Redeeming Time

Meagan and I moved just over a year ago from Michigan to Illinois.  Because both of our families are still in Michigan, we’ve made several trips over the past year to see them.  As far as time goes, going to Michigan seems like a loss – we lose an hour going from Central to Eastern Standard Time.

Coming home to Illinois, however, feels great – we gain an hour!  It feels like we’re beating the system by traveling West and gaining back some of the time we’ve lost by traveling East.

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I don’t know about you, but even when I’m not traveling, there’s things I can spend my time on that feel like a loss.  There’s also things I spend my time on that feel like a gain. And with only a certain amount of limited time each day, my desire is to use each hour to its fullest extent.

Recently, I’ve begun using some blocks of time in a different way, and it’s helped me tremendously.  Enter:  Audible.  I’m sure many of you have heard of it.

It’s a website + app that enables you to listen to audiobooks.  For me, it’s been a source of professional development in places like the gym and my car.  It’s turned a 3.5 hour drive to Grand Rapids (where my sister lives), into “the time it takes to listen to one book.”  It’s turned a 30 minute run into a time for my brain to engage with compelling stories, high-level thinking, leadership principles and much more.

Just in the month of March, I’ve listened to two books. Divine Direction, by Craig Groeschel; and The Little Things by Andy Andrews.  Both have been fantastic reads, and I’ll likely do book reviews for both on the blog.

Audible has allowed me to redeem time.  It’s taken time I’ve previously not leaned into, and allowed me to use it for growth opportunities.

In your own life, are there blocks of time that you can redeem?  Is there something you can plug in (like Audible) that would transform that time into growth opportunities?

My challenge to you:  Take the next week and identify blocks of time that are just “there.” Then…choose one way to redeem it.

 

The Self-Audit: Five Key Areas

In a lot of circles, the word “audit” brings up a lot of stress and anxiety.  In all of the churches I’ve worked for, the Accounting Department willfully hired an outside organization to audit all of their financials.  Just because you invite an audit doesn’t mean there’s less stress.  The same is true for self-auditing.

Self-Auditing is the process of looking inward and checking-in on the key areas of our lives.

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Even though it’s a self-audit, it can still be filled with anxiety.  When we examine the inner areas of our lives with the purpose of pruning & correcting, there’s always a chance we won’t like what we find.  However, the alternative of leaving areas unchecked is scary and potentially destructive.

A few years ago a good friend of mine brought a journaling tool to me that has helped me.  It wasn’t original to him, but it had been helping him process the most important areas in his life.

The tool isn’t rocket science, but it’s something I’ve used for a few years now, and every time I process through it, I arrive on the other side grateful for the clarity, direction and peace it brings.  Here’s the journaling tool:

The Five F’s.

  • Faith
  • Family
  • Friends
  • Finances
  • Field (Vocation)

The goal is to spend a certain amount of minutes thinking through every aspect of that category.  How is my faith doing? What am I holding onto that God has asked me to surrender?  How are my friendships doing? Is there anything I can do to help grow them?  And so on.

Self-Auditing requires us to be curious.

Curiosity is important.  When we approach the key areas of our lives with curiosity, God seems to show up in that space and show us what needs attention.  Curiosity, however, is not everything.  What we do next is crucial – we must take action on the things we’ve learned from the audit.

Did the audit reveal that your family is taking the hit for your greater investment at work?  Did you find an area of your life that’s not fully surrendered to God?  Were you convicted about how you handle your finances?

Taking action is the one step that makes the self-auditing process productive.  Without doing something, all we’re doing is filling up journal pages.

I usually do this exercise once a quarter.  It’s proven to keep me grounded in reality as I seek to live a full and abundant life in all five key areas of my life.

What about you?  What process do you use to self-audit?  How has it helped you?

The Work of Reconciliation

Musalaha.  It’s Arabic for Reconciliation.

It’s also the name of an organization we visited while in Israel/Palestine.  They are doing fantastic work; bringing people together from both sides of the conflict and allowing them to get away for a few days in the desert to experience adventure together.

This video is worth the 7 minutes to see what they’re up to.

Israel/Palestine: Pro/Pro/Pro

The story that Israel and Palestine have been hearing and telling has been one of conflict. It’s been that way for a long time.  It could easily be called the “status quo” of the Middle East.

An entire generation of children have grown up with it.  Some have even been taught that this is the way it’ll always be…that hate will rule the day.

To change that story, something has to shift.  Recently, I heard my friend, Todd Deatherage, say it this way:

When you break a status quo, it’s helpful to have a vision for what the other side (what you’re trying to accomplish) will look like.

That’s what the Telos group is doing.  They are Pro-Israel, Pro-Palestinian, and Pro-Peace. Their mission is to cast the vision of a third option…an option for mutual flourishing for all humans.

Below are two stories of how both Israeli’s and Palestinians have caught the grander vision of Pro/Pro/Pro and are working towards Peace.

The Parent Circle

These two wonderful people have both lost a child due to the conflict.  Robi lost her son at the hands of a Palestinian sniper.  Bassam lost his daughter to an Israeli gunman.  In their grief, they finally said, “enough!”

They started an organization called the Parent Circle.  It now consists of over 500 parents, both Israelis and Palestinians, who have lost a family member in the conflict.  They’re mission is to work together for Peace.  By doing it together, they’re living proof that the third way of Pro/Pro/Pro is indeed possible.

The Peace Project

This wall was built along the Gaza border.  The lady that showed us around was an Israeli farmer who, over the years, has had to teach her children how to run for cover when the Bomb-Alarm would go off.  Palestinians would send missiles over the wall with no regard as to where they landed.  Now, the farmer and her family are never more than 4 seconds away from a Bomb shelter.

She, along with others, created the wall mural as a sign to say they are done with war and are ready for peace.  They’re ready for a third option.

The Right Questions

If we’re asking ourselves which side deserves peace more, I think we’re asking the wrong question.  Both sides have suffered immensely at the hands of the other.

I think the right questions have Pro/Pro/Pro at the center.  How can both people-groups flourish?  What can we do so that we see the human dignity in all humans?

We serve a God who doesn’t pick sides, He loves people. This is one of the reasons I love the Telos Group. They are refusing to pick a side.  While I admit it’s tough for me not to pick a side, I am deciding to see all people as worthy of dignity, peace and love. The alternative is just not an option.

 

Israel/Palestine: What I learned from being Profiled

We had just landed in Tel Aviv after an 8-hour flight from Newark.  We had made it to Israel!  I was so excited.  We were going to be greeted by our hosts from Telos, and taken to our first location – the Dead Sea and Jericho.  What better introduction to the Holy Land?!

The instructions we were given for customs were pretty simple.  Answer the questions, smile, and move along.  Sounds easy.  Or so I thought.

“Where was your dad born?”

With that question, I knew this wasn’t going to be a smooth process. I told the lady my dad was born in Ramallah, a city in the West bank (aka – Palestine).  With that answer, she became very curious about my dad, my family, where they were all born, etc.

I was told to have a seat in a small room, and someone would come and talk to me.  Great. I’ll admit, my heart was beating pretty fast at this point.  I was trying not to let my nervousness show on my face, but I’m sure they could tell I was a bit uneasy.

After about 10 minutes of waiting (seemed MUCH longer), I was called into an office where an Israeli Officer began asking questions about my family.  What’s your dad’s name? What about your Grandpa…what’s his name?  What’s your cell number? Email address?  Where do you live now?  Where does your dad live now? Why are you visiting Israel?  How long are you staying? What hotels are you visiting?

He was writing all my answers down.  I’m not sure if he looked me up on Facebook later, or if he simply wanted me to have a keen awareness that a Palestinian coming into Israel is no small thing – especially if they have a history here.

He sent me back to the small room to wait for another 10-15 minutes. The whole time I was trying to stay calm, but on the inside I was feeling everything BUT calm.  I’m an American Citizen, why are they questioning me?  Why didn’t they question any of the other team members?  I knew the answer.  I just didn’t want to believe what was happening.

Have you ever been profiled?

If I’m honest, that was the first time for me.  And it didn’t feel good.  Going all the way back to 9/11 – when terrorists attacked the USA,  I remember being asked if I was treated poorly for being an Arab.  I would reply, “Not at all!” That was the truth.  Perhaps I don’t look Arab?  At times I have been mistaken for an Italian or Mexican. There’s nothing wrong with that – they have amazing food.

I realize this kind of stuff happens every day for certain people in America…and it breaks my heart.  The Israeli custom agents and officers assumed a lot because of my last name and my heritage.  They didn’t even know me.  They don’t know my dad.  They didn’t know my Grandpa.  What gives them the right to put me in a box?

“Welcome to Israel,” I thought…as I sat in the bus after they let me go and get my luggage. This is going to be quite a trip.

The only other time I felt profiled?  8 days later at the airport as we were getting ready to leave.  I hand over my passport.  They look at my last name.  “Arab?” the lady said.  Yep.  She turns and leaves for a few minutes.  This time, however, she let me move on without more conversation, or having to sit in a small room.

Please understand, this is not a pity party, political rant or divisive blog post.   The reality is some people live this everyday…in Israel, Palestine, and America.  As my church is in this “Love Everyone, Always” series, I find myself in a place of discontentment when I think of others who have experienced this, or are experiencing this now.

I’m not naive enough to think that I don’t, in my own way, profile others to some extent. So what can I do?  What can we do?

  • Renew My Mind.  This is key.  If I’m going to love everyone, always; I’m going to need to renew my mind with God’s truth.  Specifically, I need to see others the way God sees them.  Every person I lock eyes with is someone for whom Christ died.  My desire is to see them that way!  Brian and Jenn Johnson have an amazing song called “For the One.”  Our church has rallied around it, and it’s become the anthem to this series.  In essence, it’s a cry to love people the way God loves them…unconditionally.
  • Learn their story.  Stories change perspective.  I realize the Airport Customs line is not the time to sit down and listen to my story.  But in my everyday life, am I taking time to listen to people’s stories?  Am I asking good questions? Am I willing to learn something new, and allow that new learning to shape my view of someone?

I know there are more than two steps in this process, but for me, these have been helpful.

What are some other ways we can truly Love Everyone, Always?

 

 

Israel / Palestine: Tradition says…

So many things happened in History throughout the little stretch of land between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River.

When our team was there, tour guides would take us through streets and say “It’s believed that Jesus would have come up this way while carrying the cross.”  Or, they would say the repeated phrase that became a joke among our team, “Tradition says…”

(My absolute favorite location we went to is at the end of this post…but first, some of the more “tradition says” moments from the trip).

Tradition says this is where Mary gave birth to Jesus.

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(We had to go down some stairs, since by now it’s basically a cave with a church built on top of it – it was hot, humid and sweaty)

This is the Church of the Annunciation – or the place where, Tradition says, the angel visited Mary to tell her she was going to give birth to the Messiah.

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We also visited a church that was built upon the place Tradition says Jesus rose from the dead.  There’s another location that many people visit (the Garden Tomb), and depending on who you talk to, they’ll say it’s the “actual” location of the resurrection.

This brings up the tension I feel with “Tradition Says.”  Was it here where this church was built?  Was it at what’s now called the “Garden Tomb”?

This picture shows people praying over a piece of stone that was believed to be a part of the original tomb.

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Are these the exact locations?  Probably not.  Are they close?  Maybe.  In the 4th Century, when Constantine became a Christian, his Mom visited the Holy Land, and began building churches where these historic events were said to have taken place.  So chances are good the churches were built somewhere in the vicinity…but we’ll never know for sure. So we go with what Tradition says.

My favorite place we visited?

The Sea of Galilee. There’s no “Tradition says” with this one.  It’s a body of water. It’s been a body of water for as long as maps have been around.  You can’t build a church on top of it and make it a tourist trap (although, you can sell boat rides!).

When Jesus called Peter out of his fishing boat and into ministry, it was on these shores.  When storms swelled up and Jesus came walking on the water – it was these waters.  After the resurrection, Jesus came to Peter and restored him back into ministry…again, it was on these shores.

Maybe it was my love of water, or maybe it was just the aura that this place held…but it was different than any other location we visited. Being able to spend some quiet time on the shores reading & journaling was extra special.  Then being able to take a boat out and spend extra time ON the waters – I was elated.

 

Another one of my favorite places?  The Dead Sea.  I know, another body of water!

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I did go in, by the way.  And it’s true – you float!  It’s also true that any open wounds (even a paper cut) will hurt VERY badly when introduced to the dense salt water.

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Just over those mountains is where the Israelites were approaching the Promised Land…Moses would head up a Mountain, see the land, and then pass away leaving Joshua the task of crossing the Jordan (which is to the left of the picture).

There’s nothing inherently wrong with having traditions, and making a big deal over where certain events probably took place.  But if we lose sight of the “Who” of those traditions, and only focus on the “Where,” then we’ve lost something.

Hundreds and hundreds of years ago, God was at work amidst this piece of land.  However, I don’t think His goal was to make the land famous.  I think His goal was to make the person who walked on this land famous.

 

Israel / Palestine: My Story

It was a few months ago that I was invited to be a part of a team from Willow that would visit Israel/Palestine.  If I was honest, it was a bucket-list trip for me, and when I was asked it was hard for me to contain the excitement I was feeling.

The trip’s purpose was two-fold:  Experience the Holy Land & Experience the Conflict.

What I didn’t expect was to feel overwhelmed with emotions due to my own heritage – being a Palestinian, with roots still in the West Bank (Ramallah).  Both sets of my Grandparents came from Ramallah, as immigrants to the USA.  My dad came to the states when he was 12.  My mom and her sisters were born in Kentucky as first generation Arab-Americans.  As Americanized as I am now – I’m the product of immigration.

Over the next few posts, I’d love to bring you into that trip – what I was thinking and how I was feeling, and how I’m still processing everything I experienced.  But to start, I want to introduce you to some of the people I met while there.

Meet Todd.  He’s the co-founder of the Telos Group.  An organization committed to spreading the “Pro/Pro/Pro” movement:  Pro-Israel, Pro-Palestinian, Pro-Peace.  It’s the organization that we went with – and their perspective has truly helped me change the way I think about the conflict between Jews and Arabs.  Oh…and that’s the Mediterranean Sea.

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This is Jack, and our tour guide for a few of the days (forgot his name – my bad).  Jack works for Telos, and our tour guide gets contracted to show us around.  I post this, because all three of us are Palestinian, with roots stemming from Ramallah.  It’s incredible the connection you feel to someone you just met when you know you share the same heritage.

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This kind man is from the Tent of Nations, a farm sustained by the Nassar family.  The Tent of Nations will be a separate blog post, but this man….oh, the joy he has for life, loving people and serving God.  He’s been through hell and back due to the conflict…but the smile on his face is genuine.  He’s also a Palestinian…and his face LIT UP when he learned I was as well.  It made the connection I was feeling already that much stronger.

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And these people – the team I went with from Willow.  We laughed, we cried, we enjoyed great food, and we journeyed together through what it means to be “pro-humans” in a world that would try and convince us it’s better to create division.

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Group shot on the Sea of Galilee (above on Shore, below on a boat).

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Group shot at the Tent of Nations.

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