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

baby-feet-

“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.