When Life Overseas Blows Your Pride {The Grove}

I stood in the market and stared down at the dairy products.  I was determined to buy milk instead of yogurt this time.  The trick was figuring out which was which.  I started shaking each jug at my ear, listening for the swish of liquid milk or the sludge of thin yogurt.

Aware of how ridiculous I looked, I quickly made my guess, purchased the jug, and then headed for home.  With high hopes, I pulled a cup from the cupboard, opened the jug and poured.

I had picked the wrong one … again.

With a heavy sigh, I grabbed the yogurt and went across the hallway to my teammates’ apartment.  It was time to give in and ask for help … again.  Mentally I tallied the daily failures of my new foreign life.  They were adding up.

I hesitated before knocking on their door.

Why, why did it grate against me so to have to come to them and ask for help?

After all, I had spent the last two years asking people to help me, to partner and give so that my husband and I could come and serve overseas.  That had been easier for me.  Why?

Pride.

Cross-cultural workers are supposed to raise support.  It’s expected.  But then once I get overseas, I’m supposed to be able to figure out life.  I expect to be able to do this, to handle this.

To find myself so dependent, or rather desperate, for the help of others went against every prideful bone in my body.  Apparently I have a lot of prideful bones, because this whole process revealed in me my deep value of self-sufficiency.

I saw that my whole sense of self worth was tied to what I was able to do. When I am suddenly stripped of my ability to even speak or read or write, when I am surrounded by an environment in which I am more helpless than a child, what good am I?

Blow by blow, my pride began to crumble, and I learned to lean on others for help.  It was better than living without milk.

I also learned to drop my pride to the floor like a stooge and try out all forms of my halting language ability, partnered with grand hand gestures and sweet, pleading smiles.  Sometimes that worked too.

It was the beginning of a new way of life for me, a life where I couldn’t hide my inabilities, a life where I learned to say the words, “Could you help me?”

A self-sufficient life lacks the beauty and depth that comes only from opening up your vulnerable needs and allowing others to meet you in those tender places.

Humility is letting those needs be known.

Humility is knowing when you are not enough and being okay with that.

Humility is rejoicing in the strengths of others instead of comparing and berating your own weaknesses.

Humility is dropping the facades and experiencing the true friendship that springs from authenticity.

Humility is never forgetting what it is to feel lost, alone, afraid.

 *****

How has life overseas humbled you?   

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12 Comments

  1. Laura August 22, 2014

    Danielle,

    I appreciated the last line, “Humility is never forgetting what it is to feel lost, alone, afraid.” The never forgetting is so important in being able to truly help and encourage others when they are lost, alone and afraid. Thank you for this reminder.

    1. Danielle Wheeler August 22, 2014

      Moving around so much has given me such an empathy for the “outsider.”  I think you feel that too, don’t you?  May we never forget!

      1. Laura August 22, 2014

        Yes, I definitely feel that empathy as well.

  2. Anisha August 22, 2014

    So many humbling aspects of living abroad! A Mexican friend of mine remarked that when Americans ask for help or try to speak the language even though they are not very good at it, it makes them seem approachable and genuine. This always stuck with me as I am very much aware that the usual perception of Americans tends to be one of arrogance. So humility, and being humbled by this life, is not a bad thing. Just uncomfortable!

    1. Danielle Wheeler August 22, 2014

      “Approachable and genuine,” now those are good words.  And yes, being humbled by this life – uncomfortable in the best kind of way!

  3. Beth Everett August 23, 2014

    Beautifully written, Danielle. I am all too familiar with the yogurt/milk experience!
    I am reminded that we so often “go” because we believe we have something to offer (and we do); but so often the One sending us has much bigger plans that involve not only using us, but very much (and maybe even more so!) also teaching us, and that position of student requires much humility.
    Love this phrase: “Humility is dropping the facades and experiencing the true friendship that springs from authenticity”. My deepest friendships with locals and expats have come from a shared weakness, from asking for help over and over again, from asking for forgiveness, from remembering that each one has something to speak into my life.

    1. Danielle Wheeler August 23, 2014

      Yes!  We go without realizing the biggest difference made will likely be in ourselves!!  And what you said about your deepest local and expat relationships is absolutely true for me as well.

  4. Christina August 23, 2014

    If it had been me, I would have bought both jugs for good measure 🙂

    I do have fond memories of drinking yoghurt — but I don’t think I ever learned the Chinese word for it. Now, milk – niu nai, that I remember 🙂

    I completely understand your feelings as I begin to navigate in Kiswahili. Thanks for the reminder that it’s okay to not know how to navigate!

    1. Danielle Wheeler August 26, 2014

      Both jugs! Now that would have saved me some frustration. 🙂  Funny thing is, my kids now prefer the drinkable yogurt to milk, so now I buy more yogurt than milk!  The kids don’t know what to do back in the States where there isn’t ANY drinkable yogurt that’s not super sweet!

      Blessings on navigating Kiswahili.  So glad you’re here with us!

  5. Kimberly August 25, 2014

    Yes! That He would count us WORTHY to strip our false idols from us.
    I totally relate to feeling stripped of all I trusted in: productivity, efficiency, diplomacy, even friendships and colleagues. Our first 4-year-term was a season I call ‘the Stripping’. Oh so painful, but oh so good for the soul.
    HE is really all that is worth trusting.
    And humility is the only way to build true relationship. Vertically & Horizontally.

    The way down is really the way up.

  6. Danielle Wheeler August 26, 2014

    The upside down ways of the kingdom!  It’s beautiful that you can look back on that painful season and call it good.

  7. Lauren Pinkston August 28, 2014

    It was the beginning of a new way of life for me, a life where I couldn’t hide my inabilities, a life where I learned to say the words, “Could you help me?”

    How true this is, and how much I have come to see the value in this. I have had more doors open up through my weakness than through my strengths. I have yet to have anyone in SE Asia ask about my degrees, my skills, or ways I can help here. But they ALL want to help me get along in my daily life in this new culture. It’s just the most humbling and gratifying experience.

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