Wednesday, November 19, 2014


It's a pretty familiar sight: a gathering of grandmas with babies in strollers, going on an outing together. And the familiar ache hits. I want what they have. Well, not exactly what they have. I know that I could join in - I could leave the dishes, grab Hadassah, run down the stairs, unfold the stroller, and run after them. I'd be welcome. But I'd be the novelty. Everyone here is so kind; they smile quickly, show interest, and remark on how beautiful my daughter is. But we're the curiosity - asking how old she is, remarking on her walking so well, and feeling her jacket because they're sure she's not dressed warmly enough... I love it. I love the opportunities to practice Chinese and the interaction with a friendly face. But my understanding runs out before their words do, and we're left with awkward smiles. We both feel it. They start talking among themselves about us, and eventually I move on.

I'm not complaining. This is what we wanted, to be living right in the culture, with Chinese people as our neighbors. But it's hard. The reality of not having that close-knit, you-understand-each-other community is hard.

Many moms have said that the season with littles is lonely. I understand that now. It's not that I don't love my daughter. She's so sweet and cute and growing so fast that I love being here to share all those moments with her. She makes me laugh and brings such joy. But between naps and meals and chores, going anywhere is difficult. And when the friends from church live an hour away, it's even harder. I wouldn't trade this time; I'm gaining a closeness with Hadassah that I hope will last, as she grows and becomes my right-hand girl. But...

I have it easier than so many. There were women alone on the prairie, women who packed their belongings in coffins to follow their husbands to Africa, and women (my mom included) who received news 6 weeks late when a letter finally arrived. I have weekly skype dates with family and friends, and even a US phone that uses the internet to make unlimited calls and texts. I have dear friends, sisters by heart, who send emails and check up to see how I'm doing. Those things are invaluable - I'm not minimizing them. But...

But I long for a friend that's there, who comes over and we talk while the children play. Who knows the 'rules' of our home and isn't afraid to correct my daughter if she gets into something while I'm in the kitchen getting a snack. Who doesn't have it all figured out (since I certainly don't!), but we can talk through it together. I miss the Titus 2 woman who knows me, knows my circumstances, and offers advice based in knowledge and truth from God's Word. I miss the younger sister who comes over to enjoy a baby and talk about life and hopes and dreams...

Unrealistic? Maybe. At least, hard to come by. And I know it's not just because I'm in China that I'm having these longings. Community is hard to find no matter where you are. Our culture is fast-paced, people are always moving, and we (myself included!) are often too afraid to open up our not-so-perfect homes and be real about our far-from-arrived lives.

But that doesn't mean I don't long for it. The Body of Christ isn't meant to be just a gathering on Sunday morning. Is it better than nothing? For sure. Am I just not being grateful for what I have? Perhaps. And I have a sneaking suspicion that what I long for won't fully be realized until heaven.

Maybe it's just because I know what I'm missing... they say ignorance is bliss. But I've seen a community where parents could supervise a little less, because they all looked out for each other's kids and even the teens kept an eye out for the toddlers. I've seen the moms be real with each other, and the children forge friendships to last. Was it perfect? No. But it was - is - beautiful. I was still a little on the outskirts; I was the teacher who had to stop conversations to let the class start. But I was there. I was included. I had moms who mentored me and younger "sisters" I could take out to lunch. And it's still a place we can go back to and feel included and loved. I'm ever so thankful for that. So why long for more?

There's something about that in-person-ness. (and yes I know that's not a word!) It's kind of ironic to write about this on a blog that's not in person and mainly one-sided... Why even bring it up? Because I believe it's something to be sought after, to look for wherever you are. So if you live in a community that's already there, make the most of it! Don't be afraid to get involved, to invite people over, to be real. If you don't live in community currently, pray for it and work to build it. Do the same things - invite people, open up, and live truthfully as a Body.

Part of me just wants to give up looking for that here. Part of me knows I should keep trying. We are blessed with friends - in 6 months time we've made quite a few. There are always more opportunities to get to know people than there is time. But it's hard for them to be deep, especially when they can only be built during evenings or weekends with a little one with an early bedtime. But... it's worth trying. We're praying for it. We're realizing it may not happen here, and it factors into how long we stay. We're seeing the wisdom in people who move overseas with a team or intentionally live close to those with whom they can form community. But we also know that God has put us where we are right now for a reason. We wouldn't change being close to Ryan's work and allowing us to have more family time. We are thankful for our neighbors and the friends here, and the Sunday morning relationships.

But we're looking forward to more, one day, should the Lord so bless. Because life lived alone with Him is worthwhile and sweet, but "Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow" (Ecclessiastes 4:9-10) and "exhort one another every day, as long as it is called 'today,' that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin." (Hebrews 3:13)

So wherever we are, let's be intentional about building community for God's glory. 


  1. This is Helen-
    Read Job (book of the Bible).
    Mrs. Anna, I sent you a letter on the 13th. Hope you get it soon! :)

  2. Hi Anna,
    You aren't complaining. You are pouring your heart out and being real. And trying to give us here a glimpse of your life there. And, in the process, reminding us of our blessings here in the U.S.

    What you are talking about is "presence" and it is so sweet when two moms/friends make the time commitment to have that kind of relationship to be physically "present" with each other. I'll pray that you can find another mom there to be "present with because there is someone there who needs it just as much as you do, even if y'all can only manage to do it once a month, once every 6 weeks, or even once every 2 months.

    Thank you for being so open on your blog posts about what you're going through, the ups and the downs. And thanks for the reminder to "make the most of it! Don't be afraid to get involved, to invite people over, to be real." Because, yes, that is hard and takes diligent work, no matter where we live, but so much harder for you in Shanghai than for us here!

    Donna Jo