Thursday, November 4, 2010

a thorn in my American flesh

I think that probably most suffering is something that people feel alone in at one time or another.  The daily climate we live in here- “trying to sleep, standing up, with our eyes open,” as I’ve heard one friend describe- or trying to thrive in, humbly serve, and lovingly enjoy this beautiful and worlds different from me culture that we’re submersed in, is really hard.  I’ve tried to share bits here, but mostly it seems like I’ll never do the issue justice.  I don’t feel like I could ever convince anyone who hasn’t lived here- no, who hasn’t raised young children here- of the depth of difficulty there is in this endeavor.  But still I want to try to share about it.... even though it feels risky.
If cultural difficulties are this hard... is it worth it?  Entirely.  There is great gladness for that assurance.  We’re not packing our bags because this is difficult.  “Life is war.”  I would not be satisfied to simply live pursuing my own comfort.  This is tough, and I want to be ok with that.  It hurts and it’s hard but it IS worth it.  
Our “little handsome guy” and “foreign doll,” as they are called everywhere we go, have been hearing from me recently a lesson that we all wish we didn’t have to teach our kids but we do.   “Stay close to mama.  I don’t want you to get lost from me, and I don’t want anyone to take you away from me.”  
It’s a hard call:  how to encourage our kids to love and enjoy and serve the people around us, let them pinch their faces, pet their hair (their skin and hair and eye color are continually marveled at), and still promote a healthy sense of self protection.  Keep in mind, they are 4.5 and 3 years old.  That’s a lot for them to wisely discern!  I yearn for freedom and confidence in motherhood to throw the doors wide open to everyone around us here.... to lavishly love everyone we see, to be willing to simply stand there and be poked and prodded and keep smiling, but in my experience at least so far, only so much is possible.  Sometimes I keep my eyes locked on my kids, with the plain intent of avoiding our onlookers.  Oh, OH for grace!
On Saturday, the kids and I were buying veggies at the stand near the front gate of our complex.  We’re there often and they know where they can play and where they can wait for me while I gather our goods.  As I was handing 12 yuan ($1.60) to the seller, Isaiah came running in to tattle “Marian just spit at an ayi” (a lady.)  
I discussed it a bit with my girl, asking too few questions, and she confessed, it was true.  She knew she would be disciplined for it.  
At home, daddy did the hard work and as she was learning from him, Isaiah came again to tell me, “that Ayi told Marian she was going to take her away...  Take her to the ayi’s house.”  
I’m broken.  How did I miss hearing that whole story from my girl?  She was wrong to spit at that woman.... but a fair bit more compassion should have been shown to her.  In my culture, that woman was very wrong to say such a thing to a 3 year old girl sitting, waiting for her mama.   Oh my girl!  How is that good?  I know it sounds cute to the lady, fun for her to see my girl’s reaction.  But for my little girl??  I’m not willing to lay her down and sacrifice her on the altar of “appropriate cross-cultural living.”.... so how do I do this successfully!?  
(I know that answer.... If there’s any “success” at all, I know it will be pure grace.  I canNOT do this....)
Right after we left the veggie stand, the kids and I were playing inside our courtyard area, chatting with a few neighbors.  Two women walked by and one of them grabbed Marian's arm, trying to pull her close so she could look at Marian, hold her.  This woman was not. letting. go. and Marian was doing all she could to pull away from the stranger.  
I called out, "please don't touch her" (yes, I know, I should have said something more eloquent, but the Chinese wasn't coming to me in that moment).  Still she didn't let go.  I called out again.  Her friend heard me, but STILL, she’s pulling Marian, chuckling now at my girl because she's in tears and the woman thought that was cute.   I'm holding John, nearly half-rounded pregnant, and I didn't make it to run the 15 yards to where they were.  I just yelled at her.  
"Please don't touch her!"  She finally let go and Marian ran to me.  I called out trying to sound kind, smiling sheepishly.... "sorry, maybe you couldn't hear me earlier?  She's afraid... Please excuse me.   Please excuse me. We've got to go....."  and we walked home.  
THAT is not what I’m here to be doing.
I don't want to loose my cool.  I don't want to shame a neighbor, be too quick to anger.  But my girl was SCARED.  For all I could see, she was being hurt.  I can’t, I won’t stand by for that.  
When we got home, Matt talked with both the big kids about polite things they can say to someone in that situation.... and Marian replied, "but Mama said that for me."  Hearing her confidence that I would be there for her and that I would protect her was probably the most encouraging thing to me that day.  
I hated that moment. Hated that I yelled at that woman but even more hated that my daughter was being held in that scary situation.  It was awful and I know, as Matt has gently shared with me, it might not have been as extreme as I saw it then or as it plays back in my pregnant heart and head, but it was bad.  And it is only miraculous grace that will see me through these types of situations often.  

Come, encouragement, peace! for raising our kids with the heart and skill and understanding to trust that people wanting to look closely at them is not a bad thing.  Come gracious confidence, come humble submission, come wisdom!  Give graciously, Lord!
Thorn in my flesh.  I've come to serve these people!  To love!  To humble myself, prefer them above myself, to demonstrate Christ's grace.  The culture my brain is stuck in is NOT better than this culture. The Hope and Grace, Love and Truth of the Gospel are the only good in any culture, and in some aspects of living, that standard can be distilled from Chinese or American culture.  But not all... There are different demonstrations of hospitality and kindness (giving lots of what I call “pushy” advice is seen as kindness here) and they are both valid.  I don’t want to excuse a sinful, awful heart and actions simply because I’m not used to or don’t prefer things like they are.
Saturday was hard for me.  I think I truly felt my most broken ever over this thorn.  I’ve been angry before (sadly, too often), but Saturday I was broken- felt like I might just have to stay indoors for a month... or six.  
On Sunday, however, the difficulty was complicated, compounded a little bit.  But I’ll write about that in the next post.  This is one is nearly long enough to count as a thorn in the flesh for you to read! :)  Thanks for listening and for praying for us dear friends.   You are deeply treasured!


  1. Oh, Jill, my famliy and I are here at PFC this week, learning about all these things in the abstract, and it is so hard but good for me to hear about what this "hardness" actually looks like in your life. I ache with you over the events you described...and must admit that even after reading about your regret, I still feel my flesh wanting to do just what you did! Sister-I've-never-met, I will lift you up in these matters, but know that even now your stumblings are being redeemed for good by helping people like me prepare and process for what lies ahead.

  2. Hey Jill, I will be lifting you up. being single out here I never really stop and think about the extra heartache that comes with children going through the same crazy stuff we do. But this post was very open and real and helped to put that in perspective, not only for myself, but I am sure for many others aw well.

  3. Dear Jillian,
    Your heart and desire to protect your children while love the ones God has called you to serve is beautiful. I think that there are times when fear creeps in and brings discouragement and frustration. I love the song "Better than a halleluia"... it reminds me that my brokenness is still beauty to God... He doesn't call us to come to him whole- He desires to do the work to bring that wholeness. Thank you, again, for your transparency in sharing this. Knowing how to pray for you is a blessing to those of us on this side of the world!
    We love you!

  4. oh Jill. Oh I know. I have lived those moments. The ayis who think it is cute to tell our kids they will take them home. the ones who pull at their arms, pick them up and won't put them down, laugh when my child says "i don't want you to touch me".

    Laugh at my child's honest, tender request? that's a sure recipe for an invite to the "not my friend" list!

    your tender teachable heart encourages me - I tend to get mad, we retreat inside, and I wait til the kids are sleeping before trying to explain to Matt how very difficult it is to be a mommy of american children in asia.

    I want to be teachable, I want to WANT to serve the culture.

    but right now I read your blog and i think "i'm not sure i want to go back there".

    but I do. cause I love what God is doing and I stand amazed He would be willing to use our family as He accomplishes His purposes.

    praying for you friend, thanks for your honesty. i love seeing these pieces of your heart.