Many of us love watching the transformation of people or spaces. In an hour or less we see an outdated hair style and ill-fitting clothes replaced with perfectly styled hair and a trendy outfit. Or we watch a disorganized, cluttered home turned into a home with exceptionally organized closets and an impeccable pantry. And while we know the actual transformation takes far longer than an hour, we tend to forget that most of the messy, stressful parts of the transformation are edited out.
Life transformation is far less like a TV show and far more like a sculptor transforming a piece of stone into a piece of art. The initial cuts a sculptor makes in a piece of stone are called rough cuts. Large chunks of stone are carefully removed in order for the stone to be transformed into a work of art. After the rough cuts are made, the sculptor begins to make smaller changes to the stone as the sculpture continues to take shape.
Overseas life leads to transformation in our hearts, our minds, our lives. Sometimes the transformation comes via rough cuts by the Sculptor—culture shock, language learning, dramatic change in climate, traumatic events, unhealthy team dynamics. I hadn’t expected the stress of cultural shock or the feelings of loneliness during my first months in a new country. But there they were; the first in a series of rough cuts the Sculptor used to transform me during my time overseas. Later the cuts came in the form of a home invasion and a stressful team environment. Large chunks of my dreams, my plans were cut away. The Sculptor was continually transforming me, even though at times it was painful and confusing.
Not all of the cuts the Sculptor makes are rough ones. Some are small, refining cuts. Ones that file away the rough edges and that transform our lives in less dramatic ways. Our patience grows as we learn the art of waiting in line to complete what we think should be simple, quick tasks. Our frustration diminishes when the water is turned off without warning. Again. Our communication skills increase as we interact with neighbors and ministry partners. Our love for our new home fills our hearts as we deepen relationships and emerge from the fog of culture shock.
Often we only see our progress when we look back, when we see how far we have come since we walked through passport control and baggage claim. I found these small transformations were evident when family and friends came to visit me or when a new teammate arrived on the field. Suddenly I was more of an expert than a learner, simply because I knew slightly more than someone else did. These moments, however, encouraged me and allowed others to see the transformation that was happening in my life.
Unlike a sculptor and a piece of stone, God continues to transform us the entire time we are here on earth. We don’t receive only rough cuts for a certain number of years, and then it’s only small, refining cuts after that. No, the rough cuts of transformation can occur at any time. And unlike a human sculptor, God is often using refining cuts to transform multiple areas of our lives at once. Through Scripture and the work of the Holy Spirit, we are regularly convicted to make changes in our lives. To put off anger and impatience and selfishness. To put on peace and love and kindness.
And just as God doesn’t work in the same way a human sculptor does, we certainly don’t act like stones either. A piece of stone doesn’t grumble and complain aloud when a rough cut is being made. It doesn’t push back and ask the sculptor to remove another part of it instead. And it most certainly doesn’t compare itself to another stone in the sculptor’s studio and ask why that stone isn’t having a rough cut made to it. We, however, do all of these and more. So I’m thankful God is okay with our questions and forgives us when we sin. I’m thankful He sculpts each of us differently with different cuts at different times. But I’m also reminded of my need to trust Him to transform me in His timing and in His way.
When I look back at my time overseas, I see how God used it to transform me in multiple ways. How the rough cuts taught me perseverance and deepened my faith. How the refining cuts have made me a more godly wife, daughter, friend, employee. But mostly I see how God is still transforming me. Yes, cross-cultural life lent itself to quite a bit of transformation, but life in my passport country has exposed new areas of my life that need to be transformed. New areas for God to cut away whenever and however He chooses.
What rough cuts have you experienced in your cross-cultural journey? How has God been transforming you in the last six months?
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