I live in a tropical paradise. The glorious Indian Ocean is my backdrop—I can see it between the trees at my house, when I run errands around town, and when I watch my daughter’s soccer games. For fun we take a little boat to an uninhabited island and snorkel over colorful coral. The weather is always warm; even in “winter” it rarely goes below 70 degrees at night. We can drive just a few hours to see all the famous animals of Africa. I am surrounded by people who are friendly and generous, eager to help and appreciative of any attempt to speak in Swahili. I can walk down the road to produce stands heaped with fresh pineapples, avocados, mangos, bananas. I live in a 3 bedroom house with a yard big enough for a soccer field for less than what we paid for our tiny, one-bedroom apartment in California. I have a house helper who comes four mornings a week and does my cleaning and laundry.
My children attend a top-quality school, an incredible place that is the best of many worlds. Their teachers are kind and wise Christians, and their classmates come from a wide range of nationalities and religions. Their curriculum includes art, music, computers, Swahili, and swimming. My husband and I work in pastoral training and have the privilege of seeing lightbulbs go off for church leaders as they grasp God’s sovereignty or grace for the first time. We get to do something significant for eternity, and we get to have fun while we do it.
Sound great? Envious? Wish you had my life?
It’s all true. But this is also true:
I live in a developing country. Infrastructure is poor in this city of five million. That translates into snarled traffic where many drive dangerously, little law enforcement, garbage piled next to the streets, and no public parks. Customer service is not a cultural norm. There are often a lot of bugs. And rats. And snakes. Electricity and water supply are unpredictable. There are three seasons: hot, hotter, and rainy (which is still hot). The humidity is suffocating for most of the year.
Crime is high. Our car has been broken into twice. I can easily list off two dozen good friends who have experienced violent home invasions. One was slashed in the head with a machete. One was stabbed. Another was shot at. We sleep behind alarms, padlocks, and iron bars.
As we’ve struggled to get our ministry off the ground, we have often felt like failures. We often feel like we are in over our heads. In twelve years, there have been times when everything we’ve worked for has blown up in our face. Language learning is incredibly exhausting and often discouraging. The missionary community is a constantly revolving door, and every year we lose good friends and have to start over again with relationships. My parents visit once a year, but it will have been three years by the time we are able to see all of our other family members. As the years go on, we feel the pain of lost memories with our family more acutely.
Maybe my life doesn’t seem so great after all.
Two perspectives. Two ways of seeing the same life. My goal in these descriptions is not to invoke envy or pity but simply perspective. I’ve found that when things are going well in my life, I focus on all the good stuff. When life stinks, all I see is the bad. Yet both perspectives are equally true at all times. It’s just a matter of what I choose to focus on.
These ebbs and flows are a part of life, and sometimes our perspective will change even throughout the day—especially when adjusting to a new place. But what we do often forget is that we have a choice. Maybe we can’t always control our mood, but we can control what we think about. What we focus on. What we choose to see around us. I can guarantee that if I choose to focus on the negative things around me, then everything else rotten will be highlighted. If I look for the positive, more good things will come into focus. And here’s the Truth: There’s always something positive. Always something to be thankful for. Always.
Instead of allowing my mood to dictate my perspective, my desire is to train my perspective to dictate my mood. If Corrie and Betsie Ten Boom, languishing in a Nazi concentration camp, could learn to thank God for the fleas because they kept the guards away from their Bible study, then I too can learn to focus on what is positive. The God who commanded us to give thanks in all circumstances will also give us the perspective carry it out.
Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. (Phil. 4:8)
When we want a different life, maybe we just need a different perspective.
*baby sea turtle photos by Gil Medina