A Trip to Prison

L to R – Me, Joan, Ruth, Cay & Jim (taking the picture)

I really need to learn how to say “no!” But one day, a sweet woman named Joan asked if I would consider sharing my testimony with a group of hers. I did what I normally do — jump in head first, without asking questions or details. I replied enthusiastically “Yes! I’d be honored to speak about what Jesus has done for me!” Then she told me that it would be two Tuesdays in a row (because the Bible study group was so big) and… it was in a prison.

Gulp! That meant, she explained, I would need special clearance, a background check, my driver’s license, wear certain clothes, etc. Honestly, I tuned out after she said “Prison.” A few weeks later, I thought maybe she forgot about it, but nope– she contacted me and happily said “all clear!” We could schedule out the dates. Tuesday 8/14 was the first half of the group and today 8/21 would be the second group.

I woke up and prayed, Lord, why did I agree to do this? I’m not an anxious person but my anxiety level was high. I had to think about what I could wear or not wear (can’t wear orange, gray, open toed shoes, certain jewelry, etc). A well meaning friend had told me NOT to hold hands with any inmate because some guy got his hand cut by a prisoner & had to be rushed to ER. All this was swirling around in my head.

Barbed wire all around, orange jumpsuits and the Chapel on the Right

As we reached the facility, I saw the fences & barbed wire and prayed”LORD, I have nothing in common with these people! Help me to say what you want me to say!”

The entrance was like what you see in the movies- double gates that clang shut behind you, guarded entry, X-ray of stuff you brought in. It freaked me out that the women who lead the Bible study brought pens… didn’t anyone watch mob movies where guys were stabbed in the neck with pens? Were they crazy?!

After passing through the entry, we were led into the prison yard. The sight was just as I’d imagined- rough looking women with orange jumpsuits and threatening guards on the perimeter.

As soon as we walked in, the women began to run towards Ruth (the beautiful older woman in the picture above), like sheep to a shepherd. She drew the women in close, covered their hands in a warm embrace and even gave hugs! Several women were already gathered in front of the chapel (can see it in the picture) and as Ruth and the women approached, they also broke out in smiles and surrounded us.

Incredibly, Ruth has led a Bible study there every single week for the last 27 years. No wonder she’s a beacon of light, love and comfort for the hurt and broken. Ruth and the other ladies introduced me to several of their friends and told me how the study was structured.

I can’t tell you how my talk went- I was interrupted so many times but the questions were all good and relevant. The women were warm and attentive. They listened to the Gospel being presented and were an encouragement to me (including an inmate named Sherrie who told me she loved me). That was totally unexpected. I shared about being disowned, about love, forgiveness and about being adopted into the family of Christ as a believer.

Turns out that I had more in common with them than I thought. You see, when you belong to Christ, you have family even in prison! They have been hurt, disowned, failed by others, and they tried to do things on their own. YET the Lord reaches out and adopts them into His family – just like He did for me.

Before I left, I gave out many hugs, several asked (today for the second group) if I could pray for them and one sweet woman named Candace re-dedicated her life to Christ. She told me through tears that she was raised in the church and even went on a mission trip. Then she decided to live for herself and ended up in prison. She said she realized today that she needed to repent and share the light of Christ with others who are in prison with her.

This is what Jesus does for us. His Holy Spirit breathes in new life and gives us eyes to see a world that is lost and hurting.

ūüôŹūüŹĹThank you LORD for the gift of eternal life, love for others and a huge family- even behind bars. Thank you LORD for faithful women who teach your Word to outcasts of society, for taking me out of my comfort zone and for helping me to share your light with women. In the mighty name of Jesus, Amen.

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Honor Thy (father &) MOTHER

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Dr. Mom at Graduation from Medical School

I wrote about my dad and the lessons of love I learned from him when growing up in a post titled “My Dad’s Chair.”¬† During the Women’s History Month, I would like to honor my mom and the strong woman she has always been. She was born into a family of five children with an very progressive father who believed in the value of education. This was shocking for the time (1950’s) in Pakistan -a small, third-world Muslim country that had only recently gained its independence from India.

Yet, my mom defied tradition by asking her parents not to have an arranged marriage because she wanted to go to college to become a Medical Doctor. To the sheer amazement of the community, my grandparents agreed that she should proceed with her goals. She was one a small handful of women in Medical School, with hundreds of men who did not share my grandparents’ opinions. Being a quiet, petite woman (barely 5’3″, weighing less than 100 lbs), she wasn’t exactly able to physically challenge anyone. Being a brilliant young woman with a sharp mind, she was a daunting force to be reckoned with. She and her tiny group of vigilante women banded together to study and achieve top marks in the class – exam after exam. This did not improve their popularity. Instead, it caused even more rancor within the male population of the town.

Growing up, I didn’t hear my grandfather talk too often, so when he spoke – we all listened! He had a favorite story he liked to tell of the village elders coming to see him one evening about taking his daughter out of medical college. He didn’t hold much sway with the townspeople, but as the only pharmacist in town, he did have some control. He told them that if they wanted their medications, they needed to leave him and his daughter alone. To add the proverbial insult to injury, he decided to teach his daughter to drive a car. This did not make either one of them popular but somehow they all left them alone.

Against all odds, my mother and her friends graduated from Medical School and went on to practice medicine successfully for decades. This lesson from my mom has taught me several things:

  1. Don’t let the world tell you what you can and cannot do!

  2. Teach your daughters and the next generation that God created them as equals, along with a beautiful mind that should be used.

  3. Don’t be a victim… she would have had hundreds of reasons to be a victim of the circumstances around her: other students, the Dean of the College, the community and even the culture and nation. She chose instead to focus on what she COULD do and that was to rise above the voices that told her “no!”

  4. Finish what you started. She still shares bits and pieces of her story of one obstacle after another. She also told me “Let your accomplishments speak for themselves.” She persisted. She took exam after exam and didn’t falter. At the end, she gained the respect of all her classmates, her professors, the Dean, and yes, the entire community that watched and learned.

What a legacy to leave for her daughters and what a legacy to leave the young girls in her town who watched this reserved young woman walk across the stage at graduation, while all stood for applause!

Mom… if you ever read this, I pray that you know how much I love you and how much you have taught me about perseverance.

 

Importance of Fellowship

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Last week, I got to host the 5th & 6th grade girls Bible Study group for an Afternoon Tea at our home. Several of the mothers were not quite sure of what was going to happen at this gathering. When I mentioned that I was serving hot tea out of my china cups, I was met with skepticism and rightly so! Eleven & twelve year old girls handling china with bubbling hot liquids… was I sure about that?

The verse for the day was Hebrews 13:2, which my daughter had chosen a few months ago for the tea party fellowship.

Hebrews 13:2~ Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.

It is difficult to fully understand what that verse is talking about unless you know that it refers to Abraham in Genesis! So, we had to read the following passage:

Genesis 18 ~ ¬†¬†1Now the LORD¬†appeared to him by the oaks of Mamre, while he was sitting at the tent door in the heat of the day.¬†2When he lifted up his eyes and looked, behold, three men were standing opposite him; and when he saw¬†them,¬†he ran from the tent door to meet them and bowed himself to the earth,¬†3and said, ‚ÄúMy Lord, if now I have found favor in Your sight, please do not pass Your servant by.¬†4‚ÄúPlease let a little water be brought and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree;¬†5and I will bring a piece of bread, that you may refresh yourselves; after that you may go on, since you have visited your servant.‚ÄĚ And they said, ‚ÄúSo do, as you have said.‚Ä̬†6So Abraham hurried into the tent to Sarah, and said, ‚ÄúQuickly, prepare three measures of fine flour, knead¬†it¬†and make bread cakes.‚Ä̬†7Abraham also ran to the herd, and took a tender and choice calf and gave¬†it¬†to the servant, and he hurried to prepare it.¬†8He took curds and milk and the calf which he had prepared, and placed¬†it¬†before them; and he was standing by them under the tree as they ate.

*****

Abraham was visited by the LORD Himself. Many say that the other two men were a part of the Trinity, while others say it was the LORD & 2 angels. Whatever the case, God came to Abraham. He comes, He cares, He is aware, He dines with us (Revelation 3:20) and He is involved in our hospitality to others.

 

The point of the gathering was to share a lesson on hospitality. If we treated everyone who came to our home as if they were sent by God, I think things might look a bit differently in our society. Hospitality is a hot button for me. I come from an Eastern culture that looks on Hospitality as a non-negotiable. It’s what you do – you prepare food for people and welcome them into your home. I wrote more about it here. Upon hearing about the tea party fellowship, one woman remarked that it must be easy for me, since I¬† was taught by my mother to do that and she’s never had that in her family… my answer to that is so what? Why is that an excuse? If you have a home, you should open it to others.¬† You don’t even have to cook – simply order food in, have a potluck, use your kitchen, gather together and rejoice!

As a new believer, I read Acts 2:46 which mentions that the newly formed Church met, broke bread together in their homes and ate with gladness. Why don’t we do that more often? My personal experience has been that for every TEN invitations I give, I am lucky to get ONE back. People don’t entertain, they don’t invite and they don’t meet in their homes. Now, we have had invitations to meet at restaurants… but rarely in homes.

My lesson for the girls was not just on how to drink tea from lovely cups… it went further than that. It was to cherish fellowship with one another. To eat and enjoy food together, giving praise to God the Father for ALL He has given you- including a Christian family.

May we remember to invite one another to our homes, may we share Christ in the breaking of bread together, may we pray for one another, may we grow up another generation of young believers who will open their homes and look more like the early church. Amen.

 

Father’s Day

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My father and me in Murree, Pakistan

Father’s Day is a reminder to us to go back and think of our earthly father who has influenced us over the course of our life. My father has been a generous source of caring and love. I have photos of him carrying his daughters around and you can see his giant grin that goes from ear to ear. He is the kind of father that is ready with a hilarious joke, a well-told story or the loving kindness in his smile – even for strangers.

Over the years, I have come to the realization that some don’t have a warm, fuzzy recollection of our father. For some, that person was just a “donor” and left soon after they were born. Others never knew an earthly father who raised them up.

We live in a broken, messed up world. There are painful stories people have shared with me that have brought me to tears, listening to the cruelty and heartbreak of an uncaring, missing father. Some of these personal stories have left me wondering how does this person carry on with their life or even more than that – how do they have a role model to follow?

Not only did I have my father who raised me up, but we had the additional blessing of having our maternal grandparents who lived with us for several years. My grandfather (lovingly called “Abba”) was also kind, caring and ready to sit with you. He wanted to be involved in your life and was genuine in his affection. ¬†He was quiet in his manners and demeanor but made you feel special even when you sat next to him. He had all the time in the world to spend with you.

When I became a Christian, imagine my surprise at reading about how Jesus taught his disciples to pray in Matthew 6: “Our Father in heaven, ¬†hallowed be your name…” He told them to call God their Father. It even got more strange for me, because I was told the Aramaic (what Jesus spoke to his disciples) – “Abba.” ¬†I about flipped out of my chair that Sunday morning! Abba was my grandfather – my grandpa. Abba was not God Almighty’s name!

As a Muslim, I was taught that God was way up high in the heavens and that he was indifferent to us unless it was during the time of prayer. You see, as ¬†a Muslim, you have to have an appointment to truly talk to God. Even then, you aren’t really “talking” to him as an equal. You are bringing in your petition like a slave does to a king. You bow down low (literally the case during prayer) and then you say certain verses in Arabic. You don’t just plop down on the couch and chit chat with God (YIKES! Blasphemous!) but you approach His throne (see another post I wrote on this here:¬†MY Dad‚Äôs Chair) carefully so you don’t cause offense.

There is no relationship with God. That is just a ridiculous notion to a Muslim. When I heard someone praying and calling God Almighty her “Daddy,” I freaked out then also. I did not realize that Jesus had given us the model to pray. We truly DO have the freedom to call Him our Father in Heaven, as well as “Abba.” He is just that close to us in a true relationship.

What a mind-blowing revelation to me! Yet, many Christians take this fact as nothing special. When we realize that we have officially been adopted into the Kingdom of the LORD God Almighty Рcreator of Heavens and earth, we should be shaking in our shoes. Instead, He welcomes us into an embrace РHe runs to us (Prodigal Son parable Рsee Luke 15:20) with joy and His arms open wide!

On Father’s Day today, if you have a crummy earthly father, don’t give up hope. If you have a missing earthly father, don’t give up looking. If you have a wonderful earthly father, give God praise. For all of us, remember that we have a PERFECT Heavenly Father who is waiting for us very patiently to return to Him so He will run to us, embrace us, and call us His child. ¬†What a wonderful God, Redeemer and Savior we have! Amen.

Islam & Female Genital Mutilation?

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There was an article that just came out yesterday from the Detroit Free Press about three female Muslim doctors who were arrested in Detroit, Michigan for mutilating six to nine year old girls. The latest one to be arrested was Dr. Nagarwala. There is an 11 page report from the Department of Justice (here) from April 13, 2017 about the Emergency Room Physician. It was reported that “Dr. Nagarwala‚Äôs attorney,¬†Shannon Smith, claimed in her initial court hearing that no cutting of the seven-year-old alleged victims took place and that excess skin was simply scrapped off to be buried in a religious ceremony. The Free Press, however, reports that documents they reviewed show the injuries to the two Minnesota girls‚Äô genitals were ‚Äúmuch more severe‚ÄĚ than Nagarwala is claiming.”

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It boggles my mind how women in the United States can march about Women’s rights and then blatantly ignore what is happening all around the world. The cases for arrest are especially of notice because they are RIGHT HERE IN THE UNITED STATES, people! This is not just a barbaric ritual done in a dark alley somewhere. This is something that women with their Medical Doctor degrees were doing in clinics here.

Why is this type of thing not looked at? Why is it not reported?

Many Muslims will tell you (including me, when I was a Muslim!) that this is not practiced by all Muslims. This is TRUE. However, this is something that the Hadith (traditions of Mohammad and guidelines for Muslims to use) does not forbid. This is practiced mainly  in Muslim countries in Africa (see map picture) and it is terribly difficult to understand or to research.

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A study done by WADI (a German-Austrian NGO) in 2003 revealed that the Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) was not just limited to the African continent. After over a year of medical work from all-female teams in Kurdistan began to gain trust with the local women, they found that close to 60% of the women had undergone cutting (see article with citations of study here).  While many Muslims will deny that Islam has a link to FGM, there is no denying the fact that the countries in which it is practiced are indeed Muslim.

The most often mentioned narration reports a debate between Muhammed and Um Habibah (or Um ‘Atiyyah). This woman, known as an exciser of female slaves, was one of a group of women who had immigrated with Muhammed. Having seen her, Muhammad asked her if she kept practicing her profession. She answered affirmatively, adding: “unless it is forbidden, and you order me to stop doing it.” Muhammed replied: “Yes, it is allowed. Come closer so I can teach you: if you cut, do not overdo it, because it brings more radiance to the face, and it is more pleasant for the husband.”[38]

Abu Sahlieh further cited Muhammad as saying, “Circumcision is a sunna (tradition) for the men and makruma (honorable deed) for the women.”[39]¬†So, as you can see, the Quran DOES NOT make mention of it, only Hadith and even in the Hadith, it is not forbidden, but to simply not cut severely.

There are fatwas (Islamic decrees) Fatwa 60314 that address this issue:

We would add here the fatwas of some modern scholars who have responded to this war that has been launched against female circumcision on the grounds that it is harmful to health.

Shaykh Jaad al-Haqq ‚ÄėAli Jaad al-Haqq, the former Shaykh of al-Azhar, said:

Hence the fuqaha’ of all madhhabs are agreed that circumcision for both men and woman is part of the fitrah of Islam and one of the symbols of the faith, and it is something praiseworthy. There is no report from any of the Muslim fuqaha’, according to what we have studied in their books that are available to us, to say that circumcision is forbidden for men or women, or that it is not permissible, or that it is harmful for females, if it is done in the manner that the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) taught to Umm Habeebah in the report quoted above.

Then he said:¬†From the above it is clear that the circumcision of girls ‚Äď which is the topic under discussion here ‚Äď is part of the fitrah of Islam, and the way it is to be done is the method that the Messenger of Allaah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) explained. It is not right to abandon his teachings for the view of anyone else, even if that is a doctor, because medicine is knowledge and knowledge is always developing and changing. End quote.

In the fatwa of Shaykh ‚ÄėAtiyah Saqar ‚Äď the former heard of the Fatwa Committee in al-Azhar ‚Äď it says:

The calls which urge the banning of female circumcision are call that go against Islam, because there is no clear text in the Qur’aan or Sunnah and there is no opinion of the fuqaha’ that says that female circumcision is haraam. Female circumcision is either obligatory or recommended. Even though there is a fiqhi principle which says that the decree of a ruler may put an end to a dispute regarding controversial matters, the decree of the ruler in this case cannot be but either of two things: that it is either obligatory or recommended, and it is not correct to issue a decree banning it, so as not to go against sharee’ah which is the principal source of legislation in our land, whose constitution states that Islam is the official religion of the country. It is permissible to issue some legislation that provides guidelines for performing this procedure (female circumcision) in the proper manner in such a way that does not contradict the rulings of sharee’ah.

The words of the doctors and others are not definitive. Scientific discoveries are still opening doors every day which change our old perceptions. End quote.

No one wants to talk about this in Islam. Why? Taboo. Shame and honor culture. For a culture that forbids women to interact with men who are not family, it is very difficult to even speak about personal female matters.

When I speak and teach about Islam and how to build a bridge with Muslims, I am inevitably asked about FGM and whether or not I was involved in this practice. I can thankfully say that Pakistan is shown on the map as “rare occurrence.” This is not something Pakistanis would even speak about within their families (my mother was an OB/GYN in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan- I never heard her mention this in my life). The first time I ever heard about this practice was in college and I thought it was ridiculous that such a claim was being made about Islam, since I had no knowledge of it. I was ignorant of what was being practiced in the world. ¬†Seems like I wasn’t the only one who was ignorant. There were many others around the world who were ignorant of this going on… it took the WADI report to bring it to the 21st century. Updates were given in 2010 by the Human Rights Watch that yes, indeed this is not just limited to Africa, but is prevalent in Kurdistan and no one reports it due to “embarrassment.” Another Update was given in 2016 by the New York Times that FGM was not just limited to the African continent, but was also prevalent in Indonesia (another predominantly Muslim nation).

Even living in the United States as a Muslim, with the freedoms given here, many Muslim women do not speak up about divorce, about domestic violence and beatings, or about FGM. It’s simply not done. It brings shame upon your household and your family name. You will be looked upon as someone who is out of control and needs to be brought back in line by the family or the community. Talk about embarrassment – maybe someone will find out you are talking about private parts and we simply cannot have that.

Where is the outrage? Where are the parents of the little girls who brought them across state lines to have them be mutilated? Why are we not hearing about this atrocity being committed in the US? Are we truly fighting for women’s rights or is it more about fulfilling other agendas?

May we arise from our sleep and walk in the light of Christ!

Ephesians 5: 13-15~ But everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for everything that is illuminated becomes a light itself. 14So it is said: ‚ÄúWake up, O sleeper, rise upfrom the dead, and Christ will shine on you.‚ÄĚ 15Pay careful attention, then, to how you walk, not as unwise but as wise…

 

Let’s Talk

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My husband & I are Marriage Mentors. We developed the Marriage Mentoring Ministry at our last church and by the grace of God, are helping to create a new Marriage Ministry at our new church. It is an amazing blessing to work with couples who are either seriously dating, are engaged to be married or are newly married. We are NOT counselors, nor do we give advice. This is how mentoring differs from other things. More on that later in another post.

I have taught Business Communication for Undergraduate Business schools since 1997 – coming up on¬†20 years! Much of what works well for the workplace can and does work well for the home. It’s just that we tend to be more polite to those we work with than those with whom we live. It’s a fact. Familiarity adds to the casualness with which we approach relationships that are close to us. While we take care to watch our words at work, it doesn’t always happen to me at home. I am mostly talking about myself here… I don’t want to point a finger at you because when I do that, I know that four other fingers are pointing back at me (in my case, that is literally true, as I have one husband and three kids! Ha! Ha!).

I taught a Conflict Resolution course earlier this week to College Interns. They were absolutely NOT interested in the session or me, until I asked them how many of them were in a relationship. Most raised their hands and that’s when they got connected into the topic. Sometimes, we think that this stuff we are learning at work does not apply to anything other than work. When you can link things at work to home, that’s where learning becomes valuable and memorable to others.

Talking to others about personal matters is not easy. In the study of Conflict Resolution, I usually start off the session by asking them to think about how conflicts were handled in their home when they were growing up. Did their parent(s) yell? Were they passive aggressive or always trying to keep the peace? These behaviors can definitely influence how you react to conflict.

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There are several ways you can approach conflict resolution – I also wrote about conflict & perspectives in my blog titled “Bridges, Balconies, & Burquas“. The first is to know your behavioral style. Most inventories (DiSC, Myers Briggs, Jungian, etc) are based on two dimensions: Task & People (horizontal axis) and Direct & Indirect (or in the figure, Outgoing/Reserved). There are free online tests you can take (& I encourage you to take them!) to find out how you fall into these quadrants. No matter what you take, the main questions are:

  1. Do you tell people directly how you feel about certain things or do you beat around the bush in order to spare feelings?
  2. Does interaction with others (maybe 20 min or more of talking) energize you or leave you making a mental laundry list of all the things you needed to get done in that time you just spent?

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Answers to those questions will allow you to figure out which side you land on – if you are energized with interactions with others, you will fall near to the “I” and the “S” side. If you are not, then “D” & “C” are more your style. If you are direct, you will go towards the top half of the circle and if indirect, then “C” & “S” may be more like you. Nothing is etched in stone, but knowing how you like to be approached is a good start to communicating with others.

Lack of Communication is one of the top reasons for divorce in a marriage. It is also one of the main reasons why employees leave (1. My boss & I didn’t get along OR 2. My co-workers & I didn’t see eye to eye). That’s it. It’s really that simple. When we start to see where someone might fall into the style spectrum, it’s easier to understand that them being quiet doesn’t mean they don’t like you – it simply means they are processing information & are being Contemplative! In other words, they are actually taking the time to think about what you just said! How many times do we misunderstand what we just saw in another person and shake our heads? The answer: I just did it today! ūüôā

So, before you decide to say “Let’s Talk” to someone, you may want to consider how they like to be approached, how they view the world (=differently than you) and also what you may need to do in order to come to a good resolution. If we thought things through on a daily basis, maybe we wouldn’t waste so much energy in assuming a negative situation. The Bible says “Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.(NASB – Philippians 4:8). That is a great place to start. In addition, Proverbs 15:1 says “A gentle answer turns away wrath, But a harsh word stirs up anger.” When you watch your words and think for just a second before you speak, it can make a complete difference in the way you approach others and in return, how others approach you.

If you would like to learn more about the DiSC assessment or any of the things I wrote about, I would love to hear from you!

Purpose

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There are two questions I have seen people wrestle with: Who Am I? Why Am I Here? This is a common theme in the University classroom, in the business sector Рespecially in Human Resources or Management coaching, and in conversations around the teapot at my house. The world tells us things we should do everyday. Use this toothpaste for whiter teeth, drink this coffee to help sustain coffee plantations in South America, or wear these clothes so you can fit in with others.

I didn’t have these questions when I was growing up. Traditions in the Asian culture has¬†parents make those decisions. They choose what school you will go to, which college you will attend, what professional degree program you will join and also who you are going to marry. It’s all planned out… nice and neat. You are told that you don’t have to worry about dating because they already have in mind a family who has a nice son. They tell you that you will probably end up making this much money because you will be a doctor, engineer or lawyer. This is not a bad thing, it’s just the way the Eastern¬†part of the world sees things.

Of course, the problem with me was that I was NOT living in that part of the world! Even though my parents enrolled me in a college I didn’t want to go to, in a field I did not want to pursue – (they chose the school based on their Dentistry program, obviously dismissing the fact that I was scared of the Dentist). Much to my parents’ dismay, I changed my school to one that had a medical school and changed my intent¬†from Dentistry to pre-med (I did keep my major in the Biological Sciences though, as a consolation prize). In other words, I didn’t do what I was supposed to do.

Things didn’t stop there. I ended up meeting my husband and we decided to marry. So, I didn’t go to the school they wanted, the profession they chose, and I disregarded the marriage future they chose for me, for I was to have an arranged marriage as my older sister did.¬†After college, however, I settled in neatly to a job at Campbell Soup Company.

The first change came when the Vice President of Human Resources asked me what I wanted to do? Guess what… no one had EVER asked me that before. I was dumbfounded! I must have looked like an idiot because I told him that with my eyes open in surprise. He sat back in his chair and said “Well, have you ever thought about what you are good at or what you would like to do for work? Do you like what you are doing now?” For a person who loves to talk, I had nothing. I stared at him again. I did manage to ask him “What do you think I should do? I am willing to learn.” Apparently that was a good question because he had me look into Human Resources – a career that I adore and have done now for two decades.

None of this ever pointed to my spiritual life. This was just work and career related. Again, I was pretty clear on who I was as a Muslim (= God is the Master, you are a Slave) and what my purpose was (= to live a good life and do the five pillars so I could get into Heaven). I didn’t need to have a purpose. I just obeyed like I was supposed to… well, kind of.

I tried fasting, but would get major headaches. I tried praying five times a day, but it was really tough with holding down a full time job and two children at that time. So, even in that, I didn’t do what I was supposed to do.

What is someone’s purpose in life? Is it to get that degree? ¬†Is it to get the next promotion or raise? Is it to get a bigger car or nicer house? Have you achieved your purpose when you have 2.5 children? I have done those things and even more (we have 3.0 kids!), but that has left me with wanting more. I really thought that getting a big home would truly satisfy me. The only thing it does is give me more rooms to clean. It sounds very ungrateful.But ¬†I think that’s¬†the TRUTH. I truly believe it is ungrateful to God to continue to want more than what He has provided for me. The promotions, career, home still didn’t tell me why I was created. What am I supposed to be doing? Is this all there is to life? You get in your nice car, go to your nice job, come back to your nice home and do that again over and over again?

life-purpose

I think what leaves us flat is that the purpose of life has to be bigger than simply fulfilling our own desires. When you go to the Bible, you get a very clear answer for the purpose God created you. It’s in Isaiah 43:7 ~”Everyone who is called by My name, And whom I have created for My glory, Whom I have formed, even whom I have made…” This verse says we are created for one reason and one purpose: to glorify God in all we do. This seems a bit strange at first. Why shouldn’t I follow¬†my own purpose? The answer is that you can, but by running after these transitional¬†things, you will not be satisfied. If you look to others for your purpose, they may be contrary to your desires. If you get your purpose from doing things, you will get burned out because you are doing it on your own power and not on God’s provision for you.

I love the story of Jonah in the Bible (not just because of the whale). I love it because he chose to say “no” to God and insisted on doing his own thing. God gave him a clear purpose and marching assignment. Jonah ignored, turned away and ran off to do his own thing. THEN he got swallowed up by the whale.

It reminds me of when our oldest son was little. We would ask him to do something little like clean up his toys in his room. He said “No! I won’t do it” His refusal didn’t change our mind or outcome or anything else. It just added more time and drama to the thing we wanted and needed him to do. I think that’s how it is with us and God’s purpose. I think we sometimes know what God wants us to do and we say “No! I won’t do it” and run the other way. Other times, we try to do things on our own power like serving in the church or other ministry that we wanted to do (and not necessarily what God desired for¬†us to do), and we burn out. We get swallowed up… just like Jonah.

So what should we do? For the Christian, purpose for our life can be narrowed down¬†by¬†asking God. Prayer is a wonderful way to start. It can be very simple, like “Lord, I will be obedient to your will and serve you in the way you have planned for me.” The next thing is to read and study His Word. God’s Word in the Bible is true and holy. It shines light into our life and brings comfort. God is really clear on how He has made you¬†and¬†what He thinks about you (see my post on Identity). Jesus told us “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.” ~ Matthew 7:7. If we ask the Creator, you will be given what you are looking for. If you are searching for answers to other questions, you will find the answers in His Word. If you think that God has closed the door to reconciliation or to your dreams, knock on it. You will find that Jesus had¬†already been¬†standing there, patiently waiting for you.

Identity

id-card

About two years ago, Saudi Arabia passed a law that allowed women to have an identity card (see article from Riyadh Times). Why is that such a big deal? Prior to that, according to Quranic laws, women had to bring male acquaintances along with them to identify who they were. You see, women are not allowed to testify in court unless they have been identified and the only way they can do that is to have men establish their true identity for the judge. Of course, if the case was due to adultery or accusations of a sexual nature, women were reluctant to bring men (or might not be able to find a man who would vouch for them).

This is the predicament women find themselves in some countries. In the West, we have so many freedoms that we take them all for granted and don’t really give it another thought. If you want an identity card or driver’s license, you just go, pay a small fee and get it. No one questions you.

Yet, it is in the West that I find so many women struggle with their identity. I have women who come to me for Executive Coaching for work. These are women in high positions who don’t really know who they are. I also talk to stay at home moms who seem to have lost their way, teenagers who don’t understand which role they should play, how they should dress, which group would be most accepting of them. Why is that?

Society throws different ideas around of who women are (sexual objects, wife, mother, I am a goddess, hear me roar, etc)¬†and I am convinced that the women’s lib movements caused more confusion by saying you can bring home the bacon and fry it up in a pan. You don’t need to depend on anyone but yourself. Right after the movements of the 60’s and 70’s, the US saw divorce rates go through the roof. Women initiate 2/3 of the Divorces in the United States (see article for study). It doesn’t stop there. Harvard Health reported that the use of anti-depressants in the US has increased a whopping 400% since 1994. They estimate that 1 in 10 takes an anti-depressant… women’s lib isn’t really panning out to be the answer, is it?

So where is the answer? Both men and women¬†search for their¬†identity. We turn to others as if they have the answer for us. Chances are that they haven’t even figured it out themselves. The answer lies in the One who made us. Genesis 1:27 says that “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” In one of my favorite passages of Genesis 2:21-22, God creates Woman “21So the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then He took one of his ribs and closed up the flesh at that place.¬†22The LORD God fashioned into a woman the rib which He had taken from the man, and brought her to the man.‚Ķ” It’s interesting to note that Adam noticed that creation was not complete without a helper for him and even more interesting to see that Adam is put to sleep while God does “divine surgery” on him. We can infer from the passage that when Eve was created, she also was alone with God. Herein lies the secret to our identity. Not only were we created in God’s image and bear a stamp of his likeness, but we get a close-up view of how God feels about us when we spend time alone with Him.

I am most confused when I listen to the voices of the world “You should do this” “Why are you spending time on that?” or “You would be good at that.” These are well-meaning family and friends, but the One who really knows you before you were even born (Psalm 139) is the One you should turn to first to find out who you are and what you should be doing. When we establish our identity through others (“oh, she’s the pretty one” or “she’s a cut-throat business woman”), we continue on in our own insecurities and weaknesses.

It wasn’t until I met Christ that I found out who I was. I was looking towards my dad (whom I love dearly) to provide everything I needed in life. When I got married, I simply transferred all those expectations on to my husband (whom I love dearly). What a huge burden for him to bear! Christ says “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” Matthew 11:28. He didn’t say to give all your burdens and expectations and place them upon others to fulfill you. Yet, that’s what we do! We expect our boss to know what we need to be happy at work. We expect our spouse to know what makes us happy at home. We expect our children to know what makes us happy as parents. However, none is better equipped to bring you true JOY than the Lord.

God has invited us into a relationship with Him. Some of the words God uses to describe us are: Forgiven. Chosen. Redeemed. Holy. Beloved. Child. Heir. New Creation. Cleansed. Daughter. Glory of Man.

So when you find yourself saying:

I am worthless     REMEMBER: Matthew 6:26 ~Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?

I am a failure     REMEMBER: Phil 4:13 ~I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

I am unlovable   REMEMBER: Romans 8:39 ~nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

I have so much guilt   REMEMBER: Isaiah 43:25 ~I, I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins.

I have nothing   REMEMBER: Phil 4:19 ~And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.

Don’t listen to the voices that accuse. Listen to the voice that gives life. God is the One who created us and He is our heavenly Father who loves us. This is your identity as one created in His image. You bear the fingerprints of God. If you¬†get confused and find out that you have no plan or feelings of self-worth, turn to the scriptures for the truth of who you are and why you were created.

My prayer for you: Lord, thank you for creating me in your image. Help me to see myself and others with your eyes. Help me to not elevate myself over others or you and to not let myself be degraded by others opinions. I want to live in your light, as you are in the light. Amen.

 

 

The Sacrifice of the Lamb

australian-lamb-gains-access-to-india

One day, a man visited our home in Pakistan and he brought along the sweetest thing I had ever seen in my life. We were not allowed to have our own pets. We had a guard dog, but the guard (sometimes chauffeur) used to feed, pet, keep the dog. We played with him sometimes, but it was greatly frowned upon by my nanny who insisted on scrubbing us down if we had even touched the dog, for dogs are considered dirty in Islam.

The man brought something even more special than a¬†dog… he had a rope and at the end of that rope was a little lamb. It had a sweet face and just stared at us, chewing on whatever it was in his mouth. My parents took the lamb from him and thanked him. My older sister immediately fell in love with it and said that she would only feed it flowers, for it was too precious¬†to eat just plain straw and grass that the man had brought along with him. She took the lamb’s leash and ran off to the heavily flowered garden in front of our home where she stayed true to her promise.

Each day, we played with the lamb until we got used to its presence. It would roam around our home and three gardens (one at the front, in the middle between our house and annex and then one at the back of the annex). I remember just sitting outside, watching it roam around and eat a few nibbles from my hand. Never did we question where this gift came from or why my parents decided to get us a lamb as a pet. We simply enjoyed it.

Early one morning, I awoke to a very loud noise of someone crying… no, it was almost like a child’s scream. I jumped out of bed, scared to death and the screaming/crying noise would not go away. I ran out of the house, still in my pajamas, and followed the horrific sounds as they were coming from the back garden. As I approached, I knew something was terribly wrong. There were men with beards standing around the back faucet, where we had a small concrete basin for washing off yard dirt or larger, messy chores.

One of the men saw me staring with eyes as large as saucers at the scene. He screamed at our cook “Get her out of here!” as I started to scream and cry. When the man had turned around to see me, I saw what had been making the noise. It was our beloved lamb. There was blood all over the place – the wash basin, the ground and on the two men who had done the sacrifice. In the middle was our lamb with it’s neck sliced open. Blood had covered a part of its body as well. I realized then that it was a lamb my parents had bought for Eid Al-Adha (Eid of the Sacrifice) which all Muslims celebrate with a sacrifice of a lamb 70 days after the end of Ramadan (annual season of fasting) and after sighting of a new moon according to a Lunar Calendar. Never had I given it any thought of the lamb that was to be sacrificed for our party meal.

lamb sacrifice

This is something still practiced all around the world by Muslims. Eid Al-Adha is the festival to remember Abraham’s obedience to God to sacrifice his son (we won’t argue which son it is right now…). It is a celebration that allows families to come together and give thanks to Allah. My parents still pay¬†for a lamb to be sacrificed in Pakistan and the meat to be distributed to charity.

In the book of Revelation 5:6, there is a passage that says that “And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth.” As we discussed what it must have looked like to have a lamb slain, I thought back to the bloody scene I witnessed.

We don’t like to think of the blood or the guts. We like things to be sanitary. We get our meat nicely packaged at the grocery store. Our streets are clean, our news is clean, our water comes out of the faucet clear, our clothes are clean and we have hand sanitizers in every location. It’s not considered polite to discuss the gory details of any event, especially dealing with blood.

I think that’s one of the things I have noticed most about living in the United States. While we lived in a nice home in Pakistan, we weren’t always guaranteed clean water out of the faucet. I remember being quite upset several times when I turned on the faucet for my bath and the water ran brown.

Our treatment of Jesus’s sacrifice should not be sanitized. We need to accept the fact that it was a bloody mess. That he suffered and he felt every bit of the pain on the Cross. As we look at Good Friday as the day that commemorates Jesus on the Cross, we need to remember that He was the lamb that was slain from the foundation of the world (Rev. 13:8 and 1 Peter 1:20). Our Lord gave up every drop of blood for us. The least we can do is to acknowledge His sacrifice for us in the way it happened… not as a sanitized version of the cross, but a Cross full of God’s glory and His willingness to provide for us a spotless, sinless lamb who takes away the sins of the world. Amen.

 

 

Forgotten Art of Storytelling

f52160e9d05b76e7b8e7ec21206f46bdLet me tell you a story~ A handsome Rajah¬†had a beautiful garden in which he planted fruit trees of all kinds. He hired gardeners to take care of each section and in a land that suffered from droughts, the Rajah’s garden was like a lush tropical paradise. There were benches where one could sit in the cool shade of the fig tree and many tree branches that bent down due to their heavy burden of fruit.

A pair of¬†parrots happened to fly past this oasis and decided to perch upon the garden’s thick stone wall. As they talked to one another about the beautiful garden,¬†the husband parrot’s mouth was watering as he looked at the beautiful mangoes on the trees. His wife, seeing him eye the fruit sang a song of warning to him¬†“totaya, munmotaya tu rajah bagh na ja. Rajah bagh asah he, dainda payan la [parrot, parrot, don’t go to the Rajah’s garden. Rajah’s garden is like this, they will hang you].” They thought about the risk¬†and flew away, however, desire¬†got the best of them. The very next morning, driven by hunger and the aroma of the many fruit trees in the garden, they decided to approach again. They were quiet this time, but went closer to the trees. He looks at his wife who sings the warning to him again and this time, he sings back “totayee, munmotayee, main rajah bagh main jaoonga or aam laykay ahoon ga” [my sweet girl (parrot), I will go to the Rajah’s garden and will bring you back some mangoes]. He immediately flew and collected the ripest fruits. Later that afternoon, as they were sitting on the wall, enjoying their bounty, the servants came to collect the fruit. The Rajah desired to have the choicest mangoes. The servants panicked when they only saw green mangoes. As they looked from tree to tree, they spotted the parrots eating the fruit. They ran to tell the Rajah what happened.

The Rahah was outraged! He told the servants to immediately place a net and catch the offender. He was so angry that he said he would eat the bird alive. They caught the parrot quickly for he was still sitting there blissfully, enjoying his stolen fruit. They put the parrot into a dish and served it to the Rajah. The Rajah laughed as he ate the squawking parrot! The Rajah immediately has indigestion and the parrot seems to be flying in his stomach, still alive. The Rajah is indignant! He tells his servants that he wants the bird dead now and he asks them to wait with guns and daggers until the parrot comes out the other end.

The parrot was moving so much, that he came out quickly and as he emerged from the Rajah’s behind, the servants shot the Rajah in the rear. The parrot flew away. The Rajah sees that maybe the parrot was too clever for all of them and so he decides to punish his servants for not taking better care of the garden and of the outcome. The Rajah yells out to the flying parrot “Magical and clever parrot. Come and be in my court for you are wise and should counsel me in my kingdom.” The parrot, his wife, and their children come and live at the court where the parrot serves as the Rajah’s Vizier for years and years.

[old tale told by my great-grandmother, to my grandmother, to my mother, to me and now, to our children – originates from Bannu, Tribal area of west Pakistan]

~.~.~.~.~.~.~.~

 

It’s not unusual to find my father at a party or gathering with a story ready to go. He is a wonderful storyteller and knows how to weave a fantastic story together. The most forgettable events can turn into a beautiful story in his hands. When my sisters and I were¬†little, he used to tell us stories to charm us into eating, sleeping or even tidying up the house. He still has a story at hand for his grandchildren and even as teenagers, they find them¬†as fascinating as I did.

I get my love for talking and telling stories from my dad. However, I do not know poetry from heart and I also mess up the details or endings. I watched an “I Love Lucy” episode once where Lucy messed up a humorous story’s punchline – I feel like that sometimes. Still, I think there is a value in telling a story.

In the United States, we find that we are given facts, statistics, and even small infomercials at times about all aspects of our lives – from work to family, from personal hygiene to what to eat.¬†With the advent of Ted Talks on YouTube, 15-18 minutes seems to be all you need to get a message across to someone. Someone sitting down to tell a story doesn’t seem to be a common occurrence.

Sharing information through a story is an ancient way to communicate. Walls and barriers seem to be relaxed¬†when someone says “Let me tell you a story…” We seem to visibly relax and ease into a conversation. It hearkens back ¬†to settling into our comfortable pillow and blankets for a bedtime story. It puts us at ease.

It was no surprise to me when I read that Jesus spoke to his disciples in parables. In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus used the most parables. Since Matthew wrote the book for the Jewish audience, he knew the heritage and history of sharing the word of God through a story. They were used to telling stories and passing them down through the generations. The same feeling of sitting down, relaxing and settling into a story was what Jesus was doing to the large crowds that gathered to listen to him. This is still a wonderful way to not just learn the Gospels but also to communicate and share them with people from other cultures. There is always a point to the story, key players (usually a good and evil) and also a desired behavior or outcome. The stories are interwoven beautifully and they capture our imagination.

A good story is one that draws the receiver in, makes them listen, allows them to learn and think or reflect on the teaching. Stories are softened lectures. They make a point that the reader has to think about and they may not even understand what the story was about right away. There are many layers to the story that allows us to ponder and unfold at a later time.

One of the most important thing we can do is to share our own personal story with others. You can simply start with how you were as a child, or how you met your spouse or how your parents met. Those are wonderful things to pass on to the future generations and shared with elaborate details. We have done this with our children and even drove them to the place where my husband and I met. We have shown them the place where we got married and had our first home. It’s important to set down your traditions, roots and stories so that the next generation has something to hold on to.

Just as I shared the strange tale of the parrots with my children, a story can become a link to the past, to traditions and culture. It is a¬†legacy you give to your children. It is a¬†special gift that can be passed on to their own family and if it is told with passion and emotion, it’s something they will think about as adults. As a Christian, it is a legacy of the way God has weaved your life together and has shown you and your family His blessings. For those who believe, this can be a powerful way to witness to others and to show God’s love to others.

So the next time someone asks about your faith or about what you believe, instead of giving them a lecture or sharing the latest statistics, allow them to relax and settle into a story of something Christ told in His parables or how those parables have related to your own life story. It will become as a memorable event and will also allow you to share your background, upbringing, family, culture or traditions and connect in a deeper way.