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Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Tears Falling

My sister is gone. She stepped out of the car, I handed her the suitcase and backpack, we exchanged a quick hug, and then she was off to catch her plane. I cried the first 20 minutes back, driving in rush-hour Beirut traffic, not caring if anyone saw the tears running down my cheeks. I raged at God. Why? Why did He allow us to live such separate lives? Then I begged and pleaded with Him to keep us all safe for heaven. I know there is no guarantee of safety in this life for the Christian but if only God keeps our hearts true to Him, then we can wait for heaven where the tears will stop flowing.

Saying goodbye to those I love is the hardest thing in the world for me to do. This is why I am cautious in who I allow to get close to me--I can't afford to go through this many times. Each time I say goodbye, there is that panicky feeling, that I won't ever see them again. Logically, I know it likely isn't true, but emotionally I cannot connect the logic to my heart. You see, there were times I said goodbye and it was a true goodbye. My house in Burkina Faso. My Opa before he died. My special place to sit where I could see the night lights on the Mediterranean Sea. My father more than 8 years ago.

To grieve is to open up a part of your heart that you sometimes forget exists. I've become adept at saving emotion for Hallmark movies, a sappy YouTube advertisement, or a particularly touching sermon illustration. At times, I will cry out of nervousness or worry at work. But I don't cry often out of loneliness. That isn't allowed. We had to learn early on that you buttoned up your heart and put a smile on your face, wave goodbye, and leave.

I've started crying at airports now. When I left my mother and brother in chilly February, at the Sacramento airport, I sobbed while I stood in line to show my boarding pass. They were bravely smiling and I was crying. All of a sudden, all they meant to me and that panicky feeling that I might never see them again overwhelmed me and I cried. I didn't know how else to handle the depth of emotion that I was feeling.

I cry in planes, I cry in the car, I cry at airports. I've stopped closing up my heart to feeling and started allowing the grief to wash over me so it can cleanse my soul of the many goodbyes I never was able to grieve. I think the older I become, the more I see how fragile life really is and I worry because I cannot control it in any way. I cannot hold my loved ones physically close beside me always, just as I could not keep my family from splintering 18 years ago or keep my dearest friends in my life. I have had to learn the hardest lesson of all--that love holds with open hands even as the pain of loss grows stronger.

Sometimes, when I'm quiet, I hear my heart asking Why? Why did I allow myself to be vulnerable and love so much when I knew eventually I would have to say goodbye? It is a question I cannot easily answer. I love easily but I feel deeply. This is the other lesson I am still learning. I must keep loving even though it may hurt.

My sister has landed safely at the first of 3 airports she will hop to in the next 24 hours. I can sleep knowing she is busying herself getting connected to friends, working on lesson plans, and getting something to eat as she waits for her ocean crossing. But tomorrow, she will be in Asia and I will be in the Middle East--worlds apart. She will be sitting on a bus headed home while I will be sitting in an office typing a work email. We will exchange virtual messages and carry on with life.

It will still hurt though. I may still cry for a bit. Especially when I see the empty place where her bed was and drink water from the 10-liter jug she lugged up the stairs for me. As I gently put away the beautiful souvenirs and eat the delicious pineapple pastries she brought for me. Now she's become a part of my memories here and it will take time for the beauty to replace the pain of loss and the reminder of loneliness. I will be forever grateful that she came but for tonight I must cry just a little.

I miss my sister.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

In the Dark Times

She was a sweet little thing. White with some patches of colour, she stayed in the background, only running out boldly when he drove up in his black Kia, bringing her consistent meal for the day. I still remember the first day I saw her. He was wandering campus looking for Coconut to no avail. He went back home and a few minutes later I spotted a little white cat. She was quietly waiting in the bushes by the administration stairs, but then the noise of passersby startled her and she crossed the lawn to retreat into the shadows behind the cafeteria. I crept along silently behind her, keeping a good enough distance that she wouldn't worry, while still noting where she was. At the same time I was messaging him so he knew where she was when he came back up to campus. He fed her and she was content.

After that, it became somewhat of a ritual to keep my eye out for Coconut while on my evening walks. She was still getting used to the campus, having been relocated from his home since she was a rather loud cat who kept his parents up at night with her vocal discussions, so she stayed away from people. If I spotted her, I would text him and he'd pass by to give her the usual cat food, or, for a treat, some tinned food which she especially enjoyed. One evening he and I traipsed all over campus looking for her, to no avail. We ended up sitting on a rickety bench overlooking Beirut's night lights as we talked about life and God.

When he went on holiday for 10 days, he entrusted me with feeding Coconut and several other feline friends. The first day I walked the campus 6 times, anxiously searching for her, worried about her missing a meal. He'd told me not to worry, that cats were scavengers and could survive, but I still worried. That's my personality. I timidly called her name and nervously banged the empty tin can he'd given me on the stone wall, the signal that food was there. Finally, that evening, I saw her by the recycling bins and left her some food to enjoy. She didn't want me to get too close though so I gave her a respectable distance and snapped a photo.

One evening I found Coconut by the administration steps and left her a generous serving of food by the edge of the sidewalk. Several minutes later, I passed by again and she had disappeared but another, more assertive cat, had swooped in to eat her food. The next time I found Coconut, I stood guard nearby until she had eaten everything. I wasn't about to let another cat get her food again.

When he returned, I reluctantly handed over the cat food and responsibility. I jokingly said we needed to talk about shared catsudy but there was an element of truth to it. I would miss the morning ritual of banging the tin can and watching the cats run joyfully across the lawn to get their breakfast, as they had done for several mornings now. I would miss searching for Coconut to make sure she got food too.

Then he texted me. He'd had a bad dream, come up to campus to look for Coconut, and found her dead. Someone had run over her. I knew that it was not uncommon for students to accelerate and drive very fast out of the parking lot as it was one of the few spaces in Beirut that wasn't congested with bumper-to-bumper traffic. It would have been easy for a car to end Coconut's life if it had been one of those reckless drivers. My heart ached. Not Coconut. Why?

I went down to the parking lot and stared down the pebbled road that branched off to the cemetery. I didn't know where he went to bury her but I desperately wanted to find him and tell him I was sorry. But I had a meeting to go to and I was already late so I had to resign myself to feeble text messages. I knew it had really hurt him.

Several weeks ago, when he was searching for Coconut, I began to wonder if perhaps God had the same sense of care and concern about me. My mind tends to always search for the parallels in life, particularly as I try to understand Who God is and how He relates to me. I saw my dear friend searching earnestly for a somewhat helpless animal. He did not give up until he had found her and made she had enough to eat. He took care of her without thought of recompense or reward.

In the same way, my heart yearned to know with certainty that God was pursuing me. I wanted to know that He was looking for me and wouldn't give up until He found me. I needed to realize that His deep concern was that I knew He would take care of me and provide for me.

But what if something tragic happens? Like with Coconut, what if life runs me over and the life is crushed out of me? The church easily says Pick yourself up, pray more, go to the Cross, be saved. I think, though, that God is different. He picks me up, holds my bruised soul in His gentle hands, and cries. Then, because He is God, He breathes life back into me and tends to my wounds.

Unfortunately, on this earth we can't expect that innocent animals like Coconut will have life again. Sin's evil talons have affected those who never deserved to hurt, as Adam and Eve's mistake has fallen heavily on us through the years. Yet in the midst of the darkness and the pain, there still has to be hope. Hope that we can hold on to God and know with certainty that He sees and He will punish the evildoers (Psalm 10). Reassurance that He understands our rage at the senselessness of it all while He comforts us in our pain.

Trust in Him at all times. . .pour out your heart before Him; God is a refuge. . .Psalm 62:8

Monday, November 21, 2016

Feet on a Cold Tile Floor

This time 18 years ago, I was lying in my bed, soaking up the feeling of sleeping in my own room for the very last time. The cold tile floor met my feet when I sat up, swinging them to the floor so I could get up and look out my window again at the yellow points of light like a giant connect-the-dots puzzle. If I took the time to connect those dots, a giant heart with a hole in the middle of it would appear. My heart.

I looked out between the iron bars but my window sill was still empty. The one I loved had promised he would leave something there for me. It was still early though, so I slipped back into bed, restless with the thought of the morning. I wondered what my brother and sister were thinking--if they were sleeping or if the excitement of traveling was keeping them up too.

Eventually, the weariness of rushed packing, emotional goodbyes, and short nights overtook me and I fell asleep, only to wake with a start two hours later. I hurried once again to my window and there, in the dim moonlight, I saw a small package. I slipped my hand between the bars and pulled it inside. It was an envelope with a letter inside and a mix tape.

In one of my fits of religiosity, that I still regret to this day, I threw away that mix tape. Now, when I compare the music carefully chosen to express his heart, I can only think of one song that would have been considered somewhat dubious. The rest? Simply sentimental R&B from the 80s that would be tame compared to today's lyrics. Thankfully I wrote down the titles. The letter I still have, tucked away somewhere as a memento of those days.

Very few people knew why we were leaving. Keeping it hush until the very last moment, and then saying that we were going to the States for our education, kept the rumours from flying though I'm sure some did regardless. My mother told one family and I told the one who made me the mix tape. The fracture of family was not something looked upon kindly within the conservative Christian environment. While I know now that there were others who cared and would have been ready to lend support, in the maelstrom of detaching from all that was familiar, we had no ability to reach out. We had to manage, for that moment, on our own.

Now, half a lifetime later, I sit on my bed and listen to the wind howl outside my third-floor window. The one who made the mix tape is long gone along with the memories. My family grew much closer than when we first began our transcontinental voyage that landed us in the New Country. When I go to the roof, I can see yellow points of light in a much more compact connect-the-dots puzzle as the city has grown up to meet the campus. This time the dots create a double heart. One for the 18-year old who thought she would never feel at home again. One for the woman who came home. To stay.

Friday, November 11, 2016

To Whom I Go

When I was a teenager, I would get this urgent impulse to run. I don't mean literally run but rather to leave the room, the situation, the gathering, and head to where the anxiety would disappear into the quietness of the place I'd found. I remember vividly one time, sitting in choir, back when the auditorium looked like a proper church, and my baby brother with his friends were outside playing in the trees and generally having a good time. Then the impulse came and I had to leave. I escaped to one of the four sentry trees, clambering up into its branches to hide from passersby.

We had the perfect retreat custom built in our backyard. It was a tall cement block covering the water treatment plant that faced the Mediterranean Sea. When I clambered up, there was plenty of space to spread out my journal and Bible and I would sit there, legs dangling off the side, as I scribbled teenage angst onto college-ruled paper. This was my escape--albeit it wasn't so much a physical one because less than 50 steps behind me was home--but it provided a place of quietness where I could go.

The impulse hasn't left me as I've grown older. I've learned to curb it by pulling out a half-empty notebook, finding a favourite gel pen, and once again teasing out the emotions into words that half-heartedly attempt to put description to feelings. During rare times in the 17 years I lived on a very small campus, I would pack a bag with my writing utensils and Bible and head down a leaf-lined path by the flume to find a tree I could sit under. I never went very far though for fear of large wildlife.

Here, I've felt it come and go. I cannot attribute yet a particular reason to this feeling but I know that when it comes, it refuses to be assuaged except by recognition. There are times I escape to the roof where looking down on the night lights calms my spirit. There are times I escape into music, as Stand by Rascal Flatts and other haunting songs by country bands echo my restless questionings. There are times I still write for words will never leave my soul.

Tonight the impulse came once again. I knew distinctly why it had insisted on making itself known. I also knew that I couldn't run. I was battling the flu so sitting on the roof in the cold night air wasn't ideal. And then I remembered that Saturday afternoon, sitting in a tree, and I wished I was back in that time again.

Sometimes I wonder how God sees this. How He sees me. Is He shaking His head, wondering if I'll ever grow up and stand still to face the uncertainty rather than responding to a feverish urge to escape? Or is He reaching out His hand to me, ready to run alongside me? Somehow I imagine that God is the latter and that even as He is doing so, He is gently whispering to my heart that one day I will stop running. One day I will realize--He was Who I was running to all along.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

In Deference To

We started out somewhat clumsily. I was playing in a rhythm I was used to, with a triad of chords in the left hand accompanying the soprano and alto voices in the right. He was fussing around with the bass, trying to feel the rhythm of the song and match it to my style. I wasn't used to having an instrument play along with me, so I marched militantly through the introduction and verses and then stopped.

Music! he insisted. I looked at him, confused. I had played the song and now it was time to move on to the next. When we actually play for song service, then we'll play the intro, first and second verses, etc. he said. But for now, I need to get into the mood of the music. Ah, that made sense to me. He needed to feel the song so it would flow smoothly.

It didn't happen right away. As a matter of fact, it was only after we'd played through all four songs and then repeated a couple of them again, that the notes started to line up. At first, it had seemed more like a struggle between the two instruments. Me, somewhat timid and insecure in my ability, with the piano trundling along. He, confident in his skill yet frustrated as he struggled to sync and create the ambience he knew was possible.

Then I stopped trying to play the rhythm I was used to and instead shifted more towards simple chords, allowing the bass to fill in the empty spaces. I began to listen to its sound rather than assume it should listen and adapt to me. At the same time, he was adjusting to my tempo and figuring out complementary notes that created harmony. Dissonance had turned into beauty.

This is how life is, isn't it? We meet people and at first we expect them to fit into our lives and our way of thinking. We know exactly how they should act but are surprised to learn that they have their own distinct way of relating to life. At first we may find ourselves clashing, frustrated because the song isn't harmonizing instantly.

Then, after spending time together, learning to accept the other person's way of viewing the world, we begin to adjust. Each of us tweaks our sails just a little til we sail side by side into the wind instead of crashing into each other. We learn to sing the song as we lean into the music. It is only then that we hear the beautiful melody soar with its counterpart.

Friday, November 4, 2016

In His Heart

It wasn't the worst of days but after lunch, I'd returned to my room and was feeling sad. I'd re-read a post I'd written about my Opa, who passed away 5 years ago and for a few moments I remembered how much I missed my Opa and how loving and caring he was. He had been my father figure for more than 10 years and then he was gone.

As I poured out my heart to God, I echoed some of Job's frustrations. I wanted to be able to see God, to hear Him, to touch Him, and that wasn't possible. I tried to imagine God being compassionate like my Opa and I realized I was struggling to understand that. I finished praying and went about the rest of my afternoon as I pushed the thoughts to the back of my mind.

After vespers, it was afterglow time. I hadn't stayed for the last 3 afterglows but my good friend Lina was in charge of it so I decided to stay to support her. Little did either of us know that all the hard work she'd put into making a thoughtful program was exactly what I needed to hear this evening. As I was crying to God, the Holy Spirit was impressing Lina to include a beautiful 10-minute video that reached past my carefully built walls and held my heart close.

The 10 or so of us who stayed behind to sing enjoyed learning 3 new Arabic songs as we followed along with the transliteration on the song sheets that Lina had worked hard on. Then she closed with a video. She apologized for the length but said it was worth the time. The lights were turned off, the music began to play, and as the words flashed up on the screen long enough for them to sink in, the tears began to fall.

Each and every single word was as if it was being spoken to me. Bible verses taken from the Bible, carefully crafted in a personal way, for 10 minutes. They came from all over the Bible, most of them were familiar enough to me, promises that I had clung to at different times during my life. Yet to see all of them together, in one place, one after another, speaking truth louder than the false tapes I'd played for too long, that was what shook me. The Bible is truth and I was reading the truth as if for the first time.

It was as if God had gently reached down and said I'm here. Listen to Me share the promises of hope and good things for your life. Let these words bring comfort to your heart. I heard your lonely cry, I listened, and I'm here.

After it was over, I went up to thank Lina for sharing the video. Several more tears came unbidden as I explained how I'd desperately needed to hear that this evening. She gave me a hug and then suddenly said, Come over for a hot drink before you go to the dorm. I couldn't refuse. I piled into their car with the rest of the family and we drove home.

For the next two hours we sipped citronella tea, sang some of the songs from the afterglow, looked at pictures from her graduation which was also my mother's graduation, shared our frustrations, and laughed at life's idiosyncrasies. Soon we both began to yawn and I knew it was time to say goodnight. Lina drove me down the hill to the dorm and I thanked her from the bottom of my heart for such a lovely evening. She smiled and said Anytime you need to get away and spend time in a real home, just let me know.

I unlocked the front door as it was already past curfew and then walked up to my room on the 3rd floor. My heart was content and my soul was at peace. God had not only spoken to me through the verses, He had touched me through the hugs Lina easily gave me and reminded me that even if I couldn't see Him, I could see the smiling faces of so many in my life who loved me.

Tonight I am amazed. I am amazed at how my Father personally answers a prayer I didn't expect to be noticed. I am amazed at His grace and love that is poured into my heart and how it heals the loneliness inside. I am amazed at how thoughtfully so many dear friends touch my life and I long to do the same in return.

Here is the video. This one has narration but you can look for a version without if you prefer.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

The Rains Have Come

Some days you just need a little bit of grace. 

I didn't go walking today. Instead I went over to my best friend's house and played with her twin 6-month old boys while we chatted about life and its oddities. Her husband was at nominating committee and when he still hadn't returned after 8 pm, I decided to eat my supper since I figured we wouldn't be walking that evening. Salad and cold soup sopped up with the ever-present thin baladi comprised my meal. Breakfast had been a granola bar and a pudding cup and lunch was mushy rice with stuffed courgettes (stuffed with the same rice of course) and salad. The meals had been rather sparse lately for my vegan preference.

Weary, I did a campus loop and then went through the parking lot, banging my tin can on various rocks, waiting, but no feline companions came running. Two rather large ginger cats glowered at me as I interrupted their evening howl. I left a scoop of cat food for them but they ignored it. Hopefully the cats had hidden away because of the winter storm that day, the first proper one of the season, and would be there tomorrow. I returned to my room, grateful for a place to retreat.

In this blog, I'm very honest about the spiritual Christian walk. My deepest desire is to understand what it means to be a real Christian--a follower of Christ. Is it works-based, relational, doctrinal, salvational, a mixture of all or just some? How do I relate a personal walk with a commission? Is it true that if I don't share the story of salvation with others that their loss of heaven will be attributed to me? These are just some of the questions I have.

I've been reading My Utmost for His Highest and lately some of the readings have been rather hard to take in. One reading said God withdrew his conscious blessings in order to teach you to walk by faith. Another said The great essential of the missionary is that he remains true to the call of God, and realizes that his one purpose is to disciple men and women to Jesus. Still another read when God has put His call on you, woe be to you if you turn to the right hand or to the left. He will do with you what He never did with you before the call came. . .Let Him have His way. And then today's If through a broken heart God can bring His purposes to pass in the world, then thank Him for breaking your heart.

I think today's reading was the hardest to swallow. I've been battling with God with a personal issue for sometime now, theoretically for more than 10 years though more intensely in the past several weeks. I have my opinion about what I think is right while simultaneously I'm convinced that God's plan will go directly contrary to my opinion and I must give in to it, miserable though I'm sure I will be.

I feel like I have reached my limit in the broken-heart department. I know good things don't automatically come to good people but I feel like there must be a point where God tells Satan, Enough, leave her alone for now, let her rest. As I've been trying to reconcile head with heart, I've thought it would be good to remember some of the clear ways God has led me so I don't get too discouraged.

  • Pre-approving a request to move to full-time employment in 4 months
  • Bringing me to Lebanon, the chance to return to one of my homes
  • Changing the part-time job into full-time with HEALTH
  • Providing a part-time job with HEALTH when I needed to focus on my own health
  • Providing a job for me at Newstart when I needed to leave the college
  • Speeding up the green-card process so it came through in 6 years instead of 10
  • Approving my H1-B renewal and pay increase during a transition period of administration
  • Approving my initial H1-B application after a year on OPT
  • Having me in the registrar's office during my last semester so I could transition in easily
  • Placing me in the registrar's office my freshman year so I could get experience
  • Providing a good car that later became mine
  • Bringing me and the rest of my family to a safe place in America
  • Keeping me alive in Africa when I got malaria and other illnesses
These are just some of the big things. I'm sure as I go back through journals and emails, I will find many examples of how God has provided for me through the years. Learning to trust can be the hardest thing but I believe it can bring the greatest joy when later I can look back and see how the dark time was merely the shadow of God's hand over me as He swirled circumstances into place and then allowed me to see the beauty of His care. 

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Send Me A Song

I'd seen the movie UP before but somehow the song hadn't stuck in my mind. Until a couple of nights ago, when my YouTube playlist suggested this song and now it's been playing on repeat since then. This.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Grow Old In Joy

Tonight was Karaoke night in the cafeteria. The students worked hard to make it special with helium balloons, napkin bows on the back of each chair, pizza and burgers, and fun themed punch. We sat listening as one by one, the brave singers followed, or stumbled along behind, the cued words on the screen marching on without grace. I didn't stay long--I had work the next morning and the evening was winding down after 10 pm anyhow.

As I stepped outside, the thick autumn night wrapped itself around me. It wasn't humid but the short rain just minutes before had left a hint of winter's torrential downpour in the heavy air. The sky was a muddy Halloween shade of orange, the cloud cover reflecting back Beirut's night lights. As I passed the towering pine tree that somehow had escaped being trimmed or chopped down in more than 20 years since we'd first met, I gazed up into its thick boughs. They stretched to the sky, sturdy and reassuring, a beautiful composition of black against the orange ceiling.

Moments later, I stepped onto the roof to the panorama which soothed my heart even while I caught my breath at the stunning sparkle of colour. Construction glittered in the distance, a skyscraper's vertical marquee threaded up and down like a mesmerizing snake, and headlights illuminated the way to the done-up section of downtown. Two stars peeked out between the clouds overhead and off to my right a flash of light reminded me that airplanes were still busily bringing people home.

Now I sit on my pink polka-dotted bed, my zebra print fleece carelessly pushed to the side, listening to Westlife sing It's You on a YouTube playlist I didn't create. I hadn't sang at the Karaoke night, though I'd scrolled through my YouTube history to find a song that might resonate with the crowd who were half my age. I'd settled on Kelly Clarkson's What Doesn't Kill You or Michael Buble's Home. What I really wanted to sing was Way Back Into Love but that was a duet and I wasn't brave enough to find a guy to sing it with me.

These are the moments I fall into by surprise and each time I marvel at how perfectly it feels like home. When I first came, I spent days, weeks and months wondering what would happen, preparing to return to the States. Now I wake up each morning afraid I will have to return and then I remember that I don't. Perhaps I'm somewhat selfish in my choice to stay. I should be settling down, earning towards Social Security, on a retirement plan with a stable job, purchasing a house, learning to can applesauce and peaches.

Instead I'm living in a single room (though it's very comfortable and has its own bathroom), planning to work for what would be less than minimum wage in California even though the cost of living is comparable, returning just long enough each summer so they don't take away the piece of paper that I worked hard for. And my heart is full of joy and peace. It doesn't make sense to the outsider but that doesn't matter. What matters is that I have found my place.

This is a gift most TCKs don't experience as they drift from country to continent, searching for the song that echoes in their heart. This song changes with the mood and the season, it is filled with longing for the inexpressible, and the lucky ones hear its harmony in a place or a person. I am one of the lucky ones. I have found it in both.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

A Strange Puzzle

I'm starting the process to stay here longer. I think I've found one piece of the puzzle. Now I look for the other piece.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Sometimes Returning is for Keeps

They say Finders Winners, Losers Weepers. Perhaps this time around I'm a Finder.

Four weeks ago, I emailed my family. I love writing so when I send an email, it's usually a long very descriptive epistle of every single moment in my day. In this one, I shared with them something that was heavy in my heart.

I think to win their hearts, one has to be able to communicate that they are here for more than tourism or to be able to say I've been a missionary in a war-torn country. I think one has to stay. And tonight I thought, that is what I would love to do. All those years I listened to mission stories about Asia and Africa and South America and wished hard that I would have a calling but I never did. And all those years I longed to come back to my home. 

I think it is partly the TCK desire to return home, but now I'm wondering if God used that desire to bring me back for a purpose. I still don't know if it's a short-term or long-term purpose, but I want to be open to wherever God calls me. There have been days when I thought most definitely that one year was all I could manage. When I first came, I counted off the weeks and eventually months I'd managed to live here successfully. Now I'm sad because I'm counting down the months and eventually weeks til I leave. But I can see myself staying here long-term, even 20 years, and being happy. 

There is a huge mission field out there, but it will take many years. There need to be relationships built, both on the campus and off. There needs to be joyful Christianity modeled, but we need to understand what that means to be able to share it. And it takes time. Time to show that we're not people who just come, change everything, and then leave.

When I left the US, everyone knew I was going to Lebanon as a missionary. When I arrived in Lebanon, I immediately realized that it wasn't the right title for me. I was coming back home, to one of my countries, and these were my friends I was now working together with. I struggled as I identified more with the Lebanese culture than the expat culture. And as I thought about what my purpose was here, I felt drawn to connecting, encouraging, and supporting others.

I'm likely not going to be someone who does great things that the world takes notice of in my work for God. This is okay. In My Utmost for His Highest, Oswald Chambers says in reference to Jesus' commission to the disciples, Go simply means live. In other words, the greatest calling we can have is to live as a follower of Christ. This has always been my desire and one that somehow seems to fit here more organically than where I lived before.

Today I spoke to my boss and started the process to settle. Yes, I'm not the typical ATCK who cannot bear to stay longer than 2 years in one country let alone imagine putting down roots. I want to put down roots. I want to know that here is where my heart is and here is where I will stay. I fought for 17 years with this desire when I was in the US. Then I came here and in less than 6 months I knew. . .my heart was home.

Friday, October 7, 2016

To Him

Or I'd have asked you. . .

The words rang in my ears as my friend looked at me. They were referring to something that I didn't agree with and while I was thankful they respected my personal convictions, my heart ached for a moment. I knew I'd made the decision I needed to. It was a choice I had made years ago, irregardless of the conservative bubble I lived in. It was a logical decision based on a principle I felt was important. 

I don't judge my friend for their choice just as they didn't judge me for not joining them. I know everyone has their own walk with God and it isn't for me to determine someone else's actions or beliefs. I guess I hadn't realized there would be an inner struggle, even if for just a few moments. And then I understood why many of my friends had made choices that led them on a different path than they had started out on. 

Influence can be used for good or wrong. It's as simple as that. However strong our convictions may be, if we are influenced by someone we care deeply about, we may change our convictions to match theirs. We lose the ability to be true to ourselves, true to the knowledge we have within ourselves of God's expectations and desires for us. Influencing someone to change their actions, if they are not convinced within their heart that this is the right thing to do, will result in a split tension between knowledge and experience. Eventually, one will win. 

I think I have an open mind to other perspectives, yet at the same time I have my convictions that I don't apologize for. Leaving the bubble, however, has caused me to question some of those convictions. Is it wrong to wear jewelry, to drink coffee, to eat meat? I'd been surrounded by people who thought coloured nail polish was sinful, who made sure every dessert was made with carob, and who ate a strictly vegan diet. Of course this was in public. In private, I don't know though I'm guessing some ate cheese on the sly or painted their toenails on the weekends. 

I'm beginning to believe that the only conviction that matters is being true to God. I can make my personal decisions but these are not to be placed on others as salvational issues. Behavioural decisions come from each person's understanding and upbringing. 

When I make a decision, I try to do so based on logical reasoning. For example, Jesus said that the Sabbath was made for man. In other words, the Sabbath day is a day given to us for our benefit. It was never intended to be a day of drudgery or a burden. At the same time, the Sabbath was given for all men on earth, not just me. If I go out and use a service, whether it be a hotel or restaurant or store, I am taking away the rest from someone else. Yes, I know they will be working on that day regardless of whether I am there or not, and yes, I don't know how to explain conferences that go over the Sabbath such as GYC where meals are catered. Somehow pre-paying for something seems to make it okay which doesn't make sense to me. I know for me, though, if I'm eating out I'm not focusing on God but rather on the music in the background, on the price of what I'm eating, or the TV in the corner, or something else. 

I'm not saying that I am a perfect holy saint--which begs the question What is a perfect holy saint? If someone from my conservative world would see me, they would be shocked that I listen to Christian contemporary music and go to the movies. But what is important to me is to be able to live in synchronicity with my beliefs. 

When I said no to my friend, it wasn't to try to make a point. It was me simply saying this was my choice. I know I will miss out on spending quality time with my friend and that makes me sad because I enjoy connecting with my friends. But I'm comfortable with my choice. I am not ready to change who I am to accommodate someone else--my decisions are between me and my God. 

I am not saying I will never change my convictions. Living outside of the bubble has helped show me that. Things I used to think were important, such as jewelry and diet, are really not significant in the scheme of things. This is not what my Father asks me to focus on. Time after time, God calls His people to focus on matters of the heart. He wants me to be humble, to love justice and mercy, to be patient and kind and have self-control. In doing so, I trust my convictions will be shaped by His attributes as I try to honour Him in my decisions. 

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

The Marriott of Belonging

These moments are unpredictable. I tell everyone who comes, whether a veteran of airport Chinese food and uncomfortable seats or just cutting their teeth on an explosion of flavours and sounds, that these days will come. They smile and carry on living life while I worry that they won't be able to manage when it does hit. I forget that I'm the one who struggles.

Today it was a 3-second shot of a Marriott Courtyard hotel. I was watching Sully, a very well-done movie, and when the camera panned out to show the hotel, for a moment I felt homesick. It's a strange feeling to hit right now, as I'm making plans to stay here past my one-year call. The past three weeks, I've been content in knowing that I'm doing what will bring me joy. Then this.

I miss my brother, mother, and sister. I miss the smell of sawdust, country music, and grilled corn. I miss driving down the freeway, not a car in sight, singing at the top of my lungs along with Mandisa. I miss being in the familiar. I miss Friday morning breakfasts with Sherry, Indian buffet with Stanly, and Pinkberry with Stephanie. I miss living in a house, preparing a meal for people I love, and sitting down to eat it with them. I miss seeing my mom fall asleep on a Sabbath afternoon on one of the 2 sofas we and my brother fight over. I miss Vegenaise, Chao cheese, and making recipes that turn out perfectly.

I'm thankful to be here. I love this country and my heart has found its home in precious people here. I have been able to employ the TCK superpower to disconnect from countries so I don't cry myself to sleep missing my family or get frustrated with time zones that prevent us from connecting in real-time. I'm trying my hardest to stay here long-term, even as I contemplate assuming citizenship of a country that I could never fully understand just so I can leave it and settle down here.

Then I think, I could just leave at the end of the one-year call. I could step on a plane and return back to a world where I can at least survive even if my soul is slowly dying. I could leave this country behind and once again try to forget. I don't want to. I just don't know if I have the choice. Or if it will make a difference to those I care about the most. I don't want to be just like all the other ones who came for a year or two and then left. I want to become a part of the fabric of this country and slip into belonging. This is what my heart searches for.

Friday, September 30, 2016

Seasons Change

It's the last day of the month. I always get a little melancholy on this day. A month is ending and while I'm excited about the prospective of new adventures in the coming month, I'm sad to say goodbye. It seems funny, really. Days and months are merely markers of time with no significance other than we attach to them. I, however, attach much significance. Perhaps too much.

September has been full. This was the month I passed the liminal stage between who I was in America and who I was becoming here and melded into my new identity. Somehow it has felt as natural as who I was before the 17 years I still try to forget. Perhaps it's because it is. I do not know all the details yet of how and for how long I will stay but I do know that I am finally content.

Now I wake up in the morning curious to see what the day's adventures will bring. Now I can sleep at night with a heart filled with life. My life is filled with social and work and church activities which keep me busy. Yes, there are days when I miss the familiar, when everyone around me is speaking in their native language and I feel left out, or when I just want to hop in a car and drive somewhere. But those are becoming fewer as joy continues to expand in my heart.

Speaking of goodbyes, I've noticed that I go through cycles related to the possibility of saying goodbye. As a TCK, I am often suspended between instant connection and fear of rejection. It's a strange dichotomy. I think as children we all believe that people love us and we open up our hearts easily. As we grow older, however, we begin to learn through hard life lessons that people will hurt us and we start to build walls to protect ourselves. The TCK, however, clashes with both of these expectations.

As a child/teenager, I had to work twice as hard to connect and try to fit in. I never spoke the heart language of those around me, except for a few short years in Africa, and I didn't understand all the nonverbal cues or inside cultural jokes. Even as I appeared to connect easily, I was beginning to select with who and how I would connect at a later age. By the time I entered my early 20s, I had learned to carry myself with an air of superiority merely to protect myself.

In the past 15 years or so, I have seen a pattern emerge in how I relate to people. Initially, we are best of friends. I will share emotions and experiences that others may take months or years to feel comfortable sharing. I need to connect so I know if we can be friends on a deeper level. This is the other thing that TCKs look for--a deeper connection than the superficial.

Once I know we can be friends, I become loyal to the person. However, there always comes a tipping stage. In this phase, I realize that I have shared a lot with them and I suddenly worry that they will reject me. In order to cope with the possibility of saying goodbye, I push them away first. It hurts like crazy, worse than ripping off a band-aid, but I know I am taking back control of my heart and no longer vulnerable. So I push.

In the final stage, I wait. There are those who leave, bewildered, confused, or not even realizing what has happened. Then there are those precious ones who wait also. When I'm ready, they are still there. Even if I don't know how to express my fear of rejection and instead hurry through life with my head down, focusing on my feet instead of people's faces, they step into sync with me and walk beside me. When I say words I shouldn't say, they patiently forgive and keep loving me. These are the ones who remain.

I'm not sure I know how to break this cycle, though I know it needs to change. I now recognize the flags that go down as I run around the track, three times, four times, each flag a different colour. Most of the people stand in the bleachers, cheering yet disconnected. Except for my dear dear friends. They step down, lace up their shoes tight, take a deep breath, and fall into stride beside me.

So please forgive me if it's the last day of the month and I'm feeling a little melancholy. Autumn is in the air and a pinch of bittersweet is sinking in as we hurry to the end of the year. I don't want to say goodbye. Not to the month, not to this glorious wonder-filled year that has changed my life and opened my heart. Not to the ones who speak acceptance with a single smile. I'm stretched a little thin of saying goodbye. No more.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Colours & Promises

I love songs. They echo what my heart is feeling but I can't express in words until I hear it in a song. Sometimes it's a phrase, other times it's a verse. Then there are the magical moments when the entire song is exactly perfect. Christina Perri's A Thousand Years is it.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

You Don't Stay

. . .seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you. . .Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper. ~Jeremiah 29:7 NIV
It was late evening but when I stepped over the broken slate gray cement brick that propped open the heavy metal door onto the pebbled roof, I saw with relief that it was empty. I would be able to hop up on to one of the heating/cooling units and sit comfortably there as I overlooked Beirut by night. I was excited. It had been too long.

When I lived here before, we had a water tower at the end of the driveway and they built a special water treatment room over it. The addition included a large square cement block roof that I could hop up on and sit, cross-legged, as I overlooked the Mediterranean Sea by night, little boats lit up and dotting its surface. I was rather protective of my special place where I would journal my teenage angst, talk to God, think and process my day. Leaving that was one of the hardest things to do because my new homes never had a private place in nature where God could fill my heart.

Then I returned and though I was no longer living in my old house, I found a new retreat. Each time I stepped over the brick onto the roof, I held my breath at the beauty of the city before me. During the day, the clear line between sea and sky or the planes coming in for a landing brought me joy while at night the lights and cityscape lit up the sky.

Yesterday, as I looked out over the city, a quiet resolve began to build in my heart. I had been hearing dear friends sharing from their heart during the past week and each time I heard them speak, my heart ached. They simply said, ""You come, you go, and you don't stay. But we stay." It was so true. Though not all missionaries do this, there are some who go on mission trips so they can add another stamp in their passport or take a photo with a local child and post it on Facebook with hashtags #blessed and #missionary#war-torn#country. This hurt the local mission work as they arrived with their iPads and iPhones, muddling the purpose of bringing hope in Jesus with hope in a better earthly life.

For many years, I struggled with the calling to missions. When I was 19, I went to a missions conference where I carefully signed a pledge promising that I would dedicate my life to long-term missions. Over the years, I kept remembering my promise and feeling guilty that I wasn't fulfilling it. My mother tried to help me see that working at a self-supporting institution, making sacrificial wages, living thousands of miles from family and all that was familiar, was mission service. But it didn't seem legitimate because I spoke the language and fit in so well that my friends were surprised to find out that I wasn't American. I'd adopted the accent, the casual California wear, the food and the culture. I knew who Andy Griffith was and could sing the theme song to Friends.

My sister and our friends started to get excited about Asia. They studied Chinese, they went on short-term mission trips, and two of the guys even moved to China and married Chinese women. I went on a two-week choir trip to Taiwan and cried my way through half of it. The food was unfamiliar, even the bananas were funny!, and I couldn't imagine myself living there long-term. I was terrified that God would send me to China or Taiwan.

Over the years, my heart still longed to return home--to Lebanon. I knew part of it was saudade, a Portuguese word that means a deep longing for something very precious to you, something you may never see again. Being raised across cultures, my heart was placed in multiple countries and Lebanon was not the only one that held ties to it. But when the opportunity came to return, even for just a year, I reached out for it with both hands.

All those years I listened to mission stories about Asia and Africa and South America and wished hard that I would have a calling but I never did. Now I know that God used that desire to bring me here for a purpose. I still don't know if my calling here is short-term or long-term but I want to be open to wherever God calls me. There is a huge mission field that will take many years to reach. There need to be relationships built and joyful Christianity modeled. And it takes time. Time to show that we're not people who just come, change everything, and then leave.

I cried through the sermon today. One of the new teachers, a good family friend, shared his story about recent open-heart surgery along with the fears and pain and struggle to recuperate after the surgery. My mother, brother and I had gone and sat in the waiting room with his family while he was in surgery. We didn't say much, we just brought things to do and snacks to eat, Michael had a prayer, and we waited. It was a small room, just barely big enough for the 6 of us along with another family also waiting for their loved one to come out of open-heart surgery.

I remembered going to see him afterwards. He was fast asleep, sedated, and pale. Tubes were everywhere with machines monitoring everything. We didn't stay long but we each said a fervent prayer in our hearts and then we quietly left for the hour-long drive back home. I kept in touch with his wife during that time, asking how we could help, and in the days following he had a difficult week because of the chest tubes that gave him great discomfort. I sent out an email asking for prayers and soon he was feeling better.

Even though I knew the end of the story, I still held my breath as he told it, waiting to be sure that he was okay. Tears ran down my cheeks as I imagined him not being here, standing in front of us, a living breathing heart-beating testimony to God's grace and mercy. It was a story that began more than 20 years ago. If we hadn't come to Lebanon as missionaries, my brother would not have had the idea to come back on a mission trip. Then the family friend and my brother wouldn't have come 3 consecutive years to do health outreach in the community. Then he wouldn't have felt a calling and pursued it to start a pre-med program at the university here. Then he wouldn't have had his physical and found out that he was in the beginning of heart failure.

Sometimes I get frustrated with God because I don't see an answer to my question materializing right away. Hearing the story today has encouraged me to recognize that some questions are still being answered. Some answers may have begun 20 years ago or they may be starting now. In the same way, when it comes to sharing the gospel and the freedom of salvation with others, if we don't see results right away, we don't need to be frustrated or to think it doesn't make any difference if we speak or don't speak. God is working everything out for good according to His purpose, not ours (Romans 8:28).

This is my dream for the future. To see clearly that I am in God's will and to be content there regardless of life's situations. To know that the small every day things have meaning because God has a purpose for my life. Whether it is here or elsewhere, I want to be the one who came. . .and stayed.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Where I End, You Begin

Every single day that I've been here, I've thought What will happen next? Being on a 1-year contract leaves a great deal of uncertainty in my mind and I don't do well with uncertainty. I prefer my life to be mapped out so I can know what to expect and how to reach my goals. My mom told me not to worry about it, to enjoy the adventure, and then in the last couple of months or so to start planning. But no. Every single day I've thought about it and worried about it.

I've often found that when I'm struggling to understand God's will, He sends understanding through a song. It may be Christian, it may be country, it may be a simple song someone strummed on a guitar, but it's in the words that my heart finds rest. Today it was The In Between by Lindsay McCaul. The main idea of the song is that in the time of restlessness between no longer and the not yet, all God is asking is that I trust Him in the time of inbetween.

This is the perfect call to a TCK. I've lived my life inbetween. Inbetween cultures, languages, contexts, families, religions, educational systems, if you can think of it I have lived between it. This liminal existence was so ingrained in me that even after I had lived 17 years on a small campus, I still felt like I lived in limbo, waiting for the next experience to begin.

It's not a comfortable place to be--this inbetweenedness. Here I am excluded based on race or language or diet or perceived status. I'd forgotten what it meant to be left out, at least where I lived before it was my choice if I didn't want to join the group of young people who got up at 6 am on a Saturday morning to pray or walked around campus memorizing King James verses from a brown plastic verse pack. But I had the luxury of surrounding myself with people who spoke English, preferred a healthy diet, and were astounded when I assured them I was not American.

The feelings of liminality, of being between, was kept inside me. These feelings were rooted in being between multiple cultures of my past, my home life, and my public persona. They had little basis or influence by the people I encountered. It seems like a paradox, because I did experience liminality to a deep degree, but it was not because the host country didn't welcome me. I chose to keep it at bay. Here, the reverse seems apparent in the microcosmic profusion of cultures.

I'm facing yet another crossroads. I seem to have seen several of these recently. Career changes, graduate studies, a year here. Then what? What will happen next? Struggling to learn how to trust in the inbetween.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Settled Change

It's been a few challenging days for me. I don't deal well with change, yet, ironically I have placed myself in a ministry position that constantly invokes change. Students returning, eating in the cafeteria again, unsure whether I'd be teaching, new volunteers, have all contributed to the feeling of being unsettled. I was encouraged, though, to read articles on culture shock and adapting. They reiterate that culture shock comes and goes in waves, depending on the person and the situation. It's encouraging to know that eventually the feelings pass and life resumes its normality, whatever that is.

The last couple of days I've come back to my room after work and was startled with an unpleasant scent memory from the first few weeks. I remember best when the senses are involved. For example, smelling freshly cut grass brings me back to climbing trees and running on the lawn at Newbold College when I was a kid. But this time the smell of summer reminded me of not feeling at home here, of wishing I could go home because it wasn't fun to be here. I'm thankful those memories are long in the past now. Even as I work to find my place, I know I'm a lot more comfortable being here than when I first came.

After a while, life settles. The highs disappear, the lows smooth out, and life becomes fairly average. It can be disappointing. I'd expected to always have a full social calendar with a close-knit group of friends to go everywhere with. The reality is that I'm still building the depth of connection that I already have back in the US. But I'm not in the US anymore, I'm here, so I need to invest the energy into community so my heart can settle too. Life may settle but if my heart is restlessly wishing for the past, as it has done for far too many years, then I will never be able to fully embrace the experience.

It's one small thing at a time, really. Today, I walked my 10,000 steps and did more than my hours of work. A dear friend cheered my day with photos of her babies trying pureed vegetables for the first time and another dear friend sent me a box of maple cookies all the way from Canada. From accomplishment to blessing, each moment I want to weave into a ladder that connects my past to my present and allows me to enter this new reality while keeping a hand in the past in a positive way. For if it hadn't been for my past, I wouldn't be the woman I am today. This is the good side of change.

Friday, September 2, 2016

In My Country

In my country. . .

This is a phrase I hear a lot here. When I heard it the other day, it made me stop and think. Here was someone who knew where their country was. They knew where they belonged. They had a country and in their country things were done a certain way. I didn't have that luxury.

After meeting someone for the first time, and since I travel the percentage of meeting new people increases, the first question they ask is Where are you from? When I returned to Lebanon, I told people I'm most recently from California but I've lived all over the place. If they wanted to know more, I gave them the Reader's Digest version of the continents I'd lived on and if they were really interested I'd throw in countries and ages. I lived here til I was 9 and there til I was 15, etc.

The second question tended to follow rather quickly. Which country did you prefer to live in? If they found out I carried multiple citizenship with quadruple ethnicities, two of which were not even related to my citizenships, their alternate question was Which culture do you most identify with? A new ATCK (adult third-culture kid) asked me that the other day and I didn't know how to answer them. I identify most with the Middle Eastern, European and American cultures was my reply. I'm still thinking about whether that is true.

The older I get, the less a single cultural identity seems of significant importance to me. Perhaps it's because the world is growing more accepting of the global nomad norm, as porous borders absorb thousands of refugees and intellectual tourism or trade is on the rise. Even with airplanes dropping out of the sky, millions of people step into metal cylinders and hurtle across oceans and continents to start a new life or fantasize it is their own for a few days.

I'm finding I'm not so unique anymore. Not long after putting a name to my childhood experiences, I began to meet others who shared similar patterns of uprooting from and adapting to various cultures. I learned there were thousands of TCKs out there and most of them could identify with my experience even if they'd lived in different countries or eras. For a while I found my identity as an ATCK and was proud of my heritage. I joined Facebook groups and poured my heart out on threads that dealt with loss. I focused on cross-cultural experience in my graduate studies and carried out a qualitative study of more than 65 TCKs to evaluate the connection between grief, loss, and adult identity.

After completing my graduate studies, I eagerly accepted a volunteer call in the country I'd lived in before immigrating to the US. In a way it felt like coming full-circle. I was now home even though it didn't look like home anymore and the friends I'd had were gone. I settled in to life and tried my hardest to identify with the Lebanese culture. I found that the hospitality, generosity, and warm friendliness were common to my values but the secular emphasis on materialism, outward looks, and advancing up the career and social ladder were not part of my worldview.

When I step back to consider who I am and which culture I identify with, I realize that my identity is as multifaceted as a red diamond which is considered the rarest diamond in the world. Every time you turn the diamond, a different prismatic explosion occurs. Similarly, as I try to understand who I am, I find that as I encounter different people or experiences, I relate differently to them. Even I cannot always predict how a certain situation will affect me.

My country is an African-European-Middle Eastern-American melding of countries. The good and the bad is squashed into a volumetric space no larger than 4 cubic feet. There are times when my identities clash, like a bad hair day for a multiple-personality person. When I'm expected to act Western but my natural instinct is Eastern, I freeze. I struggle sometimes because I feel like I should choose sides but the side to which I'm loyal shifts with the situation.

In my room, I have Dutch stroopwafels and speculaas, a glass with a picturesque Lebanese scene painted on it, a British flag backpack, Korean noodles, a Taiwanese postcard, an American calendar, a British best-selling biography, and a picture of my Bangladeshi sponsored child. I'm as comfortable with this flavour of the world as I am sitting in a Dutch train speeding through the green countryside. I identify with each culture in its unique way, depending on how long I lived there, at what ages, and the level of connection I hold with it.

The next time someone asks me Where do you come from? I'm still not sure what I'll tell them. I cannot say Lebanon because they will immediately know I don't speak Arabic. I cannot say California because they will ask me about politics and I won't be able to give them an intelligent answer. I cannot say Africa because they will laugh at my pale skin. I cannot say England or Holland because they will expect me to have the accent, neither of which I have.

Perhaps I can tell them I'm a kaleidoscope of cultures and each person who gets to know me will see a different picture of who I am based on their understanding of culture and openness to getting to know who I really am. Perhaps my identity will continue to change or merge til one culture is dominant. Perhaps I will finally settle down, not just physically, but emotionally so I can truly feel that where I am is who I am. Til then, I live in the between, the liminal experience strengthened each day as I grow content in who I am now and accept that who I am tomorrow may change. It is no longer in my country. It is in my heart.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

The Miracle of the Broken Pieces

A familiar story. Five loaves; two fish. A hungry crowd. Doubting disciples. A miracle. Yet perhaps the miracle was not even in the feeding of the five thousand. Perhaps the miracle was in the broken pieces.

The disciples had just returned from a mission trip, you could say. Jesus had commissioned them to preach and heal, sending them out to the villages. When they returned, they told Jesus everything and He took them to Bethsaida. It appears from the verses in Luke 9 that Jesus wanted to spend some time quietly with His disciples but soon the crowds found and followed Him. Never impatient, He welcomed them, and spoke to them about the kingdom of God, and healed those who needed to be cured (vs. 11).

When the disciples mention a need to feed all the people and Jesus tells them to provide the food, their reply seems one of indignation. How can they feed thousands of people with the small provisions they have unless they go and buy more food? After days of working miracles through Jesus' power, they doubt His ability to provide enough food for a simple meal of fish and bread.

We all know that Jesus blessed the fish and bread, broke the bread into pieces and gave the food to the disciples to distribute. There is depth of thought there also, that God gives us the blessings and expects us to pass them on to others so He can multiply those blessings through us. It's like church potluck when the food doesn't run out with 50 unexpected international guests. Or like one of my good friends who is constantly feeding others and giving things to those in need while God meets all her needs in perfect timing.

This isn't what caught my eye though. Valid points, yes. Theologically sound, yes. A lesson for us today, yes. Everyone ate til they were satisfied and in the same way, God provides for our needs and doesn't leave us waiting. But as I read the final sentence, I stopped. The disciples gathered up all the leftovers. Twelve baskets of broken pieces (vs. 17)

You would think Jesus would have calculated just exactly enough to feed everyone without any left over. After all, leftovers just go to waste, right? You would also think that Jesus would have kept magically multiplying whole loaves so that when everyone was full there would be entire loaves lying around if there were going to be leftovers. Pieces of bread dry out quicker, especially if it's the flat bread that is common in the Middle East. We always wrap the bag tight to make sure it doesn't dry out otherwise within 30 minutes the bread has turned to a thin hard cracker.

Often Jesus did things that didn't make sense to the people or His disciples. In this instance, they may not have even thought about the spiritual implications of broken bread. The layers to this story, though, are many. Later in Luke, Jesus Himself breaks bread at the Last Supper and hands it to His disciples. This time He isn't asking them to pass on the bread to a crowd; He is feeding them. At the same time that He is meeting their physical need for food, He is echoing His calling to this earth. He solemnly instructs them to eat the bread in remembrance of Him (Luke 22:19).

The bread becomes a symbol of Jesus' soon-to-be death. The bread reminds us, then and now when we take Communion, that Jesus' body was broken in spirit and in reality for our wholeness. A spear pierced His side and a deep sadness pierced His soul when He believed that His Father had forsaken Him. Yet despite the incredible physical pain and the even-harsher emotional pain, Jesus determined to continue til the end so victory would be realized.

I don't think the disciples knew then what the 12 baskets of broken pieces really meant. In passing the broken bread to them, Jesus was commissioning them to share the gospel with the world. He had already minted them through the practical application of ministry in preaching and healing. Now, He had performed a miracle to strengthen their faith. At the same time, His quiet example was spreading a foundation for when He would no longer be with them. There were 12 disciples and 12 baskets. Each disciple had a calling to take the Word of God from Jesus and function as a vessel to pass on the good news to whomever was open to hearing.

In sharing the broken pieces, Jesus was offering wholeness. Jesus wanted the disciples to understand this but it would take them time. The same gift is offered to me today. While the broken pieces of bread may seem like second-best, they are perfect for God's plan. He wants to use me, a broken person, to take the gospel to others.

Did you notice that the broken pieces weren't left on the hillside to be eaten by the birds? They were gathered up and carefully put into baskets to be eaten in the future. Similarly, God doesn't reject me because I'm broken. He carefully gathers me close, keeping me near His heart, until there is opportunity to be used for Him. There is a mentality out there among Christians that if you have any problems, you just need to pull yourself up by your bootstraps and get over it. You're supposed to be perfect. If you're anything less than that, you're not good enough for God and if you even confess to something, you need to figure out how to deal with it within 24 hours.

I have learned that God doesn't work that way. He knows I am a fragile person (Psalm 103:14). Instead of expecting me to measure up, God sees my brokenness and has compassion on me. He holds me close and extends healing through loved ones and experiences personalized just for me so I see how much He loves me.

Each basket had a purpose. I have a purpose. A broken piece of bread may seem useless but one day someone will be hungry and need to eat it for sustenance. Giving the gift of bread, even if it is broken, encourages the receiver. In the same way, sharing Jesus' love with others encourages those who hear. I'm a broken piece, I'm not perfect, and I often feel like I'm just sitting and waiting for God to use me, but because I'm broken, I can receive broken bread, or the Word of God, and pass it on to others. If I was perfect, Jesus wouldn't need to do a miracle with me. What astounding mercy!

Sunday, August 28, 2016

2,000 Pigs

I've been slowly reading my way through Luke and last night I read the story of the Gerasene Demoniac who Jesus healed (Luke 8:26-39). This is such a familiar story, I could immediately tell you that there is a version with two demoniacs and another version with just one, and of course we can't forget the pigs that all rushed to their demise after the demons hopped from the man/men to the animals. But this story suddenly became the strangest story I've read yet.

It starts out simply enough. After the storm, Jesus and His disciples got out of the boat. The demoniac met them, naked, probably with broken chains dangling from his ankles, and began to shout at Jesus. If I was a disciple, I think I would have been cowering behind Jesus, even if I was a man, because it seems like a pretty terrifying encounter.

Looking at the details, though, makes the story fascinating. First, it says the demoniac was a man of the city. I'm reading from the NRSV and other versions say he was from the town. Regardless, this man was civilized, likely owned a home, and had worn clothes rather than shackles. He had suffered from demon-possession for a long time and now he lived in the tombs. It makes sense. Demons are of a dark nature and cemeteries are filled with dead people.

Mark is very descriptive about the demoniac's experience. He says they often tried to restrain him with the chains and shackles but he would pull apart the chains and break the shackles into pieces. That would have required superhuman strength. No one was able to subdue him and he would howl and bruise himself with stones (5:5). In other words, the demoniac was self-destructive, uncontrollable, and frightening.

When the demoniac saw Jesus, he fell down at His feet and he shouted. Falling down at someone's feet is both a sign of worship or acknowledging their authority and a sign of helplessness or desperately needing help from the person whose feet you're at. I think the demoniac was doing both. In his desperate situation, the humanity in him recognized a Saviour as so many others had done when reaching out for Jesus' healing. The demons in him recognized an authority above them and responded accordingly.

I'll pause here to think about the difference between an unclean spirit and a demon. In Luke, Jesus speaks to the unclean spirit and then the many demons reply. In Mark, it also begins by saying the man has an unclean spirit and that Jesus commands the unclean spirit to come out of the man. Matthew just mentions demons. We don't hear about a clean spirit in the Bible but David talks about a right spirit in Psalm 51:10 so this would be the opposite. The unclean spirit could be Satan's control and the demons would be the evil angels.

Why did the demons shout? There are other instances where they do the same thing, and Jesus always cautions them to be silent so the crowds don't hear them. Here, the scene takes place on a deserted hillside with tombs and a herd of pigs in the distance. Jesus doesn't tell the demons to be silent but I think they shouted because they wanted to be as annoying as possible.

Jesus asked the demoniac what his name was and he replied Legion. There was not one demon inside him but many. Here's where it gets interesting. The demons beg Jesus not to order them out out of the man back into the abyss (vs. 31). In other words, there is an abyss (is that outside of this world or is it floating around in the air not having a person to possess?), the demons had come from the abyss, and they didn't want to go back.

Why did the demons ask Jesus to let them go into the pigs? I started to wonder, then, if animals who turn savage and attack humans are demon-possessed. In the beginning, before sin, man had a natural dominion over animals. After sin, a protective barrier of fear was installed (and I wonder if it's even possible to say that fear could be protective, if God hasn't given us a spirit of fear). Regardless, there was now a clear separation and man's dominion over animals became forced.

The demons leave the man and go into the herd of pigs. But then the 2,000 pigs drown in the lake of Galilee. So logically, the demons no longer have pigs to possess which means they return to the abyss, correct? Or does it mean they simply float around the world looking for their next victim? When they begged not to be ordered back into the abyss, was that a distinct place? When Jesus ordered other demons to leave their victims, did He send them all to the abyss?

After the pigs all died, the swineherds rushed off and told everyone. Here is another strange scene. The people who have obviously known the man for many years and seen his struggles with demon-possession come out to see what's going on and see the man sitting at Jesus' feet, clothed and in his right mind (vs. 35). Then why are they afraid?

It would make sense that they would be afraid before. Afraid of a wild man who breaks chains and roams in the midst of tombs. They would be afraid of him because he could hurt their children or them. Now, when he is wearing clothes, sitting quietly, and obviously lucid, they are afraid. The testimony of those who saw the whole event doesn't convince them. They ask Jesus to leave and He honours their request.

It's interesting that there are two instances where Jesus is asked something and He honours that request. He lets the demons go into the pigs, which means all the pigs die, and He leaves the town after healing just the demoniac, which means the town loses out on all the blessings He would have given them. Wherever Jesus went, He healed the sick, He preached the gospel, and people's physical, emotional, and spiritual needs were met. But Jesus didn't insist on His presence and on His healing. He honoured their request. But He did leave a living testimony behind. The man who was healed shared his story in the whole city about what Jesus had done for him.

I think I identified most with the crowd that begged Jesus to go away. I was sad when I realized that they reacted just like the Pharisees did, seeing Jesus work miracles and instead of welcoming Him so more people could be healed, they worked as hard as they could to disrupt His ministry. In Sabbath School class yesterday, we talked about interruptions and how God can use those to get our attention and use us more effectively in ministry. I think this was a form of interruption in both the demoniac's life and the people of the city. The two reacted very differently, however, to the divine interruption.

The demoniac began to worship Jesus out of love and to listen to Him as a disciple. He then followed Jesus' command to go and share the good news with everyone in his city. The people of the city, on the other hand, viewed Jesus' interruption as detrimental to their economy and became very afraid of what else could happen. They didn't welcome the interruption; they pushed Jesus out of their lives and in doing so lost out of the possibility of many blessings.

I want to be aware of the interruptions that God brings into my life and I want to learn more about how to serve Him when it seems like life isn't going the way I'd planned for it to go. I don't want to become so focused on making money, having a comfortable life, and keeping the status quo that I can't recognize Jesus doing miracles in my life. Not every piece of the story makes complete sense but the overall picture does. Just as He did then, Jesus offers complete healing but He won't force Himself into my life. It's up to me to allow Him in. He will do all the rest.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Not Goodbye

I didn't realize it was possible to fall in love with a country. A person yes, but a country? But then I listened to Carrie Underwood's See You Again and I knew my heart had been captured. And I wondered why it took me so long to return when 17 years ago I'd already known. . .

They say the people make the country. I believe it. When I first lived here, I fell in love with a boy. He was dark as a night without stars but his smile lit up my teenage world where I struggled with the typical father-daughter rebellion. He was my first love, the one you always remember. When I left the first time, it was with a broken heart that begged to return.

There were other good memories, of course. Turning 16 and then 18, those milestone birthdays, and the stuffed dog two of my friends who were dating gave me. They didn't last but the dog returned with me when I did and celebrated his 18th birthday where I celebrated mine so long ago. Saturday night games and climbing trees and colouring little Happy Sabbath notes in church. The trees are still there and one dear church lady kept nearly all her notes in her Bible all those years.

It was only a little over 5 months after arriving when I packed my bags to return to the States for a brief visit. I'd dreamed of this day on my most difficult days when the homesickness seemed just a little too difficult to push away. But strangely, I wasn't feeling as excited as I'd expected. It was as if I'd been transported 17 years back and I was once again having to say goodbye without promise of hello. I didn't like the feeling at all.

I reassured myself that this was just temporary. I had a return ticket, my papers were all in order, I had a job to return to, and I was leaving all my belongings behind. I took a 35+ hour trek via the North Pole and after a week of the flu began to slowly busy myself with life again. Yet I couldn't shake the anxiety. I didn't want to stay here. All the well-meaning acquaintances who stopped me to say hello and ask if I was back for good didn't understand this was no longer home for me. Well, it had never been to begin with.

Then Carrie Underwood's song crept into my mind and I hunted for it on YouTube. Soon the familiar country strains filled the kitchen and soothed my restless heart. I echoed the lyrics but not to a person. To a country. My country.

I will forever be grateful to the US for country music, freedom, flipflops in January, wide open freeways, and Chipotle. I will be grateful that here I graduated from high school, college and graduate school without debt, learned to drive without having to wear a full veil, and opened my own bank account without a husband or father as co-signatory. I will be grateful for cheap gas, BOGO sales, Dr. Phil's sage advice, and an affordable Tracfone cellphone. But try as hard as I have, my heart always wandered and refused to pledge allegiance when it had to be true elsewhere.

My heart belongs to a land of idiosyncratic clashes of values and emblems. Crumbling buildings stand beside towering skyscrapers suspended entirely out of glass. Valentino and Michael Kors vie for space in a city that hides thousands of struggling refugees. Cars honk on streets where order has vanished unless a police officer directs traffic. Gunshots mingle with fireworks, confusion as to which is celebrating and which is a warning from the street side pharmacists in the valley. Alongside ostentatious mosques stand equally ostentatiously built Orthodox cathedrals, many of them boasting preservation through the multitude of wars.

I dodge barrelling cars to reach my destination safely. I learn to laugh at taxi drivers who offer me $7 to marry them for American papers. Papers which, I inform them, I sadly cannot provide as I am not an American citizen though my Cali-girl accent seems to say otherwise. I listen to a friend and the next time I'm able to order fruit cocktails (think fresh fruit) for everyone in the local language. I am used to hiking up a hill carrying my month's groceries in two hands and a backpack. I now accept the humidity and its accompany sweat as status quo.

17 years ago, I said goodbye and the country, the boy, were gone. I grieved for a few days but then I had to put the tears aside to focus on living in the New Country. Life wasn't easy and there was no money to return or even to phone. Eventually I thought I'd forgotten. My heart hadn't. In two weeks I return. This time I will see it again. This time I'm going home.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

25 And Counting

25 hours til I pick up my bags and head out the door to start my trip back home. Except I'm leaving home to go home. It doesn't make sense. Then again, isn't that the life of a global nomad? One that doesn't make sense to anyone else, and often even to me?

A few days ago I became really sad that I was going. It's just 3 weeks. I'll be back before I have time to get homesick. When I started to think of the friends I was leaving behind, my friend's twin baby boys who are just starting to recognize me, the delicious foods, the night view of twinkling fishing boats on the Mediterranean Sea, and the many things that fill my life and heart, I began to feel sad. For a moment, I was 18 again and goodbye was forever.

I'm so thankful that is not the case this time. I know I'm coming back, or at least that is the plan. Then I catch myself grieving the losses I anticipate will happen early next year when I do leave for good. I don't want to go back to the US. I am just starting to feel like an adult who can do things on her own, or at the very least ask people to help me. I know my life here isn't only about enjoying myself but I'm not ready to give up the social life I've found does exist outside of unhealthy confines.

I watched several Blimey Cow episodes on YouTube this afternoon. They're parodies of Christian life, some of which are quite funny. One that caught my attention was talking about why Christians freak out about everything, or get stressed from small things. The sentence at the very end startled me. One guy was saying to the other guy, "I'm so stressed about my exam tomorrow!" The other guy replied, "But don't you have the answers in the book right in front of you?" The first guy sighed and said, "Yeah, but. . .I don't trust it."

I have to admit, I'm somewhat anxious about traveling across oceans and to large airports in the next couple of days. While I'm flying on a reputable airline to safe cities, recent history is making it clear that there are no guarantees of safety anymore. It's easy to get sucked into the hype of media and exist in a state of fear. I'm afraid of going. I'm afraid I won't come back.

Am I afraid I can't trust God too? Several small answered prayers last week have helped me see that God is aware of the minute details in my life. He's given the answers to my fear and anxiety right in the Bible. He's always with me, He will protect me, He will give me eternal life. I don't need to worry about tomorrow or even about today.

My sister said it must make God sad when we don't trust Him. It's as if we're saying, "I don't believe You are a real God or that You have the power to work miracles." I understand her point. I don't want to be the person who knows the information but doesn't know the Author. I want to learn to trust my Father and that He will keep me safe and place me in the habitation He has prepared for me (Acts 17:26). Not only in heaven but on this earth also.

Friday, July 15, 2016

It's Not His Intent

She said, "This is what the Lord has done for me when He looked favourably on me and took away the disgrace I have endured among my people." Luke 1:24,25

It was never God's intent.

It's not His intent that I am in my mid 30s and still single when I would love to have a family. It's not His intent that I come from a broken home of divorce. It's not His intent that I don't have a home country to return to. It's not His intent that I've had struggles through the years.

Elizabeth and her husband John had done the right things all their lives. They were righteous people, descendants of priests, and there was no apparent reason why they should have not been blessed with children. Yet sin still ruled the world and it was Satan's intent that they not experience that joy. This is what makes the verse above so beautiful.

At first glance, it would appear that God was the one Who put the disgrace on Elizabeth. The verse The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away rings in my ear as just one example. But in verse 6 of the same chapter it is clear that Elizabeth didn't deserve to be disgraced. Her barrenness was not a result of her disobedience to God's law. It was the result of sin. Not her sin but sin's effect on the world.

After Elizabeth finds out she is pregnant, she gives all praise to God. Interestingly, she doesn't say God has given her a child because she obeyed His law. No, she says God has given her a child because He has been gracious and kind to her (Merriam Webster definition 3 of favour). In doing so, in making it possible for Elizabeth to conceive, God has taken away the disgrace she had to endure for so long. God did not place the disgrace on Elizabeth but He did remove it.

This is the God I love. Many people ask why God allows bad things to happen. A famous cliche says that He won't allow things to happen to you unless you can handle it (which I think is quite inaccurate and untrue because He doesn't want us to suffer). Another one says that everything goes through God first, as if He filters the horrible things, choosing which ones will pass Him to get to you.

I don't think God is up there, arbitrarily or randomly selecting which bad things can happen to you. While this does jive with the idea that He is judge and ruler above all, it clashes with the understanding that God's role is to mitigate the effects of sin in our lives. Sin is like black paint. Once it splatters on something, you can see it clearly and even if you scrub it away there are still black specks that linger. The effects are permanent. . .at least in this life.

Until Jesus returns, we have to live with the reality of this sin. We have to recognize that Satan's sole purpose is to make our lives as difficult as possible so we will renounce God, possibly give up on life, and adopt a laissez-faire attitude. Sin is deadly and its insidiousness makes it harder to spot or name.

So when bad things happen, instead of asking why God allows them to happen, we can shift our questions to how will we see God taking these horrible things, like the truck massacre in Nice, the airport bombing in Ataturk, or the plane explosion in Sharm el Sheikh, and somehow give us the strength to carry on.

We are in a war. Today, the literal effects of this war are being seen more and more, but figuratively speaking we are in a war. We are the foot soldiers and there are two captains, Satan and Jesus. Satan is fighting to keep his territory and as many prisoners of war as possible while Jesus is fighting to free as many as possible from Satan's deadly influence. Satan is the charmer; Jesus is the winsome one.

As we live life, we are choosing to fight for one side or the other. When tragedy strikes and we are wounded, we often find ourselves limping through life, questioning why we have to endure such things. If our eyes could be open, we would perhaps understand a little more why. We can be fighting for Jesus' side but the battle we are fighting is in a large open area where Satan's bombs of death, divorce, addiction, pain, fear, jealousy, grief, hatred, and more are falling on us daily. Jesus cannot shield us from all the bombs just as in any war, there are casualties of that war. If He were to shield us, then Satan could accuse Him of throwing the battle so that we would naturally gravitate to Jesus' side since there would be no threat to our lives while fighting on Satan's side would guarantee battle scars.

Here is where my God's character is fully revealed. During and after the explosions, He is there to support me. I may be wounded, because life will do that, but He will not allow me to be conquered if I give full allegiance to Him. I think it breaks God's heart to see us suffering. He longs even more than I do for the 2nd Coming so all this horror will be over. But until then, God in His wisdom brings joy, love, and peace into our lives despite the tragedies we must endure.

He brought me out into a broad place; he rescued me, because he delighted in me. ~Psalm 18:19

Monday, July 11, 2016

Weary of Goodbyes

Today was a bit difficult. I found myself saying no to requests, withdrawing at mealtime (honestly, it gets tiring sometimes to eat every single meal with people), and feeling sad while simultaneously frustrated. After work I retreated to my room where I watched 3 episodes of Christy in a row while eating the last of my artifically-flavoured strawberry biscuits and cracking up sunflower seed hulls.

In the background, random gunshots from the valley mixed with distant fireworks, as the mosque's evening chant seemed to be louder than ever. The fan whirred fast but didn't manage to push away the humidity quickly enough to prevent it from sticking clammily to my face. I absentmindedly scratched the small itchy bumps between two fingers on my left hand, just four of more than 50 old and new bites scattered on my person. I was tired. Tired of this. 

Then I stumbled across a post on Facebook. Someone else was feeling tired too. We both belonged to a group that identified themselves as the travelers who never quite fit in and so a group had been created as a place of belonging. I hungrily sped through the thread, nodding as I found words that echoed my feelings, crying with relief that I wasn't alone. This was normal. Very normal, apparently. It even had a name. Expat Fatigue. Someone had written a post about it which I quickly opened to read.

There are days when I have such a strong sense of joy that I float through my day. Then there are days that I wake up and I know that I will need to be quiet in public and focus on making it through until I can go home and process. The joy is much quieter and sometimes even invisible though I know it never completely disappears. Someone who knew me during a time period last year when I was struggling remarked that they never realized I was having a hard time finding joy. I do a good job of hiding it and appearing to be happy. I can easily share my anger and frustration but I keep my pain and loneliness close. The first two simply add bricks to a wall I've carefully built around me for years while the last two could make the wall crumble in an instant.

I'm not sure why I chose this assignment. I see now that I stepped into yet another year of uncertainty which is not easy. It has to be a time of trusting that what I cannot see ahead will be good. For now I wait.

The song Here Comes Goodbye has been ringing in my head today. It's by Rascal Flatts and the song itself isn't what keeps repeating; it's a single phrase near the end of the song when the man looks down at the young child clutching his hand saying Are you ready? and quietly asks, What's it like? The child says softly, There's no more goodbyes. This is my wish. The wish of a TCK-grown-up-now-nomad weary of the goodbyes that have defined more than 35 years.

No more goodbyes.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Of Moons, Honey and Cheese

The honeymoon is over. I've been feeling slightly unsettled since the weekend and was wondering why. It wasn't a feeling of depression or the sudden need to cry, like I had felt at the 3.5 month mark and then again a couple of weeks ago. It also wasn't the feeling of not fitting in and being lonely like I'd felt when I first came. This feeling was one that reached into my bones. Then I realized what it was. It was disappointment that the honeymoon was over.

I think when you first go somewhere, you go through a honeymoon phase. Everything is brand new and exciting, you compare the great points of the new host culture to the worst points of the previous culture, whether host or home, and you walk around with slightly glazed over eyes. You see beauty where others see garbage, you are eager to volunteer to help out anytime you can, you explore your new country with a touristic vigour, and you marvel at the exotic food.

Then one day you wake up and realize--this is life. It isn't exciting anymore. It's just life. Now you see the dirt on the streets, you realize that the exotic food is like peanut butter and jelly sandwiches back home, and you get tired of exploring places that start to all look the same after awhile. The mosquitoes drive you mad, the late night laughter and talking in the dorm gets to be too much, and if you see cucumbers for lunch one more time you'll scream.

This is where the mundane becomes your reality. My reality. It is at this moment that I can decide to push the host culture away as I patriotically grip tighter to the identity I formed before. I can choose to retreat into depression and insist that I will never feel at home here even as I recognize I didn't feel at home in the country before that. Or I can shed one skin and like the chameleon, allow my new skin to reflect the light and life surrounding me.

I can resent my host culture, focus on every thing that irritates me about it, and compare it to any other culture I feel is superior. Or I can sink into my host culture and let it coat me like a mudbath, sticking so tightly that I must emerge different. This is what I want. Yet it is the toughest challenge for me to embrace.

After the honeymoon comes the marriage. The serious part. The til-death-do-us-part part. Not knowing whether I'll be here beyond the year makes it harder yet I cannot consider it an excuse. Whether this will be a short-lived relationship or long-term, I still have a calling to push past the doldrums and begin to live life as a regular person. I can still choose joy. And that I will.

Friday, July 1, 2016

An Incomplete Puzzle

I've been processing the whole where is my home question ever since I returned. As time begins to tick and I get closer to having to make a decision about my long-term future, the question increases in urgency. I love being here and every adventure solidifies that love. The people, the country, the university. I feel that I am home. (grammar purposely done so)

Then I peer at pictures on Facebook of another place I lived and worked. I miss the people and the country. But my heart tells me that it will never be home. That life was a chapter I prefer not to return to. So what does it mean? Is home here? Is home there? Is home in one of my other inherited homes?

A piece of the puzzle is easily found. Home is being in God's plan. Every day here, even the days when I was tired of being a grown-up or adjusting to different realities, I have known without a doubt that I was where God wanted me to be. This has given me peace and an abiding joy that has grown stronger with time.

Another piece of the puzzle is found in the dear friends here. Each one trusts me with a part of their life and I'm thankful for the precious memories we are creating. We talk about life, we wrestle with understanding Who God is, and we support and encourage each other through the tough times. If my friends were not here, I wouldn't feel like it was home.

There is another piece of the puzzle, I think. I'm waiting to put it into words because it is a piece that cannot be hammered into shape or cut out of a shapeless canvass. This is a piece I am searching for still. 

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Dropping Dropping

This week has been one filled with uncertainty, unrest, and tragedy in my region of the world. While I try not to be affected too much by world news, I have found myself suddenly questioning whether I should go certain places. There were several bombings in a village near the northern border. A reputable local media source is now reporting a number of foiled attacks around the country, including a mall that I have been to before. After hearing about the attack on Ataturk Airport, I am somewhat more anxious about flying. And then two nights ago, after a lovely evening eating and talking with several friends, a likely drugged taxi driver was a little too insistent on trying to give us a ride and a security guard had to ask him to go away. Now I'm apprehensive about taking public transportation.

One of my students works as a security guard. He's so young and could probably fit through a postage slot sideways. Every time he grins at me in class, I wonder how a mere boy can be tasked with protection. He should be spending his time studying, carefree, enjoying life. I worry for him.

In worship we talked about how no matter where we are, if we are in God's will we are in the safest place we can be in the world. I don't want to live in a state of fear but where is the balance between practical living and safety? I am a single woman in a country that alternates between respecting and degrading my gender. I met a young lady the other day who fearlessly lives life and is heading into an insecure area next week to teach children. I marvel at her bravery even while I contemplate staying on this oval kilometer for the next 8 months.

When I chose to come here, I did so knowing I was taking a risk. Life is risk. Sometimes it is high-risk, other times it is low-risk, but you cannot escape the risk. I've made many decisions in my life that chose to push past the fear, hold the risk in both hands, and keep living life without allowing fear to control my actions. It has to be so. Otherwise I will remain frozen with regret. I must live life.