I'd first met Spring when I left a friend's apartment back on the 1st of September. It was my second day here and I just finished lunch with friends. She was walking down T street when I exited the apartment gate. She grew up here and knows the city well, even if it does have 14 million people. But, she's twice traveled to Europe and spent a year in Korea; her knack for language allowed her to reach conversational ability in Korean in that time. Her English is "bu cuo," so she can talk about every field of study and area of life that a normal conversation would conjure up. She attained a Master's Degree and has five years of teaching experience. She knows the world looms large outside the window that is China. Thus the choice lies before her as the Great Plains had lain before Louis & Clark...the great unknown was exciting and they chose to venture forth to see what they could see.
After lunch with classmates, I asked her for a few minutes of her time so that I could inquire a bit deeper about her situation and if I could offer encouragement to her and thank her for her friendship. She'd also helped me get a few (very) part-time English teaching gigs. The ten minutes she offered was long enough, I surmised.
In class, she'd said "She had a family matter" that required her to leave. Chinese culture dictates that you don't pry too much into such matters. Further questions aren't the norm here, so my questions remained general and I didn't find out too much. Thus, that wasn't the focus of our next 2 hours talking!
She said that as she was leaving China to visit her Grandma, she was thereafter going to make the decision whether to return to China--to the familiar, to the mundane, to the city she'd grown up in, to the same language and culture she's mastered--or set sail on the ocean of new adventures. Such a decision is not an easy one to make--there's societal pressure, family expectations, and the fear of the unknown to hinder such an exit from China. But, many young adults are asking that same question now--do they follow tradition and norms, get married, get jobs and move back to the groom's parents' house to support them as they age and settle back into what they've always known? Or do they turn their back on their family and hope the best for them--send money back from overseas as they explore new frontiers, jet-setting to a foreign land, undertaking new challenges and reaping the reward of their hard work ethic?
Spring asked me such a question: "Would you choose love--a marriage with your soul mate, the one person you feel like you're supposed to be with--and know that in choosing this, you'd have a solid relationship, real love, stability, and a lifelong intimate companion , but in doing so you know that you'll never be rich, your lives would be mundane and ordinary and in the place you've always lived.....or would you choose to pursue and chase after your dreams to explore the world, to live in different countries, to learn new languages and cultures, to make new friends, to have new adventures and experiences, but to know that in walking this exciting road, you may never run into such a person again meaning you might live unmarried or at best, be in an 'okay' marriage that's not too fulfilling? (we used English, not Chinese, but paraphrase mine...not quite fluent in Chinese yet!)
Wow! Quite the choice it is for her. However, I didn't think too long before I began to lay out why I'd choose love over solo worldwide adventuring. "There's this Man who lived some 2000 years ago on the earth", I shared, "and he is love. In fact, he lives forevermore and I think that if a marriage is based on His teachings and His life, then choosing that type of love is without comparison!" She took it in, the words sounding different and conveying a new opinion than all the other views she'd heard from others or seen on TV.
"You are worth the love of one who will honor, love, respect and value you for who you are, not for what you can give or do. There's many a man who you could marry who may not treat you well, who wouldn't be completely trustworthy, who wouldn't serve you sacrificially day after day, who may not love you as Christ loved the Church, and perhaps too few a man who would be willing to selflessly help with the children, wash the dishes, take out the garbage, and still find it a joy to do such things without complaining."
"This sounds like an ideal, like a fantasy," she said wistfully, the attractive picture a distant grape cluster that was too far into Eden's vines to grab hold of.
"Yeah, it's not easy," I responded flatly, for neither do I know just how hard it'll be! "But, it's worth it--to get it right!"
"But love fades, love changes," she matter-of-factly stated.
It's a view not uncommonly held in the sea of humanity owing to the fact that it's also an experience many people have displayed or been subjected to. 'He just wasn't the same man after we got married.' 'She seemed so nice when we were dating; I didn't see this coming.' 'They seemed so in love; we could've never guessed that it'd end up this way.' The conjugations are endless, but the results are the same. The affections and love a man and a woman promised on their marriage day fade or change. But, first they shifted those affections and doves' eyes--for a dove can only look on one thing at a time--toward the cute co-worker, the mailman, or the old high-school fling. You know the story by now--a marriage vow is broken, trust with it, and lives thereby, too.
"I disagree. Love does not change, nor does it fade," I replied. "It's stronger than death and nothing can conquer its power. The love that I speak of is not one of this world. We don't know what true love is unless we look to this Man who died for us, who loved us when we were still His enemies, and who said, 'Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.' That love is the the only kind that can sustain a marriage through til death do us part. Let me put it this way: if your future husband worked hard to not only provide for the family, but also helped take of the children, did more than his share of the housework, honored, loved, respected, valued and cherished you, was completely trustworthy, selfless in his service, was more concerned about your needs and desires than his own, and still took the effort to 'date' you--took you to dinners, arranged little surprises for you, intentionally took strides to get to know you better each day and asked how he could love you better---with such a man, do you think your love for him would fade or change?"
The phrase 'It was so silent, you could've heard a pin drop' didn't originate in China. However, in our corner of China at that moment, silence ensued. With a smile and watery eyes she confirmed "No, I don't think it would."
However, I was yet to break the news that love's other beautiful, but exceedingly difficult, side is that it still loves even when the one toward whom it is shown does not deserve it. The love of Christ was lavished upon us while we were yet enemies, and the heavenly plan to slay the Lamb was done before the foundation of the world. In getting married, two become one and offer each other the promise to love unconditionally, without pretense and, I hope, without a prenuptial. Thus, I shared with her that love is also a choice.
"Really, love is a choice?" she genuinely queried. "I've never heard that, that love is a choice..." Her words trailed off, her mind busy processing how this new view of love might change what she'd always thought it was.
"Jesus didn't have to choose the way of love; he chose it willingly. We, likewise, are called to love our spouse even when they aren't lovely, don't do things that reflect that they love us, and when everything within us wants to respond in (not-so-) kind. When one loves unconditionally, that type of love is noticed. Hearts can be softened, situations can change, humility can grow, forgiveness will be extended...marriages will be restored when love is chosen above bitterness
"Love is patient, love is kind and is not--"
"Love is passionate!" she exclaimed!
I laughed out loud, not sure if she'd misheard me or if she was simply wanting to add a bit more to 1 Corinthians 13!
"Yes, love is also that!" I affirmed her. I continued "Love is not jealous...does not seek its own...rejoices with the truth."
She was beginning to see that such a love would be hard to live out, but is worth seeking out and waiting for. Our conversation brought in differences in cultures, differences in worldviews, and the like. I can't remember all that we discussed, but in the end, I told her that my hope for her is that she would know and experience the type of love that I spoke of. The implications were manifold for her, and as we parted ways that afternoon, my desire for her to know Him who loves so well and faithfully took the form of a seed that looked like two people from opposite ends of the earth sitting on concrete stadium steps for an afternoon. I know not if or when I'll see her again, neither where's she going nor where she'll end up on this earth, but He who pursues His own with a love so foreign to us will see to it that His words do not fall to the ground without bearing fruit!
*(If you've read this far, I've changed Spring's name for this blog. Also, perhaps you've wondered if there's anything going on between us...the answer's no! But, if at a future date (with someone else, that is, but no one in particular at this point, mind you!) I answer in the affirmative, I'll write a blog post for you regarding such a change of status!)