The Me I Wanted to Be {The Grove: Authentic}

Why did my husband get all the good spiritual gifts, while I was stuck with the wimpy ones, I wondered.

We had discovered on our honeymoon that we were opposite in nearly every way, but our first three years in China loudly amplified those differences. Charly had gotten a two-year head start living in the Foreign Student Dormitory on campus as a language student before we got married. So when we returned for him to teach English there, it was already home to him.

For a strong introvert, squeezing into two connecting dorm rooms, squeezing Chinese lessons into baby’s nap times, and squeezing my bike through narrow passageways of bicycle traffic to the market, made me feel like I was being squeezed all. the. time. Pushed. Out of my comfort zone.

God must be disappointed in my selfishness, I decided. Did I love – or even like – the people all around us? Look at the way I wanted to set limits on the times when Charly’s English students could come over to visit. I dreamed about going on a family walk without feeling like we were on a parade. I longed to slip past the old men at the front desk of our building without telling them where I was going or listening to their advice that our baby wasn’t wearing enough clothes. I wanted to blend in with everyone around me. But anonymity could never be reality for our family in China.

Charly appeared much more selfless with his time and space: he loved to have students drop in for spontaneous visits (usually all eight roommates together). Anytime. Day or night. Visitors made him come alive and he was more than happy to switch over to Chinese when their English vocabulary ran out. While he could have done without grading papers as an English teacher, his conversation classes naturally brought out his stand-up comedian side. His students adored him.

Extrovert. Gifted in the language. Teacher. People magnet. Life of the party. Flexible “P” on the Myers-Briggs. God had clearly made Charly for China.

But I didn’t fit. 

Stay-at-home moms were not a “thing” in China, and when I answered his students’ most frequently asked question, that my ideal job was “to be a mom,” there was no category in their brains to put me. 

And so I struggled to believe I had something to offer.

I struggled with the language. I struggled with homesickness. I struggled with being flexible. And I struggled to be affirming of Charly’s gifts, when I secretly wished God had given me his gifts instead of mine.

Introvert. Not-so-gifted in the language. Listener. Seeker of silence. First one ready to leave the party. “J” on the Myers-Briggs. What was I doing in China???

Over time, God helped us to see how we could better complement each other in our marriage and helped me to understand that our opposite giftings were not intended to be competitive. We were able to see how my value of quietness could be a strength after all. Once we had more space in an off-campus apartment, God opened doors for me to spend one-on-one time with Charly’s former students who were married and had babies of their own. They now had a category to put me in and opened up with their struggles and questions. As my Chinese improved, I became a better listener and discovered that studying the Bible with seekers and believers was truly life-giving to me.

I had finally found my sweet spot of living out who God had made me to be, both among our local friends and among our homeschooling expat community.

Our China season has since come to a close and our family has relocated back to the U.S. Last year we opened our home to several Afghan refugees for a season, and those glaring differences from our first three years in China surfaced again. 

My ongoing struggle with migraine headaches was at a high. My soul felt cracked. And I needed more downtime where I didn’t need to be “on” for guests. Clear boundaries had become a necessity. But while I was trying to figure out how we could do less, Charly was pondering how we could do more.

Needless to say, parallel to what was going on in the world, we had our own refugee crisis.

We talked about how I had wanted to put a sign on our dormitory door, letting Charly’s students know when we were eating and what time they could come back, yet Charly had instead insisted on an open-door policy. And that’s the same way our refugee crisis made me feel: that to my husband, the needs of others were more important than mine.

Ultimately though, I reasoned, extroversion and the ability to offer unlimited hospitality would be better, wouldn’t it? What felt like a spotlight on my selfishness and neediness revealed a me I didn’t want to be.

On a recent soul care retreat, God spoke to me about the times Jesus felt misunderstood. I was comforted that He understood both my desire to be more hospitable and my struggles with feeling limited. 

God assured me that my need for boundaries was okay, even if not everyone understood them. Most importantly, He enabled my husband to understand them and to accept that my limitations were also his limitations.

We came away from the retreat with greater peace and unity. I could affirm Charly’s gifts of desiring to help the refugees, while at the same time experience freedom that our family could step back from opening our home for this season. 

I could be fully me.

What does it look like to serve and live in your context as fully yourself? What have been theimpacts of being in a setting where you didn’t feel like you could express yourself authentically? 

~~~

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7 Comments

  1. Elizabeth February 1, 2019

    Jodie, this sounds like SO many questions and conversations I’ve had with my husband over the years. We used to stress over how to invite teens into our house and our life when the teens destroyed my house every week. I used to think, I have no talents and he has them all, and how unfair it was. Those issues were resolved eventually, but I definitely saw myself in a lot of your descriptions! And yes, it’s ok to be YOU (and me).

    1. Jodie Pine February 1, 2019

      Hi Elizabeth! Thanks so much for commenting. I appreciate hearing the ways God has given us similar experiences, bringing a feeling of togetherness in this journey that often feels lonely, when it seems that there must be something wrong with us.

      I just finished reading a really insightful book called The Gift of Being Yourself by David Benner. He talks about our “attempts to create a self rather than receive the gift of my self-in-Christ. But the uniqueness that comes from being our true self is not a uniqueness of our own making. Identity is never simply a creation. It is always a discovery. True identity is always a gift of God.”

      Trying to create what seems like a better self, instead of receiving the gift of ourselves in Christ may be one of our biggest struggles. Your last line about it’s ok to be YOU (and me) made me think of a record my mom used to play for us when we were growing up called Free to be You and Me.

      There’s real freedom in being ourselves, when we stop striving to be something we’re not. And when we open our hearts to discover the gift of our authenticity–that uniquenesss that God created before time began–we can also offer the gift of our true selves to the world.

      1. Elizabeth February 1, 2019

        I absolutely love that quote from David Benner. Hadn’t heard of him. Thanks for sharing! (And I remember the Free to Be You and Me song too.)

  2. Ashley Felder February 7, 2019

    I felt myself nodding through this entire post. Same struggles here, too. Although I’m the extrovert and I was stuck at home, pregnant, with a 1 year old our first year while my hubby went off to class and met with students. It was so tough! But, if I could tell any newbies to the field anything, it would be that it takes TIME. Time to figure out not only what life looks like there (and it’s often different for each person), but also to build those relationships and figure out how to fit in. I expected to just be able to jump right in as he did. But, like you, I didn’t have a stay at home mama box to fit in! Thanks for sharing!

    1. Jodie Pine February 7, 2019

      Thanks for joining the conversation, Ashley, and for sharing your extroverted point of view 🙂 Whole-heartedly agree with your advice to newbies. Realizing it takes time brings a measure of patience and giving grace to yourself (and your husband).

  3. Monica F February 10, 2019

    Loved this Jodie and the way you opened up to this community about your journey on ‘being you’ and not someone else. I guarantee you my husband would resonate with YOU on this- ha! He called our home the ‘revolving door’ when we lived in China- which was really tough on his introvert self. I think it took us several years to figure out boundaries and margin, while honoring one another’s gifts, personality, and passions. Thank you for offering us this glimpse into your own marriage, and I’m sure it’s a great encouragement to anyone who reads it!

    1. Jodie Pine February 11, 2019

      Thanks for sharing Monica. There may be couples out there who both line up with “revolving door ministry.” But probably it’s more common for only one spouse to be energized in that way. I would say an important question for couples on the field to grapple with is “what do I think ministry should look like?” And then “what can ministry look like for us as a couple so that we can both thrive?”

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