Walking in the Dark

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The light doesn’t go on until you walk half way down the stairs.

I started down the stairwell in my brother’s Istanbul apartment. They live on the fourth floor Turkish style of a large apartment building, fifth floor American style.

It was dark in the stairwell and I stepped cautiously into unfamiliar territory. Just as it was about to overwhelm me, the light came on. I smiled and rounded the next corner, walking with a bit more confidence. Sure enough – the light went on just as I was beginning to doubt it would. It was then I remembered the ‘system’. The lights are on a system and won’t go on until they sense movement.

Everyone who knows the system knows that you have to begin to walk in the dark! If you stop in frustration and fear the lights won’t go on. 

You have to keep moving.

I had to step out in the dark in order to walk in the light.

It’s a picture of a life of faith. What my sister-in-law, Carol, calls “visual theology” — seeing God and faith illustrated in the world around me.

All we have is the truth we know, if I walk in this truth than I grow more confident, more truth – more light is revealed.

In this season of empty nesting my husband and I are looking at some possible changes in our future. We don’t know exactly what this will look like, we are in the dark. We step forward hesitantly and in faith. And our prayer is that just as the light in the stairwell of an apartment building in Istanbul goes on as we move forward, that a light will go on to light our way.

But we start by walking in the dark. 

Picture – Walkway to the Süleymaniye Mosque in Istanbul, Turkey

Remember to share your favorite idiom on this post to be entered into a giveaway of Between Worlds. Also a reminder – if you buy Between Worlds in November all proceeds go toward refugees! 

When You Feel Small

I took a breath as I looked out from a high roof-top terrace over the city of Istanbul.

“This city is so massive, and I am so small” I thought to myself.

My brother had taken me to one of his favorite city cafés. It is across from the Süleymaniye Mosque, an imperial mosque from the Ottoman Empire and the largest mosque in the city of Istanbul.

We walked from the spice bazaar heading up hill along ancient stone steps, alley ways, and roads. Passing through a market beyond the spice bazaar with its plethora of everything from pottery to plastic, we reached the mosque just before the midday call to prayer echoed across the city.

We moved on through the beautiful courtyard of the mosque and out through archways arriving at the terrace café to relax and talk. That’s when I sat, looking out in awe and amazement. Levels on levels of buildings, some set high on hills, others low by the sea, all part of this city of Istanbul. Dots of people moving looked like tiny ants and cars were like toy cars that you buy cheap at a toy store.

“I am one of those ants” was my inner reflection and I felt small in the best sort of way. 

There is something healthy about feeling small, about recognizing your place and opinion in this world is finite, your influence limited. The apartment buildings housing millions of people were all around me and the Bosphorus separated the continents of Europe and Asia, connected only through solid bridges and ferry rides.

There are times when my opinion of myself is far too high, other times when I sigh in despair at my lowliness – but this was not that. 

This was a healthy, God-given reminder that I am small. And in that admission I sighed with relief. The world-wide problems are not mine to solve, the fates of nations and empires not mine to decide. Rather, as one who is small I lean hard on the One who gathers the nations, the One who will be glorified among the nations and yet still knows the number of hairs on my head.

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A reminder that if you buy Between Worldsfor yourself or a friend during November all proceeds will go to refugees in Turkey. The refugee situation gets more difficult by the day and cold weather is coming. With that cold weather comes an increase in need for resources like blankets, heaters, tents and more. Along with that are the myriad of health needs so I’m thrilled to be able to send any royalties to a cause like this. It seems appropriate given the topic of the book and where my heart lies.

Between Worlds: Essays on Culture and Belonging can be purchased here: 

My Love of Bazaars

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I have a low tolerance for malls in the United States. I get mall headaches and feet; I feel quickly overwhelmed, tire easily of the glitz and the poster children for anorexia dressed in pretty much nothing with gaunt cheeks and blemish free skin. I find that discontent goes hand in hand with the American mall experience – show me a content woman, put her in a mall for one hour, and I guarantee discontent. It’s just the way it works.

But take me to a bazaar in the east – whether it be Pakistan, Turkey, or Egypt and all my sights and senses are engaged in an amazing process of hunting and gathering. The smells of pungent spices mingle with perfumes; the vibrant colors of fabric and pottery fill my mind with possibility. And I rarely get tired.

On our trip to Istanbul last year, my husband and I were talking about crowded bazaars as we walked to the Spice Bazaar in the Eminönü quarter of Istanbul. The Spice Bazaar (also known as the Egyptian Bazaar) is one of the largest bazaars in the city. And while the Grand Bazaar is known for its glitter, the Spice Bazaar is more appealing to me. This bazaar has been in the city since the 1600’s and is a covered space holding hundreds of shops. It was and continues to be the center for spice trade in the area. Huge containers of pungent spices, large quantities of boxed and fresh Turkish delight, pottery stores, cushion covers and carpets of bright colors and textures,Turkish towels known world over for their softness — all of these and more are in abundance. I know this world and am fully comfortable in it. Bazaars like this were part of my childhood experience and I am at ease even without language skills. What would make many of my friends tense with frustration and worry is home to me.

I mingle comfortably with shop keepers, interacting with confidence, knowing when to bargain and when to compliment, knowing when a price is good and when it’s far too high. I know it’s ultimately about a relationship and a business deal, that it’s a game with a clear set of rules to the skilled – rules that seem ambiguous to the uninitiated.

My adrenaline flows and I am fully engaged in a game I know and love well. I know that you don’t get into this game unless you’re serious. I know what will be insulting, and what will be fun. I know when it’s getting old and when to stop. And I almost always win at this game.

I know bargaining. I know spices. I know fabric. I know pottery. I know carpets.

I don’t know Ralph Lauren. I am unfamiliar with Lacoste or Yves St. Laurent. I have never met Coach or Gucci. Calvin Klein is a stranger. Thin, headless mannequins do nothing for me. but take me to the crowded shops overflowing with color, fabric, texture, and smell in the Spice Bazaar in Istanbul and my heart is satisfied.

 

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Out to Lunch With My Passport

The Facebook post was simple. It was on my brother Stan’s page tagged with all his siblings:

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Stan Brown
May 9
Ed, Stan, Tom and Dan are currently abroad. Marilyn? — with Ed Brown and 3 others.
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Marilyn Gardner I hate all of you and now I’m going to go bite my pillow and give in to my state of bright, green tck envy.

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Many of you readers know what I’m talking about. If you’ve been raised overseas and you find out all your siblings are overseas and you are not, you feel life is unfair. It’s not right. You too belong in Kazakhstan and Pakistan, Kenya and Turkey. You too should be enjoying the jet lag, the airline travel, the missed connections, the food, the chaos, the crowds, the miscommunication, the laughter, the food, the relationships, the cultural missteps, the time difference – oh and did I mention the food? 

What do you do when you are assaulted with this childish jealousy? I wrote a post some time ago where I go into detail on this ugly, green envy but this time I felt like I had grown exponentially.

Because this time it was funny. I could laugh. Despite the seemingly childish response by me on Facebook, I really did not begrudge them these trips. This, my friends, is a miracle. And I began to do a bit of self reflection, self analysis if you will. I realized that while I still long (and pray) for another opportunity to live overseas, I no longer go into a depression when others who I love get to do this.

Maybe I’ve grown up. Maybe I realize no one can take away my past – it’s a unique stamp on my life and colors my now with memories and understanding that can be used in our multicultural communities. Maybe I’m at a place of peace internally that cannot be dictated by where I live….I’m not sure of the reasons. But this I do know – I could laugh about it and banter over social media.

But I had to one-up them – perhaps not through travel, but certainly through wit and words. They are, after all, my siblings.

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So at the suggestion of my husband, I decided to go to lunch with my passport. Because my passport doesn’t just say where I’m from, it tells me where I’ve been. It has those precious stamps from Egypt and Pakistan, Istanbul and Mexico, St. Maarten and London. The passport is the identity card of the third culture kid; the stamp of belonging that tells the world we’re a bit from everywhere and a bit from nowhere. The legal document that tells a story of a life lived between worlds.

What better lunch companion then my passport? What better place to eat than a Pakistani restaurant where chapatis and curry take me miles away?

So next time you feel those waves of envy come over you and you want a humorous response – take your passport out to lunch. 

Culture – Weekly Photo Challenge

Google the word ‘culture’ and over 8 million results will pop up.

As Communicating Across Boundaries readers you know well the concept and the meaning of ‘culture’. As Edward Hall says “Culture is man’s medium”. It’s the way we make decisions, do government, create infrastructure, educational systems, court and marry, raise children. It encompasses all of life. So though I have never opted to take part in the weekly photo challenge hosted by WordPress, this week I had to. Choosing one picture to represent ‘Culture’ does not do the topic justice – but nor would a hundred pictures.

Today I’m posting three pictures that represent ‘culture’ to me. The first two are pictures of spices in spice shops in Cairo and Istanbul. The way the East sells spices is in stark contrast to the way the west sells them: the east in large burlap bags, the pungent aroma wafting through the air causing you to breathe in and sometimes sneeze; the west –  in pristine bottles with efficient labels to sit happily on your shelves. And the way Pakistanis store spices is also a contrast – so that is why I have posted the third picture – My Masala Dabba.

What I wish I could do is have all of you link up pictures that represent culture to you, instead I’ll ask you to use word-pictures. What picture would you post and why?

Culture

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Guest Posting at A Life Overseas – “I Don’t Do Goodbye”

I am honored to be posting over at A Life Overseas today. This blog is a tremendous resource for those of you living and working overseas, so if you haven’t yet found it, you’re in for a treat. To be asked to guest-post for this blog felt like I was given a gift with a huge bow on top!

From the blog: The blog collective ‘A Life Overseas’ provides that place of online connection for Christ-following missionaries and humanitarian aid workers living in foreign countries– from the past, present, or future.  As a team of writers who have logged years of overseas experience ourselves, we want to create an online space where expats of many nations come together to interact, encourage, and find a community that ‘gets it’.

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I’ve included an excerpt from the post here: 

One week ago we said goodbye to my younger brother and his wife beside a ferry boat in Istanbul. In the grand scheme of goodbyes, this was surely not the hardest, but it still stung.

I don't do goodbye! I love you

Making it more difficult – another brother and his wife arrived from Kazakhstan and Cyprus and we had an unexpected family reunion. We collectively decided Turkey is an excellent place for a family reunion.

We arrived on a grey, chilly Saturday afternoon and drank sahlep on the banks of the Bosphorous before catching a ferry to the Asian side of Istanbul. Our first meal held the magic of a crowded shopping area, a soccer game between warring teams viewed on a television perched high above the crowd, and kebabs that filled the mouth with tastes of the Middle East. Every day was filled with belonging and connection. And then it was over. We had to say goodbye.

Read more over at A Life Overseas – ‘I Don’t Do Goodbye’

Make sure you take a look through that blog as you won’t be disappointed with writers like Rachel Pieh Jones and Tara Livesay – two people who live what they write and more.

Colors of Istanbul

This post was written on my recent trip to Turkey. In a world of bleak – sometimes all we need is color! Enjoy! 

Put me in a mall in America and I grow discontent and paralyzed. Put me in the Spice Bazaar in Istanbul and I come alive.

I am drinking up the colors like I am dying of thirst. Vibrant reds, oranges, blues, and purples. All shades of the color wheel are present. It is an artist’s delight. The colors engage all my senses, bring my eyes, and mind into a world of possibility.

As much as I want to wander and just take it in, I know in a short time my world will no longer have these colors.

I will be longing for their life-giving vibrancy. So I begin using my crude version of a camera called an iPhone 4 and snap away. And in all the imperfection that is my photography – I still capture the colors; the colors of Istanbul.

Sometimes all you need to move forward is to know that life holds color. 

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In the Midst of Tragedy – a Call to Pray

Less than 24 hours ago, we left from Istanbul’s International Airport for a long flight back to Boston by way of Munich.

We had come empty and we left full. We had come discouraged, and we left encouraged. We had come tired, and we left energized.

A city of mosques, vibrant colors, masses of people, human need, and history filled our days.

We returned to a city in shock, trying to make sense of a violent act causing grief and tragedy. The famous Boston Marathon hijacked by evil, a scene resembling a war zone in the middle of this safe city. We received the news by text as we waited on the tarmac, unsure of why we were not allowed to pull up to our gate. This minor inconvenience quickly gave way to shock and sadness. Bombs at a marathon? It all seemed unreal.

Every year since we’ve moved back to the area we have gone to the Marathon. It’s a ‘thing’. We wouldn’t miss it. The only reason we missed it this year was because of our trip.

Our neighbors had been two blocks from the scene and many of the injured were taken to the hospital where my husband works. I hear of more just around the corner, just up the way, others “supposed” to be there but something detained them…it’s all so close.

Days before I had the privilege of meeting just a couple of the millions of Syrian refugees who have come into Istanbul. With a shock I realized that this is the grief and loss that has assaulted them for months on months. Everyone of them has lost someone or more from their family. Everyone of them has lost most all they had, come with as much as they could carry.

As for yesterday, the news got worse throughout the evening — untold deaths in Iraq from a series of bombs that went off in cities across the country; an attack in Somalia claimed by al Shabab.

This post is not a pain and tragedy comparison. Pain is pain and death is death. When it hits closer – we feel the pain more acutely, we know those involved, tragedy has a personal note. And we realize this is what many live with day upon day. There is no longer any safety in their cities or towns. All of life revolves around being in the right place at the right time and escaping death or injury.

The collective grief makes me want to scream, anything to release the sense of helpless fury in the midst of senseless, inane violence. The images make me feel guilt as I sit in comfort looking at gifts I have brought home from shopping in a place of color and life.

And then I remember the call to pray.

Five times a day a Call to Prayer rings out across the Muslim world. I am fully aware of the differences in belief systems between Christianity and Islam – yet five times a day for much of my life I have been reminded to lift my heart in prayer. And the five times stretches to many times in between until I realize I am slowly learning that I can’t make it through this life without prayer; that the exhortation to ‘pray without ceasing’ is life-giving. That in the midst of senseless acts of violence, in the midst of tragedy, I am called to pray. Called to pray to a God who hears and loves, a God who is present in tragedy and accepts our “why’s”, a God who knows no national boundaries or citizenship, a God who took on our human pain and suffering when he “willingly endured the cross”.

In the middle of my rambling words comes the voice of wisdom and grace through Carol who I said goodbye to only a short day ago at the shore of the Bosphorous Sea before we boarded a ferry. Carol – who has heard the news of Boston and reaches across the ocean to comfort and encourage.

“The call to prayer is ringing out now.”

“‘Come Lord Jesus’ is the cry of my heart! We live in a pained confused world! There is chaos that mars the landscape of God’s design. Yes we do experience His mercy and grace but the ache, the groan of pain is heard all around.”*

Church of the Holy Saviour at ChoraAnd so I pray the only words I know how: Lord have mercy. Hear our prayer. Free us from our pain.

*from Carol Brown

Stories from a Refugee Clinic

I am sitting in a sun-filled room in Uskudar – an area of Istanbul on the Asian side of the city. I heard the Call to Prayer a half hour ago telling me that it is late afternoon and we will soon be getting ready for the evening activities.

I am tired in the best way possible.

The day began in chaos. It was the first night since arriving that I did not sleep well. Carol (my sister-in-law) and I were heading to a refugee clinic on the European side of the city and we knew we would be late. We ran to catch a ferry from Uskudar to Kabatas, and slid into seats by the window, breathless.

The morning was beautiful, partly cloudy but sun spilling through at odd moments, reflecting off a blue-gray Bosphorous Sea.

“This is a beautiful city” – the same words came to mind that I had said to myself and aloud all week. Beautiful. Breathtaking really, with Topkapi Palace and Hagia Sophia on a hill, the Blue Mosque back a bit creating the picture perfect sky-line that is Istanbul. And the ferry rides were perfect places to slow down and experience the view and the city.

Arriving at the dock, we headed to an underground cable car, taking it the rest of the way to Taksim. As we set off in search of the clinic, Carol remembered that Google maps doesn’t do construction. This is fact.

But no matter – we were determined. And determined won, as it usually does.

We found the building and after walking down a dark hallway, trekked 4 flights up a set of stairs. Istanbul is not a city for the short of breath.

The room we entered was full of language. Turkish, Farsi, English, Arabic – it all melded into indefinable verbs and nouns, participles and dangling. It was a gift to my ears.

One of the side rooms was designated as a nurses room and we did a quick survey of medicines and equipment. It was quick because there was none (apart from Sarah Goodwin’s 2 year expired antibiotics from Michigan). No blood pressure cuff, no stethoscope, one thermometer, and medicine that fit into one 8 by 11 plastic container.

Our first patient was an Iraqi refugee. With rusty and wanting Arabic I asked her what was wrong. I barely made out the words headache and chest pain when the interpreter came to my rescue. And the story came out. Bit by bit by bit. The head ache – but really the heartache; the chest pain – but really the stress and a heart broken. The words gave a picture of a family exiled. Refugees. Forging a new home in a new place.

What is the remedy for a broken heart? A life cracked by circumstance?

We had so little to offer. A small packet of Brufen (Ibuprophen), and encouragement to drink a lot of water, an offer to come back if the headaches worsened, if the headaches were accompanied by blurred vision or dizziness.

She was followed by more people, children and moms, more symptoms and more stories. And these were only the tip of a Titanic size iceberg of stories.

For years I have said that stories matter; stories give us a bigger picture, a narrative into which we offer our hearts. And these stories – they matter. They matter to the clinician who attempts to distinguish, with no equipment, symptoms that need physical medicine, those that need emotional, those that need both. They matter to the interpreter who skillfully takes the words and decodes them for the listener.

Most of all they matter to God; a God who needs no interpreter and no story-teller, a God who was present in the room with us, caring for all who were there. A God who gives eyes to see and ears to hear the cry of the heart.

The sun has almost set and the Call to Prayer was now over two hours ago. As I close my computer and type the last words, I whisper a prayer for the people I met, and those I never will; for stories I heard, and for the millions I will never hear.

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Wrapping Up the Week – 4.6.13

I write this as I prepare to leave tonight (Friday) from Logan Airport’s Terminal E – the International Terminal – on a Swiss flight to Istanbul by way of Zurich. My heart is full and anxious to be in a place where the Call to Prayer is my alarm clock. This week I will be writing in Istanbul but not blogging a lot – wanting to be fully present  in the midst of bazaars, the Call to Prayer, Turkish tile, and most of all – best friends and relatives (in this case they are one and the same!)

I have a wonderful series for Readers on Re-Entry from Joy Salmon, a fellow TCK/MK from Pakistan, as well as a couple of other fun things scheduled ahead so be sure to tune in to those pieces.

And I look forward to sharing Istanbul with you through writing and pictures!

Thank you for reading, for responding, for your wise comments. 

On to the week wrap-up.

On Thirsty India: I’ve heard about water wars in the future, but haven’t paid much attention. This article called Indian States Fight Over River Usage talks about a fight already going on. This quote made me sit down:

“India will need 1.5 trillion cubic meters (396 trillion gallons) of water per year by 2030, about double its existing supply and more than a fifth of the projected global demand, according to a 2010 report from the International Finance Corp. and the consulting firm McKinsey & Co. Yet as the population swells, India’s water supply per person is dropping.”

On AIDS in Africa: The words in the article boldly proclaim a message – The story you’ve heard on AIDS in Africa is wrong! This article pulls out facts, statistics, and narrative that you’ve probably not heard. It’s premise is that the narrative is wrong because it’s the church that is central to helping to control the AIDS epidemic in Africa. I read it. I loved it. This is the Church in action – I’m proud to be a part of the worldwide Church as I read this.

“There is no ambiguity in the data: Religion has been central to curbing the spread of HIV in local communities across sub-Saharan Africa. Measurable changes and improvements were detectable before PEPFAR and Gates dollars started rolling in. This leaves the puzzle of why this story has remained untold for so long while atypical stories of religious leaders pushing abstinence and burning condoms continue to circulate widely.”

And the last paragraph:

“In the standard narrative, ignorant or aimless Africans passively await guidance and assistance from plucky Westerners who ride in to help—often to intense applause. (Think of Nick Kristof’s regular columns praising earnest American volunteers.) Like Wainaina, we read such stories cautiously and suspiciously. Beyond being mildly offensive, these narratives simply don’t fit the Africa we know—a place, like any other, in which people converse about and respond to AIDS, famine, war, and plain-old daily hardships in contested and complex ways. On the world’s most religious continent, people use religious ideas, language, and organizations to address problems, big and small. This is the source of religion’s positive contribution to the recent improvements in Africa’s AIDS situation. Such stories need to be told.”

The article in its entirety is called Good News on AIDS in Africa. I urge you to read it and be encouraged!

On Pakistan: While we in America evangelize through Facebook status updates and symbols, Christians in Pakistan use a predawn procession through the streets on Easter. This is an incredible picture of living out faith in a place increasingly hostile to the Christian minority. It’s been a pleasure to connect online with the writer of this blog – Titus Presler. We are finding we have a great deal in common. May you be encouraged as you read this amazing article called “Predawn Easter Procession of 2500 Christians in Peshawar – ‘This is our Evangelism’

“So there you have it: a Christian community in an adverse environment that is nevertheless robust, ecumenically involved, and witnessing to the resurrection of Jesus on Easter morning.”~ Titus Presler

On the Book I’m Traveling With: Finding Calcutta by Mary Poplin. This book is affecting my heart. It’s based on this quote and so I leave you with this:

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Have a great weekend and thank you! 

The Day Between

I know today is Good Friday but what happens between tonight and Easter Sunday?

What happens to us on the days between tragedy and healing? What transpires when the crisis is over, but the end is not yet revealed? The days after the car accident, but before the broken leg has healed and the insurance has been paid. The days after diagnosis of cancer, but before treatment. The days after a funeral, but before we’ve adjusted to the loss.

These are the days between, when instead of darkness or light there is a lingering nervousness and knowledge that something is not quite settled, not quite right. The days between are often the most difficult and the most lonely, and they are undoubtedly the most common.So it is between Good Friday and Easter Sunday, where we are suspended between death and life. “It is Finished” has been spoken, “He is Risen” is yet to come. In the west the day is often filled with shopping for marshmallow chicks, chocolate bunnies, and fake grass to line plastic easter baskets.  In her book, The Irrational SeasonMadeleine L’Engle gives me a different view of the day between.

“In the Western Church, we jump directly from Good Friday to Easter Day, with Saturday a vague blank in between. But in the Eastern Church, Great and Holy Saturday is one of the most important days of the year.”

She goes on to say:

Where was Jesus on that extraordinary day between the darkness of Good Friday and the brilliance of Easter Sunday? He was down in hell. And what was he doing there? He was harrowing hell, or to put it in simpler words, he was ministering to the damned.

Christian graphic art has often tended to make my affirmation of Jesus Christ as Lord almost impossible, for far too often he is depicted as a tubercular goy, effeminate and self-pitying. The first “religious” picture I saw which excited me and stretched and enlarged my faith was a small black and white photograph of the fresco over the altar of the Church of the Chora in Istanbul; a few years ago it was my privilege to visit Istanbul and see this fresco for myself.

The Church of the Chora is now a museum, but when we were there on a chill morning with the smell of the first snow in the air, it was empty. As we stepped over the threshold we came face to face with a slightly more than life-size mosaic of the head of Christ, looking at us with a gaze of indescribable power. It was a fierce face, nothing weak about it, and I knew that if this man had turned such a look on me and told me to take up my bed and walk, I would not have dared not to obey. And whatever he told me to do, I would have been able to do.

The mosaic was preparation for the fresco over the altar. I stood there, trembling with joy, as I looked at this magnificent painting of the harrowing of hell. In the center is the figure of Jesus striding through hell, a figure of immense virility and power. With one strong hand he is grasping Adam, with the other, Eve, and wresting them out of the power of hell. The gates to hell, which he has trampled down and destroyed forever, are in cross-form, the same cross on which he died. . .”

And as I meditate on this reading, I can’t help but realize that what happens in the days between, between Good Friday & Easter Sunday, is crucial to the final outcome.

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Hope through Jewelry

“Very disturbing and certainly deeply effects the “beauty” of the city as just experienced.  You can know about something but not really know.  It is very convicting.  The wounds …… the pain……. so much work of healing to be done” these were the words of my sister-in-law, Carol Brown, after viewing this special last night on PBS

She sent the link to me immediately after my initial publishing of this post and it is powerful.  She and my brother Dan have just returned from speaking at a conference in Istanbul.

Istanbul, with a sky-line that makes one think they have died and gone to Heaven and a grand bazaar where legends are made, is currently home to my daughter Stefanie.  Taking a gap year, she first traveled to Milan, Italy for 3 months, moved on to Sicily for a month and arrived in Istanbul a week after her 19th birthday.

Stef is loving döner kebap, bargaining, and exploring this amazing city. She has also learned more about a troubling issue: that of human trafficking.  Working with a group that assists women who have escaped from forced prostitution and gendercide, she inspects jewelry they have made, ensuring it meets quality control standards in order to be sold abroad.  Through the art of jewelry-making women develop relationships, skills, and the comfort of community and safety as they gather around a table.  As they craft beautiful and unique pieces the slow healing process takes place and my hope would be that they are reminded that they aren’t cheap costume jewelry to be used and thrown away, but rather the real deal – gold and diamonds.

My daughter’s unexpected involvement in this work has convicted me that this is an area that I know far too little about. As a woman, who believes  deeply in the value of people made in the image of God, I need to know more. Stef’s work has challenged me to learn more to be able to do more.

*The Victims • The majority of trafficking victims are between 18 and 24 years of age • An estimated 1.2 million children are trafficked each year • 95% of victims experienced physical or sexual violence during trafficking (based on data from selected European countries) • 43% of victims are used for forced commercial sexual exploitation, of whom 98 per cent are women and girls • 32% of victims are used for forced economic exploitation, of whom 56 per cent are women and girls

But it’s the rare person burdened by statistics alone.  It is usually the compelling narratives that bring us along and force us from a place of complacency to a place of action – and action can mean anything from buying a piece of jewelry to support women, to getting heavily involved through organizations who are working specifically in the area of human trafficking. A fellow blogger and third culture kid wrote a post in December that I am linking here. It is just one of the 1.2 million and counting stories but at least it is one. Called “My First Hooker” (don’t be put off by the title!) it tells the story of the bloggers trip to Mali and meeting with a Dutch mission worker who weekly visits a brothel to counsel prostitutes. Take a look and watch the accompanying video.

I am thankful that my awareness of human trafficking as more than an NPR news story came in an unexpected way –  through the eyes of a 19 year-old and her gap-year.

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Caution: Falling Ice

Many of the streets in Cambridge and Boston have “Caution: Falling Ice” signs, warning the walker that at any minute a giant icicle or block of snow could come down on top of you and change your life forever…or at least for a short time.  I appreciate these signs. They give a caution without putting fear in my brain and heart.  The warning is delivered in yellow, a bright , distinct color in the midst of grey winter, and the font is friendly. As I pass by I always look up – just to make sure that the warning, like  Chicken Little‘s words “The sky is falling, The sky is falling”, will not come to pass.

So much do I love these signs that I would like life to have one.  I think back on global and local events of the past three weeks that directly affected my life: an uprising in Egypt; paralyzing blizzards creating cries of “Snowmageddon” in Chicago and grumpier than usual compatriots on the T in Boston; a birthday; attempting to communicate with a school about one of my kids; keeping up with communication with one daughter in Cairo and one daughter in Istanbul; falling behind in work and home from ‘all of the above’ and I wish I had seen a “Caution: Falling ice sign for any or all of these. (Actually, not true – I did have a ‘caution:your birthday’s coming’ warning)

But life doesn’t have caution signs.  It’s this walk of faith knowing implicitly that anything could happen to change life as I know it. Added to that is the recognition that if I live in fear, paralysis sets in and renders me useless and captive to what Shel Silverstein calls the dreadful ‘what-ifs!’

  • Whatif extreme chaos erupts in Cairo and the last plane leaves trapping Annie forever in an apartment in Tahrir Square with her rescue kitties?
  • Whatif my 15 year-old son never does his homework again, drops out of school at 15 to play guitar, and lives at home forever?
  • Whatif….and the list could go on forever depending on the vividness of my imagination on any given day.

Realistically, had there been a warning sign 2 weeks ago there is no way I could have coped – the assault of ice would have been too overwhelming and it is wishful-thinking to believe that I would have fared any better with advance notice.   I probably would have lost more sleep and obsessively watched news stations that didn’t yet have any stories. Whether I like it or not, there will never be caution signs on the sidewalks of my life, regardless of how much I may want them.  Faith is continuing to walk along the path where ice could fall, knowing that I have a far greater protector than the yellow sign and a far greater comforter than the whatifs.

Last night, while I lay thinking here,
some Whatifs crawled inside my ear
and pranced and partied all night long
and sang their same old Whatif song:
Whatif I’m dumb in school?
Whatif they’ve closed the swimming pool?
Whatif I get beat up?
Whatif there’s poison in my cup?
Whatif I start to cry?
Whatif I get sick and die?
Whatif I flunk that test?
Whatif green hair grows on my chest?
Whatif nobody likes me?
Whatif a bolt of lightning strikes me?
Whatif I don’t grow talle?
Whatif my head starts getting smaller?
Whatif the fish won’t bite?
Whatif the wind tears up my kite?
Whatif they start a war?
Whatif my parents get divorced?
Whatif the bus is late?
Whatif my teeth don’t grow in straight?
Whatif I tear my pants?
Whatif I never learn to dance?
Everything seems well, and then
the nighttime Whatifs strike again!

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