Gate A-4

This. Such a picture of coming alongside other travellers with grace and humanity.


Gate A-4 By Naomi Shihab Nye:

Wandering around the Albuquerque Airport Terminal, after learning my flight had been delayed four hours, I heard an announcement: “If anyone in the vicinity of Gate A-4 understands any Arabic, please come to the gate immediately.” Well— one pauses these days. Gate A-4 was my own gate. I went there.

An older woman in full traditional Palestinian embroidered dress, just like my grandma wore, was crumpled to the floor, wailing. “Help,” said the flight agent. “Talk to her . What is her problem? We told her the flight was going to be late and she did this.”

I stooped to put my arm around the woman and spoke haltingly. “Shu-dow-a, shu-bid-uck, habibti? Stani schway, min fadlick, shu-bit-se-wee?” The minute she heard any words she knew, however poorly used, she stopped crying. She thought the flight had been cancelled entirely. She needed to be…

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How to pray when words won’t come


from my journal, 11/12/12

I hardly know how to pray, Lord, for faces (seen and unseen) whose names I do not know. But You know every one, see their need, understand their sorrow. Help me to pray.

I hardly know how to grieve, Lord, for all the lives lost and all the lives never the same. But You, Lord, grieved with Mary and Martha even when you knew resurrection was just around the corner. You know and care deeply about the pain in every heart. So help me to grieve, Lord — with You, with this nation, and with each heart that bleeds.

I hardly know what to do, Lord, when what is needed most is in the hands of other people. Resources, coordination, infrastructure to deliver relief assistance. But You, Lord, know exactly what is needed, and when, and by whom. Help me to to do what is mine to do, and pray for others as they do what is theirs to do.

Lord of impossible resurrections, please cause Your kingdom to come and Your will to be done amid this chaos. Pour Your mighty strength into and through Your servants (those who know they serve You, and those who don’t), that they may serve the hurting in Your name even as they themselves are hurting, too. And give all of us strength and commitment to keep doing our part — praying, giving, caring in the name of the One who first cared for us. In Jesus’ name. Amen. Amen.

Tips for Surviving the Not-So-Merry Month of May

Disclaimer: unless you are now — or have at some time been — an expatriate living overseas, you may or may not “get” this post. Then again, transition happens to all of us, doesn’t it? (Maybe just not in May. Every year in May.)


This morning, I took one last walk with a dear friend and walking partner. And remembered again why May is officially my least favorite month of the year.

It hasn’t always been this way. I used to love May! School winding down, summer (and camp season!) just around the corner, everything greening up. And to top it off, my birthday! Yep, May was pretty merry when I was growing up.

But as an expat living overseas, May went from the month of celebrations and anticipation to a month of… well, leavings and goodbyes. In May, the social landscape goes through tectonic upheaval that won’t settle down until August. And it’s like this every year.

What a strange lifestyle, these scheduled uprootings. Even my body knows the cycle now. May comes and I seem to have this continual knot in my stomach and dull headache of dread for all the goodbyes.

What can be done? (Well, besides taking some aspirin and just slogging through it…) As I felt the onset of “goodbye season” yet again this year, I decided to start making a list of potential stepping stones through the “not-so-merry month of May”. And I’m hoping you’ll help me add to it.

  • Write a note. Taking time to celebrate relationships doesn’t make it hurt less… but it reminds me why the goodbyes hurt, and that that is actually a good thing. A friend’s words from years ago still ring in my ears: “Wouldn’t it be sad if it didn’t hurt at all?”
  • Play the piano. (Or whatever instrument your equally stressed family is willing for you to play.) Bach is my composer of choice — very structured and calming, but complex enough that I can’t think about anything else while I play.
  • Take a breath. Or two. Or three. Do you forget to breathe sometimes, or is it just me? I’m discovering that breathing is a good thing… and it helps to calm me down.
  • Make a list. It’s awfully easy to myopically focus on what I’m losing. A list of thanksgivings helps me remember all I have been given.
  • Cry. I’m not good at this (blame it on my Myers-Briggs type), but I’m getting better. Like the first point, it doesn’t make anything hurt less, but it’s great for clearing out the sinuses. (Which, unfortunately, have also developed a dislike of May.)
  • Take a walk. Even if it’s just to the gate. Preferably at night, when I can look up and see the stars and remember the One who calls each one by name.

So, what would you add to this list of survival tactics?

Faith – never leave home without it!

Last week I took the 1-hour ride into the city on an “FX” or route taxi. Crammed snugly in with 10 other people (for a total of 11 — in a 9 passenger vehicle), I marveled at the driver’s ability — and penchant — for quickly grabbing any open space on the road. In any lane. And even in spaces that could not really be called a “lane” at all!

Just one view of typical Manila traffic

The good thing about this was that we did move right along, despite the heavy traffic.

The bad part was that I soon realized the book in my bag was going to have to stay there. Swerving and reading do not make particular good travel companions!

To pass the time — in addition to praying, that is — I began scanning the signs inside the front window. There was the usual “Barya lang po sa umaga” (“Please give [small/exact] change in the mornings” – this because the driver hasn’t done enough trips yet to have accrued change for big bills).

Then on the left side of the window: “If God be for us, who can be against us?” Which, from his driving, I would guess really meant “If God be for us, who can be ahead of us?”!

But my favorite sign was appropriately affixed in the top right corner of the windshield — right in front of the front seat passenger. “Faith is a requirement, not an option.”

Wise words. And not just for riding on public transportation in Manila!

Q: Got any transportation experiences that have changed your outlook on life?


A friend of mine who recently moved posted the following on Facebook: “Does anyone need boxes? We have many!”


The last pile of boxes waiting to move from our Bagabag house 2 years ago. Those same boxes have assisted in 2 moves since then. They now rest quietly in our upper cupboards. (Well, except for the one that got its big break as a Minecraft creeper head…)

What a wonderful status message! I actually can’t remember the last time we got rid of our moving boxes. To think of reaching a point where one doesn’t anticipate needing them in the foreseeable future… well, I think I’ll have to put that on my bucket list!

But (you may say), boxes are a fairly available commodity — why clutter up one’s home with them, no matter how soon the next move is? Well. I have two words for that. Pack. Rat. Yep, as much as I dream of having a boxless house someday (imagine actually being able to store linens in the upper cupboards!), the truth is we do get attached to our boxes!

We even kept a box once just because of the message on the outside. This was years ago. (25, to be exact.) We received a wedding present in the mail in a worn box subtly tatooed with the marks of a past life. Scrawled in ballpoint ink across one side were the words “ugly plastic wreath”. The backstory of that box — released at long last from years of unwanted-Christmas-deco bondage — so delighted us that we kept the poor thing long after the cheeses it conveyed were consumed.

Boxes. Such a part of our transient lifestyle. But someday I’m gonna ditch ’em all!

Q: What are your best “box” memories?


The Jesus Diet

What does a natural-born alien eat?

During our cross-cultural training, an oft-quoted rule-of-thumb was “Whatever is put in front of you!

Ouch! The ultimate challenge for a picky eater! And all the more so when faced with unfamiliar — yea, bizarre-looking — local “delicacies”. (Take rambutans, for instance. I mean, who would have thought such a spiky, alien-looking fruit would be not only edible, but delicious!)

Whatever is put in front of you? Seriously?!

But Jesus apparently agreed. He was ready to “eat” whatever His Father put in front of him.

I just can’t stop thinking about that Jesus Diet: “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work.” John 4:34

How do I — a picky eater in food and life — develop a taste for the same? Well, maybe I could start with an appetizer.

Appetizer: A food or drink served usually before a meal to stimulate the appetite.

When our son Jonathan was four, he had a standard prayer for mealtimes (honed to 5-second perfection!): “Thank-You-for-this-yummy-food. AY-men!”

Then one day, completely out of the blue, he amazed us with a spontaneous variation: “Thank you for this yummy food. We don’t want you to take it away! Whatever You give us, we’ll eat!”

Thank you for this yummy food. Whatever You give us, we’ll eat.

Out of the mouth of babes. That simple expression of thanksgiving for God’s gifts and faith in God’s goodness points the way for me.

When I, like Jesus and Jonathan, can turn from complaining to rest completely in God’s goodness … when I can begin every “meal” (of food or of life) with wholehearted thanksgiving … will my appetite grow for more? More of God. More of His will. More of the Jesus Diet.

With Jonathan, I say “AY-men!” Let it be so.

Diet of a Natural-Born Alien

OK, I admit it. I’m a picky eater.

As a kid, I never ate salad. Abhored onions. (My kind mother used to blend them to put in sauces – it was the texture, not the flavor, that choked me.) And I really didn’t like trying new foods, especially if they had foreign-sounding names!

And then God sends me to another country. (Don’t even try to tell me He doesn’t have a sense of humor!) Thankfully, I’ve learned to love Filipino food. In fact, many days nothing satisfies like a steaming mound of rice and ulam.

I confess, though, that when stress hits, so do the cravings for first-culture “comfort food”. In my case, that would be macaroni and cheese. Chicken and dumplings. Biscuits smothered in sausage gravy. (And some days, what I wouldn’t give for a big mess of soup beans and cornbread!)

Our family has noticed another weird thing about food and culture: when we’re in one culture, we tend to seek out food that affirms our belonging in the other culture. When we lived in the province, for instance, it was a big deal to eat at Pizza Hut and even  *shudder*  McDonalds on trips to the city. Yet, we almost never ate at those places in the States!

But when we’re in the U.S., it’s the other way around. Oh, sure — when we first arrive, we’re pretty much like kids in a candy shop, rediscovering all the foods we’ve missed. But after a few weeks, we start longing for some good Asian rice. Cooking up pots of chicken ginataan or pork adobo. Eyeing the Chinese or Thai restaurants we pass by. (On one furlough, our delight practically knew no bounds at discovering that not only was there an Asian restaurant in tiny Hyden, Kentucky, but that it was actually owned and run by a Filipino family!)

It’s pretty hard to separate food and culture, isn’t it? Food, it seems, serves as both an affirmation of our roots and an expression of our identity.

I wonder if that’s why Jesus said “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work.” John 4:34

In a culture that offered only perishables — forbidden fruit, stone-ground bread — Jesus chose instead a menu that affirmed his belonging to Another. A diet of sacrifice that called him to become the Bread. So that we, satisfied in him, can bear fruit that will last.

What physical food says “home” to you? What keeps you satisfied spiritually?