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.

IMG_0695

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.

img_6575.jpg

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.

IMG_0070

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

 

 

Advertisements

Politics Scare Me: Perspective from an Intimidated Lover of Peace, Mom, & English Language Teacher

img_7266.jpgI love challenging questions within small, safe conversations.  But politics scare me. I’m horrible at citing policies, remembering dates, or interpreting statistics as fast as needed in a heated political discussion. The last thing I want to do is make a strong political stance.  But as a language and culture teacher, a language and culture learner, a mother of three, a cross-cultural neighbor, and a daughter of immigrants, people have been asking my perspective on our current political atmosphere around immigration and the refugee crisis.

These 4 political observations come from being a lover of peace and equality in my home and in diverse communities.  With an odd number of personalities in our family, peace talks are a daily drill at our house.

  1. War, and the displacement it causes, is a worldwide problem, not just a U.S. problem.  There are many countries, like Greece and Jordan, maxing out their infrastructures to accommodate the refugees who are pouring in with no other place to go.  Comparatively, it seems that the U.S. has more room, more infrastructure, and more capacity to share the worldwide burden than we are currently.  45404965_2374453955915468_8133840680419065856_n

2. Lately we have been cultivating a national bad attitude of “me first”.  In fear we tend to operate out of scarcity rather than generosity.  As a mom, I work on these issues with my kids EVERY. SINGLE. DAY.  I want my children to learn to get along with others, be kind, and share.  If our country were my kid, I would want to teach her baby steps towards kindness, not away from it. And maybe give her a timeout or two to think about her attitude and choices.

fullsizeoutput_2744

3. As a world leader, our country is positioned to be influential.  Rarely do leaders have a neutral, zero impact.  The U.S. has the power to do good in the world and influence others to follow our lead.  We are also responsible for our negative attitudes and actions.  They do not go without impact.  An insane number of children are dying in Yemen because of a civil war where both sides are receiving help from opposing world powers.  Our country has been contributing to this crisis financially.  After years of innocent people dying, we are just now making better choices about how to help the desperate rather than contribute to their dire circumstances.

close up photo of people holding usa flaglets

4. The best problem-solving of difficult issues comes when people work together. The polar opposite political extremes in our country are intense right now.  Extremes point fingers at them–the other extreme.  But what about the radical, intentional middle places, where we don’t point blame, but rather focus on problem solving, compromise, and caring for others?

Recently, my oldest daughter was rewarded by her grandparents for her excellent academic achievement.  My other two kids were also recognized for their good grades, but her excellence was dually noted in the form of an extra $20 bill, handed to my middle daughter to pass along to her sister.  This could have incited an all-out war at our house.  What to do? 1) pray for discernment in navigating towards a peaceful resolution 2) recognize the complexities and potential hurt each might feel  3) guide each one to consider the other’s perspective 4) give them space and responsibility in arriving at creative solutions together.  Ultimately, my oldest daughter decided to treat the family to FroYo.  Not all family squabbles arrive at peaceful compromises, but we are always learning and striving towards a “we” solution.

IMG_7777.JPG

I realize the world is a messy and complex place, and the last thing I want to do is minimize the work of those who labor towards peace by oversimplifying things.  I would rather run away from politics, especially when things get tense and mean.  I’m not in it to win it.  But I am in it to understand someone else’s point of view.  Sometimes people just need to be heard and want to be understood.  Sometimes hurt people hurt people.  Sometimes they are scared too.  I’ve learned that whatever the issue is, things become much less political as they become more personal–that point where issues have names, faces, stories, and favorite foods.

Smiling Eyes and New Perspectives

My sweet friend… she smiles with her eyes and covers her face, while I flash my grin and cover my eyes.

884d6e52-31c1-454e-8a10-6bf9df922bc6

I had the privilege of being the first American/non-Muslim to invite this dear Muslim woman from the Gulf into my home recently. Amidst chasing her 1 year old, we talked for hours about faith, dreams, cancer, raising kids, and the niqab–the face-covering she wears in public. With her gentle demeanor, she explained the courage it takes to wear the niqab, and the assumptions people automatically have.

One time when she was in the park with her kids, a group of young students were fearful, calling her a zombie. She bravely asked their teacher if she could talk to the students. With no men present, she lifted the niqab and introduced herself.

I felt so blessed by her heart and willingness to cross barriers to share a sliver of her life with me❣️  

When we cross barriers and get to know people who are different from us, it broadens our perspectives and enriches our lives .

One perspective on head coverings, with a hip hop feminism flare is this song:

Hijabi

by Mona Haydar. It provides a young Muslim woman’s perspective on her hijab (head covering) in English.

🎶All around the world
Love women every shading
Be so liberated…
I still wrap my hijab
Wrap my hijab
Wrap my hijab
Wrap, wrap my hijab 🎶

I love how culturally situated songs give us a perspective, and a beat, we may not have otherwise considered.

And here are some other helpful definitions of Islamic headwear.

 

HOME: Somewhere between John Denver and Eminem

6ac7f42d-1837-4e10-b2a3-bcbf5248a2ab

It was midnight sometime B.C.E (Before Children Era) and I was walking the aisles of a nearly empty grocery store at Christmastime in east Dearborn. I had a breakdown in the canned food aisle as I became keenly aware of John Denver’s voice piping through the store…

And the Colorado Rocky Mountain high,
I’ve seen it raining fire in the sky,

You can talk to God and listen to the casual reply,
Rocky Mountain high, Colorado…

Home of 20+ years came rushing back as I imagined a Colorado sunset while selecting a can of beans.  My husband and I were alone in a new city, and our budget allowed us to go home for Christmas only in our dreams.

I didn’t even like John Denver. But in that moment, the power of a song lyric perfectly positioned in time and context stirred something deep in my heart.

There were countless dark days when I wanted to go running back to familiar and safe foods, friendships, traditions, scenery…

Home Sweet Home

It was my chronic leukemia treatments that routed us to the heart of Motown. One by one, each of our miracle Michiganders grounded us here.  Much of our tight budget was reserved for paying off three miracle pregnancies, treatments, and births—no regrets. It meant, though, that our young family of five embraced cozy Christmases in our little Dearborn home.

It was the adventure of diversity in east Dearborn that kept us persevering through grey skies and bone-chillingly cold winters.  It was the landscape of learning to love our neighbors and learning to be loved by them that made home here real.

It was in Motown I had learned about motherhood. Priority, ingenuity, perseverance, gratitude. The power of compelling song lyrics to draw depths of strength from a human heart. GRIT. It was driving into Detroit, scrounging for parking money at Wayne State as I pushed through five years of grad school that I knew the shift of “home” was real.

I was working towards a Master’s Degree in Language Learning.  My passion and research were in the heart of authentic song lyrics. Song lyrics are a great resource for gaining cultural perspectives and memorizing new language forms–the perfect blend of geeky and inspirational.

I was stuck in traffic heading east on the 94. Eminem came on the radio…

 Maybe that’s why I can’t leave Detroit
It’s the motivation that keeps me going
This is the inspiration I need.

Eminem’s rapped intensity stirred something in me. I had joined a collective of people struggling to survive, to push through, to succeed when the odds are against them.

621aef9c-5362-473d-89ec-1d74aecc9af9

There’s No Place Like Home

Now, our sense of home is shaken.  We will say good-bye to Motown and imagine a Rocky Mountain high.  We will establish a new home.  Home—where loved ones are waiting for us—exuberantly.  There is nothing like having people you belong to… those who long for your homecoming.  aaeb3621-71f2-4989-a9b1-da8b760fe2c1In the craziness of moving, I crave the beauty of the Rockies—quiet solitude, the forest and the streams, seeking grace in every step (J.Denver).  A place where we will continue to follow Jesus’ compelling example of loving God and loving our neighbors.

Maybe that’s why I feel so strange,
Got it all, but I still won’t change. (Eminem)

I do have it all. My heart is expanded across thousands of miles.  Grief is real because love is abundant—17 years of cultivated relationships—birthdays, funerals, Thanksgivings, play dates, countless Eid celebrations.

IMG_7737Home is Where the Heart Is

I could never turn my back on a city that made me.
And “life’s been good to me so far” (Eminem)

I don’t have to select an anthem. Instead I will make a crazy summer playlist—one where John Denver and Eminem are back to back. I’ll add a splash of Simon and Garfunkel, some Fiddler on the Roof, Kutless, Crowder, and probably Lady Gaga.

I will laugh, cry, dance, and stare off in the distance on that epic, one-way road trip at the end of July.

Home is the center of our hearts—the place where the presence of God is real. Even in the mess of my mixed emotions, chaotic packing, and our crazy summer playlist of 2018…  He makes His home with us.de86863c-499c-4dc4-89fb-a8ef53b71e24.jpg

What’s on your summer playlist?

Defining “Neighbor”

I first met Maude* when my toddlers began to waddle northward towards her house.  She was tall and gaunt with a sensible silvery bowl cut.  Even when she was being friendly, she had a naturally sharp tone behind most of her curt comments.

IMG_6649

We intentionally moved into the neighborhood for the richness of its cultural, linguistic, and religious diversity.  We wanted to take to heart the command of Jesus the Messiah—to love God with all our hearts, and to love our neighbors as ourselves.

When a wealthy young man challenged Jesus to define neighbor, he responded with a beautiful story of a compassionate Samaritan man who met a Jewish man along his path in a moment of desperate need.  The Samaritan had to cross cultural and religious boundaries, and face the prejudices of the day to help.  It also cost him time, effort, and money to bring comfort, healing and blessing to the wounded man.

Our family has a lot to learn from Jesus’ story and expectation of loving our neighbors.  We have been challenged to cross over boundaries and enjoy the adventure of diverse neighborly relationships.  The challenge and the joy are mutual.  Our kids have grown up alongside our Arab Muslim neighbors and we have shared life together—the ice cream truck, henna, pass-the-plate wars, front yard games, and even the great flood of 2014.

IMG_6650

#lovingmyneighbors

Arab hospitality is a thing.  Kindness expressed through great food is a debt we can never repay.  On our south side there is the Lebanese widow of four grown children.  She makes great hummus and has a very cute puppy.  Next to her is a young Yemeni family, a sweet elderly retired Iraqi educator, and a Palestinian family.

IMG_5346To our north are a few more Yemeni families who throw great girl parties and provide my kids with an endless supply of sweet treats, especially during Ramadan. Next to them is Hussein, the paper airplane guy, and his sister Latifeh, working professionals who live with their elderly parents.

And Maude.

Our kids knew Maude as the one who lived next to paper airplane guy, since he revolutionized our world with his simple craftsmanship of paper pleasure.  They clearly knew to avoid Maude’s house.  She didn’t have patience for noisy flocks of neighborhood kids. Through our outdoor springtime encounters I learned that Maude had a lot of brokenness and sorrow in her life. She had a soft heart protected by a tough exterior.  I tried to listen compassionately while always keeping one eye on the kids, the street, the ball, and the cars going by.

But what came next caught me off guard.

In her quiet quick undertone, she expressed how glad she was, that even though we had noisy toddlers, at least weren’t ARABS.

What??!!!

It slipped out so fast that I did what I tend to do in awkward conversations—I second-guessed what I really heard. It was often in that mommy-distracted place that Maude slipped in a few more of her opinions about our Middle Eastern neighbors.

Always one-liners.

Me always wishing I had a great comeback.

Years passed.  Kids grew. Maude got older and frailer.  I noticed Maude walking alone, a lot.  As a fellow walker, sometimes I joined her. She would uncharacteristically slip her arm into mine and ramble on and on.  She would oscillate from sweet melodic chitchat to swearing up and down. One morning I saw Maude wearing two different shoes.  Another time she had wandered down a street far from her normal route.  She looked lost.

Hussein happened to be home when I dropped Maude off at her house. Her dementia was getting worse.  Hussein, his sister Latifeh, and their parents took it upon themselves to keep a close eye on their aging and lonely next-door neighbor.

It was Hussein that would walk with her in the evenings up and down the block—matching her frail snail’s pace.

It was his parents who would have breakfast with her every morning.  They were the ones who found her after she had fallen, at the bottom of her staircase.

It was Latifeh who left work upon the emergency call from her parents describing Maude’s injuries.

Maude passed away shortly after that accident.

I had moved into the neighborhood to live out what Jesus taught. I thought I understood.  I thought I could be an example of a good neighbor. And we have been richly blessed by generous neighborly relationships.  But we have so much more to learn.

Hussein and his family exemplified day-to-day intentional care for Maude. Being inconvenienced for the welfare of another.  Advocating for the vulnerable.  Even loving someone with a blatant prejudice against “those people.”  Maude wasn’t the easiest person to love.  But Hussein, Latifeh, and their parents took the time to truly care for the needy, the lonely, and the lost along their path of life.

 Maude’s words still trouble me. 

What troubles me is that she is not alone in her racial one-liners.  There will always be more.  They will always feel like unexpected sucker punches.  Now is the time to devise my crafty, yet compassionate, comebacks.  To be ready to give an answer and to stand up for what is good and right and true.  How would Jesus do it?

I am open to suggestions.

And in the meantime, my neighbors have given me a lot to think about as I seek to understand the true definition of neighbor, the way Jesus the Messiah meant it.

IMG_6647

*Maude is a pseudonym.  Latifeh and Hussein are the real names of my neighbors who collaborated with me on this article. Thank you, habibti, for your beautiful stories.

This article was published in the Yemeni American News, June 2018

 

Fasting and Feasting: Looking in on Ramadan

Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. (From the Tawrah)

Last month, my husband and I joined our good friends at a beautiful Islamic wedding reception. He went with the men, and I with the women. It was an incredible celebration of dancing, drums, exquisite dresses, and incredible cuisine. It was a time to usher in something new and something beautiful—the union of a husband and wife in their new life together. I admired the abundant display of fruit platters and little cakes and cannolis that donned the back table. They were a vision of sweet, delicious things to IMG_1711come. And though I didn’t understand much of the Arabic conversations going on amongst the ladies at my table, I understood the topic of Ramadan on the lips of many. It seemed as though everyone was anticipating this month of fasting and all that it entails.

Growing up in a Greek Orthodox Christian home, my family practiced 40 days of Lent—a vegan diet, abstaining from meat, dairy and other animal products, in anticipation for the celebration of Easter. Easter is the focal point of the Christian calendar. It is a time to celebrate new life, new hope, redemption, and forgiveness as we 2010 04 04 Easter – Version 2reflect on the path of suffering and victory of Jesus the Messiah. The joy of Easter is intertwined with the fasting that comes before it. As a child, my favorite Easter treats were little chocolate eggs in a colored
candy shell. I remember trying to sneak around the kitchen to curb my chocolate craving during Lent, leading up to a grand resurrection celebration. Then, on the Saturday evening before Easter, we would dress in our best celebratory garb and attend worship services long past midnight. All I could think about was arriving home to feast on all the delicacies and choice foods we had abstained from for forty days. How sweet those treats tasted after waiting so long to eat them!

The guests abstained from celebrating until the bride and groom showed up.

When I lived on my own, away from the community aspect of this Greek Orthodox Lenten practice, I realized quickly that the little chocolate eggs didn’t taste as delectable as they did when I had abstained from them and anticipated them for 40 days. There is a time for fasting and a time for celebrating. Both are important. Jesus the Messiah used the example of a wedding feast when he described fasting to his followers. He explained that when the bridegroom enters the wedding, this is a time for celebrating. How true it was at the wedding we attended last month. We eagerly anticipated the arrival of the bride and groom. We all abstained from celebrating until they showed up.

Fasting brings to the surface our inner reality.  S. Sohaib

Sometimes I fast privately, abstaining from all food and drink, day and night, for a specified amount of time, in order to focus on prayer and listening to God. The growls in my stomach are a reminder to pray. Fasting forces me to depend on God, even before food. After all, Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. Fasting teaches me to listen more carefully to the words of God. Fasting is both a spiritual discipline and a physical detox. It is a time to rid our bodies of unhealthy toxins and also expose the dark places in our spirits. According to Qur’an scholar Sohaib Saeed of the Bayyinah Institute, “fasting brings to the surface our inner reality.” This is so true. When we are weak, our true nature comes out.

Version 2I have studied other languages prior to Arabic, and it never occurred to me before to learn the vocabulary to talk about fasting. But in Arabic, and among my Muslim neighbors, fasting is an important topic of conversation. Living in a primarily Muslim community for the last 15 years, I have learned other valuable lessons on fasting. I appreciate the power and joy of fasting in community and breaking fast in community. My family anticipates the month of Ramadan, and not just because we are on the receiving end of the mandate to generously share with one’s neighbors. We, as part of a Muslim community, are impacted greatly by the month of fasting at our kids’ school, at the local places of business, and among friends. During this month, I am grateful to live in a community that pushes me to teach my children about this spiritual discipline at an early age. I love that kids have discussions about fasting on the playground!

Set aside a time to seek God, to embrace our weakness, and to anticipate the sweet celebrating that follows.

IMG_1727
Whether fasting is for 30 days, breaking fast each evening, or whether it is for three days and nights straight, or a restricted diet for 40 days, what matters is the spiritual lessons that come from it: to set aside a time to seek God, to embrace our weakness, and to anticipate our breaking of fast, and the sweet celebrating that follows—like when the bride and groom show up to the wedding feast!

Published in the Yemeni American News, June 2017

 

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

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)

Scooching Over

(Published in the Yemeni American News, November, 2016)

Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.  Emma Lazarus

The Preferred Aisle Seat

I have never been known for my punctuality. In fact, I characteristically run late. Often times it’s because I get lost trying to find places, or maybe it’s because I tend to be on Greek time, which means I’m not technically late; it just allows me a half-hour margin for arrival. At my church there are rows of seats for people to choose from as they enter the place of worship. I’m always grateful when people scoot in towards the middle seats, so that us late arrivers can slip into the aisle seats, unnoticed. I prefer to avoid the awkward attention of navigating my way through a maze of knees and handbags after the service has begun to settle into the middle. Sometimes at abundantly populated special events, the pastor up front will ask everyone to scoot in a little to make room for more people to slip into the aisle seats. I know how it feels to be scooted in for.

Lately, though, I have been on a fairly long stretch of timely arrivals, which means I have my pick of seats at church. Admittedly, I tend to choose a preferred aisle seat.  I like having a bit of space on one end between me and other people that I don’t know so well. I like my space, my preferences, and my little comforts.

Joining the Response to New Americans

Last month I attended a free community event sponsored by Sabeel Media at the local library, discussing the response and the responsibility of the media to share the experiences and needs of refugees. One of the special presenters, Shane Lakatos of the Social Services for the Arab Community (SSFAC) in Toledo, challenged everyone at the event to think about the fear in our own hearts. We fear people we don’t know. And in fear, we tend to think the worst of them. Peter Twele, another special presenter and author of the book, Rubbing Shoulders in Yemen, emphasized that refugee families relocating simply need a friend if they are to successfully assimilate in a new culture. Not only have they left homes, families and jobs, they’ve lost neighborhoods, communities and connections. They need to build a new community of relationships.

So as I stood in the back of the Sabeel Media event, having arrived a little late, I started to think of my own response to the refugees joining my community.

sabeel-g-in-backSo as I stood in the back of the Sabeel Media event, having arrived a little late, I started to think of my own response to the refugees joining my community. I can donate to the cause. I can pray for those who suffer. I can speak out for the needs of these new Americans. I can even volunteer for an event of handing out free backpacks to refugee kids starting school in a new country. As I was pondering my action points, I scanned the room of attendees and my eyes fell on a beautiful young woman dressed in a bright pink sweater with a coordinated floral scarf covering her head. I was surprised to realize that I knew her, and not only that, but that I had been thinking about her. I knew her by name. I had given backpacks to her kids at a volunteer event in September.

Scooching Over, My Point of Decision

I greeted her with quiet kisses so not as to disrupt the program, and continued to listen to the needs amidst the crisis. The needs are dire. The search for hope is essential for new Americans coming into our country. The presenters’ words rang in my ears, of our own fears, and of the refugees’ need for friendship and connection with such limited resources… What was I going to do about it? But what about my crazy American schedule? Do I have room in my life for a needy new friend? Not really. There’s work, prior commitments, grad school, kids, family.

This is a crisis we are all facing. It doesn’t just belong to some people and not others.  We all need to scooch over and make room for one more in our lives.

But this is a crisis we are all facing. It doesn’t just belong to some people and not others. We all need to scoot in, scooch over, squeeze closer together, and make room for one more in our lives. My little bit of comfort in my “preferred aisle seat” isn’t a lot to give up, considering the woman I’m inviting to sit next to me really wants to settle her young family after fleeing devastation and living in temporary housing for over a year. She has her dignity. She doesn’t just want to be helped. She wants to go to school, get a job, help her kids learn English and assimilate into her new community. She’s ready to work hard; she just needs some help doing it. She’s one person, one name, one face. She is just one of the tired and the poor in the huddled masses, yearning to breathe free. She’s one woman I could call a friend. Who knows, I might end up being the needy one in our relationship and discover that my scooting over to fit one more into my life was actually to my benefit. I’ve had that happen before.

Version 2

When I think about all the potential things we perceive a refugee to be: a foreigner among us, a neighbor, an enemy to fear, a widow or an orphan, or someone lost and needy…I can’t help but think of what Jesus the Messiah has to say about all of them. He says to love them. Love your neighbor as yourself. Love your enemy. Look after the widow, the orphan, the lost, the foreigner among you. Jesus the Messiah chose to love me without condition and with a love so compelling that I can’t help but be changed by it. Calling one young woman this week to make time to help her find a preschool for her son, sip some tea, and help her learn English is something I can do. I can be inconvenienced in that way. I can scoot over and make a little room in my world for one more.

Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.   St. James