Wednesday, August 9, 2017

In All Things

There's a verse a couple of my guy friends have been throwing around a lot lately. It all started on the way to the airport, when one of them was telling a funny story they'd heard from a work colleague that week. The crux of the story centered around a little kid using a Bible verse to outsmart his bullies. Instead of quoting the verse, though, he simply shouted the reference at them each time they tried to bully him until they finally got tired and left him alone. The verse? Romans 8:28

Now the verse has become a sort of reply-all in a humorous sort of way. They'll say it to tease me, annoy me, or simply to get out of answering a question. The other day, one of them even signed the reference from across the room while I was working out on the stair-climber at the gym. Yet in the midst of all the bantering, the truth of the verse is not lost. In all things, God works for our good.

Yesterday I went to the gym for the first time this week and spent some time using the various machines to work the upper and lower body. Because I'd increased the number of reps, I was rather sore today. By the time I left work, I was not in the mood to go to the gym but I knew if I didn't go, I would not be able to get in my 3 times/week that I normally went. Both of my rides weren't able to go and I found myself staring at a little black car wandering a virtual map on my smartphone, as I waited for an Uber taxi to arrive.

The driver was very polite and dropped me off at the gym promptly. I went in and was happy to see the stair-climber free so I spent the next 25 minutes climbing in beat to the canned music whilst observing everyone around me. Then I hopped on the treadmill for a few minutes to wind down.

I needed bread and some fresh produce and had spotted a small grocery store just up the road so after I'd finished at the gym, I headed there to pick up some staples. Soon my return Uber taxi had arrived and we set off back to the university. I climbed the last bit of hill, and then two flights of stairs, to my cozy room.

There I dropped the bags of groceries and sank onto my bed. I did it. I went out of my comfort zone, booking taxis and buying groceries and going to the gym by myself. There seems to be a lot of that in my life these days--the stretching and pulling that comes with living life on my own. There are days when I feel very accomplished, like today, and then there are days when all I can handle is work and then I retreat to my room to write, read, and rejuvenate.

In all things, God works for my good. Today He worked it out so I could get my workout in and buy the groceries I needed. Two days ago He worked it out so my ride didn't go, because He knew I wouldn't be feeling so good and would need to get some extra rest instead of workout. I marvel daily at how intimately God knows me and how perfectly He orchestrates happenings so I can look back at what seemed confusing and realize He had already worked it out.

In all things.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Three Words

I think you're someone that people don't have to impress, you're friendly and easy to be comfortable with, she said. It was Saturday night and we were playing Table Talk, a game with cards that each had a question to answer. After we'd picked the question Describe yourself as your friends would in three words, and we'd each done so, Gregory suggested we repeat the exercise but this time we go around the room and describe each person in three words. It seemed like a fun exercise.

When it came to my turn, I heard the usual words people had used to describe me before. Organized, friendly, smiley, cheerful, composed. Then it was Paula's turn. Paula and I hadn't interacted much during the school year, other than a birthday party for her boyfriend and a day at the beach with several of the dorm girls, we'd just said hi when passing in the hallways. Yet somehow, she had picked up on a trait that I'd never seen in myself but had always longed to have. To be someone that people felt comfortable with.

We sat there for an hour and a half, two MEU staff, the assistant pastor at the Bouchrieh church, a volunteer doing an internship with ADRA, and a sophomore MEU student ranging in age from early 20s to late 30s. As we laughed, teased each other, shared favourite memories from childhood with Mom or Dad, or took time to answer the more serious questions, the dividers between TCKs and monoculturals, old and young, guy and girl, liberal and conservative, fell away. Each of us a different nationality, from Jordanian to American to British to Mauritian to Brazilian, we instantly found commonality in the shared life experiences we connected on.

Even though we didn't all know each other well, we were also able to find three positive things to say about each person in the room. The affirmations of God's character was a special gift that I will always treasure. It wasn't a fancy room, just an office with 5 mismatched chairs pulled up in an awkward circle. It wasn't a grand event, just 5 friends hanging out on a Saturday night, finding joy in the simplicity of words. Yet it was perhaps one of the most precious moments of my experience here as we spoke truth and love into each other's lives.

Today I woke up feeling somewhat discouraged. The day before I'd been talking to my mom, trying to figure out my long-term goals and whether that involved staying here or not. She encouraged me to think of returning to the US in as short a time as three months, if I found that my social life here was nonexistent. It was tempting. Life in the US was much easier. My self-imposed mission call to show my Lebanese friends that not all missionaries came for a year or two and then left suddenly seemed hollow. How did I know it was what God wanted me to do? I knew God could use me no matter where I lived, whether it was in the US, Europe, or the Middle East. Yet I was still restless.

When I woke up, realizing how I felt, I asked God to show me today that He was orchestrating things in my life. As I dressed for church, I listened to Nick Vujic's exhortation to look for God with the promise that I will find Him. Sabbath School's song service was filled with songs of knowing that God was with me--like All The Way My Saviour Leads Me. In church, a trio sang my favourite hymn Be Still My Soul and the phrases sank into my heart--in every change, He faithful will remain. In vespers that evening, Sahin showed us that the command most often repeated in the Bible is Do not fear. Fear disappears, though, when we trust God and trust comes when we love Him fully.

I don't know my future. I can make my plans but I want to be open to God's redirecting if He has a better plan for me. But through all the uncertainties, I'm thankful for these little glimpses of graces where divine flashes through the curtain between the unreachable and humanity, reassuring my heart that I'm where He wants me to be. Just three words--but they can make all the difference.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

God Laughs in the Ironic

You can ask my family or any of my best friends and they will easily tell you that I'm not a huge fan of teenagers. When asked once if I was interested in teaching English at a Christian high school, it didn't take me more than a second to say Thank you but no thank you as I knew neither the teenagers nor I would have a positive experience! I don't know if it's because I was homeschooled, leading to me feeling more at home with older people and young kids than my peers, or if I just don't have the gift to relate to teenagers, but the reality is that I can't. I don't understand their world and they do a good job of pretending they have it all together and would rather not make conversation when I try to ask a few questions.

So this is why I thought it was somewhat ironic that I ended up supervising a group of 15 to 28 teenagers two nights in a row. I guess God has a good sense of humour! Last night, I was winding down after a full day running around with the science camp, helping with registration and other logistics, where I felt completely comfortable as I love working in the details. For some reason I went out into the corridor and heard a lot of noise coming from the 3rd floor social room. I headed there, opening the door to a lovely cool room with the a/c on full blast, and 15 teenagers sitting around eating nuts and chips, chatting, and listening to music. It would have been fine if it was just girls but unfortunately there were boys there too.

A chorus of disappointment went up when I reminded them that boys weren't allowed on third floor and, feeling sorry for them because it was such a warm night and there wasn't any place they could hang out that was cool, I decided to stay for a while so they didn't have to go. They very politely offered me some snacks, which I carefully took a few of to make them happy, then resumed their happy chatting. I overheard them discussing whether I could understand Arabic, one of the kids whose mom I work with telling them that I didn't speak Arabic but could understand bits here and there. I just smiled and pretended I didn't know what they were talking about.

Then tonight, after caving to their pleas to have a campfire (despite it being very warm and humid), I spent 30 minutes walking back and forth between my room (on the 3rd floor, mind you!) and my office and the campfire site, looking for skewers for marshmallows, getting olive oil and then ethanol to get the fire going, and getting ibuprofen for a kid who wasn't feeling so well. Adults came and went but I was the only one who stayed til the last couple kids drifted off as the ashes smouldered. The 28 teenagers enjoyed themselves thoroughly, singing along to my least favourite song of all time Hotel California, burning marshmallows, doing the traditional dance which I joined in and failed miserably at as I have no sense of rhythm, eating snacks and drinking Pepsi after a day of health expos where they explained to visitors why soft drinks were bad for you, and doing some Western dancing to a portable speaker one of the kids had brought along.

After putting most of the ashes to sleep by dousing them in water, picking up all the trash so our students wouldn't have to do extra work the next day when they worked on grounds, finding a teenager's passport sitting on a bench and returning it to her, giving away as much of the snacks as I could to a hungry guy who'd missed supper, and picking up the first aid kit from the auditorium for our island trip the next day, I was finally able to head to my room once more.

I've often found that the places I'm the least comfortable are where I find myself, such as supervising a group of teenagers, or using my few words of Arabic to communicate with Samira, the Syrian lady who showed me pictures of her beautiful home before it was blown up. Now they live here and she washes dishes in the afternoon and does medical assisting in a hospital in the morning as they wait for papers to immigrate to Australia. I saw it before, when I worked with a 4-month training program where I was forced to get to know people much quicker than I was used to, as previously I'd taken at least 6 months to feel like someone was a good friend. This has served me well in the mission field, however, as I am a lot more comfortable connecting with strangers.

Today at the health expo, I sat quietly at the trust booth, watching my good friend speak with the two women who were finishing up their visit at the booth. He asked them about their health, sent his greetings to their family, and nodded understandingly when they spoke about how high rent was and how they were looking for new places to live. $600 a month was too steep, considering people can work for as little as $3 an hour here depending on their skill level. The entire conversation was in Arabic but I picked up the gist here and there, listening and observing. He closed with a prayer that they welcomed as I sat there, longing to be able to interact with people on the same level in their heart language. I came home and pulled out marHaba, the book on Lebanese Arabic that my brother had given me before I came. I'm not very good at motivating myself to learn a language but I will do my best. And maybe one day, this place of the uncomfortable will also become the comfortable.

Monday, July 17, 2017

More Than a Step

I think I may have mentioned before that one thing I try to do on a regular basis is to push myself out of my comfort zone. This week, it was going on a hike. I'd been with this hiking group before, but always with at least one or two friends from the university so I had people to talk to and hang out with. A couple of times I'd looked longingly at a Facebook post announcing an upcoming hike but not being able to find someone to go with me meant I had to find other things to keep myself busy on a Sunday. Til this week.

When I'd mentioned the possibility of a hike, earlier last week, to my mother and come up with all kinds of excuses as to why I shouldn't go, she'd gently encouraged me to go. I still procrastinated, til the evening before, when I messaged the organizer and asked if there was still room. I figured there wouldn't be, and I was right, the bus was booked full, but he said to come along anyhow. Somebody was likely to cancel and then I'd be able to join them. So I messaged a friendly taxi driver who I'd done airport runs with before and I was set. 7 am I would leave campus to meet the bus.

There was no morning traffic and we found the bus quickly enough. Sure enough, 4 people cancelled and I had a seat on the bus. While I didn't talk a lot to the people in the group, most of them having come with a friend or three, I thoroughly enjoyed the solitude in the midst of dark green forests spotted with cedar and the challenge to push myself physically as we hiked up steep bits and tried not to slip down other steep bits.

By the end of the day, I was a little sunburned and a lot happy. I'd spent an entire day with strangers, listening to them speak Arabic til I was repeating phrases in my sleep, and it wasn't as difficult as I'd thought it would be.

Funnily enough, I felt the most accomplished when I took the taxi home. Uber's taxis were 8 minutes away from where the bus parked at the drop-off point and I didn't want to wait, so I headed for a main road. I asked the first taxi that slowed down if he would take me to the university, telling him it was at the top of the hill. He said sure, for $2, so I hopped in. By the time we neared the top of the hill, though, he was grumbling away that I should pay him a little over $3 because of all the extra gas he'd had to use to get that far. It was his fault, really, for not knowing the area or the university, but to keep him happy I split the difference. Mind you, all this exchange happened in Arabic.

Now I'm not fluent in Arabic by any means and I generally refuse to use the few words I do know, preferring instead to listen, smile a lot, and speak in English. I used about 10 words of Arabic in our exchange but we were able to understand each other. And as I stepped out of the car and hiked the last few steps to my room, I smiled as I realized I'd managed it all on my own.

People wonder why I've been here nearly 1.5 years and still don't speak Arabic. I live in an English-speaking environment and all my work is done in English. I know it's not an excuse, but it's my reality. I have a basic grasp of simple phrases, if I catch the gist of a topic then I can often decipher a conversation and laugh at the appropriate times, and after 10 hours of listening to Arabic I now have several sentences rolling around in my head that I don't know where to use them but I can pronounce them fairly well.

A friend has been taking lessons for 3 months and can carry on a basic conversation in Arabic with someone. I was very envious of them until I realized that I'm not taking lessons, therefore I can't just magically start speaking the language. Neither am I very motivated to study a language on my own, like my sister who's been immersed in Chinese for more than 10 years now. Though I don't speak it, Arabic is a friendly language, comforting in its familiarity, as it wraps me in memories of my childhood and teenage years when the family was still whole and my worries were minimal. The words I know are instinctive, not learned by rote, and I want to keep that romance alive as we dance back and forth, me catching a glimpse here and there of enlightenment.

So the adventure continues. This week I will workout at the gym where everyone looks like they stepped out of a fashion magazine (seriously, who wears perfume/cologne to the gym?), help coordinate a group of 37 teenagers for a science camp on campus, and go to a screening of Nour, a movie about child brides. Each experience is going to push me yet again out of my comfort zone but it's what keeps me growing and for that I am grateful.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

N'est Pas?

I don't smoke, I don't drink, I don't do arguille. I do sports. If you like, we can go and eat pizza and drink Pepsi sometime. I'll give you my phone number. 

I was sitting in the back seat of a beat-up service taxi on my way from City Center back to the university. I'd taken an Uber down but decided to just hop in a regular taxi going back since it would cost the same and I didn't want to have to wait for an Uber. I was beginning to regret my decision.

Granted, my driver was very kind in his eager persistence, as he wondered out loud that perhaps I was his chance, his golden ticket, and we could go and live in America together. I kindly yet firmly told him that I was very happy living in Lebanon and had no desire to go and live in America anytime soon. Disappointed for a moment, he quickly bounced back and said We can go live in Germany then, or Italy. He spoke fluent Italian and had lived in Germany for the past 30 years.

In a mixture of German, Italian, Arabic, French, and English, we somehow managed to communicate for the 20 minute drive from the mall to the university. He did most of the talking, while I laughed easily or asked him a question during an awkward pause after one of his many attempts to woo me. He told me he could cook Italian food, lasagna, pasta, and a number of other fancy sounding spaghettis that I can't pronounce. He mentioned an ex-wife and at least one kid who was just 10 years younger than me. He told me his weight and then tried to guess mine.

At one point, he asked me what I was looking for in a husband. I simply said A man with a kind heart who loves God. He agreed wholeheartedly and said that was wise (at least I think so!). He told me I had a pure heart, once again startling me as people have described me this way before.

I had to chuckle when he turned around, not once, but twice, during the trip, to look me up and down and then compliment me on my figure/weight. He didn't do it in a way that made me feel uncomfortable, he was merely getting a read on what I looked like since I'd just stepped into the taxi a few minutes before, but as we neared the university, he was already telling me we could have two kids. We call them Antonio and Julia, he said.

I took his number, not with the intent of actually going on a date with him but merely to be polite. I stepped out of the taxi and nearly left without paying him, as he'd been chatting me up the whole way back, but his chivalry ended where the money began so I did have to dig up the $7 fare. Smiling to myself, I knew it would make for some humorous stories in the future when I retold it to my friends. The adventures continue!

Saturday, May 27, 2017

The Romancing

I've been learning a lot about how God delights to answer my simple prayers in personalized ways showing me that He is listening when I pray. Yesterday morning, as I walked down the steps of North Hall, I thought It's been a while since somebody has complimented me on how I look. When I'd lived here as a teenager, my guy friends were comfortable telling me I looked nice in a particular dress but now as an older single woman, the compliments came from my female friends. I immediately dismissed the thought, replacing it with the prayer Please help me, Father, to give to others what I would like to hear. 

As I walked into the auditorium, on time for Sabbath School even though I didn't have to lead out in song service, I passed a colleague. She smiled up at me and easily said You look nice today. Startled, as I hadn't been expecting her to say anything, I quickly complimented her in return as I continued on to my seat. After the special feature, when we divided for the lesson study, I went downstairs to my class. I passed a friend who was heading to teach his lesson and as he said hello, he said You look very good. Again, I was surprised, as he was a generally shy guy. By the end of the day, two students and another friend had also complimented me. Five different people sharing a kind word.

When I'd left my little room, I hadn't felt particularly beautiful. I was wearing a simple classic black dress that was a little too tight because I'd not been able to exercise for 4 months due to a bad strain. Paired with comfortable low pumps, I had put on my brightest smile and tripped off to church, my heart open for a blessing but never realizing that God was waiting to pour in not just one answer to my prayer but five.

You are the one who takes His breath away by your beautiful heart that, against all odds, hopes in Him. (Captivating, by John & Stasi Eldredge, p. 121) 

Thursday, May 25, 2017

To Be In The Seen

Scrolling aimlessly through  my Facebook feed, I stopped on a post someone had made to the Missionary Kids group. They were asking for prayer for a newborn who was struggling with some health issues. I didn't know them, or the baby, but I paused to let them know I was praying and then I prayed.

God, if seeing babies suffer hurts my heart, how much more must it hurt Yours? 

I know logically that, because we live in a sin-filled world, we have to wrestle with the reality of pain and grief and death daily. Thankfully, the little one whose pictures were shared on Facebook got the medical help they needed but not all stories have a happy ending. Sometimes, even if we pray, the chapter closes with finality.

I'm a very emotional person. I cry when I see an advertisement on YouTube for life insurance if it's one of those South Asian shorts that tug at your heart. Which is why I found myself getting quite emotional when I read about Andrew Chan, a man who was transformed on death row from a convicted drug smuggler into a passionate follower of Christ. Sheila Walsh tells the story in her book The Longing In Me. Andrew was executed but as he and the rest of the Bali Nine faced their death, thousands of people around the world were praying for them. Sin's consequences were no longer a threat to Andrew's eternal future.

Sheila continues on to quote the familiar verses from Revelation 21:1-4. I've read these verses countless times, sang them in a choir song, and used them in condolences to try to share a bit of comfort with friends. Yet this time, the words seeped into my consciousness, startling me into experiencing them rather than simply reading them.

God's home is now among His people! 

That phrase. God is coming home. For thousands of years, there has been this barrier between God and His people. His creation. His beloved creation. I used to struggle a lot questioning why there was a barrier between me and God. I still get frustrated that I can't see His smile, hear His voice, or touch His face. I'm a sensory person and it's the hardest thing for me to try to connect with an invisible God. Yet I'd never paused to think about how strong the tension must be for God Himself.

He is omnipotent yet when it comes to this He must limit His power in order to be fair and just. He cannot break through the clouds and rescue me when life gets seemingly impossibly tough, though He has the power and sovereignty to do so. He longs even more than I do to connect face-to-face and yet He must hover in the unseen, touching my face with a soft breeze, handing me a flower through a student's gift, or whispering to my heart in an explosive sunset.

As deeply as I feel the exile from my Father, He feels it too. If not, then once sin had ended, He would stay up in heaven and I would remain down on earth. Yet this is not so. God's home is with the ones He created to love and be loved. To the TCK who's wandered the world over searching for a home, knowing that God's home is found with me is humbling.

It's almost time. Amen! Come, Lord Jesus! ~Rev. 22:20