A Police Story

I had an experience a few weeks ago, my police story, if you will. Among overseas workers, it’s one I could wear like a badge – because many of us have them, don’t we?

Without going into the specifics, I was stopped by a traffic officer, unfairly ticketed, and in the process, felt bullied and vulnerable. Very vulnerable.

After my husband and I climbed back into our car (with him now in the driver’s seat) and assuaged our children’s fears, tears started to roll down my cheeks. He quickly rerouted us from our way to church, correctly realizing that we were far too late anyway.

As my husband tried to comfort me, my mind raced. Why was I so upset? Was it the injustice of it all? Was it the bullying? The condescending way he spoke to me, or rather, to my husband about me? It’s okay, my husband said, this was a one in a thousand type situation, don’t worry about it. It won’t happen again!

It sure did not feel okay to me. It did not matter to me how unusual or rare this situation was, I just did not want to feel this way.

Are they going to arrest you? One of my children cried, in the car, as the officer beckoned me to step out and come over to him. No, I scoffed. At least, I don’t think so? I thought. What would I do here if he tried?

As the familiar scenes of our southern African town flashed by outside my window, I identified the root of what I was experiencing: vulnerability. This was not the vulnerability that I have practiced and prided myself on practicing: the honest sharing of my life and heart with those around me. It was not the vulnerability that meant willingness to show emotion or to allow weakness to be seen; I’m good with that kind of vulnerability.

This experience of vulnerability was the primary definition in all the major dictionaries: capable of being physically or emotionally wounded, exposed to the possibility being attacked or harmed. Ah yes, I most definitely felt exposed, keenly aware of the possibility of being harmed, either at that moment or a future moment when my husband may not be with me.

This was not the first moment I have ever felt this kind of vulnerability. Having lived in various countries other than my passport country for ten years, I am ever aware of the reality of being a foreigner, and a woman, in some difficult places. Of course, many of us have experienced the possibility of being attacked even in our home countries or have been in actuality.

But it was my freshest experience of this kind of vulnerability, and with my children as collateral in the car. For the next couple of days, I wrestled with feeling weak and defenseless, tears always close to the surface. I replayed the scenario, wondering how I should have been more assertive. I imagined future scenarios, making mental plans for the safety of my children and myself. But mostly, I shook my fist directly at the man who had threatened me and indirectly at God — until he spoke gently to my heart.

Maybe you have realized the obvious beauty in this story sooner than I had, but it finally hit me: this was the type of vulnerable that Jesus was. In his incarnation, in choosing to live and willingly suffer on earth, he subjected himself not only to the possibility of being harmed, but the actuality of it.

In my willingness to stay and live and work in a place where I am more prone to experiencing the potential of being wounded, I am identifying with Christ. He knows what it is to leave his home and to place himself in harm’s way – completely, fully. He experienced bullying and condescension, and the ultimate earthly wounding, death.

What was it that motivated him to such sacrifice? Love. The very love of Christ, which transcends height and depth and all earthly constraints, is what compelled him to offer himself so wholly, to subject himself to the ultimate worst of evil on this earth. So we, moved by the love of Christ, strengthened and carried by him, can offer our meager selves as we live and love in the places we find ourselves.

As tears streamed down my cheeks, I offered myself freshly to Christ, in this place he has brought us – my husband, myself, my children. Is it easy? No. Is it worthwhile, and good? Yes. Is he with us throughout it all? Always.

I hope I will not have another police story, but who knows? We still pray for safety and protection, and we seek to live wisely as strangers in this land. But we remember that Christ is our security. And we are grateful to walk in the footsteps of our Savior, through all the hills and valleys, knowing he has gone before us in perfect love.

The Existence Of Poo (On Shame, Part I)

Almost four years ago now, on a velvety Friday night, my husband, Mike, and I had a hot date. We’d been married a year and a half by that stage, and living in our new home-town of Luang Prabang, Laos, for three whole weeks. We decided to go somewhere special to celebrate. That somewhere was a tiny restaurant called Tamarind.

Tamarind is tucked opposite a gold-glazed temple and serves traditional Lao food along with a dash of cultural orientation. It was at Tamarind that I first sampled a stalk of lemongrass stuffed with minced chicken and herbs and grilled over an open flame. It was also where I first tried the brown triangles of dried riverweed studded with sesame seeds that you are meant to dip into tiny bowls of chili paste mixed with buffalo skin. The latter was not such a transcendent epicurean moment, but I guess you can’t win them all.

Despite the occasional appearance of buffalo skin in the dishes, I love the food at Tamarind. At least initially, however, the food at Tamarind did not return my affection in equal measure. Although I was feeling perfectly perky when we sat down to dinner, I suddenly felt markedly less perky about halfway through our feast.

There are few things more deflating than suddenly becoming aware that you may need to make an emergency toilet run in the middle of a hot date.

outhouse-231367_640Mike – a water and sanitation engineer and himself a veteran of giardia in Tajikistan – was sympathetically no-nonsense. We got the coconut sticky rice desert to go and caught a tuk tuk back to the guesthouse immediately. After we got there, I made a beeline for the toilet. Then I collapsed, petulant and groaning, onto the bed.

“What?” Mike asked. “Don’t you feel better?”

“Yes,” I said. “It’s just that, well, Asia is forcing me to acknowledge poo.”

“What about poo?” Mike asked.

“Its existence,” I said.

“Wait,” Mike said, genuinely baffled. “Let me get this straight. Asia is forcing you to acknowledge the existence of poo?

“Yes,” I said.

Then Mike busted up laughing so hard I really thought that he might fall over.

“Did you really just say,” he started, when he was once again able to speak, “that Asia is forcing you to acknowledge the operational out-workings of a normal bodily function that you have, on average, been experiencing at least once every two days since you were born?”

“Mere existence doesn’t mandate open acknowledgment,” I said. “And I am not the only one. This is a widespread woman issue.”

“What do you mean?” Mike asked.

“What do men do when they feel the urge and they’re out somewhere – at the office, or at a friend’s house?”

Mike looked at me as if trying to figure whether I was asking a trick question.

“You use a toilet,” he said. “That’s what they’re there for – to deal with our body’s normal waste in a sanitary and efficient manner.”

“There are some exceptions to this, obviously,” I said. “But women usually find it excruciatingly embarrassing to be caught out in public and need to do the poo. It is generally understood that you do not do the poo anywhere where other people may surmise what you are up to – much less anywhere you may be heard or smelled. Ideally you do not do the poo unless you are at your own home. Alone.”

Mike did not want to believe me on this. I had to tell him about women I know who will never use a public restroom. I had to tell him about women I know who regularly go to an entirely different floor of their office building to use the toilet if they simply cannot wait any longer at work. I had to tell him about women I know who spent their entire honeymoon constipated because they refused to use the bathroom in their hotel room.

“No!” Mike said, horrified, upon hearing this last tale of poo-shame.

“Yes!” I said. “They made covert runs to the bathroom in the lobby.”

“Did you…?” he asked.

“No!” I said. “I wasn’t that bad. But I get it. It’s hard to suddenly acknowledge the existence of poo to someone else when you’ve spent much of your life working to hide it.”

How can there can be that much shame around something everyone experiences?” Mike asked me.

We lay on the bed for a while that night, staring at the ceiling, and pondering this question. We didn’t come up with a great answer four years ago, and I’m still not sure I have one now. I have, however, done some more thinking about shame and guilt since those days, and next month I’ll revisit this topic of shame, guilt, vulnerability and living overseas in some more depth.

In the meantime, however, I’d love to hear from you on this topic. Help me think through how to take this further in next month’s post by picking one or more of the following questions and leaving a comment.  

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1. Has living overseas “cured” you of any shame?

2. Has living overseas “created” any shame(s)?

3. Do you differentiate between shame and guilt? If so, how?

4. What is the most scenic/unusual toilet you’ve ever used?

 

(P.S. With regards to question 4… For me, it’s probably the three-sided shack overlooking the rice terraces of Banaue, Philippines. There was no door on the side overlooking the valley, but when this is your “while you pee” view, who really wants a door?)

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