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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.