Thanksgiving 2015

Every day is a day to give thanks, and I try to do that every night in my evening prayers. But in the U.S. we set aside the fourth Thursday of November as a special day.

Happy Thanksgiving!

On this fourth Thursday in 2015, I have so much to be thankful for.

Steve and I on the top of the Krak de Chevaliers, Wadi al Nassara, Syria, November, 2014.

Steve and I on the top of the Krak de Chevaliers, Wadi al Nassara, Syria, November, 2014.

First on my list is my husband, Steve, who is standing in the kitchen chopping vegetables for a savory bread dressing, a staple of the meal that goes with this day. I am thankful for the miracle he is in my life; not looking for a life mate, our paths crossed fourteen years ago and here we are today. Sharing life. Sharing love. Sharing joy and sorrow. ‘Til death do us part.

 

Six siblings at the memorial service for the seventh, our baby sister Cathy.

Six siblings at the memorial service for the seventh, our baby sister Cathy..

I am thankful for brothers and sisters who have walked through the hard times of head injury, of broken marriages and of new marriages, of loss through disease and grievous loss through crime. We once were seven, and now we are six, but the six remain a unit bound together through love. We are family.

I am thankful for friends who open up the world as a place to experience God’s glory and his grace. They encourage. They grieve for, mourn with, and on the other side they celebrate in joy. They are faithful women. They are lay and clergy – men and womenI am thankful for friends who open up the world as a place to experience God’s glory and his grace. They encourage. They grieve for, mourn with, and on the other side they celebrate in joy. They are faithful women. They are lay and clergy – men and women.

Flanked by Rev. Kate Kotfila of Cambridge, New York, and my new friend Mahsen, from Hasakeh, Syria, we fold peace cranes together.

Flanked by Rev. Kate Kotfila of Cambridge, New York, and my new friend Mahsen, from Hasakeh, Syria, we fold peace cranes together.

They sing. They dance. Their tears flow with mine. Their laughter is a symphony. They will go anywhere. They will do anything. Even when it is so hot the sweat pours off their faces; even when they are drinking their tenth cup of deep, dark, sweet Arabic coffee when they would rather have an iced tea. They will venture to places that cause people to say, “You are so brave!”, even when they know it is not their courage, but the courage of others that draws them into participation in life because they know where real courage comes from.

Kirkuk, Iraq, November, 2012, with The Outreach Foundation. The gentleman in the front row, second from the left, is now the patriarch of the Chaldean Catholic Church, His Grace, Louis Raphael Sako.

Kirkuk, Iraq, November, 2012, with The Outreach Foundation. The gentleman in the front row, second from the left, is now the patriarch of the Chaldean Catholic Church, His Grace, Louis Raphael Sako.

I am thankful for the church I have come to know in Lebanon and Syria and Iraq. I am thankful that when I say I believe in God the Father almighty, and in his son, my savior Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Spirit who is my guide and comfort, that I say it in community with the saints of old and the saints of now. They are embodied in Catholic, Orthodox and Reformed congregations and the faith and courage and perseverance they model every day in the midst of war and terror and death is a reminder to me of what it means to follow this triune God. He does not promise us life without loss, but he does offer us life abundant. And when I see how abundant life is in the church in these hard places, I have seen this promise lived out daily.

I am thankful for grace. For I have deserved it not, earned it not, purchased it not. But it has been freely given at great cost.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Dona nobis pacem.

Assis Ibrahim from Aleppo

(Back) Wendy Moore, Sue Jacobsen, Kate Kotfila, Emily Brink; (standing in middle) Mary Caroline Lindsay, Assis Ibrahim Nsier, Archbishop Yohanna Ibrahim, Rev. Nuhad Tomei, Marilyn Borst, Betty Saye; (kneeling) me and Barbara Exley

(Back) Wendy Moore, Sue Jacobsen, Kate Kotfila, Emily Brink; (standing in middle) Mary Caroline Lindsay, Assis Ibrahim Nsier, Archbishop Yohanna Ibrahim, Rev. Nuhad Tomei, Marilyn Borst, Betty Saye; (kneeling) me and Barbara Exley

I first met this man of God in the summer of 2010. I remember coming home and telling my pastor George about him. His church in Aleppo was doing the kind of relational, incarnational ministry in their neighborhood that our church in Omaha was doing. Their neighborhood in Aleppo was a bit different than ours, to say the least.

But this was before the war that came to them just seven months later. We were privileged to worship with them in their lovely building, and to hear how they were caring for Iraqi refugee families in their midst. These displaced families were, of course, refugees from the war our country had brought to Iraq in 2003. Like other refugees from other wars who could not go home, they were waiting to be resettled in still other countries, unknown to them.

But this small Presbyterian congregation in Aleppo, led by this young energetic cleric was making a difference to those families, and to the kingdom of God.

I still keep a picture on Facebook as my cover photo to remind me of those precious days in August, 2010. It’s the one on the top of this post. Assis Ibrahim is in the back row standing next to another Ibrahim, Syrian Archbishop Yohanna Ibrahim, who was kidnapped in April, 2013, and still has not been heard from. I pray for them both when I see this picture, and I hope others do as well when they visit my Facebook page. I wrote about them here:

https://jpburgess.me/2014/07/16/abraham-father-of-many/

Assis Ibrahim is a man I admire, to say the least, and I will never forget him.

I had the chance to hear him on phone calls twice in the last two years as I returned to Lebanon to hear about what was happening to the Syrian churches in the midst of the war. Other Syrian pastors had been able to make it to Beirut, Lebanon, to tell us firsthand of the difficulties they were facing, but Assis Ibrahim could not come from Aleppo. I listened to his voice as he told us what had happened, and what was happening. I closed my eyes and remembered the worship we had participated in back in that hot glorious August in a building that was now rubble.

And I could see the face of that young, energetic, man of God, holding onto faith and hope and love.

IMG_0936This past November, for only the second time in four years I got to spend some precious time with him as he came to Beirut to meet with our group. He may not have remembered me, but oh! how I remembered him. His face unchanged. His voice strong as ever. His vision for the future was God-sent. Who else could see a Presbyterian boys’ high school reimagined as the National Evangelical University of Aleppo, even while a war still raged?

Assis Ibrahim.

And I wanted to tell you about him so you could pray for him.

Before I could come up with my own words, I received this extraordinary email from him telling the story of the church in Aleppo. And I think in the reading you will know what I have come to know about him:

This morning I woke up early at 4:30 to the sound of a mortar exploding. I said to myself, “A new day is started.” This is something normal in Aleppo.

I went to the kitchen, hoping to get some tea or Nescafe, but I had an urgent call from one of our members who was injured by the shelling. He needed someone to take him to the hospital. I got my shoes and got to the car quickly.

Thanks to God, they dealt with his wounds very quickly, and he was in church for our service.

Today, I preached that we should use what God has given us. No one can say, “I don’t have,” because if God has given us even a tiny thing, we can do a lot with this tiny thing in this situation in this community.

The church where we worshipped before the war was bombed, so now we meet in an apartment building. It’s up five floors, almost 120 stairs. We have had mortars hit the building, but God saved us and as many as 150 of us continue to worship there.

Being a pastor in this crisis is not as much about preaching as it is being with the people in their difficult time. Even if we cannot give money or fulfill their physical needs, we can at least pray with them, at least try to comfort them.

After the service, I received another call — two older women who had not one ounce of water and had run out of money to purchase water after paying for their rent and medicine. I got my family and went looking for someone in order to get them water, which I am sorry to say costs a lot of money. We need $300 a month for a family of five for drinking and washing water.

After that I received more calls asking me to go quickly to look for a home for two people whose houses were damaged from the mortar attacks that morning. We called a family from church that was out of town. They agreed to lend their house for a week until we can make repairs.

This day I described is like every day. Even what I have said doesn’t describe fully what is going on.

I am thankful to my wife and my family who remain with me in Aleppo during this crisis. Without my wife, I could be failing. She is my supporter.

We have three children, ages 6 to 12. This situation has forced itself over their lives. My children, when they hear a lot of bombing, they come to our room to feel a little bit secure. When we send our children to school, believe me, we say goodbye to each other because we don’t know if we’ll have the opportunity to see each other once again.

Always we teach the children that although it is difficult in this time, our security is in God. We try to teach them that we suffer as Jesus suffered and that the day of resurrection will come someday.

We believe we have a lot left to do in this community. As I walk around the neighborhood, I see the despair on the faces of the people. I see children on the streets begging for money. I can see people walking in the streets without shoes.

In 2013, through the church, we distributed food baskets to 100 families for two months. Last summer we were able to help 118 families with monthly cash allowances, which helps families pay for things like medical treatment, food, tuition. From August to December 2014, 65 of the most vulnerable families got monthly allowances. (MCC supported these efforts through its partner, the Fellowship of Middle East Evangelical Churches.)

We are not only supporting Christians, we are supporting the whole community to teach them that being a human means having a responsibility to the others. Believe me, we never think in ways that this is Muslim or this is Christian. We think differently. We think we are here for a message and this message should be clear for everybody — that God loves all the people and I insist on the word “all.”

We are called to live in hope. We trust God and we do our job — praying, taking care of each other, reading the Bible and being an instrument of love and peace in this community. This is what we do, and this is the hope we live in.

Please don’t forget us in your prayers.

Please don’t forget them in your prayers. And if you can do even more than pray, please consider sending a donation for the work of the church in Syria to The Outreach Foundation, 381 Riverside Drive, Suite 110, Franklin, TN 37064.

“This is what we do, and this is the hope we live in.”

Amen.

Hello! My name is…

Steve and I have been married for almost twelve and a half years. We will make that mark on November 18. But we have been together for twelve months longer than that, since May 18, 2001. I will remember those dates until my mind is completely gone. If I never remember anything else, I will remember those. Ah, love.

In all that time, all those years and months and days, we have traded almost daily morning emails. His always go something like this:

Hi Julie!

How’s my little Apple-Oat Cookie this morning?  Did you sleep well?  I slept so-so.  Sometimes when I go to bed later than my normal time, I have a hard time sleeping.  It’s like my sleep rhythm is thrown out of whack, and sound sleep does not come as easily.

Anyway, here I am, back in the office – again!  It should be the same ol’-same ol’. Well, punkin, I hope you have a great day!

I love you!

:  –  **********************************Steve

Every day. Just like the sun comes up every day. I receive this beautiful greeting from my love and it is the gift I need each morning, just like seeing the sun. It makes the day start off with the warmth of a hug…only it comes electronically.

Notice the line after the “Hi Julie!”? This was from yesterday. I was his “little apple oat cookie.” Every day for thirteen and a half years Steve has called me his little…dessert. Sometimes sweet. Sometimes savory. Sometimes with chocolate. Sometimes with fruit. Sometimes with nuts. Always dessert.

I asked him once a very long time ago why he did this. “Because that is who you are to me. Something so good that I just want to eat you up.” I would never in my most romantic thoughts have dreamed up someone like Steve. He just came into my life and made it so much better and I have never looked back. He is the dessert that came to me that I never asked for. “What? Wow! This is for me?” No trick there, only treat.

And then at the end it’s “punkin’.” He’s got so many sweet names that he calls me (and some I won’t share because they are too dear) that when I look in the mirror and just see plain old Julie, it knocks my socks off. He sees something different…and I love him for it.

Wedding cakeThe best name he ever gave me was Mrs. Stephen Burgess.

On the first of January, 2010, I decided to start keeping track of these morning-greeting-dessert-type nicknames. I have done it faithfully every day through today and will keep on doing it as long as this morning greeting goes on. He even does it when I’m traveling and email may not be available to me. He does it on Saturdays and Sundays if he has to go into his office. It is too precious to me to ever forget or take for granted. (It also makes me hungry…)
And so today I present the first of many lists in this blog. You can watch and see if it ever repeats. It rarely does, and if it does, it is usually on our anniversary. And when that date rolls around, May 18, I close my eyes and see the cake we picked out together to celebrate.

With great love to my top chef.

Here are the first three months of 2010:

  • Little chocolate croissant
  • Little piece of Christmas candy
  • Little piece of cranberry bread
  • Little piece of Christmas stollen
  • Little scoop of amaretto-infused mascarpone
  • Little piece of candied ginger
  • Little strudel
  • Little piece of Christmas fudge
  • Little piece of lemon-glazed poppy seed cake
  • Little scoop of chocolate souffle with whipped nougat
  • Little chocolate chip cookie fairy
  • Little Madeleine cookie
  • Little gummi bear
  • Little dollop of cherry jelly
  • Little piece of Bavarian raspberry cream pie
  • Little malted milk ball
  • Little lemon bar
  • Little scoop of butterscotch pudding
  • Little sip of sweet tea
  • Little glazed cruller
  • Little cookie that never crumbles
  • Little piece of toast with raspberry jelly on top
  • Little scoop of chocolate mousse
  • Little cup of hot mulled wine
  • Little scoop of lemon custard
  • Little dark chocolate truffle
  • Little ginger snap
  • Little chocolate Éclair
  • Little piece of kahlua cake
  • Little piece of English flapjack
  • Little scoop of pomegranate granita
  • Little morsel of key lime pie
  • little piece of chocolate covered puffed molasses
  • little piece of spice cake with crème fraiche topping
  • little piece of peanut brittle
  • little sneeballen
  • little scoop of English Trifle
  • little chocolate covered coffee bean
  • little piece of brown sugar skillet cake
  • Little sugar cookie
  • Little lemon cupcake
  • Little Toll House cookie
  • Little scoop of chocolate malt
  • little Chocolate Lava Cake
  • little glazed Kruller
  • little Raspberry Clafoutis
  • little dollop of cherry jelly
  • little piece of Divinity Candy
  • little Crepé Suzette
  • little piece of New York Crumb Cake
  • little powdered sugar doughnut
  • little piece of Shoo-fly pie
  • little cinnamon Coffee Cake
  • little chocolate Easter Bunny
  • little piece of Easter candy