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Friday, November 17, 2017

The Fridge Hums At Night

It's that feeling I get, when I know I have to protect myself from crumbling into a million pieces. When I've been vulnerable and nobody reaches out to hug me and say, You're going to be okay but for now it's okay to cry. When the familiar voice echoes in my head, You know what you have to do, right? and I know. It hurts like hell, but it's preferable to withdraw now, to quickly throw up that glass wall everyone thinks they can see me through, me smiling on the other side, but when they come close they realize I'm merely a hologram.

There is a secret key, though. Only the one who can look into my eyes and see the pain and fear of being alone will know where to find that key. And so very few try. . .

I've always put my entire being into connecting with you, trying to understand you, to encourage you, to build you up. But who wants me? Not the platonic--you're such a good person--type of dedication. Who is fascinated by me, wants to understand my mind, looks to dream my future with me?

When I fear you are only being polite, I backtrack hastily. I have no need to intrude. I only want you to smile at me if my round belly, blotchy skin, ragtag curly hair, and uneven jaw are the most beautiful parts of me.

Sometimes I think my grief and need for you is too much for anyone to handle. So I go silent and I refuse to make eye contact when we pass, as I fold in on myself like an armadillo, the polite greeting dismissively relegating you to a corner of my mind, even as you will never know that I will hurt for the rest of my life.

It's because I loved you too much. I didn't know how to let you know without losing you. So I pushed you away. Somehow that was easier. One less person to care about--one less person to love me, but I never trusted that you loved me out of free will. Maybe in the beginning, because I was new and interesting, like a shiny toy, but nobody stuck around for long.

I tried. God knows I tried. Even though I was the one to leave, I wrote, I called, I flew the thousands of miles to see you. And it was fun for a while, and we swore we would always stay connected. Boyfriend to best friend to aunt, it mattered not who, I tried my hardest to thread the connecting strings between us, like a game of cat's cradle, except you quickly lost your concentration and dropped all the strings so I was left holding a jumbled mess that only you could make sense of.

Only this time I decided I wasn't going to hurt again. So I walked away. Maybe not physically, but in my mind, the glass wall went up. At least now I knew I was safe. Even if I hurt for a thousand years.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Thy Will Be Done

I grew up reading my Bible, whether it was the little white NIV my Granny gave me for my baptism which I covered in stickers both on the back cover and every blank page I could find, or the little red NIV I found for sale in the library, or the large leather-bound NASB I toted religiously to church, feeling proud that I was reading a literal translation which would meet the scholars' approval. I brought a small blue ESV with me when I first arrived, as space was limited and I knew I needed an actual Bible to read from. I was still old-fashioned enough to want to read from a proper book instead of on a device that could never feel real and personal. It was hard enough not seeing my God, hearing Him, or touching Him, so I needed some form of tangible connection to Him.

In the summer, though, I returned with a larger Bible. This was a translation I had not allowed myself to read before, having been taught for 17 years at the conservative campus I lived on that anything other than the KJV, the NKJV, and possibly the NASB, was not sanctified or holy enough of a translation. I fought that stereotype for those 17 years but it was ingrained enough in me that I was somewhat suspicious of translations that leaned more towards the paraphrase than the literal.

Then one day, I was browsing in the library and my fingers touched the beige cover of an NLT. I casually opened it, and my eyes filled with tears as I saw a familiar name inscribed inside. It was the name of a man who had become a dear father to me, he estranged from his daughter and I from my father, we found acceptance in the not-by-blood friendship we shared. I paid the 50 cents and, taking it home, carefully wrote in my name after his, knowing he would never see it yet knowing he died with the assurance of what he'd never seen.

Even in hospice, battling the cancer that had viciously returned to eventually claim his life, he painstakingly typed up emails to me. They weren't long, but each word conveyed his love and how proud he was of me. I remembered his flowery Hawaiian shirts, his gruff manner that hid pain from the evil disease eating him up, and how quick he was to go to battle for me so I could work as a student in a job that helped me grow rather than stifled me. When I heard he'd died, I buried my face and cried. Was he afraid of death? I hoped not.

Yet even though the Bible was meaningful to me because it belonged to someone special, the words still didn't reach past the outer protective armor I'd learned to don at an early age from my TCK experience. You didn't allow the emotions to sink deep because then you felt and when you felt, you started to crack. And there were only so many cracks you could handle before your pieces couldn't be put back together again.

Until recently. I was reading a verse and instead of it automatically marching past my sensory grasp like many other verses had done in rote manner before, it seemed to assume a life of its own. The verse was no longer a fact--it was now a reality. My reality. Instead of being black lines on a page, they were words being spoken from a Father Who loved me even more than the man whose last name I never had.

The LORD has chosen me. He chooses me. At just the right time He will respond to me. He has written my name on His hand. If I wait for Him, I will never be put to shame. (Isaiah 49 & 50, paraphrase mine).

Those cracks? They are slowly being glued together piece by piece, with each word of truth that I allow to sink deep into my heart. Til one day I will be whole again.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Holding Hands Across the World

Sometimes we can't do it all on our own. Sometimes we need to reach out and ask others to hold up our hands. There is nothing to be ashamed of in doing this. Nobody should be strong enough that they never need their community. For that I am grateful.

I've been having a crash course in learning to trust God lately. Of course I recognize this is a course that will likely be repeated again in the future for even if I get a passing grade, I will need a refresher as I tend to, like with most of my university courses, forget the information learned as soon as I pass through the next open door. I'm amazed at how patient God is with me.

In the midst of my ashamedly toddler-like trantrumming at God's failure to follow my timetable or shape events in the way I envisioned them to be, the insistent drumbeat of my frustration increasing in volume like the militant band accompanying the shouts of young schoolchildren in the valley at 10 o'clock at night, I was still not blind to God's persistent yet gentle reminders that He was with me.

The daily verse on BibleGateway, Matthew 6:33, which I'd just finished reading an entire book on. Practicing songs for Friday home vespers and one was, you guessed it, based on Matthew 6:33. The courageous director of the Beirut Marathon whose accident with a bus 16 years previous and 36 surgeries had failed to deter her from walking again and creating a movement that would bring together peacemakers from around the world who would stop running from and run towards--determination, endurance, perseverance. The script I edited for my freelance side project, reminding me that God loves to show up in the impossible. A simple bowl of warm rice for supper when my lunch had consisted of hastily made cold couscous salad.

As I thought about the need I had to understand God's will in my life, I felt the impression that now was the time to reach out and connect the hands that were holding me up around the world. From Asia to Europe, from Africa to North America, from islands to continents, I knew I already had a small army praying for me for a very specific request. Now it was time to press the red button and ask for help. I had been praying by myself and I had been praying with a friend here and there. But I hadn't been praying collectively.

I began to send messages and emails to my friends in different time zones. Please pray for me, I said, giving a short synopsis of the specifics. The replies began to come, some short and affirming, others taking more time to encourage while talk through implications of answered prayer in either direction. And as the prayers ascended, the peace descended.

I'd spent several days coexisting with a restless heart and soul. With no outlet at the gym, as it was under renovation, no social outlet as friends canceled for activities I planned off campus, and despite listening to songs that echoed my questions while promising hope, the deep sense of peace that had floated over me the week before seemed to have vanished like morning mist in Scotland.

Yet God is the God of miracles even when it comes to calming the storm inside of me. I felt like the windows that you see flung about buildings slipped in between glass skyscrapers all over Beirut, their glass panes shattered, metal railings long since peeled or wooden shutters missing brown slats. I knew I needed the intercession of others who could pierce the ceiling of indifference with their faith. So I asked. And God heard.

I do not know the future. It could be that the answer I hope for is not to be. This is one of those trusting times when I have to learn the very difficult lesson written on a fortune cookie slip that The principle part of faith is patience. I keep that by my bedside to remind me daily. This is a testing time when I have to stand very still, as my Father allows the thick fog of uncertainty to surround me even while He knows what is beyond the cloud. What I cannot see must remain unseen for now. It has to be enough to know that someone is praying, God is listening, and all He asks me to do is to find my safe place in Him even as I wait.

I know the LORD is always with me. I will not be shaken, for He is right beside me." ~Psalm 16:8

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.


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