I’m finally arriving at the phase of transition of being able to look back fondly. For an entire year after we returned stateside, I couldn’t look at photos of our life in China because it hurt too much, and even though I can look at photos now, I can’t say how many more years it will take me until I can open the suitcase of mementos and letters and trinkets from the overseas life we once lived.
This phase also brings a longing that our time in China would’ve ended differently—that we would’ve left with a school intact, having survived a years-long battle for visas and stability, and left a team continuing the same work in the city we left. Everyone wants to go out on top, just like every mountain climber wants to summit, but what do you do when conditions just weren’t favorable, and you returned to Base Camp and then home without having achieved hero status? (of course I had to sneak a good Everest reference in here somewhere!)
When we first arrived back in our home country, I didn’t feel like talking about China. Just the other day I found a quote in a book I’m reading that sums it up perfectly. Miss Juliet Ashton writes to Mr. Eben Ramsey in the “Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Society,” and says:
“I had lived and talked war for six years and I was longing to pay attention to something—anything—else. But that is like wishing I were someone else. The war is now the story of our lives, and there’s no subtracting it.”
China—the way it began and the way it ended—are now the story of our lives. I can’t wish for a different ending any more than I can wish to be someone else. The events of the past hold constant, and I can’t go back and re-live a single second of any of it.
Wishing to alter the past is like sitting in an art gallery and staring at a work of art wishing it wasn’t what it is. I can’t change the past any more than I can change a single brush stroke of a Monet. And, why would I want to?! What I can do is trust that every brush stroke in the masterpiece is there because the master painted it that way.
Instead of pining for an alternate conclusion to our time overseas, I can transform the way I think about it. I am choosing to be content with the way it all went. I’m trusting God was there then and is here now and wants the best for me. I’m choosing to be content with the memories made, relationships built, and the experience gained. Contentment isn’t going to fall from the sky and bestow its wonder upon me. I must pursue it. And how do I do that? With thankfulness.
I’m thankful for every moment we spent in China and for every amazing person we met along the way. Our horizons and our family are forever enlarged because of the decade we spent serving overseas. No more wishing to change it—only thankfulness to have lived it.
If you’re in transition and you’re just not there yet (you know – the place where you can see photos of the people and places you left behind without sobbing) it’s okay. Let healing happen at its own pace, but begin pursuing contentment with thankfulness today. Be content that the great big wonderful adventure happened in the first place—and no one can ever take it away from you.
Are you in transition? What phase would you say you’re currently in? Even if you’re not in transition, have you found a way to pursue contentment in your current situation (or when looking at the past)?