A Letter for My Little Brother (And Other Arab and Muslim Boys Around the World)

Sami5

My beloved little brother, my habibi, 

I love you so much.

But I can’t protect you from what’s to come, not any more than Baba or Mama or Layan or Razan could. The only way to protect you would be to cover you with myself and my whiteness.

Yes, it’s there. It hides under an olive tone at times, but it comes out the moment I end my name with “Davis,” and one day with “Cowett.”

I can hide myself. You don’t have that luxury.

And I couldn’t do that to you, and even if I could, I wouldn’t change your beautiful olive skin, your big brown eyes, or your nose that may one day hook like mine and Baba’s. If I took away your body, and made it what it wasn’t meant to be, I’d take away the history we share.

I’d have to take away the story of our Baba, who came here on scholarship, confusion, hope, and fear in his heart, who was mocked and derided by those studying at the same institution as him. I’d take away the story of this man, who worked at great risk to himself instead of going home, because doing so could have meant going home in more shame and in more trouble.

If he had done that, my life never would have begun, and neither, perhaps, would yours.

I can’t take away the story of our grandparents, refugees oppressed by those who have a long history of oppression. Nor can I take away the story of our great grandparents, including one who left Russia before having to leave Palestine.

No, habibi, I won’t take away our history from you, not even to protect you.

Sami6

Sami7

That being said, I can’t promise that you won’t be accused of being any number of things that you obviously aren’t.

I can’t promise that you won’t be judged by your name, your skin, your nose, your eyes, and all the physical traits we love about you instead of by your character, your skills, your wisdom, your story, your life, or anything else that makes you amazing.

I can’t promise that you won’t be hurt, antagonized, discriminated against, spit upon, demonized, or lumped in with a group you oppose as vehemently as the rest of us who value freedom and human dignity.

I can’t promise this will be an easy life. Baba can’t promise it, because it wasn’t easy for him, not when he was young, when he became a citizen, when he met my family, when he had me, when he lost me, when he got married, when he had our sisters, when he got and lost his cushy job, when he had you, or when he sees headline after headline demonizing our people, even when they are at their most vulnerable.

But I can promise that you will need to live this life, and you can count on Allah to be with you as much as I can count on Jesus to be with me.

And no matter what, I promise you that I will not let those different names divide us.

And I would remind you, as Baba might, that our family lived in the village of Imwas, or what the Christians call Emmaus. And we tell the story of Emmaus every year.

In that story, two men travel the road. They had lost all hope of being dignified, of having their divine humanity recognized, of living freely as the people of God and not the people of Caesar. As they walked in hopelessness, a man they didn’t recognize walked with them, talked with them, and ignited their hearts.

And when they finished walking, he broke bread with them, and they saw, staring into their faces, the hope they thought had died.

People will tell you, “You are not my people,” and unfortunately, some, if not most of, those people will claim the same Christian title I do. While it will be impossible for it not to get to you, I want you to know this: Their words are lies.

You are my people.

Your God is my God.

Your family is my family.

Your blood is my blood.

There is no half in this.

You.

Are.

My.

Brother.

Different mothers and different skin complexions don’t change that. You are my brother.

And while our upbringings, skin tones, and lives will be different, we share eyes and a nose and a kindred spirit and an inherently divine humanity.

We also share a family, for better or worse.

And I will keep the promise I made to you before you were born: I will always be with you, and I always be for you.

All my love,

Lindsay (Your Favorite Big Sister 🙂 )

Sami2

Theater is Church

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Eastern Mennonite University Black Box Theater

I met my Dad halfway through my sophomore year of college. I remember hearing his voice on the phone for the first time in 15 years and thinking to myself, “He sounds just like he did on those old home videos.”

During those early phone calls, he told me about my siblings, my stepmom, her pregnancy with my then unborn brother, his upbringing as a Palestinian born and raised in Jordan, and about his life as an Arab American.

That same semester, my Theater professor assigned My Name is Rachel Corrie for my class and I to read, a one-woman play about the late activist who lost her life defending a Palestinian home in the Gaza strip from being bulldozed by the Israeli army.

This play brought me closer to my father and our shared roots, and it pushed me into an inner confrontation with American and international policy. It is a story I return to when my Dad tells me about the pain of displacement and when I continue to see the plight of Palestinians, who are my family by blood, ignored by American and international media.

*****

During the first semester of my senior year at college, I took a Basics of Acting class. For our final project, my fellow actors and I acted out scenes from a themed series called “University.”

At this point in my life, I was in the deep throes of my faith crisis. Day by day, my firm foundation revealed its unsteady nature. I kept hoping to find solid ground but continued to be met with sinking sand.

It was in this state of mind that I found out my professor had assigned me the role of a young college student who had just had an abortion and found herself in a confrontation with her one night stand about it.

I hated him for that.

And yet, it was this acting exercise that met me where I was in my crisis, in all of my uncertainty over my previous ideologies and biases, and pushed me into the mind and body of someone I had once deemed “other.” It was in the black box theater, as I worked on memorizing my character’s lines and getting into her skin, that I realized how to play with a story, discover the crazy nuances of human lives, and remember that when we talk about “issues,” we are always talking about divinely made human beings.

*****

My second year of seminary, I joined the cast and crew of Corpus Christi, a play depicting Jesus as a young gay man living and proclaiming the Gospel in Texas. I served as the dramaturg (a nice, fancy, theater word for the one who does lots of research) to prepare the cast and help them understand their roles as disciples, and I joined rather last minute as an actor to play the part of John the Baptist, in which I baptized (read: washed the hands of) all of our cast members.

Unfortunately, due to the “controversial” nature of the show, we had to shut it down.

That didn’t stop us from holding a final and open dress rehearsal to a packed house, though.

The powers that were also couldn’t stop us from sitting around during rehearsal time and trading laughter, tears, university cafe treats, and stories about how the Church had wounded the LGBTQ community.

The powers that were could never take from us the power this production had, in many ways, to save and heal the lives of the cast and crew, most of whom identify as LGBTQ+.

In this communal theater experiment, I found myself pushed into a story that was and wasn’t mine. I found myself in the supporting role, and as such, I learned to listen and be present instead of my more natural role of taking charge and stealing the spotlight. I confronted my own pain and the pain of others suffering in ways I cannot completely understand but with whom I can sit, stand, and live in love and camaraderie.

*****

Theater is not frivolous. It is not for the faint of heart or the narrow of mind, but it is for the experienced and inexperienced, the diva and the shy, the believer and the skeptic. Theater molds, shapes, and even break us in ways we spend a lifetime unpacking.

There are times when theater is the voice, body, and spirit of God when churches remain silent, paralyzed, and breathless. There are times when theater becomes the Church to the doubters, skeptics, LGBTQ+, people of color, and the oppressed when the churches all but slam the door in their faces.

 

Theater does this, because theater is story. It’s the stories with the immense power to make us confront our “others” and our own roots. It’s the stories which wake us up and wind us up. It’s the stories which comfort the uncomfortable and discomfort the comfortable.

It was stories Jesus used to illustrate the finer points of his gospel message, through parables of seeds and soil, great banquets, feuding families, and pestering widows. It was theater Jesus employed when he caused a public and zealous disturbance in the temple. It was these stories that baffled the disciples and the religious elite but made sense to the ones who had lived them in some capacity.

And throughout all of those stories and theatrical displays was the call to remember we are God’s, and we belong to each other.

While many fear the “death of the Church,” I have no fear of this, because as long as theater and stories exist, and as long as we continue to tell the stories to each other without fear or shame, the Church will survive and thrive.

I’ve seen the theater be Church for me and for others, and it gives me hope that Church will outlive every congregation we ever make or attempt.

Goodbye/Hello

Choir

On Sunday, I processed with the choir. Somehow, I found myself at the head of the procession, and I freaked out a bit. I never lead this part. I always follow. After seven months in the choir, I still didn’t feel confident leading us down the aisle, up to the front of the purple tule covered cross, and to our seats.

But on my final Sunday, I led the way.

On Sunday, I heard the story of Ezekiel and the dry bones, how the Word of God brought the bones, sinews, and flesh together, and finally breathed life into them.

With the choir, I chanted Psalm 30, a plea to God to hear Israel’s cry for mercy, a thanksgiving of God’s grace, a prayer for God to continue to draw near.

I heard the story of Jesus weeping over the death of Lazarus, a death he could have prevented but instead chose to undo, and how Lazarus walked out of the tomb when Jesus called his name, still bound in his grave clothes.

And as I sat in the choir loft, one final time, I thought about the dry bones and the garments of death.

I wondered if I reeked to the high heavens of death like Lazarus, if my bones and body were without the breath of life. I wondered if, in saying good-bye to my two jobs in the span of four days, I was surrounded by the stench of death, and I wondered if anyone else could smell it on me.

Despite the financial hardships which accompany working two part-time jobs with no benefits, ties are made. Routines are established. A sense of normalcy, including the panic which comes at the end of each month when bills need paying and the numbers aren’t adding up, brings with it an odd sense of comfort.

Now that I am entering a full-time position, with a salary and benefits (health insurance! retirement! paid time off!), I am able to move into a new life, something I always imagined but never thought would come to fruition: stability.

But at what cost?

On Thursday, I had to leave a friend who gave me a job fresh out of seminary, someone I bonded with after I gave his wife a meal before she entered an operation to remove her breast cancer, someone with whom I had weathered the early struggles of his first pastoral job out of seminary. On Sunday, it was difficult to listen to the prayers of a friend who shares my Doctor Who obsession, and to bid farewell to the teens I had mentored, .

I never realized how hard it would be to print and fold my final bulletins and turn off my office computer for the last time. I didn’t think I’d struggle not to tear up when one of my students handed me an orchid in front of my congregation as I said farewell to my congregation.

When I accepted these jobs, I knew they weren’t permanent positions. I knew they were stepping stones to other opportunities.

But I didn’t know they would become so close to my heart.

In youth group, I remember my youth pastors teaching us to set physical and emotional boundaries with romantic partners, because they told us too much physical intimacy could make unmarried people “too close” and result in more heartache when the relationship ended.

I wish they’d told me this kind of extra heartbreak isn’t limited to the physical and the romantic.

I wish they’d told me about the pain you experience when you receive the broken body of Christ from your pastor’s hand and wonder if it’s the last time it will ever happen. I wish they’d told me how much a simple touch of my hair when receiving the blood of Christ from a dear choir member would undo me. I wish they’d told me how heart-wrenching it is to have to pull up your roots from the place you’ve called home for so long and plant them elsewhere.

I wish they’d told me less about setting up boundaries and more about how to love as fiercely as God loves us, even and especially when those upheavals happen.

If we are to live as God’s children, as people who want to connect more with God, we will touch the souls of the people around us in deep and profound ways, and they will touch the depths of our hearts, too. They will leave their marks and imprints, and the scars will remind us of their presence forever.

You can’t avoid it. To avoid it is to be the dry bones in the dessert, to be bound by the grave clothes and reeking of death.

I don’t reek of death. I reek of love. Beautiful, deep, painful love. That love is why I chose to sit with the pain of these losses, to insist that they mean something to me, and their losses demand to be felt and honored.

So I sang our final hymn, “The Bread of Life,” for the last time. For the last time, I hung up my choir robe. I gave out final hugs as I ate snacks from my final coffee hour. For the first and last time, I went to the house of my choir director and her daughter, a member of my Sunday School class, and made my farewells over plates of ravioli.

I said good-bye to the congregation which housed me.

Now, I can say hello to the next home which has found me.

Dreams Deferred and Reborn

Bouquet

Elegant Bridal Hair Accessories

Several weeks ago, Mom and I went to Hobby Lobby searching for wedding bouquet ideas. We walked through aisle after aisle of multi-colored flowers, trying to find the ones which most matched the scheme we had planned (burgundy and gold).

We walked. We browsed. We talked about my financial struggles and whether they would get better.

And as we talked and shopped, I thought about Mom and her life.

As a young adult, she worked a difficult night shift job she didn’t like to make ends meet and afford things she wanted, like her very first car. Around age 30, she moved home with her new baby and a loaded moving van to finish her college degree. As I grew up, she took up extra jobs to ensure I could own a horse, play my own saxophone in the middle and high school bands, and go to college.

As I reflected on all of her hard work and sacrifices, I thought about her dreams, the ones she didn’t see come true, like becoming a vet or a P.E. teacher or a star athlete.

But she became a teacher to ensure she had a steady income and the same vacations and days off I had. She educated multitudes of children, and some of them still visit her, letting her know how they’re doing and how important she was to them.

And she did all she could to make sure I had the opportunity to have my own dreams and maybe see them come true.

I was always a dreamer. Every time I had to write an “All About Me” essay in school, I got giddy with excitement when I got to the “What are your dreams and goals?” section. I wanted to be everything: a marine biologist, a vet, a farmer, a writer, a teacher, a member of the Navy, a jazz musician, a pro skater, a jockey, and then some. I filled those pages with dreams upon dreams, and I had my ways to get to them, even if they seemed impossible.

And here I am, working multiple part-time jobs, still struggling to eke out a living and begin a new life with my fiance, and I wonder if I’ve let my mom down. She worked so hard for me, after all, and what do I have to show for it?

I wonder if I’ve let myself down, because I don’t always know what my dreams are, and I don’t feel like I’m on the fast-track to reach any of them. They seem so numerous and sporadic, disjointed and unrelated, and I don’t know which ones to pursue.

But as Mom and I went about our day, picking out my bouquet, eating lunch and dinner together, looking at bridesmaids dresses and arguing about where the reception should be and if the bridesmaids all needed to have the same style dress, I realized something.

Not many people accomplish the dreams they initially set out to do. And that’s OK.

Mom didn’t accomplish all of hers, and while I’m sure she feels the sting of those losses from time to time, I know she doesn’t regret having me in her life, even if the paths she took weren’t the smoothest. I haven’t accomplished all of my goals and dreams, because they change so often and the world isn’t always kind to dreamers, but I know I will always have the love of my mother, fiance, and others to give me reason, purpose, passion, and joy in this life.

For most of my young, life, I used to think not accomplishing your greatest dreams was the worst tragedy to someone could experience. I used to think it would result in regret and despair, the shriveling up of a soul like a raisin in the sun, as Langston Hughes described in “Harlem.” I told myself I had to accomplish at least one of my big dreams to find true satisfaction in life, or else I’d doom myself to a life of apathy, of going through motions and putting one foot in front of the other with no idea of where the steps would take me.

Now, I see this whole deferment of dreams as a mostly inevitable part of life.

Dreams come in and out like waves in a tide. As life happens, so do our dreams and plans. The flexible and willing among us adjust. They let their passion remain even when the dreams depart, and they fuel their new dreams with that same passion and joy.

Dreams can be for ourselves. They can be for the ones who come after us. They can be put on hold and then reactivated.

But as long as we keep the fire within us alive, as long as we continue to be surrounded and powered by love, we will remain alive, even when our biggest dreams die.

I Had Another Panic Attack

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SquareSpace

I was on my way home from church on Sunday. My body and mind carried the exhaustion of one less hour of sleep. Bills were piling up and paychecks loomed in the too-distant future. I felt the anxiety creeping a bit, but a good Sunday School class and a solid service kept it pacified.

Besides, despite some money concerns, Bryce had just deposited a work paycheck last night. I figured I at least had enough money to get a bit of gas and maybe a cheap lunch on the way home.

I left church and drove to the nearest gas station. To figure out how much I could put in my tank, I did a final check of our bank account.

And I found $1.47 remaining.

The levees in my mind began to crack under pressure, causing fissures which allowed the first streams of panic to enter.

I felt anger at Bryce for telling me the check provided us enough money to tide us over. I felt anger at the phone bill that had zapped that paycheck away. Fury threatened to bubble over as I pondered the little money we had despite the work we did, and embarrassment gurgled within me as I compared my life to those of my friends who’ve graduated and have jobs they love and actually went to school to get.

The fear simmered beneath it all. Fear and shame. Fear of the car insurance bill getting paid before they cancelled my insurance, of not having enough gas to make it home, of not being able to keep a literal roof over our heads. Shame over my lack of resources and dependency on our parents, over having a Master’s degree with nothing to show for it, over what my family and friends must think of our destitute situation.

I kept it beneath the surface, though. I had a few teary, sobbing outbursts on the ride home, but I stayed well enough to not need to pull over lest I wreck the car (and further increase my insurance premium).

When I got out of my car after pulling into the driveway, though, everything unleashed. The levees broke, and the panic flooded in.

Bryce stepped out of the house. I didn’t want to face him. I felt too much fear for our living situation and misdirected anger towards him. I knew he’d see it. I knew he’d ask what was wrong.

And I knew he’d worry.

He’d worry about the money situation, yes, but above all, he’d worry about me.

I didn’t want him to. I wanted to hold myself together on my own for once, to not need a hug or a shoulder to cry on.

But I needed his hugs and his shoulder. I needed to collapse into my bed and let my body shake with the panic threatening to overwhelm me.

I tried to walk right past him without saying anything, but he knew right away I was having an awful time, and not because he knows me so well. I’m crap at hiding my emotions, especially when they are this overpowering, so my red, swollen eyes, trembling lips, and overall air of misery I carried tipped him off immediately. I croaked out a reason for my current state, something about not having any money and freaking out about gas and the car insurance bill, as I forced my feet to move forward.

Not yet, I told myself. Don’t let go yet. Let’s get to the bed first. Then we can break.

And break I did.

I crashed onto the bed, curled into a fetal position, and wailed.

Panic attacks really are paralyzing. They are mind-numbing and body-freezing. The feeling of drowning is such an accurate metaphor, because the mind drowns itself, suffocated and engorged by its own thoughts.

My lungs could inhale and exhale, but my mind struggled to push itself out of the depths and into the clarity of calmness and perspective. Those were on a distant shore. Sometimes during an attack, they are beyond sight. At moments like this one, I wonder if I will ever again feel ground beneath my feet.

I don’t know how long I lay in bed, crying until all that was left within me was pure exhaustion. I can’t remember everything I cried about, although finances and appearing “adult enough” were among the topics over which I was so anxious.

I remember getting over my initial anger the moment I saw Bryce’s lip quiver when he realized the state I was in. I do know he came in and held me as I cried to the point of hyperventilating. He’s never seen me do that before, and we’ve known each other almost 9 years.

I remember he stayed with me as the panic racked through me, then flowed out of me. I remember him telling me he deposited another small check from work to tide us over a few days. When I calmed down further, we worked out what bills needed paying soonest and what money was coming in.

Before leaving me to fall asleep, we managed to exchange a few jokes and even some laughs. He gave me an extra grilled ham and cheese sandwich our roommate had made. And some gentle hugs and kisses.

I read a bit from The Autobiography of Malcolm X and fell asleep, peaceful once more.

I’ve Got Your Back…And Some Olives (published on SheLoves Magazine)

On Saturday, Jan. 21, a group of friends and I joined with about 500,000 people to march on Washington, D.C. Together, we marched to support freedom of speech, religion, and press; to welcome the stranger and foreigner; and to stand up for equal rights and treatment for people of color, Muslims, women, immigrants, the disabled, and other oppressed groups.

What I will remember most will not be the speakers, as wonderful as they were, nor the signs, as hilarious and powerful as they were, nor my feet, as tired and sore as they were after 13 hours of work.

Want to read more? Then please follow this link to the rest of this post over at SheLoves Magazine.

Stuck Behind a School Bus: Some Musings and Meditations

Bus

Two Row Times

It was the last day of my work week, and I found myself driving into the town of Woodstock, VA at the time I normally wake up. I had paperwork to give to my health insurance guy, who opened his office an hour and a half early to help me sort out some last minute paperwork with the Health Insurance Marketplace.

I was grateful for his willingness to see me before my work day (and even his) started. I was also still in the “waking up” process and wanted to be back in bed. Now that February had reverted back to somewhat normal winter mode, I’m content to be indoors under blankets all day.

Early into my drive, though, I found myself behind a school bus.

I have a special place in my heart for all things public school related. My mom is a 2nd grade teacher, and from 2nd to 5th grade, I attended the same school at which she taught. This meant I never had to take a school bus until I was in middle school. I rode in with my mom, hung out in her classroom before the school day started, went to my class, then returned to her room as the student aides called the buses over the intercom. After her students left, I’d work on my homework, watch TV in her classroom, or wander the halls in my socks or bare feet chatting with teachers and staff.

So finding myself behind a school bus, I found myself reminiscing about my old school days, the conversations I had with those teachers which stayed with me all this time, the feeling of bare floors beneath my tiny feet, the smells of pencils, recess equipment, and paper, and the feeling of being surrounded by knowledge and love. Funny enough, being stuck behind this school bus brought upon feelings of joy instead of the typical feelings of frustration at the possibility of being late for an important appointment.

I sat in my car behind the bus as I watched parents waiting on porches and in cars to see their kids safely aboard. In the absence of parents, older children kept an eye on the younger ones. When the bus stopped, its lights flashing and STOP sign extended, bundled-up kids ran across the street at full speed to climb aboard. A teenager in skinny jeans and a hoodie untangled their iPod earbuds while walking across the street at a much slower, more grudging pace than the younger ones.

The bus gave me time to pause, to breathe, and to be thankful. These every day actions of school buses and children and parents remind me so much is changing in this world, and yet so little does.

These students may go to school and be bored out of their minds, or they may go in excited and ready to learn, or some combination of both. They could find home in the school like I did, or it could be a place of fear, trepidation, and lonesomeness. They may encounter dear friends, crushing apathy, terrifying bullies, and understanding teachers. Despite what they tell their parents at the end of the day, they might end up learning something, even if it’s not something found on a Scantron exam.

I continued my journey behind the school bus until I reached the entrance to the town of Woodstock, where multiple lanes finally separated us. I turned in my health insurance paperwork, which my insurance guy sent off, then drove into work to continue my final day of the work week.