Thoughts from El Paso

The fear, bigotry, and hatred within us is what we often have to fear the most.

Friends – One of our dear friends, Sami DiPasquale, and a former student from the Middle East Studies Program that my husband started many years ago, lives and works in El Paso. He loves the community deeply and recently wrote a beautiful and challenging post about the grief the community is experiencing. I am honored to post this on Communicating Across Boundaries.


I don’t know how to express my grief from these last couple of days. Our communities in El Paso and Ciudad Juarez are deeply hurting and in shock. My family and our team of coworkers are safe, but we also know that many in our community are just one or two steps removed from victims of the massacre that took place at a nearby Walmart. One of our coworkers was planning to be at that same Walmart Saturday morning but had changed her plans. Another coworker lives very nearby and the shooter was apprehended not far from her apartment. Many from our neighborhood shop regularly at that Walmart since it is close and easy to get to by public transportation. So this act of terrorism hits very close to home.

I want to give a little context to this shooting from my perspective. Someone from far away traveled to the border, to El Paso, in order to inflict great harm on our community. This harm did not come from the south, from one of the thousands of people seeking asylum at the border a mile from my house. This harm was not inflicted by immigrants. This harm was not even inflicted by anyone from El Paso who was unhappy with the situation on the border.

The terror, the murder, the invasion that our city experienced Saturday was brought to the border from inside of the United States, not from outside of the United States. The irony runs deep and bitter. We as a nation have long been told to fear the possibility of terrorism at the border. On Saturday terrorism hit the border in El Paso for the first time in recent memory. And it had a different face than we have been told to expect. According to the ongoing investigation, it had the face of nationalist white supremacy and targeted racial hatred towards immigrants and those of Hispanic descent. A list of the victims has not been released but we know seven of those killed were Mexican citizens who were shopping at Walmart on Saturday.

If you pray, please pray for El Paso and Juarez and for the families of the victims of the shootings. Please pray for healing for El Paso and Juarez, and for the other cities that have experienced similar atrocities. But also please examine your own heart and your own prejudices.

Whisperings of pride and superiority take hold and grow and turn into something very ugly

Sami Dipasquale

The words we use to talk about others matter, the fears we stir up matter, the walls we build against those who are different than us matter. Whisperings of pride and superiority take hold and grow and turn into something very ugly. And then they manifest themselves in the kind of terrorism we experienced on the border on Saturday. Do not let your homes, your workplaces, or especially your places of worship flirt with this temptation. The fear, bigotry, and hatred within us is what we often have to fear the most.

Last night I attended a vigil hosted by faith leaders from many religious traditions. Our mayor and members of congress were also present and shared. The overriding message was a spirit of love overcoming hate. I have great hope in the capacity of the people of El Paso (a city that is 83% Hispanic and made up of many immigrants) to love and be hospitable. El Paso is the friendliest place I have lived in the U.S. Maybe that is another reason that El Paso was targeted; because it has served as a model for the rest of the country as to what it looks like for a community to respond in compassion to strangers in need. A network of 30 groups in El Paso, mostly churches, has been providing temporary shelter for asylum seekers for the past few years, and now sister churches across the border in Juarez are sheltering those affected by the “Remain in Mexico” policy. Many of these churches have very limited resources and they are not giving out of their surplus but out of their faith and a belief that they must help those in need regardless of the circumstances. We have much to learn from these brothers and sisters.

Thank you to all of you have reached out to check in and send your love. I am very grateful for your friendship and support! Many of you have asked how you can help. The best way you can help is by combating the dangerous attitudes described above wherever you are, and by loving those you come in contact with regardless of their background.
If you would like to support families of the victims of the El Paso shooting, the El Paso Community Foundation has started a fund and is accepting donations. https://payments.epcf.org/victims

Over the past year I have been working with members of our team in El Paso to formalize a new initiative, Abara, focused on addressing some of the most pertinent issues in the borderlands. Currently we are supporting migrant shelters on both sides of the border, hosting border encounters for those who want to learn more, and connecting with others engaged in similar work. We hope to inspire connections, contribute to positive narratives about the border and invest in a generation of peacemakers. If interested you can learn more about what we are doing and ways to support this work through the Abara website. You can also sign up for our newsletter to get regular updates on the situation at the U.S.-Mexico border and ways to get involved.
https://www.abarafrontiers.org

About Sami DiPasquale: Sami was born to American parents in the country of Jordan and spent the majority of his childhood and young adult years in the Middle East – living in Jordan, Cyprus, Egypt and then India – before completing college in the United States. He holds a BA in Interdisciplinary Studies (International Development) from Wheaton College and an MBA from the University of Texas at El Paso. He has spent the last eighteen years immersed in refugee and immigrant communities in the U.S., working in refugee resettlement with World Relief in the greater Chicago area prior to joining Ciudad Nueva and then starting Abara. Sami’s desire to engage border issues through Abara has emerged out of 15 years of neighborhood-based work with youth and families at Ciudad Nueva Community Outreach. He lives and works with his family in the Rio Grande District, a beautiful community in the heart of El Paso, Texas where most of his neighbors have recently moved from Mexico and are striving to acclimate and pursue their dreams.

It Just Doesn’t Go Away

IMG_5986It just doesn’t go away – written anonymously

This week at Communicating Across Boundaries we received this letter. We’re putting it out there and inviting you our readers to help us know how to respond.

I’m appealing to my community out there who grew up with Where There Is No Doctor or The Village Medical Manual. I need your help. It seems that I have developed this thing. It’s a malaise of sorts and it lives deep inside me, down at the bottom of my soul, in the lurking murky waters. I don’t know how to really even describe it. It’s thick and tangible. It washes over me and erodes joy and contentment at times when I least expect it.  

I’m afraid I may have a chronic case of ennui. Most of the time the symptoms lie dormant but occasionally—when my routines are disturbed, when life is a little off kilter, when friends are traveling, —they flare up, these “feeling(s) of weariness and dissatisfaction: boredom.”

What advice can you give me? What prescription would you write? Are there home remedies you would suggest?

I’ve tried ignoring it. I look away. I pretend I didn’t see it. The shadows out of the corner of my eye are just shadows, I reason. In the ignoring it does seem to shrink, I think, a little. And just when I get excited that maybe it’s vanishing, maybe it’s gone, it bubbles up again inside of me. Very. Much. There.

I’ve tried exterminating it. I’ve tried talk therapy. I’ve imagined exorcisms and interventions. I’ve tried waking up and pretending I’m normal. I’ve wished it away, washed it away, worked it away. But alas, to no avail. It always seems to comes back.

I’m afraid it’s chronic.

What do you think is wrong with me?

Is it an addiction to adrenaline? Am I just longing for adventure and excitement? Am I looking for something to look forward to?

It is residual grief and sorrow that comes from a life of perpetual transition. Too many goodbyes. Too many separations. Is it merely thick sadness?

Is it restlessness? Is there in me another type of biological clock ticking and tocking telling me it’s time travel again? to move far away? Am I somehow unquieted, unsettled? Am I really just bored?

To be honest I think it’s all those things. I’ve lived, by God’s complete grace and kindness, most of my life in a bigger playground. I grew up in Asia, graduated from college in North America, met my husband in the United States, we spent the first years of our married life back in Asia. It’s been a grand life. We’ve seen a lot of places, had coffee in a lot of cafes, traveled on a lot of airplanes. It’s hard to settle down. And although we’ve lived in the United States for almost a decade, it’s still hard to shake this thing that lingers inside me–this grief-adrenaline withdrawal-unsettled-restlessness at work in my soul.

I’m appealing to you whatever your medical training may be: doctor, nurse practitioner, midwife, chiropractor, auyrovedist, naturopath, homeopath, quackyopath. What remedy do you have for me? My symptoms seem intense these days. I need your advice!

Can you relate? What would you suggest? How have you pushed past this in your own story? Marilyn and I would love to hear from you.

“It’s a Long Way to go for a Friend” Guest Post by Pauline Brown

I’m so happy to feature my mom today in this post on friendship. You can read more about my mom here and here. She is a gifted, amazing woman, the author of the books Jars of Clay ordinary Christians on an Extraordinay Journey in Pakistsn and Cat Tales and has modeled friendship well through the years. Enjoy this piece on friendship and please add your thoughts in the comment section.

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Friendship across miles & years. From left to right Margie Mills, Janet Wachter, Pauline Brown, Marilyn Gardner, Bettie Addleton, Joy Breithaupt
Friendship across miles & years. From left to right Margie Mills, Janet Wachter, Pauline Brown, Marilyn Gardner, Bettie Addleton, Joy Breithaupt

It was a long way to drive for a friend.  Can we do it?  Should we? 

We got the phone message after church that Sunday from a funeral director in my home town. Our friend Phil had died, and Phyllis, his widow, wanted Ralph to come and officiate at the funeral the following Wednesday.  We talked it through – it would mean driving the whole day Tuesday and back on Thursday from western New York to central Massachusetts.  And we’re not as young as we used to be…

This started me thinking about the whole idea of friends and friendship. Just what is it that makes an acquaintance into a friend? Some never make it. They come into our lives and fade away and we barely remember them.  For most it takes time and sharing life’s experiences. Then, rarely, we meet a special person who becomes an instant kindred spirit friend.

Some are friends from childhood and teen years. For those of us who have moved far from our birthplaces only a few of these will last through years of geographical separation.  I have a love/hate relationship with social media, but its great blessing among a few others is the way we can reconnect with people from our past.  Not long ago I received an email from one of the few friends left from my High School class.  Joan had persevered with her daughter’s help in searching me out after losing my email address. We talked on the phone and she updated me on news from Mary Lou and Jessie, who moved to our town when I was in grade school and from the other Polly, a girl I had known perhaps from the age of four when I started going to Sunday School.

When my family moved across town in my ninth grade year,I started walking to High School with Joan, along with her cousin Gaynor and Lucilla. Lu came by my house and we walked together to where we met the other two. In those early morning walks and occasionally in the evening we talked about life and boys and teachers and the world’s problems. We worried and prayed as older boys were leaving school to fight in World War II. Then it all came really close to home when boys in our class started leaving. After graduation Lucilla and I worked together for the summer at two different jobs, but that would make another whole story. We went our separate ways to college and marriage. We moved overseas and she lived in Pennsylvania. A few years ago she died quite suddenly, and although we hadn’t seen each other often, I realized how much I would miss her. Joan was the one who called to tell me, and Ralph and I went with Joan to her graveside service in the Catholic cemetery in my home town.

There are those special friends I keep in touch with from my four years at Gordon College. Bev phones a couple of times a year, and we get together with her and her husband Don when we’re in their area once a year or so.  I called Maggie last summer when we were driving to Massachusetts to spend July 4 with Marilyn and her family. “I thought I’d be hearing from you,” she said. “It’s that time when you usually come through.”  We went out to lunch together, and it was as if no time had lapsed since our last meeting a whole year before. Others we only hear from at Christmas time, but I love our holiday mail.

Some of the richest friendships are with those people we lived and worked with in our years in Pakistan. Many were with the same mission, and we became like family with all our quirks and idiosyncrasies.  There are Ray and Jean;and Shirley, whose husband Warren has gone to be with Lord. We shared a tiny house with these two couples when we first moved to Pakistan.  Living that way for nearly 3 months with five kids under five and only two bedrooms, a shared kitchen in a corner of the verandah, it’s quite an amazing gift of God’s grace that we remained close friends.  Then I think of Bettie and Hu and all we shared through the years. Hu pulled our oldest son out of a muddy canal saving Ed’s life. When Hu and Bettie’s two sons visited us one year when we were in the USA, Marilyn, then in high school, told me, “I didn’t know whether to introduce them as my best friend’s brothers or my brothers’ best friends!” Phyllis and Hannah and Dr. Mary, are single women who gave themselves to serve the medical needs of the women and children of Sindh. These, among others, I count as special friends.

Not all our friends in Pakistan were from our mission family or from our generation.  We were blessed with many from other missions and countries and denominations.  Occasionally one turned into a friend from an unlikely beginning.  I never expected to call Ruth a friend.  She scared me.  She had strong opinions and she wasn’t shy about voicing them.  Then she dropped in on me one day in Murree when I was sewing name tags on Ed’s clothes, getting him ready for boarding school.  Ruth pulled a chair over next to me picked up a spare needle and started helping me.  We talked that day, and shared how hard it was to be sending our kids away at such a young age.  Ruth shared a verse from Isaiah 54:13 that God had given to her for her children:  “All your children will be taught of the Lord and great will be the peace of your children.”  I took that as a gift that day, and have prayed it ever since for our children, then their wives and husband, and our seventeen grandchildren, now our great grands.  That was the day the woman whom I never thought I would call a friend, became so special to me.

One thing that stands out in all these special relationships – we seem able to drop right back into a genuine intimacy no matter how much time has passed.  I never hear a word of criticism nor do I voice any:  “Why haven’t I heard from you?” Or “why don’t you call more often?”  We just accept the special gift of whatever time we have and get on with catching up on the news.  Friendship involves a special kind of love and when such a relationship lasts for decades it is very much about grace, that acceptance that says without words, I know you, we know each other with all the good and the bad, the strength and the weakness,  I’m just so happy to be able to be with you, and let’s do it again – sooner!

So we did it for our friends, Phil and Phyllis, remembering a good man, a funny man who always had a story.  “Stop me if I’ve told you this before” but no one ever stopped him.  He was our friend so we drove to Massachusetts on Tuesday, shared with his family and friends at his service, and drove back on Wednesday, tired, very tired, but knowing we had been blessed in Phil’s life by a very special friendship.

Guest Post – A Single Perspective

On this day before Valentine’s Day I am so excited to have my beautiful niece Amy write for Communicating Across Boundaries. Amy is single – which you may have picked up from the title! And I purposely bring our attention to this single perspective on this day before Valentine’s Day, when suddenly rational people think that they need a partner to be complete. Amy has written for Communicating Across Boundaries before in a fabulous post called “So Many Proposals”, a post that I highly recommend you read if you missed it. But for now she brings you: 

A Single Perspective by Amy

cupid-single-love-sex-valentines-day-ecards-someecards

I have reached a point in my life where I cannot seem to get away from engagement announcements. They seem to follow me wherever I go. Provided, I am a 20-something living in the day and age when social media has taken over the world. One would point out that I am of “prime” marrying age, so I shouldn’t be surprised that the number of rings adorning my friends’ fingers is rising exponentially.

Until recently, I have felt particularly annoyed and frustrated about the topic of “marriage” or “dating” or “relationships”. Why? Because my 25.5 years of existence have been spent as single as a “single person” could be. (And I expect this Valentines’ day to be spent in the same way that the last 25 have been: lacking a “plus-one”)

What has frustrated me the most is the societal connotation that marriage (i.e. finding your life partner, your other half, your soul mate) is the ultimate fulfillment of life. Thus, single people are incomplete, unfulfilled, or severely lacking in a serious way.

You may read this and think, “She’s ridiculous. Of course single people are valuable and fulfilled.” But in all seriousness, look at the culture in which we live. Movies. TV. Music. Books. Commercials. The majority of stories in any form of media today have some form of love interest. Even if it is a broken relationship or even just a side story. Particularly, in the Church and Christian communities, there is an unspoken (and sometimes spoken) expectation for 20-somethings to be married (or actively seeking).

As I mentioned, it has only been until recently that I have overcome my frustration in this topic. For a very long time, I did believe myself to be unfulfilled, incomplete, or somehow inadequate as a result of my singleness and the fact that no one (as of yet) has had any desire to marry me.

This year, my family celebrated Christmas together at my parents’ house in Wisconsin. I had the realization that the Marrieds currently outnumber the Singles in my family (4 to 3). We had a discussion one day about how Marrieds and Singles each face a unique set of challenges when it comes to navigating social landscapes and finding genuine love and support in a community. (Each group does, however, enjoy a unique set of perks as well) It was at that point that we realized that neither group truly appreciates the struggles of the other.

What we need to do is debunk the idea that having one relational status is any better or worse than having any other relational status. It’s just different.

Individually and collectively, we put far too much weight on our marital status as a defining factor of our identities.

I will take a moment to note that I do not at all intend on discounting the immense value and blessing of marriage. I do have a deep desire to be married and to raise a family someday. We need to be able to find a balance between glorifying marriage and the alternative: glorifying singleness—and I dare say the answer is simply to glorify God. He is, in fact, the creator of us all and facilitator of all relationship s.

God created humans to be in relationship with Him first and each other second.

Jesus said the greatest commandment is to love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, and strength and the second is like it, to love one another. First and foremost, as Singles and Marrieds, pursuit of relationship with God and finding one’s identity in Christ should always come first.

1 Corinthians 7 is where Paul addresses this topic by saying is oft quoted declaration that “I wish you were all as I am…” i.e. single. But if you have to, as a result of your lacking self-control and in order to avoid burning passion, you should get married. I, personally, have found there to be a lot of tension in this passage. The Single in me, says “That’s right! Power to the Single people!”. But the cultural expectation and inner desire for marriage say “What about us?”.

Let’s break it down for a sec. At the time that this passage was written, particularly for women, your economic and social status (and general livelihood) were intimately tied to your marital status. Marriage was synonymous with security on a great number of levels. Ultimately, marital status WAS your identity. Essentially, Paul is taking a cultural norm, a cultural expectation, and blowing it out of the water.

What Paul is saying is that it’s better to be single because it’s easier to devote yourself to serving God and seeking after his will (I mean, seriously, nuns and monks!). It’s harder to do that when you devote yourself to another person in marriage. What he’s not saying is that celibacy and remaining single is the end all be all of human existence. He’s also not saying that marriage is either. The end all be all of human existence is to please God. Relational or marital status does not define your value or how “fulfilled” you are. Only God can do that.

If I have learned anything in my 25 years on this planet, it’s that God calls us each to different seasons of life at different times for specific purposes. I fully intend on embracing this season of singleness to live it to its fullest potential, in the hopes that when I do get married, I will be able to live that season to its fullest.

What about you? If you’re single, how do you deal with a world of couples? If you’re married, how do you include your single friends? 

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Amy brown

Amy is a twenty-something woman living in Washington DC. She spends her time with Autistic children, baking things, and taking pictures of the aforementioned (and other things). She has traveled the world leaving pieces of herself, even as she gathers pieces of the world to take along with her. Enhanced by Zemanta

More Than a Tourist: Living Deeply Across Cultures

I’m honored to have Jody Fernando guest post today at Communicating Across Boundaries. Jody blogs at Between Worldsa blog I highlighted as a favorite new blog that I’ve discovered. It was my brother who first sent me a link to an article she wrote in the fall and that’s all it took to bring me in. The article was called When White People Don’t Know They’re Being White and it provided hard and necessary discussion, evidenced by the fact that it went viral and is still being widely shared across social media sites.  Jody is a beautiful, thoughtful writer providing much-needed perspectives on crossing cultures, racial inequalities, racing biracial kids, and faith. You can read more about Jody at the end of the article.

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More than a tourist

When I first started to cross cultures, there was a distinctly romantic quality to every adventure – fascination with food and language and buildings and transportation and landmarks. I would inhale the smells and sights and textures with wide eyes, captured by the difference they represented. I would wrap my tongue around the words and sounds, attempting to capture some small meaning with my own mouth. Culture captivated me, and I drank it in with every cup of tea I shared.

As time has passed, however, this romantic captivation slowed, and I found that crossing cultures no longer carried the same zing it once did. In fact, it required more energy with each new encounter for I no longer entered ignorant about my own assumptions and inadequacies.  When I enter a new culture these days, it is slower, more observant, less enraptured. I walk carefully and quietly, curious but patient about the new realities I encounter. After nearly half a lifetime of loving across a culture, the exoticism of such differences is being slowly replaced by a simple expectation of normalcy and humanity.

In short, I expect now to find people when I travel – not exotic animals on display in a zoo.  I expect that those people will be fully human, with all sorts of wonderful and terrible qualities within.  I expect that there will be some things I admire deeply, some that make me a bit angry, and some that I will simply never understand.  Rather than try to stereotype a group at large, I try more frequently now to understand individuals.

In light of my personal shift over the years, I was quite eager to read Joseph Shaules’ book A Beginner’s Guide to the Deep Culture Experience in which he writes about the differences between the surface aspects of culture that are more “exotic, artistic, ceremonial, and visible” and the ways that culture subconsciously programs our minds. As I read Shaules’ book, I was struck by how much I could relate to even though I’ve never lived outside of my home country. It reminded me that it’s not always necessarily to leave a homeland to live between worlds, especially in the US.

In a particularly chapter on personal growth and deep culture learning, Shaules outlines specific attitudes that help cross-cultural sojourners develop intercultural sensitivity that I find especially helpful for all of us who live between worlds:

  • Engagement. While tourists may spend their days relaxing at the beach or isolating in museums, learners of deep culture stumble through navigating daily realities and rubbing shoulders, facing higher levels of stress, confusion, and energy because they engage the culture around them, let go of their control, and take chances. They don’t give up even when they make mistakes or fail.

  • Reconciliation. Deep culture learners use the conflict of their contrasting cultures to build connections between all of their worlds. They recognize that while we might adapt to the ways of another place, we always bring pieces of our own identity to the table, and that these pieces remain valuable in any cultural context when presented with humility and flexibility.

  • Inner and outer practice. By maintaining an open and curious attitude about the surface (outer) aspects of culture, deep culture learners grow as they consider the strengths offered by understanding the visible cultural differences in a new culture. At the same time, deep culture learners must also learn to pay close attention to what happens inside (inner) themselves in order to better understand how and why we respond in situations that cause cultural stress.

  • Breaking routines. The first time our notion of cultural normalcy is shaken is hard to forget. For Shaules, it was the discovery of lime and chile potato chips, for me, it was apple Fanta. The shock of discovering a new take on an established routine can be jarring, and when these day-in-day-out routines are interrupted, we’re forced to wake up and notice small realities around us. Breaking these routines on purpose can be one way to increase deep culture learning. Take a different route to work. Eat a new food. Change a service transaction to an engagement with another human being.

  • Planning the journey. Intentionally look for local places to engage cross-culturally. Attend a church outside of your tradition or demographic. Volunteer. Attend events where you are the minority. Make an effort to go local when you travel as well – hit homes instead of hotels. (Shaules’ book offers a great list of organizations that can help with this process.)

  • Language learning. It’s impossible to learn a culture deeply without speaking the language of that culture. Internationally, this obviously means language study either in person or online. For those who belong to the majority culture, however, I’d suggest that this may also mean listening a great deal more than we speak – even in our own language. For even if we speak the same language, we don’t always communicate the same way. As we seek to interact across cultures more deeply, it’s essential to learn the language of those we’re attempting to love.

  • Entry point. Cultivate relationships with people willing to help you navigate a new culture. I have had countless guides along the way – people who have been patient with my questions and willing to help me understand more deeply. Please note that this isn’t a one-time deal, but an on-going relationship. No one will be able to tell the ins-and-outs of cultural learning over a single cup of coffee.

These attitudes are only the tip of the iceberg presented in A Beginner’s Guide to the Deep Culture Experience, and I’m deeply grateful to Shaules for the insight he gives into deepening cultural understanding.  As the worlds shrinks, these are skills we all need, and this book will provide readers ample material for personal reflection and discussion.

Have you read Shaules’ book?  What were your most valuable take-aways?

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About the author: Jody Fernando does a lot of living between worlds.  A midwestern girl from the cornfields, she is married to a man from the Indian Ocean.  Together, they raise their bicultural and biracial children, and have family on four continents.  She explores the ins and outs of intercultural living on her blog Between Worlds, helps amazingly resilient immigrants learn to speak English, teaches a few university courses, and makes a mean curry.

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The Reluctant Orthodox – Volume 12 “By the Waters of the Maumee, We Sat Down and Wept”

In my faith journey this past year, I’ve discovered some people who have walked the road before me and can offer wisdom, challenge, and comfort when I need them most. Aaron Friar is one of those people. He comes from a protestant background, has attended many churches in the past, and has a deep and abiding respect for the traditions of his past even as he is fully a part of the Orthodox church today. Today his post gives me joy and encouragement as I move into the ever-new (for me) yet ancient traditions of the Eastern Orthodox faith. You can read more about Aaron at the end of the post.

By the Waters of the Maumee, We Sat Down and Wept

Marilyn’s series on the Reluctant Orthodox has spurred me to share a bit of my own faith journey. I offer this in tribute to her present struggle to discover and live the ancient, yet ever-present faith of the Orthodox Christian Church.

My honeymoon with the Orthodox Church ended on that hot summer day, in Toledo,Ohio. I had left a vibrant Protestant summer camp and traveled eight hours south to attend a Parish Life Conference hosted by our local diocese and to partake of the best that the Orthodox Church had to offer. I was newly chrismated  into the faith and had high hopes of finding answers to long-held questions about God and the Church. I came seeking Bible study, catechesis,and motivating talks encouraging me in my walk with the Lord Jesus Christ.

What I found instead was a business meeting with a little bit of Church sprinkled on top and not a very civil meeting at that. The one motivational speech delivered by our bishop about welcoming newcomers into the Church was received by the assembly with a debilitating apathy, and I began to seriously wonder what I left behind for this exalted faith once for all delivered to the apostles. But I clung to the words of the convert priest Fr. Peter Gillquist of blessed memory that perhaps this was still the right faith “delivered to the wrong people.”

All I knew was that my heart lay in pieces as I strolled the banks of the Mighty Maumee crying out loud to the God who rescued me from the jaws of multiple church divisions only to land me in this uncertain, foreign land. But just like the Israelites who were also exiled in a strange land, I had to learn how to sing the Lord’s song in a new way and in a new place:

 By the Waters of Babylon

There we sat down and we wept, when we remembered Sion…

How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?

If I forget thee O Jerusalem, let my right hand be forgotten.*

If I forget thee, O Jerusalem… If I forget thee O Billy Graham, O Chuck Swindoll, O C.S. Lewis, O Keith Green, O G.K. Chesterton, O Rich Mullins, and all the other countless men and women who brought me to the threshold of that moment. Without all of them, I would not have known the Lord Jesus Christ, let alone His Church. And mystically they were the ones testifying to me in that moment that the treasures contained in the Orthodox Church were buried in a field for which a man must sell all that he has to obtain it.

It may be the right faith for the wrong people, but who was I to count myself among the righteous? What made me think I could plumb the depths of the riches of both the wisdom and knowledge of God by simply joining the right church? The flood of purifying tears I shed by that river made plain to me that my journey was just beginning. I had not found the true Church; she was finding me. I did not make it; no, it is making me. It is the very truth of God, not the invention of any man…

My prayers are with all who find themselves on a similar road of discovery. Seek the Lord while he may be found, call on Him while He is still near (Isaiah 55:6).

*(Psalm 137

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Aaron Friar lives with his wife and four children in Boston and blogs at Like Mendicant Monks.  The family name Friar comes from a mendicant monastic order in the Middle Ages which traveled from place to place rather than remain in a cloister. Over the years, the family’s desire to travel has taken them to numerous encounters in different parts of the world. If you are in the Boston area and want a tour of this beautiful city, be sure to contact him and he can arrange a custom-designed tour through his work at Boston Pilgrim. 

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Lessons From an Ill-Fated Holiday Feast – A Guest Post

As promised earlier in the month in a call for stories, today I bring you one from a reader’s childhood in Mozambique. Writer Heidi Carlson takes us back to a poignant memory of excited kids, a mom desperate to recreate tastes of her home country (the U.S.) and how it didn’t turn out quite like any one thought it would. More on Heidi at the end of the article but for now, enjoy this story of an ill-fated holiday feast.

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A naked, fluorescent bulb dangled from the ceiling.  The power source – a dusty car battery – lay on the red cement floor.  Figures in varying stages of acute fatigue cast shadows on the cement block walls that were hosts to various shades of deteriorating white.  Humidity engulfed them as they quickly stripped off every possible layer of clothing, only preserving the most minimal, acceptable amount of modesty.  A mosquito whirred its wings in dizzying flight on the window screen.  In a split-second, a gecko expertly ran down the screen from the top corner and ate his hearty meal just as we were beginning ours.  This was not the setting of a military interrogation, but the setting of our Thanksgiving dinner.

How did it come to this? How did we get here, across the days and miles?

A school bus, two plane rides, a crowded-goats-included public bus, the back of a pick-up truck over the mountain along the lake, across no man’s land by bicycle, a hitchhiked ride in a businessman’s Land Rover, and, finally, a twelve-hour journey in the “first class” car of a very slow train.  What it amounted to was complete exhaustion.   I have since felt similar exhaustion in the days that followed the birth of each of my children.  That delirious exhaustion is notorious.  I also have felt the same weary, travel-induced walking coma in Portugal when, after several flights and time changes, our hosts treated us to a traditional Portuguese feast of bacalhau com natas (creamed cod) at 10 pm.  The feast was impeccable.  I remember every delicious bite – before I rudely crashed back on the sofa and surrendered to my primal need for sleep.

But this post-train ride Thanksgiving was a joyous homecoming with a feast fit for the prodigal son.  Mom had waited for months, then weeks, then days and hours for our return from boarding school and had prepared traditional American fare – almost.

Helmeted Guinea FowlTurkey was not available in Mozambique, so she marinated and roasted a local guinea fowl.  Pumpkins?  Not available.  How about sweet potato pie instead? There was an assortment of other dishes spread across the table in the buzzing glare of the bulb.  With few words and weak smiles, I forced myself to be gracious and eat something before I crawled under the mosquito net and went to bed.  Locally grown guinea fowl sounds like a foodie-gourmet-heritage breed kind of thing to eat.  But this wild guinea fowl? Not so much.  The first few movements of the jaw brought out the rich flavor enhanced by the marinade.  The following 20 or so chews failed to break down the tight sinews.  It was like chewing gum, but guinea fowl gum.  After the flavor was gone, the muscle was still there. Really good flavor, we kept saying sincerely.  It was true.  But it didn’t mask the toughness of the wild fowl.

Then there was the sweet potato pie, the other item on the menu I remember distinctly.  It tasted just as a fine sweet potato pie should taste.  That is to say, it doesn’t taste at all, and should not be substituted for, the expected pumpkin pie.  The two are not remotely related.

I felt so guilty.  We were forcing grins and trying to keep our lids open for a meal Mom had prepared with great love in expectation of our return.  One could say it was a complete flop as far as holiday meals go, but I don’t think so.  We took away several lessons.  First, don’t try to recreate food from the home country with inadequate substitutes.  Early members of the vegetarian movement can relate to this.  No, tofu does not taste like chicken, so don’t tell me it does. Use available ingredients to make something delicious that stands on its own without having to be compared to a dish from yesteryears and yestercountries.

Second, ill-fated meals often become the most memorable.  We can look back and laugh at the comedy of this event and the perfect storm of unfortunate circumstances.   At the time, we were not laughing.  There were probably some unkind words spoken, considering we all just wanted to get some rest and start a new day.  But now when my fish bake is overcooked and mushy (nasty!), I can laugh about it and regret just the foul flavor, not also a foul attitude.

And the third lesson is for parents of children in boarding school who may have traveled many miles and perhaps even days to get home: Hold your horses and let the kids get some rest so they can give the proper attention to a meal they’ve waited months to eat.

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Heidi CarlsonMore about the author: Heidi is a daughter, a sister, a wife, and a mom. She is also a multiple-marathoner, a scuba diver, a third-culture kid and a follower of Jesus.  Born near the front range of the Rockies, she grew up in Portugal, Mozambique, Kenya and a few other places here and there.  An Africanist by education, a U.S. Air Force veteran by skill set, and a homemaker by choice, she enjoys making home wherever the family goes.  With three children aged 4, 2, and 2 months, mommy hood leaves less time for scuba diving and training for long races, but she manages to find the time to roast coffee at home and share her thoughts at willtravelwithkids.

And Change Will Come…..

Today’s beautiful post comes from my nephew, Tim. I am honored that he penned these words and sent them to me, giving me permission to post them. And I also love that Tim affectionately calls me “Aunt M”. 

20130117-071604.jpgIt is late April, and I look out my window at giant snowflakes, floating down from above. The snow remains deep on the ground, and the air is frigid. The thermometer has not risen above 45 degrees in almost six months. I knew when I moved to Northern Wisconsin that the winters would be long, and the meteorologist on TV assures me that this winter is longer than usual. He says  that spring is just around the corner, with its flowers and tree blossoms and singing birds. But I have trouble believing it. The snow just keeps coming. The cold doesn’t seem to break.

I struggle to trust that change will ever come.

My spirits are also brought low by the events of the last few weeks. Bombs at the Boston Marathon. A doctor in Philadelphia is accused of murdering newborn babies. China is picking up the pieces and burying bodies after a severe earthquake. A fertilizer factory explodes in Texas. Tornadoes. Floods. Poison in the mail. Politicians unable to agree on how to keep weapons of war off of our streets and away from our schools. Nuclear apocalypse could hit East Asia at any moment.

The world I see resembles my local weather. It is gray, cold, and chaotic. It is not how it ought to be. And I see little evidence that change will ever come.

At moments like this I am thankful for wisdom greater than myself. For the meteorologist on television assures me that we will soon experience a change in the weather. There is a great pattern at work involving the movement of our planet and energy from the sun. This pattern all but guarantees a warming of the ground and the atmosphere. The snow will turn to rain, the soil will loosen up, and the trees will begin to feel something stir in their toes. Before I know it these woods that I love will again be green, bright, and fragrant. It is simply the way of things, and though my heart may doubt, it will come to pass. Change will come.

So it is with God. Though I doubt the capacity of this world to change, and though I despair at the suffering and evil that is manifest all around, I cannot doubt the character of my God. “Have you not known? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary.” (Isaiah 40:28). He is good, and His justice is assured. He will make this world right, as inevitably as winter turns to spring.

In the meantime, He wants us to help Him bring about the change. There are widows and orphans in need of help, trees to plant, and wounds to bind. And for today, there is at least some snow that still needs to be shoveled. But not for long. Not for long.

For Change Will Come. 

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The Magic of Sinterklaas

Earlier in the fall I asked readers for submissions on Christmas traditions around the world. I am delighted to offer you this post on Sinterklaas by Annelies Kanis who wrote the popular post The Trunk That Traveled the World.

Bright December moon is beaming

boys and girls now stop your play

for tonight’s the wondrous evening

eve of good St. Nicholas day

There is nothing quite like the magic of Saint Nicolas. Or as we say, Sinterklaas.

Nederlands: Sinterklaas tijdens het Het Feest ...

Saint Nicolas was a Turkish Saint from the 4th Century A.D. In the Netherlands we celebrate Sinterklaas on the evening before his name day, which is December 6th. The original Saint Nicolas had a reputation for secret gift giving, such as putting coins in the shoes of those who left them out. And as it goes with legends, the legend of Saint Nicolas got bigger and bigger and somehow turned into the very typical Dutch Sinterklaas celebration that it is today, with elements added on and left behind as we went along. So why is this tradition described in Marilyn’s blog series of Christmas traditions? Sinterklaas is at the root of another tradition,  the Christmas-related tradition of Santa Claus.

The build up for Sinterklaas starts halfway November when Sinterklaas arrives on his steamboat from Spain. The local mayor will welcome him with an appropriate ceremony (he is after all, a Saint). Sinterklaas comes with his helpers, Zwarte Pieten (Black Petes) He is a very wise man who knows all the children in the country by name, and he brings them gifts. When you leave your shoe out and sing by it, he’ll notice and give you a small gift by sending his helpers down the chimney. Not during the day, but when you’re asleep at night, when he travels over rooftops with his horse Amerigo and his helpers. The big celebration is December 5th, when he brings more gifts to families gathered together.

The magical thing about this feast is that all children really believe he exists. It’s a belief stronger and more convinced than the belief in Santa Claus, and it lasts longer. All adults help children believe. For example: Sinterklaas pays a visit to all the Dutch embassies on December 5th. In Islamabad, he used to arrive by tonga (horse-drawn carriage).

Usually kids start asking questions about how it works when they’re around 7 or 8. My eldest son is 7, and I’m dreading the day he doesn’t believe anymore and the magic partly disappears.

But until he and after him his little brother stop believing, we’ll help keep the magic alive. On December 5th, my parents and sister with her family will come to our house. They’ll bring gifts that they’ll smuggle up to the attic. Not just gifts for the kids, but also gifts for the adult whose name you’ve pulled out of a hat. Or more recently, the person that the online tool has picked for you.

We’ll sing Sinterklaas songs, eat traditional candy and Sinterklaas or his helpers will knock on the door and leave gifts behind. He’ll move on to the next house really quickly, because he has to pay many visits. We’ve never really seen him, but my kids say they’ve seen shadows of his helpers on the roof.

But here’s what I love most about Sinterklaas. Gifts, even though they can be well thought out, are in the end easy to purchase (especially online). The attached self-written poem is one of the things that makes this holiday special. We add a poem to at least one of the gifts, in rhyme. The poem is supposedly written by Sinterklaas and his helpers, and reflects on the past year. It can be sweet and loving, but it can also be about specific character traits that you don’t want to address directly and want to tease someone with. The poem is  a great way to reflect on the year behind and it takes time to write a good poem – more time than to shop for gifts. When time is precious, the poem is a gift of attention, of really thinking about the person you’re writing for, what they’ve experienced and who they are.

Advent for me starts after Sinterklaas. Advent and Christmas hold many traditions of their own, enough to fill another blog. But by giving gifts with poems at Sinterklaas (and leaving them out at Christmas), Advent and Christmas are more focused on light that Christmas brings.

Hospice Care – Quality Care at the End of Life

In an appropriate follow-up to yesterday’s post, Jan Klingberg takes us into the realities of hospice care. Hospice care is often misunderstood and I’m grateful to Jan for giving us first hand information about this important service. 

Kristine’s husband, Gerry, returned home from the hospital with end-stage cancer after his doctor bluntly told him to get his affairs in order. The family panicked. How would they manage? Especially with twin preschoolers at home.

During many years as a communications and fundraising professional for a hospice program in Illinois, I have seen firsthand the challenges of life-threatening illness—for the patient and family alike. When treatment becomes futile at best, hope for a cure disappears and hopelessness can set in.

But what if instead of being hooked up to machines in the hospital or going it alone at home, your loved one could be cared for in a program that would reawaken hope—a hope for comfort, peace and dignity …

  • Encircle you and your loved one with care and support tailored to your needs,
  • Arrange for the delivery of a hospital bed, supplies and medication,
  • Visit your loved one regularly to provide medical care and other treatment to ease pain and discomfort,
  • Be at the other end of the phone 24 hours a day, and
  • Support you when your loved one is dying and for months afterward.

Our hospice program became Kristine and Gerry’s lifeline that made their last weeks together bearable. A team of professionals and volunteers surrounded the family with a multitude of services and strong support. Medical care addressed Gerry’s pain; counselors helped Kristine journey through her despair over losing her husband; social workers helped the extended family work through some tough issues; volunteers ran errands and shared babysitting shifts; experts in children’s grief worked with the twins and coached Kristine. And even when Gerry’s pain soared out of control at home, he was able to spend a few nights at our specialized hospice inpatient unit where 24-hour nursing care helped stabilize him.

Were the family’s last weeks together easy? Of course not. But they were transformed into a manageable journey that allowed Gerry to die comfortably at home, his wife and kids at his side. He was reassured to know that after his death, Kristine and the twins would be carried through their grief rather than being left alone with their terrible loss.

In the years prior to my retirement last fall, I became aware of many stories similar to Kristine and Gerry’s. The overwhelming emotion of family members after the death of their loved one was gratitude—for providing support and restoring hope. And I don’t believe I ever heard anyone say, “We called hospice too soon.” If anything, many were disappointed that they had waited too long before engaging a care system that could surround them and their loved one with what they needed to live life to the fullest in the time that remained.

Hospice has been a lifeline to thousands of people around the world for decades. The modern hospice concept actually got its start in the late 1960s in England where specialized care for the dying showed dramatic improvement in symptom control. This new unique blend of medical, emotional, spiritual and psychosocial care—palliative care—comprehensively treats the person rather than solely the medical condition.

Then amid the phenomenal medical advances of the 1970s, dedicated healthcare professionals and community volunteers in the U.S. saw the need stateside for an interdisciplinary and compassionate approach to end-of-life care. From the first U.S. hospice program in 1974 to the current 5,000+ programs nationwide, hospice professionals have relieved pain and suffering day after day, year after year. My own family—mom, dad, aunt—were cared for by hospice programs in other states. Though they operate slightly differently from the one I worked for, they have the same core belief that drives the care they provide—everyone has the right to live with dignity until the last moment.

A long-time friend—a control freak who lived alone and had every loose end tied up—said when she became one of our patients and entrusted her care to my colleagues, “It is such a relief knowing that I don’t have to manage alone anymore. These people know what they are doing … they’re the pros.”

When a loved one has a life-threatening illness and the prognosis becomes months and not years … when the goal for care becomes comfort and symptom management … why not choose the hospice experts who promote quality of life until the very end of life?

AUTHOR’S NOTES:

  • The National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization (NHPCO) has a wealth of information about hospice care and can help you find a program near you.
  • The NHPCO service, Caring Connections, offers resources for advance care planning, caregiving and living with a serious illness.
  • A high percentage of hospice programs are certified by Medicare. This means that they have core services provided by a hospice team (physicians, nurses, nurse’s aides, social workers, grief counselors, chaplains and volunteers) and can receive reimbursement for the care of a patient who has Medicare Part A. Many private insurance companies and state Medicaid programs have modeled their payment systems after the Medicare Hospice Benefit, so the costs of care are covered for most patients who are eligible for hospice.

When Following Jesus Is a One Way Trip

I met Deanna Davis through blogging, and it was an immediate TCK connection. Deanna writes with honesty and clarity about her faith and her life as a TCK/ATCK. I think you’ll love this piece by her: “When Following Jesus is a One Way Trip”. There is more information about Deanna at the end of the post along with a link to her blog. Enjoy!

While living in Germany for several years, I was painfully aware of the fact that I wasn’t German.

Us at the airport in Leipzig in 2008, saying goodbye to more than just our friends.

If the language and culture were not daily reminders for me, then the Germans certainly were. It isn’t that my German friends didn’t genuinely love and value me. I know they did. But one of them let a revealing Freudian slip pass once that marked me. I forget the context of the conversation, but at some point she said, “Well, you know Deanna, when we (meaning Germans) talk about you…”.

I’m sure the dot dot dots were positive. And I guess I should be flattered that people cared enough to make me a subject of conversation. But all I heard was, “You guys talk about me? When I’m not there?” The meaning was clear. They were German, and when the Germans got together, I wasn’t one of them. I was the American on the outside. I didn’t really belong. Not like the Germans did anyway.

This wasn’t unexpected. Of course in my head I knew I wasn’t German. It’s just that I had made such a tremendous effort and so many sacrifices to try to fit in. It broke my heart to realize the place I’d called home for the last few years wasn’t really home.

Then there was the time we were back in the States over the holidays for the first time in years, sitting in our big-suburban-cookie-cutter church’s Sunday morning extravaganza. And I knew in that moment, in fact, I think my heart even used these words, “This isn’t home anymore”. The styles, the themes, the subjects of conversation. None of it spoke to me. The connecting points were gone and I remember feeling so out-of-place that I wept. My home wasn’t home anymore.

It was an “Oh cr@p!” moment for me. Was this what Jesus had asked me to give up as I followed Him overseas? I didn’t belong in Germany – and now I didn’t belong in the states either.

Had following Jesus made me homeless?

I can see now it was one of the unexpected costs of following Jesus. What before had been comfortable, normal and “mine” was no longer so. He had changed me. Changed my heart, the things I like, the things I got emotional about, the things I wanted to talk about, the relationships that anchored me, the very definition of words in my heart like home, success, normal, enough. I wasn’t the same person who had left America with Jesus a few years earlier. I had returned quite different – with more of Jesus and less of me. Not American. Not German. Homeless. And there was no going back.

I am coming to realize that sometimes following Jesus is a “forward-only” proposition. It is a one way trip. I can never again be the person I once was. I can never fully return to the relationships I had.  What used to satisfy or make me happy doesn’t anymore. And it has taken me the last 3 years to figure out something of what this means in my life.

It means that Jesus loves me too much to let me remain unchanged as I followed Him.  He loves me too much to let me return to the “me” I was before He and I started walking together. And we are never going back.

Deanna Davis is an ATCK (Adult Third Culture Kid) who grew up in a military family and lived and traveled around the globe. She is also a writer and blogger interested in the intersections between the eternal and the now. You can read more of her work at Intersections, her personal blog. The quote below gives a little glimpse into what she loves!

“If I could do anything I wanted with a day I’d spend most of it walking through a really beautiful place, reading something intellectually challenging, eating something spicy and then talking it over with someone I love.”

Altering Body and Soul – A Guest Post

Blogger’s Note: Daily as I take the subway home I  see a little boy with brown-rimmed glasses walking with an older woman. He seems tiny for his age, oblivious to the adults around him, much the same as other children. The thing that distinguishes this child from others is the tube that comes out from under his shirt, stretching around his tiny tummy to his back and attached to a quart-sized bag. The bag usually has a bit of greenish brown liquid in it. I don’t know him, and I don’t know his situation but I do know that he is already living life differently than his peers. He lives with an altered body.

He is not alone — this essay by my cousin Janice Klingberg takes us into her world of living with an altered body.

More than 35 years ago, I made an irreversible decision that was to impact my life more than I really knew at the time.

I was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis at the age of 15 but tried to participate in school and other activities as a normal teenager despite the physical discomfort and perpetual worry about accidents. Living through my teens and into my 20s was challenging, but I was relatively good, I thought, at hiding the impact of my illness.

I was grateful that in so many ways my life took an ordinary path—college, teaching career, marriage and children. Despite this, after our younger son was born in 1974 my colitis went wild, in part because of uncertainty about his health. I couldn’t ignore this exacerbation or my new understanding that years more with the chronic condition would make me more vulnerable to malignancies—read that, cancer of the colon. Years earlier, though advised that I might want to consider surgical removal of the colon (total colectomy), I was not emotionally ready to take that major step. By 1975 I was almost relieved when I made the decision to move forward with the surgery and live the rest of my life with an ileostomy—an opening (stoma) on my abdomen through which feces is diverted.

After my recovery and with the loving support of my husband, I was determined to continue living well, but this time without pain or anxiety about toilet facilities. I’ve had to deal with other issues related to my redirected plumbing, but overall, I have been a much healthier person than I ever was before my initial surgery.

I have now lived with an ileostomy longer than I lived without one, and though it’s part of who I am, it does not define me. I have shared my journey with others facing the surgery in the same way people helped me wrap my brain around its long-term impact.

One of those individuals, a young woman my age, helped rid me of fears that I wouldn’t be able wear attractive clothing again and  suggested lifestyle changes that would make it easier for me to live with an ileostomy, something that was daunting for a 30-year-old.

Surgery where the body is altered has life-changing potential.

There were unexpected and positive side effects. The entire experience helped to refine my vocational direction– I knew that I wanted to be involved in something that would make life better for others and add meaning to my own life. Stewardship of my God-given skills and talents became even more important to me, so I plunged into the nonprofit communications and fundraising arena. Many dedicated professionals challenged and energized me over the years as we worked together to improve the quality of life for thousands of people.

However imperfectly I contributed to those efforts, I am grateful to have had many opportunities to be part of something bigger than myself; something that brings satisfaction and meaning to my soul.

We live in a world where body image is often skewed and the temptation to define ourselves based on our physical features is strong. As I look back I am grateful to be able to bear witness that life has gone on—indeed, even improved and become more meaningful—after the initial shock of waking up from surgery with my altered body.

Guest Post at Tamara Out Loud – Unfair Grace

Today I have the privilege of guest-posting at Tamara Out Loud: Thoughts on Real Life and Real Faith. I am honored for a couple of reasons. The first is that Tamara is one of the best writers I know. At times she puts together words and thoughts in ways that go straight to your heart and work their way into your soul; at other times she is laugh out loud funny with an irreverent humor. The second is that Tamara is editor of the upcoming book What a Woman is Worth. This is a book that will be released sometime this summer and I have the honor of being a contributor to the book. I’ll be writing more on that in a future post but right now take a look at the beginning of the post and wander over to Tamara’s blog to read the rest!

Unfair Grace

“I read Ann Voskamp’s book” pause “And I was thankful for a few days”

This came from my friend as we recently sat together drinking free coffee from an inn on the rocky coast of the Atlantic Ocean. The inn thought we were guests – they offered us both the coffee and cookies embossed with a cursive E, (“Signature cookies!” we were told with a smile) free with no questions asked.  A good lesson that there is free lunch if you walk with confidence.

We both laughed at her statement about the well-read and loved book “One Thousand Gifts”, for reading a book is one thing and working out the details of the challenges presented within is completely different.

Whenever I get together with this friend we go for the jugular vein of faith conversation. We don’t waste time or words. Both of us are in something of a waste land when it comes to friends who share our faith so we go deep. Quickly. The conversation was like rapid gun fire going from head to heart, from  gratitude to grace. And there is where we stopped and struggled. You can read the rest of this post at http://tamaraoutloud.com/2012/06/07/guest-post-unfair-grace/

Best Before [d.a.te]

I have come to both love and rely on Robynn Bliss as a regular contributor to this blog. Those of you who read regularly will recognize her – those who have just begun are in for a treat. Enjoy this Guest Post from Robynn Bliss

I’m about to turn forty-two. The last 3 or 4 weeks I’ve started to hurt in odd places. The top of my spine, bottom of my neck is really sore. My right knee is suddenly aching. The elbow and wrist on my right arm are also giving me grief. How did this happen?

Up until a year ago I was in really good health. In fact last year my annual physical was the day before my 41st birthday. The doctor, a friend of mine, quizzed me on the usual. I had nothing remarkable to report. I was doing well. She did note that my blood pressure was elevated. That seemed strange to me. She ordered some blood work to check my cholesterol levels among other invisible ills. A few days later the nurse called me to inform me that my cholesterol was also high. What??! I had been perfectly healthy and now my blood pressure was up and so was my cholesterol!?

Since I turned 41 I’ve struggled with various aches and pains. It’s uncanny, really. It’s like I reached my “best before [date]” and now there’s no going back. I’m beginning to spoil. I’m beginning to rot.

I often take comfort in the reality that the houses we live in are really just tents. We are passing through. We are transients.  Recently a friend reminded me that these bodies of ours are also tents.  These bodies house our real selves. Please don’t misunderstand me. I’m not advocating gnosticism or even a Buddhist sense of detachment. We are wholly us. There is a mysterious connection between our bodies and our souls, between what we eat and how we feel, between head and shoulders, knees and toes and our hearts and sorrows, dreams and hopes. We are wonderfully knit together, an integrated pattern.

However there is a sense that the outer frame is wasting away. The tent rips, the poles rust, the pegs are lost.

In January my mother-in-law, Belva, turned 75. My mother in law has suffered for years from chronic facial pain. This particular disease is nicknamed “The Suicide Disease” because the pain is so intense and there’s no real hope of relief. It’s debilitating and yet she endures. And she never complains.  As I write this she is at the doctor’s office. They are trying a new thing. Somehow they’ll insert a pain blocking tool. I don’t understand at all how it’s supposed to work. I pray it does work. She needs relief.

I’m sure Belva felt years ago that she had passed her “best before [date]” too…. And yet though outwardly she’s been wasting away, inwardly she’s been renewed and equipped and graced with joy. She’s made choices that have kept her young. She’s learnt how to play piano in the last ten years, as a way to distract her brain from the pain that threatens to eat her sanity and peace of mind. She’s taken up the computer. She’s actively participated in a women’s bible study for years; finding solace in scripture and the comforts of the character of God. She’s enjoyed photography and has entered several competitions at the local fair.  Family celebrations are always out at the farm. Mom takes great delight in decorating the table for each occasion. This year she chose one of her granddaughters to do it with her. Next year she’ll choose another.  She’s passing on her love for beauty and space.

She has not allowed her pain to spoil her. Although on many days I’m sure she’s been tempted to give into it, to allow it to consume her, she has resisted those temptations with grace and courage. Her tent has failed her repeatedly but she continues on.

Our baby turned ten on the same day. Bronwynn is on the other end of life. Her tent is new and full of vitality. She has energy and enthusiasm for life and learning, for playing and pretending. Watching her invigorates me and fills me with hope.

I’m trying to resist the downward spiral. I’m trying to ignore the pains of age. I may be past that “best before date” but I’m trying to hope that the best is still before me. I’m not going to give into it. I want to be like my mother in law: brave and full of life, ready to try new things, engage new pursuits.

The tent maybe falling apart but I’m believing by faith that inside I’m being renewed every day.

Other posts by this author:

“I Stumble and I Fall” – the Poverty Challenge

For a long time I have wanted Cecily Thew Patterson to write a guest post for me. I first met Cecily when I returned to Pakistan with my husband and we were working at the boarding school I attended through high school. At the time Cecily was a pretty, outgoing girl who already had the marks of a strong woman. Cecily is now a beautiful and strong woman.  I hesitated asking her for a post because I know she has several writing projects going on, as well as many other hats to wear. But today I get to introduce you to Cecily and her writing as she takes us into a struggle many of us have – the poverty challenge. She shares personally and poignantly from the perspective of someone raised in Pakistan.

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Like Marilyn, I grew up in Pakistan. Like Marilyn, I also went to boarding school in the Himalayan mountains. And I’m guessing that I was like Marilyn in the way that all junior high kids resemble each other. We all have to work out who we are by facing challenges. Some will make us grow and fly and others will make us stumble and fall.

Clothes were the challenge that made me stumble and fall.

While none of us were wealthy, some people in our school did better than others in the clothes department. I felt like I always had trouble trying to look nice. There weren’t any western clothes shops in Pakistan, I didn’t have a lot of things sent out from Australia, so whatever I could get that was a bit fashionable was really precious to me. I couldn’t just replace a ripped shirt or update old shorts. I had to take care of my stuff. I really wanted to look nice and fit in so I tried hard.

The reason I was at boarding school was because my parents lived in the Sindh desert in a tiny village. There were no local schools for me to go to so my brothers and I went away to study. Even though our school was not in a well-to-do area of Pakistan, and there was plenty of poverty around us, it was still always a big shock when we went home to the village for our three-month winter holiday every year.

Pakistani Family (courtesy of Tim Irwin)

The poverty in rural Sindh is confronting. People are extremely poor, many living in traditional mud huts. There’s no power and no piped water and not much transport. Everything is done by hand. Some people my parents knew were so poor they couldn’t afford to eat more than twice a day. They didn’t even have any sugar for their tea.

Most people had two sets of clothes; one for every day and one for weddings. And because the weather was extremely hot for nine months of the year, many people didn’t have any clothes that would keep them warm in the winter.

It was a hard place to live. And I had a soft heart. I really wanted to help. It broke my heart to see people struggling so much when I had everything I needed and wanted. I really wanted to make a difference.

An opportunity came when we went out to a town called Mithi to visit some friends. This family had brought in a big load of second-hand jumpers and jackets and were going to give them out to a few specific villages that were really poor.

I was excited to be invited to join in. This was going to be my first real hands-on experience of helping people in dire need and I was feeling nervous but also a bit righteous at the same time.

Out we went one evening in the landrover to the villages. We gave out all the jumpers and sweaters. But then we realised there weren’t enough for everyone. Some people had to miss out.

And then someone tugged at my sleeve and pointed to my jumper. I didn’t speak her language but I knew what she was saying. “Can I have that jumper?” she asked with her expression and her body language.

I was shocked. I was wearing a turquoise sweatshirt that I loved. It had come from Australia, it was my favourite colour and it went with heaps of things. I only had six sweaters and this was my best one.

But the woman tugging at my sleeve was asking if she could have it. She had no sweatshirts and there were more people in her village who had none as well.

What would you have done? Would you have given her the jumper? Or would you have kept it?

Throughout junior high school I met a lot of challenges and many of them were opportunities for me to grow and fly. This woman, tugging at my sleeve, was the challenge that made me stumble and fall. Flat on my face.

I said no.

I gathered myself up and I moved into the landrover where she couldn’t reach me. I talked to myself and told myself that it was ok, that I couldn’t be expected to give up my own sweater, that if I had given it to her my mother would have been cross because she couldn’t have replaced it, that I needed it for school, and besides, it wouldn’t be good if I didn’t look after my own things. I told myself that the woman would be okay, that she was probably just a ‘taker’ and that she shouldn’t have asked.

I still wish, 25 years later, that I had taken off my turquoise sweatshirt and given it to the hungry, thin woman who asked me for it.

And I’m still struggling to know how to respond when I come face to face with real people who have bigger needs than I do. I wish I was more generous, but I’m scared of what might happen if I am. Pray for me.

How do you respond to poverty? How have you responded? It’s a hard but necessary conversation so join in through the comments.

Author Bio: Cecily Paterson is trying to live an uncluttered life, although she feels like she’s behind the eight-ball to begin with in having four children and a recalcitrant dog to feed and keep happy. Cecily is an author, most recently of Love, Tears & Autism, a memoir of the five years following her son’s diagnosis with autism. She’s a fan of honesty and candour and always tries to tell the truth. While she grew up in Pakistan, she’s very happy now to live in small town Australia and would prefer not to move for a long time. Cecily blogs at Cecily.Mostly. Check it out!

Reader Response: Tea and Soul Care


Tea matters
. The responses from readers on tea gave personal pictures from Laos to Pakistan to South Africa of what tea means and why tea matters. All the comments were rich with memory and feeling, but I’ve picked one that spoke to my soul today. It’s one of the reasons I love blogging – I am the recipient of wisdom and challenges through reader comments. I have turned this one comment into a post and pray that it will speak to your soul the way it spoke to mine.“Tea and Soul Care”  is penned by Ruthie McCurry Dutton, a former class mate from Murree. We reconnected this past year through Facebook and blogging and it makes me want to see her again in person and share a cup of tea.  Ruthie has lived a nomadic life and offers a glimpse of her life in this piece.

Tea–my “go-to” for every occasion and metaphor for qualities that I find important. Tea meant comfort and happiness in my early memories of Pakistan: sweet and milky, sitting in my beloved nanny’s lap; a strong brew capping off my first exciting day at boarding school; the mad rush at break, when I was finally old enough to get my tea from the hole-in-the-wall stall across the road.

As a newly married bride, my mother-in-law introduced me to ritual and reverence through the very rare occasions when we used her exquisite collection of bone china cups. We carefully warmed the pot while boiling the water. We added just the right amount of leaves and waited patiently for it to steep. Aaaah….the perfect cup.

When life and ministry took me to the frontiers of Laos, I traded delicate cups for floral- patterned china mugs each one unique. They reminded me to look for the beauty all around me—be it the landscape or in the variety of people with whom I shared a cup. Each person and scene had a beauty of their own to be savored and appreciated.

In my newly nomadic life, a delicate china mug accompanies me. I love sipping from it as I share the pre-dawn hours with Jesus. This delicate mug, so easily chipped, reminds me of the importance of soul care. Each reverent sip is an in-pouring of the Holy Spirit, a source of strength for what my day brings. Now, instead of my beloved nanny, I feel the warm embrace of Abba Father.

Crossing both the globe and the span of time tea remains my constant companion, its symbolism and meaning growing and changing. For today it means warmth and comfort, sacred ritual, unique beauty, and God’s goodness. Life is richer over a cup of tea.

Guest Post: You Know You Live Downtown Cairo When….

As a mom who is miles away from all but one of her children, I am acutely aware of my inability to protect them. There are also times when I realize how much I don’t know about their lives. This awareness reached a new level when I read a post that my daughter had written from February 6th on living in Cairo, specifically downtown Cairo. So today’s post is a guest post from that day by my daughter, Annie. It is a reminder to me that Egypt is fragile, and people live everyday within the fragility. It is a reminder to pray for Egypt and for those who live there, both Egyptians and others.

Started a meme in my head, “You know you live Downtown when…” It goes something like this. YOU KNOW YOU LIVE DOWNTOWN CAIRO WHEN:

  • You carry your gas mask with you, everywhere, just in case.
  • You carry loads of cash, in various pockets, all over your person, just in case.
  • Your getaway bag is packed and ready if need be, right next to the cat carrier, just in case.
  • You walk down your street, thank the young man who is at the ready to spray saline solution into your gas-afflicted eyes, and carry on your merry way.
  • You direct your guests first to the baking soda, with which to wash their burning face, then to the arak which is somehow the only alcohol you have insanely copious amounts of.
  • You begin to notice that your tolerance for this gas stuff is a lot higher than others’.
  • You’ve developed a significant prescription drug habit.
  • You begin to prefer walking alone; others’ skittishness during gas-induced stampedes impedes your own perfected ability to walk calmly and quickly in any given situation.
  • Your ear is trained to know which bangs warrant going onto the balcony, and which don’t. (Fireworks are worth it; the displays are always well-done, bless you football fans)
  • When the police are out, you don’t leave the building.
  • You check Twitter to make sure you can get home, even though you’re fully aware of how largely useless it is.
  • You resent your friends for not checking the news before they talk to you, you resent your family for not being more worried about you, you resent acquaintances for telling you to “be safe”.

* * *

Today, a G-Chat with Tony:

me: tony I am worried about reintegrating into a society where there aren’t bombs and gunshots always

Knowing you have to get out (sanity? I guess?) but knowing that you can’t. Knowing that, just like last January, just like October, November, next week will be different. Next week will be art shows and dinner at Greek Club and late-night screaming matches at Stella and dinner parties and brunch at the CFCC and buying your produce just like nothing ever happened.

The thing I learned is that humans are so simultaneously fragile and resilient.

Annie on her rooftop, downtown Cairo

Guest Post ~ Narratives of “Lived Time”

I am delighted to have Tiffany Kim guest post for me today. I met Tiffany through mutual friends this past fall and when we were finally able to meet for lunch, despite age difference, it was instant friendship.  After a conversation on a recent post we had a discussion on the importance of stories. It was at that time that I asked her if she would be willing to write a post. I am grateful that she said yes! Tiffany is a wife, friend, world traveler, foodie, writer, researcher (collector of stories), and nurse. She lives in Boston, Massachusetts and offers this post on stories.

We seem to have no other way of describing “lived time” save in the form of a narrative.–Jerome Bruner

I’ve always loved stories. I love hearing stories, I love making new stories and I love sharing them later. Ask me sometime about when I tried San Pedro, a psychedelic cactus brew, with a Shaman in the Peruvian Andes. Or my moonshine experience in Appalachia – it involved a fat pony, a $20 bill and a rock. But there are also some stories that I am tempted to try and forget. We all have them and these narratives of suffering, perhaps more than the others, can come to define what we believe about our world and ourselves. Yet, these are the very stories that we do not share with each other.

I recently finished my PhD in Nursing at The University of Pennsylvania. While I was there, I set out to study the problem of sexual violence among women in transition. More specifically, I looked at intimate partner sexual violence (also known as marital rape), in a group of Mexican immigrant women living in Philadelphia. I wanted to understand these women’s experiences of sexual violence in the context of their transition and movement across borders. No one else had ever done a study quite like this, and I knew that I would need to think carefully about how I might go about constructing such a dissertation. In the end, I decided to use a method called Narrative Analysis, a qualitative research method that focuses on the ways people make and use stories to interpret their world. I chose this method, because I was not so much interested in the historical facts of the stories, but rather the meanings women ascribed to them. In essence, why someone tells a story and how that person chooses to tell it, can be as important as the story itself.

My choice of dissertation topic mean that I would have the honor of bearing witness to many women’s amazing stories of unimaginable trauma, survival and courage. I found that the content of many women’s stories were similar – childhood sexual abuse, dating violence, abusive marriages, the hardships of immigrant life, poverty and the importance of family and children. Although suffering was clearly the major theme throughout all of their stories, I found it fascinating that the women chose to tell me about their suffering in strikingly different ways. Even though they had all experienced remarkably similar abuse, women structured their narratives quite differently. Why did some women tell me about continuing to endure through a lifetime of suffering with little hope for the future, while others told me about leaving that suffering behind? (If I knew the answer to this I’d immediately start selling self-help books and make a million dollars.) But it’s got me to thinking – how do I organize and tell my own stories of suffering?

The way we choose to organize our stories speaks volumes about our current mental health and our own healing. And while we can’t change the actual events in our past, is it possible for us to reconsider the meanings we’ve ascribed to them? I certainly don’t have all the answers, but I do know that stories are important. Fully exploring our own narratives first requires that we share them with each other. Once a story is told in the presence of another person, it’s amazing how it can morph and change – entire plots, themes and characters that were previously overlooked can come into the light. So, let’s grab some coffee (or chai) and sit down for a bit. I know we both have some stories to share…

And, if you’d like to read more about the women I interviewed, you can click here for a link to my dissertation:

http://proquest.umi.com/pqdlink?Ver=1&Exp=12-21-2016&FMT=7&DID=2465750981&RQT=309&attempt=1&cfc=1

Join the discussion on stories through the comment section!