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Friday, December 11, 2015

After the Silence

Graduation is over. The reception hall has been swept clean, the trash has been taken out, and the extra food given away. Dorm keys turned in, goodbyes said, cards exchanged. The final tests have been taken and the exercise logs turned in for the last time. Now the place is still, waiting for a new beginning.

It happens twice a year, this beginning time. The week before is a flurry of busyness, phone calls, packages, early arrivals, late night airport runs. Then it is registration morning and as they walk in the door, I smile and greet them by name even before they say hello. I know who they are. I've memorized their faces, their names, the things about them that make them unique. I'm excited because we've worked so hard together to reach this point, to make this a possibility, and now God has led them here.

They have no idea what the next four months carry for them. I have an inkling, having seen similar groups come through before, but I know too that this group will grow in heart and soul in a special way that no other group has grown before. They will laugh, they will fight, they will feel overwhelmed, they will cry, they will pray. They will meld into a team of leaders that only God can create out of such individual people.

As the semester progresses, they will sense their need of God in a deeper way than before. Unlike required tests and homework, they will voluntarily seek God through community prayer as they ask for healing for themselves and for those they serve. This community will help them encourage each other when struggling and shape each other to be servant leaders.

The semester begins with a bang while the end hurries in quietly. Before we have time to fully realize what it means that it is all over, it will be. Once the hubbub has died down, the silence will come in.

This time, the ending is symbolic for my journey also. The next class that arrives will know who I am but I won't be there to greet them. I will have left for my own adventure, to learn how to be part of a team with other leaders, and to learn how to pray to God for healing for others and myself.

After the silence comes a new beginning. For them. For me.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Pray for Those Who Persecute You (Matthew 5:44)

Been listening to Amy Grant's My Grown-Up Christmas List on repeat all day. Yesterday there was a mass shooting in Southern California. On the other side of the world, children ages 8-13 were writing out their Christmas wishes. No more war. I can go home again. Everyone would love each other. I want to be happy and not sad anymore. No one to die anymore. Peace. These children were living in a country not their own, longing for the war to be over so they could resume a normal life. I read their notes and I cried. I cried hard because children should never have to endure what they went through. They deserve innocence and happiness. Not this. Never.

I feel so helpless. Then I wonder how God must feel. If I can have such empathy, as a broken human being, imagine how our all-powerful Creator Father must ache as He sees the pain. This world is a very difficult place to live in. God cannot always intervene because Satan still controls this world and humans have free will to follow whom they choose. People die and children cry.

These are not easy situations to package up with a pretty bow of a cliche. I must wrestle with the horror of sin and the beauty of grace. I will cry but even my tears cannot compare to the tears of those who must experience the terrors. God keeps each of those tears in a bottle and He remembers.

I realized the other day that the greatest revenge we can exact on our most hated enemy is for them to know Jesus. Ironic, I know, but when they meet Jesus and accept His salvation and understand the sacrifice He offered for their freedom, I believe the depth of their sin will bring deep conviction. Then, like Paul, they will be the greatest missionaries for God this world has even known. So tonight, as I pray for those who suffer, I must ask the Holy Spirit to pray what I cannot naturally pray myself. Forgiveness for those who know not what they do, that they may know the One who does yet still extends mercy to all.

One day, hopefully soon, we will have that world Amy sings of. Where right will always win.

Monday, November 16, 2015

A Bullet With Your Name On It

Well, I just hope. . .that one of those refugees coming soon to a town near you doesn't have a bullet with your name or a family members name on it. he said.

I stared at the screen in shock. I'd been scrolling through a student's Facebook posts on my work Facebook page when I ran across a photo of a oversized horse sculpture with the words Syrian Refugees on the body and the words ISIS on its head. I read the caption, the post was not originating with the student but they had re-posted it. It read In light of the fact that at least three of the terrorists in France have been identified as Syrian, we must ask if the Syrian refugees are fleeing from terror or if some of them are bringing the terror.

As I read the comments, someone mentioned a Trojan Horse, which referred to the sculpture. Not being familiar with the metaphor, I looked it up, and understood that the post was referring to their perceived idea that the Syrians were using the refugee situation as a cover to infiltrate and destroy countries. Being raised in the Middle East, my instant reaction was one of indignation and anger. I found myself trembling as I typed out an answer that I hoped would help the student to understand that a blanket statement such as that was outrageous and unacceptable. The student didn't reply but one of their friends began to challenge me.

In my first answer, I said I felt it was a sad conclusion to make, that each country including the US has citizens that make poor choices. In the US, there are regular school shootings but that doesn't make every American a potential shooter. I recommended they thoughtfully search to understand more about the Syrian refugees and would find most of them are innocent families fleeing a horrendous war that has overtaken their country. I shared an article that talked about their humanity.

The person's reply was combative, basing it on their experience in the Middle East, and questioning my assumptions. I assured them that I too had lived in the Middle East and I apologized for their poor experience. Then he replied with the statement I began the post with. The shaking increased. Who was this person, with such hatred in their hearts, that they painted an entire region black due to prejudices?

I love that America fights wars for justice. I love that America is concerned about the women and children and goes in to rescue those trapped between countries in war, whether or not they are their own. I don't love this mindset, though, that America is superior to other countries.

As I pondered the person's replies, a thought came to mind. This must be how God feels when His character is misrepresented. When Satan influences events and horrible things happen, we tend to instinctively blame God because He didn't protect us or we believe He allowed the things to happen. The Syrian refugees should not be blamed for the Paris attacks. Those attacks were carried out under the influence of Satan. The Syrian refugees are fleeing similar horrors in their home countries. I imagine God's heart must break as He longs to comfort the children, the women, the men, who are frightened and scared and will risk death for freedom and safety.

Another thought was close behind. I am ready to take the bullet. I don't want to die. I want to live and be happy and help others as much as I can. I don't believe every refugee family is a potential terrorist. I hope that regardless of the situation, I can take ahold of God's strength and say Let them come, let us show them God, and if after they have seen His love they choose to harm us, then we die serving Him.

Jesus made this decision over 2,000 years ago. He stood there, silent, in the garden as His closest friend and the angry rabble came, accusing Him, betraying Him, despising the gift of salvation He offered them. He stood there, silent, as they shoved the sharp thorns on His head, crudely twisted into a crown, as they mocked Him. He lay there, silent, as they pounded long steel nails into His gentle hands, then thrust the cross heavily into the ground. He hung there, silent, as they gathered below and jeered at Him, laughing at His ripped and torn body, sneering in their self-righteous selves.

The words He spoke were simple. Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do. He knew but they didn't, the significance of what was happening. He knew they were choosing to reject Him and even in His agony, He still pitied them. This was love at its heart. Love that gave all in return for nothing.

I am getting ready to return to the Middle East next year. I am well aware that a bullet can end my life even though where I will be is removed from immediate danger. Nothing is guaranteed except for this. This is life eternal, that they may know Thee and Jesus Christ Whom Thou has sent. John 17:3 This is what I need to share.

Saturday, November 7, 2015


He ran as fast as his miniature legs would take him, the pint-sized boy dressed in a Seahawks jersey and blue jeans. His little hands grabbed the door handle and hurriedly opened it, so excited to enter he nearly tripped over his own feet. The door flew open and he rushed in shouting, "Papa! Papa!"

In the corner of the living room sat a rather important man. President of the National Council for American Indians and Native Alaskans (NCAI), he represented Native Americans across the United States. He regularly met with the United States president, had an office in Washington D.C., and was passionate about affirming the Native American cultural heritage and advocating for healthy environments where the young people could thrive.

Yet to the sandy-haired toddler, none of that was as important as one thing. Papa was home and he was going to see him. He ran up to his grandpa and scrambled into his lap. Soon he was regaling him with tales of his morning at preschool and the two of them laughed at a funny story. The tot held his grandpa's face between his baby hands, ensuring attention only on him, as Papa listened intently. Then a cousin called from the other room, the boy slid off his grandpa's lap to play cars, and the moment was seemingly forgotten.

Except by me.

How often, when I see the interaction between child and parent or grandparent, I think of the relationship my heavenly Father longs to have with me. Trusting young ones, like my little friend, are confident that their parent/grandparent is as excited to share life with them as they are to live it. They don't question their value or self-worth. They don't wonder if they need to have clean hands and freshly laundered clothes before they can sit on their parent's lap. They simply run into their grandparent's arms, knowing they are loved without question.

In the same way, the King of the Universe waits for me to run into His arms and experience His love. God's love is unfailing, abundant, great, a covenant, eternal, enduring, faithful, everlasting, good, rich, patient and kind. (Ex. 15:13, Ex. 34:6, Num 14:19, Deut. 7:9, 1 Kings 10:9, 1 Chron. 16:34, Ps. 89:24, Ps. 103:17, Ps. 109:21, Ps. 145:8, 1 Corinthians 13:4). Just as a little boy knew his Papa loved him, I can be assured that my heavenly Father loves me.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

The Reluctant Stayer

I am contemplating a move back to one of my home countries. It's a strange thought. They say you can never go home again but maybe that's not true. Oddly enough, just as I'm getting my life in order, I reach out for uncertainty once more. I have my master's degree, I have finally figured out how to have an orderly room, I'm steadily working my way through crafts/books/movies, and I know how life works. Except that is the curse of the TCK, isn't it? Or perhaps the global nomad, now that I am grown. Once life seems to settle, we become unsettled and search for change as a means of entering into the familiar. For us, change is life.

As I carefully dusted my bedroom/living space this evening, a sudden wave of sadness hit. I realized that if my plans came to fruition, I would soon take to the skies with just one suitcase in each hand; all my earthly belongings vacuum sealed into those oblong packages. I would not have the luxury of an ocean shipment, or perhaps shipments travel by air now, I'm not exactly sure. It's been 17 years since our last delivery of cardboard boxes, each carefully marked with a number such as 3/52 (52 being the total) and a brief description thick black inked on the side.

I would have to take the essentials, such as clothes, shoes, and perhaps a small photo album. I would not be able to jam in my fair trade elephant and giraffe set from California, my miniature wooden elephant with a rolling ball in its tummy from a street market in Ireland, my beautiful blue ceramic tea set from Taiwan, my handmade couple sitting on a log from my student in South Korea, my child-size porcelain tea cup from a boot sale in England, or my vintage decorative wooden clogs from the Netherlands. My most recent addition, an intricately hand carved wax candle from Holland, MI, would have to stay behind.

For a brief moment I asked myself, What is more important? Possessions or People? I caught myself reacting in pain as my instinctive answer was the first. I knew why I thought so. Even though the summer threat of wildfires had been of little concern, as I'd blithely said, Let it all burn, and simply packed a small bag with essentials and a childhood stuffed toy, now I found myself wanting to hold tightly to it all. The material was not what mattered. The memories they represented did.

The fair trade elephant and giraffe set I found at a little stall in the Galleria Mall when it had newly opened. I picked them up, carefully examined them for nicks, then counted out my dollars. I was still in the frugal stage, saving up to complete graduate school debt-free, so spending money was a luxury. Yet I knew I had to buy these pieces for even though I'd never been to the parts of the African continent that they came from, they represented a piece of my African heritage that I cherished. I was born and raised on the African continent in three countries by the age of 15.

My miniature wooden elephant was sitting on a shelf in a small shop in the street market my best friend and I discovered on our journey through Europe last summer. We stepped in briefly to sample cheeses then realized we'd entered a place of delightful sensory experiences and wandered around slowly, touching, tasting, and smelling. The small shop with the elephant had an array of wooden curios but the little elephant was affordable and would travel well as we still had several countries to visit and limited space in our carry on bags.

I picked up the ceramic tea set in the airport in Taiwan. Somehow the night market was the only souvenir place I visited on my whirlwind 5-day trip to see my sister that spring so the airport was my last resort for Asian gifts. I spotted the tea set and instantly knew it belonged on my bookshelf. It reminded me of the time 10 years prior, on our first visit to Taiwan, when we'd sat on the floor in a kind person's house and he'd served tea to all the touring choir members. It was a cold night and the small cups filled with steaming herbal fragrance cheered our hearts.

That same year I left home for the first time, traveling halfway around the world to teach little ones how to speak English and adults about God. One of my students made little figurines as a hobby; fashioning them out of a feather-light substance and carefully painting each detail in bright colours. At our end-of-the-semester party, she presented me with a young couple on a log. I took it with high hopes that one day, it would be my story. I am still waiting. . .

The porcelain tea cup must have cost me 25 pence or maybe a pound at the most. I loved shopping at boot sales, looking for the bargains, handing over the British coins and relishing the fact that they had not yet adopted the euro as their currency. It was the last time I stayed at my grandmother's house, before life got difficult and I no longer visited the place and the people I'd called home. I climbed the stairs slowly, remembering how I'd sit on the bottom as a child and listen late at night through the door to the adults talking in the next room. I breathed in the damp English air as I burrowed deep into my borrowed jacket. I packed the porcelain cup carefully, stepped into my father's car, buckled my seat belt, and we drove down the street and turned the corner, passed the fish and chips shop, and then it was all gone.

I watched the man carving my miniature wooden clogs at the famous cheese market in the Netherlands one year. After the cheese selling demonstration and a sample of traditional Dutch cheese, I found a crowd gathered around the artisan as he engaged in his age-old trade. Though pricey, I willingly paid for the clogs that would take a place of prominence in my display of knick-knacks. That day I breathed deep of salt air and listened to my grandfather speak in his thick Dutch accent. My grandparents learned English so they could communicate with us and I was forever grateful we could share language and not just genetics.

This summer I visited the Dutch village in Holland, Michigan, where I was fascinated by the trademark carved candles in ornate rich designs. A candle purchased more than 30 years prior had traveled the world with our family and early that year had made one final trek from a previous overseas home where a friend had purchased it cheap at a leaving sale. The candle had returned to me in a full circle way. Yet it was battered and bruised from its travels so I chose a beautiful new candle to create my own tradition. Now I fear I will have to leave it behind before I've had a chance to create memories.

I read an article just today about Stayers and Goers. I have been a Stayer for 17 years. There have been brief periods of Going, a week here, a summer there. Yet each time I returned to the somewhat familiar. Now I consider becoming a Goer. It has been a long time coming, I sense it is the right time and yet I'm sad at what it means. To be a Goer means I am no longer a Stayer. It will take time for me to settle my roots, to purchase little mementos that capture a slice of precious memories, to know I can trust those in my life with my story. I am worried that I'll forget the stories from this life because my heart cannot hold much pain or sadness and will compartmentalize these 17 years as it did the years before. I can see myself going through the grieving process and I am sad that this is my reality now. I know I must leave because this place has never felt like home but I worry that the next place won't be home either.

For the global nomad, the TCK, the restless wanderer, there are many pieces that represent life. One of those pieces are the belongings that lend a sense of belonging in a frame of time. Perhaps I will one day be marking cardboard boxes with thick black ink, knowing that inside I've placed carefully wrapped stories of who I am and who I was. Perhaps some of those pieces will arrive fractured or shattered or be stolen along the way. I must learn to hold them lightly even as I learn to assign identity to my persona and not the possessions I can feel and see. Each piece is valuable and holds memories, but none of them can replace the people.

Should I ask myself that question again, Which is more valuable, possessions or people? I hope my heart will echo instinctively, the people. For it is the possessions that reflect the people, each reminding me that who I was and who I am is because of each person in my life. And that. . .is worth letting go.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

The Process

Perhaps it was a combination of late nights, gloomy weather, and a final meal with dear friends who were leaving, yet another page in the scrapbook of life. She wasn't sure. Yet when she locked the door after the little ones had left Cradle Roll for the morning, she found herself walking towards the church hall instead of her car. Usually she headed straight home and took a nap. Today was different. Perhaps she would find a friend to sit with, so she went.

She stood in the doorway, scanning the room. Several people stopped to greet her, exchange hugs, chat for a minute or two. The song leaders were singing, she joined in every now and then, as a feeling of nostalgia began to grow. This was unusual; she often came and left feeling empty, disconnected, and alone.

The grieving process was beginning. So this is what it feels like to leave, she thought. She had no clear direction yet, she was still searching for the pathway her Father wanted her to take, but she knew it would come soon. So many times over the past 17 years she'd wanted to leave, prayed to leave, hoped to leave, but leavings were always tempered by a return, the longest being 10 weeks. It was strange to live in a single community, a single country, a single continent for this long. Nearly half her life now had been spent anchored to the unfamiliar which somehow had never become home. She'd tried, oh how she'd tried, and the average American would say she'd succeeded in integrating, but she'd always known she was different. The heart of an African child beat inside her, the emotions of a Seychellois grandmother had become hers, the hospitality of a Middle Eastern heritage she claimed, the independence of a German grandmother was a definite part of her.

She finally turned and left. She recognized the desire to stay was that feeling she got when she was about to take off on another trip, whether across the state or across an ocean. It was a feeling of longing to stay. It came invariably as she packed her toothbrush and phone charger, double-checked her travel documents, and turned off the lights. When the feeling came, she knew it was time to go. She was ready.

The sadness blanketed her heart, wrapping close and pulling her in. The ghosts of yesterdays came out en masse, all the ones who had left in one way or another. For a few moments, the anger and the weariness dropped its veil and she saw the beauty of treasured memories created over a lifetime. For that was what it was. Each country birthed its own lifetime and as she left each one, she carefully placed it in its own cotton-soft-lined drawer in her heart and slid it shut.

It was time to go. The people now were not of the tribe of Joseph and life had changed from anticipation to existence. She knew it was not right and to thrive she would have to once again, hold change close and allow its sharp pain to change her. Perhaps this time she would breathe in deep and the senses would reassure her that she was home.

She was ready.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Marks & Sparks

And this is for you, he said, opening a bag and pulling out a pale yellow short-sleeved cardigan. It's from our aunt. She took it carefully and left the room with the excuse that she was going to try it on. After closing the door, she buried her nose in its softness and breathed in deep. Ahhhhh, there it was. Faint, after having traveled thousands of miles to get to her, but still there. The familiar scent of home. One of many homes.

It fit perfectly, of course. Somehow, over her 35 years, most of them spent away from those who were tied to her biologically, they had known exactly what sizes of clothing to send. Her aunt and Granny were adept at picking out stylish yet fashionably durable items she would wear for years after and then hand down to her sister.

Even though yellow was her least favourite colour, she knew the cardigan was not going to the charity shop. This would become her favourite cardigan because it was more than just a cardigan. It was a symbol of someone's love and care for her.

She breathed in deep one more time. She wished she could vacuum seal the familiar scent for days when she missed the familiar. There were all too many of those.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

92 To Go

I've been doing a joy challenge. A friend posted it on Facebook,, and curious, I went to see what it was all about. The challenge piqued my competitive nature, particularly since they claimed very few people were able to last the full 100 days. So challenge taken and I set off determined to post a picture every day for 100 days of what made me happy.

I thought it would be easy. It was at first, but today was particularly difficult. I laughed when friends made funny comments, but it was more of an instinctive reaction than a deep feeling of joy. I talked to God on the drive to and from a community mental health program I coordinate, but the emotion associated with our heart-to-heart time was expressed in tears. I came home, made a chocolate souffle in the microwave, and submitted it for day 8 of my 100 happy day challenge. 92 days to go. . .

I chose this challenge for a very specific reason. I've noticed that the past few months have been getting progressively darker and less joy-filled. I remember a time when I would anticipate life with excitement, when little things brought great joy, but now I tend to focus on the negative. This isn't how I want to live my life. I don't want to be known as the grumpy melancholy woman who can never think of a nice thing to say about anyone. I want that joy. I want joy which comes from the deepest part of my heart and is seen easily by others.

Interestingly, the challenge bases joy in circumstances or finds it in friends or tangible evidence. Yet at the same time, science has shown that joy is not found in possessions, per se, as much as it is experienced in the intangible such as spending time with people who love us. As a Christian, I am admonished to find my joy in God and to be joyful regardless of circumstances. I'm still figuring out the balance. I'm very curious, though, to see whether a deliberate attempt to see and seek the joy in my life will bring an awakened understanding of what it means to be joyful.

Henri Nouwen said, Joy does not simply happen to us. We have to choose joy and keep choosing it every day. Today, and for the next 92 days, I shall determine to choose joy.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Go and Tell All. . .or Just Some?

I've started reading The Great Controversy for myself, not because I feel guilty if I don't, not because it's required reading for class, but because I want to understand whether the hype in the conservative Seventh-day Adventist world is based in fact. Are we really in the end of time or is it the period where Jesus said we will see things happening but it still isn't the end. Are we in the pause before the storm?

Why is it important to me? If this is the end, then I need to be seriously preparing for it. If this is the pause, I need to be preparing others for the end. I believe that once we reach the end, everyone will have had the chance to make their own choice either for or against God. Until then, however, there are people who haven't heard from another Christian that there is a God. Which brings me to my next point. Do we evangelize the Christians or do we share the gospel with the unreached? I think my previous statement answered that question. Which may be leading me to my calling, not one just for me though, but for everyone.

The Great Commission in Matthew 28 tells us to go and make disciples of all nations. Does that mean convert everyone to be a Seventh-day Adventist or does it mean give everyone an opportunity to know who Jesus is and then leave it up to them to figure out how that looks in relation to the Bible? Ellen White says that the great sin of the Christian world would be their rejection of the law of God, the foundation of His government in heaven and earth. The precepts of Jehovah would be despised and set at nought (p. 24 in miniature Great Controversy). She goes on to describe how that looks, describing two classes of Christians, one who studies Jesus' example and looks to be more like Him and another who shuns truth exposing their error (p. 53).

As I consider what I should be doing next in life, I am struggling with reconciling life on this earth with life after it. Do I work hard so I can provide for my family or do I dedicate my life to mission work and trust that God will provide for them? Do I have savings in case of emergency so I can pay my bills or do I trust God to provide money from nowhere? The balance between Christian stewardship and faith is a tricky one. God does remind us not to build a tower without making sure we have the funds beforehand. How this translates to my life is a simple parallel yet it asks difficult questions. If my core value is responsibility, I will be a fiscally responsible giving Christian. If my core value is salvation, I will abandon retirement plans, savings, and a house to live in a hut in Africa and share the gospel with those who've never heard. Or maybe there is a place between?

This promise is one I shall carry with me when the excited crowds roar about running to the hills. Not one Christian perished in the destruction of Jerusalem. Christ had given His disciples warning, and all who believed His words watched for the promised sign (p. 35). I don't know if I will have to flee to the mountains. I wouldn't survive very well if I had to, as I don't know how to garden or forage or build a shelter out of leaves. In this I have to trust that God will take care of me, watch for the promised sign, and then follow His clear guiding.

Friday, September 4, 2015

A Protector

I asked for a guy to walk me out to my car the other night. Ordinarily I'm a strong woman, an independent woman. I carry heavy boxes, I drive home late at night, I carry a pepper spray, and I always park under the street light in the Walmart parking lot. But then times come when I'm tired of being strong and I just want to step into the role God created for me before liberation swung too far the other way. I want to be protected.

At first I felt embarrassed at my request. Ordinarily I wouldn't ask, I was used to managing. I would casually ask someone to help me lock up after the evening program so at least I wasn't alone. But the stranger had appeared yet again and I felt uncomfortable. I swallowed hard and asked if someone could stay with me til the end of the program.

As we walked out to my car, just a little after 9 pm, a truck drove by, young men hooting and hollering nonsense from the cab, and I was grateful for the person beside me. I started my car and headed home. A thought came unbidden to mind. Never be ashamed to ask for protection.

It's a difficult world to live in when you're a single woman. I know. Men are afraid to open doors, walk you to your car, carry heavy packages, or compliment you because they don't know if you'll assert your independence and make them feel small. In the same way, I hesitate to reach out and ask for someone to make sure I'm safe because I'll be interrogated and asked why I feel unsafe if I have nothing tangible to base it on.

It is not right, though. A woman should be able to expect careful courtesy from any man. And similarly, any man should be able to expect that a woman will graciously accept his courteous assistance. The next time I find myself waving away help, I must remember to be thankful and accept it. And I hope when next I am in need of protection, I will be able to ask for it without fear of humiliation.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Was it Worth it?

Does the achievement of a goal signify it is no longer necessary for validation? I have a synthesis paper and a portfolio presentation standing between me and a graduate degree but in all honesty, I've lost the excitement, the feeling of achievement. For one terrifying moment I wonder if it was worth it. I'm not sure I know the answer.

Perhaps I should have traveled the world with the more than $20,000 I spent on tuition, fees, books, and travel. Would I have changed? But regret cannot be on the plate this time. I made a promise to myself that I would see something through, that I would complete my program without debt, and I achieved that goal.

So tonight I wrestle once more with words that refuse to express the change, remember the dull theory, or open up to the wonderment of learning. And yet I cannot say it was without point because while I now know I can complete doctoral studies, I realize it is no longer my desire to do so. I am weary of study. I want to experience life, not be tied down to its dictates.

To Sing, To Remember

It's one of those bittersweet moments. After midnight but I'm so pleased to be finished with my competencies. To me, it was worth it to stay up this late so I could be done. This brings a close to the monotonous slog of the studies. Now I wait for edits and for approval of competencies. I slowly write my synthesis paper and then put it to PowerPoint for my final presentation summing the last two years of my life.

I cannot believe it is nearly over. I am glad. No more early Sunday mornings and no more late study nights. I'm also somewhat nostalgic as I remember the three life-changing times I went to my university. The first I was scared, nervous, and worried. I balanced the emotions with joy at spending time with dear friends, some of whom I had not seen for 15 years. I sped down the bumpy highway, humid summer breeze blowing and Blake Shelton singing. The second I was at ease but it was the summer Karen died and I still remember hearing the news, crying, as I sat down on the steps by a garbage disposal. I withdrew to process and it was a quieter time. Then November and I'd returned for a job interview in winter's exhilarating cold. Days were filled with precious moments that I quickly had to leave behind. Soon I shall return for the fourth and final time. To march in the black gown I vowed I'd one day wear. My name printed in bold with the words Summa Cum Laude beneath. Hard-earned words.

This I can say with certainty. . .it was worth it.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Please Shut Up, I'm Speaking

There are a few things that get my blood boiling. Injustice. Discrimination. Unfairness. Tonight it was a FB post discussing religious freedom and Caucasian monocultural Americans making inaccurate statements about Islam.

I was born and raised in the Middle East but unlike the brash Americans who speak their mind without thought, I learned to speak softly and in truth. I learned to respect my elders and call them Auntie or Uncle, rather than brazenly address them by their first name even if they were in their 40s and I was a teenager. But this is not about cultural expectations, though I could wax eloquently on that. This post is about the TCK's (third culture kid) need to defend cultures not their own because they understand the common bond of humanity.

I defend cultures I have never lived in, religions I do not practice, and people I've never met. I become pricklier than a bear in a blackberry patch when I perceive ill-founded assumptions are being flung about as if absolute truth. My heart starts racing as I formulate and reformulate my words before carefully writing them out in reply. If I must speak, I will often say No, that is not true, and then attempt to speak truth.

The problem is. . .they never listen.

We grew up learning to listen, to absorb, to integrate multiple worldviews into a single kaleidoscope of a myriad of rainbow colours. I still spell in British, I crave Middle Eastern food, and I book airline tickets to Asia. Even as I slip between cultures, I take pieces of them with me, hoping they will change me.

Then there are those who resist. They have not lived in someone's home, eaten their food, wiped their tears, or held their hands. Their experiences are limited to a single solid colour of varying shades that can never expand beyond clearly defined boundaries. In the same way, they expect to place their endpoints on other worldviews, certain those will fit neatly into a predefined box. It is not so.

It is possible to live in the United States of America and be a bigot even if having Middle Eastern neighbours, shopping at the Asian supermarket, and eating pasta for dinner. Moving across state lines or even traversing from one coast to the other does not guarantee the ability to open one's mind to a broader perspective. Of necessity, cultural understanding is best found when lost outside familiar borders.

The TCK knows this. They purchase visas like American teenagers pick up a pair of jeans at Gap. They navigate public transportation systems easier than riding the Greyhound. They eat unpronounceable and unrecognizable foods when children refuse to eat their vegetables. They carry passports like state IDs, ready to exchange currency, purchase an airline ticket, and step into alternative universes where monoculturals see extremists in every foreign face. They are fluent in culture while others cannot pronounce "Iran" correctly.

Ours is a lifelong battle. Even as we learn to accept our gift to live in liminality, or between places, we know it comes with a price. Our understanding means we are now called to be guardians of truth. We must defend; we must protest. Ours is a lonely battle, familiar only to those who fight it with us.

The borders are rapidly shrinking. Our world is becoming less compartmentalized and more open to the diversity we have always carried within us. It is to this tune we march on, ever hoping, never flagging. We will defend; we will protest. Until everyone knows little girls dream of puppies and little boys dream of trucks the world over.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Lights over the Mediterranean Sea

You can tell the state of my mind by the state of my room. When I'm worried and have too much to think about, it appears as if a tornado has deposited its belongings on my floor. When my mind is at peace, I can see the colour of the carpet again.

For the past week or so, my carpet has been a swirl of every colour but tan. I am in one of those valleys of decision, or perhaps indecision would be a better word. Stuck between fear and terror. Fear of the unknown; terror of committing to living here til I die. Is this a TCK thing? Is it God gently nudging me to flop over the edge of the nest and realize, as I plummet to the stern ground, that as I tentatively spread my wings, His wind will carry me to soaring heights?

I do not know. Hence the room reflective of my troubled mind. Late nights escaping thought. I talk, I listen, I read, I write. Nothing becomes crystal clear. God may give you many options I hear. Do whatever your hand finds to do with all your might and God will bless they say. Make the decision that brings you peace resonates yet still confuses.

I make lists and crunch numbers. Rational logic tells me I can go either way. I counsel with family and trusted friends. They help me see the positive in each choice and remind me of the potential challenges. I reflect on how God spoke in the past and remember that while each choice stretched me, some of them were more painful than grace-filled.

In all honesty, I want to be selfish. I want to leave, explore what is beyond these few acres, and at least know I tried to live life as deeply as I knew how. Yet simultaneously I don't know how to leave. This is all I've known for 10 years. I can get on a plane and travel across oceans yet I don't have the life skills to apply for a job in the real world. This must be the TCK in me. Add a touch of perfection from an ultra conservative environment and it doubles the frozen fear factor. I cannot leave if I do not have a job, a place to live, and the knowledge that it will be okay.

It's been more than 16 years of living in limbo. My liminal place was not between cultures--it was between versions of me. I remember my life before with fondness. I know this has never felt like home. Time alone cannot evoke the feeling of home. Yet with maturity, I know it was never perfect. We created our own popularity, we did not speak the language or understand the culture fully, we learned to portray expected perfection even as we struggled with our brokenness. This is what keeps me questioning even now. Should I be content with well-enough or should I reach out for elusive dreams? I do not know.

I promised them an answer by Monday. In four days I decide my fate.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Singleness. . .A Gift or a Curse?

I am reading a rather difficult chapter in 1 Corinthians that I'm still trying to understand. Paul, in chapter 7, attempts to address marriage and its challenges and benefits. While he clearly says those who get married are not doing something that is wrong, his emphasis is heavy on singleness. (all references taken from NLT)

7: I wish everyone could get along without marrying, just as I do. But we are not all the same. God gives some the gift of marriage, and to others He gives the gift of singleness.
8: Now I say to those who aren't married and to widows--it's better to stay unmarried, just as I am.
25,26: Now, about the young women who are not yet married. . .Because of the present crisis, I think it is best to remain just as you are.
28: However, I am trying to spare you the extra problems that come with marriage.
34: In the same way, a woman who is no longer married or has never been married can be more devoted to the Lord in body and spirit, while the married woman must be concerned about her earthly responsibilities and how to please her husband.
35: I am saying this for your benefit, not to place restrictions on you. I want you to do whatever will help you serve the Lord best, with as few distractions as possible.
38: So the person who marries does well, and the person who doesn't marry does even better. [prefaced by verse 36 to marry based on inability to control sexual passion]
40: But in my opinion it will be better for her if she doesn't marry again [in reference to a woman whose husband dies]

First, I am troubled because the reasons given for marriage appear to be linked only to sexual desire, as described in verses 9 and 36, or to convert an unbelieving spouse as seen in verses 12 through 16. Paul says in verse 39 that he does not want husbands to let marriage be their major concern and continues in verse 32 to say he wants people to be free from the concerns of this life.

I will stop here to note that Paul prefaces all but verse 7 and 8 by saying his words are not a direct command from God, but that he is sharing his trusted wisdom (verse 25) and what he believes is counsel from God's Spirit (verse 40). I also compared the verses with the KJV (often confusing, using words like flower of her age), NKJV, NIV, NASB, and ESV. One thing that isn't as clear in verse 7 is whether Paul was indeed single, but in verse 8 it appears to be so because he speaks to the unmarried and widows. Verse 26 uses the masculine gender in all but the NLT versions when referring to staying married or staying single.

While I agree having someone intimately a part of your life in every manner of speaking can be challenging, I believe the value of marriage outweighs its disadvantages. First, marriage was instituted before sin and intended to reflect the beauty of the relationship God desires with His people. Marriage is the only Biblically-sanctioned realm within which to create children. Marriage provides support which is particularly necessary in today's increasingly disconnected world. In Paul's day, extended family systems were still the norm; today this is unusual in Western society. Marriage gives financial stability to women, provides structure to raise children, broadens our worldview by bringing together two different people, and gives opportunity to mentor in spiritual growth.

I will conclude by telling you why this chapter rattles me so, a single mid-30's multicultural woman, causing me to dedicate a blog post to sharing my thoughts. Paul appears to imply that singleness is a gift from God. I believe a gift is something you desire and appreciate. I am single by necessity and because I value my self-worth as a daughter of God too much to allow myself to be in an unhealthy abusive relationship. I believe singleness for women who did not choose it, other than in self-protection, is a result of the sinful world we live in. In other words, I am not single because God wants me to be miserable and therefore has given me the "gift" of singleness that I haven't learned to appreciate yet. I'm single because this world has more evil in it than good, so it is hard to find a true man of God who can commit to honouring me.

In a similar note, I also find this chapter unsettling because the men who speak out clearly against women's ordination do so based on another chapter by the same author, 1 Timothy 2, where Paul says Women should listen and learn quietly and submissively. I do not let women teach men or have authority over them. . .But women will be saved through childbearing (verses 11,12,15). I do not find a clear verse where Paul indicates if these are his words or direction from God. Perhaps you could argue his use of I want and I do not let in verses 9 and 12 indicate he is speaking of his own accord. The passage has been argued to death to be culturally-contextual and so on. Regardless, these are some tricky passages I need to consider more in depth.

What do we do when principles seem to clash with illustrations? God created marriage but Paul recommends people remain single. Salvation is found in Jesus but women must have children to be saved. Do we toss out the Bible because of seeming discrepancies? Do we ignore the principle and cling to the illustrations? Do we attempt to wrestle the illustrations into some form of obeisance to the principle? These are questions I wonder as I continue the exploratory process of understanding my worldview and reconciling it with Biblical truth.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

London Fog

I was in Ross this afternoon, trying to choose a pair of sunglasses. It was a most frustrating process but after searching in vain through random stores in the mall (why does a pair of plastic frames cost $20? seriously!) and realizing I wasn't going to find anything there, I resigned myself to choosing something, anything, if I could find a pair under $10.

After balancing about 50 pairs on my nose whilst bending my knees so I could peer into the mirror meant for midgets, trying to imagine how the glasses would look without an enormous anti-theft weight dangling off the bridge, I narrowed them down to my favourites. I'd tried on every single style, no matter how ludicrous they appeared with reflective lenses, oversized ovals, or neon frames. A little girl, bored of shopping as she sat in a cart being pushed about the store by her dad, turned and looked at me while I tried on pair after pair. She grinned when I put on a funny looking pair and made a face at her. As she was wheeled away to the checkout counter, she peered around him to watch me.

I finally selected my top 3. Each fit my face; each was under $10. One was chunky and dark brown, one was more demure and light brown, and one was large and purple. I knew which one I wanted, but I didn't know if I could choose it. So I spent the next hour browsing the store, trying on dresses, and posing in front of a mirror, eyes closed as I switched from frame to frame, in hopes I would have an epiphanal moment.

It did not come. Instead, I found myself increasingly frustrated I could not do something as simple as select a pair of sunglasses. Even after narrowing it down to two pairs, I found myself torn between the two. The demure brown ones looked more apropos, like the type of glasses you wear when you're going to a job interview on a sunny day, frames dangling casually from your fingers while you toss your hair back. The purple ones continued to scream Pick me! with their bold demand for attention, convinced they were high fashion even as I questioned whether it was too much to have all things purple. I already had a purple Nalgene water bottle and a purple Colombia fleece. I did not want to be known as the eggplant lady.

But I knew why it was so hard to decide between the $6.99 purple glasses and the $9.99 brown ones. It really made no difference which one I picked; they both suited me but just in different ways. The purple familiar in their colour yet adventurous in their size. The brown familiar in their style yet adventurous in their difference from my norm. The problem wasn't with the glasses. It was with my life.

I'm currently considering enrolling in a doctoral degree program. While most life decisions I've made before have been confident and solid, this is one which terrifies the living daylights out of me. I know I can do it; I'm not afraid of hard work. I'm just questioning whether this is the right time, the right direction, and the right thing to do. Am I committing to becoming a career woman? Am I relinquishing opportunities to travel, experience life, and step outside of my comfort zone? I cannot make a mistake. If I choose one road, that means the other is not. Purple glasses or brown? Adventure or familiarity? 

After requesting the anti-theft tag be taken off so I could give both pairs an equal chance, I decided one pair sat slightly askew which would likely irritate me in the near future. Still hesitant, I grabbed the other pair and marched to the checkout. I'd like to buy these, please.

Purple London Fog sunglasses.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Herein is Love

Are you finding value outside of your work? she asked. I looked at the thin black lines on my computer screen, their meaning for a moment as obscure as Egyptian hieroglyphics. Why was she asking me that question? Who gave her permission to peel back a layer of the thick woven barrier I kept tightly wrapped around me? I had to answer her.

No, I'm not, was my honest reply. My value was derived from my work, my studies, and my position as friend, sister, and daughter. I worked hard to keep it from devaluing, doing household chores for a family member, buying thoughtful gifts, anticipating tasks, doing extra credit homework even when I had 100% already, and presenting quality projects.

Take all of that away and what do you have? Me. A woman who is doing her best to be the best only because she's afraid that someday, someone will step up on a stage and say You didn't try hard enough, therefore you won't get it, it being a promotion, health, a spouse, stability, or joy.

I am being very honest, not because I want to be, but because I have to be. Who I am has to be found in more than a career and even more than relationships, precious as they are to me. It must be found in knowing I have value because I am God's daughter, adopted into His family, saved by Jesus' blood and guided by the Holy Spirit.

When two people fall in love, they no longer see the defects in their beloved. The blotchy skin, the extra weight, the nervous tic, the trembling hands. Everything is perfect because the one they love is perfectly loved. Just like God sees me. Perfectly loved in Him.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

The Paved Road; The Cobbled Road; The Dirt Road

This is a year of decisions, of thoughts swirling through my mind, of stirring and simmering and occasionally lifting the lid to breathe in the aroma of what is to be. Hence the many posts.

At another crossroads, I ponder what is important to me. Family or having my own. Career or ministry. Knowledge or experience. Leading or serving. Stretching or living. Studying or baking. Each word symbolizes a completely different world; neither of them are necessarily wrong but neither are they necessarily right. I can throw in more dichotomies. Safety or adventure. Solidarity or uncertainty. Aging or renewing. Testing or remaining.

I made a bucket list 5 years ago. I think I've accomplished 3 of the 10 items on it. I have my green card, I kept my place tidy for more than a week (don't quote me, or send hidden cameras to document this), and I've been involved with a community depression recovery program for two years now. I don't foresee becoming a marriage and family therapist but I am finishing my MA so I just took a somewhat different route.

Am I confined by my bucket list? It wasn't a 5-year plan (thankfully!). As I explore and grow into who God created me to be, will I find that volunteering with a nonprofit is more important than visiting Austria? Or will I be too terrified to step out into the unknown by myself? Will I decide that earning a PhD is more important than having a healthy body? Or will I halt my academic endeavours and spend evenings watching reality TV? Am I still in a holding pattern, waiting for the control tower to say "You're cleared for landing" before I feel I can really live my life?

Will there be regrets?

Last night during vespers I listened amused as the speaker illustrated his point for optimism by talking about someone who would earn their PhD, then run a school on each coast. I knew they were dreaming for me and smiled but my heart did not yearn for its realization. Tonight, I got my nightly text from my temporary deaning job, letting me know they were in for the night. I smiled and for a moment thought, I am nearly old enough to be their mother.

Some dreams we can realize ourselves; others we dream in silence for years never to come true. Some dreams we build out of dirt and water; others slide down the end of rainbows into our monochromatic lives. Some dreams we follow; others find us dreaming and in that moment we know. We were created for this.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

A Pair of Windshield Wipers

I slipped into my car, turned the key in the ignition, and peered out my rain-streaked windshield. It was time to put my new windshield wipers to good use as the third rain of the season had finally arrived in Northern California. Seconds later, I could clearly see my way to navigate onto the freeway and speed along to my destination. "Why didn't I replace these wipers sooner?" I thought, remembering the torrential rains last month and how the wipers had smeared and squeaked their way back and forth, failing miserably at their attempt to keep up with the downpour. Now, two drops could fall and the wipers would effortlessly remove them, leaving behind a translucent piece of glass.

I began to think about the lesson behind these windshield wipers. How many times have I noticed that things aren't going well in my life but refused to stop and address the issues that are glaringly obvious? How many times have I attempted to see my direction in life but felt like my emotional baggage created an opaque barrier between my present and my future? The speaker at the women's leadership conference today reminded us that as long as we neglect to deal with the past, we will never see clearly to move forward to the next stage. The windshield will always be streaky and smeared.

The longing of my heart is to know God's will for my life and to make Him proud, in a good way, when He comes to take me home. I'm reminded of the verse in 1 Corinthians 13:12 that says "Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely." This verse compares our spiritual understanding to a reflection in a mirror but it could just as easily compare it to a streaky windshield (they weren't invented back then!). Things are fuzzy, but when the brand new wipers replace those old bended ones, we suddenly see clearly. With perfect clarity. 

I love how Paul says that when we know all things completely, it will be as God knows us completely now. Sometimes I think that just because no one else knows my deep dark secrets, God doesn't know them either. I can hit my funny bone on a desk and swear in my head and no one will hear. God does, though. He knows me completely and yet He loves me completely. For you know, don't you, that this verse comes at the end of the love chapter.

After speaking about all the things that will eventually fade away, after referring to all the things that we only partially understanding, Paul reminds us that one day we will know completion. Just as God knows us and sees us, through Jesus the hope of glory, with the ability to one day to reach full completion. We see Him and we comprehend His kingdom principles, even as best we can, through a streaky windshield. We grasp the value of love and its components for emotional healing but it is still blurry. However, just as we strive to believe that one day we understand God's plan for us in its completion, God sees us as one day being complete in Him. 

A sparkling clean windshield wiped crystal clear by brand new wipers.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Butcher, Baker, Candlestick-maker

Had a crazy thought today. I should just buy a plane ticket to a country, India maybe, or Brazil, the UAE or Morocco. Hop on a plane with a carry on, a one way ticket, and an extra passport photo. Wander the noisy streets, taste the pungent foods, listen to the familiar sounds of unfamiliar languages, and smell the memories that take me home. Experience in 3-D what it means to be lost in a country I've never been but that awakens all my senses and settles me into a welcoming embrace.

I'm facing the possibility of committing myself to 5 more years living in one place with very little extra money which may mean I will not have the luxury of traveling during that time. It frightens me to my very soul. Perhaps it is the restless TCK in me that is best appeased when booking flights and exchanging currency.

I was listlessly scrolling through a series of responses to a post on consumerism when one caught my eye. A fellow classmate earnestly shared a worldview that came from a very different angle than the others were saying. Only one other person caught and responded but I instantly resonated. It was not because we came from similar backgrounds but because I understood him in his difference.

The multicultural kaleidoscope of experience when set against a monocultural background must of necessity clash. A monocultural experience is challenged to stretch beyond its understanding; it finds meaning within strictly delineated guidelines. The multicultural experience, on the other hand, finds meaning best when it is given freedom to explore, to learn, and to allow for understanding between structured worlds. This land of liminality is uncertain yet its foundation is a beautiful heterogeneity of tension, synchronicity, and jarring of worldviews.

I am restless whenever I feel bound to respond, to react, to embrace, and to exemplify a blandly dictated worldview that defines others as "aliens" and is too obtuse to pronounce the word "Iran" correctly. Their priorities are sports cars, revival and reformation, or holding hands and singing Kumbaya. Mine are feeding orphans, educating teenagers, and investing in the lives of those I love.

Maybe I have been a little harsh. After all, each of us are entitled to our worldview and to prioritizing what we value. This is why America works; even if we disagree we must allow freedom to choose for when we start to dictate we lose self-autonomy. I rage against what seems useless yet I am not without fault myself. I will not apologize for my discomfort with prejudiced monoculturalism, however. There is no excuse for ignorance.

Wilkens and Sanford (2009) remind us that our identity is "intimately linked with the actual particularities of our lives" (p. 146). My identity is part of my worldview and the linking of reality as I alone have experienced it with who I have become and continue to grow into is a startling thought. Will it become stagnant as I limit myself to a few acres for the next five years? How will I conciliate the yearning to step off a plane into a sensory explosion of wonderment that pulls and stretches my worldview so thin it reflects a myriad of cultural colours?

For now I must be content to remember and wait for encounters of differing worldviews within which a moment of understanding occurs and my passport takes me away once more.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Never a Mistake

I applied to the doctoral program yesterday. It's kind of ironic, 2 years ago when I started the MA I had my sights set on a PhD as the next step on the road. In the past year I've found myself weary of the academic world and itching to travel, experience life, and have my time belong to myself again.

Then I applied to the PhD program. In less than 24 hours, I started the flurry of scholarship requests, recommendations, and all those mundane things that are so necessary yet tedious. I meticulously calculated my finances, created an exhaustive list of pros and cons, and counseled with trusted mentors and family. It seemed like the right thing to do, all of a sudden.

Tonight I re-ran the financials. Something seemed wrong but in the excitement of it all, I hadn't been able to find it. It was no longer hiding though; I'd forgotten to deduct Uncle Sam's portion. Sure enough, I would have to apply for the highest tier of GRE scholarship. I had just barely squeaked in under the old bulletin to qualify for my MA but that was 2 years ago. I was pretty sure they weren't going to honour a 3-year old scholarship for an entirely new program. Or were they?

This is one of those faith building experiences you hear about. The problem is that it can go any number of ways and none of those come with a manual specifying what action to take so I can be sure I'm following God's plan for my life. The easiest parting of the Red Sea would be the highest tier scholarship granted without question. If they chose not to grant that, I would still qualify for the second highest tier but that would require dipping my feet in the Jordan River to see whether God would provide $11,000 in funds I would be short. Or I could have a Moses and the Promised Land experience where I see but am not allowed to touch. I honestly don't know.

When I look back on my life, will I have regret or gratitude? Life here is too brief; I want to make mine count for something more than making photocopies and answering phone calls. I believe what I've said in my purpose statement: my goal in life is to obtain a right understanding of my Creator and share that with others. Right now, only my Father knows whether that includes PhD training or not and until He clearly reveals that to me, I must do what does not come easy to me.

Trust. Wait. Ps. 38:15

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Happy We Hope You're Comfortable Being Second Day

When we start to legislate beyond the commandments, we transgress people's freedom of choice.

My mother and I were having one of our heated discussions. This wasn't one where we disagreed, though. It was one where we fought a common enemy, invisible though he was, with darts fierce and strong. We shouldered on with our toughest protective barrier even as we knew that we were affirming each other but the ones who needed to hear would never listen.

Last night I posted an article on my Facebook page that originated from a controversial site. I think of myself as balanced though I lean slightly to the left and I knew that it wouldn't be long before one of my right-leaning acquaintances felt the need to enlighten the world. Sure enough, it came, and this person not only ripped my comment to shreds, they also intimated that if we were to allow diversity in the church then we may as well ordain Satan as the General Conference president. That tipped me over the edge.

I am a very emotional person. If you ask any of my close friends or my family, they will affirm that I am a melancholy sanguine; I not only feel emotions, I feel them very strongly whether they be highs or lows, anger or ecstasy. Someone who tends away from women's ordination once asked me to listen to their arguments in preparation for a presentation they had to give. I sighed inwardly, then told them that I was afraid I wouldn't do a very good job because I hadn't done all my background studying on the subject yet so I would be reacting emotionally. They said that was just fine, that was what they were looking for. And that made me wonder. Is that how all women are seen? Is that how diversity is swept under the rug? An emotional, affective conflict, type of situation? Will my value be forever discounted because I am not a man? It was not a pretty thought.

I posted the article because it made me think. I don't necessarily agree with every single point in articles I read, but the main point pleased me because the author was advocating for inclusion of diversity. They compared and contrasted two very different movements, both focusing on young people, and proposed that there is a need within the church to allow for diversity of expression of faith. They concluded that a system which does not allow for this, but excludes all and requires everyone to adhere to one standard of expression is a toxic system. I agree. I've done too much studying into toxic systems, such as the FLDS and other religious cults, to see how the mind games twist Scripture so that a little bit of truth is mixed with a lot of error in order to control the setting and the people. This is wrong.

Jesus allowed for freedom. He understood that some freedoms would lead to our death if we chose those freedoms over the ones He offered (an easy yoke and a light burden). Yet He offered us freedom of choice, with clear delineation of the consequences, so we could make the ultimate decision. Like any human being who has a loving friend, family member, or spouse, He does not desire our forced acceptance or reluctant obedience; He desires our whole heart.

I replied to the person who left their post. I said I had faith that God was leading our church leadership, that I was offended by his comment, that I believed in diversity of expression of faith, and that I did not prefer to continue in a combative discussion as their comment came across. Then I unfriended them. Perhaps you would have done something differently; I don't know. What I do know is that I have limited emotional energy to invest in people and I prefer to surround myself with those who can build me up and encourage me rather than antagonize me or assume they have all knowledge about all things. If they had simply said they disagreed with my conclusion, that would have been sufficient.

In church today, the speaker talked about women's ordination. Quite a few things were said, many which I have heard before, concluding with a firm affirmation of male spiritual headship. I sat there, silent, as I have so many times before. Those who spoke prefaced their comments with clear statements that they were against women's ordination. It was almost as if we were at an initiation rally with everyone wearing I Heart Male Spiritual Headship stickers. Except some of us didn't, but we didn't dare speak as we knew we'd be ostracized. There was no room for dialogue, for discussion, or for questioning. There was one way and only one way; the narrow way. If we didn't believe in it, well then, we were naturally assumed to be in rebellion against God and part of Babylon. What a very odd way of thinking.

But this is enough for today. It is Valentine's Day, the day of love, and while I've struggled to even catch a glimpse of that in church today, I look at the beautiful tulips, I see the serene blue sky, and I hear the gentle bird call and I know that my Father loves me. Without reserve, without question, without force. Just as He hopes and desires for me to love Him.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Job's Worldview

A little boy with internal bleeding. A woman taken hostage by IS and killed after a year and a half. A plane falling into the sea in a thunderstorm. The news is full of horrible things; people post them on social media sites as glibly as they share what they ate for breakfast.

A close friend is having health issues. Again. When I heard, my instant thought was, "Why, God? Haven't You allowed them to go through enough already? They don't deserve this." The fragility of life scares me every time it seems to crumble. The next thoughts were the usual comforting ones. If we can't praise God in the bad times, when can we praise Him? God didn't promise us no pain; He promised us He would be with us in the pain. And so on.

This morning the thought returned. It was not replaced by comforting ones though, instead I thought of Job. He went through so much more and his "friends" tried to comfort him by assuming he had sinned. Their worldview was vastly different from his for they believed that if you sinned, then God punished you. Job believed that even if God should kill him, he would still have reason to hope in God (Job 13:15). A closer examination of the chapter seems to indicate that Job would welcome death because then he would be able to speak to God face-to-face to defend himself and his blameless life.

Job suffered, yes, but in the end of the book we learn that God restored his fortune twice as much as before and gave him more children (Job 42). That frustrated me because there is no guarantee of reward on this earth. Those stories I began this post with do not have happy endings. My close friend may simply have to struggle along with their health issues rather than find healing. Life is not easy and it's not pretty.

The only way I can read the end of Job and syncretize it with my worldview in a way that makes sense is to believe that it is prophetic. One day, when this difficult life is over and we live in an earth burned clean of sin, we will have the riches exceeding what we have in this life. We will be close to Jesus and able to see Him face-to-face, not to defend ourselves, but to hear Him speak love. We may have lost family and dear friends in this life because they chose not to follow God, but God has an uncounted multitude of family and dear friends waiting for us.

It still doesn't make it easy to accept the horrible. It does, however, give me hope to hold to.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Who Am I?

The tension: There is nothing good in you, you must not dwell on self ---- Share who you are because you're beautifully and wondrously made. 

She leaned back in her chair, assuming the defensive emotional pose that came all too familiarly. He was trying to peg her into a hole which she did not like. On reflection later, she thought perhaps his intent was to include her in the conversation, groups of people drove her to quiet observation, but his manner of doing so irked her.

She flippantly denied his confident statement. "That's not my real name," was her equally confident reply. In a moment's irrational thought, she stated the truth, realizing only too late that now they knew one more thing about her. They had another weapon in their arsenal they could use to attempt entry into a very closed persona. She stuffed another spoonful of potato soup in her mouth and determined not to say another word.

Head bent, she tried to breath against the tears that demanded to be let loose. Another goodbye was imminent; she didn't handle those too well. Oh, she'd learned as a young child that it was necessary to smile, blithely wave them on to their new life, give a cursory nod to the friendship that had formed strong in time, yet now, as an adult, goodbyes seemed to increasingly tear at the fabric of a fraying heart.

Perhaps this was why she still searched. . .even as the bricks went up a level higher.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Time's Gentle Whisper

I called every other reference before I dialed his number. There was a click and then that unmistakable British-Mauritian accent came through clearly as he spoke his name. I swallowed then lightly said, "Hi! This is Maria. Your cousin." A moment's pause, then we were both laughing as he realized who it was and I slipped into a time of belonging. He hadn't forgotten and for that I was so thankful.

We had a late arrival to the program and I needed to process the application as quickly as possible. I scanned the list of references I would be calling, mentally calculating the time difference between California and the East Coast. It was nearly 10 am; they would be at lunch so it was a good time to call. Then I looked more closely at the last name. I knew that name. It was my cousin. One of many whom I hadn't spoken to, hadn't laughed with, since, oh, about 6 years. It was my own choice of course. That I had always known, had always owned.

It wasn't that I didn't want to connect. I couldn't. At least not then. But now, things were changing. The journey I'd been on for the past two years had been taking me slowly back to an understanding of who I was before the California years. I saw God bringing me full circle, healing, comforting, pulling a curtain of grace over the difficult years, and gently teaching me how to forgive. Starting with myself and then extending the gift to others.

The conversation was hesitant at first, even as it was comfortable. He had been my best friend when I came to visit on those few and far-between furloughs when we lived at my granny's house and ate frosted flakes for breakfast every day for two months. I cried and refused to say goodbye the day he left after visiting us in Egypt. I was only 10 but I learned there was no point in crying; painfully, I learned to say goodbye without a tear as the goodbyes multiplied over the years.

We talked about work, family, my studies. He had a deepening burden for ministry and sounded wistful as he spoke of what he did, hoping it would improve the quality of life for others. He cheered up as he mentioned a church plant he was helping to start, said we should chat sometime on Skype so we could meet his wife. Mercifully, he did not speak of the painful past.

I took the reference, we chatted some more, he said I still had a British accent. I laughed, it came out when I spoke to someone else with one but if I was speaking to an American then it disappeared once again. Another part of my hidden identity. I wondered briefly if that was a significant part of me then the thought vanished. I would explore it more later.

It was time to say goodbye so we did, promising to keep in touch better this time. Reluctantly, I hung up, then sat for a few moments staring at my computer screen. I was at work; I could not cry. The emotions were close, though. It had been 6 years, in reality it had been 16 years. 16 years since the split shattered my belonging. Perhaps now my Father was beginning to smooth the jagged edges as He gently led, drawing us closer together to Him and in doing so providing healing.

A few hours later I sent him a text from my cell so he'd have my number. His quick reply began with "Brilliant!" I smiled. People teased me about my frequent use of the word, particularly my boss. It didn't matter now; I knew where it came from. And in a single word. . .I knew I belonged. . .

Monday, January 26, 2015

No, it's not okay

The phone rang, I rolled over and blearily checked my phone. 6:52 am. I heard my brother rushing to answer it, aware that its insistent tone would force its way into my consciousness all too soon. He answered, I waited, and he hung up. Still sleepy, I went into the kitchen to pour a glass of water. "Who was it?" I asked. He told me. "Was it an emergency?" It wasn't, he said. The person had lost their phone and called our house number since they no longer had my brother's cell number.

I returned to my bedroom, typed and retyped a text until I was satisfied it conveyed my sentiment without being too emotional or too kind. It said, "Please call to our house number between 9 am and 9 pm, unless it's an emergency of life and death. Thank you." I hit send as my hands shook and my breathing rate slowed back to normal.

It took a good hour walk/jog for me to shake it off. Still musing, I checked my messages, the reply, "I am so sorry, please accept my apologies" evoked no emotion of sympathy. I was tired of people disrespecting the system; thinking that just because they had a thought right then and there that they should take care of it, regardless of the time or the situation.

It was another morning, several years ago. My mother answered the phone, there was hushed tones, then she was crying. My mother doesn't cry. The grief came from a deep deep place inside as the tears mixed with helplessness evoked an image of a little girl lost. Her father had just died.

It was not as if we didn't know. He had been ill for several years, cancer, and he'd fought it but it returned. Then it was his final days and then. . .his last breath. Only my Oma was with him when he left; jealous of her life-mate's final moments she refused to allow anyone else to enter the sacred space they shared. They understood each other in life and now, as death came, he no longer needed to speak for she understood his heart. 

Today, when the phone rings in the early morning or late at night, I lie in bed counting my breaths and waiting. Who will it be this time? Invariably it is some well-meaning yet thoughtless person who was not taught polite calling hours are between 9 am and 9 pm. Then I exhale and I try not to shake so hard. Today we've been granted another day of life.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

The Biggest Cognitive Distortion

Thoughts always seem much clearer when thought at odd times, such as 5 am when I'm normally sleeping, but because I inadvertently set my alarm an hour early, I spent that hour between 5 and 6 in a semi-dream state, desperately trying to return to REM sleep. Here are my thoughts, not as lucid as then but still somewhat coherent. I think I'm still trying to work out The Record Keeper in my psyche.

God does not control. Satan's lie (after the pride one, yes, I know, I've read the texts and heard the sermons) was that God controlled His created beings. Satan promised "freedom" from God's perceived control and a third of the angels believed him. Once cast to earth, Satan managed to convince Eve that God was trying to control her too by setting boundaries around her. Eve didn't realize those boundaries (don't eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil) were there to protect her and because God chose not to control her, she was free to make the decision to eat from that tree. Satan's lie, "you will be as gods," or in other words, you would have the freedom to do whatever you wanted, sounded sweet to her ears and so she listened.

When Jesus hung on the cross, He did so of His own accord. God the Father did not force Him to; Jesus chose to. He exercised His freedom so that we could be free. Satan had spent thousands of years trying to convince humans and beings from other worlds that God was controlling and freedom was found only outside of God's domain. It was only when Jesus died that the universe understood the depths that Satan would stoop to in order to control the world.

This is a lesson humans must still learn. We fight against what we perceive as control, Christians have tossed out the Sabbath because it's just "another rule," and they don't want to honour God by obeying His law. God's law is a safeguard; set in place to protect us so we can extend freedom to others. If I don't kill, someone lives. If I don't steal, someone has their belongings. If I don't lie, someone's reputation is intact. If I keep the Sabbath, someone is free to worship with me rather than work so I can have what I want.

The choice is still ours. Some of us kick and scream, insisting that we want to create our own freedom, follow our own rules, or throw out rules all together. Others cite verses to create an atmosphere of "Biblical control" such as wives submitting to their husbands. Neither speak accurately to God's character. God extends to us the riches of His grace (Ephesians 1:6), draws us to Him with immeasurable love, and offers us true freedom that cannot be defined by the world's terms. Do we choose Him? Or do we believe a deadly cognitive distortion told us by a being that once lived in the light of God's presence and chose to look the other way?

I choose freedom in Christ (Galatians 5:13).

Friday, January 16, 2015

Chocolate Chips and Self Control

Went to vespers. Heard about self control (for the 173rd time). Came home. Made chocolate souffle in the microwave. With lots of chocolate chips. Ate souffle.

That seems to be the story of my life. I filter every spiritual exhortation I hear through the first years of our lives here. Extended prayer time for academy kids from 6:30 pm to midnight? Why is there a need to pray til midnight? It's neither healthy nor necessary. Praising someone because they didn't eat supper at a restaurant that didn't serve vegan food and then became vegan because of it? Being vegan won't bring you into heaven any faster. And what kind of restaurant doesn't have at least one dish that is vegan? Directing everyone to share in groups of two their experiences with self control and to ask for prayer for needed self control? Those kinds of prayer sessions tend to encourage people to share things that should be shared only with a counselor or to elaborate on their sins so their struggles sound more impressive.

I work with a health education program. I have lost count of the number of times I think in my head, "I bet they're looking at me and wondering how come she works with this program when she's overweight. They probably think I have no self control." I guess the beginning paragraph would justify their reasoning. On the other hand, I'm not alone. The difference lies in how we approach it.

Some of our graduates leave and continue on their personal healthy journey. Others find themselves back where they first started and struggle to recapture the excitement of building endurance and losing pounds. The story returns, however, to "I stopped eating this food" and "I started doing that exercise" and the Originator of self control is forgotten. It becomes a contest to see who can produce the best results while the heart change goes unnoticed.

This is where I am encouraged. Twelve years ago I attended a Stephen Arterburn seminar on emotional healing. I came home and inscribed on a rock a symbolic "I choose to heal." As I reflect back on where I was then and who I am today, I believe that I have been true to the process. I am not perfect. I feel that I may be more aware of my flaws now at 34 than I was then at 22. Perhaps that is how it goes. Regardless, I am thankful to God for His persistent love and determination to show me Grace.

I haven't got a handle of self control yet. I'm learning how to surrender and allow the Holy Spirit to fight my battles (a very difficult thing to learn). I am not disheartened though. To struggle is a sign of life. I take courage in the promise in 2 Timothy 1:7 that "God has. .given us a spirit. . .of power, love, and self-discipline." Self control is not within me; God gives it to me. The spirit of self-discipline comes with power; it is effective. The spirit of self-discipline also comes with love; God is reflected in its action.

I wonder if Jesus would have shared that souffle with me, like my mom did tonight, savouring every bite while treasuring the connection in time as I worked through my confusion and she patiently listened. Or would He have stood there, finger pointing, telling me that it was too late to eat, I'd already had supper, chocolate has caffeine in it, and white sugar/oil/white flour are bad for my arteries. I don't know. I don't want to presume upon His presence or disrespect Him in anyway. I do want to know, though, that He is a God of unfathomable understanding, deep compassion, and expansive love. Somehow it seems that I would sense that most if He was sitting across from me, spoon in hand, slowly eating souffle stuffed with melting chocolate chips while I reached out. And my heart melted. 

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Temporary Home

Heart burdened with the world's fears
Longing to hold the babies close and say
"You're safe now"
My reality is so much bigger than
the acre on which I reside
Revival and Reformation buzz
while I wonder where
is the love in black and white Jesus' hands