Thriving or Blending In

As we struggled to get back to thriving during a relationally dry time a few years ago, I struck out with plough in hand to turn up some ground for new friendships.  International playgroup was the ground and I was going to make some friends.  Mom’s from around the world in various stages of survival or thriving gathered to talk while kids played. So many interesting people!  Surely, a friendship could be borne.

Eventually, mom’s night out came around.  I, of course, went and ended up sitting next to a woman who loved to pepper me with questions about what we did, how we did it, how we got paid, what our plans for the future were and so on.  We’re not exactly forthcoming with all that information for some good reasons so to say I was uncomfortable is an understatement.  She then proceeded to ridicule another family in the city for doing religious work.  She did not know I did the same type of work.  And, now, I did not want her to know.  I really did not want her to know.

I shut down.  Survival became my goal.  Blend in to the group.  Be just another mom living life overseas.  Don’t stick out.  Danger!  It seemed an appropriate time to visit the lady’s room.

One friend who knew our more important work, observed the whole encounter.  She observed my walls go up, my survival instincts kicking in.  Later, as the cab dropped off first one and then another and another person until my friend and I were alone in the cab, she leaned forward and told me clearly she did not hold the views of this other woman.  In fact, she respected what we did.  I breathed.  I’d found a friend.

I realized after a long while and am still reminded now that blending into the group does not lead to survival but slow death.  It seems on the surface the right thing to do.  Friends are lacking, so go make friends…but not at any cost.  Never at the cost of who I am.  That’s not survival and it doesn’t lead to thriving….it’s just the long road to a slow death.  The wrong death.

The life Christ calls me to is so much more than blending in.  In fact, it’s the opposite of blending in.  It’s being willing to stand up knowing life as I know it probably won’t survive.  As I think on it more releasing survival seems to be the first step on the path to thriving.

Old Chickens

My name in Chinese sounds like “I love you” in some dialects.  Imagine me standing in an apartment helping negotiate a rental contract and introducing myself.  Picture the surprised expression on the landlords face as he replies, startled, “you love me?”  Why didn’t I change my name at that point?  I have no idea.  I’d already picked it?  I knew how to write it in characters?  I’m stubborn.

Learning a new language means becoming a child again.  It means people laughing at you for the cute ways you say things, for the mistakes you make.  People don’t understand even when you’re sure you say it right.  I become a two-year old with a temper tantrum as I try to ask for food to feed myself and no one understands me.  I use my hands and face to express what I cannot with my words.  It’s humbling.

It’s also funny.  Fast forward 11 years and you have me now.  I hate sharing that I’ve lived here 11 years when people ask me.  The admiration for my language abilities fades into the truth that after 11 years I should be more fluent!  Sometimes I muddy the truth…ok, I mislead people…ok, I repent from my lying…and share only how long I’ve lived in this city to avoid the faded admiration.

But, recently I made a pretty funny foible and it brought a smile to a sad face.  I didn’t orchestrate it, I was asked if I understood something and I shared what I thought I’d heard, “something about old chickens” I said.  No, it was something totally not about old chickens but the damage, or the benefit, had already been done.  A sad face smiled and my foolish misunderstanding brought some heavy things into a little perspective.

The “Old Chickens Incident” reminded me afresh to embrace the childlike nature of being a continual learner.  To laugh at myself, to share what I don’t understand instead of giving the fluent impression, to be weak and let God be strong.

Fluency would be awesome but He sure does show me a lot in the areas I lack fluency.

How does God used your lack of “fluency” to show you more about Himself?

The Color of Anticipation

Orange.  Warm, wonderful, wild orange.  Bought in the dead of winter for toes hiding in thick wool socks and cozy Uggs.  Usually I stick to more conventional…ok…normal colors.  But last week upon exiting the local grocery store, orange caught my eye.

My mind rushed to mid-year break.  Soon, I’d pack my bags with summer clothes.  I’d strategize the least amount of layers I could wear to the airport without freezing for the relatively short distance to donuts, mangoes, and sun.  What would I change into during our layover?  Or, will I change upon reaching our tropical destination?  Anticipation.

Anticipation wields a double-edged blade.  On the one hand it sparks a fire in the everyday as the moment approaches.  Tick off more things on the check list.  Come to a stopping or pausing point in a routine activity.  Contemplate the needs of others in the same situation and speak into the worry, anxiety, and stress of a conference.  Anticipation can move me towards action.

On the flip side, anticipation can start the slow slide toward disengaging too early, of coasting towards the day that I know will come.  I’ll deal with that later, my heart says.  That conflict, that difference of opinion that looms large, that kind word I want to speak.

Important things get put on the back burner as I count on the awaited event radically changing my outlook on life.  Relatively minor activities gain utmost importance like should I or should I not take beach towels?  I’ll have to wash them.  I don’t have a washing machine. But, it’s nice to have more towels.  They’ll get sandy.  On and on my mind goes…anticipating the beach.

Tonight as I paint my toenails orange, I hope the warmth of that color will rouse some praise in my heart about the gift of a break from the cold and fellowship with friends.  Then, as I look at my toes in the tropics I hope orange reminds me to live not just for myself, my break, my fellowship but for whatever He anticipates for me.

What are you anticipating?  What reminds you to live for Christ in the anticipation?