My People

I was sweating. All the windows were open and the fans were on, but I was still as hot as I could be. The stove was cranked to the max and I was urging the second pot to come to a boil. ‘Did I read the recipe correctly? Is there something I had left out?’ I asked myself my mental checklist questions. I scanned the kitchen: the salads were topped, the bread was cut, the snacks were out. But something had vanished.

Just a few moments before the room had been bustling. People were laughing and asking what they could do to help. The refrigerator and cupboards were opened and closed again as each item taken out found its spot. The air had been heavy with the sound of chatter. But now everything was quiet and the kitchen was empty but for me and the meal. Finally, both were ready.

I turned the corner into the living room to invite everyone to come to eat and was struck by what I saw. I won’t soon forget that scene.

Eighteen adults were crowded onto two couches, a recliner, and a love seat. Their bodies were crammed into the small spaces while their arms rested on, under, and around each other. For some, their legs fought to keep their balance, and for others their legs did their best to stay out of anyone else’s way. Their eyes were fixed on Carolyn and their minds were fixed on the events of their first day in Palestine. Coming from their hearts was a seemingly palpable spirit of comfort and joy, of love and compassion. But what struck me most of all was the familiarity of their faces. They were the faces of my friends, the faces of my church family, the faces of my supporters and the faces of my encouragers.  And these faces were lighting up my living room.

I took a moment to take it in and to seal the image in my mind and in my heart. And then I took my place with them, with “my people.” I scooted in and squished myself between, happy and finally at home in the midst of them.

Mr. Encourager

It was Friday morning, the day for my long run, and I had let myself sleep in. Usually a few of us meet at 4:45 am and head to Jerusalem, where we’ve found a “relatively” flat route, and put in double-digit miles before the hot sun comes up. But I had hit the snooze and sent an “I’m sorry, I can’t do it today” message to the group. Fortunately, (or unfortunately), accountability lives within. By 7 am I had parked my car and stretched my legs. I took off alone to complete the 12 miles, happy to be setting my own pace, but missing the company of the others.

For me, the first mile is always the most difficult- it’s harder than the uphill sixth mile and even harder than the tenth mile when my legs are tired and my knees hurt. During that first mile a battle rages in my mind. It screams at me that I can’t breathe, that the distance is too long, that walking is just as effective as running. Continue reading


I stood in front of the group of Seniors and even though their faces were bright and cheery, warm and welcoming, I had a horrendous feeling in the pit of my stomach. They looked at me excitedly and all started talking at once. I listened harder and urged them to slow down and talk one at a time. I couldn’t understand a word of what they were saying. The strangely familiar feeling of uneasiness grew inside me.

A girl at the back of the classroom yelled at me insistently, but I still couldn’t make out her words. Uneasiness turned to frustration and the students spoke louder and moved closer. Something within me caused me to look down and check what I was wearing. I looked up again to find an unfamiliar face directly in front of mine.

“TEACH US!” he demanded, over-articulating the two words finally spoken in English. He shoved an American History book into my hands. I grabbed for my phone and turned my back for some privacy as I tried to figure out this mess.

As I turned I found the Sophomore class piled onto my couch in my living room. “When are you going to unpack?” they said in creepy unison. “It’s going to be cold soon; I hope you brought enough sweaters.”

I started to sweat. Frustration turned to shear dread. I wasn’t prepared.

“We’re going to get three meters of ice today. We’re all going to be stuck here. I hope you have something for us to do.”

“I’m not ready,” I whispered to myself. “I’m not ready!” I exclaimed to my students.

Just as the words left my lips, the door burst open and Nic, with a huge, helpful smile on his face, ran toward me with a pickaxe. “I’ll save us!” he yelled.

With that, my eyes popped open. The first school dream.

These last seven weeks have been jam-packed with friends and festivals, coffee dates and cookouts. My heart has been refilled through encouraging words from people I love and loving embraces from friends I have missed. I have skied on Lake Cumberland and played on the beach at Lake Erie. I have driven long country roads with my windows down and have run through the city burning in the heat. I have eaten well, and it has been glorious. My time here has been great, but not every minute of it.

Too many times conversations have been cut short, and the time to go has come too fast. I’ve had to say “I can’t make it” or “getting together won’t work” many more times than I would have liked. Those moments were the worst; that is when the struggle was the hardest. Seven weeks together to make up ten months apart has been impossible, but we’ve done our best.

As I pack my bags and plop them on the scale, I want all of you to know that I am taking much more with me than can be weighed in pounds or checked by airport security. Whether we had the opportunity to lay eyes on each other or not; whether we shared a meal, a laugh, a hug, or not; whether we had enough time together or not, you have given me exactly what I needed to be able to go back: I’m filled with your love and support, encouragement and understanding. I’m empowered to know I’m not going back alone. I thank you for that.

So bring on those back-to-school dreams and let’s do another year! I’m ready.


Hands covered in flour and holding my mouth just right, trying to roll the sticky dough into pretty crescents the way my mom always does, I wondered if in a few hours one of my sisters would be doing the same.

The messages started dinging in from the volunteer group. More than twenty other Americans will gather around the table later today, each bringing to this new family a piece of their own tradition. This is the family that I have been knitted into as we have laughed and struggled, prayed and discovered together over the past four months. Continue reading

Not Strange.

Natalie squeezed my cheeks with her clammy little girl hand and pulled my face even closer to hers.

“No! Errrrr,”she rolled beautifully from the back of her throat.

“Ecchhchhcchhc” I unsuccessfully imitated.

“Le!” She sputtered the Arabic word for ‘no’ with eyebrows raised and head shaking. She pulled my face still closer and wrapped her other arm around my neck and shoulder.

Her eyes widened and her mouth opened again, just centimeters from mine. “Errrr-” Her roll was cut short as a rubber dart ricocheted off her forehead and hit me in the nose.

“Yeeeeeeee!!! Ithneen!!!” squealed Ramzi, celebrating hitting both of us as he ran towards the table and then slid on his knees to rescue his ammunition before it was swept up by his teyta. She missed the dart, but still shook her head and clicked her tongue disapprovingly as she wiped her hands on her apron.

I laughed a big belly laugh.

I had stopped by the apartment below mine for a brief visit several hours earlier. The grandmother and grandfather of the family live there and their son and his family live one level above- a very typical living arrangement in this culture.

A few days before, the 15-year-old Andreas had asked me for some help in trigonometry. I told him I would do my best, remembering that his classes are taught completely in German.

So there I sat, in the midst of this wonderful family- helping with German trigonometry, learning Arabic from a seven-year-old, dodging darts, and smelling the wonderful aroma of makloobeh being prepared.

It felt like home.

Teyta swatted the little kids away to wash their hands before lunch. She pulled me up from the chair by my hands. “I feel you are not strange” she said to me in her broken English and patted and squeezed me with her full palms on both of my cheeks. “Like a daughter I know forever from far away. Stay and eat with us.”

And so I did and my heart was full.


When I was a senior in high school, the Miami Valley suffered a brutal winter. I was taking British Literature with Ms. Schlater (not doing so hot), and we were reviewing for the next day’s heavily weighted, and therefore very important, exam. We sat in class on that Tuesday afternoon all abuzz about the most recent weather forecast and full of hope for a school closing on Wednesday.

“Even if we don’t have school tomorrow,” Ms. Schlater warned, “we HAVE to take the exam on Thursday.” We had missed so many days of school already and she was always talking about how far behind we were falling.

One of the smart aleck’s in the class (it might very well have been me, I honestly don’t remember) asked “What will happen if we don’t have school on Thursday?”

She gave a sideways look and coldly replied “Then you’ll have it on Friday; no matter when it is, the next time you’re in this room you will take this exam. Be sure that you study.”

The snow came that evening and our joy was complete the next morning when “Versailles Exempted Village Schools: Closed” scrolled across the bottom of the TV screen. I had done as she had warned and studied the night before, but was still very glad to be spending the day at home rather than at school.

School was cancelled again the next day and the day after that. Each night I would finish the evening by studying, just in case the dream came to an end and we were forced to return to school. Each morning began with thankful smiles as we were told we could go back to bed.

We didn’t return to school until the following Tuesday, and as promised, Ms. Schlater gave us the exam. To my surprise, all that studying actually worked and I got a great grade on that exam.

For fifteen more years after that, throughout college and my time teaching in the United States, I continued to pray and be thankful for the days when school was closed. Whether I learned of the closing from a phone call or a text, a facebook post or a news station listing, the reaction was always the same: first a joyous celebration and then a happy trot back underneath the cozy covers.

That is, until last Tuesday. When I read the message on my phone informing me that we would not be going to school in the morning, my heart dropped; joy was the furthest thing from me. As I turned off my alarm that had been set, I did not do a little dance nor did I fall asleep imagining all that I might do on this bonus day off.

Instead, I cried.

School was closed because a 13-year-old boy in our community had been shot on his way home from school. We would be staying home and all businesses in the community would not open their doors out of respect for the life that had been ripped away.

It was not joyous; it was painful.

And so were the days that followed. These days have been filled with questions like “Why?” and “How can they?” and “Why do they?” and words like “innocent” and “young” and “unfair”. But the violence continues. There have been shootings and stabbing, rockets and tear gas, riots and hijackings, arrests and funerals. Each of these things filling people all the more full of fear and anger and hatred; one side no less than the other. These vicious acts lead people to use words like “retaliate” and “justified” and “deserve.” I watch and listen, knowing that it will soon become too much and it will all spin more horribly out of control.

Evil feeding evil.

And we hear the news and we choose sides. We read the papers and decide who is right and who is wrong. We watch videos and we become enraged and we blame and we accuse. The spinning continues.

Evil feeds evil, and the dark monster grows. It grows within each of us, and it drives us to fight one another.

Because we forget: “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”

On Tuesday night I received another text: School is closed. This time a 26-year-old boy on his way to work at the Intercontinental Hotel.

The cycle continues. More shootings, more stabbings, more rockets, more tear gas, more riots, more arrests, and more funerals. More fear, more biases, more hatred, more accusations. All because we forget what we’re supposed to be fighting, and we’ve forgotten how to fight it.

But we Christians, we don’t have to forget what this struggle is really about and what it is with. We are called to remember that we have been equipped specifically for this battle.

“Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes with the gospel of PEACE. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.”

“And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for ALL the Lord’s people.”

So I urge you: when you watch the news, when you look at facebook, when you click on a video- do not allow the monster to overtake you. Guard yourself against words like “fault” and “guilty” and “deserve.” Instead, pray for ALL of these people: that they may be freed from evil and know peace.

And please, pray for me.

“Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador…Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.” Ephesians 6:10-20

What I have in Common with a 10th Grade Boy

Today is Monday, and on Mondays I watch over high school detentions. At 2:45, fifteen minutes after the end of the school day, the students stroll into the room, cramming the last bits of their after-school-snacks into their mouths and chugging the last bit of their drinks. I use one hand to point first to the trash can, signaling for them to throw away their trash and spit out their gum, and then to the desks they will be confined to for the next long (very long) 30 minutes, all while using the other hand to quickly pull the door shut, fully expecting the student who pulls the door back open and sputters an excuse about why he is late. I give him the look that says “I don’t want to hear it, just sit down and be quiet.” I scan the room, giving a slight headshake and sigh to “the regulars” and inquisitive looks to the students I don’t expect to be in detention. I am given “it’s not my fault” or “it’s just for being tardy” looks in return. It’s all part of the Monday-detention-routine.
Today as my eyes were sweeping the room, I made eye-contact with Stitch, a tenth grade boy in my Geometry class. (Last week in class, after I had started calling one of the other boys Slick, he held up the finger that he had sliced open and informed me that he is now known as Stitch.) He’s not exactly a stranger to detention. Continue reading

Finding My Way

I’ve realized that one of the things I take for granted in the US is knowing how to get around. With years of driving in the Miami Valley, well-marked road signs and street addresses, Google Maps, Siri, and Waze, its very rare that I find myself lost or even having to stop and ask for directions. Unfortunately, that’s not so here.

I was feeling pretty big and bold the second week that I was here, and when Kelli offered me a ride home from her house, I refused. “I’d like to walk,” I told her, knowing that it wasn’t all that far and hoping to burn off some of the amazing pita bread that I had been (and still am) living on. She questioned whether or not I was positive, and when I assured her I was, she gave me verbal directions to follow for the short walk back to my place. I don’t know what was going through my mind that caused me to only half listen and to not take the time to repeat the directions back to her, but I didn’t. Off I went… Continue reading

Trading in my Independence

After more than 24 hours in airports and airplanes, lugging my heavy backpack and dragging my stuffed suitcase, pulling off my sweater because I was burning up and then pulling on my wool socks because I was freezing cold; after going up and down escalators trying to find the right gate, unpacking and repacking my computer to get through security, and readjusting my seat, moving my pillow and turning over what seemed like more than a million times while getting comfortable enough to sleep, I had finally arrived at Ben Gurion airport in Tel Aviv. I had made it, almost.

I headed down the familiar sloping hallway, waiting for my phone to connect to the wifi and walking slowly knowing that the signal was going to fade as soon as I got near the doorway to immigration. I quickly shot off a few facebook messages to let “my people” know that I had arrived safely and then made my way to the only “foreign passports” line, happy to have only two people in front of me.

I waited and waited and waited. As I did, the all-too-familiar feeling started to creep in. Continue reading