It is a beautiful summer day, not a cloud in sight. The blue sky above and the gentle cooling breeze are comforting as you wait in the long, slow moving line. Snaking around back and forth through makeshift lanes, your anticipation builds. The looming sight of the massive roller coaster in front of you creates a sense of excitement, anticipation, and a small amount of fear.
Your turn finally arrives. You secure yourself into your seat, perhaps check the seatbelt a few times, and start your ascent up, up, up slowly towards the sky. Anticipation and trepidation mounts. Perhaps this was not such a good idea. Is it too late to get off? Slowly you climb higher and higher. Finally at the top you stop, perhaps for a few seconds before, whoosh, down you plummet. Wind whips though your hair. You scream, you laugh, you love this wild ride! Up and down, to and fro, never slowing down. Adrenaline pumps through your blood and gives you a sense of exhilaration.
A visit to an amusement park is fun. Any more than two or three visits, however, the excitement begins to fade. My life has been a daily trip to an amusement park. The roller coaster of Hunter’s graduation, Autumn’s wedding, Hunter leaving for college, my Mom moving away, quitting my job, giving away our dog, Brett living abroad alone for three months, and the four of us moving to Shanghai has been one roller coaster after another with very few, if any, breaks in between. Ups and downs, highs and lows, have been a constant part of our lives for the past seven months. Many tears have been shed at the sheer enormity of it all. But through it all, there has never been a time when I have questioned God’s sovereignty. I know this is His will for us, and have boarded His wild ride just trying to figure out where we will be led next.
Needless to say, with prolonged stress one is almost guaranteed to get sick. We were in the new house for a week when it hit me. The nastiest head cold one could ever imagine attacked and had me battling its fury for ten days. Being sick is never fun, no matter where you are. Being in Shanghai for only two weeks had not afforded me the opportunity to even register at a doctor’s office. Fear of the possible need to visit a doctor sent me to prayer. I prayed for healing and to avoid a doctor’s visit. Thankfully, God answered my prayer and I recovered. However, during that ten-day bout, disenchantment sunk in. Everything here began to bother me. Why does every store have to blast annoying Chinese music that seems to repeat the same line over and over again? Why is everywhere I go dirty? No wonder I am sick! Why does it seem like locals are yelling at me whenever they speak to me in Chinese? Why is the air quality so terrible? My strength for trying and figuring out new things was waining. I just wanted to curl up in a little ball under the covers of my bed and emerge when it was time to go home. Being sick for so long, I began to worry if my discontentment was in fact due to the illness, or if this was the way I would always feel living here. I didn’t like it and I felt defeated.
But alas, the sun broke through and the air quality improved. My nose cleared up, I stopped coughing, and I once again felt strength. This week has been much more encouraging. The spring in my step has returned. I am able to tune out the music while shopping, look past the dirt, and smile at those who are most likely trying to help me, even though I have no clue what they are saying. We went to the Commodities Market last weekend where Jack bought a pair of gloves. He decided he wanted to wear them right away so I pulled off the tag and handed it to the saleslady to throw away. She looked at me, took the tag, and threw it on the ground. I suppose I could have done that, but have a strict no littering policy engrained into my brain. As silly as it was, it was once again nice to laugh at a ridiculous situation.
Finally emerging from the doldrums of being sick, I have come to see more benefits of living here. Much joy is found in fellowshipping with other ladies. Back home, life is too busy to frequently spend time with others. If we want to plan a lunch date, we have to book it two weeks to a month in advance. Here, someone says they are going to the Fake Market in an hour, invites you to come along, and you can go. Getting things done is not as much of a priority. My mindset has begun to change to allow myself to do things in small increments rather than all at once. I spent an entire day with two wonderful ladies going for coffee, then to SAM’s Club, then to lunch. What fun, and what a blessing! I still have not finished hanging all the pictures in the house, but it can wait.
Expats here are incredibly helpful. You find friendships forming faster. Again, people just have more time. More time to invest in others instead of living life cooking, cleaning, and running errands. Everyone is willing to help. Shanghai has suffered it’s coldest temperatures in 35 years. This has caused many heating and water issues. Our water had to be turned off three times before a burst water main could be fixed. As I was showering yesterday, I put conditioner onto my hand just as the water unexpectantly turned off. Just like that, I was standing, dripping wet in a waterless shower with a blob of conditioner sitting on my hand. I stood there for a few minutes trying fruitlessly to turn the faucet off and on, all the while not spilling any of my conditioner (toiletries from the States are gold here and I was not going waste it!). Finally, I decided the water was not going to come back on so I carefully maneuvered my way out of the shower, still dripping wet, and began the search for a vessel to hold said “gold conditioner”. Finally, as I was searching, the water came back on and I jumped back into the shower and quickly finished my bathing routine. I told some people here what had happened and they offered their showers for me to use the next time. It is the true sense of what community should be and it is refreshing.
We have all had our highs and lows here in Shanghai. The boys continue to adjust surprisingly well and have begun to form a much closer relationship which pleases me immensely. True, we have had illness and a lack of water, but we have also met new friends and shared wonderful family time. Our roller coaster is slowing down. We have arrived at the station and are ready to take a break from the ride for a while. Perhaps we will learn to slow down, take it all in, and just enjoy our lives together. What a blessing, and what a ride!