A Slice of Life – Kurdistan, Volume 4

We are enjoying spring in this part of the world. The rain has tapered off and with it the large puddle that forms in my kitchen. I am so happy to see that puddle gone. I love the sun and I love light so with these days of 60 degree weather, a joy comes over me that it unashamedly connected to sunlight and warmth. Spring here is stunning – high above green fields of wheat are the Kewa-Rash (Black Mountains) and beyond that the snow-capped mountains of Kurdistan and our neighboring country. All day long the light changes creating dramatic effects on the ridges of the mountains. It is magnificent.

International Women’s Day…

For the first year since I began blogging I did not write about International Women’s Day. My guilt threatened to overwhelm me until my husband looked at me and said “Why are you feeling guilty? You’ve been too busy meeting with women and planning an important symposium on women’s rights to actually write about it!” It’s true. With a group of Kurdish women and men colleagues, we worked hard to put together an International Symposium focused on women’s rights and gender based violence. We held it yesterday and were so grateful and pleased with the response. Guests included Kurdish women activists talking about politics, governance, and law as well as international speakers from the Kingdom of the Netherlands and the United States. It coincided with National Kurdish Clothes Day so the conference hall was full of color and sparkle. It was amazing.

The symposium planning reminded me of the need for cultural humility and tested my cultural competence at many levels. In other words, it was really humbling and good for me. Plan with, not for, a community, at every level involve people from the community, slow down, listen, clarify, drink tea, drink more tea, drink ten cups of tea and other key principles were critical in the success of the symposium. One of the things I learned during this time is that there is no future tense in the Kurdish language. This made so much sense to me as I wanted to plan far ahead and I learned that culturally, you don’t plan that far ahead. You do things right before the actual event, because who knows what might disrupt your plans. For a region that has been through as much trauma and displacement as this area, it makes complete sense. It’s easy to want to fight against what we don’t understand.

The Kurdish speakers were brave and honest as they spoke about divorce, female genital mutilation, and gender-based violence. I have so much to learn from these women. Among other things, I’ve learned that the rates of FGM and honor killings in this area are high. Many Kurdish women want to change this and we are in conversation at the College of Nursing about what change might look like. I am honored to be a part of these important conversations. While every culture in the world has aspects that are beautiful and can be appreciated, every culture also bears the scars of a broken world and system. When you enter into a place and become a part of it, you learn more about the beautiful and the broken. Yesterday included both.

I’ve posted some pictures to give you a sense of the day and give you a glimpse of the rich colors and beauty of traditional Kurdish clothes.

Dear friends – Yassin and Mohammad, and Rania – my dear friend and Cliff’s colleague
Four of our beautiful students at the College of Nursing
Group Photo of Planning Committee, University Officials, and Speakers

Korek Mountain…

On Friday, our holiday, we were invited to join the staff of a local NGO to go on a trip to Korek Mountain. This mountain is around 2000 meters and you get there by way of a four kilometer cable car called a “teleferic”. This was a new word for me…you?

There were around 30 of us so we took a tour-type of bus and traveled two and a half hours over sometimes smooth, sometimes rough roads through amazing scenery. Rolling hills, rugged mountains and mountain waterfalls were all part of the landscape. We ate lunch in the city of Soran just a half hour from Korek Mountain. We then went on to the base of the mountain and waited in a loud and fun line to catch the cable car up the mountain. It was the longest cable car I’ve ever been on, and I have to admit to some stomach knotting moments as I looked down at the earth so far beneath and eight of us chatting happily in Kurdish and English. “Be careful of the ‘whatifs’ child” says the author Shel Silvlerstein. It was good advice as I stopped myself from imagining the cable breaking, or the electricity going off (a not unlikely case scenario I might add….)!

The highlight of the trip was not the beauty, but the people. We laughed until our stomachs ached. We danced to Kurdish music. We listened to Kurdish Karaoke. We ate Kurdish food at a restaurant that our Kurdish friends would tell you was “not so delicious” but we thought was great. It was an amazing time of getting to know people better and realizing yet again how much we love Kurds and Kurdistan. It is times like this that make leaving all we left behind worthwhile.

Lent Begins….

Our Orthodox Lenten journey began this morning. It is odd and not easy going on this journey without our church community. Holy Resurrection Church in Allston has been there for us each Lent and we travel this spiritual journey as a community. We have none of that here and it takes its toll. Lent is a time of joyful abstinence and preparation. We are grateful for a faith tradition that encourages fasting, special prayers and readings, highlighting the significance of the journey that takes us up to Pascha, our Jerusalem. We are planning to be with our church community for Pascha and I know it will be a celebration like no other after our long absence.

It took us years to find a church community that we would commit to; that we would grow to love and they would love us back. At the same time, we are so grateful to be a part of life in Rania. It is the paradox that anyone who has lived between worlds knows. Indeed, it is the paradox of any Christian. Always longing, never fully a part of life on this earth, always longing for that place where our hearts find their home. C.S. Lewis says something about this in his book The Problem of Pain, and I will end my slice of life with his quote.

“The settled happiness and security which we all desire, God withholds from us by the very nature of the world: but joy, pleasure, and merriment, He has scattered broadcast. We are never safe, but we have plenty of fun, and some ecstasy. It is not hard to see why. The security we crave would teach us to rest our hearts in this world and oppose an obstacle to our return to God: a few moments of happy love, a landscape, a symphony, a merry meeting with out friends, a bathe or a football match, have no such tendency. Our Father refreshes us on the journey with some pleasant inns, but will not encourage us to mistake them for home.”

May you, wherever you are in the world, find your pleasant inns even as you long for your true home.

A View from Above

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Bab ZuweilaTwin minarets

In the city of Cairo twin minarets stand tall, their silhouettes marked against a clear blue sky. They stand distinguishable from a thousand other minarets because of their fame as a city landmark. The minarets frame a gate still standing since the 11th century, the gate of Bab Zuweila. The minaret towers are so high that they were used to look out for enemy troops coming up to attack the city. Now, centuries later, the minarets of Bab Zuweila provide an unparalleled view of the old city of Cairo.

Climbing up the minarets is a journey. Around ancient steps you walk – farther and farther up, dizzy from the spiral and half frightened from the dark staircase. You make it to the first area where you go out and stand looking over the vast city of 18 million people. But you’re compelled to go farther. So on you go. And it gets more rickety and frightening, the centuries-old steps become even narrower and darker. You can see nothing and you are grasping on to the steps in front of you for fear of falling. But you keep going.

You arrive at the second level. And it’s even more magnificent than the first. To your right you see Al Azhar Park, significant for its large and beautiful green space in a city that has so little. In this 360 degree view you see vast numbers of minarets, you hear the call to prayer going off at split-second intervals across the city – a cacophony echoing around you. You see thousands of tiny people, walking about as they go from bazaar to mosque to bus. You see the tent makers bazaar and even from this distance, you can see the beautiful colors.

It’s the view from above. And it is glorious, breath-taking and conversation stopping. But you can go even farther. And once you get to the top, you don’t want to leave – because it took a while for you to get there and you’re so tired. And the stairs going down are still rickety and treacherous, they are still centuries old. But mostly you don’t want to go down because you want to continue to look out over the view, the view above the city, above the chaos. The view from above.

Lent is a time to step back and step up; a time to see the view from above. 

That glorious, breath-taking, conversation stopping view. That view that sees the broken world that Jesus died for, the world that Jesus loves, knowing that each day that we fight this fight is worth it.

That view that remembers the words a Son called out to a Father “Why have you forsaken me?” A view that sees the grand Salvation narrative, taller and grander than a million minarets, a love that calls to us louder than a billion calls to prayer. The view where all ‘this’ will make sense, wrong will be made right, tears will turn to laughter, and sorrow to joy. We are invited into this view from above, a view where our story falls into the shadows for a time, and God’s great, redemptive narrative is remembered around the world. A story of mercy and grace, where good triumphs over evil and wrong is made right.

Whether we live in the shadows of a Hindu temple or near the courtyard of a grand cathedral; in a small village or are one of millions in a large, modern city, we know what it is to see poverty and suffering, crime and inequality, evil and difficult circumstances. We learn to love when it’s hard and others learn to love us when we’re hard. We know failure, we know pain, we know how human and flawed we are. Yet daily we experience the persistence of God’s redemptive process.
And today no matter where we are in the world, we are invited to remember this view from above.
“Finally, as if everything had not been felt enough, Jesus cries out in an agonizing moment in the most powerful words that we will read in the world: ‘My God, My God, Why have you forsaken me?’ And I am utterly convinced that the reason he said those words was so that you and I would never have to say them again.” – Ravi Zacharias

Note: This piece has been adapted from a piece written for A Life Overseas.

Forgiveness Sunday and Housecleaning my Soul

“We do not travel the road of Lent as isolated individuals but as members of a family. Our asceticism and fasting should not separate us from others, but should link us to them with ever-stronger bonds”. [source]

Every two weeks I have house cleaners come into our home. They come in with their high-powered vacuum and buckets. They come in with energy and determination. And then they clean. They clean places that I wouldn’t think of, they polish and they dust and they scrub. When they are finished, the whole apartment sparkles. It smells good and it looks good. Everything comes under their scrutiny and cleaning tools. I love the days that these house cleaners come.


In my faith tradition, Today is “Forgiveness Sunday”. Forgiveness Sunday is set aside every year to remind us of God’s great forgiveness toward us. It also reminds us that because God forgives, we can forgive.

Forgiveness Sunday is the last Sunday before Great Lent begins. The focus is on two things: Adam and Eve’s exile from the Garden of Eden, which really means their exile from direct communion with God, and our need to forgive and be reconciled to others. The two have more in common than we might think at first glance.

The practical application of Forgiveness Sunday is not easy, either physically or spiritually. In a special service we go to each member of our parish and prostrate ourselves before them saying: “Forgive me, a Sinner.” Their response is “God forgives so I forgive. Good Lent.” At the end of the evening you are physically exhausted and spiritually humbled.

It takes a lot to ask for forgiveness.It is a humbling experience to say “Please forgive my for any offense.” It is even more difficult when there are specific things that need to be named. But once done, the sense of relief overwhelms all the other feelings.

Forgiveness Sunday is the beginning of housecleaning the soul, a process that takes place in my life during Lent. During Lent, the dirt of envy is cleaned, the dust of resentment is uncovered and cleared away, the filthiness of hatred and unforgiveness is exposed and wiped out, the refuse of malice is put into the garbage. My soul undergoes a process that is grueling and freeing.

And so the journey of Lent begins.


The Last Battle as Lenten Reading

It’s a grey, rainy Sunday. The bare trees outside accentuate the bleak weather. Slush and ice mark the sidewalk and street as if saying to me “It is, after all, February! What really do you expect?”

It may be bleak outside, but it is warm and contemplative inside. It is these days when I am most grateful for home, most grateful for the warmth of hot tea and homemade bread.

Our Lenten journey begins in a week and along with some other Lenten reading, I will begin to read The Last Battle by C.S. Lewis.

The Last Battle is the final book in the Narnia series and begins with the story of Puzzle, a donkey, who thinks he is not very clever. He is manipulated by Shift, a crafty old ape, into wearing an old, lion’s skin found in a river at the western edge of Narnia. Shift convinces Puzzle that finding the lion’s skin is a sign and that they should proceed as messengers of the great Lion, Aslan.

Word comes to Tirian, King of Narnia, that Aslan has returned, but there are signs that this is not the true Aslan. Accompanied by Jewel, his unicorn and trusted friend (after all, this is Narnia!) Tirian heads off to find out what is going on for himself.

The book is full of powerful story telling and the battle between good and evil, and this is why it is such good Lenten reading.

It is during Lent that I am more aware of this battle within and around me; during Lent that I learn more of what it is to say no to the sovereign self. It is during Lent that I am more aware that truth can be manipulated, and that I can never get enough of that which “almost satisfies.”

So in this journey, where I move further up and further in to the mystery of my faith, I think of these words from The Last Battle:

“Beloved, said the Glorious One, unless thy desire had been for me thou wouldst not have sought so long and so truly. For all find what they truly seek…And since then, O Kings and Ladies, I have been wandering to find him and my happiness is so great that it even weakens me like a wound. And this is the marvel of marvels, that he called me Beloved, me who am but as a dog.”

Further up and further in on the journey, reflecting on the battle between good and evil, and the wonder of being God’s beloved.

Lenten Journey: Waiting for Aslan

“WHAT an extraordinary place!” cried Lucy. “All those stone animals – and people too! It’s – it’s like a museum.”

“Hush,” said Susan, “Aslan’s doing something.”

…..Everywhere the statues were coming to life. The courtyard looked no longer like a museum; it looked more like a zoo. Creatures were running after Aslan and dancing round him till he was almost hidden in the crowd. Instead of all that deadly white the courtyard was now a blaze of colours; glossy chestnut sides of centaurs, indigo horns of unicorns, dazzling plumage of birds, reddy-brown of foxes, dogs and satyrs, yellow stockings and crimson hoods of dwarfs; and the birch-girls in silver, and the beech-girls in fresh, transparent green, and the larch-girls in green so bright that it was almost yellow. And instead of the deadly silence the whole place rang with the sound of happy roarings, brayings, yelpings, barkings, squealings, cooings, neighings, stampings, shouts, hurrahs, songs and laughter.” from The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

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During our summer weekend walks in Rockport we pass by some amazing houses. Each one is different in color, size and style. Each one with character and charm: wrap-around front porches on some, outside spiral staircases to rooftops on others, gilded turrets on still more. They are blue, white, deep orange, and green. They have gardens and window boxes full of flowers, driveways and wide porches.

Just to look at them is a treat for our eyes.

One of the houses we aren’t able to describe. It sits down a hill closer to the ocean. Large trees block the view and it’s clear by the No Trespassing sign that strangers are not welcome. A large plot of land opposite the driveway belongs to the house and in recent years the land was developed. Trees were removed and the land is now sculpted with bushes, plants and flowers all artistically pre-arranged so they fit in with large rocks in the area.

But that is not enough.

A couple of years ago, the owners introduced stone statues of animals to the landscaped area.

First we saw a haughty ostrich at least 10 feet tall, its neck rising above its body.

Next we saw a proud lion on a rock.

Then we saw a lioness.

And her cubs.

Stone monkeys, children, and more lions have been added to the stone menagerie.

They stand, poised to pounce and play. But they can’t, because they aren’t alive. They are merely stone and granite statues fashioned by a talented artist.

These stone animals remind me of the castle of the White Witch, Queen of Narnia, where “Her Imperial Majesty Jadis, Queen of Narnia, Chatelaine of Cair Paravel, Empress of the Lone Islands” turns her enemies into stone and they sit in a large courtyard, seemingly forever trapped under a curse. Moments before they offended the queen, these animals and people were fully alive with a purpose ordained by their creator. Then, through the curse of this queen, they became stone.

They are waiting for Aslan.

I think of how like these stone statues I am at times. Hard. Immoveable. Lifeless. Paralyzed. Stationary. Like I’m waiting for Aslan, waitng for the great lion to breathe life into me so I can live the way I was created to live. 

In Narnia, Aslan is on the move and even stone statues are not beyond his reach. The breath of Aslan touches the statues and moves them from cold, grey stone to living, breathing reality full of color, movement and life. They become who they were created to be – the strength and glory of the Lion in their bearing.

I sit stationary, praying for the breath of the Spirit of God. Just one breath is enough to be fully alive.

Reflection Question: How has the Spirit of God used your Lenten journey to breathe new life into your heart and soul? 

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 Note: This post has been adapted from one published in 2013.

Lenten Journey – Turn the Whole World Upside Down

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Around six years ago, an eye doctor named Tom Little was killed in a massacre of 10 international aid workers in Nuristan province in the country of Afghanistan. The story made international headlines as the largest massacre of aid workers during the entire Afghan conflict. Many who didn’t even know this man paused to take inventory of their lives. That’s what happens when a tragedy occurs. You stop for a moment; you reassess and reevaluate. Often you make changes.

Tom Little had been in Afghanistan for over 33 years. He was from Albany, New York, son of an eye doctor and he loved Afghanistan and the Afghan people. To say that Tom Little lived outside of any box is a serious understatement.  In an interview with a film maker who hoped to highlight the story of Tom Little, the producer said that all the news stories of the massacre focused on the last five minutes of his life. This film maker wanted to find the story behind the 33 years before he was killed.  

I’ve watched the trailer for this film called  The Hard Places five or six times – every time, I cry. The film challenges my comfort, my security, most of all challenges me to live life fully wherever I am called to go.

Now this is a hard call in my current situation. My “government-sponsored” cubicle is often a hard place to be. There are times when I feel underused and unproductive; times when I question whether I’m making a difference.

A grey cubicle is not sexy. It is not a place where the type of headlines that mean something to eternity emerge. It is a place that tests my patience, challenges my creativity, and often defeats my spirit.

But it is currently my reality. It is where God has placed me. And the call to live fully is no less applicable to me as it is to those in far harder places, far more difficult situations. I am weak in this context – and God delights to make the weak strong.

In the trailer, Libby Little, Tom Little’s wife who was by his side throughout their years in Afghanistan, is heard reading a poem by Hannah Hurnard:

O blessed are the patient meek
Who quietly suffer wrong;
How glorious are the foolish weak
By God made greatly strong;
So strong they take the conqueror’s crown,
And turn the whole world upside down.

As I embark on this  year’s Lenten journey, I am challenged to remember that the world is not changed through one momentous event, it is changed through the often boring, simple acts of obedience that I am called to every single day. The world is changed by showing up. Arguably, Tom Little’s life did not affect the Afghan people through his last 5 minutes of a martyr’s death; his life affected the Afghan people in his daily choice to deliver excellent eye care to people in need.

It is in the strength of God as shown through the weakness of men that the world is turned upside down. So it is today that I am called to be obedient to what I know. No more and no less, trusting the outcome to a faithful Creator in doing what is right. Today I am called to show up. 

Reflection Questions: This Lent, what does it mean to be obedient? How can daily obedience turn the world upside down? Where are you called to show up? 

Readers – Passages Through Pakistan is available on Amazon or Barnes & Noble

“I Will Not Let You Go Unless You Bless Me!”

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There are sometimes few words to describe spiritual struggles. The words seem trite and small compared to how real the struggle feels. So we are left wordless and longing, wishing that somehow, someway, the struggle could be over and our faith repackaged, reconstructed into something we understand.

But if we understood it, would it be too small? 

These are my questions these days as I wrestle with God and as I move into the second week of the Lenten Season of the Orthodox Church. The questions have led me to look at Jacob, son of Isaac and grandson of Abraham.

In terms of deceit, Jacob was a master and stole the birthright blessing from under the nose of his twin brother. Poor old Esau is left, becoming the hidden part of a title of a children’s book for the words that are recorded “Jacob I have loved, Esau I have hated.” I won’t even touch that because it’s too disturbing, but it should be noted that Jacob’s life hardly improved after he received that fatherly blessing. Instead, he ran away and ended up having to work hard for a wife, only to be deceived by his future father-in-law into marrying the wrong daughter.  He ended up with two wives and enough domestic disputes to fill a six-season reality show. Parents who want to censor books that their children read may want to begin with the Bible. It doesn’t take long to find deceit, murder, and rape. But it also doesn’t take long to find redemption woven throughout the narrative and God doing what he continues to do so faithfully: Take a mess and by his mercy change it into something remarkable. 

So while Jacob’s life from the beginning is interesting, my thoughts have centered around an event that is well-recorded in Biblical history; a time when Jacob physically wrestled with God. At God’s leading, Jacob left his father-in-law’s home, accompanied by his wives, his children and his flocks. He hears that his brother Esau is coming, and, remembering how he deceived him so many years before, he is rightfully nervous. Jacob ends up alone in the desert and he wrestles with God. Not an emotional wrestling, a physical wrestling. But here is the astounding thing – Jacob was winning. Jacob, a mere mortal is wrestling with God – and Jacob pins him down. “Let me go, for the dawn is breaking.” says God. But Jacob will not let him go.

“I will not let you go, unless you bless me!” These words have to be some of the most arrogant ever quoted in scripture. But God listens; God blesses him, and Jacob’s faith finally becomes his own.

I will not let you go, unless you bless me. These are bold words, yet Jacob said them.During this season, these are the words I want to say to God. I want the courage to hold on tight and say “I will not let you go, unless you bless me!”  

As for Jacob? In a few years he would face some of the worst trauma in his traumatic life when he was deceived into believing his beloved son Joseph was dead. Even so, his words as he told of his encounter with the living God are unforgettable: “I have seen God face to face, yet my life has been spared.”

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REMEMBER! The book giveaway of Meditations is still open until the Monday after Western Easter! Leave a comment on that post and you will be entered into the drawing. Two copies will be given away, so your chances automatically double.

*Story is from the book of Genesis 32:24-32