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!