this little light of mine

Life, she runs. She runs hard and fast and she takes our breath away. Sometimes, this life, she falls. She bleeds and she cries out surely there is more.

I think today that life is looking for her saving grace because she sees children dying and countries fighting, mothers weeping and fathers lying.

Little pieces of tragedy flit across our screens daily – body counts and impending crises stacking up like dirty dishes. And the thing about dirty dishes is we’re good at ignoring them. Perhaps we are in danger of growing desensitized to the mass hurt afflicting our world. Because, if we’re honest, life is uncontrollable and it’s easier to find a friend on the sidelines than to lead the charge on the front-lines.

I am not suggesting that you and I are capable of fixing this bruised place we call earth. Fortunately we are unequipped to play savior.

Neither am I suggesting that we are to blame for Hamas, Ukraine, missing flights or the neighbors’ divorce. 

The pain in breaking stories does not emerge overnight. Pain begins as a small pang somewhere deep inside – an indignation or an insult, a rejection or an unhealthy relationship. Pain finds company and flourishes alongside other hurts and it becomes this animal of overwhelming proportions.

What if, instead of feeling oppressed by heavy headlines, we found a way of looking that animal in the face, saying we are not afraid and we will not be moved.

Instead of scraping ourselves on the grit of self-loathing, what if we made an active decision to wake up each morning committed to something greater?

See, we are not called to be the light of the world. We are simply called to shine and to shine on his behalf. We are welcomed into his starry nights, invited to glow because in his sight, we. are. good. When we clothe ourselves in humility, we are filled with his deep love for people – an all consuming fire that burns brighter and longer than any other antidote this world might offer.

I cannot hold the hands of Palestinian children who smiled at me or grieve beside those whose families are victims of other peoples’ sins. But I can pray break my heart for what breaks yours. I can choose hope.

He promises peace and healing and I am forever thankful in return.

“Let me tell you why you are here. You’re here to be salt-seasoning that brings out the God-flavors of this earth. If you lose your saltiness, how will people taste godliness?” Matthew 5:13 (the MSG)

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The art of letting go

When life speaks to a dormant place inside you, you better listen. When your heart begins unfurling and inspiration starts knocking like the most incessant little woodpecker that ever was, you better muster all the gumption you possess and prepare for a journey.

Sometimes I think we ignore these journeys because of all we’re afraid to leave behind – familiar roads, favourite corners in favourite coffee shops. People whose hearts we have translated, homes whose kitchen contents we have memorized. But the epitome of belonging is not whether or not we know where friends keep their mugs. The epitome of belonging is being so at peace with ourselves that we can uproot and replant wherever God calls, whenever he calls us.

I thought about this on a recent flight.  Flying in general has never worried me. I’ve always had this inexplicable, childlike faith in a plane’s capacity to stay airborne and carry me safely on. Take off fascinates me, because as I lose complete control and entrust my life into someone else’s hands, I can feel myself soaring towards the stars and up there, amid clouds and constellations, I am brave – braver than when I am on the ground. Sharing God’s view of the world reminds me of how small Amy Bareham and her problems actually are. Landing though, landing is difficult. What is it about descending that makes our palms clammy and our stomachs drop? Maybe we’re itching for the idea of adventure, instead of adventure itself. Journeys are full of mixed cds with summer hits from 9th grade. Journeys involve fast food indulgence and sunglasses that make you feel a little bit like Audrey Hepburn. And journeys come with directions and maps – instruction manuals that compliment the wind in your hair and the sun on your skin.

Standing at the precipice of new chapters is never easy because we arrive at Point B with fistfuls of baggage from Point A. Back on the ground again looking our new destination in the eye, I think our minds flash back to all the old nouns…the ones we couldn’t fit in our suitcases. What God has been saying to me lately is that my luggage quota is limited for a reason. Before heading for the UK as a girl, I’d cram stuffed animals into my backpack until we left the house. My mum would come alongside and force some beloved bear out, reminding me to leave room for what I’d be given. Not much has changed. When I stand before him with my hands firmly grasping everything I could have left behind, I cannot possibly receive everything that lies before me.

What a relief it is to have a co-pilot. Our traveling companion is the one who hung each star in its place. We may find Point B feeling disheveled and exhausted, but God satisfies us and is continuously producing new directions. In the event that we make a U-turn, he will recalculate. If we make a wrong turn, he will reroute. I sat down with God a few nights ago wanting to throw off all that hinders, asking to link arms with adventure and laugh without fear of the future. God whispered,  you don’t have to know all the answers. You don’t have to get it right the first time. And you certainly don’t have to live in the shadow of days long gone, days when your edges weren’t as soft and your heart not as free. I am here to fill the void. No matter how much you let go, I will satisfy. 

I want to be the kind of girl that touches down and says let’s do this thing. Let’s draw new pictures with different colours and maybe, just maybe, come up with something good enough to hang on the refrigerator door. I want to live not hand to mouth, but hand in hand with a God who is in the business of writing bestsellers. Amy Bareham Fully Surrendered: coming to a bookshelf near you.

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Tales from a Holy Land Wanderer

I hated myself for the first time when I was about ten.

I’d gotten that rush, the one that comes when you make the best discovery ever. Three bird’s eggs were huddled together in a nest up high, shiny and new little lives waiting on their grand entrance into the world. I decided I was going to raise those birds – teach them how to fly because I myself wanted to soar.  Wrenching the nest free from its hiding place, I lost my balance. My heart crumbled as three eggs sailed through the air and shattered on gray pavement. I bent down, frantically picking up pieces of shell until I saw tiny wings forever broken and blood on my hands.

When people ask about my recent trip to Israel-Palestine, I feel an anxiety I can’t quite explain. The best I can do is point to this day and remember how it felt to encounter the fragility of life. I found beauty in its purest, untainted form and I ruined it. I would feel so angry with myself if I misrepresented the Holy Land’s story and ruined it for you. Instead of trying to summarize the place, I will simply tell you to go. Go taste the conflict and the sacredness of its olive branches.

I can however, share more of my story and the lessons the Holy Land gave me – in fact I think the most important part of any adventure is the return, because we never come back quite the same.

Someone once told me, “Do not despise the day of small beginnings.” Those words nuzzled their way into my heart nearly a year ago, when I still thought Israel and Palestine were two countries marked by nondescript blobs on a map. Now, fresh from the Holy Land and forever a hummus snob, I have to wonder if those words were meant for a time such as this, a time when I want to be a politician, an activist, a preacher and a hell raiser . But when I listen between and beneath the lines, I realize that humanity needs a far greater love than the one I have to offer.

Israel-Palestine made it quite clear that if we put our faith in ourselves, we will always be rendered ineffective. Israel-Palestine also said that if we live in fear, we will be equally ineffective. Fear is simply an absence of courage. So I ask you, in the midst of whatever path you find yourself walking, to be courageous. Be courageous enough to change lanes, run faster, enjoy the ride, or maybe switch paths altogether.

Don’t be afraid to turn around and walk back home. Failure can mean many things but it does not mean game over. I have watched dear Palestinian children play in the streets – they are proof that our biggest failures can equate to different, unexpected shades of joy.

Perhaps my favourite Holy Land lesson comes from Luke 2:19: “But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart” (ESV). Mary was a ponderer. She wondered and marveled. So if you’ve got a few minutes to spare, ponder at these photos and their accompanying stories. This is me, giving you a piece of Israel-Palestine. I hope that you’ll go and find your own pieces some day.

 

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I present you with Ibrahim: the sassiest Palestinian Christian Israeli resident you may ever meet. He frequently lamented at our slow walking, saying, “Keep up, otherwise we’ll have to run where Jesus walked.” I stayed with him for awhile as we took in this section of the separation wall. I asked him if he could paint anything on it, what it would be. He laughed and said, “A bomb.” Then he realized, I think, the gravity of such a statement and shook his head solmenly. “No. There’s a picture of a man standing on the top rung of a ladder. The other rungs aren’t there, he has them in his hand. You have to build your way out of the messes you create.”

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My teammate, Dustin, took this shot of Israel Defense Force (IDF) soldiers. Father Elias Chacour, a recently retired archbishop, commented, “We don’t teach the conflict; we live the conflict.”

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The day I took these photos, we met with Wi’am, a conflict resolution group. Zoughbi Zoughbi, our speaker, said something I just love: “We don’t want to be political animals, rather social butterflies.” These children are the social butterflies, they are brave and strong in ways we should commend and I hope that they find peace in their hearts, whether or not peace comes to their land. They peeked out from behind doors, studied our cameras, and crawled into windowsills – all to be noticed by us, strangers with no answers or gifts, only smiles. But a smile can be shared. A smile means I accept you.

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This is Carol. Wonderful, Australian, lived in the same English town as me, Carol. One of the books I read pre-Holy Land trip talked about forests of peacemakers. About planting seeds and gathering a harvest of hope. Carol is a nurse in Aussie country most of the time, but she offers up six weeks of her year to protect marginalized Palestinians. She said we all have compulsions. We see a fellow human being knocked down and we either want to help him up or keep him down. Whatever our compulsions may be, we should continuously make them more like those of Jesus who did justice, loved mercy, and walked humbly with God.

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“Would you dirty your hands to cleanse the reputation of the poor? Don’t try to create heaven in hell. It’s impossible. Go slowly, stone by stone. We don’t need to learn how to live together – we need a longer memory to remember how we used to live together.” (Father Elias Chacour)

 

image3Those little birds I found never had the chance to fly. I think I owe it to them to soar on their behalf – to experience life with eyes open, spirit aware. I have no idea how God intends to use this trip in my life, but for now, I won’t despise the day of small beginnings. He’s up to something.

 

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A new kind of sacred

This afternoon, we drove through East Jerusalem – the complicated part where sidewalks end suddenly, Shel Silverstein style. Where rich consults inhabit apartment buildings mere blocks away from the unkempt homes of alienated refugees. The separation wall cuts through it all, a knife decorated with the dizzying art of the voiceless.

Mohammed, our godsend of a bus driver, got us high up in the midst of this settlement and as he did a killer three point turn, one piece of graffiti shouted out. It was no Banksy, just black spray paint in a slanted hand, but its message touched me somewhere deep, somewhere raw. The dirt whispers I’m coming home.

The dirt, the soil of the Holy Land, is alive with courage. It is stirring and I am thankful for its movement. So thankful.

Our trip has been a pilgrimage of sorts and intermingling with peacemakers’ reflections are the sites we’ve toured. The manger, the Mount of Temptation, Capernaum, Joseph’s carpentry shop: these scenes of Biblical profundity actually made me cringe. They have been underwhelming, almost marring my imagination’s ideas of Biblical times.

I am grateful that God is not contained in artificial recreations of the nativity. I am grateful that his voice echoes throughout all creation, not just in solemn shrines where incense burns. I respect the sanctity of the sites but my heart has found joy through encounters with God’s children. I have felt most fulfilled watching God reveal himself through the personal histories of the oppressed. In each cup of Arabic coffee has been the selflessness of Jesus. In every vulnerable insight has been a glimmer of his wisdom.

This Holy Land cast of characters is realer to me than Zacchaeus in his sycamore tree, which now stands at the end of a row of tired souvenir shops. Have we come to idolize the pilgrimage spots, worshipping them out of religious duty instead of walking a faith filled journey inspired by the stories’ heroes?

The only site where I truly saw God unadulterated and pure was the Sea of Galilee. Floating on still waters, observed only by the rambling hills, God was clearly engrained in the land. For one cherished moment, everything was quiet and I felt him. And then music started to play and our Israeli boat crew tugged at my hands and taught us to dance. So we sailed back to the harbor laughing and singing and dancing.

It was a new kind of sacred, a kind formed by community.

Tonight, during our team debrief, Will White commented so astutely:”It says something about humanity that the holiest place on earth is the most messed up.”

Maybe anger boiled within me at the other sites because each gilded chair and bronze statue seemed like a mockery of God. But who can blame the masses for clamoring and becoming intoxicated with the past when the present is tumultuous?

Is really seeing the Holy Land with its bruises and dividing walls too painful? Quite possibly.

I am definitely ready to rest my eyes. I’ll rest them but not close them. The dirt whispers I’m coming home, and I want to be there celebrating when peace rains down again. Continue reading

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Journal from abroad

Hey World,

Tonight, I hear you. I hear your gentle sigh as you spin round and round, the sun shining light on all your shadowy corners. I hear you as the truth stretches out before us, your people who wait for the stars to spell out answers, hoping the hurts will melt away, believing you’ll spin on into eternity and somehow, some way, peace will come.

I hear you, groaning beneath the weight of oppression and I want you to know that you are not alone. From a small hotel room in the middle of Bethlehem, I am wondering and aching.

I am caught in the midst of a conflict years old, fumbling through conversations about Islam, Judaism, misplaced American tax dollars, and machine guns. Through dialogue with my travel friends, I’m realizing the Israel-Palestine conflict is not actually that complex. Do not dismiss it. Do not shrug it off as propaganda filled nonsense. Do not close your mind to the courage in thinking and thinking hard. I implore you.

See, whether or not you know anything about this Holy Land I’m walking, the disunity here is a matter of human dignity, of equality and just how we define freedom. It is important that you realize America has a hand in great and terrible pain. Perhaps it bothers you that not everyone in the States has equal rights, but should you come and speak with Palestinians here, you will know that America doesn’t recognize the humanity of people overseas, either, not always. Please don’t hear me hating on a magnificent nation. America, you are bold, determined, mesmerizing. A local Palestinian told us this afternoon that he hates the American government. He doesn’t blame your people, he likes them, but he is deeply offended by the pro Israeli voice blaring from Capitol Hill.

This same man let us gather above his father’s shop to ask him questions about his life amongst illegal Israeli settlers. He served us heaping plates of chicken and rice, told us his wife cooked it because Middle Eastern men never cook, and laughed at us when we took out our cameras in embarrassing tourist fashion to photograph the little boys hanging around his shop. “Do you not have kids in America?”

I’m getting lost in narrative, but world, this man we met is extraordinary. Extraordinary in his normalcy and extraordinary in his example. He is not the bomb detonating Arab us Westerners have been told of. He has smiling eyes and a baby girl on the way. He watched Israeli soldiers shoot his 11 year old cousin in the leg, just because he refused to give them his football. He has never been to Jerusalem because he is forbidden. He also can’t wear a certain black jacket because the soldiers prohibit it. He isn’t sure why but he’s on the market for a new winter coat. Finding rhyme or reason behind the Israeli military is exhausting and seems impossible.

I have faith in the Israeli hearts beneath those army jackets. I have also been wisely told not to be pro-Palestine or anti-Israeli. We must be pro-justice. Can you do that, world?

An Israeli actually showed us the deserted places of Hebron. A member of Breaking the Silence, he is a repentant soldier who has experienced an awakening of sorts. After ambushing innocent Palestinian homes, working as a sniper and bombing villages upon command, he admits there is no method to the madness. It is a game of intimidation, a power play, and he proclaimed this in front of fellow soldiers who observed our group from their watch posts, casually playing around with their guns and staring at us. They weren’t going to cause us harm, but they were everywhere, monitoring us as we traipsed up the hilly roads of Hebron. We proceeded to learn how Jewish settlers receive water and fertile land while the Palestinians, who are legally the residents of Hebron, enter their home through check points and may lose their water supply at any given moment. Our ex-combatant talked of the settlers’ attempts to clean up & put on a good show. The Israeli flag hangs everywhere, signs declare that Hebron was taken back from violent Arabs. It is now a ghost town, shop keepers can’t make a living and 70% of the population is unemployed.

Yet as we stood looking out over the strangely quiet city-scape, a threesome of Palestinians approached us, wanting to take a photo. They couldn’t believe an Israeli soldier was taking us on a tour of the places he had harassed, speaking in tones of love and grace about the Palestinian people. We gathered together in a moment of solidarity to document a genuine appreciation of forgiveness and the power of storytelling.

That, world, was a shining moment for you, I am sure.

It may sound like I’m on a rant against Israel, but I see the struggle of that slice of the globe, too. Promised a land of milk and honey, almost obliterated by Nazi Germany, consistently attacked as a minority, Jews must harbor pain indescribable. Generational wounds are perpetuated because countless generations have been affected by us, the rest of the world.

Carol, a member of the Christian peacemaking team, is in charge of assisting the Hebron residents. She sometimes stands at check points to ensure children aren’t detained or bullied. She has been spat on by the Israeli military but she said to us that it’s crucial she appeal to their humanity. Somewhere there might be a crack that let’s the light in. “If I want someone to recognize me as a human, then I too need to recognize them as a human being…sometimes you see it in the meeting of eyes.”

There is so much more to dwell on, so much more to share. But the resounding cry of the Palestinians we have encountered is tell our story. Carol reminded us that it doesn’t take a particular kind of person to be a peacemaker. None of us are too insignificant or too small. We do ourselves a disservice when we choose silence over empowerment. The Muslim who fed us lunch dreams of having a life without checkpoints. He focuses on being the “best kind of person in the worst situation.” He will raise his children to fight for justice instead of hate.

We, world, owe it to him to be engaged. Exposing our hearts to human suffering is healthy. We get so immersed in our own lives but the world is growing, breathing, beating, reverberating with the noise and music of other people, places, and things.

Let us not be a culture of timid consumers. Let us explore, wrestle and ponder.

The longer I stay in the Holy Land, I think seeing is not believing. Feeling is believing. World, you are spectacular. I am trusting that God holds you in his big ol hands and hoping that you sleep well tonight. Thank you for spinning on despite the gravity of sorrow. Thank you for allowing me the chance to cross your seas to experience the ground where my Jesus walked. And thank you for all that your people have already done to conquer evil with good.

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The happily ever after myth

Sometimes I wonder about the initial Prince Charming. When Eve opened her eyes and saw Adam for the first time, was she all bow chika wow wow? Did she look upon him longingly and think God did good? She had a perfect man and a perfect love, created for her by a perfect Father. The original husband and wife dream team could dance their way through Eden, surrounded by complete paradise, something we will never experience this side of heaven. And then I think about the fact that this precious love became tainted. Adam was not there for his girl when she needed him most, and Eve succumbed to the temptation of possibility – perhaps something better exists, perhaps there is more. They turned their backs on God in a moment of weakness, entertaining the notion that love is not enough. Vows were broken that day and humanity has felt the consequent pain ever since. 

Relationships, however enchanting, are always a marriage of two broken people. Two pieces with rough edges do not make a pristine whole – but I believe some of God’s most dazzling work is done with jagged fragments. Who are we to straighten what he has made crooked?

I also think there comes a time in every relationship when trouble sets in. Why? Because we are greedy, selfish, prideful – sinful. That word, sin, is tiny but people steer clear of it because it has so many negative connotations. Let’s just get comfortable for a minute and recognize that sin is the darkness of mankind. We are all capable of terrible things and that is frightening, but we are also capable of terrific good and that should be liberating. Still, the fact remains that we aren’t always promise keepers. We screw up. Fortunately God gets that. I’m sure he’s watched me fumble through life and face-palmed many a time but his love for me does not waver.

What if we viewed our significant others that way, falling in love with them over and over again – as often as necessary – choosing to overlook their shortcomings?

I’ve realized that my future husband will have just as many flaws as me. I must open up my heart and say look, see, I am not always beautiful. I’ve made bad choices, I have scars, but I am yours.

At the crux of this rambling is a desire for you, whoever you are, to know that we make love complex, when in reality it is simple. Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.

Maybe you’re hurting. Maybe you’re searching. Maybe you’re lonely, maybe you’re empty. Whatever kind of warped love you’ve experienced is nothing compared to God’s love for you and the love you can feel for those around you. Maybe your Adam or Eve hasn’t lived up to your expectations. Look again. God has not and will not give up on you. Relationships change when we stop licking our wounds and acknowledge our part in the disunity.

If you’re walking the single path like me, find comfort in Him. Too often, I fall in love with the stuff of fantasy. My gaze is no longer fixated on God and wanders, but I always come back to the same conclusion: He is enough.

“My foot slips. Your steadfast love, O Lord, held me up. When the cares of my heart are many, your consolations cheer my soul.” – Psalm 94: 18-19

“And I will betroth you to me forever. I will betroth you to me in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love and in mercy.” -Hosea 2:19

 

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That awkward moment when your heart calls you out

Bursting out of a dress several sizes too small, sporting a severe case of bedhead, and stumbling down the street in platinum silver stilettos, she was a train-wreck. I watched this woman collapse into a cab and assumed she never made it home the night before. She was hungover and found the whole thing hilarious, so I judged her. A lot.

But then I was driving today and something inside me whispered you’re not so different, you and her.

The more I thought about it, the more I realized the voice was right. That woman stumbled into my life several days ago, but she’s been in the back of my mind ever since. Why? Because I understand pieces of her. I understand craving attention, feeling lost, falling apart, and not being able to walk in heels. I understand parading through life and trailing my baggage along in a box labeled eye-sores. I do not always stride confidently down the sidewalk in straight lines. I veer to the left and to the right, searching for validation in all the wrong places. Perhaps I didn’t wake up, caked in last night’s makeup, to a cruelly illuminating sun, but I assure you I have minutes I’d like to re-write, days I’d rather forget, and seasons I’d like to have skipped.

From a tiny office in the middle of Charlotte, I looked down upon that woman and instead of seeing the fight in her eyes or the fragility of her soul, I saw the classlessness of her exterior. That was a move which really revealed more to me about the crooked status of my interior. As I drove along today, I wondered what if, from the midst of the heavens, God looked down upon me and saw nothing but my bruises, my cracks, my imperfections? What if he chose to judge me based on my hardest nights, my biggest mistakes? None of my usual fixes – oversized sweaters, puppy cuddles, chocolate, tea – would be able to soothe away my shame.

In my American Lit class this semester we read John Cheever’s “The Swimmer” which is an exquisite short story about a man (Neddy) in the 50′s. He’s trapped by what we call false American tranquility – conned into believing he is a-okay, when in reality he is an alcoholic whose life is devoid of real substance.

My drive became pretty darn philosophical as I decided I was proud of skimpy dress lady tottering down the street. I would far rather see her bearing her struggle for the world to see, than pass by a hundred businesswomen wearing facades by Ann Klein. They may look the part, but behind closed doors surely many of them fall apart?

Cheever’s story is not so different from our story. Neddy doesn’t want to grow up and he’s afraid of reality. I have no idea what circumstances my uptown girl came from – she may not have been broken at all, just a lightweight insisting it was 5:00 somewhere. I’m willing to bet though, that when her cab reached its destination, it took most of her strength for her to open the door, pick herself up, and risk being noticed all over again. I hope she did not encounter anyone else like me.

Getting knocked off my self-constructed pedestal stung a bit and that’s alright. Humble pie tastes so much better when you wash it down with reflection. I think losing ourselves is commoner than we presume. Only in finding others like us, will we discover the confidence to believe better versions of ourselves exist. Take it from a girl who’s drenched in God’s grace: it’s possible to begin again.

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