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:
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?