Saturday, June 8, 2013

desert vs. desert

English is a tough language.

You can imagine how my students feel trying to navigate a sea of rules and exceptions to rules, memorizing new words and trying to understand long passages and difficult questions in hopes of passing their exams each term. American kids have a hard enough time as it is. Most of my kids are learning English as their third, and maybe even their fourth language.

There are things in English we don’t even think about. Take for example the verbs looked, played, and waited. Even though they all end in “-ed,” that “-ed” is pronounced differently in each of them. Never thought about that before? Yeah, me neither.

Just the other day I was standing in front of 23 pairs of eyes staring at me waiting for me to answer the question of defining the word “ever”.

Go ahead. Define “ever”.

Yeah, that’s how I felt. Hah.

And then there’s this fun thing called homonymy. In a broad sense, it means that words can be spelled or pronounced the same, while having different meanings. My kids mix up “there” and “their” all the time, and I can’t blame them. It takes practice and repetition to know the difference between words that can play tricks on the eyes or ears.

Problems like this do not limit themselves to my Kenyan students, though. Just the other day I was left contemplating the word “desert,” and I noticed that a simple emphasis switch changes the word’s meaning completely. Emphasis on the first syllable? The place where I live. Emphasis on the second? A verb meaning “to leave.”  Here's some further clarification:

[dez-ert] noun;  an arid region that is largely uninhabited due to its lack of water

[dih-zurt] verb; to leave without intending to return, to forsake or abandon; to fail at a time of need

I can’t say that I ever thought I’d live in the desert, but there’s no fooling me now. Sand and heat and acacia trees and lack of resources are constant reminders. And in case of a passing moment where I’m lost in a non-desert related thought, the unexpected (and uninvited) appearances of critters like this one can surely jolt me back into my present time and space. Yep, I live in the desert.

Yes, this is my camera.
Yes, it was dead at the time of this picture!

Although I live in the desert, I realized that I am quite unacquainted with the word desert…well, the verb, that is. Yes, I live in a place far from family and friends and all that is familiar, but I do not have to worry about being deserted. The God I serve has promised he will never fail me, never abandon me. His promises throughout the Bible, to different people in different circumstances, make that clear. And he has made that clear in my own little 24-year old life, whether I’ve been walking through difficult times or rejoicing in the good.

“The Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.” [Deuteronomy 31:6b]

Even with these promises and this knowledge, it can be deceiving at times. Perhaps it’s not so much a coincidence that this noun and verb share the same six letters.  The noun desert infers a lack of something, and when we lack something, isn’t that when we are most fearful that we will be left to fend for ourselves? We lack knowledge of what the future holds. We lack happiness when hopes and dreams are dashed. We lack acceptance and love from those who we should find it in. All of this lack can lead to an underlying, but unshakeable feeling of loneliness. A fear of being left by ourselves. Of being deserted.

But the most wonderful news in the world is that for those who follow Christ, this fear of being left alone is one that will never be realized. Yes, we will still experience pain and hardship and rejection because we live in a broken world. But in the midst of that lack, we have a faithful God who is tenaciously sticking by our side. The God who vows to give us true satisfaction in Himself, regardless of the circumstances.

This is my prayer in the desert // When all that’s within me feels dry //
This is my prayer in my hunger and need // My God is the God who provides

Do you know this God? This God who promises, in the midst of your desert, to not leave you abandoned? Perhaps you know of Him, but you don’t really know Him. Or perhaps you know Him well, but have been tricked into forgetting or questioning the truth of this promise. Wherever you find yourself in this moment, I pray that you would be encouraged that the God who created America and Kenya and every other country in between, cares so deeply about you that He would never even dare to think about deserting you.

“Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland.”  [Isaiah 43: 18-19]


  1. This ... whether you intended or not ... made me chuckle, laugh and grin simultaneously lol!

    Thanks for sharing with us!

  2. wow! love your perspective. it's an eye-opener! ♥