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When I Grow Up

This past weekend I celebrated my thirty seventh birthday, although celebrate and thirty seven are hard for me to write in the same sentence. I am inching dangerously closer to forty. I try to be like those women who embrace aging, but I remember even being a teenager and feeling apprehensive about the numbers getting bigger. I think if I dig deep, the truth has more to do with how fast life is going than really how old I am getting, but the two are for sure entwined. At this age, I should know what I want to do when I grow up – my goodness I should be doing it. I love our work with Mercy Branch. I am so passionate about reunifying families. However, our work in Mercy Branch has suddenly changed, and I do not get to be daily hands-on anymore. Instead my work will now be more behind-the-scenes advocating, managing, and fund-raising. It is hard to come to grips with that, but it is the season that we find ourselves in. And I find myself wrestling with now what?

I have had this little seed of a dream for over a year now. I have only whispered it to a few of my bests. It seems crazy, and the timing is not right for now, but I continually dream about when it might be right. The dream was ignited in a small conference room when an immigration lawyer and a group of law students brushed over my hours of research that I came armed with, and told me that the path I had carved out for my son’s citizenship was impossible. I knew it wasn’t. I already shared the end of the story before. It wasn’t impossible, but it did take an extensive amount of research and work to make it happen.  I began to dream and wonder. I wondered how many immigrants had been told it was impossible, and how many had been told ‘no’ by immigration lawyers who did not want to learn and research new ways and keep up with ever-changing immigration laws.

I have always loved researching. I am the type of person who when purchasing an item, for example off of Amazon, will read every single review on the product – and enjoy reading them! It is an actual fun activity for me. I carefully make my decision after literal hours of comparing and contrasting and reading reviews. I like researching; actually that is an understatement, I love researching. I spend way too much time doing just this about everything and anything one can imagine. I diagnosed Jamesy, based off of the little bit we knew in his referral medical documents, and with extensive research pouring over online medical journals, prior to him coming home, and I ended up being correct. I learned a lot about the process for immigrants to become citizens in America. I read over tedious immigration law, and I was fascinated. I ate it up. I became captivated with what I learned. I cannot imagine, a foreigner coming to our country, trying to navigate the process alone, and yet I know this happens as it can be hard to find a good immigration lawyer. Living overseas for two years made me sensitive to noticing how foreigners, being one myself, were treated in another country. I was constantly wondering how foreigners in my own country were treated. My heart has always been for people that don’t quite ‘fit in’. When I put all of this together, I landed at a big dream – some day going back to school to become a paralegal for an immigration lawyer.

To be completely transparent, I sometimes think that I want to actually be an immigration lawyer, and work entirely pro-bono. However, there are many problems with this. One we are not rich enough to do that, and I am not really smart enough to get through law school. (This is not self-deprecating, just fact.) Also, I really don’t like talking to people all that much. I think I would rather sit in a small office all day long with law books and research my days away! That is the dream that I am waiting to be unleashed. The timing is certainly not now, and may not be ever. Truthfully, a new dream may birth itself. Right now I want to raise my babies. I want to be an intentional mama. But maybe one day in the future, when I grow up, I will become a paralegal for an immigration lawyer.

“Don’t you find it odd,” she continued, “that when you’re a kid, everyone, all the world, encourages you to follow your dreams. But when you’re older, somehow they act offended if you even try.”
― Ethan Hawke

What’s the dream of your heart? I think we all have the seeds of a dream deep inside. Sometimes for us stay-at-home mamas, they are hard to realize. We are so busy fostering the dreams of our children, that I think sometimes our dreams get squandered. I think they are there, though. It is important to keep dreaming and reaching for our dreams. Our kids need to see us doing what we love and passionately pursuing what God created us to do. I think of this often as I encourage my oldest in attaining his dream of making it to the Premier League to play soccer. Sometimes I watch him work for this dream, and feel sad, because I swallow the lie that it is too late for my dreams.

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But the truth is, it is never too late. I am thirty seven years old, and I am still discovering what I want to be when I grow up. Keep dreaming, friends. Dreams really can come true.

 

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Building a Table

 

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Many of us agree that we are living through tender times and figuring out how to navigate this needs some intentionality. The climate of our country is shaky, and people are hurting and choosing sides, and it has become very polarized. One month ago today, I traveled across the ocean to a country that is bruised. I didn’t realize just how injured she was until I began to live here once again. I have been doing some deep soul searching in order to really understand how I should respond, as an image bearer of the Creator. Because I know my response and my actions do matter. Jesus was so purposeful about stepping into people’s pain. It is one of His characteristics that I find so compellingly beautiful. I think this is because it is such a rarity. This could be because it is not easy to endure pain, let alone choose to endure pain that is not your own.

The quote from Louis C.K. has been bumping around in my heart quite a bit the past few days.

When a person tells you that you hurt them, you don’t get to decide that you didn’t. Louis C.K.

I wonder what it would look like if image bearers chose to understand this quote.  Experiences shape us more then I think we give credit to, and none of us have the same exact life experiences. So to understand another human takes a kind of discipline and humility that is not easy. But what if instead of brushing off the pain and fear that so many people are telling us they feel, because we decide it is not valid, because it is not ours, because we don’t fear it, because we do not agree or see it from that perspective, because we did not have a tangible part in it – what if instead we leaned into the pain that others are crying out over? As a follower of Jesus, am I not supposed to be part of the most loving, compassionate, and empathetic human beings on this earth? Are we not supposed to be known by our love; is that not our very identity? Maybe leaning into the pain means that we stop talking, stop putting up social media posts that people tell us hurt them, and take a deep, long pause and honestly listen, and maybe we really do our best to hear another person, and to take a moment to walk in their shoes. And because we are image bearers, we do this without the demand that we get the same treatment in return; we do it completely out of a heart of love with no strings attached. We love our neighbor, yes even that neighbor who voted differently than us, and we love that neighbor as much as we love ourselves. What if we start right there?

Maybe instead of building a wall, we build a table, and then we set it with our finest china, or our brightest tupperware, and we cook our best meal, or order our favorite take-out, and we light the candles, open our door, and we invite the hurt and the pain right into our living room and right up to our tables. And then we break bread together and love in such an extravagantly humble way that the pain has a place to breathe and be heard as we really press pause and listen, and maybe, just maybe even begin to heal these deep wounds around us. What if we invited someone different to our table and got to know and understand the hurts and fears of someone whose experiences have been so different from our own? What if we just tried to understand instead of brushing them off as angry?

What if love really could change things and bridge the divide? I was born a dreamer. I am foolish enough to think that loving well by listening with the intention of really understanding could change a whole lot of things. If nothing else, love, seems like a pretty good place for me to start. When I don’t know what to do, I can live a life of authentic love. Love wrapped up in kindness, compassion, and empathy toward all human life seems like a way of living that will never go to waste. When love is our natural response to every person we encounter, to every life that is different than ours, to every competing perspective and it permeates every part off our lives, then maybe just maybe we will be quick to lean in and really hear, slow to speak things that may hurt, and not easily angered. I am willing to start here at my dinner table, and I am willing to listen in order to understand. I am willing to learn. I am just a dreamer. I am praying that I am not the only one.

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When God Doesn’t Feel Good

Everything was so very good. I remember thinking this very thought as the 6 AM sun welcomely warmed my face. We had worked hard for the life we were living. It was a simple life, with little electricity, water outages, and hard work. But it was filled with pleasures that we appreciated fully, like the brand new bright yellow couch set (our first ever new set)  that we had saved tax return money for, sitting in our living room. It had taken two years for me to put my mark on our house, and we really enjoyed slowly framing photos, decorating, and making this new life homey and a memorable place for our children to grow up in. No, it did not necessarily have eternal value, but in the middle of intense Kingdom work, having this cheery sanctuary was necessary, and God was evident in the beautiful details. This September we were at the point where we felt completely at home in Ethiopia. I rolled over that morning not long ago, and whispered to Jim, I don’t think we can ever move away from this place, and I felt contentment and such joy in the season we found ourself in. For those closest to knowing my heart, they understand this is rare, as I have always struggled to live in the present (I am a sentimental nostalgic fool), but I was living right there. And it was so very good.

And then only weeks later, our world rocIMG_0705ked out of our control and everything good seems gone somehow. I admitted out loud last night (in church even) that God doesn’t feel very good right now. In the brand of Christianity that I grew up in, this is a scary thing to think, let alone voice. I was taught that we cannot question God, and to do so is shameful and even blasphemous. Questioning targeted people as weak in their faith and was a sure sign of unbelief in God. There was the unspoken code of ‘protecting’ God, as if He needs our protecting. However, when I look closely at people who interacted at a deep level with God, I find at times they, too, questioned Him. Martha in John 11:21 asked Him why He could not have been there sooner in order to save her brother’s life. Moses questioned why God would choose him to  be a leader, and why He would bring the Israelites into the desert in Exodus 5:22-23. David often questioned and wrestled with God. Psalm 42:9-11 shows David asking God why He had forgotten him.

Intellectually I know God is good. I really do, and that knowledge is unshakeable. He is good all the time. He IS a good God. He is sovereign. But to be transparent my feelings just are not matching my intellect. I am a feeler. I feel everything deeply. This is a gift, and this is a curse. For so much of my life this was shamed, and I tried to not feel. But I was created to feel, and that is one of the things about me that makes me who I am. To deny this part of who I am is to not live an authentic life. I cannot compartmentalize myself; I am a whole person and cannot be split. I know full well that God can handle my feelings and my fragility, but in my life I have discovered that sometimes God’s people cannot. The truth is these feelings of mine do nothing to take away from Who He is. He does not need me to protect Him by disregarding  my feelings and faking righteousness in a season where I don’t feel very righteous, and I desperately need HIS righteousness.

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As I grow in my journey of faith with Jesus, and as I look back over other hard seasons that have come and gone, I am beginning to think that sometimes God desires this wrestling match with me. Maybe there is something inside of me that needs this season of questions and pain. Maybe I can only really appreciate the other side after painful wrestling, and honestly that does ring true with my personality. If you are familiar with Passenger’s song Let Her Go, well that is a song that resonates with my human nature. In the story of Jacob literally wrestling with God in Genesis, the wrestling ended with an identity change for Jacob. The wrestling turned into a gift – a gift of restoration. Maybe something similar will be done in me, or maybe I am on a different journey.

So, yes, I have questions. I am wrestling with God right now. But there is something so much bigger than myself going on as I wrestle. There is more to this story, and right now it is not for me to know or understand, but I want to, and I think that desire is okay. I think God can certainly handle that and is not apprehensive about it.  I am not afraid to be honest and vulnerable with God. He knows my every thought anyway. There is something after this season that God is preparing me for, and this season of dark wrestling is part of His preparation. I know God is pursuing me. That is the beautiful thing about my God, as I struggle and doubt and question, He draws me in closer and closer in hot pursuit. He is not fearful of my questions; I dare say He welcomes them. Even when it does not feel good, I know that He will always be right here inside my anguish, my tears, my questions. He meets me right here. And I echo Jacob, I am not letting You go until you bless me. I might end up with some battle wounds from the wrestling, and I may limp into the future, but I am holding out hope that one day the sun will kiss my face again, and I will feel that everything is so very good – whether on earth or in heaven. Let it be so.

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