(Written Sunday): Last night I dyed my hair for the first time in my life, and it wasn’t because I wanted to. Our thirteen-year-old neighbor who is in homeschool with us came to our home unexpectedly last evening to warn me that a gang in the nearby city of La Ceiba had begun killing people with blonde or red hair.
After investigating further, I learned that the killings started in the two other major cities in Honduras — Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula — due to a rivalry between two gangs, and in the past week or so they have brought the chaos to our corner of the country.
So last night I sat at the wooden table in our living room, everything illuminated by a few flickering candles because the electricity and water had been out all day, while a $7.50 cream was massaged into my scalp to turn my hair black. My beauticians were the 22-year-old eldest sister of our homeschool student, already a mother of four, and a 16-year-old young woman who is already ‘married,’ although neither her nor her ‘husband’ are employed and she only completed the first grade. Both young women, who are pale-skinned compared to most Hondurans, had arrived at our gate with freshly-died black hair kindly offering me their help. Seeing as we didn’t have any gloves, the elder of the two wore plastic bags on her hands, secured in place with masking tape, so as not to stain herself with the potent dye. It was a strange feeling knowing I was the only one present who could read the directions on the hair-color box in Spanish.
So while I sat with a grocery bag on my head and dye creeping down my sideburns, I opened up Psalms 12, which we had read as a family earlier that day. I spoke of the injustice in our world that lies in stark contrast to the perfect justice that so wonderfully characterizes our God.
In a matter of 35 minutes my hair turned from a beautiful, completely natural light brown with flecks of red and blonde to a tacky all-black with smudges of the stubborn hair color staining my ears, hairline and neck.
In the middle of the whole ordeal, our 11-year-old daughter Jackeline had an emotional breakdown, losing herself in the midst of many obvious fears, the biggest of which was for the life of her little special needs brother, Josue. He, too, has naturally light brownish-blonde hair, and we were unable to buzz it off due to the fact that there was no electricity and I thus couldn’t connect my hair-clipper.
She sat on one of the chairs in our living room, lost in despair, as tears poured down her cheeks. I found her, squatted down in front of her with my hand on her knee, and gently demanded that she stop drowning in fear and instead focus on God. She protested, “But my biggest fear is that they will come tonight and kill Josue.”
My response: “That could happen.”
Her eyes grew and she looked at me, stunned, probably expecting me to have said, “Shh. Shh. Now, now, you know that won’t happen. Everything will be okay.”
I continued: “That could happen tonight, Jackeline, but the thing is that that could happen any night. Any night gang members or evil people could come and demand our lives or rape us. There are so many things to fear in this world – real things, scary things – that we can continually focus on those things and feel perpetually paralyzed by fear, or we can maintain our gaze on God, knowing that Jesus has overcome the world and that this world was never meant to be our permanent home.”
I then looked around our wonderfully, beautifully humble living room with the collection of family photos Darwin and I had worked together that morning to hang on a previously vacant wall, and said: “This world is not our home, Jackeline. Yes, I am at home right now in the sense that I am in my own living room, and my children and husband live here with me, but my real home is in God’s Kingdom with Him. If tonight or tomorrow or in a few months or years someone kills me or I die of a disease, my real life is not over. I am merely called home sooner than perhaps I had planned. Don’t get me wrong – I don’t want to die tonight, and I’m not hoping or assuming that something tragic will happen, but the thing to understand is that we all will die someday. You will die someday, Jackeline — it’s just a question of when and how.”
I turned around to look at her only biological brother who sat naively behind me, swinging his short legs over the edge of his chair, and I said lovingly, “Josue will die someday.” Her eyes grew even bigger as if that had never occurred to her before. “Someday I will die. Someday Darwin will die. You can choose to live in constant fear – and that is what you are currently doing – or you can choose to trust God, knowing that in the future when His Kingdom comes, there will be no more death or mourning or pain or sorrow. All of those things belong to this world. If your trust and hope are in this world, you will constantly be disappointed, tricked and fearful. Our goal is to faithfully maintain the attitude that No matter what happens, God is just, is good. In Him is my hope, not in what may or may not happen here on earth.”
Oh, I said so many more things to my young, fearful friend whom the Lord has placed in our home as a daughter. In her I saw the face of my beloved grandfather, a dear man who loved to Lord but for some very confusing reason still lived in fear every day of his life. He was a man who lived and died in fear; his dying wish as he lay before me on his hospital bed a few years ago was that I didn’t go to Africa, because the people there would kill me. Sorrow filled my chest for the young woman in front of me and for my grandfather, people who confess faith in Christ but yet don’t understand that He has called us out of fear and into freedom.
So towards the end of our long conversation, after having had to call her out of that lost, bewildered look several times, I reminded her once more: “There are two options: we can fear only God, and thus nothing else, or we can choose to ignore God and fear everything else. God’s Word says that the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom, and later on in the New Testament we learn that it is God’s will for us that we don’t fear anybody. So if I fear the murderers and thieves and liars instead of God, I’m a fool. If I fear only God and, rather than fear the evil people or hate them, pray for them, I’m wise. So tonight you and I can sit down together and pray for our own protection and the lives of those who are doing the killing – imagine how lost, how confused, they must be, having probably suffered great abuse of neglect when they themselves were young! — but we will not sit here in fear, crying and bathing in self-pity.”
These kinds of talks are common in our household and come at the most unexpected of moments. Yesterday early afternoon my husband and our 7-year-old son Jason left town to go on a campout with the boys/men from our faith community, and I had planned on having a quiet evening at home with the rest of the kids before they would return the next day. Little did we know all that would transpire in the one evening they were gone!
So last night I slept alone in our bed with my new stinky black hair listening to our three guard dogs, spooked by the fact that everything was unusually dark (no porch lights, no illuminated lampposts), bark non-stop. And this morning as I rolled groggily out of bed and tested the light switch, nothing happened. So all the food in our refrigerator has now gone bad and I am left wearing a ball-cap that doesn’t cover up all my hair nearly well enough, but God is good, and my understanding of His goodness is renewed and strengthened every time it is put to the test, every time I am forced to choose between the two available fears: fear of the Lord or fear of men.
Help, Lord, for no one is faithful anymore;
those who are loyal have vanished from the human race.
Everyone lies to their neighbor;
they flatter with their lips
but harbor deception in their hearts.
May the Lord silence all flattering lips
and every boastful tongue—
those who say,
“By our tongues we will prevail;
our own lips will defend us—who is lord over us?”
“Because the poor are plundered and the needy groan,
I will now arise,” says the Lord.
“I will protect them from those who malign them.”
And the words of the Lord are flawless,
like silver purified in a crucible,
like gold[c] refined seven times.
You, Lord, will keep the needy safe
and will protect us forever from the wicked,
who freely strut about
when what is vile is honored by the human race.