Tuesday, October 2, 2018

The Ugly Cry (Part 2)

It was never my intention to go silent.  I knew what I had to write about.  I knew the source of my ugly cry's tears.  But I didn't know how to share what was waging war on my brain and my heart.  

I was afraid I would be misunderstood.  I was afraid I'd be ignored.  I was mostly afraid that those I told wouldn't care.

I can't even tell you how many drafts of this I have written, edited, and erased.  So, I finally decided I would just write and then post.  Because this hasn't left my heart or brain.  It's still important.  It still needs to be talked about.

Watching the stories of immigrant families being separated at the border from my computer while sitting in Costa Rica was extremely difficult for me.  Not only because it is just plain wrong to separate children from loving parents.  We know that separation causes trauma.  We know that detention causes trauma.  We know that being in a place where you cannot clearly communicate with those in authority causes trauma.  And there is plenty of research to explain why detaining asylum seekers, and especially separating families is just wrong.  The US government in their review of immigration two years ago stated, "Detention is neither appropriate nor necessary for families."  I hope I don't need to bother spending time explaining why this was and is (as all children have not been returned to their families) just wrong.  

The thing that broke my heart was the conversations I heard surrounding me.  It's Trump's fault.  No, its Obama's fault.  Well, we can't just open the borders and let everyone who wants to come in walk right on in.  We need order.  We need rules.  They need to go back home.  Us versus them.

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Two MAJOR problems I have here...

US History 101: The United States is made up of immigrants.  The Native American, or FIRST people, community only makes up 2% of the US population, according to the 2015 Census.  That includes people who indicate mixed heritage.  So, 98% of the US population claims a heritage of immigrants.  So it absolutely blows my mind that there is an us versus them mentality.  When did we forget exactly who we are?  Who we were?

Secondly. according to Raices Texas (raicestexas.org), 85% of people in immigration detention centers in Texas are from Central America.  Most commonly from Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatamala.  I love Central America.  I've lived in Costa Rica for 12 years.  I have traveled quite a bit throughout Central America and I have friends in each country in the region.

Anyone who knows anyone from Central America, knows two things about them.  They are extremely family oriented and they love their country.  I've never known anyone to love their families and countries more.  I can't explain the amount of fear and desperation it would take for a family to choose to leave.  Or for a mother to send her child away.  Or for someone to leave their extended family in hopes that maybe they might be granted asylum in the United States.  The situations these immigrants are leaving are extreme.  

A friend of mine who lives in El Salvador had a gang boss show up on his doorstep one day and tell him that he had two days to leave the city with his family, or they would be killed.  The threat was real.  My friend knew of other families in which no one was spared.  Families where children were tortured and killed in front of the parents before their lives were also taken.

Raices Texas also states that 90% of murders of women committed in Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala go un-prosecuted.  Where do you go when the threat on your life is real and the authorities do not care?  Where do you turn when the police and government officials are known for their corruption?  

How desperate do you have to be to pack your bags and make a treacherous journey towards a detention cell in the US while seeking asylum?  

My heart continues to break for this broken world.  I'm glad I'm a part of an organization that is changing the lives and futures of Central Americans.  I believe that Central America is a beautiful place to live and raise a family, but there is also a lot of brokenness and terror.  

I just wish that everyone would take the time to hear some immigrant's stories.  I pray that we would all continue to fight to make each part of this world a better, safer place.  And I pray that we could remember that we are all just humans trying to survive and thrive.  

And that maybe you would take a second to pray for the nearly 3,000 (mostly Central American) children and teenagers being detained in the tent city detention center in Tornillo, Texas - that they might know that there is a God who sees them, knows their names and their stories, and loves them deeply.  They are on my heart tonight.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

The Ugly Cry (part 1)

I stood in the middle of the worship service this morning and ugly cried.  You can picture it.  Tears streaming down my face; there was snot involved; and I’m sure that my eyes were red and puffy.  There was a time not that long ago in my life that I would have been petrified to ugly cry in a public place.  But today I wasn’t the only one ugly crying and I welcomed the tears. 

My heart was breaking for the things that break the heart of God.  And we were singing of His redemption and restoration.  His promise that He is not through with us, but making something beautiful.  His promise to love us always, to never leave us, to never abandon us.  And Colossians 1:17b rang true, “He holds all things together.”  We don’t completely fall apart.  Brokenness is met with hope and healing in Jesus.

Today was a multi-sensory, experiential service.  We were invited to remove our shoes so that we could symbolically put ourselves “in the shoes” of the vulnerable.  We were invited to open our eyes and hearts to see these people with God’s eyes and God’s love. 

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We walked into the first room.  We were in a small bedroom with a mattress on the floor.  A woman walked in who had just finished working selling herself on the street.  We watched her breakdown, crying out to God for there to be another way.  Crying out for someone to come into her life and really love her.  Then the angry landlord banged on the door reminding her she was late on her rent.  A baby cried in the corner of the room, and the woman loving went to him, comforting him with “momma’s here.  Everything’s going to be ok.” 

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Then we went “outside on the street” where we encountered some homeless people.  We listened as a young man told his story of how he found himself living on the street.  He talked of his desperation for food and a dry place to sleep.  How he sought drugs for comfort and then hated himself for using drugs.  How he felt like he was less than human and ignored by those who passed him by.  Our leader asked if she could hug him and pray for him.  She prayed that he would know that he was seen and known and of great worth.

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We walked into another room where we sat in chairs and were blindfolded so we could really listen and feel.  An 8-year old boy began to share his story.  He talked about how his mom abused alcohol and couldn’t even remember his name some days.  How his father had abused him.  How he wished he could live at school because he never wanted to come home.  How these nice ladies from the government came to his house to ask him about his life.  How they were so kind to him but how their eyes got really wide when he was talking to them.  He didn’t know why.  How a few days later those nice ladies came and took him away.  He didn’t know who they were.  He didn’t know where they were taking him.  But they took his hand, and whispered in his ear that he was going to be okay.  At this point, someone took my hand and whispered in my ear.  He told us how scared he was and we heard his mom screaming and crying and his dad angrily responding to the social workers.  Then we arrived at his foster home.  He was scared by this kind couple who welcomed him and explained to him that he was going to be living with them for a while and he would be safe in their home.  He hadn’t understood that he was going back to his mom and wasn’t sure what to think.  But they gave him a stuffed animal and a blanket and hot chocolate and yummy food that filled his stomach.  And then – the woman hugged him.  He described how he’d never felt so loved and cared for in his life.  Commence the ugly cry.  This small child’s voice describing how other’s brokenness had hurt him, his fear, and his innate need for love broke me.    

And I sobbed.  And I sang with all that I had, grateful for a God who is present in these difficult situations.  Whose love never runs out, never gets tired, never abandons.  Grateful for a God who invites us to walk into the lives of the hurting with Him.  Grateful for the reminder that I need Jesus just as much as everyone else.  Grateful that my life story isn’t over and neither is anyone else’s… and the plan is big and beautiful and healing.  Hold tight to hope.  Hold tight to Jesus.  

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Friday, May 11, 2018

"Happy Un-Birthday"

I walked into the room and tears immediately clouded my view.  

The room was decorated with balloons and banners.  There were cupcakes and candles and sweet women singing “Happy Birthday.”  There were gifts and cards and party hats.  The perfect “un-birthday birthday party.” 

The Azmera Retreat team wanted us to feel special, and they so succeeded. 

It took me several days to even wrap my head around why this simple but overwhelming expression of love moved me instantly to tears.  They celebrated us – me – for being born.  It wasn’t about what we were doing in ministry or in our homes.  It was simply a Kingdom celebration for the daughters of the King. 

And there was dancing (and maybe some cupcakes went flying… but that’s on the down low).  There is something in me that just wants to let loose and dance like crazy.  And I feel like I can when I’m in a dance circle of women who are doing the same.  
I love to celebrate and am often looking for excuses to have a party.  I might be throwing an un-birthday birthday party of my own sometime soon!  Thanks Azmera!

Loved getting to spend the weekend with this amazing small group!  So thankful for each of you opening your hearts and sharing your stories!

Friday, May 4, 2018

A Full Heart, Yet Still Longing 

We spent the afternoon at the park.  The boys had run tirelessly up and down ramps.  Keilor laughed with such pure joy after he finally was able to get up the highest ramp on his own (well maybe my dangling leg helped a little).  They’d conquered their fears after they’d climbed way too high in a tree and had to get make their way back down.  Erick couldn’t stop smiling as he told me he was so convinced that he was going to fall that he still wasn’t sure he hadn’t and he couldn’t make his heart stop.  Joshua squealed on the sea-saw when he was left hanging at the highest point and it was unclear if or when his brother was going to let him down.  They were invited to play soccer with some new friends.  Erick schooled them and then was generous to make sure his brothers scored.  It was a pretty perfect afternoon.

My heart was full and there was a big smile plastered on my face.

On our walk towards their home, Keilor stopped me.  He pulled me down to his level.  Then, he grabbed my ear with both his little hands until his mouth was practically inside my ear.  Then he whispered, “They should tell you that you’re the best godmother ever.”  And my heart broke open.   My heart spilled out joy, love, and pride.  I am so grateful to be a part of these boys’ lives.  I love playing with them, laughing with them, and talking about Jesus.  And I’m so glad that they love me being a part of my life.  

It’s so good.

And yet… 

And yet... my heart also spilled out sadness, longing, and desperation.  It’s hard to accept that these are the extent of relationships with children that God has in my life right now.  The love on you for a few hours and then send you back home kind.  The godmother, friend, leader kind.  These are relationships I cherish and am grateful for… but heading home alone sometimes is just really hard.  I will post these pictures, and I will live off the laughter and joy of this afternoon for days.  I will thank Jesus for letting me be a part of their lives.  And I will remind Jesus again of how my heart aches for a sweet little boy to pull me down to his level, to grab my ear with his hands, and whisper, “Mama”. 

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Journeying Through Pages

Reading through 2017

People who know me well, know that I love to read.  This year I wanted to read 52 books and I was very close.  I greatly surpassed my goal if you count all the Children's books I read this year, especially if you counted the 10 times I read The Foot Book by Dr. Seuss (but I won't).  I have to admit that this quantity of books was mostly made possible by the Text-To-Speech feature on my kindle and San Jose traffic.  I also want to thank my Fuller professors for making it so clear to me how much of what I was reading was by old white men, and widening my reading lists. I benefited greatly from that challenge this year, though I still have far to go.

I'm posting this mostly for my own benefit, but thought I'd recommend a few books I read this year as well.  The books are listed in the order that I read them.  The titles that are in bold are my top reads from this year that I highly recommend.

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“The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you'll go.” 

  1. The Wonder by Emma Donoghue
  2. Legend by Marie Lu
  3. Love Warrior: A Memoir by Glennon Doyle
  4. Kisses from Katie by Katie Davis
  5. Rare Bird: A Memoir of Loss and Love by Anna Whiston-Donaldson
  6. The Faraway Nearby by Rebecca Solnit
  7. Soul Keeping: Caring for the most Important Part of You by John Ortberg
  8. Present Over Perfect by Shauna Niequist
  9. Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah             Seriously, you just need to read this book.  Trevor was born in South Africa during Apartheid to a black mother and a white father; literally his being born was a crime.  He uses his humor to talk about a difficult childhood and the brokenness of the world. 
  10. Homegoing: A Novel by Yaa Gyasi
  11. Falling Free: Rescued from the Life I Always Wanted by Shannan Martin
  12. For the Love: Fighting For Grace in a World of Imperfect People by Jen Hatmaker
  13. The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare
  14. The Insanity of God by Nick Ripkin
  15. Give Them Grace: Dazzling Your Kids With the Love of Jesus by Elyse Fitzpatrick
  16. The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
  17. Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
  18. The Road Back To You by Ian Morgan Cron and Suzanne Stabile
  19. The Problem with Forever by Jennifer Armentrout
  20. Calling Me Home by Julie Kibler
  21. One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia
  22. Love Lives Here: Finding What You Need in a World Telling You What You Want - Maria Goff
  23. Yes Please by Amy Poehler
  24. Find Her by Lisa Gardner
  25. Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson                            Most U.S. citizens will admit that the correctional system in the U.S. is broken.  But this book is mind-blowing.  Bryan Stevenson's work with death row inmates, battling discrimination and prejudices in the justice system is noble and something you should know about.
  26. The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
  27. See Me by Nicholas Sparks
  28. Change of Heart by Jodi Picoult
  29. The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch                                                                                                     A dying father writes the things he wishes he could teach his children and talks candidly about the process of dying.  Great book to get a good perspective on life.
  30. The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics - Daniel James Brown                                                                                             I read this book because it was recommended to me by a good middle school friend who said it was incredible.  I would have never picked it up myself, but I'm so glad he clued me in.  It is just a great book about real people and the triumphs and difficulties of life.
  31. How to Be Here: A Guide to Creating a Life Worth Living by Rob Bell
  32. Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly
  33. We Should All Be Feminists - Chimamanda Ngozi
  34. A Year of Biblical Womanhood: How a Liberated Woman Found Herself Sitting on Her Roof, Covering Her Head, and Calling Her Husband Master by Rachel Held Evans
  35. The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien
  36. Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
  37. Three Little Words by Ashley Rhodes-Couter                                                                                The life story of a child who spent many years in the broken foster care system in the U.S. and was adopted as a teenager.  Anyone who has a heart of children in foster care and adoption should learn from this brave young woman.
  38. Three More Words by Ashley Rhodes-Couter
  39. Coming Clean by Seth Haines
  40. The Captain's Bride by Lisa Tawn Bergen
  41. Becoming Home by Jedd Medefind
  42. The Sanctuary by Ted Dekker
  43. David and Goliath: Underdos, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants by Malcolm Gladwell
  44. When God Says Wait: Navigating Life's Detours and Delays Without Losing Your Faith, Your Friends, or Your Mind by Elizabeth Lang Thompson
  45. Emotional Intelligence 2.0 by Travis Bradberry and Jean Greaves
  46. Free of Me: Why Life is Better When Its Not Really About Me - Sharon Hodde Miller
  47. The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion
  48. Tossing and Turning by John Updike
  49. Stronger Than You Know by Jolene Perry 

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Embrace Your Inner Ezer

It’s not always easy to embrace my identity. Or to fully understand it.  To believe that I am loved, known, and valued.  Telling teenagers that they are known, loved, and valued is something I have dedicated my life to doing.  And yet, sometimes I need to remind myself that it is also true for me.

I have to silence the voices of the lies that tell me I will never be enough. 

There are plenty of overt voices, but I think we also have to be aware of the subtle ways that we are making girls and women feel or believe that they are second-class citizens, just because they are female. 

The church has been a subtle voice that has made me personally feel less than. 

There are so many voices who have told me because I am female, I cannot possibly hear the voice of God in the same way as a man.  That I must always be under the authority of a man when teaching coed groups.  All these voices trying to tell me that I am not hearing God's clear calling on my life correctly.  

Thankfully, they were never the only voices that I heard.  There is an army of witnesses that have spoken truth over me, who have affirmed and encouraged me.  Unfortunately, the truth hasn’t always been the loudest voice in my head. 

Here's the reason for the soapbox moment: I recently learned that our English Bible translation might be part of the confusion about the value of women.  
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In Genesis 2, God decides to make a “suitable helper” for Adam.  “The help” is the woman who is later named Eve.  This word has always been difficult for me because it seems demeaning… like I was made to help fulfill the man’s needs, or to do the things he is unwilling to do. 

Here’s the blow your mind truth that I just learned.  The word that is typically translated as help – really is a strong word.  The Hebrew word to describe the woman that God is going to create is ezer.  Ezer means “strength” or “rescue”.  Meaning God created Eve to be Adam’s strength.  God created women to be rescuers in times of other humans’ great needs.  

The word ezer is found 21 times in the Bible.  Twice we find ezer in Genesis, in reference to Eve.  Three times the nation Israel begs other nations for military Ezer – strength, rescue.  However, ezer is used sixteen times to describe God’s great power and strength; His faithfulness to rescue us in our distress. 
Psalm 33:20 - We put our hope in the Lord. He is our (ezer) help and our shield.

Psalm 70:5- But as for me, I am poor and needy; please hurry to my aid, O God.  You are my (ezer) helper and my savior; Lord, do not delay.

God could have called women anything he wanted.  But He chose a word that means strength.  I’m so sorry that’s been lost in translation.  But women, let this truth wash over you… You are strong.  You are of equal strength as men.  You were not created to be his helpmate, but to be his strength.  God used a word that describes him to describe you.  God didn’t call us a helper.  He called us strength.  

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YOU ARE STRONG.  So today, hold your head high, and embrace your inner ezer.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

I Stand With HER!

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October 11th was International Day of the Girl and it stirred something in me.  I have a front row seat to watch the cycle of poverty, machismo, under-resourced public education (or lack of education), and broken governmental systems fail girls, teenagers, and women. I understand the pressing need for girls to be educated and empowered. 

I think of Sophia* whose mom is selling herself on the street, and whose dad is selling drugs on the same street.  Sophia moved out of their house fearing for her own safety, and thankfully found refuge with some loving neighbors.  However, Sophia dropped out of school because she feels she has to pay her own way in the world and she can't cause financial strain on the family who has taken her in.

I think of courageous Eva.  She's a teen mom due to sexual abuse.  When she shares her story, she recalls that her own mother sold her to men to support her own drug habit.  She continues to live in a highly volatile environment, but hopes for a different future for her daughter. 

I think of Lara who tells me that the only role for women that is valued in her neighborhood is becoming a mom.  So she doesn't understand why anyone would want to delay becoming a mom.  Mothers are valued and have someone in their lives who is always going to love them.  That's why she dropped out of school and purposefully became pregnant at a young age.

I think of Carolina who misses school on a regular basis to care for the brood of younger brothers who fill her house while her parents work to try to keep all the bellies full.  She's extremely responsible and works hard but is failing her classes. 

I think of Maria who after struggling and failing to pass the 7th grade, her parents pulled her from school.  They basically told her that she could not instead of looking for educational support. 

I also think of Maricel - an amazingly courageous women who walks the streets of an at-risk neighborhood to show teen moms that they are loved, valued, and have great potential. 

I think of Reina who chose to build a house in that same neighborhood so teen moms could see a healthy, loving family who wants to support them. 

I think of Guadalupe who herself is striving to break the cycle of poverty with her own education.  She's finishing up her first year of university.  While studying, she spends time to visit other teen girls in a highly impoverished neighborhood.  She wants the teenagers in that neighborhood to know they can succeed in school too, and help their families have a different future. 

Girls need to be in school, given opportunities to make a future for themselves.  I think we can all say, "Yes, I believe in girls all over the world receiving an adequate education."  We want to stand up against governments and social structures that are denying girls access to education.  But I also want to stand up for those women who are on the front lines everyday.  Maricel, Reina, and Guadalupe don't need a special day to remind them of the human rights of girls and women.  Nor do they need to be encouraged to fight for them.  These women are my heroes.  I stand with them in the fight for basic human rights for girls!

*Names of girls have been changed for their privacy and to protect them.