Where we live almost everyone that has a bathroom has a pair of shoes that sit just outside it. Even in public places a pair of worn flip type shoes are placed there. When I first arrived I never understood why these shoes were there and in many occasions they seemed dirty, ok nasty. I just walked past them, held my breath, and tried not to pee on my legs while using the choo. Like many things that are different, over time I had enough language and gumption to ask about some of these things. Before we left we had a friend of Jason’s come over for dinner and he had removed his shoes, as is custom, before entering our home. Before dinner he needed to use our bathroom but seemed confused as he searched around a bit. Jason realized why……He was looking for the shoes! Locals use these pairs of shoes to enter a bathroom since it is not the cleanest of places and they expect that a pair be ready and waiting in every home for just that purpose. They are communal bathroom shoes. We were a bit embarrassed we did not have any and the next day I made sure we bought a pair and placed them in our bathroom. As I bought them I thought about how much I have changed in just a year and a half. Even though we have no need for these shoes they are necessary in this culture. It was not putting the shoes there but seeing the need for them to be there that made me realize my thinking, my ideas of what are important, and my identity has changed.
I have learned many things about culture, about people, about myself, about what really matters in the last year and a half. I consider these things gifts God has given me in living in a place so different from my normal, from my comfortable, from my known. Now that we are “back” for a bit I sense the in-betweenness people always told me I would feel in coming back to a place that while is so familiar is so changed for me personally now. Reflecting on the last year and a half has been hard since I am brain dead prego and we are feeling a bit scattered as a family but I could not sleep without recording some thoughts after praying last night. not cohesive but here goes…
Journeys are what life is about. Those journeys do not have to physically take you to a remote location but they should change you, move you, touch you, remind you, center you, teach you. Over the last year and a half I have learned a lot, grown a lot, been stretched a lot. Some of our and my experiences I would never chose to repeat and some were amazing but all were valuable, all were refining, all were needed.
When we first arrived to our island I knew my life would change. I knew I would wear different clothes, speak a different language, learn to cook and live a different way but what I thoroughly underestimated was how much my identity would be altered. Like the journey of having a child you can read up on it, watch others go through it, but nothing really prepares you to be a Mama except having that little child entrusted to you. You just don’t know how it will feel until you are emerged in it. Back here in the states my role was more clear to me; within my marriage, my circle of friends, my church, my family, my job. And I was pretty good (most days) at strategizing, planning, generating ideas, keeping busy, tackling everything needed to keep our home running, and being me. The question came many times over the last year and a half…Who am I now? Who did I need to become to identify with the women around me? Cultural immersion is a buzz word discussed among those who seek to live outside their home culture for whatever reason. Much discussion and research has been done about it but I did not take into account the emotional pain of immersion. Pulling off some of my Western-ness and putting on some local ways was and is hard. Everything was so unfamiliar and you have to let go of a lot of yourself, of your way of doing things, and that takes a toll. I cried many times feeling all of that which defined my life in Chicago was suddenly gone. I had to face sides of myself I was not sure I liked. And to be honest I did not like some of the ways I had to change.
Adjustment never feels great. It is wrenching, uncomfortable, and requires patience with yourself. Much of the last year and a half I have felt in limbo, in this middle ground and in those difficulties it was as if God has said to me “Well, you could die to yourself. You could learn to trust that I know what you need better than you. You could choose to be transformed.” God is showing me I do not need to worry about who I am becoming or what my identity was since so much of that was rooted in things outside myself or of the temporal, material, or circumstantial. What I need is to keep plugging away for Him, and however flawed my ways are, seek to keep learning and growing. And there is Grace. And yes, over the last year and a half my identity has changed a lot but it is worth it. Many of the things I first saw as burdens in living there (think scraping coconuts, wearing all you can eat dresses, sitting for hours at events) have become part of me and I even enjoy them.
I have grown in seeing my life in a new way as related to the greater world community. I have seen my sufferings and complaints in perspective and although I wish that made me whine less (work in progress:) I know that I am among the privileged few. I am wealthy in so many ways, most of which have nothing to do with money. Most of the world’s women spend their lives in manual labor seeking to provide for their families. Many women have few of the choices I take for granted everyday. God has taught me that He did not send me here to call these women to a life like mine, or a more comfortable Western life but a life of joyful abundance, a life promised to those that know peace through Jesus. And many times I need to be reminded of that joy. Even though the church preaches “you are not the center of the world” so much of Western society is catered to ‘having it your way’ and to swim against that stream is hard. Living where we live we have had to get used to inconvenience. And the biggest lesson God has had for me in the midst of that is that He is more concerned with my response to those situations then with having things work out the way I think they should. Peace is often a choice. This peace is offered despite circumstances and often those with the most privileges and material things miss out on that abundance because we, like me, cloud our thinking by focusing on difficulties, on things not being exactly as we planned, or different than we expect.
My way is not the best way. God’s way is.
here are a few other thoughts…..
It is hard to be an outsider. Really Hard. You feel stupid most of the time and it means everything when insiders come alongside you and helps you understand the whys and the hows.
Community matters and figuring out everything independently is not always the best way. When we can be open, vulnerable, and allow others in we can grow a lot. Especially those we thought we were there “to help.”
To feel dumb and powerless can be the start of a rebuilding in your soul and really stripping down your identity to what really matters.
Kids are kids everywhere and they can make friends regardless of language or culture.
Most barriers to understanding others are self constructed walls.
Interruptions can be amazing opportunities. Don’t waste them.
Sometimes taking the time to ask questions is more important than always understanding the answers.
So Jesus, I want to To Be Open to Change. To Your reforming, remolding, and rebirth process in my life. Help me embrace what is from You and throw off that which is not and run the race with endurance. Amen.
Shoes in my bathroom may just be a small part of transforming who I am, the way I think, and becoming more of who I should seek to be…..