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Monday, November 16, 2015

A Bullet With Your Name On It

Well, I just hope. . .that one of those refugees coming soon to a town near you doesn't have a bullet with your name or a family members name on it. he said.

I stared at the screen in shock. I'd been scrolling through a student's Facebook posts on my work Facebook page when I ran across a photo of a oversized horse sculpture with the words Syrian Refugees on the body and the words ISIS on its head. I read the caption, the post was not originating with the student but they had re-posted it. It read In light of the fact that at least three of the terrorists in France have been identified as Syrian, we must ask if the Syrian refugees are fleeing from terror or if some of them are bringing the terror.

As I read the comments, someone mentioned a Trojan Horse, which referred to the sculpture. Not being familiar with the metaphor, I looked it up, and understood that the post was referring to their perceived idea that the Syrians were using the refugee situation as a cover to infiltrate and destroy countries. Being raised in the Middle East, my instant reaction was one of indignation and anger. I found myself trembling as I typed out an answer that I hoped would help the student to understand that a blanket statement such as that was outrageous and unacceptable. The student didn't reply but one of their friends began to challenge me.

In my first answer, I said I felt it was a sad conclusion to make, that each country including the US has citizens that make poor choices. In the US, there are regular school shootings but that doesn't make every American a potential shooter. I recommended they thoughtfully search to understand more about the Syrian refugees and would find most of them are innocent families fleeing a horrendous war that has overtaken their country. I shared an article that talked about their humanity.

The person's reply was combative, basing it on their experience in the Middle East, and questioning my assumptions. I assured them that I too had lived in the Middle East and I apologized for their poor experience. Then he replied with the statement I began the post with. The shaking increased. Who was this person, with such hatred in their hearts, that they painted an entire region black due to prejudices?

I love that America fights wars for justice. I love that America is concerned about the women and children and goes in to rescue those trapped between countries in war, whether or not they are their own. I don't love this mindset, though, that America is superior to other countries.

As I pondered the person's replies, a thought came to mind. This must be how God feels when His character is misrepresented. When Satan influences events and horrible things happen, we tend to instinctively blame God because He didn't protect us or we believe He allowed the things to happen. The Syrian refugees should not be blamed for the Paris attacks. Those attacks were carried out under the influence of Satan. The Syrian refugees are fleeing similar horrors in their home countries. I imagine God's heart must break as He longs to comfort the children, the women, the men, who are frightened and scared and will risk death for freedom and safety.

Another thought was close behind. I am ready to take the bullet. I don't want to die. I want to live and be happy and help others as much as I can. I don't believe every refugee family is a potential terrorist. I hope that regardless of the situation, I can take ahold of God's strength and say Let them come, let us show them God, and if after they have seen His love they choose to harm us, then we die serving Him.

Jesus made this decision over 2,000 years ago. He stood there, silent, in the garden as His closest friend and the angry rabble came, accusing Him, betraying Him, despising the gift of salvation He offered them. He stood there, silent, as they shoved the sharp thorns on His head, crudely twisted into a crown, as they mocked Him. He lay there, silent, as they pounded long steel nails into His gentle hands, then thrust the cross heavily into the ground. He hung there, silent, as they gathered below and jeered at Him, laughing at His ripped and torn body, sneering in their self-righteous selves.

The words He spoke were simple. Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do. He knew but they didn't, the significance of what was happening. He knew they were choosing to reject Him and even in His agony, He still pitied them. This was love at its heart. Love that gave all in return for nothing.

I am getting ready to return to the Middle East next year. I am well aware that a bullet can end my life even though where I will be is removed from immediate danger. Nothing is guaranteed except for this. This is life eternal, that they may know Thee and Jesus Christ Whom Thou has sent. John 17:3 This is what I need to share.

Saturday, November 7, 2015


He ran as fast as his miniature legs would take him, the pint-sized boy dressed in a Seahawks jersey and blue jeans. His little hands grabbed the door handle and hurriedly opened it, so excited to enter he nearly tripped over his own feet. The door flew open and he rushed in shouting, "Papa! Papa!"

In the corner of the living room sat a rather important man. President of the National Council for American Indians and Native Alaskans (NCAI), he represented Native Americans across the United States. He regularly met with the United States president, had an office in Washington D.C., and was passionate about affirming the Native American cultural heritage and advocating for healthy environments where the young people could thrive.

Yet to the sandy-haired toddler, none of that was as important as one thing. Papa was home and he was going to see him. He ran up to his grandpa and scrambled into his lap. Soon he was regaling him with tales of his morning at preschool and the two of them laughed at a funny story. The tot held his grandpa's face between his baby hands, ensuring attention only on him, as Papa listened intently. Then a cousin called from the other room, the boy slid off his grandpa's lap to play cars, and the moment was seemingly forgotten.

Except by me.

How often, when I see the interaction between child and parent or grandparent, I think of the relationship my heavenly Father longs to have with me. Trusting young ones, like my little friend, are confident that their parent/grandparent is as excited to share life with them as they are to live it. They don't question their value or self-worth. They don't wonder if they need to have clean hands and freshly laundered clothes before they can sit on their parent's lap. They simply run into their grandparent's arms, knowing they are loved without question.

In the same way, the King of the Universe waits for me to run into His arms and experience His love. God's love is unfailing, abundant, great, a covenant, eternal, enduring, faithful, everlasting, good, rich, patient and kind. (Ex. 15:13, Ex. 34:6, Num 14:19, Deut. 7:9, 1 Kings 10:9, 1 Chron. 16:34, Ps. 89:24, Ps. 103:17, Ps. 109:21, Ps. 145:8, 1 Corinthians 13:4). Just as a little boy knew his Papa loved him, I can be assured that my heavenly Father loves me.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

The Reluctant Stayer

I am contemplating a move back to one of my home countries. It's a strange thought. They say you can never go home again but maybe that's not true. Oddly enough, just as I'm getting my life in order, I reach out for uncertainty once more. I have my master's degree, I have finally figured out how to have an orderly room, I'm steadily working my way through crafts/books/movies, and I know how life works. Except that is the curse of the TCK, isn't it? Or perhaps the global nomad, now that I am grown. Once life seems to settle, we become unsettled and search for change as a means of entering into the familiar. For us, change is life.

As I carefully dusted my bedroom/living space this evening, a sudden wave of sadness hit. I realized that if my plans came to fruition, I would soon take to the skies with just one suitcase in each hand; all my earthly belongings vacuum sealed into those oblong packages. I would not have the luxury of an ocean shipment, or perhaps shipments travel by air now, I'm not exactly sure. It's been 17 years since our last delivery of cardboard boxes, each carefully marked with a number such as 3/52 (52 being the total) and a brief description thick black inked on the side.

I would have to take the essentials, such as clothes, shoes, and perhaps a small photo album. I would not be able to jam in my fair trade elephant and giraffe set from California, my miniature wooden elephant with a rolling ball in its tummy from a street market in Ireland, my beautiful blue ceramic tea set from Taiwan, my handmade couple sitting on a log from my student in South Korea, my child-size porcelain tea cup from a boot sale in England, or my vintage decorative wooden clogs from the Netherlands. My most recent addition, an intricately hand carved wax candle from Holland, MI, would have to stay behind.

For a brief moment I asked myself, What is more important? Possessions or People? I caught myself reacting in pain as my instinctive answer was the first. I knew why I thought so. Even though the summer threat of wildfires had been of little concern, as I'd blithely said, Let it all burn, and simply packed a small bag with essentials and a childhood stuffed toy, now I found myself wanting to hold tightly to it all. The material was not what mattered. The memories they represented did.

The fair trade elephant and giraffe set I found at a little stall in the Galleria Mall when it had newly opened. I picked them up, carefully examined them for nicks, then counted out my dollars. I was still in the frugal stage, saving up to complete graduate school debt-free, so spending money was a luxury. Yet I knew I had to buy these pieces for even though I'd never been to the parts of the African continent that they came from, they represented a piece of my African heritage that I cherished. I was born and raised on the African continent in three countries by the age of 15.

My miniature wooden elephant was sitting on a shelf in a small shop in the street market my best friend and I discovered on our journey through Europe last summer. We stepped in briefly to sample cheeses then realized we'd entered a place of delightful sensory experiences and wandered around slowly, touching, tasting, and smelling. The small shop with the elephant had an array of wooden curios but the little elephant was affordable and would travel well as we still had several countries to visit and limited space in our carry on bags.

I picked up the ceramic tea set in the airport in Taiwan. Somehow the night market was the only souvenir place I visited on my whirlwind 5-day trip to see my sister that spring so the airport was my last resort for Asian gifts. I spotted the tea set and instantly knew it belonged on my bookshelf. It reminded me of the time 10 years prior, on our first visit to Taiwan, when we'd sat on the floor in a kind person's house and he'd served tea to all the touring choir members. It was a cold night and the small cups filled with steaming herbal fragrance cheered our hearts.

That same year I left home for the first time, traveling halfway around the world to teach little ones how to speak English and adults about God. One of my students made little figurines as a hobby; fashioning them out of a feather-light substance and carefully painting each detail in bright colours. At our end-of-the-semester party, she presented me with a young couple on a log. I took it with high hopes that one day, it would be my story. I am still waiting. . .

The porcelain tea cup must have cost me 25 pence or maybe a pound at the most. I loved shopping at boot sales, looking for the bargains, handing over the British coins and relishing the fact that they had not yet adopted the euro as their currency. It was the last time I stayed at my grandmother's house, before life got difficult and I no longer visited the place and the people I'd called home. I climbed the stairs slowly, remembering how I'd sit on the bottom as a child and listen late at night through the door to the adults talking in the next room. I breathed in the damp English air as I burrowed deep into my borrowed jacket. I packed the porcelain cup carefully, stepped into my father's car, buckled my seat belt, and we drove down the street and turned the corner, passed the fish and chips shop, and then it was all gone.

I watched the man carving my miniature wooden clogs at the famous cheese market in the Netherlands one year. After the cheese selling demonstration and a sample of traditional Dutch cheese, I found a crowd gathered around the artisan as he engaged in his age-old trade. Though pricey, I willingly paid for the clogs that would take a place of prominence in my display of knick-knacks. That day I breathed deep of salt air and listened to my grandfather speak in his thick Dutch accent. My grandparents learned English so they could communicate with us and I was forever grateful we could share language and not just genetics.

This summer I visited the Dutch village in Holland, Michigan, where I was fascinated by the trademark carved candles in ornate rich designs. A candle purchased more than 30 years prior had traveled the world with our family and early that year had made one final trek from a previous overseas home where a friend had purchased it cheap at a leaving sale. The candle had returned to me in a full circle way. Yet it was battered and bruised from its travels so I chose a beautiful new candle to create my own tradition. Now I fear I will have to leave it behind before I've had a chance to create memories.

I read an article just today about Stayers and Goers. I have been a Stayer for 17 years. There have been brief periods of Going, a week here, a summer there. Yet each time I returned to the somewhat familiar. Now I consider becoming a Goer. It has been a long time coming, I sense it is the right time and yet I'm sad at what it means. To be a Goer means I am no longer a Stayer. It will take time for me to settle my roots, to purchase little mementos that capture a slice of precious memories, to know I can trust those in my life with my story. I am worried that I'll forget the stories from this life because my heart cannot hold much pain or sadness and will compartmentalize these 17 years as it did the years before. I can see myself going through the grieving process and I am sad that this is my reality now. I know I must leave because this place has never felt like home but I worry that the next place won't be home either.

For the global nomad, the TCK, the restless wanderer, there are many pieces that represent life. One of those pieces are the belongings that lend a sense of belonging in a frame of time. Perhaps I will one day be marking cardboard boxes with thick black ink, knowing that inside I've placed carefully wrapped stories of who I am and who I was. Perhaps some of those pieces will arrive fractured or shattered or be stolen along the way. I must learn to hold them lightly even as I learn to assign identity to my persona and not the possessions I can feel and see. Each piece is valuable and holds memories, but none of them can replace the people.

Should I ask myself that question again, Which is more valuable, possessions or people? I hope my heart will echo instinctively, the people. For it is the possessions that reflect the people, each reminding me that who I was and who I am is because of each person in my life. And that. . .is worth letting go.