Friday, October 12, 2012

Who will protect us from the innocent ones?

This fall, I am studying Beth Moore's Jesus, The One and Only with a group of wonderful ladies.  We are meditating scene-by-scene on Jesus' earthly ministry from the gospel of Luke and the current scene is Jesus casting out the demons from a very ill man and sending them into a herd of swine.

We are asked to picture the scene: the naked, raving man, his unwashed body, his home - a tomb, his wrists showing the wounds from breaking free of chains.  The demons had taken every shred of his dignity and there was no help for him.  Until Jesus.

Beth then asks us to think about any pronounced scenes of human indignity that we have ever witnessed.  And it brought to mind a story that I had to write down lest I forget.

When we lived in the Netherlands, Andy and I decided to take a long weekend in Belgium.  We enjoyed Brussels' beautiful antique buildings, cathedrals, fountains and tourist shops. We clogged up tiny shops with our double stroller, so while Andy was inside one bargaining for Belgian lace, I waited outside with baby Katelyn and two year old Adam.  We people- watched.  The streets were clogged; it was a holiday weekend, and most were walking and laughing in groups.  But there was one solitary man across the street who was unwell.  He looked homeless (dirty and uncared for) and he was gesturing and raving in French as he walked along.  I didn't pay him much attention, he was part of the scene of humanity, and neither did anyone else.  But Adam did.  My little toddler tugged at my hand and said urgently, "Mommy, I want to go talk to that man!"  "What man?"  He pointed at the sick one, the lunatic one.  I crouched down to listen to my son. "What do you want to talk to him about?"

His face was so sweet and compassionate. "I want to sing him my ABC's."

Adam, in his little soul, sensed that the man needed love.  Adam wanted to help.  He wanted to give him his most precious gift (the ABC's and spelling things were all-consuming for my precocious tot).  His innocent worldview had no inner excuses for ignoring this man's need.  I was astounded by his perceptiveness and my lack of love.

I wonder what would have happened had I allowed Adam to sing to the man.  I will never know because I obeyed common sense.  I had no desire to cause a scene on a city street in another country.  I had lots of excuses and some of them were good ones.  After all, I needed to protect my little guy from the hard things of the world...

Jesus said, "I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it."  Luke 18:17

Thursday, July 26, 2012

For Susan

Thirteen years ago, I had my last carefree lunch with my college friend Susan.  She was living in Naperville, IL and I had recently moved to the western suburbs of Chicago and was expecting my first baby.  We hadn't found a church yet and Andy was working the night shift, which meant lots of lonely days for me.  So I was thrilled to have her over for lunch to reconnect and to have the opportunity to meet her baby daughter. 

The doorbell rang and I answered and there was my petite friend with a baby on her hip and a huge dog standing next to her.  All three entered my house.  The dog made himself at home, sniffing and making my two cats go beserk.  I was gracious, exclaiming over her darling daughter, giving hugs but inwardly, I was kind of surprised that she brought her giant dog uninvited to my house.  As the dog disappeared towards my bedroom, I asked Susan what its name was.  She looked surprised and said she assumed it was my dog. 

Well.  A small scene ensued - the kind found in a PG Wodehouse novel.  The baby cried when put down.  The cats were hissing and spitting. The dog was curious about my soundly sleeping husband.  It took both Susan and I to grab the beast and herd him towards the door as we tried to our best to do it silently.  And when the door was firmly shut on that dog, we burst into girlish giggles.

Soon after that, Susan moved out east and then my family moved overseas and we lost touch.  And then I find out that losing touch was much more my fault, for Susan spent the last 10 years fighting cancer and the debilitating discouragement that accompanies it.

Two weeks ago, six of us college friends rushed to Cleveland to see her.  We were forewarned to not expect her to be lucid for more than 30 seconds at a time.  But we wanted her to know how loved she was by us, even if we only got five minutes with her. 

We got about five hours. 

Susan was very glad to see us all, so glad that she was given an energy that she hadn't had in months.  She ate dinner. (She hadn't eaten in a week.)  We told our stories.  Prayed together.  Took communion together.  Laughed at old photographs.  Cried. 

As our time together was winding down, Susan became pensive about heaven and the judgement and her holy fear.  Together, we all took reassurance in Christ standing by our sides, interceding for us.  And she was so beautiful in that moment that I get choked up just thinking about it.  Her body was tiny from illness, her face was puffy from the I.V. fluids, she had no makeup on and was wearing an ugly hospital gown and she was absolutely beautiful.  Susan was stripped of all control of her life, stripped down to her essence, to her very being and I got to see it.

We all put on masks, presenting different faces for different situations.  But we are naked before God and He knows what we really are.  I have no answers for why such things like cancer happen.  Death always feels unfair - like we've been cheated.  But if our sorrows finally bring us to unmask ourselves and to just rest in the hope of Christ, well then, maybe we cheat death and are more than conquerors. 

Susan passed away yesterday.  I will hold in my heart many memories like the one I shared about the dog. And I will always treasure those hours in the hospital room with my friends as some of the holiest I have ever had.  Every second felt like a gift, like real life, a glimpse of the life to come.   C.S. Lewis used to say that Christians need to never say goodbye.  And I remembered that when I kissed Susan farewell.  I told her I would see her soon...

Monday, July 9, 2012

I received heartbreaking news on Saturday evening that one of my college roommates was in the final weeks of life after years of battling cancer.  By Sunday morning, I and other close friends learned that her family would welcome a visit and so began the flurry of emails to make a bittersweet reunion happen this week.  My children knew I would be gone for a few days and were actually a bit upset by this.  Katelyn kept saying that she didn't want me to go which is gratifying but doesn't make leaving in such a rush any easier.

Last night, the girls got into a snit with each other and Kate in particular felt wronged.  I pulled her on my lap, soothed her, helped her see where she was wrong, and generally fixed the whole problem.  Andy and I asked her to be giving and generous with her sister this week while I was gone because I told her it would be so hard to leave knowing they were at odds with one another.  She tearfully promised she would be kind and she was sent to bed feeling loved and reassured.

This morning it hit me.  I can't hardly leave three days without the whole family feeling my loss.  Mothers are uniquely gifted at keeping harmony in a home.  My friend Susan is leaving forever and her children will be robbed of the one who is most able to calm and guide through the heartbreaks of life.  My mom still is essential to me and I can't imagine losing her. It is brutally unfair when young children lose their mama.

Really, there are no words.  I'm just hugging my treasured children a little closer today.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

The Drought

Days without rain turn to weeks, months;
The thirsty land withers under the scorching eye.
All is straw, vulnerable to a stray spark.
My God, have you forgotten us?

Biblical imagery, archetypes embedded in mankind's memory
Become reality.  We need days of refreshing from the Lord.

Drought shows our fragility, unmasks our complacency.
We are not magicians - able to conjure up neccessities.
No, every good and perfect gift is from above.
Sometimes we are reminded of this as a people.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Guatemala Trip

I'm so thankful to be back home with all the privileges that I daily enjoy, but I am also so much more acutely aware of those blessings. 

Our biggest blessing of the trip was the team we got to experience it with.  I knew no one from the team but my parents but when you are with Christians that hardly matters because of the holy communion of the saints.  I love how God's people have the same Spirit wherever they are from!

Our trip to Guatemala was wonderful and sweet and challenging.  Many of you know that I get so anxious about traveling that I make myself physically sick.  Deciding to say yes to this trip was an act of faith and obedience for me, and I trained myself physically and spiritually for months so that I could do this with my family.

During the month of March, I memorized the first two chapters of James and those chapters comforted me and also came alive in a personal way during my trip.

When we faced days of 104 degree temps and traveled with no air conditioning on very mountainous roads, I prayed to "consider it pure joy" and that my persevering would make my faith "mature and complete" -- that I would learn to trust that God could take care of me in all circumstances.

Often groups of people come to the missionaries with petitions for various needs and the missionaries are sorrowed that they can't meet the needs at that time.  And with tears, they tell the people that they must pray earnestly for God to place it on someone's heart to meet the need.  When I saw the utter neediness of the people, James' rebuke to those who show favoritism to the rich was so pertinent for "hasn't God chosen the poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom He promised to those who love Him?"

The times I was ill and I wondered why on earth I had come, I was reminded "What good is it, my brothers, if you have faith but no deeds.  Suppose a brother of sister is without clothes or daily food and you say, "Go, I wish you well, keep warm and well fed, and do nothing for his physical needs, what good is it?""  And it is not that we did much for these dear people, but just that when I stepped way out of my comfort zone, I was learning to care with my presence and not just my pocket book.

I delighted in having my children there.  They interacted with the kids so beautifully despite the language barrier and I was so proud of them for never complaining during the tough parts of the trip.  Our team brought soccer balls for the schools and Adam played with all the boys.  Katelyn and the other girls made bracelets out of colorful floss with the children - probably around 300 bracelets.

Anna was like a museum specimen to the indigenous children.  She was the youngest girl and was picked up by them often.  They pinched her white skin, braided her blond hair, and pulled apart her eyelids to giggle at her blue eyes.  She smiled at them all!  Many of the rural Mayan children had never seen a Caucasian child before.  They called are girls "gringitas" - little white girls.

How humbling it was to drive into a remote village and have 300 children waiting for or running with our bus, some jumping onto the back, shouting so excitedly, "Gringos!"  They were so eager for a blessing but they blessed me far more.

How humbling it was to accept a hot lunch, prepared by the teachers to thank us: their sacrificial best when they had so little and we so much.

And how humbling it was to accept communion from the hands of our missionary leaders, who with tears in their eyes said: This is Christ's body broken for you.... This is Christ's blood shed for you....  They are my heroes!

And now I must go and tackle the dirtiest pile of laundry I've ever seen and check each piece for stowaways.  We had tarantulas, scorpions, and cockroaches in our rooms last week and I do NOT want to find one in my house!!!!  Thanks all for reading and for those of you who prayed for us last week - blessings on you!

Friday, March 23, 2012

The slim trees don their bridal garments fair
All blushed with love for the returning sun,
And the world's stately mothers brood and flare,
Dab glad and misty eyes with green aprons;
Sweet, honeyed air, O gallant pageantry!
Whimsical, wild, hue of color and song,
Sap quickened, banishes long winter's ennui,
O holy beauty, renewal proves strong;
Now, spring's glories show a reflection poor,
A glimpse of wonders behind the facade,
Soon the wedding toast of the Lamb will pour,
All ecstasies will then be of our God.
     So long the tilting sphere circles the sun,
     Spring's feast will remind of the Coming One.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Ignoring the Master for the Mundane

A man sat at a metro station in Washington DC and started to play the violin; it was a cold January morning. He played six Bach pieces for about 45 minutes. During that time, since it was rush hour, it was calculated that thousands of people went through the station, most of them on their way to work.

As the story goes, only 6 people stopped to watch.  The one who was most interested was a three year old child whose mother pulled him away in her hurry. The man made about $30 dollars from people throwing money in his case, and received no applause or recognition when he finished playing.

The violinist was Joshua Bell, one of the best musicians in the world. He played one of the most intricate pieces ever written with a violin worth 3.5 million dollars.

Two days before his playing in the subway, Joshua Bell sold out at a theater in Boston and the seats averaged $100.

This is a real story. Joshua Bell playing incognito in the metro station was organized by the Washington Post as part of a social experiment about perception, taste and priorities of people. The outlines were: in a commonplace environment at an inappropriate hour: Do we perceive beauty? Do we stop to appreciate it? Do we recognize the talent in an unexpected context?

If we do not have a moment to stop and listen to one of the best musicians in the world playing the best music ever written, how many other things are we missing?

Video and audio of the performance are available on the Washington Post website.

“No one knew it,” explained Washington Post reporter Gene Weingarten several months after the event, “but the fiddler standing against a bare wall outside the Metro in an indoor arcade at the top of the escalators was one of the finest classical musicians in the world, playing some of the most elegant music ever written on one of the most valuable violins ever made.”   Weingarten wanted to see how ordinary folks would react to his experiment. And how did they react? For the most part, not at all.

The story above, penned by an unidentified author and circulated via blogs and email, has been abbreviated by me.   But the analogy to the Christian is obvious.  Our Master is at work among us, orchestrating unmatchable events.  He would gladly play beauty and purpose into our souls if we would but sit at his feet and listen.  He would do it at no cost to us and in the most mundane of situations.  Good grief, I must stop being so busy with my “agenda.”   This idea always brings me back to the story of Mary and Martha.  I always want to defend Martha.  Trying to serve the Lord because someone has to step up and do it.  Food isn’t going to make itself and the house won’t be neat and tidy without constant vigilance.   Except of course, with Him, food very well could make itself.  Jesus knew Martha’s heart wasn’t in the right place; maybe she was hoping to impress him with her service.  Maybe she was a bit of a martyr.  But Mary reacted to the glory in front of her and nothing else mattered.  She wasn’t going to miss a moment.