Laura is currently hacking out a life overseas in Thailand, where her husband directs a Christian orphanage for girls. She is homeschooling their three small children, loving 44 Asian orphans, and navigating markets that sell fried grasshoppers. After ten years in church ministry, she is learning that practical obedience in a foreign country is much less romantic than the missionary novels she read as a kid. She writes of lessons learned and blunders made at her blog, Laura Parker {Life Overseas}. You can also follow her on twitter.

We each hold a kid’s hand as we navigate the Asian marketplace.  It’s a sweltering mangle of vendors with knock-off sunglasses and the smell of freshly-dead fish and the bodies of nearly-everyone within a scooter-ride’s distance from this parking-lot turned Thai-Walmart-on-steroids. And I start to feel sorry for myself. I’m frustrated at the effort it takes to just get dinner in a foreign land, and I’m annoyed by the heat and the crowds. I grumble about the smells that turn my stomach and the weight of my three-year-old strapped to my back.

And then my shoulder bumps him. Shuffling on cautious feet. Fingers doggedly striking an oddly-tuned keyboard slung around a brown neck. Tin can taped to the side of the scratched instrument.  Eyes glazed-blue, deformed, and seeing only darkness.

And compassion stirs. I scramble for coins to clink into the can, and I touch his hand so he’ll know. And I walk away wondering about what it must be like to navigate a busy marketplace, by yourself, without sight, begging for the money to buy dinner.

And, suddenly, I feel pretty small to be complaining at all.

Ever since our family of five moved to Thailand several months ago, poverty and injustice have been daily visitors. We read the histories of the girls at the orphanage my husband directs, and we are struck with the reality of childhood prostitution. We see the dirty-faced boy selling flowers on our busy street corner, and poverty stands right outside our car window. I hear first-hand accounts of abuse in neighboring countries, and I watch my husband travel into remote villages where rice is the only food in the bowl. I bump into a blind musician at a busy market, begging for pennies.

Insulated. My life six months ago was vastly different; it whispered insulation at every turn. Living a middle-class lifestyle in a quaint mountain community in Colorado, I was enjoying the American Dream. My hands were overflowing with freedoms and conveniences and privileges. I had become so naturally insulated from the less fortunate around me that subtle attitudes of entitlement and discontent quietly became the normal. I never fully realized what I had been given, and so the desire for more and better reared its head all too often.

And then I moved halfway around the world.

Gratitude. And one of the lessons I am learning in this life on Latitude 18 is that the level of my insulation directly corresponds with the depth of my gratitude. If I surround myself with the comfortable and convenient, suddenly “they” start becoming much less important than “me.” If I choose to turn away, eventually my agenda dwarfs most everything else, and suddenly, I don’t have what I need to be comfortable or satisfied. When all I’m looking at is myself in wealthy America, I start feeling like I don’t have all that much to be grateful for.

Oh, but I do.

I have the freedom to stay home with my kids, when the women around me have never dreamed of the option. I have the money to eat. Every day. My kids sleep on beds, in a house, in safety. I have an education higher than most everyone on the planet, and I belong to one of the wealthiest nations in the world. I got to choose who I married {for love, even}, and I’ve always had clean water. But mostly, I know about Jesus, and I  savor the Rescue.

But, when I insulate myself from those precious souls around me–both globally and locally–who have tasted poverty and suffering and abuse, I begin to forget how much my hands are really holding.

And I start to neglect giving thanks.

And I foster entitlement and discontent.

And I begin brush past the blind musician on my way to dinner, and

not feel anything, at all.

What are you most thankful for today? What ways can you “get closer” to those less fortunate around you?

I’m so thankful for Laura’s perspective today, because she doesn’t speak as someone who doesn’t know. She knows. And she sees. And so she testifies. Since she submitted this guest post, her words have been rolling around in my heart. I hope they roll around in yours, too.