One clue that your international trip may not be going according to plan? If the airport hotel you booked to stay at the night before a very early flight is padlocked when you arrive to check in.
Yes, that’s how our trip started one year ago today. As the old adage goes…if I had known then what I know now… But I didn’t, and no one can say what would have happened if we had stayed in China. I have played those “what if” games a few times, but every time I come back to the time spent in prayer when flights seemed impossible, and the amazing way that everything fell in place overnight. We may not have gotten to watch Marissa receive her college diploma, and Kristen and I didn’t get to visit colleges from California to North Carolina… or anywhere actually… but I do believe we are where we are supposed to be, even if I don’t understand why, and that God’s provision has been evident every step of the way…even when we were padlocked out of our hotel.
So what has happened?
We started our “visit” uneventfully but very enjoyably in Wellington, FL. We spent two weeks in quarantine (nothing like quarantine in China – trust me), taking our temperature twice a day and calling it in to the local health department every few days. We also took quiet (distanced) walks soaking up sunshine and palm trees, did homework in the pool and learned how to order groceries online and use GrubHub to savor the foods we had missed. After the quarantine was over it was evident that this was not going to be a typical visit, so our next two weeks were a repeat of the first two. Now that was certainly nothing to complain about (have I ever mentioned how much I love sunshine and palm trees?) but sadly, we didn’t visit with all of our very dear friends from our ten years living in Jupiter, and we didn’t go to the beach. (Have I mentioned how much I love the beach?)
Then it was time to move on to Chicago to see the bigs and the grands…hooray!
Once again we quarantined for two weeks. Did we have to? Well, no one was telling us to, but after airports and a flight it seemed the right thing to do to protect those around us. Thankfully we didn’t get sick, and soon we were able to visit with the people we love. For the next several months we lived in a small basement apartment just a few blocks from Ryan and Laura, my three grandchildren, and Marissa, too. Not only would a short walk allow us to spend time with all of them, the home we were staying in had a sweet little backyard with a covered deck – and wifi – where I could enjoy the warm weather and work on my China projects. It was a good summer. It was a hard summer. It was a summer of uncertainty, but it was also a time for seeing family, practicing Chinese online, updating and streamlining our sponsor reports, completing online classes and attending Zoom conferences on childhood trauma, meeting several times a week with our China team (I don’t know how we would have weathered this without Zoom!), and bingewatching old TV shows from my childhood. I am especially thankful for time spent with Lindsay when she came to town for a long weekend, for a couple of weeks driving to and from work with Marissa as she gained confidence with her new driving skills, and for playing Sleeping Queens, Rummikub and farm games on my phone with Maggie and William.
Our living situation changed again mid-October when Kristen and I moved into a slightly larger apartment in Glen Ellyn, about a 40 minute drive from where Ryan lives. We are so fortunate to have been able to make a reservation for just over seven months in an apartment home for missionaries home on leave. Like the basement apartment, this apartment is also one bedroom, so Kristen and I traded so that she could now have the bedroom with more privacy and study space. (In the basement apartment I had the bedroom, and she slept on a foam mattress on the floor…in the kitchen.) The change of venue has come with more space, but has also meant that we are too far from family to see them frequently. The virus situation also made me more careful about isolating and limiting exposure, so near or far our family visits were limited.
Despite the many precautions, Marissa was able to come for Thanksgiving and spend the long weekend with us. We had fun cooking a very large turkey breast, eating and playing games. Meanwhile Lindsay was carefully isolating for two weeks alone in her dorm room at Calvin University. Kristen and I took a road trip to Grand Rapids to pick her up (OUT OF THE HOUSE!!!) to spend almost two weeks with us at Christmas. It was fun to visit her dorm and see where she lives as well as enjoy the laughter and silliness that always ensues with Lindsay in the house – or car. We took advantage of having a car for a few days by tracking down a very small Christmas tree – a real one! Since we couldn’t find a stand to fit it Lindsay devised on from a half cinderblock, some cut up Amazon boxes and a milk jug. That girl has talent! We decorated Christmas cards, and despite some moaning and groaning it was both fun and successful. We also decorated some ornaments for the tree, which was way less fun and not so pretty. Amazon to the rescue – we bought a few inexpensive ornaments and used some fairy lights sent to us by our China team. We baked our traditional cookies, which we shared through a cookie exchange with some neighbors in our building and sent home with Ryan and Laura when we traded gifts– outdoors and masked – a few days before Christmas. It’s always a bit amazing to me, and it shouldn’t be after so many years, that no matter where we are or what the circumstances, Christmas comes and it is magical and sweet. So much about this holiday was not the way we wanted, but in the end it was perfect. Baked ham, sweet potatoes, stuffing and peppermint ice cream didn’t hurt.
In January and February Kristen and I stayed home and watched the snow pile up outside. These were some of the hardest months since it was impossible for me to go outside for walks since my winter clothes are still in Hengyang. I was counting down the days until the temperature would climb into the 40s and I could stretch my legs again. Thankfully those days are here!
It was apparent almost immediately after we arrived in the US that covid was not going to be tackled in the US the way it had been in China and that things were far worse than I had imagined. Very shortly afterward China closed its borders and going back was no longer even an option. Whether being optimistic or in denial, I thought that things would improve and borders would open by the end of the summer, about five months away. Of course the opposite was true, and as the devastation of the virus spread like wildfire through the US I knew that China would not be opening to Americans in 2020…but surely by the end of the year. Or not. At this point it is unclear when China will open to any except a few essential workers, and sadly I don’t qualify for that designation. I won’t pretend that I don’t miss my home, my bed, my clothes, all the creature comforts that make a place – even one that has its own challenges – home. Even more I miss our China team, the teachers I have worked side by side with for the last three years and especially every young person who has brightened my day, tested my patience, hugged me really tight, laughed at my Chinese, and fogave me for being less than they need. Through all of this and whatever is ahead, God has been so faithful in providing contentment, work to do, a roof over our heads and food on the table. The basement apartment was free while the missionary apartment is not, and I am so thankful for the way God has provided for us through our community of supporters. Life in the USA, even with our very simple stay-at-home life and no car, is more expensive and our needs have been met one by one.
We are truly blessed.
About This Blog
Part documentary, part family chronicle and part personal reflection as I try to sort through the ups and downs, the joys, heartaches and surprises of our life and work as we follow the path that God has set for us here in China!
Lindsay and Marissa as they prepare for semester exams and look for good summer jobs to earn money for college tuition.
Kristen to finish the school year strong and to make friends.
Donna to have wisdom in planning and implementing new programs for the youth and for financial provision to cover our expenses.