Tuesday, October 17, 2017

International Day of Girls

Outside a mosque in Cairo, Egypt some girls became my friends. We walked together for an hour, laughing and learning from one another. I liked how they were so open with me, a stranger to their land. I didn't want to leave their presence. They made me laugh and pulled my heart a little bigger that day.
Meet my good friend, Duaa. She is smart and beautiful. As I was writing this blog, I heard a doorbell ring. She was asking to borrow some matches to light some candles for her parent's anniversary. I gulped. I admit even a tear came as I told her my theory of growing up: that we have to learn to love those next to our elbows before we go save the world. Hopefully,  if we are lucky, like Dua and me, we  have wonderful parents to show and demonstrate how to love. I ran over to her house to see  the decorations. There were fifteen red balloons that represented 15 years of marriage for her parents. I hugged her, and told her someday she is going to do great things with all this love she has in her heart. And I gave her mom a hug too.
"Un femme que aime transforme la monde."  Translation: A woman with love can change the world.
                                                                              --Jacque de Baubon-Busset--1912-2001

I love being a girl, a woman, a sister, a mother. I also love meeting with young girls in my travels. I have five sisters, two daughters, about fifty nieces (yes, not exaggerating), and many young girls whom I consider my friends and mentors. Sometimes I look back when I was 15 and can still feel the pangs of wanting to grow up and do something out of the ordinary--even extraordinary. Oh, and of course, let us not forget the wish to be beautiful....  The way to quiet the stresses and stabs of adolescence? I propose it is to not think too much about ourselves.

 I remember reading a quote by a model when I was about 14 or 15. It was a staggering discovery for me--pushing away the chatter that I was merely a mannequin to parade my shopping sprees. It wasn't only about my appearance. Nor was my life all about me. The solution seemed too simple to believe. But here it is: we are more beautiful if we don't needlessly think about ourselves too much. This is the quote I cut out of a magazine long ago that was my adolescent mantra:

"When I don't think about myself too much, when I can look outside of myself, I look much prettier. The women that I find beautiful are those who are relaxed with themselves. People who are open are beautiful. People who show emotions on their faces are beautiful. A face that is quick to laugh or to cry, a vulnerable person is beautiful. You don't have to be born with a great bone structure."  Amen!

Somehow that simple observation from an unknown model was my adolescent mentor. I crossed a bridge the day I read it. I was free. I had permission to not worry too much what I looked like to others.  If she, the glamorous model, thought people were beautiful when they were open, relaxed, and didn't think about themselves too much, then this was my aim. I felt this goal was attainable. I decided to practice on the people under my roof first--to start thinking about them more--not just myself. And predictably, my love for them swelled.

Meet Chloe, my niece, who spearheaded a family art exhibit this summer at my mom's house. She knew everyone was sad after my dad died, so she gathered everyone together. We  brought paintings, drawings, art projects, sculptures. We stood in awe at everyone's efforts. We laughed and praised one another. But Chloe made it happen. A special memory was made because she knew her family was in need of some cheer.
As a young teenager, I longed to travel, do humanitarian work, teach, write, and have a family of my own. Yet, as I have become older, I have learned to appreciate the two people that shaped me most: my parents. They insisted through our daily family rhythms that I must first learn to love and serve at home. And then, and only then, would I be effective with my dreams of going out to the world. I inwardly agreed because had not the beautiful, anonymous model revealed her secret? Reaching out and looking outside of ourselves was the answer.

Sometimes, I fear, in our (at least mine) accelerated pace to go out and save the world, we might forget our sibling or grandmother at our elbow. Maybe there is someone who needs to be listened to in the next room. Perhaps someone needs some validation and love. The relationships within the family prepare us to be perceptive, give attention and time when it is not convenient to our personal schedule--to forgive when our feelings are stung. As James E. Faust said, "Serving others can begin at almost any age. . . .  It need not be on a grand scale, and it is noblest within the family." Within those walls at home, all the teaching of loving, giving, sharing, helping distills on us drop by drop. And then we want to go out and open the sky.... We are ready because we have learned how to love.

As Busset says, "a woman who loves can change the world. Home is where it starts.

Young girls and one young boy in Qatar giving gifts in their best clothes for Eid, a traditional Muslim holiday. I love the two mothers looking on. I am sure the children were well instructed.

Meet Sara, with my son. They have been friends since they were crawling babies. Sara's family has showed her that she can accomplish much, even though she has Down's Syndrome. Sara is the eighth of ten children, and has been raised with lots of love.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Spain: Joaquin Sorella, A Painter of Light

"Go to nature with no parti pris ( In French, it means an opinion formed before there is actual evidence). You should not know what your picture is to look like until it is done. Just see the picture that is coming."  --Joaquin Sorella

"I hate darkness. Claude Monet once said that painting in general does not have enough light in it. I agree with him. We painters can never reproduce sunlight as it really is. I can only approach the truth of it."   --Joaquin Sorella

"Le Lumiere c'est la vie. Por lo tanto quanto mas luz en las pictures mas vide, mas truth, and mas belleza." -- Joaquin Sorello  (translation: The light is the life.  Therefore, more light in pictures is more life, more truth, and more beauty. 

The garden and house of the Spanish Impressionism painter, Joaquin Sorella

Once in a while in my wanderings or browsing, I find a new artist, musician, or author that formally has escaped my view. How could I have never known of them? Their works shed new insights that bring tender emotion and understanding to me. Suddenly, the world is different somehow by being exposed to the beauty of their creations. It is like an experience when a new friend or even a person whom you have known for a long time can suddenly teach you things you never supposed. My lesson? One can never estimate or expect that you know the full breadth of anything or anyone. Just around the corner there is often a chance to be astonished by joy.

This is exactly what happened to me in a recent trip to Madrid, Spain. I had never been to Madrid or even Spain before. Everyone speaks of the Prado and the Reina Sofia to see El Guernica. With the abundance of museums in Madrid, no one had mentioned Joaquin Sorella and his home and studio that was transformed into the Joaquin Sorella Museum (You can watch the you tube on the site about his house and life). I had never heard of him before. Yet, as I researched him more, I had seen his pictures at the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles. I had just walked by. But this time in his light-filled studio, with his home and garden surrounding it, I stood at attention. Sorella was a new inspiration.

His pictures of light, the ocean, and people playing on the beach with infused sunlight brought back a sense of wonder and memories for this San Diego, California girl. Also, his attention to transient moments of time captivated me. Some examples are a mother and child in bed, as the mother gazes deep into the her new child's eyes. I could relate with that one. I have known that awe. The bonds of friendship and quiet whispers as the waves crash on the ocean, with the summer sunlight warming your shoulders and back. Yes, I too have known that bond in conversation many times as the tide engulfs our feet. Sorella's many pictures of the  playfulness of children in the water and sand show moments of time that return to us as adults again and again--whether we are the children or the children we have loved. Are not all our lives a string of moments?

Sorella captures in a dazzling way moments of  love, friendship, and the carefree moments of childhood--all arrayed in splendid light. In fact, most of the children he painted were his own, as he stood close by painting the moments he wanted to remember, to etch in him. Discovering a new treasure, like Sorella, I never tire of the finding. Sometimes it is in the most unlikely of places.

Sadly, Sorella is not known much outside of his native Spain. His passion for painting and light permeates me. I want to  remember the quote from him when I paint because it is something that I very much believe: "Just see the picture that is coming." There is no navigable way to paint. It is an ongoing, flowing river. You follow it and see where it leads. The light will lead the way. And finally, to live every day for the moments that enrich our lives. They are the very fiber of a life well lived.

If you are interested in seeing and learning more about Joaquin Sorrela, there is a French artist who also wants to spread the word about him: @SorelloArt

Just a few of the many paintings we saw:

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Islam: My Neighbor's Hajj

  "One who comes to this house for hajj and avoids all loudness and sins, he returns as he was on the day his mother gave birth to him."  --Bukhair 
Al, my neighbor, on the first day of Eid, when he was at the Mount of Arafat in Saudi Arabia on August 31, 2017. Muslims believe that Mount Arafat was where creation began with Adam and Eve. It is known as the Mountain of Mercy. The common meaning of Arafat is "to know' because it is the place where people come to pray all day until sunset--for God to hear their faithful supplications to be freed from their sins. It is a time to get "to know" themselves and think about their ultimate time with Allah. Muslims believe that it is a place that resembles what it will be like on the Day of Judgment. At Mount Arafat all are supposed to be  alike unto God--equal and without any socioeconomic classes. Everyone wears two pieces of white clothing that are simply pinned together and then wrapped around them. This is the same kind of simple clothing that Muslims will wear when they are buried.
Over three years ago we came from the US as expatriates to live in Doha, Qatar. I had briefly lived in the Middle East as a college student before so to hear the minarets calling out to pray five times a day was not particularly unusual to me. Frankly, I enjoyed the punctuated and predictable rhythm that it added to my life. To see passerbyers fall to the ground to pray along the road when they heard the imam call to pray was not just curious or interesting to me. Instead, I felt humbled, changed somehow, by observing their worship. Their earnest devoutness has caused me to reflect on my own sincerity of prayers. And to see my friends come from their Hajj causes me to wonder about the need for constant self-renewal in all of us.

 I have been blessed to have friends here who have not merely allowed me a visual lens to watch from afar. But they have taken the time to share their tender feelings and experiences about their faith of Islam. I have been moved and touched. They have helped me understand the world a little better--my own world and the world we all live in. I was given a Quran by my neighbor that has much truth. I always tell them how lucky I am to have come across the world to be their neighbor.

My neighbors, a family with six children, have brought their kids twice to Mecca in the last three years. I asked them if I could take their picture when I dropped them off at the airport to go to there. When my friend, Abeer, came home from Mecca and Medina, with great emotion and love, told me how she prayed for my family as she walked around the Kaaba. As I celebrated my Christmas with my children and family, I prayed for her too. How grateful I am that she has let me into her spiritual thoughts and prayers!

Hajj is the largest annual gathering in the world. There are over two million people who descend on Saudi Arabia from about 70 countries since one fourth of the world's population is Muslim. It is the required fifth pillar of Islam, as long as you are financially and physically able to make the trek. Most people have prepared all their lives to supplicate and submit themselves before Allah. It lasts five to six days. The reward is self-purification--cleansing oneself from past sins and taking on a deeper commitment to Allah. The traits the pilgrims promise and renew are to have unconditional obedience, and to exhibit simplicity, sacrifice, tolerance and charity.

Pilgrims at Hajj at Mount Arafat.

Arrival: When everyone arrives from all over the world, they enter into a state of holiness or Ihram. Each pilgrim, all two million or more of them, must cleanse themselves and put on the proper attire. They promise to bring peace and abstain from anything that would not make them holy for Hajj.

Al getting transported to the different sights at Hajj
1st day: Everyone is reminded of the prohibitions they promised to upon arriving. Everyone goes to the make tawaf or to make their initial prayers when they come. It is like a welcome prayer. Afterwards, the pilgrims walk/run slowly around the Kabba, where they circle it counter clockwise seven times. If you cannot kiss the stone of Abraham because of the large crowds, you point to it.

Some of the children reenacting circling the Kaaba, even some of them with the wrapped around apparel.

At the school the kids reinact the circling of the Kaaba. At the Kaaba in Meca, they have a special circle for people with disabilities.
2nd day: On this the holy day at Mount Arafat, the pilgrims arrive before noon to supplicate and atone for their sins. All the pilgrims gather around Mount Arafat to join in prayers for forgiveness. Pilgrims are not required to fast on this day, but Muslims all over the world fast on this day for their own purification. As it says in the Quran, "There is no day on which Allah sets free more souls from the fire of hell than on the Day of Arafat. And on that day Allah draws near to the earth, and by way of exhibiting his pride remarks to the angels, 'What is the desire of these servants?'"

Everyone stays to pray until sunset, until before the last prayer. The pilgrims then go to Muzdalifah, a place that is close to where they stone the devil. Everyone sleeps outside under the stars and gathers 70 stones to toss to expunge their sins at the three columns
Here are stations for Hajj
3rd day: The next day the pilgrims throw rocks at one column, slaughter an animal to remember Abraham and Ismael, and the men shave their heads to show further supplication. They go back to Mecca that night, which shows a symbolism to be in a hurry to obey God. Although traditionally the pilgrims slaughtered the animals to remember Abraham and Ismael, they sign a form when they come to give money to slaughter an animal somewhere in the world. Below is from my trip to Cairo during Eid.

On a trip to Cairo in 2014 at Eid, I was interested to see the signs and preparations of Eid all around us. All around the world during those special three days, Muslims prepare for Eid. They pray, and slaughter the animals.

Children taking the goats and sheep for slaughter in Egypt at Eid. Blog on 2014 Eid in Egypt and Qatar
4th day: Following the tawaf ziyarat prayers at Mecca, the pilgrims come back to Medina to throw seven more pebbles on the three pillars. From noon to sunset, the pilgrims throw the pebbles again. If they don't leave that night to go back to Mecca, they continue to throw the pebbles again the next day.

This is a pillar the children reenacted  when I went to a school in Qatar. They threw crumpled up balls of paper, as the pilgrims threw stones to the devil.

5th day: The pilgrims must throw stones again--purging their souls from sins of the past.

6th day: On this day the pilgrims gather from all over the world to say farewell. They exchange greetings and gifts, knowing they have set out what they said they were going to do. It is called Tawaf al-Wada. Sometimes if some of them want to go to Medina, the birthplace of Mohammed the Prophet, they go there too after the Hajj.

I love this picture of when I went next door to talk to Abeer, and I saw the poster she made for Al--welcoming him home from Hajj. When they invited me in, I could see white balloons everywhere, symbolizing a renewed, pure, cleansed life. I thought Al was already great. But he seems even happier than the neighbor I knew before. I love to see the pride his children have in him because he went to Hajj. 
Al, my neighbor led a group of people for several weeks during the Hajj. He had been 17 years ago in 2000 before he and Abeer were married. But he said he wanted to do it again--to view the journey of life through a different lens. He wanted to be a better husband, father, and Muslim. He told with great excitement of some of the days of his pilgrimage--particularly the Mount Arafat experience. He told me how hot it was that day, how they were dripping with sweat in Saudi Arabia at the end of August. But then he said, in the afternoon, a remarkable miracle to took place. Clouds drifted in to cover the blazing desert sun, and a cool breeze blew by for everyone. He knew Allah was there, close to them, cleansing them and purifying their hearts.

Listening to Al, I was touched by his radiant countenance and his family's pride in his journey to Mecca. Tirmithi, a Muslim states, "The feet of man will not slip on the Day of Resurrection until he has asked five things: of his life as to how he spent it, his youth as to how he used it, his wealth as to where he got it and how he spent it, and of his knowledge as to what he did with it."

Those are questions we all need to answer--no matter what faith we are or what country we are from. To reflect on our own kind of pilgrimage and take the time to evaluate our intentions is good for all of us. To go a little deeper in our reflections of the path we are treading is needful for the soul.

I think it is time for a pilgrimage....

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Africa: The Beauty of a Woman in a Wig

Having fun with Elizabeth's wig.
My African friends have some beauty tricks I find charming. Often times when I see them they are another persona than when I saw them the week before. One of their ways to bring some flair and style is with their wigs. They like to show off their locks in different ways that fit their mood. Sometimes it is with braids, bangs, curls, streaks of color, buns, or with their cropped hair. My predictable hair is pretty boring next to them. 

One friend told me, "I like to wear my hair not only for the occasion, but my mood. Sometimes I like to have it short and sassy. But most times, I like to have the long locks, even wrap it around a few times."

I replied wide-eyed, "How many wigs do you have?" 

Elizabeth proudly said, "I have five. But some of my friends have a few shelves of them."

Intrigued, I said, "So you wear them like I wear a hat?" 

"Yep," she said, "As soon as I get home, I plop it off on the hanger. Just like a hat. But I love my wigs. They are much easier than taking care of your own hair. I just braid it, even shampoo it, put some bands in, and I am ready to go."

Here is one of the occasions that Elizabeth brought out the bangs.

Here is Elizabeth without any wigs or other locks. She is beautiful any way--without any extra locks.

Lucy, just relaxing with her cropped hair at home.

Christiana with her two-toned locks.

Christianah the week before with her baby and husband. Big difference, right?

Lucy, to my left, with one of her wigs, and my other friend with her hair up.

But the next time I see her, her wig is down.
Minika's hair is different every time I see her. I call her "The African Queen." 

Minika's braids wrapped around her head.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Painting Together: Elbow to Elbow.

 One of life's quiet excitements is to stand somewhat apart from yourself and watch yourself softly becoming the author of something beautiful.... 
                   Norman Maclean, A River Runs Through It: And Other Stories

Sometimes in your life you daydream with a far off gaze on doing something unusual and extraordinary. Perhaps to pitch to your favorite baseball team, write a best seller, build a log cabin or travel to your ultimate destination. The past two summers I have experienced some amazing dreams I didn't even know I had. But I would consider them just as great as the lofty ones I described. Some of my dreams happened with a paintbrush and paint, a barn that is like a cathedral, some remarkable teenagers, and being in some of the most beautiful nature on the planet. Yes, that is right. I got to teach teenagers to paint their masterpiece. The clincher? They would paint together as a team--elbow to elbow.

My girls (some of the girls I taught) learning how to create collaboratively. Egos begin to diminish since it is a group/team effort. Everyone feels their different strokes add to the finished beauty.
Am I an art teacher or even a trained artist? The answers are both no. But the surprisingly wonderful thing is that every team of six did paint a glorious painting. As each joyfully expressed, "I couldn't believe our painting all came together in the end." Yet perhaps the best thing about my dream coming true was watching those teenagers' faces on the journey to painting their collaborated creation. I observed with curious interest their confidence grow in the two sessions I was privileged to be with them.

Elias, my son, inside the cathedral art barn. The bounteous windows, looking out in every direction, with rays of light steaming in, is a place that naturally grows creativity--in unexpected people. And that's a whole other beauty that emerges here....
A large plaque I made with the scripture of Isaiah 55:12 (as shown behind Elias). For me this scripture is what the art barn and creativity engenders-- uncommon joy and peace. As I looked out at the aspen trees around me, listening to their gentle rustling of leaves, I could almost feel them clapping for joy. Painting nature always reminds me of how sublimely marvelous this world is that we live in.
One lanky, athletic 16 year old boy was quietly painting a most beautiful sky--with soft, billowy summer clouds. I complimented him, and exclaimed, "Wow, you have captured that sky. It is gorgeous!" I meant it too. I will never forget his astonished glance at me and then his reply, "That is the first time anyone has ever told me I was good at art. In fact, I don't think I have picked up a paintbrush since I was in kindergarten." He then happily proceeded to paint a lush field with Van Goghish strokes. As I looked at his careful, thoughtful brush strokes on the canvas, I hoped that he would not doubt himself in the future. That he would remember this holy moment when he felt he could do something way out of his personally conceived boundaries.

Times to never forget where I saw young boys and girls make something much bigger and better than they ever imagined....

This summer I taught teenage boys from 13-17 to paint in a barn that is designated as "an art barn"-- reminiscent of a cathedral. Instead of stained glass windows, there is a panoramic view of the Teton Valley--even viewing the three Teton peeks. In that awe inspiring setting, I spent an afternoon with each team in two different sessions, with a break where they went to another class. When they returned, they were refreshed to start painting again--ready to tackle the canvas. Each team chose a theme to paint such as light, mountains, fields, sky and stars, water, trees. They studied, thought, and talked about that topic. And then with an enlivened fervor to create, I saw the beauty of the world grow in them. It was real and visible; every day the joy of creativity was manifested.

Working with the boys this summer, I added  my son, Elias, who has autism to many of the sessions. It was heartwarming to see them include him, allowing him into their space--letting him explore and discover along side them. In the art barn all kinds of connections were created. When we walked out the door after being together for two sessions, each of us was different. We were better people than when we entered.

Each team proudly talking to everyone about what they learned from the experience.
Maybe I shouldn't have been surprised, but it was interesting to note the differences in teaching teenage boys and girls. The boys jockeyed for position, all of them boldly crowding around the canvas. Early on they were eager to get their hands into the paint.--even when they didn't know the direction they were heading. One boy who had never painted before on one team put the first brush stroke on the canvas. They talked to one another like they were at a soccer or basketball practice, "Dude, that was so great. Bro, you've got this." At first they reserved "territories" on the canvas to paint ("Eli, you do the sky, Henry does the trees, and I will do the mountain," etc). But then toward the end of the session, they all unitedly painted every space of the canvas together. For example, Henry who had been the painting the trees the entire time touched up the sky. They welcomed assistance from one another. Also, they didn't mind if the other teams saw their pictures before they were finished.

For an onlooker, it was marvelous to view all the differences in the teams--their personalities, interests, backgrounds, and then to watch them enfold their creativity together.

Last summer I taught the girls en plein air (painting outside with an easel)--before the barn was built. The girls generally came to the canvas one by one--with one girl who felt the most confident in her artistic talents coming forward to begin. When the others saw the picture was beginning to take a shape and form, they joined in too. With the girls, the entrance to the canvas was more like a gentle trickle. As they felt comfortable and their assurance grew, they picked up a paintbrush. They had to feel confident in the process before they became vulnerable enough to begin something so new and different for them. Most soaked up the confidence and courage, and then decided they were ready to begin. Each one eventually took her place with the team--until each girl was standing clustered together elbow-to-elbow. There were not the designated "territories" or spaces on the canvas for the girls as much. Two or three girls would socially be painting a tree or mountain together. Each team wanted to "unveil" their masterpieces at a show at the end of the camp session. For them, the thought of a grand exhibit where everyone gathered at the end to gaze at their paintings was joyous.

Another team that is capturing the aspen trees around them.

Learning to paint in a cluster--elbow to elbow--and loving it!

I gave both the boys and the girls praise and some instruction, but stepped back--letting them own their creation. Wavering confidence grew into assurance with each brush stroke. They were weeks I will never forget.

Lessons from two summers of teaching art to teenagers:

1) When people are around beauty, they desire to capture it--particularly when they feel connected to the land. It fuels them to talk about colors, textures, light, shading, allegories and a few stories. At first perhaps they will put one color on the canvas to paint a tree or mountain. I invited them to the window to look out at the scene or in en plein air to quietly have them gaze at all the colors that make up the tree or mountain. So many greens or browns to discover....  It was glorious to watch them begin to mix the colors, and put on three colors of green on a paintbrush. The world is not designated in a crayon box with eight colors. I watched them see that there is always another color to mix and discover.

A team reading about mountains, gazing at the gorgeous shading they had created in the summits and crests.
2) The world began to unfold to them. The crevices, summits, leaves changing, contrasts of light emerged. Like a person who puts their glasses or contacts on in the morning, I watched them begin to see, as if in a panorama. Nature was not the only thing they discovered in all its splendor. They widened their own vision of themselves--of who they are and who is at their elbow. Layers peeled away. I saw them transform--becoming more alive. The connection between the beauty around them and in themselves was more bonded, sealed. Also, they knew they had achieved something great together, and their friendships were strengthened.

This team didn't want to leave their "mountain" picture. They had to go to another level and admire from another angle. To many of the teams I said, "You all should go to art school. You are amazing." This team replied to me, "Only if we can do it together." Ha! Way to be united!
3) Sometimes adults think teenagers are sulky or look bored. I propose they just need to find a place where they can open their hearts and minds. One way is for all of us is to create a little more with our hands--to get rid of all the goblins that tell us we can't create or make something beautiful. Find a place or zone to create and watch the goblins shrink inside. Doubts flee, and joy flies in like a beautiful bird on a landscape. And in those moments, you can find your own cathedral or sacred spot. 

This team captured their light. I remember they told me with great pride, "We should take this picture to an art gallery. I am sure many people would want to buy it." Love those happy, confident, creative faces! With every team, I saw this joy. It was fun to watch them move past the fear of not doing it right. They had conquered it not only in themselves, but with their team.
4) You get confidence by doing. There is no other way! You just have to boldly put your brush to the canvas. The first stroke can be tentative. You just have to begin. And that goes for anything in life.

Bryn adding her strokes to the aspens.
5)  I taught them that nothing is ever permanent. You can redo, repaint, erase, and cover over anything you don't want to be on the canvas anymore. One team completely changed the mountains they had painted when they came for the second session. The team agreed together the mountains they had painted two hours before were childish, too whimsical. They wanted something more lifelike, more real. So they went to work and did it all over again. We talked about how that experience is an allegory for our lives. We can start over. Nothing is ever really permanent. 

Trying to capture the colors....
6) There is no need to stand too near when you are teaching. Step back. Listen. Let them discover their own creative pulses. To see a person become more enlivened through creativity is the best kind of reward. As I said, it is a dream come true.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Hurricane Harvey: Mobilizing Hearts and Hands

    Nothing that is worth doing can be achieved in our lifetime; therefore, we must be saved by hope. Nothing which is true or beautiful or good makes complete sense in any immediate context of history; therefore we must be saved by faith. Nothing we do, however virtuous, can be accomplished alone; therefore we must be saved by love.   --Reinhold Niebuhr

One of my favorite pictures of my husband. He is taking out some stitches from our little neighbor's head. Who would have thought the Mormon and the Muslim neighbors would be dear friends? But we are. It was worth moving to Qatar to meet them.

Watching my friends and family from across the world suffer in the deluge of Harvey brings me to my knees in prayer. But watching from afar has made my hope barometer rise up too. To see and hear of all the rescues, assistance, and outpouring of love shows not only what Texans are made of. It is what all of us humans can do in our everyday lives. When we let our hearts grow and our hands reach out, ordinary people become extraordinary.

Since it is Eid this week for Muslims all over the world, these kids came to bear gifts at the hospital to my husband and friend.

Just like a hurricane that can wash away huge structures of cement and brick, we can allow misunderstandings to wash away in our hearts. As terrifying as the climbing waters have proved to be in Houston, the pictures of helping neighbors and strangers heartens me.  As I watch many areas of the world struggle with racism and even genocide, these scenes from Houston remind us of the immense powers we hold in our hearts and hands. We can shoulder others' burdens--even when we don't know them. We can choose to act with compassion. We can cast off preconceived misconceptions about a culture or race. And we can even be friends. Maybe even good friends.

Meeting the Coptic bishop in Egypt was a wonderful event.

My husband and daughter at the Normandy beaches on June 6, 2016, a place and time when people from all over the world gather together to remember and honor the men and women who died there on the battlefields 73 years ago. My husband's father lost his sight six weeks after he landed on Omaha Beach when he was 22 years old. But on that beach now all the hate and bigotry is gone. There is only love, and it is manifested in the lantern toss every year on June 5 on Utah Beach. 

A team of Egyptian, Indian, Qatari, Lebanese, Jordanian, Sudanese, and Syrian doctors ready to go to work.
Recently I read How the Irish Saved Civilization by Thomas Cahill. Cahill's last paragraph has been ringing in my mind for the last week--about how we humans are always divided in every civilization. For clarification, the word "catholic" in this quote is denoting "humanist, or universalist," which includes Christian, Islam, Buddhist, Hindu, and other faiths that value equally all lives.

"Perhaps history is always divided into Romans and ... catholics (humanists). The Romans (from the Roman Empire) are the rich and powerful who run things their way and must always accrue more because they instinctively believe that there will never be enough to go around; the catholics, as their name implies are universalists who instinctively believe that all humanity makes one family, that every human being is an equal child of God, and that God will provide.  . . . If we are to be saved, it will not be by Romans, but by saints."

One of my husband's good friends from Istanbul, Turkey who loves boundlessly....

Cahill is speaking of the 21st century Romans who jockey in aggressive or subtle ways to be superior--who refuse to wear down racism and age-old misunderstandings. The saints, I propose, are ordinary people who choose to love with borderless hearts. Why does history curiously repeats itself generation after generation? If only the 21st century Romans could see the rewards of casting away old walls and misconceptions. The gift of loving is so much better than trying to be superior to another person.

The gifts of true friendship, with all residues washed away, are the reward when we live with love.