A Tale Of Two Refugees: Un-Welcome, Lent Part 2

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Just as a body is one whole made up of many different parts, and all the different parts comprise the one body, so it is with the Anointed One. We were all ceremonially washed through baptism together into one body by one Spirit. No matter our heritage—Jew or Greek, insider or outsider—no matter our status—oppressed or free [Republican or Democrat]—we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Here’s what I mean: the body is not made of one large part but of many different parts. –1 Corinthians 12:12-14 (The Voice version)

As part of my Lenten practice this year, I want to do a few of posts on refugees and immigration. 4 stories. 2 about refugees. 2 about immigration. 2 from a welcomed perspective. 2 from an un-welcomed perspective. The subject is complicated, varied, and divisive. I don’t know anyone who thinks we should ‘throw open our borders to anyone,’ nor do I know anyone who touts that we should close our borders to all. I will not solve any of the issues in my blog; however, I want to share some stories. I hope the stories will help us remember that while we debate and discuss immigration issues, we affect real people’s lives.

Last week, I told the story of how I felt like a refugee when we lived in Germany. This week, I tell the story of actual refugees that lived in our small village of Erzenhausen.

Another family living in our town did not receive the same tepid welcome that we did. They were refugees from Romania. Ovidios had been on Ceausescu’s hit list. When that regime fell, the country was in disarray, and Ovidios and his family fled for their lives. He was an internationally recognized artist. He had won international awards for posters he created for the International Red Cross and for the United Nations. I had seen these posters in the media, symbolizing world peace.

He was somebody!

But, he was also a refugee.

His accolades meant nothing in Germany. The posters he’d created, which hung on the walls in the small home he and his family were given by the German government, did not give him peaceful living.

This story plays like a Hollywood movie:

The little home fellowship we called ‘church’ took them in. We tried to find them asylum in America; but we found that the immigration laws prevented them from coming here. For America, they were required to have $1,000,000 and have a sponsor in the country who could provide Ovidios with a job that no other American could do.

Our borders were closed.

We didn’t want them.

An internationally known, award-winning artist.

But one who was poor and came from an eastern-european-communist-block country.

The immigration standards changed depending on the country you left.

We finally found asylum for them in Canada. Our group of about 20 families raised $20,000–the amount Canada required. Remember the time–early 1990s, long before GoFundMe pages, Paypal, and wifi! We raised the money the old-fashioned way–we wrote letters to friends and family and churches, we sacrificed our own finances, we contacted government officials and embassies.

One woman in our little group LOVED crafting. She got us all to make 5 quilt squares each so that we could make a queen-sized quilt for them to take to Canada. I am NOT craft-sy. But, I dutifully made my quilt squares (with her substantial help). Ovidios, Tania, and their little daughter would be able to remember us.

Oh, and we gave them Cheez Whiz (or ‘Cheez Wheez’, as they pronounced it). Ah, yes, this delicacy is what we’re giving the world. Canned spray cheese made them so happy.

That’s the end of the story. The joyous, Hollywood ending!

(Naturally, Emma Stone would play me, and Steven Spielberg will direct… Ooooh, or maybe it could be a musical!! Lin-Manual Miranda, are you reading?!)

But I digress… 

But the middle part of the story also has the tension and drama of the Hollywood script:

Ovidios, Tania, and their little girl (I believe she was 3 or 4) were refugees.

And the little German village did. not. want. them.

The local baker refused them service.

Anonymous people would vandalize their home, and send them notes of un-welcome.

They did not feel safe.

They had no transportation. The nearest city was about 10 miles away. The closest bus stopped in the next town over, a couple of miles away. They often got rides from some of us. And several of us would get extra groceries at the commissary to give them.

In short, they relied on the kindness of strangers.

Because they had fled Romania, they had precious little in the way of clothing and creature comforts. Because they were refugees, they had precious few people to offer them support … of any kind–financial, emotional, mental, spiritual. Because they were refugees in a country who didn’t want refugees, they didn’t know whom to trust. Because they were refugees, they had precious little in the way of finances and ability to earn money to help them live. The German government gave them a subsistence for housing and food; but they found it hard to make ends meet.

Even in our little house church, people quoted Scripture (out of context) and said that we shouldn’t help them because the Bible clearly says, ‘For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat”’ (2 Thessalonians 3:10).

**And how they actually quoted that verse: ‘Why should we help them? The Bible says, “If a man don’t work, he don’t eat.”** 

Ovidios wasn’t lazy. No one would hire him. Because he was a refugee. Employers considered him an enemy.

Still, I’ve sanitized this version. I wish I had done more, realized more, offered more. One family in our house church lived very close to them in our town. They really bore the brunt of helping them. They exhibited more of Christ’s life to them. They sacrificed themselves and their young family to make room for them. (Emma Stone would play Leslie, not me…)

So, our current tensions over refugees hits home for me. I know what it’s like to feel like an unwelcome outsider in a foreign country–even though I had many comforts because of access to the American military bases. But, I’ve also seen the hardships of a refugee’s life as a friend to one.

Most refugees don’t pick the country where they will resettle. Survival-mode describes the trauma they feel as they escape war-torn tyrannies. Terror cloaks these children … women … and men. All they want is a friendly gesture of welcome. Because most of the gestures they receive do not acknowledge their humanity.

I welcome comments! Please keep them respectful and constructive.

**Next week, part 1 of an immigration story.**

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Fastings of Lent

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God speaking: [W]hat I want in a fast is this:
to liberate those tied down and held back by injustice,
to lighten the load of those heavily burdened,
to free the oppressed and shatter every type of oppression.
A fast for Me involves sharing your food with people who have none,
giving those who are homeless a space in your home,
Giving clothes to those who need them, and not neglecting your own family. –Isaiah 58:6-7 (The Voice translation)

Lent began last week.  Last year, I wrote about doing what we can.  This year, I want to expound on the idea of fasting and sacrifice.  Traditionally, fasting of meat was the sacrifice of choice.  However, in recent decades, as people wanted to connect more with the ritual, Lenten sacrifices have become more broad.  I know some who fast just from sugars or other delicacies, media of all sorts, consumerism.  Some fast from things difficult to give up … others from easier habits.  Religious or spiritual fasting should enliven our spirits and deepen our connection to God.  The discomfort we feel in giving up something in our daily lives can help us focus on those who, not by choice, give up necessities and niceties … Every. Day. Of. Their. Existence.  Because many of us in Western nations enjoy a privileged life of having access to food, water and health care, we forget how many more in other countries (or down our own streets) live in want–want of shelter, clothing, food, water, medications, companionship.

I’d like to encourage us all to participate in the 40 days of Lent in some way.  However, let’s participate in the fast God calls us to in Isaiah.  I’ve got some ideas to get us started.  Pick one, more than one, or come up with your own:

  • If you fast from food, consider giving to Heifer International, deliver Meals on Wheels, serve at a soup kitchen, donate to a clean water project, or donate to a medical charity like Doctors Without Borders.  In this world, we throw away enough food to feed 3 billion people … almost half our planet’s population.  We really can (and should) end world hunger.
  • If you fast from consumerism, consider donating gently used (or unused) clothes to domestic abuse shelters or thrift stores that employ challenged people, volunteer at a homeless shelter or domestic abuse shelter, volunteer at a food pantry.  Often consumerism makes us self-absorbed, so branching out to experience other stories of those who don’t have physical wealth can help us see our own poverty of soul and spirit.
  • If you fast from social media, electronic media, paper media, consider visiting with an older or lonely person in your neighborhood, volunteer at a neighborhood school to help children read, offer tutoring for math or other subjects, or help a teacher grade some papers.  Get out and have actual conversations with flesh-and-blood people.  If you physically cannot get out, pick up a phone.  In our ‘virtual’ world, we often forget how to have conversations out loud and not just at our keyboards or in our heads.
  • If you fast from entertainment, consider giving to organizations that pay for schooling, fund a project for a documentary that brings awareness, volunteer as a coach or coach’s assistant with boys and girls clubs or YMCA.  Too many children in the United States go to school hungry.  I know teachers who work in disadvantaged schools in my city and accept non-perishable food donations so their hungry classroom kids can have a meal over the weekend.  The more-than 200 Nigerian girls kidnapped by Boko Haram remain missing.  Their story haunts me 9 months later.  The terrorist group targeted them because they went to school, sought an educated life.  Many wanted to be doctors, lawyers, teachers to help their communities grow and succeed.  Now some of the girls who escaped are courageously accepting scholarships to continue their studies amidst the threat that Boko Haram will come for their families.  Often we make education entertaining in Western civilization.  We forget what it costs many families in other parts of the world.  Let’s use some of our wealth and privilege to make learning easier for those less fortunate.

The charities and non-profits I’ve mentioned are not exclusive and very possibly not the best ones.  There are so many smaller groups who tirelessly work in their local and global communities.  The ones I mention are a springboard to help us begin to live a life worth living … a life that makes a difference in another’s life.  The more we make a difference in our corners of the world, the more global change has a chance to succeed.

Whether you participate in Lent or not, consider sacrificing to make life better for someone.  However you live, pray for peace in your neighborhood, your community and our world.  Lent is about Jesus’ life and how he lived.  He made the most of his life … so much more than 40 days.  Let’s make the most of our lives.

I welcome comments!  Please keep them respectful and constructive.

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Celebrating Life!

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So since we stand surrounded by all those who have gone before, an enormous cloud of witnesses, let us drop every extra weight, every sin that clings to us and slackens our pace, and let us run with endurance the long race set before us. –Hebrews 12:1 (The Voice version)

I’m not there yet, nor have I become perfect; but I am charging on to gain anything and everything the Anointed One, Jesus, has in store for me—and nothing will stand in my way because He has grabbed me and won’t let me go. –Philippians 3:12 (The Voice version)

This past week, I went to the funeral of one of my mom’s dearest friends.  I used to babysit for him and his wife before they moved out of the Phoenix area.  While my mom kept up with them–through fairly consistent weekly phone calls with his wife–I only heard bits and pieces of news from my mom through the years.  Missions trips, marriages, birth of a baby for the now-grown children; and retirement, travel and spiritual epiphanies for her friends.  Traveling to the funeral, memories from childhood to adolescence flooded my heart.

Funerals gather an interesting assortment of people–people who knew the person from all aspects of his life.  My mom’s friends had started attending a church with Messianic influences several years ago (I don’t know if it’s an official ‘Messianic Jewish’ congregation or not).  They had studied Hebrew and travelled to Israel.  I didn’t know them in this context.  As photos of them and their family scrolled on an overhead, I didn’t recognize the later pictures of their life.  Then, the earlier pictures repeated.  Ah, there was the man I knew.  There were the kids I remembered.  There was his wife whose laugh always sounded so musical.  There was the family I went to the drive-in with during a rainstorm and ate popcorn while watching The Cat From Outer Space.

As people told stories of his influence in their lives, almost all of them (except for his children’s stories) came from people who only knew him in recent years.  They described a man who sounded bigger than life.  A great man.  An encouraging man.  A giving  and selfless man.  His daughter finally spoke and reminded everyone that he was human–with faults and insecurities.

That was the man I knew:  the human one.  Not that he wasn’t a great guy when I knew him; but he hadn’t yet matured into the man these people knew.  He still had edges that needed softening.  His God-given gifts needed some humility and training.  His life in Christ was new and uncultivated.  I recognized a piece of the man his friends described–his best qualities had been well-seasoned with humility over the years.

I thought of another death of a family friend from long ago.  I remember my mom and dad talking about his funeral.  I knew him from a child’s perspective and loved him.  He asked my mom if she would call me ‘Maggie.’  (‘No’ was the answer.  I had to wait until I moved out of the house to take on that nickname.  Another story for another time…)  He was loud, funny and wore bow ties.  At his funeral, his first wife came and said, “You all act like you really liked him.”  She knew him as an unkind alcoholic.  We knew the person he became, and he looked precious little like his former self.

I reflected that night on the conversation my parents had about their other friend’s death, and the conversations I had with family and friends at this recent funeral.  I knew the man he was becoming.  His friends from later years knew the man he became.  I got to see some of the hard-work-of-his-soul.  They experienced the fruit of his journey with Christ.  Together, our memories contained a fullness of his total person.  I began to feel so much joy from the knowledge that he continued to mature and didn’t stay static–even though in my mind he remained a young father.  That joy overflowed through my being as I realized we all have the opportunity to change.  No season of our lives, no event in our lives, no person in our lives has to define our identity.  We can grow.  We can change.  We can become our best selves.  In my belief system, we need the presence of God and the Holy Spirit to develop that identity and constantly revise our thinking to become more like Christ.  We need God to remind us what His image looks like and that all of us carry His imprint. I appreciate the reminder to once again celebrate the people we once were, the people we are now, and the people God has yet to reveal in us.

I grieve my mom’s loss of a friend, his wife’s loss of her beloved husband, his children’s loss of their honored father, his community’s loss of his wisdom and generous spirit.  I rejoice that he now stands with the cloud of witnesses, having run his race well.  I pray we can all live our lives in similar fashion–with integrity, humility, wonder, and reverence–leaving a legacy worthy of celebration!

I welcome comments.  Please keep them respectful and constructive.

 

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Playful Vacations

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This is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies says: Once again old men and women will walk Jerusalem’s streets with their canes and will sit together in the city squares.  And the streets of the city will be filled with boys and girls at play. –Zechariah 8:4-5 (bold for emphasis)

This past week, our family took a vacation with just the 5 of us.  It’s the last one we’ll ever have (and one of the few we’ve taken) before my daughter gets married in April and our family begins to expand.  Since her engagement back in September, I’ve experienced the bittersweet joy of helping to plan her bright future and feeling nostalgic for childhood.  I miss the days of make-believe and playing with dolls, cars, balls, pots and pans.  So much of raising my children involved me getting to play with their toys and entering back into their world of childhood.  As they’ve become young adults and no longer need me as a playmate, I forgot that childlike playing remains important at every age.  Playtime helps relieve stress, combats jaded thoughts, requires silly laughter.  Children don’t carry the responsibility that the adult world forces upon us.

For 5 glorious days, we played.  We walked till our feet could go no more … and then we walked some more.  Riding amusement rides, singing-a-long with princesses and snowmen, laughing ourselves into exhaustion.

For 5 glorious days, I unplugged from technology–leaving my computer at home and only answering calls and texts from my family in the amusement park wondering where I had wandered off to in the crowd.

For 5 glorious days, our friend who works at the amusement park gave us the tour-guide treatment–telling us fun-facts, allowing us to use her discount at the stores, mapping out our day in the park.

For 2 glorious hours, we relaxed on the beach before our flight home. Digging our toes in the sand, listening to the waves as the tide came in, feeling the 80-degree-sun beat on our skin–knowing at the end of the day we’d be back in land-locked Colorado with temperatures in the teens.

So, as I walked toward the ocean confidently in my airplane-ready outfit with my jeans rolled up so I could dip my feet in the cold Pacific, my mind flooded with memories of the 5 glorious days.  Yes, I saw the tide coming in.  Yes, I knew the odds that my clutzy ways just might trip me into the waves.  Yes, I know you shouldn’t try to outrun a wave on shifting sand when you’re not used to the beach.  Yes, I went anyway.  The first large wave just took me off-guard and got my pant legs wet.  Never deterred, I got up and continued walking.  I knew they’d dry before the airport.

Then, the second large wave came with more power, and I tried running uphill …

Without success …

You see where this is going, don’t you?  …

I fell on my butt.  I would have had time to get up and at least just stand there getting my pant legs more wet; but I was laughing so hard at myself–and everyone else was laughing too!–that the wave just washed all over me.  Sand, sea water, denim … there was no way my pants would dry.  Looking through my luggage, I realized the drawback to ‘packing light’:  I only had shorts and t-shirts.  Great for sunny California, not-so-great for snow-packed Colorado.  Well, good thing I almost never get cold.  So, donned with shorts, a t-shirt and my son’s hoodie, we returned home.

Real life.  I heard someone say that we must focus on our mind and the Bible in loving God.  I began to lose my 5 glorious days of playfulness.  Because, once again, all the silenced voices expressed their defeat to me.  The ones who have heard they aren’t smart enough and who struggle with reading the Bible.  The ones who experience the heart of God through empathy, but don’t always have a Bible verse to back up what they feel.  The ones who passionately and sacrificially serve the poor, but haven’t been to Sunday school and don’t know all the stories.  I heard them cry out as the breath was forced from their lungs like a punch in the gut.  Because once again, their view of God was less-than.  Once again, their piece of the spiritual puzzle wasn’t valued.  *sigh*

Perhaps next week I’ll focus on the topic of the Bible’s place in living out the gospel of Christ.

For now, I need to do laundry and maybe rub some sand from my jeans in my hands.  For now, I’ll remember the taste of churros and the thrill of roller coasters.  For now, I’ll envision my 6’5″ body-building 19 year old wearing the oversized, white, padded mouse hands as we frolicked through the park.  For now, I’ll remember the lightness of playing.

For now I am free.

I welcome comments!  Please keep them respectful and constructive.

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Unplugging

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 ‘In Him you are being built together, creating a sacred dwelling place among you where God can live in the Spirit’ (Ephesians 2:22).


Summertime.  I remember the hellishly hot Phoenix summers growing up.  We had a bunch of kids on our street.  We would chase each other through the sprinklers.  Slip-n-slide on our driveway (before the official ‘Slip-n-Slide’ was developed and sold) by letting a hose drench the concrete.  When the ice cream truck sounded its familiar music, we’d run inside for our nickels, dimes, and rare quarters to get a fudegsicle, an ice cream sandwich, or a bomb pop.  Tammy and I would climb their mulberry tree and pretend a flood was rising and we lived like the Swiss Family Robinsons.  We’d play Mother May I and Red Light/Green Light until our mothers called us in for dinner.  After dinner, when the sun finally stopped beating down and the temperatures dropped to under 110 degrees, we’d play Ghost in the Graveyard … until our mothers called us in for bed.  Being the youngest on the street, I usually got called in first.  And was never happy about that!

When the monsoons would come up from Mexico, we’d relish the pouring rain that would refresh some of the intensity of the heat.  After the rains, when water would still rush down the street gutters, we’d ‘race’ popsicle sticks down the rapids.  We saved our popsicle sticks from the ice cream truck treats to make ‘A-bombs’ and ‘H-bombs’ (because it was the 1970s.  I don’t think any of us thought about the political or historical implications of our popsicle stick ‘bombs’)–weaving the sticks together and then throwing them at each other, watching them ‘explode’ on the driveways and sidewalks.

We didn’t know it; but we were a community.  When Dougie’s and Teddy’s parents divorced and they moved out of the neighborhood, our community ended.  Dougie was the visionary and leader of the street.  He organized all the games and activities.  The last activity was the night before they left, all of us got a white t-shirt (probably one from our fathers’ undershirt piles) and a Sharpie.  We congregated out in the street to sign each other’s shirts to commemorate our passing childhood.  We knew things would never be the same.

Community seems elusive as we grow older.  Looking back, I see how much I took for granted in childhood, adolescence and college years.  Group cohesiveness in microcosmic worlds of school, youth groups and activities came naturally.  Even as a mom with young children, I found others like me duking it out in the trenches, and we created community fairly easily.  It’s harder now that Jud and I are entering our 50s (okay, just gotta give an aside:  JUD is 50, I’M only 49).  I long for the days when we had a group of people to intimately worship God and passion to live out His life in our towns.  I’ve grown weary trying to find that community within church walls.

And I think that’s my problem.  I’ve focused on church walls.

I know that church-the-building isn’t Church-the-Bride, as I wrote last week.  But those lines get blurred.  I’ve relied too much on finding Church-the-Bride in church-the-building.  And it scares me to think that I may have to go outside the building to find the Bride of Christ … because I’ve been in the building 49 years.  I want to reconnect with people where together we become a sacred space where God dwells.  I need some time to reflect and remember what it’s like to splash around after a rainstorm in the puddles of the presence of God.

So, this summer, I’m taking some time off.  I’m unplugging for 6 weeks from the internet, blogging and church-the-building life.  I need to remember the carefree summer days full of laughter and sport, full of friends and play, full of popsicles and imagination, full of sun-soaked skin and cool sheets at the end of the day.  I’ll be checking email and in on Facebook from time to time because I still have a part-time job that involves those venues; however, I won’t be posting much.

I encourage all of you to enjoy your summer and rekindle some of the child-like (and -ish) mentality you used to have.  Remember to play … laugh … and dream!

I’ll see you in August!

I’d love to hear from you!  How do you unplug?  What do you want to recapture from childhood summers?

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Conversations Among Friends

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“A friend loves at all times; and a brother is born for adversity” (Proverbs 17:17).

I miss high school, college and my early twenties days.  Oh, don’t get me wrong, I never want to go back to that time.  I don’t miss the insecurities, the drama or the hormones.  I miss the comraderie, the community, the relationships–even the desperate intensity, at times.  While visiting my family in Phoenix, I had lunch with my friend, Jules.  She was a bridesmaid at my wedding 25 years ago.  We had a college class together and attended our small ‘College and Career’ group at church.  She is one of the most accomplished women I know.  One thing she said resonated loudly with me:  It seemed so much easier in college–the passion, the relationships, the bonds.

What happened?

We grew up.  We moved geographically.  Our lives became busy.

In high school and college, no matter how busy or stressed, I always made time for friends.  We hung out at the mall food court, Denny’s-by-the-freeway, Appetito’s, Five Fools, the new frozen yogurt place.  My best friend, Pier, and I used to make ‘midnight runs’ to McDonald’s to get french fries or Wendy’s to get a frosty.  Pier and I went to football games and plays on the weekends, and it seemed we never ran out of things to say or got bored with each other.  If we felt profound, we’d hang at her house and listen to Simon and Garfunkel.

After getting married and having kids, I met with friends at the park, each others’ houses or at McDonald’s play area.  We craved adult interaction.  Sometimes we would run errands together, exercise together or just linger after church.

We shared life.  We wept together.  Laughed together.  Played together.  We became a true community.

Jud and I miss that community.  Life circumstances sometimes lead us to transition.  Somewhere along the way, we lost our community, and now find ourselves trying to get it back.  Problem is, we aren’t the same people we once were, and the social groups that once held great relationships for us don’t satisfy any longer.  Finding deep friendships in our middle years has proven a challenge.  Venturing outside of ourselves, outside of our opinions, outside of our interests takes effort.  Yet, outside of ourselves, deep friendships grow.  Too often, we look for sameness in people–same political views, same social justice views, same spiritual views.  But sameness never has produced the best relationships for us.  Sameness can become a rut and can prevent depth of knowing another person.  I want to enter into others’ stories again.  I believe in reconnecting with forgotten friends and openness to new friends, we will find the community we desire.

I watch my kids with their friends.  They laugh, cry, play together.  They share meals and heartaches.  They treat each other like family.  Many of their friends call me ‘Mom’ out of convenience or because they spend so much time in our home.  I love all of them.  Sometimes I eavesdrop on their conversations and find so much joy in the way they see life and the world.  Their community offers hope to my heart.

I hope that my few deep friendships can become a gathering someday.  Until then, I continue to find joy in my individual friends and know that we have many years of laughing, crying and playing together.

So how have some of you developed deep friendships in your post-child era?

 

 

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