Micah 6:8

"...do justice, love mercy, walk humbly with your God." - Micah 6:8

Friday, May 30, 2008

Congratulations Haby!

Last night my friend Haby Diallo graduated from West Aurora High School. Haby came to the US as a refugee from Mauritania, Africa in December of 2000. When she came she didn't speak any English and starting school in America was kind of rough on her. I remember spending lots of time together working on homework. Rick and I are SO proud of this beautiful and accomplished young woman. She worked very hard to get here. Two other refugees kids we know graduated last night too: Teko from Togo and Nazira from Russia. And Haby's dear friend Isha from Pakistan who started learning English with Haby in 5th grade. Congratulations ladies! I have no doubt that West was a better and more interesting place because you were there. Can't wait to see what you do next! Love you, Haby.

One more picture

Me with my niece Kyley and my nephew Royce enjoying a rare day all together in Chicago.

Pictures, Pictures, Pictures.

Musa & Rick in the car on the way to Rick's 4th birthday party.

Fun with Richard's hammock.

Grandma Marian plays bean bags.

All beef hotdogs for everyone.


Thursday, May 29, 2008


Today is "Baby Rick's" (we need to drop the "baby" now, but it's a hard habit to break) fourth birthday. His family has been in America almost five years now. This picture was actually taken at his second birthday party. (I will post pictures from his most recent party soon.) In case you didn't figure it out, Rick is named after my husband. I was in the delivery room when he was born and Rick was waiting right outside.

Baby Rick and his siblings: Musa, Dollar, Ali, & Isha, along with his Mom and Step Dad live at a subsidized housing complex in Wheaton. His Step Dad works hard at a near minimum wage factory job and his Mom stays home to take care of the three children who are not yet school age. Baby Isha was born five months ago and the addition of another little one has made Rick's family too big to legally fit in the apartment they are living in. The housing complex has told them they once Isha is one year, they won't be able to stay there any longer. Rick's mother is very worried about what they will do. She thinks they might move to Wisconsin because they have heard rumors that public aid is better there. I have seen many families move based on those kinds of rumors. Sometimes it works out okay, but often times they find themselves in even worse situations.

It is very difficult for me to think about these guys moving far away. I love these kids like they are my own. In fact, the thought occurred to me that if we took in one or two or three of the kids, they wouldn't have to move. It's probably not the best idea. I wouldn't want to separate the kids from each other or to give some of them a great leap in opportunity while the others are still stuck. I also wouldn't want to divide them from their family and culture and language. And I fear that when they grew up they might resent us for it. I know that Baby Rick's Mom would let us take him if we asked her. She's talked about it before. But this is an idea of desperation, not rationality. And it might even be an idea that's more about what I want than what's best for the kids. But I'm afraid that if they move to Wisconsin and separate themselves from the support system they have here, things will be even harder. I even worry they could end up homeless, and that the kids will get caught in a downward spiral and never get out. They are already behind verbally and academically. Even here it's going to be hard for them.
What would you do? Would you separate a child or children from daily life with their family in order to give them greater opportunity? What's the right answer?

In any case, I can't quite imagine my life without them. So I really, really hope they don't have to move.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Bryan House Family Reunion

After four long years of waiting, these three orphaned kids (Tumusifu, Nhota, & Maoneo) will finally be joining their only living relatives in the world. This picture was taken in the summer of 2006 when Rick and I had a chance to visit them outside the refugee camp where they live in Kibuye, Rwanda. On June 12th they will be leaving the camp forever and joining their Aunt Ketsia & Uncle Christophe (now their adoptive parents) who have been living at Bryan House since March. I can't wait for the welcome party at the airport! Even when you aren't part of the biological family, nothing beats being at the airport for these family reunions. It is pure joy!

The reality of what these kids have already faced in their short lives is something most of us could never imagine. And the challenges are far from over. They will leave the hunger and disease of the camp behind, but they will still have to learn a new language and a new culture. They will have to catch-up in school and adjust to having parents in charge of them again. Maoneo will experience what it's like to black and male in the United States, and they will all eventually be disillusioned by the reality of how many obstacles they will find in the land of the free. But they will have food and shelter and family again; and that is a lot compared to what they've had.

Bryan House will be helping their Aunt Ketsia & Uncle Christophe save for the down payment on a house, so that eventually they will have a place of their own. A place to build stability and opportunity for these children and for their children after them. Welcome Home children! We've been waiting for you. It's long past time for your family reunion.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Drawing Near to God

God is near. I believe that everyday. But there have been some particularly important times in my life when God's nearness has been more than just a belief. Times when that nearness became an undeniable reality that no doubt could penetrate or even approach. Times when every inch of my being seemed to be singing God's name. When I remember those moments, I always find myself longing for more of them. And if I am honest, I know they are available to me if I will just draw near again.

"Come near to God and he will come near to you." James 4:8

The summer after I graduated from college everything felt like moving sand. I was back under my parent's roof again and renegotiating my relationship with them after living away for four years. I didn't have a "real job" lined up. I was disconnected from the friends I had made at school and from my church community. And the two Christians role models I admired most wanted nothing to do with me because they disapproved of the guy I was dating -- who admittedly was not kind or good, but started to feel like the only friend I had in the world. During that time I was enrolled in a nine week intensive youth ministry and leadership training program through Tentmakers. Every morning before my classes started I would go into the sanctuary of the church that was hosting us and sit down on the floor in a pool of sunlight coming in through one of the stained glass windows to spend some time with God. Sometimes I sang. Sometimes I prayed. Sometimes I sat quietly just feeling the sun on my face. And sometimes I laid down and cried. Even though everything else in my life felt broken and out of control, those moments alone in the sanctuary with God are still some of my sweetest memories. And though I have no desire to ever go back to that time in my life, I do long for that kind of communion with God again. I need to draw near again.

The last year of my life has been so busy with the work of ministry that I haven't always taken the time I need to draw near to God. More and more I feel myself longing to slow down, longing for a life that isn't quite so scheduled and full. I know that I am not at my best when life is like this, without any real time to reflect and think and draw near. But I can't see any way out for at least the next year. Somehow I still need to find ways to be quiet with God. I need some sanctuary moments. Even if it means neglecting other things. Even if it means disappointing people who want even more of my time.

I'm really looking forward to the day when Rick is done with law school. I am dreaming of the freedom that will come with day, but if I am honest I know that life for us will probably always be busy and over-full. So if I don't figure out how to get back to sanctuary now, it probably won't ever happen.

"Come near to God and he will come near to you." James 4:8

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Baby Basket

Look at this basket of beautiful Haitian babies with no Mommies or Daddies to care for them. Don't you just want to scoop them up right out of the picture and take them home with you? Haiti is the poorest country in the western hemisphere. Parents are so desperate here to feed their children that there are actually people on the streets selling dirt patties to stave off the hunger pains so children can sleep. That same hunger is what leads older children to get high by sniffing glue. And there are many, many orphans here. Some have lost their parents to disease and others have been abandoned because their families cannot afford to care for them. Haiti is only about 90 miles from Florida. This kind of obscene poverty is right in our own backyard. The cries of these children testify against our affluence and apathy. When will we realize that they are all "our children" ? Every last one.

Tomorrow Rick and I are going to an informational meeting on International Adoption. Haiti is one of the programs we are considering, along with Ethiopia and the Philippines. I think I have looked at the picture of these babies in the basket about thousand times now. I can't wait for the day we when can actually welcome a child like this into our home.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Enemy Love

Enemy love is hard. It's easy for me to point to others who should be doing it, but it's hard when I'm staring my own enemies in the face. Did you ever get one of those aggressive emails that make you stomach sick? (Did you ever write one?) I got one of those this week. I want to rant and scream and complain, but I know what Jesus wants from me: to love my enemies and pray for those who persecute me. So that's what I've got to try to do. If I'm going to take Jesus seriously, then I've got to take the whole thing seriously. Not just the parts that are easy for me. If I can't respond to an email with enemy love, then how could I respond to a slap in the face with enemy love? And it's not about being passive. Enemy love is active. It doesn't mean shutting up and avoiding the conflict. It means reaching out. It means making eye contact and standing courageously before your enemy and then offering the offer cheek, so he can see the humanity of the person he's about to strike. ( I learned that from Shane Claiborne, who probably learned it from someone else.)

Man, this Jesus guy is tough : )

Monday, May 12, 2008

The Earth seems Angry and so do the people.

The cyclone in Myanmar. An earthquake in China. Tornadoes in Arkansas and Oklahoma and Georgia. Fires in Florida and Coloradado.

Fighting and horror in Darfur, Lebanon, Sudan, Somalia, Iraq, Afghanistan. Israel and Palestine cannot figure out how to be neighbors. Zimbabwe is in the grip of a dictator drunk on power. The myth of redemptive violence is everywhere, on the battle grounds, on the streets and on the playground. Even the Church believes the myth, or at least is silent about it when our own governments turns to violence to solve their problems. War is some how different, at least when we're the ones waging it. Everyone always thinks their own wars are just wars. And it seems now that we have even pushed the earth into using violence to defend herself against us.

The world and the people seem particularly angry lately. Everything is shaking. What am I doing about it? Feeling horrified, and then going back to my coffee and my day unchanged. Being a Christ-follower has to mean something more than this. Because if it doesn't, then it means nothing. We can't follow Jesus and drag our comfort and our nationalism and our homeland security behind us. Sometimes I'm not convinced that the Church is even a good place to learn how to follow Jesus. The Church seems almost indistinguishable from everything and everybody else. There has to be a better way. The better Way. What would it be like if we actually took Jesus seriously? Loved and prayed for our enemies. Turned the other cheek. Sold our possessions and gave them to the poor. Gave to the poor quietly even when it meant nothing for our own reputations. Forgave freely. Served one Master: God, not money and not country. Did not store up treasure, except in heaven. Risked persecution even from -- maybe especially from the religious people. Acted as peacemakers. Laid down our lives. Really lived as aliens and strangers in the land and not as citizens of affluence.

Last week I met a woman named Diane Nilan who sold everything she had and bought a used RV to travel around the country interviewing homeless children and families and working to make people aware of their stories and to impact the attitude of churches and government. Now that sounds like a Christ-follower.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Speaking My Mind

In 2004 respected Sociologist and Evangelical, Tony Campolo, published a book called "Speaking My Mind." Some people might think that all Christians ever do is speak their minds, even when no one's really asking them; but the truth is that there are Christians in churches all over the country who are thinking things that they are too afraid to say out loud. They're afraid because they know that verbalizing their thoughts will inevitably lead to most of the other Christians around them questioning the validity of their faith and even the certainty of their eternal salvation. So rather than risking the stares and pity of their fellow church goers, they usually keep their thoughts to themselves. I have been among the ranks of the silenced in the past, but lately I've felt new courage to speak my mind. Maybe because I've started running into others who are also taking the risk of giving their thoughts voice and that helps me speak too.

One of the things those silent Christians are thinking a lot about is also one of the chapter topic's in Tony Campolo's book. "Are Evangelicals Handling the Gay Issue All Wrong?" In light of a recent message on this topic given at my church and the multitude of conversations about it that I have wandered into since, I thought I'd share a few of Compollo's thoughts and a few of my own. (It makes me feel a little safer to share knowing that Tony Compollo is wrestling with this too.)

A few quotes from Campolo:

"We must not allow ourselves to think that those who differ with us on the matter of homosexuality are less Christian or even less committed to Scripture than we are."

"We must avoid talking, as many preachers do, about THE homosexual lifestyle. In reality, there are as many homosexual lifestyles as there are heterosexual lifestyles. For instance, some adopt promiscuous lifestyles and some choose to have monogamous, committed relationships."

"It is my own belief that change is possible, but not likely. Because I believe in a God who works miracles, I cannot discount the possibility of change...on the other hand, of the hundreds of deeply religious gay males I interviewed while on the faculty of the University of Pennsylvania, I found that all of them had desperately sought change at one time or another and sadly all of them had met with only frustration and disillusionment."

"Believing that God created them for rejection, many homosexual people reject the God who they believe has rejected them. The despair that such a theology can create has driven some gays to suicide."

"The reason most evangelicals want to believe that homosexuals can change is because they are usually convinced that to have a homosexual orientation is to be perverted. They contend that homosexual orientation is contrary to God's intentions in creation."

"It is uncomfortable to note that although Jesus was silent about homosexuality, He did specifically condemn the remarriage of divorced people unless adultery was the cause of the divorce. Nevertheless, most contemporary Christians accept the remarriage of divorced persons regardless of the basis of their divorce. Gays often ask why evangelicals seem willing to accept...a sexual relationship that Jesus specifically condemned as adultery, then come down so hard on a sexual relationship that Jesus never mentioned."

My own personal questions:

1. What criteria can we use when deciding which passages of Scripture we will interpret using the historical and cultural context as a moderator (i.e. women being silent in church, and covering their heads, the command for slaves to obey their masters, the purity laws that tell us what is forbidden to eat and wear.) and which scriptures we will take at face value (i.e. that all homosexual relationships are sin, even though there is a historical and cultural context for the kind of relationships Paul was talking about.)

2. If the most compelling argument against homosexuality is that it is outside of God's plan for creation and that is the foundational reason for why it is sinful, then where does that leave disabled persons who don't have some of the "natural" functions of their bodies as God intended, or barren women who can never have children, or people who never marry and thus never fulfill the picture given to us in the Genesis or story, or those unfortunate souls born with both types of genitals? Are those people also unacceptable by God and the Church?

3. Since we are Christ-followers, are not the words of Jesus the highest authority? So if he never talked about this issue, then why are we so focused on it? We are perfectly comfortable parting with Paul and the purity code on other matters, so how did we decide that this one is more important when Jesus never mentioned it?

Sometimes I wonder what things will be like 50 or 100 years from now. Will people be looking back on this issue and viewing the Church as the same slow adapter it was with civil rights for women and blacks. That's just not the legacy that I want my generation of Christ-followers to leave. Women and black people as full participating citizens and Church leaders was once a scandalous idea too. And Jesus was always scandalizing people. So how do we know that this isn't just one more scandal of radical inclusion and love that Jesus intended his followers to be part of. If it is, I don't want to be left standing on the sidelines with the Pharisees. I long to have the courage to follow Jesus fully, even if it means risking rejection from Church people. I long for the courage not to be silent. I guess it's a lot easier on a blog than in person. But maybe this is a step.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Factory Job

On Monday one of the refugee families I know stopped over at my house to get some advice. The husband had just quit his first job in America after only two weeks. We generally ask refugees to keep their fist job for at least six months, even if it's difficult, because that first job is often hard to find and if a refugee disappoints a company, that company is unlikely to hire more refugees in the future. So my first response was "Why would you quit after only two weeks? Everyone's first job is hard." He looked upset and said this:

This company cares only about making money, not about the workers. Twenty workers quit a few days before me because of the heat in the factory. There is no air and no good vent. The machines melt the foam for cups for places like McDonalds, so the machines are hot and they make everything hot. When I started they had me running three machines, but after the other workers left I had to manage eight. I tried for a few days. I had to run back and forth all day long. My feet became so covered with bubbles that I could not put on my shoes. I thought this land is the land for freedom. How can anybody force me to work in a place like this?

Refugees frequently find themselves stuck in difficult factory jobs. For many it is the only viable work option. I'm not sure if the conditions my friend described are unusual or typical. I am sure that there are plenty of other refugees who stick it out and put up with those working conditions because they have no choice, or at least feel like they have no choice.

Earlier this year, another refugee man I know fell at another foam cup factory that he had been working at for seven years (though he had been an assistant to an eye surgeon in Africa.) The man slipped on a loose cup on the floor and fell and broke his hip. Even though an ambulance came directly to his work to take him to the hospital, the company tried to get away with not paying him the worker's compensation he was due. I guess they were betting that he wouldn't know his rights and wouldn't be able to sue. In this case they were wrong, but more often than not they are probably right.

I know that refugees must work and pay their own bills and be self-sufficient. This is a must. The preservation of their own dignity requires it and most want to work. But I hate to think that for some their only choice will be putting up with unsafe conditions and unscrupulous companies. And I know it is not only refugees who face this problem. There is a whole silent people in our country who face this everyday.

As I sit in my comfortable, temperature controlled office doing work that I find meaningful, significant, and fulfilling, I feel like a big jerk telling my refugee friend to get back out there and get another factory job as soon as possible, even if the conditions are not the best, because otherwise they will have no money to pay the rent and they will be evicted. My friend is college educated too. He also longs for meaningful work. But he, like many others, may need to settle for hoping that the opportunity will be open to his children.

There is nothing I have done to deserve the easy path, but it has been given to me. I pray I won't forget the ones who have been given paths filled with land mines and obstacles.

"Your gold and silver have corroded, and their corrosion will be evidence against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have laid up treasure in the last days. Behold, the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, are crying out against you, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. You have lived on the earth in luxury and in self-indulgence. You have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter." James 5

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Selling Jesus

What's wrong with this picture? Doesn't it kind of creep you out? Do you ever feel like the Jesus most American evangelicals are trying to sell you looks kind of like this guy? So distorted by their efforts to package and sell him, that he becomes sort of repulsive. Like a celebrity that has so much plastic surgery trying to stay young and beautiful that she seems to lose part of her own humanity. Who is this Jesus we're selling? Sometimes I wonder what true spark is left under the smothering weight of the never ending sales pitch. And I wonder if the Jesus we've bought is even the real thing, or just some lesser quality immitation. A winking, thumbs-up inflatable Jesus, like the balloon gorillas used to draw people into used car lots.

Though it costs me everything, I want the pearl of great price and nothing less.