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?

Seasons Come, Seasons Go: Starbucks Remains Forever!

Every year we travel to the States. It is a LONG journey from Southern Africa across the continents and across the seas and ocean. We usually have a layover in Europe before crossing the Atlantic Ocean. Once we land in Europe, I personally love to see familiar things in the airport. This translates to shopping, eating junk food and of course, ordering a Starbucks coffee! Being deprived of Starbucks all year long, it is something I really look forward to! In the past, whenever I traveled in the States or abroad, I always bought my Starbucks coffee in the airport. It was one of my traveling habits. I used to love to sip my cappuccino or treat myself to a sinfully delicious flavored coffee. I would take it on the flight with me and just relax and read and enjoy the journey.

As to what I am naturally accustomed to, one year, as we had a transit in London Heathrow airport, I decided to keep this same Starbucks tradition. But this time, things were different. I had a toddler child, a stroller, a diaper bag and an overstressed and tired brain. Having just landed from a ten-hour overnight flight (did I mention that I didn’t sleep!) and about to go on another flight across the Atlantic, I needed a pick-me-up coffee. I looked forward to sipping that coffee. To relax and unwind. I deserved it after coming so far and needing a treat to keep going!

But then tragedy struck. Before I even boarded the flight, I THREW AWAY MY COFFEE! I am not one of those moms that have it all together. You will likely see me a mess – a total MESS – with lots of bags, wearing sweats, and in panic mode. So, needless to say, I could not manage another thing. Something had to go. Time was ticking. The boarding call had been made. There was no time to finish the coffee.

After a few small sips, a choice had to be made. It was diapers or coffee. I chucked that beautiful white cup into the trash bin. I still remember throwing that cup away. May that Coffee Cup Rest in Peace.

In life, we go through different seasons. There is the season of single-hood when you can dream, be ambitious, and carry a cup of coffee onto a plane when traveling. There is marriage, which is full of its glorious ups and downs. Then there is the season of having young children. Where I am now. I always try to remember that this is a wonderful season, where my kids still “need” me and when I can teach and influence so much! However, there are times when it is frustrating. Where I feel I am missing out. Where ministry and attending spiritually fulfilling meetings are cut short or nonexistent. Where going out with friends is constantly interrupted by bathroom breaks, skinned up knees, demands, and whining. Where things are, what can I say, different…..

Earlier this year, I was complaining to my husband and asked him what I should learn from this season that I am in. I was frustrated and upset because I was missing out on yet another retreat. To be fulfilled and to serve others. I was captive to my thoughts and negativity. Trapped in self-pity.

That very night after I was complaining, during our New Year’s Eve service, servants were distributing Bible verses. The verse I received was: “To everything there is a season, A time for every purpose under heaven.” Ecclesiastes 3:1

This became my theme verse for the year. That night God answered me in a very personal and real way. There is a purpose in every season we face. To teach and guide me. Our loving God never leaves us abandoned. He leads us out of our captivity and frees our mind and heart.

One day I will sit in the plane with a Starbucks coffee and a book to read. One day I will enjoy “freedom” from having young children. But, one thing I will do differently TODAY, is to enjoy this One Day, this Season I am in.

Let’s Chat: What season are you in currently and what encourages you through it?

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tough Call by Mama Maggie

I know I am behind in knowing the latest information but I must share how super excited I am that there is a book out about Mama Maggie.

Unlike some of my dear friends that have met her, I have only “met” her through a video-conference. Fortunately, this conference was shown here in Zambia via video back in 2011. This is when I first heard about Mama Maggie. And I can honestly say she touched me so much! Imagine I am from her church and her country and never knew about her!

I am sure many of you have heard her story of how she was teaching top students at the prestigious American University of Cairo. She left it all to follow the tough call Christ called her to. In her own words she describes the call as, “When God wanted to promote me, He said leave the best and go to the poorest of the poor.”

Her words never left me. I found a clip of that video below of that conference.

Sorry that it has subtitles that sometimes get in the way. But please enjoy the clip and prayerfully listen to her message.

She will encourage you on the journey of how to make the tough call for yourself.

 “We don’t choose where we are born, but we do choose to either be sinners or saints. To be a nobody or heroes. If you want to be a hero, do what God wants you to do.” –Mama Maggie

She also goes into detail on how to hear that call. Two things she focuses on in particular: Loving the Word of God & Silence. It is in silence that we Hear God’s Voice.

Her thoughts on Silence: “Silence your body to listen to your words. Silence your tongue to listen to your thoughts. Silence your thoughts to listen to your heart beating. Silence your heart to listen to your spirit. Silence your spirit to listen to His Spirit.”

One last thing I request is that if you are coming to Zambia soon, please bring me a copy of her book! I would love to read more of her beautiful gems. I hope you are reading the book too.

Let’s Chat: What is your tough call? What is holding you back from answering the call?

Why the Children’s Bible is Not Enough

There are some days, I must sadly admit, that the only Bible I have read for the day is my Children’s Bible. Every night before I put my kids to bed, we read the Bible. That is my one “spiritual food” for the day.

I have come to the wise conclusion – the Children’s Bible is not enough for me!

There are days when I don’t recognize the person I have become. I’m frazzled. Angry. Anxious. Fearful. Overwhelmed. Frustrated. Sinking.

In the words of my friend and guide, Fr. Anthony Messeh, who once told me that God doesn’t want me to run around like a chicken with my head cut off.

How do I avoid becoming this person?

By spending time with the one who will transform me back into HIS image. And that transformation comes from Him. To me. From within. Deep within.

I am in desperate need of His healing. His Grace. I need to see His face. Daily. I can’t breathe if I don’t. He is my oxygen. My air. My everything.

That is why I need my own time with Him. Carved out to spend with Him. Alone. If I want my husband, my children, others around me to see Him. His Light. Then I need to be with the Source of Light.

God desires this also! He wants the deep heart of man to know His Presence. To feel His joy. His Peace.

“Be Still and Know that I am God.” Psalm 46:10

Where can I find this stillness? When my world around me is so chaotic?!

Some mothers tell me they wake up early before the kids wake up. Others after dropping them to school. In the evening after bedtime.

When I can, I do a variety of these daily. But, one thing, I realized I must do, is to take a longer morning away from it all on retreat with Him. It is never the “right” time. There is always something to do. Every day. Busy.

But, I have to do this. Whatever it takes! Our souls. Our marriages. Our children. Our services. Our neighbors. Depend on it!

“But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.” Hebrews 11:6

There are lots of “refreshing” techniques. Dates with my hubby, a break from the kids, a day off of work, coffee with the ladies, de-cluttering a room, a manicure or pedicure, a spa day. These are all nice. And even important. But, the ultimate way of refreshing myself and my soul is to connect with the One who created my soul. Who desires to fill it. To fuel it. To fulfill it.

It is not too late for me and you to change!

That is why I am excited about Holy Week upcoming. A chance to refresh and store up spiritual food for the year. I am praying for you that you will use this holy time of the year to be refreshed. And to set a plan going forward on how to continue to spend time with the One who is the source of refreshment. Pray for me.

Let’s Chat: How do you find time to spend alone with Christ despite your busy life?