Gavin and I took a business trip across country borders last week and decided to stay an extra night in Thailand for fun. We planned to explore a city we’d never been to before but had heard about its malls and Western food, so I was eager to scope out the scene.
After checking into the hotel, we decided to run through the McDonald’s drive-thru for lunch. Because traveling + drive-thru + toddler = win.
I hadn’t seen a drive-thru in six months. I hadn’t seen a McDonald’s in six months. I almost forgot how to yell through my car window for the food I wanted, and felt like I needed to take a picture to document the mind-blowing experience.
But still, I felt good. I didn’t even particularly enjoy my burger and fries. And I ordered chili sauce for dipping instead of ketchup.
That’s when I knew I had started to adjust to life in my new home.
Oh, self. I’m so proud of you! You are rocking this culture shock phase, my friend.
I thought that for about two more hours until I stepped into a children’s store at the major mall in Udon Thani, Thailand.
I pushed Eliza around, found the toy section, and picked out a nice wooden puzzle. Off-brand, about six dollars, still pretty cute.
It was the first time since March that I had walked into a store, found something I liked, and didn’t feel like it would fall apart before I walked back out of the store.
I felt like a real mom shopping for her daughter.
Then I ventured out to the clothing section, confident I would find nothing but glittery Minnie Mouse accessories and striped Hello Kitty everything.
Wrongo. The best of imported European baby fashion lay before me, calling out to every weak money management bone in my body.
As I walked by racks of well-made, stylish shirts and pants, I felt a twinge of pain for not being able to shop *like normal* for my own child. I’m so thankful that I have amazing family members who supply her wardrobe and friends who take care of our Amazon Wish List.
But a large part of me also wanted to buy Eliza something special…just from her Mama. And as I picked up unique articles of clothing that matched my taste, another opposing twinge of pain hit me.
It was the practical side of me that reasoned that I live in the developing world where nobody cares about European fashion. Anything I bought would be ruined. And who needs fancy clothes, anyway?
It all happened much faster than I could process these emotions, so I did what any strong, level-headed female would do.
I had a massive breakdown in the middle of the 5th floor of a Thai shopping mall.
Eventually I got it together, and Gavin convinced me to buy a shirt and the puzzle for Eliza. And then we ate at a restaurant called Sizzlers with a salad bar and baked potatoes, and we felt pretty much normal for the rest of the night.
Gavin and I were debriefing our current phase of cultural adjustment the next night, and I listened as he processed his own layers of stress and fatigue.
The thing about this lifestyle is that you hardly have a moment to let your hair down. There are locals to attract, teammates to appease, and a spiritual battlefront to guard.
We have spent a good part of six months trying to keep so many people happy. And we are not complaining.
We love our host nationals. We love our teammates. And we love all the people back home who are following our story.
But most days the only thing we have to show for our first half-year abroad is a tidal wave of intercultural proof that we have no idea what we’re doing just yet.
I told Gavin, and I’ll share it with you, too.
Praise the Lord that Jesus knows our culture shock.
He left a perfectly comfortable and familiar place to walk this Earth. He spent time with people he had prepared to interact with but who refused to truly know him. He learned how to be one of us, mortal beings having so little in common with his spiritual form.
I have nothing poetic to share. No Bible verse that’s guiding me through this period of adjustment to living overseas.
But I’m continuously amazed that Jesus can find one more way to relate to me. He knows my every fear, my every frustration, my every triumph. Because he’s walked in my shoes. Even in my life as an expat, Jesus knows my every sentiment and can relate on deeper levels than I could ever express.
I’m all the more grateful for a Savior who looks at me with knowing eyes, witnesses my inner tensions, and can still say, Child, I’ve carried your burdens.