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Call Vignettes- A Series of Surrenders 1

I am often asked, “How did you get in to this line of work?”  I assume they are referring to me living and working in neighborhoods that many people purposefully avoid.  Sometimes others will answer for me, “Oh, she feels called to this ministry.”  Which I suppose is true, if by called they mean compelled or led by Jesus into these choices.

When I think of being called I think of Moses and the burning bush or Abraham setting out for Canaan.  My journey has been more like a series of surrenders, a progression of saying ‘yes’ to the Father’s reign in my life.  Each surrender has led me deeper into relationship with the poor and with my brothers and sisters in Christ.

I suppose the first person who taught me to love the marginalized was my mother.  It wasn’t so much that she reached out to the poor but she gave me eyes to see them.  Before school each morning she would pray that my sisters and I would see the kids who didn’t have friends and befriend them.  That’s how I started bringing home latchkey kids and newly arrived immigrants, kids who stuttered and were generally marginalized.  Even when I didn’t reach out or was held back by wanting to be accepted by my friends, I still noticed the lonely kids.  I believe it was because of my mother’s prayers.  I would hear her in my mind while I played at recess and moved about in our classrooms.

The first time I remember this happening was in kindergarten.  Our teacher, Mrs. Zebock sat perched on her chair up front, her light green eyes scanning the room as we found our places in rows on the carpet.  As I settled in I caught a glimpse of the boy’s underwear in front of me and my kindergarten mind started to snicker.  There before me the Cambodian boy’s pants gaped open in back and I could see that he was wearing pink girl underwear with a ruffle across the top.  As I began to nudge my friend next to me, something stopped me.  In the split second it occurred to me that he was wearing girl underwear for one of two reasons:  either he was too poor to afford anything else or he was so new to our country he didn’t know the difference culturally.  And it is in that moment I remember feeling compassion for the first time.  That is the first time I remember really seeing the poor. 

It was 1980 and thousands of refugees from Vietnam and Cambodia were landing in Huntington Beach, CA, our city.  That split second encounter, under the laser green eyes of Mrs. Zebock, set me on a path to understand the plight of immigrants that I have continued on to this day.  Of course, I didn’t understand the significance that day in kindergarten, but I remember the moment clearly and see how the Lord was leading me even then.

By second grade it was established who the “bad kids” were. In our class it was James and Jason.  They had to sit way in the back in their own section of the classroom, away from the rest of us.   My heart did not beat quite so compassionately for these two boys but I remember being confused.  The teacher often told me I talked too much and corrected me, but I was never sent away or isolated.  This seemed unfair to me.  I couldn’t figure out what those boys had done that was worse than me.  So I asked to be moved to the back with them.  I didn’t become friends with James or Jason.  We rarely talked but I sat in the back with them in some sort of eight year old statement of solidarity.  At the time, being friends with them was just too socially risky but I could see them.  I could see that isolation wasn’t solving anything.  I could see that we were treated differently.

Before I felt compassion, before I decided to follow Jesus, before I chose to act justly, my mother prayed that I would see and the Lord continues to answer her prayers.  When was the first time you really saw the lonely or marginalized?

Comments

Please keep writing, friend. I remember having some of the same feelings as a kid.

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I love our world- the sights, noises, and flavors of it all. I've found the best way for me to make a difference globally is to be rooted and engaged in my community. Every day is 1 more adventure in loving God and loving my neighbor.


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