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.

When today started, I was in a weirdly good mood. I woke up and shouted to the universe, “Hello World! I am in a Very Good Mood!” I was in a whistling-while-walking mood. A the-wind-between-my-neck-and-hair-is-poetry mood.

Today, the weather is perfect–“Colombian weather” my friend from Columbia would say, or “California weather” my friend from California would say. Today, the leaves were falling so slowly that by the end of my 20 minute walk, I had caught so many lucky leaves that I felt the luck pouring out of my ears.

The morning fog lent the world a glowing fairy tale feel to it, and as I crossed the street, I saw Icarus just starting to take flight (whereas every other day this  week, the same statue was of Icarus mid-fall), and the-less-famous-white-house on the mountain peeped out from behind him. My thoughts this morning were “I am the most blessed person in the entire world” and “I hope God deals with others as tenderly and personally as He has with me.”

Singing on the corner and laughing to myself and if there was a Cloud 10, that’s where my head was.

In fluid mechanics, I watched a peer spin around with a huge bubble wand and make, as my professor very seriously explained, 2D flow fields everywhere.

In a small local restaurant, I had lunch with a friend I haven’t seen for ages and there was much laughter and storytelling and good food and delicious iced-tea-and-lemonade.

I came home and found the brownies my roommate made to celebrate our success for the second year of managing to be best friends while living in an 8 foot wide room. I settled down in my fancy living room bench to start a lab report that wasn’t due for another four days (I know, seriously getting ahead here) and then I remembered my phone was dead.

I stuck my phone in the charger and then I saw the telltale new voicemail symbol. I put my phone on speaker and heard the words from them that had rejected me saying, “I have good news.”

And I, lacking any logical emotional response system, found all the airy-happy-go-lucky feelings that had been encompassing me all day popping like 2D flowfields.

You say “I have good news” and I say now? Now I am afraid.

I fell from Cloud 10 and into the stronghold of the God who surrounds me and hid there. It is a good feeling to have this oasis. The safety and security of a loving God is irreplaceable.

There have been times where I have regretted the safe decisions I have made all my life. I have wished for prodigal living: the younger son not only got to party all day, but also received and understood the grace more than his older counterpart in that he came home. Sometime I wish I would get that come home experience because sometimes I am sick of being  in the house all the time. Sometimes I wish I had rebellious teenage years. Sometimes I think I would enjoy sinning recklessly.

Then God goes and does something like this. Whispers that He (remarkably) does not think the way I do. That He does not think much of my simple, silly pride and that, hard as I try, sometimes I just can’t read His signs… correctly.

Thus I find the life of an ordinary, boring, non-rebellious Christian like myself quite a rollercoaster. Cloud 10 confidence to safely hiding my face behind God’s legs like a toddler behind his father.

And I am at peace.

A Burden of Unspoken Words

I thought I should preface this with something, but then I decided that was a terrible idea. After previewing this post, I again felt certain that it needed a preface, and so here I am, prefacing my letter with a discussion on the “to preface or not to preface debate.” This is probably worse than either my original preface or no preface at all, but when faced with a decision of a rock and hard place, I tend to commit suicide in the middle.

words-i-should-sayImage courtesy http://shakinglikeamountain.com/

My dear friend,

I wish you could know what I know. I wish you could see what I see and hear what I hear. I wish you knew that God loves you in a way no one else is capable of, with a depth no one can measure, with a breadth farther than even heavenly eyes can see. Love that could never be captured by the imagination, even the imagination of Tchaikovsky or Faulkner or Einstein or a combination of all three, or the exponential of that combination. Love that surpasses a romance but can only be described in terms of Bride and Groom because there are no words and no parallel for Divine love. The Love of One who knows your inner parts, who hasn’t just walked into your heart or delved past the outer gardens–this is the One who planted the flowers there, built the castle, chose every color and wove in every detail. This is He who counts the very hairs on your head, and not one falls without His permission. He is Love and His love transcends everything. All our mistakes and failings and unworthiness. I want that Love for you.

I want you to feel His presence all around you. I wish you could know the way it feels when He snuggles up by your soul, or the comfort of His hands holding your heart so tenderly, so tenderly. You say you like hot coca in the winter and warm apple crisp in the fall? This is so far superior to hot coca that I almost crossed out that line.

I wish your arms and the back of your neck could know the chills of Divine intervention, that moment when a mere mortal recognizes the glory of All-Powerful God working for her an eternal glory. You would see the wisdom in His eyes and you would know when He says “Everything is going to be alright,” His words are far from empty.

I wish you could know the security God brings to a life: meaning behind every tribulation, peace for the heart in every situation. My friend meet my God, Creator of the Stars. For some incomprehensible reason, He loves us so much that He counts every one of our tears.

I won’t tell you it’s easy, or that it will make all your problems go away, or that you’ll become rich and less insecure and All Better. I would never lie to you like that.

But even though it’s not all better, it is infinitely better. And even though less insecure always feels eons away, there is some comfort in acknowledging that in the eyes of King of All That Ever Was or Will Be your hidden person of the heart is precious. Your bank account won’t grow with renewed vigor, but giving up all control to His grace and blessings does have a way of five-loaves-and-two-fishing on you.

He is strength for the weak, hope for the hopeless, replenishment for every sorrowful soul.

Oh my friend, you are in a troubled day. And in between praying for you earnestly through the intercessions of all the saints, I ask God what He was thinking, placing you in a room with such a shy dunderhead of a Christian. I think He is trying to offer me the chance to bring a soul to Him, but my mouth might as well be boarded up for all the words tumbling out of me.

Oh my friend, I tell you all the time that you are loved. And it is as you assume, that I am saying you are loved by me. But there is One so much greater than I, One whose sandal strap I am not worthy to see, let alone touch or, God forbid, unfasten.

I want you to know how much He loves you.

With all sincerity,
Your sister in so many ways (but wanting to be your sister in Christ.)

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.”

7 Signs I Would Point Out To My First-Year Self

I still sometimes ignore these signs on the Good Ole College Road, but I gotta admit, I wish someone had pointed these out to me. Somehow hearing “it goes by so fast” and “these are the best years of your life” in a thousand different voices wasn’t incredibly useful 😉

change

1. CHANGE. You won’t change unless you open yourself up to it. You don’t suddenly become a party girl or a crazy awesome risk taker. Nor do you suddenly become a confident innovator and loving friend. Just like high school, you will make decisions and those decisions will define you. So make decisions towards the person you want to be. Growing involves change. Don’t be afraid of it.

betterdays

2. IT GETS BETTER. The first weeks of college will not be your favorite weeks. The first semester doesn’t contain the peake of college either and thank God. Second semester is better, and third semester is even better, and fourth semester is even better. The work gets harder but the worker gets smarter, and feels less alone, and makes friends she never could have imagined that laugh with her through all of it.

opportunity

3. TAKE CHANCES. Volunteer for things. Audition for parts. Sign up for listserves. Sure, you might ignore 90% of the emails and drop out of half the activities you signed up for at the Activities Fair, but who cares? It just takes one connection to turn into one opportunity to turn into one job. The person you audition for might end up being your “walking home at night” friend. The professor you hate might give you the most resume-worthy accomplishment you needed.

faith

4. TRUST GOD. Nudge worrying into trusting. Worrying is really dumb, and it only makes you feel weaker to indulge in it. Nudge that fear of the unknown into a chance to trust the Master of the Even the Unknown.

curvesandgrades

5. DON’T TRUST THE CURVE, JUST SCORE HIGH. Stop hoping everyone else fails so you can “beat the curve.” Do your best, score high, and let God take care of the letter grade. Start praying these people know what they are doing because they are the people trying to build you bridges and surgery robots and in general improve the standard of living and save lives.

acceptance

6. BE THANKFUL. A B is a good grade. A C isn’t the end of the world. Thank God for a passing grade and stop complaining.

brightfuture

7. BE CONFIDENT. Don’t let anyone make you feel stupid, not other students and not professors. They have no idea what your destiny holds and neither do you. You are made in the image of God, and you never claimed to get your strength from anywhere else.

Forget winter: college is coming.

It’s two weeks until classes, but the insanity of supplies and textbooks and last-minute class changes has already begun. Am I excited? Most definitely. But I’m also kind of nervous.

It’s just a fact: college is hard.

Whoever you are, whatever your year, whatever your major, if you want more out of college than free food, it’s going to be hard. And sometimes, it’s going to suck. Not just because it’s hard, but because there are times (and maybe it’s just engineering, but I doubt it)…

There are times when college can make you feel like an idiot.

I guess it’s not just college. Trying anything can make you feel sadly inadequate.

With copious amounts of free time this summer, I finally decided to follow one of my oldest ambitions and write a novel. You know what they say: write what you know. Among baking, math, and dreams, I landed on dreams.

I might very well have a problem because I consistently have really weird dreams that often involve death. There’s been the usual death-facing adventures via bombing or gunshots. There’s been an escape from a Siberian prison, stabbed with a syringe of poison, caught in a cruel real-life video game, and been an incredibly fat, male, sumo wrestler version of myself in a gladiator-style fight against a ferocious tiger.

followdreamsThat’s a frightful idea.

These nightmares became especially bad when writing this novel. The Bizarre Dreamer was a story of a man and his dreams about the end of the world. My brain was on overdrive about endings and disasters and The Worst Things Ever. My nights were spent exploring the inspiration provided by my subconscious, and my days were filled with making that into something coherent and meaningful.

I wanted to write a story so badly, and write a story I did. I finished the first draft and then ignored all the advice of everyone, and read it from cover to cover to next day. Upon finishing, I was struck with a sort of sinking realization.

wastedlifeWhat am I even doing with my life?

The story sucked at being a story, and I sucked at being a writer. My antagonist was less menacing than a shadow. The ending I’d looked forward to turned out anti-climatic in the worst ways. It’s honestly kind of embarrassing how much of a stronger writer my subconscious is, how much more tension exists in my dreams than in my story. What can I say? How do you respond when you realize that you aren’t all you hoped you’d be? I was kind of broken-hearted.

And then, like every disappointment in life, I picked my head up and got over it.

Sometimes you take a chance on something, and guess what? Sometimes—a lot of times in my case—you suck.

You think, “Hey, maybe this risk will work out,” and it doesn’t. It leaves you flat on your face, alone and miserable and worse off than you were before.

You try to solve a problem set and you work on it for hours and at the end of the day, you get an F on the homework you spent days laboring over.

Or you listen to the new serpent guy in the garden and try out some Forbidden Fruit and whoosh, goodbye Paradise, hello Earth.

You do the right thing, obey your dad, and suddenly he’s tying you down to an altar as the sacrifice.

You think your brothers will like your new coat of colors just as much as you do and then they sell you as a freaking slave.

You screw up and take Bathsheba as your wife, and everyone will talk about it for the next thousand years and more.

You failed? Sure. But you still tried. If you fail, when you fail, God does what God always does. Picks you up wherever you fell and flies you where you need to go. And the sin you committed turns into the greatest story of love and passion ever—such that an entire species and their relationship with God is never the same again. And you just went from slave to second-only-to-Pharaoh. And the mistake you made with Bathsheba turns into the King of Israel, Wise Man, and honored author of several books in the bestselling Book of all time.

So, Mr. College–bring it. How could we be afraid to fall when God’s right there to pick us up?

Falling on your face is far better than never trying to go anywhere at all.

We are not of the world.

Nofri, fellow Copts in college. I saw this old article on the troubles of the US college atmosphere and Coptic community expectations.

I had two instinctive responses:

1. Angrily defensive. Being Coptic is the most amazing thing ever ever ever ever and the whole world wishes they could be Coptic too, they just don’t know it yet.

2. Immersed in self pity. Being Coptic means straddling two worlds no matter what your heritage is, and straddling two worlds is more than just a hat trick of languages–it’s a collision of cultures. (Plus she goes to Duke… imagine if she went to the number one party school in America!) Life sucks, liturgy is too long, excuse me while I curl up to complain about it.

After a few deep breaths, I could resentfully admit that there is an underlying truth to this article that doesn’t require me to be a drama queen. The fact is there are certain aspects of being Coptic and being in college that simply do not want to work together.

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