Ash Wednesday Reflections from our Methodist Liaison Office in the Holy Land

Forty days and forty nights you were fasting in the wild; forty days and forty nights tempted and yet undefined. Singing the Faith 236 v1 “As servants of God we have commended ourselves in every way: through great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labours, sleepless nights, hunger by purity, knowledge, patience, […]

via Ash Wednesday… — Holy Land Reflections

Tour

This week I learned about Rick Steves. He has a travel show on public television. I didn’t know about him before, but I’m told he has great information, especially about Europe. Since I was curious I went to youtube and looked him up. He does seem familiar now, I’m sure I’ve seen his show before. I found this great tour of the Holy Land that he did and thought I’d share it with you. Enjoy.

Buried

I missed getting my weekly blog written yesterday. I feel completely buried right now. But I know that I will rise. With that I’ll leave a poem for you, written by the inspiring Maya Angelou, taken from Poets.org:

Still I Rise
You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.

Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
‘Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.

Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.

Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops,
Weakened by my soulful cries?

Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don’t you take it awful hard
‘Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines
Diggin’ in my own backyard.

You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.

Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I’ve got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?

Out of the huts of history’s shame
I rise
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I rise
I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.

Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
I rise
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise
I rise.

Anniversary Effect

I wanted him to ask me but he didn’t. So I asked him. Our church Valentine banquet took place on February 13, 1984. A very special time for my husband, Mike and me, it was our first date. For the past 33 years we have celebrated that very special occasion which ignited our life-long commitment of love. Flowers and candy always mark this occasion and a lovely restaurant dinner. It is one of the happiest of all our life celebrations.

Other than the occasional mission trip, church conference or quick weekend trips, we haven’t spent much time apart. That’s why I was a bit surprised when he willingly supported my three-month adventure in Bethlehem last year, volunteering at an English immersion school. It was a dream come true and I had worked hard to get there. I attended classes and completed a graduate certificate in TESOL. I sent countless emails trying to connect with a school who needed a volunteer. I went to conferences and made as many connections as I could. My dream was becoming a reality and Mike was supporting me all along the way. He accompanied me on the trip and stayed for three weeks. It was hard to say goodbye to him, but I was so thrilled to be living my dream.

On a beautiful, warm Saturday in Bethlehem I awoke and raised the window blinds, the view took my breath away as it did every morning. I had an appointment with a friend for an Arabic lesson. Having completed my grocery shopping on Friday, I washed a load of laundry and hung it to dry. I was ready to go and decided not to call a taxi because the day was so lovely. I would walk. It was not a short walk but definitely worth it to pass through the market area and be shoulder to shoulder with the people I have come to love. I was prepared for the long trek. Wearing my backpack and walking shoes, I stopped in a local shop to pick up a notebook for my Arabic studies. I stopped to take pictures at the Christmas Lutheran Church.

I remember breathing in deeply and saying prayer of thankfulness for this opportunity that just a short time ago I could only imagine in my wildest dreams. I took careful steps, I had fallen in Jerusalem just two weeks ago and I certainly did not want to repeat that.

Not since that first date so long ago (and the births of my three children) had something pulled this firmly on my heartstrings. It’s still a bit of a mystery to me why I am completely captivated by this place. While I insist it is the people, others have suggested that I must be drawn to the birthplace of Jesus for spiritual reasons. Maybe it’s true, but the Palestinian people, both individually and collectively, with their rich and beautiful culture, have captured my heart in a way that is both new and mysterious to me.

The Omar mosque came into view and I was in familiar territory. A quick walk through Manger Square and down the hill, and I would reach my destination. Passing through a taxi stand, I could see the front door of my friends’ house. I stepped gingerly, carefully off the curb. My left ankle did not hold the weight of my body. Instead, it gave. I tried to catch my balance with my right foot, that ankle gave also. I found myself on the pavement, dazed and confused. I remember every minute of this whole ordeal. I have played it over and over in my mind. I cannot come up with a reason for this fall.

Both my ankles were injured and because of the many stairs, my time at the school would soon have to end. So very grateful to my friends who cared for me during that time and with a brand new cast on my left foot, I waited in the car as we picked up crutches and ran errands on the way back to the school. As I waited, a deep loneliness crept up inside me. My friend Grace returned to the car with a Valentine gift. It had been prearranged by Mike. The date was February 13

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Today, it doesn’t seem possible that a year has passed. I weep as I remember every detail. I’ve been irritable lately and withdrawn.

In a 2011 article for Psychology Today,  the Anniversary Effect, Deborah Serani defines the phenomena as “unique set of unsettling feelings, thoughts or memories that occur on the anniversary of a significant experience.” Sometimes we experience traumatic events along with others, like deaths of loved ones or natural disasters or acts of terror like 9-11. But for me, this is a deeply personal event connected to a profound and personal loss that is difficult even for those closest to me to understand. A sense of loneliness settles into my heart.

My faith in God speaks to me about redemption. I believe that bad things happen in the world, obviously. And God is not out there preventing these bad things from happening, obviously again. Nor is God out there causing bad things to happen. But when something bad does happen, I believe good that subsequently happens as a result is the work of God, a redemption of the negative situation.

Something bad happened to me and it had an intense effect on my life. I don’t know the cause of it. I don’t understand why I fell. There was no reason for me to have an accident like that. I was wearing solid shoes, I was being careful. It just happened. Some have suggested a spiritual attack. I don’t know. I just know it happened and it was traumatic. Besides the physical pain that still shows up now and then, for months after the fall I suffered flashback memories every time I went down steps and especially curbs. I experienced anxiety if I didn’t have a railing to hold.

During my recovery I sought out ways to cope. The accident was personal and my coping strategies have been highly personal as well. I have developed a deeper level of creativity. Art is important. Not only creating my own art, but my appreciation of art and beauty is more intense. I have also developed a better understanding of how difficult but important it is to accept help from others and how humbling it is when you are forced into a situation where you have to be served by others. I believe that it is what Jesus was trying to teach the disciples when he asked them to allow him to wash their feet. It is difficult and taxing emotionally as well as physically, but humility is a quality that provides better perspective, helps you see and accept others. I also had the opportunity to live in the West Bank in a Palestinian community. I was immersed in the culture and language and I was with people who loved and cared for me. I learned that in the past I had only a very distant and faint viewpoint on this complex area of the world, and I was able to drill all the way down to families and neighborhoods who, like all families and neighborhoods want to live in peace and provide healthy and happy homes for their children. It gave me a much deeper connection, not only to Palestinians, but to people in all parts of the world. And my wider worldview helps to shape my beliefs, thoughts and views about those people. I believe these positive consequences of a negative experience is how God works in our lives. 

Anniversaries can be a time for reflection on happy times and celebrations. They can also mark some very difficult times in our lives. This anniversary is different than any before. Quite painful in some ways, it’s also filled with many happy memories. Mike and I will celebrate this year with an even deeper and richer understanding of love than ever before. And while there most certainly will be more traumatic experiences our lives and subsequent paths to redemption. Tonight we will celebrate together with a few dozen of our closest friends, at our church Valentine banquet.

Alternate Universe

Watching the Super Bowl, rooting for the Falcons.

I don’t really care about the game, though. I like the commercials. I’ve been seeing articles in my news app about Budweiser’s “controversial” commercial. It’s interesting to me that something so great about our country, that we are a nation of immigrants, is now considered negative and controversial; political. I’ve even seen tweets by people threatening to boycott Budweiser. Huh?

We are citizens of this world. We live in it with other people. We’re neighbors, not enemies.We are closely connected to the world through technology. We can’t go back to 1950s mindset and wall ourselves off from the outside world without causing a great amount of unnecessary suffering.

I think I’m living in a weird alternate universe. WAKE UP GEORGE BAILEY.

I’m just trying to keep my head buried in corpus linguistics and second language rhetoric and composition. It’s pretty heavy reading, guys and I’m exhausted. But it still beats the headlines.

Speaking about going backward, I guess my mind has been in the past a bit this week. My daughter has a birthday Tuesday, Feb. 7. It was thirty years ago that she came into the world. It’s hard to believe I have a child that age. I wish I could say I was a very young mother at the time. I hope she has a very happy day. Maybe she’ll read this blog…if I pay her.

Well, Super Bowl 2017 is over and I’ve seen Spuds Mackenzie as a ghost, Justin Timberlake not smiling at Christopher Walken, celebrities talking from their high school yearbooks,  and a short-haired bespectacled Justin Beiber. And some T-Mobile commercials that just made me say “ew.” I saw Airbnb proclaim that all are accepted. Lady Gaga’s halftime show was pretty spectacular. I saw Tom Brady get sacked about 5 times and come back from a 28-3 deficit to tie the game and win it in overtime. 

Sigh. I’m sure it’s all part of the alternate universe. Please wake up, George.

Chaos

I sent a saliva sample to Ancestry.com to get information about where my ancestors are from. The idea seems fascinating to me. I was impatient waiting for my results. When I woke up this morning, my results were in my email inbox. I was thrilled. I was hoping there might be some interesting surprises, but it turned out pretty much how I expected. I’m 100% European, 79% British. There is no trace of North America in my DNA. This is especially interesting to me now that a refugee ban is in place in the U.S. My ancestors are not from here.

Right now I feel like the scene in the movie, Bruce Almighty, where Bruce has created chaos in the entire world by his careless sweeping actions.

Our University Chorale was invited to perform at the inauguration. I have to admit that I may not have been gracious enough to attend if I had been in that group. But they went and I was so proud of how they represented us. The Chorale was invited to participate long before the election. The song they sang was commissioned specifically for this event. MSU chorale was the first group ever to perform it. It is titled “Now We Belong” and was composed by John Wykoff and lyrics were written by Michael Dennis Browne, the son of an immigrant. The lyrics are based on his views of the warm welcome his family experienced during their move to the U.S. (Information taken from an article in The Standard, MSU student newspaper, written by Nicole Roberts, Editor-in-Chief). The students experienced some negative responses from fellow students and the community for choosing to perform at the event. The intention of the performance was to send a message of love, unity and belonging. I was deeply touched and proud of our students for their contribution in these troubling times. Here are the lyrics to “Now We Belong.”

“Now We Belong”

Here are the voices of every creature,
Here are the calls of every heart;
Here is the place of strangers’ welcome,
We who once walked in strangers’ shoes.
Once we were strangers,
We were welcomed,
Now we belong and believe in this land.

Here are the rivers of many echoes,
Here are the leaves of every tree;
Within us live the long horizons,
Winds that stir the sacred stones.
We were welcomed,
Now we belong and believe in this land.

Keep faith, keep watch
Take Take heart, take courage,
Guard mind, guard spirit.
Feed love, feed longing.

Here are the cities where we have gathered,
Here are the barns where hope is stored;
We are the gleams of every being,
Filled with the dreams that build the day.
Once we were strangers,
We were welcomed,
Now we belong and believe in this land.

Keep faith, guard mind,
Take heart, guard spirit,
Take courage, keep watch,
Feed longing, feed love.

The irony is a bit overwhelming.

My heart is now and will always be with refugees. My life at this moment revolves around my learning to teach English to them. It is my dream, my goal. With every class I take my projects are based on refugees. I cannot imagine slamming the door in their faces. How can we demand rights for the life of the unborn one day and deny children a future the next?  

Christianity has been on my mind a lot lately, what it means to be a Christian in this culture, what I’ve always thought it meant to follow the teachings of Jesus, and how vastly different those two things seem to me right now. Maybe that’s a topic for next week.

Keep your chins up, my friends and your protest posters handy 😉