Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Chase the Light


Over the past two weeks, I accidentally went into hiding. I wrote my last post with a good bit of optimism, feeling above the fray, ready to take a couple of deep breaths and then move along. Let's get on with it. 

But as Cory says, a lot can happen in two weeks. Or even two days. What is real on a Monday might bend against the shadows come Tuesday morning. The plight of a world in constant flux is the chaos it invites. We suffer fickle hearts and good intentions gone bad, both as victim and perpetrator.

In nine years of blogging, I've never been quiet for so long. I've written a dozen mental posts while going about the business of my life, deleting each of them by nightfall. My hope is that if I'm here at all, it's with my heart laid bare. I never want to show up just to say I've been here, and I'm sorry for the times when I have. This is my promise to you, that I will only give you what's real. When I write again about muffins or soup or my beloved mug rack (and I will,) I promise it will be because they form part of the fabric of my life. Sometimes they are what I find burning when I peer inside. I've never claimed to be so spiritual or important that I'm immune to being swept into passionate feelings about television, gingham, or tacos. This hasn't changed.

But sometimes what's just below my surface feels pretty inconvenient. Sometimes it takes forever to find my words and when I finally do, I wish I hadn't. They're too sad, or too difficult to explain. This might be one of those times. But I'm going to try anyway, because this is my story. This matters to me. Of course the online space wasn't made for real conversation, but when it comes to you and I, it's all we've got. So imagine my eyes, dark brown and weary, wrinkles at the corners and the stubborn birth mark that's sometimes mistaken for a bruise. I'll do the same for you. As always, I hope we'll walk away a little closer to each other than we were yesterday.

~


The morning after the election I caught a Facebook post from one of my dearest neighbors and my heart lodged up in my throat. I admitted to Cory that I had been overly optimistic as we stared out the window of our favorite Mexican restaurant and wondered what we would be willing to do to protect the people we love, if it ever came to that. The next day, I flew my crumpled heart to a deep red state where I was scheduled to talk with 300 white evangelical women about what it means to be a neighbor.

Thanks to pundits, with their statistical analyses and broad brushes, we know things about how certain demographics engaged in the election.  But I have learned that when it comes to living, breathing humans, categorizations lose their meaning. Distilling one another down to data bites was never what God had in mind.

The women welcomed me with open arms and tender hearts while I spoke the Word of truth for each of us - when we belong to Christ, nothing is off limits. He has the authority to shift our hearts, our minds, our bodies, and our souls. He will take what is his, sparing nothing. Jesus came to be with us, to sit so close that our thighs touch and our breath mingles and we can't help but belong to one another. I talked about his unfussy example, and how terrible the implications are for all of us introverts and cozy Christians who prefer our echo chambers and our easy answers. I shared my family's complicated journey away from emotional comfort to this place where I never imagined I could cry so much, my voice breaking as if on cue.

I told most of the truth, dancing around the stuff I wasn't quite sure how to handle, or at least not publicly. I stuffed it down.

A few hundred miles away, a neighbor boy ran down the alley to our front door with a plastic juice pitcher full of pozole verde, comforting the comfortable.

Four separate times that weekend I stood at the mic, unable to finish a single story about my neighbors without wanting to lay my head on the wooden podium and weep. That was the story haunting me, the one I couldn't outrun even with prayer and preaching.

In the end, I was too emotionally exhausted to continue trying. I surrendered. We all survived.


Over the course of the following week I nursed sadness with gratitude over many mugs of lukewarm tea, sharing space with people who mirror my feelings and those who pointedly do not, parting ways each time with enough love to fill the cracks. I read until my vision blurred. I prayed desperate, tired prayers. I watched my neighbor's eyes fill with tears as he said, "My family is feeling better now because we are beginning to see that our neighbors really care. It's very meaningful. It helps us to not be afraid."

It would be wrong of me to talk about my life as a neighbor, to write a book about the ways my neighbors have changed my life and shown me a truer picture of God's power and love, yet not share with you that my neighborhood is hurting right now. I wrestle constantly with the most honoring way to share the lives which intersect with my own. I never know if I'm doing it right, but I can at least attempt to do it fairly by telling the whole truth.

I'm not interested in being a political activist. I'm far too cynical, having seen from close range the damage both sides do. But if I fear anything, it's my primal urge to default to apathy and inaction. Conservatives find me a traitor. Liberals find me a light-weight. No one is happy with who I am or what I stand for and half the time, I'm a little unclear myself. But my neighbors haven't asked who I voted for. They don't have time for political skirmishes. They just want to know I love them and I'm with them. They need to feel some of their sadness seep into my bones. 


November has been rough, but the war we're in is not the war we think we're in. Our fight is against darkness, wherever we find it, even and especially within ourselves. Our call is to look out and be about the business of those who are pushed aside, forced down, and silenced. Find them, walk toward their pain, and suffer it with them through service. I want to live in such a way that this is my first instinct.

Jesus sided with the poor, the grieving, the humble, the hungry, the merciful, the pure, the persecuted, the champions of peace. He raged against rulers and grabbed hold of ordinary humans. He did far more than just pray. He questioned systems and voted for life with his actual life. My friend Shannon invites us most beautifully to do the same.


In this battle, our best weapon isn't our sharp rhetoric, our imposing size, or the threat of our force. We kill darkness by leaving our door ajar, passing foil pans of cakes and tamales, and being willing to look foolish.

The neighbors send a dove for an olive branch - a boy with a pitcher of soup - as if searching for dry land.

I sit at the island with a note-card and Spanish "skills" buried beneath two decades of mental rust, scratching out a string of mistakes that hopefully amounts to something like, "We are so thankful to have you as our neighbor."

We invite each other in. We listen. We cry. We hug. We eat together and laugh.

How do we win when the odds feel grim? By turning toward the light and chasing it together.


"What good is a door with just one hinge? You need two hinges to get doors to work, or it's just no good at all. Jesus said you are to love God with all your heart, soul, and mind and love your neighbor as yourself. Loving God is the top hinge, and loving your neighbor is the bottom one. Everything depends on both of these. They cannot be separated." 


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34 comments:

  1. I am in tears- THIS is exactly what I wish I could convey to the people who have shut me off for not sharing their political views- thank you for sharing your heart once again!!

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  2. You can get it just right every time. Even though I don't live in the U.S. my heart breaks for you all. Thank you for your wisdom and courage.❤❤❤

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  3. Thank you, I envision a pin light dancing around your words as I read and wrestle with it all, and then right off the screen and out the door, pointing to more.

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  4. Love, love, love your words here-that you are considered a traitor to conservatives and too light-weight for liberals. I worked for 10 years as a social worker with families living in extreme poverty and dealing with chemical addiction and a host of related problems before the Lord allowed me to stay home and raise my youngest two kiddos; so I often feel the same way. Thank you for your eloquent and beautiful words.

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  5. Yes, every word. You are living out what it looks to walk with Jesus and love out of His overflow. Thank you for spurring us on to do the same. I love your heart, and your words.

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  6. I'll wait two weeks between posts every time for this. I love how you help me to see the extraordinary in my ordinary. 💛

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  7. The exposed and suspended electrical wires look just like my neighborhood. I don't see them in more modern, affluent locations, but they are the winding ties that connect the homes in my part of town. I'm often unclear to where I stand myself, except to stand in hope and faith that God is not surprised and is still at work. I want to join him.

    So, we invite and immigrant to Thanksgivng dinner. We welcome our schoolmates to church and sleepovers. We encourage the weary teachers in our Title One schools. We join with the community and invite all to walk with us, too. It's all I know to do.

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  8. I've sat here and read this post several times because the tears are flowing... thank you Shannan.

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  9. For me the election was about prolife and freedom of religion and words for that matter.

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  10. I can always count on you to cut through the rhetoric and deliver the true person of Christ weaved within your words, accented by your action. I think you are the first person I have seen call Jesus "unfussy," and I am surprised how well it fits Him! Thank you for being vulnerable and sharing your heart, and I can assure you that your heart looks a whole lot like the Jesus I know. Grateful for your words, as always.

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  11. i've been fighting to find the words too. once again, you help clear the haze & remind us what the real goal is. "the war we're in is not the war we think we're in.." yes!!! so many amens!!! thanks for bearing your heart. ❤️

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  12. I love you and your words. You are an activist. You are the girl that rallies my hear from the distance of the World Wide Web to neighbor better, to draw a wider circle and to pay attention. Call it activism, call it ministry, call it humanity. I'm in this with you. You have a voice and you challenge me to use mine to connect and grow love through community. Let's keep doing that, friend❤️

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  13. Thankyou! Yes, all of it. Our hope alone is in Jesus.

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  14. I just want to say thanks for this. I never comment, but I've been reading your writing for years. I feel like you took this post right out of my brain. I'm a little too much in the middle to be claimed by either party, but also fight against the apathy that would make things much easier. Today there was a conversation going on in the office at my school and I just went in and said we all needed to be pretty careful because we are all very white and of course we don't understand the concerns of others. I don't know how to teach people to be sensitive of that, except to come rushing out of the copy room to tell them that we should at least be careful about what we say. We don't ever want to look like we don't care.

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  15. I found myself in your words: Conservatives find me a traitor. Liberals find me a light-weight. No one is happy with who I am or what I stand for and half the time, I'm a little unclear myself.

    Thank you for this--for all of this.

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  16. I'm very, very liberal (much more so than most liberals even are) and I don't find you to be a light-weight. What you're doing is exactly what our country, what our world needs-- people willing to get to know, and spend time with, those that are different from ourselves.

    I'm currently in Seoul finishing up my last work contract preparing to move back to Cincinnati. And to say this election destroyed my soul is not an exaggeration. My co-workers and I have been talking constantly about what the open hate we've been seeing means for the future, but seeing people like you gives me faith that when the hard times come, good people will stand up for one another. <3

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  17. Shannan, Your words are beautiful and convey what so many of us are feeling right now. Thursday after the election I went into the school a few miles from me that has largely immigrant population to help with an after school club sponsored by my church. The lesson that we were to teach was on hope. My heart ached as I thought about the conversations full of fear that these children had most likely been exposed to over the previous few days. What did I have to tell them of hope? But as we spent time to together that afternoon, God reminded me and I hope them - that he has this. This isn't too big for him. Just wait.

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  18. I'll be a different opinion. Because it's turned into "either/or" and that's not fair, nor right. Having voted for Trump doesn't mean that I don't care about the poor. Doesn't mean that we don't enter in. Doesn't mean we don't live with the hurting, the pain, the fear. It simply means that (out of both horrible choices) I though Clinton less qualified for the Presidency. I found that I feared an America with her in charge more than one with Trump in charge. I felt like that threatened my children's lives (and those of all children) more than Trump.

    It's definitely not popular to be a Trump voter (note, I didn't say supporter), but I find posts like this (though not overly political here) to be just as divisive, an "us (for the poor) v. them (against the poor)" mentality. And that's not me at all. Yes, Jesus sided with the poor. But voting for Trump doesn't mean that I don't. It means I looked at the big picture and decided as best I could which decision I could live with and would (hopefully, prayerfully) make the best impact for good now and long term.

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    1. Looks to me like you agree with the whole point of my post - that no matter what, we need to be about our neighbors. Not a different opinion at all!

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  19. What I have seen is that we did not all have to vote for the same party to feel unsure in this world. One of my best friends, who also happens to be my actual neighbor, is upset to the max about this election, and I take care of her. It has brought out the worst from BOTH sides. Her Korean adopted son was attacked by a white woman old enough to be his mother, demanding to know "what he is? and which religion he represents." Insanity. The other side is choosing to damage property instead of peacefully protesting. One side is being called racist, but the other side supports abortion, while refusing to see abortions as the number one killer of African Americans. My point is both sides were flawed, and God is letting this winning side have it's day. It doesn't mean we sit back and watch, but it means we all take care of each other, no matter which side you or anyone else voted. No one's vote was "better" than the other guy's. The worst thing we can do is feel sorry for ourselves for not getting our way, or for our friends for not getting their way. We take care of each other no matter what. That's it.

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    1. Yes, you said what I was trying to say - but more eloquently.

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    3. I knew what you were trying to say Christi. :)

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    4. There are a few protesters among THOUSANDS who aren't doing it peacefully. It's not everyone... not even half.

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    5. And it was only ONE woman who attacked my friend's son. It doesn't make it better.

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    6. I have never met a pro-choice person who is FOR abortion. Many people who support the right to abortion also believe that it should have limitations depending on the length of gestation (including Hillary Clinton), fight for policies that lead to fewer abortions (like good sex education and access to birth control), and believe that supporting life has just as much to do with caring for children's social, health, and education needs.

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    7. It also doesn't help to generalize, Cathy. If you don't want people painting you as a racist, it would probably help for you to not paint those with opposing beliefs as rioters/childish/etc.

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    8. Alicia, that's exactly what I was trying to say, but clearly didn't come across. Each side calling each other horrible names is not helping. There is always a comeback for each side slinging terms. We have to take what we have and move forward together if we want to make keep our world good and safe. I hope you had a good Thanksgiving yesterday. :)

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  20. I want to chase light, find light, feel light, be light. Thank you for always writing your heart, hard as that may be sometimes. Starts, stops, and all.

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  21. Tears.

    Just deep, deep tears. That if I let out, might not stop. We are starting foster care in a month or two....and you always, always make me feel less alone about our decision. I will write down your words-"Turning toward the light and chasing it together." Much love to you and yours.

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  22. Beautiful post, as usual. You know I tried Christianity. I tried it so hard! Jesus seemed to accept me, but his followers and his churches didn't. I don't know you, but it always seemed like you accepted me though Shannan. The Jesus you live with seemed like the same Jesus who accepted me.

    You know they always say "never read the comments." I should have stopped with your beautiful post. The fact that people who follow Jesus could support a man who made fun of a mentally disabled person and who sees women only as a number representing their sexual desirability and who wants to turn away from hardworking people who have come to this country for a better life just baffles me. And even more baffling is that they seem to think their vote is the Christian thing to do, just because this man only recently said he was against abortion in order to dupe them into voting for him. He can't do anything to stop abortion. But he can, and will do so much damage to this great country.

    I can't believe I'm reading Fox News lies in your comments. Damaged property from protesters? Hate crimes are up 35% since Trump was elected. What would Jesus care more about? Damaged property or damaged human beings? Didn't Jesus himself damage some property sometime in a fit of rage?

    I don't think I can read here anymore. And I can't call myself a Christian because I don't want to be associated with other Christians anymore. Jesus wept, indeed.

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  23. Hi Sarah,

    Thank you for your comment. I'm so sorry some of this broke your heart. These are such tender times and I'm feeling it with you.

    I understand why you might choose to stay away. I truly do. But another option would be to subscribe (on my sidebar) to receive my blog posts as emails. Then you wouldn't even see the comments.

    Aside from that, I just want to keep my ear pressed against Jesus and speak the truth He gives me. I also want to try to keep my relationships intact. It's hard! And confusing. Just know that YES, I welcome you here. I see you. You are loved.

    xo

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