As I stepped out late with my dog into the brisk night air, I was overtaken by a feeling of mystery and change. The wind blew with great strength and the coldness of the atmosphere barely bit my skin. I looked upward to lay my eyes on great clarity as the constellations shown in clear view. The contrast to the previously cloudy sky was indefinite. Something was shifting. The unknown bewitched me as I could not yet put my finger on what change was about to take place.
It’s been an invigorating year and 3 months and I continue to have the privilege of working with World Relief Sacramento. NOT ONLY THAT, but I now have received the gift of living within one of the most concentrated Arabic and Afghan populations in Sacramento.
I love it. God has blessed me with relationships here. I met and made a dear friend, Wahad, whose family came from a well-off life in Iraq to escape violence and threats and find refuge here in the states. They are one of the loveliest families I have met, embracing me with their arms and hearts– every inch of my outer and inner being.
Day by day work continues to be of service to the refugee community and seeking to ask Jesus’ Church in Sacramento follow His command to LOVE THE STRANGER in both practical and relational ways.
Today, work sent me to make a home visit to a recently arrived family from Afghanistan who was temporarily staying with the husband’s well-to-do uncle and aunt in Tracy, CA. I took my dear friend, Wahad, with me as a companion for the excursion.
God continues to bestow on me a gift of being received by others in a way that allows for stories to be told and lives to be shared.
As is polite and tradition in Afghani culture, the family’s uncle invited me and Wahad to stay in his home for lunch after our staff-to-client relations had concluded. I evaluated the remainder of the work day and decided that we could graciously accept the offer.
Lunch brought a time of traditional Afghan eating–sitting with crisscross legs and knee to knee with each other on the floor while our food lay in front of us on the eating mat. It is a beautiful place of fellowship.
The uncle, whose name was Qader Qudus, eventually shared his story of being here since 1982, his complete successes in working his way up the economic ladders and later facing imprisonment and injustice here because of the way he was compassionately transferring donated money from individuals and churches to poorer students and communities back in Afghanistan. He was suspected of money-laundering for drug dealers and even terrorist activity and held for over two years, though they could not find any evidence against him.
With tears in his eyes, he told us “I know God had a plan for me through all of this.”
My heart broke and stretched at the same time.
Friends, if the heart of a Muslim man (or woman) can tread these paths, there is certainly something beautiful and cultivating of peace to be learned from and loved. It is worth building peace and understanding between followers of Jesus and followers of Islam. Truth may find its own way to the surface if unconditional love and empathy pave the way.
Let us begin to love our neighbors, share a meal, and ask them their stories.
How do you help me?
You can’t help?
No “woe is me”,
Just please don’t spit upon me sympathy.
“You’re okay”, “but at least..” you say
That my feelings aren’t real
And my pain should lay
Quiet until you’re gone.
Empathize and join me in the pit,
Down here ain’t no room for sympathy spit.
I’m real. You’re real. We’re human and pain is a thing.
Sometimes supposed sayings of comfort leave less of a calm and more of a sting.
So tell me my feelings are valid and present,
Connect with me via a feeling in you that understood my vent.
I’ll remind you of my hope in Jesus and you’ll realize all along
That empathy does not endorse self pity but sings a prophetic song.
Proud of my early rising; the first body in the house to stir.
The morning sunshine is my daily splash of cold water—invigorating and awaking body, soul and mind for the day.
So I venture out for my walk.
My path, usually tread by running feet of mine, is an ugly beat up gravel road beside a ditch holding garbage treasures.
But in the early day, it’s a glorious auditorium facing the stage of the sunrise.
My morning tradition of oil-pulling restricts my lips from uttering a word or singing a note, though my head is filled with thoughts and my heart with a song.
Perhaps silence is the best symphony.
Halfway down my road I perch beneath a tree, the only one of its kind.
Leaning on a branch, I gaze into the growing daylight.
I think of a somebody… Maybe two. I think of my Jesus. What do each of these mean to me? How have I shown them so?
This poetic wording of sorts begins forming in my head. I reach for that electric device we entrust to capture our lives, finding it to be still at home asleep…
Feelings of gratitude and disappointment wash over. Will my memory do its job and cling to these words in my head for me? It’s been as a slacking, lazy employee lately and I’m afraid I’ve been the overbearing, impatient employer…
Unwilling to teach and repair, willing to implode.
I look forward. Shall my walk finish the running route?
I look back. Dreaming has a time limit. It’s time to return and face my day.
Loveliness captures my eyes so I stop to take it for myself. The golden petaled stems stick to my fingers like sap, as if to punish me for breaking them from their root of life.
I move on only to swoop low for some lavender. Pick and sniff, only to be greeted by a pungent odor. Lavender ’twas not. Punished yet again.
I suppose some forms of beauty were not meant to be mobile.
Home I continued… Releasing my mouth to speak and choosing silence as the better option. Perhaps such a choice would reserve my words and thoughts for paper and pen such as this goes.
Thus begins another day of living with the potential of being worthy of ink at the end.
City blues.Travel far and wide,
Can’t pick all the cues.
I come to explore you,
I intend to find out,
Who and what
You are all about.
Dynamics and diversity,
They rage and range.
I’m sensing new in this place,
Many others feel strange.
For they’ve come from a land
With far greater gap
In culture, weather, and aptitude
Than from where I fall on the map.
meeting fully-stranger they,
At the end of the day we’re each humans
Needing acceptance and support day by day.
#arriveministries #worldrelief #refugees #welcomethestranger #lovethestranger #wearethestranger
Unspeakable joy spilling from see-able places.
Water, land, and sky flood in through my eyes,
Trickling down into the depths of my heart.
In this place my mind is bypassed.
How could a human brain comprehend this joy anyway?
There is a catalyst in my soul,
A distinct key.
Observing the beauty and mystery
Of the Artist’s glories simply betrays me
Who knows from whence it came,
“People do not seem to realize that their opinion of the world is also a true confession of their character” –Ralph Waldo Emerson
I’ve only lived on this earth for 22 years. That used to sound like such an old age. When I was a teenager I had expected to have found a spouse and figured out my long time pursuit in life by the time I was this age. I wasn’t opposed to have already been living that adult life that I watched my parents live by age 22. But here I am and with every day passing it occurs to me how truly young I actually am.
It seems to me I’ve met quite a wide variety of people in these 22 years, but that variety just continues to increase and as I get to know a vaster and vaster array of peoples, my perspective of the world continues to shift. Sure, I have filters in what I absorb and pillars that I hold to that not everyone agrees with, but I find it so immeasurably important to absorb at least one thing about this life here on earth from each individual that I have the privilege of getting to know. And on occasion, you may find an individual on your path whose story and experience is extremely different from your own. The temptation is to walk away and commune solely with those who share more commonalities with yourself, but there can be something very beneficial to coming alongside an individual with such difference.
So let me tell you a story. There were once two trees in an orchard—two very different trees. An olive tree and a lemon tree. These trees couldn’t grow within the same environment; they needed different kinds of care, different kinds of watering. Their growth season was different, their harvest season was different. In fact, the same workers couldn’t care for and harvest the fruit from both the trees because their individual needs were very different. There were few things that made sense about their placement in the same orchard.
The olive tree and lemon tree both saw the benefits of warmth and the consequences of frost, but the lemon tree needed much more sun exposure than the olive. The lemon tree expected a completely different bounty from the olive tree and at very different production rates. And there was a specific reason why each of these trees were so consumed by the ways they were cared for and what fruit they produced. Their tree peers hardly counted the gains and losses of their environment and care because they figured what was going to come would come and they knew their main uses. The olive trees would be harvested and used mostly for delicious eating and the production of olive oil. The lemon tree would be used for consumption of lemons in the grocery stores or often extracted for cleaning product. But the two special trees were on a mission and they were able to stay grounded in the same orchard because of it. While each tree knew their fruit wouldn’t go to waste- they shared a passion, a strong desire to see their fruit used for something greater. They both wanted the fruit specifically harvested from their tree to end up producing an expensive incense—a beautifully refined and delightful incense that was only used on the finest of occasions and bought by wealthy individuals. They knew that their fruit alone couldn’t make this incense but, if the trees could produce some of the best of the best fruit, it could contribute to this rare delicacy.
It wasn’t easy to produce the best fruit. The utmost sacrifice and intentionality had to be poured into the trees. The environment was never perfect and sacrifice was required from the other trees and the workers as well to accomplish this mission. Growing side by side had its give and take for each tree—they could have been uprooted and placed in their perfect growing environment, but they knew that the challenge of growing alongside each other just increased each tree’s stamina and with time their fruit became better and better.
It certainly didn’t take one or a couple seasons to produce fruit of this quality; no, it took seasons upon seasons of sacrifice and growing pains to produce such a fruit, but their unified mission drove these trees to success. Their fruits would never merge into one product—it would make very different incenses, affecting different individuals and attracting different consumers. Though this was all foreseeable, the trees opted for the time being to endure their locational challenges. One tree thrived during some seasons while the other felt the pain; other seasons proved to be a fruit-bearing year for one tree while the other tree had barely any fruit extracted. Some things just could not be helped, but those two very different trees knew they were learning a lot from watching how the other thrived and failed and eventually bore fruit and they were determined to see each other accomplish their specific mission.
In this life, I find it is far too easy to sidestep the challenges of growing alongside those individuals who constantly challenge your perspective, the way you think, how you see the world and how you react to various circumstances in life. It’s completely appealing to hang around those who will affirm you, agree with you and admire you more often than not. Every now and again in life you’ll find a curveball of a relationship has been thrown. There are options. You can choose to dodge it and risk a strike out or you can take your best swing.
A dear word to my fellow millennials—We are young and while we often embrace the risks and adventures of life in this phase of life more than any other, I believe we tend to embrace those risks and adventures within our comfort zones—as contradictory as that may sound. Start the class you think you’ll fail. Befriend the person that weirds you out. Try your hand at an art you’ve never explored. Stick it out if you’re used to quitting early or give yourself a break if you’re the one that never rests. I highly encourage us to look beyond and find those opportunities the Lord has waiting to grow and stretch and teach us at our young, moldable age.
Three and a half months in and I am still in constant learning mode when it comes to my work with beloved refugees in the Sacramento area. Within the agency they’ve been called “clients”, “refugees”, “immigrants”, etc….but I prefer to call them brothers and sisters. You might find this hard to believe, but even with each paper signed, each check written and each checklist filled out, relationship grows with these folks. I tell my friends and mentors all the time how much it amazes me that any form of authentic relationship could possibly be developed with those whose case files I handle. I’m their advocate, their counselor, their resources hub, but their friend? That is the work of the Lord.
Half these folks I speak of do not speak English. One hundred percent of them have lived in my culture, at most, for 3 months. Thank God I have darker hair and complexion or I might shock their kiddos more than the site of me already does. But these are my friends. We eat together, talk together, learn together, laugh together, sit in silence together. If that’s not friendship, what is?
One of my dearest family friends is a couple who is expecting their first baby girl this next week! This beautiful couple has embraced me as a sister in the most loving way possible and I can’t believe that after only 3 months I am just dying to meet their new baby girl and hold her. It’s as if one of my own sisters is having a baby and I’m becoming an Auntie! So excited for the time I’ve spent with this couple, soon to be trio, and excited for the time that’s yet to come. We thank God together for things and I get to express my love and loyalty to Isa Al-Masih (Jesus the Messiah)— a prophet to them, a savior to me. L
If any of you have ever had friends amongst the Muslim community, you’ve probably heard the phrase “Inshallah”. This Arabic phrase, in English, means “If Allah wills”, or “If God wills”. Many time they will tell me “Yes, Emily, I’ll be back at the apartment by [this time], Inshallah”. Perhaps it seems silly or just simply traditional to some of you, but I had to think about this. They are acknowledging every turn, every action of their life to be in the hands of God. If not already a wonderful demonstration of faith, is it not at least a good reminder of the sovereignty of God?
James 4:15 says, “…yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or do that.’ “
There are things I learn from my dear Muslim brothers and sisters. There is a measure of respect and belief in God that sometimes I find lacking in my own life, even.
I encourage anyone who may read this post to reach out of their bubble and into the life of another whose worldviews or ethnicity you don’t share. There are many things to be learned from such relationships.
Until next time, dear friends, Inshallah.
That moment when the past is suddenly related to the present. I won’t call myself prophetic by any means, but I do love to put on display the things God was doing with me 6 months ago that I couldn’t connect to anything related to my life—until now.
In April 2014, one month prior to graduation from WJU, I was sitting in the local park having some quiet time of reflection and listening. I kept hearing the word “sojourning” in my heart. There had been a measure of people speaking it directly to me combined with an attentiveness in my moment of listening that spurred my writing of one large metaphor.
It occurred to me that day that the life followers of Jesus are called to is very reflective of a sojourner’s lifestyle. That’s not to say that Jesus followers are all called to the mobile, gypsy life or can’t be planted in one physical place for a lengthy time, but it’s more to say that there’s an element of realizing this physical world–the here and now– is not our ultimate home; it’s not our ending up. Our physical life is just a journey through seasons, trials, joys, healthy and unhealthy relationships and everything in between. But the way I could grasp this best was by the thought of what an actual sojourner (traveler)’s life would look like.
[See here: https://capacityforculture.wordpress.com/2014/04/12/sojourners/ ]
What I did not know when I wrote this was where I’d be in 6 months from then. I had no idea I would have the privilege to come alongside actual physical sojourners–refugees–as they settle in a new land and a new season of life. There’s an amazing connection with them because I strongly believe I will be in their shoes someday–standing in a foreign land with a language barrier, feeling out of place, and with so much less to my name than I had in my own country. That proverb: Do unto others as you would have them do to you— it’s never felt so concrete as it does now. I doubt I’ll be a refugee, but I will be a sojourner and I will go through frustrations and culture shock and struggle hard to learn the language just so I can function on the baseline level in society.
Now I say all this and I can’t say I’ve heard the audible voice of God speak this over my life, but it seems like every time that concept begins to fade away in my mind, something arouses it back to life.
This past weekend I received one of those little reminders.
My extroverted side collaborated with my fiscally-sensitive side and decided I would bounce from one friend’s house to the next in order to save money on gas and cram all my needed social activities into one four-day time span. I think I ended up seeing 7 different friends over 100-something hours. And for those of you who have done that, you know that you’re never going to be fully satisfied with what you pack or where you sleep. There’s always something lacking somehow. The tiniest taste of this “lifestyle” reminded me that it’s okay to get away from my comforts, that humbly asking for meals or soap or borrowed clothes from friends is necessary, that I’m not going to get the best sleep or get to eat within my diet limits. It’s time to be flexible, humble, grateful and full of joy apart from circumstances–that’s just how one must thrive in that scenario.
At the end of it all I realized this was yet another small taste of the less-than-comfortable life I await in the future. I cannot wait to have the privilege to walk in faith–letting the Father lead me from season to season or dwelling place to dwelling place. Delightful will be the day that the Lord teaches me how to live with the bare minimum or at least start from that point in a foreign place where the sojourner mindset is the only attitude I know I must adopt.
By the way, shout out to my brothers and sisters in Christ–we are called to LOVE THE SOJOURNER:
19 Love the sojourner, therefore, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt.
Blessings upon your days ahead,
I believe we all have more capacity for culture than we dare to believe.
…or dare to notice.
It’s that moment that we want to greet a stranger in their native tongue just because we know how to say “hello” in what we’re guessing is their language.
It’s those wandering thoughts that imagine what it’d be like to belong to a different ethnic community other than your own.
It’s the normalcy of seeing various skin colors, hearing multilingual conversations, smelling identifying fragrances and odors all around us and being used to it because the state of your city is diverse.
These are all proofs of the capacity we have, but don’t these observations and thoughts get kept to ourselves most of the time? What if one day you actually boldly greeted a stranger in a different language… What if you intentionally moved to another neighborhood where you were the minority…What if you asked someone what language they were speaking, complimented their clothes or asked them what they were cooking. What if…
Have you ever thought about the benefit that boldness, that intentional move would entail? A new friend? New knowledge? Grown empathy? New questions to wrestle with in your mind?
Get out of your comfort zone and embrace the natural capacity you have for culture.
God did not design humans to cling to their definitions of normal, nor their self-created boundaries, nor their own personal theology, but to cling to each other. And “each other” stretches far beyond your own religious community, your own race, your own political party, your own economic status. Dismiss your social stigmas by first asking yourself what your stigmas are. Who, what, or where are you subconsciously sidestepping with the excuse that you don’t have the gifting, the desire, or the capacity to embrace other cultures.
Ask someone this week what they believe about God, how they feel about the immigration issue, what their story is. And maybe, in return, they will have the opportunity to reach back out and ask you the same thing. What a blessing.
Or maybe, in return, you will begin to learn more about another human being, another culture, and perhaps become an advocate for them or their community in some way shape or form. Jesus stepped off His throne in Heaven and embraced humans here on earth, becoming an advocate for us to God. Why shouldn’t we humbly do the same?
Well hello there blogging world! Long time, no type.
I don’t really believe in New Year’s Resolutions. They sometimes strike me as the annoying little kid that is constantly nagging at their older sibling, begging for trouble, begging for frustration and exasperation to appear on the scene. At least for me, it’s just a great set up for failure and besides, what’s so magical about January 1st?
But while I don’t believe in resolutions, I do believe in revelations. You know, those mini “ah-ha” moments that come out of the woodwork. They’re much more satisfying to follow through with than resolutions because they typically stem from a heart’s desire and are backed by motivation and passion…or at least some conviction.
So here’s to a recent revelation of mine that desires to write more and talk less. I recently wrote in my journal, “I haven’t much to say at the moment. Most of my thoughts have been dispersed by way of random written words, spoken thoughts, and prayers”. I’ve discovered it takes energy to come back around into mind-engagement after a long work day and pound out some published words, but I want to do it.
2015 is going to be grand. And by grand, I am making no claim that it will be great by worldly standards. I don’t anticipate it being pain-free, smooth-flowing and full of satisfaction and inspiration. It could be, but by “grand”, I’m saying I know there will be growth—growth of character, growth of love, growth of wisdom. 2014 had more struggles than any other year of my life thus far, but it also contained some of the most growth, and for that I am thankful.
I’m excited to see what the Lord is going to do with me this year. This is my first year since I was four years old of being without a saturated school schedule. I’m already feeling the joys and pains of a full time work life where summer is no longer coming to rescue me…
So here we go, life could speed by quickly if I’m not careful. I have to resist becoming narrow-minded and living a one-plot life. I must stay aware of and grateful for everything all around that the Lord is conducting. And I must trust He is integrating me into His plan–even in those moments that life feels mundane.
May all blessings flow to the smorgasbord of readers that make a pit-stop on this little site.
Culture remains a huge part of my life and my job and I’m delighted to expand on that in the near future!
Sula Bulungi, Familia!
(P.S.- that’s my new pen name)
Last night I had a dream that we were living in the last days on earth. I knew it was so because there was war, chaos, and persecution. I knew we were still in America because I was surrounded by all my fellow Christian friends. We were hiding. People were missing. Families were separated. America had finally become unsafe.
In the dream, I found myself upset…less upset at what was going on and ore at the fact that I knew I wasn’t going to get to live out a lovely life. I probably wasn’t going to fall in love, have a family or a defined career path or ministry. I had become an outsider in this world as a follower of Christ, and here I was pitying myself.
It occurred to me in the dream that I had the wrong heart attitude, but it wasn’t easy for me to make a change, feeling blessed, as I should, that I was chosen to likely be a martyr for the gospel.
My pastor was amongst our hideout group and he was going around asking people what they were most concerned about in the moment and if their hearts were right with the Lord. He asked me the questions I was already wrestling with and asked me to relay the questions to more individuals.
Wow. It was so convicting.
Even though we are yet to be in an age of physical violence and chaos, spiritual warfare is on the uprising and the Day is indeed drawing near, as Hebrews 10:25 says. “So where are your priorities?”, I believe the Lord is asking. Do I have expectations set for my life that are unaligned or beyond the Lord’s simple calling? Do I meditate on my relationships, talents, usefulness, or job before I meditate on my relationship with the Lord? Do I seek knowledge through books before I seek to know the Lord through His Holy Word?
I must be so cautious of these things, ever more as I see the Day approaching.
I’m the weirdo.
I’m the oddball that likes to step outside my comfort zone and take risks.
I’m that way half because of who I am and half because of the presence of people in my life who encouraged me to step out in faith.
I see it in a positive light…this whole stepping out thing. Sometimes I step into a pile of poo, sometimes I find myself standing on cloud nine, other times I’m simply standing on a stepping stone–it wasn’t as big of a deal as I anticipated. Either way, I’ve grown through stepping.
I want to see others in my life grow too, so I encouraged them to take those faith steps…even if they’re tiny. However, many times, my encouragement of this stepping is labeled “being pushy”…a phrase that’s been a humbling reminder of my imperfection for a good chunk of my life.
Something I thought was positive turned negative and I find myself pondering: “Where did I go wrong?”
I wrote this exert in a book cover the other day and, being a blogger, a few titles came to mind as I closed up this series of thoughts with an open ended question.
I experience my fair amount of frustration by simply living my life…by being who I am. Since we all have flaws, I figure everyone experiences this sort of frustration now and again. So this whole “I’m the oddball” feeling expressed on paper made me think of a title for my little exposition.
“Being Emily”… an exert written and ended with some self-pitying, “whoa is me” question. I can throw a great variety of parties, but I’d rather not practice my skills in the pity party department.
So I thought to myself… “how can these thoughts of mine exemplifying frustration and confusion become a positive aspect?”
The real question is…”why don’t I ask myself this question every time I feel a less-than-joyful emotion?”
“The Redeemed Me”… my blogger mind created a new title. WHAT IF… What if I asked myself how the Lord can redeem each and every misunderstanding I experience, insecurity I feel, ingenuity I see, and every frustration that weighs me down? I know for a fact that He can; am I recognizing His ability to do so and subjecting myself to that positivity?
I’ve always wanted to write a book….maybe I found my title. What do you think? I guess I’ll ponder that one for a while….
In the mean time, let me share a great quote from Dan Kimball. It applied to my little exert and maybe it will be a small lift for your day too!
“Not all perceptions about us are correct, but just because they’re not correct doesn’t mean there aren’t good reasons we are seen the way we are.” -Kimball
Sometimes I wonder…
When should one begin to accept rejection in its most deceitful, underlying forms?
When does one stop hoping for a particular something that seems never to happen,
shrugging their shoulders saying, “Well, I guess it wasn’t supposed to happen that way”?
And when should one just just stop dreaming too big,
wishing too often,
anticipating too much,
hoping so fervently?
Is there a point in each individual circumstance in which one should draw the lines for themselves
and maturely announce,”Now, that’s enough.”?
Do these lines exist?
If they do, should they?
Who is to say anyway?
Only I have say over the existence of these lines in my life.
So this blog has its name for a reason. “Capacity for Culture”. The mindset and heart that came up with that name is truly a different one than the one that writes today.
To me, at this point in my little life, capacity for culture means keeping my arms and heart open to all which has developed and is developing around me, no matter what soil I am standing on. “Keeping open”–not to say I’m accepting of all, approving of all, tolerant of all, but to say that I’m loving of the potential that sovereign God has placed in all. “Keeping open” to say that my mind can’t possibly wrap around the infinite web of ways that God pulls out the potential in all of His creation.
Today was our 6th Birthday at Origin Church. Whoohoo! Happy Birthday Origin!! We had quite the celebration. There are loads of beauty, freedom, joy and excitement that comes with audible worship to God. Tears came to my eyes this morning when I closed them and listened to so many voices sing the words “Amen, Amen, Amen, Amen” from the song City Harmonic. What I heard was volume and not everyone right on pitch or on rhythm and it was beautiful, because what i saw behind my closed eyes was a Christ follower from every different country and tribe in this world all being able to sing that one word, “Amen”, together.
“We will be a people free from sin; We’ll be free, a Kingdom with no end”
On this, all believers in the body of Christ, agree and sing “we agree, we agree, we agree, we agree” all together.
I’m not normally one to fantasize, but in that moment, I could see myself anywhere in the world with Christian brothers and sisters and it was the most glorious thing. Do you think I was seeing apart of what God’s Kingdom here on earth will be like?
All that to say…. Unity. Culture can be divisive; that’s why I value it so much. Because while the entrancing, lovely qualities of culture remain as such, somehow, in the largest and the smallest ways, it can make us feel categorized–like we have limits on us. The unity of the body of Christ and the power of God transcends all culture, though, and redeems it, so that the beauty in difference shines through and the barriers are no longer. And in that kind of phenomena that we see happen here in our lives on earth, all can look upon it, be told it was nothing that they accomplished and joyfully express agreement: “Amen!”