For the One Deep in Despair

8/29/16

A new friend reached out on Facebook this week and asked me to pray for someone she cares about who is barely hanging on.  Of course, I said, of course I'll light a candle and pray.  (It's feeble and it often feels like nothing, but can't we believe deep down that it's something?)  That was days ago now and I'm still thinking of this person, an orange flame still flickers on the downstairs mantle.  I remember well the darkest days of my own pilgrimage, days when the sun went down like lines on my arms.  I think about my husband's dark night of the soul long ago and how he googled ways to end it all. They say life is short but for some of us it seems far too long.

Maybe that's you?

You're lonely and hurting, aching and throbbing with the wounds of not belonging.  You're both too much and not enough for the circles you intersect with.  You're family-less.  You're different.  You sit on the margins of society and peer in.  You don't know why you can't just be like everyone else, why you can't will yourself to become more palatable. Your square edges don't stand a chance of sliding into all the damned round holes that surround you, and day to day you waver between giving it all the finger or dropping to your knees begging to be let in.

You find ways to escape it for awhile. In drink or in sex or in micromanaging or in eating or not eating, or in any other way that we're so good at medicating the pain of our otherness.  But it's never enough, of course it's not, and some days you think about how good it would feel to just slip away into the Nothing.

I know there is nothing some stranger on the internet can say that will heal all the wounds or wrong all the rights.  But I'm going to say some things to you anyway; things that probably won't change your life but will be true nonetheless, because sometimes truth has to be spoken regardless of the likelihood of it's being believed.

You are a gift.  You see things that others don't, and we need your vision.  You see the injustices of the world and maybe right now it feels like they're breaking you but one day, indeed, you will break them.  The very places where society has failed you are the places that you'll have the chance to rebuild, brick by brick.  You have the unique perspective to be an advocate and when you emerge from this haze, you will be a tiger defending the defenseless. It's in you.

You are not alone.  Sounds like the cruelest of lies, doesn't it?  But it's just the opposite. Do you remember in Harry Potter, how Luna told Harry that if she were Voldemort she would try to isolate him, because on his own he wouldn't be much of a threat?  Hate and despair dwell in isolation.  There are people with whom you can be stronger together, with whom you can link arms to push back the darkness.  Find your people.  They might be in a support group of ones who share much in common with you, or they might be stumbled upon in an unlikely place you never would have thought to look. Find them, whatever it takes.  Push back the lie that you don't belong, because you do.  You have much to give.

You are loved by God.  Maybe you already know that.  Maybe you're an atheist.  Maybe you're somewhere in between. Wherever you stand, I respect it.  But in that respect, I will still tell you what I've found to be true: there is a God who is infinitely better, kinder, more compassionate, and more loving than the humans who try to represent him.  Sometimes people are idiots, and I'm so sorry if they've hurt you.  But it's not true that you are unloved.  In fact, you are infinitely more loved than you could ever imagine yourself to be.

I can't say for sure how your story will end if you hang on here.  But I believe that truth, beauty, and goodness exist in our world, and I believe they exist for you.  Please don't give up; your presence here is a gift.  You are a part of us, and we are all the better for your being among us.  I hope that one day you can believe it.





Assimilate or Go Home: An Interview with D.L. Mayfield

8/22/16

I'd been an avid follower of D.L. Mayfield's work for about a year when I first heard the premise behind her forthcoming book debut and I remember immediately marking it in my memory as a "must-read".  I mean, how can you ignore a book when the official description reads like this:

From childhood, D.L. Mayfield longed to be a missionary, so she was thrilled when the opportunity arose to work with a group of Somali Bantu refugees in her hometown of Portland, OR. As the days, months, and years went by, her hopeful enthusiasm began to wear off, her faith became challenged, and the real work of learning to love and serve her neighbors grew harder, deeper, and more complex. She writes: “The more I failed to communicate the love of God to my refugee friends, the more I experienced it for myself. The more overwhelmed I felt as I became involved in the myriads of problems facing my friends who experience poverty in America, the less pressure I felt to attain success or wealth or prestige. And the more my world started to expand at the edges of my periphery, the more it became clear that life was more beautiful and more terrible than I had been told.” 
In this collection of stunning and surprising essays, Mayfield invites readers to reconsider their concepts of justice, love, and reimagine being a citizen of this world and the upside-down kingdom of God.
I finally got to read Assimilate or Go Home: Notes from a Failed Missionary on Rediscovering Faith when it released last week and friends, let me tell you it was everything I'd hope it would be.  I shamelessly Instagram-hounded her to do a little interview for my blog so that you guys could see for yourselves what a wealth of understanding God has graced her with.  I know you will be challenged and encouraged by her words today, and I do hope they will nudge you into checking out her book.



Join me in welcoming D.L. Mayfield!

//

Early on in the book you introduce us to a Somali Bantu refugee woman named Jamila, whom you are meeting with weekly for English lessons.  You would supply worksheets with pictures of a sun, for instance, and practice using the word "sunny" but she could never remember it week to week and seemed largely uninterested. It wasn't until years later that you understood that, coming from a pre-literate culture, she had no grid for connecting a circle with lines to the giant bright thing in the sky. As you said, she simply hadn't been raised to think that way.  Without being aware, you had put her in a position of weakness and ignorance over and over again.  And yet Jamila continued to welcome you into her home week after week, bearing her own undeserved humiliation to extend relationship to you.  This took my breath away.  Later on you say that we, "the do-gooders", leave before we have the chance to see how poor in relationships we really are.  What did your experience with Jamila teach you about your own relational poverty?

Jamila and her family (and community, really) opened my eyes to how entrenched I was in communities that were largely homogenous.  Through my work with the refugee families I learned how little I knew of Muslims, or people from a different socio-economic backgrounds, or people from non-Western perspectives. Since I never knew anyone different from me, I assumed so much about the world. By having my life entangled with one set of people on the margins in America I met others--people experiencing generational poverty--and I realized how my reality was not the reality of so many. By broadening my scope of who was in my circle, I broadened my perspective of who I let teach me. And I learned more about God, myself, and my country than I possibly wanted. 


You talk a lot about food in your book, and there is so much symbolism there: cultural identity, spiritual hunger, relational hunger, a common humanity, poverty.  Food is an integral part of any culture and I imagine only more so when a community of displaced persons is trying to hold on to their identity.  What have you learned about food in these past 10 years and how has it informed your relationships?

I do talk about food a lot, don't I? In the beginning, I tried to cook a lot of food for my refugee friends and neighbors, and it never went over all that well (the only consistent crowd pleasers were Orange Fanta and spicy Cheetos). Eventually, I realized that for many, cooking and eating the foods they grew up with was a way to exert some control over their lives, a way to carry over their culture into their new (forced) circumstances. Eventually, I decided to stop trying to get them to like my food and be a gracious receiver of their hospitality. For me, my relationship with food and learning to be the recipient is a beautiful picture of the need for mutuality when we engage in cross-cultural relationships. Besides--the food that people cook for me in consistently amazing :)

I have been all over the map (literally and figuratively) with mission work in my life and have done more than my fair share of short-term trips or projects.  Only in the last four years have I been educated on the ways those can actually be more harmful than helpful, and I look back on some of the things I've done and truly grimace.  (i.e. work in a Kenyan orphanage for a month, begin to build attachments, and then leave behind orphans with yet one more reason to believe that relationships aren't forever)  In the book, you mention that you and your husband eventually stopped inviting people to come volunteer in the refugee community.  Can you tell us more about that decision?

This is still something I struggle with, honestly. There is a great need for people to be working against inequality and injustice in the lives of people on the margins of America, but this can only happen through the life-changing work of long-term relational engagement. It still seems like the dominant western Christian model of engagement is centered around short term work: going in, doing an event or a project, feeling awesome, and then leaving. To me it is pretty clear that this is centered around the experience of the giver, and is very hierarchical. In our quest for real relationships we have discovered that it takes time and intentionality and nothing else can substitute for that. So while we no longer invite tons of people to come and pop in and meet some refugees, we do have certain felt needs that are great ways for people to get engaged--things like tutoring at English classes or helping out at homework clubs. For me, this is a win-win. People really need help in these practical ways and it also creates bridges for Christians and other folks to meet and be changed by relationship. 


Can you tell us why there is no word or phrase for "thank you" in the Somali language?  To us Americans that expression feels very important and I imagine most of us assumed that every language had something comparable.

Well in the book I write about how there is a phrase for "thank you" in Somali culture, but it is not used every day like we Americans are used to. I was in a cultural class and I asked my teacher (a young Somali man) about it and he explained that to him, every single person was valuable and worthy of helping. So if someone asked for a cup of cold water, you would just give it to them--they don't need to say thank you, because everyone deserves water when they are thirsty. For me, this blew my mind in two ways: one, I thought it was a beautiful picture of the inherent dignity of humankind--how we are all made in the image of God and deserve to be treated as such. And two, it revealed to me my own longing for people to say thank you when I "helped" them, and how contingent my love was on getting recognition as a do-gooder. That was a pretty devastating realization. 

When you and your husband first moved into the low income apartment complex to be closer to the Somali Bantu people, you had idealistic dreams of how precious it would be.  Eric and I had the very same mental images when we moved into an Indonesian kampung in 2009 and I laughed out loud when you said it took so much energy that at night you would lock your doors and watch TV, because YES, THAT.  I think we watched every released Harry Potter movie a dozen times each.  How long did it take to turn a corner, or have you?  What advice would you give someone who has fresh dreams of living in solidarity with the poor one day?

The ministry of Harry Potter is REAL. But yeah, I still believe that self-care is important, and I still have seasons of having to survive my life--but my real goal is not for my apartment or home to be my sanctuary but for it to just be another part of my life. Sometimes I don't have any control over this. For instance, I am an introvert who is the primary care-giver for two little kids, so just that alone makes me want to curl up in a corner in the evenings and not talk to anyone. Add into that living with and interacting with neighbors from all over the world (many of whom come from very communal cultures) and that just gets a bit heightened. I think at this point in my life I am ok with saying that we all have different needs (due to personality and cultural upbringing) and I think having rhythms and routines both of rest and of celebration can be very helpful for getting out of the survival mindset. 


The only conclusion you come to in the book is that God loves us.  It is so terribly wonderful, so mysteriously simple.  How has this new understanding of the heart of God changed the way you see your role in His plan for the world?

I still struggle with it. I still have so many days of feeling despondent over how bad things are in the world, or how problematic I am, or how we all could be doing so much more. But in the end, as I lost all faith in myself being able to convert anyone, I gained so much more faith in God, the power of the Bible, and the ability of the Holy Spirit to speak to us all. It's very freeing, actually. When I do believe in this wild love, it takes all the pressure off of me. All I have to do is be obedient to that next step God is asking me to take.

//

Many, many thanks to D.L. Mayfield for taking the time to do this interview.  Assimilate or Go Home: Notes from a Failed Missionary on Rediscovering Faith is less than $10 on Amazon right now, so do your heart and mind both a giant favor and check it out.

I'll be giving away 1 free copy of this book to a newsletter subscriber this week, so if you'd like a chance to win and don't get the newsletter you can sign up here!  {I recently mistakenly said that it would be Falling Free, but that one releases in September so you'll have to wait 'til then!}

*book links are Amazon Affiliates

An Open Letter to Mindy Kaling (and other singles who want to believemarriage doesn't suck)

8/9/16

source

Dear Mindy,

Nice to meet you!  Big fan.  Your writing for The Office coupled with a pint of Ben and Jerry's has cured my achin' soul many a wild Tuesday night, so I recently bought your first book, Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns).  Fine, I didn't buy it, I got it from the public library.  If it makes it any better, I had to wait a whole week and then I finished it in 24 hours and yeah maybe I didn't personally buy it but I did recommend it on this blog that like 12 people read.  You're welcome.

I found the book hilarious and much better than your 2nd one (sorry, but true).  In fact I enjoyed it so much I read a lot of it out loud to my husband.  Not as much as I read to him from Jim Gaffigan's book but know your crowd, am I right?  I also didn't take pictures of Jim's text and send them to my sister so one might say you tied.

Anyway, one thing I like about you is your love of family.  Seems like you had a killer family life growing up and long to find the same for yourself.  As someone who shares an appreciation for the devotion and devastation that is family life, I perked up when I read your challenge to married couples.  It seems you're sick of hearing about how hard marriage is and how much therapy it takes, and want to hear more about how fun it can be.  You want to see more couples like Amy Poehler and that guy she calls by his last name.  You want to see husbands and wives who are pals, you say.

Well challenge accepted Ms. Kaling.  Because we just celebrated our 10th anniversary and, in between therapy sessions, if there's one thing my husband and I are it's pals.  Allow me to offer you a closer look.

First let's talk about Netflix.  (Incidentally I just found out what "Netflix and chill" means and I am 96% sure that I've used that phrase inaccurately up until now.  And now that I've written it, I don't exactly know what I meant there except that maybe the 4% are now 2.5 years and 2.5 months old.)

My husband (let's call him Eric so that I don't have to keep saying "my husband" and also because that's his name) and I have never been big T.V. watchers. We're more the smug weirdos who prefer books and conversation about the precepts of socialism.  We've sort of prided ourselves on not watching much television, but then we started having kids and as great as they are it's suddenly been like, "diversion! must! have! diversion!"  So we hack into his sister's Netflix account and binge watch shows with our respective pints of ice cream until we start resembling Stephen Colbert in that bit he did with the Oreos on Donald Trump.

It seems like as good a time as any to admit that despite our ongoing plight to appear pseudo-intellectual, we know very little about politics.  But we watch a lot of Colbert and Madam Secretary so we figure that counts for something.

Speaking of Madam Sec, you should have seen the level of excitement reserved only for tired parents desperate for engaging storyline that went down in our living room when season 2 appeared on Netflix a few weeks ago.  Party time.  "So long, Kimmy Schmidt!", I sang out.  Eric looked like I'd just suggested choosing 1 of our 3 children to keep.  "Wait, wait, wait", as he staved off an anxiety attack, "we can watch them both".

The man can't quit Titus Andromedon.  Not after the episode where, dressed as the geisha he was in a past life, he enchants the crowd of Asian protestors.  There is no turning back now.

(I just read this out loud to him and he's cracking up thinking about it all over again.)

Consistent with the kind of underwhelm that has been on full display here, our couple-hobbies denote a level of shared boring that few other marriages attain.  We are proud of this.  We enjoy long walks through our neighborhood, tandem reading in coffee shops, and sitting idle beside any available body of water.  The ocean's nice but random ponds dug in the middle of bustling shopping centers work in a pinch.  We're slow people.  We like to relax, talk, and analyze everything to freaking death.  We keep life simple and wide-open.  It's not for everyone I guess, but it's for us.

Yet we're not without our unpredictability.  Eric is the kind of person who reads Nietzsche for fun (and I just googled out how spell it. I don't even fake-read that ish.)  He's a composer, or at least that's what his master's degree says, yet he has come to wield the white flag of parental defeat: allowing kids music in the car.

(I personally like my birth control natural.  I have found that the optimal formula for this is the combination of parenting a 2 year old + allowing kids music in the car.)

It keeps the shorties from screaming so it's generally a win, yet from time to time a grown ass person's brain is going to start misfiring from a 12,000th round of "booty booty booty booty ran tan tan".  So we turn to kid-friendly real music.  And we try to expose them to a nice variety and we made them a mix CD for crying out loud but inevitably the little gremlins fixate on just one single song and demand it over and over and over until suddenly "Pumped Up Kicks" is absolutely no better than "Three Little Monkeys".  We respect scientific laws in our family and one that I can solidly identify is that every action has an equal and opposite reaction.  In this case, it's Eric shoving in a POD cd from 1998 and yelling frantically at us all that he'll listen to whatever the hell he wants.  (He doesn't actually say hell in front of the kids but his eyes get kinda red which is probably a little bit scarier.)

If you were to press, Eric might identify my tragic flaw to be a severe mismanagement of bills.  Or really most anything involving numbers and/or a requiring a phone call with someone who is going to ask me about numbers or use words like deductible.  Or router.

I just can NOT with that junk.  I'm not an idiot.  I'm actually well educated, but it doesn't seem to matter when the gas bill comes on the 15th, electric on the 30th, trash on the 26 1/2th, mortgage on the 1st, and insurance on the 4th, 12th, and 19th (I swear).  Every month I screw something up and every month Eric suggests I simply pay each one the moment I open them.  Which makes awesomesauce sense in theory but falls apart mercilessly at the feet of three human beings who are eating peanut butter with their fingers, pulling my pants down by the belt loops, and sucking liquid out of my person while I am opening said mail.

"I'll help you figure out how to do it online", he says with the kind of trepidatious optimism that affirms my suspicion that we both already know how this will end.  I can't ever remember the 916 passwords I need for each different account and maintain that I could do it if each institution would simply accept the same password.  Eric says something about identity theft but I'm just like whatever man we'll just pay the late fees.  He seems to think there is something lacking in this strategy.  You may be shocked to hear that we fight over bills at least once a month.  It will probably never change.  I keep waiting for the day when he admits he thinks it's cute, but so far he's maintaining his front.

I could tell you more, Mindy.  I could tell you how we have the same sense of humor and crack each other up daily.  I could tell you how despite the stress of raising a young family, we both feel that our boys are the bad assiest little creatures on the planet.  I could tell you how we talk about them after they go to bed in a way that would make your gag reflex quiver, or how every day we have to turn our heads in unison so they don't see us laugh at their irrational shenanigans.  I could definitely tell you how great pregnancy hormones are for sex, but that might be crossing a line.

Here's the deal: my husband and I are actual best friends.  I know you said this can't be because a best friend is your girl who loves to sit and gab with you about All The Girl Things, and yeah that one time I tried to talk to Eric about an interview I read with Julianne Moore saying she's not slender enough in Hollywood (WTH?!?) it fell pretty flat.  But that's what I have my best GIRL friend for, my sister, Elise.  My best friend is the one I share my life with.  He's the one I move to Indonesia and have no hot water for two years with.  He's the one who cleans up my vomit when I'm sick without complaining.  He's the one who is constantly encouraging me to pursue my goals and stays up late with me figuring out what exactly they are.  Sure, he's my pal, absolutely.  But that falls so short of encompassing the depth of our friendship.  Really there are no good words for it, but I'll keep trying to write them for the rest of my life anyway.  Because you'll probably never read this letter, but he will.  Happy 10th anniversary, babe.  I love laughing through life with you.
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Someday, the light will shine like a sun through my skin & they will say, 'what have you done with your life?' & though there are many moments I think I'll remember, in the end, I will be proud to say, I was one of us.

(Brian Andreas, Storypeople)

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