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Report from Lori Jo Marlia-Larsen, CNM

“We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience.” Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

Recently our family had the great fortune of spending some time in Istanbul, Turkey and in Northern Iraq (Kurdistan). Neither my son (12) nor my daughter (6) had previously spent time in that region of the world which made the trip all the more exciting. Unlike any of our previous service trips, I made the executive decision that as a family we would spend the first week away engaged in pure, unadulterated relaxation and fun with our kids in Istanbul (which in my humble opinion is the perfect entrance into the Middle East). Many friends and family here in the U.S. seemed puzzled that I would take

my children to the Middle East for their summer vacation as though I were intentionally putting them in a path or harm or danger. This is an understandable perspective for anyone whose only access to that region is via the U.S. media and Hollywood films. It must have sounded strange when my answer to their concerns went something like, “We are going to Iraq so my children can be exposed to and experience a depth of hospitality, generosity and resilience of which I have found nowhere else in the world.”

In short, the quick trip served multiple purposes beyond learning some manners and etiquette. To my great joy, every single day and every event surpassed any expectations held by my husband or I for our three weeks abroad together as a family.

“Know Thyself” As parents, Brian and I aim to help our children understand their true identity and this trip was purposed to help them on their journey of self discovery.

As an individual it has taken me nearly 4 decades to finally settle into the unshakeable truth of my true identity - God’s Beloved...“Lori Jo, the one God loves”. It is from this place of awe and gratitude and deep appreciation that I presently experience living and therefore from which I find myself parenting. Consistently operating from a place of absolute assuredness that the Creator of the Universe is crazy in love with me AND YOU just for being us...has proved challenging over the years in light of the incessant, ubiquitous messages to the absolute contrary from teachers, billboards, songs, movies, literature, the fashion industry, social media and even well meaning friends and family. I am committed to living out my often messy discovery of being God’s Beloved in front of my children and have great hope that their own journey to “knowing thyself” will conclude with this same discovery. My hope is that they too will crack the code and recognize their own Beloved-ness despite the myriad of messages which aim to shame and minimize their value and worth, that try to convince them to live small, quiet and complacent lives. 

 “Greatness is determined by service”

I imagine our children rolling their eyes whenever the topic of their mommy having helped build a “women’s center” in Iraq comes up. Although my time in Iraq was absolutely life altering for me, the stories I hold from 2003-2004 took place before they became part of our story and hold no real significance for them.  Needless to say, I have felt a growing urgency for my children to know and experience the people and culture of northern Iraq firsthand, to see and meet people the world simply labels “refugees” or “displaced”, “muslim”, even “arab”. I have longed for them to feel and touch the Women’s Center their mom help design and build, to experience the incredible hospitality, generosity, sights, sounds and tastes lavishly poured out by my Kurdish friends.

I also have desired that my children experience first hand the peace-filled exhilaration one feels when they step into the flow of “loving thy neighbor”-- regardless of whether it seems “safe and sane” to those who may or may not themselves ever have the courage to enter the flow themselves.

The trip was orchestrated so that our children were engaged in direct service with the Kurdish and Yazidi men, women and children alongside of us, observing our own interactions at the same time.  Our son, Cielo, collaborated with my husband in putting on a soccer camp for over 30 young “refugee” boys. The two of them share a love for

soccer and this was the most obvious way I could think of to help Cielo engage with his father in service to others in a way that allowed him to offer his skills and experience while playing and enjoying life with young boys who off the field are experiencing a drastically different reality than his. (Most every boy in the camp has lived in a tent or shelter for over 5 years due to persecution by ISIS against the Yazidi people. The loss and sorrow held by these boys is beyond what our family can comprehend!)

Mia Jo bore witness to most every interaction, hug, smile, conversation that I had during our time in Iraq. She was well loved on by women in full burqas, scarves, pants, even skirts and short sleeve shirts. Yes, she also played with children her age, and cartwheeled and back-bended her way into the hearts of many but to my great pleasure, she was present at each occasion I had to teach, speak and engage with women and girls. Together we taught nurse midwives and physicians the Helping

Mothers Survive course within the walls of the very maternity hospital where 15 years prior I was inspired to become a midwife. Together, she and I offered private seminars for women where she overheard discussions around gynecological issues/problems, menstruation, pregnancy, menopause and any other topics the women brought up. We also shared the honor of speaking to the largest women’s union in the region together. Mia had the very important job of handing out Dagoba (made in Ashland!) chocolate to participants who had the courage to ask and answer questions and engage in dialogue. On one occasion we were asked to speak with “young and gifted” youth aged 15-18 yrs old. I retold the story of how the very building they were sitting in came to be, how it took a dream, a spirit of belief, courage, willingness, tenacity and going beyond my original commitment and comfort zone to get the job done. I sowed into them my own belief that they can accomplish even greater things and that I believed the benevolent God of the Universe helped make the Women’s Center happen in order to bless them and their community because...They are the Beloved! Mia listened as the group and I engaged in dialogue around setting goals, perspectives, cultural changes at hand and their hopes for the future.

It was apparent to me that the women, some of whom were mothers of young girls,

with whom we interacted appreciated seeing that I was intentional about involving my young daughter, that even at 6 years old, she had great value, a place at the table and yes, was invited into the “sisterhood”. My hope is that our relationship lived out in front of these beautiful women will somehow influence and flavor how they view and engage the younger generation of girls within their midst.

"Be Excellent and Do the Right Thing"

I feel the clock ticking and time running out. Before I know it both my kids will be out doing their own thing, following their “calling”, carving their path and influencing others. Therefore exposing them to the part of the Middle East that I know and to the real life situation of a handful of the world’s 68.5 million displaced/refugee/asylum seekers is of utmost importance to me. With first hand experience and knowledge of the Kurdish people, people of the Middle East, people who follow Islam, my hope is that our children will become better and braver advocates for others, that they will chose to engage and influence those who seek to vilify people of that region (or anyone for that matter). We are seeking to do the right thing with our kids, to serve others wholeheartedly whether they live across the street or across the world. I have and will make countless mistakes as a parent, a fact of which myself and my children are well aware! What I hope is that together as a family, in spite of our shortcomings and despite our less than brilliant moments - that we will seek to hold each other accountable to:

do the right thing always, approach everything we do with excellence, never give up on LIVING each day fully

~ Lori Jo Marlia-Larsen, CNM *Thank you to the Jim Hulse and the Perinatal Rescue Network for allowing me to be trained in Helping Mothers Survive and Helping Babies Breath. Immense gratitude to the Board for your generosity of Spirit in the form of MamaNatalie and NeoNatalie mannequin donations. *Thank you Kay Sandburg of Global Force for Healing - You are loved! *Thank you Jacqueline and Erin for the weekend course in Midwifery in the Era of Climate Change - May you continue to do the right thing with excellence!  *Thank you Kim McQuoid for helping to arrange for our weekend with Jacqueline and Erin at La Clinica’s Family and Women’s Health Center ~ Keep Shining!


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