Not long ago one of my new very best friends celebrated her one year wedding anniversary as well as her one year anniversary of living in the United States. She has had an eventful two years and she has always modeled grace and good nature even in the midst of much change. I am so grateful that God caused our paths to cross and brought us together. Her friendship has made my life rich and challenged me in many ways.
About a year and a half ago Aaron struck up a friendship with a young engineer from India who had been sent to our small town by his company. He lived across the street from our church and so had wandered over on a Sunday morning. He and Aaron started talking. He was friendly and outgoing and willing to let us ply him with American experiences and food. He spent a lot of time at our house hanging out, learning about American football while he taught Aaron about cricket. He spoke often of his wife. They had been married for just four months when he had to leave to come to the States and he was eagerly waiting her arrival. He spoke of her proudly and in glowing terms.
I was excited to meet her but also a bit nervous. It had been many years since I made cross cultural connections. I am a friendly person, but I am also a creature of habit, and meeting new people can sometimes cause some anxiety. I shouldn’t have worried. From day one my friend and I connected. She felt like a sister immediately.
Here are some things I have learned from my friend:
Hospitality and Generosity
I learned from my friend that the Indian culture is rich in hospitality. People are always welcome to come in, given delicious food, and given preference. There is no such thing as a quick visit. You sit, you relax, you talk, you stay. I had fallen into the American trap of “busyness.” My calendar was constantly full and time to just sit and visit with a friend seemed like a luxury. But she taught me that time taken to sit and visit is never time wasted. And not only is is not a luxury, it is a necessity. Hospitality in India is also giving the best of what you have; the best food, the seat of honor. That was uncomfortable for me at first. In my letting go of perfection I had prided myself on hospitality meaning that you can stop by and be welcome despite my mess and my bare pantry. Hospitality to me meant that you were welcome into my mess. Now I see hospitality as a combination of the two. Yes, there is a place where welcoming you into the reality of my mess is offering you a new level of friendship, but there is also a beauty to me valuing you enough to make an effort and go above and beyond to give you my best.
When my friend first arrived in the States we had lots of long conversations about our lives. We talked about jobs and marriage and family relationships. I will never forget when she said to me one day, “Many women in India serve their husbands because it is the cultural thing to do and required of them. But I serve my husband because I love him and because it is what God calls me to do.” I pride myself on being independent. I draw boundaries to protect me and my time. I am a natural introvert and value my “alone time.” I am married to a man who doesn’t really need me to do things for him, he can cook and clean and do his own laundry. I raise my kids to be independent and do things for themselves. Selfless-ness does not come naturally to me. Over and over again I watch my friend serve not only her husband but others around her. She serves with joy and willingness. I have never once heard her complain. Her example is encouraging me to stretch my selfless-ness muscle and find joy in serving.
My friend married her man, moved across the world, went through the changes of a first pregnancy and childbirth and new motherhood far away from her home culture and family. That takes a special kind of bravery. I frequently make decisions based on my own comfort or safety. Straying from routine or predictability does not come naturally to me. My friend’s bravery is inspiring me to step out of my comfort zone in little ways. I see that doing things that may seem uncomfortable or scary can bring good things into my life.
I sometimes wonder why I am still living in this small southern town. I sometimes wonder if I am wasting my childhood experiences of cross cultural living by staying in this fairly homogeneous place. But through this friendship I see God’s preparation and orchestration. I know that God would have provided for my friend when she moved to the United States. But I am thankful that He used me to be part of that provision.
There is a lot of talk in America these days about building walls and putting America first and keeping people out. There seems to be a lot of fear and retreating to our own corners to be with people who are just like us. This makes me sad. This especially makes me sad when I see it among people in the church, the Body that is called to show unity to the world. God’s call to unity is radical, and should be an example of Christ’s love to the world, precisely because it is so challenging. It is not easy to build relationships with people who are different from us. It can be awkward and uncomfortable. It takes time and patience and a healthy dose of good humor and humility. But I can’t imagine my life without my friend. She has enriched my life and is challenging me to be a better person. And I firmly believe that as a culture and community we are enriched when we open our arms and extended welcome because I have seen it in my own life.