SixEight Life

justice.mercy.journey

Round…. 10?

Photo credit: snow0810 (creative commons)

Photo credit: snow0810 (creative commons)

About a year and a half ago I wrote a blog post. The premise of the post was about battles. I was in a season of calm and was relishing in the blessings and provision of God. It was a good time, but I pictured myself standing at the corner of the boxing ring. My gloves were off, I was taking a break, breathing deeply and drinking some water. The calm I was sitting in felt wonderful, but I pictured myself glancing at the boxing gloves. Would I have to put them back on again? When would that time be?

Fast forward to now. The gloves are on, they’ve been on for several months now. I feel like every time I catch my breath, life throws another punch. I wasn’t ready for the gloves to be back on. I wasn’t ready for the next round. But it didn’t wait for me to prepare myself, it came charging in. So here I stand, proverbially bruised and weary from the fight. I thought this round would be over at a certain point, there seemed to be a distinct end date, but it hasn’t ended. So I find myself staring at the ceiling, willing myself to do what I need to do but wanting to hide. I feel my breath catching in my throat as another issue springs forward.  I’ve had some physical reactions to stress and worry that seem to come one after another. I go from guilt (why can’t I just handle it) to self pity (woe is me, things are so hard) to ambivalence (just screw it all, I don’t even care anymore). Sometimes those moods will switch as the day progresses.

I said that I wasn’t ready for this battle, but life didn’t wait for me to prepare myself. And I’ll tell you why I wasn’t ready for this round. I haven’t learned my lesson, I haven’t learned to trust. I’m clinging to my talents, experience, and ability to “handle it” instead of just handing it over to the One who wants to carry all my burdens.

You see, last year my summer was stressful as I was in between jobs and had no idea how God would provide. The summer of 2012 was overwhelming- my job was in shambles and I was completely miserable. The summer before that was overwhelming and uncertain. Brent and I had just gotten married, I was looking for a job while trying to learn how to be a wife. And in the summer of 2010 I struggled with anxiety and doubt. I had a bit of a reprieve in 2009, but in the spring and summer of 2008 I sank into a pit of low self esteem and near depression, a quarter life crisis of sorts. I could keep going, but you get the gist- me and summer have a rocky relationship.

Now, as I read over the previous paragraphs, my initial reaction is embarrassment. What are people going to say? Does everyone think I’m pathetic and weak? I have this constant inner struggle to have it all together. I am always ‘fine’, everything is always ‘okay’ even when it really isn’t. I’ve used (read: distorted) all sorts of scripture passages to justify my need to always be okay.

But you know what? Things aren’t always okay. They aren’t always okay for anyone. We live in this social media world where we see everyone’s beautiful pictures and happy status updates. We inwardly think that they have perfect lives and not a care in the world. But that’s not true! We all have struggles, we all at times find ourselves nearly passed out from a fistfight with life that leaves us wondering how we’ll go on. Being weak and not being okay does not make you or I any less of a person, or less of a Christian We are all valued and loved by God, no matter if things are good, bad or in between.

And, just like last year and the many summers before, I’m remembering that God pulls me through the battles in ways that I can’t even comprehend. He kneels down beside us and heals our wounds. He picks us up, takes the gloves off our hands, and fights for us. Scripture is clear on this truth.

“The Lord will fight for you, you need only to be still” Ex. 14:14

“Come to me all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” Matt 11:28

“You are my strength, I watch for you, my God, you are my fortress” – Ps 59:9

There are many, many more verses and stories where God has come through for His children. I can share stories, and I imagine you can too. But it’s so easy to forget when we feel like we’re getting punched in the gut every five seconds. Today, I’m trying to remind myself to not forget. And if you’ve made it this far in this post, thank you. When I started writing tonight, I was on the verge of tears and had a sinking feeling in my stomach about the week ahead. I really planned for the post to end differently, but I feel like God began to work in my heart as I typed, bringing scripture to memory and reminding me of all He’s done. It’s sort of like writing therapy I guess. Is there perfect peace right now? No, but I’m getting there.

Friends, we can’t forget all He’s done and all He’s promised us to do. Hand the gloves over to him and remember that we just need to be still.

Five Months, Twenty Things

Thirty is looming ahead my friends. I can’t believe it’s almost September! I meant to write this post in July, the halfway point of my year of the 30 by 30 list, but I just didn’t get to it. The summer flew by in a blur of stress and busyness, and I’m ashamed of my lack of blogging. But I have been able to chip away at the list. You can keep up with the full list and updates by going here.

So far I’m chipping away at things quite nicely. About 10 items are completely finished and several are ‘in progress’. Even more have a concrete plan in place that should lead to me accomplishing them before January 22nd.

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Our team in South Africa with Hope2Africa

I’m honestly having a blast with this list. I’ve always loved to do lists and goals, but this list has taken me to a new level of truly living life intentionally and with purpose. There are so many adventures to be had, so many new things to experience and so many memories to be made. Here’s a recap of some of the most amusing, thought provoking and fun moments of my list so far.

Driving a Stick: I thought I was going to kill myself, my brother and my husband. As Casey instructed me how to put the car in gear and shift, I muttered a four letter word that was caught on video by my husband. Sadly (or conviently) this video was deleted from Brent’s phone, so there’s no proof. I sputtered and abused that little car and had the customary ‘crap how am I going to get up this hill’ moment and found myself hearing my brotherly calmly say “go to second….. no, that’s fourth….. second Emily, second…… and we’re stalled.” I consider it accomplished, even though Casey insists on another lesson before he’ll concede that I can check it off my list.

Leaning to Surf: I strategically planned our long weekend vacation so I could accomplish this10428692_10101190200226233_8189278597736510850_n one. St. Augustine Beach is named one of the top ten places on the East Coast for surfing, and it’s driving distance from Atlanta. I was really excited about my lesson and was sharing it with my husband’s family on a stopover down to the beach. Someone then made casual mention about shark attacks, and then I felt the anxiety creep in. So to be honest, I was a little nervous on the lesson day. I was even more nervous when one of the surf shops I called to make a lesson called me back the day of to inform me that they were canceling lessons because the conditions were too rough. Red flags, choppy, rough waves and intense wind greeted us as we arrived at the beach. Lest you think I’m exaggerating, I’m not. Brent can vouch for me. I took a deep breath, tried to push my fear and foreboding aside, and focused. After about 45 minutes of being beaten around, I was up! And up again, and again, and again! It was incredible. I can’t fully explain the feeling of being caught by that first wave. We were all cheering, and my instructor said that she was surprised I was able to catch as many waves as much as I did. No sharks, no major injuries (just some awesome rug burns from wiping out), and no regrets. I’m hooked.

10576951_10101267402252753_7461725558344413985_nStress relief at its finest: I rediscovered some stress relievers and discovered some new ways to relieve stress as well. First of all, massages. I had my first massage, and I had NO IDEA what I was missing out on. Can that be a regular occurrence, please? Also, I rediscovered a bit of escapism I went to often in my younger years- fiction. I love a good story, and I used to spend much time getting lost in good fiction. On my list was to read and watch the Harry Potter series. For the past month, I let myself get engrossed in this series. First of all, why has it taken me so long to read these? Amazing literature, I couldn’t put the books down. And honestly, I think the escape of these books got me mentally through parts of July and August, as it’s been a very busy, exhausting, and stressful few weeks. I was able to come home and disappear in the world of Hogwarts. At 2 am on a Saturday night when I finally closed the Deathly Hallows I was sad to finish, but happy to have completed reading one of the most iconic series of my generation. And one more stress reliever to mention- the art of being alone. I’ve never been one to be comfortable in being alone. I always feel anxious and self conscious when I’m by myself in a public place. So, I faced that uncomfortable feeling while on a work trip to Portland, Oregon. I had a whole day to myself. I dropped my luggage off at my hotel and set off to explore the city on my own. I spent hours in a bookstore, not worried about holding anyone up as I walked down every aisle. I ate truffle fries and a veggie burger by myself at a restaurant. I explored shops and neighborhoods, not worrying about what others were thinking. It was actually quite nice, I may have to do that again sometime.

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The Family enjoying our poop coffee.

Other things to mention: This post is getting a bit long, but I can’t go without mentioning the day I was able to get nearly everyone in my family to drink the infamous ‘poop coffee’, Kopi Luwak. At the start of our tasting session, I had two people willing to try, but by the end of the night nearly everyone had a sip. Later I took the rest to work and had a nice Friday afternoon tasting session with some colleagues. It is divine coffee, it truly is delicious. I took Brent to a shooting range for his birthday and learned to shoot our gun, jumping slightly every time I pulled the trigger. I went on a mission trip with my mom, and could write dozens of posts on the impact of that week. I nearly threw up after riding a legit roller coaster at the Animal Kingdom (don’t naysay, it was legit for me!). I’ve explored several new cities and still have a few more to explore.

Nearly every other item on the list is either in progress or planned. I’ve had friends offer to help with tasks. Other friends have started their own lists. I’ve learned a lot about myself, and have made memories that I’ll never forget so far. With five months to go and 20 items left to complete, I’m going to be busy, but I’m excited and ready to go. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to go find a copy of War and Peace and make reservations for my pottery lesson. :)

Why Refugees Matter

June 20th is World Refugee Day.

I’ve been thinking about this day for several months.

Darfurian Refugees in Chad. (Photo Credit: European Commission DG ECHO- creative commons)

Darfurian Refugees in Chad. (Photo Credit: European Commission DG ECHO- creative commons)

There will be events, festivals, awareness campaigns, celebrations and times of contemplation. It’s a global day to celebrate refugees and to reflect on the trials and difficulties that they face on a regular basis. It’s a day to advocate for peace to end the violence and persecution that so many people face around the world.

I had big plans for World Refugee Day. I was going to write an eloquent piece and submit it to Huffington Post or another site that accepts guest blogs. My professional life revolves around refugees, and on many occasions my personal life does as well. I love my job and I love my calling, and I love to write. I was going to combine those elements and write a piece that would be perfect, poignant and striking. It would have the perfect blend of emotional appeal and factual information. It would compel the reader to take action to ‘welcome the stranger’ to our county. Did I mention that it was going to be perfect?

But I didn’t do that. I didn’t do it because to be honest, I’m kind of exhausted.

So instead I’m sitting at my computer on the eve of World Refugee Day, struggling to come up with words to type. I haven’t had time nor even energy to blog in months, because life is just so crazy. Working in the human services can be incredibly challenging and draining, and it’s also challenging to work to help and serve people who have been through so much in their lives. Trauma and pain are ever present in many refugees’ lives, terrifying experiences are woven in the fabric of their life story. The busyness combined with the sheer magnitude of fully understanding the plight of refugees can feel overwhelming.

But it is worth it.

Photo Credit: United Nation Armenia (creative commons)

Photo Credit: United Nation Armenia (creative commons)

I was reminded of that very fact just the other day. I was talking to a young man who felt comfortable enough to share his story. His family fled a war after his father and younger sibling were brutally killed. He, his mother, and his other siblings fled to the coast and got on the first boat they could find that would permit them to travel. They didn’t know where the boat would take them, they just knew that they had to get out. After a month long journey, they ended up in a foreign land where they didn’t speak the language or understand the customs. They lived as stateless citizens in this second country for five years. They were discriminated against because of their racial background. They weren’t permitted to work because of their status in this country. Several years into their new lives they were finally able to apply for refugee status. And several years later they found themselves on a plane headed to Atlanta, Georgia.

As I listened to my young friend share his story, I could hear the pain in his voice. At one point he paused and quietly said “This time was very hard for me.” But as he continued, I began to hear the hope in his voice. He has big plans. He wants to go to college and become one of the first lawyers from his ethnic background in Atlanta. He is so proud to be a United States Resident. He already talks about taking the citizenship test in a few years. He and his family embody the reason our country was founded. They faced what seemed to be insurmountable odds to make a new life. They live simply and are building their new life. My friend proudly told me about how they saved up to buy the couch I was sitting on as we ate chapati bread in his apartment.

Friends, refugees matter. They comprise a small population of our immigrant population in the United States but it would benefit all of us to seek them out and form friendships with them. They work long hours at really difficult jobs to make ends meet. They are patriotic and proud to live in the United States. They pay taxes and save money to open businesses in their community. They remind me of my own ancestors in many ways. My family is a eclectic mix of many different nationalities- most of whom immigrated to the United States to make a better life for their families. Some fled persecution, famine or other difficulties. They worked hard to start fresh and to create their own ‘American Dream’.

We are a nation of immigrants, and refugees are a beautiful picture of what makes our country great. Amidst the busyness of my life, the stacks of paperwork and the struggles that come from walking the journey with refugees during their first few days in America, I am reminded of this picture. Refugees matter to God, and they matter to me. They are an important part of our country, and I am so proud, humbled and honored to know many of them.

If you want to get to know a refugee family, let me know. I’d love to introduce you to some of my friends.

 

Hope

Photo Credit: upyernoz (creative commons)

Photo Credit: upyernoz (creative commons)

It was the darkest of days.

The world turned dark. The thunder rolled. The veil was torn. The earth shook and the people fell to their knees.

Hope seemed to be lost in that day. It was a Friday. It was a Friday we know as a Good day, but in that moment, I’m sure it seemed far from good.

“It is finished” Jesus cried.

And to the disciples, to the followers, those words must have torn through their hearts like a knife. Finished? How could it be? Where was the hope? This is it? Where was the promised messiah? Is this really happening? He’s there, on the cross, dead. Hope seemed to die with him on that tree.

Friday was a dark day, and I’m sure Saturday was dark too. But Sunday, oh glorious Sunday. Sunday fulfilled the promise. Sunday, which we commemorate and celebrate in a few hours, fulfilled the promise of salvation. Jesus rose! Death lost its sting, the grave was defeated. Oh beautiful, wonderful Sunday! It came to fruition. On the cross, Jesus took it all. He took our pain, our shortcomings, our failings, our hurts, our shattered dreams and broken hearts. He took on the burdens of humanity so we wouldn’t have to.

That’s how we have hope. The days can be so very dark, but we have hope in Jesus. Jesus endured the darkest of days so our burden could be just a little bit lighter. The burden is heavy, but He’s right next to us, carrying it with us. I’ve had some dark days. I remember a late night, a season of depression where I felt smothered to the point where I didn’t know how I could go on. I almost felt like I couldn’t breathe, but in the moment, I knew. I knew He was there. There was a battle, but He was there, fighting for me. There have been seasons of financial difficulty where I didn’t know how we would pay for groceries after that week. All of my dreams, all of my plans felt like they were slipping through my fingers like tiny grains of sand. But in that moment, I knew. I knew I still had hope, because He was there. I’ve been in frightening situations, on the brink of shattering abuse or assault. One step in a certain direction could have changed everything. But I believe He guided me. I KNOW He guided me.

I think of friends right now who are enduring pain I can’t even imagine. Medical diagnosis with an unsure future. Unimanigable loss of a child or spouse. The aftermath of abuse. Pain and suffering that seems unbearable. In the cloud of pain and darkness, there’s always a glimmer of hope. A promise of eternity shines ahead, illuminating our journey that can be marked by pain and doubt. There is hope in the cross, hope in the empty tomb. We can rise with confidence. Even when we strain to see ahead through our tears, He is ahead. He is leading this journey.

That’s why tomorrow is so important. Tomorrow paints the picture of perfect hope. To the follower of Jesus, everything is dependent on that bloodstained cross and on the empty tomb. It may seem bizarre and unbelievable to some, but it’s what we cling to. He is the King, He died for us, and He rose again, defeating the darkness and pain of this world. Does it mean life is perfect? No. Does it mean that the life of the Christian is easy? Of course not. But through it all, we can cling to this truth. And one thing is for certain:

We have hope.

In the mess

Photo Credit: Ana Rey (creative commons)

Photo Credit: Ana Rey (creative commons)

One of the many things I do during the week is teach. It’s a privilege and a joy to inspire budding helping professionals to take action and develop their skills. But in my class, I have to teach some tough stuff. To be quite honest, some of my lectures are pretty depressing. One class is centered around the structural issues of poverty, which is a colossal social problem with no easy solution. We discuss the cycles of poverty, the causes of poverty, and the human side of poverty. We read painful stories and talk about messy problems. The content hits some students hard. Many are also interning in the public or nonprofit sector and may be finding themselves face to face with huge social problems and their client’s huge personal problems for the first time. It’s overwhelming.

And it hurts. Helping hurts.

It can be painful to get so close to someone’s mess. When we choose to truly help someone, we are choosing to walk with them. And it can hurt. When we choose to listen to the hard stories and we refuse to ignore the big social issues, we can enter into periods of pain. The first time this really hit home for me was when I was about the age of many of my students. I was 20 years old and was volunteering in Indonesia after the Tsunami. My job in community development was to support the residents of this community and help assess their needs as they rebuilt their homes and ultimately their community. But what I didn’t realize as a naive, sheltered, idealistic 20 year old is that to truly help, you must get close. You have to walk beside someone. And I did walk beside these sweet women, children and their families. I took them in my car to visit the mass graves of Banda Aceh. Nothing could have prepared me for the helplessness I felt watching these women wail at the site of the mass graves over their family and friends who perished in the Tsunami. The first time I went, I stood there, frozen, tears streaming down my face. There was nothing I could do but just be there for them. It was there that I realized that to help, sometimes you must feel the hurt.

Even today I’m reminded of the pain of sharing in someone’s story. I am surrounded by painful stories almost every day. My heart breaks when I watch a woman cry in my office because she’s separated from her children due to displacement. It’s so hard to watch the effects of trauma haunt a person who is just trying to start over, to survive. When I read and think about the magnitude of human trafficking in our world today, sometimes it makes me feel paralyzed. When I think about the stories I’ve heard and the things I’ve seen, I feel pain in my heart. It’s a heaviness that those of us who walk with the grieving, the suffering deal with. It’s the heaviness that comes from truly allowing yourself to know and understand the magnitude of injustice in this world.

But I’m telling you, it’s worth it. When you familiarize yourself with the marginalized, you’re walking in the shadow of Jesus’ steps. He was familiar with injustice, with suffering. By stepping out of the bubble of security and comfort and into the mess, I enter into communion with God that I can’t explain. There is even more of an urgency for His Grace, His Mercy when I understand the depths of suffering his children experience. HIS Children, just like me and you. The ‘least of these’ are important to God. It’s our responsibility. It hurts, and it’s not pretty. It doesn’t come with fame and accolades most of the time. But it’s so rewarding. And with each small task, with each small victory, it’s easier to see the redemption in helping within the mess.

So friends who are in the mess with me, friends who are walking with a friend, family member, client, or neighbor through pain and suffering. Friends who are fighting against injustice to the point of exhaustion. Friends who have devoted their vocations to helping others for little pay or gratitude. Friends who can’t sleep sometimes for the stories they’ve heard and the work to be done. Stick with it, keep pushing, keep fighting. We’re in this together.

And it’s worth it.

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