After many months of saying to each other, “We should have _______ & _______ over” Rees and I finally made it happen. His male co-workers pop by and hang out with our family fairly regularly but there were a couple of his female coworkers we wanted to have over too and now one of them is moving away. So we did to others what we don’t tend to want them to do to us – we asked them over during her last couple of days here. She was gracious enough to come.
There have been so many evidences of God’s gracious transformation of my soul these days. They aren’t profound on the outside, in fact, they are pretty mundane and you would never know that they evidence huge helpings of His grace. But I see them and, and even seeing them is a grace-gift. Yesterday, when these two young ladies came over, I was not stressed at all. Don’t get me wrong, I still wished that my house was spotless and that I was more efficient at cooking, but I didn’t run around making more work for myself (a little more cleaning up, maybe I should make another salad, should I run out and get bread that was just-made?…). I ended up just adding more chicken and some rice to the big pot of soup I had made the day before and ran across the street to get some yogurt from a neighbor to eat with our soup. There are so many other things I could have made and done that would have made me look great, but the problem is that those things tend to take too much of my energy away from actually enjoying the people sitting at my table. Don’t get me wrong – I really love food and I really enjoy cooking food and eating yummy food with people. But we just got back from Bishkek and my priority was home-school and staying connected enough to my kids’ hearts that we could look forward to having guests over together (instead of feeling like they were just in the way of my hosting properly). So that left about an hour and a half in the afternoon to do everything else and I chose to augment the soup and bake a cake because women here tend to really enjoy a “different” kind of cake more than they enjoy “different” food. And when I could have made a complex salad, I instead said “yes” to playing Junior Monopoly with Hannah & Emmett. When these dear girls came, I toured them through our messy house without apologizing for how messy it is (grace!), made a pot of tea and sat with them while peeling and cutting veggies that we just ate raw, no fancy dip or dressing. We ate dinner and played Clue and all too soon, it was time to take them home. And instead of feeling like, “Whew, glad I got through that one. Time to recover.” I felt genuinely happy that we got to enjoy these girls in a more personal setting. That’s God’s grace and a big transformation.
Being great has never been an all-encompassing thought for me, but my actions and drive sure give proof that it is exactly what I’ve been aiming for. There is such a good article on Desiring God that articulates this: http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/lay-aside-the-weight-of-pride. My limitations (and there are just soooo many!) bother me so much because of this drive to be great, do great things and the like. In that article the author, Jon Bloom, says:
“My shame comes from an exaggeratedly high self-image that feels exposed by my limitations, weaknesses, and sins, making living with or fighting them much more burdensome than necessary.”
There is something in me (pride) that feels strongly like I ought to be able to do it all and then condemns me for being so limited. When we first moved to Central Asia, I was ready (I thought) to set aside my “rights” and take on aspects of the culture that would make me accessible and respectable to my new host-country. I wanted to honor the people around me. But slowly, subtly, some kind of wrong-thinking seeped in that put emphasis on glorifying God by making sure that everything looked fantastic, the way that locals do things. Even how my kids behaved was somehow going to bring God glory and point to His absolute and unconditional love. Local ladies here clean their homes to the point that it looks like no one lives there EVERY DAY. We wake up to the sound of sweeping every day. I’ve had local ladies scold me for the imperfections in my home (coming from the Pac NW, that kind of feedback took some major adjustment!) I had a big problem, however – we actually DO live in our home and it looks like it! I felt stressed all the time by every mess, thinking “What will they think if they see this mess? What if they think we are dirty people and that translates into their perceptions of our spiritual life and the whole community just keeps us at arms’ length because they don’t want to be defiled by us?” Sounds totally irrational coming from the west but I’m telling you, it is not irrational coming from the east. When someone would stop by (which is common here) I would be stressed by my kids’ needing attention and misbehaving all the while I’m making food and putting out nuts and fruits and chocolates and whatnot so that my guest feels honored and well-received – all to God’s glory (I hoped). My performance-oriented wiring is conducive to these pressures. But I wasn’t enjoying my guests and I wasn’t enjoying my kids and I was just. so. tired.
There are so many things that can lead to the ol’ raising the white flag. By the grace of God, I started to become aware that I was not living very differently than my neighbors and local friends. Appearance is everything here and you get merit with God (at least you hope) for how clean your house is and how well you hosted your guests and all that. I was trying to do the whole appearance thing all the while insisting that God loves us right where we are at and gives us freedom to live motivated by His great love, not fear of shame or His wrath. I found myself saying, “I can’t do it” and “I just don’t have the capacity for this” and really, truly, resigning myself to the fact that I am terribly limited. I also felt like I was missing out on being present with my family and local friends and guests. The story of Mary & Martha became inescapable for me and with some cultural context now, became even more poignant. Every local woman I’ve read the story to (in Luke 10:38-42) is agreeing with Martha (whom the Bible says in vs. 40 was ‘distracted with much serving’) that, of course Mary ought to be helping her and serving and doing the whole hospitality thing. They are absolutely shocked when Jesus says to Martha, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion and it will not be taken away from her.” I just never realized what a leap of faith choosing the “good portion” actually is. As with so many things, grace has met me with each step of faith. It shows up in deciding to sit and drink a cup of tea when I’m done with home school for the day before moving on to the home-front stuff. It also shows up when I have the kids help me clean up and I call it good enough, instead of doing it all over again myself. I think it’s really interesting how quickly I extend grace to others and encourage them to receive grace themselves and yet it is such a journey for me. I don’t remember other people’s messy houses at all but I do remember times when people opened their home and heart to me, making me feel like they were glad to visit with me. I raised the white flag, saying, “Jesus, I can’t keep up with any of this so I need you to make up with your abundance what I lack.”
I’ve come to believe that maybe those who are put off by any of my outer appearances: a rug that hasn’t been vacuumed yet that day, a pile of laundry still sitting in the bathroom, a sink full of dishes, kids walking around pouting or fighting with each other, my scarf tied all village-y or not village-y enough, are not necessarily the ones I’m here for. The ones who are drawn to being known and are craving a peaceful place (notice I didn’t say ‘quiet’) will come even if things don’t look perfect around here – even if it looks like our messy life is being lived here.