When Others ARE Better Than You Are

My friend Anne Packevicz can be described using many wonderful words. Mother of four, organizer extraordinaire, queen of making people feel welcome in her home, generous with sharing her cooking with singles, friend to many, wife and cheerleader and friend of Mike. She once let me know that if there was ever an earthquake, I didn’t need to worry about someone looking for me because I’m single. She’d look for me (or send Mike or one of the kids. She’s really good with delegating too.). She’d lived in California single and worried no one would look for her in an earthquake; coming from a non-earthquake state, I have to say I never once thought about who’d look for me. It was nice to know someone else had.

She’s thoughtful that way. But there that doesn’t mean all of life overseas has been easy or pleasant. I don’t know of anyone who worked harder at language and yet, it simply Would. Not. Come. Anne is graciously offering this part of herself to us today (see what I mean about her making people feel welcome?!).

AnneCould you share a bit about your language learning experience?

Preparing for the field, I asked different people I knew what worked for them when it came to language learning. A friend told me about LAMP – where I would just go out into community and practiced what I had. So I had it in mind when I went to China I’d do that. Was it helpful to me? A little bit, it gave me courage to use what I had but I don’t feel I got very far with it.

I also thought when my first two kids were little that I’d get to practice more with my house help. And thought I’d just focus on adjusting and listening. You know, get the phonetic system down. That wound up taking about five years. Just to have the sounds sound familiar … I’m really bad at hearing the sounds

Later, Mike and I committed for me to study for six weeks two hours a day. That’s when I probably got beyond zero. But that’s also when Mike practiced with me and said, “I think you have an undiagnosed decoding and reproduction – where input and output are a challenge.” That was a help to hear. Actually looking back at my elementary school years I had similar difficulties with learning English but was able work around it and even double majored in English Lit. So when it comes to the appreciation of good writing I excel, but when it comes to decoding and reproduction of sounds I am beyond stinky.

What were the language learning experiences like for your family members?

For Mike it came easily. When the director for language school sent him the placement test at the end of the first year he was told, “you’re beyond language school” – that was with not a lot of study. The director said, “You seem to be like me in that this seems to be easy to you compared to others.” He’s one of those people.

For our children, because they didn’t ever have full immersion, Chinese language was an academic class – built into their curriculum. They went through different periods of like or not liking like you would a math class. All four did pretty well and thankfully none had my issues. My Chinese is by far the worst.

One of my big fears before I went to the field was being afraid my kids would say, “Daddy, why is Mommy so stupid?” Fortunately they were discriminating to know I wasn’t stupid, just rotten in language learning.

It’s never fun to be “the worst,” how did you deal with some of the language discrepancies within your family and marriage and on your teams?

It helped to be in my 40s.  When we went to China I was in my 39, so I was doing this in my early 40s and realized I had enough life experience to tell me there were things I was good at. I do think doing this with a young mind would have been an advantage.  But to have life experience where I had already excelled in other things and to have an education – those were game changers for me. I realized I had giftings, they were just different.

What added to the complexities is that even though language was difficult and I was illiterate, I was also a stay at home mom whose primarily responsibility was the care of a family – so I wasn’t out in the world using my gifts. When I went out it touched on my weaknesses.

I had to keep reminding myself God had used my giftings before. My identify is not in what I can do or in being successful. My identify is in Christ, and in that alone. Because I was not operating in any strengths, I was not getting any pats on the back for what I was doing.

Wow, that’s a lot of stress. In what ways was this super hard for you?

I am by nature an influencer and I’m a strong woman with strong opinions and it was very difficult to not have language to be able to march forth into situations. It made me dependent on my husband’s language ability in ways I would have never chosen to be. In situations that need problem solving, we handle them completely differently. I am much more of a march in, take control, get your way kind of person. He’s much more laid back. It was an added stress to our marriage; and not just to me, but to him as well. He was trying to navigate a situation – even though he had a high language ability — he was still trying to figure things out and so he had me telling him things in English and trying to figure them out in Chinese.

One night one of our four kids was sick and in the hospital on the other side of the city with Mike. I took care of the three kids at home and then got a cab and couldn’t tell the cab driver how to go.  In that instant something clicked for me.  I realized in the US if I could get out of the house, my stress level would go down, I knew where I was going (and if I didn’t, I could figure out how to get there). I had a high stress level IN the house in China and OUT of the house.

Unlike in the U.S. my stress didn’t go down. If I went out, I was watching the kids in traffic and trying to handle groceries and keep us all moving forward. It was difficult to maintain that level of stress inside and outside of the home.

That taxi ride was a defining moment for me. Though the driver was confused, he had more control than I did. There I sat, behind him, completely powerless. I just remember thinking, “The stress level doesn’t go down.”

It got better with time – I learned backup systems. Cell phones came about and I could call people and hand the phone over or I would leave with things written down. One of my goals became to bring my stress down and part of that was learning when to just give up on things.

How have you seen God redeem even that which IS super hard?

This whole experience has helped my identity be strong in him.

When you are in a situation like living overseas and on a team – you have to very quickly decide “OK, if I compare myself to other people, I’m going to lose and they are going to lose. Nobody wins.” There is always going to be somebody who is better at the things you have to do in overseas life. There will be that mom with kids the same age as yours and excels at language study or is handling the cultural adjustment so much better than you are, that seems to have a thriving ministry relationships or more local friends. If you compare, you’re going to lose and they are going to lose. The best thing is to say “What does God have for me today?”

Control and contentment were such issues for me. Letting go and realizing I don’t need to be in control of everything and trusting God in ways I hadn’t had to before. And being content in the situations I’m in – realizing that the best thing I can do for those around me is to choose joy and to be cheerful. People want to be around a joyful, cheerful person instead of someone who is striving and discontent.

This is what helped me stay for the longer race — realizing I had to build a life and it may not look like the person next to me and the life they are building. You build the life that will make for a joyful, loving home with lots of learning, a home where your family members enjoy and feel settled.  A place where people want to enter in because it is rich.

You do it the way it works for you. There is no recipe. You don’t look to other lives for the recipe, you look to the Lord to put his fingerprint on your life. Don’t judge others’ lives. 🙂

Redemption came by not comparing and by being content in what I have. I knew before I went to China I would not be good at this, but I knew I was called. It limited me, but it didn’t stop me.

And I learned to laugh at myself.

Anne, by offering this piece of yourself to our team you helped each of us offer our weakness to the body. Thanks for doing that again.

What have you been stinky at when it comes to life overseas?

Photo Credit: WanderingtheWorld (www.ChrisFord.com) via Compfight cc

12 Comments

  1. Jen August 20, 2014

    Thank you for this encouragement Anne.  I am right there with you with a hubby that excels in language while I just don’t get it.  I have many times thought “maybe I could be like Anne one day” what I need to remember is to be like the son and like me.

    1. Amy Young August 21, 2014

      “To be like me.” Yes! That’s it. I think as part of Anne’s community, the best thing she offered us by not hiding how hard it was to learn the language was the freedom to each be ourselves. Sparkles, warts, and all!

  2. Connie Gibson August 20, 2014

    Thank you so much for writing and posting this encouraging article about one of my very favorite people! Anne, as you know, you should never compare yourself to others… that’s unfair to US’ens out here, because YOU are the one that outshines us. 15 years in China for  me and still I’m one of the biggest JOKES going. By now I should be very fluent and still I’m far behind everyone. Still, my work flourishes and it’s OK… language is important but it’s not everything!!! I love you Anne!!

    1. Amy Young August 21, 2014

      Connie, you’re another one who knows her strengths and has used them for His glory faithfully! It’s fun to watch you in action 🙂

  3. Beth Everett August 20, 2014

    I really appreciate this post Anne (and Amy). When I came to that place of letting go trying to control what I could not (fluency, growth and success in language) and instead choosing to find contentment in what was in front of me (friendship, opportunities for kindness, service, hospitality IN SPITE OF limited communication), I was amazed to see that I could live a fulfilled life and make a contribution even with what I deemed was my limited language ability. Like Connie says, “language is important but it is not everything”.  I find that so true even though it seems to go against all the training for cross-cultural living. I am reminded that God is not limited by our “ought to’s” or by our weaknesses … in fact He makes good use of those weaknesses!

    1. Amy Young August 21, 2014

      It does seem to go in the face of much of cross-cultural training, doesn’t it :)?! I think we can all support the value of language learning, but that doesn’t mean we’ll all shine at it (sigh!). Thankful, as you said Beth, God can work with our strengths AND our weaknesses!

  4. Elizabeth Foster August 20, 2014

    I love this! Thank you Anne (Mrs. Pack). This  advice about not comparing and choosing joy and obedience is a good life lesson for any stage. 🙂 Words that I want to keep with me!

    1. Amy Young August 21, 2014

      So weird to call a beloved adult by her first name, isn’t it? :)!!

  5. Jennifer August 21, 2014

    Thank you for such a great post. So much to take  away and reflect on.  It reminds us that significant as it can be that language learning is only one dimension of cultural adjustment… and while we need to do what we can to speak and understand more, we also need not allow that to stop us from doing what we can.. and to recognize that language learning does not necessarily define our effectiveness in every other area, or even cultural adjustment in general. It also helped me to recognize that for some of us, it is something other than the “language” which is our weak point, the thing which seems to hold us back. I know I needed to learn to stop comparing myself in good or bad ways to anyone else and simply begin to look at what God was calling me to do, had equipped me to do with the unique strengths and weaknesses which I had, and begin to walk with him in that. I am still learning that, and do not know where it is going to lead, in what every much feels like a new stage for me, and while like you I want my language skills to improve, I also know that as I work on them and my other weaknesses, I also need to begin more and more to walk in and use the strengths I also have as God guides and directs me. I need to not allow my weaknesses to stop God from doing what he wants to do both in and through me.

  6. Jenny August 25, 2014

    This post resonated deep within my heart. Thank you for sharing. This was a great encouragement to me. I resonate with the paragraph about building a joyful, loving home full of learning where family members can feel settled. This truly is my goal. I am also so very grateful for the analogy and thoughts regarding each persons “recipe” may we all not look at others and compare our lives but look to the one who will give us life! Anne thank you so much for sharing.

  7. Cecily Willard August 31, 2014

    It is nice to know that I am not the only one, seven years in, still struggling with language learning.  Granted, I am not trying to learn Chinese, but another tough language.   My grasp of the language is embarrassingly bad, while those who are younger seem to pick it up so fast.

    While not making excuses, I see that my lack of language puts me in a place where the Lord has lots of room to show His strength.  I am very much like a little child because there is so much I don’t understand in this strange culture with a funny language 🙂  But, did not Jesus say that His kingdom belongs to the little children?  Surely I qualify!

  8. ErinMP April 16, 2015

    This was an important reminder to me to not compare my life to others overseas. I think one of the things, to answer the question of what you are sucky at overseas, would be…health, sleep, and just overall being joyful no matter what. I think this helps point out one of the factors: I need to let go of dwelling on my weaknesses or comparing (or when bad things happen) and trust God.

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