Many of you who know me well already know this fact about me: I like to self-examine and reflect a lot. I often find myself asking the question, “How can we do this better?” Many of you have often been on the receiving end of my famous “…and here’s how I think you can do better.” My self-reflective attitude can lead to a lot of negative thinking, discontent, and general criticism of myself and others. I could go on for a significant amount of time about this internal struggle, but I’ll save that for another day.
So, what’s my point you may ask?
Well, my point is that every year on or around my birthday I tend to reflect on the previous year and ask myself, “Danielle, what could you have done better?” It may be kind of weird (especially since I’m referring to myself in the third person), but it’s how I think. And since today is my birthday, I feel in a reflective kind of mood.
A year ago I was still living a comfortable, affluent suburban life. I still filled my days with playgroups, trips to the library, and free walks down my street (meaning it was safe to walk and I didn’t need an armed guard to do it kind of free). I was on the brink of something new and exciting and honestly the naive little me a year ago had no idea what she was getting herself into.
So on this side, what are my thoughts? To be brutually honest? A lot of things about this past year really sucked. I know you may not expect that coming from a missionary, but in the self-reflecting mood I’m in, honesty seems the best road to take. Why did it suck? I had to leave a comfortable life…learn how to live on donations…say good-bye to my family…leave all my friends…move two preschoolers to a third world country…learn a new language…get diarrhea a lot…vomit a lot…clean up diarrhea a lot…clean up vomit a lot…well, you get the picture. And it’s not very pretty!
My point is that getting from 30 to 31 this year has been kind of rough. I wish I could say that throughout this whole year I rose to the occasion. I wish I could say that the struggles of this year brought out the best in me. But again, to be honest, that wasn’t always the case.
This year could be called “The Year of the Whine” because I did a lot of whining. I whined to my husband, whined to God, whined that my kids were whining, whined that I had to learn a new language, whined that I felt sick…well, you get the picture. And again, it’s not very pretty.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that in the “Danielle, what can we do better?” part of this reflection I’m realizing that there is a whole heck of a lot that I could be doing better. And that’s when I remember God’s grace. Because when I see myself as I really am (the whiny missionary), I realize how poorly equipped I am for this job.
So many days I don’t want to love the person in the grocery line who is trying to be polite and make small talk in Spanish when I just don’t want to hear it any more. Other days I don’t want to love my Latin American teammates because frankly , it’s a big struggle to have staff meetings in Spanish and to submit to their version of a schedule. I don’t always want to go and sit and talk to the girls at the orphanage because their stories hurt too much, and I don’t always want to constantly be a “learner.” Sometimes it’s easier to be a judger, a criticizer, or a know-it-all.
So to wrap up my reflections on this year I would say that yes it is okay to strive to be the best I can, but also to realize that it doesn’t matter how much “better” this next year will be it will never be good enough. Because honestly, I pretty much stink at this whole missionary thing. But the crazy thing is that God works through me anyway. I don’t have a chance of sticking this out on my own. Not a chance.
But God has shown up big time in my life when I’m at my weakest, most whiny, and most selfish moments. The best days here are the ones where I start off the day saying, “God I literally cannot do this. I literally don’t have the strength, or the desire, or the ability. Please, God you do this.” So my goal for this year…to get a lot “better” at saying those words to God.