Radical Exemptions? Living Overseas Doesn’t Exempt Me From the Ordinary

Radical Blog Series Graphic

Thanks for joining in this week’s series “Radical Exemptions“.  Yesterday, we started a discussion about following Jesus fully, intentionally, and sacrificially.  We talked about the fact that following Jesus means that we follow with him in many seasons of life (some of which some of us will experience and some of which some of us will not): singleness, dating, marriage, children, retirement, caring for aging parents…  We noted that we don’t get sidelined for certain seasons when it comes to being a follower.  We looked at an article that sparked the whole discussion about parents, in particular, being radical with their faith.  So we honed in on parents.  Since I’m not a parent, I’ve asked friends who are to guest post all week about how they are following Jesus in their everyday lives.  For the rest of the week, we’ll look at how they are teaching their children to follow Jesus, and how they are continuing to follow Jesus with their children as a part of that story.

I met Ruth (Ruthie back then) over the summer of 2001 after receiving a roommate assignment letter for my freshman year at Asbury University (Asbury College back then).  Despite our different backgrounds, personalities, and fashion sense, we became dear friends.  I consider Ruth a friend and a sister, and I deeply respect her life and her calling.  She lives with her husband, Kevin, and daughter Juliana in China. Baby #2 is due sometime in early fall.

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I put in a load of laundry then thread my way through the maze of toys on the ground to check if there are enough left-overs for dinner.  I convince my 2 year old to sit on the potty (oh, the joys of potty training) and browse diaper patterns for the baby on the way.  I make a cup of coffee and forget to drink it.  My life is very ordinary.  Oh, except I live in China.

I’m currently studying one of the world’s most difficult languages without any special language aptitude.  I cook on a one-burner stove in a kitchen that freezes over in the winter, but I’m just glad we got rid of the hordes of nasty roaches.  My daughter watches Chinese cartoons, loves tofu snacks, and thinks her grandparents live in the computer on Skype.  When we go out people stare at the strange foreigners and run over to take pictures on their cell phones.  If you were here, you would probably find many things strange and fascinating.  But after seven years, even the strange parts of my life have become ordinary.

Sometimes at the end of the day I wonder, “Does it really matter that I’m here?  Am I doing anything more significant than laundry?”  Even in China, it’s easy to get consumed by the mundane.  I never realized before how much time and energy children take (and I still only have one!).  How do we accept the mundane, embrace our role as parents, and resist complacency all at the same time?

Well, fortunately I have some super profound and experienced thoughts categorized numerically to make them seem more organized:

1. Don’t separate the mundane and the sacred.  Cooking is a part of life, and you can only go so long without washing clothes and still expect people to hang out with you. I’ve heard people talk about praying as they fold laundry and memorizing verses in the shower.  It sounds like a great idea and always makes me feel guilty that I’m likely composing a mental to-do list or thinking about something I saw on Facebook (Sorry to shatter the illusion…moving overseas doesn’t suddenly turn you super-spiritual.  I know, I was disappointed too.)  But guilt-factor aside, we’ve got to stop dividing our lives into “the boring, meaningless stuff” and “the exciting, super-spiritual stuff.”  God loves to meet and teach us in the midst of the mundane.

 2. Invite people into our lives…the laundry room as well as the living room.  Let people see you in the mundane aspects of life – how you respond to your kids when they are screaming and what you do when the washer is breaks again.  In a mostly non-creepy way, people are watching you.  Not just the “smiling nicely in your Sunday clothes” you but the “up with the baby all night, haven’t showered in two days” you.  That’s where the real you comes out -not always glamorous, but authentic.

3. Realize there are periods of life when the mundane kinda takes over.  I just got through three months of fabulous morning sickness where I did little except move between the couch and the toilet and meditate on how I felt like dying.  Laundry was difficult and cooking pretty much out of the question; dragging myself to class was about as much as I could handle.  Some periods of life are like that.  It’s hard enough just to get by.  Accept it; it won’t last forever.  But if you find all of your life is just struggling to get by, maybe it’s a sign to either re-prioritize or reach out for help.

4. Don’t separate parenting from “a life of adventure.”  Parenting will certainly change what you do and how, but it shouldn’t be the death sentence for influence outside the home.  You may not have the flexibility you did before, but parenting can actually expand your spheres of influence.  For me, becoming a parent has had a very humanizing effect: “Oh, the strange foreigner is a mother too.  Maybe she’s not so strange after all.”  Lots of people approach us now that never would have before; kids tend to lower the intimidation factor.  They give an automatic “in” with other parents, grandparents, and people who like kids.  And in their own simple ways, children speak truths in ways we might not be able to.  When we stop thinking of them as obstacles, children can be a great asset to our “life of adventure.”

 5.  Ask for opportunities.  A life of adventure may mean packing up and moving to China or fostering a child.  It may mean befriending the grouchy old woman down the street who seems all alone.  It may mean starting a playgroup of people very different from you.  If you ask God to show you openings in your life, he will.  Just be prepared: it probably won’t be comfortable and orderly and fit nicely into your schedule.  It will more likely look something like this: You are in the middle of a super busy day, your children are fighting fiercely, the house is a mess, and someone you find kind of annoying shows up at your door for an unexpected chat.  You consider pretending you’re not home, but instead you take a deep breath and invite that annoying person into your messy, honest life.  And from there, you just never know what will happen.

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8 thoughts on “Radical Exemptions? Living Overseas Doesn’t Exempt Me From the Ordinary

  1. I really think your series is perfect timing! Ruth this is what I really needed to read first thing this morning! I have a feeling I will be reading through this week’s blogs over and over again.

  2. I am loving this! I struggle with feeling like I’m not making enough of an effort or focusing on the right things both in raising my children and following Jesus. I remind myself that following God and loving sacrificially is often as simple as choosing to read to my kids, inviting someone over, or being proactive about housework. Doing those things moves my focus from me to the people around me. And we live in Saudi Arabia right now, but these are the same issues I had in Washington or Pennsylvania. These posts are a timely challenge to my complacency. Thank you! Can’t wait to read more!

    1. I’m so glad that Ruth’s writing was so appropriate to your season now. I love how God connects the hearts of my good friends and uses people who have never met to encourage and challenge us just when we need it!

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