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#!

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.>

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

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

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!>

I am writing a book that will set the universe on fire.

“You have to believe it to see it.”

– from the film “Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium”

I was born somewhere I’ve never seen. I was born in the invisible realm of heaven, before I ever materialized on earth in a hospital room in Livermore, California at 10:54am on Tuesday, October 16 1979. I was a dream of God, a seedling dropped from the tree of destiny and God’s love. And so I was born to Jim and Shirley Richardson. And so I was/am/will be ME.               ME. An individual fully loaded in destiny, dreams, and the life-giving power of Jesus. A person full of purpose, like every person – and a person with a unique place in God’s beautiful plans of redemption. There will never be another me. There will never be another YOU.

haha.

Isn’t that lovely?

And so, fully-employed in ME-ness in the great factory of love, by my generous Creator King,

I get to write a book.

haha.

As a child I read voraciously, I was the kid tucked under her covers with a flashlight after being put to bed, reading books late into the night. I always won the “most pages read” award in school without even making an effort, I simply read and read and read. In the midst of my reading, I wrote – in my little blue and pink journal with the brown plastic bear tied onto the key. And for school, I wrote. Teachers said I was gifted. I should pursue writing. So, I talked to God about it. Yeah, I felt like I was supposed to write books one day. And so, I told God I would wait until He specifically told me to do so to begin writing a book. That was one of several covenants with God I made as a kid.

Fantastically, in fourth grade I won a writing contest sponsored by a radio station. The prize was an all expense-paid trip for four to Yosemite for three days, including ski lessons (thus began years of skiing together as a family); and an all-expense trip for my teacher and her husband! haha! It was a sweet experience in the potential to be rewarded for writing. And as I stood on a chair in the beautiful Ahwahnee Hotel’s restaurant that weekend reading my work to the gathered 100 or so people, I felt supremely in my element – it was a glimmer of “I was made for this.”

Well, I grew up, went to college, and then backpacked Europe with a friend for 7 weeks. I made an email list of friends and family so I could send updates as I journeyed. That was in 2001. A lot of people relished the updates. “You should write!” they said. “Thank you. Yes, one day…” I would reply, mentally trailing off into those childhood moments when I covenanted with God.

In fact, a lot of those people are still on my regular email update list. They continue to journey with me through life – through seminary; through starting a ministry house in Salem, MA; through teaching at a community college; through three years in Israel; and now through a year of ministry school. And others have joined the update mailing list along the way. It’s a pleasure to journey with people. A high honor. And often, in response to email updates, there is the response, “you have a gift with words. you should write.”

This is glorious affirmation, confirmation, and a forward investment into the invisible realm of heaven that’s a treasure chest for all God’s kids. Even with those words people were investing in my destiny. Hooray!

And so, plunk plink plunk. Encouragement, prayer, and dreams have been dropped like gold coins into the wooden box of my life.

And then about two years ago God began speaking to me about beginning to write a book about Bethlehem, where I was living at the time. Soon thereafter I started receiving prophetic words about writing a book, Holy Spirit sync was in motion. I asked God to make it very clear by the end of the year that I was to begin. The tick-tock happened over Mexican food with some friends of mine on December 30, 2008. One friend, suddenly spurted out, “you’re supposed to be writing a book!” I laughed, “Yes, I know.” “No, reeeeeeally. You need to begin” he added. “Yes, I will. Actually, this is just the confirmation I was asking God for – something before the year’s end, which is tomorrow, so that settles it. I will begin very soon.”

And technically, I did. I began writing down stories from life in Bethlehem and keeping my heart attuned to testimonies that really stood out. However, it didn’t feel like there was much fire on the writing commission until this spring (2010). Someone gave me a prophetic word about writing a book and a domino effect took place: every few days someone came up to me and said they felt like God showed them I was supposed to be writing a book. I was giving in to the next step in my calling. I was getting excited about FINALLY really doing it – with devotion, His Presence, and hot n’ spicy cups of Promised Land milk & honey.

Of course, I had no idea what that diving in looked like or when the season of diving in would officially BEGIN. And then I was lying on the grass one day, hanging out with Holy Spirit and my small group. Instead of our usual day of BSSM school, we had an “encounter day.” We met with our small groups and simply set aside time to meet with Holy Spirit. For my group that looked like laying down on the grass in the sunshine and asking Holy Spirit to come. God began to speak to me about the summer. As I lay there, I knew I was to focus on writing this book. 

Wow, He’s so sweet. I’m tearing up just thinking on it. His goodness! The robe of His goodness that He dresses us with!

You know, there are times when you walk through your day and you are really quite satisfied in the abundance you live in, the radiance on your face, and the environment you are blessed to be flourishing in – you’re just happy. And then, things get BETTER. hahahaha! Quiet dreams of your heart are stirred. Genesis stirs in your spirit and you feel nothing being called in to SOMETHING.

“Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.

And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.”

Genesis 1:2-3

And this is altogether thrilling. You remember that to live with God is to always live on the brink of sweet surprise and quickened blessings.

You remember that God knows you better than anyone, loves you more than anyone, and is He is always drawing you into fulfillment. And as you pause in meditation, you become drunk on His love. Just as the thought, “could it get any better than this?” enters your head, you interrupt yourself with, “yes.” haha.

God lucidly invited me to step into my destiny. To not be intimidated. And to WRITE.

I know His plans are best and it is time to stare down the dogs of doom that stand at the door to my destiny (Kris Vallotton).

And so, onward I go. And I must say, I am ridiculously excited!

This book is very important. Not only will it release the many testimonies of my time in Bethlehem, and therein activate more faith to believe for miracles in the Middle East, but it is crucial to agree with Bethlehem’s prophetic destiny! Bethlehem is a city of birth. It’s name means “house of bread.” It’s a place of global supply!! Jesus was born there; and there are many more things to be born there that are critical for global revival!!! It’s not a coincidence that Bethlehem has become a crib for suicide bombers and a culture of death. Cities are often overtaken by the opposite of their heavenly identity. It’s time to stand up and take Bethlehem’s hand, like a toddler’s, and help her learn to walk again!!!! This is part of the message of the book, the revelation God has given me about Bethlehem.

For example, a couple years ago I was praying for Bethlehem with some friends and as I was pacing in the room I had a vision of myself walking into a spiritual wall in the city. I saw exactly where it was, across a major road. It struck me as strange – I typically thought of spiritual oppression being more like a dark cloud, not like a boundary wall. I asked God about it and He said, “it’s an inverted prophet, priest, and king.” “Whaaat?!” I replied. He explained, “the mosque on one side is the priest, the government/city hall building is the king, and behind that is a large limestone memorial to four terrorists who were killed in that intersection – that’s the prophet.” Whoa. My spirit quaked. A deep reality became apparent in the value system and spiritual strongholds in the city. Those three entities represented where the people invested their allegiance and their hope. I saw why that place was a boundary line. And that revelation altered and strengthened the way I prayed and prayer-walked the city. These truths and more are to be put into writing and distributed throughout the universe! haha!


Ironically, two days before my planned full-time writing start date of June 1, 2010 my laptop died! Stupid dogs of doom, thinking I will be daunted by technological difficulty. Noooo sirreeeeeee. So after a couple weeks of back-and-forth with a friend who repairs computers, we discovered the fan needs to be replaced and it’s a common problem so Sony will replace it at no charge!!! Hooray! Now to send my laptop off this week and then welcome it back: whole and happy.

In the meantime, about two weeks ago I was concerned about finances and one evening said to God, “maybe I should find a babysitting job, should I?…” thinking that I needed a miracle to make it through the month, well… God is always ON time. Amazingly, I was in a “praying with Muslims” one day seminar the following day and at one point I was going to go out of the seminar to the restroom, and I felt like I was supposed to wait twice and I knew there was specific timing to when I was going to the restroom. haha. Well, lo and behold, I saw a friend in the restroom and she immediately asked me if I was free the next week and would be interested in taking care of her friend’s kids!!! HAHAHAHA!!!! So, I’m presently looking after five kids for eight days. And celebrating, not only miraculous provision, but the golden opportunity to wholeheartedly invest in several families all at once. These six days have been a great practical exercise in REAL love, really being present, really seeing people from God’s perspective and championing them to their own destinies.

Amazingly, it is great preparation for the writing endeavor ahead. A book is like a child. And championing Bethlehem’s destiny is a bit like raising a child.

A number of friends call me “Mama Dawn” because I remind them of Heidi Baker and she is often called “Mama Heidi.” haha. And I do feel very much a mom to this book, as well as to the city of Bethlehem as a whole. That place is deep, deep in my heart. And I long for its flourishing and for it to vibrantly live in the fullness of its identity! I can hardly wait for Bethlehem to graduate from high school. haha.

So, here we go! I’m don’t know what I’m in for, but I know WHO I’m in it for!


<God YOU, YOU, YOU it’s all for You! You will receive every drop of praise and glory in my life! hahaha! This book is for Your renown! You are the Author of Life. You are the model author. We will write, and laugh and spin throughout the nations, drawing them in and up into heaven! Thanks for taking the lead and dancing in this splendid ballroom of life with me!>


whoooooooooosh! and LOVE to all of you!

 

~~~

Also, my book is available for pre-purchasing. In fact, I need to raise money to pre-purchase my own books from the publisher. Every $20 contribution you make reserves you a copy!

 

Check it out and spread the word!

http://www.youcaring.com/fundraiser_details?fundraiser_id=934&url=dawnsbookpublishingprepurchasingbooks

Also, please “like” my author page:

https://www.facebook.com/DawnRichardsonAuthor





Jesus is not a broken record, or a CD on repeat; so keep listening.

I wrote this on June 24, 2007; but the “do you love me” chorus has been chirping in my heart this week, which made me think of this and decide to post it. Enjoy.

____________________________________________________________________________________

Jesus is not a broken record, or a CD on repeat; so keep listening.

“Miss Dawn, Miss Dawn! Can you help me?” the dark brown eyes despair, pleading, scissors in hand, for some help cutting the outline of a large sunflower on a paper napkin.

Naturally, I promptly took the scissors, slung the 10 year old boy over my shoulder, and placed him in the greenest pocket of the indoor pasture – keeping a watchful eye out for any wolves or other dangerous beasts, lurking beyond this upstairs classroom at Bethlehem Bible College.

The boy’s eyes had hunger behind them. So, like a shepherd would a sheep, straight to the yummy grass he went.

That is to say, I smiled my heart back into Jawaad’s eyes, taking the scissors, carefully cutting out the sunflower so he could glue it to the outside of his decoupage box in-progress.

His hunger wasn’t physical. Neither was the grass.

In the 21st chapter of John

Jesus asks Peter a question three times, in fact, we are told Peter was “hurt because Jesus asked him a third time.” (vs 17)

“Do you love me?”

“Do you love me?”

“Do you love me?”

It feels like Jesus’ form of that maddening knock-knock joke:

knock knock

Who’s there?

Banana

Banana who?

Knock knock

Who’s there?

Banana

Banana who?

Knock knock

Who’s there?

Orange

Orange who?

Orange you glad I didn’t say ‘banana’?

By the end, there is an irritable blend of “what sort of idiot do you take me for?” and “enough already”

Almost as if the standing of the friendship is in question due to the redundancy of the question.

Yet, Jesus is clearly driving his point home: like the chorus of a popular song that irrevocably sticks in one’s head all day because of its uncanny repetition.

Like the simple refrain of “silent night, holy night, all is calm, all is bright”

Or the catchiness of the Beatles’ “it’s been a hard day’s night and I’ve been workin’ like a dog”

Jesus’ self-echo is a rhythm, percussion to Peter’s thoughts – and to Peter’s heart.

And so, as Peter hears the question three times, he hears Jesus’ response three times:

“Feed my lambs.” (vs 15)

“Take care of my sheep.” (vs 16)

“Feed my sheep.” (vs 17)

That upstairs classroom at Bethlehem Bible College was like a cave or a magnificent cathedral with near-perfect acoustics.

The reverberations were impeccably lucid: “do you love me?”

In the form of “please help me” or “Miss Dawn, Miss Dawn!”

Bouncing around the room – from as many as thirty-something voices all at once.

Sometimes maddening, yes. Tiring, certainly. Sometimes it’s hard to focus on a single thing when the ruckus, the cacophony of melody and lack thereof, is caught in the necessary here-and-there of kinetics – in one moment thrown from the mouth of a child, then poing –against the table, the wall, the ears of the one’s neighbor – and, at some point, poing a single note of the wild melody slides into the ears of my heart.

“Ana!” “Ana!” “Ana!” (basically “I!” “I!” “I!” or “me!” “me!” “me!”)

This is the instantaneous requiem, the rise-and-fall to every, “who needs help?” or even the basic action of handing out glue sticks or paint brushes.

Sometimes I would stand still, in the splay of so many “ana” and silently ask God how I was supposed to deal with the incessancy of the questions. I wanted to say, “okay, okay, I heard you,” and sometimes I did, but the echo was still asking me for a real response to the same question Jesus asked Peter.

“Do you love me?”

And, in my certainty, but frequent exasperation, I wanted a mere “yes” to be enough.

A mere “yes” is almost never enough.

We must feed His sheep. This is the “yes” that Jesus’ echo beckons.

Do you love Him?

Feed his sheep. Meet their needs. Cut out their sunflowers. Be patient with them. Look them in the eye. Nurture them.

Let the incessancy of Jesus’ question irritate your complacency.

Ask Holy Spirit to tell you this sort of knock-knock joke throughout the day.

“Do you love me?”

“Do you love me?”

“Do you love me?”

Over these last 3 weeks, the initial auditory clash of so many questions at once has lessened. I am learning to focus more. To look at the one sheep in front of me, and to feed it. Not the whole flock at once, of course. Simply one-by-one. Jesus’ question still overwhelms me regularly – lots of sheep to tend to here.

It is as if Jesus’ echo was a real example of how it would be to have so many sheep asking the same question all at once: “Do you love me?”

And Peter’s response shows our own irritability.

Yet,

But still,

Knowing this,

Jesus commands us to demonstrate our love for HIM with the words: “Feed my sheep.”

So, I can say I love him, but then, I must ask, “Am I feeding His sheep?”

And, if I love him (which I do – more than anything imaginable), I must then,

FEED HIS SHEEP.