The holidays have always been a time of togetherness and feasting for my family. When crispness enters the air, bringing relief from the stifling Georgia summer, my mind turns to standing in my mom’s kitchen and making noodles or pound cake, pulling out the card table to make room for everyone in the kitchen.
The year my husband and I found ourselves living in a land that was still new to us when the holidays rolled around, we had none of the familiar traditions to anchor us to the season of feasting and family.
Our family was celebrating together over 6,000 miles away. Fall for us in the Middle East was marked by one uncommon rainfall, not falling leaves. We spent Thanksgiving with a group of internationals, eating turkey alongside stuffed grape leaves, the familiar next to the new. There was food and laughter, but it didn’t feel like a feast.
Homesickness settled in over my soul in the middle of the holiday season, pictures from home brought reminders of all I was missing out on. The poinsettia and little Charlie Brown tree in the corner were the only evidence of an approaching Christmas until an amazing thing happened.
Twinkling lights started adorning the buildings next to us and lanterns were strung between balconies. Candies and dates piled up in the produce section of the little grocery store and makeshift stables were erected in the streets outside our flat.
The Muslim holidays occur at different times each year following the lunar Islamic calendar. Eid-al-Adha, the cause of all of the decorations and excitement, happened to fall only a few days before our Christmas that year...
I was impressed by the monumental size of the stones, the mystery of how the ancients could build something so incredible. The sheer novelty of being next to such famous structures. But I tried to play it cool. We weren’t tourists; we had come to plant our lives in the Middle East.
We moved to Cairo at the end of summer with the heat still blazing down on us. We trekked through the unfamiliar streets to find grocery stores and vegetable stands, bakeries and shawarma stalls. We made at least four stops to get everything we needed for the week. Just running normal errands took every bit of effort my husband and I had as we explored our new city. Between the exhaustion from the heat and the mental strain of navigating life in a strange city, in a language we couldn’t yet understand — we were spent.
When friends offered to take us to the Pyramids, about half an hour from our new home, we welcomed the break from all of the practicalities.
Every photo I’d ever seen of the Pyramids showed these mammoth wonders of the world against a backdrop of breathtaking desert and not much else. Perhaps a camel or tourists looking like they were the size of ants would dot the base. But in pictures you get the impression that the Pyramids sit in the middle of an endless desert.
When we first spotted the famous landmarks, the peaks coming into view through the haze that seemed to hang in the air, every notion I had about the Pyramids changed.
Our car wove in and out of traffic. The honks were just friendly reminders that each car had to fight for space on the bumpy roads that transported twenty million people through the city. We rounded a bend and there they were—not in the middle of the desert but right in the heart of the bustling city. All those magnificent photos that are so famous are shot from the front of the Pyramids, with the Sphinx at the base.
But look from another angle and you will glimpse the complexities of life in this land—the ancient and the modern side by side. Wonders of the ancient world sit right next to the Pizza Hut…
Community can be an elusive goal, a moving target. Really living in community with others doesn’t come as naturally as proximity and it certainly comes with loss, heartache, and a lot of work.
For years, I thought of community as something that was built into the church. I mean, we are called the Body of Christ. We are all supposed to be part of the same living, breathing organism. That comes naturally, right?
I glimpsed real moments of community in a small group that lived our lives all tangles up with each other. All these young married couples were clueless as we navigated births and deaths, faith and lack thereof. Life was a mess of baby showers (one every other month the year we added about seven babies into the midst), birthdays, and snatches of prayer caught in the moments the little ones were playing.
Then the anchor of our little group moved away and we fell into disarray, tumbling out of community and groping in the dark for something that looked like what we had known before.
I knew there was a hunger in me for someone to really see me, a loneliness I couldn’t put my finger on. I didn’t realize how deeply it ran or how universal this longing really is until last week.
When I stepped into the home of a friend I’d only known online for the past year, a relationship grew deeper but I also realized that the foundation was already there. We met through a collaborative blog she founded and we have chatted over email and facebook, texts and through the words of our lives we put out there online for all to read.
I fell right into her life - picking up her daughter from school, meeting those she lives life with, and sharing our hearts over dinner. Hearing her words straight from her, instead of on a screen, and hugging her neck made the friendship so much sweeter. But I realized that community already existed there. She already knew me.
I expected an awkwardness in online relationships becoming real at the Festival of Faith and Writing when I met dozens of people that have only been bio pictures on a screen to me before. I found community instead, people longing to know and be known just like I was.
Maybe it is something about writers – how we can’t do small talk because we lay our lives bare in our words for all to read anyway. But we moved right into spiritual conversations and sharing our struggles, our hopes, and fears. There were tears and laughter over late nights because we just didn’t want it to end.
In several panels I heard writers talk about their blogs as their homes – places they build community. Leslie Leyland Fields talked about her blog being a place where she can invite people into her home, saying because of it she lives “in a bigger house with open windows.”
I realized these places I visit online are people’s homes, that social media (flawed as it is with false selves and picking fights) has built a global Body of Christ that I couldn’t truly see until it became flesh for me.
Back at home this week, I dove back into writing for my home – my own little corner of the internet. Comments came in and I realized I have a little community right here. Voices of my friends waited for me on Voxer and their words flowed in text messages, across facebook and twitter, emails and on blogs.
I also sat across several tables this week with members of my little group, scattered and gathered back together in different ways. We don’t look the same as we used to but our lives are still tangled up together.
I made space by getting up at 5 am, a long breakfast with an old friend before work. We shamelessly prayed in the middle of all the people bustling around us, grabbing their breakfast before heading off into their day.
I looked at her and said, “This is the church. Right here, we are it right here and now.” Continue Reading
The Western church responded in grief and solidarity when ISIS representatives beheaded 21 men on a beach in Libya several months ago. The victims were targeted for being “People of the Cross,” members of the Coptic Church.
Last month, Focus on the Family announced a project to aid the martyrs' families, building homes for them and providing job training. President Jim Daly called the outreach a “physical demonstration of unity within the worldwide body of Christ.” In a time of crisis, our prayers and support have turned to a marginalized group of Christians tucked in the Muslim world.
Eight years ago, when my husband and I moved to Cairo, I became an unlikely member of the Coptic community. We were welcomed into the largest Christian community in the Middle East and one of the oldest Christian bodies in the world. While Christians make up just 10 percent of Egypt's population, the Coptic Church’s history and unique position offers lessons for today.
In April, the world watched as a massive earthquake in Nepal killed more than 9,000 people and left hundreds of thousands homeless. Recovering from this recent disaster, however, is not the only struggle this country faces.
Around 1 million Christians live in this nation of 28 million. The growing church now faces increased persecution and their religious freedom is at risk.
After nine years with an interim government, Nepal is now just days away from the finalization of a new constitution. A group of political leaders, the Constitutional Assembly, rushed the draft through while most people's attention was on the reconstruction efforts. This rough draft, submitted to the public on June 31, has raised concerns with the Christian minority in the majority Hindu nation and has church leaders calling for action from the international community.
As the collective Body of Christ, those of us in the Western church should be concerned about what their Nepali brothers and sisters are facing. The Bible tells us as one Body “if one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it” (1 Corinthians 12:26). While the situation in Nepal may not affect the daily lives of Christians in the West, as followers of Christ, it should affect our hearts and prayers for the people of Nepal.
In 2006, the Comprehensive Peace Agreement between the communist Maoists and the government of Nepal ended the 10-year civil war. Nepal became a secular nation, no longer the world’s only Hindu Kingdom, and the lack of government brought new freedom to groups previously restricted in meeting together and sharing their faith.
Nepali Christian leaders had been working with the government on changes in the constitution that would bring full freedom of religion to Nepal. They were encouraged with progress until leaders from the major political parties met with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in July.
Today, my story is being hosted at the beautiful SheLoves Magazine. Please join me there...
Some of the stereotypes of the Bible-belt South tend to be true. There are churches on every corner and they are divided pretty well along cultural or racial lines. Atlanta is a hub for international students and refugees, but drive south 30 minutes and you will find a much less diverse population.
While we love our hometown suburb, we committed when we had kids to expose them to a more diverse world as much as possible. We lived in the Middle East before the kids were born and we feel called to serve the international community. We want our children to understand how fortunate they are and never forget to show God’s love in word and deed, especially to those that might feel like outsiders.
Our six year old is the epitome of a southern American girl. All attitude, her long blond hair trails behind her as she dances and sings constantly. She is loud and bold, with a southern drawl in her voice.
But she also knows that the name she bears ties her to a world larger than her suburban school and church, her big green back yard. We make sure to tell her often of her namesake on the other side of the world.
We picked out her name before she was even a thought in our minds, knowing the beautiful Arabic name would serve as a living reminder for us, and for her, of the legacy of love we want to leave her.
Years ago, my husband and I had moved to the Middle East at the end of summer, but the temperatures were still well over 100 degrees Fahrenheit. To top that off, we found ourselves in the middle of Ramadan, a month-long time of fasting....
Today I am over at SheLoves Magazine talking about the value of welcoming the outsider. Join me there?
Most people in our generation will always remember where they were and what they were doing on September 11, 2001. It is actually September 12 that sticks in my mind as a pivotal day in my life and faith.
On 9/11, like thousands of others, I sat glued to the television, amazed and horrified at the events unfolding on my screen. A group of us huddled into the living room of a small off-campus apartment to watch updates and call loved ones. We wept tears of relief when one friend finally was able to contact her father who had been unreachable all day, on a plane to New York. We ventured out to give blood at the Red Cross, to feel like we could actually do something to help.
September 12 was the day after what was undoubtedly one of the worst days in American history. But the tragedy that day was the fear and pain in the eyes of another group of friends.
It felt wrong to sit in class and pretend that life was just the same as the day before. We sat in stunned silence for there were no words that would do justice to what we were feeling.
That day most people talked about the fear they felt at the thought of further attacks, the shock that terrorism had reached America’s shores, or the anger at those that took so many lives.
But many people in my class spoke about a different kind of fear and horror.
It was an Arabic class in which I sat, unable to find the words as I listened to my Middle Eastern friends. Tears flowed as they talked about the fear they felt walking around campus - fear of judgment and retaliation. The look of horror in their eyes spoke of disbelief that men could do something so terrible in the name of their faith.
They had already been met with hateful stares. Accusation and fear collided as some even resorted to hurling words of anger and blame at my Muslim classmates.
The girls who wore headscarves were especially vulnerable and they cried when they admitted they had thought about removing them to avoid the harsh reactions they had been receiving.
My heart was broken for all those hurting across the country as the smoke began to clear, for those who had lost loved ones and whose lives would never be the same.
But I also realized there were other victims of 9/11 that I hadn’t even considered until that moment. Muslims in American and around the world came to be perceived as the enemy that day and life would never be the same for them either.