Friday, December 23, 2016

Christmas: Learning to give the first gift of true love

It is the season of Christmas for Christians, and hearts at this time are outstretched to those around us and even far away. Hopefully, this enfolding of our hearts happens all year long--no matter our religion, creed, or opinions. I have seen literal and transformative changes in people as they give, and because I am Christian, I see it no more clearly than at Christmas. Some of my fondest memories, if I could chronicle them, are at Christmas when my own heart has shed all layers of any misconceptions or generalizations. It is a time when our hearts learn how to grow.

My husband, when my daughters were small, dressed up on one of their first Christmases. Christmas has always brought us closer together because both of us were taught how to give true gifts as children by our own parents.

For Muslims (and because I live in a Muslim country), I am touched at their giving at Ramadan to those who are unfortunate. Our friend in Turkey always gives many sheep to others who are unfortunate so they may eat lamb meat. When I lived in Asia (Taiwan, China, Philippines, and Thailand), I needed to be very careful if I complimented someone on an object I liked. Unfailingly, I would then be given the item that I just admired. The scarf or necklace would often be taken off of them to give to me.

My Jewish friends, it seems, are very intent all year long to make the world a better place, contributing with money and service. One friend, a very talented attorney, was on our school board in St. Louis. He saw the distinct need that some high school kids needed to learn math and science better, but they had no one to tutor and help them. Every morning he was at the school to mentor them about math and physics--the subjects he loved so well. A few years later he retired early so he could teach at an inner city school. He is passionate about all children having the same educational opportunities.

Last night we asked each other (our children are older now), "When was the first time you remember how wonderful it was to give than to receive?" Sometimes the answer was simple, and the gesture was spontaneous. In other words, a simple exchange of hearts did not require much planning or fanfare. Perhaps it is when we are ready or prepared to receive that flow of compassion and love that is always there to gush in--if we have not diked the wall. But sometimes it was when we had planned an outing or activity. One son remembered in 2006 when the Cardinals won the World Series, we went to a men's shelter that Christmas Eve Day. One older man pleaded to sing, "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen." I can still here him singing in a beautiful tenor voice his requested song:

"God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, Let nothing you dismay. Remember Christ, Our Savior, was born on Christmas Day. To save us all from Satan's power when we have gone astray. O Tidings of Comfort and Joy...."

There were not many dry eyes in the crowd when he finished the cherished Christmas carol. Afterwards, I went up to talk to him, and he told me he had not long been out of jail. Those few moments at a men's shelter that Christmas changed my life. A man who had known "dismay" and the feelings of going "astray", but now had comfort and joy. And then with jubilant glee, he asked us all to sing "Take Me Out To the Ballgame" to remember our beloved Cardinal World Series win a few months earlier. My blind father-in-law, provided the accompaniment of the song on his harmonica.

 I have to say St. Louis came together that Christmas Eve Day. Our hearts and our children's hearts were different as we walked out of that shelter. Any rifts, chasms, or even fears that were in our hearts when we entered the shelter had evaporated as we unitedly sang together. A complete joy replaced skepticism and tentativeness.

When I look back on the years we raised our children, it is the moments of when their hearts were opened that give me the greatest satisfaction. To see them become new people, and I along with them,  are some of my favorite memories.

It is Christmas, the time to cast off misgivings, grudges, and yes, even despair--to learn how to live that way all year long. It is time to remember the lonely, the poor, the hungry, the disconsolate. As Howard W. Hunter said, "This year mend a quarrel. Seek out a forgotten friend. Dismiss suspicion and replace it with trust. Write a letter. Give a soft answer. Encourage youth. Manifest your loyalty in word and deed. Keep a promise. Forgo a grudge. Forgive an enemy. Apologize. Try to understand. Examine your demands on others. Think first of someone else. Be kind. Be gentle. Laugh a little more. Express your gratitude. Welcome a stranger. Gladden the heart of a child. Take pleasure in the beauty and wonder of the earth. Speak love and then speak it again."

As my father-in-law would say, "We all need it."

Sunday, December 18, 2016

I was a stranger.... but not anymore.....

Syrian refugees fleeing from Aleppo

On December 18, National Day in Qatar, a large screen of pictures from Aleppo's destruction was shown to huge crowds. The much anticipated holiday was cancelled to remember the Syrian crisis here in Qatar.
This past week as the world has grieved with Aleppo and watched the exodus of Syrian refugees leave their beloved homes and communities, it is hard to know what to do to relieve the pain and sorrow of the pictures I see. Right before our eyes on a screen real people are fleeing. Genocide and slaughter grow in a place not far from where I live now. A war is raging. Some of my friends here are Syrian. The atrocities I see only seem to make my own shelter and food seem extravagant--even though it may be simple to some. 

This week, in solidarity with Aleppo, Qatar cancelled much of its National Day celebrations. That is like cancelling New Year's and the 4th of July. The entire country has been asked, no matter your race or religion, to meet with clothes and food, in tow, for Syria. The gathering place is at a flag pole on December 18 in Doha. I know it is nothing much to bring clothes and food to give, but it is the only thing I know what to do to assuage my conscience. I put out a notice in my compound, and soon there was a carload full of bags to give.

It makes me wonder what would happen if the entire world were trying to alleviate pain and suffering..... So proud of Qatar today for their leadership in raising money for Aleppo
Today as I reached in some closets to choose some clothes to give away, I spotted a coat that I had bought more than a year ago. I had worn it only a few times. And besides, I live in the Middle East so down coats are definitely not required attire here. As my family pulled the clothes in our closets and the piles layered higher, I couldn't help but remember a ten year old girl who began my decades old practice of collecting clothes and food for others--especially in this season of Christmas. As I pulled the new coat off the hanger, I remembered another coat I gave away long ago to her. I think it was that coat that started this passion of mine to collect clothes and food for others. Somehow the colossal divide I see in the world is a little more equal when we share. 

I can still see her forlorn face as she entered our San Diego, California 4th grade class. The teacher placed the new girl, Athena, in front of me so her bedraggled appearance was always in my nine year old view--as I looked at the blackboard in front of me. Her hair was rarely combed, and her beautiful blonde hair was matted and rumpled. If I remember right, she wore the same frayed cotton dress every day, with sandals that barely fit over her ankles. I think the worst part to the people surrounding her was that she must have rarely bathed. There was always a conspicuous oder when she was near. Of course, no one wanted to play with her at recess or even talk to her. Worse, she was the brunt of cruel jokes; most everybody fled when she entered their periphery.

As the days got colder (and even in San Diego there are some brisk days), I noticed she did not have a coat. I don't think I was a particularly observant child, but I could not help but see that after we came in from recess, Athena had goose pimples all over her arms and bare legs. Some days she stayed in from recess because she was chilled--and maybe she knew no one would play with her.  I began to talk to her, and played with her out on the black top. In my nine year old mind, I thought it was inconceivable that I had two coats hanging in my closet at home, and she had none to wear at recess. I remember asking my mom if she could come over to play with me, and if I could give her the olive green corduroy coat I did not wear anymore. 

I can still remember her smile and joy when I asked her to come to my house to play. I gave her the coat, and said I thought she needed it. I told her I didn't want her to be cold anymore. We drove her home that day to a place called the "River Bottom"--a few shanty houses that were situated under a bridge. As she left the car with her new coat on, she turned back to smile at me. Her family must have been on the move because it seemed she left a few months later. Maybe they worked the tomato fields in the River Bottoms, I don't know. Athena came like an easterly wind, not staying long, but with enough time to leave an imprint on my heart and conscience forever. 

Although I was only nine years old, her short friendship was not lost on me. Now several decades later, my family and I have gathered and collected truckloads of food and clothes. Today when I told my son with autism that we were collecting clothes from his closet for the Syrian refugees, he said, "We are changing the world, Mom." I don't know about that, but all I know is that I am changed every time I give in my small way.  

I wish I could personally give the down coat to a refugee in Syria. I would like to see them turn around and exchange a smile--a nod that we are friends--and tell them I don't want them to be cold. Instead, I think I will put a note in the pocket and say, "I know this is a very meager and small gift to give a coat to you. But the world is thinking of you as the cold, easterly winds come to Aleppo. You are our friend. You are remembered and loved."

The letter that I tucked into the coat. I hope Syria knows there are people in this world who are horrified at what is happening in their country, and that we are praying for them. Also, that we will do what we can do help them.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Lighting the World #LighttheWorld

I found this picture in a museum in Hosfos, Iceland. These little girls know what it means to savor light when there is only three or so hours of sun in the darkest December days in Iceland. To cherish the light and see the possibilities for luminosity in the world is the first step toward giving light to others.

On the last day of 2015, our family gathered together to celebrate the upcoming new year. We decided to read two books together, and choose a word that would be our personal theme for 2016. The plan: that particular word would illuminate our choices and actions. It would be our individual creed or mantra in moments when we felt adrift. One simple word to jolt us back into remembering our rooted resolves. My word for this year? What's the word that has repeatedly sprung to inspire and remind me to be a little more hopeful in wavering times? The word is light.

The city of Doha, Qatar in the background with three of my sons enjoying the dusk. The Middle East captures a whole new definition of light with it's explosive sunrises--with no obstruction of vertical slopes to dim the rays. There are few shadows in a desert--just expansive, voluminous light.

Another year of being an expat in the Middle East has given me a front row seat to a kaleidoscope of cultures, religions, and new friends. It is a journey that makes us nomads, but also seeing the immense goodness of people on a grassroots level in the world--even when chaos and upheaval swirl around us. James Fallows, a journalist, wrote about his travels over the "flyover"America in The Atlantic Monthly places he previously thought had not much culture or economic potential. He states that when people are discouraged about the state of America or their locale political problems, the answer is: get closer to the action at home, immediate issues at hand. Make a difference. Support a public art project in the community. Read to a child. Engage in your own community to make it better. Forgive a loved one. As he states, "Hopeless places are reinventing themselves" because individuals are willing to turn the tide. They are lighting their candle.

For me a lightness of being and looking for the light are anchors I look to daily. And when we seek for the light, we undoubtedly find it--in the glory of nature, in thoughts and ideas, within people. We feel the surge of luminous light when we love and serve; burdens and struggles vanish when we try to see the soul of another. I have traveled to many countries now, and am endlessly fascinated with how other cultures and peoples crave and cling to light. We as humanity have the ability to be conductors of light, to shed goodness and joy. When we are our best selves, forgiving, loving, giving, we shine. And that is when we know and can see who we really are.

All the shadows and layers disappear when we choose to light our candle--in our home, neighborhood, and the places we thought as previously "flyover." Every candle counts, and if the wind momentarily snuffs our candle out, we can rekindle the light in each other.

Lighting the candle to be dropped into the Thu Bon River in the beautiful town of Hoi An,Vietnam. It is considered good luck for the year to light a candle, and then lower it into the river with a basket. You can then float down the river in a boat with the candles in a little box drifting next to you. I have to say it is magical.

I was at a traditional Indian wedding this year, and these are the aunts (they let us participate) giving light to the bride.
To see the radiance of beauty in our world can always give lightness to our souls--pushing away cares--making them drift down the river, far from our gaze.
I love this picture of my dear neighbor's children, and my husband getting some stitches out. It is time in this world to #LighttheWorld with more than tolerance, but kindness. more than inclusion, but friendship. Starting with our neighbors and communities, it will ripple over all the borders in this world.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Turning Thanksgiving to Thanksliving.....

"Thus out of small beginnings, greater things have been produced by His hand, that made all things that are. . . and as one small candle may light a thousand, so the light here kindled hath shows unto many. . . yea in some sort to our whole nation."    --William Bradford, founder and governor of Plymouth Colony

"Behold our family (and friends) here assembled. We thank Thee for this place in which we've gathered, for the love that unites us, for the peace accorded us this day; for the hope with which we expect the morrow, for the health, the work, the food, and the bright skies that make our lives delightful; and for our family and friends in all parts of the earth. Let peace abound in our small company. --Robert Louis Stevenson

Today is my third Thanksgiving here in Qatar. I have celebrated with people from India, Pakistan, Jordan, UK, Canada, and many other countries in our Thanksgiving feasts. Some of them have heard about Thanksgiving from movies, and they wanted to get a peek into our American holiday. I have not always had a turkey and the usual pumpkin pies with them, but a more varied mix of food, like curries and meat pies. Yet the familiarities can, with some effort, be somewhat duplicated here. But today I find myself stripped of many traditions, and thinking about my abundant blessings.

I am thankful for wonderful family and friends who inspire and support me every day--at my daughter's wedding in September.
A few days ago my brother-in-law sent me a picture that said, "In case you have forgotten the summer of 2016, here is a picture to have a laugh." I am standing with one boot (feeling very lucky and blessed to be standing) at my daughter's wedding. I had already been sitting in a chair for almost two months after my ankle was broken. From my experience this year with my injury, I have decided to have a life of "Thanks Living." I want to be grateful every, every day for dear family, friends, my faith, health, nature, raindrops (they are very scarce here in the Middle East), music, art, good books, savory soups, and thousands of things.

I am grateful, more than I can ever express, to be able to walk again--after a bad fall. I never want to forget, ever, ever how lucky I am to walk. I want to always remember to walk in better paths. Blog post on Learning to Walk Again

A few years ago, my good friend, Joy, began a tradition on Thanksgiving Eve. Friends and family gathered at The Old Stone Church in St. Louis, a familiar spot on The Underground Railroad where a few slaves are buried. On those Thanksgiving Eves, we gathered to express gratitude before the feasts with music and stories. There was no heating, not much light, and an old organ that you had to pump to hear the music. As we shivered and saw the cold breath spout from our mouths, we listened to others' blessings. Our hearts united; for a small moment in time, we remembered our blessings. It was the perfect preface for the next day of turkey and pumpkin pie.

Now living far from Turkey Trots, Turkey Rolls (sliding a frozen turkey across a gym floor like a bowling ball) to knock some pins down, and more particularly family and old friends, we will continue our Gratitude Gatherings or Thanksgiving Eves. I can spend dozens of hours shopping and cooking a feast, and it can be gone in a few minutes. But the real bonds happen around the table, the UNO game, the nature walk--and those can be done anytime of year.

So light a large candle, and let the melted wax drip--until it vanishes away. Talk about your blessings. Express your love. Make every moment count. Turn your Thanksgiving into "Thanks Living."

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

A few autumn days in Praha (Prague)....

"The streets of Prague were a fantasia scarcely touched by the twenty-first century--or the twentieth or nineteenth, for that matter. It was a city of alchemists and dreams, its medieval cobbles once trod by golems, mystics, invading armies. Tall houses glowed goldenrod and carmine and eggshell blue, embellished with Rococo plasterwork and capped in roofs or uniform red. Baroque cupolas were the soft green of antique copper, and Gothic steeples stood ready to impale fallen angels. The wind carried the memory of magic, revolution, violins, and the cobbled lanes meandered like creeks.   . . . Marionettes hung in windows, making the whole city seem like a theatre with unseen puppeteers crouched behind velvet."                 --Laini Taylor

A view from a park, looking into the Old Town of Prague. Towers and red roofs dot the landscape, an endless expanse of gargoyles, spires, and watchtowers. Praha, known as the "Golden City."
In the Czech language, Praha (Prague is the German pronunciation) means "threshold." Truly, it is an entrance into a majestic world. In fact, Hitler banned bombing Praha with its array of diverse architecture. You can meander down a street and see Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque styles. The oldest astronomical clock in the world chimes hourly in Old Time Square.  Old cathedrals abound everywhere, with spires and towers that have defied destruction with army invasions for over a thousand years. Despite wars, such as the Thirty Year's War and 20th century upheavals, Praha still proudly stands--a medieval city that has been remarkably, blessedly preserved. It is a place of heroes, saints, revolutions--seeing both sorrow and joys. The entire city is a walking tour of the ages....

Joseph showing off his talent of making bubbles for some onlookers. He had plenty of practice for our kids' birthday parties. Many people came to the Central Square in Prague that morning to watch his talent.
Here we are up in a clock tower, looking over all the spires and steeples.

Prague Castle, an endlessly fascinating place, filled with museums, little towns within the city walls.

The Charles Bridge, the most famous bridge, among the main bridges ( some say up to three hundred). It is one of the most beautiful bridges I have ever seen with the Vitava River flowing by. People have been walking from one side of Prague to the other for over 500 years on it. I would even say it is worth going all the way to Prague to walk back and forth a few times. There are musicians, clowns, food stalls. The views are stunning--seeing the many bridges built up and down the river. Catholic saints are placed all along the sides, for people to remember them.
If you ever go to Prague, you must visit the Jewish Quarters. It was a cramped ghetto where thousands of Jews lived in a space of seven or so blocks squared, for almost six centuries--gated and walled from the rest of the city. Today there are six synagogues to visit, thankfully that were not bulldozed or destroyed during WW2 or during the time of Communism. To walk the cobbled streets, that now are lined with the most expensive stores in Prague, belie the harsh poverty and injustice that once existed there. Blog post about Children's Art during the Holocaust in the Pinkas Museum

Almost 80,000 names are handwritten in the Pinkas Synagogue and Museum in the Jewish Quarters, all of them being from Morovian and Bohemia descent. It is a place of great soberness and reflection.

In the Jewish Quarters, there is a Jewish cemetery--one of the oldest in the world. The first grave stone is dated in the first half of the 15th century, and the last burial stone placed was 1787. The space was very tight in the Jewish Quarters, so the graves were dug ten deep. Several scholars, poets, and leaders are buried here, among them  Rabbi Jehuda LIva Ben Becalel who created the tradition of Golem. Golem was a anthropomorphic clay figure that he said would protect the Jews from pogroms.   The Pinkas Cemetery

Marionettes are everywhere in the markets and stalls. They were begun to be made in the 18th century here, and Czechs revere puppet making as a real art. You can find witches, kings, princesses, Mozarts, Don Giovannis--to just name a few.

One wonderful memory was going to a marionette show of Don Giovanni at the National Marionette Theatre. Some Mozart marionettes in the distance. Mozart debuted Don Giovanni in Prague in 1787. Praguers are proud that they recognized the genius of Mozart before the rest of the world. When others were skeptical of his music during his lifetime, Praguers only sang his praises.

Don Giovanni and The Magic Flute marionette shows are favorites among the Czechs. Music and opera are integral parts of their lives--even among children.

On the Charles Bridge, there were several musicians, and this one caught my eye since he was blind. My father-in-law was a blind musician. I sat and listened to his Czech folksongs for a long time, while the boats floated by.

First warming our hands in the coals, while the dough is made into a ice creams cone
Waiting in the line was worth it to try a "trdelnik"--called a donut cone or a chimney cake. 
A Czech ice cream cone, with the pastry dough wrapped around the ice cream, with some nutella. A strike of genius.
Music, music everywhere--on almost every corner. Most cathedrals had classical concerts nightly for tourists. We went to a Vivaldi and Beethoven concert. Czechs love their music--folk, opera, classical, modern.

Vivaldi concert in Prague music hall
Wherever I go, my favorite food to try in any country is their soup. Perhaps it is because I believe soup is created with pure love and devotion. My husband talked about this bowl of sauerkraut soup for several days. I even made it when I got home, and I will continue to crave the tang of this soup. Sauerkraut Soup Recipe I promise you won't be disappointed if you make it.

A bakery, with traditional gingerbread cookies.
At every cafe and restaurant that was outside, a fleece blanket was provided on the chair to warm their cold patrons. 
Some friends we met who shared with us their stories of escape and rescues.
At one of the harvest markets. I loved the decorative pictures made with vegetables that were displayed around the market.

Elias: Everyone Sees the World in Different Ways

Hey, My name is Elias. I like my art. This is a new picture I did with my new art teacher. I did stripes and then drew designs on it. I like putting the shapes together. It reminds me of a rainbow and a blanket. I want to be an artist when I grow up. I like to remember that we all see the world in different ways,with different colors and designs in our eyes.
It is always warm here in Doha, It looks like it is going to rain here.
Love, Elias

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Netherlands: The arrival of Sinterklaas (Santa Claus) in mid-November from Spain

Christmas just came a little sooner for me this year--from my recent trip to the Netherlands. And I could not have been happier to begin to celebrate my favorite holiday. To learn the Dutch traditions and hear their memories of Christmas and Sinterklaas made me feel like a child again. It seemed everyone in the Netherlands turns the clock back (in my case, many years) in mid-November as Sinterklaas arrives on the boat from Spain. There are parades, canal rides, and thousands of children to see. Everyone is jolly, festive, and smiling.

St. Nicholas is the patron saint of Amsterdam, and his image is everywhere. The large Catholic cathedral in Amsterdam is named for him. He was born in the 4th century in Greece, and died on December 6 343 AD. His origins are legendary and folklore. But there is also historical truth too. He was known as a 'The Good, Holy Man"--a bishop who generously gave to the poor in his many wanderings. In fact, he is known as the "The Wonderworker." When Dutch immigrants came to New York City in the 18th century, they blessedly brought the traditions of Sinterklaas with them.  History of St. Nicholas

Sinterklaas, after arriving on the boat the day before from Spain, parades through the streets of Amsterdam. He will be in The Netherlands until December 6, and then will return back to Spain. He wears a long red came over a a traditional white bishop's alb. He has long curly white hair that matches his billowing beard. He carries a large, tattered book that tells him if the children are good or naughty,

            A glimpse of what it was like to be at the parade of Sinterklaas in Amsterdam this year
Sinterklaas arriving from Spain, on a canal of Amsterdam. He comes every year in mid-November, staying in the Netherlands for about three weeks to visit the children in schools and communities. 

Children all over the Netherlands put out their shoes on the eve of St. Nicholas Day (December 5) to receive candy and presents. This picture was taken in a museum/old church called "Our Lord of the Attic"--a small Catholic church that was secretly built and used for several centuries in a house.  Our Lord of the Attic Church   Children receive candy and goodies in their shoes or cinder (ashes) if they are naughty.
Cookies that are set out for Sinterklass' coming....
Tiny gingerbread cookies called kruidnoten abound everywhere. You can find them in market stalls and hotels. There are huge bags of them on the street, especially on the day of the Sinterklaas arrival to Amsterdam. Candy and cookies are thrown everywhere to remember when St. NIcholas saved three girls from being prostitutes. The story goes that he threw gold coins in the window to rescue them from a horrible fate. Kruidnoten recipe
Zaarte Piete, St. Nicholas' companion, wears a lace collar, red hat, and happily prances around. He has streaks of charcoal on his face from climbing down chimneys.

Another dressed up Zwarte Piet, standing on a high ledge in Dam Square in Amsterdam. St. Nicholas is the patron saint of Amsterdam so his image can be seen on buildings everywhere. This relief is on an old house, near the square--now next to a H and M store.
Many people, dressed up like Zwarte Piet, hang from buildings, and prance around singing, dancing, and throwing candy. 

An owner of a shop in Haarlem, Netherlands who said this would be his busiest part of the year--the next three weeks of St. Nicholas' stay. He provides make up and costumes.
The window of his shop, and the outcome of many who will come to get ready to be St. Nicholas.

I didn't know anything about Sinterklaas arriving on a boat from Spain, and coming to the Netherlands.  My Santa Claus drove a sleigh of reindeer through the sky. He didn't ride a majestic white horse and meander his way through the canals of the Netherlands. But I was glad to see him this year. Christmas just happily came a little earlier....

Friday, November 18, 2016

Netherlands: Corrie Ten Boom and a life of "Living Faith"

“Today I know that such memories are the key not to the past, but to the future. I know that the experiences of our lives, when we let God use them, become the mysterious and perfect preparation for the work he will give us to do. And our wise Father in heaven knows when we're going to need things too. Don't run out ahead of him.”
                                                           --Corrie Ten Boom

Corrie's bedroom, a small room furthest from the entrance, was "the hiding place." On the bottom shelf in the closet, there is  a lever that could be pulled to enter behind the wall. Bricks were put into place to hide the hole. Nazi informers could not find the hiding place. For three days, four Jews and two Dutch resistance fighters stayed in a small area of 2" X 8" feet. All were set free, but Corrie's family went to prison near the Hague.

Every few years I read The Hiding Place. It is the story of an endlessly fascinating person to me: Corrie Ten Boom, a Christian Dutch woman who was a clockmaker by trade, but helped to save 800 Jews during the Dutch Resistance in World War II. It is a book that resonated with me as a teenager, and in many chapters of my life since then. Corrie was an ordinary woman who resolutely chooses to rescue, to do good--even if it meant the possibility of going to a concentration camp or being beaten by Nazi interrogators. Now decades later, I am the same age as Corrie was when she came home from the concentration camp, miraculously being saved due to a a clerical error. Her decision to not only ostensibly save people, at first her neighbors and then strangers, but then to tell the world how her "living faith" was shaped, continues to move me.

The Ten Boom Museum and Watch store in Haarlem, Netherlands today
A few days ago I was in Amsterdam, Netherlands, and took a short train trip to Haarlem to visit Corrie's home. The first floor is still a watch and clock repair store, with three levels of stairs above the watch business. It was the perfect house for a hiding place; the passages link around like a rabbits's burrow. Corrie's bedroom, the smallest room from the front door, was "the hiding place." Upon entering the floors upstairs, you can hardly not do some soul searching. What side would I have leaned if I had lived in the Netherlands at this time? What choices would I have made? Would my choices be comprised by a "living faith"?

Sometimes when we reread or hear a true story several times, we forget that people made decisions without knowing the outcome of their choices. We, the hearer of the story, know the ending, sometimes in scrupulous, familiar detail. With each retelling, it is embedded more in our psyche. But to a person in a real life setting, where decisions are made with cautious deliberation and fear of danger, the ending is unknown. Important choices are sometimes made in a fog--not knowing when and if the clouds will lift. Corrie's choice to hide Jews and people working in the Dutch resistance, get ration books for Jews, and live a life of commotion and insecurity stir me. With the Nazi occupation in Holland already swallowing any normality or most daily joys, Corrie chose to rescue in very uncertain times. She choose what she believed was good, moral, right--without knowing the ending of her story.

What was the ending of her story? Her 84 year old father died ten days after they were arrested in a prison near The Hague. Her sister, Betsy, whom she loved and revered, died in a concentration camp about two weeks before Corrie was miraculously given her freedom. Some of Betsy's last words to Corrie in the concentration camp where she died were, "There is no pit so deep, that God's love is not deeper still." And then she said, "Go and tell people about what we have experienced, Corrie." Corrie Ten Boom spent the next almost 40 years explaining her "living faith."

Corrie Ten Boom died on April 15, 1983 at age 91 years old. She was born also on April 15. According to Jewish lore, only a tremendously special person is born and dies on the same day.

My Life is But a Weaving 

My life is but a weaving, between my God and me.
I cannot choose the colors He weaveth steadily.
Oft' times he weaveth sorrow, and I in my foolish pride, 
forget He sees the upper, and I the underside.

Not 'til the loom is silent, and the shuttles cease to fly, 
Will God unroll the canvas, and reveal the reasons why.
The dark threads are as needful, in the weaver's skillful hands, 
as the thread of gold and silver in the pattern He has planned.

He knows, He loves, He cares, nothing this truth can dim.
He gives the very best to those who leave the choice to Him.
                              --By Corrie Ten Boom

On one side of the stitching shows all the loose strings, and a matted mess. This was a tapestry that Corrie often shared with others, and liked to see the reaction when she turned it over to show them the other side. (Pictured below)

If you flip the needle work over, you see a glorious crown with a jewel on top. The tapestry she showed often to remind people that our experiences, both painful and joyous, are all woven into our individual canvas. Sometimes we don't know the reason for the delays or sorrows, but someday we will understand the Master Weaver's stitches in our lives.