If you've been reading along, you know that I whined and complained my way through most of May and well into June. Have you ever noticed that once the pity party starts, it's really hard to call it out off and get all the revelers like Woe is Me, Self Doubt, What was I Thinking, and It's Not Fair to go home. The Enemy loves to let them hang around and help you dig yourself deeper into that hole of misery.
Believe me when I tell you that my little party reached an all time high, when I realized, despite my sweet mom's best effort to conceal it, that my family in the states were all leaving to head to the beach for their week long vacation ON MY BIRTHDAY. Seriously?! That is just not right!
Thoughts like, "I wanna go!", "It's not fair!", "I deserve that kind of break." were running rampant. That's when I had to stop for a minute and really consider where my thought path was taking me. I DESERVE to go? Really?
I realized as I processed that all these thoughts were on a collision course with some other things God had been impressing quite regularly onto my heart. I've said before that I tend to learn in themes. I think it's mainly because God knows that He has to hit me with something from all sorts of creative directions before my stubborn mind will soak it all in.
In the midst of all my "woe is me-ing" over the past few months, God's been up to some pretty cool stuff in the background. We have met more neighbors and made more national friends in the past 6 weeks than in the rest of our almost 2 years in this city. Our new home has become a gathering point for the neighborhood kids and those kiddos have parents that we've begun forming relationships with. It's something we've been praying for. Seeking after.
It's hard enough to live in a foreign culture, but living in a foreign culture, surrounded by an American bubble of traditions and friends is harder still. You begin to wonder, what am I doing here, really? What kind of difference can I make? So we seek after the kind of relationships that will teach us about the people among whom we have chosen to plant our lives. And let me tell you, it's hard stuff.
We pack up our bags and we move across the ocean and we set up house in a new culture. That's the easy part. It's walking out your front door and knocking on that neighbor's door and offering yourself to them as a learner that's the hard part. It's allowing yourself to be vulnerable and admit, "This is completely FOREIGN to me and I don't know what I'm doing."
It's saying as you attempt to make friends, "I don't understand your background, your traditions, your heritage, but I want to TAKE THE TIME to learn from you, and on the most basic level, I want to be your friend".
It's opening yourself up in a way that invites rejection fairly regularly. You see, just as we have preconceived notions about "them". They also have these notions and assumptions about us. They may not want to be your friend. They may assume things about you, a Westerner, that are very much not true, just like we, as Americans, so often do about "them". And before you know it, you may have lived in a place for years on end, and have very few nationals that you can call "friend".
So what does all this have to do with my pity party? I'm getting there....
You see, God was up to something, as He usually is. In the midst of the craziness that defined the month of May at least for Jason and me, our girls were making friends right and left in our new building. Our patio has become grand central station just about every evening. The girls have taught their new Jordanian friends how to play Capture the Flag of all things and it has become a nightly affair. As the kids have played, Jason and I have met parents. We've exchanged plates of food (and plates and plates and plates of food...). The tradition here, like many places is that if you receive a plate of food you return it full to it's owner. Y'all. I can't keep up! On one particular day my neighbor sent over a plate of fresh plums from her backyard tree. I sent the plate back with some lemon cake I had leftover from having guests the night before. The next day, I received another plate of plums. I had just make cookies so I sent it back about an hour later with cookies. Literally, within 10 minutes, her daughter was delivering the plate again, this time overflowing with chocolate cake. That was several days ago. I still have the plate. I'm deliberately slowing down the exchange! So we've met parents, had tea, sat outside and visited. Basically, we are getting to know our neighbors and it seems being accepted into their circles in ways that haven't happened before.
You know what's funny, though? As all of this was playing out, I wasn't thrilled and excited that a long time prayer was being answered. No. You see, I was pity- partying. So instead of recognizing God's hand at work, I was selfishly complaining about the inconveniences all this was bringing to me. I'm tired after all. I've been working hard all day. I don't want to answer the doorbell again. It's hot outside and in. I'm wearing shorts and a tank top within the walls of my home, but if I answer the door, I have to change clothes. Whine, whine, whine. I deserve a break. I deserve some "me time". Again, REALLY? That ugly D word again that really points to a deeper issue that God has been pointing to in my heart.
Entitlement. We all deal with it in one form or another. Entitled because of our nationality, our religious background, our ethnicity. Entitled to good food, clean water, good education. We deserve this, we deserve that. I deserve a frappuccino, I've had a hard day. I deserve a shopping trip to the mall. Retail therapy always helps homesickness. I deserve a beach vacation. Around and around we go. The mental soundtrack of how much we don't have and how much we want and need and even deserve can be exhausting.
And so distracting from God's greater plan.
When you get down to it, OF COURSE, I want to spend time with my neighbors, get to know them on a deeper, heart level. But, if I'm perfectly honest, all to often, I want it on my terms. I want to visit in the hours that seem normal to my cultural upbringing. I want to be able to say "no" without offending.
Here's an example of how some of this has played out... The family in our building that we've gotten closest to, came back over about 10 minutes after we'd called the girls in for the night a few weeks ago. It was pushing 10 PM. Jason's brother Jeremy had just arrived in town the night before. I was having my LASIK surgery the following morning. Naomi was in the shower, and Abbey and Maddie were about to play Wii with their uncle. The doorbell rang and I so didn't want to answer to, but AJ got to it before I could tell her to stop. It was the youngest son's birthday and they were inviting us over for the party. At 10 PM. My first response? Nope. Not going.
"Let them know we can't," I tell Abbey.
Thankfully, I listened to that gentle nudge in my spirit that said, "oh yes, you should".
So I told myself I'd just pop over quickly and explain that Naomi was already in the shower, I was having surgery the next morning, it was late etc etc. I knocked on the door just minutes after Abbey had told them we weren't coming and was greeted by the sight of a fully decorated dining room table- balloons, party hats, blowers. Cake, chips, fruit punch. All for us. And our new friends? Standing around looking somewhat confused that they had been refused. Because of course we would come to the party. Why in the world wouldn't we?! My excuses got stuck somewhere in my throat and I immediately said I'd hurry home and gather up the girls and we'd be right back over. And we did. And we ate cake and chips and sugary juice and hot tea until almost 11:30. Yes, we were tired and no, maybe in our selfish nature, that wouldn't have been our first choice of how to spend the evening. But was it worth it in light of a developing friendship? Definitely!
Another evening as I'm scrambling to get dinner on the table as we have guests coming, Abbey runs in saying that they've been invited to go to the mall that evening with our new friends from 8-10 PM. Can they go? Please, please, please??! All logic from a Western mindset says absolutely not. I barely know the adults, the mall at night? Etc etc. Then I have to remind myself, "I'm not in America" and this is one of those times it's a good thing. Because it's an honor and shame society, they will watch out for my kids like they are their own because it would be shameful not to and they will probably treat them to all sorts of things. So off they went to the mall. At 8PM. My 13, 11 and 7 year olds. And they came home at almost midnight, with bellies full of candy and treats and heads full of fun memories. So again, yes they were exhausted and we may have paid for it a little the next day, but was it worth it? I think so.
So yeah, as much as I want things on my cultural terms and built around my expectations of what is best for my family, I have to stop and think, "Are my terms God's terms?" Or am I putting parameters around something that God didn't intend to have limits? By bending my cultural rules and expectations and allowing my kids to learn from those around them and do things that seem a little off to me (culturally) and possibly inconvenient, will I teach them far more about what it means to truly love their neighbors and pour themselves out for the sake of Christ?
In the midst of all of this, God reminded me of Paul's words to the church in Thessalonica. 1 Thessalonians 2:8 says, "We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us." I WANT my neighbors to be that dear to me. I truly desire to be "delighted" to share all of myself with them, but I had to be honest and confess that my thoughts of what I deserve during a fairly stressful season of life, had quite honestly been getting in the way.
And speaking of what I think I DESERVE and am entitled to? Yeah, let's talk about that. To be clear, there is nothing wrong with frappuccino's, shopping trips and beach vacations in and of themselves. Obviously (I hope), that is not what I'm saying. The problem is with the attitude that is seeking those things out. The endless mental cycle that can have us constantly in a place of wanting and seeking more, more, more. As if I wasn't convicted enough by the passage in Thessalonians, God proceeded in His infinite wisdom to hit me between the eyes with another doozy. He pointed me to Paul's words in 2 Corinthians 12:15 where he says to the Corinthians, the people He was serving among, "So I will very gladly spend for you everything I have and expend myself as well." If it's not as painfully obvious to you as it became to me, there wasn't much about serving those around me that I had been doing "very gladly" lately especially when it came to expending myself.
So on my birthday, as I took advantage of my gift of a day at the pool, I pondered as all these different trains of thought came crashing together in my head. I thought about all the things that we as a western culture have begun convincing ourselves that we deserve. I thought about how easily I find myself inconvenienced by other people. I thought about how whiny I have felt inside lately while preaching to my kids about "choosing joy". I thought about how all I've been thinking about is me.
And then I thought about Jesus.
And what He deserved vs what He freely poured out for me. Poured out freely and sacrificially not because I deserved anything or had earned it in any way. And I was humbled. And ashamed of my selfish heart. But also thankful for His unending, ever merciful grace that loves unconditionally and continually picks me up and dusts me off even as I fall on my face over and over again.
Picks me up when my eyes are constantly turned inward so that I fail to see the glory of His work around me.
Dusts me off (and maybe shakes me up a little) so that I can renew my focus and turn my eyes back to Him.
As I said before, God teaches me in themes, as I can be a little dense. Today was no exception. I've been working on this post for a few days, trying to figure out how to tie it all together, and even praying that in the process of writing God would continue to reveal Himself to me. Praying that He would show me not just how I could tie all this together for the purpose of this post, but how HE was desiring to tie this all together in my life.
This morning I picked up a devotional book I haven't read in a while: Experiencing God Day by Day by Henry and Richard Blackaby. I'll close with an excerpt I read from the entry for June 25. It pretty well sums up what I think God would have me to learn from this season of my life. Blackaby says,
"There are two ways to look at every situation: How it will affect you, and how it will affect God's kingdom....
Often when we encounter a new situation, our first thoughts are not about God's kingdom. When we face a crisis, we can become angry or fearful for our own well-being, rather than looking to see what God intends to do through our circumstances. If we remain self- centered we will miss so much of what God could do through our experiences, both for us and for those around us.
Ask God to make you aware of how He could use your present circumstances to bless others. Perhaps someone around you needs to see the difference Christ's presence makes in your life. Are you willing for God to use your circumstances to demonstrate His saving power to those around you?"
Jesus, keep my eyes on You and show me day by day how to lead my kids to do the same.
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