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.