A Song in the Desert

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December in Saudi Arabia is like any other month. It does not stand apart, nor does it boast any major holidays. The only time of reverence for our Muslim family was during the months of Ramadan (usually in the summer) and then our favorite times of the year – celebrating Eid (either Eid al Adha [festival of the Sacrifice] or Eid al Fitr [festival of the breaking of fast or lesser Eid]). Neither of these events took place in December, so I was confused when my parents informed us that we needed to wear our nicest long dresses for a big party.

My father was a telecommunications engineer for the Saudi Telecom Company and my mother was a physician who was ahead of her time (female physician in Saudi Arabia in the 1970’s). My older sister and I were the only two children and we were very young. My sister was around 8-9 and I was 3-4 years old at the time. We had been raised in Saudi Arabia all our lives and were quite used to the desert and the call to prayer five times a day. Our lives rotated around the prayer call, along with the Muslim calendar.

Our whole family got dressed up in our fancy clothes and went to the Taif Intercontinental Hotel where  there was a special Christmas party that included several Diplomats from the British and American Embassy. I had never been to a Christmas party before. I really didn’t have a clue what Christmas was, except for what I had read in my Richie Rich and Archie comic books.

As the party got underway, the American band wanted people to sing Christmas Carols. Being in a Muslim nation, surrounded mostly by older people & Saudis, they were not getting any takers. My parents had given us a small electronic piano that had several auto-song tunes. Two of those were Christmas songs (I knew that, because the song book said they were) – Jingle Bells & Silent Night (only the first stanza, mind you!). At the urging of our parents, we got up to sing Jingle Bells. After rousing applause, we were asked to sing again. So we went to the only other song we knew: Silent Night.

Can you imagine the room? Can you imagine two little Muslim girls, singing about our precious Savior’s birth in the heartland of Islam? God had a marvelous way of forecasting His plans for me that evening. Little did I know that 31 years down the road, He would place a call into my life that could not be ignored or reasoned away. He not only moves in the lives of Muslims, but He places His divine truth upon all of our hearts in marvelous ways – yes, even through a song on a toy piano.

Now that I am a Christian, I know all the verses to Silent Night. May we raise our voices to God’s way, truth and light in Christ Jesus, our Lord & Savior. Amen.

Silent night, holy night,
Son of God, love’s pure light,
Radiant beams from
Thy holy face, with the dawn of redeeming grace,
Jesus, Lord, at Thy birth,
Jesus, Lord, at Thy birth.
Silent night, holy night, wondrous star, lend thy light;
With the angels let us sing,
Alleluia to our King.
Christ the Saviour is born,
Christ the Saviour is born.
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JOY!

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Is JOY the same thing as being Happy? I used to think so. I thought it was just another temporary emotion. What is Joy? I think the closest thing I know of experiencing pure Joy was when each of our children were born. There was a lot of pain (first was a regular delivery and other two were C-sections, ouch!) but there was great joy and celebration of this beautiful new miracle.

That joy didn’t go away with the 3:00 am feedings either. In fact, I found those to be a time of peacefulness and just being able to sit in the moment with my child. It was mixed up with peace, contentment, a feeling that all was well with the world and joy.

As a Christian, I was told that being happy was an elusive state (happy that I found a great dress to wear, then unhappy when it’s not in my size). I wrote about being happy before in this post.  I was told that JOY was a more permanent state. How could that be possible, when my emotions change from minute to minute? How can anyone possibly sustain any emotion for longer than a day? There are tons of  verses in the Bible about Joy. This is the one that stood out to me as  a new believer:

21 Whenever a woman is in labor she has pain, because her hour has come; but when she gives birth to the child, she no longer remembers the anguish because of the joy that a child has been born into the world. 22 Therefore you too have grief now; but I will see you again, and your heart will rejoice, and no one will take your joy away from you. John 16:21-22

This verse compares the only real experience I have had of lasting joy to the joy we find in Christ. But what is this joy we find in Christ? How does it just show up? You have to go to Galatians 5:22 to find that when you take your eyes off yourself and place them on God, that the Holy Spirit pours out His gifts on you. If you do things for others as if you were doing them for Christ, the blessings show up in the form of the fruits of the Spirit.

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control…

These gifts are not just given to one person, but to all believers. The only problem I have with this is that I am not always loving (especially when I haven’t eaten), patient (especially when I haven’t eaten), kind, good, or other things. So are these things fleeting also? The answer I think lies in realizing how limited we are by our human nature. We can only try to be good for a short time and then all things go crazy. The key again is being in the Spirit, praying for the Lord to help you, starting off your day with prayer and also looking for opportunities in which to serve others and love them as Christ loved them.

The most important prayer I have prayed (and I pray regularly) is for God to give me his eyes to see others the way he sees them. When I look at people through Jesus’s eyes, I see them differently. They haven’t changed – I have.

That is the way he looks at me – with love, with peace, with joy. When you have the love of God the Father and of His Son and His Spirit, you should have nothing but pure JOY that reflects and radiates out to others. If you are not feeling that, maybe it’s time to pray for Jesus’s eyes to see…?

What is Love?

imageThe 2nd week of Advent is about Love. You would think that a woman who loves Jane Austen and the Bronte sisters’ novels, I would be able to write about love without a problem. Truth is that I have been struggling since Sunday about what to write. How do you narrow down the topic of love?

The Ancient Greeks had the right idea. They had multiple names for Love: Eros (sexual, passionate love – the kind most people who are dating are looking to find), Philia (deep friendship – like “Philadelphia: City of brotherly love”), Ludus (playful love – flirting or catching someone’s eyes and smiling at a private joke), Agape (selfless love – later translated to Caritas, Latin for Charity), Pragma (mature, long-standing love), and Philautia (self-love). Another word I found for love from the Greeks is Storge – parental love.

Maybe this is why I was having a hard time narrowing down this topic.

It’s interesting to me that the 2nd week in Advent asks us to be reminded of Christ’s love for us. John 3:16 says “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” I have been thinking about this over-used verse. You see it at football games and just about on every Christian bumper sticker. What does it actually say? If we break down each part, we see:

*For God so LOVED the world: Why would God love the world? Well, for starters, he created it. He also created human beings in His image. We bear the likeness of God – how amazing is that? By the way, that’s ALL human beings. Not just ones who claim Christianity, but also those who turn away from it or hate it. He created us in love, with a capacity to love others and he also created us to have a choice to love Him back.

*… that he gave his one and only Son: He GAVE. God gives. God gives freely. He gives so freely that he was willing to give a part of his eternal trinity – the presence of God the Son to the broken down world. Again, WHY would God do that?

*…that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life: This is why. This is the reason why Christ came, lived, died, and rose again from the dead. So that he would conquer death, so that all who believe in him will have eternal life. No strings attached. No earning God’s favor, no waiting to be a better person or maybe if I didn’t do such and such. God wants you as you are, but he wants you to come to him of your own free will. We can only share the message of Christ in love. We cannot and should not beat people over the head with the love of Jesus! It doesn’t work that way.

There is a verse I love from 2 Cor 2:15~

For we are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing.

Notice it doesn’t say “stench.” It’s that beautiful, lingering perfume that makes people say “hmmm… what was that?” or makes people want to know more and stay with you just a little longer. If you are the stench of Christ, you could do more damage that will take more to untangle and undo.

The aroma of Christ comes from living the Gospel – treating others with a self-less love, of serving, of going last in a line and not insisting on first dibs for things. It’s allowing someone to take a parking spot at the mall and not careening in, yelling things with your cross dangling from the rear-view mirror. This is not easy to do – especially with the Christmas mall rush. However, I think it’s in these small, daily things that Christ is revealed to others.

May the amazing LOVE of God’s sacrifice be true for you this week as you look towards celebrating the birth of Christ Jesus.

I Hope…

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What is Hope? What do we Hope for? What happens if we lose Hope?

The first week of Advent revolves around Hope. Merriam Webster defines it as:

HOPE: to want something to happen or be true and think that it could happen or be true

Frankly, this is a strange definition. For me, hope is the blessing of a new day. It’s the love of a family and the presence of peace in my home. It’s knowing that no matter what, with God’s help, all will be well- even if everything in my life is topsy-turvy.

When I became a new Christian, the hope I found in Christ was like nothing I had experienced. For this reason in the Bible, hope is mentioned in conjunction with God. There are several verses that talk about the hope we have in Christ. We are called to one body, one Spirit, one Hope (Eph 4:4). Faith is also linked to Hope. Faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance of what we do not see (Heb 11:1).

As a Muslim, I did have hope. It was set squarely in my own abilities and in my parents. I believed that my own good works and the good reputation of my family would be enough to carry me along my whole life. Very quickly, that deteriorated. I realized that was a childish attitude and that I had more desire to fulfill my own selfish needs than to help others. I still believed I was a good person, because I didn’t understand God’s absolute holy nature and that I could not earn my way into His favor.  Throwing some change into the red Salvation Army bucket solidified the thought that I was such a nice person.  I chose to place all the hope I had in myself.

As an immigrant, the American Dream played right into my hopes and those of my parents. This is a country like no other. If you try hard enough, you can make your own future, your own piece of heaven, your own peace and freedom. As a driven person, I almost burnt myself out on my career. I created competition between my husband and I (my career is better than yours) and I ignored the needs of my children. At the same time, I was raising quickly up the corporate ladder. I was loved and adored at work but at home, I had a great deal of sadness. My hopes and dreams were being fulfilled but there was an empty void. This wasn’t quite what I had envisioned. Maybe if I had more titles, money, prestige, I would be better.

It took me several more years until I realized that hope shouldn’t be in myself or in others. When I accepted Christ as my Lord and Savior, there was an immediate sense of relief. God wants you drop your burdens at His feet and to come to him as you are. You don’t have to wait until you are an executive, or until you have met certain goals or a rank. In fact, he says “blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth (Matt 5:5).” That is so backwards from what the world says. I think that’s why it stays in your brain as a kernel of truth that distrupts thought.

So it makes sense that the first week of Advent is to light the candle of HOPE. It belongs to Christ. We cannot lose it when he holds it secure. We can run to him for the hope that shines like a beacon in the dark. Hope beckons us in turbulent times, when the waves of life come crashing down upon us causing us to slip and be tossed about on waves like infants(Eph 4:14).

Have you  lost hope? Have you looked for for it? Have you found it in Christ? This is the time when we can confidently approach the throne of God and find all our hopes and dreams at Jesus Christ’s feet, for our treasures are stored up in heaven.
~We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain… Hebrews 6:19