My November guests

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
  • Goodbyes

What if you were Soukaina?

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.

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

Blessed are they that budge

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.

We miracles that don’t look like miracles

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.

WhatamIdoinghere

WhatamIdoinghere
And whatwasIthinking
To expose myself to rejection
And the stinging unknown.
WhatamIdoinghere
And whatwasIthinking
To make myself vulnerable
To a broken world,
Tasting its pain and distress
Hearing the cry of the oppressed.
WhatamIdoinghere
And whatwasIthinking
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
WhatamIdoinghere?

We interrupt programming…

…to bring you some special news. Yesterday, on the other side of the Atlantic, a little boy was born.

Long before he was born, he had staked his claim on our hearts. We interceded for his life and his future as we prepared for him to counterbalance our adult world with the innocent perspective of a child. In anticipating a fresh, unsoiled life, it was easy to see how jaded we had let the world make us.

I started to look for baby things as soon as I heard he was coming. I could picture him snuggled in sleeper pants, sucking his thumb and hugging his stuffed Pooh bear. I could see him flipping through books, absorbing pictures and words in his brilliant little brain.

Now he is here and he has made me an aunt. Welcome to our world, Albert Harris!

The pattern of practical loving

Sometimes I don’t know what the practical side of love is supposed to look like. And by the practical side of love, I’m referring to loving those in need. Is it really even “supposed to” look like anything, as if it were a consistent pattern? 

This is on my mind because today on my way to the store, I saw the same beggar that I always see on the way to the store. As usual, she sat on the sidewalk, her swollen feet outstretched for passersby to take pity on her condition.

I smiled and greeted her. Her face lit with an almost-toothless grin. She cackled a greeting in return and asked how I was. She wasn’t expecting anything more from me than what I gave.

So what did she really want? Was it the couple of coins I could have dropped into her hand? Was it the groceries I could have bought for her? Or did she really just want eye-contact: to be treated like a normal person, to be loved instead of patronized by a stranger?

When I walked back out of the store, I had nothing for her except another smile. And she was ready with that same brilliant grin. What I had given her was all she wanted from me today.

Perhaps the only consistent “pattern” in practical loving the fact that one is loving.

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”

Matt. 22:37-40

First day of school

This wouldn’t be so bad.

I gathered my school supplies, double-checking everything at least once. Forgetting a necessary item on the first day of English class wasn’t acceptable. Where was my flashdrive? In my handbag next to the stapler.

Ready.

It had been almost three months since I had arrived in North Africa. Three days after arriving, I started teaching English to twelve students ages 13-16. Each class period was different because depending on which trouble-makers attended, the dynamics could swing wildly. I planned each lesson with trembling, trying to predict the mood of the class upon its execution.

I had signed up to teach English, not manage behavior.

But this semester would be different, right? I locked the front door and went in search of a taxi. At the school gate, the guardian’s familiar smile was hardly encouraging. I had seen that smile every day last semester just before my carefully planned lesson was trampled by misbehavior.

I worked with the other teachers in the computer lab to make copies. I hesitated to leave the lab, knowing that unprotected by chatter and laughter my stomach would begin its nervous churn.

What if this semester was just as stressful as last?

“Here is your class roster.” The director handed me a sheet of paper. I had been told I would be teaching a class of 5-7 adults. This list had fourteen names. But it was okay. They were adults. Easy, right?

Except that last semester I had heard several teachers complaining about adult ego problems. “Classroom management is still an issue with adults,” they had said.

“And could you sign the contract please?”

Fourteen students. And what exactly did the contract say again? I pressed the pen to the paper and then signed my name quickly. What would the semester hold?

I still don’t know. But I do know that I loved every minute of my first class with these students. And I know that no matter what problems I may face this semester, I have a God who has not given me the spirit of fear but of power and love and self-control (2 Tim. 1:7).