how to make our wounded world well

I didn't go to bed until 2 a.m. last night.  No, I wasn't partying.  And (unfortunately) I wasn't on a hot date.  I was home, in pajamas and slippers, sitting in a dim, quiet living room with candles and a warm blanket and a mug of rose petal tea, texting with one of the Invisible Girls.

I met them on a train in Portland 7 years ago -- five sisters, ages 3 to 9, who came to the U.S. as immigrants from Somalia.  For two decades, Mogadishu, the capitol of Somalia, was the most dangerous city in the world.  The girls and their parents fled to a refugee camp in Kenya, where they lived for more than a year before they got the documents and vaccines they needed to be able to resettle here.  

They live in upstate New York now, and I live in San Francisco.  But when we were all still in Portland, I'd go over to their apartment a few nights a week.  We'd sit in a circle on the empty dining room floor and eat dinner together.  Their mom, Hadhi, is a great cook.  My favorite dish she made was boiled potatoes with curried goat.  

After dinner, the oldest two girls, Fahari and Abdallah, would wash the dishes while I gave the three younger girls, Sadaka, Lelo and Chaki, a bath.  Then I'd tuck them into bed, read them stories and sing to them until they fell asleep.

Sadaka was 6 years old at the time.  When her little sisters were asleep, Sadaka would often slip out of bed and climb into my lap, with her arms around my neck and her head against my chest.  

"Can I tell you something?"  she'd whisper. 

"You can tell me anything," I would answer. 

She'd tell me stories about their village in Somalia.  She didn't know the name of it, but she remembered the huts and the dirt roads and the village market.  She also remembered "bad, angry men" who raided the village at night.  And how, when the sun came up the following morning, some of their friends and relatives "weren't there anymore."

She'd tell me about their dad, who physically abused Hadhi and neglected the girls, refusing to give Hadhi money to buy them food, even when the girls cried themselves to sleep because they were so hungry.

Sometimes as she told me these stories, Sadaka would cry, and I would pull her closer and hold her in the dark until her torrent of tears had passed.  

It made me angry that a 6 year old little girl had experienced so much pain.  

When Sadaka fell asleep, I'd tuck her into bed.  And then I'd read a chapter of a story to Fahari and Abdallah, and kiss them goodnight.

And then I'd join Hadhi in the hallway outside the girls' bedroom.  She'd make Somali coffee -- black coffee with sugar and cloves -- and we'd sit next to each other on the floor, drinking coffee and talking long into the night.  She always wanted to sit closest to the girls' bedroom door, just in case they needed her.

I helped open her mail, and I explained what the letters meant.  She'd ask me logistical questions about living in America -- how to buy the girls school supplies and where to get a cell phone and how much it cost to run the heater in their apartment.  

Hadhi would also talk about their life in Somalia.  Her mom had died, but her father and siblings were still there.  She talked about going back to visit them when the girls were older.  

Some nights, Hadhi also talked about her three sons -- three boys who had died in Somalia before the family was able to get out.  

We'd cry together for the three little boys she wasn't able to save. 


Last night, it was Sadaka who messaged me. 

It felt like old times -- sitting in the dark late at night, with a little girl (now a young woman!) confiding in me. 

She heard that the president of the country they're so proud and relieved to live in referred to her home country as a shithole.

Emboldened by this rhetoric, some kids at school told her she's not wanted here.  

She's black.  She's Muslim. She's an immigrant.  She's a girl.  For any of those reasons -- for all of those reasons -- her classmates have decided she doesn't belong in America.

We chatted for hours.  

I cried with her.  I cried for her.   I cried for us.  For how mean and hostile and angry and hardhearted and selfish and greedy we've allowed our country to become -- with evangelical Christians, who claim to believe and follow a God who is love, fueling this destructive fire.

Lord have mercy.

Since the beginning of this year,  I've been writing about Walking Toward Well.  About pursuing wellness in our hearts, minds, bodies and souls with faithful, small, steady steps we take each day. 

When we talk about goals and resolutions, it's often self-focused.  But it's also important to remember that in addition to pursuing personal wellness, we're also called to make our world well.  

With faithful, small, steady steps we take each day, we're called to love the unlovely, to see the invisibles, to welcome the immigrant, to befriend the stranger, to sit with the brokenhearted, to embrace the outcast, to defend the defenseless. 

In upstate New York today, there's a 13-year-old black, Muslim, refugee girl walking around with a broken, heavy heart who needs a kind smile, a gentle hug, a generous gesture.   There are people like that in my neighborhood in San Francisco -- and your neighborhood, too. 

This weekend, it's possible to walk toward well by walking toward each other -- by practicing kindness and generosity and compassion in small gestures and brief conversations and random encounters. 

As followers of Jesus, we're not called to mentally assent to doctrines of a loving God.  We're called to be God's voice and hands and feet in the world today.

Let's commit to taking a step today to walk toward broken hearts and broken bodies and broken stories around us.  

Let's walk in Love.  Let's step with grace.  Let's walk toward each other.  

Let's wake up tomorrow in a world that's a little less broken, a little less hurting, a little more well.



Click here to get your copy of The Invisible Girls  (all the profits from the book go into a college fund for the girls!)

Click here to make an online contribution to the girls' college fund.