I'm a small town girl. Growing up in a rural community in Iowa, life seemed pretty simple. In my little world there were bad people and good people and wise people and foolish people and the good, wise people usually rose to the top of society Unfortunately, life experience did not match that presupposition and my naivety didn't last very far into my adult life. For the last few decades my world has continued to expand, and with it, my ideas and experiences around how life plays out.
But my week in Guatemala has stretched my social, cultural and religious assumptions to some pretty freaky places. I have never much enjoyed spending time in arenas where I don't feel skilled or competent. Combine that with my go-to response of shutting down when I feel overwhelmed and you've got a recipe for denial. Essentially, the equivalent of putting my fingers in my ears and yelling, "La la la la la la"! when certain issues are being discussed.
But God is showing me that this will not do if I am going to call myself a follower of Jesus. The God of the Bible is a lover of justice and his call for the church involves the implementation of justice. "To do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with our God." To uphold the cause of the widow, to proclaim freedom for prisoners, to care for the fatherless, to bind up wounds and ensure justice for the poor and oppressed. Not just to pray for the poor or marginalized (although prayer is vital). Not just send money to others who can deal with the messy, complicated webs of injustice and suffering. But to engage in the pursuit of justice personally, even if it's imperfect.
Last week, one of our excursions was to an organization in Guatemala City dedicated to exhuming the remains of the thousands upon thousands of casualties of the civil war that waged from 1960-1996. These victims were branded 'guerrillas' and were captured, raped, tortured and killed, then thrown into mass graves. But most were not guerrillas. They were innocent mothers and daughters and fathers and sons. The truth is beginning to come to light and the healing process begun as a team of scientists undertake the painstaking work of finding these graves, carefully removing the bones and other personal items, returning the remains to the lab and reconstructing them. In this process they note trauma, gunshot wounds, shrapnel, etc., test for DNA, interview family members or other community members who may have known them and work to connect survivors to the dead. They do this so that families and communities can heal and truth be told and forgiveness be given as injustices are exposed. And, they do this in the hope it might not happen again.
Making it Personal
What I observed as we entered the facility, was a hallway stacked floor to ceiling with boxes. Each box held the remains and personal items of one person (two, if it was a mother and her dead infant).
It was hard to believe it was real. After an introduction of their work by one of the scientists we were ushered into the lab. On the tables in front of us were the meticulously laid out skeletons of perhaps six bodies. Two were tiny--toddlers at best.
How does one process the horror and sadness contained in that one room? I do not know.
We were then shown a large storeroom where the remains of hundreds of victims in newly uncovered graves were stored. As our guide shared what they knew about the circumstances surrounding the deaths of these children, women and men our group stared blankly at the rows of boxes. We asked questions, not really wanting to know the answers. "Did they have to dig their own graves?" "Certainly." "Were they dead when they were buried?" "Not always."
One classmate asked our guide how she dealt with all the death and sadness and injustice and apathy from the general public. She seemed so calm as she stated, "Well, with the passing of time..."and then the tears began to stream down her face as the rest of her sentence was swallowed up in the sorrow.
As my black and white world continues to grow smaller in the distance, I am left moving toward an uncertain future. The heroes and villains are beginning to look a lot alike and I sometimes recognize my own face among the perpetrators. I feel damned if I move too quickly or too slowly. But I know I must do something. Not everything. Not regarding every injustice. So what is God inviting me to?
I don't know.
But I can start with telling the story.
I've got to learn to be more specific when I pray. This morning I asked God to direct me to the road I must travel (from Psalm 143). I should have also asked him to help me pace myself. Perhaps then I wouldn't have received my first speeding ticket in thirty years of driving.
Rushing to Rest
Ironically I was traveling to Saratoga to meet with a spiritual director. I was rushing to a time of stillness and quiet and discernment. Inspiring, isn't it? Google maps told me it would take me forty-five minutes, but I knew I could make it in forty. And I could have, too, if it hadn't been for that stupid Ford Fiesta!
Coming out of Santa Cruz on Highway 17, I ended up behind a slow car in the fast lane. This bothers me when I'm in a hurry (which is quite often). Its an etiquette thing. As an introvert I live concerned with how others perceive me so I'm naturally conscious of times I might be impeding the progress of others. In my opinion, this car was not as concerned as he should have been about how he might be holding me back. But after what seemed an eternity, he pulled over and let me pass. Here's where it all went wrong.
I could have simply passed him at a normal pace. But its possible I had been a little close up on his bumper for an extended amount of time and now that I was past him I felt a little ashamed. So I sped up so I could put some distance between us. I didn't want to be driving next to him for the rest of the twenty minute journey. Yes, I processed all of this. Its' what I do when I'm in the car. I analyze lanes, drivers and traffic patterns. I have a problem.
Do you know why I pulled you over?
I saw the police car as I sped past it. It was too late, but I pressed on the brake out of instinct. There were cars behind me so I peered in the rear view mirror hoping he stayed parked on the shoulder and praying for mercy. Sure enough, he pulled out. I did have a brief thought that I might have time to lose him, but then I remembered I wasn't in a movie.
He positioned himself behind my car and I waited for the inevitable flashing lights. Sure enough, he was pulling me over--just as the very slow Ford Fiesta was cruising on past.
Strangely, I didn't feel any anxiety or anger or the sinking feeling in my gut I was dreading. As I lowered the passenger window and he approached I felt a sense of calm. It was almost eerie.
"Do you know why I pulled you over?"
"I was speeding?"
"Do you know how fast you were going"?
"No, but it was well over the limit I'm afraid."
He asked for my license and registration and returned to his car to write up my ticket. I called my spiritual director to tell her I was going to be late. I was getting a ticket. It didn't escape my awareness that had I been willing to make that call earlier, I wouldn't have felt the need to speed in the first place. Note to self.
When he returned to hand me the record of my offense he asked an interesting question.
"Did you know I was going to pull you over when I came up behind you?"
"Yes I did. I knew I deserved to get a ticket."
He smiled. "I've got to say, ma'am, you've got a great attitude and I appreciate it. Most people don't see it that way." I felt old when he called me ma'am.
Owning Up, Slowing Down
I'm quite surprised by my emotional response. No matter what, I would have been polite, but there was something about my internal state that kind of freaked me out. I was guilty and I didn't feel a need to defend myself or beat myself up.
I thought about the time my mentor got a ticket in a school zone and she wasn't frustrated at all. She told me it was God reminding her to slow down. Maybe that's what I heard in the quiet today.
"Kelli, slow down. You don't have to rush. What I have for you to accomplish doesn't require racing from thing to thing."
I'm headed back home now. I've learned some valuable lessons today. Sadly, punctuality isn't one of them. I'm definitely going to be late to pick Madison up from school.
Small spaces are tests of character and last Saturday I failed.
I wrote this while sitting on an airplane heading for home after an intense 36 hour trip out of town. I was tired and acutely aware of my identity as a woman after spending the last day with a group of men.
I had the aisle seat because I paid a few extra dollars for early bird check on Southwest, guaranteeing me an A on my boarding pass. I knew it wasn’t a full flight so I hoped to have my middle seat unoccupied.
I relaxed after letting in a young woman to the window seat. It appeared I would have space to breathe…until I sensed the stilling of movement next to me. A small-statured, older gentleman was asking to sit between me and my row mate.
Really? There were rows ahead and behind me that provided equally appealing open middle seats. Why stop here? But, as I said, he was small so I didn’t glare at him as he slid past me.
Two quick points of context:
1. A Stanford professor recently published a book espousing the use of “spreading out” as a strategic move that displays power.
2. As a woman in the business world I was once coached to spread out my things on the table when meeting with other men. Apparently men use space to mark their territory and a neat pile of papers in front of me signals my submission.
Now, back to the seating chart. This man was well dressed and reading the Wall Street Journal. And he immediately spread out. (Note my aforementioned paranoia with “spreaders”). He claimed the armrests on both sides as he perused the newspaper. Unfortunately, today I was not in the mood to give up ground. I decided that he chose his seat between two harmless looking women because he assumed we wouldn’t challenge his power play.
So I dug in. I placed my elbow on the middle armrest right next to his. I wish I could tell you I was conducting a social experiment. Trying to test people’s comfort levels with sharing armrest space. But the ugly truth is I was engaged in a power struggle with a total stranger who I would never see again.
As the flight progressed I became more committed to my quest not to be the first one to flinch. He removed his elbow a couple of times and I resisted the urge to mutter ‘sucker’ under my breath. Never mind that it was actually more uncomfortable for me to sit this way after a while.
About halfway through the flight I decided to get up and use the restroom. When I returned to my seat this power hungry passenger turned to me and in an endearing Indian accent inquired about our time of arrival.
What a monster! Trying to soften my resolve with a non-threatening question. But I was tired of being powerful and bitchy so I kept my elbow off the armrest.
Then– a Peter-in-the-courtyard moment. In the quiet of the resolved tension I was overcome with shame. I remembered my daily prayer “Lord, make me a blessing!” –and wondered where the derailment occurred.
Was it the extreme physical exhaustion? The two weeks of busy activity without taking time to recalibrate my soul? The underlying insecurity in a new situation? The high altitude of Denver?
As we stood to deplane, this lovely man smiled and asked if I was now home. I said yes; that I would soon see my husband.
“Ahh. That is the best. To be home with family,” he replied.
I would have to agree. But even better is to be redeemed. To no longer be a slave to my fears or shame or stupidity. To be overwhelmed with the loving kindness of my Savior–even after he observed my childish, ungrateful behavior. And to be free to begin again. Forgiven.
Ahh. That is the best!
Kelli is a writer, speaker and consultant equipping leaders for a deepening intimacy with Christ, greater impact in ministry and more effective intentionality in all of life.
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