Sunday, October 8, 2017

The Pictures I Take

I have a sort of game I play in my mind. It's the #lifeinlebanon game. Every time I see a sight that would shock most Americans (and is shocking me all over again), I say to myself "Life in Lebanon". And I imagine posting it on social media.  I don’t actually take these pictures though…

The rats that scurry across our driveway.

The rat’s nest of electrical wires outside our window.

The rat poison in the food storage area of a restaurant where we just ate.

The dents and scratches that are multiplying on our car—we ask “where did that come from?!” and then we laugh at the insanity of our question.

The driving.

The driving.

The army with machine guns and sniper rifles just outside our door.

The men whose greedy eyes devour me like they own me.

The mosquito corpses on the bedroom ceiling who met their demise when I threw the Kleenex bag at them on my killing rampage—desperate for a night uninterrupted by buzzing and bites. Gotta get that ladder out soon to clean them off…

The mosquito spraying truck that assaults us as we walk along the sea—without warning—blasting its neurotoxins all over us, leaving us covering nose and mouth and running for cover.

The uneven sidewalks that will surely sprain my ankle one of these days.

The trash on the beach that I ask the kids to move before snapping a cute photo of them.


The photos I do take are of the sun melting into the sea, smiling kids, breakfast outings, and ice cream excursions. And I think that’s ok. Sometimes it’s harder to remember the good. Or maybe we just give it less attention. I need a photo of the good—maybe it is a way of “counting my blessings”.



Sour is the Arabic word for the city of Tyre



So we are adjusting to life here again, and it’s been a little more challenging than I thought it would be. Fifteen months the kids and I were away from our home here. And the sweet little house in Washington became quite home again, so the returning has been a bit jarring. Yet I have been, day-by-day, finding the joy (and sometimes the humor) in it all. 



The source of joy, though, is not in learning to make the best of things. Not even in finally being reunited with my husband. The joy comes from the total assurance that I am loved by my Lord and am exactly where He has placed me. And when my husband meets with soul-hungry, devastated people and tells them of Life and Hope… I absolutely know that I am right where I should be. I know that I get to be a little part of the work the Lord is doing in bringing His children to Himself.

So I think I will keep taking the pictures of the good. Because it is very good that we are here.



Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Five Years and the All-Sufficiency of Love



This five-year mark sort of tip-toed up and surprised me. Life is so very different than it was when he died. And so consumingly busy. 

Five years? That’s half the time we were married. I was a baby when I married Chris. Twenty-one. Naïve but so very in love. I didn’t know how painful life could get and believed truly that “all you need is love.”

And I’m here to say that it is all you need—I wasn't wrong! Because what I learned is that although it is sometimes sweet and easy, loving is a choice—it’s work. And receiving it the way it’s offered also takes determined effort—and in the exciting moments, it takes you so off-guard and surprises you so blissfully that you feel you might bubble over. Love is hard, and it's beautiful.

And how much I changed during those years of marriage to a good man! How I grew and understood life and love more deeply. He chipped away at my hard spots, and I filed away his rough edges. We fought and made up, cried and laughed. But always, we loved.

Then when God gave us another…
Erika was THRILLED to see daddy and keeps giving him the flirty eyes - the kind that melt his heart and make him want to wake her out of a sound sleep to get one more cuddle and one more giggle. This morning, I looked at Chris and Erika together and got choked up. My heart feels so full. The two people I love most in the world both in the same room with me. Nothing else seems to matter. God has blessed our family so enormously. We have grown spiritually in this, as well as together as a family. We have felt the comfort of our Father in many ways. We never felt alone.
(from a journal entry in August 2010, after a two-week separation)

But then he was gone. We were settled into life and ministry and family. It was all feeling natural and good and pure. Nevertheless, he was swept up into heaven itself on March 1, 2012—leaving me a single mother in a cold world. So very far from his sweet and gentle self.

Was it all over for me—for my daughter? Did I get the short end of the stick in this life? My friends still had their husbands and their 2.5 children. I wanted that too! Was Chris my soulmate and my one chance at happiness?

All you need is love.

The deep, deep love of Jesus swept over me and filled me up. His peace reminded me of all the promises to the broken-hearted. He counseled me so gently—it was as if he held me on his lap, smoothed my hair, wrapped His arms around me and whispered sweet comforts of His love into my ear. I collapsed and sobbed into Him. It was enough. And all I truly needed.

Then to top it all (joy of joys!) this Jesus gave me another good man—and more children. I am called to the sweet and hard act of love once again. It is not over! That death was an intermission. An imposed break and change of scenes—as devastatingly painful as it was. I am forever grateful for that first act.


So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love. 


And so today, I rejoice in love. Of my fellow mankind. But most of all, that of my great and loving Savior and Provider.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Post Trauma

When the morning comes too soon and brings with it overwhelming (for me—right now) responsibilities, and I slept so lightly and woke so often that I wonder if I actually slept at all… I have a choice. And today I chose to walk in the rain. Not like most mornings where I sit in my bathrobe and hope the coffee performs some kind of magic.

Lately, I sit a lot. I still do the things and make the food, but I return always to my spot on the couch. And knit. Knit like a maniac. Knitting has all kinds of metaphors for life and trials. And it is a coping strategy for me. It helps me get my balance. Knitting is great for the soul but a little rough on the body. And I wonder whether all that inactivity is the cause for my poor sleep. Or something. Well, it’s worth a shot, anyway.


I’ve been sick—the same kind of sick I was after Chris died. And I feel the same kind of gut-wrench I felt after Chris died. I can’t sleep—just like after Chris died. And I find myself reliving the horrors of that time. What does being detained in a Middle Eastern airport (read the story here)—without your passport or your freedom—have to do with your husband dying? Why am I having trouble separating the two? Is this the thing they call PTSD? Is the airport trauma a “trigger” that brings the dead husband trauma back with all the freshness? A scab torn off. Blood gushes again from that healed wound. Maybe yes, but recognizing that doesn’t stop the guilty feelings. Buck up, Emily. Your kids are safe. You’re safe. No one died. You’re over-reacting. You’ll see your husband soon. And you can talk to him often! And remember, people are probably thinking you’re lazy.

But I feel like I can’t move! So very tired. So very heartsick.



But back to the walk… Just after I start on that good-idea walk, I am terrorized by a German shepherd. He’s fenced; but he’s jumping, growling, salivating. He is Enemy. Devil. How very familiar. He wants me—I see the hunger in his eyes and hear the desire in his bark. And suddenly, he nearly makes it over the fence! His body straddles the top and writhes to get to me, and his barking gets more ferocious—frantic. My heart clenches. I know this is it. I’m gonna be mauled right here. Because, why not? It seems fitting, maybe. Finally, he loses his battle. His back legs drop down into his yard. Tears drop down out of my eyes. But he’s still revved up from the nearness of his escape. His attack. I walk quickly—run—to vacate his territory. And my heart doesn’t loosen for a very long time.

This walk was a bad idea.

I feel like I’m having a heart attack. Maybe I really am.

It’s raining. It always rains here. It’s sunny where Scotty is.

He will go to sleep soon. It’s his night.

What happens when I have to walk past that dog’s yard on my way back? I should report this to the police. Why don't I carry pepper spray? Why isn’t there any other way out of this neighborhood? 

Why isn’t there any other way out of the hardness of this life?

What’s happened? How did I get here? I don’t even recognize myself.

My hands are so cold.

This walk is much nicer when my man is with me. I miss him.

I miss Minnesota. The leaves there... they SING. They're so drab here.

I walk down the cedar tree-lined tunnel that we love. But I can’t find the love. Those trees don’t smell so lovely. There is no sun to peek through the green. And I ache for my husband. Maybe both of my husbands.

But then I see some beauty. A tree ablaze. And one whose leaves are both cherries and lemons. The self-satisfaction of having chosen (and first, made) a warm handknit for my head. Bluegrass through my earbuds. And wait…is that a break in the clouds?



My head is clearing. A walk was a good idea. And now I can see a bit better the care my God has for me in this hard spot. I don’t understand even my feelings about it—much less the divine purposes in it—but I can say with the Psalmist,
I was pushed hard, so that I was falling, but the Lord helped me. The Lord is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation. (Psalm 118:13-14)


But oh, I have to grip that. When I don’t feel the strength and the song, I remind Him that He has promised—and He must do.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Denied and Detained

October 3rd. We finally made it! A several week delay (waiting on a visa) made us relieved and grateful to have arrived. As we landed, we shared excited smiles and grabbed our stuff from overhead bins and tried to be patient as we waited to de-board. Erika double-checked with me, "So I get to sleep in my cozy bed tonight?" I grinned, "Yep." The long hours of travel made us long for those beds but didn't stop Erika from bouncing with excitement in her seat by the window. She's a good little traveler. I looked over at the boys. They rubbed the sleep out of their eyes but smiled across the aisle at us. I held my husband's hand tightly. We made it!

We had talked again and again about how thankful we were to have an easier entry this year, as compared to last year. A house all set up for us. Clean and ready. We'd slip right in, and the kids would be back in school in a day or two. And we were well on our way to obtaining the residency permit for which we'd prayed a year! It was all coming together.  We did the hard work last year, and now we would enjoy the fruits of all that labor.

We walked quickly through the airport, wrestling our rolling carry-ons down stairs. No escalators or elevators to be found anywhere in this airport. But we didn't mind. We were home. Big kids helped little kids as we hurried on.

We reached immigration. My husband proudly showed his visa number. He was sent to buy a stamp. I stood as the officer busily flipped through our passports and clicked on his keyboard. I smiled at the kids and told them it wouldn't be long 'til we were in bed. We fretted a bit that maybe all our luggage did not make it from London due to the short layover.

Then there was a problem. The man told my husband, "You can enter Lebanon but your wife and children cannot." Surely my ears didn't hear that. Maybe my infantile Arabic was way too rusty, and I didn't hear what I thought I heard. This will not all end a nightmare, right?

I heard correctly.

We begged and pleaded and asked why. But there were no answers. This "home" now looked hostile and dirty. Compassionless. The government became a chasm between my husband and us. He was going in. We were being detained. There was a room upstairs for us. Until they could get us out of their country in the morning. "No, your husband cannot come. You need to say goodbye here." He would work inside to bring us in.

In my naiveté, I was sure that night or the next day would bring reunification. It would all be sorted out soon.

We were rushed. Forced to say goodbye in front of fifty or more people. The tears burned. I held the hug long. In his ear, I whisper-begged for him to find a way to get us home. Erika sobbed. The boys stared, dumbfounded.

And then the kids and I followed the man in the uniform. A long way. "Put your bags on the belt." X-ray. Down another long hall. The tears in my eyes blurred my vision. This CANNOT be happening. Wake up, Emily. You're having a dream. Again, "bags on the belt." This time, they woke from their boredom to go through my bag and discuss about my knitting needles. After much discussion, "Ok, I guess you can go."

Finally we reached this "hospitality suite." A locked holding room with fluorescent lights that are perpetually on. So they can watch us all night. A carpeted floor that is so disgustingly filthy that I cringe to let our bags touch it. And navy blue loveseats and chairs that disguise the stains that are surely there. Cigarette butts nestle in the cracks. Dirt, body odor, and stale cigarette smoke sears my nostrils. Midnight. Here, at least. No sleep for I don't know how long.

Somehow, Erika and Luke didn't see the bad. They were thrilled to have their "own little couch" to sleep on. Bless them.

And things could not get worse. Oh wait...where is my phone? It's here. It's gotta be here. No, it's not here. IT'S NOT HERE! I knew where it was. In all the panic, I knew I left in on the chair of that smoky immigration office. What is wrong with my brain? How could I forget it? I can't even think. This can't be happening!

The guard was quite unconcerned. I told Zack we were going to be a pebble in his shoe until he dealt with us on this. And we were. And what would I have done without Zack? In this male-dominant, Arabic-speaking society, I was sunk. He was mature beyond his years, protecting and speaking for me.  If only his dad could have seen him. He would have been so proud.

Well our nagging worked. My phone was finally found and returned (two hours later). I laughed and cried and hugged Zack. I could not make calls in Lebanon, but the phone is of monetary value (especially there), and I could use it to connect to wifi.

And then...again with the knitting needles. "Get them out. We are going to hold on to them until morning. Maybe we will give them back to you tomorrow." Zack thinks it is a cat-and-mouse game between them and Heathrow security. They want to catch London letting something through that they shouldn't. Little dogs trying to catch big dogs. And I'm caught in their game. Just give me the needles so I can knit and keep my sanity for this terrible night I have to spend here! 

Well, no knitting needles; but I had my kids, my Bible and some dirty furniture. I read to them Psalm 23, 61 and 62. I sang "Jesus Loves Me." I'm a little one too. We're all little ones. And Jesus loves us. The kids settled in, with shirts over their eyes, and slept. I saw they were cold and dug through the bags in search of WARM. I watched over them. Kept guard. Prayed. Nursed my heartache and loneliness.

Scotty figured out how to call the airport and get transferred to where I was, and we talked! And he told my sister how to do the same. I almost fell over when I heard her voice. What a gift to be connected with my heart-loves when I felt so alone. I also was able to log into 30 minutes of free wifi to send SOS messages to family and friends.

At 5:00 AM, the guard came in and told me we had to get out. We could not wait here. Believe me, I do not want to wait in this pit! British Airways would fly us out at 8:30 that morning. Oh, and "You or your son can go get breakfast and bring it back here for the kids."

Nope. I'm done with this. We are going WITH OUR BAGS down to the coffee cafe. We will sit at the table like normal people and eat. Not in here like dogs. Come on, kids. We are going. 

And during that breakfast, two of these four exhausted kids broke down and cried. They missed their dad, their beds. And they missed being able to count on things. I cried right along with them.

I insisted on waiting OUTSIDE the locked room to be escorted to our gate. The time came, and we were. Our passports changed hands from the security officer to British Airways staff. And when the door on the airplane was closed, I received the five passports back. No longer a security risk. Free again.

London was freedom and luxury and compassion. Booked on a flight back to Seattle the next day, I found us a hotel and bought us dinner. We couldn't get to those clean beds fast enough. We slept (not that restfully), and we were relieved to be on our way to HOME and familiar and love and rest.

We nearly fell into Matt and Dowmie's arms in Seattle. I felt numb.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Four Years


I’m unsure what to write. Even what to feel.

Four years. This year, it seems so far removed. A life, a love, that is not mine. Was he ever mine? It feels a distant memory. THIS life, this new love, is so very encompassing and lovely that it leaves me whirling. How can I have loved two men with my whole soul?

Four years ago today, I watched my husband’s chest rise for the last time. (What? Did that really happen?) The moment I prayed would come, came. His misery was finally ended. For once, he was not left behind for the pain that tortured his body. He went ahead. Straight into the arms of Jesus. It was very good. But it hurt really, really bad.

So I stumbled my way through life as a widow and single mother. I was an amputee—as C.S. Lewis so perfectly describes it. Limping along without my leg. I had to learn to walk without it. People held me up and did things for me—but I just wanted my leg back. Oh Chris, I missed you so badly!

And then, God gave me another partner—one with whom to walk and share burdens and life and fellowship and JOY. And suddenly, I didn’t feel like an amputee anymore. I felt whole. I could walk. Even run.

Oh, we have our aches. I will perhaps always ache that Erika can’t really remember much about her first daddy who was crazy in love with her. And I have a sort of happy sorrow when I say a phrase Chris always used to say—and he feels close for a moment.

But now I am on the other side of the world. My life is radically changed from four years ago. But from my Life, part I, I have a Lord that does not change, a daughter that amazes me each day, and family and friends who’ve got my back and are praying and cheering me on.

I am filled up. I am madly in love with my new husband, our new life, our big family. But I miss Chris and wonder what our life would look like now if he was still here (not a profitable exercise, in case you’re wondering). A friend once told me (after losing her fiancée and later marrying another man) that she wishes his accident never would have happened, but she would not change a thing. I think a truer thing has never been spoken.

So really, what I mostly want to say is that God knows best. I can’t even navigate my own feelings. But HE knows. And somehow, I got to be the wife of two of the most amazing men I’ve ever met.


Chris, thank you for loving me fully and teaching me with your life how to be wholly devoted to Christ and submitted to His will. You have left a deep mark on me, and I will never be the same. I am forever thankful for Life, Part I.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

A Little While


The worst sandstorm in eighty years. And an oddity this time of year. Just when it seemed things could not possibly get any more difficult.

Living—no, surviving—in discomfort. Heat, humidity, grime. Bare fluorescent bulbs hang over our heads because electricity is little and fleeting. Nothing familiar. Missing all that was. Trying to find beauty but seeing ugliness.

No place to call mine and to make beautiful—to be an oasis in a hard land.


Calls to prayer blast into the bedroom and wake us before we want to face another day of hard things.

Questions. They come. And accusations threaten. They shake the bars that I erected against blasphemy. Their words echo and seep into my heart. They haunt.

Where is God?

Where is comfort?

Where is provision?

Where is mercy?

What about the kids who suffer for their parents’ calling?

Will you never give us a home? A sweet place?

What do I do when I don’t FEEL truth? I was full of faith in a mighty God who would provide. I KNEW He would provide. I still KNOW He will provide. But I don’t FEEL He will provide. There seems to be no end to the misery. The instability. The unknowns. The heat. The sand. The always-hungry kids.

In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. I Peter 1:6-7

And I read wisdom from my ever-faithful counselor, CH Spurgeon:

If you would reach to something higher than ordinary groveling experience, look the Rock that is higher than you, and gaze with the eye of faith through the window of consistent prayer. When you open the window on your side, it will not be bolted on the other. (Morning, September 9)

And so that is all. I know truth. I know this is a “little while” and “necessary” and will result in the glorification of the Servant King. I must remain faithful and slam the door against scandalous thoughts. I run to my Rock and spill out my hurts to a loving Father and wait. Feel Him hold me and tell me, “a little while, darling.”