What I Thought Would Be Hard

Imagining our life in Taiwan was, at minimum, a daily occurrence while we were preparing to move from the States. My constant wonderings probably drove Josh nuts, but I couldn’t help it! By the time we got on the plane I’d thought through every scenario I could predict regarding our lives in Taiwan- not out of fear, just out of excitement. In the long list of ideas I had about our new life, there were definitely some things I expected to be challenging for us. Four months in, it’s been intriguing to see which expectations have been met and which ones were way off. Here are some of the things I expected to be hard, and the reality.

Learning Mandarin

I had already studied Mandarin for a couple years prior to graduating from college, so I knew I wouldn’t have as difficult a start as someone coming with no background in Chinese language or history. That said, I have heard for as long as I can remember that Chinese is hard, foreigners can’t be fluent no matter how hard they try, etc. I am delighted to say that learning Mandarin continues to be a joy, and both Josh and I are making unprecedented progress through the curriculum (faster than Josh’s dad, who grew up here, which I think Josh is quite proud of).

Missing Family

Do I miss my family? Of course! But I think we talk more regularly now than we did when we lived just 6 hours away in Kentucky. And living overseas, continuing to have their support from the other side of the world, and getting to share our struggles and celebrations with them throughout the week, has made me so thankful for their constancy. Not everyone has family that they can laugh with, cry with, and call just for fun. Though the distance is hard, it has made me more grateful than ever for family.

Not Having Chick-fil-A

Yep, I was pretty much spot-on with this one. If you weren’t aware, Chick-fil-A is basically Jesus’ favorite restaurant, so it’s a real bummer that we are totally deprived over here. There are times in your life when you just need waffle fries or a cookies-and-cream milkshake. I guess this is where the “fasting” part of prayer and fasting comes in? (Mostly joking, guys… mostly…). If you are looking for a sign that your calling in life is to open a Chick-fil-A franchise in Taiwan, this is it.

Driving

As Josh describes it, the road system in Taiwan is like a river- the cars are the big fish and the scooters are the minnows. As long as you go with the flow, it doesn’t really matter where you swim; the others will move around you. Since that is totally his personality and not mine, I thought driving here was going to be really stressful for me. But actually it’s very freeing to realize that the driving rules are more like thoughtful guidelines which people around you may or may not follow, and nobody has a problem with it. Now I just have to get my scooter license so I can really test my skills!

What I Didn’t Know Would Be Hard

As soon as we got to Taiwan I started getting more and more familiar with the many things I don’t know. It’s an impressively long list, and growing every day. And there were so many aspects of life here which I just had no way of predicting, including a lot of things that are sometimes downright hard.

I didn’t know that the sounds of the baby toys we brought from the States would jolt me into memories of cozy winter days spent with Hosanna and her buddy Josiah playing in our living room.

I didn’t know that when I glanced at our cheap IKEA porch rug I would feel a pang of sadness missing the many friends we enjoyed so many evenings with sitting on our porch on Kenyon Avenue.

I didn’t know that living in a country surrounded by native Chinese speakers, it would still be a challenge to find opportunities to practice speaking and listening in Chinese. (I am excluding conversations which involve someone saying to me, “Your baby is so cute” more than three times.)

I didn’t know how much I would miss worshiping surrounded by people who sing in my heart language. (I now tear up watching hipster worship videos on Youtube.)

I didn’t know how much I relied on my passion for and calling to ministry to fulfill me- I am relearning again how to rely on Jesus alone for my joy.

This past month hasn’t been super easy. Don’t get me wrong, nothing bad has happened, and from a logistical standpoint things couldn’t be better. But it can be hard to accept that things (and places and people) we loved in the States are out of reach now. To those of you who have emailed, messaged, Skyped, and snail-mailed, thank you. To those of you who continue to faithfully support us financially every month, thank you. To those of you who pray for us without us even knowing your names, thank you. As we grieve the things we’ve left behind (poor Josh is still struggling to come to terms with the lack of a Lowe’s or Home Depot around here), it is SO encouraging to be reminded of your love for us, and your love for our Lord who is at work in all things and all places!

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The Pebble in My Shoe

We made it!

Tomorrow night will make one full week since arriving in Taiwan. We travelled about 32 straight hours to get from my parents’ house in Georgia to our new home in Hualien, Taiwan. During that trip we experienced no problems and were thankful to have a toddler who slept well on the planes and trains and has adjusted to jet lag even faster than her parents!

I’ve been in Taiwan twice previously, first for two weeks, then for a month. I don’t think I experienced any culture shock on either of those trips… I was a tourist, a visitor without strings attached, and I was swept away in the excitement of new experiences. Of course there were plenty of new and unusual things to adjust to, but I never felt overwhelmed by a desire to go back to the States or a sense of being out of place. So, coming to Taiwan this time, I figured I had a good three, six, maybe even nine months to enjoy life here before culture shock really set in.

Wrong!

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Our local supermarket

They told us in training that culture shock will hit you when you least expect it, usually about things you don’t really even care about. For me, this has definitely been true. Shopping in the nearby supermarket I was panicking when I couldn’t find any women’s shaving cream… yes, it occurred to me that I could just buy the men’s or use soap, or any number of other reasonable alternatives, but between not being able to read the signs, find my husband, or ever feel “out of the way” of my fellow shoppers, I was close to a full-blown freak out. And that was on day three!

When God told us to come to Taiwan, he didn’t guarantee anything except His faithfulness. Our obedience isn’t rewarded with friendships, fluency, or easy cultural acclimation. I tried to be realistic before leaving the US, but honestly every time I pictured myself in Taiwan I was speaking Mandarin easily with lots of Taiwanese friends, seeing hearts open to orphaned children regularly. It requires a lot of trust for me to say, “Yes, Lord,” when our time here will initially often involve “trivial” day-to-day responsibilities and a lot (a lot, a lot, a LOT) of mistakes regarding things that the average Taiwanese person does correctly without a second thought.

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The 榮 character for Hosanna’s Chinese name meaning “glory” is on this sign downtown!

When God told us to come to Taiwan, he didn’t guarantee anything except his own faithfulness. Our obedience isn’t rewarded with friendships, fluency, or easy cultural acclimation. I tried to be realistic before leaving the US, but honestly every time I pictured myself in Taiwan I was speaking Mandarin easily with lots of Taiwanese friends, seeing hearts open to orphaned children regularly. It requires a lot of trust for me to say, “Yes, Lord,” when our time here will initially often involve “trivial” day-to-day responsibilities and a lot (a lot, a lot, a LOT) of mistakes regarding things that the average Taiwanese person does correctly without a second thought.

Just before leaving the States, God put the word “power” in my heart and prayers. I thought God wanted me to pray for His power in our future ministry and our daily witness to those around us. Now, on the ground in Taiwan, there are moments where it’s hard to even think about how “power” relates to what we’re doing. Figuring out how to buy groceries, paying attention when people speak Chinese instead of letting others translate for me every time, getting Hosanna (and ourselves!) back on a regular sleep routine… these aren’t things I would usually even think to ask God to empower us for. They’re so… normal.

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Daoist temple to a fertility goddess

And I guess that’s part of my training from the Lord in these early days. I’ve learned how to live my normal, easy, comfortable life in the US without needing much of God’s power at all. I could rely on myself to plan our schedule, drive, ask questions, get directions, and make small talk. I knew when to wave while passing someone on the sidewalk, which direction to step aside if I was in someone’s way, and how to read people’s facial expressions. I certainly relied on the Lord in our ministry, but I had forgotten how to rely on His power for each moment, each breath. Now, I am out of step with the rhythm of life around me. I am constantly jostled by a new pace; nudged by this feeling that there’s something really simple that I can’t figure out. My new life fits on me like a shoe with a tiny pebble inside, and I am over and over again trying to kick it off, to return to my normal level of comfort.

This is where Jesus’ power breaks through. When I don’t want to take one more step in my pebbly shoe, Jesus promises His arm for me to lean on, to take some of the pressure off. When I am desperate to do it myself, to know what in the world is going on, and have some level of control, God says, “allow me.” And while it’s not always a fun learning process, I am truly grateful that God has not allowed me to continue through life in my comfort, relying on my own “power” to get through each day. As I learn to leave my independence behind, both culturally and spiritually, again and again I pray Psalm 23 which begins,

“The Lord is my Shepherd: I lack nothing.”

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The view from our balcony

The good news about the ups and downs of culture shock for us is that there have been many, many “ups”! We’ve enjoyed delicious food and beautiful views, found the nearest breakfast shop we can walk to, practiced our Chinese at restaurants, grocery stores, church, doctors offices, and the market, and experienced the peace of God upon us as we settle in. We plan to wrap up orientation this week and begin language tutoring next week. The next few days will include a trip to Costco in the capital city of Taipei, a night market visit, and our first ever meal with all ingredients purchased and cooked by us with no help from other missionaries!

We greatly appreciate your ongoing prayers as we continue to learn the Taiwanese way of life. You can check out our most recent prayer requests on our Partner with Us page.

Praise God for His enduring faithfulness!

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