Friday, April 29, 2016

Be Just Exactly What He Wants Me To Be

It's been a full week! When I came, I decided to be as involved as possible in campus life so I could adapt and serve wherever needed. This week I had several opportunities for ministry. The women's dean was away for several days so three of us took on the morning worships. Thankfully it wasn't too complicated, just a 10 minute devotional where the young ladies take turns reading the verses for that morning and then a thought to wrap it up. I'm not a morning person so this was very helpful for me.

Then Tuesday, a friend asked me if I could do a short devotional thought for Wednesday night prayer meeting. This was stepping out of my comfort zone because I'm not used to giving worship thoughts. Thankfully, I'd brought my mini Conflict of the Ages set with me and was able to paraphrase the chapter on Calvary since it was an Easter theme.

Sharing worship thoughts is often not as rewarding as teaching a child math, for example. I mean this in that you may not immediately see results but I'm learning that life is not always about results. I'm someone who likes to see results. I really enjoy vacuuming a dirty rug or dusting a dusty bookshelf because I can see instant results. I'm a lot more impatient when it comes to watering plants or doing worship because I can't see results.

In the midst of my worry that I hadn't made the devotional thought deep enough or interactive enough, God reminded me that I had shared what He had given me to share, I'd done my part, and the rest was up to Him. I'm learning that this can apply to many areas in life here. I am not distributing food to refugees or doing assessments for ADRA. I'm writing words and putting them together into sentences to increase awareness about the university. I'm not doing Bible studies with large groups of people; I'm smiling, giving a hug, and promising to pray for one young lady. I'm not preaching sermons to huge crowds but two of the quietest guys read Bible verses at prayer meeting because I asked them to. But I'm doing what God has given me to do and that's the best I can do for now and all these experiences are building my faith in God.

This week has been a good one. A few highlights:
  • Booked my summer ticket back for 3 weeks
  • Enjoyed sandwiches & carrot juice at the little shops down the hill. For just under $4 too!
  • Watched my first drift show & thankful the driver & passenger got out quickly and no one was hurt when an explosion happened in the car. 
  • Led out in 2 morning worships & prayer meeting 
  • Played basketball on a team with a Brazilian & a South Sudanese against a Portuguese & 2 Americans, they won by 1 or 2 points, but I scored several baskets! It's been so long since I played & it was great fun. 
  • Learned how to take public transportation of taxi & mini bus to Hamra, which is the equivalent of a seaside town, enjoyed walking & eating by the sea and seeing Pigeon Rock 
  • Visited 4YL center and got some ideas about more ministry opportunities. This center has various workshops & classes for the community to improve their physical & spiritual health.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Going back to Y2K - 2

Today marks the 10-week mark since I arrived. I remember the first time I left home. The 10-week mark was the end of my stint in South Korea after I'd spent a summer teaching more than 125 wiggly kids and sleepy adults how to speak English. I was so happy to go home then, 11 years ago.

Now, facing my 10-week mark, I'm content to be here. I've heard it takes 6 months to a year to adapt to a new culture but I think that I am now comfortable in this country. Of course when I arrived, I expected to fit in and feel at home immediately and was startled to find out it wasn't so! (It's the overachiever side of me. . .)

So what does a typical week look like for me now? My work week begins Monday with breakfast and then work. I eat lunch fairly regularly in the cafeteria, breakfast sporadically, and supper rarely. Because I walk in the evenings, I take supper to go and usually end up eating it for breakfast the next morning. I work 8:30 - 5:30 and have an hour lunch break but usually I don't take the full hour so I can get off a little earlier.

Then I rush to my room to change in to workout clothes, grab supper, and meet up with several friends for an hour's hike around the campus. We hike three nights a week and after our hike head down to the fruit cocktail shop. We recently discovered there is a sandwich shop next door where they make the most delicious and cheap sandwiches! You can get supper for less than $4 and that includes a sandwich and a freshly squeezed juice!

Wednesday night is prayer meeting and Friday night is vespers. Saturdays are usually full with choir practice, teen study group on how to be a Godly young woman, spending time with friends, or going on the occasional choir tour to a nearby church. Saturday nights we go to the academic dean's house to play games. That is my favourite part of the week because I get to learn new games and everyone speaks English for about 4 hours straight. Sunday is my sight-seeing/catch up day.

So far, one of my biggest challenges are the mosquitoes. They are fairly vicious and sneak in easily no matter how quickly I shut my door. I don't know if I'm particularly sensitive to their bites but it will generally itch for several weeks. I bought some baking soda so I'll have to see if it helps with the itching. Oh yes, and I've heard that mosquito season hasn't even begun!

Sometimes I smile to myself because I think God has a great sense of humour in placing me in a dorm. I only had the dorm experience for a quarter in college since my mom lived on the college campus. Now I get to share washing machines with 10 other young ladies, listen to them screaming at midnight in the halls, and lead out in morning worship when half of them are fast asleep. Interestingly, it doesn't bother me, perhaps because I don't do much laundry, I'm a night person, and as long as one or two girls are awake enough to interact with the topic then it's okay!

In my life, I've seen God bring me to familiar ground for two reasons. First, because it was a painful experience and He wants to heal those memories by replacing them with good ones. Second, because I missed out on an experience and He wants to bless me with special memories to replace the sorrow of loss. Living in the dorm is one thing I missed out on and now I'm enjoying the experience, even with all its little nuances. I'm thankful for this time and, above all, I'm thankful for a Father Who is sensitive to my heart and understands.

Friday, April 22, 2016

When God Fixed My Laptop

Today I turned on my laptop and watched as the password box appeared on the screen. Just for fun, I typed the letter g. Only a g appeared. No gb or bg. Just a g. I gingerly touched the h letter. Just an h appeared. After quickly typing in my password, I opened up a word document and tested it again. The mute button no longer turned off my wifi and when I typed + it didn't appear as +=. I was stunned. How did this happen?

A little over a week ago, the keyboard on my laptop quit working. I was so frustrated because I use my laptop for blogging and when I can't write, I feel like the words are about to bubble over but have nowhere to go. I have a ridiculous fear that if I don't record the significant, I will forget things later when I need to write a book. I'm not so good with remembering minute details which is why I talk so much. If I tell the details to someone else, usually someone who listens well, then they are now responsible to remember!

Thankfully, Marisa had a spare keyboard that I was able to use. However, I knew it was a short-term fix. I'd had a problem with the keyboard before when certain keys on the top row of letters stopped working but it hadn't happened for several months now which is why I hadn't brought my USB keyboard with me from the States. I'd also noticed that sometimes I would press certain letters and they wouldn't type but if I held the keys down long enough, eventually they would start working. But when the laptop stopped completely I was at a loss for what to do.

One of the IT guys said he could take a look at it during his spare time. The next morning he messaged me that it was fixed but I was out all day. When I returned in the evening and tried to log in to my account, I kept getting a message that the password was incorrect. I typed and retyped it multiple times but didn't realize that several additional characters were popping up behind the asterisks. Finally I logged into the guest account which didn't need a password and the IT guy took a look at it. He diagnosed it as a hardware problem, saying he'd be very surprised if it was a software problem, and recommended I take it in to a computer store for fixing.

For a few moments, I had been overjoyed that God had worked things out to fix my laptop. Then I was back to square one. While I could technically use the keyboard now, since it was only 6 keys that typed the character and the character next to it every time I pressed them, it was a hassle to try to produce anything within a reasonable amount of time when I had to keep backspacing to delete the extra characters.

I tried restarting the computer to no avail. I researched and read technical forums online and tried a few fix-it suggestions that didn't seem too complicated but still nothing happened. Then I noticed that I hadn't done any updates to my laptop since November 2015. There were 62 important updates and 11 recommended ones sitting in the queue. I decided I might as well do the updates since nothing else was working but when I tried to start the process, it wouldn't respond.

Finally, I gave up. The next day I turned on my computer, typed in my password, and stared as I realized the problem with my keyboard had disappeared. I don't know what changed. Maybe the updates fixed a bug or something that needed fixing. Or maybe God fixed my laptop.

I am always amazed when God works a miracle in my life. I don't know if you've noticed it, but it seems that the miracles He does for me are always personalized. It makes me feel like He notices me and wants to make me happy. There are times I think God is working a miracle for me and it turns out differently than I expected, like the first fix on my keyboard. It may be discouraging but if I can hold on to my belief that He wants what's best for me, and cheerfully wait, I am certain He will answer my prayer.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

To Be Like Him

Do you believe in Yesu, Jesus? she asked, hesitant yet certain I would answer in the affirmative. Yes! Yes, I do! I replied. She smiled real big and said, Your face shines with grace, I knew it when I saw you. We hugged again and then she returned to cleaning tables while I went inside to order a carrot juice.

I see my friend Sarah three times a week when we go to the cocktail shop. Usually when we arrive, she is inside preparing a cocktail or a smoothie and we exchange hellos. This time was no different but after we'd sat down, Jean Jack and Grethel went next door to look at the sandwiches and then I decided I wanted to go and check out the options also. I ordered a cheese sandwich, which comes on thin flat bread that looks similar to a crepe, is placed on an oval heating element so the cheese can melt, and is then rolled up with mint, cucumber, tomato and olives. I chatted a bit with the owner and learned their products come from a family farm in the Bekaa Valley. Soon the sandwich was ready and I sauntered back to join the group.

Sarah was outside this time, cleaning tables, and when she saw me her face immediately lit up. We hugged and she told me, I love you. (The Lebanese culture is very expressive here) I reminded her that she was in my prayers and she said she needed it. After we talked a little, I went inside to order my juice, not wanting to keep her from her work in case she got in trouble. I kept thinking about what she'd said about my face shining. I didn't think it does but 11 years ago, two different young ladies had told me the same thing when I was teaching English in South Korea.

I'm not a perfect person by any means. Like everyone reading this, I have my struggles and often I am amazed at God's grace in not giving up on me and encouraging me to carry on. How do others see Jesus in me and recognize His grace and purity? I honestly don't know. I can't see my face and I don't think it's anything extraordinary.

During my graduate leadership studies, I was presented with a model that focused on serving others. Servant leadership, interestingly, cannot be learned or taught; rather it is something that others recognize in you. In the same way, I think being like Jesus is not something we can achieve by a formulaic representation based on following certain rules. I believe that others will recognize Jesus in us only if we have experienced Jesus in our lives and know He is real because He is close to us.

It could be easy to think that the experience this evening would set me up to be proud. On the contrary. It is humbling to think that someone who has never met me before recognizes my Saviour and Best Friend by my actions and by looking at my face. It is an awesome (as in significant, not slang for cool) responsibility to represent Jesus to others who may already know Him and are looking for community or who may not and are looking for salvation.

I am so thankful for this experience because it has encouraged me to see that God brought me here for a reason. I am thankful for the reminder to spend time with Jesus so I can be an encouragement to others when they look for someone to be an example of Him. I am thankful for a Father Who knows exactly how to answer the desires of my heart and bring joy to my soul. God's promises are true and I am looking forward to seeing how He will reveal that to me more and more in the near future.

Monday, April 18, 2016

'tis the Gift to be Simple

A couple of days ago I was talking to my mom online and struggling with my current responsibilities. I feel like I'm doing something that doesn't require much brainwork and could be done by a college student rather than someone with my experience and qualifications. I questioned why, when I had a graduate degree, I was not doing tasks that required higher-order critical thinking. She listened thoughtfully and then wisely said, Do the tasks that God has given you to do.

Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you felt like you were spinning your wheels? Perhaps you had prepared yourself to go to a remote area as a missionary and then, instead of boarding the next plane, you spent six months sitting in your house waiting for paperwork to go through? Or maybe you finished your doctoral degree and the call you were expecting didn't come so you ended up cleaning tables in McDonalds while you sent out resumes? If you think about it, I'm pretty sure you'll remember an instance where you had to wait.

The question is, then, how do we wait? Do we wait patiently or anxiously? I tend to be the worrier, the one who gets impatient, the one who dreams big and then feels frustrated when life consists of the small actions. I want to save the world but reality is often made up of the mundane. Presidents sit in meetings, nurses change bandages, teachers grade papers. Nothing spectacular but quite often necessary and a hidden part of the process of change.

Often the change that comes is not within the system or the imagined area that is lacking. Often the change comes in us. This is why my mother said what she did. She knows I am impatient and want to change everything right away. Yet she gently reminded me of a principle I had confidently touted to all before I came but forgotten to practice. Don't try to change everything at first; sit back and observe quietly. Some things you may be able to change while others you may not. If it is something immoral, then yes it is your duty to say something about it. However, if it isn't your responsibility, then don't worry about it. 

This morning I opened up my devotional book, My Utmost for His Highest, and the reading shook my heart's rafters. We are so busy telling God where we would like to go. . .We wait with the idea of some great opportunity, something sensational, and when it comes we are quick to cry--"Here am I." . . .but we are not ready for an obscure duty. Readiness for God means that we are ready to do the tiniest little thing or the great big thing, it makes no difference.

I'm thankful that God has patience as I figure out this thing called the Christian life. I'm thankful that He has mercy as I stumble into an understanding of what it means to follow Him in the little things as sincerely as I do the large things. I'm looking forward to seeing how He will order my steps and I'm learning to be content with knowing that I may never know the result of being faithful to His plan for my life.

While I'm unsure of how to plan my future and be most effective in ministry here, I'm learning that God has a plan which I cannot predict. All He asks me to do is to be faithful in each opportunity He brings to me so He can bless me and others through it. So I am going to try my best not to create my own plan but instead learn to listen for the Holy Spirit's prompting in the simple things of life.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

A Clean Room & A Clean Heart

Yesterday I was happy to finally have time to tidy and clean my room thoroughly. When I first arrived on campus, I was given a lovely room that overlooked the Mediterranean Sea and the football/basketball/tennis courts. I enjoyed seeing the night lights and the room was very pleasant but sharing a bathroom with two students and hearing the late night football games added to my stretching experience! The women's dean kindly shared that there was another room opening up shortly which would be my next home.

Three weeks ago or so, I moved into my new room. Also on the same floor, it was in a quieter wing, I had my own private bathroom, and there was just one bed so I had more room to spread out. I was even able to talk to my friend by opening my window and calling to her as her room was kitty-corner to mine! I was happy to move but surprised to notice that even a change as small as this brought melancholy emotions to the surface. I had just uprooted my entire life and wasn't sure I was ready for yet another change.

However, I'd soon moved all my belongings over and then proceeded to unpack and find homes for everything. Then I fell sick. For the second time. I had to focus my energy on work and various activities and didn't have time to settle in properly. When I found myself with an entire free afternoon this Friday, and the added bonus of motivation to clean, I decided it was time. So I set to work and tackled the task.

I did some deep cleaning in the bathroom. The previous occupant(s) (who knows how far back) had left gifts of pink stain (hair dye? beauty product?) in the cabinets along with various spots that needed to be cleaned on the walls. I will still need to finish cleaning the grout. I swept and mopped the floors and dusted the small dresser and counter. The dust here is very fine so sweeping creates a thousand dust bunnies that tumble away if you so much as whisper near them. Hence the need to mop thoroughly. Finally I tidied up the counter and put everything in its place. After more than 3 hours, I could relax my tired fingers and aching back and knees. My room was clean.

Thinking about my clean room and how much I enjoy being in a place that encourages serenity and peaceful thoughts made me think of how cleanliness is important in so many more areas than our living space. For the past 17 years, I'd lived at a self-supporting institution where, depending on the dynamics and balance of groups at the time, a clean life was heartily encouraged if not dictated. Rules were clearly laid out in regards to one's choice of clothing, makeup and jewelry, food, music, television watching, activities and books read. Sometimes it was implied that if one did not adopt all the specific rules, then it was impossible to be a good Christian while other times the principles were the stronger focus. I did my best to adapt while holding my personal values close but at times questioned why I had to follow all these rules.

Now I live in a setting where I have more freedom to exercise choices that exhibit my personal values. The institution has a broader interpretation of what constitutes a good Christian and allows me some flexibility within its parameters. Interestingly, I've found myself moving towards what I have known all these years. For example, as you know from reading my blog, I've asked for a low-fat and low-salt vegan diet in the cafeteria which they are graciously accommodating for me. Now it's swung the other way; instead of deep fried I receive bland and salt-free but I will figure it out eventually. I'm thankful for the tahini-lemon juice salad dressing to add some flavour when lunch is spaghetti, boiled cauliflower, and tomato puree!

I'm not trying to appear as if I'm better than others because I eat this way. I'm just trying to keep my body from getting so stressed from the oil and salt that it no longer functions in a healthy way. I want to have a body that is as clean as possible and I want to honour God with my choices. I'm still figuring out exactly how to do that but I'm not about to give up.

Two weeks ago a movie night was scheduled by some students to take place on the lawn. I was looking forward to a social activity but then noticed the movie was rated R. I communicated with administration and eventually the movie was changed for another one (I don't know if the second one was any better as I chose not to attend). Last week there was another movie night but this time the students showed Everest which is based on a true story. Tonight I've organized a movie night where we'll watch the classic The Sound of Music, also based on a true story. Here is a clear contrast between something that is dirty and something that is clean.

Let me make it more practical. If I eat a meat hamburger for lunch, shortly thereafter my physical system will be stressed. Inflammation markers increase, concentration flags, and the blood slows down even as I feel more sluggish. I'm sure there are more physical changes things that I could mention. In other words, the meat hamburger is not giving my body the nutrition it desperately craves to function smoothly but rather is stressing the system by introducing elements that are unclean for the body.

If I eat brown rice with steamed greens and scrambled tofu for lunch, I am more likely to be energized with a better ability to concentrate. My body will receive the nutrients it needs and will then be able to turn those into productivity rather than sifting through a hay field for a single kernel of energy from the meat hamburger. As I eat the whole plant foods, I am honouring God by allowing only clean foods into my body.

God refers to cleanliness often in the Bible. Namaan went to the Jordan River to get clean, or to wash away his leprosy, an analogy for sin. God says though our sins are bright red, they shall be as white as snow (Isaiah 1) which means He will clean them. Clean hands are what He desires (Psalm 24). God has no patience for those who appear to clean their lives up but are really living in sin (Matthew 23:25-26). Jesus' sacrifice atoned for our sins and when we choose Him, we are sprinkled with His blood and made clean (Hebrews 10). It is clear that cleanliness is important to God.

As I think about my clean room and how much God values cleanliness, it encourages me because I think God is teaching me a lesson about pursuing the important things in life. What God values more than speaking eloquent sermons or reciting long passages of the Bible is a continual striving to live a clean pure life. When my room gets cluttered, it is hard for me to find anything and I often end up rushing around, creating even more chaos, as I try to find what I'm looking for. There is no feeling of peace; rather I feel very harried. If my life is filled with activities and priorities that are unclean, then I will live a life of chaos instead of serenity. However, God wants me to set aside the sins that are making it difficult for me to live a life of peace in Him (Hebrews 12). He invites me to let the Holy Spirit clean up my life so I can use my time and resources wisely in His service.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

The Miracle Keyboard

I'm thrilled beyond words! As you know, my laptop keyboard died an untimely and unwarranted death, though I'm wondering if all the crumbs of the last 3 years of eating whilst writing may have contributed to it. . . Anyhow, this afternoon I was mentioning to my friend that I needed to go to City Mall so I could find a computer repair shop and see if they could fix my keyboard or I could find a USB keyboard. She suddenly brightened up and said, I have a USB keyboard! It was a Mac one but she wasn't using it. She reminded me to remind her at supper and we parted ways.

After a wonderful brisk walk this evening and fruit cocktails at the little place down the hill, we headed back to our respective rooms in the dorm. Then Marisa reminded me, I have that keyboard you can try. I picked it up and went to my room, pulled my laptop out of the depths of a suitcase where I'd relegated it to uselessness, and turned it on. I used the on-screen keyboard to type in my password, thinking I would have to install software at best though likely the Mac keyboard wouldn't be compatible with my HP laptop.

I opened up a Word document and started typing. Words began to appear. I was so surprised and thrilled that I could write once again! When I turned on my laptop several days ago, I prayed for God to fix it. I reminded Him that I needed to use it to write and stay connected with family and friends. I turned on the power and watched sadly as it refused to cooperate. I had imagined this might happen. I knew God could work a miracle--that I didn't doubt--but I didn't know if this was the time for Him to do so.

Sometimes the miracles we ask God to perform are realized through the people around us. I'm a very giving person and I love it when someone needs an item that I have or help with a problem that I can solve. My friend Marisa is also a giving person. She was happy to lend me her keyboard because she knew she didn't need it and I would be able to use it. God did answer my original prayer but He used a friend to fill in the gap.

In the same way, God can easily proclaim salvation to the whole world without our help. Yet, He delights in giving us a part to play in the joy of sharing the good news with others. Tonight I brought a folded piece of paper with me to the cocktail shop. Sarah* was there and I looked for an opportunity to hand her the paper on which I'd written my favourite Bible verse. Whenever I think of her, I pray for her. I'm not sure exactly how things work in this country when it comes to sharing my faith. I think it's not as restrictive as others but I still want to be respectful of others even as I pray for the Holy Spirit to impress me with opportunities to share God's love with others. Thank you for praying with me.

*As mentioned before, this is not her real name.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Prayers in a Blender

I am struggling with not being able to post regularly. My laptop keyboard died completely about a week ago and I didn't realize it til Sunday evening. I asked the IT guys here but they don't fix keyboards which means I will have to go to the mall and find CompuWorld.

Someone told me today that they found an ear clinic in the country they've adopted as their own. They were so pleased they'd found it while I marvelled at their bravery. If anything medical were to come up over the next 4 months, such as a toothache, I was determined to stick it out till I went home.

Home. Coming here I thought I'd find home. The past couple of weeks, though, I've been thinking of my American home. Today especially I was missing my mom and brother while yesterday I was so upset that all my things were in storage rather than easily accessible. I thought homesickness came only in the beginning but perhaps I was wrong.

Lest you think this experience is all glum, let me reassure you that it isn't. Yesterday we went walking even though it had been pouring rain all day. I look forward to the group that keeps me accountable and enjoy laughing with them.

Monday as we were huddled around the cash register at the fruit cocktail shop arguing over who would pay, Sarah came around the corner and gave me a hug. "Pray for me," she whispered urgently. I nodded my head vigorously and said I would. "I need lots of prayers," she said as she hurried back to the counter to blend the next fruit smoothie. "I will." I promised.

I don't know what Sarah's needs are but I know my heavenly Father does. Tomorrow we'll go and get another fruit cocktail after we walk and I pray God will give me the right words to say to encourage her.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Daniel Dreams

It had been another difficult night as I'd battled 4 mosquitos throughout the night, waking up every couple of hours to that incessant high pitched whine. I'd managed to kill each of them but by morning I was so tired. Two nights previous, I'd had a similar experience, then the night before I'd gotten to bed too late, so I was running on little sleep. Then I remember. . .I had to prepare worship for my class.

I'm teaching Advanced Writing to 7 bright students and I always start my two-period class with worship. Usually I try to tie it in to the concepts we're learning that day but this morning my mind was too tired to think of something creative. Suddenly a thought came to mind. Why not use the Daniel studies?

I logged into my old email account and sure enough, I'd emailed a copy of the most recent studies to my previous boss shortly before I'd left so I was able to download the PDF. I scanned it quickly. Yep, chapter 1 would be perfect. They could read and then answer the questions and get practice in comprehension and critical thinking. As in any subject or language, my students tend to look for the answer in the text but my goal is to teach them to take the concept and interpret it. I sent up a quick prayer that God would bring to mind the main points of the 6+ seminars I'd sat through, since I hadn't officially taken the class where the Daniel studies were explained in detail.

Things went well. We got through one page in 15 minutes and we will finish it next week. Here's the exciting part, though. Next week, the lesson's theme is on dreams. I don't usually scan the textbook in great depth ahead of time, as each section follows a similar format, but this time I looked a little closer at the topics. It started to make me feel very uncomfortable as the book suggested interpretations for dreams and encouraged the students to apply those interpretations to their own dreams. I found the points related to actual writing and the vocabulary, but then I wondered what I could do to supplement the lesson since most of it was unusable.

Then I remembered. The Daniel studies! Chapter 2 talks specifically about dreams--Nebuchadnezzar's dream to be precise. It would fit in perfectly with the theme and we could use a Biblical topic to teach the writing concepts. I was so excited when I realized that and when I realized how the Holy Spirit gently impressed me to start the Daniel studies today so we'd be ready to discuss chapter 2 next week.

While the majority of my students are Adventists, the others are not even familiar with a Bible and struggle to find the book and chapter when I ask them to read in class, even those with a Christian background. I'm thankful for the opportunity to have them read God's Word and I will be praying that the Holy Spirit speaks to their hearts as they read and encourages them to come closer to God.

Fruit Cocktail

Last Friday, after vespers, Pastor Daniel handed out postcard-size invitations for us to give our friends to come to the concert this Friday. I wondered who I could give one to and immediately thought of Sarah*. She is a very sweet young lady who works in the cocktail shop down the hill and I'd met her the second time I stepped inside in search of fruit other than the staples we had every day. Her English was very good and she asked me where I came from and if I was from the university, because a lot of people from there hang out in the cocktail shop.

I took a single invitation, slipped it into my purse, and promptly forgot about it. On Tuesday I joined the walking group and after we finished our hour of exercise, we went down to the cocktail shop. When we got there, I realized I'd forgotten to bring the invitation. I knew we'd be coming again on Thursday so I decided to bring it this time.

We went inside and sat at our regular table. After a bit of bantering, the guys figured out what we wanted and went to the counter to order. The shop owner chatted with them, and later Sarah brought the beautifully decorated fruit drinks and cocktails to our table. She smiled and said hello. I kept looking in the mirror that reflected the counter, as we laughed and talked, waiting for the owner to leave so I could go and give Sarah the invitation. It didn't look promising, though, so I prayed silently. Father, if You want me to give her the invitation, please make it possible.

After we'd finished, we all huddled around the cash register as we argued about who would pay the bill. The owner was busy playing referee and I noticed Sarah in the back so I slipped behind the group and motioned to get her attention. She came over, asking if there was anything I needed. No, I replied, I was just wondering if you were working tomorrow evening. She said yes, she was, but I handed her the invitation anyhow. She looked at it carefully, asked me to explain what a concert was and where it was going to be, and then said she would try her best to make it. I smiled and thanked her and she smiled back. Then she asked if she could give me a kiss (in the Middle Eastern culture you kiss three times on the cheek) and hugged me.

I don't know if Sarah will be able to get off work tomorrow, though I will pray that it works out if possible. I am so excited though, because God used me to connect with someone who isn't part of the SDA community. I've been wondering if this was to be my life--always living and working on compounds--and somewhat frustrated in trying to figure out how to connect with people outside. God gave me an opportunity to talk to Sarah and I will pray that He shows me how to be a good friend to her and share Him with her.

*Name changed just for privacy's sake.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Learning to Dance

Life is lots of ups and downs, just like the weather here which can change faster than a woman changes her mind about which outfit to wear. This morning I was so happy because the ACA coordinator invited me to join an outing on Sunday with other volunteers and our single ACA student (as in, just one, not a reflection on his marital status!). I was even happier when she said that we would be stopping to get manaeesh for breakfast on the way because that is my most favourite.

Then in the afternoon I felt somewhat disheartened. I used to pride myself on being able to figure things out quickly, problem-solve, and connect people with solutions. Coming here, I've felt at times like I'm moving through slow-drying cement as I try to understand the host of cultures (in our department alone we have 8 cultures represented) and how processes and procedures work. I'm used to working in an organizational model that leaned more towards a flat order in regards to authority and now I'm in a model that has several levels of hierachy. I'm forever worried that I'm not going through the right procedures while trying to figure out at what point I can leverage my education, experience, and age. I don't mean in a dictatorial way but I've found that the desire I had to be involved on a decision-making level where I worked before has not gone away.

When I was in my 20s, I always looked up to my older friends and thought, when I reach my 30s, then I'll look and speak with authority. People will listen to me and respect my opinion. Being that I always looked at least 7 years younger than I really was, it was sometimes hard to be taken seriously. I also don't speak out as much because I don't want to be rude and interrupt and I've found there is always at least one person in any group that can fill the dead space (which would be me at home!). So I've been a quieter person in the workplace as I observe.

Then the evening cheered me up again. I went to prayer meeting out of habit but I was tired after two nights of not sleeping well or enough and I had a million things to do. I was glad I went, however, because afterwards I was able to see a dear friend I hadn't seen in awhile. Then I went to hang out with my neighbours, Lina & Amar, and they taught me how to dance Egyptian style. Being that I grew up in a conservative setting, I have no rhythm nor ability but I did my best and I think I'm getting the hang of it. To dance properly, you have to rotate your hip up and down which is trickier than it seems. No, it's not belly-dancing :) but it's a great way to get some exercise!

Ups and downs, that is how the dance of life goes, and I must learn how to handle the emotions without letting them dictate my experience. For today, I'm thankful for friends and moments that bring joy. 

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

God's Purpose for My Heart's Desires

I marvel once again at how God blesses in ways that meet my heart's desire. Last week I was struggling with my food situation. This week I cooked a tasty meal that I could enjoy for several days and I'm already excited about preparing the next meal.

I also knew I needed to get back into a regular exercise routine. I've been trying to get onto a schedule but here the culture supports late nights which makes it challenging to walk early in the morning. I don't mind, being a night owl myself, but I knew I needed to walk more than my weekly hike down the mountain to get groceries.

Then Grethel invited me to join a walking group that goes three times a week from 6-7 in the evening. It fits my schedule perfectly since I'm not doing anything during that time and now that I no longer rely on eating in the cafeteria, I'm able to get off work and get ready to go without being too stressed about exercising right after a meal. Tonight I joined them for the first time and it was a great workout! We walked up about 80 stairs and then down the hill several times. I'm pretty sure I'll be feeling it tomorrow!

I was really happy to meet Lilian, a mutual friend of the guys in the walking group. She teaches at one of the Adventist elementary schools, went to MEU, and is a really nice young lady. I asked her if she went to the church down the hill and she told me she isn't Adventist but that she believes in God. Her parents, a mixture of Catholic and Orthodox, raised her to know about God and then gave her the choice to choose. I think that is wise and it is necessary to allow young people to make their own decisions about faith and spirituality. We had a good chat and hopefully I can invite her to social activities up here.

My favourite part of the evening was heading down the hill to a fruit cocktail shop to hang out. Susu met us there and we had a variety of juices and fruit cocktails to enjoy. I should have taken a picture of mine but I didn't bring my camera since I was walking. It came in a tall clear glass, with green avocado puree on the bottom half, then a strawberry/banana smoothie for the top half with pieces of chopped fruit mixed in, then a gorgeous arrangement of blanched almonds, slivers of Asian pear, banana slices, a wedge of fresh pineapple, a single slice of ripe sweet mango, and a black grape balanced on top to perfect the sweet treat.

It was so lovely to spend time catching up with old friends and talking to new ones. While it's true that we have to re-start our friendships, since we've been living separate lives for 17 years, it is easier than talking to strangers because we have a shared history which I appreciate. As I sat there, drinking it all in (literally and figuratively), I marveled at how God orchestrated the evening. I was able to exercise, make a new friend, be part of a social gathering, and even enjoy a delicious fruit supper!

Coming here, my heart's desire was to connect with people. I have good friends in the States and I miss them terribly, but we all live such busy lives and most of my dearest friends have moved away. I treasured the times spent with those who still lived in the area but I wanted to have a life filled, not with Netflix or work, but with companionship. God knew and He has answered.

Because I've lived here before, I've had the opportunity to be part of groups from my past. Then I also dedicated time to getting to know people when I came, which gave me the opportunity to connect with other groups. Finally, friends I'd known in other countries who lived here now gave me another way to connect. This, I think, is how my nights and weekends have been filled along with being part of choir and any church-related activities.

If someone is thinking of going as a missionary to a foreign country, I would encourage you to be prepared for loneliness but to push through it and step outside of your comfort zone as much as possible so you can connect with people. I'm already sad thinking about leaving in 10 months because of the dear friends I've made here. Making friends is important because they give you support, cheer you up, and bring you closer to God.

And in the process, don't discount the small things. Sitting with someone, listening, being present in a gathering even if you don't understand a single word anyone is saying, no matter how challenging it is, is worth it because you're showing up and you're there.

A couple of weeks ago, I was up on the roof arguing with God. I was frustrated because I thought I had one purpose to fulfill and I was coming up against a brick wall when I tried to pursue that purpose. I didn't know what to do and so I pleaded with God to show me since I was convinced He'd brought me here. Minutes later, my phone lit up. Come to movie night with the girls! I wiped the tears away and headed down to eat popcorn and watch War Room (I highly recommend it).

It wasn't a spectacular life-changing moment--that evening. Life carried on with the mundane and the usual routine. Yet I began to notice opportunities that steered me away from my chosen purpose and towards a God-chosen purpose. I still haven't figured it all out but I think it's related to connecting and mentoring others. I believe His purposes for us are often tied to fulfilling our heart's desires within His will because He has placed those in our heart for a reason. I'm sure God will make it all clear over time and I'm looking forward to learning more!

Monday, April 4, 2016

When The Going Gets Tough

the phrase usually ends with the tough get going. But what does that mean? When life gets difficult, the tough leave? They put their shoulder to the grindstone and push harder? I've been facing a number of challenges adapting to life in the mission field. It's funny now, because I used to pride myself on my ability to adapt. I could give you all the reasons why one should be flexible and I could give you examples but when I think about some areas of my life, I see that I was not always as adaptable as I thought I was. Coming here has reminded me of that.

Over the past 17 years I've been on a personal health journey. At first we lived in an environment where health was mandated but gradually it shifted to an educational process. After working with chronically ill patients for a year and seeing the impact of lifestyle and how positive changes resulted in positive health, I made the decision to intentionally live healthier. It didn't happen overnight and I'm still learning but I can see a definite change from a person who could eat chocolate brownies with added chocolate frosting for breakfast to someone who relishes steamed greens. Of course I'm a woman, so I still love my chocolate! but now it's for dessert instead of the main meal.

In the past year or so, the next phase of my health journey was a choice to be vegan as far as possible. I enjoy reading labels so it was an easy shift to eliminate dairy and eggs from my daily diet. Then I came here. At first I enjoyed some of the favourites I'd grown up with, including labneh (a kind of yogurt-like spread) and halloumi (a soft cheese). I remembered putting slices of soft white cheese alongside slivers of Persian cucumbers and rolling them up in a circular flatbread to eat for supper. I had a cheese manaeesh from a nearby bakery and was overjoyed that it still tasted as good as I remembered it.

But soon I noticed that my throat was constantly itching and the food in the cafeteria was quite oily, salty, and often covered in cheese. I knew the baked items must have had milk and eggs in them too which added to my level of anxiety. With a genetic history that includes cancer, stroke, obesity, high blood pressure, and diabetes, I recognize the urgency of living as healthfully as possible. It is a constant struggle but I need to keep fighting because I don't want to live with the consequences of any of those diseases.

After doing my research and realizing that it would take time for change to occur, I decided to cook my own meals and only take select foods from the cafeteria. However, this decision did not happen overnight. There was much debate and I found that my level of flexibility did not include eating foods that went against my personal health standards.

Now I need to be transparent also. If I am invited to someone's house or eating out with friends, I will likely eat as a vegetarian because in this culture that is already going one step beyond the norm where a meal is considered incomplete until the meat is set on the table. While I can fill my plate with as many plant foods as possible, there may be dairy-based items that I will eat. However, this is an infrequent occasion. Eating in the cafeteria happens twice a day, 7 days a week (breakfasts are okay).

I am learning that flexibility and adaptability are necessary to living in other cultures but it is not necessary to adapt to the extent that I change my personal choices.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

The Paradox of Fear

Today was the second time I genuinely felt fear since I made my decision to come here. The first time was in the airport in Germany while waiting for my final connecting Lufthansa flight to Beirut. I hurried to the gate and was confronted by a sea of olive-tone faces and a language my heart recognized but my head did not understand. I found a seat and made myself as small as possible. The women traveling were mostly attired in head coverings and clustered with their families as they quieted children and waited patiently for the call to board. I looked around and thought to myself, Why am I, a single woman, heading to a country by myself? Even though I grew up here, for a split second the media and countless books I'd read took over and told me how to react. Logic struggled to prevail.

The second time happened when I set off down the hill to pick up some groceries for the week. After six weeks of eating oily salty food in the cafeteria, I'd decided to prepare my own lunches so I could eat healthier. I turned one of the many winding corners that led me down the serpentine street and looked up to see a dark green camouflage truck barreling straight for me. I stepped carefully to the side and slowed my pace. I noted the young men spilling out, the serious looking guns, and my heart began to pound.

Earlier that morning I'd been sharing a delightful meal with several dear friends from church. As any gathering inevitably did, the topic steered towards safety as we agreed that the media hyped events to make it appear as if the country was constantly in a state of insecurity. This was not true as we all noted. We said in amazement that it seemed safer here than in European countries with the activities that have been happening there lately. Then one person said, but what if something were to happen? Would there be protocol to follow?

A moment after the truck passed, my heart rate increased. Where were they going and why were they headed towards the university? There were only two more forks in the road before the final stretch that led to the campus. I tried to push the anxious thoughts to the back of my mind but they were reluctant to leave.

Two hours later I found myself trudging slowly back up the mountain. My handbag and both hands were laden with fresh produce and necessities such as a can opener and peeler. I was tired but I tried to be grateful for the opportunity to get some exercise in the cool afternoon sun. Then a family passed me, recognized me, and slowed to offer me a lift. They were also heading to the campus so I gratefully accepted, deciding that walking 3/4 of the way up the hill would suffice for exercise that day. We sped off but soon approached the last complex of apartment buildings before the university property began.

I saw young men in camouflage standing on both sides of the streets, weapons casually hanging by their sides yet alert. One imperceptibly nodded for us to slow down so we did. The soldier asked my friend where he was going and he explained that we lived on the campus and what we did there. The soldier asked the question again and my friend repeated his reply. He peered into the car, I thanked God that my Islander heritage had blessed me with Middle Eastern looking features, he nodded once more and we sped off.

Is that normal, to have them here? I asked my friends. No, they replied, but we hope they come more often. Apparently the corner was a popular place for drug dealers, the seriousness of which I had not realized. I'd seen young people there late at night, when we drove back onto campus, and they gathered at the corner and also at the lookout point just before the gate. I thought they were drinking and smoking and that alone made me uneasy but now I was learning that it was even more dangerous than I'd assumed.

In that moment, I realized that my initial moment of fear was ill-founded. Granted, we fear that which we do not understand. Having friends who lived in the area, could speak the language, and were comfortable with having a military presence to deter drug dealers was helpful to dissipate that fear. The ones I had feared at first were actually there to protect us and for that I was thankful.

Now for those who read this article and get worried, please don't. I trust God to keep me safe and I do my part too. I only walk up and down the hill during broad daylight if I'm going by myself. Any trips after dark are with friends and in a car. And once we're down in the melee of life off the hill, the only thing I fear is whether we will manage to squeeze between the two cars in front of us as the driver honks madly! This is all part of the adjustment process as I learn how to live in a new country as an adult.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Kindness in an Eggplant

Today was one of my most difficult and kindest days. It started out well enough. The choir went to a nearby church to sing and we arrived with time to spare before Sabbath School began. I was happy to see several familiar faces of people I'd known 17 years ago and enjoyed spending time with my Portuguese/Brazilian friends who seem to comprise the majority nationality here! Traffic was a bit tight on the way home, literally and figuratively, as drivers here do not observe traffic lanes if there even are any. There's basically one rule: if you see a spot and you can fit your car in it, then go. I had a taxi driver fold in his side mirror so he could squeeze between a parked car and traffic!

We sped home as quickly as we could manage in stop-and-go-traffic and made it 10 minutes before line closed at the caf. I hurried in, put my jacket and bag on a nearby table, and then went to get a plastic plate and get some food. I looked at the line. Is there some rice or something to go with the vegetables? I asked the student who was serving that day. Apparently there was lasagna but they were completely out. Boiled beets, a mixture of peas and carrots, black lentils, and a handful of greens was all I gleaned of the hot food available. I had to hunt through the greens to find some that weren't smothered in cheese. The student, feeling sorry for me, gave me two small cupcakes for dessert instead of the allotted one. I took my plate and returned to the dorm trying hard not to cry.

I'm thankful for food. I'm thankful that I'm not starving or limited to only three or four ingredients to eat. I'm thankful I get 3 meals a day. Yet it's awful hard to be thankful when the entree is finished, it's Sabbath, and I'm hungry. I stopped taking the sack breakfast because the only nutritional thing in it is the piece of fruit which I can pick up at any meal. This morning I'd had some bread which kept me til lunch but was not enough to last a day. I looked down at the plate of too-salty vegetables and wondered what to do. Thankfully I had bought a noodle cup for emergencies so I boiled some water and rehydrated the noodles, adding them to my vegetables for a complete meal.

I'd kept quiet about the meal situation for six weeks but now I was so frustrated, I posted a picture on social media. Unfortunately, the ones who commented (granted, they ALL had their own kitchens and cooked delicious meals all the time) were about as helpful as Job's friends. They thought the food looked great. After reading several discouraging comments, I decided to delete the post. It's true that it is difficult to understand someone's situation unless you are actually in it and this experience highlighted it for me.

This evening I trudged to the cafeteria with my own plate so I could get the standard sandwich, chips and fruit we get for supper every Saturday evening. There are no plates, though, which is humiliating to me. We don't get paper to wrap the sandwiches in or even a plastic baggy. Somehow we're supposed to eat the very messy sandwich with our hands and manage. I made my sandwich but couldn't bring myself to eat it. So I left the cafeteria, returned to the dorm, and then put the sandwich in the fridge to eat later.

I wondered if the new dean and his wife were having game night as they'd mentioned the week before that they planned to have it on a regular basis. After an exchange of texts, I found out a group of friends were already there, preparing to play, and hurried to join them. Here I found a home away from home as they welcomed me in. I ate delicious lunch leftovers of eggplant and rice, I learned to play Rook, I laughed and joked with people who spoke my heart language, and listened as James Galloway's majestic accompaniment brought a smile back to my face. A feeling of gratitude for their kindness filled my heart.

I'm learning a lot on my journey here. When I spent six weeks at AUC before it shut down, I struggled through an East Coast summer with no air conditioning, living in a grimy dorm room, and trying to make sense of a research teacher whose pet peeve was Adventists who didn't approve of McDonald's hamburgers. I was thankful that summer for the friends who welcomed me into their lives and together we escaped the campus in a rental car with air conditioning so we could breathe again. I returned with a new resolve to extend kindness and be helpful to newcomers and do my best to help them feel at home.

Now I'm learning once again how simple acts of kindness can lift someone's spirits and help them feel like they can manage to keep going. I am grateful for each person who ministers through kindness and I want to learn how to be kind to others also. It is my natural tendency to judge and assume that others know what is best and should be doing it. This experience is teaching me to offer grace and do my best to provide a place of understanding and kindness.

Friday, April 1, 2016

The First Six Weeks

March is finally over! This has been the longest month ever with 5 weeks in it, practically. This week marked my six-week point of being here, or 1/4 of the way to my summer vacation. As I look back, I'm amazed at how much I've managed to pack into it and curious to see how busy I'll be in the next few months.

One thing I resolved when I first arrived was to get involved in as many things as possible and accept as many invitations as came my way. I didn't want to spend every evening sitting in my room, staring at the walls. I'm thankful that I went out of my comfort zone so many times because now I feel a lot more comfortable than when I first came. I think this is one of the important keys to fighting culture shock and homesickness. Becoming a part of people's lives makes it much easier to develop friendships and learn how things work in the new culture.

Highlights of the first 6 weeks include
  • Visit to Armenian care home. We went to do church service for the husband of a dear friend I knew from the first time we lived here. 
  • Painting a mural on the entry ramp to Bourj Hammoud, the predominantly Armenian section of town, for Global Youth Day. 
  • Snow day at Faraya, in the mountains, with the university. I didn't ski, but I climbed all over the mountains in the snow and became friends with Lina & Girgis, students here. 
  • A baby shower for my friend's twins. They were born 10 days ago and everyone is excitedly waiting for them to come home.
  • A trip out of the city and to the mountains. I joined a group who was going to see the cedars, unfortunately when we got there we found out it was paid admission and since it was Sabbath afternoon I chose not to go in. I enjoyed the ride and the mountain air!
  • Hanging out at the mall with the same friends I made on snow day. I was surprised to find a Payless, H&M, Dorothy Perkins, and Cinnabon among others at the mall! Then ending the night downtown where Valentino, Michael Kors, and other fancy shops line the streets.
  • Teaching my first Advanced Writing intensive English course to 7 great students who challenge me and keep me entertained. 
  • Cleaning the church in preparation for communion service. I scrubbed the pull-out tables on the theater-style seats in the auditorium. 
  • Staying up til midnight to stuff name tags for an Oil & Gas symposium, then waiting til nearly 1 am for someone to open up the dorm so I could get in, all the while thinking I'd have to sleep the night on cold cement steps!
  • Taking a service taxi to and from city center by myself and fending off one driver's request to marry him for 10,000 LBP (the equivalent of $7.50) for American papers by telling him I wasn't American so I couldn't help him anyhow. I later learned I underpaid both drivers, the one going and the one coming, by insisting they take me for half the regular price!
  • Drinking mint tea and talking with Marisa on my second night here when I'd just arrived and didn't know anyone. I'd prayed for a friend and God answered so quickly!
  • Ordering a bank card for the local bank account Danny had helped me set up and adding credit to my cell phone at a tiny grocery store. 
  • Enjoying a tea party with cupcakes, tea, and girl talk with 6 other women who are seeking earnestly to honour God's will in their lives.
  • Enjoying a very special appreciation dinner the guys put on for the ladies on International Women's Day/Mother's Day.
  • Spending the morning in Bourj Hammoud with Marisa, Adelcy, and Bruna as we looked for newborn clothes for the twins and then ate at The Wooden Bakery. We got properly lost at one point but thankfully Bruna pointed us back in the right direction!
  • Going to a peace conference and listening to the Dutch ambassador speak in her beautiful Dutch accent. Practicing my French and Arabic when the translator headphones were too static to be of any good. 
  • Drinking in the view of the city and Mediterranean Sea from the roof of the dorm. Whether by day, when the blues sit in contrast and the sun highlights the skyscrapers, or by night when the city lights up as if covered in golden twinkling stars, I never weary of the sight. 
  • Playing the piano for song service, leading out in song service, telling the children's story, or generally helping in any way I can at church. 
  • Enjoying a fresh fruit smoothie with pieces of fresh fruit and honey and pureed avocado in it. Here they call it a cocktail and have little places dedicated just to fruit juices, smoothies, and cocktails. Once you've had one of these, you can't go back to Jamba Juice. 
  • Being interactively engaged in the small group Sabbath School classes I've sat in on. I love that we get to discuss and dialogue instead of listening to a sermon. 
  • Visiting Syrian and Iraqi refugee families, spending time with them, and giving nonperishable groceries. One little girl stole my heart with her mischievous smile and we had a grand time playing while the grownups talked. 
  • Catching up with friends from more than 17 years ago at a dinner with them and their families. 
  • Singing alto in choir and being part of a ladies' small group. We had our first off-campus performance just down the hill and will travel to the two other SDA churches over the next two weeks. 
  • Playing Aw Shucks, eating popcorn and Easter cookies, drinking guava juice, and laughing til my stomach hurt at game night at the academic dean and his wife's house. 
  • Eating old and new favourites, such as labneh & mint potato chips, pure garlic dip, cheese manaeesh, Lebanese bread, proper black & green olives!, and spinach pastries. I still haven't found tahini bread but I'm looking. 
  • Seeing the house where I spent 3 of my best teenage years. I haven't climbed the trees I used to climb, though.