Loving through Mistakes

I hate being the newbie.

Newbies make mistakes. And they receive constructive criticism ALL.THE.TIME. to correct those mistakes. They embarrass themselves. They do or say things that make them look foolish, childish and/or insensitive.

And that’s me right now. The Mistake Maker with a capital M. The constructive criticism receiver. The one standing on the outside without the inside information – or rather, with just enough inside information to stand on the inside, but too much of me is outside, so when I open my mouth, everyone knows that I really belong on the outside. With almost a year under our belts here (6 months at language school, and now 5 months at our target location), you’d have thought we’d be past the newbie phase (though I’m sure all of you who’ve been on the field would be LOL’ing right now because you know that length of time spent does not guarantee you’ll never find a foot stuck in your mouth). But here we find ourselves, still making rookie mistakes. Still asking ourselves: will we ever come to a place where we don’t feel foolish in front of those whom we came to love?

So, there we were. In the middle of language class, my husband, our language helper, and myself sitting at our dining table. Our house helper was in the kitchen washing our dishes, our kids were playing together beautifully in their room, and we were innocently learning new words, with nothing but postpositions and proper tenses floating about in our heads. Life was going on its merry way – our visions of sugar plums and new words coupled with the sounds of someone else scrubbing away the dried ketchup on my kids’ dinner plates and my children pretending they were super pups saving the day behind their closed door – it was as if I was in a magical wonderland.

But all y’all who’ve spent any time in a foreign country must know that there is a dumb tax to pay for those who are naive and found off their guard…

As our house helper (HH) was getting ready to leave, we snapped out of our sugar plum dreams and promptly remembered that it was the first of the month. This meant payday for our sweet HH! But there was a problem – we were gone for over half the month. Shoot… Does this mean we pay her for the whole month? Or just half the month? Bah!! Navigating cultural money issues here is a nightmare.

We quickly and directly asked our language helper what he would do, and he promptly indirectly answered “Do as you wish”. So, pressed for time, we made the decision to do what we normally would have done in the States: if someone only worked half their time, they would only get half their pay. So that’s what we did – we gave her half her pay.

She looked down at the money, frowned a bit, and walked out. No words, no goodbye. Just left.

The hubs and I stared at each other awkwardly from across the table, immediately knowing we had made the wrong decision. But it wasn’t just that we had made the wrong decision – we were all too familiar with the feeling of incompetence – it was the frustrated mix of feelings that comes from just not understanding where anyone is coming from. Feelings of injustice – because we Americans believe that you get paid according to how much work you do and anything else is called ‘freeloading’. And then this huge desire to bless the poor, but not sure how that fits in with wanting to be wise with our money – a huge value in this culture – and not wanting to seem like we are the rich Americans throwing money out their windows, giving it out left and right in inappropriate ways. We want to do this right – we want to help without hurting. But how? And in every single instance, it seems so foggy. No black and white answer. Oh, if only there was a guidebook for every single specific problem in this life…

Thankfully, this instance was a little more cut and dry than the others. Apparently, your HH receives a certain salary every month regardless of how many days she actually works. There is a saying here that if you cut the pay of a poor person, you cut off their life. And it totally makes sense – I get it. I just didn’t know. And let’s be real – this woman makes roughly $30/month from us as it is – thirty measly dollars. But we all know that it’s never really about the money as much as it is about matters of the heart.

So, after consulting our more experienced and incredibly wise teammates, we knew what we had to do. We had to give her the remainder of her salary.

The next time we saw her, we made things right. We apologized, and told her that we are still learning, and there are many things we don’t know. She smiled, said it was no problem, and we all went on with our lives, just as if nothing had ever happened.

But something had happened.

And in our silly mistake, we were able to be an example of humility and love to her. Apologizing directly for what we’d done and humbly recognizing the fact that we didn’t know everything – especially coming from a person with “higher” status to a person of “lower” status – it’s just not something that is done in this culture. It speaks volumes.

And not to pat ourselves on the back (because that feels weird and because we didn’t really do anything but mess up), but more or less wanting to put the Lord on display, showing how he can take any situation – any mistake – and make it good. He can use the teeny, tiniest little offering we have, and use it to surprise someone with love. How great is our Father’s love for us that he can even transform our mistakes as opportunities for love? Ultimately, we don’t know what impact our actions had on our HH, but I am excited to see what the Lord is going to do with it. And in a way, I am thankful for the mistake we made. For in that mistake, we had the opportunity to exemplify the humility of our Savior. For a single moment, we were able to get down from our pristine white tower, put ourselves in a lowly position, and make things right again. Humility and reconciliation. All from one silly little mistake.

Maybe being a newbie isn’t so bad after all…? 😉

By: Worker, Serving in Asia