I used to think I could change people’s lives, but now I know the life being changed is mine

This morning, I’m teaming up with the beautiful blogger and author Sarah Bessey for a synchroblog, in the blessed release of her new book “Out of Sorts: Making Peace with an Evolving Faith.”  You can learn all about it here: http://sarahbessey.com/outofsorts-synchroblog/

It all seemed so much simpler in college.  So many of us were “doing big things for God,” traveling the world over, handing out our little gospel tracks (in English mind you), volunteering in orphanages, aftercare homes, schools, and nursing homes.  We were the world-changers, ministers of justice and mercy and humility.  Or so I thought.  It appeared that the Spirit of God was only moving in your life if you were, so I made sure that I was.

Upon moving home from all my wild, exhilarating adventures abroad, my life felt small and slow, insignificant even.  I no longer stood out because of my mission, and I deeply believed that God wanted me somewhere else.  Then I was hired as a child welfare worker in Milwaukee’s central city and was forced to confront that I had very little figured out.  I quickly learned that I needed these precious parents and children to teach me something of God that was only etched into their stories, with great care and promise.  Slowly, painstakingly, I’d welcome the gift of a receptive faith, one that was ever-evolving, belonging, recognizing the face of God in the other.

I needed the mama who sang her broken heart out with her darling two-year old girl at her little boy’s funeral.  The community ablaze in bright orange, swaying and wailing; his eye is on the sparrow and he watches over me.  I needed the messy truth in all of its anger and angst from a mom my own age, suffering inside the system of everyone else’s decisions.  I needed the little girl who loved to comb my hair with a fork and the little boy who called me sister on our last day together, braiding the boundary of city and suburb, black and white, good and bad, because childlike love never labels like that.

Now that I work in the Latina community, I need the mom who slows me down to try her homemade soup, even when I’m running way late for class.  I need the sweet tears of a woman profoundly grateful, to gather at her table, receiving hospitality and thanksgiving on plates pooling with goodness, because that’s how beloved community gets made.  I need to hear the words, “Eres nuestra familia; you are our family” when invited to a first communion for my favorite child with autism.  I need the little arms of a three-year old wrapped around my legs so tight I can’t walk out the door, because if I can’t receive this grace, then what does that say about God’s saving grace?

I used to think that I could change people’s lives, but now I know that their lives are changing mine.

Back in February, when Milwaukee is frigid and snow-laden for miles, my car got stuck, naturally, and as soon I opened the trunk to grab my shovel, one of my sweet families was already gathered with many of their neighbors. Turns out the only thing harder than digging out a car in the snow in English, is digging a car out of the snow with the limited amount of Spanish car language I know.  And though my words often fail me, the co-creation of togetherness was once again our common language. The courage and kindness, laughter and starting over surpassed the border that dares to break us.  Our wheels will spin in discomfort. Our arms grow faint from shoveling away the injustice. But only then are we one with the other.

So go ahead, dear one. Lean in and listen to the stories on the fringes. The immigrant’s. The refugee’s. The teenage mom’s. Or high-school dropout’s.  Reach out and touch their broken humanity with yours. Invite those you have nothing in common with to your table.  Speak the language of welcome with every breath, and see how you are changed.

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