I leave tomorrow. I’m excited and almost ready. But right now, Spain seems far away. Maybe life as it is now will go on forever: me almost leaving, a surgery here, a new job there, a new baby a state or two or three away.
To not be part of this ever-changing cycle at home is unfathomable. And when I do fathom, I burst into tears. My nostalgia remembers the days, weeks, and maybe even months that used to pass dry-eyed.
The other evening, I stretched out on the carpet with my head next to Clark’s. I stared into his bright face and could not cherish the moment. Neither could I reject the moment to protect my heart. The moment just was and I watched it pass.
Later as my nephews were leaving, Albert got zipped up in his too-big, puffy coat. Soon he will fill up that coat and I will not be here to see him do it.
I made gingerbread cookies. My sister made coffee. We hung out with Christmas music. And at night when I crawled into my own little bed, all I could do was cling to the ghosts of those memories and cry my tears of regret that I hadn’t experienced them more fully. Or sealed off my heart from loving.
And I cried out, “Oh God, why do I have to follow You?” There was no answer. I knew, and He knew that I knew. There was no warm, fuzzy peace either. Just a calm that felt more like resignation as I braced myself for more goodbyes.
I hope tomorrow things will look different. But this is what leaving looks like today.
Introducing Clark David, my new little nephew. Welcome to the world, little one. In every step of life, may you find that God is bigger than the unknown. And always know that you are loved.
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.
Are living memories of all you’ve
Seen, heard, smelled, tasted, and felt
You wake up one morning
And find you married
The reality you love.
And before you go
You must have that
Last walk to school
Last taxi ride
Last cup of tea.
Then you close the door behind you,
Taking only lifeless photos
And stale words in worn journals.
In November, three guests traversed the Atlantic to visit me: my mom, my brother, and my friend. Some of our adventures included:
- Finding each other at the airport… and managing to convince security that I was not a risk
- Traipsing around the city as each phone place we had been directed to directed us to someone else
- Arguing with taxi drivers who were even more stubborn than I
- Tasting the old medina, literally and figuratively
- Posing for awkward pictures
- Sampling camel burgers and a salad that tasted “like donkeys”
- Wiggling cooked snails out of their shells with wooden toothpicks…and sampling them too
- Long talks
- Laughing until we cried
- Visiting my friends for tea, dinner, or just to say “hi”
- Tasting uncured olives that pickled our mouths
- Eating most of our meals standing around in the kitchen
- Souvenir shopping in the rain
- Souvenir shopping in the rain again
- A long train ride in the rain
- Walking along the bay in the rain
- Two nights of cold showers
- Spending a night snuggled in the musty hotel blankets
- Staying in a concrete hotel room which reverberated with the early morning call to prayer and reading of the Qur’an
- Crossing the Strait of Gibraltar by ferry only to find that the rain in Spain does not stay mainly on the plain!
- A long bus ride around many many roundabouts…in the rain
- A bus break-down which seemed to temporarily mend itself
- A few days in Spain with friends, church, a birthday party, an open air market, olives, churros, pastries, cocido, and tapas
Have you ever stepped into someone else’s shoes and tried walking around in them?
Soukaina is sixteen years old. She lives with her parents and two year old brother in a poor neighborhood of a bustling North African city. In that tiny, sixth floor apartment, personal property and space are out of the question. She doesn’t have her own bedroom. In fact, there is only one bedroom for the entire family.
She usually attends school but spends her free time on the streets. She gets in trouble for bullying neighborhood kids. Her parents send her out of their way, but paradoxically rebuke her for spending too much time on the streets.
Her father is diabetic and doesn’t have a job. Her mother works herself to the bone six days a week. Her little brother follows her around and gets into everything.
To get anyone to listen to her, she has to yell. Sometimes, it’s just easier to hide. Once, she said, “I don’t like to live here. There are many bad people.”
Yet, she is loved. Despite the abstract and irregular displays of affection, her parents love her.
So what if you were Soukaina? Well, what if you were? What would your life look like? What choices would you make?
I’m not asking these questions so you can recognize your privileges or count your blessings. I’m asking you because looking at the world from someone else’s perspective makes you better capable of loving them.
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
Blessed are they that budge for they shall be first in line.
If that’s not a North African proverb, it should be. Some days instead of the one being budged, I want to be the one budging. Let them see how it feels for once.
But I know that’s a selfish attitude. So the question lingers: How exactly do I cope in such a pushy culture?
For example, standing in line at a shop today, the owner served the 5 pushy people behind me before he fetched what I asked for. Then I stood with my money on the counter while he served the next 10 pushy people behind me.
It wasn’t until I said, “Take this, sir!” that he turned to me and apologized. I wasn’t even tempted to give him the customary, “No problem.” My inflamed temper wanted to clear the crowd at the counter with a giant push and then hurl my unpurchased items at the shop owner. I could even envision myself stomping out, bellowing that I would never return.
How should I have acted? Really, the question is: How should I act? This isn’t a one time occurrence but a constant cultural barrier for me. In my 9 months here, I have met few truly courteous strangers; most courtesy turns out to be greediness in disguise.
This is one of the only things in this culture of which I cannot even glimpse a bright side. So, practically speaking, what should I do? Hang around a shop until the owner notices and takes pity on me? Disobey God’s command to love others as myself and begin pushing like everyone else?
Well, maybe my first step is to stop gritting my teeth when people infringe on my right to be served before them.
Not long ago, someone told me, “Every story is beautiful.” “Of course!” I probably responded. All stories were beautiful, but some stories were fascinating: dreams and visions, persecution, bold statements of faith, etc. Those were the stories that captivated me. They still do.
But that someone was right by putting all stories on the same level. Because, as he went on to say, “God loves you just as much as He loves anyone else.” Right. Of course, but–
But it’s true. My redemption story is just as miraculous and beautiful even though I haven’t “stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword” (Heb. 11:33-34). In fact, many of the people who are in the Hebrews “Hall of Faith” lived lives of simple obedience rather than lives of excitement.
Those exciting stories are still fascinating. However, my challenge this week is to thank God for the redemption stories of the “normal” people around me.
Whether exciting or not, our stories are miraculous.
To expose myself to rejection
And the stinging unknown.
To make myself vulnerable
To a broken world,
Tasting its pain and distress
Hearing the cry of the oppressed.
To let my soul experience
The piercing emotion that comes
From living a full life,
Allowing my will to battle strife,
Petitioning for souls at heaven’s door,
And understanding love more than before