Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Here I Raise My Ebeneezer

As the taxi pulled to a stop, I could feel my throat tighten.  I stepped out of the taxi, and the lump grew larger, and my eyes instantly welled up with tears.
This place.  Here.

I don't feel afraid, but the intensity of it--of the last time I was here, in this place--it feels like I can't quite catch my breath as I approach.
This place.  Here.

The last time I was here was Saturday, April 25.  I won't ever forget that date.  As we stood with visiting friends, the earth around us shook, and we watched as the structure on which my son had been standing when the shaking started, collapsed in a heap of rubble only seconds later.  The air filled with dust so thick we couldn't see anything.  Couldn't see my other boy, my baby.  The earth still shaking and me grasping for my boys.  Utterly helpless, I heard our friend shouting, "I have him!  I have Ezekiel!"
Here.  In this place.

Parenting has broken down many layers of my illusions of control, but never have I experienced anything that shattered that illusion so completely and so quickly.  As much as I may sometimes (sadly, still) believe or act as if I, on my own, can protect my boys or take care of my family, as if I am enough to meet their needs, in that moment, there was nothing I could do.  I could not protect.  I could not save.  I could not even SEE.
Here in this place.

And, yet, they--WE, ALL of our family--were protected.  We were saved.  We were SEEN.
Here in this place.

So, what can I do but come back?  To worship.  To give thanks beyond what any words can express.  To praise the One who saw us and protected us and saved us.

This place.  Here.  It is a reminder to me of a goodness and a grace we in NO WAY deserve.  It is a reminder of mercies far beyond my understanding.  I may not place a physical stone there, but HERE.  Here I "raise my Ebeneezer"--my help stone.  "Thus far has the Lord helped us."

Here is my place of remembering. To tell my children, Here in this place.  We have seen God's radical protection and mercy on our lives.

So, here I stand.  In this place.  I take in the true miracle of it as I see it clearly.  The tears flow, but the tightening fades away.  I worship Our Protector, Our Savior, The One Who Sees Us, and I give Him thanks.  And I remember.  In my heart and my mind I will always remember this place. 
Here I raise my Ebeneezer.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

To Serve My Son in Love

Last night my son woke up crying because his ear hurt badly.  He's been sick for about a week now with cough and cold and flu-like symptoms off and on. 

It consumed a good deal of my evening, and it was difficult to soothe him.  I couldn't help feeling a bit frustrated about the situation, especially knowing that today had been announced as a "banda" (general strike when no transportation other than emergency vehicles is allowed to run), so I knew we wouldn't be able to take him anywhere if he needed to be seen.

But, that frustration quickly melted away, and I ended up thanking God for these moments, holding my boy and having the privilege to care for him.  At first I had wanted to just get it "fixed" and put him back in his bed and move on with my evening, but I ending up soaking in the moment with a deep sense of gratitude.  I'm not commenting on any parenting philosophy of setting boundaries or not or anything of that nature, just that in that particular moment, I was able to be fully there and able to see God there with me.

There was a time that my kids getting sick triggered some really dark places in me.  Each time that they get sick now, and I realize that the old fear and panic isn't there any longer, I am so thankful for the freedom.  Even when we ended up in the emergency room last week for a fairly simple issue because there was some form of medical strike keeping the regular clinic open--and that ER is a hard place--I could walk in peace.  The last time we had been in that room, I felt like it was closing in on me from the chaos around me and the fear rising inside.  But, this time, I could see.  Really see.  So many hurting and needing, and I could see beyond me.  So I am thankful to hold my sick boy in those moments at night.  Because I was free and at peace and could just love without fear.

And, as I laid next to him, I was overwhelmed with things I had read earlier in the evening and shaken from the temptation to just "move on" with my evening.  My friend is spending this week with her little boy at a hospital far from home for tests and procedures and a whole week of hard and watching her little guy face so much but holding on to hope and the beauty of the little guy God created as her son.

A friend of a friend has recently seen her son...the same age as my older boy...pass on from this life after a long, hard battle with cancer.  My friend had posted just yesterday what she had written about the intense, consuming battle it was for them all.  She wrote, "It was an incredible honor to serve my son in love."

And of the feelings of his passing, she wrote, "When I became a mama to my one and only son...the significance of what happened on the cross deepened for me. Mary was there. She saw her son suffer. Maybe like me she begged Jesus to let go. To end his pain. Maybe like me Mary felt her heart rip in two when her son took his last breath. One half full of peace that he was free of pain and suffering. The other half bleeding with unbearable grief at her loss."

I think of my cousin who had to watch two of her little triplet babies die and what she wouldn't give to hold them for any reason.  I know she walked through so much just to hold her miracle boy and then later his sister.

I cannot truly even fathom the depth of pain and the sacrifice so many walk through with their children.  Even thinking or reading it now brings me to tears.  Friends and family and those I don't even know have walked bravely and humbly and gracefully through true sorrow and sacrifice.
And, I think how often I fail to recognize the incredible gift that is right in front of me...the opportunity to serve my boys in love.  

So, as I lay there with my generally healthy son for my one slightly "disrupted" evening, I felt such an overwhelming sense of gratitude.  I have to admit that cleaning up vomit or being woken up through the night or washing sheets in the middle of the night or fighting boys to take medicine or any of those common mothering things are rarely viewed in my heart and mind as a privilege, but truly, tonight I can say that I am so thankful for the chance, these small moments, to serve my son in love.  May my eyes see every day that gift and may my heart remember with joy these moments.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Confessions of a Fashion Failure

Fashion sense has always eluded me.
I've gone through seasons where I make more effort than others, but always it eludes me.

I very distinctly remember a school picture in, I believe, 5th grade (clearly old enough to know better) for which I put together my very "best" ensemble, which consisted of my "nice" sweat pants and a "fancy" t-shirt that had some portion of the design that was the same color as the main color of my sweat pants.  Oh, and a headband, though I am not 100% sure if the color of it matched anything.

I hit a phase in middle school where I felt odd in just about every way and sought to remedy at least some of those areas.  I tried really hard to be girly and do my hair like the other girls and wear at least a few of the clothes that seemed popular.  I got a few items of B.U.M. Equipment and Umbro (yes, I'm also old).  I could never pull off Hypercolor because I was also a very sweaty girl!  At several points in that, though, I can remember thinking, take away that labels, and I just have a striped t-shirt and slick shorts--this is dumb!  Thankfully, that phase didn't last long, and I abandoned the labels.

Most of high school was spent in flannel shirts and jeans (though that was actually a bit popular at the time...at least I think it was!).

I actually hit a phase in college and soon after in which I had some style.  Mind you, it was never what was "in style," and I can't say that it even "worked," but it was some sort of style.  One of the problems, though, in addition to my utter lack of fashion sense, is that I've always been very frugal (ahem, cheap) and pragmatic.  Especially once I started teaching and then became a mom, things that weren't comfortable or didn't last just didn't make the cut.  Thus, slipping back into my hopeless lack of fashion.

I actually had students in the inner city offer to buy me new shoes because they pitied mine!

And, at another job, I actually had a co-worker say to me once, "I was watching an episode of 'What Not to Wear' last night, and it made me think of you."

Mix my fashion failures with my frugality, introversion, and indecisiveness, and shopping is just downright horrifying most of the time.

I have, in recent seasons, become more aware of the many, many injustices in the fashion industry and what actually is involved in producing a lot of the clothes we wear.  Being fully aware of my failings at being fashionable, I think it most likely seems easy for me to say that clothes-buying habits need to change.  I don't buy many, and looking stylish is not a priority to me.  So, it might come across as very preachy to point out the flaws with most American fashion consumption habits.  Truly, though, friends, I have failed as a consumer as well.  Do you remember me mentioning being cheap?  I have a hard time paying more when I know there is a cheaper option.  And, given that I hate shopping, I often go for the easiest option available, and adding more factors to complicate something that already thoroughly overwhelm me is daunting, to say the least.

However, the point isn't to prove that it's hard for me to make different choices, too.  Whether something is hard or not is not the measure of whether it's worth doing.  I don't need to make different choices about the clothes I purchase because it is easy or in order to make it into some sort of noble sacrifices because it is hard.  Good choices are good choices, regardless of the cost.

So, yes, I--the total fashion failure--is encouraging, URGING, others to think about the choices they are making for what they buy and wear.
The good news is you don't have to look like me!  Go ahead, you can breathe a sigh of relief.  I know my reality.
I have friends who are artistic and creative and have a true gift for putting things together in ways that are stylish and beautiful who are leading the way in not only making better choices but CREATING better options and working within the industry to bring justice and dignity to those producing the fashion that people wear.  Look to them, not to me.  They get it--fashion sense with a heart for justice and plan for sustainability!

I've done a bit of reading and been encouraged by these friends.  There are tons of people who write on this much more eloquently than I do and have done far more research.  Check out some links below, but on a very basic level, how do you even go about making better choices?
Well, being informed is a good start.
Buying less and knowing where your clothing comes from are huge!
Being willing to spend a bit more (welp!) on things that are produced fairly and with sustainability in mind is important.  (Probably naturally leads back to also buying less.)

So, first some links to some friends who are doing great work:
My friends at purnaa are super inspiring!  They do great work, both in a fashion sense and in the realm of social justice!  They are primarily wholesale, but you can group together with friends and place an order that meets the minimum ($500) and order when one of their catalogs is out.  And, if you know of boutiques or designers or other potential buyers/contracts, give them a referral!

Trade for Freedom
Their main products are jewelry, but they also have a few accessories like handbags or scarves, at times, and they work in partnership with another fantastic group we know and love here called Beauty for Ashes.

Then, some links for resources to help in decision-making:
Fashion Revolution
I just discovered this group last night, actually, after my friends at Purnaa posted about an upcoming Fashion Revolution Day.  It's April 24, so what a great opportunity coming up to connect to a new way of choosing fashion!  The link above is their "education" section.  They have even have resource packs designed for kids!  There is also a quiz to help you discover what you know about the industry and learn more about it.

This is a GREAT resource for not only the fashion industry but for other industries as well, as they have done thorough reports, evaluating multiple criteria for various companies and reports about trends in trouble industries (toy, chocolate, coffee, clothing, tech, etc.).

And, just a couple other articles to help gather information and plan:
5 Tips for Keeping a Sweatshop-Free Closet
5 Truths the Fashion Industry Doesn't Want You to Know
The Incredibly High Human Cost of Fast Fashion
Sweatship: Deadly Fashion  (This was linked in the post above but is the direct link to the documentary mini-series.)

Maybe this April 24 (Fashion Revolution) can be a start of something new for you?  It probably won't improve my fashion sense, but I know it is changing what's involved in my choices.  My hope is that change will come, not only to the fashion industry, but also to cultures and individual hearts to be more concerned with what our choices cost someone else than what they cost us!