Monday, October 20, 2014

Community in Moments

In the sea of carnival enthusiasts and dust, it was difficult to know where to begin.  I held tightly to the hands of Salomé, Ezra and Emmaus whose eyes shown in a mix of excitement and apprehension.  Music blared over the multitudes who screamed ecstatically amidst the dips and dives of roller coasters, claiming to terrify and winning this bet over the less courageous.  Time and again, to my relief, the height limit for certain rides excluded our two Littles.  Salomé carefully chose a few conservative rides to which Magdalene and her close friend Taylor led us with savvy enthusiasm and cheerful strides.  I was the reluctant parent, who could not hold my guard long, as cotton candy and giggly chatter overtook the youngest two, who followed willingly in the teenagers footsteps.

Within two hours Salomé, Emmaus and Ezra needed food and I wished for calm.  The massive dining facility, alive with neon lights implored every possible craving of our appetites to rule and choose their wares.  The setting promised indulgence but not satisfaction or peace.  Salomé noticed a young mother and her baby to whom she tried to direct my eyes, but I was not attentive to anything but finishing our food and stepping out of the massive feeding trough!

Finally, we stood beyond the three sets of double doors outside the mess hall waiting for Magdalene and Taylor when the disheveled mother appeared, wearily pushing her stroller.  "Look Mommy, she actually has two babies!" cried Salomé.

Sure enough, the stroller, laid flat, contained two little sets of feet nearly touching each other.  Two beanie-clad, sleeping babies, one in pink and one in blue, drew our intention in whispers.  I smiled up at the mother whose right arm lay motionless in a sling.  She wore pink sweat pants, a white hoodie and a pink, knitted beanie, which matched her children's, over her blonde tendrils.  She gazed at me through half closed eyes and hid her cigarette.

"They are beautiful," I commented, as Salomè and I peeked at the newborns.  I then looked toward the cigarette, "...don't worry about that, I understand."  She stared at the glowing embers and shrugged her shoulders, but tossed it to the dirt anyway and ground it under a canvas slippered foot.

"It's a bad habit, but I'm 'sposed to die anyway.  I got 20% chance with radiation after my brain tumor.  Had medical care in California, but I'm back up North now 'cause I need more help and me and my boyfriend get more here.  He left with the fifteen-month-old and my other two kids."

"Left?" I stammered, with my eyes fixed on the 8 and 9 pound babes dozing innocently.

"The fair...just left the fair...he's home at the 'partment, my ride's comin' soon too.  She's in church, but she'll be here."

I clutched Salomé's hand, while Magdalene and Taylor patiently entertained Ezra and Emmaus, at a polite distance from the evolving conversation.  We learned the babies' names, Miracle and Jared.  They were tiny, born three weeks before their due date, yet they appeared healthy with perfect features.  I commended her good mothering and a hint of a smile softened her care-worn face.  We said goodbye, then walked in opposite directions.  The glaring lights felt more oppressive than I'd recalled before our meal.  I felt sick and helpless as I watched the mother disappear from view.  Was someone really coming to get her?

Half an hour later, a smily, blonde gal in a light jacket, sweat pants and well used tennis shoes, tapped me on the shoulder.  Beside her stood the young mother who explained, "See...there she is, the lady I told you 'bout, the one who was worried about me..."

"I'm Jocelyn's ride, I was at name's Never.  Thanks for caring for her before I got here." I hugged Never who asked me my name.  "Of course," she laughed, "Grace, that's an excellent name!"

I watched them go.  Never pushed the stroller in pace with Jocelyn, engaging her in conversation, wrapping her fragile friend in kindness.  She embodied compassion, clothed in gentleness, generosity and humility.  I felt rooted to the ground, undeserving of the compliment of caring.  What had I done to show it?

It is difficult to understand and accept the limitations placed on our lives in fleeting moments when others are in need and we feel helpless.  If it were up to humans alone to roll up our sleeves and save the world, would we?  Perhaps pride hisses such fanciful possibilities into our minds in order to trap us in guilt and render us useless in the tiny areas in which we really can make a difference.  If we take the sorrows and sufferings of our globe, as lone stewards of mercy, the burden crushes us and we stumble over ourselves in ineffective hopelessness.  Perhaps if we speak life into each moment, over every person, on the dusty road of our earthly journey, the lightening of the burdens collectively will weave a web of hope.  And maybe if we pause to be the comma in a hard chapter in someone's life we've given them just the breather they need.  I don't know exactly, but that evening at the fair, I saw two women who inspired me to talk with you about mercy and friendship.  Perhaps because of them we will be ready to do a small thing, with courage, the next time it is requested of us.  Then boldly, we will receive and release the baton of loving each-other well, in community.


Wednesday, October 8, 2014

In This Present

Magdalene sipped her peppermint tea as she leaned against the counter, "Mom, I love that you are present with us kids."  Her words struck me in the moment and have remained with me all week, as encouragement to my internal battle of seeing beyond the encroaching bleakness and evil on the global horizon and fixing my eyes on Hope.  Even as I write, the view from our family room window is marred by fog and the morning light is eerie rather than cheerful.  Does this mean the beautiful forest beyond our back fence no longer exists?  Have our neighbors disappeared because the space between us is obscured?  Of course not, but fear of future events, when the signs of the times look dark, seeks to snuff out the truth we know.  Here and now is where we are, and inside our soul, belief must stand sturdy, not swayed by circumstances.

My coffee sits on the floor, beside my slippered feet as I type with half an ear on the litter of new kittens.  Their delicate frames and blind eyes keep them solely dependent on Mama Cat Agnes, who just took a morning saunter around the house, stretching her legs and relieving her tired body, before returning to her needy brood.  Kittens, precious and new, are a stark contrast in their very existence, to the battles against good currently raging throughout our world.

As I picked up my Bible and computer from the dining room table, to prepare for reading and chatting with you, a plastic warrior fell at my feet.  Below the chair, swept by the corner of the tablecloth, a war against dragons had been raging all night and I didn't even know!

These are days when courage and compassion must be our constant companions.  As we speak and act in the arenas of our lives in which we have authority, being present is our privilege.  The people with whom each of us will interact today are immortal not ordinary.  The perpetrators of evil and promotors of good are humans, the war over their and our actions is spiritual.  There is power on both sides of the spectrum, but we know the Enemy has no ability to create followers from dust.  As Bishop R. C. Trench writes, from his book, The Parables of Our Lord, from1860, "Satan cannot create children of darkness, he can only spoil children of light."

We are children of light, and light shines in darkness!  Eugene Petersen writes in The Message translation of the Bible of Jesus in John 1:5 "The Life-Light blazed out of the darkness, the darkness couldn't put it out."  Beloveds, this is a time in History where darkness is seeking its final overpowering of light.  It will not win!  Yet while it is allowed to exist, it seeks to destroy our faith, hope, joy, compassion, dreams, visions, and commitment to honoring the sanctity of life.  Jesus is the strength to which we must cling!  God has not turned his face, he has missed nothing, but in this very time and space...between kittens and war, we exist purposefully.  We must engage in this present day as lovers of the truth we know and doers of the righteous acts for which we have been created.  Shine, Beloved, blaze with all that is in you.  My favorite author of our times is Frank Peretti, one of his books is titled, "Piercing the Darkness".  It is our joy and responsibility to do this, in this very day, until all is made right, we are the light of the world!

"Comfort, oh comfort my people...Thunder in the desert!  Prepare for God's arrival...Then God's bright glory will shine and everyone will see it.  Yes.  Just as God has said."  Isaiah 40   

Sunday, October 5, 2014

These Days We Dance

On Friday, a tomato from the garden rolled off the cutting board but stopped short with a wobble against the side of the bowl.  Emmaus leaned his head on his folded arms, as he watched it from his barstool perch.  I cranked up the volume of my favorite song, ignoring the meandering salad preparations, clasped his hands and we twirled across the kitchen for a few stanzas.  The smile that enveloped his face invited the late afternoon sun to shine a little brighter through the window.  Suddenly he stopped, drew his hands over his eyes, and spoke the muffled words, "This is so sad!"  I knelt beside him, placed my hands on his and peered into his face, asking why.  "Because someday you'll die, and I'll remember this happy time and I'll be so sad, that's why my eyes are all wet now."
I held him and said, "Someday isn't today, so you don't have to be sad...for now we can be so happy and dance together!"

Morning of first day home from Ethiopia, October 3rd, five years ago 
This analytical, brilliant mind understands more painful things than I could imagine at the age of seven, but I also know that the joys since his years in the orphanage have been many!   And each joy, each sorrow and each prayer is held in the heart of God, for all eternity.  In God's economy nothing is wasted.  In these earthbound lives, we live in the balance of moments, trusting God on the mountain peaks and with us in the valleys.

These fragile bodies made of dust are designed to dance on these dirt floors.  Under packed soil, seeds sprout, roots deepen and family trees become forests.  In sorrow and suffering, through tears of sadness and joy, when all is well or when we grieve, we raise our hands in the hope of eternity.  We love well, while there is still time, hands clasping and reaching through compassion in action, those who've forgotten life's melody of love.  How is this possible you ask, in this dark world?

Jesus...Beloved, He is the answer.  In Him, by Him, through Him, songs formed from the depth of His sacrifice reverberate throughout time and creation.  Until the day we die, when our souls are released to twirl into eternity, we needn't fear.  We dance to the song we're given.  It is what Love does...and love, not death, is the most powerful force on earth!

photo of Malachi by Uncle Edward