When asked what I wanted to do for my 30th birthday this year, I came up with about a billion ideas (including but not limited to going skydiving or taking our annual birthday trip to the beach) but after a bit of reflection settled on the idea of an 80's dance party. I told my husband and my best friend (who I knew were in cahoots with each other to surprise me) about a dozen times and I just knew that after the last year of craziness - this would be the one moment I could put myself first and dance away all of my frustrations and troubles amongst friends and family.
As the week drew closer our family experienced a great tragedy with the loss of my brother in law and I insisted that everything be cancelled. After all, it was not a time for celebration. My big day arrived and as I sat amongst family in that chapel, mourning over our loss at the funeral, I prayed to forget this year ever happened. Too many heartaches have all been compiled into these last 12 months, too many people running for the hills in our time of need, and I just couldn't take any more.
I pulled myself together and told myself that my missions trip to Lebanon, the country my great grandparents had immigrated from a little over a hundred years ago - while it wasn't in celebration of my life or anything I have done - would be the perfect getaway for such a grueling time.
I would be spending every waking moment (and even the moments I wish I was sleeping) giving back to a land where many of my ancestors lived and I welcomed the busy distraction.
No tragedies, no dealing with misguided assumptions of my dreams or my character, no being taken for granted for all of the many ways I give until it hurts, no being left behind or abandoned or feeling invisible, no sitting and waiting for prayers to be answered after months or years of waiting.
So, I packed my bags with one expectation... escaping it all... and off I went.
And there in the midst of a land unknown, a place riddled with tragedy of it's own, I found something I never expected to find.
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The first day of our trip we spent giving manicures to Syrian refugees that had been camped in the Bekaa Valley, just seven miles from the Syrian border.
When we asked these beautiful Muslim women what we could pray for them at the end of our time together, one by one they each asked to return to their families in Syria. Return to the land that had caused so much pain because no matter the hurt it was still home. Some women cried speaking of their husbands and brothers still fighting in the war, some stared at their young infants while talking with us, but all of them were unified in their request. To go home to a place they felt they belonged.
I realized then just how meaningless all of my troubles were in comparison.
How they were forced to live in tents without even so much as schooling for their children if it weren't for the incredible team at "House of Love" that had made it their mission to intervene.
And while I too was in a season of transition and battling my own feelings of not belonging, these women banded together and were each other's strength through the hardest season of their lives. How beautiful was their community.
And I knew that God had given me a small tribe of my own. Just a small handful of women who I knew were in my corner, and I grew exceedingly thankful for His grace in my life.
The first half of Day two of our trip was spent setting up for the conference that we were hosting for the Lebanese women serving in ministry. It was incredible to go through all of the items donated to bless these women and as the time came closer for them to arrive, my thoughts shifted toward what God would have me say to them as I was to lead the session that night.
Psalm 126 kept repeating over and over in my heart and I prepared to share about sowing through tears and in the unseen places, knowing that God would reward the work of our hands.
Just before my session there was a time for coffee and snacks on the veranda and our conversation quickly turned into joyous laughter. And then, before I could truly grasp what was happening, a large circle formed and the women began dancing around (grabbing our hands to join in) to the sound of the Arabic music now playing through the sound system.
We laughed and danced for almost an hour. It was the highlight of this past year by far, and all that came to mind was how faithful yet again our God is as all I wanted for my birthday was to dance among friends.
The dancing was wrapped up and as we entered the conference room to start my session I mentioned to the leader of our trip how fulfilling it was to dance as I spent my birthday in a much different place than expected, and she asked me to share that with the ladies. So to begin the session, I thanked them for the experience and briefly shared of why it meant so much. And then I cried because saying out loud even a small glimpse of what I have been going through made it all the more real just how much I needed to dance my cares away.
I looked at the women through tear-filled eyes and without missing a beat they began singing to me. All at once as if it was rehearsed they sang me "Happy Birthday" and I would love to say that I held it together but I didn't. I sobbed.
How faithful is our God.
I pulled myself together enough to share with the women that night and as the evening came to a close many of the women found me in the room, hugged me, and told me how "special" I was to them. "Habibi" they called me, which means "dear one". I smiled and thanked them and knew I would never forget this night. God gave me my surprise party after all.
The following day we had many sessions with the women encouraging them and giving them resources to grow as women and as leaders in the places God had placed them. The laughter could be heard all throughout the hotel and it sounded like freedom. Freedom from expectations, freedom from guilt, and freedom from being asked to be anything other than God created us to be. The evening service was about to begin and suddenly the lights were switched off and a group of women paraded in with a birthday cake.
I was a bit thrown off my the interruption and turned to the young girl sitting next to me to ask, "whose birthday is it?" And she smiled as she said, "it's yours".
(Yes this is the video from that night, and yes it is sideways when you play it, and yes it is massive, but I honestly can't figure out how to fix it so just tilt your head and enjoy my awkwardness and my joy/tears!)
Only God could have known that it was exactly what I needed. How wanted and loved it would make me feel. How I had not even received so much as a birthday card from some I have spent years with but these women who I had known for all of one day thought it right to use their free time to travel into town and buy a cake for me despite already singing me happy birthday the night before. Only God could have known.
After cutting the cake I stood in the hallway, out of the line of sight for the women gathered in the room, and cried unrelenting tears.
God had heard Every. Little. Thing. I had spoken.
Every desire of my heart. Right down to the skydiving and beach trip which He redeemed with a gondola ride and getting to visit the Mediterranean Sea.
I do not share my stories to say how this missions trip was solely about me. Believe me, God did so much through this incredible team that I do not have the mental capacity (as I am sure you do not either) to add it to this post but I assure you that I will continue to write of my experiences there of what God has done. I just needed to start off by sharing how faithful our God is. How He IS a rewarder of those who commit their lives to do right even in the unseen places. And how His answer ALWAYS exceeds what we are praying and believing for.
So be encouraged. If you are in the midst of a crazy season and your prayers feel like they are piling up, you can trust God to hear "every little thing". Do not give up faith or hope as I had. And maybe just maybe, sign up to go on a missions trip or start serving in a local ministry and just see what God will do.
After all scripture does say that "A generous person will prosper; whoever refreshes others will be refreshed." (Proverbs 11:25)
Hebrews 11:1-6 "Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for. By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible. By faith Abel brought God a better offering than Cain did. By faith he was commended as righteous, when God spoke well of his offerings. And by faith Abel still speaks, even though he is dead. By faith Enoch was taken from this life, so that he did not experience death: 'He could not be found, because God had taken him away.' For before he was taken, he was commended as one who pleased God. And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to Him must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him."
Psalm 37:3-6 "Trust in the Lord and do good; dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture. Take delight in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord; trust in Him and He will do this: He will make your righteous reward shine like the dawn, your vindication like the noonday sun."