I've Moved!

My new blog is called Reflections from a Global Nomad, in order to acknowledge that we no longer live in Maadi and that we are, in fact, global nomads, not staying in one place longer than two or three years. Please join me at http://DeborahReflections.blogspot.com

Friday, February 27, 2009


And Jesus answered them, “Have faith in God. Truly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.
-Mark 11: 22-24 (ESV)

Jesus, in this passage of Scripture, tells us in no uncertain terms that prayer is effective for those who believe. In Matthew 18: 19-20, Jesus says, "Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them" (ESV). There are a few things, then, about which I would ask you Jesus-followers to pray.

Maher Ahmad El-Mo’otahssem Bellah El-Gohary

In my post "Imagine," from 15 January 2009, I told you about this gentleman and his attempts to change his official religion from Islam to Christianity. At that time, his case was in limbo. Now, he continues to struggle to get the Egyptian courts to recognize legally what already has occurred in his heart, but he faces a new challenge. Islamic lawyers are pressuring the court to declare him an apostate from Islam and sentence him to death. He is in hiding at this time, but he will have to come out of hiding for his next court appearance. He tried to have legal documents drawn up that would have allowed his lawyer to represent him without his presence in court, but staff members at the registry office swore at him and beat him when he appeared. Therefore, he is unable to allow his lawyer to handle the case. He will be in danger when he appears publicly for court. His lawyer also is hindered in how he can proceed with this case. The arguments against this man are based on Islamic law, and in this part of the world, you must be very careful in what you say about Islam and Islamic law. Anything considered misrepresentation or insult is punished severely. Further details are available here. Please pray for safety for this man and his family, for God to be in the midst of all court proceedings, and for this family to be allowed to leave Egypt if and when that becomes the best course of action for them.

Maadi Community Church

MCC truly has become our church home here. It is a shining light in this community, providing a place where expats and Egyptian Christians can worship together and reach out to help the less advantaged. However, MCC itself is in need of prayer. We currently have the great privilege of meeting on property that belongs to The Church of St. John the Baptist. St. John's has been gracious in allowing us to meet on their property for a number of years (I'm not sure how many), but our presence has made it difficult for them to grow, due in part to the need to coordinate schedules. It is becoming more and more apparent that the time is fast approaching when MCC will need to meet elsewhere. The church leadership is working on possible solutions, but details are not yet being made public, as publicity for church initiatives sometimes do more harm than good in this region of the world. Please pray that God will open the doors He wants us to walk through and close those doors that are not His provision for us at this time.

Also, there are staffing needs. I have seen local advertisements for a director of administration, and the website contains information regarding two pastoral vacancies: a pastor of youth ministries and a pastor of community life. Please pray that God will draw the people of His choice to these vacancies and that He will tear down all obstacles to filling these positions. Also pray that until these vacancies are filled, God will strengthen and equip those who are trying to fill the gaps.

Caritas Egypt

This week when I went to the baby wash, we had a special treat: a short tour of the other projects that occur in that location. It turns out that the baby wash is a part of Caritas Egypt, a social justice outreach of the Catholic Church. The building that houses baby wash also houses a clinic and daycare. Just across the street is a building that is used as a day center and school for street children. Those who want education attend the school; others simply "hang out" at the day center to avoid being arrested for vagrancy on the streets. Nearby is a facility where street children who are in the process of rehabilitation can sleep at night.

Children begin living on the streets for a myriad of factors, usually including poverty and/or abuse at home. Once they are on the street, they often become involved in drug abuse, fall prey to sexual predators, and develop other behaviors which make it impossible for them to re-enter society. Caritas helps to rehabilitate these children, but once they are rehabilitated, they still face problems. Often the families refuse to allow the children to come home, fearing the influence these former street children would have on younger siblings. Many people refuse to allow rehabilitated street children into schools or jobs. The leaders at Caritas want to open a community outreach center to educate the public about successful rehabilitation of street children in order to alleviate these problems.

There is a piece of property that is for sale and that would be suitable for the community outreach center. Please pray that God will provide clear leadership regarding the possible purchase of this land and that if it is His will for them to buy it, that He will knock down any obstacles. Also pray that He will continue to bless the ministry of Caritas Egypt and that He will provide the funding that is necessary both for continuing operations and for expansion, if that is His will for this ministry.

I don't often ask for visitors to this blog to do anything; I simply share what's been happening in my life. However, those people who are involved in these situations need all the prayer support they can get. So I humbly ask you, if you are a believer, to pray about these situations. None of us as individuals are powerful enough to make any significant difference, but through prayer, we can draw on a much greater source.

Saturday, February 21, 2009


Last weekend, Jeff and I participated in a PLP (Post Language Program) trip to Alexandria. The PLP is the embassy office through which we take our Arabic language classes. Every once in a while, they offer trips--usually shopping trips to various malls or souks--where a large part of the goal is to provide opportunities to use Arabic in real world situations. When they offered a trip to Alexandria for a very reasonable price, we jumped at the opportunity.

We left home on Friday morning around 7:45 a.m. We were meeting our group at a train station downtown; since it was right next to a metro station, we decided to metro in rather than take a taxi. We took the metro from Maadi station to Mubarak station, then followed the signs to the "real" train station, where we met our group, including two post language teachers (both women named Soheir). A third teacher, a man named Ali, lives in Alexandria and planned to meet us there.

The train pulled out of the station shortly after 9 a.m., with our group seated in the first class section. The seats were comfortable enough, although everything was filthy. But the tickets were cheap and it was reliable transportation, so a little dirt could be tolerated. The trip was fast, with no delays or slow-downs. It took us around two hours to get to Alexandria. The scenery varied from the congested, impoverished neighborhoods of Cairo to picturesque but also impoverished farms and small villages. I spent most of the trip reading.

Once we arrived in Alexandria, we took taxis to Mercure Hotel, where we were staying. We were early, so we sat in the lobby and went over some typical Arabic conversations--what you would say to buy train tickets (we hadn't had to do that, since ours were pre-purchased), to check in at a hotel, to order food at a restaurant, and to shop in a department store. A few people decided to check themselves in so they could practice; the rest of us just gave our passports to Soheir and let her take care of it. It turned out that the rooms wouldn't be ready for several hours, so they gave us two rooms where we could leave our bags, and we went on with our day.

Our first stop was Balbaa (I think I got that right), a restaurant that's known for its fish but whose roasted chicken looked and smelled so good that most of us got that instead. The waiters spoke little to no English. It was the first restaurant I've visited in Egypt where there were no English menus and they wouldn't have understood what I wanted if I had ordered in English. The ordering process was a little complicated: We told our teachers what we wanted, they told us how to order it, we placed the order, the waiter confirmed with the teacher, and all our orders turned out right. I'm sure the waiters didn't appreciate the complication, but it all worked out, and the food was very tasty.

After that, we went to the ruins of the Roman amphitheater. One of the workers there told us a little about the site's history. The amphitheater was destroyed by an earthquake, and when the Muslims took over Alexandria, they built over the ruins. Over time, a hill was built up. The ruins were discovered during modern construction, but I don't remember when. We were able to climb all over the amphitheater itself, which is in remarkably good condition, and to walk partway down the remains of the Roman road that led to it. We were not allowed to explore the ruins along the road, however. There was an open-air museum area, as well, that had artifacts that had been recovered from the bottom of the Mediterranean, where the Pharos, the lighthouse of Alexandria, was located.

After stopping by the amphitheater, we made our way to the Alexandria National Museum. This beautiful building used to house the American Consulate in Alexandria, until budgetary constraints caused the consulate to become an "American presence post," basically a cultural center, staffed by only one American and a few locally employed staff. Now, the museum contains artifacts from the major periods of Egyptian history: Pharoanic Egypt, Roman Egypt, and more modern Egypt, with its Coptic and Islamic influences. The bottom floor of the museum is dedicated to Pharoanic Egypt, with the two floors above it getting progressively more modern. There's even a small sub-basement called "The Crypt," which contains a real mummy. I don't have any good pictures from inside the museum, because flash was forbidden, and it was too dark for pictures to turn out well, but I recommend a visit. The exhibits were well-labeled, which can't necessarily be said about all the museums in Egypt.

After we left the museum, we had a choice of where to go next. Soheir and Soheir were going to a local department store for shopping, and half of the women in our group decided to go with them. The two men and the rest of us women decided to go with Ali to the Bibliotheca Alexandrina, or Alexandria Library. But first, Ali caught us trying to take pictures of a very interesting bush in a park across the street, so he graciously offered us a detour. Here he is having a little fun with one of the three interesting bushes. (The other two bushes were frowning, but this smiley one was the most fun.)

Our little detour out of the way, we headed over to the Bibliotheca. It was amazing! I can't do justice to it on this blog. I could entertain myself in there for hours, and Jeff could spend days in there. He wants to take an entire vacation just to the Bibliotheca. But I'm getting ahead of myself. When we got there, we quickly discovered that we were not allowed to bring any bags into the library with us. Our purses, backpacks, basically everything larger than a wallet, had to be checked into a cubby in a nearby building. We were allowed to bring in cameras, though. We joined up with a tour that was just getting started and were given some fascinating information about the library and the projects being pursued. The library can hold something like 5 million books, although I think it has less than 2 million right now. The open reading area is the largest in the world. There also are conference rooms, a planetarium in an adjoining building, and multiple museum exhibits. There were two things that I found particularly amazing. First, the library has an archive of every page on every website on the internet from 1996 until 2007. The archive soon will be updated with information from 2008, as the update is done annually. Second, the library has one of the newest, most cutting edge printing presses that exist--the Espresso Book Machine, which can print and bind a 500-page book in 20 minutes. It can print just one copy, so it truly does print books on demand. It isn't yet open to the public, but the plan is that eventually, people will be able to come in and have a book printed to take home with them for minimal cost. Of course, it only will be available for books that are out of copyright or where the copyright owner has given permission. So far, I think they have about 1500 books that will be available when the service is opened to the public.

After we left the Bibliotheca, we went back to the hotel to clean up for dinner. We got into our rooms--tiny but clean . . . with NO soundproofing and uncomfortable beds, but hey, it was only for one night and it was cheap. Plus every room had a view of the Mediterranean--the picture on the right shows the view from ours. So it wasn't all that bad. Then we went to a mall for dinner. The plan had been to do a little shopping and then eat dinner at the food court, but some of our group were very tired, didn't want to shop, and did want a full sit-down dinner instead of a quick takeaway dinner. So we decided to skip the shopping and try a restaurant called Freddy's. Freddy's was marginal at best. Jeff's and my food was fine but nothing special, but some of the others really hated theirs. After that, it was back to the hotel for a little sleep.

The next morning, we ate breakfast in the hotel restaurant, then headed out to Qaitbay Citadel. Qaitbay is located right next to the now-submerged site where Pharos (the ancient lighthouse) used to be, and it is a beautiful place. You can tell I didn't get much sleep the night before, because I can't remember the information about the citadel that was presented to us. So I'll let the pictures do the talking on this one:

After Qaitbay, we went to the Automobile Club, one of the private clubs on the beach. One of our teachers is a member there, and they allowed us to come in, look around, and have a drink. The setting was beautiful, with large patios, multiple swimming pools (which were in a state of neglect due to winter, but which I'm sure are beautiful in summer), and the Mediterranean Sea in the background. Due to the current storm season, the water levels were high, and the waves literally crashed onto the patios several times. It was visually stunning, and the sound of the waves was so relaxing. Plus, the lack of air pollution made the sky a brilliant blue and allowed us all to breathe deeply in a way that you just don't do in Cairo. It was such a nice time, relaxing and chatting while we waited to go check out of the hotel!

After we left the Automobile Club, we went back to the hotel, checked out, and headed for the train station. There was a bit of a misunderstanding there, as we all sat at a track-side cafe to eat the lunches we had brought with us from Hardee's or Kentucky Fried Chicken. The manager didn't care if we ate our "outside" food there, but he did want us to buy something from him. Most of us bought a bottle of water, but two left the cafe, without buying anything, before the rest of us did. When the last of the people at that table got up to leave, the manager came out of the cafe, yelling and making a big fuss. I don't know what we would have done without our teachers there. The rest of us couldn't understand him and didn't know what he wanted. Our teachers figured out that he felt that he was owed the purchase of two more bottles of water, which he probably was, since his seating area had been used, denying it to other potential customers. Soheir bought the two bottles of water, and the man was satisfied. This incident vividly illustrated why it is important, when traveling, to make every effort to understand and follow local customs, and to try to see things from the local perspective.

After that little drama, we headed to our platform. The train showed up on time, and we headed back to Cairo. The trip took a little longer this time, as there were unexplained slow-downs at a couple of points, but it wasn't an unreasonable amount of time. When we arrived in Cairo, we decided to take a taxi home rather than the metro. Based on the recommendation of our language teachers, Jeff bargained the taxi ride down to LE35. The teachers said they probably could have gotten it for around LE25, but it's common for westerners to be charged more than Egyptians. Based on what we usually pay for a taxi from the embassy home (a slightly shorter trip), we had expected to pay LE50, so we were very happy with the price. And we were home around 30 minutes after getting off the train, as opposed to the hour or more that it would have been on the metro.

All in all, I enjoyed my first trip to Alexandria. I'm sure we'll be back--Jeff wants to spend some serious time in the library, and I just want to see that blue sky and breathe that clear air again!

Monday, February 9, 2009

Kitten Mischief


My cats . . . let me just show you.

They're not allowed on the entertainment system. They know this; they have been squirted with water, pulled down, cajoled down . . . except, of course, for this time, when I let them stay where they were while I got the camera. The only reason the Scat Mat hasn't been placed there to really deter them is that it can't be used on metal objects. But of course, Cleo just loves getting way up high and peering over the top of the TV, and Isis enjoys sneaking around the lower part. We haven't found a good way to deter them.

And then there's the whole issue with electrical cords. Every time they're seen biting one, or even playing with it, they get squirted with water, pulled away from it, scolded . . . but Isis developed an obsession with the power cord to our emergency radio. I guess 18V isn't enough to hurt a cat. Jeff is going to see about getting a replacement today. But we still have to figure out how to keep Isis away from it. Those stinky sprays, designed as animal deterrents, last for about 30 seconds flat with these two. Jeff's vote is for putting the Scat Mat down on the floor to keep them out of the whole area where we keep the radio. Of course, the table on which it sits could be reached easily by a kitten leaping from the bed, with no need to hit the floor . . . until of course, the not-so-sturdy table falls over because of their shifting weight, if not from the impact of their landing. I don't think we can risk the radio itself hitting the Scat Mat on the way down, either.

Speaking of the Scat Mat . . . we used it to teach the kittens not to get on the kitchen counters. But of course, the point is that you leave it there for a while so they learn, and then you can remove the Scat Mat and use your counters again. The cats did great at first. Two jumps onto the counter each, and they avoided that section of counter like the plague. They continued avoiding it when we moved the mat--both the previously protected section and the currently protected section. For about a month now they've avoided countertops that have ever had the mat on it, as we gradually moved the mat around to all of our counters. Until earlier today. I heard a thump that I recognize as a cat landing on a counter. But all of the kitchen counters should be safe now, as just this morning I moved the Scat Mat over to the last area. But no. There was Isis, standing innocently on the counter, on the very first section that got the mat. Aargh!

Any suggestions?

P.S. While I was reading over this prior to publishing it, I heard a funny noise from the area where their pet fountain is. Take a look at what I found:

Yes, that thing sticking up from the water is the lid to the filter well. The one that snaps into place and therefore can't be removed by pets.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

My Pita Experiment

Those of you who know me know that I am not so much a Martha Stewart kind of person. Cleaning is hit or miss, crafts are a big joke, and cooking is . . . well, cooking has improved over the last year since I quit working outside the home, but it's still not great. Simple recipes, easy stuff--mostly stuff from Cooking Light. Bread of any kind--that's not simple. Therefore, my bread gets purchased, not baked.

But recently, I've been reading these blogs from these women who stay home, focus on their families, home school their kids, and even bake their own bread. I started remembering the divine taste of the homemade bread that I used to get at the boarding house where my youth group stayed when we went to Ridgecrest all those years ago. And I started wondering . . . how hard is it, really?

So I tried an experiment. Something triggered me to start thinking about homemade pita bread in particular. I think I read an old post at one of the blogs where she mentioned baking pita bread and how good and easy it was. So I went looking for recipes online. I found one that seemed tailor-made for beginners. I already had all of the necessary ingredients on-hand--mostly due to easy recipes that called for just one tablespoon of all-purpose flour, or whole-wheat flour, but also because I got the bright idea to make homemade pizza last night (it turned out pretty well, I thought, but you'd have to ask Jeff, the pizza expert, to be sure). So today I decided to give it a try.

Step one: figure out if I need to activate my yeast according to package directions or if I can just toss it in the flour mixture like the recipe says. Nope, have to activate it. Okay, easy enough: mix 2 teaspoons of yeast with half a cup of hot water and throw in some honey. Wait for five minutes to make sure it gets all big and bubbly. While doing that, measure my three cups of flour. I think I'll go with 2 1/2 cups of all purpose and 1/2 cup of whole wheat. That way I can pretend they're healthy pitas without worrying about them not "puffing" because of using too much whole wheat. Done. Might as well go ahead and add the salt, too. Okay. Next? Check the yeast mixture. Oh, yeah, it's big and bubbly, almost out of the tiny little bowl I put it in.

Step 2: Dump the yeast mixture into the flour mixture. Add a couple tablespoons of olive oil--you can get great olive oil here. Stir with a wooden spoon. Oops, I don't have a wooden spoon. A plastic spatula will have to do. Stir until all the flour sticks to the mixture, none to the bowl. Okay, done.

Step 3: Dump the whole mixture onto a lightly floured surface and knead it for 10 minutes. (The recipe even provided kneading instructions, thank goodness!) Well, I just cleaned my countertop, so toss some flour on it and knead away. Oh, this is really really sticky. I don't think it's supposed to be this sticky. "Jeff!" I call into the other room. "Can you come help me?" Jeff comes running--if I call for help from the kitchen, it's possible there's a fire--and I ask him to dump some more flour on the counter and on the big messy ball of stuff in my hands. I didn't do it myself because I couldn't disengage my hands from the aforementioned big messy ball. My wonderful husband didn't complain or roll his eyes; he just dumped the flour and went back to the other room. Now the kneading works better. Much better. Ten minutes later . . .

Step 4: Make the formerly sticky mixture into a big ball. Coat a bowl with olive oil and toss the ball in. Spin and roll the ball to make sure it's coated with the olive oil. Hmm, another easy step.

Step 5: Cover the bowl loosely with plastic wrap and leave it alone for 90 minutes, until it doubles in size. No problem. I got stuff to do, see ya later! Sixty minutes later, I can't resist checking . . . it's doubled in size all right. It's tripled already. I guess it doesn't need those final thirty minutes.

Step 6: Punch the dough. Hmm, sounds a little violent, but okay. Consider the dough punched. Then divide it into eight equal parts, roll them into balls, and let them sit under a damp towel for 20 minutes to "rest." Why does dough need to rest? Oh, well, the recipe says let it rest, so it shall rest. Meanwhile, preheat the oven and pizza stone to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.

Step 7: After the dough is sufficiently rested, roll each ball out into a disk that is 1/8 to 1/4 inch thick. Okay. Oops, I think I forgot the floured surface part, this thing is sticking to my brand new rolling pin. Throw some flour on the counter and on the rolling pin and try it again. Much better. Once the first one is done, get started on step 8 while finishing step 7.

Step 8: Put the dough disk into the hot oven, on the hot pizza stone, for 3 minutes. Then take it off and replace it with a new one. (In the interests of full disclosure: Jeff came in to help with this step. He's heard too many yelps from the kitchen, followed by running water as his wife sticks her newly-burned hand under the faucet.) Meanwhile, keep rolling (step 7), but also keep an eye in the window oven because apparently it's really cool to see them "puff." Yep, it is kinda cool to see them puff up in the middle. I've wondered how they make pitas have the two layers.

In the middle of step 7/8, I realized that although my dough disks and baked pitas were the right thickness according to the measurement, they looked way too thin and spread out. So the final three or four pitas were a little thicker and more compact. They looked a lot more like what I've been seeing here, although they didn't really puff.

The verdict: Making pitas at home is simple, a bit messy, and a little time-consuming. The actual work doesn't take long; it's the rising and resting. But the final product was pretty good. Not as good as the pita bread we get from one local restaurant, but better than what we get from another.

Tonight I discovered the way to make fairly good pita bread into a very yummy dessert. Want to know the trick? Heat up one piece of pita bread in the microwave. Spread cool whip over it. Drizzle honey over that. Then roll it up like a burrito. A very messy but lick-your-plate-good dessert. It works best with the really big, thin pieces, of which there are none left now. Probably a good thing.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Not All Roses

I love living here in Egypt. I really do. But there are some things that will annoy me until the day I leave. For example . . .

Today I was walking back home after running by the church for a minute. I was minding my own business. I was dressed in jeans and a cotton shirt--conservative neckline, 3/4-length sleeves. It wasn't as long as it should be by Egyptian standards, because it didn't cover my rear end, but it's an outfit that I usually can wear and be treated with some amount of courtesy by Egyptian men. Or maybe not, because sometimes I do hear comments as I pass by, but they're not always directed at me (I think). They're in Arabic, so I don't usually understand them. They're often made by a man who is speaking to another man, so for all I know, they could be discussing the weather. I choose to make that assumption unless they give me concrete reason to believe otherwise.

And then there's today. I pass by a policeman. I say again, a policeman. In uniform, on duty. No one else in speaking distance, no phone to his ear. And he starts speaking. In English. I can't give him the benefit of the doubt.

"Hello. You're [didn't quite make it out, but I think it was 'sweet']. I love you." Said in a low, smooth that I assume was meant to sound suave.

I know, I know, not incredibly rude by Western standards. But we're not in the West. We're in Egypt, and in Egypt, those statements are incredibly rude. It's equivalent to a man--a policeman--saying "Hey, sexy, wanna move in with me?" to a random woman walking down the street. Shoot, an American cop probably would get fired for saying exactly what this Egyptian cop said, even without considering cultural differences.

Aargh! I wish he at least would've stuck to Arabic, but I may have understood even that. I definitely would have understood "ahlan, enti helua" (hello, you're sweet) and many other forms of that statement. I may have understood "I love you"; I've been taught how to say that I really like something, though I don't recall the word now, and I would recognize -ik, the suffix for you (feminine). Maybe I shouldn't have been so eager to learn Arabic . . .

Okay, done venting. Moving on to thinking about some of the things I really do like about living here, to erase the negative impression that traffic cop left. The guards at my housing compound are super-friendly and helpful in my Arabic learning, and they never cross any lines of propriety--Egyptian or American. I have opportunities to get involved in wonderful charities and to make new friends through the Maadi Women's Guild and church. I get to visit some really cool places--pyramids, cave churches, and I'll eventually get around to the Citadel, Coptic Cairo, and the Egyptian Museum. Prices are cheap, and shopkeepers are very friendly (and proper). There are camels here. Most of the people are friendly.

I'm feeling better now. Time to get off this computer and go do something useful.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

A Good Message

On Friday, we had a special treat at church--a guest speaker. Some of you may have heard of him: Josh McDowell. For those of you who haven't heard of him, he's a well-known Christian author and speaker. He's known for apologetics--defined as "the branch of theology that is concerned with defending or proving the truth of Christian doctrines" or "formal argumentation in defense of something, such as a position or system" (from TheFreeDictionary.com). Among his books are Evidence That Demands a Verdict and More Than a Carpenter. Based on his reputation and what I know of his books, I expected an intellectual message that had something to do with apologetics. I got something even better.

Josh started out by telling us that what he was going to be talking about is considered heretical by some Christians. Of course, the audience perked right up at that! Anything that smacks of controversy is always an interesting topic of discussion. But as he went on, I realized that although the topic often is misunderstood and misapplied by Christians, it isn't a message I've never heard before--though it is a message that bears repeating. The topic, to put it simply, was how we actually do and should view ourselves--our self-concept, to go back to my days as a psych student. And the point of the message was that, although of course we should not err by thinking too much of ourselves, we also should not err by thinking too little of ourselves.

I don't know about you, but I always am amazed at the beauty of a waterfall, the tranquility of a beach, the grandeur of a mountain view. Josh pointed out that most of us are in awe of the majesty of nature, but we fail to be amazed at God's crowning creation . . . ourselves. We all have a picture of who we are, but that self-portrait is rarely accurate. We see ourselves trying to become who we think we ought to be, in accordance with what we're taught by our culture, our family, or our own reasoning. But in order to know who we truly are, we have to see the picture from the Creator's view. Only He knows us inside and out, with all our flaws, yes, but also with all of our possibilities and as-yet-undiscovered gifts.

Josh gave the example of a pilot who is flying during a bad storm. It's possible for the pilot to get so confused that he's flying upside down without realizing it. That's why pilots are taught to always, above all, trust their instruments. Don't trust your own feeling of what's up and what's down; trust the instruments. Don't trust your own judgment of how high off the ground you are; trust the instruments. The instruments see reality objectively; your feelings and judgments can be skewed. In the same way, we as individuals have our own feelings and judgments about who we are and what we're worth, but our feelings and judgments can be skewed. We, like the pilots, need to learn to trust the instruments--in our case, the Word of God.

But in trusting our instrument, it also is critically important that we read the instrument correctly, that we interpret it as we should. So many people read the Bible and come away with a message that is not what is written there. One example: Romans 12:3 says "For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned" (ESV). Many people, including some that I have known, read that verse and say "See! You should not think highly of yourself!" But that isn't what it says. It says that no one should think of himself "more highly than he ought to think" (emphasis added), not that we shouldn't think highly of ourselves at all.

And we should think highly of ourselves--God does. We should value ourselves--God does. After all, what is a good way to determine something's value or worth? What is anything really worth in this world? Josh McDowell, Dave Ramsey, and many other sensible people agree: Things are worth whatever someone is willing to give up in order to obtain them--what someone is willing to pay for them. And just think about what God was willing to exchange for us, not just for us corporately, but for each of us individually: His one and only Son, Jesus Christ.

Thinking about that in the wrong way could result in some real arrogance, let me tell you!

Of course, Josh did point out how we can think about that in the right way. There are these economic terms: inherent value and derived value. Things with inherent value are valuable because of what they are. Things with derived value are given value by something external to the thing itself. For example, a Tommy Hilfiger shirt and an off-brand shirt both have some amount of intrinsic value as a piece of cloth that can be used to cover a person's torso and help keep that torso warm. However, the Tommy shirt usually has more value to most people; they're willing to part with more of their money to get it than to get the off-brand shirt. Where does that extra value come from? It comes from the fact that it's a Tommy shirt--it comes from the label, from the designer. Similarly, our value is derived from our Creator, who created us in His image as individuals who have the capacity to know and to worship Him as a personal being, as individuals who are capable of exerting will, of loving, of thinking, of choosing.

And the really beautiful thing is that we all have this derived value. It's what sets us apart from the rest of creation--makes us even more amazing than the most awe-inspiring piece of nature you've ever seen--but it doesn't make any one of us worth more than any other of us, which goes back to the whole thing of not thinking more highly of ourselves than we ought (which is the part that so many Christians focus on). We all have this unfathomable worth that is given to us by our Creator.

Of course, none of us wants to be just like each other--even as we strive to be the same (look at how we dress, talk, and behave)--we all want to be special. And we are! God created us to be unique. Each individual one of us is special, created to be something previously unseen in the universe. But that uniqueness doesn't make any of us worth any more than the other; if anything, it enhances all of our worths because all of us are rare, one-of-a-kind creations of the best Designer who has ever existed. And we all have a goal that is as similar as it is dissimilar: We each are designed to become the best possible us that we can become. You are designed to become the best you that you can be. You aren't designed to be the best him, her, or me. I'm not supposed to be trying to be a better you than you are. We're not in competition. As Josh says, "You're not in competition with anyone to be yourself."

To me, that is a liberating concept. I don't have to be the prettiest woman around; I just need to be the prettiest me that I can be. I don't have to be the smartest person in the room, just the smartest me I can become. As a blog author, I don't need to be trying to have the most widely read blog on the internet; I just need to be the best blog author that I can be. I'm not meant to strive to become the best person in the world at anything other than being me--and since no one else could be more me than me, even if they tried, I can't fail! I'm meant to fill my own specialized niche in this world, and to fill it to the best of my ability. As long as I'm being the best me that I can be, I'm fine, even if the best me that I can be doesn't look like what others think it ought to look like.

Now that's what I call a good message!