how you have changed me

when i knock on your mother’s door and i hear you inside yelling my name in excitement, waiting for us to play the game over and over and over where you shake my hand, i say, “oh, hello! how are you?” and you giggle endlessly because the words are nonsense to you

when you beamed as you showed me the beat-up, used car you’d saved up for by putting in long, 12 hour night shifts at the factory and pinching pennies anywhere and everywhere 

when your 3 older kids teased your youngest one, the way siblings do, because getting her vaccination shots made her cry

when i broke fast with your family and you served a mysterious white drink you all clearly loved but made me want to vomit and i drank almost all of it anyway just to be polite

when you sang and danced to songs you didn’t know at 6 in the morning after a night shift, just because you loved the music

when you decided my fair-haired self needed some enhanced eyebrows,  drew them on thick with a black eyebrow pencil, and admired your work as your children laughed shamelessly at me

when  you told me your dream was to be a doctor who helps poor people as we filled out a job application for a hotel housekeeper position we weren’t sure you’d get

when your face lit up as you talked about your spouse and children joining you in America some day, maybe

when the rain poured down and me, my roommates, and you, my sweet, goofy, little neighbors, danced in the rain like we were in a movie

when your voice shook as you told me how you never sleep because you work all night and your little ones keep you up all day

when we laughed later about how earlier we had bonded over hating snow on the way to your job interview but then when the interviewer asked you if you liked snow, you got nervous and said you loved it

when i hear you tell new volunteers you have 3 kids, but i know you have more, that they’re lost somewhere in Africa, that you don’t know what country, that you don’t know if they’re alive or how to find them

when we played outside at the yearly celebration and we named our team “Sleepy, evil, cranky cats with mustaches” (but “Fart” for short)

when i took your family of 10 to a charity to get clothes for winter, how the staff made you put some of what little you picked out back and i wondered if you were embarrassed, how it all fit in 2 trash bags, how my own clothes on my body felt worthless, meaningless, like rags

when your leg had been blown off in a bomb and all you had was a mediocre prosthetic leg that hurt to use, but you walked 2 and 1/2 miles to english class every day anyway because you want to build a good life for your family

when i see you and say “Amakuru?” and every time you shake my hands, laughing and exclaiming, “Ni meza!!” like I’ve made your entire day, when you look at me with those kind, grandmotherly eyes and they make me miss my own grandma

when i attempted to paint a unicorn and ornate butterfly on your face with face paint, because i had no way to communicate in a shared language that the picture you pointed to was far beyond my skill set, and when I saw you smile for the first time because you finally understood something i said as I pointed to my dad and mom and said, “‘abi, ‘ami”

when i asked how your wife was and how your newborn son was, your first child, both back at the refugee camp, when you told me casually and softly as you smiled how he’d passed away, but i saw the pain in your eyes, thinking it was so unfair that you never even got to meet him, knowing you wouldn’t get to hold your wife for months, maybe years, and then when i went home and cried and cried

when we taught you how to use “your mother” as an insult, and you told us our mothers smell-ed as you left the room

when we took a break from soccer to sit on the curb and use sticks to etch our languages’ alphabets in the dirt, testing each other on our learning progress

when i held your hand and chattered to you during the entire outdoor kid’s club one saturday and you stayed completely silent leading me to believe you didn’t understand anything i was saying, only to come prancing in next week speaking perfect english

when you addressed me as “mister” with that mischievous gleam in your eye knowing full well that mister was only for men

when i went to pick you up for an office meeting and you asked if i had time to meet your newborn baby, only 4 days old, when i melted seeing how small she was compared to the bed and her tall, gentle father, the love in your eyes, that beauty from the ashes

through all of these moments and more

you have made me more whole

how can i explain?

 

 

What love is and isn’t. Always.

“Love is patient, love is kind. …It is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, not easily angered,..”
Love is these things even when that person is part of a different political party than you, even when this person is a different race. Even when that person is a different religion–including ones you don’t like or make you nervous. Love is these things when you’re afraid–even for good reason, when you disagree, when your opinions are being challenged. Love is these things when people bring up injustices that make you uncomfortable, or you’re not convinced exist. Love is these things when you’re offended or when you feel someone is irrationally offended. Love is these things ALWAYS.

There is not situation or person that renders Jesus’ command to love others as you love yourself “not applicable.” In fact, he specifically clarified that your enemies are the ones you are to put extra effort into loving. He said it. I’m not making it up. The fruit of the Holy Spirit’s work in you is how you’re moving forward into loving those hardest for you to love. So think about the ones you love deeply, maybe your parents or siblings or significant other. Think of how you want others to treat them, how you want them to treat you. And treat EVERYONE that way.

If that’s not your cup of tea, okay. But, if being a Christian aka being a disciple of Jesus is your cup of tea, it is crucial for you to reflect and consider that being snarky when you disagree with some, speaking hatefully to or about another one of his children, spreading lies (or things you haven’t done the research to have good confidence in that they’re true), making generalizations about groups of people, shutting people down without humbling yourself to truly listen…these are absolutely in no way, shape, or form acts of love. They are evil. They are the seeds that grow into violence, attacks, murders, wars.

I don’t say this because I’m perfect. I’m not. But I say this because it’s true and I can’t not. We are better than to sow these seeds of evil. You are better than that. You are worth so much more than that. You are made for something bigger than that. Please believe me.

Strategies for the Wonky Brain – Part. 1

“Worrier” is a label that has fit me for as long as I can remember. As a child most of that worry involved an obsessive fear of people breaking in our house at night or me/my family getting bit by a dog (or when I was really little, of wolves who know how to use doorknobs coming in to eat me–THANKS DAD. Although to be fair I did ask for scary stories before bed…) However, it wasn’t until junior high that my mental health became an issue interfering with my life. And it wasn’t until my sophomore year of college that I started to even have a concept of mental health and how to maintain mine well.

So in the time between junior high and my 2nd year of college, I struggled immensely (and secretly) with anxiety and depression. It was crippling sometimes. The closest thing I had to understanding these state of beings were the vague ideas shaped by my interactions with Christian circles and my Bible. I therefore was under the impression that if I would just “let go and let God” or just “trust Jesus” or just read my Bible more or just pray with more faith, I would be at peace. Just. Just. Just. As I tried these things and failed over and over again, I began to fill to the brim with shame. I was ashamed of how I felt. I was ashamed of my thoughts. I was ashamed to be me. And I thought God felt that way too. I thought God was like, “Why can’t you just get it together?”

I get kind of sad whenever I think back on it. I wish I could go back in time and tell myself all the things I’ve learned now and have my break-throughs just a tad sooner. I could have avoided being miserable for such a large portion of that time, spewing hateful things about myself to myself, and coming eerily close to suicide on a couple of occasions. But I can’t. However, I can share these things with you. Maybe this is a foreign topic to you, anxiety and depression. But maybe it hits close to home, and maybe somehow the strategies I’m learning to use to live a little more peacefully will prove to be useful to you as well.

To start off, I want to stop calling it anxiety and depression. It’s easy to write those words off, because everyone kind of has a different image in their minds of what that looks like. It can be a reflex to be like, “Oh, that could never be me!” or “Overdiagnosed!!!” without true reflection, at least in my own experience. Also, for me, like for a lot of people, anxiety and depression are not neat categories of my mental states, but rather realities that are complicated, are intertwined, and often share symptoms. So I like to refer to it as “wonky brain,” and it can mean a lot of things, like…

I feel paralyzed with everything I could or should be doing so I can’t get out of bed no matter how many times I brace myself to move. My body feels so sluggish I could sleep for hours or just sit there staring off into space. Everything feels impossible, even the simplest of tasks. My thoughts are racing a mile per second like if my brain were drawing my thoughts, it would be scribbling messy circles at lightning speed, the kind of scribbling you do that makes the paper tear. My chest is tight and I can’t get a full breath of air. I can’t complete a thought, like every thought I try to carry out is a softball pitch that only makes it halfway from the mound to the batter. Like the little person who lives in my head and is in charge of operations unplugged herself from the wall and is just sitting in the corner banging her own head against the wall. I’m overwhelmed for no reason. I’m overwhelmed for a thousand and one reasons, 95% of which didn’t bother me yesterday and probably won’t bother me tomorrow. Like I’m buried so deep inside myself that it actually takes all my energy just to say words that are barely audible, and if someone asks me to repeat myself I cry. I can’t relax, because my body is on edge for no reason. The world is moving too slowly all around me. The world is moving too quickly all around me. Like a worry is stuck to my hand and I’m trying to get it off because it’s stupid, I know it’s stupid and I shouldn’t be obsessed, but I just can’t let it go even when I unclench my fingers, it’s stuck on me like glue.

You get the idea. Or maybe you don’t, but let’s move on.

Below are just a few strategies I’ve gathered on my way. It’s not all of them. I have more for a part two. Maybe a part 3 (I’m learning new ways all the time.)? Quite frankly, my attention span is a little less than desirable and I probably would have already stopped reading and started skimming for the words in bold by now. Or clicked away, because too many words, uugghh.

Anyway, most of the strategies I use for the more terrorized by anxiety side of my wonky brain. Some I’ve learned straight from the Holy Spirit Itself, others from my counselor, and some from strangers on the internet who wrote about what works for them. I won’t go into a lot of detail about where I learned them, because, quite frankly, you probably don’t care!

The Alphabet Game

I find this to be more helpful when I’m feel generally uneasy or I feel like my thoughts are starting to race. I pick a category, like “characteristics of God” or “people I met this year” or “cities” and then I have to come up with something that fits in the category for every letter of the alphabet. When my counselor told me about this, I thought it sounded super cheesy, but it works for me sometimes, especially on nights whenever it’s hard for me to relax to go to sleep.

Anxiety as a Person

I personify anxiety to be a more frazzled, caricatured version of myself, and visualize my mind as a house. I imagine Anxiety knocking on the door and me answering. I tell her that she can come in, but first we have to breathe 10 deep breaths together and/or I make her agree to the rule that we can only talk about one fear or anxiety at a time. I let her come in and sit down. I ask her what is bothering her and what she needs. To go to bed? To eat? To have her fears validated? Tea time with Jesus? To talk it out? To take another action? Then we brainstorm together. So yeah, I’m kind of talking to an imaginary person in my brain, but whatever. There really is something about separating myself from my anxiety that gives me a sense of control and confidence that I need to overcome my wonky brain.

Breathing

I visualize a star. I picture inhaling as going up one side of a point and exhaling as going down the other side of the point. Then I go all the way around the star. It’s helpful to me because it gives me something to concentrate on for a brief period of time, while also tricking my body into relaxing some. I’ve noticed when I make myself do this before letting myself freak out, I end up feeling calmer.

Eat 

Wonky brain can make it hard for me to feel hungry or to feel motivated to make/get something good to eat, but whenever I don’t eat right, and especially whenever I don’t eat at regular intervals even if it’s fast food, my mental health suffers. Like being hangry but more intense and internal.So when I eat regularly and when I eat well, I do better. It’s not like eating a certain way will cure wonky brain forever, but it can be used as somewhat of a preventative measure.

Compartmentalize 

Whenever anxious wonky brain hits, sometimes I am fixated on and obsessed with one fear. But a lot of times, it is more of a state of being, and fears of all sort come at me from every direction. It feels very chaotic, like a nightmare where a million bats surround you, freaking out and flying in your face. So, I sort through the fears. I visual having different boxes in front of me with labels like work, spiritual, friends, relationship, family, night-time, etc. and then I place each anxiety into its proper category. After that I put all the boxes in a closet in that house I mentioned earlier. I shut the door, and I tell myself, “You can take out one box and pick one fear from that box. Only one, no exceptions. Then you have to put the box away and lock the closet the door. Whenever we’re done addressing the fear you picked, we can get another, but not before then.” It can help to work with one thing at a time, in a line, rather than trying to juggle them all at once.

Counseling

I don’t see a counselor anymore, but I did for about a year and a half. And as life changes and new stressers are introduced, I will probably go see one again at some point. You can get duds with counselors of course. But I happened to hit the jackpot. It really helped to talk about what I was experiencing internally out loud. I’m not someone who likes to be the center of attention; I like to be the listener. So rambling about my wonky brain with a friend or family member wasn’t helpful. I felt uncomfortable and I was also worried about making my loved ones scared or worried about me when I told them about the dark and unhealthy thoughts I was having. And I tend to be the person people lean on, and so at the time when I started seeing a counselor, I felt like I couldn’t be their rock and fall apart.   I also am very intimidated at the idea of talking about my feelings because I’m not super great at articulating them. Being with my counselor was a safe spot where I didn’t feel like I had to have exactly what I wanted to say perfect before I spoke. And I didn’t have to feel guilty about talking too much, about scaring anyone, or about being misunderstood. It really helped me untangle a lot of wonky thoughts that had been accumulating for years, like the way you comb through tangled hair.

 Journaling

I don’t do this a lot, but when I’m not sure how I feel or when I’m feeling overwhelmed, I write. Sometimes I write letters to someone who’s hurt me or to myself. Other times I just write about what’s happening and how I feel. Or I sometimes even write poetry. I never think it’s going to work, but once I get the ball rolling, I find I more quickly get to the core of the issue, uncover what I’m truly feeling, and begin to be able to start finding a solution. Also, by writing my thoughts down, it makes my brain less cluttered and weighed down.

Medicine

When my counselor first asked me if I would consider taking medicine for my wonky brain, I was like, “Um, no.” Too scary! Chemicals that mess with your brain????? Don’t even get me started with all the horror stories on the internet. Then God suggested it. I said, “No, thank you! Useful suggestions only!” But, about 8 months later after (it was a few months after I had resolved that the only way to escape the wonky brain was to kill myself and had begun planning the details of my suicide–which, obviously by God’s grace I didn’t, thank you to several humans unknowingly saying just the right things at just the right time) I decided to give medicine a shot.

Like with the counselor, I got lucky with the first medication I tried (Zoloft). It wasn’t immediate and there were some side effects, but it is one of the best decisions I have ever made. It really helped restore a balance in my brain. It was kind of like I lived in a dark, stupid basement and wanted out, but my legs were broken. So no matter how hard I tried to get up the stairs, I was stuck. And Zoloft was the doctor who came and put me in a cast so I could start to heal and regain the ability to walk up the stairs. But instead of being in a basement, I had a  messy, wonky, unbalanced brain, and Zoloft came and balanced  the chemicals out, so I could start to implement the strategies I was learning to manage my mental health more effectively. After 8 months, I did stop taking it, and that was also a really good decision for me. However, some people take medication their whole lives. And that’s okay! It’s not shameful. You should be proud you are giving your brain what it needs! Good job! My brain just needed it for a short period of time, that’s all.

 

 

***

Jesus could have handed me a restored, peaceful, and balanced brain. But instead, he took me on a difficult, messy journey. And I mean that it was messy. Being suicidal. Wanting to harm myself. Being angry at God. Being skeptical God existed. Thinking even if God existed that God wasn’t good. Feeling defeated and tired by wonky brain. It was lonely and painful. And these are things I even still wrestle with on some days. I’m not ashamed of that. If there’s one message Jesus has been trying to drill into my thick skull, it’s that there is no shame to be felt rightly. It’s forbidden, so stop it! (Easier said than done, amirite?).

What is your wonky brain like? What are some strategies you use?

PS- I am an open book about this stuff. If you have questions about my wonky brain,my spiritual walk, those dark times of wanting to hurt/kill myself,  or anything, just ask, okay? I won’t think you’re weird and intrusive. I would love to share with you, if that would help you. Really. A negative is a little less negative when you get to use it for good, even if it’s just once.

Love you!

 

 

what i would say if i could come in for tea

I pull up to your house in the late afternoon. As you and your oldest daughter climb out of the car in your work uniforms, you smile and gesture toward your house like you do every time, “Alissa, shay?”

I wish I could say yes, but unfortunately I have to go back to the office and work for a couple more hours, which I try to explain in five basic English words. Me. Work. Sorry. Thank you,. And I just have to hope you’ll understand I’m not rejecting you. Really, I always wish I could come inside and drink tea with you, even though the last time I stopped by your house to explain the details of your first U.S. job–first ever job–and you served me tea, you laughed at me for only putting in one “Wahid?!” spoonful of sugar.

I wish I could come in and really talk with you. I have so many things I wish I could let you know but can’t because we don’t speak the same language (yet):

I want to tell you that your family is too beautiful, sweet, kind, and humble for words. All of you have some of the kindest eyes I’ve ever seen. You work hard, you never complain, you always say thank you.

I loved on your first day of work, when we stood at the bus stop and I shyly tried to show off by pointing to different things and saying the color in Arabic, how delighted you and your daughter were. You tried to teach me the colors in Tigrinya as well and didn’t even give up on me when I obviously wasn’t a natural at that particular language. You listened carefully and repeated after me when I said the colors in English too. You are such quick learners. I love how we’ve been slowly teaching each other new vocabulary in our own tongues. Alyawn. Al’iithnin. Shwkulata. 

I want to reminisce and laugh with you about that same day, when we waited at the second bus stop to transfer. That day when, of course, the bus broke down before it got to us. We waited for so long, but you never got crabby or sassy even though you probably were totally confused and cold. The translator who was meeting us at the hotel to help with your training had to come find us to drive us at the last minute. What an adventure that morning was! I actually don’t know if the translator even explained what happened or if to this day you tell the story of that crazy girl who made you take a bus to another bus stop to be picked up by a sayara an hour later.

I want to tell you I wish I never met you. Because I wish you never had to leave home. I wish the rest of your family and friends were a few minutes away. I wish you didn’t have to leave behind the comfort of your home and culture, all your belongings, or the places where so many of your important memories were made. I wish your country was safe and your human rights hadn’t been violated the way they were. I wish your husband were still alive.

I want to tell you that whenever your kids pop out the front door to grin and wave at me as I drop you off, I sometimes drive away sick to my stomach. Because I start thinking about how truly good your family is, and about all the people who hate you, who repeat venomous untruths about you, who might threaten or act violently toward you,without even knowing you, without even thinking twice. It’s not fair. 

I don’t know: Is it better for me to try to explain that while there are indeed some almost entirely evil people, a lot of them are just…well, they have never been taught how to think critically so they just keep building their opinions on lies and  propagation; they’re afraid so they close up and lash out; they’ve never been exposed to anyone who wasn’t just like them, who wasn’t white and identified as Christian, so their hearts have gotten so hard they can’t even see their hypocrisy. Or is it better for me to tell you how angry it makes me?  Sometimes it keeps me awake at night. Sometimes it causes me question my own beliefs. Sometimes it makes me shake and cry and feel like throwing up. It’s not right.

I know that if they only knew you–if they only saw your smile, if they only heard your sweet voice as you try to pronounce a word in English for the first time, if they only got to drink tea with you, if they only got stranded at a bus stop with you, if they only were the ones your children waved at, if they only knew your story–they would feel heavy with shame. They wouldn’t treat you badly or think of you poorly anymore. They wouldn’t stiffen whenever they see your hijab. They wouldn’t be impatient that you’re not fluent in English yet. They wouldn’t call you a terrorist or a dirty refugee  They wouldn’t threaten you. Knowing you would change them. They would love you like I love you, I know it.

I realize that’s not enough, but someday I’m going to tell you anyway. And I hope when I get to we’ll have the option of having this conversation in either of our languages (although let’s be honest, it will probably be English; you heard me trying to say “peanut” in Arabic. It was rough.)

Thoughts inspired by a car ride with African refugees

It’s strange to me that, although I don’t remember ever being under the impression that Africa was actually one country, there was a time in my life where I only had one mental image of an African, African culture, and African issues. As if the whole continent shared everything except their nationality.

The other day, as I drove a few of my clients to work, I looked around the car. Among them, there were three different African countries represented: The Democratic Republic of the Congo, Somalia, and Eritrea.

If I didn’t know them and you asked me which were from each of the three countries, I could tell you where they were from just by looking at them. Eritreans don’t look like Somalians, Somalians don’t look like the Congolese, and the Congolese don’t look like Eritreans. I could tell you that while most African refugees speak multiple languages, my Congolese were conversing in Swahili, the Eritreans in Tigrinya, and the Somalians in Somali, and that they did not know each others’ mother tongues. Their mannerisms, expressions, and tones are different. I could tell you the Congolese are almost all Christians. The Somalians, Muslims. And the Eritreans, split about 50/50 between Christians and Muslims. Their cultures, customs, food, and traditions are not the same; even among ethnic groups within countries these things vary.  I could tell you all of them had experienced multiple human rights violations, but that the conflicts and persecution that caused them to flee as refugees from their countries were unique to those regions and have impacted them differently.

My African clients from these countries are so different, I often forget they are even from the same continent.

***

I think as humans we have something in us that groans for a better world. I don’t think it’s by chance.Some of us are even bold enough to want to save it. Which is awesome. I don’t think that’s a coincidence either.  I think we are all called to play a roll in the renewal, the rebuilding, the redemption of our world. While the reality of the evil on our planet gets me down sometimes, the reality of all the dreamers, fighters, truth-speakers, and justice seekers on the same planet gives me great hope.

We have to be careful, though, whenever we set out to change the world. As Americans, many of us have an ignorance about places that aren’t the U.S., because, generally, we’ve never been educated on the world–in school or by our own initiative. In religious and secular circles, I see a lot of well-meaning but vague, and, in a sense, reckless movements or organizations to “save Africa.” What does that even mean? Which of the 54 unique African countries are you talking about? Which of the thousands of ethnic groups? Which of the many conflicts? Are you aware that not all of Africa is experiencing war, starvation or AIDS? Tell me, how do you expect to save, or responsibly change, a world you know nothing about? I ask, not because I need to know, but because YOU need to know.

You’ve been given the desire to change the world, my friend! But that desire is a tiny seed. In order to grow into something healthy and substantial, in order to produce a harvest, it must be watered and fed by knowledge, first-hand experience, humility, wisdom, and more knowledge. This will not happen overnight. And it will not happen haphazardly. It will take opening a new tabs (or 500, if you’re like me) in your browser and doing some research on the world around you. It will require making the first move or two to create connections with people from around the world with the same dream who know things and have experiences you don’t. It will take the initiative to learn, listen, and learn some more. If you don’t take the time to do this, you will not only be ineffective, but you could actually be doing more damage than you think. Also, it’s insulting to the people you are trying to help.

So, if you’re interested in Africa,  here are some links to a few websites where you can learn a little more about different African countries and cultures, and specifically about the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Somalia, and Eritrea, whose people are becoming dearer and dearer to my heart…

(PS. This concept applies to other countries/continents, as well as to other religions, political groups, races, economic classes, populations, etc. within your own country.)

Countries:

http://www.our-africa.org/ – Children from African countries actually helped film and write their own country profiles and videos themselves. Profiles aren’t complete for all the countries yet.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/country_profiles/default.stm – Country Profiles

http://www.theafricareport.com/country-files.html

The Democratic Republic of the Congo:

https://www.hrw.org/africa/democratic-republic-congo

http://www.our-africa.org/democratic-republic-of-congo/people-culture

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-13283212

https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/cg.html

Somalia:

https://www.hrw.org/africa/somalia

http://www.racearchive.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/somali_booklet.pdf

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-14094503

https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/resources/the-world-factbook/geos/so.html

Eritrea:

http://www.everyculture.com/Cr-Ga/Eritrea.html

https://www.hrw.org/africa/eritrea

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-13349078

https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/resources/the-world-factbook/geos/er.html

Loving neighbors who are different

Please, if you are scared or mistrustful of a particular religion or nationality, take the time to get to know a few people of that religion or nationality. Eat meals together, ask questions about their personal interpretations of their sacred texts, listen to their political opinions, lose yourself in their stories, laugh together, meet their children. It isn’t a betrayal of your own faith or your own God. It isn’t conversion. It isn’t saying that you think all belief systems are equally true. It is getting to know your neighbor. It is the first step of opening yourself up and becoming capable of loving them as you love yourself.

you are safe, and you are loved.

 

 

it’s seems like just when i think i can’t fight

to keep my head above the water much longer

i feel myself reach the shore.

you speak to me

in a language i’ve never heard

but the most vulnerable part of my heart

somehow recognizes all the words.

yes,  it understands

you when you say to me

we’re building a home for us here.

i want to stay, old friend.

best friend.

***

it is with you i’ve shared

the sweetest of moments

and the bitterest of months.

i have grown strong from your kindness,

i have been changed by your silence.

i have loved you, questioned you, hated you,

carried a grudge in my pocket,

and loved you again.

 

you have been the place i’ve sent my

pain.

loneliness.

confusion.

rage.

and joy.

you have welcomed them in, me in,

while you startled all the shame away.

i didn’t know i could get rid of it.

 

i didn’t know i could love me, be me,

be free of that heaviness i felt when i

caught my eye in the mirror.

until you.

until you told me over and over

raise your head, because i love you.

 

you sit next to me on long drives.

i talk and you listen.

you talk and (sometimes) i listen.

and i don’t care that much

that some of my friends would say i’m crazy.

and i don’t care, because

i can’t afford to care.

with this wonky brain of mine,

prone to its anxiety, depression, chaos, darkness,

i need you in order stay alive,

i need you so i don’t give up.

i need you to sew me back up at the end of every day,

because i come undone a lot.

 

i need you to tell me

you are safe.

and you are loved.

you are safe.

and you are loved.

you are safe, you are loved, you are mine.

 

i need tea time with you

sitting in the quiet of my closet

where you calm the waters of my soul

in that mysterious, gentle way that you do.

because honestly i don’t know how to do it myself.

i try and i try and i try

and i think i’m doing something wrong when i can’t.

maybe i am

i just know that you have freely given me peace

time and time again.

peace i may have, quite frankly,

on a few occasions,

killed myself without.

 

i need you to tell me

i will always be on your side.

i need you on my side,

because i’m not always on my own side.

sometimes i’m really pretty ugly to myself.

sometimes i give her no mercy.

 

i need you to remind me

i am more

more than

the roles i play

the hats i wear

the burdens i carry.

i need you to remind me

you are safe.

and you are loved.

and you are mine.

 

because sometimes i forget.

i look at myself through a critical lens

and all i see is where i’m think i’m not enough

i see a tainted mess of a thing.

but you look at me

with a light in your eyes

that lightens the load

i’m always trying to drag around.

you look at me like i’m something worth looking at.

you make me feel like

i’m going to be okay,

like i’m going to be more than okay.

like i can hope.

like i will hope.

like my hope will grow.

***

am i only 22 or already 22?

it’s been 6 years since we met.

some days, it feels like it’s been forever.

some days, it feels like i’m meeting you for the very first time.

and i’m not sure what to call you,

but jesus seems to fit,

the way it rolls off the tongue of my spirit.

all i know is i need you.

i need to be safe.

and i need to be loved.

and with you, i am.

back to the path

Jesus said to love your neighbor as yourself and that’s not always going to be 100% comfortable, safe, easy, or risk-free. Actually, it rarely will be.
Maybe that’s why He said to count the cost before you decide to follow Him.
***
Sometimes I get kind of tired and bored in my faith, to be honest. But in the midst of all this fear and in the midst of this hate, war, xenophobia, racism, crisis I remember the narrow way of Love He talked about, and I am brought back to the gritty, dangerous, brave path He called us to. This way of Love, of putting your money where your mouth is, of laying down your life for others, of fierce, courageous, sacrificial compassion. And I’m drawn to it. I truly believe from the deepest part of my soul, it is the only way and that it’s going to be hard. It undoubtedly will cost me.
But what else can I do? Live in fear my whole life, insulating myself from any discomfort or danger? I think that is in direct opposition to His calling. And anyone who tries to convince me otherwise, I honestly think, from my understanding of Jesus thus far in life, is preaching a false gospel, no matter how well meaning they are.

to my refugee family

My heart is so incredibly sad.
I know the world is a terribly complicated, dangerous place. I know that answers aren’t always black and white. I know. And honestly, I don’t think I’m ready to try to articulate all my thoughts on the Syrian refugee issue itself just yet, mostly because I don’t think I could do it without getting too feisty.
However, I do want to say this…It’s not that I don’t understand the fear of ISIS. I myself am scared of ISIS. But the way that so many are speaking of refugees like the other, like monsters, like a disease, has left me physically sick to my stomach, left me feeling like I can’t breathe.
Because to me, they are not just refugees. It wasn’t refugees with whom I’ve shared delicious and strange meals; it was family. It wasn’t refugee children, full of potential and sass, with whom I’ve played in the heat of summer; it was my children. It isn’t refugees telling me with kindness in their eyes, “It’s okay, Alissa, it happens! Do not worry!” whenever I’m new at my job and am not quite sure what I’m doing; it is my grandfathers. It wasn’t refugees to whom I explained the term hangry and with whom I bonded over feeling it; it was my grandmas. It isn’t refugees with whom I’ve giggled endlessly over who can make the silliest face; it is my friends. It isn’t refugees proudly telling me they got that job for which we worked so hard to practice interviewing; it is my brothers. It isn’t refugees confiding in me their deepest dreams of becoming a doctor someday so they can help the poor; it is my sisters. It isn’t refugees telling me about their relatives they miss and worry about oveseas; it is my dads. It isn’t refugees beaming with an ever-growing confidence as they begin to master English; it is my mamas.
So to my mamas, my dads, my sisters, my brothers, my friends, my grandmas, my grandfathers, my children, I say through tears: I am so, so sorry the world has been such a cruel place to you.

My disappointment with Christians in the midst of the Ferguson riots

Honestly I think one of the most frustrating things about all the recent explosions on social media in regards to Ferguson and related topics is that people who follow Jesus and share posts about him all the time and in the same day share snarky statuses and articles about Ferguson/race without giving it a second thought.
It really just breaks my heart because it’s so damaging and so out of line with the character of Jesus. He isn’t documented to have just hung out, talked about salvation, and then died on the cross. He and the God in the rest of the Bible had serious and significant feelings and things to say about the poor, marginilized, and oppressed. Automatically writing off those raising concerns about racial oppression/issues as whiny or dramatic or crazy, that’s not Jesus.
Followers of Jesus pursue peace and freedom for everyone and if there is even a possibility that there are people being victimized, marginalized or treated unfairly, it’s our job to hear them out, wholeheartedly investigate it, think critically about it, speak fairly and maturely about it regardless of where on the spectrum our opinions fall, and to pursue solutions and peace where we can.
That is faithfulness to God. That is growing up and being a good and responsible steward with what he has given us.