The Heartache Behind the Hashtag

Today’s post can also be found here at Refuge Coffee Co… I know I should only give a teaser with a link below, but I’ve decided to make it easy to read, so here’s the entire post. As Refuge gets ready to launch (in less than a month… ahhhh!), I’d love it if you’d pray for us. Despite our limitations, we have a burning desire to create refuge here in Clarkston for our refugee neighbors. Happy reading…

I’m really not a cynic, so when I tell you a thought I had during a recent visit to a Maasai village in Kenya, don’t judge.

Our group spent an afternoon with a young woman we all called Mama Julius, her family, and their neighbors. We, the foreigners, and our new friends slaughtered five chickens, plucked them, roasted them, and ate them together. I did things that day that I’ve never done before.

Most of the Kenyans present did not speak English, including the kids. Kids are easier to communicate with nonverbally, so I spent part of my time following them around and sitting under the only shade tree (we were at the equator, so that tree was prime real estate) singing silly songs with even sillier motions with them.

I’d already been in Africa over a week. I was as acclimated as one week can make a person to needs no Westerner can fathom without coming here to see them in person.

Anyway, here’s the thought I had as I watched those children—every one of them with bare feet—run over and around a pile of goat dung: “Where are their Tom’s shoes?”

I’m neither cynical nor naïve by nature, but I think this thought popped up because a series of well-made, heart-melting ad campaigns in the US had conditioned me to think world change really is that easy. I’m not blaming Tom’s. No, I’m just saying none of us in this business of social impact—even the big guys with seemingly endless resources—can impact everyone.

And that’s what really hurts.

If you’ve followed the dream of Refuge Coffee Co. at all, our hashtag #createrefuge may have resonated with you. Good. It is an honest simplification of our mission. But we are learning as we actually do the mission that heartache often accompanies the heart-melting images on our social media. Go deep, and you’ll likely hurt a little.

We are interviewing Refugee trainees this week. We cannot hire all of them. As we sit across a round table and listen to their stories, as we discover their siblings were born in refugee camps, their governments sent gunmen to their homes to murder them, their children are missing back home, and that they want so badly to work here in America and work hard to adapt, we have to fight the ache in order to be objective. Yes, we will hire refugees to be in our job training program. That’s creating refuge. But we will have to call half of the people we interview and tell them no. I’m not gonna lie; I hate that part with a passion. I hate it even though I’ve delegated it to someone else (sorry, Jessica!).

But the ache is what makes us human.

If our Refuge team is going to love well, we’d better make peace with a fair amount of pain. Tom’s can’t give every child in Africa a pair of shoes and we can’t give every refugee in Clarkston a job. And I don’t ever want to not feel bad about that. (Did you catch the “not” in that sentence? It’s awkward to say and even more awkward to feel.) This is the sobering backdrop I’ll never get used to behind the change-the-world hashtags. Ours included. #createrefuge

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All the glory we do not see

All the Glory We Do Not See

Talk about humbling. I have been absent from the blogosphere for almost a month, and this is what I have to say when I return? Basically, this post is about finding God’s glory in your pettiest moments. I’m banking on the fact that we all have petty moments.

Last week I devised this brilliant scheme to help my husband simplify his day. I was tagging along on an afternoon of his work errands, which included delivering a gift basket to an office downtown. I knew he had budget and time constraints, so I, the gift-giving brainiac of the family, said, “Let’s stop by World Market since it’s on our route and put together our own basket in the car.”

I’ll spare you the gory details. I’ll just tell you what we ended up with: an ugly, asymmetrical, unprofessional excuse for a gift basket. We assembled the whole mess on the sidewalk near a trash can. In my vigorous creative haste I tore the cellophane and gave up on the ribbon, so the goodies and the filler kept falling out. Vigorous creative haste: my specialty. I plunked it at my feet in the car and said, “Welcome to my world. This is how I do things, all wonky and messed up. I’m such a loser.”

To his credit, Bill was aghast at this conclusion and said as much. But I was too busy comparing my creation to the many gifts I’ve received from friends like Karen, who can make a Walmart purchase classy or another Karen, who is the kind of baker who does not own a microwave. Magicians and purists, these are my friends.

I tell this story, not to over-dramatize my reaction to a petty failure, but to demonstrate the ubiquitous sense we women have that we are failures. It’s so subtle, we don’t catch it half the time. A few days later I told my daughter-in-law Callie about the basket incident, and she laughed and said, “Yeah, I always say ‘I can’t do anything well’.” Which shocked me because Callie is one of the most do-well people I have ever known. That is not hyperbole. The thing is, we are both pretty normal, and even what you might call mature.

And yet I think like this? A lot?

Like after my recent trip to Kenya. Somewhere in the jet-lagged stupor of my first days home, I found myself reliving the trip like this:

Why didn’t I ask better questions?
Why didn’t I prepare better?
I think I talked too much.
I was actually probably really annoying.
Why did I keep losing stuff?

There were happy, glowy thoughts about the trip as well, and mostly those sentiments got top billing. But there was also the subtle self-flagellation, the wearying perfectionism. And I was suddenly sick of it. I seriously wondered how to kick this habit.

Then last week, on the day after the basket debacle, I read something Oswald Chambers said:

If the Spirit of God detects anything in you that is wrong, He does not ask you to put it right; He asks you to accept the light, and He will put it right.

It turns out I’m a failure at fixing feeling like a failure. What a relief. I cannot put this weird, wrong inner monologue right on my own. You know how dieting makes you obsess over what you eat, over the numbers on the scale, and the way your jeans fit? Fixing yourself makes you focus on yourself an inordinate amount, and you really should fix that.

So what can fix it? And is fixing it the point anyway?

I’m not sure it is. Surely the real point in life is something higher and better. There’s this word in the scriptures that offers a clue, a word that I think is actually worth obsessing over. It is the exact opposite of all those dark words we call ourselves like failure and loser and messed up. It’s a word that describes God, but it’s also used often to describe us. It’s in the scriptures over 350 times. That’s more than twice the times salvation is mentioned, and 30 times more than love. To be honest, I’ve never fully understood it. That word is GLORY.

The same day I read Oswald Chambers, I read Psalm 78. The Psalmist says there are these riddles or mysteries every generation should pass down to the next. Ancient parables about glory:

“We will not hide them from our children, but tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the Lord, and his might, and the wonders he has done.” (Verse 4)

I read this and I wondered: How was I supposed to experience the mystery of glory in the midst of my every day fumblings? Life often feels like one step forward, fifteen steps back. Parenting is hard and fraught with daily opportunities for mistakes. Marriage is a minefield. Running a non-profit only serves to highlight what I don’t know. Community doesn’t happen naturally. So where are God’s glorious deeds? Where are his wonders? And how do I experience or better yet exclaim his glory to the next generation?

I dived into the rest of Psalm 78 looking for answers, and I got them, but what a shock. The next 68 verses read like a roller coaster ride of Israel’s ups and downs, mostly downs, a chronicle of losers who couldn’t do anything well, but who showcased God’s glory when… not when they got it right, but when their wrongs got righted by God.

I’m beginning to think the most glorious deed God has done in my life is to save me when I am lost, to resuscitate me when I am dying, to heal me when I am sick. I know this sounds too dramatic to describe a day when a gift basket doesn’t turn out right, but that is life nine times out of ten, is it not? I know my big failures need grace, but I handle my little ones on my own. And thereby miss the glory in accepting God’s offer to fix them for me.

God’s wonders are found, not in the perfect meal that’s served on time, but in the oily smear left by entire pot of undercooked pasta you spilled on the floor and the dog ate. God showed up in the spill and your sadness over it. That’s glorious, that he would be there then. It’s a wonder when you realize, hey, Jesus is standing in my kitchen. He is here now.

His glory is found when I hear my voice yelling, yes, yelling at my kids and I cringe. And maybe I cry and ask their forgiveness. And I sense the wonder that he would teach me to cringe in order to set me right. That he would give me righteous tears to cry.

I find wonder in his kindness that leads me to repentance, not just for the “big” sins, but for the times I was lazy and didn’t call a friend, but I he reminded me and I did it, for the times I was loud and arrogant and he quieted my soul and moved my focus away from me to the person in the room I was there to love. And for the times, the many, many times, I didn’t sin at all, I just messed up like an ordinary human trying to get a gift basket right.

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The Cure for Social Media Shame

The Cure for Social Media Shame

Confession: I adore instagram. I just love those tiny, forgiving pictures with their enigmatic captions, the ones you can’t expand to see better, the snapshots of all things adventurous, banal, comedic, ultra cool. Those squares draw me in and won’t let go.

After you read today’s post, know that I will still love instagram, but that love is waning. I will still use it, but I will not let it use me.

Even more vulnerable confession: I have allowed instagram to disrupt a daily morning routine, one that has been sacrosanct in my life for almost forty years. Some days, not every day but often enough to be alarming, it acts on me like a drug. Before the sun comes up, as my coffee sputters into the pot, I pull out my phone and take a peek. And then, phone in one hand and mug in the other, both propped on a red, down-filled lumbar pillow on my lap, the peek turns into a dive into the wormhole of the lives of people I don’t even know. Alice’s tumble into the looking glass comes to mind. Or the siren call of porn to a middle school boy.

But it’s so much fun. I peruse shots of people, some I know and some I wish I knew, scuba diving in the Great Barrier Reef, riding motorcycles in Uganda, backlit by a sunrise over the Ganges or a winter sunset in Central Park. Some days these pictures are harmless in that they broaden my horizons a little bit and make me smile. But other days they speak. They tell me I wear the wrong clothes, I drink the wrong beer, I eat at the wrong restaurants. I am boring. I am old. My life is not the adventure it is supposed to be. The cumulative effect of these messages is that I am less than all those other people. It’s shame. And I just drink it in.

Friends, this is no way to start the day. And it is a tragic lapse in the life of a woman who has begun her day for decades with a fairly laser-like focus on meeting God, on letting him capture my imagination. That’s what faith is, after all: sanctified imagination. Now I do eventually put down my phone, telling myself I was getting awake in the meantime, and I open my Bible. I dive in there. But my focus is diffused and my imagination has been captured by images that are less than God telling me I am less than who he created me to be.

I have never preached “Have a Quiet Time in the morning,” but I have come close, only because I am sold on the value of setting my wandering heart’s course first thing every day. Otherwise, as I now know from experience, my heart and my imagination may not only get highjacked, these essential parts of who I am could turn against me. Am I exaggerating? I don’t think so.

In Psalm 40, David said God pulled him “out of deadly quicksand.” God is able to pull me out of the quicksand of anything that pulls me away from him. He’s done just that for me more times than I can count. Only his love and his word can rescue me and pull me back to my first love for him. Last week he pulled me out of the bog of social media shame when I read these words:

But as for me, I shall behold your face in righteousness,

When I awake I shall be satisfied with your likeness.

~ Psalm 17:15

“But as for me” implies that others may choose differently. It also implies a personal statement of intent, not a judgment on the choices others make. For me, it means that while others pursue fun and adventure, I will leave those to God. They are by products, not goals. I will enjoy them and I may even plan for them, but I will not seek them first. I will seek first his face.

“…in righteousness” means I need not seek him as one ashamed. I am made complete by God’s choice of me, not by the sound and fury of a wild and crazy instagramable life. I am not less than.

“When I awake” means I was on the track, so why did I veer off? I’m leaving my phone aside until the sun rises and I rise from my morning date with God. “When I awake” is a proclamation, for me, of repentance. You can ask me how that’s going if you’d like.

“I shall be satisfied” means I will start empty each morning, choosing to let him fill me. I will not eat junk food for breakfast.

“With his likeness” means God is always discoverable, always revealing who he is. The mere edge of his garment is more than enough, if I’ll just touch it in faith. Tomorrow there will be more for me to know. My capacity for satisfaction is small in comparison to his capacity to satisfy.

I’m afraid some of you will read this and let it do to you what instagram does to me sometimes. You’ll read it as message of shame. You, after all, are still struggling to make those morning appointments with God. Or you’re a night person and that is when you are most awake and most available to him. Or you, maybe, have never even tried. The point is not the meeting, but the One we meet. And the ancillary point today is that nothing—no compelling montage of color and faces and venues on social media—is as real and as beautiful as our God. Gaze on him and ask him to satisfy you. He will.




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