October 21, 2016
Two little blonde heads followed me up five flights of stairs. The tiles and walls along with the hollow sound of our voices bouncing back at us were so familiar and yet, they were strange to me as so much had transpired since I had last made the climb that had been a daily event for me over the last three years. At the top loomed the door to our house. I set the baby carrier down and turned the key. The thump of the bolt turning twice was clearer than it had ever been. Again, so familiar and yet a thing of the past. I opened the door and the girls rambled into the house. my eyes were glossed with tears before I could even step inside. Everything was just so sweet and homey. Neal’s suit jacket was hanging over the back of the dining chair, his books and sermon notes sitting on the window sill. Every bed was neatly made with bedding that had been cleaned the day before leaving. It was home.
The tears didn’t stop. Rather, they turned into little sobs and quick gulps as I tried to reign in the emotions. The girls were running to their toys and prancing around the house in perfect step. Everything was just where we knew it would be. I quickly found my bearings and went to work. suitcases and bags came out and began to fill up with our things. Frames came off the wall in far less time then they had gone up, rugs were rolled up and bedding stripped. The more we tore down, the less it was home, the less it hurt.
I called on a dear friend to come help me. She showed up at my door with understanding in her eyes and ready for a big soppy hug. I cried and cried and let out just about all of the frustration from the previous twelve days. She understood and she didn’t judge me for being human and having weaknesses. Then the truth came out as I half cried, half shrieked, “I just feel like this freak has ripped my home away from me!” And that was the least of the events that had happened in what had been the hardest twelve days of my life.
Two weeks earlier, October 6, 2016
Neal came home from his camping trip with the teen boys. After a hot shower and a very long nap, he found me in the kitchen. That day he brought up a subject that surprisingly the two of us had never discussed. He opened with, “I had some time to think while we were camping and the way I figure, we will probably face persecution at some point or another during our ministry in China. I’ve come to the conclusion that no matter what happens, I’m not leaving China.” I was slightly baffled and my heart felt like it had been weighted down. Obviously the Chinese government doesn’t like Christians. We all know that. Yet, leaving or being confronted by the police has never been something that was going to happen to us! Neal continued, “If the police ever come for me, or if the government ever tries to make me leave, I’m going to do everything in my power to stay. I’ll run if I have to run. I’ll hide if I have to hide.” Then he brought me into the conversation. “What are your thoughts? What would you want to do? I just want to know how you feel about it and what you would be willing to do.” I chuckled and responded with a lighthearted (although I wasn’t feeling that way), “Well if you’re not leaving, I’m not leaving!” We continued to talk on the matter. Neal said, “There’s a great possibility that we will have to face this in our lifetime if we ever have an effective, longterm ministry here. We need to be ready for it.” He continued to ask questions that continued to pierce my heart and test my faith. Was I really willing to do this? Was I really willing to live anywhere or in any situation? Was I willing to take my kids through it? Would I want to stay here with him or go back to North America? I tried to keep things lighthearted and ignore the sinking feeling. I sarcastically said, “Well, I’m willing to leave this house and all of our things, EXCEPT my Royal Doultons. Those stay with me.” Neal laughed and called me crazy. Little did we know that two days later a man in our church would bring about the very situation we had talked about. God’s timing is perfect.
October 9, 2016
I woke up early. Very early. Neal had spent most of the night on his knees beside our couch with his brother. Their pleas to God were that He would protect our church and give us His grace. The night before a man in our church had threatened that he was going to call the police during our Sunday morning service. The outraged member was angry and acting like a mad dog. His wife had just miscarried a baby and as far as we could tell, that set him off as he exploded over several things that had been secretly building up inside his heart. Many of the men from our church tried to reason with him, but he remained unmoved.
We bustled around the house getting ready for church. I was whisking about in constant prayer and silence as the little things I was doing seemed so very very small compared to the overhanging issue. While I was in the nursery changing the baby, Neal said, “You need to pack a bag in case we can’t come home after church.” The notice seemed like it came straight out of a book. Even nine weeks later, my heart is thumping to just think about it. These things are far more romantic in biographies. They’re very shaking in real life. I replied with a simple “ok” as he left and carried on with his Sunday morning study. I stood beside the change table and asked myself, are you willing to give all of this up? As soon as I had thought it, I followed with a yes, I am. I’ll blog later about how that was a whole lot harder than simply saying it in my heart! We left for church still in prayer.
Sunday went along as usual: choir practice, good morning greetings and light chatter. No sign of the mad dog. The choir opened the service and people continued to show up for church. Minutes into the song service, the wife of the outraged man, along with their four kids, showed up and positioned themselves in the back row. I stared at her and was confused as to why her coward husband wasn’t there. During the very last song, he showed up. There aren’t words to describe that moment. I’ll do my best. His face was hard and his eyes set. He was looking but not really seeing. He was a man being used of the devil and that is not a pretty sight. He stood behind his family in the back of the auditorium. His very presence put a shadow over the room. He stared hard toward the front of the church. I stared hard at him with a knot in my stomach and a lump in my throat. How dare he!
Pastor got up to preach and just as soon as he did, the man in the back shouted, “I have something to say!” No one cared and pastor continued to preach. He shouted again. At the time, I could’t even understand what he was saying. All I could hear was a mad, screeching bark coming from the back. I sat on the edge of my seat on the front row and like a mother hen, pulled both of my girls close to me with the baby carrier right at my feet. My bags were right next to me and ready to go. The girls had their coats on. With the second shout, people started to squirm in their seats and stretched their necks to see what was going on. Pastor calmly invited everyone to pay attention to him and not worry about the man in the back. There was an eerie feeling as pastor preached and we all stared at him and heard him, but didn’t really hear. At the same time there was a constant stream of noises coming from the back of the building. Brothers confronted the man about his disruption, he pulled out his phone and threatened to call the police, ladies plead with him to stop and he shoved them away. All the while, pastor held his focus. A call was made to the police and a brother came to the front to inform pastor. The church members were notified of the man’s behavior and he was immediately removed from our church with a unanimous vote. They were then told to leave church immediately and head to their homes. Neal came and with a brief, “Let’s go” started to lead me out of the church, girls in tow. We walked right by the wife and four children. I whispered an “I love you” to his oldest daughter who had spent a lot time at our home and continued on my way. We headed out the back door and by the shouting, angry mad dog. His one-man (and wife with four kids) show was nearly over.
We were in the van and on the road just as silent as when we had left that morning. Our hearts were still heavy and minds racing. The girls sat sweetly as we drove to a coffee shop. We spent the next hour with Neal’s dad and brother and another sweet family as the men discussed our next move. Going home wasn’t an option. Phone calls were made as dear sisters and brothers called to offer their homes to us. Message after phone call after message was sent our way as our dear church members tried to encourage and support us. In the midst of the whirlwind, there was still an infant who needed to be nursed, toddlers who had to be fed and a husband who needed to be loved and obeyed and helped. The craziness didn’t change any of that!
For the next two weeks we lived in four different places. Hard beds, soft beds, small beds, big beds, air mattresses. Apartment complexes, vacation homes in the mountains, hotel rooms. No mascara, no coffee, no text messaging, no books, no hot water. I can remember one day as we headed back to where we were staying, I told the girls that we were headed home. Lois asked, “Which home are we going to today?” She wasn’t sad or scared, just curious. I had to chuckle. That was our life at the time, different every day with only one constant: God. It really was only His power that carried us through. It was only by His grace that we were safe and still there. This story is a long one and it’s still not over. I have yet to tell of the crazy move, the unshaken faith of our church family, the wisdom of a husband who loves God, and the many many tears that were shed as the Lord stretched me, changed me, convicted me, corrected me and loved me. Whatever His master plan is, I know that He is in control. Everything that happened was seen by Him and allowed by Him. And if nothing else comes of it, I’ve been changed forever and that’s enough for me.