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Unified

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Tim Scott is a US senator from South Carolina. Trey Gowdy is a US congressman from South Carolina. Tim Scott is black. Trey Gowdy is white. They were both elected to Congress in 2010 (Tim Scott subsequently became the first African American elected to both the US House and US Senate since reconstruction). Their grandmothers would not have been able to be friends, in the racially divided south where they lived. When Tim Scott got news of the fatal shooting of nine blacks at a prayer meeting at Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, the first person he called was his white friend, Trey Gowdy.

It is sad that a friendship between a white man and a black man is rare enough that it seems unlikely, but there is still a marked racial divide in the United States. I believe it has widened, rather than narrowed, since the election of our first African American President, Barak Obama.

Sen. Scott and Rep. Gowdy assert that when meeting someone who has obvious racial, ethnic, socioeconomic, political, or religious differences, looking for something we have in common is the first step. There are certain commonalities that cross many barriers: love for family, hope for a better tomorrow, desire for our communities to be safe, etc. In the aftermath of a disaster (9-11, hurricanes, wildfires, and the like) people tend to forget their differences and go into a mode that allows our better selves to come out. We pray together, we mourn together, we rally. On 9-12-2001 there were no “us and them” — we were all Americans. Our fear, outrage, pain, and grief united us. Trey Gowdy asks, “Why must we face a calamity before we will join hands, pray, and seek healing?”

I’ve not lived life as a person of color. I haven’t experienced the prejudices that come from having brown or black skin. I’ve never been viewed suspiciously for “driving while black” (getting pulled over because you’re a black person in a predominately white area). I don’t experience fear when I’m glanced at by a person in law enforcement. Still, prejudices are widespread and they aren’t exclusively against people of color.  Prejudice can be about whites from people of color. It can be about religion, sexual orientation, perceived education (or lack thereof), or socioeconomic status. Tim Scott says, “Our perception of people is too often colored by preconceived notions and expectations, whether those are based on past experience or shaped by cultural norms and attitudes.” Trey is quoted as saying, “…the only two divisions there ought to be in the nation are “people of good conscience and people who are not of good conscience — not racial, not gender, not ideological.””

Tim and Trey have forged a solid, valuable friendship by capitalizing on their similarities, rather than their differences. Trey says, “We can build real trust with others by stepping into their story, by committing our time and attention to what matters to them…As you seek to build rapport and trust with someone, you must be willing to see the world from a perspective that is not your own…The 24/7 news cycle we have today so often seems to focus on differences and divisions within our nation…But as I talk to people one-on-one, I find a universal hope and desire for unity.” (emphasis mine).

Trey states, “People look to Washington for solutions to our nation’s problems, but Congress is often where anger and frustration come home to roost. Although Tim and I are both currently in politics — or perhaps because we’re in politics — we see the limitations and shortcomings of legislative remedies. We believe the firmest foundation for positive change is found with individuals in relationship with one another. Laws are external. Relationships are internal. Policies make you have to. Relationships make you want to. Relationships contain the power necessary to change the course of history, and the delicate, personal touch needed to change the trajectory of a single life.” Isn’t that beautiful, and oh, so true?!

One of the most powerful stories in Unified is a story of a blog post that slammed Senator Tim Scott. Trey read it first and rushed to Tim’s office to see if he had seen it. Indignant, Trey says, “I’m sick of this…something must be done.” Tim’s answer was a simple “You’re right. Please close the door and have a seat.” Trey thinks they’re finally getting somewhere…he’s finally gotten his friend fired up enough to respond (Tim was evidently notoriously calm). Instead, Senator Scott says, “We’re going to pray for [the author].” Tim Scott proceeds to pray for someone who was intentionally hurtful to him. Trey says, “Tim simply modeled what Jesus teaches: ‘Love your enemies and pray for those who hurt you.’…I was not the victim, but I was angry. Tim was the victim, but he forgave and prayed for the person who wronged him.”

I was simply amazed by the wisdom and truth in this book! If you want a different world, one where people love and respect one another in spite of their differences, this book is a great source of advice on how to start down that road. Christians, especially, need the words written here. Some of the most judgemental and hateful people I’ve ever encountered were Christians who, mistakenly, thought that by pointing out the speck in their brother’s eye they were doing him/her a big favor, all the while ignoring the beam in their own (Matthew 7:1-5).

Read this book, then go find someone “different” than you and try to make a friend. We can change the world, one heart at a time.

*I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for my honest review*

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Heaven is Here

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Stephanie and Christian Nielson had a fairytale life. They had a wonderful marriage, were deeply in love, and had four small children under the age of six years old. It was a life that most would envy. Stephanie, a stay at home mom, had a very successful blog. Christian had his dream job and had just become a pilot. They had large, supportive families. In July 2008 Stephanie and Christian were nearly killed when the small plane they were in crashed. The other occupant of the plane died, and Stephanie and Christian were critically injured. Stephanie had burns over 80% of her body and was not expected to live.

After three months in a coma, Stephanie awoke in a burn center in Arizona. Stephanie had plenty of reasons to just give up. Her life now consisted of a seemingly endless series of excruciating procedures to recover from her extensive burns. Her face, so beautiful and full of life before the accident, was now horrifically disfigured. Her youngest daughter couldn’t even look Stephanie in the face and her “baby”, young Nicholas (“Gigs”) did not recognize her at all. She felt terribly guilty for the pain that her children were experiencing. It was a nightmare.

Stephanie fought through the pain, the depression, and the despair and little by little, through the love of her Heavenly Father, emerged from a place that can only be described as hell on earth. Her courage, faith and tenacity are nothing short of inspirational. Her story is one that will change your life.

In her book, Stephanie says, “I wasn’t convinced (that ‘Heaven is Here’ should be the title of the book, as suggested by her editor). I know that there is a heaven awaiting me that is infinitely more beautiful that our life on Earth (but)…insofar as heaven is a joyful place filled with people you love, and where you feel peaceful and genuinely happy, then it’s true. Heaven is right here.”

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Filed under Christian, Non-Fiction, women