I Will NEVER Make Anything For Them EVER Again

Our church was having a Christmas program, and all the ladies were chipping in to cook a big meal. We sat in a circle in the sanctuary, nibbling on fried bananas while planning the menu for the big event. The other ladies all knew exactly what to bring. Nasi kuning. Bayam. Ikan kuah. Tahu.

“What shall I make?” I asked.

They shrugged. “Make whatever you want,” they said.

As we climbed into our ambulance-turned-family-car for the drive home, I had that nervous, sick feeling in the pit of my stomach…. What should I cook? I was the only foreigner, and I had never been to a Christmas program at our church before. If it had been a potluck in Kansas, I would have had a framework for that. I knew what to expect there, what people would bring, what people would want to eat at Christmas.

I decided to make a pumpkin pie. No Christmas feast would be complete without it, I figured, and the congregation would probably like trying something new.

It took me five hours to make the pumpkin pie. Cooking the pumpkin. Blending it in the mixer. Feeding the baby. Making lunch for the family. Making the crust. Mixing up the pie. Baking the pie in our gas oven. When the pie finally came steaming hot out of the oven, I was satisfied. It looked pretty tasty, even the crust (which for once was not burnt).

My husband and I arrived that evening at the Christmas program, me with pie in hand. My heart sank. The table was covered with an elegant white table cloth and silver serving containers like those presented at a fancy hotel. There were no individual dishes like those at the potlucks with which I was familiar. All the other food was prepared and served in the silver serving containers. My pie was the ONLY “individual” item; it was quickly ushered to the back room and never put out on the table.

During the program, I had a horrible case of the runs (some bad street food?). Because there was no bathroom at church, I had to sprint down the street to a hotel and ask to use their bathroom. I ran through the kitchen and managed to make it to the squatty potty in time. The teenaged male employee behind the desk smirked when I came out, and I sheepishly bought a juice from the mini-fridge as an act of thanks.

By the end of the evening, there was still no sign of the pumpkin pie. I was tired and wanted to go home, but after five hours of work, I was not going home without the pie, leaving it to get tossed in the trash. I walked into the room where odds and ends were being stored and saw the pie, on the far corner of a table, covered by some black trash sacks. There was a handful of people milling around, and they saw me eying the pie.

“Oh, we kept it because it is so special, and we wanted to save it for the end,” someone offered. My eyes burned with tears. I knew they were saying that just to make me feel better. I was sure it would be tossed out the second I left, or worse yet, that it would get nibbled at and then made fun of.

That night I could not sleep. I tossed and turned in bed. I got up to go to the bathroom and on my way knocked a glass off our dining room table. It shattered on the floor. I was already on edge, and that was the straw that broke the camel’s back. I ran back to our room and threw myself on the bed.

“I will NEVER make anything for them EVER again!” I sob onto my husband’s shoulder. “Why can’t I get anything right? I don’t even know what kind of food to bring to a stupid Christmas program! Why did I ever think pumpkin pie was a good idea? Why do I always feel so awkward and insecure? Why is everything so complicated here?!”

Now, four years later, I have cooked again for these friends, but I still remember well the sting of the embarrassment that I felt then. The thing is, when living in a foreign country, there are always new frameworks and rules to learn. What do I wear to this kind of an event? What kind of gift do I take? What should I say in this type of situation? How can I politely refuse in another? I did not grow up here, and I did not grow up within these rules. There is more “I’m-not-sure-what’s-best-to-do-in-this-situation.” More ambiguity, more variables, more to learn. More discomfort.

This week I was reading Isaiah 53 and was challenged by Jesus giving up honor, privileges, and the comfort of His home in heaven to be born on earth and endure humiliation, pain, sorrow and grief, shame, and even death.

I know Jesus can understand when He looks down from heaven and sees me struggling to find my way through this new culture. It can be uncomfortable, and I can know that He notices this. Maybe, just maybe, my tears over that pumpkin pie will help me understand His sacrifice a little better.

Where have you experienced Joy in unexpected places?

Photo Credit: jamesjyu via Compfight cc


  1. Laura December 21, 2014

    Susan, I feel like I never know what to make when I have people over or need to take something to a potluck. A few months after I arrived in Ireland, I was asked to bring a specific item to a picnic. I actually had to ask someone what the item was because the word here is so different from the American word. Thanks for the challenge to use these frustrations as ways to know our Savior better.

    1. susan December 22, 2014

      Now you’ve got me curious what you took to the picnic;)…

      1. Laura December 23, 2014

        I took hamburger buns, but they are called baps here. 🙂

  2. Jenny December 21, 2014

    Susan, thanks for sharing yourself in writing this.  I can relate!  This is a real and true example of how living in a new-to-me culture provides almost daily opportunities for both humility and humiliation, and that can be demoralizing or it can keep me leaning on Jesus.  Our truthful state is dependence but competence lures me into forgetting my need for Jesus in all things and incompetence helps me see the truth of this more clearly.  I so appreciate your humility in sharing a real life example.

    1. susan December 22, 2014

      I love how you said that!  How these types of situations where we feel incompetent can be demoralizing or keep us depending on Jesus.  How true!…

  3. Kate December 21, 2014

    I could so relate to this.. thank you for sharing… Living in the Cook Islands and I have been there for 4 years but still making blunders like this quite regularly… Bless you!

    1. susan December 22, 2014

      Thanks for commenting, Kate.  Somehow knowing I’m not “the only one” makes it easier!

  4. Annalisa December 21, 2014

    So, wait, I’m confused.  How were you supposed to get your pie into one of those silver trays?

    1. susan December 22, 2014

      🙂 that was the problem….I couldn’t….I didn’t know to expect those darn silver trays bc I had never been to a Christmas dinner there before!

      1. Annalisa December 27, 2014

        Right, but now that you’ve been there a while, now that you understand the culture better, now that the women trust you and are willing to help you…how do you do it?
        (At least, I hope all those things are true!)

        1. susan December 28, 2014

          Well, I am learning but still don’t have it all figured out yet on the potluck homefront.  I have found out my friends like my favorite chocolate cake recipe if I cut the sugar in half:)….

  5. Karen Huber December 22, 2014

    Susan! I’ve had many the same exact thought as you: “I am never doing that again!” and it almost always involves cooking and some sort of cultural embarrassment I’ve wrought at my own hands. Thank you for sharing and reminding us of the comfort we have in Jesus. Also! Kansas! Where are you from? I’ve spent many a summer as a child on Kansas farms (family and extended family) and hail from Kansas City, myself. Love finding fellow Kansas girls at Velvet Ashes! 🙂

    1. susan December 22, 2014

      How fun, another kansan!  I lived there for the first 28 years of my life and my family has deep farming roots there!  I will email you my hometown info;)…

  6. Stephanie December 22, 2014

    Oh man, those moments! I’ve been living the overseas life for 6+ years but I just moved countries (jobs, everything) and realize I’m back to square one with knowing the rules!

    Last Sunday, it was what to wear. I went halfsies and wore a traditional top that I’d been given two months ago but not the skirt that I’d just been given by the same person. Got called out on that by her at the Christmas festivity! This past Sunday, I was more successfully dressed and got lots of compliments. Still, I had different cultural challenges to go with that event :^)

    The ambiguity and discomfort is ripping away my sense of self-sufficiency. It’s a daily reminder of my dependence on Him.

    1. susan December 22, 2014

      Let’s ask Stacy London and Clinton Kelly will do a new TLC show “What Not to Wear in___________” insert your country here.  That would be nice then we could all just watch the show and know what to wear in the country we are living.  Ha!  But really, I can relate and I confess that I have just skipped events in the past altogether because I just did not know what to wear.

  7. Marilyn December 22, 2014

    So I feel like I have to share the third culture kid perspective in this post. I read this nodding my head and saying “I totally get this..” Here’s the difference – this is how I felt when I moved to the U.S. From birthday parties to pot lucks, all of these American women knew how to do it. The presents, the food, the interactions, the coming on time — all of it was so perfect. And I would arrive with the pasta salad that NO ONE would eat, the birthday present that was wrapped in comic strips from the newspaper or brown paper bag with a big bow. It has taken me years to be able to cook for born & bred Americans. To this day when I know I’m having a house full of people from all over the world it’s so easy for  me. If I know it will be the meat, potatoes, and apple pie crowd I panic! I can make an amazing curry or Middle Eastern chicken dish but still struggle with the basics and am so proud when I get it right.  All that to say, I totally get it but in a completely different cultural context! Thank you for writing this!

    1. T December 22, 2014

      I’m not a TCK, but have never been an adult in the USA, either.  Came overseas right after graduating from college.  When we are there, I often mess things up.  Apparently, everyone else knows that in order to go to the father-son wave boarding thing with the county rec center, you have to RSVP, even though it doesn’t say that anywhere on the website!!!  So, I don’t RSVP my guys, and they get turned away at the dock 🙁  aaaargh.  And making my kids wear ‘nice clothes’ at the right times!  eeek.  It is like I need an American cultural informant at every stop we make in the USA!  Maybe I should aim for that!

      1. Jenny December 22, 2014

        YES!  my current conundrum is if/how to return containers in which I was given food.  Do I give them back?  Should I fill them with something yummy? Do I keep them? I just don’t know how to do this in the USA.


        1. susan December 22, 2014

          Okay, Jenny!  About your conundrum–I’ll be your cultural advocate here;)…keep the containers if they are the cheap, lightweight “take and toss” kind.  For nicer ones, return the tupperware or pans empty to their owner.  No need to refill with other food!

          1. Jenny December 22, 2014

            THANK YOU!  That is really helpful!

      2. susan December 22, 2014

        What a disappointment about the wave boarding!  I think one word that fits for coming back to the states and trying to figure things out after being overseas is disorienting!  I like your idea about having a cultural informant stateside!:)

    2. susan December 22, 2014

      I love how you said that you feel”so proud” when you get it right!  I never thought about it from the perspective of a TCK…wonder if my daughter will feel like that at potlucks in her future life, too?!  Just so you know, I will try your curry or Middle Eastern dish anytime.:)

  8. T December 22, 2014

    I’m from Kansas, too!  Have lived in Caldwell, Downs, and Burden…while I was in college at Sterling, my parents lived in Mulvane, Ellinwood and Ellsworth, and our last home was in Marion (til the house sold last week!).    Glad to greet you two above, and add Amy in there, too.  We must have a Kansas Day celebration in January!  😉

    And we’d all love to have some of your pumpkin pie sometime!  I think that the sooner we can find a cultural informant who is solidly reliable and not too polite to say what we need to hear, the better.  I have lived in my country for 14 years and still have to ask stuff–what should I take when I visit them after a death in the extended family?  Certainly not a cake or something sweet, which is only for celebrations, but is juice too celebratory?  I can’t really take a main dish either, etc, etc!  God bless the people who bear with us and love us despite our mistakes!  And may He give us patience to deal with the times when our efforts to do well aren’t appreciated!   (Can I admit here that pumpkin pie for me would definitely be a pearl that I don’t throw to pigs anymore!???)

    1. susan December 22, 2014

      I vote yes for the KS Day celebration!  My h.s. used to compete against Downs:)…so we really are from the same neck of the woods.

  9. Amy Young December 22, 2014

    I weary of hearing how sweet everything is before people had even tried it :). And being told I love to eat butter. Just plain butter (because some text in middle school said Americans eat butter) 🙂

    1. susan December 22, 2014

      I thought all Jayhawkers ate butter 24/7.  Is that a myth?

      1. T December 24, 2014

        I’m chuckling over here as I read all this!  🙂  Merry Christmas Eve!

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