He just wanted a quick, informal tour of the local hospital. We never expected he was going to become the town’s top news story.
My parents were visiting me in our small town in China back when we first arrived 20 years ago. My dad, who is a doctor, and my mom, a nurse, asked if they could simply see the hospital. Our wonderful university leaders graciously called, explained the situation, and asked if we could come “just take a look.”
We weren’t ready for the tv crew, the blinding lights, and the auditorium full of hundreds of medical staff waiting to hear a speech from the visiting American medical team. My dad, who is quick on his feet, whipped out a speech in no time flat, and pulled it off like a champ. We drank tea with the hospital administrators, smiled for the cameras, and left with a thank you gift from the hospital for my parents: a plastic toy that played “It’s a Small World After All.”
Maybe some of us can’t shift a car, but I bet one thing we’re always learning is how to shift gears pretty fast in this overseas life. We constantly reposition, adjust, realign, rethink, reimagine, transition, flex, rewrite, redo. When we engage other corners of the world, we learn to shift our expectations, our understanding of culture and people and traditions and friendships, our own homes, our time management. Even our boxes for God get shifted.
We are experts at shifting gears. How often have we learned to release expectations, downshift, and reposition ourselves for something we did not see coming? How often do we change from one team to another, from one role to another, from one country to another? We learn to shift gears all the time…
We eagerly bite deep into the pastry we bought at the bakery only to realize that red bean looks remarkably like chocolate.
We renovate, paint, and buy all kinds of furniture for the apartment we thought we’d live in for years – and then the landlord sells it 6 months later.
What we thought was a martial arts competition for our boys ended up being the half time entertainment at a fashion show in the mall and they performed TaeKwonDo on a glass catwalk.
We thought we were giving a quick speech at another university in a nearby town, but end up on an 10 hour tour of every factory the town had.
We get on an airplane and hours later find ourselves back in our passport country, but feel completely like a foreigner. (How do I do life here and make friends here and be an acceptable insider? What is the polite thing to do with chicken bones at dinner in this place?)
Most of the time shifting gears is exhausting. It’s tough to transition from one expectation to another, from one community to another, from one reality to another. It makes me feel rootless and restless and out of control. So, sometimes I grip so tightly to that steering wheel that my knuckles turn white. I can fight the stick shift with all I’ve got.
Or, I can choose to allow my gracious God to teach me how to enjoy the ride, to release my tears and my fears to Him, and to trust that He really is good. Everything within us gets stretched as we shift gears. Our understanding of culture, people, ourselves, and God changes as we live this wild life of shifting gears. My rigid ideas become softer, and my disillusionment that I am in charge gets shaken. I learn, as the old catechism teaches, that I am are not my own, but belong, body and soul, in life and in death to my faithful Savior. This world – and all that is in it – is His. He really can be trusted.
How kind of our good God that not all shifts are hard. Sometimes He brings a changing of direction that we could not have imagined. Our Father does delight to give good gifts to us.
We shift gears when teammates we never expected become lifelong friends.
We shift gears when the beggar on the street becomes a friend, and then a brother.
We shift gears when the culture we thought we’d never embrace actually takes root in our hearts and we find ourselves aching for it when we are away.
We shift gears when the PhD student who had no interest in spiritual things contacts you years later to tell you that the seeds have grown into real fruit & he is joyfully walking with our Father.
Not all gear shifting is pleasant (I’m looking at you red bean), but praise the Lord that He can redeem everything. That means all shifting can be an avenue for growth and grace, an invitation to lean in closely to my Good Shepherd.
How incredibly grateful I am for a good, perfect Father at the wheel (and that some pastries in the world really are chocolate!).