Faith, Parenting, Personal Growth, Reflection

The First Pour

coffee pour by mark on flickr

We have this little ritual, West and I, of making coffee for one another.  Sometimes he makes it (usually after lunch), and sometimes I do (our morning cuppa, following the school run); but the process is the same for each of us:  rinse out our little Bialetti espresso maker, fill with fresh water, spoon the coffee grounds over the metal filter, screw the top back on, and place it on the stovetop to heat up while we microwave the two cups of milk for our lattes.  Mmmmm.  Rich, delicious, and – most importantly – caffeinated!

The coffee-preparation process is the same, but there’s one slight variation in the finished product each of us receives: whoever gets the second cup also gets a bit of ‘sludge’ from the coffee grounds.  It’s a very slightly finer cup for whomever gets the first pour.  Knowing this is the case, I make sure that West gets the first pour.

Oh, I know I could make it even.  I could do a little pour into each cup, back and forth and back again, to make sure that neither of us gets the dregs on our own.  I could.  But then neither of us would get the pure ‘first pour’, either.   And, in truth, I don’t really mind the dregs.  I know, too, that when West makes the coffee, he reserves the second pour for himself and gives me the finer cup.  It balances out.

When you think about it, it’s not just with coffee that there’s a ‘first pour’ and ‘the dregs’; our time, our energy, our families – with each of these things we have a choice to make, whether we realise it or not, about where we’re going to bestow this superior ‘first pour’.

If I’m working on an article or some other writing, it’s easy to be consumed by it; so focused on the words and ideas swirling around in my head that every other bit of input is a frustrating distraction.  In truth, it’s like that anytime I’m wrestling with ideas – even if I’m internally trying to figure out how to better nurture my children and be more patient with them, I’ll be swatting them away and growling at them while I’m trying to think it through.  How’s that for irony?!  There are definitely times that I need to lock myself away to sort out the ideas, set down the phrases, and complete a writing task; but at other times I really have to train myself to view the thoughts (and worries) as a distraction, rather than seeing my kids that way.  Sometimes, at the very least, my kids should get the ‘first pour’ of my energy, focus, and attention; my children as individuals and my family as a group – not just concepts, ideas, theories and debates about the concept of ‘parenting’.

Likewise, when life and lists crowd in and there doesn’t seem to be time for anything, let alone a sacred, quiet space in time to read the Bible, pray, or meditate, where does my ‘first pour’ go?  Likely, every little thing gets a drip of my best; the dregs, if anything, are what’s left for the pursuit of spiritual growth and nurture.

And although when I make a coffee I put myself second – with little to no detriment – I can see that it’s not healthy for us to always leave ourselves just the dregs of our time and energy.  Sometimes we need to make sure that we get the sustaining, superior, beneficial ‘first pour’ as well – not to short-change those we love, but to ensure that we function as healthy, fulfilled, and functional human beings.  When I start to feel like I’m pouring into too many cups, I know that the result will be unsatisfying – and unsatisfactory – for all of them.  I need to give myself the first pour – step back from things, renew my energy, regain my perspective, and then I’m fresh to make a new batch.

This isn’t a new idea.  In the Bible, one of God’s requirements of the Jews was that they would bring Him their ‘first fruits’ as an offering.  He also required them to sacrifice their best before Him; an unblemished lamb (sound familiar?), amongst other things.  Sure, these are Old Testament practices, but they’re ones whose essence remains useful to observe today:  what we do for God should be what we do first; and what we bring to God should be our best.  It shouldn’t be that church is what we fit in if we haven’t got anything better to do on a Sunday.  It shouldn’t be that sleep, activities, and TV crowd in and replace our time praying and reading the Bible. (It shouldn’t be the case, but I’ll raise my hand first – I find time to vege in front of Netflix almost every night, and yet I can’t seem to establish a regular quiet time routine for reading the Bible and meditating on God’s word…).

I think it’s worth considering, from time to time.  Who’s getting the first pour in your life?  Do you need to change the order of cups?

Advertisements
Standard
Death, Faith, Grace, Life, Suffering, suicide

Falling

Falling

Did you ever have one of those days in which the sum of your deficiencies adds into one huge indictment against your worth?  Or perhaps even a whole phase in which the negative side of your personal ledger seemed so disproportionately stacked against the positive that ruin/shame/disgrace must be the logical conclusion?

I’ve definitely had those days – and even longer phases – but I have always survived them.  I know a girl who had one of those days – maybe even weeks, months, or years – and she did not.

Anna* was a lovely, quirky, wry girl.  She had grown up in our church and remained connected for most of her twenty-seven years.  Sometime after high school, she took on the job of managing our church nursery – I’m told that she was giddy with excitement every time she heard of a pregnancy, and she’d begin the countdown until the next baby was due to arrive into her care.  She was a beloved part of our church family.  She was our kids’ first real babysitter, too, and the boys would look forward to her visits and the fun books she’d select from her Mum’s daycare to bring and share with them.  Although ‘quiet’, Anna was not devoid of character; in fact, she had a large group of friends, plenty of flair, and an awesome secret identity as a roller-derby queen.

April 12th, 2013 was a cold, dark day.  The wind howled and the rain lashed the streets.  I was in a melancholy mood, because that day one of my dearest friends was leaving Vancouver and moving all the way across to the East Coast.

But nothing – not the foul weather, not my own sadness, not the malaise we sometimes feel on those somber, wet days in early spring – could have measured the depth of Anna’s grief; because that day she took her own life.

I have had few real shocks in my existence.  But that night, as we got ready for bed, West’s iPad indicated an incoming email and out of habit he flicked it on and had a look.  When he gently guided me to the living room to sit down, I knew that the news couldn’t be good.  My thoughts flitted between friends and family members here and there, wondering what had happened, and then I read…

The words I saw were beyond my comprehension. I struggled to make meaning of the news, begging West for answers he didn’t have, asking with broken sentences about how, why, and were they SURE…  I wondered, pleaded, prayed that it might be possible for her to have survived the fall…

I tossed and turned that night, praying endlessly for her, for her family, for meaning…  I felt trapped in a living nightmare, and I could only imagine what those nearer to her must have been going through.  And of course I wondered:

Did I miss the signs?

Was there any small way in which I made her feel unloved, unlovely, unimportant?

What could I have done that might have prevented her from such a drastic and final step?

I was haunted by the thought of her falling, her long dark hair trailing behind her, feeling the vast and frightening emptiness surrounding her…

The next morning, the sun rose – how strange it felt to me that this should be the case, that something was still normal.  And we had to sit our kids down and tell them that we’d lost her.

West and I had discussed the daunting task of informing our kids and concluded that we would tell them only that our sweet Anna had fallen.  They were just too young to know more, and we wanted to spare them some pain and confusion – it was enough that everyone around them was reeling with the news.

Two days later it was Sunday, and we entered a church that was – appropriately – utterly unlike the sanctuary we’d entered just a week before.  The atmosphere was hushed, funereal; our collective grief was palpable.

I don’t remember the first part of the service; all I remember was feeling numb.  That surreal sense of being stuck in a bad dream made it difficult to focus, and around me I could hear that others were struggling.  I kept praying for her closest ones, who were in our midst that morning as they were every Sunday – praying that they were feeling buoyed by God’s love and comfort during this darkest time.

And then the sermon began.

Our pastor spoke of this loss and our grief, and gave voice to the anxieties we were feeling. And something amazing happened.  His words, undoubtedly chosen carefully and prayed over, transcended the bitterness of our anguish – and those words poured a healing salve over our raw and broken hearts.  All those thoughts and worries and sorrows that had been reeling in my head were quelled and soothed and comforted. The oppressive atmosphere lifted and Truth breathed hope into a room that had, just moments before, been filled with despair.

We were reminded of the girl we knew and loved, and we were counselled to remember her as such.

We were assured of God’s presence in her life even in her darkest hour when she must have felt far from the truth of it.

We were woken from the nightmare and encouraged to take shelter in the wings of our Lord.

The truth is this:  there’s no such thing as an ‘unforgiveable sin’.  If there were, grace would be a lie.  Even when we would forsake the world and the pain therein, God never forsakes us.

“Do not let your hearts be troubled.  Trust in God; trust also in me.  In my Father’s house there is more than enough room.”

-John 14:1-2a

Anna had made, our pastor told us, one terrible, fatal mistake.  She had been blind to the love and care that surrounded her, or so overwhelmed by her internal suffering that she lost sight of the Truth.  But God never lost sight of her.  She let go – but God never let go of her.

Were all our questions answered?  No.  How could anyone measure the depth and breadth of the suffering that would drive a beloved friend, daughter, and sister to take her own life, or give full meaning to it?

Were we immediately free of the pain and grief that had so ensnared us since hearing the terrible news?  No.  We have all been indelibly changed by it.  Four years on, the scars remain. The scars will always remain.

But the Truth remains, too.  Grace saves us.  Grace saved Anna; death does not hold the victory in her story.

“For God so loved the world, that he gave His only begotten son, that whosoever believes in him shall not perish, but have everlasting life.”

-John 3:16

We all have times in our lives when our sadness, guilt, or shame consumes our thoughts – and sometimes threatens to consume our souls – but God has the final word.  And that word is grace.

God said: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

-from 2 Corinthians 12:9

God’s grace is sufficient for us.  God’s grace is sufficient for me – and it is sufficient for you.  God’s grace was sufficient for Anna.

When we fall, we are not lost forever.  God catches us.

 

 

 

*Not her real name

 

Please know – if you are in the trenches, He may feel far, but God is there.  He loves you, cares for you, and he wants LIFE for you.  Find someone to talk to – call your local Crisis centre, a friend, even your doctor, and tell them how you’re feeling.  YOU ARE NOT ALONE.

With Love (Truly),

-Trix x

 

Standard
Finances, Reflection

Dwelling Places

red-brick-house-by-thomas-au-on-flickr

If I was asked to describe my house, it’d be pretty easy:  one level, three bedrooms, tiny office, open-plan living/dining, kitchen, etc… Oh, and it’s a rental.  But the funny thing about that last point is that it doesn’t actually describe my house – what it describes, I’ve come to realise, is my dwelling place.

For a long time I’ve been preoccupied with the idea of buying our own house.  In some ways it feels like it should be a given – we’re both university-educated, West works full-time, we spend as lightly as we can while providing for our family’s needs (swimming lessons are a necessity when you’re surrounded by water, and we don’t sign them up for much else), so what’s the hitch?  Well, there are lots of reasons why we haven’t been able to buy a house – and none of them, I’m quite sure, could be fairly labelled as ‘our own fault’.  We haven’t got unpaid debts, we always pay rent/bills on time, we don’t gamble or smoke and we drink very moderately…  Nevertheless, here we are, just managing and with next to no hope of owning a place of our own.

But here’s the thing:  I may not own this house, but I do live here.  I live in this house with my loving hubby and my beloved children (and even, now, with two quite adorable kitties!); we have great landlords, we live by the beach and we’re close to good schools.   Why should ‘it’s a rental’ be what I dwell on, when I’ve got all those other positive things to focus on??!  And yet that is my focus.

I realise that I’m not alone in this.  It’s all too easy to find ourselves dwelling on the things that aren’t living up to our expectations; the hurts, the heartaches, and the difficulties.

Maybe you wanted another child, and it just hasn’t happened.  You might live in a mansion with a devoted husband and three healthy children, take wonderful overseas holidays, go to lavish parties and enjoy countless opportunities but be completely blind to the joy and wonder of your life because you couldn’t have a fourth child.  And you can’t fathom the situation you find yourself in, because it just seems so easy for others and for you it has been loss after loss after loss, and your heart is raw and bleeding and you feel like you’ve lost who you were before all the sadness.

Maybe you’ve been passed up for all the promotions and you feel like your career’s at a dead end.  You may earn plenty to live on and enjoy your work when you’re not thinking about that corner office on the fifth floor that should have been yours, and maybe it’s nice being able to leave your work at work and get home to your family but you’d never admit it…  You’re tired and you’re bitter and when you think about it you’d never have believed that at this age you’d still be in this position, at this company, working for these fools who don’t even appreciate you…

Maybe you’ve trained for something and just as you were about to go out and prove yourself you sustained a devastating injury.  All the blood, sweat, and tears – down the drain.  No medal.  No accolades or lucrative endorsement deals.  No acknowledgement or reward for those thousands of hours – those years – of slogging away to be the best, only to have it all end in defeat.  And now you’re a hollow shell of what you once were, because all that potential was never realised in the end.  You feel like a ‘has been’ who never was.

We all have broken dreams.

We’ve all suffered loss.  We’ve all grieved for the person we were before we experienced this disappointment – for the naïve hope that we held for what has not come to pass.  And maybe some of us even feel a bit foolish – I know I do.  Foolish that we ever thought it possible; foolish to have dared dream, or foolish that we haven’t somehow made those dreams a reality.  Foolish for still hoping that somehow, someday…

And there are always those who seek to minimise our losses – to brush away our despair with a breezy, “Well, why should you care so much about having another baby/getting promoted/winning that medal/buying a house?  After all, there are plenty of people who aren’t even able to have kids/work/run or swim or dance/keep any kind of roof over their heads!”  And it just doesn’t help, does it, to hear that?

Truly, when we hope for something, work for something, or strive for something, and those dreams don’t come to fruition, we need space to grieve.  We really do need to give ourselves the freedom to feel that disappointment and process what it means for us.

In processing my own disappointment, I realise that for me it’s not just about owning our own home – it’s partly about that; about how I don’t quite feel like a grown-up, and how when my friends start chatting about renovating or landscaping or whatever, I feel utterly unqualified to contribute to the discussion.  It feels like everyone else our age is at the stage now where they’re secure enough financially to start looking at holiday homes or building up or taking overseas vacations, building up their retirement savings, and making plans for the future, while we’re really just barely hanging on by our fingernails.  And in the bigger picture, not owning a home raises questions for me about how we’re providing for our children and how we’re going to provide for ourselves and not burden them with supporting us in our old age…  To think that once upon a time I dreamed of having a home with a granny flat just so that my folks could stay close by.  How far we are from that dream of being able to provide for them!

For you, too, who want a child or who want more than you can have – it’s about more than just that.  It’s about passing on your wisdom and experience, nurturing, being held close and having your young ones depend on you – it’s about your vision for a big family and what that would feel like…  I know that your disappointment is bigger than what the rest can see when they look at the checks and balances of your life.

And for you, who’ve found that the rungs on the ladder to what you deemed to be success were greased or missing, making that climb to the realisation of your dreams an impossibility.  It’s not just the title on your name plate or the medal or the corner office you’d have liked – it’s about much more than that.  Recognition.  An affirmation that your choices have been the right ones.  And so much more.

I don’t for a moment want to negate the impact those disappointments – big and small – have had on us.  But I believe we need more than that, too.  I believe that we also need to be encouraged to look beyond the hurt to the wholeness.

How is it that I’ve found myself living here – in the boulevard of broken dreams (as Green Day so aptly put it)?  I’ve built a dwelling-place for myself here, brick by brick.  Every pang of jealousy, every flush of envy, every bitter remark about how it’s all so unfair… each one a brick in this house that I’ve built on the boulevard of broken dreams.

The thing about this boulevard is that we don’t actually have to dwell here.  We ALL have to walk it – whether it be for a short phase in our life or even for the majority of our days here on earth – but we don’t all lay down a foundation and add bricks and mortar and put up a picket fence and plant trees here…

Now that I’ve realised that I’ve put down some roots in this dead-end street (yeah, turns out it’s not a boulevard at all), it’s time to do some demolition.

When you start to pull those bricks down and chip away at the mortar you realise that the walls you’ve built as you’ve been dwelling in the boulevard of broken dreams have been obscuring a view.  All this time, there’s been an AMAZING VIEW that you’ve been missing:

There are vineyards on the landscape that you’d thought barren; they’re heavy with ripe fruit, ready for the picking.  The sun, for so long hidden from view, beams down benevolently from blue skies – and there you’d been, imagining that the night you’d fled when you’d retreated was a perpetual one…  People who love you have been knocking on that impenetrable door you’d erected, clamouring to break into the silence into which you’d been muttering the lies you believed were going to drive them away.

Suddenly you realise that this place you’ve built has blinded you to what you really should have been seeing on all along.  By focusing on what you lack, you’ve obscured what you possess.

I’m sure I will always have pangs of grief – when I pass a realtor’s office, page through a real estate magazine, or see a ‘For Sale’ sign on my street, I know I’ll feel a fleeting stab of regret.  It’s inevitable that news of someone buying a house will make me wonder what that would be like, and if I’ll ever experience it.  But I can change how much that affects me, and how long I’m affected, by focusing on three things:

Do I have sufficient?  Maybe there’s no surplus.  Maybe I don’t have exactly what I hoped for; but I have enough.  Enough food, enough to buy medicine when necessary, enough to clothe and shelter us.

Am I grateful?  Am I mindful of how little so many others have in comparison?  Am I looking to fill the needs of those around me instead of holding tightly to what I have?  Am I being generous of spirit, showing that generosity towards those who have more as well as those who have less?

Am I content?  Do I practice intentional contentment?  Have I learned to trust enough in God’s provision to let go of my need to stockpile and control?  Am I striving to do more for others instead of more for myself?  Am I exemplary in my practice of grace in the midst of struggle?

I’ve come to realise that, for me, these three things give me a victory.  If I have sufficient, then I’m not needy – and I shouldn’t have a mentality of being a ‘have not’.  If I’m grateful, then I’m not allowing my lack to obscure my blessings.  If I’m content, then whatever life throws at me, I will have such grace and joy that those around me won’t feel guilty for having something that I lack.  Those who witness my life will understand that God is my sufficiency; that He sees to the provision of my needs; and that I am content to wait for His perfect timing for that provision.

I can see that there is such freedom in this kind of homelessness – the kind you get when you demolish the house you’ve built on the boulevard of broken dreams.  Freedom from bitterness and resentment; freedom from being dragged over and over again into the depths of disappointment and mired in the muck of defeat.  Long may we be free; may we never let our disappointments define us.

If you want me, I’ll be here, walking the road but not dwelling in it – reflecting, instead, on all the blessings that are no longer obscured – and removing these old walls we’ve built, brick by brick.

Standard
Life, Philosophy, Relationships

The Importance of Yes

yes-by-jose-picardo-on-flickr

Given the recent controversies in the States with the Brock Turner trial and the latest allegations against Trump – global news thanks to the media – you’d be forgiven for thinking that I’m going to be writing about sexual consent; however, I’m going to assume that my readers would already understand the importance of ‘yes’ in that context(!).  Here, we’re going to examine the importance of ‘yes’ from a Christian perspective – the value of agreeing with what’s proposed; signing up; raising your hand; and being willing to both give and receive.

We’re so busy these days; we guard our schedules so closely.  Every blog, magazine, and opinion piece I’ve read lately seems to have proclaimed the necessity of learning to say ‘no’ – and here I am proclaiming the opposite!  It’s true – I agree with that other proclamation in this: we do need to be careful not to just agree to do whatever is asked of us regardless of the cost to our sanity, our dignity, and our felicity – but we also miss amazing opportunities when we’re too quick to say ‘no’ or to push aside a vision for something we’d like to be involved in.

So often, I think, something is asked of us, and our immediate instinct is to turn down the opportunity.  We think, “I’ve already got too much on!” or, “This is WAY out of my comfort zone – NO, THANKS!”  But when we resist that urge to say ‘no’ and instead jump in – boots & all – the results can be amazing.

Yesterday at church we examined the idea and practice of prayer.  At some point, around the middle of the service, we were asked to gather with those around us and pray together.  We were also encouraged to separate from our spouses for this purpose, so that we’d be a little further out of our comfort zone and meet a few more people (it’s a fairly large church).  I love to pray, but my immediate thought was, “Uh – do we have to?”  Just the idea of having to introduce myself to people I didn’t know and then pray – to share the intimacy of our hearts’ cries to God – was daunting.  But I ignored the impulse to just huddle with my hubby in a prayer-group-for-two and instead headed to a few pews ahead to pray with some people I’d never met.

I discovered through our prayers that they were a family group, and they were dealing with some tough stuff; they were a bit emotional and one of them even apologised to me, as if she felt badly that I’d ended up in the middle of what they were going through.  But I was delighted to be there.  It was my joy and my privilege to pray for healing; I was happy to share prayers for our community and our church with these godly women, even in the midst of their own trials.  God knew where he wanted me, and that’s where I ended up – but only because I said, “Yes.”

We need to be ready to say ‘yes’ in the moment – to ‘let go and let God’, as those in Christian circles are wont to say – because when we ignore our fears, push aside our doubts, and give our anxieties to God He will more than meet us in that moment.

We also need to overcome our reticence to say ‘yes’ when someone’s offering to do something for us or to share our burden.  The women I prayed with today – they did that.  They shared what they were going through; they welcomed me into prayer over their burden, delving into what really mattered to them, when they’d undoubtedly have found it easier to just stick to the script and pray some general prayer with me to get it over with.

I’ve just spent three weeks in virtual quarantine; our family’s been through a bad flu (high fevers, chills, and then colds) and conjunctivitis.  Several kind friends offered to help in some way, but I was generally inclined to just soldier on as best I could.  This was partly because there’s always someone who’s got it worse and partly because, what could they really do?  What you really need when you’re in the midst of a family-wide flu is either (a.) a housemaid with a strong constitution (so she could clean up the inevitable tsunami of mess that accompanies a family of six being cooped up in a house for several weeks without, herself, succumbing to the bugs that had laid us so low);  or (b.) a magic wand that would make me well enough to escape the confines of the infirmary (alas, with a grossly swollen eye I was fit only for the most desperate of forays into public for the purpose of gathering supplies!).  Finally, though, a friend on her way to the supermarket offered to pick something up and – light bulb moment, here – I said, “Yes!”  Well, after first saying ‘no’…  I realised that we were out of oranges – and oranges were what my feverish ones were begging for – so I texted her back and said, “Yes, please – we’d LOVE a few oranges.”  And *wow* – those oranges were such a treat (thank you, A, if you’re reading!)!

We’re so independent, most of us.  We are so reluctant to let others do something for us – so hesitant to accept help.  It’s pride, sometimes, that makes it difficult for us to say ‘yes’ to help; sometimes it’s more a sense of being undeserving of their kindness.  Whyever it is that we’re reticent to accept help, we need to overcome that instinct, because relationships are built and strengthened by this give-and-take.  I want my friends to accept an offer of a meal if it’ll make their lives easier for an evening when they’re dealing with illness, a new baby, or grief; I want them to let me fetch something when I’m doing my own shopping, or loan them something they’re short of, or collect their kids from school with mine when they’re running late for pick-up.  And I know that they want me to say ‘yes’ to their offers to do the same.  Saying ‘yes’ to involvement in the lives of those around us is key in building relationships.

I’ve got a few things going on, between our boys’ activities, church, writing work, and so forth.  There are some new opportunities for involvement at church and school, too, and I’m having to consider each one before just leaping in and finding myself swamped.  At the same time, I’m also working to avoid the trap of just saying, ‘No!’ to one more thing.  I have to fight the urge to shut down and say, “No WAY can I take on more – have you seen the state of my HOUSE??!  I can barely find energy to make lunches on school nights – how on earth will I find energy for something else?!”  Because I know – as you probably do, too, in your heart of hearts – that when I’m doing things that I love, it energises me.  When I make time for things I believe are important, I feel fulfilled; my time is reduced but my sense of accomplishment grows to more than compensate for what I’ve given up.  It’s true that we have a finite amount of time and we need to be careful what we spend it on – but it’s also true we waste a lot of the time we have; perhaps even more when we haven’t said ‘yes’ to things that demand inclusion in our schedules.

It’s so easy to get into the habit of saying ‘no’.  It can become our default method of self-preservation – but it can also prevent us from truly living up to our potential.  It can hinder us from receiving a blessing; and it can prevent us from being a blessing to those around us.

Really, what it boils down to is this:  Your ‘yes’ is important.  It’s essential, really.  So don’t be too frugal with it.  Seize those opportunities!  Bite off more than you can chew!  When we open ourselves up to opportunities for service; avail ourselves of the kindness of others; and follow our vision with passion, we realise that none of the reasons to say ‘no’ really mattered at all.

 

NB:  This post is dedicated to the memory of H.R., a wonderful brother-in-Christ who is now more than ‘resting in peace’ – he is living in Glory!  He said ‘Yes!’ to God a long time ago, and his life was a tribute to the power of that commitment.  He had a special gift for greeting and welcoming others, and I pray that I’ll always honour his memory by putting aside my shyness and greeting those around me – even those I don’t know – with warmth and compassion.

Thanks for reading!

-Trix  x

Standard
Faith, Life, Philosophy

Otherness

Otherness by tokyoform on flickr

“There are only two types of people in this world,” announced the waiter – obviously a man of experience – to my young parents, “There are those who like parmesan… and there are those who hate it.”

I remember my folks telling this story (although, admittedly, I don’t actually remember that the appreciation for parmesan was the line upon which he divided the human race – I know it was something equally ludicrous!). You’ve probably heard a few of these statements, yourself.

There’s something that appeals to human nature about having a neat system to categorize the people around us.  It seems that, particularly regarding subjects about which we’re passionate, we see things in dualities: either you’re ‘for’ what I’m for, or you’re against me.  It’s ‘us’ vs. ‘them’.  But even when it’s a more nebulous concept – something less obvious than a preference for Italian cheeses – we can be quick to draw lines of division.

Those people…”

Have you ever said, or thought, those words?

Maybe ‘those people’ were the ones from the wrong side of town; the kids whose parents worked jobs that your white-collar parents would disparage because they were ‘unskilled’ or ‘uneducated’ – or perhaps ‘those people’ were the privileged offspring of the ‘entitled’ elite, never having to work to earn the riches they enjoyed, looking down at you and ‘your people’ because they think that they’re where they are because they work ‘smart’ while your blue-collar families just work hard.

Maybe those people were in a community from which you felt an outsider – separated from them by language, culture, or religion.  You don’t understand why they don’t think like you, act like you, talk like you – and why they don’t seem to want to change, as you think they should, to ‘fit in better’ in their new country.  Or perhaps you’re the new one on the block, and you feel like ‘those people’ whose citizenship goes back some generations view you with suspicion, treat you as ‘other,’ subtly exclude you from things because “you won’t get it.”  You feel like they’ll probably never consider you to be truly one of them…  You don’t trust them, and they don’t trust you.

Whatever the case, the assumption you make is that those people are essentially different from you.  You assume that they have different values, different beliefs, different motives…  You figure that they don’t care about the things you care about, and – if you were honest about it – you’d admit that you don’t like them for it.

Money, education, culture, race, politics, religion – these things can be the lines upon which we divide ourselves from others; they’re at the root of some pretty deep rifts between fellow humans.

I’m originally from South Africa.

I wonder if anyone thinks, when reading that, ‘Oh, she must be one of THOSE people…’

Well, I will tell you that I do know a thing or two about the issue of ‘those people’.  I’ve been the fish-out-of-water; I’ve been the standout ‘other’; I’ve been the new kid in class.  I have also, very occasionally, been the ‘local’ with something of a history in a place.  But let’s look beyond my own history to see what History says about what happens when we get a bit caught up in maintaining that separation between ‘us’ and ‘them’.

Apartheid was a system adopted by the ruling parties of South Africa toward the end of the 1940s.  We know now that this policy of separate development resulted in an oppressive regime in which people of one race enjoyed every benefit at the expense of everyone else – and we know now that the system of apartheid, aside from being intrinsically unjust, was one that perpetuated injustice, prejudice, and the subjugation of these ‘minority’ peoples under the rule of the others.

We know that NOW, but back then – when apartheid was first instituted – it was based upon a very idealistic (and misguided) belief by many white South Africans that it was in everyone’s best interests for each group to retain their own customs, culture, and language within the confines of their separate but parallel societies.  In theory, this was a kindness (such was the lie that was sold to the voting public).  In practice, there was nothing kind, respectful or just about it; apartheid was simply the institutionalization of racial discrimination.

We know THIS: History has proven that the separation of people based on these divisions – ‘us’ vs. ‘them’ – results in greater misunderstanding, greater prejudice, and greater rifts between one person and another.

Not knowing people personally, but instead confining them to a category, leads to a kind of small-minded cynicism about their motives as well as a hard-heartedness towards them as fellow humans.

Remember that assumption I mentioned earlier?  That ‘those people’ are essentially different from you?

We’re all ‘other’ to someone else.

This post isn’t me being political; this is me being personal.  I’m not immune to these lines of division. I have also sometimes been caught up in concern about ‘others’.

I love diversity.  I think that one of the special things about our world is the colour and texture provided by different cultures, languages, traditions – even ethnic differences; the spectrum of eye colours, hair colours, skin…  I love it that, just the other week, here in New Zealand a pair of little girls from our school – one Sri Lankan and one South African – joined together to perform at a local Chinese singing competition (and they won an award!).  So sometimes, when I’ve been thinking about the potential for one nationality or another to dominate all the others because of that nationality’s increasing population, I’ve been concerned about the dilution of that diversity.

I was struggling with this recently, because I try to be conscious of identifying and erasing those lines of division in my own heart that separate me from my fellow humans; and I said to God,
“But if one group or another of us kind of ‘takes over’ then we’ll lose all that diversity that I love so much!”

I felt instantly convicted by this response:

“That stuff doesn’t matter to me!”

What???  But why did God create such interest and diversity if he didn’t care about all those differences?  Variety is the spice of life!

The truth is, our world will always have diversity.  Between the crazy and wonderful gene combinations we’ve got floating around, the variety of physical characteristics, personalities, styles of dress (and other forms of self-expression), and opinions – which we know will never align completely on this side of heaven – we’ve got plenty of diversity.  What we need to do is to ensure that those distinctions don’t become a barrier to connection between ourselves and others.

We’re all equal before God:

“There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus.” – Galatians 3:28

Ultimately, all the differences we see – those things that separate ‘us’ from ‘them’ – are nothing to God.  Clinging too tightly to our national/ethnic identity has a way of blinding us to the hearts and virtue of others; God wants us to recognize our kinship with others.  We’re all His children.  And there’s none of us – not a single one – that God wouldn’t be glad to have in heaven.  We all have equal access to Jesus – and His heart is that we’d all accept him as the Way, the Truth, and the Life, so that we can spend eternity together.

So what are we doing drawing divisions where none truly exist?  Really, the only ‘us’ and ‘them’ there can be are those who’ve answered His call and those to whom He’s still calling.  We’re all his children – and that makes us family.

Go out today and greet your brothers and sisters with love and warmth.

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.”

-Matt.22:37-39

Standard