Amina

We live in Clarkston, a postage stamp “town” on the ragged edges of urban Atlanta. Time magazine called Clarkston “the most diverse square mile in America.” Our little zip code is home to people from over 40 countries, most of them the most war-torn, hungry, and destitute places on the planet. We are definitely not slumming (come visit us and see for yourself), but we do feel strategically placed to be neighbors here.

One week after we moved in our friend, Dianne, brought Amina to our house. When they left, I asked the Lord if he would arrange it so that Amina and I could be friends. And, simply because God made sure our paths crossed again… and again and again, we are.

Amina is a rarity among Somalians, both here and in her country. Not only is she royalty – the granddaughter of a Somali king – she is one of only .5% Christians from a predominately Muslim nation. About eight years ago Amina and her family (her husband and ten children) were attacked in their home. She remembers only fragments of that night, pieces of the torture that has left scars on her body and in her heart. Her entire family was slaughtered, including her youngest—fourteen-year-old twin daughters—and she was left for dead. An aide worker in the mortuary noticed that Amina had a pulse. She was moved, still in a coma, to Kenya and then to Burundi where she says dead bodies littered the streets. There is much, much more to Amina’s pre-America story. But I want to tell you what it’s like to know her now. 

Amina leaves her apartment most mornings by 7:00 am. She never has a plan, except to offer her waking hours to the Lord for his use. So if you call her, say, to ask her to meet you at your Congolese friend’s apartment to translate (she speaks eight languages), you might get detoured to the home of a Bhutanese family who needs help hauling away seven carloads of garbage to the dumpster in your car because they don’t have one. She might call you from the Department of Labor to say, “Come quickly. We need your help,” and you go because the same Holy Spirit who inhabits Amina lives in you and helps you see that your cancelled appointment is an open door. And after you help a young Sudanese woman who speaks no English but beams so beautifully with gratitude that you love her immediately, and then you fill out the same paperwork for an Indian man who is a good bit less grateful… after all of this Amina takes you to the grocery store to meet her Egyptian friends, friends she met while you were filling out forms. Amina might stop by your house to rest or to eat dinner or to tell you another story of God’s intervention, which might be in the near future and involve you. 

Amina wanders into impromptu prayer and, more often, praise more than anyone I’ve ever met. She loves to say God is good. This is, as you may imagine, no shallow sentiment. The other night she mentioned that two families in Clarkston had lost husbands/fathers to suicide and that she had called three churches to help them, but no one would take her call. We saw disappointment flicker across her face, anger even, and then she closed her eyes and said, “Thank you, God, that you always take my call. You are perfect, we are not. You never slumber or sleep. You always tenderly care for us.” (Yes, she talks like that) To which we said, Amen.

What Does Racial Healing Look Like?

A Georgia State Senator recently filed Senate Resolution 28, a statement of “remorse” over our state’s part in slavery. Detractors argue that it is too little too late, that it lacks heft because it doesn’t use the word “apologize.” Supporters hope Georgia will finally do what other Southern States have done and officially acknowledge the grave errors of our past.

Which has got me to wondering about racial healing. What does it really look like? A legislative action?

I wonder how we heal. Or, in my own experience, how I have healed. How have my relationships and my attitudes healed? How have I evolved from a white, privileged, suburban (I don’t live there now, but I grew up there) woman with a confusing legacy of racial open-mindedness in a world that looked just like Jackson, Mississippi, in The Help into a… well, I’m not sure what I am except that I am not that anymore.

Several years ago Bill and I went to the MLK Center in our city for the first time. And we marveled that we’d never paid any attention to this treasure. The first thing we did, as the compliant museum-goers we are, was watch a short film about Dr. King’s life that left me in tears, even though I knew most of the story and had read most of the quotes that flashed on the screen. As I made my way out of our row, a Black woman about my age stopped in the aisle and looked at me. I glanced back and smiled at her. She took a step toward me and I took a step toward her. We embraced.

Actually, she grabbed me in a bear hug, released me, and said, “The just seemed like the appropriate thing to do.”

I couldn’t have agreed more. We talked and discovered we were, indeed, the same age. She wanted me to know she had never had any rancor toward my race. I told her about bussing in Nashville in the ‘60s. She told me about integration in her hometown. We formed a little friendship right there.

Is that what racial healing looks like? A high school reunion?

Around fifteen years ago Bill pastored a somewhat racially mixed church in a thoroughly racially mixed community. We hosted a “racial reconciliation” group in our home. We read a different book each month, watched a different movie, and had discussions. It was nice.

Is that what racial healing looks like? A seminar?

I’m sure these things—laws passed, embraces, discussions—have helped us to heal. But if I look at my own life, there is one element that has all but erased the scars of the past.

Leadership. I’m not talking about a white man or woman leading the way in racial harmony. I’m talking about a black man or woman leading white men and women. The church has had a lot to say on the race issue. Too little to say and way too late as far as I am concerned. We’ve made statements that sound a lot like the resolutions our lawmakers have passed. We’ve held discussions and we’ve even embraced. But in all of these efforts we are the leaders.

My husband is a former pastor who now follows a majority black leadership. Given our age and our backgrounds, we find this healing. I honestly don’t think our pastors, Dhati, John, or Muche have a clue what this does for us. We don’t follow them because they are black. We didn’t join our church to make a racial statement. We follow them because of who they are and how they lead and where they lead us. But for the first time in our lives, we are not the dominant people in the room. We are not the culture-setters. We are not the value architects. We are not the teachers or the counselors or the leaders. We are not even peers. We are the followers.

Maybe that’s the best kind of healing. You look up one day and discover the wounds are gone.

An Olympic-Sized Dose of Hope

We were eating dinner with the TV on.

It was on mute. But still. We never eat with the TV on, except for three weeks every four years when the Olympics beckon us to throw our morals to the wind and turn our home into a sports bar.

We were talking about the 1996 Olympics. If you lived in Atlanta then, you have your own personal Olympics stories. We went to watch badminton, not because we were all that interested in badminton, but because the tickets were cheap enough to buy for a family of six. We rode MARTA downtown together and, later that night, we found out a bomb had exploded just steps away from where we had been. If you lived in Atlanta then, you might even have a bomb story.

Matt spoke up, “I didn’t go with you.”

“Yes, you did,” I said, with that omniscience we moms think we have.

“Mom,” patronizingly, “I was a rebellious kid. I didn’t go anywhere with the family then.”

And then it all comes rushing back. Matt was fifteen and indeed rebellious. Of course he didn’t go. Opting out was an art with him in those days. It makes me sad to remember all that estrangement now. I think in the past few years I’ve photo-shopped him back into our memories, placed him retrospectively where he belongs. Maybe that’s mercy and grace. Even our memories get healed. But I really haven’t forgotten, and I’m not sure I want to. The new photo looks sharper and dearer because of the unedited old one.

Matt’s move back to Atlanta just so happened to coincide, roughly, with his move back to Jesus. He was a redeemed, renewed, restored work in progress. One of the first things he did was to actively reconnect with his now-grown brothers. At his initiative, they all four formed a men’s adult soccer team with some buddies.  Without realizing it, Matt was creating new, photographic memories as surely as the old, painful ones began to fade.  

All four of our sons on the same playing field every week. We met their wives at the park, took our camp chairs, and tried not to embarrass them by cheering. We hid our faces in our hands and groaned when they fouled other players. We went out for pizza afterwards. They aren’t close enough in age for this phenomenon to have happened when they were kids nor has it happened since.

But as I think about the Olympics, the drama and the pageantry of it all, I am in awe of that short soccer season. It meant something. If it had been on TV, we would have watched it during dinner.