23 August 2016

The Friendliest People in the World

Welcome to Iran!
On the first day of our Iran adventure, our guide told my friend and me, "There are many wonders to see here, but the greatest treasure of Iran is the people" (my paraphrase).

Having met several joyful, lively, and warm Iranians in my previous travels, I was not surprised--those people were the reason I wanted to come here in the first place! Still, I was glad to hear this sentiment spoken by a local.

Lovely girls at the carpet musem

We Americans understand that politically our two countries are not on great terms. I mistakely though that this meant Americans could not even legally enter Iran. But I learned from my first Iranian friends that, while the process is a bit more complicated than it is for others, it can be done. Someone with the right credentials (usually a tour agency or guide) must first apply on a US citizen's behalf for an approval number, sending that to a consulate (in the States, there's an Iranian Interest section inside the Pakistani consulate in DC). Next, visas must be applied for (I took my visa photo wearing a head scarf!) and collected at that consulate. Then, once in Iran, Americans must always be oficially accompanied. (Near the end of our trip, when it was starting to feel oppressive, we tried to lighten the mood by calling our tour guide "Dad;" good-naturedly, he played along.)

The cost of hiring a guide and the relative lack of freedom compared to travel elsewhere were certainly a consideration, and could be prohibitive for some. But for me, it was totally worth it.

Schoolboys at the White Palace

At first, I was surprised by random people we passed in the street bodly saying "Hello," even "Welcome to Iran," and then just continuing on their way. There was one stern-looking man who didn't even make eye contact but kiddnaperishly whispered, "Welcome to Tehran!" It sort of creeped me out, being my first day in Iran, and having had some last-minute doubts as to whether it really was a good decision to come. But after dozens of these interactions, I saw that it really was something people just did. They would see our "outsider" faces (and, I'm sure, our schleppy hijab fasion sense to comply with the women's dress code laws) and be compelled to welcome us to their land.

Come to think of it, even as we stepped off the plane that first day, we were greeted by a very welcoming and friendly young man who breifly chatted with us, and then later sought us out in the passport control line to give us his number. "Please, call me if you have ANY problems. I will help you. Really, for anything! And if you are in my city, I would love to invite you to my home." It was truly comforting to have his number, just in case. Again, as Americans, I learned that we can't freely visit people in their homes, but we did encounter many European travelers who had been constantly couchsurfing or staying with new friends they were meeting along the way. One Indonesian remarked, "They kept paying for everything! Really, I felt bad how they never let me pay!"

All along our journey we encountered bold and shy Iranians who would ask us what country we were from, welcome us to their country or city, practice their English, and possibly share some converstion, but always abruptly end with a smile and a "Good bye!" so that we never felt like we had to "get rid of" anyone. There were also:
  • The legion of boys who swarmed us at the White Palace; 
  • The people at the square who invited us to join their nighttime picnic;
  • The girls I played volleyball with (again, at the square, at night);
  • The Richard-Marx lookalike waiter that we joked with;
  • The children (and mother) we plalyed badminton with at the old Caravan hotel;
  • Our professorial Tehran driver who played "Stayin Alive" just for us;
  • The photogenic gentleman who posed for us in front of the marble basin;
  • The precious shop owner that was so patient as Phebe contemplated the perfect King Nasereddin souvenir while I watched part of the men's IRAN-CUBA volleyball game on his TV;
  • The subsequent shoe shop owners in the Bazaar who let us watch the REST of the volleyball game with them;
  • The girls at the carpet museum who shared their expertise AND their hearts with us;
  • The man at the tea house with an endless supply of lemons in his pocket, from which he shared freely; and most certainly 
  • Our guide, who spent so much time with us, becoming a real friend.
Badminton partners at the Zeinoddin Caravanserai

I know there were even more I can't recall. I can only imagine how much more we might have engaged with people if we were finding our own way, without a chaperone (Shahram, we appreciate you, but you know what we mean!).

I would love to go back to Iran. I hope that there will come a time when our countries' relations will be less strained, and perhaps there would be more freedom for our peoples to get to know one another as friends. At the same time, I wonder whether the wonderful hospitality we experienced might also be partly because they still enjoy tourists unlike in some other places where we are seen as annoyances and/or big walking bags of money. I hope that Iranians will always be so friendly and warm, even as their tourist industry grows and whatever our political ties may be in the future. For now, I have been immensely blessed to have visited this land and received the hospitality and friendship of the Iraninan people, indeed the true treasures of Iran.

THANK YOU to our guide Shahram of Step to Iran!

26 July 2016

Remembering My Roots

Some Seattle friends were visiting Ark Encounter (a full-size replica of Noah's), a new attraction just a mile from downtown Williamstown, Kentucky, where my roots are on my mother's side.
We had invited the 3-generation crowd to meet us at Elmer's General Store for ice cream/sodas/sundaes. Local musician Jimmy Million started playing his guitar and signing. When mom stood right in front of him and started singing the alto, he said, "You need to come up here!" I joined them onstage and sang tenor. Our friends sat the church pews in front of the stage, taking video and enjoying the music and folksy atmosphere.
In this down-home environment, I felt so connected to my heritage. I also realized that even though Papa's hardware store is no longer standing, and the Grant County newspaper has moved out of the building where it was when my mom worked there, the Lusby legacy continues in this town. My aunt has a table at Elmer's where she sells books authored by her and by my mom, along with other items that are part of her Go Far, Go Light business. At Bruce's Grocery, up the road a ways and just a mile from the Lusby home, they still have the little letter "H" Papa used to indicate when he was on duty as the hardware guy, a part-time position he held up into his 90's.
When Jimmy sang a solo called "Grandma's Bible," I got all teary, remembering how MY Granny loved the Word, marking in it with her green pen. (Yes, it was always a green pen.) I signed Elmer's guestbook, "Karis Pratt, granddaughter of Hubert Lusby, Seattle, WA." He always told my mom and aunt to "remember who you are." I know I will.

01 July 2016

Five Years and a Full Heart

The close of one season and the beginning of the next. It's a certain cycle of life. Most of the time there is stability on one area while we fade out and back into something new in another. Sometimes all the major pieces reshuffle all at once, causing a cyclone of thoughts and emotions, unable to be fully experienced because of the sheer number of to-dos on the list.

Today I am in the eye of this storm; it is hectic, it is scary, and it is beautiful.

Today was my last day at work, almost exactly on my five-year anniversary. This place, these people, it was just what I needed, when I needed it. When I needed them. By divine orchestration, and to my great surprise and delight, I think *I* was just what *they* needed, too. 
Editing a report at Hart Crowser's Edmonds office
At first, I did not see myself someplace like this. But then again, I didn't know what "like this" even was. Yes, it's an engineering firm. They do some environmental stuff. But I have come to know and love a team of people with passion, life, intelligence, a strong work ethic, great senses of humor, people who are sometimes aggravating but always likeable. They have shaped the person I am continuing to become, and know I have impacted them as well. I am overwhelmed with gratitude for the relationships built here. I'm thankful for people who helped me see myself through THEIR eyes, and though that, have built me up. I hope I have done the same for them.

Today is just the beginning of a series of transitions and changes. It is the end of a season but not the end of the friendships I have made. They were carefully formed and will always be a permanent part of who I am. This version of "me" is better than who I might have been without them.

The END of something is often the time we can most truly appreciate it, so for that reason, I treasure this ending. I hope to carry the seeds of this chapter into the next, where every now and then I will remember what I had here, and I will smile.

23 February 2016

Pray AND Post a Guard (for Marriage)

In my first few years of fast.pray-ing, I rejoiced in seeing friend after friend meet wonderful men and disappear off my list. Why, I even had FIVE in ONE YEAR, even ones I didn’t know even WANTED to get married! God was truly, visibly at work. I was thankful; I praised His name.

And yet there I was, still alone, with no prospects. I believe in the power of prayer; I sincerely asked God to not only grant me a spouse but also to work on my heart. I felt I was at least as ready for marriage as the friends I’d prayed for. Was there more?

In all the conversations as to why not me, or at least not yet, I heard all the usual things: it would happen when I least expected it; I just need to follow Jesus wholeheartedly; I will “just happen” at the right time (like in my old age, it seemed). Implied in these and other statements, I’m sure you have heard, was the idea that we should not SEEK marriage, at least not in our actions.

But why not? Is that even scriptural? I think of what Nehemiah did when their adversaries plotted against them: “We prayed and posted a guard day and night to meet this threat” (Nehemiah 4:9, NIV). We all do this in various areas of our lives. We pray for a job AND send out resumes; we pray for help on a test AND study hard; we pray for God to comfort our friends AND we give them hugs and take them meals. And when we sense that God is calling us into something, we take steps to pursue it.

It struck me that we do this in every area of life, but for some reason we don’t put marriage in this category. Even childless couples are encouraged to pray AND to keep trying, seek fertility treatments, or begin the adoption process.

There is a scene in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe where Susan and Lucy are attacked by wolves. Peter hears Susan’s horn, which he knows means help will come to her. Rather than just waiting to see what “help” would come, he takes off running in her direction, to BE part of that help. As it turns out, Aslan does show up, but Peter is given his own role in rescuing his sisters.

I would like to advocate the dating/marriage version of praying AND posting a guard! Pray and fast for marriage? YES! Take actions that could lead towards meeting a few more potential mates? YES!
Over the last few years, I have made various attempts to move towards this calling of marriage: talking to random people and learning to be more open, per Henry Cloud’s advice (see How to Get a Date Worth Keeping); going to every mixed event I get invited to; putting myself out there online.

SIDE NOTE: My first boyfriend at age 39 was the result of my tirelessly reading through hundreds of profiles on Match.com after determining to get to the end of a particular search that resulted in 700+ hits. This would be the exact opposite of finding a guy “when I least expected it.” (I’m not saying God does not surprise us; just that there is not one magical way that we meet someone special. And that maybe it will take some work on our part.)

But even at this point, I felt like there was a further step: to involve my community in the process.

Most marriages in the Bible happened because someone brought the couple together, or at least brought the woman to the man. While traditional (arranged) marriage is not the norm in our culture, its most useful principles can apply to us today: shared connections, values, and backgrounds (see First Comes Marriage by Reva Seth), and the whole third-party character validation thing, which also help with accountability and safety during/after the courtship. We don’t have to go back in time, but I think it would be great if more “introductions” could happen in this day where the number of singles seeking marriage without finding it is unsurpassed.

All of us can help these connections happen. Host a dinner party with equal numbers of men and women, like the French do. Introduce your cousin to your friend’s co-worker. Talk to people about how THEY can help their single friends. The online dating thing is not as great as it sounds—perhaps the Church can start something that will transform how people get together, and we can all be a part of it!

In a culture not too far removed from ours today, Paul wrote, “Because sexual immorality is so rampant, every man should have his own wife, and every woman should have her own husband” (1 Corinthians 7:2). There is so much more going on here than just a few single Christians who have a hard time getting married. There is a war against humanity, and marriages are one of the greatest defenses. Aside from the few who choose a life of celibacy for the sake of the Kingdom, for “Two are better than one,” (Ecclesiastes 4:9) and “A cord of three strands [man + woman + the person who introduced them, perhaps?] is not quickly broken” (v. 12). We can do this!

This article was posted on the fast.pray blog on February 21, 2016

07 April 2013

Beautiful Sacrifice

Easter Sunday in Seattle was a gorgeous spring day. It happened just when cherry blossoms were at their fullest, and barely starting to fall.

I had some quiet moments between our services at Ballard High School.  What a picture it was, the gorgeous blue sky, trees bursting with blossoms, and light breezes would gently shake the delicate petals from the branches.  The Japanese believe that cherry blossoms are most beautiful at the moment when they fall to the ground.

The metaphor for Jesus' sacrifice had escaped me in the past, but in that moment I sat it a moment of profound awe.

Later, I shared some wonderful fellowship with some brothers and sisters, where I ate my very first "little chick" deviled eggs! (Very appropriate for Easter, except for the name, ha!)