Cross-shaped prayer

iron cross at Westminster

A picture taken in London just before heading to Scotland in January 2016–looking into the inner courtyard of Westminster Abbey

In January of 2016 Dave and I led a group of Wheaton Academy students on a trip to Scotland. It was a double-duty trip for us. We were praying for guidance; about which of two very different directions we should pursue. One of those directions was Scotland. We met with the UK field director of GEM (Greater European Missions) during that trip, and it was in many ways an exploratory time for us.

But we were also praying about moving into the city of Chicago, to live in a depressed neighborhood, for Dave to teach/work with underprivileged kids. It was strange how God used the wonderful, spiritually rich trip to Scotland to confirm that it was not the decision for this time, and Chicago is. One of the confirming moments came when we put on the program for an assembly at a Scottish public high school. We began with a video one of our students had made to introduce the team members and their home. After shots of Wheaton Academy and its grounds, the video moved to the downtown area of Chicago. One shot showed hundreds of people milling around the Bean. Watching it for the first time in that assembly, I suddenly got choked up. There were all those people, of all ethnicities and races and religions, gathered together to look at a reflective structure, but going home to segregated neighborhoods, going home to places sorely in need of gospel hope. Behind me in that auditorium sat rows and rows of students who needed to hear about Christ, and I was fervently praying for them, but my heart was pounding for the people of Chicago. When Dave told me—without my saying anything about my own experience—that he’d had much the same reaction when he saw the video, we knew God was stirring in our hearts.

Another affirming moment on that trip came in a coffee shop, where Dave and I had retreated while the students shopped in the area. Here’s what I wrote in my journal about that time:

We were talking about a topic we’ve often discussed: why are some prayers—especially those for “small” things—answered, while others, particularly those for very necessary, very important things, seem to be ignored. This topic had re-surfaced because I told Dave how glad I was that a member of our mission team who’d felt sick the day before was fully recovered. I remarked, “Several of us were praying for her.”

He got a funny look on his face and pulled out the book he’s currently reading: There Are No Children Here, published in 1991, written by Alex Kotlowitz, a Chicago journalist. It follows the lives of brothers Lafayette and Pharaoh, two young boys who lived in the Henry Horner Homes, a public housing complex just blocks from Chicago’s Loop that was a veritable war zone. Dave turned to a passage and gave me a preface before reading it aloud. Nine-year-old Pharaoh, seeking respite from the violence and drama of Henry Horner, has found a condominium complex nearby with green lawns and trees. He goes there to sit under the trees and simply be.

Pharaoh had long sought such a refuge. For a few months last spring, he’d attended Bible classes at the First Congregational Baptist Church. Washington Boulevard was lined with churches, but most of them now served people who had since moved from the neighborhood. Churches had lost their authority in areas like Horner. Pharaoh grew bored with the classes and began to question whether there was indeed a God. He often prayed to him, asking that he let them move from the projects. But, Pharaoh would say, “I be praying but he don’t do nothing. Maybe there ain’t no God.” It was as much a question as it was a statement. (page 143)

Dave read the last line and then looked up at me. “I’m struggling with this right now. How can we pray for such relatively small things as someone’s upset stomach when people all over the world are living lives like this?” He tapped the page in the book. “And how does God see these vastly different prayers? Why are our prayers for someone’s stomach answered when a young kid praying not to be molested or sold for sex doesn’t get the answer they so desperately need? When a mom who has prayed for food to feed her family watches her baby starve to death? I don’t understand!”

I don’t understand either. Part of his question does have to do with God, to be sure, but Scripture tells me God is not indifferent to suffering, and Christ proved to me God is not indifferent to suffering. But we, the people of God, the Church, are the body of Christ here, so why is it that Pharaoh was left so abandoned? Where was the church? Why weren’t the churches of Chicagoland agonized by Henry Horner and the other housing projects? And the violence and hopelessness of areas like Englewood and Lawndale and Garfield Park? Why aren’t we agonized now?

I asked Dave to hand me the book. I wanted to look at one line in particular. I read it aloud to him. “Churches had lost their authority in areas like Horner.”

“What if the churches were supposed to be the answer to Pharaoh’s prayer?” I asked. “What if they were supposed to pray about Henry Horner—along with all the personal requests they had—praying BOTH, until God so changed their hearts they were ready to act and intervene and enter in, even if in small ways at first? Until they served the people who lived right nearby rather than those who’d had the resources to move out?

“I know it’s not really an answer to your question, but I don’t think the answer is an either-or proposition. I think we should pray about all hurts, even the ones we see as small.”

I looked back at this journal entry a few times during the months that followed, as we prayed for both “big” and “small” and received guidance for all and then detours and then more guidance. For us the conversation was about the inner city and inequality in education and racial reconciliation in the church. But even more so, it was a conversation about prayer and change–heart change. And that’s a conversation for everyone. Not everyone is being led to the inner city, but all of us are being led somewhere, even if it’s right out our front door, even if it’s simply onto our knees.

Prayer opens our blinded eyes and guarded hearts to the needs we are meant to see, meant to enter into.

So I’d like to end this post with some words I read recently in The Challenge of Jesus by N. T. Wright.

The Christian vocation is to be in prayer, in the Spirit, at the place where the world is in pain, and as we embrace that vocation, we discover it to be the way of following Christ, shaped according to his messianic vocation to the cross, with arms outstretched, holding on simultaneously to the pain of the world and to the love of God. … Learn new ways of praying with and from the pain, the brokenness, of that crucial part of the world where God has placed you. And out of that prayer discover the ways of being peacemakers, of taking the risk of hearing both sides, of running the risk of being shot at from both sides. Are you or are you not a follower of the crucified Messiah? (The Challenge of Jesus, chapter 8, “The Light of the World”) 

The Table

Eat my flesh.

Drink my blood.

Those outside the early church, hearing these words,

accused of cannibalism.

Understandable.

But though there were no ritual drums,

No contemptible ingredients.

It was; it IS—

a brush with the holy.

No matter literal or symbolic,

We have, in truth, taken. in. God.

Mystery upon mystery:

that the God of the universe

Put on flesh,

veins, arteries ribboning through,

Coursing with blood—

And offered himself for our consumption,

Entering us, being in us.

Somehow making each

Unique

Yet (another mystery!)

Part of a people, the people of God

Belonging as family, truest family,

the Presence within far surpassing the differences without.

So let us not forget, as we come to the table, as we are told,

“This is Christ’s body, broken for you.

This is Christ’s blood, spilled for you,”

These holy mysteries:

God enfleshed,

God in me, you,

Us, the people of God.

Remember—

with lips and teeth and tongue and throats,

with chewing, swallowing, digesting.

So that,

in-Presenced with Christ

From fingers to toes, and all in between;

Empowered with the energy of digested bread and wine—

Flesh and blood—

with life given to heart and lungs and mind and limbs,

we love with heart and breath and mind and strength:

God and neighbor.

God and the Family.

And lest we forget—how easily we do—

We come to the table again

And again and again.

Take, eat.

Take, drink.

This is my body, torn for you.

This is my blood, spilt for you.

The gifts of God for the people of God,

So we can be filled with him,

Can be a people filled with him.

Do this—take and eat—

and remember

 

Gifts that give back, 2016

Processed with VSCO with hb1 preset

Lettering by Em click on the link to visit my daughter Em’s Etsy store

Next Tuesday is “Giving Tuesday,” did you know? The link takes you to a Youtube video that explains why Giving Tuesday was created to follow Black Friday and Cyber Monday. I thought today–before Black Friday and Cyber Monday and the day before THANKSgiving–would be a great day to post my annual “gifts that give back” post. More and more we have the opportunity to give gifts that give twice: to the recipient AND to a ministry that practices Biblical generosity. If you have already completed all your Christmas shopping, then this post isn’t for you, but if you’re just starting to think about it (I’m in this camp!), then I hope to give you some good ideas in this post.

And if you have other ideas, please leave a comment and tell me about them! I’d love to hear and share other opportunities to give gifts that give back. Feel free to share this list with others.

GENERAL GIVING

You can use Amazon.com’s Smile program and choose a charity to receive a portion of your purchase price. (Mine is locked in at Compassion International currently, but there are thousands on Amazon’s list.) The link above gives more info, and this program is not just for the holiday season but operates all year.

FOR THE TEENS/PRETEENS IN YOUR LIFE–OH, AND FOR EVERYONE ELSE, TOO!

Check out www.mudlove.com and Bel Kai.

MudLOVE, based in Winona Lake, Indiana (home of my wonderful in-laws and my alma mater, Grace College), sells made-on-site clay bracelets, necklaces, mugs, and more. The most popular version is stamped with a word or phrase, and you can even custom order a word or phrase that has particular meaning to you. Twenty percent of each purchase goes to provide clean water in Africa, and $5 spent provides an African with clean drinking water for a year. My girls (ages 12, 16, 17, and 19) ALL love them. (Honestly, I do, too!)

Bel Kai, which sells beautiful handmade jewelry, is another company that gives-back, and when the creator of MudLOVE married the creator BelKai, their shop Belove was created. Great story (check it out at the Bel Kai link above) and just as great products!

BIG-TICKET BEAUTY

Hand and Cloth sells gorgeous, one-of-a-kind blankets made from used saris by women rescued from the slave trade in Bangladesh. I’ve featured this ministry before on my blog (https://journeytojen.wordpress.com/2012/09/27/blankets-handmade-by-women-women-handmade-by-god/).  These are perfect buys for the person who appreciates beautiful, handmade artisan items (hmm—maybe that describes you yourself!). They start at $98 dollars and go up to around $200. Check out the blankets at the website—which itself is beautiful—and read their story while you are there. “Blankets handmade by women. Women handmade by God.” Wonderful work! (They also have stockings–each one unique! So cool!)

Renew Project and Loom are both incredible ministries. Renew is based in Chicago’s western suburbs and trains and employs refugee women who have been re-settled in the area to make beautiful items from recycled textiles. Bags, baby items, tablecloths, etc., and their work is incredible (these women are artisans!). Best of all, each purchase helps a refugee woman thrive in her new home. At Loom, which is much like Renew but based on the north side of Chicago, “women from Iraq, Bhutan, Congo and Afghanistan gather together weekly to produce beautiful handmade products designed in collaboration with local Chicago designers. Women have the opportunity to create, market and sell their products as an additional source of income for their families. Training focused on financial literacy and necessary skills associated with savings and earnings is offered to each of the women. As a result of this social enterprise, women who have fled war and violence from all over the world have the opportunity to work together in Chicago, learn new skills, produce beautiful handmade products, earn an income, and be a part of a community of creative and enterprising women.”

SIX FOR WOMEN AT RISK

If you want something other than blankets made by women rescued from the slave trade, visit WAR International. The acronym WAR, standing for Women at Risk, was started in 2006. You can find jewelry, accessories, home décor, and children’s items made by women in 13 countries, including the United States.

Narimon employs women rescued out of the sex industry in Bangkok, Thailand. the woman make beautiful jewelry, handbags, and some clothing at The Well, where the women not only work but are ministered to. Narimon is the products division of Servantworks. Seriously, their work is beautiful.

Jo’el Worldwear‘s website says this: “We support artisans and fashion designers affected by wars / conflicts, human trafficking / slavery, refugee status and other economically challenging situations. We honour those who teach, inspire and help develop these professionals to success.”

Sseko (what a cool name) Designs was started by Liz Bohannon. Read this great article about her and her business at Relevant Magazine–and shop here, too! Their tie sandals are awesome, but they’ve now branched out to bags, clothing items, scarves, etc.

Noonday Collection and Trades of Hope both offer beautiful fair trade items (primarily jewelry, scarves, bags, etc.) made by women artisans in developing countries. Great businesses, great products, great stories. I have friends involved in both of these businesses, and they are passionate about their work and what it is providing for other women around the globe. I encourage you to check out their websites.

LITTLE BIT OF EVERYTHING

Need to shop for kids, men, women—want to spend a little for this one, more for that one? Go to www.tenthousandvillages.com. Gorgeous jewelry, decorative items, and woven/knitted items for women; toys and games for children; even things like chess sets, bookends, and bicycle-chain frames for men. Their website is very easy to navigate and has some very helpful tools. If you click on the “gift ideas” tab at the top of the page, you can shop for holiday items, for men, women, or children, or by type of item.  You can spend a little (items as low as $4) or a lot. They also have shops (there is one in Glen Ellyn, IL) across the U.S. You can find a shop locater on the website.

Feed My Starving Children (a ministry that provides food packs for ministries around the world) has a pretty extensive marketplace as well. Some great offerings here, from a fantastic ministry that supports so many.

FOR THE COFFEE LOVERS

Land of a Thousand Hills Coffee Company has “Drink Coffee. Do Good” as its motto. It started with farmers in Rwanda (the founder saw the effects of the genocide and had to do SOMETHING) and now works with farmers in Haiti and Thailand as well. They sell 100% Arabica, fairly traded, fresh roasted coffee. They sell ground, whole bean, and decaf, teas, and coffee accessories.

I Have a Bean “was created for a purpose–to positively impact the lives of post-prison men and women, their families, and the communities in which we live.” This business employs post-prison men and women. If you’re in the Wheaton area, drop in their store on Fridays for free coffee and a chat with their awesome staff!

If you’re in Chicago’s western suburbs, drop in at River City Roasters in Wheaton (if you’re not, you can visit them virtually) and pick up a few bags of their direct-trade blends, which River City Roasters roasts themselves. Sometimes they also have their Venture blend, which supports Venture Corp (www.entertheventure.com), a small nonprofit started by some young friends of ours. Each bag purchased helps support two wonderful ministries in Africa. (I am privileged to have met both Mary and Ronnie, the leaders of the two ministries Venture supports.) Speaking of Venture, you can visit its website and support its ministries through buying beautiful Ugandan necklaces. Just click on the “enter the venture” link above.

LOOKING FOR HANDCRAFTED CROCHETED ITEMS–AND MORE?

My husband just told me about this one, and I checked it out and love their website. What a great story! A group of high school guys learned to crochet simply because they wanted unique ski hats on the local slopes. Others dubbed them the Krochet Kids. Long story short (if you want to know the whole thing, visit the website), they taught these skills to women in northern Africa and then Peru, and they sell these handmade items at www.krochetkids.org. Each item carries with it the signature of the woman who crocheted it, and you can visit the website to learn her story. They’ve also branched out and now offer several ethically-made clothing and accessory items as well.

AND, FINALLY, FOR THE PERSON WHO HAS EVERYTHING

Buy them a goat—bet they don’t have that. Seriously, go to World Vision or Compassion or Open Doors USA or International Justice Mission or Kids Alive (the links take you directly to their online gift catalogs). The first two have items like school supplies, ducks, and clean-water wells–and goats! Open Doors has items that are specific to the needs of the persecuted church worldwide, and IJM allows you to pay for trauma counseling or legal representation for those suffering injustice. You can honor someone with your gift, and that person will receive a card telling about your gift and what it will accomplish. If you want to keep the idea of giving in front of you this season, request that a print gift catalog from either World Vision or Compassion be sent to you. It’s a fantastic tool to use with kids during this season when they are constantly faced with advertisements that fool them into thinking that their “wants” are actually “needs.”

ANY OTHER IDEAS???

If you have other ideas, please leave a comment and share! I’d love to hear and share other opportunities to give gifts that give back. Feel free to share this list with others.

Thanks for reading! I sure enjoyed pulling the list together.

Consider others…

I read this quote today: “This election was a referendum on the echo chamber, and the echo chamber won. We can choose now to retreat once again into those echo chambers or begin to listen more attentively to one another—to love our neighbors by learning about them and their needs and perspectives whether black, white, Asian, or Latino/a; whether Christian, Muslim, or none; whether upper, middle, or working class; whether voter or one of the nearly half of eligible voters that sat out this election. Following this election, I’m convinced that we don’t know our neighbors well enough to begin to truly love them.

The quote above is from Karen Swallow Prior, and it was included in a Christianity Today article on evangelical leaders responding to the presidential election. Prior, who wrote the above quote, was speaking of a divided country, and I agree with her point that it is important we get to know people who are unlike us. But as Christians, we are first, before dealing with a divided country, dealing with a divided Family, and I want to start with getting to know some Family members who have different viewpoints than I. One of the ways I’ve been trying to do this is through reading the writings of Christians who are minorities in this country and in the American church.

Today I’m sharing some of those voices with you. I’ve gathered a lot of articles and blogs and websites; some are specifically responding to the election; others are simply blogs in which the authors share their heart; still others are looking at specific issues from a particular perspective. I’ve listed them below under the name of the author or the organization, even if what is linked is a specific article. One area that I feel is lacking in the list I’ve gathered below is the perspective of individual Latinos/as, so if you are a Latino/a writer or you know of a Christian Latino/a writer with a blog, please comment and share the address. (I have, though, included the websites of two Latino evangelical groups–and they do not share the exact same views). One thing: I realized after I had compiled the list that I included more women writers than men. Sorry about that.

Last weekend my kids watched The Hunger Games. In the film, when the people in District 11 revolted and rioted after their Hunger Games representative (Rue) died, the ruling people in the capitol were bewildered and shocked, but, of course, my kids weren’t. They’d been able to watch the film from the perspective of Katniss, a representative from another district very like District 11. This allowed my kids to understand the anger and hurt. In the same way, some of the pieces shared below also express strong anger or sorrow. They may make you feel uncomfortable. You may feel diametrically opposed to the writer’s views. Try to work through this and consider this a window into the writer’s world,  a chance for you to look deep into someone else’s heart.

One last thing: this is certainly not meant to be a substitute for actually getting to know people; it’s simply a starting point.

Thabiti Anyabwile

Esau McCaulley

Kathy Khang

Dennis Edwards

National Latino Evangelical Coalition

Dr. Soong-Chan Rah

Ruthie Johnson

National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference

Andrea Ramirez

Patricia Raybon

Austin Channing

Deidra Riggs

Osheta Moore

This last one is not a particular person, but I thought the women highlighted in this article had some great wisdom and thought I would share: “How do we parent our kids during this political season?”

Kingdom Vision

My last post was seen by a few as being somewhat divisive. Division is not my hope for my blog, for my voice, for my life. One of my deepest desires is for unity in the Church, for us to look more and more like the kingdom, where people from every nation and tongue and people stand shoulder to shoulder and worship God together, where we see ourselves as one people—God’s people—together, and THAT is our primary identity, where there are no poor, no mentally ill, no addictions (other than the supreme, life-giving one of being addicted to our God!), no wars…

All right—clearly, the Church can’t do all of that now. That’s a beautiful, Revelation picture of the future when the KING is visibly reigning, but that vision of the Kingdom should drive us now. If that’s what God’s love fulfilled in all our lives looks like, then that should dominate much of the work of the Church. Think of what a picture that would give to the world—to those in our communities who have no eternal hope, who have no community, who recognize a longing deep in their soul.

I think the division in my last blog post came because I was lamenting the election of our new president, and some reading it concluded that I would not have been writing it had Hilary Clinton been elected.

They’re right. I wouldn’t have. But nor would I have rejoiced. She wasn’t my candidate either. I didn’t have one. I don’t think either of them gets us closer to the Kingdom of God vision.

Truth is, they’re not supposed to.

That’s the vision for the CHURCH, not America. The Church is supposed to look different, is supposed to BE different and winsome and beautiful (though messy).

So why did I “rant” about Trump if I wouldn’t have about Clinton?

My answer follows, but, please, before/if you read any further, please know that what I write next comes from years of the Lord moving in my heart, comes from a place of personal repentance and not finger-pointing. It comes from a growing-ever-deeper love for the Church—and from the understanding that I, too, have recognition and continual repenting to do following this election.

So why did I “rant” about Trump?

Because the white church in America (of which I am part) hasn’t done a good job of working with all its might for the Kingdom vision. It hasn’t crossed racial and ethnic divides; it hasn’t encouraged humility and lament for past sins; it hasn’t stayed in the places of greatest need; it hasn’t continually welcomed the stranger and shabby and needy ones.

And because that is the history of the white church in America, and the current white church (I hate that it’s still so divided that this adjective still very much applies) hasn’t made serious steps to heal that history, we must take some ownership in this very divided America, an America in which a lot of marginalized people are seen as “other” by the white majority, an American in which a lot of marginalized people feel they are seen as second-class and not completely welcome among the white majority, not as equals at least.

But, white church, we must go beyond this because this is true inside the Church as well. Inside Jesus’ church here in America, our brothers and sisters who have a skin color other than white often do not feel that the white church at large sees them as equals—they do not feel that the white church fully welcomes them—particularly not in leadership positions. Many see our separateness as a way for us to continue to have our own worlds. Many feel they are welcome to visit or even be in our worlds, as long as it’s not in such large numbers that they affect our culture or have some element of authority. Many have deep wounds of mistrust caused by centuries of supremacy and oppression both outside the Church as well as within it.

With these feelings and this viewpoint, can we understand, have we tried to understand, what it must have felt like when the white church turned out in large numbers and voted for a candidate whose rhetoric and proposed policies support a form of white supremacy? Have we tried to understand why some of our brothers and sisters feel so hurt and so threatened by his election? I understand that many of us voted for Trump for totally unrelated reasons, but now it is time–in the humility Christ calls us to–to look at the other side of it, at another’s view.

We have not progressed beyond separate-but-equal thinking in the white church (there are times I’m not sure we’ve progressed that far). And if you’re reading this and you’re part of the white church and you find yourself thinking that separate-but-equal church sounds okay, if you think, What’s wrong with that? Or if you can say, Well, we have some minorities in our church, and I think that’s great—but no person of color is in a position of leadership in your church and it would be a little surprising to have a person of color in leadership… well, I would say there is work to do, vision-casting work—and acknowledging there is work to do is a wonderful first step.

I know the last few days have put many white evangelicals on the defensive, that they’ve been accused of racism and sexism, and that’s hard. But it’s nothing—nothing!—compared to what our brothers and sisters of color collectively have endured—for centuries—and are enduring even now. As followers of Christ, we must not go on the defensive; we MUST empathize; we MUST try to understand; we MUST listen and learn. We must practice stillness before God and allow the Holy Spirit to give us supernatural insight into the pain of others.

I am not saying this is easy. I am not saying there are any quick solutions (far from it, in fact), but we must remember that we will not be segregated in the kingdom.

And we are called to start practicing the kingdom now.

the Love

As the presidential election results came in last night, one of my sons watched with a Mexican flag wrapped around him. He did this in support of his Mexican-American friends. He did this because he loves them, because he doesn’t want them to be seen as second-class citizens, because he doesn’t want them to live in fear for those among them who are undocumented—like some of their parents.

My husband teared up this morning as he got ready to go in and teach his Latino-American and African-American students. “What do I tell my kids?” he said. “A lot of them have been really scared about this. What do I say?”

A few weeks ago when Trump made comments about African Americans in inner-city neighborhoods living in “hell” and how “stop and frisk” would be a possible solution, my children wanted to know what that meant. Then they asked, “Who would they stop? Our neighbors? On the street?”

They knew it probably wouldn’t be their white dad getting frisked on the way home. The gentleman across the street, though, the one they wave to every day and tell where they’re going and how they’re doing—he might.

A couple weeks ago, an ad popped up of a mother whose son has autism. She was offended by Donald Trump’s hand-flapping gesture. She said something like this: “My son isn’t welcome in Trump’s world. I don’t agree with much of Clinton’s stances, but I can’t vote for him.”

_________ isn’t welcome in Trump’s world. You can fill in the blank with a lot of words, all of them representing human beings, generally marginalized, without much voice. I couldn’t vote for him either.

I know some people reading this would say that my husband and I have filled our children’s heads with a lot of soft, pie-in-the-sky ideology.

But in the course of the evening, one of my older son’s friends—who would identify as a Christian—posted a pro-Trump slogan on social media and followed it with the hashtag “#build that wall.”

My son, tears in his eyes, asked me, “Mom, where’s the love?”

Oh, I’m glad for that heart.

Where is the love?

I understand that some at this point—were this a dialogue—would refer to love for the unborn.

And I get that. I really do, but I also wonder this: if we can’t love those right in front of us, those that some in the majority might see as “not-like-me, might-be-taking-my-tax-dollars” folks, then any love for the unborn, who are easy to love because we’re not changing their diapers and footing their bills, seems a little suspect.

And, I might add, what also seems suspect is that Trump has some sense of love and justice for the unborn.

The electoral college just elected a businessman whose entire career is based on success for himself regardless of the cost to others; a man who sees women as little more than sexual objects; a man who seems to view most others as beneath him (and that’s almost automatic if you have a different skin color or ethnicity than his); a man who wants a return to good old days—days when almost all white churches supported or tolerated racial injustice of many kinds.

I don’t think small government and lower taxes were worth that much.

I know I’m simplifying this—that so many will say there were other issues, but I fail to see the biblical, ethical, righteous concern in many of them. I find a lot of “rights” involved, and I struggle with this because I don’t find my rights touted in Scripture, and I do find a lot of statements about standing up for others when they’re oppressed.

At one point this morning, my children gathered around me in the kitchen, “What do we do?”

“We remember who we are,” I told them. “As Americans, President-elect Trump will be our president, but we are not Americans first. We are followers of Jesus. He is our King, and we live first and foremost as his followers, as his citizens. We will love Him, and we will love our neighbors, and when we need to stand with and for them, we will.”

An unexpected neighbor

I was in full mom mode, in route from an evening parents’ meeting at the elementary/middle school to pick Em up from art class across the city.

I stopped at a red light in North Lawndale, Douglas Park dark and deep on my right, and noticed a girl standing on the corner. The lights from across the street barely lit her face.

But it was enough to make her tears shine. It was enough I could see her mouth, open with sobs, her hands, clenched in fists, pressed tight against her cheeks.

I rolled down the window. “You ok?”

I startled her; then the words came rushing out.

“I missed my bus, and another one hasn’t come. I need to get home, but I don’t know how.”

I pulled around the corner onto the deserted dark street leading into the park and called her to come to the window.

The red line. She needed to get to the red line, and she needed a bus to get to the red line. She’d missed the right bus, ran after, but didn’t make it. And she’d stood there, alone on this corner, till fear kicked in and she started crying.

Anything beyond the green and brown lines, and I’m a bit clueless about the Chicago L system. In that moment I couldn’t even remember which direction the red line runs.

But I knew this girl couldn’t stand on this corner any longer.

“Will you get in?” I asked her.

She hesitated, then figured the gray-haired woman playing soft music in her car was a better option, and got in.

I turned the car around and headed east, into the city. Em’s art class is on the north side; surely there would be a way I could get this child to the red line on the way.

We talked. I tried to drop as many reassuring bits of information as I could. Mom of four (turns out she’s the oldest of four), the ages of my kids (she’s fourteen, a freshman in high school; siblings are 12, 10, and 5), mother of twins (she’s a twin, too, though her brother died soon after birth, right on her mother’s chest. “His lungs weren’t developed enough.”) My name, her name.

She wasn’t breathing so hard any more, but I had to check. “Did anything bad happen to you? Anything besides missing the bus?”

She said no. My shoulders relaxed.

“You need a Kleenex?” I asked her.

“Yes. Is it okay if I blow my nose? Sorry, I got a little cold, so it might be noisy.”

I laughed and told her that was just fine.

She asked if I was a teacher—I have no idea why: do I still give off that vibe?

“Used to be,” I said. “Now I’m a writer.”

She wanted to know if I was famous.

I laughed again. Far from it, I said.

“You write books, though?”

“Well, I have one written, but it’s not published. I write magazine and news articles for a school.”

We talked about her school then, how her mom and grandma and she picked it because it’s college prep, because it helps its students get scholarship money, because she wants to go to college.

I pulled over to check the red line map, making sure I was under a street light, telling her what I was doing.

I called Dave just to confirm what I thought would be the closest stop to Em’s art school.

We talked more as I drove. Her face lit up when I asked about sports. Basketball is a favorite, track, too.

We talked about her siblings, what they’re like. Younger sister by a year is actually taller, but she doesn’t want to play basketball; she wants to be a cheerleader, even with her long legs. Their aunt said she should play basketball like her sister, that if she became a cheerleader, she’d knock out the whole first row of fans when she kicked. We talked about her grandma, a police officer, about her own long commute to school from the south side to the west side, about where she lived before moving to Chicago.

I saw the L track ahead and pointed it out to her. “I’m going to turn left just before it,” I told her. “The side street’s not so busy and I can let you out. And I’m gonna’ give you my business card so you can call or text me when you get home and let me know you made it safe. Will you do that for me?”

She said she would. I told her again where to cross the street, where to go up the steps to the platform. She got out and was gone.

Later that night I got a text from her grandma.

Her grandgirl had made it home safe.

She’d made it home safe.

And her grandma was very, very thankful.

On Roosevelt Road at 7 p.m.

Driving from one mom “job” to another,

Unaware of the Father’s hand orchestrating/planning/moving,

I’d been exactly where I was supposed to be

To see a neighbor.

O God, make haste

I’m struggling with worry right now. On the other side of this move, with some things settled (like Dave’s teaching position), other things are still very much up in the air: a job for me that brings in more income but still allows me to homeschool Em and “mom” my kids well; Em’s schooling—is this the best path longterm?; soccer and friendships for the kids; church; adjustment to a decreased budget…

I finger all the strands in my mind, till it’s simply a snarled mess and I’m hopelessly tangled in it.

In very low moments, I ask, “Are you there, God?”

In other moments I know He is. I remember His faithfulness, the fact that he has never, ever failed, that the darkest moments of the past have then turned into seasons of watching and marveling at the creativity and goodness of God.

I feel like I’m cycling through the lament psalms, repeating the psalmist’s rhythm of despair/crying out/remembering God’s faithfulness/hope.

By the time I get to the remembering part, I’m ready to dump my entire snarled mess in God’s lap. “Please take this. I can’t do it. I can’t figure this out.” This brings relief, because his lap is large, big enough to hold me as well as my mess.

But, just a day or two later, sometimes only a few hours later, I find a fresh snarl of yarns in my head and the cycle begins again. Who knew my mind could gather fluff so quickly and spin so much so fast!

God has used my neighborhood to help shred my worry web, to help me move past myself to others. When I get out and about in the neighborhood and pass mothers waiting at bus stops, holding children on hips, others by the hand, I think, How many of them are running a rat race that feels hopeless? How many are working minimum-wage jobs, trying to feed and shelter a family on $350 a week, with childcare swallowing up a huge chunk of a paycheck? And, comparing these struggles to my current light-in-contrast worries—which I’m flattened by pretty easily—I wonder how long it would take before the hopelessness of that kind of grind would wear a person into the ground.

My husband’s work also shapes my perspective. The other morning he got a text from one of his student’s mothers, asking if Dave has heard from her son, that he ran away the night before and she’s hoping against all the fear in her heart that he shows up at school, that he hasn’t succumbed to some gang that’s promising him belonging, that he’ s not using, that… oh, the darkness that can swallow up all our hope.

And so my prayers change, and when I say, “O God, make speed to save us. O Lord, make haste to help us,” I do not have just my family in mind but my neighbors, my city, beyond.

As I recite Psalm 143, I imagine myself standing before God linked hand-in-hand with a long line of people: “Hear (our) prayer, O Lord, and in your faithfulness give ear to (our) supplications; answer (us) in your righteousness.”

And for those who are so burdened they cannot even whisper the words, whose heads are bowed low, whose knees are week, I change the singular pronouns to plural; I speak louder; I raise my voice: “Our spirit faints within us; our heart within is desolate. We stretch out our hands to you; our soul gasps for you like a thirsty land.

“O Lord, make haste to answer us; our spirits fail us; hide not your face from us lest we be like those who go down to the Pit. Let us hear of your loving-kindness in the morning,

For in you we put our trust.”

Fear driving out love

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Photo and lettering by Emily (daughter). If you like what you see, visit her Etsy shop LetteringbyEm to see if you’d like to order a piece. 

I have tried to stay out of the current political storm for a couple of reasons. First, I don’t know a whole lot, so I don’t see much point in my making a less than fully informed comment. Second, I simply don’t want to add to the division, and I’ve got friends on both sides.

And it’s these “sides” that are getting to me.

You see, I’m taking a Jesus and the Gospels class right now, and we’re looking at Jesus’ message and life and how he didn’t fit into any of the political camps among the Jews of his day. He wasn’t a seize-back-control/power militant; he wasn’t a “maintain differences” but work-the-system guy; and he wasn’t a separatist who withdrew from politics and society completely.

He said things like the Sermon on the Mount and taught people to pray for God’s kingdom to come, for his will to be done on earth. He told stories about crossing ethnic divides and putting ourselves out to love our neighbors, and he ate with “sinners” and outcasts.

He didn’t fit into anybody’s mold. As soon as someone tried to make him a member of their camp, he said something that made it clear he wasn’t.

But he wasn’t a maverick, just out to find his own way, different simply to be different. He was adamant about that. He was actually following orders. He was doing his Father’s will, doing it all the way to the cross.

And Jesus encouraged his followers to do the same. “Take up your cross and follow me,” he said, in his invitation to a cruciform, God- and others-focused life.

N. T. Wright wrote this about Jesus’ call: “Jesus was summoning his hearers to give up their whole way of life, their national and social agendas, and to trust him for a different agenda, a different set of goals.”*

I don’t think Jesus is summoning us today to anything less than this.

Now I don’t want to simplify the political complexities of the United States. I don’t want to make it seem as if we shouldn’t have opinions or discussions about the current campaign and issues.

But I’m seeing a lot of anger on Facebook and Twitter, and behind the anger I see fear. There’s fear that the world ahead will not look anything like the world of the past—and there’s fear that it will look far too much like the past. There’s a fear of lost power, lost say and influence and majority control. There’s a fear that our agendas and goals might be set aside.

And this makes me think of this verse: Perfect love drives out fear.**

I know sentences are not like mathematical equations. You cannot simply flip the two sides of that sentence around and have it mean exactly the same thing. But I’ve wondered if many of us Christians have let “Fear drive out perfect love.”

When we fear (and anger is often, I believe, a result of fear), it is a sign of a lack of trust. Somewhere deep down we are not trusting in the perfect love of God. We are trusting in something else, something less certain, something other than God.

And why?

Because deep down I think we know God’s agenda and goals do not match up with our own. His agenda and goals are not about our safety and comfort; His agenda and goals are not about Christianity retaining power in our political and economic systems. They are not about America being seen as a great nation.

His end goal is that the will of God be done on earth as it is in heaven, that Christ reign as King, and God be worshiped by all.

And while he promises that all of the workings toward this goal will result in our good, he doesn’t promise that this good won’t also involve discomfort and danger and tribulation for us. In fact, he promises the opposite.

But that is perfect love: love that is perfect not only in character but also in foresight. It knows the good end and understands what trouble along the way is necessary for that end result.

This is the perfect love that can drive out fear.

But we must trust this Perfect Love.

We must trust this God.

Where does our hope lie?

If it depends on a candidate or a party or a human agenda, we will fear, and love will be driven out.

But if we trust in the perfect love of God, fear will be driven out.

We will know we are loved.

We will live without fear.

We will love…

Without fear.

 

*from The Challenge of Jesus: Rediscovering Who Jesus Was and Is. Here’s a link to a recent Christianity Today article in which Mike Bird, author of What Christians Ought to Believe, interviews N. T. (Tom) Wright about his latest book, The Day the Revolution Began.

**Please follow the link to see this verse in context (I John 4:8). I have to admit I am taking the verse a bit out of context, as the fear it is talking about specifically is fear of God’s judgment. But in our modern, Western world, I feel we have swung so much to the other side of who/what we fear, that we must acknowledge that misplaced fear, remind ourselves that God is the one we SHOULD fear–and then take great comfort from this verse.

Housekeeping Notes

flower-side*I have a couple of blog/writing-related notes at the end of this post. Thanks for reading!

Earlier this year, trapped in a quiet waiting room while one of my children was doing academic testing, I picked up a book from a shelf and flipped through it. It was a book about Christian missionaries ministering to Muslim women, and it was compiled from the experiences and wisdom of women missionaries who’d served in Muslim countries for many years. I loved reading the accounts, but oddly enough, now there is only one I can recall with any clarity. It was from a woman missionary who felt amazed she’d been asked to contribute to the conversation. She, her husband, and their two daughters had been sent, years before, to a strict society, one in which she had very little freedom even as a Western woman, one in which her daughters had even less freedom.  She said something like this: “I have spent most of my time ministering to only two young women, our daughters. I have been their teacher, their spiritual mentor, and their mother. That has been my ministry. I do not know what wisdom I will be able to share.”

And yet, I remember clearly, she had much wisdom, the kind that comes from humility, quietness, watching, waiting, praying.

I wonder if I have been called to just such a season. My husband’s work is most definitely ministry, and it requires deep attention. It is good, good work, and we know he is impacting young men and women who desperately need good education and good male role models. Many of them need father figures. He is being used.

My children are in the middle of good work as well. They go to schools where they are the racial minority (except for my youngest, of course); they go to an after-school program with kids from our neighborhood; they befriend the three young boys who end up at our house many afternoons.

And I? I get them all out the door to do these works. I do the laundry and fix the meals and help with homework and encourage and remind and pray with and, when belonging seems far away, cry with. I homeschool the oldest child part-time, and my paid work is writing, which most of the time is done in quiet. Most days, I do not feel as if I am doing much of anything that is related to what we feel we’ve been called to here, to the work of being integrated, to the work of equality and justice and being/showing Jesus.

I recently wrote an article on the documentary film made about Lilias Trotter, one of the pioneer missionaries to Algeria in the late 1800s (look for a blog post in the next week or so about this). In the research process, I read this quote from her:

Surrender – stillness – a ready welcoming of all stripping, all loss, all that brings us low, low into the Lord’s path of humility  – a cherishing of every whisper of the Spirit’s voice, every touch of the prompting that comes to quicken the hidden life within: that is the way God’s human seed-vessels ripen and Christ becomes “magnified” even through the things that seem against us.
– 
Parables of the Christ Life

This, too, I am reminded, is good.

This, too, is God’s good work—in me, through me.

~~~

NOTE 1: If you’ve never visited my “freelance writing” page (follow the link here or scroll to the top of the page and click on the link there just under the header picture), check it out. If you have any writing or editing needs, please feel free to contact me. I love to help people get their ideas out of their heads and onto paper in clear and lovely ways. No job is too small!

NOTE 2: I added a donate button to my blog (well, actually it reads “Buy Now,” simply because I can’t get the formatting right for it to say “Donate”–oops!). Please do not feel any obligation to donate; I just wanted to give readers the option of contributing to the work of this blog and, through it, to the pro bono work I do for non-profits and churches.