Archive | June, 2014

Christian Prayers for a Muslim Tradition

28 Jun

Today is the first day of Ramadan, which has always meant nothing to me because I understand very little of the Muslim religion and its customs.

However, this year I find myself thinking of Fatima, a beautiful woman from Pakistan who watched my youngest child for more than five years, and I’m picturing her in prayer during this time.

Fatima had a quiet spirit, laughing eyes, and an accent that made everything sound exotic. We loved the way she pronounced our son’s name—not “Charles,” but “Shar-less.” Fatima and her family moved away when my son entered the first grade, but the peace and grace about her stays with us to this day.

Flag of Pakistan

Flag of Pakistan

We knew she was Muslim, but we were indifferent about it. She dressed in the conservative shalwar kamez (pants with an ankle-length, stylish shirt), and a scarf that I believe is called a hijab. If I’d taken a moment to ask, she would have happily told me what it was, but I showed no interest in her customs. When she asked for certain days off during Ramadan, I found alternative care, but did not inquire about that either. I guess I didn’t want to pry, or have to “defend” my own religion. I wish now that I had asked.

Fatima loved America. She studied for weeks before her citizenship test, and I can still recall how her face lit up the day she told me she was now a U.S. citizen. She celebrated Independence Day, Flag Day, and Memorial Day. She asked me questions about my uniform, and loved the idea that I was a Marine. On September 11, 2001, she grieved with the rest of America when our nation was attacked.

That was the first time I asked her anything about her religion, and I’m ashamed to say it was more accusatory than curious. I rushed home early from work that day and went straight to my son, practically snatching him from her hands.

I looked into her eyes, which were not laughing that day, and I demanded to know, “What kind of God do you have that he would endorse something like this?”

She practically sobbed her response.

“That is not our God. Our religion doesn’t teach this.”

It was somewhat of an epiphany to consider that perhaps those who profess to follow Allah are as varied in character as those who profess to follow Jesus. Some are good, some are evil.

I also knew Fatima loved my son. She practically raised him, while I went off to work, alongside her own two children. She read to them all together, bought his favorite foods, taught him the Arabic alphabet, and gave him gifts at every occasion. Even Christmas. She loved Christmas, and I never thought to ask why.

So that brings me back to Ramadan, and why it matters to me now. I’ve learned a little bit about Muslims since those days. I worked for a while in a place where terrorist group activities were tracked and analyzed. There I read, almost daily, stories about Boko Haram spreading its anti-Christian violence across Nigeria, and the fear and hatred being spewed throughout Indonesia by Jemaah Islamiah, and now the atrocities spilling out of Syria and across Iraq with mind-numbing speed, all in the name of “Allah.”

I believe more Muslims are like Fatima than Saddam Hussein, and because I believe that, I’d say they’re a lot like me. They want to please God, and follow His will for their lives. So for the next month, as the world’s Muslims enter a time of prayer and fasting, I will be praying as well. I suspect we’ll be praying for the same things:

1. They will be praying to become spiritually stronger. I will pray that as they seek to know God, He will reveal Himself to them, during prayer time and as they dream at night, as a loving God and a God of mercy.

2. They will be praying in appreciation for God’s gifts. I will pray that as they search for the Truth, they will learn it. While they study their most precious gift, the Koran, let them find and take to heart its command to read the Injeel (the New Testament), and realize that if God is, indeed, all powerful, He can surely maintain the integrity of a little ol’ book over a mere 2,000 years.

3. They will be praying to become more obedient. I will pray that their obedience opens doors to understanding.

Near the end of July (around the 24th), Muslims will enter an even more intense period of prayer, known as Lailat al Qadr, or the Night of Power (also Night of Destiny). During this time, they will pray through the night, believing that this night marks their fate for the following year. The doors between them and God will be open wider than ever. They will be praying for mercy, forgiveness, and salvation, not knowing for sure whether He would do so. I will pray for the same, knowing that He does.

Is anyone with me?


I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd.” John 10:16






When Fathers Are Imperfect: You Call this Love?

14 Jun

Not everyone loves Fathers’ Day.

Did you have the perfect dad, someone who attended every sporting event, band concert, and scout ceremony? Who knew your friends’ names and read the articles you wrote for the school paper?

I didn’t. My dad barely knew me, and he attended nothing—not even my high school graduation.

Dads are a strange lot. When we’re young we think they’re perfect, but for most of us, at some point we learn the truth: that they’re human, and we’re disappointed.

What was that moment for you?

Perhaps your dad was away on business on your birthday one year and he didn’t call.

Or maybe he promised to bring you something and then forgot.

Perhaps he committed an unspeakable shame that your mother forbade you to talk about, even  with your best friend.

Perhaps one day, when you needed him more than ever, he looked the other way.

Or worse, walked out of your life.

Maybe he died before you even got to know him, and all you have of him is a photograph in a tiny frame.

Or maybe you don’t even know who he is.

I believe there’s a place in everyone’s heart set aside for loving a father, and we long for that love, but it doesn’t always look as we expect it to.

My dad was tough, a U.S. Marine, private first class. He fought with the First Marine Division in Korea, where one day a piece of shrapnel sliced through his head like a band saw. The Corps sent him home with a metal plate in his head and a glass eye, and a prediction that he wouldn’t live to 25. He beat the odds, married, fathered nine children, and died at the age of 64 in 1997. Love wasn’t part of his vocabulary.

Still, I know without a doubt that my father loved me, even though he only said it once. I was around 35, and home for Christmas, unaware that it would be the last time I’d see him alive. He mumbled, “luv ya” at the door when we were saying good-bye. I was so surprised I asked him to repeat himself, but he wouldn’t.

If I had measured his love for me according to outward affection, I’d be one hurtin’ puppy. In fact, I remember standing beside his easy-chair every night, waiting for my bedtime kiss. He’d touch his palm to his lips, turn his hand over, and slap me on my forehead. That was love.

Oh, how I despised him sometimes. Many times. He let me down; he let my brothers and sisters down, each one in a different way; and he let my mother down in the worst way. He never read to me. He got himself fired every time we were about to be ok. And he died, way too soon.

Oh, how I loved him. He was a good man. He made us all laugh. He could fix just about anything, and he loved dogs. We joked that he treated his dogs better than he treated his kids, but I challenge my siblings to consider this: he treated us just like his dogs. He wrestled with us, took us out on the water so we could feel the ocean breeze blow through our hair, and he always made sure we were fed. That was love.

Dad and his father

Dad and Grampa. Don’tcha just want Gramps to pull him closer?

Dad’s own father was more than strict; he’d been hardened by events of World War I and the Depression, and by a secret past he didn’t want anyone to know about. To his children, he was as cold as ice.

So here’s my epiphany: Nobody taught my dad how to “do” fatherhood, so he did the best he could with what he knew. I believe my dad was determined to be what his father was not—warm, funny, and adventurous. He took the good from his dad, too, like a hard-working spirit and a sense of responsibility for family. We often went without, but we were always sheltered and fed (I know Jo, but a tent is shelter). You see, he could do the opposite of his father’s example and he could mimic those traits in his father he admired, but he couldn’t create a picture of what love looked like by watching a man who didn’t love.

I forgave Dad for being human long ago. He gave me my sense of humor, pride for my country, and a special fondness for the ocean. As a parent, I’ve tried to retain the good from his example and forget the rest. I’ve disappointed my sons many times, but I think I’m closer to getting the love part right because I saw into my dad’s heart, to who he wanted to be but didn’t know how. I pray my sons come even closer with their children.

I know now that there’s only one perfect Father, and He has shown us everything we need to know about love. He loved us first so we could watch and learn. I so wish my dad had known Him.

Regardless of where you stand this Fathers’ Day, there’s something you can do to make it a meaningful day:

If you’re angry at your dad, forgive him.

If your father is still here, tell him you love him.

If he’s gone, remember the good things about him.

If your heart is aching because you never knew a father’s love, call to the one true Father. He won’t let you down.

“We love because he first loved us.” 1 John 4:19

Waiting on The Call: Roping Time with a Molasses Lasso

3 Jun

I’m not good at waiting.

I remember a time early in my marriage when I was struck by a creative muse and got up around midnight to write a story that wouldn’t let me go. When it was finished, I liked it so much it made me giddy. I wanted so badly to share it that I woke my husband from a sound sleep, turned the reading lamp on to its highest setting, and pushed my story under his nose.

“Read it!”

Startled by my exuberance and the brilliant illumination, he shielded his eyes and squinted at me to determine the source of my distress. When he realized there was none, his entire body sighed with exasperation. He would have given me his incredulous face if he could have held his eyes open.

Instead, he took the pages as he rolled away from the lamp’s glaring light, and slid MY MASTERPIECE under his pillow on his way back into dreamland.

Not one to give up easily, I yanked his shoulder back so I could retrieve the captive pages and encouraged him again to take a look.

“I can’t believe you won’t support me,” I wailed.

Sensing he was somehow in the wrong, my husband struggled to sit up. He took the papers and honestly tried to focus. Instead of reading, I suspect his brain was weakly calculating the requisite number of seconds he had to sit upright before I’d believe he’d read it. He handed the papers back and mumbled, “Looks good,” before slipping away again. Never mind that they were upside-down.

I spent the rest of the night pouting.

He finally read it the next day, somewhat alert and mostly awake after a poor night’s sleep. He gave me good comments and some constructive feedback. His serious attention to the details compelled me to go back and look at it again. I realized it wasn’t as good as I’d thought the night before, and I rewrote it three or four times before I liked it again.

Since then, I’ve learned to be a bit more considerate about when to share, and to put my ego on the back burner. At least I hope I have.

However, when I took Joe’s story proposal to the writers’ conference recently, that giddy kid resurfaced. I drove down to Asheville feeling a bit like Ralphie in A Christmas Story, who just knew his teacher would like his paper about the Red Ryder carbine-action 200-shot Range Model Air Rifle with a compass in the stock so much that she would tell his parents to purchase one immediately.

My appointment with the agent was on the first day, and I approached her table with a mix of excitement and fear. I didn’t bring the giant basket of fruit as Ralphie would have, but I did almost give her that knowing wink. And I must confess, I looked around for a blackboard on which she could scrawl “A++++++!”

She took my proposal and read. For a long time. The voices in my head waged a battle of conjecture as I watched. “She loves it. She hates it. She’s read 50 others just like it today alone. I should have worked harder on the opening. She nodded! She likes it. She’s taking too long. She hates it…”

At last she looked up, smiled at me, and said, “Would you e-mail this to me?”

YES! YES! YES! Wait, what?

She didn’t ask for my manuscript, but for an electronic copy of the proposal. For a while, I was crushed. Surely, she saw the potential in Joe’s story. I’d been expecting to leave this place an agented author.

But then I remembered that long-ago late-night “reading” and found peace. I received the best possible response for a conference setting. There was no way she could give that proposal a definite assessment there, with hundreds of would-be authors clamoring for her attention. She wants to read it again, later, when she can give it serious focus. And I must wait. She said it could take two or three months for Joe’s story to reach the top of her pile. Sigh.

Calendar with the days marked off

Like sand through the hourglass…

I sincerely believe that because patience is one of the many virtues I lack, the less content I am with waiting, the longer it will take. So, I’m back at my writing desk. While I wait, I will finish the final chapter of Joe’s story and start working on my web page, to make it a more active place of business.

Instead of pining for answers, I will be thankful for how far along this book has come, and I will quote the Greek philosopher Epicurus, who said, “Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not; remember that what you now have was once among the things you only hoped for.”

The agent will contact me at just the right time. I will be patient, and I will remember that she did smile.

I will also keep checking behind the stereo for a package. You never know.


“I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.” Psalm 27:13-14