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Seeing the Sacred in our Hard Stories

October 29, 2020 4 min read

Carrying Hard Stories

After being in Little India for five months, here’s what I’m learning—my spice tolerance will never match my friends who lived in Southeast Asia, most parties are big and loud and colorful and all the things I am not, family is everything, and many of my neighbors carry sacred hard stories.

A few days ago I sat in a family’s home, helping the oldest daughter fill out a college application. In the middle of talking about her classes and gpa, her dream of becoming a pediatrician, and the struggle of online classes, I overheard another conversation happening in the room. In bits and pieces, I heard, “No birth certificate.” 

And then Bob told me the story. The girl I sat next to—born in 2004—doesn’t have a birth certificate because she was born at home. At the time, her family lived in Malaysia—a host country for refugees who are awaiting placement in a resettlement country. Host countries should protect the already vulnerable refugees—providing safety, security, shelter. But many host countries oppress rather than protect, criminalize rather than help. 

Not long before my friend was born, her aunt gave birth to a baby in a Malaysian hospital. Almost immediately, the baby was kidnapped, her aunt was arrested, and the family was forced to pay thousands of dollars in bribe money to free her aunt. They had to hire a woman to care for the newborn baby while her mother—the aunt—was tortured in prison for even crying for her baby. With the aunt’s experience still fresh in her mind, my friend’s mom gave birth to her at home, and because of that, she doesn’t have a birth certificate.

A Community of Hard Stories

These kinds of stories litter the streets of my neighborhood. Our families walk around in them, feeling the weight of each memory on their shoulders. A family who received a death notice from ISIS. Another whose neighbor murdered her sister. Still others who had to flee for one reason or another. Most of our friends have survived terror and violence I’ve only read about on the news.

As I listened to the story of my new friend, I could see her aunt, cowering under the blows of the prison guards, police officers, and soldiers—those who should have been protecting her. I could feel a tiny slice of the anguish she felt as she stifled her tears at night to keep from being punched and kicked and hit. I saw her face—dirty and bruised. I saw her eyes—filled with tears, longing to cradle the baby she had carried for nine months. 

But then I looked across the street to the same aunt’s home…

But sitting in my friends home, I looked across the street, and I saw this same aunt’s house in Chicago. I remembered the engagement party I went to for her other daughter. I remembered the warmth and care she and her family have cultivated in their home. And I remembered that although she and her family carry stories of pain and hardship and unimaginable oppression, they are much more than the painful stories they bear. 

Sacred Hard Stories Carry Hope

Sipping Thai tea on this cold Monday afternoon, Bob asked our hopeful college friend, “If you had one dream, one thing you do without any obstacle getting in your way, what would you do?” 

She paused, looking at the ceiling, thinking hard. “I don’t know if this answers your question. I wrote this the other day, and I can’t stop thinking about it,” She paused again, and then said, “I want to lend a hand to those whose hands are tied.” 

Friend, her words wrecked me. Because those are the words of a world changer, a culture shaker. Those are sacred words spoken in the most ordinary of circumstances. 

Sipping Thai tea.
Writing a college essay. 

“I want to lend a hand to those whose hands are tied.”

“I want to lend a hand to those whose hands are tied.”

Like her aunt.
Like her cousin. 
Like her mom. 
Like the thousands of Rohingya around the world.
Like oppressed and persecuted people all around us. 

There is something so beautiful in all of this that I’m only beginning to understand, because her desire to lend a hand, to free the oppressed, to offer love and support and justice, to be a voice for the voiceless is something I’ve heard a million times. It’s the kind of thing I’ve said before. But in that moment it felt like we we standing on holy ground. Even now, I write her words with honor and love because the ground still feels sacred.

“I want to lend a hand to those whose hands are tied.”

Yes and amen. 
So do I. 
Let it be. 

Carrying our own Sacred Stories

Friend, we all carry stories. We carry struggles and hardships and obstacles. Some of us feel the weight of oppression and racism and a kind of evil that is difficult to put into words. But we are more than our worst stories. We are more than our worst days. We are more than our most challenge circumstance. And maybe, just maybe, the Father longs to take those things that feel heaviest and turn them into sacred, beautiful, divine gifts—like lending a hand to those whose hands are tied. 

My sweet friend is going to do incredibly well in life. I have no doubt. She might struggle in college. She might not become a pediatrician. But she will be an incredible woman. She already is, because she sees the sacred in her story. She sees hope. 

May we do the same. 

1 Comment

  • Carol Metzler October 29, 2020 at 11:24 am

    Oh my goodness, this is so beautiful! And at the same time heartwrenching. When I hear stories like this, my heart cries for those who have suffered so, but I also love to see how beautifully God has brought them to a place like this young woman. Thank you for sharing her story, Katherine. I feel like I also was on sacred ground as I read it. I want to take her wish and stamp it on my heart. Please tell her your grandma will be praying for her and will be anxious to hear the rest of her story someday.

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