Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Healing a Different Brokenness

I am the Lord; at the right moment, I will hurry it along.
                                                                                                                                Isaiah 60:22b

Two weeks ago I broke a bone in my hand. I have had to make adjustments to compensate for the lack of use of my left hand (fortunately, I am right handed). It takes me longer to do many things (like typing this blog post), I have limited my driving and there are some things I simply cannot do by myself. Moving slower means that I have to eliminate certain items from my daily to-do list. This means I must be content with less efficiency and productivity.

I am no longer making big plans for myself each day. I am allowing more space in my schedule and, surprisingly, I have been content with the ability to do less, with slower progress in what I am able to do, and with adjusting my daily schedule around when my husband can take me to and from work. What I know in my head, I am now accepting in my heart—I am not in control.

The verse above reminds me that any thought I have of being in control is really an illusion. God is in charge of the moments of my life. I am grateful for the patience that comes with this recognition. I hope I will remain this way even after my hand is healed. I thought what was broken was my hand. I wonder if the greater brokenness in me is the notion that I am in control, that my agenda is of utmost importance and that my worth is tied to my productivity and efficiency. More significant than the healing of the broken bone is the healing of attitudes and behaviors that have been barriers to increased trust in God.

In John 15:2, Jesus says that the Father prunes branches that are producing fruit so they will bear even more fruit. The “pruning” caused by this lack of mobility and corresponding lack of control is bearing fruit through increased stillness and patience in my life, and through recognition that life isn’t about my productivity or effectiveness or my agenda, but about trusting God with my life. With that trust comes the peace of not having to meet a set of expectations (which are mostly my own). Instead, I am free to recognize that God loves me both in my brokenness and in my healing. As Sister Kathleen Flood reminded us at the Academy for Spiritual Formation, my faith is making me well.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Engorged and Empty

I don’t know where it began—this notion that we need more. Maybe it was cable TV, when we went from three channels to hundreds. Maybe it was all-you-can-eat buffets. Or maybe it arose with mass production. However it began, we live in an age of choice, of muchness, of endless options.

Years ago, when my children were small, one of them told me about a toy he wanted for Christmas. My husband and I went to a big-box toy store to buy the requested item. When we found the aisle where the requested toy was sold, we were greeted with so many choices that we didn’t know which one to buy.

At the grocery store where I most often shop, soft drink choices line both sides of an aisle. Sometimes my husband and I sit down to watch TV for a short time and spend so much time scrolling through the available programs that we find it’s bedtime before we can figure out what to watch. I can’t even listen to all the songs on my iPod, so I cannot imagine what I’d do with Spotify. And when I broke my hand last week I even got to choose the color of my cast.

A few weeks ago our pastor spoke in his sermon of the tension between the desire for more and the sufficiency of enough. In a society where we are inundated with choices in everything from potato chips to cast colors, why are we still so dissatisfied? Why are so many people angry, unhappy and miserable?

I have just come off two months of a very full schedule. While the items on my calendar were all good, I felt as though I was drinking from a fire hose—too many events, too much food, and too little quiet. I am part of a small group that is studying spiritual disciplines this fall. All the calendar activity wound down about the same time that we came to the chapter on fasting. As the author described how fasting makes us light, joyful and pure, I thought of how tired, heavy and unfocused I felt. I actually began to look forward to less—less food, less noise and fewer events.

With all the choices I have available to me every day, what nourishes my soul is the intentional choice to avoid the barrage of options I have for stimulation that keep me living at the surface of life. Instead, I need to open a space within for Christ. I want to be content with the sufficiency of God.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Experiencing the Miraculous

Control is an illusion, although we usually live as though it is a certainty. We meticulously plan and execute our plans and as long as everything goes off without a glitch, the myth that we are in control is perpetuated. I wonder if this is why we fail to see or believe in miracles. Our propensity to explain away events blinds us from seeing the Holy Spirit work in ways beyond rational explanation.

If we are lucky or blessed, we get to be swept up into the mystery of God’s miraculous power. Our mission team experienced such an encounter with God’s miraculous and mysterious ways, for we saw the work of the Spirit in a way that defies rational thinking.

On Thursday morning of our week in El Salvador, we were on our way to the village where our team was drilling a well and teaching hygiene lessons. Rain the night before had made the dirt road we travelled daily more rutted and bumpy than usual, and our driver, Angel, drove slowly. As we passed a sugarcane field not far from our destination, I felt the van suddenly lurch to a stop. Out of the sugarcane three hooded men appeared and blocked our van. Two were armed with machetes and the third had a short barreled shotgun.

Angel told us to stay put as he got out of the van to talk to the men. None of us moved or said a word to each other as Angel and one of the men had an intense dialogue that none of us could understand. In what seemed simultaneously like an instant and an eternity, Angel was back in the van and we were on our way, charged to say nothing in the village. A former gang member himself, Angel told us these men were gang members who had intended to rob us. When Angel explained to them that we were Christians, there to drill a water well in the village, they let us pass without incident on the condition that we divulge nothing of the encounter to the villagers. We obliged, saying nothing to each other until we were well on our way to the mission house that evening.

With work to do in the village, I did not think much more about the incident until that evening, when we were finally able to process as a group the day’s events. In our team’s conversations with each other and as we’ve shared the story with others since returning home, the miracle has become increasingly apparent to us all.

There is power in the name of Jesus. Angel stressed to the men that we were Christians, there to serve the village, and they let us go without taking anything from any of us. Angel’s past life as a gang member was more than coincidental in that encounter. And Angel’s name – well, that is amazingly obvious!

Our team had feared that this incident could kill future well drilling trips from our church, yet when the story was first shared upon our return, people were caught up in the fact that we were let go without anything being taken from us. The Spirit has been at work by taking what could have been a negative result and turning it into an awe-inspiring demonstration of God’s power and presence.

Our team has been praying for these three men. Our lives are forever bound up with theirs, and we wonder how God is at work in their lives because of their decision to let us pass without taking anything from us. What prompted such action on their part? Surely it is the unfathomable mystery of God, a miracle beyond rational explanation and we had the privilege not only to experience it but to be able to share it with others!

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Locked Doors

The evening we arrived home from our mission trip to El Salvador, I unlocked our house and was convicted by that simple act that I routinely perform. Unlocking the door was a profound demonstration of our culture of ownership and individualism. The reason unlocking the door seemed suddenly so odd was because we had spent a week in a village where houses and hearts were open and unpossessive.

We took a Frisbee, some rubber balls and a soccer ball for the children of the village to play with. Our entire group observed a different spirit among the children than we are used to seeing among children at home. Often, what we see with children here is a desire to possess something entirely. It is not easy to have a community ball because someone wants to claim ownership, or wants to monopolize the use of the ball. However, we saw none of that among the children of the village where we spent the week. It was so amazing to us that we regularly commented on it. We would hear lots of noise as children played with the items we had brought, but never any angry words, and never any tears.

One child took the Frisbee home one evening and I wondered if we would see it again the next morning. But when we arrived, there was Kevin with the Frisbee, ready to play with the other children and with us. He knew it belonged to the community and had only taken it home for safekeeping until it could be stored at the village school.

Why the difference between our children and the children we encountered in the village? I wonder if our locked doors teach our children more about title law than we realize. Our notions about possessions and ownership filter down into the minds of our children even if we have not directly taught them anything directly about these concepts. We used to hear our own boys say “Dat mine” when playing with each other or with other children. Even as we try to teach our children to share with others, our own locked doors proclaim “Dat mine” to the world outside our homes. Our keys and alarm codes speak louder to our children than our lessons about generosity and sharing.

Thomas Merton said this: “God, Who owns all things, leaves them all to themselves. He never takes them for His own, the way we take them for our own and destroy them. . . His love is not like ours. His love is unpossessive. His love is pure because it needs nothing.”

When I think of the way we saw the children share the few simple toys we brought, I believe we caught a glimpse of pure, unpossessive love. Their love and their lives reflected purity because there was nothing that they held back from us or from each other.

I wonder what I miss by living behind my locked doors. Jesus’ words in Luke 9:25 give me a clue: What advantage do people have if they gain the whole world for themselves yet perish or lose their lives?

Life doesn’t happen when doors are locked, either physical doors or the doors of my heart. Purity is not compatible with possessiveness. I pray for life, for release from locked doors.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Small Things

Do not despise these small beginnings, for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin . . .
                                                                                                                Zechariah 4:10a

A fond memory from my recent mission trip to El Salvador was a small event, taking no more than 30 seconds, but one that made a big impact on me.

Liz, our translator, had supplies to make piñatas, an activity we could do with the women and older children after teaching the day’s hygiene lessons. It took two days to make the piñatas. On the second day, we strung some cord between two trees for hanging the piñatas to make it easier to decorate them. One of the women on our mission team was pulling the cord from one tree to the other. She tripped on a large rock, just a small trip, an incident that didn’t draw any attention.

Debora, the same girl who had given us her bracelets the previous day, saw it happen. With no fanfare, I saw her move the rock, along with another large rock, to the base of a nearby tree.

It was a small gesture that touched my heart and told me volumes about this young girl. Her attentiveness and action were a lesson to me. She simply saw a need and acted. She paid attention closely enough to notice the trip, and responded from a heart of compassion. I think I am the only person who even saw Debora’s action.

How many such opportunities do I miss because I get distracted by other things going on or worse yet, by my own thoughts? I wonder how often I am so preoccupied with myself that I don’t see a simple way to make things better for others. The pace at which we move can blind us to small acts of love and thoughtfulness toward others. When my head is down, looking at the screen of my phone, I miss the chance to show love to one of my brothers or sisters.

1 John 3:18 says: Little children, let’s not love with words or speech but with action and truth. Debora loved with action. He act of noticing and moving the rocks and her generosity in sharing her bracelets with us was love that needed no words. These were simple but powerful acts of love that challenge me to follow her example. If I am to love with action I must be intentional about paying attention to the rocks in another’s path.