Sweat and spit up.
Those are the two scents that mark my memory of that summer. That summer of a newborn baby, a two year old, and two puttering AC units that barely made a dent in the muggy Chinese air.
My baby cried and spit up, cried and spit up, and insisted on being strapped to my body at all times. Thus every day I smelled like sweat and spit up.
Our teammates were gone, our students were gone, and then the killer blow, my husband had to leave for eleven days.
I remember that first night pacing the well-worn path in our apartment, shoulders and back aching (this was before I knew the wonder of the Ergo). I repeated the rhythmic pat-pat to the baby’s bottom, pleading, “Please, please sleeeeep, so mommy can too.”
Four years earlier, I had arrived on foreign soil with a strong can-do attitude, buffered by a stiff pride that hated to ask for help. Overseas life has a way of beating that pride to a pulp, so by this point I had learned that to survive, I must ask for and receive help.
That summer was the most intense survival mode I had experienced, so with the husband leaving, I knew I had to ask for help from the only person I could turn to, my house helper. Normally, she came a couple times a week. For those eleven days I asked her if she could come every morning.
She said yes. And when she couldn’t come, she had her friend come for her. Because she was not going to leave me alone.
So each morning, bleary eyed, un-showered and hair all-askew, I opened my door to these women and about collapsed with gratitude.
The first evening my husband was gone, my neighbor called me. She didn’t ask me to come for dinner, she told me to.
This dear woman was a single mother, which was almost unheard of in that culture. But here she was reaching out to help me.
My normal self would have said, “Oh, you don’t have to make us dinner.” But my desperate self imagined cooking dinner from scratch again in my sweltering kitchen with a baby on me, and a toddler round my ankles, and I replied, “Yes, we’ll be there.”
I went to her house for dinner that night. And every single night of those eleven days.
I can only attempt to explain the shift that occurred in my relationships with my neighbor and with these two house helpers during those eleven days.
They knew I needed them.
I was no longer the foreign white woman who had come to help them.
I let them see my vulnerability. I let them meet me in my neediness. And because of that our relationships took on sweetness and a depth that I had never experienced there before. I had nothing to hide from them, nothing to prove. They had seen me at my worst, and now I was beautifully free to just be me, living life alongside of them.
A bond formed, a mutual needing of each other. When life hit them with unexpected blows, they asked me for help. It didn’t have the awkward sense of charity to it. We helped one another because that’s who we were to each other, that’s the kind of relationship we had.
The worst thing about overseas living is that it pushes you far beyond what you’re capable of.
The best thing about overseas living is that it pushes you far beyond what you’re capable of.
Because when you’re beyond yourself, you become open to intimacies and blessings that your self-sufficiency had closed you off from.
Blessed are those who learn to ask for help.
Blessed are the servants who allow themselves to be served.
Blessed are the desperate, for the Father will meet them in ways they never imagined.
There’s a lot of asking that we have to do in this life. Which is the hardest for you? Asking for financial support? Help from teammates? From family? From nationals?
How has overseas living pushed you beyond yourself and how has the Father met you in those moments?
Sometimes we find that we had more help overseas than we do in our home countries. How do you handle that? If you’ve moved back to your home country, how are you adjusting?
What has God taught you about asking?
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