Tuesday, December 20, 2016

In Hot Water

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

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

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

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Thankful in All Things

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 5, 2016

The Giver Becomes the Receiver

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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