Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Paranoids are People, Too

Exactly one day after sitting serenely in cap and gown with thousands of other identical Baylor graduates, I traveled to Thailand, thus beginning a career of being “different.” From the early days as a single teacher in an Asian culture where my height, skin, hair, and eye color were a novelty—to later years in Guatemala as a mother with a string of blonde children attached to me, I was destined to stand out in any crowd.

For two or more years at a time, I used to long for a brief respite in my home country of Texas where I could finally become invisible again, blending effortlessly with the culture. At one point, I confessed to a friend that I was becoming paranoid. Even in America, people seemed to be staring at me as some kind of oddity. My friend tried to conceal her amusement as she gently suggested that maybe the stares might have something to do with the now-seven children tagging along wherever we traveled, when 2.3 was the average number in a “normal” family.

By the time the kids had finally grown responsible enough to occasionally stay home and babysit the younger siblings so that I could freely roam public places, I still was not inauspicious, even in the U.S. Rather than keeping a low profile, as I had always dreamed, I was recognized as “that missionary with the big family” who had spoken here or there, particularly in Northern Ohio.

I’ll never forget one incident at a thrift store in Cleveland. After an episode of hollering at the younger ones to stay corralled in a general location and then arguing with an older child about a heavily worn item that was not a good value, a woman approached me with wonder in her eyes, exclaiming, “Why, you were the speaker at our Ladies’ Tea back when…!” I have no idea how much of my tirade she had witnessed, but I was mortified. That was just one of many times God did not vaporize me on the spot as I had wished.

During one of our summer mini-furloughs, I was tired of being recognized wherever I went and a bit weary of people in general. One of our last stops was Orlando, where our home office is located. Back then I only knew a handful of people outside of Missionary Ventures in that part of Florida. Jim graciously agreed to stay at the mission house and watch the children so I could go to the mall and “be invisible” for the evening. Coming out of a lingerie store, I heard my name being called. I couldn’t believe it! Of the six or eight people I knew in the city, one was there at the Orlando Mall, and it was none other than Steve Beam, the founder of our mission.

My lot in life is to stand out and be different. Like it or not, I must guard my words, actions, and attitudes because others are noticing. Maybe it’s just as well. Whether I am a “farang” (foreigner) in Thailand, a “gringa” in Guatemala, or now a “g├╝era” in Oaxaca (pronounced “weda in wah-HAH-kah”), I am bound to be watched by those who know I am attempting to follow in Jesus’ footsteps.

IRL* Aiming to be a good ambassador for Christ whether I’m invisible or infamous.

3 comments:

  1. God likes to keep good girls on a short leash.

    :-D

    I think maybe you might mean incognito instead of inauspicious? (You don't need to publish this comment - I don't mind. ;-D

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  2. I have always struggled with this, too, Jamie... really hating the small "fame" that comes with being different (at home or abroad). Or being the "m", as if that is something, "ahhh... super-woman-spiritual". It actually sometimes drives me CRAZY!! So, I can totally relate. I say to my husband sometimes, 'Why can't we just be the family that drives the mini-van and gets the morning paper delivered to our house every day'... you know that, "normal" family.
    Thanks for sharing your journey faithfully and with heart. I love reading. I guess we are all abnormal together ...which in a strange way makes us NORMAL, right?!

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  3. I like your thinking, Stephanie. You make me laugh with your image of the family that drives the mini-van and gets the morning paper.

    Thanks for calling us all normal. Reminds me of that book title someone stole before I thought of it: "Normal is Just a Setting on the Dryer." Since most of us don't even have a dryer, even our normal is somewhat abnormal. :)

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