Thursday, July 26, 2007

The Grace of God and the Kindness of Strangers

So many things about living overseas lend themselves to either humbling yourself or being humiliated. Take language, for instance. Having to use gestures instead of words because you haven't started language study yet is humbling... and then even once you've STARTED language study, feeling like you are doing well while realizing that your sentence construction is like that of a toddler... these are all humbling situations. But I have also found that the extravagant grace of God covers over my inadequacies and He consistently rains down kindness on me in the most generous ways.

Last night, on my way to the large grocery store here, I realized that I didn't have my cell phone with me. No big deal, I thought, except that I was going to be out at nighttime and it might have been nice to be able to call Doug if I got in a jam. AND I forgot my language handbook (a handy little wallet-sized book containing basic phrases and words to use as a cheat sheet). RATS!

As I was shopping (for two apartments- food and short-term items for where we're living right now, and spices, cooking items, and other odds and ends for where we'll be living once we get enough furniture there to move in), it didn't look like I had too much in my cart. It wasn't even half-full, which for me is doing pretty good. (I like to stock up on things so I don't have to shop so frequently.)

But when I got to the register and began bagging, and realized that they only had medium-sized bags, I suddenly knew that I wouldn't have enough fingers (or circulation!) to carry this many bags all the way out to a taxi and then to both apartments!!! And I didn't have my phone to call for help from Doug or anyone else- ACK!

So I realized I would need to go back in and buy one of those handy rolling grocery carts they make for city dwellers who walk to and from the grocery store (similar to the one pictured, only mine is in a garish kilt-like plaid and has plastic in the place of all the metal you see in the one pictured) in order to remotely get close to being able to carry all those bags. But then I needed to figure out what to do with my shopping cart loaded down with two-apartments' worth of goods?!

I went over to the customer service center and hesitantly asked, "English?" Two heads shook no. Uh-0h. But then, just as my eyes were cast downward and I awkwardly smiled (the joke overseas is that Americans are the only people in the world who only know one language), I hear, "Maybe I can help you?" in a French-ish accent. GRACE.

The customer to my left was able to translate my question ("Can I leave my cart here while I go purchase one more item?"), which was immediately answered by two heads again shaking no and a string of words I didn't understand with a point to two men near the store entry. "Thank you so much for your help", I tell the customer to my left as I walk towards the men.

Man #1 didn't know what to think of this helpless American woman. He kind of laughed at me and motioned that he didn't know what to do, so perhaps I should just go back in with my cart. "With all this?", I motion by the shrugging of shoulders and a confused look while pointing to all of my groceries. He asks man #2, who looks at me, looks at my cart, smiles kindly, and motions for me to bring the cart over to him, behind his desk. He makes it clear that he will watch my cart for me so I can go back in to get what I need. GRACE.

I go in and get the cart, pay for it and go back to the man, thanking him (I DO know how to say "thank you", even if I am in all other ways a complete imbecile in the language), and thanking God for being so gracious towards me.

I stop in the hallway to separate out my bags: I'll carry the ones going to the apartment we'll be living in (because that's where I'd be going first), and put all the groceries for short-term use at the apartment we're currently staying at into the handy rolling cart I had just bought. They just barely fit, but they do fit! PTL!

So here I am, getting loaded up with a plastic tub filled with items under one arm, a 10-pound bag of laundry detergent under the other arm, and about 5 bag-fulls of groceries, thinking, "how in the world am I going to be able to pull the rolling cart while holding all of this?!" That was when the taxi-coordinator-man (I don't know what else to call him) ran over with sympathy in his eyes and picked up the rolling cart for me to carry all the way to where the taxis were. GRACE.

Got in the taxi and remembered the name of a neighborhood near our new apartment, but it took me a minute to remember the name of our apartment complex. I did eventually remember... still, every single action overseas can serve to remind you of your complete ineptness in the language. When we arrived, I apologized for my poor language skills (using bad grammar to do so, how's that for irony?), and he laughingly said something that I'm sure was kind and forgiving. Then be began unloading all my bags for me onto the front steps of my apartment building. (Most taxi drivers would not do this.) GRACE.

Then, just when I was about to replay the scene at the taxi stand, loading myself up like a cross-desert camel, a kind old man appeared out of nowhere and said something I didn't understand. I just looked at him. He said the same thing again, with a quizzical look and a point at the cart. I smiled and nodded "yes", thinking he might be offering help up the front stairs to the building.

Sure enough, he grabbed the cart and hauled it up the stairs, opened the front door for me (which if I had been alone, I would have had to have put down my things and unlocked it and then tried to shimmy in while kicking all the bags before the heavy door closed on me or my bags), and carried the cart straight to my front door. I said "thank you" and he walked away with a smile. GRACE.

After unloading the items I had purchased into our new apartment, I grabbed the cart (full of all the items we need for the short-term), and practically skipped back to the place where we're currently staying while we prepare our apartment. I know this was a long story, but I just had to share about His grace. It is easy to marvel at the grace of God, evidenced in the kindness of complete strangers, when you are completely insufficient for the task before you. What a blessing that He cares for us!

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