If you have ever lived overseas for an extended period of time, you know what I mean when I say this: It changes you. Looking back four and a half years ago, I am amazed at what a different person I am today. Any change is hard, especially when you are in the midst of being stretched and challenged in uncomfortable ways. God has been so gracious, and I am thankful for every little thing I have learned along the way and for who I am today.
So, what has Jamaica and missions work taught me?
- You can live with less than you think. Ben and I moved down here with two suitcases and one carry-on each. Of course we have had more brought down over the years, but we have tons that is still in storage. Honestly? I hardly ever think about or miss any of it.
- Less noise and media = deeper self awareness. Living in the States, it is so easy to become immune to the noise (visual and otherwise) all around you. Being distanced from all of the news reports, political campaigns, and commercial ads has changed me. It is easier to tune into yourself and into God’s voice without all of the competing others.
- Directly linked to the last lesson: Beauty is not an image. I would’ve said that I knew this before, but something about being distanced from the Victoria’s Secret adds and Sport’s Illustrated covers makes you realize how much you’ve actually been brainwashed. In a culture that uses the word “fat” as a compliment, my personal sense of body image and what I truly see as beautiful has become much more healthy.
- I have come to expect and accept last-minute requests (without freaking out first!). This was a hard one! As someone who loves to be prepared, I found myself totally out of my comfort zone many times in the first year or two we lived here. You need an interpreter and I’ve never interpreted before? Need me to lead a half-hour chapel lesson with no prep? Go drive you where and do what? Having grown up in a culture that worships time, schedules, and planners, developing the quality of flexibility and spontaneity was a tough but very worthwhile pill to swallow!
- Became more accepting of my own failures and non-perfection. Because living overseas, you are bound to make cultural faux pas and language errors on a frequent basis!
- I’m more willing to take risks and challenges out of my comfort zone. After a while, you realize that you’ll survive it, and probably learn something in the process! And it’s ok to look ridiculous because…
- I learned to laugh more at myself. And to allow others to laugh at me (which happens a lot). Life is too short to take yourself seriously all the time! We do our best, and there is grace for the rest. Amen?
- How to be more open and direct with others (and also accepting others being direct with me!). This rubbed off on me a bit from working with Jamaicans and working with the Deaf, where bluntness comes with the territory. Sometimes beating around the bush just doesn’t help anybody!
- I learned to slow down and value people more than accomplishing. In a culture where you must say “good morning” and greet those you pass by (even when entering a waiting room), I realized how much we Americans are self-focused (or phone-focused) and time-focused. Slow down, look someone in the eye, and really ask how they are doing!
- I now understand firsthand that other cultures do many things “better” than Americans (several which are touched on above). We may not openly admit it, but many Americans believe that our culture and country is “superior” to others. This is totally false. A humble and teachable heart is key to overseas missions.
- I value friendship and community more. I’m not sure if the cliché “distance makes the heart grow fonder” is really true, but living without the friends and support groups that you’re used to makes you realize how precious they really are.
- How to truly lean on God. Of course I am still learning. But when you are lacking your normal sources of friendship, encouragement, and community, sometimes all that is left is God. And He is more than enough.
- To take care of myself (and my marriage). Living where we work, working where we serve, serving where we live…yeah…it gets complicated and BUSY! Boundaries are crucial and self-care is not optional. I wise man once told Ben and me that we are tools, and dull tools are ineffective. Keeping yourself sharp spiritually, emotionally, physically, and relationally is a must.
- I have learned how to be a learner, and not just of academics. Of people. Of culture. Of self. Of God and how he works in our lives.
- There is still so much more to learn, and I need much more sanctification than I am able to realize.
If you ever have the opportunity to live overseas or to do missions, take the chance. Live the adventure and gain a broader picture of how God works in the world. You won’t regret it. God will use you in amazing ways. And I guarantee you won’t remain the same, but in an awesome, I-can’t-imagine-who-I-would’ve-been-if-I-never-did-this sort of way.