I’ve got a new friend, all right. But what a gamble friendship is! Charlotte is fierce, brutal, scheming, bloodthirsty—everything I don’t like. How can I learn to like her, even though she is pretty and, of course, clever? ~Wilbur
I’ve had the book since 4th grade, when some benevolent soul thought it kind to simply give it to me rather than have me continually check it out of the library. It’s an ever-present friend sitting on the bedside table, along with a book of Puritan prayers, poetry by Rilke, thoughts by Henri Nouwen, and a cracked and worn New Testament once carried in the pocket of a WWII Army uniform.
I adore Charlotte’s Web. Love lives in that book. Grace lives in that book. Honor lives in that book. Charlotte lives the Gospel in that book.
She’s become a hero of sorts to me. Charlotte, the spider who holds no delusions about what makes her strong and what makes her dangerous. She has no ulterior motives in helping one little white pig. Saving Wilbur’s life won’t save hers. Making him famous won’t make her known. He becomes a celebrity. She remains a spider.
He lives. She dies.
I fell into the pages at 9 years old, and read the entire book in one sitting. And then I read it again, dreaming myself far away from my troubled suburban bedroom and into a beautiful old barn where I would be Fern with my own perfect pig. I would draw webs, imagining what word Charlotte might select if she was describing me to the world. I wasn’t talented or pretty and my home wasn’t peaceful like the barn, but Charlotte didn’t mind. She taught me that beautiful things are born in unlikely places. She taught me about hope as I would wish myself into that little barn with Wilbur and Fern. She wove good words into me to replace all the bad words around me.
Words like creative and enthusiastic and dreamer. Words like visionary and renegade and fighter.
Today, Charlotte is still teaching me. Today, she speaks.
“We are all good and bloodthirsty.”
I went to Jamaica in September, but kept pretty quiet about it because so many responses were along the lines of, “Pretty sweet – gonna party, I’m sure. Lucky for you.” I wish I could pack everyone up and take them with me, so they could meet the kids who are perfect in every way – and deaf. I wish I could explain how they are viewed by many as less than human or demon-possessed, and how even with a great education they are still at significant risk for ending up on the streets or back in slavery to families that believe a deaf child has no worth. And I wish I could let everyone spend time with the Jamaican women who work tirelessly on behalf of those kids and refuse to let go of big dreams of liberty and opportunity. I want to tell the world about them all. I want to see change come to Jamaica. And I believe it can.
Last month, I was in Honduras with a group of women who were piloting a therapeutic play system based on some incredible work done by a woman named Dr. Karen Purvis. She found that even the most traumatized kids could find connection and learn to trust again. In a country that touts both the world’s highest murder rate and highest impunity rate for sexual offenders, trust could be breathing its last breath. But I believe change can come to Honduras – and I’ve seen glimmers of hope in the eyes of the children at San José orphanage and in the smiles of the children who receive a nutritious meal and faith-centered tutoring at the NiCo community program in one of the most impoverished areas of La Paz.
Plans are coming together for a return trip to Guatemala in February. I’ve been there so many times now, it does feel like a second home. It’s beautiful, and it’s ravaged by brokenness. 80% of all Guatemalan women will be abused in their lifetime. There, I’m working with young women who are learning to care for children conceived in incest and rape. And I’m working with young women who have been rescued from trafficking and abuse, but don’t yet understand what the word “rescue” means because they have no idea that what has been done to them is evil. I work alongside Guatemalan women and men who are pouring their very souls into the girls – and lives are being transformed in every way. I want to tell the world about their stories. I want to see change come to Guatemala, and I believe it can.
I write stories about in-the-trenches work being done with Syrian refugees and South Sudanese boys and Indonesian families. I want to see change come, and I believe it can.
And so I weave words into webs hung on barn doors. Words like “redeem” and “hope” and “mercy” and “justice” and “boots-on-crumbling-ground love.”
I believe change can come to other places because of the people I have met along the way, the people who are doing the hard work of showing mercy and living justly and walking humbly. I have hope for the oppressed and the silenced in other countries, countries that have a fraction of the freedoms we have.
I want to have that same hope for the United States. I really do.
Maybe we remain the product of our nation’s very birth. We were born from protest. The culture of malcontent is still thick in our country, the language of rage is strong. Trust is viewed as untrustworthy, and everyone is a potential enemy. We voice our complaints about the injustice of poor service at a restaurant with the same passion in which we voice our complaints about people being gunned down – and it all becomes noise. “Please step into my world” and “You’ll never understand my life because of who you are” and “How dare you tell me what to think” link arms in social media threads. We tap our fingers as we wait on someone else to make the first move, and then wag the same fingers as we tell them it wasn’t enough. We scream in outrage about walls being built as we stack our own bricks higher to separate us from those we choose to blame.
We are all good and bloodthirsty.
I watched us nominate a new president. And the words from so many again were – and still are – filled with hate. We don’t explain why a candidate deserves leadership – rather, we spew vitriol at the candidates we don’t like, and we condemn all who don’t agree with us. We destroy tables built for communion and stoke the flames of fear.
We pat ourselves on the backs as being wise because we have professed all who don’t look or act like us to be fools.
We are all good and bloodthirsty.
I guess I should be careful with the use of the word, “we.” I usually do my best to not broad brushstroke things, but I can’t find another pronoun that works. I do collect stories of hope about people in the United States. There’s Josh who believes each life matters in a forgotten neighborhood in Galveston. There’s Nikki, who is translating culture in city after city to help people better understand both our fears and our common hope. There’s Lisa in Grand Rapids who believes pro-life is worth more than simply cheering for someone who says “no” to abortion. There’s Flo who stays and keeps staying to make sure kids feel safe and loved in a trouble-ridden part of town in Austin. There’s Latasha, who believes with all her heart that “they will know us by our love,” and speaks to whoever will listen about building bridges to racial unity.
It’s those stories that help me hold on to the thread of hope I have that this country can be saved from itself.
While I can speak about the verbal, sexual, physical, emotional, and spiritual abuses I experienced in my life, while I can speak about the “bean days” of hard choices about paying bills and making meals and the fear that there might not be money for either, while I can speak about being a single mom and being a woman – I am still white. I’ve never felt the agony of having a loved one murdered. I’ve never been told to “go back where I came from.” I’ve never felt panic course through my veins as a police officer pulled me over. I’ve been both ignored and given harsh looks, but I’ve never been profiled at a clothing store because I didn’t “look the type.” I’ve written on my blog about wishing as a child that I was black, because in the world I lived in black people were happy and loved their families – something I longed for in a home fueled by anger. But when all is said and done, I am a white woman with privileges and benefits afforded me in a country that puts “white” first on the checklist of ethnicity.
But why don’t I use my privilege and benefits to speak up more about injustice? Why don’t I weave more words to hang in the corners of barn doors for all to read? Because I still struggle to believe my words could have any influence on our country’s culture. I want to have third-world hope for this first-world life. I really do. I’m learning from people around the world how to love well and lead well. I’m watching every day for even the faintest light of hope in people. Any people. All people.
Today, I am repeating, “Third-world hope in a first-world life.” Charlotte quietly speaks today too, and she says, “Do good, one word at a time.”
I think perhaps the words woven into webs on barn doors in this first world will look much the same as they do in Jamaica or Honduras or Guatemala. Words like “redeem” and “hope” and “mercy” and “justice” and “boots-on-crumbling-ground love.” Maybe they’ll be carved into tables built for communion. Or maybe they’ll simply be written in a love note that’s sealed and stamped and sent to an unexpecting soul.
And the words begin with this:
You have been my friend. That, in itself, is a tremendous thing. I wove my webs for you because I liked you. After all, what’s a life, anyway? We’re born, we live a little while, we die. A spider’s life can’t help being something of a mess, with all this trapping and eating flies. By helping you, perhaps I was trying to lift up my life a trifle. Heaven knows anyone’s life can stand a little of that.” ~Charlotte
Bless your enemies; no cursing under your breath. Laugh with your happy friends when they’re happy; share tears when they’re down. Get along with each other; don’t be stuck-up. Make friends with nobodies; don’t be the great somebody.
Don’t hit back; discover beauty in everyone. If you’ve got it in you, get along with everybody. Don’t insist on getting even; that’s not for you to do. “I’ll do the judging,” says God. “I’ll take care of it.”
Our Scriptures tell us that if you see your enemy hungry, go buy that person lunch, or if he’s thirsty, get him a drink. Your generosity will surprise him with goodness. Don’t let evil get the best of you; get the best of evil by doing good. Romans 12:14-21 MSG
#5forFive is part of Rev1211, connecting artists with community and resources to support and help fulfill their life and kingdom purposes. The other four elements of my series are featured on my Instagram account. You may check them out there!