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Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Are You Telling Me To Go?

I stared at my monitor, unseeing the flickering blinker in front of me, as my mind went round in anxious thought. Do I go? Do I stay? What do I do? It was a simple question and yet I couldn't answer it. Too many factors to weigh. I'd signed up but hadn't paid yet, so there was still a way out.

Then it dawned on me why it was so difficult to decide. See, I've been conditioned to make my decisions in life based on what is best for others. I go to church even if I don't feel like it because I know other people notice my absence. I practice healthy living with regular exercise because I know my life is being observed. I stay late at work, go to week of prayer five nights in a row, and volunteer with the health expo because I know this is part of being a good Christian. My life is to be built around service--this is the foundation of who I am--my identity.

I've been processing this concept, though, from another angle. In a previous post, I talk about how Jesus told His disciples to leave the bustle of life and rest a while (Mark 6:31). Though it's only mentioned this one time, I think it's significant in its implication. Ministry is good but I need to take time to rest. Life can become so full of serving others that I lose the connection with Jesus which even allows me to be effective in service in the first place.

The argument may then be that the only acceptable self-care when it comes to taking time to rest and rejuvenate is Bible study and prayer. I would tend to argue against that. A friend once talked about the different ways that God talks to us. He mentioned that some people sense God's presence when they are listening to Christian music, others when they are out in nature, and still others when doing deep Bible study. As many ways as we connect with God, He is creative in His expression of love. When He touches the deepest part of our hearts, it is then that we change. If I participate in a prayer conference simply because I think it's my duty as a Christian, it is likely that it won't be as effective in my life then if I would go to a Christian concert where I can settle into the lyrics for understanding.

I'm still a traditionalist, so I do believe that Bible study and prayer are important. But they cannot be prescribed any more than the wind can be captured and required to travel a certain path. Jesus described this to Nicodemus, who wanted to understand the formulaic approach to being born again. Just as the wind was free, so the Holy Spirit was to change people (John 3:8). I reach for my Bible at lunchtime, when I'm in my room and trying to work through a difficult situation in my life. I read a passage at midnight, because it's then that I have time to be still and contemplate what I'm reading. I don't wake up at 4 am for quiet time, it isn't in my DNA. I could try to force it but I think this would be going against the way God made me.

See, I'm not a traditionalist when it comes to worshiping and connecting with God. I cannot be tied to a specific time, a way of praying, a liturgical lip-service of nothing more than human laws learned by rote (Isaiah 29:13). Yes, I attend church because I believe in the importance of community and I enjoy the predictability of the routine. Yet every once in a while I wish we could do church among the people who have not dressed up and found their way up winding roads to the top of the hill. Every once in a while I wish there would be less how-to's on practising the disciplines of a Christian life and more space to live out of our brokenness with a focus on the Healer.

So the decision has been made for me. I will not go.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Of Marmite, Bus Kaarts, Fresh Figs, Harmattan, and Camels at Sunset

The phone line is gone. In a moment of carelessness, not the first and assuredly not the last, some unthinking person dug in the wrong place and instantaneously severed a connection to nearly 19 years of history. To them it was just a thin piece of cable. To me it was a piece that anchored me to a place in my past. Now it is no longer there. Intangible yet I am tangible. I wonder how many more pieces will dissolve into the invisible and will I too, at some point, cease to exist if I can no longer go back and reassure myself that I did indeed live in that time and place?

Perhaps this is why I carry a worn fading bunny around the world with me, its insides thinning as string by thread escapes through multiculoured sides that insist on gaping open. As long as my bunny comes along, I can hold on to who I am even if I can't always bring the memories to mind. At least my bunny is Real even if I am still placing myself within a context that makes sense.

Last night I turned over in my bed and heard a car drive by outside. For a moment, disoriented from lack of sleep, I was in my bed in Egypt. I was surprised because I don't have many sensory memories from those years. It wouldn't make sense for a car to drive by out my bedroom window as there wasn't a road on that side. But regardless, I was there.

This afternoon I smell coffee, not the thick Turkish kind so strong you could dredge it for gold, though the guy delivers it in little cups for the bus driver and the passenger in the front stop when we stop at Cola station. The familiar smell, light in its fragrance, instantly brings me to England. I am in Dartford at the Bluewater shopping centre with my aunt and granny as we look for bargains in Marks and Spencer, or maybe the older shopping centre in Bexleyheath where my dad buys me an oversized white fluffy stuffed dog nearly half my size, and I am about to eat baked beans on toast.

This is the beauty of remembering. For that microcosmic second, I am there. I existed.

Heart-Healer

You are behind me and You are before me. . .

One of my deepest grieving comes from the loss of not having the continuity I only dreamed of as a child and later queried everyone I met. Where did you live? Did you live in one house all your life? One town? One state? One country? One continent? I didn't have the luxury to answer in the affirmative to any of those questions. I had always been the one moving.

I did my best to thread continuity like beads on a necklace by writing letters, then emails, and finally one-line chat messages with those who had become dear to me in each country. Yet life seemed to happen without me and selfies of smiling faces on Facebook at times were the only connection I had to each phase in my life when I knew I was loved.

Entering my 30s and beginning to explore my identity as a TCK through graduate studies, I began to more earnestly search for that stability in a place or person. I knew it couldn't be where I lived at the time so I returned to the last place I knew happiness as a teenager.

I went to a conference and talked about sharing your story as part of tying together the carpet scraps into an experience that made sense. I knew I hadn't completed the process yet but was learning to be patient with myself. I began to spend my free time exploring, writing, listening to music, crying, as I let the emotions prohibited from being expressed for so long because I had to adapt, adjust, and be strong to survive, now free. I rode the public bus, hair blowing in the wind, completely oblivious to safety or destination, absorbing the simplicity of motion, moving forward without expectations. I pushed myself out of my comfort zone, hiking with strangers on goat paths, snorkeling in an ocean where I couldn't touch the bottom, and eating pumpkin strudel in a castle in Salzburg.

Yet even as I created new memories and remembered the old, I knew I was still searching. I was searching for that touchstone to connect my past with my present. I'd lived too long fragmented; who I was before I left, who I was after I left, and now who I was after returning. Nobody could fully enter into my experience or understand the fears mixed up with the anticipation, the pain with the peace, the belonging with the loss.

Til I heard the song by Tenth Avenue North and I knew. There was One Who had walked with me through every moment, every tear, every joy, every worry, every sensory memory, from the moment I was born in a little clinic in West Africa to today, when I sit in my small room in the Middle East. He was behind me and He was going before me. He was the only One Who could bring together each piece of who I was, gathering them from countries scattered around the globe, to redeem meaning in my life. It was then that I knew I could stop searching. In Him I'd found my home.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

The Fight of the Continents

We played a game in our welcome party for staff/faculty today. "Go stand with your continent!" the facilitator said. North and South America was on the left, the Middle East and Africa were on the right, and Europe was in the middle. For a moment I stood frozen. Where do I belong?

I fit in all of them. One--half my life. One--where my heart was and I was born. One--where I held citizenships and extended family lived but I'd only lived there briefly as a very young child. A friend shouted out, "You're Lebanese, come join us!" Strangely enough, I didn't respond to impulse. My heart pushed me to go there. After all, this was the very reason I'd stayed. I wanted to fit in, to be one of them. Instead I dutifully stood in solidarity with the Europeans. They were the smallest group and I felt sorry for them.

But where was my country? Where did I belong?

I've lived on visas most of my life. There was only about 3 years, when I was very young, that I lived in a passport country though not one I was ethnically related to. Residence visas, missionary visas, work visas, student visas, dependant visas, from country to continent, I've traveled along a very long rope of red tape that has somehow kept me from unraveling.

Geen wonder, (or no wonder), then that I am confused as to where I belong. If I have never claimed a country where my nationality allowed me to live there without question, then I am, as my friend put it, "homeless." Without a home. Without a country. Without a continent to call my own. I drift between what others would call known, but for me they are the unknowns. Never known fully to me; I am never known fully by them. This is why I still search for belonging.

It's not where you come from, it's where you belong. . .  ~Kari Kimmel

Friday, August 25, 2017

To Be In Destiny

It had been more than a year now since she’d first walked down the cobbled sidewalk to the cafeteria that first morning. Hesitant, she’d been unsure what she would find when she stepped into this world that seemed so foreign and so familiar at the same time. The memories had faded with time; would they suddenly burst into 3D colour? The tired streets were so much more crowded now than before—cars elbowing their way to get into that tiny inch of space they’d seen between a taxi and a camouflage green military tank. This was the life she would soon become accustomed to.

Taxis everywhere, though you wouldn’t know if you just looked at the top of the car because taxis in Lebanon weren’t painted in the customary yellow and white or black pattern found in New York, for example. They weren’t a certain model of car, like the old Beetle style found in London. Sometimes they had a yellow or white rectangular sign on their roof, if they belonged to a company. More often, though, they were only recognizable by their dull red license plate. The military trucks were comforting yet unsettling at the same time. She was never quite sure whether to be thankful they were there to protect her or worried that someone would suddenly start shooting one of those heavy duty machine guns mounted on the top of the tank.

This was just one aspect of life in a war-torn country that was struggling to rebuild itself in glass. She was amazed every time she managed to slip off the campus and take a drive downtown where the multitude of crystal skyscrapers seemed to mushroom overnight. It was a sure sign the builders were confident there would be no more wars. If not, they would have built in sturdy brick and gray cement. Instead, the city sparkled in the noonday sun with a promise of hope and a twinkle of return to the Switzerland of the Middle East it had once been known as. She decided that if the country, who had been through 7 wars and rebuilt itself each time, could be certain of its destiny then she could also be sure.

It was here that she returned to in search of that elusive word. Destiny. Was it really as formidable as it sounded? Was it something already decided or could she decide? She had spent 17 years stuck in a feeling that she couldn’t walk another path. Then, in a few short months, she found herself where she had once thought her happiness had ended. When she’d left as a teenager, the joy had sunk deep down into a darkness that seemed to cloud every memory she’d had. She couldn’t put herself back into the photos—they had already cut her father out of each one. Just as he was deleted from memory, her memories hid behind the merciful curtain of time.

Now she sat on one of the benches lining that cobbled sidewalk, her students scattered on the grass, diligently working on their creative writing project. The luxurious winter sun warming her face, the cold cement bench, and spring bird song mixing with city buzz made her smile. The memories once buried were now surrounded by explosive sensory moments wrapping her in new dreams for a destiny still to be seen. It was enough to be here. That was all she knew.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

FlashBack

She was sitting on the black leather chair, laptop at the ready as her fingers flew, transcribing the boss's dictation She breathed in and suddenly she wanted to be walking red brick streets in winter, fingers pushed deep into her warmest black suede trench coat, as her breath caught in the crisp chill. She wasn't exactly sure why she was sitting in an air-conditioned office set in the milieu of humid Lebanon when she should be getting acquainted with the musty smell of cigarettes by the underground entrance, diving into a paper tunnel of frites buried under thick mayonnaise, hearing the sound of still silence in a dark night, or getting properly lost in the architectural wonders of castles ancient with time. Europe was playing tug-of-war and it seemed it would soon win.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Drop Drop Drop, Drop in the Bucket

I think it's time to make a new Bucket List. I made one more than 7 years ago. That's a really long time when you think about it. So below I shall review my list and then update it accordingly.

June 2010 Bucket List
  1. Lose 30 pounds. I didn't write down my original weight so it's hard to know how much I've lost but I'm going to be on the safe side and say I lost 10 pounds. On the positive side, I'm learning how to eat healthier and exercise more.
  2. Write a book. Hmmmm, does a blog count? 
  3. Be involved with some type of ministry for at least a year. I worked with an organization against human trafficking for several months and led out in depression recovery programs in the community for 3 years where one woman shared how she felt empowered at the end of the 8-week program.
  4. Keep my place tidy for more than a week! Don't quote me but I think I've managed this.
  5. Visit the Seychelles, Switzerland, Austria, and New York. Austria--check.
  6. Become a certified Marriage & Family Therapist. Got my graduate degree, albeit in Leadership instead of counseling.
  7. Earn my PhD in Psychology, Higher Education, or English. Not sure this is my final goal.
  8. Work at a mainstream SDA college (as an assistant registrar or registrar or executive assistant). Check! Executive assistant.
  9. Be published in Adventist World. Check! Article on pain published.
  10. Get my green card. Check!

August 2017 Bucket List (For the next 5 years)
  1. Lose those other 20 pounds.
  2. Buy a house.
  3. Travel to at least 5 new countries (preferably one in South America).
  4. Settle down permanently.
  5. Be published in Huffington Post.
  6. Be conversant in Arabic.
  7. Resolve conflicts openly.
  8. Coordinate a women's retreat on embracing who we are as daughters of God.
  9. Do at least one public speaking engagement--sermon, conference, in-service training.
  10. Go to a museum by myself.