A Spiritual Desert–and Finding Your Way: Lina Abujamra
Following her dad's death, Lina Abujamra found herself in a desert: literally, figuratively. She knows what it is to wonder if God is with you, or just a mirage. From Scripture and her own experience, Lina dusts off the gifts of a spiritual desert.
About the Guest
- Visit Lina's website at livingwithpower.org
- Lina's facebook: @livingwithpower
- Purchase Lina's book: Through the Desert: A Study on God's Faithfulness
- Find resources from this podcast at shop.familylife.com.
- Find more content and resources on the FamilyLife's app!
- Help others find FamilyLife. Leave a review on Apple Podcast or Spotify.
- Check out all the FamilyLife podcasts on the FamilyLife Podcast Network
Lina Abujamra found herself spiritually thirsty and alone. Was God with her, she wondered, or a mirage? Here, she dusts off the gifts of a spiritual desert.
A Spiritual Desert–and Finding Your Way: Lina Abujamra
Dave: So, before we get started today, guess what?
Dave: Today is the last day.
Dave: The last day of the May Match, where you can have your giving doubled if you jump in and become a FamilyLife Partner with us. Today’s the last day that you can jump in and be a part of it; and you get a Weekend to Remember® gift card, just as a “thank you” to jump in.
Ann: A devotional!
Dave: Yes, you get all kinds of pretty cool stuff that we’ve been talking about all month. But I would just say this: why wait? You know, summer’s coming, and things are going to change. This is the moment where you know, you say, “Wow! I believe in what FamilyLife is doing. It’s impacted me, and I want to impact others.” Man, we love our FamilyLife Partners who jump in and help us do this. We can’t do it without you!
Ann: And if there’s ever been a time in our culture where we need help for our families, for parenting, for biblical and sound advice and hope, this is where you can find it! We hope that you will become part of our family with FamilyLife Today.
Dave: Yes, so jump in today. You can go to FamilyLifeToday.com; you’ll find all the info there. I hope you join with us.
Dave: If there’s one place I never really want to be invited to go with God, guess where that is?
Ann: Somewhere desolate!
Dave: A valley; a desert.
Ann: A valley.
Dave: A storm. I avoid it at all costs! And I actually thought—
Ann: We all do!
Dave: –I know, but I thought when I signed up to follow Jesus, that was part of the plan: “You follow Jesus, and that’s removed from your life.” Did you not think that?
Ann: Kind of.
Dave: An “everything’s better with Jesus” type of deal.
Ann: I don’t think I ever thought through that, but when you read Scripture, man!
Dave: I know!
Ann: People were suffering. They were in pain; they were in jail.
Dave: But not me! [Laughter]
Ann: You didn’t want to be! [Laughter]
Dave: That’s for them!
Shelby: Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Shelby Abbott, and your hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson. You can find us at FamilyLifeToday.com or on the FamilyLife app.
Ann: This is FamilyLife Today!
Dave: I’m glad it grows their faith! I don’t—I want my faith the easier way!
Dave: And you know it doesn’t work that way. [Laughter] But that concept of God inviting us to the desert. Lina is back with us to talk about that. You’ve used that phrase that actually, “God invites us to the desert.”
Dave: You can hear her over there. She’s just ready to jump in on this. Welcome back!
Lina: Hey, thanks for having me.
Ann: Lina AbuJamra; tell us about what you do. Let’s get into that.
Ann: Because you do a lot of different things.
Lina: Yes, so I pay the bills by being a doctor. So, now, the context that I practice in now is through telehealth. I work for a company online, and I transitioned into that from the pediatric ER. That’s my training. For 16 years, I worked in the pediatric ER. The reason I left is because our work in Lebanon had grown. So, I was doing two careers; basically bi-vocational. I did the medical work, but then I also started this ministry called Living with Power. The ministry was basically a discipleship ministry. So, I wrote books, did podcasts; stuff that you see a lot of people doing in ministry today.
Then, when I left a megachurch, it sort of created this empty space in the ministry, where I wasn’t sure what would happen. I had always thought ministry was women’s ministry in a local church. So, I didn’t really imagine a world where I could do anything for God outside of that. Even then, I felt like the writing and the speaking were so related to the local Church that now I wouldn’t even have that.
So, in that space, because I finally came up for air, so to speak—which is what the gift of the desert does. It allows you a minute to stop! I remember, in that season, sort of asking the question—maybe I was whispering it; maybe it was just a thought that God heard, but it was basically the question—of, “What do you want me to do now, God? If you closed that door for the church, and it’s all falling apart, what now?”
And in that was the invitation, and a number of different things that happened, to go to the Middle East, to my home country, which I never wanted to go back to. I am as American as they come! I mean, I’m still single; I live in a big city; I fend for myself. I’m a bit abrasive, you know, or whatever you want to call it. I like the American way in every way, you know?
He invited me to go back, and I remember my mom thinking I was crazy. Nobody wanted me to go back! It was a time when my dad had just passed away. He had had complications. And so, I don’t know what he would have thought. I think he would have been proud, in hindsight. I’ve done a lot of work in a country that is our home country, and that he loved deeply.
Still, I started going back and doing medical trips. The more I did there, things took on life. So, we went on four trips a year. Because I speak the Lebanese language, and I’m Lebanese, I had the cultural factor, the language. The church quickly started asking me to step into some other things that I was gladly willing to do.
Ann: And one of the things you’ve done recently is, you’ve written a lot of different books.
Lina: Oh, yes!
Ann: But you’ve also written a new Bible study.
Lina: Yes! You know, this is my first real Bible study. I mean, like I’ve done a lot of Bible studies that we’ve self-produced, and we’ve had online through different—you know, when I taught the women’s ministry and such; but this is our first publisher-backed book, which makes it a lot prettier. [Laughter] And a lot more organized! It’s just pretty. Literally, the cover is amazing. We love it! And it’s called Through the Desert: A Study on God’s Faithfulness.
And the concept—this is with David C. Cook, which has been a very nice publishing house that has done incredible studies for a lot of people in the past, but we have two; there’s another coming in a year, and I hope more. So, the idea is to follow God’s footsteps through Scripture in a variety of different places: “mapping the footsteps of God through different places.” So, this one is Through the Desert; the next one is a table in the wilderness, meals that God has. There are some that are going to be In the Pits, or In the Prisons; so different themes in Scripture.
Ann: Dave, it sounds like the exact thing you don’t want to read! Is that what you’re saying?
Dave: Well, no! [Laughter] I think I need to read it! It’s going to give me a perspective that we need.
Lina: So, this one is Through the Desert. So, you’re right.
I grew up in a home that valued the beach. [Laughter] My mom never met a cactus she liked. She just does not care for the desert. We’ve never gone out West. I don’t know? My parents vacationed by beaches. We grew up in a Mediterranean—
Ann: There’s sand!
Lina: I don’t know why? So, I never got to go to a desert until well into my thirties, I think. My first time to Phoenix was in my mid-thirties to late thirties. And I adore it! I love the desert!
Lina: I love it! I’m not comparing beaches. That’s apples and oranges.
Lina: But I love hiking in the desert! I love the heat of desert. I love the cactus, the scenery, the space! I love everything about it. My mom thinks she adopted me. [Laughter] I don’t think she believes I’m hers; they switched us in the nursery! But I really love it, and I have found so many spiritual lessons in the desert. Well, it turns out that God loves the desert, too.
You’re right; you can not get past a few pages of Scripture before you see the invitation of God for His people to the desert.
Dave: Genesis, Chapter 12.
Lina: You could argue—
Dave: Even earlier.
Lina: You could argue earlier!
Lina: Genesis, Chapter 3.
Lina: After Eden, you could argue that though he put them out, it was a gift to put them in the desert after. He put them outside of Eden, maybe not [in] a desert.
Lina: But the point is, outside of the garden. You could argue it was a gift of grace, because it kept them from eating the fruit of the Tree of Life, which would then give them eternal life on the other side of God. So, this was a gift. But truly, Genesis 12 is a very—like, if you’re not sure before, you read Genesis 12, and you—well, first get the study, because I’ll explain it to you! [Laughter]
But basically, the call to Abraham is a call to trust God in the desert. He literally invites him: “You follow the map; you go to the area, to the desert.” And He doesn’t really tell him where.
Ann: Have you guys—either of you—had God call you into an area, or call you to do something, that you were like, “Wait, what!?”
Ann: You have?
Lina: Lebanon!! I never—I mean, I was like, “Really?!” I mean, I remember when I first went, the context wasn’t even to refugees. My first, you know, foray into Lebanon was—first of all, I had a lady who used to be my small group leader at the church that I left say, “Well, Lina, have you ever thought about doing a podcast in Arabic?” Right when I was leaving the church; and I thought she was trying to be nice to me, like, “Now that you’re not at the church, you need to do something with your time.” I was like—she meant one, just because she thought it would be cool. I took it as, “Oh, I should do a podcast in Arabic.”
I grew up in an American church led by American pastors. I’ve always read the Bible in English, prayed in English, and read, memorized the verses in English, though I’m Lebanese. If you know the language, it’s very different: Lebanese, spoken, versus the proper Arabic of reading, writing, and orating. So, the idea is ridiculous, even now, that I would get online and do some public broadcast in Arabic! They were surprisingly good! But I mean, I’m fluent in Arabic.
Ann: So, that’s where you were like, “Wait!? You called me to do this? I’m out of my league.”
Lina: Well, that was—I wasn’t even going to do Syrian refugee work!
Lina: Because I was already doing medical missions trips where I could, and I did not want to raise a dollar for God, ever. I was a doctor! “I can make money! I mean, I’ll go work and put money to missions, but I am not humbling myself and asking people to give for anything!” [Laughter] I mean, it just felt like, “That’s too much, God! We’re Lebanese! We don’t ask for anything!” If we’re going to a restaurant, you’d better believe I’m going to arm wrestle you and win and pay every single time!
Ann: Ooh, we should take her out to dinner!
Lina: It’s how we are!
Dave: Let’s go out to dinner! [Laughter]
Lina: But it’s in our culture!
Lina: So, it’s just felt like, “You can’t ask that, God!” But I went to Lebanon on a vision trip, not to do refugee work, because I’m too thick-headed to see what’s in front of me. And I still was intent on teaching the Bible in the way that I thought was acceptable. I went to seminary, where I had a guy who knew my brother-in-law, and he headed the seminary. I thought, “Okay, well God doesn’t want me to be a Bible teacher in the US, since I left the church, and they didn’t ask me to come back. You know, it’s all falling apart.” You know, all the stuff!
I thought, “Well, I’ll go to Lebanon. They must want us to do something there.” So, I sat in front of this seminary head, thinking, “They’re going to eat me up! I have two books that have been published! I’m Lebanese, living in the US!” Like, “What’s not to love?!” And he—I could tell from the minute I opened my mouth; can you read body language? It was clear I was not on his agenda for the next thirty years. [Laughter]
So, I quickly gathered myself without stumbling any further in that conversation, and on a whim, because of another God thing—I mean, it’s how God works! The month before, I had been invited to go to Jordan. It was my first time seeing the refugee life. Somebody had tried to set me up with a book publisher. That never amounted to anything, but because of that connection, I had heard a bit about the Lebanese and the Arabic publishing world.
So, in an effort to save that meeting, I asked him if he knew any publishers in the area. Honestly, it was purely out of self-preservation for my pride, because I was like, “They don’t want me here. God doesn’t want me anywhere. What is my purpose in this life?” And the guy points outside his window and says, “Do you see that window over there?” He said, “That is the house of the biggest publishing house in the Middle East.” [Laughter] So, I leave, and he calls up and finds the lady there. I leave that meeting to go there. I don’t give him the books that I brought to show him. I give them to her.
The next morning, she calls and says, “We want to translate your Thrive singlesbook into Arabic.” Part of that deal was that I would have to pay a certain amount of money to get it published, because they don’t have funds there.
Lina: So, now I had my first fundraising problem, but I had a board that thought that was the direction we should go, and we were able to do that. At the end of the year, they wanted me to come do a conference there, in Arabic. Do you see? Okay, why am I going through the story in such detail? Because (A), I was in the wilderness that God had invited me to in hindsight; (B), I did not want to be there, and I never could have planned the story. I was just looking for the oasis in the wilderness. [Laughter]
God was leading me there, but it took me steps. Now, because I had done the podcast in Arabic, I wasn’t utterly repudiating the idea of doing a conference, because I had practiced. Now, I go to do the conference, a year later, and now, that’s when I go meet the Syrian refugee area and the pastor that was working. I had found our place. So now, we started doing the work. Here you say, “Did you ever, in your entire world, think that ten years later, you’d have started this?” And our work has grown exponentially!
This year, just this month, we’re launching the Lebanese office for Living with Power.
Lina: And that woman, who was the publisher at that publishing house, that I gave the books to, who wanted them in Arabic? She’s our Executive Director in Lebanon.
Ann: Oh, that’s cool!
Ann: What about you, [Dave]? I want to hear what you feel like God’s called you—what’s been your desert?
Dave: I’m sitting in it. That’s what I thought! I mean, not that it’s bad! But when He called us to host FamilyLife Today, I thought, “Are you kidding me?! This is not what I do! I’ve never done this! I’m not equipped or prepared to do this.” It felt like, “Why are we going out here?” And here we are! It’s a dream come true; I mean, it’s amazing! But that was the first thing that came to my mind. There’ve been a lot of them, but that’s one. What about you, [Ann]?
Ann: The first thing that came to my mind was my marriage. [Laughter]
Dave: I’m your desert! [Laughter] That’s the worst!
Lina: It’s a good thing if God calls you to it!
Dave: Here I am! [Laughter]
Lina: That’s awesome!
Ann: No, I think, as a young woman, I had a dream of what my marriage would look like. And I felt like God called us together. I had no doubt that He was asking us to follow Him together; but I also felt like I was the loneliest—after we’d been married a while, the loneliest—the saddest, and the most disillusioned I had ever been. It made me fall on my face before God and say, “God, I’m so disappointed. I thought we were going to change the world together! And now, I really don’t like him very much, and I don’t want to do very much with him.”
Yet, in our brokenness, when we called out to God in our desert—you were in it! That was a desert for both of us.
Dave: Oh, yes!
Ann: And when I called out—
Dave: I felt exactly the same thing!
Ann: I felt like He was saying, “I’m right here.”
Ann: “I’m right here! And not only am I here, but in the future, I will use that to help other people who are in the desert of marriage.”
Lina: This is so cool.
Dave: Yes, in fact, your desert will be your ministry.
Dave: Which I think a lot of people find out. It’s like, in our pain, we find our purpose.
Lina: Well, there’s no question! And I mean, I think to tie up some of the ideas, that’s exactly what deconstruction feels like, right? It’s the dark night of the soul that it’s been compared to. It’s really a desert space. I think what you end up hating becomes a place where God shows up the most. So, this study, Through the Desert, I did not write thinking, “Oh, I just published a book!” In fact, it hadn’t been published yet. You know, the cycles of publishing are two years ahead of time.
Lina: So, you start the idea, then you write, then it comes out. So, I couldn’t have planned it that well, to plan a study on why and how God uses the desert right after writing a book about the desert of deconstruction, right? Any pastor listening to this probably loves that this is all alliterated. [Laughter] Your pain has purpose, and the desert of deconstruction leads to your destiny of divine work. So, I’m pushing it now, but anyway, the point of it is that the study—what’s cool about it—is six different pit stops of desert places.
I think it gives you a glimpse; it starts from Genesis to Revelation. Obviously, there are a lot of books in the Bible, but there are very big pit stops that have a thread of story about God and how our story weaves into that. See, we think our story is about “me,” but really, we’re part of God’s bigger story.
I know we hear that a lot. I mean, I’ve heard that. I was a women’s ministry director for some years, so I’ve heard the theme. I’ve heard that his story—you know, history is “his story” and all of these [things]. You know, Francis Chan’s sermon about the yellow rope!
Lina: And a YouTube video that’s gotten so many hits! But still, you want to matter, you know? But you do! You’re somehow part of His bigger story, and I think when you sort of can see how much God values us to make us part of His story, but [understand] Scripture is not a story about me. It’s a story about Him, and Him loving us and redeeming us!
We go through this six-week Bible study, and you stop at these pit stops. They go from Genesis, where He, you know, is inviting Abraham into the wilderness. Then, you move into the people of Israel. They’re like the epitome of bad wilderness. You know, in one week, we talk about that, and then we go into Exodus; then, we land in Jeremiah, where despite the fact that they are bad upon bad upon bad, God still, in Jeremiah, invites them into this new covenant. He tells them, in Jeremiah 31—an awesome chapter! That’s the week that I talk about God saying—basically, He finds us in the wilderness, [showing] how much He loves us! You’re like, “Wait! They didn’t deserve to be loved! They’ve done everything bad!” Yet, here’s God, still crying out for them.
Now, you jump into the New Testament and, ironically, you might say, “Well, the desert is an Old Testament thing, not a New Testament thing.” Guess what? John the Baptist!? His entire ministry is in the desert, and it’s not an exception to the rule. It’s symbolic of so many things. So, I talk a lot in that teaching about how John the Baptist’s place in the desert was so meaningful and why that is a place that wakes us up to our need for repentance and change.
Ann: Which desert pit stop was your favorite? Or the one that marked you? That you thought, “Whoa?”
Lina: Well, the last one is Jesus and the victory. Actually, I would say, probably, Jeremiah 31 was very instrumental for me, I’d probably say. So, it’s not a fair question, because one of the beauties of picking six teachings when you’re a teacher is that you can pick the ones you like the most, right?
Ann: Yes, yes.
Lina: So, I have been deeply ministered to by the life of John the Baptist. Primarily and deeply, because, in some ways, everything went wrong for him, right? He goes through the wilderness; he’s very popular for a while until Jesus comes on the scene. Then he’s a behind-the-scenes guy. He lovingly embraces it. Well, then he gets thrown into jail, and the most painful chapter in the New Testament, but the most hope-giving to me is that chapter where his disciples—John the Baptist’s—go to Jesus and say, “Are you the One? Or do we wait for another?” The answer that Jesus gives is more healing.
Lina: More miracles.
Ann: “Tell John what you’ve seen.”
Lina: And meanwhile, guess what happens to John? His head gets chopped off!
Ann: His head, yes!
Lina: So, I think that story has probably ministered to me the most deeply in Scripture in terms of understanding: when bad things happen, it’s not a punishment. There’s a bigger story.
And then, He says to them, “There’s no greater prophet than John the Baptist.” It’s like, “He gets it!” And yet, he didn’t get it for a minute, and he still—just the paradox of that is crazy to me! Then, Jeremiah 31—why I love it— The story is John the Baptist, but the verses of Jeremiah 31 are probably some of the most life-giving verses in Scripture. It’s really about this idea that God allures us, allows us, leads us, to the wilderness, but then dumps His love on us in a way that makes no sense!
Lina: Because all we do in the wilderness is everything we’re not supposed to do. And yet, here He is, calling to us and inviting us into a new covenant where He’s in us and with us forever and ever.
Shelby: I think all of us, as believers, desire a renewed sense of purpose in our Christian walk. We long for freedom from the feelings of failure and regret. I think all of us really want a greater sense of trust in God. I’m Shelby Abbott, and you’ve been listening to Dave and Ann Wilson with Lina Abujamra on FamilyLife Today.
Lina has written a book called Through the Desert: A Study on God’s Faithfulness. You can pick up a copy by heading over to FamilyLifeToday.com to learn more about how we can gain that renewed sense of purpose; how we can have a greater sense of trust in God. Lina will unpack that for you in her resource. Again, you can head over to FamilyLifeToday.com and find your copy there.
Well, today is the last day in May, and that means it’s the last day of our matching opportunity, to partner with FamilyLife. Now, what does that mean, to be a partner with this ministry? Well, David Robbins, the President of FamilyLife wants to fill you in on what that looks like and how you can be a part of it.
David: Hey there! This is David Robbins, President of FamilyLife, and it means so much to me when we get to hear from our listeners. I just want to thank those of you who engage with us and tell us how you’re being encouraged, or how we can help you more. We recently heard from a listener who shared with us:
“I’ve been a listener for years, and the guests, topics, and conversations are always informative and life-giving. Even the topics that I don’t think are pertinent to me provide a springboard for my words of encouragement to my circle of friends, family, church members, and leaders.” Then she says this, which is my favorite part: “I start a lot of conversations with, ‘They were talking about [blank] on FamilyLife Today.’ It ends up starting such amazing conversations with my neighbors and my friends.”
You guys, this is our heart! This is what we’re about. We want to bring to you grace and truth found in God’s Word that helps you in your own walk with God, helps you in your home; and then, from that place of you being filled up and experiencing Jesus, you get to go be a light and reflect Jesus to the people around you. In whatever small way we can play, you saying, “You know what? On FamilyLife Today, they were talking about this,” and it becomes something you pass on to a friend, and you get to talk about it together. There is nothing more we rejoice in than that kind of life-on-life about the gospel happening!
Our mission says just that. We want to “effectively develop godly families who change the world one home at a time.” So many of you are people who are changing your corner of the world, living for Jesus right where God has you. One of the other ways you can impact the world for Christ is by becoming a FamilyLife Partner. These are people who just join in monthly at any capacity and give month after month to FamilyLife. It allows a ministry like FamilyLife Today to keep being a daily resource to people, giving them the biblical help that they need.
This month, we have an incredible opportunity, because there have been some generous partners of FamilyLife Today who have come together and said, “We will double the contributions for an entire year of anyone who joins as a monthly FamilyLife Partner. We want to invite you to do that! We are in need of more partners, and there are some incredible benefits that you’ll hear about soon if you become a FamilyLife partner. We are so grateful to get to journey with you and your family in the ways God is using you in your community.
Shelby: Yes, and as David talked about, when you become a FamilyLife Partner, you will receive exclusive benefits. So, let me go ahead and highlight a few of those benefits for you. When you become a partner with us, you’re going to get a gift card to attend a Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway. You’re also going to get live FamilyLife events with some of our talented authors, radio and podcast hosts, and many celebrity guests. In addition, you’re going to have access to our brand-new curated library of content that includes resources for some of life’s most important issues. That library was collected by some of the best minds here at FamilyLife.
Those are just a few of the benefits you’ll receive as a FamilyLife Partner, as we come alongside you and equip marriages, parents, and families to impact our culture for Christ. You can goi online to FamilyLifeToday.com, or you can give us a call with your donation at 800-358-6329. Again, the number is 800-F as in “family,” L as in “life,” and then the word, “TODAY.”
Now, tomorrow, Dave and Ann Wilson are going to be joined by a friend of mine named Sam Allberry. Sam is a pastor and author and an amazing speaker. He’s going to be talking about the new edition of his very popular book, Is God Anti-Gay? This covers tons of relatable topics in what is going on in our culture right now as Sam unpacks for us, about learning that the gospel is about God being kind toward bad people, not God being congratulatory toward good people. Spoiler alert! We’re all bad people.
That’s coming up tomorrow. We hope you’ll join us.
On behalf of Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Shelby Abbott. We’ll see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
FamilyLife Today is a donor-supported production of FamilyLife®, a Cru® Ministry.
Helping you pursue the relationships that matter most.
We are so happy to provide these transcripts to you. However, there is a cost to produce them for our website. If you’ve benefited from the broadcast transcripts, would you consider donating today to help defray the costs?
Copyright © 2023 FamilyLife®. All rights reserved.