When I saw the atrocity in Orlando this morning, my heart broke. It was broken for the senseless loss of life, for the families who woke up to a forever-altered future, and for all the victims who didn’t lose their live but will never look at June the 12th the same.
I thought about those in my family who are gay: Those in my immediate and extended family as well as those in my circle of friends; those whom I love no matter how they choose to live their life.
My mind quickly turned to all the stupid things that would surely be uttered today. With a sinking heart I imagined the untimely things that would likely be said, the agendas that people would attempt to advance at the expense of lives lost, and the lines that would be drawn in the sand.
Will the media refer to this as an “act of terror?” Would they use the words “radical Islam?” How quickly would the gun-control-drums begin to beat? But what I most feared, what I silently prayed wouldn’t be said surfaced by noon.
It happened while Steve, Griffin and I processed the events over lunch. Griffin leaned over, put his phone screen in my eye-sight and waited for my reaction. There it was. The text of a twitter post further crumbling the pieces of my heart:
“SOS MY CHURCH LITERALLY BLAMED THE ‘club environment and sin over those men’ on why they got shot I’m so omg”
I wasn’t there, but the message this shiny new graduate got was clear: these 50 lost souls had themselves to blame.
No, I do not agree with whatever pastor spouted this rubbish, but because I profess the same faith, I can get painted with the same brush. So I can’t be quiet. I can’t sit by and assume that people know that I don’t agree with this unknown (to me) pastor. I can’t do nothing.
Can we stop long enough to mourn and grieve? Can we stop playing political games, promoting religious agendas, and pointing fingers just long enough to be human? Can we stop, united by our humanity, and weep with those who weep?
There will be time for the rest later: time for investigating the why and how, time for asking why leaders can’t call a terrorist attack what it is, and time for unraveling the events that led to someone murdering so many people.
But today…. today can we remember that every life lost was one created in the image of God?
Can we reach out with the love that embodies Christ, doing whatever we can wherever we are to show those that the misguided pastor referred to as “those men” that they are loved? Because casting stones never draws anyone in, extending the love of Christ does.
I wasn’t sure what I was going to post this week. Should I continue with my series on Uganda or put it to rest? Should I use something I have already written that is waiting in the wings? And then there are the things I want to write about August: Osage County…. I had lots of options and NFL football wasn’t one of them: more specifically Richard Sherman.
Disclaimer: I am not a die-hard football fanatic. I like the game and have enjoyed watching it since high school. I don’t have a fantasy football team, I haven’t memorized which player is on what team and there have been seasons (specifically when the Titans weren’t doing well) that I haven’t even watched a single game. So maybe it’s been a few years…. The Titans have been my official team since they moved to Nashville, and I really don’t have a back-up team to cheer for.
This year I found one. Having quite a few friends who are Seattle fans, I have paid attention to their progress this year. In some odd alignment of the planets, I was watching the NFC championship game and saw Richard Sherman’s sideline exchange with Erin Andrews live. To be honest, I laughed. I laughed at how ridiculous he sounded. I laughed at the bewildered expression on Andrew’s face. And I laughed because I think he actually might have sprayed spit on her as he spoke. I had NO idea what a big deal his 18 second answer would become.
At first I didn’t pay a lot of attention to the melee, because, well I have a bazillion other things going on. But I would had to have been living under a rock not to take notice.
As the lines were quickly drawn, two camps emerged. People seemed to either be a member of the tribe “how terribly inappropriate” or “he was blowing of steam – big deal”. And in the media frenzy that ensued, the name Richard Sherman began to be linked with thug. Really? A thug?
I’ve already admitted I don’t know a lot about specific players, so I decided to look him up. The NFL has no shortage of players, past and present, who would fit the definition of a thug. I expected to find something, but there was nothing. NOTHING. (NFL arrest database) To the contrary, everything I found suggested that Richard Sherman is not only an elite player at the top of his profession, but he is also an intelligent person.
A thug? Maybe my understanding of the word thug was wrong, so I looked it up. Thug – A brutal ruffian or assassin. Other definitions also add the words robber and murderer. It’s not my intent to laud Sherman’s accomplishments, so if you want to read them check here or here. But I think it’s safe to say that, by definition, he is no thug.
My opinion is this: he was caught up in the excitement of winning a championship game and he spouted off. At worst you might call him hotheaded, impulsive, or unsportsmanlike. Big deal! I know that someone will inevitably say, “Well, he’s arrogant!” So what? And when did recognizing that you are great at what you do become arrogance? And even if he is, does that make him a thug?
The bigger issue to me is how easily we throw around labels and make judgments based on an 18 second exchange. And that happens all day, every day without football championships. We, you and I, probably have never had a personal encounter with Richard Sherman, but how many of us were quick to start the name calling?
While I’ve never been even close to professional at anything except sticking my foot in my mouth, I have been hotheaded, arrogant, impulsive, etc… God only knows how many times I have been caught up in the heat of the moment and spouted off! Good thing there weren’t cameras present or I might be labeled a thug.
If you need the rest of the story, it can be found here. Happy reading. ~ Holly
From our interaction with Ellya at the clinic, I learned he had lost a wife and a child. Now he had a child with cancer. Without question, he had endured more heartache than I could fathom.
I have to admit that when I first heard about the condition his children were living in I was indignant. When one of our translators returned from the village where Ellya lived she reported a one-room hut that was falling apart and had no door. There was no food for them to eat and their clothing was filthy. As she questioned neighbors there were reports of the children being left to fend for themselves while their father spent what little resources they had on alcohol.
And that’s when I got on my high horse. I mounted it and proudly rode around looking down my nose at this man who I didn’t even know. He should be more concerned with caring for his remaining children than with getting plastered. I looked at him with disdain, feeling as though he were beneath me. Beneath me not because of his meager life in a third-world country but because he wasn’t caring for his children.
When interacting with him I tried to wear my non-judgmental face but my scorn simmered underneath. Thoughts of how he should be doing things, how I would handle the situation, and all the ways he was falling short as a parent kept me from seeing him as an equal.
I knew my thinking wasn’t fair but I couldn’t seem to stop it. No matter how hard I tried I could only see what he was doing, not who he was. He was a drunk. He neglected those who relied solely on him.
As Steve and I spent time with him one afternoon at Mulago Hospital, all that changed. I saw a father who wouldn’t go eat for fear he would miss Joseph coming out of surgery. I saw strong hands struggle to keep his son from falling off the bed as he writhed in agony. I heard quiet, tender words spoken to Joseph in an attempt to sooth him. As I looked into his eyes I saw the beginnings of tears. All these things were a wet blanket on my fire of indignation.
Then came the moment when it was all washed away.
“Thank you. Thank you for what you have done for my son. I received a diagnosis and took him home to die but you Muzungus brought him here,” he said with shame in his eyes.
In that moment I believe I was given a glimpse into Ellya’s heart. I had mistaken hopelessness for indifference, sorrow for selfishness.
All the feelings of haughtiness and superiority drained from me and I saw Ellya in an entirely new way. For the first time I saw him for who he was. He was a single father with 4 children. He was a widower. He was grieving the loss of a child. He had a son with cancer and no means to seek treatment. He was a man. He was a human – created in Gods image, just like me.
I had been cruel and unfair.
Do I want people who don’t really know me to swoop in and pass judgment on my life? Do I want to be seen only for what I do? Would I like for people to focus on my mistakes? Never! But that’s exactly what I had done. I had judged. It’s so tempting to criticize what we haven’t walked through.
That’s the lesson for me: don’t look at people through the lens of their choices. When I do that I see them as nothing more than the sum of their behaviors, and looking solely at behavior misses the heart. If I truly want to see someone I must be willing to look past their choices.
Not many of us will find ourselves on the other side of the world passing judgment on a hurting man. But each of us will be tempted to do the same thing in our circle of family, friends, and acquaintances. Whether it’s an addiction, deliberate bad choices, or simply failure to make any choice at all, there are many people on whom we pass judgment. Instead of callously drawing conclusions I am challenged to take the time and make an effort to understand the person rather than their behavior alone.
I’m back! Finally! After being absent for far too long I am finishing up my series on Africa. I look forward to continuing to share more of the story with you. Happy reading!
We were silent for most of the taxi ride. For the first time I was oblivious of the cacophony that is Kampala. Usually, the city’s organ-grinder pace demands attention but not today.
“I’m sorry you had to be there,” said Steve.
As we traveled to Entebbe, the din giving way to serene green hills, I tried to process the last few hours. Gut-wrenching cries. Tears. Blood. A flurry of unintelligible Lugandan. A little boy & his father. Shame. Overcrowded wards. Dirty bandages. A bare plastic mattress.
Any one of the things I had seen today could threaten to do me in. All of them together pushed me miles past my limit.
Usually when our time in Uganda comes to a close we go to Banana Village for two days of decompression. The original plan had been to spend the day unwinding by the pristine pool of the Victoria Hotel as we processed our work. But after meeting Joseph that seemed frivolous, especially since his biopsy was that day. So instead, Steve and I made arrangements to leave the group and go to Mulago Hospital to be with Joseph and his father.
I’m not sure what I expected. After touring the hell-hole of a hospital in Mityana I assumed Mulago would be better, and in some ways it was. I wasn’t greeted by scattered needles or soiled makeshift mattresses and there was an overall effort at basic cleanliness. Taken at face value it looked like a vast improvement from the village hospital. But as we ventured further into the cavernous labyrinth the stark reality hit me – no hospital in North America could stay open in this state.
By the time Steve, Joshua (our translator), and I found the correct ward Joseph had already been taken into surgery. We waited with Ellya by Joseph’s bed in a room that easily held 30+ patients. Eventually they called for Ellya. Stunned, I watched as he was taken to the door of the operating theater and they passed his still sedated son to him. No nurse, no orderly… they simply handed the boy to his father wearing the same clothes he had been wearing for 3 days. As Ellya placed Joseph back on his bed the wailing began. Blood tinged saliva ran down his chin as he thrashed about. I prayed his discomfort would pass quickly.
For too many minutes it took the energy of all 4 of us to hold him down. I can never forget the helplessness I felt as I held him, having no idea what he was muttering. Honestly, I wanted to run away. In a panic I began yelling for the one nurse who held watch over all the patients crowded in that too small a space. My requests for help went unnoticed. As he continued to cry and writhe in pain I noticed that the hastily placed IV port was about to be dislodged. That was the last straw. The mother lion in me reared her head and I roared. I roared at the nurse, insisting that they give him something for the pain. I roared that he was bleeding because he had pulled out his IV port. I roared at the injustice of it all. But what I really wanted to do was cry. I wanted to sit down on the dirty floor to heave and sob as if somehow my tears could wash away the absurdity of the situation.
I wanted to cry because five year old boys shouldn’t have sub-lingual biopsies. I wanted to cry because cancer is ugly. I wanted to cry because it all seemed so completely and utterly unfair.
The lethargic nurse eventually came with her syringe full of relief. Embarrassment washed over me as it became clear that she was more concerned about the blood that had gotten on me and Steve in the struggle than she was with Joseph’s pain. I am still ashamed to speak that out loud knowing it was 100% true. I try hard not to judge. I don’t live in her world, but it took everything in me not to slap her square across the face.
“I’m sorry you had to be there,” Steve’s words cut through the silence in the taxi. There is a part of me that agreed – it wasn’t my first choice of ways to spend the day. But then I started thinking. Why not me? Why should I be spared? Yes, it’s hard and uncomfortable. But that is exactly where I see Jesus. He was always involved in the dirty, messy, humanity of life. I am in no way equating myself with Jesus and the last thing I want to do is pat myself on the back for being there.
My point is this: real love means being present. If we as believers truly are living out the greatest commandment then we will find ourselves in uncomfortable, messy, heart-breaking situations. If we are living out what we believe, it is unavoidable. How can we expect to love others but escape the difficulties life brings?
My choice to walk through that day with Joseph and his father was an easy one. But I can’t help but wonder if I would have done the same thing at home. How many times do I go out of my way for others? How many times do I place myself smack in the middle of the undesirable? And the embarrassment that I felt with the nurse’s concern over me while ignoring a child in pain resurfaces. It resurfaces because I know the answer is not very often.
I can’t explain why it takes a trip to the other side of the world to teach me this lesson. I do things for people on the other side of the world that I don’t do here. Ouch!
The value of being present is a lesson I pray I never forget. Whether it is in the comfy confines of my life at home or on the other side of the world, being present in the suffering of others shows Christ’s love in ways that mere words never will.
I remember the first time I found myself in a country where English isn’t the native language. At eighteen, the furthest I had traveled away from home was to New York City. To say I was naïve would be an understatement; green, tenderfoot, and youthful. I knew traveling to India would be a different experience but I failed to grasp how daunting it would be.
The first time I noticed I was in a great minority was during a layover in Bahrain – the sounds, the stares, the unfamiliarity. The next 6 weeks in India were not much different. Our group had contacts there who spoke English but for the most part I was lost in a language that was foreign to me.
I learned only enough Hindi to tell the rickshaw driver when to go and when to stop. Gesturing never quite conveyed what I was trying to say. A feeling of restlessness as people on the street around me spoke unfamiliar sounds at breakneck speed became my new norm. I remember straining, hoping to catch a familiar word.
The next time I would experience this feeling is 20 years later. On my first trip to Uganda in 2011, there were a few more English-speaking people. But again, I was relying on gestures to try and communicate with the native people. The villagers who came to our medical clinics spoke no English, and even though we had interpreters there were times the language barrier still loomed between us like a dense fog.
A few of us resorted to using objects as a way of finding common ground with my daughter excelling at this technique. A rubber glove was transformed into a chicken balloon, complete with scribbled ‘Sharpie’ eyes. Bubbles became the catalyst for belly laughs. Things these children had never seen eased the fear of unknown Mzungus examining them. And the next year there were Matchbox cars.
I’ll never know if Joseph’s initial apprehension was related to our bleached skin or if he was weary of being examined. The usual tricks I had learned to rely on didn’t alter the detached look in his eyes. I felt inept as I tried to entertain Joseph and his brother, Godfrey, while their father was arranging details of the upcoming surgery in Kampala.
I don’t even remember where they came from, whose suitcase carried the unsuspecting ambassadors around the world. But I will never forget watching the veil drop and a smile creep up Joseph’s misshapen face. The squeals of unabashed, barefaced laughter are still burned in my memory.
We didn’t need words – English or Lugandan. Two brothers, some toy cars, and a table to roll them across… these were the ingredients to an afternoon of freedom; freedom from doctors, tumors, worry, and fear.
That afternoon I felt like they were the teacher and I the student. The subject: universal language. We didn’t need common vocabulary. We didn’t need an interpreter. We didn’t need to stare quietly at each other, wondering how to communicate. Smiles, cars, and belly laughs became the bridge that united us.
I’ve often wondered what Joseph was thinking. Was there a key to unlock the dialogue in his head? Now, I know it doesn’t matter. For a little while however, two boys were liberated, and I will never be able to put into words how fortunate I was to observe no matter how many languages I learn.
Click here to read previous posts in this series.