That Time Spring Hit the Colorado Rockies (And My Life)

I didn’t plan on spending five or six weeks of my spring 2018 in the mountains of Colorado. Not that I’m complaining, mind you: spring in Colorado is gorgeous. Witnessings the transformation into spring is even more of a marvel. But it wasn’t on my plan. (Hello, that’s why I call myself a “recovering control freak.” Because sometimes the control thing still peeks out. 

Anyway, when I arrived in Colorado it didn’t look much like spring at all. In fact as late as April 20th, winter was still in full effect. Consider this photo from my first weekend in Colorado Springs, where I stayed with longtime friends on the Air Force Academy base: 

Yeah, not much spring to be seen there. I despaired that God had brought me out of monochromatically gray Milwaukee, only to drop me into another monochromatic winter landscape. Everyone had been telling me how beautiful the sun would be. How plentiful the wild flowers. Yet I still couldn’t see it, even though May 1st was just around the corner. 

This lingering winter seemed to be a metaphor for my own life. I had believed God for breakthrough: a serious shift in my circumstances that would allow me to quit traveling from place to place and go back home to Milwaukee to settle. I loved traveling, yes. The Holy Spirit had told me to ‘take no money, take no luggage, and go into whatever house will receive you.’ And I had obeyed. 

But I was tired now. Sick of endless weeks on the road with no real purpose or activities to shape my day. Sick of always looking to the horizon for something—anything—to happen. Sick (if we’re being honest) of praying and seeing … absolutely nothing.  

I started taking my friends’ dog, Buddy, for twice daily walks. Every day I kept my eyes peeled for the famous Colorado wildflowers, even while I prayed to Heaven for a glimpse of a single petal pushing above ground in my own life. 

For awhile, it continued to look like this: sunny, but barren. The weather warmed. And yet nothing pushed above the soil.

By the time I left for Milwaukee to lay hold of the place God had given me there, the slopes of the Rockies were carpeted with God’s most beautiful flowers.  

It took a lot longer than I would have wished, yes. But the season of flowering did come in God’s time. 

Be patient through the late springs snows, and continue to watch daily for the first signs of color amid the grass. Your time of breakthrough will come if you do not grow weary. 

I believe the real test of our faith is not what happens in seasons of victory and activity, but what we do in seasons of silence and barrenness.

Those six weeks of silence, during which I saw almost no flowers pop up on those daily walks, was one of the longest and hardest I have endured. My patience and stamina were nearly at an end. I napped a lot—because there was little else to do.

Still no flowers. Anywhere.

And yet, somehow in the absence of the physical evidence I craved, Spring came. During that time I really re-committed my life to do exactly what God wanted. I heard the call to begin speaking His Name and His Word more intentionally in my relationships. Things that had been “out of order” in my life got placed back into order—none of which would have been possible had I been distracted by other things. 

God even sent me a few rainbows and beautiful sunsets to encourage me that His promises were true, and in the acceptable time, He would shift my circumstances.

There’s a funny thing about praying for God’s “acceptable time,” just as it says in Psalm 69. God’s acceptable time is very rarely ours. His time for flowering often does not match ours. We are impatient. He has infinite patience. We want to run ahead though we can only see in the moment. He sees what’s coming, and acts accordingly.

In God’s acceptable time, breakthrough did come. I got a huge tax refund—several months late—that enabled me to return to Milwaukee and pay the avalanche of bills that were coming due in June. I let go of the last of my old life and got on board with God’s program.  

And yes, the wildflowers did come out. By the time Buddy and I finished our daily routine of walks, the hills were abloom with Colorado’s finest. 

By the time I left for Milwaukee to lay hold of the place God had given me there, the slopes of the Rockies were carpeted with God’s most beautiful flowers.  

It took a lot longer than I would have wished, yes. But the season of flowering did come in God’s time. 

Be patient through the late springs snows, and continue to watch daily for the first signs of color amid the grass. Your time of breakthrough will come if you do not grow weary. 

Where the Map Ends, God Is There

Sometimes I wake up in the Arabian Desert, 7,000 miles from the home I once knew, and I don’t really know how I got here. 

Knowing is a tricky thing. On the one hand, it gives you a sense of certainty: to look at the map of your life and chart every point along the way. “This is how I got from here to there.”

On the other hand, knowing anything at all reminds you of how much you still don’t know. Especially when the points on your map seem to keep wandering off the edges, where there’s no landmark in sight. “Well, I got to here, but then the path disappeared, and somehow I wound up reappearing again over there.”

This blog is a chronicle of wandering off those edges.

There’s so much I still don’t know about how I landed in the United Arab Emirates in 2018. But a few things I do remember. I can see them, vaguely in the distance, back on the comforting white square of a life I used to inhabit, more commonly known as “the map.”

I know it all started when my husband of seven years walked in the door one April morning and said the four words I had feared all of my life: “I want a divorce.” It started when, a month later, I said “goodbye” to the home I loved and dragged my remaining possessions and two terrified cats six streets over to a one-room apartment. It started when the gavel slammed and the judge handed me divorce papers just six months after that. 

It started when I built—and destroyed—a business. It started when I sold everything I had left, dumped the rest in the trash and put just enough to survive in a suitcase and left to travel. It started when I showed up in Charlotte, North Carolina, for no particular reason. It started when I roamed over Europe last winter with barely enough money for food and train tickets.

It started when I went back to the U.S., sobbed my way over 2/3 of it while driving a postage stamp-sized Fiat, and almost died in a Nebraska blizzard. Which was not *quite* as bad as trying out a few post-divorce relationships and learning how much emotional healing I actually had left to do.

Yes, there were a lot of starts in the last two and a half years. A lot of starts, and not many finishes. 

Yet somehow, the Arabian Desert does feel like the end of a road. (For now.)

In less than two weeks, it will be two years from the day that judge in Milwaukee County slammed the gavel and signed those divorce papers. Honestly, I don’t even remember the woman I was back then. Mostly because I lost her in some bizarre cycle of operating system upgrades so rapid, most tech startups would be put to shame.

And then there was the whole “moving to the Middle East” idea … Yeah, that idea. I can blame it on God because it was His idea. I can also blame it on my bizarre idea to try out a Christian online dating site — which was intended to surface men in a 200 square mile radius of my house, and somehow landed me in a relationship with a guy from Dubai. 

And no, that relationship did not work out. Note to self: I’d never recommend online dating across continents or crash-landing in the Gulf without a plan.

Or maybe that was the plan. Just not mine.

Yeah, it’s just a thing that happens, I guess. Sometimes you just wake up in a new desert, with a new job and a new church and new friends and a new status as an “expat.” And you don’t know how you got there. Except that you do. And it’s a lot to process all at once. 

So maybe the point isn’t to “process”—to track the journey on the map, point by point—but rather simply to accept that you’ve gone off the edges. Because where the map ends is where most of life happens, anyway. 

God is much bigger than the map itself. Bigger even than its border or the empty space on all four sides.

He knew about the man who was going to hit the “eject button” on a fledgling marriage and the house that would be sold, the apartment that was too small for one woman and two rambunctious cats. He knew that the woman didn’t have the emotional bandwidth to expand to a twelve-person business as rapidly as she did. And that selling everything was a much better plan—even if it looked insane at the time. 

God knew that unexpected Christmas checks would buy groceries and train tickets in Europe. He knew most of Germany would be closed in December—so the woman would be forced to sit with her grief and really let it go, instead of drowning it in endless museum visits and Christmas markets. He knew her Fiat would make it through two mountain ranges, a blizzard and a hail storm without a scrap of damage, and be sold on a Thursday in August for no particular reason except that He said to sell it. That day. Without delay.

And when all was said and done, when that woman got on that last plane in Chicago, He knew what would be waiting for her in the United Arab Emirates: a whole new life. 

It’s a good thing He didn’t tell the hardworking housewife-entrepreneur-artist of 2.5 years ago (AKA… me!), that she was actually destined for a life abroad. Okay well, actually, He had told her that years ago. But she had bailed on the plan. Several times, in fact. She had re-charted the map to make it, well, safer.

And then … somehow … despite her best efforts, she ended up going where the map ends, anyway. Because where the map ends, is where she was always meant to be all along.

Where the map ends, God is there. 

I’m learning here in the Arabian desert that where God is, is always the best place to be. Even if you’re not entirely sure what happens next. Or why the signs are in Arabic and a plane ticket to your old country is really, really expensive.

If God is with you, the rest is just details anyway.

Knowing would spoil the adventure.

Guacamole With a Side of Masala: Adventures in Fusion Cuisine

When I arrived in the United Arab Emirates, people back in the U.S. were asking me quite frequently, “What are you eating?” For the most part, my answers were pretty routine. 

Rice. Curry. Fruit and Yogurt. Samosa. Rice. Curry. Fruit and Yogurt. Samosa. Rice. Curry … 

Okay, you get the idea.  

But there were some stand-out experiences. Or rather, stand-out explorations, because that’s exactly what they were: me trying things at home, with the help of my first airbnb host and first friend in Dubai, D, the world’s next Michelin-starred chef masquerading as an aviation engineer.

Our best experiment? Guacamole with masala, quinoa chips and some sort beverage that mixes milk, roof awzwah (a flower-and-honey sweetener popular in India and Pakistan), and basil seeds.   

Yeah, I know. It’s enough to make my head dizzy too.  

Because I have prior guacamole experience, Chef D allowed me to spearhead this part of the meal. But I have to admit, he was the one who had the idea to turn the two halves of the avocado into boats. Not to mention garnishing it with cilantro. 

Finally, at long last some Mexican food in the middle of the Arabian desert! 

I had promised I would buy an avocado and fix guacamole during my stay, so he could try it. But at every grocery store I went to, the avocados were green! “Why would I waste money on a green avocado that might never get ripe?” I said to myself. I kept hoping to find nicely blackened ones, but I never did.

Then today D brought a green avocado—and when I cut it open, I found it was perfectly ripe.

“They’re from Kenya,” he told me, laughing. “You want them to be really, really green. What other color would you want them to be?”

I shared how Haas avocados from the U.S. actually go dark brown or almost black when they’re really ripe. We had a good chuckle at my expense—and then (to my glee) he got his own come-uppance. 

I had told D that guacamole (at least, as I make it, anyway) requires a lime.

But when he handed me a bag, the small, round fruits inside were yellow.

”We need a lime,” I said. “Not a lemon. Limes are green.”

His eyes got wide. “Why would anyone want to buy a green lemon?”

Lemons. Avocados.

Apparently sometimes you really do want them both green. ..

And yes, I wanted my “green lemons” a lot. So I did what any red-blooded Michellin-starred chef’s assistant would do: I interrupted the regularly scheduled guacamole programming, threw on some UAE approved clothes over my yoga gear, and ran to the grocery store for a lime and tortilla chips. 

The lime, I found. The tortilla chips, well, I had to stretch my imagination and buy a bag of garlic-and-tomato flavored quinoa chips.  

When I returned, D mixed basil seeds—which give a boba-like “pop” to any beverage and are popular here for their refreshing flavor—with milk and the sticky red Roof Awzah for our drink. 

Finally, we sat down to enjoy the fruits of our labor. Quite literally. D seemed to appreciate the flavor, but something was missing.  

“I know what it needs,” he said, after careful consideration. 

D returned from the kitchen with a box of chat masala—a spice mix with cumin, coriander, mango powder, red pepper, and other refreshing spices, often added to fruit and salads in India. “Everything tastes better with chat masala, he explained. 

Indian guacamole? Well why not, I thought. 

We both dumped the chat masala all over our guacamole. And yes, reader, it did actually taste better. Not to mention more than a bit more Indian, too! D and I speculated what might happen if we added green chili, next time. And a bit of garlic …

Everything about this place is a mixed-up wonder, to be sure.  Ripe avocados are green. Lemons, too, can be found in green varieties. 😉 One requires chat masala to make a proper guacamole. And your new favorite breakfast beverage just might include basil seeds. 

Why should everything remain as it was, stuffed into narrow pre-defined categories that constrict creativity? When cultures mingle, creativity abounds.

Fusion is a beautiful adventure. And rather delicious, too.   

On Emigrating in the 21st Century

Me, my first week in Dubai — August 2018

At the turn of the 20th century, a young Polish woman got on a boat bound for America. She was a land-owner’s daughter, likely accustomed to some amount of privilege, and even possibly to an ancient title of minor nobility. Yet she left it all behind to join her sister—who was already settled in a far-off place called Ohio.

The reason? An intolerable home situation. Her mother had passed away, and when her father remarried, he chose a woman not much older than his younger daughter. The two women, it turns out, didn’t get along so well.

I think I’d get a boat for the same reason. Probably more so because I’m related to that young Polish woman—as her great-great granddaughter.

Fast-forward one hundred years, and I got on a plane in Chicago this past August with the same intention my ancestor had when she said goodbye to her native land. Except that instead of going to the “land of promise,” as America was then known, I flew east, past Great-Great Grandma’s native land to a place that, back when she lived, hadn’t even yet met Lawrence of Arabia.

I doubt Great-Great Grandma ever thought much about Arabia, except perhaps to see an old lithograph or two in a Polish geography book in school. But here I am, also an emigre, just for different reasons.

Perhaps some things really do “run in the family.”

I should probably clarify at this point that no one really immigrates to the United Arab Emirates. You come here to work. Or you come with someone who’s been hired to work. And when you don’t work anymore—or your sponsor doesn’t—you leave. Period. This country doesn’t give permanent residence visas, unless you’re a property investor or a retiree with more than $300,000 US in the bank that you strictly don’t touch.

Still, every day, this dusty jungle of sand and steel welcomes the world’s misfits, from West and East alike, with open arms. And we embrace this once-forgotten, now-flourishing desert as our own, for as long as the strength of our hands and the economy will allow. Or in my case, as long as God chooses to keep me here.

I’ve thought a lot about Great-Great Grandma since I arrived here. I honestly don’t know her name, other than that her last name was (oddly enough) “Organic.” Probably a butchering of some beautiful Polish name an Ellis Island officer couldn’t spell, yo. But I now understand with much more empathy how much courage she must have had, and the dreams she must have entertained coming to the U.S.

My mother has a few memories of her great-grandmother, caring for my mom when she (mom) was very very young, at her Ohio home. Great-great Grandma married and built a life for herself in the U.S., yes. But she never learned much English. To this day, occasionally my mom uses a Polish word (like “yaitsa” for “egg”) which she learned at Great-Great Grandma’s house.

I, by contrast, landed in a country that favors Arabic as a political policy, but where in practice English is the national language. I could talk to almost anyone upon arrival. (Of course, understanding their accents has been another exercise in itself.)

Like Great-Great Grandma, however, I rub shoulders every day with people who came from vastly different places than me. And we’re all here for one reason only:

Opportunity.

(Or for some of us oddballs, the call of God. But that’s another story for another day.)

It’s a strange day in the world when a girl with an American passport leaves home to seek opportunities elsewhere. I’m sure Great-Great Grandma never thought she’d see such a day come when America was not the only real center of opportunity. For many it still is, but for me, in God’s good plan for my life, it was a worn-out door swinging shut on rusty hinges.

I don’t regret coming to the United Arab Emirates at all. The pace of life in Dubai is insane—let’s just get that out there—but it’s also an amazing place. I’ve made incredible friends from all over the world, traveled easily to places that take forever to reach from America, and been blessed with a new measure of financial stability after several years of relying solely, like Elijah, on the ravens of God for food.

But I still can’t help feeling a pang of homesickness every now and then. The people, the places, the food. Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night with a vivid vision of some place in Milwaukee—the verdant slopes of South Shore Park, for example, on the beach of Lake Michigan—that I deeply love. The last summer I spent in Milwaukee was a glorious finale to ten years of loving that place very deeply and experiencing the very best of it.

Then, one day it was gone. I took off on a plane and, three planes later, got off in Ellis Island, which for me was the glittering marble and chrome of Dubai International Airport, where I was suddenly in line behind Indian women in colorful kurtas and Arab women, their whole bodies covered in black.

Life is strange, isn’t it?

Perhaps wanderlust is just in the family genes. Or perhaps God really does allow us to play out experiences of our ancestors, all over again, redeeming them for His purposes. I don’t know anything about my great-great grandmother’s spiritual life or beliefs. I don’t know if there were any other God-fearing prophetic women in my lineage.

But out of their experiences, God birthed me. And though I traveled here for Him—and not as an escape for an intolerable home situation—I still send love and respect to the memory of Great-Great Grandma.

Her courage was an example for me, long before I knew I’d even need that same courage myself.

Turn of the 20th century. Turn of the 21st …

The cycles of life continue.

What It’s Really Like to Live under the Arabian Sun

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Nobody can really prepare you for life in the Arabian desert. Oh sure, they can tell you to bring your sunscreen and prepare to scuttle in and out of the air conditioning like a beetle between patches of shade.

But my God, that sun.

I’ve read that solar power will be the new oil fields in the Middle East—and if that’s even remotely true, I can believe it. From the moment I wake the sun is there, by turns bleaching the color from this muted landscape and touching its more brilliant elements with fire.

You want a rainy day? Forget it. Clouds? Maybe for an hour or two. Storms? Be prepared for a beach of sand on your balcony.

And let’s not talk about air conditioning …

Since the day I’ve arrived I’ve practically been a prisoner indoors: jumping from my air conditioned guesthouse, to the air conditioned bus, to the air conditioned metro, to the air conditioned shopping complexes, each accessible via air conditioned skywalks over the streets, so no one has to set foot outside.

Of course, not every part of town is so well endowed. The place where I sleep, the Dubai side of Al Nahda, on the border with the neighboring emirate, Sharjah, has no skywalks to be found. A trip to the grocery store or the nearby Sahara shopping center will cost you the sun’s standard fare: a dripping-wet body, an empty water bottle and a trip to the washroom to refresh your deodorant upon arrival.

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I try to understand how people lived here for thousands of years before air conditioning. All I can think is that they knew how to hydrate. And how to value the shade. And those lightweight, white and black garments that everyone wears? Well, there’s probably a ventilation secret to that, too.

In the U.S. I never spent much time in air conditioning. In fact, I used to carry a sweater with me everywhere even in the middle of summer, because I hated the air so much.

But here, I crave it like everyone else. I run. I dodge. I scuttle toward the next door, craving the first blast of A/C that gives me goosebumps as I cross the threshold.

Or if I am out, walking in Al Nahda for example, I find myself dodging across the street again and again to walk in the small patches of shade I can find.

It would seem that the beetle and I, we are more one than ever. I am less likely to squash him on the sidewalk—because we are both under the same sun. And we are both slaves to it.

Back at home, the concept of “the sun” really meant so little to me. Sure, it was beautiful and I loved it. But here the sun is so much more than an enhancement to my day. Here, it is the fiery ruler of the sky, the overbearing taskmaster whom no one could forget even if she tried.

I am reminded of the verse in Matthew 13:43:

Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their father. 

Once I would have considered this a beautiful, poetic sentiment. Now I realize it is also a declaration of power, of force and strength that demand to be reckoned with.

Anything that shines like the sun—if it’s the UAE sun, at least—must be full of blinding glory.

I dream of that day. And in the meantime, I’ll keep chasing the A/C …