Thursday, December 15, 2016


At this time in history our world is going through a refugee crisis, though no one would blame you for forgetting that, since America has different complaints today. Still, I cannot help but remember it as I reflect on the season of Advent.

If you pay attention to the media you will hear the mass exodus of people from the Middle East and Africa referred to as "migrants." This is important because while all refugees are migrants, not all migrants are refugees. The word refugee is a special designation reserved for those who are fleeing the unspeakable, ungodly circumstances of their homeland for the refuge and safe haven of a new land. Officially, a refugee is defined as this:
"Owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality, and is unable to, or owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country."
-United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR),1951 Refugee Convention

And the difference is this:
"Migrants, especially economic migrants, choose to move in order to improve the future prospects of themselves and their families. Refugees have to move if they are to save their lives or preserve their freedom. They have no protection from their own state - indeed it is often their own government that is threatening to persecute them."
-UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency

A refugee is basically one who is faced with a choice, haven or hell, and chooses haven.

All this is important to me here and now because, well, first off it should matter to me. Even as I write this from my cozy, American bedroom, stockpiled with pillows. The refugees of today should matter to all of us who have so much.  We should give every bit of money and mercy that we can for their cause. But it also matters because this Advent I realize and confess that this place-- this world I live in-- is not my home.

Don't get me wrong because on one hand it is my home. I am so privileged to live here where I do, in comfort and security, surrounded by love and liberty. And I receive all that with humble thanksgiving. Still, though all of our hearts are migrant, prone to wander, choosing "to move in order to improve the future prospects of [ourselves] and [our] families," I realize that is not enough for me. My heart-- my broken heart-- knows that this place is not my home and it looks heavenward for refuge.
"All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country-- a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them." 
-Hebrews 11:13-16

Looking onward I cannot help but look back to the expectant birth of Jesus. Who was himself a refugee. Whose parents went to Judea for a census but stayed for Asylum.
O come O come, Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear
And then there is Mary. Dear Mary. Pregnant with both hope and fear. Jesus: the hope the world and the fear that would provoke the very infant genocide from which she would be forced to flee. Though not before she would be reduced to giving birth in a freaking barn.

Mary Consoles Eve, art by a Sister at Our Lady Of The Mississippi Abbey

Let us consider the waiting of this expectant mother, who chose heaven for us all, who knew more than we ever will about the miracle of Jesus' birth. Let us wait with perseverance for all that's in store for those of us who hold on to the guiding light.

May our hearts be pregnant with hope. Even though hope, like our Savior, is often born in the most undeserving of circumstances. Amen.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016


The other day I did one of the most dreaded things I can think of: I called customer service for my cell phone provider. You see, we use this pay-as-you-go company that is super cheap and so to compensate for these cost savings, contacting customer service once every year or two is like a modern form of torture. But alas, sometimes it has to be done. It's part of the deal. 

So I am on the phone with this delightful young lady in India and every few minutes she asks me to wait for "two to three minutes" while she does something to help me out, all of which takes more than an hour. I told my husband that I'll bet she has to be simultaneously chatting with five or six other people to help with their customer service needs while communicating with me. His theory is that she probably has extremely archaic internet access and spotty electricity. He is probably right. 

Every time I talk with this phone company's customer service I get so angry that I effectively turn into Medusa. I am coming from AMERICA in 2016, for crying out loud! You are supposed to be a tech company! My entitlements are threatened and so are my principles. I feel like I should be compensated for whatever inconveniences I suffer and I feel like it is ridiculous that they can't do more for me. Every time it goes like this. Every time I stick to my guns-- my principles-- and every time I end up feeling like I've lost. 

Then the other day I decided to play this whole thing a bit differently. I called in and Sweetheart on the other end is reiterating everything a dozen times, asking me to hold every few minutes, and casually mentioning how they've screwed up and how little they can do to fix anything. It's equally infuriating as every other time I call but I'm turning over a new leaf, here. Instead of letting the lasers fire freely from my eyes, I find my center and calmly reply to every pause and question with "okay" and "yes." For over an hour it goes on like this:

Sweetheart: We've screwed up, no apologies. We don't have this information, even though you gave it to us.
Me: Okay. 
Sweetheart: I am going to place you on a brief hold for two to three minutes while I look into this on my end, okay?
Me: Yes.

Let me skip to the end and tell you how everything turned out. Practically speaking, it was exactly as it would have been if I had gotten pissed. The phone company did whatever they could do, no more and no less. Emotionally, however, this time was like walking on sunshine. I felt myself thinking about Sweetheart and how hard her job must be, how little she gets paid, how difficult it must be to work for a tech company with archaic internet access and spotty electricity in the scorching heat. I found myself lucky to have the world at my smartphone-enabled fingertips for less than $50 a month. I was so pleasant that my husband didn't have to watch his mouth and hide from me for the rest of the night. 

I am a very principled person and this is probably one of the best things about me. But a few years ago I realized that when I let my principle become the principle thing--when I fight vehemently for the right to be right-- the loser is usually me. Because another thing about me is that I care about people more than anything else. Often, when my principle wins, relationships suffer and people lose. 

The simple truth about holding firm to my principles is that I must do it within the context of the world in which I live, while rubbing elbows with someone as different from me as the hemispheres in which we live. Usually this means that the most right thing is to live rightly with my neighbor. To find common ground and live there, only occasionally visiting the Principle's office, so to speak.

In this situation, did shutting my mouth and giving up my right to be right change what I believe? No. Did it change the outcome? No. Did it change who I am? Well, sort of. At least in that moment, in the eye of the beholder, it made me patient and kind. And when I step back to look at that big, beautiful picture, it seems like we both won.

Monday, February 15, 2016

The Vegetable of the Spirit

I don't know how familiar people really are with the term fruit of the Spirit, but I learned about it when I was a young Christian; a high school junior, I think. My Young Life leader went through that passage of Galatians with us in our Campaigners Bible study one Sunday afternoon and even though I didn't completely understand it at the time, it has stuck in my memory. It goes like this:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Galatians 5:22-23.

The Bible talks a lot about fruit and trees and horticulture in general, really, and it is all very symbolic and beautiful. Fruit is the thing you see that reflects the things you can't see; things like seeds and roots and hearts. Fruit is the ah-ha moment when something that was growing has grown and is now visible and practical and delicious.

There have been several times lately when I have wondered whether anything is really growing in my life. Sometimes a lot of time goes by before anything changes very much and sometimes setbacks or conflicts make me question everything.

Then I started thinking about waiting and the fruit of the spirit. I was having a hard time making the two fit together because waiting is not the same thing as patience. Because patience is a fruit; it's the outcome. Waiting, on the other hand, is the thing you do on your way to the fruit. It's the path of most resistance, if you ask me.

I know from personal experience that waiting produces fruit, but the fruit of waiting is underground. It's underground fruit. So really, it's a vegetable.

Anyone who knows me for very long will, at some point, hear me say that waiting is not a passive thing. What I mean is that the act of waiting is far from doing nothing. Waiting is an action verb. At times it requires an active resistance and always it requires the embracing of the many unexpected things that happen in the meantime. I can look back on my life at the times when I felt like I was the most stuck, and I can see that that those are the times that I was really growing underground. That was the meantime. The place between the already and the not-yet. The in-between preparation and completion.

Not that I have ever been complete, don't get me wrong. I know that fruit is really just a beautiful, delicious seed; the beginning of something greater. What I am trying to say is that waiting is less like an orange and it is more like a turnip or beet. It's a root vegetable.

Whether the fruit of my life is high in the air, swaying in the breeze or incubating in the dirt really isn't the point. The point is that I'm growing. It may sometimes feel like I've got nowhere to go from here but up but maybe, just maybe, that's exactly where I'm supposed to be.
I waited patiently for the Lord; He turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; He set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand... Many, Lord my God, are the wonders you have done, the things you have planned for us. None can compare with you; were I to speak and tell of your deeds, they would be too many to declare. Psalm 40:1-2,5

This post was originally written in 2011 by a younger me. I like her stuff.