I believe that God has been offering the Western church multiple opportunities to choose to be sheep instead of goats. To test whether we are in reality the kind that will hear Him say, “Enter into My rest” or the kind that will hear Him say, “Depart, for I never knew you.” These opportunities play out in our neighborhoods and grocery stores, on Facebook, and in our families.
Are we passing the tests? Or are we too caught up in ourselves and our own safety and our own rights and our own bills and schedules to pick up our cross and lay down our lives for the least of these? For the refugees and strangers among us… for those around us lost in lifestyles we don’t agree with… for the lonely in the nursing homes… for the single mothers on welfare yelling at their kids in the grocery store who might be angels sent to see if we would judge or entertain angels unaware.
This morning I read this, and it reduced me to tears.
So now is when this brokenhearted love story is begging to be told.
If you asked me when it all began, I would tell you it began before the long wait at the airport last week. Before they came for dinner last night. Before the children started calling my Farmer their uncle, before they started hugging his neck for all their worth, eyes dancing like the hope of stars.
I would tell you that it started to unfold when I reached over and squeezed Sozan’s hand in a cold shipping container in Iraq last year, there amongst the pillows and blankets where she laid down with her kids and slept through the nightmares.
Right after Sozan told me that when ISIS descended, slaughtered all the men, she had to run, had to choose which of her children her two arms could carry and how — and how Sozan’s choice haunted her. How the face of her little boy lost in the running throngs haunted her like a child begging to be remembered.
It all began right then, lodged in our hearts right then like a holy flame that would not be out until it started a fire that had to have its way with us.
And then that flame surged into an inferno when the little body of Aylan Kurdi washed up on the shores of Greece and we couldn’t turn our faces away from his, lying there in the sand, lifeless.
Who of us could look away, because we all have hearts that bleed when our collective conscience, our collective home of earth, is cut wide open with pain…
The drowning death of Aylan as his family tried to escape war to get to safer shores, his death birthed the throwing of a thousand lifelines, a thousand more, because how could we not?
We picked up ink. Our doing something, one thing, anything, in the face of the world’s worst humanitarian crisis since World War II, began with ink running like a stream across a torrent of forms, the Farmer staying up late at night, long after working in the fields, to fill out more applications.
I worked on adoption papers for a heartbroken baby in China.
The Farmer worked on the sponsoring papers of a refugee family from Syria.
We only get one life here. It’s a crazy, beautiful, liberating thing to realize: We’re not here to help ourselves to more — we’re here to help others to real life.
We’re here to live beyond our base fears because our lives are based in Christ. We’re here to live beyond our base fears because our lives are based in Christ.
We’re here to be more than our fears or our frustrations — we’re here to be more like our Father.
What if we wanted our lives to be more than about believing this — but were about living this?
A friend offered to rent us a house for a refugee family. Bible study friends donated bunk beds, a couple from church messaged that they had a line on a couch, a family our kids grew up with, they offered their backyard swing set, my sister made a list of what we all needed to set up a family running from war, running for their lives. A whole faith community put in hundreds of hours. Brave families of bold faith stepped out of their comfort zones for kids caught in war zones and worked and prayed and laughed too loud together and found comfort like they’d never experienced before.
Sometimes the places where we are stretched thin
are the thin places where we catch a greater glimpse of God.
And sometimes a kind of miraculous happens when
instead of thinking nothing can be done —
you believe there’s always a way one thing can be done.
There’s always find a way to take one step toward someone on the other side of a fence,
there’s always a way to take one brick out of a wall that’s divisive,
there’s always a way find a way to find Christ’s way to love.
We waited at the airport in Toronto for the arrival of our Syrian family for 3 and a half hours. Pacing. All we had were there names. No photographs. No means of contact. No information really except that there were six of them.
We watched the arrivals like those 10 lamp keepers tending their oil and wicks all night, waiting for His coming — we couldn’t turn away for a moment or we might miss them?
Was the man in the jean jacket holding a little girl’s hand our Syrian father coming through first? Shalom waved our Welcome sign higher, like she held a balloon and welcoming was a way to lift the whole world higher. Was this the mother holding their youngest?
Shalom got down on all fours so that a sign wielding cousin could strain that welcome sign even higher and us parents felt, uh, zero embarrassment at all, really, for the circus that we clearly are.
For hours, we watched every face that stepped through those automatic doors of arrivals…waiting for Him, for however He would come to us, the way “Christ plays in ten thousand places, ten thousand faces.”
And when Zacharias and Fatin walk through those doors — we think it’s them? Maybe? And then they see our sign — stop short. Their family name! The smiles! It’s them! The heart fireworks!
How can you kinda of fall in love with people you’ve just met?
They’ve grabbed each other and escaped a rain of bullets and bombs and a whole world of broken and I’m in awe of their brave.
A family of 6, shy, nervous, with a handful of broken English.
And us all stammering for words that can bridge an ocean of questioning space. Smiling is the dialect of connection — we can all speak it.
You are from?
Google translates on our phones makes our loud, slowly enunciated words into understanding:
And everything kind of runs liquid for me. For Fatin too. Aleppo. And my arms fling open again, open in grief and welcome and ache for a busted world and Fatin steps into that spaces and she squeezes me the tightest.
Come with us — let’s get you home.
Home? We go — not to a hotel? We thought — Government give us four days in a hotel. Then we are on our own?
We stop. Is something being lost in translation?
They flew how many hours across the ocean? To a country that doesn’t speak their language or share their culture, flew to a country where they know absolutely no one, where they have no job, no house, no English and 4 kids who will need breakfast tomorrow morning…
And they thought no one would meet them?
That they got a hotel bed for the 6 of them of 4 nights — and then — flung out to a coming winter? And yet they left the only home they knew?
I look into their eyes and it’s startling clear:
“…no one leaves home unless? home is the mouth of a shark…? no one leaves home until home is a sweaty voice in your ear saying- leave, run away from me now. I don’t know what I’ve become but I know that anywhere is safer than here…”
And we pull them in safe. “Here — no hotel, no streets in 4 days…” we pull them in close and whisper — ”A whole bunch of us, a tribe of us — we have made a space for you, a new home for you.”
They do not know what to say and we don’t have to — we just let all our eyes run liquid and love and hope flow mingled down.
When we open the door of a completely donated and ‘broken and given’ home that night, stand in the kitchen of the house that a world of kindness made, that being broken and given made, that love that refuses to be destroyed by oceans or wars or fears stood together and made —
Fatin hugs my sister and my mother and I and a whole community who reached out and we are all made in the image of God and He is perfect love and His perfect love kicks fear to the curb.
And this morning, the International Day of the Girl, the Farmer and my mother, they take Zaccharias and Fatin’s 3 daughters to school — and for the very first time in their traumatic lives they will shadow a door of a school.
War destroys more than cities — it destroys generations of dreams and hopes and education and possibility. But those three girls with hope lighting in their eyes? They can be anything now. There is always, always, always hope.
Zaccharias points to my mother — Your mother? Your mother? I nod. Kind. Help us. Kind. And I nod yes.
“My Mother? My Mother?” he pounds his chest like an aching howl.
He looks me in the eye — “My Mother back in Syria — she says she must tell you: Thank you, all the people of this country. Thank you, thank you — my mother says — we all say: Thank you.”
And a story of violence and war and fleeing and destruction — just became a brokenhearted love story of hope and healing and all things being made new — a story being told by his mother in Syria, a story that starts to change the narrative of division and fear in warring parts of the world.
Because this is what begins to change everything the world:
Being broken and given out into a hurting world —
begins to break the brokenness in the world.
And mothers all over the world never stop being mothers to their children, and all of the children in the world are all of our children, and I turn to Zaccharias and say: “Thank you, Thank you…” — because sometimes the greatest gift you can receive is getting to be kind.
Regardless of nationality, of worldviews, of politics, we all belong to each other, we all belong to the family where our faces reflect the image of God and at the end of the day — we have to learn to live with each other, be neighbours with each other, heal with each other.
Fatin’s hand finds mine… and we all gotta keep holding on here.
We gotta hold on and live it:
When the stakes are the highest, kindness matters the most.
When the battle is hardest, God’s people love the greatest, because love is the only force that meets no resistance. When the battle is hardest, God’s people love the greatest, because love is the only force that meets no resistance.
When life looms large — small acts of grace can erupt as the greatest change in another place.
This is worth risking your life on,
Because we may not hold some other answer to the world’s problems…
but we hold the light of the world and He is the answer.
He’s in you and makes you a city on a hill
so you get to be part of the welcoming beacon and answer to the world’s weariness.
He’s in you and makes you the light of the world so your grace, your kindness, you being a cup of light get to part of the answer to the darkness creeping up the edges of things.
It comes like all our brokenhearted hallelujah: Be the bread so broken and given — that a hungry world yearns for more of the taste of such glory.
Our newcomer family — who used to be refugees but have now found refuge in the good news of love — stand at their open door this morning, beckoning us in.
Ann’s family is Canadian, and the US does not offer American families the chance to sponsor in the same way. But we do have other opportunities…. opportunities by the thousands.
Am I doing what I CAN do? For whatever hurting and struggling people God has pointed out to ME?
That is what I am responsible for. When the people asked Jesus, “When did we see people hurting and hungry and in prison?” He didn’t answer, “On the news.” He pointed to those around them.
For me so far over these last six years, it has been nursing homes that God has pointed to locally
Truthfully, I would love to be able to help a refugee family… offer them friendship and kindness and love and English lessons if needed, but I live in a very small town. From what I can tell, the nearest refugees are too far away for me to be a part of their lives. But there are nursing homes around this corner and that corner and the next corner. That is where God pointed when I dared to ask Him what needs I could meet.
And I, like Ann, can truthfully say that “sometimes the greatest gift you can receive is getting to be kind.” Even when I have 6 hours of work to still be done and it’s already 3:30pm, and I feel like I’m dragging myself off to whichever nursing home is on my schedule that week, I still enter their doors… and find myself overwhelmed with smiles, because it means that much that I have come to play and sing with them… to give them a chance to sing forgotten hymns even though most people say their voices are too shaky to sing… to place large-print songbooks into their hands so they can sing even during the verses. Their smiles become mine, and I always leave happier and less stressed than I was when I entered.
This is a small part of my insignificant life… made significant because He joins His calling on my life with the calling on your life, and together we can become the hands and feet and voices and smiles of Jesus.
There’s a voice inside of you pointing to someone in need of something that you can provide. Heed the voice. Listen. Sacrifice. And discover the blessings in living a life poured out.