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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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.

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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.

 

Así Soy Yo: A verb of Identity

My three kids have been learning Arabic in school for the past 4-9 years.  But we recently moved and switched schools, and so they they no longer have such easy access to Arabic classes. So, because I’m a master at teaching small group Spanish classes…

We had our first Saturday morning family Spanish class:

Macro level analysis of a familiar text: Juan 14:6, a Bible verse that they have previously memorized in English.  We were looking at three ways Jesus identifies himself, as the Way (el camino), the Truth (la verdad), and the Life (la vida).
Micro level grammar: subject pronouns and identity verb in the first person “Yo soy”
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To finish off our lesson over pancakes, we listened to one of my favorite Spanish pop songs by the Colombian band Bomba Estéreo

🎶 SOY YO
TRANSLATION: I’m me.

I fell , I got up…
I failed, I found myself,
I lived and I learned…
The harder you get hit, the deeper the beat, yeah

MESSAGE: Be who you are no matter what others may think. 🤓

They lyrics are too fast for my very beginning Spanish students, but the chorus is clear and repetitive.

Y no te preocupes si no te aprueban

cuando te critiquen tu solo di:

Soy yo

Soy yo… soy soy soy

Soy yo… yo yo yo

Así soy yo

That’s how we roll Saturday morning at our house.  Because así soy yo–that’s how I am.

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(It also helps that I plan on bribing them with churros.)

HOME: Somewhere between John Denver and Eminem

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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.

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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?

IMPACT

I don’t pretend to understand what’s going on in the mind of a mass shooter. The news is wrought with trying to figure out why the gunman did it. What was in his head? What were his motives?

But today, as I was watching one such report, I began to take notice of impact.

What impact did this one man have?

I don’t know why he chose to make such a horrendous impact, but here are some things I observed:

  • He had a purpose bigger than himself
  • He had a plan
  • He took dangerous risks
  • He invested to succeed
  • He powerfully changed the lives of those around him
  • He was willing to die

I HATE that he had such an impact. I HATE that he was successful.

In times like these, I try to focus on what I know to be true.

Jesus the Messiah gives us insight into the motives of a thief.

A thief is only there to steal and kill and destroy.

The impact of this one man was killing, stealing, and destroying life. But we were not designed for such destruction.

We are created for life—to choose life, to be life-giving.

Jesus the Messiah also reminds us of what life is intended to be.

I came so they can have real and eternal life, more and better life than they ever dreamed of.

So what will our impact be?

  • We are designed to live out a purpose bigger than ourselves.
  • It is good to create a plan and plot out success.
  • Being an agent of change in the world requires taking risk, prioritizing and investing to succeed, and being willing to lay down our lives for something greater than us.

The difference is hope.

We all face in some way the dullness and pains of life that have us wondering why we get up each morning. But there is hope. There is purpose.

We were designed for impact. Our souls long for immortality, somehow, in this fleeting, broken, hurting world.

Hope anchors our souls and keeps us getting up to try to live each day to the fullest.

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 While one man caused death, many made music.

In the news interview I watched earlier, musicians Big and Rich, who opened the Route 91 Harvest festival in Vegas performing on October 1, 2017, recounted the beauty of song. The music festival opened that evening with a powerful sing-along of God bless America.

Making music is the whole reason people gathered that night in Vegas. Music draws us and compels something inside us. Different kinds of music draw different people. But, music brings us together; it makes our bodies move.

And when we grieve and mourn our losses, there is music for that, too.

Maren Morris released this song to honor the victims of the Vegas shooting. She addresses HATE directly in a letter:

Dear Hate,

You were there in the garden, like a snake in the grass, I see you in the morning staring through the looking glass. You whisper down through history and echo through these halls. 

But I hate to tell you, love’s gonna conquer all

While hate has always been around, love conquers all.

We hold on to that hope because we were designed for impact. That desire to be a part of something greater than ourselves screams of our eternal capacity, our longing to touch immortality and make history. Something inside us dies if we don’t perceive our purpose—and dream, plan, design, and carry out our impact on the world.

Heroes laid down their lives.

I so appreciate the news stories that give voice to the heroes and the rescued amidst the tragedy—those who risked their lives for great impact and greater good.

What I’ve learned from observing a shooter is that it’s not just about making an impact.

What I’ve learned from observing the impact of heroes is that it’s about choosing life.

Heroes sought life-giving opportunities. Being heralds of hope in a despairing world. Taking radical risks of rescue. Laying down their lives to save another. If life can grow out of the death of one little seed, there is value, meaning and purpose in that death.

Choose life.

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

A New Song: In Celebration of World Arabic Language Day

Tallou Hababena  (طلّوا حبابنا) and a New Hairdo 

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I sat robed in a black plastic cape, my wet hair combed over my face for precise styling. Sometimes a new hairdo from my long-time Lebanese stylist, Toufic, at First Impression Hair Salon, involves cake and tea with his lovely wife, or buying a box of Girl Scout cookies from one of his daughters. As he snips and trims with precision and care, Toufic always fills me in on the latest news of his family, his country and the unrest of the region. I also like to freshen up my rudimentary Arabic skills with him and learn a new phrase or two. But it was unusually quiet this Thursday morning without the standard news from the “Old Country” rattling on in the background. That set me up for the perfect moment to inquire about Tallou Hababena.  Tallou Hababena was the new song my daughter had been fervently practicing with her low intermediate Arabic class at her school. They had to memorize the song and perform a traditional debke dance in preparation for the UN World Arabic Language Day, which is recognized globally and annually on December 18.

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Inspiration to Research

A new song sums up graduate studies at Wayne State University. From the Psalms I am reminded that God is my strength and my song. This spiritual strength has carried me through the incredible combination of the increased academic challenges of fulltime graduate school and the physical weariness due to my current leukemia treatment. I have battled chronic leukemia (CML) for fifteen years, but my current treatment, Sprycel, is more toxic to my system and regularly challenges me with increased fatigue and dizziness. Being simultaneously on Sprycel and on a scholarship has pushed me to the edge of vulnerability and gratitude. I have been soaring to new heights and needing new strengths to do it. During my most difficult struggles I find hope through inspiring song lyrics. My source of inspiration has become my focus of research, new songs. Expression through song is powerful because it can be personal, social, spiritual, and cultural. A song can stir a heart, inspire a nation, or lull a child.

Contributing to the inspiration is the cultural and linguistic information contained within authentic music and lyrics. Song lyrics are a great resource for gaining cultural perspectives and memorizing new language forms. With my Spanish students, we print song lyrics and then research idioms, dialects, themes, styles, metaphors and verb tenses found in each new song. Through this wealth of cultural insight, my desire is to make life-long language learning meaningful and inspiring for myself, and for those that I teach and coach.

ps-40-3The Comprehension Quandary

So, as I sat at First Impression, my thoughts shifted from my studies back to my daughter’s Arabic song. Tallou Hababena had become my new challenge. My daughter had come to me weeks before with the Arabic script and the notecards she was using to transcribe the lyrics into English. Even though she didn’t understand the words, she was trying to prepare her best for her class performance.

As a family we want to position ourselves to engage the language and culture in our community. I’m training to be a Language Learning Coach. I am researching music for language learning purposes. I got all fired up. There was no way my girl was going to sing a song she didn’t understand in celebration of language! We went into full-on meaning-making mode: My husband acquired the translation of Tallou Hababena from a friend. We had watched various YouTube videos that helped us figure out that this song was about a songbird, nature, and the beautiful mountains of Lebanon. We knew that that title meant Come our Love. But something was missing. Why this song? How did it stir the hearts of its hearers?

Longing for Home

touficToufic felt free to enlighten me. With scissors in one hand and a comb in the other, and my wet hair in my face, his face lit up at the mention of Tallou Hababena by the prominent Lebanese singer Wadih El-Safi. “Kids wake up whistling this song. It’s a song about home. When someone has been gone, far away, for too long, their loved ones back in the villages wait for them to come home…” As Toufic burst into spontaneous song, my mind wandered to my family and loved ones far away, and how I wished I could be with them, especially at Christmastime. Tallou Hababena was in essence a version of I’ll be home for Christmas…if only in my dreams… Only this song had a beat you could clap along with, which I did, under my plastic cape! Even though I couldn’t understand all of Toufic’s words, I understood the powerful longing for my home and family back in Colorado.

My husband and I joked that before winter vacation most parents back in my hometown in Colorado were probably watching Christmas concerts, with their kids donned with jingle bells and red sweaters. But we beamed as our daughter and her 6th grade Arabic class walked onto the stage and began swaying their arms, stomping the debke, and singing along to Tallou Hababena (mostly) in unison. We were in full celebration of World Arabic Language Day, and Tallou Hababena would mark a new memory for us.

That’s the power of song. I have songs that mark some of my best memories, and some of the saddest ceremonies; songs of crying out to God Most High, songs that inspire, refresh, celebrate, and worship. I want to praise God with words and with my life, in more than one language, and I want to help others do the same.

~He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God~    a Psalm of David

(This article was published in the Yemeni American News, January, 2017)

My Wayne State Moment of Fame

This short article about my epic academic year was submitted by my advisor and published in the Wayne State newsletter for the Department of Classical and Modern Languages, Literatures and Cultures (CMLLC), 7-13-2016:

Masters in Language Learning (MALL) student Georgia Coats ends a successful year by leading group to Spain

Georgia Coats, a student in the MALL (Masters of Arts in Language Learning) program, hadIMG_0378 an amazingly successfully 2015-2106 academic year. She was awarded a Graduate Professional Scholarship to complete all but one course toward her degree. She developed a project that resulted in conference presentations at the Michigan World Languages Association and the Central States Conference on the Teaching of Foreign Languages (CSCTFL). Coats received funding for her conference travel through a WSU Humanities Center travel grant. And in an exciting culmination to that work, she published her first article titled Analyzing Song Lyrics as an Authentic Language Learning Opportunity in the CSCTFL conference proceedings.
To round out this impressive year, in May 2016 Coats led seven adults from her church to Málaga, Spain, where they worked on improvement projects at a retreat center. In a first-class example of the training provided in the MALL program, she prepared the group for their trip with information about Spanish and Arab cultures and with exposure to the language to enable the group to enjoy their time in Spain as well as make the most of their efforts at the retreat center.