Monthly Archives: January 2014

One Art

His Alabama accent was thick.

I had met his wife shortly after I arrived, a Japanese woman who uses origami to connect with Syrian refugees. We had come together the week before to an after school program for young refugee women.  Waiting in the car with us, ready to help again this afternoon, was my friend’s precocious seven-year-old.  She spoke to her mom in Japanese and to me in English (with her dad reminding her that she should address me as “ma’am”).

We waited in the car, beside the locked door of the center.  Finally we called.  Times had changed– and we had missed the program.

The night before, I told a teammate how I have been feeling huge waves of grief sweep up, sometimes with long periods of stillness in between, and at other times a steady pounding.  She listened a long time, and did not attempt to solve things. “I think the measure of how good something is, is how much you mourn it,” she said.

Today she had me bring my guitar to our community center’s fitness room.  We met with three other women who are involved in the leadership of this fitness program, who were expecting to have a business meeting.  Instead, we sang; we proclaimed the love of God, the holiness of God, the miraculous healings and transformation, the power of God– over ourselves, the space, the women in our fitness program, and the rest of the city.

It was awesome.  So when my impatience stirred like a wind over calm seas, I was surprised.  “It’s getting late.  I need to go visit my Arab moms… or start studying…”  The tug to “do something” was strong.  A quiet voice told my soul, Peace! Be still.  We kept singing.

A favorite poem of mine declares, The art of losing isn’t hard to master.  The author, Elizabeth Bishop, advises,

Lose something every day.  Accept the fluster

of lost door keys, the hour badly spent. 

The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

The poet records her losses, increasingly significant (I lost two cities, lovely ones, and vaster, / some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent…).  She moves from acceptance to seeming to try to convince herself that it’s no “disaster” to have lost what, or whom, she lost (see full poem here: One Art.)

And as I live here in the Middle East, in addition to studying language and society and new roles, I am studying this art.  The art of letting today’s “wasted hour” at the closed community center, turn into the joyful acquaintance of my new seven-year-old-Alabaman-Japanese buddy.

The art of knowing that the best use of time is the pursuit of loving God and others.  And if it’s more about the process than about producing, that must just be part of the art.

And the art of calling the losses the irreplaceable things that they are, and staying soft-hearted and open-handed, embracing life fully, every day.

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Sick, Sore, and Strong

Congested.  Coughing.  Crusty-eyed.  When I first met the morning, my alarm had not yet gone off, and the earliest call to prayer from the mosque was still unheard.  My sore throat had woken me up to see if I would go get it a hot cup of tea.  I refused, pulled the tissues closer, and returned eventually to something that resembled sleep.  On the way, I wondered where the young Syrian refugees I met earlier that day recover when they are sick.

A couple of hours later, I arose to put on my sneakers, tie back my hair, and move out for a morning with the women from the community center’s exercise program.  They had a special “coffee shop” happening.  That meant that after an aerobics class, we spent a couple of hours playing games, eating, and talking.  Usually I’m all in for something social, but that day, I wondered at the way the enthusiastic sounds of their laughter, teasing, and yelling were amplified in our meeting room.  It made my ears ring.

Some other workers gathered later, and with a broken voice, I led them in songs.  “Our God is healer, awesome in power…”  We prayed for transformation and for healing.  We confessed our longing– and our impatience– for His kingdom to come in our lives, our friends, and our area.

God has a history of elevating those whom we see as “weak.”  “Blessed are the meek… the hungry… the poor,” Jesus said.  “My power is made perfect in weakness,” God said.  Those phrases were rolling around in my mind last night, before I succumbed to the NyQuil.  Perhaps God was using the weakness I felt to answer my prayer.  I’ve been asking Him for vision.

  • When I can’t understand the words of the young refugee women, I am weak.
  • When I am asked to lead music and my voice is slipping, I am weak.
  • When my head rings at the sound of happy voices, I am weak.
  • When I am trying to find ways to serve displaced families, and meet confusing systems and my own insecurity, I am weak.
  • When I am impatient for God to do what He said He would do, I am weak.

In weakness I see that I can’t do anything– learn a language, connect with others, reach the hurting, be nice– on my own. And when I am weak, then I am strong.

Not to be Captured

2014-01-11 14.44.25Writing usually evokes the thoughts and events that have been percolating in the back of my mind.  But there are so many right now, it’s hard to decide what to put out here.

Should I write about my first attempt to speak Arabic, when my listener gently replied– in English– that she was from the Philippines and doesn’t speak Arabic?

Or of the women who make jewelery at the center, part of a “small business” enterprise.  Upon our second meeting, these motherly and grandmotherly women began calling me “habibti,” a local term of love and affection.  They teach me Arabic, show me how to roll paper beads from recycled magazines, and feed me quantities of green olives and hummus.

Or maybe I should write about the fun couple from the US who has had me in their home–twice– in the past week, expressing their commitment to helping me settle in.  The map that he made, and the cheesecake she made, were very welcome.  The intentional questions they asked, even more welcome!!

On the other hand, I could tell of writing an e-mail to a friend in Pennsylvania, and of crying as I answered her question about how my last week in the US had been.  Everyone loved, encouraged, expressed appreciation, and blessed me greatly.  My family & dear friends have sent me well.  And I miss them.

I could write about seeing a refugee child selling peanuts on the street, long after dark.

I could write about the eyes of a young woman from the same area, distant and guarded until a smile came her way.  Unbelievably quickly, the look of caution fled, and her face lit up with her own brilliant smile.

I could write about teaching my first-ever English class yesterday, and explaining to a crowded room of students what the words “hope” and “confidence” mean.  “Optimism”– we talked about that, too.

I could write about my first venture into the desert– a beauty unique from any others.  But I don’t think words could capture any of it.

 

A Key and an Address

Unwinding the housekeys from my keyring, three days ago, I traveled back in my mind to the time before I received them.  It was more than three and a half years ago, and I was about to finish grad school.  I did not know the answer to the question, “What is your post-graduate address?”  When the question was settled, and the little silver key was placed in my hands, I celebrated.

“What’ll your overseas address be?”  That question has given me pause the past few days.  I unwound the housekey for my New York apartment before I had the replacement in my hands, before I knew what my address would be.  I left behind a few other keys– from the fellowship where I led worship, from the car that carried me.  Dear friends prayed, laughed, ate, sang, packed, cried, celebrated with me.  And I waved goodbye from the far side of airport security.

Only 20 hours later, I was here in the Middle East, at the door of my new apartment.  A new silver key was in my hand.  While I’m excited to be settling in well so far, I stepped into a world that is bringing surprises in unexpected places– even in my own home.  Three small examples of familiar things that took on a new dimension for me since my arrival last night:

  • Songs– As I was unpacking today, and listening to Brian and Katie Torwalt’s worship song “I’m a Lover of Your Presence“, the call to prayer resonated loudly underneath it from a nearby mosque.
  • Rain– This city does not get it more than a couple of times a year, but it came today.  It left a damp, dusty smell, and prompted the kids upstairs to run excitedly outside to catch a glimpse of it.
  • Recycling– It turns out this city does not do it at all!!  EXCEPT at the community center’s project that turns peoples’ trash into amazing jewelry (while also employing local people.  E-mail me if you want to find out how to get involved).

P.S.  I still don’t know my address.