Hanging Our Hearts Around the Globe

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Through all the travel and all the moves, I’ve hung my heart a lot of places around the globe. But none is so special as Pakistan.

“Exile is strangely compelling to think about but terrible to experience. It is the unhealable rift forced between a human being and a native place, between the self and its true home: its essential sadness can never be surmounted. And while it is true that literature and history contain heroic, romantic, glorious, even triumphant episodes in an exile’s life, these are no more than efforts meant to overcome the crippling sorrow of estrangement. The achievements of exile are permanently undermined by the loss of something left behind for ever.”

Over the weekend we visited Pakistani friends in San Diego who are very dear to us. Rehan was my husband’s best friend during college. The friendship continued strong through marriage, kids, and now adult kids. We don’t see them often enough, but when we do it is non stop talking, eating the best Pakistani food in the world, and laughing hard. The conversation moves from one topic to the next without a gap. We interrupt each other, go off topic, and we’re loud.

It is always delightful, and this time was even more so.

Beyond the blue skies, Palm trees, and ocean was a house alive with warmth and hospitality. I didn’t want to leave. My heart was so full! Full of friendship and Pakistan; memories and curry. But too soon the visit was over and I’m now sitting back in Boston, in a house that feels cold, with a heart that aches with the leaving.

When you’ve lived across the globe, you end up sharing your heart with a lot of people. Each one of them holds a small piece that makes up the whole, rather like a mosaic with bits of colored tile that an artist fits together to create a beautiful piece.

But when you’ve left your heart in so many places, it’s also hard to come home, especially when home feels cold and lonely. Edward Said talks about exile and the “unhealable rift” between humans and their native places. My native place was Pakistan, a place far from the one marked as legal on my passport. So when I experience these times of connection, no matter how short, that unhealable rift is filled with the salve of understanding.

That’s what I feel right now as I sit on my couch. A lonely cat is cuddled as close as possible to me, willing me to never leave again. I know how she feels. I hate leaving those I love. I hate the loneliness I feel when I walk in to a cold house in a place where I have to work so hard to belong. My heart is a dead weight, my sighs fill up the silence.

Frederick Buechner says this about loss “What’s lost is nothing to what’s found, and all the death that ever was, set next to life, would scarcely fill a cup.” I read it, but right now I’m not sure I believe it.

The thing with feelings is that they can change in an instant. So I sit with a heavy heart filled with memories of those I’ve loved around the globe. Some gone, some still present but far away. These feelings will pass, my heart will feel lighter, my memory bank fuller.

But right now, I sit, holding on to archived memories to give me strength.


* Edward Said ‘Reflections on Exile’

In Memory:Ralph Edward Brown, June 7,1926 – October 24,2017


On June 7th, in 1926, a baby boy was born to a family in the city of Pittsfield, Massachusetts. He was fourth in the family, joining three sisters, a mom and a dad. Two years later his youngest sister was born and the family was complete. He was named Ralph Edward Brown and he is our father and grandfather. 

His mother–the original Annie Hall–struggled to nurse him. He seemed unable to take either breast milk or regular formula and almost died. It was the milk man, aware of the concern of the family, who suggested to Annie that she try sweetened condensed milk. Having nothing to lose, she diluted this in a bottle and to everyone’s astonishment and as though ordained by God, he survived and thrived. All his life he claimed that he owed his love for sweet things to his early diet.

At four years old, tragedy struck the family with the death of his father during a hospitalization for a broken leg. Annie, left with five children and a broken heart, raised the family with grit and grace during an era when life was not kind to a widow and her children. He recalled a community of friends and relatives, many from Morningside Baptist Church in Pittsfield, who walked alongside the family during this time.

Ralph grew into a young man with a personality and character as large as his smile. He entered the Air Force branch of the military on graduation from high school, but instead of flying planes and braving enemy combatants, by his own admission he spent his entire military experience in bureaucratic paperwork, filling out tedious forms in triplicate. Two years later thanks to the GI bill he was able to attend Gordon College, at the time a Bible college in the Fenway area of Boston, and it was there that he met his life-long love, Pauline. Pauline evidently stole his heart after a couple of “Joyces” and perhaps a “Ruthanne” – he has never been totally clear on this. They were married in 1951, sixty six years ago this year, amidst mountain laurel and a host of relatives and friends.

They welcomed their first-born on March 16th, 1953 – a boy, Edward Ralph and a year and a half later their lives dramatically changed. 1954 had them taking a 3-week journey by ship to a country that would become their home for the next 35 years, the country of Pakistan. Ralph became as comfortable sitting cross-legged on the floor in a Marwari village and eating onion curry as he was preaching from the pulpit at Morningside Baptist, followed by a pot-luck church supper. Over the next few years, they also added Stanley, Thomas, Marilyn and Daniel, followed by seventeen grandchildren and fifteen great-grandchildren — so far.  

In 91 years of life there are many stories. Some are known by your children, while others remain untold. If we wrote all our stories and memories, this memorial service would be tediously long instead of a loving tribute. But there are three things that our dad and grandpa has held to in his life. His love of God, his love of family and his love for fun. From his legendary ability to swish a basketball through the hoop from the midway point on the court to his absolute consistency in an alcohol-free lifestyle; from discussing ordination of women to discussing infant baptism; from his first granddaughter Melanie to his last grandson, Jonathan, he has remained a steady, Godly example and force in a world that often shifts with the wind.  

In his years since moving to Rochester, he has settled in here, made many friends, and treasured and valued many friendships that he found here. The whole family is so thankful to the people at Ridgeland community church, for giving them a church home, and for Browncroft Community church for giving them a second church home. 

During the nine months of struggle with the illness to which he finally succumbed, Ralph continued to treasure the friends, family, and all of the fellow believers who together have made a home for Mom and Dad here in Rochester.  

While his last months were a struggle, he got to see his youngest grandson graduate from college, his granddaughter get married, and to see two great grandchildren that he hadn’t yet met. 

Every night, his good night began with words of thanksgiving. And, while his last words were ’Tom, I don’t think I can make it’ (meaning to the breakfast table), we know that in those last steps and last breaths of his life, he was carried to eternity in the arms of his Lord. He lived out the words of one of his favorite hymns:


In Christ alone my hope is found;

He is my light, my strength, my song;

This cornerstone, this solid ground,

Firm through the fiercest drought and storm.

What heights of love, what depths of peace,

When fears are stilled, when strivings cease!

My comforter, my all in all–

Here in the love of Christ I stand.

Masala Dhaba Memories


Sights, sounds, and smells can transport us to places we love in mere seconds.  I hear the Call to Prayer and suddenly I am in Pakistan, walking the dusty streets of Shikarpur. I smell curry and shut my eyes – I could swear I am at the Marhaba in Murree. But I’m not, I’m in Central Square, the fragrant smells of the Indian restaurant wafting across the street luring me back to my childhood and begging me to enter. 

The imagination is a wonderful, terrible thing. 

In the novel Anything Considered Peter Mayle takes his character back in time through his sense of smell:

Memories often return through the nose. As he inhaled the odor of sanctity, a blend of ancient dust, mildewed prayer books, and crumbling stone, Bennett was taken back instantly and vividly to his school days.”

Last night I refilled my masala dhaba, My masala dhaba is a spice box that my husband gave me seven years ago. It was one of the loveliest Christmas presents that I have ever received. Yesterday, as I took spices out of their boxes and bags and put them into my masala dhaba, I was like the character in Mayle’s book: vividly transported back to my childhood.  

I wrote the piece below after I had received the gift and I offer it today – a tribute to spice, color, and memories. 


For years I have kept my Pakistani spices in a large Tupperware bowl with a red lid. The kind that you use to bring the gargantuan pasta salad (that no one will eat) to a potluck dinner. The lid is sticky with the years that the bowl has held spices and (sometimes) dust. Christmas 2010 I received a proper spice box as a gift. Not a western spice rack, but a genuine masala dhaba (spice box) of stainless steel.

Yesterday, while making a chicken curry, I transferred the spices from the Tupperware to the masala dhaba. It was like someone had told me I had won the lottery. I can’t stop looking at it.

It is shiny and beautiful, full of the colors of Pakistan – yellow/orange turmeric, red pepper, black pepper, red/orange masala spice, light brown coriander, darker brown garam masala, and to add a Middle Eastern flare – green/brown zahtar.

The spices sit like contented children in a circle, satisfied in their round stainless steel bowls. A small spice spoon pokes out of the bright orange-yellow turmeric in the center. The lid is see-through so the colors are visible even as the spices keep fresh. It is magnificent.

These are the things I love about where I was raised. The simplicity of colorful spices, the feel of a dupatta over my shoulders as I wear a colorful, silk shalwar kameez; the smell of curry cooking, and anticipation of hot naan and samosas to come; the glitter of bright-colored bangles in a shop at the local bazaar. 

I love being able to duplicate these small things even as I look outside and hear the sounds of my current reality. Sounds that make me feel like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz as she realizes she is not in Kansas anymore. 


“This is My Fate” – A Lesson in Cultural Humility

As soon as the angry words came out of my mouth, I regretted them. I was speaking to Rehmet, the woman who helped me care for my kids and my home.

She was a Punjabi woman, uneducated, illiterate, with a smile that stretched across a beautiful, weathered face and a personality as big as her smile.

We were living in Islamabad, Pakistan and Rehmet had come into my life by way of her husband who had done some handiwork for us around the house. She had five children and lived in a slum on the outskirts of the city. She was tireless in her energy and her talking. At one point I despaired to my mom that I couldn’t understand her. “She speaks so quickly!” I wailed. “My Urdu can’t keep up”. My mom began to laugh – “Don’t worry” she said. “She’s actually speaking Punjabi”.

Fate - Homes in a Christian neighborhood in Islamabad, Pakistan. [1500x1000] - Imgur

(photo credit)

We had slowly developed a relationship that went far beyond employee/employer. I considered her my friend. We would sit down with tea, communicating with my limited Urdu and her fluent Punjabi. We would mate socks together, cook, scrub vegetables, and rearrange furniture. She loved my kids, and I thought I loved her.

But there we were. A Pakistani woman and an American woman side by side, me letting my tongue loose. She had ruined some clothes by bleaching them and I was angry. After all, I self-righteously reasoned, if this had happened at a laundry facility in the United States I would voice disapproval over the mistake and demand my money back.

But, I was not in the United States.

Looking back on the event, I cringe in embarrassment. I don’t even remember what the clothes looked like – but I will never forget the sadness and resignation on Rehmet’s face. She looked as though she had been kissed by a Judas, betrayed by one she thought she knew.

I began to apologize. My speech, so articulate while angry, suddenly lost any semblance of cohesion. I was fumbling over my words, over my grammar, most of all over my ugly heart.

She looked at me with tired, brown eyes, her gaze steady and unyielding. Then without pause, she shrugged and said, “It doesn’t matter. This is my fate.”

I went cold. I would rather have heard anything but this. I would rather she yelled, screamed, got sarcastic, quit the job… anything would have been better.

I, the person who talked long and wrote hard about wanting to empower people, had taken advantage of what I knew to be a cultural value – a servant is subservient to the employer. In a culture where she was a minority as a woman and as a Christian she would never have other opportunities, this was her fate. Even if she wanted to walk out on the job, she couldn’t have. Rehmet did not have choices and I had used that against her. I had taken advantage of education, relative wealth, and influence in my ridiculous reaction to a simple mistake.

And I had done this, subconsciously knowing that it would pack a mighty punch. That is what made it so painfully wrong. My white-skinned entitlement and privilege made me cringe. Who was I? Why had I reacted this way

It was important to confess – to Rehmet, but also to God. For I had acted in a way that hurt another, had wounded knowing she had no recourse.

Rehmet and I were able to repair the relationship, largely because of her generosity of spirit and sheer joy in life. In her bucket of life experience, this was small change and she would not remain low for long. But the story has stayed with me, for it reminds me of how important it is to have cultural humility.

For cultural humility demands a process of self-evaluation and critique; a constant check of attempting to understand the view of another before we react and recognizing our own tendency toward cultural superiority. Cultural humility gives up a role as expert, instead seeing ourselves as students of our host culture.

It’s a hard subject that demands honesty but what do you do when you have caused offense? When you have wounded in a place where you are a guest? When you have exhibited cultural superiority instead of cultural humility?

Note: This article was first published in A Life Overseas

My Ramadan Baby

I remember the day like it was yesterday. The Islamabad sun, hot and bright, burned down on my mom and I as we walked to the hospital with my first-born – Annie – in a stroller.

It was May of 1987 and it was Ramadan, only a couple of days before the huge Eid celebration that would mark the end of this long month of fasting for Muslims around the world. We had been living and working in Islamabad since January and I was 9 months pregnant with our second child.

After a false start a couple of days earlier, my mom and I headed out to my  regularly scheduled prenatal appointment.  After examining me, my doctor said “Sometimes we need to push the horse and cart!” Which was code for “I’m going to give you something to speed up this delivery.” I was more than willing to oblige.

It was a text book induction and just after midnight on May 25th I gave birth to a gorgeous, blue-eyed, fuzzy-headed baby boy. I was smitten.

I wrote about my Ramadan baby 6 years ago, when I was a new blogger. As I reread the piece I wrote, I realized it communicates the story exactly as I remember it, so I have reposted it below in honor of my Ramadan “baby’s” 30th birthday!

Date: May 25, 1987

Location: Islamabad, Pakistan

Place: Ali Medical Center

24 years ago today at 10 minutes past midnight I gave birth to my second child. It was toward the end of Ramadan and this showed significantly in the absence of staff in the hospital. Earlier in the evening as I labored, my husband and I began to worry aloud that the doctor, busy breaking the fast at her home, would not make it and we would be left on our own. We needed her assurance in seeing to the safety and health of a pregnant woman in transition (me) and a baby that wanted to enter life. My mom, well versed in cultural norms in Pakistan, assured us that the doctor would arrive on time. But as we waited and wondered, we were deeply grateful for the calm presence of my mother.

As the hospital staff ate their fill of Ramadan specialties before dawn came (and with it the arduous fast that would not break until 7 or 8 at night) two babies made their way into the world.  The last azaan, calling the faithful to prayer, was heard earlier through the brick walls of the labor and delivery room, ensuring that even those inside would know it was time to break the fast. At that point all hospital staff disappeared, oblivious to the labor pains of two women, as they rushed to ease their hunger pains.

One of those babies was ours: Joel Rehan Braddock Gardner, born with a head of blond, fuzzy hair and deep blue eyes. I took one look and fell in love with 6 lbs and 12 oz of baby. It was magic. The second baby was also a boy – a little Pathan boy, as dark-haired as Joel was blonde, born to a family who lived in Peshawar. They had made their way to Islamabad for the delivery, ensuring that their first child would be born at a good hospital.

It was a text-book delivery and after 6 hours of laboring and a few pushes, Joel took his first breath and let out a yowl. I don’t even know if yowl is a word but it describes what was a mixture of a yodel and a howl. He was a perfect, 10 fingered, 10 toed, baby boy. Dr. Azima Quereshi was the doctor presiding over the delivery. After observing me labor without drugs and breastfeed immediately after birth, she looked at my mom with tear-filled eyes and clutched her arm saying “I’ve read about deliveries like this, but I’ve never seen one!”

The hospital staff enjoyed their own show that night as they sent staff in by two’s to see “the white lady who had her husband in with her during the delivery,” something that was unheard of at Ali Medical Center and most hospitals in Pakistan. “Who wants the men in there?” was the incredulous question voiced by Pakistani friends and acquaintances.

The Pathan family showered the hospital staff and doctor with gifts of fruit, Pakistani sweets of gulab jamun, jalebis, barfi, and savories of samosas and pakoras. This ensured a favored place with staff as low on the ladder as cleaning people and as high as surgeons. 

We were not so favored. A gift of imported Cadbury Chocolates delivered in a fake gold bowl for Dr. Quereshi seemed appropriate and we went on our merry way, taking Joel back home to the F-8 residential area of Islamabad to meet his older sister Annie and settle into a bassinet.

It was only later that we realized our faux pas in not buying treats for the entire hospital. We had failed to publicly recognize the role the rest of the staff had played in helping us deliver a healthy baby boy which, from a cultural perspective, was a huge thing to acknowledge!

And so Joel came into the world and today he turns 24. His blonde hair has turned into light brown, he still has deep blue eyes – and his yowl? That has turned into an infectious laugh, ability to argue anyone into the ground and a great personality.

Happy Birthday Joel – We are so blessed by your life.

Passages Through Pakistan – An Excerpt

passages-cover

The train rounds a bend.
The rest of the cars appear
one by one,
all tied to one another
far into the distance
It comes as a surprise
to be tied to things so far back
Nazım Hikmet,
Human Landscapes from My Country

We moved from town to town during my childhood, but I was unfazed. My constants were my boarding school, based in a solid stone building in Murree, and my parents, who, though flesh and blood, seemed equally solid and immoveable. Pakistan was home. She adopted me, a foreigner, and took me in. I belonged. I belonged in the family and in the community into which I was born. I belonged in the country where I took my first steps. Legal documents might say otherwise, but they were unimportant to the reality of my experience.

I learned early on of the beauty and hospitality of Pakistan. My eyes captured landscapes that the best photographers in the world could not capture, and the music and colors are etched on my mind. I was welcomed into homes and churches, played in courtyards and on canal banks.

In my childhood, the Pakistan I knew was a place of color and life: bright oranges, reds, yellows, and greens of spices and fabrics. I knew the ready invitations to come for tea that brought smiles to my face and delight to my heart. I knew the best food in the world – mouthwatering and piping hot pakoras; kebabs purchased in the middle of the bazaar in the afternoon; spicy, red-orange, charred chicken tikka with naan and fresh lemon; the cold tang of lemon squash; and chicken masala’s thick, onion-filled sauce that made my nose run through an entire meal. The tastes and spices lingered long after the meal was over. I knew Pakistan as a place of food, music, colors, and laughter.

This was my home, the setting of my earliest memories, my first steps, my first kiss, my first love. I literally cut my first teeth in this land. Pakistan was a place of life and faith. I was surrounded by Pakistanis who loved me and put up with the immaturity of my childhood. This was where my physical  and faith journey began. Would I ever love another place so much? I didn’t think so.

Later, I would come to know the complexity and contradiction that defined this homeland that had adopted me, but in early years I knew only the good. I would later discover more of her history. I would learn of a Pakistan birthed in violence and tragedy, a land that continues to face crisis after crisis – some at the hands of other governments, and some of its own making. I would learn of the difficulty of a country that struggled to find her identity apart from the larger Indian subcontinent. I would see the struggles in my friends around marriage and family and learn of the massive disparities between the wealthy and the poor. Later, I would learn that in addition to the beauty of friendship and hospitality there was also the horror of violent fundamentalism. I would be introduced to and angered by the one-dimensional Pakistan of Western perception and media. I would understand that alongside stunning landscapes of high mountains and clear lakes was the dirt and raw sewage of cities. I would later face disease, high infant morbidity and mortality, inescapable poverty, and the light hair and big bellies of malnutrition. I would grow to see many dimensions of this beautiful, complex land.

But the Pakistan of early childhood was a beautiful home, and I loved that home.

Excerpt copyright from Passages Through Pakistan, Doorlight Publications, March 2017, Pages 29-30

Available for pre-order and on sale TODAY! Click HERE to order. 

On #InternationalDayofTolerance – Fight for Asia Bibi!

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I’m angry. 

A Christian Pakistani woman is sentenced to death in Pakistan. Her crime? She is allegedly accused of insulting Islam after a group of Muslim women did not want her sharing the same water bowl as them. She offered them water and they refused stating it was “unclean.”

I wish this was hyperbole. I wish that I didn’t have to write this piece. But I’m angry. I’m angry that calls for tolerance don’t include the likes of Asia Bibi. I’m angry that Christians, Muslims, or non religious people who care about human rights are not standing up for this woman, insisting on her release. I’m angry that to date, very few people have signed the petition requesting her release.

Her life is clearly of no value to the United Nations, to the Supreme Court of Pakistan, to Human Rights Watch international, and Amnesty International. This should be headline news every single day until she is released. This should not be allowed to happen. The last article I have seen on this from Amnesty International is from 2014. That’s ludicrous for a group that purports to care about human rights.

Asia Bibi has been in jail since 2009. That is seven years!  But obviously, her life as a woman, as a minority, and as a Christian is not something that people who generally fight for these things are willing to fight for. 

Today is the International Day of Tolerance – and yet I saw nothing about Asia Bibi. I saw a lot of rainbows, I saw hands held ad nauseum across the globe. But no one is speaking out for her.

My question is: Why? Why can’t the International Day of Tolerance include the likes of Asia Bibi? Why can’t the International Day of Tolerance look at the plight of Christian women throughout Pakistan?

They have no voice. They have no rights. There are many like Asia Bibi who day after day are discriminated against without anyone paying attention.

Christian friends – will you speak up?

Muslim friends – I will fight for you, and speak up for your rights any day, hour, or minute of the week in this country because it is the right thing to do. I care deeply for you and your community. You are my friends,neighbors, and colleagues. Will you speak up for Asia Bibi.

Other friends – will you speak up and sign a petition for a woman who has nothing and no one fighting for her?

Here is what I am going to ask you to do:

  1. Sign this petition
  2. Email others to sign the petition.
  3. Share this post

Here is the summary: 

Asia Bibi is a Christian wife and mother awaiting execution in a Pakistani prison. She was accused by Muslim coworkers of blasphemy. More than 150,000 Christians in Pakistan signed a petition protesting the injustice against Asia and other Christians in their nation. Now there’s a way for people around the world to add their voices to those Pakistani voices, through an online petition at http://www.CallForMercy.com.

I just signed the petition, and I hope that you’ll click on the link and sign as well. As of today, 702,760 people have signed. The goal is to have one million signatures to deliver to the Pakistani Embassy in Washington DC.

Please add your name and speak out on behalf of Asia Bibi.

Folks, this is 2016 and a woman is sentenced to death because of a poorly constructed blasphemy law. We can’t sit silent on this International Day of Tolerance. 

Blogger’s note: The bigger issue is the huge problem with the Blasphemy Law in Pakistan which has come under severe attack but nothing has yet been done to change it.

Daughter, Your Faith has Healed You – SheLovesMagazine

Readers, I would love it if you joined me today at SheLovesMagazine.com.  It is a privilege to be there and to introduce many of you to the writing over at SheLoves. SheLovesMagazine is “a global community of women–a Sisterhood–who want to know and experience freedom, justice and transformation, for ourselves and others.” The mission is clearly stated on their site.

Our mission is: To mobilize and empower women, so we may transform our world together.

This was largely the inspiration of Idelette Mcvicker who is an amazing person. So I would love for you to head there after reading the trailer below!

*****

Pakistan - Family

I grew up in Pakistan. As an only daughter in a house full of boys, my family treated me like a princess.

I loved Pakistan. Pakistan was my home, the place of my earliest memories. All of my firsts happened there. As I grew up, I learned more about my adopted land. I learned about the amazing and complex country of extremes. Pakistan has some of the highest and most beautiful mountain ranges, a reputation for being graciously hospitable, and arguably has the best food in the world.

And yet, women there are in difficult situations.

Throughout my childhood, I have met women who were strong and beloved, but were in some of the worst conditions imaginable.

I was 16 years old when I first encountered a woman with a fistula. I was volunteering at a women and children’s hospital in the southern area of the country. I remember opening the door to the hospital room and seeing a young woman sitting on her bed wearing a look of defeat and resignation on her face. The smell of urine was overwhelming and the fan that whirred above me did nothing to take away the smell. Read the rest here

No Easy Answers – A Life Overseas


Readers, my mom and dad were in the country of Pakistan and raised five of us in that context. 

Yesterday on A Life Overseas my mom shared a poignant story on children, choices, and ultimately learning to trust God with our kids. Would you join us there? 
I have included the beginning of the piece here.

Do YOU think it’s right to take innocent children to those heathen countries?”


The small elderly woman confronted me with the question. Ralph and I were newly appointed missionaries hoping to go to India. I glanced down at my tummy- had she guessed I was pregnant? I didn’t think it showed yet. I likely mumbled something about God’s will and tried to change the subject. 

We did take that innocent child with us to Pakistan, not India, and in the next 10 years we had four more. We were 20-somethings, full of hope and excitement and ideals. God in His mercy hid the future with its pain and struggle and tears of raising children overseas from us.

Not too many years later it had become clear to us that for most missionaries’ children in Pakistan boarding school was a part of that future. Our mission actively supported the founding of Murree Christian School in the northern mountains, eight hundred miles from where we lived. Five children from our mission were enrolled in its first year of existence.

“How can the Lord expect such an enormous sacrifice of us?” I asked myself. “It’s too much. I can’t do it. It can’t be right.” I struggled, asking how this could be God’s will for parents to send such young children away from home.
Eddie would start first grade in my home town during our first furlough. This timing put off our painful decision for a year. But God’s call to Pakistan was very clear to both Ralph and me. Did that call have to mean sending our children away at such a tender age?

In February 1959 Ralph went off to Karachi to arrange our furlough travel leaving me at home with the three children, behind the brick walls that surrounded our tiny courtyard. The Addleton family (Hu, Betty and their two little boys) were the only other foreigners in that small town in the desert and suggested we all go to the canal ten miles away for a picnic. Eddie was so excited that we were going to travel on the Queen Mary from England.
“I’m going to sail my Queen Mary in the canal,” he said, showing me the long string he had tied to a nail in the bow of his small wooden boat.

A couple of hours later, he stood at the edge of the canal, throwing his boat into the water and pulling it back. I kept an eye on him, but he was such a careful little boy. He would never fall in – Stan (his younger brother) might, but not Ed. A jeep driving along the dirt canal road, raised clouds of dust, and we checked the whereabouts of each of the children. Assuring they were all safe, we adults sipped mugs of coffee.

I looked around again just as the jeep passed us. Eddie was gone! I couldn’t see him anywhere. I jumped up and called his name, only to see his boat floating down the canal. Hu Addleton dove in, swam to the middle and began treading water, feeling the bottom with his feet. Bettie gathered up the little ones and the picnic things loading them into the Land Rover. I stood, helpless beside the canal. The water was so muddy, the current so swift. How could Hu possibly find my little boy in that murky water?

Then Hu called out, “I’ve found him!” He dove under and came up holding Eddie’s limp body. He handed Eddie up to me and somehow I knew what I had to do – that morning waiting for the Addletons to arrive, I had re-read a Readers’ Digest article about what was then a new method of artificial respiration, called “mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.” Eddie’s face was purple. I cleaned mud and sticks out of his mouth, before turning him onto his stomach to see a gush of water from his mouth. Laying him on his back, I started breathing into his mouth. Hu knelt beside us on that grassy canal bank praying loudly, begging God to give us back our son. How many minutes past, I didn’t know….

Read the rest here

Thanking you for joining us to read this poignant, personal story! 


A Moment Between Worlds

moving train quote

I’m sitting in a Pakistani Restaurant in Los Angeles, just two miles from the airport – because that’s what we do when we are global nomads. We find comfort foods and places wherever we go, places where we can kill the saudade.

I arrived just a couple of hours ago from New Zealand and knew I had too much time to stay at the airport, but too little time to go very far. So I looked up restaurants near the LA airport and found Bihar Halal, described as an authentic Pakistani restaurant a short ride away. It is indeed only a short ride from the airport and I walk into the smell of naan and curry. There are mostly Pakistanis in the restaurant, a sure sign of its authenticity. I sit down and order a chicken curry, raita, and tandoorki roti. No fancy Americanization of this delicious food – just authentic curry.

I eat with my fingers and soon my nose is running, the spicy taste delighting my palate and forcing me to wipe my nose. The TV is set to a station in Faisalabad, Pakistan. Periodically an advertisement comes on and the Pakistani National Anthem plays in the background. I hum along with it. My Urdu is challenged as I try to follow the plot line of a crime show.

Suddenly my situation strikes me as absurdly surreal – I just arrived from New Zealand, I’m sitting in a Pakistani restaurant, and I’m watching a crime show on Pakistani TV in the middle of Los Angeles. Just yesterday I was sitting in my friend’s garden in Christchurch, New Zealand eating breakfast. Sometimes my worlds change too fast and I am left spinning, like a top spun over and over again by a child who won’t give the toy a rest.

When my mom and dad first moved overseas they would travel by ship. Instead of frenzied airport arrivals and departures, they would wave from the balcony of a ship. They would wave until those they loved faded out of sight, and all that was left were tears on their faces and a wide ocean that would be their landscape for the next six weeks. They left slowly, and they entered slowly. Those long days and nights at sea prepared them for their next steps on land. It was a good way to travel. For six weeks you were literally between worlds, without expectations from either.

Sometimes I wish it were still that way. We move so quickly between countries that it is hard to breathe. Currency, language, food, and customs change in a short plane ride. The cultural lines get blurred and we have high expectations of how quickly we will adjust to whatever culture we find ourselves. No wonder we find ourselves exhausted, collapsed on beds with tears on our pillows. It’s all a bit much.

As light fades outside the restaurant, I realize I have been traveling hard and fast.  The crime show has finished and I am now watching recaps of the Pakistan/India cricket game. I am alone, but not lonely. Instead, I am content in this world I live in. In his book, The Art of Stillness, Pico Iyer says this: “In an age of movement, nothing is more critical than stillness. In an age of distraction, nothing can feel more luxurious than paying attention.” A busy restaurant may be an unlikely place of stillness, but for me that is just what it is.

I paid the bill a long time ago and it is the goodness of the restaurant owner that he has allowed me to rest without distraction. I sigh and pack up my things, reluctant to give up this moment between worlds.

But it is time for the next journey, one that will take me back to an apartment building in Cambridge.

The top is still spinning, but curry and naan have slowed it down and eased me into reentry. I am content.

At least for now.

___________

Note: Tomorrow I will be announcing the two winners of the Meditations coloring book! Stay tuned!

Also, please continue your thoughts and prayers for the people of Pakistan as the country mourns for those who died and hopes that those who are wounded will heal.

  • Evil in Not the Final Word ““Has not Pakistan suffered enough?” I shout the words inside, knowing that few would understand my reactions. Yet, the Pakistani flag lights up my newsfeed and I am grateful for friends who do understand, who know and love this place that so many of us called home.”
  • I am Pakistan? “Our humanity has constraints; limitation is after all a characteristic common to all people. We do not therefore have the emotional capacity to mourn all who die in this world and to scream at all the wickedness that weaves so deeply through every culture. But while  our tears are reserved for Western nations, the rest of the world is right to be suspicious of us.”
  • Keen Pain in Pakistan over “Lives Shattered into Pieces”  “Shock and grief enveloped Pakistan on Monday as the official death toll from the attack in Lahore a day earlier rose to at least 72, with 341 people reported wounded by officials.”

Sharmeen Obaid and the Power of Story

Sharmeen_Obaid_Chinoy_World_Economic_Forum_2013

Watching the Oscars has long been a tradition in our family. When our kids were younger, an Oscar party was a yearly event. We would literally roll out a red carpet, serve fancy food, and dress up as characters from the year’s films. The kids invited their friends and we had ballots where we would attempt to guess the winners. Though always on a Sunday and thereby a school night, we always watched until the end when the year’s best film was announced.

Engaging with film and story is something everyone in our family loves to do. Perhaps it is no surprise that one of my children lives with his wife in Los Angeles and works in the industry.

Though we didn’t have a party last night, we did watch the Oscars and eat gorgeous, fancy food.

I’ll confess that I have not seen a lot of the films that were nominated so I felt a bit out of touch. But for me, the best part of the evening was when Pakistani-Canadian filmmaker Sharmeen Obaid won her second Oscar for the film “A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness.” The film in the “documentary short” category is about “honor killings,” a practice that still goes on in the world today where a woman is killed so she will not dishonor her family. Tragically, many women die every year from this practice.

Her particular film was about a Pakistani woman, Saba Qaiser, who survived an attempted honor killing by her father and brother.

It was Sharmeen Obaid’s speech that had me cheering her on from my spectator spot on the couch. She used her 45 seconds in the best way possible by saying this:

This is what happens when determined women get together. From Saba, the woman in my film who remarkably survived an honor killing and shared her story, to Sheila Nevins and Lisa Heller from HBO, to Tina Brown, who supported me from day one. To the men who champion women, like Geof Bartz in my film, who’s edited the film, to Asad Faruqi, to my friend Ziad, who brought this film to the government.

To all the brave men out there, like my father and my husband, who push women to go to school and work, and who want a more just society for women.

She ended her speech by saying this:

This week the Pakistani Prime Minister has said that he will change the law on honor killing after watching this film. That is the power of film.

There are so many things about this that I love. I love her emphasis on determined women, her recognition and honor of the woman in her story. I love that she praised the men who are a part of this, recognizing that men standing up for the rights of women is also an important part of changing a society. Most of all, I love that this film has the highest office in the country of Pakistan realizing the need for a law to change.

The well-told story of one woman changing the lives of millions. That is the power of story folks! 

I join the thousands around the globe who are cheering on Sharmeen Obaid and story tellers like her – story tellers who use their craft to create change.

[Photo source: Copyright by World Economic Forum.swiss-image.ch/Photo Sebastian Derungs, used under CC BY-SA 2.0 ]

Evil is Not the Final Word

Note: due to a WordPress error, the post looks like it was published on February 3rd. It was, in fact, published on the morning of March 28th.

On Easter Sunday evening, a suicide bomber targeted a busy park in the city of Lahore, Pakistan. Boasting a water area and a playground, Gulshan-e-Iqbal Park is a popular place.The victims of the bomb blast were primarily women and children, likely out for an Easter celebration in the city before heading back home for the evening. A splinter group of the Taliban claimed responsibility and unapologetically stated that “The target were Christians.”

The cowardice of the act nauseates the stomach; the horror sickens the mind. Along with those that are dead are the wounded, sent to hospitals in resource-poor settings, where good medical care is difficult to get and people who might live, should the resources be available, end up dying.

Istanbul, Brussels, Baghdad, Pakistan – it goes on and on and on. We grow weary and have bomb fatigue, our humanity challenged to remain compassionate, our spirits challenged to pray even as we wonder what good it will do.

“Has not Pakistan suffered enough?” I shout the words inside, knowing that few would understand my reactions. An opinion piece in the New York Times echoes some of my thoughts:

For much of the world, the deaths of Pakistani children are forgettable. They are, after all, the progeny of poor distant others destined to perish in ever more alarming ways. It may not be said, but it is believed that they are complicit in their own deaths, guilty somehow — even at 2 or 4 or 6 years of age — of belonging to a nation that the world has appointed as its own boogeyman, a repository of all its vilest trepidations. In December 2014, Taliban militants gunned down more than 140 people at a school in Peshawar, a vast majority of them students. A former American ambassador, speaking of his government’s lack of desire to help the Pakistani government fight extremists, put it succinctly: “There is great Pakistan fatigue in Washington.” NYTimes OpEd by Rafia Zakaria “The Playgrounds of Pakistan.”

Yet, the Pakistani flag lights up my newsfeed and I am grateful for friends who do understand, who know and love this place that so many of us called home.

Where do we go during times like this, when evil stalks and lurks? Where do we go when the world feels crazy and safety is as illusive as winning the lottery? What do we do? Where do we go? How do we respond?

I have become tired of judging others for reactions that are just as valid as mine. We create a people’s court, judging the hearts of people by the status of their social media pages. As though judging the hearts of others will add comfort to the situation.

Still, the familiar green and white of the Pakistani flag brings me deep comfort, and knowing there are so many of us that love and pray for this country is a balm to my soul.

I have written about evil before, and my words grow stale in the face of more and more tragedies. But I am compelled to continue to write. I am compelled to continue to feel through writing.

“The extreme greatness in Christianity lies in the fact that it does not seek a supernatural remedy for suffering, but a supernatural use for it” says Simone Weil. 

So I go to the words of Scripture, knowing that they have brought comfort through the ages to men and women who have faced evil, men and women who have gone through suffering and lived to write about it. 

They all have one thing in common, and it’s something that I think about as I write. They all knew that evil wouldn’t win. They all came to an understanding that there was something bigger going on, that suffering and pain were not the end game. They all knew that when you walk through the fire, there is a God who suffers with you, you are not called to suffer or face evil alone.

I am not given answers. I’m given something better than answers: I’m given a glimpse into God’s heart as seen through people who never gave up their faith. Evil does not get the final word. Suffering will somehow, in a way that I cannot possibly understand, be redeemed.

Somehow that is enough for me. It must be enough, for I have nothing else.

It is now the evening of Western Easter, and I know only one thing: that He who endured the cross and  continues to redeem the world has not left us to suffer alone. He is with the men, women, and children of Pakistan. And I defy anyone who would say differently.

“The Resurrection is not a peacetime truth for occasional, feel-good, religious nostalgia. The Resurrection is a wartime truth for everyday, tear-smeared, blood-stained allegiance to Jesus.” quote from Duke Kwon 

___________

A friend who also grew up in Pakistan reminded me of this Psalm today:

The LORD is high above all nations,
and his glory above the heavens!
Who is like the LORD our God,
who is seated on high,
who looks far down
on the heavens and the earth?
He raises the poor from the dust
and lifts the needy from the ash heap,
to make them sit with princes,
with the princes of his people.

Blessed be the name of the LORD
from this time forth and forevermore!
From the rising of the sun to its setting,
the name of the LORD is to be praised!

Psalm 113

 

Memories of a Chatty Cathy Doll

photo nostalgia

When I was eight years old, I got a Chatty Cathy doll for Christmas. Chatty Cathy was the first talking doll. When you pulled a ring on her back, she would say one of ten or eleven phrases. Sometimes it was “I love you!” Other times it was “Let’s play!” It didn’t matter, when I pulled the string, my Chatty Cathy would talk to me and I was over the moon.

Chatty Cathy was not available in Pakistan anywhere. The only reason I received the doll was that another missionary family had left Pakistan and had sold their children’s toys. The family had twin girls, Becky and Kathy. They were older than I was and, I suspect, had outgrown their dolls (although who ever outgrows dolls?) They had two of these talking dolls, and had sold one to my parents for me, and one to Bettie Addleton, mom of my best friend Nancy.

In the middle of the Sindh desert of Pakistan, because of Becky and Kathy Elkins, Nancy and I got Chatty Cathy dolls. It was a magical Christmas.

This past Friday, Becky Elkins died. I didn’t know Becky well, but I do know she died too soon, and too painfully. She died of lung cancer in Colorado. I saw Becky at our Pak Reunion just one and half years ago. My friend Janet let our community know through social media that Becky had died.

When you are part of a community that shared so much of life together in a place where we were all foreigners, you grow deeply close. Even if you didn’t know each other and were years apart in age, you know there is a connection that goes well beyond normal neighborhood relationships. We were part of a small community that lived counter-culture in both our adopted country and our passport countries. We lived apart from blood relatives, and so those around us became relatives in proxy. We inherited each others houses, cars, clothes, families, and dolls.

I can’t stop thinking about Becky and that doll. I loved that doll so much. Memories, filed away in my brain like index cards, come to mind. I remember the surprise of unwrapping the doll. I remember pulling the string so much that she stopped talking for a while. I remember Nancy and me playing with our dolls, surrounded by the innocence of childhood. The sights, shapes, sounds, and people who shaped my life are spread around the globe, and faded memories have taken their place. The index card memory box emerges as I read about Becky’s death. And I know that the sadness I feel  is combined with the ache of loss for a time that no longer exists.

In Between Worlds, I write this and I think about it today:

“For many of us, the only thing we feel we have left are our memories. We cannot go back to the place that was home. Either it does not exist, will not let us in, or danger and cost prohibit a casual trip to indulge the times of homesickness. In its place is memory. Our memories may be biased, or relayed in a way that would make our mothers say, “That’s not quite the way it happened,” but they are inalienably ours.”*

and then:

“Pieces of childhood are important foundations to building adults. Whether it be the doll, the bear, or the book, it’s part of the story of our lives. The pieces of childhood bear witness to times and places that helped shape us into who we are today.”**

The Chatty Cathy memory is inalienably mine and I find strength in remembering. I smile when I remember that doll, and the two girls in Pakistan who daily pulled the string to hear Chatty Cathy say “I love you!”

*From Kebabs in Jalalabad essay in Between Worlds, Essays on Culture and Belonging.

** From Pieces of Childhood in Between Worlds, Essays on Culture and Belonging.

Photo Credit: https://pixabay.com/en/photo-photographer-old-photos-256887/

On Prayer and a Pakistani Childhood

  
Before my family moved to Pakistan, prayer was relegated to the Sunday morning church service, the evening service and Wednesday night prayer meeting at McLauren Baptist Church. Our family had “family devotions–a daily time for short Bible readings and prayers–and we prayed before each meal. However my perspective on prayer was largely first formed in Pakistan—the place where most of my childhood was lived out. Remarkably, these were lessons which Muslims who prayed taught me. Even now when I pray to the Father in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, I am nonetheless grateful for what I learned about prayer as a practice from my Muslim friends and neighbours.


I remember vividly those first weeks after our move to this unusual and new land. New sounds, new sights, new smells affronted my small self.
Overwhelmed by the strangeness of it all I remember tears and a funny feeling in my tummy. I felt ill at ease as new friends prattled away with extraordinary sounds in an unaccustomed language. I felt disconnected and disjointed as I tried to make sense of it all. In the middle of all the chaos there was one sound, poignant, and pronounced, that I loved from the start and that was the Muslim Call to Prayer. Five times a day, loudly and intrusively, there came from the loudspeakers the invitation to pray from the muezzin. Chosen for his melodic voice, and possibly his volume, he called out the need to pray.

Admittedly it was bewildering at first. I remember playing during those first few days with some neighbor girls on my auntie’s front verandah. We were colouring, if my memory serves. Suddenly, out of the awkward silences that form when little girls who don’t know each other and can’t talk to each other, there was, what felt like, a cacophony of noise. I remember being startled by it. Soon the entire sky was filled with layer on layer of sound as other muezzins joined in from other mosques. As soon as it started the crescendo mounted, and equally suddenly it was over! Normal sounds of camel bells, and vegetable sellers and donkey brays and barking dogs quickly filled the space.

The call to prayer punctuated my childhood. As I look back on it now there are a few striking lessons I learned during those years. Here are a few of my thoughts on prayer and my Pakistani childhood–

1. Pakistani Muslims, like their counterparts around the globe, bow to pray. Prayer is living and it involves motion and movement. There is a specific posture to each phase of the prayer. They stand, bow deeply, lower their foreheads to the floor, and sit. Pakistani Muslims understand intuitively the deep connection between body and soul and spirit. Their whole bodies are involved as they prostrate themselves humbly before God. They know they were created to worship and for them prayer is worship.
The older I get the more I am realizing the profound truth that was modeled for me as a child. We are whole people. Our bodies are not disconnected from our inner reality. We go together, my body and I. As I watched Pakistanis, with their heads lowered before God, as they kept their bodies in line with their spirits, in seeming submission, I was challenged to bring my own self in alignment. Nowadays I occasionally raise my hands in supplication. Often I sit. Occasionally I pace out my petitions, walking back and forth before the Holy Throne of God. Often I kneel. Occasionally I bow face down before God, acting out what is true—that He is God and I am not. My prayers are directed to a Living God and often they are moving and motional.

2. My entire theology on prayer expanded as I watched with childlike curiosity my neighbors pray. For them, prayer wasn’t static and quietly compartmentalized. Prayer was a part of every single day. There were no exceptions. If you were in the middle of something, you stopped to pray. If you were busy and distracted, you were called back to prayer. No one was exempt: the rich prayed, the poor prayed, the villager prayed, the city dweller prayed, the tribal elder prayed, the plains person prayed. They were a praying people and that influenced me in significant ways. Prayer became for me a normal requisite to a normal day.

3. Pakistanis also understood the benefit of community in collective accountability. It was assumed: you pray, I pray, we all pray. Business contracts were paused while prayer mats were unrolled. Conversations over tea, kitchen gossip, homework all took a break for prayer. If your brother-in-law wasn’t praying you knew something was amiss. Everyone prayed. I love that community element. I love the structure that provides for a populace. There is routine and rhythms built around the call to prayer.
I think it was this measured out, predictable schedule that warmed my heart to liturgical prayer. The stage of my heart was set for the high church’s loyalty to traditional written prayers. I love that those words have rung out in churches around the world and around the centuries. What stability is procured in that! I’ve always been intrigued by the monastic commitment to praying the liturgical hours. This official set of prayers marks the hours of each day and sanctifies the day with prayer: matins, lauds, prime, terce, sext, none, vespers and compline. There is regularity in it. There is holy rhythm and purposeful pacing.

4. The muezzin begins with a recitation of the Islamic creed. Millions of Muslims repeat back to themselves, no less than five times a day, what they believe to be true. There is great benefit in learning this lesson from our Muslim friends. We have the Apostles Creed and the Nicene Creed. What if we too deliberately remembered what is true? What if we recited back to our weary-from-life souls the character of God, his faithfulness, his sacrifice, his provision? Imagine the reassurance that might wash over our reactive emotions, our crises, our desperations, our superficial happinesses? We could learn a lot from this repetition of doctrine throughout each of our days.

5. “The Arabic word for prayer is salah and interestingly it is a word that denotes connection. Prayer is our way of connecting with and maintaining a connection with God. Prayers at fixed times serve as a reminder of why we are here and helps to direct a person’s thoughts and actions away from sin and onto the remembrance of God.” (source:www.islamreligion.com)
Growing up, I watched a whole community decide collectively to connect with God. They were given regular opportunities to have their obsessions with fickle and frail things pried away. I would love to claim that I learned this lesson as a child. I did not. But as I think of it now and reflect on it more, I wish I had. How often I’m distracted! How often I forget to remember my living connection with the Living God. I wish to live spiritually connected to the God who loves me and initiated relationship with me. I long to live from that reality all day long! Punctuating my day with intentional prayer would certainly help.
6. The idea that we can talk to God baffles me and strikes me as marvelous. I firmly believe that every prayer need not start with “Dear God” and shouldn’t necessarily end with “Amen”. Some of our deepest groans and yearnings float up as prayer. A thought unbidden of a faraway friend surfaces memory and prayer. To-do lists sighed over are heard by our kind Father as the true prayers of our overwhelmed hearts. Tears and sorrows become intercessions and laments. If we bounce our hearts up to the divine we live out our prayers. I watched my Pakistani Muslim friends stop, toward the end of their ritual prayers, for the silent session of “dua”. This was the space in their recitations for them to lift up their hearts in prayer. They prayed for whatever was on their minds: a sick relative, a final exam, a financial need.

I love to pray. I don’t understand how it works but I believe it does. This is true, not because of who we are and how we pray, but because of who God is and how he receives the “earnest prayer of a righteous person (which) has great power and produces wonderful results” (James 5:16). I realize now that a lot of our thoughts on prayer are developed while we are yet formative—and for me that was when I was surrounded by Pakistan and her people of sincere faith. My theology on prayer is wider and deeper for having learned from them some on what it means to pray.

Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus. Phil 4:4-7

What has influenced your views on prayer, in positive or negative ways? We would love to hear from you through the comments. 

Hand of Blessing

Hand of Blessing by Robynn 

You go before me and follow me. You place your hand of blessing on my head. ​Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,too great for me to understand! (Psalm 139:5-6)

When I was a kid, growing up in the Punjab province of Pakistan, I was taught to seek out the blessing of the elders in the room. We were instructed, together with all the children in the region who had been schooled in this from birth, to approach an older person, tuck down our chins, bow our heads, and wait patiently for the hand of the older one on the top of our heads. Punjabi children had been nudged forward by eager moms since they were barely walking, their tiny heads pushed into position. We followed their example, doing what they did, and with the first whiff of a weight on our heads, we were gone, running around with the other children.

I suppose it really was less about the blessing conferred as it was about honour. This was a tangible indicator that the elderly were respected. We bowed our heads to those who had earned that homage by virtue of having lived life before us. These people had experience. They knew grief and joy. They had tasted loss and generosity. They had worked hard, from sun up to sun down. Their hands were calloused and rough edged on our heads. They were worthy of our respect and so we bowed our heads to them and waited, however impatiently, for their hands on our heads.

It wasn’t just a custom for children. I remember my dad, middle aged at the time, approaching an old grandma in one of the villages, or an elderly grandpa in another, with his head bowed, in anticipation of the blessing.

This blessing didn’t result necessarily in a tidy tradition. Whenever we’d arrive in a village, stirring up the Thal Desert sand under the wheels of the old green Land Rover, people would gather to welcome us. We would peel ourselves off the vinyl seats, exit the vehicle, and the greetings and blessings would begin. My brother and I would approach all the aunties and uncles and grandmas and grandpas. Children would circle around my mom and dad. Hands were up and down and new heads were underneath and around for the next hand. Of course there were some hugs in the mix, as my parents greeted their Pakistani peers and friends. If we had others in the jeep that had caught a ride with us they were also welcomed with hugs and blessings from their elders. It was a wonderfully bobbing chaotic circle. No one ever felt uninvited, or unwanted.

Soon the greetings were over and the crowd disseminated. The women moved toward the outdoor kitchens to stir up the coals and put milk on for chai. Teenagers were sent to get fresh covers for the out door bed benches. The men wandered off to check out the sugar cane fields, or to examine a water buffalo, or to sit on the bed benches waiting for the chai and to enquire after one another’s health and the health of their children. The kids scampered off to play.

It was a mutual moment. The younger had to approach the older. They had to position themselves to receive the blessing. But the older person also had to be willing to extend their hand and place it on the heads of the younger. My paternal grandmother once came to visit. Our lives didn’t really slow down while she was with us. We still made several trips out to the villages each week. Often she would come with us. Now we brought our own elderly person with us. The circles of blessing and greeting were widened. Middle-aged Pakistanis queued up to receive a blessing from her. Children and teenagers also formed a line. They deemed her worthy of respect and they wanted to show that. They wanted to seek out a blessing from her. It was everything she could do to keep placing her hand on various and strange heads. The mustard oil they used on their hair repulsed her. The risk of lice or worse was always in her mind. For the most part she was a good sport but every once in a while it became too much for her. The shock of this particular culture rose up within her and she couldn’t bring her self to extend her hand.

You go before me and follow me. ​​You place your hand of blessing on my head. ​Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too great for me to understand! (Psalm 139:5-6)

Meditating on Psalm 139 brought back these memories of those village blessings I knew as a kid. The psalmist songwriter mentions that same sort of blessing. Whereas as a child I was expected to show the posture of honour to my elders in this way, now I’m invited to bow my head to the God of the universe and He marvelously, miraculously, mystically places his hand of blessing on me. I tuck in my chin and know that I am in the presence of holiness. I wait with expectation, acknowledging his presence, knowing he is infinitely worthy of worship and respect and honour… and he graciously extends that hand and places it on my head.

Even more astounding to me is that he is not repulsed by me. He does not shrink back. He does not push me away, or wish me away. I’m not too much for him….nor too little. It’s unfathomable, but true, he loves me. And he blesses, deeply, sincerely. The weight of glory rests now, undeservedly, upon my head.

Photo credit: https://pixabay.com/en/bible-alliance-blessing-prayer-556720/

Wrapping Up the Week – January 31, 2015

Now Available on Kindle! 

Between Worlds

Along with the massive snow storm affectionately called the Blizzard of 2015, the big news here this week is that Between Worlds – Essays on Culture and Belonging is on Kindle! More so it’s FREE on Kindle until Sunday night so please! Take advantage of it! If you have a Kindle or any kind of electronic reader there is nothing to lose! And maybe, just maybe, you’ll want the print edition as well. A girl can hope. Click here to get your free prize. Stay tuned for a giveaway on the blog next week! 

Conversion Roads by Laura Merzig Fabrycky. The best thing I read all week comes from a friend who writes for the Washington Institute of Vocation and Culture. This piece comes from the wisdom of a child’s remark at a dinner table. You won’t want to miss the poignant challenge of this piece.

Excerpt:  “It is not lost on me that parts of modern-day Nineveh — right where Jonah was sent by God — are still under the control of Daesh, those who call themselves the Islamic State. My heart is not unlike Jonah’s in  that I naturally long for God’s holy, wrathful judgment upon these murderous zealots, rather than for his gracious, blindingly good interventions. Perhaps among these we call Daesh, there may be another Saul? And perhaps, among us, there may be another Jonah?”

After The Slaughter, A Pakistani School Seeks To Heal. You all know that Pakistan has a big chunk of my heart. This piece goes along with the piece I wrote a couple of weeks ago called “The Courage to Begin Again.” 

Excerpt: At first glance, the school does look “healed up.” Clumps of bright-eyed boys, wearing smart, dark-green jackets and gray slacks, are hanging around on the lawns outside beneath a dripping gray sky. They’re chatting and examining this arriving stranger with friendly interest. Classes are over for the day; they’re waiting to go home.

Then you start to notice the details. The fresh concrete, where the school’s perimeter walls have been made much higher; the glistening new razor wire coiled on top of those walls; the soldiers with machine guns guarding them; and also, hanging from those same walls, the many banners bearing the words, in capital letters: “I SHALL RISE, AND I SHALL SHINE.”

With fewer voices, Auschwitz survivors speak This week marked the 70th anniversary of the closing of Auschwitz. The stories of Auschwitz continue to make us shudder and close our eyes to the horror, and to take our breath away with the hope and resilience shown by survivors. I did not want to miss talking about this during this week. Here is another piece from BBC News: Auschwitz 70th anniversary: Survivors warn of new crimes

Making “Fawaffles”: An Experiment with Arab and American Cultural Identity This is a delightful read by a kindred spirit and blog friend, Jessica. Jessica is half Palestinian – her mother grew up in Nazareth – and half American – her dad grew up in the midwest. Jessica knows well what it is to grow up Between Worlds. One of the ways she has chosen to embrace this is through food. You have to read her blog to learn more about this, but I love what she does with her blog Bint Rhoda’s Kitchen. In the meantime take a look at the article I linked above.

Excerpt: “But here’s the thing about being a third-culture-kid, about being from more than one place.  You always have more cards than you show.  And maybe, just maybe, the only way to truly be at home is for you to occasionally, just occasionally, throw down your whole hand.”

On my bedside stand: I’m still reading I am Malala – here’s a poignant quote from this past week

First the Taliban took our music, then our Buddhas, then our history…”

Travel Quote: Source – http://istanabagus.com/quotes/travel-quotes/

world make memories

Picture Credit: http://pixabay.com/en/hands-world-map-global-earth-600497/ word art by Marilyn R. Gardner

Hatching Baby Sea Turtles

sea-turtle

I’m in a cocoon of snow. The entire world around me is white and cold. I am happily non-essential so there is no need to go anywhere and I am so grateful. I wanted to take this day anyway, to think about life as I enter a new birth year, to do some writing, to rest. And I get all those things because of this snow.

As I sit here thinking about life, my mind goes back to the baby sea turtles of my youth. I don’t know why – perhaps it’s because it is my birthday, perhaps it’s because there could not be a greater contrast between the world out my window, and the world of the baby sea turtles.

But I remember the sea turtles as though it were yesterday.

The mama turtle lumbers up the beach in the moonlight. It’s a long, lonely walk. She is trying to find somewhere safe to lay her eggs, a place where she can dig deep, where predators will not find those precious eggs – her eggs, her babies.

She is heavy – hundreds of pounds – and this journey from sea to land is not only arduous because of her size, it’s miles and miles long. She knows her job. It’s to find a place on shore, excavate a large hole big enough to put around 80 eggs. Then she will need to cover it with sand and make it look as though there is nothing buried there. As if it has already been disturbed and nothing was found, tricking the forces that would harm her young into believing there is nothing there.

Exhausted she heads back to the ocean, finally resting her heavy, weary body, allowing herself to be carried away in the ocean waves of the Arabian Sea.

She doesn’t know that she is being observed, watched by a family who is staying in a small hut nearby. She will never know the life lessons she brings, the quiet that comes upon us so that we don’t disturb this important work.

The eggs will hatch in around two and a half months. And we, the missionary kids of Pakistan, will be there to see them.

And it will be magical and amazing. But we won’t realize this until later. 

A lone dog will be the one that alerts us to their arrival, sniffing at a pile of dirt and beginning to frantically dig for the tiny turtles. But we will run and shout and wave them off, fiercely protective, taking on maternal roles as we ensure that these turtles make their way in a safe passage to the sea.

These baby turtles are like us. They are vulnerable and small. They are facing a big, dangerous world and their task is enormous. Make it to the ocean. Survive. Grow. Thrive.

We who were raised across oceans and boundaries of nations are so much like these baby turtles. We are cocooned for a while, and then we have to go, we have to make it in a world that can be hostile to who we are and what we believe. While buried in our sand there are those that wave off the predators, but once we begin the journey to the sea, it’s a journey we make alone in many ways.

As a child, I never tired of watching baby turtles make their way to the sea.
As an adult, I never tire of remembering, of seeing faded photographs of Hawke’s Bay, where children gather around baby turtles anxious to help yet knowing they can’t. Because for sea turtles to make their way to the ocean without help is critically important. It’s their first step in gaining the strength to survive.

All of this magic happened in Pakistan, a land that has sustained many catastrophes, much political upheaval, and tragedies from both man and nature. Yet on Hawke’s Bay you could always forget the bigger world and succumb to the spell of the ocean, get lost in the waves, and fall into the magic that is baby sea turtles.

Today in the snow, I remember the baby sea turtles and smile.

Picture Credit: http://pixabay.com/en/sea-turtle-baby-young-survival-356125/

Forget Culture Wars, It’s Chai Wars!

Chai Chai Garam Chai

Cultural (Chai) Wars by Robynn

It’s time to speak out. The writers and editors here at Communicating Across Boundaries have been silent on the subject for far too long. But that silence is over. For the record, let it be known, this is the time for clarity and decisiveness. It is the time to speak truth. As a society we’ve been duped. We’ve been deceived. We’ve been kept in the dark.  Normally Marilyn and I reluctantly write on these types of issues. Our cross-cultural training demands sensitivity and respect. We’ve been well versed in appreciating value differences, in respecting nuance and cultural norms and conventions.

However, having said all that, sometimes things are not just different they are plainly and universally wrong. Under those circumstances, in those specific situations it is not only appropriate, it is necessary–our prophetic mandate–to identify the wrong and to bring it out into the light.

Today is that day.

Chai is chai. It is a particular beverage. It is not the mamby-pamby, shallow hearted, skim milk based, foam topped, overly cinnamoned, limply spiced, paper cupped drink you’ve been trained to think it is. It is not available in grocery stores in tetra pack boxes. It cannot be reduced to a small mesh tea bag. Merely mixing cinnamon and a pinch of cardamom into the tea bag and sealing it in a box with a fancy label doesn’t make it chai. It cannot be pimped in packaged plastic cups that are hidden in the depths of a cold machine and then punctured and perforated and dribbled into the meaningless cup below

Chai, true chai, is an experience. It’s a marvelous marriage of milk and water and dark tea and sugar and spices. It takes time and love to make the complexities of flavours shine.  The equipment needed is simple: a pot, a spoon, a strainer. Although there are variations on mixing methods and spices, one thing is certain, chai is an event.

In South Asia when a guest comes to visit, or a friend pops in, chai is served. Hospitality is incomplete without the warm ritual of chai. Hearts are better shared with a cup of chai in your hand. It’s the beverage that melts the heart’s reserve. Disappointments and sorrows are more keenly lamented over hot chai, strained and steaming. Celebrations and common joys are incomplete without fragrantly spiced chai.

Chai has meaning and hidden complexities. You drink chai with someone you are at peace with. If there is friction or betrayal at work in a relationship, that person is not served chai. If ever you hear, “They didn’t even serve me chai!” you can know there is something a wry in that relationship. Chai means reconciliation. It means harmony and restored friendship.

Chai is served at engagement ceremonies, at weddings, after a baby is born, after the news that someone has died. Chai is served when family comes to visit, or a neighbor comes to gossip. It’s served at church. When you go for a picnic you bring chai. First thing in the morning, last thing in the evening, chai. People drink it at sporting events, at the train station, at the airport, at school functions, at business meetings. When a contract is agreed on, and the papers are signed, the deal is sealed with chai. Whenever a house is sold, whenever a bank loan is negotiated, whenever a marriage is arranged there is chai. Shopping for saris, for silk, for carpets, for bangles, for pots and pans? Undoubtedly you’ll be served chai.

It’s served in china teacups, in small ceramic bowls, in little disposable clay cups. In Pakistan it used to often come in a colourful enamel tea pot, green or beige or blue. When it’s especially hot, mothers pour their chai into the saucer, they blow on it gently to cool it for their child.

The elderly and the very young drink it. The sick, the lame, the robust all drink it. The broken hearted and the elated drink it. The upper classes drink it. The disenfranchised drink it. It’s the drink of community, it’s the beverage of unity. 

You may continue to place your order for faux chai through your car window to the voice, crackling and distant, in the small box. You can rummage through your coin purse to procure the correct change before you, “see (them) at the window.” You have all the freedom in the world to specify decaffeinated, or 2% milk, or no foam. But know this: the drink you are consuming, the beverage you are sipping, may in fact be delicious, but it is not chai.

Recipe for Chai

(serves two—-chai can be had on your own, it’s a meditative drink that way, but it’s always better had with a friend or seven)

1 cup of whole milk

1 cup of water

1 tablespoon of loose leaf tea (Liptons Red Label, or Taj Mahal)

2 heaping teaspoons of sugar (or to taste)

2 pods of cardamom, broken

1 inch of cinnamon stick, broken

½ inch of fresh ginger grated or chopped*

1 pinch of black pepper*

Bring water and milk and spices and sugar to a boil. Add tea leaves. Simmer 2 or 3 minutes until it’s the wonderful warm proper rich colour of chai. Strain into cups or a teapot . Best served with something sweet and something savory. (*ginger and black pepper are only ever added during the winter! Summer chai is minimally spiced with a titch of cardamom and cinnamon.)

We, the writers at Communicating Across Boundaries, rarely ask you to share our posts. But this one? This one you need to share. Sincerely, the purveyors of real and fine chai.

Picture Credit: the incomparable Jason Philbrick!