Just As I Am

Comparison is the Thief of Joy. – Theodore Roosevelt

I was recently listening to a sermon by my good friend, Fr. Anthony Messeh, about visiting the land of Er. What is the land of Er? Living a life of comparison – she is pretti-ER, bett-ER Mom than me, thinn-ER, cool-ER, and the list goes on and on. On and on.

We are taught from a young age what does not look good and what looks good. What is considered acceptable or not. This goes from looks, to education, to status, to where we live. I remember when I first met my husband, I always made my hair stick straight, wore contacts instead of glasses, and stayed out of the sun to stay “lighter.” From my culture, I always “knew” curly hair, darker skin, and glasses were the things that made me look ugly. The funny thing is that he loved me just as I was. With my curly hair. With my skin color. And with my glasses (I had an eye problem and had to stop wearing contacts). My husband loved me just as I am. Just as I am.

And that is how Christ looks at us. Just as we are. There is a beautiful worship song that we sing here in Zambia. The words are “Just take me as I am.” And Christ does just that. Takes us and loves us just as we are. Just as I am.

Last year, I got caught in a comparison trap with my son. He was achieving his potential. He was well rounded, active in sports, music, spiritually and so much more. But, he wasn’t getting the top awards. What?! How could he not be better than the guy next to him? I swallowed down disappointment and shame. I came from a family where we racked up on the awards from Honor Roll to Highest Academic awards. And where I received my security and confidence from knowing I was doing better than the guy or girl next to me.

I was wrong. My security comes from HIM. And only Him. My confidence from Jesus Christ. And He accepts me Just as I am. Just as I am. With my weaknesses and shortcomings. He accepts my son the same way.

Recently, I lost over 30 lbs by changing my lifestyle – good healthy habits, eating right, and exercise. I am proud of my achievement. But, when I get to the gym or look on social media and I see a Mom even better than me. Thinner and more muscular. Despite my accomplishments, the comparison trap continues.

At Christmastime, as I kept up with what my friends back in the States were doing, I began to feel a sense of sadness. Are we missing out? On family, friends, beautiful homes, and pretty Christmas lights around the town. Am I not giving my husband and children good Christmas memories that they will cherish forever? Am I not measuring up as a Mom? Is that Mom better than me? But, then it dawned on me as my 7-year-old son was dressed up as Santa passing out chocolates to little Sunday School kids and my little 3-year-old daughter was helping my husband and I pass out a Christmas-day meal to our Church family, that we were creating our OWN Christmas traditions. Yes, they are different than some of my friends and family but they are OURS. There is no comparison between the two.

After I graduated Georgia Tech University in Atlanta, I moved to Washington, D.C. to attend law school. Before going to Atlanta, I grew up in a real small town. I’m talking small! There was one traffic light in town and the two tallest things in town were the First Baptist Church steeple and the sign for McDonald’s, which had just come to town when I was in high school. As soon as I graduated high school, I left and didn’t want to look back. I was too “big city” for my small town. Then, when I moved up to D.C., I was too “northern” for my “southern” roots. I rejected everything of who I was. Even as an Egyptian-American, there came a time where I hated my Egyptian roots. I hated the language, its closed-mindedness, the culture, everything. I was too “American” for my “Egyptian” roots.

When I would visit the South, I was living a life of comparison. My new church was better than my old one. My new social group was more modern than my old one. Everything was slower in the South. I walked the fastest in the Atlanta airport just to make sure everyone knew I no longer associated with the South.

Why did I reject my past? Because I lived in a Comparison Trap. Thing are better somewhere else. I wasn’t secure in who I am. And who God made me to be.

Now, I have begun to embrace my roots! God took me from Southern USA to Southern Africa to remind me of my roots. I have begun to live simpler. To not run away from who I am but understand how God used my past to shape me for today. He embraces me for who I am. Just as I am. When my confidence is built in Him, I value who I am today.

I also have learned to focus on the positive, instead of criticizing. Funny enough, I have spent more time with people from the Egyptian culture here in Zambia and I have seen the good things in the culture that I rejected – it’s hospitality, generosity, and ability to hold on to their Christian beliefs despite persecution.

There is no perfect place to live. No perfect culture. No perfect children. No perfect academic performance. No perfect appearance. No perfect Christmas traditions. No perfect anything. Only God is perfect. And He takes me just as I am. Despite my imperfections.

I have just finished reading Ecclesiastes and King Solomon writes, “Rejoice O young man, in your youth, and let your heart cheer you in the days of your youth” (Ch. 11:9).

I am going to remember my youth. Rejoice in it. Embrace it. Embrace the values and simple life I grew up in. And to Be Content!

Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. Philippians 4:11-12

Let’s Chat: Do you get caught in the Comparison Trap? What encourages you to be freed from the trap?

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Journey to Perfection

One morning I needed some time to refresh my spirit. I noticed everything, especially when it came to my children, was setting me off. I was fed up. I had had enough and was ready to throw in the towel on this parenting thing! During my spiritual time, God began to slowly reveal some imperfections inside of me. Things I had not really paid attention to. I began to ask if I was being a perfectionist when it comes to my children. Are my expectations too high?

Then, I began to realize that maybe I was. When my son is doing his homework, if he makes a mistake, he messes up his homework and gets really frustrated. He has no room for errors or mistakes. Lately, also his behavior has been a little less than desirable – fighting about everything and disobeying. Needless to say, I have been frustrated. I didn’t think I was asking for much – just to listen! Then, I examined my reaction when he misbehaves, and I am flying off the handle. No room for error. I was placing a burden on him that was unfair to bear.

Christ asks us to be perfect. But our wise, Heavenly Father knows and accepts our weaknesses as He perfect us. Patiently. Lovingly. (Philokalia: The Bible of Orthodox Spirituality, p 82)

We want perfect marriages. Perfect children. Perfect churches. Perfect leaders. When we don’t find it, we go back to our search. We give up. Throw in the towel. We are all imperfect people trying to navigate this thing called life.

Christ is the only perfect One. He calls us to be perfect but it is an ongoing journey. Filled with daily repentance and growth.

We live in a tough, tough world. Coming off the NBA Finals, we see just how tough this world is. Steph Curry, the NBA MVP, was almost perfect going into the Finals game against the Cleveland Cavaliers. When he didn’t deliver a perfect performance, he was bashed and criticized. Lebron James cried like a baby when he won the Finals in an exciting Game 7. For too long he tried to live in a world that demanded him to be perfect. When the buzzer sounded, the pressure of perfect expectations and perfect demands was released and he cried. We idolize teams that never lose. Those with perfect records. I remember in the movie, “Remember the Titans,” Denzel Washington plays a coach who demands from his high school football team, “We will be perfect in every aspect of the game.” He left no room for error. And they went on to have a perfect season. We cheer. We are inspired.

We then demand perfection in our own lives. Our husbands and wives. Our children. Other moms. We do the same for our churches. Our priests. No room for error. We are on a quest to find the perfect service. If there is a challenge or struggle, we often run.

When we fail, or our children, or anyone around us, then we are frustrated. Flustered. Angry.

Personally, when my children, fail, I get so angry. A wise priest once told me that I get angry because my expectations are higher for them, because they are mine. I know people are watching my children. Watching me. And when you are the wife of a priest, there is more pressure unfortunately. Pressure to be perfect. Expectations of perfection. Sometimes in my own mind. Anger is more explosive when all fails. Because I am not perfect. Neither are my PKs (or “Priest Kids”). And I am beginning to come to terms with the fact that it is OK.

I must accept their weaknesses and challenge them patiently and lovingly to perfection. The same as what Christ does for me.

There is a famous saying that says, “Please be patient with me, God isn’t finished with me yet.” They make it mostly into shirts for kids. But it applies to adults as well.

My church is not perfect. My children are not perfect. I am far from perfect. But we strive on – with daily repentance and holiness. I once asked God how many times can I, a Priest wife, stop making mistakes and saying sorry to others. I received an answer – As long as I breathe. It is our lifelong journey to perfection. To be the saints He has called us to be.

“. . . to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints.” 1 Corinthians 1:2

Let’s Chat: Do you struggle with perfection? How do you overcome the desire to be perfect or your expectations of others?

She Came with the Spices

Last year, I was introduced for the first time to a song that is absolutely beautiful! During the Holy 50 Days of the Resurrection, I played it repeatedly over and over and over again. And again some more! I sang it all day. I sang it to the kids before they slept. Needless to say, I loved it. The words really came alive to me.

This year, sadly I forgot about that song until my husband was listening to Resurrection hymns and came across it. I remembered how much I loved it.

In my blog post last week, I described my feelings of living and serving without any hope. Full of discouragement. Discontentment.

This song perfectly describes how we often lose hope. For a number of reasons. As women and even mothers, we lose hope. We carry guilt. We set high expectations that we try to meet without the Grace of Christ. We strive and preserve. Only to get disappointed when we fail.

Just like that early Sunday morning walk. When women full of heartache and pain made their way to the tomb. Expecting death. Failure.

The first part of the song describes those exact feelings of hopelessness and discouragement and guilt.

She came void of all hope; She came expecting death; Forgetting the Life-giver Who is the living breath.

Yet, when they left the tomb, it was hope. Life. Maybe they even danced!

That is why by the end of the song a different way of life is described. One of Hope. Joy. Resurrection. Perseverance.

I come now with joy; I come expecting life; Knowing that through Thee I can endure all strife.

It is time to have hope. Time to rejoice. Not to give up.

Christ our King has defeated sin. Defeated death. For Victory. For us to live.

“O Death, where is your sting? O Hades, where is your victory?” . . . But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. 1 Corinthians 15:55, 57

I won’t write much else because I would like the song to speak for itself. There are many wonderful versions of this song but here is one version sung by one of my friends who is beautiful both inside and out!

 

Let’s Chat: What things are really touching you during this Resurrection Time?

Trust Me. . . I’m a Lawyer

Did you know that I was a lawyer? After my three years of law school, debts, studying, writing, researching, and coffee drinking, I achieved a lot. If you went to law school or had friends that did, you would know that I was successful by “making journal,” becoming a Publications Editor on that journal, joining clinic and so much more. I landed an amazing summer internship and then was hired as an Associate in the same prestigious Washington, D.C. law firm practicing Intellectual Property Law. I received a ten-thousand-dollar increase to my salary in the first week.

By all the world’s standards, life was good.

I lived in our Nation’s Capital. I went to the best events. Ate at the top restaurants. Met some high-powered, world changers.

Until God decided to change my world.

That is when my husband and I heard our call to leave our lives and become missionaries in Africa.

“Now the Lord had said to Abram: “Get out of your country, from your family and from your father’s house, to a land that I will show you.” Genesis 12:1

Our families were shocked and said to us, we left Africa to give you a better life and now you are returning to Africa!

They gave us a better life. For us to have that choice.

That was ten years ago.

I can’t believe we have been in Africa for ten years. And still God has so much work to do through us.

But what changed? Somewhere in that ten years, and I don’t know when exactly, but I lost hope.

We came at first to Africa on fire. Passionate to serve the community. Full of love. Hope.

Then, discouragement hits. Slow change around us. War room prayers set aside.

Judgment creeps in. Hypocrisy. Pride. Distractions. Disappointments.

Then, the roller coaster ride. Some days excited to serve the Lord. More days less excited.

Then, this Holy Week comes along in our church calendar. I wasn’t expecting much. With two little kids, it is hard.

But what changed this year? I regained my hope.

It wasn’t like I never missed any of the Holy Week services. Actually, it was the opposite. For the first three days of Holy Week, my son was really sick so I missed every morning and evening until Thursday! And when I was there, my three-year-old needed me to keep helping her put the arms of Mr. Potato Head in the right place (I thought iPad apps were supposed to keep them busy so that I could focus!). I also kept trying to make sure my spiritual children were meditating and reading during the long hymns or what we like to call “meditation and prayer time.”

But, God gives a special grace. It is what I like to call a special “Mommy Grace” reserved for Moms for the quality and not the quantity of time spent with Him. He blesses it. He fills it. He bursts my heart open. He warms me with His loving arms wrapped around me.

During the procession in our Resurrection Feast Liturgy, that is when I realized that Christ had done a work in me. Do you know how I responded? I danced. If you have been to Africa before, you would know that our services include a lot of traditional songs with dancing and praising Jesus. So, I danced with my church family.

Then, as I danced, it struck me. I don’t remember the last time I had danced.

Before that, and even during Holy Week, I had been praying for Christ to reinvigorate my heart for the people and His work He called us to do.

It wasn’t emotional. It was God deep in my heart answering my prayer. To enjoy the Resurrection. To know His Power is there. That our God is a great God. Able to rise up from the dead. And that Power lies within me.

“I know your works, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead.” Revelation 3:1

For far too long, I was alive on the outside. I am not alive from the outside only. But from the inside.

Thank you Jesus.

Pray for our mission here in Zambia. Pray for me.

I leave you with a beautiful meditation that a dear friend of mine shared on Facebook (there are spiritual treasures on Facebook!).

Devout and God-loving people, enjoy this kind and bright festival. Wise people, come and share joy with your Lord. You who have laboured in fasting, receive your deserved reward. You who have laboured from the first hour, come to the festival now!

You who came at the third hour, rejoice!
You who lingered until the sixth hour, celebrate!
You who came at the ninth hour, do not be sad!
You who managed to come only at the eleventh hour, do not be dismayed by your lateness. No one will be deprived of heavenly joy!

For our Lord is generous.
He welcomes those who come last in the same way as those who come first.
He is grateful to the first and rejoices in the last.
He consoles those who came at the last hour,
as if they had laboured from the first hour.
He gives to everyone:
those who laboured and those who wanted to labour. He receives the service and kisses the intention.
He values the deed and praises the desire.

All of you enter into the joy of the Lord:
First and last, receive the reward!
Wealthy and poor, rejoice with one another!
Diligent and lazy, celebrate the festival!
Those who have fasted and those who have not, be glad together. The feast is abundant, eat your fill!
All of you enjoy the wealthy banquet of the faith and mercy of God

Let no-one go away hungry or offended. Let no-one be sad about their poverty,
for the kingdom is now here for everyone. Let no-one weep over their sins, for forgiveness for all has burst with light from the grave. Let no-one be afraid of death,
for the death of Jesus has freed us all.

Embraced by death, He subdued death.
Having descended into hell, He took hell captive.
Isaiah prophesied: “Hell was troubled, having met You in the underworld!”
Hell was in mourning, for it was abolished!
Hell was distressed, for it was condemned!
Hell was impoverished, for it was deposed!
Hell was destroyed, for it was bound!
It took on a body, and touched God.
It took on the earth, and met heaven.
It took what it saw, and fell to where it did not expect!

Death! Where is your sting?
Hell! Where is your victory?
Christ is risen, and you are brought down.
Christ is risen, and the demons have fallen.
Christ is risen, and the angels rejoice.
Christ is risen, and life triumphs.
Christ is risen, and there are no dead in the grave. Christ has risen from the dead, become the firstborn of those who sleep and set into motion the resurrection of all.
To Him be glory now and forever.
Amen!

–St. John Chrysostom

 

Let’s Chat: Tell me about your Holy Week experience.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Amazing Grace

There is a touching scene in the movie, “Amazing Grace,” where William Wilberforce confides in his friend that he can’t sing anymore. Once he lost hope and was filled with discouragement after many failures, he “loses” his singing voice. Later, in the movie, once he finds love and his sense of purpose renewed again, he begins to sing again.

Recently, my 2-year-old daughter became very sick. She literally began to waste away. She stopped growing. Stopped gaining weight. Stopped playing.

She stopped singing.

It is one of the hardest things to watch. Your child. So small. Helpless. Ill. Sad.

And not knowing why.

We were blessed to travel back to the States so that our little angel could get specialized medical treatment. It was definitely a season of an emotional roller coaster. Our happy family was separated by an ocean. Our little one was put through needles after needles. Dealing with health insurance issues. And the list continued.

Through the support of our families, friends, loved ones, and medical staff from all over, including Zambia, Kenya, United Kingdom, and the United States – we truly never felt God leave our side.

My little girl was diagnosed with celiac disease. What a relief to know what was causing my little one to be so ill! Thankfully, the only treatment is a gluten-free diet.

While it has been a tough adjustment (mostly for me), my little grace-filled angel is thriving! She has gained weight. She is energetic and playful.

And she has her singing voice back.

We learned a lot of lessons during this time. Here are just a few I would like to share:

  1. God is with us. 

As you live for God and serve Him fully, it does not mean that challenges will not come. But, it does mean that when the challenges do come, He promises to never leave us.

I will be a Father to you, and you shall be My sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty.” 2 Corinthians 6:18

2. God created our little girl “unique.” 

She was born with celiac disease, although we recently discovered it. She will always live with it. But, I promise, I will never teach her to be a victim or sorry for herself because she is “different” from everyone else. She is “unique.” She doesn’t have to be like everyone else. After all, isn’t that what Christianity is about?

She can and will live an amazing life. Nothing can hold her resilient, spirited self               down. Actually, this will help her to be even more accomplished in her life.

And on another note, won’t she learn boundaries – that not everything that is                   available she can have? I think this can be applied spiritually. That our call in life is to     be pure. Holy. Not having everything in our bodies. It’s a healthy lesson in life, both spiritually and physically.

“Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.” 2 Corinthians 7:1

3. God’s grace is amazing. 

There is no other way to put it. I have felt it. I have lived it. And what is even more amazing is that I see it in my little one. I see His Grace fully alive inside of her!

I expected to hide foods she can’t have. Or for her to have tears for wanting                     something she can’t eat. Instead, I have witnessed a child happy to choose a                   “special alternative for a special girl.” She even now asks me if it is “gluten free” – but       she says it in a very funny way and it sounds like “goofy free”!

What a lesson truly to learn from children. To see His Grace. Working. Living.                 Breathing inside of her. It truly renews my love for Christ and His love for me and us.

“The Lord God is a sun and shield; The Lord will give grace and glory; No good thing will He withhold from those who walk uprightly.” Psalm 84:11

I can’t thank enough those who supported Fr. Abraham and me through this tough time.

Please pray for us as we adjust to a gluten-free life in Africa, which has its own set of challenges.

“For whatever is born of God overcomes the world. And this is our victory that has overcome the world – our faith.” 1 John 5:4

Let’s Chat: Any lessons you have learned from a circumstance that has been turned into victory?