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)

Thank You and Shalom

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Tonight, I need to say thank you.

Our dear friends from across the world leave in the morning. They board a bus and head out for American dreams in Columbus, Ohio. They take bags that look and smell so much like the ones we helped them to pull off of the carousel at Hartsfield Jackson International Airport nearly three years ago. They will hold a coffee urn, several china espresso cups, spices, and a coffee serving set. They will hold children’s clothing and a few beautiful outfits that will be worn on special occasions – birthdays, Christmas celebrations, etc . They will hold some American mementos picked up along the way, hopefully, too…maybe a book, probably a DVD, and likely a few pictures that they’ve taken during their time in Clarkston. I imagine they will hold the plastic sheets with images of Mary and baby Jesus that were their main apartment décor over the time we’ve known them.

I need to tell them Thank You, but our communication is still not clear enough for them to read this note. I weep because I cannot tell them the whole Thank You. A hug had to do. The small words “Thank You” had to be enough when we left them last week.

I need to tell them Thank You for their hearts – for their bravery and their fortitude and most of all for their sense of humor. The smiles and laughter that always embraced any mishap. Those are true gifts…ones I possess scarcely, but hope to possess more strongly.

I need to tell them Thank You for their children – for each precious soul who eagerly opened up their hearts to our own kids and helped to teach us all that communication is 99% not dependent on the spoken word.

I need to tell them Thank You for inviting us – for inviting us into their vulnerable spaces of child bearing and job searching and driving tests and school problems and neighbor love and pest control issues and acclimation to cold weather and semi-urban life.

I need to tell them Thank You for loving us – in their way. For continuing to offer us the third cup of coffee, even when our American selves were too busy to drink it, time and again. We seemed to always have to go – two hours in – after only two cups of artistic love.

I need to tell them Thank You for being our friends – for looking past our foibles and our pride and for welcoming us into their hearts as much as we hoped to welcome them into ours.

I need to tell them how much we will miss them. Not the idea of a refugee friend, not the “chance to serve,” not the family opportunity. THEM. We will miss them. We love them so much. They are our friends. We will miss them.

I need to tell them goodbye.

But I don’t want to.

Shalom, dear friends. May His peace be upon you.

The first coffee ceremony we had in 2010.

The first coffee ceremony we had in 2010.

Until we meet again…

Emotional Motion Sickness

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I find myself emotionally car-sick these days.  When I was little, being motion sick in the car was a sure fire way to earn a seat in the middle of the back (on the “hump.”)  Not the most coveted seat in the car, but the one that allowed a steady view of the road in front of us as we drove.  The anti-venom for motion sickness is having something steady to focus on.  The problem was that my little brother got more car-sick than I did – like, he actually threw up, while I just turned green – so he was the one who scored middle seat status, while I craned my neck around my mom or dad’s head rest to see out the front of the car.  Families of seven require all sorts of compromise.

As a driver and mom, I’m the one at the wheel 85% of the time now.  When I’m not there, I’m riding shotgun next to my honey. (My favorite place, since that means we can visit, he’s got the responsibility, and I control the radio. J)  So, last weekend when we went to rural Florida for a family birthday and I rode in the back seat, I was surprised at the return of motion sickness.  The highway was fine, but as soon as we got off and started driving toward the country, I was having 9-year-old car trip flashbacks.  It’s embarrassing to have to ask your in-laws to stop the car, but wow did it feel good to walk around in the fresh air for a bit.

Life in our home has ramped up in the last month or so.  There is plenty to focus on and even more to FEEL:

The house is under contract. (Imagine sentimental impact and gratitude.)

The long awaited kitchen cabinets in the new house linger…and so does our move date, making it an ever-moving target and tough to plan for. (Imagine a control freak freaking out.)

There is a spring break Clarkston vision trip for some fun Wesleyan families in the works, mid March. (Imagine wanting it to go so well and planning for 17.)

Both teenagers have spring sports.  Did you know a Lacrosse team can cram 22 games into two months? Thank the Lord for only four track meets! (Imagine the food, calendar, laundry, and trips to school – your own life, probably.)

Our house has to be packed, sold, donated, stored, moved, and disposed of.  At least 4,000 extra square feet of stuff has to go somewhere. (Imagine the decisions.) (By the way, do you want some?)

Oh, and we both have jobs. (No imagination here…jobs are way too normal and necessary.)

That Gospel Prayer is continuing to roll over and over in my head.  I keep coming back to trust as so basic.  Do I trust Him?  Do I believe Him?  Do I believe HIM and not the system, my works, the earning, the effort, or the image?  Romans 1:17 says, “He who through faith is righteous shall LIVE.” Life.  Through faith.  That’s all. One steady gaze.

This month (well, most months) make me think that I can get said LIFE through a to do list, or a well planned series of meals, or a perfectly orchestrated day of events with a little Jesus thrown in.  Often this philosophy leaves me emotionally motion sick as my gaze shifts all over the place and my emotions sluggishly pull behind my gaze in a disorienting, stomach-rumbling sort of a way.

Life through faith.  Because His righteousness is accomplished and certain and mine is filthy and disorienting.  I’ve got to fix my eyes on Him, because He is enough, especially in the chaos.

Hebrews 12:2 says that we fix our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.

He walked in faith.  He pioneered fixing His gaze.  He perfected faith because I cannot.

So, my prayer this month is that the distractions of this move would not cause me to be emotionally motion sick.  I pray that I would fix my gaze on Jesus and LIVE because of His pioneering faith.  Experience rest in the hard work rather than distraction in the chaos.  Through faith.

Sort of like riding shotgun with my honey.

Human Static

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Recently, Doug and I volunteered to take a refugee woman from Burma to an eye doctor appointment.  We were grateful to have the chance to do it, since the business of our lives over the last several months has really hindered our time connecting in Clarkston.  Our new friend was in her late 50’s and spoke very little English.  She had had cataract surgery and was going for a follow up appointment.

Anytime you’re in a car with a person who does not speak your language, there’s the definite possibility that things will be awkward.  They were (a little).  When things get awkward, I start to do mental gymnastics, which I commenced that morning in the car.  Where had she come from?  What was her story?  What did she think of I-285 on a Saturday morning?  How often had she been away from the confines of Clarkston?  Did she have a husband?  What did she think of me?  Was she amused by my banter with Doug, or did she think it was rude that we were talking and wonder if we were talking about her?  Human mental static, on steroids.

The doctor’s office was quiet – it was a Saturday morning – so we got right in to see him.  He asked me several questions about her health history, and I had to uncomfortably explain that I did not know a thing about this dear woman.  I was just here as the transmission, wheels, and steering column.  (That’s because Doug always gets the job of being the brakes at our house…HA!)  So, I tried in vain to act like I knew more than I did…to be an expert on someone I was totally unfamiliar with.  He asked, “Can she read the letters on the wall if I put them up?”  I confidently replied, “I doubt it!  Most likely not. I don’t think so.”

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Dummy.

Yes she can.

She read all of them.  Down to the little ones on the line that read “20/15” and indicated that my new friend not only knew her letters, but she also had excellent post-cataract-surgery vision.

Really.

Really?

I was arrogant enough to assume that she was illiterate?  Yes.  Absolutely.  Humblingly.  Prideful.

All of my assumptions and mind-static on the way to the office had led me to paint a very certain picture of this “poor” woman who knew no English and probably very few other things.

It’s quite possible she is a Burmese rocket scientist…or PhD…or chef…or teacher.

Why on earth would I make assumptions like that?  Why would I let the static in my head paint pictures of things that were so far from true with so little evidence?

Because I’m normal, I think.

Here’s what I’ve been mulling over all week, though:  Jesus came.  This is the season of Advent.  He entered our world and became human.  Tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.  In addition to our temptation, what must it have been like for a Holy God of clarity and creation and peace to take on a human mind full of so much static?  Did it sound so harsh to His holy internal ears when he became a man and suddenly heard the internal cacophony of questions and answers and assumptions and ideas and feelings and confusions and judgments and ponderings?

I don’t pretend to know how much He endured of this type of human challenge, but I keep thinking of how raw and painful and jarring it must have been to Him who offers the peace that passes understanding.  He bore our sin.  He bore our judgment.  He bore our death.  And, He lived inside of our static.  How grateful I am that the Prince of Peace chose to enter our human cacophony and offer us His gracious silence, even in our least holy nights.

 

 

A Five Year Walk

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She walked for five years.

A few weeks ago, we attended a meeting for volunteers of World Relief at church.  Our trainer was excellent, and had much wisdom to share about interacting with newly arrived refugee families.  She told many stories to illustrate her points, one of which yielded a refrain that has been rolling around in my head for days and days.

She walked for five years.

This refugee woman, of whom my new friend spoke, walked for five years before she reached a camp.

Can you imagine running from danger, leaving everything, fleeing pain, and then walking FOR FIVE YEARS?

I am an arriver.  This week is packed with necessary arrivals.  I need to arrive at the school (about 15 times, to be exact), at work (at least five times this week), at the bank, at the dry cleaners, at the dog groomers, at the grocery store, etc.  And, each time, I will arrive back at home, open the garage door, step in the kitchen, throw my things down on the desk, and take up the task of all of the mini arrivals within my home.  Arriving at the washer/dryer, arriving at the computer to catch up on emails, arriving at the sink, stove, and refrigerator to make a meal, arriving at the mailbox, arriving at the recycle bin, arriving (thank God!) in my bed, etc.

Really, I’m addicted to loops that close, I think.  To going and to coming.  To leaving and to arriving.  To asking and to answering.  To wondering and to knowing.  To seeing and to understanding.  To planning and to executing.  To wanting and to having.

The last month has felt a lot more like a dusty walk than a neat arrival.  My dad had unexpected quadruple bypass surgery.  I got an out of the blue job offer that was a gift and a crisis, all in one.  Our Clarkston building process has been all question and no answer.  We have an official driver in our home (if that doesn’t create open-ended fear, I don’t know what does!)

I keep thinking…

She walked for five years.

If four weeks of lack of closure has torn me down and eaten me up, what would five years do to a soul?

This morning, I read a sort of caustic assessment of American Christians, but it hit home.  “The problem with Christians is that they have the answer…but haven’t lived the question.” (Ron Austin, quoted by Winn Collier in Holy Curiosity)

Jesus made a habit of asking questions.  When he answered others’ questions, He often did so with confusing parables.  I’m not thinking He was sold on the incessant departure / arrival feedback loop to which I am apparently addicted.  I think He was probably more into the value of a five year walk.

Scripture, especially the Old Testament, is replete with beautiful promises of God planting His people in cities where they will flourish.  He says things like, “He turns a wilderness into pools of water, and dry land into water springs.  There He makes the hungry dwell, that they may establish a city for a dwelling place.” (Psalm 107:35-36)

I ache for those who walk and walk and never find a settled place.  I also ache for those of us who drive and park and pull in and out and never get much from the journey because we’re too focused on the next arrival.

Somehow, the grace of Christ is that He causes us all to dwell, to be established, to be planted, to come home

Thy Kingdom come.

 

Another Update

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The past few weeks have been so full with Clarkston happenings. So, before we head out for a long-weekend-vacation, I wanted to send an update.

We closed on the third house in the subdivision last week.  It’s amazing that we are finally there…being would-be builders has been an education.

Our own timing for moving has been changed.  It’s been hard to find facts about what it will take (time and money) to renovate the bungalow basement in order to feasibly live there as a family as our house in Clarkston is being built.  So…until we can get some clarity there, our house is off the market.  It makes me somewhat sad, but I do know that God’s timing is being worked out so clearly.

One of the ways we’ve seen His timing has been in the way that our dance with the city has gone.  At every turn, we’ve been grateful for the integrity and responsiveness of city officials.  But, we’ve also had roadblocks along the way that have taken time to hurdle.  As of last week, it seems apparent that we will be able to apply for a building permit for our house without encountering the red tape that we’ve been anticipating (due to codes, zoning, etc.).  That is huge, and we’re grateful that God slowed us down in the spring.  We see now that, had we pressed ahead with our dealings then, we would have been very frustrated and tied up in red tape right about now.  Instead, it looks like it could be clear sailing toward starting our house. He does know and He does see!

The remainder of the undeveloped subdivision…

The sweetest thing this week, though, was our first neighborhood gathering.  We had a pot-luck dinner together and had the chance to sit around the dinner table and do the fun and awkward dance of learning about each other.  A meal shared is an amazing platform for relationships to be born.  It was special, and it was hopeful for all, I think.  Each family has come to their place in the subdivision with much  surrender, grace, prayer, and challenge.  It was sweet to celebrate some tangible victory as we sat in the kitchen of one of the homes.

Thank you for journeying with us!

His Kindness

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The Gospel…

Again…

Please, Lord, teach it to my heart and make me passionate for the real thing.

It’s my strengthening prayer as we move closer to a life-change where someone might actually ask me to give a reason “for the hope that is in me.”

I’m chicken-Christian, no doubt about it.

That whole older-brother (sister) thing is really frustrating.  There’s a verse in the Bible that says that she who is forgiven much, loves much.  Dang it.  I have lived my life in the whitewashed area of the planet / country / city / family, and deep forgiveness is startlingly hard to grasp.  How prideful is that?  Just being honest here…please withhold judgment unless you are a deeply forgiven whitewashed something or other.

Yesterday morning, we went running (jogging / walking / whatever).  Doug and I weren’t talking about deep heart things, but he made a terribly insightful comment that went to my core.  “When someone lies, they are creating an alternate reality for the other person to live in.  So, the other person is living by the rules of a reality that is not true.”

Whoa.  Satan is the father of lies.  I’ve always tended to think of those lies as one-off, temptation-laden, whispery, “eat the apple” kind of lies.  As I considered Doug’s comment, I realized that Satan’s big scheme is creating whole, complete, big-time false realities for us to inhabit.  We’re not usually living in them thinking, “Oh, I know this is a lie, but it feels good, so I’ll continue.”  We’re in there thinking, “This is it.  This is the real deal.  I’ve got to go all out here because it’s the honest framework of life, and I’m here to live it.”  We’re stuck in a whole reality that is not true.  You know, The Matrix. He’s a liar.

Romans 2:14 says the kindness of God leads me to repentance. Jesus said, “Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand.” (At hand.  Right here.  Look up. Within the veil.)  It is precious to me to think that God’s kindness in Christ draws me into the light.  He brings me into Truth so that the framework of lies I’ve lived under is exposed as worthless and pointless.  He turns my heart toward His grace so that I can live on the other side of deception.  Live freely in the real Truth.  When His kindness leads me there, when I repent of believing a framework of lies, when He opens the door to a new way, through grace, then I find I am forgiven much.  Then I begin to love much. Then the gospel is His fountain in my heart.

Thank you, Lord, for your kindness that gives us hinds feet for the high places.  For showing us what’s real.  For altering our reality toward Truth.  For Your Jesus.

 

Orbiting the Fragile

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My first teaching job involved teaching 7th grade science.  Those poor kids!  I was 100% humanities trying to teach elementary physics.  When it came time to explain centripetal (centrifugal?…I don’t remember, honestly) force, I resorted to the salad spinner object lesson.  They had great fun swirling small objects inside my favorite kitchen tool. If you take the lid off in time, the detritus inside will fly all over the room. Yipee!

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Often, as I think about what it takes to be a mom, a wife, an employee, an American, a suburbanite, or a responsible member of the local pool, I feel like my sin looks like the salad spinner.  I am dizzily spinning around something that seems a lot like nothing, trusting that the constraints of life on the outside will hold me in my orbit.

Problem.  As Yeats lamented, “Things fall apart / The centre cannot hold.”

When I orbit in this way, there is eventual disintegration because the center is weak and the constraints are false.

Keller says that orbiting anything but God causes us to lose direction, to misunderstand our identity, and to experience isolation.  He says, “Spiritual darkness – turning away from God, the true light, and making anything more important than Him – leads invariably from disorientation to disintegration…We are all orbiting around something else.  And we’re all incapable of changing our orbit, because we inevitably, ultimately, seek to glorify ourselves instead of God.  So we are all on a trajectory toward a life of disintegration.” (King’s Cross, p. 205)

Sad.  Unless…

Unless Jesus.

When the gravitational pull of my idols becomes too weak or too strong; when things fall apart because the center has failed to hold; when the constraints fall away and I fly outward; then Jesus.

Those whiplash moments are His reminder to me that I am only safe, only held together, only home, and only in line with the Love and Laws of Heaven when I yield to Him.  When I acknowledge the brokenness of my gravitational toys and have faith in the power of His strong, centering grace, I am once again held together.  That center will always hold. Amen!

“The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.  For in Him all tings were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.” Colossians 1:15-17 (NIV)

“In every high and stormy gale, my anchor holds within the veil.” – Edward Mote

Today, where is my center?

Goings on

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Highlights in Clarkston

As I mentioned in “Returning to Say Thank You,” we are beginning to see life and opportunity for more connection in Clarkston. 

A few points of update…

Our friend “G” is still looking for a job.  We have been able to use his help on some of the landscaping needs at the bungalow and in the subdivision, but we’d love leads for him or prayers for his work.  He is a very intelligent, very hard worker.

As of the end of this week, all three of the subdivision houses will have closed!  This is huge – it is an answer to so much prayer and so much faith on the part of the owners of the homes.  I’m so grateful to each family for waiting and praying and patiently overlooking our fumblings and for being willing to move into community there!

Our house building is creeping forward.  We wish for great leaps, but know God’s hand is in the small shuffles.  We are meeting with the city this week to try to answer some questions pertinent to us getting a permit.  Prayers are welcome!

We had a meeting at church last week, where two (and possibly three) families stepped forward to want to become friendship partners with newly arriving refugee families.  Yeah!  We are very excited for this next phase of church involvement and of building community that will facilitate transformational relationship.

We would like to have a work day in Clarkston on August 3rd.  You can pray that God will facilitate that process and give us creativity for what it can look like.

Some youth from church are supposed to be serving in an apartment community in Clarkston mid July.  Please pray that God will open doors for that to take place and to be meaningful.

That’s just about it for now…

 

Returning to Say “Thank You”

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I recently heard a sermon about the healing of the lepers.  The story goes like this: (Luke 17:12 – 19)

As He entered a village, ten leprous men who stood at a distance met Him; 13 and they raised their voices, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” 14 When He saw them, He said to them, “ Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they were going, they were cleansed. 15 Now one of them, when he saw that he had been healed, turned back, glorifying God with a loud voice, 16 and he fell on his face at His feet, giving thanks to Him. And he was a Samaritan. 17 Then Jesus answered and said, “Were there not ten cleansed? But the nine—where are they? 18 Was no one found who returned to give glory to God, except this foreigner?” 19 And He said to him, “Stand up and go; your faith has made you well.”

Now, I’m thinking that getting healed from leprosy and re-integrated into society after having been an outcast would create a whole set of problems on its own.  Probably, those nine other men were thinking “thank you…” while feeling great levels of anxiety about “…what’s next?”  They were excited and pre-occupied, both.  They did not stop to say “thanks.”

Tonight, on my commute home, I was trapped in the “what’s next?” line of thinking.  I realized that I have neglected to “return to give glory to God.”  So, here’s a list of sweet and wonderful THANK YOUs to God for His work in our Clarkston adventure…

THANK YOU – for a house in the subdivision that is now owned and occupied by a dear ministry family.  Over the last week, we’ve been several times and seen life there.  A young boy swinging from a rope swing.  A sister entertaining her friend in her new bedroom.  A house church meeting – young men and women praying in the living room.  A trampoline packed with rambunctious boys.  A mom happy to be cooking in her kitchen and drinking coffee on her patio.  Life.  Thank you, Lord.

THANK YOU – for a day yesterday of meeting workmen and contractors at the bungalow.  All morning long, Doug and I kept scooting over to the front window of the house, looking at the youth camp being held right across the street.  Our friend who runs a worship and arts ministry was teaching precious refugee children how to clap rhythm in a round.  (Thank you, even, for the incongruous sight of the white guy leading the nations in rhythm expertise!)

THANK YOU – that this process has taken so long.  If it hadn’t, we would never have met the four separate friends who we ran into yesterday as we ran our errands around town.

THANK YOU – that I found a Publix and Chick Fil A within shouting distance of our new home.  That’s good news!

THANK YOU – for two more closings on the other two homes by the end of the month.  Life will continue to be planted and grow in that tiny subdivision that God carved out and laid in our laps last December.

THANK YOU – for our friends who are praying with us and for us along the way.  We are grateful.

Life in Proximity

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This week, we had dear college friend and her husband at our house for a few nights.  Being with someone who knew you when all of the “you-pieces” were coalescing into a whole has a way of turning up the volume on self-perception.

Do you remember college, when you realized how different your family was from all the others?  When it dawned on you that the “right way” your mama espoused was really just “a way” among many?  For me, it was hair.  Turns out, most people didn’t spend lots of time on their hair – they just left their room without thinking about hair.  My hair shenanigans (three round brushes and a hair dryer) were an anomaly.  People would come from other floors to see it.  And, here I thought THEY were the weird ones.

My roommate was on the opposite end of the magnet from me.  It worked, though.  We knew it was fate when we discovered our matching Ralph Lauren bedding.  That was all it took.  Our first meaningful conversation was about solving inner city poverty.  We bonded. Never mind that she stayed up nights and I got up early; she left the cap off and I squeezed neatly from the end; and she did Young Life while I stuck to InterVarsity.  The Ralph Lauren and a few good socio/political/theological discussions a week were enough. Meanwhile, she and I both knocked a few rough spots off of the other, I think.

1993. FLORAL. Ralph Lauren “Allison.”

After college, we move back into our spaces of familiarity.  We marry a boy and make a life and have our own little sub-culture again.  We forget what proximity with strangers does for us. We forget that proximity teaches us grace.

Thankfully, step-parenting is kind of like college.  Living with someone else’s kids helps you remember that there are all sorts of cookie cutters in the world, and many of them are awfully creative.  Most days I find myself sifting through what’s True versus what’s just “their way” or “my way.” It’s kind of like college…sometimes people stare at you when you think you’re just being normal.  Sometimes you learn a new way to do something when you did not even know your old way needed updating.

I hope that Clarkston puts us into proximity with other people in that way.  I hope that knowing refugees will remind us that most of life is just window dressing. The heart stuff (and, sometimes, shared admiration for a bedspread) is what creates real connection.