Day 3: No One Is Special {31 Days of Re-entry}

This short story is my gift to you.  It’s my favorite.

Before I met my husband, he needed to have his wisdom teeth removed.  As many of us have done, he thought to himself, This anesthetic isn’t going to work on ME.  I’m special.  And then he woke up.  Soon, he began getting tons of text messages from friends he hadn’t heard from in years.  “We think you’re special, Adam!” they said.  Or, “Praying for you!” Confused, he checked back in his sent box on his phone to see if perhaps he may have sent something in his drugged state.  Sure enough, he had sent a message to EVERYONE in his contacts–old professors, clients, acquaintances…everyone:  a picture of himself with puffy, black and blue cheeks and bloody gauze sticking out of his mouth with the caption, “No one is special.”

With the exception of a few places in the world, when you go to live in a non-western culture, you feel special.  Living in the middle of nowhere in northwest China with four foreigners in our entire city, I literally caused fender benders.  

When I visited spots like the Terracotta Warriors or the Great Wall, people would ask to take their picture with me (seriously!  I counted 10 different people once!)  Once I was reading in a noodle shop when I looked up to see a group of Hui (Muslim) men decked out in National Geographic-worthy garb, holding their cell phones up to sneak a picture of me! 

People would jab their friends to look up at us as we walked down the street (even after living on the same street for three years).   We were called foreign “experts.” Ha.  I’m still not sure what I was supposed to be an expert at.  In large meetings at our university, we would always be given the best food, hotel rooms and seats–simply because we were their guests.  I certainly felt special.


It was a bit more tame, but the pedestal effect was present in the U.S. as well.  I mean, I must have been special to have multiple invitations to speak in small groups and in front of churches, right?  People supported me financially, prayerfully and just socially as they prioritized my yearly visits.  Missionaries receive a certain kind of fame within the church that is just hard not to enjoy.  In the eyes of the church, you are a Super Christian.

And then you’re not.

You step down and walk among all the normal, “boring” Christians again.  You go to Target, get a “secular” job and are no longer sought out by people at church who once wanted to meet the “missionary who lives in China.”  As annoying as the attention could be on those days back in the country where you just wanted to be anonymous and buy a tube of toothpaste without everyone commenting on your decision, it somehow sunk into your brain that you should be noticed.  You’re special, after all.

So now I believe that one of God’s greatest gifts to me was to bring me back.  The painful process has reminded me that I am not special.  Am I loved by God?  Yes.  But special?  Jesus Himself, though He was equal with God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but took the nature of a servant (Phil. 2).  My motives in serving overseas had slowly shifted as I had begun to selfishly enjoy that I was “special.”

I love this quote from Amy Young about her return to the states after living in China for over 20 years:
“Was I willing to stay in a story I thought was interesting on the surface so that people would think I am interesting even though I was fading in it? Was I the kind of person who cared so much about others opinions I was willing to prostitute myself to being interesting? Was being interesting my altar?”
(From the post “A Great Fear {As Pertaining to the Story of my Life}”, by Amy Young of The Messy Middle, Dec. 6, 2013.)

After being back in the states for 3 months, I copied this down in my journal from My Utmost for His Highest, by Oswald Chambers (Oct. 16):

“No Christian has a special work to do.  A Christian is called to be Jesus Christ’s own…and someone who does not dictate to Jesus Christ what he intends to do.  Our Lord calls us to no special work–He calls us to Himself.”

Stepping out of the spotlight, we are stripped down to the essence of who we truly are–and that can be terrifying.  This is grace.  He is grace.  And our identity is found through our humble acceptance that we are nothing without Christ, but are complete in Him and Him alone.

Have you ever noticed that you have begun enjoying the feeling of being special just because you live overseas?  Do you think missionaries are somehow more special than others?  If you have returned, how have you dealt with this realization?



Resources:
Jonathan Trotter wrote this article (that I wish I had written!) for the website, A Life Overseas, called “The Idolatry of Missions.”  Such a poignant and true testament to some of what I have experienced.
 

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This post is day 3 of the series “Re-entry: Reflections on Reverse Culture Shock,” a challenge I have taken to write for 31 days. Check out my other posts in the series:

Day 1: Introduction
Day 2: Grieving
Day 3: No One Is Special
Day 4: Wasted Gifts
Day 5: I Never Expected…
Day 6: Identity: Through the Looking Glass
Day 7: Did I mishear God?
Day 8: When You Feel Like Shutting Down
Day 9: Caring for your Dorothy
Day 10: You’re Not the Only One Who’s Changed
Day 11: 12 Race Day Lessons for Serving Overseas
Day 12: Confessions of an Experience Junkie
Day 13: Longing for Home
Day 14: Readjusting: Same Tools, Different Work Space
Day 15: Book Review: The Art of Coming Home
Day 16: The Story of My “Call”
Day 17: Is Missions a “Higher Calling”?
Day 18: And Then I Fell in Love
Day 19: Is God Calling You Overseas?
Day 20: Life Is Not Seasonal
Day 21: What I Took and What I Left Behind
Day 22: Groundless, Weightless, Homeless
Day 23: When the Nations Come to You
Day 24: The Call to Displacement
Day 25: Scripture Anchors for Re-Entry
Day 26: In the Place of Your Exile
Day 27: Resources for Re-entry
Day 28: A Time for Everything: A Prayer of Leaving
Day 29: Journal: 8 Months After Re-Entry
Day 30: 12 Survival Tips for Re-Entry
Day 31: A Blessing
(Day 32: Writing is Narcissistic (And Four Other Reasons Not to Write)–a reflection on this Write 31 Days experience)
 Also linking up with Velvet Ashes. 


2 Replies to “Day 3: No One Is Special {31 Days of Re-entry}”

  1. This is a great post! Can relate with so much of what you shared. We've been back three months now and the first time we were in a church with pictures of all their overseas workers running through a digital frame, two words suddenly popped into my head: Has Been. We spent 20 years in China and don't know if we'll be back again. But that's been my whole identity for so long, there's a sense of who am I without it? I also love your picture of that old man. Such a classic with the white beard and big glasses! Miss those guys. Thanks for sharing your journey.

  2. Jodie, Thanks for reading! And I can totally relate to not knowing who you are if you are not "So-and-so who lives in China." It took me several years before I didn't feel the need to slip the fact that I used to live in China into the conversation in order for me to feel that someone really understood me. It's a rough time. I pray you and your family ride the wave well and find your stability in Christ as your rock!

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