Thursday, January 31, 2013

In the Belly of the Whale...

Watching them board the bus I was riding, my eyes filled with tears seeing the broken bodies struggling to climb the few short steps up from the street.  Every single person struggling to make that climb was disabled to one degree or another.  Some were blind, some were deaf, some suffered from mental illness that left them rambling to themselves unaware of the world around them.  Many had to be lifted in their wheelchairs, via a special contraption at the back of the bus designed for exactly this purpose.  Some were deaf and spoke with exaggerated enunciation in voices too loud for "normal" societal norms. 

I had fallen a few weeks earlier and broken my foot, leading me to ride the handicapped bus service so that I could get to work.  I had no idea what I was getting into.  I had always enjoyed complete ease of motion and took it for granted that everyone did.  Of course, in the back of my mind, I knew there were handicapped people out there.  But, I had never been confronted with the stark reality of their existence so clearly as I was today, riding this bus for the first time.

I strained to watch as each broken body passed in front of my eyes.  I did not want to see what I was seeing.  The reality of pain, suffering and broken, often abandoned, human beings was shooting through me from every direction.  These are people who we don't often see "messing up" our perfect world.  Some how, I had managed to live well into adulthood without seeing them hardly at all.  Now, I couldn't help but see what God had placed right before my eyes on this beautiful, late summer day.

I couldn't take it anymore, I told myself.  My eyes were filling with tears watching this scene unfold.

Sitting on the inside seat, close to a window, I decided to refocus my vision outside the bus - away from this heartbreak.  And then it happened.  Shifting my attention to the beautiful farm land that surrounded us on our journey that day, I watched as field after field of ripened corn passed before me.  It was harvest time in the bountiful fields of the Midwest.  Suddenly, without warning, I heard the words of the scripture, so well known to me, echo in my ears: "The fields are ripe unto harvest, but the laborers are few..." Luke 10:2

Right there, on that bus, in the company of these broken and wounded children of God, I began to weep before my God.  I knew He was calling me to serve these that were dear to Him, but far from my heart.  I knew it beyond the shadow of a doubt. 

I wish I could say I answered His call immediately.  I did not.  I spent a lot of time arguing with Him.  Surely, He had the wrong girl.  Surely, He understood that I just couldn't do this.  Surely, surely, surely...

It took me over four years to come to obey this call from the God I love.  Amazing...  I have learned that He is able to deal with all my protests, all my resistance, all my stubborn running the other way.  Like Jonah, I learned that He is able to put me where He wants me, until I am ready to obey. 

Today, as I bow my knee to Him, I know what it is to be "in the belly of the whale" until I am ready to go where He sends me.  I have learned that He is God and I am not.  I only wish I had learned it sooner...

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The Witness of Suffering...

"In my distress I called to the LORD; I cried to my God for help. From his temple he heard my voice; my cry came before him, into his ears. He reached down from on high and took hold of me; he drew me out of deep waters." - Psalm 18:6, 16

In pursuit of happiness, my American birthright, just like liberty, I’ve worked hard to get where I am today.  And it has paid off with great dividends.  I have more than enough money to buy what I want to buy, to eat what I want to eat, to shop where I want to shop and to purchase the “keys to the kingdom” if I so desire.  Well, maybe not the kingdom of heaven, but, then again, where is heaven?  I say, the only heaven we’ll ever have is the one we make for ourselves, right here on earth.  A heaven with a god and angels on clouds is a concoction of the losers who can’t make it here, if you know what I mean.

I hear about this “god” thing – I mean, I go to church and everything.  It’s good to cover all my bases.  I really just don’t need a god too much as far as I can see.  But, I do like to keep Him on the back shelf, somewhere, just in case...   But, really, when was the last time I needed Him?

 I choose my friends carefully and they are just like me - self-reliant and highly successful.  Honestly, we’ve talked about it and we all agree – this god thing is for the ones who can’t take care of themselves – they’re just too weak or lazy or who knows what.  I can’t imagine how they got where they are.  Didn’t anybody ever teach them how to be successful? 

Speaking of friends, I got a scary call from one of my best buddies yesterday.  He’s been my mentor for as long as I can remember.  Nobody made more money or rose to the top faster than he did.  I watched him pass all the weaker types behind as he climbed the ladder of success, sometimes climbing on the bodies of those who whined and cried for his help along the way.   He let nothing get in his way.  Whatever it took to succeed he did it, even if he did blur the lines of integrity now and then.  You do what you have to do, he always told me.  He taught me so well!

Well, anyway, he called me yesterday, with the strangest request.  He asked me to come to the hospital to visit him.  Seems he woke up with a pounding headache a few weeks ago and after routine tests for what he thought was migraines, he was diagnosed with inoperable brain cancer.  They give him about three weeks to live.  Three weeks.  I couldn’t believe my ears.  This can’t be happening to my friend.  He is so strong, so healthy, so successful… 

I did go to visit him, this morning.  He lay there, barely recognizable with his head and face and body so swollen, I wasn’t sure who I was looking at.  When he spoke to me, his words were barely audible and his speech was slurred.  He had asked me to come to visit him but when I got there, he wasn’t sure who I was.  The color had completely drained from his face and body which had become a mere extension of the many tubes that assaulted his body from every direction.  His wife, dressed in the beautiful clothes she was accustomed to wearing, was red eyed and weeping uncontrollably by his bed.  I asked her if she was sure she had the best doctors – after all, this is the 21st century and surely, there was a medical solution for those with the kind of money my friend has.  She looked at me with pity through eyes that had suddenly discovered a truth I had yet to encounter.  "Nothing can save him now," she said.  "Nothing but God." "We need Him," she said with desperation in her voice and tears streaming down her face.  "We need Him," she cried. "We need Him.  We need Him.  We need Him..."

I can still hear her words echoing in my head right now.  My friend is dying.  All of his money can’t save him.  He needs God.  Watching the suffering of my friend was like a lightning bolt searing through my soul.  For the first time in my life, I saw my need for God.  He has broken me with the beauty of the suffering of my friend.  Yes, I call it beauty.  Because it was his suffering that brought him to recognize his need for his Savior.  And, as I looked suffering straight in the eye, in the face of my friend, I saw my own need.  It wasn’t through health, or wealth, or the trappings of success that I came to know Him.  It was through the gift of suffering that broke me and showed me my need. 

Thank you, Jesus, for the witness of suffering to a rich and self-centered generation.  Thank you, Lord, for the gift of suffering that teaches me there is no substitute for You…

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Of Snakes and Silken Linings...

Ashen colored, alone on side of the road, she had been left for dead.
Everyone coming down the road glanced her way and then made a bee line in the opposite direction.  Wasn’t she the one that had been at the party last night, dancing as if she didn’t have a care in the world?  Yes, that was her.  She was always laughing, telling jokes, the life of the party. 
When I thought about it though, nobody really knew her.  She was the one that everyone envied, but no one knew.  She always dressed right, showed up in the right places, and said the right things.  But, in the end, she was a mystery.  None of us knew her.  We all just pretended we did.  And she pretended the best of all…
But, now, here she was lying on the side of the road, about to meet her Maker.  Or was she…
I’m ashamed to admit, I didn’t much care.  She had seemed to have what all of us wanted – the perfect life.  She had money, she had looks.  Plenty of lovers who met her every need.  Well, at least they bought her things – she didn’t want for anything.  Or did she?
The strangest thing happened as I watched from a distance.  Some guy walked right up to her and got down on the ground and started to work on her.  It so startled me, I went over and asked him what he was doing?  He said she had been bitten by a snake that had been hiding in her bag. 
She had been carrying around this murderous, venomous monster on her arm for quite some time.  Apparently, it had nested in there, deep in the lining of her beautiful silk purse, probably as a baby, small and innocuous.  But, it had grown and even given birth to other little killers, all while hiding in her beautiful, expensive bag.  She never noticed it until that day when she reached in her bag, absentmindedly groping around for something she had lost, when the deadly thing had pounced on her and grabbed onto her hand until she couldn’t shake it free.  Without notice, all of the lights in her life when out.  She couldn’t breathe.  She couldn’t even call for help.  All of the little baby killers gathered around her and feasted on the delicacy of her flesh.  They were the ones who were having the party now.  They had been so patient – so cunning.  They had stayed in the dark and hidden themselves completely in the beautiful things she chose to cover herself with.  It was questionable who was hiding more – the snakes or the lady with the silken purse.
But, none of this seemed to matter to the guy who stopped to help her.  He was leaning over her, with his mouth to her flesh, sucking out the poison that threatened to take her life.  I couldn’t believe it.  He was risking his own life to save hers.  I thought he must be crazy, himself.  I asked Him why he was doing it – what did she mean to him?  
He looked at me with eyes that pierced right through me.  He told me she belonged to Him.  She was His.  He said He had invested everything He had to rescue her from certain death.  I watched Him suck the poison of a lifetime out of her.  I watched Him love her right back to life.  
I couldn't understand what I had seen.  She was so completely helpless in the grip of the enemy she had nurtured so close to her heart.  But, here, right in front of my eyes, she was given new life by this guy who said He had never, ever forgotten that she belonged to Him.  Seems she had known Him well along time ago, when she was just a little girl.  She got so lost, He said, along the way.  But, He had never forgotten her.  He called her by name.  And when He did, she turned and smiled a smile I had never seen on her face before.  She knew she was looking in the face of Love, unspeakable and full of mercy.  She was captured by the face of her Savior...

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Live Deeply...

"And now, children, stay with Christ. Live deeply in Christ ..."
1 John 2:28-29 (The Message)

I just discovered this wonderful rendering of The Word of God, from The Message.

When I read this, it captured my heart.  I so want to do this and so often fail.  It got me thinking - what exactly does it mean to "live deeply in Christ"?  I haven't figured all of that out yet, but, I love the call of God to come close to Him, to His Son, to go deep in the waters of His love, not just put a toe in.  He wants all of us, not just a little bit.  Sometimes, I find that hard to do - I want to keep parts of me back.  But, when I do, I always pay the price.  

When I run into a razor blade that shreds my life, I run to the One who shelters me, encourages me, keeps me from the destruction that is threatening me from out of nowhere.  At times like that, I want to go as deep as I can into the sheltering arms of my Savior.  I don't want Him "just a little".  I want all of Him.  I need all of Him.  I ask Him to forgive me for my half-hearted love affair with Him.   I thank Him over and over and over again that He is not a fickle, on and off again, lover.  

Lord, teach me your ways.  Lord stay with me.  Keep me deeply in the center of Your will.