One Month In Lebanon

The day I am writing this post marks one month from when we were sitting in Sky Harbor Airport in Phoenix ready to leave, but stuck in limbo. Writing this update brings perspective to our time so far. It feels like we have been here a year, and it feels like we have been here a day. It’s a paradox! Don’t worry, this is not a Yuck Duck post. Great things are happening that we want to share with you.

We Are Pleased To Report…

Davy is doing amazingly! He is adapting well and back to learning like a rabbit, with great energy, enthusiasm, and speed. He is already able to say words in French, Arabic, and of course English. When he is tired he asks for a nap! When he needs a diaper he tells us. He can count to 2 now! If asked how old he is he holds up one finger and says, “One!” So Cute, So Smart. He is still in love with Jesus and God and prays by himself as well as reading his storybook Bibles by himself. His main prayers right now are to ask God for a cat and a car. He misses going for drives with us. He also thinks that getting a car will mean we can go visit people back in the States. He misses people a lot, and often asks about them by name, which shows an excellent memory, too. There are so many cute things he does that it is impossible to name them all. Make sure you check out the page on our blog filled with pictures of him. The newest ones are pictures of him at Four Corners, playing with Rami here in Lebanon, and playing in our apartment.

Language Learning is going fantastically! We have a language teacher that is coming to our apartment four hours a week (soon we will be increasing to six hours a week) to teach us. We are so blessed by her, and we thank God for her on many levels. First, her mentality is the same as ours, to learn what we need to get into conversations ASAP. Secondly, we get to keep Davy at home with us because she comes to our house during his naptimes. Third, she is a believer and she is amazingly nice and understanding and sweet. These short sentences do not even put into words how glad we are to have Abla as our teacher. Please take some time today (and any day you think of it) to praise the Lord for her, too!

In addition to this private tutoring, we have been able to begin work on our language route. We have made several great connections within our neighborhood. Our apartment sits right above quite a few shops, so we are using them to begin our route. As we said before we are taking our time to work up to our goal of going every day to practice Arabic with our neighbors. Now we have several shop owners (the snack shop below us, the dollar shop across the street, the “pizza” bakery, the produce stand just down the street, and a second “pizza” bakery across the main road just past our immediate neighborhood, and just further than that the grocery store has a few people who regularly help us practice our food words) giving us approximately ten people. In addition we are beginning to go to the Refugee Center and work with the Horizons team there, so we are able to practice some with them, too. Soon we will have enough conversational capability to share what we want to practice with people so they can help us.

Prayer Requests

Louis and I have been extremely hard on ourselves over the past month. We have not handled the unrelenting stress well. Please pray that we will be able to step away from the bombardment of culture, decisions, noise, time, and the 6,724 tabs open in our heads at all times to spend time with the Lord. Pray also that we would show ourselves the same grace that God has shown us. We are doing well, and we sometimes don’t see that. As I wrote at the beginning of this post, writing this puts it all into perspective. It has only been a month and we have done so much! It has only been a month, and we have many routines in place. It has only been a month and we are able to play with our healthy baby boy! With that in mind, continue to pray for healing of our hearts. Our grief in almost losing Davy has compounded our feelings of guilt and failure and loneliness. Thank you for all of your encouragement, prayers, and love. Please feel free to Skype and email us any time.

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The Day I Forgot The Rules Of Movies -Written by Louis

It was last Saturday when our team leader was helping us load all 10 of our bags into his car in route to our new apartment in Beirut, when he said, “I still can’t believe you carried all of this through the cobblestone streets of Rome for an hour at 1 in the morning looking for your hotel.” “It was probably the worst day of our lives,” I replied. He responded, “May it remain so.” Now any average film viewer knows that there are some cardinal rules to film such as: Never say, “Well at least it can’t get any worse,” lest you are immediately thrust plot first into an onslaught of tragedy. Little did I know that my declaration that our initial Rome experience was the most extreme stress we had ever encountered would jettison us into the actual worst day of our lives.

It was the trip from Heaven, which is to say that it was the trip from hell continually shown to be under the protective authority of God. It began by us realizing in Phoenix that our initial scale was inaccurate and our bags were extremely overweight. Annie’s dad was quick to jump to the rescue and help us move all of our heavy items to carry-ons which are never weighed at check-in. So we arrived at Sky Harbor Airport at 8:00 AM on Monday morning for a 10:45 AM departure only to find out that our plane was delayed for two hours. This meant that we were able to go have breakfast with our parents allowing them unexpected time with Davey that was greatly appreciated. We returned to the airport and loaded our bags only to be informed that our plane was broken, had to be flown to LAX and then to Toronto to be repaired returning to Phoenix at 8:00 PM for boarding. We were blessed with meal vouchers and so ate at the airport for free and we found a play place for Davey to spend the day waiting, though he was too stressed to eat or drink much. Then we were told that the plane was non-repairable and we were being transported to a new airline, rerouted to London, and would miss a whole day of our two day stay in Rome arriving there at 10 PM Tuesday. We e-mailed our bed and breakfast in the center of Rome to inform them and they told us the last thing we heard from them before boarding the overnight plane to London was that our new arrival time would force them to cancel our reservation. 10 hours later we touched down in London and began to try and contact the hotel owner, who did not speak English, over a payphone using credit card #1. We tried calling three times before our card was frozen having not informed the credit card company we were being rerouted to London. We then looked up on the board and saw that the connecting flight was also delayed so we rushed to the counter to see if we could get an earlier flight only to be told that the flight was not delayed but boarding right then in another terminal. After a mad rush we jumped on board at the last minute and landed four hours later in Rome at 10 PM.

We got on the phone with the hotel owner who said that he would hold the reservation for one hour. We picked up all of our luggage including 3 checked bags (50 lbs each), 3 carry on bags (30-40 lbs each), 2 backpacks (40 lbs each), a diaper bag, a car seat, and a stroller then rushed to catch the last train of the night to the center of town. We got off at the terminal at midnight and the Google Map 15 minute walk from the station to our hotel began to lengthen as paved roads quickly turned into cobblestones, sidewalks began to disappear, road signs became non-existent, and two carry-on bags broke their wheels. An hour later we arrived at the front of an apartment building in an ancient monastic section with one buzzer with the name of our hotel. Annie was in tears as we stood outside and rang the bell only to receive no response. Rang it again, no response. Time after time we buzzed the door at 1 AM with no answer. Finally a group of bikers in leather jackets came over and helped us call the number on the booking sheet. At last the owner came down yelling in broken English, “Why did you not tell me you had a baby!? I can’t have a baby staying in this room! You have too many bags, you can’t stay here with this many bags!” He eventually allowed us to come up on the condition that Davey makes no noise at all. We set Davey down in the room, and he took two steps back into a shelf corner and began to scream uncontrollably. After an hour of yelling in Italian and English from the owner and my child we all go to sleep in our bed.

We woke up the next morning to a group of Germans staying in the closely adjacent rooms who informed us that they were in no way bothered by Davey and were glad he got some rest. He could sense our anxiety and so had trouble eating and drinking that day as well. We left early with one bag and one stroller to see all of Rome in a day, and indeed we did! We went to the Coliseum, Palatine Hill, the Forum, Trevi Fountain, 5 Oblilisks, the Pantheon, Piazza Navona, St. Angelo’s Castle, the Vatican Museums, the Sistine Chapel, and St. Peter’s Basilica. We hopped on the Metro to head home when we realized how close we were to the Spanish Steps so hopped off and I climbed all the way up to the church at the top of the steps which had a service in progress. After taking a moment of reflection I began to head down only to find that my wallet had been stolen. We then began retraced our steps and discovered it had been taken by a questionable 55 year old woman on the crowded Metro who pushed through to get on at one stop and off at the next. After a considerable amount of directions from half a dozen locals we were able to locate the police station and call Visa to cancel Credit Card #2 on the only phone in the station. The American number on the back of the card wouldn’t connect internationally from the landline, but thankfully the officer happened to have the number for Visa International with whom I was connected but who had no information related to my American account. The woman was kind enough to transfer me to American Visa while the officers yelled at me in Italian to get off their only phone. The American Visa people had to transfer me to my credit union who was of course closed, but I was able to contact stolen cards and cancel the card causing us to only be out of pocket $200, a driver’s license, and some Harkins gift cards. We finished the day at the top of the Spanish Steps overlooking the city of Rome at sunset.

I exchanged the last of our saved money at the hotel for taxi fare to save our luggage and our marriage after the previous “15 minute walk” from the hotel to the station. We arrived at the airport three hours early only to discover at check-in that when our tickets were transferred from Air Canada to British Airways, Davey’s lap-infant ticket under my name did not transfer. After an hour of the lady talking on the phone she began to take a good look at our luggage and correctly assumed that our carry-on bags were overweight, our stroller was too large, and our car seat wouldn’t be allowed. An hour later we had rearranged all our weight and even found a service that could shrink wrap two of the bags together. An hour after that we had paid the fees at the counter that was still using carbon copies for credit cards. The lady eventually scribbled something on our tickets and we ran through the “dear God please help us, we’re about to miss our flight” security and hopped on the bus that took us to our plane that after the tickets were transferred over no longer had us sitting together. Thank God for Arabs who had no patience for this inconvenience and moved us around three times until we got a row together to ourselves.

Four hours later we landed in Beirut. We breezed through immigration, which was a nightmare last time, and they didn’t check any of our bags at customs. We were picked up by an old friend and taken to the apartment of our team leaders, Pierre & Gigi. Davey promptly laid down in his car seat and fell asleep having not eaten or drank well for the previous four days only to wake up at 2 AM, crawl into bed with us, and throw up everything in his stomach. He spent the next day screaming as four new teeth came in, and he continued to throw up two more times at various places in Pierre & Gigi’s home every time we put anything in his body. He woke up the next morning and we gave him water on the couch on which he promptly vomited. I then declared that it didn’t matter if we had nothing in our new apartment except a mattress we were going to move in that day and he could throw up all over the house all he wants. So we began to load all of our belongings into Pierre’s car when He said, “I still can’t believe you carried all of this through the cobblestone streets of Rome for an hour at 1 in the morning looking for your hotel.” “It was probably the worst day of our lives,” I replied. He responded, “May it remain so.” Needless to say, it didn’t remain that way.

We unloaded our bags at our apartment that only housed a 100 cm mattress for Davey and went together to buy us a mattress downtown. We put Davey on my shoulders and were joking around when Davey asked for water. Having thrown up everything for the past two days we asked him to wait until we left the store and then 30 seconds later I was holding onto his legs as he fell limp down my back. We immediately picked him up but he was unresponsive. His eyes rolled back in his head and he began to foam at the mouth. His arms tensed and shook and then went limp. I ran outside and sat on the ground with him in my arms yelling and shaking him with no response and no breathing. A worker at the mattress store screamed for me to come with him. I jumped in the car with him as he drove like a maniac through the streets of Beirut towards the nearest hospital. All he could tell me in English was, “give him breath.” I began to perform CPR on Davey whose lips had turned blue and was completely limp. After two minutes of screaming, praying, and compressions Davey woke up. The color returned to his lips and he began breathing again, but he was still unconscious as we pulled up to the hospital. They took him in and took his vitals which had begun to return to normal right before making us leave to go to a hospital with a pediatric unit. We drove continuing to pray until Davey began to cry. The sound which had been a source of stress so many times before became the sound of life that brought tears to our eyes. We brought him in to the emergency room where they performed a CAT scan and took blood work before hooking him up to an IV. Six hours later he was diagnosed as having experienced a seizure brought on by extreme dehydration compounded by every other stress experienced in the previous five days. He was released that day and we took him home and cried for the rest of the night as he slept quietly between us. He has made a full recovery.

We’re sharing this story with you for several reasons. One is that you are our family and our support system. By sending us you share in both our joys and our sufferings as we do with you. We want you to know the reality and the cost of sharing the gospel in the calling of God on our lives, but also because this is a story of God’s unending provision in times of unfathomable, crushing pain. We’ve prayed for years that God would prepare us to go and do what we have now embarked on. In so doing He has prepared stores of resilience within us that we did not know were there. As we left the first emergency room in a foreign country without any Arabic to explain what happened, without a diagnoses, carrying our unconscious child in our arms we sang this song: “God is so good, God is so good, God is so good, He’s so good to me.” That came from our most profound depths to which we know that the lamb of God is worthy of all of the honor and all the glory and all the praise forever and ever. No matter the circumstances and trials of this life the majesty of the cross cannot be shaken from its foundation. His love endures forever and his mercy is everlasting. We are ineffably thankful today that the grace of God was made manifest in such a way that we still have Davey with us. We thank you for your continued support of Jesus’ ministry here in Beirut. It is your love through Christ that sustains us and holds us as the darkness of the valley gives way to an impenetrable light of healing and salvation.

The Liss Family Travel Log: A Lesson In Paradox

 

We began with an itinerary. We had two flights to get to Rome to spend two days there. Louis had the walking tours planned out so we could have plenty of time to find some café and just sit and drink coffee, eat paninis and take our time. This was to be all our missed anniversaries and Valentines Days and birthdays combined. A romantic Rome getaway. Yay! Then the Paradox followed us from MTI.

Any of you who attended one of our send offs heard us explain this. If you take a clean duck and a dirty duck what do you have, a Paradox (pair of ducks).

imagesthe_filthy_stinking_truth

 

 

 

 

This is like “It was the best of times. It was the worst of times.” Speaking in paradox is learning that while I may be having the best time of my life, I may also be having one of the hardest times of my life. Or when Louis is super excited about an experience, I might be super disappointed by that same experience. Learning to be accepting and loving of those experiences that are different from our own helps us live in the paradox. Learning to speak and live in paradox builds our resilience which helps us as parents and as people to be more mature and more able to persevere through suffering. The following is a detailed diary of our trip, and expresses this paradox language.

May 5: Day 1: A Yuck Duck Day

We arrived at the airport to discover that our Air Canada plane had had issues in Toronto, so had never made it to Sky Harbor to pick us up. First it was delayed until 4:00PM, then until 7:30PM. We asked where we would end up for the evening, and they realized that Toronto was not our destination. Eventually, they changed our flights over to British Airways. They were going to fly us to London then to Rome. British Airways was confused by us and not super nice in solving things with Louis. It was a very frustrating time and we weren’t sure at all about baggage rules for British Airways, so we ended up getting lectured for our baggage at each leg of the trip.

On the plane Davy fell out of his seat asleep three times. I couldn’t sleep because I was so scared he was going to get hurt. My back hurt from the strange position I had to sit in to put my legs up to block him into the seat.

Day 1: A Yay Duck Day

All four of our parents helped us out getting to the airport. My dad had gone early to the airport to get a gate pass so he could come see us off all the way up to the plane. In getting there early he was able to find out about all our delays before we got there. This made it so much less stressful to handle once we had arrived. My mom dropped us off at the gate and went home to pack for her own trip to Greece coming up. She had put off all packing and preparing so she could see us. Louis’ parents met us at the gate and took Davy on a walk of the airport while we waited to find out what was happening. Since we had not eaten breakfast we got the chance to eat together at the favorite Horner (my family) breakfast place, U.S. Egg. It was wonderful for Davy to get to spend extra time with these three grandparents, and for us to get to spend extra time with our parents. We are going to miss everyone so much, and God really blessed us with this meal.

Back at the airport we went through security without any issue other than Taju going through the conveyor belt caused Davy to panic. The security lady, however, as soon as she saw Davy begin to get upset put Taju at the front of the line and when it was going through said, “Don’t stop that bear!” It was a great moment of feeling secure in the midst of chaos for this mommy’s heart. Having my dad come through to the gate was also a real blessing. He carried Davy and since he was calm and peaceful, Davy felt better. He could tell that Louis and I were stressed, so it was great to have someone Davy could go to for calm. Once through security Louis also calmed quite a bit.

As the chaos continued with plane delays and cancellations we were able to calmly assure the stewardesses at the desk that we knew it wasn’t their fault and we just wanted to get to Rome. Because we mentioned early on we had no need to go to Toronto and only wanted to make it to Rome we were able to get our tickets changed. We got meal vouchers for lunch and for dinner, which was great because it meant two free meals that were food we really liked. Louis and I took several calming walks just praying through the airport and Louis found a playplace for Davy. After we ate lunch with my dad, another blessed meal, we just sat at the playplace the rest of our time in the airport. Davy even took a nap before saying a good goodbye to my dad.

The flight gave us an entire row of four to ourselves, and Davy slept in the middle two seats. He even slept through falling out of the seats three times during the flight. I slept for two hours at a time, but even that was better than nothing.

May 6: Day 2: Speaking in Paradox

We are going to be flying through London on our way back to the States, so it was good to get to see the airport and know a little about it so that maybe our next trip there will not be as stressful. It was nice to feel productive at least solving the internet and getting a mocha. And, oh my goodness, it was a good mocha. The chocolate in it was really good chocolate instead of Hershey’s syrup, so even Louis liked it.

As I check emails to make sure that our bed and breakfast is still good and to try to figure out how to salvage our trip, Louis tries to call Middle Eastern Air in the airport to change our flight to later. As I am discovering that we can’t go until Sunday if we do that, Louis reports back from the phone. Our brand new credit card has been frozen because we are trying to use it in London. We had never called them to tell them we would be out of the country because we got the card two days before we flew out, so we just didn’t think about it.

Louis decides he isn’t going to try any other ways of getting to MEA, and that we are just going to spend one day in Rome and then go to Lebanon as planned. I was so disappointed and crestfallen and mad and frustrated and upset that I just burst into tears. So much for an anniversary makeup. Everything I was hoping for (a break to rest from all the mania before we are required to think about ministry, a time of romance, sitting in a café with no hurry while Louis took pictures, seeing early Christian sites that might take hours to find because they were little known) all of that evaporated in a moment.

Then, the B&B email shows up that says he didn’t know we were bringing a baby and he might not be there when we get there. As I replied to the email our flight was called, and they had moved us to another terminal so we had to hurry to get there. At the gate they tell us we have to many bags, that this flight is not a regular flight, but an economy business flight of some sort. However, we weren’t charged for the “extra bags.” Praise the Lord!

We arrived in Rome after sleeping some on the plane and called the B&B. He said he had held the reservation for us and he would let us in when we got there. With a sigh of relief we took off. While buying tickets for the train many taxi drivers were soliciting, but Louis wanted the cheaper train leaving “just 15 minutes” of walking. I said, let’s just use a taxi since we have so much stuff, but Louis was sure we could handle it. I was happy he was confident, so followed his lead. He figured out the tickets for the train out to the main terminal, and we were all happy to not be flying.

Once we got off the train, however, I was done. I was overdone, and I was so tired of disappointments. I felt lower and lower as we walked, feeling no closer to our destination. We had too much baggage to be going through cobblestone streets this way, and I felt my temper begin to rise. Louis felt terribly when we weren’t sure where the hotel was on the map. Finally we made it to the location to find that the man had gone home rather than stay at the hotel to wait for us. I burst into tears. A few people on the street came over and called him on their cell phones and soon he was there lecturing us in Italian and English about having too many bags, not telling him about the baby, that the baby would get him bad reviews from people, basically we felt like scum. Finally, however, Davy stopped crying, so the man stopped lecturing him and us about crying and we were able to begin settling down in peace. We got warm showers and sleep.

 

 

Emotional Preparations

Lately I have been in a new stage of preparing for Lebanon. It isn’t the stage I planned on being in either. Isn’t that always the way? I inform God and those around me of my plans, and then God patiently and gently guides me down the path of His plan. I do not always understand that it is a path, but here I am again on God’s path when I suddenly look up and realize that this is not the place I thought I was headed.

Of late, my plans to physically prepare by downsizing our storage unit, purging our house of unneeded items, donating clothes and such to Savers or Goodwill, and organizing important paperwork, all of those plans have fallen by the wayside. However, as I reflect on the past month not making headway on those goals, I realize that I have been continually prepared by God in my devotional time with Him, in my prayer life, and emotionally as I have taken time to process those people and events that keep me sane and motivated in my life. Driving to accountability and small group times shows me how important those are to me, and I have cried over the probable loss of them and then been hopeful in determining how to continue those relationships and accountability sessions when we leave.

Even taking Davy to the gym to fulfill our New Year’s Resolution of preparing him for daycare when we go to our training at the end of March has had some emotional processing. Davy loves going and playing with the kids after his two month break from going to the gym at all. It was relieving and also a mommy sadness to know that he might adjust well to many of the upcoming changes. Of course, the training is 8 hours a day of daycare and the gym is only one hour every few days as well.

Finally, as I recognize changes in Louis and I that were only hoped for in the past, I am amazed to see how God has been molding us into missionaries throughout our marriage (and, really, the course of our lives). My comfort in attending church, joy in devotional time and Bible Study, prayer with Davy before meals and over those sick and hurting, and peace that stays with me; all of these are a change that has been slow and steady, but are drastic compared to several years ago when we clearly heard God tell us to head toward Lebanon.

I am currently teaching a Bible Study on Sundays at Mt. Zion titled One Story. The purpose is to see how the entire Bible points to Jesus and how the entire Bible is helpful for ourselves so we can share that story with others. I felt convicted to do this class even with my continued discomfort with leading adults because God has been showing me that my reading of His word and my comfort with this idea that even the laws and the genealogies matter to me, Annie, is something others need to hear about. Preparing for this past Sunday, writing down several stories we could discuss I realized that this idea of the Cosmic Drama, the endless cycles of Sin and Redemption, were not merely Horizons International curriculum to me. I own them. I see my story in Scripture, and I want to share it with others. This was a phenomenal discovery, and overtook my feelings of inadequacy to share my own story of being the Mark 5, bleeding woman: The Woman Who Touched Jesus. I have the audacity to reach out and hug Jesus, and call him my lover. And you can, too.

It seems strange to many people to find out about my layers. I have a teacher face (as I call it) which I have cultivated over my three years of leaving terrible morning meetings crying, but having to stand up in front of my students and teach science, math, etc. I had to put on a game face (as Louis calls it). This face keeps doctors from believing that I am sick, and keeps adults from seeing my fear in speaking to groups of them. But as I rely on Jesus more and more to show His power through my weaknesses, I am filled with a peace. The same peace as the woman in Mark 5 who, healed from her shame, throws herself at Jesus’ feet and proclaims her story. I can share my fears because it is truth, and it shows how Jesus can work through me rather than relying on a mask. Others can see it is okay to share their own weaknesses because I share mine. This is something I have known in my head, practiced at times, but now feel I understand and that it will help me immensely in any future undertakings I follow God into.

In reflecting on all of this a verse jumped out at me this week:

“The Lord God has given me the tongue of those who are taught, that I may know how to sustain with a word him who is weary.” Isaiah 50:4a