Lord, make me an instrument of your peace
One time in 8th grade I saw two girls fighting. There was this one girl at my school who used to think getting in fights and into trouble made her really cool. One of the “popular” girls stood up to her and ended up with her face smashed into a locker. It happened to be the locker next to mine, which was empty. For the rest of the school year there remained an imprint of her face. It served as a reminder– 1 to never mess with Sam and 2 that there is brokenness in this world not just in objects but in people.
12 months ago I thought that the world was not peaceful because my parents used to argue, not everyone at university wanted to be my friend, and there were wars in my history books.
Now every person I see has left imprints upon my heart that remind me of both the brokenness and tenacity of the human. I do not know every person’s Sam that has brought violence upon them or which ones of them are the “Sams” of this world, but my new normal is to treat them all the same.
My little brother and I have a secret handshake
And what is even crazier is that I remember 9/11/2001. I was sick at home with pneumonia– laying on the couch next to my mother begging her to turn on cartoons, and she kept saying “after the news.” She went to the bathroom and during the broadcast it happened. I called to her so confused like “Mom something is wrong.” My nine year old brain rationalized that maybe the pilot got sick or fell asleep, but then it happened again. I remember thinking it was a villain like Mojo jo jo from the cartoon “Power Puff Girls”. My mom was sobbing and kept whispering my brother’s name over and over again. Several hours after the incident I heard
I answered the phone. It was my brother and he quickly said “Jessi give the phone to mom.”
I sat so close trying to listen, but I could not hear anything passed my mother’s sobs.
And just like that two years before the actual “Iraq Invasion” in 2003 my brother was being sent to Iraq. It was his duty.
He ended up serving in both Iraq and Afghanistan. The pictures he would paint of what was happening there was so gruesome. I could tell the way the “war” before it was even properly called a war was tearing him apart. He was held by a duty to find and fight the bad guys, but I think somewhere along the way that line got really confused.
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
I have felt hatred towards a lot of people in my life for a variety of different reasons. What I have learned about myself over the years is that I have quite a justice complex. My number one strength is reconciliation and I see broken things through a lens of redemption. When things are not just I hate them and the entities that make love disordered.
When I was small I remember starting a recess revolution against this girl who guarded the tire playground and would not let anyone else play on it. I got a bunch of people to circle it and chant “Let us play” until she finally got annoyed and “let us play.” I remember thinking that was real sacrifice. All those recesses spent going in a circle and getting nowhere until one day we finally got somewhere.
My brother told me a story once about how in Iraq the village children used to come up to them when they would have bonfires, and they would share roasted marshmallows with the children. He couldn’t help but to think of how there parents might be mixed up into this whole thing happening. Whatever this thing happening was. Because yes there were radicals, and yes there were bombings, and yes there were fathers, and yes there were soldiers, and yes there were sons, brothers, mothers, daughters and none of that was guaranteed to be anonymous from one another.
He told my mom on the phone one night that there are kids my age who will grow up thinking this is normal. That such violence and chaos is just normal.
where there is injury, pardon;
I used to talk a lot. I was a very precocious child and thought I knew everything. I would preach people’s ears off about causes that were certainly noble, but my words were empty because while I was challenging people to do something I myself was not doing anything.
I’m no longer on the playground– I’m up against enemies I can’t even see. The problem is it is no one person’s fault, but everyone’s fault. The migrant situation has been a collective effort that reveals the global failure of humanity to protect and serve our neighbors at large. The worst part is that because the problem is so expansive that it’s hard to strategize about large scale solutions. So volunteers and aid organizations are left to scramble and try to put a cap on a bottle that has already started exploding.
By the time migrants get to Serbia they have been on a long and dangerous journey already. They come to us tattered from harsh Bulgarian prisons and a rough jungle. Then the next step is to attempt to move through either of two incredibly dangerous borders. If they do not succeed they most certainly return to us with battle wounds. Not just little cuts but often bashed skulls, torn up legs, whipped backs, and damaged bones. I’m not a doctor, but sometimes I’ve had to be. In the last 12 months I’ve learned to never leave the house without at least the essential first aid stuff like bandaids, gauze, aspirin, and Neosporin.
I listen to the cries of hurting people all day long. I sit with people and throughout the day probably drink 100 cups of tea and just listen. I can’t do much talking because my words won’t make anything better, but there is something powerful and meaningful in me sitting there and just stating that they are heard.
The barracks and every refugee camp I’ve ever been to are marked with evidence of the war against migrants in Europe. From messages written in marker on tents and the graffiti on the walls of the barracks it is clear that these people are prisoners of a different war than the ones they escaped in their home countries.
where there is doubt, faith;
I never know if I am stepping in mud or human waste anymore. 12 months ago I never had to doubt that because it was most certainly mud. Now it is more than likely human waste with a little mud.
Everyone I spend time with is not where they want to be. They don’t know what is happening at home and do not know what is going to happen to them.
Part of airstrike missions is to drop giant missiles and bombs down in territories that are supposedly held by the bad guys. So the point is to wipe out entire areas that are potentially dangerous, but this is a big move when there are also most certainly innocent people held there.
Some people cling to their duty to protect and serve their own country.
I pledge allegiance to the Lamb and to the kingdom for which he stands. I am called to create a kingdom out of the rubble and to stand firm alongside those who have lost everything.
For 12 months I have been going in circles and while I have not gotten any tire playground kings to step down I have broadened my circle and made something out of the mess. It may not be much but “za maco staco, staco za maco” my house is your house, your house is my house.
za maco staco
staco za maco
where there is despair, hope;
Being hopeful was a lot easier when all that was at stake was a grade on a test I did not prepare enough for or when I just had to have enough hope for myself.
I have a hard time thinking of my brother in a war zone. He’s my brother. He’s the same man who gave me piggy back rides and took longer to get ready for dinner than I ever could. He’s calculated, refined, and kind.
When I used to think of war I thought of monsters in far away lands and time periods. The images didn’t carry flesh because I could not comprehend a humanity in that light.
Now when I think of war I see skin and bones. I see death and destruction. I see life all around me falling apart. I see people living in tents all across Europe. I see smoke billowing out of the abandoned barracks. I see vulnerable people having to beg and fight for shoes and other necessities. I see myself in the middle of all of it trying to clasp onto whatever hope I can find and I look around and I am not alone.
where there is darkness, light;
My first day on a refugee camp a little girl came up to me while I was waiting for my passport to be cleared. She dragged me along narrow rows of tents in the middle of nowhere Greece. Our destination was her family tent where a large group of people were gathered sharing sambosa. After taking off my shoes I was welcomed to sit and share life with their family.
Navigating the predator drone I imagine looks similar to a video game counsel. There’s a dark screen with a lot of buttons. The person beside the pilot is the one who stares at the dark satellite screen and waits for a red light to signal that there are potential hazards or threats in that area. They quickly must zoom in and hit the button to release the bomb. The next bit of light they see is from the fire of the explosion.
It’s no game counsel. It is a very real BOOM that causes very real destruction.
I used to be so afraid of everything. I never liked to try new things because I was afraid of failing at it or of the threat of danger.
I really did not like the girl who guarded the tire playground. She did not even play on it she just said inside the dark little cave and would not let anyone else enjoy it. However, I think my little recess revolution helped to bring something out in her that was much kinder. Throughout grade school and all the way through high school she was one of the popular girls, but because she was nice and really welcoming to all people.
The day Sam got in that fight it was because the entire day she was tormenting people by the only water fountain on the floor of the building. Threatening them and stealing their lunch money. She wasn’t letting people use the water fountain. And the popular girl who later got her face smashed in a locker was the same girl who controlled the tire play ground.
People are filled with both darkness and light and it is our human opportunity to be light and help to bring it out of others.
The people here have made me brave enough to see light in a really dark world.
So much of my life now is following people into the corners of society where no one else is looking or has forgotten about. My first night in Belgrade I was helping with an evening food distribution. A young attractive man saw me struggling to communicate with a small child. He said “he speaks Pashto, I’ll help you what do you want to say?” After communicating with the boy for awhile he then told me all about the history of Pashto. He was so excited and so smart and energetic. When he found out I was from America he said I love history and all my history textbooks are English. I know everything about America. He started listing the Presidents and facts about them. He then excitedly said, “come, come let’s drink cola.” I followed him along a set of train tracks for over a mile until we came to an old decrepit building. “Sit, drink, be happy” he said.
It was so dark in the room. I used my phone as a flashlight so I could see him and the people he shared the room with. We sat for awhile and I just listened to the story of his journey. About all the darkness he had seen, all that he had lost, all that he dreamed of becoming, how much drive he had, and when he finished speaking I finally saw him for what he was… a light before me.
I’ve had to be brave here. I’ve had to block out any fear or darkness that comes into my head because now my new normal is creating that boom of light where it has been forgotten or destroyed.
where there is sadness, joy.
Depression runs in my family. My mother struggled with depression her entire life and it controlled her life until it destroyed it.
I remember her asking my brother how he was doing? He would chuckle and say “Mom there is no joy in a war zone.”
When I was trying to find my apartment in Greece for the first time we were locked outside. A woman wearing a leopard print hijab walked up to us with her husband she said “Ahlan wa Sahlan… welcome welcome. Are you stuck?” We explained yeah we were going to have to wait awhile for the landlord to come open the apartment. She then said “my home is right there come sit, eat.” She fed us a chicken and rice dish and started to teach us basic arabic after she learned we were here to volunteer on the camps and in the community. What I found most interesting is how Arabs respond to the question how are you? Rather than saying fine or good they almost always say “Alhamdullah” all praise be to God. She explained that Muslim people for all their history have made it apart of their faith to thank God in all circumstances.
I spent most of my life seeing the world through a really bleak lens when in reality things were not so bleak. Our mind is a really powerful weapon that controls how we live in this world. Whether we navigate through this life with strength, grace, and courage or run through it being trampled by the weight of it all is really up to us.
There is no joy in war zone yet every day I’m looking at the tired smiling faces of those in a war zone.
and it is a big yet because it a powerful yet. I have more joy in my life now than I have ever had before because it is my practice, it is my way of life to proclaim Alhamdullah, All Praise be to God.
Even though now life is actually very bleak. I am living in the side effect of the war my brother served in that has spread like wildfire throughout the middle east. The war that has taken millions of lives in the past 15 years. The war that has no clear Mo Jo Jo, no clear red light on a satellite screen, no mercy, no heroes, and no resolution.
The same children my brother looked at and couldn’t help but think of how destructive their normal was are the same children that grew up alongside me on the other side of the planet, but now stand before me as men and women who have only known that such violence and chaos is just normal.
They are the same faces I am now staring at every day. I watch their cracked lips and worn out faces recount the stories of the same war from the opposite side of things. The one that isn’t about duty and eliminating threats but about survival and fear and destruction. About running away from the violence and leaving their life behind in hopes that they don’t die or be forced to fight in a war they’ve never understood because the lines have never been clear.
These are the same people who have offered me incredible kindness. Who have fed me, clothed me, adorned me, and loved me. The same people who have persevered and found a way to bring joy into a situation that feels like a crack in the windshield of humanity.
My new normal is every day picking up the remains of humanity that have been destroyed by war and choosing to say Alhamdullah no matter how badly I want to succumb to the brokenness. Instead I fall to my knees in Praise
O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
All photos in this blog were taken by Stephens Hiland and used with permission