Dear Ana, Aaron and Nathaniel:
Oh, my. We are REALLY sad. We thought that we would be celebrating the election of the first female president. Instead, we are wondering what life will be like with President Trump. Even after a couple days, we are all still a bit numb and shell-shocked. I don’t think I’ve done much to quell your fears; so, I return to the place where I make sense of and peace with the tangle of thoughts and emotions in my head. I write. I write, because today YOU need me. I write, because tomorrow we ALL must remember the lessons of this election.
I still choke up, reflecting on that moment when you woke up on Wednesday morning, asked me who won, and learned the news that similarly shocked so many across the country. You all wanted to know if we were moving to Singapore. I wanted to say, yes. We all search for a response that tells the world, ‘this is not okay with me’. But, instead, with my heart still beating out of my chest and stomach still in knots, I told you we would stay….that we must cling to all that is good, and strive to make our nation even better. Ana, your fear and tears will haunt me for a long time, in the best possible way. It was you that motivated me to ‘go public’ with my beliefs, even though they went against the grain of what many in our Christian circles espouse. And, it is you and your brothers that will fuel me to keep searching for God’s place in this messy life; out of these broken pieces, we will build something. This is not the end.
MAKE A PLAN
I showed you guys that funny Joe Biden video clip, where he encourages voters to make a plan to get to the polls. Well, sadly, our plans didn’t work out…..THIS TIME. But, there will be another time. Quick lesson in American government: mid-term elections occur every two years and the next presidential election will be in four. Let’s make a plan.
More than half of your generation (well, those that are old enough to vote but still young!), voted for Hillary Clinton. Many of your values, from the way we take care of our planet to compassion for others regardless of their race, gender or religion, will likely be more commonplace in the years to come. We had thought that year was this year. But, we were wrong. Clearly, there is work still to be done.
They say necessity is the mother of invention. Well, we need to come up with new plans and new people. Our nation is hurting. You can be part of the healing. As your mother, I am telling you it is more true today than ever before, that God invented (created) you for such a time as this.
WHEN THEY GO LOW, YOU GO HIGH
Ana, you and I watched Michelle Obama give a speech during the Democratic Convention, where she said a line that became a bit of a mantra during the rest of the Clinton campaign: when they go low, you go high. Well, it’s a good line! And, we’re gonna keep using it. And, more than just saying it, we need to do it. Part of going high means that we need to listen. It is clear from the election results and exit polling that we are a divided nation…urban vs rural, rich vs poor, young vs old, men vs women, etc.
One of the groups that voted overwhelmingly for Trump was evangelicals. So, guess what? We have to be a bridge. We fall into a category of folks who are strong believers in the Bible AND progressive politics. Please know that we are not alone, but we ARE in the minority.
Let’s change that….by listening to others and by our fruits. In Sunday School, you’ve learned about the fruits of the spirit: love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. The Bible says, they’ll know us by our fruits – this is what it means to be a Christian. PERIOD. More than our church attendance or political affiliation, these are the qualities that define us. The world is watching, so let’s cultivate those fruits. To be more specific, we are not moving to Singapore. We are not giving up. We are not going to be silent. We re-double our commitment to the greatest commandment, loving others.
BE LIKE WILLIE
This morning, I put on my black dress and pearls, stuffed a huge wad of Kleenex into my purse and went to the funeral of Willie J Mackey. I didn’t know Willie well, but when I heard of his passing, I knew I had to go to his service, especially since it was occurring on the very day I was already scheduled to serve lunch at OSC….it’s like God put it on my calendar. Today, I heard Willie’s story, and it changed me.
Long ago, after 15 years as an account, Willie lost his job. As the months without a paycheck passed, he used up all of this savings. When he couldn’t afford to keep his home, he moved into his car. Eventually, he was forced to sell his car, which left
him with nowhere to go but the streets. The hardship of those years, took a major toll on his health. Thankfully, he found Hotel de Zink, which provides emergency meals and housing to the homeless, with the hosting rotating through churches throughout the bay area. Willie also connected with much needed health care resources, which helped him diagnose and treating his diabetes. So many years without care resulted in what would be the first of many partial foot amputations. Once Willie found long-term housing through the Opportunity Services Center plus much-needed health assistance, he was able to start an entirely new chapter.
The first time I remember seeing Willie, was at church, where he served for six years as an usher. To be honest, till today, I just knew him as the guy who was lucky enough to find help from our church, which allowed him to turn his life around. This morning, God hit your mama over the head with a 2×4. Unsuccessfully, I tried to hide my tears; at one point, someone actually handed me a stack of paper towels. Kids, I was so ashamed of my false assumptions and pride. Sitting there, I was saw that Willie had given all of us, far more than what we ever gave him….that he was the one with a life worth emulating, not vice versa.
The courtyard at the Opportunity Services Center where I sat, was packed with people from across the Bay Area. Some were community leaders. Some were priests and pastors. Some were homeless. All loved Willie. Speaker after speaker got up to tell their story; it was astonishing, how many considered Willie their right-hand man; he was indispensable to countless organizations. As it turns out, Willie had been active in the community for years before he lost his job, volunteering with organizations that provided African American youth with STEM programs/scholarships. Willie had a big heart before hardship came his way. His personal experience with homelessness merely reoriented his focus and intensified his passion, with most of his involvement in later years focusing on poverty, homelessness and health related organizations.
Check out Willie’s LinkedIn Page. There, you see the very long list of organizations where Willie served as Board Member, Commissioner, Volunteer and Member/Participant. It was clear, in listening to people talk about his technical expertise, his compassion for others and unwavering willingness to help – Willie could have easily returned to a paying job, once his life stabilized. But, he leaned into the very place he’d once shunned. Shame had once upon a time prevented him from asking for help from those he’d previously worked and volunteered with. But, eventually, he found purpose and peace in going all over the bay, to advocate for the very community he’d once been so afraid to be associated with.
There is a verse in the Bible that says the first shall be last. I realized how profoundly true this is, when you look at a life like Willie. Listening to people speak, I saw the beauty in being last (by our modern, American standards). I want to be like Willie. I want you to be like Willie. Better to surrender your life to service, than to chase promotions or titles. In your world, as kids, this means that kindness must come before good grades or the extra curricular activities we hope will one day help you get into college. You must ruthlessly carve out space in your life for the broken. It may not be easy, but it essential.
It is easy to judge or make assumptions when you don’t take the time to ask someone their story. Hearing more of Willie’s story broke me in the best possible way today. For example, I learned the reason why he often wore an orthopedic boot. As your mom, I’m embarrassed to admit this, given how much I preach about compassion or not judging others. But, I confess that when I’d see the boot (month after month, year after year), I’d think, “why doesn’t he get that checked? Is there some part of his health or recovery he’s not managing well? Why does someone wear a boot for years?”.
Now I know. He wore that boot because of his ongoing battle with diabetes, which required multiple partial foot amputations….first the toes, then a bit more….and a bit more. Some of the ushers he served with, told stories today of how diligent he was in his work as an usher, often staying late to help with one more thing, or straighten one more area. One lady told of how she could see the pain on his face, but somehow he still had a smile; he refused to stop. At church or Hotel de Zink or the many other organizations in which he served. He never gave up. And, I never knew…
I think that is part of the lesson here. Everyone has a story. When folks talked about Willie and the influence he had on organizations that served the homeless, one of the repeated themes was his insistence that clients be part of the conversation. Even serving, should not be something we do FOR people….it is something we do WITH people. Ask questions. Hear the story. Listen to learn, not to respond. Remember always that we are all broken, and you never really know who is helping who.
When people talked about Willie, the adjective they used over and over again was GENTLE. His gentleness did not impede his impact; it facilitated it. To be sure, there are moments you have to stick up for yourself or others. But, whatever the circumstances, be kind. I saw a phrase online today: Make American Kind Again. Yep. Let’s.
Kids, the closest you’ll ever get to a cold night without a roof over your head is a camping trip. If Willie can pull himself up, so can you. And, let’s honor Willie and the many others who practice their faith by becoming ‘hands and feet’ by loving others. If you want to find Jesus, you will find Him when you serve a meal, or help a child or wash feet or stand up for the oppressed or give shelter to folks like Willie.
Love is not a box you tick. It is an intentional choice to show up and give with all you’ve got, to the ones who need it most…maybe, sometimes, even the ones you feel deserve it least. THIS, is what we must do over and over and over and over again. That is our plan.
Our pastor, John Ortberg, writes of caves in his book, If You Want to Walk on Water, You Gotta Get Out of the Boat. In it, he recounts the story of how David, when fleeing Saul, took refuge in a cave. The cave was both a physical and symbolic place of hiding. He’d been stripped of all the power, security, wealth and fame and now here he was, fearful for his life. But, God met David in that cave. The Bible says, David strengthened himself in the Lord His God. When we are in the cave, and we fear this is it, it is easy to get discouraged. But, the phrase that gets repeated more than any other in the Bible is, FEAR NOT. When Jesus came, the angels called Him, Emmanuel, God with us. He is the God who meets us in the cave, and strengthens us when we are afraid. And, when that baby grew up, they nailed Him to a cross and then put Him in a cave. This was defeat. This was the end. Except, it wasn’t. Because, God does His best work in caves.
Nobody likes the cave. The cave is dark and scary. But, that’s where we are right now. And, we have a choice. We can surrender to our fears and throw in the towel. Or, we can look for God in this, remembering that sometimes the moments that seem the worst are actually when God is preparing us for His best work yet. We can look to the testimony of great men like Willie, as examples for how we will live out our faith going forward. As Charley Scandlyn said in his remarks during today’s service, Willie helped us to see others the way God sees them. And, that should be how we move forward….loving others. Nothing has changed since my last letter: we STILL believe in a God that loves us and everyone else with a Never Stopping, Never Giving Up, Unbreaking, Always and Forever Love.
I started this blog because I was trying to figure out how to truly act justly, love mercy and walk humbly. And, a few days ago, my words became a letter to you. My grief has left me hallowed; but, perhaps now there is space for God to come in even more powerfully than before. It is true, that no matter who is elected, God is still on the throne. What is also true, is that we are still on earth. And, so long as there is breath in our lungs, we will work to bring heaven to earth. We will open our hearts to hurting and broken, we will defend those without an advocate and we will give to those in need. In the same way that democracy is not a spectator sport, so faith is requires our daily surrender the commandment to love God and love others. That’s our plan.
Still love you to the moon and back,