Moving Towards Different 2: Small Choices

The very first thing I noticed about her house was the smell.  The odor grabbed me the minute we walked through the front door. It wrapped around me like an impenetrable cage, trapping my senses. My hands wanted to reach up and cover my nose in safety. My eyes franctically searched for a clock as if being able to watch the time move forward might help save me from my immediate discomfort.  I began noticing things.  My friend's hair; hair I had said was "thick like mine,” at school, suddenly seemed like a different kind of thick. I looked at her and saw every detail of different in the texture of her thick hair. Next, my mind took me back to the news I had recently overheard on TV about the Gulf War.  Pictures of fighter jets and bombs had flashed across our TV screen.  Thinking about it reminded me that there were scary "other" countries out there. As I stood in my friend's home, it all at once felt imperative to remember if it was Iran or Iraq that we were at war with. I was in junior high. My new friend was my first Iranian-American friend and she had eagerly invited me into her house for the first time just a few weeks prior. 

Shortly after the inaudible introduction of smell, my friend introduced me to her mother.  Her mother stood in the kitchen, and beside her hands hard at work over an open counter, was a stack of homemade flatbread.  It towered proudly, speaking straight to my ignorance.  We exchanged a few polite words.  As I listened to her mother speak, I noticed how her English words were accessorized with an accent like my own mother’s, and how there was something in the way of her intensity as she prepared food for her family’s table, that reminded me of my own mother’s passion to feed people.  

My friend's and my differences were manifest to me in that moment.  There were no detours around them and there was no way to hide them.  And yet, right in the middle of our disparity, I found resemblance.  In that moment, I had a choice to notice these things and move forward towards different, or to disengage and survive the different.

I ended up going back to my Iranian-American friend's house that year.  We laughed there, connected there, and though I didn't know it at the time,  I learned and grew there in ways that would shape me for the rest of my life. It seemed that smell I first encountered changed over time;  but what really changed was me.

Last year, my friend Michelle texted me and asked me if I would meet her at a local Korean restaurant. We had been friends for a couple of years at that point. It meant the world to me that she knew I was Korean.  It may seem silly to have to say this, but I can’t tell you how many white friends I have had that might not be able to tell you if I was Korean,  Japanese or Chinese after years of knowing me.  She remembered. We sat at the table, and I watched her try Bibimbap and handle her first servings of Oi Kimchi and Gochujang like a boss, despite her unfamiliarity and claims she had made before ordering that she couldn’t handle spicy food.  We talked about both of our lives, but as we sat there across the table, our Jeokkarak (traditional Korean stainless steel chopsticks) in hand, she asked me questions about the Korean parts of my story. And then, she listened.  Her text of invitation to meet for Korean food was simple, but intentional. She had no guarantees of enjoying the new-to-her flavors, but she moved towards what was different in our friendship anyway.  And it healed a small piece of broken in me.

Moving towards different, no matter how different, can create the most beautiful places of unexpected similarity, necessary healing, and transformative redemption in each of our lives. 

The broken place of hatred and racism in our world breaks God's heart more than any of ours. If you are hurting in this place, he is catching your tears; not one goes unnoticed! And, he cries with you.  He is FOR you. If you are afraid and living in fear, he is the answer to your deepest fears of different. His perfect love is the only thing that can drive that fear away.  He is FOR you.  When the headlines haunt me, break my heart and ridicule the hope I have for healing in this broken place, I find peace and hope and renewed motivation in who the Bible says that Jesus is.  He tells his imperfect yet perfectly-loved followers to become like him.  He is FOR US.  Us together is where holy things happen in His name.

Jesus moved towards different.  He calls his Bride to the same.