A Generous Grace

ideas on practical spirituality and loving each other

Category: Home and Hospitality (page 1 of 3)

What comes to mind when you think “refugee”?

For key thoughts on this important topic, make sure to check out this post on ways and reasons to welcome refugees.

“Teacha!” He loped across the pavement to me where I stood shaded beneath the tailgate of my high-clearance minivan.

At 6’5” and change, he couldn’t fit. In fact, the two of us are a caricature of opposites. His skin is the stuff of 80% cacao chocolate. Parts of mine are Cinderella-white (though Africa worked hard to darken me permanently with sun spots). Like his Sudanese ancestors, he’s built like a marionette; still, when he throws that rangy arm over my shoulder, he dwarfs my genetically Swiss shoulders and barrel chest.

But we’re friends. And I’m immensely proud of him. On scholarship to Bible school, he recently completed his first term, working hard in his second language of English. He aims to be a pastor for his people.

It’s hard for me to reconcile my friend with the stereotypical image of a refugee. It’s even more befuddling, admittedly, as I think about the controversy surrounding people like him. He’s never seen a day of his life where his nation’s at peace—and yet he is a man of peace, who wants to lead his people in peace.

Honestly, when I think of refugees—it’s not necessarily someone wrapped in a hijab (though they’ve been friends, too); it’s not even a child stretching his thin arm out of a dinghy. It’s people like “Sarah” who come to mind, my student who’s trained in Human Resources. Or “George”, who’s a civil engineer, and has taught at a local grammar school since he relocated to his new nation—though his parents are still in a refugee camp. Or the three other pastors in my class who’d stay after, asking questions and cracking jokes.

“A Narrative of Fear”

My kids frequently tussled about who got to come with me to the refugee center. A part of me was tickled pink by my blond sons reluctantly/happily swallowed up in the arms of towering, adoring refugee women.

So when my kids ask me to explain why their home nation is making laws against refugees, it’s challenging for me to explain.

I ask them to remember all the videos we watched together from 9/11, when tears rolled down my cheeks and onto the collars of their shirts at the elaborate deceit and wickedness to maximize iconic loss of life. I try to explain how smaller attacks around our country and around the world are causing people to feel so afraid for what our world is becoming. Islam—and most refugees—are an easy target as we wrestle to feel safe at school; in a mall; on a plane. (Christianity Today addresses here the narrative of fear surrounding the refugee crisis.)

But then I tell them of a professor of mine, who speaks Arabic for his archaeological digs. Soon after 9/11 at an IHOP, my professor noticed a cashier with an Arabic accent and oddly pale skin. When my professor greeted him quietly in Arabic, a single tear rolled down his cheek—revealing that the man, fearful for his safety, was wearing makeup to disguise his skin tone.

There’s fear on both “sides.”

Yet Ed Stezter of Christianity Today explains startlingly,

There is a 1 in 3.64 billion per year chance that you will be killed by a refugee-turned-terrorist in a given year. If those odds concern you, please do not get in a bathtub, car, or even go outside. And, for contrast, there were 762 tragic murders in Chicago alone last year compared to 0 people who were killed last year (or ever since the mid-70s) by a refugee-perpetrated terrorist attack. (emphasis added)

(Um, for perspective–cows kill 20 people per year.) To further this point: USA Today states that 78% of Syrian refugees allowed into the United States were women, or children under the age of 12–the estimated 18,000 by the end of last year still a tragically small amount of the 5 million left homeless. (I also found these statistics eye-opening about committed Christians’ response to the refugee crisis.)

Unfortunately, some of the most grave, horrific decisions in our history have hinged on this powerful emotion of fear–particularly of those culturally or racially different. We stop seeing people in the context of their stories and flatten them into a label on which to cast our fears.

An Unlikely Immigrant

I was recently moved by these words:

Our Savior came into the world dependent on hospitality, from the moment he was born in a borrowed manger until he was buried in a donated tomb. What is more, Jesus longs to meet us face to face in the disguise of the stranger, the guest at our door….

Laws don’t dictate how we are to treat immigrants, but Scripture does.[1]

Now clearly, we are still called to respect the governments God’s put in place (see Romans 13). But I still find salient the point that we take our cues on the foreigner from Scripture: not our fears (think of Ananias welcoming what he thought was a murderous Saul). Not the government. We take our cues from our own status as refugees: Those of us who are Gentiles were foreigners to God’s people…and God took us in, clothed us, and became our true home.

I appreciated the words of Tim Breene, CEO of World Relief, quoted in Christianity Today: “World Relief does not believe compassion and security have to be mutually exclusive. While it is wise to always work to increase effectiveness, a lengthy and complete ban is not necessary to meet our commitment to security, transparency and compassion” (emphasis added). It’s critical for us to be wise; to continue to intensively vet those coming into our country (see the process here).

Yet what if helping refugees…revitalized us? What if–as my family’s experienced–opening our own doors to refugees detaches us from our fear, propels us toward compassion for other mothers and children and fathers, illuminates our perspectives, requires us to share, and help us know more of God?

Is [the fast I, God, have chosen for you] not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover him, and not to hide yourself from your own flesh? Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry, and he will say, ‘Here I am.’ If you take away the yoke from your midst…The Lord will guide you continually and satisfy your desire in scorched places and make your bones strong…

And your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to dwell in.

I wonder. If the story of the Good Samaritan were retold today, is it possible it would be our own political enemies who might do the rescuing?

In our own homes and in the greater community of our nation–may we move forward not in fear, but in compassionate, informed wisdom and faith.

If you’re interested, consider signing We Welcome Refugees’ solidarity statement.

 

 

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An Open House

 

 

 

 

[1] Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals.

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Guest Post: An Open House

Right now, scooter wheels are rattling past my bedroom window. Ugandan kids are out of school—and once 3 PM hits, they know they’re free to knock at our metal gate. They pour in from the neighborhood, sometimes even slinging their legs over the shoulder-height brick walls to leap down in our yard. Though I admit to some sense of relief when holidays are over—there’s a part of me that loves our yard swarming with kids.

Open House kids playing hospitalityScientist Jared Diamond’s quote remains perennially rooted in my mind:

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No Place Like…

I’m already bracing myself for it, even as open duffel bags, plastic storage bins, and carry-ons line the walls of my house. Maybe the question will come at church, shaking hands as we walk in from the parking lot, or when we’re handing over a loaf of banana bread to a new neighbor (strategically timed before my kids’ Nerf wars propagate any noise violations).

“So, where are you guys from?”

Um.

Central Illinois. Arkansas. Texas. Oklahoma. Colorado. Uganda.

Nice to meet you! I actually have no idea. Do you have a different, easier question? Maybe ask how many kids we have. I have gotten that one right several times.

Home is such a nuanced, funky question right now. Perhaps an open duffel is just the metaphor for me. I feel transient. Half-packed. Misshapen. Awkward.

I was asked the other day what signified home to me, and…it took a little while for me to answer. While there are a few objects that have made it with us around the world—like the rest of us, home tends to be with the people I care about. Perhaps it’s a no-brainer that I’m a mzungu, a foreigner, here. But sometimes I feel just as much the mzungu in my “home” country.  My mind seems to perpetually be working out, “How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?” (Psalm 137:4).

As returning to America spreads before me, the term Nile Perch out of water comes to mind. And truthfully, so does the term lonely.

But perhaps the opposite of lonely is what home is: a place where you belong.

C.S. Lewis’ words capture this exquisitely for me.

We should hardly dare to ask that any notice be taken of ourselves. But we pine. The sense that in this universe we are treated as strangers, the longing to be acknowledged, to meet with some response, to bridge some chasm that yawns between us and reality, is part of our inconsolable secret. And surely, from this point of view, the promise of glory…becomes highly relevant to our deep desire. For glory meant good report with God, acceptance by God, response, acknowledgment, and welcome into the heart of things. The door on which we have been knocking all our lives will open at last. (The Weight of Glory, 8 June, 1942, emphasis added)

When my husband and I first came to Uganda, I remember standing on a porch, overlooking the Nile as it rushed by steadily in the starlit dark. Hebrews 11 will always remind me of that night, when I decided to put all my eggs in an invisible basket. The Message puts it this way:

By an act of faith [Abraham] lived in the country promised him, lived as a stranger camping in tents. Isaac and Jacob did the same, living under the same promise. Abraham did it by keeping his eye on an unseen city with real, eternal foundations—the City designed and built by God.

(Perhaps this explains why sometimes this work doesn’t bring tangible, number-crunching results: because it’s building an invisible city. This is what I hope.)

A friend and former missionary kid wisely told me this past weekend about one advantage of our overseas lives. She noted we truly understand that as lovers of Jesus, we are “foreigners and aliens in this world” (1 Peter 2:11). Her father told her that because Jesus is preparing a perfect place for us, nothing’s ever going to measure up here. We will always be longing to be more home.

 

Where Everybody Knows Your Name

An orphaned Ugandan friend of mine is struggling with the new nationally-mandated identification cards. How do you find a birth certificate when you don’t have one? What if you were given a surname by the person who took care of you, and you now have to go and procure the “real” one the government will accept? As I think of her, I wonder what emotions this unsettles in that sludgy silt at the bottom of a girl’s heart. So tonight I put my arm around her: I want to let you know that you belong. You and me, we’re sisters. God says our spiritual ties are much thicker than blood (see Matthew 12:46-50). He says You belong with Him. He’s going to give you a new name. His name.

It was one of those moments where I felt a little sheepish, because maybe I should be listening to these words of comfort I was so eager to hand out. You belong, mzungu. You belong with Me. I am the Home you’ve been looking for all Your life. You’ve seen glimpses, but just wait till You get a load of the real thing.

And this is the verse that came to mind:

O Lord, You have been our dwelling place throughout all generations. (Psalm 90:1)

You, God, are our home.

 

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Welcome Home

FREE Printable Scripture Art: Psalm 90:1

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Guest Post: A Fast for Your House: The Surprising Treasures of Simplicity

I always learn something from my friend Monica.

She learned to read and write in the last decade or so, when she moved to Kampala from her village in northern Uganda. But despite my college education, she has a lot to teach me.

When I visited her shared compound on Saturday, she couldn’t wait to show me inside her house. I had to comply looking into the toothy ivory grin parting that smooth, ebony face. And when I entered, I understood why.

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Freebie Fridays: FREE Printable Scripture Art, Psalm 62:11-12

free printable Scripture art Psalm 62:11-12My fridge is pretty much an explosion of Scripture printables. They’re also lining the sides of our bathroom mirror, the back of the bathroom door, and their bedroom doors. I find a lot of benefit in literally displaying verses on our doorposts (Deuteronomy 6)!

So today for Freebie Friday, I’ve got printable Scripture art for you, taken from Psalm 62:11-12.

Once God has spoken

twice have I heard this:

that power belongs to God,

and that to you, O Lord,

belongs steadfast love

May it encourage your family.

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Gifts that Remain: Life Lessons for Keeps from Africa

I view the items in my home differently now. Everything is slid into a category in my mind: Pack it. Sell it. Give it. Just as we did five and a half years ago in Little Rock, we’re packing up our lives here in Africa. But of course the person who packed up then isn’t the same person who’s packing now.

And thankfully, those intangibles are things I can keep.

They don’t take up precious luggage space; I won’t need to sell them for pennies on the dollar with which I bought them. They’re Africa’s gifts to me.

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Spiritual Disciplines for Real Families: Fairly Painless Ideas to Teach Kids Service

Catch earlier posts here on Solitude, Prayer, Meditation and Contemplation, and Simplicity. Find initial concepts for this important series here.

Part of what I love about living in Africa: opportunities for my kids to serve are everywhere. As in, next door. I admit to being concerned about this when we landed in the U.S. six months ago. How was I going to draw a dotted line for my kids from compassion in Uganda to compassion in Colorado?

Awesome thing is, there are opportunities to serve–in really fun ways–in every zip code, from Salvation Army bell-ringers, to running a booth at the Fall Festival for the community, to the military family across the street whose dad’s deployed. Serving transforms our homes into aircraft carriers as its members are nurtured, then launched into the community.

The question often becomes how much we push our kids

into what they don’t want to do.

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11+ Low-prep ideas to occupy kids on Christmas break (with FREE printable!)

Already tried the Christmas-movie-night-while-stringing-popcorn tack? Exhausted your board game tournament ideas? Sent your kids outside till they’ve sledded their little hearts out? Here are a handful of easy-peasy ideas to abet Christmas Vacation Chaos.

  1. Have an old-fashioned taffy pull. When we tried this with my kids and their cousins, I was delighted to hear my mom—who was admittedly a little skeptical of the potential mess—remark that this was a lot easier, cleaner, and faster than she thought! We used this Vinegar Taffy Recipe, but you might also enjoy adding those leftover red and green sprinkles, as suggested in this recipe. If you’ve never been to a taffy pull, this video will help! Continue reading
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Spiritual Disciplines for Real Families: 10 Practical Ways to Teach Simplicity (…and just in time for your crazy holiday!)

One of my favorite aspects of my African lifestyle is a lean muscularity of simplicity. Forget keeping up with the Joneses. You are the Joneses, when your kids are going to play with kids whose families (who may or may not be literate or have lost a child) live in one room, which may or may not have electricity and running water.

So people expect my light fixtures to, say, look like I swiped them from my church in the eighties. They anticipate that when I serve lemonade, it will cascade from an ugly plastic pitcher.

Perspective is everything.

Randy Alcorn explains in his (highly-recommended) The Treasure Principle, “The more things we own—the greater their total mass, the more they grip us, setting us in orbit around them.”

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Give us this day: On bread and other minor miracles

The landscapes of my childhood are so different from those I view through my artfully barred windows. Instead of the lush, rolling hills carpeted with banana trees—Lake Victoria a slice of silver peeking from the top—our farmhouse rested in the center of miles of Midwestern fields, flat as a sheet of green construction paper. Though spread with a dull gray in winter, I can still hear the rustling of summer’s emerald cornstalks when I close my eyes.

One similarity I love about life in Uganda and life in central Illinois is the proximity to life cycles. From my mom’s garden with its rhubarb and asparagus and frothy heads of broccoli, to the ten chickens I presently have slaughtered about every six weeks for our family’s sustenance, there is something simple and good—something sobering—about seasons. About not simply grabbing my bag of chicken breasts from the price club freezer, but making a few portions smaller. Because actually, something else will need to die when our little family requires—requests?—more.

And this is what I have been thinking lately: That “give us our daily bread” is perhaps more evident when I am not merely sliding the cellophane off a perfectly shaped loaf from the store, which I picked up and gently tossed on that little shelf in my cart.

JWIWR3ZV0O

Author Christa Parrish (one of my current favorites), in her novel Stones for Bread, helped me to wrap my mind around the intense labor poured into a single loaf of bread. Historically, bread involved not only the typical rigorous farming efforts of plowing, watering, scything. As a farmer’s daughter myself, I know too well that hopeful gaze at the sky for rain (the drought of ’88 is still seared in my memory), or the prayers for rain to stop, for frost to hold off. And that’s modern farming. I wasn’t threshing wheat, or  hunched over a stone, grinding our flour, hauling water from a river, or carefully laying a fire and stoking it.

Even now, the loaf landing neatly sliced on my table is actually the result of a number of highly complex activities begun months ago—years, if you consider the tending of the soil, the inventions of labor-saving machinery, the investments of the farmers in equipment and otherwise. God’s also arranged the arrival of electricity to the kitchen or a mechanic; the provision of fuel for the delivery truck, of marketing and human resource personnel to make sure there’s a company existing for this very purpose.

Daily bread in my mind has come to stand for what I need; what my body requires to sustain itself in this day. I ask for “daily bread” in my ability to thoughtfully and graciously parent and, say, not become the Incredible Hulk when my child launches something destructive over the stair railing. I need daily bread for the energy from my feet hitting the concrete floor in the morning to the time I tuck them (much dirtier now) beneath the blue coolness of the sheets at night. I repeatedly request wisdom for this blog, actually; I still liken that to waiting for manna, trusting God will reveal something of Himself to me that might be something I can share with you.

Daily bread, in all respects, then, is requesting not just soft, crusty slices on my children’s plates. It is an entire series of elaborate orchestrations God conducts to simply meet the need that sometimes, like a Pop Tart, simply arrives in my hand unceremoniously and just as quickly. When I worked in publishing, this included selling a number of books for me to keep my job and receive a paycheck. Here in Africa, it means God providing for a number of financial supporters (whom I steadfastly adore) who generously remember to sign up for automatic withdrawal or stick a check in the mail; generously sacrifice month after month after year. And this is on top of all the actions it took simply to make my bread from people around the world. (I generally eat around three times a day.)

I have thought often of Gandhi’s quote since moving to Africa: There are people in the world so hungry, that God cannot appear to them except in the form of bread. Now, there are so many gifts of grace required for bread, I may just see God all over bread itself.

Perhaps it’s also amazing that, thirty-five years into this, I at times struggle with unbelief in his intimate, intricate care for me.

Give us this day our daily bread is coming to mean for me a far greater trust in minute miracles, in which God sustains all the living beings looking to His hand–loaf after loaf.

 

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Yeah, but does God so love individuals? (As in, me?)

 

 

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