Rejoicing in the Hard Times + Crunchy Strawberry Salad

Rejoicing in the Hard Times + Crunchy Strawberry Salad

Only the Lord knew that when I signed up for this topic months ago, He would be bringing me through a hardship, digging daily to find some semblance of joy.

We’re currently in week 3 of “quarantine” in our country of service, where the virus is still spreading. Thankfully—and I’m oh so thankful—we spent the first 2 weeks right after the virus broke out in Thailand at our annual conference. As things were tightening down by the day in our host country, we were conferencing and swimming and soaking up some much-needed vitamin D.

When it was time to return, I didn’t want to come back.

Who wants to be stuck inside most hours of every day with 3 kids? Would there be enough food? What if someone got sick? I sure didn’t want to go to a local hospital! The questions and rumors were flying around, making a decision even more confusing. Our local friends were telling us not to return. Many of our expat friends couldn’t or decided not to return yet.

But my husband felt led to come back. Flights were still available and our neighborhood wasn’t locked down. The door was still open.

You know those moments when you’re not on the same page as your spouse or a friend when it comes to making a big decision? It’s frustrating, right? Each person fights for their side. Walls go up. Tears are shed. Compromise seems out of reach.

We spent a whole day like this. I went on a walk on the beach to try to clear my head, asking the Lord to show me His way…make it clear. Because I’m one of those people that often needs to be knocked upside the head to choose obedience when I’m set on my own plans that seem perfectly fine.

Nothing came to me the rest of the day, so my husband and I stayed on opposing sides. He felt led to go back to support and stand by the locals—even if it was just through text and calls. I felt like living in a country that is mostly quarantined sounded super inconvenient and uncomfortable.

The next morning, I woke up still with a chip on my shoulder. I had moments of tenderness, asking the Lord to show me the way, then followed with all the reasons it was a bad idea to go back. During our morning session, He spoke. The speaker shared Matthew 9:36, and I knew it was for me. It says, “Seeing the people, He felt compassion for them, because they were distressed and dispirited like sheep without a shepherd.”

Wow. Where was my compassion for these distressed people He had called us to serve? He didn’t tell us to only serve them when it was convenient or comfortable for us. He didn’t say it would always be easy. He didn’t even promise we’d have everyone agree with our decisions. No, but He did promise that He would be by our side. What more could I want?

Through humble tears, I finally conceded. We returned.

During these last 3 weeks, I’ve had my share of down moments, doubting why we came back. Many of my predictions were correct: nothing is open, it’s recommended we stay at home except to buy necessities, and the kids unravel quickly since they’re in a small space all hours of the day.

But we’re here. I have no idea how He’s going to use this time, but I (after many doubting arguments with Him) know He will… and here’s the kicker… I may not even know why until I meet Him in heaven. But I do know these are the plans He has for us, for right now.

Recently, I was reminded of the story of how our organization got started. A foreigner was here in our province, serving the locals, when WWII began. He and his wife sheltered locals in their home, trying to protect them from the bombs flying overhead. He passed away during the bombings, but many locals survived. Fast-forward 50 years, and imagine a King Ahasuerus-reads- the-scrolls-about-Mordecai moment, when the local officials found the record of the sacrifice of this foreigner. The officials contacted the man’s family, invited them to the ceremony of the dedication of a monument for him, and invited them to come back and continue his work. (Side note: This country doesn’t invite these kinds of workers often…ever?)

It took 50 years for His plans to unfold.

Even though I came back unsure, still complaining, I’m (mostly) choosing to rejoice that each day is a new day. I’m looking for the small joys. Things like extra time to read, do side projects, and try new recipes! I’m also rejoicing at the fact that this is the cleanest we’ve ever felt in this country. Everything is sanitized and there is soap and toilet paper in the bathrooms. Oh, may it stay this way!

 Each day we have the chance to choose joy, even amidst trials (James 1:2-4) and even when we can’t see the purpose. What will you choose today?

*Note to everyone who is stuck outside of their host country because of this virus: Please don’t read this as haughty or pious. Believe me—it was an ugly process for me to come to an agreement! Even still, I know everyone’s situation during this crazy virus time is completely different! There is no judgement for what you’ve decided, and I know for lots of you, the decision was decided for you! I trust you have sought the Lord, just as I did…hopefully you did with less arguing!

What do you do to help get you through trials? How do you remind yourself to keep looking for joy each day?


Since I’ve had more time on my hands recently, I re-did my personal recipe book. I came across this salad that I used to make often, but had since forgotten about! Strawberries are in season, so it was time to resurrect this goodness. It’s pretty simple, but always a crowd-pleaser. Someone is always hovering over the bowl when the greens are gone, gobbling up the remaining bits of yumminess.

Reinventing ramen into buttery, nutty goodness.
Simple salad dressing. The kids were mesmerized by the layers!
Serve it on the side, or mix it in–either works!
Apologies for a blurry pic. I snapped this right before it was devoured. Almost didn’t get one!

Crunchy Strawberry Salad

Serves: 8

Ready in: 20 minutes

Adapted from: All Recipes

1 (3 ounce) package ramen noodles

1 cup chopped pecans, walnuts, or almonds

1/4 cup butter

1/4 cup vegetable oil

3 Tbsp sugar

2 Tbsp red wine vinegar

1/2 tsp soy sauce

8 cups lettuce, chopped

2 cups fresh strawberries, sliced

Melt butter in medium skillet. Break noodles into small pieces. Saute noodles and nuts in butter for 8-10 minutes or until golden; cool.

For dressing: In a jar with a tight-fitting lid, combine the oil, sugar, vinegar and soy sauce; shake well. Toss lettuce with strawberries.

Serve dressing and noodle/nut mixture as toppings. You can mix altogether, but be sure to eat immediately to avoid the noodles getting soggy.


  1. Becca March 5, 2020

    Thank you for your words of encouragement, Ashley! Our family has also decided to ride this crazy quarantine ride out as well; we are in Beijing, so we still have access to quite a bit and can come and go fairly easily, but we’re definitely feeling the 3-kids-stuck-inside-a-small-apartment blues (we have three boys under the age of 5, so lots of pent-up energy surging!)

    Maybe we could start a stuck in quarantine community group! ;P

    1. Ashley Felder March 6, 2020

      Becca, jia you!! I had the idea of some sort support group, and made it happen with other women in our org across the city, and a few in other countries. We’ll meet over zoom. Do you have any teammates or other expats you could do something similar with? Community–in any form–sure is important!

      1. Becca March 9, 2020

        Thank you, Ashley! I am part of a few different WeChat groups as well as trying to stay connected to friends from our fellowship here in Beijing. Our church has actually just started Zoom meetings, which has been a great encouragement. Also, tried the salad with some neighbors last night and it was a big hit, thanks!

        1. Ashley Felder March 9, 2020

          So glad you’re getting some connections! And yay for salad success!

    2. Grace L March 6, 2020

      Hi Becca. We also decided to stay in country. We are in a small city in the province south of the epicenter. I would love to be a part of a WeChat group with other expat woman from VA. Not sure how many there are of us or how to get it going. I am part of a couple of other WeChat groups for women such as American Women in China. I have learned a lot from folks there, but I would love to be part of a group with more kindred spirits. What do you think?

      1. Becca March 9, 2020

        Thank you, Ashley! I am part of a few different WeChat groups as well as trying to stay connected to friends from our fellowship here in Beijing. Our church has actually just started Zoom meetings, which has been a great encouragement. Also, tried the salad with some neighbors last night and it was a big hit, thanks!

      2. Becca March 9, 2020

        Hi Grace, I think that’s a great idea! I also am not sure how to get it going… maybe someone can speak into it and give us some direction?

        1. Ashley Felder March 9, 2020

          Grace and Becca, let me ask some others in VA and I’ll get back to you!

  2. Carolyn March 5, 2020

    I appreciate your honesty, Ashley. I am one of those who cannot return to China — our city and university told us very directly not to. I like order and simplicity, and the situation now is chaos and uncertainty! I have so much to be grateful for, but most days I find myself anxious and sad. Thank you for the encouragement to “dig deep for joy” and the reminder to trust our Father.

    1. Ashley Felder March 6, 2020

      It’s not an easy time for any of us, for sure. Every circumstance looks different. But I imagine He is accomplishing a lot through all of this! Can’t wait for the reveal. 🙂

  3. Lisa Neumann March 6, 2020

    Thank you for this!!
    Strawberries aren’t in season here for another three months – but I will definitely save and schedule this salad for when the time comes.
    Blessings to you as you ride out the quarantine. I had a friend who was outside the country when the virus began. Her position was terminated and so her life is on another trajectory now. She hasn’t even been able to go back for her things. I think she would be happy to be self-isolating… but then she doesn’t have 3 kids to keep occupied either. God is definitely rearranging things in a major way for a lot of people right now, I think. Both those folks who have left and those who have stayed.

    1. Ashley Felder March 9, 2020

      How awful for your friend. Wow, I can’t imagine that scenario. Hope she can find some peace and see the bigger vision for it all soon. Enjoy the salad when berries come around!

  4. Grace L March 6, 2020

    Thank you, Ashley, for this post and for your honesty. We were already in country when the lockdown happened and felt quite strongly that we didn’t want to evacuate. We are happy we stayed. We are in a small city in a prefecture that stayed protected from the coronavirus. Even though there were no cases here, the government strongly encouraged everyone to stay at home and ordered all businesses except for supermarkets, pharmacies, baby supply shops, and the hospital to close. For us, it was like an extended holiday that we had never had before, and a great time to catch up on projects, write thank you notes, and lie down and read a lot of books. But I will admit, it was just my husband and myself. We didn’t have to try to entertain kids in a small apartment. Nor did we have to worry about the health of our children being in a country where the health facilities are not the same as in the US.

    We too felt the importance of staying among our people. There was a lot of fear and we have been able to help some of them get back to a “new normal”. We host a small factory in our house (7 women from the local minority group), and we were able to reopen our factory on February 24th. We enforce health controls and report to our local neighborhood health rep every day. I don’t know when it will go back to the “old normal”. That may take a long time. If we had left the country, we would not have been able to be here and work through these issues with them, nor would we have been able to get one small part of our local economy back up and running.

    Thanks for the strawberry salad idea. I would have never thought to put strawberries in a salad. They are in season here and my husband made a lot of strawberry jam during our self-isolation time. And we have been enjoying them on our oatmeal every morning! Yea for strawberries!

    1. Ashley Felder March 9, 2020

      Grace, I’m so glad you’ve been able to get back to some semblance of normal! That’s amazing, considering!! PTL that you obeyed His call to stay. I’m sure your influence is bigger than you’ll ever see. Enjoy those strawberries! 🙂

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