Tag Archives: Mountain

Captured

Without a sign of problems, my phone captured moments for me.  Quickly shot photographs of students, friends, meals together, celebrations in the community– if I did not want something to slip through my fingers, I saved it on a memory card.

Until the day it happened.

During Young Leaders’ last class of the semester, the camera application that had been opened to record a group photo– inexplicably– showed only a blank screen.

However, when I pressed the “selfie” button, an awkward reflection of my crinkled forehead, squinted look, and exaggerated chin emerged. I’m not campaigning against selfie-taking, but I’m also not of the generation that is good at them.  My eyes dart to the wrong place, uncertain of their focus.  Moments that I intend to keep crisp and clear in memory translate into images that are distorted and fuzzy.

The quick fix, according to internet rumors, can be easily accomplished at an Apple store… The nearest of these is two countries away.  So for the last few months, my camera has only operated in selfie mode.

—-

Recorded or not, the moments parade by.  I drink tea at the beach with a young coworker, his new fiancé, and their families.  The five-year-old sister learned somewhere to roll her eyes back, stretch her mouth into a tall “O,” and call herself a zombie, whenever a photograph is being taken.

Her mother scolds, “Your face will get stuck like that!”  But she still does the look during our sunset selfies at the beach… and weeks later, during formal shots at her big brother’s engagement party.

I use an old camera during Young Leaders Winter Camps.  What makes a good leader?  we ask them.  IMG_1150

“A good leader helps the team,” the first student answers.  They learn about setting an example and inspiring change, and watch clips of Martin Luther King, Jr.  They learn about listening, and walk in silence around a bird observatory; if they speak too much, the moment passes, the birds fly to a safe zone.  They learn about perseverance and overcoming challenges, piecing together puzzles, giving speeches in English, and participating in their first team game of paintball.

Guess which of these is their favorite.

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Because my camera was working at that moment.

But I grow weary, attempting to be fully present in these moments, while capturing them with broken tools.  A few times– also inexplicably– my phone camera works normally, including twice out of two dozen times I attempted to use it on a recent trip to a neighboring country.  I take photos out of car windows and in airports, desperately recording things I would not have bothered with if I could have counted on the lens to work always.

 

While my camera is limited in its view, I miss many images: shots of new friends, new foods, tender sunsets and triumphs of ancient artists and architects.  But I also learn to approach things from a new angle.

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Layover in Istanbul turned into touring the Hagia Sophia.

Set the camera up, and then step aside.

Or, even more efficient, point the lens toward the sky.

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Ate at this restaurant just because it had about a thousand of these lamps hanging above the tables.

Some of the most splendid details in these places are only seen when the neck is craned back, eyes lifted to the ceiling.

—-

“Fireworks,” twenty-year-old Yakub told me.  “That’s what I thought it was, when I heard the first round of bombs go off in the city where I grew up.  I was happy about it.  I was just a kid, and I didn’t understand why everyone was so upset.”

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Tea with Yakub and friends.  But I can’t share their pictures, so… tea.

 

A friend introduced me to Yakub on my first day in this neighboring country– a place with a rich heritage of musicians and poets, but also a destructive legacy of war and the massacre of minorities.  He learned English from X-box games that connected people through the internet.  Yakub’s stories of multiple displacements to different countries, bombings witnessed as a child, and infamous neighbors from his town were delivered with humor and casualness.

 

But his stories of separation from family, homelessness, and interrupted high school dreams were cropped out of his conversation, to be filled in later by my friend.

The next day, I traveled outside of the city to a hotel, where a group was meeting for a retreat and had asked me to lend some music.  Arriving a little before the rest, I went into the meeting room and strapped on the guitar, looking at the green hills that stretched past the picture window.

Your glory, God, is what our hearts long for

To be overcome by Your presence, Lord. 

Holy Spirit, Brian & Katie Torwalt

My voice was catching.  To sing about God’s goodness and His glory, in a land that has experienced genocide and destruction, created a tension in me.  Tension between the knowledge that His presence has been there through the region’s long history, and the grief that many haven’t yet experienced that presence.  IMG_4275

Between the good news that many, like Yakub, are tasting real life, and the sadness that they have felt death bitterly.

Between the green beauty of the mountains, and the knowledge that many fled to them to try to save themselves from guns and gases.

Between the sweetness of singing in this place, where many have sung before, and the knowledge that so many, many have not experienced the reason for our songs.

—-

I want to see healing come to the people of this nation, wholly and with finality.  I want similarly conclusive results in my own life.  Because I know that brokenness can cause us to miss moments.  It can cause us to be in selfie mode in our pain— eyes uncertain where to look, our own image crowding the frame.  Distorted perceiving of the way things really are, and lower resolution, resulting in less clarity of vision.

Overeager attempts to find something which we can hold.  A job, a relationship, a celebration, any lovely thing that we don’t think will always be there.  We grasp at the grand and the mundane, hoping to capture at least a reflection of them so that we still have something nearby when darkness falls.

But perhaps it isn’t resolution, but tension, that beckons me to step out of the way, and to look up.   Perhaps, even in the darkness, my neck should be craning skyward.

Maybe brokenness invites me to see things from a different perspective.

And maybe it is less about capture, and more about release.

 

 

 

 

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In the Silence

Just awkward— the silence.  I searched for more words, looked at the ceiling and floor.

The assignment: find a partner whom you do not know well, from among fellow students in Ingrid Davis’ Leadership Coaching course.  Ask one good question.  Then listen— without making any statement, or asking a follow up question— for five minutes.

It was my turn to answer, so I filled the first one or two minutes with phrases.  Then the silence started.

A few years have passed since I took that class, but I think of those minutes, so silent yet so disquieting, often.  Most recently, they came to mind while I was teaching Public Speaking at the university. My students had studied techniques for interviewing and reading feedback.  They were assigned, as homework, the task of composing and asking excellent questions.  They came back excited to share what they had come up with:

  • “What do you want to be doing ten years from now?”
  • “Where is a place you would like to travel?”
  • “What job have you most enjoyed, and why?”

Goals, dreams, experiences— great things to ask about, I said.  They were smiling and confident.  What did you learn about people?

They kept their grins but avoided my eyes.  I discovered that out of 30+ students, two had asked their questions out loud; the rest had kept them inside.

Why?

Their gazes met mine again.  Hands shot skyward.  “I didn’t want to offend anyone.”  “I am afraid they will think badly of me.” “What if they can’t think of an answer?” They were held back, by the possibility of not being able to connect, from even attempting a connection.

Last week, I traveled to a small town in Germany to assist with a conference.  Contrasting the noise level heard from my Middle Eastern basement— mosques calling people to prayer five times a day, gun shots fired for every wedding or graduation celebration, and a less dramatic but no less salient rooster in my backyard— the quiet of my second-story hotel room was as soft as their down blankets.

The silence pried my fingers loose from the things I had gripped when we first arrived.  The busyness of preparations for the Young Leaders program.  The goodbyes of loved friends moving back to the United States.  The pressure I had been feeling with anticipation of new roles.

I try to escape silence, most of the time.  Whether through filling time with activity, or filling spaces with my words, I avoid quietness because it is unproductive and inefficient.  Or, that’s what I tell myself.

In truth, I might have the same fears as my students have when they resist asking deeper questions.  Staying on familiar, comfortable ground makes me feel confident and pulled together.  Silence is an undoing.  Venturing questions of depth, waiting for answers, is risky behavior— human to human, human to God.  Will He speak?  Will there be a connection?  Or will it just be space, empty?

In the coaching class, after a long pause, I found more words— deeper ones.  The silence had given me space to take the question to a more profound place than my partner could have done with a follow-up question or a reply, so when the five minutes was up, I was still finishing my answer. IMG_4877

Before leaving the area, after the conference had ended, friends and I took a cable car to a mountaintop.  Surrounded by a view that is beyond the words I know for splendor or scope, breathing in the cold, clean air, I could tell my iPhone pictures would be useful only for triggering memories.  The sense of climbing and climbing, each panorama surprising in loveliness and scale.  The broad space that was empty of construction, but overflowing with beauty.

Will I be able to carry that memory of silence and grandeur back with me to a desert in the Middle East?

I’ll have to try.  Because the potential for the connection ushered in by stillness is greater, in my mind, than the risk of rejection or a discomfortable silence.  Maybe, as my partner in class did, I’ll keep listening even through silence, and hear deeper things than I expected.

And maybe, just maybe, the deepest connections will take place in the silence.

——

This blog is a little shorter than some.  Why not use the space for some silence?  Let me know how it works…

Mara and the Mountain

Not everyone made it.

Fifty Arab teenagers faced a sand dune: enormous, steep, and scattered with thorns and stones.  These girls were on a day trip in the desert, part of a week-long leadership camp, that would include games to build teamwork, group discussions on values, and dancing around a fire pit.

But the first adventure was not so organized– our Bedouin guides raced their Jeeps through the open spaces of the desert, and came to a stop at the bottom of a mountain of sand.  Disembarking from the open pick-ups, the students knew what to do– and they were full of anticipation.

But what does Mara anticipate with this? I wondered, looking for her.  There she was, walking toward me, dragging her stiff right leg behind her small frame, as she always did.  “Are you ready?” I asked, sounding out her plans.  This sand dune would not be easy, even on two healthy legs.  She replied in a voice that was soft and ever-so-slightly slurred.  “I’m ready.”

Next thing I realized, Mara was leading me to the base of the sand mountain.  We stumbled forward, arms linked, quietly laughing.  We had come only a fraction of the way when we paused to recover.  “Do you want to keep going?” I asked.

“Yes.”

The stumbles turned into falls– the dune was steeper past the base.  This isn’t going to get any easier, I thought, looking upward.  But Mara was focused.  And a few rocks ahead might provide secure footing.  For every step, I pushed with two legs, and Mara with her one healthy leg, but the loose red sands absorbed our shoes, socks, and ankles, sucking us backwards.

We sat down.  “It’s an amazing view, Mara, even just here!”

“Yes,” she said quietly, eyes forward.  “But it will be even better from the top.”

We stood again.  Eventually we learned that the plants were thorn bushes, and while hardy, not to be used for any support.  But we found our rhythm: Mara would wait while I stepped forward.  Then I would reach back and hold her arm, pulling her upwards while she pushed from her good leg.  We’d end up standing together– usually dragged down half a step for every step we took– and then would do it again.  “Are you tired, Mara?”

“No.”

The rocks, it turned out, were also disappointing.  The small ones I thought would support us tumbled down the fine, hot sand when touched.  We sat on the ground again, resting. “I have relatives in America,” Mara said, mixing in occasional English words with her Arabic.  “When I turn 18 I will go and visit.  They have really good doctors.”

Five years ago, she told me, she and her mom had been in a car accident.  She was eight years old. “I stayed in the hospital for one month.  I couldn’t move my legs.  And I couldn’t talk.”

Others on the mountain had started to notice our ascent.  One offered to carry our bags.  We were at the halfway mark.  Those at the top– as well as those who had decided to halt somewhere along the way– started to call out encouragement.  I wondered if Mara would feel embarrassed.  She seemed not to notice, just keeping the edge of her mouth in a smile and her eyes on the sand in front of her.087

Three quarters of the way to the top.  Mara asked me, “Are you tired?”  Is she trying to tell me that she’s tired? I wondered.  Our staggered steps were becoming less coordinated.

Then we heard a voice above us: “You’ve got this!”  We looked up.  One of the other volunteers, a friend of mine, smiled and came to take Mara’s free arm.  We had to awkwardly figure out how to coordinate as three now, but it was worth it– we inched upward again.  Mara’s small smile returned.  The girls at the top started chanting her name.  Mara.  Mara.

MARA.  MARA.

She made it.

Mara said little, but her smile had taken over her whole face.  After a few minutes of taking in the view– which as Mara predicted, was MUCH better from up there– I started to wonder how she would get down.  Most of the rest ran (it feels kind of like flying), and that would not work for her.  Before I could ask, Mara told me what she wanted.  A couple of others thought it looked like so much fun, that they joined her.

She slid.092

Sleeping Jesus

IMG_1016 Someone starts a new venture, with clear confirmation that this is what they should do.  Things move forward, and as they do, God seems silent.  But no concern arises; the person is confident that they know what to do.  They have knowledge, expertise, the right equipment, and even clarity.

Then things get hard.

A storm renders the usual equipment useless, and their expertise doesn’t fit the new situation.  They look to God, who seems silent but present.  “Why isn’t He moving?” they ask themselves.  At last they throw Him their question: “Don’t you care that we, we who are carrying out Your commands, are going to drown?”

It was Jesus’ idea to cross the lake.  His friends, many of them fishermen, didn’t worry– they had the knowledge, expertise, and equipment, and then they had Jesus telling them to do it.  So they loaded the boat. 

While Jesus was sleeping…

The storm came.  He didn’t rise.  They knew He could help them.  He woke up responding to their shaking, their begging– or accusing– question, “Don’t you care if we drown?” 

A sunset a few days ago that I accidentally spied, in between dinner at a friend’s house and an evening language class, became a “best” moment in my week.  Walking past an empty lot of desert rock and sand, my eyes were drawn to the sunlight streaming out behind a few clouds, not yet hidden by the mountains that form the town’s western border.

It was a five minute walk.  The wind was the sole sound.  My camera just served as a reminder that some things can only be captured by memory.

Rob Reimer is a wise mentor, who points out how we often ask God, “Do you love me?”  God proved that through the cross, and instead asks us, “Do you trust Me?”  Moments of sunset colors remind me of the beauty and love of God.  He doesn’t say anything.  He just reminds me of His presence.

I hold memories like that for the moments when the storms come.  The presence of Christ is real in moments of silence, whether accompanied by sunset colors or storming waves.  Can I trust a sleeping Jesus?

–Heard for the first time today, and perfect for today’s thoughts:  You Make Me Brave, from Bethel Music

 

This is something I need.

I need you to help me…

Monday I told a local friend that I needed something.  An idea: a different way to invest in Syrian refugees, now the first project had ended.  She is from here, a make-it-happen activator who already has two jobs; I am new, a student increasingly conscious of how much I still need to learn.

We wanted something that would involve the community in service, make space for developing relationships, and meet a practical need.  BUT something we had time to do.

She said she’d think about it, and get back to me.

Still, after nearly three months, I miss my family and friends and community from the States– and pizza; I really miss buffalo chicken, New York style slices– and all the familiarity that came with them.  I had people to talk through teaching ideas with me.  I had a team of trusted coworkers and friends, to help plan community events: worship training, community breakfasts, an art show… Together our ideas and application were better than they ever could have been alone.  I enjoy making music, but when I play here alone, I miss the sounds of our incredible drummer, or the classical-turned-loose pianist or the strum just the way Shawna does it.

A quiet place.  A mug of coffee and an almond croissant.  A hug, listening ears, a soul connection over tea or Chinese food or… I miss how easy it was to get those things.

Learning friends, family, and community in a new place may be harder than learning a foreign language– but even more necessary for life to be lived (instead of survived).  My favorite parts of the past three months have been times of connection.  And I see in people I have met a deep craving for connection, whether they are from the Arab world, the US, or elsewhere.

My favorite moments of the past months have been moments of connection.  Hummus and pita with Arab friends.  Ice cream and oreos with a fellow stranger to this country, who makes her home here.  Working as an incredible team, both local and non-local, for our first outreach for refugees.  Laughter with local ladies as I attempt to tell a story.  And moments of connection– looking up at the mountains, praying with a friend, hearing lyrics from a good song– with the Creator.

My friend came back the next day holding a pile of papers.  The top page read, “101 Project Ideas.”  In between jobs, my friend had researched ideas, and come up with one that she thought would work for neighborhood and the Syrian refugees.

She gave me a great idea to bring back to the team.  And she gave me yet another connection here; yet another powerful note in the unfinished song that is this season.  I think I’ll call the song…

No, I’ll save naming this song for another, second story.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Great Stone Face

Sixty teenage girls, a handful of Arab teachers, and one American (with very limited language ability) piled into three buses this past Saturday, headed to the beach.

Another car with a family from the U.S. followed, bringing our group total 2014-02-08 15.20.28close to 70. These young women, along with sixty young men who will hit the beach next week, are part of a program that offers leadership development, English study, and cultural experiences to students from limited-income backgrounds.

Sixty teenage girls collected sea glass, so that other women can make their living by turning it into jewelery.

Sixty teenage girls played team-building games with sand, saltwater, and a couple of hula hoops as the main props.

Sixty teenaged girls laughed in the sunshine and ate shawarma.

Educators, anthropologists, and politicians have discovered that small things like these can influence a person’s perspective.  They challenge us to think outside our own needs, to work as a team, to be a community of life– that laughs much.

IMG_0286From my neighborhood I can see these barren, rocky mountains.  While they lack the chaotic fun of sixty Arab teens on a beach day, the mountains serve as a testimony in my mind to one of my very favorite stories.  They remind me that as I seek to help others gain perspective– to be an influencer– I am also being influenced by whatever I hold closest.

The story tells of a boy from another time and place, who loved to study the mountain from his valley home.  A formation of rocks on the mountain looked like a face, full of wisdom, grace, and strength.  The people of the valley had a prophecy: one day a person from their valley would emerge who would both resemble that Great Stone Face, and embody its nobility and virtue.

The boy spent each day gazing at the Stone Face in the mountain, contemplating the goodness he saw there, eager for the day that the prophecy would be fulfilled.  As he grew up, he would still slip away to study the Face, drawing strength from its depths.

Different citizens of the valley emerged who were thought to be fulfillments of the prophecy: a wealthy business owner, a war hero, a politician.  Each one promised something but could not match the virtue of the Great Stone Face, and fell short of the prophecy.  Finally, the boy who had grown up studying the Great Stone Face– now an old man, and still meditating on that Face each day– met one last candidate.

He was a poet, born in the valley but absent for a long time.  After meeting with the old man, the poet acknowledged quickly that despite his gifted pen, he lacked the depth fulfill the prophecy…  The old man had begun a custom of going into a field at sunset, where the people of the valley gathered to hear him speak simple words of truth and encouragement, and the poet followed.

As the poet listened, and saw behind the old man’s shoulder the mountainside with the Great Stone Face, he called out something that everyone in the valley– except the old man himself– could see plainly: the old man was the fulfillment to the prophecy.  He had gazed so hard at the Great Stone Face that he had become like it.

(read the full story, by Nathaniel Hawthorne, here: http://www.classicreader.com/book/726/1/ )

So what are you looking at?