No Better Place Than This…

“Third culture kids, immigrants, refugees, foreigners.”

“We find each other in unlikely spaces. In the shared experience of other, we find belonging and rest, whether in a short ride to an airport or a long-distance phone conversation. These moments of connection seem to come at the right time, sustaining us until the next encounter, preventing us from falling into an abyss of self-pity and isolation.” (p. 181 of Between Worlds: Essays on Culture and Belonging)

I got together with a fellow immigrant (she – a real one, me – an invisible one) the other day. Talking together was easy and natural. Oh there were plenty of missed cues, and ‘what do you mean by that?” questions, but the ease with which we communicate across those boundaries are what was so refreshing.

We were at home in the shared experience of being outsiders. We are the ones who don’t completely fit into our surroundings, but work to live well despite the poor fit. The gift of shared experience lasted for a couple of hours, and then it was time to be on our way. We left the coffee shop, bound more tightly together by our vast global network of people, places, events, and memories. We left with more stories that link us to each other and to the world.

As I walked back to my apartment, a cold rain was falling. Slush and rain puddles crept through my boots, but somehow it didn’t matter. I thought about friendship and contentment, and how long it sometimes takes to accept our reality.

It has taken me a long time to live effectively in my passport country. For so long I looked and wished for a better place. Slowly, I’ve given up a dream idea that there is a better place than right here, right now. I no longer live with unrealistic expectations and frustrations with those around me (at least not most of the time!) Instead, I’ve realized there is no better place. Right here, right now – wherever that is for any of us – is the best place.

There is no ‘better place’ than this, not in this world. And it is by the place we’ve got and our love for it and our keeping of it, that this world is joined to Heaven…

Hannah Coulter by Wendell Berry

And in the “no better place than this” I will continue to meet strangers and soulmates, fellow immigrants and those who have lived here forever. I will connect immediately with some and tentatively with others, because that’s life.

And in all of this, I will learn more about loving and keeping place, and in doing so, join it to Heaven.

Good News on a Good Friday

 —For those who Celebrate Good Friday and for those who don’t!
Newly arrived humans lived simply and they related to God personally. He would show up at their house in the evenings and hang out with them. I imagine they talked about their days, the wonders of the created world, how they really felt about things. Eventually though the humans made an unfortunate choice. They chose to ignore some basic boundaries God had set. They chose independence and self. They chose to disrespect God. They chose their own way.

Everything changed that day. Where there had been intimacy, openness and sweet vulnerability now there was shame and suspicion. Difficulty and opposition and relational competition were all born from those misinformed choices the humans made. Evil and selfishness and sin all entered the world that day. I guess it goes without saying, but relating to God was no longer a walk in the park either. God gave them over to what they seemed to want—their own way.

God set up an elaborate reward system and sticker chart based on an even more complicated plan of laws. If the humans wanted to reconnect with God they’d have to work at it now. And the laws were elaborate and complex. There were ceremonial laws that told the humans how to worship. Civil laws outlined how humans should live each day and moral laws dictated the goodness and badness of everything. The whole point of the system was really to highlight that the humans couldn’t do it. There was no possible way for them to obey every single law. There was even a law saying that if they couldn’t obey all of the rules then they were guilty of breaking every one!

God let that system go on for quite a long time.

One summer when I was a college student I worked as a nanny for two children, Jamie and Kristen, a six year old boy and a four year old girl. At the beginning of the summer, the mother, who was a librarian at the local public library, asked me to help train her son. It seemed he had taken a class on sexual abuse. The parents and teachers assumed it would provide language to children if they were ever in that situation. An unintended consequence was that it provided little Jamie with an entire arsenal of body part language to use to horrify and provoke. He had taken to calling people shocking things!

I tried all kinds of ways to motivate Jamie to curb that kind of talk. He was in time out. He wasn’t allowed to watch TV. I tried everything in my amateur discipline tool box. Finally, I set up a sticker chart. If Jamie could go for five days without calling me the vulgar name of choice I would take him to Dairy Queen for ice cream. Jamie loved ice cream. I had found a currency that communicated. Day one was a success. Jamie got a sticker! Day two went well. Jamie got another sticker. Day three and day four meant two more stickers. He was doing so well. On day five after lunch I was loading the dishwasher when Jamie came running through the kitchen. As I bent over to add another plate, Jamie came dramatically toward me almost in slow motion, he kicked me in the behind and burst out with the word he had kept so carefully under wraps all week. “Penis head,” he yelled, and kept running. I was so shocked and so disappointed. I had been looking forward to ice cream too.

I found Jamie in his room crying. He already knew the gig was up. He knew he had blown it. Angry tears rushed from his face. Jamie was mad at himself for not being able to do it and he was mad at me for setting up the dumb sticker chart that highlighted his failure. All the chart had successfully shown was that Jamie was incapable of earning the ice cream.

The same was true for the rules and law system God set up. It served to demonstrate that people cannot, on their own, keep the system satisfied. The laws highlighted their failure to keep them. And really that was God’s whole point. Humans wanted to do it on their own, the choices they made at the beginning proved that, and yet they couldn’t. If Shalom was ever to be reestablished in their relationship with God, if they were ever to be at peace again, God would have to step in.

And that’s where Jesus shows up.

A couple of months ago I was on an airplane. My seat mate asked me why I was going to Thailand. I told her I was a spiritual director and I had been invited by a group that were meeting for retreat to offer soul care. She wanted to know what that was. I told her that I firmly believe that Jesus wants a relationship with each of us. I think he’s involved in our stories. He’s lurking. The spiritual director comes along side with curiosity and helps identify where Jesus might be and what he might be up to. It intrigued her.

I really do believe it. Jesus is present in your story. He’s calling you deeper. He doesn’t care where you come from, what passport you carry. He’s inviting people from every religious or irreligious background: Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Atheists, Agnostics to relate to him with honest hearts. Your previous religious experience doesn’t disqualify you in anyway. Rather he longs to breath a whole new way of thinking about relating to God into your soul.

Jesus isn’t like any other spiritual experience you may or may not have had. He cuts through the rules and the crap, the expectations and the ways you’ve always done things and he says, Look, See. I’m doing a whole new thing here. And there’s no point system or reward card in place. You don’t have to do this, subjugate yourself in that way, accumulate this, check that off, maintain these five things in order to score points with Jesus. He eliminated all of that. All you really have to do is come with an honest heart. There are no awkward silences. He has already initiated a friendship with you. He’s already started the conversation. Just respond. Just admit that you’re clueless to do it on your own. Just admit that other systems seem to bog you down.

Ask him to make himself known.

And then be prepared to be spiritually transformed.

 

 

 

Some Thoughts on Gratitude

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There’s this wonderful tradition built into the tapestry of American culture: Thanksgiving. Every year on the last Thursday in November, Americans gather in families, in groups, with friends, in communities for the sole purpose of expressing thanks. Granted a lot of the gratitude is buried under the gravy and the goodness of green bean casserole and the great mountain ranges of mashed potatoes but still the heart of it remains. This is a country determined to mark their thankfulness with an official holiday to underscore it. I love that!

I’ve spent some time thinking about gratitude recently. What does it look like to be truly grateful? Where does thankfulness come from? How can I cultivate it? Yesterday’s turkey dinner and the joys of family reunited still distract me a little but here are some of my scattered thoughts on thankfulness—

  • Each of us has the capacity to be grumblers. It’s easy to complain. It’s easy to commiserate and spiral downward into self-pity. We all have struggles and things we’re up against. Each of us face circumstances we’d like to skirt around. But even as all those things are true, the opposite is also true. We all have so much to be thankful for.
  • Being thankful is a choice. We were created with the amazing ability to choose. It was perhaps the most dangerous of decisions our Creator made. Giving us freedom to choose meant we might choose badly, we might choose against our Creator, we might choose self-destruction. But He still chose to give us that gift. And because we have that, we can now choose to be thankful.
  • It takes intentionality, effort and practice. Being thankful doesn’t come easily to us. Sometimes I think it’s the hardest work we’re given to do. The Psalmist admits as much when he says, “Make thankfulness your sacrifice to God…” (Psalm 50:14) It’s a sacrifice. It demonstrates our surrender. It takes work.
  • Meaningful memes or clever quotes on thanksgiving, while inspiring for two or three minutes, don’t necessarily result in a grateful heart. You have to actually be thankful. And for that to happen you have to stop and consider the gifts you’ve been given and then say that powerful pair of words: thank you!
  • One of our core needs as human beings is the longing to be known. Often it translates initially into wanting to be seen. William James says, “The deepest craving of human nature is the need to be appreciated.” There is nothing worse than feeling invisible, unacknowledged, unappreciated. In a strange way, gratitude is the antidote to this. When someone stops and says thank you to you it affirms that you exist. You have been seen. You matter. One of your longings has been met and there is some healing in that.

”Piglet noticed that even though he had a Very Small Heart, it could hold a rather large amount of Gratitude.”*  Like Piglet, we all have the capacity to contain a lot of thankfulness.

My husband Lowell described faith recently as our ‘thank you’ when we receive the grace that God extends to us. If we believe that we are rescued by grace through faith (Eph 2:8)—then grace is the undeserved gift Jesus gives and faith is our heart’s response, our ‘thank you’. Unless we receive the gift of God, unless we respond, unless we say thank you we’ll be stuck in our own befuddlement. Receiving the gift, given freely, ‘just because’, certainly not because of anything we’ve done to deserve it is the humblest most life-changing moment of thankfulness we’ll ever know.

The Apostle Paul exhorts readers in his letter to the Philippians: ”Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.” (Phil 4:6-7) Honestly laying our hearts out to God, telling him thank you for all that he’s up to allows us to experience a profound peace that’s difficult to understand!

The world is in an abysmal way. The refugee situation in Europe, the ongoing conflict in Syria, the after-effects of Paris and man-hunt in Brussels, the horrendous situation in Mali, the helicopter crash in Kasmir…all of it weighs on the world’s shoulders. It’s too much. The unequal distribution of the world’s resources seems cruel and unjust in times like this. The “why” questions stammer in my soul when they’re not tripping over my tongue. I can’t understand it. I don’t imagine that I ever will.

What I do know is that for whatever undeserved reason I have been tremendously blessed! I am among the lucky few. I have so much: peace and stability, leftovers from yesterday, Netflix and a public library. I will be thankful. I’m determined to approach God with gratitude this holiday season. I want to “Enter his gates with thanksgiving; (and) go into his courts with praise.” (Psalm 100:4) Want to come?

*A.A. Milne

Sacred Gifts: A Basket, A Chicken Jug and A Simple Bar of Soap

sacred gifts

Over the last three weeks I have received three very unique and very personal gifts. Each of these gifts has meant something to me. They’ve blessed me in my deep places—partly because of the timing, partly because of the person behind the gifts, partly because they demonstrate that I am loved. But mostly because they showed that three times someone thought of me and, oddly enough, it reminded me that God thinks of me too.

Three weeks ago Lowell and I were spontaneously invited out for dinner with friends. We had a grand time. We drank delicious drinks and ate yummy food. There was a lot of laughter at our table. It was a special evening. In the middle of it, adding to the spectacle of a night out, the Kansas State University marching band filed into the restaurant and began to play pep rally tunes. The tubas and trumpets, the flutes and the French horns saturated the space and the music filled in all the gaps. I couldn’t stop laughing. It struck me as hilarious being surrounded by such loud happiness.

When the meal was over and we were leaving the restaurant, my friend Diann said she had something for me in her car. They offered to drive over to where we were parked but Lowell and I walked with them to their car. From out of the back seat Diann pulled a ceramic red basket. It was adorned with ribbons and filled to the brim with autumnal goodies: pumpkin spice chai mix, pumpkin spiced pancake mix, pumpkin biscotti, earrings and a note. I was overwhelmed by the gift. I couldn’t get over it. As I carried it to our car I kept shaking my head. Why would Diann do this? There was no occasion. It seemed too extravagant.

When we got home I set it on the table and tears filled my eyes again. I fingered each gift gently and wondered at it and the woman who had given it to me. The next morning when I saw it I cried again. I texted Diann, “I can’t tell you how much the gift meant to me. It’s completely disarmed me… I keep looking at it and getting tears in my eyes. Thank you for your kindness to me.” Her response was the last straw, “You’re welcome Robynn Joy. You do a lot for others and I know very few come back to thank you. Jesus experienced this too.” And then I cried more tears.

Two days ago, another friend Tanya, dropped in. She had found a gift for me and wanted to drop it by. It was a golden coloured water jug with an orange handle and an orange spout. The whole thing was shaped delightfully and a little ridiculously like a bird. As she pulled it out from where it had been hiding behind her back I caught my first glimpse of it and I burst out laughing. I laughed and laughed with genuine joy! It made me so happy.

Tanya knows my love of birds. She knows it’s the secret language Jesus uses to communicate his care for me and his provision for our family. The jug makes me think of all that. It also demonstrates that Tammy thought of me. It’s a sweet thing to be thought of when I wasn’t there. She saw the goofy jug and she thought of me. That means a lot to me. I used the jug to pour water at suppertime and I couldn’t stop smiling. The bird was graciously spewing up the water on our behalf, filling our cups, satisfying our thirsts. I giggled seeing it work it’s magic!

This morning I went to visit another friend. This is someone I’ve known for over four years. We’ve met monthly for most of that time. Over the years she has let me into some secret places of pain and sadness. This past summer as she was confiding in me some of those agonies associated with a particular place—a location her family insists on visiting two or three times a year—we talked about what it might look like to redeem that space. What joy could she hand carry into that place? How might that spot previously associated with loneliness and isolation be recovered and replaced with hope and contentment. It struck her she might like to try a new hobby there. She thought she might like to make soap!

Today, months after that summer time visit, she handed me the most glorious bar of golden soap you’ve ever seen. The red palm oil naturally dyed it a sunshine yellow colour. The soap is soft and smooth to the touch. It smells of redemption and restored dignity. It smells of hope and a little bit like heaven too. To me the soap represented the cleansing work of the Spirit in our stories. Jesus stepped in and helped sift through some of my friend’s pain. She brought the olive oil, coconut oil, the lye and the essential oils. He brought the healing remedies, the therapeutic components. Together they made soap—all smooth and sunshiny.

There are dark days ahead. Disappointed expectations always seem to pop up during the winter. Sadness and sorrow often drop in around the holiday season. I’m grateful for my three sacred gifts. These presents bring love and cheer and hope all dressed up in a basket, a chicken and a simple bar of soap. They call to mind the Presence of the Giver of all good gifts who lavishes kindness on his children. Three of my friends thought of me and somehow their gifts remind me that the Giver also thinks about me. He unexpectedly and delightfully demonstrated that with a bar of soap, a basket and lovely yellow chicken bird jug!

Why Stories Matter

typewriter quote

“We tell ourselves stories in order to live…We look for the sermon in the suicide, for the social or moral lesson in the murder of five. We interpret what we see, select the most workable of the multiple choices. We live entirely, especially if we are writers, by the imposition of a narrative line upon disparate images, by the “ideas” with which we have learned to freeze the shifting phantasmagoria which is our actual experience.”
― Joan Didion

As a public health nurse, I live in a world of quantitative data and quantifiable results. Two times a year we must demonstrate to funding sources that our preventive health program works. We need to show that the money we spend translates into more women getting mammograms and pap tests, to more women and men getting colonoscopies. If the numbers don’t show it, it isn’t working.

But I’m a story-teller. I’m a person of stories living in a world of numbers. A person where time is of no importance while I listen or watch a story being told. I am a story-teller and lover of stories that works in a world that gives money to the efficient, that weighs and measures importance based on data driven by numbers.

Numbers mean little to me. Tell me a thousand have died and I will feel sad; tell me the story of one of those who died, tell me about the mother that hugged her child goodbye that morning only to find out by noon that she would never feel the warmth of that child’s body again and I will weep. Tell me the story of one little boy, whose body washed up on the shore of the sea, and I will act. The story helps me make sense of the numbers; the story makes the numbers real.

Stories move the heart to act. Stories cut across cultural divides. Stories connect us to each other. Stories help us to understand ourselves and others better. There’s a reason that Jesus told stories. He could talk all day long to hard-hearted humans and give them commandments and rules, but they would have dismissed him and gone on their way. Instead, he gave them stories. Stories of people like they were, stories that used the context of Middle Eastern village life, stories of shepherds and fields and Samaritans and Pharisees. And in the stories, they saw themselves. 

So keep on telling stories – yours and those of others. And keep on listening to the stories of others – Because when we stop telling stories, we will stop being human. 

“Storytelling, then—fictional or nonfictional, realistic or embellished with dragons—is a way of making sense of the world around us.”*

A life story is written in chalk, not ink, and it can be changed.*

*[Source: Story of My Life: How Narrative Creates Personality]

Confessions of a Middle-Aged Faith

Church in Greece quote

I wrote this over four years ago, when only a few people read Communicating Across Boundaries. So I post it again – mostly because I needed to remember.

By all counts, my faith is middle-aged.  It began as a child – fear and wrinkle free.  It grew as a turbulent teenager with angst and rebellion, heartfelt sobs and belief that I, not God was the center.  My faith then went into its twenties with belief that it could change the world, the thirties where it sobered up and grew theologically, and now – now as I am thoroughly “middle-aged”, it is scarily, chronically, beginning to ache and feel like there is no way it will hold up until it’s 80’s.

This is the place where my soul sat in church one day – disconnected, disenfranchised and discombobulated – looking at the younger and far more vibrant souls and hair of those around me.  Watching their ease and enthusiasm with one another did nothing to comfort me or help me to say “Wow, I’m glad I’m here – I’m glad I left the warmth and lack of accountability that my couch offers me and came HERE to this place!”  Though thoroughly familiar with the church since I was a young child, I felt a stranger and completely alone.

And the speaker (who I will admit is over 48 so did not fall into my judgmental inner diatribe) began with the genealogy of Saint Matthew.  “Abraham begot Isaac, Isaac begot Jacob….Judah begot Perez and Zerah by Tamar…Salmon begot Boaz by Rahab, Boaz Begot Obed by Ruth” and on and on we went until the end of the chapter.  In what could have been the dullest sermon of  the decade, I felt my middle-aged faith begin to revive on the power of scripture.  I felt a bit like Augustine when in his doubt he heard a small child say “Read”.  The speaker’s words entered my soul with life-giving nourishment.  That God, with his infinite understanding of the human condition, placed names not theology in this first chapter of Matthew, was a balm to my soul. For what is theology if it can’t transform the human condition? 

Recognizing how my life related in some eternal way to this genealogy, that in the past had been just names, was transformative.

My connection with a duplicitous woman (Tamar), a woman who was a prostitute (Rahab), and a foreigner forbidden from the temple for 4 generations (Ruth) was a connection only a sovereign God could make.  God’s supernatural ability to allow me, in the words of the speaker, to have “No regrets – an abiding and deep confidence in the Providence of God – that I in all my faults and flaws am woven into the tapestry of his redemptive plan” (paraphrased) was a gift to me in this season of life.

A middle-aged faith is still how I would describe my journey– but just as I have seen the graciousness of God in my past decades, I will “entrust myself to a faithful creator and continue to do what is right” and I will never dismiss Matthew 1 again.

The Resilient Orthodox: We Come Needy

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The morning light reflects off the gold of the icons and it is beautiful. The church is quiet, save footsteps walking up to venerate the icons. We are in community, yet we are alone.

We come needy. We come with hearts heavy with the burdens of the week. We come with anger and with pain, emotional and physical. We come with sickness and sorrow. We come with hearts longing for more, knowing that though we are created for eternity, we get mired in the clay of the every day.

And in this place, where Heaven meets earth in divine liturgy, we will glimpse the eternal. 

In any group of people, there are so many stories of life lived, good and bad,

We have children with autism and diabetes; foot problems and depression. We have bodies that betray us and hearts that are alternately hard and soft. We have tongues that choose to speak life-giving words or words that damage and destroy. We have children who weigh heavy on our hearts, ones who we pray will not lose their way. We have parents who can no longer move well, or speak well, or think well. We have burdens deep and wide. But in this space, we can place them before the altar of God’s infinite love.

We are humans made in the image of God, made for his glory and in this space we take time to remember that.

We come needy to the altar and hear the words of the priest as he gives us the Holy Gifts on a spoon. For a short time, we remember. We enter into the eternal and time doesn’t matter. We don’t try to solve the mystery of salvation, we accept it as the needy ones. 

We come needy, and we leave full. 

Enough for Five Thousand

sleeping city and mystery of grace

“It was the strangest thing – no matter how much they broke off there was always more. And more. And more. Enough for 5000.” From the Jesus Storybook Bible

There have been times when I felt like I outsinned grace; when I felt like there was grace for others, but for me? I had passed my limit. I had outsinned what God was able to forgive.

It’s ironic isn’t it? Because at heart it is my arrogance that thinks this way. That I am special and the sovereign God of the universe does not have enough grace for me.

But the thing about grace is that there is always enough and then to spare. There are always leftovers. Like the feeding of the 5000 where basketfuls of leftovers were collected; like Thanksgiving dinner when five days later you realize there is still turkey to be had; like Paschal Cheese – where there is more for the taking.  That’s what grace is like.

There is always enough grace. Enough to receive, Enough to give. Enough for five thousand.

What if Real Life Begins at the Moment of Compassion

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“When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.”*

In early spring, we had a group of college and seminary students sitting around our living room after dinner. Our conversation was rich and life-giving, full of thoughtful opinions and ideas. At one point during the evening, we began to talk about abortion. One of our guests quoted his professor at seminary: “Life begins at the moment of compassion.” The teacher is an ethics professor who is affectionately known as “Dr. Tim.”

The quote has stayed with me. On the one hand, I love it. On the surface, compassion is easy for me. I tend to naturally have compassion for people. It’s what led me into becoming a nurse, it’s been honed through the years in developing countries and refugee camps. I have exercised compassion at the beds of dying patients and in the exam rooms of those who have just received a diagnosis of cancer.

But below the surface, it’s a lot more difficult. Because I subconsciously and consciously choose who is worthy of my compassion. If I am honest, I believe that some situations are worthy of compassion, and others are not. Some people are worthy, others are decidedly not worthy. I may sit at the bedside of a cancer patient, and cry with them, extending compassion and love. It’s far harder to sit at the bed of an alcoholic who is dying of esophageal varices brought on by lifestyle choices and extend that same compassion.

We humans are a complex and stubborn people. We rage about one thing, and turn our backs on another something equally disturbing. We pick the things that are most important to us and we guard those ideas and values with all of our energy and words.

Holding fast to our truth claims is critically important. In a world that changes on a whim, it is important to know not only what we believe, but why we believe it. But in all that energy we use to defend our views, we forget to add one of the most important ingredients – compassion.

What if we made sure that even when others disagree with us, they will see that we don’t hold a view to be vindictive or ugly or mean. What if we make sure that others hear compassion in everything we say, see compassion in everything we do?

What if we expended as much energy on compassion as we do on framing our well crafted and articulated beliefs? 

I think about the life of Christ, and his interactions with broken people. His was a ministry of compassion. Scripture tells us that “He saw the crowds and had compassion on them.” We see him stop in the middle of the street and ask “Who touched me?” relentlessly pursuing a woman who had touched him, desperate for healing. Instead of condemning a promiscuous woman at a well, he dug deeper and challenged her that he could offer her something to quench her thirst and fill her soul. His was a blind men see, dead men walk, deaf man hear, dead are raised, good news for the poor ministry. His words, his work, his life were filled with compassion for the human condition.

Perhaps true compassion is a result of a perfect blend of grace and truth. Jesus knew the truth about sin and poor choices, but he saw through the behavior to the expressed need behind the behavior – and in compassion he offered something so much better. 

As I write this, I think about a picture I saw this past week. It was a family picture. My niece and her husband with their children — my brother and sister-in-law on one side of them, her husband’s parents on the other side. Typical family picture – but there was nothing typical about it. There in the center was the baby they have had as a foster child for the past year. They took the picture in celebration of her adoption into the family. My niece and her husband’s life changed when they decided to take seriously the words that grow tiresome when they are not lived out: “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” 

In taking those words seriously, a little baby came into their lives. While the goal of fostering children is reunification with the birth parents as much as possible, in this case, it wasn’t possible. And so they adopted her. There she is, all smiley, chubby baby, adopted into a family that chose compassion.

What if life, real life, begins at the moment of compassion?

“So he replied to the messengers, ‘Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor.'” Luke 7:22

*Matthew 9:36

The Importance of Band Aids

Pakistan

I’ve always loved band aids. Ever since I was a little girl and I had a doctor set I’ve loved band aids and bandages. There is something surprisingly comforting about a small strip of adhesive with a soft middle. Maybe it’s the clean – treat – protect mantra, maybe it’s the care with which the band aid is placed on the wound, maybe it’s the thought behind the band-aid — I’m not sure, but I love them.

When it comes to our hurting world, most of us only have the ability to offer a band-aid. Most of us are not in positions of power and authority, where we can change decisions of nations and governments to protect their people, not hurt them. Most of us are not in places where we are responsible for far-reaching policies that affect the poor and needy, that can change how water and food are distributed. Most of us don’t have a reach much beyond our neighborhood. Realistically, most of us can only offer a band-aid.

And here is truth – a band-aid does little to stop the pain and hurt of the oozing, painful ulcer that is the world and it’s too-many-to-count problems.

But band aids make a huge difference to the person who has the wound. Band aids mean something. They mean that someone took the time to care, to clean, to treat, to protect. They mean that someone stopped what they were doing and came to the aid of another. A band-aid may be small, but small things for the Kingdom matter.

There were five loaves and two fishes for five thousand people. It was a fraction of what was needed to feed hungry people. Jesus took what was there and he multiplied it abundantly. They were band aids to the need of the day – but he made the band-aid matter.

I think that’s what he does with our band aids. The small things we offer to our children, our neighbors, the stranger on the street — he takes them and multiplies them and we never know what that band-aid might mean to the one who wears it.

Last November I had the opportunity to go to Turkey for a short time. One of the things I did while there was go to a refugee camp near the Syrian and Iraqi borders. When I got back, I wrote this to a dear friend, Rachel Pieh Jones:

I’m back – and it feels so small.”  

She responded with this and as long as I live, I will never forget her words:

“It is small. And you are just one person. But a mustard seed is small. That’s the way of the Kingdom. May we always delight in being part of small things.” 

So today, offer a band-aid. You never know what God can do with that band-aid.

“Do You Want to be Healed?”

do you want to be healed

In Church tradition, yesterday was the Sunday of the Paralytic. The story of Jesus healing a paralytic man is told in the Gospel of John.

The healing occurred at the site of a pool called Bethesda. The pool was said to bubble up periodically, and when it did it had healing powers. The narrative tells us that many people were around the pool – all sick, disabled, and suffering. This was a place of the invalids and paralyzed; a place of the blind and the lame – all there hoping to be healed. Hoping that when the waters bubbled up, they would be the ones who would walk away whole.

Into this story comes a man who had been paralyzed for 38 years. We aren’t given many details of his life other than this one. He was paralyzed. He was not whole or well. While I may currently live in a country where there is a constant fight for the rights of the disabled, I have lived many years in countries where the disabled are outcasts. They are the marginalized of society, without rights, without hope. This was the reality for this man. He was not a fully functioning member of society. Instead, he was at the margins, by the side of this pool.

I know this story well. I have heard it since I was a child. But yesterday I was struck all over again by the words “Do you want to be healed?” spoken by Jesus. And I realize these are the words he has asked people through the centuries —

“Do you want to be healed?”

It’s the same for us. We sit, often for years, with our paralysis. It may not be physical paralysis, but it is just as debilitating and defeating as physical paralysis. It prevents us from truly living, from being who we are called to be.

Jesus extends his hand and says to us “Pick up your bed, your stuff, your past, your background, your hurt, your anger, your very life — and walk”

With hand outstretched he offers his grace for the hard work of healing. May today be yet another day of walking in that grace.

Photo Credit: https://unsplash.com/

Big and Small; Small and Big

loaves

Big and Small; Small and Big by Robynn

I just got off the phone with a childhood friend. This friendship is rare and very precious to me. Kiran remembers me when I use to wear hot pink and I liked babies. She knew my first crush and my second. We were roommates at boarding school more times than I can recount. For years we lost touch, but close to two years ago she found me and we made a phone date! It was like picking up where we’d left off…only now we were both mothers and wives and responsible adults. Our metabolisms were on strike , we were both battling middle age and teenagers galore.  Since that first phone call we try to make contact every two or three months or so. Sometimes it’s just a message exchange on WhatsApp, other times we talk on the phone. Those phone calls bring me back full circle. I can’t quite explain how vital these types of friendships are when the place of our childhood is so far away.

Kiran represents a whole community. She proves that I once was young. She has endured similar griefs and losses. She struggles with similar agonies. We grew up with the same scenery. There’s just so much about me she understands without me elaborating.

During today’s call we chatted for a bit about our longings to have a global impact, to make a broader, wider difference. We grew up in families where both parents worked hard. Her parent’s are both doctors. Their successes are obvious and countable. My parents ran a hostel for girls and a technical training and Bible school for young men. They too could see students come and go, grow and succeed. They too could keep track of the differences they were making.

Kiran and I are both homemakers and stay at home mothers. Our circles of influence seem small; our lives seem small. Kiran bemoaned that smallness.  Her life hasn’t turned out the way she imagined and sometimes she wonders if she’s made any impact. Has she wasted her life? 

As we chatted it struck me how all the things we think are small Jesus says they’re big. And the things we think are big and significant, he shrugs his shoulders, and says they’re really quite small.

Faith the size of a mustard seed? We say tiny. He says huge.

Least in the Kingdom? We roll our eyes and sigh. He rolls out the red carpet and says Welcome!

The Big wig from down town? We primp and prep and usher and accompany. He’s not terribly impressed but he looks deep inside their eyes and sees the places they feel small…and in those places he scoots over and makes room for love and grace and acceptance.

Children? We say pipe down noise makers. He says, Kids: my favourite! Why can’t you all be more like kids?

Two coins? We say, “why bother? Really? That’s all you have?” He sees her empty purse and marvels at how she’s the most generous person he’s come across!

Two fishes? Three loaves of bread? We brace ourselves and think, Well. This is awkward. Jesus receives the gift and says, Just perfect! Exactly what I needed! This is just enough! And he says thank you for the very big lunch, and prays a blessing over it all and uses it to feed a very big crowd.

His perspective is completely upside down from ours. His ruler is irrational, his scales unbalanced. But when we take our small wounded hearts off our sleeves and hold them up to give to him, he looks down and sees big intentions and big dreams. He takes us up, in our smallness, and he squeezes us into his bigness and loves us in the big way that our small selves can’t ever begin to fathom.

This is huge!

Photo credit: http://pixabay.com/en/bread-pastry-roll-tile-studio-565911/

A New Christ Candle

candle for suffering

A New Christ Candle by Robynn

A New Year

As you might remember each year when Christmas is over and the tree is dragged down the street to where the dead trees go (to become fish habitat in streams or mulch for gardens) and the ornaments are wrapped in tissue paper and put back in their boxes, I deliberately keep out my Christ candle.

I light it when the worries are too consuming and I need to remember that Christ is here. I light it when the world is in shambles— I light it when my friends are hurting. I light my Christ candle when I fear for my own children. I light it for myself too. Sometimes the sorrow is too great. Sometimes the sadness threatens to steal all joy. Sometimes my own weaknesses, my own sins, my own selfishness consume me. Sometimes I worry, I fret, I fear. Anxiety and panic dance on the edges of my sanity. I light it then. I deliberately recollect that Jesus is very near, he is Emmanuel, God with us. The waiting is over. I can breathe. I can trust. I can rest. The flickering flame repeats these seemingly fragile truths back to my knowingly fragile soul and I am comforted.

2014 gave me plenty of opportunity to keep my Christ Candle lit. It was a difficult year from start to finish: from sickness to death, from pain in our family to pain in the world, from Colorado street to Houston street, from January to December. On many many days when it all seemed too much I would light my candle and bring to mind the nearness of Christ.

But last week, in a stolen quiet moment on Christmas morning, I lit the new waxed-over wick. I felt hope and relief. His mercies were new for Christmas morning. Flickerings of joy were fanned in me. The wait was over. Christ is here.

I’ll leave this candle out this year too. It serves as a reminder that while the wait is over we keep on watching. When 2015 overwhelms, as 2013 and 2014 have each done, I’ll light the candle again and remember Christ’s proximity, his presence.

It is time for 2014 to be done. It nearly was my undoing. There were so many challenges and changes; sorrows and sadnesses. I’m burying 2014 under the deep white snow of redemption. Covered. Blanketed. It’s boxed and labeled and put in the basement for storage. My Christ candle lasted through each season. The reassuring flame burned all year long. But I’m ever so ready for a fresh year, a new candle, a new dose of grace and hope and purpose. It’s time.

Christ came for years like 2014. Christ came for our sorrows. Christ came for my children’s disappointments. Christ came for quiet morning moments and for loud evening celebrations. He came to bring us to the Father who loves us well. We lift our hearts to him. Hearts full of 2014’s residual griefs — Ferguson, Syria, Peshawar, Christmas week tornadoes, earthquakes, floods, funerals, fallen families, break ups, brokenness. We move into this new year with trepidation. We choose faith in the face of fear. We choose forgiveness instead of bitterness. We choose love in the face of resentment and hatred.

With a new year comes new hope, new grace, new opportunities, new chances to choose joy. The new year brings new purpose, new lessons, new manna, new narratives, new stories. We can pray new prayers. We can try our hand at new things. We can enter new habits. We can find new peace in our new troubles, new hope in our new distresses, new joys in the midst of our new sorrows.

The old has gone, the new is here!

“But forget all that—Forget about what’s happened;

don’t keep going over old history. Be alert, be present.

it is nothing compared to what I am going to do.

For I am about to do something new….something brand-new!

See, I have already begun! It’s bursting out! Don’t you see it?

There it is! I’m making a road through the desert,

I will make a pathway through the wilderness.

I will create rivers in the dry wasteland,

rivers in the badlands.

(Isaiah 43:18-19 NLT&The Message)

Seasons of Waiting

When the lights go out

Each year the season of Advent takes me by surprise. Instead of coming on with a shout, a “look at me, look at me,” Advent comes with a whisper.

It comes as I am busy with other things and whispers “Pay attention, I’m here.” It comes with cold weather and crowded sidewalks, it comes with humility and insistence. When my children were little I knew it would be hard so I paid closer attention. I was determined that we would feel the light of Advent in the midst of tinsel and baubles.

But now that they are older and away from the house I realize it is still difficult. Still difficult to cultivate an attitude of expectant waiting.

As I was thinking about Advent, about seasons of waiting, I thought back to my pregnancies. Five times on three continents I went through the process of pregnancy and birth. And in all five I knew there was something coming. Something life changing and amazing. Something that would require strength, love, discipline, and grace. From the time I first saw a light blue line appear on a plastic stick I knew that the next nine months would bring about change, both expected and unexpected. Sometimes that big event came during a busy day, requiring me to stop everything I was doing and all I had planned, other times it came through a painful whisper in the night. And each time was a miracle – a miracle of tiny fingers and toes, little legs kicking out into a world unknown, a lusty cry appeased only by the touch of a mom.

This expectant waiting that I felt during pregnancy is like this season of Advent, a season where I remember another birth, a birth that changed our world.

I am waiting on many things this year. Waiting that sometimes causes anxiety and a hurting heart. I am waiting on things that do not have a natural end point as a pregnancy does, waiting on things that may not be realized any time soon. It is this I think about as I enter this season of Advent.

That first Advent was long ago – after years and years of silence. The lights were out and the world felt cold and dark, void of hope. Yet there were still whispers of a ‘coming’. There were still those who believed and waited and prayed. Into this came not a ruler or king, but a tiny baby who needed his mom. Yet that tiny baby was worth the wait, was worth the silence. So I remember this during this season of waiting. And I pray my anxious heart will remember that time so long ago when the world watched and waited with expectant hope. 

What about you? Are you watching and waiting for something with expectant hope? With fear and anxiety? I would love it if you shared some of your heart through the comments. 

Series on Suffering #8 – A Pause

Rain drops

Suffering: A Pause by Robynn. Click here to read more posts by Robynn.

I’m pushing pause on the series on suffering today.

This past weekend my dad was admitted to hospital in excruciating pain. He was given generous doses of narcotics to help bring him some relief. Xrays and CAT scans revealed three large kidney stones, one lodged in the ureter. It was determined that surgery was the best option. During surgery the doctor made every effort to remove the three stones but was unsuccessful. He was able to crush the three stones into considerably smaller pieces and prescribed medication that would hopefully dissolve the stones.

This weekend a dear friend of mine discovered painful news about one of her children. It left her reeling and angry. Later in the weekend her child tried to end his life. They ended up in the hospital too.

Yesterday late afternoon I received word that my dad was rushed back to the Emergency Room. His pain was once again out of control. He was also experiencing disturbing psychotic episodes. The nurse practitioner at the doctor’s office suspected a septic infection. The doctors at the ER began treatment for that but they think a morphine withdrawal is at work.

Meanwhile his shingles, that he had this summer, flared up again. He is suffering on every side.

My friend and her pain wracked family are trying to re-establish routines. How do they parent past this? They are numb and worn thin. Children still need to be dropped off at school. Supper needs to be cooked. Jobs, appointments, obligations on the calendar need to be attended to.

I can’t write on suffering today. I’m grieving with my friends. I’m worried for my dad. The suffering is too deep. Words today would sound hollow. They’d echo back at me. Today is a day for pause. It’s a day for prayer. It’s a day for pleading for mercy. Today I wrap my friend and my dad in gauze-prayers, gently spiraling around them, praying for protection and comfort and gentleness. I pray for healing for bodies marred by pain and hearts that are crushed like kidney stones. I pray for restoration for bruised souls and broken bodies. Tears run down my face. I wish I could do something.

There’s an old story where four men bring their paralyzed friend to Jesus. They carry him on a bed. When they get to the place where Jesus had been staying they realize they aren’t going to be able to get close to Jesus. There are too many other people there. It’s too crowded. They lug him up onto the roof, place him down, and start removing tiles or thatch or whatever the roofing materials were between them and the Healer. They eventually make a hole big enough to lower their friend down, still on his bed, right in front of Jesus. Long story short– Jesus looks up at the faith-filled faces of the friends peering down through the roof-hole, and then back at the man immovable on his bed, and he heals the man. The friends really believed that if they could just get their friend to this Divine Healer their friend stood a chance. Jesus recognized that faith in them and in response healed the paralyzed man.

And this is the something I can do. Today I’m bringing my dad and my friend to Jesus. Both have reached the end. Both have endured long past their capacities. They can’t bear any more hurting. They can’t handle any more suffering. Their pain has paralyzed them. I’m dragging them to the roof and I’m digging a hole. I’m lowering them down to Jesus. Because I still do believe that if I can just place them in front of Jesus they stand a chance of being healed.

Today I pause to pray. Dragging, lugging, lowering, pleading prayers.

Picture Credit:http://pixabay.com/en/rain-wet-window-glass-yellow-68165/ word art by Marilyn R. Gardner

Series on Suffering #6 – Trouble Shooting

suffering 6

Series on Suffering #6: Trouble shooting by Robynn

This summer when we moved into the new house we had to get new kitchen appliances. The house’s previous owners had taken the appliances that were there. We had to get machines that helped cook and store food and clean. Along with each new appliance came a small stack of reading material. An installation guide, an instruction manual, and guarantee cards. I flipped through them, skimming the important highlights and then filed them away. However, the day the dishwasher started making interesting beeping sounds, and we couldn’t figure out how to stop the annoyance and start the appliance, I quickly resumed my reading. Each instruction manual had an invaluable chapter entitled, Trouble Shooting. It’s a ‘what to do if…” section, a to-do list of sorts if ever the appliance is causing trouble. If the dishwasher makes this sound, try this. If the wash cycle won’t start, try that.

There is no trouble shooting guide to the problem of pain. There is no chapter anywhere that will tell you how to get out of the suffering. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of self-help books that will suggest ways to lose weight, get out of debt, break addictions, endure irregular people, manage your disease, find victory over your circumstances—I’ve read several and with great optimism! But none of those books provide a checklist to make the suffering stop.

I have happened upon a small book that points people in persistent pain to a list of meaningful things to do in the midst of the suffering. Admittedly when you’re lying on your back with dengue fever and the electricity is off making it impossible for the fan above your aching fevering body to circulate any air but the thick air of self-pity, it’s really hard to imagine ever doing anything again. When the phone call is over and the horrendous news settles in around your soul it’s really very difficult to think about anything but curling up into a small place and crying. After visiting a friend who is dying in the hospital it feels impossible to return to the outside world where people are still alive. Suffering sucks the air out of our lungs. It weakens us. It exhausts us. It feels like the whole world comes crashing to a standstill, paralyzed, immobilized. That’s the power of suffering and in some ways, that’s also the point of suffering. As I’ve been able to work my way through the suggested list from this book I have found hope and some relief and revelatory mystery that serves to distract me from my problems in helpful ways.

This small book I refer to is actually a letter that the apostle Peter wrote to a community of people that were scattered and suffering. (Part of their suffering, I’m sure, was as a result of that scattering. They were foreigners. We at Communicating Across Boundaries understand that type of displacement and the pain and angst that accompanies that type of living very well.) Peter writes them to encourage them in their troubles but also to commission them to live intentionally in spite of those same trials. Here is some of the list he gave them to do:

  1. Live with your focus on the hope of a better future. There is joy ahead. Things will not always be this way. We can live with great expectation and a holy optimism. Jesus will change things up. Remember that. Keep your eyes glued to that unfathomable hope.
  2. Think clearly and exercise self-control. Don’t give into old habits and former vices. It’s tempting, I know. It’s easy to eat the whole tub of ice cream, or all the chips in the packet, or the entire pan of cookies. It feels like it should help somehow, it should bring comfort of some kind. But it doesn’t really. I’ve tried. Step back and choose holy living. Control yourself. Don’t abandon all discipline and restraint.
  3. Remember who you are! You belong to God. Your identity is deeply entrenched in that. Bring that to mind. Dwell in it. Live from it. You are a chosen people…royal priests, a holy nation, God’s very own possession….God’s people.
  4. Love each other deeply, sincerely. In the heart of crisis and sadness it’s easy to become obsessed with myself. Self-pity, sadness, hopelessness all follow me like a pack of loyal dogs. Peter recommends looking outside ourselves to those around us and then loving them sincerely and generously. Phone a friend, see how they are doing. Make a batch of cookies, deliver them to a neighbour. Make eye contact with a stranger at the grocery store. Greet them. Strike up a conversation. Reach outside of yourself. Show others the goodness of God.
  5. Keep on doing what is right. Don’t let the suffering stop you. Resist the urge to curse those who frustrate, to be angry at those who don’t understand, to be unkind to those who’ve been cruel. There is nothing to be gained in that. Keep on doing what is right and good. Be kind. Be generous. Speak gently. Share a meal with someone who’s also hurting. Trust your story to the God who created you. He will never fail you.
  6. Don’t stop praying. Earnestly pour out your heart to God. Give him your troubles, your cares, your worries, your concerns. This praying thing humbles us. It’s a powerful way of admitting our weakness and our vulnerability. We are not in charge. Heaven knows if we were, this isn’t how we would have planned it. Praying helps us acknowledge that. Praying forces us to recognize our humanity, our mortality, our dependence. As we cast our cares on God, as we fling our flounderings, our messes, our pains on God, we grow to see how very much he cares for us. We give him the opportunity to minister deep grace and comfort to our souls. Prayer invites God into it all.

This is some of what Peter wrote to those who were struggling ever so long ago. I’m convinced that lots of it still applies to us. Peter’s list can school us in how to better endure and what to do while we are enduring. It doesn’t trouble shoot and bring us to solutions nor does it unfortunately shoot our troubles way…but somehow, mysteriously, it helps to know that others have suffered over the years and many of them took solace in this little letter. Like us, they found meaningful work to do in the midst of their suffering. They found distractions that pointed them to hope. They found instructions on how to lay their souls out bare before their kind and gracious God. They found little scatterings of comfort as they endeavoured to live a little separately from their scarred and scared selves.

And I think we can too.

When my dishwasher’s beeping was beyond aggravating, I turned to the trouble shooting section of the manual. Eventually I pushed the right sequence of buttons and to everyone’s great relief the blaring noises ceased and the quiet workings of a machine in motion started up. This letter from Peter won’t do all that. The blasting rhythms of suffering won’t necessarily stop. But in the clamour of it all, I do believe, it’s possible for the crazy cacophony of our own personal suffering to be pushed into a dull background noise, over which hope and comfort suddenly sing louder.

Picture Credit: http://pixabay.com/en/drummer-music-set-drum-kit-band-171120/ word art Marilyn R. Gardner

Click here to read the Series on Suffering.

Series on Suffering #2 – “A Container for an Ocean of a God”

Suffering an ocean of a God

Suffering : A container for an Ocean of a God! by Robynn. Find all Robynn’s posts here. Find a quiet spot with a cup of tea or coffee to read this one. You’ll be glad you took the time….

*************

When I was 9 and she was 8, in the quiet of a boarding room, while helping each other make a bed, I asked Amy Jo Inniger if she’d be my best friend. She said no. I was heartbroken but I accepted the rejection bravely. A year later she asked me if I remembered the question I had asked her a year before. Of course I did. “The answer,” she said, “is now yes!”

We were kindred spirit friends of the Anne Shirley and Diana Barry variety. She was the wind beneath my wings. When I graduated from high school a year ahead of her she loyally wrote me each week. When she ended up at Wheaton College and I was in the middle of the desolate Canadian prairies we made a way to see each other. She took the train up. I drove down (twenty-four hours straight with a brother and another friend!). She was in our wedding. I was in hers. She and her husband followed us to India and stayed in our town for nearly six months. Amy Jo was in the delivery room when Connor was born. She sang over him his first lullaby. She crocheted his first blanket and matching hat. Eventually her and her beloved husband found themselves in the slums of New Delhi living and working among the poor. Her house was the size of some king size beds. She cooked as the poor did, over a one burner stove. She washed clothes as they did, under the tap. Every Thursday they’d escape to a nicer part of town and stay one night in their “team center”. Every Thursday she’d call me on the phone.

A prayer letter we wrote in January 2000 tells what happened:

                When I was 29 and Amy Jo was 28, I stood by her hospital bed and watched her enraptured face as she saw her baby daughter for the first time. It was 11 pm, 6 hours after her surgery. The hospital was asleep and quiet. Amy had awakened and asked to see her baby. A nurse and I wheeled baby Kiran Hope’s cot down three floors to the Neuro ICU. When Amy focused on my face she smiled in recognition. When she saw the baby she beamed. “Oh Kiran, you’re so pretty.” She listened with pride as I told her about her new daughter, how healthy she was, how she had scored a 10 on the Apgar test. “Kiran, I’m so sorry that I can’t be with you these first few days,” she apologized, “but I’ll have the rest of my life to make it up to you.”

                Those were some of the last words Amy Jo ever spoke. She slipped into a coma at four the next morning and died four days later.

                The symptoms were sudden and simple: an intense migraine that started on November 11th. After pregnancy related causes were ruled out she was referred to a neurologist. The first MRI was done on November 27th and was inconclusive. Further tests, done on the 28th and the 29th revealed she had a large malignant brain tumor. On November 30th at 1:30pm they began two operations, first a C-section and then brain surgery. Kiran Hope was born at 1:45pm. Amy Jo came out of the OR at 5:10 pm. I had the blessing and privilege of introducing her to the little girl she had longed for years later that night.

                Amy Jo was a loyal kindred-spirit friend. She loved Jesus and wanted to be like Him. All she ever really wanted was that He be glorified. She was convinced that it was more important to Be than to Do. She was frugal and enjoyed simplicity. Little things were Big treats for her. She loved beauty and colour and texture and saw it all around her, in vegetable carts, bright saris and children’s faces. She was a well read, intelligent woman with opinions that would have shocked some! She was extremely uncompetitive and couldn’t hold her own at Scrabble for the world! She was generous and wanted those around her to be happy.

                I loved her. And the missing ache is still quite sore.

Amy Jo died. Even now as I type those words, it’s still so hard to believe.

Understandably, those were hard days. It didn’t make any sense. God had every opportunity to answer the prayers of hundreds, maybe even thousands who prayed. We asked Him to heal Amy Jo, to restore her to life, to give Kiran the mother she deserved. But God didn’t come through. For months afterwards my faith was shaken. I couldn’t understand it all. We had prayed. Emails went pouring out soliciting prayer from literally around the world. Mega churches in South Korea prayed in unison, smaller groups of more reserved people prayed together in the UK. They prayed in Pakistan, they prayed in Canada and the US, they prayed in Germany. And we prayed in India, fervently, sincerely, desperately. But still God did not heal. And Amy Jo died.

Months later Lowell preached a sermon that I hated. He entitled it Who Forgot to Pray for James? The text was from the book detailing the Acts of the Apostles, chapter 12, “About that time King Herod Agrippa began to persecute some believers in the church. He had James killed with a sword. When Herod saw how much this pleased the Jewish people, he also arrested Peter. Then he imprisoned him…. while Peter was in prison, the church prayed very earnestly for him”. Most of us know the story: the prayers of the church swayed God and He arranged for Peter’s miraculous deliverance! But was not the church also praying for James? Is there any reason to think they weren’t? Of course they were. Believers are being persecuted, the faithful rise up with prayer and power to beseech the Great God of the Universe to put an end to it. It’s what the church does! There is every reason to believe that the believers also prayed for James and others who were equally brutally treated, and yet God allowed James to be murdered and Peter to walk free. It doesn’t make any sense. Who can know how God figures these things out?

During that sermon Lowell used an illustration that communicated powerfully to my battered faith. He explained correctly why I don’t like swimming in the ocean: there are living things lurking beneath the surface, the waves are unpredictable and splash my face, it’s cold and deep, there are undertows and pulls that frighten, it’s salty and sandy and alive.  I do not like swimming in the ocean. I much prefer a swimming pool, a heated pool at that. The temperature is controlled. You can enter at your pleasure either the deep end or the shallow end. You can go in as far as you like and then climb back out. Blow up a floating device and float on the top if you choose! The bottom is level and smooth. There are no surprises. Nothing lives in a swimming pool.

And that’s the kind of God I prefer as well: one that is controlled and moderate; a God who I can measure and understand. I can enter His depths but only as far as I am comfortable. However that’s not the kind of God we have. Our God is an ocean of a God. He is alive and dangerous. There are forces at work below His surface. He alone controls the depths, the sprays, the splashes of His personhood. He woos us to the bottom and the water may appear murky and mysterious. Our God is wild and untamable. He is expansive and unpredictable. When we say he is Holy, we mean he is strange and weird and we do well to take our shoes off. The ground is Holy and the Water is deep.

After his horrid sermon Lowell asked that we sing a particular song. The words to that song, now old and rarely sung, still alarm me, “It’s all about you Jesus. And all this is for you, for your glory and your fame. It’s not about me, as if you should do things my way. You alone are God and I surrender to your ways.”

Suffering gives us a container to somehow hold this unholdable God.  Suffering reminds us that he alone is God. There is a humility that shakes our knees, we are overwhelmed by our smallness, our fragility, our mortality in the face of it all. And although we are wiping the Wild Salty Wonder out of our eyes, in some ways it’s never been clearer, we’ve never seen things as poignantly as we do now. It’s all about Jesus, his glory, his fame. Who are we to think that He would do things our way? He alone is God and so we do, we surrender to Him and to His Holy, Weird, Strange, Wild ocean-like ways! Suffering does this for us: it allows us a glimpse at how strange and weird he really is, it lets us see his holiness up close.

Much of this post was adapted from Chapter 9 of Expectations and Burnout: Women Surviving the Great Commission written by Robynn Bliss & Sue Eenigenburg

For Love of Little K

For Love of Little K by Robynn

handshake

I just spent a couple of hours catching up with my friend Kimmery. Because of the nature of the summers we’ve both had we haven’t seen each other in forever. It was fabulous to visit her in her new place, see boxes mostly unpacked, pictures already hung on the walls. She is settling in.

Kimmery is my friend. I love her deeply. She’s actually famous in our town for wearing the #4 K-State Wildcats basketball jersey when the Lady Cats were in their prime (2000-2004). Recruited from a high school in Nashville, she left her mama, her younger siblings, her community to move all the way to Kansas to play basketball.

A year ago she earned her PhD from Kansas State University in Family Studies. She’s one of the most determined, hard working women I know.  And she has heart. Dr. Newsom cares deeply: for her clients, her family and her friends. She’s loyal and long-lasting.

More importantly, Kimmery, is the mother of nearly 2 Little K. If she’s determined as a professional, she’s also devoted as a mother. She loves well, sacrificially, completely. Little K is disciplined and bright. He knows right from wrong. He can count to ten forwards and backwards. The little stinker already knows many of his ABCs.

Kimmery made coffee and gave me a tour of her place before it brewed. She offered me breakfast. She hadn’t slept well the night before and she was exhausted. It was a slow going morning for her. She was late getting to eat. I chatted away as she fixed herself an omelet and washed a bowl of grapes for Little K. I told her about our move, how the kids were settling, what I was working through in my attitude. After she sat down she shared some of the struggles she was facing with finding child care. Her daycare provider was suspended. It’s a tough story with complications and human complexities. We spoke of her mom, who’s been working hard to get her GED, but who recently found a job.

And then I asked Kimmery what she thought about what’s going on in Ferguson. She bristled some, sat up straighter, and asked me if I really wanted to know. I told her I did. I thought I did.

What followed was nearly forty-five minutes of her sharing her responses to what happened in the past ten days in Ferguson, Missouri. She nearly cried when she described what upset her the most. After Michael Brown was shot six times, two of those times in the head, he lay there in the street, uncovered, on display. His own mother a mere yard away was prevented from coming near the body of her dead baby for “investigative purposes”. Kimmery passionately pleaded with me, “Where was the ambulance? Why wasn’t he covered? Why didn’t someone call 911?” She said all she could see was pictures of dead black men and women hanging from trees, lynched and left on display, while white people stood around and watched. She told me story after story of similar things where black men and women were immediately assumed to be guilty and were mistreated simply because they were black.

Connor and I were chatting yesterday evening. He wants to go to Ferguson to join the protesters. He wants to skip school and go. In his mind this is history in the making. One person can make a difference he told me with the passion of youth. It’s an issue of civil rights. It’s not right what’s happened there.

With tears in his eyes he prophetically spoke a powerful truth, “Racism is still an issue mom. If anything it’s worse now than it’s ever been because people say it’s not an issue.”

At one point in the conversation she pointed over to Little K, who at the time was flinging his head back and forth on the couch. He was babbling jibberish and squealing at the educational program on the tv. Kimmery, pointing at Little K, said, “How am I supposed to raise him? Knowing he has a target on his back from the moment he’s born.” That’s when I could hardly contain my sobs. I’ve known that Little K man since he was born. When he was barely two months old I watched him once a week while his mom taught class. He’s been in and out of our home ever since. At church he reaches for me. I snuggle my head into his neck and he giggles. Tears ran down my face. How can Little K be the black man shot down? But that’s Kimmery’s greatest fear. Michael Brown’s mother in an early encounter with a television camera after her son was shot, railed at the reporter, “Do you people not know how hard it was to raise him? To keep him off the streets? To get him to graduate from high school? To get him enrolled in college”. Kimmery honestly can relate to that heart breaking mother’s lament. She gets it. She faces it. She fears it.

I drove away from Kimmery’s house with my heart stuck in grief. My spirit was in convulsions as I agonized with my friend. I didn’t know how to process Kimmery’s anguish. I didn’t know how to respond, what to do, where to take it. I cried so hard I should have put the windshield wipers on. I could barely see.

And I took my heart to Jesus. I took Kimmery there too. I scooped up Little K on to my shoulder and I marched him over to Jesus too. I had no place else to go. Deep inside, where there was a very small quiet spot, I heard the whisper of a tiny verse from the ancient old letter St Paul penned to the pockets of the faithful in the community of Galatia. “There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus…” There is great gospel truth in that tiny line of scripture. This is what life is supposed to be like. This is why Jesus came: to eliminate the lines, to erase the boundaries. This motivates me to work toward those equalities. I take on civil justice issues. I take on the freedoms of women, I take on the immigrant’s story because these are the things Jesus took on.  He intended that his message and his love would communicate across boundaries and slowly, slowly eliminate them.

I could drive away from Kimmery’s house. Kimmery cannot. She is beautifully black and she’s raising a black son to manhood. Somehow, and I have no idea how she’ll even begin, she has to learn to live above her fears. Somehow, and again this seems impossible to me, she has to find the space to shake off suspicion and truly live. But I don’t know how she possibly can but for the remarkable peace that comes from Jesus who delights in her colour. I commend her to his care.

For the love of my Little K we have to keep talking about this stuff. It may make us flinch inside. It may stir up anger or resentment or confusion. Those of us who are white need to own that there is privilege in that. We need to see what’s happening around us. No more denial. No more overstepping or abusing our freedoms. Let’s be honest. Let’s communicate across these boundaries as well. Please, for the love of Little K.

For further reading please see this excellent article Dear White Mom

What is your response as you think of inequalities and race? 

Picture Credit: http://pixabay.com/en/shake-hand-handshake-agreement-369025/