When will summer come?

One of these days summer will come. I’m not talking about the heat; I’m talking about the time. Summer is the season I have been holding out for in the crazy March, April, May, saying, “During summer, I will finally get to this or that.” I had a list of goals: learn how to sew better, develop materials for an English curriculum, refresh my Arabic, houseclean, and other noble goals like that.

It’s July, but I’m still waiting, thinking that summer and its abundance of time must begin soon.

In the meantime, life is full. Full of time with friends. Visits. Meeting new babies, both here and via WhatsApp. Appointments. Meetings. And even a chance to be a witness for my friend’s paperwork-only wedding at the mosque.

Maybe I need to redefine “summer.” Instead of labeling it as “extra time,” I should just label it as “life.” “Life” is a more realistic expectation anyway.

Life and smelly summer laundry.

“He’s dying,” she says

"He's dying," she says,
As life seeps away
In voiceless submission
Of what it was taught,
Where death is unknown
And forever beckons
The judgment throne
Of a whimsical god.

The family huddles
To weep and recite
Then sit back and sigh,
"Alhamdulillah."

In the still kitchen
My face in my hands,
I plead for mercy
And hope big enough.

In the stillness is
Just the ticking clock:
Tock. Tock. Tock.

Lose your life for my sake: Remembering Grandpa

What does it mean to lose my life for Christ’s sake?

I was sitting on a park bench, feeling the warm sun just under the gentle breeze of a perfect day.

Florence, Italy. My sister, my friend, and I had been planning this trip for months. Flights, buses, trains, shuttles, airbnbs, tourist sites.

But there in the park, I was thinking about losing life. Because while we were still in Madrid, Grandpa had passed from this world to the next.

“Dad, should we cancel our trip?” I would not have been able to travel back for the funeral anyway, but being on a belated 30th birthday trip while my family mourned…

“Absolutely do not cancel your trip!”

So here I sat in Florence, pondering Matthew 10 on the day of Grandpa’s visitation. Have I found life by losing it? This familiar passage wasn’t making sense anymore.

The late cappuccino (we had defied the culture by sipping our cappuccino after 11 a.m.) was still taking effect. Just over the mesh-lined fence, tennis players swung rackets at a yellow ball. I could barely see them, but I heard them. Grunt. Thwack. Grunt. Thwack. “Out!”

Am I worthy of Christ? Do I love Him more than family? Have I taken up my cross?

In Italy—in a world so different from the one I grew up in—it was hard to understand that Grandpa was gone. But I let my mind drift through memories.

Hours and hours of reading “Burn-stin Bear” books and “Dead-Eye Dick.” Patiently teaching us grandchildren (his “coochtie boochties”) to play 42. “Honda” rides. Issuing drivers’ licenses for the golf cart. Constantly wanting to tape record his little grandchildren singing songs. Sketching maps that directed us past where this or that “used to be” as if we had been born in his generation. Chanting “Cumbine coorn and cumbine be-eans,” as we pulled ourselves up to sit with him in the combine. Giving us “bubble gums” from the door pocket of his F-150, the one that had the automatic window buttons in little blue and red bubbles that I would run my fingers over while I waited for my gum.

Letting Grandpa serve you something from the shop was always exciting because it was fascinating to watch him prepare something from his stash of snacks. (Did you know you can make hot chocolate from microwaving chocolate milk? Or a “roastin’ ear” by microwaving an ear of sweet corn wrapped in a wet paper towel?) Sunday night at Grandpa and Grandma’s typically included helping Grandpa get the ice cream out of the “shed” and hiding a pickle or an olive under the heaping scoops in Dad’s ice cream bowl.

And then Grandpa began to get older and frail. Some of his stories came out confused. His tall body began to shrink. His blue eyes got watery. But those watery eyes always brightened when he talked about his grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

When I told him goodbye last summer, I wondered if he would remember that I was going back to Spain.

Grandpa had dozed off while Grandma and I were chatting. “Touch his shoulder,” Grandma said.

I touched his shoulder and his blue eyes opened. Instead of watery, his eyes were clear as they stared up at me wordlessly.

“I’m going to go Grandpa. And I wanted to tell you goodbye.”

The clear, blue eyes continued to stare for several long moments. Had he heard me?

And then, “Kiss on the cheek!” So he remembered that my goodbye was longer than a “see you later.” I leaned over to hug him, kiss his cheek, and let him kiss mine.

My voice was still cheerful as I said, “If I don’t see you here again, I’ll see you in a much better place!”

He smiled. I cried. He was silent as I hugged him again.

That goodbye felt like a closed chapter in my life. It was one that I mourned, not only that day but also when Grandma passed away in November. And now again while sitting on that park bench, trying to register the reality of Grandpa’s death.

Death is real. It’s ugly. It hurts.

But what does it mean to lose my life for Christ’s sake? My mingling thoughts that late Florence morning brought me here: It isn’t until you die that the greatest potential for life is set before you.

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.