On Picnics in Kurdistan


Yesterday was Friday – the day of worship, rest, and picnics in Kurdistan.

Yes – picnics.

About a 10 minute drive from our apartment is beautiful Lake Dukan and an area called Darband. Come Friday and Saturday, Darband is full of people from all over the area enjoying the cool breezes and beauty of Lake Dukan.

Suburban utility vehicles, small compact cars, motorcycles, hatchbacks, sedans, and more drive over the bridge and find the most scenic spot to settle. Out jump excited children and more staid adults along with large watermelons and cantaloupe, soft drinks and juices, kebabs wrapped in bread with big slices of raw onions and tomatoes, rice, and homemade cakes and sweets – feasts for the joyous and the weary. Sometimes you see entire families pile out of cars or trucks. Grandfathers in Kurdish clothes with their full pants and fitted jackets, black and white checked sashes around their waists, grandmothers in traditional dresses of muted colors, teenagers who live between what they see on the internet and traditional Kurdish society, and children of all ages. Other times you will see a starry-eyed couple – him in jeans and a t-shirt, her in traditional Kurdish clothes, full of color and sparkle.

From the time I was small, I’ve always known there was magic in a picnic. From my own childhood, picnics along canal banks in Pakistan evoke memories of a time of innocence. We would lose ourselves in rich, chocolate wacky cake and the characters from the book my mom would be reading aloud. While these characters lived their lives far from where we sat, it didn’t matter. My  brothers and I would sit on a quilt, deeply attentive, our minds taking in the plot and story lines, crafting our own even as we listened.

Last night we went to Darband at dusk, when the colors along the mountains that surround Lake Dukan are their most beautiful. God-painted purples, mauves, and dusky blues spread out, the artist casting his brush for our and his pleasure. We went with friends and walked down to the banks of the lake. It was light enough that boats and jet skies were still out on the water, their motors creating loud noise and waves that splashed on the clay soil. As it got darker, the noise stopped, and all you could hear was the gentle lapping of water on land and murmurs of contented people. We ate slices of cantaloupe and sipped on orange drinks.

Our friend brought out a saz, a stringed instrument from this area, and played music in the fading light.

I’ve long believed that true contentment is not found in man-made places of concrete and steel, instead you step outside into space and nature and you rest. As I stood there on the banks of the lake, I felt soul-deep peace and gratitude. The earlier frustrations of the week with lost electricity, an oven that I couldn’t light, and general angst faded like the light across the horizon. Perhaps that’s the true magic of a picnic – that we can forget for a moment the daily worries we face and take back lost moments. 

We finally left when it was dark and only the lights of the cranes hard at work on the mountain road nearby were visible. As we left I knew that this was a moment to remember; that this will become a favorite place for us during this season of our lives – a place where we can share with Kurds friendship, culture, and a mutual love of picnics.

How I Lost 580 Pounds This Summer

I love this post on Simplicity from Robynn! Enjoy and be challenged!

I’m always intrigued by the glossy magazine covers that claim with great enthusiasm that I can lose 25 pounds in 5 weeks. Even more perplexing are the ones that insist I can do that while eating cake and ice cream. I have struggled with my weight since I left Pakistan, 25 years ago arrived in Canada’s cafeteria and discovered that at least the food was comforting. During my first two years of reentry into my passport country I gained 60 pounds.

But this summer I finally discovered how to lose weight! And I’ve lost over 580 pounds!

This summer I rediscovered the joys of the spiritual habit of simplicity and I’ve gotten rid of over 580 pounds of stuff. I feel lighter, and freer. I’m experiencing more joy, less stress. I’m less weighed down. Less encumbered.


It’s hard to describe how this works but somehow our souls are often tied to our stuff. Stuff bogs us down and trips us up. Our clutter, knick-knacks, tchotchkes, Precious Moment’s figurines have a way of moving off the shelves, off the end tables, off the desk and into our spirits. It takes over. Stuff, like a first-born, has power and takes charge. She starts dictating how I spend my day. She breaks and demands attention. She whines and I take notice. I find myself coddling her, moving her around, moving her over to make room for more.

And all the while my soul is deadened and darkened and dulled.

For me sin in spiraling circles hides in the shadows of stuff. I want more. I get greedy. I need a bigger house. I feel sorry for myself. I only have a few. I judge those with more. I deserve a bigger collection. I am jealous of those who have more. I feel angry at God for holding out on me. I regret not having more money to buy what I need to make my collection complete. I wish I had more money to buy the house to house what I have and what I still need to get. I demand. I plead. I whine. Lust for stuff steals my limited joy. My satisfaction is eroded. Suddenly I’m absorbed in me.

Stopping it is so sweetly simple and yet is met with unimaginable resistance. Just stop. Purge. Give away. Less really is more and you’ll know it right away. Stuff sets traps. Lightening our load sidesteps those same traps.

We begin to live with No Thanks, and I’m Fine Thank You and I Don’t Need It. Contentment and satisfaction move in swiftly.

And that’s how I lost so much weight. We got rid of some bunk beds, a dresser, a desk, stacks of books, piles of clothes. Two garbage bags of stuffed animals joined the exodus. A coffee pot I no longer use, a stack of plates, some glasses, a couple of tea cups all went down to the Goodwill. The kids have joined the fun. They’ve gone through their drawers too. They have eliminated things they no longer love, clothes they no longer wear!

This is a weight loss program that really works…!

I have less baggage. And as a pilgrim just passing through that feels simply divine!


You Get What You Get and You Don’t Get Upset!

I travel often with a colleague/friend who is from Romania. We have no end of things to talk about – from feeling like ‘little immigrant girls‘ posing as grown-ups, to citizenship, to parenting – our conversations are involved and interesting.

Mariuca has a little girl who is four years old. Dark haired with curls and beautiful eyes, she is the image of her mama. Since my children are now older and more complicated I delight in hearing some of the stories of her daughter.

One day as we were traveling and talking about raising contented kids, she talked about teaching her daughter early on that you accept what you are given, take it gratefully and don’t get upset. She taught her the phrase “You get what you get and you don’t get upset!” 

I looked at her in happy astonishment as she told me. What a great phrase! Though it didn’t originate with my friend – it was the first time I heard it. It’s applicable to all of life from hearing that your favorite restaurant is out of your chosen entrée to finding out that you didn’t get the job you applied for — and so much more.

“You get what you get and you don’t get upset!”

Contentment Philippians 4-11 Coffee Mugs It’s the perfect phrase for a spoiled society. A society that tends to want more and more, never quite satisfied with what is in front of it.

It’s the perfect phrase for the disgruntled, the discontent, the restless, the disappointed – you get what you get and you don’t get upset.

It’s the perfect phrase for this season, where discontent and addictions to ‘more’ color the white lights and frosted beauty that surrounds me.

It’s the perfect phrase for me when I veer  toward wanting more; Not wanting the healthy sort of ‘more’ — more grace, more discipline, more passion that leads to doing more than I ever thought I could, but the unhealthy “I want more” that leads to discontent and dissatisfaction.

So today, with Thanksgiving but a memory and the Advent season in front of us,  can I commit this quote to head and heart?  That’s the big Monday question!

What about you? How have you learned to be content? How do you teach your children contentment? 

The Poison of Discontent;The Antidote of Gratitude

Some time ago as we went through the arduous process of settling in the United States after years of living overseas, I began realizing that every time a friend said they were traveling somewhere I would look at my life with complete and undisguised discontent. I didn’t want my life. I was discontent with much of what it had to offer. I wanted the life of another. I wanted to be the one on the airplane saying “Goodbye!” – I didn’t want to be the one left, waving goodbye. I didn’t want to be the mom that accompanies the kindergarten class on their field trip to the airport, I wanted to be the mom that packed up her child at the age of 5 and in a frenzied rush of packing, goodbyes and promises to keep in touch settled with a sigh into seat 28C and listened to “Good evening, this is your captain speaking….”

I wanted to be the one with the amazing stories, the stories of a car being held up by four men while the tire was being changed in the middle of a city street. The stories of traveling over mountains and through deserts, having to walk across international borders because you needed a bathroom so badly, sitting at truck stops eating bowls of greasy curry and chapatis while your car was being fixed. So many stories. I didn’t want the stories that could sit on the shelf of a cubicle in a government building, I wanted stories that lived, I wanted a life that mattered and being overseas was representative of a life that mattered.

You can only hide discontent for so long. I remember the day I cried out to God in my discontent, weeping the soul tears that come from deep within and leave you exhausted and humbled. Like the giant hot dragon tears that Eustace Clarence Scrubb cried in “The Voyage of the Dawn Treader” when he saw his reflection in water and realized he had turned into a dragon. And just as Eustace through his monstrous actions took on the skin of a monster, I had drunk the poison of discontent and become poisonous in the process. I realized that day that I hated the place my children called home. I was a dragon of sorts and needed to have my dragon skin taken off no matter how painful.

But taking off something that I had internalized for some time was a challenge. Just like poison that needs a strong antidote to relieve people of its deadly effects, I needed something strong. It initially took the physical act of writing down everything that I had – not what I wanted. It was a long list. It included a Victorian home and healthy children. It could have been someone else’s dream list. That was a shocker. In my discontent, was I living out somebody else’s dreams?

I was thinking about this recently as I began reading a book new to our library. The book had been recommended to me by a couple of different people but I remember shrugging it off, thinking “Wow does that sound dumb. Sounds like a sugary, syrupy non-book”. And then, in yet another humbling experience, I had the opportunity to read the first chapter free. The book is by a woman named Ann Voskamp and called “One Thousand Gifts.” The words on the pages took in my unwilling heart as I read of the pain of a death in her family keeping her from really living. In the words of my sister-in-law, the author writes in “staccato urgency” – she has a message and she wants people to hear it. Her premise is that from the beginning of time, even when there was a perfect garden with more glory than can be imagined, we were “lured by a deception that there was more to a full life*” that God wasn’t really giving us what was good, that there was more. In a poetic passage she says “We look and swell with the ache of a broken and battered planet, which we ascribe as the negligent work of an indifferent creator (if we even think there is one) Do we ever think of  this busted -up place as a result of us ingrates, unsatisfied, we who punctured it all with a bite?” These are biting words to be sure, but she goes on to say that in her journey, she realized that if ingratitude was the sin, the solution was gratefulness, gratitude, giving thanks. I won’t give spoilers because I have none – I am slowly ingesting and digesting this book.

But certainly in my life, my life where discontent has, at times, poisoned me, the antidote is gratitude. It’s as simple as giving thanks. It’s as difficult as giving thanks.

What about you? How has discontent manifest itself in your world and what is your solution?

*The quotes are taken directly from the book One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp Copyright 2010 Zondervan