For those of you who have fought your disappointment that the Freys fell off the face of planet earth, I bear good tidings of great joy.
The Freys have returned to the Mainland! As of February 20, we once again find ourselves living in the unexpected spontaneity of a foreign land. It's not that life in Canada is boring. Far from it! We have gained an appreciation for our home and native land that far surpasses what we had before. Nevertheless, there is something addictive about leaving the house to buy groceries and using a different language to do it. Something about learning new and strange things, having your language abilities stretched, coming home to share your experiences, and hearing the days events from the rest of your family.
So spread the news! We're back online, ready to share our observations, stories and lives with you again. We will resume our former construct of sharing our lives with you here, but for today there needs to be a little back story. Last you heard was that I don't remember faces anymore, and suddenly I am writing from China!
The road back to China has been festooned with a lot of emotional hurdles and plenty of moments of reflection. Many people have asked us if we are excited to be returning, but have been surprised when we answer with a carefully considered, "Um, yeah, I guess so". The natural assumption is that, given the circumstances under which we left and the obvious attachment we had to China, we have spent the last 2 1/2 years biding our time, emailing organizations and pounding on the doors of heaven just for the hope of going back. This is entirely untrue. The truth is that this has been a journey of a long year to bring us to the place where we are ready to return.
I believe that this is a healthy thing. If we were returning with great big dreams of picking up where we left off, as if nothing had changed, insistent that we had found our life's purpose in China (blah, blah, blah), we would quickly catch that horrible disease called "disillusionment". Our purpose is found in our Creator, who has seen us through some tumultuous times in the last few years, and it is in Him that we must rejoice (whatever the circumstances). Not in a glorious return.
This is the real story. One year ago, I was still living with the feeling of a death sentence over my head. My ambitions for a future had been fried away by radiation, and I didn't see much purpose in rebuilding them. I decided that if God had brought me to this place, he had a reason for me to be there. And that is of course true. The problem is that God never stands still, he is always moving. I followed him through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, and having reached a grassy knoll called "Humble Existence", I decided that was all I was ever going to have, so I might as well learn to enjoy it.
This made James rather upset with me (in a gentle sort of way, I will add). Conversation after conversation, he would prod me, asking me what it was that I wanted for my future. I had no good answers, and when I realized how upset this made him, I couldn't even fake okay answers. As he came close to finishing up his Masters Degree and we explored options, I blithely stated that I would go wherever James led and be happy there. PhD at Yale? Sure. Agriculture position in Belgium? Alright. "But what will you do Jess?", he would ask, which led to a shoulder shrug. My ambitions had been so thoroughly seared away. Why try? I could live out Micah 6:8 anywhere in the world doing anything. "He has shown you oh Man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy, to walk humbly with your God."
James continued to hold out for a future that had us working together, doing something that made us excited. Much as I wanted to tell him to give up on that, I began to see that I had to at least explore the idea of doing something again, even though the idea made me want to soil my trousers (and not in James' agricultural sense). The fear of stepping out on a limb and being disappointed is a cruel dictator. But my attitude was beginning to take a toll on James' morale, so something had to be changed. In a time of prayer, I felt convicted that I was reneging on the vows that I had made to James: to be his partner in the adventures of our lives. By settling for the trailing, purposeless spouse with no opinions about anything, I was essentially ditching James to do all the adventuring by himself.
That was an uncomfortable revelation, but having it brought into the light like that started a slow cascade of release. How like the Holy Spirit to turn the light uncomfortably on one's dark corners, and then leave refreshingly clean spaces behind (given that we are willing).
From that point on, without much effort, things began to fall into place. Our old positions with opened up again and unbelievably (to me) we were invited to re-apply. It was one thing to be open to "something" and another thing entirely to contemplate going back to the same thing. It was far beyond the realm of anything I had ever thought possible.
So here we are now, back in Beijing. The road back has not been easy; full of high and low moments. One of the only symptoms I had pre-diagnosis, was momentary lapses of random deja vu mixed with some mysterious smell that was only evident to me. This was followed by intense confusion as I tried to figure out what it was that I was "remembering". But when there was no memory to connect it to, the confusion would spread even farther. Where am I? What am I doing? Who is this person I'm talking to? etc. I usually figured I was overtired and would then go to bed.
Needless to say, one of my arch enemies in our preparation to come back has been deja vu: only this time, there is a good reason for it. I HAVE done all these things before and I HAVE smelled these smells before. However that doesn't prevent me from experiencing a panic that rises from my gut and tries to choke me when I find myself back in a place I've been before. When I smell China again and when I wake up in our old apartment again.
The road back has been full of these moments. The peak moment (completely unrelated to our return) was when I visited a good friend of mine at the hospital a few weeks back. She had been diagnosed with a brain tumor (benign thankfully) and was recovery from surgery. She was in the same recovery room as I had been post-biopsy, staples in her head and very disoriented. It felt a bit like having an out-of-body experience, standing by my own bedside 2 1/2 years ago.
God has not been content to only heal my body, he is taking me back to the point of wounding and touching those places as well. Apparently it is not his will that I live with psychological scars. We are simultaneously going back to the origins and also starting something totally new. Before we left, James' Grandpa felt that he needed to impress us with the words of Isaiah 43:18-19. "Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland."
So the experience of returning (so far) has been one of mixed emotions. I smell lamb kebobs (a wonderful smell I assure you!) and I rocket back in time. But then I am reminded that these are the smells of lamb kebabs roasting today. They are not the ghostly smells of kebabs that I remember smelling from my hospital room back in 2010. (Fittingly, we ate lamb kebabs yesterday for lunch and it was a wonderful gift to my taste buds!)
So far, the best vehicle for experiencing newness has been the wonderful observations being made by Ari and Jude. They remember a lot of things when they see them, but when we were last here, they just took it for granted that things are the way they are. Now we get to hear their thoughts as they experience everything, almost for the first time. They also loved the lamb kabobs, in spite of the fact that their mouths and lips were burning from the spice. They gobbled it down and Jude even finished off Ari's left over rice. There is also an added element of a more mature analytical approach. Ari commented "I'm glad that I have such good cotton in my pillow. Afterall, I'm sure you know that China is the world's largest cotton producer!"
This morning the smog has cleared, the skies are blue, the sun is brightly shining and there are birds singing. We went for a long walk to find out if any of our favorite little breakfast vendors were still around. James was set on eating dofu nau and you tiao (translated tofu brains and oil sticks!), but the place appears to be deserted. Not surprisingly a lot of things have moved/changed. For example our local market has been shut down which we are quite disappointed about. It was the best outlet for street foods, fresh produce, clothing, phone cards, strange pets, kimchi, dried goods etc. But then on the other hand, we know for a fact that the garbage can outside our door is the same one and saw the same old sign prohibiting saxophones from playing on a neighboring apartment building.
Most of all, I am enjoying a regained sense that our family is on an adventure together again. Almost as though we are sharing an inside joke with each other. This afternoon we are off to tour a potential school for the boys are we are looking forward to it.
Farewell for now, and we look forward to sharing great stories with you all!