What I’ve Learned From Living Overseas

It’s been almost two years since we packed up our pretty perfect suburban life for a much more exotic one in Bangkok. Missions, ministry, and “the gospel to the ends of the earth” were the anchors to which my soul clung. But the transition was harder than expected. Yes, there was culture shock, but mostly there was a longing for the safety and comfort that I had once called my own. There were people who knew me so well that they could predict what I would say next. We lived our lives in real, legit community. We were settled, happy and just as much involved in ministry there as we are here.

But God asked us to go. So we did.

I wish I could say mine was an attitude of gung-ho, “let’s do this thing” kind of exuberance. It definitely was not. It still is not. I was not one of those missionaries whose heart was all about living among nationals and learning new languages and trying new foods. This move was one of obedience, not desire. But God has used it immeasurably in my life. He continues to use it as he gives me a heart, not just for the people where I am, but for the lost in the world.

Over the last year and a half, He has taught me some things. Many of them are deep and hard truths, but there were also some simple little life lessons that will forever shape how we live.

Home is not where we think it is.

Wherever we are is our temporary home. The people we are with are what make home feel like home.

Starting over is hard.

We had a well lived, established, rooted life. Starting over from scratch was so much harder than I thought it would be. As adventurous as it sounded, the “find a house-make new friends- start a new job-help your kids adjust-struggle” was real for me.

Relationships are worth the effort, both where you are and at “home”.

Invest where you are in the people God puts in your life, even if they don’t fit into the mold of what you had before. Invest time in the relationships you had before also. Skype, Viber, Google Hangouts and Email have made that easier than ever before. Be where you are, invest in where you were.

God is good.

Even when I don’t feel it, or fight hard not to believe it, this truth has become an anchor for my soul.

Obedience is costly, but it’s reward is great.

We left a good life. It cost us a lot of comfort, sanity and money. However, the blessings that come from being obedient to God no matter what the cost is are great. His grace is sufficient for what he calls you to, even if it isn’t necessarily what you want to be called to.

The gospel is needed everyday in the life of a believer.

The sin in my heart is real, and moving overseas certainly revealed a lot of that. I needed Jesus’s perfection. I felt like no one really understood me or knew me. I needed Jesus as mediator between me and the God who fashioned every fiber of my being.  I felt compelled to prove myself to everyone around me. I needed Jesus to be where I found my worth. The gospel is for me, a believer, and has been since the day that God first opened my eyes to its beauty and truth.

Finding a house is hard.

Like legit hard. Nuff’ said. Furnishing a house with half Thai money and half USD the first month you are in country is also really hard. You might end up with all white everything, because you couldn’t make the decisions necessary to come up with pin-worthy decor. You might also want to have a nervous breakdown in IKEA. So, yeah…finding a house is hard. Furnishing a house is hard. Crying in the store actually might happen. It’s okay. Just roll with it and enjoy your all white home!

Send missionaries care packages.

We have been so blessed by the thoughtfulness of others. When you send those living overseas a care package,  they will feel loved, cared for and thought about. They will enjoy every little piece of home that can fit into a cardboard box. When I am living back in the States I will remember those feelings and send some love overseas. (And thanks to those who have sent us some “home based goodies”)

Grocery shopping in Bangkok might make you cry.

Like furnishing a home…your first trip to the grocery store might invoke tears. There might be a trillion options for laundry detergent. You won’t understand any of the labels and will be overly stressed about which ones might bleach your clothes. Just saying. It gets better….like 8 months later.

Feeling like you are missing out on things doesn’t go away in middle school.

Nope. Your friends back home will get together without you. Things will happen in the lives of the people you love. Conferences and fun events will take place and you will have no option of attending them. You will feel left out. You will have that gut wrenching feeling of missing out on “everything important in the world”. You will act like a middle-schooler. Then you will realize that you aren’t missing out on anything you are supposed to be a part of. Because God is writing your story and the setting he has you in has its own important events. So, be there, and stop worrying about missing out.

The junk you thought you had dealt with might not be as “dealt with” as you thought.

You might have gotten some counseling or something. You might have thought you could handle what was about to happen. And mostly you did. But you might still have some real misplaced identity issues. You might still be insecure and struggle with contentment. You might still be your own idol and live at the alter of worshipping comfort instead of the glory of God. Just saying, you might not have everything all dealt with. That’s okay, maybe your move is God’s next step in dealing with some of your junk.

God’s grace extends further than you can imagine.

Yes. It does. You might not know how much you need, but when you need it, it will be there. Always.

People are a mess. I am a mess.

Uhhhh, this was made super clear during my first year overseas. I am a really big mess. Somehow, people still wanted to be my friend. I am not really sure why, but I am sure glad they did. I haven’t arrived as much as I thought I had when we left the States. But, God pulled me up out of a metaphorical fetal position. He picked up my head, right in the middle of my adult-sized temper tantrum. He gave me just a tiny glimpse of perspective. He gave me hope that was in a person, not a location or calling or day job. I thought I knew and understood all of those things before. But, I guess I needed some reminding (or remediation).

Moving overseas taught me to let go of some of the things I had been clinging to. I still miss “home” all of the time. I miss the people that shaped me into who I am today. I want to sit down and eat chicken salad with them. I want to dig into Bible studies with them, and share the most mundane and extraordinary moments of our lives. But God has me here. There are people here who I can eat yummy Lebanese food with. We can share the mundane and the extraordinary. There is purpose for me here. There is grace for me here. There is peace and the presence of God for me here. There is need for me here. And I have a need for the shaping that the people, places and experiences here have to offer.

Moving overseas was hard. Going home is still in the back of mind. But mostly I have learned that God is about doing his work, in the kingdom and in my heart. And that is a good thing.

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