Tuesday, January 31, 2012

One of My Favorite Days

One of my favorite days was when I got to try on… wedding dresses—traditional styles. [Yes, I’m being serious.] You see, one of my best friends in my desert land took me with her to meet and visit with “her ladies.” And these ladies have some very special, kick-butt skills of embroidery. So when you combine their love for art, handcrafts, blonde girls and the idolization of marriage, you get this:

Me in a traditional wedding dress.

My friend and I were trying so hard not to laugh hysterically. They called me “fat” upon our meeting, but really? Regardless, look at that detail. They do this by hand, ya know. It’s strikingly beautiful and overwhelmingly intricate.

My favorite part of an American wedding is when the bride finally stands at the back of the friends and families, and everyone rises to their feet. I sneak a quick glance at her, because she’s totally beautiful, but I’m most interested in looking at the groom’s face. The pure thrill and love that exudes from him is what I most adore. Finally. She’s gonna be mine. Foreva-eva.” [I’m sure that’s what grooms are thinking...] All that happiness, hope and pride is the same in a groom as it was in the sweet woman who presented us these dresses. The hours she and others poured into this handiwork, this potential future family heirloom, is immeasurable and completely invaluable. And that’s what I was watching: their faces as we touched and examined their great skill, blessing their hands and gasping at their attention to detail.

They beamed.

[And they also prayed for husbands to come quickly to us,
etc. etc
., inshallah, inshallah.]

These women make these handcrafts, sometimes in secret from their husbands, as a means to support and feed their families. They’re incredibly poor. They’re caught in very short and rapid cycles of marriage and babies. Lots of babies. Preferably, boys. They usually don’t work, because it’s not really respectable for a woman to work or spend much time outside of the home or provide for her family, even if her husband can’t. [This gender attitude also influences the limitation of the education of girls and that breaks my heart and puts me on a soapbox that is my master’s thesis—not my Yellow Dress blog.]

And as a twenty-seven year old woman, these women [and many others], worried for me. They worried that I might never be married and might never realize my full potential as a woman: that of wife and mother. In their minds, I am too pretty, too funny and definitely too good at making cookies to not have a husband and children of my own. And I had better hurry up, because my eggs were dying and I was getting fatter and less desirable by the minute. But not really. But kinda, yeah. [More emotional whiplash.] In most of their minds, my worth and contribution to society and the world as a woman can really only be in the home. And while I’m not some post-modern, liberate-the-women, feminist, I did often struggle with their picture of me, that I was only approaching, inshallah, my completion.

The obsession with a bride and groom, for wedding festivities, for a formal union, served as a heavy and prevalent backdrop to my days in the desert. And then I got to thinking: “Yes! This is good... It’s so symbolic and beautiful of the anticipation, hope, preparation for what’s ahead!” There will be a big wedding someday soon. He’s preparing rooms and a feast for us, places at His banqueting table. A strong, pure and faithful bridegroom is coming for us—I should be consumed with this.

What really sent my heart spinning was that the ladies know their pieces well. They know all the loops and stabs personally. They have truly woven these threads together, creating beautiful tapestries, pillows, wallets, wedding dresses. My friend talks to them about future products and these women, looking at a blank piece of fabric, begin to see a beautiful, intricate finish. And I am confident, that this is exactly what our Father sees when He looks at us. He is a Craftsman and a Creator, an incredible Sustainer and Redeemer.

And as I searched for potentially hidden pockets in this dress that now hangs in my bedroom, my friend snagged this picture of me. Missing are henna-ed hands and feet, a few other ceremonial rites of passage, my family actually present and a beaming groom. But present, in these ladies’ eyes anyways, was a bride, awaiting her groom.

May it be said of me, of us,
that we are, indeed, anticipating and preparing for Him,
with all our hearts and with all our days.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Losing It [Not My Weight—My Composure]

We all know that exercise is good for us. A few of us actually like to do it. And I think I might be the only one who cries over it. [Let me explain…]

I was training for an ultra-marathon relay race. [Yeah.] One where you have a team of 10 runners and you run, around the clock, for 242km (150mi.). [Yes. I’m totally intense like that. And so are my friends.] Well, you’ve seen how well I do running outside and with it being [a freezing] rainy season, I actually bought a gym membership. I picked a really nice ladies’ gym near my work with great machines, a sauna and belly dancing classes. [I guess they’re not all born with this gift already perfected.] Now, I don’t know if you know this about me or not, but… I was a college athlete. I wasn’t the star of the team, I didn’t break any records, but I learned how to work out hard and lift heavy. Our motto was “Why run and puke when you can eat and throw?” Yes. I threw the hammer. [YouTube ‘hammer throw.’ It’s beautiful.] And so, running has always been punishment for me… until I lived in a society where I had no control and, what I perceived to be, “freedom.”

Some days the “emotional whiplash,” shebab [youth males] on the streets and just a bad day at work, where no one actually speaks to you in English, wears on you. And you have all this pent up “frustration-and-sadness-and-hurt-and-you-wanna-go-home-but-not-really-but-actually-you-just-want-to-hit-someone-and-there’s-no-ocean-to-go-scream-at” going on inside of you. You should run. You need to get it out, make some endorphins. As my friend Jayme would point out: You need some serotonin on the brain. Shahtra, ya Jayme—gym membership purchased. I only had about 2 weeks of exercise bliss until this happened…

Me (to my “trainer” while I did some leg extensions): “I’m having a really bad day. Can I do this alone? I want to just work out and lift heavy things.”

Trainer (who has some certificate, but I’m sure has never lifted anything but a baby brother in her life): Well, not that much. (She moved my weights from 85 pounds down to 40.)

Me: Why’d you do that? I can’t even control 40 pounds it’s so light. (I put it back on 85.)

Trainer (replaces the weight at 40): Your file says that you should be lifting this much and that’s the plan you’re going to follow. You will do leg extension, 40 pounds.

Me (laughing, trying not to be mad): Girl. Look at my legs. I can clearly, without any effort, lift 40 pounds. Look! I can even do one-leg extensions with that. Maybe it’s a typo?

Trainer: No. It’s not a “typo.” This is your program and you will follow it.

[Oh, no, she dih-int. She just bossed me and told me what I was going to do. Last thing I wanted was for one more person, that day, to tell me what I was going to do.]

Me (standing up): Friend, I was a college athlete in America. You have my name—Google me. [Yeah, I really said that….] I’m doing your little program because your boss said if I did it, I could lift any weights I wanted. You can clearly see that I am capable of lifting more than double that amount. Why won’t you let me?

Trainer (getting very embarrassed and apologetic… because maybe I started to cry): Ok. Ok, my love. You can do it. Don’t cry…

Me: All I wanted to do was come in here and be with women and not be on the streets. It’s hard. I have no control and they’re mean. They’re mean to me. And now you won’t let me. I just… wanted… to… lift… weights… and… beeee….. happppppppY!

At this point, I had most of the gym watching and listening. I took my little chart, filed it back under the S’s, went to the locker room, collected my things and left.

I tried going back a few times, but I had ruined my safe space. They left me alone and the “scary” trainer “supervised” me [let me do what I wanted]. But after another week or so, I couldn’t go back. I had totally lost it. I was embarrassed. I was ashamed. I was confused. Why I couldn’t communicate myself in a polite, grown-up manner was just beyond me.

I wanted to write that trainer an apology note for my blow-up/breakdown, but nothing ever came out right. So, I paid for a three month gym membership and only used 5 weeks of it. And I forced myself to train outside in the cold and the rain.

[The ultra-marathon went well. And it didn’t rain.]

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

For When You Mess Up

About this time last year I was visiting the Promised Land. I had a whole list of places to see and touch and walk. Never did I anticipate these sights and steps to impact me so much.

At the Wailing Wall, women were praying, reciting, reading, and, yes, wailing. [I, being a good tourist, wrote a prayer on a pink post-it note, rolled it up and stuffed it in the wall, careful not to push another’s prayer out.] I had to fight for a brief moment at the wall—those ladies claimed their ground. I became emotionally overwhelmed and claustrophobic.

You see, I was there right after I had done something not so good. And at that point in my little, Grinchy heart, I wished for a place to go and cry and be repaired. I wanted it to be undone—like it never happened. But that’s the thing about life—it keeps moving on no matter how hard you will it to stop.

Esoteric conversations among ex-pats sometimes revolve around…mystery…How we can’t explain ourselves. Ya think you know a person [or yourself] and then you move overseas and enter a new world. Suddenly… you’re struggling to BE you. Sometimes you do things totally out of character. You get home and say, “Whoa. Who was THAT?!” in the store, on the street, in the car, at work. My friend once timidly and quietly told me, “I found myself doing things I never thought I was capable of. But now I know: any one of us is capable of doing anything.” I was stunned by her confession. She has a secret well of hurt and regret—one I never imagined beneath her love and joy.

Just this last week [in the States] I was driving and listening to TED TALKS. [TED: Ideas Worth Spreading—look them up. I’m slightly obsessed. Please know that they’re completely secular.] I listened to a talk by Kathryn Schulz entitled, “Don’t Regret Regret.” She makes the argument that we’ve built a society that’s taught us to “live without regrets.” But, she says, people who have no remorse for things gone badly are usually those who have suffered some kind of brain damage. That, if you are indeed fully functional, you will experience regret and have to learn how to live with it. She says that regret requires two things: a decision and an imagination. In our minds, we play over and over again the situation and imagine another ending. While I don’t agree with everything she says [she never mentions the need to be sorry, forgiven or restored], her last lines have caused me to revisit my “year ago” with a new heart:

“If we have goals and dreams and we want to do our best,
and if we love people and we don’t want to hurt them or lose them,
then we SHOULD feel pain when things go wrong.
The point isn’t to live without any regrets,
the point is to not hate ourselves for having them...
Regret doesn’t remind us that we did badly—
it reminds us that we know we can do better.”

I hate my sinning heart. I hurt people. I fail to honor God. I build walls and carve out holes—not to tuck a tiny prayer in—but to house my secrets in its shadows. Psalm 38 has been the sincere cry of my heart: “My iniquities have gone over my head… My wounds stink and fester because of my foolishness, I am utterly bowed down and prostrate; all the day I go about mourning…” David, the man after God’s own heart, wrote these words.

I’ve had to stop what I was doing
and say that I was wrong.
I’ve been sorry and been forgiven,
and our Father continues to restore me.

So what happens when you mess up? Because you will, ya know. [Maybe you know because you already have.] I think we’re afraid to admit these things. I hope you know what His Word says about confession and repentance, and forgiveness and redemption. Count it a blessing to be humbled and broken and... wrong. Worse than regretting regret would be forgetting His [and others’] forgiveness. Remember that He’s continually saving us—not just that One time. What a joy to not wallow in yesterday, but press on for today. Be reminded that you don’t strive to be good at a religion, but rather daily engage in a Relationship.

I touched that Wailing Wall. I elbowed my way to the stones towering over men and women begging for mercy and miracles. They pray there because it’s supposed to be the gateway to the Holy of Holies.

You don’t have to fight your way to this wall,
as old and beautiful as it may be.
Just go to the foot of the Cross.
He’s saved room for you.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Butterflies, Shebab [Youth Males], and My Apologies

Happy New Year, my sweet friends. Wanted to let you know… I’ve developed a newfound desire for a superpower: Invisibility. Ya see, sometimes I have to walk down streets and come within a few feet of men I would prefer never see me. But I have to go that way. And yes, when I can, I re-route myself and take a longer, less convenient way, but sometimes I just don’t want to go through the trouble. [Or don’t think I should have to.] I’m dressed modestly, I’m acting “properly,” and I think that I should be left alone. [Ahh, yes… welcome to my dream world.]

Enter my new role model: the Monarch butterfly. Not only is she royalty and British [therefore, totally exotic], but she’s ingenious. [Definitely a well-thought out creation from our loving Creator.]

I would like to say that Monarch butterflies have always been my favorite. Not only because they’re super pretty, but also because I don’t know the specific name of any other butterfly besides them. [Yes, I have a master’s degree, and now we all know it’s not in butterflyology.]

Here’s a picture for your reference:

She has polka dots, color and is wildly symmetrical. I was flipping through a children’s science book one day, and there it was, in a little “DID YOU KNOW?!” box: Monarch Butterflies are incredible.

But in more words. As caterpillars, they feed on poisonous milkweed. The poisons don't harm them, but they absorb them and keep them with them. Also, their bright colors of orange, black and white are beautiful to me, but a warning to birds and other predators, who actually learn not to eat them and end up leaving them alone because of their poisons or overall unpleasant taste.

And I got to thinking...

Yesterday, on my way to go run at a park here, I got into a little bit of a fight/shouting match with some 2nd grade boys in my neighborhood. [Classy.] That was truly unprecedented. I usually play with kids on the street—it’s like they want me to, or something. But these little rascals were totally mad when I kind of helped them retrieve a ball and then scored on them. They yelled at me. No sir, we don’t yell at adults.

Then, on my way back, since we were running [haha] late, my seventeen-year old friend [and running buddy] and I decided to run outside the park—like, on the streets, back to my house. I've never done this before, but we had to hurry. We came upon three young men [shebab]—maybe 14 or 15-years old. They opened up their little “I-have-nothing-to-do-but-hang-out-on-the-street-and-harass-and-stare-at-people” shebab triangle and postured themselves to watch us like the parade my friend and I were.

As we ran by I was overwhelmingly annoyed and disgusted with them and said:
"Oh, go watch TV."
Well, they of course loved that and one of them even responded, "Oooh!! She's a sassy one!"
To which I totally freaked out—to my friend, not them—“sassy??!" People don't really know or use this word because there isn’t a really accurate translation for it in Arabic. [I've tried.]

"GIRL!! He knows English!! Like, really knows it! … Whoops!!"[She missed it because, unlike me, she has two working ear phones for her iPod...]

But I feel like, in some small way, I take it on myself sometimes to be a Monarch Butterfly—to be an unpleasant taste in these shebab's mouths so that they will be less likely to mess with the next girl and just let her run through the streets if she wants to.

And sometimes, like yesterday, I just totally fail. I actually think I just revved them up to interact with the next foreigner they see even more boldly—so this is my formal apology.

Sorry, ladies. I tried.

Again, not one of my finer moments,
but hey, at least I’m being honest.

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