Friday, April 29, 2011

If I Could, I would...

It's another five minute writing exercise over at MamaJo's.
Today's topic: If I could, I would....

GO.

...build a City of Children.

So Baby J could grow up as her eleven-year-old mother's sister rather than daughter. Mother G was assaulted by her own father. She is in great need of healthy attention.

Because there is not enough room where they are to receive the 25 day old baby whose drug addicted mother has already tried to squeeze the life right out of her small body, as fingers ring around her neck, too tight.

Because there is a ministry too large for a so-small church, and more work than two ministers on the ground in Guatemala can do.

But God can. He is limitless, and gives too big jobs to too small churches so He can get all the glory in the accomplishment of good and right.

I would send Rebecca to help, a girl who feels the need to serve in a children's home somewhere in Central America, and then goes to one for an Extreme week to serve. Ours. Hers. His.

They need help. The food, the shelter, the educating of those left and abused. Those needing escape from becoming teenage brides in remote villages.

We pray for $1 million. Why not? Think big. Dream often. Pray hard.

If I could, I would. I can't, but God can.

and He does.

Stop.


Extreme Team Arriving at the Children's Home, Coban, Guatemala

Links and photo added afterward. 

Note:  The website construction of CiudadNuevaEsperanza.org was donated to our ministry.  It continues to be a work in progress, and English translation has not yet been built into the website.  Google Translator has its limits.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Confessions of an "A" Student

3.74.  That was my grade point average when I graduated from college.  I'm not bragging -- I'm confessing.

If I had my druthers, I'd be a professional student; I love to learn.  It's the very thing I learned on that first day of school when I handed Ms. Human a perfectly five-year-old self portrait, and earned my first A.  It wasn't long before I had it down pat:  listen carefully to the expectations, go home and follow those directions, return to class and give it all you've got, then wait for the A with confidence. 

Since my school days, I've graduated to list-making:  clear expectations, measurable accomplishments, and quick, concise feedback:  list all crossed off by bedtime.  3.74.  That's 93.9%.  It's a measure...one that means I did pretty good  well.  (Bonus points for good grammar!)

The problem is, after graduation, life doesn't come with a syllabus.  There are no professor, no report cards, no red numbers and letters at the top of my work deeming me excellent.  The only red letters I have now measuring my deeds are the ones Jesus spoke.  His commands, His encouragement, His wisdom and Holy Spirit empowerment for my tasks.  His mercy and grace. 

These things aren't accolades earned for a job well done.  They're gifts received with humble gratitude.  I'm much better at the former, and still learning the art of the latter.  Overachieving is easy.  I guess that's why I keep running into my need for validation, and discovering my propensity for pridefully trying to earn it.

It's nothing more than the cowards way out.  It takes courage to merely accept validity, while unworthy, with humble heart and hands.  We don't really want to be unworthy, do we.  We don't want to have to turn to a bloody sacrifice on a cross, dressed up though we may be in our Easter finery.  It's so desperate and despicable.  Even the Father looked away.

7.34 is a lie.  There is no such thing as 93.9%.   Jesus paid it all, and I owe nothing.  My deeds?  They'll be tried by fire and either burn or remain, one or the other. 



He indeed validates, but only when He increases and I decrease until He is everything and I am nothing.  I know this in my head, could ace the test in a classroom.  But in real life, I think I may still be failing.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Validated

from Google Images
Every trip to Charleston my mother and I made during and after her kidney transplant involved jockeying for a parking space at a land-locked medical facility. We would pull a ticket from the booth, the gate would rise, and the treasure hunt began. We always paid $3.50 to get out of the garage, but we also had to produce the ticket that had a validated stamp on the back.

I always laughed because in my mind we didn't need a stamped parking ticket to prove our business at the Medical University of South Carolina. After all, my mother had an extra organ, a tender scar, a new diet, and a bag full of new drugs that cost as much as the Louisiana Purchase. And it's true: those drugs expanded her territory to include a whole new frontier, life after kidney failure. That was proof enough for me. Did the guy in that booth really need to see the stamp on the back of that parking ticket? Trust me, we weren't secretly at the mall getting a pedicure.

But there is a need within each of us for validation. Gary Smalley wrote a whole book about it. And where we look for it can be a blessing or a curse. We're supposed to find our fulfillment and our justification in Christ.

But there's always that temptation to jockey for coveted validation elsewhere. Not too long ago, I gave myself permission to feel validated, and I thought I could cross that one off the list, but I find myself revisiting this issue today. I came across this from a man I esteem highly for his knowledge and teaching, after having studied The Truth Project, Dr. Del Tackett. It appears his reflections on Easter this year closely resembled my own, and I confess, it made me proud. I felt validated, but again, it didn't last long. Today, the day after I read Dr. Tackett's thoughts, I'm feeling challenged to realign my need for validation to the stamp that marks Easter itself: nails that pierced two hands and feet and spilled blood over the backside of my life.

Anything else is just a rubber stamp on a parking ticket.


Monday, April 25, 2011

If the Tomb Doesn't Hold Death

She opened the fridge asking, "Is the milk good?"

"No, Nellie, it's old."

She pours it down the drain before dropping the container in the recycle bin.  It doesn't pour.  It falls out in curdled chucks.  Some things liquefy when they decompose, others solidify.  The expiration date was more than a week ago, the day after we left for vacation.

It's Easter morning, and I'm still thinking of death, decay, and decomposition, my spirit playing catch up with the natural after being on vacation during Holy Week.  My spirit lags behind, still somewhere between Friday and Saturday this Easter morning.  We rummage through yet unpacked bags to ready ourselves to celebrate resurrection.  That's right, I think, we have an expiration date, and we should live this life out of the suitcase, because we still aren't home yet.  This stay is temporary, too.

But I forget, and move in, unpack and expect to stay.



The disciples forgot, too.  They scattered in their fear.  They did not understand in spite of Jesus' telling them over and over what would happen.  They should have known what to expect, but they didn't.   Instead they expected the tomb to hold death.

So did the Marys and the other women.  They carried burial spices at first light to properly prepare a body for the long term effects of decay. 

Flesh stinks.

All these things are normal.  But somehow I don't think that Roman soldiers had ever guarded a grave during the night watch.  What other grave ever bore a Roman seal?  Were the unbelievers among those present the only ones expecting a resurrection?  Planning and preparing to prevent it, negate it?

I wonder for the first time what happened to Mary's unused costly spices.  What about the again-empty tomb?  What happens to our best laid plans and provisions when they don't play into God's plan? What comes of the details we invest in and wake up early to attend to when our expectations have gone awry?



The girls ran to tell the disciples.  John and Peter race toward the grave, their personalities on full display.  John can't bear not to be there, his intimate friendship with the Messiah and his grief urging him forward, wishing for more time with Jesus.  It's what I want, more time with Jesus.

Peter arrives a close second but brushes past John, barging right inside the open grave.  Leave it to impulsive Peter to boldly walk on water and tread holy ground both, looking for facts, evidence to piece together and draw a hasty but sure conclusion that is the rock a church is built upon. 

John, who ran ahead, desperate to get there, now hesitates to enter the tomb.  Just as hungry for answers as Peter is, could his hesitation be from realizing that what he will surely find inside that entombed space is not the end, but eternity?  Perhaps he is paralyzed by the magnitude of the moment this could be:  the one that solidifies faith.

So the other disciple who had first come to the tomb then also entered, and he saw and believed.  For as yet, they did not understand the Scripture, that He must rise again from the dead. (John 20:8-9)

One step into a dark grave and John believed even before he understood the scripture.  Liquid faith solidifies as the stuff of earth dies a stinky, sour death. Instantly he understands all Jesus had said that had not made sense until now.  His hindsight and earthly sight give John spiritual eyes to see. The spirit lags behind the earthly that first Easter morning for John, just the way I struggled this Easter morn.  Engulfed in a tomb that houses death itself, John sees life simply because there was the inexplicable absence of death.

Given all the suspicious foretellings of Jesus, this could not be a suspect circumstance.  It was foretold, it was uncomprehended, it had come to pass, and only then was it taken in by the flesh to have its life-giving effect on the spirit.

He lives!

John and Peter are baptized -- immersed -- in a tomb absent of death and therefore so very present with life.  Milk and honey flow.  Their every step beyond that dark tomb was illuminated by Light, Life.



Christ's death was a substitute for mine. Yours, too.  Enter the tomb and take on the substitute as your own. Unite with him in death, as cloth unites with the properties of dye when immersed, baptized, into it.

But Jesus had no guilt; he didn't deserve to die. So he lives!

But the baptism is already complete.  We two -- Jesus and me -- through baptism have become one. (And what God has joined together let no man put asunder.)   So when He rose, I, too, rise. Holy, perfect Jesus and wholy forgiven me.

Hallelujah!  He lives!

What is there to do when light dawns on the resurrection?  What will you do when you realize the tomb doesn't hold death?  Hesitate if you must. But please, like John, enter in, see, and believe.  What are you waiting for?  Come on in.  This is the Life.


I have been crucified with Christ and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.
Today, I lived it on Sunday before I heard it on Sunday. Isn't God good?



Friday, April 22, 2011

Odd Couples

It's Passion Week, Good Friday night, no less. And I've been traipsing around South Florida without a care in the world. Easter week and vacation are an odd couple indeed.


There was a time when I was involved in grand Passion Play productions. The first few years I wasn't anymore, it didn't even feel like Easter. There was also a time when I fasted every Good Friday, in remembrance, observance, in gratitude and reverence for the unspeakable sacrifice.

This year I reclined in the sun, using my toes to filter the sand like an hourglass, and devoured a book or two. Tomorrow, I plan to fight sleep (vacations can be tiring, after all) and read the rest of book two on the drive home. All the while, Jesus' body lay lifeless in the tomb.


Looks can be deceiving.

Dead bodies make us uncomfortable. We should all just get past Good Friday and Saturday as best we can and relish Sunday, when we can rise early, and begin to celebrate at first light...after the filthy things are squared away and awkwardly behind us.  How can Good Friday and Easter Sunday even be coupled?

This week I read Wench, authored by Dolen Perkins-Valdez. The title is only the first in-your-face-disturbing word of a haunting novel.

It chronicles the life of a female slave that is wooed rather tenderly by her master in her early teens. She produces his only two children, and loves him for the ease and favor she enjoys as his mistress. Yet she loathes this about herself. He treats her kind enough to string her emotionally along, yet inhumanely enough for her to be ever-mindful of her status as a slave. She lives a tortured life, not because her master beats her but precisely because he doesn't.



During summers, the slave owner would travel with his wench to vacation in Ohio, a free state, and Lizzie makes friends with other mistress-slaves from other plantations. They are so close to freedom, yet so far...again, still, every summer. During one of those summers, Sweet gets word that her four living children back home are exposed to a cholera outbreak, and one by one, they die. She is not allowed to return home, and is forced to mourn as a slave in a free state, a great distance from her babies. 

Perkins-Valdez writes:

"You still got life, don't you?" Mawu said. "You still got a life?"

Lizzie didn't know what to say. Four children gone. Five in the last year. She just didn't know what one mother could say to another when her own children were safe and sound, bellies full, cheeks fat, backs smooth, soft hands, soft feet, minds that could read, lips that could pronounce words grown slaves had never heard of. She was trying not to feel her own fortune. Trying not to feel that this could have been her laying in this puddle of stink, sewing big chunks of cloth into a dress for a child she would never see again.

Jesus doesn't love us a little, kind to a point. That God-Man went straight to Hell to end the devil's status as slaveholder. Triumphant, he took the keys to Death and Hell and rose straight up.

Remember that on Saturday, when he's just laying there, looking dead and defeated in his silent tomb.



He did the dirty work that sin demands, and sinners like me don't want to look at. This wench would much rather look to the reward, listen to the waves, soak up the sun, and enjoy vacation in our new-found free state.

When I see what he suffered, I, like Lizzie, try not to feel my own fortune. When it's Good Friday, even on vacation, I long for Sunday. But when he frees me, I want to remain his slave because of his love, the kind that doesn't cause shame.

Freedom and slavery are another odd couple.



Wench:
(c. 1290): a girl, maid, young woman; a female child.
(1362): A wanton woman; a mistress.

United States:
(1812; 1832): A black or colored female servant; a negress.
(1848): A colored woman of any age; a negress or mulattress, especially one in service.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Birthdays

Last Sunday was my brother's, the seventeenth he didn't live to celebrate.  He would have been forty-five...and bald by now.

We never talk on this day, we three that were left to huddle in our grief that terrible day.  Instead we let the day pass, ignore what -- who -- is missing, still trying to move on, even now.

Then God redeems the day.

Two from our next generation celebrate birth into the body of Christ.  Baptismal waters run and wash clean the family death stain from this day.

Fresh tears flow, too.  For the future, for eternal life, for the distance, our absence one from another, and for God's redeeming, even of our days.


Happy Birthday, Daryn and Natalie:   nieces -- Jeff's and mine.  And now our sisters in the family that matters most and transcends this life and its death.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Sixteen Year Old Young and Borrowed Bones

It's been quite a while since a small bundle of flesh and blood escaped from the dark, quiet confines under my ribs, one of which came from Adam. It still confounds me how the chemistry between a mother and her offspring continue to be intertwined yet separate all at the same time, even now, almost sixteen years later. He separated himself from me long ago, yet he's still in me, under my skin, in my heart and mind. Someone once told me the definition of motherhood is giving your heart permission to live outside your body, and indeed, motherhood is a paradox of satisfying togetherness and terrifying separation.



In other cultures, he would be considered a man and embracing man-size responsibility. In America, children both grow up too fast and remain children too long -- another paradox -- and he gropes in the toxic quagmire known as "the teenage years." I grope, too.

To look at him, one might see a confident teenager on the cusp of manhood, all strong and confident and energetic. He's smart, articulate, and creative, to be sure. His talent and gifting rev their engines in preparation to launch like the space shuttle. 

But what someone may not see from the outside is his mammoth (and ever growing) potential to disappoint his mother. A mother's love must be the fuel that combusts and is consumed in the explosion that propels the launch of a now-larger-than-his-mother boy who must learn to do it by himself.



What parent doesn't feel their child's failure, doesn't wear the shame in the consequences of their youth's folly? Can a loving mother not brace herself for the pain of a child who chooses unwisely, mismanages time, misjudges so often despite loving, godly counsel? Adolesence chooses easy and unwise almost every time. And a boy's future success, and godliness, and peace, and happiness are all at stake. So is a mother's heart. I'm learning this, and how I pray that he's learning, too.

I thought my days of heartache ended when I said yes to a man who loved me wildly, and my heart came to reside with his beneath his rib. He pledged his fidelity decades ago and lives it daily before me -- for me, and my heart has been safe and unharmed ever since. But when two become one, there it is in the children: flesh of my flesh, bone of my bone, borrowed rib and all. My heart outside my body, satisfying and terrifying at once.

What I never saw coming, though, was the potential for its being broken again at the hands of another sixteen year old boy.

Images from Google
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