Still 10,000 Reasons

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I wake up refreshed this morning. My husband and I were invited to a young adult retreat this weekend and were honored to have the opportunity to speak to a group of around 50 college students and young adults. The topic was hospitality, and we watched this topic modeled well for us by an Orthodox Parish that fed us amazing meals, gave us comfortable beds to sleep on, and offered up lavish generosity in every area. The entire weekend was a gift that nourished our souls.

The timing could not have been better. In the United States we are ending a divisive and angry political campaign. There has been an absence of character and virtue all around and it has had a domino effect across relationships, both close and distant.

As I walk to the subway, my friend from El Salvador rushes to catch up with me. We haven’t seen each other for some time. We hug and begin catching up on life. She has been to El Salvador, I have had a grandchild. Before long, she asks me if I have voted yet. I shake my head no, but tomorrow I will. She shakes her head as well and we sigh at the same time. She will vote tomorrow as well. She whispers to me that she doesn’t like either candidate, looking around furtively, not willing to offend. I sigh and nod. We wave goodbye to each other two stops later.

I walk to my office slowly as the city awakes, thinking about the weekend, about my friend, and about how there are still 10,000 reasons to get up every morning and trust God.

Every day, people scan the headlines, searching for their daily briefing. What is going on in the world? What do they need to know? What will affect them? But the headlines only tell a portion of the story. Headlines may tell us of Trump effigys being burned in England; of classified emails leaked; of millions of Afghan refugees going back to Afghanistan, uncertain of their future; of U.S backed militias helping to drive out ISIS in Syria — but it doesn’t tell the whole story. It doesn’t tell of the many who give sacrificially to the poor, who tirelessly work toward justice, who pray daily for peace.

Above and beyond any headline is the story that God is telling.

And the story God is telling is not about a country. It is not the story of red and blue, of donkey and elephant, of Clinton and Trump. It is not an American story. The story God is telling is a worldwide story of people and redemption. The story God is telling is far bigger than elections and opinions – it is a story that goes from Pakistan to Tasmania; from Iraq to Germany; from Russia to the Maldives; from Senegal to the United States; from North Pole to South Pole and all places between.

I will only ever know a fraction of the story this side of Heaven. But I know enough to not despair. I know enough to know that God has not left us to drown in our own mess. Instead, he reaches through time and eternity to reorient us to his reality. He reminds us in countless ways that we are beloved; he convicts us that many who we despise are also beloved.

So I walk slowly, but purposefully. To my right, two homeless people are sleeping in the shelter of a doorway, heads covered with grey blankets to keep off the cold. To my left I see the glimpses of a new day dawning and I know there are still 10,000 reasons to trust a God whose definable stamp is on all creation.

The sun comes up
It’s a new day dawning
It’s time to sing Your song again
Whatever may pass
And whatever lies before me
Let me be singing
When the evening comes*

*Matt Redman

Aleppo – History, Horror, and Cry for Help

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In early September, main stream news sources and  all of social media were  alive with indignation when the Libertarian candidate for president – Gary Johnson – asked the question “What is Aleppo?”

Indeed – What is Aleppo? 

Aleppo is History.

For hundreds of years Aleppo was the largest city in Syria and one of the oldest inhabited cities in the world. Aleppo was called the “Jewel of Syria.” In a recent NPR interview, Charles Wilkins, professor of Middle Eastern History at Wake Forest University recalls entering Aleppo:  “You would enter the ancient city through the walls, usually from the west. And as you enter it, you immediately smell spices. Walking further in, you encounter shops selling soap, olive oil. Aleppo is famed for its soap. And further on you might even find heavy wool cloaks to wear in the cold Aleppan winters.” Aleppo was in a geographically unique position acting as a “caravan city” or a hub connecting other cities to each other through people and through trade.  Before the war, the city had a population of approximately 2 million.

Aleppo is Horror.

Short of the use of biological and nuclear weapons, Syria has seen the full spectrum of human destructiveness and Aleppo is currently in the centre of the storm.*

In the last five years, Aleppo has been on the front page of many newspapers world-wide more times than we can count. Since 2012, Aleppo has been in a battle between the Syrian government and the many forces that are fighting against that government.  Before and after pictures of Aleppo show a beautiful building in a vibrant community side by side with concrete buildings that are bombed out ghost streets. There is no resemblance to what it once was.

Aleppo is a case study of a massive refugee problem;  a problem that has humanitarian aid workers shaking their heads in disbelief and begging the world to act. But Aleppo is more than that – it is a symbol of what is wrong with our world. It is a symbol of disconnect between east and west, a symbol of what happens when a leader destroys its country, a symbol of war in all its horror.

“I heard a story recently that is emblematic of all of the suffering in Aleppo right now. A gravely wounded man arrived in a hospital, and there were no more spaces on the floor for new patients. The doctor told the nurse: “This man will only live for two more hours. Take him out of the hospital so that we can admit those who can possibly be saved.” The man was put in a body bag while he was still alive, and placed in the street to be buried. This is the horror that we face in Aleppo.” From NYTimes Opinion piece 10/21/2016

Aleppo is a Cry for Help.  

Aleppo is complicated – it is much easier to ignore something when there are no easy answers, when it takes an effort to educate ourselves on what is going on. We watch buildings bombed out on television, we scroll through news that gives us more body counts and describes more destruction. We watch and we have to turn away because it is too much to bear. We also turn away because we wish we had answers, and we don’t.  Aleppo calls out in her suffering, begging the world for answers that it cannot give.

Aleppo is bigger than a war, bigger than a historical place in Syria. Aleppo is symbolic of so many problems in our world today — problems that are too big and seemingly have no solutions. Aleppo is apathy and denial; turning our faces away from need and focusing on that which is easy. Aleppo is disparity between rich and poor, injustice, and enmity between people.

So the question “What is Aleppo?” is not just a political one – it’s a spiritual one.

As Christians in the United States, we watch suffering from far away, often from a comfortable couch with a favorite drink in our hands. The Aleppo problem is theoretical rather than personal. It is something that is happening “over there” and many feel the important piece is making sure that it doesn’t “come here.”

But as a Christian, the question “What is Aleppo?” encompasses all the other questions I have that have no answers. Why suffering? Why injustice? Why do the evil thrive?

The questions have been asked by millions through the ages and they will be asked again until the end of time.

So what is Aleppo?  I find the answer in the verses of a Psalm written long ago.

Psalm 10

Why, Lord, do you stand far off?
Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?

In his arrogance the wicked man hunts down the weak,
who are caught in the schemes he devises.
He boasts about the cravings of his heart;
he blesses the greedy and reviles the Lord.
In his pride the wicked man does not seek him;
in all his thoughts there is no room for God.
His ways are always prosperous;
your laws are rejected by[b] him;
he sneers at all his enemies.
He says to himself, “Nothing will ever shake me.”
He swears, “No one will ever do me harm.”

His mouth is full of lies and threats;
trouble and evil are under his tongue.
He lies in wait near the villages;
from ambush he murders the innocent.
His eyes watch in secret for his victims;
    like a lion in cover he lies in wait.
He lies in wait to catch the helpless;
he catches the helpless and drags them off in his net.
10 His victims are crushed, they collapse;
they fall under his strength.
11 He says to himself, “God will never notice;
he covers his face and never sees.”

12 Arise, Lord! Lift up your hand, O God.
    Do not forget the helpless.
13 Why does the wicked man revile God?
Why does he say to himself,
“He won’t call me to account”?
14 But you, God, see the trouble of the afflicted;
    you consider their grief and take it in hand.
The victims commit themselves to you;
    you are the helper of the fatherless.
15 Break the arm of the wicked man;
    call the evildoer to account for his wickedness
    that would not otherwise be found out.

Mosul and Aleppo: A Tale of Two Cities

[Picture Source – Pixabay https://pixabay.com/en/city-view-quote-elle-aleppo-772778/%5D

The Welcome Prayer

I have to admit I’m really struggling this week. I’m angry at some recent news from an organization close to my heart. I’m disgusted by the political situation in the country where I live. I’m horrified by the people that excuse sexual indecency and the language of predatory sexual assault. I’m embarrassed by those Christians in leadership that refuse to remove their blinders and truly see what’s happening.

Meanwhile racial imbalance continues to effect communities across this country. More Syrians fleeing their ravaged homeland have died this week in trying to escape. Much of Haiti’s infrastructure has been erased by fierce winds and waters. Over 800 people died in the wreckage. Thailand’s beloved King has died leaving thousands mourning and in uncertain transition. Yemen is still reeling from the double bomb attack at a funeral last week which left 140 people dead and over 500 injured. The situation in Kashmir is heated and precarious. The Pakistani Christian woman Asia Bibi, once again on trail for blasphemy, has had her case adjourned for the time being with the threat of false accusation still hanging over her.

It’s too much. Never before have I been so tempted to cancel everything, stay in my pajamas, and curl up in my bed for a few days. I’m heart sick and worn out from it all. I want to make friends with denial and ignorance. I’m done.

I was awake early this morning working on a different blog post. It was an angry rant full of passion and fury. As I was madly pounding at my keyboard I realized that the piece had taken on a life of it’s own. The words were nearly typing themselves. Anger was colouring in ugly shades outside the lines of reason and wisdom. I pushed my chair away from my desk, poured myself another cup of coffee and paused.

Leanna Tankersley tucks into her very insightful book, Brazen: The Courage to Find the You That’s Been Hiding, a chapter entitled, Welcoming It All. In it she includes the Welcome Prayer as written by Father Thomas Keating, a Trappist monk:

Welcome, welcome, welcome. I welcome everything that comes to me today because I know it’s for my healing. I welcome all thoughts, feelings, emotions, persons, situations and conditions. I let go of my desire for power and control. I let go of my desire for affection, esteem, approval and pleasure. I let go of my desire for survival and security. I let go of my desire to change any situation, condition, person or myself. I open to the love and presence of God and God’s action within. Amen.

Tankersley goes on to say, “I love these lines, this concept, this practice. The Welcoming Prayer takes us out of our heads and into a space where we stop, even for a very few minutes, our analyzing and figuring. We relinquish our strategies and allow God to work within us, in the place where we are far more malleable than our mind. We are opening ourselves up to a divine encounter which is never a bad idea.” (Leanna Tankersley, Brazen, 2016. pg 200).

Admittedly it’s a hard prayer to pray today. I don’t want to “let go of my desire for power or control.” I don’t want to “let go of my desire to change any situation.” I’m rattling at my chain for change and decency and solutions and justice. But, if I’m honest, the rattling isn’t doing my soul any good. I’m worked up and out of shape. I’m a mess. I’d love to escape and avoid and hide.

Even as I sip my now lukewarm coffee, I think there might be a meaningful way to separate myself from the mess of it all. It strikes me that there’s a profound difference between burying my head in the sand and lifting my eyes up to see above the muck. Both refuse to focus on the crud and horror of what’s happening. But one gives me permission to welcome what God is doing. Looking up allows me to make eye contact with a broader perspective and with Hope itself! If I look up I see above the landscape, I see the horizon, wide and eternal, stretching beyond what I now know, making way for what’s to come.

Perhaps today is a day to breath deeply: in and out. I need to remember what is true. I need to be faithful to what I cannot see. I need to call to mind the presence of Christ and the Living Hope that dwells in me. I need to make space inside to choose to welcome what God wants to do in me.

My husband Lowell often quotes from the novel, Brothers K, by David James Duncan. There’s a scene in the novel where an old baseball coach is advising a young batter, “He said there are two ways for a hitter to get the pitch he wants. The simplest way is not to want any pitch in particular. But the best way, he said—which sounds almost the same, but is really very different—is to want the very pitch you’re gonna get. Including the one you can handle. But also the one that’s going to strike you out looking. And even the one that’s maybe gonna bounce off your head.”

Welcome, welcome, welcome. I welcome everything that comes to me today—even the pitch that’s going to strike me out, even the one that’s going to hit me in the head and knock me out— because I know weirdly enough it’s for my healing. I welcome all thoughts, feelings, emotions, persons, situations and conditions—including trying to sort out the world’s wounds. It’s not easy but I’m going to try to let go of my desire for power and control. I let go of my desire for affection, esteem, approval and pleasure. I let go of my desire for survival and security. I let go of my desire to change any situation, condition, person or myself and the anger and angst I feel when I can’t. Oh God please help me open to the love and presence of God and God’s action within. Amen.

 

Get a Life

“Oh, for God’s sake…get a life, will you?”–William Shatner

 

Connor left nearly a month ago to return to the University of British Columbia. As he and Lowell pulled away from the house I felt the bottle of grief shaken within me lose its scarcely screwed on lid. Before I knew it I was drenched, inside and out, with sadness. I came into the house, sat in my chair, gently held my coffee cup and cried.

In my sad spot I remembered that this is our Adelaide’s last year of high school too and a fresh wave of grief dragged me under. It felt like my heart would break.

I wondered at the strangeness of parenting. We wrap our lives and our hearts around these miniature people. We tend, nurture, guide, direct. We attend concerts and games, plays and competitions. We give up our rights to complete thoughts, finished sentences, sleeping in on Saturdays, uninterrupted conversations, Sunday afternoon naps, free time, long showers, the late show. We trade it all in for diapers, runny noses, giggles, knock knock jokes, princesses, pirate ships, play dough, lego towers, swing pushing, nail painting, homework helping, eye rolling, door slamming, curfew pushing kids! And if we get a minute we’d admit that it was a fair trade. For the most part we’ve loved it—!

In that sad moment in my chair I wanted those days back again. I wanted another turn at it all. I wanted to hold fiercely on to the childhood of my children. They said it would go fast and for the longest time I thought they were mocking me…but now I realized with horror at how right they had been. It was over with my kids before it had really begun in me.

As I sat sipping my coffee, which now oddly tasted like nostalgia and sorrow, I thought to myself, “Robynn, You need to get a life”! I suppose it was a mild rebuke from my more sensible self to my emoting sobbing self. Even as I thought it another thought quickly jumped up in defense of me. Wait a minute…I do have a life!

I do. I have purpose. I’m a spiritual director in training. My brain is being stretched and stimulated by the program I’m enrolled in. I have a broad worldview. I’ve had the humbling privilege of travel and crossing cultures in varying places around the globe. I’m a part of an Environmental Missions effort. I’m passionate about climate change and its effects on the world. I care deeply about the oppressed and long for justice. I have deep friendships with interesting people who expand my world in significant ways. My thoughts are often outside of my inside domestic duties. I read books, I engage in conversation, I watch the occasional documentary, I listen to intellectually stimulating podcasts.

Honestly I think that’s one of the best gifts I’ve given my children. They’ve seen my heart for others. They know I have a wide circle. They’ve heard me rant about racial injustice, about welcoming the immigrant, about caring for the poor. They’ve seen my eyes fill with tears with concern for friends that are hurting. They know I have dreams and goals and longings outside of our home.

I attended an international boarding school in the Himalayan foothills of Pakistan. Multiple times a year we’d have to say goodbye to our parents. It was devastatingly difficult. But I’m convinced it was made marginally easier because we knew my parents had purpose. We knew they loved each other well. Their marriage was solid. We knew they’d be ok without us.

Kids need to know that their parents are going to be all right when they’re not around. It’s too much pressure for a child to believe that his mother’s or his father’s emotional well-being is connected to him. He needs to know they have a life without him.

There are ways we interpret our obsession with our kids that sound noble and self-sacrificing. But I wonder if we scraped those notions back down to the frame if we’d find something more self-serving than we originally thought? Does it give us a sense of importance? Are we tethering our identity solely to our role as caregiver?

I’m not saying that being a parent is not an important vital job. By all means it is! But the goal is to work yourself out of a job. We want to raise adults that are independent, that no longer need us for their daily cares. We want to train up people that know what it means to contribute in valuable ways to the world around them. They will not know about that unless we show them. It will be important to your health and the health of your progeny that you have some other meaningful thing to give yourself to.

I suppose there’s no real easy way to say this….but moms and dads –you have got to get a life! I don’t care what age your kids are now, begin, even today to imagine a little life outside of your children. Start researching ideas of what you might want to do. Pray it through. Take up a hobby that energizes you. Are there distance education classes you could enroll in even now? Are there places you could meaningfully volunteer? Are there courses offered in your community that might spark your imagination? Do you have dormant dreams that you used to think about? What would it look like to fan some of those back into flame? The little people won’t be little for long. Start now and get a life!

 

 

There’s so Much to Do

I wake up thinking “There is so much to do!” Housework and writing; communicating and catching up; praying and reflecting. 

But I’m caught in this trap of media watching. It’s a vicious cycle of anger and laughter and sadness – but mostly anger. There’s so much to do, but I’m caught. I’m right where the enemy of my soul and heart wants me to be – distracted. 

The other day I read an article on refugees – how this year will be the deadliest yet; how we aren’t even paying attention because we are so distracted. 

“At least 3,034 refugees have died in the Mediterranean since the start of this year — almost as many as the whole of 2015.”

Because we are busy talking about Trump. 

Because we are busy talking about Hillary. 

Because we are busy being ethnocentric and egocentric and all sorts of centric. Because we have been lured into time wasting and media watching, giving attention to those who don’t deserve our attention. Because if we can focus on the sins and faults of another, we don’t have to deal with our own. 

So refugees continue to die, and asylum continues to erode, and misinformation and media continue to rule the day. 

The enemy of distraction is not easy to defeat. But defeat it I must. It cannot be allowed to control me. 

I cry out to God and I pray for the hurting, for the one at the margins, for the refugee. 

Then, resolutely I begin to do what needs doing. 

Because there’s so much to do. 

International Women’s Day 2016 – Bringing All Voices to the Table

“What, Sir, would the people of the earth be without woman? They would be scarce, sir, almighty scarce.”

Mark Twain

Every year I write about International Women’s Day. This is the one day a year when the focus is solely on women and the issues that are most important to them.

In some ways I struggle with this day,  not because I don’t support women, but because I feel the focus is always too much on Western, white women. I don’t believe it is purposefully exclusive, but I believe that too often the deciding voices are those who are at a general advantage racially, economically, and socially. The voices speaking for women are privileged. Those voices do not include women of color, the poor, the refugee, or the disabled. 

Perhaps the best theme for International Women’s Day would be “Bringing ALL voices to the table.”  Because until we have all these voices, we have a false narrative.

The women that I meet in my work and in my traveling rarely know about International Women’s Day. They don’t necessarily worry about the themes of this day. They worry about their finances and kids. They often work two jobs to support their families. Many of them have grown old before their time, wearing the battle scars of daily life on their skin. These women are still worrying about food, security, and safety. Gender parity does not figure into the conversaton. Most of these women are marginalized by society because of the color of their skin or their life circumstances. But they know how to laugh and face each day.These women are examples of resilience and strength. They are women of worth, made in the image of God.

These women are true champions and they need a seat at the table. 

That’s what I think about today on this day set aside for women. I think about these women and I honor them. And with apologies to the planners of International Women’s Day, I’ll keep my own theme this year: “Bringing All Voices to the Table.” 

After all these years, I see that I was mistaken about Eve in the beginning; it is better to live outside the Garden with her than inside it without her.

Mark Twain

The Darkness is Not Winning – A Life Overseas

Cairo, Light

I’m at A Life Overseas today where I quote my brother and sister-in-law!

I read these words from their newsletter yesterday morning and immediately asked permission to use them. These are words that reflect a future and a hope.

“The darkness is not winning!

“The truth is that wherever the news on television has been particularly bad this year, the Light is there shining and overcoming the Darkness. Refugees in the Middle East are being taken in by Christians, hatred is overcome by love. The hungry are being fed and the wounded healed in Jesus name. Discouraged and dislocated people are hearing about Jesus and receiving him and finding life and community and safety. Slaves in South East Asia are being set free from sex and labor imprisonment and the Light is even shining into the places where these slaves are working while they are still in slavery.” Stan & Tami Brown

Will you join me at A Life Overseas today? 

 

The Importance of Band Aids

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I’ve always loved band aids. Ever since I was a little girl and I had a doctor set I’ve loved band aids and bandages. There is something surprisingly comforting about a small strip of adhesive with a soft middle. Maybe it’s the clean – treat – protect mantra, maybe it’s the care with which the band aid is placed on the wound, maybe it’s the thought behind the band-aid — I’m not sure, but I love them.

When it comes to our hurting world, most of us only have the ability to offer a band-aid. Most of us are not in positions of power and authority, where we can change decisions of nations and governments to protect their people, not hurt them. Most of us are not in places where we are responsible for far-reaching policies that affect the poor and needy, that can change how water and food are distributed. Most of us don’t have a reach much beyond our neighborhood. Realistically, most of us can only offer a band-aid.

And here is truth – a band-aid does little to stop the pain and hurt of the oozing, painful ulcer that is the world and it’s too-many-to-count problems.

But band aids make a huge difference to the person who has the wound. Band aids mean something. They mean that someone took the time to care, to clean, to treat, to protect. They mean that someone stopped what they were doing and came to the aid of another. A band-aid may be small, but small things for the Kingdom matter.

There were five loaves and two fishes for five thousand people. It was a fraction of what was needed to feed hungry people. Jesus took what was there and he multiplied it abundantly. They were band aids to the need of the day – but he made the band-aid matter.

I think that’s what he does with our band aids. The small things we offer to our children, our neighbors, the stranger on the street — he takes them and multiplies them and we never know what that band-aid might mean to the one who wears it.

Last November I had the opportunity to go to Turkey for a short time. One of the things I did while there was go to a refugee camp near the Syrian and Iraqi borders. When I got back, I wrote this to a dear friend, Rachel Pieh Jones:

I’m back – and it feels so small.”  

She responded with this and as long as I live, I will never forget her words:

“It is small. And you are just one person. But a mustard seed is small. That’s the way of the Kingdom. May we always delight in being part of small things.” 

So today, offer a band-aid. You never know what God can do with that band-aid.

International Woman’s Day 2015 – “Make it Happen”

Today is International Woman’s Day. Yearly a day is set aside to honor women around the world, but also to bring attention to areas where changed needs to happen. This year the theme is broad and wide.

“Make it Happen” 

Is it sports? Bring more attention to women in sports and the amazing,strong women athletes. Open up the world of sports for girls all over the world.

Is it the arts? Encourage women in this area, stressing what women can bring to poetry, acting, visual arts, and music.

Is it leadership? How can women be encouraged to both take more leadership roles and empowered with help to be able to both care for a family and exercise leadership outside the home?

Is it medicine? Science? Business? Engineering? Financial independence? In each area there is opportunity for growth and change.

And I agree with all those. But none of those things can happen without women feeling safer and stronger.

It’s like the International Women’s Day planners have skipped over Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. They’ve gone to the top – self actualization, when so many women in the world today have not even reached first two bars of the hierarchy: physiological and safety. If a woman doesn’t know where her next meal is coming from, it’s highly unlikely that she’ll be looking to start her own business. If a woman fears her community or her home, she will not be able to create, to learn, to grow.

In Iraq, Yezidi women have been systematically targeted by ISIS, kidnapped and taken from their families and communities. In Syria women flee over the border trying to escape the chaos and violence of their home country. In India women fight against rape culture and the distorted views of women. I could mention hundreds of other situations where anything like sports, art, leadership is far from the minds of the women who wake up every day to a reality I can’t even imagine.

So yes – let’s make it happen! Let’s make safety happen. Let’s make food security happen. Let’s make clean water availability happen. Let’s make security of body and mind happen.

Let’s make International Women’s Day not about a privileged few, but about the marginalized majority!

The Challenge to “Not Go Numb”

“Just numb it!” I say emphatically every time I go to the dentist. “I don’t want to feel a thing.”

And it’s true. I had five babies naturally with barely a thought of intervention of any kind — but my teeth? Just numb me up. Laughing gas, ether, even a couple shots of whiskey, I’ll take anything! I just want to go numb.

And sometimes I feel like this with world events. Just numb me. I don’t want to feel them. I can’t do a thing about these events so just numb me.

But the challenge from those on the ground, indeed the plea from those on the ground is that we not go numb. Nancy Lindborg from USAID says “Our challenge is to not go numb, to remember the numbers, to remember the faces.” 

She said this a couple of months ago during a live panel discussion on Syria. The panel was sponsored by the Center for Strategic & International Studies, a center devoted to the bipartisan solutions and insights into international issues affecting our world today.

The panel was clear and informative and served as an excellent resource on what is going on today in a conflict that daily struggles to reach the headlines, largely because it has gone on too long and lost our attention, more importantly – lost the world’s attention. The Syrian conflict is white noise in a world drowning from information overload. 

But I want to remember and I don’t want to go numb. So as I listened to the panel I frantically scribbled notes, discernible only to me, on a piece of scrap paper so that I would remember some of the key points.

Here are some of those points: 

  • Humanitarian agencies were not targeted in the past – they have been systematically attacked in Syria.
  • “Fewer clinics being bombed because there are fewer clinics to bomb” – this statement, again from Nancy Lindborg, shouted at me.
  • Polio, measles out breaks feared – so many people at such close quarters
  • Syria was a middle-income country. yet people are leaving with nothing so the need for basic supplies is huge.
  • Huge problems”water sanitation, health needs especially due to egregious targeting of civilian facilities (hospitals, doctors)”
  • Humanitarian Aid groups are continually looking for ways that not only stabilize but build resilience inside and outside the country of Syria.
  • Need to strengthen the countries who are taking in refugees, only then will they have the ability to meet the needs of the massive refugee population.
  • The number of refugees who have come into Lebanon is the equivalent of the United States absorbing another state of California. It’s a massive influx of people and resources are already slim to help with those who are citizens.

And now it’s not just Syria. It’s the aftermath of Gaza, an age-old conflict that is wearing new rags and hurting another generation. It’s the evil of ISIS. It’s Ferguson and the continued rumblings of racism and grief. It’s floods in Pakistan. It’s poverty and homelessness in Central Square, my back yard. And oh how I want to go numb.

Where is the hope? 

Hope is in “9th grade girls back in school after losing 3 years – seeing them was extraordinarily inspiring.” Hope is in 400,000 refugee children being able to start school again in Lebanon. Hope is in young Somali refugees sending letters to Syrian refugees, a show of solidarity and understanding. Hope is in surgeons who are healing in the midst of war. Hope is in those that believe, against all odds, that there is a future, a future and a hope. Hope is in my Parish – Holy Resurrection, with people who have come forward in extraordinary ways to donate vitamins, infant tylenol, and wound supplies for refugees in Turkey.

Hope is in people who don’t go numb, but continue to watch, to pray, and to act. 

Saturday Travel Quote – by Jenni Gate

Remember the post where I said if you add your favorite travel quotes to the comment section I would try to put them into word-art? Here is the first – a fabulous quote by Jenni Gate.Thank you Jenni! Add your favorite travel quote to the comment section!

Travel by Jenni GateBuy Between Worlds today!  Available here: 

Read reviews of Between Worlds here: 

Everywhere is on my List

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Could there be a more perfect quote for those of us with who wear travel like we wear our favorite shoes? I don’t think so – but let’s find out. I invite you to share through the comments your favorite travel quote. There are so many of them and so many great ones. Share them in the comment section and I’ll do what I can to create a picture quote to share on either the Facebook page or here at Communicating Across Boundaries. Make sure you include the source.If it’s your original quote, all the better.

Have at it!

Readers – I’ll be in Phoenix for the next few days. If you live in that area I’d love to see you on Sunday evening at a book signing/reading event! Contact me at communicatingblog@gmail.com for more information!

Exiting the Noise

Around noon yesterday the electricity went off in our cottage in Rockport. The dishwasher, washing machine, dryer, refrigerator, and lights all stopped. Suddenly it was silent. And it was so welcome. 

If it hadn’t been for friends coming to stay and wanting them to have a good time, with lights and all appliances working properly, I could have sat in the quiet for hours. It was a gift to be free of the hum of background noise.

I realize how much noise is in my life, and how much I need to escape this noise. 

Last week I thought I would scream for the voices raging all over social media. I thought I would explode if I saw one more essay on how someone was going to commit suicide but they didn’t. How the pills were counted, the day was set. It’s not that I don’t care. I deeply care about mental illness. As someone who has sat beside loved ones in psychiatric emergency rooms my heart stops every time I hear about someone struggling, someone who doesn’t want to live, whose depression is so thick that they can’t see through.

But it felt like so much noise. How would knowing a stranger’s methods for taking her own life help me cope with the suicide of a well-loved Hollywood comedian? The answer for me was easy – it wouldn’t. The noise continued through all the tragedies and issues. The verbal sparring, a hallmark of today’s online communities, was non-stop. Like heavy traffic after a car accident so that you no longer care about the accident that took someone’s life – you just want it all to end. You want the traffic to stop, you want to get home so you can cradle your head in your hands and think.

I don’t want to be fed reactions 24/7; I want to be able to quiet the noise, escape the crowds, and think.

I want to go away to the mountain and pray.

“Think about it, Mom” says my son “prayer is the highest form of empathy, the greatest act of compassion.” 

This son of mine, nineteen years old, yet so wise, so beyond his years in wisdom and compassion. And he’s right.

So I need to exit the noise. I need to remove myself for a bit. I want what I write to be meaningful and to connect us, to start dialogue and promote thought and healing. I don’t want what I write to be the noise of one more opinion.

So today I’ll exit the noise for a bit. I’ll try to figure out what I think and feel. Most of all, I will pray. I will learn to pray more. I will seek to have the highest form of empathy and live out compassion for those far removed from me by geography, race, and circumstance.

Thank you for connecting in this space! I pray this week is one of peace and grace, that in the midst of the noise of a million opinions, you know who you are and what you think. Because sometimes I think I’ve forgotten.

Three essays that I would recommend this week: 

  • A Life of Prayer Amidst News of Death” recommended by my friend LaraQuote: “Neil Postman introduced the idea of the “low information to action ratio,” the concept that technology has made it possible to know details of suffering so remote from our everyday lives that we seemingly can do nothing in response—we have information without any clear action with which to respond. A low information to action ratio leads to callousness—we desensitize ourselves to suffering—or to despair because we are overwhelmed by the scale of world-wide suffering. We are small people who, for the most part, live quiet lives, but we have access to endless stories of pain and brokenness.” 
  • The Cross and the Molotov Cocktail” by Christena Cleveland. Quotes: “Can you see the Imago Dei in these young men? Can you see the suffering Christ in their rage?” “And make no mistake, our God is a God of justice. The young black men who launch Molotov cocktails at the police are misappropriating God’s justice by taking it into their own hands, but the rage they feel is the rage that God feels towards injustice. In a sense, they are imaging forth God’s justice to an unjust world.Seeing the suffering Christ in these young men isn’t achieved by theological gymnastics, deep pity, or altruism. It’s done by listening to their stories, sharing life, standing in solidarity with them, and experiencing their rage.”
  • An Allegory of Faithfulness” at She Loves Magazine by Rachel Pieh Jones. Quote: “The man who covered her turns away from her, for a time. But he does not forget the covenant he made, his oath that bound him to her, and her to him. She turns away from her sin, back to the one who had saved her before and he receives her again. He once again, washes her, restores her and dignifies her. He bestows his splendor on her so that again, she is beautiful.”

Between Worlds has a giveaway through GoodReads! Between now and September 14 you can enter the give away! If you have purchased Between Worlds and want to dialogue about it or would like a copy of the discussion guide, send me a message – I’d love to talk to you. Email communicatingblog@gmail.com

Read reviews of Between Worlds here: 

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A Life Overseas – When People Hate Your Home

Readers – I’m sending you to A Life Overseas today to a post called “When People Hate Your Home.” If there is anything that convicts a third culture kid it is a post like this! Because it’s not easy to love our passport countries and sometimes we fall into the category of the biggest criticizers. And that’s why I love this post by Lindsey Lautsbaugh – because she walks us through what it means to both appropriately love our passport countries as well as how to respond to those who don’t.  It can also be transferred however to those countries we were raised in that people in our passport countries hate – say Pakistan for instance. Or Iran. Or other places. Take a look and weigh in through comments either here or at A Life Overseas.

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I was 19 and just beginning to explore a future in missions. An internationally diverse group of us traveled all around Namibia doing presentations in local high schools. To begin our presentation, each team member would introduce themselves.

“My name is Lindsey and I am from the United States of America.”

As the only American in the group I secretly revelled in the loud cheers and applause that I got each and every time. No other person got that sort of response for their nation.

Fast forward 10 years… how times have changed.

My husband and I, on a Sunday morning, were listening to our local church pastor. He was preaching out of 1 Peter on how to live in an anti-God society. I remember the moment so clearly. Our pastor was really finding his groove.

“What do Christians do when their nation is so corrupt or so violent… completely opposed to the Kingdom of God? God has strength for those who live under rulers of nations like Iraq, Zimbabwe and the United States!”

We stared straight ahead but could read each others minds instantly. “Did he just compare our President to Saddam Hussein and Robert Mugabe?”. Yes, he did.

We were not blind to the changing perception of our home country. If we did have any doubts that times and perceptions had changed, this church service erased them.

A few months later we had a prayer time with all our staff and students at our Bible School. For some reason, those leading the time felt to pray for America… not something we had done before. The prayer topic was not well received to put it lightly. As everyone broke into groups to pray, a strange silence enveloped the room (not normal for a prayer time in Africa!).

After 10-15 minutes the leaders spoke up, “What is going on? Why is no one praying?” Finally someone broke the silence, “In order to pray for a nation you have to have something good to say about them, I can think of nothing good to say about America.” Person after person admitted this was true for them too. This awkward-ness was compounded by the fact that their were several Americans in the room.

The reality is, people from many nations other than America have these similar stories and worse. No matter where we go in the world, there is a high likelihood that one nation or culture is despised or looked down upon by another nation or culture. Read the rest of the post here.

When Your Heart Hurts on a Friday

Robynn continues on sabbatical this week – but if you want to read an amazing piece that she’s written in the past – perfect for yesterday’s events take a look here: On Common Prayer.

I’m sitting in my spot – my early morning spot that I’ve described before.

And though I want my heart to feel light, it feels heavy with the weight of tragedy. Israel mounted a ground offensive against Gaza yesterday and the pictures of children and moms cry out to me from their inanimate place on my computer screen. An airline was shot down by a surface to air missile and all people on board were killed. At least 295 – perhaps more. I read about an Australian woman whose heart is breaking – first she lost a brother in an airplane that went missing, yesterday she lost a step daughter.

And there are still those horrible tragedies that have gone on daily; those that I’ve pushed to a convenient spot in my mind, a spot that doesn’t continually surface and paralyze me for the sorrow of all of it.

My heart hurts for people I don’t know, those I have never met. And  my heart hurts for those I do know, those who are local and have problems and sadness that will never make a news story, but are so real and so paralyzing in intensity that their whole world is affected. The hurting marriage, the mom who just found out her son has been arrested, the pregnant teen, the old man who found out he has cancer, the young man fired and wondering how he will tell his wife — all the sorrows that overwhelm the individual yet are privately grieved. Our God is a Global God; our God is a local God. Just as concerned about the person in my neighborhood who is hurting as he is about the huge tragedy in the skies over the Ukraine. That’s what makes him God.

And I’m human so even as I hurt for those suffering, I feel enormous joy this week for a book that was released. It feels so big, it feels so small.

And because I don’t know how to pray, I don’t know how to properly care, I say the words that have reconciled man with God through the ages “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, Have Mercy.” 

I leave my spot on the couch. Paralysis helps no one. I go forward knowing there are still “10,000 reasons for my heart to sing ‘Bless the Lord’….” 

What do you do when it’s too much to bear? You put your head down and pray so deeply it hurts. And then you go to work doing what you know you’re called to do for the day, because you are not the Saviour, you are only the saved and that by grace alone.” from On Polio and when it’s all too much to bear.

Women in Hebron by Stefanie Sevim Gardner

My daughter Stefanie returned from a 3-week study trip to Israel and Palestine this past Monday. We have delighted in her stories, oohing and ahhing over her pictures, and in general vicariously taking part in this amazing trip. Today she has given me permission to use an essay she wrote for her team. May you enjoy this piece as you travel with her to Hebron, a place where people like Layla daily face the realities of occupation. Please feel free to interact with Stef through the comments. 

Hebron - Stef with LaylaWomen in Hebron by Stefanie Sevim Gardner

On any given day, the winding alleys in the city of Hebron are full of shopkeepers selling scarves, spices, and everything in between. The colors, smells, and sounds keep your senses busy. There is so much beauty and life to soak up. One shop in particular doesn’t catch your eye at first glance, but the story behind the shop is unforgettable. The shop owner’s name is Layla Hasan. She is Muslim, a mother and a grandmother, and she happens to be the only female shop owner in Hebron.

Layla works with Women in Hebron, a non-profit that employs a few hundred women through the production of handcrafted goods. Women in Hebron’s website says the following: “Our work is based on the idea that developing Palestinian handicrafts is more than just an income-generating project. It is in of itself an act of community-strengthening, of honoring the role of women in our society, and a means to show sumud – steadfastness – in the face of the occupation of Palestine and the harm it has done to the people of Hebron.”

Our group spent the day in Hebron and saw this quote personified through Layla and the life she has created. Layla led us to her home, made of old stone that kept us cool from the Middle East heat. We sat on intricately designed cushions that lined the room as she served us a home cooked meal made of rice, chicken, cauliflower, and potato. With each empty serving, Layla would come over and pile our plates with double the amount that we had already consumed, insisting that we continue eating. She sat and talked with us as her granddaughters snuck peeks through the doorway and laid their heads on her lap.

Hebron - Layla's home

Layla’s genuine Arab hospitality came through serving us food and tea as well as entertaining us with laughter and good conversation. Layla told us about her family. Her daughters live in nearby villages and her sons are in jail for attempting to work in Israel proper, because finding jobs locally can be difficult. She told us that her father and husband never approved of her working, preferring her to remain a homemaker. Layla defied their expectations, however. In jest she quoted to us a phrase that is embroidered on hand purses in her shop: “Men can do something. Women can do anything.” Though laughter accompanied this statement, it is one that holds true to her life. Layla said it is not easy to be the only female shop owner nor is it easy to work when the prominent male figures in her life do not want her to do so.

Layla helps provide life and prosperity for the women she employs, despite the fact that the odds are against her in a male-dominated society. Layla doesn’t brag or boast, but happily speaks about her life and shares her stories to those who will listen. Every day, she works in her shop and carries out the mission of Women of Hebron: to provide a place for community strengthening where the role of women is honored and represented. Despite the tumultuous state of Hebron, Layla brings hope to her community, and as the hand purses that she creates assert, no matter what odds are against them, “Women can do anything.”  

Hebron - This is Palestine

To read more about this organization and the work they do head to Women in Hebron: A Palestinian Women’s Embroidery Cooperative. Also stay tuned for more photographs from Stef in a future post.

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Syrian Storytellers – Letting the World Know

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Caption on picture “Even the House of God is not safe from Bashar Al Assad”

Last night my husband and I had the privilege of attending a fundraiser for NuDay Syria — a nonprofit created to support humanitarian and relief efforts in Syria. Their activities include food programs inside the country, education for children displaced from the war, medical aid for moms and children, and other social service endeavors.

The highlight of the evening was listening to the stories of two Syrian activists who have been on a “Hope tour” in the United States for the past month. Without drama they told their stories. The first was Raed Fares from the town of Kafranbel. Kafranbel is in northwestern Syria and has the loving nickname of “The Little Syrian Town that Could.” Anyone who knows the children’s story of The Little Engine that Could will immediately be curious about why this small town has this reputation.

It’s because Kafranbel is the center for creative thought and expression against the Assad regime. Raed is the brain and catalyst behind the efforts in Kafranbel. The main focus has been banners and signs written in English that seek to tell the world about what is going on in Syria. They are written in bold print and many have cartoons to illustrate the situation. Some are sarcastic, some are witty, others are plain sad — but all tell a story. All express outrage. You can see many of the images at the website Occupied Kafranbel, where the history of the town is given in more detail.

The second is a blogger — Razan Ghazzawi — who has blogged under her own name for the duration of the conflict. She had to flee Damascus a couple of years ago when she faced arrest and persecution but has traveled across the Middle East to bring awareness to the Syrian conflict, specifically to the human cost of the conflict. Razan gave a poignant description of the loneliness that is a part of being an activist in Syria, holding out hope for others through writing and art, even as the activists themselves struggle with the loneliness that leadership and passion for a cause bring.

We left the evening sobered. The event took place while many Americans were glued to the television watching the Golden Globes – a yearly narcissistic event designed to give already big egos even bigger ones. Yet even as Hollywood glitters, and in that glitter mocks the rest of the world, Syria has not gone away. Other news has taken over our news feeds and our Facebook shares, but Syria is still there. It is still a public health and humanitarian disaster. There is still unthinkable violence and struggle for survival.  A Syrian musician, Kinan Azmeh, will be on stage tonight at Carnegie Hall for an event to raise funds for Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders). He will be the opening act – a clarinet solo playing a song called Every Day is a Sad Morning; the words haunting in their description of the daily reality for the people of Syria.

Earlier yesterday I read a quote from Joan Didion on stories and story tellers: “We tell ourselves stories in order to live…We look for the sermon in the suicide, for the social or moral lesson in the murder of five. We interpret what we see, select the most workable of the multiple choices. We live entirely, especially if we are writers, by the imposition of a narrative line upon disparate images, by the “ideas” with which we have learned to freeze the shifting phantasmagoria which is our actual experience.

These words resonated deeply with me as I listened to the stories from last night’s event. The narrative line across the disparate images given by these two Syrian Storytellers was one of hope, one that says “Don’t Forget”. A narrative that said to me “Despite bombed out buildings and millions of refugees, we’re going to keep going, keep drawing, keep writing, keep informing — will you come with us on the journey?” 

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Blogger’s Note: You can find more information on NuDay Syria here. For practical ways to assist click here.

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