On the day Justin and I were scheduled to leave, things were not good in Cairo. There was a massive amount of violence; many people were killed, and many more injured in bloody exchanges. We wondered if we would even be able to come. Justin’s parents, with whom we were staying at the time, declared it a Justin & Kirsten benefit day–code for “you tell us what you need today and we’ll do our best to make it happen.” We went out to lunch at our favorite local restaurant, they listened patiently to us as we cried, and my darling mother-in-law and I went to see “The Butler.” If you haven’t seen it, I do recommend it. It begins with a Martin Luther King, Jr. quote that I love so much:
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
It struck me as I sat in the dark theatre in the middle of Indiana, with my mind so distracted by the events in a far off place. My prayer that day was that light and love would radiate not just in Cairo, but in all of those places in the world yearning for peace, justice, and mercy.
Fast forward ten days, to my 31st birthday. Ten days ago, I didn’t think I would be able to be here. And yet, here we are, gaining confidence and comfort daily. Already growing to love a city that is crazy, loud, dusty, crowded, and beautiful. There’s still uncertainty. There’s still a curfew, though it doesn’t start until 9:00 now. We still watch the news anxiously and pay very close attention to what is happening around the city. BUT…there are so many ways I see light shining, love radiating. There are so many ways that give me hope and so many things that make me smile. So, on my 31st birthday, a smattering of things that made me smile today, some from Cairo, some from around the whole world. And yes, some are ridiculously silly, but it’s my birthday and I’ll smile at what I want to, thank you very much.
In no particular order:
1. Walking down the street this afternoon and seeing a young couple, she carrying a tiny baby, he carrying what looked to be a hospital bag. I assume they were coming home from the hospital, cradling this new life in their hands. Perhaps new parents, uncertain about what exactly to do, full of hope for this precious life. I said a prayer for them as I walked. And I smiled.
2. The little boy who bounced behind me, begging his mom to let him pet Tenney. “She’s friendly,” I said, and the mother granted permission. Curls bouncing and smile beaming, he patted her, and then continued to bounce down the street ahead of us, Toy Story shoes joyfully hitting the paving stones.
3. Laughing heartily at lunch at witty comments made by Justin’s new colleagues.
4. Seeing the life and movement at St. Andrew’s as I passed on the bus this morning on the way out to campus with Justin.
5. A working mobile phone.
6. A bank account.
7. A whole bunch of young men squished together, riding in the back of a pick up truck. It looks terrifying (and don’t worry, Mom, I won’t try this), and yet there’s something about it that makes me smile.
8. Looking up and seeing stars and feeling the evening breeze.
9. Orange trees and gorgeous flowers.
10. Walking with Justin & Tenney as the neighborhood shuts down before curfew. And laughing at the way she gets so excited when she sees a cat. And she sees a lot of cats.
11. Stimulating conversations with brilliant people.
13. Red wine that’s actually not too bad.
14. Looking across the table at the man who I share this wild and crazy life with and feeling an immense, amazing amount of love.
15. FaceTiming with my dad to wish him happy birthday, too.
16. A very sweet e-mail from my father-in-law.
17. A birthday e-mail from my favorite sister-in-law in the whole world.
18. A virtual hug from my mother-in-law.
19. My mom e-mailing me scanned cards because we haven’t quite figured out the best way to get mail here.
20. Knowing that my sister is home safely from her trip to Peru. And that she had an amazing time.
21. Facebook messages and text messages from friends and family around the world.
22. Seeing my dear friend Molly’s IMDB listing for the movie she was in. The movie was pretty ridiculous (sorry, Molly, but it’s true), but it’s pretty cool to see her name on IMDB.
23. My friend, Jason’s, awesome list, 7 Ways to Connect with a Christianity that Doesn’t Suck, that starts with “1] Don’t Read Posts With Lists In Them.” It’s okay, J, I did it, too.
24. The bawwab (doorman) down the street who loves Tenney, and now waves every time we walk by, even if she’s not with us.
25. Sharing an afternoon soda with a new friend with a fascinating story to share.
26. Colleagues, near and far.
27. The incredible religious architecture in this city. I am amazed at the beauty and, then even more so, when I think about how old some of it is. Churches and mosques, both, absolutely beautiful.
28. Turning down a street and knowing exactly where I am.
29. The students in the lobby playing “Risk.”
30. “Welcome to Egypt,” heard again and again by incredibly hospitable Egyptians from all walks of life.
31. This silly dog, obviously starting to feel at home, too.
As Justin and I waited for our dinner, we laughed thinking about what a difference a year makes. When I turned 30, I had no inkling that by the time I was 31, I would be living in another country, learning a new language, figuring out what it means to be a pastor in an international congregation. It’s surprising and new, yes. And it’s good.
My hope for this year is that, in spite of all of the ups and downs that will surely come, I can continue to see light shining through darkness and love driving out hate. And if I can keep seeing those things, it will be a pretty good year.