Posts Tagged ‘Life’

According to google, the word opportunity is defined as “a set of circumstances that makes it possible to do something“. Last week, I had an incredible opportunity to share about the opportunities I’ve received and open up opportunities for others to join in order to create opportunities for still others to have an easier time of transition and ultimately a better life. …I know, I know, that’s all jumbled and confusing and I used the word ‘opportunity‘ too many times, but it’s true! Let me break it down for you…
IMG_5184-1.JPG
Photo Credit: Commissioner Mike Pipe
Last week I had the chance to share about Building Hope (the mentoring program I helped create) at a Mokita Dialogue on prison systems. The Mokita Dialogue was an event put on by the Jana Marie Foundation and hosted by New Leaf Initiative. They have discussions every month about important topics that need to be talked about, but that people don’t really like to talk about. For example, mental health, homelessness, prison system… not easy topics, but necessary.
So at the prison system talk, about 50 people gathered in room to acknowledge issues, and dream of change. The exciting thing is we didn’t just dream and be on our way, we then got to share tangible ideas, inspire those in the room with the capacity to take action, and invite people into what’s already being done. Several people came to chat with me after to learn more about what it looks like to be a mentor. I don’t know if they will sign up, but I hope and pray they will. It doesn’t take much to believe in someone and help them to learn they are valuable just because they are alive. To show that a prison system doesn’t define our humanity. To sip coffee in the sunshine while exchanging work stories. It doesn’t take much to spend an hour a week with someone, but to that someone it just might mean the world.
If you’re a local and interested in becoming a mentor, please reach out to me, or follow this link to apply!
Advertisements

I wondered, ‘what in the world are we are thinking‘. And wished I wasn’t part of the we. But if I haven’t made a strong voice against, then I am still in the main stream, am I not? Flowing deeper and deeper down, matching all the other drops around me.

Broken systems need to be fixed. And not just because they take too many tax dollars (though I’ve been guilty of using that to help motivate the masses before). Broken systems don’t need to be fixed once an easy solution is available or just because we are finally personally affected. They don’t need to be fixed because of any political movement.

They need to be fixed because lives, human lives, depend on it. I spend a fair amount of time in jail and I see people both come and go and come again and go again. I see those incarcerated, the corrections officers, volunteers and the visitors. A while back I saw a toddler hiding under the chairs in the main waiting room refusing to leave after visiting his Mama. No child should wish for jail. But that is what we have taught him as a society to do. Once a week, for one hour he gets to visit his Mom. When the car he is in drives past the jail on other outings he will scream for her. He loves her. He sees her face first, and not her crime. He remembers something so many of us have forgotten. She is a person. She is valuable. She is worth loving and she is loved. oscar-courage

I challenge you to remember today that no person is a number. No person is just bad. People do bad things. People make mistakes. People act out in their pain. Some get caught. Some get labeled. Some get forgotten. That needs to change. All people should be loved. “It takes a great deal of courage to see the world in all of its tainted glory, and still to love it.”  – Oscar Wilde

img_8513I always wear my Africa. Africa is my strong. It’s my symbol to remind me to pray. It’s my tiny map so when people ask about home I can point out where it is. I wear it like armor, it makes me feel brave. It has led to laughter when people try to figure out which state in the USA it is. It has opened up multiple conversations with strangers. The other travelers in a crowd can find me and start an easy conversation. When it is around my neck I feel like home is close to my heart. That family isn’t so far away. That I will be back someday. That it isn’t over 7000 miles and several days of travel to get home.

But the other day I took it off. Sure, I take it off to wear a different necklace sometimes, but it always goes right back on. Not the other day. The other day I took it off with no replacement necklace. I set it on the dresser and walked away. The other day I took it off because I was afraid. I was angry. I couldn’t make words make sense and I was reminded of that every time I heard it jingle around my neck or felt it move against my chest. I just couldn’t take it…so I took it off.

As a reader, you’re probably thinking, “this girl has lost it” or “where are you going with this one, Shelby?” or, “have you made this thing an idol?” even, “can it really be that strong of a force?” I think the challenge of this post (and all writing) is to get to a vulnerable enough spot that you can understand the thoughts swirling inside my head, but I’m going to warn you right here…they are swirling through the mud and it’s messy, it’s confusing, I’m not sure I can win this one and make it all make sense. I’m not sure it will look nice on the page or be smooth on your tongue as you read it. And even now, as I write this, I’m not sure of the emotion I want you to take away after you’ve read it. Probably, as with all my writing, this is much more for me than for you. But please read. Read it because though I’m not so clear in my writing, it’s even harder in talking…but I want you to know. I might cry if we talk, but I want to talk. I might say I’m fine, but the truth is I’m hurting and confused and I want you to know. You are allowed to ask. If you read this we will at least both be at the same starting point if we ever do try to talk about it.

I took off my Africa when I heard that my family moving away. I LOVE my family and I LOVE when they are close to me, but this time, they were coming closer but it felt so far. It felt wrong. It felt broken. See this time they were being “removed” from Tanzania. What does that mean? We didn’t really know. Lets be real, we still don’t really know. But they were told they have to leave and so they will leave.

There are times and places where culture seems to be stronger than faith. Where people’s desire for power and strength looks better to them than following Jesus. When someone wants to be on top, sometimes they feel a need to push others down before they get there. It sucks. A lie that I have been fighting since I was a kid is that God is the cause of the mess. Sure, God meets us in the mess, but it is not His intention to hurt us. He will help us grow through it. But the mess is made by humans. We are broken. Sinful. And not always the smartest.

This is just one example. Brokenness, messes, trauma – this stuff happens all the time.  I took my Africa off because I was angry that so quickly this token of love and hope and overcoming could become a carrier of loss, hurt and feel overwhelming. Something I wanted to fight back against. But I’m not a fighter. So when I couldn’t take it anymore, I just took it off. “This is a personal battle,” “I’ll show them,” “I don’t care,” and “I’m stronger without it,” I lied to myself. I wanted to believe it too. It would be easier if I could believe that I could just walk away and block it out. I wouldn’t have to feel the hurt. I wouldn’t have to remember the loss. I could avoid going back to the other times people in the church had hurt me. The time the mission made us leave our house and village when I was 14. The time a boy studying to become a pastor treated me as if I didn’t exist when I was 20. The time a man wrote me a letter that fell into the stalking category and I had to bring it to the police when I was 27. There’s more. But other people’s stories are too closely tied into mine for me to share them publicly. There is a whole lot of junk in the church. There’s a whole lot of pain. It’s pretty easy to look at all those things and so many other things that happen ‘in the church’ and believe that God is mean, bad, evil. But then I have to stop and remember…I invite all my friends to church. Church is about God…but it’s full of people. People are risky. People mess up. People are broken. God’s not bad. That’s a fact. I also don’t want to just give you a list of bad things others have done and ignore that I have hurt so many. I’ve said the wrong words, been uncaring, insensitive and ignorant. There are people who could add me to their list and I must remember that. I’m a person. People are broken.

I don’t know what it means that my family is leaving. They don’t either. We are trying to process it. We are trying to figure out next steps. “Can they go back somehow?” we don’t know. “What will happen to all their stuff?” it is already sold and given away, other things are in boxes that they hope they can get to America in the future. The last of my childhood has been packed up. The walls I painted, the posters I hung, the clothes I left for when I go home to visit, the dogs. They’re gone now. I couldn’t take it anymore, so I took my Africa off.

But then I realized, if I take it off and block out the pain, I also block out the joy. Did I want to give up the memories of mud fights? The hours spent painting nails, watching Princess Bride, making beaded bracelets with Hekima, Jenny, Grace, and Alice? Did I want to forget about playing ‘nage’,  the best game in the world that no Americans know how to play? Did I want to give up roof rack riding? Picnics at the waterfall? Swimming in the catfish pond? Did I want to give up goat roasts and pig roasts? Hunting with my dad? The 30+ foster siblings my family has cared for? Did I want to give up hours of eating sugarcane and kumbikumbi (bugs) with all the other MKs? Did I want to give up the country I called home for over half of my life? Could I give up the country of my brother’s heritage? If I couldn’t take the pain, I’d have to block out the joy too. I’d have to forget that I already overcame lots of those battles I’ve mentioned above.

As angry as I was (am) I couldn’t give those up. I couldn’t let them go. That is my life. It’s my heritage. It has molded me into the woman that I am today. And this…this really painful and confusing time…this will continue to mold me. It can lead me to bitterness. It can lead me to strength. I get to choose. So after a few days I put my Africa back on. I’m still angry. I’m still hurt. I’m still confused. I still haven’t made it through many days without tears. But, I choose to trust.

My word for the year of 2017 is trust. I chose the word trust the day before I heard about my family being kicked out of Tanzania. I was nervous to pick the word trust, because I know that learning to focus on trust and trying to learn more about it is risky…we learn to trust through trials. Our faith is strengthened when we persevere. I chose the word trust and then I wanted to give it back. I didn’t want it anymore. But I do. I believe that God didn’t change when my circumstances did. I believe that God is faithful. There have been times I’ve taken out my anger on God instead of trusting God and being angry at the situation. I don’t want to do that anymore. There’s hard times in life. There’s hard people. Life is messy. God is good.

I’m still hurting. I still might cry if you ask about this. I still don’t know what it means. I still don’t have closure. But I’m telling you this, I’m choosing to trust. I’m willing to share. If you want to ask more then ask. If you want to pray then pray. I’m sharing this here, because I need to face it. Africa may not always be on my neck, but it will forever hold a piece of my heart. It might not always be my home, but it will always have been my home. I may be from Pennsylvania now, but I grew up in Africa. And that’s okay.

Below are some of the verses I’ve been clinging to these past couple of weeks. Hope if you’re going through something, they might help you too.

  • God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the sixth day. (Gen 1:31)
  • The Lord is a refuge for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble. Those who know your name trust in you, for you, Lord, have never forsaken those who seek you. (Psalm 9:9-10)
  • We wait in hope for the Lord; he is our help and our shield. In him our hearts rejoice, for we trust in his holy name. May your unfailing love be with us, Lord, even as we put our hope in you. (Psalm 33:20-22)
  • See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland. (Isaiah 43:19)
  • When the Lord saw her, his heart went out to her and he said, “Don’t cry.” (Luke 7:13)
  • May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. (Romans 15:13)

Today was beautiful.

There are so many reasons why. I’ll probably blog about lots of them individually, but I’ll give you the quick list now:

  • IMG_5883It started strong when soon after I woke up my phone reminded me to have a good attitude since I knew I’d need a reminder after getting very little sleep.
  • I got to talk to my Mama in Tanzania for a minute.
  • My phone didn’t break even though I dropped it down a flight of stairs and it bounced on every step.
  • We got to feed 50+ artists breakfast and they were so very happy about it.
  • I heard stories from people who live all over the nation.
  • We got to hand out hundreds of free water bottles to strangers on a hot day.
  • Several friends came to visit me and hang out.
  • My kitchen and bathroom are both clean.

I could go on…there are so many reasons today was beautiful! But the one that stood out above the rest was getting a small white flower from a sweet little girl. After we gave her a bottle of water, I complimented this (maybe 4 year old) little girl on a flower she was holding. She paused, looked at the flower, and then slowly raised it up to give it to me. From someone else, this might seem worthless, a frail flower they grabbed from the side of the road somewhere, but from this little girl, it was clear she gave me a treasure. And by doing so, she reminded me to be intentional about being aware of my perspective. Life is full of moments. I don’t always see the treasure in each one, but I want to. I hope your day was beautiful too.

IMG_5891

My life is good.
So intertwined.
I am at home.
The other day I bumped into a friend at a store where the people working knew me by name and asked about my ministry. The friend I bumped into was one of my hoarding friends who I help clean for and used to throw community dinners for (my co.worker is in charge of that now). It was fun running into her there. I then went to my pastor’s house where I sat for an hour or two and just got to talk and relax because Lynn, my mentor, was cooking her famous cinnamon rolls, from there I went home and had a conversation with some of my college student housemates about some of our local homeless friends new accomplishments in getting housing, friends who they’ve met through volunteering at Calvary during our time to host the temporary homeless shelter called Out of the Cold. I went out with a coworker to hear one of my musician friends play and he came over to talk about a concert he had played earlier that week…in the jail. I got him connected and he’s been in twice so far and is planning a third visit. Next another friend finished work (cooking in the back of the restaurant) and came to chat with me and Kendra. This friend used to be homeless and isn’t anymore. He is doing really well. I also texted on and off with a friend who is working hard to overcome his heroin addiction. And the next day I got lunch with a friend who I met in jail and has since been released. It was the first time after many months of friendship that I got to give her a hug. It was the first time I met her daughter. I was so honored! I have so many incredible people in my life. I am so lucky. So blessed. So grateful to be given each of these friends, coworkers, acquaintances…God is so good. After a short time with my family I was welcomed back with so many wonderful smiles, hugs, and such love. Life is good.