The Arab Next Door

So far this month of racism posts, I have written about what it was like growing up in the South and what it is like having a Chinese daughter. But there is another type of racism that has been growing in our country and our world. Racism against Arabs spiked after 9/11 and has only grown more more complicated in these fearful days of ISIS threats and terror.

I feel very unqualified to speak intelligently on racism against Arabs. You see my anxiety does not allow me to interact with the news much. I won’t read over the details of the three Muslims killed recently in Chapel Hill (though just the headline breaks my heart). I won’t read anything about ISIS, although the talk I hear from friends makes my blood run cold. I wish I could tolerate actually reading articles on these matters, but I’ve been six months without a panic attack and I’d like to keep it that way. I guess I’ll have to keep relying on my husband and trusted friends to fill me in.

What I do know however, is what I have lived. And in my experience that is the best teacher anyway.

Some fourteen years ago we lived in a parsonage in the south side of Savannah that was provided for us by the church I pastored. After a year of living in our spacious ranch house, we got new neighbors. Our neighborhood at that time what people termed “in transition.” What that really looked like was that our old neighbor told us he was moving “because our streets are being taken over by blacks and copperheads.” (The snake part was unfortunately true. The downside of living so close to a marsh).

Sometime mid September 2001, our new neighbors moved in. Being the friendly, welcoming people we are, we went over to say, “Hey.” True to form, our old bigoted neighbor did not sell the house to an African American family. Instead he sold it to a family of Arab descent. A middle aged mom and dad, their two teenage daughters, and the dad’s parents.

We traded hellos through our  southern accents and their accents of a foreign land. Actually the grandparents didn’t speak much English so communicating with them involved only a series of head nods.

I wish I could say I wasn’t freaked out by getting Arab neighbors, but the truth is I totally was.

Most of the time I could reason with myself that the teenage girls coming over to borrow phone books and pet our dogs were not involved with any terrorist plots.

But then one day I looked out our back windows and saw Grandpa dumping suspicious white material in the Back 40.

“That’s not anthrax. That’s not anthrax.” I kept telling myself.

It didn’t work. My anxiety ridden self called my husband in a panic begging him to come home because Grandpa next door was cooking up anthrax as a part of some jihadist plot. My husband tried to get me to breath and relax and told me he’d check everything out when he got home.

An hour later Jason took a stroll along the back of our property to get a good eye on the suspicious white substance. He came back inside, looked at me with steady eyes and delivered the news.

“Babe, it’s white paint.  Looks like they are doing a bit of home improvement.” He moved on to start dinner while I just sat with my head in my hands feeling stupid and confused.

the arab next door

I’d like to say all my prejudices about my neighbors went away after that moment. But that would be a lie.

When our church had an evangelism campaign late that fall, I walked over to my neighbors house with an apple pie and a flyer for our church. I though it was a risky move to invite Muslims over for worship, but if the associate pastor in charge of evangelism can’t be bold, then who would be? I handed my neighbors the pie and invited them to our church anytime. The mom thanked me and informed me that though they normally worshiped at a Baptist church nearby they would try and stop by sometime. Then she thanked me for the delicious pie.

I walked home and banged my prejudiced head against the back of my front door.

True to their word, Christmas Eve I spotted my neighbors out in the pews ready to enjoy our big Christmas cantata. I walked over with surprise to greet them. They were grinning ear to ear about the chance to listen to beautiful music and sing carols by candlelight. Their excitement melted my heart.

Then a few months later sickness fell upon both our houses. Grandpa suffered a mild heart attack and our beloved fur baby had emergency surgery on a blocked intestine. Although the loss of their patriarch would have been much greater than that of our pet, both households were taken over with worry- filled nursing. That first weekend Lucydog and I found ourselves walking the chain link fence line with Grandpa each hour on the hour as they both tried to gain back their strength. We would nod at each other as we both ambled around our respective yards. A couple of times I tried to encourage him and wish him well.  He would smile weakly as he reached through the fence to pat my healing dog.

Several months later when everyone was well and we were preparing to leave town for another church, my husband and I decided to sneak another fun night downtown in amidst our packing. As we walked the familiar squares, we spotted a restaurant we’d never eaten at before. It was a Mediterranean place and we were both in the mood for falafel, so we headed in. As we walked up to the counter to order, we did a double take. For there behind the counter was none other than our neighbor. We greeted Dad from next door (whose name I never memorized) and asked how long he had been running this little Mediterranean deli.  Turns out it was years. We had never taken the time to ask him what he did for a living (you know when he wasn’t running terrorist jihad plots out of the Baptist church he attended.)

For the first time that night we sat down and had a real conversation with our neighbor.

We asked him where he was originally from (Iraq). We talked about our worry over the looming troubles in Iraq, the great treasure of ancient Iraqi culture, and how much we loved falafel.

I walked back out into downtown that night feeling so sad. For over a year we had lived next door to this delightful family and out of sheer fear had never really taken the time to get to know them. How much more would we have learned if we had taken more time to chat over fence lines or gotten really crazy and invited them over for dinner? How much more blessed would we have been for breaking through our fear to befriend them?

I wondered how scared and lonely my neighbors must have felt. Being proud of their native culture on one hand and feeling the need to hide their heritage on the other.

I can only pray that the family that followed us were much kinder and more welcoming than we were. But my bet is that is not the case.

The threats and terror that are happening in our world are real. But what a loss for all of us when we let the actions of a few taint our view of thousands who hail from any Arab land. How much longer will be let fear and prejudice rule us?

For be clear, our fear does nothing to make the world a safer place.

Yet how much further would we get in our efforts to end terror if we pushed past the fear and took the time to build bridges and relationships with those who are “other” than us?


Do you have a story where you let fear of the “stranger” rule you? What helped you push past the fear? What was the result? Feel free to share in the comments below.


Conquering Our Fear of Death

Conquering Our Fear of Death

One of our greatest fears is the fear of death.

Scholars from Freud to Thich Nhat Hahn actually propose that our fear of death is the root of all our fear. Whether we fear our own death or the death of people we love, this primordial fear can be a powerful force.

Just ask any person who has ever suffered a panic attack.  When your heart races crazily, you feel like you cannot for the life of you breathe, and those familiar life ending fears rage in, you become like a wild eyed animal willing to do anything to save your life on this earth.

I will not claim that death will ever be a subject that does not engender some fear or sadness on our part.

But I do know that fear of death does not have to have such great hold over us.

Thich Hnat Hnah in his book No Death, No Fear talks about how death is not so much an ending, but a transformation of life. If we can trust in the continued presence of ourselves and our loved ones in the universe, the physical loss of them in this earthly life loses some of its sting.

Similarly, the Christian faith upholds the belief that death does not have the final say. Through Christ, Love conquered death. Therefore our future is one of resurrection and a heavenly afterlife. None of us cease to be, we just pass into another and better realm.

And this other realm is not even one that is entirely separate from the one we inhabit on earth. Most of us who have lost loved ones have had those moments when we feel the veil is lifted. We may mysteriously sense our loved one’s presence with us or connect with them in a dream. At the very least, we can sense reverberations of their spirit among us and their love remaining in our hearts.

Tonight, All Hallow’s or All Saint’s Eve, is actually a night when we remember death, the constancy of souls, and the transparency of the veil.

Ancient cultures celebrated October 31 as a night when the departed souls came back to their earthly homes to visit their loved ones. Other cultures marked this day with remembrance of and praying for the dead.

Our contemporary Halloween has evolved from this a bit, but vestiges of the old traditions remain. At worst, people get a little spooked out that ghosts and gouls are out and about in the world that night.

But at its best, Halloween puts fear in its proper place.

I’ll never forget the night several years ago when during our church’s All Hallow’s Eve service (yes, we are Episcopalian so we have a service for everything), the priest asked the kids why we celebrate Halloween.

One of the boys gave an answer I’ll never forget:

We celebrate Halloween so we can laugh at fear.

This is so spot on. We can dress up in our scariest costumes and run around laughing because we know that death has no hold over us. There is a power much greater than this force that we can trust in and hold onto in our darkest days.

Because of this knowledge, we are free to laugh at fear in all its faces.

For our ultimate place in this universe now and in eternity is resting in the arms of Love.

What that looks like will change and transform over time, but it will always, always be true.

So whatever your tradition is for All Hallows Eve, may you have the grace tonight to laugh at fear. And know that today and in all your days Love is reigning over you. Winning you over death and darkness and difficulty.

And that is good news indeed.



For when you just can’t

So I hit a wall tonight.

And I hate it when that happens.

As much as I’ve gotten better mentally and physically this past month there are still moments when I realize how much I am not well yet. How much healing there is still to go.

I was talked into trying something new by my adventurous husband.  The one who seemingly can do anything.  It was this creative movement class a friend was leading. All very spontaneous and free.

Except I am not.  Not now. Not yet.

The first question I asked our leader was if I would be able to do this class with a hurt neck and shoulder.  She said I might just want to modify a few things.

In the end it was everything.

While everyone else was stretching their limbs out wild and free I could barely bring myself to move my arms inches from my body. Weeks of painful muscles keep ringing in my ears.

Then we were to move about the room walking and running, whatever.  I found myself moving in tense tight circles as far away from everyone else as possible.

When she asked us to move backwards and mentioned that if we ran into someone else it was okay, I pretty much just ran from the room.

Because it is not okay. Not now. Not yet.

I ended up in the bathroom crying my eyes out. Because yet again I watch my family be so fearless and free while I am just not.

And I know I am keeping myself in my own prison.  But I am just not able to break out.

Not tonight.  Not now. Not yet.

I really envy people who are able to trust the world and themselves.

People who either haven’t experienced deep pain or trauma or have just dealt with it better than myself.

For when you have been hurt it can be so easy to live in fear of the pain.

To guard. To protect.

If I had a dime for every time I’ve been told to “just relax”, that I’m too tense, that I’m guarding too much,  then I could pay for my all my therapy and anxiety related medical bills.

But it doesn’t work that way now, does it?

In the end, I know it will have to be me who turns the key that sets me free.

That allows me to run and fly and do all the things I watch so enviously from the sidelines holding my fear and regret.

In the end I know I’ll have to just let go.

Let go of the pain. Let go of all the memories that haunt. Let go of the fear of what lies ahead.

But not tonight.

Not now. Not yet.

Is Anxiety a Sin?

Is anxiety a Sin?



Since today is Sunday, I thought it was as good of a time as any to address the question of whether anxiety is a sin.

If you are not particularly religious, this may not be a question you have ever worried about.

But for someone like me who grew up in the Bible Belt and has been involved in church all her life, this thought does bubble to the surface from time to time.

There are so many Scriptures that tell us not to worry but instead pray and have faith. There are also all those accounts where Jesus responds to people who are in fear, “Ye of little faith.”

So is having anxiety a sin?

Well, in my book the answer is yes and no. (Real clear and helpful, I know).

As a Christian I believe that all people have sinned and fallen short. Fallen short in that we are a fallen people. We are mortals, imperfect. We have faults and problems and shortcomings.  All of us.

Some people struggle with substance abuse, some people live with a greedy and ungenerous heart, and some people like me have issues with anxiety. We all have a thing we struggle with. It makes us remember we are human and not God.

As a friend said once, “My anxiety is what draws me over and over to Christ.”

But instead of calling my anxiety a sin, I prefer to think of it more as part of my brokenness. With anxiety in my life, I cannot live into the fullness of who God has created me to be. However, I do not think God is angry or judgmental about this. I think mainly God desires to show mercy to me in my fear and bring healing to this part of my life.

Through this process I come to know more and more of the love and goodness of God.

Now, let’s go back to some of those Bible verses I was talking about earlier.

I think one reason there are so many verses that tell us to pray and have faith instead of worrying is that it is a pretty hard thing for all of us to do. One of the most common phrases in the Bible is actually “Do not fear.” The reason it is said so much is because it is assumed we are afraid. It is normal to be afraid sometimes.

But God does not wish for fear to rule our life. God wishes for God to rule our life.

And there lies the rub. When we can let go of holding onto things with our controlling little hands and begin to trust in God’s hand, things turn a bit. The fear loses its power. But this is OH SO HARD. Like it may take a lifetime to work on hard.

When writing our yet to be published anxiety management book, Calming the Storms, my husband and I spent a lot of time talking about the passage where the disciples are in the boat with Jesus when a big storm hits. They are all on deck worried for their lives when they realize Jesus is missing. When they find him below deck sleeping of all things, they ask him if he cares or not that they are about to die. After taking time to calm the storm, Jesus turns to them and asks, “Why are you afraid, have you still no faith?”

The Storm on the Sea of Galilee by Rembrandt

After praying about this verse a lot, I finally came to the conclusion that this statement was not made in anger, but with compassion and maybe a touch of sadness. The kind of sadness I have when I find my daughter hysterically crying when I am ten minutes late to pick her up from an after school activity. The kind of sadness a parent has because their child does not know inherently you will always come for them, even if for a moment it does not seem that way.

When the anxiety storms have hit recently, I have tried to visualize this image of Christ sleeping below in my rocking boat. Don’t get me wrong, I still wish he’d wake up and calm the storm already. But it helps to know Christ is there with me and will never let me perish. This is the beginning of trust for me. Of me coming to understand who this one is that calms the wind and the wave.

So yeah, maybe anxiety is a sin as much as it is a sin not to trust fully in God. But that is a sin that 99.9% of us struggle with if we are honest. And debilitating anxiety is an illness that God very much desires to heal us from, as God’s nature is to heal and deep desire is for us to be made whole through grace.

So friends who struggle with anxiety, please let go of any guilt you may be holding onto because of your fear. It does not make you a bad person of faith. It just makes you a broken human being like the rest of us.

I pray that you would be able to sense God’s love and mercy breaking through the fear and that God’s healing hand would be upon you as you move from living in the bonds of anxiety to living into the fullness of abundant life.


Getting out into community

31 Days (7)

One of the paradoxes of anxiety is that anxious people often fear getting out into the world and around people, yet isolation only serves to make our anxiety worse.

When I hurt my neck recently, I was laid up at home for a few days on muscle relaxers and in pain. When I began to heal a bit, I remained anxious about getting out into the world. I was afraid that my neck would start hurting again or somehow become more injured by my activity. But the longer I stayed at home by myself, the more my fear grew.

As my husband sometimes says,Anxiety likes space.” When there is a vacuum, anxiety tends to rush in to fill the emptiness. And when we stay at home alone, our anxious thoughts and fears have plenty of time and space to grow and expand.

Sometimes the hardest thing but the best thing for our anxiety is to simply get out of the house and around other human beings.

The night I realized I was too anxious to enjoy the company of friends I was spending time with was the night I knew that I needed to get back on medication.

Community is vital to our physical and mental health. If I could not function well enough to remain in community, something had to change.

So today, a few weeks into my medication regimen, I am happy to share this moment with you.

getting out into community


I had the opportunity to spend several hours out on a beautiful day with my church community and several of their fur children as we participated in our annual blessing of the pets.  There were a couple of moments that I noticed my anxiety, but on the whole I enjoyed being out in the good world and around people who love me even when they know I can be an anxious mess sometimes.

As I have said before, if you do not have people in your life you can share your anxiety recovery journey with, I will pray that you find them soon. I know for me being a part of a church where people can be real with each other and share their brokenness has been an important part of my healing.

And even if you don’t have a community just yet, I encourage you to still try and get out into the world. I know it is scary. It will not always be easy or pleasant. But it is so important.

Go sit at a coffee shop and read or take a walk in a public place. If you have the chance, join an anxiety support group! Whatever it is, do something that allows you to remember the world is a beautiful place and there are still good people in it.

I’d love to hear ways that you have found community support for your anxiety and how you have gotten over your fear of getting out into the world. 

And if this is still a struggle for you, you can share that story too and we will support and pray for you as we can.



Three Thoughts on Surfing

Three Thoughts on Surfing

Now that I am a couple of days past my first experience with surfing, there are a few thoughts that keep rising up within me. It turns out riding the waves did teach me a lot about life, but not … Continue reading

Stepping Out into the Deep

While I’m processing all that happened at She Speaks and the big surfing adventure (more blog posts to come on this), I thought I would share a song that seems to sum it all up for me.

I had the pleasure of hearing it/singing it Saturday night during our conference worship time. It resonated deeply with me and I hope that it will speak to you also.


Enjoy Oceans (Where Feet May Fail) by Hillsong.



Wherever you may be feeling called out deeper, I hope that you find the courage to push through the fear, the strength to withstand the crashing waves, and the faith to keep your eyes on The One who lifts us up out of the water when our mortal feet fail.