In Which I Fail as a Welcomer (+ What I Learned)

Yesterday, I missed a call from one of my oldest immigrant friends whom I hadn’t talked to in years due to me living overseas without a reliable way to call US numbers.

Starting when I was 17 years old, I spent time in this woman’s home chatting, ate her delicious food, played with and tutored her kids, and translated for her at parent-teacher conferences and medical appointments.

She has been patient with my Spanish language usage questions over the years, attended my wedding, and has doted on my son since his birth (even if from afar).

But do you know what I felt when I saw I had missed a call from her?

Not happiness.

Guilt.

I had not called her since getting back. In the last few months, I have been focused on the seemingly all-consuming tasks of an international move, getting husband and son settled into new schools, developing a new family routine, learning a new city, setting up our lives in this country again, and dealing with the culture shock of reentry, and the crazy (yet lifegiving!) dream of starting a blog in the middle of it all!

Calling this particular friend had been on my to-do list, but it kept being bumped down by more “important things.”

And also?

I felt dread.

My Spanish language abilities have deteriorated shockingly since moving overseas. Because I used Amharic language every day for two years, it seemed to crowd out Spanish, so now, I speak Spanish painfully slowly and with random Amharic words accidentally thrown in.

I knew that if I called my friend (who does not speak much English), our conversation would be awkward because of my stilted Spanish and the fact that I hadn’t called her.

God help me, I was just plain embarrassed, and unsure of how to restart a relationship which had lain dormant for 2 years.

BUT. I called her.

Sweating, hands shaking, Spanish choking in my throat, eyes squeezed tight as I stumbled my way through greetings and apologies and family inquiries and awkward pauses when my brain couldn’t translate fast enough the friendship-building words I wanted to say.

I wrestled to communicate: “I….I had missed…..you missed….I missed YOU,” painstakingly floundering to find the right tense, the right direct object.

As I had feared, Amharic words got peppered in when I was reaching for a Spanish word I couldn’t quite remember.

But oh, my friend was gracious. So very gracious and kind. She assured me that now we’re connected by phone again and I can call her anytime to practice Spanish so we can get it up to speed again.

She told me again how much she’s always loved my son and wants to have regular updates and pictures of him.

She was a friend to me on the phone today. Always has been. I’m grateful for her.

I’m also grateful for the pride-crushing reminder that no matter how long we’ve been involved in welcoming ministry, we sometimes let balls drop. We let old crosscultural friendships slip. We don’t initiate because we feel we need to be more stable, more fluent, less busy, less stressed first.

Remember this with me too: It’s seldom too late to rekindle a friendship.  If you’ve let one slip, don’t stew in the guilt. Move forward in grace. Make a phone call today with a humble heart and an warm voice. Be willing to receive the graciousness of your old friend. I almost guarantee that they will give it.

Yes, it’s better to give than receive, but sometimes receiving grace from another human is spectacularly beautiful. It reminds us that we’re not the Savior, that we’re just people seeking to love other people, and doing it imperfectly but sincerely.

God, help us to keep pursuing friendship with old friends as well as new ones. If friendships have lapsed, give us wisdom to know how to rekindle them. Give us humility and let us experience your grace displayed through others.

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