Do #2: Be an appreciator

Brackenside-8

Young Man, calling home: “Mom, I met the girl.”
Mom: “I love her already.”
Young Man: “She may not be quite what you expect . . .”
Mom: “I like surprises. Tell me about her.”
Young Man: “She’s really into belly dancing. And incense.”
Mom: “Ooooh, so am I.”
Young Man: “She’s . . . wait, you are?”
Mom: “Starting now.”

In this fascinating little snippet of dialogue you are Mama and the new place is the girl. She’s in your future so get ready to love her. My best advice in this whole series is probably this: make up your mind to like the new place. It might come easily to do this or it might be really hard work. Determine that you will like it anyway. It seems to me, no doubt due to the irreversible irruption of Facebook on our world, the word “like” has new shades of meaning. We can now stamp “like” on the face of something and it’s all settled. That’s the last word. Like the new place like that.

Note that it may require palpable effort at times to not resent the new place simply for not being the old place. Homesickness is a real thing–I know it. It may be something you have to learn to live with, but it’s one of those things that makes a bad master, so keep it in its place. Appreciating the good things is your best defense.

The truth is, even once you like it, you won’t like everything about it. Sometimes you’ll feel as if you don’t like anything. It is your job to find and dwell on the positives. I hereby appoint thee Pollyanna. Get ready to appreciate. (You’ll have to be a learner in order to be an appreciator.) You’ll also have to open your mind a little. Don’t be like the girl who gets taken out to dinner at the world’s best seafood restaurant and orders chicken. (If snake is their bestseller . . . )

Two times in my three years in Oxford I’ve met American expats who were extremely unhappy to be here. With both girls I noticed the same thing after a while: every time I talked with them I heard complaints about being here. It was always something: the weather, the culture, the distance from home, the lifestyle, the hardships, the cost of living, the way Things Are Done, and so on. The vast majority of their vocalized observations were negative. I never heard anything about Oxford’s beauty and charm, the deliciousness of English strawberries, or the warm hospitality and sheer funny fun of many English friends. Unsurprisingly, neither one ever seemed to settle in or be happy here. After finally returning to the States, one of them sent me a message: she was longing for the cool breezes of Oxford in the heat of her new home!

A word of warning: keep an eye on the other side of your mouth. You can’t hold an appreciative line if you are undermining it constantly by speaking complaints. Determining to be an appreciator means you appreciate what you honestly can and let that be what you talk about. Ever notice how voicing bad feelings makes them stronger? Don’t tell everyone one thing you love and follow it up by kvetching on the weather and the cheese. You are allowed to hate the cheese. You can tell your husband once in a while that you hate the cheese. (Don’t tell the children.) Then invent the cheeseless taco and have something local that’s delicious for dessert.

I know I’ve said stuff like this before, in a way it’s the theme of this blog. And you’re probably thinking, easy for you to say. After all, our most distant move to date was to merry old England, motherland of Austen and purveyor of tea and scones. The land is lovely, the people are lovelier, the language is our mother tongue only better, and nothing could be more brilliantly brilliant, right? I can only say if you’re thinking this that you’re absolutely right. Just this morning I was reading an update on Sonja’s family, they are back in North Africa. Determining on a heart of gratitude is very easy where I am, it doesn’t even seem possible in some places–apart from the grace and work of Jesus. But my wall-jumpers are teaching me that this is a work that Jesus does, it’s to him we turn for help. Can it be that he can so radically renew my mind that I see wherever I am as a blessed place to be?

 

 

This post is second in a series:
Starting Again: Five Things To Do And One Don’t
Do #1: Be a Learner

See also How Does Your Garden Grow?

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12 Responses to Do #2: Be an appreciator

  1. Juli says:

    Thank you, Betsy, you’re really helping me understand the various ups and downs I’ve faced over the past three years. I had also gotten into a habit of focusing on the negatives, which made sense when we we’re living in the horrible tiny damp smelly dark place in the centre of Oxford, but I have had a really hard time shaking it off now that we’re living in a lovely large family house with great garden in a pleasant market town. Just in the last week (since the sermon on contentment last week) I’ve been actively trying to be content and positive about being here and it’s amazing what a difference it has made already. I’ve suddenly stopped constantly thinking about being back in Australia and feel much more appreciative of all the good things God has given me.

    I have to say, having already done the move to the other end of the world once before and finding it relatively easy at 19, it has been such an eye opener just how hard it has been this time round with two then three children, being a stay-at-home mum and a bit of mild depression thrown in for good measure.

    Thank you for this series. I eagerly await the next installment.

  2. Cara says:

    I struggled while reading this post until the last paragraph. Then I just cried. It IS Jesus. He is here with me. How can I despise where I am if he is here also? Thank you. This helped my heart this morning.

  3. Rachael Davis says:

    I’ve struggled with contentment over our “place” for several years. I am certain we are called here and I love the people sincerely. Maybe it’s a cop-out, but rather than pursue contentment per se, I have determined that this is a sacrifice I will make for Jesus. I will have an eternity to enjoy a home that is suited for me, so for now I say, “I love you more than living in my ideal place.”

    • betsy says:

      Thank you for this, Rachael! I hope that there are still things where you are that you can honestly appreciate, not least the people and the certainty of being where you are called to be. I think the attitude you describe is a faithful one and maybe many of the wall-jumpers would say the same thing: they stay where they are because of Jesus. I don’t think we should pretend to feel something we don’t, but I do think it is best to put a guard on what we say and even what we think, to consciously dwell on the good things–and not to dwell on the bad.

      • Rachael Davis says:

        Absolutely, Betsy. There are wonderful things here, especially in the winter months. Even last night I saw one of the most exquisite sunsets I’ve ever beheld. Everyone else was occupied and it seemed as if the Lord gave it just for me.

        I am very careful about who knows these feelings, partly because it’s rude to those who are from here and these are the ones I’m trying to love well. Your comment about not even allowing oneself to dwell on negative thoughts is a good reminder. Nurturing discontentment will always work against us. It’s at these times when (if I’m successful with my strategy) that I will turn those thoughts into “Jesus, I love you more than living in a more comfortable place.” Saying “the winters are fabulous” doesn’t help me much when it’s 119 outside, whereas reminding myself why I endure 119 (hopefully with grace, not whining) has been a more effective tool for me.

        I guess what I’m trying to say is that while “dwell on the lovely” is true, it is not not always enough for my soul. However, Jesus is the supremely lovely one. When the merits of place or circumstance are not sufficient to raise my eyes, He is.

      • betsy says:

        This is beautiful, Rachael, and so helpful for me. Thank you! Watch out–I’m going to ask you to write a post for me on this. We need to hear more wise words from you! I was worried that what I was trying to get across was sounding very trite and removed from what is a real and very challenging reality–you have added the ballast that I needed.

      • Rachael Davis says:

        I’m afraid that’s all I’ve got! We’ve exhausted the depths of my wisdom. 🙂

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