Author Archives: Love the Stranger

About Love the Stranger

Life takes strange turns. I think that's how God keeps us alert to Him. This blog is about the twists and turns that have taken us to the stranger, in particular. We're on a path to move to Clarkston, GA - a community heavily populated with refugees. We love them - these strangers - and know God loves them, too. We're excited. But, this blog is also about other strange things - like living a blended family life and being being a middle aged suburban mom. "You shall not oppress a stranger, since you yourselves know the feelings of a stranger, for you also were strangers in the land of Egypt." Exodus 23:9 (NASB)

What is White Privilege?

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I don’t know.

I don’t know because I’ve realized how very blind to it I am.

Three years ago or so, Doug and I sat at dinner with five friends. We were lingering over a post-dessert conversation at the end of a long workweek.

Between them, these friends are terribly high achieving and extremely interesting, not to mention very engaged in deploying their gifts toward the edification of the world around them.

To sum them up in resume form, just from what I know based on casual conversation, I can tell you that –

One went to boarding school.

One grew up in the city as an immigrant and got a scholarship to college.

Three are coaches with multiple state championships under their belts.

One is a PhD.

One is an attorney.

Two are teachers, at least one of whom manages a class size of 40+ on a regular basis.

Two are entrepreneurs.

One is a step-parent.

One is an author.

One grew up in the Midwest and left.

One grew up in Clarkston and stayed.

One is a Bulldog.

One is a Seminole.

One is a millennial.

All of them love teenagers, their family, and mybackyard chickens.

They are my friends. Casual friends. Back porch friends.

And they are also African-American.

So this night, Doug and I sat with them, winding the evening down. The dinner party for the cross-country team that three of them coached slowly turned into a grown-up chat after the teenagers had gone home.

There was much laughter. A lot of proverbial elbowing the others’ ribs.

But there was something else. Something truly mind-blowing for me.

As Doug and I walked back up to our house after we said our goodbyes, we looked at each other and asked, “Have you ever been a part of a conversation like that?” We both agreed. “No. Never.”

As the evening had faded, our forward thinking, educated, just-like-us-in-so-many ways friends had discussed the severe and pressing problem they faced: race.

Not as it related to them. Not really, anyways.

It was about the students they loved.

These students, many of them, were African. And soon would be absorbed into the American culture that would only understand them to be African-American…black men and women entering college or making their way into the workforce.

My friends – these teachers and lovers of students – were discussing how they were doing their level best to prepare the students for the realities of race in America. Students from Congo, South Sudan, Eritrea, and all over Africa, had landed in Clarkston as refugees…largely unaware of the race “issue” in this country. My friends discussed and even lamented how challenging it was to teach the students that, despite the vows to the contrary, all is not equal in this great country. To teach them how to successfully navigate the challenges of failed or failing systems that are poisoned by racial bias. How to be black in America and to do so with dignity, with promise, and with safety.

Doug and I looked at each other, shocked at what we’d overheard. Never in our lives had we had discussions with our teenagers (or any teenagers we love) to prepare them to be “white in America.” No thought of that reality needing any explanation, any caution, any thought about treading lightly or not treading at all. Not once. In all of our adult life, race has never been the thing in an adult conversation that caused us all to nod our heads in assent, knowing “just how you feel.” You don’t “feel” white in America. At least I don’t. I just am white. No feelings attached.

Not so for my friends.

The strong thread of “we must prepare them to navigate this reality” ran through a conversation inhabited by men and women from different states, different economic backgrounds, different educational experiences, and different genders. Nevertheless, all five of my friends know personally and deeply that there is an endemic problem – no matter where they come from or what other kinds of privilege they have experienced along the way.

What is white privilege? I really don’t know. But sometimes I return to an analogy from a blog I read a long time ago. The author said that white privilege is analogous to driving a car on a system of roads designed for car-drivers and that being anything but white is like trying to ride a bicycle on the same roads. Most car drivers aren’t “trying” to mow over, crowd out, speed past, or overlook the existence of the bike rider. It’s just the reality of the system. But it’s dangerous, slow, and extraordinarily frustrating to the bike rider.Screen Shot 2017-08-14 at 8.16.15 AM

I, Karen, may not be “racist” in my opinions or my actions. But I exist in a system that caters to me. My whole life – my past, my present, and my future – has been and likely will be navigable, obvious, and relatively safe. If I want to care for my neighbors, especially those of a different race, I would do well to recognize and try to repair the injustices of the system. I would do well to recognize, listen, yield, and give space. I would do well to slow down and understand enough to “feel” my whiteness.

I would do well to talk to the teenagers I love about what it means to be white in America…how to carry their reality as graciously and well as my thoughtful backyard-dinner-party friends want to teach their students to carry their racial reality.

How does faith fit here? More ways that I know, to be sure. But, Jesus was a brown, poor, provincial man on the wrong side of religious systems and political systems. Being crossways with these systems cost Him His very life. His human “otherness” was a very real issue for him.

He was also the Immanuel-God. The God with us. He walked with us and showed us what it means to humbly walk with the “other.” Racism and systemic injustice is not a new problem, but it’s the path of His experience and His example. A path He gives us grace to fumble through. We won’t get it right, but now seems like the right time to embark on the path of humble understanding.

Charlottesville is indicative of so much. So much I really do not even begin to understand.

But I can tell you that as much as I don’t understand my privilege, I have seen that it is real. In this town, where I’m a minority, I see that systems really ARE broken. Racism really IS still an everyday problem. There is still MUCH work to be done.

How to move forward?

Probably over dinner. With a friend. Of a different race, religion, or ethnicity.

And a conversation.

About what the roads are like. And how to work together to make them better.

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The New Normal

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The New Normal

We’re tired.

The 24 hour news cycle has worn us all out, and we’ve gone “back to normal,” letting pundits be pundits and Facebook be the place of innocuous and sweet family photos.

Normal is good. It’s good for the blood pressure and the extended family dinners out. It’s good for sleep patterns and long term mental health. I’m not being sarcastic when I say that normal is good.

But.

It’s not good for refugees.

It’s not good that we normalize unfounded fears.

It’s not good that we vilify certain people in large groups in the course of normal conversation.

It’s not good that we figure that large-scale human suffering is normal, as long as it’s not in our backyard.

It’s not good that we pretend not to hear the disturbing political discourse behind the static that we tell ourselves is normal.

There’s a weariness to this journey.

No one feels it more, I would imagine, than the refugee who just got caught in the system and may never get back to normal again.

Today’s executive order is, perhaps, more legally fortified. It’s perhaps less shocking, with fewer immediate teeth. It probably appeases some businesses and lays to rest some fears that permanent residents have.

But.

It’s no less harsh to the least of these – the refugee. Once more, the most vulnerable people group in the immigrant community suffers most because they do not have a voice.

This should not be normal, my friends.

Not on our watch.

Not when followers of the God who bestowed dignity by making men and women in the divine image and then sent His beloved to fight on behalf of the broken – every last one of us – look on.

Please read what my friends at World Relief have to say. Please consider giving to them. https://www.worldrelief.org/press-releases/world-relief-responds-to-revised-trump-executive-order

Please – let’s make standing with the most vulnerable a non-negotiable.  Can we make it normal?

Thank you.

 

Extreme (Internal) Vetting

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Extreme (Internal) Vetting

Well, church people, we’re wrestling. Where is grace and humility in a time when the mixing of politics and religion has become, quite frankly, toxic?

I used to stand comfortably on the political scaffolding on the right.

Now I find that I’m testing my weight on the scaffolding of the other side.

And I’ve come face to face with a new stranger – myself.

After the Executive Order two weeks ago, I descended into full-on pain mode.

I felt frustrated alongside my Christian Sudanese friend who is asking, “What can I do?” to stand for justice for her Muslim friends.

I felt compassionate toward my Syrian friend who proclaimed, “I’m glad to be in America, because in this country they know we are humans. We have human rights.”

I felt helpless with my friends at World Relief who plan to cut a third of their staff locally in the wake of the order, crippling their efforts to care for the vulnerable already in our community.

Because my refugee friends don’t have a voice, I’ve wondered how to speak up.

In my sorrow, I’ve been tempted toward ugliness.

In my passion, I’ve been tempted toward self-righteousness.

In my fear, I’ve become obsessed with validating my views.

And in wonder I’ve realized that I have lost my firm political footing. I’ve become a pilgrim in a middle place.

I see my fellow church friends wrestling too. “How do we filter? What is truth? How does my faith inform my politics, and vice versa?”

A particular scripture has grounded me– a warning that carves out a Jesus-space inside where humility and grace can bubble up.

His timely warning is powerful whether we are politically right, left, or in-between. When we heed it I think we, the Church, have an opportunity in this tumultuous season to be different.

So here we go. Here’s where I’ve been smacked with grace and had to bow in humility in the last two weeks.

In Mark 8:15, Jesus says, “Take heed, beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.”*

It hit me right between the eyes.

“Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and of Herod.”

Leaven causes dough to rise. It makes small things big. It puffs up. It makes me full of hot air.

The leaven of religion and the leaven of politics leave me bloated. Their leaven makes me self-righteous. (I start to think more of me and less of other people.) Their leaven leaves me fearful. (I begin to assume that that “other side” is malicious in their intent.)

Jesus warns me not to be taken with the leaven of the right or the left.

It’s no secret that the evangelical church is in a strange season. I can’t click twice without seeing another take on how Christians should respond to politics, President Trump, refugees, social justice, national security, abortion, religious liberty, etc., etc. Good that we are trying to “figure it out” and be informed, but I’ve got to ask myself whether I’m just in search of a stronger scaffolding on which to stand. Do I want leaven to rise up in me so that my inflated self-righteousness can silence the very real tensions that exist?

Am I aligning right or left, conservative or liberal, on the moral side of culture wars or on the justice side of the progressive agenda and then puffing my chest out and assigning my stance to God?

Have I elevated one teaching of scripture over another in search of a place to stand and look down on others who don’t see it my way?

Have I looked for clarity in earthly constructs when the paradox of the Kingdom is mysterious and out-of-the-box?

What does it look like for me to live in the tension – to stay off of the scaffolding of pride but still move in the direction of humility, mercy and justice?

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For me, there have been two helpful actions.

First, conversations. I’ve had four or five really helpful, intentional conversations with folks who interpret the world differently than I do over the last two weeks. We’ve shared coffee, wine, or a meal and talked, face-to-face. Each time I’ve been encouraged by the power of listening. I’ve been transformed by the humility of recognizing that relationships trump being “right.” (pun intended)

Second, repenting over for rather than against. (Let me explain.)

Humility and grace aren’t natural by-products of taking stands against. When I check my behavior or beliefs against a list of “people shouldn’t’s” it leads to self-righteousness.

However, when I take James 4:17 to heart and examine what I’m for, something changes. The verse says, “Therefore, to him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin.”

What flesh and blood neighbor or enemy is God inviting me to be for today – with a good word or deed?

In asking, “What good am I called to be for today?” I am humbled by the magnitude of my own self-absorption. I see the need for the grace of Christ – it must cover my failure to love my enemy or my negligence to even to stop long enough to love a very delightful neighbor.

Today I still feel the pain of my community. I still want to speak loudly on behalf of my refugee neighbors. I still feel sad, angry, confused and compassionate. I am looking at both sets of scaffolding and pondering my place.

But I want to beware of the leaven. I want to seek conversation even when it’s scary. I want to examine my own heart and life in light of what the Man who is Refugee-Carpenter-Miracle Worker-Savior asks me to be for.

I want to hold the tension of my faith, even when this makes my political and religious discourse far more nuanced and even confusing.

These are strange times. May we who claim to be Jesus-followers recognize when we are filled with the leaven of religion and of the Pharisees. May we choose to occupy the spaces of humility and grace as we seek to love the strangers – new and old – in our midst.

Blessings to you today.

Karen

 

* Context: Jesus speaks this caution to His disciples as they are grappling with the fame, controversy, and power swirling around them during the height of His ministry. They have just fed five thousand and then four thousand. Jesus was being pursued by the masses as a political leader and being vetted by the Pharisees as a religious leader. I’m sure it was intoxicating for them to be friends with the Man who might just save Israel from an oppressive government. I’m sure it was mind blowing for fishermen to realize that the Pharisees – the religious power center – were seeking out Jesus, wondering what He would say. The disciples were taken with it, perhaps deeply distracted by it, and He called a time out to warn them about being puffed up with either religion or politics

This article is very helpful in continuing to understand more about the refugee issue as it relates to church and politics: http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2017/february-web-only/why-tim-keller-max-lucado-evangelicals-trump-refugee-ban.html

 

 

An Invitation – Thoughts on the Refugee Ban

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An Invitation – Thoughts on the Refugee Ban

A note from Clarkston, Georgia

(My city is home to nearly 5,000 refugees from all over the world. We have been called “the most diverse square mile in the country” by major news outlets. Doug and I and our family are a minority here, but then again, so is everyone. It’s fair to say we’re a whole city of minorities.)

This climate of animosity makes me want to hide out – to insist to myself that these issues will sort themselves out and that they are above my pay grade. The rancor saddens me deeply.

I write this sitting in my comfy living room with my coffee, enjoying the quiet morning. This is probably what most of my good friends also are doing this fine morning. Most of my good friends are just like me – white, upper class, Christian, and conservative.

In my younger days, I interned twice at a conservative think tank and once for my Republican Senator. I must have answered 10,000 phone calls from people voicing their opinions about issues that riled them up. I bet I mailed 5,000 letters that summer…letters back to people saying, “I heard you. Sincerely, – Your Senator.” Most people would have found this paper-cut filled job mundane. Not this girl. I loved every minute of it.

Later, I taught U.S. Government to seniors at a Christian day school. Teaching that course was my favorite job – ever. It stirs my soul to hear young people wrestle with issues out loud, and I love to touch off a good, well-informed debate. When I took students to Washington D.C., I would always eagerly wait to see which kids lit up over the experience of seeing government in action – there were always a few for whom it was life changing. My kindred spirits. (There was also the kid who snuck off and got his first tattoo on my watch, but I’m not going there today…)

All this to say that I love politics; I love issues; I love debate; I love sharing it with others.

But this love has a dark side. It can make me want to win, want to one-up, want to prove, want to score. It can make me more about me – me being right, smart, informed, and engaged. It can even make me condescending.

Gross.

So this refugee issue is a tough one for me.

It’s tough because I do happen to have a more well-informed perspective than a lot of my friends. Not because I’m better, but because I’m invested where I live, and I live among refugees and the people who care for them day-in, day-out. I want to share my views, but I want to do so from a place of grace and humility.

It’s tough because I want to act, but more than that I want to seek understanding – a process that seems to get short-circuited by sound bites and party lines. I could march.  I’ve marched before – several times – about issues I care about. It’s empowering and powerful. I also know that a peaceful protest is not a replacement for a dialogue, a friendship, a knowledge and love for the “other” (whomever the other may be.)

It’s tough because I know enough to care deeply about this issue, but I also know enough to know that I’ve not begun to understand the journey of the refugee. For me to speak for someone whose journey is so much more rich with suffering than mine feels like I’m cheapening the lives of my friends and using them as a platform for my own voice to be heard. That terrifies me.

It’s tough because there’s a deep isolation to living in the in-between, and sometimes I don’t know how to talk to either “side.” I have friends – true friends with whom I laugh – who try to support families with minimum wage jobs. I have friends who ran for their lives in the middle of the night. I have friends who wear a head covering and value the religious freedom here. I have friends whose children are unaccounted for…lost. These friends don’t know my other friends. Friends whose kids struggle with anxiety and eating disorders and addictions. Friends who seek to love and neighbor well in their jobs, schools, churches, and communities. And friends who become truly exhausted by the rat race of raising kids in a hyper competitive environment. My sets of friends don’t really know each other. And sometimes I don’t feel like I fully know my own friends – in either part of my world. But yet I want to speak today so that one set of friends sees the other more clearly.

So here’s the deal.

I want to simply share what I’ve come to be for – not against. I want to invite anyone at all to come have coffee, hang out, and learn more. We can learn from each other. I know we can.

I’m for facts. There are facts out there. In today’s news environment, we’ve become skeptical of anything being “real.” Facts include the following: Refugees to America are not illegal immigrants. The 9/11 terrorists were not refugees. While terrorism is the war of this generation, the US refugee program is not a wide doorway for potential terrorists. Instead, the program is a proven pathway for people who have suffered under brutal regimes to find a safe home.*

I’m for careful vetting. The fact is that the refugee resettlement process represents a vetting endeavor that takes between one and two years to complete. To come to America as a refugee is the most highly vetted way to come. Already.

I’m for nuance. The issue of immigration and refugee resettlement is a nuanced issue. I’m for people being treated carefully, respectfully and with dignity, because no human beings deserve a label that leads to fear that leads to bias that leads to discrimination. The executive order that halts an already very thoughtful program without any care for the vulnerable people “in process” is not nuanced. In my view, it plays up fears and is reactionary, leaving me wondering what is being reacted against in such a strong manner that it stops the flow of all refugees for 120 days. Every single one. Is there a new, giant threat we don’t know about that justifies this? I really would love to know.

I am for understanding. I’ve read so many articles this weekend from so many perspectives – some are reactionary, some are cold, some are incendiary, some are downright confusing. It seems that it’s incumbent on us to approach these issues from a place of humility when we take strong stands about them. So much of what’s happened this week in the new administration has been confusing to me. I’m not a trade expert. I’m not a health care expert. I’d have to look deeply at many of the issues to know what I think. But in this new era of “echo chamber politics” where we can conceivably only hear what echoes the views of our tribe, let’s be people who seek to understand and who aren’t afraid to read and digest the other side.

I’m for loving the vulnerable, because I believe the gospel, and because I believe that Christ meant it literally when He opened His public ministry by saying, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18-19) Jesus acted boldly toward the broken and vulnerable (namely all of us), even when we were His enemies. This is the gospel, and I believe this is His very work in the world through us, His Church. He told us that we could love without fear – not because the world isn’t scary but because love is bigger.

I’m for conversation. I’d love to have one with anyone, anytime (well, not after 9 pm because we all know I go to bed early…) Seriously, send me a note and we’ll have coffee.

I’m for my friends.

Humbly yours,

Karen

*(There’s a lot out there – including a current National Review article that spins facts in ways that attaches fear to the refugee program. However, the Ohio State student is the only actual refugee who has carried out an attack, and no deaths resulted. That’s one in three million. I’d venture to guess that one in three million Americans at large also perpetrate violent acts.)

 

Here are some more articles for those of you who like to learn more (thanks to Judy Wu Dominick for some of these).

Full text of the executive order signed by President Trump https://www.lexisnexis.com/…/text-of-executive-order-quot-p…

World Relief’s current response:

https://www.worldrelief.org/welcome#welcome-refugees

Thoughts on the response of the church to refugees:

http://www.relevantmagazine.com/god/what-bible-says-about-how-treat-refugees#8W0HcOmwIBJoY2p4.01

Great insight into the current immigration pathways to the U.S. as well as more look at biblical frameworks regarding immigration policy.

http://evangelicalimmigrationtable.com/preach/faqs/

A factual look at the resettlement program over time from Pew:

http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2017/01/27/key-facts-about-refugees-to-the-u-s/

An interesting document with information about how refugees fare after arrival in the US:

https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=13&ved=0ahUKEwiBlOu8t-fRAhVlxoMKHfKICzMQFghjMAw&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.migrationpolicy.org%2Fsites%2Fdefault%2Ffiles%2Fpublications%2FRefugee-Facts-Oct-2015-FINAL.pdf&usg=AFQjCNHqcYPa5H6tV1ODayS7_tABTc7GfQ&sig2=eAiELWno7z_jNUsi7I4ypw

The National Review Article I referenced: http://www.nationalreview.com/article/444370/donald-trump-refugee-executive-order-no-muslim-ban-separating-fact-hysteria

A helpful analysis of the implications of this EO by Vox staff writer Dara Lind, who focuses on immigration policy:

http://www.vox.com/…/14370854/trump-refugee-ban-order-muslim

How an “America First” policy that essentially shuts out victims of terrorism could backfire on the U.S. – written by Gayle Tzemach Lemmon, senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations

http://www.latimes.com/…/la-oe-lemmon-iraqi-refugee-policy-…

Legal thoughts on the executive order: https://lawfareblog.com/malevolence-tempered-incompetence-trumps-horrifying-executive-order-refugees-and-visas

Take Courage.

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Let your heart take courage.

During Advent, the nativity shimmers with images of God Himself breaking into humanity. We behold a feast of peace, hope, faith, and joy – a table from which our heart can lay hold of courage this day.

There is a father, intent on divorcing his wife quietly so as not to disgrace her, who instead lays hold of faith and obeys, holding steady in the face of so much dissonance between law and grace.

There is a mother, yielding to deep unknown and pondering mystery in her heart, unable to make sense of the raw collision of flesh and heaven happening in her body, yet she yields. She lays him in a holy manger – a heavenly paradox of grime and glory.

There are shepherds, doing their job just like every other night, who are surprised by the music of a heavenly choir. Why them? Their souls are party to glorious bounty beyond any pageant or high-end event in Bethlehem that night. They come because heaven’s music is so loud they cannot help but listen.

And there is a baby. God. God with us. He came to people, beginning with these few – a confused man of faith, a young woman yielding in the dark, men on the clock who couldn’t resist the loud music. He came to you. Let your heart take courage. He is here.

Pause, listen to the angels who cry glory to God and peace to men. Peace to you. Be strong. Let your heart take courage. Take faith, take surrender, take joy. May your journeying heart feast on the bounty of God-with-us.

In wonder, believe.

Incarnation Revolution

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Incarnation Revolution

I just read Ann Voskamp’s blog about Yezidi women and their children, living in shipping containers, sharing profoundly gut-wrenching stories of loss and violation. I read it while I was walking our beast/dog/puppy who can pull my shoulder loose in a split second, so I did not even read it that closely – but what I saw at the end of the post rocked my little world.

As usual, her writing painted word pictures that went straight to my heart. As usual, I wondered at the way she galvanizes and graces, all at once. As only the Holy Spirit can.

But I stopped short when I got to the bottom of the blog. There was a banner sharing the name of an organization in Iraq called The Preemptive Love Coalition. No doubt this organization has now received a billion hits on its website, thanks to the massive platform that Ann Voskamp stewards.

The thing is, I know that guy – the Preemptive Love guy. I don’t know him well, but I had a meal with him last summer and those of us at the table lingered over conversation about life and small things.

He’s a guy. That’s it. He’s younger than I am and he struggled into this Preemptive Love place like any human struggles into a mission or a calling. Wrestling and halting…then sure and committed, but oh, so tired.

Mr. Preemptive Love – Jeremy Courtney – was living in Iraq. He was at a restaurant one day and an Iraqi guy asked him for help getting a young relative a heart surgery that she needed. Jeremy balked (“I’m not a surgeon and don’t even really know anything about that…”) but he ended up trying to help the guy out. And a mission was born – a ministry of “love first” to young, medically fragile Iraqis.

This guy. Mr. Preemptive Love. He’s a man. Not a superhero. Not independently wealthy. Not even a doctor. But he moved into the neighborhood and was willing to walk into the problems. And now his website is no doubt crashing under the weight of Ann Voskamp’s readership.

It strikes me that when we read a blog like that, even though Ann says that it’s all of our problem and it’s all of our blessing to care for the pain in the world, we easily assume that someone else (Mrs. One Thousand Gifts or Mr. Preemptive Love or some other large-website-toting personality) will step up to the plate to lead a revolution of resources and logistics.

But guess what? Those people are Ann and Jeremy. They are just people. They walk into hard places and love with the same love of Jesus that you and I struggle to hold to.

Jeremy likes stir-fry. He wears colorful shirts. He’s Southern guy turned Iraq lover.

He’s a leader in an incarnation revolution.

Incarnation. Moving in. Showing up. Getting messed up with the life across the table from you. The kind of showing up that Jesus did when He came.

This incarnation revolution isn’t made up of super heroes or men and women with different skill sets or more margin than we have. Just people.

My heart swells and it breaks tonight. It breaks for the world and the pain. It swells knowing that there is a revolution afoot. May we count it all joy to get really, really messy on the front lines. Alongside men and women not too different from us at all.

Humble, with Good Posture

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adeleDoug and I saw the movie Woman in Gold last night. It is the true story of an elderly Jewish woman who fights to get a Klimt masterpiece, Adele, rightfully restored to her family. During the Nazi takeover of Austria, her very wealthy family was stripped bare of their treasures, including the painting, which had been a commissioned portrait of her Aunt Adele. Newly married, she and her opera-singer husband fled Austria and immigrated to the United States, leaving her ailing father, stalwart mother, and a treasure trove of family heirlooms behind. All were lost to the Nazis.

The woman, Maria, is now a woman’s clothing store-owner in Los Angeles. She resides in a modest bungalow, but her refined tastes now mingle with her intensely focused immigrant work ethic, and, in her 80s, she presents like a perfect lemon icebox cake at a potluck supper…humble, with good posture.

Our friends here in Clarkston remind me of Maria. Each was an owner of a trove of family treasures. Their treasure may have been an education, a career, a specialty. Their treasure may have been a family name, a family system, or a connection to the land. Their treasure may have been a treasure like Maria’s – some work of art, tangible and priceless. It may have simply been something priceless to them – a home, a favorite chair, a picture, an heirloom.

No matter the treasure, it is lost to the ravenous looting of injustice.

Nevertheless, they hold their heads high. Humble, with good posture.

Tomorrow night, the Refuge Coffee Co. truck launch party happens. The trainees at the party will be those who have forfeited treasure, but who face the world with dignity and with the knowledge that they are not who they seem.

There will be others of us at the party who have also lost treasures along the way. We have forfeited small things privately or large things publicly. Loss is universal.

May we learn to walk humbly, with good posture.

May we rest assured that the gifts of this life often come wrapped in the trappings of loss, and may we lean on the grace of Him who urges, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:21)

Join us tomorrow night. We’ll be celebrating from 6-8 pm at 4170 Ponce de Leon. We’d love to see you there!

Join Us for A Week in Clarkston this June!

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Do you want to join us this summer?

Clarkston is a place where you can walk out of your front door and share life, food, and stories with people from Eritrea, Burma, Nepal, Iraq, Ethiopia and Sudan.  The local high school welcomes students from 54 countries speaking 47 languages.  In one square mile, Clarkston boasts a population of roughly 4,000 refugees living in 21 apartment complexes just 15 miles from Norcross!Image

June 14 – 20, you and your family can participate in hosting a summer camp for the children of Clarkston.  The camp serves 100 children, ages K-8th grades, relying on teams to support the summer camp staff each week.

o   Who: The opportunity to serve at camp is open to rising 9th graders and up.  If you want to serve as a family and you have children in K – 8, your younger child can participate as a camper for the week.  

o   Lodging: You would have the option to stay in Clarkston Sunday night (June 15) through Thursday night (June 19) or commute. 

o   Schedule: There will be an orientation and lunch on the afternoon of Saturday, June 14th and worship at an ethnic service on Sunday. The trip will end at 2:00 on Friday, June 20, after camp is over.  In addition to participating at camp each day from 7:00 to 2:00, we will do further outreach in the community two of the afternoons / evenings.  

o   Cost: $210 or less, depending on what we plan as a team for food.  Perimeter Church will help you raise support for the trip.

o   Other: There will be three team meetings prior to the trip to plan programs for camp.

If you want to participate but can’t commit for the week, you can also:

o   Pray that the Lord will both prepare and provide for the team as it comes together over the next few weeks. 

o   Prepare lunches for team members one or more days that week.  The campers get breakfast and lunch through a government funded food program, but serving the team their lunch would allow cost savings for the trip and would be a way to support the team members. 

o   Prepare snacks or a supplement to breakfast for campers one or more days that week.  There is an elementary camp and a middle school camp, so you could provide 60 – 70 snacks (K-5) or 20 – 30 snacks (6-8) for one or the other group.  I could provide direction about culturally appropriate options, especially with the Muslim campers in mind.  

o   Prepare and supply a 30-minute craft or game for 60 elementary aged campers that would serve as one of the 5 craft or game options for the week. (Either of the above two options could potentially be done the day before WITH some of the campers who you could involve in the preparation process.  We have a garage space behind our home where you could come and assemble either snacks or crafts for the next day.) 

o   Meet us on June 6 from 1-4 or June 9 from 10 – 1 to work on craft and game preparation. 

o   Share the opportunity with others who you think might be interested in getting to know Clarkston and serving in this way. 

 

It’s Raining…

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In our newly-renovated house we have a metal exhaust pipe that releases air to the outside from the vent over the stove.  When it rains, the drops ping on the hollow metal and echo into the kitchen.  Ping…plop…ding.

This rain-music is one of my favorite new house sounds.  A surprise sound – one that slows time whenever I hear it. It makes me pause, waiting for the next metallic “…plop.”

The last few weeks, I have experienced the heart-sounds of raindrops in Clarkston.  We’ve been here seven months.  We’ve been largely just living, entertaining opportunities here and there as they have arisen. But lately, it’s starting to rain drops of opportunity, and my heart gladdens with the knowledge we are growing roots here.

The most beautiful part about these drops of connection is recognizing our powerlessness to generate them.  They are His.

A block party thrown with fun neighbors that pulled from every diverse corner of our city. It was a menagerie of personality and smiles, and it came in the middle of a long and frustrating run of crime in our area.  A bright spot and a collaboration.

A desire expressed by some moms at our kids’ school to learn about this city, its people, and opportunities to connect.  We have luncheon plans brewing for early November.  A chance to share the beauty of this place.

A victory won by Clarkston’s cross-country team at our kids’ school’s invitational meet.  This delightful intersection of worlds generated a dinner at our house with the Clarkston coaches and a possibility for future connection between the teams.  Amazing grace.

Watching where God chooses to stir up growth and where He allows lingering hard soil is fascinating.  We would have chosen other spots to see growth – success for our refugee friend’s job at the school, quicker building for new neighbors in the subdivision, more fruit from a serving fair at church last month.  More success growing from seeds we’ve planned, dreamed, and worked.

…But God.

Are there any among the idols of the nations who give rain? Or can the heavens grant showers? Is it not You, O Lord our God? Therefore we hope in You, for You are the one who has done all these things.” Jeremiah 14:22

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.