My mother-in-law, who is mom to nine children and one of the wisest women I know, is fond of saying that since God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble, she wants to be a humble person, because she knows just how much she needs God's grace. I'm with her 100% on that one . . . except that I'm not naturally a humble person.
When I first went on the missionfield a little over nine years ago, I had this preposterous idea that I was something special. Now, I know that each and every person on the face of this planet is someone special, because we all are of infinite value to God, but this was different. I was convinced that I was something special. Although I never would have voiced it like this, deep inside, I think my thought process probably ran something like this: I am intelligent, an intellectual even. I am a language whiz and an aspiring polyglot. I am a gifted writer and an articulate public speaker. I am a musician, and I can sing. And most importantly, I am spiritual. I know the Bible better than some pastors and am able to study and interpret it for myself. I have suffered much and learned to trust God explicitly. And now I am going on the missionfield, embarking on my life's work. God is going to use me mightily!
I'm embarrassed to read those words now, sorry that I was so smug and self-congratulating. And that last part about God using me mightily? Well, I'm still waiting for that to happen.
When I arrived in Kyiv, Ukraine in late February 2003, I felt useless. The church where my husband and I were serving was filled with intelligent, articulate, musical, spiritual people, all of whom communicated in a language I could not speak. They didn't need me or my perceived talents. And though I fancied myself a language whiz, Ukrainian became my arch nemesis. I found it too humiliating to speak when I knew I was making grammatical mistakes, so for the first year, I almost never opened my mouth in public except to exchange casual pleasantries. Over time, I began to suspect that people saw me as a non-person, someone without intellect or personality, and this was also humiliating. But I don't think that true humility comes through humiliation.
So God threw culture shock into the mix. Coming from the suburbs of cheerful Southern California, I found it difficult to adapt to life in a teeming metropolis like Kyiv, where everyone seemed to be in a perpetual bad mood that they were determined to take out on me. Besides that, I didn't understand the culture, so I was always running into unexpected barriers and upsetting people for no apparent reason. And when they would yell at me, I couldn't defend myself or even explain, since I couldn't speak the language. Every now and then I would have a little emotional breakdown, and they weren't pretty. They revealed ugly things lurking within me that I was ashamed to recognize. Self-pity. Resentment. Anger. Rage. Seeing myself in the mirror of my cultural struggles, I began to be truly humbled. I wasn't something special. I was a mess.
My first few years in Ukraine were rough, but gradually things improved. I did learn the language. I made a few good friends. The culture became familiar. As far as my day-to-day interactions with people went, I was much less of a mess. But how much of that was due to real inward change and how much was merely the result of having adapted to my surroundings, only God can tell. All I can say is that there must still be a lot of work to do inside me, because as soon as I started to feel like I was getting my act together, He started to send me kids. And now I'm pretty sure that I will never feel sufficient again for as long as I live.
I don't have what it takes to be the wise and gracious mommy I would like to be. I am learning that I have far too much selfishness and impatience, and this revelation came as something of a shock to me. And so the humbling process continues. It's difficult and painful at times, but I rejoice in knowing that as I submit to it, I can look forward to a greater measure of God's grace at the end of the road. It's like the picture at the top of this post. When we admit our inability to get ourselves where we need to go, God will step in and carry us there. Oh, how I need that!
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