me and America

I’m not sure how to write this post. I’m not really sure of what I want to say. Since the middle of April I have been living in America. I haven’t been here since May of 2014 and that was only for a month of visiting family and celebrating a sister’s wedding. In 2013 we spent the summer in the San Juan Islands of Washington but I was on a remote island with no wifi, no television, and very little interaction with the outside world. So I would say that the last time I really lived in America was the 5 months we spent in Washington when Ayden was born in 2010.

While living in Mexico we follow American news and, to some extent, American politics, but we prefer to get our daily news from the BBC and Al Jazeera. We celebrate Thanksgiving but not Independence Day. We speak English but we don’t keep up with the Kardashians; I’m not even sure who they are and I don’t care enough to google them in order to find out. We only know about new music when someone posts a video on Facebook, the only social media outlet we know how to use. I suppose we live like the expatriates that we are.

I grew up as an expatriate. When I was 6 years old my family moved to central Mexico to plant a church in a small town. We were the only foreigners who lived there for the first few years of our stay and everyone knew us. When my mom walked through the market to buy our groceries with 5 little blonde children in tow women of all ages would reach out and touch our hair as we walked by. We moved back to the U.S. when I was 13 but only for three years. At 16 I was back in Mexico only to turn around at 17 and head back to mid-America where I immediately started traveling outside the U.S to Latin America, Asia, and Europe. I barely had enough time to get my teenage feet planted on American soil before I left again, let alone form a mature opinion on American culture.

I was homeschooled and, living outside the U.S., we studied American history and economics from a distance as though examining a foreign country. I grew up believing in the American dream and that hard work, perseverance, and integrity is the way to build a successful life. (A philosophy that carried my Grandfather to success and one that has been severely challenged in my own life.)  I believed that America was a beacon of hope to those looking for freedom from oppression and that she accepted migrants willingly since the country was built by migrants. I grew up knowing that America was that golden country where the truths were self evident and accepted by its inhabitants: that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain, unalienable rights, among which are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. I grew up believing that in America slavery had been abolished and that men and women of all ethnicities had equal rights and that racism was dead. When I was a teenager I finally learned the national anthem; “Oh say, does that star spangled banner still wave over the land of the free and the home of the brave?” still brings tears to my eyes every time. But I tear up because I have come to realize that America is not the country I grew up believing in. It seems that the only people who believe this is the home of the brave are the ones willing to carry and use guns to prove it. And that is not freedom for those on either side of the gun.

The violence of the past week has broken my heart. Perhaps it is that being in the U.S. now I am hearing more about these senseless and unjust shootings than I would have or maybe there has been more bloodshed over the past few months and it is all adding up. I am beginning to think my heart hurts because I am supposed to fall on my knees over this country that I love and pray for the healing of so many wounds. I want to march in the streets and yell and scream at the unjustness and senselessness of all this killing. I want to close my ears and eyes to the death and move on with my own life. I cannot do either but I can pray for America and believe that Jesus’ kingdom of peace and justice is not that far away and that others are, like me, praying and believing.

Please read the words of another person struggling alongside: D.L. Mayfield’s excellent post In the cocktail party of my life.

 

 

Advertisements

Reflections

I’ve been reflecting on this past year, waiting for some illumination that will allow me to see what it all meant and how to take the next step into 2016 gracefully. As of yet, I have not been given that gift.

It was the most difficult year of my life. That much I can say. It was a “run of bad luck,” a “difficult season.” But what was it all for? Someone asked me recently if I feel that I’ve totally recovered from the stress and I felt the tears sting my eyes. I still ask “why” and wait in the silence. I know that I am recovering and that I am still living with doubts.

There are other things that I know.

I know that the songs that I clung to through the months still sing out truth: You are a good, good Father. I know that I came to know Jesus in a way I didn’t before. His silence slowly became a presence instead of an absence; one that held me. I know that the prayer I prayed in June, when I was calling it a year of blessing – before the miscarriage, before the loss of the roaster, before the anxiety, depression, loneliness, despair – is still true.

Let me be a woman, holy through and through, asking for nothing but what God wants to give me, receiving with both hands and with all my heart whatever that is. ~ Elizabeth Elliot

I don’t have any new year’s resolutions to write out tomorrow. I learned this year that all my carefully laid plans, all my best intentions, my hopes, desires, dreams are not in my hands at all. That trusting is way more than I ever imagined. I know now that walking in grace is not always a comfortable thing. Sometimes it’s like giving birth: painful and joyful and a hell of a lot of work.

It’s not that I am not dreaming anymore. In fact, I know no other way of living but with dreams and plenty of them. It’s just that my heart got wrung out this year and I feel more like slipping into 2016 through the back door, quietly.

When I float my paper lantern out over the ocean tonight it will be with a quiet soul. I am not celebrating the end of this year, even if it was a difficult one. I feel I am moving away from something that is a big part of me without really realizing what that something is; maybe that’s why I’m hesitant to just move on, look to the year ahead.

When I light the candle in my paper lantern and the breeze carries it over the wide ocean I will remember all that this year brought and all that I tried to push away from me with my puny strength. I will remember that it takes constant attention to keep my hands outstretched for whatever God gives. I will remember that I have no idea what 2016 will bring and I will trust that there will be a Presence with me all the way.

 

Quiet (too hot) moments

I promise I won’t spend this entire post complaining about the heat, but I do feel that some of you who read this blog read it to know what is happening in our lives and right now a lot of what is happening is heat. That cool air for which I was so thankful last week has moved on and been replaced by a heat index over 100. Again. To say that I am jealous of the many of you who are watching snowflakes fall gently outside your windows today is an understatement. And just to be clear, I lived through two winters on the plains of Alberta so I do know what winter really is and, yes, I would actually prefer the cold to the heat right now. Somehow sweating through my shirt while hanging Christmas lights at 8.30 in the evening just doesn’t seem right. I tried to make it more enjoyable with ice cold, home made egg nog, but… well, it just didn’t do it for me.

Ok, that’s all I will say about that. Promise.

Since the advent season began last Sunday I have been trying to consciously slow down my heart and thoughts to dwell on the incarnation of Jesus. It is an event so beautiful and yet impossible for me to grasp in its true significance. I keep thinking of the song in Phillipians 2 telling of Christ willingly emptying himself of his glory and coming to earth in the form of a little child, a baby. All I can do is meditate on it, I have not seized any new depth of understanding. While I long for a clearer knowledge, I also am satisfied to dwell on this truth.

Every year I am struck anew by the passages in the Old Testament that tell of the coming Messiah. Followed by the centuries-long silence of a God to his people, then, miraculously, suddenly, joyfully, the promise appears. Anna and Simeon have been waiting their entire lives as so many had done before them, waiting for his appearance and they see it. They know him even as a week old baby, wrinkled up and helpless. I can feel the anticipation building along with the doubt and fear that must have been in the back of people’s minds as they waited and watched for the fullness of time. They must have sat in the quiet moments and asked themselves, “Will I see it? How long will you tarry, oh God?”

I have many quiet moments these days which is something new for me at this point in the season and for which I am incredibly thankful. I sit and dwell on the same questions that somehow become my own as I move into the anticipation of Christmas day. Emmanuel. The name whispers across my mind; Emmanuel, God with us, how can this be? But how I want to know him and see the day when the tears are wiped away and joy is made full.

What are you dwelling on in your quiet moments? Maybe sit down with a cup of tea (hot or iced, depending on where you live…) and share your thoughts.

My Prayer Comes Before You

We are getting ready to open the cafe next Monday. Paint, stain, nails and hammers, coffee orders, boxes, clip boards, all move around at a breakneck speed as we try to get organized for another season. Our fifth season. One would think that we would have figured out by now how to start the season without chaos but somehow it just doesn’t happen. However, opening three days a week for the month of October is a pretty soft opening. We are starting to see a few more white faces around here but it is still very quiet. Other than my neighbor who is grinding rust off his metal door for the 10th day in a row…

I am excited about starting the season. Ben and I did a trip to the big city to buy the things that are too expensive or impossible to find in our little town. The first big shopping trip of the season is always a bit stressful because we don’t really have money to buy the things we have to buy but it is also really exciting because it means that soon we will have paying customers in the door. It’s not just us, either. The highway is getting lines newly painted, hotels around town are repainting and repairing, the abarrotes, or local grocery stores, are beginning to stock more exotic things like ginger and lemons. Soon they will have salted butter and blue cheese; be still my heart! I kind of love this time of year. The excitement is building as people anticipate the return of friends and, let’s face it, money. As much as I hate it, it’s much easier to live with it than without it at this point.

So I am excited about gearing up for the season but there is also a part of me that is nervous, shying away from the hustle-bustle. I remember the moment last year when I decided I could stop thinking about the fear that had troubled me and I willingly closed the door on it. I didn’t think about it or sense its presence during the whole season. But as soon as that season was over, fear was back with a vengeance. This season I can feel myself being distracted from the spiritual journey and I want the distraction. I don’t want to sort through the questions I have; I don’t want to feel the burn of muscle straining up switchbacks. And that scares me. I know that I crave more than anything to be in a safe, open space of freedom and joy, but I am afraid of the work that it will take to get there. I am fighting to create a space each day for “the journey.” I try to silence the busy enough to allow breathing space and, more importantly, listening space. Although my first instinct is to say there is not enough time to stop, I know there is and I must learn to protect that time now because it will only get harder.

I have been enjoying a couple different musicians and this poem during the last couple weeks so I’ll share them with you. Maybe you will be encouraged in whatever place and season you find yourself in.

Audry Assad and United Pursuit – don’t just listen to one song, many of them are really encouraging.

Also, I would just like to take this moment to remind anyone who has forgotten that I have an amazing husband. He is so encouraging and he listens to me and stills me when I need it. I love you, babe.

My Times are in Your Hands

It’s been a long week. It’s been a long two years, if I’m honest. We lost a new roaster and a trailer full of other coffee equipment in October 2013 and we have been fighting a court case for the return of these items since then. In May we were informed that we had won the legal battle and in a few months would be able to go to the border where the items were confiscated and have them returned to us. On Tuesday my husband traveled to the town which holds the nightmares from two years ago and with anxiety and excitement faced them head on.

After all the paperwork was presented with copies for every desk and signatures from every pertinent official, Ben was informed that those items were sent to auction sometime last year. The truck and trailer were there and available but they were empty. It seems the nightmare is not over.

I will be the first to say that there has already come so much good from this experience. Ben and I are closer and have learned how to support and help hold one another through difficult times. We have learned how to look beyond the temporal things and value those things which are truly important such as family, friends, quality of life, and life experiences. We have learned to love beans and rice and cheap wine. We have learned what a dark night is. We have felt poor in spirit and broken. Even these things are gifts, though so much harder to accept.

I have known the presence of a loving God carrying me when I was collapsing. I have heard clearly the whisper of his voice correcting me, directing me, blessing me. I have come to appreciate many words in scripture that before this held little meaning for me.

As the news of this newest development sinks in I find myself in a new place again. It is similar to places I have stopped off at on this journey over the last two years, but it is also distinct. I am fatigued and hopeless. I am stressed to the point of physical breakdown. I am emotionally spent, wrung out, and stretched thin. I am grace empty and stumbling. I am ashamed and proud. I am angry at God, man, circumstances, myself. All these I have experienced along this journey. Call them the valleys.

Only now am I coming so slowly to realize the greatest lesson of all: I do not really know the God I love. I do not fully trust that He is who He says he is and will do that which He says He will do. I cling to promises and remember past faithfulness but I cling because I hope they are true, not because I know them to be. I know Him to be with me always but I do not trust the way He will choose to interact with me along this journey.

This is a mountain to climb. It is a place to start from. It is not the broad place of rest that I had been praying for but after all the slipping and skidding that has brought me to this lonely valley I can rest my feet on this firm place. I want to know this God I love.

Finding time to… worry? Part II

I couldn’t sleep last night. I was worrying. Worrying about all kinds of things… would Ayden’s night cough turn into something worse? Is Willow deficient in some mineral that would enable her to sleep more soundly? Will the dog really protect me if someone breaks into this house? Will I ever learn to stop being so selfish? Will I recognize God’s voice when He speaks? Did I remember to put the chicken in the fridge? I flipped on the light and began to read.The author quoted Annie Dillard’s insight in Teaching A Stone to Talk,

Week after week, Christ washes the disciples’ dirty feet, handles their very toes, and repeats, It is all right – believe it or not – to be people. Who can believe it?

I know that I have not been believing it. I know because when I read that sentence I felt a release, a permission, to just be me: broken, hungry, confused, lonely, tired of striving. Can I really just stop striving and be an imperfect person? I guess that is who Jesus came for: people, just as we are.

Sometimes when I read the Bible I feel inspired to be a better person. Inspired to be more like Christ, to live like the early church, with like abandon and with true love and care for those around me. But recently Paul’s writings make me tired. I am tired of “forgetting what is behind and pressing on toward what is ahead.” Not that I want to stop growing. That is the last thing I want. But I want to stop striving just for a little while.

So I went back to a Jesus story that I love. The scene is early morning, dawn just breaking. Waves lapping at the seashore, a fire crackling in the sand, the smell of wood burning mixed with dew seeping into earth. And there are the disciples – there am I – exhausted and frustrated after a long, sleepless night and all for nothing. There are no damn fish in this sea. I was up all night and have nothing to show for it. And a shadow yells at us to try again. That would probably have really ticked me off. “Hey, mister, what the hell do you think I’ve been doing out here all night?!” I have the benefit of knowing who the shadow is. It is flesh and blood, resurrected, Messiah. Jesus. My heart jumps every time I read it.

But my favorite part is not the miracle of the 153 fish, though I’m sure the disciples were pretty stoked to have them. I like to pause the narrative at breakfast time. When Jesus and his friends are sitting around a fire in the cool of the morning. The sun just beginning to make its way to their cold, sore backs. The breeze carrying that salty, fresh fish smell, mixing it in with the smoke. Then licking fingers while watching in amazement as this friend we thought was gone, the dream we thought we’d lost, calmly sits there in the sand with fish juices running through his beard. And we begin to laugh. Big, deep, belly laughter. And we just laugh and laugh until our faces and sides ache with the laughing.

It’s all so normal. There is no great commission right now, no talk about a couple days ago when I failed to pray, fell asleep instead; or when I betrayed Jesus and ran off in the woods, afraid of the call. There is no need to be anything other than a group of friends sitting around a fire in early sunlight eating and laughing together. Really, is there anything better than that?

There are times when the passion is there, the drive to sacrifice and serve and wear myself out for the world and the call. And there are times when I am tired and worried. It’s all right – believe it or not – to be people. Can I believe it? I think I must, somehow, learn to relax into this. Is there a different kind of growth that happens in this space? Tree roots continue to grow deep into the earth even in the darkness and night. When all is still and quiet and unremarkable, there they are still reaching for ever new life. Maybe growth is sometimes a loud struggle and sometimes a quiet leaning. There is pain and joy in both. Can I believe it? Stop striving, just rest, lean in and relax. Let those roots do their thing while you laugh on the seashore.

Finding time to… worry?

We are house sitting a lovely place with a pool and a view of the ocean. It is so quiet. Too quiet, sometimes. I consider myself a bit of an introvert in that I can easily sit alone and read and write and drink coffee all day. This house is perfect for swallowing books whole. It is ideal for writing enough bad that eventually something good makes its way to the surface. In comparison to the constant television blare from my neighbors, the birdsong here is made for meditation. All of this, however, tends to be almost an impossibility with two littles running around. So we build lego houses, scream and splash in the pool, kick the soccer ball around, clean up spilled milk and smeared play dough, and watch too many videos.

Since we’ve been here I’ve finished an Anne Lamott book and the timing could not have been more appropriate. I need her lighthearted perspective. The way she writes about her faith and the reality that life is awful sometimes and Jesus knows it just as much as we do is refreshing. It is a helpful reminder right now as I look at the world and see murder, suicide bombings, civil wars, the brutality of ISIS, hatred and intolerance in every camp on just about every issue. I am wondering and worrying about how the church in America will choose to move forward after the Supreme Court’s ruling on same-sex marriage. I am watching with disbelief as Donald Trump runs for president. I can’t bring myself to read the transcript from the senior medical director of Planned Parenthood; such callousness frightens me too much. And Franklin Graham’s judgement on Muslims… I just don’t know what to say.

I hardly know what to feel most days, except grief and bug eyed paranoia. But my faith tells me that God has skills, ploys, and grace adequate to bring light into the present darkness, into families, prisons, governments.

Lamott reminds me that sometimes it’s one foot in front of the other, and don’t forget to breathe. And that it’s ok when I can’t find the way to pray; maybe it’s enough to see a cactus blooming or to not yell at my kids. She reminds me to do what I can: be kind, serve those around me, strive for community, pray when possible.

You’ve got to love this in a God – consistently assembling the motliest people to bring, into the lonely and frightening world, a commitment to caring and community.

I am one of the motley crew, no doubt about it.

So here I am in this beautiful, peaceful house and what I am finding is enough time to worry about the world. I am trying to trust in the God with the tricks up his sleeve and quiet my mind long enough to pray in this silence I’ve been gifted. I am attempting to listen and discern why I have been placed in this solitude. I’m pretty sure it’s not for the purpose of worrying.

* Quotes from Anne Lamott’s Plan B, Further Thoughts on Faith