“Hi, I’m New Here.”

I was waiting tables when I met Chris. I was impressed because he gave me eye contact and was kind. He invited me to a beach party with his friends. I’m from Egypt and don’t know anyone here in Chicago, so I was interested but also scared. I didn’t know if I should go—would he abduct me? I called my mom, then I went to the party.

His friends were nice and did not kidnap me! They included me in conversations and invited me to a cookout. Soon, I began to feel at ease with all of Chris’s friends. At one cookout I parked in the wrong place and was given a ticket. All my new friends pitched in to pay the fines. I did not feel I could take this money, the car problem was my own fault. Chris explained it is a cultural honor for them to help me. He said it made them happy because of their faith in Jesus. I was shocked by their kindness.

One of the guys became a closer friend to me. His name is Peter. We started studying for the GRE together and also playing ping pong. He invited me to his house to hang out and he even invited me to his grandma’s home for Thanksgiving and Christmas. I went and learned about the birth of Jesus. I was overwhelmed at how beautiful this literature is. Each family member brought a small gift for me. These included a highlighter, a multi-tool and a hammock. I wept in front of them because I had never received so many presents in my life.

I have never learned about Jesus before, so I decided to read the Bible with Peter. When I needed a roommate, Peter introduced me to another friend who needed a roommate. Some other guys are helping me with my English. It was a great honor when they asked me to cook Persian food for them. My birthday was in February and I cooked for them again. We had a good discussion about God, and I asked them some questions I have been thinking about like, “Why would God create humans if He was already perfect and knew we would not be?”

I passed the GRE and was accepted to a graduate school in Denver. I see God in everything; all my turning points, friends, meals, and winning the lottery to come to the US. In two weeks time I will move to start my new life and I cannot wait for it to begin! I wonder who I will meet next?

On Your Own

One of the marks of God’s people is hospitality. As recorded in Ruth 2:10, in her own time of need, Ruth dropped to her knees, then bowed her face to the ground: “How does this happen that you should pick me out and treat me so kindly—me, a foreigner?”

  • In your own story, who has welcomed you? What did that feel like?
  • On the other hand, who are some of the people God has allowed you to welcome?
  • Given today’s circumstances, has it become harder to meet new people? How can you find new people to invite to your community?

Resource

At the time “Chris” and “Peter” met their new friend, they were reading this book together: The 9 Arts of Spiritual Conversations: Walking alongside People Who Believe Differently by Mary Schaller and John Crilly.

New Normal, New Expectations

“My capacity is low. I’m tired a lot. I seem to have nothing to do, but then I never seem to have time to do all that comes up. EVERYTHING takes more time than I’m used to. Normal life activities (shopping, cooking, talking, thinking) take more energy than usual. Although I know I am where I need to be, I sometimes feel guilty for ‘not doing more’ in any given day or week.” [journal entry]

Do you relate to any of these feelings? I often felt this way under the stay-at-home mandate resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. I feel it even more whenever I think about the current racial tensions. Only these words were not written because of an international pandemic or domestic crisis. This is a journal entry from my first six months living in another country and adjusting to another culture.

The situation we are living through today feels similar to me to the first six months of living overseas. And one of the first lessons I learned there is that in a new culture, I need to lower my expectations.

I am a task-oriented person. I like to get stuff done. I make lists for fun, and my to-do list is my favorite list of all. So you can imagine my frustration when I moved to another country and my ability to accomplish ANYTHING on my to-do list shrunk to almost nothing.

Before I moved, I generally had ten things on my list for the day, and I could usually get them all done, maybe more. In my new country, I would make my list as usual, but I rarely got everything done – in fact, I rarely got even close to everything done. I felt SO unproductive, and yet I didn’t have time or energy to do anything more.

To survive, I had to redefine what it meant for me to have a “successful” day. I told myself that if I did ONE thing in the morning, ONE thing in the afternoon, and ONE thing in the evening – that was a GOOD day! The ONE thing could be something as simple as having a quiet time in the morning, talking to someone in the afternoon, and making dinner in the evening. As ridiculous as it might sound, those three things were exhausting.

The quiet time in the morning would often be dealing with my own guilt over feeling unproductive: Where does that come from? Why do I feel this way? Is there sin in my life? What am I supposed to be doing? Can I trust God to do what HE has promised and not worry about the rest? Wow, good stuff, but it was emotionally exhausting.

Talking with one person in the afternoon, if that happened outside my house, meant I had to GET there. That meant knowing what bus to take and getting off at the right place (which I often didn’t) or psyching myself up to get a taxi (which of course meant I had to use my limited language). Meeting ONE person might sound as simple as picking a place, having coffee, and talking. But in a new culture, there are all kinds of unexpected “detours” that can make a “simple” task a monumental and exhausting endeavor. Going to work, buying groceries, getting a little exercise –  these are just some of the “simple” things COVID-19 has unexpectedly made exhausting.

The lessons I learned then, I am applying now. If I’m feeling overly lazy, unmotivated, lacking in discipline, or in an “escape mode” and I can’t get out of it, I try to remember that these feelings usually pass with time (and if they don’t, it is probably time to get some serious help). I give myself a “grace period” and set a more attainable goal and a deadline to begin afresh. This gives me a chance to just let my emotions ride themselves out. (And if they don’t, I call someone.) Usually, by the time my deadline rolls around, I’m ready for it because I’ve given myself time to rest as well as set better expectations about what it means to be back in the game.

A verse I learned to pray for myself – even before I moved overseas – is from John 17:4. In speaking to His Father, Jesus says, “I have glorified you on earth, I have finished the work you gave me to do.” Jesus didn’t do everything that could have been done – there were still sick who needed healing, lost who needed to hear the gospel, and disciples who needed more training. But He was faithful to finish everything that God had given Him. My frequent prayer for myself is, “Lord, help me do all that You have given me to do today and nothing that You haven’t.”

Whatever your circumstances in this new normal, if you are like me, you may need to learn to be faithful rather than busy, adjust your expectations and give yourself grace.

On Your Own

On your own or with a friend, think about…

  • What kind of expectations do you have for yourself? Are they realistic? Do they need adjusting? Ask someone who knows you well what their observations are of you in this new season of adjusting.
  • What is a realistic daily “to-do” list for you? Should it become, instead, a weekly to-do list? How can you be faithful to do what God is asking of you rather than just filling your time with things that make you feel “productive”?
  • What is a verse that you can pray for yourself as you learn to lower your expectations of how much you can do in today’s new circumstances?