Search This Blog

Friday, September 26, 2014

Organizing Chaos

Can you find the tiny Kurdish flag in the mountain? Flags here are everywhere: Patriotism abounds!

Friends and Relations, what a dynamic life we live! Thank you for your unique part in my own! Your kind emails, thoughtful responses, timely encouragement, and simple “likes” to my past Facebook posts have been energizing, have made me smile, laugh, and have reminded me to thank God for you!

Can you help me with something? I will be making much fewer Facebook posts, and possibly also taking a long hiatus from blogging. HOWEVER, I’m NOT going offline and if you’d like to keep up with me and my adventures on the other side of the globe will you (?) …

- Check and see if you received a Mail Chimp email from me circa early-mid Sept. If you DID, you can disregard the next point…

-If you did NOT, sign up HERE to receive my E-Letters (called "Abbey Mac and I-raq Newsletter" )

> -If you’d like my personal email for interactive and more regular communication, please message me through Facebook and I will be happy to share it!

-There are even ways to “text” and “talk” with me and I’d be happy to explain the means by which you can set that up, too!

“No man (or woman!) is an island.” You are the piedmont, the mountains, prairies, forests, and shorelines that constitute my continent and for Who are are, and your role in my tiny narrative, I thank you! All my love,

-abbey mac

This is my grocery store! No, for real peanut butter and coffee. :( Yes, for fresh, affordable produce, drinkable water, and bulk nuts and seeds! :)

Monday, September 15, 2014

First Impressions

Who is praying for me? If you’re reading this post you’re probably guilty. For your influence on my first two days of school being a success, thank you.

I’m teaching three high school courses. In 10th Grade literature I have 15 students. Eventually we’ll read the Epic of Gilgamesh, The Odyssey, and C.S. Lewis’ Till We Have Faces, but this week we’re laying a foundation for why we study literature. My Humanities course is 9th through 11th grade combined, 52 students. We meet in a large “lecture hall” and I talk at them about history (we’re supposed to cover Carthage through the Enlightenment). Today we got to define history and ask “Why does this matter?” My goal is to present History as a story- The Story- that God is telling about Himself through the human narrative of the ages. Journalism is an elective chosen by 33 students. I’ll need creative ideas for this one! So far I’ve filled time by asking them personal questions and giving an overview of the history of journalism. Did you know that some carrier pigeons were awarded medals in wartime? Before today, I didn’t!

With very few resources available to me (several of my classes are lacking books; one class has no book at all- not even a teacher’s manual!) and lacking a “Grand Scale” view of where each course is going I’ve been completely reliant on God as I prepare and give my lessons. I ask Him to provide me with resources and with direction for how to conduct the class. Then, I leave it up to Him and read, think, write, visualize what each class needs, and search online for information. I don’t freak out, I just believe that He’s heard my prayer and that He actually cares to answer it. And that He has the resources to help me. So far, so great! Even yesterday, after only three hours of sleep the night before, while giving the lessons I felt alert, energized, and had so much fun!

Some things that are difficult for me related to school: Name pronunciation… Hearing (my hearing is bad, and there are many competing noises that contribute to my partial deafness. In a classroom, and cross-culturally, this is a recipe for Problems) and understanding the students when they speak: some students have no accent at all while speaking English; others have a very thick one... Not making eye contact with men (how do you look at a person’s face- which is permissible- without looking them in the eyes- which is scandalous-?! Not looking feels very foreign, very uncomfortable to me. Fortunately my boy-students culturally are not considered men, so I can have an authentic conversation with them when needed!)

Some beautiful things related to school: Students are all very respectful, even the I-Don’t-Want-to-Be-Here, I-Have-Zero-Interest-In-the-Words-Coming-Out-of-Your-Mouth, sit in the back row students! ...Our head administrator’s helpfulness towards and care of his teachers. ...My coworkers’ kind friendliness: many are very young, and most, like me, are new this year to this school; most are fluent in English so we can communicate...

In my life here I am very, very confined. This dynamic made my List of Expectations for Life in Kurdistan, and the extent of my confined-ness is not at all a surprise. I’ve learned that I CANNOT run outside and that in Dohuk, women’s gyms (which do exist but in very few numbers) are not places for respectable women. I am VERY thankful for my TRX suspension trainer; it’s a tool that at least helps me sweat a little harder than what the natural climate induces and affords me a little extra movement and a few endorphins. When I do yoga in my bedroom it’s behind a drawn shade (so men-neighbors in the nine stories of apartments above ours cannot see me in shorts and a t-shirt), emphasizing this cloistered reality and magnifying my confinement. I know what leprosy feels like.

Even with these and other challenges (lacking water in our apartment at random intervals; not having electricity when I need it; having electricity but not having the right adapter to convert it into usable energy; currently having only three protein sources available- peanut butter (and within less than a week’s time I have only half a jar left!), eggs, and canned tuna; never seeing the stars because I cannot step outside at night; missing my brother’s wit, my sister’s amiability, Daddy’s wisdom, and Mamma’s love; remembering- or forgetting!- to not put paper down the toilet; etc.) I’m actually quite happy. Because I am confident that this is exactly where my God wants me right now.

God knows what His kids can handle but He also likes to push us. Nonetheless I’m asking Him to provide my roommate and I with an apartment within the school’s neighborhood. This would give us liberty to walk to school on our own (currently we’re dependent upon a driver). We could get to know our neighbors with greater built-in security (in our high rise apartment the flux of people coming and going at all hours of the day/night makes it sketch). And because I’d be within walking distance maybe, just maybe, I could stay after class at the end of the work day and run up and down, up and down the school’s three flights of stairs to release stress, sweat, and grab endorphins! Hannah and I are currently talking with a friend about this whose apartment would become available for us within the month. It looks hopeful!

The entrance to The Classical School of the Medes

The entrance to our apartment complex

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Discovering Bookends: Why Rehearsing the Past can Bolster Hope for the Future

A sleepless night. Above the darkness the ceiling stares back at me coldly, offers no counsel or consolation. Mamma had asked me, So Daughter, do you have any fears? Yes, Yes I do. I number them. I am afraid of confinement. I am afraid of not getting [any or enough] exercise. I am afraid of the Loneliness. I am afraid of potential relationship tensions with roommates and co-teachers and students and administrators. I am afraid of shaming my hosts or dishonoring Jesus through my own cultural ignorance… But these are not the fears that surround me tonight.

What steals sleep away is the fear of my own inaptitude. Perhaps failure awaits me in a foreign land. What if I totally bomb it? What if these students are way beyond my ability to teach? What if I get in the classroom and have nothing to say? What if I can’t plan lessons and grade papers and have no clear vision of where I’m taking these students?

And on and on the fears march, encircle, and besiege me. I am prisoner of war to these fears.

Then, like a mediator, the power of memory intervenes. Cease fire.

I think about California, a pleasant memory. I recall my experiences there- very strategic ones God had prepared for me. Each one a rock to plant my feet on. I replant my feet on each one, retracing the steps, remembering…

Tutoring at the Arab American Learning Center (who knew that Sacramento had such a huge Iraqi refugee population? that my church volunteered with the school aged kids there? that my presence would be welcomed?). For once each week I get to be the minority, a foreign tongue invades my hearing, and Middle Eastern children teach me who they are and what they value…

Global Pipeline, a ‘worker’ internship through a local church that envelopes me into a rich community of like-minded friends. We learn Jesus stories from the Gospels. We read and discuss the Qu ‘ran, visit a mosque, and make friends amongst our Muslim neighbors. This community graphs me into their family through laughter, prayer, and quality time…

Teaching Sunday school, way out in the country, I get face time with young people in a small setting. My tiny flock challenges me with their purposeful theological inquiries. I co-labor with God the Holy Spirit to teach us from John’s book…

Substitute teaching, my first real experience in the classroom with authority. How God had prospered that chapter! He gave me favor with students, administrators, and fellow teachers.

I muse on subbing, an Adventure!

I taught in the ‘burbs. I taught in the city: in elite Sacramento communities, and in shady ones. I taught at a charter school, at fundamental schools, at mediocre schools, at handicapped and emotionally disturbed schools, at alternative schools, and at blue-ribbon schools.

I taught Kindergarten (oh, terror! and, oh! Miracle! and, oh, experiment proving the grace of God!), I taught seniors, and I taught everything in-between.

I read stories, ran laps, pedaled bribing candies and awarded with fruit bars. I danced. I played board games and DVDs, walked with and heard troubled teens. I glared, laughed, threatened, disciplined, and learned why some people drink after work. I made a list of “Why Jesus is Better than Substitute Teachers.”

I earned a nickname (Mis sMackdown), earned praise, and felt the sting of failure. I was assaulted with criticism, with hugs, and with students’ encouraging hand-drawn papers. I sent students outside, dismissed them to the principal’s office, left good reports, and left my jacket.

I often made a single outfit last for a week (because each day I frequented a new school).

I taught P.E. and French, Algebra, English, History, and Art. I taught Spanish, study hall, and science. I taught Government, Econ, Music, and Music…

M-U-S-I-C! My thoughts slow, and on my bed a flood of knowing suddenly sweeps over my body. It’s an assaulting physical sensation of astonishment and peace, giddiness and calm: I am remembering that my substitute teaching career literally began and ended. With Music.

Tenth and Eleventh grade Music, Western Sierra Collegiate Academy. At Trader Joe’s the night before I’m rehearsing with my coworkers what to say to these students. They don’t need to know that I’m green, that I’m terrified, that I literally have no idea what I’m doing. Let them think I’m a professional substitute. But I will be straight up with them about one thing: I know nothing about Music. I’ll tell them that today, they are the Teacher and I am the Pupil; they will school me in Music. Kids like that- people like that- when you’re transparent about your limitations. And they like being asked for help. And so I am, and they do. And they sing me through a fabulous first day of school. A strong and satisfying start to my substitute career.

Months later, last week of school, at Cottage Elementary I am filling in for the long-term sub who had been covering for music teacher. Kindergarteners clap, stomp, and chirp their way through class (yes, with hand motions!). Third and fifth graders proudly bellow songs for Years’ End celebration. First and second graders faithfully warble their repertoire. With their songs my career ends, music reverberating from classroom to car, cheering me onto my next adventure…

From under my silent ceiling I consider this, the musical bookends of my subbing career: God saying, Daughter, I began and ended your teacher training with a song. Same as I was in those details, I am in the ones before you. Take confidence, take heart. I like singing and this Song I have for you is a good one. Fast turn on the light and study this from Zephaniah’s book:

On that day they will say to Jerusalem, “Do not fear, O Zion; do not let your hands hang limp. The Lord your God is with you, He is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, He will quiet you with His love, He will rejoice over you with singing” (3:16-17).

God in the details, God bookending that significant Chapter with verses and song. I relax. This same God, singing over me then, sings over me now. He will sing over me in Kurdistan the same. Because He’s that kind of God, taking delight. A gasp and a whisper, Thank You, Jesus, and fears retreat as sleep invites.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Pilgrim Chronicles: Gift Metamorphoses

Saturday new doubts danced into my mind through a series of questions Pam posed: “Do you see these new circumstances as God perhaps shutting this door for you?” and, “How long will you hold out? When do you make a decision one way or the other?”

At her first question I shuddered. I was pretty sure my feet were still meant to be on the Iraq-ward Path God has been two years paving for them. Inwardly I stared down the challenge to reopen the scrutinzation of this Path. Reevaluation stared back at me, a blank stare. It was through a long, dark tunnel, same as this vacuum of Unknowing I’ve been living in since August 6th. The vacuum increasingly has become a black hole, sucking my motivation, strength, and compass into its vortex of nothingness. A closing door? No. I averted my gaze. I will not look down that Gideon-tunnel. I need no further confirmation. I remember the manna along this wilderness path, God keeping me alive, directing and re-directing my motions and my affections on the way. I’m staying the course. Now is not the time to re-evaluate. This private conversation with myself over, my audible response to Pam is a meer, "Ummm..."

But the second question? Meriting a reply, “I'll hold out until my financial situation requires action,” jumped from my lips. That would certainly be a clear sign: if I was unable to continue to wait without employment then perhaps God was indeed long-term delaying Iraq Plans.

Sunday my parents conferenced with me. An honest assessment of my bank account, my personal savings slowly disappearing, prompted part-time job applications Monday. The YMCA, Starbucks, substitute teaching for HSE- jobs within which I could easily give my two weeks when I got the Call.

My efforts Monday were very unproductive.

Tuesday. Bayside Church is teaching through a series on the Minor Prophets. For an hour I listen to Pastor Curt Harlow’s sermon from Habakkuk The prophet's words sound like my own: “God, how long do I have to cry out for help before you listen? How many times do I have to yell, “Help!...”?” This mouth-for-God man, Habakkuk, whose name means ‘embrace,' writes a book about waiting: Embrace the waiting. Know that God is not ignoring your questions as you wait.

Two weeks, six days. Waiting in this Nothing vacuum. Not knowing for what I wait, nor for how long. Learning to name the Nothing a God gift and to give thanks.

A beautiful song of Steadfast Resolve from the Prophet and Poet, Embrace-Waiting author:

(For the Director of Music. On my stringed instruments) ‘Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior. The Sovereign Lord is my strength; He makes my feet like the feet of a deer, He enables me to tread on the heights.’

With this song Habakkuk concludes his book. With this sermon God has renamed the Nothing I hold: Wait. I wrap myself around it, embrace this Wait gift.

In my hands, God transforms the gift with alarming speed. Forty-five minutes from the waiting sermon and song, phone startles me from my errands. It is the Call: “Our national partners have traveled to Dohuk. They’ve assessed the conditions there and say it’s safe for our return. School is scheduled to commence on time and we want you there in the next two weeks!” John renames the gift. Now it is Prepare.

It is Wednesday and in one Wednesday I will away for the Thing for which I've waited. What form then shall the God gift take? What new name shall my hands embrace?

Saturday, August 23, 2014

An Experiement of Grace: Confessions of a Woman in Waiting

My family and I recently laughed at how the synapses in my brain are so weirdly configured. Manifestation: I characteristically over-react to miniscule things and under-react to mighty ones.

Proof Set #1) A- Family fails to call me to dinner. I waltz downstairs to the horror of them seated and enjoying their meal without me: “Of course they would exclude me. They don’t like me, after all. I am unloved, unwanted, undesirable.” Ego wounded, I seek refuge at the gym, and nurse the grief of being unwanted for hours later… B- I am 12, and reading in the passenger seat of our Aerostar as we drive over the Potomac. On the bridge I am temporarily jolted when Mamma rear-ends an elderly woman. Over ambulance sirens, which arrive to quickly transport the old lady to the ER, I give testimony to the events to Daddy on the phone: “Mamma just bumped into the car in front of us. Mamma is overreacting, and everyone’s making a big deal about it.” Our van is towed, the front third caved into itself. My parents spend thousands of dollars not on cosmetics, but to make the thing drivable again.

Proof Set #2) A- Small challenges (at least that’s how the majority of the populace quantifies them, so to the majority I defer), like how to execute a day’s To Do List, paralyze me. Frequently. (Full confession: it’s often a paralysis which might easily germinate into a panic attack.) B- Big challenges (again, so called by most human beings, I adopt the label), on the other hand, like caring for 26 orphaned kids after a natural disaster in a third world country, propel and motivate me.

My family’s laughter exposed that I am a disproportionate over-and-under-reactor. It’s like my brain in its developmental stages missed the memo that “hard” means Hard and “small” means Brush-it-Off, No Big Deal. Reacting “normally” to small things, to big things, to easy, and to hard things, is ab-normal for me.

So last week happens, the aftermath of 1.2 million displaced persons (LINK) outrunning a maniacal and bloodthirsty foe, landing upon the pieces of earth whereon I was to spend this next year living and laboring and loving. The past two years of my life have been invested into preparations to Go but my departure date passed I am here, not there, and my reaction has been--- ??

I am slowly realizing that I have, characteristically, under-reacted to my present set of circumstances. The proof is that I see myself walking back into old dead-end patterns of living. Driving in circles through ruts of criticism and ingratitude, flinging mud from these worn tires onto the people I most love. Running away from intimacy to my fortress of Isolation, the safest place wherein I can feed my own selfishness. (And on the topic of food, Yes, that specter from my past also haunts dangerous (, with a magnetism that stimulates my amnesia to resist resistance.) I see myself aggrandizing small things, floundering on where my value lies, questioning if God really loves me, and considering if trusting Him is really rational.

I am realizing that now having no plan but to wait and pray is a very hard plan to successfully execute. I am realizing that it’s hard to be 30 and back living in my parent’s home, indefinitely. That it’s hard to have no defined work, and no income, and no car, and no end in sight. That it’s hard to live within a loosely defined community when the one I left and the one I anticipated were proximate, immediate, and intimate. I am realizing that it’s hard.

Why admit I’m struggling? Why pull off the veil of my under-and-over-reactions? Hopefully, it’s not to elicit your pity (although I wouldn’t put it past me). The reason I write is because I believe there’s a more redemptive utility for my personal failures and irrational reactions.

I know that many friends are praying for me. Thank you. Let my confessions remind you that I need it!

From my thoughtful cousin, Erin Ducan: “I love this quote from Oswald Chambers and hope it encourages you: "When God puts the dark of "nothing" into our experience, it is the most positive something He can give us. If you do anything now it is sure to be wrong, you have to remain in the centre of nothing, and say 'thank you' for nothing. It is a very great lesson, which few of us learn, that when God gives us nothing it is because we are inside Him, and by determining to do something we put ourselves outside Him." - from Not Knowing Wither. OC is discussing darkness that comes after God gives us a vision of His purpose!”

In this Nothing, what could God possibly be doing? I'm considering this an Experiment of Grace...

Monday, August 11, 2014

Kurdistan Departure Update: Hurry up and Wait

President Barak Obama “said there's ‘no doubt’ the Islamic State's advance on Irbil ‘has been more rapid than the intelligence estimates’" reports the AP (Los Angeles Times, 9 August, 2014). The advancement of ISIS/the IS north, east, and west from Mosel has been a blitzkrieg of a kind. A month before, when Mosel had freshly fallen to the IS, a noted military analyst had half a dozen reasons why this extreme terrorist group once associated with al Qaida, but now their own entity (al Qaida kicked them out of their terrorist organization for being too mean) would not move on Kurdistan. Though war would be a neighborhood away, the analysis seemed sound and I bought my tickets, feeling confident that yesterday I would wave goodbye to Mamma and Daddy en route to my new job in a new, Middle Eastern home.

But then Sunday happened and all the days in between: the IS’s movement outpaced military intelligence, analysis, and estimates. It made a tactically shocking turn, pushing towards Kurdistan through invading smaller minority villages on its march for the Kurdish capitol of Erbil. First hesitant, Monday a phone call with my sending organization confirmed my original confidence. Tuesday I wrestled fears through preparation busyness and by rehearsing the Journey up to this point. Then Wednesday the email prompted the text message which directed the call that delivered the message: The IS is on Erbil’s border. You’re on standby. We’re keeping you stateside. Numb Thursday, and glued to Al Jazeera reports and Facebook updates. Friday my tickets were cancelled. As Kurds fight for sovereignty, Christians, Muslims, and Yazidis seek asylum, and American/coalition fighter jets drop death and hope, respectively, I’m grounded in Indiana indefinitely.

Within my personal narrative God has done a few things over the past three weeks that make this turn of events very confusing. They are here enumerated: 1) He provided for my financial support to teach in Kurdistan this year 100%. 2) He surprised me with a church family who has not only loved me throughout this long Indiana summer but has also taken specific interest in the work I am to do at CSM. Last Sunday afternoon they sent me off with prayers, encouragement, and gifts. 3) He recently invited me into a hard conversation that finally severed my last tie to Sacramento, the tie that has mostly distracted my focus, scattered my thoughts, and maddened my soul. After this conversation, I was a free woman, smiling at the future, no looking back: On Sunday I was flying to Kurdistan, ALL IN!!!

In the mountains of Sinjar tonight the Islamic State surrounds anywhere between 50,000 to 150,000 Iraqi civilians. The IS wants one thing: death to these ‘un-submitted ones,’ the Yazidis, a peaceful religious minority. Death to the old women, bent with wisdom and the labor of years; death to the teenagers, knowing more than their parents; death to the babies unborn in wombs of their young mothers; death to professionals and shepherds, mechanics, bakers, priests and teachers, death. That is what this advancing horde promises to all non-conformists. The Yazidis have taken refuge in these mountains since fleeing their homes last Sunday. Temperatures during the day reach as high as 120 degrees and, until Saturday’s first humanitarian airdrops, they had no water.

Erbil swells with Mosel’s refugees. Christians who would not wait to see if the IS could truly be pacified by a tax from the unconverted have flooded the city. Mosques, churches and even open-air public parks are better shelters for these persecuted ones than the false promise of protection through paying the jizya; it is being reported that Christians who stayed in Mosel are being hung; their children “systematically beheaded;” the young women forced into slavery. ( Servant Group is partnered with the Classical School of the Medes, where I was to teach. Through this partnership, we are able to get much-needed funding to the churches in Erbil. These churches, coordinating with the city of Erbil, are the hands and feet meeting the needs of these refugees: food, water, bedding, and spiritual support. You can give directly to this relief effort:

Christians, thank you for praying for Iraq. Let’s keep praying.

Terrorists advancing on a civilized people, kids starving in the mountains, old women collapsing with thirst, cities swelling with refugees. God seeing all, getting His hands dirty, in favor of the imprisoned, not forgetting. Please don’t forget them. And I am not too small. You are not over-taxed, spent, exhausted to ignore me, or think me unimportant while engaged in the life-destiny of thousands. So I ask, Meet with me? Give me the same guidance I needed yesterday? Refresh me and satisfy my agitated spirit, limited body?

I needed to remind myself that, in the shadow of prayers for the horrors happening in real-time a world away, the petitions I have to God for His help today are no less significant; He still welcomes my needy cry for His guidance and favor and I still need to ask. I and fellow SGI teachers must re-evaluate God’s invitation for the Now. We’re in a holding period, waiting for further marching orders on a Call we all answered months ago in our hearts. What to do in the interim? Christians, thank you for praying with us.

In these early hours of this conflict God’s little and large providences are yet to be uncovered. Let’s hunt for them together. It’s likely we can’t transcribe them all, but here are the few that, from within my own little narrative, I’ve discovered thus far:

…The internal intelligence of our partners on the ground worked. Because of their connectedness and decisive action my leaders were able to make the call sooner than later.

…The timing of these events and my and other teachers’ travel plans: very thankful none of us got there only to turn back around. Or, got stuck somewhere in between here and there. What a kind protection by God of our limited resource$.

…Our travel agent’s assistance to cancel the tickets; a decision made quickly, again, which saved both time and money.

…My church immediately forwarding my email about the change of plans last week: many people began praying for Kurdistan before it made the headlines.

…A hang up Tuesday of last week in the processing of my international medical insurance application after weeks of tangoing unsuccessfully with my agent prevented the policy from being accepted; yet another provision and HUGE conservation of funds.

…My sister was able to finish her final college paper yesterday instead of, sacrificially, seeing me off to the airport.

…Because of my connection to Kurdistan I see amongst my personal contacts, family, and friends a greater interest in the work God is doing there and a more defined fervor to pray for this region and the decision makers who rule it.

I thank God for President Obama’s decision to take action on behalf of Iraq’s persecuted minorities. And with our president I also agree: “U.S. troops can't bring peace to Iraq. ‘We can conduct airstrikes, but ultimately there's not going to be an American military solution to this problem. There's going to have to be an Iraqi solution that America and other countries and allies support,' he said” (Los Angeles Times, 9 August, 2014). Well, mostly, I agree with you, Mr. President. I believe the solution that the Middle East waits for, that the whole world unknowingly craves, is a divine one. A Jesus Solution.

My friend and former CSM teacher writes:

“I do not know what God will do to redeem this or how he is using it to work in the hearts of the people. Some have had visions of a hope that Kurdistan is becoming a pool or reservoir of the Holy Spirit and that the Holy Spirit will rain down on the Kurds until it overflows into the nations surrounding. This is my prayer; that the persecution of Christians in Iraq will spread the gospel just like the persecution of believers in the early church. So pray.”

To pray informed, three excellent Facebook groups I recommend that you follow are:

-Humans of New York: poignant photojournalism and the best use of social media I've encountered

-Unicef Iraq: up-to-date reports of on-the-ground relief efforts

-Servant Group International: veteran servants to Middle Eastern minorities

There are many reports reverberating throughout cyberspace on the situation unfolding in northern Iraq. Be sensible, not sensational, and keep praying!

Indiana corn grows lush. We pray that in the Middle East, God is preparing for another kind of harvest.