Thursday, November 30, 2017

10 Liter Water Jug

Why don't you come and spend time with us anymore? You don't eat in the caf and we don't see you! You should seriously think about it, because when I see you I feel happy and at peace. You bring joy to my heart, and I'm saying this with all sincerity.

The very Pharaonic-looking young man with a notable dark beard spoke with great earnestness as I leaned against the steel sink in the front serving area of the cafeteria. He was across from me, leaning against the wall, and another of my former English language students was sitting on the countertop to my right, a bemused smile on her face. I saw her more often as we shared the third floor in the dorm and would pass each other several times a day coming and going.

I've sometimes wondered if my life has meaning and purpose beyond the expected roles I play. I often feel guilty that I don't have enough time to invest deeply in a few close friends or don't have enough language skills to venture out and build community. Sometimes, it's all I can do to show up and get things done, simply because as a single female in a country whose language I do not speak, life isn't as easy and I need to use my energies for simple things like walking to the grocery store to buy toothpaste and toilet paper.

Then there are moments like this evening, when one of the young ladies wrapped her arm around my shoulder as she laughed and shouted out answers to the Mad Libs game the hostess was doing for a friend's bridal shower. The petite girl was one of my first students when I arrived and we built a friendship that continued past the end of that first semester. I'd sat with her when she received news that her grandfather had died and listened as she shared about his deep influence in her life. She still came to me for help with homework and I did my best to encourage and support her.

Sometimes being a missionary isn't about knowing where that obscure Bible verse is, being able to build a house from mud bricks, or being trilingual, though those are all very valid tools. Sometimes being a missionary is about showing up. About being there. About letting God love others and bring them a feeling of joy and peace through us.

One individual life may be of priceless value to God's purposes, and yours may be that life. ~My Utmost for His Highest, Nov. 30

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Red on Gray

Maybe you should wash the red trousers separately, since they're new and could run, a niggling thought skipped around in my head like kernels of unpopped corn just thrown into a hot pan. But I was lazy, and besides I was washing everything on cold so it should be fine. There wasn't anything in the load that would get ruined. I turned the dial, slipped on my tennis shoes, and left for an evening walk while it washed.

45 minutes later, after doing some arm exercises with a jar of peanut butter in one hand and a jar of nutritional yeast in the other as makeshift weights, I went to get my load of washing out. I threw everything into a plastic bag and brought it back to my room where I began to hang the items on my indoor drying rack. Then I pulled out my gray short-sleeved sweater that I wore with my little black dress. It was no longer gray. Now it had a hue of red, as did a pj top. I sighed inwardly, I had nobody to blame but myself. The offending red trousers, thankfully confined somewhat in their damage by having been washed in a white mesh bag which had now turned pink, looked innocently up at me.

A quick Google search recommended I use rubbing alcohol on a white cloth and try to rub out the stains by transferring them to the white cloth. A trial with a cream towel wasn't too successful and not wanting to spend my entire evening scrubbing like a washerwoman in the 1800's, I pulled out my stain remover bottle. I didn't have high hopes for it; the other times I'd used it for a grease stain it hadn't been too successful. I needed to try something, though, so I read the directions on the back of the bottle and hurried back to the washing machine with the two gray-pinkish items.

After tossing them back in, I poured another generous amount of detergent in the first little drawer. I had no clue whether the stain remover should go in the second or third drawer but decided to put it in the second just to be safe. Then I turned the dial to coloured clothes this time and left it to spin for the next two hours.

When the washing machine finally stopped spinning, I opened up the door and gingerly reached inside, wondering what I would find. I pulled out the gray sweater. It was gray. Not tinged with pink, but completely and totally gray. The pj top still had a couple pinkish spots but they were faint and nobody would see them anyhow so that was okay. I smiled in gratitude as I sent up a quiet thank you to my Father. And I didn't even pray first! I thought.

It's not such a huge thing, I know. The gray sweater could have been ruined and it wouldn't have ruined my life. I'd already burnt a hole in a sheer brand new blouse during my first week here, so I wasn't a stranger to clothing catastrophes. Yet somehow God worked a miracle, with a bit of stain remover, and restored my sweater to me so I could continue to enjoy wearing it.

Somehow, it seems to be somewhat reminiscent of my life. There are times the Holy Spirit is quietly whispering, Maybe you shouldn't say that, go there, eat that, waste your time doing that and I push those unpopped kernels aside, thinking I know better, thinking that even if I mess up, it won't be so bad. Thankfully God is gracious and merciful and many times He comes along with the stain remover, fixing my mistakes and restoring to me what was beautiful before.

He gives me more than I deserve. He is good and He is good to me. How can I doubt Him then with the steps ahead that I cannot see? How can I fail to trust that He is preparing a life of fulfillment and joy, not only in the life to come, but in this life also?

He has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of His own purpose and grace. ~2 Timothy 1:9

Saturday, November 11, 2017

My Sister

You are my sister, she said, as she held my hand and kissed me on the cheek three times. The quiet woman with black headscarf, the one who sold tofu and peanut butter and soymilk and granola every Friday morning on the steps of North Hall, the one who exhibited great strength as her husband battled illness, stood there holding my hands and calling me her sister. It was in that moment that I knew I had been made for this.

I struggle a lot with feeling less-than when it comes to measuring up to the Christian walk. Those struggles are heightened by living in a country that hosts millions of refugees and whose languages I do not easily speak. I am still figuring out life here, how to buy groceries regularly, where to go for a dental check up, and how to maneuver unspoken cultural expectations. I see what appears to be everyone other than me becoming fluent in Arabic, visiting orphanages, and providing for the needy.

It's when I compare myself to others that I feel frustrated. I wonder if the small things I do even make that much of a difference and feel like I should be doing bigger and greater things. Then God gives me gentle moments like today when I realize that He is doing things I cannot even understand.

We spent the afternoon sitting in plastic chairs around the metal serving deck, listening to a young man share his conversion testimony. Then five of us piled into a friend's car and headed to the Armenian section of town where the woman and her husband lived, so we could drop them off. The three of us ladies squeezed into the back seat and the men sat in the front. As we bounced along the potholes and drove around triple-parked cars, I listened to the comfortable hubbub of their conversation. It was all in Arabic but I picked up a few words here and there. I thought about how, even if I could speak Arabic, I would likely not have said much anyhow as I was generally content to listen in groups.

As we drove along, I realized something that amazed me. I've been in many settings before where people are speaking another language, and I've felt awkward, left-out, and uncomfortable. I was not feeling any of that, this time, though. I felt completely at peace, content, and as if this was exactly where I was meant to be.

People who pass through ask me, How long do you plan to stay here? I know it's a standard question coming from their curiosity, but lately my reply has been changing from As long as God keeps me here to Forever, unless God tells me otherwise. I can't tell the future and I don't want to limit my Father Who knows exactly where I can serve Him best and be the happiest doing so. Yet it is the most wonderful thing to understand when I am in His will and tonight was one of those moments for me. I still haven't been blessed with the instant gift of tongues, I still have limited energy and resources to invest, but this one thing I know. I am where God wants me to be and I'm doing what God wants me to do. And I couldn't be any happier.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

The Bravery of One Who Explores

People tell me I'm brave to venture off by myself but I shake my head and wonder why they think so. After all, I have to explore and it's the only way I can do so without spending all my money on Ubers! Yesterday afternoon, the sun was shining amidst a week of heavy rain, and the sky was a perfect blue. I knew it was the right time to take the excuse of needing to pick up brochures from the Ministry of Tourism for an incoming group of Very Important People, so I slipped on some comfortable boots, grabbed my umbrella in case the storm clouds returned, and headed down the hill.

I lucked out this time. A childhood friend was driving in the same general direction and offered me a ride. As he parked, I stepped out into traffic and walked the last 5 minutes to Dora, the Grand Central Station of Beirut. I knew the bus number I needed to take, #2, but I didn't know where it stopped. I looked carefully and spotted one but when I went up to ask the guy where the bus went, I found out it was headed in the opposite direction. I needed the one going to Hamra, not Antelias. He nodded across the street so I dodged taxis to the pavement where I parked myself to wait.

A friendly older man stopped his taxi right by where I was waiting. I said I was waiting for bus #2 to Hamra and he grinned and told me it would be along real soon. He spoke in Arabic and I in English but we managed to understand each other easily enough. After waiting 8 minutes, I began to get a bit nervous as the Ministry would close in an hour and I didn't know how long the bus would take to get there. The taxi driver noticed and reassured me that the bus was right around the corner. Sure enough, a couple minutes later bus #2 appeared and I hopped on.

It was a fairly new bus and the driver handed me a little blue ticket when I got on. I found a seat near the back by an open window and settled in. I peered at my mobile, studying the map on my Zawarib app, and trying to calculate where I should get off. Soon the bus was full enough and off we toodled.

Every time I get on a public bus in Beirut, my heart feels light and free. Whether the bus is packed full with day labourers heading back after a long day's work or whether it's just me and three other people riding along in silence, I feel deep joy to be out in the city. It's as if I come alive. I am content to simply sit and watch the world pass by. In those moments there are no responsibilities, no expectations, no demands. It's just me and the city I've grown to love with all its idiosyncrasies.

After an hour and numerous stops along the way, the bus reached its final destination. The only problem was, I hadn't reached mine. I knew I was about 13 minutes drive away, according to Googlemaps on my trusty mobile, but I was supposed to get off the bus unless I wanted to pay again and I had no idea if its return route would take me closer to where I needed to go. So off I got and hailed the first taxi driving by. He didn't know where the Ministry was, but he decided I could navigate so I got in and we drove for about 10 minutes in thick traffic.

Finally, we were close enough that I could pay him the $1.33 fare and walk the rest of the way. I was quite pleased with myself to find the sign that clearly indicated the Ministry of Tourism, along with beautiful posters decorating the glass doors. Until I realized the building was locked. On all sides. When I peered in, I saw empty display cabinets that used to hold brochures and realized the place was deserted.

Then I looked around and realized I was good and truly lost. I was not in a place I had been before, though I was supposedly in Hamra. I didn't know how to get back to where I'd gotten off the bus and there were no buses in plain sight. After checking Googlemaps again, though, I realized that I was not too far from the sea and I knew that bus #15 went right alongside the sea. So I pointed my nose in the direction of the compass and set off.

I stumbled across a farmer's market and bought chocolate/agave energy balls, mini wild zaatar and goat cheese pastries, and stuffed aubergine. I paid the man at the stall of multicoloured jars filled with labneh balls that looked just like mozarella, jams, and chili-stuffed olives, and then I forgot my stuffed aubergine. I was about to cross the street when I realized my plastic bags were full of sweets and pastries but no aubergine, so I quickly returned, apologetically smiling at the man as I retrieved my expensive jar and hoping he wouldn't think I was stealing it.

It was not more than 15 minutes and I was at a familiar corner by a mosque I passed when I rode the #15 bus. I'd just missed one but it wasn't long before another came along and I hopped right on. Then it was back to Dora where the driver let us out right by the taxi depot instead of several hundred feet back so that we had to walk. I then set off to find my final taxi back to the university.

Relying on my old trick to walk out of the roundabout area and start heading in the direction of home, so I could get in a taxi that was already headed my way and preferably already with passengers so he wouldn't charge me an exorbitant fare, I walked a little ways and then stopped to wait. The first taxi wasn't going my way and the second taxi asked for 10,000 which was outrageous. I shook my head and waited for the next taxi.

An older jovial looking man with a Tivoli Paints set of books under his arm grinned at me, as the second taxi sped away. He'd heard me say Sabtieh and quickly told me in Arabic that he was headed that way too, so he would flag down the next taxi for the both of us. The third taxi came along, this man was headed our way, but after I told him I wanted to go to the university, he said, Wait, which school? I told him and he quoted a 4,000 fare which was reasonable so I nodded and got in. The older man got in too and then a Bangladeshi man headed to Dekwaneh got in the front. The older man tried to make some light conversation, but I had exhausted my Arabic knowledge so I just smiled and nodded but soon he realized I couldn't understand and turned to talk on his mobile.

Three hours after I'd set out on my adventure, I was climbing out of the taxi and heading back to my office. So ended another adventure when I could breathe in deep and keep the memory to tide me over til the next time I felt the need to explore.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

A Total God-Thing

It all started a couple days ago. I'd checked one of my work emails and forwarded an announcement about a classical piano concert at a nearby university. The pieces looked interesting enough, but I wasn't sure I would enjoy listening to piano for an hour and a half. So I pushed it to the back of my mind and carried on with my day.

This afternoon I looked at the event again and decided I would try to go. I messaged just about everyone I could think of but to no avail. One friend thought she would be able to go but ended up not being able to. So I headed down the hill to Mr. Cocktail where some friends were meeting up to celebrate a birthday. I hadn't been sitting for long, however, before the strong impression returned to go to the concert. I Googled safety in Uber at night and safety in public buses at night for single women and didn't get much. So far, I'd made my own rule not to be out after dark by myself, just because I'm a more cautious person.

I decided it would be best not to go, and tried to forget about it altogether, but suddenly the impression returned. This time I decided to heed my impulsive nature and go. I abruptly took my leave of the group and headed out the door. I hailed the first taxi that came along and asked if he would take me to Dora. The guy nodded and I hopped in.

The next impression that came to me was to ask the man if he spoke English. As soon as I'd entered the taxi, I'd noticed the cross hanging from his rearview mirror, the clean car, the sign for no smoking, and that he was well-dressed. So I asked him. He replied in perfect English and asked how he could help me. I asked how much he charged if I would book him to pick me up from the university where I was going to the concert and bring me back home. He quoted a price, we negotiated a bit, and settled happily on a fair price.

Then the guy asked, Do you know Ana? I was surprised, of course I did. Ana had been studying at the university a couple of years ago and we had become good friends. George, the taxi driver, told me that his wife had taught Ana Arabic but they'd lost touch when Ana left to pastor a church in Europe. We exchanged phone numbers, I promised to call when I was ready to be picked up, and I hopped out of the taxi in time to catch the #15 bus to Bahrie.

A half hour later, after I'd exited the bus and found my way down several dark winding streets to the university and then to the assembly hall where the concert was being held, I took a moment to think about the amazing providence that had connected George and me. Out of all the taxis in Lebanon, I picked his. And me being naturally shy had spoken up, out of which we were able to make the connection of a mutual friend. It had to be a God-thing.

While taking a selfie in the beautiful old-style hall, I noticed an alumnus from the university I work at, sitting several rows behind me. He joined me for the concert and afterwards immediately offered to take me home. Again, God worked everything out in His perfect timing so that I had a ride home and could spend some time talking to a guy who is on his own faith journey and beginning to attend the university church quite regularly. There are few Lebanese young people in our church and it is my dream to see that number increase but we have to befriend the ones who are there so they feel welcome and at home.

There are times when I question my calling, question whether what I'm doing is really making a difference, question how God can use someone who isn't a doctor/nurse/teacher in His kingdom ministry. Then there are times like tonight when I realize that it isn't about me. It's about being obedient to Him and as I follow the footsteps already marked out before me, He will bless my simple efforts and show me once again that He has a work for me that is just as valuable as that of any other person who is committed to Him.

And when it happens, it's always clear. It's a total God-thing. 

Monday, September 11, 2017

The Becoming

When life settles into the mundane, it's easy to lose sight of the vision. Oswald Chambers talks about this, when he refers to living in the valleys because we cannot be perpetually on the mountaintop.

When I first arrived, a year and a half ago, I went through a series of valleys and mountaintop experiences. At first I was somewhat apprehensive that I was reverting to my teenage sanguine ecstatic-happy/down-in-the-dumps moods. Then I realized it was a normal part of life. I had uprooted my world to settle down in a somewhat familiar milieu but was having to readjust my expectations and the rooting was gradual rather than instantaneous.

There was culture shock. Not just once, but several times, at the usual landmarks of time. Because, of course, I had to follow protocol. I'm traditional like that, even when it comes to emotions. Then there was the life changes that came, as friends moved in and out of my circle and I pulled closer or backed away. The dance was somewhat awkward at times, other times it felt like I'd seen and done it all before, but I found myself exchanging girl-talks for smoothie nights for toddler babble for still-waters conversation within less than a year. It was a little too much, it seemed.

My job changed, responsibilities were added, and I learned to teach with confidence even as I stared at the textbook wondering if the grammatical rules had ever made any sense since I'd tried to learn them in grade school. Then I was coordinating a department and suddenly realizing that there had to be a point that I stopped saying yes and started to take care of myself. Sure, I generally kept within my work hours and had started declining some requests to help out at church if I was already doing something in church that Sabbath. But I realized that something was not quite right.

I get the 1,000 Missionary Movement e-newsletter whenever it gets sent out and the last one had a devotional thought by a woman whose advice made me pause. She talked about how there were a lot of expectations placed on her about how to live out the spiritual disciplines and she found herself feeling overwhelmed by it all. Until she took the time to do 5 things. Pray, read, write, exercise, and listen to music.

I've blogged about this before, that when I first came to Lebanon I had decided I was going to say yes to every request for service, assuming that was God's calling through the person who asked me to help out. I've taught lesson study, painted a wall downtown, swam in the Mediterranean Sea, supervised 30+ teenagers at a three-day camp, brushed up on my piano skills, edited a doctoral dissertation, and started leading out in a small group for TCK university students. I am thankful for the stretching times, the fun times, the leaning-on-God times. Every experience has been one I can look back on and know with certainty that I've grown because of them.

Yet sometimes the doing crowds out the becoming. Jesus' prayer for His disciples was that they would become one, become united, just as He and God the Father were (John 17:21). His entire purpose for that was so that the world would see and understand the Father's love and this love would be revealed through His disciples. Jesus didn't pray that the disciples would fulfill a checklist of requirements--He prayed that they would be changed.

All through my Christian walk, this is the one theme that keeps returning to the forefront of my consciousness. Becoming. Changing. Being more like Jesus. Learning to rest in Him, listening for His voice, letting Him carry me over the rough paths of life, so I can in turn share the peace and love He wants to give to others through me.

I know some great Christians who are committed to a cause. They wake up at 4 am for their extensive quiet time, they never have time to just sit quietly and talk for a couple of hours because they have to prepare for the next ministry event, they sit on 15 committees, or they focus on a subset of the church to the exclusion of the others. I'm not saying they're not doing anything worthwhile; God uses everyone and I'm sure He has a plan for their service. I'm just realizing this is not the direction I want to go.

It may seem counter-intuitive to want the Mary experience. Martha, after all, was meeting the physical needs of hunger and thirst, practical in her Christianity as she prepared a sumptuous Middle Eastern meal. She wasn't doing the wrong thing. Jesus simply said Mary had chosen the better part. She sat at His feet soaking up His love and wisdom and peace--content to rest in the becoming. Meanwhile, Martha was in the back of the house busily doing.

I'm learning that in order to focus on the becoming, I need to jealously guard my time and fill it with good things that will help me to thrive spiritually. Yes, there is a place for service and I should not become an ascetic hermit who solely strives for a spiritual connection. But when my heart becomes unsettled and it feels like I'm only down in the valley, it's then that I must step away from societal expectations and refocus.

After the culture shock resettled and I was comfortable in my place here, I experienced deep peace and abiding joy. Several clear Ebenezer stones were set up as I marked the places where God was showing me He was not only fulfilling the desire of my heart to return, nearly two decades ago, to this country, but He was also clearly indicating that I was in His will. I woke up each morning thankful for my mission and eager to see what God would bring that day.

Then I went through several months where the peace and joy vanished to be replaced with questioning and uncertainty. As I struggled through some of the life changes mentioned earlier, I wondered if perhaps I'd misread the signs and the path I'd chosen was not the one mapped out for me. My prayers seemed to reach the roof and stop there.

Until I began to search to connect with the God I knew I desperately needed to be close to. I began to withdraw from the rush to fill my calendar with events and to fill my time instead with what I knew would fill my heart with peace. Listening to Christian music, writing blog posts, having uninterrupted time to pray, looking for flowers in nature, spending an evening at the gym, walking on the promenade before sunset, each activity perhaps seeming pointless in the grand scheme of saving souls but I knew they were exactly right for me.

Today I stood on the roof, hanging up my clothes, and I took a moment to really look around. I'd been so busy lately, there wasn't even time to breathe in the cooling autumn air as the humidity began to dissipate and the zeez chirped even louder in excitement. I marveled at the 10 or more different types of trees that surrounded the patch of campus I could see, then my eyes strayed to the Mediterranean Sea--a sight I never tired of seeing. Imagine, I thought. I get to live in the mountains and see the sea every single day. Life can't be any better than that! That evening, instead of editing a dissertation, I cooked a tasty meal for the next three days and relished the simple joy of cutting the ends off the green beans and frying tofu and mushrooms on an electric burner. I was happy. Peace had returned to my heart and I knew I was where God wanted me to be.

The becoming is ever so much easier than the doing

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

In All Things

There's a verse a couple of my guy friends have been throwing around a lot lately. It all started on the way to the airport, when one of them was telling a funny story they'd heard from a work colleague that week. The crux of the story centered around a little kid using a Bible verse to outsmart his bullies. Instead of quoting the verse, though, he simply shouted the reference at them each time they tried to bully him until they finally got tired and left him alone. The verse? Romans 8:28

Now the verse has become a sort of reply-all in a humorous sort of way. They'll say it to tease me, annoy me, or simply to get out of answering a question. The other day, one of them even signed the reference from across the room while I was working out on the stair-climber at the gym. Yet in the midst of all the bantering, the truth of the verse is not lost. In all things, God works for our good.

Yesterday I went to the gym for the first time this week and spent some time using the various machines to work the upper and lower body. Because I'd increased the number of reps, I was rather sore today. By the time I left work, I was not in the mood to go to the gym but I knew if I didn't go, I would not be able to get in my 3 times/week that I normally went. Both of my rides weren't able to go and I found myself staring at a little black car wandering a virtual map on my smartphone, as I waited for an Uber taxi to arrive.

The driver was very polite and dropped me off at the gym promptly. I went in and was happy to see the stair-climber free so I spent the next 25 minutes climbing in beat to the canned music whilst observing everyone around me. Then I hopped on the treadmill for a few minutes to wind down.

I needed bread and some fresh produce and had spotted a small grocery store just up the road so after I'd finished at the gym, I headed there to pick up some staples. Soon my return Uber taxi had arrived and we set off back to the university. I climbed the last bit of hill, and then two flights of stairs, to my cozy room.

There I dropped the bags of groceries and sank onto my bed. I did it. I went out of my comfort zone, booking taxis and buying groceries and going to the gym by myself. There seems to be a lot of that in my life these days--the stretching and pulling that comes with living life on my own. There are days when I feel very accomplished, like today, and then there are days when all I can handle is work and then I retreat to my room to write, read, and rejuvenate.

In all things, God works for my good. Today He worked it out so I could get my workout in and buy the groceries I needed. Two days ago He worked it out so my ride didn't go, because He knew I wouldn't be feeling so good and would need to get some extra rest instead of workout. I marvel daily at how intimately God knows me and how perfectly He orchestrates happenings so I can look back at what seemed confusing and realize He had already worked it out.

In all things.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Three Words

I think you're someone that people don't have to impress, you're friendly and easy to be comfortable with, she said. It was Saturday night and we were playing Table Talk, a game with cards that each had a question to answer. After we'd picked the question Describe yourself as your friends would in three words, and we'd each done so, Gregory suggested we repeat the exercise but this time we go around the room and describe each person in three words. It seemed like a fun exercise.

When it came to my turn, I heard the usual words people had used to describe me before. Organized, friendly, smiley, cheerful, composed. Then it was Paula's turn. Paula and I hadn't interacted much during the school year, other than a birthday party for her boyfriend and a day at the beach with several of the dorm girls, we'd just said hi when passing in the hallways. Yet somehow, she had picked up on a trait that I'd never seen in myself but had always longed to have. To be someone that people felt comfortable with.

We sat there for an hour and a half, two MEU staff, the assistant pastor at the Bouchrieh church, a volunteer doing an internship with ADRA, and a sophomore MEU student ranging in age from early 20s to late 30s. As we laughed, teased each other, shared favourite memories from childhood with Mom or Dad, or took time to answer the more serious questions, the dividers between TCKs and monoculturals, old and young, guy and girl, liberal and conservative, fell away. Each of us a different nationality, from Jordanian to American to British to Mauritian to Brazilian, we instantly found commonality in the shared life experiences we connected on.

Even though we didn't all know each other well, we were also able to find three positive things to say about each person in the room. The affirmations of God's character was a special gift that I will always treasure. It wasn't a fancy room, just an office with 5 mismatched chairs pulled up in an awkward circle. It wasn't a grand event, just 5 friends hanging out on a Saturday night, finding joy in the simplicity of words. Yet it was perhaps one of the most precious moments of my experience here as we spoke truth and love into each other's lives.

Today I woke up feeling somewhat discouraged. The day before I'd been talking to my mom, trying to figure out my long-term goals and whether that involved staying here or not. She encouraged me to think of returning to the US in as short a time as three months, if I found that my social life here was nonexistent. It was tempting. Life in the US was much easier. My self-imposed mission call to show my Lebanese friends that not all missionaries came for a year or two and then left suddenly seemed hollow. How did I know it was what God wanted me to do? I knew God could use me no matter where I lived, whether it was in the US, Europe, or the Middle East. Yet I was still restless.

When I woke up, realizing how I felt, I asked God to show me today that He was orchestrating things in my life. As I dressed for church, I listened to Nick Vujic's exhortation to look for God with the promise that I will find Him. Sabbath School's song service was filled with songs of knowing that God was with me--like All The Way My Saviour Leads Me. In church, a trio sang my favourite hymn Be Still My Soul and the phrases sank into my heart--in every change, He faithful will remain. In vespers that evening, Sahin showed us that the command most often repeated in the Bible is Do not fear. Fear disappears, though, when we trust God and trust comes when we love Him fully.

I don't know my future. I can make my plans but I want to be open to God's redirecting if He has a better plan for me. But through all the uncertainties, I'm thankful for these little glimpses of graces where divine flashes through the curtain between the unreachable and humanity, reassuring my heart that I'm where He wants me to be. Just three words--but they can make all the difference.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

God Laughs in the Ironic

You can ask my family or any of my best friends and they will easily tell you that I'm not a huge fan of teenagers. When asked once if I was interested in teaching English at a Christian high school, it didn't take me more than a second to say Thank you but no thank you as I knew neither the teenagers nor I would have a positive experience! I don't know if it's because I was homeschooled, leading to me feeling more at home with older people and young kids than my peers, or if I just don't have the gift to relate to teenagers, but the reality is that I can't. I don't understand their world and they do a good job of pretending they have it all together and would rather not make conversation when I try to ask a few questions.

So this is why I thought it was somewhat ironic that I ended up supervising a group of 15 to 28 teenagers two nights in a row. I guess God has a good sense of humour! Last night, I was winding down after a full day running around with the science camp, helping with registration and other logistics, where I felt completely comfortable as I love working in the details. For some reason I went out into the corridor and heard a lot of noise coming from the 3rd floor social room. I headed there, opening the door to a lovely cool room with the a/c on full blast, and 15 teenagers sitting around eating nuts and chips, chatting, and listening to music. It would have been fine if it was just girls but unfortunately there were boys there too.

A chorus of disappointment went up when I reminded them that boys weren't allowed on third floor and, feeling sorry for them because it was such a warm night and there wasn't any place they could hang out that was cool, I decided to stay for a while so they didn't have to go. They very politely offered me some snacks, which I carefully took a few of to make them happy, then resumed their happy chatting. I overheard them discussing whether I could understand Arabic, one of the kids whose mom I work with telling them that I didn't speak Arabic but could understand bits here and there. I just smiled and pretended I didn't know what they were talking about.

Then tonight, after caving to their pleas to have a campfire (despite it being very warm and humid), I spent 30 minutes walking back and forth between my room (on the 3rd floor, mind you!) and my office and the campfire site, looking for skewers for marshmallows, getting olive oil and then ethanol to get the fire going, and getting ibuprofen for a kid who wasn't feeling so well. Adults came and went but I was the only one who stayed til the last couple kids drifted off as the ashes smouldered. The 28 teenagers enjoyed themselves thoroughly, singing along to my least favourite song of all time Hotel California, burning marshmallows, doing the traditional dance which I joined in and failed miserably at as I have no sense of rhythm, eating snacks and drinking Pepsi after a day of health expos where they explained to visitors why soft drinks were bad for you, and doing some Western dancing to a portable speaker one of the kids had brought along.

After putting most of the ashes to sleep by dousing them in water, picking up all the trash so our students wouldn't have to do extra work the next day when they worked on grounds, finding a teenager's passport sitting on a bench and returning it to her, giving away as much of the snacks as I could to a hungry guy who'd missed supper, and picking up the first aid kit from the auditorium for our island trip the next day, I was finally able to head to my room once more.

I've often found that the places I'm the least comfortable are where I find myself, such as supervising a group of teenagers, or using my few words of Arabic to communicate with Samira, the Syrian lady who showed me pictures of her beautiful home before it was blown up. Now they live here and she washes dishes in the afternoon and does medical assisting in a hospital in the morning as they wait for papers to immigrate to Australia. I saw it before, when I worked with a 4-month training program where I was forced to get to know people much quicker than I was used to, as previously I'd taken at least 6 months to feel like someone was a good friend. This has served me well in the mission field, however, as I am a lot more comfortable connecting with strangers.

Today at the health expo, I sat quietly at the trust booth, watching my good friend speak with the two women who were finishing up their visit at the booth. He asked them about their health, sent his greetings to their family, and nodded understandingly when they spoke about how high rent was and how they were looking for new places to live. $600 a month was too steep, considering people can work for as little as $3 an hour here depending on their skill level. The entire conversation was in Arabic but I picked up the gist here and there, listening and observing. He closed with a prayer that they welcomed as I sat there, longing to be able to interact with people on the same level in their heart language. I came home and pulled out marHaba, the book on Lebanese Arabic that my brother had given me before I came. I'm not very good at motivating myself to learn a language but I will do my best. And maybe one day, this place of the uncomfortable will also become the comfortable.

Monday, July 17, 2017

More Than a Step

I think I may have mentioned before that one thing I try to do on a regular basis is to push myself out of my comfort zone. This week, it was going on a hike. I'd been with this hiking group before, but always with at least one or two friends from the university so I had people to talk to and hang out with. A couple of times I'd looked longingly at a Facebook post announcing an upcoming hike but not being able to find someone to go with me meant I had to find other things to keep myself busy on a Sunday. Til this week.

When I'd mentioned the possibility of a hike, earlier last week, to my mother and come up with all kinds of excuses as to why I shouldn't go, she'd gently encouraged me to go. I still procrastinated, til the evening before, when I messaged the organizer and asked if there was still room. I figured there wouldn't be, and I was right, the bus was booked full, but he said to come along anyhow. Somebody was likely to cancel and then I'd be able to join them. So I messaged a friendly taxi driver who I'd done airport runs with before and I was set. 7 am I would leave campus to meet the bus.

There was no morning traffic and we found the bus quickly enough. Sure enough, 4 people cancelled and I had a seat on the bus. While I didn't talk a lot to the people in the group, most of them having come with a friend or three, I thoroughly enjoyed the solitude in the midst of dark green forests spotted with cedar and the challenge to push myself physically as we hiked up steep bits and tried not to slip down other steep bits.

By the end of the day, I was a little sunburned and a lot happy. I'd spent an entire day with strangers, listening to them speak Arabic til I was repeating phrases in my sleep, and it wasn't as difficult as I'd thought it would be.

Funnily enough, I felt the most accomplished when I took the taxi home. Uber's taxis were 8 minutes away from where the bus parked at the drop-off point and I didn't want to wait, so I headed for a main road. I asked the first taxi that slowed down if he would take me to the university, telling him it was at the top of the hill. He said sure, for $2, so I hopped in. By the time we neared the top of the hill, though, he was grumbling away that I should pay him a little over $3 because of all the extra gas he'd had to use to get that far. It was his fault, really, for not knowing the area or the university, but to keep him happy I split the difference. Mind you, all this exchange happened in Arabic.

Now I'm not fluent in Arabic by any means and I generally refuse to use the few words I do know, preferring instead to listen, smile a lot, and speak in English. I used about 10 words of Arabic in our exchange but we were able to understand each other. And as I stepped out of the car and hiked the last few steps to my room, I smiled as I realized I'd managed it all on my own.

People wonder why I've been here nearly 1.5 years and still don't speak Arabic. I live in an English-speaking environment and all my work is done in English. I know it's not an excuse, but it's my reality. I have a basic grasp of simple phrases, if I catch the gist of a topic then I can often decipher a conversation and laugh at the appropriate times, and after 10 hours of listening to Arabic I now have several sentences rolling around in my head that I don't know where to use them but I can pronounce them fairly well.

A friend has been taking lessons for 3 months and can carry on a basic conversation in Arabic with someone. I was very envious of them until I realized that I'm not taking lessons, therefore I can't just magically start speaking the language. Neither am I very motivated to study a language on my own, like my sister who's been immersed in Chinese for more than 10 years now. Though I don't speak it, Arabic is a friendly language, comforting in its familiarity, as it wraps me in memories of my childhood and teenage years when the family was still whole and my worries were minimal. The words I know are instinctive, not learned by rote, and I want to keep that romance alive as we dance back and forth, me catching a glimpse here and there of enlightenment.

So the adventure continues. This week I will workout at the gym where everyone looks like they stepped out of a fashion magazine (seriously, who wears perfume/cologne to the gym?), help coordinate a group of 37 teenagers for a science camp on campus, and go to a screening of Nour, a movie about child brides. Each experience is going to push me yet again out of my comfort zone but it's what keeps me growing and for that I am grateful.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

N'est Pas?

I don't smoke, I don't drink, I don't do arguille. I do sports. If you like, we can go and eat pizza and drink Pepsi sometime. I'll give you my phone number. 

I was sitting in the back seat of a beat-up service taxi on my way from City Center back to the university. I'd taken an Uber down but decided to just hop in a regular taxi going back since it would cost the same and I didn't want to have to wait for an Uber. I was beginning to regret my decision.

Granted, my driver was very kind in his eager persistence, as he wondered out loud that perhaps I was his chance, his golden ticket, and we could go and live in America together. I kindly yet firmly told him that I was very happy living in Lebanon and had no desire to go and live in America anytime soon. Disappointed for a moment, he quickly bounced back and said We can go live in Germany then, or Italy. He spoke fluent Italian and had lived in Germany for the past 30 years.

In a mixture of German, Italian, Arabic, French, and English, we somehow managed to communicate for the 20 minute drive from the mall to the university. He did most of the talking, while I laughed easily or asked him a question during an awkward pause after one of his many attempts to woo me. He told me he could cook Italian food, lasagna, pasta, and a number of other fancy sounding spaghettis that I can't pronounce. He mentioned an ex-wife and at least one kid who was just 10 years younger than me. He told me his weight and then tried to guess mine.

At one point, he asked me what I was looking for in a husband. I simply said A man with a kind heart who loves God. He agreed wholeheartedly and said that was wise (at least I think so!). He told me I had a pure heart, once again startling me as people have described me this way before.

I had to chuckle when he turned around, not once, but twice, during the trip, to look me up and down and then compliment me on my figure/weight. He didn't do it in a way that made me feel uncomfortable, he was merely getting a read on what I looked like since I'd just stepped into the taxi a few minutes before, but as we neared the university, he was already telling me we could have two kids. We call them Antonio and Julia, he said.

I took his number, not with the intent of actually going on a date with him but merely to be polite. I stepped out of the taxi and nearly left without paying him, as he'd been chatting me up the whole way back, but his chivalry ended where the money began so I did have to dig up the $7 fare. Smiling to myself, I knew it would make for some humorous stories in the future when I retold it to my friends. The adventures continue!

Saturday, May 27, 2017

The Romancing

I've been learning a lot about how God delights to answer my simple prayers in personalized ways showing me that He is listening when I pray. Yesterday morning, as I walked down the steps of North Hall, I thought It's been a while since somebody has complimented me on how I look. When I'd lived here as a teenager, my guy friends were comfortable telling me I looked nice in a particular dress but now as an older single woman, the compliments came from my female friends. I immediately dismissed the thought, replacing it with the prayer Please help me, Father, to give to others what I would like to hear. 

As I walked into the auditorium, on time for Sabbath School even though I didn't have to lead out in song service, I passed a colleague. She smiled up at me and easily said You look nice today. Startled, as I hadn't been expecting her to say anything, I quickly complimented her in return as I continued on to my seat. After the special feature, when we divided for the lesson study, I went downstairs to my class. I passed a friend who was heading to teach his lesson and as he said hello, he said You look very good. Again, I was surprised, as he was a generally shy guy. By the end of the day, two students and another friend had also complimented me. Five different people sharing a kind word.

When I'd left my little room, I hadn't felt particularly beautiful. I was wearing a simple classic black dress that was a little too tight because I'd not been able to exercise for 4 months due to a bad strain. Paired with comfortable low pumps, I had put on my brightest smile and tripped off to church, my heart open for a blessing but never realizing that God was waiting to pour in not just one answer to my prayer but five.

You are the one who takes His breath away by your beautiful heart that, against all odds, hopes in Him. (Captivating, by John & Stasi Eldredge, p. 121) 

Thursday, May 25, 2017

To Be In The Seen

Scrolling aimlessly through  my Facebook feed, I stopped on a post someone had made to the Missionary Kids group. They were asking for prayer for a newborn who was struggling with some health issues. I didn't know them, or the baby, but I paused to let them know I was praying and then I prayed.

God, if seeing babies suffer hurts my heart, how much more must it hurt Yours? 

I know logically that, because we live in a sin-filled world, we have to wrestle with the reality of pain and grief and death daily. Thankfully, the little one whose pictures were shared on Facebook got the medical help they needed but not all stories have a happy ending. Sometimes, even if we pray, the chapter closes with finality.

I'm a very emotional person. I cry when I see an advertisement on YouTube for life insurance if it's one of those South Asian shorts that tug at your heart. Which is why I found myself getting quite emotional when I read about Andrew Chan, a man who was transformed on death row from a convicted drug smuggler into a passionate follower of Christ. Sheila Walsh tells the story in her book The Longing In Me. Andrew was executed but as he and the rest of the Bali Nine faced their death, thousands of people around the world were praying for them. Sin's consequences were no longer a threat to Andrew's eternal future.

Sheila continues on to quote the familiar verses from Revelation 21:1-4. I've read these verses countless times, sang them in a choir song, and used them in condolences to try to share a bit of comfort with friends. Yet this time, the words seeped into my consciousness, startling me into experiencing them rather than simply reading them.

God's home is now among His people! 

That phrase. God is coming home. For thousands of years, there has been this barrier between God and His people. His creation. His beloved creation. I used to struggle a lot questioning why there was a barrier between me and God. I still get frustrated that I can't see His smile, hear His voice, or touch His face. I'm a sensory person and it's the hardest thing for me to try to connect with an invisible God. Yet I'd never paused to think about how strong the tension must be for God Himself.

He is omnipotent yet when it comes to this He must limit His power in order to be fair and just. He cannot break through the clouds and rescue me when life gets seemingly impossibly tough, though He has the power and sovereignty to do so. He longs even more than I do to connect face-to-face and yet He must hover in the unseen, touching my face with a soft breeze, handing me a flower through a student's gift, or whispering to my heart in an explosive sunset.

As deeply as I feel the exile from my Father, He feels it too. If not, then once sin had ended, He would stay up in heaven and I would remain down on earth. Yet this is not so. God's home is with the ones He created to love and be loved. To the TCK who's wandered the world over searching for a home, knowing that God's home is found with me is humbling.

It's almost time. Amen! Come, Lord Jesus! ~Rev. 22:20

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Except You Become

It's been two days since I last saw them, the two-foot high tots that are just learning to take their first wobbly steps. W is the intrepid one. He's been practicing incessantly, pulling himself up at any chair or table leg or piece of furniture that he can get a hold of, then confidently squatting down until he can tuck a leg under and sprawl comfortably on the cool dining room floor. He sits with one leg bent to the left and the other under him, a position that looks extremely uncomfortable to me and one I definitely cannot replicate, but one he's been happily sitting in since he could crawl.

Last week, W took his first string of steps. He'd already taken a series when his parents were around but I hadn't been there and I pressed play on my video recorder just in time to capture him determinedly propelling himself forward across the living room carpet and onto the tile floor. After more than 10 steps, the momentum paused and after a moment's hesitation he plopped down to rest. We all cheered and clapped for his achievements.

D, on the other hand, is a little more cautious. He has taken more than his share of tumbles as he's been learning to move from a standing position to a sitting one and it has given him a hesitant fear of rushing forth. Though he's happy to nearly run if I'm holding his little hands, his head nearly parallel to the ground in his eagerness to move, when I let go he stops. He's taken a few steps now but is still careful to make sure he won't topple quickly.

I'd spent most of Friday and Saturday with the twins and their parents and was planning to hang out on Sunday too, but a cold most disappointingly put me in my bed all day Sunday. I knew I had a couple of very long work days coming up as we prepared for board meetings and graduation so I took the time to rest so I could build my strength back up. I missed the boys, though, as I usually saw them every day or so.

This evening, when my friend and her family pulled up to pick me to go buy groceries, I saw D standing in the back seat, his little face at the window, a huge smile as he saw me coming. I opened the back door and W sat there grinning up at me, eager to say hello. Both boys comfortably moved around the back seat between their mom and me, bouncing on our laps, eating a snack of soft bread, or laughing at their mom's funny antics to keep them amused. I treasured every moment with them but the grocery-trip was over all too soon and I was waving goodbye as I lugged my plastic bags filled with fruit and vegetables back up two flights of stairs to my room.

There's a thought that has been chasing around in my head for some time now. Children love unconditionally. When I go over to see D and W, they don't reprimand me for not seeing them for a day or more. They don't scrutinize me closely, asking me why I haven't lost weight or styled my hair in a better way. They don't sigh out loud about my clothing, saying that I should dress more fashionably. They don't demand that I entertain them with Chopin and Mozart-quality piano concertos or Celine Dion-style solos. They don't expect me to be knowledgeable about politics, the latest football match, or theoretical physics.

D and W hurry to the huge French glass doors when they know I'm coming. They crawl as quickly as they can and then press their faces to the glass, looking for me. When I come around the corner of the house and step into the balcony, their little faces light up with joy. Their "auntie" has come! I hug them each in turn, holding whichever one needs to be held, putting them in their high chair to eat lunch, or washing their face and hands after a tasty but messy lunch of rice and dahl. We play with their wooden trains or the trucks whose plastic tires have long been chewed off by their baby teeth. If it's time for a bottle, I put their bib on, quickly say the prayer I've long ago memorized before they start to fuss, and then watch as they softly fall asleep.

Perhaps this is what Jesus meant when He said the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these (Matthew 19:14). The disciples were confused for a moment, maybe wondering if He'd been sitting in the sun for too long, as they knew it wasn't physically possible to become like children again. I imagine that in Jesus' ministry, He experienced that feeling of being tired when you constantly have to give and give. He was healing many people, feeding them, and teaching them about God. Then the little children came to Him. They must have brought such joy to Jesus' heart because they came expecting nothing but simply loving Him unconditionally.

Though D and W are just learning to string together syllables into legible words, their hearts are speaking volumes as they totter through life. Their eagerness to love without expectations, not just me but all those who care about them, is something I want to have more of in my life. They are not afraid; they love simply because this is what they know. If I can learn to be more like them, I think it will bring joy to my Heavenly Father's heart because He loves me unconditionally with kindness everlasting. He's just waiting for me to love Him in return.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Where the Water Meets the Sky

It was beach day today with some of the dorm girls. The women's dean had organized an end-of-the-year trip to Jbeil, with the university van, for all the girls to join. In the end, only 4 girls went and because the women's dean couldn't make it, they asked if I would go along as the adult in charge. I was happy to be asked because I hadn't been to a proper beach yet and was quite excited at the chance to see one after being in Lebanon for more than a year.

After a stop for a traditional breakfast of kaak (look up a picture on Google, it looks like a lady's purse but is filled with cheese or left plain and dipped in dry zaatar or red chili paste) and a leisurely drive up the coast, we arrived at our destination. The girls and I gathered up our bagckpacks and bags and trundled down the wooden walkway, then across smooth pebbles to the far side of the beach which was as yet, rather empty, it only being 10 in the morning. We spread out our towels and then a couple of the girls and I bravely waded into the cool Mediterranean Sea.

I didn't stay in too long. I went up to my knees, but my fear of the unknown kept me in my safety zone. One of the girls was disappointed, she wanted to dive in and swim properly but I shook my head. I couldn't join her and she wasn't going to swim by herself. Eventually we headed back for the shore.

When I was about 17, I had a frightening experience with waves and it happened to be right in Beirut, Lebanon. The church had gone down to the beach for the day and my sister, our friend Nancy, and I were jumping around in the waves and generally having a good time. We weren't in deep water, it couldn't have been more than waist-high, but at one point I had my back to the waves. Then the big one came.

Followed by another big one and a third even bigger one. Each wave pounded me down to the rocky sea floor and I panicked as I didn't have enough time to catch a breath of air between waves and my feet had been thrown up from under me so I no longer had solid footing. I was grasping and gasping and with my head under the thick waves, I was sure this was the end.

Until the waves receded as rapidly as they'd thrown down on me and I was scrambling over pebbles, rushing to get to shore and sit down before another wave caught me up in its hold. I'd always been somewhat afraid of the sea or ocean and this experience only solidified that fear. Over the next 18 years, I never went in the wild waters beyond my waist and even that was only done with a pounding heart and watchful eye.

An hour later, the girls decided they would all go in and soon they were bobbing up and down with the waves, doing flips under the water, diving for rocks to throw, and generally having a grand time. They drifted a little, then swam off to the left so they could avoid the flotsam of rubbish that was in the current headed towards where I sat. I clambered up on a comfortable rock to watch them play in the water, vigilantly making sure they were safe at all times. I looked around to spot the burliest guy that I could run to in case of an emergency, and then I began to question my sanity as to serving as a chaperone for an activity that clearly made me nervous!

As I sat watching them, I realized the flotsam had drifted off and the tropical teals and turquoises of the sea were tantalizingly beckoning me. It was a warm day and it would be lovely to just float in that cool water. But I reminded myself that I was terrified of the sea. Then a niggling thought came to mind. Every day, do something that scares you.

That was my motto when I first came to Lebanon. I used it to push me outside the known, into spaces where I had to feel uncomfortable for long periods of time but eventually saw that turn into comfortable knowing. It was what I used to give me courage when I blithely traveled off to other continents, booking experiences and hotels sight unseen with the confidence that the trip would change me in a good way.

By the time I'd worked up my courage to consider it, the girls were drying off on the pebbly beach and being a little over an hour away from when the van would return to pick us up, I decided I would be content with my wading experience and push my need to be daring to another day. I carefully picked my way down the rock, preparing to spend the last bit of the day doing some more reading. Then one of the girls piped up, I think I'm going back in the water one last time! I looked at her, surprised. There wouldn't be much time to swim and then dry off after, but nevertheless, soon all four were running and jumping into the waves.

Before I knew it, I had joined them. We spent the next 45 minutes gleefully riding the waves as they came, dodging plastic bottles of water being poured over our heads, helping two of the girls do front flips into the water, and wiping the salt sea out of our eyes when a too-large wave came along unexpectedly.

I couldn't see the bottom of the sea floor. I didn't have a protective ring or life jacket around me. There was no life guard on duty. I even at times got far out enough that I could just barely touch the pebbled floor with my toes, though I mostly bobbed up and down in chest-high water. I did the thing that scared me and I found that I wasn't so scared after all. When I felt myself getting too far from land, I turned and swam a little closer. I was careful and I was safe and I was proud of myself for being brave.

Now this doesn't mean I'm going to take up professional deep-sea diving or even go scuba-diving in the near future. I am still very much afraid of the deep waters where you cannot see the bottom and unknown sea creatures can loom up at any moment. This does mean, though, that once again I've conquered a fear in the name of illusion and I've done my thing for today that scared me. Tomorrow, it will be something else but today's bravery gives me just that little bit more of a push to take tomorrow's challenge with gusto, knowing that if I could do it once, I can do it again.

Sunday, May 7, 2017


If there is one thing that has consistently and persistently irritated me since I've come to Lebanon, I can say without a doubt it's the mosquitoes. I still remember my first month or so last year, battling mosquitoes in the middle of the night, feeling very frustrated. I bought the VAPE plug-in red and blue dispenser with its light blue liquid that was supposed to stun the mosquitoes into unconscious wooziness. I used it several nights, with minimal success, and a great deal of worry that I was the only one who would suffer ill effects from using this chemical regularly.

Soon a friend told me about the electric mosquito zapper. It looks like a small tennis racket but instead of strings, it has a criss-cross pattern of thin wires on both sides. The racket is recharged by plugging it into a wall socket and once fully charged, it gives a mild electric charge through those wires. When it comes in contact with a mosquito (or any other flying insect, for that matter), there is a satisfying set of explosions as the mosquito is fried into dust and ashes. Often my racket isn't fully charged, so after the first zap that stuns the mosquito, I hurry it into the bathroom and tap it over the toilet, then flush it down to oblivion.

While the zapper works wonders, it still implies that mosquitoes continue to enter my room, otherwise I wouldn't need it. I've stuffed a plastic bag in the window sill to make sure they don't come through the small air holes at the bottom of the wire frame. I've put a plastic bin over the shower drainage hole in my bathroom. When I'm in my room, I keep a small fleece blanket in front of the door to block the inch or so space between door and floor. Yet the little demons continue to come in. I've decided they either come through the ventilation in my bathroom, or under the door during the day when I'm out. Or, perhaps, they are super mosquitoes and can fold their wings to squeeze through the small squares in my window's mosquito-proof grill.

One night I had 7 mosquitoes in my room. I was up every two hours or so, killing them one or two at a time. I have several tactics, most of which involve seeing the mosquito first, of course. Usually, their bite wakes me up and I quickly turn on the light. If I'm extra lucky, they will be sitting on the wall by my head, my zapper which I keep by my bed will be fully charged, and I'll get them right away. If I miss, or the zapper is dead, then I pull the blankets up to my chin and lie in the dark, waiting for that annoying whine. Then I repeat the same scenario. The problem is, sometimes it can take up to 30 minutes for the mosquito to buzz around again.

Some nights, to keep from staying up for too long, I turn on the light in the bathroom. This has a 70% success rate, as the mosquito often follows me into the bathroom and I can then shut the door and do battle in a much smaller space. If all of these fail, I often fall asleep from sheer exhaustion and let the mosquito bite me, though it's usually happy about the first two bites or so. Now that spring has officially arrived, I can sleep with the ceiling fan on which supposedly, due to physics and mosquitoes being unable to fly in wind, should keep me somewhat safe from their bites. It doesn't always work, as the fan isn't very strong, but it does reduce the number of itchy bites I get.

Every night when I'm awakened by this unwanted visitor, two thoughts enter my head. Mosquitoes must have been invented by the devil and Imagine, if our sins could be transformed into mosquitoes. As annoying as a mosquito is, a persistent sin is even more difficult to get rid of. It hovers around, impossible to destroy, and making life miserable for the person who is struggling with it. There is absolutely nothing good about a mosquito, other than being a source of food in the food chain. Similarly, there is nothing good about sin. It destroys, rather than building up.

The next time I hear that hum and ready my zapper to do war, I will make a new resolve not to let sin get the best of me but to ask God to zap it out of my life just as I electrocute that inch of maliciousness. Sin isn't something we always readily see, but mosquitoes are. So perhaps mosquitoes are good for something then--they remind me of my deep need for a Saviour Who is ready to fight the battle for me as He has already won the victory. 

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Min Barra?

I stare helplessly at the lines and dots on the makeshift cardboard sign that adorns most of the fruit and vegetable boxes. I can recognize the numbers, but I don't know if the kiwi are 1,000 LBP or 66 cents each or whether it is 66 cents per kilo or per 250 grams. Not being able to read the language is somewhat crippling my ability to be frugal, so I shrug my mental shoulders and drop three large kiwis into a thin plastic bag. I have to eat, I have enough money to pay 66 cents for a kiwi, and it's definitely cheaper than the imported grapes that I'm thinking are probably $10 per kilo, from the numbers scribbled in black marker in front of their box.

When I enter the fruit and vegetable market, I resign myself to paying the wrong price for something, coming home with an extra item I didn't pick out myself, and/or not finding the ingredient I need for a recipe I was planning to make. The process is simple enough. You choose your fruit or vegetable, put it in one of the plastic bags that are readily available all around the stalls, then take it to a weighing machine where a guy rapidly punches in the price per kilo and slaps a sticker onto your plastic bag. Then you take it to the cashier who rings it up for you.

The guy at the weighing machine doesn't watch you bag your items so he doesn't always know if you chose the best of the seconds, out at the front of the market where the two-day old produce is sitting, ready to be picked over, and cheaper than the fresh produce inside. He assumes, but he will occasionally ask, barra? as in outside? meaning did you get the aubergine from the cart outside or from the bin of better-looking vegetables inside? If there are multiple places to get the same vegetable inside the market, but again differing prices, he will point to the best fit and ask, hone? as in there?

That is the extent of my Arabic. I nod or hesitantly repeat the word, whilst pointing vigorously. Once I got brave and repeated the price, alph w khamas mille or one thousand five hundred. Most of the time I just smile and nod, my mind frozen in its limited vocabulary. And I think longingly, if only I knew what they were saying, if only my language skills were as good as my cooking skills. . .then I'd be just fine!

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Hello, Can You Hear Me?

One of the hardest parts about being far from family is not being able to communicate when I need to. Right now, I'm booking a place to stay for a friend's wedding. My whole family is going to the wedding because my brother will be a groomsman and the family of the groom are like family to us. Somehow I volunteered to book accommodations for the weekend since we'll be driving the 8 hours down and will need to stay 3 nights somewhere. I'm in Lebanon, my sister is in Taiwan, and my mom and brother are in California. The wedding is in California. . .

First, I did my research, looking on airbnb,, and with a FB group that was similar to couchsurfing. Most hotel rooms were too expensive, the FB group didn't have any hosts that had large enough places to stay, and while I found a really cute cottage by the lake on airbnb, it was 45 minutes from the wedding venue so I decided not to book that. It took several chat messages in 3 different time zones to decide that we would indeed book in a hotel that was close to the wedding venue.

I realized I needed to ask the hotel a couple of questions before I booked, so I filled out the online email contact form and sent it off. Two days later I still hadn't heard back so I asked my brother, who was in the same time zone as the hotel, to call them. He got me the information and I prepared to reserve the room. Then my brother said not to worry about asking for a rollaway bed. He, comfortable with roughing it, said he could just bring his air mattress. I, on the other hand, wanted him to be comfortable and thought it wasn't a big deal to pay the extra few dollars and get the rollaway. He had called during his lunch break and even though my final argument was sent just 3 minutes after his last reply, the chat message stared up at me, no Read 1 in white letters to the left of it.

I waited. I opened another chat application and messaged a friend, my mom's coworker, to ask him to ask my mom to check her chat messages. The message delivered but the two tick marks didn't light up to blue. Frustrated, I tried to reason out whether I should go ahead and make the request for a rollaway or just leave it and then have my brother call in the request at a later date. But it had been a long day in the office and I was too tired to decide.

Then I looked at the chat messages. Now it had Read 1 by the side but no reply. Finally, 30 minutes later, my brother replied. We sorted out the dilemma and, with a sigh of relief, I booked the room. Wedding gift bought, room booked. One more thing checked off the list. Once more, we had accomplished the joint task across oceans and time zones successfully!

Thursday, April 20, 2017

To Laugh Once More

In all honesty, being a missionary isn't all flowers and moonlight. There are difficult days, days when I question what I'm doing here, days when I'd prefer to go back to a country that, though not my own, at least is one where I can get around easily because I know the language. Even my teenage ties to this beautiful country are not always enough to push away the frustrations when I'm trying to fit in as an adult.

The last couple of months have been particularly challenging. Interestingly enough, I have had several people come up to me and tell me that they see I am happy here, happier than when I first came more than a year ago and was figuring out life on my own. I can only attribute it to God working through my life because I know it's not because of me. Though there isn't one specific reason for my struggles, I think it primarily boils down to another bout of culture shock. I'm realizing how very little I really do know and how much I have to learn while stepping outside of what I consider to be the norm and accepting another way of life as being equally as valid as my own. I've always been a black-and-white person with an easily stricken conscience so this adapting is harder than I thought it would be.

Yesterday, I spent some time telling God how I really felt. I wrote, I cried, and I prayed out loud, thankful for a room with some privacy and that I didn't have to share a living space with a roommate so I could process the emotions. I finally went to sleep after 1 am, not having resolved my questions but too tired to work through them anymore. I reluctantly headed to work and a day filled with tasks and projects to accomplish.

After work was over, I pulled some supper things out of my mini fridge, threw them in my favourite carry bag, and trudged up the hill to my friend's place. Her house was home to me, I spent more time there than in my own room because I could play with the twins, cook, share a meal, or just enjoy drinking tea while chatting with her. My friend and her family were my family away from home and I was grateful for every moment I could spend with them.

We ate supper, the boys snacked on cucumbers, and then we bundled them up in jackets and an extra pair of pants to go watch the volleyball game. It was the second night of tournaments this week and their dad was playing on one of the teams. It was a fun evening, my friend and I had one boy each and they were generally well behaved. W sat on my lap quietly watching the ball fly across the net until he got tired and restless. My friend suggested I walk with him for a bit as it was past his bedtime and he was ready to go to sleep.

I rocked W while humming a little tune and walking up and down the court. It wasn't long before he was fast asleep, content in my arms as he held tightly to my top with his little hand. I covered him with a baby blanket and sat down to watch the rest of the game. All too soon it was over and we went home, putting the boys to bed, and then settling down with a cup of tea to chat.

When I returned to my quiet room, I realized that God had performed a miracle in my life today. He gave me two gifts to cheer my heart and remind me that even though I wasn't out there converting souls by the thousands, I was still exactly where He wanted me to be and serving Him in the best way I knew how. First, He brought a good friend and mentor by my office in the afternoon to sit and talk with me, reminiscing on how good God was to bring me here to Lebanon. The friend was the one who initiated the call for me to come and we marveled at God's perfect timing for not long after I had committed to coming, three additional calls opened up.

Then God gave me a relaxing evening spent helping with the twins, ending with the little one falling asleep while I held him. I am very thankful for the gift my friend has given me of trusting me to help her with her little ones and the time I spend with them fills my heart with joy. I don't do anything extraordinary. I just hold babies, feed them, sing songs to them, hold their hands while they take some unsteady steps, laugh with them, and hold them when they fall. I do my best to let them know they are loved, safe, and taken care of.

Maybe being a missionary isn't always about grandiose gestures. Maybe it is being faithful in the little tasks, or faithfully reflecting Jesus to the littlest ones. I don't have everything all figured out, or all the answers to my questions yet, but I'm thankful that my Father does. All He asks me to do is trust Him and wait on Him. Then even the darkest days will be filled with light because He will be there.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

My Very Own Miracle

It's all wrong, I thought, as I looked at the letter the lawyer had written for my application. God, if this is Your will, You will have to work a miracle. I slipped the letter into the 2-day priority mail envelope, sealed it, and handed it to the lady behind the counter. That will be $6.65 please, she told me. The receipt included a tracking number that I checked two days later. Sure enough, it had reached its final destination. What the outcome would be, though, was yet to be determined.

Just over a year ago, I boarded the first of several planes that would carry me across the ocean to my new home. I'd agreed to come to Lebanon for a year to help the university in administration and see whether God had a plan for me to stay longer. It was also part of my personal journey of reconciling my past as a TCK (third-culture kid) with who I was now. I had longed for 17 years to return and now the opportunity presented itself. So without thinking much, I took it.

Those first few months were difficult as I learned to adapt. I always kept the thought in my mind that after the year was over, I could return to the US. Sure, I wasn't very happy where I'd been working before but I could always look for another job. In the summer, I sat across from my mother at the kitchen table and reassured her that I would be returning in just a few short months.

Then life began to shift in a different direction. Though I'd always felt peace and joy during my time in Lebanon, those feelings were starting to deepen. At the same time, the desire to settle down in a place that felt most like home began to grow stronger. I didn't want to be viewed as a tourist-missionary, even though my roots ran deep. I wanted to shed the foreigner skin and slip into one that was as close to familiar as possible.

So I began to ask how I could stay longer. I filled out paperwork and sent it off in November. It got returned just a few days later to my US address, as the fee waiver was denied. We re-sent it, this time with payment. They cashed the check but by the end of the month another letter came from immigration. This one asked for additional information to support the status I was claiming. As I was traveling to the US in a couple of weeks, I decided to wait to get the letter when I was there so I could easily mail it while stateside.

After several email and phone exchanges with the senior paralegal at the GC, I found myself looking at a letter that seemed to be all wrong for the intents and purposes of the reply I had to send to immigration. I had filed 7 applications for various visa statuses in the past 18 years and I thought I knew what should be submitted. There was more information than seemed necessary, but the paralegal assured me that it was good to send more information. I decided I would have to trust her and God and send the letter in.

Three months to the day of receipt of my initial application, my mother sent me a message through the family chat. Your application has been approved. I stared at the screen, my eyes still blearily trying to focus after a short night. Approved. Three months early.

See when the paralegal was answering my initial questions about the application, she told me that it would take about 6 months to process. I filed everything in plenty of time so I would have an answer by the summertime and know what kind of long-term plans to make. If it was denied, I would likely have to return to the US as I couldn't afford to keep flying back every 5.5 months or so. I wasn't ready to do that, and I reminded God very clearly of how I felt, but I knew it was out of my control.

As the tears came to my eyes, I realized God had given me my very own miracle. I love to hear stories about other people's miracles and I'm always thrilled to see how God is working in their lives, but it's very humbling to see God work so clearly in mine. Somehow it seems that others deserve good things but when God shows up in a God-way in my life, I am amazed at the depth of His care for me.

God knows dates are significant for me. I get nostalgic when a month ends, when my birthday and New Year's come around, and I'd been counting the months til I passed a year here. God also knows that my heart longs to stay and put down roots. I'm tired of living in limbo, being on various visa statuses for so many years. I feel comfortable here. I'm no longer struggling to find joy--it comes naturally. To top it all off, the application that will allow me to stay outside the US for more than the 6 months at a time was approved for an indefinite period of time. It's as if God is saying, Here. You can stay. 

Of course I cannot see the future. A month from now I may find myself on another continent, following God's calling. But for now, I'm thankful to know that God has clearly shown me I am in His will and He has a plan for my life. The details may be fuzzy but the intent is sure.

I will make a pathway through the wilderness for my people to come home. Isaiah 43:19

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Strength in Humility

The internet has been down in my room for several days now so I haven't been able to catch up on several things that are starting to worry me. So I escaped to my office where thankfully the internet is fast and I can download some documents that I need to edit to meet a deadline. Somehow things are starting to pile up all at once and I am beginning to rethink my original strategy for service when I first came.

When I first arrived at MEU, I decided that I would willingly volunteer anytime somebody asked me to help out, whether it was playing piano for song service, tutoring a student in conversational English, or packing up someone's house to move. I quickly filled my days and got to know different people through the opportunities for service.

Now that I've settled in to life here, though, I'm realizing that being available for any request may not necessarily be the best idea for long-term service. I read in My Utmost for His Highest today that if I am feeling spiritually exhausted, it may be because I need to reconnect to the One Who gives me the strength I need to be poured out in service. This means, naturally, that I need to set aside time in order to do so.

In the next two weeks or so, I have to prepare a succinct presentation for an international conference, edit 4 articles into video script, research and put together text for a promotional site, give 2-4 hours of reading and fluency tutoring per week, buy kitchen appliances as I'll now be cooking for myself, and edit a friend's masters' thesis. This is in addition to the everyday duties I do, such as teach, work, do laundry, go grocery shopping, cook, clean my room, help babysit my best friend's twin boys, write emails or chat with my family, and go on the occasional social outing.

Coming to the mission field, I assumed it would be easy to prioritize devotional time just as I had in 2005 when I spent a summer in South Korea teaching English. Then, I'd had very short nights as my last class ended at 9 pm and my first morning class began at 7 am. I made sure that I had at least 30 minutes for personal devotions every morning, in spite of a lack of sleep, because I valued that connection with God and I saw how very necessary it was to my survival in a foreign land away from all that was familiar for the first time.

Perhaps it's because coming back has not been a mission field experience for me as much as it has been about coming home. Yes, I have made sure that I read my devotional book every morning and spent time writing in my prayer journal and reading my Bible before I went to bed. I'm not listing this as a matter of pride; I'm simply stating that devotions have been a part of my life since I arrived. But finding myself weary emotionally and spiritually is making me think that perhaps I need to shift my focus from service to servanthood.

Micah 6:8 ends by saying that what God asks is not sacrifices but to walk humbly with your God. What does it mean to walk humbly? Perhaps it's not about meeting a quota of service opportunities but rather learning to step into sync with God. Learning to match my stride to His rather than those of others. Learning to serve not out of a need to feel important or valued but out of humility because He has chosen to give me this gift. While in everything, remembering that above all, the connection with my God is what will give me the strength to serve others and Him.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Stand Up and Be Counted

You may be wondering why I've remained silent about the travel ban, seeing as how I'm currently living in the Middle East, albeit not one of the banned countries but close enough. I am processing my thoughts but I hesitate to share them because I know there will be backlash from people who have a different opinion than me, informed or otherwise.

Today I sat in Sabbath School class with the faces of those statistics being tossed around. A woman who was born in one of the 7 banned countries, though she holds a passport from another country she has the fear that her visa to the US will be revoked because of her birthplace. A man whose birthplace is not yet on the banned list but rumour has it that it could be added soon is about to travel to the US and wonders whether he will be able to enter before any new rulings can be made.

I know these people. They are good hard-working citizens who are serving sacrificially as missionaries here. The reason to keep them out of the US is absurd to say the least. People forget, in their haste to defend the US from bomb-threatening terrorists, that this ban applies to anyone who has a connection with those specific countries. So if my friend would like to go to the US on holiday, using their valid visa, they will be denied.

I'm struggling to reconcile one man's view with the values that I believed the US was built on. Though I am not American myself, I am seen as a representative of the country because I speak the language easily and my home base is there. I'm struggling to not lump all Americans in with the president and am encouraged by the thousands who are protesting that this isn't right and are showing it through their actions.

I usually remain quiet in Sabbath School class--there are many who have things to share so I only speak if I feel strongly about something--but when the teacher asked me to share about my week, I was not as hesitant as usual. I shared a bit of the burden on my heart to somehow communicate to others that I am not speaking out of emotional reasoning but rather because I know the people these bans apply to.

I'm not going to debate the extent to which non-immigrants and immigrants should be screened before they enter the country. I know what it entails--I am an immigrant to the US myself though I still shrink from citizenship. There are so many variables that those who have followed this closely will know better than I. The statistics on internal acts of violence from Americans in the last year exceeds that of terrorist attacks from nationals from the banned countries, I'm sure. There were 49 people who died from a terrorist attack on US soil in 2016 and while the statistics on homicides are not available yet for 2016, there were 6,000 homicides in 2015 and I imagine the trend has not changed drastically. Car crashes are even more deadly with more than 30,000 road deaths in 2015 alone. Should we not ban cars then?

The world as we know it is changing. Matthew 24:10 & 12 seems to be happening right now. But I'm thankful for the promise that if we stand firm to the end, we will be saved (vs. 13). There is a calling for Christians around the world to stand up, shoulder to shoulder, and in the power of God to advance like a mighty army against this attempt by the devil to shake us to our roots. We need to be grounded in Whom we believe in and in such to show everyone that God's love is more powerful than anything else. Soon we will hear that trumpet call. I hope that day is not too far away.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

A Hug

We sat around a long table, 14 women from North Africa, the Netherlands, the US, Brazil, Portugal, the Philippines, Armenia, Lebanon, with several of us representing more than one country as TCKs. We'd come to celebrate the moments and years spent with one of our dear friends who, after completing her studies, was returning to her home country. As we leaned in close and shared laughter and stories, a smile began to warm my heart. And I realized God was answering two of my prayers.

I keep a prayer/blessings journal and two nights ago I'd written a very specific prayer request. I'd asked God for a hug. I'd been feeling under the weather physically and emotionally for several days and I needed to feel that God was with me. I'd managed to avoid getting sick on my brief trip to the US but had picked up a bug when I returned. In addition, I was questioning my plans to stay long-term and whether I was making the right decision as I waited in uncertainty for paperwork to come through that would help me know which direction to go. I decided to leave it up to God to answer the prayer in a way that I knew He was answering me.

The next day was rather uneventful. I'd spent the evening with the twins, both of whom had fallen asleep in my arms while drinking their evening bottle. I'd sat in the midday sun and soaked up the little bit of warmth that seemed to evade me in the cold cement walls and tile floors of my room and office. I'd had a good conversation with someone about the meaning of loss in a TCK's life and we'd both identified with similar experiences. While these were pieces of my day that stood out, they didn't strike me as being particularly meaningful in representing a hug from God.

Even though I didn't know the woman who was leaving that well, I decided to join the group of ladies who were going to the restaurant for a farewell meal. It would be a nice outing and I would be able to spend time with some friends I hadn't seen in a while, I reasoned. It would also be a chance to get off campus and enjoy some food other than cafeteria fare.

As the meal drew to a close, I marveled at how beautifully God had orchestrated the evening. We listened as women shared their love stories and their testimonies of how God brought them to know Him. One woman who was in her 30s and still single was encouraged by a friend who told her God knows where you are. She headed overseas and met her husband-to-be at the airport. When we paused to pray for the food and later for the woman who was leaving, I imagined Jesus standing tall above us, arms outstretched, as He pulled us closer together as sisters, mothers, grandmothers and friends in the tight bond of friendship.

I may not have everything figured out yet but I'm confident that just as God has been working in each of these women's lives, from the stories they shared, He will clearly work in mine. I just need to learn to keep waiting and trust in His timing.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Following Wherever He May Lead

Kelly, an Andrews graduate who came on two mission trips previously and really wanted to return, shared her story tonight about how God worked miracles to fulfill her heart's desire and bring her here to study this semester. I smiled as I listened to her exuberance, remembering how I felt a year ago as I was planning to head this way myself. The feelings haven't changed. As I packed nearly empty suitcases with gifts for family and friends in preparation for a 10-day jaunt to the US two weeks ago, I found myself reminding God of the same request I'd pleaded with Him to fulfill for 17 long years and then, once again, in the summer. Please bring me home again.

It was a plea I sent heavenward over and over as we bounced through clear air 39,000 feet over Greenland's icy mountains and the Atlantic Ocean, caught in a jet stream whose 100+mph headwind worried me, the veteran flier yet inveterate worrier. As I prayed and watched the headwind slowly subside to less than half its strength, I repeated my mantra. Please bring me home. I still have work to do. Granted, I haven't as yet figured out exactly what that work is long-term but for now I am content to do the things that lie closest which bring that abiding joy and satisfaction in serving.

I had another of those I'm not sure whether I'm being a good enough missionary conversations with my mother at the kitchen island during my short trip home. It stemmed from years of feeling that the best kind of missionary was a charismatic personality who handed out GLOW tracts to strangers, was able to do a chair massage with no more than a chair and a rolled-up jacket as a pillow, and easily led Bible studies on prophecy. I was none of those.

My mother smiled at me and asked me if I thought she should be doing front-line evangelism. When I argued that her service to God and support of the church through being the church treasurer was enough, that God would accept her ministry and recognize it was the most she could do in addition to her full-time job, she questioned why I could validate her service and not accept mine.

This is not a post about all the wonderful things I do as a missionary. I fail, many times, I know. I skip out on sitting with students in the cafeteria and take my food to go because I just need some quiet time in my room, away from people. I forget to say hello or ask how someone's sick mother is doing because I'm focused on a work task. I shy away from using my few words of Arabic to communicate with a refugee mother because I don't know how to carry the conversation further.

My ministry is simple. Sometimes at work I weave bits of sentences and words together into a word picture of an editorial to remind the readers of the value of educating young people in ministry. Other times I use my understanding of multiple cultural contexts to communicate clearly with people who have vastly different ways of understanding life. Most of the time I help my best friend and her husband babysit their twin 10-month old boys. These are not traditionally recognized forms of evangelism yet they are ways I can serve that bring me joy.

This is why I want to be here. It's more than physically living in a place I grew up in as a teenager. It's knowing that here my Father has a space for me to serve. I have clearly seen Him orchestrate events so that I am free to do the things He has planned for me to do. Each time I see His providence at hand, I am in awe. And each time, it is to do something that brings joy.

This is proof enough for me that being a good missionary is not about fulfilling an expected role that society delineates, though those roles are very much needed and are filled by those called to such. Being a good missionary is being willing to serve. It is being willing to do the mundane knowing that God is glorified in the simple things. It is being willing to set aside earthly expectations of wealth and career achievement to rock a baby to sleep, to write an accreditation report, to drive a friend to the bank, knowing that in doing so I will find fulfillment and joy.