Monthly Archives: August 2013

Update

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The last week has been my hardest one in Clarkston.  It held the very thing I was so afraid of, three years ago, when Doug shared his desire for our family to adopt a refugee family.  It held failure, brokenness, and deep relational pain.

I mentioned last time I posted that we had met a new friend in a parking lot in one of the apartment complexes in March.  He is a refugee from Ethiopia who speaks six languages and who has come to Clarkston via a very long and winding road with his thirteen-year-old son.  His wife and their two younger children are still not here yet.

He waits for so much.

When we met him, he was waiting for a job.  When we serendipitously ran into him again (same parking lot) in late July, he was waiting for a job…still.

The door opened ten days later for him to work at our children’s school via a temp agency that they use for their facilities staffing.  God’s hand was evident in the coming together of the details, and our new friend had a new job.  It was a good one – daytime hours, more than minimum wage by a fair bit, and offered us the chance to get to know him better as we drove him to and from work on our way to and from school every day.

Hope is beautiful.  It came alive in his countenance.  He dreamed big, grateful dreams out loud in sixth language English…

    “I tell my son he can be President of the United States!”

    “You to come to Africa with my family?  I show you my country!”

    “How much is car? How much is house?”

    “Job is good.  Very good.  Thank you for job.”

Three weeks of gorgeous hope.

Loss in the face of that much hope is devastating. Sickening.  Disgusting.

A week ago, our friend was sick.  His cheerleaders and teammates (his boss, my husband) told him the day before he was sick to be sure to call the temp agency if he could not come to work the following day.  He did not call.  He did not respond to Doug’s texts or calls.  He called (finally) at 2:30 pm and communicated what he thought best.  His words were received by the staffing agency as a lie. The combination of the late call and the perceived lie were enough to cost him this new job.

All week I have agonized.  “What if I had…?”  “What if he had…?” “What if the school had…?” “What if Doug had…?”  “What if his boss had…?”  “What if the agency had…?” 

Only one intervention on anyone’s part would have made the difference for him.  There was no intervention.

We found out (too late) that his pre-paid phone was out of minutes, which was why Doug’s messages had not gotten through.  He told Doug had used his son’s phone to call the agency in the afternoon.

We still don’t know whether the “lie” was a language-barrier misunderstanding, an attempt to deflect blame, or even a culturally different way to approach the hierarchical system of boss and employee.  Whatever it was, he used the wrong words to explain his lack of a call.  If only he had known…

I met with the school to share his story and convey the fact that Doug and I were on his team – to try to ask for mercy.  I was met with a lot of understanding, empathy, and care, but the communication even in that meeting was muddled and confused to the point that it moved the ball forward…none at all. The chapter is closed. Our friend cannot go back.

So the week has been rough.

I’ve spent a lot of time bargaining with God and asking Him “why?”  I am sure that our friend has spent so much more time doing the same thing.  We are still not sure he really understands how and why this all happened.  We are stymied and heartbroken.

Why do I write this story today, on this three-day weekend where those of us who are work-weary sleep in, cook out, do laundry, and meander through 72 hours of government sanctioned rest?

I write to tell you that Jesus was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. He knows, first hand, the brokenness of our world and He was broken for it.  I write to tell you that it’s harder to hold onto the sorrowful Jesus than the one who multiplies food and calms seas, but He’s the same Jesus – just as trustworthy and true.  He calls us to enter into the sorrow of the world and to be broken with it, too.  I don’t like that part, really, but it’s in His word all over the place.  It’s the reality of following Him.

I write to ask you to thank God for the work you have – even though it is so hard sometimes – because work is a gift that so many people (even in your zip code) cannot obtain.

I write because I cannot hold this sadness alone, and I selfishly ask you to hold a bit of it, too. I write because I ask you to pray for our friend, his wife, and his three children.  I write to ask whether you know of a job our friend could have…you just might.

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A Banner Week

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“We will sing for joy over your victory, and in the name of our God we will set up our banners. May the Lord fulfill all your petitions.” – Psalm 20:25

This has been a banner week in the lives of some of our refugee friends.  As I have mentioned, it’s been hard to know how to invest – where to invest – when to invest – here in Clarkston since we moved.  We have dipped our toes into relationships with new refugee friends, but we’ve certainly not hurled ourselves headlong into anything.

God isn’t bound by our mediocre efforts, though!  He is the Father to the fatherless, the defender of the orphan and the widow.  Sometimes, He lets us participate.  When we do, we are blown away by His goodness to those who live in a state of profound vulnerability.

Sunday, we visited three families here.  Anyone who has visited with friends from other nations knows that three families in one afternoon is a miracle in itself.  Most 10-minute conversations easily stretch to 2 hours of interaction and hospitality (on their part).  There’s no such thing as “quick.”  But God multiplied our meager time.

God provided for the first family we visited by opening up a space at an adult literacy program, Mommy & Me, after registration had already happened.  These African friends have been here only two months.  The dad is brilliantly pursuing growth and life for his family (wife and four small children) through his study of English and through his job on the night shift at the poultry processing plant.  His wife is working hard taking care of their children in this hot, humid, very confusing new place.  Her English is not strong, and we are thrilled that she will have the opportunity to experience 9 hours a week of instruction while her two preschoolers are enjoying a pre-school class of their own.  What a gift – language instruction by masters’ level teachers, community, childcare…all within walking distance of their apartment for only $10 per month.  God is so good!

He provided for another friend with a job!  Amazingly long story, but this gentleman was a “random” connection in a parking lot on a day in March.  He had just arrived in the U.S. at that point, and he was overflowing with enthusiasm to work, pride in the 6 languages he speaks, and tales of the life he left in Djibouti.  His wife and three of his children are still there, but he is here with his oldest son, blazing a trail.  We very randomly ran into him again a few weeks ago.  At that point, he was discouraged by his lack of employment and by the prospect of keeping his 13-year-old son safe in the harsh environment he’d encountered.  That night, some friends joined us in praying for a job for him.  Very miraculously, our kind Father provided him a job that pays more than minimum wage.  And, his work hours are during the day, which is so good for his son.  We met with this African friend Sunday, and yesterday God secured a job for him.  How sweet!

Finally, God has provided restoration and redemption for a widow and her two children who we’ve known for three years.  We met her the night she arrived here.  She was quickly overwhelmed to the point of illness and hospitalization.  When we visited over the weekend, she proudly, laughingly served us food and coffee in her clean apartment. She adeptly holds a job and provides for her two school-aged children in a way that showcases God’s ability to uphold the widow and care for the orphan. He has not let her falter. She is being redeemed.

I’m so humbled.  We are so inconsistent and poor in our efforts to love His wounded children.  This is because we are wounded ourselves.  He is so gracious to pursue all of us with His grace. He allows us to glimpse His tangible power when we fellowship with the apple of His eye – the vulnerable ones who quietly face giant obstacles with faith and resolute determination, even when all of life seems daunting and overwhelming.  What a gift to watch Him delight to do what He does best – to redeem.

Please join us in praying for these and other friends as they do the hard work of adjusting to life in the United States.

Forty and Pink…Rough Combo

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I turn 40 in 21 days.  My mom used to be famous in our family for saying, “I feel better at 60 than I did at 40!!” Hmmm…I am beginning to understand. I accidentally colored my hair pink last night. I’m thinking 40 might be the low tide of reasoning, funding, and energy.

My morning’s email to my colleagues at work looked like this:

1.  Yes.  I know it’s pink.

2.  Yes.  It will be repaired.

3.  Yes.  It’s great to laugh with me.  Just not at me.

4.  No.  Not going to try it at home again.

5.  Yes.  I know you’re mostly men and probably wouldn’t even have noticed, but I feel better getting it on the table.

So, now that my colleagues are over it, and as I eagerly await the magic of my new best-friend-colorist “Camby” (she must be only 23 – I have no peers named Camby) at 3:00 this afternoon, I reflect on what has led me to the simultaneous mid-life/pink hair brink.

Let’s see…

I think we need to call this what it is: Vanity.  I am a redhead.  Really, a redhead.  My hair has always been my selling point.  Lately, it’s rusty and dingy and alarmingly shot through with gray.  I want to remain a redhead, not a very pale skinned, freckled, splotchy middle-aged lady with stale iced-tea washed gray hair.  That image is not in line with my long-standing self-concept.  Redheads know what I’m talking about.  The ghost colored cellulite, sunburns, rashes, and trips to the dermatologist are only worth it because people rave about “your hair!!”

[Ironic sidebar:  When I awoke at 4 am this morning fretting about my pink hair, I went to get a glass of water.  In the kitchen, my phone’s screen showed a photo of me at age 15 before the Christmas dance.  My friend Cameron had found it at her dad’s house and texted it in order to point out MY HAIR (she did not know of my pink-issues) and what a “do” it was back in the 1988 day.  I’m telling you.  Redheads have strong life/hair connections. Close sidebar.]

15 year old redheaded "do."

15 year old redheaded “do.”

Another factor.  Time.  I have none.  That box of color that I pulled off the bathroom closet shelf last night has been in there for four months begging to be used.  Have I found a solid hour of kid/chore/to-do free time to devote to turning my hair pink in the last four months?  Nope.  So, when I arrived home from a rare dinner out with a girlfriend and found no husband, no kids, and a peaceful dog in my home, I pounced.  A little too hard.  As the color marinated, I thought “Why shouldn’t I leave this stuff on an extra five minutes?  After all, it’s been almost 6 months since I colored my hair.”  While I lingered, I ate a few bites of Haagen-Dazs straight out of the carton and savored the sounds of Duck Dynasty in the background.  I felt so free, so adult, so empowered.  ARNNNHHH. (Buzzer sound.)  Bad call on the lingering, Strawberry Shortcake.  Bad call.

Shall we discuss money?  Oh, let’s.  None of that right now either.  I realize that living where I live among refugees who arrive here truly destitute, that whole “no money” comment sounds very catty.  It probably really is.  This is one of the struggles of integrating what I am seeing in Clarkston with what I am used to in my life.  Honestly, I’d patted myself on the proverbial back for getting the $6 box of color at CVS. (Proverbial due to a rotator cuff injury from trying a 5 a.m. boot camp…but that’s another mid life issue that I won’t explore here).  Being “thrifty and all” is a more intentional aspiration for me these days. (Not just because I’m being super spiritual, but also because kids cost SO MUCH MONEY.  Do you know how much it costs to be in band?  Or to twist an ankle?  Or to run cross country?  Or to buy school supplies? Or to insure two teenage drivers?  Of course you do – these are rhetorical questions.) Apparently, though, you sometimes get what you pay for. My thrifty drugstore  effort at beauty apparently backfired, leaving a lingering pink glow ON MY HEAD.

Last factor: peer pressure.  No, I don’t have shallow friends who want my hair to be vivid and rich before they will be seen with me. It’s pressure from my son!  (Those of you who know him will not find this shocking at all.)  My very own 12 year old boy has spent the last 18 months – my period of gray decay – chronicling the progress of the icicle strands and letting me know just how much he thinks I need to color my hair.  I laugh at him.  My inner and outer selves both laugh. He’s amusing and endearing and annoying all at once.  He’s 12. But, I have to admit that part of the reason I pulled the box off of the shelf last night was because I pick him up at band camp on Saturday and wouldn’t it be a fun little mommy-wink to have freshly colored hair?  Not so much. I think the pink would do him in altogether.

He might rather walk home.

Or maybe I’ll send all the kids to live with my parents for the remainder of the year and then ask my mom at Christmas if she still feels better than she did at 40.

(You want to see a picture of the pink.  No can do.  I tried to imitate my snap-chatting 16 year old and take a few selfies, but my nose looks uncharacteristically ginormous, my hair really is pink, and the lines around my eyes are very pronounced.  Let’s leave the selfies to the snap chatters and use our old-fashioned imagination.)