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?
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