Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Culture Shock

 “As you experience this new culture, you are going to encounter many differences. Remember that things may not be necessarily wrong or right—just different.”

I was sixteen years old when I heard these words of wisdom. Although it took me a long time to really believe them, these words have since changed my life forever. My junior year of high school, my family took in Andrea—a foreign exchange student from the Czech Republic. Since she was only six months older than me, we became immediate friends. No, wait. Somehow, more than friends. Andy is more to me than just an “exchange student.” Andy is my sister. Aside from lacking a blood relation, Andy has become my sister in every sense of the word.

When she arrived that fall, I did not live out the advice given to me. For months, little irritations built up inside of me and compounded frustration. Natively from Eastern Europe, Andy did things in a way that was just... wrong! She wouldn't use the sheets on her bed, she made salads without any lettuce, and she would wear the same outfit two days in the row... ridiculous, I know! Irritation itched at my patience, and I just couldn't understand why she didn't do things my way—the “right way.” I would run to make the dinner salad so I could fill the bowl with lettuce before she got there. Maybe now she'll learn!

I did eventually learn patience throughout that year, but the biggest lesson was yet to come. After she returned to her home country, I found myself deeply missing her—differences and all. I went to visit her in Prague, and I lived with her family. Finally, I understood. Immersing myself into her culture revealed the truth: not wrong, just different. I have since been to the Czech Republic four times, and I can't wait to go back again. I've learned to enjoy the freshness of different traditions and lifestyles, and it's opened my eyes to the truth that the “American” way does not always equal the “right” way.

I believe that every person should step out of their own culture and deeply experience another one. Like St. Augustine said, “the world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page.”

*A short story written for my nonfiction class--described as a "statement of belief" from a specific example in my life. The format is similar to that from http://www.thisibelieve.com/

Monday, January 23, 2012

Letting God Determine My Steps

"God, show me some of your plan... just a glimpse... I know I need to follow You in faith, but I really just need to know what Your plan is for me..."

As I've sought after Him, God has been guiding my decisions. I beg and plead for Him to give me just a brief glimpse of what He has planned for me. When He leads me down certain paths, I grow excited in anticipation of the plan that I think He is revealing to me--the confusing part is when that plan doesn't follow my expectations.

Changes in career, missions, relationships, ministries... I diligently pour my heart out in prayer, abandoning my own desires to pray like Moses did: "if your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here" (Exodus 33:15). In the depths of my heart, I desire to follow God's will for me regardless of what I think is best.

As I abandon my own desires, I begin to see His blessing--encouragement to either seek an opportunity or walk away from it. I follow Him when He answers "Yes!" ... yet I've had a few situations lately when those "Yes" situations crumble, or He leads me in a new direction after just a short time. Questions and doubts seep into in my mind:

Did I not hear Him correctly?
     Was I just listening to my own stubborn desires?
          Am I being punished for something?
     Is God trying to test my faith?
Did I mess up what I was supposed to do along the way?

I prayed through these questions, but none of them seem to be the answer. I know I was listening to Him. I know I was surrendering my own desires. I know that--as flawed as I am--I was earnestly seeking Him as I continued down that path. However, I still felt like God was going back on what He told me. After all, I know I was listening to him. Why would he tell me to take one path then abruptly change His mind? I've grown emotionally dizzy from the direction changing. He leads me down one path then another, and another, and another...

I'm realizing that God sees more than I see.

When God is speaking to me, I hear His voice and start sprinting. He tells me to take the right turn, and I mistakenly assume that I know exactly where the road is headed. But what I'm learning is that He is guiding me step-by-step:

In his heart a man plans his course,
but the LORD determines his steps
Proverbs 16:9

As God determines my steps, I start planning my course and assuming that I know what is in store for my life. But looking back over this last year and seeing what He's done in my life, His hand is moving. Through the various turns He has directed me to take, I have ended up where I am right now. Each turn didn't point me in the direction that I would pursue indefinitely, but existed as merely the next step in the direction He wants me to go.

It's like navigating around a city: when traveling across town, if you take a left on 12th street, you probably won't be following 12th street for the rest of your journey. Taking 12th street will lead you to 1st Avenue, where you'll take a right onto Main and follow it until you reach Reserve....

When God gives me directions for my life, it's not necessarily the entire plan mapped out for me. I've changed my major several times, considered different careers, pursued different relationships, been involved in several ministries... but overall, I have no clue what God has in store for me in the long run. As much as I want to plan my own course, I know that He will be determining my steps. And I know that He will get me where He wants me to be -- one step at a time.