Glancing out the kitchen window, I groaned. My high-spirited 18-month-old son was contentedly pushing his tricycle—with an upside-down tortoise riding on the seat. Our little boy was going around and around the little sidewalk enclosed in our compound, while the tortoise’s four legs slowly kicked in a panicked protest.
I ran out to rescue the tortured animal, explaining for the umpteenth time that the tortoise could be petted, but that it did not like the tricycle. I returned the tortoise to its hole and watched it dig in with a rapidity induced only by fear.
Our rambunctious puppy also possessed an affinity for this particular tortoise. With its nose, the puppy would tip the tortoise over on its back and then proceed to shove it all around the yard. Tortoises usually possess the ability, when tipped over, to stretch out their necks and use the tips of their noses to rock their shells, while simultaneously pushing off with their feet, to right themselves. This one did not.
This tortoise had acquired a large circular dent right on the top of its shell from some sort of trauma. This meant that every time it was flipped by its two archenemies, it needed a hero to come and save it from its peril.
I felt terrible for the tortoise, but a diversion in a sweltering monotonous period of my life was welcomed, even if it was just a reptile rescue. Less than a year and a half ago, my husband and I, with our then infant son, had moved to an extremely conservative Central Asian country. I had made it through an intense language school, relishing every minute of it. Then we relocated so that my husband could start his job with an international NGO and I could start…the major-loss-of-identity phase of my life.
I found myself being a “Stay-at-Home Mom” in completely unfamiliar territory. My home culture had prepared me for going to coffee shops, the grocery store, libraries, zoos, women’s groups, and parks with a stroller and child. Somewhere, while pursuing my degree in cross-cultural studies, I had missed the course on How to be a Stay-at-Home Mom in Conservative Cultures and Thrive.
Though my husband was a huge support, he was busy and going through his own adjustments. Here were a few of my challenges: I had no aunts, uncles, grandmas, or grandpas nearby to love on my son and support me in raising him. The clothing I wore was hideous. I hated the matching, brightly-colored, striped-print outfits that were in style. I had never experienced relentless heat without air conditioning for months; when I had to cover my head and wear long sleeves and pants in 100-degree weather, the story of the frog being slowly cooked in the boiling pot often came to mind.
My introverted self struggled with how to build relationships and understand my neighbors. I craved interesting conversations that did not revolve around the topics of what kind of birth control I used and whether or not I breastfed. Friday was not Friday any more—we functioned on a different work-week schedule that ran Saturday through Wednesday. I soon found out that the year was 1385; this just added to my irritation. Everything was so different!
One day, as I was processing all of this, trying to grasp at the truths that I knew would get me through, God spoke to me through that tortured tortoise. Yes, like Balaam the donkey, it actually spoke. Of course not—I was not to the hallucinating stage yet!
When I again noticed its struggle from my kitchen window, I went out to rescue it, and this thought popped into my mind: “You are just like this tortoise.” As I walked toward it, I saw its legs kicking, neck arched, head turned, desperately trying to turn over. I reached out and flipped it onto its feet, processing those words.
I was the tortoise’s hero; Jesus had been mine for years. During hardships in my own culture, my coping methods kicked in, accompanied by a support group of family and friends. Sadly, my Hero was not always needed there. Here, all the hardships of this place had knocked me flat on my back, and I was wounded, desperately clawing and scratching and fighting what I considered my archenemies.
I expressed my disappointment to God; I had prepared for moving overseas for an extensive time, and my expectations had been crushed. After being honest with God, I realized I felt powerless. I surrendered this to Him. Like the tortoise, I needed someone bigger than I, my Savior and my God, to set me on my feet. Slowly, I began to look past the consuming negative issues of the culture, and something miraculous happened. The challenges that were so daunting began to be ones that I, with God, could rise above.
Question to consider: How has living cross-culturally made you more dependent on Jesus, your Hero?