Friday, July 8, 2011

Leaving Behind

Boaz replied, “I’ve been told all about what you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband—how you left your father and mother and your homeland and came to live with a people you did not know before. May the LORD repay you for what you have done. May you be richly rewarded by the LORD, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge.” (Ruth 2:11-12)

This passage in Ruth has special significance in Charly’s and my relationship. Twenty years ago, God brought our paths together at the University of Missouri, and a three hour conversation in my dormitory lobby one winter evening (when he delivered some booklets on “Finding God’s Will” for me from a mutual friend) was the beginning of a deep friendship. Looking back on that life-changing conversation, Charly would say, “Those booklets on God’s will made it clear that God was doing something in your life, so I just asked what God was doing.” What impressed me the most about Charly, apart from his insightful questions and his listening to my heart, was that he concluded the time by saying, “Why don’t we pray together about some of these things?” I was pretty sure then that he was the one for me, but it was not clear to him yet…

Charly then took a 40 day exploratory trip to China during the summer of 1991, traveling with two guys to visit eight different cities. In addition to his identifying with the story of Caleb and Joshua spying out the land in Numbers 13 (which is why our two boys later ended up with those names), God also brought his attention to the above passage in Ruth in regard to our relationship. It was clear to him during that trip that God would be leading him back to China after he graduated from college the following year. If I was the right one for him, I needed to be willing to leave my family and homeland in order to live with a people I did not know before. And my reason for leaving should not be because I was following Charly, but because I was finding refuge under God’s wings.

I was involved with a college ministry that summer in St. Louis, and I was wrestling with God over His plans for my future. I really desired to do whatever He wanted me to do and to go wherever He asked me to go. But I realized that the most difficult part for me in living overseas would be leaving my family. I was blessed to grow up in a very close family, and it was hard to imagine living far away from them. But by the end of the summer, I told God that I was willing to leave my family, even though I knew it would not be easy. The second challenge that God gave me was whether my full trust was in Him. If I went overseas, I needed to be following Him, not a person. If I was simply following Charly and things got hard (which they were sure to do) it would be easy to put the blame on Charly. If I was following God, He would keep me there through difficult times with the strength that He would provide. I asked God to help me keep Him at the center of my life, so that my refuge would always be under His wings.

When Charly returned from China and we shared with each other what God had been teaching us, Charly had confidence that because God had been revealing the same truths to us and bringing us to the same convictions, we could begin a dating relationship. That was August 8, 1991. (We were engaged two years later on August 8, 1993 in Hong Kong after Charly had finished his first year of Chinese language study and I came to China for a visit.)

Last month when I flew back to the US for a conference, Charly encouraged me to extend my visit another week to be able to see my parents in Denver. I invited my sister to fly out to spend the week with us, and it was a special and relaxing time of reconnecting and being “at home” with each other. God has been faithful to keep our family ties strong while we have been separated by an enormous ocean these past 16 years, and we treasure the times we have together. I know that there has been a cost, not just for us, but for them to have us living on the other side of the world.

“Leaving behind” is different from “being left behind.” I realized this in a new way last week when our kids left to travel alone across China to attend a 10 day camp. As fears began to crowd my mind and grip my heart, I realized that I needed to trust them into God’s hands. He would protect them and take care of them when they were out of my sight (and in unknown situations). Their venturing out on their own enables them to seek refuge under God’s wings for themselves. He is growing their faith as mine is being stretched!

Throughout these past twenty years, God has continued to speak gently to my heart, Trust me (for yourself, for your family in the US, for your husband, for your children, for all of the many unknowns and for what is out of your control…) Trust me.

For God is trustworthy: Worthy of my full trust.

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