The Jerusalem Series

The songbird and I

Once upon a time, on a day that nobody remembers, a songbird was released from its cage. I’m sure that would have been quite a day! I wish that I could have watched her finally break free into the night sky. For that night she had been gifted with a new song.

This is a tribute to my songbird and my sunshine in the wintertime. To Rita.

The first time that I saw her, she was sitting near a table in the garden, humming softly and sweetly to herself. Autumn was coming to an end, so she perched at the side of the tree in order to feel the covering warmth of the sun. I remember marveling at her beauty, her feathers were many shades of blue, yellow and green.

I began to sit down and she looked towards me;  I could have sworn that she was smirking and that her eyes were gleaming with a sparkle. She seemed mischevious, curious and witty.

After a few moments, she began to sing her song.

No creature could outsing her and no sound could intimidate her, her song was one of strength and beauty.

As the day passed and as the weeks slowly turned into months I continued to watch her.

I remember the way in which she danced around a busy courtyard filled with people, with no care in the world, she hummed her tune loud and clear.

I remember watching her fly over and above the many landmarks of the Old City – singing her harmony loud and clear. Passersby were taken aback by her vivaciousness, no note was out of tune as she twirled with joy.

She did not sing to be noticed, she only sang to share her love. She only hoped to share a gift with others. A gift that had been freely given to her.

The songbird found her joy in encouraging others. She sang her song of encouragement to both strangers and friends.

I remember one time watching her in the evening. She was tired and hummed her song quietly to all who would listen. The wind still carried the words through the courtyard and although she was hurting, she never lost her song. She continued to sing.

“Why so downcast, lady songbird?” I asked as she looked up towards the sky.

It was true, she had been freed in the past, but she longed for a greater freedom, one to be found only in the heights.

And as time went on, she kept on singing.

I once asked her how she learned to sing. My question amused her.

She explained that singing was a process and that each day she learns new lyrics to a tune that she still finds a little unfamiliar at times.

Some people laughed at the songbird and sneered at her efforts to love and to share.

“She is ignorant and foolish! She does not understand the realities of a world like ours.”

Even so, love just seemed natural to her, as I watched her mingle, and dance through the crowds; she maintained oblivious to negative discouragement.

Later in the year, I returned to the courtyard and sat underneath the tall palm tree. The blue sky was fading into a dusty sunset. I waited for the songbird. I waited until morning.

It was early when I heard the news. The songbird had gone, she had left us.

There was not a single person who did not miss her presence. The world seemed a little emptier. The courtyard, still full of people, seemed all the more empty.

Later that week, I heard a noise and as I looked to my right I saw a woman folding laundry and humming the tune of the songbird.

“Excuse me,” I said, feeling all the more embarrassed,

“Excuse me, what song are you singing?”

She looked at me and laughed a little.

” I’m singing grace, sweet amazing beautiful grace.”

I smiled.

The humble bird who had sung a simple song had touched the lives of so many.


Jerusalem series

The Amman Series

Tracks and Tantrums – Amman Train Station

I’m feeling a little reminiscent today, so I decided to write about a sweet moment that happened during the time that I lived in Amman, the capital city of Jordan.

It was a lovely hot Wednesday in May. I was set to leave Jordan within the following two weeks so I wanted to make the most of every remaining moment.

In true creative style, I searched the Internet to find their list of places to visit in Amman – I wanted to make sure that I had visited as many sites as possible!

As I was looking, I found the Amman train station and Hijaz Railway line.

I absolutely loved learning about the Hijaz Railway and the life of Lawrence of Arabia whilst at university, so I did not need much convincing – I ran out immediately to get a taxi.

It sounds so simple, right?

The first step was to prove to the taxi driver that the railway station actually existed. He seemed very concerned that we would get lost and that I would be dissapointed. He was finally convinced to start the journey when I showed him a YouTube video of the station from over ten years ago!
After a long detour of Amman and quite a jolly conversation with the friendly taxi driver, I arrived outside two large iron gates.

I walked through the gateway and I was greeted by a guard; I spoke to him in arabic and could not help but notice the puzzled expression on his face.

The guard’s puzzled expression only continued to grow when I started to talk about my interest in the Hijaz railway. I began to wonder if I was in the right place.
After just under one minute I found myself booked in for a free VIP guided tour of the compound. My guide Musa was lovely and took it upon himself to explain everything in Arabic, as I apparently needed to work on my pronunciation.

“If you are studying Arabic in Jordan then I will not let you speak a word of English!”

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I followed him into a little room filled with old faded documents. There were train tickets, timetables, and route plans.
Musa was faithful in explaining every detail.

I can’t describe how it felt to hold different faded, brown tickets from the late 1800s between my fingers. The room was filled to the brim with information, pictures, articles and even an old suit that a conductor would have worn in the early 1900s. As you can imagine, I stayed in that room for a while.

After some time Musa looked at me in quite a curious manner and asked me if I was hungry.
Before I could answer I was ushered into a room of over fifteen men. There were train drivers, policemen, mechanics and even a cleaner or two. I stuck out like a sore thumb!

I was invited to sit in quite literally the center of the room and as I did I became fully aware of the unusual nature of this situation.
I was questioned for a while about everything, after all it is not every day that a strange visitor joins the staff for their lunch hour.

The questioning lasted for just over half an hour and I became so aware of everyone’s kindness and generosity.

Within a short time we were fully engaged in a lovely conversation that covered quite a lot of subjects. We spoke about marriage and about Islam. We spoke about career choices and the Arabic Language. I had already explained to them that I was a languages student; after some discussion they advised me to begin a Masters degree in engineering – I did not have the heart to tell them how terrible my science qualifications were, so I continued to smile awkwardly.

At one point, I found myself giving a grammar lesson under the request of two train drivers. A few members of staff were taking notes on scraps of paper.
When lunch drew to a close, I was invited to meet each of the train drivers in person. Each one gave me a firm handshake and a warm welcome. I was allowed to explore the various carriages and stand in the train driver’s spot – the whole experience was fascinating!

One of the sweetest memories from the day was hearing my name called from a distance, I could only just hear it over the booming engine sounds.

“Goodbye Sarah, study hard for your exams!” a train driver called as the big steam train was pulling out of Amman.

Everyone began to return to work and I also knew that I had to leave.

After saying goodbye to each and every member of staff, I walked outside to call a taxi.

It took thirty miniutes for a taxi to arrive, but somehow it all seemed worth it. I was tired but the day had been so wonderful!
For the final twenty minuites of my outing, I was serenaded home by a very angry taxi driver who was arguing with his son in law over the phone.
By the tone of the driver’s voice, it was very obvious that the driver wanted to curse and swear. However, due to the circumstances, he opted for a slightly more tame approach.
” ibn sarsoora” he screamed at the top of his voice, which translates to “son of a cockroach”.

As we arrived outside my apartment, the taxi driver turned around and apologized to me for shouting. We spoke for a few minutes and he ended our encounter by adding his welcome to those of the thousands of other taxi drivers that I had met along the way.

“Welcome to Jordan and enjoy your time here!”

I don’t think that I shall ever forget the day that I chose to journey to the train station in Amman! If you ever find yourself staying in Amman, I would certainly recommend that you pay the train station a visit.


amman

The Jerusalem Series

The secrets of the wise

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Her heart is for the visitor, the traveler, the new mother and the newlywed. To the world, she is a normal woman, however, I know her secret!

She truly is a special character in her own right. One of a kind. Traditional yet open-minded, thoughtful and deliberate, she has the renowned reputation of welcoming many guests to her home. A conversation with her is guaranteed to be filled with laughter, humor and great wisdom. I have never met someone so willing to share what she has.

The last time that we spoke, she mentioned how happy she felt as she entertained both friends and family. At the time, sixteen of us were gathered in two small rooms.

“I am grateful for all that I have received, so why should I not return the blessing?” she said to me.

“If you can ever do anything Sarah, you must show people, true love, remind them of their own worth in any way that you can!”

These words have stayed with me for quite a time. After all, they are powerful words, spoken by a woman who has known much suffering and pain, spoken by a woman who has had no choice but to be brave and journey through each challenge courageously.

Not many people know of her story and even fewer people know of her life.

Before the night fades and the sun begins to rise in the indigo sky and before the Fajr prayers echo between the city streets – she awakes and begins to prepare breakfast.

No two days are the same, and there is no telling who will come to visit and who will come to stay.

As she glances into the mirror whilst fixing her red, long wavy hair, a lifetime flashes before her eyes. Her lifetime. Her legacy. She remembers the stories: the pain, the challenges, the passion, and survival. As she sweeps her hair behind her ears, she glances over and views the several pictures of her family hung on the wall: her daughters, her sons, her pride and her joy.

The thudding sound of the rusty courtyard door awakes her from her reflection. The cleaner is arriving, humming softly upon entry carrying fresh produce from Baab Al – Amud (the Damascus Gate.) She greets the cleaner and welcomes her.

Click, the Fairuz tape begins to rattle in the player – and the cleaner begins to work and sing. Her strong voice echos throughout the house and out into the courtyard:

خدني ولا تخدني الفرح عالطريق حبك بيحصدني وماعندك رفيق

“Take me, joy is on the way, my love for you consumes me and you don’t have a companion”

And so she works – the meals, the visitors, the preparations for her family. Hours fly by and there is still more to be done. She joins in the cleaning, the sweeping.

After a while, the first neighbor arrives dressed in a suit and shiny black shoes that he has just polished. He is an Eritrean; he works late at night in the city center. Unfortunately, he does not own a television, so every Tuesday he comes to watch the latest news played on the Eritrean channel. He adjusts the channels and she starts to prepare the tea.

Colorful pictures flash before the unlikely pair.

“This is my city, my country. We have hotels there, people can visit..”

A myriad of colors floods the screen. As she listens to the music, she imagines what it would be like to wander through her friend’s distant-sounding homeland.

The kettle begins to sound indicating that the tea is finally ready.

They converse in broken Hebrew and Arabic whilst she pours the steaming tea into two tall clear glasses.

The flickering television continues to reveal the secrets and gems of Eritrea.

The neighbor leaves just before One o’clock, and she continues cleaning. After eating a little food, the maid prepares herself to leave, fixing her hijab across her face. Their eyes meet and they exchange a soft glance of warmth.

“See you tomorrow, Insha’allah”

As the day progresses her family begin to arrive. They come with their friends, their daughters, their sons. Within minutes the house is an array of different languages – Hebrew, Arabic, and some broken English – yes, all are loved here. ALL ARE WELCOMED HERE.

Some of the family stay for a few minutes, some stay for hours.

It’s 7:30pm and I walk up the stairs, three neighbors sit gathered around her. Those gathered smile and laugh together with her, she looks so radiant, so poised.

“Ahlan Sarah, habibti”

The neighbors shuffle to create some room and a chair is pulled up. We talk together in the courtyard whilst sipping our hot Arabic coffee. As my eye wanders, I see a white flower falling from the plant growing on the wall. Jasmine. It sways in the wind, slowly and softly falling in front of her, landing perfectly on her knees. When she sees it she smiles. She clasps the sweet flower in her hand and smells it with closed eyes. As her eyes open she looks at me, with a smile. Grasping the flower, she slowly places it into the corner of my hair. Her eyes are sparkling and she is beaming.

A wise woman once told me she was grateful and how she wanted to repay that blessing by loving others. A wise woman once told me to remind others of their worth. A wise woman once told me to love others unconditionally. The same wise woman has never once seemed unfulfilled. I have never once caught her on a quest to find herself, her identity or her calling – she is already aware of all three. I have learned her secret – counting our blessings does not guarantee us an easy life, however, it does give us the strength to find fulfillment in a world that does not revolve around ourselves. After all, to live is to love.

“If you can ever do anything ________, you must show people, true love, remind them of their own worth in any way that you can!”

البياض نصف الحسن بيت الظالم خراب ولكن بيت المحسن عمار

The house of a tyrant is a ruin but if you are charitable you are rich.



Jerusalem series

Uplifting and Encouraging

Hope, can you hear me?

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I made a mistake today, like yesterday and the day before.

I imagined that I was not lovable.

One thought triggers another thought.

Before I knew what had happened, what I had imagined became a belief.

I am unlovable.

The silent contemplation of my broken soul and the whisper of fear in a dark night’s dream had convinced me.

So I began to fear.

With each night’s painful turn, I summoned a cry with all of my might, in the hope that someone, anyone, would hear me.

And all I saw was a faint silhouette.

A man, perhaps?

A ray of light.

And thus it continued.

Once or twice a rare flicker of light lit up the darkness like a burning flame.

But still, nothing.

There were no answers to my prayers and there was no comfort for my tears.

Only bravery.

BRAVERY.

Call it what you will, it is all that I have.

And faith, the faith to believe that as impossible as the situation would seem…

I am lovable.

We are lovable.

You are lovable.

And for the brave soul that is holding on for the answer that they so desperately need.

You really are loveable. 

My comfort in my suffering is this: Your promise preserves my life. Psalm 119: 50

Uplifting and Encouraging

Listen, even the silence is whispering!

Click here to read more uplifting and encouraging content.

It had been a long month. Come to think of it, it had been a long few months. I leaned against the sea wall and stared out into the distance. The blurry waves were dancing along with the wind. The winter sun had long since hidden himself behind the clouds that touched the surface of the horizon. The sky was a fusion of unsuspecting colours – shades of blue and red which blended into each other like a piece of artwork.

I wish I had been able to appreciate the landscape more, it was beautiful, but my mind was a mess of tangled thoughts.

An empty, lonely, frustrated mess.

I closed my eyes and asked my heart, how would I define myself at this moment?

My heart answered within seconds.

I am pain’s captive, my feelings were the product of a hope that felt too big and a dream that was too easily shattered. I had grown accustomed to the voices of those whom I had loved, and the time had come for them to leave.

Some voices left quickly in the night, like a strong puff of breath onto a flickering flame. Gone in seconds.

Others left over time.

Once they had left it was necessary to gather the moments and the stories – all that had been shared and convert them into memories to be stored away for a rare reminiscent occasion, such as today.

The first few stars were shining in the sky.

I missed the old me, the girl who danced in the rain laughing and singing. I missed the girl who had the energy to soar through her dreams. I missed the girl who always knew the words to say. The same girl who drew big smiling faces on the steamed-up windows of cars. She seemed like a distant memory, one never to return.

I lifted up my head and watched the birds, flying in unison, shooting into the distance. Like some sort of orchestra, the waves lept higher into the sky and crashed down into the water beneath them with a magnificent voice. More stars were starting to appear. The moonlit up the sky like a flame and it’s shattered reflection danced across the water’s surface.

Within a second or two, a shooting star swept the sky.

I swear it was for me!

Everyone knows how much I love the stars.

Pain is a captor, it’s deadly grasp is very real. It convinces you that you are alone, that you were never loved and that you never will be loved. It snarls and tells you that you were an accident, a mistake and that what you are feeling is normal. It tells you that every beautiful thing you thought you had – every gift, skill and life lesson was and still is worthless. Pain says yes to hate and revenge and tells you how to fire the weapon. Pain knows what it needs to grow.

I don’t know where I am in the course of my life and I don’t know what will happen in a few days. But I do know that pain is an antonym of peace. I know that pain is often a response of the harsh realities of life, a natural response that needs to heal. Pain can lead to fear of the unknown future – the one that was not hoped for. I know that pain can often lead to anger, the antonym of love.

And I know that there is no fear in love.

Love is something pure, something often undeserved. Like it’s antonym anger, love is a choice. Love is stronger when it addresses the truth. Love chooses to protect, it chooses to trust, it constantly hopes. Love is not inward-looking, but it looks outward and pushes onwards towards a higher purpose and greater glory.

Pain is real, hope is often very distant, trust requires insecurity and waiting takes time. Everything needs time to grow. Take hold of your memories, acknowledge the losses, record each triumph and count every blessing.

Spring is coming.

I will praise the Lord no matter what happens. I will constantly speak of his glories and grace, I will boast of all his kindness to me. Let all who are discouraged take heart.  Let us praise the Lord together and exalt his name. (Psalm 34)