God of Loss

Just Your Faithful God of Loss

It is the time of graduations, moves, end of fiscal year budget crunching, and expatriate turnover. Sometimes moves are expected, and other times they come like a dust storm over the Sahara – with complete surprise leaving grit and dust in their wake. The grit and dust of grief and loss, of unexpected change. It’s the time when the bones of past losses that we thought we had resolved, or at least buried, come together and like Ezekiel’s dry bones in the desert – they come alive.

Last year at this time, my husband and I were in the middle of an interview to come to Kurdistan. It was completely unexpected but so welcome. On our return to the United States after the interview, we made the decision to leave our home in Cambridge of 10 years. We arrived in Kurdistan at the beginning of September and it has been a year of joys, challenges, trials, unexpected horrors, and equally unexpected delights. It has been a paradox.

When we left the United States we left with the plan that we would be here for two years. While we knew this was not completely in our hands, we assumed that it would be a decision made by both us and the university. It was easy to talk about holding our time here with an open hand when we felt we had control.  Now, unexpectedly, a government decision made at the beginning of May means that I no longer have my job. Additionally, my husband’s job has been reduced to half his salary. It is a decision with broad ramifications that affects some of our Kurdish colleagues and all the foreign staff, not only at our university, but at universities throughout Kurdistan. It looks like our time here will come to an end far sooner than we expected.

I am feeling this deeply. While we still don’t know specifics of when we will leave, it is 90 percent certain that we will leave. For so many years I longed to return to the Middle East. Now, it’s seemingly being taken away and at a great personal cost. I feel the loss of what I left behind to come, and I already feel the loss of the small niche we have been carving for ourselves in the city of Rania.

There are many, many losses in this life. Every relationship we have on this earth will end in loss. Every single one. Either they will die, or we will die before them. Whether you stay rooted to one place your entire life or you traverse the globe, the two things you can count on are loss and change. You might think you can control these only to have them surprise you with their insistent persistence. While many write poetically about God being a God of grace and generosity, indulge me as I think about the God of loss, for loss and change are the two constants that humanity shares across the globe.

In my first year of nursing school we played a game one day. It was a dramatic game of life. Tables were spread around the classroom with cards at each table. We all began at the same station with very little. We had a birth card and that was it. As we went through the game, we gained more, but it was far from fair. Some people gained a family card while others remained without. Some people got career cards, others got cards that said they were jobless and had to apply for benefits from the government. Still others kept on getting more and more money. About half way through the game, the rules and cards began to shift. We all began to lose things – both physical and material things. We began to lose friends and cars; jobs and eyesight. We protested loudly. It was unfair. It was unjust. We hated it. Ultimately, all of us ended much where we had begun – with a single card. Then one by one, we lost even that card and they went into the graveyard of a garbage can.

I hated the game. It was rude and unfair, but I understand why our professors had us play it. How else can you help 20 year old students learn empathy for the patients they were caring for? How can you give them a concrete way to experience loss? If the game was unfair, how much more so was life itself?

I thought of this game today. I feel like I am playing this game. I have arrived at the table with the cards that say either “Job” or “Job Loss” and I have picked the wrong card. The job loss at the university feels unjust and unfair. I love my colleagues and there is so much that we want to do together at the College of Nursing. My beloved Dean, Dr. Sanaa, is not only my boss, but also my dear friend. I have learned so much from her and have grown from her vision. This decision made by an anonymous government has hit me hard. It’s like going through the game we played during freshman year of nursing school, and I am losing.

Loss is peculiar. As if it’s not enough on its own, every time we experience another loss, seemingly buried past losses and griefs are resurrected. Even if I think I’ve healed, I bear those traumas in my soul and they resurface, sometimes as monsters, sometimes as mosquitoes, but always unexpected and always difficult.

So what of this God of Loss? And what is God in all this loss? Is he the author? The creator? The healer? Some days I am not sure. If he is a God of grace and generosity, can he still be a God of loss?

In the paradox and mystery of faith a resounding yes arises in my soul. A God of grace, generosity, loss, and ultimate love is woven into the whole, a mystical tapestry. Tapestries are made more beautiful by the stories that are woven into them and what would a story of gain be without loss beside it? What would a story of love be if we didn’t know what it was to not be loved? What would a story of grief be if we never knew joy? They are empty without their opposites.

I come to the conclusion that I came to at a young age, away from all security, alone and crying in the early morning hours as I lay on a bunk bed in a boarding school. I felt loss then. Loss of a mom and dad. Loss of a home. Loss of security. Even then, I knew this God of loss; a God who cares about loss and grief, who wraps us up in his love even as we shout out the grief of broken dreams and broken hearts. A God of loss who stretches out a strong arm to the lost. I feel his arm stretch out to me now, even as I run away, wanting to ignore it.  Like the runaway bunny, whose mother will never give up, no matter where I run to, the God of loss always finds me.

In a song called “God of Loss” by one of my favorite bands, I hear words that tell a life story of loss. It is hauntingly beautiful and I listen to it on repeat all afternoon. The words go through my head and find a home and resting place:

Yes, we will leave here without a trace
Take a new name and an old shape
I’ll be no outlaw, no renegade
Just your faithful god of loss

Darlingside

The Danger of Forgetting

The Danger of Forgetting

A long ago friend is killed miles away from his family.


Notre Dame Cathedral burns, an icon in flames.


A dear Kurdish friend’s sister dies. I sit at the funeral, silent and alone with my thoughts, a sea of women and children are quietly talking all around me. The mom’s tears are a window into her grief.


My Kurdish colleagues are told there is no money for their salary this month, leaving many of them at a loss as to how to provide for their families.


My own family members struggle with projects that cannot continue if they are not funded. Important projects in places that matter to God.


It is the 6th week of Lent and as I sit here on a Tuesday afternoon I feel the heavy weight of life. In every one of these circumstances I am helpless. There is nothing I can do. I numbly respond to emails and scroll through pictures of Notre Dame, conscious only of the fact that I am powerless in making any of these things better.

I am in danger of forgetting – forgetting that appearance is rarely reality.

All these thoughts come under a cloudy sky and I long for the Kurdish sun to appear again. Just three days ago the signs were so clear. We had just completed a successful international conference for the college of nursing. The world and the air were sunny and light. It’s easy to have faith when things are going well.

Now, I am in danger of forgetting – forgetting that appearance is rarely reality. Forgetting that part of faith is walking through air that is thick and heavy with grief and pain. Forgetting that the air will not always be heavy and thick, laughter and joy will come again. They always do.

In the Volume 6 of the Narnia Series, The Silver Chair, Jill is tasked with rescuing Prince Rilian and returning him to his father. It’s a seemingly impossible task, but the lion Aslan gives her a series of four signs to watch for. He makes her memorize the signs and repeat them, because he knows that the journey will be difficult and the signs might not always be clear. Today I think about this book and realize that I too need to remember the signs. The air is thick down here in Narnia and I’m struggling to remember the signs.

But, first, remember, remember, remember the signs. Say them to yourself when you wake in the morning and when you lie down at night, and when you wake in the middle of the night. And whatever strange things may happen to you, let nothing turn your mind from following the signs. And secondly, I give you a warning. Here on the mountain I have spoken to you clearly: I will not often do so down in Narnia. Here on the mountain, the air is clear and your mind is clear; as you drop down into Narnia, the air will thicken. Take great care that it does not confuse your mind. And the signs which you have learned here will not look at all as you expect them to look, when you meet them there. That is why it is so important to know them by heart and pay no attention to appearances. Remember the signs and believe the signs. Nothing else matters.


CS Lewis in The Silver Chair from the Chronicles of Narnia Series

Picture Credit: Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

A Life Overseas – ‘Tis the Season of Incongruity

Deck the halls with calls for charity! Fa-la-la-la-laaa, la-la-la-la!

‘Tis the season of incongruity! Fa-la-la-la-laaa, la-la-la-la!

#CottageChristmas or starving children? Fa-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la!

My heart is caught and I cannot win this thing! Fa-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-laa.


I don’t know about you, but I can’t do this. The sense of incongruity is overwhelming me this Christmas. I go from essays and photos of unbelievable beauty to my current reality, which includes messy, messy relationships, rain and mud up to my knees, no sign of Christmas lights and beauty,and long, long hours of no electricity.

I scroll through Instagram and the abundance of beauty is eye-popping. Pristine cottages bedecked with lights and color and living rooms with soft lights and all white furnishings with that splash of red and green color that just makes them pop. And then in the next picture, I catch my breath as I see a starving child in Yemen and an organization begging the world to take notice.  I breathe fire as I see another picture reminding me of the never-ending war in Syria and the continued devastation on people. And it hits home as I take my own pictures here in Kurdistan and I am reminded that there aren’t enough resources to meet the needs of the population, honor killings are still part of the landscape, and we can barely get funds for a single project.

‘Tis the season of incongruity – the season where the contrast feels too stark and I don’t feel like I have the ability to cope with these conflicting images.

And yet…

And yet, God’s story has always been a story of conflicting images. There is the image of the manger and the image of the cross, the image of judgement and the image of mercy, the image of truth and the image of grace. What I am seeing and feeling is nothing new to God.

God came into a world of contrasts. A world of the beauty and the broken. He came in a way that was so gentle, so unassuming – how could a baby threaten anyone? He came into a setting that was the height of incongruity – a king in a manger. For 33 years he lived as one who is unknown, going through daily life as we do – an image that is so mind boggling I stop thinking about it. We are told that he set aside greatness and “humbled himself, becoming obedient to the point of death” – a violent, horrific death. And then, the glorious resurrection and the words that we live by every single day: “He is not here! He is risen!”

My heart longs for peace and harmony in a world of broken incongruity. Read the rest of the piece here.

A Friday Prayer

The peach looked beautiful. It had the feel of a peach that was ripe but not too ripe and it smelled perfect.

Inside it was rotten to the core. I discovered this as I was cutting it into slices. So beautiful on the outside, so rotten on the inside.

How like the United States, with its rhetoric of greatness and it’s perfect exterior. Well trimmed lawns, good highways, fancy buildings, plenty of goods for consumers, coffee shops by the thousands, grocery stores by the million, parades and protection are all a part of the eye candy that is the U.S. Yet it takes but a moment of digging to uncover the rotten interior. From rates of abortion to treatment of foreigners we live in a society consumed by self and misguided protection. We daily watch men and women with little soul and even less integrity mismanage a nation in crisis.

We hear the cries of children ripped from moms in wombs and at borders, breastfed babies panting for milk from mothers who are nowhere to be found. Bullet holes in black boys haunt our collective psyche as we try to dismiss accusations of racism. Pride and corruption are rampant and the innocent struggle for justice.

Like the Old Testament prophets we cry “How long O Lord? How long?

Tears dry on faces that look up to the Son for justice.

We plead the cause of the orphan, the immigrant, the falsely accused, the unborn who were never given a chance, the dead who can no longer speak.

We plead and we pray.

May we allow the surgery of confession and repentance to root out the rotten core. May we fall on our knees in humility and repentance. May we see with eyes of justice and love with hearts of compassion. May we act with hands of mercy and speak with lips of wisdom. May we pray for our leaders and for ourselves.

May we, like the prophet Micah, do justly, love mercy, and Walk humbly with our God.

Amen and Amen

The Resilient Orthodox – Pentecost Interrupted

Our church was filled with greenery yesterday – the Orthodox color of Pentecost signifying new creation and the breath of life. The priests robes echoed the theme with colors of vibrant gold and green made of materials that reflected the light around them.

In the Orthodox tradition, 50 days following Pascha is Pentecost and the coming of the Holy Spirit. It is a huge day of celebration in the church. Jesus tells the disciples that it was a good thing for him to leave; that there was something better coming. How could something be better than Jesus? How could something or someone come alongside them the way Jesus had during the last three years? And yet, Christ ascended and with his ascent, the Holy Spirit descended, becoming a living reality for those left behind. Like the Trinity, the coming of the Holy Spirit is a complete mystery but one that I gladly accept.

Directly following Divine Liturgy, we settled into special kneeling prayers for Pentecost.

And then in the midst of all of it, a cell phone began to ring. It was a jarring sound that interrupted the prayers and my own thoughts. The ringing was loud, insistent. “Pick me up” it rang. “You need to see who it is, you need to pay attention, you need to obey!” There were shocked expressions and scrambling. All eyes turned toward the area where the sound was coming from.  It was directly in front of me, and for a moment I wondered if it was me. In fact, every one wondered if it was their phone, even if they knew that it couldn’t possibly be. The shocked expressions and wandering eyes found and stared at the guilty phone avoiding the embarrassed eyes of the human who owned the phone, and all the while the vesperal prayers continued.

Do you, then, who are full of mercy and love for mankind, hear us on whatever day we call upon you; but especially on this day of Pentecost, on which after our Lord Jesus Christ had been taken up and been enthroned at your right hand, God and Father, he sent down on his disciples and Apostles the holy Spirit, who settled on each one of them and they were all filled with his inexhaustible grace and spoke in strange tongues of your mighty works and prophesied.

My life in the Holy Spirit is so much like this – I feel the breath of the Holy Spirit, but I am interrupted by the urgency of life, responsibilities, work, people, worries, even joys. I try to listen but the interruptions are loud and insistent. Do this! Do that! Think this! Think that! Obey the urgent and insistent! All the while, the Holy Spirit is gently persistent. And so I come back only to be interrupted again with the tyranny of things that can wait.

The ringing of the cell phone stopped, and most people will not remember that it happened. But it continues to ring in my ears, because of the undeniable truth that it represents, because it so symbolically showed me what my life in the spirit is like.

Shutting off a phone is easy compared to shutting off the distractions of my mind. And yet I continue, ever mindful that the real failure is in deciding it’s not worth trying, that the distractions are just too persistent, I might as well give in to them.  Just as the prayers continued through the insistent ringing of a cell phone, I will continue seeking guidance from the Holy Spirit despite the insistent distractions that call me away.

I stop. I breathe. I pray.

Heavenly King, Comforter, Spirit of Truth, who art everywhere present, and fillest all things, treasury of good gifts and giver of life. Come and abide in us, and cleanse us from all impurity. And save our souls, O Good one. 

God of the Displaced and Exiled

Oh God of the displaced and exiled,

Hear the prayers of those in limbo.

Wipe the tears of mothers who parent children without a home.

Feed those who are hungry; keep safe those who are in danger.

Give strength to the helpers and the healers; to those who work tirelessly for justice.

Give us the spirit of courage and not fear that we might welcome the stranger in our midst.

Root out lazy prejudice that would block us from receiving those in need.

Give us ears to hear the voices that cry out in desperation, making impossible choices for their families.

Consume the conscience of lawmakers and policy enforcers with the holy fire of compassion, that they may open their hearts and their borders to those desperate for shelter.

Remind us that your prophets spoke words many years ago that are still true today; remind us that you have always cared for the oppressed, have always urged your people to care for the displaced and exiled.

Oh God hear my prayer for the displaced and the exile.

“Lord, listen! Lord, forgive! Lord, hear and act! For your sake, my God, do not delay, because your city and your people bear your Name.”*


All week my heart has been aching for those displaced. This morning my brother Dan sent me an article that the United States is on track to admit less refugees than it has since the beginning of the refugee program in 1980. There is simply no excuse. With the resources we have and the crisis being what it is, there is no excuse.

*Daniel 9:19

Palestinian Christians and a Prayer for Healed Eyesight

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“The perseverance of small, powerless drops of water dripping on the same rock, in the same place, ends by breaking the rock. In the same way, the power of faith with perseverance can break walls of hatred, of rejection, and of violent injustice.”*

The book sits on our book shelf, old and dusty with pages breaking out of the binding. The inscription on the first page says only this:

God does not kill! 

It is signed by Elias Chacour – the author of this small paperback.

The book is titled Blood Brothers and I read it in 1990. Some books influence you for a week, some for a year, others for a lifetime. This book is in the last category.

Blood Brothers healed my eyesight.

Prior to reading it I had sympathy for Palestinians but held to my minimally researched view that saw things quite simply. The Jews, as the chosen people set apart for God, had a right to their land. It was the Abrahamic Covenant. Therefore, whatever they did to protect their country, their land was okay – the ends justifying the means and all that. Not completely okay – I would have twinges of doubt when I read news reports on the plight of Palestinians but in the big, eternal scheme of things okay. To think otherwise would be disloyal.

Or would it be disloyal? Was the situation for Palestinians really okay? 

Blood Brothers tells the story of one Palestinian Christian and his struggle to reconcile what happened to his family in 1947 – 1948, a time when they were exiled from their home of generations. It captures his struggle as a Palestinian Christian and Israeli citizen who loved God and the word of God, and struggled with how to live at peace in the midst of conflict.

At the time I read the book we were living and working in Egypt and felt close to the conflict. I wrestled mightily with my feelings. Was I blinded by my surroundings? What about “chosen people?” What about covenants? It was during this time that my husband took a new job in Cairo starting a brand new Middle East Studies Program for American Christian students who wanted to learn about the Middle East. In directing this first ever program, he was tasked with several things. One of them was to give students a more balanced view of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict than the one narrative that they knew. He began to travel regularly to Israel, the West Bank, Gaza, and Golan Heights. Each time he returned he had more stories of the conflict, more tales of meeting with both Israelis and Palestinians. With each story I heard and each book I read, my eyes began to open and my vision began to heal.

A Short History

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict dates back years ago. Contrary to what many think, the conflict is not religious. It began, and continues, over land. The land that both Jews and Arabs claimed was called Palestine until 1948. Between 1948-1949, the land was divided into three parts: The State of Israel, West Bank, and the Gaza Strip. The West Bank and Gaza Strip were separate territories and movement between the two was difficult. Until that time Palestinians were in the majority and had lived peacefully, owning land, houses, olive groves, and vineyards for centuries.

As Israel became a nation, over a 2-year period they carried out a mass eviction, driving over 700,000 Palestinians from their homes. Over 85% of Palestinians were evicted from what then became the state of Israel. Palestinians call the 1948 event “alnakba” literally meaning “the catastrophe.” Refugees by the thousands had to leave homes, families were separated and many lost their lives. To this day, the displacement of Palestinians has created a massive and near forgotten refugee crisis. In fact, Gaza is considered one of the worst places to live in the world. It is an overpopulated food desert with 60 percent of the water undrinkable, purposely kept this way by the state of Israel. In the years following al-nakba, laws were created that denied citizenship and previously owned land to Palestinians.

Common Beliefs

Many Christians have historically held to a belief in Israel as a blessed land, a land that has a unique place in history. They see the modern-day state of Israel as being much like the ancient land of Israel. I was much like one of those Christians. Yet, the modern day state of Israel is a secular state, and could hardly be described as a godly nation. It is not an example of biblical righteousness. In holding to this viewpoint, Western Christians have ignored what scripture says about the aliens and strangers in the land, they have ignored the breaking of a covenant relationship, and they have not questioned Israel’s policies and history.

In believing this way, Christians ignore the bigger story. We forget about Palestinian Christians – Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant. We forget about justice and peace and do  not hold the nation of Israel accountable to a history of wrongs committed against Palestinians. The prophet Isaiah had strong words for a people who cared more about a nation than loving God and pursuing justice.  

A Challenge

In Blood Brothers, Chacour challenges these beliefs, gently and patiently pointing to a way of justice. While he begins with his own story, he moves on to talk about the bigger picture. In his words, Western Christians visit Israel to see holy stones and holy sands, all the while ignoring the living stones – Palestinian Christians. His call is not to demonize Israel or Israelis, but rather a call to reconciliation, peace, and non violence.

Five years after I read Blood Brothers, I had my own opportunity to travel to Israel and Palestine with the group of students in the Middle East Studies Program. It was my husband’s 8th trip to the region and I got to experience first hand the stories I had read and heard. One day we would be sitting in a synagogue eating a Shabbat meal with Israeli Jews, the next day we would be in the home of Palestinians hearing their stories. The conflict became even more difficult because it now had faces and names. We visited ancient churches and we met those living stones that Elias Chacour talked about – Palestinian Christians. Despite all they had experienced, they still hoped for justice. They still hoped and longed for others to see what the Israeli Occupation was doing to Palestinians – both Muslim and Christian. They still hoped to live as equals in the land of Israel. I was deeply moved by the faith, resilience, and perseverance of these people of God. I began to see why Father Elias Chacour says to people “Don’t choose sides! Learn what it means to be a common friend to both Arabs and Jews!”

I began to see that true justice and peace is to believe that both Jews and Palestinians should be able to live side by side in safety and freedom, with Palestinians enjoying all the rights of citizenship including homes, land, jobs, freedom of movement, education, and hope. Demonizing either side was not the answer. I began to pray that this would become reality.

A Prayer for Justice

The contradictions between biblical nationhood and the modern state of Israel are profound. Human rights abuses, an exclusivist state, arrests and detentions, destroying homes, stealing land are just a few of those contradictions detailed by Dr. Gary Burge in his book Whose Land? Whose Promise? And whether we be Orthodox, Catholic, or Protestant Christians, we need our eyesight healed and our vision restored. We need to see the nation of Israel for what it is – a nation deeply in need of grace, forgiveness, and restoration; Jews for who they are – a people who have experienced unconscionable genocide and should not have to fear suicide bombers and rocket attacks; Palestinian Muslims for who they are – a people who are rightly angry at living conditions and past and present injustice, some who have committed inconceivable acts of terror that do not help the cause of peace; and Palestinian Christians for who they are – people saved by grace, living in oppression and injustice, yet continuing to love the Lord their God and seek His peace – our brothers and sisters in Christ.

I don’t know much about politics, but I do know that God cares more about those living stones than he does about nationhood. He cares about reconciliation and weeps at oppression and injustice.  I do know that he cares deeply about us being agents of peace. From the ancient words of Isaiah we hear this:

“A bruised reed He will not break
         And a dimly burning wick He will not extinguish;
         He will faithfully bring forth justice.

“He will not be disheartened or crushed
         Until He has established justice in the earth;
         And the coastlands will wait expectantly for His law.”

Today is the 70th anniversary of El Nakba. It is a day to remember and to think about the importance of looking at history, remembering an injustice that continues daily in the lives of Palestinians. It is a day to pray for peace and justice. It is a day to ask that our eyesight be healed. 


*We Belong to the Land p.207

Reading List: 

Also, take a listen to this beautiful, poignant video sent to me by an Israeli friend: