If you have not yet realized, here on my blog is where you will find me sharing my heart. And because I just had an experience that broke my heart, I feel compelled to record the story.
I was popping by the drug store this evening. On my way in, I noticed a woman lingering outside. When she was still there on my way out, I approached her and asked her if she needed assistance. As I was doing so, she began to wince, trying to offer a smile, but it was clear she was conflicted, and words were not coming to her.
I recognized exactly what was happening, because I myself have been plagued with the same feeling so many times: when you just need help, but it is way too difficult to ask.
She must be new to this asking for money thing, I thought to myself, because it honestly seemed like she had no idea what to do or where to start.
I dug into my wallet, apologetic at my measly $2 offering; I am notoriously awful at having cash on hand. As I did so, she suddenly began to pour her story out to me. For 30 years, she had been employed at the same company. She unzipped her sweatshirt to show me the logo T-shirt of the company. Her pride was apparent as she told me how in her 30 years, she worked hard enough to go from $7 an hour to $9 an hour.
“But recently, I think they got afraid. They told me I couldn’t work there anymore, because they didn’t know what was going to happen, and this new president, I would get them in trouble. Because I am illegal.”
Have you ever watched someone admit that they are not a legal citizen of the United States? The way she said it, THAT was the moment that my heart broke. (If someone wants to send a powerful message, compile a video of people admitting they are “illegal”). My heart broke because of the shame apparent in her body language and how she downcast her eyes as she uttered this confession. She was a hard-working, contributing member of our society, who took pride in her job and wanted to work. Yet because of where she had been born, because of circumstances entirely outside of her control, she was being sold an uncompromising lie about who she was as a person: that she was somehow lesser, somehow dirty, somehow unwanted, somehow a liability, and that somehow 30 years of loyalty and service and hard work could all just be forgotten and reversed. That she could be rendered homeless simply because of the fear that our new president has ushered in.
And yet…she was still SO proud of her story, and still clothed in the T-shirt they had given her. When, at the end of the day, despite the fact that she was “illegal,” this employer was not even paying her a state mandated legal wage, so for them to shame her so hypocritically for something they were guilty of in their own way…oh, the irony of the entire situation…
This narrative we are currently immersed in, and the leader who perpetuates it is in direct contrast with a different leader and a different narrative that I know. In the narrative I ascribe to, we were all created equal in the image of God. And because ALL were created EQUAL, it does not make sense to me that we would build a hierarchy to contradict this equality, and try to play God ourselves by thinking that we are somehow better than others, when if we would just look at a fundamental human level we would realize where we stand. And because we are ALL the image of God, for us to cast judgment and want to shut out our brothers and sisters in Christ because of circumstantial differences – that just does not make a whole lot of sense to me. If He tells us we all have merit in Him, why would we try to find ways to challenge the merit of our fellow brothers and sisters? The leader I know filled his days with endless ministry and unconditional love poured out upon the marginalized and all those on the fringes of society. The homeless, the refugees, the immigrants, the widows, the children. It seems to me like there is a very clear interpretation presented here: “And if a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not mistreat him. But the stranger that dwells with you shall be unto you as one born among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. I am the LORD your God.”
If you don’t ascribe to my narrative, that’s fine. I’m not here to try to tell you to believe the same thing. I don’t find it productive to sit on social media and debate politics, and my intention is not to sway opinions, spark a comment war or anything along those lines. I think that no matter what your opinion is, you should have the freedom to believe and share it.
However, I DO think – and I would think this no matter who was our commander in chief — we are living in a world that is broken, hurting, lost and hungry for more love, more compassion and more people to pause and share stories and resources in any way they can. And I DO think it is productive to engage with your community and learn from every situation you find yourself interacting with, rather than keeping your head down and ignoring the woman outside the drug store. My intention is more along those lines: to spark some train of thought, to provoke action, to ask you to dig into your community and plant roots and water the growth, in the hope of ministering to each other in love and warmth, to build a little bit more beautiful of a vision each and every day. Even if you are in total support of our current president, and you side with the employer in this anecdote, and want to deport the woman I spent the evening talking to immediately — even if that is you, I ask you to engage with those around you, to learn the stories of strangers, to have a heart for the broken and to generously offer your resources to them. Try not to see people as labels — illegal, legal, Muslim, woman, homoxesual, Christian, Atheist — try to see beyond the label, and see instead the soul that was so lovingly crafted by our Creator, so intentionally put upon this Earth to serve a divine purpose in the Kingdom. Love doesn’t choose sides. Love isn’t red or blue. Love laments the aggression of the bipartisan landscape and calls us to something greater.
YOU BETTER BELIEVE THIS EXPERIENCE MOVED ME, BECAUSE YOU BETTER BELIEVE THAT CHAR DON’T PREACH. It makes me very uncomfortable, actually.
I asked this woman what her name was. She told me, “You know the mother of Jesus? You know who she is?” I said, “Yes ma’am, that would be Mary.” And she said, “Yes, that is my name too.” I asked Mary if she would be comfortable with me praying for her, and she started to shake her head laugh.
“Whenever people ask to pray for me, either I cry and then they cry, or they cry and it makes me cry. And I don’t want to cry. We always cry.”
I told her I understood, but that if it was okay with her, that I would pray for her later tonight when I was at home. She said yes, that she would like that very much. I told her to take care.
I had made it maybe about a dozen steps away, when all of a sudden she shouted, “WAIT!”
I turned around.
“What is your name?”
“Me? I’m Charlotte.”
“Charlotte, can I pray for you tonight too?”
“Yes, Mary. I would like that very much.”
Mary didn’t assign me to a category. She didn’t write me off as “legal” or her “enemy” or her “opposition.” She looked outside of her own bleak and challenging circumstances to extend grace and prayer to a stranger.
And let me just tell you: I’d much rather have people like Mary as my co-worker and my neighbor than those who would cast her out.
I’ll close with a couple of paragraphs I wrote at the end of 2016, part of something more personal and separate, archiving my sentiments on the transition from 2016 to 2017. Because what would my blog be without being utterly jumbled? Though disjointed, they relate to the ideology:
I think that regardless of your beliefs on an array of different topics, the way we choose to address and interact about these topics often makes me question the level of humanity within all of us, and if we are selling ourselves short by not living up to our fullest exploration of outward reach of love towards others. And I would hope that no matter what side of the fence (and please let it be just a fence, not a wall) that we align with, we can all see that an aggressively partisan environment is not conducive to a harmony that allows us as a society to all bring out the best in each other. There is no compassion in our disagreements these days, yet I do believe compassion is a better vehicle for change than aggression.
But I guess compassion and increased levels of humanity, these are not traits born in a vacuum of a perfect utopia. These are character developments painstakingly cultivated by difficult outside circumstance that cuts in deep enough to expose vulnerability, then the healing of the wound leaves that muscle memory just a little bit raw to remind you not to go forth and damage or cut into the world in the same way. So I guess when I look at how difficult life seems right now, I have to be careful about how I choose to compartmentalize 2016 in the archive of years I have been involved in, or the exhaustion I choose to let permeate my 2017. I am not living in a utopia. However, rather than dwelling on in its far-from-it reality, rather than shunning an entire year as an atrocious smear in history, I think that I need to try to choose to acknowledge it for what that type of environment is capable of ushering in. Let’s, as we close the door on 2016, and look towards 2017, let’s acknowledge the potential it has to teach us about compassion. Let the muscle memory be raw, let us not continue to lash out and harm each other.
DISCLAIMER: written amidst peak flu, while overdosed on DayQuil, not long after hallucinatory dreams of giant cricket-humans cloning and zooming in and out of perspective, sort of like those kalidescopey scene-change moments on That 70s Show.