Responding to a Hurting World: Lessons from the Little Drummer Boy

There are so many ways to get involved in a hurting world.  Which is a good thing, because there is SO. MUCH. HURT. in our world.  My heart leans towards people in transition, humans who are suffering, those who are trying to make it out of messes.  Immigrants coming to a new land.  Refugees fleeing war and manmade disasters.  Those who have left home, and in humility come to a new place.  They just need a little help along the way.

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So, what to do about it?  Turn to the wisdom of some classic Christmas lyrics for inspiration… the little musician who gave his all, even though it felt like so little.

Come they told me, pa rum pum pum pum

COME.  The first step is to receive an invitation and just plain show up.  The invitation is there to join something bigger than ourselves.  To be a part of something we can’t fix or solve.  To make it personal.  To just come.

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A new born King to see, pa rum pum pum pum

SEE.  Come and see the things that are happening in the world around us.  Let need, curiosity, pain, and empathy compel us to observe and join the messiness of our world in new ways.  To walk alongside a stranger in a strange land. To enter someone’s story.

Our finest gifts we bring, pa rum pum pum pum

BRING.  Come, see, what’s happening.  Bring what you have.  It may feel small and insignificant, but it is your offering to bring anyways.  Sometimes all I have to offer is myself.  And in a big, scary, complex world what I have feels so insignificant.

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To lay before the King, pa rum pum pum pum

LAY IT DOWN.  Let’s lay down our gifts, time, talents, resources as an offering. To show honor.  It may feel insignificant, but showing up has value. Taking time for someone shows they’re worth it.  Honoring another through a life-changing transition, and laying before them what we have expresses incredible value.

…When we come.

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BUTwe all face very real and present excuses, fears, and limitations…

I am a poor boy, too

I’m just one person, with limited talents and resources.  Many say… I’m not a teacher like you.  I would say… I’m not a lawyer like so-and-so, or an activist, or an influencer.  I’m just a ………………. trying to make it in the world (you fill in the blank).

Even our best is so limited.

I have no gift to bring, that’s fit to give our King

I have nothing to give that would be of significance.  How can I help?  How can my small offerings possibly make a difference?

Start small.  If we all scooch over just a little in our row, we could make room for one more person to sit down.  What if everyone came, saw the need, and brought their little offerings?  That would be a significant number of insignificant offerings.  Maybe it would change the world.

What could those insignificant offerings look like?

Just come.  Show up for someone you know doing a work you admire in the world.

Just see… just listen.  Ask tough questions, hear difficult stories. Take time to process another perspective or another person’s journey.

Just bring yourself, your unique talents, your small offerings.

  • Maybe you have moments to read to a child.
  • Maybe you can pick up that book you know might challenge your thinking.
  • Maybe you can frequent a gas station or an ice cream truck where you can get to know a fellow sojourner just trying to make it in the world.
  • Maybe you invite someone new over.
  • Maybe you make that donation.
  • Maybe you share a perspective on social media that might make others think differently.
  • Maybe you start within–identifying a fear, letting go of bitterness, or choosing to forgive.

Who knows how scooching over might look for you.  Who knows what gift you bring, or how it might be fit to honor another?IMG_6942

I played my drum for Him, I played my best for Him,

pa rum pum pum pum, rum pum pum pum, rum pum, pum, pum

Whatever you do, do it wholeheartedly.  Even if it is small and insignificant.  Make it your best offering.IMG_5426

Then He smiled at me, pa rum pum pum pum
Me and my drum.

Relish in that smile.  The smile of helping someone out when they needed it most.  Showing up when it was difficult.  Offering when you felt like you had nothing.  Or maybe you are weary from many offerings that never feel like enough.  Pause.

Receive that joy.

Recently, I heard an Arabic version of The Little Drummer Boy.  It was my invitation to learn some new Arabic words and practice rudimentary reading skills.  What I found was a treasured perspective I wasn’t anticipating.

Drummer Boy Arabic

With the backdrop of endless unrest in Palestine–the homeland of the Messiah and the singer–Vivian Bishara‘s lyrics of worshiping the King but having no worthy gift to bring becomes so real.  Regardless of our politics, war, hunger, and poverty are very real aspects of the world the Messiah came into–and the reason for the season today.  Emmanuel–God with us–in our messy, complex, torn up places.  Let’s come, and see, and lay down our gifts, or our lives, or both. To honor life.

To honor a Life-giving King.

… When we come.IMG_0097

 

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When Politics are Personal: Joining Strong Beautiful People through Challenging Life Transitions

I recently wrote a post about how politics scare me, but, as a language and culture teacher, a language and culture learner, a mom, a cross-cultural neighbor, and a daughter of immigrants, I mustered up a small amount of courage to share some of my perspective on immigrants and refugee issues.  I’m not trying to take a strong political stance, but I do love the people on my path and the relationships that have enriched my life.

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I’ve learned that issues become much less political as they become more personal–when issues have names, faces, stories, and favorite foods.

5 observations about strong people and challenging life transitions:

  1. Leaving home is just plain hard.  My little family of 5 recently relocated after 17 years in our beloved town of Dearborn, MI.  Same language.  Same country.  No emergency. But it was SOOO HARD. Even now my heart tears and my eyes tear up for what we left behind.  Whenever things get challenging in this transition, I think of my brave Syrian Kurdish refugee friend who has relocated with her family 3 times, navigating in 4 languages–Arabic, Kurdish, Turkish, and English, with at least 2 distinct scripts to learn.  Have you ever tried to read the electric bill in a new language–deciphering the issue date, the due date, and the past due date?  Would you be able to tell the difference between tricky junk mail and important official letters written in a script that is oriented in the opposite direction than you’re used to?fullsizeoutput_28cf.jpeg
  2. We all need a little help at times in order to succeed.  In our cross-country move there were countless people who came alongside us in different ways–with food, with gentle reminders about change-of-address forms, with time and muscle to help us carry stuff.  We put our all into our move.  We calculated it for years.  But regardless, it was just bigger than us.

I will never forget the faces of those who have shown up in my difficult times and transitions of life.  Those people have a special place in my life journey.  Have you ever had the privilege of walking alongside someone in their unique ICU experience?  My secret honors include explaining to my English Language class full of moms the important distinction between the Spanish word molestar, which means to bother, and the English word molest, a very different meaning than bother (especially when Google translate has led them astray).  And I’ll forever cherish the joy of being one Muslim friend’s first experience in an American woman’s home.

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3. It takes courage and intentionality to show up, everyday.  I have a rule that I have applied as a mom, teacher, and learning coach: when it comes to helping others learn something new, I will only work as hard as they do.  Granted, part of my job is to teach motivation, but if a toddler learning to clean up, puts away two toys, then so will I.  If she puts away 10, I’ll show up for 10.  Fifteen women who show up for my English Language class two mornings a week.  It’s free for them to attend.  Some show up with a baby or two in tow.  Some work 12-hour shifts at Walmart on the loading dock and show up to class sporadically. I have one student who shows up with a smile, a pencil, and a notebook–even though she doesn’t know how to read or write in any language.  They show up with gratitude and grit, ready to take on their new world.  It is my great privilege to show up with them in some small way.

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4. My refugee and immigrant friends want the same things I want.  Most of the beautiful people on my path are other women and moms like me.  They want good, safe, happy lives for their children.  They want to contribute to their community.  They want to pay their bills and take good care of their families.  They get emotional around special holidays away from special relatives.  There is always a little bit of grief in their joy when a baby is born who may never get to meet their grandparents or uncles or cousins.  I’m amazed at the simple yet heartfelt constructions my very beginning students communicate with their limited English.  I know that they have experienced loss, that they long for their mothers’ cooking, and that they struggle with their kids spending too much time on their devices.  I have so much respect for their courage and humility to succeed in a new and strange environment. They inspire me daily to dare greatly.

fullsizeoutput_9e05. Families strategize for success.  While I mostly spend time with women, I know that families are doing their best together.  I believe wholeheartedly that my husband deserves his own diploma when I graduated with my MA after 5 1/2 years of intensive studying and juggling.  He showed up with me and for me.  I am also keenly aware that for every married mom who shows up to learn English in my class, there are noble husbands who work tirelessly at blue collar jobs with limited English skills so that their wives can learn English, navigate the needs of their households, and maybe even plan for college.img_4690.jpgMy current adult ESL class is in an elementary school cafeteria.  It’s chaotic and interruptible.  Kids, teachers, administrators, and lunch room staff are always passing through. But we have rules–we ask great questions and we build community together.  We share music and we laugh hard–especially when Lulu is present, because every class needs a class clown.  My life is forever enriched.  I know what it is to sip yerba mate through a special straw, and savor Yemeni sabayah.  And though I have yet to try mofongo, I can’t wait to share my spanakopita recipe with my students.  I love being a part of their safe place–to learn, to take risks, to make mistakes and to grow.  They are courageous and beautiful women.  They show up.  And all our lives are richer for it.IMG_6318

 

 

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