Dave, Louisa, and I climbed a few uneven cement steps to the door of a stranger. Knocked.
A woman wearing a beautiful teal scarf on her head answered the door with a confused expression. It’s hard to convey “we’re here to mentor you” with someone who doesn’t speak English.
For those of you who woke up Wednesday discouraged, consider this moment. Think about what we as hopeful visionaries, Jesus followers, and do-gooders have gained, even in our disappointment.
Now days from the shock of the election, are you also starting to notice a new fervor for the things we said we valued?
Even the words that I wrote about in The Year of Small Things speak to me more strongly, I believe them more firmly, than when they were brought into being by my fingertips. I don’t mean that simply because of the election we all need to save someone, march somewhere, hug a tree, or pound weapons into plows (that’s in the bible, you guys).
Small things, remember? Small things are beautiful enough.
I simply mean local churches, meaningful relationships, intentional community, and prayer and discernment are more obviously counter-cultural now than they have been. Now, in our place, in our time, believing in things like welcoming the stranger makes us weird. And in this, maybe we’re closer to being the in-but-not-of-the-world people.
So, back to the cement porch at the apartment complex on this windy fall day.
We showed the woman the name of the man who’d matched our two families through a local refugee resettlement agency. “Oh yes! Come in, come in,” she said, motioning us to sit on the love seat, the only furniture in the living room besides a night stand and a folding chair. It was warm, sunny. Quiet.
A few minutes in, an Arabic translator showed up and we were off: laughing nervously and waiting in long silences, coloring and putting together a shapes puzzle.
We didn’t know what to do and I didn’t know what to say, so I pulled “Chicka Chicka Boom Boom” from my volunteer bag and read it with two of the three toddlers.
The father came home from the mosque and we volleyed questions between the interpreter — probably all of us thinking that next time, this fount of languages wouldn’t be part of our time together. (We’re all going to be the best charades players.)
We talked about nothing, really. Exchanged phone numbers. Problem-solved which bus to take to a doctor’s appointment; how to pronounce the kids’ names. (I’m really, really going to need some help with that.) The kids dumped out all the crayons and fought over the box like my kids do.
One-year-olds, by the way, cry the same in any language.
And I looked at the parents, especially the mom who kept tightening her scarf and re-tucking it. I know, because I’ve seen one piece of their relocation paperwork, that she is just days older than I am. We were born the same year in different parts of the world. Her three children and mine. My world safe, hers not.
That’s all it is, you know. People.
And I don’t mention this for self-congratulations (please no). I mention this because many around me are lamenting. And in lamenting, we appeal to God and ask Him to intervene, and then we wait and watch for him to respond. He will respond.
And in some cases, my dear disheartened friends, God responds through us. We have to stand on the porch. We have to drink warm grape Fanta and stumble over a child’s name seven or eight times. Color a bird while smiling at the kids who must think it strange that this white woman comes into their living room with books and crayons and makes a new sound every time they point to a number falling from the apple tree.
This is it.
My friends, don’t forget who we are.
- Launching a book is a thing, by the way. I’m in the process of creating a website for The Year of Small Things: Radical Faith for the Rest of Us and soon my co-author Sarah Arthur and I will be blogging there regularly. Check it out.
- And if you’re as geeked about the book (or you’re my relative), you should join our Facebook group to start talking about the book, your small things, and what God’s saying to you about next steps in loving the stranger.
- Because God loves coincidences, I’m giving a message this weekend at Sycamore Creek Church in Lansing, Mich., about how welcoming the stranger is a big deal to God. I may or may not reference “Stranger Things” and “E.T.” If you’re local, we’d love to have you!