The State of Heart

 Palestinian refugee children dancing at a party at JCC Sabra Center in Sabra, Beirut, Lebanon. December 2015.

 Palestinian refugee children dancing at a party at JCC Sabra Center in Sabra, Beirut, Lebanon. December 2015.

“Words kill, words give life; they’re either poison or fruit—you choose.”

Proverbs 18:21, The Message

“You better check yo’self before you wreck yo’self.” ~Ice Cube

I’ve been singing that Ice Cube verse over and over in my head for the past few weeks. Let’s just be clear; I had to sit quietly with myself before I started to write this out. It’s been a whirlwind of work lately, many speaking engagements which take it out of me emotionally. And for sure the climate in America is taking a toll on me, probably on all of us. Even with that, work for the most part is going well. I have been received favorably by a wide group of audiences. And, I was able to buy a ticket back to the Middle East this spring! Yippee! I’ve been encouraged for the most part, with bumps along the way.

“Where is yo heart at Mollner?”

This example, of what it looks like to connect and receive messages from myself, is from one of my favorite movies. I'm just going to wait here until I get another message...from myself. 

And when I did get the message, it was loud and clear. It welled up in me and I burst out crying. The anxiety I feel is tremendous.

A post on FB brought me a world of hurt. I thought it was a great idea; a local organization asking people to send a message of welcome to refugees in Colorado for Valentine’s Day. Once photos were collected, they will make a collage and gift it to two local resettlement agencies. That way, people who come to the office know they are welcomed, cared for, and appreciated by other Americans. Great idea. I made a Valentine with #cowelcomesrefugees and snapped a quick picture.

Do you know why this was a great idea to me? Because I have volunteered with two different refugee resettlement agencies in Colorado. I know the ins and outs of helping a family adjust to this country. A few years ago, I helped an Iraqi family register their 4 children with a local school district. It was an overwhelmingly hard task. Translation for the father, a complicated process, papers in Arabic, and trying to decide what comparable grade level the children belonged in. Not to mention their limited English. The hardest part was to see the confusion and frustration of the father.

I also have moved to another country. I know how hard it is to figure out electricity, phone, internet, water, generator (because of daily power cuts), residency, healthcare, etc., etc., etc. I could go on. It’s incredibly challenging trying to maneuver through what should be normal, everyday activities with a limited knowledge of the culture, infrastructure, and language. And this was a choice I made! It wasn’t because I lost everything and had to flee a conflict. I was not dealing with the effects of trauma and PTSD on top of figuring out how to get stuff done in a new culture. Add loneliness and being misunderstood into the mix.

So, for me, the least I could do with the knowledge I have is to post a welcome to refugees in my home state. The result? I was unfriended by one person and had to block two people -- one I didn’t know and one I had known for a very long time. I also reported the gentleman I didn’t know to Facebook. I’ll save you the gory details. But, I had to check my heart before I responded or did anything. And man, did it hurt my heart. Something I meant for good, something I meant to be beautiful was taken as my ignorance or stupidity or naivety or a political statement.

It was a painful marker to me of where we are in this country right now.

Check yo’ self, Mollner.

I had to make sure I didn’t reply with venom or hatred. I had to work out my own hurt so I dare not hurt another. The interesting thing was when I asked a friend about her Facebook friend (the guy I didn’t know who commented), she told me his story and his story would break your heart. It did mine. So immediately, the urge to punch him in the face turned into compassion. It doesn’t mean what he did was ok; it wasn’t and he still broke a boundary. But, it does mean I am responsible for my heart and my mouth and how I treat others. Regardless of how they treat me. 

“This is scary: You can tame a tiger, but you can’t tame a tongue—it’s never been done. The tongue runs wild, a wanton killer. With our tongues we bless God our Father; with the same tongues we curse the very men and women he made in his image. Curses and blessings out of the same mouth!” James 3:7-10, The Message

This passage has always haunted me; I never took it literally. And what I mean by that is I have heard this used as biblical proof against having a foul, swearin’ mouth. Such as if you say naughty words like hell or damn. “How the hell can you talk about hell when you can’t say hell?” Thanks, Bart Simpson. I think that is a very superficial meaning of this text. How can I profess to love God and praise him with my voice and my life when the actions of my heart and mouth continue to curse others, men and women made in his image? That would make me a fraud and my faith meaningless.

The funny thing is, a few days before this incident I was giving a talk about Palestinian refugees to a very pro-Palestinian crowd. This is new for me! But, I still needed to check myself, my mouth, and my heart. There was a reporter there and she asked me a question but seemed unhappy with my answer. I think she wanted me to bite and I didn’t. I think she may have wanted a political statement and I wouldn’t give it. Because this isn’t a political agenda or debate for me; my work with Palestinian refugees is my heart and my praise back to God.

Another man disagreed with me about arguing; he told me I need to argue with people. I respectfully told him why I do not argue. I also went into great detail and vulnerability on how I must keep my heart soft to continue to do this work. To continue to seek reconciliation. To continue to engage others. To continue to love and respect human beings.

It’s hard not to let fear have a hold on your heart. It’s hard to stand up for others. It’s hard to take on personal attacks. And yet, when I think of the negative comments I got (or continue to get) and just how harsh the treatment was, I must believe it was all driven by fear.

Fear keeps us small. Fear keeps us from speaking up. Fear keeps us in a box. That way, we don’t have to offer reconciliation. That way we justify venom pouring out of our mouth. That way we don’t have to do our own hard spiritual work. The work on the state of our hearts. That way we get to believe lies. Anything to keep ourselves safe.

You know what fear makes almost impossible to do?

Offer blessing.

Offer welcome.

Offer a bridge.

Offer love.

It makes it impossible to see life from someone’s perspective. Perhaps a refugee. Perhaps a Muslim. Perhaps a fellow American.

It fosters curses. It builds walls. It doesn’t keep you safe. It doesn’t keep you present. It doesn’t open your heart. Fear breeds hate.  Fear hurts others around you, but the greatest damage it does is to you, to your soul, and to your heart. And maybe somehow we choose that pain over empathy for our neighbors, including all those so different from ourselves. Maybe that pain is more manageable than seeing life through someone else’s eyes.

I know this too well of my own life. I know the people I have hurt because of my own fear. I also know the damage it has caused me. I write those words as someone who has lived in fear for most of my life. But, as soon as I stepped out and started to engage others, to really try to see life from another perspective, that’s when my freedom came. With that freedom came the ability to offer bridges instead of building walls. Vulnerability instead of self-protection.

All I know is I must keep my heart soft…at all costs. I know I must continue working on my own little corner of the world doing what I can, despite the turmoil around me. I must continue to offer reconciliation, not just for my sake, but for others too afraid to step out. I still must seek to benefit Palestinian refugee communities regardless of the popularity or the opposition.

And I must continue to ask people to join in. As many people as possible.

Suzann MollnerComment