Monday, September 17, 2012

Gospel Songs and Little Friends

Did you ever sing Gospel songs with your Hindu friends?

I was sitting in the home of my Nepali friends, helping little Bimla with her homework. She was reading a funny story, stumbling through the difficult words, giggling as she understood what those words meant. Indira, ever quiet and not one to disturb me, was standing beside me with her composition book, waiting.

I had to read her lovely cover - splattered with crayoned designs, white tape and stickers -  two times, until I deciphered it. It said "Jesus loves me."

I thought surely she copied it from some book, some pamphlet that she couldn't read in English.

But no, she understood. She scrunched up her mouth, looking at me like I was crazy. "Jesus love me! See?" she said, pointing with her finger to the words. "Jesus-love-me. Ok?"

And she wanted me to sing a song with her that she had copied into her notebook. Sure thing. I love singing - especially with children!

But the song she wanted to sing was a surprise to me: "You are my all in all."

You have no idea how wonderful it is to worship God in a home where there is very little Light. The two little girls and I sang the whole song all the way through ... and it was wonderful. They were thrilled to sing with their crazy American tutor (me), and I was overjoyed to share that special moment with them.

It's things like that - sharing a bowl of spicy noodles, learning to make Nepali tea, singing a simple song together, killing roaches in their kitchen (yes, I've done it) - that build relationships that will go way beyond words. It goes way beyond the little we are able to communicate.

I get dirty. I get frustrated with them when they've filled the house with pesticide spray and don't understand that they can't stay inside till it airs out. We've dealt with lice, roaches, unidentifiable creepy-crawlies that somehow made it over from Nepal in luggage. I've made countless stupid blunders because I didn't understand their culture, their language, their way of life. But all of that fades when I realize that I'm more to them than a volunteer.

I'm a friend. Somebody they love and trust. Even though I'm crazy enough to want to help them work in their garden, or make jhalmuri after class time. They love me.

And that's priceless.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Thoughts on Benghazi

You all have heard about the violence in Benghazi. The death of Christopher Stevens, American ambassador to Libya. Sam Bacile's film about Mohammad. The protesting and ensuing violence. Even death.

One man's freedom of speech has inflamed half a world. 

I treasure my freedom as a American. I can say what I like, think what I like, write what I like. No one may take away that freedom from me; I am an American. 

We may wield our words as swords. We may kill and destroy and inflame, and no one will stop us. Our tongues can bring death. It's our basic right, this freedom of speech. 

My heart aches as I watch the violence and hatred burn across the globe tonight. I ache because I see lives destroyed. I see hearts forever closed. Friends that will cease to trust me simply because I am American. Lives cut short. 

Will we use our words to bridge gaps, to build up, to speak life into hearts? Or will we use our freedom to destroy?

I have nothing else to write tonight. I am praying for those affected by this tragedy, and for an end to the ridiculous violence. Will you pray with me? 

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

9/11 Eleven Years Later

Today marks eleven years since September 11, 2001.

It seems unbelievable that it's been that long. It feels like yesterday that I was sitting at my desk, incredulous at the horror unfolding so close to home.

The deep blue sky, cool weather. Total absence of air traffic, outside of the strange presence of military jets and helicopters. School let out early. Dad came home. Everyone seemed to be transfixed, frozen in a state of shock.

The pictures on the TV will forever haunt me. The unforgettable smell of smoke and jet fuel that hung in the air. Intentional mass murder. Flames. Destruction. It was as if my innocence was taken - I never dreamed man could be so savage, so ruthless, so murderous.

But I saw something else, too. Something beautiful. I watched my local neighborhood pack care packages for the families of those killed in NYC. I witnessed men that gave their lives to save victims from the wreckage. Firefighters that gave the ultimate, to save others' lives. These men had families, too - but they gave anyway.

I'm writing this tribute to those of you that suffered so immeasurably following the 9/11 attacks. Those of you that have lost family, husband, father, wife, mother, son, daughter; those of you that willingly, through tears, sacrificed your husbands for the lives of the victims he rescued.

I'm writing for those of you that labored at ground zero. The firefighters and police officers. All of the people that came together and gave so selflessly. Many of you have suffered ill health as a result. Some of you gave even your last drop of energy and blood to save lives. Maybe you were the child that gave a cold drink to a firefighter. To all of you - even the smallest, seemingly most insignificant hero - thank you.

I'm also writing for those of you that have suffered much fear, pain, misjudgment, prejudice and even hate crimes following the attacks. You were not responsible, and you felt the same horror and cried the same tears the rest of America cried - and yet you became the scapegoat for the tragedy. You, too, have suffered. Deeply.

No, I will never forget that day eleven years ago. Neither will any of you that lost a loved one in that tragedy. I'm praying for all of you today.  God is able to bring joy out of mourning, beauty for the gruesome ashes of tragedy. May God bless and comfort you with His peace!

To watch the live broadcast of the 9/11 Anniversary Webcast today at 8:30am EST, click this link:

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

I've Been Wrecked ... For Good

Again, I find my heart a thousand miles away. Pulled in different directions. I close my eyes, and I see my brothers and sisters in Rwanda. Syria. Myanmar. Across the globe. I see their pleading eyes, the children reaching for my hand.

And I reach back ... only to find that my arms aren't long enough. I wake up and realize that I'm in America. Home of the free.

I try hard to live a normal life. When I lay in my bed at night, I really do try not to think of the children sleeping without a home or parents. When I walk the streets of my city, I try so hard not to look at the prosperity and feel brokenhearted for my friends that don't have anything at all to eat for dinner.

Yeah, I try. But I've been wrecked.
I let myself feel. I let myself care - deeply. I felt their pain, their loss, their hopelessness. And it wrecked me for life.

I've sat in refugees' homes and felt the facade of American life slipping from my grasp. I listened to the Rwandan genocide survivor's story and had no framework on which to place the information I was hearing.  I talked with Syrians and Iraqis as they cried out their lives of pain and fear.

It hurts to have your whole worldview broken to pieces.

Sometimes as I try to sleep at night, my heart breaks for so many nations, so many tribes, that sleep won't come. I pray ... but words seem ridiculously inadequate.

I've been wrecked. My life has been scarred by feeling, by seeing, by caring.

I see the world differently. I realize my own fragileness, and as a result of that, I'm able to love deeply. I may only have three short seconds with this person, to shine hope into her life. I may only be able to tell my friends that I'm praying for them, as woefully inadequate as those words are in view of a massacre. But those little things are what makes a different in this world.

I can't change the world. But I can do what I can to make a difference.

I'm glad I've been wrecked. Because it forces me to live life wide-awake. Go ahead and let God wreck your life; don't hold back for fear. You won't regret one second of it.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Reach out Your Hands to the World

In case you wondered, no, this blog hasn't been discontinued. :) I know it's been at least a few months since I last wrote anything here. Life has been wonderfully busy. [End of why-I-never-blog disclaimer]

The Lord has really been narrowing my vision, clearing away the fog on the windshield and showing me PEOPLE. I've been spending the majority of my time in various cities, interacting with many people of many different religions, cultures, languages. Some are living on barely enough income to keep going. Others have all they could ever desire in life. 

I remember one day several weeks ago, as I was walking down the street heading for a refugee's home. It was the lower-income part of the city. It seemed like the Lord opened my eyes and made me intensely aware of the people around me; suddenly they were more than crowds and masses pushing around me, heading to their various destinations. They were people ... individuals - with lives, pain, needs, fears and dreams.

I was waiting to cross the street, and happened to notice that there was a young man in a wheelchair also waiting. His mom stood next to him. They caught my attention, and we chatted a little. Her son is suffering from leukemia. He's barely 21. He's in the midst of treatment, very sick, very weak, and obviously loosing the battle. He looked like a very-alive guy trapped in a painfully failing body ... and it broke my heart. Outside of his tired, discouraged mom, does he have anybody cheering for him? Anybody speaking life into his seemingly hopeless situation? Anybody who will see past the fear of sickness, fear of ______, to give hope to that very-hurting person trapped in that failing body?

Angie lives on the street. She looks like a tough lady, carrying her bag with her only earthly possessions. We crossed paths several weeks ago, and I didn't realize she was homeless - just thought she looked lonely and tired. I smiled, chatted a little ... and I wish you could have seen her face. I was taken aback at her joy. I think she would have hugged me had she not had her bag in her hands! She's one soul in a thousand in my city - but she's precious in the eyes of the Lord. 

I was horrified to see a lady and her young daughter, sitting on the street in Brooklyn, NYC, begging. They looked so out-of-place, so vulnerable, so lost in the millions of people walking down the sidewalks of that huge city. Both wore distinctly un-American clothing and headscarves. Most likely they are refugees, having moved to that city for the opportunities of jobs, escaping violence in their own country, education ... 

What made me even more concerned was when I met them again in one of the street-side shops. I tried to strike up a conversation with them, and noticed that they wouldn't make eye contact; both mother and daughter flinched. They looked terrified. Are they being used - unknowingly - by someone who has stooped low enough to enslave others? Who took advantage of them simply because they were unknowlegeable; simply because they couldn't speak English; simply because they trusted a man who promised them a bright future? Where will these women ever find hope in their dark world?

One day in the city. Thousands of lives. Thousands of futures. Destinies. What kind of difference could we make if we stopped long enough to see them? To notice them - let them know that we believe they're worth something? If we reached out a hand to give hope? If we reminded them that they're not a lost cause; that there is someone who has hope for their mess? I wonder. I think it could be awesome

Friday, May 4, 2012

Friday Evening Thoughts

    Another afternoon is gone, spent with my Nepalese friends. I felt like the foreigner today, as my friends shared little pieces of their culture with me - looking at photos of their homeland, watching a video clip of a Nepalese festival together, while Uncle explained in detail how the festival is carried out ... I understood maybe half of what he was saying, but the other half was spoken by his expressions. He was enjoying sharing his culture with me as much as I was enjoying learning!
    I love watching this family as they interact with each other. Typical of their people, all of the relatives share homes. Uncles, aunts, grandmothers and grandfathers, children and cousins all live together, often in the same home. My friends have two houses, and all of the family members go between both places constantly. Today I asked one of the children who one of the relatives was - cousin, brother, uncle?  She hesitated, then went to ask her mother!
    They're all so close, and love each other so much that the lines are blurred. They look out for each other, go out of the way for each other. They do the same for their friends. I love that. I learn so much from them.
   As I've spent time interacting with refugees such as this family, I'm finding more and more that the American stereotype of people from 3rd world countries is very, very, very wrong (can I even overemphasize that?). They are not dumb people; they do not need special-Ed classes so that they can function in the 'civilized' world. They do understand when you speak about them behind their back.
   Language is a huge barrier. You've probably had the experience of ordering at a ethnic restaurant, and being misunderstood. Maybe you felt frustrated, or though that the people you're dealing with just aren't educated.
    Nothing could be farther from the truth. Most of these people - whether they're refugees, immigrants, or  students - are working hard to learn English. But making a living is difficult. They were doctors, professors, surgeons in their home country; here, they are janitors. They make beds at the local hotel. They work in the Turkey Hill on the corner. And to make a living for their family, they work ... night and day. English class takes a back seat.
    So, when you interact with your foreign friends, know that they're people who are living and often thriving in a place that they do not understand; they are a people who are embracing a culture nothing like their own. They're lonely. Often they're confused, maybe ostracized because of ethnicity or religion. And they would love nothing more than to have a few friends who care ... friends that they can call when they can't figure out how to use their new stove (they cooked over a open fire in their home country). Friends who won't make them feel foolish for wondering how to ride the bus, or how to use American money.
    And I know that you'll find it to be a experience you'll never regret. You'll be blessed, and not just a little - good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over! As you have done to the least of these ...


Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Christ. Alone.

    I've been taught the meaning of Easter as long as I've been able to understand.  I've heard it from the pulpit as long as I've been in a church. But not until this year has the true meaning of Easter been totally, shockingly real to me. Maybe it's that I feel my need acutely - maybe more than I ever have before. Maybe it's just that I had to see it for myself to really grasp it fully.
    That's why I love this song. I didn't learn this song until last week. And I've been singing it ever since. It makes my heart rejoice. And I want to live in that place of knowing that "no power of hell, no scheme of man can ever pluck me from His hand. Till He returns or calls me home, here in the power of Christ I'll stand."

In Christ alone my hope is found 
He is my light, my strength, my song 
This Cornerstone, this solid ground 
Firm through the fiercest drought and storm 
What heights of love, what depths of peace 
When fears are stilled, when strivings cease 
My Comforter, my All in All 
Here in the love of Christ I stand 

In Christ alone, who took on flesh 
Fullness of God in helpless babe 
This gift of love and righteousness 
Scorned by the ones He came to save 
‘Til on that cross as Jesus died 
The wrath of God was satisfied 
For every sin on Him was laid 
Here in the death of Christ I live 

There in the ground His body lay 
Light of the world by darkness slain 
Then bursting forth in glorious Day 
Up from the grave He rose again 
And as He stands in victory 
Sin’s curse has lost its grip on me 
For I am His and He is mine 
Bought with the precious blood of Christ 

No guilt in life, no fear in death 
This is the power of Christ in me 
From life’s first cry to final breath 
Jesus commands my destiny 
No power of hell, no scheme of man 
Can ever pluck me from His hand 
‘til He returns or calls me home 
Here in the power of Christ I’ll stand