A Christian & A Muslim in Walmart 

A handful of years ago, I had just gotten off of a double shift that included a graveyard. I was tired, grouchy, and still in my scrubs from my job at an Adult Foster Home.

I was at the point of being too tired to sleep, so I had gone into town to do some errands before having to get back for another double shift. I hoped I could burn off some of the jitters so I could grab at least few hours of shut eye.

I was digging through one of those $5 movie bins at Walmart trying to find anything that wasn’t a B-rated movie. A gentleman stopped by just as a family of three walked off with a handful of cartoons and boxes of candy.

He murmured a hello, and I flashed a quick polite, yet distant smile as I continued to dig. I barely registered his white skullcap or his traditional white religious shirt and trousers.

After a minute or two of quiet digging he cleared his throat. “Doesn’t seem to be much in here.”

I chuckle and shrug, “No, but I keep hoping there’s a diamond in here.”

“Yes. Something to eat up the hours while waiting for the sun to come up again.” He sighed as he started to stack the DVD cases.

“I’m doing a run of graveyard shifts so I understand that.” I flipped through a few more movies as his pile became larger. He started a second and third pile and I realized he was separating them.

“Are you a nurse?” He asked with polite hesitancy on the word while motioning at my Eeyore covered scrubs.

“A caregiver. I work with the elderly.” Then, through my exhaustion, I noticed his sad look and nervous hand motions.

“That has to be hard. Do any of them…do any of them have Alzheimer’s?” He stopped fooling with the DVD cases and smoothed down his shirt.

I also stopped flipping through the movies to look at him. A gentleman who was probably in his late 50s with his own brand of exhaustion lining his face. There was a mixture of fear, sadness, and a hint of desperation in his eyes.

“Yes. I have a few clients with Alzheimer’s. I’ve worked with those living with that nasty disease for a number of years now.” A light seemed to enter the man’s eyes as I talked.

“My mother has it. I had to go home to collect her. Iran is all she ever has known. It’s so different here. I wonder if I did her wrong, bringing her here.” He rubbed his face with frustration.

I desperately wanted to give him a grounding touch on his arm at that moment, something to show him that he wasn’t alone. But, respecting his religious garb and the vague knowledge I have of his culture, I refrained and attempted to pour all that compassion and concern into my words.

“It’s never wrong to take on the hard duty of caring for your parent. It’s a lot of sacrifice. Do you have family here to help?”

“No, I’m all that’s left. That’s why I brought her here.” He started digging through the movies again. “She is so angry. Some days she throws things, others she screams. Some, she just weeps. I come here to Walmart just to wander the aisles. Just to breathe without her. Then I feel guilty for leaving her. What if something happened? My mother was never a happy woman, but now she is just so….just so full of hate. I am so tired.”

“It is tiring. Especially if you can’t take time for yourself. Does your mosque have any community services to help? I know of a few, such as Catholic Services that help in the home. If nothing else they can come for a few hours so you can go for a walk or do errands.” I wracked my brain for any of the local community services that were available for such issues. “Or a neighbor you’d trust to watch her for an hour? Someone who could do with a little money?”

“I am no longer connected to my mosque since moving down here. It’s been a few years, most of my friends are gone. They don’t want to be around a man who is worried about his mother all the time.” He sighed. “It just keeps getting worse. Some mornings, I hope she might not wake-up. I’m a horrible son.”

“You aren’t horrible! You’re burning out. You need support. I know it’s hard to even to contemplate, but if she is getting too hard to handle, you might have to think about putting her in retirement home. Where they can have someone able to watch her 24 hours a day. It’s hard to think it might be time for that, but it might be best for both of you.” The man looked near tears as I finished speaking.

“I’m just so lost. I just want to do the best for her.” He looked at his watch and sighed. “I should get going. I’ve taken up your time and I have left her too long. Thank you for talking with me.”

Nervously, I offered, “Sir, would you mind if I pray for you? I don’t want to offend you, but I’d really like to.”

He smiled, “Prayers are always welcomed. I’m assuming you are Christian?”

“Yes.”

“Thank you.”

So, at that moment I prayed for this gentleman from Iran in traditional Muslim religious garb who was worried about being a good son to his ill mother. I prayed for wisdom for the next step, patience in his care, comfort for the mother, and a community that would support them.

After I finished, he patted my hand that rested on the movie bin. “Thank you young lady for listening to my rambles. For your compassion.” He left with a blessing to Allah.

It was a chance encounter. Two very weary people wanting to find rest. 40 minutes of talking. I’ve never seen that man again. I never found out his name. But, I think of him often.

It wasn’t my first conversation with someone in the Muslim faith. I’ve always had very nice cordial interactions with them before and since. But, this interaction in particular has constantly reminded me how very human each of us truly are.

With all the constant news regarding terrorism, al Qaeda, and now ISIS, it is sometimes difficult to remember that the 1% of “Muslims” who are killing, do not speak for the other 99%. Men and women who are just living life the best they can. They have the same hopes, fears, and yes, even enemies as we do.

I, as a Christian, do not want to be lumped into the same group as those who are fanatics proclaiming to be apart of my faith. I don’t want to be associated with the 1% of  “Christians” who attack people out of fear and hate. The KKK, Westbro Baptists, those who attack people who appear to be different than the “righteous,” do not speak for me, my faith, or in the name of my God.

Why do we insist on doing the same to Muslims?

When ISIS attacked European cities over the last couple of months, worldwide tears were shared. When an attack on a LGBT friendly nightclub in Orlando was found to have links to support for ISIS, tears and rainbows abounded. Hours of news reports flooded the tv.

We were united in condemning the actions of terrorists. Domestic and international.

I applaud the actions of compassion and unity. Show your support.

But, then I start hearing the troubling news of innocent people being attacked as they attempt to go to local mosques. Bomb threats on places of worship. Where children are. And I am ashamed of my 1%. The 1% Christians who spew vitrol out on social media hidden by their keyboards, the 1% of Americans who think hate makes us safer hiding behind their patriotic pride.

It saddens me more as I hear of the numerous terrorist attacks in the Middle East being linked to ISIS. Of the Muslims being slaughtered during their holiest of months, because they weren’t willing to partner with their 1%. 

But where is the outcry? Where are the tears and the show of unity? Where are the candlelight vigils? 

Suspiciously absent.

For God so loved the world” Nowhere in the Bible does it say, “everyone but them.” You cannot condemn the actions of a terrorist group but be quiet when they kill those who share the same faith system.

Turkey has had at least 7 attacks this year. I’ve only heard about this recent one in passing on the news. I certainly didn’t read about it on social media. Other Middle Eastern cities have been attacked by advancing ISIS soldiers as well. But, it’s just silence until it spills over into Europe or America again.

It’s not right. As a Christian, I believe that every single person on this earth is a child of God’s. Whether we call him our Father or not, we are still his. So I must grieve when I hear about more senseless deaths and terror.

The 1% does not control my actions. Fear does not make me hate. Instead, when the days get dark, I remember my Iranian friend who let me pray for him in Walmart.

I remember that love is always stronger than fear and hate.

We are all children of God. And I love you because you are family. And I will grieve with and for you. You are loved.

Hope Overflowth- Reflections on Joni & Friends Family Retreat

Joni & Friends Twin Rocks Family Retreat, 2014

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How do you describe one week out of your year that manages to change your perceptions, your attitude, your spiritual health, as well as teach you compassion, joy, and hope, all while giving you a peace that you so very rarely are able to get in the ‘outside world?’

I don’t know. I’m still trying to figure that out.

I had the wonderful pleasure of serving at Joni & Friends’ Twin Rocks Family Retreat (Oregon) again this year. I was already planning on what supplies I needed to gather for next year, before that camp was even done. I do believe that I officially have gotten the bug for this amazing ministry. Serving at this camp has a way digging it’s way into the heart, and promptly enlarging it, much like the Grinch’s did when he found out the meaning of Christmas.

I have always had a passion for awareness towards disability. But, this camp, it continually shows me that my passion is so small in comparison to the deep passionate love God has for his children. He also uses it to force me to learn and grow with every exposure to people who are considered very different from me. Well, at least different to me by the world’s consideration. He uses it to teach me, that in my brokenness, I am still loved.

I wish I could show the emotional peace that came over these parents and campers of special needs as they stepped onto the campus. Campers who are caught within their disability and seem to have little awareness of their surroundings, relaxed and smiled. The frantic energy that comes with some levels of autism seemed to lessen it’s ferocious grip on young minds, loosening the tongue so they were able to communicate more than they usually do at home. Parents who are exhausted from any small amount of travel due to their need to be extremely diligent of their loved ones, are revived. Parents who have become cautious around strangers due their protective attitude regarding their child, feel free to laugh and shed tears with other parents who understand.

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Hope seemed to infuse these precious people as soon as they came through the loud welcoming crowd at the entrance to the camp. Here, hope was given out as if it was candy. There was no need to hold on to it as if we were misers, wanting to build up our pile of gold. Instead, we shared it, we showed it, we gave it away. It was because God was filling us with that joy and peace that only were given to us by him. We were, as our motto was this year, ‘overflowing’ with hope. Because we were overflowing, we felt no need to keep it to ourselves.

Our Bible verse can be found Romans 15:13, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

I think it was the perfect verse for these weary travelers through this life. Our speaker did a wonderful job of showing that this hope is not a wish that we make. But rather this is a hope based off the knowledge that God is good, that he has only the best of plans for us, that he has proven himself trustworthy. Our hope is not on the outcome, but rather based on the very God we pray to.

To hear that from the lips of Brian, whose doctors had given up on, due to an accident that left him with 3rd degree burns on 97% of his body, carried more weight than it would from a pastor of ‘normal typical’ means. Here was a man who by all rights could have become very bitter by what life has supposedly given him. Rather, though I’m sure it took time and prayer, he became a man who spoke passionately about the God who loves him. To see this man, his wife, and his children, so vocal about God’s love and grace in the face of such a horrid accident, was eye opening to my own responses to the situations of my life.

The hope that God provides has the power to change lives. It is not about wishing vaguely on something that we thought would help us. Godly hope is about trusting God to keep us and not forsake us. He never will.

These parents and campers see that hope more clearly than most of us do. The typical person is stuck on what we think is important, while these souls are focused on just surviving the day sometimes. It’s not that they are closer to God than we might be, but there is that possibility that they might have some of the blinders that we have, removed.

Another wonderful thing to see at camp is the willingness that these strangers have to get involved in the joys and struggles of other families. I believe we had nearly half of our camp families new to the ministry this year. These families who had never been exposed to each other, welcomed one another with love.

That love was echoed throughout the volunteers who come and give of their time and money to serve these families. We have families who travel all the way from Pennsylvania, just for the joy of serving. We have 20-somethings who save all year to go to two or more of these retreats, just for the chance to make a difference. We have teens who by all rights should be goofing off at the beach, working hard to bring laughter to a child who is shut off from the world. We have 70+ year old who should be enjoying her retirement, chasing after a boy with a big smile on her face. We have leaders, who they themselves should be there for respite , due to family members with special needs, plan for this week all year long, and work themselves to exhaustion just to help.

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This camp is run off of love. If you have never experienced this short of love that is so sacrificial in nature, you are truly missing out. This is what God’s love looks like. This is what the church should look like, where everyone can come as the broken mess they are and find acceptance. Nobody comes to this camp with everything perfect, because that is not what this camp is about. This camp is about offering hope to weary people. It’s about showing them that they are not alone in their love for their children, nor in their willingness to fight for their right to enjoy life. It’s about a beautifully sang song having just as much excitement and clapping as does a boy who throws a ball. It’s were whatever talent you bring, is used and accepted, because God gave you that talent. No matter what it might be.

This camp is about rejoicing in exactly who you are right this moment. Not about trying to force you into some mold that will never fit. No one fits into those molds, we just pretend a little better that it doesn’t chaff or pinch. Never try to fit in. Every person is born to stand out and shout loudly of the Creator God. That’s what I love about this camp, it helps us learn how to rejoice in those differences.

So I urge you. Give hope to a weary family near you. Tell them about Joni and Friends’ Family retreats!!

Please look at Joni and Friends website for more information regarding the amazing ministries available through them (including the Wheels for the World, Family Retreats, Cause 4 Life, etc…) 

Joni and Friends is celebrating 35 years of disability ministry- listen to Joni Eareckson Tada’s radio program which can also be found on the website. 

You can read about my first experience serving at a Joni and Friends’ Family Retreat last year here and a revisited post here

God’s Rest

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I went on a little adventure on Tuesday. My professor took us all to Multnomah Falls for breakfast and to discuss the end of the semester as well as the conclusion of our class. I was excited to be at the Falls due to the fact that I’ve only been there once when I was in high school. I’ve been living about a half hour away from it since I started my undergrad six years ago. Now, finally as I’m nearly done with my Seminary classes I get to go see them.

I only saw the top of it over the Lodge. We were on a time constraint so we spent the morning talking about the class and eating the wonderful breakfast (I had huckleberry pancakes–yum!) Then piled back into the van and went back to campus.

So close. So far away.

So, I did something that I rarely ever do- I did something impetuous. I got in my car in under a half hour and drove back. Because I’m horrible at directions for fear of getting lost, what do I do? I get lost. Ended up driving the Historic Columbia River Highway. What a treat!

I saw the Vista House:

With the panoramic view that it offers:

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Then I traveled the windy narrow road, where I found a little turnoff area for Sheppherd’s Dell.

What a beautiful hidden gem I found there! Down a slightly steep path I come across this:

Just nestled among the trees with a huge drop off that went under the bridge. I feel in love with this waterfall. This picture ^^^ is only the ‘top’ half that was visible, my camera didn’t do justice to depth that it fell to go under the bridge.

So, as more people started to intrude, I got back into my car and kept driving. Next up on my little surprise adventure was the Wahkeena Falls:

Where I saw this waterfall that also went under a bridge. But, I could get closer to this one as you can actually walk close to a lot of it. (From these Falls, which has a camping site, you can hike 1/4 of a mile I believe to Multnomah Falls on trails)

After taking numerous photos here of the water that was rushing by, I continued onto the granddaddy of all Oregon Falls- well, at least one of the most well known ones. Multnomah Falls.

The force that the water rushes off of this cliff is amazing. You stand near the lodge (which is beautiful and has wonderful food) and you can feel the mist cooling your flesh, but you can’t see the Falls!

While I didn’t do any true hiking this day, I went up past the bridge a little. These are some shots of that experience.

 to prove how misty it was  my bangs and my camera were both pretty wet-but it was worth it! 🙂

On the way back down I saw this little beautiful waterfall rushing to join the big waterfall in the basin before heading out to the Gorge

 This little waterfall reminded me very strongly, that we are too often focused on getting to the prize (for this it was “The” Multnomah Falls) that we forget to enjoy what we see along the way. I stepped over the bridge, looked, but kept walking. I didn’t take time until I came back down, to see how extraordinary this little waterfall is, how lush and serene it was. It wasn’t loud and brash like it’s Papa, but still so very powerful.

So be happy when you reach your goals, but don’t be so focused on it that you don’t see what’s around you that will give you the power to keep moving forward. Take it from me:

 or you can leave it and find out for yourself. 🙂
Through this impetuous adventure though, God gave me the serenity that I so desperately needed and didn’t realize that I was running low on. So many things had drained me so completely that I was put-putting along on fumes.

This little time by myself and God was emergency R&R time and I am so glad that my car got lost. Because when it got lost…I found myself. I was safe in God’s arms all this time.

“That’s you, drops of water and you’re on top of the mountain of success. But one day you start sliding down the mountain and you think wait a minute; I’m a mountain top water drop. I don’t belong in this valley, this river, this low dark ocean with all these drops of water. Then one day it gets hot and you slowly evaporate into air, way up, higher than any mountain top, all the way to the heavens. Then you understand that it was at your lowest that you were closest to God. Life’s a journey that goes round and round and the end is closest to the beginning. So if it’s change you need, relish the journey.” 
― Edward James Olmos

Psalm 61

God, hear my cry;
pay attention to my prayer. 
I call to You from the ends of the earth
when my heart is without strength. 
Lead me to a rock that is high above me, 
for You have been a refuge for me,
a strong tower in the face of the enemy.
I will live in Your tent forever
and take refuge under the shelter of Your wings. Selah

God, You have heard my vows; 
You have given a heritage
to those who fear Your name. 
Add days to the king’s life;
may his years span many generations. 
May he sit enthroned before God forever; 
appoint faithful love and truth to guard him. 
Then I will continually sing of Your name, 
fulfilling my vows day by day.