Reading, writing, and Ramadan: What’s been happening recently

#1

Recently, I read through the four gospels. While Matthew, Mark, and Luke focus on what Jesus did and said, John focuses on who He was. As I read John, I began underlining references to Jesus’ deity. A lot of people proclaimed that He was the Son of God. Although we have no record that Jesus said, “I am the Son of God,” His references to His own deity (e.g. being one with the Father) were enough to make His accusers say at His trial, “…he ought to die because he has made himself the Son of God” (Jn. 19:7). 

#2

Ramadan was a socially slow month for me. Even though I wasn’t fasting, most of my friends were. So I decided to prayer walk the streets of Mytown. All of them. “How hard can this be?” I wondered. 

One neighborhood’s streets wound around and around, making it impossible not to circle back again and again past those same elderly men on the park bench or that delivery man slowly unloading at the café door. I told a friend I should fill up my market cart with junk and haul it with me because then onlookers would have a mental box to put me in! Alas, I did not finish this project during Ramadan, but I’m at 198 kilometers and counting!

#3

I took advantage of the quieter days to get ahead in planning English lessons. I’m finally one whole unit ahead. Plus, I’ve added “work on curriculum” to my weekly schedule. Not that it wasn’t there before, but this time the rule is that I can’t gleefully erase it each week. 

#4

My sister and I have been doing a writing challenge. Writing is another one of those things that is easy to erase from my weekly schedule. But it feels more important with accountability. This year, I’m also attempting to help write a VBS curriculum which mostly leaves me feeling very, very green.

#5

One Saturday, I scoured my shower with an abrasive powder and simultaneously inhaled the powerful aroma of the toilet bowl cleaner. Dizzily, I wondered if there was a better way to clean my house. I began researching and testing. Do these DIY cleaners actually work? Time and grime will tell. Although research shows that the DIY ingredients are less harsh than typical cleaners, I still have nightmares of peeled laminate flooring and warped countertops.

#6

Familiarity breeds contempt. Perhaps I wasn’t contemptuous yet, but I felt the constant pressure to dedicate unreasonable chunks of time to a friend, even when I had many other things to do. She wasn’t respecting my boundaries and I was worn out and indignant. Then I realized that I was the one who had stopped enforcing my own boundaries. I had pretended to be more flexible than I was. Essentially, I told her that I was always at her disposal and she believed it.

So, I’m back to square one with this boundary thing, and the times we’re together are farther apart but more enjoyable because we manage miss each other on the off days. 🙂 


These are the less social bits of what has been happening recently. I could drone on, but I’m tired of writing, and you’re probably tired of reading. So what’s been happening in your life recently?

Good

It’s not that we don’t believe You’re good because we know You are.
It’s not that we don’t believe You can heal because we know You can.
It’s just that we ask ourselves if You have her best in mind, 
And by association, our best.
Not doubt exactly, but frozen waiting for Your next move
Even while begging You to take this cup from her.
Can we yield to the nevertheless-not-our-will
And trust Your goodness without knowing Your plan?
Because it’s not our understanding of her good, 
But Yours, O Restorer, Redeemer, that’s tucked into Your promise.

Photo by Patrick Fore on Unsplash

The lightning bug prayer

One of the childhood memories I treasure the most is the summer evening I found an injured lightning bug. Its wings were bent and useless. 

Heartbroken by this poor creature’s dilemma, I carried it to where Mom was working in the flowerbed behind the garage. I cried as I showed her the bent bug. 

Instead of some glib remark about it being “just a bug,” she stopped her work and examined the lightning bug with me. She has always had a tender heart for the suffering, and she probably glimpsed herself in her daughter’s tears.

There, still kneeling beside the flowerbed, Mom prayed with me for that poor little lightning bug. She prayed because she knew God cared. That’s why I still remember.


Photo by Tony Phan on Unsplash

One minute too late

One minute too late. I watched the bus roaring away, atypically on time. 

Where could I have gained that missing minute? Not talking so long with the receptionist? Running down the street? J-walking? Not stopping to greet the kebab owner? Dashing out of the phone repair shop without the normal pleasantries when I found out the owner spoke English? I had known my time was limited, but…

But as the bus roared away, suddenly I was excited. Right there, surrounded by empty benches, I felt a thrill go through me.

I had missed the bus by a hair. Maybe God had orchestrated this for a reason. What else could He have in mind? 

I looked around me, expecting to see that one person that God would nudge me to talk to. But there was no one. Slowly, I meandered out of the station, determined to put myself in the way of what God was up to.

I ended up sitting at an outdoor table of a café, sipping a drink and watching the world pass by. A world that took no notice that I was waiting to be used by God. 

When the hour was up, I made my way back to the bus station and endured an uneventful ride home. I stared out the window. “God, why did you let me miss the bus? Why didn’t you send anyone for me to talk to? God, did you really redeem that time or not?”

How will I ever know? But does it even matter? God may have been up to something. Or maybe all He was up to was showing me that He doesn’t need to give me an account of what He’s up to.


Photo credit: M.L.K.

Just a normal day

There was still no glimmer of light between the slats of the blinds.

From the street below came the familiar creak of the neighbor’s metal garage door and the roar of the box truck. Greenhouse work doesn’t rest. A passing car dropped off noisy teenagers who were still on a high from their night-long partying.

It was like the morning exhaled and both happened.

I wrapped the covers over my head and tried to fall back asleep. Too late. Thoughts outside of dreamland had already kindled my consciousness:

  •    News from family.
  •    The Amazon order I just placed.
  •    The sense of standing on the brink of the unknown. And the accompanying senses of exhilaration and panic.
  •    The earthquake the other night that jostled me awake in a swaying bed.
  •    The moment when crying out to God for a definite answer, I only heard Him say, “You are my child.”
  •    I should get that birthday card written soon.

I finally crawled out of bed to welcome the morning with a steaming cup of coffee (special delivery from Nebraska). My quiet time was punctuated with an invitation to a spontaneous breakfast on the beach. Of course!

I caught a few moments of afternoon alone with David Copperfield and a nap long enough to let my body soak in the day off.

The evening brought what was supposed to be a literacy class. But when I arrived, alphabet flashcards in hand, my student and her neighbor were busy making shbekia.

I learned to roll out the speckled dough and run it through the press. I soaked the fried pieces in honey and picked pebbles out of sesame seeds. Literacy gave way to the urgency of Ramadan preparations.

One of the ladies went to pray. The other soon followed her. I was busy with the rolling pin when there was a burst of laughter. The first had recited her prayers facing the wrong way. She sighed, turned the rug toward Mecca, and started again.

We talked about prayer and food and family. And then a pair of women and a pair of children arrived.

One of the women was the female version of a man who had wanted to marry me. She had the same nose and the same intense eyes that sparkled but didn’t quite smile.

When they found out that I was an American to who spoke Arabic, one of them said, “Aaaah. She’s one that helps people.”

Thank you.

I played with the little girl while the women discussed which acne cream worked best for their teenagers, how many children was enough but not too many, how to make specialty Ramadan foods, and how the American prayed.

“She sits in a chair at the table and covers her head like this.” One of them made motion of draping a shawl over her head.

I smiled. “I can pray wherever I want. I can sit here and pray for you. Or I can bow down and pray. Or I can even pray while I am walking on the street.”

Blank faces stared back at me.

“God hears us no matter where we are.”

Yes, yes. That was true. And they all agreed and moved on to a discussion about their prophet.

The maghreb sounded. After a bit, I said my goodbyes and reluctantly took the proffered baggie of too-sweet shbekia.

I walked home in the dying light, smelling like old oil.

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)

20 even more things I’m thankful for

  1. Dreams I can climb out of
  2. A quiet market
  3. Syrupy tea poured from a neighbor’s kettle
  4. Observations so true they hurt
  5. Little boy grins that come shy and blushing
  6. Remembering the awe of a blessing forgotten
  7. A cheerful chat at the bus stop
  8. Hearing my name on the street
  9. Language lesson over towers of fruit and vegetables
  10. Cicadas
  11. Damp outlines around fallen leaves
  12. A speedboat skimming along the horizon
  13. Middle of the day thunder
  14. A pale lizard running along the boulevard just ahead of me
  15. Opening a door to find a cool breeze
  16. Fresh paint
  17. Humor when I’m not expecting it
  18. Heads bent in prayer
  19. Conversation so long we forget to clean up dinner
  20. A Kindle full of waiting books

God doesn’t owe me results

The night was a failure. Even after a day of prayer and fasting.

No one noticed that my heart was beating in time with the Father’s. No one noticed that my soul was alive and refreshed.

People were out breathing in the cool night after the long, scorching day. Last week on my nightly strolls, I had met several women. Under the cover of dusk, we had sat on park benches and talked while children played around us.

But tonight there was nothing invigorating.

A stop at the local store made me wonder where the line between friendly and amorous should be drawn. And why was I always the one to draw the line?

And then there was that woman again. The shriveled Gypsy for whom I had once bought bread and eggs and now every time she saw me she snagged me with a long, anguished tale and a request for a couple of euros. How could I communicate love? Bread, eggs, and euros were not going to alleviate her poverty of soul.  Her granddaughters averted their blushing faces.

And that was all. No one else seemed open to conversation. Alone and discouraged, I finished my route and turned toward home.

That’s when truth started to sink it, settling between the churning waves of injured pride and self-pity.

God doesn’t owe me results. He doesn’t owe me deep, blossoming friendships and engaging conversations. If I cultivate a certain level of spiritual maturity, He doesn’t owe me the world on a silver platter.

My service is not qualified by my carnally-defined successes but by my faithfulness. Am I loving (and consequently serving) God with all of my heart? My soul? My strength? My mind?

Years and years ago, my Sunday school teacher gave me a quote that I have kept tucked inside of my Bible ever since. “There is no more powerful force for rebuking all evil things, whether of conduct or of opinion, than that of the quiet, strong, persistent life of a man or woman who goes on from day to day doing the duties of the day well, cheerfully, and with joy.”

As I walked those final blocks home, my sense of entitlement slipped away. “What if?” I wondered. “What if in my day to day journey, I start counting each blossoming friendship and engaging conversation as a blessing rather than my entitlement? What if I named each interaction as a gift rather than my payment for growing in Christ?”

The neighbor man waved and smiled. “Good evening.”

I waved back. “Good evening.” And it was.

It begins again

Today is the first day of Ramadan. Earlier this week, a friend told me that Ramadan is a time of growing close to God.

Whether or not her comment reflects her true goal during the obligatory month of fasting, there are many who are seeking God. And many are finding. Sometimes in ways they don’t expect.

“You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.”

(Jer. 29:13)

Pray that those who are seeking will find.

Interviewing Carmen

As I was reflecting on different aspects of North African culture, I realized it would be refreshing to get someone else’s perspective. So I talked with Carmen, a fellow foreigner, who lives in my city. (Keep in mind that her answers are paraphrased because I could not type fast enough to keep up with her thoughts.)

What do you like most about the culture?

I love the modesty. They have so much style and yet they’re so modest. Especially coming from Western culture. Although it may not be a true heart modesty, it’s physical modesty and that is nice.

Another thing I like is that people here talk about honoring God, and they’re just more open to talking about God in general. I went to a wedding in North America and there was no mention of God anywhere! It makes me wonder if God has a great plan for the children of Ishmael to have a greater voice for Him in the future; they’re already used to talking about Him.

What things about the culture makes you smile?

The colors of the traditional dress. They remind me of jewels. I went to a festival where everyone had on their best clothing and they looked like a flock of butterflies.

Do you find that people are friendly or easy to get to know?

I’ve found in our neighborhood that people are a bit harder. There is a foreigner barrier. They are hospitable but they have a limit. At the school where I teach English, that barrier is gone. They know that I’m the teacher and they are the parents instead of a foreigner and local.

Thinking long-term, what are some things about the culture that you will enjoy?

The coolest thing about being here long term is the chance to learn the language to make friends with people who don’t speak your mother tongue and don’t share your worldview. But when you get beyond that, you can share even bigger things; it becomes natural. Long term relationships are an investment and a privilege. I look forward to developing deep friendships with people from this culture. One of my best friends ever was an illiterate, subsistence farmer. I look forward to developing more of those kinds of relationships.

What are some things you might get tired of?

Not seeing what you most hope for. And if you work in the school system, lack of administrative support.

Why should someone visit North Africa?

To pray. There is such potential here in a culture that already acknowledges God. Will the Lord raise up a voice in this culture? Spirituality is respected here, not old-fashioned.  Whereas in the past, the West has been reaching out to the East, but will the Lord flip that and have the East reach out to the West?