Hope & Grief After the Election

I am in tears in my dark living room, the clock ticking on the wall beside me. My three daughters are asleep. They begged me to stay up and watch the results of the election, but I sent them to bed, because I had begun to sense that a long night was coming, and tonight wasn’t going to end the way we had discussed this morning when we prayed together as a family for the election.

I hope if you’re reading this you will hear in me a broken longing for unity and understanding, not a partisan axe to grind. I hope you won’t stop reading as I process through this. I am not a Democrat or Republican, in fact I describe myself as a confused moderate. But I will tell you I did not vote for President-Elect Trump, and tonight I am struggling to process it.

There is a small part of me that wants to feel hope, wants to be relieved. Maybe this will mean Supreme Court justices that somehow curb the numbers of abortion. I get why people I know and love voted for this man – I can understand it. They hate abortion, as do I. But my family was scarred by abortion in the days before Roe made it legal, when there was no consent, and there were horrors in that time and in that experience for my very young, very afraid mother that I am thankful do not exist today. One evil does not lessen another. I am for life because my mother was devastated by abortion just as women and children are today in horrifying numbers, but Roe vs. Wade didn’t create abortion, and legislation is not the only answer.

To my conservative friends, please hear me say I understand. But please also don’t paint your fellow believers who mourn tonight as people who rejoice in death. Did you know that statistics show that 30% of people in your church, who follow Christ, are Democrats? Did you know that 30% of people who are Democrats are pro-life? Did you know that under President Obama, abortions are at the lowest levels they have been since Roe?

Please understand why I am sitting here unsettled, why friends are texting me devastated, why people of color feel unsafe tonight. We have been given the ministry of reconciliation, and we have work to do.

This election was many things, meant many things to many people. But can we acknowledge that one of the things it was, one of the things it is, is a heartbreaking  empowerment to the darker undertones of this campaign. I am not justifying any actions of Hillary or Bill Clinton. She lost, it’s over. I understand your rationale for not voting for her. But now that she has lost, can we finally acknowledge the deep and terrible flaws of the man we just elected? Can we, especially us in the church, be big enough to empathize with those who feel afraid tonight? We are commanded as Christians to be imitators of God and have compassion for one another. God is described as close to the broken-hearted, so just for a few minutes, can we draw close as well?

I get that the media isn’t unbiased and that you may see people like me as simply uninformed. But I am not uninformed –  I read the same story at CNN, FoxNews, MSNBC, and sometimes Al Jazeera for an international perspective because I am well aware of partisan bias in reporting. But if you watched speeches Donald Trump gave, completely unedited speeches, you can’t deny some of the racist and sexist things he said, or the racist and sexist factions who support him, who now feel justified in their belief. These are his words, this is the candidate himself.

That this man won is a sobering reality for people of color, victims of sexual abuse, and people who subscribe to religions other than Christianity. Can we hear their fear, and sit with it a minute? Not just dismiss it out of hand? Turn off our partisan minds and listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit speaking about people around us who ache, to whom we are supposed to be loving and ministering?

Rejoice with those who rejoice. Weep with those who weep. Romans 12:15

Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Colossians 3:12

Those of us who are strong and able in the faith need to step in and lend a hand to those who falter, and not just do what is most convenient for us. Strength is for service, not status. Each one of us needs to look after the good of the people around us, asking ourselves, “How can I help?” Romans 15:1-2 (the Message)

Can we find it in ourselves, whether we feel like the victor tonight or we feel devastated, to understand the feelings of those around us?

Several weeks ago, my oldest daughter came home from school and wanted to talk about the election. You need to know that one of the things we love about Houston is the diversity of the area where we live, and the fact that our daughters have friends who are every color and religious background. This is particularly important to me, because I grew up in an extended family that was covertly, and sometimes overtly, racist in the way that in my experience is completely normal in the white South even today. They didn’t call themselves racist, and wouldn’t to this day. The fact that I do name it is offensive to them because they do not see it as racism. But other races were joked about and talked about not only as other, but as less. Less intelligent, less hard working, less real American, separate and never equal. There was an underlying anger to it that made it more than a joke, and it was disturbing. So many Thanksgiving dinners of my childhood are tinted with the racism saturating our family tree.

So you need to know that, for me, racism is visceral, and personal. I feel it. I know the code words, and the fact that they are still used stuns me. The night President Obama was elected, I cried in relief hopeful at the healing of racism in our country that could elect a black man as president, all the while knowing across my city I had relatives who were angry and afraid. I hoped his election would help things. I’m not sure it did.

It was a cesspool of sin, and I was swimming in it. So I love the Gospel, I love the Gospel, because it cleanses me from sin. It forgives my guilt, it imputes to me a righteousness who is not my own, it gives me the Holy Spirit that begins to put to death the old racist nature and open up a whole new possibility of life and hope and joy and justice.” Jon Piper, on racism in the video Bloodlines.

One of the most powerful things I’ve ever watched was this video by Jon Piper on racism and how he grappled with it as he grew in faith, and every time I get chills because his story is my story. Racism crawls up my skin and is a weight in my stomach and a throbbing in my chest because I used to swim in it, and once you step out you don’t just want to be free of it, you want to shine a light on it and banish it because it lurks in the darkness all around you and it is insidious and persistent and subtle in devastating ways. My mother is an instrument of light and grace, and I believe she broke the curse of racism in our family. She taught my brother and sister and I to not only love people of color, but to fight for them and to fight our inherent sinful bias. To shine as lights in darkness to try to overcome the racism of our not-distant enough past, as if somehow by our love we could make up for the bias directed at people of color from the family that we loved.

So my nine-year-old daughter comes home from school a few weeks ago and tells me that her friends were discussing Donald Trump and how much he hates people from Mexico. Her friend from Mexico is afraid of him, afraid he will hurt her family. She asked me if I would vote for him, and if he really thinks “Mexicans are criminals and terrible people.” So we talked about it from that point forward. We talked about how he talked about people from other countries and other religions. We talked about it when he mocked a disabled reporter. We talked about it in very vague terms when the sexual assault accusations and the tape of him saying terrible things about women broke. We talked about it, because she and her friends were talking about it, and she needs to know that this is a safe place to talk about it. (And we talked about whether or not Hillary was a liar and a crook, which my daughter heard as well). My daughters think Trump is a bully, and I can’t disagree with them. In my oldest daughter’s class election she voted for Hillary Clinton, along with many of her friends. President-Elect Trump feels more unsafe to her. She looked forward to the first “Womans” President, as she called it.

And I understand that. To my conservative friends, can’t you understand that? Please tell me you can. Please tell me you get why this isn’t a simple issue, or a simple election. Please tell me you don’t agree with the truly awful aspects of this man’s personality and his speech and his behavior toward others who are different. Please tell me this isn’t a simple victory and the fact that you won doesn’t mean it is all okay.

Because I sit in my living room and write this with tears in my eyes. I cry because in a few hours I will walk into her room, and wake her up, and will tell her that he won. We will talk about it, about why a man who at times acted like a jerk can still win. And she will go to school with friends who are afraid, and they may have good reason to be afraid. And I will tell her to be a light in a dark world, to shine a light on darkness all around her. But it will be an incredibly hard conversation.

I cry because I know Muslim Americans who already are treated as less than, and as other.  I cry because they feel afraid tonight. I cry because refugees who are vetted more than any other group that comes into this country have been and will continue to be vilified. I cry because people of color, who already don’t feel safe and who know the code words better than I do feel even less safe tonight. Their President-Elect literally only talks about them like they all live in hellish inner-city war zones, highlighting the fact that he does not know or understand their struggles at all. I cry because my friends who are gay feel afraid and alone tonight – this was a message to them as well. Political becomes personal when people are hurt or afraid. Van Jones spoke beautifully about the way this feels for millions of people, and I hope we can hear him.

I cry because tonight racists are rejoicing, some of their views mainstreamed. Their sin does not weigh on them, it feels normal and right and now approved. And that makes me grieve, and I have to fight off fear. I cannot imagine how my friends who are people of color feel knowing that.

I cry as a victim of sexual abuse.

I cry as a member of a broken church, so divided. I feel so isolated, as do most of my moderate and progressive friends. We love Jesus and serve him. We are neighbors and church staff members and Pastors and deacons and children’s volunteers and we stand and worship with you and hug you in the lobby or the school, but we keep our political views off Facebook so you won’t think less of us or think we are “baby killers.” We too voted our convictions yesterday, we too prayed about who to vote for, we too truly want the best for this country. This idea that Christians must be Republican confuses empire with Kingdom, and we are family first – citizens of a Kingdom that absolutely without equivocation trumps our party affiliation. If we are questioning a brother’s faith because of their party, we need to repent.

I cry as a daughter of a King. This hurts me. This feels so wrong. He stands for so much of what I completely oppose. I ache, and that you may not feel it makes it feel worse, and makes me feel alone.

Tonight I cry. And I hope, even if you aren’t crying with me, that you understand why I do and you give me and my children the space and permission to grieve, along with the more than 50% of the country who did not vote for this man. I hope that those of us who feel afraid would realize that fear is never from God, and begin to look to Him in hope.

And I pray that tomorrow, we begin to fix this. He is the President-elect, that is reality and I will pray for and honor him as I did President Obama and President Bush and Clinton before him. But everything he stood for in the campaign does not have to be approved by us. It should not be approved by us.

We together as the church need to be a light to banish the darkness. I hope and pray that your endorsement of this candidate is not an endorsement of everything he stands for, that you will stand against racism and sexism with me throughout his presidency. That my daughters will be surprised by joy, that their fears will not be realized, that their friends will not be in danger and if they are, that we will stand and defend them in force and in mass and beat back the danger together. That we will never be silent in the face of oppression. That the racist factions will be minimized and vanquished back to the dark corners where they were before their recent boldness. That even if it costs us, as the church of Jesus Christ we will stand together for the poor and weak and the “other.” So many of you say that the government cannot do what the church was designed to do, and this is our chance to prove it. The church needs to step up.

saint-francis-xavierThere are enormous numbers of people in our country tonight who are afraid, who feel alone, who feel abandoned by the church and the country. They are terrified. Church, these are our people. These are the people Jesus would be walking with tonight, because He always found a way to walk with those who mourned and felt alone. We have to go get them and walk with them (and He will be there already, speaking comfort). And we do this today – there is no time for partisan gloating because the Republican won. All that does is divide and we are to be people of unity. People are hurting, and we are first of all Kingdom people. We have work to do. We have to pray for how to best share hope – maybe it is as simple as a smile and showing support and love to someone, and then we have to act. Maybe we take a meal to a family who feels alone and scared, tell them we stand with them. Maybe it is more – may the Holy Spirit lead us. If we don’t know anyone who is broken or afraid tonight, may that convict us. How could we be so insular when the world is such a beautifully diverse place? Please pray with me that we will know how to minister to the broken.

But we have to do what we were made to do. The church overwhelmingly tonight voted for the government to get out of the business of fixing everything, great, then the church has to fill the gap. We have to step up.

They shall seek refuge in the name of the Lord,
those who are left in Israel;
they shall do no injustice
    and speak no lies,
nor shall there be found in their mouth
    a deceitful tongue.
For they shall eat and lie down,
    and no one shall make them afraid. – Zephaniah 3:13

Jesus, help us. Please speak to Your church. Please speak to our President-Elect, give Him wisdom, lead Him in the ways of righteousness. Please heal our country. We confess our fear, and know You are never the author of it. Please give us hope. Your Kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Amen. 

Skinned Knees & Dreams

angel-and-lucyA couple of weeks ago, our youngest daughter Lucy wanted to walk our dog on our daily walk around a neighborhood lake. Our dog is incredibly sweet and good, so gentle with Lucy and patient with the “intense loving” of a three-year old. So I let Lucy walk Angel, but I told her to hold the leash loosely and let go if she took off, because our dog cannot resist the urge to chase the squirrels who live around the lake, who taunt her then race for the nearest tree. A few minutes into our walk, our dog took off, but Lucy didn’t let go, and Angel pulled her onto the ground and drug her along several feet before we were able to stop her. Both of Lucy’s little knees were skinned really bad, and for weeks we have been caring for her knees, applying bandaids, hearing about it in the constant way that parents of small children understand.

This morning I was getting Lucy dressed for school – and she stopped me in wonder and excitement, “Momma – my knee better! It all healed!” She was so excited, and inspected both of her knees carefully. In that moment, I felt like the Lord said to me “Healing comes in unexpected moments, when you aren’t watching. It isn’t active, it’s passive. You can’t rush it – you just realize one day that it’s over, and you’re healed.”

I drove her to school but kept processing through this idea on the drive. Because these days, I’m hurting. This most recent ministry loss has been a really big one for me. I want to be able to actively do something to get better. Read a great book or passage of Scripture, make a new life plan, walk and pray, get into grad school, pray blessings on people who hurt me, redirect my passions into a new project, watch another episode of The West Wing, anything but wait on the Lord. I want to do something.

And I do, all these things and a hundred more, but it doesn’t help. Just like the skinned knee, all you can do is walk with the pain, treating the symptoms, guarding it against further injury, until one day you look down and it’s finally done. It’s not pretty, it has a scar and a reminder of the wound, but there is no longer danger of infection, and you finally aren’t bleeding all over the place. You’re healed.

The Lord has always given me dreams at key moments in life, and even a few times my dreams have contained insights into a situation. Early in my ministry life I had another big loss, when I left my home church. I became a believer in Christ there, and began my ministry life, and met my husband and the closest friends I’ve ever known. That church was my whole world. But toward the end, I served there during a really difficult season in the life of the church where it split in two, with people I deeply loved divided and hurting on all sides. I tried to stay and help heal the wound and close the gap, but eventually had to leave because that wasn’t my job, and because early in a conflict nobody wants peacemakers, they want people on their side, which is understandable when your world has been shaken. If you haven’t experienced a church split, I hope you never do. Only two entities hurt like that when they break apart, families and churches, both because of the love you have for the people and the intimacy of the relationships.

So this week, I dreamed I visited my home church to help produce a service, and then shortly after I had a job interview there. I talked about all the things I have done since leaving, and I saw in their face that my skills and experience would help them. And I felt that same admiration for the church as they felt for me. As I walked those halls, and attended a staff meeting, I saw the new staff in place and the work they were doing, I realized in my dream (as I have hundreds of times in reality), that the work of the Lord has been enourmous there in my absence. That the church that I love has healed, just as I have healed. It was a dream full of restoration, of the work of the Lord in both me and them in our time apart, a glimpse of the scope of the Kingdom.

I woke up, thoughtful and hopeful, and told Justin about the dream. And this morning, after talking to Lucy and time talking to the Lord, I am putting it all together.

I know the end of this story of healing, because I’ve walked it and because I trust the Author. God is going to do amazing things at the church where we recently served. His favor and power will work for them, and they will grow and expand His Kingdom. And He will lead us as well. We will do things for His Kingdom that are bigger than anything we could do in our own power, and He will open doors we never imagined He would open. I don’t know why He decided that our time there is up, why our gifting no longer matches their need. And right now, in our hurt and uncertainty, there are times we don’t feel like being peacemakers, we want to know people are for us. But that will pass as we heal and as the ground around us feels more steady. Until then we will choose peacemaking even when we don’t feel like it. Because there aren’t sides in this, we are brothers and sisters trying to bring a Kingdom to a dark hurting earth. And brothers and sisters fight, they hurt each other, they need time apart, they need their own passions and spaces and friends and seasons of life. But in the end they are for each other, they will defend each other, they are family.

And together or apart, in time, we all realize we have healed. I keep reading the Sermon on the Mount in The Message, because the language is so foreign to the way I’ve read the Bible in the past, but so familiar to my heart. “You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and His rule. You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you. You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are – no more, no less. That’s the moment you can find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought… You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family.”

Life in the Tension

Good friend, take to heart what I’m telling you;
    collect my counsels and guard them with your life.
Tune your ears to the world of Wisdom;
    set your heart on a life of Understanding.
That’s right—if you make Insight your priority,
    and won’t take no for an answer,
Searching for it like a prospector panning for gold,
    like an adventurer on a treasure hunt,
Believe me, before you know it Fear-of-God will be yours;
    you’ll have come upon the Knowledge of God. Proverbs 2:1-5 MSG

In recent months, Justin and I have made some rather serious life changes. We have both left the church where we have served since 2013, although we love it still. We both came to the end of ourselves there, and realized we could not continue to pour out because we had nothing left to give. So separately, but in rather quick succession, we left, for reasons so complicated I have struggled to communicate them to the people closest to us. And it has been incredibly difficult for me. Even though the Lord was near and spoke clearly, even though our decision was confirmed 100 times in 100 different ways, I am still grieving. Again we are leaving a church we love, again we are losing friendships and leaving people we deeply loved serving with, again something I thought would end up one way ended up another, again our children are affected by the co-mingling of our church home and our ministry life, again our family is facing an uncertain future. We moved here for this church, every friendship I and my children have has this church at the center. So I am at different times sad and angry and relieved and lonely and afraid and feeling free. It is a very complicated time for me.

Justin, in the way men do, is better at compartmentalizing things, better at redirecting his energy. He immediately got another job and another wonderful opportunity, this time outside ministry, and he is absolutely soaring in his newfound role and newfound freedom. And I love watching it, it is so clear to me that he is exactly where he is supposed to be, enjoying the fruit of obedience.

But for me, it is a little more grey, and the fruit has been harder to find. I am still struggling to define what is next for me, and what “success” looks like. Is it a new job – a new position where I feel meaning and where I am contributing to the Kingdom? If it is, then I am falling terribly short finding it. I have never had a hard time finding work, in fact I get job offers with such regularity that sometimes it causes confusion to constantly have options. But the job offers aren’t coming like they normally would, and the few that have crossed my plate I have immediately heard a no from the Lord. It is like He has hedged me in. I remember studying Hosea, the prophet who the Lord demanded marry a prostitute to provide a terribly uncomfortable living example for the people of Israel of God’s love despite their unfaithfulness. There is a verse in Hosea 2 where it talks about Gomer (the prostitute) continually running away to return to her former life, and it talks about God hedging her in with thorns, literally blocking her way as she tried to run. And right now it feels like that a little bit. Like the paths I am trying to take may not be the paths I should take, and I am hedged in, forced to wait. And I keep telling myself that God knows our financial realities, and He is never late in providing, but getting my mind to rest in His timing has been a hard task. I’m awful at waiting.

But in the meantime, forced to wait, the Lord keeps drawing me to the study of wisdom, and I’m spending a lot of time praying and walking alone, and soaking up time with my kids. I realized last week that I had begged the Lord for more time with my girls, and now I have it, and I am begging him for what work is next. How dare I continue to ask, and not spend at least some time overwhelmed in gratitude for Him answering my prayers? So I am trying to sit in gratitude. I’m enjoying the daily explosion of language and personality that Lucy is showing us, enjoying the seriousness of Grace’s questions about faith and life, enjoying the total lack of self-consciousness of Bekah’s personality (of which I am continually in awe as a person forever lacking confidence). I am loving cooking more meals, taking more walks, getting to be a mom and wife first in this season, and I want to acknowledge how grateful I am for that incredible gift.

But right now, I am holding many things in tension. I actually have grown to love the complexity of feeling many things at once and knowing that my heart and my God are big enough to handle the full range of emotions that are appropriate to feel at this time in our lives. I have been in this season many times, most often at times of the loss of either a relationship or a job or a church or even a pregnancy. But because I have walked this path before, I am aware it is isolating. Not many people are comfortable walking with a person who is feeling so much, and working through it. We as humans like absolutes, for us or against us, right or left. But this middle stuff – the complexity of everything at once? Those friends are hard to find, possibly by intention. I’m not sure there are supposed to be many people walking alongside us in times like these, maybe part of the purpose in it is to push us to the Lord as our primary source of support. Because that is the reality. You let a few very trusted people in on part of it, but the bulk of it is just dealt with between you and God. Taking these things that are contradictory and confusing and going to God with them, asking Him to help sort it out. In fact, it may even be the wisdom I am studying and asking God for to be able to hold my fear and my confidence and know that both are valid, my anger and my feeling of peace, my guilt for staying at home and “not contributing” and my joy at only having to worry about my family. Maybe wisdom is finding God in the tension, and taking to Him the things I can’t control or change, while thanking Him for the things I have been given, and asking Him for the things I need.

I read this quote this morning, and it summed it up for me. “If you want to flourish in the life God intends, you must be grounded in wisdom” (Margaret Feinberg). Here is what I know. I want to flourish in the life God has given me to live, as a wife, a mom, and a minister of the Gospel. And I think wisdom is the first step, and time invested in chasing it is time well spent, so I am chasing it as if my life depends on it, because it does.

margaretfeinbergquote

Tighten Up Your Courage

I’ve written before about the way that God speaks to me. These threads or ideas start swirling in my head, and certain things I encounter in my day to day life seem to glow with significance, and I know they will eventually form into a complete picture, a message from God. But I’ve learned to be patient for that final revelation, because noticing the ideas swirling and the moments that are significant requires me to be present in my life, and that is sometimes as important as the final message.

Lately I’ve been noticing fear, in myself, in my children, in the motivations of people around me. Once you start watching for it, you see how utterly soaked in fear is our entire culture, which is heartbreaking.

Our family is in the middle of some job changes, and it has me very prayerful and cognizant of the environment around us. I’m trying to notice when I’m reacting out of fear, or feeling it, and it is taking energy and practice for me to combat the fear that is, really, an enormous part of our reality as humans. Both I and my oldest daughter, who has always been so spiritually sensitive, have been having dreams about the fear in us and the people around us. So I’ve been praying for freedom from fear, and tuned in to noticing it.

I’m a big musical theatre person, and both in the Hamilton musical and in Beauty in the Beast, I’ve noticed this line “Screw your courage to the sticking place.” It struck me as interesting, so I looked it up and it is a Shakespeare quote, from Macbeth Act 1 Scene 7;

Macbeth:
If we should fail?

Lady Macbeth:
We fail?
But screw your courage to the sticking place,
And we’ll not fail.

It basically means to tighten your courage down to something stronger, like twisting a peg into its hole, to reinforce it. When I realized what they were saying, it was an illuminating moment.

The strength is not in the peg, or in the screw. It is not in us to fight fear and be brave. The strength is in what we attach ourselves to, and how tightly we connect. We need to daily, moment by moment, tighten up our courage to the sticking place.

And the sticking place is, for me, our great God. And if you look at the verses on fear in the Bible, and there are 365 of them (as all of the embroidered pillows you’ve seen on Etsy proclaim), they are all about God being our defense against fear:

For He Himself has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” So we may boldly say: “The LORD is my helper; I will not fear. What can man do to me?” Hebrews 13:5-6

Screw your courage to the sticking place.

But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. 2 Corinthians 4:7-8

Screw your courage to the sticking place.

The LORD is my light and my salvation; Whom shall I fear? The LORD is the strength of my life; Of whom shall I be afraid? Psalm 27:1

Screw your courage to the sticking place.

The action is to tighten into God, not to fight fear. I’ve been getting that wrong, no wonder it has been a frustrating fight. Fighting fear has nothing to do with fighting fear – it has to do with connecting to the author of love (the opposite of fear). Screw your courage to the sticking place.

Right now, where I stand may seem wobbly, and I may feel anything but brave. But if I screw my courage to the sticking place of God’s great love for me and my family, and His power and might, and His plans that never fail, I can take courage and not be afraid.

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Suspension of Disbelief

Suspension of disbelief is an idea essential to reading or watching a movie, a contract between writer and audience, where the writer makes a story somewhat plausible and gives the audience a reason to want to believe it, and the audience buys into the story to experience something moving. It is why we can read Harry Potter and envision a Quidditch match, because JK Rowling made it fascinating and painted a beautiful picture, and our brains forget for a while that flying on a broom is a ridiculous idea in order to allow us to experience the magic of the impossible.

We live in a cynical society, yet we are able to escape into fantasy because we are able to suspend disbelief.

girls_ChristmasThe fact that my girls still believe in Santa requires an extraordinary amount of suspension of disbelief, given the unfortunate fact that Justin and I are terrible at making the story somewhat plausible. Four years ago, when Grace was four and Rebekah two, their Santa gift was a new swing-set. It was a freezing cold Christmas Eve, and Justin and my dad put together the least expensive, but most difficult to assemble, metal swing-set we could find in the garage after the girls had gone to bed. It took hours and I remember them laughing and yelling at the thing good-naturedly as my mom and I wrapped gifts inside where it was warm. After they finished, they carefully carried it around to the backyard, and I went out and tied a big red bow on it. We were so proud to have assembled this behemoth, and imagined the girls’ surprise and shock when they saw it. Christmas morning, when we went to wake them, Grace jumped out of bed, ran to the window, and said “Oh! You put a bow on it!” Apparently she had watched the entire operation unfold from her upstairs window.

The next year, we were living in Dallas still but working in Houston, and were too tired to make it home after our Christmas Eve services, so we spent Christmas Eve in a Holiday Inn off the highway somewhere around Waco. When we got home, I made the girls run upstairs and put on their pajamas so Justin and I could hurriedly throw the Santa gifts under the undecorated tree in our sad, already packed-up living room. I wanted a little magic in a chaotic season of transition. I thought we had pulled it off, except I had decided to not buy anything for Lucy or Justin, because Lucy was too little to notice and Justin wanted nothing else to pack and haul to Houston. I wasn’t thinking about the big girls, though, until Grace, in great distress, asked me what Lucy (at the time 6-months old) could possibly have done to get on the naughty list? I don’t even remember the lie I told, but as soon as she said it I realized my very big mistake.

Last year, their big gift was a trampoline, and a couple of weeks after Christmas, when they were underfoot, Justin sent them in the backyard to jump. They started to protest, and he said sarcastically, “I’m glad I bought you guys a trampoline so you would never use it.” They both stared at him in shock, and Grace said “You didn’t buy the trampoline – Santa brought it and the elves put it together!” Justin mumbled something incoherent as I laughed at him in the background.

This year, on Christmas day as Justin is programming the X-box Santa delivered, he in frustration says “For the money I shelled out for this thing you’d think it would work.” Grace’s head immediately popped up as I tried to catch his eye. Justin, not catching on, says: “I want my 400 bucks back.” Grace asked him what he means, since this gift came from Santa, and he says back “I have to pay Santa for it… Times are hard.” She looks back down at her game, satisfied with his answer, and  he looks at my mom and me, both laughing, and says “That’s all I could come up with.” 

We are bad at this! We try to weave a plausible tale, but we fail miserably. At some point, when she was younger, I have even told Grace that Santa is based on a real man who lived a long time ago who was generous and loving, but that he is not really a real person who delivers gifts to our house in the dead of night, and she has either forgotten or just chooses to believe despite it.

She is able to dispel doubt without a backward glance.

I love it, and I wish my mind worked that way. Their desire for magic overrides their rational brains that have to know that mom and dad are really really terrible liars and that we are, in fact, both Santa and the Tooth Fairy. Children are great at this, and I love that part of their minds. It is, quite honestly, why we continue to do the whole Santa thing and the whole tooth fairy thing. There is only a certain amount of time in life where true suspension of disbelief is possible, and because children are whole-hearted creatures, they are really good at it.

It seems weird to compare my children’s belief in Santa to my faith in Christ, but I’m going to attempt it because it’s what I’ve been thinking about lately. I want to be more like Grace when it comes to my faith. She dismisses doubt with such ease, and I envy her whole-hearted and stubborn belief. I want to be more like her. She has strength and lately, in my faith, I feel weak. I am a wrestler – I am up now in the middle of the night because I am wrestling with fear and doubt. And my rational mind knows the things I am fearing aren’t real  and the doubts I am battling are lies. My heart knows the truth that I am loved and valuable and was created for a purpose. Yet I wrestle and I can’t seem to dismiss the nagging doubt. A former boss repeatedly encouraged me to dismiss doubt and fear and not give it any time or energy, but honestly sometimes I don’t know how to do that.

I don’t know how to suspend my disbelief.

So again, as I have done so often since her birth, I look to my oldest daughter. She really does teach me more than she will ever realize. I ask the Lord for childlike faith. I ask my Maker, my Father, my Creator, my King to help me in this war I am waging against fear and doubt. I ask Him to be mighty to save. I choose to believe, and to shake off the nagging sense of doubt. I wait for the voices of fear and doubt to be silenced by the God who has written this story, this true story, of victory over sin and death and doubt and fear.

I have every reason to believe. This story is not only plausible, it is true, and I know the ending. So I ask my God to help me suspend my disbelief and cynicism. I have no reason to be afraid.

When I am afraid, I will put my trust in You. Psalm 56:3

Haiti Day 5

Today was our last full day in Haiti, and we leave in the morning. This morning we went downtown to the National Museum of Haiti and learned about Haiti’s difficult history as a nation. It was humbling. Haitians are a people who have overcome slavery, oppression, over a dozen coups, unrest, exploitation, and of course the earthquake that devastated large portions of Port au Prince and the surrounding areas. Between that visit, and the visit to the artist’s home yesterday, my mind races. I am a problem solver, a diplomat, a big picture person, a dreamer. And as we drive these streets, I want to think of things that would help. Roads. Clean water. Sanitation. Ways to address hunger. Education. Medical care. I remember a scene from West Wing where they asked the question, “What would you do if you could solve just one problem?” and I keep finding myself trying to sort through my answer to that question. But as my mind rolls round and round I remember the writer of Ecclesiastes, “What is crooked cannot be straightened; what is lacking cannot be counted.” (Ecclesiastes 1:15). Here’s the truth: my mind races because I am uncomfortable and convicted and I want to not know this kind of systemic breakdown exists, not because what is happening here is a problem I can solve.

This kind of poverty and need is uncomfortable, and I don’t like to feel helpless. I like macro level changes – systemic changes that can improve the lives of everyone quickly. But I’m not sure the macro issues in Haiti can be resolved easily, and I can see how solving one would only unearth another. And I especially don’t think the issues can be solved from outside sources (if they could then the aid that poured in after the earthquake probably would have made more of a difference than it has done). I think the model COF has adopted, helping empower local Haitian people who understand her culture, history, language and community to make micro-level changes in their immediate circle of influence is the method Jesus himself chose when he left the good news of the Gospel in the hands of a ragtag group of followers. And through them, His message changed the world.

I have had to realize that I can’t impose my thoughts, my methods, my timeframes, my need for comfort, my “wisdom” on anything when it comes to Haiti. I am here to learn, to listen, to pray, and to encourage those who are actually doing the world changing work.

Raymond, one of the Pastors, is an engineer. We went to his home after the museum and I was so encouraged and humbled. He lost everything in the 2010 earthquake. His home was destroyed and he and his family moved in with his brother in law for months (11 people living in a modest home that somehow remained standing). When we arrived at his home, I confess I was surprised by the fact that it is half built, without a roof on the front two rooms (that filter of mine is hard to turn off). But as he gave us a tour, I understood better why, and was amazed. He has built so much on to his home himself with limited and incredibly expensive building supplies. He has a room for him and his wife, a room for their children, a kitchen and a living area, a generator and a battery that he runs to cover their electrical needs. He has dug his own well to get them fresh water. He has built a tilapia pond onto the back of his home to supply his family and neighbors with a great source of fat and protein. He has chickens, goats, turkeys, and bunnies to provide varied proteins and eggs for his family. He has planted fruits and vegetables and trees around his property, and rigged up mazes of barbed wire through his yard as a security system. He did all of this without any kind of city water, or power, and without a completed fence around his property. By the time he completes his home and garden area he has planted, 5 large families will be able to live completely independent on what he produces in his yard without having to go to the market. I have often wondered what would happen to my family if we were to suddenly have no electricity or water or source of outside food, and I have to tell you, I would be in much worse shape than my friend Raymond and his family. For the little that he has, he has made much. And all the while he is paying the fees to send his children to school and helping fund the school in La Source that we visited.

“His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’ Matthew 25:23

I have supported Mercy House Kenya for several years and the director of the house in Kenya is a young girl named Maureen. She grew up in the slums of Nairobi, but because of sponsors from Compassion International was able to go to school, and even college. She returned to her home country after her education and helped begin this home, and because of her, over 40 women have been rescued from terrible life-threatening situations and almost 40 babies have been born healthy in a safe environment instead of on the streets or aborted through dangerous illegal abortions. Every morning the residents of that home meet for prayer and praise and Bible study, and they end each day the same way, and Maureen is making a difference in her own world, with a little help from people who love her in the US. She is a world-changer.

I think of the children of La Source that I met in the school that Raymond started. If God will capture the hearts of those children and they will make a difference in Haiti after receiving the education that COF helps provide, that is hundreds of circles of influence completely changed. You keep doing multiplication math like that, and Haiti will start to change, whether the macro systems catch up or not.

I loved driving through Haiti first thing in the morning or around lunchtime when the thousands of school children would emerge in their colorful perfectly clean uniforms on their way to school, siblings holding hands and climbing onto the back of colorful tap tap taxis on the way to school. First, how impressive that they manage to get those uniforms beautifully clean when clean water is a scarce resource, and second, those children are the future of Haiti and because of them Haiti will get better for future generations.

Each of the administrators of the school in La Source are from Haiti, they all got a college education (some of them outside of Haiti), and each came back because they love their country and love these kids and want to make a better Haiti. It was so encouraging to me. One of them kept telling me, “Haiti needs your prayers.” I think perhaps that is the greatest gift I can give them, not trying to fix a system that God has not put under me to fix in the first place.

Small changes, in community, over time, create sustainable positive change. Come Kingdom of God, be done will of God in the people we met, the churches and schools we visited, and in the lives of your people. Multiply the work, rescue lives, capture hearts, and be glorified as things get better. We trust you to make Haiti new – to bring your Kingdom to earth there, and protect her children. 

Haiti Day 4

I am in Haiti this week with Community of Faith collecting stories and photographs to update our church on the progress of the churches, schools, and other ministries that COF supports in Haiti. Before I came on this trip, my friend Tara, a missionary midwife at Heartline Maternity Center in Port Au Prince, wrote me and said, “Haiti is a place that won’t be understood easily but you will find love there.” I have played her words in my head several times since we arrived, but today I leaned on them all day long. We traveled last night from Gonaive and the rural village of La Source where we have spent the last few days, to a suburb of Port Au Prince where we will base for the rest of our time here. In total transparency, moving from rural to urban Haiti is more difficult for me to process, and the beauty harder for me to find. Our leader David warned us that Haiti is a lot to take in, and he is right. I am trying to process through my feelings and thoughts about the day.

It started off lovely. This morning we got up and traveled to Croix-de-Bouquets to join Pastor Raymond and Pastor Walter’s church for worship. Several groups from COF have gone there before us, so the church members are familiar with us and there is a long established partnership. Members of our team who have been here before reconnected with friends, and we enjoyed worshiping together. When we arrived, worship was already in progress (Haitian church services are several hours long, so us arriving late was by design). I loved the church service, the music, and the warm way we were welcomed. We each gave a short greeting, and if I thought speaking in front of children was intimidating, it was nothing compared to speaking on microphone to an entire church. It felt a little awkward and I stumbled through, but they had grace for me despite. Just before my greeting they had prayed for us by name and for Community of Faith Houston and Mark and Laura Shook (our pastors), and I was able to tell them that even while they prayed for us, our church was praying for them and loved them, and I was grateful we all could talk to the same God big enough to handle all the details of our lives. I sat down after, relieved, and enjoyed the rest of the service. Several groups sang songs in the service, a couple dedicated songs especially for us, we took communion together, and a member of our team shared a short message about a woman who changed her life named Debbi.

On the trip last year Debbi came to Haiti from COF and left a piece of her heart here. She built relationships with the team in Haiti and was scheduled to come back on this trip, but passed away suddenly a few months ago. Although I never met Debbi, so many people I know knew her well and loved her and talk about her often, and it does feel like her spirit is here with us on this trip. She is talked about with love both by members of our team who traveled here with us, and by our Haitian friends. Her light is still shining both in Houston and in Haiti, even while her family and friends continue to mourn. She had already paid her deposit, and her family generously told the church to put it toward someone coming on the trip, so that money paid my way. I in particular am grateful for Debbi’s legacy as I sit typing in the room a few doors down where she stayed last year.

After the service I was feeling a little tired and hot and unwell as we drove to have lunch at Pastor Walter’s house. As we drove, the dust and noise and traffic and trash on the city streets as we drove felt really overwhelming to me. There was just no break, no rest, and everywhere seemed crowded and chaotic and lacking, if I can confess my mental filter. I struggled to find the beauty I knew was there, trying to see as Jesus sees, but honestly, on that drive and for much of the afternoon, it was hard.

We arrived at Walter’s home, and were offered a truly lovely meal. From what we have seen as far as food in Haiti, it probably was the equivalent of a Thanksgiving or Christmas meal with several courses served for us, and I’m really grateful for the sacrifice I know that meal required from his family. There was not room for our hosts at the table in their dining room, so they served us and ate on the bench against the wall despite our protests. We could tell they wanted to serve us and honor us, and it was humbling and beautiful. I fell in love with Walter’s family, as I had been warned I would by staff members back home, and I loved eating lunch with them in their home.

As we drove back to the hotel, again I struggled. I felt heavy, and it was too much. I wanted to look away from it all. I prayed and wrestled, and then decided a good sleep (and maybe a good cry) would help my heart. We returned to the hotel and I quickly fell asleep. Our leader woke me up a short time later because he was going into Port Au Prince to meet up with an artist and writer he knows who lives nearby, and he wanted me to come and meet him and potentially get a part of his story recorded. In all honestly, I wasn’t sure I wanted to go. I had seen so much today, and I felt tired and emotionally weary, but after reaching out to Justin and my friend Kacey to get them to pray for me, I decided to go anyway.

We loaded up in a car and went to this home in a nicer part of Port au Prince, near the UN compound. We went in and spent some time with the artist and his wife, an older couple who astonished me. I was unfamiliar with his work when we went to his home, but soon got swept up in the conversation and the images around me. His home was full of his paintings (and he had painted on almost every blank wall in the home), and he gave our leader one of his books as a gift. Although when we arrived he wasn’t feeling well, he welcomed us into his home as friends, and even called our leader his son, and I was really touched by his hospitality. I know a weakness of mine is that I can be more task oriented than people oriented, and COF missions is a very people and relationship-oriented endeavor, which always stretches me. But moments like this and connections like these are why that concept is important. We didn’t even attempt to pull out equipment and record him because being present with them was more important. His wife offered us cake and juice and we ate together and talked together before he showed me the art on the top floor of his home and his studio below.

His art, and his writing, is centered on chaos and finding beauty in chaos (and in much of his art the beauty is noticeably absent). Haiti is central to his work because Haiti is a very chaotic place and the struggle to find beauty here is constant and relentless. When I saw his art, heard him speak of the difficulty our planet is facing, and even just the act of sitting with an aging man struggling with what to do with the last years of his life as parts of his body fail, I felt less alone with the confusion I had felt all day. I realized that my struggle to understand and comprehend is a universal struggle that people have wrestled with since the beginning of time. In fact, it is a struggle reflected by artists, writers, thinkers, musicians, humanitarians and leaders for centuries. These same themes are even in the Bible. These opposing ideas of beauty and chaos, a loving God and suffering, the staggering reality of human starvation in a world where there is also ignorant excess, the simplicity of grace in a world overwhelmed with complex addictions and sin – it is all a struggle. The same things I see in Haiti on the street that are a shock to my system are less shocking when they are hidden in suburban Cypress or Keller or Grapevine, but they still exist. And my mind can’t reconcile it.

We were made to be lovers bold in broken places, pouring ourselves out again and again until we’re called home – Jamie Tworkowski

Tara told me that Haiti will be difficult to understand, and it is. We as humans don’t like complex things, we like to caricature and simplify. But reality is complex. The same city can have dirty streets with beautifully-dressed people walking down that street toward church where they will worship Jesus and show love to one another. A filthy child can sit on a pile of what looks like garbage in the heat and still be absolutely heartbreakingly beautiful. The road to a home where we are offered an extravagant and loving meal can be littered with children who appear hungry and animals begging and scavenging for food. A woman who loves the Lord and serves him can suddenly be taken home without warning or explanation. We have the hope of heaven, but for now we walk this world that can be confusing and scary with very real and acute suffering. In the chaos, God is good. I don’t understand it, I can’t reconcile it, it gives me a headache from tears, but I still choose to believe it. Life is lived and love is given to each other in the messy chaotic beautiful middle, and God is there with us in that place. I’m grateful today that God is with me and everyone I have seen, and because of Him there is hope.

I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. John 14:18.