“Faces of Lebanon” Exhibit Now On Display


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Exciting news!  My portraits from Lebanon are now on display in an exhibit, “Faces of Lebanon” at Octane Coffee on the Westside of Atlanta.

Exhibit runs: January 7- February 1
Opening Event: Friday, January 23 7-11 p.m.

My hope is to present you with a window into the magnificently resilient, inspiring, forward-thinking, eclectic country that is Lebanon. Despite its history of trials and tragedies, including a war from 1975-1990 which the country is still recovering from, Lebanon has persevered.  It has also generously opened its doors to others in need and remained a fairly stable and peaceful land amidst war-torn neighbors.

Unfortunately, the tides are beginning to change and new restrictions are beginning to arise as the number of refugees in Lebanon has skyrocketed in the last two years due to violence in both Syria and Iraq.  Prior to this recent influx, Lebanon received a flood of refugees fleeing from Palestine, largely from 1948-1967 when it was divided from the new state of Israel and came under the rule of Jordan. Currently, Lebanon is experiencing a growing number of immigrants from African and South Asian countries, as well. Now 25%, if not more, of Lebanon’s small population of four million is made up of immigrants and refugees.  You can imagine the challenge this places on the country’s infrastructure. Yet, what can they do?  How morally afflictive would it be for this culture steeped hospitality if they had to one day close their borders completely?

Amidst the challenges, uncertainties and pressures these fast changes have brought, the people in Lebanon–natives, refugees, and immigrants alike– live lives of astounding resilience, hope, and joy.  People are joining together, extending exemplary hospitality and showing remarkable compassion.  It is these people I introduce to you.

May you be blessed and inspired as you meet our brothers and sister in the Middle East face to face, eye to eye, story to story–yours and theirs, now a part of each others.

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Syrian girl living in the Sadnair Refugee Camp in northern Lebanon.



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Philemon Preschool Project (1)I’ve been traveling again! This time to Lebanon.

Last month I went to Lebanon for 10 days with The Outreach Foundation and had the honor of listening to stories of Lebanese, Syrian and Iraqi Christians. It was apparent our sheer presence was all that was needed, just a pair of listening ears, open and compassionate hearts, and to respond to one request, “Go back and tell the truth.”

The truth is, Lebanon is suffering with brownouts and scarcity of resources as their population has grown to 4 million, a quarter being refugees and other immigrants.Lebanon Postcard_4x6-7-2

Lebanon Postcard_4x6-31The truth is, most Syrian cities have 0-12 hours of electricity a day, the World Food Program voucher relief was recently cancelled due to lack of funding, fuel prices have skyrocketed to unaffordable rates, our family of faith is deprived of the basic needs of water, electricity, gas and means for cooking and warmth and…winter is coming. The truth is Christians are being persecuted severely for their faith with death threats and killings by extremists.

And the truth is, all the while, people have not given up on God. They remain so faithful. In fact, church attendance has increased since the war in Syria began in 2011. For, they know the power of community and prayer, and what it is to need to believe God is our refuge, strength, provider, and hope, and they are experiencing God be so.

Lebanon_November 20, 2014-23Iraqi Women's Bible Study_Our Lady Dispensary_Sabtieh, Lebanon_Nov 24, 2014_KatieA-W  (4)On my second to last day in Beirut I attended a Bible study with Christian Iraqi refugees. We studied Psalm 57 (see below), a psalm of supplication, hope, grief and praise. Previously, I had always had to approach this scripture abstractly. I have never experienced violent enemies or utter devastation. However, that morning I sat in the presence of women who were all too familiar with brutality and disaster. Through their faces, energy, and prayers I, too, connected with it all. You can imagine how wondrous a feeling it was to experience scripture truly alive and relevant. Yet, it was also horrifying and tragic to realize these awful words are my sisters’ story. Simultaneously, it was all the more remarkable to witness their genuine praise. I encourage you to read the psalm and offer it for reflection and a window into their lives.

Iraqi Women's Bible Study_Our Lady Dispensary_Sabtieh, Lebanon_Nov 24, 2014_KatieA-W  (2)Psalm 57
Have mercy on me, my God, have mercy on me,
for in you I take refuge.
I will take refuge in the shadow of your wings
until the disaster has passed.
2 I cry out to God Most High,
to God, who vindicates me.
3 God sends from heaven and saves me,
rebuking those who hotly pursue me—
God sends forth love and faithfulness.
4 I am in the midst of lions;
I am forced to dwell among ravenous beasts—
people whose teeth are spears and arrows,
whose tongues are sharp swords.
5 Be exalted, O God, above the heavens;
let your glory be over all the earth.
6 They spread a net for my feet—
I was bowed down in distress.
They dug a pit in my path—
but they have fallen into it themselves.
7 My heart, O God, is steadfast,
my heart is steadfast;
I will sing and make music.
8 Awake, my soul!
Awake, harp and lyre!
I will awaken the dawn.
9 I will praise you, Lord, among the nations;
I will sing of you among the peoples.
10 For great is your love, reaching to the heavens;
your faithfulness reaches to the skies.
11 Be exalted, O God, above the heavens;
let your glory be over all the earth.

Lebanon Postcard_4x6-6The truth is, our family of faith in Lebanon and Syria exemplify the affect scripture and faith have if we open ourselves to them. As they modeled with the psalms, if we unleash our cries to God, lament our fears, rest in hope, and choose to still sing praises, our faith will be enlivened. If we begin to love all our neighbors as ourselves and ‘care for each other as humans than according to religious tradition,’ as one Syrian pastor attested to, we will see the Kingdom arise in our midst. We will watch our enemies become our neighbors when we pray for them instead of fearing them. When we ask God to wrap our enemies in mercy and love and keep them from harming others and themselves, and ask God to grow us in compassion, grace and love, we will all become neighbors and our world will be transformed.

The truth is, our sisters and brothers in Lebanon and Syria have witnessed to us we have great reason to hope and also great need to pray. Will you join me in hope and prayer.

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Philemon Preschool Project (2)



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Melk Abbey

Melk Abbey

Well, I’m not at the place yet where I am writing as regularly as I’d like. Or, making good on all those “To Be Continued” posts, for that matter. I look forward to that time. Very much. In due season, eh? For now I’ve accepted, though reluctantly, this is probably not that season and writing and posting at all is enough.

I’ve also decided I would rather complete and post pieces begun ages ago rather than keeping them forever in my “Pending Posts” folder. Amazingly, I find pending posts from months past to be very much on point with something going on in my life at the present. Lessons or reflections I think are new I realize I experienced months prior. It is often my circumstances and sense of self that make them seem new. As one of my friends said, our lives are less linear and more like a corkscrew. We journey in circular movement and we revisit experiences, but unlike a circle and more like a screw we encounter them on a deeper and deeper level each time we come back around to them. I’m finding that to be quite true. I’m also just forgetful. I might do well to reread my journals… Or just revisit and complete pending posts.

So, here we go on a time travel adventure back to last summer as I was leaving Austria!



I’m on my way home. Though, it feels I’ve made a second home for myself. I didn’t know I could fall in love with a place so deeply so quickly. I sorely miss Austria already.

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Schönbrunn Palace

I wonder at my amorousness. Is it because I got to know the country by planning for it so thoroughly beforehand and then lived those plans out? It was, in fact, the first trip I’ve planned on my own—a big deal—and incredibly satisfying, especially since my plans proved well-laid and successful.

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Mmm wienerschnitzel, Vienna

Demel Chocolate Shop, Vienna

The famous Demel Chocolate Shop, Vienna

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Neuschwanstein Castle, Germany

Is my affection toward this place so strong because of my current state in life—because of who I now am? I am more self-accepting, loving, gracious, relaxed, patient and open. All really helpful qualities when plans are prone to change due to reasons beyond one’s control and when flexibility and problem-solving/creativity become key.



Or, is it because of the lens I had on? A lens in which I was expecting to meet God? Not looking, as much as recognizing. Awareness. Is my affection a result of having shared the travel experience with my closest loved ones? Then again, perhaps it is because along the trip I played out a new chapter in my life. A chapter of healing, of being frequently challenged to be wholly me. To not mold myself to what I perceived would make others happy or like “me” more. To trust others’ authenticity and acceptance of me. To not be affected by others’ energy in relation to me. And, to my awe and affirmation, I was so fully accepted just as I am.

Stefansdom (St. Stephen's Cathedral) by Day, Vienna

Stefansdom (St. Stephen’s Cathedral) by Day, Vienna

By night

By night

Stephansdom pews

Stephansdom pews

Is it because I stayed in some of the most sumptuous accommodations? Take Hotel Kaiserin Elisabeth, its rooms covered with elegant white, textured wall paper, its floors adorned with oriental rugs and ceilings lit by crystal chandeliers. Marvelous; but not overstated. I also happened to be in a prime location, right off Kartnerstrasse at Stephensplatz (where St. Stephen’s Cathedral is located). Three times during the course of my month-long travels I got to stay at this same hotel! I am in still in awe. My frequency of stay here may have been one of the most valuable pieces to the whole of the trip. Each time I returned it re-grounded me and I was then reenergized for the next leg of my travels. It felt like I was coming home. I had come to know most of the people who worked the front desk and so whenever I left and returned, whether for the afternoon or a week, they greeted me with such joy and gladness. The last time I left they assured me of their confidence I would one day return. It is my hope.

Austria_Phone Pics_June 12, 2013-7Of course, then there was the Umlauft summer-stay on the Wörthersee… Who couldn’t immediately fall in love such a homestead, with a freshwater lake of clear aqua which was so cold yet so enlivening you felt desperation and invigoration with each gasping breath?   Truly magnificent, and all in the embrace of tree-covered mountains and the snow-capped Alps beyond.


Wörthersee, Klagenfurt

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Austria_Phone Pics_June 27, 2013-30Austria_Kalgenfurt Panorama 2_2013Perhaps it was the overall rhythm of life in Austria that captured my heart so. And holds it still. A rhythm where people enjoyed bike riding for both pleasure and practicality and where public transportation was not only earth-friendly, but the norm. Or, perhaps knowing me, it was the food. Here, my basics: rye and spelt (varieties of wheat) – obscurities in the U.S. – are standards on the market shelf and breakfast table. Here, I can enjoy milk products without reserve or stomach ache. Here, organic is everywhere and practically everything is preservative-free. Here, I can drink water from any tap without question. Here, taking a break for coffee at an outdoor café after work before going home is common-place. Here, drinking alcohol is not the main event when going out with friends, it really is just a beverage to be enjoyed and appreciated alongside good conversation and a pleasant atmosphere. Here, I live so healthy and freely.





Patio lunch in Vienna

Patio lunch in Vienna

Zwölf-Apostelkeller (12 Apostles Cellar), Vienna

Zwölf-Apostelkeller (12 Apostles Cellar), Vienna

I know it is a mix of all these experiences and more. It is also the enchanting and tranquil atmosphere of TiMiMoo in Rust. It is waking up to the warm sun flooding my room and being rushed by nothing. Nothing except an empty tummy anticipating the welcome of the lush, green beauty of TiMiMoo’s serene courtyard where I take my morning meal. Where I bask in the sunshine while I wait for my healthy, bountiful breakfast is brought to me, in courses, on sweet, pale pink, blue and yellow printed china. Where I am served fresh apricot and raspberry preserves, meats and a hard boiled egg in a dainty eggcup.

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Rust_2013-42_July 01, 2013Rust_2013-39_July 01, 2013Rust_2013-95Rust_2013-96-2_July 02, 2013Rust_2013-206_July 03, 2013Yes, it is these places, these experiences, these people who are the faces of my amorousness. My heart is more full, open and beautiful because of them. My being is more whole and alive because of them.   And in thanks, I offer myself back to them; to inspire and encourage this world with beauty and wholeness.


Long Days In Gaza


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Oh Gaza… My tears stream and heart cries for you and your people. It cries for Israel, too. All lives lost, all hate rampant, all love covered in ash and blood and tears. But love will win, it will prevail. And love will be seen at least here, in these words, in these stories told with the hope that all our hearts might unite in one song of mercy, compassion and love. In honor of the Gazan’s suffering these long days I offer a poem by one of your many great poets, Susan Abulhawa:

The Siege

Every night, hearts break and bleed themselves to sleep
And in the morning,
They are whole and full again

Moves through the day gripping her poems
Holding her breath
With limbs that slowly become heavy as the earth spins
The hours pass
The sky dims
And Gaza is still under siege.

She climbs into the trauma of enclosure
Tucks herself in
As darkness quietly curls her limbs
And she closes her eyes
So she can open them on the other side
Where her poetry assembles into dreams

Gazes westward
His eyes skimming the surface of the Mediterranean
An expanse hemmed in by
Mercenary ships and
An invisible three-mile radius

He turns eastward, then north
Where forever and futures bounce
Off metal and fences and meanness

Hope hunches in the southern corner
Battered, breathing in the dank and dark
Underworld of tunnels

He looks upward
And plays his oud to
Hang the stars back in place
After the sky has fallen

Laila and Yousef
Imagine an ephemeral
Salve of touch
As love’s sorrowful hands
Burrow in the sand
To seek redemption
And a story unwritten begs
To breathe

They find their way to the shore
Eyes upon the same empty moon
And the sky devoid of promise
The winds caress her cheeks
And, miles away, wrap around him
Until their fingers find each other
Inch closer
And they hold hands

Across sky and wind and moon and miles

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Perspective, Transformation


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art auction instagram

June 26, 2014

Wow, it’s here. Tomorrow I host my first art auction. I’m fundraising on the back end for my visual storytelling workshop in Portugal and on the front end for a trip to Lebanon and Syrian in November where I will use the skills I gained in Portugal to tell the stories of the faithful and courageous pastors and Christians in the Middle East.

It’s been a week of go-go-go, all the while trying to honor my need for rest and balance. A challenge, for sure, but amazing to see my resilience.

The event has not gone as planned. The plan would have been fulfilled with the success of a small (due to limited parking) reunion/fundraiser enjoyed by a number of my friends I traveled to the Middle East with a few years ago.  Since one of those friends had graciously offered the venue, and experienced had proven everyone from our group LOVES any and every opportunity to get together, we both thought everything, and everyone, would fall right into place.


Church of the Nativity, Bethlehem, West Bank, Palestine


Siq Petra, Jordan

Nope. I was pretty disappointed about this for a little while. I was still holding onto hope people were merely taking their sweet time to RSVP. However, once the reminder email went out and the date to respond arrived, ‘No’s streamed into my inbox.

So, on Monday I found myself thinking: okay, it’s summer, people are out of town; it’s now four days before a Friday night event and most people plan much farther in advance for weekend plans; is anyone going to be there?

My fears of failure and humiliation which I had pretty successfully let go of by this point began to creep back. Fairly quickly though, I was reassured by remembering of words of loved ones I’d heard throughout the preceding days, “It’s not about being successful, it’s about being faithful,” and, “It’s okay, it’s your first one.” Or, “…first salon,” as my uncle and dad so sweetly kept referring to it.

My perspective began to shift as I acknowledged my fear and recognized it was feeding unwanted pride and other negative self-seeking motives. I was able to step back and transform my goal. Ultimately, when the event is over I want to feel satisfied. Satisfaction doesn’t require the attendance of particular people or making an outstanding profit, it requires an inner awareness and peace I have been faithful. Tangibly, this faithfulness looks like the steps I’ve prayerfully taken, letting my creativity flow, all the networking I’ve done, letting myself learn from the process instead of beating myself up, having fun along the way, asking for prayers, showing myself love and grace, just showing up. Offering my best. This is satisfaction for me. Success, as well. The results, those are in God’s hands.

Tabgha, Sea of Galilee, Israel

Tabgha, Sea of Galilee, Israel

It’s a hard thing, a very hard thing, to let go of control. Once you do though, wow, it’s freeing. The pressure is off, but the motivation is still ripe. You receive the joy of discovering your true role and God’s true role. God’s: to be God, in control, providing, being faithful, gracious, kind, loving, challenging, mysterious, good. Ours: to respond in gratitude to God by co-creating with God, using our gifts, releasing our desires in order to have them be fulfilled as dreamed or by something even better, being open to the bigger picture, trusting God, going with the flow.

With this release of expectations followed a new lens and a wider view. I began to think beyond my initial dream to something deeper, purer, greater. I thought, here I have all this delicious food, wine, art, live jazz music, and a pool, I just want people to get to enjoy it!

Now that I’ve had to create pretty much entirely new guest list, I’ve had the opportunity to invite loads more people. People from a very wide variety of circles. This means more people are exposed to the work I’m doing! Additionally, due to the limited timing and availability of parking space, most of my invites have been to people I randomly run into. These face to face exchanges are always better, on every level–for commitment to the event, relationship development, and lasting memory of the cause. Awesome!

So, as I wrap this up I find myself basking in joy, wonder, awe and affirmation. My mind and heart have been transformed. I have grown in deeper trust in God and I am already tasting the sweetness of peace and satisfaction.

I invite you to enjoy some of my restful and reflective photography on my Etsy shop, Lux Pix: Where Life is Illuminated (luxpix.etsy.com). Plus, if you would like to support my trip a great way is to make a work of my art your own!



Arrival in Portugal


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I didn’t have many expectations of Portugal. It’s not a country I expected to visit, at least anytime soon. Then when this workshop on visual storytelling (learning the ins and outs of videography and telling people’s stories) practically fell into my lap I was overjoyed! What an extraordinary, delightful gift from God!

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Lisbon By Night_ABWE_May 24, 2014-75Sintra_Portugal_May 22, 2014-99Portugal is teeming with color! It’s land, like it’s sea, is a sprawling blanket of ripples. One lush, grassy green, the other sparkling, liquid blue.

Lisbon By Night_ABWE_May 24, 2014-44Lisbon By Night_ABWE_May 24, 2014-9 And their houses! They’re just one happy shade of pastel after another. Or, like the apartment-filled neighborhood down the hill from us, the homes are cloud-white accented with walls and trim of bold green, red, blue and yellow. If you spot a building not painted in some cheery color there’s a good chance its adorned from head to toe in hand painted tiles, usually blue and white or sometimes with a touch of yellow.Lisbon By Night_ABWE_May 24, 2014-70

Lisbon By Night_ABWE_May 19, 2014Lisbon By Night_ABWE_May 23, 2014-11Such bright, lively buildings make for bright, lively people. I found myself boosted with an extra dose of joy due to the surrounding environment. No, and not just because I was out of the country traveling, which ignites in me some of the greatest joy I ever experience. I can tell the verdant landscape and the assorted colored buildings had a positive effect on me because I managed to be less bothered by all the litter strewn along the roadsides. Yes, I would say litter is Portugal’s greatest aesthetic downfall. I’m a trash picker-upper, everywhere I go. Litter really bothers me. Whether I’m out for runs, in a parking lot or strolling through a neighborhood I can’t help but do something. Even picking up one measly little piece is worth it to me. It could mean one less piece of trash swept down the storm drain into the ocean and caught in a fish’s throat. It always means one more gesture of gratitude to our earth which takes such good care of us. It also means one more square foot of space of restored beauty for our eyes… and spirits.Day 1_Church Visit_ABWE_May 18, 2014-70Day 1_Church Visit_ABWE_May 18, 2014-69

All this to say, our environments have such a powerful affect on us. So, if we’re wise enough to tap into this truth and increase our value of this source of influence we can create more beautiful, pleasant and happy lives for ourselves.

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Gift, Gift, Gift!


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IMG_20140513_203747May 13, 2014 Harrisburg, PA

I arrived in Harrisburg a day early. I thought it would be good to settle in before I started. Well, turns out all the others are arriving tomorrow and we officially start our orientation for Portugal on Thursday! Two days from now. But, you know, I receive this as a gift.

The guest house is not that expensive and my room is amazing! It has a glass door, flanked by two windows of equal size, opening onto a porch which extends directly out onto to a meadow! Yes, a green, grassy, rolling meadow! In fact, my entire surroundings are a glorious collection of green, grassy, rolling things. Small hills and tall, mountains, and miniature mounds which undulate as far as my eyes can see. This is Pennsylvania. My gosh. I had no idea.

I catch sight of a glowing pink mirror glimmering in the distance. I recognize that glowing mirror. I’ve seen one like it before from the heights of Jordan’s Mount Nebo at dusk. That salty marvel we call the Dead Sea. This rose-toned, silvery pool of liquid is much smaller, but ignites with like luminance under the same brilliant, setting summer sun.

It’s hazy over the hills. The layers of shadowy silhouettes fading progressively into the white abyss stir memories of Italy. It is there, while studying abroad in college, I learned this effect is called atmospheric perspective. The recollection makes me nostalgic.Orientation_ABWE_May 16, 2014-8 - Copy

So many memories. Memories, connections, joys; all resurfacing as I simultaneously create new ones. I lean my chin into my hands, my knuckles nestle beneath my nose. I inhale and discover the sweet smell of my boyfriend lingering on my fingers. It infuses the oxygen filling my nose. Another excellent surprise gift. I am happily distracted for a few

I peer out across the grand lawn once more. At the wind’s touch the blades of grass are set into musical motion. Their song is a robust hush heard as the airbrush paints waves across their verdant canvas.

Then it all stops. All but the awful, high pitched screech of a machine’s blade somewhere down the hill in front of me. I’m grateful this lasts only a few moments. Soon enough wind, grass’ hush, and the chimes (which have been cooing much of this time, as well) all return.

The chimes’ tones penetrate the air like the music of spheres. They have this ethereal ring. As if to remind me, There is more than what you see. You are part of a grand mystery. I speak these wonders aloud and as I do the chimes’ song grows louder and more diverse. It is as if they are affirming they know what I only hope and wonder to be true. That we are all of one current, one song. Interconnected. This magical choir. One magnificent opus.

This entire scene: rolling hills, wind, chimes–this whole day–has been absolutely wondrous. Ripe with unexpected gifts of beauty and rest. What extraordinary love the Giver has. What generosity. I’m grateful, thank You.Orientation_ABWE_May 16, 2014 - Copy

“The Kiss of Judas” by Giotto


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Kiss of Judas_Detail_Giotto-2Section from Kiss of Judas (1304–06), fresco by Giotto, Scrovegni Chapel, Padua, Italy

Mark 14:43-46  Immediately, while Jesus was still speaking, Judas, one of the twelve, arrived; and with him there was a crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders. Now the betrayer had given them a sign, saying, ‘The one I will kiss is the man; arrest him and lead him away under guard.’ So when he came, he went up to him at once and said, ‘Rabbi!’ and kissed him. Then they laid hands on him and arrested him.

There’s something about the space between the lips of Judas and Jesus. A depiction of pause, hesitancy. It’s a masterful move by Giotto, famous for being the forerunner in Italian Renaissance painting and primary player in the shift from iconic Byzantine-style art to the life-like work of the Renaissance. For Judas to cross this threshold of space ignites his sin, the act of betrayal, the moment Jesus’ murder is released into play. It is the choice which indicates to Jesus’ enemies, here he is, he’s the one.

This space… this pause… this hesitancy… makes me think of my own moments before I make a move I know will betray Jesus. An act I know will turn against my God and grieve the one who I, like Judas, have been faithfully following all this time. And there is Jesus, staring me in the face with those penetrating eyes. My beacon of truth, of life, of loving and just choices. And there I am, staring back and still choosing to cross that threshold, to initiate that kiss–that act of sin, whatever it may be–against my best interests and better judgment.

Let us remember this image in the midst of our choices. Those times we come face to face with the threshold of sin, the moment before we demand unrealistic expectations of our loved one, or fail to act with compassion toward our neighbor in need, or withhold love or grace from ourselves, or ____, you name it! Let us take pause. Let us remember who we are facing, Jesus. Let us remember his eyes, those eyes which look deep into our soul and see and know we are better than our sin. Those eyes which see our best self and yearn for it, rather than sin, to shine forth. Those eyes which look on us with pure love, compassion and grace and invite us to continually turn from ways of sin to the life-giving ways of him.

Prayer:  God of mercy, we thank you. We thank you that you see us and you know us. You know our deliberate and passive sins. You know our tendencies to act in ways which cause pain and harm to others and ourselves, even when we know better. You also continue to extend grace to us, giving us chances to change our ways the next time we face sin. Thank you for your faithfulness and provision to continue to lead us from choices which breed death back to choices which bring life. Help us remember to take pause at the threshold of our choices toward sin and instead choose your ways of love, compassion, and grace. Amen.

Kiss of Judas_Full_Giotto_4x6_72ppiKiss of Judas (1304–06), fresco by Giotto, Scrovegni Chapel, Padua, Italy

You can find more art Lenten Devotionals at: http://kairosartsministry.blogspot.com/

Birthday – Part I


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As Advent and this Holy Land series draw to a close and the long awaited day of celebrating the birth of a most extraordinary baby draw near, I thought it timely to share the story of my own birthday, September 16, the final week of our travels.  The realization of celebrating my birthday on this trip started off with anticipation, followed by a bit of disappointment, and then renewed anticipation, much like the mixed sentiments around Jesus’ birth.

My initial anticipation was ignited by my first glances at the itinerary.  When I received it I immediately scanned the document to see what was planned on my birthday.  I was astounded.  I mean, it was enough that I was going to be traveling in the Holy Land on the 28th anniversary of my life, but it was even more euphoric to discover we were set to be in the holiest place in this land, doing some of the holiest of things!  We were going to be in Jerusalem and Bethlehem.

Jerusalem_September 12, 2013-48 - CopyThe schedule had us beginning the day on the Mount of Olives and commencing from there down the traditional Palm Sunday route.  That is, the way in which Jesus traveled into the heart of Jerusalem, the week before his crucifixion.  (For more all Palm Sunday read Luke 19:28-44).  Along the way down the mountain (glorified hill, really) we would stop in the Garden of Gethsemene.  The prospect of this stop was actually the most exciting of all for me that day because it is the one place during my first visit in 2011 where I felt like I finally connected to the Biblical story.  Until the garden I felt overwhelmed by and numb toward everything I was seeing in Jerusalem.  I thought, what a special gift it is that God would bring me back here on my birthday!  Following the Garden of Gethsemene we would head to Mount Zion, and then Solomon’s Pools the Jerusalem water source for thousands of years.  We would then complete the day in Beit Sahour (the Shepherd’s Fields) and Bethlehem!  I could not believe it!  I was going to get to see my dear Palestinian friend, Ashraf and see the site of Jesus’ birth on my birthday!  I could hardly contain my joy.

Then, the itinerary changed.  My heart sank and I thought, why, God?  Why get me all excited and then change it all?

Our itinerary had to be changed because of Yom Kippur.  Our ability to travel through the city by any other mode than foot would be impossible on the 15th so in order to see all we needed and wanted to see we had to flip our dates in Galilee and Jerusalem.

So, I did not get to wander Jerusalem on my birthday, but I still got to wake up there and I still got to spend time in Palestine.  In fact, as the day unfolded, with its numerous surprise, and I love surprises (well, except for surprise changes in itineraries), I was astounded by how wonderfully the day turned out!

As we left Jerusalem that morning, we passed the sprawling ancient wall of the old city and all the historical treasures held within.  We made our way north to Galilee.  Our first stop was in the region of Samaria in the Palestinian city of Shechem (or Sychar, now Nablus).  Here, God told Abram some of the most powerful words in history, “To your descendants I give this land (Gen. 12.6-8).”  Here, Jacob’s well resides–the location where generations of people gathered water for themselves and their flocks.  People including Jesus.  In fact, it is one of the few sites archeologists have been able to confirm is the actual well referred to in John 4 when Jesus had that infamous talk with the Samaritan woman.  She said to him, ‘”I know the Messiah is coming (who is called Christ).  “When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us (John 4:25).”‘  Here, to the Samaritan woman, God (Jesus) responded with one of the most powerful statements in all of history: “I am he, the one who is speaking to you, (John 4:26)”–the Messiah, the one who saves.  What extraordinary events.  What an extraordinary place…  And, I realize as I write now this, how appropriate it is to remember this story at this time, as we are six days away from celebrating Jesus coming into the world to save us all.

Like most monuments in Holy Land, this, too, had a church build over/around it.  Jacob’s Well church was absolutely gorgeous.  We entered through its white, street level archway into an open courtyard draped in green vines and bright flowers.  We descended down white steps to the courtyard floor decorated with a massive mosaic of the well.  I took my time drinking in the beauty.  It struck me as one of the most lovely, welcoming places we had visited so far.

Time seemed to stop here.  Something jostled me back to reality and I realized this was not the case.  I looked around and noticed my group had gone inside ahead of me and I was left alone, again.  I caught the eye of a man in the doorway who appeared to be the groundskeeper and thought perhaps he was suggesting I needed to return to my group.  So, I quickly finished my photos and rushed in.  He noticed my hurried movement and said in a kind voice something to the effect of, “It’s okay, take your time.”  He followed with, “Come see me when you are finished I have a present for you.”  This was curious indeed, but I was too curious to pass it up.

Palestine_September 15, 2013-56 - Copy

In the mean time I cast my eyes upon the elegant Orthodox church.  It truly was not gaudy like many others.  It was elaborate and ornate with a three-tiered circular gold candelabra and a gold coffin-like piece of furniture on the right with candles. It was also very light inside (perhaps that’s why I liked it so much).  The interior wasn’t cream or darkened stone, like so many churches we had visited, but it was painted bright white, mostly.  There were also were also magnificent heaven-height, brilliant colored paintings adorning the walls.

Jacob's well - CopyWe walked down some stairs near altar in the transept of the church into a small underground “cell”, of sorts.  Here stood the well.  No photos were allowed (hence the sketch).  The square well still functioned so, naturally, we gave it a try.  Andre, our guide, gave the challenge a go and began to turn the handle on the wheel holding the rope to let down the bucket.  The wheel creaked with a high-pitched screech at each turn as the rope-dangling bucket descended down the millennia-old shaft to the water below.  But, we were all willing to endure the sound for a site and, more importantly, a taste of the ancient source’s treasure.  I was amazed the water still existed and moreover was still drinkable!  After a bit of time, it was a 40 meter-deep well, and a bit of a work out, the bucket reemerged from the depths.  We admired the clear liquid for a moment then each dipped our cupped hands in.  It was cold, clean, and had a hint of sweetness.  It was refreshing to my tongue and on my forehead as I placed the sign of the cross upon it with my finger.

When we returned to the sanctuary above I scanned the space for the sweet-faced groundskeeper.  I found him and made my way over to him.  When he saw me he beckoned me follow him to the little display of tourist trinkets and grabbed something from behind the counter.  It was a small wooden piece, perhaps 2 in. x 2 in.  with two little vials on either side of a drawing of Jesus with the Samaritan woman at the well.  On the bottom was scrolled “Jacob’s Well”.  He explained, pointing first to the vial on the left, this is myrrh and this,” pointing to the right, “is water [from the well].”  I received it with such joy and hugged him expressing my immense thanks.  I felt like I had encountered an angel.  This man had no idea it was my birthday, had no reason to single me out or show me kindness, but he did.  I walked out held in awe and joy.

I still look back on that day with amazement.  Isn’t that so like God?  To let us conceive of a picture of who God is or what God does and then change it up on us only to gift us with something even more marvelous than we could have dreamed?  And, in the smallest and greatest of ways.  From the little details of how I, one of seven billion others of God’s people, would spend my birthday, to the greatest of world-changing events when God would choose to become like us, be born into the world like us, and change the course of history.
And this is just the beginning.

Some Surprising Facts About Jerusalem


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Jerusalem_September 12, 2013-26 - CopyNote: “Palestinian” can describe both an Arab who lives in the West Bank and an Arab who lives in Israel.  Therefore, a Palestinian isn’t necessarily an Arab Israeli, however an Arab Israeli is a Palestinian.

  • Jerusalem is actually the second poorest city in Israel.  This is due to the fact that almost 1/3 of the city is Orthodox Jewish, 75% of which one might call “ultra Orthodox” (known as “Haredim”) meaning they adhere to a traditional form of Jewish law and reject modern secular culture, and many do not work for pay.  Rather, they attend Yeshiva, a school where they study ancient texts, primarily the Talmud and Torah, as a full time occupation.  They also are exempt from the army, which is considered a bit of a scandal because they are reaping the benefits of the socialist country’s resources without putting back into it in a quantitatively measurable way, including the payment of taxes.  This is one of the major current conflicts between the Orthodox Jews and secular Jews.
  • The Arab Israelis and Jews pay the same 25% tax in Jerusalem, however, the Arab Israelis, who make up about 30% of the city’s population, receive only 10% of the taxes benefits.  In practical terms this means, for example, in East Jerusalem, where most of the Arab Israelis live, it is quite run-down and trash-ridden because the trash is picked up only once a week, if that often, while it is collected multiple times a week in Jewish areas.
  • Everyone living in Israel or an Israeli occupied territory (Palestine) is required by law to carry an identity card (“Teudat Zehut”).  The cards vary based on an individual or family’s “status”, ethnicity, and history.  Those who live in Israel hold blue identity cards.  A blue identity card allows a person to pass between Israel and the West Bank without having to stop at the check point, generally.
  • There are two primary kinds of blue cards for Arab Israelis.  If a person or family received a blue identity card following the First Arab-Israeli War of 1948 (known as the War of Independence by Israeli Jews), then they have access to all the social benefits offered by the Israeli government as well as the right to vote in all elections.  A person who received a blue identity card after 1967 (when Israel took control of the West Bank from Jordan) does not have access to any social provisions from the state and is only allowed to vote in municipal elections.
  • As explained in the previous post, “Some Facts About the West Bank“, those who live in Palestine (the West Bank and Gaza Strip) hold green identity cards.  These indicate residency rather than citizenship.  If a person holds a green ID card this means that person is only allowed to cross through the big checkpoints going into Jerusalem.  These have machines which detects the type of access into Israel the Palestinian has.  Primarily, what time of day and for how long the person can be in Jerusalem.  For example, 5 a.m. to 5 p.m. or 6 p.m. to 7 or 8 p.m. There are some exceptions, like for clergy.  As one of my friends living in Beit Sahour, a primarily Christian city in the West Bank near Bethlehem, explained, “Mine and some of the clergies have 00:00 – 00:00 (24 hours) but this does not mean that we are allowed to sleep in Israel or drive a car and so on….”
  • The Arab Israelis for the most part are poorer, commonly, because they tend to have the lowest jobs, both in status and pay, due to discrimination.  While they technically have equal access to education there aren’t many schools in their neighborhoods and the quality varies.
  • Arab Christians across the country have  somewhat better conditions than Arab Muslims.  Our guide’s take on it was, ‘They are the minority so they push themselves more.  They are known to be the leaders across the Middle East.’  He added, ‘They pass exams first,’ too.  This he attributes this to the missionary schools and the value of education found there.
  • Housing suburbs for Jerusalem have been built across the 1967 border between Israel and Palestine (the West Bank) since the end of The Six Day War, making them “settlements”, or, housing built by the occupier on the occupied land.  Such an act is illegal under international law, however, despite efforts by the U.N., Israel continues to build these settlements.  A handful of American activist groups have tried to bring this issue to light to get the U.S. to stop its ally, Israel, from continuing to build, but have not yet been successful.  Former President Jimmy Carter is one of the consistent voices in calling out the illegal behavior of Israel, as exhibited this September in an op ed piece in Haaretz, Israel’s oldest daily newspaper. (http://www.haaretz.com/mobile/.premium-1.547086)
  • About 99% of the settlement residents are Jewish.  There is no law against Arab Israelis/Palestinians living there, but, while settlements are cheaper to live in than other areas of Jerusalem, have good infrastructure and have easy access to the city via public transit, it is hard to imagine Palestinians wanting to move into them.  They never feel quite accepted, I was told.  The few Arab Israelis who do live in settlements are primarily business people coming to the city for work.

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