possibility

And Now, the Rest of the Story

From destitution and fear to security, Charlene (Photo courtesy of Sean Sheridan, World Relief)

A FEW YEARS ago in this column, I told the story of Charlene, a woman I had just met in a camp for displaced people in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Charlene’s civilian husband had been murdered by rebel fighters in Congo’s brutal civil war. She and her eight children then fled for their lives, ultimately finding shelter in the hovel of mud and sticks where I met them (September-October 2010).

Like thousands of other displaced Congolese women, Charlene had been forced by destitution to hike into the forest for firewood to trade for food for her children. Like thousands of other displaced Congolese women, Charlene had been brutalized by fighters who hid in the forests and used rape as a weapon of war. Like thousands of other displaced Congolese women, Charlene had been impregnated by her rapist. Because of the stigma of rape in that culture, the beautiful two-week-old baby she’d named David was destined to a life of marginalization and despair.

Charlene was the first woman I met in Congo. She explained to me that even when the women went to the forest in groups, armed rebels would overpower and rape them. If husbands went into the forest to protect their wives, the rebels would kill the husbands, and then rape the wives. The women took the risk—and paid the price.

For me, Charlene gave human shape to Congo’s horrific story of colonial exploitation, tribal conflict, and foreign greed. In the four years after we met, hers was the first story I told whenever I spoke about Congo. It was her pain that motivated me to keep speaking, writing, and advocating for Congo.

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Pregnant with Possibility

THE TASTE OF the election still may be in our mouths—but Advent is breaking in.

Advent is a four-week stomp to Christmas. It is the time when God starts to show. God is pregnant during Advent: pregnant with possibilities that somehow, some way, someday, things will be different. They will taste better. We will know their taste better. We will be able to be engaged in our lives and our commitments and also be at peace. We will be the ones at the birthside, marveling about how God could dare come as a child or send heaven to earth, spirit to flesh, drenching humanity with divinity. The big words for this showing will be “Son of God” and “joy to the world.” The angels will sing, the night will go silent, the people will hark.

This Christmas would be a great time to notice what we have already seen: that when leaders and things get too large, when we put too much trust or hope in them, they revert to a brutal and brutalizing smallness. When we put trust in what we can notice, what we can do and who we can be, we are rarely disappointed. We expect, expectantly, as though we too were pregnant, day by day, with the possible.

For now, there is the waiting, the preparing for an Advent practice that will smell and taste good, that will open doors on more than a calendar.

I am an avid reader of women’s magazines, especially those that have a centerfold of the perfect Christmas dinner. I praise that dinner, hope for it, plan for it, and then eat with vigor what really comes out. A friend has a sign on her refrigerator about the difference between what we usually have and what the magazine announced: “It’s not going to happen that way.” By that sign, she is preparing herself for a day and a life of surprises. She is grooming her “to don’t” list.

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