Monday, May 27, 2013

Can We Fight?

“If your brother or [sister] sins against you,  go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone.” Matthew 18:15

I was sitting the other day thinking through the past 10 years since I started seminary and began working in full time ministry in the church and religious non-profits; I have to say there were some bitter/sweet moments.  One of my most favorite memories was walking on the seminary campus with not a clue.  Seriously, I had no clue.  I tried my hardest to fit in; I went shopping for acceptable clothing, I tried to use acceptable language but in the end my true identity started bleeding through my perfect façade.  I still get a good laugh about that first semester.

However, one of my deepest hurts has been the loss of friendships since I started working in Christian circles.  Now this is not a “how the church has hurt me” kind of blog.  It’s more of an observation of how some Christian circles seem to “fight” or better yet how they use non-verbal language and passive aggressive behaviors to deal with conflict.  I can’t tell you how many times I've seen friendships in the Christian circles end without any warnings.

Now I use the word “fight” because some believe that all kinds of confrontation IS fighting.  I beg to differ. Confrontation is simply a meeting between two people in order to gain clarity on misunderstood words shared or acts committed. 

The form of communication I see used the most in church circles is: passive aggressive behavior.  They use sarcasms, jokes and my favorite talk about it with others rather than the specific person (yeah that’s gossip).  I often shake my head in disbelief because the passive aggressive method of resolving conflict is so different from what I know.  For God’s sake, I’m from Haiti where a simple conversation about the weather seems to be a heated debate.  Others have often asked “are you all mad at each other?” and of course the answer is “No” but it’s how we express ourselves in verbal exchanges.  You will never walk away from a conversation with a Haitian and not know how they truly feel. 

And then I spent 17 years in New Jersey where you will hear at least once in a conversation “what do you mean by that?” I love it! Again verbal language used to clarify where we stand with each other. 

This kind of communication is healthy. It is Godly.  The bible did not say to not become angry, I believe God knew a bunch of his children together would mean trouble.   That is why he implored to us over and over again to get angry while not sinning, to resolve our conflicts and maintain peace. 

So how do we do this? How do we “fight”/confront lovingly and fairly?

Here are some principles to help you fight/confront lovingly and fairly:
  1.   Passive aggressive behavior will not resolve conflicts.  You have to verbally communicate to get passed issues. Do not surprise your “friends” by cutting them off without ever communicating your feelings. Go to your brother/sister and share your feelings.
  2. Explosive communication is not conflict resolution.  So you bottle up all of your anger against a person and then you explode.  You must address conflict as they arise, one at a time.  It is not fair for a person to receive your wrath all at once.
  3. Rehearse ahead of time.  If you are new to resolving your conflicts, practice what you will say to the person before you actually confront them. 
  4.  You will be just fine. Many people do not attempt to resolve their conflicts in fear of not being liked and be rejected.  If that is you, please deal with the true reason you fear rejection.  Attempting to resolve your conflict, for the most part, will not end in your rejection.  You will be just fine. 
  5. Communicate.  Start with “I” statements.  For example, “hey so and so remember when we talked last week, I felt belittled when you said…” or “Can you please clarify what you meant when you said…because I thought I heard…”.  You get the picture; you have to use verbal language to communicate.
  6.  Ask for forgiveness and offer forgiveness; apologize when needed for offending one another and offer forgiveness as often as you can.  **Forgiveness plays a huge role in resolutions, perhaps I’ll address it at a later blog**
  7.  Let it go. When forgiveness and understanding have taken place, let it go.  Don’t replay the events. Stop criminalizing the offender. Stop talking about the events that took place. Just let it go. You have said your peace; it is time to let it go.
  8.  Not all confrontations will end in reconciliation Or for both parties come to a consensus. Unfortunately, peace doesn't always equate to reconciliation or in perfect agreement with each other.  After you have communicated and understanding has taken place, reconciliation might not happen.  And that’s ok!  What is not ok:  is not communicating at all and walking away with unfinished business.  In New Jersey we call that “punking out” or just plain cowardice behavior.

Communicating in love is loving.  Fighting in love is loving.  Being angry without sinning is loving.  Confronting lovingly is loving.  Do not end friendships without doing your part?  Do not ignore texts, emails, phone calls or defriend on facebook without doing your part.

My question for you is: do you love me enough to fight with me?   

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

How Do You Help This Woman (Part 2)

Last week I blogged about a woman I met in Haiti who was facing multiple levels of challenges. You can read her story here. The question to you was: “how would you best help a woman in her case?” 

The reality is the complicated nature of her life makes it difficult to give advice and counsel that can even begin to address one of her problems.

The bad news is this woman's story is not unique in developing countries. All over the world this story is told over and over again. It usually begins with an uneducated woman who lives in poverty, she is then marginalized, sometimes the mother of more than one and oftentimes find herself with men who she is not married to or men she is well aware of having multiple partners but she turns the other way and accept it out of necessity, not just for companionship but for financial means. But this is no story; this is reality for many women all over the world.

So how do we give counsel and advice to these women that come to us for help or your heart is just aching to help??

My approach on advising and counseling these women is contingent on their ability to fight for their lives and the lives of their children.  I am an avid believer that if you have a reason to live, you will live.  If not, no advice will ever be enough and no relief will ever be sufficient because you have already claimed death as your companion.  

My counsel for these kinds of complicated situations usually involves four components: finding work, getting an education, having faith in God and developing or joining social networks.

Women in these types of situations must find work. I advised the woman I met in Haiti to find “meaningful” work that will not require her to sell her soul to the devil, whatever the job may be; because a woman with money in her pockets has more options. A woman with money to care for herself and her children does not have to stay in abusive relationships or live in hopelessness.

Secondly, I advised her to keep her eyes open for free opportunities to learn a trade and get an education. Women in these types of situations cannot afford to pay for an education but there are many organizations willing to work with a woman whose goal is to learn and get out of poverty.  An educated woman is a woman with even more options. An education is one of the best poverty deterrents. Which is why educating girls is such an essential part of alleviating poverty among women. If you educate them early, there’s an even greater chance that they will not end up in poverty and hopeless situations.

Thirdly, having faith in God builds our optimism about the future. Over and over again, we have seen that those with a strong faith in God are overall more hopeful about the future.  Their faith in God motivates them to keep walking, to keep fighting and never give up. Oftentimes, when you ask the women of Haiti: "how are you doing?" Their answer is usually: "good by the grace of God"!  Again, if you have a reason to live, you will live.

Lastly, we were created to live in community with each other. I reminded this woman, it is not good for us to live alone without the support of friends, family and other social networks. In a country like Haiti, there's a huge distrust factor. Neighbors are often reluctant to share personal details with each other in fear of betrayal and jealousy. But this woman was in desperate need of human interaction. I challenged her to go in her community and develop friendships; friends who will encourage her, laugh with her and share life with her.

When working with these women; it is vital that we understand the challenges ahead of them.  Our counsel needs to be given in context, with compassion and never judgmentally.  

May we continue to learn from these women and tell their stories so that those in power can create opportunities for them to learn, grow and live productive lives with their families.  

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

How Do You Help This Woman? (Part 1)

On my current Haiti trip, I was involved in doing training for a group of medical professionals.  One of the doctors scheduled for me to do a consultation with a woman whom she describes as depressed with flat affect, prior to my arrival. The doctor admitted that she'd seen many depressed patients in her years of practicing medicine but this woman's depression worried her.

Her appointment was scheduled for the day after my arrival.  I completed an informal assessment to discern if she was in fact depressed and what was the cause.

During our assessment, here's what I found and you tell me, how would you counsel this woman:

She's a 24 year old woman with a 4-month old who was with her during our meeting.  She is currently living at home with her mother and several half siblings who often degrade her and often tells her to move out. She grew up not knowing her father, he died before she even had an opportunity to get to know him.  She does not work because she can't find work.  Her previous job involved making cement blocks for a house that was being built.

She has no friends, she could not name one person she considered her best friend.  She was not connected to any social network to provide some level of support whether emotional or financial.

As she continued to share her challenges and struggles, I just had to ask about her child's father.  So I did: "tell me about your child's father"? To which she said: "he lives with another woman; they've been in a relationship for 13 years now.  The other woman is very kind to me, in fact she's my baby's god-mother.  We have a good relationship."

One of my final questions to her was: "what do you need?" Her reply: "I would like to have some money so I can move out and build a small house and have my own place."

Before I share with you how I counseled this woman; I would like to hear from you.  What you say or do to help this woman?  How do you counsel her?

Please refrain from passing judgement.  Put yourself in her shoes and try to see yourself as not so different from her.

What do you say?

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

If Your Shoes Could Speak...

If your shoes could speak, what would they say? 

Where have they been? 

What have they seen?

I bought the pair of shoes shown in the picture a few years ago from Ross on sale for maybe $30. They have become my favorite pairs of shoes to wear; if I could sleep in them, I would. As you can see, these shoes are not the 5 inch heels some women would die for. They're not the most girly or pretty. They're just a plain Colombia, athletic, washable pairs of shoes.  But when I step in these shoes they make me feel like I can take on the world. Well I've kind of been around the world in these shoes.

I first wore them in 2010 after the earthquake in Haiti. Man, the challenging stories we heard. We saw the look of desperation on the faces of mothers who ran out of answers to solve her family's many problems. We cried by the sight of such great devastation and our incapability of doing anything to alleviate them.  So we walked on and did what we could.

We experienced India together. I will never forget being propositioned at a hotel in India. I had never felt so small because this man looked at my skin color and assumed I would end up having a good time with him that night. But with my shoes on I kept walking to fulfill my mission.

We experienced Africa together; we laughed and laughed and a part of us felt as if we'd come home. We instantly felt at home. Our hearts broke when we heard the atrocities our sisters had endured during years of war and fighting. There was anger and sadness but we kept walking promising to never forget and to return. We haven't forgotten and we will return.

We've even gone to prison together and there we learned what the bible meant when it said God was with the broken hearted. These women had been broken on many different levels, many of which started out with stories of pain and abuse. But God was with them. We knew our calling from that point on was to keep walking and elevate them.

In these shoes I lost my naïveté and stopped pretending that everything was alright around the world. I stopped pretending that if I didn't do something about the pain and suffering I saw that someone else would do something and do it far better. In these shoes, I had to come to terms with each of us having a mission to accomplish that will somehow bring forth hope and make the world a little better for someone.

In these same shoes I've knelt down to pray asking God question after question: why so much evil? How long will you be silent? I've served you with all my heart, how come my family's not spared from pain and suffering? And God why haven't you answered our cries for help?

And it has been in those same shoes that God has spoken: “My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts. And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine. For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so my ways are higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts. (Isaiah 55:8, 9 NLT). "All I need you to do is to keep walking".

So tomorrow, I take another step back to Haiti as God uses me to elevate, empower and encourage.

Please pray that I will keep walking, that we will keep walking, never giving up!

If your shoes could speak, what would they say?