The Verses Project is pretty incredible, putting verses to song in a beautiful way. I have many favorites, but somewhere near the top of the list is their version of Romans 15:1-2,
“We who are strong have an obligation to bear
with the failings of the weak,
and not to please ourselves.
Let each of us please his neighbor for his good,
to build him up.”
I have been mulling over this for weeks now.
It started with a question: am I the strong one or the weak one? In some ways, I am white and born into privilege. I won’t claim to come from the wealthiest family in the world, but in the grand scheme of the world I was born into wealth, education, healthcare, and ultimately blessing upon blessing. So in that way, I am strong and have my wealth, education, and blessing to offer.
Likewise, being foreign here is both a strength and a weakness, as I am reminded of daily. In some ways, we are respected, honored, and famed here. We are always called “Teacher.”
In other ways, we are often the underdog–guilty in an accident, cheated on a price, blatantly insulted. There are actually signs telling me where I am unwelcome.
My co-worker, Yim, is always telling me that foreigners are weak. We will be discussing what to do, when to leave, or what our plans are, and she’ll say that we have to decide–she, as a local, can do anything, but we, as foreigners, are limited.
I found this quite offensive for awhile. It’s not super encouraging to have someone tell you of your limits and weaknesses. But I think she is right. I think of the Karen and Burmese and many other people groups that have resettled to America–it is tiring. There is always a new piece of mail to read, a problem with a vehicle, a medical visit, a new bill, a new policy at work, or a school program. There are always new things in a language you don’t know. You are dependent on friends and your own children to help you navigate decision after decision.
That’s how I feel, too. Like I am always asking for help; that as I learn one language, there is always another I don’t know. There is always a new problem or something else broken that requires me to learn the process. A simple idea–a new craft, a home project, an event–can take so much more energy out of you. I spent thirty minutes at a sewing shop today describing the bunting I would like them to sew for a Christmas decoration. And even after thirty minutes, two drawings, and six measurements, I have absolutely no idea if it will turn out. It’s a complete gamble.
So in simply being here, where I am not home, I am weak. We need our friends at every turn.
In our neighborhood, we are strong. We have papers and electricity and running water and a toilet and concrete walls. We have a motorbike, and a bicycle for each of us! Our friends come to us for rides to the hospital, help with bills, and when flood waters rise. We are strong.
But when we are weak here–when I am exhausted and when I want to go home, they are strong for me in a vital way. They give me smiles and make me feel famous. They make us feel like a valuable part of a community in a way we haven’t experienced before. They tell my husband he is a superhero and they tell me I look beautiful, even when I come home from a sweaty run. When I am weak, they bear with me.
And this year, I am weak. I am worn down and tired from so many new challenges. And so many have been bearing with us. Families and friends have sent care package after care package that just brighten a day magically. I have a notes on my dresser reminding me to keep going. Supporters give to us month after month, as a beautiful testimony to their belief in us–that we will pull through and God will use us. My sister has listened to tearful phone call after tearful phone call. Stephen has held me, let me be frustrated, let me rest, and told me truth after truth when I am tempted to believe lies. My Karen teacher continues to answer question after question and correct mistake after mistake. Partners has given us a few months to breathe, the leadership have met with us, they have encouraged us.
So many are bearing with me in my weakness.
And on most days, I am both weak and strong. I am bearing with others and they are bearing with me. I am so thankful for this, particularly in feeling those graciously holding me up and building me up.