Thursday, November 21, 2013

The Bakerloo Line

I now have the ability to morph into a fish.

It all starts with a blue plastic card. I tap it, the gates open, and I am lowered down into the deep waters.
At first I hold my breath, panicked that I might not be able to breathe.

But without fail, my gills open.  I not only can breathe, I can swim. 
As I plunge into the ocean of an underground, sights and sounds change.  There is a rumble in the distance and vibrations pick up through the waves.  Moving bodies together create friction and heat.   With time, the ocean had greyed.  The colors are dull and rubbish floats to the side.   

The current is swift with many different channels to choose from.  As one tiny fish, it is easy to get lost.  But I continue to move forward.
With the first dive, I must choose the school headed in the right direction and link in to the group. We swim and we swim and we hurry and swim.  And then we wait.  I wait for the whale to swallow me whole.

A deep rumble signifies a whale is close.  It quickly crescendos, and suddenly piercing eyes are lighting up the dark ocean as the body swimming past causes hearts to accelerate and lungs to gasp.
The jaws open wide, inviting fish inside.

Sometimes their belly is empty.  Sometimes their belly is full.  But as I wait in the pit of its stomach, I say a prayer.
And I listen. 

The fish sitting with me are vastly different.  And themes of their appearance match with the location of the whale.  Up north, most fish have pale scales with decorated black and white garments.  Wearing blazers, pantyhose, and ties, these business-fish are swimming for work and tote their briefcase under their fins.  As the whale moves south, the fish change.  Gone are the pale scales and a new pattern emerges.  The whale swallows fish that adorn many different tones; black, brown and tan shimmer through.  As a pale fish, I am in the minority.  But I still belong in this school.  And I continue to travel onward.

And I think.
While swimming through the fast paced underground, there are some fish who are not moving, who are overlooked again and again by the schools.  These fish are the ones to the side, sitting with close to nothing and asking for a little something.  But the schools continue to move past; never dropping their eyes in fear of making contact. As a school of many, we forget that we are just made up of lots of individual, free-thinking fish, the same as the one who isn't moving… 

The journey can feel like three days and three nights. 
But always, the jaws open again and I am dispensed once more into the ocean of an underground and must swim my way to the top.  This is the most dangerous part, moving against the current.  As hundreds of other fish swim quickly down, I have to pursue my way up, swimming upstream as I feel my gills morph back into lungs and I am gasping for air.  For sunlight.  For the shore. 

A touch of the card, a beep of a green light, and I am once again on solid ground. 

I used to be scared of fish.  Now I feel myself trying to become one.   

Sometimes accompaniment isn’t about walking.  It’s about swimming.  

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

It's About Time

At 2:15 today, I was headed down the hall to pick up my last student for the final lesson of the day.  I was tired, battling a cold, and feeling defeated from a day of little productivity.  When knocking on the classroom door and sticking my head in, the teacher informed me that they were in the middle of a test and my student couldn’t come to his lesson. 

My first reaction: Thanks be to God!  I sang His praise for this gift of time and started to mentally think of how I could convince my supervisor that I could now go home earlier than usual.  I was sure that God was telling me to take a much deserved break and that my work for the day was done.
Like a (loving) slap from God saying, “Pay Attention!” Leave it to my 8 year old, Nigerian boy, Ndulu, to teach me about the real meaning  and truth of discipleship and time.  

As I was walking down the hall back to our intervention room, Ndulu (who I wasn’t scheduled to teach today), was outside of his classroom reading quietly to himself.  Glancing up and seeing his tutor, he immediately sprang up and ran towards me, asking if he could come to Springboard today.  Hesitation took place in my mind as I thought of this precious extra time being taken away from me, but looking back down to his smiling face left me wondering how I could ever even think to deny this bright, optimistic boy the opportunity to learn.   

With the approval of this teacher, we headed off for his extra lesson; working on the sound ‘igh’ and reading a book about magic tricks.    I had nothing elaborate planned, but all we needed was some paper, a pencil, and the real meaning of the gift of time.
So now as I tiredly enjoy a bowl of warm chicken soup that was awaiting my arrival home from my new host mom, I pray.
Heavenly Father, Keep my eyes to serve, my hands to learn.  Keep me rooted in your love.  Rest my soul not through extra time, but through real time; through service and opportunity and a child’s innocence and compassion.  Give me the strength to continue your work and little by little plant your seeds of faith and love into this world. 


Saturday, November 9, 2013

I Was a Stranger and You Welcomed Me

It has taken me awhile to write this entry.  About 3 weeks to be exact.  But to be able to express such a deep level of gratitude is challenging and I wanted to be able to find the right words. But eventually had to succumb to perfection and just do the best I could to messily write about grace in its deepest form.

I have been someone who has been blessed to always have a stable roof over my head.  My house has always had electricity, air conditioning, and heating.  I grew up with a dishwasher and internet and a fridge full of food.  But for the first time in my life, I found myself living in another country where the roof was literally caving in over my head.  And I didn’t know what to do. 

When I first told people I was placed in London, I was usually given a comment generally focused around a year of easy living.  To be fair, I probably would have thought the same thing, but I feel that part of my journey in accompaniment must include telling the story of London untold; the poverty and diversity that is segregated into communities far away from any line of focal view in a tourist’s camera. 

I was a part of that community, which included living in an old housing complex owned by council housing.  Because of this ownership, I was put on a long waiting list when the upstairs neighbor’s kitchen sink started leaking into my bedroom ceiling.  For eight weeks I lived without electricity and with buckets on my floor and towels on my bed, collecting the water falling from above.  When the ceiling started to crack, I was bumped up slightly on the repair list, but when water started to seep in from the walls and the leaking drips started to become a constant trickle, nervousness started to settle in my mind of health, safety, and the need of a stable home.

Shane Claiborne expresses in his book, The Irresistible Revolution, how “we have eliminated the need for miracles.  If we had enough faith to depend on God like the lilies and the sparrows do, we would see miracles.”  I think for much of my life I was so dependent and expectant of material structure that I had let these miracles go unnoticed.  But now this was stripped away and I was left with a raw and vulnerable need for my dependency on God. 

Meet Susan and Bill Tucker: a family who moved to London in 2001 from Atlanta, Georgia and have raised their three sons in British culture.  Susan’s mom works with my Aunt Patty at Our Savior Lutheran Church in North Carolina.  My aunt told Susan’s mom of my situation, she told Susan, and suddenly I found myself with an invitation to come live in their home.  It was that simple.

So once again I found myself packing my belongings, now only needing one suitcase to fill what mattered most, to follow a call of a true miracle.  For the first time in two months, I was being offered a dry place to sleep…and from people who didn’t even know me.  They only knew I was in need and that they had an extra bed.  It was that simple.     

I have reflected deeply on this journey of accompaniment, and cannot hide the feeling of guilty abandonment as I left my community in Peckham.  I recognize that I am privileged to have had the offer to move, while other families are stuck in the cycle of poverty and will continue to live in council housing.  But I am also reflecting on the lessons I have learned from the Tuckers about the real meaning of servanthood. I think often of Matthew 25: 34-40 and if I would have enough faith to offer my place of refuge to someone I did not know.  A dear friend and fellow YAGM wrote recently about the grace that accompanies us through kindness from strangers.  I can only end this blog by posting the same quote she shared from Paul Loeb’s book, The Impossible Will Take A Little While:    

"To feel the intimacy of brothers is a
marvelous thing in life. To feel the love of people whom we love
is a fire that feeds our life. But to feel the affection that comes
from those whom we do not know, from those unknown to us,
who are watching over our sleep and solitude, over our dangers
and our weaknesses -- that is something still greater and more
beautiful because it widens out the boundaries of our being and
unites all living things."
            //Chilean poet, Pablo Neruda