Tuesday, May 15, 2012

To Be Fought For

I have several major “takeaways” from my short time in one of the most intricate cultures I have personally encountered. I’m fascinated with the beauty, strength and volatility I experienced in the desert, and how it has carved out a safe home in my fragile heart. I think the special insight I’m able to add to it today is that I’m almost a full year away from it all. The sand and dust are out of my sheets and hair, and I’ve learned to restrain myself from kissing every woman and child “Hello.” This week, for my final post, I’ve chosen to share with you just one takeaway—probably the one that shows up in the most powerful and profound ways in my life today. It’s simply that… the LORD God fights for me.

Back in my good ole’ college days, I memorized Zephaniah 3.17, and it has come alive to me in the last two years:

The LORD your God wins victory after victory
and is always with you.
He celebrates and sings because of you,
and He will refresh your life with His love.
(CEV)

And I left for the desert with this verse quietly weaving itself to my heart:

I sought the LORD,
and He answered me and delivered me from all my fears.
Those who look to Him are radiant
and their faces shall never be ashamed.

Psalm 34.4&5 (ESV)

Being a single, foreign, young woman in the ME… is not for the faint of heart. In all honesty, it’s left me bruised and calloused towards power structures and societal frameworks bearing oppressive norms on women, while opening my eyes to the same in my own culture. What I mean is, I can’t tell you what it did to my heart to muster up the courage to enter a government building, best prepared as I could be with Arabic forms filled out, copies of my passport, everything… to get through a chilling security pat down and find the right “line,” only to be obstinately ignored. My presence meant nothing. No “Peace be upon you” or “God give you strength for your work” or “Hello, Mister” helped. No eye contact or acknowledgment of me would be made—just downcast eyes, smoke-filled rooms and finally, the waves of hands dismissing me.

So I’d leave. [In a rage of frustration and anger.] Get a taxi and beg some man—American, Canadian or Arab—to accompany me. Suddenly, as if in a play, the men previously on eternal coffee breaks came to life and wanted to help me. Well, the man I brought with me. The message was clear: I’m not enough.

The stark contrast to the cat-calling shebab and creepy men following me down the street at night was this: complete disregard. But in both on-going scenarios I was taught that I was nothing without a man.
I’m not saying I ever got over it and definitely never accepted it—but I did have to deal with it and navigate the protocol. The thing about being single was that I always had to enlist a man for help. None of them had made a “till death do us part” promise to go with me. [They did it out of the kindness of their hearts and schedules.] I didn’t have anyone sticking up for me, speaking for me or fighting for me—even when I was wrong. I didn’t have someone with me.

But I did. Even though I had to learn how to ask for help [and sometimes go through several men till I found that help], I learned that I was not alone. Those words kept being whispered to my heart: I win victory after victory and I am always with you… Seek Me, I’ll deliver you… Do not be ashamed!!” It was often the only encouragement I found when walking the streets alone, trying to get a taxi, crying at a fruit stand, or falling asleep during a long, hot visit in someone’s home after eating. [Again.]

For me, Father has revealed Himself to me in powerful ways and His promise to always be with me has rung true. He’s spoken softly in the quiet of my heart, through His Children and through His Word. Many times, I was like Moses when he desperately asked our Father in Exodus 33, “Is it not in Your going with us, so that we are distinct…?” Or in other words: Father, what else will distinguish me, other than Your presence in my life?? Please! Go with me!!

If there’s nothing you ever “get” from reading The Yellow Dress: and other things we do for Love, get this: The LORD your God fights for you. He represents you. He is ever-present in your life. He works great and mighty deeds. It is His presence in your life that causes you to stand in awe and press on. To press on in language learning, in cooking local food, in gaining the endurance to visit for hours, to rest in the desert heat, to be away from “home,” to know Him and make Him known through your life. Press on, friends! It is only His favor and His presence in us that causes us to be distinct from the world—wherever you are in the world. You are His and He is with you, wherever you go. He stands as a strong, victorious Warrior, making you to shine like the day.

Watch what God does, and then you do it,
like children who learn proper behavior from their parents.
Mostly what God does is love you.
Keep company with Him and learn a life of love.
Observe how Christ loved us.
His love was not cautious, but extravagant.
He didn't love in order to get something from us,
but to give everything of Himself to us.
Love like that.
(Ephesians 5.1&2, The Message)

Going with God,

Sarah.

 

Monday, May 14, 2012

The Yellow Dress: A Tribute

video

What a privilege to have worked with such a talented woman...the girl can write! But more than that, she can pour out her heart and make me see what it is like to serve Him in a dry and weary land. Thank you, Sarah, for being a friend of God and His children. ~Cindy Blomquist, WOTH Editor

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

VOTE: Yellow Dress Contest

YEA to all the women who submitted their Yellow Dress photos!

Everyone please vote for your favorite...stuffing the ballot box for your fav is encouraged! The winner will receive a $25 iTunes gift card.

Remember: Sarah's last post will be next week...if you have never posted a comment all year, I'm encouraging you to do so next week. Courage. Gratitude. Sisters of the Yellow Dress unite!



PHOTO #1: Kenyan Girl | Kelsey Lane



PHOTO #2: Two At the Market  | Dawn Goebbels







PHOTO #3: He ain't Heavy | Dawn Goebbels




PHOTO #4: Easter Chickie-lou | Phyllis Hunsacker

PHOTO # 5: Mexican Wrap | Jamie Loker


PHOTO #6: This screams YELLOW! | Liz Crittendon

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

To Be Alone


It’s happening. Every day takes me further away, making the desert my memory instead of my reality. Cindy, WOTH Editor, tells me that, “We write so we don’t forget.” And can I tell you something? I’d rather not document all of this, but… I don’t wanna forget it…because He’s so good. Maybe you’ve been here, too… or maybe you’re headed here. Either way: Welcome to the Uncomfortable.

So, I’m being totally awkward and withdrawn and people are reaching out to me and being mostly wonderful and I…. just stare at them. Like they’re the ones being weirdos. Inside my big, lethargic body, I’m squirming around in gratefulness and delight, but I can’t communicate it. I can’t give the right expression or say the right words. I can’t appropriately respond to their initiation because I feel imprisoned… just locked in a foreign language, time and space. Alone. Again. [Like I was in the desert.]

No other American shared my desert work experience. I spent HOURS every day in my head. [Trust me—you don’t want in there.] Surrounded by women cluck-cluck-clucking, playing with my hair, poking my stomach, examining my eyebrows, studying my clothes and talking about me… in Arabic. Bored, embarrassed, stuck, alone. I marveled at my days and friendships, at my unprecedented boldness and strength. I grieved my lack of language and style, my youth and my weakness. Even in the adventure, every day was wildly predictable: I’d be alone.
 
I’m approaching a full two years of not being known, of no one in my daily life being able to understand me. It’s not anyone’s fault that they weren’t with me in the desert—totally not. But I can’t fully articulate where I’m at right now, and I’m the one who is responsible for navigating these changes. These changes in me.

A wretched reality of the Shagra in TYD is that I’m [seemingly] strong. StrengthsFinder will tell you that I’m an outrageously empathetic-believing-wooing-developer of people who values connectedness and has a strong sense of responsibility. What StrengthsFinder won’t tell you is that I feel I’ve run out of these strengths. “New norms” have made me weak, but people around me don’t recognize that I’ve stopped interacting till I’m at the point of being fully recoiled and closed, if at all. Again: Not their fault.

I’ve also decided that the English language needs more words, too. Because I’ve been examining myself and wanted to say that… I don’t feel lonely. Not most of the time. The alone I’m speaking of is that of isolation and separation. Like I’m some steps behind… that I’m not included… like there’s something I’m not understanding…

I can tell you that my heart has been singing this past week—well, it’s been singing the blues, but it’s better than being silent, amen? Dear, dear photo book friend is in the States and I can reach her by text. So, of course, we skip the chit chat and go straight for the heart wrenching topics. Over text. But she knows. She knows the wounded parts of me—the depths that are silently sliced open when I don’t know what to say to a friend who wants me to “talk” or when a story actually finds its way out of my soul and past my lips and… then, no one knows how to respond. She knows because she shares this with me.  And as I was crying in a Starbucks in California [yeah, I guess it’s what I do these days], she found herself a side street in New York to mourn her own last desert days, anticipating her photo book…

It hurts—this coming and going. And, in many ways, I don’t feel like I know myself anymore. But in the past months, while clumsily finding my way, I’ve come to see these natural stages of reverse-culture shock as one more thing I’m willing to endure for Love. My alone-ness has caused me to talk to Him and want Him more—for Him to show Himself as Comforter. It’s given me words for those anticipating their own arrivals and departures. It’s opened my eyes to the reality of the Son’s time on earth—how He really had no one who knew Him.  

I’m embracing that fact that “I’m ruined” in so many ways. I can’t understand and have trouble managing much of it, but I’ve been wrapped in the joy in my aches and tears. I’ve found that I don’t want to forget how I avoid. And divert. And am grieving.

Alone.

And so I write…
About how I’m okay with it.
I know I’m not always going to feel this way…
It’s just another valley He’s walking me…carrying me through.
So I’m taking an emotional picture
and thanking God for this season:
A time for me to be alone
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