Where do missed opportunities go? Are they gone forever or does God redeem them by giving us new opportunities?
Here in North Africa, where living intentionally should be as easy as breathing, I still miss opportunities. Why? Well, I’m busy; there is always language to study, classes to teach, emails to write, friends to visit, etc.
But those excuses aren’t good enough. Try telling a little boy that preparing lunch is more important than his soul. Maybe that’s not exactly what I said, but it is most likely what I communicated.
I was in the middle of a bad day when he followed me home from the store. People had been raining expectations down on me and I was exhausted although the day was only half finished. So when he jumped up and followed me, I rolled my eyes.
He only wanted one coin, he said. But to me, he was just one more beggar with just one more fabulous fable to accompany the outstretched palm. I tried to be pleasant, but my smile faded with his persistence. “Enough!” I said as he fell in step with me. “Be quiet!” I said. He didn’t. He followed me to my doorstep and only stopped when I closed the door behind me.
I had just started putting groceries away when my conscience awakened. What if I was the only person in that boy’s life who could have shared truth with him?
It took an hour or so before I was ready to face him again and apologize for my heartlessness. But when I went outside, he wasn’t there. Nor was he in front of the store. He had vanished.
So had my opportunity.
But my question is this: Has God redeemed my mistake by giving me another opportunity? Could it be having tea with that lonely widow? Or maybe taking time for a girl whose insecurity manifests itself in bullying?
God is a God of redemption. Because He has redeemed me, I know He is capable of redeeming my missed opportunities.
This post was first published on https://lucindajmiller.com
“Am I hungry or just bored?” I muse as I peer into the refrigerator.
Summer has set in where the nights rarely descend with a breath of cool air. It is warm all of the time. And what is worse is that I feel trapped inside. And what is even worse is that my roommate chose this month to travel to Germany, another friend left forever, one classmate is in the UK and another classmate is in Spain. I am trapped with myself.
I make plans here and there, but the reality is that any plans are contingent upon the time of day. The hours that are too hot are off limits because street robbers might prey on the few people who are out. The hours right before the breaking of fast are even worse; there are hardly any people or cars to be seen and a fog of silence enshrouds the street.
Even if I do go out, most stores would be closed anyway. And the cafés and restaurants definitely are.
Why didn’t I just go home for part of the summer? Never mind the long journey or the money. Maybe that would have cured some of my recent homesickness.
I am tired of studying on my own, reviewing, practicing, listening, jotting down notes. I am tired of the food in my fridge. I am tired of sleeping.
For a melancholy, boredom breeds self-pity. At least it does in this melancholy. The light at the end of the tunnel is fading. Ramadan will NEVER end! Instead of thinking how hard it would be to fast for thirty days, I think about how unfair it is to plan my life around those who are fasting.
Selfishness. Yes, it all comes down to a perspective saturated in selfishness. Time to go count my blessings.
We had seen each other before. Most mornings I passed her by on my way to school. She and a friend would sit on a concrete bench under a tree. Noting the consistency of our timing and location, I greeted the women regularly. But I never slowed enough to make conversation.
Until the day I needed help with my homework. Both ladies were startled when I plopped down beside them and asked them to help me. With no context for this encounter, they were full of questions: Was I a student? Where was I studying? What kind of Arabic was I studying? What was my name?
The conversation was labored, but I finished the assignment and arrived at class, breathless and only a few minutes late.
A few days later, I was striding to school with my normal stoic street face when a lady in my peripheral became animated and shouted to get my attention.
Another beggar, I surmised, and turned to greet her without reaching for my change purse. But then I recognized her face, although she wasn’t in her usual place under the tree.
As we greeted each other in somewhat reserved familiarity, I studied her for the first time. She wore old clothes and the kind of shoes that most women only wore to the public bath house. Her face was enveloped in the odor of her breath, which I smelled as I embraced her. She was a tiny woman, not built for the hard work that life required of her.
Who was this woman? And what did she want from me? She insisted on walking with me on my way to school; she said she worked as a maid at a house nearby.
Her speech was complimented with gestures. “You—come—my house—to sleep.” She isolated her words with the intention of helping me understand. “Do you understand?”
I did understand, but said only, “God willing” which was neither a commitment nor a refusal.
Before we parted ways, she asked for my phone number. That evening she called me and together we weathered my first phone call in Arabic. We exchanged greetings and a few other bits of information among the numerous confessions of “I’m sorry; I don’t understand.”
She told me she would wait for me the next day on my way to school.
The more I study Arabic, the more I feel like the language is a screenplay and I am simply an actress who doesn’t know my lines. When tossed onto the stage of real life, I am lost, babbling my way through awkward situations.
“In the name of God, start eating.”
“Your greeting is welcome!” Oops. Or worse: “Goodbye!”
“Thank you” in response to polite comments is effective in both English and Spanish, and I don’t see why Arabic should be any exception.
“Send greetings to your family!” “Thank you!” (But not in Arabic.)
“Here. Wash your hands.” “Thank you!” (But not in Arabic.)
Somehow, one must learn and say beautifully trite phrases after anything. The problem for language learners is which phrases to say when. Saying “Praise God!” after someone sneezes is not acceptable.
Often when comments are made, I don’t even open my mouth, harnessed by the fear of reciting the wrong line.
What does a typical day in North Africa smell like? Well, this is my day in smells:
- the cold of the morning outside of my blankets
- the bathroom: a strange mingling of soap, wet, and a scent that creeps up the drain overnight
- the sweet of a clean kitchen until I open the refrigerator and catch a whiff of leftovers with a hint of aged dairy
- outside the front door, there is a deeper cold smell mixed with the trash that cats have been sorting through during the night
- and speaking of cats, their odor lingers despite their absence–not overwhelming, just there
- walking past several men’s cafes guarantees a pair of lungs full of cigarette smoke
- exhaust fumes from cars, taxis, and buses
- the smell of used taxi seats partially covered by an air freshener and the cold
- trash, fumes, and the sweet citrus of the orange trees on the walk from the taxi to school
- the faint smell of gas from the lounge heater
- wood smoke seeping out of a nearby house
- food cooking in the cafes mixed with the ever-present cigarette smoke and the scattered trash
- rotting fruit rolling along the sidewalk, kicked and trodden upon by passersby
- garlic and chicken for lunch and consequently garlic on my breath after lunch
- exhaust fumes and the sharp stench of urine on my walk to the park
- the lovely freshness in the sweet acres of green and water: herbs, damp dirt, falling leaves
- drifting in the open taxi window on my way to teach English is cigarette smoke, meat cooking on open grills, smell of humanity, and exhaust fumes
- the pungent scent left over on the school desks of my classroom: what I imagine to be from unwashed hands
- dry erase markers
- mixed scents emanating from my junior high students: perfume, body odor, energy
- and as the darkness falls, so does the cold, again suppressing the daytime scents
- but there is still a damp that hovers in the air
- and there is still the soap scent lingering on my sweatshirt as I cuddle up to study Arabic before bed
Despite the diversity of New York City, Steinway street is different for me. It feels as if God is showing me a map with a red arrow and a clarifying “You are here” hovering over Steinway Street. This is very well what my life might look like for the next year while I’m in North Africa.
What are these people really like? What are their hopes, longings, and hurts?
- A woman escorting her aging mother to the doctor.
- A Lebanese man selling pastries.
- A man with a leg injury, lingering outside of the mosque.
- An middle-aged Egyptian couple–he sipping coffee and she rattling Arabic, hoping for someone to see her beyond the Alzheimer’s.
- A young lady with heavy, dark makeup–guarded and watchful.
- A sales clerk turning every hopeful conversation into a potential sale.
“They don’t know! They don’t know You.”