Saturday, February 26, 2011

Choosing Love

Dismal is the only word that comes to mind as I sit here and reflect on last week here in M-ville.  It just seemed like a week to trudge through, hoping that you would make it to the other side unscathed and able to start the new one fresh.  This morning (our Monday) little t and I have had a great time and we all got rest on the Sabbath yesterday, so things are looking up. 

Let’s start with the weather.  I hesitate to complain because living in the middle of the desert makes you thankful for any drop of moisture you receive…and I know many of you are deep in the throes of winter and will protest that I have nothing to complain about compared to you. While both are valid points, hear me complain anyway (or skip to the next paragraph). We had three days and three nights where it rained without stopping. And the rest of the week was a wet mix of snow and on-again off-again drizzle.  Like I said…so good for the land and the farmers…not so good for the yard or my sanity.  Our yard is dirt. Wait, I take that back, our yard is mud – 3 inches of it.  So, when it wasn’t raining and I chanced taking little t out to play he went hog wild (pun intended) rolling in the mud.  It would have been entertaining had I been able to watch from a warm heated room, but sitting out there with him wasn’t all that enticing.  Even kAkA who LOVES playing with him was kinda hands off when the little mud-ball wanted to play.  And not to mention my laundry…that I would try to shuttle quickly from the bedroom drying rack to outside when the sun dared make an appearance…only to quickly collect it a few minutes later when the rain decided that unrelenting would be it’s characteristic for the day.  On more than one occasion, I got stuck in said 3 inches of mud and wondered if I would ever see my sweet child again or I would become like Lot’s wife – a permanent laundry lady statue in the yard for all to gawk at.  Not to mention the three inches of mud on my shoes that little t made several attempts at eating after we gave up and went inside.   So yeah, the weather has been a little dismal. (I know this should have been more than one paragraph, but I promised I would talk about something else in the next, so I had be true to my word…)

All joking aside, last week was a mess.  Our cleaning lady was attacked by one of our guards as she cleaned a teammate’s house in preparation for them to get back from vacation.  You can read more about the situation here on A’s blog  positivechangebythepeople. I am not in a mood to go into details.  So we dealt with that…all week. 

We are breathing a little easier now that the man has left. I have been reflecting on this a lot.  I think the hardest thing for me was how closely it hit home. It doesn’t make me afraid to be here, or suspicious of the people around me, it just makes me sad.  I have been so quick to err on the side of positive with these people. I have wanted to believe that they are good and hard-working and well-intentioned and have just been handed a bad lot in life.  While I have known that there is a lot of filth that goes on in this culture – men beating women, rape, corruption, theft, violence, oppression of the poor and disabled, etc. I have wanted to believe that there was something better to the people here…or maybe just the people we work with…hoping that our Western Goodness will have rubbed off on them a little.  For me it has been so easy to push for the positive because it seems like the majority of the world is ready to be done with these people and I just don’t think God is. 

But I have been taken aback with this event.

In his original draft of his blog, A called the perp Scumbag and to be honest, this is what we still call him in our conversations.  All week, I was not allowed (nor had any desire) to go to the yard where he was working and probably for good reason. Each time I played out the scene of crossing paths with him in my mind, all I could see myself doing was spitting in his face.  I was so furious and disgusted by his actions. I was baffled by his protests that khAla is a bad woman so she deserved what she got. Who made him God? Who put him in charge of punishment?  What kind of a man does that to a woman?  I was pretty hot all week.

I had moments of hoping that we would have to leave because it seemed easier and less painful than having to deal with this any longer.  I found the voices in my head repeating statements about people here that I have hated for so long, things I know are not true…and others I was hoping weren’t true.

It would be so easy to give in to the doubt and fear.  I find it so important to take every thought captive and I must admit that I am not very good at that.  I find myself staring down every man in my life, wondering how he treats women. I find myself bristling at the thought of what goes on in homes and yards around me. I find myself giving in to the gossip and backtalk that comes so easily in situations like this.  I doubt that anything we do or say or teach or challenge sinks into the stony hearts so steeped in culture and religion and gossip and fear.  I daydream about lying on a beach somewhere, spending time with family, doing something ‘easier’ or ‘more worthwhile’.  

And then I take a moment to stop and listen. 

This is what I hear:

How would my life change if I actually thought of each person I came into contact with as Christ – the person driving painfully slow in front of me, the checker at the grocery store who seems more interested in chatting than ringing up my items, the member of my own family with whom I can’t seem to have a conversation and not get annoyed? 
            If we believe that, as Jesus said, the two greatest commands are to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and mind” and to “love your neighbor as yourself”, then this passage has a lot to teach us.  Basically, Christ is connecting the command to “love God” with the command to “love your neighbor.” By loving the least of these we are loving God himself. 
            In this same chapter of Matthew, Jesus blesses some people for what they have done. Confused, they ask, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go visit you?” (vv. 37-39)
            His answer is staggering: “The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me” (v. 40). Jesus is saying that we show tangible love for God in how we care for the poor and those who are suffering. He expects us to treat the poor and the desperate as if they were Christ Himself.
            God didn’t just give a little for us; He gave His best.  He gave himself. John is saying that it is no different for us.  True love requires sacrifice. And our love is shown by how we live our lives: “Let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.”  Crazy Love, pgs 118-119

These words aren’t new, but they have rattled me.  I think if I am honest with myself, the thing that has been so hard for me with this whole incident is the ugliness of my own heart and my own thoughts.  There is a profound new realization that while the people around me are lost and broken, causing them to hate and hit and fear. I am no better.  The hatred in my heart for Scumbag makes me a scumbag as well.  I have found very few times in my own life where I have found it hard to love people.  Be annoyed with them, sure. Judge them unfairly, of course. But I have always ‘loved’ them. Haven’t I?

I now find myself having to choose love.  My na├»ve little heart that has always found it so easy, is breaking at the seams these days.  How do we love those who steal from us, lie to our faces, take their anger out on human flesh, hate our guts?  I thought I knew, but now I am at a loss. 

I am so back to the drawing board here that it isn’t even funny.  I feel so weak and humble in these days. I wish I could feel otherwise. I liked feeling confident of what God’s heart was. If I am really honest with myself, at this time I don’t quite share God’s heart as much as I have led myself to believe. 

What does it mean to love this man?  To be honest, I don’t know. How do I show the Father to the masses around me? I don’t have an answer for that. But He does.  I sit at His feet, learn to love Him more and ask that through me, He would be poured out to those around me.  Choosing love means choosing Him in these days. That is all I have to offer.

Excerpt from Francis Chan's book Crazy Love

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

This Day

This post was supposed to have nice pictures to go with it...but I have been trying for three days to upload them and it hasn't worked...So, it is sans photos...

Some Days

Life is a roller coaster, isn’t it? 

Some days

I find myself overtaken by the beauty around me. This place might not seem beautiful at first glance, but I would venture to say that it grows on you.

The shimmer of a blue burka as it dances ever so slightly in the breeze

The late afternoon sunlight glancing off the mountains 

The pine trees and cobbled streets

The twist of a turban and the glitter of a hat that peeps out from its center

The small and sure steps of a donkey as they trod along

The lilting sound of children’s laughter

The birds that fill our tree with activity and songs

The explosion of color that fills the cloth sellars stall

The kindness of friends

The love of family

Other days 

The ugliness of this place speaks loud and clear

Mud and dust cover everything

Sickness and lack of care run rampant

Poverty speaks of hardship and hunger

Greed gives way to bitterness and oppression

Violence is practiced by even the youngest members of society

Lying and deceit are common courtesy

Abuse of women is the norm

Faith is so easily replaced with fear

Many prayers are said, but all have a common futile ring

The days come one after the other, some full of goodness, others in need of much grace. So often I am drawn quickly from the mountaintop of beauty and enjoyment to the valley of despair. I am so reminded in these days of my need for a Savior, my family’s need for a Savior, this country’s need for a Savior. 

Lord, may I come to look at each day

As a gift from you

No matter how hard

How scary

How sad

May I see you in everything

Give me eyes to see others

As beautiful

As worth it

As you see them

Humble me in my fear and doubt

Bring me to my knees

Now more than ever before

You are the hope

You are the healer

You are the Master of this day

The Name of Jesus – Chris Tomlin

The name of Jesus is a refuge
A shelter from the storm, a help to those who call
The name of Jesus is a fortress
A saving place to run, a hope unshakeable

When we fall You are the Savior, when we call You are the answer
There is power in Your name, there is power in Your name

In the name of Jesus
There is life and healing
Chains are broken in Your name
Every knee will bow down and our heats will cry out
Songs of freedom in Your name, oh, in Your name

Bring salvation, bring Your Kingdom
Let all that You have made bring glory to Your name
When we fall you are the Savior, when we call You are the answer
There is power in Your name, there is power in Your name

Howler Monkey Anyone???

One small Howler Monkey looking for a good home…must be ready to play/entertain 24/7, must be willing to bend over backwards to provide just the right food, must be able to cuddle constantly, and it is imperative that you are either deaf or insensitive to very very loud howling.

So, I had big plans for this morning, stuff to accomplish, progress to feel good about.  We are in the process of getting another bedroom i.e. taking over part of the storage room that is tacked onto the current bedroom so A and I can sleep in there. We are thrilled at the thought of being able to sleep in our bed again.  Don’t get me wrong, sleeping bags on the living room floor are exciting and cozy and romantic and all…

The process required cleaning and prepping the existing room so that stuff can be moved out/around in order for a hole to be knocked in the wall to put a door in.  Little t’s clothes were the main thing to get out of the way, so I started on that.  I figured that while I was at it I would record and take photos of all of his clothes. Now, I didn’t do this cause I am organized or anything…I did this because of our teammates are home right now having just had their third child. It is a boy and I thought that they might want to use Little t’s clothes instead of having to haul over or find those sizes as well…so I took pictures so they can see what we have.  I was busy doing this and stacking and sorting and packing, etc.

Enter Howler Monkey…5 seconds after I started this project…  See Little t has this thing he does when he is sad or mainly when he is bored and wants attention.  He howls/cries as he wanders around the house and more importantly as he clings to my legs begging me to pick him up and play with him.  I am not talking like a little whimper…I am talking howl/moan/groan very very loudly and very very consistently.

Little t is a smarty pants (yes I am biased) and he plays really well by himself…for like 5 seconds. After that, he is all about me entertaining him.  He did better at playing by himself a few months ago. But now…wow…it just doesn’t happen and I really struggle to know what to do.  Like this morning, he was rested, fed, changed, had plenty to play with and yet spent the entire hour and a half trying to cling to my legs and pull at my shirt.  When he wasn’t clinging, he was still howling; looking for something to get into, play with, or pull off shelves.  Remember, the goal was to clean the room (and I expected it would take about 20 minutes). An hour and a half later the room was even messier than when we started – full of toys and books and pictures and stuffed animals and random kitchen utensils I had brought in to try to distract him while I worked.  He would play with the new thing for 5 seconds and then come back to me…howling the whole time.  I would take a few minutes to play with him and get him really interested in something….he would start playing on his own and I would step away to work…after a few seconds he would realize I had stopped and would begin to howl.  Silly boy. 

By lunchtime, anyone who entered our house would have wondered where the tornado was that had caused such a mess and how I got a jungle animal all the way here to the desert.  I had a splitting headache and had accomplished much less than I was hoping…and yet the howling continued.  I finally surrendered and put a movie on for the Monkey while I made his lunch, counting down the nano-seconds until it was nap-time. 

The howling immediately stopped…the kid is a movie freak and sadly that is the only way I can get things done, in silence, while he is awake. I am trying to not give in and let him sit in front of the t.v. all day, but it sure is much more pleasant (and quiet) than the Howler.  I know he needs to learn how to play by himself and we are working on it….but 5 minutes of howling is about all I can take. 

Here is the thing, I know it sounds like I am annoyed with him (I am slightly) or that I don’t fully appreciate the little bundle of cuteness…I do.  I love the kid, I am crazy about the kid, he makes me SO happy. I went in 3 times last night to watch him sleep because I love him so much (and also partly because we don’t have anything to do after 5 around here and we were really bored…).  I do I do I do love him like crazy…but this loud tortured sounding alter ego who randomly takes over my child when I don’t pay attention to him 112% of the time has got to go…I want my boy back! The one who drives his tractors as he putters, who sings to himself, who plays with his animals, who reads his books – quietly.  I like him a lot. 

So, if anyone would appreciate a Howler Monkey, he is yours for the taking.  I have a very sweet little boy that I miss and hope comes back soon.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Wonderful Maker

My mind flashed back to a lazy morning in Cairo as A and I lounged on the cushions in our living room last night.  I realized that the peace in our house was almost overwhelming.  I laid with my head in A’s lap, his hand on my hair as we reminisced about how we had gotten to this place in life and thanked our Father over and over with blessing us with so much.  Outside it was pitch black and there wasn’t a sound; no dogs barking, no motorcycles zooming past, no mullahs, no helicopters overhead, nothing…blissfully silent.  Speaking of blissful silence, our beautiful baby boy lay snug in his reindeer pj’s in the next room, sawing logs and most likely dreaming of trikes and fruit snacks.  I must admit that I was a little emotional as I reflected on what all had gotten us to this place and how good it was to be here. 

On that morning in Cairo 7 years ago we found ourselves in the middle of a park in the same position; A propped up with his back against a tree, me laying down looking up at him with my head on his leg…the stance of every young Egyptian couple in that park, occupying every tree. We only had eyes for each other that morning, ignoring the soccer ball that kept ‘accidentally’ being kicked over toward us and the stares of passersby as they realized that we were not local, no matter how much we desperately tried and wanted to fit in.  We were intent on making up for lost time, soaking up the presence of each other that we had so desperately missed the last four months while A had lived Cairo and I was in school in Minnesota. 

We smiled last night as we reminisced on our whirlwind week together in that fascinating city. It was packed full to the brim with seeing sights, meeting people, being together and most importantly learning how the Father had molded and shaped us during our time apart. I will admit that I was nervous about the separation, wondering if our blossoming love would stand the test of sporadic phone calls, hectic and stressful schedules and completely opposite time zones.  But it did and it was good.

Our conversation drifted to the various locations we have sought the Lord together over the last 8 years – the mountains and beaches and cities of the Philippines, the remote mountain valleys of Lal, on our blissful honeymoon in Colorado, our apartments in Minnesota, our house in Iowa, in the bustling cities of Thailand, the quiet stretches of sand in Indonesia, a rumbling train crossing India and now our little house in M-ville. 

I continued to contemplate the defining moments that each of those places held. Like living overseas for the first time in the Philippines and learning how to do that, only to return there a few years later broken and burned out…desperately seeking healing and restoration from the shattered dreams we had of changing the world. Manila has become our refuge and our dear friends there, our family. 

We have had amazing experiences digging deep into the Word in Thailand as we learn more and more of this Savior who has captivated us. We have been refreshed by evenings spent eating on the street with friends from around the world who share our passions. The last time we visited, it was bittersweet. We had just left Lal, exhausted and with such mixed feelings…not knowing if we would return to this country or not. We also looked forward to what was to come, were excited to see family and couldn’t wait to meet our child that was making my stomach extend rapidly. 

Indonesia has been a place of sweetness for us…both times we have been there, it has been with friends and the fellowship has been rich and challenging. We left both times hopeful that Dad would lead us there to work, but He had other plans.

Lal will always hold a place in our hearts. The place that first captured us with its beauty and simplicity and people. The place that first broke our hearts with its pain and complexity and people…a beautiful paradox. 

Our house in Iowa seems like a dream these days. It speaks of the tiny baby who dwelled there. The lazy summer afternoons lounging on a blanket in the yard as we watched the tractors roll by. The months of seeking the Father for our next steps. The months of questioning when/if He would speak. The place we grieved deeply and rejoiced. The place where dear ones gathered and where deep and sacred fellowship happened. I feel like we grew up a lot in the last year.

And here we are in our little house in M-ville. I read the first few paragraphs of this and am amazed. Tonight the dogs are going crazy, airplanes are overhead and the peace that was so tangible that I could have cut it with a knife a few nights ago seems to have vanished. Some days (like today) I am left feeling like we are in way over our heads. But through it all the peace that flooded my heart remains.

We are not here by accident, we didn’t happen upon this by chance.  We can’t deny that the hand of the Father has led us here. I marvel as I look at the intricate tapestry that is our life thread by thread. Each place we have sought Him has brought us to this place. Each moment of pain has made us more humble in these days.Times of wondering if He was speaking have caused us to evaluate whether we were really listening. Doubts and fears have caused us to cling tighter to His hand. Desperation has brought us to our knees. 

I am not going to lie to you, this is not a walk in the park.  We don’t have it all together and we don’t live without fear. These days are hard. But most importantly we know that we don’t do it alone.  Some days lately it seem like we have bitten off more than we can chew, but His grace is enough. He proves that each and every second.  We are weak and He is strong.  He will increase if we decrease.  His fingerprints cover each part of our story. Every one of our longings and hopes and dreams are held in His hand.  Truly He brings the peace that passes all understanding and we rest in that.

Wonderful Maker - Jeremy Camp
You spread out the skies over empty space 
Said, let there be light 
To a dark and formless world 
Your light was born 
You spread out your arms over empty hearts 
Said, let there be light 
To a dark and hopeless world 
Your son was born

You made the world and saw that it was good 
You sent your only son, for you are good

What a wonderful maker 
What a wonderful savior 
How majestic your whispers 
And how humble your love 
With a strength like no other 
And the heart of a father 
How majestic your whispers 
What a wonderful God

No eye has fully seen how beautiful the cross 
And we have only heard the faintest whispers 
Of how great you are

You made the world and saw that it was good 
You sent your only son, for you are good

What a wonderful maker 
What a wonderful savior 
How majestic your whispers 
And how humble your love 
With a strength like no other 
And the heart of a father 
How majestic your whispers 
What a wonderful God

How majestic your whispers 
what a wonderful God

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

I have a heart for you

I was deeply moved by this blog post and hope you will be too.  Click on the link below.

I have a heart for you


I felt like I needed to post something not so serious after my rant and rave session...for anyone who is still reading after that.

I was also thinking about a lot of things this morning that were fun that I wanted to write about, but weren't really big enough things to post separately about so I thought I would throw them in here cause they all kinda follow the theme of here we go.

14 - number of months of my baby...he just had his 14 month b-day on the 10th

10 - the day in February that little T started walking.

1 - the number of kiwis that little T ate for supper last night

7 - the number of days that the group of neighborhood boys come knocking on the gate because they have lost their ball over the wall.

7 - the number of days that said boys knock on said gate very loudly just after I have put little down for his nap.

15 - number of boys who come to the gate

2 - number of boys who are allowed into the yard to look for the first I said one, but they insisted there needed to be two of them...because they say I am scary! :)

4 - number of Finnish children that returned to M-ville today after a month of vacation

5 - number of times in the last month I have overheard people in the bazaar discussing whether I am from Iran.

0 - number of times I have corrected them.

3 - number of days a week angel khAla comes to do my dishes

3 - number of days a week that angel khAla tells me it is nice out and I MUST take little T out to play.

1 - number of dollars per hour angel khAla makes when she works for us (I would pay her more, but it is a rule)

2 - number of kilos of carrots I bought in the bazaar yesterday

30 - number of cents that each kilo of carrots cost me

1 - number of kilos that I should have bought instead...I get excited about carrots for some reason

3 - number of hours that little T has been napping is bliss

5 - number of times I have been trying to work out each week while he naps.

0 - percent of motivation I have to work out today...hence the blog I am typing right now.

7 - number of nights a week that A and I go in and stare at little T as he sleeps.

48 - number of degrees it was yesterday in the bazaar when some man scolded A for having his baby out
in such cold weather...

14 - number of donkeys we saw in the bazaar we saw yesterday, a rough estimate, but probably close

1 - number of times this week I have been asked if I was pregnant

0 - number of times this week I have been pregnant

10 - number of kids that angel khAla has had (2 have died)

9 - number of the kids that the guards have suggested to A that we should have

20 - number of minutes I laughed when A told me this and I thought about what life would be like for us

2 - number of guards who nodded in acknowledgement when A started talking through with them the expenses of getting a family of 11 back and forth from America to here

6 or 7 - the number of children the guards settled for that would be acceptable for us to have

0 - the percent of say that the guards have in said decision

100 - times a day I wish I was able to take more pictures here.

100 - times a day I will myself to not forget the beauty and grace and strength of the people in this place.

countless - the number of times every I realize how good God is and how very very richly he has blessed me in this place and this life.

Here's The Deal...

If you want to rant and rave against something that you think is bringing down society as we know it…or maybe is just imposing on your safe and comfortable bubble…I am all for it if you DO something constructive to back it up.  The number of Believers who send around e-mails about followers of Isl-am and yet don’t know any or strive to do anything to bring them any hope or truth infuriates me.  People who yell at homosexuals that they are going to hell but would not be the hands and feet of Jesus i.e. even touch said people with a ten foot pole need to pull that plank out of their own eye before they rant and rave.  Those who stand in front of abortion clinics with signs about killing babies, yet do nothing to work with the women who are entering said clinics…especially nothing proactive so those women have a chance of not ending up there in the first place have no respect from me.  Those who live in a land such as this and are scared out of their pants to go visit their neighbors because it is way out of their comfort zone and they know the gossip about said neighbors (me) should suck it up or go home (I put this in bold so it didn't look like I was just yelling at everyone else and leaving myself out). 

I am reading Crazy Love by Francis Chan right now. At first I wasn’t into it…I found it kinda boring to be honest. It was easy for me to say…yeah, people should be doing that, they need to be doing more than they are, blah blah blah. Then I began to look at my own life honestly in light of the book and then I didn’t like the book for other reasons – because I am deeply convicted by it. And frankly, some days (most days if I am honest) I would rather be lazy and clueless than convicted. 

My point is this: we can talk all we want about how Jesus spoke with truth and power and conviction to those in sin, but until our lives LIVE OUT the humility and courage and victory that Jesus walked in, I think we need to keep our mouths shut (and ironically here I am blabbing mine).  Think about it – Jesus ate with sinners, He washed their feet, He touched the blind man’s eyes, He touched the leper, He drew a line in the sand, He cleared the temple, He wept with people.  Jesus embodied the statement that actions speak louder than words.  When we start DOING what He did – meeting people at their point of need and in the depth of their sin instead of passing e-mails around about them or closing the windows tightly and hoping that they somehow go away, then we will be the true hands and feet of Jesus to the lost and dying world. 

The many things I have read lately about how bloodthirsty M-uslims need to be wiped off the face of the earth…not how my Jesus works.   Greg Boyd reminds us of the verse in Ephesians: For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. (Ephesians 6:12)  He says that anything that has flesh and blood is not our enemy and we should fight FOR them. Does this mean that we condone their sin? Did Jesus? But it does mean that we give them a better alternative to the sin that they are living out of. 

Like I said, I am preaching mostly to myself… kind of a pep talk for the long days that seem not worth the effort in some ways.  I can’t get away from the fact that I want to be proactively living and working and bleeding and crying amongst the poor and powerless and scary and hurting, and maybe that means being uncomfortable or afraid. I would much rather be doing that, than I would do nothing but live in fear and paranoia and one day have to stand before the King and answer why I didn’t fight FOR the flesh and blood around me.  And this convicts me to go visit the neighbor. It also reminds me that I said I was going to zip my lip…and I didn’t actually keep that promise for very long!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Please Lord

“Give me your pain, God says, and I will make life out of it.  Give me your broken, disfigured, rejected, betrayed lives, like the body you see hanging on the cross, and I will make life out of it.  This is the divine pattern of promise and transformation which gives such hope to history.  It is probably the central Gospel message.”  (Fr. Richard Rohr)

I found this quote last night and it blew me away. As I read blogs and articles this morning, mostly about Egypt and the Muslim world, I began to be shaken. I should know better by now than to read the fanatically conservative (yes I did just put those two words together) and ignorant ranting that is going on right along with the hatred that can sometimes spew from the Muslim world.  Doing what we do makes it hit close to home and I find myself in an ironic juxtoposition…stuck in the middle between the life I knew as a clueless little shrimp in middle America verses the things I see and learn every day in the Third World.  Events like our world is facing right now cause me to panic slightly because I find myself in uncharted territory – the people I have come to know and love and have surrendered a fair amount to live amongst are pinned as the demon on everyone’s doorstep. I want to object, to defend, to refute, etc. But most of the time I sit powerless because this is by no means a perfect world or sinless people.  I can’t deny that horrible things happen everyday in the name of Islam. The problem is, I also can’t deny the Truth that was sent for ALL people and the conviction I feel that ALL people have a right to know and experience that Truth.

So I find myself caught in the middle…knowing that fanaticism on both sides fuels hatred and anger and loathing, making the gap even further and more explosive.  Enter the above quote…for this is what I hope and pray and really feel is the only way out of this mess.  Oh, that we could be a people who have faith that God will change lives, bring hope and life out of dead bones!

I have a lot of opinions about what is going on in the world right now, but I have been humbled and challenged to zip my lip (which is not easy for me) and pray instead – asking that the Light of Truth truly be what guides me and the Body of Christ at this crucial time in history. May we long for this quote to be truth in every life that breathes upon the earth in these days. 

Friday, February 11, 2011

A Nice Day for a White Wedding...

I was invited to go to a wedding this week. A family member of one of A’s co-workers was getting married and I was able to tag along.  I have to admit that I was REALLY excited about this.  To a girl who doesn’t get out much, this was a BIG deal.  I had angel khAla take my fabric for my fancy outfit to a friend of hers who sews and get it made for me.  I forgot to get a photo of that…will take one soon…

The day of the wedding, A got up early so he could be ready to go to the men’s ceremony that started at 7:30 am.  He was back 45 minutes later. He described that they walked into the hotel, sat down, were handed food, ate, got up and left.  What a celebration huh?!?

At 12:15 when the ladies and I arrived at the hotel, the scene was slightly different.  You could hear the music pumping all the way down the street.  We walked into the hotel and I couldn’t help but smile…I like weddings a lot! The room (about the size of a high school gymnasium) was packed with women, I would guess between 400 and 500 sat at tables. There were kids and babies running around everywhere.  In the front of the room was a large stage covered in white satin, Christmas lights and flowers.  Below the stage in the center was the dance floor, where young women took turns dancing to the (very very loud) music that was played by a live band at the back of the room. 

We were ushered to a table up front by A’s co-worker.  Thus began the next 5 ½ hours of being greeted by floods of women who came up to our table, talking and laughing with A’s other co-workers, watching the bride and groom make their appearance 3 times and trying to keep track and of the family ties of everyone. Amazingly, the 2 co-workers who sat with my German teammate and I knew everyone and how they were all related.  They described patiently who was whose aunt, how she was related to the women we met 10 minutes ago, how this woman’s aunt was married to that woman’s son, etc.  It was very very overwhelming…there were SO many women to keep track of and it was SO loud! We basically had to yell in each other’s ears and I walked out 6 hours later with a massive headache (that could have been from the noise, or speaking language for 6 hours straight, or both!).

It is hard to describe those 6 hours…hard to wrap my head around it all. There were so many women and kids, so many fancy dresses, so much gold, so much glitter, so much makeup…you get the idea.  We sat for an hour or so meeting people and watching women dance before the bride and groom made their first appearance. They came in wearing green wedding clothes (green is a sacred color here) they went on stage and did some henna on each other’s hands and then their hands were tied together to symbolize their marriage.

The couple and their attendants in their green outfits
This couple had actually chosen each other after falling in love.  Here that is very rare as usually the marriages are arranged by the parents who “shop around” for spouses for their children.  These two had met during school in Pakistan, fallen in love and convinced their families to let them marry.  I was told that it took over a year of their families denying their request and the groom threatening to go back to Pakistan and never return if he couldn’t have this girl before it actualized into this union. So there they are in their green finery, being shown as a couple for the first time.

Interesting to note that in each picture the bride looks down and looks generally miserable.  I asked my friend Az about that and she reminded me that though the bride is happy, she MUST appear to be miserable to make it look like she is appropriate and a “good woman”…meaning that she isn’t having any fun on the biggest day of her life.  Because we all know that being miserable when you get married means success right? So anyway, she was all done up, but looked sad. I am hoping she is really has happy as I was told. 

So, after they made their appearance, the couple scooted back into their private room and the food began to roll out.  It is no easy feat to feed 400+ women and children. The plates of food (rice with carrots, raisins, meat) fed two people and came with bread, oranges, tea and pop.  We ate and ate and ate…the food was surprisingly good. There must have been a silent signal in the room because once plates were empty, kids all over the room were scrambling for the pop bottles.  Throughout the rest of the wedding we saw at least a dozen kids walking around chugging pop straight from the 2 liter bottles – pretty funny. As we were wiping our greasy fingers the music started back up and the bride and groom were making their second appearance. They walked down the aisle under a banner of cloth held up by attendants.  This time they were wearing traditional wedding clothes; velvet with very ornate designs stitched into them with gold thread.  This time when they reached the stage, they stood and bowed as a gesture of thanks each time the announcer said the names of friends and family members. They left once again and more dancing took place.
Here is the couple arriving in traditional clothes under the banner

Showing their gratitude

I love the lighting in this picture

The cake made its way to the stage after this and the bride and groom followed soon after in traditional (and very very sparkly) wedding clothes. By this time I was ready to head out…we had seen all of the fancy clothes, I had been away from home for 4 hours and was beginning to worry about my men.  My local friends insisted we stay however. They kept saying, ‘you will want to see the amount of gold she receives, and you have to taste the cake!’ I thought about it and realized that there was a LOT of money floating around the room…so decided to stay and see what materialized. 

The couple with their 5 tiered cake

The couple in their traditional wedding clothes, pre gold
A LOT of gold materialized.  It took 20 minutes for them to deck the girl out with all of the gold she received. In this culture, gold is a girl’s saving’s account basically…it is what she has to hang onto in life. This one will be sitting pretty!  She had at least two rings on each finger, a tiara, 5 gold bangles on each hand, 3 necklaces, countless pairs of earrings and they even started a bag for things that she couldn’t wear – like pairs of earrings and extra rings.  It was crazy.  Hard to fathom that there is that kind of money in that place and I walked away with mixed feelings.  There are so many that are starving and just on the brink of survival…and yet there is this.  I still don’t know what to make of it, but I must admit that I enjoyed every minute of the experience.

What seemed like a lifetime later a very elaborate cake-cutting ceremony was complete. We were handed a little taste of it and then made a bolt for the door. 

All in all, we had a great time. It was fun to see so many women out enjoying themselves for the day while all dressed up. 

Monday, February 7, 2011

Third Time's a Charm or Third Strike You're Out?

It is a slight understatement to say that I don’t get out much these days. We are blessed to have a very nice yard that little T and I play in every day, but many days can go by before I see what lies beyond the 15 foot walls that surround our house.  95% of me is okay with this…it is the way life is in this place at this point in time…we knew it before we came and we are learning to adjust. The other 5% of me longs to get out and shop, take walks, visit friends, etc.  Not that there is much to do here in M-ville, but still. 

One thing that we took for granted in our previous location was our interaction with local people.  We came to despise it some days because we couldn’t get away from them – they were constantly at our gate, would find us at work, would follow us as we went on walks, would interrupt our picnics.  But though, it was bothersome at times, we were constantly around people. Our language was better for it, our stomachs’ were sicker for it, yes, but the cups of tea, the meals, the weddings, funerals, visits, etc. were golden. 

I miss that here. Along with not getting out much comes not interacting with people much. Not only that, but even if I were to see a woman I knew on the street, I wouldn’t recognize her under her blue garb.  So, I have been thinking about a friend, asking Dad for a friend…and hoping that I didn’t mess it up.

See, a few weeks ago when A and I went out on our motorcycle date, we stopped at the one store in town that sells cheese.  Little T loves himself some cheese (his newest word by the way) and we go through it quite quickly.  Since this shop is on the other side of town, we took the liberty of using the moto to head over there quickly.  A stayed with the bike on the street while I walked up the steps of the store (most shops here have open fronts).  As I was looking around and picking things out I overheard a woman asking the other woman she was with if she thought I spoke the local language. Then she asked the shopkeeper if he knew.  He replied that he had no idea.  Finally she turned to me with her question.  I replied “a little”. 

She laughed and we began to talk. After a sentence or two, she switched to nearly flawless English.  As I sat there stunned, she went on to tell me that she had taken a few English courses and now works as a cashier in a bank in town.  Thursday (like your Saturday) was her day off and when she did her shopping.  We talked for 10 minutes or so and then she said goodbye as she finished up her purchases and walked away with her friend.  I was still smiling about it when I climbed back on the bike and told A. He immediately asked what her name was and if I had invited her over. And that is when I felt very sad because I realized that I had just talked to a piece of blue cloth – my very first interaction with a woman in M-ville outside of my compound…she initiated it and spoke English, etc – and I had let her walk away.  I had no idea what she looked like, what her name was, which bank she worked at, etc. 

The whole next week, I thought about my ‘friend’, kicking myself for not being more proactive.  Imagine my very pleasant surprise when I got two blessings the next Thursday. Our friend R invited me to go to the bazaar with her and A offered to hang out with little T while we were gone. They did manly things like went to the motorcycle shops and the mechanic…manly men they are!  Anyway, R and I had a great time. We took our time as we looked at fabric and scarves and outfits and shoes and gold necklaces and bracelets and earrings and tiara and all things ridiculous.  As we walked along my second very pleasant surprise (first one being trip sans baby) came and tapped me on the shoulder.  Again, I could just make out eyes behind the mesh screen and a somewhat familiar voice asked, ‘hi, do you remember me?’ It was my friend again and she had chased us down the street to catch up with us.  We talked for quit a few minutes and had a very nice conversation.  This time I got her name (F) and the name of the bank she works at.  Eventually, she said goodbye and away she went.  R and I continued walking, peeking in shops here and there…suddenly my friend F was there again and told us to come in this shop that was owned by her family.  We went in and then had to speak English with her brother for 10 minutes while his uncle brought an item from another shop we were looking for…slightly awkward, but we made it out eventually. 

We happened to run into A and little T a few streets over so we all made our way home together.  When I excitedly told A about running into F he asked again if I had invited her over.  Once again, I kicked myself and had to say no. 

So, here I sit, two weeks later…hoping that I will run into F again and be able to invite her over for tea. I have to think that running into her two weeks in a row was a good sign…and that maybe the third time will be the charm?  I am asking Dad to once again place this woman in my life, cause it is pretty dang exciting to have the possibility of a friend for a girl who doesn’t get out much!

Sunday, February 6, 2011


I just discovered this site tonight and was riveted...I seriously spent all night reading, learning and grieving...and yet I couldn't help but find some hope and joy in the work that this organization is doing in some of the most difficult places in the world.  I would really really encourage you to take a look at their website - it is very informative, very humbling, very sad in a lot of ways. But like I said, there is an element of hope and of promise to it as well.

I have been challenged in these last few days with the words of the Father as he urges us in places like the book by Matthew chapter 5 to put others before ourselves, to look out for the poor and the downtrodden.  Isaiah also talks about this.  I heard not too long ago that there are 2000 references in our Holy Book to the Father caring about the poor and downtrodden...I guess He means it huh?  I have been challenged lately by this quote by Steven Colbert

“If this is going to be a Christian nation that doesn’t help the poor, either we’ve got to pretend that Jesus was just as selfish as we are, or we’ve got to acknowledge that he commanded us to love the poor and serve the needy without condition — and then admit that we just don’t want to do it.” 

And so I leave you with that quote and some sobering facts from the Women For Women International site.

Each time you vote, you fear for your life. 
Your legal system does not protect you from violence and rape.
If you try to go to school, you risk being attacked.
This is today's Afghanistan.
In recent years, a resurgence in Taliban forces, human trafficking and armed warlords have destroyed the status and safety of Afghan women. But they have hope — and the determination to strive — for a better future.

The average salary is just 48 cents a day

On average, Afghan women give birth to seven children

In a 2008 survey of 4,700 Afghan women, 87.2% had experienced at least one form of physical, sexual or psychological violence or forced marriage in their lifetimes

85.1% of women have no formal education

74% of girls drop out of school by 5th grade

Only 1% of girls in rural communities attend school

Nearly 79% of women are illiterate

Women for Women International exists because of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
In 1993, Women for Women International Founder and CEO Zainab Salbi heard reports of wartime atrocities against women in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Compelled to act, she visited the country herself.
She spoke with women who'd been imprisoned in rape camps, endured daily mass rapes by soldiers and had lost their entire families to ethnic cleansing.
When she returned to the U.S., she founded Women for Women International to help Bosnian women.
Although the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina was more than 15 years ago, it toppled the economy and shattered lives, and women are still struggling today: to heal, to recover and to reunite.

During the war, nearly 33% of all hospitals were damaged or destroyed.

During the war, 60% of all homes were bombed.

During the war, 50% of all schools were destroyed.

During the war, 60% of livestock were killed.

Today, 32.9% of women are unemployed, making them easy targets for prostitution or traffickers.

Today, leftover landmines make farming deadly.

Imagine that you never feel safe, not even in your own home.
You are perpetually at risk of violence, rape, theft, famine and disease.
You, or someone close to you, has been the innocent victim of an endless, senseless and brutal war.
This is today's DR Congo.

45,000 people in DR Congo are expected to die each month – some from military action; most from lack of safe access to food, clean water and medical treatment.

50% of all deaths in DR Congo are children under the age of five.

200,000 Congolese women are rape survivors.

5.4 million people in DR Congo have died since the start of the war.

76% of DR Congo citizens have been personally affected by the war, or suffered its wider consequence.

More than 5.2 million children in DR Congo receive no education.

Iraq is plagued by controversial leadership and a lack of infrastructure, transforming the situation for women from one of relative autonomy and security before the war into a national crisis. Violence against women has radically increased: Female Iraqi professionals are targeted for abduction and murder.
Two wars, an authoritarian regime and U.N. sanctions have crippled Iraq, and today, most Iraqis struggle to meet their most basic needs. Many women are widowed and most live in poverty.

Of Women for Women International-Iraq program participants surveyed, 70% cannot afford daily, basic necessities.

Of Women for Women International-Iraq program participants surveyed, 51% are unable to pay for medical care.

Of Women for Women International-Iraq program participants surveyed, 90% are not engaged in productive work.

Of Women for Women International-Iraq program participants surveyed, 57.5% cannot read or write more than their name.

Of Women for Women International-Iraq program participants surveyed, more than 50% have no access to electricity or water.

Kosovo was the site of ethnic cleansing, mass rapes and looting during the Balkan Wars in the 1990s.
In 2008, the disputed area of Kosovo split from Serbia to become its own country. Although most of the country savors its hard-won independence, tensions between ethnic groups still run high, and the country is struggling to find its way as a new nation.
Bearing the heaviest burdens of post-war reconstruction are Kosovo's women. Many are widows, who must provide for their families alone. Persistent gender inequality coupled with a 44.2 percent unemployment rate makes this nearly impossible. Unemployment disproportionately affects young women and those with a limited education. The per capita income in Kosovo is just $2,500 a year–among the very lowest in Europe.
Kosovo has beautiful, fertile land that goes unused. It has rich natural resources that remain untapped. And its women are desperate to prove that they can contribute to their fledgling nation.

81.5% of Kosovo's women said they have no access to information about the laws in their country and 66.7% said they don't know how to find this information.

62.8% of women are unemployed, making them easy targets for human traffickers.

37% of Kosovo's population lives in poverty, with 15% living in extreme poverty.

44.2% of all Kosovo's citizens are unemployed.

Kosovo imports 80% of what it consumes.

Imagine that you are a second-class citizen.
As a child, you weren't allowed to progress beyond grammar school. You were sold into marriage. Your husband is legally allowed to beat and rape you.
Ethnic tension erupts, claims lives and then simmers down in constant cycles. You know you could be left a widow at any time, without any means of supporting your family.
This is today's Nigeria. More than 30 years of military rule created a legacy of violence, ruined infrastructure and wide-scale corruption. But its women have hope for the future.

10 out of 36 Nigerian states have laws allowing husbands to use physical force against their wives.

60% of women have endured genital-cutting–and in some southern regions as high as 100% have undergone the practice.

Women are often forced to marry very young.

Martial rape is not considered a crime.

Hundreds of Nigerian women are sold into human trafficking to "repay" debts.

Among Women for Women International-Nigeria participants, 64% cannot read or write.

Among Women for Women International-Nigeria participants, 38% have no formal education.

Among Women for Women International-Nigeria participants, 87% have no electricity or running water in their homes.

Imagine you lost everyone you loved in a senseless and terrifying month of violence.
During the massacre, you had a choice: kill or be killed. You saw your friends and neighbors turned into murderers, rapists, looters or torturers.
You cannot forget. But you must continue to live—with yourself and with the people around you. Years later, you still have bad dreams. And your country is still struggling to recover.
You live in poverty, raising a family on your own. You adopted children who were orphaned by genocide and AIDS and raised them as yours, sharing what little you have.
This is today's Rwanda.

During the 1994 genocide, more than 800,000 Rwandans were murdered, and 200,000 more displaced.

During the 1994 genocide, up to 500,000 women and girls were raped and tortured.

Today, Rwanda is more than 70% female.

Today, more than 1/3 of households are run by women; 80% of those are run by impoverished widows.

Among Women for Women International-Rwanda Participants, 64% are illiterate and 38% have had no formal education.

Among Women for Women International-Rwanda Participants, 96% have no electricity or running water in their homes.

Among Women for Women International-Rwanda Participants, 70% have lost a family member due to conflict or war.

Imagine you live in a country that has been at war with itself for 40 years.
Imagine that your odds of dying in childbirth are greater than your odds of completing primary school. You don't have access to medical care, school or even clean water. Your children are in danger of starvation, disease or being abducted by rebels as sex slaves or child soldiers. Most likely, you live in a refugee camp and are on the run from violence.
You have nothing. You own nothing—especially not land.
This is today's Southern Sudan.

In Southern Sudan, one in six pregnant women die in childbirth.

In Southern Sudan, one in six babies dies before their first birthday.

In Southern Sudan, 90% live on less than one dollar every day.

In the forty-year civil war, 2 million have died.

In the forty-year civil war, 2 million women have been raped.

In the forty-year civil war, 4 million have fled their homes.

In the forty-year civil war, 700,000 people live in refugee camps.

Among Women for Women International-Sudan Participants, 96% cannot read or write.

Among Women for Women International-Sudan Participants, 97% have had no formal education.

Among Women for Women International-Sudan Participants, 99% have no electricity or running water in their homes.

Among Women for Women International-Sudan Participants, 78% have lost a family member due to conflict or war.