Tag Archives: soul

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”

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Breathing in the Basement

Flowers on the table.  And two envelopes.  The first was a list of memories, from my dad, and the second was a story, from my mom.  Neither she nor I had been very comfortable on the day in question, but she remembers it— vividly— and I do not.

My birthday.IMG_7773

Friends in the Middle East had contacted my family in Maine, to get suggestions on how to celebrate this day’s anniversary with me.  They had taken responsibility for delivering the flowers and notes from my parents.  Later, they pulled out a cake glowing with candles— trick candles, a couple dozen of them, plus extra until they achieved the correct number.

How did you know?  I asked, when the smoke had cleared and I could see the cake itself.

It was a household favorite, only eaten on birthdays.  But I hadn’t thought of one, much less mentioned it to them, in time within memory.

My friends shrugged in a downplay of their own thoughtfulness. But I learned later, the “favorite cake” tip had been sought out, arranged after advice from my family.

A fresh perspective welcomed my thirty-second year.  Those who helped me to celebrate were mostly unknown to me six months earlier, and the view they gave me was definitely “second story,” and beautiful.  A midnight picnic at the Red Sea with international coworkers.  Sweet gifts from the hearts of the ones I love.  A surprise scuba diving trip– first time!– from one of the teachers at our community center.  More flowers, and a heavily accented rendition “Happy Birthday,” from sixty students in Young Leaders.

But sometimes returning to the basement is the only way to put the panorama in context.

I say basement— my housemate (a former real estate agent, and who’s family is among the few I have known for some time) says “garden level apartment.”  It is underground on three sides.  But no matter what he calls it, when the conversation is over, I descend the stairs down, down to the home’s foundation.  To a place both close and cozy.

Sometimes, as I sit in this basement, I simply feel closed in and limited in perspective.  I want the breathing room of the second story.  I want to peel back layers of soil until I reach it, but the result would only be dirty hands.  Exhaustion.

I cannot change this.  

—–

My mother’s life verse to me, which she told me two decades ago, comes from the exclamation of an impossibly pregnant old woman to an impossibly pregnant young woman.  I love the promise it holds.  “Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished.”  It rings in my mind often as I hold out for promises made that are yet to be fulfilled.

A couple of days after birthday celebrations, I felt drawn to read the beginning of this story, to go down, down to its foundations.  Earlier in the chapter, before she got any affirmation from a human voice, Mary listened to heaven make a promise of something unexpected.

Something scandalous.  Something impossible.  Something desperately needed by the whole world.  Her question in reply: How?

—–

Sometimes I fight to see promises fulfilled: for the area in which I live now, for my beloved family and friends, for my life.  Work harder, perform higher, plan with more discernment.  Love more, listen more, speak less and with more discernment.  Have more friends, since many of those who were here this year may not be next year, and choose who from your local and foreign community to spend time with… with more discernment.  

But trying to fulfill promises through these mean efforts only results in a mess.  In exhaustion.

I cannot control this.

Then I think about how the promise given to Mary was fulfilled, not because of her capability, but because of the power of the One Most High, who overshadows the limitations of the ones like me.  So I return to the foundations.

Like on my birth day, I could not cry until I could breathe.  And I could not breathe until I got released from the cord around my neck.  My mother recalls her own breathlessness in waiting for this, her joy when I finally let out a wail.

Sometimes when we go to the basement (or garden-level apartment) of the soul, to remember the promises we have been given and the foundational identity upon which our lives are built, there are tears as well as laughs.  And that is okay.  We can relax our hands and renew our hopes, because He is the one who is powerful, and the basement perspective is limited but the promises still hold on.  We are, crying or laughing, still taking breaths.

So I cannot keep from hoping.  

Because the promises in the basement– even the ones yet unfulfilled– are sweeter than a chocolate cake with peanut butter frosting.
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Explain Those

The important stories can be the hardest to explain.

I spent part of the afternoon comparing my limited Arabic vocabulary to the story of Jesus’ birth.  Not a pretty comparison. My teacher had suggested that we look at versions of this story from the Qur’an and the Gospels, as our language class tonight.  But after re-reading Luke’s version of the events, I was awed at the gap between the power and intensity of this story, and my ability to communicate.

That’s how I feel when I sit down to blog lately, also.

The stories that burn in my heart are the hardest to put into words.  Saturday I woke up with no plans.  My rhythm of relaxation is still developing.  So unplanned days here are often open spaces meant to be refreshing, and also reminiscent of people and places I miss…

In the evening, I would Skype into a wedding of good friends in New York.  I’m grateful that technology allows us to connect, but let’s be honest: hugs don’t transmit electronically.  So my Saturday stretched ahead of me, less like shade, more like shadow.

After coffee– still not feeling awake, just restless– I found myself reading Psalms.  My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, and am not silent (Psalm 22).  I had said goodbye the night before to visitors from the US, including one from home.  I had gotten to process successes from this season as well as the struggles, the places where I still feel the darkness, where God seems silent.  I thought of those conversations as I kept reading.  I will fear no evil, for You are with me (Psalm 23).

And somehow the familiar phrase brought light to cloudy thoughts.

Basking in its warmth, I curled up to sleep again, and on the way to dreams I let the ancient truth percolate: Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.  The darkness is real.  But it has not overcome the light.  He walks alongside me.

How do I write about kitchen table revelation?  How do I explain how different my day was, when I awoke the second time?  How do I share with you some of the warmth and light that thought gave me, and still acknowledge the shadows that you and I experience?

How can I describe watching, from a screen on the other side of the ocean, as my friends said their vows– how I celebrated, deeply sensing that You are with me, with no other person in the room?  How can I explain why tears still fell, when the screen was off?

Slowly.  Starting with facts, but trying to help us see together the Face behind them.  And praying that He will tell us the soul-strengthening truths that go beyond words.

Kind of the same way I tried to tell the Christmas story tonight.

Wholistic Community– A Story of Beginnings

What significant conversations would you have, if you knew you only had a few talks left with someone?  

Seven years ago, in Southeast Asia, I visited a remote farming village with an amazing husband/wife development pair.  Spent the last 15 minutes trying to remember their names, but with limited success.

I will always remember what they taught me.

Before we went to the village, they sat me down on a weathered gray couch, and spent hours talking through:

  • the origins of humanity (delving into Hebrew translation the first three chapters of Genesis)
  • the theology behind “wholistic” community development (from the first three chapters of Walking with the Poor, by World Vision‘s insightful thinker, Bryant Myers).

These together had shaped their work with rural farming families.  The idea is that we were created to walk in shalom— more than peace: wholeness and restoration– with God, other human beings, ourselves, and the rest of creation.  We fell; and evil separated our ability to connect healthily with God, others, ourselves, creation.

Ah, but the second story… God did something to restore those broken relationships.  And as our relationship with Him is being restored through the Son, we also experience healing with regard to others, ourselves, and the rest of creation.

So on the farm, families talked about being made in the image of God (a concept shared by Christians/Muslims), and how this would impact their interactions.  My hostess tirelessly modeled caring for one another, walking from plot to plot to pick bugs off plants and swap stories with women, in a local language.   The families refused to use the prolific chemicals that made land temporarily productive but barren after only a few years.  In that way, they found an untapped market for “organic produce” nearby.  Starting with an understanding of who they are in relationship to God, change was happening in their relationships with their community, the rest of creation, and themselves.

Friends and I here asked each other the question, If you only had a few conversations left with someone, what would you want them to know?  We were full of ideas.  For me, it always comes back to the conversation on the worn couch: people made in the image of God, in perfect relationships, broken.  Unable to find restoration again, without Jesus’ reconciling presence.  A second story.

A couple of days ago, a few university students and I talked about the beauty of confidence.  Their faces, framed by scarves, shone with delight as they realized that significance is not about appearance or performance. It does have something to do with knowing who you are, and aren’t…and I realized that I am on that journey with them.

I’ve been restored to God, and am being restored to Him, others, myself, and creation. So when we talk about development of body, mind, and soul, I come as a sojourner, a co-learner.

And A & T– I did remember your names in the end– if you see this, deep thanks.

 

 

 

This is something I need.

I need you to help me…

Monday I told a local friend that I needed something.  An idea: a different way to invest in Syrian refugees, now the first project had ended.  She is from here, a make-it-happen activator who already has two jobs; I am new, a student increasingly conscious of how much I still need to learn.

We wanted something that would involve the community in service, make space for developing relationships, and meet a practical need.  BUT something we had time to do.

She said she’d think about it, and get back to me.

Still, after nearly three months, I miss my family and friends and community from the States– and pizza; I really miss buffalo chicken, New York style slices– and all the familiarity that came with them.  I had people to talk through teaching ideas with me.  I had a team of trusted coworkers and friends, to help plan community events: worship training, community breakfasts, an art show… Together our ideas and application were better than they ever could have been alone.  I enjoy making music, but when I play here alone, I miss the sounds of our incredible drummer, or the classical-turned-loose pianist or the strum just the way Shawna does it.

A quiet place.  A mug of coffee and an almond croissant.  A hug, listening ears, a soul connection over tea or Chinese food or… I miss how easy it was to get those things.

Learning friends, family, and community in a new place may be harder than learning a foreign language– but even more necessary for life to be lived (instead of survived).  My favorite parts of the past three months have been times of connection.  And I see in people I have met a deep craving for connection, whether they are from the Arab world, the US, or elsewhere.

My favorite moments of the past months have been moments of connection.  Hummus and pita with Arab friends.  Ice cream and oreos with a fellow stranger to this country, who makes her home here.  Working as an incredible team, both local and non-local, for our first outreach for refugees.  Laughter with local ladies as I attempt to tell a story.  And moments of connection– looking up at the mountains, praying with a friend, hearing lyrics from a good song– with the Creator.

My friend came back the next day holding a pile of papers.  The top page read, “101 Project Ideas.”  In between jobs, my friend had researched ideas, and come up with one that she thought would work for neighborhood and the Syrian refugees.

She gave me a great idea to bring back to the team.  And she gave me yet another connection here; yet another powerful note in the unfinished song that is this season.  I think I’ll call the song…

No, I’ll save naming this song for another, second story.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Daring Greatly

IMG_0024Daring Greatly.” That part sounded good.  A trusted friend was recommending a book. Then he said its subtitle: “How the Courage to be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead.”

I groaned.  All it took was the cover of the book to make me feel uncomfortable and say, “Why would anyone want to read that?”  Which was, I was willing to admit, clear evidence that I probably SHOULD read the book.

Started last weekend.  Dr. Brene Brown breaks down the mentality of “scarcity” that pervades all around– the message that we never have or are enough. People, she writes, tend to respond to the fear that they aren’t [doing, performing, succeeding, looking attractive, acting courageously, being smart, experiencing love from one another…] ENOUGH in three ways:

1) Shame

2) Comparison

3) Disengagement

Ouch.  This week, a couple from the US came to lead us in some times of teaching and seeking God.  A theme that kept coming up in my soul, during these sessions, was my impatience.  I want to accomplish much for English classes and refugee projects; learn Arabic; develop close, fun friendships with coworkers; have quality relationships with local ladies; and have amazing times with God. NOW.

When I don’t feel like I am _____ enough, I tend toward 1, 2, or 3.  Or maybe a couple of those at once.

They were leading similar talks in a different city, and I joined them, lending some music to the sessions.  (Sidebar: my experience in a much larger city in this region can be summed up in: hipster coffee shops, green grass, strange “zoo,” Chili’s, try-not-to-wince-because-we’re-this-close traffic… very different, but quite fun.)  I brought my guitar.  I listened to the talks again– many of them underlining the need for vulnerability among teams, colleagues, and families.  And I kept reading pieces of Daring Greatly.

Acupuncture via concepts: scary, sharp-looking points, poking into the soft places of the soul.  But surprisingly, relieving some of the tension that has been building, and bringing release (at least, I’ve been told that acupuncture does).

I found myself tripping into 1, 2, or 3 that week… stumbling, catching it… and choosing differently.  Because I know something that shame, comparison, and disengagement can’t contain.  And I am increasingly aware that 1, 2, and 3 do not belong as my responses,  if I really believe this something.

After all the talks, we gathered at a large body of water, at the lowest place on earth.  We went in, held up by the salt.  Before entering, we smeared mud on every exposed portion of skin.  People travel from around the world to experience a smelly, muddy, gritty cleansing ritual… We floated together, surprisingly buoyant, laughing at the mud on each others’ faces and limbs.  Mud that cleanses.  Salt that stings, but holds us up.  A low place that gives a fresh perspective.

Dare greatly, and let this vulnerability drench your soul with the truth: that you are held by Someone who is enough

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.

The Cupboard’s Full

We sat at a table in the sunshine.

Sandwiches were for lunch, as we collaborated on a Bible study and plans for a weekly meeting with our international colleagues.  My friend suggested an age-old method that guides people in listening to God through a passage, asking Him what He’s saying for ourselves, and then asking what He’s saying we should do with it (a process called Lexio Divina.)

The brownies had just come out of the oven, at that meeting with our fellow workers.  We read, slowly, the ancient words of Isaiah 55: “Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! …Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy?”  We listened for words from God and prayed them into everyone who asked.

Sweet juice, two cups of it, sat on the table in front of my Arabic teacher and me.  “I have no friends,” she said; and an ever-so-slight tremor in her voice undercut the stoicism in her face.  The hunger for relationship remained.  The tension between resignation to the situation being faced, and resistance of the circumstances– this tension I would see on dozens of other faces in the next few weeks.

Cheaply packaged chocolate wafers were handed out to all the students– and to us volunteers– at the afterschool program for young refugee women.  A social worker from Syria asked me how I was doing since the last time we had met.  After the pleasantries had been properly conveyed, she made one more statement, leaving me with no Arabic or English reply: “My house in Syria was burned in a fire.  It is gone.”

I was eating a late-night bowl of Raisin Bran while we chatted on Skype.  She caught me up on discoveries and dreams developing in Jersey, and asked how things were for me in the Middle East.   Have you ever seen a little girl try to lift her father?  I asked.  She can’t move him a bit, no matter how determined she is, how hard she tugs.  But he swings her into the air….

That’s how I feel when I read Isaiah 55.  I can stay hungry and thirsty, regretting my deficits, and scraping to find something to serve to others.  I can spend my labor, without moving the circumstances around me; and instead of satisfaction, I’ll get dissatisfaction and disillusionment.

Or I can let my Father carry both the weight of the world and of this little child.  A physical need, a method of connecting as human beings, a requirement for growth and replenishing, a gift to make celebrations more fun– food and drink are rich metaphors.  And I hear Him inviting me to sit down, drink and eat, and trust He’s got covered both my and my neighbors’ hungry souls.

Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good,
and your soul will delight in the richest of fare. –Isaiah 55:2

P.S.– Currently on my “moving songs for this journey” list, and stay for the powerful lyrics: The Cupboard’s Full

Everything is new

“Vision: 1) the faculty or state of being able to see.  2) the ability to think or plan the future with imagination or wisdom.” (source: Google)

Just before I left the U.S., this word took root in my soul. I didn’t fully know why, but since I arrived here one month ago, it has continued to grow.  Hungry for vision, hungry to help others get it, hungry for supernatural revelation from God…

Thursday I sat in a circle of young women from this area.  They had come to practice their English.  We talked about dreams; at first, they listed jobs they wanted (doctor, professor).  Then we moved into discussing what kinds of people we want to be, no matter what our occupations.

Their answers were powerful and insightful.  They want to help people learn new things, to be compassionate to the poor, to bring laughter to those they meet.  One of the last said she planned to change the world.  The girl sitting next to her interrupted: “You can’t change the whole world!”

“No,” she replied.  She was searching for the words, gesturing with her hands.  “But, if I change it for one person, and they change it for one person…”

Since coming to the Middle East, I’ve been praying– and asking others to pray– for vision.  I tend to think in specific terms: I want vision for the Syrian refugee project, or for my English students, or for my Arab moms at the center.  Yesterday, my prayer shifted, because in order to live fully in the present that I’ve been given, I hunger after promise for the future.

I asked God for a broad vision.  What does He want for this place, for these people, for me and for my life?  Speaking through music seems to be God’s thing for me; this song played as I threw up my questions:

My eyes have seen the glory

Of the coming Lord

And it looks like streets restored after the vicious war.

It looks like lonely souls being alone no more.

My God, You rule, and everything is new

The world is changed, never the same

The light has come bearing Your name

The dawn that’s breaking in the East

Shines upon the least of these

Soon, everything is new

— Tim Coons, “Everything is New”

I want to think and plan for the future with wisdom and imagination, as reads that definition.  I want to see God’s perspective, to see people and this place through His eyes. And I want the same thing for you :).

May there be a still small voice that whispers in your ear God’s vision for your community, for your area, for you.  You see brokenness around you now, but God, when He moves, makes everything new– lonely souls alone no more, streets restored. May it be so… Amen.

Taken over… and over…

There were twenty minutes of class time left, and one of my students stood up.  “Professor,” she said.  “Since you’re leaving soon, we all have something to say.”

I’ve been teaching this college class for four years– a freshman-level course that aims to develop students’ academic, study, and personal skills.  We get quite personal in this class, talking about vision for the future, struggles, disappointments, and inspiration.  Each student even chooses a song that pushes them to keep going when things get tough, and presents these “inspirational lyrics” to their classmates (This year’s selection included everything from Bob Marley to worship songs to “Hakuna Matata“.)  That day each of them told how being in our class impacted them, and by doing so, wrote words on my heart that will long resonate.

Several days after my students “took over” class, I was at a Christmas party with the music team for my local Sunday fellowship.  We had all gathered in one room.  I thought it was time for the “white elephant” gift exchange, but again, someone stood up.  “Since you’re leaving soon, we have something to say.”

They didn’t just say kind things.  My fellow team members gave insights and observations to help me see what had worked well, what I should keep doing, and what strengths God has given me, that I can take into a new context.    Their words were blessings to continue what God was doing here, in my Middle Eastern community.

Take over normal conversations with words of encouragement.  Take over normal events with conversations that build up each others’ souls.  Those conversations will lead to laughter, risky feedback, deeper understanding, and occasionally tears.  And those conversations help us give each other perspective, “second-story” views on life.  Thanks to the students, friends, and family who do this in my world.