Sunday, December 5, 2010

A lesson in GRACE


One year down.... But the challenge to figure out the mysteries of this place only intensifies the more I allow myself to dig and know this ancient world. Combining Islam with a country that was historically Christian, Arabic with Coptic, and various tribes with pure Egyptian blood make this country unusual, a puzzle that I truly believe is not meant to be solved.

I became frightened a few weeks ago, when I caught myself finally admitting aloud my struggle with anger. This is new for me within the last year...always known as "the cheerful one", I was caught off guard when it became evident this was no longer the case. It began with small outbursts related to the physical and sexual harassment that females face each day they walk the streets of Cairo. Once I became comfortable enough to confront strangers directly rather than ignore them, I noticed my temper shortening upon each negative encounter with a man. This turned the expression on my face into a permanent frown from the moment I left my flat, until I was safely in the company of friends. Our faces do effect our emotional well being. Frowning for chunks of my day was not good for my heart. This was followed by the quick lesson that taxi rides with minimal communication and no smiles produced more respect when it was time to pay. Cheerful attitudes only encourage one's chances of being taken advantage of. However, once I saw how often people attempted to cheat me, my heart became even harder.

It's not just the harassment and cheating, but also the force required to accomplish simple tasks such as crossing a street, checking out at the grocery store, attaining a place on the metro, requiring a handyman to complete a task, or buying a train ticket. All of these require an aggressive spirit . One quickly learns that patience is not an option if you plan on completing tasks...if you wait, "your turn" will never come.

But go ahead and try training yourself to turn off this aggression once you have seen the necessity it is for survival here. It's almost impossible to switch back and forth, our minds don't work that way. It's not like turning on "work mode" and then slipping back into "home mode" at the end of a work day, it's a lot more complicated than that. Intense becomes life...life becomes intense.

Things were put into perspective for me in regards to one of the reasons I feel defeated so much of the time during a conversation with the man sitting next to me on the train one night. He calmly explained to me that as a woman God viewed me as inferior to him, a man. He didn't understand my blank stare. Why should he? But this explains a lot.

Combine all these elements, and ask me again why anger is difficult to avoid? Exactly, it's impossible without Divine power to not be overcome with sinful aggression as my response and let my emotions guide me. Unfortunately, they win a lot of the time. One then finds the struggle of not just dealing with anger, but now processing through the guilt of responding sinfully.

During a stroll last week, i was watching people pass by, their brows scrunched, their expressions sour...their eyes, heavy. It was that moment clarity struck, and God revealed a small glimpse of truth to me. Compassion... once part of my daily life, but hidden for almost a year now. I was relieved to discover it didn't disappear completely. Allow me to share what I learned and have been twirling in my mind recently.

Whether or not we will admit it, our society plays a huge part in who we develop into as we grow and mature. People live based on what they are taught through how others treat them, what they see, what they experience, and how they best cope. I cannot hold angry feelings against people around me here, when they are doing what they know is necessary to survive. There is no reason for them not to respond with aggression when it is all around them. It's all they know. It is what "works" here. The same way that it has seeped itself into my veins, they have breathed it from day one. It runs deeper in who they are, than I will ever understand. I can't hold them accountable for being what this society has trained them to be. Staying angry and refusing to accept this as a reality that I can't change, is HARD. I come in with my American standards for how things should be and then get frustrated that I am always disappointed. News flash, this isn't America, it's the farthest thing from it. Don't think deadlines, timeframes, or consideration for others is a priority here, it's not. I don't expect it ever will be. Being angry at the anger all around me doesn't change the truth of this place. I have to submit to their culture, the aggression is what it takes to make it here, we are all products of our societies, our families. Wishing it away is not an option.

This brings me to the next piece of the lesson God is teaching me. GRACE. Not only should I begin each morning praising Him and asking for His strength, but I also must CHOOSE grace. The very grace He extends to me, I am expected to give freely to those around me. My flesh will buck this, it's not natural, it goes against the grain of humanity to choose grace when we feel we are being wronged.

I am frustrated that my culture has taught me to demand respect and personal rights as something I am owed. I am not owed a thing by anyone. It's not about me, but my western upbringing told me that it is, and that I have the freedom to make it that way. A small percentage of people actually get to live out freedom on a daily basis. We think that is how it is supposed to be, but that's not reality. I can't expect to be "free" with "rights" when I am living in a society that knows nothing of this. Freedom? some wouldn't know what to do it with it... and those that have it are clueless as to the gift it is.

What ever happened to community? Once again, it's not about me...although my will challenges this everyday.

Rather than dwelling on how I am constantly wronged, taken advantage of, cheated, lied to, harassed, propositioned, I should change my focus to ask the Lord to show me how to willingly display GRACE, and ask Him to place me in positions where I can share this gift of GRACE with those I encounter. It's not about how I was "wronged again today," but rather getting one step closer to offering truth...GRACE, in every context of how it can change lives...

Sunday, November 28, 2010

A Christmas Poem

I found this poem I wrote when I was in 8th grade about the first Christmas. Enjoy!


Shh! Quiet! The barn noises keep him awake,
He smiles gently knowing he is safe.


His mother covers Him to keep Him warm from cold
Laying him in straw that is obviously quite old


The shepherds outside that night run and scurry around
For they know they are near and can feel the holy ground


He wasn’t born in a palace, or placed in sheets of silk
But put in a feeding trough, and warmed by his mothers milk


They know He is special in mysterious sort of way
But trying to explain this, no words can portray


Shining bright above Him, a sparkling vibrant star
One that can be seen by all… even those afar


They load all their belongings in search of a great King
But will they find him where they think to look in palaces of gold things?


The thin cloth around him and the straw in which he lay
Is enough to keep him warm on that first Christmas day


The animals moan noisily for they know too
That the baby lying before them is the Lord of all, even you


Mary watches Him carefully with a smile on her lips
Bending down to face her King, giving her new son a kiss


The star above them twinkles in honor of the newborn King
The Holy one given to us, so let our praises ring!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

:)

Yes...Egypt is a difficult place to live, but that doesn't mean there aren't perks as well. What about this place makes me grin...?

Delivery....anything...you name it (ironing, groceries, dinner...)

Cheap...this country is very inexpensive

Taxis...i don't have to drive!

My 1 hour walking commute...it's great exercise and a peaceful time with just me and my music

Respect for God...even if there are differences in beliefs, He is respected

Fresh hot bread on the street

Snack stands everywhere!

Ironing man right in my building

Cheap fresh fruits and veggies

Starbucks is walking distance

Nile River

Donkey carts, because they remind me of how simple life can be

Movie theaters where you pick your seat at ticket purchase

Walking! walking! walking!

Easy access to many cool countries near by

The Red Sea

Mt. Sinai

Bartering for goods is fun

Lots of foreigners, which produces a diverse social community for me

Arabic is a very cool language once it starts making sense

Otlob.com...where you can order any food to your door from anywhere to be delivered!

Balconies...charming

Mediterranean Sea

Egyptians don't get overly stressed about the little things

Mummies! :)

and the last one for now...
the best people watching EVER :)




Friday, October 22, 2010

It Hurts

Almost here is my one year anniversary of living in Cairo. When I look back upon the past 12 months, my stomach immediately goes into flip flop mode, which is how my body reacts to emotional stress. Am I stressed? No. But life in the Middle East occurred, which in summary is a compilation of random challenges, mental and emotional fires...yet also the sanctification and transformation of my mind which have pointed me to the cross over and over. This is causing me to thank Him that I have not been in this alone. To put it simply is stating that this year has been the toughest year of my life, but yet I would not trade it..could not give it up...and I still remain thankful in my call.

Looking back at my journal entries from last year as I was preparing to come to Egypt seems like another world...another life. That person has changed...and my life in the states seems so distant to me, but I do miss it. I miss so many things about my life prior to being here... but I know so much more now, my interpretation of reality has broadened...my heart has shifted...my thoughts redirected.
Anyone who has moved to a new place understands the pain of starting over. The struggle to hear of family going on with their lives without you there...missing little ones as they grow up. Anyone who has lived cross culturally knows the frustrations of trying to normalize the people, customs, and language of your new home, making yourself comfortable with them as "daily life." When thrust into a new culture, you find yourself wanting to scream, a lot! Or in my case, the shocking discovery of a temper I didn't know I had. This place brings out the worst in me, but that is not necessarily a bad thing. Seeing the gross inside, being forced to face my sins head on and out there for all to witness, feeling my strength being ripped away, and my weaknesses exposed, are all part of it. At least, it's been my struggle here in Cairo.
Am I living my dream? ... I am. But that does not mean I haven't been hurt in the process. Living here hurts, it drains, it tests, and it forces me to have to decide the answer to the question of "who will win the battle today?" Some days this country wins. This then forces me to my knees asking God to be in it...ALL of it, even the messy...pulling me out of myself...and asking Him to gently teach me how to give up self love, and choose to accept and serve these people around me. It is not the challenge I expected when I stepped onto the plane...it's harder...it cuts deeper...it's humbling...it's necessary.
As a teacher, I have had the privilege of sharing the lessons the Lord has been teaching me, with my students. Age 10 is my favorite age to teach. This is a time in a kid's life that the world starts to shift in form for them. They start asking intense questions...they start seeing people differently...they even question truth for themselves...which is a good thing. They all respond differently to what they see, in how the Lord reveals it to them as individuals. My students are thinkers, and I have been very convicted in how easily I can get distracted from the key purpose in how I am called to serve them.

It's been a challenging start to the year in teaching them appropriate behavior. Many days I have gone home thinking I failed that day as their "surrogate mom" between the hours of 8 and 3. Teachers hold immense power in their hands to build up their students. But this requires a lot of detailed strategies. Its hard. Not a day goes by that I don't find myself feeling totally inadequate to mold these minds. My flesh gets in the way and I get impatient...but even in that I have to call them out on how they should be acting...disciplining them...encouraging them...mediating between them...counseling them.
Actual classroom instruction is in reality, a very small part of the job, and it's the easy part. The rest of it is what makes teaching one the best as well as one of toughest professions in the world. You have to learn the personality strengths and weaknesses of your kids...you have to help them to recognize these within themselves. You have to challenge and be willing to be challenged in return. We have immense power and opportunity as the adult with these kids 7 hrs a day. What am I going to do with that power? How am I going to instruct them in a way that will be positive, placing my emotions aside, and not letting myself get angry? It's natural to make the day about me, how I am comfortable, what suits my schedule, what sorts of things I am in the mood for...but that is not why I am there. These children are my work...and every day they are teaching me how to listen...how to meet their needs...how to swallow my pride and serve them outside of myself. Daily, I battle with them for power of the classrom, because some want the ability to be in control, and the easy thing to do would be to just let them. Being consistent in consequences as well as positive affirmation is a struggle, but it's the balance that a good teacher is required to find. This job brings out the selfish in me, and when I first came to realize that, it was a sad day. But now that I see the areas God is wanting to transform in me through my students, I can rest...because this is His deal.

It's not just Egypt that hurts sometimes, it's the daily call...all it requires...all we can't do alone but try to. Whoever said pain was a bad thing? Because it hurts, it keeps us level headed and consistently in conversation with the Master of it all.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Daily Thoughts



So I decided the best way for you to experience a little of my life in Cairo these past 10 months, is to see a compilation of some of my facebook statuses. It is the best evidence I can display of the sincerity of my thoughts as I have transitioned into life in the Middle East. As you will see, this place is crazy, but amongst all the chaos, I do love it.


Enjoy :)




My ONLY chance for it to feel like fall in Cairo...if STARBUCKS down the street serves pumpkin spice lattes....for some reason, i am not counting on it, but they might surprise me.



You mean America doesn't have plastic manikin babies hanging by their heads in store windows? officially creeped out...i will get a picture on the way to work tomorrow to prove it.



The taxi driver told me it was not polite in Egyptian culture for a woman to ever tell a man he is crazy. I looked at him again and said..."but you are craaaaazy"...followed with, "and it's NEVER okay for taxi drivers to steal people's money." :) This shut him up.



These people need to eat...can't wait for ramadan to end so this city can get its sanity back...i am tired of the 1am mosque concerts, the men fighting with one another in the streets and the restaurant schedules all out of wack...


I fully understand that people are hungry during Ramadan, but I'd really prefer to keep my toes, mr. taxi drivers...knock it off!




You know the walls of your flat are too thin when you can hear the neighbors cell phone ring...



Arabic class' booty may have been kicked big time tonight! I'm just sayin... :)



loves skyping with my nieces....packages from the USA....and 5th grade. :)



received two very intense emails that I am being prayed for...thanking God for the prayers of his saints and wondering what is going on that I don't see...



was at the BIG game tonight and witnessed Egyptians throwing explosives on the Algerians after the tie...I was horrified.



My building's guard asked me to pay him to complete a task that is part of his job...to keep the peace i did, but now realized he's going to try to pull this everytime...oh dear


feels like she is in a movie...the mouse has not only crawled onto my bed with me on it, but now has jumped out of my garbage bag roll at eye level, flying across my kitchen, while I straddled the counters screaming... :/

Egyptian quirk: keeping the plastic on news cars inside and out for as long as possible! as well as on anything else new...to show that it is indeed that...NEW. hehe


I am from Vancouver, WA. Today I was introduced to Claire, one of my fifth graders...also from Vancouver, WA. Umm...Even in Cairo, Egypt, the world is shockingly small. Thankful for this blessing today. :)



Street cats...gross. They are everywhere.



Note to self: grocery stores are to be avoided in the afternoons during Ramadan...they have 3 checkers for every 200 customers.


This morning on the way to work I walked past a small child curled up asleep on the ground in front of Starbucks...there was nothing I could do, and that is simply unacceptable.


loves that she has a bread baker, butcher, ironing man, produce stand, and seamstress all within 50 feet of her door... :)


expecting the power to cut off in any minute...so dumb that I can time it now.


still loves the donkey carts carrying watermelons all over my neighborhood :)


finding she really doesn't need the following: a dryer (hang them outside), a toaster (do it on the stove), a coffee maker (umm FRENCH PRESS), microwave (also use the stove), a car (TAXIS: let them drive and I can relax), a dishwasher (thats what my hands are for), shower walls (the simpler the better)...gotta say it's not bad :)



apparently needs an Arabic sign posted above her doorbell explaining proper doorbell ringing etiquette...it worked at my last flat.


not loving this city today. But i am sure tomorrow we'll be on speaking terms again.


‎"But men are superior to women...we are not equals" says the man to my right on the train today, during a friendly but heated religious debate. and thus WAR began :)



got her class roster today. Task #1: Learn the proper pronunciation of my students names :) oh dear


It's hot and my grocery list is long...it may be the day to pay the extra dollar to have them delivered. :)


The scamming of foreigners in this city is worse than I thought...oh dear



There's just something about driving across the Sinai at sunset...


Work commute: 30 min walk each way...i guess you can say my cardio will be covered from here on out. :)


Pastor and his wife are coming to dinner! Chinese delivery it is :)



Be thankful in ALL things...even when dealing with pure incompetence. :)



was proud of herself that the ticket man at the museum heard her speak Arabic and still thought she was Egyptian...too bad I'm a good girl and told him I wasn't and need to pay the foreigners price ;)



was amused to see this sign outside her favorite park, "please do not bring alcoholics inside."



showers are pretty much pointless in this city...but deodorant is a necessity often overlooked...sheesh



i love this city.



I can watch all the people in the building across the alley...maybe they should close their shutters ;)



My camel guide today around the pyramids was a little kid...i hate that this country doesn't enforce child labor laws.



Has clean clothes on the line (washer now working)...updated on emails (internet now working) and an apartment filled with cool AC to sleep with tonight FINALLY...feeling beyond blessed



Why did I hear small kids playing outside at 3am this morning?!



running errands all day-I had forgotten how much "fun" this is to do in taxis. HA. Welcome home :)


I was just about run over tonight by a donkey cart being driven by child. No worries, I am sure if he had hit me, his insurance would have covered it. :)


needs to learn the Arabic word for "CHILL"


kept waiting for old chariot parts to float up during our swim in the Red Sea yesterday...i mean, it could happen. :)



You know you live in Egypt when you go bowling and there are 11 men "working" the counter yet no one is answering the ringing phone.



Didn't truly understand "intense" until she moved to a city with 26 million people.



LOVES how younger Egyptians are always helping the elderly in this city...America needs to take note


It's echoing through the streets...5 times a day...

Note to self...when sneaking pictures of people...make sure your flash is NOT turned on :/

feels bad she was cranky with the taxi driver...but he made me wait while he stopped to get his dinner!


One of my kiddos was talking about the "pyramid" at the end of a sentence. :) period/pyramid... we live in Egypt



The States has TACO BELL...but Egypt has fast food delivery....hmmm....so hard to know which is better.


has NO WORDS to explain the events I witnessed/experienced today...this place is out of control.


It's going to be cooler today...only 105 this time.


trying to figure out a way to slyly mark taxis so she can see which ones she's ridden in before.


YOU try saying the word CHICKEN in Arabic...i dare you...you too will choke



is learning to write her name this week for Arabic class...this is the hardest I have had to concentrate in years! When completed its a cool looking picture, i mean word



Heading to the orphanage today....it makes me especially grateful for my mom.



It's 5:30pm, and I just realized my shirt is on backwards...awesome.



loves that donkey carts play a daily and vital role in this culture...the simplicity of life here is one of its finest jewels.


Skippy's NATURAL Chunky peanut butter has made it to Egypt! It's going to be an amazing day


Spontaneous adventure of the day: wandered an old grave yard tonight, got lost as it was getting darker and darker... stumbled upon a funeral by accident and mourners dressed in all black carrying a coffin, ran away in humiliation ...climbed on top of a grave to scale down a wall to get out of the graveyard cause the funeral was blocking the exit...good times!



Male company in Cairo cuts out like 75% of the harassment issues I deal with daily...thinking about getting myself a cardboard cutout one after the real one leaves. :)



Did you know that Oswald Chambers was buried here in Cairo, Egypt?! neither did I.



bought 2 kilos of strawberries for less than a dollar in Alexandria...ummm, Cairo needs to get with the times!



always enjoys her metro outings that require her to ride on the "women only" car...all those head scarves are like one giant rainbow.



If you are what you eat then I am one big produce stand with peanut butter!



falling asleep to the clickety-clack of donkey hooves, barking dogs and car horns...


There's GOTTA be a happy medium between Obsessive Compulsive UPTIGHT COCKEY America who is overly concerned with policies and safety...and Egypt who has NO concept of order, rights, privacy, systems, common sense or personal space...i am so serious



found myself laughing at the standoff on the road between the line of cars and the donkey cart...they just honked and honked...and the donkey wouldn't budge. He starred them down until all the cars had to back up and u-turn. I was so proud of Mr. Donkey.



church, lunch with friends, travel by bus 5 hours from Africa to Asia, climb Mt. Sinai, turn 28!, watch the sunrise from the top, climb down, travel back to Africa, sleep. Then back to work Sunday. :)



Taco Bell, Walmart, the gym, Spanish, DRIVING...are all in the recent past. Donkey carts, fruit stands, DELIVERY, taxis, Arabic are the present...a drastic change...lots I miss, but also lots to be thankful for.




:) So blessed