The Danger of Forgetting

The Danger of Forgetting

A long ago friend is killed miles away from his family.


Notre Dame Cathedral burns, an icon in flames.


A dear Kurdish friend’s sister dies. I sit at the funeral, silent and alone with my thoughts, a sea of women and children are quietly talking all around me. The mom’s tears are a window into her grief.


My Kurdish colleagues are told there is no money for their salary this month, leaving many of them at a loss as to how to provide for their families.


My own family members struggle with projects that cannot continue if they are not funded. Important projects in places that matter to God.


It is the 6th week of Lent and as I sit here on a Tuesday afternoon I feel the heavy weight of life. In every one of these circumstances I am helpless. There is nothing I can do. I numbly respond to emails and scroll through pictures of Notre Dame, conscious only of the fact that I am powerless in making any of these things better.

I am in danger of forgetting – forgetting that appearance is rarely reality.

All these thoughts come under a cloudy sky and I long for the Kurdish sun to appear again. Just three days ago the signs were so clear. We had just completed a successful international conference for the college of nursing. The world and the air were sunny and light. It’s easy to have faith when things are going well.

Now, I am in danger of forgetting – forgetting that appearance is rarely reality. Forgetting that part of faith is walking through air that is thick and heavy with grief and pain. Forgetting that the air will not always be heavy and thick, laughter and joy will come again. They always do.

In the Volume 6 of the Narnia Series, The Silver Chair, Jill is tasked with rescuing Prince Rilian and returning him to his father. It’s a seemingly impossible task, but the lion Aslan gives her a series of four signs to watch for. He makes her memorize the signs and repeat them, because he knows that the journey will be difficult and the signs might not always be clear. Today I think about this book and realize that I too need to remember the signs. The air is thick down here in Narnia and I’m struggling to remember the signs.

But, first, remember, remember, remember the signs. Say them to yourself when you wake in the morning and when you lie down at night, and when you wake in the middle of the night. And whatever strange things may happen to you, let nothing turn your mind from following the signs. And secondly, I give you a warning. Here on the mountain I have spoken to you clearly: I will not often do so down in Narnia. Here on the mountain, the air is clear and your mind is clear; as you drop down into Narnia, the air will thicken. Take great care that it does not confuse your mind. And the signs which you have learned here will not look at all as you expect them to look, when you meet them there. That is why it is so important to know them by heart and pay no attention to appearances. Remember the signs and believe the signs. Nothing else matters.


CS Lewis in The Silver Chair from the Chronicles of Narnia Series

Picture Credit: Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

#Onlythegood – Volume One

 

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#Onlythegood – On Tuesday, I felt particularly low about our world, but at dusk I took a walk on the river with our two youngest children. The river, the view, the adult kids – all of it converged to make me sigh and say “This is Good.”

Readers, in light of the overabundance of tragic news from around the world, I am beginning a new project. Every Thursday I will be posting links to things that have happened in our world that are good; activities and people who bring humor, light, and justice to our world. I would love for you to participate.

Each week I hope to bring your attention to one picture and five different articles, essays, or events that speak to that which is good.

If you see something during the week that stood out to you, that made you smile and say “this is good!” then please send it on! I will feature it and attribute the content to you.

#Onlythegood 

New Citizens Hold Their Heads High, 102 Floors Above New York:

On Tuesday, high above the city on the 102nd floor of the One World Trade Center, 30 immigrants were sworn in as citizens of the United States. A judge who is the son of a refugee from Nazi Germany presided over the ceremony, the first ever to be held at this observatory.

“How fortunate we are to have you here, contributing your hopes, your aspirations, your skills, your heritages, your music, your culture, your literature, your food to the tapestry of this nation…The American story is your story.” Judge Katzmann, chief judge for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.

PSG’s Neymar becomes Ambassador for Handicap International

Football (Soccer for Americans) star, Neymar, who made a huge move from Barcelona to Paris Saint-Germain earlier this month, is using his fame to promote Handicap International’s work giving dignity and empowering those who live with disabilities. Neymar will be acting as ambassador for Handicap International.

Neymar, wearing a T-shirt with “repair lives” written on the front, appeared in Switzerland on Tuesday, standing on top of a 39-foot wooden sculpture entitled “Broken Chair,” which the organisation said was “erected 20 years ago by Handicap International in front of the United Nations headquarters in Geneva to call for a ban on antipersonnel landmines.”

“I would like to begin by thanking you all for what you do for the least visible in the world, so they become more visible. I have to say that I am very pleased to be here and to be the new ambassador.”

“I Love Pakistan’s People More than it’s Mountains”

It’s not surprise how much I love my adopted country, so I read this article about a British mountaineer with a smile. Vanessa O’Brien is a 52-year-old American-British mountaineer who recently scaled K-2, one of the highest mountains in the Himalayan range and a mountain that is more difficult to climb than Mount Everest. Only 400 people have made the climb, and Vanessa is the 20th woman to successfully reach the summit. She carried both Pakistani and America flags to the top. On Tuesday, she said that the warmth and love she received in Pakistan was matchless.

O’Brien told media in a news conference at a local hotel here that she had found Pakistani people loving and caring. “I love Pakistan, its people and will like to travel it again,”

Blogger’s note: If you would like to see some beautiful pictures of some of the mountains in Pakistan, take a look here.

Malala Yousafzai, Shot by the Taliban, Is Going to Oxford

I still remember writing the story in 2012 about Malala called 14-Year-Old Courage. As most of you know, Malala was only 14 when she was shot in the head and neck while leaving her school in the Swat Valley of Pakistan. And today the news comes that she is going to Oxford! It is an amazing accomplishment by an amazing young woman.

“Amid the rush of joy, disappointment or dashed expectations for the thousands of students across Britain receiving their A-level results, Ms. Yousafzai’s news carried special weight on social media. The author Emma Kennedy wrote simply, ‘Take that, Taliban.'” 

5 Tips To Reduce Stress Using Humor, Your Best Weapon

We laugh in our family. A Lot. Nothing is beyond humor, there is little that is so sacred or sad that we can’t see a lighter side. In fact, I believe that laughter is a holy gift and I often wonder what it would be like to sit with Jesus and enjoy laughter – not at someone else’s expense, but just to laugh at the whimsy of life.

“The signs of stress are all too familiar: the quickening heartbeat, tense muscles and explosive reaction to something small. Avoiding situations that test your patience may be impossible, but it is possible to reduce stress accompanying these unpleasant events. The secret, say the experts, lies in one crucial art: finding the humor….Humor and laughter are not the same, explains Dr. Steven Sultanoff, Ph.D, clinical psychologist and professor at the University of Berkeley. ‘Humor is something that triggers laughter. Laughter is a physical response.’ Although research has found that laughter can lessen the effects of depression and reduce stress levels, focusing on humor is the best starting point. Looking for the humor in a moment, says Sultanoff, changes how we think, feel and process difficult situations.”

Lastly, I want end with a beautiful poem that speaks to our great need for healing.

A Prayer for a Torn Nation

by Kaitlin Curtice

Somewhere between the “us” and “them”

you’re holding together the least of these.

Somewhere completely outside of all of this,

you are ushering in a kingdom not of this world,

one that rights all wrongs and rules in love.

***

Unite in full grace all that is divided.

Mend in full love all that is torn.

Resurrect us, we pray.


What is your #Onlythe good thing to share? I would love to hear it through the comments!

The Days We Never Laugh

Days we never laugh

I am holding my grandson as my daughter enters the room. I watch as he shrieks and lets out a belly laugh. He loved his mama even before he has words to express it. And there’s something else – he already knows how to laugh. 

A few years ago I was working on a project called “People Profiles” for my job at a busy healthcare organization. The goal of the project was to create informative one-page fact sheets representing some of the ethnically diverse groups in the greater Boston area. These would then be used with healthcare providers to help them better understand how to serve patients who have differing views of health and illness.

It was an interesting and challenging project, mostly because for each people profile I had the privilege of working with someone from that specific country. 

China, Cambodia, Vietnam, Haiti, Puerto Rico and more were my world for a few weeks and the people who I worked with were amazing. The personal and informational things they shared were invaluable, not only to the project but to me. I learned about immigration patterns and warring groups; gender roles and views of the elders in  community; herbs and teas; tiger balm and hot/cold theories; dual causality and fate. The writers worked to educate – initially me, but ultimately future readers of the profiles –  and help us think beyond the surface so that we could learn to give excellent care.

One of the people I worked with was a lovely Sudanese woman named Shahira. With beautiful prose she helped to write the “people profile” on the Sudan. She helped to give personality to a place I knew only from limited interactions with people in Cairo, where Sudanese, as a marginalized group of refugees, have struggled. They live without a country and at the lowest levels of society.

Shahira began the people profile with a proverb that I will never forget.

“Our wasted days are the days we never laugh.”

I was struck by this for a couple of reasons. One was my appreciation for laughter and humor to get me through the difficult times, what Madeleine L’engle calls the Holy Gift of Laughter”. The other was the contrast between what I knew and read on the fact sheet, and the proverb. It made no sense. How can people laugh when they have faced war, rape, starvation, and other untold horrors? What can possibly be the foundation for the resilience of their human spirit through such times, allowing them to see this proverb as representative of their spirit? It makes my difficult times look like a hot day at Disney world when the lines are long. Uncomfortable and not pleasant, but when compared, embarrassing.

These are the times when I am utterly confident that we are created in the image of God. There is no other explanation for the resilience that many refugees show in the worst of circumstances.

To be able to face tragedy and continue to laugh is a gift that our world needs. It is something we can learn from those who have faced far worse situations than many of us, yet continue to laugh and find joy and meaning in life. 

I think about this proverb today. It is grey outside and heavy rain splatters the pavement. People hurry to get to dry spaces and buses and subways are more crowded. Our wasted days are the days we never laugh – in my mind the rhythm of the phrase goes with the sound of raindrops. And in the middle of the grey and the rain, I remember my grandson’s laughter. 

Lenten Journey: Palm Fronds and Hosannas


Palm fronds await us as we enter into our parish. It is Palm Sunday – that joyous day before Holy Week, where all of life makes sense as Jesus rides into Jerusalem, greeted by masses of people proclaiming him king. Unlike those crowds who gathered that day so long ago, we know what is coming. We know the grief and sadness, the immense pain and suffering that filled the following week. 

I think of this as I stand listening to our choir chanting. Two things blot the joy of this day: a bomb has exploded at a church in Alexandria Egypt, killing people as they too worshiped on Palm Sunday. The second is that my mother-in-law is dying. She is surrounded by family and excellent hospice care, but that does not take away the fact that soon she will no longer be on this earth. 

How did Jesus feel as he rode into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, when he already knew the tension between joy and sorrow that would take place the week following? How did he feel knowing the very people who waved palm branches would shout “Crucify him!” This is when I am more interested in the humanity of Christ than the divinity. 

How did he feel knowing the grief and suffering his mother would experience as a sword pierced her heart? 

In the midst of joy, did he feel grief for what was ahead?  And then the reverse – on the cross when he was in anguish, did he also experience the joy of knowing that finally, death would be conquered? 

It will take a lifetime for me to understand the grief/ joy paradox and there is no week where it is more profound then Holy Week. 

I’ve written before about my friend Kate, and her experience during a church bombing in Islamabad, Pakistan. But I share it again, because I can’t think of a more profound illustration of the grief/joy paradox. So on this Palm Sunday, as I prepare to go into Holy Week, I give you this story. 

A couple of years after the 9/11 attacks on the twin towers, there was a terrorist attack on the International Church in Islamabad, Pakistan. The attack felt personal. It was a church we had attended for a year and a half while living in Islamabad; a church my oldest brother had pastored; and it was a church where many of our friends worshiped. There were several of our friends present in the church that day, one was Robynn’s father. Another was a friend who was there with her husband and small children. In the attack she shielded her small child from flying shrapnel and was severely injured in the process.

In a poignant letter describing the event, she and her husband speak of the indescribable joy she felt in saving her son.

I wanted to save my boy. I knew I was hurt badly, but when I looked down and saw that Iain was unhurt, in the midst of the pain and shock of the blast I felt an indescribable joy, knowing that I had taken the violence intended for him.

In the face of terrible violence and possible death, my friend felt indescribable joy at saving her boy.

This is the absurdity and irrationality of my Christian faith; an absurdity and irrationality that I will hold to for all my days. In the midst of suffering, in the midst of sorrow, there can exist indescribable joy.

A bomb in Egypt, a family member’s imminent death, palm fronds and hosannas, death and a resurrection – in the midst of grief and sorrow, indescribable joy. 

This I cling to as I enter into Holy Week, covered with an umbrella of grace. 

Photo credits: Cliff Gardner 

The Sorrow/Joy Continuum

 

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In an online conversation a couple of months ago, one of the women who is active at A Life Overseas said this: “Sorrow and joy can coexist under the umbrella of grace.”*

Moms and dads feel it. One kid rejoices with a a new job, while the other kid loses their livelihood. One daughter has a miscarriage, another rejoices in a birth. One child is brilliant, the other struggles with every learning task.

Medical professionals feel it – one person is diagnosed with cancer while another walks out of the hospital with a newborn baby. One person has a child that was born prematurely and will have lifelong needs while another gives birth to an Olympic athlete.

Refugees and internally displaced people feel it. The grief of loss walks beside the relief and joy of survival. They continue to survive, they create a new normal, but it is not without the deep wounds of loss and pain. As a young woman in Iraq said to me a year ago: “There are only two choices – to stop living or to continue living. We choose to continue living.”

Humans in general feel it. Sorrow walking beside Joy; Joy keeping in step with sorrow. They are somehow deeply connected.

During the Advent season, the sorrow-joy continuum is profoundly present. Joy comes early morning when most of my world is still asleep. It is then that I sit by our Christmas tree and for a short time, all of life makes sense. Sorrow comes soon after. Our city is cold and the homeless huddle in doorways bundled in dull, grey blankets. Joy comes as I greet the fruit man from Albania; ever-generous with his gifts of bananas and apples. Sorrow comes as I skim the news – it is all too much to bear. Lights still sparkle in a market where 12 died from a lorry crashing through, seemingly intent on destruction. Sorrow comes as I read yet another story of Aleppo. “How long, O Lord? How Long?” The Psalmist’s words from long ago could not be more pertinent.

But Joy doesn’t stay away. It’s around the next corner as two colleagues and I laugh about an incident at work. Joy continues as I click on a photo my daughter sends me of my grandson

Our world may be weary of tragedy; it may be broken and hurting, but we are dishonest if we do not acknowledge the moments of absolute joy. 

It seems no matter how difficult life is, we can find our moments of joy. Like sprinkles on cookies, or glitter on a bag that seems to get on everything it touches, Joy can’t be contained.

A couple of years after the 9/11 attacks on the twin towers, there was a terrorist attack on the International Church in Islamabad, Pakistan. The attack felt personal. It was a church we had attended for a year and a half while living in Islamabad; a church my oldest brother had pastored; and it was a church where many of our friends worshiped. There were several of our friends present in the church that day, one was Robynn’s father. Another was a friend who was there with her husband and small children. In the attack she shielded her small child from flying shrapnel and was severely injured in the process.

In a poignant letter describing the event, she and her husband speak of the indescribable joy she felt in saving her son.

I wanted to save my boy.  I knew I was hurt badly, but when I looked down and saw that Iain was unhurt, in the midst of the pain and shock of the blast I felt an indescribable joy, knowing that I had taken the violence intended for him.

In the face of terrible violence and possible death, my friend felt indescribable joy at saving her boy.

This is the absurdity and irrationality of my Christian faith; an absurdity and irrationality that I will continue to hold on to for all my days. In the midst of suffering, in the midst of sorrow, there can exist indescribable joy.

The longer you live, the more you realize that life can change in a second. You can be shopping at a market with no worry of safety and the next minute be in the midst of a tragedy. You can be happily sipping a cocktail at a holiday party and receive a phone call that changes your life. We can fight this, we can scream that it is unfair, we can grow bitter, or we can live the continuum under an umbrella of grace.

It really is our choice. 

*Colleen Mitchell

 

 

The Magic of a Picnic

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When our children were small, and our bank accounts smaller, we would look at each other, laugh, and say “At least we can picnic!”

And picnic we did. On lawns and in front yards, at rivers and on beaches, in play grounds and even indoors – there was always time for a picnic.

Picnics have captured a corner of my heart. Just the mention of them makes me smile. I love the packing and planning. I love deciding on a spot. I love picnics.

In my childhood, picnics took place on the banks of dusty canals on the outskirts of Ratodero, Larkana and Shikarpur. We would find spots beside the desert brush of Sindh, lay out a quilt and unpack food fit for palaces and kingdoms.

I have memories of egg salad spread between two slices of my mom’s home made bread, home canned pickles adding just the right crunch. There was often chocolate cake for dessert — a depression-era recipe called Wacky cake that takes no eggs, no butter, and no milk.  It was a never fail recipe in a place where some ingredients were difficult to find, the tastes even more difficult to replicate.

Sometimes, while traveling, my dad would buy curry and chapatis at a local truck stop. We would sit, grease dripping down our chins, our eyes watering and noses sniffling from the pungent spices. With tummies filled we would pile into the car and head off on our journey.

As an adult, picnics have taken place at the base of the Great Pyramid and on huge wooden sail boats called feluccas; in back yards and on play grounds. Wherever we have lived we have found our favorite spot for picnics.

In recent years, we have picnicked in a place called Millbrook Meadow; a beautiful park with trees stretching up to the sky, providing shade and comfort. This meadow is a hidden gem in Rockport. While others crowd into the tiny beach across the street, we prefer the meadow where there is ample space to spread out. Out come sandwiches or fried chicken, potato salad or chips, and green or red grapes that pop in our mouths.

At times, our picnics have become more sophisticated with wine, special cheeses, olives, and fruit bites. Despite the sophistication, they retain the essential ingredients of relaxation and joy.

Picnics are multicultural and ageless. I have seen families that are Pakistani, Iraqi, Egyptian, Indian, Mexican, Turkish and so many more gather in all corners of the globe to picnic. Wherever they take place, picnics bring with them a certain magic and child-like fun.

In this life journey, picnics are a chance to forget the worries of daily life and take back lost moments.

So, next time life gets complicated – go on a picnic. 

I Love Where I Live-Part I

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Sometimes I remember other places where I used to live and I sigh with nostalgia. When you’ve been everywhere it’s hard to settle somewhere. I regularly battle postal code envy.

This morning as I was getting ready for the day I smiled. I have a good life. There’s so much about living here that I love. It struck me that I should make a note about those things when days are sunny. What would it look like to think about the things I love about where I live? It seems like such a tangible way to live here and now.

I was talking these things over with Lowell. He remembered something he had recently read in Sacred Fire by Ronald Rolheiser. Rolheiser lists ten indicators of spiritual maturity. I was fascinated when Lowell said that the first one on the list is Live in gratitude and thank your Creator by enjoying your life. He goes on to say:

As well, our gratitude is meant to carry something else: enjoyment of the gift that is given to us. The highest compliment we can give a gift giver is to enjoy the gift thoroughly. We owe it to our Creator to appreciate things, to be as happy as we can be. Life is meant to be more than a test, and so we might add this to our daily prayer: give us today our daily bread, and help us to enjoy it without guilt.

I’ve invited others into the joy of discovering what we love about the places we live. I wrote several friends who grew up somewhere but now live somewhere else. I asked them to tell me the top six reasons they love where they live. The responses were so full of joy (and so plentiful…this has become a mini-series)! My friends took pleasure in thinking about their corner of the globe—they seemed to delight to tell me what they enjoy most about where they’ve been placed.

We live here on purpose. There are other places we could live, or even have lived—but this is the place we are now. And we owe it to our Creator to live in gratitude, to be as happy as we can be.

Robynn Bliss

I grew up in Pakistan.
I live now in Manhattan, Kansas.

  1. I love Radinas –our local coffee shop! It brings me joy that the morning baristas there know my drink of choice: single extra hot latte with half the regular vanilla syrup!
  2. I love the sense of community that thrives in this small city. I appreciate that people are friendly. They smile and nod their heads at me when I pass.
  3. Kansas has these wide-open skies and expansive horizons—I love that! It speaks to me of eternity and glory.
  4. I’m so grateful for USD383 (our school district) and the opportunities my kids have here. I’ve watched with pride as they’ve each tried their hands at pottery, school plays, sports.
  5. I love the Flint hills and the Konza prairie—unusual elements of creation right outside our back door!
  6. It fascinates me that we get to experience all four seasons when they come to visit –which is often—sometimes all in one week. There’s a reason most Kansans are fixated on the weather. They get a lot of it!

Karis N

I grew up in India, England and America.
I now live in England.

  1. I love that I live at home in my room and that it’s somewhere where I know I don’t have to leave in 6 months time.
    2. I love that I have an easy commute to work and that my colleagues are awesome.
    3. I love that I have a really solid core group of friends here and that doing life with them is a privilege and a joy.
    4. I love the fact that it doesn’t snow here.
    5. I love that public transport runs effectively here.
    6. I have 2 churches I go to here and both are family and that is a rare and special thing to have.

The list could go on!
I love the post script that Karis added: I call 2015 the year I learned to be content. Because I spent January-March itching to get back to America. Then I spent March to June being content where I was but still wanting to go back to America. And then I spent June-October wondering if I even should go back to America. And then I spent October-December telling people that it’s final and I’m back in England indefinitely.

Jill B

I grew up in Southern New Mexico and El Paso, Texas.
I live in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Six things I love about Albuquerque:

  1. Amazing sunsets
  2. Green chile
  3. 360 days of sunshine per year
  4. Seeing all the stars from our roof
  5. A mix of people: Hispanic, Native American, and more
  6. Wide open spaces with mountains
  7. And green chile—yes it’s that good to mention twice!
  8. And wait…coconut margaritas but need Robynn here to fully enjoy!!

 

Leaf R
I grew up in Holland, Australia, and India.
I live in Northern Thailand.

1. The sky is spectacular every day. It can be filled with every type of cloud, or golden light and in the ‘Green Season’ when it rains and rains, it is filled with rainbows.
2. My spiritual community at the moment is full of people who appreciate and love beauty. Everyone works together to bring more and more beauty to our little Christ-Centred Meditation Space. Often we will be sitting together in a circle and someone will get up and move something slightly or light a candle so that the space is more pleasing to be in.
3. The little town where I live, Pai, is a hub of musicians and poets. Artistic freedom abounds and there is a lot of sweetness and support as well.
4. I love going to the local market on Wednesdays when all of the Hill Tribe people come down from their villages and do a big shop for supplies. Everywhere I look is a potential postcard picture.
5. The place where I live is safe. My son can ride his bike all over and I can imagine a future where my daughter will be treated respectfully. I am so thankful for this.
6. There are still enough challenges to facilitate spiritual growth. I know that God is still working in me and that this chapter of life is a gift and that somehow (in ways I do not fully understand), these are the conditions that are needed to make me more like Christ and to help me understand His love more…if I will allow Him to do His thing.

What do you love about where you live?