Monthly Archives: January 2013

White Caps and White Knuckles

The last few months have been a bit on the crazy side. Four continents in three months has a way of exhausting not just the body, but the mind and heart. So it was time for a prayer retreat. Thankfully, the Holiday Inn at the Dead Sea was on sale and I could use points to pay for a couple of nights knowing that the quiet tranquility of the sea in January was just what I needed. So I joyfully packed my bag with all the essentials: journal, iPad for reading and a few apples and I left the dreary, rainy capital city behind me for the sunshine of the valley.

I’ve been here a number of times. I love gazing at the beauty of the sea as I journal, sketch, read and pray. I feel so close to God as I contemplate the glass-like calmness of the Dead Sea, so different from the Mediterranean or any place on the ocean. I wasn’t prepared for what I would find when I got here: high winds and white-capped waves. And I am reminded that God is all that is peaceful and calm. But God is also wild strength that can create waves in the deadest of seas.

As I considered this, I watched the dust from the desert swirling. I am like that dust: moveable, unattached, changing constantly with whichever wind current happens to catch my attention at the moment. And I am like those white-capped waves, unable to control myself, but moving with the winds of emotion.

But God is sovereign. He is the rock underneath the dust, unmoveable. He is the moon that guides the waves according to his choosing.

So I choose to relinquish my meager control to the sovereignty and strength of God knowing that he is good. I chose to hold on to him white knuckled and with a fierce determination that refuses to let go.


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The Road Less Traveled

I like to hike. My hometown is near the Appalachian Trail, so journeys up to the tops of mountains to bask in God’s beauty are a regular for me when I’m in the States. I love the well worn, well marked path, confident in my abilities knowing that thousands have traveled these steps before me. I meander up the hill toting some fruit, nuts, a bottle of water and my journal in anticipation of a wonderful time of prayer and reflection while sitting a safe distance from the edge.

Today I went with three friends on a very different kind of hike in a mostly dry river bed. There was no path other than the one made by the stream winding its way through the rocks. We climbed rocks, trudged through water and met a crab. As we made our way around the rocks I was reflecting on Psalm 91:9-13
9 If you say, “The Lord is my refuge,”
and you make the Most High your dwelling,
10 no harm will overtake you,
no disaster will come near your tent.
11 For he will command his angels concerning you
to guard you in all your ways;
12 they will lift you up in their hands,
so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.
13 You will tread on the lion and the cobra;
you will trample the great lion and the serpent.

As we continued, my resolve came into question as I worked to conquer my intense fear of heights. In between my prayers for God to teleport me off the side of a rock, I kept reminding myself that God has commanded his angels concerning me so that I wouldn’t strike my foot against a stone. I am thankful for my parents helping me memorize Scripture as a child.

I felt very close to God in those moments and I’m happy to say that I arrived back home no worse for the wear. God is a good God who protects us. However, I think I’ll give my angel a break and go back to my strolling along we’ll worn paths up mountains. Besides, most of my life is a road untraveled by others and full of crazy adventures. That’s enough for me.



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Don’t Judge a TV Show by its Voiceover Scenes

After finishing a book on colloquial Arabic, my tutor thought it would be good for us to watch television together. Having tried and failed to watch any shows in Arabic with any consistency, I reluctantly agreed. She sent me on my way with a list of DVDs to purchase from the guy by my house and instructions on which episode to view prior to our next tutoring session.

I complied. I bought a show entitled, “Soft Thorns,” a soap opera type show about a girls’ school and their headmistress. I do not enjoy soap operas. I made it through about ten minutes before my mind began wandering and I found myself doing anything other than actually watching this show with its stare-aimlessly-into-space-with-a-weird-voiceover sequences.

Upon entering my tutor’s home for our next session, I was ashamed at how little I had gained from the show. She grabbed a cup of coffee, put the DVD in the player and excitedly joined me on the couch armed with the remote. I could tell she was going to enjoy the next hour. As we watched, she would periodically pause the show to discuss what was happening and be sure I understood. The Arabic was no problem for me. I understood what was being said. But was we continued to talk about what was occurring on the television set, I realized that I had completely misjudged the importance of watching television with an Arab. Sure, by American standards the show was ridiculous. By my standards, abhorrent with its terrible acting (one character limps, but his bad leg changes from scene to scene). But my tutor was letting me into her world: a world where we could discuss what was happening and why. She shared about her own life as I extrapolated cultural norms from what I was observing. It brought up questions like, “Why is everyone so concerned with his horoscope?” And, “Was your school like this?” Even though most of our time is spent watching television together, I’m learning more about this place in those few minutes than I did in the several months prior.

I’ve learned a valuable lesson: Don’t judge a book (or show) by its cover (or bad acting). Sometimes, what seems the biggest waste of time ends up bearing the greatest reward.

So I continue to *try* to watch Arabic television and movies. I’ve taken up crocheting to help me sit still long enough to make it to the end. And I continue to learn so much.

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There are giant posters with people’s faces on them everywhere advertising their electoral slogan above their poorly executed photoshopped picture. As I look at the plethora of photos obstructing my view as I drive, I can’t help but wonder, “Was this really the best picture of you – with your eyes half shut or a weird smirk or your eyes bugging out of your head?”

It’s a weird thing being in a foreign country during their elections. A few years ago I was leaving a friend’s house, walking down the block to the big circle to catch a cab home on Election Day after the announcement the president won. Well, I’m not sure it can be called an election since apparently it’s just a referendum approving the presidential candidate parliament voted for – the same man who’d been in power for years and who’s father was “elected” before him. At any rate, I was aghast as I walked to this major intersection wishing I had my good camera to capture what was going on around me. Bare with me as I try to verbalize something so dumbfounding.

Horns assailed my ears blaring the same beep beep be be beep over and over, each one sporting some picture of the president scotch taped to the window, often covering important parts like the windshield.

Men, lots of them, danced in the street together to traditional songs.

Women ululated through the windows of the fifteen passenger vans that serves as the bus system, contributing to the din.

Children colored their faces to match the flag and waved whatever they could find in jubilation.

But the piece de resistance was a group of screaming young men standing in the bed of a truck desperately trying to hold onto a giant picture of the president at least six feet tall as the truck sped around and around the circle. And then they lost it. And it covered the windshield of another car. And pandemonium ensued. And it was truly something to behold. I guess you had to be there.


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Not all medical care is created equal

This morning I was looking on webmd for advice on relieving the back pain I’m feeling right now. It is my go to place for medical advice for several reasons, not the least of them what happened to me a few years ago. Recognize I don’t live in this particular country anymore, but trauma to this extent (I still have the occasional nightmare) knows no boundaries. Webmd makes me feel better.

A friend of mine needed her gall bladder removed. She went to a local, national hospital for the procedure. The next day, I went to visit her. I entered the hospital prepared to tell the receptionist who I needed to see, only to discover that he was asleep under the desk. As I surveyed the room, I saw several giant medical devices older than I am littered throughout the cramped lobby. Upon discovering the elevator, I pressed the button, only to discover that it didn’t work. So I began my trudge up the three flights of stairs where her husband would meet me.

As I left the stairwell dripping in sweat from the high summer temperatures and no air conditioning, I was assaulted with a stench so putrid, there simply are no words to describe it. Used medical tools were strewn about every surface, including the floor. We carefully tiptoed our way to the large room that housed his beloved wife, along with a dozen other ladies, waiting a few minutes for all the ladies to be sufficiently covered before a man entered. Wide-eyed and nauseous, I walked over to my friend’s bed. There was no sheet on the stained mattress. No pillow case on the yellowed pillow. Only a fuzzy blanket covering her injured body. The oxygen tube running to her nose was crusty and full of tears and holes.

I was mortified. I was so beyond my comfort zone as it relates to hospital visits that “fight or flight” was kicking in. Right then, flight was sounding really good. But, I swallowed my fears and the bile that had risen in my throat, determined to bring comfort. We talked. We prayed together. And then she said something that I didn’t understand. My Arabic is pretty good, but there are holes. Like the names of organs. She said something I didn’t get and did what normally works for me – I nod my head and wait for my comprehension to catch up to what’s being said. It usually doesn’t take long. However, this time I just wasn’t quite getting what she was saying. Then her husband reached under the bed for a plastic grocery bag with newspaper in it and bolted out the door. Curious, I stood there waiting for some verbal cue that would help me understand what was going on. She carefully took the newspaper out of the bag and began unfolding it. Just as I realized what was happening, she pulled out a dark brown,very strange looking item that was her gall bladder. It took every ounce of energy in my body not to pass out at that moment. I stared at the afflicting body part as I shakily told her that I needed to be going. I prayed quickly and then walked out of the room before darting down to the lobby and out the door for some fresher air. (I say fresher because the air outside was just as stiflingly hot, just not as odious.)

And so I have a phobia of all things clinical.

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