Build With Care

My dad is in the field of construction.  In my house growing up, there were just as many pictures of buildings in process as there were of us kids.  Knowing my dad, I know why he is so amazing at his craft.  He is meticulous.  His attention to detail on the job site is unmatched.  He knew the minutia involved in each phase of the project and was able to orchestrate incredible amounts of tasks and people until-BAM-a building appeared.

I recall attending an opening of a massive movie theatre he built.  To me, it seemed to have come together so quickly!  That is because I wasn’t involved in the intricacies of the process.  Building is hard.  Building is slow.  The choices of building materials are endless.  Once the walls are up, you need things like tile and paint, faucets and doors.  And all kinds of other things I don’t even begin to know about.  Each of those requires careful consideration and ultimately a choice.  So to recap: building materials are a CHOICE, people.  We’ll come back to that.

My husband and I lived in China for three years.  I wish I could say that I was glad to be there and relished every minute.  I wasn’t, and I didn’t. The truth is, I was going because my husband felt called.  And I knew my calling was to follow him.

It wasn’t easy.  We had just gotten married and my boxes had barely been moved to his house when the “For Sale” sign was in the ground and we were fundraising for our move to Asia.  I had just moved into a beautiful home right next to a Trader Joe’s.  I. Love. Trader. Joe’s. And now we’re moving to rural China? This should be interesting… and it was.

We raised our funds, sold our stuff in garage sales, packed enough shampoo for a year (why we thought they didn’t have shampoo in China, I will never know) and boarded a plane.  As I sat down in my airplane seat, I gave myself a mental high-five and thought to myself, “Yay for me.  I am such a godly wife.  Most wives wouldn’t have done this.”  I would live there, put on a happy face and deal with it until I could get back home.  I truly thought my physical relocation via United Airlines was the obedience God wanted.

But wait.

It gets better.

We wanted to start a family while in China but the kiddos never came.  Now I don’t know if you’ve ever had the privilege of spending time with a barren woman obsessed with having children but it’s a treat.  I would encourage you to hang out at fertility treatment centers with us.  We’re a lively bunch.

Sure.  I kept up appearances like a champ but my heart was a mess.  I was sharing God’s Truth to everyone, but myself.  I had a regular talk with God called, “Really? I live in a rural land I never even wanted to visit and you can’t give me a baby?  We quit an awesome job, left everything behind and I’m barren? Your word says children are a blessing and that You withhold no good thing from those that love You.  I’m sorry, Lord, but this just doesn’t add up.”

I felt forgotten.

And angry.

And apparently pretty entitled.  Ick.

I’m not painting myself in a pretty light.  I get that.  I have found that raw is more helpful than polished so I’m willing to show you how jacked up I am.

So back to the carpentry choices I was talking about earlier.  One winter day, sitting in my apartment in a down coat and gloves because the heat had not yet been turned on by the school, I was minding my own (frozen) business when God crashed my pity party with a Truth so convicting I’ve never forgotten it.  In 1 Corinthians 3, Paul cautions the church to build with care.  He teaches that they are building upon the foundation, Jesus, and that the materials they use to build are vitally important.

“If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light.” 1 Cor 3:10-15

The test to “show it for what it is” is fire and that the fire will reveal the quality of each person’s work.  We can use gold, silver, precious jewels or wood, hay and straw.  This verse hit me between the eyes like a 2×4.

Long story short, I learned that apparently God desired more than just my feet on Chinese soil.  He wanted my heart.  Obedience was not a stamp in my passport but handing over the entire passport to God and willingly following Him through life overseas and infertility with a heart full of trust.

I know that my physical presence in China for the first little while was most assuredly wood, hay and straw.  That business will be ashes.  I am not going to enjoy watching that burn.  When this verse pierced my heart I realized the rest of the China experience HAD to be built to survive the fire.  It was simply too hard and sad to not ultimately count for eternity.

Ladies, we serve a faithful and gracious God.  He used me greatly while we were in China.  I can say that honestly and without concern about you thinking I am prideful because it was 100% NOT me.  I didn’t even want to be there.  And no, all my days in Asia were not perfect.  It was a barren time for me in several ways that I can still feel in my gut as I type this.  But it was a rich time of pruning and intimacy with my Father.  The hard times usually are.

Maybe you can’t relate to this.  Being overseas is everything you dreamed it would be and you are “happy everyday” like my students used to always say.  For the rest of you who have some low moments in your overseas season, I would heartily encourage you to choose your building materials wisely.  Remember that the Day is coming.  You don’t want this labor to be in vain.


So has anyone else wrestled with having your heart, not just your feet on foreign soil?


  1. Ashley December 8, 2013

    Have I wrestled? I’m still wrestling, 3.5 years later! I, too, followed my hubby to this land of opposites, but God knew better than to just ask me to go. He knew I’d put up a bigger fight. So he used a woman to speak VERY specific words directly to me to show me He wanted me here, too. I didn’t understand why He wanted me here the first 2 years. I was “just a stay at home mom,” trying to do that well overseas. Not easy when my eyes were so focused on all the cool things my mom friends in the States could do with their kiddos.
    After a year studying language (thanks to an awesome hubby for sacrificing and becoming stay at home Dad), I finally see why I’m here. How He may use me. I do think studying was a huge part of that. I can now communicate with the local mommas around me..or should I say grandmas. Either way, it’s great to be able to hold a conversation. It has opened up my world in a way I thought was impossible!
    I still have bad days where everything seems to go wrong and I want to blame it all on the locals. But, I’m learning to see through that muck, realize we are polar opposite cultures, and that God loves them still. And so should I.

    1. emily thomas December 9, 2013

      I love that, Ashley! I really do think language is so key. I am really thankful you’ve pushed through and are finding the beauty in your life there. It is truly all around.

  2. M'Lynn December 9, 2013

    “I’m not painting myself in a pretty light. I get that. I have found that raw is more helpful than polished so I’m willing to show you how jacked up I am.” Love it. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Cristine December 9, 2013

      This was my very favorite line.

      1. emily thomas December 9, 2013

        Awww. Thanks girls! I appreciate it. Real is how I like to roll. It can catch people off guard though so I like to give a warning. 🙂

    2. Morielle December 9, 2013

      Also my favorite line. Thanks for your raw honesty, you struck a chord with me. I also really like this: “When this verse pierced my heart I realized the rest of the China experience HAD to be built to survive the fire. It was simply too hard and sad to not ultimately count for eternity.” I am going to be praying for God to pierce my heart daily with His challenge to build with care.

      1. emily thomas December 9, 2013

        So good, Morielle! I think it’s a powerful prayer for us all- even the ones who’ve returned back home.

  3. Danielle Krouch December 9, 2013

    I continue to wrestle 10 years later. There are days when I feel like my heart is also here, but it’s hard. It’s especially hard when my husband finds such purpose and vision in working here, because I so often don’t feel that way. Thanks for your encouraging words.

    1. emily thomas December 9, 2013

      That would be tricky. I remember my husband loving it but he loves just about everything. Praying now for you and that you’ll increasingly catch the vision of your specific place there.

  4. brooke December 9, 2013

    when maxwell was laying in the hospital bed of poland dying, nearly your exact thoughts were running through my mind. but mine were, “lord, we’ve given you 11 years of our lives and it comes down to this?!” and i sat there crying and wondering if the 11 years were worth it…but god literally spoke to me that day (audibly) and said, “you don’t know if your son is going to live or die—but you need to give him to me.” and it was then that i realized surrender to god meant everything. not just my life—but our children’s too. hardest lesson ever learned. best lesson ever learned. and it taught me that surrendering to god did not mean entitlement for me. it simply meant faithfulness despite the cost! thanks for the post.

    1. emily thomas December 10, 2013

      I cannot even IMAGINE how that must have been for you all, Brooke! I remember praying from the periphery and it being terrible for us who were so far removed. So thankful he recovered!
      It is something else when you go overseas and a feeling of entitlement creeps on in. So gross really. Thank you for sharing that amazing and hard-learned lesson with us.

  5. Ginny December 10, 2013

    I already made my comment but neglected to fill in the proper blanks & don’t feel like doing it all over again—so I’ll just say this, You really surprised me with some of your feelings about your early days in China, I’m very proud of you for sticking it out and happy for you that you came full circle & figured it all out. You will help many looking back at your failings I’m sure, but sometimes I think it’s a lot more fun looking ahead! Love U. Gma PS: Thanks for the nice things you said about my son!

  6. emily thomas December 10, 2013

    Thanks for reading, Grandma! Sorry you lost your first comment. That is irritating! :/ You’re right. Looking forward is vital and something you’re very good at for sure. 🙂

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