Until Then….


Early mornings are the best. Those dawn hours when the sun has broken over the horizon but the world is still sleeping; the hours of slow wake-up, sounds of birds breaking the silence of night.

It is early morning and right now it is easy for me to believe that someday this will all be redeemed. 

I remind myself of this when I feel particularly burdened by our world. It is the lifeline of my faith, and I believe it in the marrow of my bones. 

So if one day this will all be redeemed, how am I supposed to live? It would be easy to dismiss this as God’s problem, not mine; to decide that I needn’t go out of my way to do anything special. But the privilege of partnering with a redeemer in “Thy Kingdom Come” is compelling. 

I learn daily more of what it means to participate in kingdom building. I learn that my job is not to ridicule, to withold grace, to tell people to stop having thin skin, to condemn, to gloat, to despair, to withdraw, to be disgusted. My job, my mandate is to build bridges and seek the kingdom. My job is to love God and my neighbor, to seek the welfare of the places I live, to fight for human flourishing. 

My job is to walk in the words of the prophet Micah and do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with my God. 

There will be a day when the Kingdom of Heaven will come, and on that day I know this – all of this will dissolve into nothing in the light of the Glory of God Himself.

Until then may God heal my eyesight. May he heal our collective eyesight. 

Until then, nations will come and go. Party affiliations will change. Politics will swing from right to left and back again. This is not the Kingdom of God. Every system on earth was designed by imperfect people who were all about life on earth and not about treasure in Heaven.

Until then, may he show us his beloved ones of every tribe and every nation. May we not dismiss stories or perspectives. May we be ones who listen and learn, who are willing to admit we are wrong. May we not justify our wrongs or rationalize our sins. May we be people who see beyond the crisis of the day and beyond our own inadequacies. May we comfort the hurting, give grace to the angry, hear the other side, build bridges of peace, and always fight for the persecuted. 

May we see the world through the Creator’s eyes of love and grace.

Until then…, 

The Four C’s of Crisis Care

Kintsukuroi-Collage
[Photo Credit – Godfuel.org]

With many thanks to Melissa Dalton-Bradford 

When you first meet Melissa Dalton-Bradford, one of your first thoughts is “She is the sort of beautiful that makes me feel beautiful.”  Your second thought is life is not fair because she is incredibly smart, speaks at least three languages, and is a talented performer.

But when she begins to talk and you learn her life story, you are convinced life is not fair. Melissa buried her 18-year old son a few days after he began college. She laid a son who had been full of life and joy and talent into a coffin. The tragedy belongs in the album of the unexplainable and my throat catches when I think about this, about the loss of this boy to the family, to his church, to his community.

As I listen to Melissa, I don’t stay in that album for long, because she compassionately moves the listener to a different album – an album of hope.

I had the privilege of meeting Melissa in Amsterdam this past weekend. She was the last speaker in what was a conference full of excellent breakout and main stage sessions. I walked away with thoughts on grief and comfort whirling in my mind. It will take a long time to process.

Today however, I want to share the four C’s of crisis care: Compassion. Community. Comfort. Commitment.  These thoughts primarily come from Melissa and are just the briefest summary of all she has to say. I would urge those who want to dig deeper to like the Facebook page On Loss and Moving Forward as well as take a look at Melissa’s second book On Loss and Living Onward: Collected Voices for the Grieving and Those Who Would Mourn with Them. 

Compassion

“When others help us heal, they too suffer in some way. Suffering is the modest price of real friendship.” Wayne E. Brickey in Making Sense of Suffering.

I’ve spoken about compassion before in several pieces, but here was another reminder that we begin and we end with compassion.  We don’t “patch grief with proverbs”[Melissa Dalton-Bradford] We sit with them. The root of the word ‘compassion’ means “to suffer with.”  Melissa quoted a line “To comfort me you have to come close. Come sit with me on my mourning bench” from a piece called Lament for a Son. * So we come close, we sit, and we wait.

Commune

To commune means to ‘show up.’ If you talk to people who are grieving about what helped the most, they will tell stories with tears running down their cheeks about how people showed up. They came to appointments and to drop off dinners and desserts; they came to funerals and they made phone calls or just dropped by. We can’t do grief without communing and community. And we must bring community to the grieving.

Comfort

Melissa reminded us that we each bring a strength to the grieving process and to those who grieve. Your strength may not be casseroles. Mine certainly isn’t. But we all have something to bring. She gave the illustration of two artists who painted pictures of her son that captured his life through their art. They gave what they could. Are you an artist, a blogger, an accountant, an organizer, a driver? Come and bring your strength to the one who is grieving.

Commitment

“All grief will outlast conventional comfort”

“Grief is its own country, its own land mass.”

Melissa Dalton-Bradford

Whoever created a ‘time line’ for grief should be challenged to rethink that idea.

Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, pioneer of the conscious dying movement, lived to regret having described the common features of the grief journey as stages. She came to see that everyone grieves differently and that science collapses in the face of the mysteries of the heart. There is no map for the landscape of loss, no established itinerary, no cosmic checklist, where each item ticked off gets you closer to success. You cannot succeed in mourning your loved ones. You cannot fail. Nor is grief a malady, like the flu. You will not get over it. You will only come to integrate your loss, like the girl who learned to surf again after her arm was bitten off by a shark. The death of a beloved is an amputation. You find a new center of gravity, but the limb does not grow back.

When someone you love very much dies, the sky falls. And so you walk around under a fallen sky.**

Grief knows no timeline. Three months from now, your friend will still be grieving over her failed marriage. Two years from now, even as she moves on, there will still be times of grief.  Ten months from now, your other friend will still dream that her child is coming back, well and whole.  Fifteen years from now, a wife will still go to the grave side of the man she pledged her life to and who she thought would be there on her 15th anniversary. Ten years from now the third culture kid or refugee will still feel the weight of grief when they read the news and see “their” countries on the front page. Compassion, community, and comfort need to continue for the long haul.

I wish all of you could have heard this talk on grief and the hope that emerged from the ashes of Melissa’s healing. If she is speaking in your area – GO! But in the meantime, her books hold her story and her story brings comfort.

As I was thinking about Melissa’s talk, reflecting and writing this piece, I saw a picture of the fine art of Kintsukuroi. Kintsukuroi is the art of repairing a broken pot with gold:

“When the Japanese mend broken objects they aggrandize the damage by filling the cracks with gold, because they believe that when something’s suffered damage and has a history it becomes more beautiful.” *

When we are willing to sit with people in their grieving, we are part of this restoration. We help to fill the cracks with gold instead of sawdust, and the damaged, grieving one heals and becomes stronger and more beautiful.

*Barbara Bloom | Photo of Kintsukuroi

*http://www.iskandar.com/waleed911/griefwalterstorff.html

**Excerpt from CARAVAN OF NO DESPAIR forthcoming from Sounds True (November 1, 2015)

A Look Back and a Look Ahead

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May the wind be always at your back, and the sun shine warm upon your face, may the rains fall soft upon your fields, until the day we meet again. 

*****

After four years of blogging, this was the year that a couple of pieces here at Communicating Across Boundaries went viral. As of the beginning of this week, CAB had over 1,172,000 views and counting. And the great thing about this is that nothing changed. Absolutely nothing. I still love, but have to work hard at, writing. The same people who have read, encouraged, and emailed me during the last four years still read, encourage, and email.  I’m still the same person with the things I care about deeply  – like refugees, third culture kids, and cross-cultural communication. I’ve long known that in God’s dealings with me, he tends to wait on any sort of success. I’ve come to cherish that, because if success comes it is so clear that it has precious little to do with me, and a great deal to do with him.

So as we close out 2015 and move into 2016 I want to thank you so much! I never take it for granted that you will read. I am always touched, surprised, and delighted when you share what I write, when you like what I write, when you contact me or comment on a post.

You have helped me in more ways than you will ever know. And yet I’ve never met most of you. So to you who I’ve never met – thankyou! 

Top Posts of 2015

Stupid Phrases for People in Crisis – With 328 thousand shares, this piece, written quickly but passionately, resonated deeply with people. It made me so sad that so many of us have experienced a crisis compounded by the pain of words poorly chosen. But then there is also grace – and those pieces were shared a great deal as well.

There is something about suffering that longs for someone to sit with us through the pain. It’s the fellowship of suffering. It’s the words ‘you are not alone’ put into action. The sitting bears witness to our pain. More than a card or a casserole, the familiar, patient presence of another says to us ‘it’s too much for you to bear, but I will be with you, I will sit with you.’

If you haven’t had a chance to read the first piece and then the two inspired by it, here are the links:

Giving Grace to People in Crisis 

A Final Note for Those in Crisis

Dear Mr. Graham – Let me Introduce you to Some Friends... – You don’t have to spend much time on Communicating Across Boundaries to find out that I am passionate about correcting some of the misperceptions of Muslims and of Muslim Majority Countries. This article was written passionately in response to what I feel were some misguided and dangerous words spoken by Franklin Graham, a Christian leader and son of the beloved evangelist – Billy Graham. The piece was picked up by the Zwemer Center and I was honored that they used it. It was widely read and some people agreed with it while others vehemently disagreed.

Hear this Mr. Graham – You do not need to give up your truth claims to have dialogue. You do not have to give up the things that you hold dear, that you believe with all your heart, to be willing to form friendships and talk within relationship. In fact, your truth claims should guide you into those relationships without fear, without fear-mongering, but with humility and a desire to love and to understand. I am not asking you to not be angry about terrorism. I am not asking you not to express outrage at attacks against others that are carried out in evil malice. I am asking that you not stoop to the low-level of stereotyping all Muslims as terrorists.

Honor the Grief, Honor the Goodbye – I wrote this post over a year and a half ago, but it resurfaced this year and was widely read by a community that knows goodbyes. We know the joy of hello and the pain of goodbye, and I wrote this because I think it is so important to honor these feelings.

So if you are one of those people, one of those families that is saying goodbye…. I offer this: Sit with your grief, let it flow, don’t try too hard to analyze, don’t push yourself or others to some ‘right’ response. Just sit with it. Because as the grief comes, so will the comfort.

Saudade – A Word for the Third Culture Kid – This is the third year where Saudade has been one of the top viewed posts. It’s just something about that word. This essay is also featured in my book Between Worlds – Essays on Culture and Belonging.

I have often been looked at with impatience. “Third culture kids are not that different!” says the skeptic. “We all have times of longing,” but I would argue, gently, that our experience is different. We are neither of one world nor the other, but between. Our earliest memories are shaped by sights, sounds, and smells that we now experience only in brief travels or through movies and television. All of those physical elements that shaped our early forays into this world are of another world. And so we experience saudade. And the simple discovery of a word gives meaning to those feelings, and can validate and heal. 

A Poem of Hope – Two Rows By the Sea – Of all the pieces posted on Communicating Across Boundaries, it thrilled me that this was so widely read. It’s because it was written by a group of Egyptian Christians at the Bible Society in Egypt after Daesh killed 21 Coptic Christians on the banks of the sea. It is beautiful and it was a privilege to be able to post it on CAB.

One row stood steady, pall-bearers of death,
The other knelt ready, welcoming heaven’s breath,
One row spewed wretched, contemptible threats,
The other spread God-given peace and rest.

Paris is White, Lebanon is Brown, Mizzou is Black – As we collectively grieved the Paris attacks, I had some strong thoughts about internet outrage. Whether right or wrong, they were my thoughts at the time.

And I wake up troubled. The world feels so broken, so beyond repair.And I too weep for Paris, for the grief and loss that cannot be quantified. But I can’t help thinking about how little the other events matter to our world. I can’t help thinking that somehow we have been deceived into believing that the white, Western world is more worthy of empathy and concern, not only in our sight, but in the sight of God.

The last widely read post was Toward a Fellowship of Suffering. While it was written over two years ago, it surged in reading because of the topic.

Perhaps we feel helpless in the presence of the pain of others. We are not in control. We would do anything we could to make it all okay. But we can’t. We can’t make the pain okay. We can’t explain away suffering, and when we try, we tend to make up reasons for suffering. We end up forcing bad theology on people. A theology of suffering that has to have answers, instead of a fellowship of suffering that simply needs the presence of another. We speak too soon and our words are the salt in an already terrible wound.

_____________________________________________________

So what’s new for 2016?

  • I go to Lebanon and Jordan on January 7th, the same day as Orthodox Nativity. It will be a gift to go to be present with refugees in both of those countries and support those who work with refugees daily.
  • Robynn and Lowell Bliss will be starting a regular blog, so Fridays we will be linking up with that blog. I’m so excited for many of you to begin to hear from both of these gifted writers.
  • I hope to continue to write three times a week, more when something sparks my interest.
  • I have a new book coming! Passages Through Pakistan will be available sometime in 2016. I am excited and terrified about this book. It is a lot more vulnerable than my blog posts and tells more of the Pakistan story. But overall, it is a story of faith.

So thank you – for the myriad of ways you speak into my life. My hope is that I will be worthy of speaking into yours and above all, that I will not waste your time. Love to all of you!

Hospitality – A Humble Primer

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Hospitality—a humble primer by Robynn

A couple of weeks ago I received a kind email. A new friend at church had written honestly with some trepidation.

Hi Robynn!

I was hoping to catch up with you on Sunday but got pulled into the nursery.  I would love to chat with you sometime about small groups and see if you have any advice for me!  We are starting a new group and we have never been in a leadership position before.  You just seem like you would be so good at it. You are so warm, gracious, and humble and I am curious if you have any words of wisdom for us.  We are so excited, yet a little nervous too!  I hope you are all right, back in the swing of things, after the holidays. We are up and at it again too!  Never a dull moment!

Chris

If you read my previous piece on Hospitality-A Recovered Gift you can imagine my surprise at this email from my new friend Chris. She had no idea of the hospitality angst, guilt and inadequacies I’ve battled these past seven and a half years. As baffling as that was, it was also comforting to know that these things that seem so glaringly obvious to me remain hidden to others. Perhaps I don’t seem as strange as I feel half the time.

Chris’ question was very specific.  It got me thinking. It strikes me we do need a primer of sorts to re-establish the wonder and joy of community that happens in the welcome of hospitality. I sat down to think about how to offer hospitality, how to host a meeting, a group of friends, a gathering of hearts.  I recalled some of the lessons I learned in Pakistan growing up surrounded by a people that are renowned for their hospitality. I’ve tried to remember what I learned in India, taught by Indians and fellow foreigners. I called to mind our years of leading team meetings in South Asia. I poked around some on the internet. I asked my friends on facebook for their suggestions. Their responses were overwhelming! Together, we’ve written the book on sincere simple hospitality! Because I didn’t want to lose any of these gems, I’ve divided it up over the next couple of days. Please add your suggestions and wisdom and experience to the comment section. We, all of us, have a lot to learn from one another. 

  1. Hospitality according to Merriam Webster means, “generous and friendly treatment of visitors and guests; hospitable treatment. The activity of providing food, drinks, etc. for people who are the guests.”
  2. Be yourself and let your spouse be himself. There is warmth in your personality. Let that be the thing that welcomes your guests. Hospitality is not about (your) physical surroundings or what you are serving but about the attitude and atmosphere created by the host (FB: Diann).
  3. Respond to the people that show up. What do they need? True hospitality is being sensitive to what your guest needs at the moment they are in your home. Some need to be treated like royalty, some like family. Obviously this is easier one on one than one on twenty! (FB: Marcia). Give your guests everything you would want or need for a memorable night(s) away from your regular routine. Be helpful, be warm, be compassionate, be attentive (FB: Catherine). Stay people focused and LISTEN and LOOK (FB: Ruth).
  4. Whether one lives in a mud hut, government subsidized housing, or palatial palace, the practice of true hospitality is simply the genuine warmth of acceptance from one to another. Opening your hearth and home to others is giving the best of yourself to others. Let’s not confuse hospitality with entertainment (FB: Bettie)
  5. It is important to remember the difference between Hospitality and Entertaining. I don’t entertain. I’m not sure I even know what entertaining is but I suspect entertaining is more formal, more intended to impress. Entertainment is production based; hospitality is people based. Entertaining is offering a performance; hospitality is offering your heart (FB: Marilyn).
  6. This Pushtu proverb says it nicely, suggesting that true hospitality is available in even the humblest of homes: “Let it be only an onion, but let it be gven with love” (FB: Jonathan).
  7. Don’t stress about a clean house. You are the reason people are coming! This isn’t a realtor’s Open House. They aren’t coming so they could get a sneak peak inside your house! My friend Yesenia is on to something, More cleaning gets done in the five minutes before company arrives than all weekend long. And by cleaning, I mean putting stuff in closets and spraying Febreze. (FB: Yesenia) Dust: It’s what gives a home that warm fuzzy feeling. (FB: Susanne) Your guest can only be as comfortable in your house as you are with your house. (FB: Dan) Another friend, Anita, shared how her home was a comfortable place for teenagers to hang out, primarily because it wasn’t perfect, There is nothing wrong with a dirty or messy house as long as your pride does not keep you from welcoming others in. If you can’t bring yourself to invite a person at your door to come inside, clean you house, or better yet, WELCOME THEM INTO YOUR MESS. I have discovered through the years from our guests that they felt more welcome because the house wasn’t perfect and I sat down for a visit anyway. Another upside…my teenagers friends almost always wanted to hang out here; the kids later told me it was because they felt relaxed and comfortable, not worrying about everything being put back in its exact place (FB: Anita). Enjoy it, relax, if you feel stressed so will your guests; if your house has to be perfect, they won’t feel like they can stop by anytime (FB: Tressa).
  8. Welcoming others seems to be the heart of hospitality. Welcoming is accepting with pleasure the arrival of another. Hospitality means making others feel welcome, loved, and safe in your home (FB: Carolyn). I learned from a pastor’s wife that my home wasn’t really mine – it was God’s and He loves to share His home with others – I simply get the blessing of offering His home to others. Anytime I stopped in to see one of my Turkish friends – I am ALWAYS given something – tea, nuts, cookies – whatever they have – they might even leave me there and run out to the store to buy something to serve me – I always feel welcome. That’s a big part of it–helping others feel welcome (FB: Becky).
  9. Hospitality seems to be a condition of the heart. We move over. We “make room” (FB: Nancy). Many of my facebook friends commented on this: Hospitality is offering your heart (FB: Marilyn). Hospitality is having an open heart, an open door, an open fridge (FB: Amy). It’s an honest gift of heart, acceptance, and comfort (FB:Kendra). I’m always convicted that hospitality it is not just in our homes, it’s in our hearts wherever we are. Hospitality is a broken honest soul being open and available to another broken soul. That can happen anywhere (FB: Wendy)! I think Anne Voskamp hits the nail on the head – “Living radical isn’t about where you live — it’s about how you love.” (FB: Al)
  10. “We think sometimes that poverty is only being hungry, naked and homeless. The poverty of being unwanted, unloved and uncared for is the greatest poverty. We must start in our own homes to remedy this kind of poverty.” ~Mother Teresa
  11. My friend Allison noted that the entire process should be loving, If the only part that is enjoyable is when the guests are in the house than the whole point is missed by (your children who’ve watched you plan and get ready). It should be a joyful time of preparation, not a stressful one. (Only then will the) attitude of hospitality be passed along to your children (FB: Allison).
  12. All through scripture we’re given demonstrations on how to treat the stranger among us. Having been a stranger most of my life I know that hospitality is one of the truest and warmest ways to include the outsider. Allowing/inviting ANYONE in, strangers as well as friends, and making sure they are comfortable (i.e. water and a drink and feeling welcome to share your world with you as well as share their world (FB: Colleen).
  13. I always make tea and coffee available — a drink station of sorts— hearts are melted over hot drinks. It’s a scientific fact! I love how my friend Julie elaborates on this. Long ago someone explained to me that the origins of hospitality came from Christian history. In early Christian Times, believers were encouraged to make pilgrimages to many holy places in the Middle East. Hospitalias were places where travelers could find care and rest. It’s the origins of hospitals where medical treatment could be given. So when hospitality is mentioned I like to think of it as opportunity to bring rest and perhaps healing to another soul. A cup of coffee and conversation goes a long way to bring a mend of sorts (FB: Julie)
  14. Hospitality is being available to listen to another’s soul. Do they need a cup of coffee or a glass of water to feel at peace, then offer those with joy. Sit, cook or play with their kids with them. Be present,that is the best thing you can offer (FB: Jenni).
  15. Hospitality certainly includes the ability to be interruptible and let go of control (FB: Ali). I think this might be the fear hiding behind the excuses we fabricate to not offer hospitality. It feels, and in many ways is, risky.
  16. However, there are blessings hidden in the shadows of hospitality. Be spontaneous. Keep your eye out for opportunities and go with it. Let people in. It blesses you, it blesses them and the memories from it go a long way (FB: Karis).

What would you add? And be sure to stay tuned for Part two on Monday!

A Free Cart

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A Free Cart by Robynn. Follow Robynn @RobynnBliss and see all her pieces here.

Earlier in the week I went grocery shopping. It wasn’t that the cupboards were completely bare, far from it, but certain teenagers couldn’t find the snacks of their preference and they were beginning to protest: “There’s nothing to eat!”

I did an Aldi run! I don’t know if you have Aldi where you live, or something equivalent, but Aldi is an extremely low cost grocery store. In order to keep their prices low it’s a pretty bare bones experience.  The grocery carts are kept chained together outside. In order to get one you have to insert a coin into a metal slot. Later when you return your cart the coin pops back out. The food is kept in cases on basic metal shelving. You put your choices into your cart and then onto the conveyer belt for the check out clerk to scan it. When they’re done doing that they throw it into your cart again. If you want it bagged or boxed you do that yourself, later, over to the side, out of the way.

On Tuesday morning, as I arrived at the store, I began my routine rummage for a quarter, the magic coin that will unlock the all-important cart. (For the record Canadian quarters or Indian 1 rupee coins don’t work. I’ve tried!) My specially reserved quarter had been stolen (probably by the same “hungry” teenager). I searched in the bottom of my purse, in the car’s cupholders, under the seats. Finally I found one. With coat zipped to my chin and a tightly pinched quarter between my be-gloved fingers, I made my way toward the carts.

There was a bit of a ruckus at the cart stop. It seems someone, long gone before, had left their quarter in the slot. They had not taken the coin with them. How scandalous! One lady pulled that particular cart out of the way. “I can’t take this one. I have a quarter,” she snorted. The gentleman behind her, clearly a little confused, started mumbling, “I don’t need that. I’m okay. I have a quarter.”  Another elderly lady, just shook her head, back and forth, perplexed. Someone approaching shouted to the gathering cart seekers, “I don’t need that. I have my own quarter.”

It was beginning to be a bit ridiculous! With my silver quarter obviously out and ready since leaving the car, I wasn’t sure what to do.  I put my gloved hand in my pocket and bravely declared, “Well, I have a quarter too, but I’m happy to receive this!” It broke the independence ice. People started laughing and chuckling. Suddenly there was community in the air. And a little joy.

People here in the Midwest are very proud of their independence. We don’t need anything from anybody. We take care of our own. Asking for help is a sure sign of weakness. Midwesterners never want to appear needy or insufficient. These are a proud independent people.

In times of disaster—an earthquake, a prairie fire gone out of control—the people of the Tall Grass are undeniably the first to generously step up to help. Tell us what you need and we’ll be there; quickly, with a casserole, and cleaning supplies. We love to give. We love to help.

But on the other side, receiving from others seems to be a difficult thing for the people of the prairies.

True community is formed in the give and take of life. As we reach out to one another, and let others reach out to us, there is a depth of friendship and strength of relational network formed. It’s beautiful. It’s winsome. I would argue, it’s essential!

I remember an old song we used to sing, The Servant Song. The words went like this:

Brother, let me be your servant.
Let me be as Christ to you.
Pray that I might have the grace
To let you be my servant, too.

We are pilgrims on a journey.
We are brothers on the road.
We are here to help each other
Walk the mile and bear the load.

Recently I was convicted of independence. A family member offered to change the oil in our car. It was a very kind offer, one we weren’t expecting, nor deserving. I was tempted to blow it off and say no. In some ways it would have been easier to take it down to the Jiffy Lube and pay a stranger to do it. But here was someone offering to be our servant in this simple task. I felt in me the quiet voice of God saying I should receive. I should say yes. I should accept the gift. Let this person do this. It was important for my soul. It was also important, somehow, for his.

Receiving from others is humbling and quieting. It makes us feel small and needy. Receiving from others is also a sweet sacrament. We admit our humanity. We admit our need. We have a moment to see that we cannot do it alone.

Put your quarters away. Receive the gift.  Push the cart with your head held high. There is no shame in receiving from others. Ask for the gift to be occasionally in need.  Pray for the grace to let others minister to you and meet those needs. Refuse the temptation to believe that independence is strength. In the grand metaphor of life we are all weak and frail. We need each other.

What about you? Do you feel weak when you need help? Do you struggle accepting gifts of grace? Would love to hear from you through the comments.

Picture Credit: http://pixabay.com/en/shopping-cart-shopping-supermarket-58863/

Our Shared World

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I entered the bus with relief. It was dark from the early sunset that comes in December and raining hard. Cold wind blew raindrops that stung against faces and bodies as people tried to shield themselves as best they could.

But inside the bus was bright with light and warmth. Even though I was one of the last to get on, a seat was available at the front facing passengers on the other side.

“It’s pretty wet out there!” the bus driver looked at me and smiled. I returned the smile and nodded my dripping head in agreement. “But better than the white stuff – huh?” I laughed “yeah – way better than the white stuff.”

It was rush hour but no one was in a hurry. There was a sense of companionship and collective relief that we were all in this space – safe from the elements, warm, dry. The windows began to steam from all of us. There were nods, smiles, and shaking heads about the cold and the wet; the bus driver greeted each person with a laugh or smile.

We were a group of every color, size, and age. You couldn’t tell a nurse from a gas station attendant, a factory worker from a teacher – together in this space we were all on equal footing. City bus rides are not usually like this. There is always jostling, always someone angry, always someone taking offense. There is usually someone with serious mental illness and bus drivers are rarely patient in these parts. But this? This was different.

Like sitting in the warm sunshine, a feeling of belonging and contentment came over me. I was in the shared world of the city. I heard not a cross or angry word, instead all were just relieved to be there, safe in this space.

I thought about our world, so fractured so much of the time. Yet you don’t have to go far to find a group of people just like us – strangers all brought together by the circumstances of the weather, yet acknowledging each other as human beings, at the mercy of bad weather and difficult days.

I sat back and smiled, content for these moments, content to just be. 

Recently a short essay called “Gate A-4” that made its way around social media last year, resurfaced. The essay is a true story about a Palestinian American woman whose flight was delayed by four hours. While wandering the airport she heard an announcement asking if there was anyone who could speak Arabic and if so, would they please come to gate A-4. It was the gate where her delayed plane was to leave from, she spoke Arabic so she responded to the call. She arrived to find a woman, hysterical, who did not understand the message. She comforted her, explained the situation in Arabic, and the story ends a couple hours later with the previously hysterical woman passing around little date cookies called maamoul, common in the Middle East but not well known in the United States. The author makes this observation as she looked around at other passengers, tired but all laughing and sharing small date cookies covered in powdered sugar.

“And I looked around that gate of late and weary ones and thought, This is the world I want to live in. The shared world. Not a single person in that gate— once the crying of confusion stopped— seemed apprehensive about any other person. They took the cookies. I wanted to hug all those other women too. This can still happen anywhere. Not everything is lost.” *

Here in this bus I know what the author is talking about. I know what she means. Because I look around and see the same – weary travelers on a journey, but no one apprehensive, no one worried about the other, all grateful to be there, warm, dry, away from the rain. The only things missing are the date cookies.

All too soon, it was time to push the yellow bar indicating to the driver that my stop was coming. I left the bus, entering into the cold and wet for my final walk home. But my heart was light and glad.

Daily we watch and read stories about a world that is not shared, a world that is fractured by disparities, suffering, killings, racism, and wars. But moments at airport gates and in crowded buses remind us that there is hope. Hope in humanity, hope that a stranger who is frantic and afraid can be calmed down and share date cookies, hope that people are better than they sometimes seem. It’s in these spaces that I feel belonging and hope. Hope for humanity and hope for community.

In these moments, in some inexplicable way our stories are linked together and we understand the truth:this world we live in is a shared world. It’s up to us whether we will serve date cookies or angry words. “Not everything is lost.” 

Blogger’s note: Be sure to take a look at the original story. You can read it here. 

Picture Credit: http://pixabay.com/en/blur-blurred-bus-city-motion-16706/

Re-Engaged

Sunflower and blue door with quote

In a city, one street over may be the difference between safety and danger; between keeping your possessions and getting robbed; between walking freely and running in fear.

Sometimes its even one side of the street that is less safe. Like where I get off the subway. A while ago I talked about how I crossed to the other side. I didn’t want to face what I was facing, it was too hard and I felt too helpless. And when I didn’t feel helpless I felt judgmental, angry at those sitting on the sidewalk with their paper cups designated for money and their raucous laughter and dysfunctional yet amazing community of the homeless. What I haven’t talked about is how I’ve stayed on the other side.

It’s so much easier. I get off the subway, I walk up the stairs and there I am out in the open on the other side of the street. It’s the side with the famous graveyard where Mother Goose, Paul Revere, and five victims of the Boston Massacre are buried. The graveyard that has been there for over 350 years and sits solid, well cared for, and silent on these city streets. No one in the graveyard is asking me for anything.

This side of the street I don’t have to face the homeless. This side of the street I can be in my own world. This side of the street I can walk in freedom. But this side of the street has become boring. Because I find my thoughts and my self singularly uninteresting day after day. So today I crossed back over to the harder side.

I said hi to Valerie – it’s been so long since I’ve had a conversation with her. I exchanged banter with two younger homeless men, I stopped and talked to Mary who sells the Boston Herald, that terrible excuse for journalism. I re-engaged after being disconnected for a long time. 

In the big scheme of things perhaps this is nothing, but for me it is something. It is a concrete action. It may sound foolish but it’s a small step in being faithful. Because I’ve been trying to figure out what being faithful is all about. And in this moment I know, being faithful is re-engaging with the world around me.

A pastor friend who is much younger than me said one time “If you hate the people that God has placed you among, if you hate the place where God has put you – then you need to repent or move.*” Those words are strong words but I think they are true. If I hate the people around me, if I despise the streets I walk and the faces and spaces that I interact with every day, there is something desperately wrong. And I admit, I’ve had my times of begging God to move me, of feeling there was no way the hate would ever go away. One time he did move me and I was so happy. 

I arrived in my new place in 122 degree heat in the middle of July. As I stepped outside of the airport, met by the desert heat, palm trees and Bougainvillea, I breathed a sigh of freedom. I no longer had to try anymore. My chains were gone and I could embrace the start of a new life.

But then he moved me back. So I’m in a place where I need to re-engage. Because for me re-engaging is about repenting, and moving forward. Re-engaging is about being faithful to the God I love.

How about you? Do you love the people God has placed you among?  Do you need to re-engage or do you need to move? 

*I first heard this from Chris Gonzalez, Pastor of Missio Dei in Tempe, Arizona