Sunday, February 11, 2018

Rest for the Weary; Joy for the Sorrowing

I'm tired, Father, I told God as I spent time in my devotions this morning. Sundays are my treasured days because they are usually unhurried where I have time to study my Bible, talk to God in earnest, and not be tied to work or gym or one of many social activities. In reflecting on the past weeks, though, I sensed that life was wearing me down. There were some challenges in both my ministry and personal life that were not resolving themselves as easily as I had anticipated and I needed to take a break.

Please show me Your presence, I prayed. I was thinking specifically in relation to something I was puzzling out, but in my plea I didn't lay out a fleece. I simply asked God to show Himself. I needed to know He was present in my life; I needed to sense His power.

After looking at my rather long list of to-dos for the day, half of which should have been finished the Friday before except I'd played hooky and spent the day out with two dear friends, I picked the one task that was least urgent. I decided to work on my taxes.

Several weeks earlier I'd started the process, but back then I couldn't log in to my account due to some technical glitch and when I got an update that the glitch was fixed, I was too busy to refocus. Today, though, something prompted me to briefly log in and see what my estimated tax payment would be.

Ever since I began working, I have received tax refunds. I always overpaid a little, thinking of it as money in the bank, so I would get a modest refund which would usually cover my car insurance for the next year or some such expenditure. This year, though, was going to be different. The entire year I had been employed outside of the US as a missionary and my simple income had not been subject to withholdings.

Somewhat nervous about making sure I had enough money set aside to pay my taxes at the end of the tax year, I went online a year ago to find a tax calculator and figure out approximately what percentage of my salary I should be saving each month. Then, every month when I did my accounts, I carefully set aside that amount just as I set aside my tithes and offerings. My mother, an accountant, had taught me well to budget so I wouldn't have to rely on credit cards to manage.

I spent some time clicking through the various windows until I came to the end and watched the program crunch some numbers, spitting out a final figure. I looked at it in disbelief.

Going online and finding the tax tables for 2017, I searched for the correct line item. There seemed to be a significant discrepancy between the amount the tax program was showing me and the amount the tax table displayed. When I went back to the tax program, though, and expanded the menu I realized there was some small matter I had forgotten to calculate.

I'd forgotten the federal deduction and tax credits.

After calculating those, my gross income dropped significantly and the taxable income's tax on the line item in the 2017 tax table now matched precisely with the tax program I'd been using. I stared at the numbers in silence for several moments as tears began to fall.

Each month, I had been setting aside more than I needed to save. I didn't know, but God did. It wasn't such a huge amount of money, but as I looked at the figures and realized the total was equivalent to a month's salary, I was in awe at how God had orchestrated it. He was saving the money for me so I could be blessed with a beautiful surprise at just the right moment.

I don't have a specific need for the money right now though it will most likely go into my savings fund for a car. Yet it's not the actual money that surprised me as much as the realization that God is taking care of my every need and not only that, He also blesses me beyond what I could imagine. Every month, as I faithfully set aside the small amount, He was multiplying it so that at the end of the year He could give me back more than 2/3rds of the money I had been saving.

In Jeremiah 31:25, God promises to give rest to the weary and joy to the sorrowing (NLT). In Hebrews 10:23, God says He can be trusted to keep His promise. The miracle I'd just witnessed was not directly tied to any of the questions I had been asking God for answers to but it was a clear indication that God was present in my life. His power and His care was shown in a moment but through a miracle that had taken 10 months to be revealed.

If God can take care of me in these things, can I not trust Him to provide for all my other needs? We can be confident that He will listen to us whenever we ask Him for anything in line with His will. And if we know He is listening when we make our requests, we can be sure that He will give us what we ask for. 1 John 5:14, 15

Within moments God can reveal His presence. His presence that was with me all the time.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

To Be Seen

Excuse me for being honest, really, it's your personality. So you really aren't married? I laughed as I shook my head. No, I'm not. I guess it must seem strange in a country where marriage is very much acceptable here.

The kind looking man with salt and pepper hair and a full beard had come into the classroom just a few minutes prior with two college-age guys. They were the late arrivals from one of the 15 or so universities that were part of the university fair in Roumieh at a French-speaking high school. The placard outside boasted a Trilingual school which I thought was quite impressive and the kids easily switched between French, English, and Arabic as they talked with recruiters.

M and I had left the university rather early as our taxi driver was double-booked and had to head to the airport right after dropping us off so he could pick up an incoming guest lecturer. When we reached the high school, one of the teachers kindly told us that being we were more than an hour early, the classrooms were still in use and we would have to amuse ourselves until it was closer to starting time. We left the pop-up banners and roll-on suitcase in the lobby appropriately titled Salon and headed off to find a restaurant so I could get something to eat.

Following Googlemaps, I was about to head off a side street to find Mounir, a restaurant that M told me was one of the most expensive around where a glass of water cost $10, when we spotted a Resto Cafe right in front of us. Though named Taj, there was nothing Indian about it, as it was a simple fast food snack shop and hangout for the local high school kids. Still, they had French-fry sandwiches so I ordered one, M got a bottle of water for 66 cents, and we sat to chat, surrounded by casually smoking high schoolers.

A side note on the French-fry sandwiches. These are my downfall and the reason why I spend endless hours at the gym! Each thinly rolled up sandwich comes stuffed with coleslaw, perfectly sour cucumber pickles, sweet ketchup, spicy toum (garlic spread), and about a pound of salty French fries that have just jumped out of the fryer. Each bite is an explosion of ying and yang and I cannot go more than a month without ordering one from Al Mazar at the bottom of the hill.

After eating and returning to the school, we set up inside a classroom that appeared to be meant for two universities. We claimed the only teacher's desk for our supplies, since the other university hadn't appeared yet, set up a banner to attract kids inside, and soon M was in the hallway gathering small clusters around her as she explained why they should come study at our university.

Nearly 30 minutes later, the other university showed up. We smiled and exchanged hellos as they entered, I perhaps a little too enthusiastically because I was so happy to see someone I recognized from previous orientations. They set up their brochures on one of the front desks, then the older man wandered over to try to chat a little. I explained my Arabic was very little and his English was marginally better than my Arabic so he began to ask where I was from and what I did. The usual questions.

So you are here, living in Lebanon, you and. . .slight pause. . .your husband? He asked most sincerely. I laughed and replied, No, it's just me! He seemed surprised and asked why. I shrugged. I guess that's just the way it is. I didn't have a clever or witty answer to give at the time. It wasn't long before he came back around to the same topic, again asking to be sure. Then he asked me for my phone number.

I'm not very good at avoiding direct questions. I have friends who are masters at returning awkward questions with blunt answers that make the questioner squirm. I have friends who avoid questions by simply smiling and not answering them. I have friends who can talk in circles around the person until they are completely confused and never did get the answer they were looking for. Unfortunately, however, I've been blessed with the inability to make up anything on the spot.

My feeble attempt at giving him a different number, by shuffling for the brochure and mumbling that he could reach me there, was met with an insistent, No, I want your number. I wasn't able to pay dumb to that direct question either, so I meekly dictated it to him. He gave me a missed call, which is how things are done here, so I could save his contact info in my phone. He said it was nice to see me, I agreeing that I remembered seeing him at orientations previous and he, not catching what I said, said Yes, not just at orientations but elsewhere also!

Some students came in and he went over to the opposite corner of the room. Within seconds my phone buzzed, then buzzed again. I opened it up to see that he'd sent me a photo of himself along with his name. I pretended to be intently busy sending text messages whilst trying my hardest to figure out how to get through the next hour with Mr. Friendly in the same room!

Thankfully, time went by rather quickly and when he came over to ask M a question, we found out we had friends in common. As we packed up to go, he and his team left first, with friendly goodbyes and a handshake. I knew his name now and at the next orientation I would be able to greet him and say hello in a kind way. Though he seemed nice enough, I knew that our communication would be limited going forward as we were coming from very different backgrounds, he being from the majority religion in the Middle East and I from a small minority denomination.

I learned one thing this afternoon from that interesting encounter. The gentleman was bold enough to approach me and intentional in letting me know that I was special. Sometimes it's easy to forget to see other people. We rush through life, intent on our tasks, looking to accomplish huge goals, when there are human beings standing right in the middle of our path waiting for us to see them. Instead, we maneuver around them as if walking around a light pole, our heads down as we furiously tap on our plastic and titanium devices that rule our lives.

Do we really see others? Do we take the time to sit on a green wooden bench on a Friday afternoon as we spend a few moments chatting with students who are enjoying the unusually warm February sun? Do we stop in to say hello in the morning when passing by windows of faces, or are we more concerned about checking work emails from the weekend? Do we offer a refugee family a ride home after an evening program at church or do we shake their hand and then hurry to our home so we can be out of the cold?

When Jesus was here, He saw the unseeable. The world teaches those who are middle or upper-class to ignore those perceived as beneath them. It diminishes or removes their worth as valuable human beings created by a God Who really cares about them. Stopping to talk to a drunk man, encouraging him to swap out water for whiskey, and then buying him a fried cauliflower sandwich is not what is taught in the textbook of life. Yet this is the very reason why we should go against what is expected and be intentional in seeing the humanity hidden underneath.

Jesus saw the woman who had been bleeding for 12 years and tried to shrink into anonymity in the crowd. He saw the lepers who had been ostracized and left to beg far removed from community. He saw the widow whose only son had just died, leaving her without male protection. He saw the prostitute who had questioned countless times why religious leaders were her main source of income. He saw the helpless cripple who had waited more than 38 years for healing by a pool that disappointed. He saw the children and their mothers who were longing for a touch of blessing. He saw the short man whose stature had diminished in society because he had the odious task of collecting government tax. He saw the little boy with enough food to feed the faith of thousands.

Jesus saw those who others looked right through.

I used to think that the familiar admonition, Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be, (Matthew 6:21) was a reminder not to focus on material blessings but on spiritual blessings in heaven. In other words, instead of spending all my time working long hours and worrying about having more money, I should focus on getting to know God and thinking about heaven. It was a nice enough cliche thought but as I reflected on this afternoon's experience, a moment of illumination occurred. 

The treasure is not my spiritual blessings. It's not even numbers of people who are saved because I've shared God with them, though this is another common fallacy we all too easily subscribe to. 

The treasure is the person who is standing right in front of me. Right in front of you. Waiting for you to see them. To really see someone and cherish their value is a gift we are honoured to give. This is what it means to be a steward of what God has given us. It means to treat not only the earth and the possessions we have been given as a sacred responsibility, it means to treasure each person we have been privileged to share life with. To desire the best for them as we learn more about God and what His plan is for us. 

This is our calling; this is our blessing. To treasure the sacrament of earthly life within the context of God's desire that eternal life be given to all. Then we will truly understand what it means for the desires of our heart to be fulfilled (Psalm 37:4) when we take delight in God. As we truly see others, we shall be truly seen by Him so that one day He will invite us all to enter into the limitless joy of His kingdom (Matthew 25:34-40).

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Made in China

It was something rather small and insignificant. A piece of plastic with two metal prongs, painted all black, made in China, to which a USB cable attached. The other end of the USB attached to my phone or my power bank and when all three were connected, there was power.

I'd come home from an evening out with friends and as I was walking up the two flights of stairs to my dorm suite (room plus private bathroom), I texted my mom and brother to see if they were back from church yet. I usually called them Saturday evening as the time difference with them being 10 hours behind and my brother's super early morning shift job during the week made it somewhat difficult to connect at other times.

I settled on to my bed to wait, but as I looked at my phone, I suddenly saw my battery life draining away. Rapidly, minute by minute, the battery went down, til in less than 10 minutes I had lost 10% of my already low battery life. I hastily plugged in the black converter plug with attached USB cable. I checked my phone a couple minutes later, as I knew it would ordinarily charge at 1% a minute or quicker, and was dismayed to see that the battery wasn't charging. On the contrary, it had gone down a couple more %'s.

Suddenly I was in a panic. What if there was an emergency? How would I be able to call anyone? What if someone needed to get ahold of me? I lived by my phone, constantly on the WhatsApp message app for work and social life. My friends knew if they texted me, I would reply within seconds, and was always ready for a spontaneous outing. 

I quickly looked for my spare USB cable and switched it out for the one that was currently attached to the converter plug. I waited anxiously for a few more minutes but it had made no difference. In desperation, I switched my phone to airplane mode. I finally found out that if I pushed the USB cable into the converter plug in a particular way, it would slowly charge. By the morning, however, it had only charged 20% more than 8 hours previous.

The next three hours were spent deleting apps, installing anti-virus and optimizer apps, switching between airplane mode and non, trying all 3 USB cables, trying different outlets, researching rooting online, starting the process of moving all my photos from my phone to my SD card so I could contemplate a factory reset, and reading countless threads relating to battery drain on LG G3 phones. By the end of the three hours I was thoroughly exhausted, utterly confused, and my phone was somewhat happier because at least the rapid drain wasn't happening anymore (though I couldn't tell you why!!!).

I charged my phone with my power bank that, happily, had a full charge from before. All day Sunday I nursed what power I did have, keeping the screen on 0% brightness, so it would last. The next morning I asked a friend to pick up a new converter plug for me as I did a slow charge via USB cable on my work laptop. By mid-afternoon, my friend had returned with the new converter plug. I plugged the phone into the outlet, held my breath, and waited.

A couple hours later, my phone was at 100% charge. The panic vanished as I realized I was safely back in the land of the functioning cell phones again. And somewhere in there, there seemed to be a lesson I needed to learn. . .

There are days when I realize I'm running low on power. Spiritual power, that is. Not that I'm a spiritual superwoman or anything. Just that I'm needing that strength which comes from feeling closely connected to God and for some reason, even though I'm praying and reading my Bible, I feel like the power is draining away quicker than I can recharge.

This has been one of those weeks. I've been reaching out to God and I know logically that He is close by me but emotionally, I'm struggling. This is the reality of not only a missionary but any Christian. We go through valley experiences and forget that there are hills behind and before us.

Maybe, though, what is broken is not my prayer time and Bible reading. Maybe the USB cable that I thought wasn't connecting isn't the problem. Maybe it's the converter plug. The converter plug takes the power and changes it into something that the phone can recognize. Similarly, what I've been missing is connecting with God in a way that fills my soul. I've been focusing more on the people in my community, more on the challenges in my personal life, and more on the negative emotions I've been feeling.

A converter plug cannot equate with friends, dear as they may be. They cannot connect me to God through their power. Neither can having an easy life because then I would not even bother to connect the USB cable, because everything would be simple enough. The negative emotions act as a drain so that even if I'm plugged in, my battery is dying. The only possible explanation for a perfectly functioning converter plug is a deeper, more intimate knowledge of Who God is, how He sees me, and what He wants for my life.

I think one of the hardest lessons to learn in this Christian experience is that I need to stop trying. I'm not saying I should stop reading my Bible or being kind to others. But I'm a natural type-A perfectionistic personality which means my focus has been on that USB cable of action rather than on the converter plug of power that changes me through His ability. As I've been learning from someone very close to me, God does not expect a frenzy of purpose. He invites me to be still and know He is God. To sit silently, waiting to receive, in a Mary-experience.

All I needed was a new converter plug to get a fast charge to 100%. Fully charged. Fully connected. Fully converted.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Black on Black

Please help us find the keys, God, was the silent prayer going up from all three of us as we scoured the rapidly-darkening pebbled seashore. It seemed somewhat hopeless, like the proverbial needle in a haystack. Did God really answer prayers for grownups like He did in My Bedtime Stories? Maybe we would just have to find another way home that evening. Until I heard my friend give a shout of joy and looked up to see her holding something that glinted in the last bit of daylight.

It had started out as the perfect wintery day. Two friends and I had spontaneously decided to take advantage of the unusually clear warm weather and head up the coast to the oldest continuously-lived in town in the world. It was a favourite place to go, from its glittering Christmas displays and techno-lit tree to its azure blue waves slipping up onto the rocky shore to its cobbled stone streets lined with cedar-filled souvenir stalls. No matter how often I went, I still felt like I was discovering it for the first time all over again.

After reaching the town, we took a side street that ended at an idyllic spot. Here a stone built restaurant sat by the sea, its outside tables set so the patrons could gaze out for miles as they indulged in traditional Lebanese favourites. We found a place in the warm afternoon sun and quickly ordered hummus, tabbouleh, batata harra (spicy potatoes), mouttabal (babaghanoush), and other delicious mezze to round out the meal. Dessert came afterwards and we were treated to a spread of sweets that filled our hearts with delight.

We changed our shoes to more comfortable walking ones, left most of our belongings in the car, and set off to walk along the pebbled seashore. Northern Lebanon's beaches are mostly covered with small round stones and soon we were rock-hunting for different colours and shapes, occasionally sending a stone or two out to sea with a skip and a jump.

One of my friends decided to take some wave footage and as he bent down to catch the perfect angle, a sleeper wave surprised him. He quickly jumped back and scrambled up the rocky slope, though not quick enough as the wave still caught him. We laughed and continued on walking. The sun set behind a strip of cloud set on the horizon by which time we'd already turned back towards the parking lot where the car waited.

As we started up the steps to the road, my friend asked, Do you have the car keys? None of us did and after he searched his pockets several times, he realized that neither did he. We urged him to go quickly to look for it, knowing the tide had been coming in ever since we'd first set off on our walk. The sky was beginning to darken and we couldn't remember where he'd tripped after the sleeper wave chased him. Was it before or after the little shack on the side where several men sat smoking arguile?

Turning on our cell phone flashlights, we began to search as we slowly retraced our steps to the end of the rocky beach and back, praying silently as we looked. The keys were black and the majority of the rocks on the beach were a light colour but each time our eyes caught side of a black spot it turned out to be just another rock. It seemed impossible, especially as the tide coming in would likely have already caught the keys and taken them out to the open sea.

I began running scenarios in my mind. I knew we could take a public bus back to the campus but then we would have to come back with the spare key and I later found out the key to the house was in the car. Strangely enough, I didn't feel panic, though I knew my phone battery was getting low and my spare battery pack and cable were also in the locked car. Yet I felt that God had a purpose and would work things out.

Wait a minute, let me look at that picture you took, my friend said. I'd snapped a photo just after he'd dodged the wave and as we peered at the photo, he suddenly spotted a large triangular rock. He scanned the rocks in the darkening light and pointed to the water's edge. There, that's the rock!

At the same time, my other friend gave a shout, holding up something small and black that glinted. The keys! She had been standing just a few feet away from the triangular rock when a chocolate wafer wrapper caught her attention with its metallic gleam. For some reason she stayed in that area, looking more carefully at the ground, until she spotted one of the keys.

We sent up prayers of thanksgiving and hurried back to the car where we quickly found out that, while not soaked, the electric key fob had taken in some dampness and refused to unlock the car. More prayers of petition went up as soon the valet guys came to help and a borrowed blow-dryer from the kitchen and thirty minutes later, the familiar click sounded and the lights went on inside the car. The second miracle of the evening as it was a Sunday and no keysmith would have been anywhere to be found.

To this day, I wonder if an angel moved those keys before we found them. I'm sure my friend was dodging the waves much closer to the water yet we found the keys higher up on the rocky shore. If they had fallen out when he jumped back, they would have been buried in the sand or taken out to sea very quickly with the incoming tide. It was a miracle that they were where they were, a miracle that there was a chocolate wrapper nearby to catch my friend's attention, a miracle that they were even found in the dark, and a miracle that they were dried out enough and on time to get us back home.

God could have chosen not to answer our prayers that evening. It is true that there are times in life when we ask God for something and we feel disappointed because He didn't answer as we expected He would. We question why, when we are doing everything seemingly right, God doesn't honour our decisions and grant us our requests, especially when He has promised that we can ask and it will be given to us.

The reality, though, that I'm learning is that there are so many more variables in the equation of petition than simply ask and receive. Yes, salvation is as simple as that yet even salvation is contingent on a continuous connection with God that changes our hearts in a miraculous way. The gift of salvation is given when we believe but we cannot only believe and then expect to follow our own path. To whom much is given. . .much is expected. . .Luke 12:48

When we ask, we have to recognize that God is not only working with us but with other human beings who also have free will and choices to make. God is also thinking about what is best for us, even when we don't always understand the implications. The battle between good and evil means that often life is difficult and requests are not always answered with a definite yes.

Yet somehow, that evening, God knew it was best for us to find those keys. He had a purpose, both in allowing the keys to get lost and in carefully helping us to find them again. We had walked past those keys twice when there was more daylight out, first on our way to the car as they were lying not 20 feet from the steps, and then when we'd realized we'd lost them and began to retrace our steps. Why God didn't open our eyes to see the keys then, I don't know. Perhaps it was to build our faith in a God Who cares not only for the universe but also sees the smallest set of keys on a dark seashore.

A friend once told me that God doesn't expect us to trust Him without giving us evidence to base our faith on. I tend to have a memory of a strainer where I forget the miracles right after they've happened. I think God is very patient with me as He continues to give beautiful reminders of how much He cares and wants me to know that He can be trusted. And if He can be trusted in the little things, can He not even more be trusted to take care of the more important things?

Thursday, November 30, 2017

10 Liter Water Jug

Why don't you come and spend time with us anymore? You don't eat in the caf and we don't see you! You should seriously think about it, because when I see you I feel happy and at peace. You bring joy to my heart, and I'm saying this with all sincerity.

The very Pharaonic-looking young man with a notable dark beard spoke with great earnestness as I leaned against the steel sink in the front serving area of the cafeteria. He was across from me, leaning against the wall, and another of my former English language students was sitting on the countertop to my right, a bemused smile on her face. I saw her more often as we shared the third floor in the dorm and would pass each other several times a day coming and going.

I've sometimes wondered if my life has meaning and purpose beyond the expected roles I play. I often feel guilty that I don't have enough time to invest deeply in a few close friends or don't have enough language skills to venture out and build community. Sometimes, it's all I can do to show up and get things done, simply because as a single female in a country whose language I do not speak, life isn't as easy and I need to use my energies for simple things like walking to the grocery store to buy toothpaste and toilet paper.

Then there are moments like this evening, when one of the young ladies wrapped her arm around my shoulder as she laughed and shouted out answers to the Mad Libs game the hostess was doing for a friend's bridal shower. The petite girl was one of my first students when I arrived and we built a friendship that continued past the end of that first semester. I'd sat with her when she received news that her grandfather had died and listened as she shared about his deep influence in her life. She still came to me for help with homework and I did my best to encourage and support her.

Sometimes being a missionary isn't about knowing where that obscure Bible verse is, being able to build a house from mud bricks, or being trilingual, though those are all very valid tools. Sometimes being a missionary is about showing up. About being there. About letting God love others and bring them a feeling of joy and peace through us.

One individual life may be of priceless value to God's purposes, and yours may be that life. ~My Utmost for His Highest, Nov. 30

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Red on Gray

Maybe you should wash the red trousers separately, since they're new and could run, a niggling thought skipped around in my head like kernels of unpopped corn just thrown into a hot pan. But I was lazy, and besides I was washing everything on cold so it should be fine. There wasn't anything in the load that would get ruined. I turned the dial, slipped on my tennis shoes, and left for an evening walk while it washed.

45 minutes later, after doing some arm exercises with a jar of peanut butter in one hand and a jar of nutritional yeast in the other as makeshift weights, I went to get my load of washing out. I threw everything into a plastic bag and brought it back to my room where I began to hang the items on my indoor drying rack. Then I pulled out my gray short-sleeved sweater that I wore with my little black dress. It was no longer gray. Now it had a hue of red, as did a pj top. I sighed inwardly, I had nobody to blame but myself. The offending red trousers, thankfully confined somewhat in their damage by having been washed in a white mesh bag which had now turned pink, looked innocently up at me.

A quick Google search recommended I use rubbing alcohol on a white cloth and try to rub out the stains by transferring them to the white cloth. A trial with a cream towel wasn't too successful and not wanting to spend my entire evening scrubbing like a washerwoman in the 1800's, I pulled out my stain remover bottle. I didn't have high hopes for it; the other times I'd used it for a grease stain it hadn't been too successful. I needed to try something, though, so I read the directions on the back of the bottle and hurried back to the washing machine with the two gray-pinkish items.

After tossing them back in, I poured another generous amount of detergent in the first little drawer. I had no clue whether the stain remover should go in the second or third drawer but decided to put it in the second just to be safe. Then I turned the dial to coloured clothes this time and left it to spin for the next two hours.

When the washing machine finally stopped spinning, I opened up the door and gingerly reached inside, wondering what I would find. I pulled out the gray sweater. It was gray. Not tinged with pink, but completely and totally gray. The pj top still had a couple pinkish spots but they were faint and nobody would see them anyhow so that was okay. I smiled in gratitude as I sent up a quiet thank you to my Father. And I didn't even pray first! I thought.

It's not such a huge thing, I know. The gray sweater could have been ruined and it wouldn't have ruined my life. I'd already burnt a hole in a sheer brand new blouse during my first week here, so I wasn't a stranger to clothing catastrophes. Yet somehow God worked a miracle, with a bit of stain remover, and restored my sweater to me so I could continue to enjoy wearing it.

Somehow, it seems to be somewhat reminiscent of my life. There are times the Holy Spirit is quietly whispering, Maybe you shouldn't say that, go there, eat that, waste your time doing that and I push those unpopped kernels aside, thinking I know better, thinking that even if I mess up, it won't be so bad. Thankfully God is gracious and merciful and many times He comes along with the stain remover, fixing my mistakes and restoring to me what was beautiful before.

He gives me more than I deserve. He is good and He is good to me. How can I doubt Him then with the steps ahead that I cannot see? How can I fail to trust that He is preparing a life of fulfillment and joy, not only in the life to come, but in this life also?

He has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of His own purpose and grace. ~2 Timothy 1:9

Saturday, November 11, 2017

My Sister

You are my sister, she said, as she held my hand and kissed me on the cheek three times. The quiet woman with black headscarf, the one who sold tofu and peanut butter and soymilk and granola every Friday morning on the steps of North Hall, the one who exhibited great strength as her husband battled illness, stood there holding my hands and calling me her sister. It was in that moment that I knew I had been made for this.

I struggle a lot with feeling less-than when it comes to measuring up to the Christian walk. Those struggles are heightened by living in a country that hosts millions of refugees and whose languages I do not easily speak. I am still figuring out life here, how to buy groceries regularly, where to go for a dental check up, and how to maneuver unspoken cultural expectations. I see what appears to be everyone other than me becoming fluent in Arabic, visiting orphanages, and providing for the needy.

It's when I compare myself to others that I feel frustrated. I wonder if the small things I do even make that much of a difference and feel like I should be doing bigger and greater things. Then God gives me gentle moments like today when I realize that He is doing things I cannot even understand.

We spent the afternoon sitting in plastic chairs around the metal serving deck, listening to a young man share his conversion testimony. Then five of us piled into a friend's car and headed to the Armenian section of town where the woman and her husband lived, so we could drop them off. The three of us ladies squeezed into the back seat and the men sat in the front. As we bounced along the potholes and drove around triple-parked cars, I listened to the comfortable hubbub of their conversation. It was all in Arabic but I picked up a few words here and there. I thought about how, even if I could speak Arabic, I would likely not have said much anyhow as I was generally content to listen in groups.

As we drove along, I realized something that amazed me. I've been in many settings before where people are speaking another language, and I've felt awkward, left-out, and uncomfortable. I was not feeling any of that, this time, though. I felt completely at peace, content, and as if this was exactly where I was meant to be.

People who pass through ask me, How long do you plan to stay here? I know it's a standard question coming from their curiosity, but lately my reply has been changing from As long as God keeps me here to Forever, unless God tells me otherwise. I can't tell the future and I don't want to limit my Father Who knows exactly where I can serve Him best and be the happiest doing so. Yet it is the most wonderful thing to understand when I am in His will and tonight was one of those moments for me. I still haven't been blessed with the instant gift of tongues, I still have limited energy and resources to invest, but this one thing I know. I am where God wants me to be and I'm doing what God wants me to do. And I couldn't be any happier.