Tea Cups Full of Grace

I remember my daydream years back before our little family had moved to Russia. I had spent a summer in Russia previously, but I really had no idea what life here would be like, and especially life as a family with a baby. Being the optimist that I am, despite the worries of leaving family and familiarity, my imaginary future life was bright and vivid. I can still see the crisp image in my mind of the home that I imagined I would have, and the life that I would soon lead.

My quaint little imaginary home was bright and inviting with a little kitchen that opened up to our living room, perfect for frequent hospitality. The sun shone in the windows (really this was not as fanciful as it sounds since we were to move to southern Russia that is indeed quite sunny and bright), and I would sit there on the couch with my new Russian friends sipping tea out of little blue and white china tea cups, sharing deeply about our lives and talking about the gospel. I am not particularly prone to daydreaming, but for some reason this image remains vivid in my mind.

What a shock it was to enter our new apartment for the first time, dead exhausted in every way, and to walk into our dark, dingy flat late on that first night. I had always considered myself relatively adaptable, as does anyone planning to leave family and culture for the international mission field, but as my eyes beheld these first images of my new home, the tears defied my will to hold them back. The furniture and decor was all very dark, the ceilings were low, electrical sockets practically hung out of the wall, and the dirt was abundant. The windows of my tiny kitchen were on the dark side of the buildingย  crossed with iron bars, and the dishes were chipped and mis-matching and not enough in number to create a set even for our little family of three, let alone containing a beautiful set of ornate blue and white tea cups.

And not only did the reality of my home contrast so sharply with the new Russian home of my daydream, but the reality of my new ministry was also just as strikingly different. I could hardly say, “Hello, my name is Ashley,” let alone have a heart-to-heart in Russian. And my supposed “natural language ability” proved to be quite circumstantial. This ability existed in a past life where I studied language for over 20 hours a week, without kids…. learning Chinese. Studying Russian a few hours a week with a baby did not pan out quite the same. Rarely did anyone come to sit on my couch for tea, let alone to hear the gospel, and I wondered how on earth I would ever be a thriving and fruitful missionary .

I remember the feelings of sadness, disappointment, frustration, and even hopelessness as I began this life that seemed far less beautiful or fruitful than I had daydreamed. I wondered and prayed if God would ever fill my living room with friends for tea and opportunities for the gospel, but honestly it seemed quite a long ways off. I was thrilled to love and serve my husband to enable him to have a fruitful ministry, but was there ever going to be an opportunity for me to really feel like I too was a part?

The memory of this daydream and the feelings that came so strongly after I first arrived in Russia are what made a gift that I received last night in my kitchen over tea with friends so incredibly special. My dearest Russian friend, not yet a believer but with whom God has blessed me with true friendship, many heart-to-heart talks over tea, and conversations about the gospel, brought me a set of lovely blue and white china tea cups. She had no idea about the little daydream of my past, so to receive these little cups, just like I had imagined, from such a truly dear friend, is such a vivid and perfect picture to me of the Lord’s amazing grace in my life here in Russia. He has provided friends, he has provided a ministry that even I with all of my limitations can do, and He has even provided the blue and white china tea cups to remind me of His grace. God didn’t have to do it that way to remind me of His plan and power and perfection, but how incredibly grateful I am for this special display of His love.

Do you remember your imaginary life on the field before you set foot in your new country? Does that image differ from the reality of the life that you stepped into? How has God shown you grace in this life that is perhaps not what you had expected, but all the same His perfect will?

(Post by: Ashley)

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14 Responses to “Tea Cups Full of Grace”


  1. 1 Laura from Pruning Princesses January 5, 2012 at 12:56 pm

    Thank you for sharing this story. It is encouraging. It reminds me of the scene in Corrie Ten Boom’s The Hiding Place where Corrie bursts into tears at the site of so many fleas in their barracks and her sister insists they praise God. They later find out that the fleas are the reason the guards never enter the sleeping rooms and thus never break upon the fruitful Bible study Corrie and her sister led daily. The stories aren’t perfect parallels, but somehow they connect in my mind. Enjoy tea in your cups.

  2. 2 Kaylee January 5, 2012 at 3:00 pm

    Thank you so much for this encouragement! ๐Ÿ™‚ What a blessing this sisterhood of missionary moms has become to me since arriving on “the field” for the first time in February. Your story is just that much more encouraging as I’m struggling through the first of two languages we need to learn and desiring more heart-to-hearts but lacking the ability.

  3. 3 Shilo January 5, 2012 at 5:05 pm

    What a precious, precious gift and reminder of our Father’s great love for you!!
    I honestly didn’t have many expectations of our first overseas missionary assignment which lasted 4 years. I did, however, have MANY (though I wouldn’t realize it until later) heading into our second and surprisingly (or maybe not so surprisingly) the hardest adjustments were with the way our organization and co-workers functioned in our new place of service. There were some cultural adjustments too, of course, but they paled in comparison.
    I too am thankful as I look back and see how God was growing me up into Him and teaching me to truly LOVE despite differing philosophies, values, communication styles, etc. He’s such a faithful God!

  4. 4 Liz K January 5, 2012 at 6:53 pm

    oh how lovely!! Thank you! We are 2/3 of our way done with language school and I feel totally inept at saying things like “I can sweep my floor” let alone have have a heart to heart in Spanish…poco a poco as they say, little by little…

  5. 5 Sara January 5, 2012 at 8:17 pm

    I too have encountered the love of our faithful Creator in a special way this last year. I left behind a piece of me when I left my nursing job in a large university hospital. Following the call to change our place of ministry to West Africa has brought many changes & challenges. Here I support my husband & care for our children ( we all know just how much more work caring for a family is overseas!) as our mission does not have a medical focus. How many times I would pour out my sorrow to the Father as I missed so deeply caring for physical & spiritual needs as nurses do. I chose to surrender, to lay down my longing for medical things & trust my Creator. So many times that surrender needed to happen until finally I could lay the matter down in the back of my mind & focus faithfully on the mission field within our compound walls.
    God has shown His grace in bringing into my path a new friend, who is a community health nurse & long time resident of Ghana. She is allowing me to help at her clinic a day each week. I am rejoicing in an intimate Creator displaying His love to me!
    Thanks for the post & the encouragment.

  6. 6 Phyllis January 6, 2012 at 2:06 pm

    This one made me cry. I don’t think I had such clear expectations as you did, but it never even crossed my mind that we’d have to leave Russia. My imaginary life was all about living in Russia forever. I’m still looking for that grace you mentioned, but Ukraine is finanally starting to feel like home.

  7. 7 Addie January 6, 2012 at 2:36 pm

    This is such a beautiful post Ashley, thank you for sharing your heart. As I’m not an international missionary, I don’t have any imaginary lives in my head regarding another country. But I do have the imaginary life as a mom in the US, and the picture I once had in my head of how it would be has had to change over the years. I am finally getting to a point in my career as a mom in which I’m actually happy. I have several years under my belt and feel confident in many ways. I do however imagine what life will be like when my kids are older, like teenagers. In my head it’s all beautiful and peaceful…I wonder if that’s how it’s really going to be. ๐Ÿ™‚

  8. 8 Ashley L January 6, 2012 at 5:50 pm

    Dear friends, it is a blessing to relate together in this and in so many other things. Whether we’ve walked through these sorts of difficult times in the past or are amidst them currently, we can be so greatly encouraged knowing that we are not alone. And even more than the encouragement of having countless sisters in Christ who have been right there with us at some time or another, we know that God IS right there with us during every difficult and lonely moment, fully present and full of grace. I am praying for you, friends!

  9. 9 jolenesloan January 6, 2012 at 8:01 pm

    Beautiful! And, isn’t that just like our God… to show Himself to us in a way that we know only He can?!

  10. 10 Phyllis January 7, 2012 at 6:36 am

    By the way, I do have the “a little kitchen that opens up to our living room, perfect for frequent hospitality” for the first time ever. It is the most amazing thing! ๐Ÿ™‚

  11. 11 Val January 14, 2012 at 3:37 am

    Ashley, I am enjoying your posts so much after your season “away”. Our family moves every year or two (or three!) for my husband’s military assignments. Over ten times now, I’ve envisioned a place, dreamt about how life will be. Transitions are difficult. Leaving and starting over. It’s what we choose — I remind myself of this. Still, envy crops up. . . for others who are far away in other lands. Or who live near the grandmas and have lots of help with littles. ๐Ÿ™‚ I choose to grumble when I have so much to be thankful for. And if I’m honest, I often look ahead to the “next thing,” rather than leaning into the joy and pain (and God’s goodness) that is right here, right now. As our kids get older, I don’t want to wish my life away. I continue to be encouraged by every honest word shared here by you and by the contributors. But something has struck me over the last couple weeks as I’ve read the entries: it doesn’t matter where we are, or what we’re doing. We’re each coping (wrestling!?) with many of the same issues. That encourages me deeply. I’m digging in this winter to have eyes to see His beauty — right here in a place I’d never imagined we’d be: California’s Central Coast. Home for 14 more months. And all our homes with our various teacups. . . they’re really just practice for the coming Real One. ๐Ÿ™‚

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  1. 1 Becoming Russian « Trackback on January 8, 2012 at 12:53 pm
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