farmer’s Market at PSU. Bev took us back to Pacific University where we had first become close friends. We remembered joyful times, and supported one another as we recalled tough times. During these days together, we shared our hearts, our tears and our lives.

I feel so blessed to have these women in my life. Having met Tomoko when at 19 or so, we really didn’t know what was ahead for us. She remembers me bringing her an avocado as a gift, which she loved. I told her years later that meant I really valued her friendship, because I love avocadoes! I had a few roommates from Japan my second year at Pacific, and I had so much fun helping them learn English. In fact, I thought to myself if I weren’t going to be a Physical Therapist, I would enjoy teaching ESL. I took them home to my family’s dairy farm. They loved my Mom’s delicious farm cooking.

When the time came for Tomoko to return to Japan, I missed her. She loved Oregon and we kept in touch. Some years later, she brought her husband to visit me. At Pacific, I spent a lot of time with Asians. On my wing in Walter Hall, we had a large contingent of Hawaiian women. Many of them were of Japanese descent. My roommate my first year of college was a Hawaiian of Asian descent, and Cathy taught me a lot of pidgin.

My Mom wasn’t too happy about the slang I learned at college when this English major came home speaking Hawaiian pidgin English with my friends. But Mom also really enjoyed the friends I made. Thankfully, I didn’t forget how to write or speak proper English!

God knew that in those years at Pacific, He had a clear purpose for these relationships. I planned to be a Physical Therapist, and I took all of the challenging science classes needed to enter that program. I did an honors project on Therapeutic Horseback Riding for Individuals with Cerebral Palsy. As part of my research, I spent time in British Columbia doing an Externship at an amazing place for riders with all sorts of disabilities. I watched in amazement as a young woman jumped a challenging course on a horse despite being blind.

I eventually got accepted in the Physical Therapy Program at Pacific, and loved learning about this field. Sadly, some health challenges interrupted my studies, and I had to leave the program feeling lost and devastated.

However, God kept reminding me of my love for people of other cultures, and right at that time He planted within me a desire that just wouldn’t leave. I felt inspired to go and teach in China, and despite precarious health, that is exactly what I did a few years later. Had I known that I would eventually be diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, the organization probably wouldn’t have sent me. But by His grace, I didn’t know yet what the source of my intermittent health challenges actually was. I just knew that life would get really difficult at times, and the various symptoms would interfere with daily life a lot. So, I took the risk and those two years in China transformed my life. I discovered my love for teaching, and I found renewed purpose for my life. I taught English to medical students, and to this day the friends I made are so precious to me.

Now, as I look back, I see God’s hand guiding me through all of those years. Tomoko and Yumiko (another roommate at Pacific) were the first of many Asian friends who would bring joy to my life. I loved teaching in China, and made many lasting friendships. Just last year, I spent time with several of those dear friends when I returned to China for about three weeks.

After I finished my two years of teaching in China, I returned to Oregon, and I spent some years teaching international students from all over the world. I opened my home to these students, and often rented out rooms to people from various places. Genevieve, from Belgium, brought a lot of joy to my life when she rented a room in this house I had built on an acre. I also hosted a number of Japanese students. During those years, friends and students from Sweden, Japan, China, Taiwan, Belgium, Korea, Brazil, Panama, and Russia enjoyed spending time with me. I still have a network of friends around the world from those years.

When I think about how much friendships with students and others from all over the world have enriched my life, I feel so blessed. I am a writer and we hear a lot about building a platform. Traditional publishers require evidence of connections that might prove very valuable when marketing a book. So, we are taught strategies to build a network and establish a platform.

While I understand this need, and do whatever I can to continue making connections with others to create an email list, I smile when I think of the actual network of friends I enjoy. My years as an ESL teacher and later as a counselor provided me many opportunities to build deep, meaningful relationships with a large variety of people.

Even when health led me to stop working full-time, I developed trainings for professionals and offered counseling to others part-time. During seasons when I had to stop working altogether, I had the gift of time to cultivate relationships with many people in my area, and to stay in touch with friends far away. I believe one reason we are alive is to know others and to encourage and strengthen them. So, I have lasting friendships.

When I met my husband early in 2012, we took time to get to know each other well before we got married. When we got married about four and a half years ago, Trinity Covenant Church was filled to capacity with hundreds of friends who shared in our joy. I wouldn’t trade these real-life friendships for anything.

I love Psalm 37:3-5 which says, “Trust in the LORD, and do good; dwell in the land and cultivate faithfulness. Delight yourself in the LORD; and He will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the LORD, trust also in Him and He will do it.”

Years ago, I had the desire to learn to relate to others well. I wanted to have meaningful relationships with people from many cultures. I also hoped to have my own family someday. How faithful God has been to fulfill these desires in such vivid, transformative ways.





Miracles Come in Many Forms

Miracles come in many forms. I always used to say it would be a miracle if I ever got married. It’s not that I hadn’t had opportunities, but I used to wonder why anyone would choose “this,” to share my life which also involves living with a neurological disease that can make life pretty challenging.

I don’t have time to share this whole story today, but on a trip to China in 2011, which I’d wanted to make for 17 years, I spent some deep time in prayer near a beautiful river surrounded by karst peaks. In response to the cry of my heart, God assured my spirit that He would never withhold even an ounce of His love from me. Then I felt led to ask, “What else (besides this trip) might be possible that I’ve written off?” And I asked for a husband. God gave me a verse that directly spoke to that desire, and I felt this uncanny assurance that He would send me a man to share my life with. I returned home that fall with a strange peace that God had answered that prayer, and by January I met the man who is now my husband.

Hope in action

Ever since 1994 when I left China, so sad that health made long-term work there too difficult, I have wanted to return.  That summer, I came home with two suitcases, wishing life could always remain so uncluttered (and simple) and that my sense of purpose could remain so clear.  I still remember the joy I discovered when I first arrived in China.  I found out that teaching full-time was a tremendous joy for me.  I loved the students, and they loved me in a very pure way.  I don’t think I’d ever known such joy before life in Nanchang.  Perhaps in some ways joy was inspired by a new adventure, but my love for the people of China and teaching has never dimmed.    I loved living in a place far from home, a place where I was known simply for who I was and the gifts God had given me.

Sure, I missed home in some ways.  Just the crush of the crowds when I’d leave the north campus would give me a headache at first.  Crossing the street required excellent reflexes and courage in this wild traffic.  But I’d never felt such a sense of belonging and peace as I felt there on the campus of Jiangxi Medical College.  My students were bright and eager–and many of them came to the city from the countryside.    Many of them had little in the way of material resources.   Once I talked about how Americans love desserts and foods that are not so healthy–in fact those foods might just make a person fat.   Many of them were so thin their belts literally reached around a few times.  One very thin fellow raised his hand and wistfully said, “Miss Susan, I would love to be fat just once.”  Some of the girls told me that on their birthday, they would buy an egg or two to add to their noodles as a special celebration.  One of them wrote me a letter saying she hoped I’d have “something special for my dishes.”  For entrance exams, one farm family saved diligently  to provide their daughter with milk, fresh fruit and some more protein so she could study better.  She always remembered their sacrifice.  This same girl touched my heart when she told of planting rice with leaches stuck to her legs, and then she smiled and said, “it wasn’t so bad.”  On Thanksgiving, I asked my students what they were thankful for, and a young man held up his ballpoint pen.  “My pen,” he proudly said, “I’m thankful for this pen–it’s been a good one.”  Many times I fought back tears of admiration and love as I heard them express their hearts.  Those same hearts held such beautiful appreciation and promise…and I quickly grew to love my students and colleagues.   So naturally, I was heartbroken when I left for home, not yet knowing that multiple sclerosis was causing the problems, though it had been suspected earlier.

Today something magical happened by God’s grace.  I have saved air miles for several years.  I have hoped for adequate health to travel so far again, and seldom has it looked feasible.  But today, I felt excitement and great hope when I called to book a ticket to China.  At last, I’ll set foot on Chinese soil again.  I’ll see dear friends in Hong Kong, south China, and central China.  For $300 and some patience, I was able to purchase the remaining air miles needed, pay the taxes, and the wonderful rewards desk woman helped me for a good long while as we searched for a ticket I could reserve.  I prayed it would happen, and somehow I knew it would.  Guess what, I am going back to the land I love!  I thought it would be fun to share the journey through this blog…and recount some of the memories formed long ago in a time I treasured.