Sunday, October 28, 2012

Dona Nobis Pacem

Grant us peace.

The contentment that began on a rainy day a couple of days has continued to permeate my body beyond the point of saturation. It's spilling out of me.

This morning I went to mass at my parish.  Besides friends and family, weekly mass at St. William Church in Louisville, KY is one of the things I miss most when I am away from Louisville.  The people of St. William are my friends and family, in both the literal and figurative sense. That place is home, even when my house doesn't feel like home.  

Shortly before I left for Turkey/Albania/Iraq, I began singing with the ensemble during mass.  I have been a member of St. William for 7 years, but rarely did I sing with the ensemble, at least in front of a microphone.  I always sang loudly from my seat.

Prior to joining St. William, I had attended mass in Spanish at various parishes and had sung with their choirs.  Focusing on the music distanced me from the goings-on of mass.  Because I worried about what I had to sing next and if I knew it well enough, and if everyone else knew it well enough, I did not listen to readings or the homily with the attention they deserve. When I joined St. William, I wanted to immerse myself in mass without the responsibility of singing in front of a microphone. The same year I joined St. William, I started teaching at Trinity.  That year and the several that followed were ones of great growth and change, but they lacked the musical nourishment I had gotten from singing with a group.  It took a few years before I got back into any formal singing - as a cantor and co-leader of Trinity's liturgy band.  Rehearsing and singing with the group rejuvenated my soul.   It was hard to leave the group.

Thankfully, my time with the Sisters of Charity in Nazareth in India was full of song.  Most evenings during prayer, we sang.  Spirit-filling.  However, the months that followed - in Palestine, with the exception of my frequent visits to St. Anne's church in Jerusalem, and as I worked my way back west - were mostly devoid of singing. When I returned to Louisville from my 8 1/2 month sojourn, my musical reserve needed a fill-up.

Midway through the summer, St. Williams' music director asked me to sing one Sunday.  Yes! Then he asked me again.  I told him I only wanted to substitute occasionally.  But after singing with the group a few times, I realized that I wanted  to get up earlier every Sunday, so I could be among those making beautiful harmonies from the front of the church, not from a seat.

This morning I was eager to join the ensemble and, for the first time since I joined (because I previously declined all invitations), I sang a verse on my own.  During rehearsal prior to mass, I could feel the music streaming from my soul, from the glorious flood within.  Hours later, even though I'm no longer singing, it's an outpouring I continue to feel.

Sometime during today's mass I remembered another time, just a few weeks ago, when music flowed freely at a most unexpected time, with a hoped-for, but unexpected result.

Our Christian Peacemaker Team (CPT) delegation pulled into a gas station.  We'd been on the road all day.  It was dark.  Already at the station were several vehicles that were clearly transporting someone(s) important.  If memory serves me well, there was a police vehicle accompanying the black vehicles.  Standing guard at the gas station were several men, serious faces, feet slightly more than shoulder-width apart, hands folded in front of them, earpieces with cords disappearing under their suits.  When we pulled in in our dusty white 20-passenger van, the men moved closer to us, one man in front of the van, another to our side, no doubt, to make sure we'd be no threat to whomever they were protecting.

We looked out at them.  They looked in at us.

"Let's do something!" a delegate suggested.

I don't remember who suggested we sing.  I suggested we sing the Dona Nobis Pacem.

So we began.  Without ever having sung it together before, those who knew began to sing and somehow the harmonies worked themselves out.  A cascade of women's voices complemented by the rich low tones of the male delegate. Dona Nobis Pacem. Grant us peace.

The guards began to smile.  They may have even laughed.  We continued to sing loudly, ourselves laughing with the joy of a successful endeavor to change the atmosphere we'd entered.  Even serious security guards are not impermeable.

One of CPT's main works is to spread awareness of the on-the-ground happenings of the places they work - to tell the stories that rarely, if ever, make the mainstream news.  Our last day in Iraq, we hosted a press conference in which we shared all we had seen and heard during our days in Iraqi Kurdistan.  As suggested by a local CPT partner, we ended our press conference with a song.

Dona Nobis Pacem.

May God's peace pour out from us in song. (Click on the links to hear a trio or choral version of the canon.)

Saturday, October 27, 2012


If you were in Louisville and you looked out the window or went outside yesterday, you’d probably classify the day as a dreary one. Rainy and chilly. There are times when such days bring me down. Yesterday I reveled in the day.  

Four days before, I arrived home after four weeks of traveling - to Turkey, Albania, Iraqi Kurdistan, and Richmond, Virginia. Between sleep deprivation and many experiences to process, it took me a few days just to get my head screwed on right. It clicked back into place on my third day home.

My fourth day was yesterday. I had tentative plans to meet a friend in the afternoon, but no other fixed plans.  I finally went through all the mail that had piled up while I was away.  I went to my parents’ house and finished uploading trip photos. I cleaned out an email account that I never use. I had a long Skype chat with a friend that helped me put some things into perspective. I went grocery shopping and picked up a couple of DVDs.  My few times out in the rain gave me a chance to try out the new rain jacket I’d bought right before my trip.  I haven’t had a rain jacket- ever.  It was blissful to arrive home dry and warm! 

I expected to hear from my friend shortly after I got to my house.  However, I never heard from her and didn’t have a phone number to call her or an Internet connection with which to contact her.  Though I want to see her, I was perfectly alright with the change in plans.  I cuddled up on my couch and listened to the rain outside.

It was the first full evening I’d spent at home since late September before I left. I lit a pumpkin bread-scented candle.  My cats nestled in with me on the couch.  I watched my DVDs. I finished reading The Happiness Project, and considered all the reasons I have to be grateful, one of which was the cozy evening in my home. 

Life felt good.    

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Amna Sur (warning: this includes graphic photos)

Even when you've been there, it's hard to imagine the reality of some places. A reality lived rather than visited.  This was my experience in the Amna Sur Museum.

outside of one of the prison buildings
The Amna Sur Museum used to be one of Saddam Hussein's prisons, where overcrowded cells, stench, filth, darkness, rape, and torture were the status quo. Located in Suleimani,Iraqi Kurdistan, the prison housed (though housed seems too benign a word) mostly Kurds.  In 1991 the Kurdish Peshmerga attacked and liberated the prison.  Today, the buildings stand as a museum with blankets and bowls of prisoners on some prison cell floors, graffiti and nail holes still on/in the walls, statues depicting forms of torture that took place there, and photographs of Kurdish flight and the effects of a chemical attack on the city of Halabja.  The museum is a stark reminder of what Iraqi Kurds have lived, and died, through.  

one of the few small
entries of light
For me, the museum called to mind visiting the Dachau concentration camp, the Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC, the sites of the killings of the six Jesuits and two women and of Archbishop Oscar Romero in San Salvador.  How is it that even with these memorials, these reminders of what can happen when we relinquish some of our humanity, people continue to destroy? I don't have an answer.  

My hope is that not  forgetting, not hiding, not looking away will help us not to repeat.  My hope is that seeing these places doesn't send us to a place of vengeful anger, but rather merciful and transformative compassion, to a place where the words "Never again" occupy not just our minds, but our souls. 

And so I share with you some of my photos, with the ardent desire that you will find hope springing from sorrow, life emerging from death, and a love for humanity and all creation that is stronger than the hate for what we do to each other.

one of the first sculptures seen when entering the prison building; the lack of
focus seemed appropriate, given the jarring nature of the scene

one of the women's cells  

Watching him standing, unmoving, hand on the shoulder, as if he could feel the warmth emanating from a body and see a soul through the eyes.  He stood a long time and I nearly as long observing him.  When the boy moved, his hand remained on the man (clearly this was more than a statue for the boy) until he was too far to touch him.  What was the boy thinking?  Who was this man for him?

Photos of the aftermath of the chemical bombing of the city of Halabja

family that took refuge in a cave and survived the Halabja attack
Hall of Mirrors: each fragment represents someone who died;
each light represents a village destroyed

To learn more about the Amna Sur Museum, click here.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Trying to Start

In the absence of knowing where to start, sometimes you just have to start.  This is what I am trying to do.

I'm trying to synthesize the last 4 weeks:

Breaking my foot.

Losing my passport.

Getting a new passport 2 hours before my flight to Turkey.

Spending a weekend in Albania visiting a friend with whom a friendship began 6 months ago over a day and a half in Italy.

Listening to a Syrian street vendor spew his anxieties and then wonder aloud, "Why am I telling you all this?"

Hearing from Turkish friends about the arrests and imprisonment of Turkish activists and journalists.

Forging new friendships while traveling on a Christian Peacemaker Team delegation in Turkey and Iraqi Kurdistan.

Spending 12 intense days with those new friends.

Going through checkpoints and checkpoints and checkpoints in Iraq.

Breathing in clean, crisp air high in the mountains.

Drinking tea with strangers.

Observing Iranian and Turkish military bases within striking distance of Iraqi villages.

Seeing remnants of rockets along the side of the road and signs with warnings about unexploded land mines.

Drinking tea with acquaintances.

Hearing the grief of parents who lost their children during demonstrations.

Seeing prison cells where men were tortured and photos of victims of chemical warfare during the rule of Saddam Hussein.

Drinking tea with friends.

Having to say good-bye to my fellow delegates and CPT team members.

Arriving home and leaving 10 hours later.

Meeting writers - aspiring, published, famous - and wondering where my own writing will take me.

Missing flights.

Coming home again.

Wondering when I'll be able to write the stories that came to reside in my being over 4 short weeks.

The stories are still swirling within, not ready to be caught and confined by the limitations of my words.  Fragments are the best I can offer.  Pieces that may begin to form an outline of the puzzle I stepped into, one that feels beyond my ability to complete right now.  God grant me patience as I wait for the pieces to settle into place.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

The Play of Light and Darkness

Maybe it's jetlag, but I don't think so.  Even when I haven't been traveling, I sometimes wake early in the morning, in the darkness, long before my body is actually ready, with thoughts that want to be known in my consciousness rather than through the mist of my dreams.

Consciousness in the darkness.  Maybe that's what I've been striving for all along.  Maybe that's why I'm attracted to places that could be labeled "darkness" - El Salvador, Guatemala, India, Palestine, and most recently, Iraqi Kurdistan.  I want to be aware.  I want my eyes opened. I want to understand darkness, so that I better appreciate light.

I don't want only to appreciate light.  I want to be light.  I want to amplify the light of others.

Even in my desire to expand the light, I know the darkness must be.

And God said, "Let there be light," and there was light. And God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness." Genesis 1: 3-4

God did not eliminate darkness.  God added light.  If God didn't remove darkness, I won't either.  I will strive to add light.  I will revel in the glory of light and darkness coexisting, living in tension, with ebbs and flows of dominance, creating beauty that could not be, if the world were all light or all darkness.

Maybe that very contrast is why I go where I go.  While others may think of Iraqi Kurdistan as all darkness, I see the light shining through.  The light of the families who open their home to strangers. The light of children playing and laughing, even through their sorrow and confusion over the bombing of their villages.  The light of peacekeepers who place flowers in the gun barrels of security forces surrounding demonstrators. The light of the mullah who calls for a "jihad of peace," even when his words put him in danger.

Maybe that very contrast is why we love sunrises and sunsets.  Light and darkness playing together, creating a beauty impossible if each did not exist.

sunset in the mountains of Iraqi Kurdistan

Monday, October 15, 2012

My Left Foot

For the last 3 weeks, I've been walking around with an air cast to protect my broken left foot.  When I wear the air cast, my foot rarely hurts, even when I walk many miles.  I even did a short mountain hike with it.  I walk a little awkwardly and a little more slowly, but my fellow delegates have been patient, understanding, and kind to me.  Actually, everyone I've encountered has been patient, understanding, and kind to me when it comes to my left foot.

I had considered not going to the doctor about it because I don't have insurance.  Given my travel plans, I decided it would be best to pay whatever it might cost to see him.  If I hadn't had the money to do so, I know I have people I could have asked to help me pay for a doctor visit. From the time I injured my foot until now, many people have shown love and care towards me and my obvious injury.

A few days ago, our CPT delegation visited Sunnah, a village in Iraqi Kurdistan.  Sunnah is a beautiful mountain village near enough to the Iranian border that one can see two Iranian military camps high on a mountain ridge above.  Iranian rockets have been launched from those camps right into villages like Sunnah.  Bombings often happen in the summer, forcing villagers to leave their homes, their animals, their agricultural lands, their lives, behind. When there seem to be lulls in the bombing, villagers may make trips back to their homes long enough to get supplies or tend to their animals or crops. Sometimes such trips are possible; sometimes they're not.

During the summer of 2011, Sunnah experienced heavy shelling over several months.  In our visit to the village a few days ago, we saw where a shell had gone through a family's roof.  We heard stories of the injured persons.  Six women were hurt. They weren't bleeding much, so they didn't tell anyone.

One woman had returned to her house to get blankets.  A bomb fell in her house. She got out of the house before the bomb detonated.  If she'd been in the house, she would have died.  Instead, she narrowly escaped, injuring only her shoulder.  She didn't tell anyone.  She got no medical care.  As we listened to this story, we heard the question, "Who would she tell?  No one would care."

No one would care.  No one cares.  These are words we have heard repeatedly while we've been in Iraqi Kurdistan.  "Tell our stories. No one listens to us.  Maybe if you talk, they will listen to you."

Maybe if we share their stories, someone will care.  Maybe someone will care about the woman who injured her shoulder or the one whose arm is now disfigured.  Maybe someone will care about the children of Sunnah whose daily reality is fear of bombs being dropped on their homes, a fear that persists even now when over a year has passed since the last bombings.  Maybe if I tell these stories, someone will be as attentive to the stories, the realities, the lives of the Kurdish people as so many people have been to my left foot.  

Friday, October 5, 2012

And then there were six...

Today marked the start of the Christian Peacemaker Teams delegation. The group, seven of us, were to meet up in our hostel. However, one of us didn't make it ... our delegation leader.

I had been pretty sure that when I arrived here safely after my threesome of pre-travel trials, I was set for a smooth delegation.  Apparently, I was wrong.

Our delegation leader was turned away when he arrived in Istanbul. Put on a plane and sent back home.
As I haven't asked him if it's acceptable to share, I won't go into the reason he was given.

This could be a point at which I throw up my hands. "Seriously, God?!? Really?!?" But all I see are what we have going for us. Our collective cup is definitely more than half full.

Thankfully, our group has handled the news of this setback with calm. Thankfully, there is a CPT representative in our group. She has some of the information, contacts, and other things we need. Thankfully, I have spent the last few days in Istanbul and have been able to navigate some of the details while we're here.  Thankfully, we'll be meeting other CPTers tomorrow, who can take on some of the vacated leadership responsibilities. Thankfully...

I feel calm. Julian of Norwich's words come to mind and, given the last few weeks, I can't help but to trust them: All will be well and all will be well and all manner of things will be well.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

One Syrian, Two Iraqis

One cool thing about traveling alone is that I talk to people I might not talk to if I had a traveling companion.  I'm not great at striking up conversations, but the big ol' boot on my foot is an instant conversation starter, so I haven't had to try much.

A few days ago, I was strolling through Istanbul. A young man stopped me and asked about my foot. In big tourist areas, I'm usually cautious about who I allow to engage me in conversation, because conversations often lead to sales pitches that don't interest me. For whatever reason, however,  I stopped to talk to this young man. "Rest your foot here," he offered. He had been standing, talking to a seated guy, but shooed the guy away so that I could sit on a newly vacated stool.

Early in the conversation, the young man offered me tea, making sure I knew it was out of Syrian, not Turkish, hospitality.  I, probably in bad form, declined.

I learned his name was Molham, 25 years old. He asked my age, but before I could answer, said it didn't matter.  He came back to the question later.  When I told him I'm 39, he told me I look young and again said that age doesn't matter.

Molham is a Syrian from Aleppo. He left 8 months ago. His family is still in Aleppo.  His mother said she'd rather stay there and die at home than leave and die in the street.

Molham sells scarves outside a silver shop.  In Aleppo he had two stores and the bazaar is much better than the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul.  Incidentally, according to Molham, everything in Aleppo is better than everything in Istanbul. When telling me about his work, he referred to himself, and all other venders, as aggressive "bullshit spitters."  He made no effort to sell anything to me. When he saw people looking at his scarves, he asked if I minded if he went to talk to them, asking, "If I go talk to them, you won't escape?" I assured him I wouldn't.

I asked him if he is married. Indignantly, he replied, "I'm educated!" I suggested that he could be both educated and married, but he was having none of my reasoning.  He had a lot more to say than that.  His monologue included a little of his own story, criticism of the US and democracy, the aforementioned criticism of Istanbul, and hypotheses about why Arabs are viewed so poorly. "It's our own fault," he said, giving the example of one bad habit of Arabs: when one agrees to meet someone in the evening and doesn't show up until morning.

Once he'd released some of what was within him, he apologized and said, "I am like a balloon and now that I have someone to talk to, I just explode."

When I decided to go on my way (after declining another tea offer), Molham invited me to come back, so we could discuss America and Syria. I passed by the next day, but he was not there. I saw him today and he offered me a stool to sit on again.  I had just set out a few minutes before, so I declined the offer.  He told me, "It is my job to treat woman as a queen. If you want, I will carry you."  I told him I'd let him know if I needed carrying. I probably won't, but it's nice to know I have options for getting around.

Yesterday I had another unexpected encounter.  I was on the island of Buyukada, one of the Prince Islands. When I arrived on the island, I thought, "This would be so much better if I had someone to wander with."

Since riding a bike wasn't an option, I decided to take a carriage ride to see some of the island. None of the posted information about the ride was in English. Forlorn, I tried to talk to the man who seemed to be in charge, with little success. As I was thinking about my options, a couple passed me and asked the man a question in English. On a whim, I asked if they'd like to share a carriage. They agreed.

Once we got settled, I asked where they were from: Baghdad, Iraq. "What fortune," I thought. I didn't tell them I'd be going to their country soon, but started asking them questions. He was a mathematics lecturer at a university. She had just gotten her degree in computer engineering. He did most of the talking.

I asked them how things are in Baghdad now. "Better..." he said, "after the war, you know." Yes, I know the war. We all laughed to ease the tension of that topic.

"Is there tourism in Iraq?" He said people go to the north, to Kurdistan, where I'll be going soon.

"What do regular Iraqis like you think of the US government?" He laughed, "Don't make me answer that question!" I didn't. He went on to say that Iraqis like him distinguish between Americans and the American government. I thanked him for making the distinction.

We took our carriage ride around the island and parted ways at the end. I had planned to pay half, since I'd crashed their carriage ride, but they insisted I pay only a third, since we were three people.

Later that day we ended up at the same restaurant and they invited me to sit with them. We talked about food (Iraqi food is better than Turkish food, they told me), Iraqis in the US, getting student visas for the US, and anti-Muslim sentiments in the US.

I told them that some people I know might not approve of me talking to them.  "Why not?"  "Because you are Iraqis and that makes you scary." They thought the idea was ridiculous.  I said that many Americans don't make the distinction between Iraq and Iraqis, like they had between the US government and Americans, a fact that saddens me.  We agreed that, at the heart of it all, we're just people, plain and simple, with a lot more in common than not.

Their names, I found out at the end of our meal, were Masen and Aya. We took a picture together. I'm happy I met them. I had some company on the island after all.

Tomorrow I will meet the rest of the Christian Peacemaker Team delegates with whom I'll be traveling to Iraq.  I look forward to learning a little more about the world from them, just as I did from Molham, Masen, and Aya.

Peace to you all.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Blessings in Disguise

It is the beginning of a new month and I am looking forward to seeing what's in store. Last month gave me a few moments of pause: a friend having to back out of meeting in Turkey, a broken foot, and a lost passport.

At any one of those points, I could have fallen into pits of anger and despair and not come out. I spent some time in the pits, I'll admit. But being in a pit is no fun, so I chose to climb or hobble out. I am so glad I did.

September began with my friend Joshua telling me he would not be able to meet me in Turkey. I had met Joshua in April in Assisi when we struck up a conversation in the hostel we were both staying in. After exploring Assisi and Perugia, which included an incident where we considered scaling monastery walls because we'd been locked within them, we kept in touch. From Assisi, he continued on to Albania, where he has been living and working for the last 6 months. I worked my way through Europe and eventually came back to the U.S.

When I learned that the CPT delegation to Iraq would begin in Turkey, Joshua and I made plans to meet there and travel together before I joined the delegation. I had wanted to return to Cappadocia and he wanted to visit there for the first time.

Excited to have a travel buddy, I bought my plane ticket so I'd arrive a week before the delegation. Then I got the news: Joshua would not be able to meet me in Turkey. I can't say I took the news well. I had no desire to travel by myself in Turkey- I had already done that earlier this year.

After I got over my initial fury, I began to consider my options. Joshua had, thus far, had no visitors in Albania. I'd never been to Albania. I thought about my 8 1/2 months of traveling and remembered how seeing familiar faces along the way lifted me up. Maybe it was time to pay it forward.  Joshua and I talked and agreed I'd visit for a weekend. I am so glad I did. For me visiting friends is primarily about the friends. Sight-seeing is secondary. I got a healthy mix of both in Albania. I enjoyed lots of good conversation, heard lots of Albanian history that already I only vaguely remember, and saw into the life of my friend. I enjoyed meeting some of his Albanian companions and seeing his current home and work (church construction). I think it was nice for him to have someone to talk to, face to face, in English, with no personal stakes in what he was saying.  Possible setback #1 turned into a blessing.

Then there was the foot... Through fortune I still scarcely believe, I was invited for the four weeks prior to my departure to join the women's boot camp I used to attend - for  free! This would get me in good physical shape before my travels. I was so excited! The first week was a welcome wake-up call to my body's current (sad) level of fitness. The second week was not as traumatic and I looked forward to the last two weeks of camp.

Third week: Wednesday was "bring a friend to camp" day. I had a friend in from out of town who joined me for that day's Amazing Race challenge. Midway through the hour, she fell and sprained her ankle. She insisted I finish the workout while she iced and elevated her ankle. I did, half-heartedly, checking on her after every execise I did. She elevated and iced her ankle all morning and then took advantage of the wheelchair service when she went to the airport that afternoon.

Thursday: one of my favorite workouts: Junkyard Day! As I was running through an obstacle course (not actually doing an obstacle, but on a flat surface), I somehow landed wrong on my left foot. I thought I felt a crack, but decided I was being overly dramatic and continued on, though more slowly and carefully. Feeling pain, I took my shoe off and pressed my fingers over my foot. I didn't notice any swelling. After the workout, before a planned walk with a friend, I took my shoe off and felt around again. Still no swelling. My friend and I walked. Well, he walked; I tried not to limp. My logic was that if I could walk, whatever I'd done to my foot must not be too bad. When I got home and took my sock off, I saw the swelling on my foot.  I couldn't ignore it anymore. Crap.

Still in denial, I put off making a doctor appointment. I rested, iced, compressed, and elevated my foot. I  took ibuprofen. My foot swelled more and turned some interesting colors. The day after my accident, I made a doctor appointment, and was afraid I'd be told not to travel. I began to wear my mom's boot. She had broken her left foot over the summer. Her boot fit me well. My doctor said what I'd expected: "Your foot is broken. Keep wearing the boot." He didn't say what I'd feared: "Don't travel."  Neither did the leader of the CPT delegation. My walking friend offered this: "Maybe you just need to slow down." I didn't tell him I'd said the same to my mom when she broke her foot. It was easier to give the advice to her than hear it from him. But I've tried. I'll spend the rest of my pre-delegation week in Istanbul, instead of hiking in Cappadocia. This, too, is a blessing, because it means I get to see friends that I made last time I was here. Possible setback #2 turned into a blessing.

Then it was the night before I left.  I was packing.  I tend to do things last minute.  I went to get my passport from the drawer I keep it in.  No passport.  It hadn't occurred to me to look for it any sooner than that night because I knew where my passport was. Except apparently I didn't.  I began searching.  And searching.  And searching.  Taking lots of deep breaths.  Reminding myself that even if I didn't get to leave the following day, I had plenty of time before the delegation to get a new passport.  My parents and sister helped me search.  None of us had any luck.  My sister looked up how to get an expedited passport.  After searching everywhere I thought the passport might be (and a lot of places I didn't think it would be), I stopped searching.  I finished packing and made plans and said prayers that I'd get a passport before my flight at 3:40 the next afternoon.

Thankfully, I was taking the Megabus into Chicago, arriving at 9 AM.  En route, I called the Passport Hotline and made an appointment for 10:30 that morning. I had the necessary forms (though I still needed to fill them out), a photocopy of the lost passport, and my previous passport.  I only needed printouts of my flight itineraries.  I had planned to spend the morning with my friend Lavinia in Chicago.  We did spend the morning together.  She helped me get from place to place, made sure I was fed, accompanied me to get a new passport photo, and sat with me in the passport office.  When I wasn't occupied by passport-related activities, we caught up on each other's lives.  By 11:30 AM, I had turned in all necessary paperwork for a new passport. By 1 PM, I had a new passport. Lavinia had to leave before that glorious moment, but she had gifted me with money to take a cab to the airport.  I got to O'Hare with plenty of time to make my 3:40 flight.  The woman from Lufthansa who checked me in saw my broken foot and blocked the seat next to me so that I had room to stretch out my leg/foot out during the long flight.  Possible setback #3 perhaps not turned into a blessing, but it certainly gave me the awareness of the blessings that fill my life.

I have been considering what each of these events is meant to teach me.  First and foremost, I am reminded of how extraordinarily blessed I am.  My mom has told me more than once that I live a charmed life.  I have a lot of evidence to support that claim.  Secondly, I am reminded of the power of positive thinking and persistence.  A lot can be accomplished when "can't" is not uttered.

So here I am in Istanbul, celebrating my blessings in disguise.  I hope you are equally blessed.