I was reading about the Syrian refugee crisis in the news yesterday morning, and I had to keep referencing a world map. Though I’d looked it up before, back when the war started, I couldn’t quite remember — where was it again? And where are Jordan and Lebanon in relation to the Mediterranean Sea, and why are refugee boats collapsing in it as they flee, flee, flee an awful, confusing, devastating war?
I’m not sure whether high school history and geography failed me or if I just failed myself, but I’m thankful for the maps that Google spits forth in a matter of seconds, allowing me to zoom in and out on the faraway world as I try to put the puzzle pieces together.
“Why does the city of Damascus sound so familiar?” I had to ask Andrew while reading an article in The New Yorker about the war and the devestation and the problems arising in the world’s second-largest refuge camp in Jordan.
“Because of Paul. The road to Damascus is where he had his moment when he encountered God and went blind.”
“That’s right.” This is the ancient, familiar world of the Bible stories I have read a hundred thousand times. Of course there is still a Damascus. Of course life is still happening there. There are people there now just as there were then, and if I squinted my eyes in that direction, I might actually see them.
But I have never been very good at thinking about the larger world. It’s too much — too vast, too complicated, filled with names that I can’t pronounce and nuances I can’t make sense of, and so I shrink my focus down, down, down: this house, this city, this state.
The place that I live. The place that I understand. The place that is my home.
It’s been almost exactly six months since my World Vision trip to Armenia. This half-anniversary — paired with the fact that it’s my sponsored child, Aleksandr’s, sixth birthday is in a few weeks — has me thinking a bit more than usual about the other side of the world: the mountains of Amasia, the mothers, bustling around their stoves, the children, waiting for us in their best sweaters.
I went to Armenia because writing is a gift that World Vision asked me to give, and it was a gift I could say yes to. And, also, I went there because I needed to get out of my own small life — the place where I’m so often placated by schedules and task lists and planners into thinking that I have some measure of control.
I wanted to go out into the great, big complicated world. I wanted to see the Kingdom at work. And I did.
I wandered in with a small group of bloggers. I watched and wrote and talked and listened.
There was a Story going on in Armenia, and it was about about creativity and love and poverty and hope. And I was not the heroine. I wasn’t even on the stage, but off in the wing, pen in hand, small monthly donations winging electronically from our checking account toward our sponsored child with his mischievous eyes and his crooked grin.
Armenia was not my story. But I was the smallest, most invisible part of it. And that was one of the most beautiful, freeing things I’ve ever experienced.
There’s this whole thing in vogue in Christian circles these days about living a good story. I don’t know if it started with Donald Miller or if he just popularized the concept…and certainly there are really beautiful things about it.
It’s beautiful to be purposeful about your life, to choose bravery, to embrace who it is that God made you to be and to live abundantly in the freedom that Christ offers.
It’s a strong undercurrent of the women’s ministry that I’m part of at my little church — this idea of helping women tell a good story. And I love the way that it communicates that every person matters, that your life has dimension and importance and reach.
But also, there are so many fragmented moments when the small simple thing you’re doing is anything but a story — let alone a good one. You’re scrubbing the dishes. You’re writing a report. You’re sitting in rush hour traffic.
You’re sitting at the kitchen table while the kids fight over some TV show in the living room, and you’re reading about the Syrian refugees. And you know that you’re not going to move to Jordan and help out in the refugee camp. That would be a good story, but it’s not yours. You’re not even sure you have it in you to drive downtown once a week to teach English to the ones already here.
These are the moments I’m interested in — the moments when the story is not about you. Or when you fail to live up to the Story. When you’re just sitting there, at the edge of the whole thing — listening, watching — somewhere in the wings.
There is so little you can do, and it doesn’t feel like any kind of poetic victory to donate a little money or breathe a small prayer or write a letter. It doesn’t feel like a story at all.
And it’s this disembodied moment — the one that seems so beside the point — that I want to notice.
Google Maps tells me that it’s 493 miles from Syria to Armenia.
I routinely drive 411 from my home in Minnesota to my parents’ house in Chicago — not that much of a difference. And also, so much of a difference.
When I click the Donate Now box for World Vision’s Syrian Refugee fund and fill in a number, it seems like such a small, unimportant thing. What can my small donation do in the face of so much pain? It takes one minute, two at most.
I am not the hero here; I’m not even on the stage.
But somewhere, a story is unfolding, and these small, unexciting acts of love are a part of it.
And I like to think that someday, in a sun-drenched eternity when we are all telling each other stories, this small donation will have a bit part in one of them.
And, in the end, I don’t think it will matter what part we played — small or big — only that we were there. Only that we were obedient.
Only that we believed that nothing is too small for God. And nothing is too big. That in the face of a terrifying war and a complicated, vast world, God is telling a story that is big and beautiful. A story that includes us all.
A story that ends with the most beautiful kind of Redemption.
You can donate to World Vision’s Syrian Refugee fund here, and I can tell you, from experience, that they are careful and wise and good with that money.
Also, these two cuties from Armenia are still in need of sponsors. I met them — sat in their living room, listened in translation to their story while their father leaned on his cane. He has chronic back pain, and his wife regularly wakes to him crying in bed.
If you’re interested in playing a bit part in this family’s story, email me. I can get you set up with the links!