An Unintended “We”

We the People of the United States, in order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility… promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity… 

Preamble to the Constitution of the United States

I can usually spot negative and hate speech coming from one group against another by the signature word they. “They don’t belong here.” “They do things differently.” “Why do they ________ like that?”

For Spring Break my Greek Immigrant parents came from sunny Colorado to visit my home in soggy Michigan. They did all the fun spoiling that any Yiayia and Papou would do with their grandkids. Amidst all the excitement, I invited my parents to come with me to spend some time with Zuzu, my Kurdish-Syrian New American friend. I had met her last October, at a free community event sponsored by Sabeel Media at the local library, discussing the responsibility of the media to share the experiences and needs of refugees. That event inspired me to scooch over, and make a little room in my life for the refugee crisis that faces us all as human beings.  I am regularly challenged by the command of Jesus the Messiah to love God with all my heart, soul, mind and strength; and to love my neighbors as myself. I have been visiting with Zuzu weekly for the last six months and she has taught me so much about friendship and hardship and Arabic and Kurdish. In turn, I have taught her about American systems, and phone systems, and English words. She calls me her teacher, but I call her my friend. Through it all we have become tied to each other.

There is so much political rhetoric for and against the topic of refugees, but to actually sit and sip tea with a neighbor who happens to be one seemed like a novel idea.

My parents were eager to meet Zuzu and her family. There is so much political rhetoric for and against the topic of refugees, but to actually sit and sip tea with a neighbor who happens to fit that category seemed like an interesting and novel idea. Before our visit, I prepped my parents on who to shake hands with or not shake hands with, where to put shoes, and how to sit on low couches—even with my dad’s recently replaced knees.fullsizeoutput_cc5

Zuzu warmly opened her modest upper flat to my parents and my three kids on a rainy March afternoon. We sipped little cups of rich black tea with as much sugar as my kids wanted. We touched on topics of politics, dictators, and dialects as we observed Kurdish television rattling on in the background. We shared a lot in common. Our little visit brought back some nostalgic memories for my mom, of the way visits used to be for her as a child growing up in a Greek immigrant community, where people shared simple but special moments together in each other’s homes. And the TV rattling in the background was normal for my dad—only his gets all the best Greek news stations.

Version 3There was a pause in our conversation, which gave Zuzu a moment to form a question in English. She asked my father if he left Greece because he was a refugee. He shook his head “No,” but then proceeded to explain in short sentences that his Greek village was ravaged in World War II, and that his parents were killed. Years later, he immigrated to the U.S. in search of a better life. The look on Zuzu’s face was full of compassion and understanding as she responded to the look of great loss on my dad’s face. Different generations. Different countries. Different wars. Different dictators. But for a moment, Zuzu and my dad were ushered into the same horrible club of loss, tragedy and destruction by war. It’s a large club that no one wants to join, but many are forced into its membership. As I sat and observed this unintended “we” moment between my father and Zuzu, I said a silent prayer for her young children. I am a product of my dad’s hope for a better life in a new land. Maybe our family gives Zuzu perspective on what things might look like for her young children as they grow up to call this new land their home. At least for now. I know deep down, Zuzu really hopes to take her children back to her home country of Syria in better times, Inshallah, God-willing.

As we said our good-byes, I thanked God for this incredible moment to share with my family and my friend. We were blessed. We enjoyed each other’s company. Our human hearts beat the same, and by unintended circumstances, we had more in common than we imagined. We, the people, who long for justice and tranquility in a more perfect Union.

We had more in common than we imagined. We, the people, who long for justice and tranquility in a more perfect Union.

Published in the Yemeni American News, May, 2017

The Privilege of Choice

Funnel your passion and outrage into specific, constructive actions that will change things for the better. Don’t just get mad; change the world.    T. Anderson, Speak Up for the Poor

A History of Choices

Narrowly escaping abortion. Nearly executed by Nazis. Orphaned at the age of two. Immigrating to a new land filled with new hopes and new possibilities. During this current strange and tense political climate—Women’s Marches, Muslim bans, extreme vetting, trolling, and fear mongering—I have been reflecting on the journey that has led my dad to celebrate his 75th birthday just last month. In a heated climate of pro-life and pro-choice, I’m thankful for life. I also realize that I am a product of other people’s choices. I am a product of my grandparents’ decision not to abort my father, by night, in secret, outside a small village in Greece in the 1940s. I had heard the story countless times of my grandmother’s decision not to eliminate the unexpected pregnancy that was my father, long before I ever comprehended what abortion meant. Then, as a toddler, my dad barely escaped Nazi execution. His parents didn’t though. He was orphaned at that time, and were it not for the compassion of one Nazi soldier who didn’t have the heart to open fire on 13 kids hiding in a basement, my dad wouldn’t have survived. I am a result of that soldier’s compassion.me-and-dad
As a young immigrant to the U.S. from the Old Country of Greece, my dad, with my mom, had that hard working, unconquerable, Greek, immigrant spirit. My dad worked nights and weekends, and he took on extra jobs to pursue the dream that education in this country would lead to more opportunities for his kids than he or my mom had. I am the product of their choice to believe in the American dream.

Living intentionally cross-culturally in a diverse community for 16 years, I have learned that it is best to approach new and complex situations as a learner. Since the Women’s Marches, I have been carefully reading posts and counter posts in Ping-Pong style about women who marched, women who didn’t, women who wished they did, women who were angry, women who didn’t want to get involved… My heart swelled with the pride for some of those who marched. I also understood why some didn’t. From those who chronicled their marches, I learned to value the privileges of choice we have today, because others fought for them in a previous era.

When he would ask 12-year-old girls, “What’s your dream?” they had no answer. No one had ever taught them to imagine an alternative to forced child-marriage.

The Privilege of Dreaming

My kids are privileged with choice. Since they could to talk, my kids have dreamt about what they want to be when they grow up. It was never an option for them not to dream about their futures. They can even change their minds—archaeologist one week, art teacher the next.

malala-3“What’s your dream?” is the question Troy Anderson, President of Speak Up for the Poor, asks young girls from poor villages in Bangladesh whose options are marriage at a young age, or being sold into prostitution. When he would ask 12-year-old girls that question, they had no answer. No one had ever taught them to imagine an alternative to forced child-marriage. Anderson realized that for things to change, girls needed to dream. As the girls go through the Speak Up for the Poor program, they learn to make a plan to make their dreams of becoming a nurse, or a business owner, or a teacher come true. These girls dare to fight societal norms to realize a better life.

Changing the World

From the Women’s Marches I’ve learned that many have sacrificed to make things better for another generation and another group of people. When my kids grumble about doing their homework, I tell them stories about Malala—a Pakistani girl whose choice of going to school was taken from her. She fought back and inspired the world. Sometimes my kids roll their eyes at me—not another story! But, crazy mom that I am, I want my kids to appreciate their privileges, to work hard for what they believe in, and to have that dare-to-dream-in-the-face-of-adversity kind of spirit.

The choices we make can have global impact. This is my privilege, to help my kids understand that they, too, are the product of other people’s choices. Who could imagine the life-giving impact of one Nazi soldier’s choice back in 1944 in a small Greek village? My kids will hopefully never have to face gunshots on the school bus like Malala did, but they can choose to promote peace on the playground, and stand up against a friend being bullied. We are all connected to a greater historical context, and the choices we make can change the world.

(Published in the Yemeni American News, March, 2017)DSC_0151

Scars: In Memory of the Yiayia & Papou I Never Knew

This article was published on June 10, 2012, the 68th anniversary of their death, June 10, 1944

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My Papou and Yiayia: George and Pandora Loukas

There is nothing more precious than to sneak into the bedroom of my sleeping three-year old son and kiss him good night.  The other night I prayed a blessing over him and sealed it with the sign of the cross on his forehead—as my parents had done for me.  I felt God’s presence reminding me that Jamin Loukas was on this earth for a reason.  The same goes for my father, Loukas G. Loukas.

On this day, June 10, 2012 as we remember the horrific massacre in the small village of Distomo, Greece, I am reminded of the God’s great grace intervening in another generation.  It was 68 years ago that my dad crouched trembling in a basement with 13 other children.  Where were his parents to sneak in and check on him?

Three days after the historical D-Day in 1944, Nazi troops were traveling through the region near Distomo.  In that surrounding area there were numerous resistance freedom fighters that had attacked the German troops and injured the head Nazi commander.  This act sent the Nazi troops into a rage of retaliation that they unleashed on the unsuspecting peasants, farmers, priests, expectant mothers and young children of Distomo.

A Nazi soldier beat down the basement door.  When he discovered a room full of children, he positioned his weapon to shoot, then aimed at the ceiling—all the while motioning the children to keep silent.  

When my Yiayia Pandora and Papou George got news of something terrible happening in their village, they raced home from a day at the market as fast as their mule would take them.  They wanted to gather their children close, and keep them safe.  However, they never made it home.  Later, their bodies were found lifeless on the side of the road.

Meanwhile, some very frightened children sat listening in a darkened basement to the sounds of death all around them—awaiting a dreadful fate of their own.  A Nazi soldier beat down the basement door.  When he discovered a room full of children, God Almighty intervened.  The soldier positioned his weapon to shoot, then aimed at the ceiling—all the while motioning the children to keep silent.  He sealed the door back up as best he could and left, shooting chickens and goats on the way out.  He posted the official Nazi sign on the door that confirmed that the job there was done.

That was the day my dad was spared.  At ages 16 and 14, his two older sisters became instant guardians of a two-year old. My dad was too young to comprehend God’s hand on his destiny.  The story retold time and again has become his memory of the event.  His first real memory came when he was five years old and his aunt took him to “meet” his parents.  She pointed to their exhumed skeletons in the ground and said, “That is your mother and your father.  Give them a kiss.”

People usually talk about scars as a sign of terrible things that happened in the past.  I like to think about scars as a sign of healing—a reminder of God’s ability to restore, forgive, cleanse and redeem.  When I look at my own scars I remember the bad that could have been and once was, but is no more.  There is grace there instead.  My dad was orphaned at the age of two.  As a daughter with her daddy around, and as a mother with a young son, it brings me to tears to imagine not being there for my son.  What were my Yiaya and Papou thinking that day as they tried to race home?  What were their last prayers for their four children?

I’m thankful for a dad who checked in on me at night. And as I bless my son, I think of the scars and the grace.  Because God intervened that day, my son can sleep peacefully in his bed.   The same goes for his two sisters and four cousins.  Because of God’s grace in that basement in Distomo 68 years ago, my dad’s alive today, and God’s purpose lives on for another generation.

The memories of my Yiayia Pandora and Papou George are eternal.  They live on in my father’s heart and in the generations that live after them and hear their story.  Today we remember our loss and reflect upon our scars and the grace given to us.  May the memories of all 219 villagers lost in Distomo that day be remembered today.

For the LORD is good and His love endures forever; His faithfulness continues through all generations. Psalm 110:5

What are You Afraid Of?

“You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face.” Eleanor Roosevelt

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe best part about cold winter months in Michigan is snuggling under warm blankets, reading and telling stories with my kids. In these moments I often pause just to take it all in, and then thank God for the beauty of such simple yet priceless memories.   Children truly are a treasure and a gift in this life. Recently, I took part in a short, two-question survey on FEAR. The first question was: What is something you are afraid of? A lot of things came to mind…debt, disease, destruction…but if I had to pick just one to write down, I would say that what I fear most regularly is something horrible happening to my children. As a mom, I do all I can to protect my children from harm. I teach them how to be safe, I stay near them in uncertain circumstances, and I try to keep them healthy.

These things were going through my mind as we read the historical account of the birth of Jesus the Messiah together. We got to the dark part of the story where a corrupt leader, King Herod, was feeling threatened by the news of a young Messiah being born. Out of fear, King Herod terrorized the Palestinian town and region he governed, and ordered the mass slaughter of all baby boys under two years old. As we read through the account, my eight-year-old son quickly named our young friend that fit that description. We all agreed that it was horrible to imagine our friends losing their 1½-year-old son to the terror of a corrupt leader.

For days I was troubled by this disturbing account of male infanticide that went on as a result of the Messiah’s birth. The families of those baby boys weren’t celebrating the birth of a promised and foretold anointed one sent from God. Instead, they grieved deep loss around the event that led to mass extermination of baby boys in and around Bethlehem. The story recounts that King Herod was “terrified” at the news of a prophetic Messiah-King entering the world and being revered by foreign Wise Men from the East. He saw this child as a threat to his powerful position of leadership. But the birth of Jesus also stirred a new hope far and wide. The coming of a promised Messiah reminded the world that God Most High is near to His people.

I tried to imagine myself living in a time and place of such need for hope—a world of terror and destruction enacted by powerful people. It didn’t take me long to realize that that is our world. Those are the bleak circumstances facing so many in war-torn Yemen today. According to a recent interview that the Yemeni American News had with the President of the National Association of Yemeni Americans (NAYA), AbdulHakem a. Alsadah, the United Nations estimate 3 million “displaced” Yemeni people.   “There is no international awareness about this crisis,” Alsadah stated. Tears stream down my face when I see pictures of Yemeni children who are near death due to acute malnutrition. My heart breaks as I read stories about Yemeni parents who are forced to make hard decisions about losing their children, either to disease, destruction or starvation. According to a December 2016 article in www.theGuardian.com, one man tells of how he and his other children don’t eat so they can pay for his young daughter’s cancer medication. How does any parent face that kind of fearful reality and not lose hope?

The second question in my survey was:

What do you do when you are afraid?

Fear makes me want to hold my children tighter and never let them out of my sight. It makes me want to turn off the news because I can’t possibly process all the destruction going on in the world—in Yemen, in Syria… But what can I do about it? Fear and ignorance are the easy ways out, at least initially. If I raise my kids in fear, they are set up to react in fear. There’s a reason why the angels who came to announce the birth of the Messiah always started by saying, “Fear Not.” It’s because we do fear. Nevertheless, God Most High sends His chosen ones to a messy world because we need to hear from Him.

“Man can live about forty days without food, about three days without water, about eight minutes without air, but only for one second without hope.” H. Lindsey

It is good to be near God.  His presence brings hope, and hope keeps us alive.  Author Hal Lindsey said that, “Man can live about forty days without food, about three days without water, about eight minutes without air, but only for one second without hope.”  In the worst of our despair, hope anchors our souls. It has to. Otherwise we wouldn’t survive the fear, terror and destruction that surrounds us. Education, compassion, prayer, hope. These are the things we must hold on to when we are afraid.

What is something you’re afraid of? What do you do when you are afraid?

 So, as we really stop to look fear in the face, join me in trying a few of these things:

  • Give thanks for the good things God has done.

  • Tell a story to raise awareness of the crisis going on in Yemen.

  • Hug your children a little tighter.

  • Pray for those who suffer.

  • Give of your resources (time, money, or talents) to help another struggling human being.

  • Educate children about how to process fear.

  • Take a moment to grieve sad and disturbing news when you see it or hear it.

  • Love your neighbor.

  • Look for ways to spread love and kindness, especially when it is easier to spread fear or hate.

  • Hold on to hope as an anchor for your soul.

(Published in the Yemeni American News, February, 2017)