Ask. Offer. Connect

“You only have one fish?” my friend asked in surprise as he watched our pet goldfish swim frantic laps around the fish bowl. “This is not good. We think you always need two, otherwise the one fish will only think about dying all the time.”

This quote is so perfectly indicative of the Chinese communal mindset. I’m not referring to communism as a government policy, but the idea that life is better when lived together. Chinese people know how to connect and realize that life is more fun, interesting and beneficial if done side by side. As I watch my Chinese friends live out their lives in front of me, I constantly see them using their connections to do everything from find a doctor to moving to visiting a new city for fun. It’s actually quite amazing. They know that connecting brings mutual benefit. Even though some people, like my fish, can live happily alone, I think we all do better when we do it together. But, those of us from independent cultures (America in my case) sometimes just don’t know how to connect with people around us and don’t realize how vital it is to our survival in this new land we’ve settled in (wherever that may be).

When I think about times I’ve really connected with someone, there seems to be a common denominator. Either I needed their help, or they needed mine. If there’s anything I’ve learned from this cross-cultural life I’m currently leading, it’s that we have to be willing to ask others for help. I know that sounds simple, but getting down to the nitty gritty of it can be really hard.

Any time I need to specifically ask someone to help me (like something that will actually cost someone something…not just “hey…will you hold the door open so I can push the stroller outside?”) I hear a little voice in my head say “You don’t need help! Just figure out a way to get it done on your own.”

And, sometimes I’ve listened to that voice and gone the independent route and ended up wishing I’d have involved someone else in my scenario. The times I’ve put aside my pride and said “Hey! Can you help me? I really need you right now” amazing things have happened, friendships have blossomed, memories have been made.

Life overseas can put a perfectly capable person in such an awkward and helpless state because they simply have no idea how to do anything in their new environment. My first months in China, I felt like a kangaroo who had been scooped up and dropped into a penguin colony in Antarctica (can you relate? are you there now?) You would not even believe the things I needed help with on a daily basis! My ridiculous concerns in my new world were never-ending:

“I’m stuck in my apartment because I don’t know how to operate my door.”

“How do I order a new jug of drinking water?”

“I can’t carry all these groceries by myself even though I just bought them and need them all.”

“I don’t know how to ride a city bus.”

“I’m sick and I miss my mom and I need soup.”

“I lost my keys and I just need someone to help me find them…I know they’re here somewhere!”

“I don’t know which milk to buy and I’m freaked out because it’s in a box on the shelf and it’s not cold.”

“I bought what I thought was flour but it’s actually corn meal but it looks like flour and I’m so confused.”

I’ve seen lots of people come and go. The ones who are able to successfully integrate into a new community on the other side of the world are those who ask for help. I’ve seen the self sufficient ones…the ones who refuse to ask and instead unknowingly wash their clothes on the spin cycle with fabric softener instead of detergent because they can’t read the washing machine dials or soap labels and wash their hair with conditioner instead of shampoo because they guessed wrong again at the grocery store. They do fine. They get by. But, I think they miss a huge opportunity to connect with others by being self sufficient.

Some of us (sometimes me included) would rather die a slow, lonely death than seem ignorant and ask a “dumb” question. If you fall in this category, I challenge you to make the effort to let someone else in. Let someone help you (and look at it as serving them by allowing them to help you if that makes you feel better). It might not be convenient or comfortable, but it might be just what you need–a chance to connect, to share and experience, to let your guard down and find a friend.

Maybe, like present me, you’ve been here a while (wherever “here” may be) and find yourself on the other side of this ordeal. By the 15th knock at the door before 10 am I’m tempted to get frustrated with helping. I like to welcome new people and help them adjust to their new normal, but, if I’m not mindful and intentional, I can feel drained by doing it yet again. I get worried there’s not enough time, money, wisdom or grace left for others. Then, I remember that connection comes with a price tag. It will cost me something, however, it will be worth it. Once I get over myself and decide to do life relationally instead of independently, I’ll reap the harvest of deeper friendships and more meaningful relationships. In helping, I’m forced to stop paying so much attention to me and my affairs and start paying attention to others while depending on Jesus to be more than enough in every situation.

ASK. OFFER. CONNECT.

What might you need to ask someone this week? Where could you use help that might lead to connection?

Maybe you want to think about letting a small group of encouraging ladies into your life via Velvet Ashes Connections Groups.  Registration opens Tuesday 6pmEST!

Photo Credit: josullivan.59 via Compfight cc

13 Comments

  1. Jennifer September 15, 2014

    I think you have really hit the nail on the head in lots of ways in terms of just how important this can be, yet at the same time I am challenged by actually making the connections in the first place. Not sure right now whether some of that does not flow out of times in the the last couple of years when I have actually tried to do just what you said and been rejected rather than accepted in the process. I know I am personally much better at making those connections with some of my Chinese colleagues rather than other foreigners, yet some of the things I have needed help with do not represent appropriate conversations to have with them. Sometimes it simply is challenging that you reach the point where you are prepared to be open and vulnerable and simply can’t find someone who will speak to you.

    1. M'Lynn September 20, 2014

      Jennifer, Thanks for being so open about your struggles with connecting. I wish I had all the answers, but since we humans are so complicated, I don’t. I know you’re not alone in being a person who is trying to find others to connect with, but comes up empty handed in some cases. I trust God to give you everything you need when you need it and pray you’ll find a person or people to connect with in the deeper way that you’re longing for. I did appreciate Amy’s post on Friday pointing out that just because we’re eager to connect doesn’t mean we always find what we’re looking for.

      1. Jennifer September 20, 2014

        M’Lynn,

        Thank you. You are right. One lesson that I am learning is not to be closed to what God is doing and not to limit the connections that you are open to making. It is important to trust God that he also does know what is best for us, and that some times and even some connections can be both challenging and the very best thing for us at exactly the same time. Thank you for your prayers.

  2. Danielle Wheeler September 15, 2014

    Love this, M’Lynn.  It’s so true.  Some (most!!) of my deep relationships (with expats and locals) have only gone to that deeper level when I let them in and ask for their help.  And yes, it goes both ways.  And reaping the harvest of deeper relationships is so very sweet.

  3. Amy Young September 15, 2014

    M’Lynn, what I love is that you offer us something obtainable — ask, offer, connect. We all have areas we can ask others to help (now, if we will is another story! :)) Offer, we might not be able to offer everything, but we can certainly offer something. Even if it’s a three word text. Through asking and offering, the HS works. It’s is a mystery. But these small things lead to connection! How that happens over and over and over again, I don’t know. But I am grateful!

  4. Ashley Felder September 15, 2014

    Miss Independent. That’s me! But I was knocked on my behind when I moved to China. The floor was a good spot for me to be–to stop and realize what you said perfectly. I had to learn, too, that asking for help didn’t make me inferior. It’s funny–we’re on Home Leave now and are currently living with some Chinese Americans. (VERY American with lots of Chinese tendencies–so fun to watch!) I went to the store with the other mom to grab a few things. We didn’t know where things were (fairly new store), so she found a worker and had him show us where every single item we needed was. And even asked him to load a case of water into our cart. Her excuse–because we’re both preggo, but I just had to laugh because had it just been me, I would’ve walked the store 4 times trying to find the items, and probably pulled a ligament lifting the case of water. She knew better and had no shame in asking for help. 🙂

    1. M'Lynn September 20, 2014

      I’m so glad you’re friend shamelessly asked for help that day and you didn’t pull a ligament! ha. I was given the royal treatment while pregnant in China. Soak it up!

  5. Annalisa September 19, 2014

    I find something curious.  Last I knew, China had a 1-child policy.  If the fish in the bowl gets lonely, wouldn’t the child get lonely?  (I imagine that China is a little like Guatemala in the entire “live with the extended family” thing, but I pretty much know nothing about China and will be the first to admit it.)

    1. M'Lynn September 20, 2014

      You are right about the one child policy (even though there are cases where two are permitted) in China. Chinese parents do a great job keeping their one child involved with other kids. In our neighborhood, the children are taken outside to play as often as possible. The little ones toddle around together while the adults chat or follow them around. Once they reach two and a half or three years old, many kids go to preschool all day. In some cases, grandma and grandpa live under the same roof, or at least nearby. I’ve also noticed that parents are aware their “only child” can get lonely and for this reason make the effort to befriend families with children the same age.

      1. Jennifer September 20, 2014

        I think the other dimension of this is that cultures like China are in general much less individualistic than many western cultures, so that in many ways a focus is upon relationships, connections and community rather than upon individuals, and being strong as an individual, and much more self focused. This can be one of the biggest challenges for people moving from an individualistic culture to a community/relationship focused culture, and I suspect one of the challenges to making connections within the one which is not your own.

        1. M'Lynn September 20, 2014

          Right on, Jennifer. The focus on relationships here is mind boggling and so very interesting and also confusing and amazing all at once.

  6. Brittany September 20, 2014

    This has been really hard for me here.  I’m 11 months in and I’m pretty good at figuring things out for myself, but I know there have to be cheaper ways of living, I just haven’t found it yet.  I have a language partner who has been a good friend, and I have recently started getting her help with things.  I feel bad because I don’t want to interrupt her day, take up all her free time, or be a bother.  BUT, her family is getting ready to move to the States and she has NO problem asking me to help prepare her for every little thing including what detergent to buy and the best places to shop.  That has opened the door for her helping me with things here.  I’m really grateful.  This last week she took me to the library and helped me get an account there.  I’ve never known there was a library here and I certainly wouldn’t have been able to get started there without the help!  I’m suddenly realizing all the ways that I could have been helped if I’d just asked!  Now our time is so limited, but there are others I can reach out to for help.

    1. M'Lynn September 21, 2014

      Brittany, When I was writing this post I really wanted to include a story about a time when my family was preparing for an in-country move. At that time, I wanted to get it all done myself. Thankfully, my local friends caught wind of it and quickly stepped in to help with everything from contacting a moving company (and they didn’t just look something up on the internet…they made sure to ask their friends for recommendations and to see who knew someone who could give us good service and a good deal) and helped us get boxes, etc. It was just another example of something I think I need to do on my own, but came to realize there’s no such thing here. I’m so glad you’re getting to be on the offering side of the deal with your friend, and that you’re finding more opportunities to ask as well! As your time being in the same country with that friend comes to a close, I pray you’ll find another local friend to connect with. And…hooray for finding a library. That is exciting!

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