Better Together

Community Splenda

We say we want community – then retreat onto the couch with Netflix programmed into the remote.

We spend 90 minutes on Facebook and call it “being social.”

We comment on social media, in real time, on the TV show or the game or the State of the Union address, and feel like we’ve engaged in a discussion – but all we’ve usually done is pass notes in an echo chamber. We certainly haven’t really talked.

It’s easier to elevate your own tribe up onto the pedestal and live in the illusion that the only family that really counts is your own.

It’s easier to jump on the hamster wheel known as the American Dream, and spin your soul and your days in the pursuit of busyness and material success….the twin demon gods of our culture.

Oh let’s be real: some hamster wheels are constructed by the church, which is too often only too happy for its members to spin their souls and days in pursuit of church agendas and calendars and good works and…well, budgets. (Idolatry takes many forms.)

Hunker in your bunker  

I understand some of the personal reasons for the isolation and retreat:

  • social anxiety (an all-too-real thing)
  • introverts drained from a day in an extrovert environment
  • physical limitations
  • busyness. Oh dear God so much busyness. I met a mom at the park last week who has three children; between the three of them they’re involved in a DOZEN after-school/extra-curricular activities. The mom freely admitted – it was more of a boast, actually – that they live in the minivan and she’s basically their chauffeur. They probably have a Google calendar to rival Bill Gates’. So, when these harried, hurried folks get home in the evening, they just collapse. Well. Yeah.
  • special needs of children or aging parents
  • exhaustion from parenting/job/school
  • lack of family support (lack of a spouse, lack of a supportive one, or presence of a controlling one)

There are other, cultural reasons for the isolation.

  • People just don’t know how to be together, because they’ve grown up, and live, in front of screens.
  • We don’t know how to agreeably disagree.
  • We’re increasingly from different backgrounds, and therefore don’t have a common base of values, experiences, expectations or even manners.
  • We don’t know how to deal with conflict or even “the different.”
  • We’re afraid of getting caught up in somebody else’s “mess” or neediness, that we can’t fix, or that would require sacrifice of us.

Besides, everybody else is staying at home.

So we stay home, too.

Never mind that you never know where you’ll meet your next best friend.

I can tell you this: you won’t meet her shopping at Amazon.

Gather the herd…if you have one

The problem is, when – not if – the crisis comes, we have almost no herd to form protective ranks around us.

Y’all. Even lions don’t go it alone.

And we need each other so desperately. One of the great myths of American individualism is that you don’t have to need anybody else. We pretend we’re self-made and self-sufficient and self-sustaining, but the more we press into those places the lonelier it actually gets. To quiet the simmering loneliness, we fill our calendars: if we run fast enough, maybe we can outrun the old aches and the new ones too.

Then the crises hit. Sometimes they come in waves. Then who gathers around us? Who do we call when we face:

  • the pink slip
  • the diagnosis
  • the failing parent(s)
  • the rebellious child(ren)
  • the betrayal
  • the severe blow to faith (from all kinds of quarters)
  • the medical bill

We need that community to listen to the tears and furies and worries. To remind us of God’s goodness even as they sit with us in sackcloth. To send encouraging texts and funny memes and flowers. To offer the wisdom of experience, and the comfort of hard-won empathy. To take care of the baby, do the laundry, shuttle the kids to practice, pay for the car repair and the therapy, bring us take-out, connect us with their mechanics and attorneys and specialists.

Community cannot be found  

There are times when we can’t build community, it’s too sadly true. (Crisis, or especially demanding seasons of life.) This is all the more reason to build it in the other times. Just as you study before the test, just as you save money before the plumbing catastrophe, just as you rehearse before the interview or the stage.

But a lot of the time, I think we just don’t build it. Because it’s too much stinking work.

We don’t live in villages. We don’t run into each other. We’re not enduring the same crisis together.

In the suburbs, we live in single-family homes with closed garage doors and empty sidewalks and cars to get us everywhere we need to go. Or we live in an apartment that functions with as much isolation as a single-family home.

In the cities we sit at bus stops and on subways and in the back seats of Ubers with our big fat “don’t talk to me” headphones on, glued to four-inch screens.

And in the countryside – well, at least we talk to the livestock and pets, so we have the decided advantage of good listeners. But we’re literally geographically removed from others.

So where are we going to find community?

Answer: We’re not.

We’re not going to find it. It’s not out there.

It’s not lurking at the cool coffee shop. It’s not strolling the streets of Disney World. It’s not in a special room at the church building. It’s not the luxury of the childless or empty nesters or retired or academics. Community isn’t in the dormitory, the corner office, or the gated neighborhood.

Community isn’t found.

It’s made.

And like all good things, especially homemade things, it is hard work.

Also like all good things, it has an enemy. He comes in the form of…well, see the list above of reasons we isolate.

We behave as though our Good Shepherd is going to bring green pasture to our back yard like squares of sod, drop it in, water it, protect it from the mean dogs, and lead us oh so gingerly out the back steps to partake.

Hello. No.

Jesus leads us to still waters and to green pastures, but we got to do some walking!

Want community?

Make it.

  • Make the phone call. Call to chat, to commiserate, to seek and to give counsel, to give cheer & courage. (Yes, texting can count.)
  • Do the invite. Don’t wait for it to come to you!
  • Have the coffee or the dinner or the tea.
  • Go on the walk.
  • Go see the movie.
  • Hang out at the park.
  • Go bike riding together. (Do a mud run, if that’s your kind of thing!)
  • Go camping together.
  • Go hear a mutual friend’s band.
  • Play the board games.
  • Take the meal over. Or just the cookies.
  • Read the books together.
  • Go to your friends’ kids’ things. Take your kids.
  • Drop the things that drain you!! For Pete’s sake, life is too damn short to shuttle from one dreary, unnecessary obligation to another.
  • Make the margin. Guard it jealously, zealously, as if your life depended on it. Because when the crisis comes, you will need the community you built in those margins.

All I know is this: I long for meaningful community. Not a week goes by that I don’t internally lament the lack of it in my own life. I want it for my family, for my friends, for my church family, for all the corners of my world, near and far.

As a follower of Jesus, I will try to do my part to build it. Sometimes I’ll retreat, too – sometimes because it’s what my soul truly needs, sometimes because it’s just easier to do what everybody else is doing, and besides, there are always more books to read and shows to binge watch. But I hope I’ll do all my part.

It’s just – I can’t do it alone. Community takes more than one. Join me? For real?

community

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Published in: on March 1, 2018 at 1:57 am  Comments (1)  

I was a refugee

I was a refugee.

I did not know the language of Love, the culture of heaven. I was not a citizen of the Kingdom, neither natural-born nor adopted. I was certainly not assimilated. I brought nothing, came with, at best, a tattered piece of luggage with ill-fitting hand-me-downs.

I, too, needed my hand held at every step of the journey to Belonging.

I still do.

Someone else bought my ticket to get here. He paid with his life, while I played in the sand, as careless as I was oblivious. I owe Him, beyond any earthly currency. I owe Him everything – and it is a happy debt to pay: love, gratitude, obedience, devotion, “yes.”

I was met at the Arrivals Gate by a host of rejoicing angels. I am quietly cheered each day by a great cloud of witnesses.

When I arrived in this Kingdom, I had some ideas of what it would be like, what I would do and not do, how easy or how hard it would be to adjust. I knew a few phrases of the language, I’d seen the TV shows, I’d heard rumors from others who went before.

But I knew so little, it turned out. The language of Love was way harder than I’d imagined. The culture turned out to be upside-down from every other culture in the world. Years in, I still need an Interpreter.

So before I extend my citizenship card proudly, look down upon those who weren’t born here, who came here with nothing and now live well on the benefits – let me remember, I came the same way.

I’m a sinner, like the rest of the world, as outcast as Eve herself on the day of banishment.

The only reason I’m a citizen now is the Father invited me here, paid my way (through his Son), and holds my foolish hands (through his Spirit) every. single. day.

I can never forget – without him, I’m a doomed wanderer, a helpless woman with no good country.

I got no room to gloat.

My job is to be as kind to the rest of the refugees as Jesus was to me. To love as unconditionally as he does. To welcome, to interpret, to teach, to serve, to graft into the Kingdom as he did me.

My job is to declare the praises of him who called me out of the state of darkness, into his wonderful light. My job is to declare the year of the Lord’s favor to those on the margins, where I, too, once lived – a sinking boat from which I was rescued.

“Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God” – 1 Peter 2:10.

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Published in: on January 22, 2018 at 3:36 am  Leave a Comment  

“The Lord gives, & the Lord takes away”

December. 2006.

The winter sun had already dipped behind the mountains, pulled down by the cold Pacific water. The only light in the room was the artificial glow of the laptop computer, frozen at a scene from the movie “Far From Heaven,” which I had been watching while the sun fell down in the December sky. When the phone rang I knew who it was, and I got up to close the blinds as I answered it.

Dr. W. was kind and warm and her sympathy was real, but the lab work was irrefutable. I laid the phone in its base and sat unmoving on the couch. Stared at the still scene from the movie, glimmering off my laptop. I closed the laptop without closing the program, and sat on the floor on my knees, waiting for the wave. And it came. I began crying. Of course I began crying. What else would I do? This child I had longed for, prayed for, begged for, pleaded for, for 5 years, had barely settled into reality into my brain, and now it was gone.

Gone. Never even existed or known to the world, except for the half-dozen people we’d told.

The waves came faster, and I was no longer on my knees, I was fully face down, nose pressed into the carpet, shoulders shaking, open palms beating the floor.

And I begin to say, out loud, through racking sobs, over and over and over and over again, “The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away, blessed be the name of the Lord.” Over and over and over. Probably 300 times.

I didn’t know what I was saying. Certainly had not planned on it. And certainly if someone had been sitting with me and offered that scripture, they would have been shown the door. But it came to my mind unbidden. And I found there were no other words. “The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away, blessed be the name of the Lord.”

Did I mean it? I cannot say. All I knew was that they were the only right words to say. What could my heart do except cry out in pain and loss and grief? And what could my lips do but call to mind the response of the man who lost absolutely everything, & lost it with the blessing of the Almighty? (And we know blessing is just another word for permission.) “The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away, blessed be the name of the Lord.”

Over and over and over again. The words rising and falling, my lips moving while my heart raged unattached. Over and over and over again. Until eventually the crying subsided and I only whispered the words. And yet, and yet… “The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away, blessed be the name of the Lord.”

Dimly, I recalled my father’s words. A few brave honest souls had asked him, after he was disabled for the rest of his life from a car accident at age 44, if he harbored any resentment or anger against God. His response? “God is God, I am just a man.” There was no bitterness or resignation or resentment in his voice, his body language, or his life and actions. There was no fatalism, no stoic resignation to the harshness of life. There wasn’t even a sense that he was putting himself down. He was simply recognizing that God is God, and Gary was not.

Now we can soften the blow of what I went through with that miscarriage. We can talk about how my body was doing what was best for her and for the child. We can talk about it being purely physiological. Or we can talk about how we just live in a sinful world, with the sinful nature, with sinfulness all around us. And sure, those things have truth to them.

But the equal yet raw, rough, and jagged truth is that the Lord gives, and the Lord takes away, and the name of the Lord is to be praised.

The sharp truth is that we do not understand God.

And sometimes, far more often than we would like to admit, he does things that seem just downright wrong to us. He does hard things. He says hard things.

And we turn away, or we smooth the rough edges of the hard things. We gasp and grasp, frantic for the Redemptions and the Happy Endings.

But valleys are made for walking through, with one Trusted Companion. They are not made for living in, or rocketing out of with self-propellant.

He is God. And we are not. And we can rant and rave and rail and rage against this truth, but it is as unshakable as the Cornerstone on which we build our faith. He is God. Shockingly, we are not.

Not only that, but sometimes he does terrible things in our lives. Are we so wise that we can recognize which difficulties are from our enemy’s hands, which are of our own making, and which are from the Lord himself? Can we even admit that he sends them? Though the Bible says so, repeatedly, we resist this thought.

Can we say, as Job did, “The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away, blessed be the name of the Lord”?

I did, that one time anyway. And nothing miraculous happened. I calmed down, but whether that was because the Lord’s spirit of peace soothed my soul, or because I had spent myself of all the sobs for that moment, I don’t know. I know I wept again the next day, and the next, and I weep every time I think of that afternoon, every time I think of that child.

All I know is those were the only right words to say. And so I said them. Over and over and over and over again.

Because they are true. The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away, blessed be the name of the Lord.

He is God, and I am not. And whatever he does, whatever I may think of it, he is right, he is just, he is good, he is Holy.

He is Other than me.

strawberry point I

 

Published in: on January 1, 2018 at 11:17 pm  Comments (1)  

Dressember

The gist of this:

Dressember is an awareness-raising and fund-raising campaign that happens each December through the Dressember organization. Individuals, or teams, pledge to wear a dress (or a tie) every day in December, to raise public awareness of modern-day slavery, and to raise funds to combat it. Funds go primarily to International Justice Mission, an outstanding and internationally-recognized organization devoted to fighting injustice and eradicating poverty and slavery worldwide.

My goal is to raise $500 by December 31. This money goes to the modern-day abolitionist movement – can you believe such a thing is even necessary? But it is, and is desperately needed.

Now, anyone who knows me knows I am the last person to care for anything fashion-related. Even I think my wardrobe is boring (but that’s the way I want it – topic of another post, another time). In fact, I own precisely three long-sleeve dresses, not enough to go even a week without repeating them, much less a month.

Nonetheless, here’s why I’m participating in Dressember:

  • Because I’m sick and tired of reading about slavery and praying about slavery and not doing anything material to fight it. As Steve Trevor said to Diana (aka Wonder Woman), “My father told me once, ‘If you see something wrong happening in the world, you can either do nothing, or you can do something.’ And I already tried nothing.”
  • Because there are between 27 and 30 million slaves in the world today. That’s more than twice the total number of Africans enslaved in 400 years of the trans-Atlantic slave trade. And it’s between 27 and 30 million more than is acceptable. Am I right?? Humans are Not For Sale.
  • Because “Whoever shuts their ears to the cries of the poor will also cry out and not be answered” – Proverbs 21:13. I will not close my ears, shut my eyes, turn away, and pretend that because my own little world is okay everything is okay.
  • Because I read the stories in the news from my own backyard – sex trafficking rings that catch minors in their snares. Yes, here in America, yes, here in South Carolina. If we open our eyes and look just a tiny bit closer, we will see The Slave Next Door.
  • Because millions around the world get no choice in what their day entails, much less any choice in what they wear. For one measly month I get one teeny tiny taste -almost a mockery – of a limit to my freedom: every time I leave my house, I’m wearing a dress. It’s a First World (minority world) problem, and already, 13 days in, I’m tired of wearing the same five things. I call this a sacrifice? Give me a break. I. Cannot. Fathom.

Why am I participating in Dressember? For the freedom of people like:

  • Maiamma & Shushil, a husband and wife rescued from slavery at a brick factory near Bangalore, India. The “better job” they’d been promised turned out to include abduction, regular beatings, starvation, sadistic torture, forced labor, and gang rapes. All at a temple construction site.
  • Maya, traveling from her brother’s home back to her parents’, in West Bengal, India, who met a familiar older couple who asked her to help them run an errand. Maya was tricked and turned over to a “forced prostitution” ring – a year of beatings & rapes before IJM and local trusted authorities were able to rescue her.
  • Ruth, who arrived in Washington, D.C., from West Africa, at age 52, speaking no English, but promised a car and house in return for working as a housekeeper and nanny for a man who worked at the World Bank. Instead she got 24/7 duties, beatings, no pay, isolation, terror, and a wrongful stint in a mental institution arranged by her “owners.” She was finally rescued, but returned to Africa traumatized and penniless, having known nothing of America but abuse.
  • The thousands of tomato pickers in Immokalee, Florida, toiling in sun-burned tomato fields for 12 or 13 hours a day, averaging $7,000-10,000 per year for their trouble. With no benefits of any sort – no overtime, no health care, no insurance, no guarantee of work.

I could go on and on but my eyes are glazing already and my heart gets desensitized after just a few minutes of this. Does yours?

We care, but it hurts too much to care too much. It’s fatigue-inducing. The issues are so gargantuan, so overwhelming and so “too much,” and we sense whatever we do will hardly make a dent, so we do nothing.

I get it. Most days, I’m there too.

But praise be to Jesus he is not this way toward us. He is the God who sees, who cares, who came, who sacrificed, who loves fiercely, who rescues and redeems and restores even as his own heart breaks.

And so I have to care even though the knowledge of these things breaks my heart. I don’t have to give over my whole life and every waking moment to this just cause – but I do have to care.

So I wear a dress for the next 17 days, and ask my friends and family and acquaintances to join me in keeping our eyes and ears open, our hearts soft, our wallets generous.

“If you’re not using your comfort, position, influence, and privilege to advocate for those who have less of those things – you’re wasting them.” – John Pavlovitz

Blessed, in order to bless.

Give here: https://support.dressemberfoundation.org/fundraiser/amanda-phifer

* Statistics and stories from Not For Sale, The Slave Next Door, & The Locust Effect

** Related sites:

dressember

Published in: on December 14, 2017 at 6:02 pm  Leave a Comment  

Apple pie & Persian music – Thanksgiving 2017

9 a.m. – 2 p.m.: I washed pots, pans, mixing bowls, beaters. I rinsed out the “used twice a year” crystal goblets. I swept the dining room, and set the table with a totally cheap, totally resourceful, totally appealing centerpiece: yellow pumpkin poked with plastic jewels, on a brown plaid cloth napkin, fall leaves scattered around it and multicolored popcorn kernels drizzled over it all. I cleaned the hall/guest bathroom, gathered all the children’s toys from the front of the house and flung them unceremoniously into their bedrooms, cleared off the school table, lit the scented candles in the living room and breakfast room, folded the throws on the couches.

And all the while I thought about the family of four Iranian refugees coming over for Thanksgiving dinner.20171123_152214_1511553933045_resized

Would they be intimidated? They’d spent I knew not how long in a refugee camp, under circumstances I knew absolutely nothing about except that they were dire enough they wanted to escape to “the Great Satan,” as the Iranian propaganda machine still refers to the United States.

Or for all I knew they came from wealth – an Iranian home with Persian rugs on every stone floor, marble top tables and fine china and crystal, house servants moving through quietly to maintain their peaceful home.

Either way, my American Southern brick ranch home with its “eclectic” style (that’s what my generous friends call it) would be different. Would they feel comfortable?

Would they balk at the traditional meal spread before them buffet style? Would everything look so foreign and confusing, smell so strange, that they would take a spoonful only to be polite? What could I make that might look familiar (without a trip to the grocery store)? (The tomato & mozzarella salad was probably as close as I got.)

Most of all, what would we talk about? How would we talk? Only one of them spoke marginally good English. Would it be uncomfortably quiet? Would we spend the evening trying to get Google translate to work? Would it be so awkward I’d take them home right after dinner?

So I prayed while I sliced celery and tomatoes and apples and pears. “Jesus make this evening a blessing for us and for them.”

Prayed while I chopped onions and water chestnuts and walnuts and cranberries. “Please give us things to talk about and help that one daughter have better English than I think.”

Prayed while I rolled balls of fresh mozzarella and rolled out pie dough and biscuit dough. “Help us help them feel comfortable. Let them leave feeling like they were welcomed like family.”

Prayed while I boiled bags of frozen lima beans, corn, & peas, then boiled a pound of macaroni. “Please let this smoked turkey actually taste good!” (My mother bought it from my nephew as a fund-raiser, so the meat was an unknown entity this year.)

Prayed while I squeezed lemons for fresh lemonade, and then tea bags for iced tea. “Let them feel at ease in this house, with my family, around our table.”

And before I knew it these women I barely knew, from a culture almost entirely different from mine in deep, subconscious ways, were sitting at my breakfast table.

Then the magic happened.

Phase 1: First, one of the girls offered to help me make the biscuits, and of course I said yes. Everyone needs to be needed, everyone wants to be involved, not just waited upon, and anyway I was glad for the help after five hours of solo cooking already.

So we’re at the counter whisking eggs and cream, kneading cheddar dill biscuit dough on the floured counter, getting the baking sheets prepped, using some English and a lot of gestures and body language. Her mother and sister are at the table with crayons, decorating the “coloring paper Thanksgiving tablecloth” I’d wisely spent $2 on at Wal-Mart.

We’re invoking the two basic ingredients of human fellowship: working side by side, and preparing a meal.

And then suddenly my Iranian friend’s face lights up and she says, “Persian music!”

Phase 2: Unprompted, my brother Seth had found a Persian music station on YouTube (God bless the internet, please and thank you) and was playing it on his phone. (Aside: this brother is in his element around people of other cultures.)

And just like that, the tone of the whole evening was set. The Persian music opened the door to smiles, ease, conversation, laughter. It was the blanket of comfort upon the shared meal.

Dinner with plenty of conversation and laughing (especially at our attempts at Farsi). Dessert with hot tea and coffee. Sitting around the firepit on the back deck for an hour, listening to Persian, then Afghan, then Saudi Arabian music. (Second aside: I like those genres – very cool!)

I still don’t really know their refugee story, nor do I need to, nor do they owe it to me. (Third aside: I won’t be posting a photo, because they expressed “security concerns” – and this makes me by turns angry and sad. What a world.)

Here’s what I know: cooking, food, music, a warm fire, curiosity, kindness, a willingness to try other languages and other ways of thinking, adjusting my speech for someone else – all these things stew and mix and combust and settle into the best kind of hospitality you could have at any table. The magic of kindness goes such a long way.

“Your house is warm,” said my friend as we shivered in the cold car on the way back to their apartment.

Oh, I hope so. I sure hope so.

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Published in: on November 24, 2017 at 8:15 pm  Leave a Comment  

The burning desire

“But if I say, ‘I will not mention his word or speak anymore in his name,’ his word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot.” – Jeremiah 20:9

 “‘For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’” – Matthew 25:35-36

This desire in my soul is eating me up. It pulls at the muscles in my stomach, and roils there aching to be filled. It swims through my brain, bringing words, stories, statistics, images coursing there like schools of thoughts with fins. It taps me on the shoulder every week when I sing in church on Sunday morning, sing in my room on a weeknight, sing in my car on the interstate. It washes over my spirit as surely as streams from the shower head. It shakes me by the shoulders when I read the news.

It is the call of the Almighty on this little light of mine.

And I am straining at the gate with my eagerness to say yes. Urgency is a magnet in my gut pulled toward the North of the call.

“Make a material difference in the life of someone in the shadows.”

Iv’e been restless for years, but the past six months have intensified this “holy discontent” (as author Bill Hybels calls it) to a breaking point.

I’m not circumstantially free to pursue this call full-time, but I will do what I can, where I can.

So this week I pulled myself out of all my church volunteer roles and reached out to a friend who works with a local refugee resettlement agency. I’ve been volunteering there myself, minimally, for a few months, and even the drudge work of filing papers in the office provides at least a tiny scratch for this itch.

But it’s time for more. And since my volunteer hours are limited (I’m a stay-at-homeschool Mom), they have to count.

Playing keyboard in the band at church is awesome, and needed, and a ministry. Writing for the church curriculum writing team is awesome, and needed, and a ministry. I’m good at those things, and more or less well trained for them, and thoroughly enjoy them.

But they’re done. At least for this season (and probably quite a while).

This week I start mentoring a refugee woman from the Congo (which will be interesting since she speaks very little English and I speak even less Swahili!). I’m also looking at becoming an English conversation partner with another refugee.

The adjustment to the bizarre culture that is the Southern American suburbs can be a rocky road, especially coming out of living in a refugee camp for usually 4+ years, and who knows what was seen or experienced there, much less the conditions that led to their leaving their home.

Or maybe I’ll teach a cultural orientation class to some new refugees who are clueless about how to navigate the public school system, or the bus system (especially in this mass transit unfriendly city), or Wal-Mart, or cultural issues of personal space, time orientation, hygiene, child-rearing, or how to relate to authority or elders.

I know all the appropriate clichés about blooming where you’re planted, and concentric circles of influence you can’t even see rippling out from your life, and how raising up the next generation might just be how you change the world. I get it. It’s all good. I don’t discount or downplay any of those truths.

But right now, for me, it simply isn’t enough.

I’m viscerally, palpably, gut-wrenchingly bursting to do more. It is my holy discontent, my sanctified dissatisfaction.

I can’t read Not for Sale or The Slave Next Door or When Helping Hurts or Toxic Charity and not do something active.

I can’t read the news, get outraged or heartbroken for five minutes, and then go about my comfortable suburban life as if the sale at Kohl’s is actually worth getting psyched about.

I can’t read the blogs and the magazines and the online tidbits, the letters home from missionary friends, the memes and statistics and charts, and not do something active.

I can’t be satisfied with a “slacktivist” response – hitting “like” or changing my dumb Facebook profile picture or even participating in some convenient, easy, enlightened consumerism (“Buy this $30 t-shirt to show your support for sexual assault survivors!”).

It’s not enough to pray, though I pray every day for the issues that burn me and I 100% acknowledge and believe in the supernatural power of prayer to change the world.

I’m desperate to do more.

I’m dreaming of a life that materially, visibly, truly blesses somebody besides me and mine (and the people like me). Somebody most of the world chooses not to see: the refugee, the immigrant, the bonded, the enslaved, the neglected, the marginalized, the set-aside, the sidelined, those without a voice in the cold halls of power.

I’m also keenly aware this isn’t ultimately about me. This is my Father’s world, beginning to end, glory to agony, and I’m a bit player he’s especially fond of (you know, like everybody else). This is about his will, his dreams, his burning desire to bring those in the shadows into the glorious light of his Kingdom. I just get to play a role.

The Coach is putting me in.

It is the call of the Almighty upon me; it is a fire in my bones: “Make a material difference in the life of someone in the shadows.”

Published in: on August 20, 2017 at 6:35 pm  Leave a Comment  

Post-trip ponderings on Rwanda

I had suspected I’d call Daniel from the Kigali airport to tell him to pack the bags and bring the kids, I wasn’t coming home from Rwanda.

Well, it wasn’t quite like that – after all, there’s no bed and bathroom like your own, so I was ready to be in my own now-too-huge house. And I don’t even know if the Lord is calling me to go back to Rwanda with the team next year – too soon to say.

And it’s not so much that I miss Rwanda, though the weather is infinitely preferable to here (it’s not for no reason Columbia’s nickname is “the armpit of South Carolina”). The country is beautiful, with lovely green rolling hills and banana and coffee trees everywhere you turn. I have heard they have quite a tourist attraction in mountain gorillas, too, but at 700 American dollars per person that wasn’t exactly on our agenda.

Nope, what I miss is the friends I made.20170626_170229

And this seems like a mature thing. There are lovely places all over the world; I’ve been to more than my fair share of them. There are interesting cultures and fascinating wildlife all over the world, too. Rwanda is not the only country with a genocide in its history, nor is it the only country to rise from ashes into beauty. Rwanda is unique in the sense every country is unique. There are things about it that speak to both the evil and the good in every human heart, in every culture, in every society.

So it’s not that I fell in love with Rwanda, though I loved being there.

I fell in love with my new friends. Unlike nation states, cultures, societies, systems, and even geography, people are eternal. It’s the people I keep thinking of when I’m singing to Jesus, unloading my dishwasher, watching my children swim at the pool, drinking Diet Coke, brushing my teeth with water from the tap, sitting by the Congaree River, talking with my friends. I’m thinking of Joseph, and Jacques, and Nimi, and Wellars, and Vestine, and Bosco, and Father Emmanuel, and Manu, and the weathered faces and dancing bodies and broken, eager eyes of the women coffee farmers at Kivu.

John, missions pastor extraordinaire, practically wagging his finger in our faces: “We are going to build relationships. Whatever else we do or don’t do, accomplish or utterly fail at, our goal is always relationship. Expectations are our enemy, flexibility is our friend, and relationship is our goal. Because Jesus brought us into relationship.”

So I guess it was a successful mission trip. I know it was for me, because I have friendships now with Rwandans. I have served them in ways they’ve requested and need; they have served me in ways I could not have foreseen. I taught English writing to some high school students; the teachers and administrators taught me about compassion, hard work, humility, and Rwandan culture. Our team provided a good job for a week to our translators, but Joseph, Jacques, Eric, and Nimi taught us about perseverance, compassion, and how to love Rwandans and be loved by them. Rwandans taught me that community is priceless, that forgiveness is incalculably powerful, that patient work bestows dignity, that interdependence is rich.

Invaluable lessons all.

And you know what? This is what lasts. The transatlantic flight that feels interminable will actually end. The systems of nation states – politics, economics, even culture – they’ll all end, too. Geography, climate, plant and animal life? The earth itself will be reborn, remade.

But Joseph and I are eternal. Manu and Nimi and John are eternal. Scott and Genia and Jacques are eternal. The friendships among us, because we are brothers and sisters in Jesus, those will last forever.

Beyond the borders even of time.

Hallelujah. I might be learning something.20170625_093943

Published in: on July 10, 2017 at 1:31 am  Leave a Comment  

Pre-trip ponderings on Rwanda

“Mrs. Carolyn, can I maybe have that poster?” I gestured at the poster-size map of Africa, each country stamped with the number of Southern Baptist missionaries serving Jesus there.

I’d been eyeing that poster for a couple of weeks at my church’s weekly girls’ missions education class. The church I attended was small & rural & I was almost always the only girl in my class. Heck, I was likely the only girl there on Wednesday night for missions education at all.

So I knew the chances of my getting to take that poster home were pretty good. I left the church and marched proudly home (all the way across the street) with it tucked under one scrawny bare arm, my Prize.

The poster went on the wall of my room. (Confession: it was bordered on one side by magazine cutouts of Duran Duran, on the other by equally cringe-worthy cutouts of George Michael. Can I help it was the 80s??)

And every night, for the better part of two years, I gazed at that map, took in the borders, the exotic-sounding names, the numbers…and prayed. God bless the missionaries. God bless their work. (In those days Southern Baptists still included good stuff like hospitals & schools & orphanages & seminaries.) God bless the people they’re ministering to.

Now, 31 years later, in a small and temporary way, Jesus is sending me as an answer to my prayers.

When I imagine landing in Kigali, Rwanda, walking off the jet way or onto the tarmac, I visualize my heart. It collapses face first on the African ground. It lies there weeping. It is stunned.

Because this journey has been 31 years in the traveling.political-map-of-Rwanda

From 8th grade to middle-age.

From naïve idealism to…well, plain old unvarnished idealism.

I go because I love helping others in the name of Jesus. I go hoping I will serve in the manner of Jesus. I go not as a savior or a superior or an inferior or an expert or even as a leader. I go as a student, holding out the few things I know to some teachers in a remote, electricity-free school, and saying to them, “Would you like to hear a native English speaker? Can we talk? Can we teach one another?”

I go already weeping at every thought of being there. I suspect Rwanda will utterly ruin me – in every good way. I suspect I’ll come back weeping even more.

But that’s okay. All the Lord does is good.

Tomorrow morning, Lord willing, I get on a plane in the fulfillment of a lifelong dream.

And yes, “Africa” by Toto is on my phone. (Did I mention I’m a child of the 80s? Don’t be jealous.)

Published in: on June 15, 2017 at 9:58 pm  Leave a Comment  

A letter to Not Enough

Dear Not Enough,

I am done with you.

Consider this your “dear John” letter, and don’t hold your breath for any niceties. “It’s not you, it’s me”? Nope, that won’t cross my lips.

Because it is TOTALLY you.

And I am done with you.

You have stolen my Mother’s peace of mind for years – no, decades. You have dripped worry into her mind, like Chinese water torture, night upon night upon night. You have spawned countless evil offspring of fear and doubt and anxiety, and they grip her ankles like shackles. And she has fought you with a calculator held in clinched fists, fought you with her own iron will and inner strength.

And still you have stolen from her.

Not content to torment just one woman in the family, you’ve slithered into me and my sister, your kudzu tendrils of fear and worry encroaching into our plans, into our dreams, into our speech. Like weeds, you have choked our growth – we sprout hope and risk, only to wither from lack of Light.

Well no more.

It stops here, you. It stops here.

I will not fight you with a calculator. I will not fight you with my own strong will, much as that is a good gift from my father. I will not fight you with busyness, as if skittering from one task to another could keep you at bay. I will not fight you with countless hours of pipe dreaming, fantasizing about the if onlys.

In fact, this is the last conversation I ever wish to have with you at all. And no, you get no chance for rebuttal, no chance to rationalize with me or defend yourself.

I am done with you.

I know who I am, and I know Whose I am.

And let me tell you this, for the last freaking time – with the Great I Am in my corner, there is no room for you.

That’s what’s scarce – room for you, Not Enough.

Because here’s how I am fighting you: with Truth. It sets me free, and it wins. (Read the book.)

Here’s the truth I wield against you: My Jesus is always more than enough. There is no scarcity with him, and I am with him.

He is more than enough for my finances. He is more than enough for my loneliness. He is more than enough for my marriage. He is more than enough for my children and every need, every vacuum, every season of their lives. He is more than enough for my dear restless husband. He is more than enough for my little brother, for my wounded friends, for my bitter friends.

He is even more than enough for my Great Desires. In fact, he expands them in ways that make my breath come fast with anticipation, my heartbeat pulse like high tide upon rocks. Oh, yes. He gives me dreams, and he grows them like grass in an Alaska summer.

You tell me there’s never enough.

But you lie.

He tells me he is the Great I Am.

And his words – oh, the Truth of him – they ring out clarion in the night. His promises blur the pretentious finality of the bottom line, smearing those figures until all I see is an expanse of hillsides covered with my Father’s cattle.

His brilliant beauty casts your doom into the shadows, where you belong. He is bright blessed day; you are a dank cellar full of scurrying scavengers.

So I’m done with you, Not Enough. You are a liar from the father of lies.

All around me people submit to you. They build their bank accounts like the rich fool in Jesus’s parable. They hedge every bet and make every contingency plan. They play it safe even when you call them to risk.

They worry. They calculate. They fret. They press their palms into their foreheads and sigh deeply. They quiet their dreams and relegate them to the endearing but naïve realm of childhood.

And I have done it all, too. I thought there wasn’t enough – not enough money, not enough time, not enough energy, not enough intelligence or friends or connections. Most of all, I thought I wasn’t enough.

But I belong to the Great I Am, who is always more than enough.

Pack your bag of tricks, and hit the road, Jack. Take your low-grade fear – it’s just a dog who only looks big because all you show is its shadow. Take your niggling anxieties, those flitting biting insects at my ears. Take your gnawing worries and their destructive little mice teeth. Take your dirty currents of doubt.

I’m done with you.

I’m on Team Great I Am.

And he always wins.

Most assuredly not yours,

Amanda

Published in: on April 5, 2017 at 12:01 am  Leave a Comment  

Bad Biblical Dads

Why were so many of God’s chosen men such terrible fathers?

Abraham, earthly father of three world faiths, banished his firstborn out into the desert with the unwanted concubine (Genesis 21:14).

Isaac, long-awaited & much-favored child of promise, couldn’t tell the difference between his own sons (Genesis 27:21-40).

Jacob, whose very name (Israel) represents God’s chosen nation, totally played favorites with Joseph (Genesis 37:3-4); he also let his trigger-happy sons annihilate an entire town for revenge (Genesis 34).

Moses, extraordinary leader of the most defining event of the Jewish people (the exodus) apparently didn’t circumcise his son, the most basic act of declaring who he was as a Hebrew (Exodus 4:24-25).

Eli, who raised the amazing last prophet Samuel, also raised sons so corrupt as priests that the Lord killed them (1 Samuel 2:12, 27-36).

Saul, Israel’s very first king, hated his son Jonathan’s excellent choice of friend (David) (1 Samuel 20:30-33); he also raised a snooty daughter (Michal) (2 Samuel 6:20).

David, the much-vaunted “man after God’s heart” and greatest king of Israel ever – oh, man, where do you even start??? With how he favored the child of adultery (2 Samuel 12:15-23)? With one of his children raping another (2 Samuel 13:1-21)? With turning a blind eye to sin upon rebellion upon sin on the part of his son Absalom (2 Samuel 14-18)?

Geez Louise. What gives?

On the one hand, it makes me scratch my head. These were God’s chosen men of Old Testament times, these losers? You could give a TED talk: “Don’t parent like an Old Testament Dad.”

On the other hand, I find I’m relieved. These were God’s chosen people? Aw, man, apparently I’m in good company, with my legion of sins and flaws and stupid moves. Apparently the point here is not how great God’s people are, but how amazing God himself is, that he can work in, through, and in spite of them…& us.

I am also grateful for holy Scriptures that are unvarnished, honest about the greatness and the depravity of even the chosen leaders. Such stories remind me first that there is only One worthy of worship, and second that he loves even we frail and fallen children of his.

Though I do hope to be a better parent than these guys. Please Jesus.

Published in: on February 23, 2017 at 3:13 am  Leave a Comment