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Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Wings of the Morning

I woke up this morning with the words of the song God Hears My Prayer in my head. It was a song that Rachel had taught us one summer when we had a little choir and ever after, the tune had drifted into a corner of my mind and refused to leave, just like the other encouraging choir songs we'd learned in college. I left for work rather hurriedly, trying my best to make it in time for worship. I arrived just before 8 but after I unlocked my door, my boss had a couple of things to share so I managed to slip in to the conference room just in time to hear the last part of the devotional thought. Then, because I rarely joined them, my colleagues asked me to pray, so I did.

I returned to my office, flipped open my laptop, and quickly typed in my password. My mind began to scramble as I reached for a bottle of water. There were too many deadlines looming all at once and I was worried about getting everything done on time. Someone came asking for a letter they'd emailed me about the day before. I hadn't managed to type it up yet, as I had to wait for verification from another person first. My boss promised I would get it to them before noon. Someone else emailed me with a project that needed to be done that afternoon and when I replied, saying I wouldn't be able to get to it before the next day, they insisted, saying it had already been delegated to me. This was how the first hour went, until the office was quiet.

I hurried downstairs to the women's restroom, locked myself in the farthest stall, closed the toilet lid, sat down on top of it, and cried. I couldn't handle all of this. It was too much.

When you first get to know me, you may assume that I'm an open person who easily shares her burdens and joys with others. While I will get into debates about hot topics, or gripe about how I haven't had a chance to do my laundry because the washing machines have been full every time I passed by them, I don't as easily share personal things. I will talk about things that others can relate to, that are disconnected from my deepest heart, but I will not be vulnerable. I have to know that I can trust you first and that trust can take years to earn.

I hate getting emotional in public because as a woman, I am automatically stigmatized and any words that may accompany the tears are dismissively seen as PMSing or not based in logic. So I keep my emotions to myself, try really hard to be positive and kind, and if I have nothing nice to say then I try not to say anything at all in order to avoid conflict.

I realized, sitting there in that bathroom stall, that I needed prayer. I looked through my phone contacts, wondering who I could ask. My family was fast asleep in another time zone, my sister busy at work. I sent them a message but knew they likely wouldn't read it for several hours and I needed prayer now. Finally, I settled on one name. I knew he prayed, it was part of his vocation after all, so I sent him a couple of lines, saying I was feeling a bit overwhelmed at work and would appreciate a prayer if he thought of it. Then I promised to pray for him in his work that day. He replied right away, which was somewhat unusual for him as he often wouldn't see my texts for some time, and said he would pray.

I left the bathroom and returned to my office. Less than 10 minutes later, I realized that I no longer felt like bursting into tears but felt calm and at peace. Did prayer really work that fast? I wondered. Later that morning, after a chat with a good friend and colleague, I asked if I could pray for her in an upcoming transition and she agreed. When the prayer was over, my heart felt full.

In the afternoon committee, I was asked to pray. Being the recording secretary, I don't usually speak, but I had yet another opportunity to pray. Miraculously, the committee finished early and I had just enough time to do two loads of laundry before hopping in my friends' car to head down the hill to our Arabic church for Week of Prayer. My family sent me encouraging text messages as they started their day and then an email came through from AVS. I stopped and looked at my screen, amazed at how perfect God's timing was. The email was titled Praying for you today.

The last time Andrea had sent me a little email reminding me that the AVS staff were praying for me was February 28 so it had been nearly 3 months since my name was on the rotation for prayer. Andrea said they were praying for me and then said May this be a reminder that His love is constant, and He is always with you as you serve Him in Lebanon. She included Psalm 139:9-10 and Hosea 12:6 in the email and closed as she always did by asking me to let her know if I had any specific prayer requests.

Live as if your prayers are already answered. I struggle a lot with believing God answers prayer. It's really quite ridiculous, because I have some very tangible examples of how God has answered my specific prayers. I can say with certainty that every day I've been here in Lebanon, God has been close to me and pursued my heart by personalizing special moments just for me. His heart's intent towards me is only good--I know this logically but am struggling to feel it emotionally.

There are glimpses, though, like today when I feel His love especially close. Today, I had seven different encounters with prayer. I prayed for worship, my friend prayed for me, I prayed with another friend, I prayed for the committee, I went to week of prayer, my family prayed for me, and AVS prayed for me. Truly, God was sustaining me and holding me up through those prayers today.


If I ride the wings of the morning, if I dwell by the farthest oceans, even there Your hand will guide me, and Your strength will support me. . .Wait for your God, and don't give up on Him--ever!

I'm not a front-lines missionary, I'm not giving evangelistic meetings to thousands, and I'm not running a school for refugee children. I'm leading out in song service during Sabbath School, when only 10 people show up. I'm bouncing a 15-month old on my lap to give a pregnant mother a few moments rest. I'm sitting through an hour-long sermon in Arabic and smiling and nodding at the visitors afterwards because it's all I can do to communicate in a language I don't understand. I'm staying up late to edit a student's paper so they can do well in their class. I'm sending an encouraging email to someone I've never met, thanking them for their prayers and reminding them of how important their work is to strengthen and support others. But these are just simple offerings. They are not grand, they are only a widow's mite. Yet somehow I hope God will bless these efforts just as the prayers multiplied to wrap me in comfort today.

The Lord your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing. ~Zephaniah 3:17

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

To Find Home In

I didn't get a chance to call home this weekend. I think in a way, that is the hardest part about being away from home. It's knowing that I can connect but finding that the reality is I can't connect as much as I would like. Sure, we have a family chat where we share photos and jokes, ask questions, plan family vacations between three continents, or just keep each other updated throughout the day. But it's not the same as being in the same room as each other. A video call is a poor substitute but at least I can hear voices and see facial expressions. When I can't have even that, I struggle.

The streaming quality here somehow manages to let me watch episode after episode of Masterchef but can't handle a video call properly. Usually I'm left peering at a screen where my mother's face has frozen in a strange position, or I'm trying to decipher a sentence out of the disjointed syllables and partial words that have jerkily filtered across the airwaves. Occasionally, and then often only briefly, I will see them crystal clear and it's then that I study their faces intently, memorizing, and wishing they were closer so I could feel happy that I was with them.

My sister had other priorities on Sunday and my mother's laptop was on silent, as usual, so she missed my messages til it was too late and I had given up and gone to bed. Last week I'd talked to my mom and brother and it had been two and a half weeks since I'd spoken to my sister. I realized that perhaps this was part of life, the slow separation as we each lived our lives, but I wasn't ready for it. I needed to stay connected.

I know why the ache is so strong. It's because my mother, my brother, and my sister are still the world to me. No one has taken a parallel place in my heart until now so I find my home in them.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

To Be Home

5 weeks till I go home. I use the term rather loosely, when asked the other day where home was, I said it was here, because I was here. I've called my best friend's house home, even though I don't live there, but I spend more time there than in my little room. Home is my aunt and uncle's place in Apeldoorn, if I'm visiting them. Home is a very fluid term, usually tied to where I and my passport reside.

Yet as I look forward to going home, or the place where my mother and brother live, I am also struggling not to focus on 9 weeks from now. It is then that I'll be leaving home. Leaving to return home, paradoxical as that may seem. I can almost anticipate what it will be like, a short night, all my souvenirs carefully packed and ready to go, rushing out the front door of North Hall, and then driving the empty early morning streets to the airport whilst praying earnestly, Please let me come back home. It's a prayer I pray every time I leave. Somehow the memory of 18 years ago still hasn't resolved itself with the reality that I am here and here is home now.

I watched a short CBC clip the other day. I don't often watch 5+ minute clips all the way through when I'm scrolling through Facebook, as my attention and patience span are limited. This one, though, had me in tears. The one phrase I heard held my heart. She's my home. A young couple, deeply in love, from opposite sides of the continent. He had found his home in her.

It's something I dream of, when I find myself restless, rootless, and uncertain whether I can stay in this country or that. The worlds where I am permitted to reside without question or visas are foreign to me. The places I find myself feeling at home query why I should feel such a strong attachment to them when they never claimed me as their own. It's the conundrum the TCK-grown-up must always face. Yet perhaps one day I too, will be able to find my home in the heart of one who understands I no longer need to travel to be home.

Friday, April 28, 2017

I Am Willing

Someone asked me today, Did you lose your job in the job axing? I looked at the email in disbelief, shocked that someone I considered a good friend would ask me that question. I tried to attribute it to their concern for my well-being but failed to convince myself. It felt more like an implication that I wasn't able to perform well enough therefore my position had been eliminated.

There have been some cuts that were recently announced but they were primarily due to financial reasons as the institution where I work is struggling with enrollment being down, which leads to reduced tuition income. It's not surprising, considering enrollment is down nationwide by 20% and even the larger universities that are well established are feeling the financial pinch. The responsibilities will be distributed among the current employees and I too will be adding to my work load. I worry sometimes whether I will be able to handle it all, as my days are already full and sometimes it feels like I am just treading to catch a breath of air, but I prefer to be busy than bored and I have confidence that God will help me to handle it.

A new employee to the campus looked at me the other day, when they were visiting a mutual friend whose house I was at also, and evaluated me as conservative and highly sensitive. I laughed, as they had arrived at a precise description of who I was--and without knowing me that well either. I've been sensitive since I was a child, often being reprimanded by a parent for being too sensitive and bursting into tears at perceived slights. Perhaps this sensitivity is what I carry into innocuous questions such as the one that was asked.

I've been officially in the workplace for a little over 11 years now though I began working as a student 18 years ago, so I bring a number of years of experience. During this time, I was never let go. As a student, I quickly became a highly valued worker who could choose where to work, running the library by myself in the summer when the head librarian was on holiday, and receiving certificates of achievement in the workplace that also included cash awards.

When I began to work as a full-time employee, I was diligent and conscientious. Only once did I face the threat of losing my job, when an incoming new supervisor re-interviewed me for my position. While none of the other continuing employees were re-interviewed, I realized that I was due to a clash of personalities. It led to me later resigning from that position, being the first but not the last as a new face filled that position every year for the next 5 years. God kept me in that position when I needed it for my visa's sake and then He found me another position at the right time.

Arriving here, I began by volunteering in a department doing a job that, had my college professor known about, would have made her laugh as I had gotten a C in my Journalism class and now I was reporting on events. Several months later, though, I transitioned into a role that allowed me to keep writing on the side but better suited my abilities, background, and academic training. I began to see a long-term future and asked if there was employment available.

Once again, God worked out the logistics, as the approval for full-time employment upon completion of my volunteer contract was given four months prior to the contract ending. This came three months before there was a hiring freeze. Then my application for some legal paperwork to facilitate staying as a missionary long-term was approved in 3 months instead of 6--yet another clear indicator that God had a serious plan for me here.

This is what I return to when I face uncertainty and insecurities of whether I made the right decision to stay. I know in my heart I did, but there have been several weeks of questioning my purpose and goals in life. I have a difficult time living in the US, as the culture evades me, but I keep returning to the question of whether I should be working there in a high-salaried job so I can earn money for a house to stabilize my future. Then the idea comes of moving back to Europe where I was rooted through citizenship, though I do not speak the language and haven't adopted the cultural traditions.

My mother used to tell me, I'll move on from here when God clearly shows me that it's time to move. She's been working for the same company for 18+ years now so God hasn't show her yet that it is time to move. Each time I shifted position within the institution I worked at for 17 years, I knew without a doubt that God was taking me there. Coming here, once again I felt that peace of certainty that I was in God's will.

So why the restlessness? Why the worry that if this person was asking such a question, there could possibly be some basis to it? How do I ground my feet so they don't pick up and go without me? Perhaps I'm coming to the crucial stage that every TCK fears when they move somewhere. Perhaps this is the rooting time. Perhaps now those roots are beginning to ground themselves firmly in the soil of everyday life, the mundane, while simultaneously spreading into others' hearts so we become interconnected.

This thing, this rootedness, is what will change me and I need to be ready for that reality. And I need to do so in the knowledge that regardless of what other people may assume, I am exactly where God wants me to be and doing what He has asked me to do. This is my life and this will be my reality until He clearly shows me otherwise.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

There

I knew there was culture shock going from country to country when it was a significant move. I didn't think it would hit this strong, though, after visiting a country I'd never lived in for just 5 short days. I'd like to blame it on a bad cold, my friends gone because it's Easter vacation, and too much to do, but I think I cannot. I think I really am experiencing a good old fashioned case of culture shock and I'm not happy about it one bit.

I booked a ticket to Austria a couple of months ago when fares were cheap and I knew my cousin and family were going to be around (the last time they were headed off for a weekend camping and hiking in the mountains with their church and that wasn't my idea of a holiday so I'd ended up not going). Splurging a little, I also booked tickets to a concert in Vienna and a Bavarian Salt Mines/Sound of Music combo tour in Salzburg, along with booking a nice little hotel in Lengfelden just outside Salzburg for the two days I would be staying there before heading back to Lebanon.

Bright and early on a Friday morning, after just two hours of sleep, I stepped into a shared cab, my arms filled with a stiff package that contained a wedding dress. Not mine, but for a Syrian woman who lived in Vienna. I was the courier, bringing it from her relatives, along with all the accoutrements that accompanied such a beautiful dress that was resplendent with tulle. I managed to get all said items through the various check points until the final security screening just before the gates.

It was then that some alert young fellow, awake so early in the morning, decided that the 6 feet of wiring that was carefully wrapped between the folds of the stiff skirt was not allowed on board. Perhaps it was seen as some sort of weapon, I don't know, but the poor young man's minimal English and my non-existent Arabic didn't help to resolve the problem.He went first to one colleague and then another, asking their opinion. I hastily brought up a picture of a wedding dress hoop skirt to show them what the wiring was for, to which they glanced at uncomfortably and resumed their discussion. A woman, re-dressing after security, shrugged her shoulders and wished me good luck.

Finally, the young man told me I would have to go all the way back through the 4 security and immigration check points to the front of the airport and check in the offending wire. He suggested I check the entire wedding dress, which was stuffed into an oversized khaki garment bag, but I decided to put it inside my backpack and check that instead. Then I looked at my ticket. Boarding time was in 5 minutes and there was no way I was going to make my flight if I had to go through all that hoopla. Plus, I'd already checked a bag and it was on my flight. I showed him my ticket. A more senior officer showed up just then and when asked what to do, shrugged nonchalantly, giving the okay for me to proceed to my gate, wire and all. I thanked the young man profusely.

Several hours later, the pastor of one of the Viennese churches was collecting the wedding dress from me at my cousin's house. I spent the first three days of my holiday with my cousin and family, thoroughly enjoying the culture, getting to know their vivacious kids, and drinking in the Viennese countryside. I was disappointed that the Danube wasn't really blue or beautiful, for that matter, and Vienna's industrialization was a bit much, but downtown more than made up for it with its opulence of architecture.

All too soon, I'd boarded a train for my second destination and slept most of the way to Salzburg. There I slid down wooden chutes, sang How do you solve a problem like Maria, dutifully ate the requisite apple strudel, and lost myself for a few blissful moments among storefronts that belonged in a museum. Reality had to catch up with me, though, and Tuesday morning found me on a train back to Vienna to catch my flights to Istanbul and beyond. Austria had been wonderful but it was time to go back home. At least that is what I thought.

I was at the beginning of a horrid cold so my trip was split between drinking green tea and sleeping, as I stumbled between gates and tried to find something reasonable to eat in the airports. As the plane descended over Beirut's night lights, I felt anticipation at my return. The drive home on now-familiar streets brought a huge smile to my face and I didn't even mind lugging my bags up the two flights of stairs to my room. I was happy to be home. I thought.

I'm on the tail end of the cold now, so just about back to feeling normal physically. Yet I find myself strangely unbalanced emotionally. I'm not sure why and it's somewhat discombobulating. It's strange to find myself wishing to return to Austria, Salzburg in particular, or even California, which I never wanted to feel homesick for. I can't place the reason, or even quite the feeling.

I'm tired of dusty grocery stores where I can't find what I need. I'm tired of driving down streets so congested, I can't find a place to park or turn where I need to. I'm tired of picking through a bin of aubergines to find just one that isn't soft and then being charged the wrong price when it's being weighed. I'm tired of cooking at a friend's house and trying to gauge how much I'll need for the coming week, though I'm thankful they let me cook there. I'm tired of waiting for the washing machines to be free so I can do my laundry, while making sure I have enough pegs and it isn't a wet rainy day so my laundry will dry properly. I'm tired of feeling stuck on a campus, but not sure where to do, who to go with, or how to get there if I were to find something interesting to do. I want a car, or easy public transportation that's cheap and clean. I want a grocery store that has everything in one place and in English, so I know what I'm buying. I want a washing machine that isn't full of someone else's balls of hair or lint.

I feel somewhat guilty writing this. After all, there are people who can't see colour, so they've never seen a beautiful sunset. There are people who can't hear, so they've never heard the voice of their loved ones. There are people who die every day from starvation, who struggle to get ahead because they were born into poverty, who live in war-marked countries and never know if the next bomb will be their last breath. I don't have any of those problems. I just have a bad case of culture shock and home sickness, though for what home I am completely uncertain. Perhaps for now, it's simply not this home. Though I thought, when I came, it would be forever, now that pronouncement is not quite as solemn as it was then.

I'm not exactly sure what to do. I guess I'll call home, eat some comfort foods, hold my friends' twin baby boys close, and remind myself that when I was there, wherever there happened to be, I wasn't happy either. When I tally the total marks, here is still ahead. Perhaps for now, that will have to be enough. I hope so.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Arms Full of Hope

I'm feeling homesick tonight. It's a strange feeling, one I haven't noticed for more than 6 months now. It began this afternoon, as I was at Karen's house. When she and Dilip knelt with their little twin one-year olds for family prayer, a sudden nostalgia came over me. Later, I sat and drank tea while she tidied up the kitchen and we chatted comfortably about life. It felt like home even as I missed a home I'd chosen to leave. Perhaps, though, it wasn't the physical building I missed as much as the memories tugging at my heart to be with the ones I love.

There are days when I light up with joy inside and can't contain the excitement bubbling over. Then there are days like today when I'm a little more subdued. When the thought of maneuvering the bumper-to-bumper traffic to pick through soft onions and try to gauge if an avocado will last two or three days is just too much for me to handle. When the thought of finding a friendly dentist whom I can trust to take care of my teeth without yanking out ones I need or getting trigger-happy with the filling gun is more than I can face.

So I put on Yiruma and eat a chocolate Easter egg. And I smile because I know that this too won't last. Maybe tomorrow, or maybe it will be a week from now, and I'll be ready to step into this crazy big big world I live in and embrace the adventure. I'll hop into a service taxi, use my three words of Arabic, and sally forth to the unknown. This is why I came and why I continue to challenge myself beyond the comfortable. To breathe, I have to keep living life bigger than I can imagine. It is only then that I know. . .homesickness is merely a glimpse in the past but as I turn my face forward I see only light. 

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Keep Speaking

What's your last name? the exuberant distinctly-accented South African said as she reached for my name tag. I flipped it around, simultaneously telling her. Did you write a book? I looked in the bookstore and I couldn't find it. Startled, I shook my head. No, I hadn't written a book, I said. Well, you should write one then, she insisted. I thanked her for the kind words as she left to speak to another attendee.
 
A book. It was something I had thought about before, but had never known exactly how to focus my writing. Sure, I blogged about my feelings, reflecting on how my TCK experience had coloured my adult life and how I approached life. I wasn't so sure I had enough material to write an entire book about a specific part of my TCKness or whether I should write until I had integrated all my identities or perhaps until I got married. It would be good to have a well-written conclusion already figured out before I wrote.

Loss is something we all deal with, regardless of whether we move countries, cities, or cultural contexts. As the world becomes increasingly more accessible, chosen migration becomes the norm. This affects us all to some extent, whether we recognize it or not. When we feel we must bury those losses, we struggle even more to validate our experience.

As I walked out of the conference venue today, I nodded my head. This would be the next step. A book. So the next time someone asked me, Do you have a book? I could smile and say Yes.