From a family of writers

It was 2:30 a.m. and I was wide awake, when suddenly it struck me: I’m from a family of writers!

My mom, my siblings, and I all enjoy writing. Of course, we’ve had our share of mishaps. Like the time my mom sent a cheerful email to her siblings proclaiming “Hell to you all!” (she’d forgotten an “o”). Or the time when I was a child making a birthday card for my aunt. The card contained a hidden message cleverly concealed under a square of paper on which I had inscribed “Open the flab.”

Despite these unfortunate skeletons, we continued writing and continue to this day.

Mom comes from a family of unusual vocabulary, a vocabulary which still seeps into her everyday speech and writing. Before having children, she used to write poetry and keep a journal. Since children, she exchanged writing time for reading aloud: tales of Ira, Francis, Ichiro, and a little later, Narnia. Now her main writing occupation is optimistic emails to missing family members.

My older sister and I have stacks of journals. Hers go way back, to when she recorded observations from our childhood such as “Tricia eats like a horse and looks like a string bean.” Even now, she writes captivating emails recording events and people that waltz through her married life.

My older brother is the nerdy, theological writer of the family. When he asked me to help edit his Bible school thesis, I read a bit then stuck to editing grammar, not content. Instead of “This deep point of doctrine would be more indisputable if…” I was penciling in things like, “Maybe this sentence structure needs help???” Of late, most of his writing seems to be going out from the mailbox to a certain Ohio address.

My younger brother kept a journal of our family trip out West. The several pages, which gave a snapshot of the vacation in that moment, also gave some humorous insight to the workings of a 12-year-old mind. It was delightful to find his journal in my stash of papers years later… and give a copy to his wife to read! Now he gets to write sermons rather than record who is eating candy and what music we are listening to.

It was on another vacation long ago that my little sister, wrote an adorable note: “Dad, why do you let your whiskers grow?” Her thoughts have run down deeper lines since then. She maintains her own blog now and is more dedicated to her writing than any of us other family members.

At 14-months, even my nephew scripts his feelings quite clearly (see photo above).

Why do we write? Maybe it was due to those years when our parents instilled in us a love of reading. Those evenings that Mom would take us to the library and we would walk out with 40+ books that we started to read on the way home. The librarian told Mom that we were “good for circulation.”

Regardless of the reason, I’m thankful to be from a family who expresses through writing. For one, it makes living overseas more possible.

Happy birthday, Albert

The way he oohs and aahs over simple pleasures. The way he slobbers out motor sounds while he drives his cars and tractors across the carpet. The way he points at things with an excited gasp, expecting you to look in wonder. The way he giggles with Eskimo hugs. The way he “dances” when he hears bouncy music. And the way he sings in church– “Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa.”

We met only a few months ago, but he has already managed to steal my heart.

Happy first birthday, Albert Harris.

Not so glamorous

I asked my roommate for ideas for my blog. She suggested that I write about how life abroad isn’t necessarily glamorous. The common misconception is that life at home is mundane, but those who live abroad are enveloped in a never-ending adventure. Yet, those who have live out of the country soon realize that there is a difference between traveling abroad and living abroad.

I dug around in my old emails to find my initial impressions of my “exotic” life. It turns out that despite the initial culture shock, I soon settled into a routine, much like life at home.

From February 2016: “It was hard to decide what to write about this month. If I only mention the highlights, you assume that my life is one big, adrenaline-laden adventure. It’s not. Each day is unique, but I have developed a pattern and am beginning to plod down the same cowpath day after day. Even the grass is wearing out beneath my hooves. Moo… In spite of these very normal circumstances, occasionally I do experience variation from normal life. It’s like happening on an untasted meadow (to continue the bovine analogy). Sometimes the meadow is sweet grass, other times it’s mostly thistles.”

From April 2016: “Perhaps my life sounds glamorous to you. I suppose it is in theory, but it’s been hard to give up close interaction with family, church, and friends while what used to be my everyday life changes without me. And looking like an ignorant tourist isn’t particularly glamorous or comfortable..”

What’s new quickly becomes normal when you experience it enough. Flagging down taxis, crossing the street amidst moving traffic, watching things shatter when dropped on hard tile, eating piles of bread and drinking liters of syrupy tea is all commonplace.

See, the glamorous part happens in the initial stages. A North African immigrant in America might be startled at the wealth of personal space, how difficult it is to make friends, traffic that is relatively decent and in order, prices that are non-negotiable, and everything running on time. That is something to write home about…initially. Until the glamour of the foreign adventure becomes everyday life.

Also from an email from April 2016: “A recent sermon has given me a few thoughts to ponder. Using John 21, the speaker proclaimed that our duty is to follow Him, not to compare ourselves to others and decide that our personal callings are unjust. No matter where we are, whether glamorous or not glamorous at all, our duty is to follow, day by day and hour by hour.”

To the land that I will show you

When Abram was called by God in Genesis 12, he wasn’t called to a specific country. God didn’t say, “Abram, go to China.” Neither did God say, “There you will use your gifts of teaching and discipling by starting a language center and a church.”

Abram went with no country in mind and no idea of how to plug into his new world. He didn’t even know what linguistic and cultural barriers he would face. Plus, he was 75-years-old.

But he went in obedience because that was really all he had. He didn’t update his facebook or keep a blog to tell the world what a great job he was doing. He probably never even communicated with home again.

And then, to top it all off, within a short time of his being on the field, the land was hit with famine. The Bible doesn’t record the thoughts that would have gone through my mind: “Am I sure that God led me here? These people and this place were never really on my heart before I got here. Maybe I heard God wrong. Maybe He meant I should move down the street, not leave my home country.”

Perhaps the Bible doesn’t record those thoughts because Abram didn’t really have them. He struggled with faith in other areas at other times, but this whole “going” thing seems to be one thing he was really good at. Going and not looking back. Not doubting his calling or God’s promises even when the hard times came.

30

Turning thirty is means that I have a fair amount of life under my belt. Instead of being sad that I am leaving the 20s behind, I’m pondering the things I would like to do during my 31st year. You might call it a bucket list. You might not.

  • See more parts of this North African country
  • Finish language and culture study (well, the official stage anyway)
  • Learn how to cook North African food
  • Spend lots of time with family
  • Meet my nephew and make him fall as in love with me as I am with him
  • Renew friendships and relationships at home
  • Gather the required paperwork for my Spanish residence visa
  • Daily recognize my reliance upon One who loves me completely

Aisha- part 2

Aisha was waiting for me on my way to school the next day. And the next. And every morning that I had the early hour of class. Because of her, I began to recognize the network of house workers who met regularly to chat on the way to their respective jobs.

Although I was glad for the chance to practice conversational Arabic, I still was unsure of what she wanted from me.

The day she had invited me to stay at her house grew closer. Because of my apprehension, I managed to whittle the overnight adventure down to a day trip. On the Friday before, we rehearsed what would take place on Sunday: I would meet her at the same place under the berry tree across from the bus stop at 11:00 a.m.

I don’t think she believed I would follow through with the plan. She tried calling me five times while I was in church. And when I finally answered, I was on my way to the meeting place.

“I’m coming!”

She spewed a string of sentences I couldn’t understand, but what I assumed to be a reason that she was behind schedule.

“Okay. Okay. No problem. Okay.”

And I waited under the berry tree until a taxi pulled up and honked. Aisha was in the backseat, bouncing in her excitement. She grabbed me in a warm embrace before I had the chance to close the door behind me. And she talked, one rapid sentence after another, often missing the fact that I didn’t understand.

The taxi wound through the new city, behind the old city, and up up up on a hill. There was no containing Aisha’s joy as she led me out of the taxi and into her world.

It was the first bite of a day full of exquisite North African hospitality.

Let us become more aware

I shielded my eyes from the morning sun as we walked the familiar streets to church. My heart was quiet and my mind was ready to receive a word from Him. Any word. Yet, I was still grappling with the paradox of God feeling absent even when I knew He wasn’t.

“Let us become more aware of Your presence.”

The words became my prayer as we sang them together. And it happened. Not in a warm, fuzzy feeling, but in the faces around me.

  • The beggar who spoke blessing on me, my health, my parents, (and possibly everyone and everything that I’ve ever known!).
  • The moment of reconnecting with a lady I had met on the train.
  • The little boy who ignored my words until I got down to his level and placed my hand on his shoulder.
  • The church guardian who offered to drive me home from church.

It wasn’t until I was home that I realized what had happened. And I thought of Martin in Tolstoy’s “Where Love Is, There God Is Also.” Sometimes God’s presence is as quiet as the weak and powerless.

Alone? Not at all.

There is something I know in my head but forget in my heart.

Do you ever look at your believing friends–those people you see every Sunday and meet for coffee during the week–and get overwhelmed by their spiritual “giantness”?

At times, exchanging a deep spiritual dialogue or having someone shower you with love strengthens your walk with God. Other times though, it discourages you. At least if you’re like me.

Sometimes, when I see flawless spirituality in others, I feel insignificant. I feel dirty. And selfish. My mind replays my past sins one by one.

“I’ll do better. I’ll try harder to be like my friend!”

Those are the times I feel the most alone; it’s as if no one can identify with the monster inside my sinful shell. No one else faces my daily temptations. No one else has to struggle with their thought life. No one else makes selfish choices that destroy trust in a relationship.

Have you ever thought that? Well, here’s a little bit of truth for you (and me):

“No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man.”

1 Cor. 10:13a

You’ve probably heard that a thousand times. Maybe two thousand. But the truth hasn’t changed. YOU ARE NOT ALONE. Whatever you’re struggling with has been struggled with before by someone else…maybe someone is even struggling with it right now. And not just one someone but enough someones to make it “common to man.”

Depending on how you look at that, it’s encouraging. But wait; lest knowing that others have the same struggles makes us gloss over our sinfulness. There’s more:

God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.

1 Cor. 10:13b

Having a faithful God means that we shouldn’t yield to temptation so that His grace may abound. God forbid! (Rom. 6:1) Without rejoicing in others’ failures, we can realize we’re not the only one in our boat, paddling furiously against temptation’s current. Others are in the boat with us. What would happen if we would paddle together without fear and without judgment?

Enough of this silently drowning in our own shame! We have an “very present help in trouble” (Ps. 46:1). We are not alone. Not at all.

Listen

Sometimes, I imagine I’m a well-known writer. The truth is, however, that I have a hard time expressing myself. Emotions often don’t translate well into prose.

But tonight I’m thinking that maybe that’s not such a bad thing. Expressing myself doesn’t have to be my notable character attribute. What if I were a good listener instead?

My time of training in New York brought out reflective questions: Do I listen with my heart? Do I hear the longings behind the words people are saying? Or am I too preoccupied with finding an avenue of expressing myself?

God used New York for my “ah-ha!” moment. The real training has started since I’ve been home. So many people need listening to. What have I been missing out on all these years?

Today I had lunch with a lady from church who shared some of the struggles of being a mom. In class tonight, a student told me about the discrimination she sometimes faces as an immigrant. Just when I thought I’d used up my daily quota of compassion, another acquaintance expressed concern over potentially losing her job over a moral issue.

So, I listened. Now what? What exactly does “weep with those who weep” (Rom. 12:15) look like from day to day?

I guess I’m still learning.