Two pictures popped up on my computer this afternoon.
The first was of the two families from Syria that will be coming to Lethbridge as part of a refugee sponsorship initiative that our church is a part of. No names, just a picture of nine pictures on a table. Nine precious people currently living as refugees in Lebanon, far from home, waiting for their claims to be processed. Nine people whose city and country lies in ruins. Nine people who can probably never go home. Nine faces in nine photographs laid out on a brown table. What have those nine faces seen, I wonder? What hopes do those nine faces have for their future? What might those nine faces make of a place like Lethbridge, AB, Canada? I imagine speaking with them, of playing with their kids, of becoming their friends. But these nine faces still seem a world away.
The second picture came five minutes later. Some good friends of ours boarded a flight to Haiti last night for an introduction they have been waiting a very long time for. Today, a picture! A picture with the little girl they are adopting, the little girl that will become a part of their family, the little girl that has been the subject of so much prayer and hope and longing. And now, they are lying on the floor beside her, holding her in their arms, preparing for a life with this wondrous little girl that will undoubtedly expand their family and their hearts in countless ways.
Two pictures that speak of hope and promise and a future. Two pictures that symbolize a widening of the circle—a community, a family—to include strangers from faraway lands. Two pictures that speak of the deep conviction that words like “family” and “neighbour” are large and spacious words, and that love is no respecter of the borders and boundaries between people that we humans are forever erecting and maintaining.
As I look at these two pictures, I can’t help but also feel a deep sadness. My heart breaks for the people of Syria—the countless thousands risking their lives and the lives of their children on rickety boats bound for uncertain European shores, the thousands of human beings hovering on the margins of Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, not knowing what will become of them, the thousands who have become deprived of a place of belonging, security, and identity. A home. My heart breaks for the people of Haiti, still staggering out of the misery and suffering of the 2010 earthquake. I think of the thousands of Haitians who have lost so much: mothers and fathers and brothers and sisters, homes and businesses. Futures. Children.
And I know that the futures that these two pictures point to will not be uncomplicated ones. There will be dislocation and homesickness, there will be pain for what has been lost, there will be questions of identity and belonging that will require negotiation. Widening the circle does not come without pain. I’ve often pondered the symbolism of Jesus’ death on a cross with those outstretched arms, a kind of agonizing embrace. I wonder if, in some small way, loving and welcoming in the way of Jesus necessarily places us in a position of vulnerability to being wounded, sometimes in profound ways.
But even though these two pictures seem so small in the face of all the sadness in Syria, Haiti, and beyond, and even if they point to futures that resist the cheap romanticism and easy Hollywood endings we are so fond of, they still make me smile. They make me think, “Yes, this is what love and life look like in a world where there is so much hatred and death.” They make me so proud of my friends and my community. They make me so grateful to be part of a narrative with a cross and an empty tomb at the center of it—a narrative that stubbornly insists that there is nothing so dark that light cannot come out of it.
They are visual embodiments of the words of the poet, Rilke:
Everything terrible is something that needs our love.