Friday, February 14, 2014

the land of the living

"Whoever you are, the land to which God has brought you is not like the land of Egypt from which you came out. You can no longer live here as you lived there. " - Thomas Merton, Echoing Silence

Sometimes, I wish I could go back.

Back to my old self, the self that lived in the land where if any good-loving-Christian desired any good and pure thing, it would be given to them.  The land where I believed that if I asked and I prayed until there were nothing but tears flooding the foot of the cross, God would hear me and he would respond miraculously.

Back to the land where I had dreams, the kind of dreams I couldn't imagine myself ever being without.  Dreams of a beautiful future, of motherhood, of mission and of purpose.  Dreams that God would make happen, because they were good.  Dreams of the day when the doubt and the worry would be washed from my eyes and I would know-that-I-know-that-I-know that God is good no matter what.

I believed so much in the land where I used to live -- things that are true, things that are only half-true, and things that are not at all.  I've carried them all with me for as long as I can remember, yet grief has loosened the ties that had them bound to my being.

Some must be left behind as things that were never supposed to be truths in my life anyway.  They must be abandoned in the hope that new truths will someday take their place.  Others must be re-tied and double knotted so they cannot be loosened again.  And most of them, they just need some fixin' before they can be tied on again.

You see, I was raised by my parents until I went off to the world's largest Christian university and was raised by fundamental evangelicals.  There, they taught me how to be a good Christian, how to study the Bible and why I should tell my story.  I heard a-thousand-million-times that if I ask for anything in the name of Jesus, God will grant me the desires of my heart.... and if not, I should thank Him anyway.

None of these things are bad.  I just see things differently now that I have been raised by suffering -- things like how it is humanly possible to feel gratitude amidst tragedy and how to put one foot in front of the other when you literally-cannot-see-a-gosh-darn-thing ahead.

Sometimes, I think it would be so much easier to go back -- back to the land before I knew suffering so intimately, before everything got so tainted by the harshness and matter-of-fact that life is so freaking hard.  I would go back and I would live as if life is "fair" and all good-loving-Christians are rewarded for their good deeds and things like miscarriages would never in-a-million-years happen to me.

But I can't go back.

I can't go back because suffering has changed me, and now, life is different and deeper and more complicated than I've ever known it to be.  I can no longer live and dream the way I used to because of what I now know. There is just no place in the old land for me anymore.


I can only hope that new dreams and new understanding will rise to meet me in this new land where nothing is guaranteed and good-things-prayed-for aren't always given and God doesn't owe me a thing.  I can hope, although I'm not sure I know how-to anymore.

All I really know is that there's no going back.  There's only going forward.

There's the tripping, the slipping, the stumbling and the falling --

face-first into the land to which God has brought me.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

To my dear, sweet Baltimore: please forgive me

Anyone who has been on social media these past few days has likely seen all of the I-love-and-hate-baltimore-city blog posts soaring through Facebook and Twitter like wildfire.  

Posts like the one-that-started-the-blaze -- Baltimore, you're breaking my heart, written by Tracey Halvors -- followed by a few response posts about how Baltimore is not breaking hearts and how complaining-without-doing can be deadly, and my personal favorite, the Whose Heart is Baltimore Breaking, Really? post.  

As someone who has intentionally chosen to live in the neighborhood that these posts are talking about, I feel compelled to speak up in a different kind of way.

I don't often share specifics on my blog about our lives and ministry here in East Baltimore for various reasons --  one of those reasons being that as a white, middle-class girl living in the thick of a city that is factually ridden with crime and drugs, I cannot claim to know anything about what is actually happening in the lives and systems around me.

I cannot claim that I know why some kids in my neighborhood make it to college and others spend their lives behind bars.  I cannot claim that I know why racism plagues the city that I live in -- white against black, black against latino, latino against white.  I cannot claim that I know why there is so much addiction, so many vacant homes, way too many people without homes, homicides at the end of my block, and so much fear everywhere. 

But it makes my heart bleed a-different-kind-of-red.  

This city is far-from-perfect, but in my opinion, very little can be accomplished when we point the finger at mayors or school systems or the whites-and-blacks.  Sure, everyone can play their part to try to help turn these woes of our city into something beautiful, but there is no one person to blame or one solution to all of these problems.  It's a whole mess of heartbreaking things that have gone wrong and need to be made right.  And all of us baltimoreans have a role in this.

All of these woes -- the woes that made Tracey Halvors speak up about her hatred of this city -- we all know that they exist here, as they unfortunately do in so many places across the globe.  While I do not feel the need to comment on the specifics of Tracey Halvors' post, I will say that she is right about one thing -- these woes should break our hearts.

These woes should break our hearts, but not because we want to be able to walk around our blocks and use our iPhones at the same time, or because we want to have a bonfire with our friends in backyard without having the police helicopter shine down on our fiesta, or because we wish the drug-addicts would "just go somewhere else."

These woes should break our hearts because every time there is a murder, or a drug-deal, or someone trafficked, or a crime committed by a child who should never know how to commit crimes in the first place, that's a few more souls lost to the war in our midst

That's a few more families invaded by the broken. That's another mama who will spend the rest of her life in jail.  Another child's daddy who will miss birthday after birthday because he made a choice.  Another grandma who will cry herself to sleep, rubbing those rosary beads as hard as she can.  Another college student who will suffer from nightmares.  Another auntie and uncle who will grieve after they get the call that their niece has lost her life to heroin.  Another child who will choose drugs over school.  Another person who will fear her neighborhood because she has been victimized in some terrible-way-that-should-never-be-so.

When lives are turned upside down by brokenness, our hearts should break.  We should grieve because people are losing their hope, their lives, and their souls.  

I'm no expert on these subjects by any means, but I have seen the lives of my blood-and-not-blood family torn apart by drugs, crime and hatred.  I have grieved over these woes, and the reality that such terrible, hurtful things exist in this world {let alone in the lives of people that I love} will never be any-less-painful to consider. 

But please hear me out, because I'm trying to speak from my heart here -- a heart that has been touched by so many of the people that we're all so quick to judge, a heart that has been no less broken or destructive than the hearts of those who murder, or steal, or use.  I believe that our hearts should break for the woes in our midst, but also for the woes inside of us.

My heart breaks because I have felt a-wrong-kind-of-racist-fear -- the kind of fear that makes me question whether the person behind me is going to hurt me just because of how he looks or talks.  
My heart breaks because there have been times that I have judged and not loved; 
times when I assumed I knew someone's story because of the color of their skin; 
times when I have shaken my fist at this city because I felt tired of hearing the sirens in the night; 
times when I have wanted to leave and give up because it all felt too heavy to carry
 and too impossible to have hope that someday, we will all be whole again.  

My heart breaks because I have been a part of the problem.  

I have cast stones and judged when the evil in my heart is raging triumphant.  

I have forgotten what it means to truly love in the name of Jesus. 

And for that, my dear, sweet Baltimore: I am sorry.