A Fog of Tragedy

There is a fog over the Charles River. While the sun is trying to burn through the mist, the fog is heavy and solid.

I wonder if this is what it is like for those families affected by another school shooting. The fog of disbelief and anger so heavy; the gut-deep sadness and nausea overwhelming. Everything a blur of loss and tragedy.

Where is the sun in that fog?

While most of the country was focusing on chocolate, roses, and chalk hearts with stupid sayings, a community was facing a nightmare of violence.

This is America’s true brand of terrorism, but we clothe it in politics instead of common sense and being on the same side – the side of life, the side of protection, the side of making hard choices.

I am more and more convinced that the “individual rights” that are so highly valued in our culture are dangerous. Both my intuition and my experience tells me what is really important is community and caring for others; what is really important is giving up my rights and my right to be right for the sake of others.

But no matter what I think, there are people who are hurting and planning funerals. Young life is extinguished and parents and friends are hurting. They are broken in their grief, and even though I don’t know them, I must stand with them.

I stand with them as one who mourns a broken world and longs for redemption. I stand with them as one who cries for the moms who will no longer hold their children; the moms and dads who would beg for just one more hug, one more ‘I love you.’ I stand with them as one who prays that the sun’s light will penetrate the fog, a glimpse of God in the midst of a fog of tragedy.

Our world is not as it should be. And though we see beautiful glimpses of redemption that startle and amaze us, we still face all that is part of this broken world.

So I stand as one broken – broken by sorrow of death and loss, by pain, by the weight of difficult relationships. And in the silence of the broken I know God is near.

If you are weary of sorrow and pain, if you are face to face with tragedy and death, with the broken bones of a weary world, know that you are welcomed into the arms of God.*

Learning Our Enemy’s Stories

Everyone has a story

“An Irish proverb says, ‘It is in the shelter of each other that the people live.’ We can give shelter to each other by telling stories of what it means to be human, and by listening generously.”*


A few years ago I had a long conversation with a physician. The physician was ethnically Indian, but had moved to the United States, become a citizen, and had built up a primary care practice in a suburb of Boston. She came up to me after I had given a talk on the importance of culture and health care.

She relayed the story of some Brazilian patients that came to her practice. “I didn’t like them” she said. They were noisy, always had a lot of questions, and came to appointments with lots of family members. She would dread it when she looked at her daily schedule and saw that one of these patients was coming. She just knew that visits from these patients would put her behind schedule and cause chaos in her brain and her office.

Then one day, she unexpectedly had a bit more time. She stepped away from her computer and stethoscope and into the realm of human dialogue with a Brazilian woman. This wasn’t the first time she had cared for this patient, but it was the first time that she had asked her about more than her symptoms. She ended up in a conversation about family, about Brazil, and about how the woman came to the United States. Instead of the appointment ending in a sigh of relief that it was over, she found herself reluctant to say goodbye. The next time the patient came, the doctor did the same thing. She ended up learning more of the woman’s story, and then the story of her family. She stopped seeing these patients as a bother, and began seeing them for who they were and the stories they carried.

It wasn’t long before the entire community had learned that this doctor was different. This doctor cared. This doctor liked them. Go to this doctor, they said to each other. She’ll take good care of you.

Our world faces a massive empathy problem, an inability to listen to, much less like, those who see the world differently. The story of this doctor shows that when we take a step back and really listen, really get to know someone, our attitudes can change. It is not the only story like this one. In fact, there are many more that tell of how perceptions and feelings toward people changed, once they heard the story behind the person.

A recent article in the Plough quarterly called Meet a True Story talks about the resurgence in storytelling in the United States. The article begins with these profoundly true words: “Technology feeds our insatiable hunger for stories, but fails to satisfy our need for human connection”

The article goes on to talk about a couple of different storytelling programs that serve to help build empathy. One of these is a program that helps people inhabit another person’s story. The idea is simple: You listen to another person’s story – not with the intent to respond to it, but with the intent to retell it as your own story in first person pronoun. It changes the dialogue completely because in order to do this you have to live in the story of another; often another who you don’t agree with or like.

Dismantling our enemies requires at least three steps: proximity, curiosity, and humility. We must be close enough to listen, curious enough to want to know more than we already do about the other’s story, and humble enough to wonder if perhaps we’ve been wrong about the other all along. If we can….get close enough to hear the story of our enemy, we may be able to subvert the narrative of fear that has controlled us for far too long.

There is a lot of fear in our world. I see and hear the fear every day. It is fear of the other, it is fear that “our way of life”(whatever that may mean) is going, and it is fear that the views of others may hurt our tightly held beliefs.

In the case of the doctor that I relayed above, her life and her practice became richer as a result of her willingness to move from prejudice to really getting to know someone. In really listening to her patient, she began to empathize. When she stopped seeing her Brazilian patients for the chaos she felt they caused, and instead entered into their stories, her attitudes and behavior toward them changed. The last I heard, she had decided to break down a wall in her practice to make more room for family members to come to appointments. She is beloved and trusted in the Brazilian community.

This can be us. If we take a step forward to listening to the story of another, we can learn and grow in respect and love for those who are different from us. We can begin to love the respect the one who is other and love the one who we used to fear. People are more than the views they hold. They are mothers and fathers, daughters and sons, friends and co-workers.

As the quote above says, there are three ingredients. We must be close enough to listen, curious enough to want to know more, and humble enough to admit when we might have been wrong. The ingredients are simple, but the work is hard. Can we do it?

If we want to change the current climate, I don’t think we have a choice. 


*From Plough Quarterly “Meet a True Story” – I highly recommend this article. It is excellent and goes much more in depth on what it means to hear and inhabit the story of another.

Look at My Face


Years ago I was flying from Calgary, AB to Hamilton, ON. It was December the skies were grey and the outside temperatures were formidable. The lady sitting next to me was visibly nervous. She fidgeted with seatbelts and arm rests. She adjusted the seat back several times trying to ensure it was in its full upright position. As the airplane doors were closed and the engines started up she clutched the arms of her seat and stared straight ahead. Her breathing was shallow and she seemed suddenly pale. I couldn’t help notice this frenetic anxiety building in her. I turned towards her and casually asked, “Do you fly often?” I already knew the answer but it seemed a good conversation starter and I thought it might help dissolve the visceral vibe. She turned to answer, her eyes full of unleashed fear, “No. Do you?” Even as she answered, the plane did a little jig and she startled.

I smiled, “Oh yes! I’ve been flying my whole life.”

She tried to smile, her lips stiff and strained. “Is that normal?” she asked as again the plane groaned and shifted into reverse. We were only just now leaving the gate. It was going to be a long flight for sure. I nodded using a reassuringly pleasant expression. “I’ve been flying since I was 8 years old when we moved from Canada to Pakistan. I can’t even begin to tell you how many flights I’ve been on, how many times I’ve traversed the globe. How about you watch my face? If I get nervous you should get nervous but if I’m relaxed you can relax. I’ll let you know if there’s anything out of the ordinary going on.” She nodded. Her eyes filled with tears. “Thank you,” she managed to whisper.

And then I started chatting. I asked her questions. I told her stories. I pulled out humour and anecdote galore. When the plane lurched, when the engines roared for take off, when turbulence tickled the plane’s underbelly, I would quickly reassure her, “That’s normal, we’re fine. That’s what happens. Those are the engines. We’re still ascending. That’s the beep indicating you can take your seatbelt off. That’s a little rough spot. Totally normal. Nothing to worry about.”

For three hours and forty minutes she watched my face. She never stopped looking the entire flight.

When we landed in Hamilton and the plane had come to a complete stop at the gate, she took off her seatbelt and stood up. She turned to me one last time, her eyes filled with tears again, and she hugged me! “Thank you so much. I couldn’t have done that without you. Thank you so much.” And she was gone.

Three weeks ago we had two back-to-back tornado warnings. Kansans are very laid back about such things. They take storms in stride. Many seem to love the cloud formations and the drama that unfolds in the sky. I, however, feel oddly queasy every time a storm comes to town. I feign a calmness that isn’t mine for the sake of our children but inside my own climate begins to change. I battle nervousness and fear each time. Panic piles up like the clouds. My insides turn that strange shade of green the skies embrace during tornado time.

I learned several years ago to watch Lowell’s face. When he’s relaxed during a storm I relax. Often I ask him several times during a storm, “Are you nervous?” He reassures me and I carry on. There have been a couple of times that I can see nervousness creep on to his expression. He gathers a few more emergency supplies. He calls out for us all to get shoes on our way to the basement. Then I know it’s serious and I pray different prayers.

I’m so grateful for people who have more experience than I do—people who’ve lived through things. I’m thankful for my friends who’ve survived the infancy, the middle years, the teenage years of their kids. I can tell them things and watch their faces and know we’re going to get through this. Some friends have already emptied their nests and I’ve seen the loss and the loneliness days pass and they’ve learned to live quieter with joy. I’m thankful for those who’ve survived financial fits. I can live simply, pray like crazy and study their faces. It’s going to be okay. Our needs will be met. God will give us this day our daily bread. I have friends who have survived menopause and mid-life crisis. I have friends who have lived through dark days. Some of my friends live with people with anxiety disorder or depression. I’ve watched their faces and I’m reassured. God is still faithful. We will get through this. I know others who have endured deep tragedy. Still others who have ridden constant waves of transition and change and they’ve come through. It helps to have someone who’s been through it lend you their face and their reassurance. Their story might not look exactly like yours but in many ways, in significant ways, they understand. And they know, because they’ve lived it, that it’s going to be okay. 

Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me. My eyes are always on the Lord, for he rescues me. My heart has heard you say, “Come and talk with me.” And my heart responds, “Lord, I am coming.” I love the Lord because he hears my voice and my prayer for mercy. Because he bends down to listen. –And so I walk in the Lord’s presence as I live here on earth keeping my eyes and my heart forever fixed on Him. (Ps 23: 4;Ps 25:15; Ps 27:8; Ps 116:1,9)

 

Podcast -On Refugees, Fear, and Politics

Good morning!

After an incredible weekend with my people at Families in Global Transition, I am sending you to a podcast that Anita Lustrea did with me last week. We talked about Pakistan, refugees, fear, politics, and how America needs a spanking.

I would love to have you take a listen and let me know what you think!

More reflecting on the weekend will be coming, but today I am still in the glow of connection that happens when you get together with people who have lived across the globe and love the world.

Thank you!

Click here to listen! 

When Your Fear Goes Through the Roof

Many people are sincerely afraid when they think on the events of the last few weeks: the twin attacks in Lebanon, suicide bombing in Afghanistan, the plane crash in Egypt, protests for justice and equal treatment on campuses across the US, the coordinated terrorist attacks in Paris. Terrorism and the threat of violence have paralyzed people. What once only happened far away creeps closer with every news broadcast. Our world seems hazardous and our safety in great jeopardy. Fear has taken root and has quickly converted to a deep paranoia that colours every opinion, every conviction, every decision.

Consequently there is a growing number of American States that have emphatically decided to close their doors to Syrian refugees. Kansas Governor, Sam Brownback, in a recent editorial in the Wichita Eagle wrote with words wreaking of worry, “My first priority as governor is the safety of all Kansans, and in this dangerous environment, we must take prudent and responsible actions to protect our citizens. That is why I signed an executive order directing that no state agency, or organization receiving grant money from the state, will participate in or assist in any way in the relocation of Syrian refugees in Kansas.” (www.kansas.com/opinion)

Fear is universally understood. When I hear fear in another person’s words empathy for them rises up in me. I have felt afraid many times and it’s not a pleasant place to be. Even this past weekend I spent a nearly sleepless night battling my own set of freak-outs. Friday late afternoon, along with thousands of others, I learned of the Paris attacks for the first time. Lowell is scheduled to fly to Paris on November 25th. He along with thousands of delegates and participants is descending on Paris for the COP 21 International Climate Summit. By Saturday night fear had stirred up my soul into an intolerable frenzy. I turned and tossed all night. I’d fall off to sleep only to be awakened by dreams with bad guys and chases and dark corners and Lowell. I lied there and tried to speak reason to my tortured thoughts. But reason was weak when the lights were off. My imaginings wrecked havoc on all rational thought. I was afraid.

When faced with fear we have choices. We can give into it and let it control our behavior—which is what I did Saturday night with less than restful results. We can ignore it, silence it, stuff it down. Or we can bravely name it and bring it to the only place of hope for healing. The antidote for fear is always faith. The only analgesic for anxiety is peace.

Something happened on Sunday. Whereas Saturday night I was convinced that Lowell should cancel his planned travel to Paris, by Sunday afternoon I knew he should go. I had found a place to put my fear. This may seem overly simple. To the unafraid or to the petrified this might sound shallow and silly, perhaps even trivial or trite. But trust me. I have found a safe place to store my fear and you can too.

I’ve written before about the story in the gospels where the four men—hopeless to do anything to solve their lame friend’s problem—load him up on a makeshift stretcher (essentially an old bed) and they bring him to Jesus. Out of complete desperation, and in full awareness of their own weaknesses and limitations, they actually dig a hole in the roof of the house where Jesus is staying. There in plain view of a large crowd, the same crowd that kept them from going through the door, they lowered their friend down on his stretcher right in front of Jesus.

In the past I’ve done that for my friends and family members that have suffered. I’ve done that for whole countries. I’ve lowered all of Pakistan down on a large charpai (rope bed) at the feet of Jesus. I’ve prayed “dragging, lugging, lowering, pleading prayers” for whole regions. And now, maybe because I’ve had so much experience in doing this for others, I’m doing this for myself. I’m taking my fear through the roof–from up where it’s crescendoed down to Jesus where he ministers. My fears, my anxieties, my perpetual little panics, my worries, my what-ifs, my worst-case-scenarios—they are all laid out on a bed with a tear stained pillow case and turmoiled linens…and I’m laying them out at the feet of Jesus.

Yesterday a young friend asked me what that looks like to, “lay our worries at the foot of the cross,” or to “give our fears to Jesus”. Author Tim Keller says the imagination connects what we know to be true in our heads with what we long to experience in our hearts. There is great power in our imaginations. I imagine bundling up all my fears and bringing them to Jesus. I imagine his expression as he sees me approach. Sometimes in my mind’s eye I throw all my worries at him…as if he’s somehow to blame for it all. He just gently catches it. Sometimes I picture myself pitching my panic at him. He doesn’t even flinch. I cast my cares on him knowing full well he cares for me (1 Peter 5:7).

Playing Whack-a-Mole with our emotions doesn’t work. We cannot bop these things away. We cannot stuff them down forever. Far better is to recognize what’s going on inside us. Allow our fears to surface—acknowledge their presence. Identify them. Name them. Be gentle with your worries. There is no shame in being afraid. And then lead your fears to the bed, to the stretcher. Help them climb on. Look around inside. “Search me, O God, and know my heart? See if there are any other anxious ways within me.” (Psalm 139:21) Trap the little fear foxes and tie them down on your makeshift stretcher.

I understand the fear that drives a person to curl up into the fetal position. I resonate with the temptation to shut down, to self protect, to hold on to those I love closer, tighter, with shorter reigns. But we are called to external living. We are called to step outside, to love others generously, to welcome strangers warmly. We are called to exit the constricting circle of our fears and to enter into the wide space of faith and grace. This will not happen unless we invite our fears out of the shadows and out into the light. When we openly admit we too are afraid, bravely carrying our strapped down fears to Jesus, even that is an act of trust and surrender. This is where the work of resisting the power of paranoia begins. The Spirit of God softens our souls and leads us courageously into the risky place of love.

I prayed to the Lord, and he answered me. He freed me from all my fears (Psalm 34:4).

Giving our fears to Jesus is not magical. Anxieties aren’t immediately silenced. Fear isn’t –poof!—instantly gone. In fact nothing fundamentally changes. And yet, something noticeable does happen. Jesus does not ignore the cries of those who suffer. With his love, he calms your fears, he separates you from them, he releases you from their power. Remarkably he intentionally stays close to your broken heart. He has a special love and affinity for those who call out to him when they’re hurting. With a tangible presence he surrounds you with unfailing love and comforts you in your troubles. It’s of great consolation to me that there is nothing that can separate us from that love—not even our frenzied fears for today nor our worst-case-scenarios for tomorrow, as hellish as they may seem.

(Psalm 9:12, Zeph 3:17, Psalm 34:4 & 18, Psalm 145:18, Psalm 32:10, 2 Cor 1:3-4, Romans 8:38)

https://communicatingacrossboundariesblog.com/2014/10/29/series-on-suffering-8-a-pause/

Lost

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We walked the beach at low tide on Friday. The sun was beginning to set, and the beach was perfect; the water calm and a light breeze blowing.

We walked and we talked, at peace with all of life.

As we turned to make our way back at the end of the beach, we saw a man running. A bit farther on, a woman had stopped and was calling frantically to him. He ran up to her, put his arm around her. Her sobs carried across the sand “We need to find her, we need to call the cops. We need to do something!”

Someone was missing, and that someone was dearly loved. We were witnessing her mom and dad, desperate to find her. Suddenly the beach took on a different atmosphere. Farther up, we saw more people looking. At this point the mom was shaking with sobs. We began walking toward them, hearts sinking, wanting to offer help.

A few seconds later a cry echoed from up the beach. “We’ve found her, we have her!” A little girl was walking, surrounded by a group of people. The mom broke all records, running, running to get her girl.

We stopped and spoke to complete strangers, all of us teary, moved by the intense drama of the moment.  A lost little girl was now found. This was a happy ending. Of all the endings possible, of all the images that went through the minds of those parents, this is the one they longed for: To be reunited with their lost, little girl.

We walked back, sobered and grateful. That which was lost, was now found.

I don’t know how many of you are parents, but whether you are or aren’t, you can imagine the joy and relief of the couple on the beach. And those of us who are parents? Our fear is that our kids will be lost; lost physically, lost spiritually, lost emotionally. We long for our kids to be found; the prodigal son come home, the fatted calf killed, the feast of homecoming celebrated.

Lost – gone astray, missing the way, destroyed or ruined. The mere word brings grief.

Found – discovered, recovered, reclaimed. The grace of being found.

As we left, the sky was a glorious palette of blues, pinks, and purples. And that which was lost, was found. 

Today, may we rejoice in the found ones, and pray for the lost ones.