Surrender

So, Lent happened.

It wasn’t perfect.  But, it was good.  By perfect, I mean, I didn’t succeed in sticking with the 40 Acts.  However, those 40 Acts….the daily emails and Instgram reminders of folks around the globe making Lent personal and real in their lives, inspired a journey in my own.

I Fired Donald Trump

FullSizeRender 2In my last blog post, I shared my commitment to ‘give up Donald Trump’ for Lent.  I was inspired by Diana Butler Bass, who wrote in the Washington Post on Ash Wednesday, about how her mind had been ‘politically colonized’ by Trump.  She vowed to reclaim her mental geography during the 40 days leading up to Easter.  I took the pledge with her…..and, it worked.

Trump had become my gateway drug to a daily overdose of worry and stress.  During Lent, I permitted myself to still read the news.  But, guided by my new abstention, I steered clear of anything that was solely about Trump.  It wasn’t easy!  Yet, as the days passed, I could feel my anxiety level going down.  Mind you, I was absolutely not falling into a mindset of ‘God’s in control, therefore, I don’t need to do anything’.  Rather, to go back to the mental geography analogy – I had to create ‘real estate’ for God to come in and show me where and how He wanted me to respond to the world around.  It was a little hard to do that, when my mind perpetually horrified over Trump’s latest executive order or offensive tweet.  It didn’t take me long to find answers to the HOW and WHERE.  God definitely had a few nobler alternatives to Trump.

Cars

More often than a booming voice from heaven, the voice of God typically comes as a gentle prompting or ‘still small voice’, as 1 Kings describes it (when God spoke to Elijah).  I could fire Trump but I couldn’t fire myself from the job of being a mom.  Even as I created space for God, during the 40 days of Lent, I was still doing mundane mommy stuff, like shuttling my kids to their countless activists, playdates, doctor appointments, birthday parties, etc.  In the midst of shuttling little people, I began to get frustrated with my car – more than I ever had in times prior.  Something had to change.

We purchased our Volvo XC90 in 2007, WHEN THERE WAS ONLY ONE CHILD.  Now, there are THREE cherubs riding along.  And, not just three tinies….there are kids who steal and actually fit into MY clothes (not saying which one, but there’s only one girl…..).  When we bought the Volvo, I was convinced those three rows would suffice for as long as the car ran.  But, talk to my poor mother, who endured a few road trips with us, and she will tell you that rows two and three are as bad or worse as an economy seat on United.  Even quick trips around town seem long enough for WWIII to break out in the rows behind me.  Still, while I have long suspected that we’d one day need to trade our medium-sized SUV for a mini-van, 2017 was NOT the year our spreadsheet said we should make a change.

Why is any of this rambling relevant?  I had a perfectly good, low-mileage vehicle – it worked, even if we were all about to kill each other.  Why, if I truly wanted love, mercy and humility to be real in my life, would I go indulge in a new car?  The short answer is: it wasn’t just about what I needed…..it’s about what someone else needed.

Here’s the long answer…..

Willow

God bless Bill Hybels.  Truly.  I remember vividly, being an adolescent Chicago-girl going into Willow Creek for the first time.  I’d grown up in the Pentecostal church, where faith manifested itself as a list of rules and standards blended with charismatic worship.  This place was almost other-wordly to me; it was a complete 180 degree shift in what I’d known.

Exhibit A: we left the Pentecostal church because we were no longer welcome.  My mom was getting a divorce, and that was a sin.  I always tell the story, with the emphasis on my mom.  But, a friend recently pointed out to me that the injury was also to my brother and me…we were part of the collateral damage, stemming from this kind of dogma.  On the flip side, here was Willow Creek.  Not only was there a support community for folks going through divorce, but instead of showing you the door, they’d give you a car.  Literally.  They had a cars ministry, where donated cars would get fixed up and distributed to single moms from the community in need.  WOW!

My mom didn’t need a car.  But, we DID need compassion and a safe space to sort out our ‘next-steps’, after losing our church, house and father/husband.  Willow Creek gave us that.  And, many years later, my mom was able to donate her car.

Since then, I’ve dreamed of donating a car.  Maybe it is because of this personal history.  Maybe it is because of the shrieks of joy when an Oprah audience hears those fabled words, “YOU get a car and YOU get a car….”.  Maybe it is because of my growing heartache for those who’d been dealt a really rough hand.  To give someone a car….it seems so tangible.  It’s a vehicle.  IT TAKES YOU PLACES.  Literally, and figuratively.

Able Works

The last few months, I’ve been connecting with an organization in East Palo Alto, called Able Works.  They equip individuals with financial education, life skills and assets that enable one to live free from oppression and poverty.  On a whim, I asked they whether they ever took vehicle donations.  It’s not on their website, so I suspected they probably did not.  But, that ‘still, small voice’ was unrelenting.  ASK.  So, I did.  And, they DO.  And, better yet – they don’t just sell them at auction via a 3rd party – they actually allocate them to people from our community in need.  In fact, they had a woman in their LiveAble program, who desperately needed and had been praying for a car.  It’s hard to win an argument with the Holy Spirit.  This pretty much sealed the deal, in my heart, at least.

I still had to persuade my husband.  But, here’s the crazy part.  Even though we’re both Type-A Control Freaks…..even though ‘The Plan’ had not included a new car anytime soon (let alone the donation of our old car), my husband and I both felt an odd (for us!) peace, as we quickly switched course.  In the span of just a few days (which is faster than we ever make major decisions!)  we signed on the dotted line for a new minivan and committed to the gifting of our old car.  Looking back, it makes complete sense (especially, with the multiple road trips we plan to take this summer with our 3 kids + 1 dog!).  But, before Lent, we had no such plans.  And, I’m not sure my constant fretting over Trump would have ever facilitated such a decision process…..actually, scratch that – I am sure, it wouldn’t.

Messes

Lent was messy.  On Day 1, I confidently created a spreadsheet for tracking my #40Acts…..I only got to day 5 or 6.  Pathetic.  Right?  By my old standards, yes.  Lent is about confession.  So, here is my mine: the ‘Over Achiever’ me was already planning on day 2, the Easter blog post where I’d share my beautiful #40Acts spreadsheet.  No wonder, God derailed my grand plans after just a couple days!  They were my plans – not His.  But, in those early days, God  planted seeds for my ‘No Trump’ rule, which opened the door for our car donation.

Still, it didn’t happen overnight.  As the days and weeks passed, the blogger in me struggled….  I had nothing to say, nothing to write.  Everything was a jumble in my head.  There were so many moving parts and lingering question marks.  It didn’t fit into a neat, pretty package that I could easily translate into a coherent blog post.  That’s my ugly truth.  Even as I wholeheartedly build my life around justice, mercy and humility – I perpetually trip over myself.  No wonder, Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15, we must die DAILY to our sins.  God wasn’t looking for 40 entries on my little spreadsheet.

In the midst of my mess, Jen Hatmaker posted a quote from her upcoming book, Of Mess and Moxie,

You are not required to save the world, or anyone for that matter, with your art.  It isn’t valuable only if it rescues or raises money or makes an enormous impact.  It can be simply for the love of it.  That is not frivolous or selfish in the slightest.  If the only person it saves is you, that’s enough. 

Whoa.  That quote was like a life-preserver, thrown into a sea of doubt and confusion.  I remembered that I started blogging, as a way to have public accountability for my personal spiritual journey.  Period.  It wasn’t about how often I posted or how many hits I got or even whether my writing opened doors down the road.  It was about making faith real, for my family and for me.  God put me in this world for a reason, to go OUT to the least, and live a Micah 6:8 life.  But….I must look UP….often.  Soon after this quote, Jen published a brutally honest blog post – her first in many months.  She wrote,

This year I became painfully aware of the machine, the Christian Machine. I saw with clear eyes the systems and alliances and coded language and brand protection that poison the simple, beautiful body of Christ.

The Old Me put the cart before the horse.  I wanted the blog post script that I could reverse engineer from a list or some sort superficial spiritual practice.  But, here’s the thing: I don’t think my blog is very high up on God’s priority list – especially, if it becomes a vehicle of the Christian Machine.  My soul, however, is.  God had called me to lean into Lent, which meant embracing some soul-level messiness.   CS Lewis taught that, if you want to live  in God’s image, then you have to live a truthful existence.  It turns out, the only way to truly experience God’s love is to bring my own story and brokenness into the light.  

FullSizeRenderSo, here’s where things stand now.  We are STILL WAITING for the new minivan.  I haven’t yet donated my car – it still sits in my garage.  (Hopefully, that will change in the next couple weeks!). But….  The Me that felt I should say nothing till the whole thing was a done deal, and I could present my complete journey as a pretty package….that ME lost.  The Me that felt anxious over the weeks going by with nothing to write about, opted to ‘be still’ in the silence.  God had graciously entered my mess, and answered my HOW (create space for God) & WHERE (give a car to Able Works) Lent Prayer.  God reminded me that the death and brokenness of Good Friday always precedes beauty and provision of Resurrection Sunday.

Redemption

FullSizeRender 4Easter.

Remember that?  Easter Bunny.  Cross.  Lilies.  Peeps.  Ring any bells?

Funny, how fast we move on.  I’m sure a professional ‘blog consultant’ would say that there’s no sense writing about Easter, a whopping week after the holiday has come and gone.  But, see, that’s the problem.  Easter isn’t a holiday.  It’s everything.

Easter is not only the cornerstone of Christian faith, it’s also the day, over 60 years ago, that my grandmother was murdered.  Every year, when I celebrate a Risen Savior, I remember a lost mother and grandmother, a women I never knew, yet desperately miss.  If ever there were a motivation to find beauty in the broken, this has been it.  I’ve wanted my life to somehow bring meaning, inspiration and purpose out of her death.  Parts of my life look neat and tidy.  But, many parts are a big mess.  Sometimes, you lose someone you love, waaaaay too soon.  Sometimes, marriages end and dads disappear.  Sometimes, the doctor confirms your worst fear, and you join the cancer club.  Sometimes, ‘religion and politics’ clash in ways that are messy and painful to untangle or understand.  Sometimes, life reminds us, ‘why Easter’.

This post wasn’t intended to be an ‘Ode to Jen Hatmaker’.  But, the words from her last blog cut to my core, on so many levels.

I believe in the resurrection, so I know it will come. It always does. God wrangles victory out of actual, physical death. The cross taught us that. You can’t have anything more dead than a three-day old dead body, and yet we serve a risen Savior. New life is always possible evidently, well past the moment it makes sense to still hope for it. The empty tomb taught us that. I have enough faith to live a Friday and Saturday existence right now without fear that Sunday won’t come. It will come. I am nearly certain the way it will look will surprise me; I’m watching for the angel on the tombstone.

Every. Single. Time.

FullSizeRender 5Every time I read that paragraph, I cry.  That’s why I had to share the whole freakin’ thing.  God wrangles victory out of actual, physical death.  He did it once, so that we can claim it over and over and over again…..like, when your Grandma is taken on Easter Sunday.  God still wins.

Redemption is defined as the action of saving or being saved from sin, error, or evil.  Only God can do that.  But, now He has extra help.  I believe that my Grandma watches over me….that her spirit is no longer where her tombstone sits, but that she is in heaven, with Jesus.  Now, she is one of the angels.  And, over sixty years later, her story propels me to nobler heights.

Surrender

FullSizeRender 6Daily, we die.  That’s surrender.  Some days, it’s Donald Trump.  Other days (if you’re crazy planners with detailed financial spreadsheets, like my husband and me), it’s a car.   Sometimes, the Trumps and the cars remind you of that verse in Romans:

So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering.

Indeed, when we pause long enough to stop tripping over ourselves, God shows up in the most unexpected ways.  That’s the most concrete thing I can say.  This story isn’t finished, but I’m trying to let it be God’s story – not mine.  I’m trying to let the lessons of Lent and significance of Easter seep into the deepest parts of me.  It’s the only way to write the next chapter in my Micah 6:8 life.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Leaning into Lent

Running

No joke, I could employ someone nearly full-time JUST to deal with my family’s health issues.  It’s not that we’re a super sick bunch!  But, it all adds up!  My daughter, who broke her ankle in three places, right after Christmas, is STILL in an orthopedic boot and needing regular trips to the specialist.  This same lovely child, also has ear issues, so has been making near weekly trips to the ENT.  Just this morning, she asked me at the breakfast table, if I could make her an appointment with the Pediatrician, to freeze off a plantar wart.  (Side-note: am I the only mom who’s given up eating breakfast on school days?  Just give me my STRONG coffee, so I can be half awake to drive you to school.  I’ll eat when I get you little monsters, I mean loves, to school.). Anyways, my middle child is at the orthodontist almost weekly, these days.  Thank God for my youngest, who has zero health issues….well, that we’ve noticed.  That kid has learned out of necessity, how to ‘go with the flow’.

This is the first year that my three kids have been at school ALL day, so you would think that I’d have tons of time as a stay at home mom.  Think again.  Life is still crazy, whether it’s with these never-ending doctor and dentist visits, in addition to the usual assortment of after school activities.  Every mom, whether she works in or out of the home, can tell you that the BUCK STOPS WITH US, when it comes to family life.  When you learn that cute kid who came over yesterday has lice, guess who does 20 loads on the sanitary cycle THAT DAY?  MOM.  When you need someone to take you to the doctor to get that wart frozen off, who takes you?  MOM.

This is not intended to be a slight to men.  My husband is an amazing cook.  From the first day my kids entered this world, he’s been the designated nail clipper.  (I’ll never forget him showing up at the hospital with about 3 baby clippers, not sure which one would be best for our little bundle – we all remember how sharp yet how delicate those tiny fingers nails can be!).  He helps around the house and he’s an excellent provider.  But, at any given moment, it’s MOM who carries the insanely long ‘to do’ list related to the people they love.  We never stop running, for there is always someone or something to catch.

Day 1

Today is Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent.  What is lent?  Not too long ago, I could not have told you.  As I’ve written here, I grew up Pentecostal.  We did not follow a liturgical calendar.  Heck, we doubted Catholics were true Christians, and were probably not going to heaven, since they weren’t ‘born again’, as we were.  I’ve come a long way since then!  These days, whether it’s the writings of Nadia Boltz-Weber or the latest statements from Pope Francis, I’ve found my brothers and sisters from the Catholic and Episcopal faiths to be some of the most inspiring and faith-filled figures in Christianity today.  Yet, the Liturgical Calendar eludes me.

Since it was never my practice to eat fish on Fridays or celebrate Lent, I’ve often given myself a ‘free pass’ on these traditions, even as I’ve attended a Presbyterian church for the last 10 years, where services for Ash Wednesday and Maundy Thursday (among others) are offered.  But, as I pursue a deeper, more authentic faith, I have to ask myself, ‘why not’?  Why not practice Lent?

What is Lent?

Part of the reason I didn’t practice Lent, is because I didn’t understand it.  Ignorance isn’t always bliss – often, it’s just ignorance.  And, this is also true in faith.  So, here’s the answer: Lent is an annual season of fasting and penitence in preparation for Easter, beginning on Ash Wednesday and lasting 40 weekdays to Easter.  I love the way Katelyn Beaty describes it, with what it is NOT, in her recent Christianity Today article:

Lent is not about making ourselves miserable for its own sake, inflicting pain for sins committed throughout the year….The crazy and wonderful news is that, in Christ, we have been declared fit before God….A Lenten observance without this knowledge can easily reinforce common Protestant critiques (and caricatures) of Catholic or Catholic-ish rituals.

Beaty goes on, quoting Puritan theologian, John Owen, to explain what Lent IS:

Lent can become a practice in calling Christians to mortification instead of believing.  It goes without saying, anyone who chooses to observe Lent must do so in a way that puts front and center “the power of God and the mystery of the gospel.”

fullsizerender-34Now, I understand lent to be a season for remembering, in word and deed, the primary pillars of the gospel.  One of the pillars I hold most dear, is grace.  But, grace can so easily be cheapened when we skip confession.  Confession is at the heart of today, Ash Wednesday.  Nadia Boltz-Weber explains this first day of lent:

Once a year, on a Wednesday, we mix ashes with oil. We light candles and confess to one another and to God that we have sinned by what we have done and what we have left undone. We tell the truth. Then we smear the ashes on our foreheads and together acknowledge the single reality upon which every Catholic and Protestant, believer and atheist, scientist and mystic can agree: “Remember that you are dust and to dust and to dust you will return.” It’s the only thing we know for sure: we will die.

Truth showed up big time, over a recent cup of coffee at Mademoiselle Colette.  We were supposed to be having a ‘happy birthday’ luncheon.  But, somehow, we ended up talking about death.  We talked about our own mortality and that of people we love…about what really matters and whether we’re living our lives and raising our families in ways that align with our core beliefs and values.  And, I don’t mean this in the way Christians often interpret *values* or *morality*…that I don’t swear or drink too much alcohol or skip church….I mean it more in the, do I pray for those that offend me  (Donald Trump) or do I give sacrificially to those in need (even those of a different religion, like Muslim refugees) or am I willing to see my comfortable life get turned upside down for the sake of justice and mercy (to advocate for the undocumented or fight racism)?  Lately, I’m leaning into the prickly places.

My Confession

I intentionally said ‘lean’ and not ‘jump’.  I am not jumping into these things.  Control freaks, like me, rarely jump.  But, I am leaning.  Serving lunch to the homeless has been one of the ways I’m trying to ‘lean into’ loving the least.  But, let’s be clear – God’s still got a lot of work to do in me.  Here’s an embarrassing example.  The homeless shelter has asked that volunteers, like me, fill out a bunch of forms.  I mean…A BUNCH.  I’ve still not finished my Live Scan (background check) or the TB test, because, honestly, it’s inconvenient.  I’ve not had time.  This weekend, I was running through my mental checklist for the week, and remembered these two items for the shelter, which I STILL need to do.  And, there was this moment, when my thoughts went to that dark place….“they’re JUST homeless people….why must I do so much for THEM….I don’t even do that much to volunteer at school!!!!!”

Not pretty, I know.

But, sometimes we need to see the truth in ourselves.  In the next moment, God quietly and gently reminded me of just how much He loves them (the homeless who come to the shelter).  He reminded me of the posts I’ve written, where I waxed eloquent on the immeasurable worth of each one of us, and how God’s gospel, over and over again, is one of love for the least….for that is where God’s heart is.  He reminded me of the truth I know, but so often forget.

Who needs Lent?  Me.

My Practice

Generosity

So, how to practice lent when you don’t have any traditions, and you REALLY don’t want to give up chocolate, coffee or wine for 4o days?  Well, a couple of days ago, the same friend who  invited me to the shelter, posted a link on Facebook to a movement centered around Lent, called 40 Acts of Generosity.  She asked folks to join her.  Confession (yes, another one): my first thought was, I’m too busy, and I really don’t want to fail.  Not only am I a control freak, but I’m also a perfectionist.  If I’m going to sign-up, I want to get an A, goddamnit.  But, today, God tugged at my heart with a tenderness I don’t deserve.  He nudged me to go back to the link, and just check it out.  As I watched the video, I realized that this was the kind of thing I was saying I wanted to build my life and faith around….now, here was a chance to bridge the ‘knowing/doing’ gap….to turn my words into action.  So, I’ve signed up!

A Different Denial

In writing this post, I stumbled upon an article published today in the Washington Post, titled, Seriously, I am giving up Donald Trump for Lent. Here’s how. Reading it, I knew – this is something I need to do.  Diana Butler Bass writes, “In recent years, more of my friends have taken something distracting out of their life to add a practice that is more life-giving.”  She explains WHY Donald Trump, confessing, “For the past three months, I had gone to bed thinking about the president and often woke up in the morning doing the same. I realized my soul had been politically colonized, and that it was taking huge effort to think and talk about other things with family and friends.”  

When I read this, I immediately thought of the wise words a friend, who recently told me it was okay, even as you seek God’s guidance on where He wants you in the world, to pull away for a time.  She encouraged me to simply draw near to God, that maybe my life and present pursuit were starving me of His love.  I know, I know, I know….this sounds like typical ‘Christianese Speak’.  But, I assure you , it was not; she read my heart and offered me an invitation to let God find me in the midst of a difficult faith season.  Lately, I question why evangelicals are silent when the world is hurting or how I can best to navigate conversations with my own pastors about what the role of the church should be, etc. or if my ‘best yes’ is in partnering with community organizations, rather than the usual ‘church service projects’????  As I grapple with these questions, and more, she gave me two great questions to ponder:

Lord, who are you?

AND

Where are you?

The Word(s)

Another dear friend, who loves me like a sister, unilaterally decided that the two of us would do an NT Wright study of Romans.  And, can I just insert here, that while I hate what’s happening in our country and the suffering across the globe, I cannot deny the way God has rallied the most dear friends during these difficult times?  I’m not sure we would have bonded the way we have, if we weren’t collectively heartbroken for the same things.  Anyways, back to the study….  we are just beginning, but this season of Lent is surely a time for shifting my gaze away from the words….countless tweets and articles… things that are not life-giving… to digging deep into the Word.  I am reminded so clearly of WHO God is and WHERE He is.

To go back to ‘Giving up Trump’….  I like the way Diana offers a nuanced approach to this abstinence.  Lord knows, a political junkie like me might not survive a complete severing with all current events ties.  She explains:

Politics is about finding new connections between people and working for the common good. If I stop fretting over a single individual, I can be more engaged in creating a community where love of neighbor matters. That is the purpose of Lent: giving up distraction and finding space for what gives life.     

This sounds like Lent, to me.  It is what my soul needs for a season.  In 41 days, I will return.  God did not make me to perpetually put my head in the sand.  But, today, I will make space for God’s love to lean into me.

Come as you are party

I will start with confession, and then move to a place of surrender to the power of God’s love and mystery of the gospel.  Out of that, I pray there’s a sincere outpouring of generosity.  I’m gonna give the 40 Acts my best shot.  Another confession: I’m sure to miss a few days.  But, I’m trying to be okay with the fact that this isn’t about ticking boxes – it’s about cultivating discipleship and practicing love.  It’s about remembering that God actually loves me.  As Anne Lamott tweeted on All Things Considered (for my fellow NPR lovers): “God loves us absolutely unconditionally as is.  It’s a come as you are Party.”  God takes us, plantar warts, and all.  When we’re ready to stop running, He’s ready to catch us.  The cross, which is what Lent prepares us for, is God catching us – now, and forever.

Make America Great Again

fullsizerender-14It doesn’t get much better than Jon Stewart on the Late Show with Stephen Colbert. We are less than two weeks into the Trump administration and I’m even more panicked than I was the day after the election. As Salena Zito wrote in the Atlantic, back in September, “The press takes him literally, but not seriously; his supporters take him seriously, but not literally.” Well, guess what folks…he meant what he said. So, I guess it wasn’t so crazy for those of us on the left to freak-out over some of his more outlandish statements….it wasn’t hyperbole. Which, brings us back to Stewart and Colbert….two of my favorite satirists, always, but especially these days. Stewart ended his bit by saying that we’re gonna make America great again….just not in the way Trump envisioned.

fullsizerender-20I sat in Mama Coco, a Mexican restaurant in Menlo Park, the day of the inauguration. I was joined by friends who are studying white privilege with me. We were numb with sadness…..our usually chatty group had no words. We watched, as a large group of protestors stood along El Camino Real. Some planned to participate in the Women’s March in San Francisco the next day. Some were not sure whether protesting was something they were comfortable with. For a collection of left-leaning white evangelical women, the world of ‘protest’ is a new one. We all felt called to resist – we just varied on the ways in which we felt we could best make fullsizerender-18a difference. As we left, I told one of the gals that while I’d never in a million years wish for a Trump victory, I confessed that the silver lining was that now we’d have to actually put our faith into action. Now, it was time to be the Church and the People.

Since that day, we’ve begun exchanging ideas on how we can make an impact. For those who also reside in the lonely land between traditional evangelical alliances and progressive politics, here’s are some ideas for making America great again….just not in the way Trump envisioned.

Make the Church Great Again

As Shane Claiborn tweeted today, in response to a statement by Franklin Graham (don’t get me started….), “No. It is theological malpractice to say that the president is exempt from the Sermon on the Mount or not accountable to Christ’s commands.” We are ALL accountable. I’m not sure why I even have to say that, but newsflash…there are no exemptions. For the those of us who love Jesus and are aghast at Trump’s first 12 days, we must stand up.  Even as we preach, we must hold ourselves to the same standards we’re asking of others. With that said, what shall we preach?

How does the church ‘show up’ in this moment?  We must stand with the oppressed.

1. IT’S TIME TO BE THE CHURCH.

Jim Wallis was in the Bay Area this weekend, teaching on Matthew 25. Here are verses 35-36:

For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.

These verses are not only compelling on their own, but especially when read in the context of the rest of the chapter, where Jesus essentially explains how to get into heaven. Near the end of this chapter is where Jesus says, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.”

Church, there’s no ‘out’ for national security or political ideology or personal finances or any other consideration. What we DON’T do for the least, we DON’T do for Jesus.  As Jen Hatmaker tweeted this morning, your chance of being killed in a terror attack carried out by refugees is 1 in 3.6 billion.  Sit on that for a second…..

We probably don’t need lessons in public policies from the pulpit, but we do need reminders on what the scriptures actually say, as they relate to current events in our nation today.  Talk to your pastor or church leaders.  I am so grateful to the Pope, among others, for being respectfully direct in his statements on immigrants and refugees.  We need more Christian leaders to join him.  

You can take the Matthew 25 Pledge here.

2. Learn.  

Church, lives are at stake here.  The least we can do is educate ourselves.  If these ideas are foreign (pardon the pun) or scary to you, commit to at least educating yourself. A recent Christianity Today article provides not only a good summary on this issue, but some great links to books by Christian authors on this topic.  Or, here’s a great article in the Washington Post, just out February 1st, explaining the already robust vetting process.

3. Skip the BS. Consider actually doing something.

Seriously, don’t be a goat. (Read Matthew 25) God isn’t fooled and the rest of the world isn’t either. For heavens sake, we’ve seen more protests in the last few days than in decades prior. The Women’s March is being called one of the largest demonstrations ever. So, we can’t afford to sit on our laurels and do nothing. And, even as we do something, we must recognize that our credibility is one the line if we talk the talk without walking the walk.

To walk with others, especially migrants and refugees, here are some ideas.

  • First, churches can shed their reputation for being irrelevant religious relics by teaching about these topics and creating forums for conversation. If we can’t apply the scriptures to our present day, what’s the point? The word ‘sanctuary’ originates in the Bible, and it doesn’t just mean the fancy auditorium where we sing worship songs. In the scriptures, the words sanctuary and refuge are often used interchangeably.
  • Second, if we can’t have respectful dialogues within our faith communities, we should seriously close our doors.  How can there be reasonable hope in elsewhere if we can’t do it ourselves???
  • Lastly, in addition to talking about these issues from the pulpit, can become literal sanctuaries, of learning, support and protection by sponsoring immigration clinics or supporting refugee relief organizations (thanks to Laura Ortberg Turner for this list: CAIR, IRC, and The Bread Project) and to even physical protection and refuge. As one Methodist minister said in a recent RNS article, “It’s really key that people of faith be active, especially white America….It’s time to put your bodies, buildings and assets on the line.”

The Bible is pretty clear that we become great when we come alongside the least. Period.  Now would be a good time to put that concept into practice.  As we do, let’s remember to encourage one another.  Whether you take your stand on Facebook or behind a pulpit, progressive Christian leaders have been punished in recent months for their views.  There’s no getting around the fact that 81% of evangelicals voted for Trump.  The 19% that spoke out before and after the election have paid a steep price, whether it’s Russell Moore risking his position with the Southern Baptist Convention in the wake of Trump criticism or Jen Hatmaker being pulled from Lifeway bookstores for her LGBTQ comments or Shauna Neiquist for her expressed enthusiasm over the Women’s March…  Visit the Facebook pages of Rachel Held Evans or Sarah Bessey, and you’ll find plenty of vicious attacks, all uttered in the name of Jesus, of course.  NOT OKAY.

So, let’s drown out those voices (the mean ones, not necessarily the dissenting ones) by walking humbly through this process, giving a lot of grace along the way.  There’s the phrase, iron sharpens iron.  We can do that for one another, but not so successfully when we are constantly trying to stab one another in the back.

Make America Great Again

I don’t know why young people or minorities don’t vote. Truly. I know that access has been seriously curtailed by a variety of factors, for African Americans, in particular. But, even still, that doesn’t explain why so many didn’t show up on November 8th.

But, that was November 8th….. I have a feeling that President Trump will inspire more young people and minorities to get involved than any prior voter-registration or citizenship drive ever could. Citizen participation in the last 11 days has been off the charts.  IT’S TIME TO BE THE PEOPLE.

According to the latest Pew Research Center polls, cited in NY Magazine, the Women’s fullsizerender-17March not only made a better impression than the tea party movement and marches of 2010, it made a BETTER one. In addition, 40% of democratic women say they plan to get more involved in political causes this year. Newsflash: women are busy….we needed another project as much as Alec Baldwin needs more Trump material. That’s huge that 40% would say they will make space for greater political involvement.

To paraphrase the Japanese commander Isoroku Yamamoto, after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, we may have awakened a sleeping giant.  If events of the last few days are any indication, we may have finally awakened a bigger chunk of our nation’s citizenry.  And, that’s a good thing.  Democracy was never intended to be a spectator sport. 

At the local level, folks on the Peninsula have a wide array of organizations they can plug into.  There are three near and dear to my heart that I want to plug here.

  • Able Works: This group, led by my friend Sue, equips individuals with financial education, life skills and assets that enable one to live free from oppression and poverty. FYI, they are hosting an event on February 9th, FINDING A WAY FORWARD: Mass Incarceration, Community Policing and The Effects On The Family.  Go if you can!
  • Life Moves Opportunity Services Center: This is the spot where my journey began in the fall, to help ‘the least’/Bay Area homeless by serving lunch.  There are lots of ways to plug-in; they do excellent work in striving to break the cycle of homelessness.
  • My New Red Shoes: Founded by one of my best friends, this amazing group works to give kids the tools they need to be confident at school.  One of the main reasons of absenteeism, is adequate clothing/shoes.  My New Red Shoes works with local community partners across the bay to provide kids with clothes and shoes at the start of each year.  They work year-round to prepare for the 1st day of school.  At Mothers Together last Tuesday, we donated shoes, sewed bags and made cards.  In addition, My New Red Shoes is one of the few charities you can bring your kids, if you want to volunteer at their warehouse.

There are countless ways to get involved.  These are just a few.  But, if the last 12 days are any indication, those at the bottom will get hit the hardest in the coming four years.  Some folks are taking the bold step of running for office.  Some are writing letters and making phone calls. Others are plugging into activist roles with various organizations.  As Americans, it’s time for us to wake-up, smell the coffee, and get involved.  Even if I don’t always agree with you, I believe in our democracy enough to know that if millions of Americans get engaged in the process, we will come out ahead in the end.

While I think engaging in person is the best way to get involved, I’d be remiss if I didn’t list a few ways to let your money do the talking.  You can support, with your purchases, these companies and organizations working to help refugees or immigrants:

  • The CEO’s of Netflix, Apple, Airbnb, Nike, Ford, Starbucks and many more have all been critical of the refugee ban.  Starbucks is also vowing to hire 10,000 refugees. fullsizerender-19 Airbnb is offering free housing to refugees.  Support companies that have taken a stand on this issue, even in the face of a president determined to punish those who oppose him.  I’m using this as an excuse to drink more Starbucks coffee!
  • One of my new favorite groups is Preemptive Love.  Refugees actually make these fullsizerender-16amazing soaps.  Your purchase helps support them.  I gave several bars out at Christmas, and folks loved them.  They also have some great t-shirts, among other things.
  • Support organizations providing help on the ground AND create a conversation starter buy purchasing a cool t-shirt from either the ACLU or Southern Poverty Law Center.

Make Our Families Great Again

Part of the reason I started this blog, was because I wanted to be publicly accountable in my effort as a mom to teach my kids what it looks like to act justly, love mercy and walk humbly.  I shared in my last post, how my kids aren’t always jumping for joy when I suggest a book, film or activity that isn’t somehow related to Disney, Marvel or Legos.  But, they also don’t like veggies.  That doesn’t mean I give up.  I keep trying.  I get creative.  This matters.

For me, this is my most important measure as mom….did I teach my kids how to truly love God by loving others?  Not in the, show up for Sunday school each week way….but, in the tolerance for others not like you or compassion for the person on the corner or in sacrifice giving to those in need….  We are called to love one another, regardless of how they’ve messed up or if they look like us or pray to the same God as us or the color of their skin…..loving God means loving ALL His people.

Since this is Black History Month, I wanted to invest in some books for my kids that would heighten their awareness of social justice issues.

I’m looking for options other than just books.  But, during these rainy winter days in California, it’s a start.  Going back to Black History Month, here’s a Frederick Douglas quote that Shane Claiborne tweeted yesterday: “Between the Christianity of this land and the Christianity of Christ, I recognize the widest possible difference.”  I guess some things take a long time to change….but, we must be the change we want to see (to quote Ghandi).

Be Bonhoeffer

One of my friends from the White Privilege study encouraged me to read Bonhoeffer’s biography.  While I haven’t read the whole thing yet, my initial inquiry into this storied leader in Christian history readily reveal why my friend felt we might be inspired today by his example.

It’s one thing to quote Bonhoeffer, it’s another thing to emulate the minister that stood up to Hitler.  Now, before some of you jump off the deep end….I’m not saying Trump is Hitler.  (I do wonder sometimes, but that’s not my point.)  My point is that we can’t pretend that if we could go back in history to the periods and people we extoll, that we’d be right there with them….but, then we have 101 excuses for why we can’t take the same risks or emulate in any fashion the courageous men and women we admire.  Not all of us were cut out to pick up picket signs and protest.  But, that doesn’t mean we don’t have spheres of influence and places where we can take a stand.  WE MUST TAKE A STAND.  Here are a few quotes from his biography that cut to my core:

  • Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.
  • Christianity stands or falls with its revolutionary protest against violence, arbitrariness, and pride of power, and with its plea for the weak. Christians are doing too little to make these points clear … Christendom adjusts itself far too easily to the worship of power. Christians should give more offense, shock the world far more, than they are doing now.
  • Those who love their dream of a Christian community more than they love the Christian community itself become destroyers of that Christian community even though their personal intentions may be ever so honest, earnest, and sacrificial.
  • Being a Christian is less about cautiously avoiding sin than about courageously and actively doing God’s will.

I’ve always loved listening to Christian music.  In my car, NPR, the classical station and KLOVE are the three stations I tune to most often.  But, these have been difficult days.  As one evangelical friend who is half-Indian recently told me, I’ve never felt so lonely at church.  I get it.  Sometimes, it’s like the WASPY world would love for the dust to settle, so we can get back to business as usual.  But, when your kids are half Asian or your husband has a green card and you worry whether he’ll be allowed back into the US when he travels or your African American best friend is torn apart by the racism in America or you find out that a precious child in your class is undocumented and living in daily fear….when you dip your toe outside of the WASPY world, you see things differently.

Whether I’m in the car or in church, I wonder if the words mean the same thing to others that they mean to me…if they take them seriously or just figuratively.  These days, I take them more and more literally.  As much as I feel somewhat alone in my faith, I am reassured by the small but passionate band of friends who share my deep devotion to the Jesus who came and gave it all for all.  The other day, a new song called Giants Fall by
Francesca Battistelli, came on the radio.  Its words soothed my overwhelmed heart, reminding me of who God is and what He can do.

Don’t you be afraid
Of giants in your way
With God you know that anything’s possible
So step into the fight
He’s right there by your side
The stones inside your hand might be too small
But watch the giants fall

I’m clinging to these words.  I am not afraid.  Anything is possible.  GIANTS WILL FALL.  It’s not just about America….it’s about all of us across the globe.  God always has been, He is, and He always will be GREAT…just not always the way we initially envisioned.

 

 

 

 

Farewell, Mr. President

 

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Medal Ceremony

We’re going through a lot of Kleenex these days.  First, there was President Obama’s Farewell Address in Chicago.  Then, there was the surprise conferment of the Medal of Freedom by Obama to his beloved Vice President, Joe Biden.  This morning, I saw a video of Obama visiting a homeless shelter where children were the recipients of Sasha and Malia’s playground set.  And, just now, Obama held his final press conference.  Cue the tears!  THIS WHITE, EVANGELICAL WOMAN IS HEARTBROKEN TO SEE OBAMA GO.

 

Coffee, wine and then tea…..

fullsizerender-3I love coffee.

I love wine.

Sadly, you can only drink so much of both.  It seems as though even Mother Nature mourns, as it has been an unusually cold and rainy winter in California.  And, so, I drink a lot of tea.  Last night, I stared at the tag: Comforting Camomile….if only.  If only it were so simple.  If only the clouds would part, and we’d realize it was all just a bad dream.  But, it’s not.  And, I’m left to sit with my emotions….to think, and pray and contemplate how I will respond.  And, honestly, I still don’t know.  That’s partly why I’ve not blogged.  What do you say?  Some of what we’re going through is unchartered territory; the other part is rooted in conflicts that have festered for decades, even centuries.

The other reason I haven’t blogged is because life happened.  My daughter broke her ankle in three places.  We got a puppy.  My mom was healed.

That last one isn’t a typo or even an exaggeration.  Today, my mom celebrates yet another birthday, laughing in the face of a cancer that has threatened her place in this world for over a year.  After a lifetime of loving others, the affection has come full circle, as friends and family have become the hands and feet of Jesus, taking her to appointments, bringing meals, saying prayers…..those prayers….they worked.  We never thought that ‘remission’ was a word we’d hear, yet it’s the word that the Mayo Clinic doctors gave – it’s a word we now cling to.

Remission isn’t just for cancer.  Remission is for sins.  I look at the church today, and our divisions are like a cancer.  It is a no-brainer that when a loved one is sick, you pray.  You gather, you organize, you rally, you contribute – one way or another.  But, these days, when our nation is sick and hurting, we seem to be tripping over one-another…sometimes, even making enemies when what we need are allegiances.  If only Obama could pardon our pains in his final days; but, the absolution we seek, is one only God can give.  And, while I believe strongly that there’s much government could and should do, my deep heartache comes in watching mainstream Christians wish to sweep discords under the rug and just move on.

Don’t Be A Dog

fullsizerender-2
Happy Go Lucky Kid

To be fair, I’m tempted to look for my broom too.  I’m tempted to sweep this moment and this heartache from my life.

 

We just got a puppy, Calli.  My husband used to say that in his next life, he wanted to come back as our happy go lucky six-year-old.  We envy his charmed life.

Then, Calli came….bliss found even higher heights!  The whole family is entertained by this pup who wishes for nothing more than to just be with her people.  She eats.  She plays.  She cuddles.  She pees and poops.  And, that’s about it.  Life is good.  Now, we joke that we want to come back as Calli.  What could be better?

fullsizerender-8Genesis.  Genesis tells us what’s better.

So God created mankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.

God had created many marvelous things to fill the heavens and earth; only one was created in His image.  Us.  Only one creation was made to be like God.  As John Ortberg detailed in a sermon at Menlo Church last Sunday, humanity’s very first commandments were essentially to go have sex, to enjoy the delicious fruits and foods and to go innovate, create and rule.  We are made in His image.  And, from Genesis to Revelation, the most constant themes are of love, grace and mercy…..not legalism or jugmentalism.  So, why do we lead with this when we go into the world?

We have a unique opportunity, to be like God.  This is a gift given to no other img_1371creation….even dogs (man’s best friend).  Being ‘like’ God and ‘being God’ are two entirely different things, to be sure.  Assuming that our collective calling is to be like Christ, then the proof of this pursuit is the fruits of the spirit, which are:  love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.  As much as a big part of me wants to shrink back into my safe and comfortable life, to make cups of tea, pull my babies and puppy close and just shut out the world – I know that this is to miss out on not just God’s strongest commandments but also His greatest invitation….to be part of something that is worthy, holy and eternal.

Facebook Follies

I live in Menlo Park….home to Facebook.  I love it for the ways I can connect with friends across the globe.  I love it for the way I can efficiently share life events with those closest to me.  I love that I’ve found women like Sarah Bessey, Jen Hatmaker and Rachel Held Evans….all through Facebook.  Facebook has its strengths.  It also has its weaknesses.  We’ve seen this in the last election.  We found our silos.  And, to our detriment, we’ve dug even deeper trenches.

On Monday, many of us availed ourselves of the feel-good exercise of posting favorite MLK quotes.  But, thankfully, women like Rachel Held Evans reminded us of our tainted Christian history:

“Reducing the struggles of the past to conflict between “the Christians” and “the culture” disregards the fact that slavery, Jim Crow, Native American removal, and all sorts of racial and gender inequalities have all flourished in a supposedly Christian culture…It’s easy to comfort ourselves with the thought that Christians of the past were only using religion and Scripture to support their oppression, but in truth those Christians rarely saw it that way. Often the difference between using Scripture to justify injustice and appealing to Scripture to support the truth proves clearest in hindsight. Pride, privilege, and confirmation bias are formidable adversaries on the path to justice, which is why we must familiarize ourselves with past justifications for oppression or inaction lest we make the same mistakes again.”

She spoke to an inconvenient truth that while hard to swallow, resonates because I know it is not a white-washing of history.  And, as they say, if we do not study and learn history in its truest form – we are bound to repeat it.  This is my great fear, as we head into the next four years.  I replied to Rachel’s post and she responded.  Here’s our exchange:

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So, there you have it.

It might not be an exhaustive list of solutions, but it is definitely a good place to start.  And, discussing solutions and paths forward is indeed where the church can and should set an example.

Sadly, without going into details, there were multiple white men who quickly replied to my question, feeling the need to say that Trump isn’t a racist, misogynist, Islamophobe, etc.  I was shocked.  This is MLK Day.  We are exchanging ideas on racial healing.  My question never labeled Trump as any of those things.  But, it clearly touched a nerve.

The day after MLK Day, a friend sent me these wonderful words written by Richard Rohr:

We see in the Gospels that it’s those on the bottom who tend to follow Jesus: the lame, the poor, the blind, the prostitutes, the drunkards, the tax collectors, the sinners, the outsiders, the foreigners.  It’s demonstrably those on the inside and the top who crucify him: elders, chief priests, teachers of the Law, scribes, and Roman occupiers.  

Rohr goes on to emphasize the importance of perspective, saying that Western Christians “fail to appreciate liberation theology” thanks to so many years of seeing the Scriptures through the lens of empowered clergy class rather than the marginalized.  He reminds us that for the first 300 years after Jesus, Christianity was a religion of the oppressed.  And, this isn’t just a historical observation; it’s a reflection of the heart of God.  Over and over and over again, Jesus points us to the least.  As Dorothy Day puts it, we must live at the bottom.  

White Privilege

For several months now, I’ve been meeting with a group of white women, as we study racism and our own white privilege; I recognize my life doesn’t lend itself to truly living with or loving the least.  For those who aren’t ready yet for a year-long study, there was a really good article from 2015, circulating yet again on MLK Day.  One line in it, where a white woman like myself discusses her own white privilege, says: Acknowledging privilege is not admitting to be a racist.

So, church…..can we grow-up enough to create safe spaces where conversations like the one Rachel recommended can happen?  If it can’t happen with us or in our sacred spaces, where do we think it can or will happen?  Can we shut-up and listen to learn, not to defend?  For, if other spaces do manage to facilitate those dialogues, what does that say of us?  Jesus will never be irrelevant but Christians….we can be.  Let’s not.  For God’s sake!

Meet Katharine, Dorothy and Mary

On Monday, I took my kids to see Hidden Figures.  This film introduces us to Katharine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson, three brilliant African-American women who were not just involved with but essential to the early milestones in our nation’s space program.  And, till now, their stories were unknown.  But, thanks to Hollywood, we finally get to learn about the obstacles they overcame to work at NASA.  Given my lifelong love of history and recent interest in learning about racism and African American heroes, this was a no-brainer.

But, I have a confession: my kids didn’t want to go.  I am so embarrassed to admit thisfullsizerender-11, but it’s the truth.  In the end, my eldest liked it.  My middle child said his favorite part was the end, when the rocket carrying John Glenn is launched.  And, my youngest (the happy-go-lucky one), spent most of the movie with his popcorn bucket over his head.  I kid you not.  (God knows how to keep me humble.)  But, I am trusting that after a lifetime of leaning into opportunities to learn, whether that’s walking around Angel Island and learning about the Chinese immigrants who first arrived in America or the ‘hidden figures’ essential to our early days of space exploration, there will be a net gain in deep understanding and true compassion.  Reality is that empathy isn’t automatic, which is why it can’t be option in my family.  This is a non-negotiable.  As Martin Luther King wrote:

Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection. . . . We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people. 

Writer Judy Wu Dominick recently confessed on Facebook, how she’d come full circle from being an Obama detractor and critic to sincere supporter.  The turning point: when she switched to a more diverse church, one that was over 50% black.  Over time, her perspective and eventually her heart changed.  Our bubbles shape us more than we realize.

I have a dream…

Yesterday, I spoke to the Mothers Together group at Menlo Church.  It wasn’t my first time holding a microphone.  But, it was my first time teaching a large group in a religious setting.  All prior coaching and speaking was at universities or in corporate conference rooms and learning centers.  This year, I joined the teaching and missions teams, believing these were areas where I needed to stretch (you learn by doing)!  One of the passages I studied in preparing for this talk, came from the Book of Esther (credit to John Ortberg for his analysis and teaching on this book).  What’s amazing about this story, and what I shared with the ladies, is that the name of God is never uttered in Esther’s story.  As John puts it:

The writer (of Esther) wants you to know that even in exile…no Jerusalem, no temple, no Sanhedrin, far from home, surrounded by problems…God is right there. Even though in Esther’s story God’s name is never spoken, God’s heart is never absent. God’s arm is never missing. So don’t you give up. In your position, however important it may or may not look, however likely your success does or does not appear, whether you feel like your mission is going well or terrible, don’t you give up, because it’s God at work, not you.

So this is what I’m clinging to.  I’m not giving up.  I’m leaning into even those places and spaces that are awkward, even painful.  I’m believing miracles still happen but I’m not relying just on religious institutions or Christian forums.  Because, honestly, I think vast swaths are becoming holy huddles of privilege, be it economic, racial, educational, etc.  And, please know that I lump myself into that group!   But, as one mom shared during our Mothers Together gathering, be willing to do the little things….like, go to a playground across the railroad tracks or facilitate play dates with friends who may live on the other side of town.  Even though big strides are needed, little steps are far better than backward slides.  As the Franciscan prayer Sarah Bessey asks, may we be blessed with the anger, tears and foolishness.

So, my question isn’t whether you posted your favorite MLK quote on Monday….it’s fullsizerender-10whether you’re still talking about him and honoring his work today….just a few days later.  And, will you keep thinking and praying about how we the church can make his dream a reality?  Cause, here’s the thing…Dr King’s I Have A Dream speech is laden with inspiration borrowed rhetoric from the New and Old Testament.  The dream didn’t originate with Dr King….it originated with God.  It’s God’s dream. We know that this is the picture of heaven.  Frankly speaking, there will always be brokenness in this world.  But, God didn’t stop in Genesis.  He had a dream.  Why not be part of it now? 

The Outsider’s Christmas

87b7b32c-f249-42f8-9f61-95302f9a19ec-28288-000025ad7be0ba74_tmpOver coffee and wine….  It’s not just catchy, it’s my life.  I need a solid two cups of coffee in the morning to be somewhat functional (sincerest apologies to my running partner who sees me 3x/week@6:30 am sans any caffeine…God only knows what comes out of my mouth!).  So, you can be sure that I’ll be holding at least a few of those red Starbucks cups this December.  For the second year in a row, Starbucks has been accused of waging a war against Christianity, with its cup design.  I have this crazy theory that Christmas is about more than what is or is not on our coffee cups.  Here’s how Rachel Held Evans puts it:

The whole story of Advent is the story of how God can’t be kept out. God is present. God is with us. God shows up—not with a parade but with the whimper of a baby, not among the powerful but among the marginalized, not to the demanding but to the humble. From Advent to Easter, the story of Jesus should teach us that God doesn’t need a mention in our pledge or on our money or over the loudspeaker at the mall to be present, and when we fight like spoiled children to “keep” God in those things, we are fighting for idols. We’re chasing wind.

The birth of Jesus offers so many lessons.  But, the central role of outsiders in the Christmas story demands a second look, as we consider the real reason for the season.  And, I pray, the lessons from that look, give us some new ways to celebrate this Christmas.

Foreigners in Bethlehem

3296142c-3ec5-4f2e-854c-9345e0211524-27975-00002563db99d8af_tmpToday’s nativity scenes are almost a dime a dozen.  We see them and shrug.  Mary and Joseph, in a barn with some farm animals standing around and three funny looking guys in the background.  Yep.  We know the story.  But, maybe the story has gotten too familiar?

While Joseph had family ties to Bethlehem, they were visitors in this tiny town.  And, they weren’t the only outsiders.  We often hear about the three wise men.  These magi or astrologers, came from the East.  So, these are men from a foreign land, with foreign traditions and faith.  They bring gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh, gifts typically given to a king or royalty….not the typical ‘congrats on your baby’ gift.  These are wealthy, well-educated men who had a lot to lose, traveling to Israel, bearing gifts for a new king.

The gifts are not only symbolically significant, but they were likely life-saving financial resources for Mary and Joseph.  Herod becomes so paranoid by the news of this baby, that he slaughters baby boys under the age of two in Bethlehem.  Fortunately, Joseph and Mary escaped with baby Jesus, to Egypt.  But, consider all of the times we see an outsider playing a key role in the Christmas story.

First, Mary and Joseph are far from home, having come to Bethlehem at such a delicate time in Mary’s pregnancy to take part in the census.  Then, they receive gifts from foreigners from the East.  (FYI…unlike the little nativity sets we put up next to our Christmas tree, where the shepherds and wisemen simultaneously assembled in the manger, the wisemen probably didn’t arrive until roughly a year later.)  Finally, they become refugees in Egypt for a few years, likely surviving on the resources they received from the magi.  It isn’t until Herod dies, that Mary, Joseph and Jesus can return to Israel.

It’s not just this chapter in the Christmas story that highlights the role of a foreigner.  The very lineage of Christ paints a picture of a Savior who came for all.  For example, not only does the Bible include the names of 5 women in Jesus’s genealogy (unheard of in that day), but among them we find Ruth.  Ruth was a foreigner from Moab, whose entire race was a lasting reminder of the incest committed between Lot and his oldest daughter.  Over and over again, we are reminded that there’s no sin so big or person so far, that they are beyond the love of Christ.  Just in case we missed it in looking at his family tree, or in the story of his birth, Jesus repeatedly shows us that we are to love the outsider.  It is in His commandments to love one another.  It’s in His stories, like that of the Good Samaritan (despised foreigner).  It’s in His blood, which He explicitly states is for all, Jew and Gentile, male and female, slave and free…you name it, it’s there for each and every one of us.

Foreigners in the United States

Even though we are a nation built by immigrants, the present level of hostility towards foreigners is at an all-time high.  As a white woman, married to a Singaporean immigrant, parenting bi-racial children, I have some admittedly selfish and personal reasons for rejecting this posture.  But, there are reasons beyond decency that should give us pause, before we permit the nativist rhetoric to become normalized speech or worse yet, public policy.

Immigrants thru history

First, a quick history lesson.  In a book by Eric Weiner, called the Geography of Genius, he looks at civilizations through the years to identify the places/people that evolved into 1fde0261-ee3e-4af8-b0fc-2e71c8008017-28288-000025adc70f0b45_tmpthe most influential and productive centers for their time(s).  So, just to clarify, we’re looking across the globe, from the time history has been recorded.  And, one of the most consistent catalysts for growth, creativity whether it’s ancient Athens or Vienna and Florence during the Renaissance or Silicon Valley today: the influx of new ideas and perspective from immigrants.  Unless you’re Native American, the rest of us were at one time immigrants ourselves.  And, until the late 19th century, there were few immigration regulations.  There weren’t the visas, lengthy processes and countless forms of today.  Today’s undocumented can’t ‘do it the right way’ like our great-grandparents.

Immigrants in America today

So, let’s fast forward to today.  The election results do not somehow turn political rhetoric into statistical fact.  On the two hot topics of refugees and immigration, here’s the deal: refugees aren’t dangerous and immigration is not bad for the economy.  It’s tempting to cut and paste the hundreds of articles and studies validating the importance of foreigners to our own American society and economy – there is an avalanche of evidence.  I’ll spare you!  But, here are a few actual facts worth considering (don’t worry…..we WILL get back to the Christmas story):

  • Entrepreneurs: Immigrants are twice as likely to start a new business.  9903cdd8-2d20-44cb-b603-858458e027bf-28288-000025af99fb3ab3_tmpImmigrants (and their children) started such iconic companies as Apple, Google, Intel, Bank of America, AT&T, Procter & Gamble, Kraft, Pfizer, DuPont, eBay and Ford.
  • Individual Mobility/Wages: Immigrant children show extraordinary upward mobility, in terms of income, occupation and education.  In addition, studies find that immigrants raise wages for native-born American.  Interestingly, cities with the most immigrants tend to support a continuation of pro-immigrant policies.  On the flip-side, Rust Belt states with greater resentment at the “illegals” who are “taking all of our jobs” — actually have relatively small populations of them, with fewer than 2% of jobs held by illegal immigrants,” according to Rex Nutting.
  • Macro-economics: According to the 15bc62c8-9073-440f-bf37-8c8e475e2fe1-28886-00002639defed4cf_tmpmost-cited anti-immigration economist, Harvard Professor George Borjas, there is a small but positive contribution to the economy as a whole.  Even the George W Bush Institute published in the spring, a comprehensive report stating that the benefits of immigration outweigh the costs.  Speaking to the macro-economic benefits, they state: “When immigrants enter the labor force, they increase the productive capacity of the economy and raise GDP. Their incomes rise, but so do those of natives. It’s a phenomenon dubbed the “immigration surplus,” and while a small share of additional GDP accrues to natives — typically 0.2 to 0.4 percent — it still amounts to $36 to $72 billion per year.”
  • Science/Tech: Immigrants are essential to critical sectors of the economy, including science, medicine and technology.  Again, according to the George W Bush Institute, Forty-four percent of medical scientists are foreign born, for example, as are 42 percent of computer software developers. Immigrant workers are also overrepresented among college professors, engineers, mathematicians, nurses, doctors and dentists, to name a few.  Research cited by the Harvard Business School indicates that although many tech firms do tend to favor employing younger workers, older native workers are not losing their jobs as a direct result of the immigrants being hired.  In fact, hiring young skilled immigrants raised the overall employment of skilled workers in the firm.  In a nutshell: we need these people!
  • Safety: For those who worry about safety and security more than economics, there are plenty of statistics proving that as a group, immigrants are actually much less likely to commit crimes than native-born Americans.
  • Refugees: According to national security experts, refugees from war torn places, like Syria, are not a security threat.  Treating them as such has turned what should be a humanitarian issue into a politicized policy of fear-mongering.
  • Terrorism: If you’re worried about personal safety, check out the CDC website for actual statistics.  Unintentional poisonings, traffic accidents and suicide deaths are the leading causes of death (not health-related).  You’re actually more likely to be killed by deer, cows, dogs or even falling out of bed – than by terrorists.  Back to the CDC, you are 77781e3e-1283-47e6-a5f2-3f40d561c70e-28288-000025adf3c2883c_tmp35,079 times more likely to die from heart disease than from a terrorist attack.  That means that all those Christmas cookies and egg nog are far more dangerous than the Syrian Refugees.
  • Costs: We also can’t ignore the real cost of deporting millions of migrants; estimates range from $400-600 billion, take 20 years to implement, shave $1.6 trillion off GDP and lower economic growth by 5.7%.

Up Close and Personal

Whether you look at the big picture or the individual stories, the take-away is the same: we benefit from welcoming outsiders into our great nation.  Here’s one of those individual stories, published in Time magazine, a couple

Liz Dong

days ago by Liz Dong.  In her story, titled, I’m an Undocumented Immigrant and an Evangelical Christian, she shares how she and her mother came legally, but their attorney forget to attach her papers to her mother’s visa renewal forms – resulting her joining the ranks of the undocumented.  Liz’s story is telling on a few levels.

  • First, she is Chinese.  Trump may rant about building a wall to keep out Mexicans, but according to an article in the Atlantic, migrants from Asia outpace Mexicans in terms of undocumented growth.  Chinese, South Koreans, and Indians among the fastest-growing segments of undocumented immigrants.  My husband is ethnically Chinese, so the last thing I’d want to do is shift the animosity towards Asia.  The point is that it’s hard to fix a problem when you don’t even define it properly.  And, the problem is definitely not Mexico sending its criminals and rapists, or Hispanics at large.  Nobody disputes the need for immigration reform, but let’s not build policies based on xenophobia.
  • Second, I know from personal experience how challenging the immigration process can be, going through it myself, when my husband applied for his green card.  I honestly don’t know how we could have done it, without the help of attorneys.  And, we don’t even have the added challenge of having English as our second language.
  • Third, in many instances, the children of migrants (legal or not) do not even realize they are undocumented until years later.  Many will question why someone like Liz doesn’t just go through the visa process, upon realizing she’s undocumented. The reason is that you have to immediately leave the country and then wait 10+ years before you can return (the backlog of cases for immigration 32cf2401-7de6-4cb5-bba3-5e3e05083e3c-28288-000025b07998a5fb_tmpcourts is in the hundreds of thousands, with wait times of several years to get a hearing).  For children who grew up in the US and know no other home, this is insane!  And, that’s why Obama signed DACA (after Congress failed to act, even though there was bipartisan support).
  • Last point, folks who trusted our government and surrendered their details, should not now have to live in fear of deportation.  It is our civic and moral duty to stand up for the 750,000 who jumped at the first chance they had to come out of the shadows and secure the proper permits to work.  Immigration has many facets, but this one should be a no brainer-for Christians.

b4946d74-0ca3-44df-9911-5430a48757af-28408-000025c183e56243_tmpFolks, from a patriotic standpoint, we would not be the country we are today, leader of the free world, without foreigners – we are a nation of migrants.  From a faith standpoint, we would not be trimming our trees and preparing for Christmas today, without migrants.  Jesus was himself a refugee, who was helped by foreigners.  No matter what angle you look at the Christmas story, you see foreigners playing a key part in the narrative.  And, as American Christians – we should not turn a blind eye.

What you can do

Mindset: Abby Odio, of Menlo Church, shared a beautiful Quaker definition to the word repentance: to think differently after being with.  Maybe this Christmas, there are some things we can think differently about, after seeing either old stories or present realities with fresh eyes.  Is it possible you’ve let the messy, scandalous version of the Christmas story be usurped by a cleaned-up, Norman Rockwell version?

There are also some really practical steps for ways we can help those among us, especially the undocumented, who are entering this holiday season with a lot of fear.

Risk: The shepherds had to leave their sheep to go see Jesus.  The magi said ‘no’ to Herod in order to say yes to Jesus. The shepherds could have lots their flocks.  The magi could have lost their lives.  We can’t claim to say YES to God but then a polite no to the people and places He calls us to love.  (Thanks, again, to Abby for these ideas.)  Are you willing to put some skin in the game?  Jesus never promised us safe or easy.  In Luke, he says: Whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it.  It wasn’t meant to be cliche – it was meant to be made real in us.

img_0975Gifts: Your holiday shopping and gifts can this year be a gift to refugees abroad.   Check out Sisterhood Soaps.  Their gorgeous soaps, candles and crafts are handmade by refugee women, and help to fund job creation efforts in Iraq.

Just Ask: These last few weeks, I’ve started stepping outside of my comfort zone.  Whether it’s nannies, cleaning ladies, construction workers or landscapers, I’ve decided to move beyond pleasantries and just ask the simple questions: how are recent events impacting you and how can I help?  I want to hear their stories.  I want to learn.  So far, the consistent response is, ‘we’re afraid’…regardless of whether they’re documented or not.  It seems so inadequate, but I tell them that if there’s anything I can do to help – they should just let me know.  And, in an effort to bring substance to my words, I’ve begun looking for resources I can pass to them. Here’s an example of an information sheet anyone can print and share (post-election-community-info-sheet-nov-2016-final.

Prayer: Prayer is a double-edged sword.  To be clear, I believe strongly in the power of prayer.  But, I almost hesitate to list it because so often we say a half-hearted prayer and then move-on….even for me, it’s often a one-way conversation with God.  If we way, let’s commit to the tw0-way….let’s promise to listen to God’s answer back.

pinMake a statement: Wear the pin.  Yes, it’s imperfect and incomplete.  But, it’s a start!  I wear it each day, as a reminder to be a safe person for someone else.

Connection: There are many evangelicals who have actually been very vocal in their support of Syrian refugees.  Consider connecting with groups like, World Relief, who are actively working to engage churches and evangelical communities to come alongside refugees with vital services ranging from legal help to housing or education and employment.  Another great resource/organization is Red Letter Christians, whose goal is to take Jesus seriously by endeavoring to live out His radical, counter-cultural teachings, tackling issues like racism, poverty, justice, immigration and more.  My prayer is that when folks think of Christians, they think of a people who stand for love, justice, grace, mercy, compassion…..folks who come alongside the broken and hurting.  Let’s start connecting the dots and building bridges with likeminded churches, organizations, business leaders, stay-at-home moms, community leaders…you name it, let’s rally.

Christmas is for the broken, the rejected, the powerless, and, yes….the outsider.  Christmas, in every way, says that there’s no distance too far, sin so egregious, place so img_0974dark, that Heaven can’t find you.  Are we more holy than Him, that we can claim some offense that He’s somehow immune to?  It’s fine if he wants to shower the world with his love, grace and mercy….but, we’ll take a pass.  Should not the people of God mirror His love for the world?

I remember learning that the Biblical definition of humility has more to do with how we see the world, than it is some kind of self-loathing or ‘woe is me’ posture.  In the same vane, I don’t think during the holiday season, God is as offended by our tinsel and lights, Santa’s and silly songs, as He is our ease in forgetting what Christmas is really about and who it is really for.  Put another way: I’m not suggesting that loving God means walking away from things we love (though there’s often sacrifice) – it’s about walking towards others; we are to share the love and joy of Christ, in ways that are meaningful and life-changing.

There’s this beautiful song about the name of Jesus, and in it there’s the line:

You didn’t want heaven without us
So Jesus, You brought heaven down

If Heaven wants each of us so desperately, that the son of God would come down to our broken world, why can’t we find it in our 75a4d4c4-1ae5-4fb6-b11a-82c8dbb0b0dd-28659-000026293d610498_tmp-1hearts to love one another, regardless of where they were born?  And, as the people of God, aren’t we now called to bring heaven to earth, each and every day of our lives?

The most famous cup ever mentioned in the New Testament, is the cup Jesus raised on the night of the Last Supper.  Jesus set the tone for that evening, by washing the feet of his disciples.  Then, he raised a glass and broke bread, telling those at the table that this was his body and his blood.  I don’t think anyone was fretting over what was or was not on the cup.  What mattered was something much deeper…something so much more profound.  He not only commanded them to love one another, He gave them the most perfect picture of the love we are called to emulate.  Maybe, this Christmas, we can celebrate by loving others beyond our normal circles or typical traditions.  Maybe, this Christmas, we can take Christmas to the corners of the world that most desperately need His love, joy and peace.

Today, I stayed home….

img_0894This blog has been about coffee and wine.  It is about the things I love.  It is about the things that break my heart.  It is about figuring out when I’m meant to grab that extra cup of coffee and get out into the world, trying to live out my mission to act justly, love mercy and walk humbly.  Other times, living out that mantra means being still, resting in Him.  Today, I stayed home.

I was supposed to go help at the Life Moves Opportunity Services Center in Palo Alto today.  These last couple months, few experiences have shaped my mindset around compassion and serving as much as the handful of meals I’ve served there.  But, today I needed to stay home.

My mom has cancer.  She’s been waging her courageous battle for over a year now.  Her strength in the face of this horrible disease, and yet simultaneous trust in God, has been an up close and personal masterclass in true faith.  Lucky for me, I’ve had a front row seat my entire life.  We got to spend some time with her over the Thanksgiving holiday.  The day after she returned, she was being rushed to the hospital (I swear, we didn’t undercook the turkey!).  The last 72 hours have been tough.  It’s not easy to watch from afar, completely powerless.

img_0895I was reflecting today, on a story that Kevin Kim told earlier this week.  Kevin and Bea Takasugi from NU2U came to speak to our Mothers Together group for Missions Tuesday.  In fact, I had just gotten the news that my mom was being rushed to the Emergency Room, as we were kicking off our morning at Menlo Church.  Being there was exactly where God wanted me; their testimonies were both a salve for my battered soul.  Kevin shared a bit of his personal story, how he saw the hardships his mother endured as a single mom, running a small hotel.  At just 5 years old, he vowed to one day be rich, so he could take care of his mom.  He succeeded in getting himself into med school, but then started to feel God calling him into ministry.  But, if he wasn’t a doctor, how could he fulfill that childhood promise to take care of his mom?  You could have cut the air with a knife when Kevin shared with us the message God had given Him: I’ve taken care of your mom her whole life.  Don’t you think you can trust me to keep taking care of her?

I am convinced that this is a moment when we need to actually go BE the church OUT there.  We need to get out of the pews and make our faith tangible to a hurting world.  We need to drink more cups of coffee and leave nothing on the table.  But, even in the midst of the doing, there must be surrender….there must be trust.  Do we actually look for God in the midst of it all?

Sometimes, He doesn’t move the mountains or part the waters.  Sometimes, He doesn’t say, peace, be still.  Sometimes, instead of calming the seas, He comforts His child.

Last Sunday, we celebrated the 1st week of Advent, as we prepare our hearts for the Christmas season.  I am reminded of the name the angels gave Jesus, calling him, Emmanuel.  Maybe, this Advent, God’s calling me to rediscover not just the sufficiency but the beauty of God With Us.  Because, let’s be honest….most of us, no matter how many times we paste the calligraphy version of Emmanuel on our walls and Christmas cards, will actually be content with that promise.  We want the omnipotent god to change things.  We want the omniscient god to reveal things.

img_0892Right now, the control freak in me yearns for the God that can heal my mother or end poverty or stop racism.  This afternoon, I had planned to go serve the homeless.  As I admitted to my husband, going there would be a useful distraction from my worry.  And, sometimes, useful distractions are good and productive.  But, as the time neared for me to leave home this afternoon, I knew that my place was by my computer and next to my phone, where I could stay on top of things in Chicago.  I initially stayed home because I felt like I couldn’t entertain any distractions that would delay my replies to the folks on the front lines of my mother’s care.  But, I think the real reason God wanted me home was to sit me down at the foot of the cross…..to remind me through the stillness of this moment, through the beauty of sunlight filtering thru the autumn leaves in the backyard, that no matter what happens, He is Emmanuel.  And, today, that’s more than enough.

40084029-4fa6-41ad-a16d-b264a5542025-18407-00001a67a15dcfa1_tmpOn Tuesday, Bea introduced us to a story first told on the How I Built This podcast.  This episode features Jim Koch, the first Samuel Adams employee.  He talks about the difference between scary and dangerous, saying, “There are plenty of things that are scary but aren’t dangerous and there are plenty of things that are dangerous but not scary, and those are the things that can get you.”  He then goes on to give the examples of rappelling (scary but not so dangerous) vs walking on a snowy mountainside on a sunny spring day (dangerous…avalanche!).  One feels scary, but poses little real risk – the other feels delightful, but could be life-threatening.  Bea connected the dots for us, relating Jim’s story to her own testimony.  Only after she left her old life, did she realize how much she’d actually put on the line by playing it safe.  Confession: I think most of us, myself included, waltz into the dangerous as we side-step the scary.

It can be scary to trust in Emmanuel…to say, it is enough to know that He is God.  Period.  But, surrender is truly the least dangerous, most prudent path.  The question is whether I can embrace it at such.  Sometimes, walking humbly has as much to do with my posture towards God, as it does my posture towards people.  Sometimes, God’s mercy is greater in the valleys than the mountaintops.  Sometimes, justice by heaven’s scales looks completely different than what a democratic system or American culture could ever deliver.

These last few weeks, it has felt that the pillars holding up my life are shaking; my faith in my country, my religion and even the assurance of health and well-being, have all been tested.  After the election, I was completely despondent.  Perhaps, it is typical for anyone going through the stages of grief.  My tears are fewer these days, as my resolve grows stronger.  Now, more than ever before, we must stand up.  We must make our faith real.  We have to get out of the pews.  But, today, I am reminded that serving the world OUT there can never replace or usurp the moments I spend alone with God.  Today, I am practicing being still…at home, knowing that I can trust God to take care of my mom….to take care of me.   There’s that old hymn that says, my faith built on NOTHING LESS, than Jesus’ blood and righteousness….On Christ, the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand.  Maybe, tomorrow, He’ll call me back out to the world….to do something more tangible.  But, not today.  Today, I stayed home.

I’m FOREVER with you: another letter to my kids

dayna_005Dear 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.

IT HURTS

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 

bidenI 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 

103816023-gettyimages-580960452-600x400Ana, 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

willie
Willie at the Santa Clara Medical Respite Program

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.

stepup_logo_horizontalCheck 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 pincamwalker01example, 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 campinghomeless-3-750xx7360-4152-0-589 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.  

CAVES   

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 rpi-nqtpd-nottingham-caves-jan-enof 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,

Mom