The language of hope from the hidden and hurting in Jordan

Thank you in Arabic
I learned my first Arabic word during a bizarre Pepperoncini accident –– “Shu-kraan”

Our driver greeted us at the Queen Alia International Airport after a 20+ hour journey from California. We stopped at a shawarma fast food place for dinner and he introduced himself saying, “My name is Salam, it means peace in Aramaic, the language of Jesus.”

No one I had ever known introduced himself in quite that way. After his introduction, the world seemed to slow in this busy part of town, coming into sharper focus.

It was around 10PM. Situated in a circle, or roundabout, in a heavily policed area of the city eleven of us from my local church sat at a few outdoor tables taking in the view. When we wondered why the police presence was so strong, Salam mentioned the many embassies located in this part of Amman. Numbered circles are the way people in Amman shorthand locales. I quickly learned that knowing my hotel was near the 4th circle would be important for navigating the city.

Salam had to come to my aid almost immediately at dinner, because I was involved in an odd Pepperoncini incident. A friend bit into her shawarma and Pepperocini juice streamed from it directly into my left eye. Salam brought over a bunch of napkins. I couldn’t stop laughing, even though it burned my eyeball pretty bad. I laughed harder when the lady who did the squirting said my eye looked awful. Salam and I agreed this must be a good sign for my work here.

“How do you say thank you in Arabic?” I asked.

“Shu-kraan,” he said.

“Shu-kraan, Salam,” I said, using another napkin to dab at my teary eye.

Happy meals in Jordan at a shawarma fast food place
Happy meals in Jordan at a shawarma fast food place

After dinner, we walked to an ATM to get our first Jordanian Dinar (JD). As we took turns withdrawing our currency––colorful, exotic bills featuring kings, scenes from the Great Arab Revolt, famous palaces, Islamic shrines and beautiful Arabic script––a small group of us waited outside for our group to complete their transactions. An Iraqi refugee, Salam shared with us that he and his family had arrived in Amman a year and a half ago. The day before had been his three-year-old daughter’s birthday. When I asked how his family celebrated, he smiled, quickly taking his phone out of his back pocket. They ate cake and his daughter wore a sweet pink plastic tiara. He had the photo of the birthday girl for us to see in a matter of seconds, tiara and all.

He believed that it is good his daughters are so young because they won’t remember a lot of what they are going through. He hopes to give them an education so they can have a better life. The timeline of his story spoke to the general fate of the refugees we aided here––fleeing Baghdad for the North in 2003, his family had to leave Northern Iraq when ISIS took control of his village in 2014. Cell phones are a lifeline of sorts for the refugees, housing their most important photos––of the homes they lost, the horrors they suffered, places and people they would never see again. The photos on their cell phones were the only history they had left.

“Christians can’t return to Iraq. Not if they want to live,” he said.

His father is still in Iraq, too tired and too old to leave his home. Most older people felt that way. Salam will never see his father again. Being born into a Christian family proved to be a death sentence for him and his family. With a brother in Germany and one in California, his dreams include leaving the Arab World because of the people that are close to the book.

He turned to me and asked me, “Do you know what I mean?”

“Yes,” I said thinking I knew. But he continued, knowing I really didn’t.

He said, “They want to kill people like us. The ones that are close to the book. They want to turn me Muslim so I will go to heaven.”

This was my introduction to our work here. We hoped to be instruments of encouragement and hope to people who had and are suffering unimaginable trauma. Who faced death rather than deny their faith. Most of the time listening and praying were all we could do. But these things that I once thought were too simple to be effective, would prove incredibly powerful. Whatever measure of encouragement and inspiration I gave came back in much greater measure from the refugees I had the honor of meeting and the stories of their courage and faith that I had the privilege of hearing.

Why did I go? I was definitely called to attend the interest meeting at church when the time came. I didn’t know why. But in that meeting I came face-to-face with a truth I’d known my entire life but never really understood until that day. My dad was a refugee. So many strangers helped him. It was my honor to do what I could to help people who had lost everything, like my dad, and needed to begin again.

Laura looking up at a map of the world
Jordan

***********

Arabic is a visually stunning language and pleasant to the ear. I had a bit of a love affair with its rhythm and visual beauty. It is said that Arabic is the language of the angels. The language of the divine. I wouldn’t fully understand the meaning of this until I helped to bring aid to an Iraqi refugee family who had a young son. The boy had a deeply spiritual nature. We did not meet him as he was in school, but his parents told us stories about their son, an only child. How when all seemed lost the boy would hit his knees, pray to Jesus and quote scripture to them about hope and joy. He has memorized half of the Bible.

A boy writes a book about love
A boy writes a book about love

Soon his parents shared that their son is writing a book about love. The mother, who possesses a smile that could light up the darkest night, brought out the manuscript of her son’s book. Our translator, a wonderful young woman in her early twenties also an Iraqi refugee, took the note pad and began to translate. The words were beautiful and after reading a few paragraphs aloud, she got choked up and could no longer read. She apologized, saying that the Arabic the boy used was so profound there really was no translation in English. It was then that we learned the young boy is afflicted with an illness that has stunted his growth, so he his much smaller than the other children his age. The mother prays for a cure and tries to keep a brave face.

When the time came for them to share their experience in Iraq with us, a practice that is usually therapeutic to those who have gone through trauma, the husband would only say that he worked in a market. Total silence. A fire burned in his far-away eyes. They wouldn’t speak of their journey, the only ones in my experience who chose to stay silent.

All is calm, all is bright
All is calm, all is bright

In this season of giving thanks and giving gifts I am humbled by the tender mercies we receive every day that open our eyes to the beauty in the world, faith in the unseen and the gift of hope in the darkness.

What beauty and wisdom lie in the languages we don’t yet understand. Here are just a few examples of the beauty of Arabic.

Ya ‘Aburnee “I hope I die before (you bury me)”

Ya Amar “My moon” or “my most beautiful”

Amal “Hope”

Kef “Something that gives you pleasure”

Taarradhin “A compromise where no one is a loser”

From Jordan with love
From Jordan with love

Shu-kraan for your time and support.

Bali’s Nyepi & the power of silence : 90 spontaneous, inspirational days around the world

nyepi.paradesm

I first learned about Nyepi while touring around Ubud last year. As I motored though village after village, I spotted boys and teenagers constructing huge demons that rivaled any Hollywood creation. I began to film what captivated me.

neypi.monsterssm

Each village funded the construction of demons, called Oguh-oguh monsters. I mean, is there anything better to most boys than making larger-than-life demons? It was like they took the doodles off their school papers and gave them life. The Oguh-oguh monsters represent Bhuta Kala, malicious spirits that inhabit Bali on Nyepi to turn people toward evil. In days gone by, night was considered the time for supernatural beings. Malignant spirits, bhuta kala, and witches filled the darkness of the night. Older Balinese see the night as a dangerous time for traveling outside the house compound, though gamelan is held in the evening but it never lasts until late at night on Bali like it does on Java. Even to this day, my Balinese friends told me that I will not see a Balinese family out with their young children at twilight. They see twilight as the time when evil spirits can take control over people’s lives.

close.monstersm

The designs of the Oguh-oguh spoke to their creators’ incredible imaginations and their craftsmanship spoke to how seriously villagers take their monsters. Most were big-breasted ghouls with fangs, some with blue skin, some with very long hair and nails. It was surreal motoring the streets of Ubud, passing demon after demon after demon in varying states of construction. Seeing their creative process was as fascinating to me as seeing the finished creatures parade down the streets of Ubud on Nyepi. The actual day of Nyepi is determined by when the “Tilem Kesanga” falls, the darkest moon.

I had taken a trip to Gili Air to go remote for the weekend right before Nyepi. I just couldn’t wait for the silence, I guess. Gili Air gave a great respite from the frenzy of Java and bustle of Bali as there are no mobiles or motors there. I traveled by horse-drawn carriage when I wasn’t walking. In fact, I could walk around the tiny island in under an hour. When I returned to Bali to celebrate Nyepi, all the tourists were crowded on the docks of Bali ready to party on the Gilis instead of getting “trapped in the silence” of Nyepi. I happily sailed the nearly empty boat back to Bali. I wanted silence. I needed silence. On the eve of Nyepi, Bali was anything but.

getting.readysm

Gamelan and clanging filled the air. The Oguh-oguh monsters, great ghouls, paraded down the streets of Ubud while hundreds lined the streets watching the fan fare. All along the parade route, beautiful sarong-wrapped girls carrying torches kept a vigil with pieces of tape placed over their mouths. Some of the passing demons had dozens of boys animating them, holding large bamboo platforms. They raised the Oguh-Oguh up and down battling other demons in the parade. Since it’s believed village crossroads are where evil spirits linger, the boys spin the Oguh-Oguh monsters counter-clockwise to confuse the evil spirits. People bang pots and pans, cans, and honk horns to force the evil spirits to leave. Later the effigies are burnt in cemeteries as a symbol of purification. Cock fighting is permitted on the eve of Nyepi, because the spilling of blood is necessary for purification.

And then, Bali went dark and quiet. The moment otherworldly.

3/31/2014 – Pondock Pundi Village Inn

I’m not supposed to be outside, but I have to look at the stars. While I stare at the kind of darkened sky most people will never see in this light-filled world, the silence bathes me. It’s more than a moment of “unplugging,” it’s freeing. Nothing needs to be done or thought about or planned for in the next twenty-four hours. Outside my door meat and alcohol offerings are left in the streets for the evil spirits to feed on in the hopes that they will pass deserted Bali by. 

When I reached The Pondock Pundi Village Inn earlier this afternoon—only a few inns were open for tourists as most left Bali for Nyepi—I was asked for my meal preferences for the entire next day. It was explained to me that I was to return to the Inn before midnight and afterwards I was not to go outside. I was not to use the electricity. The staff would bring my meals to me. I was to observe the four abstinences:

“amati geni” no lighting fires or using lights

“amati karya” refraining from working

“amati lelanguan” refraining from indulging in leisure activities

“amati lelungan” refraining from traveling outside the house

Bali hopes that in the silence all the evil spirits will fly over their island. As they sit inside, they reflect on how to purify their minds and their bodies with yoga and meditation. My experience of Neypi is life-changing. Never have I spent a twenty-four hour period in silence. Those that know me would be laughing right about now. It’s the perfect time to reflect on where I’ve been and where I’m headed. 

Love, Light & Liberation : 90 spontaneous, inspirational days around the world

hindupurification

One year ago today my friends took me to the Tirta Emmpul Temple for a Hindu purification ceremony. I had all kinds of hesitation at participating. It scared me a bit to be a part of a ceremony of a religion (some would say a philosophy) I’d only tapped the surface of. Would I anger my God by participating? But then I got to thinking about how God sent me to Bali. I didn’t arrive on my own power, but by His power alone. He had made the decisions that gave me the strength and the opportunity to meet Made and have him become my spiritual teacher. And through thinking about the amount of miracles that brought me to Ubud, a Balinese word that means medicine, I realized one very important thing. God is love. Love is the best medicine. And because Made and his family loved me so much and sought to instill healing in me immediately, they wanted to do something very sacred to them for me. And out of love for my God, and for them, I accepted their precious gift. Made and I had many very long talks together, over many days. And slowly, but surely, my heart began to open and the negativity that had entered my life slowly slipped away and would be washed away in the holy water of the temple, in baths for the body, mind and spirit.

3/24/14

I just set my alarm to get up at 4 AM for my Hindu purification ceremony. And I’m a bit scared by going. The advice I get from time to time about life is to do one thing everyday that scares me. Tomorrow I will have done at least one before breakfast.

3/25/14

One of the deepest spiritual experiences of my life. Be strong. Be happy. Don’t look back. I am now free, liberated from my problems and bad memories through the lovingkindness of what were once strangers and are now family. The solution is love and simplicity. Make every decision based on what God is—love, light and liberation. Consume less. Suffer less. Be true to myself. If I do all these things I will no longer be afraid or powerless. I will harness my power by knowing and praying for what I need. God will bless me with it. That is certain. Made told me, “If you are going West, Laura, don’t let others negotiate with you to go East. Don’t negotiate. With love, keep to your own path. Know thy path. Your heart is your home. Do not take everyone with you wherever you go.” He said this is my problem. He pleaded for me to take care of myself, in the kindest way possible. The experience was intimate, in a way I’d never known before. My friends and their wives had prepared incredible offerings to bring to their gods. Woven bamboo baskets filled with eggs and incense and rice and treats wrapped in banana leaves along with beautiful flowers. With flowers in my hair, the Hindu priest blessed me and pressed rice into my forehead to bless my thoughts. I took the rice and ate some to bless my words and pressed some to my chest to bless my heart. 

Later that night Made said I have to watch the way I walk. I said I walk bad? You need to teach me how to walk better. In a good way. He said, no. He looked at me and said, “No, Laura, I want you to walk sure.” 

90 Spontaneous Days Around The World : Killing my own spiders

ginger
wild ginger flower

March 2, 2014

Seloliman Nature Reserve, Java

The jungle hikes at Seloliman will stay in my imagination forever. So much to inspire. The great variety of life…the beauty of the wild. I thank God for waist-deep hikes in this jungle. Swallowed in nature, I’m blessed to experience the aliveness of an exotic world. A world my dad called home.

a jungle creature
a jungle creature

“It’s loud in the jungle, just like Dad said. Full of hums and chirps, calls and caws, crescendos and croaks and howls. There’s a million creatures out there and my mind’s alive with the intoxication of sound! One of the best experiences of my life—sitting here on the bed, under the mosquito netting, journaling to the jungle’s symphony.” 

March 4, 2014

Kilabaru, Java

“I just killed a spider for Hannah, she’s adorable. A total sweetheart, she’s extremely adventurous, but really upset by insects. At our last place in Seloliman Nature Preserve, our bathrooms were outside and she had a wasp nest under her sink. She was staying all alone that night (it was her night to have a room all to herself, we all take turns). When she screamed and I was the one to kill the spider, I realized that I’d be killing my own spiders from now on. Once upon a time, he took care of that. So many things shared, so many things lost.”

holy water at the temple at Seloliman
holy water at the temple at Seloliman

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March 5, 2014

Kilabaru, Java

“One of the most amazing memories of the trip so far was when I swam at the Hindu temple in Seloliman. It was completely spontaneous. We’d just hiked to the temple, and before I knew it I was swimming in the temple’s holy water. I loved it. Every second of it. There’s such power in following my instincts, even though I have no idea where they might take me. All I know is that I’m more me when I pay attention to them. 

I was deeply sad at the temple (I think it had something to do with the fact that I would be killing all my own spiders from now on) and I wanted to wash the sadness away. After I went for a swim, my friend David came up to me and tapped me on the shoulder. He asked how I was. The gesture so very unexpected and so very nice. It was the kind of tenderness I wasn’t used to.

Thunder’s booming in the distance and is a comfort. I like the rhythm of the storms. We have no water in our room right now. Last night I blew a fuse when I plugged in my phone for a charge. In the last hotel the electrical didn’t work at all. There’s a peace to life in the darkness I never knew before. I’ve made friends with it.”

To be continued…

90 Spontaneous Days Around The World : How to discover your passions in the face of catastrophe

“the truth I ‘d been running from was so strong,
it was as big as the promise of the coming day…”

bromo.smoke
I made an offering to the volcano to end my pain. I asked God to turn the flowers I tossed into the cauldron of the volcano at Mt. Bromo into happiness.

My roommate Hannah and I sleepwalked into our clothes. Together with our traveling companions, we piled in five jeeps to take the dizzying, nighttime drive to summit Mt. Bromo. I sat in the far back seat of one of the jeeps. Every twist and turn sent mystery metal digging into my hip or thigh. My friends and I had braved many adventures on our tour together. This one was the earliest. After a short hike to the summit we waited, having no idea what beauty we’d witness. What wonders sat in the darkness below.

I saw The Southern Cross for the first time. My friends and I sung the Crosby, Stills and Nash song of the same name. As I sang, I understood why I came to Java— the truth I ‘d been running from was so strong, it was as big as the promise of the coming day.

March 4, 2014

“In the pink and purple smoke of many shrouded volcano peaks, at the summit of Mt. Bromo, the sun rose. Illuminating beauty out of the darkness. It was my sunrise. All mine. A new beginning. An invitation to do the very same thing within my own life. To illuminate the darkness. I am the sunrise. In that moment, I decided I’d always GO BIG. This big trip, this big sunrise called me to trust my big dreams. I’d no longer need to doubt or be frightened by them any longer. I’ll bravely keep on dreaming. Keep on living, to discover myself and my passions in the face of catastrophe.”

Happy New Year! 2014’s greatest gift

Bali, Indonesia 2014
Bali, Indonesia 2014

The biggest gift 2014 gave me is the realization that:

Big dreams are our birthright.

Dream BIG. Believe. Watch what happens.

Another great gift was walking barefoot in the rice paddies.

A very Happy New Year to you, my faithful reader. You’ve stuck with me through thick and thin and now, I’m on the other side. The kind people at WordPress put this snap shot of Laurasmagicday together. I feel so blessed that people from sixty six countries are all on this journey. *raises a glass of champagne* (my absolute favorite drink) A toast to our adventures in 2015!  If you like what you read, help to spread the word. I’d like to get my San Francisco cable car trips (see below) up to 100 in 2015! May all your dreams come true…

 

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 2,200 times in 2014. If it were a cable car, it would take about 37 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

More thankful this Thanksgiving than any other

Borobudur February 2014
Borobudur February 2014

 

I sit at the fire pit where I first met him. The magic that night undeniable. There is no such magic tonight. I give a big smile to the flames and the memory and wonder why love disappears.

The asking takes me back to Bali. Why is not a spiritual question Laura, my healer reminds me.

For certain.

Flames reflect in the empty glasses friends drank from while chatting and flirting. Empty Glass the name of one of his favorite albums.

The man I thought he was would never hurt me in this way. I try to shrug off memories of what never was by admiring beautiful, wide-eyed young couples and say a silent prayer. Lord, watch over them so they never wake up wondering where a lifetime of their love went. As well as their youth.

What to do with the truth?

Perhaps it would have been better to sit at the edge of the Grand Canyon with a paper bag over my head. Denial has its place.

But, no. I was given life to live it. To risk, to love fully, to experience pleasure and pain and live authentically. In the firelight I find I’ve not only survived, I’ve thrived and discover I’m more thankful this Thanksgiving than any other.

In deep gratitude I give thanks for my strong, beautiful daughters, friends, a family which expanded this year to include people all over the world, the grace of God, my trust in the unknown, faith over fear, and wisdom which has given me peace.

A woman joins me at the fire pit. Asks where everyone went. Wonders if I’m alone.

I know now that I’m never alone, even when I appear to be.

She says she lost a diamond ring but “it’s no big deal.” With a laugh she says she’s also lost her husband.

I smile and mention that’s a bigger problem.

She says she isn’t worried.

She fans the fingers of her left hand and points to her ring finger to what she says is a four-carat diamond ring and adds of the two it’s “the ring that really matters.”

We search the sand beside the fire pit for her “no big deal” missing diamond ring. His words still so clear in my memory, I always took my ring off when I was with other women.

She gives up on the search and we say our goodbyes. And there’s this part of me that wants to find the ring she so easily gave up on.

True love

I love you,’ Buttercup said. ‘I know this must come as something of a surprise to you, since all I’ve ever done is scorn you and degrade you and taunt you, but I have loved you for several hours now, and every second, more. I thought an hour ago that I loved you more than any woman has ever loved a man, but a half hour after that I knew that what I felt before was nothing compared to what I felt then. But ten minutes after that, I understood that my previous love was a puddle compared to the high seas before a storm. Your eyes are like that, did you know? Well they are. How many minutes ago was I? Twenty? Had I brought my feelings up to then? It doesn’t matter.’ Buttercup still could not look at him. The sun was rising behind her now; she could feel the heat on her back, and it gave her courage. ‘I love you so much more now than twenty minutes ago that there cannot be comparison. I love you so much more now then when you opened your hovel door, there cannot be comparison. There is no room in my body for anything but you. My arms love you, my ears adore you, my knees shake with blind affection. My mind begs you to ask it something so it can obey. Do you want me to follow you for the rest of your days? I will do that. Do you want me to crawl? I will crawl. I will be quiet for you or sing for you, or if you are hungry, let me bring you food, or if you have thirst and nothing will quench it but Arabian wine, I will go to Araby, even though it is across the world, and bring a bottle back for your lunch. Anything there is that I can do for you, I will do for you; anything there is that I cannot do, I will learn to do. I know I cannot compete with the Countess in skills or wisdom or appeal, and I saw the way she looked at you. And I saw the way you looked at her. But remember, please, that she is old and has other interests, while I am seventeen and for me there is only you. Dearest Westley–I’ve never called you that before, have I?–Westley, Westley, Westley, Westley, Westley,–darling Westley, adored Westley, sweet perfect Westley, whisper that I have a chance to win your love.’ And with that, she dared the bravest thing she’d ever done; she looked right into his eyes.

-William Goldman, The Princess Bride

YA Storytellers “fireworks” excerpts — so hot they explode!

bookclub

I’m excited to giveaway a signed paperback to a random Goodreads commenter in the YA Storytellers Book Club Group discussion of Shadow Slayer. Click here to participate….

 

Cover for the paperback copy of Shadow Slayer
Cover for the paperback copy of Shadow Slayer

 

Click here to listen to the series playlist!

Here’s the “fireworks” excerpt from Shadow Slayer:

He finally slows to a stop at the last deserted bonfire. The couples gathered here when we first arrived are inside the mansion, dancing no doubt. Drew turns toward me, grabbing both of my hands and says. “You are the Shadow Slayer.” I’m not sure if it’s his torment or desperation or the fact he believes this shadow stuff with all his heart that sends shivers up my spine in the warmth of the bonfire. I swallow hard. “What’s a Shadow Slayer?”

“You’re the only human who can stop the onslaught, who can turn the tide.” Drew tilts his head as if he doesn’t know what to say next. “It’s sporadic when you’re new. Visions come fast. Some are to be trusted. It’s part of the initiation.” I miss his smile, the one he flashed in the cafeteria when our eyes first met. By the glow of the bonfire in the light of the almost full moon, Drew’s so much more than a ten, his hot factor. This simple thing, being caught in his golden gaze in the heat of the bonfire, makes me realize I’m about to believe anything he says.

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The land of the free and the home of the brave…[photo: courtesy Bryna Butler]
Where will your thoughts take you when fireworks light up the night sky this weekend?

For many years I haven’t been able to see fireworks on the 4th of July. So many years, in fact, I can’t remember the last time I saw fireworks. Fire danger in California played a part. Financially strapped cities too poor to put on shows was a factor. Over the past three years, these themes of danger and lack would unfortunately become forces with which I’d have to contend on a much deeper, personal level.

Tonight I thank the universe that I’ll see fireworks again. Seeing them with those I love is pure magic. Thanks for sharing some of your holiday weekend with me here at Laurasmagicday.

The YA Storytellers are all posting “fireworks” excerpts – so hot they explode! Reading excerpts from my fellow society authors – Bryna ButlerKasi BlakeHeather HildenbrandPatti LarsenQuinn LoftisLiz LongMelissa PearlL.M. PrestonStacey RourkeChristy Sloat and Suzy Turner is a fun way to beat the heat this holiday weekend. For more “fireworks” excerpts click here!

 

Teaser Tuesday: THE STORYTELLERS…release day a week away & e-ARC winners!

four

Congrats to Jodi, Kerri, Diana, Aimee & Daniela, winner of THE STORYTELLERS Cover Reveal e-ARC giveaway! There’s more giveaways on the book blog tour starting next week, and lots of exclusive excerpts, interviews and the book trailer & dream cast reveals too:D I hope you can join in the fun that gets started on 9.9.13. Thanks so much for all your support!