Cappuccino with Barzan: Friendship and Betrayal in Kurdistan

The Beginning

Around eleven o’clock every morning, Barzan would look through the door of my office and say “Come! Let’s have cappuccino!” I would look up at him and respond enthusiastically “Yes!” Five minutes later I would find myself seated at a chair by his desk, stirring a cup of instant cappuccino made in Turkey and readily available in the Kurdish market. That was when our conversation would begin.

It began in early May. May in Kurdistan is when you begin to feel the change in weather. Spring with its rain and lush green fields is gone, but the high temperatures of summer have not yet arrived. The days get longer, and you feel the joy of a season’s change. This May however, the holy month of Ramadan had just begun, and that changed things. The days were long and the nights even longer. For Muslims around the world, the month of Ramadan is a time of fasting and prayer. From sunup until sundown, strict Muslims abstain from food, liquid, smoking, and sex.

Instead of a normal May, Ramadan overlaid it with spiritual highs and physical lows. The latter seemed to far outweigh the former. Everyone was grumpy. Everyone was self-righteous. Everyone had a headache, and everyone claimed they were feeling the best they’d ever felt.

As an outsider, I too was feeling the change in temperament and temper, so the first time Barzan invited me, I looked at him in complete surprise.

“But it’s Ramadan!” I said, shock evident in my voice.

“Yes, and sometimes we need to have cappuccino during Ramadan!” His answer was priest-like in its authority and conviction.

I looked at him with joy and amazement. Here was someone who I could relate with, who worked out his faith practically with room for questioning, and perhaps going against the crowd.

Iraqi Kurdistan

The Kurdish Region of Iraq (KRI) is an autonomous zone in Northern Iraq. Unlike the surrounding countries of Syria, Turkey, and Iran, Kurds in this region have carved out a semblance of autonomy. Kurds consider this area to be Southern Kurdistan, one of four parts of Kurdistan, the other parts being Northern Kurdistan (southeastern Turkey), Eastern Kurdistan (northwestern Iran), and Western Kurdistan (northern Syria). Kurds themselves are divided as to what would be best for the people of the region. One more nation state, or more independence within the boundaries of their existing countries? Talk to one person and you’ll get one thought, another and you’ll get a completely different opinion.

For Kurds in Northern Iraq, carving out this autonomous region was not easy, and it continues to have significant challenges. An uprising against Saddam Hussein in 1991, a United Nations Security Council Resolution establishing a safe haven for Kurdish refugees, and a “No Fly Zone” established by the United States and Coalition forces all worked toward a common purpose and in October of 1991, the Iraqi government finally left, allowing Kurds in the region to begin to live and govern independently. This is a simplistic overview of a much more complex political reality, but it helps outsiders to understand a little of the fierce independence and pride that characterize the area.

The Kurdish Region of Iraq is home to approximately five million Kurds. The solidarity shared with Kurds in the surrounding countries is important to understand. Just like family, I can criticize my family, but you have no right to because you don’t belong, is much the way I experienced Kurds solidarity with each other. They may fight within, but when faced with outside threats, the solidarity and unity is profound. The fight against D’aesh (the Islamic State) was symbolic of Kurds being willing to put aside their differences and come together to fight against an external threat. They did so bravely and selflessly, ridding the region of terror and allowing families to return home after long exiles.

This is what I have been thinking about as I read and react with tears to the recent invasion of Syria by Turkey. Kurds are feeling this acutely. If you’ve watched any recent news, you don’t need me to tell you this. Far more learned and qualified people are writing extensive articles and opinion pieces.

So why does my voice matter?

Maybe because of cappuccino with Barzan.

First Encounters

We first visited the region in 2015 at the height of the crisis with D’aesh. Massive movement had taken place in Northern Iraq. Arab Christians from Mosul and Qaraqosh had left homes, factories, businesses, and restaurants to get their families to safety, away from the tyranny of the Islamic State. Churches and businesses in Erbil, the capital of the KRG, opened their doors to people who had arrived in crisis.  Unfinished malls and apartment buildings were quickly equipped with particle board and moveable walls to create rooms for families. At one building we visited, 120 people shared the same kitchen and bathroom. Families left most everything behind as they moved to the area for safety. And Kurds welcomed them – welcomed them with jobs, food packets, and homes. The stories we heard during that time will remain with me forever, stories of hope and horror, humanity at its best and worst. My husband and I left after ten days in the region with only one thought: We wanted to return. We wanted to move to Northern Iraq. Specifically, we wanted to move to Kurdistan.

Some dreams become reality while others remain silent and still, occupying our hearts and minds in quiet moments, but unable to be voiced because they hurt too much. Our dream became a reality and in September of last year, my husband and I moved to the Kurdistan Region of Iraq. To say we left everything is true. We left excellent jobs at health departments and universities in Boston. We gave away everything except our car, which we sold to an eccentric lady who belonged in a novel. We packed up our lives and our faith and we moved. We didn’t really know how long we would be gone, but we expected to live in the region for at least two years. In one year, you barely begin to understand a new country and culture and cultural adjustments occupy a good amount of your time and energy. You need at least two years, and after that – who knew?

That’s why cappuccino with Barzan was so significant. In the space of a half hour we would talk about everything. Politics (Kurdish, Iraqi, and American), faith, friendship, the profession of nursing, nursing students, marriage, differing cultures, worldviews, and even Wanda, Barzan’s hostess during a time when he lived in the United States. Wanda was an unseen part of every conversation. Barzan and I didn’t always agree – we didn’t have to. Cappuccino made our disagreements sweet and palatable.

Leaving Kurdistan

It was after having cappuccino with Barzan one morning that I found out a decision had been made by the Kurdish Government that dramatically altered our lives. The Minister of Finance had passed down a decree to the Minister of Education that affected all contract employees. Anyone with Bachelor’s Degrees would lose their job; anyone with a Master’s or PhD would lose half their salary. We were summoned to the university president’s office and were given the news. We left the meeting in shock.

We did not want to leave. We wanted to stay in the small city where we had carved out not only morning cappuccino, but also significant community through friendships. My husband taught swimming every Tuesday at a local pool to men who had never had the opportunity to learn how to swim. I was beginning to work with a group of women to teach health classes in the community. We had connected with an NGO and begun game nights every Thursday, and Fridays saw us at an English Talk Club participating with a group of Kurds who we had formed deep friendships with through discussions on many topics all conducted in English. Leave? How could we leave? We had to stay!

A tumultuous month followed, where rumor and fact collided and the truth of the edict was difficult to uncover. But by the end of June we had resigned ourselves to the idea that we would be leaving Kurdistan. The decision was irreversible.

We felt betrayed. Though it was a non-personal decision made at a high governmental level, it felt personal. We watched as Iranian colleagues packed their bags and moved back across the border to Iran. We heard from Kurdish colleagues who were also contract employees and had lost their jobs as well. It was a decision that couldn’t be fought and could take months or years to be reversed.

Our hearts broke. Tears flowed at odd times, our grieving was raw and real. We arrived back in the United States right before the fourth of July and the release of Stranger Things. We had lived our own version of Stranger Things, and it was a relief to binge watch something that took our mind off our transition and grief.

No Friends But the Mountains

The Kurds have a proverb, rightfully born of being surrounded by countries that don’t want an independent nation of Kurdistan to exist. “We have no friends but the mountains” was something we heard from our Kurdish friends over and over during our time in the KRG. We would hear the proverb as we were walking and talking with friends or sitting with them eating a delicious meal and sipping hot tea from glasses.

When I found out that the current administration had made the decision to withdraw American forces from Syria, an area that was being controlled by Syrian Kurdish forces, I thought of the proverb and how Kurds would be feeling and talking about this as they learned of the decision. I felt betrayed with my Kurdish friends by my own government. Had I still lived in Kurdistan, our cappuccino time would be spent grieving the decision.  Instead, it was my husband and me, cursing and grieving the short sightedness of this move. Generally able to look at a decision from multiple angles, this one was political and personal. Destabilization of a fragile area; abandoning loyal allies and paving a path for ISIS to re-emerge are just a couple of the potential outcomes, but largely not understood by many was the ethnic cleansing tragedy waiting to happen. How could America do this? How could we abandon allies that helped defeat D’aesh and be able to sleep at night? How could we not know that the area would create another massive displacement of Kurds and Christian minorities in the region? How could thoughtless leaders not understand the repercussions of this in a world that is so deeply interconnected?

And then there was the sense of personal attack! How could they do this to the Kurds, our friends, people that treated us like family for ten months? Ten months of extravagant invitations to tea and meals. Ten months of learning the history of the region, the horrors experienced during the time of Saddam Hussein and the extraordinary resilience and generosity that characterized the community. Ten months of friendship forged through time, food, and laughter. It didn’t matter that this was not the community where we had lived and worked – these were their Kurdish brothers and sisters, and blood lines are not easily severed in the region. The how coulds got lost in my fury of feeling.

If only we were there. If only we were there to sit with our friends and get angry with them. If only we were there to walk beside them, to show them that the world had not left them. If only we could sit with them and let them see that they do have friends beyond the mountains. But we weren’t there because of the Kurdish government, not the American government. Two governmental decisions. Two betrayals. But one with far more devastating effects than job loss.

But instead of drinking cappuccino with Barzan, tea with Yassin, and eating ghormeh sabzi with Behnaz, we were in a city oceans and continents away.  

Who is My Neighbor?

The feelings of sadness come over me regularly, and I try not to monitor the news 24/7. And I pray. I pray for the Kurds I don’t know, and the ones I know – the ones who opened their homes and lives to us – strangers and Americans.

Many years ago, a man came to Jesus and asked him a question about neighbors; specifically, “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus answered him with a story. I learned a lot about being a good neighbor this past year and I didn’t learn it from people who looked like me. I learned it from my Kurdish, Muslim friends. I learned it from Yassin, who offered friendship through time, invitations to dinner, and helping us understand Kurdistan and Kurds. I learned it from Behnaz, a young Iranian Kurdish woman who offered me laughter, joy, and an artist’s eye for beauty. I learned it from Zana and Karwan who taught me how to heat my home and where to buy items in the bazaar. I learned it from Dr. Sanaa who passionately led the university department where I worked. I learned it from Rania who was a patient cultural broker and my fashion consultant.  I learned it from so many people that I can’t even name them all.

And I learned it from Barzan, who invited a foreigner into his office every day during Ramadan to drink cappuccino.  

Rumors of War – musings from Kurdistan

“History was a recording that played continuously, so that you did not realize it was the same song, over and over.”

David Ignatius in Bloodmoney

The messages began early yesterday.
“Are you okay? Will you be leaving?” “What are your thoughts on the news? When are you all coming back?” “Hey! What’s going on over there?”

At this point, I was involved in a totally different crisis, seemingly unrelated to the one that was being broadcast by all major media outlets in the United States and evidently, around the world.

A message from my amazing nephew who works at the State Department gave me more information, and I began responding to the messages that we received. Evidently the United States had called for all non-emergency government personnel to leave Iraq and the Kurdish Region of Iraq citing tensions with Iran as the reason. Rumors of war had begun and the news was everywhere.

Everyone knows this, but it’s really important to repeat: Behind the clean yet oh-so-dirty fingers of every politician that supports war there are real people who get caught in the middle and lose. They lose every, single time. People in the middle are caught between and never win. They lose. They lose security. They lose jobs. They lose peace of mind. They lose hope.

We live in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, and the rumors of war involve Iraq because the tensions are rising between the United States and Iran. Geographically Iraq is next to Iran; politically Iraq is caught between. Our region is finally feeling a measure of hope after a massive financial crisis and the chaos of D’aesh, or ISIS. People are beginning to feel more settled, more secure. They are receiving salaries regularly after a long time of not being paid.

And now this.

I am not a political analyst but I do suspect that wars are sometimes started to detract from real life problems. What better way to distract people then to go to war? Suddenly all the news and focus is not on poor national policy, or the latest tweets, but instead on what is happening the other side of the world.

I just finished reading a book by David Ignatius, a prize-winning reporter from the Washington Post who covered the Middle East for many years. Bloodmoney is a spy thriller that is set between Los Angeles, Pakistan, and London. It’s fast paced and interesting, a book that seems made to be a movie. At the very end of the book, Ignatius talks about how the book is about how wars end. Though he spends some time toward the end of the book discussing this, from a reader perspective, I wish he had spent more time on this.

One of the dynamic characters in the book is a Pashtun from the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province of Pakistan called “the Professor.” At one point he is thinking about the tribal code of revenge. He thinks about how often wars end just because people get tired. They lose people and money, and suddenly both sides are done, exhausted by the bloodshed, unable to even remember what the war was really about to begin with. But, he surmises, wars that end that way don’t bring about “good peace.” Instead, they bring “dishonor, shame, and a shimmering desire for revenge.” This is something that the Professor feels the Western world doesn’t know or understand. “The victor in the war must find a way to salve the dignity of the vanquished; otherwise, there would just be another war.” (page 348, Bloodmoney)

The tribal code for restoring harmony was called nanawatay in the Pashto language. That was how wars ended among honorable men. The vanquished party would go to the house of the victor, into the very heart of his enemy, and look that man in the eye and request forgiveness and peace. The defeated man was seeking asylum, and the victor could not but grant him this request. To refuse would be dishonorable and unmanly. When a man is asked to be generous, he can unburden himself of his rage toward his enemy. He can be patient in forgiveness and let go of the past.

Bloodmoney by David Ignatius, p. 348

A couple of pages later, our professor is on a plane, ready to fall asleep: “He fell asleep thinking of his favorite word in the Pashto language, melmastia, which meant “hospitality.” That was the way wars ended.”

I read these words yesterday afternoon, after I had responded to many messages and written an email off to family and friends.

Hospitality. Communication. Communicating Across Boundaries. Backing down. Forgiveness. Generosity. Looking people in the eye and requesting forgiveness and peace.

Yes – this may be the way wars end. More importantly, this is how they never start. This is prevention at its best.

When will we learn? If we can’t have a conversation with someone who thinks differently then us, then there is no hope that wars will ever end. When I look in the mirror, I see someone looking back at me who is just as culpable in the little picture as the war mongers of the world are in the big picture. Everyone of us is probably at war with someone in our lives. Though the outcomes may seem different, on a small scale they are the same. Are we tired yet? When will it end?

And to our leaders I say the same: Are you tired yet? When will it end? When will you get tired enough to have bad peace, or smart enough to forgive, extend hospitality and have good peace?

If wars end with hospitality, surely with true hospitality they should never begin.

Communicating Across Boundaries

As for us, we are staying – at least for the time being. We are continuing to enjoy the love and hospitality that surrounds us. We are in the month of Ramadan, where all of day life slows down and the evenings light up with food and joy at the breaking of the fast. What happens next, only God knows.

The Rain Came

The rain came. One minute it was the hot, dry sun of a high desert and rays of light spread across my living room and peeked into the darkened hallway. I took a quick walk to our plant store nearby – we call it our arboretum – and walked back with a green treasure, its large leaves nodding to my step.

And then, the sky darkened, the sun hid, and the rain came.

It came in torrents over the mountain. Flashes of lightening lit up the sky in a diagonal angle. The raindrops beat against our window. The dry clay land filled with deep puddles and rain poured through a small hole in our window, flooding the glassed in balcony.

It came with fury and vengeance, as if to say “I will conquer this dry space and fill it with water! I will win!”

The rain came, and for a while I thought it would never stop. It felt impossibly strong. And then, just as suddenly, it stopped

One of my favorite Indian movies is the movie Lagaan. It is set in a small village in India in the late 1800s when India is occupied by the British. A British captain has imposed an outrageous land tax on the people of the village. It is a tax that is impossible to pay, partially because of a long drought causing huge economic losses for the villagers.  A young man in the village (Bhuvan) decides to rally the villagers to advocate for themselves. As they approach the palace, they observe a cricket match in play. Bhuvan mocks the game, and the British Captain offers a wager. If the villagers can defeat the British occupying forces in a game of cricket, they won’t have to pay taxes for three years. But, if they lose, they will have to pay three times the current taxes.

Bhuvan basically accepts the wager without the village’s consent and then has to rally villagers to create a team of people who know nothing about cricket with the hopes of winning a game against seasoned players. Throughout the film, there is a longing expressed for rain. No matter what happens, the villagers need this drought to end. People are suffering and the only thing that will change that is being able to bring in a harvest. At one point, black clouds roll in and a dance scene suggests that this is it, this is the moment. Rain is coming and no matter what happens with cricket or the British, this will be their salvation.

But it is a false hope. It doesn’t come. Then, at the very end of the film, after the drama of cricket and occupiers being defeated by the occupied, the rain comes. The rain comes in glorious, monsoon force while villagers dance in the downpour. The rain came. The game is over. The innocent are vindicated and there will be no tax.

The rain came on that village much the same way it came today. With a mighty force that can’t be stopped, with vengeance and sound that you can’t ignore; like an unexpected outpouring of grace when you think there is no hope, the rain came.

The prophet Isaiah talks about rain coming this way. In vivid poetry he says: Drip down, O heavens, from above, And let the clouds pour down righteousness; Let the earth open up and salvation bear fruit, And righteousness spring up with it. I, the Lord, have created it.* In Lagaan, that is what the rain represented. Vindication. A wrong confronted and made right. Justice finally came, and with it the rain.

Today, the rain came. And it makes me both tremble and hope – for justice, for wrong to be made right, for people who have suffered to be healed, for clouds to pour down righteousness, for grace to cover this hard, broken earth.

Today the rain came, and with it came life.

1500 Olive Trees

Friends, I wrote this back in January, but I know many of us have been hurting over what is going on in Aleppo, so I am reposting.

There comes a time on any trip where you feel overwhelmed, when tiredness and lack of control of your surroundings can creep into the journey. I think it is particularly true of any kind of refugee or humanitarian work.

Yesterday was my day to feel overwhelmed. Overwhelmed and inadequate with the needs I have seen and the stories I have heard.

To summarize, anything you have ever heard or seen about the refugee crusis is true, but worse. The stories of losing everything, people watching relatives killed, babies born to moms who can’t breastfeed because of inadequate diet, losing factories, businesses, and livelihood. All of it is true.

Two days ago, we sat across from a farmer who had 1500 olive trees in a village near Aleppo. ISIS has taken over his land and cut most of the olive trees down for firewood. It is a literal loss of generations of family’s work. It is symbolic of everything else they have lost.

I have met widows and new moms struggling, men who can’t find work and mothers who lost their sons, men who are being pressured to sell their kidneys just to get money to feed their families. The collective loss is unimaginable.

I have learned that ISIS is one kind of evil–and the other evil is the people that would profit from a crisis. Those who would buy children from a desperate parent; scheme to traffic vital organs; and charge thousands of dollars so people can drown in a poorly made boat.

When people are left without hope, we must hope for them. 

It is a privilege to sit with people and hear their stories and I am so grateful for this time. It is a gift to laugh in the midst of pain; to drink strong cups of Arab coffee while sitting in tents; to ask people how we can pray.

But I also have an obligation to pass on what I have seen and learned and to ask you to remember this crisis, remember Syrian and Iraqi refugees. Don’t forget them – and pray for peace to come to these lands.

The following information comes from this site:

Preemptive Love Coalition has been working for over 10 years in the Middle East. They serve families in both Iraq and Syria. You can take a look at their website for information and ways to make a difference for refugees.

Questscope has been giving at-risk people in the Middle East “a second chance” for over three decades. Now they are first-responders, providing critical and long term assistance for thousands of families literally on the run for their lives in Syria. Just this week, Questscope is rescuing 4000 women and children from Homs, Syria. You can give desperately needed funds for those families here.

World Relief works through churches in the US as well as throughout the Middle East and Europe to provide emergency and long-term assistance for refugees. Check out their website to see how your church can get involved.

Waving Olive Branches

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Olives are ubiquitous in the Middle East. Served with almost every meal, they vary in color and size, offering a pungent, salty taste. Eat them with bread and white cheese and you have a meal fit for royalty. The trees are everywhere – in gardens, along the sides of roads, and in churchyards. You cannot escape the olive branch.

For years, the olive branch has been a symbol of peace.  In early August, on my first evening in Iraq, I saw the symbol of the olive branch in a new way.

We had been invited to participate in a women’s meeting in late afternoon, but immediately following the meeting we were whisked away to a performance put on by actors from the city of Qaraqosh. Exactly one year ago that day, Qaraqosh had fallen to the Islamic State. Until that time, I had only read stories about Qaraqosh in the news. Now, I was meeting real people with real and poignant stories.

One woman, a lab technician, was walking home from work, only to have a neighbor rush up to her and say “You must leave! ISIS is coming!” She was the primary caregiver for both a father and sister who were disabled. In her words, she became “very afraid.” The next morning, her neighborhood was deserted and she saw the ominous, black ISIS flags in the distance. By a miracle, she was able to secure bus space for her family, but had to leave everything else behind.  When you are fleeing for your life, your priorities of what matters and what you should take change in an instant.

The play we were privileged to see was about the fall of Qaraqosh. The heartache and loss that people experienced as they had to leave their homes and community was palpable. Vivid color and music drew us in. The stage set alternated between dark and ominous, where ISIS soldiers took center stage, to a bright and vibrant background of churches and ancient city streets.

The play was in three acts with monologues by three main actors. It was all in Arabic, but like all good acting, it didn’t just rely on the spoken word.

There were many poignant parts of the play, but a couple parts stood out. During one scene, a  beautiful little girl came skipping and dancing on stage. She symbolized the story of Christina, a little girl who was pulled by ISIS from the hands of her mother while she was fleeing the city. Of all the stories of Qaraqosh, this one was the most difficult and symbolized all the loss and pain of a community.  As the main character reached for Christina, she was gone.

During another scene, one of the actors reminisced about Palm Sunday, a day when the whole city of Qaraqosh would wave olive branches as they remembered the coming of Christ to Jerusalem.

But it was the end of the play that left a defining imprint on my heart and soul. The three actors came out on stage, holding hands and raising them high. They practically shouted words of forgiveness and grace:

“Though the road may be long and filled with our blood, we will go back bearing olive branches.”

This play was not ending on a note of despair, but of hope. This play was a tribute to resilience, to perseverance, to faith, and to forgiveness.

Forgiveness is not easy. We give up our rights to hold on to wrong-doing, we give up our rights to be victims, we extend grace to the perpetrator. Sometimes forgiveness costs us everything we have, everything we can give. But there is no ambiguity in the Biblical call to forgive, there is no grey area, there is no “but what about…?”

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy’…But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,”*

The command is clear, and I was witnessing a group that didn’t just act this out, but lived this out.

The actors on stage and the people in the audience were witnesses to a greater love, to a greater command then our human desire for vengeance and revenge. When they left Qaraqosh, they lost everything but their lives. Yet here they were, publically proclaiming grace and forgiveness.

Their grace and forgiveness was as present and pungent as olives and olive trees in the Middle East.

I have seen a lot of examples in my life of forgiveness, but this one was the most powerful.

I fell asleep that night with my heart full, the images of olive branches waving above me, images of forgiveness and peace.

*Matthew 5:44

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. 

Symbol of Strength

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Gloucester, Massachusetts is a fishing town. It is one of the oldest settlements in what became Massachusetts Bay Colony.

Through the years, life in this fishing town has not been easy. The town has seen more than its share of loss and pain, of lives disrupted. The fishing industry would rise and fall like the tide, one year providing a living wage, the next year leaving a family with barely any money. Storms would take fishermen when they were too young, leaving young widows with small children to make their way alone.

The ocean, beautiful to tourists and residents alike, cannot be tamed or controlled. It is master over fishermen and their families.

Along the waterfront on Stacy Boulevard is a statue called the Gloucester Fisherman’s Memorial, paying tribute to all those who died at sea. It was built in 1925 and is famous throughout the area.

But the statue I love best has not been there for very long. It is a statue a few yards away from the Fishermen’s statue. The statue shows a woman looking out to the sea and pays tribute to those left behind: The wives and children of fishermen. I love the strength of the statue. I love how the woman is carrying one child, while another holds onto her dress, a gesture that women around the world understand. I love everything about this statue.

Most of all, I love that it honors these women and children, recognizing that the sacrifice of families is great.

Yesterday, as we passed the statue, I thought of all the women and children who are refugees or displaced because of the war in Syria. I thought of the many women that I met in Iraq, the stories I have heard that are barely a page in the volumes of stories that are present from the Syrian war and the disruption of family and community by ISIS. I thought of the women and children I have met who teach me what it is to be strong.

The statue is a symbol of the strength of women, of grief being pushed aside as they move forward with stubborn endurance.

Today I think of these women and children – and I thank God for their strength and pray for grace to move forward.

See A Practical Response to the Syrian Crisis for ideas of how to help.

Hope in Exile: Rooftop Prayer

  
“Every evening at sundown we go on the roof and we pray.”

When I heard this, I was sitting with Anees and Shatha in their tiny room. They had told me about leaving their city, about losing two factories, about how their two daughters had immigrated to Canada.

Yet every evening at sundown, they paused. They went on the roof to pray. The sincere faith humbled me. Here was a couple who had lost everything that our world sees as important. They no longer had jobs or houses. Security in retirement? Who has security when all the banks are ransacked and billions taken by the enemy? Home renovations or equity? Impossible when your home has been taken.

But their response was not one of bitterness or anger. Rather, they were grateful to be alive, to have a roof over their heads, to have each other. And so every evening at sundown, they went on the roof to pray.

As I asked permission to leave, Shatha took me by the arm. “Come with me,” she said urgently. “Come to the rooftop! We’re praying right now!”

We walked single file on the narrow balcony and turned into the hallway. She led me past a communal kitchen and bathrooms, onto the rooftop. There, a group of 15 women were gathered in a circle. In the middle of the circle, a small table held a prayer-book, a rosary, and a glow in the dark statue of the Theotokos – Mary, the God-bearer. Many were in black, a symbol of mourning. The women were chanting a prayer in Syriac, a prayer of protection and hope. I knelt with them in a holy moment, fully humbled in the company of women who had lost so much, yet understood the power of prayer to give and sustain life.

And here’s the thing: That’s what ISIS can never take away. They can take away factories and churches; they can take away orchards and farms; they can split up families and cause untold pain. But they cannot take away prayer. In the big story of life, they have lost and they are scrambling. Because in the big story, factories and retirement security mean nothing – and prayer means everything.

Note: This is why I grow tired of the rhetoric that says “All the Christians have left Iraq.” Because not only have they not left, but their faith sustains them in ways that I have not yet experienced. They know “the power of His Resurrection and the fellowship of his sufferings,”* in ways we in the West, with all of our trappings and security blankets, can’t begin to understand.

*Philippians 3:10 KJV

“Who Among You can Put Christina Back in the Arms of Her Mother?”


  
Sometimes a story emerges that captures all other stories. It becomes the iconic story, the one that explains everything. And everyone knows the story.

Everyone from Qaraqosh knows the story of Christina.

Christina was three and a half years old when she was literally snatched from her mother’s arms as they were fleeing ISIS. This was one year ago on August 6, 2014.

On the first evening I was in Iraq, we had the opportunity to see a play. The play was about the exodus of people from this city and was directed and acted by a group of actors from Qaraqosh.

At one point in the play, a little girl skips out on stage with a doll. The music is light as she skips around, safe in her world. As quickly as she comes, she vanishes, and only the doll is left on stage. The actor’s pain is acute as he shouts her name, and then asks the question: “Who among you can put Christina back in the arms of her mother?”

The agony of the audience is palpable. This is their city, and she has become their Christina. Who will put Christina back in the arms of her mother? Who will redeem this situation? Who will right the wrong? Who will defeat evil?

There are hundreds of questions wrapped up in the one.

It’s been a year and how much longer will the people of Qaraqosh have to wait?

The cry of the people of Qaraqosh is the cry of people through the centuries who have been victims to terrible evil. It is the cry of the exile, the cry of every mother who has lost a child.

It’s the cry of the Psalmist How long wilt thou forget me, O LORD? for ever? how long wilt thou hide thy face from me? How long shall I take counsel in my soul, having sorrow in my heart daily? how long shall mine enemy be exalted over me? Consider and hear me, O LORD my God: lighten mine eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death; Lest mine enemy say, I have prevailed against him; and those that trouble me rejoice when I am moved.” Psalm 13

But the play didn’t end on those words. Like the Psalmist, who says “But I have trusted in thy mercy; my heart shall rejoice in thy salvation,”  the play ended with olive branches, a symbol of peace. The play ended with hope for return. The play ended with resurrection

The play represents much of what I saw during my short time, and I am challenged daily by the hope I saw in those displaced in Iraq.

For even as they wonder who will put Christina back in the arms of her mother, they continue living day by day, in hope of return.

 

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. 

The Stories of Others

Learning to tell our storiesSince writing in a public space I have done a lot of reading and thinking about story – specifically writing the stories of others. I think about this as I come back from Iraq, full of stories, and I begin to tell these stories in this space.

Indeed, there is a lot to think about. The first question is if I even have the right to tell the story of another. Should I tell the story or not?

For help in sorting this through I have read several essays but the writer I continually come back to is Katherine Boo.

Boo is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who writes about poverty. She writes stories for those with no voice. In 2012 she was interviewed by Guernica magazine. The interview is a thoughtful, long-form piece and I encourage you to read the entire interview. What I love about her words is that she honestly addresses the struggle of writing with integrity. She addresses the criticism of telling the stories of others and the soul-searching that a writer who tells those stories goes through. While the topic she specifically writes about is poverty, it holds true for other stories as well.

Here is an excerpt from the article:

Guernica: At a lecture at American Academy, you recounted that during your reporting on that evacuation shelter for The New Yorker a woman told you, “Wait, so you take our stories and put them in a magazine that rich people read, and you get paid and we don’t? That’s some backward-ass bluffiness, if you ask me.” She seemed to sum up the moral dilemma that reporting on poverty raises. Can you speak to some of these ethical questions?

Katherine Boo: She said it better than I did. We take stories and purvey them to people with money. And in the conventions of my profession, which I try to adhere to, we can’t pay people for stories. Anyone with a conscience who does this work grapples with that reality, and if they don’t, I’d worry. I lie awake at night, and I think, “Am I exploiting them? Am I a vulture?” All of the terrible names anyone could call me, I’ve called myself worse.

But if writing about people who are not yourself is illegitimate, then the only legitimate work is autobiography; and as a reader and a citizen, I don’t want to live in that world. Because if you take a kid like Sunil, who’s been denied the possibility of an education that allows him to write his own story, and all of the people who lack the means and access to do so, they go down the memory hole. They’re lost. What it comes down to is, the only thing worse than being a poverty reporter is if no one ever wrote about it at all. My work, I hope, helps people understand how much gets lost between the intellection of how to get people out of poverty and how it’s actually experienced. 

There’s more to this than the telling. It’s also how we tell the story.

If someone is entrusting us with their story and has given us permission to share the story, it means we have an obligation, a responsibility to tell it the best way possible. If we are telling our own story or the stories of others, we have a responsibility to tell the narrative with integrity and truth. But we also have a responsibility to write and tell stories as well as we possibly can – and that means with descriptive language, with passion, with sensitivity. We have a responsibility to write so that people want to read and want to share. We are the voice for the one who doesn’t write. We are custodians of the story.

In the next few posts, I will be telling some stories of those whose voice would otherwise not be heard. I write, both grateful and fearful. Grateful, because I was able to sit with people and hear their hearts. Fearful, because it is important that I honor their story, and in an online space that is not always easy.

But if you as readers have shown me anything, it’s that you honor stories. So I hope you’ll join me as I tell some of the stories that I heard in Iraq. Thanks for reading along.

Hearts Made Larger

We returned from Iraq yesterday, touching down at Logan Airport’s international terminal late afternoon.

It is difficult to find words in English to describe our trip. Amazing, interesting, challenging, joy-filled …..those adjectives are not strong enough so I’ll stick with this: The trip was extraordinary.

This was my first time to Iraq. We arrived in early morning and left a week later in early morning. I walked off the plane to the heat of the desert and my heart felt immediately at home and alive. This is a place of the heart.

The people of Iraq have experienced sanctions, war, and now displacement for years. Sanctions began in 1990 after Iraq invaded Kuwait under the regime of Saddam Hussein. This means that the population aged 12 to 25, which was the primary group that we worked with, survived sanctions that deprived the country of critical resources. Those sanctions caused diseases from water that was not clean, widespread malnutrition, lack of proper medical care and supplies, and so much more I will devote an entire post to it. It is important to note that the sanctions did nothing to rid the country of Saddam, it merely hurt the people of Iraq.

A week is a short time to take in the enormity of the situation, but the conversations and time we were able to have made our hearts larger. The spirit and resilience of the people of Iraq are commendable, and I am humbled to have met so many and to hear just a few of the millions of stories from this area.

My heart is made larger from the people I met.

In 1923, Martin Buber, a Jewish philosopher raised in Austria wrote a book called Ich und Du, which translates as I and Thou. Buber’s premise is that we find meaning in life through relationships, and we interact or engage the world in two primary ways: Through I-it or I-thou.

The I-it relationship looks at the relationship of subject to object. I-thou looks at relationship of subject to subject. How this works out practically is that if we see others through the lens of I-it, they become separate and we can detach ourselves from them. The I-it relationship focuses on a single story, reduces people to objects instead of living beings that reflect the image of God. I-it fails to see the complexity of human interaction. By contrast, I-thou enlarges the relationship. I-thou sees the whole person, encounters that person, not in relation to what the person can do for them, but as a person made in the image of God.  I-thou is a way to engage the world with a sense of honor and responsibility, with humility and desire to learn.*

My encounters with people who have been internally displaced in Iraq, who fled with the clothes on their backs, and if they were lucky, a suitcase, were I-thou encounters. My heart was deeply enlarged as I saw resilience, joy, willingness to tell their story, to accept me as an outsider, to acknowledge their own strength and hope. My heart, and I know the heart of my husband, was made larger. I can only give glory to God for this time.

In the coming week, I hope to recount several stories that I have permission to share. I will share stories of fear and hope, of prayer and resilience. I have returned, and my heart is larger.

I’ve included a couple of pictures today with actual quotes from people. Thank you for reading, for being willing to see people through the I-thou lens.

*I do great disservice to Buber’s work in this small explanation, but it is what best describes our time in Iraq so I chose to use it.

“What hope do you have for us in Iraq?” ” We have hope that you can return and live out your faith in peace and joy” “Al hamdulilah”

“You are so strong!” “We ARE strong! We surprised even ourselves!”

 

“The road may be long and full of our blood but we will go back waving olive branches. Love is stronger than hate”

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. 

To Iraq

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The text came on an Ecclesiastical day – a day when I was despairing that there was nothing new under the sun. Especially nothing new in my immediate vicinity.

And then came the text: “How would you like to go to Iraq? Call me!”

It was from my husband. I called – immediately. The organization that he volunteers for was putting together a small team to go work with internally displaced people in Erbil, the capital of the Kurdistan Regional Government in Iraq. The president hoped to take a doctor, but after two doctors said yes and then had to back out for personal reasons, he decided to ask me. Timing was critical as he was purchasing the tickets that night.

I took a look at my schedule, rearranged one thing, and breathed a deep sigh. I was going to Iraq. As many who read CAB know, my heart has been across the world with refugees and displaced people from Syria and Iraq for a long time. In November, I was able to go to Turkey and since that time I’ve longed to go again. In fact, my husband and I have prayed long and sought hard to work with refugees full time, so the trip is a gift from God. To make it even better, my husband will be joining me a day later so we will be able to ask questions, find out what needs are, and do what we can during the short time we are there.

It will be a quick trip and include working at a clinic and visiting camps for internally displaced people. Last June, ISIS captured the city of Mosul – the site of the ancient city of Nineveh, best know from the Biblical story of Jonah. Chaldeans, Assyrians, Syrian Orthodox and more all lived and worshiped in this city. That changed when they were forced out of homes and communities, fleeing to nearby cities and towns. Erbil, as the largest city in the area, received many refugees. The churches in Erbil made room for thousands of displaced people, housing them wherever they could find room.

It’s a year later, but the crisis continues despite the world moving on. The figures are staggering in their magnitude. UNHCR (United Nations High Commission for Refugees) estimates over 3.5 million internally displaced people. Added to that are Syrian refugees who have made their way into Iraq. I can’t get my head around the figures. Take a look here to see more: UNHCR – Iraq

So we are going and it feels like even less than five loaves and two fishes – but then, that’s all most of us have. It’s barely a band-aid. But my friend Rachel says this, and I’ve quoted it before but it’s worth repeating:

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

For those who pray, I would ask for prayers for this trip, but more so – for the internally displaced people and refugees in the area. I go for a week – they live there all the time. Also, if you would like to give to the clinic or to the camps in Erbil, click here. You can designate the funds specifically for Iraq. The trip is paid for, every bit of money goes toward the clinic and camps. Your gift is tax-deductible. 

Myriam’s Story – A Story of Hope

On this Wednesday I am posting a powerful video. I hope you’ll take a few minutes and watch it, and in watching be deeply moved and encouraged. Thank you!

“The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them.” Isaiah 11:6 – NIV

See more of Myriam’s story here. 

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 Forgotten Ones

It was in late August that the world’s short attention span focused on a group of people fleeing Iraq and trapped in the Sinjar mountains. The group was the Yezidi people (Ezidi) and most people in the West had never heard of them.

The Yezidi people are one of Iraq’s oldest minority communities. The worldwide population is estimated at 700,000 people, with a majority of their population living in Northern Iraq. Persecution is not new to them – under Ottoman rule in the 18th and 19th centuries history records over 70 massacres. In 2007 Muslim militants carried out a string of car bombs against this minority community, with reports of over 800 people killed.

They are, and have always been, a marginalized group.

The long-standing persecution against this Kurdish minority group stems from incorrect beliefs about their religion. It is an old religion, a pre-Islamic sect that takes aspects of Zoroastrianism, Christianity, and Judaism.  They are said to be ‘devil worshippers’ because of their worship of a ‘fallen’ angel called the Peacock Angel, one of seven angels that dominate their religious world view.  They are declared infidels and with that, any protection is gone.

So what happens when an already marginalized group is displaced?

The world quickly loses attention. Memories of 40,000 men, women, and children trapped on rugged mountains unable to reach safety quickly fade, remembered only by those of the 40,000 who survived. Horrifying murders, including those of children, were reported in August and video footage shows a veteran journalist deeply affected when trying to rescue some of those who survived long enough to flee. “I have been in this business for more than ten years and I have never seen a mission as desperate as this, as emotionally charged as this, or a rescue as ad hoc or as improvised as this” said Ivan Watson of CNN.

Many were able to flee over the mountains, get safe passage through Kurdish areas of Syria, and arrive in Turkey, safe but displaced. Others are trapped on Sinjar Mountain, surrounded by militants with no escape in sight.

And the question now is “Who is coming for us?” They are the ‘forgotten ones.’

When temporary becomes permanent there is a peculiar pain and deep loss. They don’t want to go back to a place where centuries of persecution are embedded in their history, yet how do they move forward? What about homes? Schooling? Employment? They are suffering from a ‘deprivation of place’ and the wounds run deep.

Loss, trauma, and violence are in the story of every family and the number one medical complaint is “psychological.”

Yet the resilience of the human spirit shines bright in the smiles of children and teenagers, in the laughter of young men and older women. These are people made in the image of God. May they be protected and know peace.

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*A note on spelling – While many use the spelling ‘Yazidi’ the correct one seems to be ‘Yezidi’ or ‘Ezidi’ dropping the Y all together. I have used the spelling Yezidi in this piece but honor the other pieces in links by using the spelling they used.

Who, What, Why: Who are the Yazidis? from BBC News

When Fear is Your Currency [aka ‘Is it Safe?’]

erasing fear

“But is it safe?”

My friend stopped drinking her Skinny Vanilla Latte ala Starbucks. She was truly concerned. It was back in late August and I had just told her about the trip I was going on to India in September. I had described what I would be doing, spoken with excitement about the place and the possibilities, but this was her spontaneous reaction.

This is the number one question that I’m asked whenever we travel. Over and over again people ask me those three powerful words: “Is it Safe?”

They say it with doubt as to whether they will trust my response. They say it with much skepticism, and I know as they voice their concern, that the one asking the question will not believe my answer.

I understand the sentiment behind it, we are all products of our upbringing and the media. Unfortunately the way the media portrays life outside the United States is never as safe; it is always ‘not safe’. If one is to believe media reports, whether it be newspapers, online news sources, or television, everything outside the United States is suspect – it is ‘not safe’.

This of course is ridiculous. And yet I know what I felt while sitting in Egypt, reading news from the United States — I was terrified. Evil people kidnapped kids in the United States! Gunmen entered elementary schools and shot innocent children. The United States was a place where the phrase ‘going postal’ became synonymous with violent attacks; a place where random shootings and gang warfare threatened you and your children.

From far away the United States was terrifying. At least, that was my perception. 

Indeed, when we moved from Cairo, Egypt with 26 suitcases and a cat, living temporarily in a small apartment near Capital Hill in Washington D.C, I was beyond afraid. The neighborhood was known as a high crime area. We had left a middle eastern city of 16 million people where I felt safe and at home. Now I had five children, aged one to eleven, and felt I couldn’t go outside for fear of being mugged or hurt.

Robynn in her post “Lessons from Kansas on Living with Storms” makes a profound point: the storm you have is better than the one you don’t. One of the readers of that post gave this illustration: “a few years ago we met a group of Floridians who had just returned from a trip to Northern Iraq. It was a year with a lot of hurricanes in FL. While in Iraq, a dear Iraqi man asked them sincerely, “Florida??–isn’t it dangerous to live there??!!” It is a matter of perspective!”

While I don’t believe we are all called to go into war zones, and I believe we must exercise discernment and wisdom, particularly when we have others who we are responsible for, I do believe that no matter where we are and what we do, when we live under fear, we are using bad currency. When we make decisions based on fear, we go bankrupt.

When fear is our currency, we cannot live effectively. Whether this be around parenting, around work, or around where we are called to live, this is truth. When fear is our currency, we forget that safety is not about where we live, or work, or play.

Safety is about knowing where our security lies, what we’re called to do, and who we’re called to be.

Allison Krauss, the bluegrass-country singer, has a song that speaks to me around safety, reminding me that it’s faith, not fear, that should be my currency. It’s these words that have come to me at times when fear creeps in and threatens to own me, to run my life, and it’s these words I offer to us today:I’d rather be in the palm of your hand, though rich or poor I may be. Faith can see right through the circumstance, see the forest in spite of the trees. Your grace provides for me.” 

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gingerbread muffinsAnd today’s muffins look incredible! Here are Dark Chocolate Gingerbread Muffins for #Muffin Monday. Stacy says this: “Before I left Dubai, I baked this week’s muffin but I was definitely channeling cold weather and the coming of Christmas.  I made gingerbread batter to which I added melted semi-sweet chocolate for an even richer muffin.” Thanks again Stacy for giving us so many creative choices.   

Image credit: raywoo / 123RF Stock Photo