I am truly blessed.
However, as you also have seen from reading this blog, there have been rough times amidst this vast blessing. I have been uprooted from everything that was familiar and every worldly thing or person in which I found security. I found myself in a new place with a new language, new people and new culture. While it has proved to be a delightful challenge, there are some days when I just wish I was a little more bored!
In our cultural acquisition classes, we learned that the "real" culture shock usually sets between months 4 and 6. They also told us it would look differently for everyone...and sometimes manifests itself in ways you don't expect. I think I might have just hit that time. I think it is ironic that it has hit me at the point when I am able to have friendships with people who only speak Italian, feel comfortable getting around, feel like I can "do life" here, and am surrounded by such wonderful friends. I don't walk around feeling completely lost anymore and, though I do occasionally experience the same "loneliness" I felt in the beginning, those times are fewer and father between. So why now? Why when life is so good?
I don't know.
My culture shock has managed to combine itself with the major "living piece of flesh" in my life at the moment: fear. Fear of the future (even though my life is not my own), fear of living alone (even though there is nothing to be afraid of), fear of not discerning correctly (even though I know I am equipped for everything I need for life in godliness), fear of waking up one morning and forgetting ALL my Italian (hey, it's come close a few times!), fear of man (even though I am told to ONLY fear God), fear of leaving Italy in 1.5 yrs. knowing I will go through MAJOR reverse culture shock when I get back and will feel like a huge part of me is gone (even though I know God will equip me for where he calls me...even if it is back home), fear of....you name it. It has been something I have had to daily come to the Lord about in repentance.
As a result, of that struggle mixed with a bit of unexpected culture shock, I feel I have had my "guard up" in many ways. I have occasionally been afraid to get too emotionally involved here...to let this place and these people take my heart because I know that in two years I will find myself back in the States and perhaps God will never lead me back. Though I am crazy about everything in this culture and there are honestly very few American things I just can't live without, I do find myself holding onto the "familiar" lately. This has just started in the last few weeks. I find myself longing for the familiar and craving the security of being in a place where I am not an outsider. I almost can't even imagine anymore what it would feel like to just walk up to someone and speak to them in my heart language or walk the streets and actually "be" a part of the culture and not just pretend to be. I also had a couple situations this week in which I was very offended by things certain people said about America. I know it is not glamorous to be an American in Europe and, though I love my country, I don't beat my American chest. However, I was very upset by some of the things that were said about my "familiarity." I felt like that big sister who was defending her little brother from the bully. It made me mad...and for a split second I wanted to go home.
My problem? I am learning what it means to have my identity ONLY in Christ. And I'm having some growing pains. How amazing it is to think that he has removed EVERYTHING from me....including my culture, the most basically-human thing about me. The only familiar thing I have is a couple pairs of shoes, a few books, a jar of peanut butter, and HIM.
The theme of everything the Lord has and is continuing to teach me is that He is enough. He is enough to meet those basic human needs of interacting with others. He is enough to meet that deep need for companionship. He is enough to meet my physical needs in an insanely expensive place. He is enough to meet my emotional needs as I have just gone through the biggest adjustment of my life. He is enough to meet my need for a new brain...because there isn't a day I don't sit in language school humming the tin-man song, "if I only had a brain...". He is enough to give me joy in my salvation rather than joy contingent upon my circumstances. And now, I am learning that He is enough to give me an identity that is completely separate from the culture I am from.
I am not a misplaced American. I am not a pretending Italian. I am His daughter.
Psalm 90 very much spoke to me this morning. It speaks of God being from everlasting to everlasting and I was able to apply it more personally to "culture." It says in verse 1:
"Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations. Before the mountains were brought forth or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God."
It is wonderful to think that before my culture or the Italian culture ever existed, my Father existed. It later speaks of man's years being like dust and how a thousand years (which seems like such a long, important time to us) is but as yesterday when it has passed to Him. Verse 12 says:
"So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom."
This truth that our days and culture are like dust compared to the everlastingness of God has given me a different perspective as I walk down the streets not as a foreigner who will never fit in or be in the realm of the familiar, but as a daughter of the King who has been given all of her worth and security in an everlasting God who loves her, holds her right hand, and guides her steps with his counsel.
I desperately covet your prayers as this truth makes it through the deep crevasses of my heart. I am praising the Lord for the chance to meet up with a huge group of Americans for a week-long vacation in Germany next week. I will get to have a little break from the culture shock and also be able to talk with my friends who have gone through the same thing. I am then going to England to find my english skills again since they are quite scary at the moment. I am looking forward to the break very much and know it could not have come at a better time.