When God Breaks Your Heart

Find the first part of this series here: When God Breaks Your Heart

PART 2: The Necklace

Two sugars please.”  Her soft voice rang in my head as I walked away from the counter with the coffees. I debated grabbing a third one for Him, seeing as He’s going to be in this conversation with us. I paused momentarily exploring the validity of the idea, but quietly chuckled at the thought – The God of the universe having a cup of coffee. In a few short hours, that image would no longer be confined to the realms of my imagination but rather an incarnate reality that I would live to speak about, or more accurately, write about.

I opened the sugar packets almost robotically and poured them in. Lost in thought as I observed the granulated sugar dissolve in the coffee, I suddenly felt the weight and significance of this seemingly simplistic act. “Two sugars please” was much more than a coffee order. It was a symbolic acceptance of a difficult conversation that was about to unfold between two strangers. Strangers, whose only current ties were a silent cry and an inexplicable connection to a cross necklace. I softly let that sink in as I prayed to God for the strength that this conversation deserved, the strength I didn’t have.

I carefully clenched the mugs and took my seat at the table as I heard the sound of my heart pounding in my ears. I secretly hoped the beating would synchronize long enough with hers to break the silence.  I was nervous, not because of the conversation to come, but more about playing the role of mediator between the hurt and the Healer. A role I woke up not knowing I’d be playing, assigned merely based on desire and not merit.

She grabbed the mug and wrapped her fingers around it instinctively while letting out a half smile of gratitude. Her gaze caught my eyes and I gestured a quick nod of acknowledgement but kept my eyes fixated on the coffee. We sat in silence for a few minutes. I allowed this silence to infiltrate us, taking with it the unwanted superficial discussions that would have been generated in the name of comfort.  Distracted by the background noise, I listened to the pressing of the coffee machine, the milk frothing, the laughter in the background, the door opening and closing. Until she spoke…“I wasn’t always like this you know”. The weight of those words hung in the air shattering the silence I now found comfort in.

I wasn’t ready for that. With all the conversation possibilities I had conjured, this was not one of them. This was in fact the one scenario I would not let my mind wander to. Oh how I desperately wanted to believe that there was a time before this for her. That she had joyful memories stored away, waiting to be called on as artillery in this battle she was silently fighting. Naïve me. Memories are like caged birds, once released, they never come back the same…the cage that was once a sense of security is now no longer able to confine them. To think that mere memories can withstand in a battle, let alone hold true against the test of time.

As I frantically searched for the right words, I saw her reach into her pocket and pull out a necklace that she placed on the table. I looked at the beautiful gold chained cross necklace that was identical to mine, and yet so different. I picked it up and examined it. On the surface, there was nothing particularly different about this cross…except the story behind it. I could sense there was more to this necklace than the few grams of gold I was holding. This was her cross. The cross that she’s been carrying, literally and figuratively. I quickly realized the story I’d been so eagerly waiting to hear might quite possibly be the same story behind this cross. This cross that is no longer on her neck but now being carried in her pocket. I sat back and waited for it all to unravel…

TO BE CONTINUED

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“Special Needs” have a Basic Need

Some lives are worth more than others.

As painful as it is to read those words, it does not remotely compare to experiencing it first hand in a third world country where ones’ assigned value is equitable to a life sentence. A value that is often unjustly derived by a society immensely unqualified to evaluate it. A society that dictates paths and closes doors solely based on a perceived notion of worth. In such a society, where does that leave those that are deemed worthless? Those that are seemingly unable to contribute to the world, let alone care for themselves. The “special needs” that are set aside, dismissed and shut out from the gates of society. The gates, that time and time again, are crushed wide open by God’s providence. Egypt’s beauty is found in this everyday struggle that is continually juxtaposed by God’s presence among those oppressed.  I have been blessed with the opportunity to witness this beauty first hand while volunteering in Egypt this last summer.

This story is about a little boy named Mina who stole my heart and in exchange left me with one of the most valuable lessons I can learn; “Special needs have a basic need”. Mina is a 4 year old boy. Like any 4 year old boy, he likes laughs, tickles, hugs and candy, all of which I used to win him over.  He is sweet and the kindness in his eyes radiates.  Mina is a 4 year old boy that also has special needs. When I first met Mina this last summer, his clothes were dirty and worn. He had cuts and bruises on his feet from not wearing shoes and his face and finger nails were full of dirt from playing on the streets.  After visiting his sister and speaking with her, I asked if I can sit with him for a while. She explained that he doesn’t take well to strangers but reluctantly agreed. By the end of the visit, he was sitting on my lap and wouldn’t let us leave to go to the next home. His sister was equally confused and amazed at his attachment and asked what I did. As I held back the tears and attempted to formulate a response, all I could say was ‘I love him’.  How I was able to fall in love with this little boy in a few short hours is a mystery I’ll never be able to understand or explain. How was I to explain the emotional need this boy had, when I can clearly see his physical needs were not being met?  Mina is a 4 year old boy not only with special needs, but with a basic need to be loved, loved like the child of the King that he is.

In a world that is so broken, it is easy to get lost in the numbers. The number of children like Mina, that need to be loved, but love is not about numbers. Katie Davis, a missionary who dedicated her life to service, articulates it perfectly when she said “I have learned that I will not change the world, Jesus will do that. I can however, change the world for one person…And if one person sees the love of Christ in me, it is worth every minute. In fact, it is worth spending my life for.”

Although I can only pray and hope that the few hours I spent with Mina provided him with the ability to see the love of Christ in me, I am blessed that I was able to see the love of Christ in him, and that is a treasure I have carried with me daily and will continue to do so.

 

 

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Love Begets Love

Where do I even begin?

I’ve been back from my mission trip for almost 2 weeks now. Every day since I’ve been back, I’ve gathered the little courage I have to start my reflection. Before I can even think about releasing my swirling torrent of thoughts onto fragile paper, I spend a moment in silent prayer. Although I petition for peace, the surge of emotions sets fire to my body, threatening to take control. Like clockwork – without fail – I am quickly overpowered by the memories that flood the deepest corners of my mind. I make the executive decision that I’m not ready yet, close my journal, and continue my daily routine.
I’m not ready…I’m not ready… I repeat to myself faithfully, like a chant in church. Will I ever be “ready”? I don’t really know how to answer that, but I’m certain of one thing: I not only owe it to everyone in my life (including those in Matay) to reflect on this life changing experience, but I owe it to God. I have prayed countless times for God to use me. I have asked Him to let my life be the proof of His love. I have pled, begged, and argued with Him to give me a heart like His. And yet, despite all these prayers, when it came time to deliver, I selfishly decided that my emotional wellbeing (well my distorted perception of it anyways), was more important than sharing the overflowing love I experienced in Matay. Love I believe is yearning, like the Holy Spirit within us, to be passed on to others.
To anyone who has recently asked about my trip and received a subpar response… I’m sorry. My answer was more a reflection of my internal struggle than of you, our relationship, or the experience itself. If I’m really being honest, I was scared (and probably still am), that my words would never be able to truly convey the experience. I was scared that I wouldn’t do Matay justice. I was afraid that if I tried to define the Matay Magic in order to capture its beauty, I would sacrifice the experience itself. Despite all my fears, worries, and concerns, here I am, about to spill out my heart on these pages. Why you may ask? Because the most important lesson I learned from all of this is love, and love begets love.
So here we go…

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When God Breaks Your Heart

PART 1: The “Seat Stealer”

She sat in the corner of the coffee shop, tucked away at my favorite little table – the one with my initials engraved on the side. As I hurriedly walked in, I took a quick glance around and spotted an empty seat near the door. It wasn’t the ideal spot as the breeze of cold air danced around and gave me shivers every time the door swung open. It was however, one of the only seats that provided a full view of my regular spot, the one currently being occupied – temporarily I hoped.

Twenty minutes and half a cup of coffee later, I was still in the same spot, but now wearing my scarf and mittens to shield me from the cold. I wasn’t sure how long she’s been sitting there, but it didn’t look like she was leaving anytime soon. The smell of freshly brewed coffee filled the air and the lighting was just bright enough, so I decided to stay, although I normally would have given up and left by this point. I pulled out my laptop and my to-do list.

As I took a few sips of my coffee, I glanced at her – the “seat stealer” – I quickly nicknamed her. To my surprise, she stared back. I held her gaze for a quick second before I nervously looked down. After a few minutes had passed, I snuck a look in her direction only to notice that she hadn’t moved an inch. I immediately felt dribbles of sweat profusely start to form on my forehead, until I noticed something about her gaze. She wasn’t looking at me, she was looking past me. I took this opportunity to examine her. She was slender and had pale skin. Her features were plain, but there was a beauty in her simplicity. She wasn’t wearing heavy makeup and I couldn’t spot any visible tattoos or piercings. She wasn’t carrying anything except a torn black notebook that was closed and placed at the side of the table. At first glance, she looked like an ordinary woman sitting in a coffee shop on a Tuesday afternoon. But her look gave her away…

Her eyes were kind, but obscured by a sadness that unsettled me. Unmistakable pain glinted from the depths of her gaze, eclipsing the joy that I can only hope was once there. I momentarily paused and wondered if this hurt in her eyes was noticeable to everyone. Before the thought was complete, I quietly whispered to myself the same prayer I’ve been whispering to Him daily, “Break my heart for what breaks Yours.” Is this how He’s answering the desire I’ve been pleading for? Was I immaturely asking for something I couldn’t handle? Had He tried to answer my prayer before, but I wasn’t responding? As all these questions raced in my mind, she was still staring past me unaffected and indifferent to my silent analysis and internal struggle.

I started examining her more closely. The look of defeat in her eyes exposed a genuine rawness I couldn’t describe. She was young, I would think in her 20s, but the wrinkles around her eyes and mouth disagreed with my assumption. I secretly prayed the wrinkles were indeed laugh lines, reassuring me that she was once happy. She looked down and clenched her mug. I thought it might break from her grip, but she lifted it to her lips and took a small sip. I saw her throat move as she slowly swallowed and continued to gaze past me.

For the next hour or so, I just observed her. I no longer cared about the to-do list I had been so eager to tick off a few hours earlier. The minutes passed without the customary guilt of time wasted. She provided a value to my time that I could only understand when serving the Creator of time. She took a few more sips of her coffee, but I figured it would have been lukewarm by now, and yet it didn’t seem to bother her. I didn’t know if she was waiting for anyone but I looked at the time – 5:34pm. I wasn’t sure how long she was staying, but I had to talk to her. She had a story, and part of me felt like I was made to hear it. At that moment, I felt that God wanted her to share her story equally as much as he wanted me to hear it. I closed my laptop, gulped my last sip of coffee and slowly walked over to her.

“Hi…umm I was going to grab a coffee and umm…I was just wondering if you wanted one too?”

I let those words hang in the air, unsure of how she would respond. I immediately started to panic and wanted to clarify that I wasn’t looking for anything or trying to sell something. I wouldn’t have blamed her for assuming that. Sadly, nowadays it seems like that’s the only time people offer a remote act of kindness.

She looked at me and examined me for what felt like an eternity. I started doubting my decision to approach her and was about to apologize for any inconvenience until she looked at my cross and hesitantly pointed at it, almost as if to speak. She didn’t say anything, but her tearful eyes spoke a thousand words.

Without thinking, I blurted out, “I’ll grab us a few coffees and be right back.”

I turned around and walked towards the counter sending an arrow prayer that God would send me an indication, validation, or anything. As I started doubting myself again, I heard the faintest whisper, “Two sugars please.” I gave her a smile, and giggled at God’s sense of humor as I continued walking towards the counter.

To be continued…

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Part 1 : Speak Lord

She glanced at her bag from the corner of her eye while clenching on to her favorite sweater. She knew she couldn’t bring it because of the limited packing space. She took a sniff of the raggedy old thing and smelled a scent that didn’t quite match its appearance. She giggled to herself as she distractedly thought this must be how the God of the Universe sees her. The sweater smelled a little like the outdoors with a mix of her favorite laundry detergent, her mother’s hugs and a hint of vanilla. The latter probably latched on while she was baking in it a few days earlier. The sweater was old and torn at the seams and sleeves. She loved the sweater to shreds and can remember sleeping in it almost every night until she was forced to throw it in the wash. She started tearing up a little and felt silly crying over a sweater. But this wasn’t just a sweater… it was more! So much more! It was a piece of home… How ironic, the item that reminded her of home was exactly the opposite of what was needed in the climate she was delving into half way across the world. Why couldn’t she get nostalgic and emotional over a portable air conditioner (if those existed)? She laughed again at her emotional state and decided to throw it in her bag anyway. She didn’t know if she would make use of it once she got there, but at least it would come in handy at the airport?

Come to think of it, she really didn’t know what the weather would be like in winter. She’s never spent a full year there, but she would find out very shortly. In 4 months in fact. She took a step back trying to clear her head from all the packing and administrative tasks on her to do list. As she took a deep breath, she felt her heart pounding in her ears and a well of tears forming behind her eyes. Her throat was burning as she tried to hold back the tears. She quickly swallowed and felt a lump form in her throat, as if housing a frog. Out of fear of falling apart, she stayed in complete silence as she took in every aspect of the room that raised her and stored memories from the last 25 years. She saw post cards and old paintings, pictures and hand written notes, awards, certificates and projects. Her sand collection, the guitar she never quite learned how to play, one too many pairs of shoes and small pieces of her everywhere and in every corner.

She tried to recall the memories she experienced in that room. If only the walls could talk. They would tell countless tales of laughter, celebrations and joy while overlooking the moments of sadness and sorrow, because God has blessed her with too much to dwell on those. Her heart hurt as she looked at the walls that enclosed everything she’s known for the last 25 years. And that was just it. This was exactly why she was leaving. There was a whole big world out there, a world outside her own. A world she was ready to contribute to and a world she was ready to hurt for and care for. She closed her eyes and asked for the strength she knew she didn’t have as she whispered her last desperate plea before leaving her safe haven, “Speak Lord, for Your servant is listening” (1 Samuel 3:10)

TO BE CONTINUED….

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Day 3: Anaphora & Colorful Carpets

This is probably the hardest blog I’ve had to write so far. Part of me knows that it’s just going to keep getting harder from here. I have such limited time to write about something that no words can describe. Functioning on less than 3 hours of sleep, I didn’t think today would turn out the way it did. I knew I had quite a hectic day ahead of me, and I assumed I just wouldn’t have the physical strength to stay engaged. Surprise. I did. Any focus I had throughout the day was largely due to where it was held. The Anaphora.

Before starting the Serve to Learn program, we have to go through mandatory training that takes place over the course of 2 days. The Anaphora was where the first training was held. I’m going to try and explain as much as I can, but no words can do this justice. I’ll try my best to explain, but it’s one of those moments where I have to go with “you need to experience it yourself”.

The day started really early in the morning around 6am. My uncle woke me up to get my stuff ready and have breakfast before we head to the Coptic Orphans head quarter. Once we arrived and got acquainted with the rest of the volunteers, it was time to hit the buses and head off. I can’t exactly tell you how I got there or how far it was. I haven’t really been able to keep track of time since I’ve been here.

When I was originally told about this place, two thoughts crossed my mind. Firstly, that name sounds familiar – like part of the mass. Secondly, I don’t understand what the big hype about this place is; it’s probably very similar to one of the monasteries in Egypt I’ve been to in the past. Yes the Anaphora is the name of a part of the mass, which I’ll explain later, and the hype is very well deserved.

The Anaphora is a retreat center held under the guidance of Anba Thomas. It was built about 15 years ago, however it was designed to match how Coptic churches were originally built back in the day. The church is painted white with no icons other than St Mary and Jesus in the front of the church. The plain walls are offset by the colorful carpets. Every single square inch of the ground is covered with these carpets. They are so fascinating, but the explanation of their significance is what took my breath away. When Tasony gave a tour of the church she explained that the carpets and all the colors symbolize every single member of the church. She went on saying that we are all different in our own way. We have different talents, different ways of the thinking, and different gifts we bring to God– similar to all the different colors that make up these pieces of fabric. However, we all unite to form one body just like these different strands come together. There are so many other parts of the church that I would like to explain, but I’ll save that for another blog post.

One other thing I wanted to mention was the word “Anaphora”. It is a Greek word meaning “carrying up” or offering. This is also referred to as the part of the mass where the bread and wine turn into the body and blood, an offering. This retreat center is meant to encompass that same meaning. It is the place where we can come lift ourselves up as an offering to God and be with him in prayer in hopes of meeting him in that spiritual realm that surpasses this world. Interestingly enough, that’s exactly what we did right before we left. All the volunteers along with the field coordinators sat in a circle at the back with only a single candle lit and the diming sunset sky. We went around in a circle and shared, or should I say lifted up, one fear and one hope we had about this trip.

There was something about that vulnerability shared among of people that so quickly became like a family. That scared safe circle that was created by the spiritual setting of the Anaphora. There was something about hearing what others shared and knowing you can relate and empathize. I’m not sure if you’ll be able to do the same, but I did want to see how God works with my fears and fulfills my hopes, so feel free to skip this part because it’s more for me than you. Keep sending those arrow prayers!

My biggest fear: Going there with a pitying attitude and doing more harm than good. These people are so pure and simple hearted. They found a way of being content and the last thing they need is a stumbling block like me when I should be learning from them.

My biggest hope: I hope that I have a heart that sees Jesus in every kid that I meet.

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Day 2: “Coby Baste”

Mango Juice. Corn on a cob. Cousins. Late night/early morning card games. Grocery Delivery. Turkish coffee. Balcony. Smiles that surpass language barriers. Koshary. Family. Selfless love. Just a few things that come to mind to describe my experience so far. I’ve seen so much already and I’ve been in this country for a little over 24 hours. The trip hasn’t even started yet and I’m already caught breathless trying to take it all in. I’m brought to tears at how generous and loving my family is over here. You would think living in a country that’s a 12 hour plane ride away and my broken Arabic would create a boundary, but it doesn’t. Spoiler alert: Love wins. Always.

I’m learning about flexibility. I have a cousin here around my age, and we’re actually very similar. She uses the term “coby baste” to describe us (she has a good sense of humor I swear!). We’re very similar in our involvement with church, our crazy hectic schedules and our phones that ring off the hook. And yet, there’s one thing that differentiates us. Something that I can’t fathom, can’t wrap my head around. She put her whole life on hold while I’m here, for no reason other than I’m family. She cancelled appointments, changed plans and ignored phone calls. Maybe the reason I’m finding it so hard to understand is because I’m not sure I would do the same. I’m not proud of it, but I’m not the most flexible with my schedule – even if its family. I get so wrapped up with being committed to plans I make, so that I’m “reliable”. I thought I was doing something honorable, but I’ve noticed more than once I’m investing my time in the wrong places. I don’t regret being considered reliable, but I do regret if it’s at the expense of being reliable to my family. I wish I can say that I’ll pick up that trait from her and apply it right when I’m back but I know it doesn’t work that way. All I know is that I was blessed enough to see a practical example of love and I can’t let that go wasted. It takes steps, and I’m happy to have her show me how to take the first few.

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