Her perception is her reality

It was happening again. Round two of the same problem, only this time her hurt was bubbling up in anger. As rage overpowered her tears, she clawed at her clothing as if wanting to rip it—to rip anything—to shreds.

But was her reality real? Ever since I had met her months earlier, I had never been able to determine exactly where reality and her misguided perception began to blur.

And yet, her perception was her reality because it was the filter through which she understood life. Pain and shame were just as real in both truth and misconception.

And the questions I have asking myself over and over are:

What does loving her look like? How can I help? How do I enter into her reality and walk with her through her pain to bring her to truth? What does that look like practically?

That night, I held her baby while she wept and spat out in anger. I prayed for her but after my amen, I still let her ask the question, “Where is God in this?”

When she had calmed down, she stood up to leave. Anguish still twisted her features into a frown, but she thanked me for listening and praying.

Most of the time, loving isn’t easy. I will probably spend the rest of my life learning how to do it well.

Would I do this trip again?: North Africa part 5

In December, I spent most of a week in North Africa, visiting friends. My intention is to give you a glimpse of my trip. Please forgive me for omitting certain details and for changing names in order to protect my friends.

The last two nights of my North African sleep were interrupted by an unsettled rooster in a concrete courtyard just over the wall. At 4 a.m., I began to envision a warm bowl of rooster noodle soup. Just a room away, Erika was preparing to brandish her shiny knife set.

Despite the lack of sleep, Erika and I made chocolate cupcakes and took them to Arabic language school. We laughed with former teachers about old times and chatted about the present. Then I wandered home in the sunshine and stopped for a potato patty sandwich with extra hot sauce.

That evening, we ex-pats fellowshipped, telling stories, talking about our dreams, and praying.

Time was winding down quickly.

In the morning, I hauled my heavy-laden backpack to the airport taxi. As the traveling hours stretched ahead of me, I tried to wrap my mind around all that had happened: starting with the multiple trips to the Almería immigration office and ending with the bumpy bus ride home.

Unless I took time to process all of the joys and sorrows that had been packed into this tiny space of time, I would not experience the fullness of my trip.

And bouncing along in that bumpy bus, I kept returning to one question: If everything remained unchanged, would I do this trip again?

Definitely.

“There are moments when I wish I could roll back the clock and take all the sadness away, but I have the feeling that if I did, the joy would be gone as well.”

(Nicholas Sparks)

All we get are windows

“All we get are windows,” he had said.

And this after my week of cancelled plans, disappointed tears, and familiar feelings of uselessness. But his words rang in my head all weekend so that now in the middle of a lively West African church service, my mind was still stuck.

The dissonant keyboard chords, the steady drums and tambourine and my mind was thousands of miles away in last summer.

I could still hear those testimonies of broken men and women who were crying out to God for the meaning of their years of overseas service—men and women who felt they had little to report except failure.

“All we get are windows of time in people’s lives. We walk with them while we can.”

Sometimes those windows feel pointless. Like walking with someone on their journey is a waste of time and couldn’t God please bring someone else into our lives? Sometimes the windows feel so nice that we frantically try to prop them open when they begin to close. But they close anyway and we label them as aborted opportunities.

In the snippets of time we have with people—these “windows”—sometimes we lose sight of the bigger picture and think that the windows are all that matter. That’s when we feel useless, like failures.

The keyboard, drums, and tambourine faded as a new song leader took the microphone. Pacing back and forth, she started an African version of “Alleluia.”

“Alleluia. Alleluia. For the Lord God Almighty reigns.

“Holy, holy are you, Lord God Almighty!”

Behind the song leader was a pillar that supported the center of the little church building. There on the pillar, neat rows of pink and white silk rose buds formed a cross.

“Worthy is the Lamb! Worthy is the Lamb! Amen!”

Amen. So where will I place my focus? On my interpretation of efficiency or on the bigger picture: the glory of the Lamb? On the brevity of the windows of time or the fact that the Lamb is worthy of a life spent in faithful service?

Let the tears begin

It came while I was meeting my niece 12½ hours away from home. There it was! My Spanish residence visa. Dad WhatsApped me a picture. I broadcasted the news near and far and even took the first steps to get my plane ticket.

The ecstasy lasted approximately one hour; because when I pulled out my pocket calendar, excitement vanished with a puff of reality. I was looking at today’s date and my departure date on the same page. I had between three and four weeks.

I should have been ready; all along I had known of this possibility. But now it was real. That night, instead of drifting off into agreeable dreams, I cried myself to sleep.

That was a week ago. Now I have less than three weeks left. I’m still tossed to and fro between the delight of moving to Spain and the sorrow of leaving behind my world.

  • My nephews and niece will grow up, knowing me as the aunt who lives far away and brings them olives and cheap souvenirs with Spanish logos.
  • My family will try to keep me in the loop, even as we age and grow apart.
  • My church family will change dynamics as people come and people go.
  • Friends will move away, marry, and have children.
  • Older friends will have health complications and pass away.
  • The community will change as businesses start up and shut down, land is cleared, and landmarks disappear.

The list goes on.

I’ll change too. It’s just that this part of my life and I will not change together. It’s hard to give that up. But how can I cling to a vapor? My reality on earth is temporary. As important as life is to me right now, I don’t want it to weaken the anticipation of the life to come, the everlasting life.

Speak life

How often do I pass judgment without considering another’s perspective? And how often do I whisper that judgment to someone who is willing to listen?

These are questions I have been asking myself recently. Because even if my judgment is accurate, is it edifying? The phrase “speak life” has been rolling around in my brain. But what does it mean to “speak life”? I have a feeling that I haven’t been very good at it.

David says, “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer” (Ps. 19:14).

So words of life would be words that are acceptable in God’s sight.

Once upon a time, religious people caught a woman in the act of adultery and dragged her out to be publicly stoned. Then seeing Jesus, these people tried to trap Him by asking whether or not the woman should be stoned. Jesus didn’t pick up a stone, but neither did He deny the woman’s sin. He calmed the mob by questioning the state of their own hearts, and then He turned to the fearful sinner crouching in the dirt. “Go, and from now on sin no more.” (Jn. 8)

Those are words of life. Not words of ignorance or denial, but words that give hope.

Celebrating life

Sitting down to write a blog post is the last thing I want to do right now. Today I cannot pretend to have the formula to solve life’s problems. I have just said goodbye to a life where I had started to belong and I’m feeling rather homeless.

But there is Someone who experienced a transition much more challenging than I will ever have to face. Imagine leaving the presence of God to become a needy child, a hormonal teenager, and then a radical adult first pursued and then rejected by a group of wishy-washy followers.

Jesus Messiah understands the struggle and the heartache that come with transition. But instead of hiding from life, He still chose to live intentionally. He chose to invest in the lives of others, sometimes despite a low return on His investment. And what happened at the end of this intentional life? Jesus was killed for living unashamed. That sounds like a noble end, doesn’t it? But noble as it is, that isn’t the end of the story. Death didn’t stop Him.

This year, I am celebrating Resurrection Sunday in Spain before I move back to the States to apply for residency. Transition has really only just begun. But despite my heartache and perceived homelessness, today I want to celebrate life: Jesus’ life on earth and my own life because of Him.

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.”