Friday, January 14, 2011

Social Justice on an Ordinary Day

Right now, in Managua, Nicaragua, in a large city dump called La Chureca, my nephew is doing a solid day's work.  He moved in with a family yesterday and will be living and working alongside the people who make La Chureca their home.  His goal, over the next couple months, is to design something for them that will make living in the dump somewhat more livable.  This is his chosen senior project for his Industrial Design degree at Virginia Tech. I am in awe of him.

My sister is constantly questioning herself and beating herself up about her parenting, among other things.  But, I have to tell you, I don't think there are two greater parents than Wayne and Julie Johnson.  Yes, they're not perfect, but that's what makes them so amazing.  Their four kids just have no idea what a rare gift they have been given to get to witness truth being lived out, honest and raw and growing.  They have seen two imperfect people fall and get back up, fail and try again, hurt and be forgiven.  And, the things I think they have passed on to their children, the characteristics I hope I can teach my kids, are two-fold.  One, I think they have managed to raise risk-takers.  They have not hovered and overprotected and questioned.  They have allowed their children a very long leash to explore, wander, fail, stumble and learn.  They have had a "go at it" approach to just about everything.  And it's not that they just throw money at every whim.  They've taught their children to figure out a way to do things.  They've helped them raise money.  They've helped them find ways to travel.  They've given them this amazing set of skills and a risk-taking, no obstacle too large kind of approach to life.

The second thing they have given their children is a deep love and concern for others.  Yes, they are Christians and they know that caring for others is clearly what Jesus would do.  But, these people are not just doing something because they should.  They really, truly love people.  They volunteer to teach English.  They feed people at the homeless shelter.  They befriend people in their church who are struggling and lost.  They seek out and help people from other countries who are trying to make a life here.  They make doing unto others part of their everyday lives.  And now, their children are doing the same.  My oldest nephew, the one living in the dump, has fallen in love with the people of Nicaragua, started a non-profit for street kids and spends just about every break he has helping them.  My niece is bold in reaching out to others and shouldering their pain, often listening and helping other people, including me.  My other nephew is going to study medicine with the explicit goal of becoming a Doctor without Borders.  Their youngest is headed to college next year intent on studying social work.  She volunteers at an organization that helps the victims of sex trafficking.  She is part of the mental health club at her school.  These kids (well not so young anymore) really love people.  They know we're all connected.  They feel the burden.

I didn't intend to just praise my sister and her husband.  I intended on writing a piece about what Jesus really did.  I intended on writing about making social justice a part of our everyday lives and not just something we do during the holidays.  But I just can't stop thinking about my sister's family.  These are not "do-gooders" who just want people to notice how nice they are.  These are not rich people with time and money to spare.  These are not perfect people.  They share their struggle.  They share their story.  They invite people into their home for a warm meal.  They relate to the struggle of others.  They see the "suchness" of people and relate to their story, their struggle, their hunger.

I've been really challenged after this past Sunday and hearing a great sermon about Justice at UUCSS.  I've been really convicted about what I'm doing, every day, to help others.  How am I standing up for my beliefs?  How am I showing love?  How am I making a difference?  My sister dropped everything to come over yesterday and spend the day helping me.  I always feel guilty asking her for help because I know she has a million things to do.  But she is always so gracious.  And she always makes me feel okay about having a hard time being a mom of little ones.  She relates.  She knows.  She cleaned my fridge and floors and folded laundry and changed diapers.  We talked endlessly.  It was a huge boost to my spirit.  And I'm just one person.

I read THIS SERMON today, and it hit me again.  What would Jesus do?  Well, he wasn't just hanging out with just the nice pious folks.  He spent his time and his life with the disenfranchised and people of other faiths.  He was with the sick, the poor, the filthy.  He was teaching and practicing social justice.  We are all the same.  We are all in this soup of life together.  And no matter what you believe.  No matter if there is a God or not, the necessity for all of us to help one another is the same.  I look at my sister and see a woman truly living out her values.  We have wildly different beliefs, and we are often at a loss for how to completely see eye-to-eye on certain issues.  But, the longer I am around her, the more I hear her heart, the more I want to be just like her.  I want caring for others, expanding my arms as wide as the world, to be part of my every single day.  What am I reading?  What am I buying?  What am I eating?  How does that all relate to everyone else on this earth?  Do I have more than my fair share?  Do I give as much as I could?  What can I sacrifice so that someone else might eat?

Jules, you are truly a lighthouse.  You keep shining so that others might see.


Mickey said...

thank you for this post.You have a way with words, but you also have a way with love and we are blessed by both.

Kyleigh said...

Dear Heather,
I agree with you on my parents. They rock. I look to you also as a person who has so much to offer. You love, you accept, and you act. You try new things, at least start new projects, and you are always coming up with new activities with your kids. I have always admired you (being that I am told I take after you). Yes we can be clumsy, spilling drinks and flustered from taking on too many projects. But your ability to relate with people is amazing. Everyone takes to you and your humility. I love you,
the youngest niece.

Tifany said...

Wow Heath, well said. Those Johnsons are definitely my parenting mentors. Awesome and inspirational:)

Jean A. said...

Hi Heather,
For some reason, I felt "prompted" to read your blog's been several months since I have. I love your sister and her family and you so eloquently expressed the faith they each live out each day. You blessed me with this post. :)
Jean A.

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