Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Sigh, now I really need to work on that Bravalo Arabic app downloaded onto my phone months ago.

Elkanah her husband said to her, “Do what seems best to you; only, may the Lord establish His word.” I Samuel 1:23

For the Lord is a God of knowledge,
    and by Him actions are weighed. I Samuel 2:3

Guide my feet, yes my Lord, while I run this race, for I don’t want to run this race in vain.

I have decided to return to Mar Qadark School in the fall for another eight to ten weeks as an instructional coach, curriculum specialist and odd-jobs lady.

How does a child of God make decisions? Reading about Hannah today, she was pretty bold. She knew in her knower. And part of this journey was practicing the leap.

I started off with the understanding that I am a sent one by Jesus to announce His coming, as one of the “others.” And His instructions were pretty well scaffolded… but even though He said, “Carry no moneybag, no knapsack, no sandals, and greet no one on the road.” I brought a wad of twenties and a brand new Kelty knapsack and three pairs of sandals and three sort-of-professional outfits and even a bathing suit if I ever need it, but it all fits inside Ryan Air carry on, with centimeters left to spare.

And I greet everyone on the street with touch to the chest and a cheery, “Allo.”

So I kinda feel like Jill and Eustice who missed the first of Aslan’s signs.

Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace be to this house!’ And if a son of peace is there, your peace will rest upon him. And remain in the same house, eating and drinking what they provide, for the laborer deserves his wages. Do not go from house to house.  Whenever you enter a town and they receive you, eat what is set before you. Luke 10:5-8

And well, I haven’t eaten everything set before me. Last night in celebration of my return, the school administration set a plate of roasted lima beans and a plate of roasted green beans and a bowl of hummus and a bowl of pistachios and a hookah and a bottle of red wine and a kabob plate with a large pizza-sized flat of bread, and then a second flat of bread hot out of the wood oven and then a whole rack of chicken wings before me and I did the best I could.

And after meeting with the principal, I paused. And said maybe.

And chatted with the team here. And messaged a few more.

But really, His directions were pretty clear.

This place is chock-filled with sons of peace. Who have responded to the many smashing strikes to the cheek with grace.

And of course, this first chunk of time has been a lot of stumbling and getting back up, brushing off my knees and heading down a different direction. Monitor and adjust every day. Every class period. Sometimes even in the middle of the period. And how with relationship and time and bearing, I will be much more helpful. So it makes sense. Too.

It doesn’t always have to make sense. But it does.

And these Scriptures do talk about establishing His word and weighing actions.

So Calendar is clicking into place and arrival dates and the departure dates are starting to come into focus, ready to be plugged into Kayak and CheapoAir searches.

But then there is today.

Today with the final presentations. Today with the individual conferencing. Today with the presentation of certificates.


Lord God, our hands are open to You. Our ears are listening to You. Our eyes are watching You. Our hearts are trying to beat with Yours. Live in us and love others through us today. Amen.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

And we had to be very careful not to slip and fall as we slid down the mountain.

Praise be to God, who gives beauty for ashes : hope in the morning, strength for today.

You give me beauty for ashes. You pull me close to Your heart. You have turned my mourning into dancing. It’s what You do. It’s who You are. I am no longer what I used to be. I am stronger because You live in me. It old has gone; the new has come. Brand new day. Brand new life. I am softer because You live in me.

Dear God, form us into a peculiar people who live differently because we have been transformed by You. May the courage of the early Christians teach us to laugh at fear, to starve greed, and to live with the winsome freedom of the lilies and the sparrows. Amen.

I have certainly seen where the winsome freedom of the ancient hermits led them in 400 B.C.: right up a steep rocky hillside to their very own cave, where really only the sparrows fly and dry weeds cling.

And once a week they gathered in a slightly larger cave, to praise God together and break bread and drink wine. These hollows of decomposed granite are saturated with prayers.

And Sinan couldn’t really wrap his brain around the scorpions and snakes these guys must have faced. In fact, for him, this was proof of God’s power and intervention.

And after the mass was lifted up, the hermits filled a bag with breads and vegetables brought up from the village and returned to their solitude.

Certainly a peculiar people. And yet many centuries years later another peculiar people weighted down with the cares of a complex and dangerous world make a long hot journey to those very caves to marvel. And to rest in the simplicity of transformation.

As I begin to pack up my Erbil bag, entering the bakery one last time for 1,000 dinars of bread and smiling good morning one last time to the woman sweeping the street, fully aware of the importance of closure in a lesson, fully aware of the power of the concluding sentence, my thoughts in spite of themselves drift to the next bend in the road ahead, completely unknown.

Because I think that in many ways it is where this peculiar pilgrimage will begin, sent out two by two, but my companion is Jesus. And in solitude I will know His lovingkindness more profoundly.

If you allow people to praise me, I shall not worry. If you let them blame me, I shall worry even less. If You send me work, I shall embrace it with joy. . . . If you send me rest, I will rest in You. Only save me from myself. Save me from my own private, poisonous urge to change everything, to act without reason, to move for movement's sake, to unsettle everything that You have ordained. Let me rest in Your will and be silent. Then the light of Your joy will warm my life. Its fire will burn in my heart and shine for Your glory. That is what I live for. Amen, amen. Thomas Merton, The Sign of Jonah

Saturday, July 22, 2017

I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand.

As for God, His ways are perfect; the words of the LORD are tried in the fire; He is a shield to all who trust in Him. Psalm 18:31

Today’s ride to Shaqlawa and Raban boya (and btw here is a spot-on blog that describes my month in Erbil so much better than I can) with the rocky sun-beaten fields of olive trees and terraced grape vines and sheep and goats flashing by in the through the open windows of the school bus was about a lot more than a little touristy sightseeing in a beautiful mountain village.

I slid into a conversation between Wissam, the guy with the great physics lesson, and Char, another team member. The ever-so-casual question of What did you do yesterday? turned into a story, as he reached into his phone and showed us.

Wissam and his family lived in Qaraqosh, a predominantly Christian village outside Mosul. And before ISIS there were the roots of ISIS, armed men who bullied Christians in every possible shade of life. For instance, buses would take students from the village to the University of Mosul every day, and everyone knew that the drivers had to pay “fees” in order to protect their passengers. Well, one month the bus driver didn’t pay, so eight students were herded off the bus, one of whom was Wissam’s brother, kidnapped for a ransom of one million dollars. Well, it got lowered to 200,000 dollars. So Wissam and his very extended family had to sell everything and borrow the rest. They got their brother back, unharmed, and spent the next two years pouring all of their energy and time into paying off the loans, even dropping out of school in order to work.

The debt paid, they returned to the university and the bus. Only this time the busses were blown to smithereens. So Wissam decided to study at the University of Erbil. Four days after his final exams, the final cleansing happened and his entire family fled, moving into his dorm room.

Yesterday was the first day he had returned home to the house they had built in 2010. Everything of value had been stolen. Everything left had been slashed and burned. It was clear that some people had been living in the kitchen because of the dishes and hookah left behind. He walked us through the various rooms: Wissam had done all of the wiring and painting of the once beautiful house. Now there were just charred remains of smashed dreams.

And here is the pause for every Christian in Erbil, as they consider returning. Is there any hope of reconciliation and restoration?

In this world, that is.

We pray the Lord’s Prayer together opening each class, and before each meal and at the end of each day and before we climbed up the mountain to the the monks’ cave where the hermits who lived in the tiny cliff caves gathered once a week for mass, starting in 400 AD.

Your kingdom come. Your will be done. On earth as it is in heaven.

And of all my students, Wissam is the one who totally gets instruction. He is creative, engaging, and walks right up that old ladder to higher order thinking. And surely he has gone through the fires, the scalding exploding sort. And this is just a bouncy bus ride snippet of his story, just one story.

Your kingdom come. Your will be done. On earth as it is in heaven.

His word is a shield. A shield that protects from the flaming darts of fear and hopelessness and despair. A shield that has produced resilience, my answer to Sinan’s question What is your favorite English word, Miss Christy? It is the world I am living in right now, what I see it all around me.

I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand.

May I understand.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Ah another scent: once again there is no water so my bath this morning was a tissue dipped in a cup of drinking water.

Now thanks be to God who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and through us diffuses the fragrance of His knowledge in every place. For we are a sweet fragrance of Christ unto God. 2 Corinthians 2:14,15

And with fear and trembling stand;
Set your minds on things eternal,
For with blessing in His hand
Christ our God to earth descended,
Come our homage to command.

I am surrounded by a community whose minds are set with clarity and strength, no crashing waves of doubt or divided purpose. Fragrance bearers. A grace and gentleness permeates the very air I breathe.

Wissam the master teacher walked through a beautifully crafted lesson demonstrating academic language support yesterday. He opened by spritzing air freshener into the classroom with the words osmosis, molecule, high concentration, low concentration and equilibrium written on the board.

Now actually this particular version of sweetly scent Axe Active tends to trigger my gag reflex although it does bring back distinct and oddly fond memories of last year’s eighth graders bathing themselves in deodorant after the lunchtime basketball game. Last year’s eighth graders? Ha! Generations of eighth grade boys. One year I outlawed its use, although it is difficult to discern which is worse: with or without.

But I digress.

The point is movement. The objective. And by the time Wissam had finished his nineteen-minute lesson on osmosis, there was no doubt in any of our minds, none of us would ever forget the word.

Scents abound here in Erbil.

The sweet lady who waters her sidewalk every morning to produce the dense steam that somehow still smells dusty,

The bakery where we purchase samoun, the diamond-shaped breads, where men lean into the flames again and again,

The deliciousness pouring downstairs as we plod upstairs after a long morning to a loving lunch served by the MCC staff.


The diesel spitting out of myriad generators clicking on and off at all hours of the day and night to supplement the national grid,

The enveloping embrace of Wale’s mother, kiss right cheek, left cheek, right cheek, left cheek every time.

And of course, the sifting swinging incense rising upward, the prayers of the faithful ascending to the One who descended, our homage to command.


Yesterday we spoke of the power of the modeling strategy. We spoke of lessons learned from our parents, from our friends, from the pounding media. We spoke of samples of power paragraphs and debate openings. And as I watch the lives of those around me quietly and determinedly set on the eternal, it is both humbling and profound.

May I never forget the Word.

Lord, our strength and purpose come from You. Direct our steps today, and turn us from the perishable things at which we grasp. Cast Your light upon us so that our lives may bear witness to the light (and fragrance) of Christ. Amen.