[Image via englishspeecheschannel.com]
“Always do what you are afraid to do.”Ralph Waldo Emerson
By: Gabriela Yareliz
There was a JFK essay contest in high school. We learned about it through a newspaper we would read in English class. Those cute papers that had poems and featured other peer writing. I wanted in, and I read through his writings in my spare time. I read Profiles in Courage. I am not sure I processed it in the way I needed to, but I was amazed by some of the things our former president said. While I gave him some serious side-eye for the adulterous dalliances, I do remember quotes like:
“The cost of freedom is always high, but Americans have paid it. And one path we shall never choose and that is the path of surrender, or submission.”John F. Kennedy
I lost the essay contest. (Don’t worry, this isn’t my second stab at it).
The other day, I watched a series that showed (what I have heard) is a very accurate portrayal of communism (I can only be told because I have never lived it in the flesh). In films like these, you see the poverty, the snitches and betrayal, the corrupted and farcical caricature of a “legal system”. You see the hunger. The plainness of it all. How you can be intelligent and smart and be stripped of every opportunity because someone doesn’t like you or you have refused to conform. An incredibly frustrating cluster-f of a world.
The series left me sad. Not because of the poverty and events– poverty isn’t new to me, neither were some of the dynamics, circumstances and events depicted. I mean, even Latin America has its heavy history of political turmoil, disappearances, and censorship. And if we are honest, even the U.S. has participated in these activities abroad. Coups and all. You don’t have to go far. In Puerto Rico, dissidents and people who were pro-independence were black listed and raided by the U.S. forces. Leaders were imprisoned and experimented on. No one’s hands are clean.
What did leave me with a pit in my stomach as I watched was the level of despair and hopelessness I saw in the people in the series. It was a mindset and way of life. In a communist country, there was no light people looked to. I didn’t see any hope. This was unfamiliar to me, culturally. People in this series just lived from one tragic downfall to the next, as if all they were awaiting was death. It disturbed me. I once heard Yeonmi Park say that in North Korea, there is no word for “love.” Language and other factors can very much shape our reality and emotional development.
While this country (the U.S.) has played a dark hand in incidents abroad (not gonna sugarcoat it and lie to you, here), when you live here, you have opportunity (that is a fact). So many stories. We can start at those young men who fought in the revolution (cue The Patriot music), Frederick Douglas, and move through history and look at the remarkable stories of Americans (even in pop culture). People like Ben Carson, Manny Khoshbin, Dolly Parton, Bobby Bones, Steve Harvey… The stories of great Americans may have meager beginnings but when people are infused with hope and divine favor, they achieved remarkable things. You see, in ‘Merica, we have a word for hope. We live it. We breathe it. We die by it. It is the American way. This country was and has been untouched by the old world despondency. This is not the land of Dickens; it is the world of the adventurous Mark Twain. It has sparkles and a coat of many colors others dream of.
The mixture of opportunity with the nurturing of hope and faith is something we must never lose. It has made us unique. Resilience makes us strong. It changes resignation and despair into courage and initiative. This is what also makes so many of the immigrant stories to the U.S. so great.
“Lives of great men all remind us, we can make our lives sublime, and, departing, leave behind us, footprints on the sands of time”Longfellow
We live in this incredible country where the poorest person is rich in comparison to someone in a labor camp in China. I sometimes sit and read the more hidden news stories (the ones our government doesn’t want to acknowledge). The ones of people fighting for a better reality. You have courageous protestors in Iran, a genocide happening in China and the brave Chinese people protesting against a brutal tyrannical government some people in world government and officials in this very country have expressed that we should emulate. It disturbs me that the world is still fighting for freedom because it is what we desire as humans, yet others don’t see it and romanticize the oppressors of others. There is such a distorted view of what are actually corrupt iron grips on power, governments with no accountability. This grip threatens to smash what is in its reach to pieces, but hope is more powerful still.
Every night, I see those images. I see those faces being dragged away or smashed into the ground, and I pray for them. For the ones I see and for the ones I don’t see. I pray they somehow feel God’s presence with them in the dark as they strive for what God created them for– to be free. I want to acknowledge the countries I see on my stat board here on the blog. It has never been the U.S. only. I see you China, Iran, Yemen, Cuba… I see you. I see those closed countries in the Middle East. I see you.
[White paper protests in China, image via Yahoo]
Romans 15:13 says, Our hope comes from the Lord.
I’ve lived a very privileged life. I can’t begin to explain hope and the presence of God to someone who has endured the horrors of North Korea, Siberia, China or the Holocaust. I have only lived the life of an American girl, but I do know that God doesn’t just exist for one part of the world and not for another. No matter where you are, you were born for such a time as this. In some ways, I know I don’t have to explain hope. Many have already found more of it than I have ever held; they have ingested doses of it at levels that have kept them alive. I have heard too many stories of miracles, dreams and rays of light finding people in prisons, dark cells, on boats while being smuggled, in a desert under a sky that spells death. I lean on these stories and know that even in the darkest night, light has found a way.
There are mysteries I can’t unravel, and depths of wisdom I can’t swim in as I have never been thrown into those depths. But in this season, where we think of Christmas and the religious liberty this country offers us to know God deeply and experience Him, I can’t help but think that as we as a society move toward secularism and forms of government that celebrate that same secularism, we plunge ourselves deeper and deeper into a proven mire of despair, confusion and oppression. There is nothing for us there.
I mean have you read the latest in the Balenciaga scandal? That stylist tied to the brand who went viral for her disturbing images of children covered in blood– Lotta Volkova. One wonders how we have come to a place in American society where these disturbing notions are seen as art and not the depravity that they are (involving children, no less).
I sit here looking at slides of news slide past me, and I wonder. Will anything pump the brakes as we race toward our own pool of despair where nothing floats? Can we, in a day where we can’t even define a woman, hold onto opportunity and justice? The legal systems, the fairness, the consequences (you work hard, you pave your way) that made this country great– can we hold onto that? If you haven’t been paying attention, it is fading. The fact is it is unraveling quickly. And if we know Scripture, we know we hold onto these things with an open hand. None of this, in a world tarnished by sin, is made to last. It is by definition unsustainable. We are devouring ourselves. And yet– if an end brings a new beginning, and we trust our future in the hands of a good God who wants to rescue us, then what shall we fear?
My mind turns to the underground Christians in Rome who survived persecution. They communicated in hidden ways and kept spreading the hope they had found. They committed Scripture to memory. I remember them every time I recite a passage or verse from Scripture. I remember the power of hiding His Word in my mind and keeping a song in my heart. I heard recently that Christianity is a singing religion. This is how we have committed the truth of who God is to memory. I think of the underground Christians today.
I realize that people who grew up under other circumstances outside of this country look at me as a bit fantastical and no doubt an outrageous dreamer and believer. It’s true– I grew up with hope like oxygen. I am clinging to it always. Many of us have and are. You see, it hasn’t failed me yet, (so don’t fail me now).
This I know is true: Hope is not in circumstance. My hope is in God, who never fails, despite circumstance. I belong to a faith where a man who tragically lost every person he loved wrote a hymn that says, “It is well with my soul.” While observing no hope, I confirmed that there is something about living with hope that changes absolutely everything, on the inside and on the outside.
If you are reading this abroad, I pray I can share some of my hope with you. As I witness your stand, I am filled with courage and it confirms my hope that Jesus is coming soon. He is coming to flip this on its head.
Hope stands on what is not seen and believes in something beyond what is seen. Take it with you. Hold onto it. My prayers are with you.
Jesus promises to wipe every tear from our eyes. Perhaps there is something hidden in this Bible promise. Maybe this naturally means that those who have endured the most will be in God’s presence the longest. He will sit with them and make all things new.
For now, we cling to hope, we seize every opportunity and stand in resilience.
PS. Fun fact… there has been for years a category on this blog called “hope.” Stick around. We breathe that stuff here and we share.