loving with abandon, and other things worth the “ouch”

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’ DELICIOUS ministry

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!

http://www.wix.com/askidenia/askidenia-ministries#!

marking two years back in America

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: http://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:

Dawn on rooftop overlooking the Western Wall and the Dome of the Rock

Flat Stanley's First Iftaar

Entrance to Saudi Arabia

The Mosque of Jesus, Son of Mary (in Jordan)

Dawn atop Mt Sinai in Egypt

wedding in Hussan village

listening to a woman's story in the mental hospital

healing at the birthday party

drama group happiness

merrily down the stairs with Jihad

went to Cyprus to renew our visas, met Andrea's future husband

scuba diving in the Red Sea

Exiting Bethlehem through the checkpoint

blindfolded on my birthday

striking a pose in Jerusalem

rooftop worship in Bethlehem

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)

Inviting Life to a Death Scene: the day four terrorists were killed and heaven reserved a place for me at the scene

Palestinians gather around a car where four Palestinian militants were killed by Israeli troops on March 12, 2008

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.

Weapons found on the men in the red car

(for video taken about 15 minutes before we arrived on the scene
(take note: blood and bodies)
http://israelmatzav.blogspot.com/2008/03/video-raw-car-swarm-in-bethlehem.html )

(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.

“Allahu Akbar!”

(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:
birthplace of
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?”
Esther 4:14

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.”

John 1:5

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.”

Matthew 5:14-15

Micah 5 thoughts on the MIDDLE EAST

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.

Shepherds’ Fields, Bethlehem: The fields where the keepers got kept

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.>

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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.

Shepherds' Fields outside of Bethlehem

My Blog’s 2010 Social Life

The technological marvel that is WordPress sent me an email with my blog stats for last year. It’s intriguing and I’m encouraged that many people drank of the golden nectar that sprouts in heaven and flowers in my life on earth. haha. Thanks for stopping by my little house in DigitalLand. There is always a throw blanket to wrap yourself in and a warm fire to heat and inspire your most exorbitantly extravagant dreams.

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The stats helper monkeys at WordPress.com mulled over how this blog did in 2010, and here’s a high level summary of its overall blog health:

Healthy blog!

The Blog-Health-o-Meter™ reads Fresher than ever.

Crunchy numbers

Featured image

A Boeing 747-400 passenger jet can hold 416 passengers. This blog was viewed about 1,800 times in 2010. That’s about 4 full 747s.

In 2010, there were 29 new posts, growing the total archive of this blog to 42 posts. There were 49 pictures uploaded, taking up a total of 127mb. That’s about 4 pictures per month.

The busiest day of the year was April 9th with 60 views. The most popular post that day was why it is important to raise the dead.

Where did they come from?

The top referring sites in 2010 were facebook.com, en.wordpress.com, mail.yahoo.com, mail.live.com, and blogger.com.

Some visitors came searching, mostly for bride-to-be paralyzed fingers collarbone, selling poetry on etsy, lovesick kim walker albums, love poems, and new jesus culture album.

Attractions in 2010

These are the posts and pages that got the most views in 2010.

1

why it is important to raise the dead April 2010
3 comments

2

VICTORY – something I’m wildly excited about! August 2010

3

my ♥beat March 2009

4

I need a miracle! Isn’t that exciting? August 2010
2 comments

5

Deaf Ears Opened: an oldie but a goodie September 2010

Streeeetching past disappointment

 

Some of the most defining and determining moments in our lives are the moments when we decide how to deal with disappointment. We either get weary and leave open the doors of our souls for dissatisfaction and unbelief to come in OR we resolutely shake off the experience, close the doors, and move forward DARING to hold on to hope.

In these pivot points we set the tone for the rest of our lives.

Onward and upward is the choice of brave hearts.

Sometimes the discipline of choosing belief is excruciatingly painful. Eustace says in the latest Chronicles of Narnia film, Voyage of the Dawn Treader, when describing how Aslan (the God-figure) brought him in an instant from the transition of a dragon-body back to his human state, “It was really painful, but in a good way – like having a thorn removed from your foot.” It is in the choosing, despite the cost of comfort, that the great sloughing off occurs. It is in the yanking through a narrow spot that the refining happens.

It is in the conviction toward joy when it is expensive, that heavenly habits are formed.

I like heavenly habits. And really, I’m much too smitten with the Holy Spirit to hop out of the reformation-mobile and establish a “healthy” distance from the Holy Spirit. Yuck. That sounds entirely horrible.

The last few months ripe in growth, have also contained backroads of *ouch* and *aaaaaaaargh!* I’ve had thyroid disease since I was seven and though it is normally stable with medication there have been times – like when I moved to Israel in 2006 – that my body goes out of whack. I’ve been prayed for dozens and dozens of times. I know God heals. I know healing is easy from heaven’s perspective and healing is our inheritance on earth. In the journey of the last few years I’ve seen hundreds of people healed through my own hands. I rarely felt bitter that my own healing hadn’t come. I just love seeing people healed and happy; and I know my own healing is en route. Well, in the last several months I have really focused on healing for my thyroid and I’ve seen measures of breakthrough. I’ve also had powerful encounters with God: I’ve been tackled in my bedroom; I’ve spent hours on the floor outside the healing rooms at church after going out in the Spirit; I’ve had people approach me with profound words of knowledge and pray for me; I’ve collapsed under the power of His Presence here and there and everywhere.  And the healing has yet to show up on earth. In the interim I’ve walked through lethargy, facial swelling, intestinal issues, slow metabolism, and a litany of other not-so-pretty symptoms. In time a doctor’s appointment, a blood test, and a fresh prescription have brought balance and removed most symptoms, but I am still really excited to be healed one day soon.

I’m not sharing any of that for pity. I hate pity. Compassion is fine, but pity is unhelpful. I prefer advocacy and a heavenly perspective. I’m sharing because there is a long-held awareness in my life that in my honesty others find strength and inspiration. I’m sharing because as the New Year pokes through the sky tonight, we need to choose to let GO of the old and grab a hold of the new. We need to issue a rally cry to everyone that JESUS IS GOOD ALL THE TIME!!!! And we will flourish as we let go of unanswered questions, confusion, and fear; and dive into the syrupy Presence of the One who understands ALL. What an honor to have a best friend who knows everything, sees outside of time, and LOVES beyond measure!

Right now we could choose to focus on what is not. We could stare at lack. We could grumble. We could be self-focused. We could be fearful that we will be terminally disappointed. And we could miss the opportunities to love and transform the world around us. We could miss out on the great masterpiece our beautiful Creator is making.

Or we could celebrate every victory, no matter how small. We could fast negativity (as in commit to not say and think negative things). We could speak the truth of God over our lives daily: I am powerful, I am seated with Christ in heavenly places, circumstances are under my feet, sickness flees in my presence. We could make every day a party. We could let loose the shoelaces of our love, toss off our hindrances and dance barefoot!

I have to choose the latter. My heart must have closeness with God. Nothing else will ever persuade me of a greater worth. He’s it. haha. No need to search for the next best thing. He is the always best thing.

So, whoever you are, wherever you are. Shake it off. Whatever you negatively fixate on about 2010, blink it away. Stop thinking about changing your ways and just change them. Be YOU. You can do it. You were born to succeed! You were designed to live an outrageously wonderful life so full of love and power that the whole universe awakens in awe to your beauty.

Ezekiel 16:9-14 paints a gorgeous image of us redeemed and beautified by our Husband,

“I bathed you with water and washed the blood from you and put ointments on you. I clothed you with an embroidered dress and put sandals of fine leather on you. I dressed you in fine linen and covered you with costly garments. I adorned you with jewelry: I put bracelets on your arms and a necklace around your neck, and I put a ring on your nose, earrings on your ears and a beautiful crown on your head. So you were adorned with gold and silver; your clothes were of fine linen and costly fabric and embroidered cloth. Your food was honey, olive oil and the finest flour. You became very beautiful and rose to be a queen. And your fame spread among the nations on account of your beauty, because the splendor I had given you made your beauty perfect, declares the Sovereign LORD.”

We have been lavished with salvation and beauty – so much beauty the nations are in awe. We have a choice of what to do with that beauty. In Ezekiel, the woman ( Jerusalem), squanders the love by throwing her attentions and her affections other places. Let’s be the woman who shows the nations their own beauty and lavishes them with the same love that brought us into salvation and wholeness.

Let’s stretch. Let’s grow.

2011, HERE WE GROW!!!!!!!

hahahaha!!!

I love all of you (even the internet wanderers who followed the yellow brick road here that I don’t know personally)!

I recommend listening to two teachings in the box.net on the left side bar of my blog: parts 1 & 2 of “Living Un-Offended at God” by Bill Johnson. ENJOY!!! Get radical with HOPE!

Happy NEW-EST YEAR!!!

You have a destiny and a purpose!

p.s. As my sister Dori is going to India in 4 days to work in a restoration house with survivors of the sex trade for 3 months, this form of slavery is on the forefront of my mind.

(Her blog: http://pinkdor.wordpress.com/ )

We must be courageous and set the captives free. How about Isaiah 61 as a New Year’s Resolution!?! Let’s eradicate disease, slavery, and darkness from the planet! As you link with heaven’s faith, here’s music to believe by: http://www.exoduscry.com/ I especially like tracks 3 & 10. )



A dress I cried about, and other reflections on a year back in America

When I was in my early teens a couple of overseas workers spent their furlough months at my church. I think they were about thirty years old. They worked with former brothel workers in India. I really respected them. One day the woman was sharing about how she was so glad to have a break and relax in her first culture (America). She said she had told God that what she really wanted was “a new dress.” She had been wearing saris (long Indian dresses/wraps) for so long, and rarely had a reason to dress up in India. She longed to buy a dress while in America. She then explained she had recently bought a dress. It was the one she was wearing – red with small white polka dots.

She began to cry.

“This is a really excessive response to a dress!” I thought judgmentally. “Of course, there are sacrifices with living overseas. Get over it! It’s not that big of a deal!” Internally, I was shaking my head in self-righteous evaluation – thinking I would never be so “shallow” and “superficial.”

And then I spent three years as an overseas worker. I learned sacrifice, selflessness, and the tire of being a foreigner to a whole new level. I learned to value the “small” things. Nearly everything was different. If I could simply find something close to Raisin Bran at the store, I’d be glowing for weeks. haha. If I could find a mop that I understood how to use, it felt like a vacation. If I could have a break from the efforts of Arabic for a day, it was like a much-needed nap. If someone sent me a simple postcard from America, I’d likely tear-up — much much more so if they sent photographs or a gift. It just felt like love from the outside, from a far off land, without checkpoints, soldiers, and my irrevocable foreignness in a monocultural small town. And it felt like I was remembered. Tucked away behind a thirty foot concrete wall on the edge of the desert, living a life entirely different from the vast majority of my friends and family, I FELT REMEMBERED. When I was trying to forget things I might miss, trying not to compare cultures, trying to rejoice despite feeling overwhelmed by change and the often oppressive environment (which I eventually learned to live ABOVE), I WAS REMEMBERED. Not only by people, but by God.

Now, I know God never lost sight of me in those three years, but I’ll be frank – there were times when I felt like it.

Well, two weeks ago I bought a dress. It was my first dress purchase since moving back to America a year ago (with the exception of the bridesmaid dress I bought for my sister’s wedding in March). I was going to my sister’s best friend’s wedding, and well, I really really wanted a new dress. In fact, I’d been praying and believing for a month for the extra money for a new dress. I have been provided for amazingly this year, but there have always been financial priorities over a dress. Well, some extra money was given to me. And I bought a dress. And when I bought it,

I began to cry.

And all of the sudden, I remembered the woman who spoke almost twenty years ago.

THE POWER OF A NEW DRESS!

I understood it. It wasn’t just something new, something fun, something fanciful. It was a breath of fresh air. It was a simple extravagance. It was a gift from a Father who loved His daughter with His whole heart. And, you know what, contrary to the poor view of God many of us have (or had), I AM WORTH A NEW DRESS!!! hahahahahaha! That revelation is worth more than the dress itself! And over the last few years, that has become a real truth in me! My own worth! And God’s abundance!

And for me, coming from three years when even if I bought a new dress – it would have to fit the local cultural modesty and such, buying a dress outside of Muslim dress code was like a deep exhale! I can be myself! Not that I wasn’t myself, in Bethlehem, per se, but there were always so many frameworks to abide by. I had to learn freedom in Christ in such a way, that external limits had no bearing on my INTERNAL FREEDOM. I always lived in Bethlehem 100% free, even when I gave up the freedom to wear sleeveless clothes and walk alone after nine pm.

Anyhow, I also realized how disgustingly judgmental I was of that overseas worker years ago – having no idea what she had given up or how much a new dress might really mean to her, for good reasons. And I missed how happy Father God was to provide a new dress for His beautiful, worthy, sweet daughter! I missed the opportunity to celebrate His goodness with her! I didn’t well understand God’s generosity. Or His love.

Well, I wore my new dress to the wedding last weekend. And it felt great. No one else knew, but I felt like it was a song of rejoicing for having survived and flourished through three years in the Middle East, particularly since it was days away from my one year anniversary back in America. It was like, “I’m back and I’m better than ever! GOD IS SO GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOD!”

Wearing that dress was a testimony to the FAITHFULNESS of God every day, every hour of three years. He brought me back flourishing. And He and I are closer than ever. The dress was like a bookmark to a secret.

God gives good gifts.

It's okay to cry over a dress.

Well, today marks my one year anniversary back in America. It was September 5, 2009 that I arrived back in this country after three years of living in Israel. Yowser! haha.

It has been an absolutely incredible, wonderful, RESTFUL, RESTORATIVE, beautiful, clarifying, fun, and transitional year. It’s been challenging to get accustomed to life in America again. When people talk about culture shock, the abrasive shift into a culture not one’s first culture, it’s real. And when people talk about reverse culture shock, the abrasive shift back into one’s first culture after a time away, it’s real. This happens between cultures relatively similar and cultures very dissimilar – usually in proportion to the similarity of the cultures (and the time spent overseas).

As one may guess, Middle Eastern culture and Western American culture are very very very different.

They are so different that in my initial efforts to adapt to life in Israel, and particularly Bethlehem, I felt I had to simply erase American cultural mores from my mind. There were so many changes, I whitewashed my American training. It took too long to step into someone’s house and think, “Wait, do I remove my shoes? Do I look the father in the eyes?” while filtering through my instincts to do things how I’d always done them, the American way. SO, I basically made myself forget previous norms. And I took on the norms of the culture I was in as the norms.

Besides, there were lots of things that got me in trouble if I did them the American way.

MEN: no eye contact. no handshake. often no acknowledgement whatsoever. Basically, stay away from them. haha. That’s an oversimplification, of course, but it sums it up. As a woman, particularly, a Western woman, such interactions could be taken the wrong wrong wrong way. Believe me. Don’t make me tell you stories. haha.

Being back in America: Adapting to not only interacting with men, but making eye contact (intentionally!), handshakes, hugs, and generally being at ease around them has been a curveball. Being treated as an active member of society and conversation is great, but strange to become used to again.

I have had so many awkward interactions with men this year. For the first several months I was perpetually confused by how to or not to interact. “What’s normal?” I had almost no idea. I had tried so hard to re-train myself, I’d forgotten what was typical. Thankfully, observation is a good teacher. And friends are grace-giving. Although, it’s pretty weird when all your friends are NEW friends, so the only you they know is the post-Israel one, the one perpetually trying to figure out social norms. haha. I even had one friend say to me last fall, “You know I was thinking that giving you a hug goodbye the other day was awkward and I left thinking, ‘God, why was that awkward?’ and I immediately thought, ‘Oh you spent years in the Middle East! It must be hard for you to get used to interacting with men again!'”

haha. I can’t tell you how happy I was when my friend told me that! He figured it out! I felt so relieved!!!!! Someone understood that although I looked and spoke like an American, a big chunk of me had become Arab and would probably remain Arab. And I thought, “Could you just go explain that to every man I know, so they don’t take my pauses, avoidance, and whatnot personally?” haha.

CLOTHING: no shoulders visible (and usually no upper arms either, and often no arms at all). no legs visible. no collarbone visible. always wear a “bum cover” – that means wear a long shirt or a short dress over pants so that your bum is not visible. much much less color. hair usually pulled back (especially in certain neighborhoods at certain times).

Being back in America: Sleeveless anything felt scandalous until some time in May. ha. Imagine walking around in 90 degree weather wearing a sleeveless shirt and continuously thinking, “Oh my goodness! My arms are bare! Yikes! I hope people aren’t staring. Wait?! That’s crazy! This isn’t inappropriate! This isn’t rebellious! No one thinks anything of it!” The same for anything leg baring. And you can imagine my visual shock to simply see so much skin day after day, after years of long overcoats and headscarves! Oh, and THE COLORS!!!! How it makes my freedom-loving, self-expression-loving heart SING to see people wearing lots of color! And in unique ways! I could launch into “The Star Spangled Banner” simply by observing the fashion in the grocery store! LET FREEDOM RING! hahahahahahaha!

HOSPITALITY: Arabs are specialists in hospitality. It is normal to go to a house for “tea” and not leave until you have had tea, “juice”, water, wafer cookies, fresh fruit, and eventually coffee. All of these things come progressively so “tea” easily becomes three hours. The women serve, and sometimes the kids. You visit and you feel waited upon, served, tended to. You feel honored.

Being Back in America: I can walk in a friend’s kitchen while she heats water for tea. I’m presented with a stack of tea boxes and I make my selection. “Do you want milk? It’s in the fridge, on the door rack.” “Do you want honey? Here.” When you are used to being sequestered to the living area with formality, opening someone’s fridge can feel like an invasion of privacy. ha. Honestly, I like that measure of openness in American culture, but I definitely learned a lot of the fine art of hosting people by living in the Middle East.

SPEECH (maybe better termed “bluntness”): “Don’t ever wear your hair like that again. It doesn’t look good.” I still remember the shock on my face when a male Palestinian friend told me that one day while a bunch of friends were exiting a coffee shop. I laughed. And I felt a smudge offended (good practice in not getting offended). Such comments were normative – particularly when directed toward women. There was often the sense that women were communal property and people (mainly men) could direct, command, and correct them as much as they wanted. Women are thought to bear the family shame. If the women look badly, act badly, or someone starts a rumor of them doing something unbecoming, the whole family is shamed. So, even strangers may feel open to critique you, as they feel they are doing you a service. “You look horrible today.” “You shouldn’t talk to that person.” “Don’t go to that area.” “You wear too many colors. People will think the wrong thing about you.” “You need to stop laughing so much. We don’t do that.”

Being back in America: haha. Well, I’m glad people don’t insult me like that here. However, I do think Americans ought to be better at bold, loving confrontation. Sometimes Americans don’t want to step on toes and they are so overly committed to an idea of personal “freedom” they don’t dare say when someone’s “freedom” is actually hurting those around them. That’s a bit funny for me to be accustomed to. Sometimes, I think, “Say what you mean, already!” haha. Palestinians have a phrase that comes with a hand-motion. Basically, something comes out your mouth and goes all around your head before it goes in your ear. The motion is like pulling something out of your mouth with your hand, weaving your hand in a circle around your head, and then placing the thing in your ear. A very circuitous trip, indeed.

CELPHONES: Palestinians usually have at least two. (This is because of the set-up of companies. They are not by contract, and it’s cheaper to call people in the same company. So, for example, CelCom has a 052 prefix, and therefore, people put all 052 phone numbers in that phone. All their other friends will be in a different phone, according to the prefix/service provider). I had to mention this. It’s not uncommon to see a Palestinian with three phones strapped onto his belt, or with one phone on each ear!

Being back in America: Americans usually have one, but they treat it like a newborn baby, looking at it every 10 seconds. I am trying to resist this re-culturization.

GUNSHOTS: It’s true. This is a category. In the West Bank, pretty much anything and everything is celebrated with gunshots: weddings, engagements, and prisoner releases. Every week, gunshots would ring out like fireworks across the night sky.

Being Back in America: There is nothing celebratory about them. Point Blank. (pun intended)

DRIVING:  I only had a car for about 3 months out of three years in Israel, but even in taxis you get a very thrilling, spatially-defying experience. In the West Bank there are basically no laws, particularly when it comes to driving. In fact, the seatbelt law was only applied to the driver in 2009. It’s still normal to stuff 9 people in a 4 passenger car. I’ve done it.

Being back in America: I think I have unintentionally broken a number of driving laws. And I do miss putting 9 people in a 4 passenger car. Life just isn’t the same.

That about sums it up: life just isn’t the same. I miss Israel. I miss the Wild, Wild West Bank. And I love America more than I ever have. There is a freedom in this nation that is truly powerful, revolutionary, and unique the world over. It’s been a zany year of transitioning back into American culture, but it has been painted and glossed in love and cherishing for this beautiful nation I call home; and its people. I am blessed beyond any unit of measure.

My friend Mel, whose two daughters I babysat for a year and a half in Jerusalem; and whose third daughter I was privileged to witness the birth of in December 2008, recently told me of her five year old daughter Brynn’s latest love measurements. Mel wrote, “Brynn will spontaneously burst into a song, or raise her hands and say,

‘Oh, there is so much love right now–here Mom, have two.’

Have two? Apparently to her, love is quantified in numbers!”

That’s how I feel in blessing, in love, and in abundance.

I don’t know what the units are, but I DEFINITELY HAVE TWO!!!!!!

As I reflect on the year back, I’ve gained so much respect and passion for overseas workers the world over. Part of my motivation in writing this post is to reveal more of my own experience and therein empower believers to love and understand overseas workers better. A lot of the church has a really inaccurate, romanticized, bizarre idea of an overseas worker’s life. And they show little real heart investment in those who are really stepping out giving their lives for the nations. Overseas workers are family just as much as the couple who sits next to you every Sunday in church. It is time for a REVOLUTION in GOING AND SENDING: a complete transformation in how the church sends people overseas, how they financially support them, encourage them, welcome them back etc. Nearly everything needs to change. And it’s going to. And I’m going to be a part of that! I love overseas workers like CRAZY and I want them to BE ALL THEY ARE MEANT TO BE! I want to see them flourishing: spiritually, emotionally, relationally, financially, and physically. I want to see them cared for in such a way that people really look forward to being overseas workers, to knowing them, and to hosting them. I want overseas workers to be the celebrated friends full of stories of MIRACLES in the nations! I want kids to grow up with real overseas workers as their heroes! With a burning love for the nations and those sent to the nations! And I want it to be easier to GO – not a catapult into a distant land almost never to be heard from again, but SENT, commissioned, well-prepared, and honored in their going, ministering, and coming.

I am grateful, TWO grateful. Not just ONE grateful for the years I spent in Israel. They were grueling. They were blissful. There were moments when I wanted to quit. There were moments when I never wanted to quit. There were moments when I just wanted to go to Target. There were moments when I loved going to the “grocery” store, the produce stand, and the butcher just to get the things for an evening meal. There were moments when I was so frustrated that I didn’t have a car. There were moments when I was so glad I was able to learn the planning, perseverance, and community of a carless life. There were moments when a dinner out in Jerusalem felt like a resort vacation. There were moments when I longed to sit on someone’s unclean floor and eat rice and chicken with my hands.

There were moments when I felt God might have forgotten my name.

And there were moments when I learned one more of His, and in it I found my own.

In a lot of ways, I think God hid me in Bethlehem so I could be found.

One Palestinian prophet called me out in a crowd at a church last year and gave me a lengthy prophecy, part of what he said to me was, “The Lord says that He brought you to this land to show you He is your caring God.”

Yes. I see that now. And I have a new dress to remind me.

Here’s to a year back in America! And three extraordinary years in Israel! And all the adventures to come!!!

Here here!!! I’ll raise a glass of tea

and juice

and water

and coffee

to THAT!!!!

<God, you are AWESOME!!!!! I will tell of your wonders all my days! And thanks for the dress!>