Loving others – especially those different from you – is hard, but rewarding work. Why do it?
When my husband married me in the 1980s, we joked about him marrying a rolodex.
Millennials reading this may even wonder what a rolodex is, so let me share that first. This contraption is the old way people kept track of their multitude of contacts. You either filled out a card with a person’s contact information – or you took their business card and adhered it to one of the cards – and then you stuck it in its appropriate alphabetical slot.
The rolodex sat conspicuously on your desk. You could turn the handle to “roll through” your contacts.
This was standard office equipment pre-internet. And maybe even into the early part of this century.
International relations at the ground level
You might think I’m weird. But I’ve always loved communicating and keeping in touch with people. So my “heart and mind” rolodex has been full. It’s what I’d consider one of my strengths.
Another strength is connecting people with each other. But most of all, I love to care for and encourage others. It is one of the delights of my life.
I feel deeply blessed. For I have scores of people I love scattered all around the world.
This is not meant to be braggy. I didn’t set out to accomplish this. I view it as a gift from a generous Giver. I take very little credit.
To be clear, my career trajectory didn’t follow at all what I had intended.
The only thing that went the way I had intended is my cross-cultural, intercultural and international focus over all these years.
My undergrad degree was in International Relations. And today, over 30 years later, I’m still involved in international relations. Not on the formal ambassadorial and diplomatic level I had set out to follow. But on an arguably more impacting level. People-to-people diplomacy, I’d call it. Doing international relations in the trenches.
Thanks to our involvement with International Students, Inc. over two decades, we have had so many people from all over the world make their way into our home and hearts.
These are people with whom I’ve shared remarkable, memorable and deeply authentic experiences. Although the majority of them now live in places far away from our city, we keep in touch. The internet and social media have been in a boon to my gifts of connecting.
Can you do this?
"But I'm an introvert," you may argue.
Guess what? There’s a place in this world for everybody. Introverts can do this, albeit at the service level, and maybe more one-on-one.
I once met a woman at one of the Welcome Picnics for new international students in our area.
She told me, “I’m an introvert. I really don’t want people to notice me much. But I can do this!”
She was in charge of the drinks at the picnic. Later I learned she had been matched up with a single student and their bi weekly get togethers were going well. That student, it turned out, was an introvert herself.
Yes, their meetups may have been less word-filled than some. But most introverts know this: You don’t have to speak in order to communicate or enjoy being with another person.
Later she told me it was one of the best decisions she had made that year.
“It forced me a bit out of my comfort zone. But that was good. And I made a friend from China. I would have never done that.”
“But I’m afraid!”
Yes, I get that, too.
Fear is something preventing us from doing so many things.
Fear can prevent me from writing...another...word.
Because I’m afraid you may judge me and think what I’m writing isn’t good enough. Or worthless. Or…
Honestly, if we let fear control us, we wouldn’t even get out of bed. And we certainly wouldn’t get behind a steering wheel. We would, rather, just cocoon in our beds. All day long.
Why do we project our doubts, uncertainties and inadequacies onto others, expecting that is how they perceive and feel about us?
This is killing us!
“But I can’t talk with someone who doesn’t know English!”
Guess what?!? You can. Your eyes, your posture, your demeanor convey a lot. Do you stand with your arms folded or open. What type of eye contact do you make? Consider your resting face. Does it project friendliness or suspicion, kindness or detachment, joy or anger?
A couple years ago, I became friends with Esme, a woman from Mali, Africa. Her two languages are Bambara (her tribal language) and French. Her English is minimal, at best. But we spoke with our eyes – and, on occasion, through her husband or teenaged daughter, who do speak English.
Even so, Esme and I had plenty of communication going on, despite my lack of French language.
We learned to communicate from the heart. And point – a lot!
Not long ago, I learned one of my dear Korean friends was hospitalized with a brain tumor in Seoul.
I first met Ella when she, as a 19 year-old student at the local community college, showed up at my door. It was a rainy day. She stood there holding an umbrella, wearing a brightly colored striped sweater. She’s 34 now.
I’ve seen this woman get three degrees, the last one from UCLA. She passed the CPA exam with flying colors and secured a coveted job at a major financial company. Together we studied the Bible and other books; she always asked thoughtful questions. We worked through and prayed over many family issues.
Most recently, my husband and I spent a few days with her the summer before last in Seoul. Ella was full of dreams and eager for what lay ahead. She showed us a side of Korean life we most certainly wouldn’t have experienced otherwise. And she shared with us her enthusiasm to serve through her experiences as a short-term missionary to other Asian countries.
I’ve known Ella through three major relationships, two leading to engagements. The last ended abruptly just a few weeks before the anticipated marriage date. Her fiancé and family chose to abandon her because she was too sick.
She was having migraines physicians were attributing to a car accident she had earlier in the year.
But then it was something more. In less than two weeks she was diagnosed with a large brain tumor. The doctors operated. Again and again.
My heart hurts. We pray, daily. She has survived thus far, and for that we are grateful.
No questiob, I am a larger person because Ella has been in my life.
When you invest in others from around the world, you benefit too
It’s a challenge to love across the oceans.
Not just physical oceans, but the ocean of divides – be they cultural, ethnic, linguistic, political, racial, religious, socioeconomic.
But we become better when we open ourselves up to listen.
We don’t have to agree.
For if we close our minds and hearts – and shut ourselves off from those who are different, no matter how – we are the ones who lose.
Our world so needs people with open hearts and minds.
Bigotry should have no place in this world. Yet is it often grabbing center stage.
I’m on a mission myself to persuade at least one person this: If you build your life on a foundation of bigotry and self-righteousness, your life will fail. You will not have the impact you could.
Your heart is where it starts.
What – or Who – is in charge of your heart?
Yes, it’s a challenge to love across oceans. But it’s also a choice. And it’s what we must choose to do for a better world. Right now. Today.
What one step will you take to reach out to someone in need, perhaps someone different, today?