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.
There is a moment when a lie takes root in our hearts and begins to grow. We often don’t know it at the time; can only look back on the other side and see the evidence of the beginnings of our shame.
That dirty word that we believe about ourselves, that F word that we let define us – You are a failure - it always starts somewhere.
I have come to picture this progression as if I were on a boat, set out to sea.
At first I was headed to a beautiful destination but got stranded somewhere. I felt lost and alone.
Then, I felt like the boat was going under, me with it – until I was drowning.
Finally, I found a lifeline that I cling to whenever I am drifting.
Maybe your story is very different from mine. But perhaps you have felt this same way. Have you found your lifeline or are you still searching?
Some days I have to search to find it all over again. Just like it takes time for the lie to begin to grow, it takes a long time to uproot it.
I had spent six years dreaming of this. Ever since the moment I sat in that Arabic class, felt God calling me out of my safe, homogonous life – I had dreamed of moving overseas.
God finally opened the doors for my husband and I to move to Egypt and years of a nebulous dream were becoming a reality.
We were newly married so it wasn’t difficult to pack up our two-bedroom basement apartment into boxes we would store until we retuned. Leaving family and friends, the roots that went deep in our lifelong hometown, was altogether another story. Our church and family rallied around us with support, yard sales, prayers, and love.
We found our new home to be the fulfillment of dreams we imagined it would be. That isn’t to say it wasn’t difficult. Culture shock and homesickness were real. Arabic was a language difficult to acquire. Normal life was more of a chore in a land we didn’t know.
But we loved every minute of our time there…until the news came.
My father had been sitting in church when he had a massive heart attack. They called it a widow maker because most do not survive it. He actually died sitting in the church that day.
Several doctors and nurses rushed to his side and were able to resusitate him, getting him to the hospital where my mom learned he needed a quadruple bypass.
That is when a crushing weight settled in on my soul.
I wanted to run home to be with my family but had a life in Egypt, responsibilities. We had worked so hard to get there and so many people had struggled along with us, were counting on us.
I couldn’t breathe anymore in this place I loved but also couldn’t imagine giving up and going home. What would everyone think? We had only been there six months and leaving then felt like a failure.
Two months after my dad’s heart attack we unpacked those boxes back into our apartment and did what we believed was right. We felt God saying our family was the most important assignment at that moment.
But life did not go back to normal. I felt like I was floating through a shadow of the life I knew before.
It was then that I began to feel like I was stranded at sea. I was between two worlds and that crushing weight I felt back in Egypt had followed me home.
I couldn’t name it then, couldn’t understand it for years. Looking back I realize that was the moment I started believing the lie that I am a failure.
The enemy who comes to kill, steal, and destroy pounced on the confusion in my spirit and whispered to me about my failure to finish what I had started, about all the people I had let down.
I started to question my choices and God’s faithfulness. I imagined people looking at me with disapproval. Every question about why we left was an indictment. I feared their judgement. I feared I had let them down, had let God down.
I found myself drifting away from Him, distancing myself really. I was so afraid I would learn the worst about myself when I spent time with Him – that I really had failed Him.
The beginnings of my feelings of failure started seven years ago and I am still wading through this. When I felt like I should write about this, every other story I read or message I listened to spoke into this subject.
Everywhere I turn, God is still speaking to me and helping to dislodge this age-old feeling that found it’s way into a new heart.
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.
Summer has officially come to an end.
I mean, you still break out in a sweat just walking out to the car in the afternoon and the first official day of fall is still a month and a half away. But we are back into our fall routines and the time of staying up late and no homework is over.
As a mom who works full-time and is also a writer, summer doesn’t mean much change for me. The kids still go to “school,” the amazing kids camp offered to staff kids at the church where I work. My hours don’t change, so I have to make an intentional effort for summer to feel different.
It is also hard for me as someone who struggles with perfectionism and striving to make myself unwind. I knew going into this summer, though, that I needed a different kind of season. My life couldn’t keep going at the velocity that had become normal.
It wasn’t even a number of events or the two jobs that had become the problem. It was an attitude of my heart.
I entered summer just trying to make it through the week, counting down the days until the next family getaway or fun event. But my daily life needed a serious injection of the lazy days of summer.
I avoided social media because if I saw one more mom who had the summer off with her kids talking about how good life was by the pool I was going to throw my computer across the room.
Can you tell I needed a break?
There is this one thing we do every summer as a family that I begin counting down to in January.
When I was young my grandma called it, “going home.” We would pile books and our pillows into the backseat and watch cities and farms go by on our nine hour drive from Georgia to the small-town in Indiana where my grandparents grew up. I visited cousins and went from house to house in this foreign world where doors were left unlocked because everyone was related or knew each other.
As my mom, sister, aunt and I embarked on the journey – my first time in eight years since my grandma’s death – I couldn’t help but feel a part of me was going home. I never lived there and didn’t have many ties left except a few aunts, uncles and cousins. But as cornfields made way to coal mines, I realized this place was a kind of home to me.
This Midwest small-town held all of the stories that shaped the life of my family. As a child I played down by the creek but was oblivious to the living history all around me. On this particular homecoming, I started to listen.
I watched my great uncle, now in his nineties, smile the same smile I saw as a ten year old child on the face of my granddad. I held back tears as I watched familiar eyes looking back on me, imagining granddad would have looked much like this now.
I listened to his stories of the 13 siblings growing up and fighting, of how my granddad went to World War II to avoid life in the mines. He told us about generations I didn’t know existed that bootlegged during prohibition as we looked through boxes of faded photos.
I also stood beside graves and learned about my great grandmother who married three times and the miscarriage I didn’t know my grandmother had in her first marriage. I heard the tales of divorce, abuse, addiction in my family tree.
I realized there was so much pain I missed looking at my family as a child, hurt and sin under the surface that I never knew.
I also realized there was healing and hope, a God who saw all of the pain and was with my family generations before me.
The heat of the long summer days has not subsided, yet back to school tasks are beginning. My oldest is entering first grade, all of her school years still ahead of her. She is still young enough to look forward to school with expectancy.
On the other end of the spectrum, someone special in my life is entering her senior year. A different kind of expectancy surrounds her and her family, as a life-changing year looms in front of her.
These are my words for her:
We haven’t often talked about serious matters. Our relationship has often been expressed at a surface-level, but my love for you feels more like a protective older sister than anything. I was so young when you were born, about to enter my senior year of high school. I can’t believe you are now there yourself (and how old that makes me)!
As I think about the year ahead of you, of course, it makes me reflect on that time in my life when I felt like I was on the brink of real life. I didn’t realize how little I really knew. I probably wouldn’t have listened to someone telling me how to live my life, thinking I was so sure of what lay ahead. But you have always been the type that listens more than other people, an old soul. Keep listening. Others who have been before you have much to share.
I see the incredible potential in you to do great things for the world, a compassion for people that is rare in a person your age. I then look around at the culture you are in the center of, this generation that gets everything at lightning speed and expects instant gratification as their right. It is at such odds with the kind of life God designed us to live, waiting on Him and putting others ahead of ourselves. It must be so difficult to live a life of faith, feeling like you are swimming upstream in the middle of this generation.
When I think of you entering your last year of high school, there is so much I want to tell you. I could tell you how important this year ahead of you is for your future, how the decisions you make this year will determine the course your life takes.
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.
"To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me.."
The first time I ever felt my chest tighten like it could cut off all airflow to my body was 8 years ago. I was less than a year into a job I loved but then my boss left and I took over the entire department. I was only 26, younger than everyone else in my department, and I felt like I was in over my head. Who said I had the authority to lead this?
I returned from a month overseas and my husband and I were praying about moving to the Middle East while doing this job. To top it off my grandmother, more like a second mom to me, ended up in hospice after a fall. I would run from work to the hospice, grabbing fast food on the way, trying to juggle a million things in my head and heart.
The physicians assistant told me it was my childhood asthma that was rearing it's ugly head again and making me unable to feel like I could catch my breath. The medicine didn't help and I found myself again sitting in the doctor's office.
This time my doctor and friend didn't even have to touch me to diagnose in a moment the anxiety that was wreaking havoc on my body. Part of me felt relieved that I wasn't also dying in the midst of all of the chaos in my life at that moment, but then there were all the doubts.
Why? What am I doing wrong? Is it a spiritual problem? Can I handle this on my own or do I need to be put on medication?
I found ways to deal with the anxiety. Yoga would help my chest to not feel so tight. Running, praying, hot baths, journaling. There were things I could do, so I felt in control again. But throw in a new country within the year, another family illness when I was a world away and couldn't even be there to help, and the rug was pulled out from under me again.
This time I pleaded with God to take the anxiety away. I knew I wasn't in control of what was happening to my body any more than I was in control of the circumstances that brought me to this place. In time, it passed again...
Years later there was an incidence of anxiety brought on by two impending international trips on top of a full-time job and two kids, to-do lists that had me drowning. Take it away, Lord! Please! I am slow at math but I finally reasoned: stress + me = meltdown.
So, I slowed down and began to say "no" to extra events. I was writing again, working out regularly, had a firm grasp on life. But the world started to spin anyway - again.
My sister and I sat cross-legged, waiting to learn about meditation.
Someone filled the little porcelain cups with steaming green tea; they grew warm in our hands. I looked around the makeshift temple in what looked like it used to be a gas station. Bars on the windows reminded us we were in the heart of the city, but inside, the peaceful atmosphere wasn’t threatened by the outside world.
I smiled at my sister, my eyes wide. I had asked her to come to the Zen Center with me, part of research for a college paper that asked me to step outside my religious background. I knew she would jump at the chance to explore a new experience, not for the sake of a grade like I did, but for the mere knowledge of it. This was her way. Together, we had been everywhere from Hindu temples to dingy rock clubs, from synagogues to Bollywood movie theatres. The world lay open before us.
Not long before, though, we never would have sat knee-to-knee like this.
In my teens I had found Jesus and alienated my sister. I shut people out who didn’t fit the mold I thought my life should fit. That’s when I started seeing my sister--who had been my best friend my whole life—as “other,” an outsider in my new community of faith.
Today I am over at The Mudroom talking about Connection and Acceptance. Join me there?