Friday, March 25, 2011

1,000 words

I was going through my pictures (22,000+) yesterday in order to find a few to print, mat, frame and hang. Needless to say, looking at the pictures brought me back to all sorts of places...Ecuador, Thailand, India, Alaska, Minnesota summers and every season in Chicago.
There were a few images that were begging to have their stories told. I printed six, and just had to share their stories with you. They're just that good.

Above is one of my favorite pictures. Ever. This was taken in the Burmese refugee camp Mae La in Mae Sot, northern Thailand right along the Thai-Burma border. The people who live in Mae La are displaced and, for the most part, forgotten by the government. Though Thailand provides land for Mae La and the other seven surrounding refugee camps, Thai officials are anything but sympathetic toward the refugees. In the eyes of the Thai government, the refugees take up land, resources and jobs from native Thai people. We heard story upon story of the cruelty the Burmese Karin people have endured. Not only did we hear stories, we ourselves witnessed first hand the corruption of the officials who manned the camps and saw how poorly they treated the Burmese.
The Red Cross is one of the few international presences the Thai allow into the camps. The Red Cross' main goal is to provide decent health care for the people living in the camps as they are not allowed to leave unless given approval from the Thais (eg: sponsorship through a refugee program in another country). This picture was taken right outside the hospital in Mae La and the baby in the picture was a patient. I don't know what was wrong with her, but her entire leg was bandaged. She had a make-shift IV and was running a fever. Visitors are not allowed in the hospital, but I made friends with the dad and went in with him. The hospital itself was a series of 'rooms' divided by low (waist high) walls, concrete beds and two or three nurses. Being in the hospital infuriated me. Hearing stories of how Thai officials would gather mass numbers of Burmese refugees, tell them they were being moved to a new camp, put them on a boat, ship them to sea and leave them sans food or water on the boat at sea to die...that was heart breaking. This hospital in a camp where people get food MAYBE once a day and are forced in live in squalor with hardly any hope of leaving, that hit me harder than I explain.
This image reminds me of my refugee friends, my sponsorship and the reality that the 'news' will never come close to covering what goes on behind fences.

Below is a picture of a small shop in the Himalayas somewhere between India and Nepal. As you may know, China and the state/territory/country
of Tibet are in constant turmoil. Many Tibetans flee China occupied Tibet and come to Nepal where they can follow the Dalai Lama, worship and live in peace. In fact, the Nepali and Tibetan peoples' cultures have so blended in northern India that some natives call it 'Little Tibet'. The shop below was, we were told by the owners, a safe house for those Tibetans who were fleeing the Chinese and making their way to southern India. The house fronts as a momo (like gyoza) shop, but the floor lifts up to an underground reprieve. Meeting expat Tibetans and seeing how they lived in fear put an entirely new perspective on peace for me.

The image above is of a lady who lived in Kolkata. Every day, we would get up at six am and take a bus into the worst part of the city. We would walk to the Kali Temple, the place where Mother Teresa built the first of the Missionaries of Charity homes. Each morning, without fail, this precious little lady would be sitting on the steps ready to greet us. Standing a maximum of four feet tall with a severe 70 degree angle in her back, she was by far one of the smallest people I have ever seen. But small does not even touch her spirit. She wasn't looking for money, food, shelter or even acknowledgement. She simply liked to sit on the steps and watch us and come and go from the Home of the Dying. When we'd take breaks, she'd smoke a cigarette with us and rub our backs. She'd braid our hair. She'd sing in Hindi. And she'd smile. Her smile was captivating, illuminating and spacious. This was a woman with whom I shared nothing but the fact that we were both living in what felt like, most of the time, hell on earth. As people were dying, she would sit and wait to care for those who were ushering them into Heaven. When I think of India, of Kolkata, of Kali Temple, I think of her. The woman who I shared no language with other than that of death.

For now,

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

A Switch

It has been quite the month, to say the least.

Today I got to sleep in...way in, and it was wonderful. This whole past week I have been dead tired, and I mentioned this to a friend who told me, "Well, Kate, you're emotionally exhausted."

Emotionally exhausted. I guess that makes sense.

If I were writing this a week ago, Jehovah only knows how riddled it would have been with emotion, pain, frustration and anger. However, like I said, I got to sleep in today.

It's always amazes me, no matter how many times I go through something and the cycle happens the same way, that I forget how I work. I mean no matter what, I seem to forget. I forget that when I am in something, I am in it: I feel it in my bones. And I forget that after I buckle down and let emotions run their course, I am the most logical person alive.

I'd like to get this tattooed on my forearm so next I am in the middle of the bone-breaking emotional shit storm (there really is no other term, sorry), I will look down and remember, "Okay. I've done this before. I've gone through this before. I'm going to be more than okay. In fact, according to this arm tattoo, I will be better and walk into more of what God has for me."

Now, I am not going to do this. I would like, despite my life pattern, a real job someday. And I think the title "Poem to Read During Emotional Shit Storm" is too long for a arm tattoo. So, I go to God:
Me: God?
G: Yes?
Me: Will you help me remember I am not a weak little flower next time something like this happens? Actually, just don't let this happen again.
G: I tell you all the time who you are and who you are not.
Me: Okay. Just tell me I'm going to be okay.
G: You're going to be more than fine, Kate.
Me: Why can't I see that right now, G? (yes, I call God 'g'. we tight)
G: Because you're too busy staring at yourself.
Me: Oh snap.
G: Yup.

The reality is, everything changes when your perspective changes. At least that's how it is for me. When I can stop looking down, focusing on the ground, and start looking up and around, I see all there is for me HERE and NOW. It's so freeing. So freeing. When I ask God to show me truth (enter logical Katie here) and commit to believing His truth, it's like the weight and even pain of my situation is lifted.

The reality is, 90% of my life is perspective. Right now, for the first time in 24 years, my future is sealed off. All I have is right now and the people around me. God is growing in me an intolerance for broken integrity, a desire for contentment and the ability to live in the Kingdom of God right here and now. Now, that's all a work in progress...especially living in the Kingdom each moment.

The truth: no one is perfect, but we can love the Perfect One. This, in my eyes, frees us from hypocrisy. Life is good and life is hard, a butterfly garden and a shit storm. We get to choose how it shapes us and what me make of it.

Here's to switching our perspectives,

...reading The Sermon on the Mount.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011


A good friend wrote this.

It speaks to me on so many levels, and I know it will do the same for you.

Be blessed.

Worry Notes – for The Gallery Church, March 13/11

Matthew Atkinson, © 2011

Jesus said “Don’t worry about what you will eat or drink or wear.” Fair enough. I still have to get up and go to work and use these hands and this mind God gave me. And that can be tough some days. But I try not to worry about whether I’ll have a job tomorrow. Money and chaos slosh across the globe, and we get caught up in it. Yet I work hard and trust that God loves me. I try not to worry about a roof and a plate of food.

I haven’t always been this way. I used to collect worry like my sweater collects dog hair. Where ever I turned some new worry was attached to my mind. A horrible way to live. Now only by the grace of God, I don’t worry as much about money and health. “The Lord is my shepherd.” I have to trust Him.

That doesn’t mean that I don’t worry at all. It’s simply that when I take the focus off my navel, like I think Jesus is telling me, I can look up and see what’s going on around me. And what I see worries me. Is this wrong? What was Jesus talking about when He said “don’t worry”?

Jesus didn’t say, “Don’t worry about hungry children.”

Jesus didn’t say, “Don’t worry about battered wives.”

Jesus didn’t say, “Don’t worry about Frida or Jesse or Reuben freezing to death on the streets.”

I do worry about these people. Their faces trouble my dreams. And I not only worry, I weep.

I weep for the child living in fear of a parent.

I weep for the young women, who believe the lies and don’t know that they are beautiful just the way they are.

I weep for the company man, wrung dry and discarded after decades of service.

I weep for the elderly, sitting unvisited, out of sight, out of mind.

I weep that I am able to forget all of this because I am so comfortable.

How did I come to this place, my very own desert? The Spirit has led me out of my comfortable life to this place of tears to learn - something. I fall to my knees, pound my fists on the ground and cry in outrage against the pain I see. The Spirit waits. Laying exhausted after my anguish, a quiet question. A frightening suggestion. I turn away, but the question hangs there. Will I follow Jesus? Into the pain of the world?

Or will I stay here and turn inwards, and let the worry grow, consuming me from the inside, turning my guts to water and my spine to jelly. My mind fixated and my eyes darkened until all I see is unending bleakness instead of eternal goodness. No, I can’t put down roots in this desert; I will wither and die.

The path does not end here.

Or will I return to my old life, and numb myself with busyness and trivia and sandcastles and television and life on the hamster wheel, and with religious talk and a couple of bucks thrown in the plate?

Then what would I be? A numb, uncaring religious guy. Didn’t Jesus make it clear what he thought of that?

No, the path does not lead back either.

And the question still hangs in front of me. Can I trust Jesus enough to follow him into the pain of the world? Can I wrap the worry and tears and pain in prayer, and carry them with me? I try: worry in the embrace of prayer hurts, but it enlarges my heart, making a sanctuary for others. The peace of God descends but only to the extent that I try to live out what I ask God to do. This is where the Spirit is leading me. This is the path out of my desert.

So I move forward into the world of blood and tears, of pain and joy and redemption, of light breaking into darkness. While I take these hesitant steps, please don’t give me greeting-card theology; it will only distract me from the words of Jesus.

I know that there will be a day when all the tears will be wiped away, and there will be no more pain, sorrow and death. Yes, I hold that treasure in my soul. But today, there is pain. And choosing neither numbness nor despair, I act. But I must act with love. If I help you without loving you, these hands become tools of manipulation and that can do violence to the soul. How can these hands be made safe?

At first, fists clenched in anger, these hands are now prepared by clasping in prayer. These palms are cleansed by the sweat I wipe from your brow. (Reaching out …) these fingertips are baptized by the tears I wipe from your cheek.

This is the path. I can’t go back.