Tag Archives: housemates

Something is Happening

“Sometimes you should speak to your soul, not just listen to it.”– Dr. Ingrid Davis

—-

Prayer is like writing.  Sometimes you stare at a blank wall, a blank screen, a blank page for awhile.  Thinking you are not yet praying, not yet thinking, not yet writing.

But under just a little bit of skin, your blood is pumping life into your body.  Your lungs have inhaled, exhaled six or a hundred or a quadrillion times since you put yourself in this location.  Mind searching for the words, spirit longing for understanding and to be understood, body pumping, breathing… alive.

Something is happening.  Don’t loose sight of that.

—-

She was distressed.  A young intern, staying with me and my new housemate for her first few days in the Middle East, passed by an open door on our second story to see the team leader she had just met… crying. In the middle of the night.  On her birthday.

The other housemate was already there, having come to check on me.  Earlier in the evening, the group had gathered around me, post-chocolate-peanut-butter-cheesecake, to close the day’s celebration with prayers of blessing.

But when the second person started to pray about dreams and expectations for the year ahead, my soul started to quiver.  Soon shoulders shook, and tears dropped onto the table.  I drew my breath quietly– perhaps, I thought, though the group had drawn close, with eyes shut they would not notice me crying.

Sniffles undid that.  They offered a Kleenex and continued, and I did also.  Sheltered in the kitchen of my second-story house, filled with home-cooked food, encircled by loving friends, I wept over the tentativeness in which every hope, but One, seemed to be shrouded.

After the last “amen,” they accepted my pink eyes and polite thanks, and went home.

Except, of course, for the intern, and my housemate.  She came to my bedroom door 45 minutes later to ask, “How are you?”

Tears again.  A form of answer.

The intern walked by and glimpsed this scene.  She came back, hugged, and walked out again.

O Soul, you asked, Why didn’t I shut the door?  And remembered, In the basement, no one came by the door– I did not have to be vulnerable.  Nostalgic; yet knowing that the vulnerability of the second story is a particularly good place for you to be when you don’t want to be there.

I told the housemate who asked that, while the year had left me with much to celebrate, and drawn me closer to that Hope in One, I had also been bruised until tender from change and loss.  So I was afraid to hope for anything beyond His love, even though I had read it is capable of casting out every category of fear.

Why are you so downcast, my Soul?

—-

Scattered.  Small parts of a people group spread over a big world.  Who would care if they flourished or floundered?  Who would they be known by?

I had not noticed this fear before in the Babel story, even though I had heard it since childhood.  My Sunday School memory was simply of a post-flood, prideful people’s attempt to touch heaven with a physical tower.  Consequentially, languages were confused.  (I would come to grieve this result, as I wrestled with Southeast Asian languages and later Arabic, quite personally.)

But at the international gathering that I attended this summer, Egyptian leader Ann Zaki drew my attention to the text: “Come let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.”

Let’s stay together.  Let’s build a tower and the whole earth will see it.  We are going to have identity, we are going to have companionship, and we are going to have protection.

But they had been given a directive to spread out.  Cravings of the soul to stay in one place, and to make security for themselves, had prompted them to say “no” to God’s plan for them to go and fill the earth.  They had refused to trust Him, to find refuge in Him; they would build their own tower.

As Ann Zaki spoke on the passage, I knew my soul needed to listen.

I needed to acknowledge the tools in my hands.  I had attempted to construct a safe tower, and felt pierced by a sword every time there was a scattering.  It’s time to lay down your arms, to go and let others go.  Be empty-handed and have expectation for protection, companionship, and identity, to come.  Not from what you’ve constructed… but from your Father. 

—-

Sometimes the things I hope for are like Lazarus.  Like his sisters, I contact the Son, confidently, to tell Him what I need Him to do.

Sometimes He lets death approach for awhile.

Sometimes I am Mary, staying a distance away when Jesus approaches, then weeping at His feet.  My soul says to Him, If you had been here, hope would be fulfilled, instead of dead.

Sometimes I am Martha, coming to Jesus and weeping the same words, but adding, “Even now… I know You are Life and Hope.”

Jesus wept with the sisters.  And then…

But that’s a second story.

—-

So this is what I’m saying to my soul these recent days:

Hoping for the small things is all right.  Because even if they don’t happen, I know Hope and Life.

Scattering is all right.  Because refuge is not something I can build with my own hands– I refuse false refuge, and I go with the One who is Himself my Tower.

Moments of fear and being downcast come all right.  But I have perfect love, even when they come.

The future is a blank page.  This, too, is all right.  Because He is up to something… even now.  And so I breathe deeply, singing with favorites Jonathan David & Melissa Helser:

“Your faithfulness will never let me down

I’m confident I’ll see Your goodness now.”

Catch the Wind, new on “Beautiful Surrender”

Beautiful-Surrender-Helsers-Cover-Web.jpg

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Blind Date

Let me tell you about my accidental blind date.  

With Mohammad.

I had been in the country for about six weeks.  A friend from our community center, Khudrah, invited me and my housemate to visit the ladies in her home.  My housemate warned me that Khudrah had been inquiring about my marital status that day, mentioning a cousin who “wants to marry a foreigner.”  Note: Marriages here are often set up by the female members of a household, who research options and then arrange a meeting between the potential couple.

As surrogate family, my housemate had tried to discourage Khudrah, but gently so as not to insult the family.

So I wasn’t worried about the visit that night, and I had my housemate with me to help with any challenging language situations. One of Khudrah’s aunts began telling me about her son, suggesting he could teach me Arabic.

I declined the offer.

That Thursday night, Khudrah invited just me out for coffee.  I told myself that there was no way the cousin would show up– culturally, that would be really, REALLY weird.  But the discomfort persisted…

Until I got in the car, and saw just Khudrah and a single aunt of hers sitting there.  I need to be okay with not controlling all the details, I reminded myself.

So I didn’t ask where we were going.  We parked in a busy downtown area, and I noticed the people in the car next to us– three women, some kids, and an infirm-looking older gentleman– and thought, Why is that one lady waving at me, smiling so expectantly?  Have I met her before?

Khudrah grinned: “This is the coffee shop, owned by my cousin Mohammad!  There’s his dad and my aunt– his mom– in the car beside us.  You remember her, right?”

I spent the next two and a half hours trying to make small talk with the women of the family, in my excruciating Arabic. Trying not to make small talk with Mohammad, who would emerge from behind the counter periodically, smoking cigarettes and attempting to ask me questions in English.  Trying to be clear with Khudrah, drawing her aside, saying, I’m here to hang out with you ladies, not with your cousin.  Trying to be polite when the aunts commented that I was “shy” around Mohammad, and Khudrah informed them, “She doesn’t talk to men.”  Trying to figure out if being reserved made them more or less interested in me as a future daughter-in-law.  Trying not to laugh at the awkwardness of the situation.

I found out later that an initial meeting is often all that a potential couple has to go on, before they decide whether to get married.  Sitting with my housemate the next day, I told her, I think I just went on this culture’s version of a blind date.

“Yes,” she said, after hearing my story.  “Sounds about right.”

I waited for the awkward follow-up conversation, but it never came; Khudrah and I became close with other people, and we didn’t see each other much outside of the community center’s exercise classes.  But, just last week, she invited me to a wedding.

Weddings here involve lots of music and dancing, and almost no interaction with the opposite sex.  The women celebrate by themselves, and the groom enters with the bride to dance, cut the cake (with a sword), and present the bride with her dowry of gold jewelry.  I knew Khudrah’s female cousin had just gotten accepted into the Young Leaders’ program, and that I would probably see some of the other ladies from her family, so I accepted her invitation.

On the way over, I asked who the bride was.  “I don’t really know the bride,” Khudrah replied.  “I’m related to the groom.  Remember Mohammad?”

I’ve been in the Middle East under 18 months.  Like “Part II” of a novel, when enough has changed that the author feels it necessary to give you a blank page so that you can catch your breath, a good many things have shifted this spring: the level of my friendships, the people who are my coworkers, the definition of a “hot” day (anything under 95 doesn’t qualify for me anymore), the things I pray when I sit in quiet, the job I do at our community center.

But then there are the things from “Part I” that were incomprehensible then, or stories that I didn’t know how to tell, that are resurfacing later in the book.  Last Tuesday, at the graduation ceremony for our Young Leaders, I saw 100 “parts” ending; 120 new students will begin next week in their place.  Parts ending, parts begun.  All unfinished.

No one but the author knows how the stories will be woven together.

Last night, amidst the strobe light and the bubbles from the bubble machine and the smoke from Mohammad’s signature cigarette, this young couple danced out of “Part I” and into “Part II” of their stories.  He made her giggle as he pulled every woman over 50 onto the dance floor with them.  He made the aunts blush as he kissed his bride in public– twice– and sang along to the ear-splitting music.  He took the mic from the DJ and said, “Everyone should get up and dance, since this is my first wedding, and my last!”

Some friends from New York recently caught up with me on the shifting happening in the stories here.  I don’t know which parts of old stories will resurface in the pages ahead, and a thousand new stories are launching on an unknown trajectory, but I’ll heed their good advice: “Be present. Stay patient and enjoy the good parts.”

On that note, off to brownies and a game night, with good friends, who are present in this part.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Smells & Save the Children

So today’s entry is coming from the second story, literally, of the house where I live.  Because the basement–where I call home— is flooded.

The rancid odor encroached on this afternoon’s study session; I smelled before I saw.  My language teacher phrased the situation quite nicely: “… you have a problem with your house.”  What to do? CALL FOR HELP.  While not a common thing, my housemates tell me, it isn’t the first time.  So they, too, called for help.

We hope the plumber comes soon.

And in the meantime I sit on their porch, looking back the interruptions of the past several days.  Unusual rain interrupting this city’s rhythms earlier in the week.  Mosquitoes interrupting sleep for a few of my nights.  A national celebration interrupting normally scheduled classes at the university (a celebration which I learned about two hours before my class was supposed to begin).  A recent video released by Save the Children UK, illuminating in wrenching ways how a child’s life can be quickly interrupted, uprooted, and confused by war.

Videos like that cause movement, movement in my soul.  Shaking, my soul sits before God and asks how I can trust Him, feel safe, or preach a gospel of life and salvation.  These devastating interruptions don’t just come to “bad people,” or to “others.”  They come.  They leave life irreversibly altered.  They surprise me.

Psalm 46:

He makes wars cease to the ends of the earth…He says, “Be still and know that I am God….” The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.

My soul is also moved to action– but while some are good steps I do want to make, none is easily going to change all things.  I know it won’t be through my own plans that the trembling ceases in me, or the struggle ceases for others.

So all I know is, beyond shaking, and before and after doing, my strongest movement is toward stillness.  And from a place of stillness, I can call for help.  “Great are You, O God my God; You won’t stay silent against the violence…”  (another song from Tim Coons— The Lord’s Prayer). 

Will you call for help, too?

My housemates’ young sons seize the opportunity, afforded to them by my interruption, and keep me company on the porch.  One informs me of his plan to “earn seventy million dollars” teaching Arabic, and then to “buy a jet pack.”  His six-year-old brother asks me why ants like sugar, while munching cookies and insisting that he has no personal appreciation for the stuff.  And I wait for the plumber more patiently.

And to those for whom the wait is not so gentle, those whose interruption is life-altering, know, your story is not done.  There is hope.

There is a second story.