The Call of God

In college (before the age of cell phones) we used to leave messages for friends on dorm room answering machines. After my husband’s best friend took a short-term trip to China, he became convinced the Middle Kingdom was the place for Charly too. Matt would frequently leave messages in his deepest sounding voice, “Charly, this is GOD. I want you to go to CHINA!”

At the time, Charly laughed every time he deleted those annoying messages, convinced he would never take up residence in that far-off land. Choosing debate classes in high school over French or Spanish, he had — up to that point in his 20 years — successfully managed to avoid learning a foreign language, with the logic, What’s the point if I plan to live in the U.S.?

But those plans to never learn a foreign language and to never leave America changed, as God unexpectedly moved hearts and opened doors.

Charly left for China, right after graduation, for two years of language study. I gave up medical school, we got married, had our first baby 13 months later, and as a young family of three, we embarked on what would become a 20 year journey in China.

That journey for us included a variety of seasons:

Language learning

Children raising

English teaching

Home schooling

Bicycle riding

Friendship building

Grace receiving

Adoption waiting

Cross-country moving

Village living

U.S. returning

During our season of living among Chinese Muslims, I joined a Saturday morning women’s class at the mosque right across the street. Together we learned Arabic and some basics about Islam, which included reciting the Shahada. One day, the teacher drew attention to the fact that I was not reciting with everyone else, and I realized that the issue of my silent observation needed to be addressed if I wanted to keep attending the class.

When I later shared with her, “I’m interested in learning more about Islam, but I’m not interested in becoming a Muslim. Is it ok for me to keep coming to the class and just observe sometimes?”

She responded in an incredibly gracious way, “Of course. You are welcome to participate in whatever you feel comfortable with. Just listen to your heart.”

Interestingly, around that time, a calligraphist friend of my husband’s gave him a beautiful scroll with the Arabic  phrase انصت الى قلبك (“Listen to your heart”) that we hung right by our front door.

Our oldest was applying to colleges during that season as well. He ended up deciding to put away his pro/con list and “listen to his heart” as he made his difficult choice of which university to attend.

Since all three of our older kids have returned from their “homeland” of China to the “foreign land” of America, they have responded to the call of God as they listened to their hearts in making decisions about their majors, traveling back overseas, post-graduation plans, and for one of them — an engagement.

A bit different from their Dad’s college experience, none of them has heard God’s clear voice on their answering machine telling them which path to take.

God’s call always comes in unique ways as He shepherds and directs the paths of His children.

“The sheep recognize his voice and come to him. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out,” (John 10:3, NLT).

To celebrate his 14thbirthday this week, the older of our two Chinese sons wanted to watch one of his favorite movies, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.

Now, in a different season of life, I find myself not jumping feet first into adventure, but identifying more with Bilbo’s resistance when Gandalf offers him the opportunity of a lifetime:

“An adventure? No, I don’t imagine anyone west of Bree would have much interest in adventures. Nasty, disturbing, uncomfortable things. Make you late for dinner!”

Personally preferring not to be uncomfortable or to be late for dinner myself, I’ve found that this middle-age season of life offers me the ability to appreciate adventure vicariously, through my children:

“I’m about to go jump off a mountain!” (paragliding in Ghana)

“I’m going to get baptized in the Jordan River.”

“I get to spend the summer promoting minority handicrafts in southern China.”

Letting go of my children, as they embark on their own journeys, helps me to understand what it must have been like for my parents and in-laws to process our decision 25 years ago to move to the other side of the world. God gently invites us to hold our lives—and theirs—with open hands. And to listen and trust His voice, as He speaks through hearts.

In An Unexpected Journey, Bilbo cautiously considers the wizard’s invitation, “And you promise that I will come back?” to which Gandalf realistically replies, “No…and if you do, you will not be the same.”

In whatever form it takes, the Journey never leaves us the same, does it?

How has your Journey changed you? How has “listening to your heart” guided your decisions? How do you see God changing hearts and opening doors for you and your family?

8 Comments

  1. Spring January 9, 2019

    Jodi I loved getting a window into just a bit of you and your families story. Thank you for being honest about your hesitancy. I was on an internship to Mexico as a teen. When we moved to Belize for the first time, I had images in my head of what I thought our time would look like. The truth was I really had no idea! I still feel like I have no idea on this crazy wild journey I am on. The twists and turns still throw me off. I think knowing has perhaps caused me also to be willing to jump in.

    I appreciate your reference to Bilbo. I grew up listening to the entire Lord of the Rings series. First my dad read it to me, I read it on my own, then without a TV (or computer) spent time reading in my first year of marriage with my husband. I would prefer the Hobbit’s idea of second breakfasts 🙂

    Thank you for also your insights about your children and watching as God calls them. Mine are just stepping into the teen years. It is good to hear from someone who is on the other side.

    1. Jodie January 9, 2019

      Spring, Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts. Cross-cultural journeys really do have a lot of twists and turns, don’t they? And we all handle them differently. I enjoy following your family’s journey through the pictures you post. I didn’t know about your connection with Lord of the Rings. I have only read The Hobbit, but would like to read the whole LOTR series. Our family enjoys the movies and every time we watch them something new hits me. I esp love how the theme of Hope is woven throughout. Our son who is getting married just made reservations at a Hobbit House in Illinois for their honeymoon, as his fiancee is also a big LOTR fan. I think they’re hoping for second breakfasts 🙂

  2. Paul January 10, 2019

    When is your book coming out? Great post!

  3. Monica F January 12, 2019

    Jodie, I love this post to pieces. Thank you for sharing something that I resonate with in so many ways- from the Call, the giving up, the going, the laboring, and coming home…maybe before I was ready?. And now, settled here, just a few state lines away from you, I felt like we were sharing this conversation together over a cup of tea. My heart yearns for the places and people we left in SW China, and I never imagined I would be ‘back’. At the same time I knew God was calling us home. There is a scene at the end of the Lord of the Rings, where Merry, Pippin, Samwise, and Frodo have returned to the Shire and are having a pint in the local pub. In it, you can sense their sadness, loss, and untold story as all the other Hobbits are dancing and having a good time around them. The expressions on their faces in those first moments of sitting down with their pints, expresses exactly how often feel…..that pit-in-the-stomach, only ‘we’ get-it, I’ve lived such a different life expression. God still calls, and gives us friends to help us answer along the way.

    1. Jodie Pine January 12, 2019

      Monica, I literally just finished reading your comment when you called me on the phone! Such a treat to get caught up with you and share our journeys together (so many common threads). Thankful for the way Velvet Ashes has been our point of connection since our re-entry CG three years ago. I can imagine that scene with the Hobbits and know exactly what you mean. The shared depth of understanding between them, that was communicated without words. Looking forward to when we can meet up in person and share that cup of tea 🙂

    2. Rachel January 14, 2019

      Oh my, yes – that scene in the Lord of the rings is powerful!!
      As one who returned from the field over two years ago, that scene still gets me. Oh it gets me.

      1. Jodie Pine January 14, 2019

        Rachel, it is powerful isn’t it? Another scene I was thinking about is when Gandalf and Frodo say goodbye to Pippin, Merry, and Sam before they join the elves and depart Middle Earth for the Undying Lands. There’s that letting go and leaving behind you can see and feel on both sides. All those emotions that connect with our cross-cultural goodbyes.

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