What if this is Love?

I was so excited to show my sister a clip from a film I had just watched, where a white evangelical preacher goes into a protest in Italy and starts to pray for people. As I was describing this scene from the documentary, I quoted the director of it and said, “It’s just so exciting because you never see Christians go into protests”.

I don’t know that I ever shared this with my sister, but I saw their shoulders go down, and with a stern but almost defeated voice they said, “Karla, that’s not true. I go to protests and so did Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.”

I lived with someone who was going to protests before it was the “cool” thing to do, an activist who pursued Justice with boldness, even when their immigration status was on the line if they were to get arrested. There they were, a Peacemaker in my home, and I missed it completely.

I have been thinking so much of this story lately even though it happened 5 years ago.

Recently we have seen a group of people from a very conservative white evangelical church claim to “bring worship” to the protests that are happening around the United States. Claiming to bring Jesus to these spaces with cymbals and noise in the midst of the grieving hearts of the Black community.

I know there is much to be said about their theology that comes with grandiose lights and recognition for showing up. I know it’s so easy to believe that what people need in this moment is a worship band showing up to sing songs that claim to be praise but are dripping in white supremacy. It’s so easy to believe that this is the only way revival will come to this country and if you would’ve asked me 5.5 years ago, I would’ve told you this was true.

And yet I think of my sister, who quietly and steadily showed up. They showed up for the undocumented family who needed a ride, the migrant workers who didn’t know their rights and needed protection, they showed up for the teenagers who saw them and believed that they too could pursue their dreams. They showed up for the wounded, for the mom who needed a translator, and they showed up for me when I was terrified to attend a protest because of my immigration status. My sister, though I don’t know they would describe it this way, showed up with prayer and worship dripping from their body.

Don’t get me wrong, my sister also showed up to co-lead and organize major protests in our city and around the US, but they remind me of a walk so holy that we might not get to see it in the flashy lights.

When my sister called me out they opened my eyes and I could see all the saints who stood their ground. The saints who stood their ground as the same people who worshipped God on a Sunday morning celebrated the lynching of Black people in the afternoon. The saints who I might not know by name, but who prayed for their kids as they showed up to protest in Selma. I think of Rosa Parks who taught us how to pray with our bodies when she decided not to get up for a white man.

Who do you think has been leading the way all this time? The ones who quote the Old Testament prophets, the ones who imagine a just world, the ones who lead with prophetic imagination to believe that we will turn our swords into plowshares on this side of eternity.

And I think of the gift of Love – If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. (1 Cor 13: 1-2 NRSV)

What if we imagine a world where we show up to protest not with cymbals, but with love, and what if love looks like affirming that Black Lives Matter? What if love looks like taking a stand against white supremacy? What if praise looks like reminding the state that the police officers who murdered Breonna Taylor haven’t been arrested? What if prayer is recognizing the image of God in the marginalized? What if worship was coming to the table with humble hearts to listen and learn? What if love simply looks like showing up? What if this is us coming back to life?

Revival.

Black Man

The color of the earth

a deep well of color

beauty radiates from your skin

A man sings a lullaby to his first born
and nicknames her, “mi negrita” as she falls asleep

A man sits on his favorite chair
his granddaughter jumps in his arms and kisses his cheek
¡Abuelito!, she exclaims

A man in a suit reads Psalm 23 from a podium
“Aunque ande en valle de sombra de muerte,
No temeré mal alguno, porque tú estarás conmigo;
Tu vara y tu cayado me infundirán aliento.”
She whispers a prayer, the valley of the shadow of death seems infinite these days

A man walks to class
They’re just babies it seems
“You deserve so much better”, he tells her a million times over
He was right all along.

A man with a book bag walks through campus
Carrying a story and smile
¡Karlita! he says, in a French-Creole-Spanish-English accent.
She’s not sure how they’re not actually cousins

A man laughs
with a tender soul and kind eyes
She laughs too
No one knows why they’re laughing
they don’t either
but they laugh and joy fills the room

A man travels the world
her phone goes off
“I’m back in town, let’s get lunch.”
She still claims Messi is the best player
He still disagrees
Nine years they’ve been having this discussion
A brother and a sister

A man with a Real Madrid jersey stands on stage
Hala Madrid!” he says.
He’s wrong, obviously! (¡Visca Barça!)
The same man looks at her right in the eyes
“Stop hiding, God is calling you by name”
And she cries and he cries
He believes in her
He’s her family
And his family is her family too.

Can you not see? I wouldn’t be here without the heart of a black man

From the day I was born, to my darkest days
from a broken heart to the joyful days
from new experiences to just another day

Black man
You are loved
Black man
You deserve the world
Black man
The sun kisses your skin
Black man
You are the image of God
Black man
You are holy
Black man
You are worthy
Black man
I am sorry
Black man
I love you

Without you I wouldn’t be here.

Black man
Thank you.

I hope your flowers bloom.

 

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The journey is too much for you

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“Get up and eat, for the journey is too much for you.”

I’ve been thinking a lot about the story where Elijah runs away, gives up on life, takes a nap and is then woken up by the Angel of the Lord, told to eat, falls back asleep, woken up again and told to eat again because the journey that’s coming will be too much for him.

“The journey is too much for you.”

Take a deep breath and read that again.

“The journey is too much for you.”

Since all of this isolation/quarantine started happening, I have found new mercies every morning. I have found joy in the little things. Friends have left gifts, supplies and even treats on my balcony, and it’s been so fun to see their faces even from far away. Also, I am now going by Juliet, as I stand on my balcony every day – O Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo? (just kidding, very tragic story)

Yet this whole weekend, even as I remembered the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, I couldn’t stop thinking about the story of Elijah.

“The journey is too much for you.”

Y’all, this journey is long and it is in fact too much for me. Between each life that’s lost, I think of their stories, their families, what made them laugh and weep or both at the same time. I think of all the people who are still working taking care of others –  in hospitals and nursing homes and grocery stores, I think of the undocumented immigrants that are suddenly essential workers, I think of the social workers who are quietly but firmly still showing up, I think of the parents that are trying to hold it together while loving and caring for their babies, I think of my single friends who would love to have someone to come home to after a long day at work, and I think of you – because even today you chose to live, and sometimes that is enough and the bravest thing you could do.

Elijah’s journey was long! It was 40 days and 40 nights. He walked by himself, and when he finally arrived to his destination he found a cave where he slept alone. He even tells God that he is the only prophet left because they’ve killed everyone else, and to be honest, I could see why he would think that. We were created to be in community, and when we spend way too much time by ourselves or in our head, it sure does seem like we are the only ones left.

But I so love what God does for Elijah in this moment. He tells him to find a couple of guys who also get to play in this story. To get there Elijah has to go back through the wilderness, but isn’t it so hopeful that wherever he is going he now knows he’s not alone?

I know right now the way to love one another is to not be with one another, but just because the wilderness is between us, that doesn’t mean that we are not together and rooting for each other!

And maybe like Elijah, we do not see the thousands, but maybe we get to do life with one or two people. Maybe we get to check in on a few friends. Maybe we get to send an encouraging note to an old friend, or buy someone’s lunch, or call that one friend or family member whom you miss but pride got in the way.

We have been forced to slow down, to face our mortality, to feel the heaviness of the road we did not want, and so I think of Jesus on his way to Golgotha. Carrying the weight of a wooden cross, knowing death was at the top of the hill, yet he walked the heavy road with strangers helping him along the way. The journey was too much for him too, so much so, it cost him his life.

But the story doesn’t end there. We don’t end here. We will grieve, and we will cry, and we will lose hours of sleep, we will feel like we are alone, it will feel like the silent day between death and resurrection, but we will make it friends. Silent Saturday is the prelude for Resurrection Sunday, because death doesn’t have the final word.

So yes, this journey is too much! But we get to do it together. And maybe you’re like Elijah, who needs a nap and a snack, but check with your heart today – what do you need? Somedays I need to move all day, but some days I need to rest. Some days I walk for hours, and some days I do light yoga, but every day I wake up, and every day I get to check in on a friend, and suddenly, I’m not alone.

Resurrection is on the way.

 

 

I thought he was with you

In a recent conversation with my counselor she said, “Karla, I’ve told you this before, but you are a woman who loves Christ deeply and it can be seen even in your grief.” And I don’t know what it is about the word Christ that gives me chills and reminds me of the kindest man I have ever met.

I know this is the month where everyone is looking at their goals for the year and resolutions and plans and I wanted that to be me too. I wanted to take the time to look back at the last year and the last 10 years as I say goodbye to my 20’s soon, but instead the only question burning up in my heart was, “how does one restore a broken soul?”

I posed the question to myself every day as the dusk of the afternoon arrived through my office window.

How does one restore a soul? How do you restore your soul? Where do you begin?

It’s been a rough year – spiritual and church trauma caught up to me, microaggression distress caught up to me, migration trauma caught up to me, and experiencing racism, whether through unconscious bias or blatant-right in your face- racism, caught up to me too.

So again I ask myself, Karla, how do you restore a broken soul?

There aren’t any songs, or soccer games, or tv shows, or art museums, or national parks, or Lionel Messi’s that will heal this soul – but there is a Christ.

The word Christ means Messiah, which means Savior. Jesus is referred in the Bible as The Christ or as Jesus Christ. In our culture this name of God is used so often, sometimes even as an expression that it is easy to oversee. Yet when I heard His name from my counselor it was as if suddenly, I knew exactly who she was referring to.

In recent years I have been awfully disappointed with the white evangelical church. I have seen many people take the Bible out of context to support wars, military efforts, not opening our doors to our neighbors because of their nationality, I have seen my brothers and sisters choose a man who dishonors God not only with his words but in actions too. A blog post is not sufficient to tell of what I have lost in the last 5 years, but perhaps the most painful acknowledgement is that I almost lost the Christ.

There’s a story about Jesus where during a trip to Jerusalem he stayed back and Mary and Joseph didn’t realize it until a few days later. As a kid I always pictured myself being like Jesus – the kid who runs away to church to teach and learn from the religious leaders. I mean, I did have a thing for running away as a kid (though that is a story for another day!). Yet here I am, as an adult, and I think maybe I’m more like Mary – I too almost lost the Christ.

I think of the desperation she must’ve felt, I think of the fear, maybe even the loneliness as the night came and she still didn’t know where Jesus was. There she is, looking for her son, and when she finally found him he exclaims a part of his identity that only she and Joseph would’ve known at the time – He was in fact, the Son of God; The Christ.

And so, I ask myself again, how does one restore a broken soul?

Maybe in the desperation of losing a version of Jesus that came with the teachings from colonization and the white church. Maybe in the fear of not finding the real Jesus. Maybe in the loneliness that I’d come to understand when night came and it felt like no one else understood that it felt like I was losing my Life – on a dark night of 2019, almost literally.

Yet on the other side, I found a Jesus who was exclaiming who He really is – the Christ. The Christ who isn’t afraid to love his enemies, the one who ran to the margins, the one who spoke to women and valued them, the one who knew what it was like to be an immigrant as a child, the one who didn’t have a place to lay his head, the one who was so patient with Nicodemus when he couldn’t make up his mind right away, and the one who loved all his friends so deeply and trusted them even when they left him, including me.

So this year, I don’t expect to do anything grandiose, I don’t expect any fabulous travels, I don’t expect any instagrammable events, but I expect the quiet and consistent work of healing.

He restores my soul, exclaims problematic King David, and I believe him because over and over the Christ has loved me to life even when I’ve been hiding in the grave. And perhaps, my counselor is right, I love the Christ, but most importantly, the Christ loves me in my humanity and brokenness and loveliness and healing process, and He is so ever present.

So I will keep asking the same question, with bravery, with patience, with humility, and hope. I know He will restore my soul.

 

Illegal no more

Illegal

Illegal

Illegal

The word resonates through my ears
Through my core

Illegal

Don’t you know?

Your existence here is illegal

But I have never committed a crime

Illegal

Is the blood that runs through my veins illegal?

Is the breath that I breathe illegal?

The same breath that I sing melodies to the Almighty with, is my song illegal?

Illegal

Words from my brain find a paper and poetry falls on them

Ideas

Theologies

Questions

Are my words illegal?

Illegal

I spent a morning cooking

My mami never made me sit next to her while she cooked

How did I know what to do?
The spices filled the air

And if you know the trick, onions won’t make you cry

I served the meal

And we savored friendship and hope

Is this illegal too?

Like a tattoo in invisible ink

The word carved in my body

For 18 years

on my arms, my legs, my hands, my hair

Illegal

Have all my dreams been illegal?

Should I even exist if this is what you think of me?

Beloved

Beloved

Beloved

He screams from a Cross

I believed Him once

And in the crowd, someone said

Illegal

Not loud enough

Illegal, again

And Spirit says,
Beloved

But how do you erase the word that’s carved into your existence?

Undoing

And aren’t you glad from the dirt we are made?

So I’ll fall apart until beloved are my words, beloved are my dreams, beloved is my friendship, beloved is my breath, beloved is my love, and beloved is my soul.

Amen.

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Ramblings: On the Church, Reunion, and questions unanswered.

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Storytellers Hideaway Farm – Bon Aqua, TN – Johnny Cash’s old farm – UP Reunion 18

I remember the day I came into my favorite coffee shop and informed my then barely friend that I stopped going to church but wanted to go somewhere for Easter. I remember I sat across from him as he made me a warm latte, it was a cold day, and no one else was in the coffee shop at 7:35am. I can’t remember the exact date, but I know it happened in March of 2017 – not yesterday, but somehow, it’s stored in my memory clear as day.

Walking away from the Church was one of the hardest decisions I have ever made. This girl grew up loving the Church – between serving, being, and leading, even in the most mundane of things, I knew I was part of the most sacred of moments. Just because something is sacred, doesn’t mean it’s not fun. I always had the most fun!

Until the day came. It didn’t come suddenly. I knew something was different when I saw a shift in the way that my brothers and sisters spoke of people who looked like me, or in some cases, a more painful approach, not even acknowledged people who looked like me. I saw stickers in the church parking lot supporting a man who threatened my livelihood, the livelihood of my family, and of millions of people that I don’t know by name, but knew that they mattered to God.

I spent most of 2017 asking hard questions, to my friends, to my family, to strangers, to my coworkers. I asked where my theology came from, and found that so much of what is taught as “just theology” came from mostly white men who had access to resources, academia and a platform that came with privilege. Don’t get me wrong, not all of it was bad. We wouldn’t have The Reformation without our European brothers, however, I wondered what happened to the theology of the Ethiopian Eunuch (Acts 8: 26-40) as he went back home. I wonder what Christianity looked like before colonialism and imperialism became a thing. Do we not believe that God is so incredibly powerful and kind that He wouldn’t be present in spaces we didn’t know about?

Somehow, in the midst of my questions, I ended up at a camping trip/conference in the fall of 2017 hosted by United Pursuit, and ran into a group of people who were asking the same questions. Many had walked away from our beloved Church (I say beloved because you don’t grieve something you don’t love or care about), yet somehow, us being together was still Church – now, isn’t that trippy?!

Here I was, broken, and still welcomed. Here I was, undocumented, and still welcome. Here I was, afraid, and still welcome. Here I was, the doubter, and still welcome. Here I was, the questioner, and still welcome. Here I was, not sure if I could hear from Holy Spirit anymore, and still welcome. Here I was, Peter inside the boat not willing to walk on water, and still welcome.

But that’s the thing about community, right? It changes you, and sometimes, it holds your hand as you step out of the boat to walk towards Jesus. The reality is that I wouldn’t be where I am today if it wasn’t for community, which weirdly enough, is the Church.

As the year progressed, I found myself in conversations where I was allowed to have all the questions, even if no one had any answers. I will never forget the moment I sat in front of my life coach and told him how much I was hurting because of the Church, but in the same moment, I will never forget when the words “I forgive you, Church” came out of my mouth. It wasn’t pretty, it was raw, in between tears and snot, with mumbled words only I could understand.

I’m not here to tell you that it’s an easy road. It’s not, because the Church in made out of people, including me, who are human and make a million mistakes. I cannot change the hearts of others, but I can follow Jesus. I have found His ways in the Sermon of the Mount. I have found His ways in the way He loved His friends even when they were all from different backgrounds, different political affiliations, and one even betrayed Him, so much so, that it cost Him his life. I found the ways of Jesus when He chose healing over the sword. I found the ways of Jesus when He took the time to listen to a criminal even as he hung on the Cross. I found the ways of Jesus when He called me by name and I never want to stop hearing His voice.

Today I sit in the same coffee shop where I first admitted that I walked away from Church, and even though I have headphones on, I’m surrounded by dear friends. I’m catching up on work, and in the biggest surprise of my life, my job is at a church I love. We’re not perfect, not in the slightest, and every time I walk into work I know I’m taking a risk, but that’s the beauty of faith, it requires risk.

I know many of my brothers and sisters don’t have this story, I know many are still wondering what their place in the Church is, and I wish I had an answer. I can’t say much, ’cause I don’t know your personal story, but I can tell you this: You are so loved and we’re not the same without you – not because of what you can bring to the table, but simply because of who you are. We may not say it enough, but the truth is we are also hurting you’re not here. I cannot speak for everyone, but I know so many of us are waiting with arms wide open. Jesus hasn’t forgotten you. He is with you.

I still have a million questions, and I know they’re valid questions, but now I get to process them from a place of forgiveness. I don’t know if I’m right or wrong, but I know that in the in between spaces –  I am unconditionally loved and so are you.

Always Running Away, But Not Today.

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nov·el·ty – the quality of being new, original, or unusual.

I never knew I liked this word, until a few years ago when I discovered that I loved the rush of being in new situations where I didn’t know what was going to happen next.

There is nothing wrong with novelty, if anything, novelty is fun! I specifically love novelty when traveling. If I could be in an airplane writing this, I would be. I love the novelty of new places, new adventures, new coffee shops and all the amazing people I get to meet.

That is, novelty it is fun, until I use it as an excuse to run away.

A few years ago I ran into a predicament with a friend, I knew there were some conversations that needed to be had, but I didn’t want to have them. At the time one of my friends had invited me to visit her in Los Angeles, and with all of me I wanted to be there, so I started looking up plane tickets and planning the trip.

In those days I was fully obsessed with John Mark McMillan’s challenging and stunning lyrics…okay, okay, who am I kidding, I still am. I was listening to his live album, when he said the words that struck my heart for the following two years of my life and to this day.

“There’s something that some people never understand and that’s that intimacy is way better than novelty. The problem with intimacy it’s that it’s hard and it takes work and sometimes it’s a little painful…”

Intimacy is way better than novelty? What? But novelty is what I do! He was referring to choosing to love someone instead of going to the “best next thing”, instead of running away to a new place.

I wanted to shake his words, they didn’t apply to me, but I knew they did. I knew he was speaking to me. The next new thing is for me. There is something so exhilarating about encountering the new adventure, the new story, the new albums from my favorite musicians, the new relationship, and for me, especially, the new city to explore.

I always run away from intimacy, because intimacy requires commitment, hard conversations, it requires that I let you see who I really am, no gimmicks, no hiding, and trusting that you won’t leave, but more than anything, intimacy requires unconditional love, especially if you do leave.

I realized I loved running away, from community, from my job, from friends, and from God.

I have a million excuses to run away: heartbreak, people leaving, friendships that are no longer there, moving countries, etc. Yet I knew it was time to let all those go, not because they’re not part of my story, or because they’re not valid reasons, but because I knew God was asking me to trust again.

Deciding to trust again has led me here. Is intimacy hard? Yes! And it is so worth it! Pushing through the uncomfortable conversations and situations, breaking down walls, and letting people know the real me is one of the best decisions I have ever made.

A few years ago I chose to stay at my job, I chose to have those conversations with my friends, I chose to delay a trip so I knew I was going for the right reasons and not running away. Was it hard? Yes! And it was the most brilliant step I have ever taken.

To this day I am always learning to stay, to stay for the good and the bad, the nitty gritty every day life, and for the growth that comes from staying, knowing that intimacy sets you free, because not many things in life compare to know and to be fully known.