Friday, July 13, 2018

Stranger in a Strange Land

This photo might suggest that I am "stranger" than many people... and that very well might be true! But I've been a "stranger" many times in my life, in a different sense.

I began my life with a perpetually unhappy father. Because of this, I went to 17 schools. Yes, really. I was always the "new kid." I was the one who didn't know you absolutely did not undress for PE  in my seventh grade school, AND did not know you absolutely did undress for PE in my eighth grade school. I did it wrong both places, much to my chagrin. I am the one who has no answer for "Who was your first grade teacher?" because I had three of them in three different schools. How was I supposed to remember any of them?! I was a stranger over and over.

As a very young adult, I chose to be a stranger again: I joined the Peace Corps. I was sent to Jamaica, a country that seems very similar to the United States, from the outside. From the non-tourist places that I lived, it was most assuredly a foreign land. I was on the outside in so many ways! I couldn't go shopping by myself because I was White and female. When I did go shopping with my Jamaican housemates, they got tomatoes (or whatever) at one price, and I got them at a much higher price. And what we ate?! That was strange, too. I ate goat head soup, chicken foot soup, and much more. My very limited experience in foods was expanded far beyond my comfort zone!

When I returned to the States with my husband, we found we couldn't have biological children and decided to adopt. We were open to any race, and were placed with two African-American/White biracial children. And again I became a stranger: I was a White woman with Black kids. That meant stares and comments from every side, most of them unkind. After an ugly divorce, I finished raising my Black kids in the small town in Iowa where I taught... and where my kids were two of the four Black kids in the town. Strangers, we were, no doubt.

Much later, after remarrying and adopting my granddaughter, my family moved to a Native American reservation in New Mexico. I'd always been a Midwesterner, the Southwest culture was different enough to make me a stranger again, not to mention living in a small town where we were among the very few White people. Double-stranger. And then we took in two Native American foster sons: Triple-Stranger!!

Being a stranger is fairly familiar to me, obviously. Even at 57, I'm not sure I actually belong any specific place. However, I do know that nowhere on this earth is my home. My home is in heaven with Jesus Christ, my Lord and Savior. There I will finally belong.

Here on earth, though, I've been doing a lot of thinking about being a stranger and how the Bible says we should treat strangers. Abraham was a stranger in a strange land. So was Sarah. And Lot. And the entire Israelite Nation in Egypt. Lots of strangers in foreign lands in the Bible. Even Jesus lived in Egypt as a young boy while Herod was hunting for him to kill him.

The Bible has a lot to say about strangers, foreigners, sojourners, aliens, and neighbors. Almost every word of it is requiring that we, God's people, take care of these strangers (Leviticus 19:33-34, Exodus 22:21, Matthew 25:35, Matthew 25:31-46, Galatians 5:14). In a few cases, the Bible is saying that these strangers are held to the same laws as God's people (Leviticus 22:10, Leviticus 17:8-9).

Lest someone accuse me of ignoring selected parts of God's Word, there are also portions of the Bible that clearly admonish us to obey the civil leaders of our world (Romans 13:1-7, 1 Peter 2:13). And yet, the Hebrew women just as clearly disobeyed the civil leaders when they hid their baby boys. And the disciples disobeyed civil and religious leaders when they continued to preach the gospel following Jesus' death and resurrection. Acts 5:29 says, "But Peter and the apostles answered, 'We must obey God rather than men.'"

Obey God. That is our duty as Christians. That is our joy as Christians. I have sought God's leadership on the issue of the treatment of immigrants. I have read news, opinions, and information on as many sides of this issue as I can find. And finally, I feel strongly that I cannot stand on the sidelines anymore.

We Christians of good conscience cannot allow the climate of our nation to continue to decline into "us vs. them" thinking. Luke 10 (The Good Samaritan) tells us that our neighbor can be "one of them." And in many places, the Bible tells us (Mark 12:31) to love our neighbor as ourselves.

I am not arguing that the United States should practice an entirely open border policy. Nor am I condemning particular lawmakers or any law enforcers. I am not saying that Homeland Security or ICE should ignore legitimate threats, no matter their source. I am saying that I believe Christians should be standing with the oppressed, the stranger, the poor, the orphan and the widow.

Let me say that again: I believe that Christians should be standing with the oppressed, the stranger, the poor, the orphan and the widow. In other words, we should be standing with our neighbors, loving them as ourselves.

How can we love our neighbors right now?

By standing up for those being persecuted. When you see an injustice, stand up for that person. If someone is being beaten, call the police. If the person ahead of you in the checkout line is being grilled about their method of payment, step in and say something. Tell the clerk she's wrong for berating the WIC or food support benefits user. If an Hispanic man is being forced to produce ID that you didn't have to produce for the same purpose, ask the official why. If a policy offends you, speak up. If an official shows hatred to a group of people, refuse to vote for him/her. If you didn't vote in the last election, register to vote today. Wherever people are marginalized, stand with them.

I find it hard to believe that any Christian would defend Hitler's demonization of the Jews in the 1930's and 1940's. We look back at resisters like Corrie ten Boom as heroes of the faith. As Christians, there are times we must resist. And I believe that time is now. We must resist the tendency in our society to demonize Muslims, Immigrants, and persons of color. We must stand with them as our neighbors. Loving our neighbors as ourselves.

They will know we are Christians by our love, by our love.

Monday, July 2, 2018

Wildfires

 We are physically surrounded by fires right now. Not close enough to be in danger, but close enough to bring smoke frequently. Close enough to close our favorite hiking trails and camping spots for a while. Close enough for me to be thinking about what I would take with us if we had to evacuate. Close enough that some of our normal travels for appointments are affected.

I grew up and lived in the Midwest most of my life. I remember standing in the driveway watching a tornado in the distance. I remember floods destroying my toys. I remember fighting floods in my basement as an adult. I remember "duck-and-tuck" in the boys' bathroom for hours with students of mine while tornadoes obliterated nine of the students' houses.

But fire. Oh, fire. It scares me. It's unfamiliar. It's so destructive. It lasts so long!

Yesterday, as I was walking in the morning, wary because of the smoke in the air and my asthma, I heard Sanctus Real's "On Fire."

The irony of the situation struck me. I started thinking about fire. And God. And the Bible.

So many references to fire in the Bible are from the fires of Hell. That's not what the song was about, though. The song was about being on fire for Christ. Having passion and love for our Lord and Savior. Asking God for that fire again, so that we spread God's Word everywhere we go.

And I thought about the fires around us. The crazy-burning, out-of-control Spring Fire with 5% containment and 50,000+ acres burned in less than a week. I know people with that kind of fire in their souls for Jesus. I love them! They call me to account when I approach a boundary of Christian behavior or thinking. They shout Jesus' love from the rooftops! They visit prisoners. They have radical faith. I love that!

Then there's the Burro Fire, 95% contained after burning only a week or two. It's still on fire, smoldering and flaring up occasionally. There's not much to look at there, but the fire sure isn't dead! I know people like that, too. They are the steady, solid volunteers who do the dishes, put away the chairs, and never do anything flashy. These people serve with no fanfare. They are the backbone of many churches, and I love that!


And the 416 Fire! Whoa. That one has challenged so many firefighters! At one point, there were more than 1,000 on the ground, plus air support. The firefighters have it 37% contained in incredibly rough terrain. This fire hasn't devoured one structure! It's burning in the wilderness, in steep and dry lands that leave no room for retreat for firefighters. This fire is the missionary spirit. It has so many obstacles to overcome, and in the eyes of some onlookers, it doesn't accomplish much. These Christians keep on doing God's work, even when it seems pointless. Even when not one person gains faith in Jesus Christ. Even when there seems no future, these people follow God's Call into the wilderness. They are strong in the Lord!

Which kind of fire are you? Are you one of the unnamed fires that was put out in the first day or two? Are you burning strong and slow? Wild and fast? In the wilderness?

No matter what kind of fire you are as a Christian, your fire is from the Holy Spirit. The Breath of God fans the flames, so read your Bible and receive His Breath. Fuel your fire!

Don't envy another for the fire of their faith. Follow God's Call on your life, whether that is flashy and loud or behind the scenes or in the wilderness.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

The Invisible Ones

We have done a lot of traveling of late, by car and by airplane. We've been to both coasts and several locations in-between. On one road trip, I was alone with the three children. A "low-tire" light came on in our new van. I was 30 miles from anywhere, so I said a quick prayer and drove to the gas station at the southern end of the reservation where we live.

I went into the gas station and asked if there was air available anywhere. I explained that I had a low tire and three kids with me. The Jicarilla man at the counter said he'd have someone meet me "over there" by the air. I wasn't sure where the air was, or why I needed someone to meet me, but I took the kids and headed in the direction of his head nod. I drove across the highway to a service lot area, then a young man rolled down his window and said, "You need air?" Relieved, I nodded. He waved me into an area where I saw a coiled up air hose.

Getting out of the van, I pulled out my tire gauge and walked to check the front tire. The young man was already checking the passenger front tire. After I checked the front driver's side tire, I went to the rear tires. I was checking the rear tire when the young man came around the back of the van. He looked surprised and said, "I was just going to check that one." I said, "Thank you! This is the low one." I walked toward the air hose and said, "Is it okay for me to fill it? Or are you supposed to?" He said, "I'll do it."

When he was done, I said thank you to him. He stopped and looked at me for a long moment. Then he said, "No one ever gets out of their car. I always just do it. Thank you for helping." I was stunned.

No one ever gets out of their car? To help fill up their own tires with air? They expect someone else just to do it for them?

To use a cliche: What would Jesus do? Would he be one of those many who expect others to serve him? Or would he be getting his hands dirty with the tire gunk while he checks the air pressure?

Would Jesus ignore the shuttle bus drivers, the bathroom custodians, the airport concessionaires? Would he just expect them to do their jobs and make his life more comfortable, more convenient?

I doubt it. Jesus was never afraid of service. He came not to be served but to serve (Matthew 20:28). No one was invisible to Jesus.

We humans, especially we Christians, need to see the "invisible ones." We cannot fail to acknowledge, to thank, to serve Jesus in our interactions with those whose role is service. If we assume a haughty demeanor, we are walking away from Jesus. Even in the Old Testament, we are admonished to be humble:  Before destruction the heart of man is haughty, But humility goes before honor. Proverbs 18:12.

In our hearts and minds, there should be no "invisible ones." To follow Jesus is to check our pride and to develop humility and a heart for service.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

A Year Ago Today

A year ago today, I was with my stepdad, my daughter, and my husband on the hike of a lifetime. We were on the way to the bottom of the Grand Canyon, with two nights of reservations at Phantom Ranch. I was especially excited because this was the stepdad that introduced me to the Canyon when I was 14, that taught me to love the outdoors, and that began my lifelong love of geology.

A year ago today, I had a near-fatal asthma attack about 5 miles down the trail. My then-10-year-old was the only other of our hiking party that was with me. I must confess that my only real thoughts during the minute or two that I couldn't breathe (At. All.) were for my daughter. I didn't even pray for God to save my life. I didn't want my daughter to experience the trauma of losing her mom in front of her young eyes. I did everything I could to minimize her fear... and obviously, I survived.

This anniversary has made me reflect on the life God has so generously allowed me to live since that day. I've been able to enjoy our daughter's continued growth and development, both physically and spiritually. It's been a joy! She is a delightful young woman, firmly grounded in faith, and I enjoy her very much every day.

One of the ways in which she has grown is as a big sister. For eight months now, she has filled the role of in-house big sister to our two foster boys. She is a fabulous older sister! She cares for them, plays with them, guides them, and loves them. She has gotten less self-absorbed and more generous. They are a blessing to us all! A blessing I never would have known at all if I had died on the trail. I'm so glad that God had a plan for them to live with us for whatever length of time it turns out to be. They are funny, sweet, smart, and loving. They bring us joy every day.

In the past year, I have been able to visit all three of my parents twice. They are all growing older, and it is such a delight to spend time with them. Several of my friends have lost their parents recently, and I am graced with the presence of all of mine and my husband's. We try to spend time with them on the phone, via email, and in person as often as possible.

And, because God continued my life, I celebrated my tenth wedding anniversary with my beloved, Brad. Our marriage and family are precious, and I am grateful to be here to continue to love them.

But most important in this year, God has continued to shape me more and more in the image of Christ. I claim no part in this; it is solely God's work in me and through me. But I am excited to see the work He is doing in my heart, my mind, and my soul. I serve Him with joy and gratitude, and this is not of me; it is of Him. I pray that the Holy Spirit will continue to mold me and use me for His service. I am glad I am here to be Jesus' hands and feet in this place to which He has called us. I joyfully do the work to which we are called.

We never know when our earthly life will end. We can only choose how to spend the time we're given here. I will never regret choosing to spend my life in the service of God.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

No Doubt!

I recently had a dear friend contact me and ask me to pray for her grandmother. Her grandmother had just entered hospice care, and my friend was already grieving. She said, "There has to be something beyond this life, right?" I answered, "No doubt!"

But doubt does haunt me. I was raised in the church and attended regularly with genuine faith until college. Then I took an Intro to Religion class and fell in love with an atheist. I started questioning everything.I stopped going to church regularly, then all together. I married an agnostic and we raised our children in a non-Christian home... until the children were 7 and 8. More than a decade of doubting...

Then I realized I wanted my children to have background in the Bible, even if I didn't believe it literally (at that point). So I took them to the church denomination of my childhood, and my daughter and I attended regularly.  After a year or so of singing, praying guardedly, and not taking communion, one Sunday I heard my God say to me, "Just take the bread and the cup." You see, God is faithful, even when we are not. So I did. And I experienced communion with God again.

That was the beginning of the best part of my life. Bad things happened, but God was at my side again. The crooked path to where I am now was difficult at times, but I knew I would make it through. I read my Bible again. I prayed. I truly became a part of my church. I divorced and remarried a man who was attending seminary. We accepted raising our granddaughter, moving to a reservation in New Mexico, and raising two foster sons. My faith is strong.

And I still fight against doubt. That rational part of my brain (Satan uses this, for sure) still whispers lies into my heart. Lies that were planted all those years ago in college, that stole me away from my faith for over a decade. That led me to a place of depression and despair.

The difference is that now I turn toward God, not away from Him. I turn to the Scriptures and find Truth. I remember those times when God's presence was so strong that there was no room for doubt:

     1) That experience at the communion table when God said, "Just take the bread and the cup."
     2) That moment when my first marriage was coming to an end (abuse was involved) and God said out loud to me: "Someday you will have a relationship so good that you won't even remember this one."  I had never before, and have never again, experienced such a clear, direct message from God. (And I do have a relationship that good now!)
     3) The weekend that I was praying about whether to follow God's will and parent our now-11-year-old daughter.
     4) The unfolding of Brad's being called to ministry here on the Jicarilla Apache Nation.
     5) The prayers and answers about whether to suddenly become foster parents.

There are other moments in my life when I have felt very close to God, and when I purposefully recall them, the doubts that have crept in are rushed out.

Another weapon in the battle against Satan's lies is Scripture. There are many encouraging verses in the Bible. Some of my favorites are:

Create in me a clean heart, oh God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Psalm 51:10

And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.  Philippians 1:6

The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. Lamentations 3:24

And for me, a third weapon against the whispers of doubt is Christian music. I am cautious about what I listen to because I want it to be Scripture-based, but good Christian music reinforces the Gospel message. One example is Bethel Music's No Longer Slaves. Listening to high quality, Scriptural, Christian music retunes my heart to God's Truth.

I am a child of God.

Christ's atonement makes me flawless in God's eyes. He will not see my doubts and failures. He will see in me Christ's righteousness.

Amazing Grace.

I will turn toward that amazing grace for the rest of my life, with God's help. No doubt.

Thursday, May 3, 2018

What's Up?

Life.

It's what happens to you while you're planning your future. It's the accumulation of events that happen on the days that are so busy you forget to eat. Some days it feels like life is passing you by at light speed, and other days it feels like the last half hour took four days to happen.

Life is what's happening at our place, and it's left me with little to no time to blog. I am finishing up my teaching year next week. Our family has decided that I will only homeschool the kids in our home after next week. So for now, that means I'll be teaching our 11 year old daughter and our foster sons. It may stay that way for a while, or it may be that I'll be teaching only our 11 year old, depending on what the court's next decision is.

While we wait for that decision in June, we have been planning for and participating in our 31 year old daughter's wedding. It was less than a week ago, and it was a delight in every way! We love our new son-in-law, and our daughter and grandchildren are very happy. We traveled to California for the wedding, so we took a few days to relax on the beach and have fun at SeaWorld.

Watching the children play in the waves at the beach was pure joy. Showing them the tiny clams in the sand and the crabs and anemones in the tide pools was great fun for this ocean-loving teacher-mama. Our daughter discovered that she desperately wants to learn to surf. Just fun.

Not so fun was that our 1992 Dodge van died the week before our trip. And the 2005 Honda van we bought to replace it died the day after we bought it. Thankfully, the dealership has a 7-day money-back guarantee, of which we took advantage. And 36 hours before our departure, we were purchasing a 2015 Toyota van, which served us very well on our California
adventure.

Also not so fun, in the weeks surrounding our California trip, both Pastor Brad and I have had MRIs to determine the cause of significant pains. I must admit that I "borrow trouble," as my mother would say, when my husband has health issues. I pray for peace, but I often find myself worrying about "what might happen."

And there's a lot of "What might happen" lately. We don't know the future of our parenting with the boys. We don't know for sure that the financial gap in funding our ministry here in Dulce will be filled. We don't know how the health issues will ultimately go. We don't know if I'll be homeschooling one child next year, in which case I could go to work part time, or three, in which case I will not have time to work.

But while it might seem that "What's up?" is everything, that's not really how I see it or feel it. I am very deeply knowing that the answer to "What's up?" is: God. Each of these uncertainties is in His hands, and I know He works all these things for my good. My eternal good. What more security could I need?

It's often an uneasy thing to not know what's coming in our lives, but when we can rest in the knowledge that God is in charge and we can trust Him, we can wait with peace. I know that we will love the children in our home for the rest of our lives, whether they live in our home or not. I know that financial worries will not change the ministry of the Jicarilla Apache Reformed Church; we will continue to serve the community here. I know that eventually, health issues will end our lives. I'd rather it happened much later than now, but I imagine that will also be true when I'm 90! Whenever I am called home, I pray that I can go with trust and peace.

So, each day, as life comes (however it comes!), I pray for God's will to be done. I pray that I can deeply love these children... and still let them go with grace when it is time for them to go. I pray that the craziness of the days leaves me amused, not crazy myself! I pray that God will grant my husband and me many more years of wedded bliss, and that if He doesn't, He will guide my life in every way.

What's up next? A trip to NY to visit with some of the supporters for this mission. A summer filled with grandchildren and friends, paint, water, shaving cream, and more. VBS. Work groups. A summer children's theater production.

Life.

Saturday, April 7, 2018

the deepest well

I must begin this post by acknowledging the source of the title. The Deepest Well is a book published in 2018. It was written by Nadine Burke Harris, MD, and it has changed my life. For me, usually things that "change my life" are faith-oriented. This is not. However, I can certainly see the medical and social-emotional information in this book being used in a faith-based manner.

I bought this book for personal reasons. Several of my children (currently in and out of my home) and many of my students over the years have had experiences with childhood adversity. Plus, my own childhood was full of adversity. I thought I might learn something that would help me parent better or live better.

What I got was much bigger than that. When I started reading, I realized that this woman has made remarkable connections, well-backed by science, among many of the concerns of my entire life. My 30+ years as a teacher. My 30+ years as a parent. An adoptive parent. A foster parent. A step-parent. My 40+ years as a caring person trying to understand poverty, discrimination, trauma, and recovery. My 8+ years of friendship with a woman who has made it her life's work to interrupt the cycle of dysfunction among African and African American youth.  My 4+ years as a resident in the community of the Jicarilla Apache Nation, where the endemic struggles of Native Americans are apparent.

There are so many situations, both personal and professional, where I have wondered how someone got into the situation they're in or why they continue to respond in ways that are self-destructive. I've read broadly, listened even more broadly, and pondered for many hours trying to figure out how to help someone, especially a child, who is deeply traumatized by events in their life.

This book opens a new way of thinking about intractable problems. It suggests dealing with an underlying difficulty instead of the symptoms of that difficulty. In constructivist terms, it's a shift in paradigm.

The new paradigm builds our understanding of biological stress responses and how they can get hyper-triggered to the point that the stress response is dysfunctional. That dysfunction leads to illness in addition to dysfunctional behavior. By addressing the biological dysfunction, many of the consequences can be improved, or even reversed.

I know that our only hope is in Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. He is the one who created human minds to inquire and search for ways to better our lives. I see in this book a way for Christians (and others) to to frame our understanding and to focus our desire to help our neighbors. I highly recommend that you read it.