Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Top Ten Christmas Albums

Please, don’t get me wrong. I am a strong advocate for celebrating only one holiday at a time, specifically giving Thanksgiving its own time to shine. But, now that it’s done, I want to go ahead and carefully attend to matters of the heart: Christmas music. This is what we call “Self Care.” I’m all about holistic care for my readers and it’ll put my mind at ease knowing that you have an array of solid tunes to be playing for the next… month. I know you have iTunes or something like it, so these are a must. Yes, it’s true: I’ve compiled a Top Ten List [my daddy would be so proud].

10. Justin Beiber – “Under the Mistletoe” PLEASE KEEP READING. Sometimes I forget that I have a quite varied age range crowd of readers—sometimes I think everyone is 27 just like me. And when asked, one of my dear 17-year olds came up with this one. She’s touched me beyond measure, so she gets a spot [albeit the very last possible spot] on the countdown. Beiber Fever is a real thing. And I like his sweet, little voice… [But my REAL #10 is Michael BublĂ©…]

9. Bing Crosby – “White Christmas” Old school, but don’t judge—it’s fantastic. What would Christmas be without Bing singing to you? Let’s be real here.

8. *NSync – “Home for Christmas” I’m totally unashamed and completely PROUD of this selection. I grew up during the 90’s. This is quality stuff. I love the piano at the beginning of “Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays”—if it doesn’t make you want to dance, then there is something wrong with you. [I’m sorry, but it’s true.] Ok, we’ll compromise: If you can’t bring yourself to get the whole album, at least get the one song… okay?

7. Elf: Music from the Major Motion Picture I just love Zoey Deschanel and the “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” duet is basically worth it all. Ugh. I love it. Takes me back to the good ole college days.

6. David Crowder*Band – “Oh For Joy” I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not completely in love with DC’s voice… but his music is top dog and I really love how they’ve mixed up and changed up these awesome songs.

5. James Taylor – “James Taylor at Christmas” AND “A Christmas Album” I’m just SO happy to sing with him every year. [Me in my pajamas, him on the iPod.] You need him in your life. You won’t be sorry.

4. Home Alone Original Motion Picture Soundtrack If I need to talk to you about this one, it’s not worth it. It’s nearly the epitome of Christmas for me. [Did you know Macaulay Culkin is, like, a grown up now? Hmmph.]

3. Jars of Clay – “Christmas Songs” I don’t know why you wouldn’t want these hotties singing these sweet songs. Go. Get it in your life right now. You can thank me later.

2. Mariah Carey – “Merry Christmas” Don’t be a hater. You know she’s good and I know that you know that you wish you could sing like her. We all do. So, get over yourself and get this album. It’s from 1994, but let’s be honest: she’ll never have to update it. [But she did: “Merry Christmas II You.” Get it?] “All I Want for Christmas” and “O Holy Night” are my favorites. You know you like it.

1. Vince Guaraldi Trio – “A Charlie Brown Christmas”
If I were stuck on a deserted island, this music would somehow be with me. I love that it’s just piano and “children” singing. Yes, sometimes, around December 17th, I skip the kids singing “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” because I just can’t handle it anymore, but overall, it’s my absolute favorite. Download this, light a candle and be merry. Because it’s beautiful and warm and I’m hoping you’ll love it half as much as I do.

So, even if you only acquire ONE of these albums I’ll sleep better at night.
Is there anything I missed that you just swear by for the Christmas season??

Next week: Back to normal blogging.
I just couldn’t help myself.
Music is that important to me.
[And you listening to it is too.]

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Thanksgiving: "You Do All Things Well - Just Look at Our Lives"

Thanksgiving is my absolute favorite holiday. I love it because…
The 5Fs: Father, Food, Football, Family and Friends!

Football: I don’t know if you’ve really picked up on this yet [because I try not to be obsessive about everything], but I’m a BIG Green Bay Packers fan. BIG. Thanksgivings growing up, my dad and brothers would head off to play in their annual Turkey Bowl and come home just in time for dinner. My only request, if I “had” to stay home and cook [I love this precious time with my mom], was that they set up a TV in the kitchen so I could watch football while chopping and stirring. [Yes, you’re right: I’m a genius.]

Food & Family: I kind of have a huge family. Think “My Big, Fat, Greek Wedding” and keep going. My dad’s European and my mom’s American Indian. It gets crazy. There’s drama. People get mad because I only take an obligatory bite of turkey and save the rest of the room for the side dishes. Way more important. [I’m unashamed.]

Friends: Since college, I really haven’t been “home” for many Thanksgivings. With it so close to Christmas, I usually went to a friend’s house instead of traveling home. I’ve learned what’s it’s like to not have family around for a major holiday, what it means to be a guest and how to invite and host friends for stuff like this. Friends are fun… and each one brings his/her own family traditions.

Father: I like being thankful. And I LOVE that we have a holiday for it. At dinner, I insist that we go around the table and each take a turn sharing something we’re thankful for in the past year. For some people, it’s hard to verbalize these things and for others, it’s difficult to narrow it down.

Being the only American in my work setting, I of course, took it upon myself to celebrate and inform those around me about American holidays. And last Thanksgiving was no different. Turns out, the whole world doesn’t celebrate Thanksgiving—just the United States. [Canada does, but it’s on a different day.]

For Thanksgiving [a day which I had to go to work on], I did this: I traced my hand on paper, cut it out and wrote all my co-workers names on them. I gave them instructions to write something that they’re thankful for in each person. I wrote mine on all their “turkeys” and provided ultra-fine Sharpie markers. I even offered to… “contact paper” them afterwards so that they’d keep. [We don't have a laminator.]

I really thought this little project was going to fail—that they were going to just make fun of me, ignore it, gossip about me and my naivetĂ©. But no. They fully embraced it. Until then, I hadn’t seen these ten women more giggly and excited about something. It was like their wedding day or something. Their eyes were dancing, they were hugging, laughing and “my love”ing each other. It. Was. Beautiful.

I love being thankful and telling other people that they’re special to me and why. I don’t do it enough. And since I was the first to go, to be the example for them, I wrote something genuine on each turkey hand. These ladies were giddy.

One of my favorite songs that Roommate would play in our salon on her guitar was Kevin Prosch’s “His Banner Over Me.”

“He brought me to His banqueting table
And His banner… over me… is love… sweet love…

And we can feel the love of God in this place,
We believe Your goodness, we receive Your grace.
We delight ourselves at Your table, O God,
You do all things well—just look at our lives.

His banner over you,
His banner over me,
His banner over us is love, love, love…”

Indeed, He does ALL things well—just look at our lives.

This year, around a table in California, far from my immediate family, but surrounded by friends, I’m going to be most thankful for His goodness and His strong, right hand. He led me on an adventure of ups and downs in the middle of a desert and I’m forever changed. His faithfulness knows no bounds. He’s whispered to me, and continues to, opening my heart with hurts, aches, laughter and love. He’s writing a beautiful story with my life, and I’m so thankful to be His.

Happy Thanks-Giving.
[Make sure you give a lot of it…]

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

For When Your Loved Ones Don't Understand

[I say “Don’t Understand” instead of “Disagree” because, obviously, I choose to operate in the realm of: If they understood, then they would agree… but I know that’s not always the case.]

Another aspect of loneliness “out here” is when your loved ones don’t understand the Call you’ve answered. Sometimes it’s funny and sometimes it’s sad and maybe you’ve cried. For the most part, my family’s pretty rockstar about this whole thing—I’m blessed to have a family who knows our Father and they keep trusting Him with me, or at least try to. But I know others here, many who have raised their whole families and planted their whole lives here for the sake of their One, True Love, and their loved ones, even after a decade or two, don’t understand.

Living in this region , many people think we’re walking into the face of danger. That we’ve gone to some office, signed a release for our lives and have essentially given up on living. Dramatic? Maybe. Mostly realistic? For many, yes. I get a lot of “WHY”s and shakes of the head and comments saying, “Oh, I could NEVER do that.” or “Wow… you’re so… brave…” or my personal favorite: “Aren’t you just SO scaaaarreedd???” [And this is from people that we love—I’m not gonna even touch how the people we don’t love so much react.]

There’s a difference to be expect based on the like-mindedness of your loved ones. If they aren’t like-minded with you, then… ok. It’s only grace that you can give them. They don’t share your heart or your Love, so it makes sense that maybe they’re not supportive [sometimes, though, these are the most supportive…]. But if they do know your Love personally, and they don’t encourage you, celebrate with you through the struggles and triumphs and “things you do for Love,” then… it’s hard.

And I think it’s totally ok to grieve these things. I think it’s ok to be sad for this loss. Some people’s families, especially my peers’, border on the “Ok, I think he’s got that almost all out of his system,” mentality. They expect us young, singles to go away for a year, maybe two, and then come back to our “senses” and settle down “at home.”

Well… if “home is where the heart is,” and your heart is given to a Relocater named “I AM,” then you’re kinda up a creek. [Or out in a desert under a bazillion twinkling stars conserving water.] Either way, your heart is changed and “home” no longer means the same thing it did just 1,000 days ago or maybe even 100. When friends are distraught that they’re not living up to the [earthly] familial pressures to have a 9-5 job, get married and raise their kids in the suburbs, I tell them, with a gentle smile on my face and a fire in my eyes that, “We. Are. Ruined.”

We’re ruined.

We’re ruined for the ordinary. Please don’t hear me wrong—there’s nothing wrong with 9-5 jobs, getting married or living in the suburbs. I dig all those things—they’re actually my roots. But I can’t do it. Not right now. So please don’t try to make me. Because this should be ok, too. They say that some “Stay, Pay and Pray” while others “Go, Sow and Grow.” We’re just different parts of the same body—and that’s fantastic. What kills me is when families, couples, singles, humans, are out here, doing their thing for Love and they’re not backed up by the very people they hold dear.

And maybe that’s you today. Maybe your loved ones don’t understand your 3-week stint in the jungle or your 25 years in the city. And I’m here to say: “Ugh. I’m sorry.” Because I am.

Or maybe you’re that person who has a loved one “out there,” and you’re missing each other’s lives. I know that hurts, too. To be left and to be the leaver—they’re both difficult roles to play. I feel those aches. I know what it’s like to have your favorite person/people gone from your everyday life—to be missing from around your table at the holidays, to not see babies grow, to not watch all the Packer games together... and I know what it’s like to be the missing one.

But I also find that it’s in these hurts that there is much beauty. And I think each person needs to come to terms with that themselves. I can’t make anyone understand or agree with my Call. But I do know that my God is strong. I ask Him, for my friends and sometimes for myself, to place a peace and an understanding in our loved ones.

Would you do that today?
And please comment—
you never know who is reading
and who needs your words.

My parents and youngest brother showin’ a girl in a yellow dress
some love over Skype.
They’re so funny. :) I adore them.
[And I miss them.]

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Eid al-Adha

If you’re just finding out about this Eid, then… you missed it. But! You can blame me and still participate in some visiting and coffee, I’m sure.

This Eid, or Festival, is, as far as I can tell, the most important in Is. It concludes the Hajj, or the important pilgrimage to Mecca (one of the five pillars of Is.). Eid al-Adha, or Festival of Sacrifice, is an important commemorative holiday where Mus. around the world remember the prophet Abraham’s obedience and celebrate it by following suit. It’s much like the story I have in my Good Book, but with a few alterations. In their holy book, Mus. believe that Abraham had some outrageous dreams from Allah to sacrifice his son, Ishmael. Abraham is obedient in doing the unthinkable and Ishmael is willing to be sacrificed—both really great Mus. because of their submission to God’s will. [Instead of Isaac being his chosen son, Ishmael is the one who’s lead to the slaughter, only to be rescued by God’s provision of a ram.] In their book, Abraham is awarded for his faith with another son, Isaac. [Hmmm….] In the weeks between Rama and Eid al-Adha, there are billboards and other ridiculous advertisements on TV and the streets for sheep. Yes. I’m not even lying to you. Ads to buy a sheep for your family for about $150. What a deal.

Today, most Mus., ya know, the secular ones, really just celebrate and explain the Eid as one to give to the poor. Preparation for the Eid is much like Christmas, for lack of a better comparison. All shops put on outstanding sales as everyone gets new clothes and toys, everyone you KNOW visits you and you them.

But back to the sheep: they slaughter them. Openly. Like, seriously, on the side of the road. I have substantial video footage for this. [If you can’t afford a sheep yourself, you may go in with your relatives and split it, since you might only make $300/month, this sheep would be half your monthly income. Or, maybe, instead, you’ll slaughter a goat. Or a cow. Or a camel. Whatever. If you still can’t afford an entire animal, you’ll buy a portion of meat from a butcher to distribute. The important part is that you are somehow responsible for handing out some meat.] Traditionally, you’ll keep 1/3 for yourself, give 1/3 to your family or friends and the last 1/3 goes to the Mosque to distribute to the needy.

Dude’s got a Fedora and a meat cleaver. Classy.

Well, I wanted to see this. With my own eyes and with my Flip video camera. So some adventurous friends, all American women, all who speak MUCH better Arabic than me [that’s important for the story] get into a van, two nights in a row, to track down a butcher station. For a week now we’d been seeing sheep penned up alongside the road with their shepherds. They have numbers spray painted on them and they’re dumb and happy, eating whatever there is to eat on a deserted lot in the desert city.

Roommate and I hop into a van just before sunset. We figure that the slaughtering will go on after sunset prayers and we’ll catch the action. We drive around to where each of us have “thought” we’ve seen something, only to find nothing. Finally, after calling several of our Arab friends for help, I suggest we ask some men standing around where we can find some sheep. “Great idea, Sarah! Roll down your window!!”

“Hey! Wait! How do I ask??!”

“You know the words—do it!” comes their taunting encouragement.

Our lovely driver pulls up to a man and I hang my head out the window, my blonde hair out the window, a semi-smile on my face [at this point I have no idea how to smile at men anymore] and say, in my really terribly preschool-like Arabic: “Peace be upon you. Excuse me, sir. Where are sheep, please?”

Yeah. That’s what I say. My three “friends” explode into laughter.

He gets a little nervous, wishes blessings back on me and asks me to clarify.

“Oh, Sheep. So… today is Eid al-Adha, right? I want I see sheep. Sheep. Do you know where are sheep, please?”

With the car still giggling, he realizes that I’m doing my best and that I’m totally serious. He doesn’t know where any are, but you can’t EVER say that in Arabic—it’s like a life-requirement to give directions even if you have no idea. So, I thank him profusely, bid him farewell and he wishes God’s protection on my travels. [Shukran.]

This same procedure happens about 6 times. Sometimes I get out of the van, sometimes I try to talk to women who avoid me like the plague and sometimes I just stick my head out the window and start flirtin’, hoping to draw a crowd where some kid paid attention in English class and can help a Shagra out.

With two failed night excursions under our belts, we decide to try daytime. Pretty much the same ordeal, even though my morale grows dim from all the laughter and rejection, and the basic, very real fact that I look like a crazy, foreign woman on drugs, wandering the streets calling for sheep. [And juice. What? I got thirsty.] Just when we’re about to give up on our daytime traversing of the city, literally from one end to the other, we pick up a woman in her 50’s on the side of the road and give her a ride. We drop her off and what to my wondering eyes would appear, but a pen full of numbered sheep!!!

We found our spot. We watched their little set up. How they so methodically and efficiently butchered the animals. Nothing went to waste.

Families, or men and their sons, would come, pick a sheep, pay for it and watch it slaughtered. Have it skinned, cut up, put into plastic bags and take it home for their wives, mothers and daughters to prepare. [Some people get a sheep delivered to their homes and actually slaughter it there—on the patio, in the bathroom—but we watched it on the side of a road.] It was gross, but somehow really normal to me. It’s a family event and brings a lot of joy. They’re performing their religious and societal duties and it’s a time of celebration. An old man who sat by and watched the sacrifices for hours that day. Maybe one of the butchers was a grandson?

Traditions are important in this land. Families carry these sacred traditions from generation to generation. They believe that they are honoring God in these ways, and I can respect that. I had a few conversations with close friends about our Great Sacrifice and how we need Him.

Pray for our friends,
that in these days of celebrating obedience
through messages in dreams,
that they’ll come to know the One, True Sacrifice.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011


Some of my most climactic interactions are those of deciding where and when to meet a friend. Decision-making conversation turns into high-pitched voices rapidly escalating into “YEEEEEE!!!! Ok! Ok!”

It’s the whole, “You will be here? Right? You are coming, right? I wait for you, ok?”

“Yes! Yes! Yes!” come my answers, with which we both adamantly follow up with vigorous nods of our heads, breathing, “Inshallah, inshallah,” [God-willing].

After a few times of going great lengths of preparing big meals in my house and my friends bailing on me in the last minutes or not showing up at all with no warning phone call, I started asking them: “Now, is this an “Arab inshallah” or an “American” one? Because I know there’s a difference.” They would keenly smile at me with twinkling eyes, knowing that they were making an Arab one and that I knew the repercussions of this. Sometimes it was just that they would be late by two hours, since time isn’t of the essence, but rather an order of events—they’d get to me when they get to me. And other times, they would just “commit” to coming or meeting me when really they didn’t want to, but couldn’t say “no” to my face.

One of my most favorite things to do is look at the stars. I love when there’s a full moon and it casts a shadow on my bedroom floor. I love laying out on a Middle Eastern roof, listening to the late night traffic, the sounds of my neighborhood, while I watch the stars. They really do “twinkle.” I don’t get it. But they’re awesome and they’re big and seem to be so promising.

And after a night when a friend “broke her promise” of being there, when apparently “God didn’t will for our meeting to happen,” I like to look to the sky and remember His promises of old. One of my favorite passages is of Abram/Abraham when God tells him to “go to a place I will show you.” And later when He takes Abram out in the night and says something to the effect of, “Look up at the sky, count the stars, try if you can—for as great a number of these, so shall be your offspring.”

God made a promise to Abram when he was doubting and questioning how God would provide for him. God reminded him of His goodness and faithfulness, and indeed, He kept His promise.

I came to the land that God showed me—I didn’t choose it out of a catalog or off a map. I’ve just continued to follow the passions He’s given me and have continued to walk through open doors and knock on closed ones. He has lead me here and His promises are true. So even when there’s a cultural padding built in for broken promises—no matter how big or small—God has none of that in His character. What He says He will do, He does.

And I rest in that. I rest in His character. I laugh to myself as my lady friends cluck over me like hens, pressuring me to be at their house, to go to their village, to share a meal with their family. Their earnest desire for me just to say the words that I’ll be there, for me to come through on my promise to visit, to bring cookies, to come kiss their mother, to try to dance like they do… I feel that it’s all part of a greater desire to be valued, to be remembered and to be treasured.

I don’t get hurt anymore when my friends “break their promises.” It’s in our human nature to break them, and I for one, have also broken many—more than I’d care to admit. Sometimes to circumstances beyond my control, and sometimes because I was just stretching myself too thin.

But if God made this great big world, and in particular this fantastic night sky, surely He’s involved and caring in our small, minute lives. Surely He is a Creator, Good and Faithful to keep His promises.

He whispers to us,
He makes these promises to us when He shows us His plans,
and step by step
He gives us ample reminders that
He is Strong, He is Good, and that He endures.

Photo by my sweet, dear friend, Noor Renfroe.
Please check her out.
She’s an incredible photographer, artist and woman of God.

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