Monday, 9 May 2016

Our Daughter, The Graduate!

Aria-Magna Cum Laude
Outstanding Graduate in Communication
I could barely focus through my tears as I watched my youngest daughter, Aria, walk across the stage to receive her Bachelor's Degree. Cheers from lifelong friends and dear family members rose as we celebrated together this special achievement in her life.

Each of these special souls have poured into both Aria and Emileigh's lives through the years. They are different and better as a result. Celebrations such as graduations give us opportunity to pause and remember all those who make our lives richer.

So I cried for the way Aria navigated life in the US, then Egypt, followed by Sudan and Kenya and the US again.

I cried at the continued love that our community shows us in words and deeds. They drove from Texas and Illinois and SIT IN A GRADUATION CEREMONY with over 600 names to be read. That's love.

The Cheering Section
I cried remembering Emileigh's graduation just 2 short years ago and how she and her husband have thrived since that time.

John gives me a hug understanding all of the emotions swirling in the moment. We are thankful to be in this moment. We want to freeze it in time just to savor it a bit longer. The Lord has brought us this far...and we are blessed.

We'll return to the desert in a couple weeks, but just for now we sit with the overwhelming gratitude of children who agreed to live a life of adventure, challenge and stretching and came out on the other side stronger, deeper and more confident.

Congratulations, Aria! We love you.

John, Pam, Paula (Sister), Aria, Bud (BIL), Jacob, Emileigh

John, Pam, Jacob, Emileigh, Brittany (Niece), Aria, Alexis (Niece)
Shirley, John

The Fam

Proud Parentals

Celebration Lunch and S'Mores as Ocean Zen
Norma and Jerry (Friends since 1985)

Susan (Dear Friend and Auntie driving from Texas!)

Terisa (Dear Friend and Auntie driving from Texas!)

Monday, 4 April 2016

Easter in the Sand

I wasn't sure I heard our pastor correctly. He smiled and repeated his announcement. 

"We will meet in front of the church at 6 am on Sunday morning, take a boat and hold our Easter services in a Nubian village," he said.

I laughed and muttered something to the effect that Jesus would still love us at 10 am.

As a teenager, I remember participating in sunrise services in Missouri. As the sun peeked over the horizon, we would burst forth in the "Hallelujah Chorus!" However, that tradition seemed to wane over the years as families found it more difficult to get everyone in their "Easter Best" in the wee hours.

Part of the group gathered at a
traditional Nubian dining table.
On this side of the pond, the tradition has continued. Though I am not exactly a morning-loving person, I do like gathering together in the crisp morning air to celebrate our Greatest Hope!

We attend a small international church established by a German organization over 100 years ago. During the cool season, we may have 60 attendees; during the hot months, maybe 20. The believers that gather are from all over the world here in our city for various reasons. 

This particular Easter, John would lead worship and I would speak. I double-checked with our pastor to make sure he had the schedule correct. 

"Do you know that you have scheduled me on Easter?" I asked.

"Yes, I meant to do that," he responded.

"Oh, wow. Thank you. This is an incredible honor." I was truly honored.

In my exuberance of the festivities, I had volunteered to bring cinnamon rolls and an egg casserole for the brunch that would follow the service. The pastor's wife asked, "Why are all the Americans bringing this 'egg casserole' dish? What is it?"

This is the first area John set up.
Then he had to relocate to the other side
of the room for working electricity. 
I laughed and explained that it's just an easy way to make eggs ahead of time. She said it didn't matter as long as I brought the cinnamon rolls, too.

Once I had selected the items to bring, I began to prep for it. Oh, snap! Cinnamon rolls out of the oven and ready by 5:30 am?! I realized what I had done, but it was too late. I was committed. I would have to set my alarm at dark-thirty to get them ready.

I did manage to do just that and get ready and review my sermon one more time while John had the arduous task of gelling his hair. Well, he did have to pack up his keyboard and speakers and such. 

Arms loaded, we met our friends and all proceeded to the motor boat that was waiting to take us down river. 

John set up his gear after locating the one plug in the building that worked and led the group in a series of beautiful Easter hymns. 

As I stood in front of this group, my heart swelled. Could I have ever imagined that my life would be this? That I would be sharing Easter morning with friends from Germany, Canada, Egypt, Holland, Scotland, South Africa? We come from many different points on the globe, but we are united in Christ, our Risen Savior. Sadly for most others that surround us, it's just another day. 

In a remote place on the Nile, these dear brothers and sisters bring encouragement by gathering together and declaring that Jesus is worthy for whatever He asks or wherever He leads.
Pam speaking...

Life abroad can be tough, really tough. Being a "minority everything" is wearing. It can also be incredible. In the Easter season, I'm reminded that Jesus left the splendor of Heaven so that we could experience "God with us" and see the heart of God live among us. His followers, likewise, also try to demonstrate the character of Jesus to each other and those with whom we live in proximity. 

Easter reminds us that the very power that raised Christ from the dead is that same power that allows us to continue the path that God puts before us. That's good news! It's not up to me to make things happen. I can rest in the fact of simple obedience and the faithfulness of Jesus to complete what He started. Hallelujah!

Following the sermon, the kids enjoyed an Easter egg hunt among the palm trees and in the sand. We sat together enjoying many types of breads (from the Germans) and lots of egg casseroles (from the Americans). Finally, we gathered our items and made our way back to the boat and onto our village.

Yes, this was a beautiful Easter, but we have another chance to celebrate here in Egypt. The Coptic Christians celebrate Easter this year on May 1. Or maybe as Christians, we challenge ourselves to live and share the knowledge and power of the resurrection all year long. 

He is risen indeed!

On the boat!

Thursday, 31 March 2016

How Was Your Afternoon?

The incline...
 John got a call from Marcos* (a local friend) asking him if he could meet later in the afternoon to discuss a book they were both reading. John said he could and they agreed on a time.

When the time came, I kissed him goodbye and began prepping food for dinner. I figured he'd be gone a couple hours and planned the rest of our evening accordingly.  

However, after 3 hours passed I began to wonder where he was. Now I don't go straight to "Call-the-US-Embassy", but I do try to remain aware of times, locations, etc. when we're separated. It's just good practice.

I was breathing a prayer when he walked in the door smiling. "You are not going to believe this!" he said.

I poured him a glass of water and asked him what happened.

"Well," he said a bit out of breath, "It seems that Marcos has purchased a new car for himself. to him. It's a pretty old car."

He took a sip of water and continued, "He was waiting for me at the gate and told me to get in. I saw that there was also a woman and a man inside that I hadn't ever met before. I introduced myself and got in the front seat.

"I complimented him on his new wheels and he proudly revved the engine before he tried to put it into gear. Loud grinding gears gave me a clue that Marcos does not know how to drive a stick shift. We were on a slight incline which gave Marcos all kinds of trouble. He tried to take off in second, and third all the while cursing his brother who was supposed to have 'fixed' the car. It was definitely user-error for this, although Marcos would never admit it.

"We continued swaying up the hill and back down again until the car was flooded and would no longer start. Now the words for his brother carried up into the atmosphere loud enough for our neighbors to hear. 

"Marcos got out of the car and began stomping around the opened hood looking for a solution. Two men stopped alongside us and began fiddling with the distributor cap. The car would sputter to life for a bit while the man under the hood would bang and twist and shout.

"Eventually the man got the car running and took it to the top of the hill so that Marcos would have a fighting chance of getting out of the neighborhood."

I said, "Wait a second. How long were you right outside the gate?"

John answered, "We were there about an hour before we even started toward our destination! We finally arrived at the cafe where we were to talk, but I was still confused about the man and woman that were with us."

"Marcos introduced them, 'This is a friend, Abdi, and this woman is from Cairo. I met her last week when I was visiting there.'

"This did not help me at all. Marcos had said he wanted to talk with me, but now we had additional people with us. The woman, who was not a family member, clearly presented a problem because culturally she should not be with a group of men who are not her family and certainly not in one of the cafes where the men hang out, play backgammon and smoke sheesha.

"Marcos saw my discomfort and said, 'Don't worry. We can all talk.'

"Maybe I was projecting, but I could feel the eyes of the others in the cafe resting squarely on the back of my head. We chatted a bit about different things until I reminded Marcos that I had a meeting that I needed to attend.

"He protested, but turned his attention to the soccer game on the television and I took that as my cue that it was all right to leave. So many cultural nuances to navigate!

"A distinguished man was leaving the cafe at the same time I was. He asked where I was going. I told him and he directed me to an old Mercedes that was polished perfectly. He drove me to my meeting location and told me that any time I needed a ride, just ask. I thanked him and made it just in time."

John smiled at me, took one more long drink and said, "So, that was my afternoon. How did yours go?"


*Not his real name

Monday, 28 March 2016

It's Official. I Can't Take It Any More.

The women are on one side of the street.
If this sounds like an overly dramatic title for a Monday, you could be right. 

For months now I have been plotting and planning a new website update; something that Joyce Meyer, Steve Jobs and Ben Bernanke would be proud of...As you can tell if you are reading this, it hasn't happened.

I've been storing up stories, daily life accounts and lessons learned so that when the glorious day of unveiling happened I could mesmerize you with a slick, user-friendly, engaging site while regaling you with interesting tales of life on the Nile. Yes, big plans...

I think the final straw came on Friday night. I had been invited to my dear friend's engagement party in a village a bit removed from ours. A friend and I took a taxi through the barely-one-car-width "streets" of the Nubian village. We arrived to ear-splitting music, flashing lights and a neighborhood intrigued. 

Bashamel (like a white sauce lasagne),
Roast Beef, Mashy (stuffed zucchini with rice)
We moved to the women's side of the celebration and began walking toward my friend, Farah*, who was sitting on a platform with her fiancé. The crowd parted like the Red Sea. I greeted my friend, kissed her cheek while offering warm congratulations. I shook the hand of her fiancé and began moving to the side so that others might greet her as well. I thought I'd quickly snap a picture of her in her dress, but was spotted. Farah pulled me up on stage with my other foreign friends and soon we were in a photo op for the entire group.

As we descended the platform, we were met by a sister who kissed us on the cheek and then directed us into her home where she fed us a beautiful meal. Dancing would follow through the night until the first call to prayer around 4 am. I, however, lasted until midnight. 

The men dance, too, but in a separate area.
It truly was a special moment. I was so thankful that I had been included, but I wanted to tell you about it. I wanted you to see my glowing friend in her hot pink engagement dress. I wanted you to know that her family members are kind, endearing people. I wanted you to know that I try to dance when I clearly cannot. 

I pondered this over the weekend. Sunday came and as the sun rose over the Nile on a crisp Easter morning I thought, "I want my friends to know that there's hope here in this part of the world! All is not lost! The power of the resurrection of Jesus is everywhere in the world. Take heart!"

So with that said, I continue to work on the new site but I won't be silent during the interim. I simply can't take it any more. 

With much love and words,

Pam in the Sand

*Not her real name

Easter Sunrise Service

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

We Weep Together

The women gathering around the home
of the grieving family.
As I entered the kitchen this morning, I heard wailing outside my window. A death in the village. I found out through a friend that one of my “Traveling Abiya” ladies, Zeinab, had lost a son. He had been in an accident in Cairo and had died around 2 am. She had received the call shortly thereafter.

Cultural protocol says that it is proper to go visit the grieving family as soon as you hear the news. My friend and I immediately got ready and walked the short distance from our homes.

Already outside were clumps of silent women all dressed in black with their heads low. I made eye contact with them and nodded my head in respect.

As I entered the simple concrete home, I saw Zeinab lying on the bed covered with a sheet. Her headscarf had fallen off so that little shocks of orange hair poked out. Her dimmed eyes and weathered face had experienced many difficult times in her long life, but to lose a son is one of the most devastating.

All eyes were on my friend and me as we knelt beside this dear old soul, took her hands and wept. 

I cried with this mother who had received such heart-wrenching news. I cried with this family who mourn the loss of their husband, father, brother and cousin. I cried knowing that in Islam, they all weep because they do not know if Allah will be merciful to this man’s soul.

Other women began entering so I moved to the side of the bed and sat down. The wailing would sometimes erupt and it would almost be more than I could bear, but I’m here to live life alongside them. Life which includes heat, birthday parties, all-night weddings, community, boredom and even death. 

Zeinab began recounting the call she received from her son just hours before the accident. He was coming to see her and his family for Eid Al Adha (Feast of the Sacrifice). She had been so excited. Her family would be together. Then she received another call. Her son had been riding a bicycle, a car swerved, he was dead on arrival at the hospital. At this she began crying again asking, “When will I see him again? When? Only Allah knows.” She repeated the story trying to convince herself that it was actually true. 

The small room was becoming crowded with more mourners. My friend and I stood to leave but first needed to acknowledge each woman in the room. (The men were in a house next door.) I took the hand of each one, hugged them and whispered, “Robina myik” ("Our Lord be with you") and I truly meant it. Jesus, be with this village, this family, this woman who has little time left on this earth. Show yourself to them as you are…loving, compassionate, forgiving and One who gives hope.

We walked out of the home and greeted the other women who had gathered outside. We then sat with them on a concrete stoop as is custom to express that the village shares in the grief of the family.

I will return this evening for another visit after sunset. Her son must be buried according to Islamic tradition on the same day of death before sunset. Her family was working feverishly to have his body brought to our city which is a 12-14 hour drive from Cairo in time to meet the requirements. His body will be prepared for burial in her home. The family will say their goodbyes and will carry the son out of the village to the edge of the cemetery where the men will then continue on to bury him. (Women are not allowed in the cemetery during funerals.)

Everyone will return to the village and that will be when I visit again. This will continue for three days, but will be most difficult because of the Eid which begins on Thursday. Normally, this most holy of holidays in Islam is one full of feasting and celebration. The village will now have to balance the two events being careful to show respect to Zeinab’s family while also observing this special time of year for all Muslims.

I’ll try to navigate this time as well. John’s traveling so I’ll have to represent the family while he’s away. Please pray that I have understanding and discernment of the language and cultural nuances, but mostly that I would represent Jesus’ heart to this broken family. 

Thursday, 17 September 2015

Apollo 48: "Houston, We Have a Birthday..."

Today’s my birthday. My 48th year on this planet. I’m feeling somewhat reflective and also a bit incredulous that I’m not the size 3 I promised myself I would be at this time last year. But so as not to damper the celebratory spirit, I will skip over that last part and just comfort myself with the idea that I’m harder to kidnap at this weight.

48 is not one of those birthdays that gets the “geezer” banners or the inflatable dentures as decoration. Nor does it warrant a black light bowling party or a pub crawl (Diet Coke crawl in my case). Still 48 years… 

I haven’t written the Great American Novel. I can barely keep up with my blog. I watched an episode of “Madam Secretary” and wondered why a woman my age could be Secretary of State and I’m not her. (I would thrive at all the State Dinners, but would not fare so well in the details of peace agreements.) I’ve even considered continuing my education, but the course catalog has so many interesting possibilities…yet realistically I have to weed out the ones that take longer than I have years left. (That’s a startling revelation. Brain surgeon? No longer an option. Sigh.)

These years, days, minutes, seconds…come by but once. Even then I can’t know just how many are left.

If you’ll allow me to digress for a moment, I’d like to take you back to the spaceflight of Apollo 13. Jim Lovell, Fred Haise and Jack Swigert left the earth’s atmosphere on April 11, 1970 to be the third American spacecraft to land on the moon. On April 13, an oxygen tank exploded crippling the service module thus changing the course of the mission.

They were no longer astronauts and explorers responsible for discovering new territories, but now they were commissioned to survive. To do this, they had to become everything at once…scientists, mechanics, pilots, engineers, survivalists, counselors, consultants. Their whole paradigm changed in a moment and remarkably, they adapted. Lovell, Haise and Swigert worked day and night (along with NASA) to find potential solutions for their predicament. On April 17 they returned to the earth in what some called NASA’s “Most Successful Failure.”

Uh…thanks…Pam. That was…uh…informative. What’s the point? Well, if there is one it would be this. In 48 years, I’ve had many “moon” goals. Goals that were admirable and exciting. I’ve even had opportunity to attain some of them and exclaim something profound like Neil Armstrong, “One small step for man. One giant bowl of Haagen-Dazs for Pamkind.” 

I’ve also experienced Apollo 13 moments when the “moon” was no longer the mission. I had to adapt my thinking and develop in ways that I never considered possible. I’m grateful. For in my “most successful failures” I have discovered a broader trust in God and a deepened character in me that would not have been revealed in only “moon experiences.”

So whether I have 48 years plus one day or 48 years doubled, I can anticipate the future with hope knowing that Jesus will equip me and prepare me whatever missions may come…moon or not.  Now to all my family and friends in whom I've had so many glorious moments in time I say, "It's been a privilege flying with you." 

Go for launch!

Wednesday, 16 September 2015

How to Keep Your Home "Spring Clean" All Year!

I've been known to love lists, charts, files and folders.  Guilty as charged.  However, as much as I love being organized I found in the years of having small children that "forever clean" was a fleeting dream.  I simply couldn't come up with enough time, energy and non-assistance from little hands.  Some seasons the house was quite tidy.  Other times, OSHA should have been called.  

I began to adopt a system that has continued to work for me through the years and I thought that since it is now Spring and all, that I would share it with you.  I not only use this system for cleaning, but also for upcoming events that require extra time and organization.

For those of you who are quite clever, I am SURE there's an app for this.  Sometimes I'm old fashioned and just want a piece of paper I can carry around in my pocket.  

For my friends who continue to laugh and mock my attempts at a Zen life…I laugh with you and understand that I am sometimes simply over the top. 

PS  I'm starting another round of WHOLE30 today.  To celebrate, you may send bouquets of feather dusters in lieu of candy.

How to Keep Your Home Spring Clean All Year!

1.  Purchase an index box with 2 tabs and index cards in four different colors.

2.  Label the tabs: Weekly, Monthly

3.  Next, on a separate sheet of paper write down every cleaning task you can imagine that needs to be done in your home.  For example:

Mop kitchen floor
Vacuum living room carpet
Dust furniture
Organize Food Pantry
Clean out closet
Organize "junk" drawer
Bleach counter tops
Clean under the refrigerator
Clean oven
Mop bathroom floor
Scour bathtub/shower
Clean bathroom
Sweep garage floor
Organize garage
Sort clothes (keep, store, give away)

4.  Approximate how long each task will take you.  For example:  

Sweep and mop kitchen floor-20 minutes
Vacuum living room carpet-30 minutes
Dust furniture-30 minutes
Organize Food Pantry-30 minutes
Clean out closet-1 hour
Organize "junk" drawer-10 minutes
Bleach counter tops-20 minutes
Clean under the refrigerator-10 minutes
Clean oven-20 minutes
Mop bathroom floor-20 minutes
Scour bathtub/shower-10 minutes
Clean bathroom-30 minutes
Sweep garage floor-10 minutes
Organize garage-1 hour
Sort clothes (keep, store, give away)-1 hour

5.  Now divide your index cards based on color.  For example: pink cards are 10 minutes, blue cards are 20 minutes, yellow cards are 30 minutes and green cards are 1 hour.

6.  Write down all your 10 minute tasks giving each task its own card.  Continue with the 20 minute tasks, 30 minute, etc.  For example:

Top right of card:  10
Middle of card: Organize "junk drawer"

7.  Now create 2 sections in your box by placing the "Weekly" tab at the front and the "Monthly" tab behind it.

8.  Put all your "Weekly" tasks in time order starting with pink 10 minute cards, then blue 20 minute cards, etc. Do the same for the "Monthly" tasks.  For example:

WEEKLY: Scour bathtub/shower-10 minutes
WEEKLY: Sweep garage floor-10 minutes
WEEKLY: Sweep and mop kitchen floor-20 minutes
WEEKLY: Bleach counter tops-20 minutes
WEEKLY: Mop bathroom floor-20 minutes
WEEKLY: Vacuum living room carpet-30 minutes
WEEKLY: Dust furniture-30 minutes
WEEKLY: Clean bathroom-30 minutes

MONTHLY: Organize "junk" drawer-10 minutes
MONTHLY: Clean under the refrigerator-10 minutes
MONTHLY: Clean oven-20 minutes
MONTHLY: Organize Food Pantry-30 minutes
MONTHLY: Clean out closet-1 hour
MONTHLY: Organize garage-1 hour
MONTHLY: Sort clothes (keep, store, give away)-1 hour

9.  Now as you are going through your day and you find yourself in between errands or the next event, check your watch.  Do I have 10 minutes?  Maybe 20?  If so, pull one of the cards and do the task on it.  When you have completed it, move it to the back of the section. 

10.  Work through the cards whenever you have small increments of time.  If you have children, add a section for them.  They can pull cards too which helps them focus on a specific task.  

You'll have an organized, sparkling home the whole year through!