Thursday, April 5, 2012

When Different Is Really the Same

The room in the Colorado coffee shop is small and chilly even though it is packed with women and their colorful packages for my sister’s baby. I know a few people, remember a handful of names, and recognize some faces. But many of the women are new to me—friends of my sister, coming to her baby shower.

I smile, glad to be able to take part in such a special party after missing three years of my sister’s life—her wedding, her pregnancies, the loss of two babies. But I’m nervous, too. Big crowds intimidate me.

And I am so different from them—wearing the only long-sleeve dress I own and a coat I haven’t put on in three years. I hope that I’ll stop shivering from the cold soon. I hide behind my smile, praying that I’ll fit in, at least for tonight.

I brace for the questions that are hard to explain while balancing punch and cake. What’s Indonesia like? What do you do? Is it hard? Do you like it?

I answer quickly from my heart, which feels full right now of all I love and all that is costly about life in Indonesia. Then I turn the questions back to them, my old standby way to deal with new people, new situations.

Then the surprises. The woman who I figured lived a very different life from mine, but who grew up in Brazil. Different ministries. Different countries. But so much that we can mutually understand.

Then there’s the lady with the ministry to people who struggle with addictions. She takes recoverees on trips overseas, showing them how to live their lives for others. She’s flown on MAF airplanes in other countries and thanks me for work in a place she’s never been.

And the woman who is Malaysia, with whom I spent the most time. Swapping tales of trying to fit into each others’ cultures. Enjoying a mutual love for both Asia and America. She already feels like a sister.

And I remember what I know—what I learned from life in Indonesia. That differences aren’t always separators. That some things –like passion for helping others—transcends cultures. That people may look like a stereotype—head covered in Indonesia, or nicely straightened and styled in America—but their surfaces cover desires and hopes and struggles that look a lot like the ones I hide behind my questions and my efforts to fit in and my big smiles.

My already full heart warms with their interest, their commonalities, their dreams. And I’m glad for the small world that fits inside a now warmer coffee shop in Colorado.

photo credit, clevercupcakes

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