It was time to say goodbye. But truth was, I found myself unprepared for the moment ahead.
Emily and Jack from Taiwan would come by for an hour in the evening. We would share tea and dessert together. They would have invited us over, Emily told me, but they were down to almost nothing in their apartment.
Jack was just finishing up a two-year master’s program. They had made good use of the time in the States – travelling, studying, making friends from places all over the world.
Back home, Emily was an elementary school teacher, but in the U.S. her visa would not allow her to work. So she threw herself into learning English. And she had made marked improvement.
It was clear they arrived at our doorstep with bittersweet feelings. We had those too. Internally, I wrestled with the truth: we had not spend enough time with this lively, engaging couple.
So, you might say we first masked those bittersweet feelings with the sweet indulgence of Trader Joe’s Chocolate Dilemma cheesecake they had brought. I had already prepared something truly small (fruit, Turkish Delight, a bit of chocolate truffle and tea). Yes, a dilemma!
They came with many questions about our kids – two in college and one in high school. Our youngest, Luke, had his friend over (it was only finals week, after all!), and, truth is, the two of them were all about overcoming the (Chocolate) Dilemma before them!
That’s how you deal with an explosion of sugar when it arrives at your door!
Being intentional as we talk
At first, Emily and Jack sent so many questions our way. I’ll confess the truth: it would have been easy to stop there and simply coast along in the conversation.
But then I became aware of how much they had gotten us to talk. But our intent in meeting them had been the other way around. So, we managed to turn the conversation towards them, inquiring about how they were feeling about heading back home.
They expressed their concern – how much they had changed! Would they be understood by their families, coworkers and others? They struggled with this truth.
And then we probed a bit into the backstory, of which I had been aware. But we had not discussed it in detail before.
Jack and Emily had been married for just three years. When they got married, they immediately tried getting pregnant. Emily, several years older than Jack, was in her late thirties at the time, facing a frightening truth: she might not be able to get pregnant and have children, something she had always wanted.
Indeed, it took awhile to get pregnant. But when they did, they were en route to the U.S. And then, in the fall, towards the end of her first trimester, Emily miscarried. In silence. Without family nor many friends around, just heading into her second year of marriage.
This experience shook her to the core. She felt her dreams were shattered, and time was quickly running out. She tried to bury her feelings by keeping busy, studying English, making friends, encouraging others. But deep down, a huge hurt remained.
My first encounters with Emily
I met Emily during this time, but of course didn’t know what she had experienced. She always seemed bright and cheery when we’d meet. I learned later she was a very private person, so there was no way, as a mere acquaintance at the time, I would learn the truth.
Then, in February of the next year, I began meeting with a handful of women 1:1 (sometimes in a very small groups) to conduct some cultural interviews. These women generously gave of their time. I asked questions and learned, learned, learned. It was a fruitful season.
I had hoped Emily would be one of those women, but, after meeting just one time, she made an excuse to not meet again. That first time, we went unexpectedly deep. We talked about the miscarriage, and I even shared with her God’s desire to heal her pain, and more about what following him is all about.
I felt, at the time, I shouldn’t push.
And, although our paths crossed in several more instances (online as well), especially because we had mutual friends, I felt a distancing from Emily I couldn’t quite explain.
It made my heart sad.
Fast forward the story
Recently, we ran into Jack and Emily at an international food festival at Jack’s school. We enjoyed some of their Taiwanese food. And I realized it would soon be time for them to leave. So, I made note. We need to connect and say goodbye.
And there you have it.
But, the big news, after the Chocolate Dilemma, came out when Jack slipped in a phrase as we told him about a good thing happening to us. “Praise the Lord,” he exclaimed.
“Did I catch that right?” I wondered.
“You two are Christians, I know,” Jack went on. “Well, now, so are we. We just got baptized a few weeks ago.”
This blindsided me. Really. He went on to share their story, with Emily chiming in from time to time.
“It all became so clear, especially as we got to know our mentor (another Taiwanese living in the area). He and his wife explained everything so clearly. And everything made sense. We realized this is just what we had been longing for. So we decided to take the step. Together.”
“I don’t need you.”
Now they’d be heading home, back into a primarily Buddhist environment. How did they feel about that?
“You know,” Emily spoke up, “since I got baptized I have felt this overwhelming sense of peace. I am so calm. I can sleep at night. And I couldn’t before. I always felt the presence of ghosts, often pressing on me, keeping me awake. I haven’t felt them since I got baptized.”
We talked some more.
And then, that still, small voice whispered into my heart.
“See, I didn’t need you. I have My ways. I was at work all along.”
The words were so clear and jarring. I’ve known this intellectually – it doesn’t all depend upon me. But this time God gave me a vivid example of how He works even in the face of our perceived failure. I got a glimpse into the heavenly work of a loving God.
We talked a lot more that night (perhaps the sugar kept us going?), and then took some time to pray together. We had a new connection I hadn’t been anticipating. Inside, I was dancing and skipping and praising God!
Image credit: Depositphotos
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