What does it take to be a SERVANT?

This week, in one of the Management courses I am teaching, we are discussing Servant Leadership. Servant Leadership is an interesting concept that truly takes what the world sees as a leader and turns it backwards.  The topic has my mind reminiscing.

When we lived in Pakistan, we had many servants. In fact, our large home had servant’s quarters in the back. These were rooms with a connecting bathroom that they could share. There was a bed and their own belongings. The servants could live there so they didn’t have to pay to commute (cars were hard to come by for poor people) and basically it was free room and board. Since I grew up with this, I didn’t think much of it. It was the norm.

One of the rooms was given to my beloved nanny, Abbai. She didn’t really stay there, as she was our nanny. She usually slept in our home and in our rooms. She did keep one old-fashioned lock trunk with her few possessions in that little servant’s room. The other room was generally occupied by our cook who had to get up early to make meals and stay late to clean up. I never really paid much attention to our cook either, unless I wanted a treat to eat.

The term “Servant” is not really a good one for most of the world. It means one who is subservient and caters to another’s beck and call. My parents did not encourage us to talk to the house servants – we didn’t know them personally and you just didn’t do that. The only exception was our nanny who was with us continuously and was considered to be a part of our family. So she was above the other servants due to her close relationship with the family. I thought of her as my grandmother for many years.

Anyone who has seen the BBC hit series “Downton Abbey” knows that even within the servants, there is a hierarchy. Our “chokeedar” or janitor was probably at the bottom, while my nanny, cook, and inside servants had the higher ranks. I didn’t know much about that either, other than seeing my nanny ordering the gardener or chauffeur to do a few things for her. I do recall, however, my mother presiding over the household matters with an air of authority. She was always quiet, never yelling but her gentle manner in which she carried herself spoke of her rank as lady of the house (mem sahib). She would line up the servants and give them their orders, especially when we were hosting a party or having guests… which was often.

ALL of this changed when we moved to the United States with only our 6 suitcases. My father, an electrical engineer, received multiple offers in the US that would set our family up for success financially – even more than what we had in Pakistan. When we moved here, it was a rude awakening for all of us, as there were no servants. Not even our nanny was allowed to come with us (a fact that still brings me to tears as a grown woman). We had to make our own meals, do the wash, clean, garden, and do all things that normal American families do (only we weren’t normal Americans!).

One day, my mother decided to host a party for some of the people we got to know from the Pakistani community. As we set about cooking, early in the morning, we were so excited. It had been a while since we had hosted a party. Little did we know that the party would not be for us. Instead, we were told not to eat until the guests had eaten (to ensure there was enough hot food on the table) and then to quickly eat so we could do the myriad of dishes (my mother only used china for entertaining) by hand. We were up until past midnight with the pile of dishes, desert dishes, tea cups, pots and pans from the day’s worth of cooking. As my parents had always pampered us as their beloved daughters, I did not want to now take on the role as a servant.

The next time there was a party, we were less excited and more wary – was it going to be the same thing again? If so, this was terrible! I began to detest my mother’s entertaining because it meant we had to fill in the serving role. We ate last, we worked and yes, we served the guests’ every need. This was a sore subject with me even until adulthood. I thought that I would not treat my own children as such! What an insult to use them as your makeshift servants… or so I thought at that time.

It was not until I met Christ Jesus that I understood why I had been placed in that role. It was a blessing and a gift that my mother gave me. I didn’t know that our Lord and Savior came to this earth not to rule with an iron fist, but to serve as the lowliest, most humble servant. In John 13, Jesus himself washes the disciples’ feet. To take off your clothes, be in your underclothes, is a sign of humility. To wash someone’s dirty feet, you have to have them sit or be raised higher than you and then you have to touch those feet with your hands and clean them. This was the job of the lowliest servant in the Eastern home. In Arabia, where there is dust and sand everywhere, there are servants to wash people’s feet. It’s disgusting, it’s grimy and it’s what the Lord of the Lords decided to take upon himself to do for his disciples.

When I read about what Jesus says “But many who are first will be last, and the last first” in both Matthew 19:30 and then again in Matthew 20:16, it made me scratch my head. It’s completely upside down from what the world says a leader is. We should be first in line. We should insist on our rights first. No, you shouldn’t let someone go ahead of you – you are much more important than that!

Jesus challenged his disciples to think differently. What if you started putting other people first? What would that look like to you? It could be something simple as allowing someone at the grocery store to go ahead of you. It could be something more difficult like allowing your spouse to have the final say on something you are passionate about. Or, it could be at work to let your employees know that I am here to serve you.

I am so thankful that the Lord taught me these lessons through my parents to serve others first and then serve yourself. I am thankful that I was taught to do the dishes and quit my complaining. These are the things that we now teach our children.

Can you imagine what that would do to the home, the workplace and to the world? Maybe people won’t notice… at first. I guarantee you that after consistently sending that message across with your actions, people WILL begin to notice and more importantly, you will begin to notice a change in your own heart.

Lord Jesus, may you increase and may I decrease. Amen.

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What’s in a Name?

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For the Eastern mind, a name indicates the essence of a person. Many parents even decide to wait to name a child until they see its face to determine the child’s personality (we could not tell our children’s personality within the first week of life!). I was given the name Sabah  (صباح) when I was born. Sabah is an Arabic name that means early morning or dawn. For those who know me… that is a big, gigantic misnomer!  I cannot function in the mornings. Instead, around 6 pm, I happen to get my big burst of energy. So where did “Mona” come from? It was a nickname given to me by my uncle who died at an early age. Out of remembrance for him, my family continued to use his nickname for me, his little doll.

In the Bible, The Lord places much emphasis in names. He gives Adam the privilege of naming the animals  ~ The man gave names to all livestock and to the birds of the heavens and to every beast of the field. But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him. Genesis 2:20 Adam also names Eve (Gen 2:23). Later in Genesis 17:15, God gives Abram and Sarai new names also, for they were a new creation in Him. He changed Abram (means Father in Hebrew) to Abraham (means Father of many). Sarai’s name was a bit different. Some say that the original name may have a root of meaning quarrelsome or argumentative. Then the name was changed to Sarah or “my princess.” The Lord continues to do this with Jacob along with others all the way to the New Testament when we see Saul’s name changed to Paul.

As a Muslim, my heritage was no different than others in the East. There was great significance in names and religious names were considered superior, for they were given to prophets and God’s people. Even before Stephen and I had children, we had settled on the name of our first child – it would be Jacob (Arabic – Yaʿqūb) and if it was a girl, it would be Sarah. We both liked the fact that Jacob’s name could be Muslim and Christian. The name Sarah was different: it was Stephen’s great grandmother’s name and for me, it was my best friend’s name in Pakistan. When our first born son was born, we named him Jacob. We didn’t really do much research into what the name actually meant – holder of the heel, underminer, supplanter. All we knew was that the name was in both of our Holy books and that was good enough for us.

When our second son came, we were at a loss. I wanted Gabriel or David – both were strong names in the Quran and Bible. Stephen wanted John for his father’s name. We couldn’t agree. One day, a close friend came over and we were talking about baby names. She suggested “Joshua” – when we asked why, she simply replied “Sounds good with Jacob!” So much for picking thoughtful names… we went with Joshua for our second-born son.

For our daughter who came next, her name had been chosen over 9 years before she arrived! It was a no-brainer: Sarah if it was a girl and John David if it was a boy.

Looking back on all this as a Christian who converted from Islam, I cannot help but see the uncanny way The Lord was mapping out my life with my children’s names: Jacob – the liar, the one who undermined his brother and wrestled with God, Joshua – He Saves (also Yeshua in Aramaic – the name given to our Lord and Savior, Jesus) and finally, Sarah – my princess.

In the first part of my life, I wrestled continuously with the constraints put upon me through Islam. There were so many rules and I felt like I kept breaking all of them (not intentionally, but one after another). The wrestling continued until I met The ONE Who Saves, Jesus Christ. He then called me “His princess.”

God has a plan for each one of us (see Jeremiah 29:11), this is a plan to prosper us and not harm us, a plan to allow us to walk closely with Him. In His graciousness, He allows me now to look back and see that He was always with me – in my struggle, confusion, in a plan to redeem me for His purpose and a plan to allow me to dwell in the House of the Lord forever as His Princess.

What a beautiful God He is! Amen!

The Business of Grace

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I was selling my handmade jewelry yesterday at the WINGS OK Market Day (an organization that helps special needs children and adults). The jewelry I make is to help raise money for the Voice of the Martyrs – a Christian non-profit organization that brings Bibles to restricted nations (about 52 of them on the list now). So, the business model I have doesn’t really fit the secular model… it’s based on ministry, for ministry. As a Christian, I have to believe that all belongs to God and that you are merely a steward for Him.

So, I tend to give away almost as much jewelry as I sell. I see that as a part of sharing the grace and also bounty God has given me. It is an interesting social experiment when it comes to the real Business Marketplace.

Yesterday, a sweet young lady around 13 years old came by to peruse my jewelry. She asked me questions that implied she wanted to know more about the process of making jewelry. So, I spoke to her for a bit until her mom yelled at her to come join the rest of the family. She and I had just started getting into the conversation, so she reluctantly left. I invited her to swing by, if she had permission from her parents.

She actually came back after about 30 minutes. We talked some more and she kept touching a tiny pair of lavender earrings. When her mom & dad stopped by, she pointed out the earrings to them. Her mom actually yelled at her and said “you only have two dollars to spend – not gonna cover it!” The girl put the earrings down and kept her eyes downcast. Since I pray for moments like these, I quickly grabbed the earrings, placed them in a bag and handed them to her. She said “I don’t have enough.” I told her it’s a gift. Her face beamed like the sun!

She ran to her parents (they had walked off already) and a heated argument ensued a short distance from me. I could tell by their body language that this was not a good thing. The girl came up to the booth and handed me her crumpled two dollars. I smiled at her and told her “I’m sorry – you can’t pay me for those. They were a gift to you.” She looked at her mom and her mom was not happy. The mom said “yes, she took those earrings and now she has to pay you.” To which I replied “No, those were a gift to her. No charge and no strings attached.” Her mom said the magic words… “Why?

I told both of them that this is a business of grace. The Lord blesses me and I am then able to bless others with His grace. There is no cost associated with grace, only a joyful acceptance… and what a lesson that is for each of us, for it is not what we do that makes us children of God, but it is all that Jesus has done for us on the Cross.

“As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace”   [1 Peter 4:10]

Getting Ready for WINGS Market Day Saturday!

WINGS (non profit group for special needs children) is hosting their first EVER Market Day this Saturday, September 19. I will be

 one of the featured vendors, along with my super face painting friend, Glory Bee Faces. Just look for the white tent & you will find me near with my slew of handmade jewelry.

WINGS is located near 33rd & Boulevard in Edmond

If raining, re-schedule day is October 3rd.