I’m 9 days from beginning my journey to Baghdad, via England. This takes me away from dear friends and family for 2 months. The imminent goodbyes are pinching my heart. Ouch. I really love people, individually and generally.
It isn’t merely the 2 month separation, but the fact that I know this is the short-term goodbye for what is about to become a more long-term goodbye when I begin to work overseas next year. Tonight the tide of sadness slid onto my sandy shore. Tears stood on their tippy toes and waved their hands over my eyelids’ banks. My apartmentmate said, “It’s because you have loved with abandon.” I smiled and my mind began to walk a wooded path: paved, but picturesque.
I admit the last few weeks I haven’t wanted to love with abandon. I’ve wanted to distance myself to diminish the pain of the unavoidable goodbyes. Then love kicks in more fully; and I want to hug everyone – strangers included.
Then curiosity sets in: what will my life look like a year from now? Who will be my circle of friends where I live next? I remember the stretching of life in Bethlehem: the culture gap, the language delay, and the trails of loneliness that often drifted to my doorstep in the still of night. The idea of saying, “It was worth it” does not do it justice. To be in the center of one’s destiny is a fire and a storm, a hope and a vision, the likes of which nothing can compare. It’s peace and it’s fury. It’s wizened confidence and youthful learning. It’s life: in the very best, most LIFE-giving sense of the word (not the contrary way people often say, “Oh WELL, that’s LIFE!”).
Life is about living. It’s about breathing. It’s saddling every day with adventure and a romantic ride into the sunset. It’s about being present, engaged, committed, and alive. It’s about faith, hope, and love. It’s about the risks of loving well. It’s about jumping up and down when you’re excited and letting tears scramble down your eyes’ fire escape when you’re sad.
It must be about loving with abandon. It simply must.
In the sacrifice of love is an ecstasy of love. In the tremor of a goodbye is the value for love, for life , for friends. A friend of mine recently said,
“Dawn, fulfilling your destiny is the best thing you could do for all your relationships.”
This thought devastates me, in a good and glorious way. To acknowledge that in the positioning of God, in following His leading, even when it navigates the turns of painful goodbyes, is the best path, is both liberating and catalytic. I am most loving my friends and family by being every iota of who God desires me to be- though it takes me far away, sometimes made further by cultural differences and the space of time zones. Yet, in this faithfulness to follow my beloved Jesus, I am blessing those closest to me, even as I leave their side. In fact, I am stirring the Holy Spirit’s movements in their own lives as well; that they would be similarly stirred to beautifully walk into their own destinies.
This is glorious. As we love God with abandon, we love people with abandon. It should be a natural continuum.
And on top of all of this, God is always with us. We never have to say “goodbye” to our biggest fan and closest friend.
On that note, breathe Him in. Wherever you are, whatever transition you are walking out, whomever you are bidding farewell to,
fear not. Simply BREATHE HIM IN.
(This song is from my friends’ Katie and Bryan’s new album.)
My friends Jessica and Barrett recently got married. Soon they are headed back to Bethlehem, Israel/Palestinian Territories to begin a new ministry venture: a pizza shop and open heart surgery for Palestinian kids who need it. : )
I am really proud of Jess and Barrett for relentlessly going after the vision and passion God has knit in them. They are a true inspiration and a solid weight of glory for the Middle East! HOORAY!
Check it out and if you are infinitely inspired, consider supporting their ministry with prayer or money. Three cheers for marriage, the Middle East, and new hearts for Palestinian children!
On September 6, 2009 an airplane handed me back to my home country. From August 26, 2006 to September 5, 2009 I lived in Israel, mainly in the precious city of Bethlehem -or “o little town” as I often call it. Looking back and looking forward, I am rapturously thankful and awed by the gift of those years in Israel. That season was certainly a bootcamp for my future life in the Middle East. And that was precisely what I needed. It was also overflowing with miracles, healings, surprises, birthdays, friendships, and glory. It was better than I expected, and sometimes worse. Yet overall, most certainly BETTER.
Moreover, these past two years in America have been precisely what the Master Physician ordered: refreshing, regrouping, re-establishing, re-envisioning, and relaxing. Two years of Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry has been really restorative as well as catalytic. I am now positioned to return to the Middle East with new strength, perspective, techniques, and SUPPORT. I am reminded of a family Christmas video of me around seven years old in which I say upon opening many of my gifts, “It’s just what I ALWAYS WANTED!” These two years have been that.
THANK YOU to my friends and family who have supported me and encouraged me when they didn’t understand what I was doing, but miraculously did understand WHY I was doing it. I know your investment in my life and your willingness to stand by me will reap a harvest, throughout the Middle East and throughout your own life. I bless you today with checks in the mail, gifts and surprises, and debts paid off. haha! The delight of the Lord is gushing through the threshold of your home and into every heart therein. It is an honor to journey together. You are priceless; and you are royalty.
<Thank you, Father God for your wisdom made manifest in my life. There’s no one else I would rather have write my story. I’m happy with where we are and I’m expectant for the chapters ahead. Your sweetness is beyond what my skin can hold, my mind can grasp, and my words can tell. I LOVE YOU.>
Here’s to endless adventure and matchless love!
A year ago I wrote this blog post: https://upsidedownbethlehem.wordpress.com/2010/09/05/a-dress-that-made-me-cry-and-other-reflections-on-a-year-back-in-america/
Here are some of my favorites images from my three years in the Middle East. They are a visual necklace of gratitude framing my voice of praise:
“All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord, and all the families of the nations shall bow down and worship before You, For the kingship and the kingdom are the Lord’s, and He is the ruler over the nations.”
Psalm 22:27-18 (AMP)
On March 12, 2008 I had an appointment with death. What I mean is, I had a divine appointment scheduled, unbeknownst to me, at a murder scene.
It began with an appointment with a man who makes wooden crosses: a run-of-the-mill visit to Deheisheh, the largest refugee camp in Bethlehem. At the time I was living in Bethlehem, Israel/Palestinian Territories. I went to meet my friend David and a local man to pick-up a handmade cross to be a prototype for a large order of other such crosses, made of olive wood by the man’s father to be sold overseas to help pay for medical expenses for his twenty-something son, a paraplegic after being shot by soldiers several years prior.
When I arrived I saw my friend, Shaadi, a Palestinian who often gives tours of the area to visitors. He was with two Iranian-Americans and preparing to go to Mar Saba (a monastery in the Judean wilderness outside of Bhem). He asked if I wanted to go. I did. So David and I went – postponing our meeting with the woodworker until that night.
After several hours at the monastery we returned to Bethlehem. It was shortly after 6pm. Shaadi got a phone call. Hot with distress he turned to us, “The IDF just killed four men in Bethlehem, in their car, they were wanted men.” David and I asked questions. The visitors waited. Shaadi said it just happened, just then, they were killed by a rocket his friend thought, one of the dead was a major Islamic Jihad leader in the West Bank — and Shaadi was going to the scene. “Do you want to go?”
Yeah. We do.
So, we did. Two American believers, two Iranian-American tourists, and two Palestinians (Shaadi and our taxi driver, Abed).
You want me to describe the scene; and I will BUT, see that:
1. God in His kindness and His omniscience brought me there – He placed some of His light in a very dark place.
2. It was an honor to be able to be there.
3. It was an honor to be with Bethlehem in an evening of highest turmoil and grief.
4. It was a turning point for me as well.
It was a small car – a red one, four door, maybe 20 years old. Hundreds of people rimmed it. Abed told me to stay close, and I did. He took me right up to the car, through the crowds of frozen electricity, like the stain a lightning bolt leaves in a stormy sky. The windows were crumpled, shattered under the onslaught of machine-gun fire. It wasn’t a rocket, as Shaadi’s friend supposed, it was a spray of bullets from a special unit of Israel Defense Forces, clothed as Palestinians, riding inconspicuously in a Bethlehem taxi. Reports said they attempted to arrest the four men (3 Islamic Jihad, 1 Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade). The most significant man, Shehadah, they wanted for 8 years. The four men, laden with weapons, fired on the IDF special forces when they attempted to arrest them, and the IDF immediately killed them all. The car itself made new clarity of “riddled with bullets.” Dozens of holes every where: each seat inside with its own red-red-red-red bullseye: four concentrated blood stains at each passenger’s chest-level, with the trails of helter-skelter bullets splayed around.
(for video taken about 15 minutes before we arrived on the scene
(take note: blood and bodies)
(for a news article on the event: http://www.israelnationalnews.com/News/News.aspx/125552)
“Faddal” (“please go ahead”) I said, moving back at one point to allow a boy, maybe ten, to slide past me – his hands gingerly touching the car as he squeezed by. His eyes surprised me. Not fear, not demand, but frankness. He wanted to see up-close.
I was suddenly tired, rigidly sad. I wanted all those kids to be protected from this. I wanted someone to take them home, to keep them from an impression of reality more likely to breed hatred than love. I wanted them to have Father God’s kingdom within them, to remove them from the competition of the kings and rulers of this world.
A wall of people my standing couch of false relaxation, I drifted toward those I came with. Shaadi was leading them back to the taxi. He jolted around, “Where’s Daaaaaw….?!” – the “n” swallowed by our eye contact. I smiled sincerely, “Thanks.” I knew he was looking out for me. In an ocean of mayhem, I appreciated it a lot.
Next stop: the hospital where the bodies were being taken.
I should add it worked out impeccably we happened to be in a cab with Palestinians when the news broke. It put us in-the-know and also gave us language and understanding of the event, plus the mobility to be dropped off right outside the hospital before Abed went to park the van. Also, it was amazing we “happened” to be tugged out of Bethlehem that day, particularly because the scene was 1/4 mile from my apartment and the circle of chaos and closed streets was encompassing.
Thousands of people swarmed the hospital’s front and back entrances.
Three corpses on stretchers were passed overhead, rafts on waves of sobriety and hysterics. The grand entrance of one body was buoyed by one incessant phrase and one volume: desperately loud.
(which means “Allah (God) is great!”)
Women wept. Weak-kneed boys and girls sobbed, held up by a friend in the same way a man with a broken ankle would be.
Family and friends of the dead.
My tears were already shed. Floodgates released at age 16. That evening I walked into the news coverage I watched for 12 years, the scenes which had once broken my own ability to stand. I was well-trained for the moment which drank me up that fated March Wednesday.
Glug glug glug drank up I was. I prayed. I watched. I slid through the tense multitude to get a better look at this and that. I prayed for kids I saw. I prayed and engaged with the crumbling women, the youth staggering into the ER screaming, “I’m not going to let this go! I’m going to do something to get back at them for this!”, the friends of mine I bumbled into that night (it seemed a large portion of Bethlehem was there), the ones who collapsed under the agony of sadness and were toted into the ER swollen with families, the speechless bystanders. I prayed and engaged with this little city of David, Bethlehem:
the Only One
who could ever turn
this tide of grief, revenge, and consummate oppression.
There is an oft-quoted verse in the book of Esther which says more about why I was at the hospital that dark night:
“And who knows whether you have not attained royalty for such a time as this?”
After leaving the hospital, David and I filled a previous commitment to visit a family in the camp: the father in the family “happened” to be the Minister of Labor in Bethlehem. Then we went to get the wooden cross and visit the woodworker’s family. Everyone was in a hubbub over the night’s events; and there we were, the hospital’s clamor still affecting our heartbeats; and our heartbeats still affecting the hospital’s clamor: our peace a holy residue of promise and hope.
for such a time as this.
for murder scenes and war zones, troubled neighborhoods and troubled neighbors,
for places in deep need, for people longing for hope,
for nations, for cities, for individuals,
for such a time as this.
We must not be afraid, but confident. We must not be afraid of “darkness”, but confident in who we are:
THE LIGHT OF THE WORLD. The answer to the problem. The peace to the chaos. The hope to the hopeless.
We should rejoice when we get the privilege of being all these things,
whether at a crime scene in Bethlehem or a parking lot at the mall. Light belongs in darkness.
“This is the message we have heard from Him and announce to you,
that God is Light,
and in Him there is no darkness at all.”
“You are the light of the world.
A city on a hill cannot be hidden.
Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl.
Instead they put it on its stand,
and it gives light to everyone in the house.”
In the midst of the hubbub about Israel and Palestine, there is a melody – a melody of hope, peace, and purpose. Bethlehem was called by name as a city of promise in Micah 5. Bethlehem is now in the Palestinian Territories, a place I love wholeheartedly – a people beautiful and important. In Isaiah 9 it says the Lord’s government will be ever-increasing. I believe there is a plan for peace in the Middle East. In heaven in a file cabinet, there is a plan. And it is so full of love it would dumbfound even the most compassionate human being. Two years ago I was thinking about all this me-lee, this confusion and unrest. I was living in Bethlehem, surrounded by a thirty-foot concrete wall and checkpoints. And I was declaring Bethlehem’s true identity to be re-established. From those thoughts came the following song, sung on a balcony in the Bethlehem area. He WILL be their peace.
I wrote this essay on a “familiar location” for my writing class. How ironic it is that it was shepherds who saw the angels over Bethlehem, it was the watchers, the stewards of life who suddenly were invited to be kept safe eternally – by knowing Jesus. < What a pivot! GOD! I love you! I want to know you through and through! I want to be perfectly attended to by You, and perfectly attending to others through You. A Shepherded Shepherd. A Loved Lover.>
The dust is a familiar friend: a hugger, a listener, an assurance of life’s forward movement. I never had a friendship with dust until I moved to Israel where the forecast was often “sand.” The sand and dust blew in from the desert via the hamsin (fifty) winds. In time its familiarity, and the stories from history it carried, brought me comfort and camaraderie. This is part of the reason I cherished Shepherds’ Fields just outside Bethlehem.
Shepherds Fields is the historic location of the place where the shepherds at the time of Jesus’ birth saw the angels in the sky proclaiming his arrival. There are two chapels on site, but the main view, the encompassing sea of possibility, is the expanse of fields. There on the rim of the property, I spent many hours, often lying on my back drinking the same sky those famous shepherds drank.
Limestone rock chunks play untrained chiropractor to my resting back. Olive trees stand in a watchful semi-circle, surgeons leaning over my body on heaven’s operating table. Their leaves are fascinating: a grandfatherly grey-green, at their most flourishing they look surprisingly tired. Similarly, the trunk itself, wooden dreadlocks bound by roots into the soil, looks ancient. The intentionality an elderly man uses tying his shoes, must be the focus the tree used to weave his tree bark together. The bark is rich. It’s the shade of a medium roast of coffee beans from Antigua, Guatemala (believe me; I used to work in a very coffee connoisseur’s café of sorts). The trees are so beautiful I suspect a mythical young prince might stride into the field and fall madly in love with one of them. I feel the earth become foggy as I take in one single tree.
The birds witness my adoration. I wonder if they are jealous or simply happy someone else has seen the trees’ hearts of hope. The birds slide by on an invisible track in the sky – there must be a sky train depot not far from my attentive head: every twenty minutes or so a similar cluster choo-choos past me. I can’t tell if they are the very same birds or not. They aren’t wearing clothes or hats or anything. When I look to trail the birds, I notice the low rock wall to my left. It’s made of Cenomanian Limestone like most of the walls in Israel – it is light chalky beige, the color of the front of my calves after some time in the sun (well except during my three year stint in Israel when cultural protocol kept me very covered. Then my legs were much more like the pale wooden rolling pin my mom had when I was a kid.)
I cherished that place, that nook in heaven. I would never close its shutters, even when my eyes closed; my spirit seemed fully aware that I was the little girl on her Papa’s lap, and His lap was Shepherds’ Fields. That little girl was a sheep being watched by night while also a shepherd instructed by angels. Shepherd and sheep, watcher and watched. This is what happened that fateful night, those trained to look out for their flocks were yanked from provider to provided for. They could keep the sheep alive to the best of their ability, and their Ultimate Shepherd was introducing a way to keep them alive as well – a son who was salvation.