Fighting Fear, Being Generous

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Roseau, Dominica – AP Photo/Carlisle Jno Baptiste

Just after Hurricane Irma bullied its way through, Hurricane Maria ravaged Dominica, our neighbour to the south. The death toll is 27, with many more missing. Most of the buildings are destroyed, and the natural landscape is brown and broken, nothing like the lush green paradise that inspired the nickname Nature Isle. At the beginning of the summer I made a friend from Dominica who lives in Jamaica. He took an arduous 3 day journey to get back to his island – the last leg by boat from St. Lucia – and told me about the “total devastation” he found there. Busy with affairs on the ground, and working around spotty communication services, I didn’t get much more than that and an “it’s terrible”. I can hardly imagine how he must feel.

Dominica is very much in the thoughts and prayers of many Bahamians, not least because when we were struggling after Hurricane Matthew they gave us US$100,000. We have offered assistance from our Defence Force, and our Prime Minister has also pledged that we will accommodate Dominican students in our public and private schools.

On this point, too many Bahamians are struggling. They are crying poor mouth and criticising the government for wanting to assist foreigners when we don’t have our own house in order. They ask: What about our students, in overcrowded, under-resourced classrooms? What about our Family Island residents who need jobs and whose islands are recovering from Hurricanes Irma, Matthew and Joaquin? What about ‘choose another problem’?

On the surface, these are valid concerns, and I understand the practicality behind them. People would like to know the details of how we will accommodate the students and possibly their parents. At their root though, these questions are based in fear. Fear that we don’t have enough for ourselves to commit to sharing, fear of being uncomfortable as we extend our hands to others. We want to be certain the timing is right, but if we waited for timing before we helped anybody we would be sitting on our hands for eternity.

The Bahamas is more than four times the size of Dominica, population-wise. Economists use GDP to discuss the financial health of different nations, and if you compare our two, The Bahamas’ USD9 billion is 18 times Dominica’s USD500 million. Scaling figures to the per capita level paints a more helpful picture, and here we see our per capita GDP is $23,124 vs Dominica’s $7,144. Yet Dominicans managed to reach into their pockets and give us $100,000 – that I’m sure wasn’t just lying around on the table – and at the same time donate the same amount to Haiti. If we were to give them the same percentage of our GDP we would be sending them a cheque for $180 million.

So what happen to my people? I’m not saying anything that hasn’t already been said, but we love to talk about being a Christian nation and this response is anything but. Who hasn’t heard some message about how God spared us from this or blessed us with that? That same good God commands us to give, expects us to give and blesses us when we give. The Macedonians famously gave out of their poverty (2 Corinthians 8:1-5). But you don’t need to be a Christian to see generosity as a virtue, or to believe in reaping rewards for loving behaviour. What kind of reputation do we want to have, regionally and beyond? Do we want to earn another mark in the column labelled stuck-up and unCaribbean?

These are the moments that allow us to determine the kind of nation we want to be, where we can do more than make pretty speeches and have earnest conversations. The choices we make set precedents, will be recorded in history books for our great-grandchildren to study. I am thankful for the compassion of our Prime Minister, and support the decision that he made on my behalf. I want our Bahamas to be known for kindness, helpfulness and openhandedness, and this is a step in the right direction.

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It Feels Good to Feel Good!

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I’ve been feeling gradually more light and happy the last few weeks. Nothing has changed in my routine, I haven’t gotten any news in my work or personal life, but there’s joy humming in the background of every day. It feels like I’m getting my old self back, from this new personality where things were all so heavy. In the last couple of years I’ve been dealing with job stresses, multiple moves and relationship transitions. Together they were bogging me down and I had to fight to feel happy, to have peace. There has been a lot of learning – about outside barometers of success I didn’t realise I so thoroughly imbibed, about trusting God, about perseverance – and I knew that I was changing, I hoped for the better. In the process though the sillier parts of me slipped further away, which I don’t fault myself for, but I did remember the way I used to be and wonder if I would ever be able to access those parts of me as easily.

So what’s brought me here? And where is here? I’m wondering now as I write this. I realise this post is really introspective, but it seems like it’s only going to get more so.
What’s brought me here:
1. Time – to learn how to handle life’s difficulties, to wash over wounds.
2. Watching my mother and my uncle – I inherited my silliness from them, and they retain that part of themselves even though they’re middle aged.
3. Spiritual maturity – resting more fully in Jesus, exulting in all of his blessings and goodness toward me.

Where is here:
1. Spontaneous outbursts of joy, manifesting itself physically and verbally.
2. Laughing and smiling all the way to my toes; generally being in a good mood.
3. Not being afraid that my expressions of happiness diminish or disrespect the difficulties I am otherwise experiencing.

On Friday afternoon I visited my friend’s mum in the hospital. She’s very ill, yet in our conversation did not complain about her condition or worry about the future. She was easygoing and we talked about all kinds of things; in fact, she’s like this whenever I see her. I marvel each time at her equanimity and feel comforted and encouraged after our conversations (although I always want to be the one encouraging and giving some comfort to her). Seeing her manage her illness is influencing the way I want to handle my own struggles.

After my visit I spent the night laughing, often to tears, at the storytelling of Evelyn from the Internets. I felt so refreshed afterward, and grateful for her and the work that she’s doing. As with my mum and uncle, she reminded me that I don’t have to take myself so seriously all the time.

I am so thankful to be in this place! I want to continue down this vibrant road, becoming even stronger, and not slip back onto the now-familiar, comfortable, pale-coloured one. This is it, my life, and there’s no reason not to twirl and whoop as often as I’d like, as often as I can. I hope you’ll do the same. 🙂

Tortuga

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Last weekend I went exploring parts of Chelsea, and spent a good bit of time walking and then sitting on the High Line. It was a beautiful day – warm, sunny, clear blue skies – so unsurprisingly there were quite a number of people out doing the same. I carried a packed lunch with me and at one point I sat down on a bench to enjoy my picnic, sunbathe and people-watch. It felt glorious. It was entertaining too, because everyone it seemed stop to marvel at a tortoise on the narrow lawn in front of me. He was a small thing, for a tortoise, about the size of my hand, and he was the only creature on the grass. He brought so much joy to surprised passersby, children and adults, when they noticed him wandering around there. “A turtle!” They would invariably exclaim, pointing him out to their companions and stopping to stare in wonderment. “How did he get there?” many would ask aloud, and then pull out their phones to take a picture. It was a great mystery, how this ‘turtle’ had made its way onto that particular patch of grass. This mystery was the cherry on top of the lovely treat the tortoise presented – us city folk rarely see animals other than dogs and pigeons when we’re out and about.

Although I didn’t notice the tortoise on my own, I became aware of him not long after I sat down, and was quickly more intrigued by the reactions of the pedestrians than the animal itself. It made me wonder about how we take pleasure in the magic of things that seem to just happen in our lives, though if we could see or understand the strings which brought them all together they would seem so much more mundane and even expected.

Lounging next to me on the bench was a quiet, unassuming man, who brought his wife’s tortoise to the park to sunbathe. Every now and again he would get up and bring Tortuga back into the area directly in front of him, but not so frequently that his presence was always obvious to those around us. Because he did not make a big show of his ownership of the tortoise, either by correcting people’s misperception that it was a turtle, or with body language that pointed to him as pet-owner, for all but those who came around to our side of the lawn to take a closer look, the mystery of Tortuga’s presence was preserved.

The gentleman’s actions led me to thinking about life in general, and all that must happen behind-the-scenes of events and circumstances that seem unexplainable to us. The fact is, whether we realise it or not, God is there. In the cosmic scheme of things, we are the turtles he has brought to the lawn.

Tortuga’s playground, which separated me and his owner from everyone else, recalled for me how our human nature and earthly home act as a barrier between us and God. While we may be looking at the same thing, we have totally different perspectives. Because of my position on the bench, I was privy to Tortuga’s name, his history and how he came to be at the High Line. I experienced his exploratory movements in a totally different way than everyone that whipped out their cameras – in fact I tried to take a picture of the people taking pictures. Our different knowledges put us in separate categories. They enjoyed looking at him while I marvelled at the great happiness he brought them.

This is analogous to my relationship with God. He is in control of my life, and knows things about it that I can’t, and never will. Furthermore, like Tortuga’s owner, he is always watching me and has control over what I encounter and when. From my perspective on the other side of the grass, I can’t see all that He is doing and will never be able to know the explanations for everything that happens, but I need to trust in him and his sovereignty all the same.