It’s been a strange week in America. It seems we’re walking on egg shells, tip-toeing in sand…afraid to smile or cry because there are so many sides to so many stories and we’re not sure which stories we want or need to tell.
The morning after the election I had a meeting at a trendy coffee shop near downtown Houston. The smell of chocolate coffee beans and coconut tea painted the air like blush on a cheek. As I breathed in a delicious inhale, a somber mood settled over what normally is a bustling hub. Two friends sat quietly arguing about the state of our union, while a woman I know slipped in unnoticed and hugged me from behind. Her caramel colored face was worried and taunt. She whispered fear and frustration about a country that seemed lost. “I hate the way America is fighting with itself…” she sighed. And I have to say, I sighed with her.
For the past two weeks I’ve hosted my “son” from Uganda. I call him a son because I led him to a deeper faith in Christ one night on a roof balcony under the black African sky. From that day forward he’s called me mama—and I’m proud of the name. Together we run The Vine Uganda; a haven for the lost, lonely and most needy people we can find. While spending a month there last summer, something he said has haunted me, especially the last few days. We were hunched on a bench next to each other, waiting to be seen by a bank teller. As we waited he grabbed my passport out of my hands and began reading the quotes on the pages. Honestly, I never even knew there were quotes on the pages of my passport. I’ve been so busy getting stamps to places around the world; I never took the time to read words describing my world…America’s world.
Vianey read each page like it was a heart-stopping novel, and when he handed me back my passport he said, “America’s the greatest country in the world.” I smiled the way you’re supposed to when someone gives you a compliment, but I’m embarrassed to say that I have never read the quotes on my passport.
Not until tonight.
I dug it out of my file cabinet and sat right down on the hard kitchen tiles to read. As tears stream down my cheeks I feel compelled to share with you what every American passport says:
“And that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” Abraham Lincoln
“The principle of free governments adheres to the American soil. It is bedded in it, immovable as its mountains.” Daniel Webster
“Let us raise a standard to which the wise and honest can repair.” George Washington
“We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” The Declaration of Independence
“We have a great dream. It started way back in 1776, and God grant that America will be true to her dream.” Martin Luther King, Jr.
“Whatever America hopes to bring to pass in the world must first come to pass in the heart of America.” Dwight D. Eisenhower
“The cause of freedom is not the cause of a race or a sect, a party or a class—it’s the cause of humankind, the very birthright of humanity.” Anna Cooper
“Every generation has the obligation to free men’s minds for a look at new worlds…to look out from a higher plateau than the last generation.” Ellison Onizuha
I wish I fully understood the weight of these quotes. It’s tempting to trash talk our country. To focus on what’s wrong, or broken, or bleeding like a nicked artery. We flippantly dismiss the sacrifice, the grace, the power of a country that’s fought so hard to define itself. We’re the United States of America for goodness sake. The great experiment that no one thought would work. The melding of humanity that gets stronger from our differences not weaker.
It took my African son to remind me of our beauty. As we hosted a gala benefiting The Vine, he and I took the stage, microphones in hand, and told our stories. I started by sharing how Vianey went deaf as a boy due to being given the wrong type of medicine for malaria. For fifteen years he’s prayed for a miracle, and America brought him one. We found a doctor and audiologist that donated their services. They gave us powerful hearing aids at cost, and for the first time in years Vianey was part of a conversation. We left the office and fell straight to the floor thanking God in the crowded hallway. We wept together and prayed—right there—for the goodness of these people.
American people. Good to the core.
From the brightly lit stage Vianey told me he couldn’t believe that so many people would come to something that benefited needy people they didn’t even know. I told him that was common in America. We do things like that here, American people. We care for others and help those in need. About five times a day Vianey shook his head saying, “America…” The plumbing, the buildings, the lawns, the grocery stores, the smiles of strangers, the hugs, the waves and warm “How are you?” following a handshake.
Maybe we just need to take a deep breath and see our country from another continent’s eyes. We’re brave, kind, strong people. We weep with those in need, and defend those too weak to stand. We encourage each other towards greatness, and hold out a hand when someone falls.
I’m still on the floor with this passport in my hand; touched by these quotes in a profound way. I thank God for his timing. Reminding us right when we need to be reminded. We live in the land of the free and the home of the brave.
The words of Anna Cooper—the last page of my passport—ring clear.
“The cause of freedom is not the cause of a race or a sect, a party or a class—it’s the cause of humankind, the very birthright of humanity.”