When Going to the Copy Store Becomes Your Arch Nemesis

I lived in dread of making copies. My first year in China I didn’t have a printer, so nearly every day I headed to a small copy shop to print lesson plans and copy handouts. It was very simple, even with my extremely limited Chinese. I could just say the number of copies I wanted and the sweet little owner would take it from there. The shop was right in the next building, so the whole trip only took ten minutes. And yet every day the very thought of making it filled me with dread.

Culture shock combined with underlying anxiety made this simple task overwhelming. “This is ridiculous,” I would tell myself. “This is not a big deal. You just moved across the world and are living on your own for the first time. You are teaching students barely younger than yourself and eating food you don’t quite recognize. Making copies is no big deal.”

Except that it was a big deal. Every time I ventured out of the apartment, I was surrounded by staring faces. Eyes followed me with intense curiosity, analyzing everything about my strange foreign self. (A student once described in detail what I was wearing when she first saw me on campus two years before.) These eyes seemed to say, “What are you doing here? You don’t belong. Go home!”

Every time I had to open my mouth I felt like a toddler just learning to speak. Everything I said, or didn’t say, or mistakenly said, made me feel small and stupid. Numbers were one of the first things I learned, but as I neared the copy shop, anxiety threw my brain into confusion. The copy shop owners stood waiting patiently, amused, while I struggled to say something understandable.

Each day I returned to my apartment feeling a mixture of relief and defeat. I survived another day of making copies! The earth did not open up and swallow me whole! But oh man, how did I sink to this level? I’m supposed to be brave and daring, living this exotic life in a foreign land and here I am scared of the copy shop! I can barely even make copies – how am I going to accomplish anything in this country? This juvenile struggle was certainly not going to make the newsletter.

Maybe you are struggling with something really big and significant. Something spiritual. Something to write a book about. Or maybe you are struggling to overcome your fear of making copies. (Is there a phobia for that?) Sometimes the hardest struggles are those private daily ones, the ones that seem so petty, the ones that nobody else sees. Whether you are two weeks or twenty years in, those little things can really trip you up.

These are the difficulties that must be faced day after day, long after the initial burst of adrenaline and optimism has worn off. There are no crowds cheering you on – in fact you hope nobody finds out you are having such a hard time with something so simple. Something that everyone else can do so easily.

Well, I want to be the one to cheer you on. Today you are overcoming! You got out of bed, and maybe that was really hard. You stepped out of your door when you really wanted to stay hidden at home. You dealt with that same problem as yesterday, the same one you must face again tomorrow, and it took extraordinary persistence and patience. You stumbled through another language encounter, or you herded your children safely across a chaotic street, or you treated that difficult person with grace. And that may have taken just as much courage as getting on the airplane the first time.

And the best news is that this battle is not even fought in your own strength but through the power of the One who has overcome all. The One who clothes the lilies and feeds the birds sees your struggle and cares. When you feel weak and inadequate and kind of ridiculous, draw on His strength. In this too, you shall overcome.

What are the small struggles you are overcoming right now?


  1. Ashley Felder September 1, 2016

    This is good!! Today(although not cultural), I overcame the homeschool room. It has been haunting me since we got back last week, with its dust and clutter. With the hope of starting Monday looming, I had to tackle it. One of the biggest motivators was my teammie scrubbing the unused-for-several years, rusted, nasty toilet in the same room. (Funny, we went over our strengths yesterday, and one of hers is “motivating!” Check!) Now that the room is mostly organized and somewhat clean, I feel like we can actually do some learning in there.

    1. Ruth September 1, 2016

      Lately I think the home/kid things I overcome are at least as hard as the cultural ones! I often feel like when I have something like that looming over me that i’m just dreading, whenever I get around to actually doing it I realize it wasn’t so bad. Also, there is an old toilet IN your school room??

      For my part, I decided I’d better give up my ideal of being all organized and just plunge into home school or we’d never get started! I hope you get off to a great start in your newly cleaned room!

      1. Ashley Felder September 3, 2016

        Not in the actual room…we and others on the team use an extra apartment (conveniently across the hall from me!), so we each converted a bedroom. She was cleaning the bathroom in the apartment. Sorry for the confusion. As I was typing that part, I knew it was confusing, but couldn’t figure out how to write it clearly. Ha!

  2. Diane Boegel September 1, 2016

    Oh my, this hits the spot. My husband and I work among the Indigenous Mayans in Guatemala. Every month we have to attend a 3 hour
    training where we are the only gringos. I begin to sweat it out a couple of days before, moaning and complaining about how ‘unnecessary’ it is for us to be there. Why? I have hearing loss in one ear, the people have a tendency to speak softly and not annunciate enough for me to distinguish the words. If my husband weren’t there (he listens for me), well it would be harder than it already is. But, with all that, I am learning that immersion is what is good for us and that it puts me in a place of humility and learning. I am not the one in power and our culture teaches us all about the top down mentality instead of the position of interdependence. So, it’s good to feel vulnerable! – Diane

    1. Ruth September 1, 2016

      That sounds like exactly the kind of thing that would stress me out! Language is so hard!! I still feel really inadequate in a lot of language situations, and difficulty with hearing would really amplify that! I agree, those language situations are SO humbling, which is really good. It’s good not to be the one in power, even if it doesn’t feel good at all.

  3. Michelle September 4, 2016

    “When you feel weak and inadequate and kind of ridiculous, draw on His strength.”
    Thanks for this. All the time, nearly every interaction every day is hard for this sensitive introvert. I feel ridiculous for having almost panic attacks when I try to do the simplest things. I know it will pass, we’ve just moved and are having to relearn everything again. I’m so thankful that others understand, that God sees and has compassion for me in all of my messiness. Thanks for the reminder 🙂

    1. Ruth September 6, 2016

      It is definitely hard sometimes to be an introvert on the field – all that interaction requires an awful lot of energy! It definitely DOES get easier, so keep telling yourself that! Some interactions and getting out of our comfort zone is absolutely necessary, but I also think that knowing ourselves and finding situations that draw on our strengths is important too. I am recognizing that God has called all kinds of people (including sensitive introverts!) for a reason, and trying to pretend to be socialites will only cause burnout. Asking that you can really find your “niche” again in a new place!

  4. Deb September 5, 2016

    Thank you for being the one who delivered a much needed encouragement that I have overcome in Christ. We live in the states now, retired from the AF and a life time of travel abroad and ministering to all kinds of people. Today was the first day in a few that I actually got dressed and was able to make dinner for my family due to health issues I’m dealing with. I also have that difficult person in my life, that during the week I have to be kind to because I must take and pick up my son at school. I say have to because I try to be a good listener, but not agreeing with, the grand stories of conspiracy and aliens, yes I said aliens. If I homeschooled I wouldn’t have to do that, I could hide, but God hasn’t released us into that season yet. I am relearning to allow Jesus to be kind through me and let the scary(they aren’t really scary, well yes some of them are to me anyway..lol), different, non Christian American people into my life again.
    You did it! You made the copies, I made dinner. You made it back to your apartment with copies in hand and I made a smile with a connective conversation and didn’t hide from them in in my van. The smallest of struggles are real and a big deal to Him no matter where we are on this planet. Exposing our real self and our shortcomings about ourselves is sooo scary and makes me feel so vulnerable to ridicule. The very things I fight to protect myself from usually are the ones He is drawing me to for His purposes. I have to remember that He’s got my back. That He has called me to be strong and courageous. Once again, your story is a reminder that if I am moving closer to Him, I cannot hide and run the other way. Thankyou.

    1. Ruth September 6, 2016

      That temptation to hide or to run away or to choose whatever is the *easiest* option seems to be ever present. I love what you said about “if I am moving closer to Him, I cannot hide and run the other way.” Sometimes when I’m feeling really bad about the day, I make a list of things I did accomplish – all the things that didn’t seem like much but actually took a lot of effort. You got out of bed! You made dinner! You were nice to that difficult person! You chose to engaged once again! He will give the strength needed again for tomorrow.

  5. Anna September 6, 2016

    Some days it can be really difficult to get out and interact with people. I also feel the struggle of looking different and stumbling through languages. My other challenge is driving across town in a stick shift. It’s a small area, so not a great distance to cover, but it’s always an adventure!

    1. Ruth September 6, 2016

      Ha! Driving in a foreign country….that could be it’s own topic. I haven’t attempted anything but bike and electric cart here since we don’t have a car, and I haven’t driven a stick since I was 16, but I can picture trying to drive a stick shift across town would be quite adventuresome! I bet you feel a pleasant sense of relief every time you make it to your destination!

      1. Anna September 7, 2016

        I do feel like I’ve really accomplished something after driving. 🙂

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