Who do I laugh at?

The sun came and went as ominous clouds marched across the sky. I shivered and wondered why I hadn’t checked the weather before I had walked to the park to study. Winter was coming; that was certain.

On the other side of the bubbling fountain of the garden plaza, a man was stretched out on a bench in front of the bamboo forest. I had seen him there before. He wore several layers of clothing all with that grimy, unwashed tinge. He was a perfect picture of a North African homeless. But he didn’t bother anyone. Even when he awoke, stood up, and stumbled to another part of the garden.img_6419Beside me, just on the other side of the fig tree, were two boys pretending to be men. They smoked cigarettes, played music, and took selfies.

But when the homeless man got up and walked away, the boys gawked at him. Then they whispered something to each other and snickered.

I was angry. If the man had bothered them, I could have understood the sentiment to mock him. But as it was, the man had done nothing to deserve anything less than their respect. And yet they laughed at him. How dare they!

While I was still high on my judgment throne, God asked me, “Who do you laugh at?”

Me? Laugh at someone?

How many times have I amused myself at the expense of another? In short, who do I look at and tell myself I am better than they? Maybe it’s not the homeless man. But it could be the boys smoking cigarettes. And really, does that make my pride any less hideous than theirs?

I’m a good person

“You’re the perfect Muslim.”

“Huh?”

“Yah, except that you’re not a Muslim.” My friend began to list the ways in which I fulfilled the religious requirements: “You pray. You don’t lie or cheat. You dress modestly…”

She wasn’t talking about my heart; she was talking about my actions. And she wasn’t the first person to praise me for things I do right.

When I hear continual praises of my good deeds, it is easy to internally echo what I’m hearing. “Yes, I am pretty good. I pray. I don’t lie or cheat…”

Essentially, it is easy to forget this: if not motivated by my love for God, my good deeds mean nothing. The blackness of my heart only blackens as I bow to the idol of man’s praise.

I protested to my friend’s assessment of my character. However, she insisted that my heart is inherently good and that is why I do good things.

People will continue to praise me because they like to believe that I am being good on my own. They like to think that being “perfect” is humanly achievable. But when they walk away from an encounter with me, I want them to be praising God, not me.

One day of autumn

Autumn is my favorite season. This year I had one day of what I would consider true autumn: the sweet smell of damp and fallen leaves, apples, pumpkin bread, brisk air. It was lovely. I had to enjoy the entire season in only one day in that mountain town. But I think I succeeded.

Despite the Midwest feeling of that fall day, now and then there was a reminder that I wasn’t in central Illinois:

On a roll

If I would have been Elijah, 51 more people would have died.

When Ahaziah, King of Judah fell through a lattice and lay sick in his bed, he wanted to know if he would live. “Go, inquire of Baal-zebub, the god of Ekron,” he told his messengers.

But on the way, Elijah intercepted the messengers to give the king a word from the Lord: “You shall surely die.”

King Ahaziah wasn’t happy with this meddling in his affairs and he sent out a captain with his 50 men to fetch Elijah from where he sat on top of a hill. Elijah responded by calling down fire from heaven and consuming the 51 men.

But the king didn’t give up. He sent another captain and 50 men. These also were consumed by fire from heaven.

And still King Ahaziah didn’t give up.

If I had been Elijah and seen the third party of 51 men approaching me, I would have sighed, “Yes, Lord, I know the routine. Fire from heaven.”

But the third captain fell on his knees and pleaded, “O man of God, please let my life, and the life of these fifty servants of yours, be precious in your sight.”

Elijah had executed God’s will on the former two occasions. Why would God want anything different this time?

That’s why I say that if I had been Elijah, 51 more people would have died. Or at least I would have attempted to call down the same fire from heaven. I would have been on a roll.

I often think about this story when I’m tempted to make a “policy” on how to treat a certain category of people: persistent beggars, inappropriate men, meddling taxi drivers, aggressive women, etc. Yet, God showed Elijah the Tishbite how important it was to listen to His voice in every situation. Likewise, God may want me to say a certain thing to one aggressive woman and want me to keep silent with the next. The point isn’t to get energized by being “on a roll” but to listen in each situation.

Yes, always listening can be exhausting, especially when we hear commands we don’t want to obey. When Elijah heard the angel of the Lord say, “Go down with him; do not be afraid of him” it may have crossed his mind that calling down fire from heaven would have been less of a hassle. But he still went. He still listened.

(2 Kings 1)

What if you were Soukaina?

Have you ever stepped into someone else’s shoes and tried walking around in them?

Soukaina is sixteen years old. She lives with her parents and two year old brother in a poor neighborhood of a bustling North African city. In that tiny, sixth floor apartment, personal property and space are out of the question. She doesn’t have her own bedroom. In fact, there is only one bedroom for the entire family.

She usually attends school but spends her free time on the streets. She gets in trouble for bullying neighborhood kids. Her parents send her out of their way, but paradoxically rebuke her for spending too much time on the streets.

Her father is diabetic and doesn’t have a job. Her mother works herself to the bone six days a week. Her little brother follows her around and gets into everything.

To get anyone to listen to her, she has to yell. Sometimes, it’s just easier to hide. Once, she said, “I don’t like to live here. There are many bad people.”

Yet, she is loved. Despite the abstract and irregular displays of affection, her parents love her.

So what if you were Soukaina? Well, what if you were? What would your life look like? What choices would you make?

I’m not asking these questions so you can recognize your privileges or count your blessings. I’m asking you because looking at the world from someone else’s perspective makes you better capable of loving them.img_6093

30

Turning thirty is means that I have a fair amount of life under my belt. Instead of being sad that I am leaving the 20s behind, I’m pondering the things I would like to do during my 30th year. You might call it a bucket list. You might notimg_7258.

~See more parts of this North African country
~Finish language and culture study (well, the official stage anyway)
~Learn how to cook North African food
~Spend lots of time with family
~Meet my nephew and make him fall as in love with me as I am with him
~Renew friendships and relationships at home
~Gather the required paperwork for my resident visa
~Daily recognize my reliance upon One who loves me completely