A little over a year ago, our family up and moved to Malawi. As we’ve hit this one year mark, we’ve had a number of people ask, “So, a year in huh? What all have you learned?” To which I always want to respond, “Learned? Ha! All that I’ve learned is how much I don’t know!” But that’s not the whole truth. I’ve learned a few things. And as much as I’d hate to dole out a bunch of unsolicited advice and nuggets of wisdom based on a mere 13 months living abroad, EHHH. What’s the use of accidentally swallowing a cockroach if you’re not going to use it as a teaching point. Which leads me to number one…

  • Always leave your water bottle covered. If you happen to forget, check the contents of said water bottle. On that note, perhaps you should also check the contents of your shoes before sliding them onto your barefeet. Or your sheets before you slip in at night. All of these things. They’re all very good ideas. Just trust me on this one.

  • Get. Out. Of. Your. Gate. Or your apartment door. Or your backyard. Expat life can be exhausting, and choosing to step outside of the familiarity of your living room can quickly lose appeal. Do it anyway. It’s hard to put down roots if you’re limiting your soil to that which is directly under your own two feet. Your new home is going to feel a whole heck of a lot more like your new HOME if you know the names and stories of those people who you daily pass on the streets or staircases.

  • Go deep with your national friends. Show up to their homes for no other reason than to just hang out. Swing your doors open wide to them. Call them. WhatsApp them ridiculous GIFs. Pray for them. Pray WITH them. Remember that people who are being viewed as projects can see right through that mess. Just love people really, really well.

  • Also. Go deep with your fellow expat friends. Don’t let the transient nature of expat life scare you away from investing. The coming and the going is hard, but relationship is always, always worth it.

  • Take vacation. Be intentional about Sabbath. Don’t be afraid to TELL PEOPLE THAT YOU ARE RESTING. Let’s stop perpetuating the lie that busyness = holiness and that “professional Christians” (oh my goshhh) are above enjoying a day at the beach. Sometimes the most Christ-like thing we can do is to unplug and step away. Don’t let people tell you otherwise.

  • Okay a hypothetical here. Ahem. Say you’re going to learn a new language. With your spouse. And you’re both REAL COMPETITIVE. Maybe think twice about that. Then think a few more times. I AM JUST SAYING.

  • Be a learner. Quick tip: you’re gonna land in your new country and know nothing. Even if you feel like you’re a globe trotting rockstar- even if you FEEL like you’ve got this- lemme just shoot straight with you for a second. You’re wrong. Learn to shut up and listen. A lot. Find trusted national friends and ask lots of questions. TONS of them. And listen- really listen- to the answers.

  • On that note… Just a friendly reminder that Christianity is not an American religion, nor do American pastors and teachers and authors hold in their hands the lone key to solid theology. One of the most humbling moments for me this past year came when I was sitting in church on a random Sunday. As I listened to our pastor, I remember the distinct feeling of surprise at how much I was learning. At how clearly he was preaching the gospel. I came home that day humiliated and ashamed as I saw my surprise for what it was- namely, a notion I picked up along the way that American Christians had a corner on the market of Christianity. That we were the only ones who really “got it” and that everyone else was just a few steps behind. It makes me cringe to type this even now, but I can’t help but believe I’m not alone in this.

  • Don’t be a hero. Pack stuff that makes you feel “home-y.” Bring that cute dress, that stack of books, your favorite blanket, your Christmas tree. If you have the option of bringing stuff from the States, GET AFTER IT. None of that weird “gotta be a martyr and can’t have anything nice if I’m a missionary” stuff, y’all. Now, don’t go and be all extra about it. Be sensible. But if your favorite coffee mug and throw pillows make you feel like a saner human at the end of a long day navigating traffic patterns that make no logical sense whatsoever, for the love. Bring the dang mug.

  • Err on the side of laughter. Daily life here in Malawi can be so ridiculous that I would’ve gone crazy ten times over if I hadn’t learned to laugh about it all. There are ten thousand mundane annoyances on the daily. Sometimes I cry. Fine. But mostly I laugh. The days I laugh are so much better.

  • Take time every so often to sit back and soak in the good of this new life you now live. Which I know may sound just SO Pollyannaish. Especially when the week’s been particularly rough. But even in those hard weeks- maybe ESPECIALLY in those hard weeks- force yourself to name the good in that moment. That day. My first few months here in Malawi, I disciplined myself to write these things down every single day. Some days, my words were flowery and Jesus-y and shouted “hey look at this starry eyed new kid who is a bit too oblivious to know any better!” Other days? “Today, I drove and didn’t die.” Sometimes we just gotta fake it till we make it, people.

  • Finally, embrace your limitations and weaknesses. I’m a Type A Enneagram 1 perfectionist. To say that I don’t like weakness is such an understatement that my perfectionist self bucks against even saying it in the first place. I’m pretty sure my first words were, “I do it myself.” Even my Chichewa teacher this year gave me the nickname “gonthi” which translates to “stubborn” which is just so precious. And yet. I quickly realized that the only way I was possibly going to thrive would be if I could just up and own my many, many weaknesses and shortcomings. I couldn’t drive. I couldn’t speak. I couldn’t find ingredients to make edible meals. For the longest time, I couldn’t even sleep. And so, I started to ask for help. “Hey, show me.” “Teach me.” “Help me.” For maybe the first time ever, I had to rely entirely on the community around me and was left with no choice but to lean HARD into God’s strength to carry me, knowing full-well that I’d sink otherwise. My mantra this past year was something our pastor back in the States says often. “If dependence is the objective, weakness is an advantage.” And you know what? Over and over again, it was true. The beauty of being so dependent is that it leaves your eyes wide open in expectation as you wait on the only One who can truly meet your needs. It gives you a chance to see that, actually, this story and this life isn’t about us and our awesome abilities. So, yes, embrace your weaknesses. You really don’t got this, and it’s not about you anyway. So, be encouraged. Keep your eyes open. Watch as God provides in the most unexpected ways. And have a ridiculously awesome…. or perhaps just ridiculous…. first year.

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