Tuesday, December 20, 2016

In Hot Water

Today we had no water. As my friend says, if something happens, it happens all at once. They're struggling with a mold problem right now and thankfully a couple has offered to let them stay in their house for several weeks while they are away on vacation. Yet even as she was trying to catch her breath with all the allergies that have been triggered by the sci-fi black fungus spreading all over her house, my friend was still selflessly thinking of others. When I told her that we had no water in the dorm, she insisted we come over and use their shower and went to turn on the boiler to make sure we had hot water. We had no water but we had a clean mold-free room whereas she was the one concerned about us. I want to be like her.

Sometimes it's easy to think that being a good Christian means paying your tithe, giving your spare clothes to the poor, preaching an evangelistic series, or being a literature evangelist. These are all good and important things to do but the mere act of doing them doesn't define you as a Christian. A Christian is someone who thinks of others before themselves and in doing so, lays down their desires and needs, to ensure that the needs of others are met first. It may be as simple as offering a hot shower but the intent of the heart is what counts. Not making a list and checking it twice, but instead acting out of love and care.

The water is back on again, though I hear some strange gurgling in the pipes which I hope isn't indicative of another problem. I'm grateful but even more than that, I'm thankful for the lesson I learned today from my dear friend who cared without thought of herself and in doing so reminded me once again how much Jesus cares for me.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Thankful in All Things

Two days ago I had a sudden allergic reaction. I'm still not sure to what, whether it was the molokhai soup I had, or something in the air, or just that my system got overloaded. Whatever it was, I was in the mall with two friends, looking for stuff for the Christmas banquet we were hosting for the staff and faculty, and noticed I started to itch on my face and neck. At first it didn't bother me too much, I often have a couple of itchy spots on my neck. But after I took my scarf off and then my coat, I knew there was something wrong.

By the end of the evening, we had stopped by the pharmacy where I picked up an anti-histamine med. I took it home, debated quite a while and read up all the side effects online, before finally taking the double dose I was recommended to by the pharmacist. Since the worst side effect didn't include death, I figured I'd be okay.

By morning I woke up and realized it hadn't kicked in quickly enough. My eyes were now quite swollen and I feared that within a couple of hours they would be swollen shut. My entire face and neck were quite swollen and I could compete with Alvin the Chipmunk in a look-alike show. I  began to message friends to see who could take me to the cheap clinic at the bottom of the hill. One friend recommended a doctor coming to see me instead, he called, and within an hour, the doctor was knocking on  my door.

An injection, prescription, and promised blood tests the next day later, I was resting in bed and praying the swelling would go down. The doctor couldn't give me a specific time frame for recovery as it varied by person but promised the injection would keep the swelling from getting worse. Thankfully, he was right, and microscopically slowly the swelling began to go down.

This time of looking very much unlike myself has been quite a growing experience. I feel exactly like myself, though somewhat sleepier as the medication tends to make me drowsy, plus my body is fighting hard to return to normal. Yet even though I feel and sound the same, I don't look the same and people's reactions have varied.

Some have laughed nervously, others told me I looked just fine. Some have been very frank and said I don't look like myself at all, while others said they didn't recognize me without seeing my hair (when I wore a headscarf for the Christmas concert). Then there were the encouraging ones, who promised me I was looking better each day or even told me I looked more attractive now (honestly?). The ones who took the time to check up on me by text message and see how I was doing. The ones who kindly told me not to be sad, because this would pass in a few days, as they reminded me that there were many others who had illnesses or disabilities that would not pass in a few days or even months.

I'm learning to be grateful in all circumstances, and this has been one of those circumstances that I am thankful for even though it seems rather strange to say so. I've learned that people are generally kind and helpful. I've learned to be more kind to others when they are in a difficult situation. I've learned that it's not about saying a lot of flowery words, but just saying I'm sorry and You are looking much better today are really all one needs to say. I've also learned that the One Who will never fail me will give me the strength to smile, explain what happened, and make it through the day. And for that, I'm most thankful.

Monday, December 5, 2016

The Giver Becomes the Receiver

All my life I was the Giver. Perhaps it came with the territory, being the oldest I helped take care of my younger siblings. Perhaps it was part of my personality, as I preferred to deflect attention from me and bring joy to others. Perhaps it was culturally inbuilt, as both my ethnic and environmental cultures emphasized giving without thought of receiving in return. Regardless of where or why, I was comfortable giving more so than receiving.

Then I came here. Here, I've had to learn a lesson I never thought would be so difficult to learn. I've had to learn to receive graciously.

In tandem with giving, is the pitfall of receiving selfishly. We all know someone who, either through their upbringing or character weakness, doesn't understand the meaning of giving because they have spent their life receiving. Even the act of receiving has become routine so much so that they fail to appreciate the sacrifice on the part of the one who has given to them. That was my greatest fear. I think at times I focused on giving because I didn't want to become someone who, through receiving, forgot to be grateful, unselfish, and caring about others.

It is possible to receive graciously, however. To receive is not less blessed than to give, though the inverse is often quoted as a virtue. Yet to receive someone's generous gift from their heart is to bless them also through a humble gratitude. It allows the other person to experience the joy of giving without censuring them.

When I first arrived, I quickly learned that I could not exercise the same type of independence that I had embraced in the US. The language was different, cultural expectations were different, and I had a a lot to learn. The first lesson I had to learn was to ask for help. Instead of heroically struggling up the hill with my shopping for the month, I had to learn to accept a ride from a friend. Instead of booking a taxi to take me to the airport in the middle of the night, I had to learn to ask a friend to take me. Instead of carrying 10 liter water jugs up 3 flights of stairs, I had to learn to thank a friend who offered to do it for me.

All of this was very uncomfortable for me at first. I wanted to be able to prove that I could do life on my own. I was in my 30s, after all, and had plenty of experience managing in a variety of circumstances. Yet I quickly realized that life here was not about doing it on my own. Life here was about community and living within that community meant that it was okay and even encouraged to reach out and connect, to give and receive, in an ever-increasing cat's cradle that was never meant to be untangled to find its beginning point.

One of my friends told me once that they were very uncomfortable receiving and having the spotlight on them. I nodded my head. I understood. He was a Giver too, just like me. Yet the more I think about it, the more I see the beauty in this concept of not only giving but also receiving.

In this Christmas season, we are privileged to receive the greatest gift of all. Belonging. Salvation. Love. There is no way to repay this Gift but we can express our gratitude by graciously receiving and knowing that in doing so, we are giving great joy to the heart of our Father. See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. ~1 John 3:1

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Heigh Ho, Heigh Ho, Off to the Gym I Go!

I went to the gym for the first time today! Well, not in my life but at least in 20+ years. Being a college student and then working on a missionary salary meant I couldn't resign myself to paying $50 for a gym membership when I could walk for free on the loop around campus. This afternoon, though, when a friend invited me to come along to their gym, I decided to go. One of my very first decisions when I came to Lebanon was to engage in as many experiences as I could. Whether it was something new or familiar, I wanted to be involved so I could slip into the natural rhythm of life as quickly as possible.

After spending a few minutes on the treadmill, I decided to check out the aerobics class. I headed down the stairs and into a large room filled with mirrors and fun exercise equipment like mats, hand weights, and huge bouncy balls. I looked around and saw several women with their mats and hand weights so I grabbed my own and then waited. And waited. I must have waited 10 minutes. Meanwhile the women chatted away amongst themselves, each seemed to have come with a friend, while I was there by myself. I felt somewhat awkward but reminded myself to embrace the awkwardness as part of the experience.

When the instructor arrived, they turned on the music and away we went. For the next hour I stretched, ran in place, flung my arms about, attempted pushups, and generally moved every single muscle group til it was ready to quit. The instructor would occasionally call out to me to keep my chin up and smile--I must have looked like I was not having a good time! When it was over I went right over to the membership desk and signed up for a month of aerobics classes.

I'd been wondering and somewhat worrying about how I was going to exercise when the bad weather came. I was so thankful tonight to see how God worked it out, even to having a friend who comes regularly to the gym and is graciously kind enough to come on the days and at the times that the class happens. It's a beautiful reminder yet again how God takes care of the small things which encourages me to know that He will take care of the important things too.

Monday, November 28, 2016


It was a simple clear package. He handed it to me apologetically, as it had been sitting in his room for several weeks, somehow he'd kept forgetting to give it to me. I wasn't expecting a gift, so it was a kind surprise, but as he handed me the gift and I thanked him for it, I looked down to see what was in my hand. I was startled. It was a comb.

When I first came to Lebanon, I arrived with 2 large suitcases and a carry-on, each packed to the limit. Returning in the summer, I picked up several items that were hard to find in Beirut, or were more expensive. One day, when I was laboriously trying to make some sense out of my hair that insisted on grabbing onto the humidity in the air and looking like a rat's nest, I thought how wonderful it would be to have a comb. Yes, it seemed like a small thing but living at the top of the hill meant that even a trip to find a comb became an expedition in itself.

I went to town with friends a couple of times and didn't manage to find a good comb. I pushed the thought to the back of my mind and resigned myself to waiting til I had a solid afternoon to dedicate to shopping for several items I needed. Then my friend handed me a comb.

This wasn't just any comb, either. The package said it was a spinning tooth comb patented to gently turn and roll out the tangles easily without damaging my hair and was ideal for all hair types. My hair can get very tangled as I have been blessed with the Islander genes in that regards. I smiled inside as I realized that my Heavenly Father, Who knew I'd been looking for a comb, had provided one at just the right time.

I've been asking God to answer several prayer requests in my life. Though I know logically that He will answer them in His perfect timing, I tend to forget reality and get caught up in the thought that He isn't capable and I have to do it all by myself. This tends to make me even more stressed out, of course. Yet, as He reminded me once again today, God knows what I need and He will provide it in a way that will let me know without a doubt that the answer has come from Him. It may be something as simple as a comb or as complex as my future but regardless, if I trust and wait in faith, He will honour the request and answer it at the right time.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Taouk Without the Taouk Please

I had to laugh today when I looked up the meaning of taouk on Google. It is a chicken shish kebab which is typical of the Middle East. Why did I laugh? Because I ordered a taouk sandwich for lunch and was surprised to find it came with chicken inside. Once again, lost in translation.

I'm very excited that, though slowly, I'm learning words here and there in Arabic. When a friend got up to leave the table at lunch yesterday, he waved at us and said Bel ezen and I nearly jumped out of my chair with excitement. I understood what he said! Bel ezen means excuse me, or pardon me, and can be used when you accidentally bump into someone with your shopping cart in the store, or in any number of situations.

Learning a language opens up a whole new horizon, I'm learning. Though at first I'll admit it was somewhat discouraging, as I'd imagined that every time I said Marhaba, angels would sing and all the Lebanese would cheer, now the excitement is beginning to grow. Sure, some of my friends are not impressed with my baby steps in language learning, but I've found that there are many more who are supportive and encouraging. Of course it helps that I have a really great Arabic teacher.

Ebtissam, the women's dean, decided two months ago to offer an hour of language learning once a week to those who were interested. In the middle of her very busy schedule, as she is also assistant librarian, she managed to type up study sheets with both English transliteration and Arabic and to have a lesson plan for each time we met. We started with the very basics. How are you? I'm fine, thanks. We repeated, we practiced, and eventually we progressed to vocabulary and short sentences of greeting. Now, when I look at my vocabulary, I'm amazed at how much we've learned!

It's small victories, that I am learning. On Wednesday at the Independence Day luncheon, I overhead someone use the word akel and I was so pleased that I knew they were talking about the food. Previously, I had no idea what that word meant but now that I did, I could build and expand my contextual understanding.

When I stepped to the counter to order my sandwich this afternoon, the young lady said kil chee? and I nodded. Yes, I wanted all the fixings on my sandwich. I thought it was somewhat pricey to pay $3 for a french fries and coleslaw sandwich but I was really hungry. I watched them rolling up the sandwiches behind the counter but didn't pay close attention to the fact that each one had chunks of meat stuffed in. I was too busy concentrating on listening for my number to be called.

Finally I heard something something ashrah and I knew it was my number. I claimed my sandwich and peeled back the paper, eager to quiet my grumbling stomach. Then I saw the huge chunk of something sitting on top that most definitely was not a mushy french fry. Disappointed, I told the manager I wanted it without meat. He very kindly fixed me a new sandwich which I happily took and enjoyed. All that time, I was convinced that they had made a mistake. After all, the order board said that a taouk sandwich had french fries, pickles, coleslaw, and garlic. Nothing else.

Then I came home and googled taouk. I have a feeling this isn't going to be my last embarrassing moment when I attempt to speak the language or imagine that I understand everything completely. But it makes for a good laugh and I'm excited that as I continue to learn simple words, slowly I will learn to put them together and hopefully one day I will feel that I've unlocked the key to not only understanding a language but to hearts. 

Friday, October 21, 2016

Life Changes

There are exciting developments underfoot! First, if all goes well, I will be extending my stay beyond the one year that would have ended in February 2017. Being here has been such a wonderful experience for me and I somewhat selfishly am not ready for it to be over yet.

This week, I finally felt like I was settling properly into my new role as secretary to the president. When I made my bucket list I wanted to be an executive assistant at a mainstream SDA college. I am still amazed when I realize that God answered that desire of my heart by bringing me here to MEU! While I originally came to help with administrative tasks, I had no idea that the executive assistant's position would open up or that I would naturally transition into it.

As I look back on how God has personally guided me to various work and service opportunities, there is a common thread throughout those experiences. Each time, God had prepared me for the work so it was not a completely new thing to learn, and each time He had placed me in the right place at the right time. There was never any question about each of the jobs that I undertook. Whether it was registrar, medical secretary, program coordinator, or now executive assistant, each position was one where I felt confident in His calling.

Now, as I prepare to stay long-term, I once again have peace that this is where God is calling me. I can't see the future, so I do have to exercise trust, but I know without a doubt that this is the right thing to do. I'm thankful for God's confirmations and how He choreographs my life's dance.

In choir we are excitedly gearing up for our Christmas program in the beginning of December. We're also singing for Week of Spiritual Emphasis and that song is a difficult arrangement of We Have This Hope. We spent 40 minutes last week just learning 6 measures! Though we have about 25 women and 8 men, it is sounding quite lovely and I'm looking forward to the actual performances. Every Sabbath we now sit on the lawn and have a delightful potluck together and with the fall weather here to stay, it's so peaceful to sit under the trees and breathe deep the fresh air.

My social life has calmed down somewhat. When I first came, I hurried everywhere and did everything so it felt as if I'd seen about half of the safe zone we travel in! Now I've transitioned from trying to connect with everyone to building quality friendships with a closer circle of friends. The highlight of my week is always when I get to spend time with the twins as they are now in their 6th month and just getting more adorable by the day.

One thing that weighs heavy on me is how to connect to the community outside our little bubble. I know it's important to support each other as Christians, but I also think it's equally or even more important to be able to relate to those who are not of our faith. I want to have challenging conversations where we learn and grow in our personal faith rather than try to proselytize everyone to make sure they are converted. I'm thankful that here I have a good friend who has friends in the community so I'm slowly getting to know them.

I can't see the future, even though I'm happy to be settling in to one that will be more certain. Yet I'm thankful because I trust my Father's hand to keep me close to His will and His heart.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Not One but Two Blessings

I've been keeping a prayer journal since I came in a little green notebook that my best friend LaVonne gave me. While I'm normally not one to keep a prayer journal, I knew it would be helpful to write down my prayers so I could see God answer them. I was curious whether the verse that says all God's promises are Yes and Amen through Jesus Christ was really true (2 Corinthians 1:20). I can now say without a doubt that God has answered the majority of my prayers with a Yes. Some prayers were small, like I needed new tennis shoes to exercise and I didn't know where to buy them. Others were big, like trying to find direction for my life after this year is up. Regardless of the prayer's status, I saw time and again how God distinctly and uniquely answered each prayer.

Yesterday, I prayed a prayer I don't often do. I asked God for connection. I'd been feeling somewhat disconnected from people, partly due to processing some personal things, and partly because I'm in a transition stage right now between groups of friends. It's funny but even in my 30s, there still are cliques and favourites and all that. It's tiring but it's there.

After writing out my prayer, I promptly forgot about it. My day was full with work and when I came home in the evening I had a schedule already mapped out. I was going to grab supper to-go, walk with the guys til 7, then go and see my friend and the twins. After that, I'd check out the volleyball game and perhaps join people if they went to Mr. Cocktail for fruit juice. God, on the other hand, had a somewhat different plan for me.

After walking, I headed to my friend's place. The twins were up and kicking vigorously and I scooped up one while my friend fed the other. I walked around with him draped over one arm while I tried to eat my supper, and later, after my friend rocked him to sleep, I held him close as he sank into baby dreamland. I've been privileged to watch them growing up from little tiny babies to now-6 month-olds and I think this stage is just the nicest. They are so responsive, smile easily, and enjoy being held.

As we sat, holding babies and chatting, I savoured the precious moments. My friend told me I could put the little one down, but I shook my head. I didn't want to give up my time holding the sweet baby. We enjoyed a couple of hours and then I left to catch the volleyball game before it ended.

When I reached the courts, I realized my friends weren't there so I headed back up to my dorm room. I messaged Shiloh to see if she was up and wanted to talk and for the next 1 hour and 45 minutes we laughed, reminisced, and shared life and its moments with each other. When I finally hung up, I realized that God had answered my prayer from the night before with not just one but two special blessings.

I shared a worship talk about prayer several weeks ago and I am thankful that God continues to show me the value of prayer. Now, I'm starting to pray for bigger things. Things that require faith. Things that will take longer to answer. Things that may change someone else's life. It's somewhat daunting but I know God is able to work if there is even the smallest seed of faith. So I encourage anyone who reads this post to try it out, to test God, and to see how He will answer your prayers. Because I know He will.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Of Pimsleur and Life

I'm learning Arabic! I can say "Afwan, inta b'taaref Ingleezee, yah ach? Ana ma'baaref Arabi." This would be me saying to a taxi driver, for example, "Excuse me, do you speak English, sir? I don't speak Arabic." And he could reply, "Ana ma'baaref Ingleeze. Inti b'taarefi schwaye t'Arabi, yah anisay? Naam. Inti Amerkey? La, ana Breetaaneyah" Or in other words, "I don't speak English. Do you speak a little Arabic, miss? Yes. Are you American? No, I am British."

I'm so excited. My sister bought me a belated birthday present of the first 15 lessons of Arabic Pimsleur. I downloaded it onto my phone so I can listen to it anytime and it's a really great way to start learning. Well, for me it technically isn't learning the language from scratch because it already sounds familiar to my ears. I just can't understand beyond very basic everyday conversation.

I'm not being paid to promote Pimsleur, but I do want to share why it's a helpful way for me to learn the language. Two weeks ago I sat in a formal Arabic language learning class but after an hour and a half I felt like I knew even less than I had before. Through no fault of the teacher, but because my learning style is very much perfectionistic along with hands-on, I wasn't learning very fast.

Pimsleur takes a basic conversation and breaks it down into syllables, then builds it back up again with a lot of repetition by a native Arabic speaker. Because I'm a perfectionist, I enjoy the challenge of trying to match my pronunciation to the speaker. I also don't want to sit for long so the 30-minute lessons are perfect. I loved that after going through the first lesson, I could perfectly understand the basic conversation that was given and repeated again at the end. I've now added some words to my vocabulary and in the second lesson I'm building on what I learned in the first.

Language learning is a very slow process. I did it naturally, when learning French as a child from ages 4.5-9 where my friends all spoke French. I did it formally, when learning Spanish for a year in high school through a correspondence course with tapes to listen to and in college where we watched a fun soap-opera type of dialogue for class and memorized Bible verses in Spanish. Now I'm combining my natural picked-up-from-9-years language with a formal process but the actual learning process is more organic. Of course, the true test comes when I actually get out there and try to speak what I've learned. I may actually make sense but then after the first couple of sentences I will have run out of what to say!

In a way, language learning reminds me of life. Life isn't easy and to achieve anything worthwhile we have to be persistent, keep practicing what we know, be willing to make mistakes in order to get better, and surround ourselves with people who are comfortable in the areas we are weak so we can learn from them and grow. This is my experience here. At times it seems I'm stretching beyond what I would have imagined possible but I'm thankful for this growth because it helps solidify my beliefs while at the same time learning to accept others without judging them.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Will You?

Well apparently the adventures of living overseas also include those on the lighter side! A couple of days ago I went with a friend to meet up with one of their friends at a fruit juice place. This other 50-year old or so guy, we'll call him James, showed up with a plastic water bottle containing his own fruit juice (which I somehow think had more than that in it) and a pack of cigarettes. He politely offered me the first cigarette and I as politely said no thank you. You may laugh but having lived in an Adventist bubble all my life, this was the first time someone actually offered me a cigarette. James then proceeded to smoke 5 in a row.

It was a pleasant evening. We ate sandwiches, drank carrot-orange juice, and had a good conversation about being honest about your struggles. James readily admitted that he had struggles with smoking and didn't want to hide it. He attends the lesson study I go to at the university church so I already knew who he was. He told us that he would come to the lesson study with a pack of cigarettes in his shirt pocket because he didn't want to hide them in the car.

At one point, James looked at me and told me You have a pure heart. This is not the first time I've heard this phrase. In South Korea, when I was teaching English for a summer, one of the Korean teachers looked at me and told me the same thing. It always makes me somewhat uncomfortable, because I don't think of myself as a particularly holy person. I mean, I don't try to do wrong things but at the same time I can easily think of several other women who would be seen as holy. I'm just an ordinary woman trying my best to understand who God is.

James really wanted us to come to his house that evening and hang out, but an hour was all we had. So we said goodbye and headed back up the hill. I thought nothing of it and didn't connect the dots when my phone rang with an unknown number twice the next afternoon. I simply hung up as I don't answer unknown calls. Usually someone is speaking in Arabic which I don't understand.

Today, I was texting my friend who I'd gone to meet James with and he asked me if I was in a very long meeting yesterday. I said no and asked why. He said he had called twice and I'd hung up on him. I still didn't make the connection though. Then he said he was calling on behalf of James.

Apparently James had called up my friend and insisted he call me to meet James at the fruit juice place again. I hadn't answered so I'd missed the calls (thankfully!). James said he liked me and he felt that I could help him straighten his life out.

Though it's a somewhat amusing experience, at the same time my heart aches for the many lost souls in this world today who are looking for someone to help fix their lives. They meet someone and, hopefully, see the love of Jesus in them and they are drawn to that. Yet they feel that they will find help if they can connect with the person instead of connecting with the One Who can heal their hearts and their lives. How do I share this with them? In some cases, like with James, I can only pray and in others I can introduce them to their Creator and Redeemer. But in every case I know with certainty that God longs to bring them into relationship with Him so they can know they are loved and find hope again.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Running Out of Battery

The semester is in full swing now and suddenly my life has become very busy. Marisa is back, I'm on the social committee for the faculty & staff, and my work is starting to get rather complex. I'm content again. In the summer, it was somewhat discombobulating because all the activities I was used to had disappeared. This Sabbath, for example, though, I will be helping serve food in the caf for lunch, go on refugee visitation, choir practice, decorating the caf for the welcome party, and then making sure the party goes well in addition to cleaning up afterwards.

Today I gave the thought for prayer meeting. I'm not one who likes to be up front or to lead out, but I was asked and I had promised God when I first came that I would do my best to be as available in ministry as possible. I try not to say no. So Monday evening, I sat down and tried to come up with an idea of what to talk about. I asked a friend, I looked at past blog entries for inspiration, I looked at part of a DVD on mental health. Nothing was jiving, though.

Tuesday evening I exercised and watched the volleyball game instead of planning prayer meeting. When I returned to my room it was after 10 pm and I sat down on my bed to think again. With my phone turned off and no distractions, God put the words into my heart. I rehearsed it several times and then went to sleep.

I was so nervous today during song service. I could see my right arm muscles trembling and I worried that the students would be able to hear it in my voice. The time came and I stood up, placed my notes and Bible on a music stand, and began to speak. I forgot I was holding a microphone. I forgot I was nervous. I forgot I was speaking to college students who find it hard to focus at the end of a long full day. I simply shared what was on my heart.

The topic was connecting to God, how to stay connected, and what some practical steps are. I shared from my own experience, I asked them questions, and I was thankful they were interacting with the topic. I briefly glanced at my notes to make sure I was staying on track but because it was personal I didn't have to read everything verbatim. I longed to connect their attention to the reality that God wanted to connect with them.

When it was over, I realized that God had spoken through me the words He wanted to share. On Monday evening, I was trying to find words that either I or someone else had written so I could package it neatly into something that made sense. While there may be a place and time for that, I knew after 3 hours of wrestling with a topic that God had something else in mind.

I hope it was helpful for the students. My biggest burden is to help students understand that a relationship with God is not based on meeting a checklist of achievements in different spiritual areas, such as having one hour of devotions every day. I want them to understand that God is relational and desires to connect with us just as we long to connect with our dearest friends. This is my life testimony. It's not one of being redeemed from drugs and alcohol. It's a story of learning Who God is and how He wants to connect to me. 

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Half a Lifetime Ago

I'm becoming a part of the memories of this place. That was the thought that struck me the other day, as I was walking up the hill diligently working on getting my 10,000 steps in. I was admiring the sunset, the skyline, and the sea when I thought, when I leave, I will become a memory that is part of this place.

Returning after 17 years, I've found my own share of echoes on this campus. A shadow here, a scent there, and I am transported back to my teenage years with all the emotions that accompanied it. Memories of dear friends fill my heart but the reality is that who they were then is long gone. Even I am different.

I wonder, sometimes, what I would say to my teenage self if I could step back in time. There are many things I would like to share, many promises I'd like to keep, many words of comfort I'd like to extend. I think most of all, though, I would say this one thing:

You'll come back.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

A Mission of a Different Kind

Day 2 and I'm still down for the count. It's funny how many American idioms have become a part of my vocabulary, even if I don't fully understand what they mean! Anyhow, after a very restful sleep last night that went into the later part of the morning, I woke up feeling content. I am thankful for this illness, not because I enjoy being sick but because it forced me to rest. The last week I'd been running on 6-hour nights because of some personal issues in a different time zone and though I try to sleep more on weekends I usually end up not succeeding very well. I don't mind being sick if it's as mild as this though.

So I spent the day in bed, reading, watching a YouTube video on Esther (which was very good, most of the script was taken verbatim from the Bible), colouring a picture from my flower garden colouring book that I brought back from the US (it now hangs on my wall), playing a game on my phone, and surfing Facebook. Several dear friends checked in to see how I was doing and offer help if I needed any.

By the end of the afternoon I was getting thoroughly bored so I decided to read old emails. I was busily organizing my Sent emails from 2009 into various folders when I came across one that brought tears to my eyes. It was an email I'd sent out to my friends, my twice-a-year-update that was usually very long and detailed. Near the end, I shared a piece from a blog post I'd written earlier that week. As I re-read the post, I substituted MEU for the school I was working with at the time and it fit perfectly. I'll copy it here below.

I'm excited because I am reminded again why I am at MEU and what my mission in life is at present. My mission in life is not to travel the seven seas, reaching people on distant islands, it is not to hike tall mountains and share the gospel with remote tribes, it is not to pull people out of the grasp of sin through inner-city ministries, it is not to live on a farm in some deserted area far removed from the city and it is not to journey to foreign countries and convert souls by the thousands. My mission in life is to do exactly what I do now. To be the best assistant, advisor, counselor, and friend to as many as I can who come to MEU. My mission field is right here, near the city but not in it, enabling missionaries to go out but not going as one, supporting the sharing of the gospel in an indirect way and yet seeing results all the time as one by one, the young people leave this campus, faith strong and ready to change the world.

This is why I am here and I don't have to go anywhere else to find this experience. It's right here.

There will be days I question my purpose and whether I really am making a difference when the majority of my time is spent sitting in committees and sending emails. But when I remember that my mission in life is to be the one holding up Moses' arms, as it were, then I am encouraged. I am encouraged to stay and I am encouraged to keep going for my God has a plan for my life and He is fulfilling it right here and now. 

Friday, September 9, 2016

In Pursuit of Service

Yesterday some of the AVS volunteers were talking about a virus that's been going around. Mario assured Ingrid that she would at some point fall ill, if not this time, then some time in the future. She laughed and said she'd been eating street food and hadn't had any problems. I chimed in to say that I'd never gotten sick, other than the flu. I didn't know if it was because I had a strong immune system, ate a primarily vegan diet, or perhaps even had leftover antibodies from my previous stint overseas as a teenager, but regardless, I was happy that so far I'd been spared the horror stories I'd heard. One student had ended up in the emergency room, but that was because he'd gotten ill with a stomach virus and drank only one small bottle of water over 3 days so naturally he got dehydrated.

Then today my turn came. I woke up to stomach cramping and other unpleasant side effects that accompany it, though thankfully no vomiting or fever. I skipped breakfast, took a good dose of charcoal, and headed off to work. It was a busy morning and we had a committee meeting that lasted more than two hours. I am the recording secretary for that meeting so I prayed hard that God would keep my now-grumbling empty stomach at peace until I could go and rest.

After the meeting was over, I returned to my computer to finish up the e-newsletter that I publish weekly. It had been a busy last couple of days and I hadn't managed to sit down with my boss to get some ideas for the editorial until after the meeting. I jotted down his words, then sat down and started to type.

I don't remember praying specifically that God would help me write the editorial. As I began to type, the words came easily and within minutes a smooth 3-paragraph narrative had unfolded. I stared at my monitor and tears came to my eyes as I realized that my Father cared so much about me that He had helped me write the editorial clearly and logically in such a short amount of time so I could go and rest. There have been times when I've had writer's block or the sentences didn't connect and I've been frustrated because it seemed like a waste of time. Today, this was not the case. I scanned the newsletter quickly, made some minor edits, and then sent it off to my boss to review.

When you think of a missionary, it's easy to imagine them in a clinic in Africa or a school in the Amazon, healing and teaching the needy. It's not as glamorous to attribute writing an editorial as being mission work. Yet I am learning that mission work is not always the expected lines of service. It can also be supporting the church so its mission can go forward. A good friend told me today that while my position may seem thankless at times, the work is invaluable because it supports so many functions in the university.

Moments like these, when I clearly know that God is blessing my simple contributions to His work, is when I am reminded again that He has called me here for a purpose. I may never know it in its entirety but I'm thankful for this time to dedicate my time to service without distraction.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Walking is Free

Wow, today I got my steps in!!! 25,000+ to be precise, or 17.5 km, or 11 miles! I had made my list of things to do today and I was wasting time on Facebook and watching things on YouTube, so I told myself I was going for a walk whether I wanted to do or not. I got ready and at 2 pm or so off I went. I thought, I'd see how long it took me to walk to Dora and then if I was tired I'd just stay in Bourj Hammoud but if not I'd try to get to Zeitouna Bay. It took me about 40 minutes to walk to Dora, and I wasn't rushing cuz it was a bit warm. 

In Dora, which is like grand central station with taxis and buses and mini-vans going everywhere, I first asked at the taxi stand area how much it was to go to Zeitouna Bay. They told me $10 and I said of course not and off I went, quite indignant. I found the general area that Ana Paula and Marisa and I had taken a mini-van from several months ago but I couldn't see the number 2 van that I'd carefully written in my notes. So I started asking van drivers but none of them were going that way either. Finally someone said number 15 and I was starting to go to the pink number 15 bus when someone else said I could take a service taxi. He was very smiley and was trying to take my hand to guide me in the direction of the taxi but I was very wary so then he shook my hand and introduced himself and then waved over an old man driving a taxi and said it was 2,000 (which is how much a service is) and I got in. Turns out he was just being friendly. 

A little ways along, we picked up a Filipino lady going to work at the 4 Seasons Hotel, and she was trying to arrange a regular weekly contract with the taxi driver so he could always pick her up from work. He was saying $100 for a month and she was trying to get him to do it for $66 or 100,000 LBP a month which he wasn't having. He kept trying to explain to her that if he was contracted then he would have to stop whatever he was doing and head in her direction and drive her specifically to her location without picking up people, then she said no he could pick up people along the way. It was fun because the whole conversation was in Arabic and I was just picking up the gist of it all without trying very hard. 

After I got dropped off, I walked for about an hour or so along the promenade. There were many young guys swimming in the water or fishing, and one spot was a rocky beach with families also. Some people brought their hubbly bubblies with them to the beach! These areas were not official swimming areas so to get down, in some places, you had to hop over the guard rail, hold on to some ropes, and clamber down the side of the wall. Not my cup of tea! 

I saw a Ferris wheel at a children's amusement park, so I went and had a ride. It was just over $2 and it went around 3 times. No seatbelt or anything but it didn't go super high and it was very slow too. It was quite a nice view from the top. I think the guy who sold me the ticket was rather amused. I walked up to the Pigeon Rocks, took the requisite selfie, and walked back down. On the way, I stopped and bought two spinach pies and the guy who heated them up/bagged them threw two mini pizzas in as a treat. That was nice of him. 

Then I started looking for a mini-van to get back to Dora. Unfortunately, Sundays are not as busy with public transportation and I realized that after seeing 3 number 15 buses drive past in about 30 minutes. I kept walking back in the direction of Dora and thinking about whether I'd walk all the way back or get a taxi. The one taxi who was even going my way asked for 4,000 and I wasn't about to pay double what I'd paid coming so I said no and soldered on. My feet are free, I thought, so I can walk! 

Finally, after walking further back than I had walked going, I heard a bus honk. The driver must have seen me limping, hahaha. I looked around and eagerly waited for him to pull over and when I asked if he was going to Dora he said yes. This was the larger number 15 bus, not a mini-van. I hopped on and enjoyed the wonderful ride all the way back to Dora. It is just 1,000 for the buses/mini-vans which is absolutely wonderful. This was also my first time to ride a bus or mini-van by myself. I decided that since it was daylight, it was a regular size bus, and I had my phone with me, I would be fine. 

At Dora, I found the Falafel Arax shop and ordered a falafel for $2 which was soooo tasty. I ate that as I walked back home. From Dora. I got a ride from the field office to the dorm, but that last bit of hill is a killer so I was grateful! I think I will try to go down there more often, maybe next time I'll bring some of the new people along, so we can have an adventure together. Now I've started the week off with a great round of exercise--here's to keeping it up!

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Giggles in 3 Time Zones

In Sabbath School class yesterday, we talked about interruptions. How God uses interruptions in our lives to remind us that He is here and to help us be more effective in our ministry. Countless times since I've come, I've seen God interrupt my plans for the day and I wanted to share examples but couldn't remember any specifics. So I decided I need to include those in my blog to encourage others and remember them for next time.

Last week, I saw the advertisement for the Dale Corazon hike this Sunday and got quite excited. They were going up to Ehden, a beautiful area in the mountains, and the hike wasn't going to be too strenuous. I asked every friend I could think of if they wanted to join me, but everyone was busy getting ready for the new school-year or had other plans. After talking to my sister on Friday afternoon, I decided to just go by myself. It would mean finding a taxi to get to the pick-up point about 7 kms away and spending a day with strangers but at least I would get to go out in nature which my soul craved after being in the smog-filled atmosphere of Beirut.

Saturday rolled by and by the evening I knew I wasn't going to enjoy the Sunday hike very much. I hadn't had a chance to rest as the new AVS volunteers and I were invited for lunch and then went directly to game night. Although we came home fairly early, at 11 pm instead of our usual midnight or later, I was tired. I had had several short nights at the end of the week, my room was still not fully unpacked 10 days after I'd returned, and my introvert side was beginning to insist on some quiet time alone. However, I'd confirmed my place on the hike so I had to go.

I had a very fitful night's sleep that night. I was worried about finding a taxi, as it's my experience that it's not so easy to find a taxi on our hill early Sunday morning. I didn't want to miss the bus, neither did I want to walk all the way to the pick-up point. I wasn't comfortable ordering taxis yet. I worried about feeling sick on the hike as my body was starting to feel rundown.

I woke up several times in the night but when I woke up just after 6 am, I looked at my phone and saw a message in the family group chat. My sister had just started a voice chat with my mom and brother. I'm here too! I messaged and seconds later an invite came through to join the chat. For the next hour, we laughed, talked, reminisced, and encouraged each other across three time zones. My mom and brother at 8 pm Saturday evening, me at 6 am Sunday morning, and my sister at 11 am Sunday morning.

I paused mid-chat to message the guide and say I wouldn't be able to join them. I felt a little under the weather and I knew if I pushed myself on the hike, I would end up sick the rest of the week. The guide kindly messaged back saying, Salemtek, wishing me well and that I would get better soon.

When I finally said goodbye to my family, my heart was full of joy. I knew now that I would feel much better because I'd been able to connect with my loved ones. I was thankful that God gently woke me up so I could join the call. And because it was Sunday, I could take some time to sleep a little longer.

Each day, I make my plans but I also wait in anticipation for God to shift them in the direction He knows is best. I'm so thankful that today He affirmed my need for connection and rest in providing the perfect timing so I could speak to my family. It isn't easy being far from those who understand me best but I'm thankful that they are still a very close part of my life and my heart. Just a small example but it reminded me again that God personalizes His touch in my life so I know He sees me and He cares for and about me.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

The Birds of the Air

To those who seek Him, God never hides His face. He says Go in Peace.

My office overlooks the metropolis of Greater Beirut where towering glass skyscrapers stand side by side with buildings still shattered by the war. Every morning I roll up the shades so I can look over the tops of the university trees and see the city. A glint of noon sun blinds me from a gray glass building, amazing me once again at the hope of a people who build in glass believing no more bullets will demolish their bright future. To the left, a crane moves methodically back and forth, adding floors to a 20-story high shell. And each morning, the planes fly by.

When I first came, I would watch those planes coming in for landing, their pencil thin bodies gliding through the air on a straight trajectory headed for the airport that is tucked just around the corner beyond sight. On the difficult days, I would long to be on one of them, taking off in the opposite direction over the Mediterranean sea towards Europe, the first stop on the way home. I knew, theoretically, that this country was to be my home for the next year and I knew also that it would be easier if I could say so with confidence.

Then there are days like today. A day when I am wrapped up in welcoming and bringing new ones to the campus, worrying like a mother bear about all the little details and hoping they will feel that this is a good place to be. A day when my feet hardly touch the ground as I scurry between offices, connecting, communicating, and coordinating. A day when I realize how easy it is to feel joy and how effortlessly everyone responds to the exuberance in my heart. A day when God whispers see? every time someone shares another story about how He has personalized a miracle in their life or someone touches my heart with unexpected kindness.

I may not know where I will be 6 months from now, but I can trust that my Father will take care of me. The days may be dreary or filled with uncertainty, but I can trust that my Father will place joy in my heart. I may not feel God's presence as tangibly as I would like, but I can trust that my Father never hides His face but is beside me blessing me with peace.

Perhaps this is the biggest life lesson I have yet to learn. To trust my Father implicitly with my life and rest in knowing He will care for me.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Black Dresses at Sabbath Lunch

One of my favourite things in life is seeing God answer prayers in a meaningful way. Last night we had a vespers talk on prayer and it was very eloquent but all I remember is the topic. I don't remember why we were encouraged to pray or what the result would be. However, it didn't matter because God was busy placing a prayer request in my heart that He was getting ready to answer.

As is my habit, I ended my day by writing two prayer requests, a list of blessings, and a list of accomplishments in my little spring-green journal. I flipped back through the pages, noting the date and the answer of previous prayers. I smiled to see that page after page was marked Yes! and remembered how all God's promises are Yes and Amen (2 Corinthians 1:20).

As I drifted off to sleep, I remembered one more prayer request. I didn't voice it out loud because I wanted it to be a special request between me and God. Please, dear God, let me have someone to eat Sabbath lunch with tomorrow.

I eat all my meals in the cafeteria and lately, I've been eating with fewer and fewer people as people leave on vacation or have other plans. At home, Sabbath lunch was always a special meal and I enjoyed it with my family. Even if we couldn't eat together during the week due to hectic schedules, Sabbath lunch was carefully reserved for family time. The thought of eating in the cafeteria by myself made me feel sad.

After church was over, my friend asked me what lunch was in the caf. Minutes later, she and her little family had joined me in the caf to enjoy a meal together. We laughed and talked and shared stories. The boys slept contentedly, enjoying the cool air-conditioning. Partway through the meal I realized. . .God had answered my prayers.

At the same time He was answering mine, He was answering my friend's prayer for a black choir dress that fit. Someone had given her a dress but it needed to be altered as it was too large for her. Just that morning, a dear lady in the church had handed me a plastic bag with a brand new dress to pass on to someone. I had casually taken it out of the bag in the caf, to see what size and style it was, and then I looked at it more closely. Would this fit you? I asked.

My friend tried on the dress. It fit perfectly. The black dress was just right for choir and she looked beautiful in it. We both smiled as we realized how God had perfectly orchestrated the moment.

God could have given my friend a shapeless old black dress in her size. Instead He provided her with a classy dress that made her feel happy. He could have filled my table with people I didn't know so I would have company. Rather, He worked it out so dear friends could join me and bring a feeling of home even if I was thousands of miles away from family.

God is wonderful. He cares about things that may seem insignificant to others around me but mean a lot to me. He customizes answers to prayer in a way that lets me know He notices me and He wants to make me happy. This is Love. This is God.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Getting Ready

Friday marked 5 months since I came. The days have flown by. I barely remember when I first came, though I remember the feelings well. Back then the days stretched with the newness of it all; now the familiarity of scheduled work, Tuesday and Thursday night volleyball, Saturday night games, and then events sprinkled throughout makes time evaporate faster than I'd like.

I leave Sunday for the States. I'm starting to plan now, when to do my last load of laundry, who to give my jam and bits of leftover food to, whether I should bring two suitcases and a carry-on or two suitcases and a small handbag. I'm already getting that odd feeling I get when I fly--sort of nauseous because I've usually slept too little, nervous about going over open water, apprehensive of the inevitable turbulence, and worry about whether things will go smoothly with the paperwork. 

At the same time, I feel a tiny bubble of excitement that soon I'll be in a country where my passport always gets me in and I know the rules. In an airport, the common language is English. I know the routine and I can find my gate in any airport worldwide without fear. My credit card always works and I can easily buy a snack or a meal if I'm there for several hours. There is no fee to use the bathroom and there's always a Western style toilet with a privacy door. Here is a world I'm comfortable in. 

Today I went with Sylvia to Bourj Hammoud. It's primarily an Armenian section of town with many little shops tucked along a labyrinth of corners under a string cheese stretch of power and telephone wires. Some doors blend into the scenery, like the tiny hair salon whose door was part of an oversized pink poster. We slid open the door and stepped in where for less than $4 you could get your hair washed, dried, and then straightened/styled. For a treat, I decided to get my hair straightened. It was fun to see a different woman appear in the mirror. Thankfully I took a picture right away as not less than an hour later the humidity had already put waves back into my rebellious Islander hair. 

We stopped in a compact seamstress shop where I found out the lady would replace my skirt zipper for $3.50 and immediately regretted not coming sooner. My single black skirt had been relegated to my suitcase for several months now since the zipper broke. We finished the leisurely stroll with a little sandwich and a hot drink in a favourite restaurant. I drank anise tea--my favourite--with lots of sugar. Each day I enjoy a different adventure. Tomorrow we tour downtown with the ESL class which I'm looking forward to!

Monday, July 18, 2016

Seek Joy

What a busy few days it has been! I've learned two life lessons that have been very helpful. First, that God cares about the smallest details of my life and wants me to be happy, and second, that there are many kind people in my world who show God's love to me and who I want to be more like.

Sunday came entirely too fast this time. Usually I plan my Sundays in advance, deciding whether to go on a hike or sightseeing with friends. It's my day to tour the city or the mountains. I'd looked at the hiking group's event for this Sunday and it didn't sound too enticing, especially with the heat we've been having lately. Other plans fell through also so by Saturday evening I was feeling a little sad that I didn't have anywhere to go the next day. Little did I know that I'd have the best Sunday yet. . .

Sunday morning I woke up to a text from my friend asking if I had plans for the day. Dress comfy, she said, as we were going on a long drive. I headed over to find out they were off to a monastery 2 hours drive away to see if they could pick up some lost items from a retreat that some people had been to a month or so before. After a scrumptious lunch of Indian curries and pickles and puris, we piled into the car, babies and all. The boys were happy to go for a drive and I was excited to explore a place I hadn't been before.

The traffic was light, the mountainous view was spectacular, and the company was delightful. We got to the monastery, then my friend and I wandered about while her husband watched the boys. I got to feed W which was so nice because he wasn't sleeping like he often does but was alert and drinking from his bottle very nicely. I'm becoming good at burping the boys and learning how to hold them so they are comfortable. W is a climber, he'd probably climb right over my shoulder if I'd let him, but he also likes to be held snugly. D is the content little Buddha who sits silently observing his world, but he knows exactly when he isn't getting attention and will let you know too. Both boys coo and smile and share baby-talk and are the most precious little twins I've ever known.

After our little trek around, we headed back, stopping at a roadside stand to buy some local homemade jam. The lady insisted we sample just about every flavour, from cherry to kiwi to mango to fig. I ended up buying the first one I tasted, which by process of elimination I think is mulberry. It's red and it's not strawberry or cherry! Then we had a leisurely drive home, with a quick stop to get falafel sandwiches for supper. It was my first time to eat a proper falafel sandwich and my heart and belly were happy!

Today I spent the evening with some friends from my previous time here. We went to a Chinese restaurant for a meal then hung out at Starbucks (yes, they have them here too!) and chatted and laughed as we reminisced about old days and talked about life. It was a time that filled my heart as the guys paid for my meal, held doors open for me, and made sure I was safe while crossing the street (here, cars drive rapidly and there's no such thing as a pedestrian crossing, more like a pedestrian-running-between-cars). Their kindness and thoughtfulness brought me joy.

I'd planned my own agenda for Sunday and tonight. On Sunday I was going to clean my room and do other things in preparation for my trip back to Cali for a few weeks. Tonight I felt really tired and wanted to just stay in my room and rest. But as has happened many times before, God rearranged my schedule and filled it with moments that made me smile.

A special speaker this weekend talked about how God hears our heart's desires and answers them in a way that is beautifully tailored just for us. He created us so He knows how to bring us joy and happiness. I saw it in my own life and I'm positive He does the same for others also. I just need to remember that and to--as ever--seek joy.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Called to Humility

Sometimes you're just called to be faithful, she said.

I was calling home, weary after a week that didn't quite measure up to my expectations. Or rather, one where I felt like I didn't measure up to my expectations. When I was a kid, I took piano lessons and imagined myself one day to be a virtuoso concert pianist. Though my teachers did their best, the latent talent was not in me and I did not achieve the high standard I set for myself. Similarly, when I decided to head to the Middle East under the AVS program, I felt that I should be seriously involved in service. After all, I had an undergraduate degree in Religion, I had lived 17 years at a health institute, and I was experienced in multiple cultures.

The first week or so I was very excited as I felt I was fulfilling my goals. I helped paint a wall as part of a community project, visited refugees and brought them food baskets, and began to build a friendship with a young Christian lady who worked at the fruit cocktail shop. Then somehow life shifted its focus and I became absorbed in figuring out how to manage life as a single adult in a developing country. Outreach gave way to inreach.

I started to evaluate my life this week and began to feel rather discouraged. I wasn't spending my free time visiting people and studying with them in their homes, teaching others how to do hydrotherapy and massage, putting on health expos, or teaching refugee children. I hadn't even visited the school for refugee children because I was working during the week. Everyone who came back from short-term trips overseas always had such inspiring stories to share. Even the long-termers returned speaking the language fluently. And here was I.

My vocabulary consisted of enough words to give directions to a taxi driver or order a favourite wild thyme sandwich. I had one friend outside the campus, the lady at the fruit cocktail shop, and our interactions consisted of a warm hug every two weeks or so when friends with cars invited me for a fruit smoothie. I spent my free time doing laundry, marching up and down the hill to get groceries, visiting historical sites, or helping a friend with her twin baby boys.

As I shared my thoughts with my mother, I could almost hear her smile on the other side of the world. Some people are called to greatness; others are called to humility. It was like an Oswald Chambers quote. And yes, I instantly knew I fell into the latter category. She continued on to remind me that sometimes it was about being faithful to what God had called me to do and shared how she knew she was doing what God called her to do even though being an accountant wasn't on the list of missionary-approved roles such as teacher, doctor, etc.

Then she started to tell me the story of David and his men. In 1 Samuel 29, we read about a battle between the Philistines and the Israelites. David was living in Philistine country at the time, so he and his men were prepared to battle with them. However, they suddenly became fearful that he would turn on them so David was commanded to return with his men back to the city that they had been given. It was a tiring 3 day journey and we pick up the story in 1 Samuel 30.

Upon returning to Ziklag, David saw that the Amalekites had raided the city and kidnapped the women and children. David and his men had previously been fighting wars against the Amalekites on behalf of the Philistines, which explains why they wanted to get revenge. The men cried bitterly and were ready to stone David because of what had happened. David, however, consulted God instead of a medium like Saul had done earlier, and God reassured him that they should go into battle and they would be victors. So off they went to rescue their families.

When they reached the river Besor, 20 miles away, 200 of the 600 men were so exhausted they couldn't continue. David left them there with the baggage and went with the 400 to fight the Amalekites. They were successful and returned with the women and children and spoils of war. When they met up with the weary 200, those who had fought said, Give them their wives and children but none of the spoils because they didn't fight with us. (1 Samuel 30:22). David retorted that everyone should have an equal share, those who fought and those who stayed with the baggage. This became a rule that was then practiced in Israel ever after.

Some are too weary to fight. This is okay because there is still a task for them to do. They can stay with the baggage and wait. I was very encouraged to hear the story and apply it to my life. I haven't been called to do grand things and I haven't been equipped with the spirit to do so. I am still trying to figure out life outside the conservative world I lived in for 17 years and that takes more energy than I realized. But there is a task for me to do. It may seem menial but it doesn't matter. What matters is whether I'm doing my tasks faithfully as I wait.

I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in His word I hope; ~Psalm 130:5

Friday, July 8, 2016

Of Cats and Costa and Chunky Fries

Today was absolutely lovely even though I started it with a lot of sniffling and sneezing. I think I may be allergic to cats. I was house-sitting last night and the house came with a beautiful black cat named Sadek. His temperament is more akin to a dog, though, and he talked and insisted on being petted and purred like a truck when I did so. In the morning, when I was trying to get some work done, he kept on plopping himself down on my lap to get some attention. I laughed when I told him to keep his paws off the mousepad!

Several times, Sadek stepped onto my shoulder and once he rubbed up against my face. I didn't think much of it but then I started to notice that my face and eye was feeling itchy. I went to look in the mirror and saw a rash on the side of my face that he'd rubbed against. I washed my face but it wasn't reducing quickly enough so I decided to take my sniffly sneezy self back up to the dorm. It took a good hour to go away and thankfully Marisa said she could take over the house-sitting.

In the afternoon, we joined Ana and Bruna in Hamra. This is downtown Beirut and there is a main street that has many fun restaurants and lots of little shops. Ana and Bruna went off to their Berlitz language classes and Marisa and I wandered about, getting a little lost at one point, as we enjoyed getting to know a new place. We found a great little clothing shop with reasonably priced things and had fun trying on things.

For lunch, we met back up with the others and ate Lebanese food at a little hip restaurant. I tried eggplant fatteh for the first time and didn't like it. I normally love eggplant but this came covered in yogurt and was on top of the pita chips they put in fattoush. It was cold and not so tasty. The fattoush salad, hummus, and chunky potato fries were good though. So far I've eaten at probably 20 different restaurants and haven't fallen sick. I am not vegan when I eat out, I eat plenty of fresh vegetables and fruit, but perhaps my African antibodies are kicking in now!

Going and coming, we called King's Taxi to take us. We ended up with the same driver, which was nice because then we didn't have to try to explain exactly where we live or argue about the price. On the way home, content after a wonderful afternoon strolling the streets of downtown Beirut, eating food that I missed terribly as we don't get it often if ever in the cafeteria here, and happy to be right in front of the a/c after the thick humidity, I saw the mountains painting a scene of repose and I realized my heart was content.

Today, my heart fell in love with this country. This is not the love you experience in the honeymoon stage, which I realized sadly this week that I have now left behind. No, it is the love that comes after you know everything about the other party and you still choose to stay. I hate the humidity and feeling sweaty all day long if I'm walking out and about in town. I dislike not feeling safe if I'm by myself after dark and I'm off campus. I feel frustrated in situations where I need Arabic and I can't speak any functional words. I am tired of washing my clothes in a washing machine that needs at least 1 1/2 hours to clean them properly. I don't want to see sliced Persian cucumbers ever again. But I want to stay.

A year is too short a time to really live. I know, I've packed in far too much into these nearly 5 months that I've been here, but I'm realizing now that when I return from my summer vacation, I will be halfway through my adventure. And I'm not ready for it to be over yet. The next 5.5 months will fly by much quicker than these did. That is a fact. I'm sad that just as I am feeling at home, having dear friends, and knowing how to get around, I will have to leave. I don't want to leave. I would be happy to stay here forever.

I can. I can return to the States, apply for citizenship, give up one of my treasured passports, and then come back to make a life for myself. Except I can't. I must be responsible, get a job that has retirement and pays enough for me to buy a house, and stay in a country that isn't home to this adult TCK.

This is the dichotomy of a dilemma that we must learn to integrate when we grow up and are free to choose our futures. When I find a place that feels like home, is it the only one? Or will there be others? Why does it feel like home? Is it a conglomeration of factors or simply one? If I leave, will I always regret it like I did the first time? Does this feeling of home last forever or is it merely a phase and after two or three years I'll be restless to find home again?

My account of today has devolved into a philosophical contemplation of home and whether I do indeed get to choose it. I battle the thought of returning even as I find myself ready for the simple luxuries of that home that I have missed. I'm thankful for this one certainty--my Father knows my heart and my longing for home and just as He laid down the stepping stones for me to come here, I can be confident that He will blow away the fog when it's time to take the next step. Wherever it may be.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Climbing Higher

Well my laptop is back. Again. Hopefully for good this time! I'm happy because the guy didn't charge me anything and this is the second time I've taken it back, the space bar doesn't make that weird clicking noise it made the last time I got it back, and wonder of wonders. . .all my files and folders are still on the computer! I was prepared for them to be gone but miraculously they aren't. It is such a good feeling to be able to type whenever I want, to check my email, or watch a movie. I'm so happy.

Today I had the lovely gift to spend a second evening with twin baby boys. My good friends have little boys who are 3 1/2 months old now and my friend's parents who were helping for the first 3 months had to return home. Yesterday and again this evening I went over and was able to feed, rock, burp, and hold the boys. When one started to fuss, my friend would take him and calm him down while I held the quiet one. And back and forth it went.

At such a young age, the boys know instinctively when their parents are holding them and they relax. Their parents have studied the little ones and know when to feed them, when to hold them, or when to let them sleep. The close relationship between parent and child explains why, when I asked my friend if she was apprehensive to take care of her babies when they were released from ICU, she confidently replied that she wasn't at all.

I'm not the most practiced at taking care of babies. I see mothers who now have teenagers eagerly reach for the twins when they come to church and they expertly tuck a little arm under the crook of their arm, cradle a tiny head just so, and within moments the baby is quiet and content. I hold one of the boys and they start to squirm and I'm nervously worried that they are uncomfortable. I watch my friend to see how to hold each boy and carefully support their heads so they don't wobble too much. But even though I'm still learning, I'm so thankful for the gift to be able to help take care of them.

Sometimes I forget that God is ready to have a similar relationship with me. He is the ever-doting Father Who understands my character and gives me the support and encouragement that fits exactly what I need. He is comfortable taking care of me because He's been doing it since before I was born. I don't like to bother people and sometimes I think I feel the same way towards God. I don't want to bother Him with my needs but His responsibility is to provide for me and He takes joy in it. 

What a beautiful reminder from the little ones! I can stop struggling and trying to make sure I manage and relax. God will take care of me. After all, He has promised.

Friday, July 1, 2016

In the Midst of Chaos - Peace

My life has been a bit full these last few weeks, both my personal life and my work life. Since changing jobs, I have also been carrying a full teaching load as a summer intensive, so tasks I would have liked to accomplish have had to sit on the side while I prioritize the simply urgent. I haven't even looked in drawers to see where the paper clips are, let alone organized and archived old files. It would be easy to look at it all and feel overwhelmed.

Yet I am learning not to walk that way. I am learning to dedicate time to silence, to joyful laughter, to spontaneous outings, to earnest prayer, to thoughtful writing, and to God-moments. I am learning that I am not indispensable and there is no virtue in an attitude of panic. I am learning that if I ask, God will confirm I am where He asks me to be and even when I forget to ask, He provides beautiful affirmations. Chaos can be the status quo but peace should be the response in the midst of it.  

To add to the melee of it all, I am also working on the dynamics of fitting into the administrative team. I am mostly a silent observer but even communicating with nonverbals is significant. For example, I sit on two committees as recording secretary. I don't have a vote and am not to speak unless it is to clarify a motion. At the same time, there is regular dialogue happening and at times the one speaking will look at me to support their position. In that moment, I can nod and smile in agreement, frown in disagreement, or attempt to hold a neutral face.Who do I affirm?

I fill a unique space at the university. Because I grew up here, even though it was just 3 years, the friendships and connections still remain. My heart was shaped by Lebanon first so my instinctive reactions are grounded in this culture. At the same time, my European heritage and North American education with work experience add to my hexagonal reality. From Islander to European, from Asian to African, from North America to Middle Eastern, I am a clash of cultures within myself. Here I fit but with whom do I fit best? Perhaps there isn't an answer to that.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

He Has Been Good To Me

I can't believe I've already been here 4 1/2 months! As I look back on my calendar, I see the weeks getting progressively fuller and fuller with appointments. Each day has been packed with adventures and I'm certain the ones ahead will be also. God has been good to me. Here are just a few highlights of my adventure thus far.
  • Tutoring students
  • Choir trip to Mouseitbeh church, which is linked to one of two elementary schools in Beirut
  • Birthday celebrations, farewells, baby showers, and baby dedications, usually involving a surprise cake and dessert
  • Move night with Sound of Music and singing along to old favourites
  • Staying up til past midnight to watch the Sharley wedding livestream in Washington
  • Preparing a program for prayer meeting
  • Camping at Baskinta, the church-owned property, and coming home at midnight because my friend got sick
  • Going to the airport to pick up the Jackson family & making sure they felt at home
  • Visiting Jeitta Grotto after 18 years
  • Sitting on many endless committees
  • Helping coordinate a campus-wide Bible game for about 60 kids and adults
  • Signing up to do laundry, as we get 2 times to wash laundry per week
  • Sitting on the roof in the dark, talking to God, as I see the lights of nighttime Beirut
  • Trips to Cheesecake Factory, Mr. Cocktail, Kurkouge, Zaatar w Zeit, and dipndip
  • Taking my laptop multiple times to be fixed
  • Visiting the Blue Mosque in downtown Beirut and wandering all over the place
  • Visiting Byblos & clambering up and down a tricky bit of rock to take selfies by the Mediterranean Sea
  • Visiting Harissa and taking the telepherique (cable car) to get to the top of the mountain
  • Hiking in El Chouf area two Sundays in a row, one over goat trails and the other by Niha Fortress and through a cedar forest
  • Teaching Advanced Writing in spring and then teaching an Intermediate Writing intensive in the summer
  • Changing jobs in June to be executive assistant to the president
  • Celebrating my birthday with a fundraising meal that raised nearly $500 for a refugee child to go to school
  • Learning how to order a fruit cocktail and manaeesh sandwich in Arabic

The Life of a Teacher

I don't think I'd make a very good teacher. I'm not patient enough, I don't know how to motivate students in a positive way, and my mind goes blank when I have to think of examples.

When I was growing up, people always told me I should become a teacher one day. To this day, I'm not sure whether they said it because I had several teachers in my family, because my mom home-schooled us, or because it was a good career that could help in the mission field. I always adamantly vowed I would not become a teacher and managed to avoid it both in college and after. The extent of my teaching was a computer class and a couple of modules for a leadership class.

Then I came to MEU and not teaching wasn't an option. I was assigned Advanced Writing in the ESL program the first semester. Thankfully, I also received a book that I could follow step by step and supplement as needed. My 7 students and I made it through the semester relatively unscathed and emerged with grades reflective of the amount of effort they put in. As I contemplated my teaching methods, I realized that I was not someone who teased out knowledge or asked students to think in a way other than they had before. I relied on their innate ability to motivate them and if they chose not to be motivated then I didn't push them. I didn't know how to. I'd spent my educational years breezing through simple classes or responding to teachers who challenged me. I didn't know how, though, to motivate students beyond the reward of a good grade.

Yesterday, when I was asking students to respond to questions about the reading assignment, one of them kept saying things that were not related to the answer. I finally said, I don't want you to just shout out anything. Take a moment and think about it. The student went silent.

Today, the students were in a giggly mood, not unusual if it would have been a bunch of teenage girls, but it was several guys and some of them appeared to be amused by a classmate's accent, unaware that they too sported accents of their own. I was frustrated because they weren't paying attention to the debate assignment and I do not tolerate making fun of someone in front of them so I insisted they stop laughing. I made eye contact with the offending students and spoke in a very serious tone of voice. I felt bad about taking a stand but I knew if I allowed them to push the boundaries, they would continue to do so and lose all respect for me. At the same time, a thought kept whirling in my head that I should have disciplined them with a soft kind tone of voice.

So there you have it. I'm teaching Intermediate Writing in ESL as a summer intensive and I have no teaching background, no ESL training, no textbook to follow, and precious little time to prepare as I'm also working as an executive assistant. But strangely enough, I'm excited about the class. As much as the students frustrate me, I love their personalities and how they express themselves. I finally finished putting together the course outline that will serve as a mini lesson plan and we're going to have fun playing Mad Libs and Balderdash, writing a group play, creating a comic strip narrative, and possibly even going on a field trip. And this is part of the adventure.

Whenever I find myself feeling like I'm paddling just to stay above water, I stop and take a breath and remind myself that I'm not indispensable, the world won't stop turning if I miss an appointment, and I'm here doing what God has called me to do. As long as I am faithful to His call, I need never be stressed or worried. I can have peace and contentment because He is holding my right hand and guiding me with His counsel (Psalm 73:23-24).

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Celebrate Life

At last! After wasting 30 minutes trying to log in to my account only to keep seeing a page with Arabic writing that made no sense to me, I switched browsers on my phone and was able to log in, still through an Arabic interface but this time I went by memory, as I typed in my username and watched it appear on the screen from right to left. This is one of the realities of living in a different country. It's funny how I easily get frustrated but then why shouldn't the default computer language in a Middle Eastern country be Arabic? As you've guessed by now, yes, my laptop is once again in the shop. I hope he can fix it but it may be time for a new one.

This week was my birthday week. To celebrate, several of my friends and I were planning to go out to eat but then I thought it would be nice to do something different. With the help of friends, I prepared a meal on campus. Instead of presents, I asked everyone to bring a donation for a very special project. There is a school nearby for refugee children but it only goes till grade 6. The director is planning to send 8 kids who've finished the highest grade there to continue studying at another Christian school. It costs about $1,000 per child. I was so pleased that the 25+ guests were able to raise $467 at the lunch! It was an enjoyable day but also very full with 5 hours of cooking and cleaning up after.

This week I also celebrated 4 months here. I have now passed the 1/3 mark. I'm surprisingly still not apprehensive about the future though this is only a1-year contract. I'm trusting God to clearly guide and intrigued to see how His plan will unfold. I can see looking back that He has been leading to this point. I'm also amazed at how much has been packed into these 4 months. I'm thankful for the experiences as they have helped me grow and filled my heart with joy.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Exploring the Beauty

This weekend has been full of activities. Friday I got a message saying three friends were going to see the Blue Mosque and did I want to come. I said of course, so after work and a farewell potluck lunch for a staff, I rushed and got ready to go. We took a service down to Dawra Square, it's sort of like grand central station and from there you can get buses or mini-vans to go wherever you'd like to go next. We found a mini-van and piled in. This one took us downtown and we just knocked on the window when we wanted to get off. It was the equivalent of $2 one way for both taxi & bus combined which is really handy. My friend & I didn't go inside the mosque since we peered in and didn't see any ladies inside so the two guys went in. Then we wandered all around downtown and took pictures with the must-have, the sign that says I Love Beirut. We ended up in Pinkberry where I tried the watermelon flavour which is really delicious.

We weren't sure where to catch the mini-van to go back to Dawra Square, but we started walking in the right direction. Sure enough, before long a min-van passed us and honked, we missed that cuz we didn't realize they'd do it but we were ready for the next one which slowed down, we hopped on, and soon enough we were back at Dawra. We got a taxi-driver and off we went, me wanting to stop at the ATM to get some cash as I was getting sorely low. I told the taxi driver I wanted to get out when we were coming up to the ATM, and he gestured towards the place and I still don't know if he said, see I remember you wanted to stop here, or if he said, see I understood what you were saying, but regardless, I got to practice a little!

Last night I picked up the book my brother gave me for Christmas and started to read some phrases out loud. I was surprised to see how much more made sense than 4 months ago. Now I'm starting to put things together. This morning Ana gave me a lesson on how to say, "I want, you want, she wants, he wants, they want," and now I can practice that. For example, I can say, "Ana badi wrouh al Dawra" which means I want to go to Dawra.

On the side, all the Brazilians/Portuguese insist I must learn Portuguese and so far I know noun and siin (no and yes) and hoy (hey) and lindo/linda (beautiful). My mind can't handle multiple languages though, so I think I'll focus on Arabic for now. Having a background in Spanish is slightly helpful, but the Brazilian Portuguese adds a lot of soft sounds to the words so you will hear "ch" while the Portugal Portuguese will say "c". So if I were trying to understand Portuguese, I'd do better with the one from Portugal.

This morning we were off a little after 8:30 in the morning. Four of the group went by taxi to Dawra Square and caught a different bus going to Byblos while the rest of the group went by car. We had a lovely time in Byblos, walking around town, seeing inside the castle, eating lunch, buying souvenirs. When we sat down to eat, we were given expensive menus with burgers and things inside. We immediately asked for the Lebanese food menu and that was 1/3 of the price! I loved eating the babaghanoush, hummus, potatoes with fresh coriander, and other local staples. 

Then part of the group went home but two of the guys and I wanted to go to Harissa so we took the bus, then walked for ages following a nice couple with a small baby who got off the same bus and knew where to go because they were going there too, and finally got to the cable car or telepherique as it's called here. It's quite a ride up, apparently a mile long, so it took at least 15 minutes to go up. A bit daunting to see how high up we were and of course the guys kept joking about what would happen if it were to break. At the top we saw the Lady of Lebanon, went up a bunch more steps, popped inside the church where they were having a service, and then went back down again.

Thankfully we could catch a bus right outside the telepherique and didn't have to walk ages back to the highway and before we knew it we were home. We did have to pay a little extra for the last taxi home because we were going all the way up to the university, but I paid a little less than $7 today total which I think is an excellent value for the amount of traveling I got in! I'm super pleased to be learning the public transportation system though I won't travel it by myself because I'm a little wary of that.

I love getting off campus and exploring this beautiful country. It's a wonderful excuse to walk without feeling bored, see new things, hang out with friends and get lots of sunshine.I'm looking forward to next weekend already and planning what I will do!

Friday, June 10, 2016

The Best Day

Today was such a busy day! After work and a farewell potluck for the person I'll be replacing, four of us hopped in a taxi and headed to Dora (pronounced Dowra) square where we caught a minivan to downtown. We saw the Blue Mosque (but only the guys went cuz we didn't have scarves and weren't sure if we could even go in), surreptitiously took pictures inside St. Georges Cathedral, and unfortunately didn't get to go in the synagogue because it was closed. Quite amazing to find all these religions within a few blocks of each other.

After a good walk around downtown and frozen yogurt at Pinkberry, we headed back by minivan and taxi to do some grocery shopping. We weren't sure where to catch the minivan but thankfully one goes by every 5 minutes and all you have to do is walk in the direction you want to go. Then they honk as they pass and if you give the slightest indication that you want to hop in, they swerve over to the side and you pile in. It only costs the equivalent of 67 cents to go one way which is really handy. Of course the seats are old and often there is a strong smell of body odor and there are no seatbelts, but we just hang on and push the window open a little further.

We were so thankful to find a staff member in the grocery store who was heading back up the hill so we didn't have to flag a taxi or walk up. Then I had supper (the caf makes a little bowl of soup for me each evening that isn't heavily seasoned so I can season it myself, which is quite nice), sent out the e-newsletter, and rushed to home vespers.

My calendar says, write it in your heart that every day is the best day in the year. I like it. I'm intrigued to see how God will continue to write this chapter of my life.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Loose Memory

I'm back and oh how happy I am to be writing again! Yes, you guessed it, my laptop had problems again. This time, when I turned it on I heard several loud Morse-code like beeps and then saw a black screen with instructions. The only problem was, my keyboard was once again on the blink so I couldn't do anything with it.

It took me about ten days to find time to make it down the hill to the repair shop. A man was repairing the mechanism that swings open the door, the metal arm at the top of the door, so I stood outside watching rather bemusedly until he stepped away to get another part. Then I knocked on the glass, he opened it part-way, and I squeezed inside.

The computer repair guy was lounging behind the counter as usual, on a stool so low I could barely see the top of his head. I hurried to tell him all about my problem. Not being technically savvy, I gave him some vague explanation about black screens and everything going dead. He calmly took the battery out and unscrewed the back cover. After poking around for a minute, he closed everything back up and turned on the laptop. It was fixed.

So what was wrong? I asked, wondering if it was something I needed to be aware of for the future. Apparently the RAM had come loose though I don't remember dropping the laptop. I was so thankful it was fixed though! So now I'm back in my room, happily typing away as fast as my fingers will manage while I think about the lesson one can learn from a simple thing like this.

I rely on my laptop for many things. I rely on it to check online accounts, order birthday gifts for family and friends in other countries, blog, write emails, and save pictures. While I can do most of that on my phone, the small screen is rather limiting and I can't Swype as quickly as I type. Besides, I'm old school. Just like I'd much rather read a paperback than an e-book (and I prefer paperbacks to hardcovers, much friendlier!), I'd rather type than Swype.

Not having my laptop for several weeks has been rather trying. Yet each time I got it fixed, it was a simple thing that didn't take too long or cost a lot. If I hadn't procrastinated the first time, I would have been able to use my laptop much sooner and be connected.

Using a laptop is like being plugged into God and having a real relationship with Him. Just like I stay connected to the world virtually, I stay connected to my source of spiritual strength. God has wisdom so I know what decisions to make, strength so I can make it through the tough times, joy to fill my heart, peace to be assured that I am in His will, and love to validate me, among many other beautiful qualities. When my laptop is dead, I am frustrated because I can't get things done as efficiently and effectively. Similarly, when I don't have a strong relationship with God, my ability to serve in ministry is limited.

Sometimes it's easy to make excuses. In my mind, if I have staff worship and prayer meeting or vespers or dorm worship in one day, I've had plenty of worship for that day. I'll find time to spend quality time with God in the beginning of the week and then coast on that for the rest of the week, bringing out the verses I'd studied to share at different occasions with different people so they don't realize I'm reusing the same thought.

I'm not saying it's wrong to share an encouraging thought with more than one person. What I am saying is that I'm becoming more and more aware of the need to have a constant connection that is kept alive with new understanding. This may be stretching it somewhat, but perhaps we can apply the new wine in old wineskins concept. If I have a new understanding about some facet of God's character, that understanding needs to be applied in a fresh new way. If I try to force that understanding into my old habits of doing things, it's likely that it won't be effective. But if I allow the new understanding to change my heart and be open to a new way of seeing God, then I can keep growing spiritually which will strengthen other areas of my life. As I regularly spend time learning about God, the Holy Spirit will bring new understanding that will keep the connection vibrant.