Saturday, September 20, 2008

Gloriously Ruined...and Grateful

I've been reading a book that talks about being 'gloriously ruined' by coming face-to-face with suffering. The author writes, "I'm simply not the person I used to be...I've been shaped by these new experiences, and I will never be the same. Moreover, I don't want to be the same. I can't have seen what I've seen, met the people I've met, experienced what I've experienced, only to turn away and return to life as usual...I would never go back to who I used to be." She later goes on to say, "As long as suffering people are a mere statistic to you, you will never become ruined for life as you know it. When suffering becomes personal - with faces and names - and when you hear their stories, you won't be able to remain disconnected."

This has certainly been true for me as I've come to know those in Tijuana and have encountered the suffering that they face in their lives. This idea of being 'gloriously ruined' reminded me of something I wrote after spending a month in Tijuana during the rainy season of January 2005:

Returning from Tijuana where I was no longer a new visitor, but an old friend, I have had the privilege of seeing more clearly the poverty, oppression, and many difficulties that are part of life for those I call my friends...

Y lives with her husband, three small children, sister-in-law and her three children, mother-in-law, and a few others. They all share the only three beds in their small house. She is six months pregnant and is supposed to be on bedrest, but that doesn't change the fact that it falls to her to wash the clothes - a chore that keeps her on her feet all day. Her family can't go to church anymore because it would mean walking twenty minutes uphill to even get a ride. She is always so tired.

G was taken away from his mother because of suspected abuse, and was with DIF (Mexican government family services) when I arrived. I could only imagine how lonely and scared that little boy must have felt, away from everyone and everything familiar. His mother shared with me her struggles, trying to get her son back and having to pay the medical bills for her baby daughter who has heart and respiratory problems. Through tears, she asked if I believed God was just.

G and N live with their eight month old son in a curtained-off corner of his parents' one-room home. Because of the recent rain and mudslides, they sleep waiting for the house that is above and behind to fall on top of theirs. When I went to visit the other afternoon, their family felt bad because they had no food to offer their guest; the coins I had in my pocket bought enough eggs and tortillas to feed everyone there. G asked me to pray that God would provide for the needs of his family.

J, five years old and the youngest of six boys, recently fell about fifteen feet onto the cement below. He broke his arm, hit his head, and cut his forehead open. God provided the money for the stitches, x-ray, and cast; now his parents are praying for a way to take their son to a neurologist to make sure that he has no brain damage, as they don't have the $55 it will cost.

Many of the elderly at the Asilo thank God for bringing them to a place where they have a bed, clothing, medicine, food, and water. But because of a large debt, the water needed for cooking, cleaning, and bathing could be shut off any day. The pastor who runs the home for elderly must trust each day that God will continue to provide for the many expenses that allow these men and women to be taken care of.

It is one thing to read about these people as facts or statistics, it is something completely different to know them as friends. These are the same people with whom I've lived and worked and played, worshiped and talked, laughed and cried. They have prayed for me, comforted me, shared their faith and joy and food and belongings, as well as their doubts and fears and sorrows. They have given me so much. My heart has been broken to know the reality of their hardships and struggles, but it has been such an incredible privilege to be allowed to be a part of their lives. They have become such a part of my own life and through them, God has forever changed me. As a friend of mine who also has spent time in Tijuana wrote: "I"ve had a lot of opportunities to tell people about what happened, but I give up in getting them to understand fully. You have to touch it, don't you, to know what it is? I AM SO GRATEFUL LORD! I am so grateful that I had the opportunity to touch poverty, oppression, homelessness, spousal abuse, tuberculosis, orphaned, all of it. I am so grateful." I can add to that list alcoholism, prostitution, child abuse, illness, mudslides, and so much more. I too am only grateful for the opportunity to know people for whom these struggles are their reality. I have seen and touched the Lord through them, and I am deeply grateful for that great privilege, for it is by breaking my heart as I come to know the suffering of my dear friends that God is shaping it to be more like His own.

"In many of the families I visited, nothing was predictable, nothing totally safe. Maybe there would be food tomorrow, maybe there would be work tomorrow... Maybe, maybe not. But whatever is given - money, food, work, a handshake, a smile, a good word, or an embrace - is a reason to rejoice and say gracias. What I claim as a right, my friends...received as a gift; what is obvious to me was a joyful surprise to them; what I take for granted, they celebrate in thanksgiving; what for me goes unnoticed became for them a new occasion to say thanks. And slowly I learned. I learned that everything that is, is freely given by God. All is grace." (Henri Nouwen, ¡Gracias!)

Tijuana and the relationships that I've been given there have indeed left me ruined. But I am gloriously ruined...and I am grateful.

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