The Hidden Pearl

Ages ago, when we still lived in South Asia, Lowell stole one of my pearls from a pearl necklace I had. He took it out into the city and he deliberately “lost” it. As momentarily annoying as that was, Lowell wanted us to always be on the look out for a pearl in what often felt like a dark and oppressive town. Somewhere in the crowds of people, in the open sewers, on the polluted banks of the Ganges river, in the monsoon muds…somewhere there was a hidden a pearl. The hunt for it gave us a sense of anticipation and expectation. The pearl was out there! Would we find it?

Jesus told this tiny little story to his followers: God’s kingdom is like a jewel merchant on the hunt for excellent pearls. Finding one that is flawless, he immediately sells everything and buys it.

I’ve been thinking about that jewel merchant these days. I’ve been thinking about the search for something more. I’ve been keeping my eyes open for that ‘excellent pearl’.

I recently returned from a trip to Thailand. A group of expats, that normally live scattered across South Asia, had gathered at a resort on the edge of the ocean for a retreat. I was one of four invited in to offer soul care to those who might sign up. Over the course of 5 days I met with 21 people –some of the conversations were more intense than others. A few were reunions with old friends and were held over iced lattes looking over the ocean and the palm trees and the beach. But all of it….all week long….all of it felt so incredibly purposeful.

To be honest, it’s been hard to come home from that meaning drenched week and the joys of international air travel to laundry and lunch making. I’ve felt my sense of self being swallowed again by the mundane, by the endless question of who I am and what am I doing here. I’ve wondered again at my purpose.

I know my life has meaning here. I firmly believe we are here on purpose. I just need to find it again.…I need to uncover it. Sometimes it seems to be more hidden for me than for others. And often it seems illusive. Just when I stop looking and settle into my routines I find it in between spiritual direction clients or under a pile of clean clothes. The moment, however, I go to grab it always seems to disappear.

Before we left Asia in 2007 my dear friend and I went down to our favourite silver smith shop, Sunita Jewelers. There in a shop the size of a small walk-in closet we chose matching silver rings. Set into each simple band was a stunning creamy white pearl. It symbolized to us both that we live our lives in deference to the Pearl of Great Price. Our friendship was important to us. Raising our children together was something we treasured. Doing life and meaningful work together was of value to both of us. But Jesus seemed to be leading Lowell and I away from that…and my friend and I needed to remember that the Flawless one, the Pearl of Great Price, was worth whatever sacrifice he was asking us to make. We needed to be like the jewel merchant…we needed to do whatever it took to follow that Pearl!

Last October the pearl fell out of my ring. I noticed it at supper time on a Thursday evening. I was devastated. Errands and cleaning the house had taken me all over the town that day and all over the house. How would I ever find it? I was so sad and so disappointed. Suddenly I ached for my friend, for our old town, for my former life, for all that was. That ring, a generous gift from a precious friend, had been a companion in my adjustments to life in the US. It had served as marker of God’s faithfulness, a token reminder that he is near. I had worn that ring for over 8 years!

And although we searched fervently we never found it.

That pearl is still here somewhere. Probably it’s rolled under a piece of furniture. Perhaps it’s tucked under a cushion. Maybe I lost it in the grocery story. Maybe it’s at the post office. I’m still looking. When I vacuum the front room or sweep the kitchen, I find myself still searching, under and around and behind things. The metaphor isn’t lost on me–especially during these reentering, resettling days. I think I may have been looking for the wrong things –my purpose, my calling, my sense of significance and belonging–surely Jesus’ tiny story taught me to search out the most important thing. I’m joining the jewel merchant. I’m looking for the Excellent Pearl, the Flawless One, the Pearl of Great Price. He is here and I know the hunt for Him will never disappoint.


(*Matt 13:44-46)

Giving Grace to People in Crisis – the Sequel to Stupid Phrases for People in Crisis

Clear Tea grace

When I wrote the piece “Stupid Phrases for People in Crisis,” I had no idea the nerve that I would touch. Sadly, I think it resonated deeply with people because they have heard all the stupid things I mentioned. I was honored to read through the comments; I was saddened by what I read. It makes me believe that we need mandatory workshops in crisis care.

But the question remains, what are some good things to say to people in crisis?

Here are a few things that I’ve found tremendously helpful.

  • You can cry. Weird isn’t it, how we need to be given permission to cry? I’m continually amazed both as a nurse, and as a human being, at the reactions that people have to their own crying. The most common response is people saying “I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to cry.” This is heart breaking. When we apologize for crying, we are apologizing for our humanity. We are apologizing for our vulnerability, instead of realizing what a gift it is to be vulnerable. Tears cleanse our souls; they remind us of our humanity. Tears are gifts of the hurting heart. Being given permission to shed these tears is critically important. In giving permission, we are saying “It’s okay to grieve. It’s okay to be human. It’s okay to hurt.”

In the process of shedding tears, souls heal and wrong is made right. 

  • Can I bring you pizza? Or dinner, or wine, or….! Being physically cared for is the most important part of the beginning days of a crisis.
  • I can drive you. Again, this is meeting those critical first days of chaos, when thinking is blurred, and even brushing your teeth feels impossible. This is also important throughout the healing period. Driving to hospital visits, to grocery stores, to appointments….all of these add up for the person in crisis. To have someone share the driving helps share the burden.
  • I cleared my schedule so I can come sit with you at the hospital (or at the appointment, or in the court room.) Often crisis periods mean a lot of sitting. To have someone sit with you, without being restless, is a way to care for people in crisis.
  • Let me make you some tea. I admit, I come from the part of the world where tea cures everything. But you know something? It really does. Tea brings warmth and comfort. Tea brings hope and strength. While coffee tends to bring energy, tea brings calm to any situation.
  • I can pick up your kids. Another tangible, concrete expression of care.
  • You’re right, it isn’t fair. Instead of contradicting someone, and telling them that life is never fair, affirm their voice, affirm their pain. People are smart, they know when they are being irrational and unreasonable. We don’t have to contradict them and give them lectures on life.
  • It IS too much to bearSo many difficulties in life feel too big for us. They are too overwhelming, and when we are in the midst of them, we don’t think we can get through. And so we need someone to bear our burdens. I remember climbing a mountain in Pakistan when I was a teenager. I was with two of my brothers. It got to a point when I was done. It was too hard and I wanted to turn back. My older brother Tom looked at me and said, “I’ll help. We do this together.” He put his hand on the my back and literally propelled me forward. That was all I needed. We walked upward like that for a few minutes, and that was enough. I made it the rest of the way on my own. I think of that often when I think about walking with people through crisis. “We do this together, you won’t be alone” are powerful words.
  • I’m so sorry. Saying those words aloud, letting them know that you are grieving with them, sitting beside them in silence as they pour out their hearts, this is the fellowship of suffering.

In all of this, I am reminded of the kindness of Jesus.Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.*” These words from the Gospel of Matthew are beautiful.  The goal of crisis care is burden sharing. It is compassion and kindness that eases the pain, that shares the load. Jesus ends with these powerful words that offer rest and hope: “For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” It’s an offer of grace in the midst of suffering.

So there we have it: In the midst of crisis, we are to offer grace. Not guilt, not lectures, not warnings, not platitudes, not self-righteous monologues – we are to offer grace. 

May we seek the heart, mind, and words of Jesus as we walk beside people in crisis.

And to you in crisis – here is a final word. 

Note: Some of these must be done in relationship. Obviously, if the kids don’t know you, then picking them up could be disastrous. But there are other things that can be done without being in a close relationship.

*Matthew 11:28-30

Worth More Than Many Pigeons


It was only a pigeon. In the animal kingdom, pigeons are low on the hierarchy. But it was alive, and it was trapped inside the subway. I could hardly bear it. The pigeon was wandering around toward the entrance, where masses of people rush in to catch their trains during the busiest part of the morning. This bird was totally lost, pecking at the ground and clearly trapped. And there was nothing I could do to help. I tried cajoling “here little pigeon! here’s the way out!” And then my train came.

The last thing I saw out the window was that pigeon, trying to find a way out.

I felt hot tears form in my eyes, and the unspoken “why” was on my lips. Why pigeons trapped? Why refugees pouring over the border from a country. Over 23,000, my brother and sister-in-law tell me. Why? Why? Why? Why this broken world? I could hardly stand it.

Making my way to my office was no better as I stepped over more fractured pieces of our world. Homeless in alcoves, trash, mean-spirited people — sometimes it feels too much to bear.

I’ve been reading through the gospel of Matthew for my gospel readings. And there in Matthew 10 are the verses that shout out at me, begging me to trust, urging me to be faithful. 

“Are not two sparrows sold for a cent? And yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So do not fear; you are more valuable than many sparrows.”*

But the ‘whys’ continue. Aren’t these refugees more valuable than sparrows? Are these refugees like the pigeon, trapped, low on the hierarchy of priorities in a world busy with other things?

The worst thing about this is feeling helpless in the face of so much need. My money is a clichéd drop in the bucket, and even as I feel for this situation right now, in an hour my mind and heart will be on something else — such is the fickle nature of my emotions.

But at the office it gets worse. Nine people, murdered while worshipping at a church, in Charleston, South Carolina. A 21-year-old suspect is now in custody. It was a vicious, heinous hate crime. “You rape our women and you’re taking over our country. And you have to go,” he is reported to have said. Are not these men and women more precious than sparrows? I feel sick with the horror of it.

A quote in the New Yorker deeply saddens me

“We periodically mourn the deaths of a group of Americans who die at the hands of another armed American. We periodically witness racial injustices that inspire anger in the streets. And sometimes we witness both. This is, quite simply, how we now live.”* 

Where do I go with this?

Again, there is the Word calling me to truth, begging me to trust, showing me that despite all this, there are still 10,000 reasons to bless the Lord. And so I call to mind the Lord’s great mercies, and beg for more. 

“Yet this I call to mind, because of the Lord’s great mercies, we are not consumed, Great is Your Faithfulness.”**

*Matthew 10:29-31

**Lamentations 3:21-22

Readers: Today begins the month of Ramadan for Muslims across the world. There are several posts on Communicating Across Boundaries that may be of interest to you, but may I urge you to head to Deb Mills site and take a look at her excellent post: Ramadan-Much More than Fasting – A quick guide for the sake of your friends & co-workers.

*Church Shooting in Charleston, South Carolina

The Fourth Watch


The book of Matthew, first gospel in a set of four, says that Jesus came to the disciples on the fourth watch. His disciples, fishermen by trade, had gone fishing and a storm came on what had been a calm sea. 

The Romans divided the night into four three-hour segments and the Jews had adopted these divisions. The fourth watch was the last part of the night between three and six in the morning. This was the last watch, the end of the night.

The fourth watch is that point where you wake up and it is so dark, you look at the clock beside your bed, and you sigh deeply – you can still sleep for another 2 hours. Or it’s the time when you have to be at the airport for the early morning flight, that flight that leaves at 6 am, passengers sporting only sleep-blurred eyes and coffee breath.

Or it’s the “darkest before dawn” part of the night.

It meant this storm on the sea of Galilee had raged all night long. It meant that the disciples were exhausted and defeated, that they had battled a critical weather event with every ounce of their human strength – but it was not enough. The storm was going to defeat them.

Until Jesus came and spoke words that calmed the sea.

The fourth watch. My mind fills with questions: Why did Jesus wait so long? Why did this miracle worker not intervene sooner? Why, when it was at their last bit of strength, did he suddenly appear – a ghost-like figure walking on the stormy seas?

My questions will never be answered and even as I write them I know these questions reflect my heart – a heart that finds faith hard, that sometimes thinks God waits too long to intervene. Too long to move hearts and souls, too long to change circumstances. I want him to come on the first watch, not the fourth.

The death count in Gaza, the civil war in Syria, the conflict in the Ukraine, and terrible persecution of Yazidis and Christians in Iraq — all of it feels like the fourth watch. It’s gone on too long. When will peace come? When will evil be conquered? When will God intervene?

Because the world is waiting for the fourth watch.

*The story relayed is from the Gospel of Matthew chapter 14. It was our Gospel reading this past week and I’ve been thinking about it ever since

The Reluctant Orthodox – Volume 21 “Entering a Foreign Land”

We’re late today. 

A heavy rain preparing us for what are sure to become April showers is falling and with it comes a phone call from our son asking for a ride. Along with this, one of the transit system lines is under repair about a mile from our church and all traffic has been diverted.

When we enter, the sanctuary is full and all are standing. And it struck me that my journey to Orthodoxy has been like entering a foreign land. A land where the customs, the words, the actions, the clothing, the language have been unfamiliar, have had to be learned. And I have made mistakes, and I have wondered and questioned and shaken my head – just like I’ve done in the past entering other foreign lands.

Seeing it this way helps me to breathe. Entering foreign lands is something I’ve done since I was a little girl. I was taken to Pakistan at three months old to an already established home. I didn’t walk on American soil until I was four years old, and then only for a year before returning to Pakistan.

Entering foreign lands is something that those of us raised between worlds know well. We know that for a time there will be acute discomfort, even alienation. We know that it will take all our energy and skill set to settle in and learn what is considered ‘normal’. We also know that slowly by slowly we will settle, a part of us still in the place we were before, but settle we will. And through this we will grow.

The candles are flickering in front of me, casting a glow over the gold of the icon to the left of the candelabra. The choir is leading us in the Beatitudes – the blessings from the gospel of Saint Matthew. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness for they shall be filled….”

This hungering and thirsting is what has led me to this foreign land. It’s why I have come Sunday after Sunday and sometimes during the week. It’s why I have learned to venerate icons and to understand the significance of many of the symbols. It has been because I hunger and thirst for a faith that is more than form, more than a service that I dreaded once a week.

And the God who has led me into other foreign lands has led me here. A God who guides, loves, and protects.

The thing about entering foreign lands, they don’t remain foreign forever. So the land is different, but the God who is leading me is the same.

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“I Was a Stranger”


strangerWhat is our first reaction, our spontaneous response, when we meet the stranger? 

“Who let’s these people in here anyway?” asked the man. He was agitated and shaking his head, in complete dismay. “I mean” he paused “The woman who served me coffee the other day was Moroccan!” His voice raised in incredulity at the end of this declaration. The man was a casual friend of ours and he was speaking to my husband on a chance meeting at a convenience store nearby.

My husband took a second then responded calmly “Who let your people in here?”


But our friend didn’t hesitate and was not to be silenced. “My people came on the Boat!” he said with authority and pride. He did not have to specify “which” boat. Depending where you live, this conversation is not uncommon. It is not nearly as rare as I would wish it to be.

The French philosopher Zvetan Tdorov puts this response well when he says that “our first spontaneous reaction in regards to the stranger is to imagine him as inferior, since he is different from us”.  If one could see the unfiltered version when any one of us confronts difference in the form of a stranger, they may see this response.

Daily in our world we encounter the stranger.

Some times the encounters are interesting, intriguing, fun, joyful. Other times encounters are troubling, assaulting us with faces, smells, clothes, and accents that exacerbate the differences we feel and make us uncomfortable. Sometimes those feelings of discomfort spill over into anger or judgment.

And now I speak to the Christian who is reading — the one who believes that the gospel message is for all people. Hear this: the way we confront difference, the way we treat the stranger, reflects what we believe. If we consider the stranger to be inferior because he or she is different then we’d best ask ourselves ‘why’, best examine our motivation and our heart.

“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in,naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.”*

The stranger – that one who is foreign, not one of us, unknown.  From Genesis to Hebrews to James we have clear instruction and wisdom on how to treat the stranger. The words of Jesus call us to feed the hungry, bring drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, visit the sick, come to the prisoner. The writer of Hebrews asks us to show ‘hospitality to strangers for by it some have entertained angels’. Hospitality holds a high premium in Middle Eastern culture, both now and in Old Testament times. The verse below is not ambiguous in its command:

‘When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God.’

We are told to “love” the stranger. Not just tolerate, not pass by, not ignore – but to love.

International students, immigrants, refugees – they all fall under the category of the ‘stranger’. The journeys that brought them to the United States are as varied as the tapestry of experiences they come with.

Take international students as an example. Figures vary, but the United States has over 800,000 international students that arrive every fall for the academic year. Statistics on international students show that 80% of them never set foot in and American home. Never. Former world leaders who were international students at one time include Benazir Bhutto, Fidel Castro, and King Abdullah of Jordan. The state department maintains a list of current world leaders who at one time participated in American academic programs. The list includes almost 300 former or current leaders.

I have to ask myself – were they ever invited into the home of an American? Was hospitality extended to them during their tenure as students? Or did they come to this country and leave, without so much as a cup of coffee in the home of someone from the United States?

Who is the stranger in our midst? Who is the stranger in your midst? 

And how do we respond to that stranger?

Can we ask ourselves this question and be honest in our responses? What is our first spontaneous reaction in regard to a stranger? What is our response to difference?

Do we consider some worthy of our hospitality and others unworthy? Some superior because they are attractive, or white, or clean, or smart, or beautiful? Do we love only those with whom we agree, because we believe the same things on faith and God? Do we believe those who look like us are somehow more worthy of God’s love and of ours?  Do we love because of obligation or duty which is really no love at all? Do we believe we are more lovable because of who we are and how we live?

Or do we love because first we were loved?

It is the Advent season and daily we are reminded of the Incarnation – God become man. If there was ever one to meet the stranger it was Jesus, the God-Man. Leaving all that was rightfully his, he came into our midst and encountered a world that didn’t know what to do with a Messiah. He engaged the stranger and found out their story, he entered into their story, and by entering their story – their lives were never the same.

So this advent, can we look at the stranger and imagine him as equal? Can we embrace the stranger with an invitation to dinner offering a side helping of genuine hospitality and pumpkin pie? Can we put aside our discomfort with difference, and see what might happen? Can we bring the stranger home?

What will our response be in regard to the stranger? 

*Matthew 25:35

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The Grace of Forgiveness

forgiveness, Little church around the corner

“Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.” Matthew 5: 23,24

My housekeeping the soul began with something called ‘Forgiveness Sunday’. For this Protestant making the journey to Eastern Orthodoxy this was a new practice. So I began the dusting and polishing of my soul by going to each member of the body where I worship – man, woman, and child, and saying these words while they responded with the same:

Forgive me, A Sinner.

I bowed to the ground before them, prostrating myself, taking on a posture of humility.

God Forgives, I Forgive. Blessed Lent.

For those who were deaf, we learned how to sign. And sign we did.

I did this maybe eighty to a hundred times ……

My sore legs bear the memory of this remarkable time.

I had heard of this practice for a while. But actually participating in it was indescribable. In a society that finds it hard to admit wrong, harder still to ask forgiveness for wrongs committed, we were a group prostrating before each other asking for forgiveness.

This then is a step of soul care – asking – and then receiving – forgiveness. The blessed gift and grace of forgiveness.

Can we, can I, even imagine what could be accomplished if we walked daily with a spirit of “Forgive me, A sinner”, never failing to recognize the grace of forgiveness?

Housekeeping my soul, fully aware of the Grace of forgiveness. It was, and is, a good place to start.