Friday, December 13, 2013

Welcome Home

The story of how Creator awoke my native heritage.

Last year shortly before Thanksgiving (US) the Spirit moved me by the absence of Native Americans in the celebration, and the absence of concern for them among the majority in the US. I began to pray that churches will lead the way in turning to fellowship with Native Americans, and in repenting to them for the great national sins against them. I prayed that we could find the spirit of that first "Thanksgiving" by loving our neighbors (even if most of the story is a myth).

I was grieved that most "Christians" in the nation simply didn't care about the Native peoples of the land. No one seemed to want to go out of their way to acknowledge the grievous national sins done against Native Americans, or even to simply hear their concerns, their opinions, their feelings and their voices. They deserved much better than this, especially from those of us who call ourselves "Christians."

I had read a great book several years ago by a Lakota minister named Richard Twiss, so I tried to connect with him on Facebook. Although he didn't write back to me, I was able to see some of his posts. I learned that one of his friends, a Navajo minister, was leading a gathering the following month at the Capitol building in Washington D.C. to read a very obscure half-apology to Native people's which the government had hidden in some complicated and unrelated legislation.

I couldn't be with them in person, but I wanted to be with them in spirit and to stand with them in as best as I could. On Facebook I shared about what they were doing, and when the day came I watched online and prayed for them.

Afterwards I connected with some of the ministers that I saw speaking at the event. I discovered that one of them, Terry Wildman, had written a book about the historical and prophetic landscape of the United States. Through the book and occasional chats online with Terry and others, God opened my eyes and my heart to many perspectives of Natives that I hadn't understood before. God shared his heart with me and gave me paintings and words about Native Americans, and about how the church hasn't understood the truth about United States.

Then in February, Richard Twiss suddenly passed away from a massive heart attack. The First Nations Christian community was shocked and instantly plunged into mourning. Although I didn't know him personally and had never met him, somehow I also cared about him and I also mourned that he had passed away. As his community grieved, I grieved with them. And as they remembered him, sharing stories of good times, Richard's jokes and sense of humor, I laughed and enjoyed them, too. I realized a little of what a remarkable person he was, and I was greatful to God for the gift of such a wonderful elder.

I was moved and God gave me a picture about Richard. I prayed for his family, his friends, his fellow ministers and the community that he left behind. Then in March I watched online as they held a special memorial service for him.

Truthfully I have to say that at that time, native ceremonies and songs just did *not* move me at all! I could totally respect and honor them... just personally they didn't move me. I felt like an outsider looking in. It was different and foreign to me. I didn't understand the type of singing or the special significance of many of the Native American ways. But I understood that this was their culture and I could respect it as the way that they expressed the spirit that God put in them.

And really that was all okay with me, because I was watching a family and community (an incredibly *beautiful* family and community) as they remembered an incredible man, and it wasn't about how I felt at all. I was watching and just standing with them in the Spirit regardless of how foreign or "outside" it felt to me.

I could see it was moving for them, and at the end it was difficult for them to finally retire Richard's regalia (beautifully, most Native languages don't actually have a word for "goodbye" but rather say "see you later" instead).

At the end of the service they played a song that had a lot of meaning for many of them, called "Welcome Home" by a contemporary Cherokee singer named Michael Jacobs. Some people began to dance in their Native regalia. Again I watched with respect, but was not personally moved... until the singer sang vocables (the traditional Native way).

Suddenly from deep inside I was moved so strongly, and my mind couldn't understand at all. As the vocables and the words "welcome home" were sung, in my heart I was moved. I just wept and wept.

What in the world was going on? It was exactly like the Spirit flipped a switch or opened up something in my heart.

Through the weeping tears I asked God what was happening to me, because I felt like it was saying "welcome home" to me!

God answered and said,

"Yes, these are your people; welcome home."

That can't be, I thought.

Yeah, I heard of some distant ancestor on my mother's side (the white side) and the rumor of Apache on my father's side (the Mexican side), but it was so distant and so little, I thought it couldn't really "count" or it couldn't matter for anything. Still the Spirit kept moving me and I couldn't stop weeping.

I wrestled with Him for several days about it... several weeks on and off, really. I would go back and forth, objecting to what He was witnessing in my spirit and telling me, then learning to listen and let my head agree with Him. My spirit and heart went ahead of my mind, and my world turned upside down. Oftentimes I thought about how crazy it all sounded, and that there's no way this could be possible. But His peace and love were all over it, and my spirit was just witnessing so strongly... my heart was at home and at rest in this identity; my heart was coming home, though consciously I never knew that I had been "away."

Through family oral history, I found out that the ancestor on my mother's side was Cherokee, but can't document it yet. (Interestingly I've learned that the same oral history is shared by many other of my ancestor's descendants whom I've never met and are related to me distantly.)

After that, my spirit kept reacting every time I would hear Natives singing vocables or see regalia. I would weep all over again. Or when I saw pictures of the Cherokee homeland, the Smoky Mountains.

I felt really weird and scared to share this, but was surprised when the first people I shared it with not only understood what I was feeling, but even embraced me, welcomed me "home" and urged me to embrace my Native heritage!

I protested to God that I thought our flesh and blood didn't matter to Him, and He said that was partially true but partially wrong. It is true that no person's flesh and blood is better than another's, save for Christ's. But He did ordain that we would be born into our cultures and tribes, and they are not "nothing" to Him, but are rather so valuable that in the end when all is done and the earth is made new, He wants us all to sing "from every tribe, every language and every nation!"

One comment from a Native friend (also of mixed-blood heritage) was particularly helpful to me. He said that just as Christ Himself was 100% God and 100% human (not 50-50), in the same way we are 100% of the blood we carry. Not just "parts" or a fraction or a percentile.

So that rocked me, and I've not been the same since.

I'm thankful. I'm learning. I'm meeting and finding community, even if only through messages on Facebook. I'm on the other side of the earth, but this longing for those mountains and for the land has stirred in me.

God, the Creator and Redeemer, is just awesome. He awoke a root in my heart that I didn't know was there, melted me and changed my direction in life, leaving me longing for community and more that I just can't describe.

It has been an amazing journey, and I'm just overwhelmed over and over because I never knew any of this was possible. I never knew my own heart was "away from home" and longing for my relations. I never knew this part of who I am. It has been a wonderful surprise awakening to me.

Thank you for listening.

May 20, 2013 (updated Dec.13)

1 comment:

  1. I remember my first Pow Wow where I danced. Wearing a borrowed regalia, and camping out at the event, I could not stop weeping. All night long I could hear people beathing the drums and singing. My mother asked me, "What are they singing?" I replied, "Mama, they are praying!". My mother and I openly wept. My mother said to me, I have waited all my life to hear this! And it was how I also felt. We had come home!