When your “exotic overseas life” feels ordinary

For months now I’ve had writer’s block at A Life Overseas. I’ve been busy, yes, but mostly I’ve had writer’s block. So you haven’t seen me around here much. I have so many things to say in general (and I do so, on my personal blog), but when I sit at the computer and ask myself, how can I help Christian expats and missionaries through my writing? I come up with nothing. Every time.

I feel useless for this community right now. My life just feels so ordinary. I’m in the thick of raising children and educating them. At this point I don’t have a lot of cross cultural advice to give, because I’m not doing a whole lot of cross cultural living or cross cultural ministering. What I am doing a whole lot of is homeschooling and homemaking.

Some friends left in May (some permanently, and some for home assignment), and I felt quite desolate. This summer I realized I have no desire to make new friends. Every relationship is so temporary, and I’m not in the mood to connect deeply with new people. They might just leave in a few years. But then I thought to myself, that’s not the kind of helpful, encouraging attitude I should be offering the readers at A Life Overseas.

On top of that, I’m not sure I’ve gained enough wisdom or experience from which to speak. I’ve only lived here five years, and that doesn’t seem like very much in comparison to friends who’ve lived here 10 or 15 years (or more). I’m not sure I have enough perspective yet. After all, I wouldn’t listen to marriage advice from someone with a five-year-old marriage.

So I figured I might as well just be honest with you: I don’t feel like I have anything to offer the expat community during this time in my life. But I thought I might resurrect the following post from my own website. Four and a half years later, it still captures how I feel about my life: Ordinary.

(If you are also an ordinary wife and mother like myself, you might be interested in this recent compilation of my motherhood and homeschooling essays.)


Learning a new language, interacting with an unfamiliar culture and its customs, living near an orphanage, living near a house of girls rescued from human trafficking, all these things can make my life seem overly exotic to someone living in America.

And while it’s true that living cross-culturally has been known to eat away at my mental and emotional margin, most of my life is extraordinarily . . . ordinary. I wash dishes. I fold laundry. I brush my teeth. I often combine those last two.

I cook. I grocery shop. I get to the end of some days and ask myself just what am I going to feed these people tonight??

I fetch the Band-Aids. I scrub the bathroom. I take care of sick people.

I make sure that my children study and that they play. I make sure that they put away their own laundry and that they brush their own teeth (though not necessarily at the same time).

I get irritable for all the ordinary reasons: being tired, being hungry, being hot. And during certain times of the month, I freak out. Even if I’m not tired, hungry, or hot.

I like to spend time with my husband. I like to spend time with my friends. I like to spend time by myself. (Translation: I like to check Facebook.)

These are not extraordinary things. These are the very ordinary things of my life, and I feel very ordinary doing them. In fact, I did all these things back in America, including the one-handed-laundry-sort.

And maybe, just maybe, you do all these ordinary things too.


Does your supposedly exotic overseas life ever feel ordinary? Does that feeling ever bother you?

The Question on God’s Lips


The Velvet Ashes book club is reading Lilias Trotter’s biography. At the same time, I read a biography of Hannah More, poet, reformer, and abolitionist. She was a contemporary to William Wilberforce and what he accomplished in parliament, she accomplished in publishing. They were both part of the Clapham Sect. I love reading biographies and hearing of life outside of the countries or centuries I’ve lived in. They remind me of how universal life is.

In the comments at the Velvet Ashes book club, the subject was raised about how hard it was to follow Lilias Trotter for those who came after her in Algeria. She was formidable, as were any number we could mention. Often, I find, we compare our today, this boring ordinary day, to the sum total of another’s life and come up short.

The urge to hustle for our worth is not from God.

Have I opened the first public restaurant for the working girls of London as Hannah More did? No.

Have I forsaken a clear talent that could have earned me world renown like Lilias Trotter did? With a hearty laugh, I say, “No!”

Am I a household name across a country like Da Sha, the most famous foreigner from Canada in China? Um, nope.

On Monday I looked at the writing schedule to see if this post would go live this week or next. I love writing and discussing issues here, but I am beginning to sense a stirring to hustle for my worth. Recent topics include:

Persecution—unless you count medical procedures without anesthesia, I have thankfully little personal experience in this area.

Misogyny in Missions (Parts one and two)—did you see the number of comments and the discussion on Facebook? Rich and necessary.

A book list that will knock your socks off—anyone else think Kay is one of the wisest people?

Missions and suffering and air-conditioners—another poignant discussion at the crossroads of theory and practice.

As I was praying about this post, the Holy Spirit whispered, “Amy, sometimes you make it too big. Let’s review two points. Where do I have you? Have you been faithful?”

For the most part, my work is unseen as I sit, hooked up to the Internet, writing posts, working on another book, helping to organize and support the work of Velvet Ashes. Now that it is summer and my weekly ESL class is on summer hiatus, the most consistent interaction I have with people outside of family is at the gym.

Part of me wants to play a ministry shell game where with a sleight of hand, I distract you and make it sound like I did not just admit that my most significant interaction isn’t with people coming out of human trafficking, or teaching street children to read, or changing the world with fair-trade.

All worthy. All Jesus infused. All not-my-life. Instead my current life involves talking with people wearing workout clothes.

Child, let’s review two points. Where do I have you? Have you been faithful?

Benita is consistently late to classes at our gym, but when she comes in, we nod at each other in recognition and I give her a hug at our first song break. About a year ago, before I knew her name, she said at the end of class, “I’d like to talk to you.” I assumed she wanted to complain about Johnny who was annoyingly unaware of the idea of personal space.

Imagine my disappointment with myself when she said, “My daughter failed her bar exam and is distraught. I don’t know how to help her and I can’t tell anyone. You’re the first person I’ve told.”

This spring, in short two to three minute conversations after class, we’ve talked about her marriage problems, her brother’s serious car accident, finding renters for her daughter’s house, and a bit about my book.

Yesterday, at the end of class, she came up to me with tears in her eyes and said, “All it took was a hug.”

She went on, “I don’t know why I am drawn to you Amy, but you have helped me so much and all it took was a hug to know I wasn’t alone in my marriage or my life. I know you pray for me.”

Sometimes we make it too big.

Where does God have you? Have you been faithful?

Those are more life-giving questions than questions focused inordinately on impact, numbers, or words like “new, innovative, or cutting edge.” Do we need to have measures for our work and the spread of the gospel? The way this question is phrased whispers an unhealthy dichotomy for our souls. We need both—moments when we pause, review, and measure and moments where we ask, “What God has called you to? And are you faithful to it?”

Too often we focus on the former and discount the latter.

If you are like me and love and appreciate the recent conversations, but then feel sheepish about your current reality, God wants us to know that we matter. If you start to sense yourself hustling for your worth, remember the question on God’s lips is not, “How impressive are you?” More likely, it is “Are you faithful to where I have you?”