Friday, January 27, 2017

What Should We Think About Those Refugee Neighbors?

"But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, 'And who is my neighbor?'"

This is not a political post.  This is not about Trump.  This is not about what you think about Trump's views on immigration and refugees.  Please don't try to convince me one way or another.  I have read the executive order, I do have some (varied) opinions, but that's not what this is about.

This is about what we are commanded to do as Christians.  Because even if you think that the government should deport every illegal immigrant, even if you believe that for the safety of our country, no Muslim should ever be allowed in ever again, you still have a responsibility before God to aggressively love the refugees, Muslims, and immigrants (even illegal ones) who are already in your community.

And they are there.  They might not be your literal neighbors, because they often tend to keep to themselves (who wouldn't, under their circumstances?).  But they are in communities all throughout the United States.

Here's where the Syrian refugees have been resettled.  Source, New York Times.  

Here's where the Somali refugees have been (recently) resettled.  Source, WND.

And here's where the Iraqi refugees are living.  Source:  CDC.  

You might not see them every day.  They might live in different parts of town and shop in different stores.  But they are there, and probably not too far away.  You might need to make an effort to find them, by shopping where they shop, or perhaps checking out a website like this one or this one.

They are our neighbors.  And since loving our neighbors is the second-greatest commandment (according to Jesus himself), we have an obligation to love them--regardless of our political views.

I wonder how many immigrants and refugees have never stepped foot into a white American home.

I wonder how many are struggling with language, with American culture and transportation and cooking, who have lost literally everything and have nothing, and yet are being ignored by Jesus' Church.

What an incredibly, pathetically, wasted opportunity.

I realize I am biased here.  After living all these years overseas, if I ever moved back to the States, the first people I would run to would be immigrants and refugees.  They would be my people.  They would be where I would feel comfortable.  I would long to live in their neighborhoods and it wouldn't be a sacrifice for me.  But I realize that's because I already have African friends and Muslim friends and Asian friends and they are not strange or different or scary to me.  They are hospitable and curious and absolutely fascinating.

So can I just assure you that once you get to know a person from a strange country, I promise that you will find more similarities than differences?  That you will find mamas who fret about what they feed their children and dads who like to tickle and you will find fear and hope and joy and all the things you are familiar with.  You will learn so much, and you will be indescribably blessed.

Whatever your political views, don't let it get in the way of Jesus' command to love your neighbor.

"'Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?'

The expert in the law replied, 'The one who had mercy on him.'

Jesus told him, 'Go and do likewise.'"

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

When We All Feel Misunderstood

I tried to stay out of this election on social media.  I read a lot and prayed a lot and discussed a lot with face-to-face friends, but I tried to stay out of the online discussion.

I knew that no matter what position I took--literally any position--I would offend some friends. In fact, I probably offended some people just by keeping my mouth shut.  This time around, there wasn't any middle ground where you could hang out and feel smugly comfortable.

And this week, because of the Women's March and the Roe v. Wade Anniversary, it's been all about abortion.  But before that it was refugees and race and transgenderism.  And it seems like whatever opinion you have, someone will tell you that you're wrong, even if they are nice about it.  There's just no general consensus about anything these days.  Even (especially?) among Christians.

I'm guessing everyone is feeling pretty battle weary right now.  I can tell because I keep seeing memes that say things like, "Can't we all just get along?"  All the arguing is exhausting, isn't it?

And yes, we can--and should--love each other.  There should be absolutely no place in public or private discussion for name-calling and shaming and just plain meanness.  The End.  Yet, does that mean that we stop the discussion altogether?  That in the name of "love" we just all keep our opinions to ourselves?

The thing is, that's just not the way it works.  If you think Trump is dangerous, then you can't help but speak up.  If you think he's awesome, then you feel compelled to defend him.  If you believe abortion is murder, then you need to say that loudly.  If you believe that abortion is an important woman's health issue, well, then you need to advocate for it.  Sometimes, speaking up is an expression of love.  For a lot of us, that's why we do it.  It's really not about needing to be right.

So how then do we disagree with each other productively?  I don't know.  I honestly don't know, and I would love to hear your thoughts.  Social media tends to be a terrible way to interact with people, yet it's the primary way these days that people communicate ideas that are important to them.  Through all the rabble and the screaming, I certainly have refined my thinking because of online articles and discussions.  So it's obviously not a complete waste of time.

I wonder, though, if people would benefit from more opportunities to discuss ideas away from their electronic devices.  Does politics ever get discussed at church?  In Bible studies?  Are God's people being trained in how to navigate all these difficult issues?  I've always said that I would be much more enthusiastic about women's Bible studies or retreats if they included discussions on politics, culture, and worldview.  But maybe that's just me.

I don't know the answer to this problem, which is destined to get worse as we navigate through an increasingly more virtual world.  But this is my piece of advice:  Explore your own worldview, be consistent with it, and know the worldview of the person you are talking to.  Every person has a worldview--whether they've thought about it or not.  If it's not a particular religion, then it's science, self-fulfillment, or some kind of mixture.  We all need to be confident of the underlying building blocks of what we believe, or there's no way we can defend it to others.  Understanding worldview is the key to figuring out what you believe and why, and how to start engaging the people around you.

Start with this super-easy, super-fast book (like, less than an hour), and give it to your friends who enjoy deep discussion.

And then read this one, because really and truly, every single Christian needs to read and understand the things in this book.  It doesn't tell you what to think, it teaches you how to think.  And if we can't do that, we're never going to have a prayer of figuring out all that's bombarding us.

I am confident that a lot of the things I write offend some of my readers.  Most of you are just too nice and too polite to disagree with me in a public forum.  So let me just assure you:  I love to discuss anything I've written about by email.  Please, please feel free to email me ( with questions, concerns, disagreements, and corrections.  I love interacting with people through writing--especially when it's one-on-one and not the mess of Facebook.  I love robust discussion.  I learn from it, and I hope you can too.

It's a Happy Day in Our House!

This boy has a passport!  Woohoo!

Hey California, we are coming home!  We bought tickets last night, and plan to arrive in LA on April 3rd and stay for four months.

In case you didn't notice, Johnny's passport is Tanzanian.  I am working on a US tourist visa application for him right now.  Once he has lived with us for two years (which will be this August), we will be able to start the process for his US citizenship.  The day that my last child has his US passport will be a wonderful day indeed!  But for now, we rejoice that we finally get to visit home.

Looking forward to seeing many of you soon!

Friday, January 20, 2017

This is Why I'm Thankful to Be An American Today

As a TCK (third culture kid) growing up overseas, I used to be anti-American.  A lot of TCKs are. They see their childhood home overseas as perfect, and America as full of a bunch of shallow, materialistic, boring, couch potatoes.

Um, sorry about that.  I could make excuses for my teenage self, that it was all a part of finding my identity between two worlds, but really I was sometimes just an arrogant snob.

I've grown up a lot since then.  I don't see things in black and white; I know better than to idealize any particular culture or country or ethnicity.  All have beauty; all have been ruined; all can be redeemed.  I've also realized that I am much more American than I would like to admit.

And actually, living overseas as an adult has made me much more appreciative of America.  That's what I'm thinking about today, this very significant day in American history.

I'm thinking about Zimbabwe, where the 92-year-old Mugabe is planning on running for president again--in another sham election--in a country he has held (and destroyed) in his iron fist for 36 years.  

I am thankful I am from a country where I can have a strong degree of confidence that elections are fair and ethical, and where every citizen is allowed to vote.

I read about Gambia today, where the president is refusing to step down in spite of losing a fair election, and violence is imminent.  

I'm thankful I am from a country where despite the fact that the past administration and the new administration couldn't possibly be more different, that we can expect a peaceful transfer of power.  None of us are worried that Obama is going to change the Constitution so that he can retain power.  No one has given thought to a military coup taking over the country, which most recently was attempted in Burundi when the president insisted on running for a third term.

I'm thinking about South Sudan, South Africa, Ivory Coast, Sierra Leone, Burundi, Uganda, and Ethiopia where journalists are in constant danger, and some have lost their lives.  

I am thankful I am from a country where journalists--and ordinary people--can vocally and aggressively speak, write, and publish their opposition to the government and not fear being arrested for it. 

I know there might be some of you out there who are protesting, But...but...but...!  Yes.  I know.  We have big problems, and some of them are huge.  Listen--I'm comparing America to the rest of the world.  We still have a lot of work to do.  But there is a reason we have an immigration problem in America:  Everyone wants what we have.  Those of us who do have it should be incredibly grateful.

I know that this is a weird day in America.  Some are rejoicing; some are despairing.  As for myself, I am neither.  I am bracing myself for the worst and hoping for the best.  Our president is neither Jesus nor the anti-Christ.  America, in all it's greatness, is just one more blip on the screen of history.  After all, God doesn't owe me the American Dream.  Maybe our country as we know it will last only a few more years, maybe hundreds.  For those of us who claim citizenship in heaven, that is not what's most important.

*All pictures are from the Epic Road Trip of 2013.  

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Grace is Eleven

Since Grace is my oldest, I always break new parenting ground with her.  So she is my first to start transforming from my child into her own person before my eyes.

I took her errand shopping this weekend, and I was reminding her how much of a trial it was to take her shopping when she was she would constantly push the mini-cart into my heels every five seconds.  I told her that story to contrast how much I genuinely enjoy her company now; how much fun it is to go shopping with her.

Grace is still a girl, of course, and will be for a while, but I am getting more and more glimpses of who she will become.  And it's pure pleasure, because anyone who has met Grace knows that she is delightful--friendly, happy, always encouraging, always including.  She wants to be a teacher or a social worker when she grows up.  It is such a privilege to be her mom, and to watch her becoming my friend.  She already teaches me so much about what it means to love others well, because I will wholeheartedly admit that she is better at it than me.

Grace wanted a "whole-class" party this year, which meant I insisted it be held at HOPAC after school, since my living room and my nerves cannot handle 24 fifth graders in party mode.

So Dad planned a "nerf gun" party, which was enthusiastically adored by all who attended.  Kids regularly tell us, "That was the most fun birthday party I've ever been to!" after one of Gil's parties. This one might have been the most epic of them all.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Ten Years Ago Today, This Blog Was Born

Today, January 13, 2017, is exactly 10 years from when I started this blog.  Here are the two posts I wrote on January 13, 2007.

I know.  You are impressed.  I started with a bang.  If you look at the time stamps, it actually took me ten minutes to write those two posts.  

I have been blogging now for a quarter of my life.  I had just turned 30 when I started, Grace had been home for a little over two months, and we had lived in Tanzania for only three years.  A lot has changed in ten years.  

I think I had an audience of maybe....200 people?...for the first several years.  I was okay with that, as I saw this blog as primary a place to communicate with our supporters and friends.  But as the years went on, I remembered how much I loved to write.  I was an avid journal writer in my younger years, and those kind of thoughts starting flowing out onto this screen.  

The post that changed it all was this one from four years ago:

The rest is here.  It was a response to the Sandy Hook school shooting.  It was the first time I wrote something that I really wanted people to read, so it was the first post I ever shared to Facebook.  My former college professor, Dr. Adams, shared it with Tim Challies, one of the biggest Christian bloggers out there, who shared the link on his blog.  Suddenly I was getting thousands of hits from around the world.  And suddenly, I had an audience.

I've now grown to about 30,000 hits a month.  That is still very small potatoes in the blogging world, but hey--I have an audience, and that is significant to me.  Other writing opportunities have come my way, especially this year, when I started writing monthly for A Life Overseas.  And perhaps most exciting was when a magazine bought this article to print in their magazine last October.  I got published for the first time!

Earlier this year I did a lot of thinking of whether I wanted (or God wanted) to take my writing to the next level--whatever that might be.  Like, for example, buying my own web domain and taking advertisers, that kind of thing.  Or submitting articles for other publications.  In the end, I decided, Nah.  For now, that's not what I want.  If my audience grows, then great.  If it doesn't, that's fine.  I like being able to write without pressure; I like being able to post pictures of mundane things and my kids' activities and not feel like I have to keep my numbers up.  Because honestly?  This is the main reason I blog:

Every year I take my posts and turn them into a book.  It's like having a combination of a scrapbook and journal, and I hope that one day my kids will read them and know their mom's heart.  So really, if no one else reads what I write, it's worth it to me if it will one day be important to my kids.  

That's not to say that I don't appreciate you--my readers.  I am incredibly grateful for you.  I love when you share my posts, or interact with them.  My favorite is when you email me to say that something resonated with you.  You spur me on to keep going and become a better writer.  

Blogging is one of the ways that the internet has changed the world for so many people.  Now anyone can be a photographer, or sell their handmade products to the entire country, or be a writer and find an audience.  It's a tremendous opportunity.  

To commemorate the occasion, here are some of my favorite or significant posts from over the last ten years:

Little Grace:  That time my two-year-old got stuck in the house by herself, or that time when she sang Amazing Grace in front of the whole school or she was just really, really cute.  

Bringing home Josiah:  The Sad and The Hope and The Joy.  How this boy made me smitten and how his visa caused us much grief.  

That time when everything flooded.  

The story of Gil and Amy (how we ended up in Tanzania is mixed in there too)

Struggling with electricity problems (I wrote a LOT of posts about this!), struggling with the lack of permanency in my life, struggling with the death of my friend's baby, struggling with fear and safety

Our transition away from HOPAC and Gil's legacy there.  

Moving back to the States for a year, and reflections from a week in culture shock.  

The miracle of Apartment #14.

Why I believe something as astonishing as the Resurrection.

Finally, finally, bringing Johnny home.  

If I had to choose my all-time favorites, I think they would be When I Am Not Sane and Anarchy is Loosed Upon the World.

Thank you for reading and for being a part of my story!

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Slavery and the Inequality We Continue to Ignore

It was eerie, really.  I was reading about William Wilberforce's fight to end the British slave trade, and I just couldn't help but think that the language sounded exactly like today's fight to end abortion.

Wilberforce was a politician who fought hard for almost 20 years in the British parliament to end the slave trade.  His primary argument was in proving the humanity of slaves.  And he based that argument on biblical principles.

This ticked off a lot of people.  "One of [abolition's] most dedicated opponents, Lord Melbourne, was outraged that Wilberforce dared inflict his Christian values about slavery and human equality on British society.  'Things have come to a pretty pass,' he famously thundered, 'when one should permit one's religion to invade public life.'"

Hmmm.  Sounds familiar.

Wilberforce was certain that proving the equality of every kind of human life would ensure the abolition of slaves.  In one impassioned speech he proclaimed, "I have already gained for the wretched Africans the recognition of their claim to the rank of human beings, and I doubt not but the Parliament of Great Britain will no longer withhold from them the rights of human nature!"  But the fight was still years away from being won.

Even non-religious doctors and scientists will readily admit that an unborn child is a human life.  It's just not a person with equal rights.  However, this assertion is not based on any kind of science, because no one can agree on when a fetus becomes a person other than when that fetus suddenly becomes wanted.

Think about it:  The egg is not a human life.  The sperm is not a human life.  But when the two form an embryo, suddenly:  Human Life.  In fact, that Human Life can be formed in a test tube, frozen for a couple of years, and then placed in the womb of a non-biologically related woman, and yet what will happen to that embryo?  In nine months it turns into a child.  So if that embryo is not a Human Life, then what is?  

Sometimes people accuse Christians of caring only about eliminating abortion, but not caring about the people those babies grow up to be.  Of fixating on abortion and ignoring poverty, slavery, abuse, racism, and other forms of inequality.  It's a valid accusation, no doubt.  Christians need to get their act together about other social injustice issues.

However--and this is a big however--I want to make the point that caring about social justice issues, but justifying abortion--well, that's an enormous contradiction.  Because if social justice is all about caring for the voiceless and the powerless....then how is it possible to ignore those human beings who are the most voiceless and powerless?

Either all people have value, or they don't.
Either all people are equal, or they're not.
It shouldn't matter what they have to contribute to society, or how poor they are, or how disabled they are, how dependent they are, or how much of an inconvenience they are.

You can't pick and choose.

In Wilberforce's day, there was no general agreement about the equality of human beings. In fact, Wilberforce himself had a enormous part in helping western society come to that conclusion.  We owe a lot to him.  If it's a no-brainer that slavery is wrong, that has a lot to do with Wilberforce.  Yet much of our society is unwilling to consider how the exact same arguments apply to abortion.

Last week, WORLD magazine reported, "The Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives released its final report today, calling for an overhaul to the abortion and fetal procurement industries, including defunding Planned Parenthood and a federal 20-week abortion ban."

In the early 1800's, Wilberforce pleaded, "Sir, the nature and the circumstances of this Trade are now laid open to us.  We can no longer plead ignorance, we cannot evade it, it is not an object placed before us, we cannot pass it.  We may spurn it, we may kick it out of the way, but we cannot turn aside so as to avoid seeing it.  For it is brought now so directly before our eyes that this House must decide, and must justify to all the world, and to their own consciences...the principles of their decision.  Let not Parliament be the only body that is insensible to national justice."  (Amazing Grace: William Wilberforce and the Heroic Campaign to End Slavery by Eric Metaxas)

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Medina Life, November and December 2016

Pamoja Week at HOPAC (like Spirit Week).  The Tanners were staying with us this week, so that Caleb and Imani could join in the fun as well.  This was Superhero day.  We've got Superman (Johnny), Usain Bolt (Caleb), Batman (Josiah), Spiderman (Lily), Go Go Tomago (Grace), and  Honey Lemon (Imani). All costumes courtesy of Gil Medina!

Grace, Josiah, Imani, and Lily on Nerd Day.  We had to show them an episode of "Family Matters" so they would know what a nerd is.   

Pamoja Week House Soccer Competitions.  Josiah scored and won it for Green House!

International Day--Our little confused psuedo-American/Tanzanian kids.  

Lily and Imani

Josiah and his buddy Tim...who is a confused Zimbabwean/Tanzanian/South African.

Gil agreed to coach the HOPAC varsity girls' soccer team temporarily....which turned into the whole season.  But of course, he loved it, and took his girls to an almost flawless season.  They won two out of three tournaments, and the last tournament they lost only in penalties.  

Josiah took one term of after-school Tae Kwon Do. He decided that was enough; he'll stick with soccer.  

Our Egyptian Princess on second grade Egyptian Day.  Costume (again) courtesy of Gil Medina.

I taught an after-school baking class for fifth grade girls.  Crazy, crazy fun.  

HOPAC's Annual Christmas production

...and Grace had her first solo!

Bibi and Babu came to visit for two weeks!

We spent a couple of days in Bagamoyo with Bibi and Babu.  

Our Annual Christmas party with our Reach Global team.

Gingerbread house decorating

Christmas morning

In his retirement, my dad learned how to make stained glass windows.  Oh my gosh.

Meet Melody, the newest member of our family.

As per tradition, we spent the week after Christmas at a lodge in the mountains with mission friends, where the temperature went down into the 60's.  It was glorious.