Monday, January 30, 2017

To Be a Foreigner

I've been called 老外 “foreigner” for 20 years of my life. It's a significant part of my identity and probably always will be. Even though we've been living in the land of my birth again these past 1 ½ years, and my light-colored skin easily blends in with other Americans, it actually still feels kind of strange that no one sees me as an outsider here.

Because of my years of living overseas, I will always know what its like to be an outsider. To not know the language. To not get the jokes. And to be forever grateful for kind strangers who extended their hands to help. Who picked up my carrots from the ground when my thin plastic bag ripped on the way home from the market. Who smiled at my children. Who welcomed me and my family into their homes. Whether or not they had a good impression of America, we had friends who saw us as individuals. Who chose not to judge or label us. Who got to know who we were behind our big noses and beneath our skin that was a different color.

When I was the foreigner who was welcomed, I resolved that I too wanted to welcome foreigners—of a different culture and religion--in the same way that I was welcomed. Now "at home" in my birth country, I long to extend a hand of welcome to those who are called "foreigners" here.

One of the commands God gave the Israelites before they settled in their own land was: "You must not oppress foreigners. You know what it's like to be a foreigner, for you yourselves were once foreigners in the land of Egypt." (Exodus 23:9) 

President Trump's recent immigration and refugee bans seem so completely wrong, and I have felt heartsick over the implications.

I agree with what Pope Francis has said: “It’s hypocrisy to call yourself a Christian and chase away a refugee or someone seeking help, someone who is hungry or thirsty, toss out someone who is in need of my help.” All nations must focus on “service to the poorest, the sick (and) those who have abandoned their homelands in search of a better future for themselves and their families.”

“In putting ourselves at the service of the neediest,” Pope Francis said, “we will experience that we already are united; it is God’s mercy that unites us.”

May this old song by Neil Diamond, a favorite of our family, be true of our nation once again:

We've been traveling far
Without a home
But not without a star

Only want to be free
We huddle close
Hang on to a dream

On the boats and on the planes
They're coming to America
Never looking back again
They're coming to America

Home, don't it seem so far away
Oh, we're traveling light today
In the eye of the storm
In the eye of the storm

Home, to a new and a shiny place
Make our bed, and we'll say our grace
Freedom's light burning warm
Freedom's light burning warm

Everywhere around the world
They're coming to America
Every time that flag's unfurled
They're coming to America

Got a dream to take them there
They're coming to America
Got a dream they've come to share
They're coming to America

They're coming to America (x4)
Today, today, today, today, today

My country 'tis of thee
Sweet land of liberty
Of thee I sing
Of thee I sing

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

A Voice for the Voiceless

Yesterday in a corner of the school playground, David and some friends witnessed a crow about to devour a mouse. They yelled wildly so that the bird flew away, and saved the poor mouse's life. David was excited to retell this adventure, as we walked home from school, “It was my first time to see a mouse!” I'm not exactly sure how he felt about protecting that mouse, but it made me think about the vulnerable and God's word for us.

Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute.” Proverbs 31:8

I think there has been no greater time in history than now, that those who have a voice need to speak on behalf of the voiceless. To stand with and for and beside those who need someone to advocate for them.  To give protection to the unprotected. To restore basic human rights to those whose rights have been taken away. To notice the unnoticed. To care for the neglected. To pay attention to the vulnerable, and to chase away the crows as David did on the playground yesterday.

In a World Bank study conducted during the 1990's, people in poverty around the world described their own situation:

“For a poor person everything is terrible—illness, humiliation, shame. We are cripples; we are afraid of everything; we depend on everyone. No one needs us. We are like garbage that everyone wants to get rid of.” (Moldova)

“When one is poor, she has no say in public, she feels inferior. She has no food, so there is famine in her house, no clothing, and no progress in her family.” (Uganda)

“If you are hungry, you will always be hungry; if you are poor, you will always be poor.” (Vietnam)

(Published in Voices of the Poor, quoted in When Helping Hurts by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert)

"The most terrible poverty is loneliness and the feeling of being unloved." Mother Teresa

Bryant Myers describes the fundamental nature of poverty as “the result of relationships that do not work, that are not just, that are not for life, that are not harmonious or enjoyable. Poverty is the absence of shalom in all its meanings.”

“By showing low-income people through our words, our actions, and most importantly our ears, that they are people with unique gifts and abilities, we can be part of helping them to recover their sense of dignity, even as we recover from our own sense of pride.” (When Helping Hurts)

“The goal is to see people restored to being what God created them to be, people who understand that they are created in the image of God with the gifts, abilities, and capacities to make decisions, and to effect change in the world around them; and people who steward their lives, communities, resources, and relationships in order to bring glory to God.” (When Helping Hurts)

“The image of God, then, is the first great motivation for living lives of generous justice, serving the needs and guarding the rights of those around us. It brings humility before the greatness of each human being made and loved by God.” (Timothy Keller, Generous Justice)

Who can you speak up for?

Saturday, January 21, 2017

We Are the World

America the Beautiful.

America! America!
God shed his grace on thee
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!

The Statue of Liberty declares: “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!” 

In a sermon entitled “The American Dream” Martin Luther King Jr. proclaimed: "The whole concept of the imago dei, as it is expressed in Latin, the 'image of God,' is the idea that all men have something within them that God injected. Not that they have substantial unity with God, but that every man has a capacity to have fellowship with God. And this gives him a uniqueness, it gives him worth, it gives him dignity. 

And we must never forget this as a nation: There are no gradations in the image of God. Every man from a treble white to a bass black is significant on God's keyboard, precisely because every man is made in the image of God. One day we will learn that. We will know one day that God made us to live together as brothers and to respect the dignity and worth of every man. That is why we must fight segregation with all of our nonviolent might."

To respect the dignity and worth of every man

Last month our boys brought home a letter from their principal that addressed this issue of inclusion:

“We, at Pioneer, are an inclusive community and want to make sure all students and families feel safe and welcome. In lieu of the recent election and events across the country, it has become clear we are a nation that holds many perspectives. At Pioneer we have always encouraged empathy and taught students to practice how to listen to more than one point of view.

Recently we have had a couple of incidents where some of our students have been questioned about whether or not they belong in America. While we are indeed a school that honors and believes in diversity of thought and perspective, we want to be clear, all of our students belong here and will be treated with respect and care.”

 All belong here and will be treated with respect and care

In 1985, 50 talented musicians came together to record We Are the World to raise money for famine relief in Africa. I can still remember my family recording our own version of this powerful song at a Myrtle Beach studio, and we sounded almost as good as the real thing. 

"We Are The World" has been on my mind this overcast Inauguration Day, as I've been thinking about the transition ahead and what it means to be an American in 2017. I'm inspired by the making of this song that was outward-focused and compassion-driven, that brought people together in order to reach out. That was not focused on building walls to keep outsiders on the outside, or on making our own nation great. But was seeking to contribute to the betterment of the world. Using gifts and talents not for the purpose of building themselves up, but to help others across the ocean who were in need. 

I watched We Are the World: The Story Behind the Song this afternoon and learned that there was a sign at the door for the musicians as they came in to the studio, many directly from the Music Awards: “Check your egos at the door.”
One of the musicians said there was “an instant sense of camaraderie, an instant sense of belonging, an instant sense of oneness” among the artists, some who had just met for the first time. There was “a spirit of fellowship in the studio that night” and “everyone wanted everyone else's autograph.”

Competition and pride were left outside of the recording studio, as they were all united by a common purpose.

To help those in our world who were in need
To respect the dignity and worth of every person
To honor each life with respect and care

I believe that focusing on that common purpose today would make America beautiful.

There comes a time when we heed a certain call
When the world must come together as one

We're all a part of God's great big family
And the truth, you know love is all we need

As God has shown us by turning stone to bread
So we all must lend a helping hand

There's a choice we're making
We are the ones who make a brighter day so let's start giving

A change can only come
When we stand together as one

We are the world. 
Let's make America beautiful by stretching our hands beyond our borders.
By opening our doors and our hearts to the marginalized and those in need. 
God made us to live together as brothers. 

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Living Like Elephants

While my family was in San Diego last month for our reunion, we visited the San Diego Zoo. Our tour bus driver entertained us with very realistic animal noises along the way and took an extra long pause by the elephant area to share more about them. He told us that elephants are sympathetic animals. If one of them is distressed, the others will form a circle around him and rest their trunks on his back. Providing him with encouragement until his spirits are back up again. I love imagining what such a caring elephant herd must look like. 

In The Broken Way, Ann Voskamp challenges us to see beyond our own suffering and to enter into others' brokenness.

“You are where you are for such a time as this—not to make an impression, but to make a difference. We aren't here to one-up another, but to help one another up.”

“Every soul wants more than a powerful experience. It wants to experience a powerful connection. More than being in awe, what the soul seeks is intimacy with the other. More than profoundly astonished, we want to be profoundly attached. Communion, koinonia, is the miracle. More than seeing and experiencing something beautiful, we want to be fully seen and experienced by someone. More than intimately knowing wonders, we want to know the wonder of being intimately known.”

You are to pay special attention to those who by accidents of time, or place, or circumstances, are brought into closer connection with you.” St. Augustine

“The way through brokenness is, and always has been, to break the sufferer free from the aloneness of the suffering by choosing to participate in the suffering with them—koinonia—choosing to stand with the suffering, stay with the suffering, and let it all be shaped into meaning that transcends the suffering...entering into each other's suffering is how to make life communion.”

Jonathan Cleveland challenged us in this area as well, in a sermon two weeks ago called Flourishing:Community. He said that our ability to flourish is tied to other people. Either we flourish together of none of us really flourishes. Our Shepherd wants us to value others' flourishing when we'd rather just be concerned with our own. We all need a flock.

Last Thursday I sat around a table with seven staff members at David and Daniel's school. I felt like I could picture our boys as two needy little elephants in the middle of a circle of wonderful caring adults, asking me how they could provide the best care for them after their surgeries on February 2. I felt overwhelmed by all of their concern and initiative taken to make things happen for our boys to have the best recoveries possible. 

Daniel is having reconstructive surgery to help correct the spina bifida deformities of his right foot, and David will have both lower legs broken to straighten out his in-toeing from club feet. Both boys will be in wheelchairs for a month and then walking casts for another month. God has blessed us with the amazing gift of community; we are not walking this journey of suffering alone. Others are joining in with us; lifting their trunks into the middle of the huddle.

Communion in community.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Little Drummer Boy

Sometimes our vision is blocked.

Like the time Joshua was 4 or 5 and something caught his eye at the mall. He made a mad dash for it and nearly knocked an innocent bystander off her feet in the process. My sister asked him, “Joshua, did you see that woman?” He looked at her blankly.

I'm aware of my own blind spots pretty frequently. Like when I was at Calvin College's orientation with Jordan in August and about to walk up to the dining hall servers to request my lunch choice. Jordan's quiet voice from behind, alerted me in Chinese, that there was actually a line of people waiting and I was about to break it. I had no idea.

Our big kids were home for winter break, and most of the time it was great for our family of seven to be all together again. We got to go to San Diego with my side of the family to celebrate my parents' 50th wedding anniversary which was awesome. One of the irritations for me during that time, however, was that David seemed to be constantly beating on things. I didn't see music in the making, I saw noise that needed to be stopped.

Joshua saw something different. When we got home, he got on his computer to search Amazon and asked me what I thought about his buying David a drum. “It won't be that loud,” he assured me. So I agreed. The drum arrived last week and now we have a Little Drummer Boy in the house. 

It's the first thing David wants to do after he gets home from school every day. I can't say that the drum beating is as quiet as I was hoping for, but I can handle it. CJ helped him put together a playlist so he has his favorite music to beat along with.

I didn't see the potential. But Joshua did.

How many times do I miss opportunities because I'm focused on how something affects me. Not on what's going on inside someone else. There was music trying to come out and I was squelching it instead of giving it a place to grow.

Thankful that God has put people in my life to shine the light on my blind spots. Especially my own children. Who have a lot to teach me.

What are the blind spots in your life?


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