Friday, November 27, 2009

But in Everything...

"Father, I accept it. Thank you. Thank you for taking my son. I know he was suffering. I accept it Father. Thank you."

Today is Thanksgiving, and these were the very first words of gratitude that I heard. They came from my neighbor Lisbeth, between sobs of anguish. Her 15 month old son, her only son, died this morning after a two month battle with dysentery. We'd been to the hospital three times in the last two weeks. Twice for an IV. We'd been to the pharmacy for loads of medications... but he couldn't eat anymore and this morning he's gone. And she's giving thanks. Numerous people had been in their house to pray for him... we cry out to a God who can raise people from the dead, right? But in the end, there is still death in the world, and who's to blame? So many accusations to be made between her and her young husband. She should have taken him to the hospital sooner, she shouldn't have taken him to a curandero (or witch doctor), he should have worked harder so they would have had better medicine, ... I should have gone over this morning instead of doing my quiet time - didn't I think about it? The family should have been more supportive... but all of this is meaningless now, and does nothing to help those who are suffering. And she gives thanks to God.

My heart breaks for them, and I am confronted by my endless ability to be self-centered, self-pitying, lamenting the loss of "things" that pale in comparison with the value of a human life. Yesterday I was sure that my camera had been taken from the house. Two weeks ago, something else of sentimental and physical value had disappeared, and yesterday I was saddened all day to think that someone I trust had probably taken my camera too - right from my house. Turns out it was in a pocket of my backpack where Isaí had returned it without my knowledge... but I spent the day heavy-hearted, grieving its loss. "In everything ....give thanks," says the word in Philippians 4. Did I think to thank God in the midst of my worry? Not to the extent that Lisbeth did this morning. I was resigned and thinking to look for ways to be grateful to God - but still too miserable to actually do so.

So much of what we have isn't "ours." Ok, so everything we have isn't "ours." Not ours to hang on to as a right at least. Not my camera. Not my friendships. Not my space or my time. Not sons or daughters, husbands, wives, houses, jobs... not even my life. But holding things loosely and letting go isn't effortless - and with gratitude at that. So this morning I think of all the things, friends and loved ones that I have - and I am grateful. And I think of all the things I feel I'm lacking, things God hasn't chosen to set before me yet, ...and I choose gratitude. My neighbors with five young kids to my right eat once a day (no breakfast, no supper - just lunch, sometimes not until 4 in the afternoon). The neighbors to my left live the same way most days - a widowed grandmother raising three young grandkids, with two sons still in the house (not the fathers of the grandkids). And they are grateful. What on earth am I trying to hang on to?

Across the street, little Jair Jafeth is wrapped in white, laying on a table with four candles on each corner. Back in the states today I know millions are eating well, maybe even too well, surrounded by a good family, good hospitals, and clean water. But I also know that even in the states there are those who don't have one or more of those things. I find my peace today in the knowledge that nothing can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. And the promise that "I am my beloved's and He is mine," (SOS 2:16) runs through my heart. The one "thing" that no power, circumstance or person can take away from me. And I'll probably spend a good part of the day and the night of this Thanksgiving sitting with Lisbeth across the street as is custom here...

What are you grateful for today?

Monday, October 19, 2009

Dirt, Doors and Treasures in Heaven

Well I've been back in Nauta for a week now from Lima and the states, and it has taken me by surprise in some ways. First of all, I was glad to be back. I was (rationally) afraid that if I went back home to the states that I wouldn't want to leave again, and even now it brings tears to my eyes to think of my Gram in her mentally weakened state, and not know if I'll see her again this side of heaven. The time with her, my Mom, Dad, sister and her family was a rich and sweet sweet blessing. And part of me now doesn't even want to call them, for it makes me miss them even more. But I did come back, and there were places in my heart that were glad to be back, not only in Lima, but in Nauta - even irrationally. This is indeed where I am to be. It was so very good to see the kids again - as soon as I got in I put my luggage down and we traipsed over to the "ministerio" to play a short game of soccer in the heat of the afternoon. Some kids were as openly delighted to see me as I to see them, others wouldn't even turn look at me when I first saw them (Patrick and Omar), but then came around later to get a hug, chat and came to the kids club service in my home that next Monday.

I came back to find my house in one piece, though quite dirty. Nothing had been stolen or broken, except the back door, which I am extremely thankful to Cesar for repairing when I didn't even know where to start. Even as a single gal in the jungle, God provides what I am lacking. The house is big and quiet without Chris or the other gals here, but last night it was filled to the brim with neighboring kids as Jovita and I made and decorated cakes for the pastor's wife and son's birthdays. I've been out visiting twice since coming back, and haven't taught in the church once - both of which I'm grateful for for different reasons. I was a bit burned out on teaching in a pastoral setting - not my strength, nor my long-term purpose here. On Tuesday I got to see Neima, who we met last year (2008) when we found out her daughter had died in a playing accident, and she had almost lost her prenatal baby due to the shock. She named her newborn son Bryan, after my last year co-leader and he is big and fat now, with big eyes and a bright smile. She is leaving this Saturday for Lima to meet up with her husband who is working there. If I hadn't gone this week, I would have missed her - and I had the chance to share the grace of Christ with her brother-in-law and to pray with them before they left. Thursday I saw Mayquel's family, if you remember the young man who accepted Christ earlier this year, and talk a bit to his Mom who has been out of the church since she was 16 or17 and met up with Mayquel's father.

Pastor William and his wife Clementina and I have covenanted to meet together twice a week to pray for one another, for the institute plans, and for the other pastors and churches here in Nauta. There is a large event happening at the end of this month called Explosion, put on by YWAM from Columbia, and the church has been slow to mobilize. There were only 5 of the 20+ churches represented at the first pastors meeting I attended on Wednesday, but this morning (Friday) there was a early-morning fast for the churches starting at 6am, and a much better turn out, with a gentle but direct and honest message about unity by one of the young pastors here in town, and a good spirit of willingness on the parts of those attending. Please continue to pray for growing love and unity among the pastors. It breaks my heart to see Christ's beautiful body so at odds and divided.

One thing I fear in confronting here is the message of a prosperity gospel. That spiritual maturity and earthly goods somehow go hand in hand, that material blessing is a sign of approval from God and that poverty is a curse of sinfulness as well as a diabolic imposition of the Catholic church are attitudes that I am constantly encountering in this not-rich place. How do I, poor according to American standards, but lavishly wealthy according to Nautinian standards (the average professional pay rate here is 1000 soles/month, or 330$/month), bring the truth that I see in the gospel, that Christ alone is to be our treasure, our eyes and hearts set on something far more lasting and less physically tangible to our 5 senses here on earth? I am convicted of my own hypocrisy, wanting to hang on to my safety and my chance at comforts (how will I get back home if I don't have enough for airfare saved?) while others aren't sure if they'll have enough for food for the coming day. I cannot very well tell anyone that "blessed are the poor" while I hang tight to my riches. Please pray for discernment in the multitude of requests that come my way - I recognize that creating dependency and not self-realization is a grave error too - and for a generous heart after the heart of God. I feel that I fail more often than I succeed at following Christ well (today was fraught with examples) and am constantly reminded of His incontrovertible and ever-captivating grace.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

broken bread and poured out wine

After posting yesterday, I read Oswald Chambers today. Amazing. I think he's a prophet... can you be that still when you're dead?

Monday, September 28, 2009

loving and being loved

Why am I so much more concerned about God taking care of me than I am about being broken bread and poured out wine? After being on the mission field (leaving it all, right?) for some time now, I have seen great evidences of God’s love and personal care in my life. Case in point: I am home with my Gram right now – an answer to the prayers of three generations of Christ-lovers that couldn’t have been planned better had I tried. And I didn’t. Grammy, when she saw me, said that I was an answer to her prayers - she has been going through a very hard time, withdrawing from sleeping medication, very anxious and in a dark joyless place. Five days ago, my other Grandma died, so Mom is in Wyoming with my Dad (where she belongs) for his mother’s funeral, and the only way that she could be there is if I were here, with Grammy around the clock. And I am. I, for my part, was desperate to come home, aching for the familiarity and unconditional love of my parents, and every time I prayed, wanting to escape the futility and easily-resistible effort of getting a Peruvian visa, I heard a small voice say “go home.” Home didn’t seem like it should be an option, but when I found the $383 base fare, Lima – Boston, round-trip, it suddenly became one. So here I am, amazed by God’s love and care in my life, my Mom’s life and my Gram’s life all at the same time.

Yet as I was reading Yancey’s book “The Jesus I Never Knew” yesterday, and even Edward’s “The Divine Romance,” their thoughts confirmed some of mine that have been niggling at my mind for over the last year: it strikes me that our goal isn’t just to be loved by God – it is to love God back, passionately and with abandon. Christ’s purpose in coming was not just to save us and make us happy, wealthy and wise. It would seem that when he left , he intended it to be a multiplication process: we are to be his very body here on this earth, to be “Jesus” in so many more places than he could be were he here in person still. If His heart was to listen to the Father in everything, to heal the sick, to love the poor, to reach out to the oppressed and downtrodden, to set the captives free, to lay his life down each day for others, to show the principalities and powers of this world, the traditions of men for the self-interested (and even violent) bullies that they are … then should not our heart beat to do the very same? To have Christ himself made manifest in our very bodies, words heart and actions? It would seem that His kingdom is not one based on politics, programs or ritualistic duties, but rather an up-side down, subversive kind of living where individuals are loved regardless of their past, truth is spoken without weighing the consequences to yourself and everyone is treated with respect, forgiveness and grace – even as they crucify you.

After five years on the “mission field,” I have seen Christ represented well, and represented poorly by those around me. I have seen brothers snubbed by brothers, sisters hurt and even abused by those who would call themselves “spiritual authorities.” I have also seen the poor housed, the sick healed and brothers and sisters walking in freedom they didn’t think possible. I have been lied to and slandered some of the time. I have also learned (some of the time)to proclaim the Truth to myself and walk in forgiveness. I have been sick, exhausted, out of a home and lived out of a backpack for long stretches of time. But never have I lacked a place to lay my head, food on a table, or clothes on my back – not even money in the bank. When confronted with un-grace and downright destructive actions around me, I have been told to take a break, to treat myself, to seek times of refreshing. I have been told to insist on my rights, and make my needs known… but if Christ is to be formed in me, and my hope is to be more like Him, then I have to admit that nowhere in the gospels do I see Jesus choosing himself over others. Even when he tried to retreat and people followed, he still loved them first. I guess I’m having a hard time with the seeming contradictions between the advice to “lose your life in order to gain everything,” to “deny yourself, take up your cross and follow…” and “withhold from serving them, because they don’t deserve it,” or “don’t let people walk all over you.” It also seems painfully clear to me that if we took better care of one another, we wouldn’t have to take such painstaking care of ourselves. May God have mercy on us all.

So, here I am, in beautiful Maine with only two days left to breathe the fresh piney air, hear the breeze rustle through the autumn-hued leaves, take hot showers, put my clothes in a washing machine, hear the sweet hum of non-blood-sucking insects outside… and see my family face to face that I love oh-so-very-very-dearly. God knew that I (and my Gram, and my mom and Dad) needed this, and He (only He!) provided. On Thursday morning at 6am I leave Boston airport to head back south, toward breathtaking combinations of humidity and heat, needs that I can’t meet both financially and emotionally, long days and short nights. Back to brown children whom I love, back to towering skies and starry nights. Back to an aching hunger for community, and great feelings of inadequacy. I am left without answers to so many of my questions, but I do know that God is always faithful. It is my heart’s cry that I will learn to love Him, to love others just as He loves (though I am petty) and loves (though I am whiny) and keeps on loving (though I am broken) …me. May we all be able to receive that in-exhaustible, unconditional and incomparable love of His for us today.

Friday, August 28, 2009

The Other Side of the Coin

I'm still pondering why people and relationships cannot and should not function on the capitalistic laws of supply and demand... and I had a small (and ongoing) epiphany: the other side to viewing people as consumer products is that it of necessity predicates that we view ourselves the same way. If we see others for what they can offer us, then surely we are valued only for what we can offer them. Intellectually, I know Jesus broke down the walls to this errant way of seeing things, this impossible cycle of earned love. But in my heart I still don't believe it.

I so desperately want to earn someone's love - for them to see my "credentials" - the people that I know, those that love me, the good works that I have done and that I do; I want them to see the sacrifices that I've made... I want their pity, their admiration, their respect - their unconditional love based on what I have done.

The only flaw in this all-too pervasive approach to relating is that if love can be earned, it can also be un-earned... so we are always caught up in the tension of trying not to fall from grace, of putting our best foot forward, and of trying to repress who we really are, what we really feel so as not to lose our so arduously gained grace.

Again, the unavoidable truth is that we view others through the lenses with which we also view ourselves. The one who condemns most viciously is indeed most likely feeling the danger and imminence of condemnation. The manipulator is forever fearing and guarding against being manipulated. ... To the pure, all things are pure.

So - how to take off all the disguises and masks, and discard the intentions of the efforts? Integrity in being and doing, no hypocrisy - no walking around needing to look like someone that we're not? Save me, Jesus from this body of sin and death... because I can feel the death working in me as I try and try to do the impossible - to merit un-earnable grace.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Consumer Commodities?

Today I am struck by the thought (due to the conglomeration of many different events and impressions) that there is no good excuse or situation for treating people as commodities... no matter if it is for labor as an employee, services rendered (as in a restaurant), or the even stickier and harder to define commodities of friendship and relationship.  

I think one of the most disappointing feelings is realizing that what I thought was friendship, was really just a commodity to someone else... that I was appreciated for what I represented, for what I was seen to have to offer and for the future potential imagined by the consumer.  No one wants to be something to someone, earning the "love" that is given.  We would much rather be someone, and loved just because.  Period.  But then after further reflection, I realized that I am guilty of the same...  to the motocar drivers, to the waitress at the restaurant, ... to people who work in the office, and even at certain times to friends.  God has a great method for revealing the beam in my eye as I glimpse the speck in my brother's.  

When we see people for what they can give us, for what we can get from the relationship, or even more insidious, for what we think they "owe" us because of what we have done for them, they become less than people to us, turning into something for us to consume.  It is the principle that slavery and sweat shops are based on.  The excuse for rudeness and theft. It is how the child sex trade prospers and what movie stars are made of.  

I am convinced that Jesus never once saw a person as a thing that could serve him in any way, but saw each individual as just that... a unique and invaluable person an irreplaceable rendering of the image of His Father.  How did Jesus view people as people all day, every day? Even those who did him an injustice? I'm not sure, but I would indeed like to grow in that kind of perspective and love.  

And then after this thought today, there was the small and terrible question that followed: Do I view God as a commodity? Eeek.  Am I truly in love with Jesus and loving him, or am I merely in love with the thought of being in love with him... prostituting what he's given me to others for my own personal gain and benefit.  How amazing is His grace truly, that would save a wretch like me.