Are you ever struck with how much your life has changed? That was me today.
Five years ago this month, David and I boarded a plane and moved to Portugal. It was just the two of us. We had prayed and dreamed of learning new languages and starting a hearing church, a deaf church, and a family. The day I landed in Portugal, I understood few words, whether spoken or signed. I didn’t know my town; I had no house; and anyone could peg me as an American by how I walked and dressed. (“Tennis shoes? American! Pauses at a crosswalk and lets cars go by? Total American!”)
Today, I woke up to my sweet three-year-old hugging me and asking for her breakfast. Soon after, there were shouts of, “MO—MMMY! MO—MMMY!” from my hungry one-year-old upstairs. These two have been the biggest and cutest change in my life in the past five years. They’re usually job numero um for me. But, today, after breakfast, they were daddy’s responsibility, because today was my day of the week to do ministry out of the house.
It started with an 11:00 meeting with a lady who just got saved. Five years into this job, I’ve learned not to schedule things too much in advance. Around here, committing to an event one month from now is like scheduling a dental appointment for 2036. (“That’s sooooo far away. How can I know I can be there one month ahead of time?”) Ok. I’ve learned. So this Thursday meeting was not even planned the Sunday before. That would have been way too early for her to know her schedule or where I could pick her up. Here is how the texting went down:
Me-Hi there! Does it work for you to meet me on Thursday at 11:00? I hope you have a good day!
Her-Good morning. Yes. Sure. I’ll call you a little before. Have a good week.
Me—(Called her. No answer.)
Me—I’m leaving my house in 10 minutes. What is the apartment number for your friend’s house where I’m meeting you? Are they the apartments right across from the factory by the stoplight? See you soon.
Walking out of my house, (wearing sandals instead of tennis shoes, of course), I’m pretty sure this meeting isn’t going to happen. Normally I’m huffing, “You inconsiderate people! My husband and kids and I rearrange our whole day to make room for YOU, and then you all back out and waste the time we could have invested in someone else.“ (Such an American thought! Eye roll.) Today, though, I’m calm. I’m putting it in God’s hands instead of stressing and getting frustrated at people like I usually do. I’m actually chuckling at how much I’m used to this situation now. Must be the culture beating the American out of me.
Me—(Called her again. No answer.)
Me—Hey, I’m by the apartment buildings, but I don’t know which one is yours, and you’re not answering your phone. I’ll wait here a while. Can you call or text me?
As I fire away text messages in Portuguese, I’m a little irritated at myself, because five years in, I still have to think about how to write in Portuguese. Should I treat her with the formal or informal verbs? Are we close enough friends now for me to use the informal? I get stuck on how to use the direct object in one of my formal sentences, so I rewrite the whole thing in the informal to make it easier. I can communicate, but I’m still not where I want to be. Grrrr.
Me—(After walking the whole neighborhood of apartment buildings in case she is waiting by one, I go back to the van and read for a while. Oh ya. I’ve learned to bring a book to these “meetings” . . . just in case.)
Me—(About 50 minutes after we were supposed to meet) I’m still not seeing you. I’m going back home. I don’t know where you are.
So, I grabbed a quick lunch. At any minute my hard of hearing missionary colleague will be here. She and I usually communicate in spoken English and American Sign Language. Lately, I’ve been interpreting for her from Portuguese into Portuguese Sign Language. (And often in a confusing mixture of all four languages, because my brain sometimes forgets which one I’m using.) As I interpret, she keeps a paper and pen handy. Whenever the speaker uses a Portuguese word that I don’t know the Portuguese sign for, I sign it to her in American Sign Language. She writes it down in Portuguese or English, and today we’re going to a deaf tutor to learn all these signs in Portuguese Sign Language. (Are you confused yet? I am, too.)
Then, I’m coming home to a meal that was intended to share with a family in our church. They aren’t able to come tonight after all, so . . . more food for us, I guess. Did I mention that five years ago I wasn’t very flexible either? I mean I can do the splits, but mess with my schedule and I want to throw a temper tantrum. Haha. No screams today. Just a couple of sighs and a reminder of how much I’ve changed in 5 years. Portugal has taught me to jump fearlessly into crosswalks expecting the cars to slam on their brakes for me because that is the rule here. It’s taught me to dress a little more European and to have different expectations. Most of all, it’s reminded me of who runs this ministry circus anyway:
God, to You and through You and for You are all things. By Your grace, You have given us all we wished for in just five years. You started a hearing church in our town! You started the first deaf church in continental Portugal! You gave us a son and a daughter! Our hearts are full! Honestly, our plates are full, too. So, please give us wisdom and grace to speak and sign Your words, to reach the people You have chosen as Your own, and to praise You for those You have saved and sanctified in just five years.