New Lives and Portable Memories


Every time I leave home, I’m struck by the fact that I have that choice. I’m not being forced out by violence, persecution, or a crooked landlord. 

I choose when to go. I choose how to go.  I choose what to take. 

An article in the NY Times called “In a Refugee’s Bags, Memories of Home”* paints  a poignant picture of things left behind when refugees and displaced people have to leave their homes and possessions. But the picture is juxtaposed with creative ways that refugees bring pieces of their homes and places with them. For one woman it’s a dress that holds the landscape of her beloved city in Iraq. For a musician it’s the melody of a song sung in his native Syriac; for another it’s a wooden string instrument. All of these are reminders of who they are and where they come from. 

More so, they are a picture of their resiliency and willingness to keep on living, to not believe that all is lost. 

… their stories….reveal not only what they have lost, but also the beautiful things they have saved, or remade.

I am far from home today, and I write this while sitting in an airport, surrounded by other travelers. I carry these stories with me, treasuring them for what they teach me about hope, about resiliency, about keeping on living even when it seems all is lost. 

Take a look at the story today by clicking here. You won’t be disappointed! 

*by STEPHANIE SALDAÑA

Scanning the Horizon 


We took off from O’Hare Airport in Chicago in the early morning. On the ground the weather was cold and rainy, but as the plane ascended we flew above the thick grey into golden sunshine. It was beautiful.

It’s an old cliche — that beyond the clouds is sunshine. But it’s true. The sun may hide but it can’t be removed. The sun, stretching across an expansive horizon, always wins.

I think about this as I sit in the window seat of row 26. I look past my sleeping husband to my son and mouth the words “Isn’t it beautiful?” He nods and smiles with knowing. We quietly scan the horizon and then go back to our books.

*****

In my faith tradition, this season is the Advent season. After the indulgence of a recent holiday, this is a time of fasting, a time of waiting. In a beautiful poem, Madeleine L’Engle calls it the “irrational season.” 
We needs these times in the church. Times of longing and expectation, times of hope.

My friend Laura says it well:

Advent reminds us that we are the farthest we could find ourselves from optimism and bootstrap-tightening. We don’t need a new gym membership. We need rescue. We are plunged into the woes of Israel, their wandering, their panting for life-transforming, globe-spanning salvation. If we are wise — and I pray for renewed wisdom this Advent — we will make room in our overly taxed bandwidth to let the Holy Spirit guide us out of our numbing addictions and down into the thick of it. Let the gnawing ache ring and discover that we are scanning the horizon for the Messiah.

And so I begin this season — this irrational season of scanning the horizon for the Messiah, knowing that when we seek him, we will find. 

Will you join me?

Blogger’s Note: You can purchase Laura’s beautiful Advent book of poetry here!

Election 2016 Detox Plan

kind

No matter where you live, you are probably completely fed up and exhausted by the U.S Election 2016. If you are a U.S. citizen, you are even more tired of it, even if you were on the winning side. So it’s time to purge and detox. Like a colon cleanse, this list is designed to rid yourself of the impurities that collected in your system. Add your own through the comments — that way we will have more ideas.

  1. Bake. Baking not only fills your home with delicious aromas, it also is a way of creating and getting your mind off that which is disturbing.
  2. Read a book about a group of people who you know nothing about. You will grow. You will learn. You will grow more empathetic.
  3. Apologize to someone who you offended during the election cycle. If you think you didn’t offend anyone, think again. If you were on social media expressing your opinion, you probably did.
  4. Hold and cuddle a baby. Babies will remind you of all that is good and holy in our world. Babies will remind you that God still wants the world to go on.
  5. Don’t post false news and information. There is a plethora of false news going around. It’s worse than it has ever been and it is hurting people. Before you post anything, please do the following:
    1. Read it – People post things without reading them all the time and then they’re upset when others call them out on something the article says. If you post it, first read it.
    2. If it’s from The Onion, The Babylon Bee, or another satirical site, remember — it isn’t real. The goal of those sites is to make us laugh at the ridiculousness of news headlines.
    3. Check the date! There are so many pictures going around from a year ago, two years ago. Check the date and the story. The story may be outrageous, but if it’s an old story, then we already had our chance to be outraged and for god’s sake, don’t make us get outraged again!
  6. Eat homemade bread with raspberry jam.
  7. Put on classical music and let it flood your soul.
  8. Make friends with someone who doesn’t look or believe like you do.
  9. Take a long walk.with a good friend and make election talk off-limits.
  10. Get involved in some sort of service project. Whether it’s feeding the homeless, volunteering at a shelter, making refugee kits or something else, I guarantee that there are organizations that need your time and skills. Winter is a time when social service agencies need all the help they can get. Check with your local homeless shelter, community health center, Salvation Army or other community based organizations.
  11. Limit your time on social media. Hide the posts of people who you feel aren’t helping. Give yourself a one day sabbath. Consider Pico Iyer’s quote “In an age of movement, nothing is more critical than stillness.” In a book called The Art of Stillness: Adventures in Going Nowhere. Iyer writes that many people who work in Silicon Valley try hard to observe an “internet sabbath.” For 24 or 48 hours each week they go completely offline to get a sense of focus and perspective, so that when they go online again, they will have the creativity to do what they are paid to do. The irony is profound. They sit in stillness in order to create programs and platforms so that we never want to go offline. Defy the creators of social media and find time every day to be still and away from social media of all types.
  12. Invite someone for a meal or tea.
  13. Play a board game with friends. On Thursday of last week, we played Ticket to Ride India version with my daughter and her boyfriend. It was perfect timing. We didn’t once talk about the election – we just concentrated on building trains from Bombay to Calcutta. It was therapeutic and fun, just what we needed.
  14. Set boundaries for yourself. If you are going to be having Thanksgiving Dinner with people who you disagree with politically but love deeply, then decide ahead of time that you won’t go there. It’s not worth it. Relationships last – politics and elections don’t.
  15. If you are someone who prays, pray that you will be part of the solution, not part of the problem.
  16. Read these books to better understand the worlds of others:
    1. Between the World and Me – Ta Nehisi Coates
    2. Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
    3. Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance (I’m in the middle of this one now – hard but excellent read.)
    4. Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo
  17. Read the beautiful When Breath Becomes Air and thank God you are alive.
  18. Head over to this piece and think about what it is to love well. What does it mean specifically for you?
  19. Watch The Crown on Netflix. It is an excellent series that follows the reign of Queen Elizabeth II. Watching another country’s system of government that includes a monarchy is a breath of fresh air. The resounding cry of “God save the Queen” and “Bring back the monarchy!” are on my lips after every episode.
  20. Lastly, you will never regret being kind. A couple of months ago I was in a hard spot. I felt hurt and sad about something that had happened. As I was thinking about it, I realized this: I would rather be sad and hurt then bitter and angry any day. Sad and hurt can heal, bitter and angry tends to fester into a wound that needs surgery. So I’ll continue to choose kind.

“Human knowledge is never contained in one person. It grows from the relationships we create between each other and the world, and still it is never complete.”
―  When Breath Becomes Air

That’s all I have. What can you add? 

Good Stories Behind Bad Headlines

The headlines chase us down, taunting us with their urgency, telling us to how to respond. They never stop. We may sleep, but the headlines don’t. 

And they don’t want us to – not really. The person who is first to share or tweet a story gets the prize.

Behind the bad headlines are some poignant stories of reconciliation and redemption. They don’t get attention, but they should. Condemnation is newsworthy. Redemption is not. Miscommunication is newsworthy. Communicating across boundaries and finding a point of connection is not. Hate is newsworthy. Love is not.

Today I want to remind us of three good stories that are pushed under bad headlines. They are not all recent, but they are newsworthy all the same. 

The first comes from a picture that I first saw on social media. In her own words, a woman describes how a stranger, a police officer, gave her a moment of hope. I’ve included the picture here, because it’s best in her words.

story of hope

The second story comes from a few years ago when Chick-fil-A dominated the headlines. People were being urged to boycott the company because the chief operating officer, Dan Cathy, had made some public comments against same sex marriage. For a week, this fed the news. Anger and hatred on both sides erupted. Chick-fil-a was branded, forever it seemed. What people don’t know is what happened later.

While the U.S. was embroiled in the controversy, Dan Cathy telephoned the founder and executive director of Campus Pride, the group that launched a multi-million dollar campaign against Chick-fil-A, Shane Windmeyer. This was the first of what would be many phone calls and meetings between these two followed by other executives of Chick-fil-A. It resulted in an unlikely, but amazing, friendship between Dan Cathy and Shane Windmeyer. In Windmeyer’s own words:

“Through all this, Dan and I shared respectful, enduring communication and built trust. His demeanor has always been one of kindness and openness. Even when I continued to directly question his public actions and the funding decisions, Dan embraced the opportunity to have dialogue and hear my perspective. He and I were committed to a better understanding of one another. Our mutual hope was to find common ground if possible, and to build respect no matter what. We learned about each other as people with opposing views, not as opposing people…….I will not change my views, and Dan will likely not change his, but we can continue to listen, learn and appreciate “the blessing of growth” that happens when we know each other better. I hope that our nation’s political leaders and campus leaders might do the same.”

It is an amazing story of friendship, forged despite deep differences in beliefs. It’s a story of hope behind a headline that breeded controversy across social media.

The third story comes a Christian college, and headlines that painted the college as Islamophobic. The headlines were based on an incident where a professor at the college donned hijab to identify with Muslims. The administration of the college reacted and the professor and Wheaton College “parted ways.” I have my own opinion of this college professor deciding to don a hijab, but that’s not what this article is about. The headlines of the Chicago Tribune are loud and clear: Wheaton College demonstrators launch fast to spotlight Islamophobia. 

The story behind the scenes looks quite different. Months before the incident, Wheaton College students and professors were meeting with Muslim leaders in the area. They were forming friendships and having dialogue with Muslims, seeking to better understand each other.

A Wheaton professor writes an outstanding article about this in the magazine First Things:

“I will admit to losing hope that the media can hear any of this. My colleague Noah Toly and I related nearly all of these facts to a reporter who, to our absolute bafflement, could still not shake the assumption that we were “Islamophobic.” But it really doesn’t matter if we’re misunderstood. We will keep engaging our Muslim neighbors, because we’re not just meeting with them in order to be recognized for doing so. We’re doing so because we believe in the God who does not just have love—but in the community of Father, Son and Holy Spirit—he is love. We believe one person of that Trinity, Jesus, took on human flesh, was crucified and rose from the dead. And in the mystery of his risen life he is with those who are maligned and marginalized and misunderstood—and so we see our Lord Jesus in the faces of our Muslim neighbors. To hate you, therefore, would be to hate him.”

So, what do these three stories tell me? What should they tell all of us?

Perhaps we need to step back before we react. Perhaps we need to give the headlines some time, so that other stories can emerge. Stories that defy the headlines and give us some hope. 

 

Evil is Not the Final Word

Note: due to a WordPress error, the post looks like it was published on February 3rd. It was, in fact, published on the morning of March 28th.

On Easter Sunday evening, a suicide bomber targeted a busy park in the city of Lahore, Pakistan. Boasting a water area and a playground, Gulshan-e-Iqbal Park is a popular place.The victims of the bomb blast were primarily women and children, likely out for an Easter celebration in the city before heading back home for the evening. A splinter group of the Taliban claimed responsibility and unapologetically stated that “The target were Christians.”

The cowardice of the act nauseates the stomach; the horror sickens the mind. Along with those that are dead are the wounded, sent to hospitals in resource-poor settings, where good medical care is difficult to get and people who might live, should the resources be available, end up dying.

Istanbul, Brussels, Baghdad, Pakistan – it goes on and on and on. We grow weary and have bomb fatigue, our humanity challenged to remain compassionate, our spirits challenged to pray even as we wonder what good it will do.

“Has not Pakistan suffered enough?” I shout the words inside, knowing that few would understand my reactions. An opinion piece in the New York Times echoes some of my thoughts:

For much of the world, the deaths of Pakistani children are forgettable. They are, after all, the progeny of poor distant others destined to perish in ever more alarming ways. It may not be said, but it is believed that they are complicit in their own deaths, guilty somehow — even at 2 or 4 or 6 years of age — of belonging to a nation that the world has appointed as its own boogeyman, a repository of all its vilest trepidations. In December 2014, Taliban militants gunned down more than 140 people at a school in Peshawar, a vast majority of them students. A former American ambassador, speaking of his government’s lack of desire to help the Pakistani government fight extremists, put it succinctly: “There is great Pakistan fatigue in Washington.” NYTimes OpEd by Rafia Zakaria “The Playgrounds of Pakistan.”

Yet, the Pakistani flag lights up my newsfeed and I am grateful for friends who do understand, who know and love this place that so many of us called home.

Where do we go during times like this, when evil stalks and lurks? Where do we go when the world feels crazy and safety is as illusive as winning the lottery? What do we do? Where do we go? How do we respond?

I have become tired of judging others for reactions that are just as valid as mine. We create a people’s court, judging the hearts of people by the status of their social media pages. As though judging the hearts of others will add comfort to the situation.

Still, the familiar green and white of the Pakistani flag brings me deep comfort, and knowing there are so many of us that love and pray for this country is a balm to my soul.

I have written about evil before, and my words grow stale in the face of more and more tragedies. But I am compelled to continue to write. I am compelled to continue to feel through writing.

“The extreme greatness in Christianity lies in the fact that it does not seek a supernatural remedy for suffering, but a supernatural use for it” says Simone Weil. 

So I go to the words of Scripture, knowing that they have brought comfort through the ages to men and women who have faced evil, men and women who have gone through suffering and lived to write about it. 

They all have one thing in common, and it’s something that I think about as I write. They all knew that evil wouldn’t win. They all came to an understanding that there was something bigger going on, that suffering and pain were not the end game. They all knew that when you walk through the fire, there is a God who suffers with you, you are not called to suffer or face evil alone.

I am not given answers. I’m given something better than answers: I’m given a glimpse into God’s heart as seen through people who never gave up their faith. Evil does not get the final word. Suffering will somehow, in a way that I cannot possibly understand, be redeemed.

Somehow that is enough for me. It must be enough, for I have nothing else.

It is now the evening of Western Easter, and I know only one thing: that He who endured the cross and  continues to redeem the world has not left us to suffer alone. He is with the men, women, and children of Pakistan. And I defy anyone who would say differently.

“The Resurrection is not a peacetime truth for occasional, feel-good, religious nostalgia. The Resurrection is a wartime truth for everyday, tear-smeared, blood-stained allegiance to Jesus.” quote from Duke Kwon 

___________

A friend who also grew up in Pakistan reminded me of this Psalm today:

The LORD is high above all nations,
and his glory above the heavens!
Who is like the LORD our God,
who is seated on high,
who looks far down
on the heavens and the earth?
He raises the poor from the dust
and lifts the needy from the ash heap,
to make them sit with princes,
with the princes of his people.

Blessed be the name of the LORD
from this time forth and forevermore!
From the rising of the sun to its setting,
the name of the LORD is to be praised!

Psalm 113

 

The More I Learn, the Less I Know

I have the extraordinary privilege of being in Lebanon and just returned from a trip to Bekaa Valley.   There are thousands of refugees in the valley and we are with a group called Heart for Lebanon. Heart for Lebanon is working with 1300 families in 13 different camps. We visited the largest camp today. 

I so wish I could come away from these trips with more answers to a crisis, but the more I learn, the more I feel there are no easy answers. And sometimes I feel that there are no human answers at all. 

Human answers may provide an important packet of food, some medication, occasionally schools, but they can’t guarantee safety.  They can’t guarantee a hope or a future. They can’t guarantee a return home. 

We left early morning and returned well after sundown. As we drove back, a thick fog covered the mountain. Even with the head lights on bright, it was difficult to see more than a couple of feet ahead. And I thought how much this fog is like this refugee crisis. You can only see what’s right in front of you, everything else is the fog of the unknown.

But God knows. It’s what I cling to for those who I meet. God knows. He is the “God who Knows.” 

God sees. God hears. God remembers. God knows. I cling to this as I see the small offerings of help in response to massive human need. 

I said goodbye with the Arabic phrase “Allah maak” – “God be with you.” 

And I meant it with every fiber of my being. 

   

    
    
 

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? 

 

Living Out the Nike Mantra – Just Do It!

walk

The morning starts poorly. I miss my bus.

It’s not a long walk, but today it feels so. Today all of life feels like a long walk. I pass by evidence of a world that is not as it should be. Weekend trash is everywhere, a homeless couple is fast asleep under a blanket – you can see their bodies spooning, unconscious comfort given to each other.

I get on the train and my gold earring, evidence of my privilege, falls from my ear and bounces across the floor. Embarrassed, I swoop towards it but a kind passenger picks it up and hands it to me, a slight smile on her face. I beam with gratitude and shake my head in chagrin at my morning discombobulation.

The weather is grey and wet in this early morning hour. My fifty percent accurate weather app says that there will be clouds all day. How is it that the weather so accurately predicts how I feel? Cloudy with not a spot of sunshine.

Some days you just have to get up and put one foot in front of the other. There’s no other way to do it. You put one foot in front of the other despite feelings, despite protests, despite resisting at the deep levels of your heart. You have to believe that in the midst of uncertainty, there is something beyond the broken world around you.  You live out the Nike commercial – you just “Do it!” 

“Faith is a place of mystery, where we find the courage to believe in what we cannot see and the strength to let go of our fear of uncertainty.”*

Today, in this early morning, life feels uncertain and faith indeed feels like a mystery. But every step I take propels me forward, reminds me not to submit to feelings of despair. Faith is a place of mystery – and today I walk in faith.

Because some days are like this – and some days aren’t. Some days all of life feels like a walk by the ocean, or a trip to the beach, or a breathless with excitement kind of feeling. Some days all of life is like shopping in the spice bazaar, where colors, textures, and people meet in chaotic delight. And so it’s worth walking through the grey days, because it makes you realize those days with bright colors are an incredible gift.

When we’re children we make decisions based on our feelings, but when adults – we make decisions despite our feelings. And today I have to decide, despite my feelings, how I am going to live.

Because some days are just like this. 

Brené BrownThe Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are

Photo Credit: http://pixabay.com/en/people-crowded-steps-walking-692005/

Good News & Choose Your Charity Wisely

Al Amal Hope Center

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about a man named Anees in Iraq. Anees had broken his ankle, and the break was complicated by a previous broken leg. He could not afford the cost of the surgery to reset his bones. Anees was in a lot of pain when I met him, and I had little to give. I wrote about him, and several of you responded by donating to Conscience International. Last week we received word that Anees was getting worse and would be going to the hospital. Could we help?

Conscience International matched the amount that came in through Communicating Across Boundaries, we made up the difference, and Anees had his surgery last week. On Sunday we received pictures of he and his wife in his hospital room. He is recovering quickly and sent us his love and prayers.

I love this story. I love that someone in Iraq, who lost everything a year ago, will now walk without pain. I am humbled that you responded, that you gave to Anees. It’s unlikely you will ever meet him, but no matter, you still gave.

In all the bad news, single stories shine like stars in a dark night. They may be small stories compared to the human need that we see, but for that one person – the story is huge. We are frail humans, limited by resources, lack of motivation, and disbelief that we can make a difference. But when we enter the stories of others, we get to be front seat participants in miracles. 

It’s also important to choose our charities wisely. While some people may be more comfortable in donating to big names like International Rescue Committee or World Vision, there are smaller organizations where you can understand better where your money goes. Charity Navigator is an unbiased website that exists so that individual givers can better decide where to give their money. It rates charities based on accountability and finances. Different metrics that fall under those two categories are given separate scores that all contribute to an overall rating. It depends on what is important to you, but I pay special attention to the amount that is spent on people and programs. If that amount is less than 85%, then I am hesitant to give. The limitation on Charity Navigator is that you must have an operating budget of over a million dollars for them to rate you. The site goes into details on how much the CEO is paid, what the breakdown is for administrative overhead, information on board members and much more.

The chaos in our world continues, the refugee problem has not gone away, but one man is resting in peace in a hospital room in Iraq and we got to be front seat participants. 

Talking About Hope

A light rain falls on my way into work. The pavements that only a few weeks ago were piled high with dirty snow are now clear, even the puddles are gone. Spring is in the air.

The winter has taken its toll. Everyone you meet is oh so tired. They speak of going to bed at nine at night and still waking up exhausted. But there is hope. Hope in clear sidewalks. Hope is shrinking piles of dirty, pollution-filled snow. Hope in rising temperatures. Hope in goslings and geese. Hope in new babies and new life.

Three years ago I wrote about hope being in middle of the well-known verse from the Bible in the New Testament book of Corinthians:  And now these three remain: faith, hope and love.”* I wrote these words and I remember them today: 

***********

I’ve often wondered why ‘hope’ is in the middle. There’s faith on the one side – faith in all its strength, setting a foundation. There’s love at the end – love as a benediction, a blessing, put at the end and recognized as the greatest of the three. Then there’s hope. And hope is in the middle. It is neither foundation nor benediction.

Its place in the verse is symbolic of hope’s greatest gift, for hope is most needed in the middle. I need hope most when I am in the middle of a crisis. At the beginning my adrenaline kicks in and I run on autopilot doing what I need to do to survive.  Towards the end of a crisis, I know I have gone through the worst and I have survived. But in the middle? In the tunnel that is the middle I am at the end of myself. There seems to be no future, no help, no hope. This, then, is where I need hope.

Hope in the middle of chemotherapy for cancer.

Hope in the middle of the nightmare of losing a child.

Hope in the middle of a messy divorce.

Hope in the middle of addiction recovery.

Hope in the middle of the night when echoes of loss or sadness keep us from sleep.

Hope in the middle of a move, the middle of the journey, the middle of life, the middle of chaos. Hope.

So there is hope. Hope in the middle; the in between where spring is not quite here but winter has gone.

And for me, what in my faith tradition is the greatest hope of all – the season of Lent. A season that leads me through denial of self, to death on a cross, to that hope of all hopes – a glorious resurrection.

*1 Corinthians 13:13a

An Unusual Blog for a Usual Birthday

Robynn bday post

An Unusual Blog for a Usual Birthday by Robynn

*Reader beware: This particular blog was written from the heart of Angst, a small place off the beaten path of Nowhere in particular by a decidedly middle aged woman of stout stature and quirky humour. It’s an odd blog in that the title is very long and the article itself is very short.

A Piece on Turning Forty-Five

It’s My Party And I’ll Cry if I want to

Forty-Five is so Mundane

From Mundane to Meaningless—a retrospective from a Middle Aged Mom Stuck in Middle America and Middle Life

Nothing Exciting Happens When You’re Forty Five

Forty-Five Schmorty-Shmive

At Least I Have My Health

My Trifocals Are Trying Me

What Did you Grow Up to Be?

On Meaning and What Really Matters

When Your Metabolism Mocks

I Left My Heart in My Thirties!

How To Disentangle From the Fetal Position Without Putting a Hip Out

“A Wrinkle in Time”—Madeleine L’Engle had One, Robynn Bliss Has Many (Wrinkles that is!)

The Monotony Of Middle Age

I Remember When My Mom was Forty-Five and She Was Old!

Rolls, Wrinkles and Reptilian Elbows—Living With What’s Real

The Struggle IS Real

When Your Older Friends Roll their Eyes and Your Younger Friends Smile Politely

Oil Of Olay is Failing Me

When Stability Feels An Awful Lot Like Being Stuck

The Year I Gave Up Birthdays For Lent

No Turning Back; Holding On To My Forties But Losing My Grip

Before You Know She’ll Be Fifty

Bravely Going Where Most of You have Already Gone

Still Have (Most Of) My Faculties

Dying Your Hair is Cheaper Than Air Travel

Resolve, Resolutions and Robynn: Facing The Future Head On

No One Is Alone

We’re All in This Together

Climb Every Mountain

Slipping Through My Fingers

(Finally) Facing her Forties with Fortitude!

Yesterday I turned forty-five. To say I’ve struggled with this birthday is putting it mildly. (Turning 30 and 40 were a piece of cake compared to 45!) My aging TCK self longs for adventure and travel; I ache to have a global impact, to make a difference. The circumstances of my life just now mandate more settledness. My responsibilities have changed. I’m here in Manhattan, Kansas. And that’s not likely to change for many many years. Turning forty-five feels like it’s part of the conspiracy to keep me trapped here in the middle of smack dab in the middle of America, in the middle of generations, in middle age.

I often remember a group of adult Third Culture individuals I visited once when I was early into my twenties. I sat quietly, surrounded by middle aged versions of me. There was grey hair and worn skin in the room. There was laughter and some tears. They talked about wanting to travel, finding careers where they could find meaning, resisting buying houses in case it meant they were stuck forever in that one spot. I looked around that circle and I wondered if I would be “over” my TCK-ness by the time I was there age. I was horrified to think these same things would stalk me in to my middle aged years. Little did I know.

Of course with the mundane age of forty-five comes moments of great happiness and serendipity! Who really knows what adventures lie ahead? What hopes lurk in the shadows of monotony? Part of the Happy in Birthdays comes unexpectedly, quietly, long after the candles are blown out.

Yesterdays cards and birthday greetings assure me I am well (and undeservedly) loved. There is grace in the dawn and mercy in the morning. I nurse my cup of coffee, sipping it slowly. Hope rises up in the steam and wafts around my face and through my hair to the places beyond. I’m forty-five.

A note from Marilyn – Happy, Happy Birthday Robynn! You make a difference far more than you know. The best kind of difference to make. 

When I Want to Whine About Life….

When I want to whine about life I find this:

And I am struck by the resilience of the human spirit, the ability to find joy in the worst circumstances, and the hope found in a makeshift swing.

The Song of Mynah Birds

mynah bird

“Amidst all this madness, all these ghosts and memories of times past, it feels like the world around me is crumbling, slowly flaking away. Sometime, when it’s this late at night, I feel my chest swell with a familiar anxiety. I think, at these times, that I have no more place in my heart for Pakistan. I cannot love it any more. I have to get away from it for anything to make sense; nothing here ever does.

But then the hours pass, and as I ready myself for sleep as the light filters in through my windows, I hear the sound of those mynah birds. And I know I could never leave” Fatimah Bhutto in “Songs of Blood and Sword”

Of all the words penned on loving a place that has changed, loving a place that is such a paradox that your head spins and you feel crazy, these words from Fatimah Bhutto are better and more beautiful than any others that I have read. “Why don’t you leave?” say the skeptics and cynics. “How can you love a place like that?”

But anyone who has loved a person that seems to others unloveable, knows that loving a place can be similar. You can’t help that you love it, and you will defend that love and continue to hope when everyone around you shakes their head in confusion that you would even bother.

This is what Pakistan is – a paradox, an unexplainable place, a place that others, who have never been and know nothing of the country, despise. A place that has seen too much tragedy and violence, that bears the weight of a blood-splattered beginning, a place where those who hope and fight for it are too often silenced.

But poets keep hope alive by taking words that make the soul ache with understanding. Understanding that becomes determination to continue praying for a country I love. That’s what the words above do for me.

Picture Credit: http://pixabay.com/en/mynah-birds-starling-india-95063/

“Come Further Up, Come Further In!”

“If you’ve been up all night and cried till you have no more tears left in you – you will know that there comes in the end a sort of quietness. You feel as if nothing was ever going to happen again.”
C.S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

It’s a hard week. I am feeling the weight of a world marred by sin, a world that is not as it should be. I am feeling frustrated with a world that quickly loses interest in the latest catastrophe, moving on to something easier, more controversial, perhaps more fun.

I get it. We have only so much capacity to feel before we go numb, before we succumb to compassion fatigue. And we all have our own stuff. Perhaps it’s not tragic but it can be difficult never the less. The car breaks down, the kids have tantrums, we feel we can’t cope, our work load is too overwhelming. Not tragedies but things that can distract us and lead to frustration and misunderstandings.

It’s times like this that I curl up with something that brings hope and joy. With stories that are redemptive.

One set of stories that fit in that category are the beloved children’s books by CS Lewis – the Narnia series. Set in the imaginary land of Narnia each book takes the reader into a journey of good and evil, of hope and sorrow, of human mistakes and sins that are redeemed and repaired  There is always hope, always redemption. Good triumphs. Good cannot die. Good wins — it always wins.

I need to know this. I need to know this deep in my bones. I need to know that the broken world I witness daily is not all there is. I need to know that Good wins. I need to know that one day I will be able to come further up and further in.

“I have come home at last! This is my real country! I belong here. This is the land I have been looking for all my life, though I never knew it till now…Come further up, come further in!”― C.S. LewisThe Last Battle

Series on Suffering #11 – an Interlude

Series on Suffering # 11 – an Interlude by Robynn. Take a look here to read other pieces from this excellent series.

candle for suffering

I’m sure it seems that the series on suffering came to an abrupt end, a jerking stop. I wanted to reassure you that the series is not over. I’ve not said all I want to say about suffering. I think there’s more to think through; more profound truths yet to be pondered.

But it’s time to interject a “selah”.

Throughout the ancient Hebrew book of songs and poetry, the Psalms, the composers and poets often insert a tiny musical notation, “selah”. The Hebrew meaning isn’t entirely clear. Most scholars have translated it as a moment to stop and listen–likely a musical interlude. Others call it a time to pause and contemplate. Often it’s awkwardly long to allow for time to notice what is truly going on, to ponder unfathomable realities, to listen to the music.

Many I know are going through seasons of deep suffering. There is so much pain on every side. Someone’s twin babies died. Someone needs another biopsy. Someone’s daughter is using meth. Someone is still mourning the death of their son. Someone has another test, more blood work, different meds. Someone’s pastor has been unkind. Someone is lonely and still unemployed. Someone has cancer….again. Someone has cancer….still. Societal sorrows are also rampant these days. Injustice, poverty, racism. War, violence, terrorism. Disease, fear, death. Displacement, discouragement, despair.

Just this morning in our local paper, Lowell read of a car accident, just outside of town. One teenager died; another injured. Those families will never be the same. Their lives are forever altered, tragically, grievously.

It’s heart breaking.

While I’ve not had any major diagnosis, or disturbing personal news, or dislocating trauma, there have been a series of little hurts, little pains, little griefs. These collect like pearls on a string and form a rosary of sorts. I add the pains of my friends and the griefs of complete strangers to the string. More beads: a few brightly coloured ones, a few misshapen, several imperfect beads. These are my prayer beads. I pray through them, over them, fingering the beads as I go.

Admittedly at times my fingers hesitate. My chest tightens. I stop and pray, Our Father in Heaven, Hallowed be Thy name. I continue in prayer for my pains, laying out my heartache to God who isn’t surprised or disappointed. I pause at another bigger bead, Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done. I linger on these larger truth-telling beads. They are predictable and reassuring. They bring context to the endless rotation of smaller beads. On earth as it is in Heaven. My longings for true justice in this country, my aches for refugees scattered and vulnerable in the Middle East, my sadnesses for whole countries: Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria. On earth as it is in Heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread. There is so much need. I feel my own emptiness keenly. My reserves are depleted. I rest on this truth: he gives us our daily portion, our daily piece. Like mercy, it’s new and ready and available every day. Please also give us our daily stamina, our daily endurance, our daily strength, our daily energy. We are past finished. We are done. And completely undone.

And forgive us our tresspasses.Those we commit willingly, deliberately with mean spirits and those we commit blindly, ignorantly, naively. Forgive us our injustices, our poverty of spirit, our racist hearts…as we forgive those who trespass against us. Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. War, violence, terror. Deliver us from displacement, discouragement, despair. Please deliver us from dread. Deliver us also from fear and worry.

Late last night I got a message from my dear friend Ellen. She wrote, “It seems like so many of my friends are in crisis or terrible situations this Christmas. Keeps me busy praying the truth of Advent over all of us.”

A couple of months ago, a friend of mine’s child tried to kill himself. It was unbearable for his mom, my friend. As I prayed for her I had this image that each prayer was in effect wrapping her in a protective gauze, creating for her a space for healing. Each time I pray for her, I still have that sense that my prayers are cocooning her, covering her.

What better gauze to use to cover us all than the truths of Advent! Christ came for all of this. God is with us in all of it. He doesn’t stand distant and unresponsive. He hears the cries of his children. He comes.

And he brings hope and joy, justice and true liberty into the darkness. He unpacks peace and possibility. With him in the room we can brave optimism and laughter. Our Defender, goes with us to the courtroom. The Great Physician comes with us to the doctor’s office. He cries over the empty crib. He sits on the empty bed and weeps that the boy nearly fully grown will never come home again. Reading the text message that uses profanity to push away, he sees through the pretense to the heart that punched out the words in an attempt to protect from further pain.

He doesn’t waste any of it. Standing with us, knee deep in the mess and misery of it all, he redeems and restores. God with us. Christ born for us. The Holy One alive in us. These are the truths of Advent.

Selah.

For Thine is the Kingdom, the Power and the Glory.

Forever.

And ever.

Amen.

Picture Credit: http://pixabay.com/en/candle-meditation-hand-keep-heat-335965/ word art Marilyn R. Gardner

Seasons of Waiting

When the lights go out

Each year the season of Advent takes me by surprise. Instead of coming on with a shout, a “look at me, look at me,” Advent comes with a whisper.

It comes as I am busy with other things and whispers “Pay attention, I’m here.” It comes with cold weather and crowded sidewalks, it comes with humility and insistence. When my children were little I knew it would be hard so I paid closer attention. I was determined that we would feel the light of Advent in the midst of tinsel and baubles.

But now that they are older and away from the house I realize it is still difficult. Still difficult to cultivate an attitude of expectant waiting.

As I was thinking about Advent, about seasons of waiting, I thought back to my pregnancies. Five times on three continents I went through the process of pregnancy and birth. And in all five I knew there was something coming. Something life changing and amazing. Something that would require strength, love, discipline, and grace. From the time I first saw a light blue line appear on a plastic stick I knew that the next nine months would bring about change, both expected and unexpected. Sometimes that big event came during a busy day, requiring me to stop everything I was doing and all I had planned, other times it came through a painful whisper in the night. And each time was a miracle – a miracle of tiny fingers and toes, little legs kicking out into a world unknown, a lusty cry appeased only by the touch of a mom.

This expectant waiting that I felt during pregnancy is like this season of Advent, a season where I remember another birth, a birth that changed our world.

I am waiting on many things this year. Waiting that sometimes causes anxiety and a hurting heart. I am waiting on things that do not have a natural end point as a pregnancy does, waiting on things that may not be realized any time soon. It is this I think about as I enter this season of Advent.

That first Advent was long ago – after years and years of silence. The lights were out and the world felt cold and dark, void of hope. Yet there were still whispers of a ‘coming’. There were still those who believed and waited and prayed. Into this came not a ruler or king, but a tiny baby who needed his mom. Yet that tiny baby was worth the wait, was worth the silence. So I remember this during this season of waiting. And I pray my anxious heart will remember that time so long ago when the world watched and waited with expectant hope. 

What about you? Are you watching and waiting for something with expectant hope? With fear and anxiety? I would love it if you shared some of your heart through the comments. 

On Acne Medicine and Hope

SirnakTomorrow is American Thanksgiving – a favorite holiday for many. I know that there is a history behind Thanksgiving that is sobering, that the day we remember in 1621 was not representative of the traumatic relationship between indigenous people and pilgrims. But I am grateful for a day that is, in my circles, celebrated with grateful hearts, homes that welcome the stranger, and tables that reflect good gifts.

There is a lot to be troubled at in our world. From horror in the mountains of Iraq to desperation and anger in a city in Missouri, our world is fraught with sadness, injustice, disparities, and fear. In all this it is easy to lose hope, easy to drown in anger, apathy, or despair. So for Thanksgiving this year I have a story on acne medicine and hope. Happy Thanksgiving to all of you – Thank you for being this beautiful part of my life, thank you for reading, commenting, sharing, and loving the world with me. Thank you above all for being people that want to communicate across the boundaries that divide us.

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She sat across from me, a beautiful teenager in a dark green short-sleeved shirt, long sleeves underneath to provide warmth through layers. We had an instant connection when we met the day before. She was 17 years old and lovely.

It was in the late afternoon when she came to the makeshift clinic we had set up. She sat down. “How can I help?” I said to her.

She pointed to her face. Until then I hadn’t noticed but she had acne on both sides of her face, not severe but she was a teen and this was her face, not mine.

“You are so beautiful” I said holding her hands. We laughed together as I talked to her about washing her face, first washing her hands to get rid of dirt and germs. Then washing with warm water, gently bathing her face, finishing off with cold water to close the pores. I talked to her about not touching her pimples, about trying to keep her hands away from her face. As I spoke with her I thought “Here is a holy moment. A moment that God cares about.”

It could have happened with any teenager, anywhere in the world. But the thing that made it significant is that this was in a refugee camp. This was a teenager who had lost everything that was familiar – her home, her school, her routine, even some family members had been lost. Stress manifests itself in many ways and one of them is through the skin — through rashes, itching, and acne. A six to eight day walk through the mountains to get to safety didn’t help. Who has water for washing when you need every drop to keep hydrated?

That she wanted help with her face was an amazing picture of hope. Help me with my face, help me deal with what is a struggle today, help me to look better.

Hope was so present in her voice and face. She was the first of many to come to see us about her face – perhaps her courage gave hope to other teens, teens who had also lost everything.

It seems so small – giving out acne advice and medicine. But in the upside down kingdom of God even this can be used, even acne medicine can bring hope.

Happy Thanksgiving

Digging My Hope Out of a Snowbank

As I heard a weather forecast today and learned that more snow is covering a nation already groaning under the winter of discontent, I particularly appreciated this post on hope by Robynn. What about you? How is your winter going? 

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Winter is the most deceiving of the seasons. You look outside the window. The sun is shining. The trees beckon to you, inviting, calling. A few birds flit by. And so you think, okay then, I should go out. A coat, because logic demands it, gloves, they just make sense, and out you go! Whoosh! The wind immediately mocks. The sun sticks it’s tongue out. The imaginary birds have vanished. Winter wins! Her deception has tricked you again and you, the seasonal fool, have fallen for it again!

This winter has been particularly sneaky, long, cold and white. It’s been wearisome.

I find that in the midst of winter my sense of hope takes flight too and all but disappears. Or perhaps she’s buried under the snow bank. Maybe she melted into the grey slush. Whatever the case she’s gone. She’s done.

I’m determined to hunt her down. There must surely be shreds and shards of her left. Surely hope cannot have all been rendered shrapnel in the explosions of season and snow? Finding her has proven difficult. Despair and darkness cloud my vision. Depression drifts build up. Superficial and shallow comments salt the wound-roads. Trite talk ploughs through, wreaking havoc at the end of my pathways. The search has been hard wrought and I am sad to say, I have really only caught glimpses of hope hiding…Hope hasn’t jumped out to get me. Unlike young children playing hide and seek, she doesn’t seem to want to be found.

This week has been especially dismal.

Still my brief sightings of hope have birthed in my sorry soul an expectation that she is still out there. Like the pearl of great price, hope does linger in my town. I want to find her. I need the energizing motivation she trades for my well-worn weariness.

Yesterday I met a friend at Grace’s Asian Fusion café. Piano music met me at the door. I looked around for the speakers and much to my delight realized the music was live. In the far corner of the room stood an old upright piano and sitting upright on the stool was a gentleman even older than the piano. He gently, gracefully, invited classical tunes filled with emotion and energy to come out of that ancient instrument. And out they came, and filled the room, sweeping it with joy…. And dare I admit, a little hope!

My friend joined me and we tried Miso soup and some interesting sweet dumpling-bread. We ate cold sesame noodles with vegetables and peanut sauce. And we talked. She’s hit a wall in her faith experience. Everything programmed in her is being questioned and reexamined. She’s rethinking religion and rules; structures and systems. But we talked about Jesus and his wide wonderful mercy. I firmly believe that Jesus is the only way to the Father… But I have come to think that there are many paths to Jesus. And we talked about that and a bit of hope surfaced.

Today I drove to Wichita to watch our seventeen year old sing with his high school Chamber Choir at the Kansas Music Educators Association Convention. I drove through the Flinthills and across the prairies. Yesterday’s hay bales still scattered last season’s fields. However through the grey grasses bits of green were starting to shimmer. Hope is sprouting softly through the (hopefully) waning winter.

One of the songs the Chamber Choir sang was a Wendell Berry poem (The Peace of Wild Things) set to music. The music was written by a local composer, a KState Professor, and a father of the one of the students. It was filled with expectation. And it was contagious. Hope filled the auditorium together with the voices of the young singers who sang with strength and optimism.

My spirit has been snowed under. I’ve been physically ill for a month and my soul has caught the infection. I’m bowed low. The weight of winter wears me out. But I’m determined to protect my Hope. If I don’t have hope I will spiral deeper, darker, lower. Hope protects the soul from despair. Hope preserves moments of pure joy in the midst of great sorrow. Hope guards, redeems, rescues. I firmly believe that hope is not seasonal. It’s eternal and certain.

I don’t know about you but for me hope is not natural. I’m not normally inclined to being hopeful on my own…. I have to work for it. I have to hunt her down. I have to dig her out. What little energy I’ve had these past couple of weeks I’ve tried to dedicate to finding hope! A text message early in the week from a friend said, “Robynn just sitting here reading and I’m reminded that Christ in you is the hope of glory. Take courage sweet Robynn, he has overcome all that you are facing.” It was another push toward hope. Miss Cindy gave me courage to hope-search. Hope was in me—the Christ of Glory…. It’s a quest for the Super-natural. Hope has been elusive but in looking around, I have seen her. I’ve experienced her gently. I’ve been graced with her small moments.

“When doubts filled my mind, your comfort gave me renewed hope and cheer.” Psalm 94:19

“I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace…” Rom 15:13

The Peace of Wild Things

By Wendell Berry

When despair for the world grows in me

and I wake in the night at the least sound

in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,

I go and lie down where the wood drake

rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.

I come into the peace of wild things

who do not tax their lives with forethought

of grief. I come into the presence of still water.

And I feel above me the day-blind stars

waiting with their light. For a time

I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

*photo credit Stefanie Sevim Gardner

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