The last two posts looked at some of the themes explored through our “Euro Heritage Month” in July. I believe stories are a powerful way to communicate important truths, as they have been embodied in a real way in someone’s life. The final one I will share is from Erin Koning, a wonderful woman of God who also leads our Community Care ministry. She grew up in a thick Dutch culture, and concisely recaps some of the things she has learned from that upbringing. (And men, she is one of our most eligible bachelorettes, so if you need some more info let me know =)
I grew up with two kinds of Dutch. West Michigan Dutch, and Dutch Dutch. I spent the majority of my growing up years in Jenison Michigan where most people have a Dutch lineage, lending to a lot of height and penny pinching. But within this community I grew up in a family with a father whose grandparents hail from the motherland and a mother who literally came right off the boat. So there are two kinds of Dutch culture that have influenced my life, and I could go on about it forever, but to stay in the time limit, I’m going to focus on just two shared characteristics of these cultures and how they’ve shaped who I am and my relationship with the Lord.
1.) I learned from all those Dutchies, that you don’t ask your friends for help, you help yourself. I realize the irony in this as I’m the Community Care girl, but stick with me and I’ll explain. I think in some ways, I’ve gotten better at asking for help. I’ve had friends fix my sink, help me move, and bring me soup when I was recovering from the flu. On the other hand, I never really talked much about my sadness over my father’s death with anyone close to me, and that was the area in which I needed help the most. The bigger problem is, this not asking friends for help thing has translated into my relationship with God. Though all those Dutchies taught me that you could pray to God about anything, over the years I stopped asking Him for help. When my dad was sick with Parkinson’s disease and my prayers for him to be healed were not being answered according to my wishes, it developed a belief that God won’t help you out when you need it. Because of that, I have a lot of anxiety about prayer. I was taught that when you pray, you’re supposed to bring your troubles to the Lord and if I didn’t want to do that, then it just becomes a kind of awkward conversation. Praying for others is something I can do, but talking about my own issues is still quite hard. Either I feel sheepish because I don’t think I have the right to ask Him for help, or I’m worried that I won’t get what I ask for and I don’t want to stick myself out on a limb for fear of being disappointed. The good news is, as I’ve struggled through this, I’ve realized that when I do ask God for help, he’s always listening with kindness and love. And that is truly an amazing feeling to be loved by God. Sometimes he doesn’t give you what you want, but he’s always going to help you through the disappointment of not getting it. So even though I’m still working on implementing the practice of asking for help, I know that it is a good thing. Asking for help allows people and God the opportunity to love you through serving you. When you ask for help, it builds relationship and community. So you see, I’m actually very well equipped to be the community care girl. I know how much harder things are when you don’t ask for help, and I know how great it can be when you finally do.
2.) Now, the positive side of Dutch. The Dutch know commitment. My parents and community both taught me that if you choose to do something, stick it out. In 5th grade I had a band teacher that I couldn’t stand. He made me miserable and I wanted to quit. I even left my flute at the bus stop one morning in a subconscious effort to rid myself of the man. But my parents would not it. They said, “you committed to band, so you need to stick it out for the entire school year”. Later on in high school, I ran track and hated it. I actually tried to quit the morning of a meet when I was scheduled to run a relay race with three other girls. My track coach rather intensely explained that I’d be letting the other girls down if I didn’t fulfill my commitment. So I ran the race. Then later, I wanted to quit my job at the restaurant when I was the only girl busboy. But once again, my parents made me stick it out and it turned out to be one of the best jobs ever since being the only girl is actually pretty awesome. At any rate, learning the importance of commitment formed my relationship with the Lord. I’ve been at this church since the year it began and it hasn’t always been a smooth road. We’ve had bumps and bruises along the journey. But my commitment and love for this church’s people and vision kept me here. No church is perfect because people aren’t perfect. Thankfully, God is. He carries us on grace and we struggle and achieve and learn from our mistakes and celebrate our successes (of which we’ve had plenty, hello ESL, Kid and Baby City, marriages, babies, community….). Because I’ve stuck it out, I’ve met amazing people of all backgrounds who have taught me about culture and race and things I never would have known (like how it’s good to ask for help) had I not left the Dutch community. The brilliant thing is, God is a God of commitment. A God committed to his people. Which means no matter how crazy I am, He’ll never desert me.