Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Reflections on a trip to Malaysia

If you’re wondering where I was for the last two weeks or so, I’ve been on a trip to Malaysia with my husband.   I wanted to share a few spiritual lessons that I learned while there.

There is nothing like a trip to a foreign exotic place to throw you out of your comfort zone.  And leaving one’s comfort zone gives new urgency and sincerity to prayer.   Almost immediately after leaving the country, I had troubles to deal with (some rather embarrassing), but praying about them helped me deal with them with optimism and hope, and I recognized many tender mercies that the Lord gave me.  The tender mercies seemed to come so thickly that I was just astounded.

There were a number of times when we got directions to go somewhere and after following those directions, we still could not find what we were looking for.  There’s something about being lost in a foreign country that makes me feel more “stuck” than I would otherwise.  (I think it has to do with a combination of looking around and realizing that I don’t see what I expected to see, realizing that I’ll have a hard time making myself understood to the locals so asking directions again may be marginally helpful, and wandering a bit hasn’t turned anything up.)  Feeling stuck definitely called for prayer.  When we prayed, we found where we needed to go or we found out better ways to get there. 

Yes, going to a foreign place took me out of my comfort zone and brought me to my knees more often than I have been lately, and the good experiences I had with that showed me that I need to leave my comfort zone more often.  (Thankfully, there are ways of doing it without having to go to a foreign country.) Of course it’s uncomfortable, but it is desirable if I see it as an opportunity to depend on the Lord more than my own strength and wisdom.

I also realized that one of the things the Holy Ghost did for me was to grab my attention and make me notice something was missing.  It felt very peculiar, like I was a fish yanked out of the water by a hook in my brain; it was as if my attention was jerked out of whatever I was thinking about and into what I needed to notice.  If it had a soundtrack, you would hear "Pa-TING!" Story:  Once I left my USB stick in my pants pocket and sent those pants with some other clothes to be laundered.  That USB stick had most of the writing I had done for the last ten years on it.  (face-palm) (Yes, I had a back-up, but it wasn’t a recent one.) (double face-palm) The Holy Ghost made me realize my USB stick was missing a few hours before we had to pick up our laundry (Pa-TING!) and because of that, I asked about it and was able to get it back.  Happily, someone had gone through our pockets beforehand and set aside my USB stick.  If I had not realized it was missing and remembered that was where it was, I would not have known to ask for it and I would have lost it for sure.

Another time, I was on one of our flights home and I had a feeling I should check my purse to make sure nothing had slid out.  I had seen things slide out of my purse a few times before.  (I think the Holy Ghost brought this to my remembrance.) Because I checked, I discovered my Palm Pilot was missing.  (Yes, I’m a die-hard user of Palm Pilots.)  It had slid out and careful searching revealed it was under my seat.  If I had not checked, I would have left it on the plane and would not have realized it was missing until much later and then I would not have known where I had lost it. 

I learned that I got more satisfaction out of the places we toured when we did more of the work to get there, and this suggested a spiritual principle.  Let me explain.    

The first day we were in Kuala Lumpur (the capital), we took a tour in a little van with a guide, who took us to different sites in the city.  We saw a Chinese temple, we saw a Hindu temple, we saw a mosque (but didn’t go inside, since we weren’t allowed), we saw a market, and we saw a park that used to be an English cricket green back in colonial days.   That’s a lot in four hours.  It was interesting to hear what the guide said about it, but for some reason being at those places wasn’t very satisfying.  I remember afterward wondering why that was.   

But the second day (and each day after that), we started taking public transportation.   My husband is already good at understanding trains, having dealt with trains on his mission in England, so I worked on learning the train system in Kuala Lumpur with him.  Our trip to Batu Caves in north Kuala Lumpur required us to take one train, then get off and walk about a third of a mile to another train station.  That winding, twisting walk was tricky, since there weren’t any signs to direct us except for the textured pavement put in to direct blind people, and that pavement branched at least once.  We sort of had to wander.  (That was another time when we prayed.  And right after we prayed, we happened to notice a train coming into view at a distant station, which turned out to be what we were looking for.  We would not have known that was where we needed to go otherwise.)    Anyway, by the time we got to Batu Caves, I was already feeling satisfied with how the day had gone.  And I realized it was because the journey had been as much of an interesting adventure as the destination. 

And then... Batu Caves had 274 steep steps that we had to climb to get to the cave shrine itself.  274 steps is the equivalent of climbing a 21-story building.  So of course, getting into the caves felt like another satisfying accomplishment in the hot, humid weather.  

By the end of the day, after taking stock, it felt like we had done much more and had more fun even though we had only gone to one destination.   Our participation and engagement in practicing using the trains had built our skills, making us more self-reliant, and it is impossible to build skills to any extent without feeling joy afterward. 

These principles work all throughout life too.  Trying to find joy in the journey means learning how to appreciate the adventure of solving the problems along the way with the Lord’s help. Each little step we take toward our goals is something worth celebrating and feeling satisfaction about.  And when this life is over, we’ll be able to look back and be so happy as we see all we were able to do with the Lord’s help.  The struggle of finding our way will be far more worth it than if we just hopped on the bus and took a tour through life.

This is really going to help me because before this trip I was in this place spiritually where I looked upon troubles as a drag.  I had some goals and I knew I would have to learn some new skills to achieve my goals, and I was so impatient that I wanted to just skip it and find someone to do it for me.  But this experience has given me hope that the process of learning those skills and making mistakes and trying again and back-tracking and doing a little wandering is an adventure that I can enjoy, and when I finally get to where I want to be I will feel so much more joy because of the journey.

How about you?  What lessons have you learned from your travel experiences?  Care to share?


Rozy Lass said...

Next month I'm going to Japan and Korea. The only other foreign places I've been have been English speaking (even Tijuana). Your insights will be put to good use, thanks for sharing.

Michaela Stephens said...

Oooo! How exciting for you, Rozy Lass! Business or pleasure?

Rozy Lass said...

Pleasure: to Japan to visit our exchange student (2003), then to Korea to visit our daughter who is stationed there in the Air Force. She's a linguist so I have the advantage of having a "guide" who speaks the language. I'm so excited!

Ramona Gordy said...

Hi Michaela
Wow, Malaysia is an exotic place and it would definitely be out of my comfort zone. I loved your post and I could"see" one reason for discomfort, maybe that pesky feeling of "fear of the unknown", but in reality because of the immediate influx of the "known". I am sure you did your background check on Malaysia, and for all of it's good points, a few bad and potentially seriously bad points may have stuck in your subconscious.
It sounds like you and your husband were able to overcome the "knowns" and enjoy the "unknown's" and each other better.
By the way what does "pat-Ting" stand for?

Michaela Stephens said...

Hi Ramona,
Yes, Malaysia was pretty exotic in some ways, but in other ways it was very much like here. Malls for instance. Very western.

Pa-TING was meant as a textual sound effect, like a little metal pellet ricocheting off something. I was hoping you'd hear it in your head as you were reading, but obviously that didn't work. Sorry...

Michaela Stephens said...

Rozy Lass, that trip sounds like it's going to be exciting! I'm happy for you!