“The honeymoon is officially over,” I announced emphatically, slumping into a chair in our tiny apartment.
Sprawled on the couch, my roommate Kathy half-heartedly stroked our puppy Phoebe’s ears and nodded her agreement. “We are waaay past the honeymoon stage.”
Several months into our first year of teaching English in northeast Asia, the initial wide-eyed enthusiasm over the novelties of living in a foreign country had worn off. My students who were once so sweet and obedient were now often unengaged and uncooperative. Shopping among the tanks of live eels and barrels of squirming silkworms at the fresh market no longer felt like an adventure. Getting stared at in the streets of our remote town and having strangers ask to take pictures with the wai guo ren (foreigners) had lost its appeal.
I knew God had called me to live in Asia for this year, and I had been excited about building relationships with my students and sharing my faith when opportunities arose. But on days like this, I was tempted to put a bag over my head when I walked out the door, and pray that people would just leave me alone.
The Things We Love
Grabbing a notebook, Kathy started scribbling furiously. “What we need to do,” she decided, interrupting my personal gripe-fest and pity-party, “is to think of all the things we like about living here.” She showed me a lined page with the title Things We Love About Asia on the top. We came up with several items together right away, while laughing at some of the memories they sparked. It was amazing how quickly we filled the page! Here are a few of our entries:
#8 – Riding the number 10 bus to the end of the line, just to see where it goes, for only 12 US cents.
#16 – Signing autographs in my middle school students’ notebooks.
#20 – The six-year-old students standing up at the beginning of class and saying in unison, “Good morning, Teacher!”
Over the weeks and months, we added new items to the list that we kept on our coffee table. When I was having a particularly bad day, the list reminded me of some of the things I could thank God for.
#21 – Quiet mornings with my coffee and my Bible and my worship music playing.
#22 – Walks along the river with my dog in the early evening as the sun sets.
A Lifestyle of Thanksgiving
Naming the gifts God has given us is an act of receiving. Ann Voskamp explains this in her book One Thousand Gifts. “Thanksgiving is the evidence of our acceptance of whatever He gives,” Voskamp writes. “Thanksgiving is the manifestation of our Yes! To His grace.”
Writing our list didn’t change the circumstances of our life in Asia. Kathy and I still sometimes had uncooperative students, language difficulties, and cultural barriers. The daily irritations of life as a foreigner in our small rural town didn’t vanish. But as we intentionally looked for and named the everyday gifts strewn on our path, we were reminded of what a full, rich life we have. Our hearts were in a position to give thanks! Giving thanks in ALL things is a daily choice – make it a lifestyle!
“Always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Ephesians 5:20 (NIV)