Friday, July 24, 2015

the harvest

"If God had willed it, each of us might have entered heaven at the moment of conversion. It was not absolutely necessary for our preparation for immortality that we should tarry here...Why then are we here?
...The answer is this-- they are here that they may "live unto the Lord," and may bring others to know His love. We remain on earth as sowers...as ploughmen...as heralds..."
-Morning and Evening by C. H. Spurgeon: June 10th


These words have lingered in my mind since I read them two weeks ago.

If sharing the good news with others is the only real reason I still walk this earth, what am I dawdling for?

If my first calling (the continuous prerequisite being to love the Lord my God with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength) is to go into the world and preach the good news, why do I shirk away and avoid those conversations? Put it off and do other things?

///

Another thought of mine has been paralleling our relationship with God with a person you're in love with.

When someone becomes your world, you're always talking about them, are you not? You just want to gush and tell people how great they are and the things they've done for you and what you love about them.

Granted, some personalities aren't inclined to do this without prompting, but anyone who's ever loved someone knows what this is like.  You're just so in love with them that is spills over and everyone who knows you knows; and it's probably what you're most known for.

If the active verb of a prerequisite to my first calling is to love the Lord my God with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength, why am I not so in love with Him that the words spill out and I have to share? Why do I get scared and nervous if He comes up in conversation? Am I ashamed of Him?

Anyone who's truly loved someone knows that they are the person you are least ashamed to be associated with and speak about.

///

After this, a Sunday morning brought about a sermon in which, paraphrasing here, I was reminded that God does not need any of us to accomplish His will. He can lead a person to salvation without you. He can work miracles without you. He can part the sea without you.

He can grow seeds and change hearts without you.

Do you know what this means?

This means that you are to be salt, an accent to a dish, and light, a tool to see. Not the dish or the thing to see.

It means that you can plant a seed or till soil, but you do not make the plant grow.

It means that the salvation of another soul is not your responsibility. 

Here, I believe, is the fatal flaw of today's "evangelism." We are so eager to give the truth and prove we are right and get everyone saved this very instant, that we make the mistake of thinking it is our responsibility to make sure the person we are sharing with accepts Christ.

There is an urgency, maybe even a panicked urgency, and lack of love that marks how many share Jesus with others, and it does nothing for the unsaved soul.

Brothers and sisters, the great commission says to go out into the world and preach the good news, not fulfill a monthly quota of people you've gotten to pray the prayer.

It is only Jesus who opens eyes and changes hearts. You are only commanded to love Him and share His love with others. And as St. Francis of Assisi says:

"Preach the gospel at all times and when necessary, use words."


///

Over the last few weeks I have been in the process of refreshing my relationship with Jesus. I am praying more, reading and studying His word more; putting effort into actively loving Him.

I have been mulling over all these things in my mind and looking for opportunity to share with people. I've been meditating on the commandment to love.

///

I have been working at an arts camp for the past two weeks, filled with kids from 3 years old to 18.
Lots of people from different backgrounds, lots of different ideas.

I don't even know how it happened, but on Wednesday during lunch I ended up having a conversation with two other college helpers who believe very different and very relative things about various controversial matters. I shared what the Bible says, why God says those matters wrong, why Jesus had to die, why evil exists and what Jesus has done about it.

And you know what? At not one time did I say, "You're wrong. I'm right. You're going to hell."

I shared truth unapologetically and without ever prefacing a statement with "This is just what I think."
But I also listened. I didn't stop being friendly and being kind and gentle with this person. I never once got in her face. I affirmed what was right. I asked questions. I was able to laugh and be pleasant and act like me in a conversation even though the matters were so serious and I was sharing truth in a very clear way. We never once got heated.
Neither was she at any point moved and asking what she should do to be saved.

But she heard truth, and I behaved in love.



///

I've had another girl at camp on my mind all week. She's a smart, deep thinker for thirteen, has seen her share of life, and is articulate and has common sense. But hearing many conversations as she and her friends hung out around my area, I knew she didn't know the real Jesus. She'd been on my heart and I was contemplating starting a conversation at some point.

 Last night I picked up my brother from a high school bible study. As we drove home I asked him and his friend what the teaching was about.

"It was about how we should share God's love and truth with others, and not keep it for ourselves."

Allllrighty then.

I knew what I was going to have to do today.

During lunch while her friends were doing something else I asked if I could tell her something.

I shared about God and the garden of Eden and why Jesus came to die. I explained how salvation works and what hell is like. I explained how Jesus' death and resurrection works and how this life is the only shot we get at accepting His gift.

I also listened to her ideas and when her other friend arrived I listened to her and answered her questions.

And I very, very gently, in a heartbroken tone, looked a fourteen year old girl in the eye and affirmed that I was implying that she would go to hell when she died if she didn't accept Jesus' gift.

What I didn't do was comment on her shirt that I thought was way too short. What I didn't do was comment on how certain books or tv shows she likes are probably not good. What I didn't do was tell her that her ideas were stupid.
What I didn't do was try to change her.

What I did do was have a normal conversation, the kind where you listen and then you talk and then you listen again...about extraordinary things.

We parted with a hug and as friends. I know she heard me and she knows I heard her.

After that, I shared more with another young girl who thought that she was too old to start believing in God and Christianity. We talked for awhile. It was a normal conversation about extraordinary things. But we were human; we paused to laugh and we were real and we were genuine. It was no debate, it was no heated argument. I shared, she shared. I listened and she listened. I was able to give a fully comprehensive and articulate, uncompromising gospel message without someone feeling hurt and trampled on.

I learned a lot of things.

You must be filled up to pour out.

You must be in love to speak truth in love.

You are not responsible for anyone's salvation.

///

And may we all grow in grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. May we abound in love for Him, for each other, and for the lost strangers and friends around us.



Monday, June 29, 2015

i weep


i weep for the disintegration of our nation

i weep for the lies humanity has bought

i weep for the fallen state of this world

...

i weep for every battle i have not yet fought

i weep for every chance that awaits me
to stumble and fall and turn to evil

i weep for the weakness of my flesh

i weep for my stubborn flesh

....

i weep for the grace and mercy of my Lord

i weep for the realization of His strength

i weep for gratefulness that He is the rock of my salvation

...

i weep for every day there is left to endure

before we are to meet our Beloved in the clouds


indeed, verily, i weep


Friday, June 26, 2015

a moment

We all have our quirks and little hobbies. Some of you paint in your free time, others go for walks or run. Still others enjoy making things beautiful with decorations, or writing poetry. The outlets people have for themselves and things we do for enjoyment are endless.

For myself, I enjoy figuring out the chords to songs I enjoy singing and playing them on our family piano. I plunk out a chorus or two quite often, sometimes as an emotional outlet, sometimes just for the enjoyment of making music.



Last week, I was delighted to open my email and see the announcement for Nate Ruess' (frontman for the band "fun.") first solo album. I downloaded it mere hours later and have been listening to it nonstop. I love his artistry, and the raw emotion and the stories told in the words, his voice, and the music as a whole.

I had taken a particular liking to one of the songs, called "Moment", and had been singing the chorus quietly to myself for a few days. This led to, earlier this week, plunking out the melody on our piano and subsequently finding the chords and singing a bit of it before I had to leave for a physical therapy appointment.

The sweet, amazing lady who helps my mom clean our house was downstairs at the time too. Normally I don't sing or play music candidly around other people, but I had ten minutes to kill and I didn't think much of it.

The chorus, which kills me, goes like this:

Well I'm fine,
I just need a moment
I'm alright,
Right here on the floor
Well I'm fine,
I just need a moment
to cry

I played this little bit over and over, committing the chords to memory as I figured them out. After a while, I realized I may have been playing for longer than ten minutes, and turned around.

My mom's cleaning lady helper was standing there video recording me with tears in her eyes. Amidst my shocked, stuttering queries, she said to me,

"That's it. I've been looking for those words for a few weeks. I'm fine, but I just need a moment."

She proceeded to share something really personal in her life with me, and it astonished me to see someone so moved and allowed a release from something I had thought nothing of.

I share this with all of you to say one thing:

The Lord uses you wherever you are. He uses the big things and the small things. He can even minister to another soul through your idle tinkling on the piano, singing a song that struck your fancy.
He will use you in ways you had no idea He will.

Don't despise the little things you do, your little quirks or hobbies or interests. You have no idea how those things will bless another or reach into their soul.

Just keep on keeping on.

He gave you the talents, gifts, skills, and interests that He did for a reason.

Keep on walking with Him and being who He made you, and don't despise the little things that may seem useless or petty.

You might just be the reason for a grand moment in another.



Saturday, March 21, 2015

We Are Cinderella (Not Exactly a Movie Review)


*general spoiler warning*

I surprised my sister and a good friend at the movie theater tonight after a long and tiring day between general fatigue and a shift at work. Afterwards we ran and hopped and skipped together in the rain, and I full on waltzed through an empty parking garage at 11pm.

We saw Cinderella. I did much more than see a movie, so I'll get the review portion of this post out of the way, in brief.

Costumes, casting, set design, and music were absolutely lovely. There were nods to the beloved animated film throughout, but the movie was both it's own thing and a heartfelt re-imagining of the cartoon. It did not stray too far; rather, it delved deeper. Everything was absolutely beautiful - I was gasping and gaping like a wide-eyed child. Especially with the fairy godmother's magic, I felt a certain reverence ("Don't mess this up!" I'm sure someone somewhere hissed to another during production). I can only imagine how much Helena Bonham Carter enjoyed her role (especially that goodie in the credits), and Cate Blanchett was blatantly enjoying herself, it seemed to me; wicked stepmother is a far cry from Galadriel and the other more dignified roles we associate her with; she played it magnificently.
And yes, I thought Prince Kit was cute. Moving on.



























Midway through the film, my mind split off into two veins: one on marriage, and one on marriage.
Let me explain.

***

Marriage
Many people are so occupied with gender roles, and breaking them, feminism (the definition of that depends on who you talk to), equality, the works. Some elements, I'm sure, are good. But I feel that many viewpoints (such as calling gentlemanly behavior sexism) go against the biblical "gender roles" and God's perfect will.

Why must the man lead? Why must the woman be submissive? Why are the women pretty and the men strong in such fairytales as this one that I was watching?

As Ella and the Prince performed that breathtakingly beautiful first dance, I answered my own questions. Marriage is, first and foremost, a reflection of Christ's, God's, relationship with us, the church. We are His precious, adorned, beautiful bride, and He is our strong and all-capable head and treasurer.

The godly woman who does the hard thing in submitting to her husband's lead is not squelching the female voice or throwing away the opportunity to prove a point, because life is not about the here and now. Life is about bringing God glory, walking in His ways, because it is He we shall come face to face with when we die.  She is being obedient to God; in that obedience, her relationship with God is strengthened (not to mention her marriage, too). And if you don't believe that everything in life is meant to bring us into a closer walk with Christ, I don't know what to tell you.

What God shows us in the Bible of Christ and the Church is a beautiful, beautiful thing, and if the Prince and Ella in this movie gave even the barest hint of the loveliness that we are to be when the Lord comes again, we have much to look forward to.

Which brings me to....

Marriage, regarding the bride of Christ
We are Cinderella.
She is taught to believe in courage, and in being kind; in the power of kindness.
We are taught to believe in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, in His sovereignty, to accept salvation.
She spends her whole life practicing that which she is taught.
We ought to be spending out lives practicing what our Lord teaches us in His word.
As she cultivated kindness, we ought to be cultivating it, along with love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, faithfulness, and self-control.



























At times, the wicked seem to be better off. Because of our moral uprightness, we suffer. Our kindness and gentleness makes us vulnerable. In our lack of selfishness, we are taken advantage of; because of our love, we experience pain. We are mocked and mistreated and humiliated and made to endure hardship.
Here, the wicked can seem to have a better face than we do.























But who was it, who saw us in our lowliness? Even while we were yet sinners?
None less than a Prince. He who has a throne, and will reign forever and ever.
He spotted us in our humble place among the ashes, even before we knew who He was, and He desired us and pursued us, made a way for us to be with Him.




The wicked, they have their season, their pleasure.
But he, she, who keeps to the Father's word, who believes, who practices what they have been taught - what of them?

Why, they will get to marry the King.























In an advantage over dear Cinderella, we know our ending. We know the answer.
Will He take us as we are?
More than that, He already has, and paid a dear price to have us.

If Cinderella could be so kind and so long suffering out of love for her dead parents, with no foreseeable end, how much more so should we endure and act on that which we have been taught, which we believe, knowing there is such a prize, such a magnificent wedding, such glory ahead?

That question is one for each of us to answer ourselves. 

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Travels of 2014: Kurdistan, Part 3

November - Iraq: Day Two

The very important question in the van on the way to the hospital was what the hashtag of our trip should be. Which is hilarious because only one of the six of us even have a twitter account. It was a debate that lasted for days, but it was agreed that Jeff, Tim, and I were the #AllTheFun portion of the team. The reason was twofold: one, none of us had medical degrees (still don't), which led to two, we got to do something outside the hospital while our good doctors were stuck inside all day!

We left Dr. Kirk, Allison, and Anita at the hospital and went to the KSC headquarters. We were ushered to an office with a large desk, wood floors, and couches on both sides of the room. One of the administrators came in and made pleasant small talk with us at one point, but it was about 45 minutes before we left. In that time, they brought us my favorite Kurdish tea yet. They're all the same basic idea: extremely strong black tea with sugar, but each maker's tea tasted different, and the tea made by a lady at the KSC office was my favorite. I remember telling her "Good morning" in Kurdish, and upon finding out she's Persian, said "Merci" for the tea. 

Soon after we climbed into a van that was followed by one or two others, loaded with large cardboard boxes. They are filled with clothing for refugee families who have fled here from conflict-torn cities like Mosul, and our task of the day is to deliver the boxes to local churches where the refugees are staying. Our guide and translator for the majority of the day was a smart young woman named Nawras in her mid-twenties who worked for KSC. Her English made me slightly embarrassed for even attempting Kurdish because she was so fluent, but we all enjoyed her company very much. She was kind enough to answer all of our questions and tell us about the city as we drove through various parts, and brought some well-timed humor. (I asked if there were many road accidents considering the....adventurous and flexible nature of the drivers. I then said I hadn't seen one since we arrived, and her response was, "Would you like to see one?")

We pulled into a cobblestoned alley flanked by two tan-stoned buildings. The wall on the right gives way to a long arch of a doorway, the doorway to a church, and there is a grass-covered courtyard beyond it. The other three walls supported two floors of rooms. Tim walked in and a handful of children flocked to him, and within seconds there were enough of them that he backed out into the alley to make room for those bringing in boxes. Tim is truly something of a pied piper, because in a blink the number of children around him did something like quadruple - or more.

Eventually we were ushered into the courtyard with the gaggle of kids, and my eyes bugged seeing the throng surrounding our balloonologist. There were toddling little ones to youngsters taller than myself, and parents holding babies, too. I can't decide if a crowd of people all talking at once is less or more chaotic if you can't understand the majority of what is being said. At any rate, seeing as Tim was swamped, I laughingly remarked on how his hands were full. He returned by telling me he had a second pump, if I'd like to start making balloons too. I'd never made a balloon animal in my life, but there was no way I could say no.



In Sulaymaniyah, Iraq, in a church housing refugees, and I'm holding a brightly colored pump about to make an inflated animal out of a green balloon. I had many an incredulous private laugh. 

I made a balloon animal alongside him while he made one, then he moved a distance away, talking half of the crowd with him. I stood on one of the stepping stones that lined the courtyard so I could feel slightly taller than the adolescents who stood eye to eye with me. 

"Animal? Flower?" These words, a few of them know. 

"He wants an elephant."

"And he wants a bicycle."

I'd made only one balloon animal in my life and I was being asked to make an elephant and a bicycle. 

Let's just say I did my best. 

Jeff, Tim, and I were having so much fun with the kids that we didn't realize the trucks were getting packed up and leaving. The van that we arrived in was the last to leave, as the kids didn't want the novelty balloon man to leave. 

But with a few parting tokens, we climbed into the van and drove off to the next mini adventure of the day. 


(to be continued)

Friday, January 9, 2015

Travels of 2014: Kurdistan, Part 2

November - Iraq: Day One Continued

It is Saturday afternoon and I am halfway across the world from my family, my home, and my country. It is a beautiful, sunny day, and while tired and still dealing with vertigo if I stay still for too long, I'm excited to go to the hospital and meet people and feel this new city, this new place, beneath my feet. 

"Baeyani bash!" I tell the clerk at the front desk. "Good morning" in Sorani Kurdish, which I had devoted some time to learning before the trip (made easy because I have a Kurdish classmate and a Kurdish coworker). Some of the others found a bread shop down the street, and the workers were kind enough to give them five loaves for free because they hadn't had a chance to convert their Turkish currency, and the bills they had were very large. Flatbread with some cheese that Anita brought in her luggage is breakfast, then the KSC drivers who picked us up only hours before pulled up in front of the hotel to take us to the hospital. There are two hospitals across the street from each other -- one is a children's hospital and the other is for all ages and where our doctors will perform catheterizations later on in the week. 

We walk up two flights of stairs, the walls decorated with faded images of childhood icons like Spongebob and Minnie Mouse, and are shown an office at the end of the hall where Dr. Kirk and the others are going to do screenings for the rest of the day. The hall outside isn't exactly bare, but the florescent lights sap a bit of cheer from linoleum-floored space. Dr. Kirk, Allison, and Anita  get set up in the office, and I go out with Jeff and Renas to run a few errands in town. I snap a photo of the street and get more of my U.S. cash converted to the Iraqi dinar.  

I've brought my violin, and when we get back to the hospital, the 3rd floor hall is full with families. Some will wait for hours - practically the whole day, in fact. I stand next to the wall at the end of a row of chairs, take out my violin, and play a few songs that I know well. After a while I catch the eye of a little girl who's watching me, and I hold out my violin to her. It is incredibly difficult trying to demonstrate how to play a very technical instrument without speaking the language, but I try, eventually poking my head into the screening room for some translation help.

"Betchenago shanebikra" I say, gesturing with my hand. "Hold it with your chin and shoulder." She eeks out a note and I grin excitedly and say "Bash! Zohr jwan!" enthusiastically, as I've done so often before when I've let kids try out my instrument, only I've never told them it's good and sounds beautiful in Kurdish before. 


Pretty soon there's a small line of children, and I pass my violin around. It's likely the first time they've ever seen let alone played a violin, and I feel like a celebrity as the parents have us pose for picture after picture. Later on while I was playing, some of the parents even recorded some video on their smartphone or tablet. (Something else that surprised and amused me: nigh everyone had such advanced technology -- more advanced than my four year old phone and six, or more, year old laptop. It was something I hadn't expected.)

When there is a English and Kurdish speaking person around, I leap at the opportunity to converse and shamelessly use them as translator as I mingle and try to get to know the many families waiting in that hallway. By now the hall is filled with colorful balloon animals and hats courtesy of Tim, our balloonologist, and we have to keep a sharp eye out for the rainbow-colored soft plastic soccer ball that Jeff purchased and is kicking around with the children. What could be a hushed and painfully boring place looks more like a child's birthday party. 

The day ends around 6pm if my memory serves; we are driven back to the hotel and have some down time before we meet on the top floor for dinner.

This hotel restaurant provided the greatest unanswered question of the trip. 

On the back wall there was a large TV screen, and as we talked, conversation gradually continued to drift to the subjects on the screen. I shall endeavor to describe: there was a bright green stage and backdrop and there was an Muslim man standing in a corner singing or chanting. There were also two women completely covered in black robes -- couldn't even see their faces, with a bright green headband that went around. They were bowing or doing some sort of dance. At some point of the headbands got taken off. We persisted in speculating, though our only conclusion was, "It's unclear." We asked one of the restaurant staff what was going on, but he didn't understand us and our gesturing to the TV, as was made clear when he changed the channel and instead of dancing black-robed women we were treated to an elephant with a paintbrush painting on an easel in the African savannah. 

I guess we'll never know. 

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Travels of 2014: Kurdistan, Pt. 1


Dang, this year ended with a blast. 

During the last two months I've made two trips, my first international and my first alone. They were both amazing and so, so special in their own ways. 

So to conclude 2014, I'm starting a journal-like narrative of my recent travels: a testament to how good God is, and this splendid world He has created. 



November - Iraq: Day One

 I step off the plane that took me from the Portland International Airport to Washington, D.C., and sigh in relief as I see a tall, light-haired figure, inches over 6 feet, standing by the gate. It's Dr. Kirk, the pediatric cardiologist who has let me join this missions trip to Sulaymaniyah, Kurdistan region, Iraq, and my biggest concern about this trip was finding him before making the connection to Munich. My first international flight. He's upgraded to business class, so I  sit in economy with a space between myself and the lady sharing the center row of seats. It is a huge flight: two aisles, seven seats to a row in total. I record a sound clip of the German being spoken on the PA system and send it to my best friend before the plane begins to taxi. 

"Au revoir," I whisper to the ground as the plane lifts me off the surface of the continental U.S., not to return to it for over a week. The flight is long, eight hours, and I read letters from my best friend, eat, and doze intermittently for the first six, resisting the glowing interactive screen on the back of the seat in front of me until the final lap, choosing to watch Million Dollar Arm,  which was a suitable choice considering the common theme of different cultures.  

I know airports aren't supposed to count, but I would like it to be known that the first country I have visited outside the United States is lovely Germany. 

There is just time to visit the bathroom, freshen up, and stuff the front page of some local newspapers into my luggage before the flight to Istanbul. It's a smaller plane and a shorter flight; and I find myself seated next to a middle-aged couple. This is being a flight out of Europe, I knew there was a large chance I could practice my mid-201-level French on the flight. "Est-ce que vous parlez le français?" I venture to the wife, who is closest to me. I struck gold: they are from France and on their way to Istanbul for a short vacation with some of their children.


International flights are the best, by the by. You get fed a decent meal on those, and the coffee is perfectly timed. 

Customs was long and tiring, just all of the walking really, but the online visitor's visa I printed out beforehand made it a little bit easier. First stamp in my passport: Istanbul, Turkey. 

Dr. Kirk and I met up with a missionary who has been living there for about three years, if my memory serves. We go down into the city and talk over lunch and tea at a café, sitting at a table along the side of the street, across from the building. The owner kept drifting over to talk because the missionary with us is fluent in Turkish, and Kurdish. After we eat, Dr. Kirk and I walk down through the streets to the Hagia Sofia. Dr. Kirk tells me some about the history of the church, and I get to see the beginning of the restoration of the original mosaics that were covered over by the Muslims previously. 

Funny thing, there are roasted chestnut vendors on nearly every street corner, and by the end of the day I was singing the "Chestnuts roasting on an open fire" line from the Christmas song every time we passed one. 

After the Hagia Sofia, we walked down to the spice market, where I buy cumin and mint and other spices and teas for my mother and friends back home. By then it's getting dark, and we take the metro back to the airport and wait out the evening in the United Airlines lounge courtesy of Dr. Kirk's frequent flyer status. 

(BEST LOUNGE IN THE WORLD BTW, YOU COULD LIVE THERE. SHOWERS, COUCHES, AND FREE FOOD. YOU'RE SET.) 

They have a row of computers and free wifi, and I send a few emails, thankful I can considering I didn't bring my laptop, not expecting to be somewhere with an internet connection the entire trip. I had, however, fully developed jet-lag induced vertigo by this point, and a gigantic desktop screen combined with a Turkish keyboard made it extremely hard to concentrate. The only solution was walking, for me. Once I stopped walking I felt like I was in a turbulent airplane. Something like having sea legs on land, I imagine. 

We met up with the rest of the team about an hour before our flight took off. Anita, Allison, Jeff, and Tim were the other members I had not yet traveled with, and while they were all old enough to at least be my parents, some even grandparents, I liked them all at once and could tell they were a great group of people to be around: funny, full of energy, and joy and sweetness that comes from Christ. 

The flight mainly consisted of Kurdish men, likely coming home to aid the fighting. It was quite hilarious - once the plane touched the ground, as it was still taxiing down the runway towards the gate, all of the Kurds were up out of their seats getting their luggage down from the overhead compartments. The rest of us exchanged amused glances, waiting for a disastrous accident. It thankfully never came, and we all made it through security and customs safely. It's 3:30am on Saturday morning, local time. 

We spend some time waiting for the checked baggage to arrive. Jeff and Allison share clementines from Ethiopia while we wait. I was already totally warmed up to all of them, including Anita whom I was to share a room with, but when Jeff pulled a large luggage off the carousel and said "It's full of lemon heads," I was sold. I'm sure laughter at that unholy hour was something the airport staff was not accustomed to. 

As we exit the baggage claim I see a young lady likely in her early twenties holding a piece of paper that says "Dr. Kirk Milhoan." I stop and let her know this is the group. Her name is Renas and she works for the organization in Kurdistan that invited the team out here. There are two vans that we load our luggage into and take us to the hotel. 

I had no idea what to expect. And apparently, on the last trip the accommodations weren't exactly the best. However, we were all pleasantly surprised, slightly shocked maybe, to see our rooms at the Areen Hotel. The one Anita and I shared had two twin size beds and a queen between, a clean and Western style bathroom, a flat screen T.V., and a one wall that was a huge window offering a view of the city from our fourth floor vantage point. It was lovely. 

We were not expected anywhere until 11am or noon. Once we got settled Anita went to sleep, and I stayed up recording the journey up until that point in a navy-blue travel journal, custom made for me by a dear friend. It was about 6am when I finally drifted off, and I got to watch the light begin to creep up over the hills and touch the skyscrapers.