One of my favorite aspects of my African lifestyle was 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.”
It’s been a rough month for a lot of people around the United States.
As I type, there are children in Florida and Montana and Texas whose lives have been precisely, heart-rendingly divided into before and after.
In all these dark days, there is a sliver of light. God has given our kids wisdom in all sorts of ways to help their friends; to be people of refuge. In fact, in some ways, kids will be better equipped to help their friends than adults will be. There’s automatic rapport and connection. They automatically know ways to say things in an understandable way.
So I’m wondering. How can we help our kids be emotionally safe places when their friends are hurting?
4. We are not the heroes. Give to organizations that empower and employ local workers, and who utilize the local economy.
Sending shoes or clothes or food, for example, to impoverished countries—in my experience–can simply be sending in what could be purchased there, without the Western manpower and shipping expenses. (My family and I still load Samaritan’s Purse shoeboxes at Christmastime; those are different to me.) Supporting local farmers and businesses helps those working hard in their own nations.
Organizations with local workers help in the constant interpretation of situations around them, so Westerners don’t make them worse. Employing local workers also tend to encourage Westerners to “work themselves out of a job” a bit. It presents authority figures from a culture’s own people, rather than encouraging a colonialist mentality. And it develops and cultivates vision in national workers who are so much more naturally equipped to help their own people. I love organizations working diligently to “entrust these things to faithful men” (2 Timothy 2:2).
The stories happened more often than I’d like to admit, and echoed a truth a friend had told me within my first few months of moving to Africa. “The longer I’m here, the more I realize just how hard it is to help without hurting.”
I’ve heard heartrending stories of boxes of early reading books collecting dust. Sewing machines gone into disrepair, sitting idle for years. Business owners possessing the equipment they need, but selling their goods for less than the goods cost, for lack of basic business training. Adoption funding such widespread corruption that an entire nation must close nearly entirely its adoption doors.
When I was young, my dad regularly mortified me at restaurants throughout the Midwest. We’d be at Hardee’s, say. And he insisted in calling the waitress—there behind the counter, awaiting my straightforward order for a chili dog—by the name on her plastic nametag. As if she were another old friend, of which he had innumerable others not just in our small town, but a substantial radius around it. She would inevitably smile beneath that brown visor. At twelve, I simply wanted to crawl beneath a Formica table next to the French fry fragments and Rorschach blots of dried ketchup and wait out my dad’s exuberant friendliness.
Nowadays–you saw this one coming: I’m the one using the Starbucks barista’s name.
Maybe my dad primed me for one of my perennial takeaways from Africa: greeting everyone, even before you, say, ask where the olives are at the supermarket. There’s even a greeting, I learned, for people you pass on the road. (When I use it, yes—I’m the one now drawing a grin from a stranger. All they need is a visor. Or a nametag.)
An African friend explained that she believes it even prevents crime. When you make a relational contact with someone, even briefly, it simply…humanizes them. As in a quote I read long ago, hatred ends when you can see yourself in the eyes of another.
I am reminded of this in the words of the communal prayer, Brother, I greet the Christ in you. And this is what I’m chewing on today: how, in an increasingly automated world, we can acknowledge God’s image in people around us in simple ways.
My home culture is full of delightful doodads like ATM’s and self-checkouts. But as efficiency rises in importance—uh, a quality falling admittedly below my expectations in Africa—the relational element shrinks, out of necessity. People can become means to an end, not unlike machines. When they don’t produce in the expected manner and timeframe, there’s more opportunity for irritation.
Once, sitting at Arby’s and admittedly shoveling people into what I deemed their appropriate mental categories, I was convicted by a quote of C.S. Lewis:
The dullest most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare… It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all of our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal… it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendors. (The Weight of Glory, 1949, emphasis added)
Obviously there’s a place for us to be task-oriented. But today, just in case you’re not the use-the-waitress’-name type: A few practical ideas to preserve the human in the imago Dei around us.
Someone once gave me good, simple advice about panhandlers: look them in the eyes, even if you don’t plan to give. When someone’s in pain, I can find myself in the mental equivalent of rolling up my windows and locking my doors—not just in self-protection, but simply because I don’t know what to do. Taking any form of responsibility is simply overwhelming. One of my takeaways from the Good Samaritan: He didn’t step around the guy in front of him. In Isaiah 58, God pleads, Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen…not to turn away from your own flesh and blood? No, I’m not suggesting we be the savior of the world. Africa, for one, is overwhelming if every problem is mine. In a sea of broken people, I try to see what fits within 1 Peter 5: Shepherd the flock of God that is among you. Who’s among me? Let’s start there.
See people for their stories rather than their role toward us.
Remember the impossibility that your kindergarten teacher actually went home and had a life outside of your elementary school? From the checker in Wal-Mart to the janitor at the mall, we empower people when we imagine and honor the context they’re coming from. A friend once wisely counseled me to see my mom not just as my mom, but as a woman. Somehow, this clicked in me. What are her hopes and desires outside of what I want, outside of her and I?
See people for more than their labels—and let them wiggle outside of the labels we’ve stuck on.
Labels can either be tools to understand or tools to maintain distance, right? From personality tests, to race and culture, to besetting sins—labels are only helpful so far as they help us to more accurately comprehend and compassionately respond. Be consistently hungry for stereotype-busters, even within the labels people use to define themselves.
This was advice given to my husband and I before we were married: In an argument, try to hear what the person’s saying rather than how they’re saying it. Ever been in a disagreement with someone who was kind enough to hear the real questions you were asking, rather than just the (irritated, misspoken, inflamed) way you actually said it? It’s a game-changer.
Call rather than text or email.Visit rather than call.
If people are more than what they do for us, we can receive and cheer on their reasonably healthy boundaries, even if we don’t understand them. Without being overbearing, I can even dignify people and their own needs by encouraging them to set boundaries despite what I want. For us here in Africa, this meant that we declined offers for people to work at our home on Sundays, even if it meant a level of inconvenience for us. (Some of our African friends find it hard to take a Sabbath, because it’s a chance to earn much-needed money.) As Peter Scazzero suggests in Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, it’s all too easy to become “human doings” rather than “human beings.” Communicate dignity by celebrating boundaries in others—and even yourself.
Read an interesting quote yesterday. So tell me: Do you agree or disagree?
The place where God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet. (Frederick Buechner)
So at first glance, I’m like, Yes. Yes! Yes with a smiley-face-with-heart-eyes emoji! Especially when it comes to my kids (which you saw in Tuesday’s post on ideas for teaching kids the spiritual discipline of service). I want them to not just drag themselves through service, like our stick-shift doing 45 MPH in second gear. I long for them to find that burbling well inside of them: their part of the Body of Christ.
But then—I think, say, of young motherhood. Where initially, I couldn’t wait to see the double lines on that stick, couldn’t wait to pick out maternity clothes, couldn’t wait to gaze into a rosy little face that somehow looked a lot like mine. “Deep gladness” could definitely describe so many parts of motherhood.
“To be able to look backward and say, ‘This, this has been the finest year of my life’–that is glorious! But anticipation! To be able to look ahead and say, ‘The present year can and shall be better!’–that is more glorious! I have done nothing but open windows–God has done the rest. There has been a succession of marvelous experiences of the friendship of God. I resolved that I would succeed better this year with my experiment of filling every minute full of the thought of God than I succeeded last year. And I added another resolve–to be as wide open toward people and their need as I am toward God. Windows open outward as well as upward. Windows open especially downward where people need the most!
“…There is nothing that we can do excepting to throw ourselves open to God.”*
-Frank Laubach (1884-1970), missionary to the Philippines, estimated to have been responsible for teaching half of the 90,000 people in his area to read and write, and to have reached out to the Mohammedan Moros, who regarded the Christian Filipinos as enemies
*As quoted in Foster, Richard J. ad James Bryan Smith, eds. Devotional Classics: Selected Readings for Individuals and Groups: A Renovare Resource for Spiritual Renewal. New York: HarperCollins (1993), pp. 101, 105.
Sometimes it’s hard for me to locate the goodness of God in poverty.
A project with a Ugandan friend of mine, completing her counseling internship, had trailed me into the slums after her. In some ways the dry season made it more tolerable than I’d anticipated. The unnaturally-colored, stagnant water clotted with trash would soon rise bearing cholera, typhoid, and worse.
My heart and my senses were constantly scuffed to a raw alertness. The ten women our project was seeking to assist earned about 1500 shillings per day; about 50 cents. We ducked in their darkened huts, my rudimentary Luganda tripping over my tongue like my tennis shoes over the jutting paths outside.
Completely Pretty much hypothetical situation. Say one of your kids—well, one of my kids, anyway—teases a sibling to the point of tears. (I know. Whose kids would do that?!)
Let’s take a gander at a few of our parenting options, shall we?
a. “How could you do that to him/her? You are such a bully. Ugh. I am so disgusted with you.”
b. “Get over here! What were you thinking?! I cannot believe you.”
c. “Hey, we need to talk about this. Take a look at your sister for a minute. Let’s think about what it’s like to be in her shoes right now. What do you think she’s feeling? Have you ever felt that way? Do you think you built her up, or tore her down? What do you think you should do?”
I hope I would choose c; I do. But, when forming this decision in a perfect storm of hormones, loathsome traffic, summer heat, and a full week of kids acting as if they were raised by wolves, I wish I were not so enticed by options a and b.
What’s the difference between leading our kids toward appropriate guilt—and shaming them, otherwise known as (gulp) toxic parenting?
It’s World Refugee Day! Today I want to honor the struggle, courage, and hard work of refugees around the world who have so much to offer.
Refugees give back.I’ll be honest with you: Some of my students have never sat in a classroom prior to their seat at Refuge and Hope. Their nations have been in unrest for too long. If you’re trying to stay alive, you usually aren’t sitting in school.
Many of them are learning to read for the first time. They are adjusting to a new culture and so many new ways of doing things; at least one of our Western-style bathrooms has a printed poster: Please don’t stand on the seats. They’re all learning English, business skills like computers or sewing or baking, and health skills. They’re taking Bible. Check it out here:
Really glad you're here. Welcome to a lingering conversation--about a head-turning, undeserved kindness that's turned my life on its head. This site's about Jesus in a pair of well-worn Levi's: faith walking around in our sneakers, scuffing up against real life and real people.
I hope you'll find some questions worth asking, conversations worth engaging, compassion that's compelling, and practical ideas to knead genuine love into relationships. (...With a side of slightly irreverent humor.)
After five and a half years in Uganda, my family and I have recently returned to the U.S., where we continue to work on behalf of the poor. I write and love on my family from Colorado.