Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Syria and Abraham, a perspective

I've been following the Syrian refuge crisis, as many of us have. My heart has broken again and again as I've seen photos of babies the same age as my son washed up dead on the shores and footage of one of those refuges helping perpetrate mass murder in the streets of Paris. So much death.

Now people who once called for countries to take in those poor refugees are petitioning their governors to keep them out of the US. How could we possibly take in 10,000 Syrians? Even if 99.9% of them were the nicest people on earth and only one-tenth of one percent were radicals or at high risk of being radicalized, that's 10 potentials terrorists on American soil. By any measure of National Security, that's not smart.

Since the Paris attacks, I've scrolled through social media and seen the reaction, and counter-reaction, and over-reaction. And I've seen the idiotic memes gleefully rooting for Russia to nuke Syria off the map.

More death will not heal the pain of death.

I've been thinking about wars, and terror, and babies. And also, a little bit about Abraham, father of us all - Muslims, Christians and Jews alike.

Then Abraham approached [the Lord] and said: “Will you sweep away the righteous with the wicked? What if there are fifty righteous people in [Sodom]? Will you really sweep it away and not spare the place for the sake of the fifty righteous people in it? Far be it from you to do such a thing—to kill the righteous with the wicked, treating the righteous and the wicked alike. Far be it from you! Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?”
The Lord said, “If I find fifty righteous people in the city of Sodom, I will spare the whole place for their sake.
Then Abraham spoke up again... “What if only forty are found there..What if only thirty...twenty...what if only ten can be found there?”
He answered, “For the sake of ten, I will not destroy it.”
Genesis 18:23-26, 32b

I know, it's not the same. No one from Sodom or Gomorrah was scribbling Jihaddist messages on Abraham's tent wall. But I can't help but notice that for 10 good people, he was willing to let thousands of bad men keep on being very bad. And for the posibility of 10 potential threats, we're willing to let thousands be destroyed. 
I understand why Americans don't want "those people" here. Believe me, I get that it's not necesarily in our nation's best interests. But I also know that for Christians, our primary allegience isn't to the USA. As Saint Paul said to the Philippeans, "Our citizenship is in heaven." It is from there we await someone to save us. This nation we belong to does not put its hopes in the latest and greatest military advancements; it trusts in the name of the Lord. Our duty as citizens is to love our neighbors as ourselves no matter who moves in next to us.
Instead of letting our pain and anger propell us to rachet up the atroceties in the name of vengance, maybe we could instead fight hate with the only thing that ever works: radical and fearless love. 
Let us treat people with compassion no matter their nationality or religion. Let us mourn with all the mothers who have lost children to this insidious hatred. And let us, like Abraham, be the voice that pleads for life. 


Thursday, May 28, 2015

Graduation Day

One day, we thought, when we have our own house and good jobs, once we’ve started a family of our own and the kids are in kindergarten, sometime years from now when we’re well established and financially stable – we’ll bring Gabriel and Juli to the US to finish high-school or go to college. Won’t that be nice of us?

We had only been in the States for a few months. We were working temp jobs as we searched for something permanent, maybe even with benefits. As we tried to get our feet under us, my parents generously allowed us to live in their house rent-free. Oh, and I was just starting my second trimester.
Someday, we thought. Someday we’ll get back into missions. Someday we’ll be in a position to help our family back in Nicaragua. Today we’ve got a pretty full plate though, so not this day.

We have enough to do; we couldn’t possibly help anyone else.



Except every time we called home it seemed the situation was a little bit worse. Gabriel kept talking about quitting school and getting a job to help support the family. In every picture on Facebook, he was a little bit skinnier. We would talk to their dad for an hour of everything’s fine, everyone’s doing great, only to find out at the end of the call that there was no food in the house.

Day 1
Sometimes Jesus calls softly, gently encouraging you to follow Him. Other times He comes right up to you with a bullhorn against your ear.

So we stepped out into the open air in the faith that God would teach us to fly before we splatted into the ground. And He did, of course. He led us directly to an amazing school which already had a heart for international students. That isn’t so say this hasn’t been a massive slog at times, but there have been miracles too.

The brother of one of the school parents donated $4,000 worth of dental care so Gabriel could eat again without pain. When he got hurt in gym class, an orthopedic surgeon from our church stepped in a fixed him up. And then there are the countless tiny miracles of teachers and tutors who showed mercy to a boy who struggles with English.

He didn’t drop out of school. He doesn’t do backbreaking labor for 23 cents an hour. Gabriel just graduated 8th grade from one of the best schools in the nation.

Give praise to the Lord; His love never fails.

Graduation Day
As we sat waiting for the graduation ceremony to start, I looked back at the past couple of years. We now have that house of our own and steady jobs. I can’t brag about our financial security but we’re all fed and clothed. All fed. That kid who came to us wasting away is big and healthy and strong.

We weren’t ready. We weren’t prepared. We did it anyway because Jesus was calling.

We met Gabriel in the middle of the stage to give him a hug and walk up the center aisle for a photo (that I’m sure I sprouted several extra chins for). And then we sang the benediction which totally wrecked me:

Go, My children, fed and nourished, Closer to Me:
Grow in love and love by serving, Joyful and free.
Here My Sprit’s power filled you; Here his tender comfort stilled you.
Go, My children, fed and nourished, Joyful and free.

-Go, My Children, With My Blessing by Jaroslav Vajda

What is God calling you to do? 

Friday, March 13, 2015

Broken City - Part 2

For part 1, click here

Many of you may know that one of my favorite people in the whole world was my piano teacher growing up, John Kennedy. In addition to being our church’s music director and patient teacher of little girls, he was also a police officer. My sister and I loved when he showed up for lessons in his full uniform and he would show us all the things that he kept on his utility belt (except his gun, obviously). Thanks to John, I learned from a very young age that cops are kind people who drink barrels of coffee and will help you and protect you.  

Years later, while driving home from a Wednesday night worship service outside Managua, our motorcycle suffered a flat tire a few blocks from the church. All the vulcanizaciones (tire fixing places) were already closed but thankfully Eli’s brother David, the pastor of the church, offered to give us a lift home. We heaved the bike into the back of his truck and piled in among the other 12 people already in the vehicle. About a mile later, as you might expect, the truck also had a flat. Like clowns in a clown car, we streamed out to the side of the road and the more useful among us started to change the tire. A police officer on a motorcycle of his own pulled up behind us.

Everyone immediately tensed up. Even the children got quiet.

We were all as bland and polite as possible but no one breathed until he finally left. In Nicaragua, when the police show up, everything automatically becomes less safe.

I hate that feeling. I hate being afraid of the cops. Cops are good and decent people with families who will give you a turkey for Christmas dinner. Or at least they should be. And it’s all the more reprehensible to me when they are not.

Yesterday, I read the report on the Ferguson Police Department by the Department of Justice. 102 pages of absolute kick you in the teeth lambasting of the FPD. In case you don’t have time to read a 102 page report, I will summarize its contents in 6 words: you guys are greedy, racist, d***s.

I know, depending on your political slant, you may be saying that the Attorney General has an agenda and there are perfectly reasonable explanations for why blacks are stopped more often than whites. Maybe you don’t agree that the whole department is racist. I’m not willing to say that every single person that works there is a racist but it’s also pretty hard to say race was not a factor in their behavior at all. They sic’d their dogs on black people and only black people. On black children. Sickening.

But my point is not to argue for or against the charges of racism in the report. Let’s take that out of the equation altogether. It’s still a stunning indictment of greedy jackassery and institutionalized abuse of the weak and poor – bullies with badges and gavels.

I am not a lawyer and cannot cite pages and pages of case law as the DOJ did. I am a nerd, so I will cite Spiderman: with great power comes great responsibility. That’s why this situation is so wrong and why you see rage flowing in the streets of Saint Louis. People with great power did not exercise responsibility or compassion. They did not use it to protect their community or serve its people. They used their power to demean, mistreat and humiliate. They used the police force like mob enforcers to squeeze every last penny from an already impoverished and vulnerable population. You can only beat people for so long before they rise up against you.

With 102 pages of injustice boiling my blood and filling my spirit with profound sadness, I went to chapel.  I believe that God is still speaking to us through his word but somehow I’m always blown away when it really happens. The reading for the day was Isaiah 61, the verses Jesus used to announce the beginning of his ministry on this earth. 

As I listened to the ancient words, I thought of the residents of Ferguson. And Jennings. And Pine Lawn. And Overland and all the tiny municipalities burdened by poverty and oppression.

The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me,
    because the LORD has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
    to proclaim freedom for the captives
    and release from darkness for the prisoners,
to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor
    and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
    instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
    instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
    instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
    a planting of the LORD
    for the display of his splendor.
They will rebuild the ancient ruins
    and restore the places long devastated;
they will renew the ruined cities
    that have been devastated for generations.
Strangers will shepherd your flocks;
    foreigners will work your fields and vineyards.
And you will be called priests of the LORD,
    you will be named ministers of our God.
You will feed on the wealth of nations,
    and in their riches you will boast.
Instead of your shame
    you will receive a double portion,
and instead of disgrace
    you will rejoice in your inheritance.
And so you will inherit a double portion in your land,
    and everlasting joy will be yours.
“For I, the LORD, love justice;
    I hate robbery and wrongdoing.
In my faithfulness I will reward my people
    and make an everlasting covenant with them.
Their descendants will be known among the nations
    and their offspring among the peoples.
All who see them will acknowledge
    that they are a people the LORD has blessed.”
Isaiah 61: 1-9

This is the word of our Lord.
Thanks be to God. 

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Well This is Creepy

I have this image in my mind of our family as Mom and Dad and our three kids. But that is, of course, largely an illusion since all the kids who don’t regularly poo themselves in public aren’t biologically ours. And while I do not mean to suggest that our particular genetic combination causes public turd squirting, the fact remains that Eli is not Juli and Gabriel’s dad – he’s their brother. And I am not related at all.

This is kid I remember!
Here’s the problem with brother vs. father: Eli and Gabriel aren’t, relatively speaking, all that far apart in age. And now that Gabriel is about to turn 16 and is decidedly no longer the little goofball eleven year old I first met, suddenly there are two men living in my house who look exactly the same. When one of them walks into a room, I can no longer tell with my peripheral vision which one it is.

It’s totally creeping me out, you guys!

I’ll just be sitting innocently on the sofa, reading a book, and a guy will stroll in. “Hey baby,” I will say, “Did you fla-flanging…you’re not baby.”

*awkward pause*

Seriously, I cannot stress this enough – one of them is my husband and the other one is super NOT. What. The. Crap.

Ummmm like, does this HAPPEN to other people?? All you mom’s with grown sons out there – does your offspring look so much like his father that a cursory glance can no longer tell them apart? Does that totally skeeve you out??

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Faith Like Thomas

As I’m filling out an insane amount of forms to get all three kids enrolled in their respective educational institutions, I came across this part of one of the financial aid applications: “how will you use your time, talent and resources for the betterment of our school community?”




Oh man, I can’t stop laughing.

*ahem* Ok, I’m better now. *giggle*. Whoops, ok now.

Obviously, since I’m begging for financial aid, this isn’t the kind of question to answer truthfully. And while I’m thinking up some diplomatic-sounded formulated piece of bull$hit, here’s the real answer.


I solemnly promise to volunteer for every single mandatory volunteer opportunity that I can’t weasel out of. And I will quickly glance at and even quicker discard all the emails soliciting donations for bake sales and student breakfasts and whatever the hell else it is that pintrest moms have the time to create in magical ways. I’m not one of those moms.

At least someone has the spirit
of volunteerism!
I promise to work my butt off and use my resources in the scrimp-iest, save-iest way possible. We will eat most of our meals at home and on the occasions that we go out, we will order the cheapest thing on the menu and no one will be allowed to get a soda. And my stomach will drop every time I see the dreaded words “lunch charges” or the kids growing out of their uniforms. Also, I will resent the living crap out of the fact that just turning in one of these financial aid applications cost me $30. Thanks, unnamed high school, thanks very much.

And as for talents, I’m not sure exactly how my encyclopedic knowledge of random trivia and ‘90s commercial jingles will better the school community but you’re welcome to it!

Really, what I’m contributing to the community is my kids. At least two of whom are real, live, walking around reminders that not everyone lives their life in a posh, comfy, upper middle class American way. I’m putting into your classrooms people with a different kind of faith – the faith of Thomas. He gets a bad rep for being a big old doubty pants, but when he couldn’t just hear and accept, Jesus honored that and showed up.  I’m not trying to say they are doubters, what I mean is that my kids don’t believe in God because they heard about him in church; they have experienced with their own bodies His miraculous provision. Here are the Least of These in the Greatest of Kids sitting in front of you with pencils at the ready.

So please give us scholarships so we don’t have to eat like we’re still in Nicaragua!

Oh and watch out for Troy, he is also a joy and treasure, but sometimes he bites. 


Monday, September 29, 2014

Love Amid the Pews (a photo essay)

Hark! What apparition of divine beauty doth
appear before mine wondering eyes?

Thou art more lovely than the dusky jewel twilight.
I must embrace thee, maiden fair!

Do not spurn my affections beloved!
Alas, I have frightened you with my ardor.

Teach me the gentle path to your heart, sweet butterfly

"For saints have hands that pilgrims' hands do touch,
and palm to palm is holy palmers' kiss"

Ok bye!

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Books I Have Known and Loved

You may have seen, going around Facebook, lists of the top 10 books that have stuck with you. I have really enjoyed reading people's lists - they fit each person so exactly! I posted my list without any explanation and without really thinking too hard about it (as per the instructions!). But now I have thought about it more, and I know better why these are the ones that stuck with me.
So if you'll indulge me, here is my list. Again. And with way more words beside them.

1. Peace Like a River - Leif Enger

This is not at ALL the kind of book I normally read. It's set in America in the 50s (or thereabouts) and involves a faith healer and a fugitive son. But my mom read it and recommended it as some of the best prose she'd ever read. And it sure is. I have so many of the lines highlighted in my kindle and have read them over and over. The story is good, don't get me wrong, but the way he uses words is simply magical.

2. Enchantment - Orson Scott Card 

Now this, on the other hand, is EXACTLY the kind of book I normally read. It's a re-telling, re-imagining of an old familiar fairy tale (Sleeping Beauty). What I like best about the book isn't just a cool twist on an old story, it's that Card skillfully uses it as a platform to tackle much larger issues like faith, parenthood, marriage and cultural adaptation. This is also a book with a great deal of highlighting.

3. Love Wins - Rob Bell

This is probably the most controversial book on my list. If you don't like it, that's ok with me. I don't agree with 100% of what he says. This book challenges head-on the established church story of Jesus' purpose and what happens at the End. I read this book around the same time as I was in a very wonderful bible study in Denver. We threw out everything we "knew" about the Bible except for two things: God is good; and if it's in there, there's a reason. We tore into the scriptures, no holds barred. And they held their own. I at least came out of that experience a profoundly better person.
I guess if you feel up to a pretty hefty challenge, read this book!

4. Remember Us - Martin Small

This book made me cry my eyes out - worse than Harry Potter. It's the true story of a remarkable holocaust survivor. My Aunt and Uncle actually knew him in real life. It's more than a story about one man, though (as cool as he was), it tells of a whole culture that is no more. A peaceful civilization of light and learning was utterly destroyed by evil. 
It's a hard book to read but so very important.

5. The Year of Living Biblically - A.J. Jacobs

What would it look like to actually follow all those obscure rules and laws in the Bible? One guy with a very understanding wife decided to find out. The book is hilarious and thought-provoking. Jacobs is a non-practicing Jew but handles even the most ridiculous bits with a surprising amount of respect. I particularly love the bit when he has to stone someone. 

As a side note - I am SOOOOO tempted to end each and every entry with "but don't take my word for it!" Oh Reading Rainbow, how I love thee! 

6. Dave Berry's Book of Bad Songs

Ok this book does not provoke thought like the previous several. It's silly and wonderful. I remember my mom re-reading it to me right after I had surgery. It's a book that makes me happy. But if, for some reason, you really like Neil Diamond, you probably shouldn't read it. Also, we can't be friends anymore. 

7. The Name of the Wind - Patrick Rothfuss

Of all the fantasy books ever written, Tolkein is king. Like for all time. That being said, this book is really good. It's supposedly the first of a trilogy but who is Rothfuss even kidding? This series will go on for a while. And that's cool with me. It has compelling characters, a vivid world, and great writing. It's another well underlined, oft read tome in my kindle. 

8. When Helping Hurts - Steve Corbett

Seriously, these are in no particular order except the order in which I remember them. Thematically, this should probably be up with the thinkin books. Whatever. This is a book about poverty and the American church's response to it. Sometimes what we do in our enthusiasm and ignorance causes a great deal of damage to the people we want to help and even to ourselves. It's a book I highly recommend every single church read together before embarking on any kind of local or international mission project. 

9. Lost to the West - Lars Brownworth

Hello, my name is Liz and I'm a huge history nerd. 
Back in my bored housewife days, my friend John Matthews got me hooked on a wonderful podcast called Hardcore History (by Dan Carlin). At the end of his shows he recommends a book, generally in the same theme as the show. This was one of those recommendations. It's actually a book that I read with my ears instead of my eyes (as Uncle Jim would say) but that still totally counts. Anyway, it's a history of the Eastern half of the Roman empire which endured for a really long time after the Western half ate a fistful of Gothic steel. It's an area of history I knew practically nothing about and my word did Brownworth spin a great yarn! Not only it is a great story, but the connections to the European history we usually hear about and even the modern world will blow your mind. 
I love it when someone else reads the boring text books for me and just tells me the story. Also, check out that podcast. It's great!

10. The Hobbit - J.R.R. Tolkien

So remember how I said Tolkien is king? I meant it! Also, I had forgotten this was on the list. Or I would probably would have mentioned it here and not above. Hmmm. Anyhow. The Hobbit isn't the greatest of his works, or the best fantasy book there is. It is, however, the first one I ever read. Actually, Mom read this book to Pam and me when we were little. It opened up a whole new world for me. This was pretty much my gateway drug - the beginning of my love affair with A Song of Ice and Fire, the Wheel of Time and other super nerdy awesome books. 

So there it is. If we have learned anything is it that I am SUCH a huge dork. And if we have learned two things it is that you should read to your kids. So many of the books I love and remember I first heard in my mom's voice. 

Thanks Mom!