Tag Archives: refugee

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.

 

 

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Life as a Stranger

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On Thursday morning, I went into our 11 year old son’s room to say good morning. I was out of town last week, and I had not seen him since Monday, so I was looking forward to a hug and a quick catch up on his week.  In the moment, I was taken by the sweetness of his messy hair and his boxer-clad, man-child self.  I was hoping for a meaningful answer to, “How has your week been?  I missed you!”  He was barely awake when he answered my question with, “Mom, I need a new crossbow.”

What?

He needs a new crossbow – just like I need a haircut.  His 11  year old reality is one of slaying Siths and monsters and bad guys with his wooden sword, his wooden shield, and his marshmallow blaster crossbow (a gift for selling the most magazines as a Cub Scout.)

The arsenal

I have been musing on his cute comment since then.  Thinking about how our view of reality is what really shapes our perception of needs and desire and truth.  His current reality is that he cannot slay the bad guys until he can procure a new crossbow.  It’s very important –  he needs a new one.

Living as a stranger is something that makes us question reality.  After college, I moved to Japan with my first husband.  We both taught English there.  He knew quite a bit of Japanese, but I knew none.  Before I moved, I had a vivid dream that I was already there.  I was driving through the mountains and all of the landscape looked like the illustrations in a Dr. Seuss book.  Vivid colors, shaggy creatures, and twists and turns that defy gravity.  Life there sometimes felt like that Dr. Seuss book.  I was college educated, but could not even decipher the phonetics of the strange alphabets (they have three) to try to begin to be literate. I felt like a three year old in preschool.  I am a small person – only 5’2″, but in Japan, I was the tallest woman on the morning train into the city almost every day.  I felt gargantuan.  I am a good cook, but it was impossible to buy the ingredients to make anything recognizable because they were all so foreign to me. (One day, after an intense search for  Worcestershire Sauce, I proudly dumped Oyster Sauce into my dish and ruined the whole thing.)  My repertoire was reduced to eggs, apples, and white bread.  I was a stranger. It was confusing.

Living in Japan felt like I’d been transferred to a place where none of the rules or assumptions held.  I KNEW I was a short, well-educated, good cook.  But, none of those rules seemed to hold in my new environment. Which version of reality was true?

Don’t take advantage of a stranger.  You know what it’s like to be a stranger; you were strangers in Egypt.”  Exodus 23:9 (The Message)

“[Jesus said] I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.” Matthew 25:43 (NIV)

God came as a stranger.  The Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we did not recognize Him.  There must be something important about having the mindset of a stranger, if God Himself came to our earth as one, and if He placed His covenant people in a strange place for 400 years – long enough for the memory of “stranger-ness” to stick.

When we begin to see ourselves as strangers on earth, we begin to tune in to the “alternate reality” that is the Kingdom of God.  When we see ourselves as strangers on earth, we begin to wrestle with the question of, “what’s really true?”  When we are strangers, we remember the battle is not against flesh and blood.  When we are strangers, we remember that it is best to lay up treasure in heaven.  When we are strangers, we begin to grasp that grace and truth are two ends of the same continuum.  When we are strangers, the last is first. When we are strangers, we lay down life to discover it.

Thank you, God, for Clarkston – where I can be reminded that I am also a stranger.

Keller – Friendship

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Quotes from The Meaning of Marriage by Timothy Keller, with Kathy Keller (Dutton, 2011)

“However, there is a third quality to friendship, and it is not as easy to put into a single word.  The right word, literally, is ‘sympathy’ – symp-pathos, common passion.  This means that friendships are discovered more than they are created at will.  Ralph Waldo Emerson and C.S. Lewis each wrote well-known essays about how a common vision can unite people of very different temperaments.  Lewis insisted that the essence of friendship is the exclamation ‘You, too?’ While erotic love can be depicted as two people looking at one another, friendship can be depicted as two people standing side by side looking at the same object and being stirred and entranced by it together…The paradox is that friendship cannot be merely about itself.  It must be about something else, something that both friends are committed to and passionate about besides one another.” (p. 113)

“Have you ever traveled to a mountainous part of the world when it was cloudy and rainy?  You look out your windows and you can see almost nothing but the ground.  Then the rain stops and the clouds part and you catch your breath because there, towering right over you, is this magnificent peak.  But a couple of hours later the clouds roll in and it has vanished, and you don’t see it again for a good while  That is what it is like to get to know a Christian. You have an old self and a new self (Ephesians 4:24).  The old self is crippled with anxieties, the need to prove yourself, bad habits you can’t break, and many besetting sins and entrenched character flaws.  The new self is always a work in progress, and sometimes the clouds of the old self make it almost completely invisible.  But sometimes the clouds really part, and you see the wisdom, courage, and love of which you are capable.  It is a glimpse of where you are going.” (p. 121)

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Our foggy view this morning

This weekend we spent time in the North Georgia mountains. The above photo was our foggy view this morning.  While there, I read the chapter “The Mission of Marriage” in Timothy and Kathy Keller’s book, The Meaning of Marriage, and discovered the above quotes.  Also while we were there, my mother-in-law visited with me and Doug about what exactly we were moving to Clarkston to do.  “What will your ministry be?” was her question.

As much as these two quotes have to do with marriage, they also express so beautifully one of the hopes for ministry that we wish to see fulfilled in Clarkston.  You see, so many people think of the world in terms of “us” and “them.”  “If my spoiled rotted child (“us”) could just see the poverty and hardship that poor teenager endures (“them”), my child would suddenly become grateful.” (cry of the suburban American parent)  Maybe.  Probably not for very long, though, unless they encounter something so precious and so valuable…friendship…with that other person.  With “them.”  So that, the “us” and the “them” gets so blurred that WE become friends.  We find common ground.  We see the clouds part in each other’s lives, and we rejoice at what could be…what will be.  Then, as we stand shoulder to shoulder, we are both grateful for the grace of friendship and the peculiar way that God uses friends to show us more of Himself and to make us more gracious, grateful folks.

Our desire through moving to Clarkston is to call families into friendship with refugee families.  To erase the “us” and “them” lines so that common passions are discovered – so that the glory that is mostly obscure in a fellow sojourner becomes obvious just once in a while, and both parties cry “Wow!  God is Good!”

This afternoon, I got an email from the very first family that has taken a dip into the waters of refugee relationship alongside of us.  The email was sweet and tender and so dripping with relationship and shared  passions of life.  It also broke my heart.  The young mom in this new-to-America family tells her new friend from suburban north Atlanta that she is eating and sleeping a lot, because that is all she knows to do. She is finding herself lonely and even depressed in her new home. Friendship is a priceless, free, gift that erases loneliness and opens doors to views of God that are impossible when standing alone.  I am so grateful that this new family has a friendship partner.  I pray their friendship grows and community ensues, the gospel is lived and shared, and common rejoicing takes place.  More than that, though, I pray that in five years, every family that is resettled to Clarkston will have a friendship partner to stand with them, to break down “us” and “them” barriers, and to gaze passionately at future glory made possible through Jesus Christ.

The picture below was our view before we left today, from the same vantage point.  What a difference the parting of the clouds can make!

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Our viewpoint after the sun broke through this morning