Content with the Way it Went

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)?

Photo by Geordanna Cordero-Fields on Unsplash

8 Comments

  1. Kait October 24, 2018

    There are some days that grow busy & the Velvetashes emails get lost in the shuffle & end up going into the trash folder. Not because I don’t think there isn’t something great inside, but because it’s an easy way to make the number in the little red notification bubble to go down. However, there are some days that at the top of my inbox the Velvetashes email sits as a reminder that I’m not alone. Today, I was on my way to delete but decided to take a moment to read what was inside before doing so. (The last one I read was about a woman who bought a rug & felt settled–I had recently bought a chair & felt quite the opposite of her, so I decided I needed a break from not feeling like all the other women in ministry.)
    Anyway, this post met me in my current set of circumstances. I am having some trouble with my visa renewal & more than that I’m struggling with the exact emotions described here. “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?” THIS. I have this inner dialogue so often lately. “How could I leave? It’s not AMAZING yet. What will people think? I haven’t gotten the glory yet because, seemingly, there isn’t anything to show for my time here yet.”
    Thanks for the encouragement to be where we are & to lean into the Lord in the midst of that.

    1. M'Lynn November 12, 2018

      Hi, Kait! So sorry it took me a while to get back over here and reply to comments! How is life going at this crazy pace?! I’m so glad you appreciated the mountain climber metaphor. 🙂 “What will people think?” tends to be a question we ask when making a big move, but I’ve learned it’s so much more important to find out what God thinks and stay focused on that. You are valued as his child no matter what the outcome of your time overseas is. I had to stay zeroed in on that truth during our leaving! I also have to say that I also went through stages of feeling like the oddball woman in ministry (everyone went to a Bible college, I went to a public university…everyone wanted to home school, I did not…everyone wanted to give birth without pain meds, I needed the drugs!!!) hahaha! But, I’ve also come to see that even though I felt like an oddball at times, there’s nothing wrong with doing things differently than the crowd! God will use your gifts in a special way to accomplish whatever it is He has planned for you.

  2. Chachi October 24, 2018

    I am in the middle of a difficult transition on the field, leaving an organization. It is so hard to stop rehashing all the “should’ve, could’ve, would’ve” thoughts and face forward. It is sticky watching them move forward without you. Plus the part about being nice and tactful while so many emotions rage adds to the hard work. A friend today sent me this verse..Psalm 34:19 The righteous person may have many troubles, but the Lord delivers him from them all. Ahhh

    1. M'Lynn November 12, 2018

      Chachi…Been there…and it’s absolutely exhausting. Hope you’re able to continue keeping the emotions in check while walking through a difficult season! Praying for you!

  3. Grace L October 25, 2018

    M’Lynn, thank you for this very timely post. We too are in the midst of new challenges to renew my work permit to stay in the country you had to leave. We are up and down depending on how far we can get with the new online system for registering and I can go from excitement to discouragement in the drop of a hat. I read you post this morning and was inspired to look at everything with new eyes of contentment. I was enjoying dwelling in contentment and appreciation of what we have now and not worrying about the future. But by late afternoon I was in tears from more frustration.

    I am helped by what you said: “What I can do is trust that every brush stroke in the masterpiece is there because the master painted it that way.” That is a good image for me to keep in mind with the uncertainties that face us these days. The Master knows what He is doing and He is sovereign, and He is loving. We are still in the country we have been called to, for however much longer we are able to stay. Yes, I will be thankful for all we have and will treasure each and every moment and the wonderful relationships we have here, and trust Him for tomorrow.

    1. M'Lynn November 12, 2018

      Grace, holding everything with open hands can truly be a challenge, can’t it?! Lifting you up and asking for strength during uncertainty!

  4. Monica F November 9, 2018

    I left the same country you did, three years ago, and I still cry. We were there for 10 years, and even though the ‘coming back’ was good… it’s still very hard. Thank you for sharing.

    1. M'Lynn November 12, 2018

      Monica, One of the weird things about putting it in writing that I’m “content with the way it went” is that it makes it sound like I’ve got it all worked out all the time. So not true! Even my daughter who was just 3 years old when we left has moments when something triggers a memory of the woman who helped care for her as a baby/toddler and she’ll burst into tears! And, I also have days when seeing a photo just takes me back and it can be painful! But…I’m still hoping to continue choosing to pursue contentment in those moments. The struggle is real! Good, hard, and real!!

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