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Thursday, October 17, 2013

What Blue Bars and Photos do not Tell

I am looking at a bar graph which chronicles the number of civilian deaths in Iraq from 2008- 2013. The bars are blue and, side by side to each other, form a rather uniformly inverted bell curve. This shape tells me that the number of Iraqi deaths in 2008 nearly parallel the numbers 2013 has thus far produced; Iraqi causalities were at their lowest between 2009 and 2011.
The article within which the bar graph appears discusses the factors which led to the bombings responsible for the civilian casualties. A student of world news and of current events, I read this academic analysis. I read to learn. I read to inform. Staring at the blue bars, a thought arrests me. These dozens of blue bars arc tall and taller and tallest: Towers of Death. I am staring at lives lost, thousands. Nearly half a million, another news article claims. Dead human lives academically recorded, sterilely documented, logically presented. Within the blue are the undocumented faces of those little ones on their way to school, boys sweating at a soccer match, students arguing politics at a café, a young woman carrying her yet born babe, the old men exchanging neighborhood gossip around tea. My imagination fails me. The blue bars fail me. They fail to tell their stories, fail to name their names. They fail to record the lament of the left-behind. The blue bars fail.
And the photos that capture survivors and wreckage post-bombing fail. They reveal images of burnt out cars, destroyed real estate. Blood splattered on city streets. Dust, displaced objects jarred into alien space by the blast, eerily resting forever where the photo finds them. Crumbling infrastructure, the fabric of Iraq unraveled and unraveling. Photos capturing reality- yet the latter half of it only. Where are snapshots of these scenes seconds pre-bombing? We do not see the bold, clean colors of the parked cars on the street. No photo captures the unblemished store fronts with goods neatly arranged. The bystanders have already been carried away in body bags; their expressive faces, conversations, concerns, laughter, distractions, lost to us forever in what was not snapped. In the absence of any visual contrast of what Once Was and what Now Is my brain has been trained to expect the carnage: News from Iraq. It will be bloody. The images will be charred. We can smell the death. That’s normalcy. The photos tell me so.
No, no, NO! Go back seconds ago, rewind to the laughter between small school girls, revisit the cheers for the team, hear again impassioned words of the academic debate, see the fear and hope written on a young mother’s face, smell the aroma of hot tea in the desert. But these pre-bombing realities- and untold more- are reduced to pixels within a blue bar graph, and photo journalists’ post-bombing images.
To discover what blue bars and photos do tell, and to read the article referenced, copy and past this URL into a new tab:

Thursday, September 5, 2013

A Lesson in Asking

When you are unemployed conventional wisdom says that it’s a good idea to view job-hunting as your full time job. Monday through Friday my routine has become to camp out at Starbucks from 9 a.m. to an afternoon hour, searching and applying for jobs.
[Job Hunting = asking, seeking, knocking. The Adventure lies in the Not Knowing. Fatigue threatens in the waiting. Who will open?]
Two Sundays ago I enjoyed a visit from Cousin Erin of southern California. She came with gifts, in conversation depositing a lot more wisdom (the non-conventional, hard-earned kind) into my soul and in conclusion bequeathing me with a generously charged Starbucks gift card. Conventional wisdom says that gifts are generally appreciated but experience reveals more: to the unemployed, gifts are lifelines. For me, a Starbucks gift card was an investment into my future career path.
[Cousin Erin and I enjoy some off-roading.] Upon receiving this golden ticket I asked God to bless me with a job before the monies thereupon were completely depleted. This was a prayer of faith, of stewardship and of pragmatism. With the gift card I habitually ordered the least expensive item on the menu (iced tall unsweetened green tea), to stretch its value the longest. Asking and trusting and knocking continued, too.
Yesterday after my Starbucks job-hunting appointment I wondered how God would answer my prayer for timely employment; after several weeks of usage my card balance had been reduced to $0.56. There would be no more employment-seeking rendezvous at Starbucks on that balance.
At 6 p.m. the crickets on my phone chirped. Trader Joe’s was summoning my crickets. Trader Joe’s, that glorious establishment of fine and funky culinary opportunity! The place at which my soul most wanted to find part time employment! They offered me work! A competitive wage, consistent hours, a positive and fun environment, a company and product about which I am passionate, at an urban and edgy local. And I start today! With $0.56 remaining on my Starbucks card.

Monday, September 2, 2013


These postings shall become more regular. Until they do, let me catch you up... Saturday, 3 August, 2013- At midnight Mamma and I arrived at Aunt Debbie’s. The sunshine is delicious. She is enjoying time with the Klings and Cards. I am home now, breathing slow, satisfying breaths of change. Home now is a soft place to land. Though it is transitory, I share it with family with whom I share a past. I am here to invest my future with them. [A fraction of my Cali Family...]
I brought to my new Home many Questions. Fear came with me. Twisted, knotted, layered, complex Fear. God, unravel it. Smooth it; smooth me. Heal me- the prayer of a wearied pilgrim.
Questions. “I don’t know where I am going and I don’t know how to get there.” Wyoming’s purple mountains and white golden grasses blinked unconsolingly at me. They offered no answer to my words, my cry, my unformulated yet unwittingly implied Questions. Those previously unknown to me.
That was yesterday. Mamma, Professional Mother, probed and exposed this deficiency in me. Wise woman! Her questioning, more illuminating than flashes of heat lightning dancing across the Denver sky, though disarming, give me Center. [Lindsey and I in Denver...]
Questions. Fear. And a soft pace to land. Ten months. And a Guide who wrote my story through the beginning of this new chapter. Jesus. Jesus! Jezi! Twenty-nine years. Fumbling, reaching, scratching, crawling. Flash Your lightning, illuminate me!

Tuesday, June 25, 2013


My whole Journey Iraq-wards has been Unique, in a word. So a recent phone call from Servant Group International about support raising, deadlines, orientation, and the next step forward was actually not at all a surprise. Allow me to set the stage. Saturday, working ALL DAY on support raising. Printing Letters, addressing envelopes, cutting, finessing the Recipients List, trips to the store for more envelopes, more stamps, hours of work (see previous post). Working steadily, I am an anxious, panic-y mess the whole day. Yes, I know that Christians are not supposed to be anxious about anything. But I was, and I had no idea what to do about it this time.
An anxious heart is a warning sign: STOP! WHAT is going wrong here? ...If you've had much time around children, you have witnessed TCS, Tired Child Syndrome. An exhausted child, between the ages of 1-5, throws herself on the ground, beside herself with irritation, confusion, fatigue. A physical stimulant tells her body that something is wrong, but her mind cannot interpret it. She cannot diagnose the problem. She does not know the solution. She cannot formulate a request, a plea, a plan. Sprawled on the floor, she is incapacitated (and often inconsolable). But her wise parents know what to do! It's time for bed.
My neighbors at VBS last week. This is NOT TCS, but you get the idea ...Back to Saturday. Before God that evening I tell Him, "Lord, I CAN NOT live every day from now until Iraq (August 15th) like this one. Yet I have no idea what to ask, because I have no idea what I need, want, ought to do. You know what I need. I am TCSing right now. You are wise. And you are good. Father me. Amen." And I just committed myself to my Heavenly Father in that moment. And fell asleep.
My To Do List. Any wonder I'm a bit panic-y? ...Phone call. Wednesday. It's Servant Group International. I have not yet met support-raising deadlines to attend orientation later this month. I am $7,500 short. I am probably not going to make the next financial deadline, either, to get to Iraq August 15th. What will I do?
Smiling at the future, Proverbs 31:25 ...This is it. God's answer! I am not going to Iraq this fall. I will go next fall, 2014. Si bon Dieu vle, as they say in Haiti. If God wants. I will have a whole year to study Muslim culture and theology. A whole year to prepare myself for teaching. A whole year to pray for the Adventure ahead. A whole year to raise the needed $upport and recruit a prayer-warrior team.
...IN CALIFORNIA! I am moving to California. I will spend my year of preparation with Aunts, Uncles, cousins, and their little ones, soaking in the Cali sun and gearing up for the even hotter heat of the Middle East. This is a Detour about which I am thrilled!

Thursday, June 13, 2013

"It Takes a Village"

Mom would certainly stand in protest of my concession that our former first lady and Secretary of State had something right (or partially so) but recently I was reminded of this Life-reality:"It Takes a Village." Well ok, Mom, maybe one is not absolutely essential for proper child rearing, but both my past and present experience in preparing for foreign missions tells me that a healthy, helpful community is critical for such undertakings. So here's my shout out to my Village Peeps!
Rachel is my Tech and Social Media Coach
Mamma is the Copying Queen!
Tabitha concentrates on cutting
Daddy tackles the return labels
Even Drew got into the action
Thank you to my Support Team!
My Family really pitched in... Everyone, except for Lucy!

Saturday, May 25, 2013

New Adventures Underway

Dear Family and Friends,

Hello! May I tell you a story? And may I invite you into it? It is a story still being told. The Main Character is incomparable, both Protagonist and Author. I am in the story, though I play only a supporting role. Many of you, too, appear within the narrative, which is why I thought it appropriate to write you.

You are probably familiar with the story up to the point of January, 2010. I was teaching at Three Angels Children’s Relief, a Christian orphanage in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. God shook the earth and within 60 seconds time 300,000 souls stepped into eternity. For reasons I do not know, I was not among them. I, and the 26 children at TA, came home to the US, to our parents and families without a scratch. God was our Protector, Provider.

God is also the opportunity Giver. He then gifted me with a 22-month time-out and reset at a residential treatment center in Lafayette, IN. I checked myself into Vision of Hope with the goal of walking free from an eating disorder. God, the soul-Restorer, graduated me from VOH last June with gifts of even greater value- a thankful affection for Him and a delighted curiosity in discovering and participating in His plan and work in the world.

The Questions I have put before God in my hunt for His plan and work are How? and Where? can I be involved? Last year He responded to the former question with a word: teaching; with this answer I then embarked upon the journey to determine Where. My thought: I will land within a Francophone African nation. So that is where I focused my search. But God’s thoughts are not my thoughts and He offered a very different opportunity.

In March of last year an NGO called Servant Group International lost a seven-year veteran teacher to the bullet of one of his former students. WorldMag delivered the news story to me and immediately a strong desire was conceived in my soul to go. Fool-hearty? My parents thought so, when I casually mentioned SGI to them at home one weekend. Daddy’s reaction (“You would be stupid to do that”) to my scheming to teach with SGI shocked me as he is not a man led by his emotions. But he is an informed man and an authority figure in my life. If he disapproved of the Where to which teaching with SGI would lead me- to northern Iraq- then I would acuiesque. I abandoned the mid-eastern dream and resumed my search. Perhaps God was not calling me to such a foreign land. But I kept the news article.

For seven months I searched. Then in November God arranged a meeting. He orchestrated a weekend trip with my parents to Nashville, TN, to visit our family friends, the Farris’, in celebration of their daughter’s wedding. We celebrated Friday, observed my birthday Saturday, and went to worship Sunday. Around the breakfast table Sunday morning Mrs. Farris had inquired, “So Abbey, what do you want to do with your life?” Dramatic foreshadowing: “I’d like to teach in a third-world country.” At the small country Presbyterian church that morning the minister introduced a guest speaker: Dave Dillard, the founder and executive director of Servant Group International. I wept. What was God up to? From Dave Mom and Dad heard the SGI story, and on the drive home to Indiana Daddy declared, “Ab, if you still have an interest in that, you should do it.”

SGI serves the Kurdish people in Northern Iraq by staffing a series of English-speaking primary and secondary schools. It offers a classical-style curriculum which, amazingly, is biblically-based. Students earn a diploma upon the completion of their studies which makes them competitive in the international market. Because of the demand for English acquisition and the opportunities a Western-style diploma opens to graduates American Christian teachers –and their gospel message- are welcomed by the Kurdish Muslim community. Teaching is the medium through which Christians live out and speak of their faith in Jesus to their Muslim students and neighbors- an unprecedented opportunity as it occurs on Muslim turf.

In April God responded to my Where question. I applied, and have been invited to teach with SGI this fall in Erbil, Iraq (also spelled Arbil and Irbil). The term is a traditional school year: August to June. I will be assigned four teaching blocks, have approximately 80 students, and instruct most probably at the high school level. (I’m praying that my subjects are neither math nor science but nothing is guaranteed until my boots are on the ground!) My home will be an in-town apartment shared with two other single American women. Our team will include one or two other couples, their kids, and perhaps a single guy or two. Our boss is an Iraqi Christian, the visionary and founder of the Classical School of the Medes, the school with which SGI partners.

How will you enter this story? Will you pray for my preparation spiritually, physically, financially? CSM will pay me $8,000 for the term; my expenses to get to/return from Iraq (tickets, med insurance, orientation/training) and live there will be $20,000. The difference between income and expense is $12,000. Will you give to help me reach this goal by July? When I am in Iraq will you follow my blog and offer encouragement through email? Will you remind me then that the story is not finished and ask God to perfect the work He began?

More to come!