Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Tissues and Joy

Well, I managed to get sick again. This hasn't been a good winter for me. Back in the States, I had the flu promptly followed by a head cold and then not much later, another cold. Then I thought, great, now I'm done being sick for the winter. Not so! After two very full weeks, I suddenly got hit with another flu. And now, after fighting it all weekend, a head cold. It's not fun to try to get through a day when you're constantly blowing your nose and sneezing.

After supper, I decided to go for a stroll. Now that time has changed, the sun doesn't set til after 7 pm which makes me very happy. I was not brave enough to walk to the top of the hill in the dark but now I can go, so I did. Accompanied by Mandisa on my mp3 player, singing God Speaking, I marveled at the beauty of the mountains, smiled as a plane rounded the corner, setting down just off the sea, and my heart was filled with joy.

Today was difficult, yes. But I started it by asking God for strength for today and He did not disappoint. I taught my 2-hour class and a dear student gave me a cough drop during the break. One of the sweet AVS volunteers invited me to sit with her at supper. I still haven't gotten used to eating in the cafeteria; it's hard when most people speak their native tongue and I feel left out. I had bought a pack of Kleenex tissues with balsam the last time I went to town so my nose wouldn't 't get red and sore from using the scratchy generic tissues. I'd also bought honey/ginger tea which I enjoyed a steaming mug of after my evening walk. Then I spent the evening in bed, eating sunflower seeds and watching a favourite series on Netflix.

A friend asked me today if I was still happy I came. I answered truthfully that I was happy I stepped out on this adventure. There are difficult days when I feel discouraged and wish I was home with my family, like today. Then there are wonderful days when I'm laughing with friends and feel like this is where I belong. Life is like that. It cannot constantly be one big high but neither is it always a discouraging experience. I'm thankful for the experience and I'm thankful for my heavenly Father Who provides for my needs and makes sure I feel loved.

Oh! Today marks the six week mark! I'm 1/4 of the way through the first half, more or less. I handed in my vacation request today for 3 weeks in July/August. Now to wait for it to be approved so I can book my ticket. After the news today about an EgyptAir flight that got hijacked by a man who supposedly wanted to see his ex-wife, I'm once again apprehensive about flying, but I'm also looking forward to seeing my family and friends in the States. Now if I can just stop sneezing long enough to get some sleep. . .

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Little Snapshots

He was restless, the tiny Korean tot, as he trotted up and down between aisles. When his mother took him out for the sixth time, he grinned back at the audience and waved vigorously. It was in the middle of Communion and there was an air of solemn reverence in the auditorium, but we couldn't help the responsive smiles.

Then it was choir practice and he was sitting on the chair in front of me, turned so he was facing me, as he drove a yellow car and a green bus on the back of the chair. When I stretched out my hand, he dropped the yellow car into it and when I politely handed the car back to him, his pudgy baby hands grasped it firmly instead of dropping the toy like other babies would. He did not speak to me, his black eyes stared solemnly at me, but he smiled and came running when I beckoned him. He sat on my lap for a brief moment before slipping down to play with two older boys. 

She laboriously pulled herself up into a sitting position as we entered their humble apartment. Just four days earlier she'd had twin babies and was now waiting for them to grow big enough to join them at home. Her husband hovered solicitously nearby, offering us drinks, making sure we were comfortable. They were the ones in need and they were serving us.

It was that awkward time when you entered the foot washing room for Communion service and you didn't have a partner. I looked around and saw a woman hesitating. I walked up to her. Do you have a partner? She didn't so I asked if I could wash her feet. She remembered me from years past, I knew her name and that she had a brother, but that was the extent of my memories. We washed each other's feet and then she disappeared.

The potluck meal was finished but the four of us lingered. We spoke with little explaining necessary, a Brazilian, a Portuguese, an American, and a Dutch, all women seeking after God in our various phases of life. Transplants from previous lives, we found a connection and solidarity in the commonality of being women of God. And as they drew me into their circle of trust, I marveled at how beautifully God orchestrated this moment before I'd even arrived.

An Hour Lost

Time changes tonight and we lose an hour at 1 am when it jumps forward an hour. I don't know why we change time 2 weeks later, or maybe the US changes 2 weeks earlier, but it's my least favourite time of the year since I enjoy my sleep so much! Interestingly, as I prepared to write this post, the first thought that came to my mind was that I was sad to lose an hour of time spent with my friends.

I just returned from an evening of laughter and games at the apartment of the new academic dean and his wife. They arrived about two weeks before I did and quickly slipped into the routine of life. Their ministry is welcoming people into their home and even before they found an apartment, they were playing games Saturday evening in the decrepit social room on the second floor of the dorm. They'd packed several games in their limited luggage, one of their must-have items, it appeared, and promised us that when their shipment from their previous post in Africa arrived in port, there would be a whole closet full of games to choose from.

We arrived somewhat late for American standards, hurrying up the cement steps past a ferociously barking German Shepherd that belonged to the neighbours living on the ground floor. It was nearly 9 pm but they were waiting for us, with popcorn and juice and special Easter cookies to share. We gathered around the dining room table and exchanged mission life stories as we broke the bread of friendship literally and figuratively. Earlier that day we'd participated in a sacred Communion service and now we ended the day with a meaningful time of camaraderie as we ate, laughed, and played games.

In the brief sundown vespers we had tonight to close the Sabbath, Pastor N. asked us to share a blessing from our week. I was first to raise my hand. I'm thankful for the church family and the good friends I've found here. Even though I've only been here a little over a month, I already feel at home and I'm thankful for that. At the end of a very rough week, when I'd found myself struggling against discouragement, all I could remember was a deep sense of gratitude for the dear friends I'd found. I had indeed come home, even if it was a different home than the one I'd lived in as a teenager. For home is not a physical space; home is found in the hearts of those who love you and share their lives with you.

As I thought about losing an hour of time, my mind began to connect the emotion to a different type of loss. In Sabbath School we discussed the final chapters of Revelation and how difficult it will be to see those we loved, who chose not to follow God, standing outside the gates of the holy city. Imagine how God will feel on that day. Those He created, because every soul that breathes does so from the breath God has given him, are standing there resolutely rejecting His gentle entreaty to choose life. Just as a mother whose son has committed a horrible crime still loves her son because he is a part of her, I believe God also mourns the loss of His children. It says in Revelation 21:4 that God will wipe away every tear from their eyes. But who will wipe away the tears from His eyes? Jesus wept so weeping is Biblical and attributed to God.

I want to learn how to pray for those I love. I don't want to lose time here on this earth with them but of even greater value is time spent together in the new earth. Over and over the Bible emphasizes the difference between those who choose God and those who choose sin. When Jesus returns, I want to be in the first group and choose God. But I don't want to be alone. I want my family and my friends to be there with me too. Not an hour, not eternity lost but together forever with Jesus.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Of Babies and Bryani

One of my new friends here just had twin boys! I'm so thrilled for her though I know it will be a challenge. This morning we were going to go and see her in the hospital but she decided to come home. So I busied myself going on another shopping trip to pick up more supplies for the bryani I'm bringing to potluck tomorrow.

There are two grocery shops relatively close by. One is about halfway down the hill and the other is about 10 minutes further away. Since I just needed some basic ingredients, I decided to go to El Khawli, the one closer by. I set off at a good clip down the hill, slowing down to listen to a loudspeaker blasting out Christian Easter music. Several men, perhaps a family from across the street where tall layers of apartment buildings stood, were sitting in the shade near a cross and arrangement of figurines. I'd seen the cross on my walks before but this time something had been added to it. A length of black cloth, casually wrapped around the crossbeam, flapped in the cooling spring breeze. I paused to look and thought about its significance. Black signifying death; an empty cross signifying resurrection.

After reaching the store, I decided to pick up the kitchen utensils first so I hurried up to the third floor where household items were laid out. I found two serving bowls that would double as mixing bowls, picked out what looked like a good serrated cutting knife, scooped six small glass jars into my basket so I could store my bulk spices neatly, and after much debate, decided on a plastic and a metal serving spoon. I looked longingly at a pair of beautiful metal serving spoons but the cost deterred me. If I lost them, I would feel sad that I'd spent a lot of money on them, so being the frugal German/Dutch? that I was, I picked up the cheaper spoons and made my way down to the ground floor for the fresh ingredients. There I rolled a green leaf between my fingers, crushed it, and breathed in deep to confirm that I was indeed buying cilantro. I pinched sad looking onions until I found three that looked promising enough, chose a beautiful head of garlic, and bagged 20 fresh mushrooms. In the grocery stores here, you take your items to a scale where someone weighs them for you, then slaps a sticker on the bag so it scans immediately with the price at the cash register.

I finished picking up what I needed there, then made my way back up to the middle floor where the cash registers were located. I contemplated buying chocolate Easter eggs but settled instead for basbousa. At the cash register, the lady who scanned my items asked if I wanted to pay in dollars but I said lubnani, or Lebanese. Usually they ask lubnani aw dular and I reply Lubnani since I get paid in Lebanese pounds. (A tip to the frugal, because the smallest coin is 250 Lebanese pounds, paying in dollars means they round down so you actually pay a little less. However, I haven't figured out if you lose something in the conversion rate).

Walking down was the easy part; now I had to walk back up again. Though a mile or so, the hike is rather steep and carrying three bags in each hand gave my heart a good workout! I huffed and I puffed and thankfully none of the houses fell down and I made it to my dorm room where I deposited everything and then lay down for a few minutes to catch my breath.

My good friend Marisa is back from a week in the States for work so I was happy to have someone to eat with at lunch. I was doubly happy because we had brownish looking rice and steamed greens that didn't have any cheese on them! After a couple of weeks here, I decided I wanted to eat vegan as far as possible, especially since my throat itches a lot if I eat too much cheese.

In the afternoon, I made bryani in the shared staff kitchen.  I carefully cooked the carrots till they were soft (the carrots served here are usually grilled so they're chewy), fried up mushrooms and garlic and onions in a little bit of oil in a non-stick pan, and then mixed all this goodness together. Even though it took me two hours to put the dish together, I was so happy to be able to create something I could share for potluck tomorrow.

I helped Marisa with song service and then the college students did a creative play in honour of Easter week. Each of the 7 students represented a different person who had known Jesus, for example Mary Magdalene, Peter, Nicodemus, and Mary the mother of Jesus. As they spoke casually, conversationally, reminiscing about their experiences with Him, it was easy to imagine being there with them. Dressed in era-appropriate attire, their thoughtful words were accented with the flavour of the times, making the skit feel authentic and more meaningful.

As we left the auditorium, the father of the new baby boys handed out baklava in celebration of his firstborns. Though weary, his eyes held a new glow about them as he was now a proud father. I thought of the clip my best friend had posted earlier that week. Her 3 year old son was riding a trainer bike without wheels, as his father ran along beside the tot, hands protectively encircling him, speaking excited words of encouragement, as the boy, fearless, peddled fast down the road. It brought tears to my eyes as I thought how perfectly it illustrated our heavenly Father's love for us. We are on our trainer bikes, peddling as fast as we can go, confident that we're going to stay upright, but it is our Father whose hands protectively encircle us to keep us safe and keep us from falling. (Jude 1:24) He is excitedly encouraging us to our final destination and takes joy in our fearless zeal for living and serving Him. What a beautiful picture of God!

Though the Christian life is not always easy, I can say without a doubt that there are moments when you know with certainty that you are within the circle of God's hands. Today was one of those days. I'm thankful for the peace, the joy, and the contentment that I feel being here and knowing that God has a plan for my life. I'm excitedly looking forward to how He will unfold that plan and so thankful that as I persevere, He will be there with me, excitedly encouraging me to the finish line. (Romans 5:3-5)

Sometimes God Asks for the Mundane

I am so excited to start a blog chronicling my experience as a missionary in Lebanon. I thought of writing a monthly email to circulate to family and friends but this will be easier to share with others.

The purpose of this blog is to capture the moments, through picture, sound, and words, so they are not lost when I leave. Perhaps if there is enough content I can put it together into a book; we shall see. It is also my intent to be real about the experience. I don't want to discourage anyone and I don't plan to whine or complain on this platform. I just want to be real about the challenges that a person faces when living abroad or away from the familiar.

When I chose to accept the call to come here, I was returning to the familiar. I'd lived here 17 years ago and I was excited that I could come home in a sense. After finishing a master's thesis on third culture kid losses and how adults integrate those into their identity, I was ready to return to where it all began. Hence the title of this blog.

At the same time, I knew things would have changed. I was now an adult, I was coming as a missionary instead of a missionary's child, several of my close friends had left, others had gotten married, and I would be living on my own. This was going to be my adventure.

The first month has flown by and I am nearing my 6 week mark already. I have accomplished many things yet I've found myself wondering if I could do more. This week has been a growing week in learning that sometimes God asks for the mundane. From my mother's encouraging email to the daily devotional reading in My Utmost for His Highest, I have been impressed that life is not made up of grand gestures. True, there are defining moments and moments when you know you're making a difference. But often, life is the mundane.

It's sitting in the cafeteria and smiling as you eat the familiar salad that's served at every meal. It's starting class with time for prayer requests and a devotional about having the faith of Jesus, even if you stumble in trying to explain what seemed so simple when you studied it in the morning. It's sitting with a friend who just needs to talk and listening. It's faithfully showing up for prayer meeting and vespers and church and cheerfully serving.

When I was young, I took piano lessons, mostly because my mother wanted me to be able to play from the hymnal. She promised that when I could play well enough, I could stop taking lessons. I began to dream, though, of one day becoming a concert pianist. I imagined myself in grand cathedrals, leading legendary orchestras with my virtuoso talents. I never reached that level but I carried that drive for excellence into many areas of my life and felt frustrated when reality fell short.

I had planned to accomplish many things when I came here. I've found, though, that life in a new country takes time to calibrate. Cooking takes twice as long when you keep everything in your room on a different floor and have to shop at two different grocery stores for all the ingredients you need. Something as simple as drinking water becomes complicated when you have to calculate how long your 10-liter jug will last and if you should buy water at the cafeteria on Friday or on Sunday.

Sometimes you just have to leave your own agenda behind and follow what God puts in front of you each day, my mother said. I was frustrated because I wanted to change the world. She was quietly reminding me that my calling was not to a place or even to a ministry--it was to God. And in this moment, God was asking me to be content with the mundane. So it shall be.