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Friday, January 27, 2017

To Relinquish

Sitting in my room that refuses to heat above 62 even though I've set the thermostat to 80, after a somewhat consoling breakfast of dried out khabaz (thin pita-like Arabic bread) and hummus, I was scrolling through my FB friends' feed when I came across a link for God Bless the USA. My all-time favourite song, I hit the link so I could hear Lee Greenwood sing the familiar tune. Until the phrases started to sink in. cuz the flag still stands for freedom and they can't take that away. . .where at least I know I'm free. . .

The debate that's swirling around Trump's latest executive order to halt processing of immigrants from specific countries is one that is tempered by emotion, the new president of the USA not-withstanding. Opinion pieces, statistics, and the voices of those who will be affected by it are everywhere I look. I am an immigrant and I understand the anxiety of those who were expecting to experience freedom, from war, from fear, from uncertainty and more. I battle against the unfairness that a few radicals can influence the fate of thousands of innocent ones. The ignorant often seem to control the future and it's hard to hold on to hope or believe God really is orchestrating events behind what we can see.

I am an immigrant, yes, but I am one who has the dual privilege of standing between countries. I already hold citizenship in two European countries where, though I have not lived since a child, I can return to easily should I desire to pick up my life and leave. Presently, I live in the Middle East where my heart has found its home but simultaneously I struggle to reconcile a possible need to acquire citizenship of the country that symbolizes freedom to some but not all. If I want to stay here, ironically in a country that is close enough to the ones on the current blacklist, I have to either give up my rights to a long-term future in the US or become a citizen that promises to uphold values that stand diametrically opposed to mine in regards to family, social justice, moral ethics, and more.

The person who wrote God Bless the USA had likely never stepped outside its borders and I do not blame them for their perception of freedom. We each understand the concept based on our personal experience and I lack another layer of perception because my passports have allowed me to enter many countries with little hassle. But to choose that song, iconic though it is, to celebrate the new presidential reign is one that raises every hackle and rallies every cell of determination to ensure that people know this is not so. Yes, America was built by immigrants but whether they will be denied entry, as doubtless many will be in the coming years, or whether they will choose to relinquish their rights because they cannot uphold its insistent ignorance, the immigrants may soon be realizing that it is no longer the land of the free or the home of the brave.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Living in Joy

I paused to rest my head against the wall and smiled. The joy has returned, I thought.

It had been a few weeks of emotional questioning for me. When I first arrived, nearly 11 months ago, I didn't expect to encounter the traditional culture shock. I was convinced that since I'd already lived here, it would be easy to slip back into the routine of life, never mind that 18 years had passed and I was now an adult. Then I hit several walls, at the 2.5 and 3 and 6-month mark. After processing the unfamiliar and at times uncomfortable emotions, the joy came.

I remembered this joy. It was a joy that I'd had before coming to America, when life was simple and I woke up each morning eager for the adventure the day would bring. Then I'd lost myself in dark places for far too long and wondered if I'd imagined the joy or if it was even possible to find it again. Coming back home I found it. I fell in love with my adopted country. The changes in weather, the flavours I'd missed for too long, the crisp line between sea and sky, getting lost in its many moods and experiences deepened my joy at being able to live here. I never thought it was possible to feel this happy. I assumed the sadness was gone.

Then my sister came to visit and while she was here she asked me Are you happy here? She genuinely wanted to know--she had left America 5 years before me, even though she was younger than me, to seek her own joy. She had found it, in a tiny island in Asia, where she now taught squirming 11-year olds during the day and delighted in the tastes and sights of her new country at night and on weekends. She embraced life and wanted to be sure I was doing so too.

I'd thought I was happy. But suddenly I found myself questioning the joy. Was it genuine or was it tied to people or particular experiences? What if my friends moved on, would I still be happy in my job? What if my job changed, would I still look forward to each day's adventures? For several weeks the joy was shrouded in silence. I was shaken by the feelings of uncertainty. I was scared that my short upcoming trip to the US would lure me back with promises of monetary security even if the joy-level was minimal to non-existent there.

I'd been sure that I was ready to settle down here. I spoke about slipping into the fabric of everyday life and longed deeply to be the one who came and stayed, instead of being lumped with all those who came and then left. I felt what I thought was a calling--one that seemed almost too easy to answer because it was one my heart had yearned towards for years.

Then I thought, it doesn't matter. I can leave. Life will go on. Maybe I'm really not as happy here as I thought I was. It made me sad, to think that I had lost that joy so easily. I'd thought it was forever but now, like a celebrity marriage, it seemed to have dissolved with no reason why.

Til today. It started like any other day, simply enough, and yet by the evening when I stopped to take a moment and reflect within, I realized the joy had returned. This joy seems more mature, somehow, like aged cheese, and more knowing, like an elderly couple who's shared a lifetime together. It is as deep as ever but it sparkles brighter than before.

My favourite little people, 9-month old twin baby boys, know the meaning of pure joy. They giggle and laugh from a place of innocence when they experience joy. This is how I want to walk through life--living in expectation of joy. Then I will have peace within.

 May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him. . . ~Romans 15:13