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The Box

Today marks the first official day of the Blog Tour for Door to Freedom. Woohoo a virtual tour where we all get to sit at home with a cup of coffee (or other preferred drink) and join in with a simple click of a button. So…in honor of DAY ONE, I am going way back to 2013. I wrote this after an encounter that caused a lot of turmoil in my own heart, but ended with gratitude. Here it is:

I felt myself being squeezed back into a little box. It all happened in a matter of seconds and it started just by the look in his eyes.

It has been four years since I left a country that I poured myself into for thirteen years. Since the day I flew away, I have not seen a single person from there.

At first I didn’t miss it. Then I missed it terribly. As each day passed, I grew and changed. I tried new things, I found my voice, I learned that my opinions mattered and my gifts contributed to others. I gained confidence and slowly ventured out from the box that my former world had kept me in. I felt free!

But I still missed the people from my other world. Sometimes I wondered why I loved those ladies so much and why I couldn’t go back. If only I could go back now: now that confidence filled my veins, wisdom matured me and joy put a spring in my step.

One day, while eating dinner at a local restaurant in our new location, my husband and I noticed a family walk into the restaurant. We immediately knew they were from the land we formerly lived in. I admired their faces as they walked by. How I missed those faces!

After dinner, I went to the restroom and there was the lady from the group! Her name was Wi’am. She and her daughter were very happy to hear a khawadja (white foreigner) speaking Arabic. We chatted a little and then she excused herself and returned to her table. Back at my own table, I scribbled my name and email address on a piece of paper to give her. My hand was shaking out of sheer excitement. A woman from my former home! I loved those ladies!

I turned to look at the table where she sat, but found that the family was already gone. Phooey! Then I looked out of the glass door of the restaurant and saw them meandering through the gift shops set up in the parking lot. At the risk of appearing “stalker-ish” in my excitement, I left the restaurant and walked briskly across the parking lot toward Wi’am. I gave her the piece of paper and talked to her a little bit more before the men from her group walked up. Again, I was excited to speak Arabic and meet more people from our former home.

“This is my husband,” said Wi’am, as the men strolled up to us. I smiled brightly, eager to tell them that I used to live in their country.

Then it happened.

Any passerby would not have known that anything unusual had happened at all. The shop owners would have seen a group of North African tourists talking to an American lady for a few seconds and then would have seen them walk on their way. It happens all the time, every day. Why would anyone think it strange?

It started by the look in his eyes.

It was not so much what was in the look as it was what was NOT in it. It was a look that was void of respect. I was de-humanized in a split second. The words he said were cordial. But his look and his manner held me in disdain and crammed me into the tiny box “where you belong.” That man and every other man like him commanded me to shrink. Suddenly, my sleeves felt too short, my jeans too tight, my voice too loud, my manner too friendly, my walk too quick, and my stance too confident. What I would have given for a headscarf to cover my hair that moment. What on earth had I been thinking? His look shot emotions and reactions into my heart that I hadn’t felt in years. My mind saw every man who had leered at me and every man who had touched me or spoken to me inappropriately…I suddenly remembered every unspoken rule for a woman to survive in that man’s world. I found myself squished back into a tiny dark box.

There is no room for anything but me in that box- I am stripped. There is no room for self-expression or confidence. There is no room for talent or a voice of any kind. There is only me. I had been soundly put in my place and he didn’t even have to raise his hand.

I turned and walked away. As I slunk back across the parking lot I realized I inadvertently gave Wi’am the wrong email address. In my excitement I’d confused two of my addresses and wrote down a mixture of the two.

Idiot! A thousand men just like that one chuckled. See? You are a stupid woman!

A bell on the restaurant door jingled as I opened it which knocked me back into my own dimension. My ideas mattered. My voice contributed to the conversation. My confidence returned. I bloomed again and the tiny stifling box sat shattered in the parking lot.

It took me years to get out of that box and let the Lord nurture and grow me. I don’t have to get back in that box. But what about Wi’am? She’s never known anything different. Now I realize: that’s why I love her and ladies like her so much. They are beautiful and only when I crawled into that dark place could I see them for who they really were. I could see the potential for what God had made them to be.

The box. It’s a place that only a woman can go. No man can truly understand it or feel the pain that comes with it. Although I have attempted to describe it, it’s indescribable really. It’s a place where women are living and dying without the hope of Christ. Wi’am is there…and all my friends from that country.

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  1. Connie Ward Connie Ward

    How incredibly blessed we are to know that the freedom we have in Jesus will never be “boxed” ! Unfortunately we too often take it for granted in our ease and comfort. When we become viscerally aware of the cost those like Wi’am pay to experience that freedom constantly, then will we begin to understand the value of the gift we have.

    • Jana Kelley Jana Kelley

      Thank you for these thoughts, Connie. You are so right.

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