02 April 2011

Wanting to know what some of you think ~

I read quotes like this one:

...and I understand.

Imagine if this was a favorite and common breakfast?

Try explaining it to someone who swings through a McDs drive through for coffee and a breakfast sandwich most mornings, exchanging money and only the words necessary to place the order...

Or describing it to your classmate who had a choice between Fruit Loops or Cheerios or Pop Tarts every morning...

So when the author of the above quote writes paragraphs like:
  • "Come on, nobody really cares about my story! ...most people are truly not interested in my way of life ...if they have never had the experience of living internationally in China, Cameroon, Chile or wherever, they will not understand or want to understand my day to day living and how that experience has impacted my life. The frame of reference for understanding is just not there and many of us just get weary of trying to explain ourselves..."

  • Or "I don’t want to “cast my pearls before swine.  ...our experiences as an international person are precious to us. Oh sure, we may tell a story on occasion if we don't think we will get the rolled eyes or the blank stare. But by in large, we keep the really personal, meaningful things to ourselves or share them sparingly and only with those who [might try to] 'get it.' The lessons learned, the personal transformation, and all the pain that goes along with that are like pearls to us. We take these pearls out on occasion and enjoy them and may even let others see them, but they are ours, and they are priceless. And we cannot simply lay them out there for anyone to use or abuse."
I empathize completely. I think most cross-cultural workers who've chosen or been called by God to travel this road of the expat, third-culture lifestyle have tried, at some time, to share, to help someone understand and get just a glimpse into this very different life, this world with nearly unimaginable-until-you've-been-here tastes and sounds and smells and sights... and been met with distracted listening, half-hearted "um-hmms, that's interesting," the panic that the listener is actually bored to death and he/she is just being polite... or even worse, strong criticisms, dismissals or accusations of foolishness by hearers about our adopted world and culture that is deeply loved, appreciated and embraced - both the good and bad.


Not only that, the woman who wrote the above quotes is an expert. She knows what she's talking about as she has related to and tried to help so many who've lived this life, especially children.

I know my children will experience... already have experienced... all of this. Sharing about their crazy life as an MK is exposing and leaves them vulnerable, open to rejection, wondering if people care, knowing that they don't fit in worse that the normal teenage not fitting in, and not quite sure what to do to bridge the gap... By following God's call on our lives, we parents have placed our children in this position.

Initially, I really didn't like this fact - that God's call on our lives would result in this sort of wrestling for our children. My perspective has changed as I've realized that God has not just called Tim and I... He has called our family and our children each play vital roles and parts in the ministry He has given us. I've also learned that this type of struggle, discomfort, stretching and growing through these types of experiences really is okay... because it is part of their growing up process. It is still a part of my maturing process.

At the same time, though, this reality troubles me. We are trying to teach our children to be authentic... to be real... to not be afraid of sharing from this incredible wealth of experiences - good and bad, scary and exhilarating, discouraging and uplifting, with which God has gifted them. Clamming up, choosing not to share, not to reveal their God-orchestrated uniqueness, partially due to where they live, how they've grown up and the life they've experienced? They will battle that temptation... a way of thinking that is  "all about me, my needs, my protection, my fears, my security, my treasures... me and what is best or easiest for me..."

I know, because I find myself in that place so often, and it truly is impossible to  serve God and others when I'm the center of my universe. Unfortunately, but for God's gracious and continuous intervention, that seems to be my default position.

I'm curious... how do you respond to the above quotes - and I'd love to hear from my homeland friends, too!


  1. Thank you so much for this post, Richelle. I think I still fall into the category of desiring to share but realizing that far fewer people have a desire to know about my home and life than I would wish. I don't think it is at all a conscious "I don't care" but rather just people not knowing what questions to ask, or people not realizing that there are questions that I would really like to be asked. I have noticed that when I am "home," most people are eager to re-establish the connection that we had based on our common ground. Very few people ask about what life is like where we are or really are desirous to know about the differences and how it has changed me and my family. Sometimes this can feel hurtful to me, because like you and the author of those quotes said, these things are precious treasures, but I also have to make sure I realize how eager these loved friends and family members are to re-establish common ground with me (and common ground is what we share together when we're in America). I think seeing this has helped me not feel as bad about not being asked about my life and the things precious to me, but it is still hard and somewhat sad, especially when some of the people closest to me ask me the fewest questions about my life. I feel like I have changed so much on the deepest levels since being overseas, and most of it has to do with the things that nobody asks about or really is interested in hearing about. I do my best to try to be the one to open up and share, knowing that most people simply won't know what questions to ask, but I do struggle with a desire to be known more and do feel hurt on occasion when I open up and share a precious treasure only to have it hastily looked over like a common stone. One thing that I have come to really value are my friends who also live overseas (like you!)and share similar experiences. We know the questions to ask one another and we can relate in so many special ways. What a gift!

  2. i totally agree, Ashley. we do have amazing friends who do ask and patiently listen and do care... sometimes, though, it is taking the risk to find some of those friends that is the really hard part. i'm as guilty of that as anyone. it is just easier to keep it inside until i paths cross with one of my expat friends and then everything spills out. i don't think, though, that is what the Lord would want us to do... so i'm trying more to share bits and pieces of my life in America with my African friends... and vice versa.

    Good to hear from you! Blessings.

  3. hmmm...i don't have much interesting to say...but i SO enjoy your sharing. i have learned much and pray often from/for you and yours. i can also speak for izzy and say that i know she enjoys and is fascinated by tori and her stories...

    love and miss you! wish you were here in my bonus room now...telling me a beautiful story about your beautiful hard fun interesting demanding (should i go on?) life. - barb

  4. Maybe it's because before I was married, I was determined - is that the word? probably not - but planning to be a world traveler somehow, but God's plan was different. I love to hear stories about life in other cultures. I think I do struggle with knowing how to ask the right questions, as Ashley said. I love to hear - I wish the stories could be as meaningful to me but I also know I miss a lot because I am not a part of that culture. I appreciate patient friends taking the time to explain the background culturally to me as they are sharing.

    I think possibly my knowing that the possibility of ACTUALLY traveling and living elsewhere and experiencing things for myself is slim to none (Michael has no desire to travel - odd!!!! and am learning to accept that) ;-) it makes any sharing from my international and missionary friends more - something?

    Anyway, I crave experiences other than typical for me. I'm also idealistic, so I might just think I want to experience things different than the norm...and now I'm blabbering. I do love it when you share, and am truly fascinated.

  5. I don't know anyone who doesn't talk about how things went at work that day/week/etc., and I've met plenty of people who just couldn't care less. You guys have the greatest job in the world, but there are bound to be plenty of people who don't understand or don't even care why you do it. Your kids are more mature and more responsible than half the adults I know. You can't protect yourself or your kids from the disinterested or apathetic ear, all you can do is brace for it. It's not about the ones who don't care, it's about the ones who need to hear about what you're doing. No, I haven't spent years overseas, so I can't totally relate, but I am reminded of what I said the day I came home from the hospital three years ago - if God can use my experience to reach even one more person for Him, then it's all worth it, and I'd do it all again.

  6. Your post has given me much to mull over since I read it...oddly enough I am preparing a lesson from Proverbs on wise words at this time...

    My dear husband and I comment often that it is
    rare to find a person who is willing to listen...most prefer to have you listen to them talk about themselves...and we ourselves are quite prone to this as well.

    The further I am from my time living as an MK the less I talk about it. It feels complex to me..like my impressions as a youngster and the things I have learned since and the greater understanding of the reality of a third world country now that I am a parent and an adult... altogether they are ... not easy...like a place of deep waters that I cannot delve into lightly...and there are few who have the time or inclination to listen to me while I plumb the depths.

    I also find that though I do not live in a foreign land -- I am living for a different kingdom than the one of so many people I interact with...and even this cultural difference causes conversations to...require wise words. Not everyone wants to hear about the way we live b/c our piroties are different...yet how can I be the salt that makes them thirsty if I do not share the benefits of living a life by Biblical standards. I've been pondering much several proverbs that talk about not saying everything you know just because you know it.

    So my initial conclusion as I continue to poke this topic around in my head like my daughter's tongue plays with her loose tooth...I guess it comes down to motives. I can share stories to shock people, to impress people, to give a guilt trip, to get out of a responsibility...or worst of all to impress them with me (whoopdie freaking doo). But I am learning -- to give the gift of loving listening -- and the importance of sharing stories out of love for others...I have far to go in this.

    PS -- I remember scenes like the photo of the oil for cooking at a roadside stand...mom always said that if we needed to get something to eat while we were out...something hot out of oil was safer than something that had sat awhile ;o)

  7. thanks so much for your comments - of course (barb, jenny & adam) y'all ARE the ones we feel comfortable talking to because you just sorta "ooze" the attitude that you are interested and do care!

    mom-ster, I LOVE what you said and it is so true and I had neglected to think through that side of things:
    "I guess it comes down to motives. I can share stories to shock people, to impress people, to give a guilt trip, to get out of a responsibility...or worst of all to impress them with me (whoopdie freaking doo). But I am learning -- to give the gift of loving listening -- and the importance of sharing stories out of love for others..."

    that is so true - who can blame people for disinterest if they sense that our "sharing" is really selfish-all-about-me, eh?

    thanks for your comments, y'all!!


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