Looking For the Blessing

I wish I could tell that serving cross-culturally as a single is easy and delightful. That packing for one and traveling alone are stress-free and enjoyable. That finding your way around a new place and meeting new people occurs naturally and without effort. That working well as part of a team and feeling fulfilled in your ministry are givens.

But if I told you all of those things, I’d be lying.

Because just like serving as a married person, serving as a single is difficult. There are days filled with tears, and friendships don’t always come easily. Culture stress is a given, and confusion about how you fit as a part of your team and what your role looks like is highly likely. However, living overseas as a single brings with it advantages and blessings.

Packing your life into a few suitcases can be stressful, but I frequently reminded myself that packing for one was a blessing. Yes, there wasn’t always someone else to help pull the suitcases off the conveyor belt at baggage claim, but I alone was able to decide what I placed in my suitcases. Craft supplies and household décor never had to compete with tools or toys. My carry-on was filled with my own snacks and electronic devices; no extra room was needed for a surprise for an exhausted child partway through a transatlantic flight.

And even though dragging my two carry-ons through Starbucks lines and bathroom stalls at airports wasn’t ideal, I could eat my yogurt parfait and drink my mocha without worrying about feeding a hungry little one too.

Adjusting to a new culture is an adventure; everything from grocery shopping to cooking to driving to conversing requires energy and practice. However, as a single I had the flexibility in my food budget to purchase pre-made dinners or frozen pizza when life was too overwhelming to think about cooking. I could afford to buy a couple of small packages of chocolate chips, which weren’t exactly cheap, in order to save time when baking. One of the best pieces of advice I received from a married teammate was not to skimp on my food budget. Depending on finances, families are able to have this philosophy as well; however, I found as a single I could purchase Magnum bars regularly for several weeks without damaging my budget. When it came to cooking, I had the freedom to try new recipes and to be creative with my leftovers. Plus, a homemade pizza lasted for four meals! Since I shopped alone, I was often able to take my time and see what new items were available at the grocery store.

Vacationing as a single might seem frightening and lonely. And I will admit that when I lived in Ireland, I did very little sightseeing, and my only vacations were to the US for a friend’s wedding and to Portugal to visit friends. New places were only explored on a very local level. However, when I lived in Portugal, I was able to travel to a multitude of European countries with friends. I saw the Eiffel Tower and explored the Louvre. I meandered the streets of Edinburgh and Basel and London. I was freezing in Brussels and dying of heat in Madrid.

Yes, families and couples often visit new places and take amazing vacations; however, depending on circumstances, singleness provides more flexibility with travel plans. The cost of one plane ticket and splitting the cost of a hotel room is more financially feasible, and sharing an adventure with friends has a unique way of deepening bonds through shared memories.

Connecting with people in a new culture can feel overwhelming, especially as a single, introvert. No husband to help with conversation, no cute baby for people to comment on. Just quiet, American me. However, as I began to make friends, I was thankful for the flexibility I had to meet up with them. A new mom, who was also an expat, and I would meet up at Starbucks or my apartment depending on her baby’s schedule. A single, working friend and I met up for lunch at a mall across the street from her job during her lunch break. A thirty minute drive for lunch wasn’t a problem for me since I didn’t have to worry about picking up a child from school later in the afternoon or scheduling lunch around my schedule and a spouse’s schedule.

The greatest blessing of living overseas as a single was my spiritual growth. Learning to rely more on God for the strength to make it through another day, watching Him stretch and grow me when cross-cultural living pushed me outside my comfort zone, seeing Him use these experiences to make me more confident in my abilities and gifts. Would I have loved to have served overseas as a married woman, to pack for multiple people, to cook more from scratch in order to make the food budget last all month, to take less exotic vacations because of small children, to make friends with the mothers at my children’s school? Absolutely. However, each time I wished for these things, I remembered to look for the blessings God had given me as a single because blessings are found in the having and the not having.

What blessings have you experienced from serving as a single overseas?

18 Comments

  1. Elizabeth August 4, 2015

    I just want to say THANK YOU, Laura, for being a good friend. Thank you for using the flexibility of your singleness to make friends with that new mom! I have been blessed throughout the years by women who either 1) weren’t married, 2) were married without children, or 3) had children who were older. All three of those situations meant they could be flexible about meeting up with me and work around my kids’ schedules. Those women’s friendship has meant so much to me, and they blessed me with their friendship even though we weren’t in the same stage of life. So thank you for serving and loving people even in the midst of your loneliness.

    And you go girl! Eat the food you want and have fun with it!

    1. Laura August 5, 2015

      Elizabeth,

      Thanks for your encouragement and for your reminder of how friendships with people in different life stages are a blessing!

    2. M'Lynn August 9, 2015

      Amen, Elizabeth! I’ve been blessed by friendships with those three groups you’ve mentioned as well. Life is so much richer when we extend our friendships to those outside our life stage or marital status.

  2. Meagan August 4, 2015

    Thanks, as always Laura. A great reminder to enjoy the blessings, that are clearly there but so easily overlooked and forgotten.

    1. Laura August 5, 2015

      Meagan,

      “Easily overlooked and forgotten” – yes! Thanks for taking time to read and to comment.

  3. Sarah Hilkemann August 4, 2015

    Thanks for this, Laura! Such a good reminder to think about the blessings rather than just focusing on what is lacking. Definitely a lesson I am learning in this season!

    1. Laura August 5, 2015

      Sarah,

      You’re welcome. It’s a lesson I think I will always be learning.

  4. Annalisa August 5, 2015

    That’s one thing that my married (and especially “married with kids”) friends don’t seem to recall.  I tend to have an incredibly flexible schedule.  (Yes, I’m married. No, you’re not confusing me with someone else.  My husband just works 13 16-hours shifts in a row and essentially lives in barracks at his job; so when it comes to time management, I am essentially a single person…except on his day off in which I give all my time to him.)  It has been a blessing to me and, I hope, a blessing to them.

    My food budget has always been low, but hey, all my neighbors eat rice, beans, and tortillas; so I just fit right in.  I did buy a fridge after 4.5 years.  That has been nice.  I’m able to save transportation money not going into the nearest town every 2 days to buy fresh produce at the market, and I can cook large pots of food and freeze stuff for the whole week because, let’s face it, cooking for one is the pits.

    But yes…serving as a single introvert I always felt that God could not have called someone less-qualified. 😀

    1. Laura August 5, 2015

      Annalisa,

      Thank you for sharing and for reminding us that some married women have flexible schedules too. 🙂

  5. Julie August 5, 2015

    I can relate to a lot of these things. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Laura August 5, 2015

      Julie,

      You’re welcome! Thanks for reading and commenting.

  6. Valerie August 5, 2015

    Loved this! I loved your comment about packing when traveling. Oh man. We recently went somewhere with our one year old and the pile of stuff we took was RIDICULOUS! I miss those single days when it comes to traveling light! I also loved your thoughts about traveling. This is definitely something I embraced when I was overseas as a single and I went on amazing adventures with my friends during those years. I was able to do things as a single that I’d never do with small children – like the trains you choose to take or the semi-shady places you sleep at! There are benefits and challenges to single and married life overseas and I’m glad you’ve found ways to thrive in the singleness.

    1. Laura August 7, 2015

      Valerie,

      Thank you for sharing, and congratulations on traveling with a little one!!!! I feel like that deserves a prize!!!

  7. Stephanie August 7, 2015

    One of the times I really celebrate and love my singleness is on the Trans-Pacific flight!  Haha.  But 16 hours from Newark to Hong Kong…that is not a time I long to have kids in tow!

    Also, when God began moving me from China to the Thai-Burma border, I could also see beauty and freedom in singleness.  I didn’t have to be concerned about whether my spouse was open to the idea.  I didn’t need to consider how kids would adjust, and whether the new ministry, the new city, the new opportunities, were the right choice for them.

    Before that move was on the horizon, when I saw others move, I often longed for someone to stand hand in hand with me, make the decision, and conquer a move with me.  It seemed like such a big hurdle and one I couldn’t imagine doing alone, uprooting and finding a new community.  Starting again as just me.  Then God surprised me and gift-wrapped a new opportunity, removing those barriers and making me excited.  Along the way, He graciously connected me with people in my new location before I’d even moved there (through 3 trips totaling 6 weeks over an 18 month period).  I hit the one year mark later this month and am so grateful for the move and this new opportunity!

    1. Elizabeth August 7, 2015

      This is beautiful, Stephanie. I just love how God meets us where we are. He is so good!

    2. Laura August 7, 2015

      Stephanie,

      Thank you for sharing. I made several moves while serving overseas, and you described the feelings and thoughts I had as well during those times of transition.

  8. M'Lynn August 9, 2015

    “My carry-on was filled with my own snacks and electronic devices; no extra room was needed for a surprise for an exhausted child partway through a transatlantic flight.”

    LOL, Laura! I’m not gonna lie. I do long for the day when I will get to pack something besides diapers, toys and extra clothing in my carry-on bag! (and yes, as the sentimental and gushy moms will remind me…I should savor these diaper days and will probably miss them…but savoring a drink and my own snacks on the plane would be awesome)

    Loved your post. Lots of good perspective here.

    1. Elizabeth August 9, 2015

      M’Lynn, dearest, don’t worry, you won’t find any extra guilt here from sentimental me! You won’t miss carrying diapers, clothes, toys, and snacks with you. You may miss the baby/toddler himself, but not all the baby paraphernalia! 😉

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