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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.