“Let’s start again.”
During a recent coffee visit, a friend was surprised to hear I had written two novels. She loves deeply and without reservation, so I hurt her a bit by withholding this information.
I squirmed on my navy couch, iced coffee in hand. “It’s hard to say, ‘I’m an author.’ Or even, ‘I’m a writer,’ when nothing is published.”
Waving a hand in the air, she started the conversation over.
“Debb, what have you been up to?”
“Oh, I’m a… I’m, uh… I’m busy editing two novels I wrote.”
“That’s amazing! Tell me about them!”
Still unsure, I launch into a few of the problems, beginning with the book that fictionalizes our first year in Central Asia. My friend listens with an intensity that tugs loose the laces of my corseted heart and her eyes fill with tears at my confession.
The book scores low in contests because the heroine is so whiny and unlikeable.
Because the heroine is me.
Twelve years overseas, and the few happy memories I have involve either our immediate family of six, or our little house church of expats.
My other recollections are filled with regret, embarrassment, and shame. I did not assimilate into the host culture at all. Or my team.
My husband did. Every sheep-fat laden part. And I wrote that line into my novel, but no one gets it.
Shashlik is a special dish in our Central Asian culture. Not because it’s fancy, but because it’s all meat, which is expensive. It’s like a kabob. But at the end they stick a hunk of sheep fat. As a delicacy.
Even now I can smell it. In fact, if the butchers hadn’t washed the grinder between sheep and beef, I could smell the remnants in our dinner. And couldn’t eat it.
My husband thrived not just on that meat, but he enjoyed that hunk of fat at the end. He was in his glory. While I was shriveling up.
I had lived overseas before. The concepts of culture and language acquisition were not new to me. But I could not do it. I didn’t want to do it.
I did not want to cover my head all the time or wear long sleeves or waltz around town in a velour bathrobe. I did not want to spend endless hours in a garden or cooking local foods drenched in oils and sheep fat.
And the languages, well, the languages sounded like angry yelling. Russian just has a harshness to it. Especially compared to the French I’d spent five years of school acquiring. And the tones of the local language were equally unappealing to my ear.
My husband became known as the best foreign speaker of that language. And I, the communicator, lost my voice.
I didn’t say all of this to my friend. I didn’t have the courage to pour it all out as she sat across the couch from me.
But she understood. She’s spent most of her adult life overseas too. She blanketed her words in such compassion I couldn’t fully process them that day.
“Debb, maybe that’s part of the story. You write your character and learn she was loved. People did like her. She wasn’t all whiny. Redeem the story.”
And I don’t think she said this, but I heard, “Maybe she was brave. Maybe she did the best she could, and that’s all the Lord asked of her.”
Years of counseling and struggling and avoiding most anyone who I had associated with during our Central Asia years, and a simple coffee date with a friend undid me.
Maybe I was loved during those dozen years.
I was loved those twelve years. My Father, who knows me better than anyone else, saw me. He knew the struggles more acutely than I could. He saw me in my sin, too. But He loved me. He loved ME.
And it’s hard to accept because I didn’t do much for Him. I didn’t plant a church or even see one single person accept His gift of forgiveness. I didn’t even learn enough language to adequately share His love.
And my prayers, well, they were primarily about me surviving.
Yet He did not forsake me.
I really don’t know if the story is redeemable. My novel.
But my story, my life, is.
The Lord offers His mercies new every morning. Praise be to His faithfulness!
And I think I hear Him this morning.
“Let’s start again.”