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?!).
Could 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?