“My People” — Redemption in Poetry on Inauguration Day

My favorite poem hangs in my bedroom just above an old, olive green foot locker and to the right of my Abuelo’s guitar. Even though I’ve been known to jokingly call Mary Oliver my “spirit animal” and I’ve had a Shakespeare anthology in my purse for the last few weeks, the poem isn’t either of theirs.

It’s an unassuming poem typed on regular white printer paper; its edges are frayed from IMG_8563.JPGbeing tucked into my journal as I’ve moved and traveled around the world over the last several years. I’ve become accustomed to carrying it with me because it speaks so deeply to both my heart and my roots.

This poem was handed in as a homework assignment four years ago by the only student I’ve ever almost had to call the cops on. When she wrote it, this student was fifteen and ohhhh, she was one of the toughest girls I’d ever met. At the time, I was a young, incredibly naive teacher and my classroom antics regularly illicited looks from her that could’ve killed. For two years, we battled each other– one strong willed Latina against another. And not long after my student handed in this poem, life became unmanageable and she had to leave high school for reasons beyond her control.

But several years later, she has reenrolled at the Street School for this semester. Today, she sat across from me at the long table in my classroom, her nose buried in a book and a familiar, sly smile on her face. She’s a different woman today than when I met her five years ago, when she wrote this poem in sophomore English, or even two years ago when she and I finally called a “truce” after finding common ground in tragedy at DSS.

Today when I looked into her eyes during English, I saw the softness and a hope that only a relationship with Christ can bring, along with a renewed passion for education and a sense of maturity brought on by a few difficult years out of school.

Having her back in my classroom after watching her fight for her future these last few years has proven to me that she is my hero. She is hardworking and determined, fire-y, yet kind, emotionally strong and incredibly hopeful. She is everything that makes me proud to be Latina– the great-granddaughter of immigrants who came to America from Mexico in a cattle car, dreaming of a better life for their children, for my father, for me.

When I looked into her eyes today, I could still see the sorrow that comes with being separated from her family back in Mexico– a sense of sorrow that has been there since we met. But above that, I can see the story of redemption the Lord is writing for her, her family, and the family she will likely one day mother. Through education and grace, Jesus is bringing hope for a future different than the fearful past she has lived.

I don’t know that there has ever been a more pertinent time for her poetic words to be shared than on this Inauguration Day. These are the words of a once terrified, angry young woman– one who hid behind an incredibly hard exterior because she saw fear as weakness, and weakness an impossibility if she and her family were going to survive in America. These are the words of a young woman finding her way through unspeakable circumstances, strife, and loss, yet still choosing to fight for possibility because she knows the God who fights for her.

So on this day, whether you’re celebrating a political victory or mourning what seems like a societal loss, I pray that the Lord grants you an eternal perspective today, as well as the grace to love our sojourning brothers and sisters well. May we love and care for our fellow sojourners, since we ourselves are exactly that.

My People

“Wake up, listen to the Mexican music,

It’s not made of tunes and rhythms.

Listen closely.

It’s the person in your yard working hard, making noise,

He who woke up early to feed his kids and didn’t have time to worry about himself.

The sweat on his forehead is honor, the dirt on his hands effort,

The money in his pocket is an everyday goal and freedom is just a word.

Fallen dreamers in the middle of a desert just to chase the uncatchable dream–

“The land of the free”.

Sunburns tell stories,

Cries tell the worries of my people.

Everyday they struggle, living in fear:

Sirens,

Bosses,

Discrimination for being a different color and race.

These people think we came to take their jobs,

The jobs that always pay my people less.

Raising their children in what they would never imagined their home place,

My people saying, “I’m Latino and not Mexican,” ’cause they’re scared to represent.

The day will come when we can get along.

It might be months, years, or even decades,

But we will rise through.

Someday, they will stop labeling my people criminals just for being dreamers…”

“Let brotherly love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unaware.”

(Hebrews 13:1-2)

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I believe Love (and tacos) can conquer all

“Kacy, sometimes you open your mouth and say something, and I gasp. Because you get it. You’ve been there. Somehow you’ve lived parts of my story I thought no one person would ever understand.”

It was ironic to read those words in a note from one of my students this last week, given the fact that one of my worst fears in moving to Alaska was that I would never be able to relate to my new students. After all, what could I—a Brown, wild child, ex-hoodrat—possibly have in common with Native Alaskan teenagers from bush villages?

I was terrified coming here. I was scared that we would never find common ground, they wouldn’t like Mexican food… Or even worse, that my students simply wouldn’t like me. Could an approval junkie like me handle (and live in) that kind of rejection?

By the grace of God, my students and I have found more common ground than I could have ever hoped for in the last two months. (And after introducing my students to Mexican food and explaining that you don’t put soy sauce on Spanish rice, they’ve taken to my cooking. Even if they still spell quesadillas “Kacy-diaz”. Baby steps, right?)

Every night once my students are in bed, I lay down and scroll through a few online newspapers and my social media streams. In the last two weeks, I’ve watched in horror as terrorist attacks and subsequent political debates have unfolded on my tiny iPhone screen. As I lay under my blankets, in my warm bed in the middle-of-nowhere Alaska, my heart breaks for the world that we live in.

After all, I live in what could arguably be one of the safest places in the world.

Every morning I wake up in a village where the post master knows me by name and calls me to tell me when I have a package to pick up. I live in a place so safe and so quaint that if I’m hiking when the “grocery plane” lands, my neighbors put away my groceries for me; it’s just what we do here because this village is a family who lives for Jesus.

It kills me to read the news and be reminded that this is not the way of the world.

It pains my sappy heart to know that fear is driving hatred, racism, exclusion, and perpetuating foreign and domestic terrorism. But I suppose I shouldn’t be shocked… after all, as Carl Medearis (one of my favorite “Christian” authors) says, perfect fear casts out all love. Oh, wait… No, something is wrong there.

That isn’t the way of Jesus…

No, Jesus confronts fear with His perfect love. In fact, He confronted more than fear in His life (and death). Jesus confronted racism, sexism, pain, and shame all throughout His earthly ministry, but He did so specifically when He shared the Gospel with a Samaritan woman at a well in John 4:

“So Jesus came to a town of Samaria called Sychar, near the field that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there; so Jesus, wearied as He was from His journey, was sitting beside the well around the sixth hour.

A woman from Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, ‘Give me a drink.’ The Samaritan woman said to Him, ‘How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?’ (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.) Jesus answered her, ‘If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked Him and He would have given you Living Water.’ The woman said to Him, ‘Sir, you have nothing to draw water with, and the well is deep. Where do you get such Living Water? Are you greater than our father Jacob? He gave us this well and drank from it himself, as did his sons and his livestock. Jesus said to her, ‘Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.’ The woman said to him, ‘Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come to draw water.’” (John 4:5-15)

Jesus challenged man-made boundaries of racism here by talking to a Samaritan. *Gasp!* Then He got really risqué and pushed aside cultural taboos by crossing gender barriers and talking to a Samaritan woman. Even His disciples knew this was a big deal: “Just then, His disciples came back. They marveled that He was talking with a woman, but no one said, ’What do you seek?’ or, ‘Why are you talking with her?’” (John 4:27) They marveled at the fact that Jesus was loving someone so different from Himself… so foreign, so “lowly”.

Now, there’s speculation over whether this woman truly was an unlucky widow (several times over) or whether she was an adulterer or prostitute; We can speculate all we want on the facts here, but we will likely never know this side of heaven.

As a fellow woman, I can deduce however, that this woman likely wrestled with fear and shame if she had gone through that much deep, relational upheaval in her lifetime. And Jesus, knowing the depths of her heart more than I could ever begin to speculate, still chose to enter into her fear, shame, and brokenness to offer her the Kingdom of God anyway, even with the complicating circumstances of her nationality and gender.

I read this chunk of scripture and it causes me to pause. Every. Stinkin’. Time.

If this is the way of Jesus… And Christians are followers of Jesus… And I consider myself to be a Christian… What am I doing? What am I valuing in life if I find myself unwilling to cross uncomfortable barriers to love the ones He loved first?

If we as Christians claim to follow Christ, but are unwilling to follow Him across political, social, and man-made lines today in 2015, we are following something… but I dare say it isn’t Jesus.

Let me say it again: Jesus confronted the brokenness of the world with Love.

In the midst of the horrific headlines regarding terrorism and the political debate the rages on over the futures of refugees– real human beings what our world needs is the love of Christ.

We don’t need another political mandate, stricter man-made laws, or bloodshed to retaliate for bloodshed.

We need to love.

And we will never be able to love those whom we are afraid (or unwilling) to get to know. The Lord has shown me this first hand time and time again through scripture, and through moving me to the middle of the wilderness to do life with people that I thought couldn’t be more different from me, but whom He adores.

“Those people” whoever “they” are?

“They” are beautiful.

“Their” culture is rich with lessons, just waiting to be learned and loved.

“They” have been created in the image of God, just like you and me.

“They” need Jesus just as badly as you and me.

(“They” probably like Mexican food just as much as you, my students, and I do. [Just sayin’… I believe Jesus and tacos can unite the world…])

We’re all human, which unfortunately means we’re all a bit screwed up. But Christ came in PERFECT LOVE and died for all of us, that we might turn to Him and die to our sinful selves. To die to ourselves is to live for Him, and I don’t know about you, but it seems like living for the Jesus of the Bible means to love the people He has placed around us and love them as we love ourselves.

Scripture tells us the truths that His perfect love casts out fear and His strength is perfected in our weakness. But we, as the followers of Christ Jesus, have to be willing to humble ourselves and be His hands and feet; we have to be willing to invite in our poor and needy neighbors– those who live right down the road and (hold onto your seats) those who are foreign. 

Jesus was not an example of discrimination or exclusion, and thus I struggle to believe that we should walk those paths.

What would it look like for you to truly love those” people today? (“Those people”– whoever they are– probably aren’t as scary as you think. Trust me; I live in a house full of people I was terrified to meet.)

“By this we know love, that He laid down His life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in Him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.”

“There is no fear in love, for perfect love casts out fear.”

(1 John 3:18, 4:18)