January 9, 2013

True Identity

"The line separating good and evil passes, not through states, nor through classes, nor between political parties...but right through every human heart and through all human hearts." Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

Part I - Father

One of the interesting things about living in Paraguay is the lack of racial diversity, most notably the scarcity of people with dark skin.  Needless to say, Donald sticks out wherever we go.  In fact, just spotting another black face at the other side of the mall's food court is enough to spark an immediate friendship.

Another observation through living in Paraguay is that many Paraguayans do not seem to have the same cultural inhibitions that we have about staring at people in public who are different or blatantly pointing out said differences.  When this is done out of simple curiosity it is tolerable.  When it is done with disgust or hostility it can be disheartening.

Ignorance is not colorblind, nor is it bound by race, culture or even social class.

Donald's obvious difference in skin color has been an unexpected asset to ministry in that EVERYONE notices him.  That, combined with his friendly, outgoing personality has opened many doors for sharing the Gospel.  Practically everyone in our town knows who he is and that he follows Jesus.

It is those things that have to outweigh the negative everyday experiences that his difference seems to provoke.  Finger pointing, name calling, racial profiling by the police.  He has even had people working on the street tell him that he and his black skin are ugly.

Even when he is angry or disheartened by the treatment of others, however, Donald does not let that change who he is.  He is still secure in his identity...his identity as a black man, but most importantly his identity in Jesus Christ.  That identity is what truly draws people to him. 

Now, comes the hard part.

Imparting that sense of identity to our children...

Part II - Daughter

Cora was born in the United States, but moved to Costa Rica when she was 18 months old.  She has lived in Paraguay since the age of 3.  In her 8 years she has visited 7 different countries and 15 different states.  She is fluent in both English and Spanish.  She has a mother who is as white as her father is black.  Her beautiful brown skin, dark eyes and curly black hair fall somewhere between.

Her smile can light up a room.

Racially, Cora is neither black nor white.  Culturally, she is neither Paraguayan nor Northamerican.  Somehow we had managed to shield her from all labels.

Or so we thought.

Awhile ago Cora shared with us that one of the things that the bully in her class was doing was making fun of her for being black.  We thought that had been resolved.

Then, the other day as I was tucking her into bed, she said to me, "Mommy, I don't want to be black, I want to be white."

Yet another little girl in her class had been making fun of her and told her that nobody would ever want to marry her because she was black.

What a blow!  Not even the struggles that Donald and I have had as an interracial couple and now living in an undiverse country compare to hearing those words from my own child...seeing the hurt in  beautiful brown eyes brimming with tears.

I knew at that moment that the words I needed to share with Cora were of infinite importance.

I want her tender heart to know that God made her just the way He wanted and that she is beautiful.  She possesses not only a worldly beauty, but a beauty that shines from within.  She is who God says she is; not her classmates, not the world.

What defines our identity?  Who tells us who we are?

Is it our skin color, gender or social class?  Is it our career, educational level or political affiliation?  Is it the denomination of the church we choose to attend?

As long as we let the World define who we are, we will be lost and unfulfilled.  Even as Christians.  The world will never change.  There will always be those who hate us for our differences.

Cora, like all of us, needs to be taught to feel safe and secure in her identity in Christ...who He says she is.  Then, no matter what the world throws at her, she will not be moved or shaken.

And, just perhaps the tables will be turned.  The world will indeed change, one bit at a time.  Changed through her quite, unwavering testimony.  Not to be mistaken for weak, but more like that still, small voice that Isaiah heard.

A voice of someone with the regal bearing of royalty.  A princess who knows who she is and WHOSE she is.



January 4, 2013

First Flight

But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.  Isaiah 40:31

I have always loved the image of soaring on wings like eagles and often think of this verse when I spot birds high in the sky.  It is the waiting part that I'm not so good at.

This past week God gave me a great object lesson that brought this verse home.
On December 22nd, three baby birds hatched from their eggs on our back porch.  Every day we monitored their progress from the window, enjoying watching their growth and the way their mother took care of them.  Often, when the momma bird came back with food and the babies peeped their heads out of the nest, Daniel would excitedly exclaim, "Babies!"  We would all look, scrambling to snap a few photos.
Looking back on the progression of the photos, the verse from Isaiah and a great analogy came to me.
The first couple of days after hatching, the babies' eyes were closed.  They flopped around without a real purpose, depending solely on their mother for food and warmth.  Because they were born that way, they did not know what they were missing.

It is the same with us.  Before we know Christ, we are spiritually blind.  We do not know what we are missing until Christ opens our eyes and we see the world through His eyes.

You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.
Revelation 3:17

After the babies' eyes were opened, they continued to stay in the nest a few more days, being cared for and fed by their mother.  Every time she came near, they quickly popped up their heads, eagerly straining their necks to receive the nourishment they needed to grow.

It is the same with us.  Both as new believers and seasoned followers of Christ, we cannot grow without nourishment from God's Word.  We are to approach God with the same eagerness as these baby birds.  That is how we grow in both faith and wisdom.

Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’  Matthew 4:4

 After a couple more days, the fledglings began to grow restless, wandering around the top of the porch pillar that contained their nest and stretching out their wings.  It was if they knew the day to use them was coming soon.  Yet, they were not quite ready.  They needed to wait.

It is the same with us. God has a purpose and a plan for each one of our lives.  He wants to see His purposes fulfilled through us, but in His time.  Sometimes the hardest part of following God's will for our lives is the waiting.  We want to stretch our wings and fly, but we are still waiting for His promises to come to pass.  Our job during these seasons in our lives is to prepare ourselves and wait patiently.

When God made his promise to Abraham, since there was no one greater for him to swear by, he swore by himself, saying, “I will surely bless you and give you many descendants.” And so after waiting patiently, Abraham received what was promised.  Hebrews 6:13-15

January 1st signaled the start of a new year and a new beginning for the three fledglings.  One by one, they waited anxiously by the edge of the pillar.  And one by one, the mother bird swooped out of nowhere, pushing them out of the nest and soaring with them to new heights.

However, one of the birds soared straight into our back window and tumbled to the ground.  It stumbled around for a few minutes, seemingly alone.  Then, again, from out of nowhere the mother swooped down, picking up her child and helping it to fly once again.

Finally, mother and child were perched together in a nearby tree.  Through the guidance of his mother, the fledgling had grown both in strength and confidence.  He is ready for the next adventure.

It is the same with us.  When the time comes and we are prepared, God gives us the courage needed to take the leap of faith.  As we go off  into the seemingly unknown, however, we may lose our equilibrium for awhile.  We may bump into a few walls.  Yet, God promises to always be there with us.  He is right by our side, ready to swoop us up and carry us to new heights.

Again: But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.  Isaiah 40:31

May the Spirit of the Lord propel you to new heights!