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Election 2016: Loving People Well

I know I said I wouldn’t say anything. I still won’t tell you who I voted for. Assume away, I can’t help that and won’t try.

But it is hard to remain silent when I watch the news. It is all happening so far away from me and I have been far away from living in the US for over a decade now. So I’ve missed a lot. Watching the news is not even close to experiencing the upheavals our nation is going through.

My Rock

 

You know how people ask: where were you on 9/11? I remember the phone call from my dad, the radio announcer, calling my husband at work. But one of my clearest memories is going to bed. I couldn’t sleep. I thought about who had perpetrated this horror. I thought about what my response should be. I started to pray for the people who planned and acted to break the heart of a nation. And I wondered: what if someone had loved Osama bin Laden well? What if someone had really loved him well, had instilled in him a respect for human life, dignity, joy, hope, sacrifice, community?

I determined that night, as I prayed, that I wanted to live a life of loving people well. Not because I thought that I might encounter, and sway, potential future terrorists but because I believe that when people are loved, they can flourish. And flourishing people don’t slaughter innocents.

What does it look like to love well? Listen to broken hearts, serve the needy, give up my tendency toward greed so that my neighbor can be clothed, welcome a stranger who needs someplace to sleep, bandage wounds, take financial and physical risks. I mean these things literally. Placing bunches of bananas near the head of a sleeping homeless man so he can wake to a feast. Giving a woman who just had a miscarriage money for the hospital. Or for drugs, how can I know? I can only know that she has no roof over her head and I have money in my wallet. Risking so much to start a school so there can be jobs and education and community. Caring for my family with zeal and creativity…

I don’t live this way very well, very often, or very consistently. I read in Job 12 this morning, “Those who are at ease have contempt for misfortune.” I am very much at ease in this life. I need to guard against contempt for misfortune and one of the ways I know to do that is to love people well.

During this coming presidency and even now, in the days leading to its onset on January 21, 2017, I want to love people well. On both sides of the aisle, or for all those who are not party-voters, on all sides of the aisle. There is a lot of rage, humiliation, pride, shame, shaming, silence, and shouting. Our nation has been stripped bare, all of our sins and arrogance and ignorance on display. There can be no more pretending. Our darkness is being brought into the light. It isn’t just the election, it is shootings and immigration and health insurance and marriage…

We can block freeways and burn flags and smash windows. We can boast and thump our chests. We can mock and ridicule, insult and lie. We can refuse to accept a process that may or may not have turned out in our favor. We can wait and see. We can open our mouths and scream. We can hide in silence. We can cry. We can celebrate.

But we must listen. We can find people who are not like us, both online and in real life, instead of hunkering down behind walls with people who already think like us. We can seek to understand their stories and their histories and their hopes, fears, dreams. We can empathize and not demonize. We can be humble. We can win with grace and lose with dignity. We can speak our own ideas with passionate conviction while allowing others to have different ideas. We can refuse to label or to lump people into certain categories.

This is not easy. It is exhausting, in fact. My family lives this way every day, as minorities culturally, ethnically, religiously and it challenges us all the way to the very core of our being, our identities.

I live in a divided household when it comes to elections and again, you can try to assume or guess what I mean by divided, but I’m pretty sure you’ll be wrong. And that’s what I mean. Both about the need to listen and the need to love. You might think you know my husband and I but you don’t really know all the complicated, agonized wrestlings that go into each of our decisions.

He and I need to listen to each other, to be sharpened and challenged and pushed by each other, without vitriol or spite, and then we need to love each other.

People have asked, “What do I tell my kids?” This is what I told my kids, it is what I tell them during every election cycle of every country that we have lived in or love:

My hope is never in an earthly ruler. They will all fail us. My hope is on a rock that does not change like shifting shadows. My hope is on a King who does not need to campaign or be elected, who does not have term limits. My hope is on a Ruler who has the perfect balance of mercy and justice without needing electoral colleges or branches of government. In every high and stormy gale, my anchor holds within the veil. On Christ the solid rock I’m found, all other ground is sinking sand.

And while my hope remains firmly there, I will, in practical daily life terms, strive to love people well.

All other ground is sinking sand.

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Muslim Strangers Who Remind My Family to Love People Well

When comments like Trump’s about keeping Muslims out of America are headlines and people think these sound like reasonable ideas, I don’t know whether to scream or cry. If ‘Muslims’ kill Americans and therefore should be kept out of our borders, what about teenage boys who attack elementary school children? Should we keep all teenage boys out of America? What about pro-life people? Since a man who claimed to be pro-life killed people at an abortion clinic, should we keep everyone who claims to be pro-life out of America?

Below, I have written about people who showed me how to be a good neighbor, how to love well. When I was a stranger, an outsider living in a foreign land, these people, all of them Muslims and all of them people I have never met before or since, served me and my family. I am forever grateful…

muslim strangers

My three-year old daughter stood in front of a Barbie Doll in the Carrefour at a mall in Dubai, the United Arab Emirates. She gently caressed the packaging. I wasn’t going to buy the doll. We lived in Somalia at the time and had already overspent our budget on necessities like diapers and food items.

An Arab woman wearing a full niqaam, the black face veil, pulled the Barbie box from the shelf. She gave the box to my daughter and pressed a wad of cash into her chubby little fists. She smiled, I could see it in her eyes, and said something in Arabic, I will never know what it was. But I also never forgot her.

***

We were landing, finally. The end of an exhausting thirty-five hour plane journey back from Africa to Minnesota. My toddler started to scream. She couldn’t leave her seat and refused all the distracting toys I offered.

The flight attendant, an elderly gentleman, passed us in the aisle. “I know what to do!” he said and ran, ran, to the front of the plane. He came back with a handful of Snickers Bars and M & M packets. She calmed down immediately.

***

Again in Dubai, several years later. We were eating in a Chili’s restaurant, a huge treat since we now lived in Djibouti and there were no American restaurants like this. Again, the toddler started to act up. She wanted to run around the table, she wanted to cry, she wanted to leave.

One of the waitresses came to the table, scooped up my daughter, and entertained her for the rest of our meal.

**

I was driving to school to pick up my twins from first grade. The car got a flat tire. I gathered up the jack and prepared to change the tire when suddenly two men appeared. The temperature soared over 100 degrees and they refused to let me help. They changed the tire, wouldn’t accept a token payment of thanks, and wandered off.

**

My daughter and I walked through our neighborhood to a birthday party. She carried a wrapped gift and on top of it were several pieces of candy, taped to the wrapping paper. A group of girls strode past us and one of them snatched the candy from on top of the gift.

At the same moment, a car filled with men drove by. They saw the problem and immediately stepped in on our behalf. They protected us from these aggressive girls and defended our dignity.

**

In Somalia, a woman with a cleft lip* (see comment below by Rach) sold limes in the market for a living. She grabbed my hand as I walked past, pointed at my daughter, and gave me three limes, refusing to be paid. She touched her lips and blew a kiss at us.

In Turkey, my daughter dropped the bag she carried and inside it was her souvenier – a belly dancing outfit and some candy. A storekeeper found it, saved it, and still had it hours later when we returned. He soothed her tears.

In Somalia people brought us holiday treats when it wasn’t their religious holiday but they knew it was ours. And again in Djibouti.

In Djibouti, at the candy stores, Arab shopkeepers insist on offering me free samples and overfill my bags.

I could go on, there are so many stories of the kindnesses of strangers. I don’t have time to tell of our close friends who have protected, defended, served, and loved us. We are not refugees but we are foreigners, living in foreign lands. And these are just some of the people who have welcomed us well.

Thank you.

Merci.

Shukran.

Waad mahadsantihiin.

When I move back to the United States and am again in my own homeland, you are welcome to my home for dinner.

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