World Refugee Day – #withrefugees

Every year, June 20th is a day set aside to remember the millions of refugees and displaced people in our world. But it’s not just a day to remember – it’s also a day to think about what we can collectively and individually do about the refugee crisis. 

So in today’s post I want to pose a couple of questions: 

  1. What can we do to overcome apathy or fear? 
  2. What specific things in your community could you do to welcome refugees. 
  3. How can we change some of the common narratives, that are not based on fact, that marginalize refugees? 

Today will you #standwithrefugees? 

For more information on refugees, click here

Source: UNHCR World Refugee Day

The Travelers


“Time was passing like a hand waving from a train I wanted to be on.
I hope you never have to think about anything as much as I think about you.”
― Jonathan Safran Foer

The picture of the sculpture is so remarkable I think that it cannot be real. It must be a photograph, digitally altered by a master.

But it is real. The sculpture is just one of several in a display called “Les Voyageurs” by a man named Bruno Catalano. They are sculptures that show men and women travelers. Each has some sort of bag or suitcase with them and it is clear they are on a journey. More significantly, each of them has a prominent piece missing from the center of their bodies. As though they are leaving a part of themselves behind or as though they are leaving to search for the part of their bodies that is incomplete.

They are works of art, sculptures that resonate with the modern-day soul. These sculptures tell the story of the nomad, the pilgrim, the traveler, the refugee, the immigrant.

As I searched to find out a bit more about the artist I discovered Catalano is a third culture kid, a global nomad. He was born in Casablanca but moved to France at 12 years old, settling in Marseille. He went on to become a sailor, and it was both of these things that inspired his sculptures.

“I have traveled a lot and I left Morocco when I was 12 years old. I felt that a part of me was gone and will never come back.

From years of being a sailor, I was always leaving different countries and places each time and it’s a process that we all go through. I feel like this occurs several times during life and of course everyone has missing pieces in his or her life that he won’t find again. So the meaning can be different for everyone, but to me the sculptures represent a world citizen.”*

Our world is full of people who journey with important pieces of their lives missing. The pieces are places, people, and communities.

Many people have a catalogue of pieces missing, and so when they grieve, they are never quite sure exactly what they are grieving for.

Are they grieving for the pieces of their life that disappeared a year ago, or does their grief come from places and people they left long ago in their childhood. These pieces can accumulate and, like the sculptures, leave visible and invisible gaps in our hearts and souls. Cute sayings that abound on social media leave out the hard parts of travel and of moving. These memes rarely mention the gaps that are a part of the journey.

Even those who never travel or move are travelers in a life journey that includes a million small losses and several large ones. The deaths of those we love is part of the human journey and we will all face it sooner or later. We are all like these sculptures:Travelers with pieces missing, somehow glued together.

Often we see these missing pieces as flaws or as wounds that cannot be healed. But as I look at the sculptures, I see them as extraordinary pieces of art. They are beautifully crafted, broken yet whole.

At a deep spiritual level I believe that what Catalano does with these sculptures, God longs to do with us as living, breathing beings. He wants to take us, human travelers with our missing parts, and put them together so that though we have missing pieces, we are still strong, still intact. He wants to take the broken, lost pieces of our souls, and put them together, welded stronger than steel. He wants to make of us not sculptures, but living, breathing beings that are broken but whole. 

Note-this post was adapted from a post originally written in May of 2014.

Hope in Exile: A Broken Ankle

This is the first of a few stories from my time in Iraq. Thank you for reading. 

I met Anees in the management office of Al Amal, an unfinished building that houses internally displaced people from the Nineveh Plain in Iraq. Al Amal literally means “The Hope,” and indeed, the people here embody hope. All together, Al Amal houses around 650 people on four floors. There are no permanent walls, instead prefab walls have been fashioned, giving a bit of privacy and small living spaces for each family. Over a hundred and twenty people share a kitchen and bathrooms on each floor.

Anees looks to be in his sixties, but it is difficult to tell. Prior to being displaced from the only home he had ever known, he owned two factories. One produced ceramics and the other machinery. He is a skilled electrical engineer and obviously a good businessman. Although Anees is Chaldean Catholic, he hired people who were Muslims, Christians and Yezidis, not discriminating between groups. All that changed on August 6 of last year, when the city of Qaraqosh fell to the Islamic State. Overnight, Anees and his lovely wife, Shatha, had to flee to the city of Erbil.

I met Anees because he had broken his ankle while walking up the stairs into the building. The stairs are rough and uneven with jagged pieces sometimes tripping the unsuspecting. Anees had been one of those, resulting in a bad break. To complicate the injury, it happened on his right leg, the same leg he broke two years ago in Qaraqosh. At that time, a rod was placed in his leg and this break had done damage to the rod. The ankle bone was misshapen, badly bruised and swollen. Anees was in a great deal of pain.

I took a look at the ankle, checked his circulation, and realized there was nothing I could do but give pain medication and encourage him to see a doctor. He told me he had gone to see the same surgeon who had placed the rod in the leg and that the recommendation was for him to have two complicated surgeries. The cost? $1500 – a mere pittance by standards in the United States, but a huge amount of money for a man who had lost two factories and now lived in a room the size of my work cubicle. We talked for a bit and I promised I would bring pain medication back that evening.

I returned in the late afternoon, when the hot sun of the morning had turned into a pre-evening glow. I was armed with a skilled interpreter and pain medication. The couple welcomed us into their space without hesitation. The room was tiny and immaculate. Two beds lined the walls and shelves on one side stored clothing, bedding, and food. A rosary and picture of the Theotokos were the only decorations on the wall.

A small table was set up in front of us and we sat, talking, laughing and drinking hot, sweet tea. Shatha fed us grapes and flat bread with a cheesy topping that she had made earlier in the week. The room and the hospitality were both warm and I felt my cheeks flushing with the joy of it.

The couple talked about their children, two grown daughters who had left Qaraqosh with their husbands and were now in Canada. They have a grandchild who looks out from a photograph smiling, unaware of the depth to which his grandparents miss him. “Every time we talke to our daughters, my husband cries!” says Shatha with a sweet smile. “He misses them so much.”

We talked about his leg, how he cannot afford surgery because work is so limited in this new world they inhabit. We talked about faith. “Every night at sundown we go outside and pray,” they say. “You should come!” The invitation was completely genuine and I feel deeply honored. We talked and drank tea and felt time stop for a few moments.

I realized that I don’t know how long I’ve been there, and I’m expected upstairs at the art therapy session. Before I go, I ask if I can pray with them. They don’t hesitate with their yes. We pray and it is a holy moment, holy space in this unfinished building, set apart for those exiled from their homes.

Before I leave, Anees looks at me and says this: “What do you in America hope for Iraq?” The weight of the question is heavy. He, like most Iraqis, is so aware that our foreign policy has an impact on the everyday life of people in this region.

I hear both desperation and hope in his voice. I pause and pray the Jesus Prayer before I answer. I know that how I respond is critically important.

“I don’t know what the government hopes for you,” I say. “But I know what I hope for you, and that is for you to return to your home and live out your faith in peace.” 

“Al-ḥamdu lillāh!” he says. And he is satisfied. 

Note: If you would like to donate funds to pay for surgery for Anees, please contact me. We are hoping to do this through Conscience International. Here is the link: Conscience International Iraq Crisis. If you choose to send a check, please write Surgery for Anees in the memo line. 

Oh, the Places We Go!

I’m headed to Iraq today. With friends visiting, work, and the chaos of life it has been difficult to focus and get ready. The trip came about so quickly and is a surprise gift. But it also has me trembling – there has been too little time to prepare. So I go, knowing I have little to give, much to learn, and at heart – I am a big baby. But I’m also a willing baby. So my prayer is that I cling fast to the God I love and stay focused and willing.

In the midst of all this, I found the perfect picture to hang on my wall at work. I hang it to help me dream and then focus. It’s a balance isn’t it? That need to be fully present, and yet not forget to dream. Dr. Seuss captured the dream well in his beloved book Oh, the Places You’ll Go!  As I head off to Iraq, I think of the book and I smile.   

“You’re off to Great Places!
Today is your day!
Your mountain is waiting,
So… get on your way!”

“You will come to a place where the streets are not marked.
Some windows are lighted. but mostly they’re darked.
But mostly they’re darked.
A place you could sprain both your elbow and chin!
Do you dare to stay out? Do you dare to go in?
How much can you lose? How much can you win?”

To give you a sense of what is happening, our small team of four will be in the city of Erbil. I will be helping at a clinic as well as assisting with an art therapy program for teenage girls, all of them displaced from their homes and communities. It will be hot – weather forecasts are 115 degrees and full sunshine during the day, going down to around 82 at night. It’s a dry heat like Phoenix, and I’m reminding myself how much I love Phoenix. My husband has been to Erbil so has given me a briefing on what to expect, but we go knowing two things: flexibility is a must and we are visitors and learners.

On Saturday evening we received a beautiful travel blessing from our priests, Fr. Patrick and Fr. Michael. The church overwhelmed us with baby and hygiene kits, put together for us to take to refugees and internally displaced people. We feel deeply loved and supported in our journey through Holy Resurrection Orthodox Church. Though we are the ones to physically go, they are the ones who walk beside us in prayer and love. More and more, I am overwhelmed by the mystery of the Church and the community of believers within.

And so the blog will be quiet while I’m gone. I have a lovely guest post from a reader, and I hope to write a quick post at some point, but for the most part, it will be a still space and I will debrief when I return.

Thanks so much for reading and caring.