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.

 

 

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Light the Candle

This wee one is coming. Please help me light the way.

I am like a flag unfurled in space,
I scent the oncoming winds and must bend with them,
While the things beneath are not yet stirring,
While doors close gently and there is silence in the chimneys
And the windows do not yet tremble and the dust is still heavy –

Then I feel the storm and am vibrant like the sea
And expand and withdraw into myself
And thrust myself forth and am alone in the great storm.

~ Rainer Maria Rilke

The Shadow

Our Father,we know that Thou art present with us, but our knowledge is but a figure and shadow of truth and has little of the spiritual savor and inward sweetness such knowledge should afford. This is for us a great loss and the cause of much weakness of heart. Help us to make at once such amendment of life as is necessary before we can experience the true meaning of the words, ”In thy presence is fulness of joy.” Amen

The Knowledge of the Holy, A. W. Tozer

The past week has found me in an shadowy place. Something like a valley or the dark overhang of a rock. Maybe on the shore of a still, stagnant pool. My journey has been overshadowed by the terrible news that surrounds me; my meditations have been haunted and distracted by so many events I don’t understand. And, if I am going to be honest here, I have found myself staring into the eyes of a truth I don’t want to face.

It seems every time I pull up the BBC I am confronted with tragedy and pain. It is not mine and it is not personal but it breaks my heart a little bit and catalyzes me to reach out and try to trust a God that I can’t see. I have to sit down and think hard on the things I believe to be true: that God really does so love the world, that the kingdom is here and that it is expanding, that the seraphim and the angels still sing, ”the whole earth is full of His glory.”

Recently I have found it difficult to carry on in the face of fear. Last week I was with the kids on the beach in the fading light of the sun. Behind me there was a slowly growing group of men smoking pot and joking together. It is not uncommon to see and I had two dogs with me, one of which is plenty intimidating when she wants to be. But I heard a comment from one of the men and it made my skin crawl. And it brought back the fear. The fear I lived with for much of last summer. Fear of the unknown and the unstoppable. Fear that made me want to cut ties and run away. Fear that I carried tangibly until the high season started and I became distracted enough to forget. I remember the exact moment when I decided I could cram it down inside and stop thinking about it, stop feeling it.

This week, as I watch the unbelievable become reality in so many parts of the world and with people who I know and love, I have finally put my finger on the painful, shameful reality of what this fear is: fear that God might allow it to be me and my family this time. And I’ve been confronted with the impossible question: do I believe that if something unspeakable happens to me or mine we will still be found in the hands of God?

I cry out with the father of the demon possessed boy, ”I believe, help my unbelief.”

I pray along with Walter Brueggemann,

”Things fall apart, the center cannot hold.”
We are no strangers to the falling apart;
We perpetrate against the center of our lives,
and on some days it feels
like an endless falling,
like a deep threat,
like a rising water,
like ruthless wind.
But you…you in the midst,
you back in play,
you rebuking and silencing and ordering,
you creating restfulness in the very eye of the storm.
You…be our center:
cause us not to lie about the danger,
cause us not to resist your good order.
Be our God. Be the God you promised,
and we will be among the those surely peaceable in you order.
We pray in the name of the one through whom all things hold together. Amen

Prayer in class/January 8, 1998
Awed to Heaven, Rooted in Earth, Prayers of Walter Brueggemann

hike through the storm

Years ago I went to Asia with a group of people to experience God in a different way than I could at home and to see if I could learn from and help the people we met along the way. I was 20 and as most people that age I thought I had a pretty good chance at impacting the world in a positive and probably large scale way. My fellow travelers, for the most part, probably felt the same way. We were excited and proud to be visiting Bhutan, although we had been warned that the church there was underground and we were not going to be able to share our faith as freely as we could in other countries. Our plan was to pray our way through the country; we would walk through the monasteries, markets, and mountains praying for those around us. I felt like a spy carrying top secret information.

Monastery near Thimphu
Monastery near Thimphu

Thimphu was quaint and clean, the hotel was beautiful with intricate architectural design to marvel us. The food was delicious and different. And it was cold. Quite the welcome change from Bangkok’s stifling heat. I was excited to get out of the city and start our 8 day trek that would take us along the border of Tibet (we could throw a couple prayers over the border in passing), through a 16,000 foot pass, and wrap around to the capital again.

The trail leading to Tibet
The trail leading to Tibet

We began the trek in high spirits, laughing and singing along the trails. We felt the burn in our thighs as we climbed in elevation. We took pictures of the children who materialized out of no where with their rosy, chapped cheeks insisting they were on their way to school – we never saw their villages or their schools. And we prayed. We prayed and recited scripture all along the way. It was glorious.

Until the storm hit us. There was enough snow falling that we had to stay together because the trail and our footprints were disappearing so fast. My hiking boots got wet and my fancy wool socks got wet and I got grumpy. When we finally stumbled out way, half frozen, into what would be our camp for the night it turned out the tents and our packs were wet and worst of all, the firewood had gotten wet. Our porters were desperately trying to fan a flame out of a soggy, smoking woodpile. I peeled off my wet socks and climbed into my cold sleeping bag with a hungry belly. I woke in the night lamenting my state of damp frigidness. The next morning I was far from the first days of my self-denying  and devoutly prayerful self and I walked the trail in a fog, trying to piece together any prayer I could that didn’t revolve around my own sorry self.

Our base camp at 14,700 feet
Our base camp at 14,700 feet

Sometimes the journey is like that. Most times, I think, there is probably that point on the trail where we are exhausted and frustrated and just ready to sit down on the hillside with a Snickers bar and that yak and call it good. This week was a bit like that for me. I appreciate that this Lenten season is a journey and this week does not predict next week. We can’t sit in that cleft in the rock for too long; we have to get out and face the weather and hike the mountain. The view from the top of that pass in Bhutan was incredible and I know the view from this Lenten hike will be as well. Let’s keep at it.

We made it.
We made it.

Photos courtesy of Camille Hatton, my lovely sister and one of the youngest people to have hiked that pass.

Preparing for the pilgrimage

Does it seem weird to prepare for a season of preparation? After all, Lent is a time to prepare oneself for the advent of Black Friday and Easter. Yet, I find that if I do not spend an adequate amount of time preparing my heart for Lent I go through the Lenten season just a bit off kilter. So for the last couple weeks I have been praying and searching for direction.

september -arroyo seco 153

It seems that God has burdened my heart with many things in the last month or so. I have found my mind wandering to situations and people and the prayers escape my lips before I even realize they are forming. Prayer is a focus during Lent as we empty ourselves and search for a closer oneness with God. If God has asked me to intercede for friends and circumstances I want to make more time and space, not only in my day but also in my heart. I am so full of my own hopes and plans and doubts that it can be hard to see past myself to concentrate on others’ needs and really listen to know how to pray well, not to mention listen to that sometimes crashing, sometimes whispering Voice.

september -arroyo seco 139

And silence. I am in a constant search for silence and quietness. Especially these days which are our busiest and most exhausting of the season. February hits hard, even after the increased pace of January. It is difficult to find enough space for my mind to stop racing, so how can I meditate? My plan is to carve out whatever time I can so that my overall day is less stimulating. For example, the time I spend online or the show Ben and I watch in the evening or the music I blare during meal prep that causes all four of us to have to raise our voices to be heard. I think the Lenten season needs to be a bit quieter this year.

arbor

I am reading and cherishing prayers written by various authors as well as the tried and true prayers from the Book of Common Prayer and the psalms and prophets. N. T. Wright once compared these well worn prayers to David’s river stones. David did not go out to fight Goliath with weapons of his own creation; he used stones that had been smoothed and worn down by years in the river currents. Sometimes I have my own words to speak but more often I am at a loss for words. These prayers invite me to take part in an age-old flow of intercession; one that continues as a deep current worldwide even now.

What are you planning for this Lenten season? There is encouragement and joy in sharing our road maps with one another.

Books and Websites –
Guerrillas of Grace, Ted Loder
Awed to Heaven, Rooted in Earth, Walter Brueggemann
The Knowledge of the Holy, A. W. Tozer
ESV Daily Office Lectionary
Biola University Lent Project II
Full Homely Divinity – Preparing for Lent

a heavy heart

I live in a little town on the West coast of Mexico. Today we drove over a neighboring town to see my family and I saw those things that comfort me in some strange way: a woman sitting in a plastic chair with two barefoot kids at her side, pulling up the hair of one of her little girls with a bright pink bow. A man holding a small tree cut down, waiting for his woman carrying a machete from across the street. Cars taking turns at fantastic speeds, barely missing the double parked vehicle on the other side of the street. A young, attractive girl fanning the flame in a grill as she cooks her elote to sell for the evening. A dog barking. Christmas firecrackers exploding. Banda music blaring. The neighbors yelling.

All of this, somehow, builds walls up around me. Walls of familiarity, of understanding, of security. Walls and common ground: family, friends, children, grandparents, new babies, the dead remembered, the candles burning. All of this is life here in our little town. La vida cotidiana. Just the dusty streets, the dirty children, the immaculately clean old women sitting in their doorways with their fans because that is what a good life has led them to. And it is good. It’s good.

But on the other side of the world things are not good. In South Sudan people are not waking up because they haven’t yet slept. They are waiting for the violence to start. Or to stop. They are waiting for the unimaginable, the unexpected, the unpredictable. And I look across the room from my cozy, safe, understood corner of life at my baby sister – I read the worry and the pain in her eyes. And her husband, responsible for lives that he is thousands of miles away from… my heart tears wide open as I look at his face.

Last Sunday we celebrated peace, but what happens when there is no peace? What happens when the peace is so far away that it is unfathomable? And I am thankful that my sister and brother are here, safe in my little town, and not in South Sudan in fear, chaos, death – but is that right? Oh God, I don’t understand and I cling to the words written for such a time as this:

Because the poor are plundered, because the needy groan, I will now arise, says the Lord, I will place him in the safety for which he longs.   Psalm 12

 

For the needy will not always be forgotten, and the hope of the poor will not always be forgotten. . .

The Lord is a stronghold for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble. Psalm 9

 

O God, do not keep silence; do not hold your peace or be still, O God! Psalm 83

So tonight I whisper these prayers. I don’t know what else to do and I don’t understand but I hold on to that Truth which I have known – the Light which has known me – I pray and I continue to wait in expectation. Wait and hope that Emmanuel will once more break open the heavens and come down to earth to free the oppressed and the forgotten. O God, do not keep silence…

Stating facts mode

We are ending week three at the cafe and life is busy. Thanksgiving brought extra orders for pies and rolls and we’ve had a few good bread orders. Our daily cafe hours are pretty slow still and yet it always takes a push to get everything in order to open the doors by 8.

I have been hesitant to publish anything here because I am not really able to put thoughts into words at the moment. I am aware that God is working in my heart in a real way; a way that I cannot understand yet. So my lack of understanding keeps me silent. Kind of like Zechariah, John the Baptist’s dad, who was mute for the duration of his wife’s pregnancy. What a lot he had to ponder during those months! His lack of faith, his unbelief, the obvious, growing belly of his wife – an undeniable miracle developing before his eyes.

And perhaps my silence is also similar to the way that Mary gathered things up in her heart. Sometimes I think we are just meant to gather: thoughts, inspirations, prayers, pictures – Spirit breath. Gather and wait in silence for the revelation. Wait in expectation. Just as we gather and light the candle every evening and read the scriptures that for thousands of years have been pointing like the North Star, pointing Home. I don’t feel capable of holding all the loose strands and I look for the moments of silence and pause so I can touch them again and remember that I am waiting. Expecting.

But for now I am in “stating facts” mode:
Ayden is starting to speak a few Spanish phrases and Willow is starting to understand more of this “new” language.  Ayden is much more intelligible now in English and we are frequently surprised by his thoughts. Willow, who has always been good at communicating on a bare needs level, continues to do so. Her screams are pitch perfect every time.
We have been out and about to a few beaches and some of our favorite restaurants. The ocean is the perfect temperature right now! The kids love the water and both re fairly confident in it.

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Family starts trickling in next week and it will be so good to see them! We are so blessed to have another year with all of us together.