Love Your Neighbor Where You Are

Like many of you, I've been discouraged, frustrated, saddened, and heartbroken over the executive order released by the Trump administration and the ever-increasing racial and cultural divide that seems to be growing in our country by the minute. However, unlike some of the posts I've been reading, I'm not writing to defend a position or to complain. Instead, allow me to offer my small voice in the midst of a very loud, disruptive, and chaotic moment in our nation's history. 

I believe we will look back on this time as very defining for our nation and those who will come after us. That being said, it's paramount we learn to rise above the chaos, speak the truth in love, and take action rather than staying on the sidelines. This is not a time to be silent; it's a time to engage. 

To be clear, I'm not talking about writing passionate or fiery social media posts or engaging in a political debate via Facebook. I'm talking about real life, face-to-face interaction with real people. If what we're really after is lasting social change, I suggest we put down our phones, stop talking, and start doing instead. 

Two years ago I started meeting with international students on the college campus in my town, and through conversations with students from Asia, Africa, South America, Europe, and the Middle East, my sweet little conservative Christian American worldview was challenged to say the least. I've traveled overseas many times, but there was something different about engaging people different than me in my own city - it broke something. 

Whenever we choose to cross cultural barriers and step over the line (visible or not), people notice. It may have seemed strange and even abrupt at first, but the friendships I've developed with students from different races, backgrounds, and nations have shaped and challenged me in ways few others have. I decided I didn't want to contribute to the social norms and cultural barriers; I wanted to be a part of the solution to the brokenness and disunity in our nation and world. 

Let us learn to funnel the frustration and heartbreak over the actions of our new President and his administration into action rather than more words. Let us learn to cross the line, challenge social norms, and in turn, challenge ourselves. 

There are so many ways to engage those hurting around us. It starts with me in Waco, TX and with you in your city. It starts by listening and learning, by extending a hand to those in need, by opening our eyes to see our neighbors in our workplace, classroom, or daily route. It starts by loving our neighbors as ourselves wherever we are now. 

I don't pretend to have answers or a solution to the recent executive order, the ramifications for my Muslim brothers and sisters, or for the racial divide in our nation. Yet rather than standing still on the sidelines racking my brain for a solution or debating about ways to change, I can do something small today. I can choose to love my neighbor at the gym this morning or on the campus I'll visit later today. I can choose to look around and inconvenience myself for the sake of someone else. I can choose to listen, even if that means disagreeing or not understanding, and most of all, I can choose to engage. 

The Millennial: Embracing Advent

Celebrating Advent is a little counterintuitive for millennials, in my opinion. For a generation who prefers quick fixes and instant gratification, the concept of waiting and hoping for something unseen seems unproductive or even wasteful. Why wait when you could probably come up with a solution to the same problem faster? Yet maybe this season is a time for everyone, especially millennials, to learn to appreciate the waiting, to lean in, and to expect. 

This is the second year I've ordered the She Reads Truth Advent study (you can still jump in online, here) and I'm enjoying the opportunity to read along with thousands of other women and prepare for the coming of Christmas and the birth Jesus. There's something about doing this collectively - knowing there are other women taking the same space to pause, reflect, rest, and study, each in our own context and home. Regardless of what you believe about Christmas, Advent represents a time to be thankful and reflective together in anticipation of Christmas and the new year. 

If you pause to think about this for a moment, this may be the only time of year thousands, if not millions, of people around the world are all waiting for something - the same thing, and a miracle nonetheless. I pray this sacred tradition is not lost on my generation; in fact, I think we desperately need it. 

Join me in taking time to wait, lean in, and anticipate this month, especially if you are a millennial. Intentionally put down the iPhone, TV remote, iPad or computer. Think about what Christmas means to you and your family. Do you celebrate the birth of Jesus? If so, ask God to give you a deeper understanding of the miracle of His birth. Spend time reading the Christmas story in Scripture. Start each morning in gratitude, listing all the blessings and good moments from the past year. Think ahead to the next year - what are some of your hopes and dreams for 2017? 

By intentionally creating this space, we are, by definition, anticipating the arrival of something. It allows time to quiet our minds and souls, preparing them for what is to come. This is much easier said than done in our fast, instant, and productive culture. Perhaps this speaks to the truth that good things are worth waiting for. Nothing is created overnight, contrary to the message technology teaches. 

And in the end, the waiting makes the arrival so much more meaningful. Pause to anticipate this year. Lean in and believe for the best because Good is coming (at least that's what I keep telling my oft-weary heart). 

The Millennial: Choice Overload & Fear of Failure

It's no secret that I like to try new things. Whether it's a new flavor at my favorite local ice-cream shop, a recipe in Food & Wine or some new trick or trade I found perusing online or through my Instagram feed. I think being in your 20's is for trying, creating, developing, failing and then trying again. Yet more often than not I forget failing is part of the process, not something to be avoided at all costs. 

As the oldest child in my family I often take on too much responsibility, assuming it's my role to fix whatever is in front of me at all costs. Anyone else relate? I often fulfill the classic stereotype: over-responsible, bossy, control freak older sister. It’s not that I mean to be that way, but something deep inside of me feels obligated to step in, reach out, help and solve the problem. But honestly I think it’s more than that – I think I’m afraid of failing. 

So when asked to commit to new things, somewhere in the back of my mind I'm weighing the possibility of failure and as much as I hate to admit it, I'm giving in to fear. I don't think I'm alone in this - it's not unusual to hear people talk about the millennial generation's aversion to commitment. 

I recently read an article about millennials and commitment. The author referenced several studies, but one in particular caught my attention. Two psychologists from Stanford and Columbia surveyed grocery shoppers in the early 2000's (hang with me for a moment here). Shoppers were asked to select a jam from six different options and then again from 24 options. Researchers found that more shoppers purchased the jams selected in the first round than the second and reported higher levels of satisfaction. Their findings seemed to indicate that more didn't actually mean more; the options inhibited choice, led to less sales and less satisfied customers. 

What does jam have to do with millennials and commitment? In the world of "choice overload" where millennials are encouraged to choose their own career path and make their own choices, there exists an underlying fear of commitment, and ultimately failure. It's as if there's a little voice in our heads begging us to select the right choice and motivating us by the fear of choosing wrong. 

And for someone who feels responsible all too easily, the fear can sometimes prevent any movement at all. I'm very aware of the reality that my choices matter, but I'm going to choose wrong sometimes, and that's ok. If failure is inevitable at one point or another, then let's choose boldly and commit fully, recognizing we are all in process together. 

So, let's try new things, but not stand in front of the aisle too long, mulling over each option in fear of missing the best one. 

The Millennial: Changing the World & Feeling Small

I have a love hate relationship with my generation. All the negative stereotypes frustrate me; they cause me to want to be different, to prove we aren’t just a bunch of entitled young people. One of the redeeming qualities of my generation, though, is that it is filled with one's and two's who believe we really can change the world. And simply because we believe it, we will.

I’ve heard many people say that this refugee crisis has been championed by the millennial generation, and for that I am proud. I want to be known as the generation that runs to the pain, the suffering, the questions, the hard things. And when we choose to come face to face with the realities of the world, we can’t help but speak out, take action and do something.

When I first learned of the refugee crisis in Europe, I knew I had to respond. However, I wasn’t quite prepared for the magnitude of suffering I was about to witness.

I remember the moment it all became real to me. I was volunteering in a clothing distribution center at a refugee center in Berlin inside Tempelhauf, the old Berlin airport. Once the busiest airport in all of Europe, the space became even more infamous when Hitler delivered one of his speeches, promising a “new awakening” for Germany in 1933. I was also surprised to learn that the airport had housed refugees previously in the early 1950’s when “East Berliners” fled the Soviet’s control. The amount of history represented overwhelmed me as I thought about thousands of refugees from all over the Middle East currently housed and seemingly trapped inside.

About 30 minutes into my shift, a shy Syrian woman and her three children approached me at the front of the counter. She handed me her clothing card, which consisted of icons of different clothing items she and her children qualified for each month. She pointed to a few items and then tentatively pointed to the picture of undergarments on the page, avoiding all eye contact with me. I could sense the deep shame she carried as I brought back a few items for her to look at and try. The woman turned red as I brought out a pair of underwear and bras and I painfully watched as she attempted to convey to me that neither were the correct size. I tried to conceal the contents of what I had found from the rest of the room, but couldn't stop the embarrassment from flooding the poor woman’s face while men, women and children stood in line behind her.

I went back to the bins containing women’s undergarments. The fact that I couldn’t speak this woman’s language and her only clothing options depended on me, a twenty-five-year-old American white girl, guessing the right size in the time allotted was all of the sudden too much for me. I started weeping as I dug through the drawer, desperate to find something the right size.

After a few minutes I came back to the front with two more options. The woman turned red again and then shook her head in disappointment as I held up the new sizes. She slowly gathered her few belongings and children and turned to leave, giving up on the possibility of receiving something as basic and necessary as a new pair of underwear.

In Greece the situation is also sobering, and even more desperate than the cold distribution center in Berlin. In one of the camps in Thessaloniki, my team and I distributed clothing a couple times a week. I won’t quickly forget standing in the middle of a shipping container, dripping in sweat, frantically running back and forth trying to find the correct sizes as men and women approached the container yelling, and oftentimes fighting to get the items they needed.

I even came close to being punched in the face by a man who had incurred brain damage because a bomb exploded behind him, who was fighting his way to the front of the line demanding a new pair of pants because his only pair had ripped down the middle. It was in moments like these I felt completely helpless, realizing I had no idea how to identify with this kind of suffering.

But rather than retreat by the sheer rawness of it all, I chose to engage. Although I couldn’t identify with the reality of these people’s circumstances, I could let them move me. And if I allowed myself to be moved, to really feel the reality of the situation as best as I could, then all of the sudden my own needs seemed less important and I realized just how small I really was.

In both Germany and Greece my team was made up of college students and young adults – each believing we could be one small voice in the midst of a giant overwhelming crisis. I believe my generation has the opportunity to learn the delicate balance between believing we can change the world, while simultaneously coming to grips with our own smallness. And that is a really beautiful place to be.