What is Justice: Broken

I remember the sunlight dancing through the kitchen window as I climbed up onto the kitchen counter. I reached up into the cabinet, fingers finally finding the small juice glass. It was one of my great-grandmothers, the glasses with little vegetable designs. But as I pulled it out, the glass slipped from my hand, hitting the floor and shattering across the kitchen. Despite my seven years, I knew that even if all of the tiny shards could be recovered and glued together, that glass would never be the same. It was too broken.

I’m not sure why the memory of breaking one of these juice glasses came to mind. But lately, it’s this image of shattered glass on the floor that keeps coming to mind as I think about brokenness.

And I’ve been thinking about brokenness a lot lately.

Every day I feel like I am waking up to news of another tragedy. Riots, persecution, rape, war…thousands upon thousands of individuals facing immense injustice. And I feel this mixture of grief and guilt. Grief for what is happening, guilt that my life is carrying on.

God, why is this world so broken? And my head knows the answer but my heart just can’t accept it. This isn’t right! My heart cries out.

At the same time I hear snippets of the incredible ways that God is moving. He is at work in refugee camps, rural villages and cities that are in chaos.

But injustice continues to brutally ravage the world at a speed that makes me question if there are some areas that are just broken beyond repair. It’s made me question justice.

Oh justice.

The word that’s become so trendy. Everyone wants justice, but sometimes I wonder if we’ve actually thought through what justice really is…and what the knowledge of justice will require of us.

And more than that, what is justice in the kingdom of God? The upside down kingdom. The one that looks like foolishness to the world.

I recently hear this definition of justice, “Justice is restoring that which is broken in the manner of how God intended it for the world.”

Broken.

We can look at countries, governments, and systems, and say they are broken. But ultimately what is broken is people.

And broken people cause broken countries, governments and systems.

So the pursuit of justice has to become intimately personal if the real cause is broken people. If we are pursuing justice but missing the individual, what’s the point?

I’ve encountered this intensely personal aspect of justice when witnessing human trafficking. Because for human trafficking to end, we have to do something about the broken individuals who foster and fuel the demand for slavery. We have to see the pimps, the slave owners, the johns as broken individuals.

Since the fall, none of us are devoid of brokenness. While the degrees of brokenness vary, we’ve all experienced brokenness. And this is important—this understanding that brokenness is a shared experienced. The brokenness that we’ve all experienced has the potential to give us key insights into understanding the brokenness of others.

And maybe our own intimate encounters with brokenness are what have further fueled this idea that some things are just broken beyond repair.

Living in South Africa one of the injustices that’s continually on the forefront is poverty. And the deeper you go into this area, the more you discover it’s complexities. Sometimes I feel like I’m sitting on the kitchen floor trying to gather all of the broken pieces of glass, and it just feels too big. The need is too great, there are too many pieces, it’s just too broken.

*Photo Credit: Unsplash

*Photo Credit: Unsplash

I forget that the Creator, the One who breathed life into the dust, hasn’t created anything that He can’t restore.

And this gives me hope. As much as creation itself is such a miracle, the greatest miracle is the one that makes all things new.

It’s Jesus who picks up the shards of glass and restores that which seemed beyond repair. And we get to be a part of that process. We get to kneel on the kitchen floor with Him and pick up the pieces. We get to watch Him breathe life back into that which we thought was dead. We get to witness Him reshape and remold that which we thought was permanently disfigured.

The most broken part of creation are the image bearers—us. Yet I’ve seen Him transform the most broken life, heal the shattered soul, and redeem the ones I thought were too far gone.

So I know, that if broken people are the cause of a broken world, and if what Jesus does best is heal broken people, then justice has a chance.

There’s hope for the broken.

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What is Justice: Pain

*Photo credit: Natalie Thomas

*Photo credit: Natalie Thomas

Remember.

It was hot. I could feel a drop of sweat begin rolling down my back.

I didn’t belong here.

But neither did they. No one should belong to a place like this.

He loves us. Oh how He loves us.

His voice began overlapping the original words.

“I love them. I love them.”

“Oh how I love him.” I swallowed hard.

And the internal soundtrack played as we walked through the crowds. Old men caressing young girls; their arms possessively draped around the slender bodies. Loud laughter and pop music. Flip flops and stilettos. All of the beauty of sex distorted. Buy a beer, buy a body. Turn a blind eye, she says she’s 18…

Pattaya, Thailand. I remember you.

Oh God, I remember.

When How He Loves Us came on this evening it came back to me. The images, the sounds, the smells. Oh my soul.

What is it about that which breaks us? That injustice that slices right through us.

No more bad news we say. No more pain.

Oh my soul.

We can’t take another sad story. We don’t want to know.

But the pain is just the beginning. The breaking is just the start. Then it’s the rebuilding, the molding, the shaping. It’s the burn of the fire. When injustice cuts us to the point where it hurts to breathe, that’s just the beginning.

He wants to take us deeper.

He says, “You say you will follow me? Will you follow Me to where the pain is? Will you go with Me to the broken places? You want to be like Me? Then let pain touch you like it touches Me.

Weep with Me.

Don’t put the book down, don’t look away, don’t turn the channel, don’t switch off. Will you let pain touch you? To know Me, to be like Me, your heart must break like Mine breaks.

Remember. Remember. Remember.

I need You to feel the pain that My heart feels. This is first. This is the beginning.”

Remember. Take a deep breathe. It hurts to remember. But remember when God gave you a taste of His heart for this broken world.

What was it that cut straight to your heart? Remember.

 

*What is Justice: Part 1.

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The beauty of…black garbage bags and a sandy bathroom

My hair is still damp. I run my fingers through it and grin.

I’m alive.

The wind howls with the rage of a blizzard, as only the Cape Town wind can howl in the heat of summer.

The black garbage bags sit at the foot of my bed.

I’m alive.

There’s sand on my bathroom floor and hangers scattered across my comforter.

Somehow all of this symbolizes something about 2015.

It started dawning on me last night when I was ankle deep in clothing.

So, I know you guys will make me get rid of this.” I pull out from behind my back a pink blouse. “I wore this to my high school graduation.”

The words are hardly out of my mouth before they both point and say, “In the pile.”

I throw it into an ever expanding black garbage bag. It seems that as long as it’s still wearable, I keep it. Nikes from 9th grade, “missions trip” skirt from Goodwill, a maternity shirt that I accidentally bought at a thrift store and only realized was maternity later on (this surprisingly happens to me a lot…)…and so it goes. And it’s time for these items to go.

The initial letting go is hard. We get attached to things. We think we need them. We feel obliged to keep them. Grudges, toxic friendships, attics crammed with possessions we forgot we owned…

It was strange how the more we purged my closet, the easier it got. By the end of the evening I felt this strange exhilarating sense of freedom.

It reminds me, it’s ok to let go. In fact, sometimes that is what is most needed.

It all caused me to reexamine other areas in my life, areas FAR more important than my closet, and start “cleaning house”.

What am I holding onto from 2014 (and further back) that I need to just let go of? Fears, unmet expectations, grievances, guilt. It’s made me reexamine my time and commitments, are there things I’m doing for the wrong reasons that I need to let go of?

I want to start 2015 with space and a clean closest (which I now have in the literal sense as well).

And then I just want to say yes and do it.

The sand was cooler than I expected it to be. The heat we’d felt earlier from the workout had worn off and we looked at the ocean, hesitant.

It never ceases to awe me how every sunset is different. Yet this sunset was even more unusual. Deep colors, like the colors before a storm but the clouds were the rich changing hues of a sunset. It felt surreal.

And we had to do it.

So we ran. With screams, sand flying up in our wake, we ran. 

Running into the ocean screaming, as you do when you are the dreading the impact of cold water. *Photo credit: Michelle Lenk

Running into the ocean screaming, as you do when you are the dreading the impact of cold water. *Photo credit: Michelle Lenk

If you’ve never gone for a spontaneous swim with your clothes on, then you must do it sometime.

It’s freeing, and exhilarating and when you come up from the surface you just feel alive.

As much as I can plan for 2015, and set goals, and find a “routine”, there will be surprises and opportunities and barriers I didn’t expect.

But I want to say yes.

I want to run in, even when I know the water will be freezing. Even when I’m not prepared with a swimsuit and my car seat will be soaked.

I want to say yes.

Yes to the unknown. Yes to that which may interrupt my plans or my “routine”. Yes to a different way rather than the same old way. Yes to hard conversations.

And more than saying yes, I want to do. Not talk about, do. Even if it’s hard, even if it’s messy, even if it will take time, even if it has the risk of not working out.

Something happens when we let go. Something stirs when we finally just. do. it. It’s a mixture of fresh faith, new freedom and this deep breath exhale of “I’m alive” – ness (there’s just not a poetic way to explain that last one). I’m starting with garbage bags and salty, sandy, drenched clothes, but these are just the first steps forward in 2015.

There will be many steps to follow.

So I’m cleaning out the old, just letting go, and saying yes. And it is so cliché…but I guess there’s a reason for that.

2015…bring it.

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If you ask me about home…

*Photo credit: Unsplash

*Photo credit: Unsplash

I stared out at the runway and felt a wave of guilt creeping up.

Guilt because I wasn’t sure how excited I was to set foot back on US soil.

I mean, I was excited to see friends and family.

But a part of me felt anxious and wary about it all. If you’ve lived overseas you can understand the mixed emotions you have coming back “home”, when you also have another place that you call “home”. You’ve changed, and “homes” changed, but sometimes it feels like both expect that nothings changed.

If you haven’t lived overseas, let me try to help you understand this weird mix of emotions.

See, if you were to ask me about home, I’d give you a different answer depending where I was.

If I’m in South Africa and you asked me about home, I’d picture the fields, the neighborhoods, the forests of Lancaster. The smell of fresh cut grass and the warmth of the summer breeze, fireflies lighting up the lawns.

Driving with the windows down, the country radio station blaring, tall fields o corn lining the road. The way the sunlight dances between the trees into the kitchen window.

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Home.

The comfort and nostalgia. All those years of racing around country roads. Driving to work, driving to classes, driving to campfires and football games.

Walking through the door to the smell of a roast beef dinner, and sitting around the table with my family, the wall in front of us full of framed memories.

A quiet neighborhood and coffee by the fireplace, the snow falling softly in the woods outside.

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It has a safety and security that Cape Town doesn’t possess. Like stopping at a redlight and not rolling up your windows and making sure your doors are locked.

And as far away as that life is, sometimes my heart still aches for it. For the familiarity and the comfort.

Home.

But if I was in America and you asked me about home, I’d picture my little third floor flat that looks out on the back of Table Mountain. The sound of the ocean, the roar of the wind, and clouds rippling over the mountain like a waterfall.

Accents that don’t sound like mine. All of the different cultures, which I find best exemplified by the varied items that line the grocery store shelves. And my church, so diverse that I’m sure it’s a small taste of what heaven will be like.

Home. Always being offered a cup of tea, and visiting  hipster markets and vineyards. And the daily reminder of true material poverty. The miles of tin-roof shacks and beggars at intersections. In Cape Town you can’t escape the beauty or the poverty.

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This home is full of new traditions, and parties on the balcony, always finding space for one more new face. Friends that are passionate about social justice and understand what exactly I do, and why I do it.

Sometimes I feel like I live in two realities—two vastly different realities. The one has shaped who I am, and the other is shaping who I am becoming. I’m not the same girl that left nearly three years, the ink still drying on my university diploma.

I’ve changed. I’m also more aware that I’m American, and yet in some ways I feel like I’m becoming less American.

For anyone who has lived overseas for a period long enough to refer to it as home, you understand what it’s like to have your heart in two places.

Because when I’m here in Cape Town, I’ll find myself missing Lancaster, and when I’m back in Lancaster, I miss Cape Town.

On one hand, it’s hard. I get two-three weeks each year to try to nurture and cultivate relationships from my US home. It’s not a lot of time to make new memories and not enough time to catch up and adjust to all of the changes that both myself and my friends and family have gone through.

I’m deeply grateful for those times, but it often feels like just a short sip and then it’s over. Not enough time to drink very deeply.

And when I go back home (US), I’m not sure what my place is. As much as my relationships and memories reside in Lancaster, I don’t any longer. My life isn’t there anymore.

But at this home (Cape Town), I’ll always be the foreigner. I don’t have deep roots here yet or a family member I can just ring up. I’ve got friendship and community, but those are continually morphing as I’ve moved and friends have moved, and the cycle goes on. I’m never sure who will stay or who will go or where I’ll actually end up.

If you’ve lived overseas, you understand how real the challenges are and how sometimes you just feel like no one can fully understand you because they don’t understand both homes.

I could look at my life in two ways. I could see it as split. As these two separate lives, where my heart is divided.

Or I could look at my life as just having expanded. My friendships have multiplied. Not only do I have one great home, but I have two. I wouldn’t trade the memories and experiences I’ve had in both of these homes. I’m doubly blessed.

I choose to see my life and my heart, as continually expanding. My world has gotten so much bigger and richer as a result of these two beautiful, and vastly different homes.

It isn’t easy. But I am convinced that “easy” rarely equals “best”.

So if you ask me about home, please realize that my home stretches between two continents. That my heart will ache a little for the home I’m not at, while still being immensely grateful for the home I am at.

“Home is ultimately not about a place to live but about the people with whom you are most fully alive. Home is about love, relationship, community, and belonging, and we are all searching for home.”

Erwin Raphael McManus

 

 

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I’m single…but I’m not missing out

I remember standing there, trying to casually fade in the background (a moment where it’s great to be short). Trying not to look like I cared much, but inside caring a lot.

One by one names would be called. I’d awkwardly shift my weight from foot to foot. Slowly, the group would thin and I could no longer blend with the background.

Finally, a team captain would call my name and I’d join the team, gratefully trying to blend into the group.

As a very nonathletic kid, I hated when we’d pick teams for games. That feeling of watching everyone get chosen, one by one.

*Photo credit Unsplash

*Photo credit Creationswap

As you get into your mid-twenties it can sometimes feel like life is this game, where one by one people get “chosen” for marriage. As if you just stand there waiting for someone to find you good enough, someone to pick you.

I can say with great authority, that it’s a lie.

The reality is, we’re all in the game already. There is no awkward waiting on the side. Singles only sit on the sidelines if they choose to.

We’re already in the game.

Marriage will change the dynamics of the game, but not our ability to fully engage in the game— in life.

Please don’t feel sorry for me. God hasn’t “gypped” me by not providing a spouse. Right now I am in one of the richest seasons I’ve been in. Marriage is great. I have so many couples in my life who exemplify the beauty of marriage. I love that and I love being around the dynamics of their marriage.

But I’m where I need to be. I’m doing what God’s called me to do.

I’m not missing out. Because God’s given me what I need. There’s nothing in my life that’s missing.

I always have a weird transition thing around birthdays. Turning 25 was hard. Turning 26 wasn’t hard, but in a month or so of being 26 I began to wonder about my life’s direction.

Trust me. I didn’t plan on being a 26 year-old single missionary in Africa. That was in the category of “I hope this never happens”. But here I am and I’m realizing, strangely, I wouldn’t change a thing.

Not to say I don’t want to get married. I do. But life is good. Rich with relationships, with things I’m passionate about, with discovery and opportunities.

God has given me so many of the desires of my heart. And working with the materially poor continues to challenge my perspective on what is important in life.

The other night I was lying in bed, replaying the highs and lows of the day, and thinking about where my life is headed. I started thinking about marriage, and if I would get married, and why I wasn’t married already.

And in the midst of that self-examination and comparison to those around me, God whispered, “You’re not missing out. I haven’t left you out. I’ve already filled your life with so many of the desires of your heart.”

And as He said those words, it set something free in my heart. I stopped fearing. See, I’d started to believe the lie that by not being married I was missing out. That something in my life was missing. That there was a hole.

*Photo credit Unsplash

*Photo credit Unsplash

And isn’t that what the world – and dare I say sometimes the church – teaches us.

And there is a hole, one that we all have. But a spouse won’t fill that hole. Children won’t fill that whole. Success won’t fill that hole.

Jesus, only Jesus, fills that hole.

This is something I keep rediscovering.

Sometimes when I start to get the whole sympathy, poor single-person-missing-out from couples, I want to say, but maybe you’re missing out?

Maybe this whole “missing out” thing has less to do with if you’re married or not, and more to do with if you’re wholeheartedly following Jesus and the adventure He’s called you into. Cause if you’re not, then you’re the one missing out.

I haven’t missed anything, because I’ve been obedient to what God’s called me to. I may be “missing out” on many things compared to the world’s standards, but not God’s.

I’m single, but God has filled my life. I’m not missing out.

Whatever it is in your own life that you feel is causing you to “miss out”, if you are saying “yes” to God and following Him where He is leading you, then you’re not missing out on anything.

*Photo credit Unsplash

*Photo credit Unsplash

 

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Because you need to know

I stood there.

Awkwardly shifting my weight from foot to foot, pretending to look through my papers. I tried not to hold my breath. I watched her eyes move across the page. Finally, she put the paper down and looked up at me.  

“What do you think? Is there anything we should change, did we get all the details right?” I ask.

“This is my story. This is how it happened.” She says, glancing back down at the page. “This is my story.” And she smiles.

It’s funny about dreams. How they seem to start growing before we even realize they’re there.

This specific dream started in a shack. It started with a story stained with tears and wrapped in gratefulness. A story drawn out between many visits over my first year in South Africa.

It started with Francinah’s story. A woman who’d grown up under apartheid, an unforgiving system which had devastated her childhood and left her with scars that she’s carried through adulthood. Her only daughter was killed in a car accident at the age of 12, and her husband later passed away, leaving Francinah a single mother to care for her son. Francinah’s life is not easy. Her small home floods when it rains. She has serious health struggles that made it challenging to work. At night she used to sew by small kerosene lamp because she has no electricity. Every day there’s a new set of challenges. Yet Francinah is one of the most grateful people I’ve met.

With Francinah in her home in Zandspruit

With Francinah in her home in Zandspruit

And as I visited other mother’s like Francinah, other entrepreneurs, I began storing away these stories. I’d leave these visits, humbled and challenged, and with a refrain that began etching itself on my heart, “These stories need to be told. People need to know.”. This would repeat over and over again as I interacted with refugees, fathers and widows.

In the last couple of years I’ve felt this need to write.

Need.

Like something I had to do. In this past year especially, God keeps telling me to write—just write. And somethings been happening as I’ve let the words flow out free, sometimes clumsy like a newborn colt trying to find its legs. But it’s part of the process. And as I’ve turned to writing more and more, this idea came to write a book. A book that would capture these stories and take them beyond the poor residences of their owners, beyond the borders of South Africa to testify to the faith, resilience and courage of the materially poor (specifically the microentrepreneurs that we work with at Paradigm Shift). How much money you have in the bank or how many people you preach to on a Sunday morning or how many albums you’ve sold, shouldn’t determine if your voice, your story gets heard.

In the beginning of this year I asked “what if”. And I kept writing, and journaling, and listening. Then in June, our Paradigm Shift team did a “FedEx” day. We each took a whole day to dream about an idea that could be used to further the ministry of Paradigm Shift. The   following day, we “delivered” that idea and a plan of action should the team decide to pursue it.

I found myself on FedEx day, listening to the crackling of a wood stove and dreaming. As I watched the rain roll down the long windows, I started putting pen to paper on what this dream could actually look like. What if Paradigm Shift created a coffee table book, featuring the portraits and stories of these entrepreneurs?

And the thing about dreams is that more often then we realize, our dream isn’t solely ours, but one that is stirring in other’s hearts as well. This dream – of capturing the way beauty and pain collide in this rainbow nation – was a dream shared by others. A dream that resonates in more than one heart. And because of this shared dream, this book is happening.

Like happening in the next few weeks.

After that team meeting in June, it was only two months later that I found myself revisiting these stories that have been stirring inside me, and writing them. My fingers would pause over the keyboard, almost freezing up in fear, the weight of what we were actually doing feeling so heavy, so sacred. I had to do these stories justice. And in that space I entered into what would feel like holy moments. Moments where the power of these stories and the words that made their way down my fingers and onto the keys reminded me that God was in this.

This was His dream first.

It was with no shortage of nerves that came the real test, at least for my part in this journey. We visited each of the entrepreneurs that we’d be featuring in the book and gave them their story to read.

Photographing one of the entrepreneurs for the book.

Photographing one of the entrepreneurs for the book.

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*Photo credit Stephen Elliot of Mud Productions

A story that I’d written in first person, as if they were telling their own story. As a writer, showing your written work can be hard enough, but showing someone their story that you’ve written about them is even harder. Sometimes I’d read their story aloud to them, watching their faces. But aside from a handful of minor changes (like numbers and dates), they had no changes. Their stories were how they wanted them told. And there was something powerful about watching them read their stories, something holy. This realization that their stories had meaning and had something that the world needs to hear. As a favorite author, Erwin McManus ,put it, “Our story is what we have to offer to the world.”

“Wow. This is powerful.” He said, glancing back down on the paper. His voice quiet, remembering the events. 

“This is your story.” I replied.

The book project isn’t over yet. We will be sending it to print in the next few weeks and are still raising the remaining amount that we need to make it possible. Donate $20 to this project and receive a copy of the book: http://telltheirstory.causevox.com.

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The beauty of…a stranger’s table

I found myself choked up as I pulled onto the freeway. My fingers searching for the radio dial, turning up the music but tuning it out at the same time.

Why did this simple evening touch me so much?

Last night I sat at a stranger’s table. Well, strangers in the sense that I’d only met them that evening.

I was at the training with a team of church volunteers. After the training I walked out with one of the trainers, exchanging a bit of our stories. It was the usual back and forth toss that happens when people hear my foreign accent.

I got into my car and was getting ready to pull out, when he came back to my car and asked if I’d like to join him and his family for dinner.

The split second before I said no, I found myself questioning that response. This was the first South African family to invite me over for a meal since I’d move to Cape Town nearly two years ago. Even if they were just being nice, did I really want to pass this invitation up?

When you live an ocean away from your family and all of the older adults that have been a part of your life, you find yourself longing to be around families.

I grew up in a home where meals together were an unspoken constant. Despite varying schedules and activities, my parents made dinner together a priority. It was simple—a meal, at the table without any distractions, just conversation.

It’s these every day things that you miss when life changes.

I followed the trainer over to his house, not really sure what to expect and still wondering if I should have said yes. I was also desperately trying to remember his name!

They weren’t expecting me, which really made it even better in the sense that I felt like I’d been fully invited into their world. There’s something powerful about when people invite you into their world without trying to change anything. You feel more free to just be who you are.

The dishes in the sink and books on the counter made it all feel more like a home.

Having an immaculate home or gourmet meal isn’t what our hearts really crave. What we actually want is relationship. Is being in a space where we can simply be and where we can connect.

It was funny the nostalgia that being in their home brought. The pictures of their teenage daughters on the wall, schoolbooks on the table, and the tea cozy. I realized how much I miss my own family, and felt even more grateful to have an evening with a family.

It was a simple time with sweet, every day conversation sprinkled with the wisdom that people only seem to get once they’re past forty.

Gary had noticed one of my headlights was dim. I smiled. Only a father notices these things. There’s something comforting about having someone look out for you.

As I pulled out to head back home, they stood in the driveway and waved good-bye.

And my heart felt full.

Wherever you are, whatever state your life is in, you have something to give. There’s a space at your table that you can invite someone in. Single or married or a family—it doesn’t matter. There’s always space for one more.

It’s not about how put together our life appears to others, it’s about offering to share our lives with others.

 

*Photo credit: Unsplash

*Photo credit: Unsplash

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