SixEight Life

justice.mercy.journey

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.

Waste Not, Want Not- and a ‘7’ update

photo credit: epSos.de (creative commons)

photo credit: epSos.de (creative commons)

At the time of writing this post, I’m five and a half months in to my ‘7’ experiment. If you want to know a little bit more about the book 7 and the premise behind this experiment, check out this post. It’s been quite a ride and an incredible growing experience. I thought I’d give a brief overall ‘update’ before jumping into the lessons learned from the most recent month.

Month One- Food: Fridge clean out for the Laney’s, which lasted us almost the entire month. We only spent $50 total on food. Challenging but rewarding.

Month Two- Clothes: 12 items worn for the whole month. It would have been less, but I started a new job midway through and had to adjust. It was tough and I kept wondering if my new colleagues noticed my limited wardrobe. Later I asked them: they didn’t notice at all. This month helped me realize that my desire for style and clothing can be a huge distraction and source of insecurity.

Month Three- Possessions: So far the possessions month was my favorite. Our original goal was 100 items but the author’s goal was 210. We ended up giving away nearly 250 items. And months later I don’t miss a single thing.

Month Four- Media: Media was tough! I love me some Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, New Girl, Revenge, CNN, etc, etc. I allowed myself a couple minutes a week to ‘cheat’ to post blogs, but overall I stayed away. I read more and focused more. It was tough, but refreshing.

Last month was Month Five- Waste. The object of the month was to understand and begin to dramatically reduce the amount of waste we create. I have to confess, I don’t think much about waste in my everyday life. I try to recycle as much as I can and drive a fairly fuel efficient car, but I don’t try to conserve energy or water on a regular basis. We usually throw out our fair share of trash every week and there are many items in the trash can that could easily be recycled.

Why does it matter? To be honest, for most of my life I didn’t think that it did matter. But it does. God has commanded us to take care of the planet and our trash, abuse of elements, and overall waste is destroying the earth. The statistics are easy to find. And our world’s poorest are falling victim to our overuse of the planet’s resources in dramatic ways. It’s my responsibility as a Christian, and as a resident on this planet, to be aware of my waste and to preserve the resources God has blessed me with.

So for this month, I picked seven ways I’d be aware of my excess in this area. They are (with progress notes):

1. Shopping Secondhand/thrift/local for any goods I need that aren’t food- I didn’t do much shopping during the month, no goods besides food were purchased. I still want to check out the local Goodwill in my neighborhood, I’ll do that soon.

2. Conserving Energy- turning off lights and building a fire on cold nights. We built several fires and I did my very best to turn lights off and use less water. I think I could have done better but I did try. Building fires was wonderful and I definitely saw a reduction in our heat running.

3. Transport- taking Marta to work when I don’t have offsite meetings: I had a lot of off site meetings but I was able to take Marta a couple times. It was actually very relaxing and nice. It took more time but I didn’t feel like I was wasting time.

4. Recycle as much as possible: before the month I looked up all the items we could recycle, and made an effort to do so! We saw our recycling amount triple and our trash reduced by at least half. This was the area I saw the most difference and it was very surprising.

5. Food- going local/sustainable restaurants when eating out- We were able to try one or two really awesome, sustainable model restaurants during the month. Any other eating out was done at local spots, no huge national chains. It was great to be able to support local businesses.

6. Using cloth napkins and paper towels- we stuck with this one the entire month, and I’m still using cloth napkins as much as I can. I think this helped us reduce our amount of trash and I didn’t paper towels too much.

7. Remembering my reusable shopping bags for any shopping – Okay, confession, I forgot several times. Kinda failed on this one. We mostly shop at pretty sustainable places for groceries and get paper bags, but overall I could have done much better on this one.

So to summarize, the month went well overall and I went into it thinking that it wouldn’t be too difficult. But its difficulty came in a different form than other months. Wearing limited clothing items, giving away possessions, doing away with media- those are ‘in your face’ all consuming tasks. Waste seemed to be easier to forgot, easier to ignore. And I have to admit, the month didn’t leave me with as many spiritual lessons as other months had. But I do feel like I’ll stick with some of the changes I made.

Next month is spending. I’m midway through at the time of writing, and this one- it’s tough! More to come soon.

Changing Roles

Do you ever have one of those moments that makes you flash back to that time you were picked last for kickball in the 5th grade?

Do you ever have one of those moments that makes you flash back to that time you were picked last for kickball in the 5th grade?

It took about two and a half weeks for me to get my ‘feelings hurt’ for the first time in 2014. Just two and a half weeks, pretty sad, but true. It was one of those moments that makes you flash back to that one time in fifth grade where you’re picked last for kickball, or that awkward 8th grade dance where  you seem to be the only one without a date. Anyone with me? Remember those moments? I really thought we’d outgrow them but they just take different forms in adulthood.

I’ll explain the situation a little bit so you can get an idea of where I’m coming from but not to the point where I’m gossiping about a situation in hopes of making myself feel good. I am involved in a ministry where I get to have a leadership role. I love my role in this ministry and am always eager to serve. Well, two and a half weeks into 2014 I was at this ministry position and learned at the last minute that I didn’t get to do my ‘role’. I wasn’t sure if I was forgotten or deliberately left off the list, but I felt embarrassed and just plain bad about myself. Have you ever had one of those moments?

I put on my happy face, blinked back tears and went about my day, but I struggled with my attitude and my own feelings of insecurity. Why wasn’t I good enough? Did I make my leader mad? Have they been talking about me? Am I failure?

But before I really went full force into wallowing, I heard the still small voice of the Lord remind me of His truth. “Child, you belong to me. I have placed you here for a reason. All things work for the good of those who are love me and are called according to my purpose (Rom 8:28). Before you were in the womb I knew you and set you apart. (Jer 1:5). And you are my precious child. (1 John 3:2, Rom 8:17) (NOTE- scripture quotes are paraphrased in this paragraph)

 I am so thankful for the word of God and the way that the Lord communicates his truth to us. I rested in his truth and actually ended up having an incredible conversation about the Lord with a woman who was not part of this ministry. I realized after our conversation that she and I were supposed to talk that day. And if I had been busy doing the role I thought I ‘deserved’ I probably wouldn’t have been able to talk to her. I probably wouldn’t have even noticed her.

God has orchestrated your steps for this year. Even during situations that are painful or don’t make sense, He’s got a plan laid out for you. Even when we can’t see the path in front of us, it’s there and he’s guiding us. When your ‘role’ changes in a relationship, job or ministry, actively seek out God’s voice. Cling to the truth of scripture and seize the moments that God places in front of you. My experience a couple weeks ago was frustrating and disappointing, but in hindsight I can clearly see what God was up to. My prayer for myself is that I can trust God from the beginning that He knows what he’s doing. I’ll pray that for you too.

 

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