Monday, April 6, 2009
An Iranian Wedding, a Bangladesh Birthday Party and an Iraqi Conversation
God has so richly blessed our family with a community of diversity. We love to learn about and participate in different cultures. After all, Jesus loves the nations - all of them. He created them with great creativity and vast diversity. Lately we have been able to experience some very special events among some beautiful cultures outside our own.
AN IRANIAN WEDDING:
F. and S. are both Iranians. Their love story is AMAZING - full of miracles, dreams and confirmations only God could pull off! F. has been in our house church and is such a beautiful, godly woman. F. and S. decided to get married in March and asked Libby to be one of the flower girls. Libby, being cautious in unfamiliar crowds, needed my aid in walking down the aisle. But other than that she did a wonderful job of being quiet and doing what she was supposed to do. It wasn't until the reception afterward, that we got to experience both Iranian culture and Libby's dance skills! Iranians can party! No alcohol necessary! They danced and danced. S. was so cute as he danced the night away with his bride. And Libby was on the dance floor the whole time! We didn't leave the wedding until 10 PM because Libby was dancing and enjoying the party so much. Here are a few pics of the special day/night:
The Beautiful Bride and Groom
Our Pastor and his wife, Larry and Terry, with the Bride and Groom. Terry filled in as F's mom because her mom could not get a visa to come to the US in time for the wedding. Terry was a beautiful mom of the bride (AND wedding organizer!). Larry officiated the wedding.
Below is S's sister and her husband and their adopted son from India. They flew to the US from India to be at the wedding. Isn't "D" (the little boy) just the cutest!?
The Silly Flower Girl
The Beautiful Flower Girl
A BANGLADESH BIRTHDAY PARTY:Every week Libby and I have the pleasure of meeting with some neighbors (from our previous neighborhood) who are from Bangladesh for a play date. Parveen (the mom and my dear friend) is one of the most beautiful people I have ever met. She and her husband have 3 daughters. The oldest turned 6 this week and we were invited to her birthday party...
Before I go on I have to backtrack to a previous meeting with Parveen in which she told me about a lady in San Antonio that sells Indian clothing and shoes and purses (from various places in the Middle East) out of her home. She has been doing this for nine years so she has quite a business going on. I was able to go to this woman's home with Parveen to buy some beautiful, vibrant colored Indian clothes. The women shopping with Parveen were so kind to me and showed me how to wear a Sari (sp?). I bought a few items and Parveen told me I should wear the red one to her daughter's party. So that's what I did....
And I am so glad I did because every woman at this party (and there were A LOT) were dressed from head to toe in BEAUTIFUL Indian clothes. It was quite a party!!!! Everyone was so kind and they were very interested in our adoption of Libby and the baby to come. I had some FABULOUS conversations and just enjoyed every minute of the party. We had Indian food and ate it in the cultural way - with our hands! And Libby just fit right in and had a blast. Here are a few pictures from the party:
The kids were ready for cake!
Mridula (the birthday girl) with Libby. Not the best photo of Libby but she was in constant action so this is the only one I could get worth showing. The kids all had popsicles and were eating them AS they jumped in the moon bounce. Yea, messy!
My Indian tunic and scarf fit right in! These women are all so beautiful and I LOVE their clothes!
More beautiful, sweet and very friendly women. Some are from India and others are from Bangladesh.
This is BEAUTIFUL Parveen with her youngest girl. Parveen is so precious!
AN IRAQI CONVERSATION: (this is a long one, but worth reading if you have the time)
Today was another cultural experience all its own. This will be a long story. I really don't expect any of you to read it. But I just need to journal it for my own memory's sake. What happened today is too priceless to forget!
Billy and I have been working with refugees in our city from quite some time. We helped run a club for the Somali Bantu children. Billy has been a part of teaching English to both the Somali's and the Burmese. And lately it was brought to our attention that many Iraqi and Iranian women and their children were coming into our city. I heard about one of those women and went with Terry to visit her a couple of weeks ago. I took Libby with me because this woman's son is also 3 years old. The end of our first visit had me spinning with a wide array of emotions. This Iraqi woman - I'll call her "Lillie" to protect her identity - came to the U.S. as a political refugee. Lillie shared her story with us that day. It is a difficult story to hear. She is my age and has been through more horrible things than I could ever know. While she shared her story, Libby and Lillie's son ("S") began fighting and completely melting down (we were at F and S's wedding the night before and Libby did not go to sleep until 11 PM that night so she was extremely tired) and the visit went downhill from there for me. I had to pick up Libby and leave because I wanted Lillie to be able to finish her story for Terry. On the way home I was stuck in horrible traffic and Libby - who was completely inconsolable - threw up her lunch all over her hands and lap and car seat. I was so exhausted when I got home and so burdened for Lillie. I knew I would have to meet with her again ( and again and again!) because I want her to be able to succeed here in the States and find real Peace and Hope and Joy!
So today I decided to go back to visit Lillie. I had a game plan this time. I was going to take my friend, Katie, with me to help with the kids. I was going to take a car for "S" to play with and a separate car for Libby to play with. I prayed over Libby that somehow the Lord would help her be salt and light to "S" and be a picture of grace and love to a little boy who knows NO English and has never known kindness outside of his own family. And I planned to buy flowers for Lillie and a picture of our family along with some special words to share with her.
I woke up this morning and was wrapping my whole morning around getting these things together so I could get to Lillie's home. As a mom of a three year old and a wife of a "stay at home to work" husband and a secretary to that "stay at home to work" man, I was having to really juggle things around to make it all work. As I was in HEB purchasing the flowers and toy cars, and about to run some other last minute errands, my phone rang. It was Terry sharing with me that Lillie had called and wanted her to pass a message on to me that she had a job interview during the time that I was supposed to visit. Selfishly, I was so sad because I had worked so hard to make the visit possible and now it was (I thought) going to be canceled. But Terry reminded me that it was a good thing that Lillie had a job interview...
I got off the phone and decided that I would run one more errand and then head over to Lillie's early so I could see her before her interview. My errand was to go to the eye doctor's office to pick up my new contacts. As I drove there I realized that I was holding down a lot of stress and emotions under the surface that I might not be able to hold down much longer. After all - between waiting for the phone to ring with a referral for our Ethiopian child (which could happen any day now!) and getting ready for studio work this week for our new CD project and some other huge things going on in our lives - I had a lot going on worth being emotional about.
I made it to the doctor's office only to find that my contacts were not in yet. Ugh! (this was the straw that broke the camel's back). So I got in the car, called Katie to let her know about the change of plans - that we needed to go to Lillie's now instead of later- and as I shared with her I just started crying so hard. I just felt like, "I am working so hard to do the right thing, but it is not working out and I am so sad and frustrated."
I got all my crying done and called Billy to ask for his prayers. I didn't want Lillie to know that I had been crying as I wanted to be an encouragement to her and not a downer. Katie and I met up in the parking lot and headed to Lillie's door. Lillie was so happy to see us. I gave her the flowers as we headed for the living room. To explain the flowers, I shared some words with Lillie from the passage where Jesus is saying, "consider the lilies of the field..." and shared with her that if he clothes and feeds and cares for the flowers that are here today and gone tomorrow, how much more does he care for her. I told her that I hope the fragrance of the Easter Lilies will remind her this week of His love and provision for her. Lillie does not know Jesus yet, but I believe she will one day. Her heart is just longing to know real Love and Peace.
I also gave Lillie a picture of Libby, Billy and I. She has never met Billy so I wanted her to know he was not an imaginary husband - haha! She looked at the picture and said through her new English and Iraqi accent, "Is he older than you?" I said, "Yes, he is 42 and I am 34." She then asked in sort of a puzzled voice, "So, is there chemistry between you?" Katie realized before I did what Lillie was asking. Here's where culture can make a big difference. In her culture arranged marriages are probably normal and/or marrying a man first for his ability to care for her financially rather than love. So I quickly told her, "Yes, Lillie. There is chemistry. We love each other. We've been married almost 10 years. He is a good man!" And Lillie gave me a thumbs up and said, "oh, this is good." What a funny moment! Ah, but it gets better...
Lillie then showed me that her family in Baghdad was on the phone via her computer - with video feed and all. (I had no idea they were waiting there for her that whole time!). What transpired in the following hour still has me smiling tonight. Lillie introduced me to her family - her brother (the only one who could speak English), her sister-in-law, their children, her sister, her sister's children and her mother. Then she said to me "You talk to my family while I get ready for my interview." And she walked out of the room. Now, I don't know if any of you make it a regular habit of sitting before a camera and chatting with people from Baghdad LIVE, but I don't and immediately I was so nervous and just laughing in disbelief. I had a million thoughts rattling around my head at that moment. Katie looked at me with big eyes that said something like, "Oh my! Glad I'm not the one having to do that, and - What in the world are you going to say?"
So, there I sat and after a few awkward moments of not knowing what to say, my brain started working. I showed Mohamed (Lillie's brother) the picture of Billy. I didn't know up to this point if Mohamed was married or if I was dressed appropriate for his culture/religion (thank God I didn't wear a tank top or other sleeveless top today!) or what was "okay" conversation... So I showed him Billy's picture and then had Libby come to the camera to introduce her and then Mohamed showed me his daughter and the 2 girls stared at each other over such long and yet so close a distance. Libby tried to feed our new friends Cheetos through the video. And the ice started to break. I began asking questions about their culture - what they do for fun, what time it was there (which was 7:50 PM at the time), what time they normally eat dinner, etc. We were having a great conversation. Probably about 30 minutes in I'm started to wonder where Lillie was and what was taking her so long. Hang in there - it really does get better...
Then, Mohamed asks, "So if you don't mind me asking, what do you do for work?" And I answer, "My husband is a songwriter. He writes songs for Isa al Messiah (to which Libby says, "Jesus") and I sing those songs with him. Some of his songs are sung in churches all over the world." Then, Mohamed, without a second of hesitation says, "Give me one minute. I'm going to put all my family back on the video so you can sing a song for us." -------Pause here to consider the thoughts going on in my head at that moment...... like...... WHAT?!?!??!?!?! - Hoping that I've misunderstood due to a language barrier I asked, "Mohamed? Are you asking me to sing a song to you and your family?" He said, "Yes, you sing for us and we'll tell you if you are good." Okay - so now I was laughing and nervous and having to think FAST! By now, his whole family was staring at me through this phone/video waiting for me to sing. Katie whispered to me, "This is awesome!"
I asked Mohamed to translate a message from me to his family and he did. I started by saying that the song is about Isa and that this is the kind of music we sing in many churches around the U.S. And then I sang the only song that I could think appropriate for the moment, "You Are My King (Amazing Love)". I was about half way through the song with my eyes closed when I began to recall how hard my morning had been trying to get there and how emotional I was thinking that I would only have a quick visit with Lillie. But all along God was orchestrating this amazing moment. I was singing a song full of the gospel LIVE to an entire family in Baghdad. Now that is one amazing turnaround for a day!
When I finished the song they all clapped and were so sweet (no Simon Cowell's (sp?) in the room, YAY!). From that point on Lillie came back and forth talking some on the video to her family while also fixing us some hot tea. Every time her mother was on the video screen, Lillie would begin to cry and would have to leave the room because she did not want her mother to see her cry. Lillie misses her family very much. If you knew her story, you would understand how deep her love for them goes.
Each time Lillie left the room I would take over and keep the conversation going. I told them that Lillie misses them very much but not to worry. I told them that we were going to take good care of Lillie. They were very comforted by that and so appreciative.
Later, when Lillie returned to conversation she spoke with her sister and mother for some time. They were telling her to cut her hair and asking her why she had not colored it lately. I could tell that Lillie did not feel pretty and she started asking me about my hair. I told her that I love HER hair long (and I do!). And she insisted that she needed to do something different to her hair. I told her that I would make an appointment and we would give her a new look for her new life if she wanted to. So that's our next meeting - a salon!
There are so many other details to this story, but it would take too long. Lillie represents so many other Middle Eastern women who have made it to the US as refugees/immigrants and will face many difficult challenges in the journey of adjusting to American culture (some of which is icky!) and trying to learn a new language and find a job and just survive. I beg you to consider finding those families in your city. They are just longing to see real love and peace and kindness. They are just hoping that they have not left everything behind (including precious family) to just barely survive. And they are needing some sign, some miracle, some good will, some kind smile to remind them that they are going to make it.
Jesus loves the nations and He will bring the nations right into your own living room if you ask him to.