Thursday, November 26, 2015

Giving Thanks in a Hurting World

Last week was hard for those of us who share our lives with refugees. By week’s end my heart felt bruised. Despite phone calls and letters and appeals to our government officials, the United States Congress passed an anti refugee bill. I don’t know why this was such a shock to me, since social media beat the anti refugee drum loudly.

The negative comments from my social media friends surprised me. And hurt. To the many people calling for stricter background checks I wanted to ask, do you know what the laws already require for refugees currently entering the United States? Because existing laws are stringent, and I think if more of us knew what is already required, we wouldn't be so afraid. Current Security Screening Process

Still, it has been my experience that the hard days do pass and good days return. We went to church last weekend, bringing two overfilled carloads of New Americans-refugees. Kevin and I were crawled all over and hugged by a myriad of small children. When my sweet friend, three year old Agisaro, climbed onto my lap and snuggled in, the hurt around my heart started loosening. She soon wandered back to her mom and four year old Simbi who was sitting beside me leaned up and whispered, “Sawna, I want on your lap.” I felt the hurt crumble away even more.

After church we gave away over thirty coats our friends from near and far had sent to keep our newer friends warm this winter. For some this will be their first Idaho winter, their first experience with snow and ice.

Kevin spent Monday afternoon cleaning the gutters of our house. He enlisted the help of thirteen year old New American, Justin and offered to pay him for his labor. Justin’s mom said, “No. Don’t pay him, because you don’t pay family to help you.” And all the remaining hurt fell away from my heart. How could I stay in a place of hurt when I am loved so well?

Tuesday we had Thanksgiving dinner for our Bible study kids. Thirteen noisy, giggling, refugee kids around the table. Some have been here four or five years. Our newest arrived just two months ago. We went around the table and shared what we are most thankful for this year. Half of these children said, “I’m grateful to be alive and that my family is alive.” Have you ever heard a ten year old speak those words? They are not easy words to hear.

This Thanksgiving we will be sixteen around our table. Caleb and Claire arrived home safely yesterday, in spite of the snow, and I breathed a sigh of relief. My sweet Rebecca will be my cooking partner in the kitchen. Friends and family will fill the benches. When two year old David does something outrageously cute, his mom and I will share a look, and I will get to see that sparkling smile in her eyes that I never saw when I first met her. America has been good to her family. Kevin will sit at the head of the table and lead us in a prayer that will likely make me cry, because how in the world did all these people come into my life and stick?

I know holidays are hard for some. I’m so sorry. I wish I could invite you all into my home and share this life - this love with you. For a long time, I wasn’t brave enough to let people inside my little world, inside my little family. For a long time it was just us four, Kevin, Shawna, Caleb, Rebecca. It was sweet, but sometimes it was lonely.

I’m so glad Africa came to Boise. If you don’t know any New Americans, any refugees, I hope you’ll meet some. I hope you’ll let them bless you with their friendship and love. 

This Thanksgiving there are no Americans more thankful than the newest ones. And maybe me.

Psalm 146:5-9
Happy is the one whose help is the God of Jacob,
whose hope is in the Lord his God,
the Maker of heaven and earth,
the sea and everything in them.
He remains faithful forever,
executing justice for the exploited
and giving food to the hungry.
The Lord frees prisoners.
The Lord opens the eyes of the blind.
The Lord raises up those who are oppressed.[b]
The Lord loves the righteous.
The Lord protects foreigners
and helps the fatherless and the widow,
but He frustrates the ways of the wicked.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Please Let Them In

One of my favorite refugees
My husband was in Europe when the Paris attacks occurred last Friday. He had been in Lisbon, Portugal for business meetings. His travel route took him through Paris. 

This isn’t the first time we have been separated during a terrorist attack. On September 11, 2001, my husband was in Boston when the attacks in our own country took place. He had just flown into the airport each terrorist originated from. It took almost a week and a long drive to Detroit to find an open airport for him to get home. It was a scary week, made bearable only because of neighbors who loved us well. Those days are burned into my memory.

I understand fear. I spent most of my life in fear, worrying about all the things, big and little that life throws at us. I have had melanoma twice. The first time when our daughter was one year old. I understand fear.

But Jesus has shown me a better way. For I have not given you a spirit of fear but of power and of love and of sound mind. (2 Timothy 1:7)

I have lived into fear. I understand fear. But I have found a better way and it is the way of trusting Jesus. Of living his words. (The Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5-7).

I choose to listen to Jesus, to trust Jesus, to obey his words. Some days I do all this better than others, but always it is my desire to follow Jesus well. I think it’s a big deal to Jesus that we trust him all the way through life and not just when it's easy.

When our son graduated from college, he was accepted into Officer Candidate School, U.S. Army. I’m so grateful God had already walked me away from fear, because being an Army mom has the potential to open wide the door to fear. Before our son left for training, I said these words to him, “I am so grateful to have raised brave children. I am so proud of your choice to live a brave life.”

My life today is not filled with fear and this is only because of God. This is only because I started believing he could be trusted. I started believing what he says is true. I started believing him for real. I started believing it is not the size of my faith that matters. It is the size of my God.

I have told you these things so that in Me you may have peace. You will have suffering in this world. Be courageous! I have conquered the world. John 16:33

Yesterday, I spent too much time on Facebook. I was dismayed at the self-preserving, fear-filled atmosphere I found there from many of my American friends. When, I wondered, did we become a nation of fear? When did we become so concerned with our own safety and comfort that we could be okay watching families languish in refugee camps for years. When did my life become more important than the African life, than the Syrian life? I don’t know. But I know we are all equally valued, equally loved by God.

Most people, I think, don’t understand the refugee process in the United States. We do not have Middle Eastern or African refugees slipping over our borders in great numbers like is happening in Europe. To get to the United States as a refugee is a long and difficult process. Many of my refugee friends spent fifteen years in camps jumping through the myriad of hoops that is the route to a safe home. 

This morning I prayed for my country. I prayed for our leaders to have wisdom and compassion. I understand our refugee program is not without error. I have many refugee friends. I understand the messiness of the system. It is not perfect. Because we are not perfect. We do not always live up to our intelligence potential, our common sense potential, our compassion potential, our desire to do the right thing potential. We do stupid things. We get it wrong. But we have a better chance of getting it right when we choose to love others more than ourselves.

I know the one place I can't go wrong is the place where Jesus is.  I can be weak, sinful, foolish, and even rebellious.  I can fail others, ruin ministries, fumble my work, and still, I cannot go wrong when I stand with fear and trembling, knowing only Jesus. Carl Medearis ~ Speaking of Jesus

You know what I am afraid of? I’m afraid of loving myself more than my neighbor. I’m afraid of loving my comfortable bed more than my neighbor in Syria. I’m afraid of loving my warm home more than I love my neighbor in Congo or Rwanda. I’m afraid of loving my morning coffee more than a desire to give my time away. I’m afraid of myself I guess.

Jesus didn’t come here and show us how to lead a comfortable, predictable life. He came here and had no home. He came here and loved the wrong people. He came here and was brutally killed. Because he loved us more than he loved himself.

I want to live his Way always.

And I am not afraid.

If you will trust God with your anguish it will birth something precious to you. It will birth something that you will not trade back. Beth Moore

I forget so easily that there’s a bigger picture. . . I forget that it’s all held together by a holy, loving God, and that we get to be his partners in restoration and healing. I forget that there’s more than I see. More than I dream. Shauna Niequist ~ Savor

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Netflix and the Lost Month

My Netflix binging co-hort and favorite girl ever
Rebecca and I are just completing a Netflix binge that has lasted a month. We are addicted to the television series Parenthood. This is entirely Jen Hatmaker’s fault, and I take no responsibility at all for my actions. . . non-actions. I’m hopeful I can soon return to being a productive member of society, while Kevin is really just hoping to get his wife back. I also hope I remember how to read a book. One of my favorite things.

Last night Rebecca and I were watching an episode from season six. The matriarch of the family is counseling her youngest daughter (who has been separated from her husband for a year). She says these words, “Marriage is really all about forgiveness.” Rebecca turned to me and asked, “Is that true?” I responded, “Yes. And sometimes it sucks.”

I’m not always good at forgiveness. I want to be. I want forgiveness to be easy, but it just isn’t. Letting go of hurt is really hard. Recently, God asked me to forgive a friend who has hurt me. My reaction was not great. I was praying and asking God how he wanted me to move forward with this relationship. Being vulnerable – which is such a big part of forgiveness - is not my favorite thing, and my reaction to God’s request was, “Oh crap!” Yes, I believe in being real with God. If it makes you feel better, I went on to say other more “prayerful” words. Mostly, I asked God to make me brave, because I learned early in life that being vulnerable invites pain. And I have perfected the art of moving on, so my plan was just to move away from this relationship, to move away from the hurt. But God was asking me not to do that. He was asking me to stay in relationship with my friend. I wasn’t as excited about this idea as God was, and if He wanted me to be vulnerable with this person who hurt me, He would need to be in it with me.

“Forgiving someone who hurts us requires humility, imagination, and courage. We need the kind of humility that arises out of a deep understanding of our sin and a redemptive imagination that honestly faces where a person is and longs for where he might be. When our hearts deeply admit that our own sin is, at core, no less heinous in its direction than our enemy’s and when we taste the restorative grace of God, we grow in courage to wisely plan ways of destroying anything that mars beauty in the souls of others.” Bold Love, by Dan Allender & Tremper Longman III

I’m an introverted person, but I’m also a highly sensitive person. This is super fun. Except when it’s not. Being highly sensitive means I’m intuitive and empathic, which makes me a great caregiver and really good at helping others. It also means I’m sensitive to bright light, loud noises and strong smells - kind of like a dog. . . Yet even with those amazing dog-like skills, being highly sensitive is not an easy way to navigate childhood and those super fun middle school and high school years. I cannot tell you how many times I heard, “You’re too sensitive.” I knew it wasn’t meant as a positive. 

When God asked me to be vulnerable with my hurt and move back into relationship with my friend, I wrote these words in my prayer journal, "Jesus, you have done such big things in my life, it is ridiculous of me to focus on the little hurts. Pull me out of this way of being, of thinking. Help me sink into your love and goodness and soak you up."

When I hesitate to forgive it is because I have forgotten how much I have been forgiven. I forget the hugeness of what Christ has done for me. In me.

Being a follower of Jesus isn’t always easy. He asks hard things of us. He asks that I not be the center of my world. He asks that I let go of my selfish desires and let others go first. He asks that I forgive and not just one time. He asks that I forgive every single time someone hurts me. Following Jesus isn’t always easy, but it is good, because once I start following him for real and open the door to my heart, love floods in. Once I stop guarding my heart and holding myself back and let myself be open with others, even when I know I may get hurt, my life fills up with love - love that comes back to me. 

“When we embrace the possibility of forgiveness, we open the door for healing possibilities we would not have otherwise. Choosing the possibility of forgiveness gives us new possibilities for our life.” Unconditional? The Call of Jesus to Radical Forgiveness, by Brian Zahnd

During that month long binge of Parenthood, I didn’t accomplish much around my house and my desk is a mess, but I learned a great deal about loving people, about forgiveness, about the importance of relationships. It’s a great show. I found myself writing down quotes and recently used one with a young friend who is having a hard, sad time with a family member.

Following Jesus means forgiving those who hurt us. There are no ifs, no ands, no buts in that equation. Just forgiveness. Following Jesus means forgiving those who hurt us. End of story.

“. . . for if Christianity isn’t about forgiveness, it’s about nothing at all. Whatever else may be said about Christian people, it must be said of us that we are a people who believe in the forgiveness of sins - we believe in the forgiveness of sins as surely as we believe in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. . . to be an authentic follower of Christ we must embrace the centrality of forgiveness.” Unconditional? The Call of Jesus to Radical Forgiveness, by Brian Zahnd