Lebanon #4: Gifts Given, Gifts Received

by Rev. Toby Mueller, for the team (Historic Franklin Presbyterian Church, Franklin, Tenn.)

‘Tis the gift to be simple, ‘tis the gift to be free, ‘tis the gift to come down, where you ought to be; and when we find ourselves in the place just right, ‘twill be in the valley of love and delight!

-“Simple Gifts,” an Amish song 

Each one of the American women came bearing gifts. We each contributed ten pink lipsticks, ten pink nail polishes, and ten packs of 24-count colored pencils. The pencils, plus small bags of (what else!) pink candy, stickers, and faith-themed coloring books were piled into gift bags (over 100!) to give to the Syrian and Lebanese women who came. But the gifts did not end there. Each day more pink gifts were handed out: pink leis, pink Mardi Gras beads, pink post-it note pads, pink pens, and even pink cotton candy were all brought over by the Americans. And that is just what has been handed out so far!! Gifts upon gifts upon gifts, given and received. It has been a bit like Christmas here!

But there have been other gifts; the gift of cool breezes here in the mountains east of Beirut, the gift of food prepared for us and dishes cleaned up after us, the gift of so many new friends, and so many new tastes! Unexpected gifts, like a compliment unsolicited, or the joy of seeing reunions of family, gifts in word and deed.

Today has been such a gift. One of our American friends, Sheryl, is quiet yet has a deep and powerful story. She shared her story this morning during worship, a story of faith persisting in the midst of hard life events: depression and cancer. By the time she finished praising our God through the sharing of her story, there was not a dry eye in the room. But there was one Syrian in particular, for whom this story touched deeply, as she, too, is currently fighting cancer. She wears a turban-like wrap because of the loss of her hair. And when Sheryl told her story, clearly a strong bond was created between these two women who just days ago were strangers one to another.

Later that day, during lunch, the Syrian woman was eating with friends, when Sheryl walked over to her, took her own wig off, and gave it to her. Surprise was followed by tears of gratitude, of gifts given, gifts received. Again, not a dry eye to be seen.

We are only halfway through our time here at this retreat, yet I know my cup is already full to overflowing. Our sovereign God is moving powerfully in this ‘valley of love and delight’ through gifts given, and gifts received. Thanks be to God for such simple, and profound, gifts!