Coming Home

On this cool morning, I’m sitting on my friends’ porch. The sound of birds and farm equipment during harvest soothe my soul. The blueberry fields across the road form lovely lines and in the distance the swathed grass seed awaits the combine. I hear the mourning doves and maybe some pigeons, along with a choir of other birds. Maisy hasn’t discovered that I’m here yet. She’s a happy Swiss Bernese Mountain Dog that I have enjoyed since she was just a puppy. Now she’s a very large one year old. Bumblebees enjoy the salvia in front of me. The long porch with white wooden rocking chairs feels so inviting. I feel incredibly blessed.
Just after sunrise this morning, I checked on Jackie and Ken. He’s settling in since arriving back home from the care facility yesterday. This wonderful couple is adapting so well already. She lovingly guides him and he manages to get up and around with the right equipment. Delighted at being reunited, they smile a lot, and their good humor and obvious love for each other touches my heart. Married almost as long as I’ve been alive, they have a wonderful partnership. I think she said they’ve lived in the same house for 50 years now. The only time they’d been apart, except for during COVID after his health crisis, was when he biked across the entire US, and another time when he biked from Canada to Mexico. This couple knows how to live! At the care facility, they were only allowed to see each other through a little window, and that felt like torture. Their obviously close friendship inspires me.
I hope Jerry and I continue to cultivate such a vibrant relationship that endures for decades. When we’re old, I hope we’ll care for one another joyfully, sharing our sorrows and challenges with grace and humor. Sometimes we do well at that. Sometimes we don’t. We’re human.
We already have plenty of physical limitations and conditions to overcome together. We grieve inwardly, and outwardly that grief shows up in various ways.  Sometimes I need to remember that anger is a dimension of grief, and if not expressed in healthy ways, it will show up in strange ways.  More on that in another blog. We’ve made it through a lot in these five years. I love Romans 8 where it talks about how nothing can separate us from His love, and how God causes all things to work together for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose. Somehow our love grows stronger as we endure various trials. Somehow, by God’s infinite grace, we grow closer to the LORD and as a result we learn about His Hesed. God’s steadfast, enduring devotion, His covenant love…we get to experience these things in our marriage. We get to experience hanging in there when things are challenging. We learn about loving each other when love doesn’t come naturally. We find a way to forgive each other when we fail miserably. We carry on and we forgive one another because He first forgave us, even when we were hostile to Him. He loves us with a steadfast love. Marriage is a wonderful classroom.  A living laboratory. A chance to fail, to grow, to persevere. To reach the end of ourselves, and allow Him to heal and transform the broken places that painful times reveal.
I call marriage the Beautiful Struggle.

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.