Foreign

I had been convinced to help a friend with a purchase.

“I want to place an order for beef, but the smallest amount is too much. If you split it with me, then it would work out better.”

There was an organic farm not too far away, and she was trying to rid her life of anything artificial. Hydrogenated oils and artificial sweeteners were on her hit list.

I agreed to try it with her and was told it would be a few days before I could pick it up. I totally forgot about it because this was when I was homeschooling, trying to get around to everything, and I didn’t have mental space for livestock.

“Is dis Christine?” The accent was heavy, and the voice unfamiliar. I wished I had let the call go when I couldn’t identify the number.

“Yes,” I said hesitantly. Who was calling from Norway?

“Dis is Helga. I need ta ask you questions.”

I now wondered if this was a long-lost relative. A Norwegian from my grandma’s side of the family with that name. Could this be the call where I am told I have inherited the unknown family fortune?

“I have beef dat you wanted. I need ta know how you want it.”

I was listening intently because she was trying so hard to get her message across to me. I always feel bad when speaking to someone who tries their best in English, and I have to make them repeat themselves.

“I am so sorry. Could you ask that again?”

This was happening multiple times as she tried to talk me through the steps. I had never done this before, so I had no idea what I was doing.

I finally understood that she wanted me to select cuts and different types of processing. It was smooth sailing from there once I comprehended what the point of this was. We were doing great, me and Helga until she got to the final question.

“Do you want da liver?”

“No, I will pick up my order.”

What an odd thing to say after being told that I would have to drive thirty minutes to get it.

“Da liver or no?”

“I will come to get it,” I repeated.

“No. No. Do you want da liver?!”

“When do you want me to come to get it?” I decided not to answer the question since we were getting nowhere.

“Da liver! Da liver? Do you want that?”

With Helga raising her voice many decibels, I took a minute to think. It dawned on me that she wasn’t giving me a delivery option.

“Oh!” I said, and I could almost hear her collapse. Now that I knew, I was slightly grossed out.

“No. I don’t want that.”

And with that, Helga went on to her next frustrating phone call.

That wasn’t my first brush with a foreign language. In middle school, I had to take Spanish, German and French.

German was the hardest because of the pronunciation coming all from the throat, it seemed. My brothers were always watching Hogan’s Heroes, and my goal in life as an 8th grader was not to sound like Colonel Klink or Sergeant Shultz. It just had a bad mental image for me, making it even more difficult to learn.

The other two were okay, but I struggled overall. When I got to college, I decided to take French to fulfill the requirement for earning my degree. I didn’t picture myself jetting off to Paris, but I wanted to graduate as quickly as possible.

So you run the gauntlet.

Our instructor was not the warmest person. Behind her smile, I could sense a drill officer who expected perfection. At this stage of life, most classes had no required seating, but not her. We were put in alphabetical order, and this class met every single day.

We had one of the biggest snowstorms strike during the winter, and she would not cancel. We all dragged ourselves in, risking life and limb to do her bidding while the rest of the school shut down. It was apparent to me that day she had us under mind control. Not a seat was vacant, and all of us looked stressed. One girl showed up in her pajamas. This was before doing that in public was fashionable.

She used intimidation as a tool to educate us about what is known as the language of love.

The toughest part for me was learning the male and female pronouns. It was bad enough trying to grasp words and their meaning, but then you had to know if an object was masculine or feminine. Even for a visual person, this was a struggle. And if you remembered wrong, you were already lost by choosing the incorrect pronoun.

There was a rule that if a word ended with an ‘e’, then it was feminine. Your choice for the word “the” was un or une depending on what gender was involved, but not always, and that is where the confusion came in.

She would lead us in group reciting sessions so we all could cover our inadequacies. Our voices joined as one made it easy to whisper and let others drown you out. The absolute horror of this class was when we would walk in and find headphones at all of our seats on a Monday. She loved her pop quizzes.

She would station herself in a soundproof booth while we read passages out loud from the textbook. She would click in to listen to us each individually.

It was so clear who she was targeting. While the rest of us moved on, I could hear some poor soul going over and over the same sentence trying to appease her.

It happened to me all the time. And the guy next to me always looked scared because he knew he was going to be next.

“No! Do it again!” She would yell. So I would.

“No! No! Again! Again!”

I could hear the F being scribbled into her teacher’s notes.

Then she would always try the tactic of pronouncing it and wanting me to follow what she said. The chorus of voices around me, robotically speaking, always threw me off. And the sound was staticky because this was way before technology and noise canceling earbuds.

At some point, I decided there was no pleasing this woman. She was a perfectionist, and even if I did something right, she marched on finding more faults.

Because a significant portion of our grade was based on the actual speaking of the language, I was not doing so well, and neither was anyone else. Weirdly, I redeemed myself on the tests along the way. When I went back to review, I realized I had memorized many words, and I could write sentences and read, but I couldn’t say it.

Without her negative attitude breathing down my neck, I realized I wasn’t that dumb like she made us all out to be. In the quiet, without her around, I could think and do better.

I had to get comfortable with making it to the tests and not look at how horrible I was doing along the way. She was a bad teacher, but I was somehow still learning despite her.

When that clicked, I was able to escape with a B. My test scores were outstanding, but she would have never told me that. I’m sure she’s way retired by now eating a Pillsbury croissant somewhere. If no more students are being tortured, that’s a good thing.

Understanding how God talks is much like learning a foreign language, and it requires putting aside what you think you know. In 2 Corinthians 5:7 it says:

We live by faith, not by sight. (NLT)

I remember the first time someone said that to me. I was having a crisis in my life and was worrying non-stop. That statement made no sense to me. Wouldn’t my sweating it out bring the problem to a close faster?

Matthew 6:27 says no:

Can all your worries add a single moment to your life? (NLT)

So we aren’t supposed to be afraid, trust God, cast all our care into heaven’s hands, and use faith, not our physical senses, to live from a powerful spiritual standpoint. None of that sounds simple because it isn’t, you have to learn it, and it doesn’t happen overnight.

It’s a job done from the inside out, but the more you persist and keep exposing yourself to communication with God, you unlearn what you thought was so important. There’s another way of living where you are allowed to have insight into an unseen realm. You pray, and you crawl before you walk. But, you see the gradual building of something valuable.

God doesn’t want people wandering around in the dark, not knowing what to do. In Matthew 7:7-8 it is presented this way:

Be direct. Ask for what you need. This isn’t a cat-and-mouse, hide-and-seek game we’re in. (Message)

The great thing about learning to come up higher spiritually is that you can help others navigate through their rough waters. You can hear and see things they can’t, and if they listen and apply what you say, there’s a blessing for both of you.

Be careful who you let be your authority figure in this. My French teacher impeded my progress to learning by coming at us in an aggressive nature. I have been to churches that believe that you have to run it by them, and you live in a crippled state of never advancing because someone has convinced you they know better than you do. No one knows you better than God. If it doesn’t feel like you have the freedom to think on your own and ask questions, that isn’t the place to grow.

God is always in the business of expansion. But the prerequisite is that you start small and work your way up. Learn the vocabulary, and soon it won’t feel so foreign.

(There are problems in EVERY language!)