Made in China

I used to think that I wasn’t a person who was so attached to “place.” When I went away to college my horizons were broadened and a wanderlust was planted in my heart. Somehow, somewhere the idea of staying in one place had been painted as negative. Plenty of people stay where they are and do heaps of good on their own street corners, to their tried and true communities and neighbors. However, I used to think that because I was transient and flexible that attachment to a particular place was not one of my vices. It’s the people, it’s the work to which I attach my heart.

Until now.

I am leaving a place that I have called home for 13 of my adult years. Although, I have called several cities “home” within this one country, the country itself has been a source of growth and has blatantly woven itself into the fabric of my being.

This is the place where I’ve…

grown into who I was as a single woman

grown into who I am as a married woman

grown into who I am as a leader

grown into who I am as a teacher

grown into who I am as a mentor

grown into who I am as a friend

grown into who I am as a servant

grown into who I am as a sister in Christ

And whenever I look back to this growth, the shaping of my identity and heart, I will attach those lessons to a place, to a country whose paths I’ve tread. I am more unique for having lived here.

Last November I boarded a bullet train and shot over to a city that had been a former home of mine. Although much had changed there, I was very surprised at my reaction to revisiting the area. I found I missed it. I missed the pathways I had walked and the shops where I could buy goods quickly and easily, without hunting. I missed the gardens on the campus and the architecture of the buildings. I missed the ease of public transportation and the general vibe of the city. Okay, perhaps it was the memories that triggered these feelings of nostalgia, but I wanted to go back and live in those spaces once again.

I concede that grief when leaving is more multifaceted than only location. My favorite moments in the November trip involved former colleagues and reunion moments with friends. Place, people, service, experiences and memories are woven into the fabric of who I am and I cannot pull any one of these threads out without fraying my past.

I’ve always held to the reality that most times “goodbye tears” are shed because we are leaving something good. My husband and I are leaving a community that is remarkable and extraordinary. We are leaving national and expat friends who have laughed with us and have gone deep. It is true that I probably won’t shed tears over the local noodle shop or the haunts of my current campus, fantastic and grand as it is. No, it is the people and the experiences that will have the honor of hot tears falling or sighs of nostalgia…but it is “place” that frames those memories.

I also recognize that I am leaving for something good. Faith forces my fingers to write those words. It is hard to believe them when our future is fraught with question marks and uncertainty. Yet I know that I set my hope on a Faithful Father and that what is coming is also something good, even if the road is foggy and rocky on the way. New growth will happen in new places. New attachments will be made.

Is it terrible that that does not fully comfort me right now?

My adult identity may have been made in China but my hopes are planted with Jesus, who walked dirt paths from Galilee to Jerusalem and who daily washed the dust of places off His feet. I have no idea if He felt attached to place. Nazareth? Bethany? Jerusalem? I may not feel clear in this regard but I do know how he felt about people. So, I will tie up my sandals and continue to walk these paths, until my road diverges and locations begin to look different. I can’t put a pin in the map for the future so I may need to fix my eyes on each and every place my foot falls…for now.

Until those places over the horizon become my new regions to roam.

How has your identity been shaped by places? Which places frame your memories and why are they special to you? How do you you say goodbye to places and/or cherish the memory of them?

15 Comments

  1. Hannah May 15, 2018

    This is very relevant to me, as I just moved from our home of four years out into what feels like an unknown future. We are leaving for a new field next week. Yesterday we went back to our house and went through the rooms saying goodbye to the place and fingering through so many precious memories in our minds that we get to keep and take with us. Sometimes I wish we could just take our home with us wherever we go, like a turtle. The verse that I’ve been thinking about today is the one that says something like “O Lord, you have always been our Home.” (Psalm 90:1, I believe) God bless you other ladies who are in a time of leaving and transition too.

    1. Kimberli Tundevold May 16, 2018

      Thank you Hannah. I think it is a good practice to be so thoughtful about leaving a place, one room at a time. The last time I left a home I didn’t have the luxury of the time to do that. I wish I had. And thank you for that Psalm!

  2. Julie May 15, 2018

    Oh my, yes. This is me. Leaving China after 6 years, with nothing certain except that I must leave and He is still good. I am not the same person I was before living here, and that is a good thing. I’m fearful that I’ll revert back to the old me when I get back to the States . . . But your reminder that “my hopes are planted in Jesus” gives me confidence that the work He has done in me here will continue no matter where I end up next. Thank you for sharing your story!

    1. Kimberli Tundevold May 16, 2018

      The work he has done in us while we are in our places of service is very significant. Don’t fear reverting back to the old you for you are likely inexplicably different than before. We may struggle with a home that has seemingly stayed the same, while we have changed, but I don’t think that you will leave behind the new aspects of your identity. Those will travel with you. I am glad that those words have given you confidence. Keep looking to Jesus.

  3. Monica May 16, 2018

    I resonate with so much of what you are sharing. Our family lived in China for ten years and even now, just writing it in the past tense sends pangs through my heart. Leaving was a step of faith, although at the time, I didn’t see it that way. No matter where I’ve lived, or whom I’ve shared life with, the Lord has always ‘grown me’ and made Himself known to me in unique and life-changing ways. He will do the same for you, as you transplant into a new location! And of course, you will not forgot all the people and experiences in China that changed your life- that will always be a part of you, but you can “remember back fondly, while embracing the next step forward”. Many blessing to you and thanks for sharing.

    1. Kimberli Tundevold May 16, 2018

      I have to keep reminding myself that “leaving is a step of faith” as you said, because sometimes it still seems mad to me. To love the place and people but to say goodbye is so difficult. I am glad I could process in this way and thank you for your “transplant” blessings! I am encouraged.

  4. Kelsey May 16, 2018

    Kim! This is so beautiful, these are words I needed to hear!

    1. Kimberli Tundevold May 16, 2018

      Thank you. I am glad my words were fresh air for your heart.

  5. Sherry May 16, 2018

    I can so relate to this, having moved back to the U.S. after 13 years in China like you! Knowing that God has led us to this decision makes it easier to face, but it is still a grieving process. We moved back 9 months ago and we’re adjusting – it’s been easier for my husband than me but we’re navigating that together. He was ready to leave China about a year before I was. There were even times that I told him he could return to the States and I’d stay in China, live at the university and continue teaching! God has opened new doors here and I’m seeing His faithfulness in many ways. But your post has made me shed some tears and that’s good! Thanks!

    1. Kimberli Tundevold May 16, 2018

      Ahh, my heart sighs with you. I am glad you’ve had some refreshing tears. I have to remember as I go that tears can be refreshing. Thank you for helping me keep holding to the hope that He WILL open new doors and He WILL show his faithfulness! I need that hope right now.

  6. Jacqueline James May 16, 2018

    I’ve left a number of places over the years and each one tears off a little piece of your heart and keeps it. I’ve also lived the grief of losing someone I love and there in the ground where her body is buried: another little piece of my heart. I’ve mothered 4 children and each one of them carries around a little bit bigger piece of my heart. We live in a broken world of sorrow, sin, and death, of goodbyes, of longings unfulfilled. BUT we live in a world which has been Redeemed. And a day will come when all those broken pieces will be made whole. All those lost opportunities and moments will fall away when the Lord returns. And He is the reason we press on, leaving behind those little bits of ourselves but growing more complete in Him. Blessings on your next steps!

    1. Kimberli Tundevold May 16, 2018

      “leaving behind those little bits of ourselves but growing more complete in Him.” Thank you for this! In the midst of packing and leaving and the uncertainties ahead this is a wonderful reminder that it too will shape me and grow me. Thank you for your story and the expression of your grief. That can make connection to place all the more deep.

  7. Sherry May 17, 2018

    I have been blessed by the original post and all these comments. It’s so important to interact with others who have had similar experiences. I often feel that my friends here in the States don’t understand me at a deeper level, but you sisters do understand what it’s like to live in two different worlds and the pull in our hearts for both worlds. It’s always good to remember that this world is not our home, and that as Christians we are “aliens” here! Blessings to you all.

  8. Kirstin Durfey May 20, 2018

    Love this, friend. Indeed, it is so true– place frames those memories, those people. Thank you for sharing this piece of your heart! I’m thankful to have been part of your China years and blessed you were part of my overseas chapter of life!

    1. Kimberli Tundevold May 21, 2018

      Thank you friend. I am so blessed by you. Over winter holiday I imagined all the people that I’ve know over the years as lovely breezes blowing through my life.

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