Beirut, Arabic and strange, strange behavior.

This summer has been spent in a dorm room and classroom at the American University of Beirut.  I am doing an intensive summer Arabic program with 7 hours of class-time per day and 5 hours or so of homework each night.  On the side, I’m trying to get in shape for an upcoming wedding (mine!)..while Matt does lots of work in Boston and I send him tasks from this online wedding checklist i found (not proud of this one).

So I doubt the personal usefulness of this blog for those who enjoy personally relating to their reading. Not many gals go to a politically volatile nation for a summer to intensively learn for the weeks leading up to their own wedding.  I hope my thoughts on love, study and pride can still find meaning for you.

The shift: For those who’ve been longtime subscribers, you know how i get when I set foot on the ground in a new city.  First, I study what there is to see, then I go out and start with the “must-sees”, followed by “off-beat” things, usually with a random new friend from couch surfing.  I always get in trouble and have wild stories, and have had more near-death experiences than anyone should who is still in their mid-twenties.  But this time, it’s different.

Last night, a Friday in Beirut, my hallway was eerie — so quiet.  One girl remained, and was getting ready to go out around midnight to a local nightclub.  I remained, doing laundry and reading and skyping about wedding details with Matt.  What is wrong with me?  I think that my absolute 180 behavioral shift (from out and seeing, tasting, smelling every street and surrounding country to studying and praying) has come from 3 main areas:

1.) Love.  When you love, you do things very, very differently.  You desire things differently, you value things differently, you experience things differently.   Your priorities, hopes, needs and daily schedule is turned sideways and backwards as you navigate the rapids of loving someone, and it’s wonderful.  I find myself caring more about safety than I did before , caring more about serving Matt and less about just having a good time myself…More about thinking in terms of future (We can come back here together someday!) and less about getting as much as I can from this, now, here, in such a great place…  In short, it’s not just about me anymore and not about consuming as much as possible anymore.

Disclaimer: A lot of my adventures have been others-centered, service-oriented trips…but many were also hedonistic adventures.  There was a good mix.  And it’s not wrong to want to experience culture around you.  But there have been times I’ve known in my heart that I was doing something simply for myself and the photos I could take and things I could taste, and not for anyone’s benefit but my own.

 

2.) Learning: In college, I got in for free (whattt).  I wasn’t very interested in most things I learned, and I just wanted a degree.  Here, I’ve chosen to spend almost 5 thousand US buckaroos (my whole government stipend from a year of Americorps service) on this 7-week program so that my Arabic can get a jumpstart, so that I can serve people overseas in the hard places, so that I can understand my Muslim friends and their holy book more, so that I can relate to people who are different…I see the reasons clearer than I did in college.

I have not studied this hard in my life, and have probably never neglected so many other things before.  Some think it’s regrettable.  “Look at Beirut, its people, culture, food, etc… that is where the real experience is!”  I could not agree more.  But not now.  Now, going out and living life without focus on the work is like spending 5K on a vacation in a very icky dorm room.  NOW is a time for studying, preparation and focus, because that is how the program was crafted.  Thinking I need to fit in more outside the program now shows a little bit of a scarcity mentality: “What if I never get to see X?” And that is silly when we trust in God.

Finally, (many have prayed I would find this chapter): I am learning what the author meant in Ecclesiastes:

http://bible.cc/ecclesiastes/3-1.htm : “For everything there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven.”

Learning Arabic is easier when I think about the people who I hope to work with in the future.

3.) Pride and pleasing others: Beirut is a city that is absolutely beautiful, and is filled with the most beautiful people you can imagine.  The women, (and you can google this) are exquisitely decorated through extensive, various treatments, fancy outfits and detailed makeup (which is like artwork here).  They look amazing.  It leaves me feeling sometimes — well, weird.  I don’t look like them, have the time or money to spend to look like them, or the motive to look like them, but I still catch myself doing small things to change my appearance, or thinking about myself or my appearance more than usual.  I don’t love it.

Anyways, I read this morning: 

“What a weak comfort is the praise of men. Upon such a frail ledge do we mortals build our happiness. Consider: within but a few days after the Lycaonians attempted to worship Paul, they were congratulating themselves for having stoned him! (See Acts 14:11–19.) Consider: was it not the same city whose songs and praise welcomed Jesus as “King . . . gentle, and mounted on a donkey” (Matt. 21:5–9), that roared, “Crucify Him!” (Luke 23:21) less than one week later? To seek the praise of men is to be tossed upon such a sea of instability!

Part of the change this time overseas seems to be maturity I’ve gained since my early twenties.  I just don’t care as much anymore about facebook albums, stories to tell or even experiences to gather into my store of experience…God has given me a task for the summer (learn arabic while loving others) and I’m trying to get to know him more while I do it.  But there is so much immaturity remaining..the more I mature the more I can see how bad my own heart, apart from God, really is.

Now I pray against pride even as I type this, because I can see so much pride in my heart, and want so much for it to be gone — Will you pray for me to be protected from pride, particularly from caring what people think about me?   Let’s experience HIS glory, the King of the universe’s glory—–and everything else will begin to look “strangely dim”.

and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday.” : Isaiah 58:10.

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3 Comments

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3 responses to “Beirut, Arabic and strange, strange behavior.

  1. Jill Warren

    Dear Becca, I’m so blessed by your writing, the transparency of your heart is so refreshing and encouraging. Praising God for the season He has you in and my heart is taken to 1 Corinthians 13. Thank you for the reminder and challenge to seek the favor of God and not man.

  2. Matt Olson

    I second Jill’s comment about being blessed by your writing, Bec. Took a break from work to read your entry here: I love you more and more each day, and even though we’re distant and it makes things tougher – it was so fun to talk with you on Skype this weekend (and previous times!). :-) I cannot wait until you’re back in Boston – I miss you a ton! Although I know that you are definitely in Beirut for a purpose, so I am thankful for that.

    Those words from Ecclesiastes were one of the core messages of my 8th grade graduation: quoted from the song, “Turn! Turn! Turn!” by The Byrds. :-) Life definitely has many different times, events, circumstances, experiences – I pray that those experiences I’ve lived will be a blessing to others in the present and the future. I know that this statement is true of your life, Bec: I’m always encouraged by stories you share with me, by things God teaches you and ways in which He encourages you, and when I consider the big picture of your life and testimony. I find that circumstance and things in life so often lessen my own pride, because when things go good (from my perspective), they can still turn quickly and can seem tough; and, alternatively, when things haven’t been great, there are still blessings and ways in which God and others have encouraged me, and that is humbling, too.

    Thanks for writing everything! It’s a good reminder. I was just thinking last night about “living for the audience of One,” God our Father above. Praying for you today, and everyday.

    Love you so much! :-)

  3. Becca — I’ve been reading your writing ever since your college days. I’ve always admired your willingness to go to lengths for the Lord. If anything, the one thing I did not really like all the time is the times when you drifted into negativity. But I can see that in the time leading up to meeting Matt, God has really cleaned up a lot of that and you have experienced some significant spiritual growth. I see you becoming more and more like Christ. It is also clear from this blog that God is using Matt and the relationship to teach you even more about Him. Hey, I’m so happy for the two of you, and pray for the Lord’s blessing over your wedding planning and eventual marriage :-)

    I’m in the middle of wedding planning too myself — and I can vouch for having similar experience in that my relationship has taught me more about Christ that I wouldn’t have understood otherwise.

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