Thursday, December 4, 2014

A couple of nights ago, we had the unique opportunity to dine in the home of a sweet family from Fallujah.  They fled to our Kurdish village a few months prior with hopes of keeping their family safe…a big responsibility the father Muhamad was forced to take on.

Let me just be clear, they have nothing.

Greeted with kisses and smiles, we walked into their rented home of concrete and mud walls. The wife quickly pulled down some cushions for us to sit on.  No matter the current circumstances they now find themselves in, they had guests to entertain. The room was neat and orderly, functioning both as the space for eating as well as sleeping, which was evident by the blankets and pillow neatly stacked in the corner.

As we distributed the fresh flat bread, kebabs and sodas, the children waited patiently. Bags of rice piled behind us made me grateful that we were able to add some meat to their diet.  I looked toward the baby hoping for a smile, but she clung tightly to mama, whimpering until I looked away. It’s a family. Arab and Muslim, raised in the thick of the violence we see on our screens, yet a loving, tightly knit family nonetheless.   

Divided by strips of plastic places between us, males sat on one side, and all females opposite them. Arabic, Kurdish, Spanish, English, and Farsi floated through our dinner conversation representing a beautiful spread of ethnic groups and colors.

We laughed at the combination of languages and hand gestures we were using to communicate. The children and father were excited to use the English they had learned in school. The eldest daughter, though veiled, was not the least bit shy. Bright brown eyes and a huge white smile, her confidence soared as she was able to converse in little patches throughout the evening. “Are you in school now”, I asked while trying to pull from Arabic I haven’t used much since Egypt. “No, school here is in Kurdish, so I don’t attend.” A difficult reality for refugee life. 

The mother slipped away for a few moments, returning with hot cups of tea which she gracefully passed out to each of us. “Where is the heater we brought you earlier today?” They smiled and explained that their neighbors needed it more than they did. Our mouths dropped. The evenings are getting colder, and it won’t be long before they are going wish they had that heater.  I am sure they are well aware of that fact, but passed it on regardless.

Our evening came to a close, and we headed home. My mind was going… their smiles, their generosity, their hope. Honestly, it scares me when I think about being sucked back in to a society that has everything, but lacks such joy. We are so busy trying to prevent suffering, that we miss so much to be grateful for all around us…even amidst tough times. 

I don’t know what it is like to live what these families are living through…forced from their homes just to survive, for I am simply here witnessing it. But each night I go back to my warm house of hot running water, a fully stocked fridge,  lacking absolutely nothing. 

I don’t understand them, but there is so much I would like to learn from them. Everyone I meet wants to go to America, yet there is so much my country can learn from people like this.

Friday, July 4, 2014

How do you love people and circumstances, but not allow your identity to be wrapped up within them?
How do you hold things lightly…knowing everything/everyone in this life is temporary?

Nothing is eternal except that which can meet our every need. Him. 

Everything else will pass away…and the pain/shock can be lessened by the simple choice to hold it out in front of us, knowing it isn’t ours from the moment it reaches our possession. But how do we avoid our obsession with control and comfort? How do we breathe knowing anything can be ripped from our grasp at any moment? How do we invest relationally? How do we let ourselves feel and love? 

Why are we constantly striving to control all that is happening around us? We are not able to and by trying to, it only creates a sense of anxiety. We are not supposed to count on anything…nothing is dependable. Things in this world (including people), were not designed to be the fixers of all that is wrong and painful. The joy is natural, but the dependency on those things for that joy is a lie. 

Why do we put our trust and security in things that we know can’t make it all better?

We simply cannot trust anything to fulfill us, nor should we want to be that fulfillment for anyone else. Oh the danger found in placing our trust in things of this world. Oh the waste of a life.

He is eternal. He wants to be our everything. We all have the opportunity to be truly fulfilled, yet few of us are.  I don't think we believe He is enough. Why do we choose to glorify and depend on something that can’t meet those deep needs that run so tenderly down into our depths?

These are my thoughts today, as I process so many things I am witnessing around me. I needed to write it out for my own good…and wanted share. 

Saturday, June 21, 2014

We think we know. We don’t.
We plead. We cry. We ask Him for mercy.
We wait.  Does He hear us?

Daily He calls us to a higher place. Rarely, we seek His glory first.
Can we?

Give up the fight, He only wants to show us life.

Nothing can touch you the way His glory does. Nothing can knock you further into peace, than obedience. Nothing is as mysterious and unraveling as the inner thoughts and ways of our God. Sometimes it is terrifying. Little can be understood. But why should it?

To walk in the glory of a sovereign plan, surrendered and relentless…

Give up the fight…He only wants to show you life.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Something to ponder...

People in my line of work are constantly learning how to smile and politely tune out the opinions of others. It is not that we are trying to be rude, but it is simply a decision between us and God. We realize people mean well, they do. But it's not like we haven’t heard it before. We know what we are giving up to live in tough places like this.  And we would be lying if we said we weren’t phased by others' disapproval…we are. But that's not the big battle. I have been wrestling with something recently and I wanted to share it.

Coming to this part of the world, danger is a common topic of conversation. We aren’t idiots, we know the world we live in. But sometimes stepping out in obedience means putting your life at risk.  Honestly, that isn’t always the difficult part. We are well aware that “death” is always a possibility. We know what Scripture says about this and what has happened to so many before us. But…

what if the death you must die is not the physical death, but the death of a dream

What then? 

What if God doesn't call you to give up your life like some hero that will always be remembered and praised…but to bury the vision you had for the way you thought your life was destined to turn out? What if the death you are being called to is letting you live…but without what you truly wanted? 

I look around at so many people working through issues that are out of their control. One example I am seeing a lot these days is with couples struggling to conceive. Their deep desire to parent and raise godly children is Biblical right? So why is God keeping them from this? What are they supposed to do with their unfulfilled desire? 

Or singles with the desire to marry, longing for a family of their own? Or parents who dream of the day their children leave home to pursue godly lives on their own, only to later discover they don’t share that faith? Or watching a marriage crumble before your eyes. Maybe it is your marriage or the ever stable, rock solid marriage of your own parents? What about fathers and mothers who lose their children to accidents, disease, or custody battles? 

 We all desire health and happiness for our loved ones...often even more than for ourselves…but what if that dream isn’t part of the plan? 

It’s pretty typical to hear people talk about their willingness to “boldly die” for their faith.  But what about living joyfully while saying goodbye to a dream that you so passionately hold onto? Can you still praise Him as you say goodbye and surrender?

"If anyone desires to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me." Luke 9:23

 What if the cross isn’t a physical death, but a joyful surrender of our dreams? 

Personally pondering this very question...

Friday, May 16, 2014

What does daily life look like?

We are not heroes. Not even a little bit. Most of us have a dream, some of us attain it, but all of us make choices. Just because some of us follow that dream to a life outside the ordinary scope of the American norm, does not make us special. We, like others, are simply doing what we love. And what we love might take us to interesting places.

Curiosity about this lifestyle is completely normal. It’s sweet when I find myself sitting across the table from someone who is deeply enthralled with what my life consists of. Sipping our coffee as they fire away questions, I am grateful for the support and interest. In my case, first Egypt and now Iraq, I often forget how strange this is to people. 

So I thought it best to lay it out for you, simple statements and pics showing you first hand that in some ways it’s not so unusual, but at the same time, it’s pretty surreal.

Coffee: Just like life in the states, I rely on my morning cup. The difference here is that it’s expensive to get good coffee, often making this our first request from visitors.

 Produce: Cheaper here, natural. Tastes better.  The downside is that it is frowned upon for me to be seen in the market alone. So I usually rely on others to do my shopping for me.

Neighbors: They are insanely curious about us 5 Americans living in a compound in the center of their overly conservative village. They watch our every move, make up rumors, spread those rumors, and confront us. But I watch them too. 

Clothes: Outside of my house (including my balconies), I do not show my shoulders or legs.

Exercise: Women exercising in public is frowned upon

Marriage: Often this takes place between people who know very little about one another. In most cases, the woman and man both have to agree (despite what you have heard), and the getting to know one another takes place during the engagement

Dowry: Men pay a dowry of gold to the woman (engagement party below)

Medical care: It’s pretty terrible. But the status of doctors is very high. 

College: You study what you are told based on your test scores.

Some days you end up at a village of mud houses

Racism: part of life here. Discrimination is not only tolerated, it is expected

Christianity: Seen as American culture. You understand why they don’t respect us. 

City life: More progressive than village life.

And some places still make their bread in mud ovens

In our village (small town) women are not to go out at night, but the streets are crawling with men

We eat sitting on the floor

We eat a lot of lamb, rice, giant flat bread, cucumbers, tomatoes, soups, yogurt

Tea: in pretty cups without handles; a ton of sugar

Children: sleep when they want, bedtime is not cultural norm

Bribery is everywhere

Artifacts that are thousands of years old are not as exciting to the locals as they are to me

Guns are pretty standard in our village

This is my weakness. The access is as easy as sitting in traffic, and they are being sold in the median

People are not as direct as Americans, but when they are upset, they become angry and emotional.

Critical thinking skills are lacking

The only time I veil is to enter a mosque, or when I am in the market during Ramadan 

I don't understand why those of us from the west don't do this anymore.

Most of the women speak softly…it's pretty soothing

Driving the wrong way down a street is permitted, just use your hazards

No lights on at checkpoints

No lights on during day time driving

Power goes on and off

School is Saturday through Thursday (typical work week)

Everything closes for lunch time

It's brown most of the time, but also really green in the spring

Call to prayer is 5 times a day

Men and women pray in separate rooms of the mosque

Men can pray in public, but women do not

These suckers still do the job

Funerals are the day following the death. I observed this one from my balcony.

Yes people get divorced

FGM is common (especially in the villages) , they think they are supposed to

Most of Kurdish women in Iraq wear their scarves like this, exposing some hair

Shaming a student in front of others is a common practice to encourage learning

We grow our own vegetables here on the compound as well, like these olives which made the best olive oil I have ever tasted

Men and women do not touch (not even to shake hands)

Yes, I drive

Alcohol is not permitted, but people do drink

People want to be white and will use whitening powders on their skin

Everywhere is a like a farmincluding my front lawn

Can’t go into detail on this, but even when the government outlaws inhumane traditions, they still happen more than we want to admit.


It’s normal to marry your cousin

You can have up to four wives

People don’t apologize here

The mountains at sunset are one of the best views from our compound

This culture displays some of the best hospitality I have ever witnessed

Men and women live with their parents until they marry

No one lives alone

And sometimes you get to do incredible things like work IDPs and refugees
and visit one of Saddam's vacation homes

Eggs are better here. 

Many of the restaurants have a section for men, and then a family section

It’s normal for menus to show things they don’t have available, like this for example:

Dogs are not domesticated. They are dirty, aggressive, and dangerous. I took this pic from my kitchen window. 

We dress up in our traditional Kurdish clothes to go on picnics

I prob take more pics of sheep and shepherds than anything else

Kurds usually don’t smile for pics

 The Kurdish genocide is a tragedy whose effects linger daily (particularly in our village made up of the orphans and widows who were left behind.) Our friends have personal stories detailing their lives as refugees in the Iranian mountains, waiting for when it was safe to return to their homes. 

 It's a crazy place that I am grateful to call my home these days.