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.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

The Bravery of One Who Explores

People tell me I'm brave to venture off by myself but I shake my head and wonder why they think so. After all, I have to explore and it's the only way I can do so without spending all my money on Ubers! Yesterday afternoon, the sun was shining amidst a week of heavy rain, and the sky was a perfect blue. I knew it was the right time to take the excuse of needing to pick up brochures from the Ministry of Tourism for an incoming group of Very Important People, so I slipped on some comfortable boots, grabbed my umbrella in case the storm clouds returned, and headed down the hill.

I lucked out this time. A childhood friend was driving in the same general direction and offered me a ride. As he parked, I stepped out into traffic and walked the last 5 minutes to Dora, the Grand Central Station of Beirut. I knew the bus number I needed to take, #2, but I didn't know where it stopped. I looked carefully and spotted one but when I went up to ask the guy where the bus went, I found out it was headed in the opposite direction. I needed the one going to Hamra, not Antelias. He nodded across the street so I dodged taxis to the pavement where I parked myself to wait.

A friendly older man stopped his taxi right by where I was waiting. I said I was waiting for bus #2 to Hamra and he grinned and told me it would be along real soon. He spoke in Arabic and I in English but we managed to understand each other easily enough. After waiting 8 minutes, I began to get a bit nervous as the Ministry would close in an hour and I didn't know how long the bus would take to get there. The taxi driver noticed and reassured me that the bus was right around the corner. Sure enough, a couple minutes later bus #2 appeared and I hopped on.

It was a fairly new bus and the driver handed me a little blue ticket when I got on. I found a seat near the back by an open window and settled in. I peered at my mobile, studying the map on my Zawarib app, and trying to calculate where I should get off. Soon the bus was full enough and off we toodled.

Every time I get on a public bus in Beirut, my heart feels light and free. Whether the bus is packed full with day labourers heading back after a long day's work or whether it's just me and three other people riding along in silence, I feel deep joy to be out in the city. It's as if I come alive. I am content to simply sit and watch the world pass by. In those moments there are no responsibilities, no expectations, no demands. It's just me and the city I've grown to love with all its idiosyncrasies.

After an hour and numerous stops along the way, the bus reached its final destination. The only problem was, I hadn't reached mine. I knew I was about 13 minutes drive away, according to Googlemaps on my trusty mobile, but I was supposed to get off the bus unless I wanted to pay again and I had no idea if its return route would take me closer to where I needed to go. So off I got and hailed the first taxi driving by. He didn't know where the Ministry was, but he decided I could navigate so I got in and we drove for about 10 minutes in thick traffic.

Finally, we were close enough that I could pay him the $1.33 fare and walk the rest of the way. I was quite pleased with myself to find the sign that clearly indicated the Ministry of Tourism, along with beautiful posters decorating the glass doors. Until I realized the building was locked. On all sides. When I peered in, I saw empty display cabinets that used to hold brochures and realized the place was deserted.

Then I looked around and realized I was good and truly lost. I was not in a place I had been before, though I was supposedly in Hamra. I didn't know how to get back to where I'd gotten off the bus and there were no buses in plain sight. After checking Googlemaps again, though, I realized that I was not too far from the sea and I knew that bus #15 went right alongside the sea. So I pointed my nose in the direction of the compass and set off.

I stumbled across a farmer's market and bought chocolate/agave energy balls, mini wild zaatar and goat cheese pastries, and stuffed aubergine. I paid the man at the stall of multicoloured jars filled with labneh balls that looked just like mozarella, jams, and chili-stuffed olives, and then I forgot my stuffed aubergine. I was about to cross the street when I realized my plastic bags were full of sweets and pastries but no aubergine, so I quickly returned, apologetically smiling at the man as I retrieved my expensive jar and hoping he wouldn't think I was stealing it.

It was not more than 15 minutes and I was at a familiar corner by a mosque I passed when I rode the #15 bus. I'd just missed one but it wasn't long before another came along and I hopped right on. Then it was back to Dora where the driver let us out right by the taxi depot instead of several hundred feet back so that we had to walk. I then set off to find my final taxi back to the university.

Relying on my old trick to walk out of the roundabout area and start heading in the direction of home, so I could get in a taxi that was already headed my way and preferably already with passengers so he wouldn't charge me an exorbitant fare, I walked a little ways and then stopped to wait. The first taxi wasn't going my way and the second taxi asked for 10,000 which was outrageous. I shook my head and waited for the next taxi.

An older jovial looking man with a Tivoli Paints set of books under his arm grinned at me, as the second taxi sped away. He'd heard me say Sabtieh and quickly told me in Arabic that he was headed that way too, so he would flag down the next taxi for the both of us. The third taxi came along, this man was headed our way, but after I told him I wanted to go to the university, he said, Wait, which school? I told him and he quoted a 4,000 fare which was reasonable so I nodded and got in. The older man got in too and then a Bangladeshi man headed to Dekwaneh got in the front. The older man tried to make some light conversation, but I had exhausted my Arabic knowledge so I just smiled and nodded but soon he realized I couldn't understand and turned to talk on his mobile.

Three hours after I'd set out on my adventure, I was climbing out of the taxi and heading back to my office. So ended another adventure when I could breathe in deep and keep the memory to tide me over til the next time I felt the need to explore.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

A Total God-Thing

It all started a couple days ago. I'd checked one of my work emails and forwarded an announcement about a classical piano concert at a nearby university. The pieces looked interesting enough, but I wasn't sure I would enjoy listening to piano for an hour and a half. So I pushed it to the back of my mind and carried on with my day.

This afternoon I looked at the event again and decided I would try to go. I messaged just about everyone I could think of but to no avail. One friend thought she would be able to go but ended up not being able to. So I headed down the hill to Mr. Cocktail where some friends were meeting up to celebrate a birthday. I hadn't been sitting for long, however, before the strong impression returned to go to the concert. I Googled safety in Uber at night and safety in public buses at night for single women and didn't get much. So far, I'd made my own rule not to be out after dark by myself, just because I'm a more cautious person.

I decided it would be best not to go, and tried to forget about it altogether, but suddenly the impression returned. This time I decided to heed my impulsive nature and go. I abruptly took my leave of the group and headed out the door. I hailed the first taxi that came along and asked if he would take me to Dora. The guy nodded and I hopped in.

The next impression that came to me was to ask the man if he spoke English. As soon as I'd entered the taxi, I'd noticed the cross hanging from his rearview mirror, the clean car, the sign for no smoking, and that he was well-dressed. So I asked him. He replied in perfect English and asked how he could help me. I asked how much he charged if I would book him to pick me up from the university where I was going to the concert and bring me back home. He quoted a price, we negotiated a bit, and settled happily on a fair price.

Then the guy asked, Do you know Ana? I was surprised, of course I did. Ana had been studying at the university a couple of years ago and we had become good friends. George, the taxi driver, told me that his wife had taught Ana Arabic but they'd lost touch when Ana left to pastor a church in Europe. We exchanged phone numbers, I promised to call when I was ready to be picked up, and I hopped out of the taxi in time to catch the #15 bus to Bahrie.

A half hour later, after I'd exited the bus and found my way down several dark winding streets to the university and then to the assembly hall where the concert was being held, I took a moment to think about the amazing providence that had connected George and me. Out of all the taxis in Lebanon, I picked his. And me being naturally shy had spoken up, out of which we were able to make the connection of a mutual friend. It had to be a God-thing.

While taking a selfie in the beautiful old-style hall, I noticed an alumnus from the university I work at, sitting several rows behind me. He joined me for the concert and afterwards immediately offered to take me home. Again, God worked everything out in His perfect timing so that I had a ride home and could spend some time talking to a guy who is on his own faith journey and beginning to attend the university church quite regularly. There are few Lebanese young people in our church and it is my dream to see that number increase but we have to befriend the ones who are there so they feel welcome and at home.

There are times when I question my calling, question whether what I'm doing is really making a difference, question how God can use someone who isn't a doctor/nurse/teacher in His kingdom ministry. Then there are times like tonight when I realize that it isn't about me. It's about being obedient to Him and as I follow the footsteps already marked out before me, He will bless my simple efforts and show me once again that He has a work for me that is just as valuable as that of any other person who is committed to Him.

And when it happens, it's always clear. It's a total God-thing. 

Monday, September 11, 2017

The Becoming

When life settles into the mundane, it's easy to lose sight of the vision. Oswald Chambers talks about this, when he refers to living in the valleys because we cannot be perpetually on the mountaintop.

When I first arrived, a year and a half ago, I went through a series of valleys and mountaintop experiences. At first I was somewhat apprehensive that I was reverting to my teenage sanguine ecstatic-happy/down-in-the-dumps moods. Then I realized it was a normal part of life. I had uprooted my world to settle down in a somewhat familiar milieu but was having to readjust my expectations and the rooting was gradual rather than instantaneous.

There was culture shock. Not just once, but several times, at the usual landmarks of time. Because, of course, I had to follow protocol. I'm traditional like that, even when it comes to emotions. Then there was the life changes that came, as friends moved in and out of my circle and I pulled closer or backed away. The dance was somewhat awkward at times, other times it felt like I'd seen and done it all before, but I found myself exchanging girl-talks for smoothie nights for toddler babble for still-waters conversation within less than a year. It was a little too much, it seemed.

My job changed, responsibilities were added, and I learned to teach with confidence even as I stared at the textbook wondering if the grammatical rules had ever made any sense since I'd tried to learn them in grade school. Then I was coordinating a department and suddenly realizing that there had to be a point that I stopped saying yes and started to take care of myself. Sure, I generally kept within my work hours and had started declining some requests to help out at church if I was already doing something in church that Sabbath. But I realized that something was not quite right.

I get the 1,000 Missionary Movement e-newsletter whenever it gets sent out and the last one had a devotional thought by a woman whose advice made me pause. She talked about how there were a lot of expectations placed on her about how to live out the spiritual disciplines and she found herself feeling overwhelmed by it all. Until she took the time to do 5 things. Pray, read, write, exercise, and listen to music.

I've blogged about this before, that when I first came to Lebanon I had decided I was going to say yes to every request for service, assuming that was God's calling through the person who asked me to help out. I've taught lesson study, painted a wall downtown, swam in the Mediterranean Sea, supervised 30+ teenagers at a three-day camp, brushed up on my piano skills, edited a doctoral dissertation, and started leading out in a small group for TCK university students. I am thankful for the stretching times, the fun times, the leaning-on-God times. Every experience has been one I can look back on and know with certainty that I've grown because of them.

Yet sometimes the doing crowds out the becoming. Jesus' prayer for His disciples was that they would become one, become united, just as He and God the Father were (John 17:21). His entire purpose for that was so that the world would see and understand the Father's love and this love would be revealed through His disciples. Jesus didn't pray that the disciples would fulfill a checklist of requirements--He prayed that they would be changed.

All through my Christian walk, this is the one theme that keeps returning to the forefront of my consciousness. Becoming. Changing. Being more like Jesus. Learning to rest in Him, listening for His voice, letting Him carry me over the rough paths of life, so I can in turn share the peace and love He wants to give to others through me.

I know some great Christians who are committed to a cause. They wake up at 4 am for their extensive quiet time, they never have time to just sit quietly and talk for a couple of hours because they have to prepare for the next ministry event, they sit on 15 committees, or they focus on a subset of the church to the exclusion of the others. I'm not saying they're not doing anything worthwhile; God uses everyone and I'm sure He has a plan for their service. I'm just realizing this is not the direction I want to go.

It may seem counter-intuitive to want the Mary experience. Martha, after all, was meeting the physical needs of hunger and thirst, practical in her Christianity as she prepared a sumptuous Middle Eastern meal. She wasn't doing the wrong thing. Jesus simply said Mary had chosen the better part. She sat at His feet soaking up His love and wisdom and peace--content to rest in the becoming. Meanwhile, Martha was in the back of the house busily doing.

I'm learning that in order to focus on the becoming, I need to jealously guard my time and fill it with good things that will help me to thrive spiritually. Yes, there is a place for service and I should not become an ascetic hermit who solely strives for a spiritual connection. But when my heart becomes unsettled and it feels like I'm only down in the valley, it's then that I must step away from societal expectations and refocus.

After the culture shock resettled and I was comfortable in my place here, I experienced deep peace and abiding joy. Several clear Ebenezer stones were set up as I marked the places where God was showing me He was not only fulfilling the desire of my heart to return, nearly two decades ago, to this country, but He was also clearly indicating that I was in His will. I woke up each morning thankful for my mission and eager to see what God would bring that day.

Then I went through several months where the peace and joy vanished to be replaced with questioning and uncertainty. As I struggled through some of the life changes mentioned earlier, I wondered if perhaps I'd misread the signs and the path I'd chosen was not the one mapped out for me. My prayers seemed to reach the roof and stop there.

Until I began to search to connect with the God I knew I desperately needed to be close to. I began to withdraw from the rush to fill my calendar with events and to fill my time instead with what I knew would fill my heart with peace. Listening to Christian music, writing blog posts, having uninterrupted time to pray, looking for flowers in nature, spending an evening at the gym, walking on the promenade before sunset, each activity perhaps seeming pointless in the grand scheme of saving souls but I knew they were exactly right for me.

Today I stood on the roof, hanging up my clothes, and I took a moment to really look around. I'd been so busy lately, there wasn't even time to breathe in the cooling autumn air as the humidity began to dissipate and the zeez chirped even louder in excitement. I marveled at the 10 or more different types of trees that surrounded the patch of campus I could see, then my eyes strayed to the Mediterranean Sea--a sight I never tired of seeing. Imagine, I thought. I get to live in the mountains and see the sea every single day. Life can't be any better than that! That evening, instead of editing a dissertation, I cooked a tasty meal for the next three days and relished the simple joy of cutting the ends off the green beans and frying tofu and mushrooms on an electric burner. I was happy. Peace had returned to my heart and I knew I was where God wanted me to be.

The becoming is ever so much easier than the doing

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.