Call me Ishmael: Not Belonging is the Greatest Blessing.

I am not bullied, and I never was. In fact, I have led a life of incredible blessing, from the moments before I was born when my parents decided to come to the US to this moment right now, stretched on my bed with a laptop I did not have to pay for lying across my lap.

When I was little I played outside without fear of abduction, joined older kids in starting businesses that would fail but be ever so fun, and tried to make candles out of crayons and a car out of a steering wheel. When I got older, I moved around a bit, met many new people, and learned many new things.

I have no excuse for my “Call me Ishmael” approach to life.

And yet…

I had some hard days. Have. I’m not going to pretend I grew up homeless or went to bed hungry. I know that countless people–maybe every single person on this planet–had harder days than mine. But when you are facing something hard, it’s hard. Hard is hard is hard and that’s the end of it. The fact that it was easier than someone else’s struggle doesn’t mean it was easy.

I was never American and I was never Egyptian and I always walked on the wrong side of the line, whether it was eating a fool sandwich or saying the 2(ha, ح) or 3(ein, ع) wrong. And God knows how afraid I was that I would never fit in. I didn’t want to be like everybodyI just wanted to be like somebody. I just wanted one person to understand how hard it was.

I didn’t like that my irises were so dark that my pupils got lost in there. I didn’t like that my hair was too thick for the braid it was in and my eyebrows joined in the middle but my parents wouldn’t let me pluck them, and my Arabic was rotten but if I was nervous I couldn’t think of the English word for toka — hair tie.

It’s not like there was no diversity. The Korean people all spoke Korean together and the Hispanics all spoke Spanish together, and even to me, but I couldn’t understand a word of it (and in fact grew up to hate the language altogether).  On three different occasions, three different Egyptian men have told me I was too aggressive, one of them being a priest. On countless occasions, teachers and friends told me I was far too shy, too quiet, and too reserved.

Engineers are all Thinkers, but I’m more a Feeler. I liked to read books but conversations with the characters was limited. Christians make friends with other Christians but for some reason I’ve never had a close Christian friend, except one, with whom I argued about Creationism in 5th grade when I could not believe that she did not believe in dinosaurs. And my sisters were (are) kind and perfect souls, but eons older and wiser, or else just sprouting wings when I left the house.

I wanted so badly a Friend, even though I had so many friends. And I knew just where the problem lie… with me. With my too conservative upbringing and my too liberal being and my quiet, scared soul that I could never show to the world because God knew how afraid they would be of something so different as me.

I did not belong in this world. And when I realized that– when I realized that I did not belong, and could never belong, I stopped giving a damn. I took the covers off my soul, and said Here I am. I submitted my soul to the One who owned it and told Him that if He would have me, Here I am. I told Him I sort of want to be an engineer but I sort of want to write books and I really want to own a bookshop and sell books and chocolate, and Here I am. I’m no good at basketball and I’ll always need a stool in the kitchen, and I will lose every arm wrestle, and Here I am. I might say a million sarcastic things in one day, in one hour, but in your hour of need, I will be there for you. Sometimes I’m shy and afraid and sometimes I stomp through this world like Beyonce, and half the time my brain’s not paying attention to the current situation, and that’s just too bad if you happened to try to start a conversation with me, but God, you always have my full attention, for Here I am.

Not belonging? Not fitting in? Of course not. This isn’t your puzzle. And thank God for that.

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Prince of Peace > Prince Charming

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From the time we are little girls, we are taught of Prince Charming. We play not just with Barbie, but with Barbie and Ken. We watch Disney shows where even the youngest daydream of love and a future with someone special. In my elementary school, dating and kisses in the playground were common scandals. Is it any wonder then that we imagine such a relationship as the ultimate? And though we are protected by a culture which attempts to instill patience and distance, we are surrounded by the reality of society every day.

We fall so easily into this trap. Perhaps it’s because in every heart, there is a longing for a Prince. But we get the grooms confused, because He is decidedly not Prince Charming. His love is not sentimental, it is divine. It neither wavers nor fades. He chooses us, singles us out, pursues us, and He loves us. And He is the only one who can satisfy our desire for unconditional love and eternal companionship. (Even in marriage, isn’t this idea key?)

Even with two years behind me, sometimes it’s tough to be in college. It’s a strange dichotomy between being surrounded by people–to the point where you almost never have any privacy–to being so often separate and alone. I mentioned this to Abouna, and he suggested (as usual!) a book, this one about the love and companionship of Christ.  (The fact that my wonderful Abouna gives me books without us having ever discussed my love for them is further proof of his prophetic tendencies.)

The woman who writes speaks of being afire with longing for Christ, of a burning desire to be nearer to Him… and all I could think was… What’s the matter with me? Why don’t I feel that?

And then I thought… wait a second. Maybe I do. Maybe my longing for companionship is a longing for Christ.

It was kind of a Moment, you know? A chilling realization that I who have known of Christ since 80 days after my birth, I who serve in the church, I who pray and fast and try so hard to do all the right things… I missed the mark. I got the grooms confused.

The late Pope Shenouda once said “Do not despair if you do not feel that you love God. Have comfort in knowing that He loves you and with His love He can make you love Him. ”

Don’t we say “We love Him because He first loved us”? And so we must seek this love. Like the father who said “I believe! Help my unbelief!” we are called to follow this inkling that maybe, just maybe, the love Christ offers is greater than any and everything. Not just greater than money, not just greater than success, His love is greater than family, present or future, greater than our health, our happiness, and even our life.

And so we leave it all behind, to chase this inkling of a thought:  God is “sheer joy and utmost delight; He is altogether lovely.”

Here’s to the Virgin.

The Virgin called out, “Come, George,” and St. George appeared.

“Examine this woman,” she told him, but the great martyr refused.

“You know,” he said, “that her case is closed.”

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Thus goes the story of Tamav Irini’s mother and her healing after she was found fatally ill. The story is close to my heart because, once upon a time, my mother was diagnosed with cancer.

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God, the Creator.

Before He started His miracle-making mission towards the cross, Jesus had a job. Like His father, He was a carpenter. Like His Father, He was Creator, Designer, and Builder. It’s no brilliant insight to say it: God is creative. Sometimes, though, we gloss over the word. The creed spills out of us so quickly that we barely have time to enunciate all the syllables: Pantocrator. 

I just want to say the word a little more slowly, to marvel a little more carefully at His creation, for it is brilliant.

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I have a secret.

Actually, I have a lot more than one. But here’s the secret I’ve worked up the courage to share.

Sometimes I yell at God.

It’s kind of silly, because I’m not really the shouting type, but God is one of the few who has the privilege (ahem…) of hearing my less-than-docile tones. Not usually a full-on shout (because, hello, I don’t live alone) but a whisper yell or a the-voice-in-my-head-is-shouting sort of yell.

Sometimes I’m just cranky. Sometimes I’ve been spending a lot of time being angry with myself, so I make a purposeful decision to transfer that anger to God. (Why am I so impatient? turns into Why did you make me so impatient? and so on. I’ve gotten embarrassingly good at the blame game.)

But sometimes, I am really and truly just angry with God. (Sometimes, aren’t you?)

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