I thoughtfully listen to the familiar sounds in my neighborhood as I bend down to pick up the dead autumn leaves from the gravel floor of our garden: my neighbor playing ball with her grandchild, the sound of a broom sweeping away dry leaves, the tinkling sound of a teaspoon being stirred in a little glass teacup, and here, next to the fence, the crackling sound of the big dog next door chewing on a plastic bottle.
As I dropped the handful of dead leaves into the bucket I thought how comforting these familiar sounds are, but at the same time the very real but almost painful question came up in my heart: “Will I ever be fully known and enjoyed by my dear neighbors and the beautiful, friendly people of this country?” My heart, my sense of humor, what I love, what I delight in, and even what makes me sad. How I feel about events in the world. My love and heart for God. Why I do things in certain ways, and most of all, why I am really here.
I have been part of many neighborhood coffees, birthday celebrations, baby showers, unexpected visitors for coffee or tea, and the fun of spontaneously meeting with my neighbors in the street for a quick chat. As I pushed the leaves even deeper into the bucket, my uneasy thoughts raced forth. I have really tried to live out myself in my new culture: learning the language and culture, making an effort to get to know my neighbors, even cooking and shopping with them. Sweeping my part of the street and kindly sweeping in it has indeed been such a good way to enter into our community here—but still I feel a foreigner, unknown.
I wonder how long it will take me to be comfortable in my local language. At a local school event the other day one of the mothers reached out to me in a friendly way and invited me to come sit next to her. She was very sweet, and we talked about school events and the weather. I told her: “Last winter the lemons on the lemon tree banana, the little plants in my garden banana and even the banana trees banana to the ground.” Yes, I got the word for banana and freeze/froze mixed up. How she managed to keep a straight face I am not sure!
I have been asked very open, provoking, and sensitive questions like: “Where do you get your money? What work does your husband do?” This does not help my self-confidence in initiating visits. Trying to answer these questions with integrity and yet with discretion has been a challenge. I can sometimes feel the red rising from my neck into my face as I face these honest but not-easy-to-answer questions.
I do not always want to avoid talking about how much money we get and have or what we really do. I do not always want to have to just pick the weather as a good, safe subject. I certainly do not want to always sit in conversations where my neighbors are talking and I honestly have no clue what they are talking about or where the conversations are heading. I most certainly do not want to be talked about while I am sitting there, with the conversation going on as if I am not in the room.
As I crouched sadly now next to the bucket of brown, dead autumn leaves, these words of truth rose up in my heart: “Karin, you are not here so that you can be known—you are here so that I can be known by them.” How clearly these words rang through my heart as they brought all into perspective!
Taking these questions and unmet needs and expectations to the foot of the cross is the best way to get peace and answers. That is the place where I am known for who I am, where my Lord celebrates my uniqueness. I am here because of Him. I desire to see my neighbors and friends touched and changed by His love and truth. A bread baked with love and wrapped up in a new dish towel, a cake plate filled with cookies, a bunch of flowers dropped off with a smile and hug—all these say more than many words could ever say.
In time I will learn more about the cultural unspoken cues and the language. For now I probably will create many more miles of smiles with my broken attempts to speak in the local language. I will choose to keep my eyes on the Lord Jesus Christ, the One who knows when it is a good time to bless my neighbors and Who has the wisdom to know what should be said. I can take my own thoughts of doubt and inadequacy to Him to speak truth and hope into my heart. He will guide me in praying for my neighbors and in being alert to their needs. My desire? “Living myself out” as best as I can for His glory and remembering that I am not firstly here to be known but rather so that He would be fully known by them.
© 2013 Thrive.
Question to Consider: How do you practically deal with “questions and unmet needs and expectations”?