Sometimes things don’t work out like you expect.
Like the fact that we’re currently living in a guest room and cooking in our garage. Like the fact that we’re washing dishes in an ice chest. Like the fact that the contractor who started the demolition on our kitchen and bathroom didn’t pull the right permits and the police came and shut down the construction. Like the fact that the city says it will be at least two months until the paperwork clears. Ugh.
Nope… we didn’t expect any of that.
I know that all sounds like it stinks. And frankly, it really does. It’s no fun. We’re having a lot of days that are not at all like we wish they would be. But, life is like that sometimes.
There are other things that don’t go quite like we expected, either. When we opened La Mesa Turquesa, we had visions of refugees and immigrants filling our center and sharing tough stories with us on a daily basis. We were prepared for emotional days and how to work through trauma. There has been some of that, for sure. We have had our share of tough stories and tears. But there has also been a lot of good in the unexpected.
We never expected to make a new Syrian friend who also happened to be a champion horse trainer in the Middle East! He and Sarah have shared lots of stories. He has even been to see her compete and help at the riding club.
We never expected to fall in love with the twin babies that were born after their mother fled her country, pregnant and afraid. We never expected to become aunties and uncles and cousins to these precious little ones. We never expected to cuddle them every Sunday while their mom attends our church. We never knew that one day we would witness their first laughs, their learning to crawl, and the joy when they reach out for us to hold them.
We never expected to witness the first black man to ever pray from the pulpit in our church. A refugee from Nigeria stood up and asked to pray and he rocked the world that day. We never expected to see history made and a church forever changed by a humble man seeking a new life in a new country and new culture.
We never expected to meet Peruvians in our center! It’s like old home week when they come in! We never expected to be helping them settle in to our town, to be helping their children learn English, or to be reminiscing about everything we love and have in common about Peru.
We never expected to become “mentors in everything”, but we find ourselves negotiating rental agreements for immigrants, helping people find food, tutoring and helping with homework, teaching English and Spanish, and trying to help people navigate the rocky waters when cultures clash. We find ourselves in tough conversations about racism and world politics and global economies, all from varying cultural perspectives.
In some ways, we expected to have to fight for our place in the community and to stand our ground for helping refugees and immigrants. What we didn’t expect is the amount of love and support that we have received. We didn't expect locals to hang out here as much as refugees and immigrants do.
What we didn’t expect was the questions about, “Why do you do this? Why do you help people with out charging them anything? Why is the coffee free? Why do you accept everyone – blacks, whites, immigrants, refugees, Spaniards, Muslims, Christians, tattooed teens… why are you so open to everyone?”
What they don’t expect is our answer. “Jesus said to ‘Love your Neighbor’. He didn’t say to love the people who look like you. He didn’t say to love the people who are perfect or popular or accepted by society. He said, ‘Love your Neighbor’. All these people are our neighbors. So, they are welcome at our table.”
When we moved in to our house, we “inherited” a bunch of extra stuff that the previous owner left behind. He was a ninety-three year old widower, and he left us with loads of abandoned ceramic figurines that I’m sure had once been special for whatever reason. A ceramic clown riding a donkey, various little vases of plastic flowers, an entire heavenly army of ceramic cherubs and angels, a few random stuffed animals, some odd pieces of glassware and some mismatched dishes, and an entire forest of dusty silk greenery, just to name a select few. We boxed them all up and took them to the local second-hand store, along with some old furniture, cardboard posters, and velvet drapery. After all of the purging, one large silk plant remained. It stood in the corner of our bathroom, measuring in at almost 5 feet tall, and was “planted” in a triangular glass vase filled with blue and orange crepe paper confetti. I thought to myself, “How did this ‘beauty’ make the cut and manage to stay in my bathroom? Billy must like it for some reason.”
That lovely, silk monstrosity has lived in the corner of my bathroom for the past 2.5 years.
A couple of weeks ago, we began to do some much-needed repairs and renovation work in the bathroom and kitchen. As we packed up everything in the cabinets and moved things to the garage for a while, I casually asked Billy, “Since we are re-doing things and starting fresh, do you think maybe we could get rid of the plant?”
“Oh my gosh, YES! Finally!”, he said, relief spreading across his face.
A little confused, I asked, “Why do you say it like that? I thought you liked the plant?”
“WHAT? I HATE that plant! I thought you liked it.”
“NO!!! I can’t stand it!”, I replied.
“Then why didn’t we get rid of it when we moved in?”
“Because I thought you liked it. I wasn’t going to make you get rid of something you liked.”
“Seriously?!” He started laughing hysterically. “I thought you liked it, so I never said anything about it.”
Then I was laughing, too. “I hate that plant! Every time I get out of the shower, I think about how ugly it is and I wonder what it is that you like about it. Every time I open the window and have to reach over it, I secretly say bad things about it. I hate that it’s always catching dust and how it’s faded and sad looking. And I really hate the blue and orange junk in the vase! It fell over a while back and I prayed that it would break, but of course it didn’t. And then I cursed it even more for being resilient!”
Now we’re both dying laughing. “Why didn’t you say something and get rid of it?”
“I didn’t want to hurt your feelings. And I didn’t think it was worth having an argument about it. So I just let it be and figured that one day, when the time was right, we would replace it or throw it out.”
So, today’s the day. The plant is leaving. We felt that a photo was in order – you know, it has been a part of my family for two and a half years now. We laughed all the way to the dumpster.
In a nutshell, that has been our approach to conflict for most of our 34 years together. We’re pretty bad at it. We would rather live with something we hate, even something that is a part of our lives every single day, than have an uncomfortable conversation that would possibly lead to conflict. Even over something as stupid as a hideous plant in the bathroom.
We’re hopeless. How on earth have we stayed married for 34 years? I wonder what else is in this house that we both hate?
How are you with conflict? Share your story and teach us how to do it!
PS... I decided to share this story with you because Billy is currently in a course of study on Conflict Resolution, and the irony of this plant story coming to light during his work with conflict and preparing to lead cross-cultural workers through conflict management and resolution was just too perfect. The first step is self-awareness and admitting that you have a problem... hahahaha!!!! Well, here we are!
In my USA life, I was a teacher in Texas for 15 years. I was also a professional photographer, a soccer mom, a horsewoman, and the neighborhood hospitality queen. I did "Joanna Gaines farmhouse style" before Chip and JoJo were even a thing - we restored an 1884 Victorian farmhouse in small town Texas and did shiplap walls until I thought I'd go crazy. I taught at NASA, scuba dived with astronauts in training, and studied animals at Sea World for educational purposes. I've tried just about everything, because I have an insatiable need to know if I can do it! Never underestimate a Texas girl in cowboy boots!
In 2006, my husband Billy and I became cross-cultural workers (CCWs) with TMS Global. For five years, we served in three rural Quechua Wanca villages in the Andes of Peru. And when I say rural, I mean RURAL - like no potty! I spent my days in Peru learning to live a Quechua lifestyle in a rustic adobe house - cooking Peruvian foods, sewing with Quechua women, raising my chickens and goats and pigs, and planting my gardens. Now I live my life in small town Spain, serving other cross-cultural workers via teaching and training and care, and helping displaced people to navigate their new reality in Europe.
I'm passionate about fostering personal growth, growth in community, and growth in The Kingdom. Walking alongside others and helping them to use their unique design, their gifts and strengths and maximize their abilities to fulfill their God-given purpose - that's what makes my heart sing!