Saturday, January 14, 2012

An Open Letter to All Christians

but if I do it might not get written.
So please bear with me, because we have been battling an unusually bad flu here at our house and feeling pretty lousy. And emotionally, I am a bit fragile... like most people, because there seems to be so much tension in the world. There's a lot of suffering, and I'm not talking about not being able to afford the newest iPhone kind of self pity- I am talking real life and death suffering. Nearly everyone running in the political arena seems to have left decency behind somewhere, and no one seems to be able to get along on the small decisions let alone the big ones. This week personally I have run into more assumption making personalities than I have ever before encountered. And truthfully, it's worn me out. But that's not what really got to me this week. What really got to me was perhaps the single most saddest conversation I have ever had in my life. In 41 years, I have had a lot of conversations. I knew the conversation would happen someday- and it shocked the hell out of me when it occurred last night. It's very important that I stress that it's not the conversation itself that saddened me. The content of the conversation was something I had long suspected but never had real evidence or proof that what I thought was happening was, in fact, happening. To preface, I am having a lot of personal conflict with my religion of Christianity. This has been going on with me for far more of my life than not. My Faith, however, has never ever been stronger. But this is a tough place to be. To say I feel isolated is an understatement. I should feel anything but isolation amongst my fellow Christians, right? But I do feel isolated. I used to think, it's just me. Now I know beyond a shadow of a doubt, it's not just me. In what seemed to be a statement out of left field my friend said someone she loves recently converted from Christianity to Islam. In what has been months upon months of watching the people I love in Christian faith speak so violently against another faith, I had about a million questions that had been swimming in my mind ready to be asked. But two were the most important, and I was almost sure I already knew the answers.
I began with a simple Why? Why leave Christianity for Islam? Because he felt like he was lacking something in his spiritual life he began to look at other faiths in hope of finding peace. "When his Christian friends and the churches in his community couldn't provide what he needed, the Muslim community of his town was very welcoming." I put that in quotes because it is a near direct quote, and it's a statement that hurt my very soul. Not because the Muslim community was so supportive, but because my fellow Christians had no idea how to reach out to one of their own. "While churches here are having seminars about "What is Islam?" and other things that focus on breeding fear and anger, the classes he has attended at the Mosque...and Friday night Halaqa... focus on you and your relationship with God. He may have been able to find this somewhere, in a Christian setting...and he doesn't deny that fact...but, through a series of events he was drawn down a spiritual path that led to Islam." I wanted to rewrite that last quote because, in a sense, I feel that I am openly sharing a conversation that was very personal. But I think this is a message every single person of the Christian faith must hear- and hear it loud and clear. When we cannot show the love of Christ to our very own people of faith, how on earth do we suppose we can show that love to someone struggling to find faith? Too many times I see these messages of hate being broadcast publicly, with rallying support of every Christian in the room- literal or virtual- and all the while driving the division between Christianity and the rest of the world they seek to save so much deeper than before they opened their mouth, and not their heart. Do
I get his conversion? Without a question, Yes. But that didn't answer the question that burned within me like a fire. What about Christ? What about Jesus? How could He fit into this Islam? Was there any way this man turned his back on Christ? The answer was this.
"He always felt like his question of Jesus' divinity wasn't ever fully "answered"... he couldn't accept the "just because" of it. Islam's Jesus answered that question for him. Jesus as a were Muhammad, Moses, Abraham. In Islam "there is no God but God."
For me, that was a lot to take in. And I took a few deep breaths. If there is any major stumbling block in faith it is the acceptance of something you have no earthly means of proving. Am I lucky because I believe the miracle of the Jesus birth to be true? I don't know. But I believe it with all my heart. Is that in itself a gift from God, or is it just blind faith? I don't have those answers.
What I do know is that a person searching their soul for truth should not feel an outcast amongst those of his own faith. I also know that a faith that holds Jesus on the highest pillar for the world to see is having a very difficult time showing anyone outside their church walls the love of Christ. I also know that you change no heart by attacking violently, through words, or deed, that which your so-called enemy holds dearest. Jesus came quietly, in Love.
So I ask you, Are you coming to the world in Love, or are you coming to the world in anger and fear? ...Things that look an awful lot like hate. As a Christian, you represent Him. Are you representing Him and what He asked of you, or are you boastful in your knowledge of how wrong the other faiths are?
In the end, our faith is between us and God. Jesus showed us the best way we could care for others. If you are a Christian, or a human who loves and has taken to heart His teachings, I beg you to think with your heart before you open your lips. I beg you to change your sermons, your classes, your efforts- back to the efforts of Jesus Christ Himself. In so many ways when you spread this hate of the Islam faith and its Muslim people, you are preaching to the choir of haters just like yourself. You are not reaching the hearts of the people you most mean to. But make no mistake, those people among you that see the discord of what Jesus said to do, and what you actually do- they will seek to fulfill that need to be near to God. Where they find that faith may stun you.
"For God so Loved the World...." The World, in case you missed the definition, is All of Us.

Monday, April 4, 2011

A Long Time Gone














and in many ways, they still will not come.

I woke up on January 12, 2010 my normal self. I was still reeling from the loss of our third child, stillborn at 5 months, but I was healing as each day went by. I was living my life finding joy in all those small moments with my children that add up to a life of complete happiness, despite any negatives that might come our way. One earthquake in the only Third World country in the western hemisphere later, I was no longer sure of anything. Certain events, whether you are physically present for them or not, can mysteriously grip your heart- and the quake in Haiti, for lack of a better description- consumed me. There were approximately 50 families missing loved ones at Haiti's finest hotel, the Hotel Montana. What moved me was not that Americans were trapped in this hotel, but that nearly every one of these people had left this country on a mission to help our hemisphere's most impoverished people. Nearly every single one of them gave their very lives to do so. I waited with these families, and cried with these families. And somewhere along the wait, I came to meet a group of people who both fled to the scene to help after the disaster, and others who lived through it to tell me about life both before, and after, January 12, 2010. I had helped raise funds for Haiti nearly a decade ago. I knew how bad things were in that country, and I am so very ashamed to say, I had forgotten enough of those horrors to push it out of my mind. Our family has not escaped the economic fallout here in the United States, but as great as our personal challenges have been, I have always been the one in the crowd saying "this could be so much worse". How much worse came roaring back into my conscious on that fateful day. It has caused me to take a long hard look at everything in my world. How we live, what is important to us, and most importantly, how we treat each other. The disaster in Haiti reinforced my feeling that we consume needlessly, we waste precious time on meaningless things, and we waste ourselves on relationships that in the long run do not better the world for their existence. A total paradigm shift took place in my heart over the past 12 months. I chose not to be burdened by possessions, I chose to make each monetary expenditure purposeful, I chose to raise my children to be the kind of people I saw lay aside their own lives to rush to the aid of people they have never met. The countless events that worked on my heart this past year are so numerous, some so painful, and others so joyful- I am not sure I can get them into the written word. But I have made a decision to try. As I go through this journey, others are going through it with me. still others began theirs with the earthquake in Chile, the floods in Pakistan, the strive in the Ivory Coast, the earthquake that shook Christchurch, and now the horrifying events unfolding in Japan. I am sad that is takes an event of catastrophic proportions to wake us from our haze of existence here in the most affluent country in the world. But because of what I have witnessed among a few people who care enough to try to make a difference in a life on the verge of flickering out, I have an unwavering sense of hope. I hope the stories I share with you here in the coming months will renew your hope as well.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

A String of Beads


you will recognize moments in your life when one memory of an event neatly lies upon another in the future. I know what you are thinking... shouldn't that say one moment in the present neatly lies upon a moment in the past? No. The reason is that even as an event is taking place, something inside of you snaps to attention and recognizes something about what is occurring here is significant. These are the moments in your life where the string of beads you are subconsciously collecting make a sudden turn and overlap. Tonight Peter Knowles is on my mind. Specifically, I am thinking about a conversation we had some seven years ago when he was home in Naples having just arrived back from Africa. He was smiling, brilliantly beaming, that red hankerchief knotted at his throat. His white hair was longer than usual and his already dark tanned skin was even darker from the African sun. Always animated, that day he was levitating. As usual, I was struggling to hear his words beyond his beautiful accent. With Peter, I had to FOCUS. He was talking about one of our favorite topics. Sliding back into Naples after having returned from the Third World. It's one hell of a bumpy slide. He was talking about his truck in Africa. How he had to run along side it making various manuevers to get it started. He is actively making these efforts to start the truck here on my store's sales floor minus the truck, and we are gathering some stares from my other clients. I am giggling with this man I love so dearly. Then, all of a sudden, he looks at me hard and says, "Kristin, I despise my car here in Naples. I cannot stand to look at it. What it means. Kristin, I miss my battered truck. I miss Africa." Now, I happen to know he drives a black Mercedes. I understand him immediately. We just stand there looking at one another until I ask the obvious question of when his next flight back home to Africa is. It is six months in the future. I feel that old familiar silent prayer being offered up to God... "Please, just let him live that long. To see his beloved Africa again." It is like he knows my heart and he smiles. With that, he hugs me, and is off. I have strung another bead on my figuritive necklace. That day, I smile at the bumper sticker on my new Land Rover that says in black and white letters, "You are not what you own." And I know it to be true.
Fast forward seven years later to just a few days ago. My beloved friend Peter has passed away. At this moment he is not even in my mind's radar. Jason and I are sitting in a dealership with two squirming children trying our best to go over a final document of financing. It is somewhere in this moment I realize that I do not really care about this car... I can take it or leave it. I think this is because I now drive a minivan that we paid less for in total than even one payment on the Rover. I like this van, and in this moment, I am shocked by this reality. I do not worry about this van, the spilled drinks, the dirt tracked both in and out by the children. Something odd happens as Jason looks at me, and we both look at our cheerful new salesperson friend and kindly thank him for his time as we GET UP AND WALK OUT saying we'll think about it. We drive off in our van with both kids probably wondering what the heck THAT was all about. The beads have now overlapped on my necklace.
That necklace figuritively rests around the mirror of our new ten year old four wheel drive that sits out front in our driveway. I'd give anything to know where Peter's truck is bouncing along in Africa right about now.

Peter Knowles was a man who had a soul brighter than anyone I have ever met. His work with small communities at the base of Mount Kilimanjaro was beautiful- teaching families to farm and providing safe water sources. One of the bad things about moving away from an area is that you never know when that last hug will be your last. Such was the case with Peter. I hugged him in the spring of 2007 and said a little prayer for his safe return to Kili, and he was gone six months later. My heart is heavy with the news and he is sorely missed. I will always remember his excitement at the Naples Drum Circle- I think it made his heart feel closer to Africa when he was home in Naples

Monday, January 18, 2010

Day Seven

It is the seventh day of Hell in Haiti.
I cannot get my head around it, what has happened to these people, less than 700 miles off the coast of Miami. My heart understands it completely. It is heavy, like a lead weight. My head tries to recall what Haiti was like before the Earthquake- colorful, expressive, happy- despite so much pain and suffering. Eighty percent of it's people were in poverty as of last Monday. Tuesday saw to it that the other twenty percent are not far behind. I remember their beautiful language of Creole being spoken on the streets of Naples, a place I called home for many years. The stories of their families being supported back in Haiti, where only one in three people are lucky enough to have a regular job. Naples was the promised land- a place where someone could send money home to care for so many. But you saw it in their eyes, they longed to go home. Despite the hardships, the sickness, the lack in so many areas. My heart today knows that Haiti has just fallen off the last rung of the ladder they were trying to climb out of poverty on. Poverty is horrible, and I do not know this personally. But what I do know is that things are much more bearable when you have the love of your family and friends. Haiti's family and friends lie dead in the streets. Those that miraculously survived the quake may not survive the infection of the wounds. Unless we can get it together as a World, this second round of death is coming full steam ahead. They know this. You can see it in their eyes. I went to bed Tuesday night looking at my children fall asleep peacefully. I thought about what our family has been through- what we are going through. None of it holds a candle to what the people of Haiti are going through. What the families of trapped tourists are going through. Their children, their loved ones are either alive in a living nightmare, dead or dying right before their eyes, or the worst of worst scenarios- trapped. Seven days. Trapped. Is anyone coming for me? Will I live? Where are my loved ones? I have had a very difficult time sleeping since Tuesday. I find myself at home in the comforts of my family... and then I realize the reality for so many... this very moment... in Haiti. It seems there are not enough prayers, not enough tears, not anything any one can do. I wish I could take a shovel to Haiti to help dig more people out of their horrible prisons. I would be yet another mouth to feed. The truth is I would be a wreck. I would be the young doctor I saw on the news today so torn apart he couldn't speak. I wouldn't survive it. What can I do? What I can maybe do is be there for others. Communication has been so hard for people waiting to hear news. Seven Days. Can you imagine? Your daughters, sons, husbands, wives- buried seven days in a Third World Country? I cannot. We sort out all the information we can in spare moments throughout the day. Monitor sites like Twitter, news reports, personal web pages, missing person lists, millions of posts. We try to give Hope. Hope that their loved one will be found. When I feel like I just cannot have any more hope, I walk away for a few hours. They cannot. They wait. For a picture, a phone call, anything that will tell them what they so badly need to hear. They are coming home to you. We try to give Hope, and yet we know. Day Seven. So many are not coming home. I pray for a miracle, another one just like the one we had Saturday night, just like the ones still happening in other areas of Haiti. People are surviving against all the odds. Haitians are singing hymns in the streets because they have not lost their faith that God will see them through. I pray that as these families that I am now enter twined with hear the news from all the Days ahead, that they do not lose their faith in God. The horrible irony about all of these tourists in Haiti is that they went there to help make a better life for all Haitians. They were there with pure hearts. They saw no race, no religion, no blame. They wanted to help. The words of some people behind a microphone, keyboard, or camera have stung this week. Haiti, this is my message to you... God did not fail you. We did. The World failed you because we did not do enough to help you up the ladder and out of poverty. The students of Lynn University recognized this. Compassion International recognized this. Countless others recognized this. That is why their people are trapped with yours. Life for most Americans go on unfazed. "What's got you down?" some people have asked. Apathy. Apathy is what's got me down. There is far too much of it. Before the Earthquake devastated Haiti Amy Wilentz said this in the September 2009 issue of Conde Nast Traveler,
"Haiti is not a place you just visit, as Columbus would surely have told you (he shipwrecked there in 1492) It's not a stream into which you just dip a toe. Here, you dive in headlong. It drives you crazy- with love, with anxiety, with desire. You fall into its arms as if it's been waiting forever to receive you. It hasn't. And as with any great unrequited love, Haiti's indifference only makes you crazier for the place."
Haiti, this is my wish for you. That you once again become colorful, expressive, and happy- despite all of your pain and suffering.
Note: Original painting by Roger Francois.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Having Nathaniel Part 3

It was early, about seven am, and I was expecting Daddy and the Minister around nine. Ordering breakfast seemed so trivial that morning but I knew that I had to eat something. It just seemed so unimportant. I found myself lying there in that hospital bed and though emotionally I felt a wreck, physically I felt fine. I had had enough of hospital beds. So I wheeled breakfast over to the window next to a chair. A few bites were all I could manage. All the time you were still lying in your blanket in my lap. Pushing breakfast aside, I then turned the chair around to look out of the window. It looked chilly- November chilly. Grey. Rainy. The clock was moving forward and there was nothing I could do to stop it. After the Baptism I would walk out of the hospital and never see or hold you again, at least not in this lifetime. And I was crushed by this. How could I just leave you there? How on Earth was I going to do this? I stood up and leaned against the window sill. I moved your blanket just a bit so that your face was exposed to what little light there was under the clouds. I asked for help. All of my Grandparents are gone from this Earth. All four. Not one lived to meet my children whom I know would have given them so much joy. I looked out and thought about all the things I had talked about with this little body here in my arms over the last hours. Promises I had made. One was that I would do my best not to live in sorrow. That I would Mother Wren and Dane in a spirit that also honored Nathaniel. That they would know they have a brother in Heaven. That when things got bad, and I was feeling sad, that I would look for him in the Sun and in the Moon. That I would know, in my heart, that he was with my Grandparents, looking down on us. Nathaniel's face was literally a glow. It happened quickly, the clouds had parted, the sun shown in the window upon us, and then disappeared once again. I stood there as if transfixed. Nearly two hours had passed because just a few seconds later the Minister walked in , and then Daddy. And then the nurse who had been there with me most of the previous day. We stood hand in hand after I laid you in your little bassinet as the Minister read the story of the First Baptism. We all cried. I had placed a picture of Wren and Dane together at your feet. I had wanted them to be there too. The Minister told the story of how Jesus had told all of the people at the Baptism that children were some of the most important people of God. He asked them to recognize this and I thought to myself how my children mean the absolute world to me. The nurse knew my difficulty and asked if we were ready. The three of us walked you down to the little room where your pictures had been taken and the nurse showed me where to place the bassinet. I saw the two faces of my living children in the photograph at your feet and kissed your sweet little face one last time. Wren and Dane's picture traveled with you on your journey and that picture is part of your ashes. Hardly a day goes by that I do not lay a hand on your box just to feel you near. I feel your spirit in everything I do with Wren and Dane. It's as if Wren can read my mind when she says "Let's draw Nathaniel a picture." And, of course, I say "Yes, Wren, let's."

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Having Nathaniel Part 2

We had been told you were a girl- but I saw right away that you held a were, in fact, a little boy. You had such a serene peace about you. Your face looked as if you were simply asleep. Tiny little hands, fingers, feet, and toes were so perfectly formed. You were perfectly proportioned. When the doctor and I looked to the umbilical cord we knew immediately what had happened. One of the three vessels was formed incorrectly. It had about a half dozen areas that narrowed so thin- my heart ached when I realized you had suffered from a lack of both oxygen and nutrition. When you were so small, it had not been deadly. But as my beautiful little boy grew, this section could not keep up. I pray that you never knew what was lacking. I can only hope that you fell asleep warm inside my belly. It pains me in an indescribable way that your precious light could go out and I did not know that it had happened. We cut your umbilical cord and wrapped you in a little blanket. I wanted to hold you as soon as possible. Daddy cried. I cried. The doctor and nurses cried. You were so beautiful- and it was just so difficult to understand. As I gazed at your tiny face, I could instantly see both Wren and Dane in your features- but especially Dane. You had Daddy's brow line and Dane's nose. Your arms and legs were so long and your feet were already so big. I would spend the next twelve hours memorizing everything about you. The nurses gave you a bath and they were so sweet and handled you with such care. They covered you in baby lotion before wrapping you in your blanket once again, and then Daddy and I spent a few hours just being with you. We named you Nathaniel Devon Smith, after both your Daddy and Grampy. We also decided that we would Baptise you in the morning, and made the decision to be able to bring your ashes home with us. I wanted you to be with us always. Daddy looked so tired and there was no place for him to get comfortable. I thought too, that since Wren was spending the night with her friends, it might do Daddy some good to go home and snuggle down with Dane. It seemed like the only thing that could be of any comfort to him then was your sister and brother. And the only thing I wanted to do until morning was hold you and gaze at you. So sometime around midnight Daddy went home. I reluctantly gave you over to the nurses so that we could make prints of your little hands and feet. I also wanted pictures of you as I am so afraid that my memory may fade in years to come. I took a hot shower, cried some more, and went down the hall in search of you. Cries of another baby helped to lift my spirit as I went down the hall. Though I know it to be impossible, I never want another person to experience this kind of grief. As I approached the room where you were I heard a sweet little voice. Your nurse was talking to you, telling you what she was doing, and saying such sweet things that only you and God could hear. I was so deeply touched by this that it is difficult to put into words. But it gave to me the knowledge that your little life also touched more than just ours- you were special to this other person too. I will be grateful to her till my last breath. I stayed with the two of you until she was finished. She then placed you in a little wicker bassinet and allowed me to take you back to our room. It was now very late and as I lay down to spend the one and only night we were given your little hands were somehow placed right under your head as if you were sleeping. I turned your face to mine on the pillow and reluctantly shut off the light. But the light from the moon and stars still showed your features and again I felt a sweep of gratitude. Your little body and bundle of blankets was so small, and your entire being nestled that night in the crook of my arm. I breathed in that scent that only a new baby has and prayed to God to help me fix it in my memory. Every few hours I woke up and talked to you or sang you a lullaby. I would unwrap a small area of the blanket and hold your hand or outline your tiny face. I was still so amazed by the peace about your face. I slept well and soundly with you in my arms and will cherish those hours with you as long as I live. Dawn broke to a gray rainy but beautiful morning- because this was the morning of your Baptism.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Having Nathaniel

I have a difficult story to tell. But it is one that I feel very strongly needs to be shared with others. It is a story that is going to lay bare very grieving wounds for me, and for those who read it who share in our sorrow. It will also open wounds in those who have experienced something similar. My hope is that Nathaniel's story can help heal both our wounds and perhaps begin a path of healing for those who still carry deep grief within them from the loss of a child. This is part one of our journey.


I am so very grateful for the courage I was given to make the choice that Monday in November to bring you forth naturally. I desperately want to know what happened to you, and needed to see your beautiful little face and hold you in my arms. I was afraid- so afraid I would not be up to being strong and facing my grief for your loss. I needn't have worried. From the moment I went into labor and delivery, I knew it should be this way and no other. Most importantly, I was selfish. I wanted more than anything else to have stolen moments with you that we could only have in this way. I was so aware of the fact that I was caught between two worlds. Your life had gone out within my body perhaps weeks ago. Though I knew your soul could no longer be found within my body, your body was my Earthly connection to you. When they found my cervix to be en tact I was again happy to have been granted a few more precious hours to carry you within my womb. Daddy and I rested with you knowing the long emotional hours that lay ahead of us. I placed my hands over my belly most of those hours just trying to memorize and feel your presence. I knew only too quickly the time would come for us to be separated and I just wasn't ready for you to leave me physically. Being pregnant with two small children in our house isn't the same as being pregnant with your first- or even second. Time flies much too quickly and it is difficult to be aware of every detail- and in a lot of ways, I resented, or more accurately lamented, this truth. In so many ways, I knew you would be my last time to carry a baby and I so wanted to relish every moment. The reality is that you struggle to get through the day- but you do because you know that incomprehensible prize of joy is waiting at the end. All the while you worry that you are taking too much on, you remember to eat healthy, and you cradle your belly at those precious times of rest when you can be alone with your thoughts of the new little person growing inside of you. You worry about the economy, the state of the world, the state of your house- and then you realize all you have to do is love and care for this little one, and that, my son, is so easy.

When the doctor gave me the medicine to start my contractions I was so sad. I was still so excited to see you but this was happening in a way that I had never imagined it ever would and I was struggling with that truth. As I was trying to come to terms with your leaving my body four months too soon, I was well aware of the next phase of my grief and that was having to give your precious little body away. I prayed for some time to calmly sit with you inside me before my contractions began and we were so graciously given that time. It gave me the courage to shun the epidural. I wanted to experience this birth to the fullest I possibly could- even the pain. When I recognized the contractions, I began to summon up the strength to do the most difficult thing I have ever done. Whatever time has been stolen from our future, I wanted to have these hours with you- in the only way that was given to us. When the pain began to get really hard to handle, they gave me something that took off the edge. By some miracle, it wore off before the last three or four violent contractions. A short time of peace then occurred and one of intense clarity. My waters ran forth, and I felt your little body drop into position. And then, there you were.