ABW 29th Anniversary, April 2019, Lacombe, Alberta
[ Intro ]
Thank you, Toby… I will let (all of) you decide what is true and what is not true (of all that).
You know what I do… or, more accurately, what I almost never do… I almost never check my email first thing in the morning.
March 4th, 2019 (some 34(?) days ago) was an exception to that rule. I was lost in thought, and asking God, “What’s next in my life? What are your plans for me?” All of… oh, minutes later, I did what I almost never do – opened my email right away in the morning, and at the top there was an email from Eric with subject line, “invitation to be a keynote speaker”. And I thought, “Oh cool! Eric is inviting someone to be a keynote speaker at the big event coming up. I wonder who he is going to get.” That’s actually what I thought. So I opened the email. Oh…! Um…? (That’s why he sent the email to me; he wasn’t just informing me that an invite was going to be sent out… it was a little more… targeted.)
So, I asked my friend, who happens to be half way around the world, “Should I do this? Can I do this?” (I was thinking) maybe he will just put the quick kibosh on all of this.
He said, [ read from other paper] “I think you need to do this. In my opinion, there is just no way to say no to that. Just have to figure out how to do it over the next 33 days. Tell him, “yes”. Do we know at what time the talk will be on April 7th?”
So, I thought, huh, I guess maybe that is what I am doing next.
For those of you who know me, and as I believe Toby indicated, the whole microphone / spotlight thing… not my preference, to say the least. I much prefer to be a little more (well, considerably more) on the periphery, quietly supporting and doing what I can from there.
So, I don’t know if I should be extremely grateful for this answer to my question about what’s next, or if I should maybe be apologizing to all of you, or perhaps some combination of the above.
So,…I know all of you are involved in different ways with A Better World Canada, and the plethora of amazing ABW projects over the last 29 years! And I don’t know yet what is your level of in-the-know specifically regarding the 100 Classrooms Project, so I would just like to start by asking, how many of you (or have any of you) seen this before… [ show picture of dove with pen ]
[depending on response/# of hands: ]Ok… great / no problem.
So, what is this? Well, this, to me, epitomizes so much of what the 100 Classrooms Project is all about.
At the most basic level, the 100 Classrooms Project is exactly what its name suggests – it was a vision from our very own (IF I may proudly call her our very own) Azalea Lehndorff. Some 9 years ago she had a vision to build 100 classrooms to contribute to the educational infrastructure in northern Afghanistan, especially for the young girls who were deprived of educational rights and opportunities under Taliban rule.
This in itself is amazing, but in my mind, and in my heart, it goes even deeper than that, and this drawing represents (pretty much) all of it.
The dove represents… peace.
And the pen represents… education.
And I am oft reminded of the Nelson Mandela quote… “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”
We started our pledge letter in 2016 with the words, “Peace and Justice in Afghanistan. Is it possible? We have an ever-growing team that believes Peace and Justice can be achieved. But only one way. Through education.”
So we adopted this image and used it as a symbol of what this project is all about, and then, we sent it out on our pledge letters and updates through 2016 and 2017 looking like this. (with the words “Circle of Peace” included in the image)
Now, what is the Circle of Peace? The Circle of Peace is simply a concept that there is a community of people who care, and are willing to do something about it; a group of people working together for peace through education.
And that is on both (all) sides, from the westerners who may have some resources (as well as passion) to contribute (and many of you have made donations and contributions and amazing matching donations, and… all of the above) all the way to those living there in war-torn Afghanistan who desperately and passionately want education for their children and their grandchildren. And the children themselves are so anxious to go to school! that they would even go to the building sites and tell the workers to build faster so that they could go to school sooner! (Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could transplant that sentiment into the children in every country in the world.)
And where did this come from? We did not draw this. We did not tell anyone else to draw this. This was a little girl (maybe 10 years old, we’re not sure) at the Arab Khana School in northern Afghanistan. This was around May 2011. Azalea had visited the Eckville Elementary School in Alberta, and the students had made a book of letters for her to take to the students in Afghanistan. She took the letters to the Arab Khana school, and the students there responded with letters of their own, one of which was this: the little girl had copied out a poem about teacher appreciation (in the Dari language, I believe), and also drawn this picture with the poem, of the dove holding the pen. And then she ran up to Azalea and handed it to her.
So, I just love this picture, and in my mind, it became the symbol of what the project is about, because it brings together all of the concepts that were, to me, the foundation of the 100 Classrooms Project – Peace. Education. People who care enough about these two invaluable concepts to fight for them. (and caring of course comes from love). And then this drawing by this little girl just feels (to me) like… Hope. Hope for the children, and hope for their future.
So, what is my involvement? If my first choice would be to be talking to the little girl who drew this picture, why is it, and what is the series of events that brought us all here to where I am talking at a microphone tonight? Well, I won’t say, “it’s a funny story”, but it is a story. It’s my story. And to tell you at least bits ‘n pieces of that story, I will begin in the most logical place… right in the middle.
In mid-2016, it was laid on my heart to contribute to the 100 Classrooms Project by preparing a pledge letter for the project, and sending it out to a circle of friends and acquaintances. A friend of mine (who happens to be here tonight, and flew in from Asia for this event), worked on it with me in July/August 2016, and we sent it out in September, with the goal of raising $25,000 by December of that (same) year.
We almost made it. We were close. I think it was bout 22,000 or 23,000 by the end of 2016. We weren’t… “upset” that we didn’t reach our target… we were thrilled to have achieved that much. But we also really wanted to reach that goal. But it was like getting a train started. And it gained momentum. And very quickly that momentum “bloomed and blossomed”, shall I say. And that 22 or 23 thousand jumped to over 139,000 within about 6 months. Might have even been more like 3 months. It happened very quickly. So… very quickly it became not only enough to more-than achieve the original goal, this was actually enough to build an entire school, and have a little leftover to put towards the next school.
We felt this was something worth celebrating. So in September 2017 we had a celebration event in Surrey, British Columbia. At that event, I spoke, and for 1 night only (… 1 night only!), I told about some of my background experiences that led to my involvement in ABW and 100 Classrooms. I repeat, for 1 night only. And I was never going to talk about it again. BUT in order to properly and accurately answer that question for you, about what is my involvement and how did these connections all (in many cases, seemingly miraculously) take place, I need to expand to… 2 nights only. So tonight I will share with you some of the details that I shared that night.
[ from September 2017 – celebration event in surrey ]
I remember (it) like it was yesterday.
My husband, Paul, and I were working in the garden out behind our house in Surrey that we built together. We tried to do that regularly to have a little relaxing time, chit-chat, and catch up on each others’ weeks. The sun was shining. The birds were singing. At least, that’s the way I remember it.
And out of the blue, Paul turns to me and says, “Sweetheart. Someday, we are going to travel to 3rd world countries. I am going to build schools (there). And you are going to teach (in those schools).”
My first thought was,
(1) Where in the world did that come from?!?, followed immediately by,
(2) Yes! That sounds perfect! I get to travel, and have adventures and teach and do the things that I love. I am so “there” (up for that)!, and
(3) I know that when Paul says he is going to do something, he always follows through on it.
So that pretty much put me on Cloud 9. For that day, and many days after. But it didn’t happen immediately, of course, so we tucked that dream away, and went back to our busy lives, him as a contractor, and me as a school teacher.
But that was not yesterday. The years go by quickly, and it was in fact close to 20 years ago now.
And have you ever had “the perfect plan”, and it sort of worked out, but absolutely nothing like you envisioned it? With numerous twists, turns, potholes, obstacles, and valleys, along the way? Then you might be able to relate to some parts of my story.
For I then entered what I now sometimes refer to as my “14-year season of loss”. I won’t go into all of the traumatic details, because, (1) it is simply too painful for me to go through all of those memories, if I did, I would not be able to keep talking to you here tonight, and (2) I don’t want what I call my dark-night-of-the-soul life events to become the focus of the evening.
People would say to me, “But your story is one of victory over tragedy. If you can share it, it will help others.” And my thought was, “Who would care? Who would want to listen to what I’ve been through?” But I have been assured by colleagues and very close friends that this IS what people want to hear.
So I do it for the purpose of showing that God can bring victory and beauty… out of pain and sorrow (and… well, out of “muck”, for lack of a better word); and for the purpose of explaining why I am so passionate about the 100 Classrooms Project.
During the period from 1995 to 2008, we lost my Mother. A year later, we lost my father. My parents were the salt of the earth and I loved them with all of my heart. A few years later, we lost my beautiful sister, Geri. (She was paralyzed from the waist down for the last year of her life.) Less than two years later, we lost my brother, Harvey, whom I adored. (The day that the police told me my brother had died was the very same day that Paul, my husband, went in for a vital medical test, and we found out a week later that he had cancer at the junction of the stomach & esophagus.) And because of everything that happened, I had to give up my career as a teacher, which I absolutely loved. And during this period of time, I also lost two unborn children. And then, in late 2007, I lost my beloved husband, Paul. (The cancer had metastasized to his spine…. Paul was paralyzed from the neck down for the last few weeks of his life. In truth, those last 2 weeks, seemed like 2 years. If you have ever watched a loved one be tortured and killed by cancer, then you can probably relate to some of my experiences.)
Right after that I turned to my darling dog, Kira, who was 13 at the time, and I had had her since she was 6 weeks old, and told her, “you can’t leave me. I can’t lose both my sweeties at the same time.” Well, she tried to hold on to stay with me for a little longer, and she did make it another 2 and a half months, but then she died on New Years Day, 2008.
It was like tsunami waves hitting me over and over again.
I felt like I didn’t even know who was still alive, who was on earth, I felt like I was grieving and mourning for so many.
Maybe I should have died at the same time. But I didn’t.
Again, I say all this not because I am looking for pity, or feeling sorry for myself. I say this because there is a bigger picture. Children die. People die. Atrocities happen. The unthinkable happens. The unspeakable happens. But somehow, God can weave it all together for good in His time.
For example, look where we are. Celebrating 100 Classrooms! Celebrating 29 years of A Better World Canada!
But at the time, I certainly didn’t feel like celebrating. What I did feel was broken. Devastated.
I prayed to God, and said, if You still have any purpose for me, please bring the circumstances and the people into my life to show me.
God heard my prayer.
He promised me healing and softening of my grief, fulfillments of my dreams in His time, and new beginnings when I was ready.
And He has kept His promises. He always does. He has woven miracles of wonder and delight! And he has connected me with amazing people.
And He has brought, and is still bringing healing for me. He brought the people into my life at the right times. And right here tonight… Eric, Azalea, A Better World Canada, the 100 Classrooms Project… these were some of the answers to that prayer.
And when I look back at the winding road, and how it all led to here, well, I am amazed by it. Let me give you just a few of the highlights.
The vast majority of 2008 is pretty much a black hole in my memory, but I do remember in the Winter of that year, my good friend, who is aptly named, Joy, read a book about educational development in Afghanistan, and she suggested… well, passionately INSISTED…in one of our many phone conversations that I should read it too. I said something to the effect of, “Thank you. But I am in no mood to read even one page of a book, never mind an entire book from cover to cover.” She said, “well… then… just… look at the pictures!” I said, “fine”, just so we could put an end to our escalating literature-related mini verbal impasse.
Looking back, I am glad that she did insist, because I did eventually read it. I found it very moving, and a spark began to glow; my emotions and my passion for education began to stir once again. Just a little bit.
2009 is a similar foggy void in my memory, but I do remember that in the Spring of 2010, another friend, Patricia, saw in the local newspaper that the author of that very book (that Joy had suggested-insisted that I read) was speaking at a school right there in Surrey, BC. Patricia and I, and a number of friends, attended the function, and I marveled at the author’s dedication to build schools for the children of Afghanistan.
So, those things all happened in the blur of 2008, 2009, 2010. At the beginning of 2011, another teacher and friend of mine, named Elizabeth, at Lakeview Christian School in Sidney, BC, invited a young ambitious guest speaker by the name of… Azalea Lehndorff! My friend, Joy, who had 3 years earlier recommended-(insisted) that I read the book (or at least look at the pictures), also taught at that same school. After Azalea’s visit to the school, Joy spoke to me enthusiastically about the whole experience, including Azalea’s talk with the students, and visit to her home, and felt that this was someone that I should meet.
- Well, I trust Joy now because of the whole literature-related verbal impasse experience. I’m kidding. I already trusted Joy. But once again I followed her advice, and started communicating with Azalea via phone and email. By then I had heard about her vision to build 100 Classrooms in Northern Afghanistan, and this greatly intrigued me.
And it was through these conversations, I was then introduced to Eric Rajah, and A Better World Canada, and I began to get a little bit excited about the work that this amazing organization was doing around the world.
The next step in this journey was in August, 2011, when I first met Azalea face-to-face. She came to speak at the Aldergrove Seventh Day Adventist church. Her talk about the needs of the Afghan people, her passion and commitment for the children, teachers, and people of Afghanistan, and specifically the 100 Classrooms project, all spoke to my heart, and further rekindled my intrigue, and ignited my hope to be a part of this project.
I was scheduled to leave for Europe a few weeks later, as I was looking into a plan to teach in France for 1 year, and I had also made a verbal commitment to teach in Xiamen, China, in the spring of 2012.
Well… that all changed! And it became very apparent to me that God had a different destiny for me, and the 100 Classrooms Project, and A Better World Canada have played significant roles in the journey.
And it wasn’t overwhelming. It was like, these people and these events came into my life at the right time, when they were supposed to. It was like click, click, click, at a time when it seemed like everything else in my life was out of control. And when they did, it was like a candle slowly lit up in my soul again.
In February 2012, I took my first trip with A Better World Canada, and this one was to Kenya to help set up for a teacher education program there. Seeing, talking to, and working with these precious children and teachers, who faced so many hardships, and yet dealt with them and continued on with their lives with smiles on their faces, and joy in their hearts,… well, that’s probably when the softly-lit candle really turned into a burning flame inside me. I had worked my whole career of 27 years as a teacher in Delta, BC, which was wonderful, but now seeing this opportunity to be a part of education programs for children around the world got me excited about the possibilities again.
And a couple of months later, in May 2012, was another trip to Kenya for that teacher education program, immediately followed by my trip to Afghanistan…
Ya know, I’ve often wondered what my Paul might say to me when we meet in heaven. I wonder if he will say, “So… Gail. When I was making a list… of the places I wanted you to go… ON YOUR OWN… WITHOUT ME… to build a school, I’m not certain that Afghanistan was at the top of my list…
To which, I imagine I will reply, “Yes, Paul. Really. Afghanistan.”
Why? Well… I will tell you why.
When I went to Afghanistan in May/June 2012, it left footprints on my heart. I found it to be a jewel ready to shine!
In Sheberghan, in northern Afghanistan, I was able to visit the children and their teachers in 3 schools. These are memories that will be etched in my mind and heart forever.
And Paul, when I was able to participate in the opening ceremony of the Kinara Secondary School in June 2012, I got to witness your dream, our dream, becoming a reality. I think you would have been proud, Paul, to have seen the quality of work that was put into the construction of the school, and delighted to connect with the children, teachers, parents, and elders of the community.
In all honesty, I just kind of felt like I belonged there. Because those people knew what suffering was. They have lost loved ones. They have lost so much! And yet, they continued their lives. They were like warriors. I felt like I was the same, in some ways. I felt like I belonged with the children of the families who were torn apart by war.
And, in truth, I didn’t feel like I belonged in my own country at times. I would try to explain this to people, and I felt like they didn’t understand, and would look at me like I was a little crazy. And maybe I was at times.
In those years after 2007, when I was trying to recover from everything that had happened, I would go back to church or to social groups, and I often felt like I was on the perimeter, like I didn’t fit in. I didn’t seem to be able to connect with very many people though one poignant exception to that was my dear friend, by the name of Marj.
And now I will tell you another story – I almost did not go on that trip to Afghanistan in 2012, because my dear friend, Marj, was ill at the time, and I was worried about her. I met with her shortly before my scheduled departure date, and she said to me, “no, Gail, you need to go to Afghanistan. That is where you need to be. You are not to stay here for me.”
So, I went.
And can you guess what I am going to say next? While I was in Afghanistan, what happened? My dear friend, Marj, passed away, and I didn’t get to see her when I came back and tell her about the trip to Afghanistan.
She would have loved to have been here for an event like this, with all of you. But she made it very clear that I needed to go on that trip, at that time. And I did.
(And when Paul says to me with amazement, “Really, Gail? Afghanistan?”, Marj will be there saying, “Great job, Gail. Afghanistan!”)
So, through all of this… I thought, “how do you pick up the pieces of your heart when they have been broken over and over again?”
My friend, Pete, told me that when your heart has been broken multiple times, maybe it’s not that it is in pieces, but that it has expanded, so that you can love in a bigger way.
I appreciated that new perspective on a broken heart – that now possibly it’s a heart that can actually love in a bigger way.
Are there any fellow flower enthusiasts in the room? (Obviously not you, Toby!) I, myself, love flowers. And I love the lotus flower, I think it’s so beautiful. (I took this picture of these lotus flowers at Salt Spring Island.) And do you know one of the unique things about the lotus flower? It is actually rooted in muck! In spite of that, this is how it looks on the surface. And I kind of feel like I relate to that flower. I feel like I have been dragged through the muck.
But you know what’s amazing? The whole time I felt like I was being dragged through the muck, God never forgot Paul’s dream. Our dream. Paul’s and my dream. I thought the dream had died, along with Paul, but God resurrected the dream. And He can create something so beautiful as the lotus flower, out of muck! And it feels like He is working to do something like that in..my ..life …too. That is a great God.
I felt like in my life, I have never asked for all this. This was not in my perfect little storybook of the way life was supposed to be.
But in the last 2 weeks of his life, Paul set the tone; he set me free to go on living my life. Paul said he didn’t want to leave me, but he was ready to leave this earth. It was very hard for me to hear that. But he assured me that he wanted me not just to exist, but to live. And to carry on what we had started, and what we had dreamed together. So that’s what I’ve been trying to do. For the last 12 years.
And Paul said to me before he died, “when you give to others, remember me.” And that’s what I do.
In the projects for A Better World, including the 100 Classrooms Project, when I give, I remember Paul. So he lives on, in a way, and plays a role in these education programs for the children of Afghanistan and around the world.
And I was so excited to hear in early 2018 that we had actually crossed the finish line, in terms of the fund raising, and now it was a matter of completing the construction.
I looked forward to what was next, in terms of completing the 100 Classrooms, and whatever that was going to lead to within A Better World.
My mind (certainly) did not immediately jump to this situation, with me sharing stories at the 29th Anniversary!
I am happy to do it, but even an opportunity like this (for me to be here speaking to you) fell into serious jeopardy in mid-2018.
Can you handle 1 more story?
(Can I handle telling you 1 more story?)
June. 2018. I was starting to plan a trip to the Haida Gwaii archipelago off the coast of BC.
On July 4th, I send a whatsapp to my friend: “It occurred to me today that this has been a relaxing July so far – compared to July 2017. Prep for 100 Classrooms (Evening of Gratitude) was front & center that month!”
[ from December 2018 – celebration of life event in Surrey (home) ]
3 days later. July 7th. Saturday.
I started my Sabbath morning just like any other. But the day ended far from normal. Later that morning I was not feeling right. I knew that something was wrong. An ambulance took me to emergency at Surrey Memorial where for 5 hours a battery of tests were done. Through all those hours my friend, Glenn, was there supporting and encouraging me. Everyone of the tests came back normal. I said, “Great!” I was chomping at the bit to bolt, and get out of there. Then, the Emergency Doctor said, “We are 99% sure everything is fine, but can we just do 1 more test?” That test was a CAT Scan.
And unlike all the other tests, it did not come back normal. Far from it.
The Radiologist Doctor sat down beside me and said, and I quote, “I have shitty news.” The CAT Scan revealed a large mass on my brain. I did breakdown when I heard that news. The Radiologist Doctor advised me to take it one step at a time. He put in a requisition for an MRI of my brain which was done the next day, July 8th. And he also put in a referral for me to see a Neurosurgeon by the name of Dr. Andrew Lee. I saw Dr. Lee on July 10th. I found out later that he is known as the top Neuro Surgeon in B.C.
On July 12th, my niece, Sue, and I went for a consultation with Dr. Lee to find out the MRI results. While showing us the x-ray, he explained that the MRI revealed a large mass (5x7x2 cms) on the lining of my brain. And he estimated that this slow growing tumour had been there for 20-30 years. He had never seen a tumour that size or shape before. The next step would be to remove the tumour and send a sample out for pathology testing. Dr. Lee wanted to do the surgery before he left for his holiday on August 10th. With my permission, he wanted to do the surgery on August 7th.
I was processing in my head all that I had seen and heard. Then, I said aloud, “I think I can….”
Sue, who was sitting to the left of me writing down notes, burst out laughing. I looked at her with surprise! She then said to Dr. Lee, “What Gail is trying to figure out is if she can fit you in her summer plans.” And we all had a good chuckle… including Dr. Lee.
So, I did in the end, make a few adjustments and fit him in to my summer plans.
But first, I took a trip to Denial…..to my happy place for a week which is Saltspring Island.
Then, I came back from my happy place to face reality. There were tests and appointments to deal with. My panic and terror meters were escalating.
During that time, so many friends wrote supportive and loving texts, emails, whatsapps to me, for which I am whole-heartedly grateful.
However! One of my friends who texted me a few encouraging words which I thought were interesting; maybe you will too.
“Gail, you have been vacationing lately, and next Tuesday (the day of my surgery), again, you are planning to blissfully sleep through the day, while the rest of us work, and you are afraid that we (your friends) will all be jealous and upset with you, because it’s like you keep winning the prize over and over. Yes, we want our turn too…to go to Saltspring Island, have brain surgery, visit Italy again, etc. etc. (pause) But it’s ok. We all feel it’s ok for you to win the prize over and over again, because we know you are of good character, and that’s why good things happen to you.”
He is not finished. He goes on to say…
“August 7th is my 2nd day of work. Now if you had a choice, would you rather be having brain surgery, or going in for your second day of work in a new contract, location, and role? I think that logical answer is pretty clear, don’t you?”
So I showed his text around to a few of my other friends and asked them which they would prefer. And 1 of them actually picked the brain surgery!! And she meant it!!
Wouldn’t have been my first choice. I don’t know about you.
You probably read in the invitation about my “reframing” past experiences, and I suppose that was his feeble attempt to “reframe” my upcoming brain surgery. (But… it actually helped to relax me, believe it or not. It grounded me. I was laughing while I was crying.)
When I looked at my calendar in the kitchen, I didn’t want to write Surgery Day. Instead, what came to me was “My 1st Day of Healing”. So, that’s what I wrote on my calendar. My 1st Day of Healing. And the peace which transcends all understanding came over me. And it carried me right through the surgery. Several people commented on the day, “I can’t believe how calm you are.” And frankly, I couldn’t believe how calm I was, either. But I was feeling at peace….no doubt it was the prayer warriors in my life uplifting me with their prayers of love.
So, I did wake up from my surgery (or my vacation as he said).
Three days later on August 10th, Dr Lee came to visit me on my discharge day, even though it was his 1st day of vacation. He promised me that he would phone me with the pathology report. And one week later, while he was still on vacation he kept that promise and phoned me. He calmly said to me, “Gail, I have the pathology reports. I sent it to 2 different labs and it came back – benign.” I was sitting in the family room, with tears streaming down my face and I replied to him, “So, it’s good news, Dr. Lee?” And he replied, “Yes, Gail, it’s very good news!”
Sometimes, it just seems surreal. Like it happened to someone else not me. But, it did happen to me. And I have the scar to prove it. Under my hair, which is still growing back, I have an 8-inch scar on my head.
And I know I do because my friend, Bruce, who was in the hospital recuperating from 3 surgeries commented when I walked by his bed, “Whoa, Gail! that’s a huge incision!” But Bruce didn’t say it in a cruel way, it was like he was honouring what I had been through.
Two of my friends called my incision, “My crown of glory and a masterpiece”. Another said that it is a work of art. And yet another that it was my halo.
And my dear friend, Melissa, even went so far as to research a number of quotes about scars which she real aloud to me in my home.
“She wore her scars as her best attire; a stunning dress made of strength.”
“Scars remind us when we chanted, ‘courage dear heart!”
“Scars remind us who we are and what we’ve overcome. They remind us both the strength of our body to heal, and the strength of our mind to have the will to go on.”
[ Conclusion ]
I still have triggers. Still experienced loss. It was part of my life. I have to honour that – both the light and the dark.
I live on this confusing continuum. On the one hand, I am a woman of faith. I believe in Romans 8:28, “that all things work together for good to those who love God”, and yet on the other hand, there were so many days and nights of wondering… “What is going on??”
Many nights of looking up at the stars, and saying, “I don’t get any of this.” (Why my husband is crying in pain. Why I have to go through brain surgery. Why children are losing limbs, and life, because they are stepping on landmines in their play areas in various places in the middle east. Why young children would get physically tortured when all they are trying to do is walk to school.)
But. I still believe. With all my heart. à This is my Father’s world.
And it is still… a beautiful world.
And I love Richard Rohr’s definition of Faith. “Faith is patience with mystery. It’s the willingness to abide in a place that you don’t fully understand.”
And my friend, Pete, says:
“Faith means little if it is unable to hold or contain us in our moments of utter dislocation and bewilderment.”
And I love Frederick Buechner’s timeless reflection on vocation/calling:
“The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”
I have suffered some losses, but I also can’t even pretend to imagine what it has been like for these young girls in Afghanistan… Here is a paraphrase from an Afghan poetess, named Marwa Subhan: “In the past fourteen years, hundreds of Afghan girls have been targeted for going to schools. They have been poisoned, and have had acid thrown in their faces. They have been murdered and their schools have been burned. They have been abducted or threatened. This has led many to stop going to school, simply as a means of survival. Yet, millions continue to brave through the dangerous path from their houses to the broken buildings, tents and fields they have come to know as ‘school’.”
And one very positive note of hope is that, to date, not one hair has been harmed on the heads of the 17,000+ students attending school in the 100 Classrooms that were built through the ABW project.
But it makes me want to refer to all of them not as girls or as students, but as warriors.
If I may be so bold as to say that I feel like we were able to meet on a common ground. At a soul level. My soul and the souls of the children are not willing to give up. I feel like, although our tragedies and adversities are different, we come from the same fire. The same Warrior Spirit. Passionate. Survivors.
But out of the ashes, the spirit rises. Out of so much pain, they can create this (the picture that I showed you at the beginning, the dove holding the pen) representing: Peace. Education. People. LOVE. and HOPE.
In another conversation with my friend Joy, I had said that, “I believe one of the greatest ways to show love is to see and hear each other.”
And now I want to share a video with you that I hope will demonstrate that; I hope it’s ok, we have a couple songs playing in the background that I really love, and the video features a few of the pictures that we have taken during the trips to Afghanistan in the last 9 years.
Maya Angelou says, “Your legacy is every life you have ever touched.”
The children and the people in this video certainly have touched my life.
I just want to thank you for listening to my story. Every one of you has a story to tell and we are truly connected with each other on this earth for many purposes… one of them being that God will walk with us and make the connections with others, so that in spite of everything we go through, all together we can still make our world a better place.