Betrayal and Job’s Friends (poem)

One of my favorite relatives sent me a message last night that it was her cousin whose ex-husband  killed her at a church in Federal Way this week.  A mom with three little kids….a big loving extended family in SO much pain….what can you say?

If one of the lessons in the Book of Job means anything, it might best to not say too much.  Not think there is an answer to why, or what it means, or how this could happen.   Job’s friends came to “comfort” him and ended up making him feel worse.  They talked too much.  Said things they had no right to say.  In the end of the story, God toasted them for misrepresenting His heart.  The only time they really did Job any good was when they sat in the ashes with him as he grieved.  There is a lesson there about presumption and talking way too much….there is a time to talk and a time to listen.

Years ago, I was present at court while a young friend told of her step-dad’s crimes against her humanity. Going home from that experience, I was struck silent by the depth of his betrayal of her and of her mother.  As a person of faith, I wanted to encourage, but words seemed so USELESS!  This poem was the result…..

The Betrayal

The night is dark and stormy
There’s a cold wind in my soul
Seems like I’ve been torn apart
And never will be whole.

The suffocating weight that rests
Upon my broken heart
Holds me in my silence–
Lord, when will the healing start?

I cast about in frantic hope
That there might somehow be
Someone who can reach out
To break these chains and set me free.

But who can know the torment?
Who can really comprehend
Unless they too have been betrayed
By lover or by friend?

As I cower in desperation
And in fear of what shall be,
A picture comes to mind
I know that You have given me…

I see you hanging on a cross
In agony betrayed,
Naked, torn and bleeding
So from sin we can be saved.

The one who lived and walked with You,
With whom You shared Your soul
Was the person who betrayed You—
All my agony You know!

©Teresa Norman 1988

Daffodils and Uncle David

Easter always reminds me of daffodils.  Daffodils always remind me of Uncle David. When I was about 4 or 5, Uncle David gave me a beautiful book of poetry (it had daffodils on the front and lots of pictures of beautiful flowers).  I was trying to learn to read at that point, sitting on the couch, when I asked my Mom, “What is d-o-g spelled backwards?”  She told me that was God.  I knew this was significant.

It’s even more significant that Uncle David is thus directly tied in my little kid brain to finding out about God.  Uncle David was not on everyone’s A list.  He was, in the terms of the day, “slow” or “different” (not dumb, just not quite functioning at the mental complexity his particular decade and community preferred.  He had gotten in some pretty awful spots when someone misunderstood his assessment of different situations (think “padded room”).  Uncle David spent a good part of his later life shuttled off to a halfway house on Capital Hill in Seattle.  Some of the relatives breathed a sigh of relief, and except for coming to the island to pick blackberries and thimbleberries and huckleberries once a year so I could make him a pie, we didn’t see much of him for quite a while.

Uncle David died quietly at home.  A funeral was planned for our little community, with some folks figuring immediate family would be the only ones who showed up.  Boy, were we surprised!  From David’s delightfully diverse community, carloads of people came to our small town and filled the funeral home.  After the formal part of the service was over, someone from the back spoke up and said, “We would like to say something…..”  The minister let her come to the microphone.  One by one, a parade of people came forward to speak about how David’s simple ability to love and encourage those around him, to do practical things, to serve, to help in any way he could had blessed their lives over and over again.  We sat their dumbfounded, humbled and incredibly grateful for the profound lesson unfolding in front of us. God, in typical fashion, chose the humble of the world to teach us that his ways aren’t our ways.  That we had missed the point entirely by talking more than we listened.  That there had been much to learn from a humble man with no guile who sought to love his community.  I am grateful each Easter, especially, as I think of the lessons Uncle David gave me on living in the grace of God.

The unexpected catch

One night, shortly after he returned from his first season as a crew member on a purse seine boat in Southeast Alaska, my 17 year old son came tearing into my bedroom about 2 in the morning with his eyes about as big as dinner plates.  “Mom, didn’t you hear that?  You’ve not gonna believe what just happened….”

Before bed that night, he and I had been talking about personal choices (temptation, in my outdated terminology).  Like any Mom who loves her kid, I had been trying to explain how important it was to make choices that get the kind of results you want (not ones that get you over your head in messes you can’t get out of).  I think my message had been falling on somewhat plugged ears.  After all, he’d just been in Alaska all summer.  He was all grown up now:)  He’d heard all this before….(lots of times).  He was being nice about it, but he still wasn’t listening….but that was around 10 pm.

My husband had built us a beautiful house on 5 secluded acres at the end of a dead end road called “Sanctuary Lane.”  It was a sanctuary….there were deer, blue heron, occasional stray cows and horses, coyotes, owls, eagles, and a lot of other wild or semi-wild critters in the neighborhood.  Also, seven of our kid’s closest friends, and some of our closets friends, ones  we had purposely bought property with and chosen to raise our family next to. Being a commercial fisherman/boat builder, it seemed there was always a bit of spare fishing net around.  Don’t know why he first thought of it, but the extra fishing net made a really good “pick it up and get it out of the way to weed eat around it” fence around the beautiful, big raised bed organic garden.  We had an incredible raspberry and strawberry patch…

Anyway, while I slept peacefully in the room on the back side of the house, our son had gone to bed and been woken up by the horrible screaming and thumping out in the yard outside his window.  He was a really sound sleeper usually, but this woke him up from a dead sleep with his heart pounding.  He looked out his second story window and could see a ruckus in the moonlight – a couple of big critters running through the yard.  Our little dog, “Jumbo”, who was always up for a good chase, was going nuts running back and forth around whatever was in the garden.  Then he yelped in pain.

Sounds pretty eery at that point.  (Of course, neither his sisters nor  I heard a thing).  He went running downstairs and turned on the porch light to see what the big commotion was.  There were two deer running around outside the fishnet fence, and a horrible noise coming from inside, with Jumbo barking frantically.  Someone had forgotten to shut the gate.  A baby deer, who did not listen to his mom and dad when they said to stay away from the human places, had gone into the garden to get some of the nice tender strawberries.  He now had his head caught in the net and couldn’t get out.

Mommy and Daddy deer were trying to keep Jumbo from hurting their baby, but there was nothing they could do to get him out of the net.  He was caught tight.  If he hadn’t screamed, he was either gonna die there, or stay stuck for a good long time.  But their baby hadn’t listened and he was now going to deal with the consequences of his really bad choice.

Our son went and  got a big knife out of the kitchen, got a flashlight, and went and sat on the terrified little deer and cut him out of the net.  The baby deer was unhurt and managed to scamper to safety, hopefully thinking more of listening to his parents and less of the taste of fresh strawberries.  Maybe he learned something that night? Wonder what the conversation was like in his neck of the woods after that close call…..

So, as my wide-eyed son sat on my bed, I was overwhelmed not just at his quick thinking creativity in saving the baby deer, but with the faithfulness of God.  Even if just for the moment, it didn’t need further explanation that sometimes we can’t get ourselves out of the messes we make.  Sometimes we need to humble ourselves and ask for help.  Crying out for someone bigger than us to come and save us from our foolishness and give us another chance is a great start.

God is not limited, like us parents are, at finding ways to make a point.  Still think someday, I’ve got to find a way to turn this into a children’s book, at least  for the children, and grandchildren of Sanctuary Lane.

Sometimes I don’t like God

It was a shock last week, to admit to myself, that there’s times I don’t really like God.  Our C-Group (community group) was reading a bunch of passages out of Jeremiah as part of our One Year Through the Bible thing, and I was starting to get bummed.  As a Christian, I’ve always known I’m supposed to love, honor, fear, reverence, worship, obey and respect God.  But I had to admit, reading some of the verses about the times God said and declared awful catastrophes for all kinds of people-it seemed so random and unfair! Where’s the justice in all that?  Still, I was pondering this with a little a bit of emotional distance left….until Wednesday.

Tuesday morning, our beautiful little new grandson, Austin, made his entrance into the world.  Strawberry blond, crying, wiggling….all those cute little newborn things.  I was privileged to be there to watch the miracle of new life as he made his entrance and to rejoice that even with all the unexplainable ##*#* going on in the world, God still seems to be in favor of life.  Things were good, and the gratitude level was high, even though there was this nagging question about whether or not it was blasphemy to admit I had some issues with Jeremiah.

Wednesday morning at 4:40 a.m., our daughter called to say their  precious little guy had just been airlifted to a city hospital in severe respiratory distress.  My voice and my words told her we’d be there as soon as we could catch a ferry to pick her up and bring her over to the little man (her husband drove ahead to meet the chopper but she had to wait for the doctor’s to come in and release her).  My heart, however, did a quick trip back to Jeremiah and the God who isn’t always very nice and prayed (begged) with all sincerity, that He would be the nice, kind, loving, life-giving God this time to this one little family who has waited and longed to meet this precious little guy we’ve all already loved for nine months and one day.

Pulling my head and my heart out of maternal/infant mortality statistics I’ve read and focusing on what was instinctual, needed and helpful, my inventory of my available faith level at that point was on empty.  So, I texted some people I knew would wake up, see their messages and pray.  Then we got out of here and went to be with the Mommy.

At the hospital, while we waited for doctors to show up, get out of meetings, and get Mommy on her way, I used Facebook to put the word out to pray. People who don’t even know our daughter and her truly wonderful husband responded and there were prayers going up for this little man, and people sending words of encouragement and hope.  Thank you!!!!!

As much as I would like to pretend that I was full of faith and knew God was gonna make things Ok, I wasn’t and I didn’t.  I was AFRAID that maybe, like so many other people in so many other places who live with loss and disaster each day that has no explanation, that this little family might have to experience that because God was doing something else.  Gratefully, my fears did not materialize and Austin’s doing much much much much better….

Lesson learned:

  1. There are times when your tank is empty, and that’s when the prayers of others who aren’t on empty can help carry you, if you just ask.
  2. The community of  faith will respond if asked and their prayers may touch God’s heart, and keep yours from breaking.
  3. Pray.  Ask others to pray.  Pray some more.
  4. You don’t have to go through it alone….ask for help!  Others can believe even when you can’t.
  5. Don’t forget to give thanks, regularly, privately, publicly and every other way as a matter of habit and discipline.
  6. Maybe, for now, I’m gonna focus on gratitude, and quit reading the Jeremiah sections (one of our amazing friends-a spiritually wise lady I really respect, said there was a time in her life where she couldn’t do a bunch of Psalms at once-they were too violent, and the priest just told her to pick a different reading….God bless him!)

To the two or three people who might read this, thank you.  To all those who prayed for Austin and his family, THANK YOU SO SOSOSOSOSOSOSO MUCH!

Maybe there are times when the fear of God takes precedence over the love of God….and maybe whether or not I LIKE Him is irrelevant?

(PS  I printed out the six pages of comments and prayers ya’all put on Facebook for Austin and his family and gave it to his Mommy and Daddy for his baby book)

Reality Check–Cyber Psalm 15

Our friend, Dan, had a heart attack this week.  Scary.  So that made it doubly cool to get a perspective challenging email from him this morning with this Cyber Psalm from a blog he likes by David Ker, a Wcliffe Bible Translator in Mozambique.   

Cyber-Psalm 15

 NOVEMBER 23, 2007                                                                   by David Ker

What would heaven be like

if books of theology 
were written by children not men?

And what if sermons were delivered by the poor. 


And devotional books were written by the hungry. 


And hymns were composed by the sick and the old.

The Sermon on the Mount requires no interpretation, 


unless you are fat and happy.

If our hope of heaven were colored 


with children’s crayons and felt tip markers.

And our theology of hell were tempered 


by the dying breath of those who suffer.

The hair-splitting and hand-wringing 


of over-educated men in ivory towers 


goes largely unnoticed by grandmothers in their kitchens 


and office workers in their cubicles.

They go on putting silly magnets on their fridge 


And trading forwarded e-mails about heaven. 


Two thousand years of systematic theology 


Disturbs them not a bit!

God is honored and praised  

Hoped for and prayed to 


By myriads who never learned Greek.

Their revelation is not a scroll  

But a hope vaguely imprinted 


On a soul made by God.

The sick and the blind and the poor  

Receive Jesus with gladness. 


The Gospels require no spiritualized application.

Feed us, friend Jesus. 
  

Our stomachs are empty.


You are the one our hearts hope for.

Heal us who are sick. 
    

We ache and we suffer.

Save us in death. 
    

We are dying in darkness. 


Savior Jesus, our hope at life’s end.

Fishers of men…

I’m really glad Jesus hung out with fishermen and chose them on purpose(especially since I’m married to one).  Fishing is not necessarily a real cerebral kind of thing-not  theologically complex, and nowdays not always even politically correct.  However, it’s a very real, tangible, practical and ” in this world while still being part of the other one” kind of thing. 

Fishermen spend a LOT of time and energy (and money) and care getting their nets ready.  Certain kinds of nets fish best in certain waters for certain kinds/sizes of fish….nowdays there’s lots of rules to all this Jesus and the guys probably didn’t have to deal with:)  For the past several months we’ve had a garage full of cork line (corks spaced on a line every so many inches), weed line (I think it helps keep weeds from getting in the net?), lead line (holds the net down so the fish can swim into it and get stuck) and several piles of net.  All of this had to be hung (put together) into the appropriate configuration.   A lot of work and several days later it is now loaded into the holds on the boat. 

Why so much work on the net?  It’s all about how fish look at it.  Is it the right color to go with the water they’re in?  Does it ripple right in the water so it’s not conspicuous-does it seem like it naturally belongs there?  The net is really important ’cause it’s a tool to catch the fish, and fishing is definitely about the fish-not the fisherman. 

But as I was watching the final stages of this operation, I thought about Jesus calling some fishermen to be “fishers of men” and follow Him.  And I thought about how if the net doesn’t look “natural” in the water, fish run away from it.  Nobody likes to think of themselves as a fish someone is trying to catch, but some of the evangelism schemes I grew up hearing sure seemed like nets I would have (did!) run from. Lots of hype, pressure, glitz etc.  Nowdays we’re more politically correct and sensitive, but I guess I’m coming to the thought that God knows what fish are made of.  He knows what we are made of, and it’s OK to reach people in ways that are natural-not contrived. 

There are people in my life that I deeply want to see know God’s love.   I don’t know how God makes that happen.  But I think I see some parallels: the need for boyancy (corks), depth (lead line), keeping the weeds out of my life (weed line),  and hanging in the water in a way that is natural-not contrived.  You can learn a lot from fishermen. 

Standing here beside the ocean

Staring at the sea

Wondering how the God who made all this

Could still choose me

And yet, I hear your voice, Lord,

Even as in days of old

Promising a harvest-

More than my net can hold.

 “Cast your net into the water

Put your trust in Me.

Diverse fish in diverse places-

Trust Me and you’ll see.

It ain’t over yet, My child.

The best is still to come.

As I always have,

I still hang out with fishermen.”

 (From a dream, 8/3/01)

If We Are His Body…..

It surprised me to see all the theological chatter when I tried to look up this poem.  In my simple way, I hadn’t seen this famous poem as being all that complicated.  Rather, I saw it as somewhat awe-inspiring and humbling that God would trust us with being “laborers together with Him” in the world….

 Christ Has No Body

“Christ has no body now but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which He looks
Compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which He walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which He blesses all the world….”

 Some of the theological chatter said it was blasphemy-that it implied that Christ didn’t ascend to heaven in a transformed body…..bla bla bla.  In my humble opinion, I don’t think the author was trying to yank someone’s chain.  I think she/he/they (there’s some debate on authorship) was trying to make a significant, complex, mind-boggling mystery real, tangible and practical to those of us without MDvs. 

A friend’s blog posed the question recently, “What are you praying for?”  I guess I am praying to recognize Christ in the many ways He shows up- not just in the Bible, or in church, but at work, in the grocery store, on the street, on the docks, at friend’s houses, in the people I meet each day.  I am praying to reflect to those He connects me with that their lives have value because He made them with a purpose and has plans for their good!  I am praying to learn to live out my faith in ways that reflect the miracle that God uses broken human beings to help make grace real.  I am praying that I will learn to be part of the solution and not the problem in the lives of those I am called to love….As I seek to be present in the moment with some friends facing difficult transitions, I pray above anything, “God, teach me to love.”

Legacy (poetic & personal)

Legacy

There’s a little girl in a country church
Watching Daddy today
Wondering why he lifts his hands
And tears fall as he prays….
She’s still too young to understand
How her Daddy’s heart does break
As he’s praying for the wisdom
He knows raising her will take…..

Father God, he’s asking you
For wisdom from above
To write a living legacy
In the heart of the ones he loves….
Let his life, his words, his prayers
Show them how much their Maker cares
And teach them they are precious in your sight.
Help them to walk in your light.

The little girl is older now
With children of her own.
Life hasn’t always been easy
But there’s something she’s always known….
She knows there’s a God in heaven
Who has a plan for good
For her and for her children,
Just like Daddy prayed she would…..
 
Now Father God, she’s asking you
For wisdom from above
To write a living legacy
In the heart of the ones she loves….
Let her life, her words, her prayers
Show them how much their Maker cares
And teach them they are precious in your sight.
Help them to walk in your light…

**************************************************************

Any other accomplishment, goal, task, project or pleasure isn’t gonna mean much if I blow it on passing on God’s hope to those I love.  My prayer probably every day for the last six years in particular (since moving to Seattle) has been, “God, teach me how to make time for people,” but even while praying that, I keep taking on more tasks, which take more time, which mean less available opportunity to build relationships….

I love doing practical things and would much rather act than just have a meeting and further discussion.  But sometimes I’m way over the edge on how many practical things I think I can take on. 

Right now I’m reevaluating a lot of things (tasks/projects/committments)and trying to mindfully, intentionally learn invest in the things that are really important (people!).  Grateful, in the words of Philippians 1:6 that “He who began a good work in my life will carry it on to completion….” I’m definitely a work in process (and not always enjoying the process!)

Domestic Violence Escape Plan

Domestic violence kills people. The following link to a  Domestic Violence Escape Plan  is frighteningly real.  The rules of logic or civilized behavior do not  apply when someone is battering and abusing the people they should be caring for.  It’s hard to decide the “rules of engagement” for this kind of domestic terrorisim.  Someonetimes retreat is the most reasonable option, but retreat to a safe place. 

Yesterday I watched friends deal with an ongoing domestic violence situation.  They had helped a woman and her  kids get to a safe place, and for that service, her husband was threatening to kill them.  I was struck by the similarities between a pastor (shepherd) and a soldier….both on watch, facing risk while protecting their people from those who come to destroy.  As a kid who grew up where violence and abuse of different kinds were commonplace, I was/am moved beyond words to see church leaders like my friends who will stand up, stand in the gap, and say, “No.  Not on my watch, ” instead of taking the easy way out, blaming the victim, or pretending it will all “work out.”    

While abuse degrades, humiliates and makes people unaware of the power and choices they have to affect the outcomes of their lives, care like this, empowers, instructs, encourages and shepherds people.  Some of the most powerful words in English are “I have a choice.”  Those being abused have a choice to get help (hard choice, but God given), abusers have a choice to stop (in that moment before they choose to hurt people they are supposed to love and care for, there is time to stop….it is always a choice)…..the only ones with no choice are the kids, if no one will stand against in the gap for them.

Pastor Deanza did a really good post on some of the statistics on domestic violence….and Dani Moss has a good site with an extensive amount of resources for those trying to find their way  through these issues from a faith perspective.

Welcoming Strangers

…A newly arrived local refugee’s 16 year old  friend used her less than perfect English skills and took him to school herself  and registered him after he had waited a month for the caseworker to do it…. there are many of these stories across the country. 
Resettlement agencies have a government contract to do a checklist of things for a limited time (90 days) for the people they resettle.  That’s their job.  They get a contract (and money) to do these things.  Some of those things include:
  1. Meet people at the airport
  2. Finding appropriate housing
  3. Provide furniture
  4. Sign up for Medicaid  & food stamps 
  5. Refer to ESL classes
  6. Obtain Social Security cards
  7. Registering kids for school
  8. Health screenings
  9. Employment referral

 If, due to caseworker overload, complexity of some cases, how long even making a medical appointment at a public clinic can take, or some other reason, it doesn’t get done, people suffer.  I see two approaches to take to this problem-for someone to hold agencies accountable to do what they contract to do, or, maybe, for the rest of us to accept the fact that it doesn’t ALWAYS get done, won’t get done if something doesn’t change and move on to How Can It Get Done and What Can We Do To Help?!  

Churches are the great untapped resource here.  We are called and commanded to love people.  This doesn’t require a great mind or a theological education.  It requires investing some time, patience, energy and creativity.  (Sometimes it’s easier to just give money).  But it’s a long-term investment that pays off no matter what the economy does or doesn’t do:) .

I found an article in the Covenant Companion this morning on creative ways for churches to welcome newcomers to their lives, their churches, and their communities (see the link). Some of her great ideas included: 

  1. Visit a refugee church (you may not understand the language, but you may recognize some of the melodies and sing along)
  2. Ask them how you can help.  Listen for answers
  3. Read to young kids in a refugee family as English practice
  4. Invite their congregation to join you for a potluck meals together
  5. Invite kids to your youth group
  6. Invite women to your women’s group
  7. Pair families by ages of children and make friends in spite of language barriers (kids will figure it out first!)
  8. Take an ESL tutoring class and tutor a family or help with homework
  9. Practice English speaking with people who don’t speak English
  10. Volunteer to take people to doctors and dentists and agency appointments (make the appointments, help with transportation-someone else may have to interpret)
  11. Help fill out forms for jobs
  12. Invite them to your holiday gatherings, go to theirs
  13. Teach computer skills (donate your used computers)
  14. Help people learn to drive and pass the driving test
  15. Help them understand budgeting in the US
  16. Host a refugee congregation in your building (thanks to Kent Covenant Church for renting space to the Karen Community and several other refugee communities!)

In summary: treat other people the way you would want to be treated if you were the newcomer.

Jesus said….”I was a stranger and you took Me in….” (Mt. 25)


Who am I?

I don’t remember  the purpose of the meeting, but several hundred of us were gathered in the meeting hall at  Langley United Methodist Church, during the days when Tom & Claudia Walker were pastoring there.  Different now forgotten things went on during the meeting, but then Tom and Claudia got up to sing one of their songs, “Child of God.”  This was probably 15 years ago, but my life has never been the same. 

“I am a child of God-nothing can shake my confidence.

I am a child of God….no one can take my inheritance.

Never alone I’ll stand, strengthened by God’s own hand.

I am a child.  I am a child, a child of God.

My name is Marie, now I can see

What this relationship’s doing to me

Last night he hit me, I fell on the floor–

Just like he’s hit me so often before.

He says he’s sorry.  He brings me flowers…

Things will go fine for a couple of hours…

He says I’m nothing.  He says I’m scum.

Then he hits me because that’s what he does.

I am a child of God-nothing can shake my confidence.

I am a child of God….no one can take my inheritance.

Never alone I’ll stand, strengthened by God’s own hand.

I am a child.  I am a child, a child of God.

My name is Manuel.  My hands can tell

The story of how you’re living so well.

I work every day but my family is poor

So you can have coffee bananas and more.

The landowners say if I don’t mind my ways

They can find substitute workers to pay.

They say my soul will only be free

In heaven some day, that’s what they say.

 I am a child of God-nothing can shake my confidence.

I am a child of God….no one can take my inheritance.

Never alone I’ll stand, strengthened by God’s own hand.

I am a child.  I am a child, a child of God.”

There were at least three of us who wept and wept, even after the song  and the beautiful, worshipful, expressive  dance Carol did during it were over.  Something had happened….in this song, by the grace of God, we saw a new reality for how God sees us, even in our brokenness.  He loves us all, even in our failures, poverty, isolation, differentness, or in other groups excluded in their society.  He sees us not as life’s incidences and conflicts had taught us to view ourselves, but with through the lens of the dignity He created us for. 

(Sorry I have lost the third verse (the story of a man being disowned by his family for admitting he was gay-very powerful! ), or the music to share with you (it was beautiful).

Thank you Tom & Claudia for sharing your gifts.  Wherever you are, hope you are well and blessed with the kind of grace you have shared with others.

Reflections from the kitchen (refugee resettlement)

Kids are the most awesome ice breaker.  Start with  a family of three working (English only speaking) adults, add a family from Burma (a dad and two daughters , age 9 & 11 speaking Burmese and Karen-little English)  in the process of being resettled to the US  from a refugee camp in Thailand, put together in an apartment for two weeks and what do you get?  A recipe for some of life’s better moments.

Start with lots of vegetables, add a huge quantity of rice and fish sauce, mix with liberal amounts of curry and laughter. Throw in lessons on recycling, can openers, garbage disposals, dishwashers, running water, teapots that stay hot, and some pantomimes of going out, coming in, time to sleep, and “Ten Apples Up on Top” for some diligent eager students.  Show a video done by kids doing relief work in Burma with their parents (www.freeburmarangers.org) and you will find a way, in spite of language barriers, for the dad to communicate that he was an IDP, packing his possessions on his back as he fled from the Burma army.  The girls were born in the refugee camp and this is the first time they have ever been free.  Give thanks with a grateful heart for food, shelter, safety, family, new friends, and the grace of God to cross borders, boundaries and language barriers as you pray the agency resettling them will find an appropriately priced apartment in our very expensive city….

Practice price comparisons at Ballard Market and Viet Wah.  Glimpse how overwhelming Costco can be while getting a deal on a rice cooker for their new apartment.  Play with scrabble pieces together practicing showing love through laughter and phonics and listening….Stop, look and listen at cross walks.  Wear seat belts.

Grateful once again for the incredible gift of community, and how truly amazing grace is.  Reminded once again you don’t have to be especially gifted to be able to touch someone’s life.  You just have to show up, and be willing to treat someone else like you would want to be treated if you were a stranger in a strange land.  It’s SO worth it.  Glad again, that even quiet bookkeepers who like to cook Thai food and have a house full of people have a place in the kingdom of God.  Grateful.  Very grateful!

Give thanks for all those partners on this journey: Deanza, who brought a doll house that is getting MUCH use, Kate & Janelle and a friend who took the family to the aquarium last Saturday, Mona and Rosie who have translated by cell phone across different states and in person (and brought an amazing meal), Dr. Tao for advice, our daughter Ginny for being willing to share our space and befriend those in it, Linda for being an amazing friend, example, translator, and either big sister or new auntie to her delighted new friends, Maggie for being a caseworker or pastor (I have a really hard time telling the difference on most days as I watch her shepherd those God has placed around her!), Tim for the balloons we used to play volleyball in the living room in the evening without disturbing the neighbors, Gary & Gloria, Bethany (who suggested to her friend the case manager to call Deanza), the folks at World Relief, and the list goes on…

PS  When this opportunity first came up, I thought it looked like a good fit, but I hesitated to ask my husband what he thought ’cause it was his schedule that would have to get monkeyed with to make it work. But he took the bait too, and has proven, again, to be amazing.  I don’t think he ever saw himself as a teacher before, but he excels at it.  Funny how both time and hearts can expand to make room for what needs to fit in them.  Funny too, how once you let people in to your heart, normal is over.  Wouldn’t have it any other way.

Welfare, Community Development and the Golden Rule

 How do we walk a mile in someone else’s shoes? It’s not easy. They don’t always fit well. Sometimes we don’t like the style, the material they’re made from, or the way they pinch. Other times, we wouldn’t be caught dead in them–it would ruin our fashion image. What if you were in a part of the world where you couldn’t afford shoes in the first place and just getting food for your family was enough of a challenge? We want the power to choose our shoes, (and everything else in our lives), and we don’t want to be in a position where we have to take whatever shoes we can get. But what if it doesn’t work out that way? If you need help, how would you want to be treated? What kind of help would help you?

In English class I read a story called “Is There Life After Welfare?” written by a former welfare mom. In her story, we met a news story, a faceless statistic, and a self-described “hussy.” But that’s not all. We met a resilient woman who is an author, a college graduate, and someone who can teach us about helping. We need to see through her eyes and try to walk for a morning in her shoes. Many who have much to say about “those ‘tramps’ just using the system” have no idea what it’s like to work for minimum wage for long hours and still be looked at as a bum; to be treated like dirt because the only insurance you can get is medical coupons, or because food stamps help you feed your children. They haven’t been nameless faceless nobodies to a stranger with power to approve or disapprove the paperwork that either helps provide a house for your kids or leaves you homeless. This woman’s story provides a different view than we normally get from our self-righteous high horses and comfortably distanced lives.

Many of us have never had to live without choice. Many of us have never really been poor.  I have never been poor. I have always lived in the wealthiest country in the world and had access to plenty of food, to transportation, to a dry place to live, and  skills to get some kind of job.   If  I want to pay the price in money, energy, commitment, paperwork and homework, I have the choice to get an education. I’m not only white–I’m a white American, so there’s a whole system that supports my success, unlike that of others with richer skin tones.  Unfair? Yes.

Although I have wealthy friends who have at times been appalled at the so called “poverty” evidenced by the cars we drove (or push started at times:), the outhouse we used while we waited to afford indoor plumbing (while we were building a home), or the fact that we are currently in a functional rental triplex and not the owners of our own palatial dwelling space at the moment, my life is blessed. I am privileged and grateful. 

My husband and I are on the board of a local non-profit that provides help to internally displaced people in Burma, among other things.  As a non-profit, we wrestle with how to best give without demeaning those on the receiving end; how to give ownership and empowerment, while maintaining stewardship of the resources we are responsible for. The IRS and the donors need one thing. Those on the receiving end of the gift need something else. In America, agencies proudly put their name on projects….”brought to you by______,” or “your tax dollars at work.” We “give,” but too often it’s still all about us.

We have tried to go a different path in this, following the example of friends who have worked overseas with community development for many years. They have seen the problems that occur when the giving takes away from those receiving and demeans (like welfare) those we are attempting to empower. So, if you look for “World Aid projects” overseas to be identified by big plaques or banners with our name on it, you won’t find them. You’ll find schools, clinics, orphanages, and food supplies under the name and management of the communities who benefit from them. Our job isn’t to make OUR name known; it’s to build up the communities we serve. While it is necessary for to be able to demonstrate to donors and the IRS here in the US and elsewhere what their generosity has accomplished, and so to be able to say “what World Aid did this year….”, on the receiving end, it is not necessary or helpful for it to continue to be “our project.” Our side of the accounting/giving equation needs to demonstrate our stewardship and accountability, but on the receiving end, those we serve need ownership and power of their own lives and over the resources we have been blessed to be able to give them. It wasn’t ours in the first place (it’s been given to us to us to give), and after we give it, it’s theirs, not ours.

It all seems to go back to the golden rule—treating other people the way we want to be treated. Community development and human development….do they have to be that different? Is there a way to help empower people without making them nameless and faceless? Can we learn to listen to each other’s story?  Can we discover what makes the difference between those who rise above their circumstances and those who don’t? Is it luck? Character? Attitude? Or is it realizing how much power and choice they do have to make things happen, like Annie Downey?

America is not the center of the world, but only a part of it. There is great poverty of many kinds here, as well as in the countries my heart is attached to in Southeast Asia. Americans have much to teach, but also much to learn from our sisters and brothers in places we can’t pronounce, and in the houses next door. Everyone has a story and a dream. 

All of us can change the part of the world we are responsible for, if we’re willing to pay the price. For some, the path to dignity means long hours, faceless interviews and menial tasks for low wages.  For refugee friends, it means leaving the familiar and taking a risk that the promise of America is real, and that if you work hard and listen well you can learn to survive in a place where the government might not be the enemy, you can be free, and your kids can get an education. For us at World Aid, it means listening to the hopes and needs of the communities we work with. They already have the culture, the language and the heart. We can help provide funding and help share their stories with the rest of the world. One of their fears is being forgotten….that no one knows their story, their reality, or their dreams. If we listen to each other, and learn from each other, treat other people the way we want to be treated, that can be changed. The Golden Rule still works.

Starfish tossing

I don’t know where the story originally came from, but most of you have probably heard it….the one where the guy is running along a beach in the morning and he comes to part of the beach that’s covered with beached starfish.  There’s a little girl there picking up starfish and tossing them back in the sea.  The man questions her on what she’s doing, and tries to tell her she can’t save all of them-asks what difference she can make.  The little girl responds, as she throws in another one, “Made a difference to that one…..”  Being unqualified, uneducated, inexperienced, and doing too little, too late, with not enough, for too few seems a lot like that sometimes.  But to the one (or more!) that you do get to encourage, bless, walk beside, befriend, help feed, house, care for or educate by the actions you do, I got to believe it makes some kind of difference!  

In the words of St. Francis, “Preach the gospel.  If necessary, use words.”

Jesus is a refugee (poem)

See the mother in the jungle, tiny baby in her arms,
Running from the soldiers who’ve come to rape and kill
She’s tired from the running, desperate, hungry, full of fear—
How can she know God loves her, and that He walks beside her there?

He is there beside her in the dark and in the cold.
He knows what she is feeling, in the Bible it is told
That He was once a refugee. His parents ran to save His life
From the soldiers sent to kill him in Herod’s infanticide.

The way that God has chosen to loose the bands of wickedness
To give bread to the hungry and to help free the oppressed
Calls us to walk beside her in our prayers and in our hearts:
As the body of Christ, the servant king, it makes her burden ours.

But words and prayers are not enough, no matter how well spoken
God’s love requires our presence so He can walk beside His children.
Even though we’re broken, we are His feet and hands.
We stand in need of grace to obey His commands.

Though she sits in darkness, He came to be the light.
Though she now is hungry, He is the bread of life.
Though we turn aside sometimes or don’t know what to do,
We are all called in some way to help her make it through.

He chose to entrust us with His reputation
And to make us His body throughout every nation
As a king become baby, He risked everything
Calling us to embody the love that He brings….

“I was hungry and you gave me bread
Thirsty and you gave me drink
A stranger and you took me in
In prison and you came to me….”
Lord, when did this happen?
His answer is quite clear
“When you did it for the least of these
It was for me, for I am there….”