It doesn’t take much to create a huge distance between people

2015-08-30 13.55.34-2This past week I was in Berlin for a work conference aimed at equipping young(er) leaders across Europe to pursue healthy Christian leadership. For some reason, Berlin has never really been on my list of “places to visit.” With so much going on leading up to this trip, I hardly even had time to brush up on its history and figure out what I might want to see during down time. Well actually, in my ignorance, I didn’t think there would be all that much to see … and I wasn’t really counting on any down time. When Sunday rolled around I was ready to hit the ground running for five hours of exploring before heading back to the airport.

01d59673cea20fedef28aee44749bb62bdadd4e913Climbing the steps out of the belly of the city into the heat of summer, I was surprised to see so few people near the Brandenburg Gate. It was large and impressive but not more spectacular than structures I’ve seen in Paris and Rome. As we passed through to the other side, my co-explorer for the day explained some of the significance of it during WWII. The significance of it isn’t tied to what it looks like but how it was used and what it meant to the people who lived on either side of it. As we walked further through the waves and blocks in the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, I looked up to see the colour and the shapes in modern buildings surrounding the square. There was a story in each of these – in the hands of the people who designed them. You could nearly feel the heartbeat of the architects as they tried to convey a message to everyone who can see the sky above and feel the earth below. Words were only introduced when we entered the Topography of Terror, explaining how the city under our feet took shape in the last 100 years. Exposed and free of charge, it felt like a public announcement of repentance for past sin and a warning to never return.

2015-08-30 11.51.28-1A good few tram stops north of there, we joined the bohemian crowds filtering into Mauerpark for Sunday afternoon festivities. Passing by musicians and artists we made our way into the large flea market where we jostled our way in search of lunch. Currywurst in hand, we sat listening to a couple of different bands performing under the shade of the trees. A hill ascended in front of us and at the top stood a piece of “the wall” – a colourful backdrop for the lighthearted summer Sunday celebrations of the city. In front of it swings lifted people up and down from sturdy, tall wooden frames. Swings: flying, freedom, play, peace. Families gathered to release a hiss of colour onto the wall, creating something beautiful.

2015-08-30 13.44.15-112 feet high – the wall was part of a death strip from 1961-1989, an area designated to make sure no one crossed from East to West alive. If I had been born near there, I would have grown up with death in my backyard until I was seven, not swings. At the end of that portion of wall, I stopped where a fence replaced the concrete. A security guard in a high viz vest on the football stadium side looked at me strangely through the fence as I just stared at the abrupt end. It was less than a foot thick. I was struck in that moment by how little it takes to create such a huge divide between people. The obstacles themselves are easy to overcome but it is our militant effort to ensure that no one overcomes them without our permission that makes them dangerous.

Leading people towards hope is deconstructing obstacles and helping people move from oppression to freedom, regardless of if they are one of us or not. It is public repentance of how much harm has been done under the false illusion of good. It is recreating something beautiful and useful in the place of damage. It is rebellion against symbols of death by setting up swings in front of them. Can you hear the carefree laughter? That is hope.

Thank you, Berlin, for what you have taught me.

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presence

Humanity comes alive under the connecting influence of presence each day. When mechanized productivity takes a supporting role to sitting shoulder to shoulder with others in mutual sharing of space without pretense, secure social structures plant themselves in communities that become strong enough to support generations to come. Safety – it is a pillar that carries the weight of stone tables offering feasts of resilience for anyone whose bones show through their skin from exertion without nourishment.

Strength is found here.

It is found in the honest acceptance of existence as it is, not as it should be, could be or will be. It is found in the silent expressions of love baked into the homemade gifts with handmade flaws. It is under the furrowed brows and in the watery windows that painfully expose questions devoid of answers. It is in the space between that charges the air with particles of unspoken uncertainty until flooded with the sameness of the two, who sit side by side.

Presence is found here.

It nourishes the seeds released from the pine cone when the fire came. Survivors and thrivers burst through the ground and stretch arms to the sky following the dawn as it welcomes the rising light of the day. Be upstanding, humanity, for the strong arms of endless summer warmth when Presence will starve darkness and fires that suck life away.

freedom stories – Linda

525846_10152121124230324_1578127370_nFreedom. What does it mean to me to be free? Freedom from pain I suppose. When I say freedom from pain, I mean that it is ok to live again. And to know that it’s ok to live again is exciting! I am a woman coming from huge pain and suffering. I never thought I would be free of that pain. I can take that pain today and I’ve learned how to deal with that in a different way. This is my journey to where I am today of trusting God, how he gave me the freedom to live and this excitement.

Hopeless. A lot of darkness. This is what life was like when I was in pain. Every day I wanted to die. Every single day. I had suicidal thoughts and wondered if it was ever going to end. I couldn’t breathe properly. I didn’t sleep well. I worried every day. I was in fear all the time – that it was going to happen again, that I would lose another son. Another fear was: Am I ever going to live again? How long am I going to carry this awful pain? And part of me was not wanting it to end. I should never be coming out of that pain! Pain hit me because he (my son) was gone and nothing was going to bring him back. Because it was my child I didn’t feel like I deserved to come out of that. It wouldn’t be right to smile again. It wouldn’t be right to be free of that again. I thought I was going to have to carry this for the rest of my life. Every morning I woke up I asked God, “why am I alive again today?” Why do I have to go through this awful pain and loss and darkness and fear? I did this without hating God, because I loved him. I was in that grief for 7 years. There was joy in that time because of what God was doing. I saw that and that is what kept me alive but I still was very much in a very deep, deep sadness.

I suppose I can’t tell you how freedom came. It was a journey that came itself over time. If you asked me four years ago if I would I see myself sitting here today telling you I feel free, I would have said “no.” I never thought I would ever be free of that harrowing pain – that loss of a child. That loss of someone you love so dearly and carried in your belly. And to lose him, I didn’t think I should ever feel free from that again. I would have felt that I wasn’t a mother. I didn’t want anyone to see me smiling because if they saw me they might think that I was all right (but I wasn’t all right). But today I smile and I’m all right because there is so much hope in me. That is what freedom has given me: hope. That it is ok to let go of that pain. And I’m not a bad mother if I do. I used to think I was if I did.

I don’t want to say my freedom is joyful because it’s not. Could I say peaceful? Could I say hopeful? There is joy in my heart because I’m hopeful but not full of joy to be rid of my pain. The joy is that I never thought I could belly laugh again. I never thought I could want to maybe meet someone again. Back then I didn’t think I would live to these years. I thought that pain was going to kill me anyway. I do have a life and God does have a plan and I embrace that now. It feels good. It feels good!

I sit here today clear minded. Not sedated or anything. I can’t believe that! That is a miracle in itself. There is freedom in seeing the peace in my children. There is freedom in watching their careers take shape. They weren’t supposed to be alive with what they went through after Edward’s death and yet they are free men themselves today.

And it is only that God was in that darkness with me, minding me, guiding me, protecting me, spoiling me, lifting me. He was giving me more of him than what other people got of him. In that pain he was giving me more and more and more. I wasn’t going to make it without that “more.” I needed that encounter with God and I had it. His presence overwhelmed me. I knew he had Edward. I know he showed my son grace and mercy. And the hope that kept me moving onto the freedom I have today is that I will see him again. I will know his smile again and that gives me joy.

That gives me joy.

Linda McCabe

find the rhythm of hope

There is a rhythm of hope that beats. Feet tapping, arms swaying, dance inducing. We don’t have to create it, we just need to discover it. Feel it? Hear it? Mostly just find the stillness to first recognise it. It exists without us but gets louder with us. It is seen through our response to it. The joy in our eyes. The generosity in our hands. The compassion in our feet. The prophesies in our mouths.

Forget embarrassment. Forget who is watching. Stop comparing.

When you find it. Just join the dance.

Can you feel the rhythm of heaven bringing healing as we sing? Can you feel the passion growing? It’s beating deep within. We lay our pride on the floor. We come to surrender our all. ~ Peter Eckley and Nigel Hemming

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rebellion is hope

Let me dream of a city that looks so different from the one that I see today. Let me dream of a city where the group of teens on the corner is a symbol of a nation’s hope. Let me dream of where they use their recklessness to say “enough!” to violence, “enough!” to anger, “enough!” to streets filled with rubbish, “enough!” to drug abuse, “enough!” to disrespect, “enough!” to lonely neighbours, “enough!” to the sex shop on the corner, “enough!” to poverty, “enough!” to shame.

Let me dream of teens who use their recklessness to pursue goodness when everyone tells them they are bad, pursue education when they are told they are stupid, pursue purpose when they are told they are a waste of space, pursue understanding when they are limited, pursue healing when they are hurt.

Let me dream of teens with courage to set the example for society in life, in love, in faith, and in purity.

Let me dream of the city this will become when teens begin to understand that rebellion means fighting the rules of how they are expected to behave. Rebellion is love. Rebellion is responsibility. Rebellion is having a voice. Rebellion is peace. Rebellion is hope.

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First posted on my previous blog in January 2014.

made of courage and hope

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On the long padded benches of McDonald’s on O’Connell Street I quizzed M. about teen culture in the area of Dublin known locally as “town”, more commonly recognised by outsiders as the inner-city.  She told me about their pride in fashion, mobile phones and shoes – those blinding, neon Nikes. With articulate grace she spoke about her hopes and dreams. With calm confidence she spoke about her plans of opening her own beauty salon, having her own flat and one day (a good few years from now) her own family.

We sipped our milkshakes as she continued to help me on this little project. She probably didn’t know this, but I couldn’t help but be filled with all sorts of pride for her. Sure, I took in what she was telling me about teen culture but I was secretly distracted by thoughts of what an incredible young woman she has become. I was there since before M.’s first communion. On occasion I was even one of the privileged few that she let babysit her. I was there as she entered her teen years. And now here she was, a beautiful young woman exuding so much courage and hope about reaching whatever dream that she wanted. At one stage she looked over at me and said, “I don’t remember a time in my life when you weren’t around.” I’ve always known welcome in her home. Her mam made sure of that, always making sure that I had all I ever needed. When going to study in Canada she even gave me an Ireland necklace so that I wouldn’t forget where I came from. She has been a true friend all these years.

In our conversation M. proved that she see’s town realistically – the strengths and the challenges. She’s also aware of the stereotypes but they are merely a passing thought that she counts as ridiculous to base life around. She has pride in where she comes from and in her community. She finds her value and worth in who she is and the choices she can make.

M.’s eyes were alight as she graciously answered all my questions over a couple of hours. She has influenced me for the better, reminding me of all that is good in the world. She is a picture of resilience that I hang in the gallery of my soul.