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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.