Saturday, November 28, 2015

Of Angels and Joy to Come

Photo by the marvelous wedding photographer
Have you ever seen an angel?  Our son's bride, Line, took our breath away in May, as she walked down the aisle to meet her beloved groom.  She was an exquisite example of how one might imagine an angel would look.  But seven years ago, I saw a real angel, and his appearance convinced me of how little I really understand of the spiritual realm swirling around us.

I stood in the doorway of our master bedroom, facing the hall banister that overlooks the downstairs entrance to the house.  It was dusk, but an amber glow illuminated the stranger who faced the railing with his arms in repose and his hands resting along the wood.  His tones were all of a golden hue, as if he'd walked out of an old fashioned photograph.  There were no elegant wings, nor flowing robe, but instead, he wore baggy pants, a loose fitting shirt and shoes.  His hair hung down to his shoulders though he looked clean-shaven.  Perhaps the word 'ordinary' would describe him as well, except for the minor detail, that he glowed.  He didn't see me, but if he had, I imagine he'd have said, "Fear not!" As I stood, rooted to my spot, I realized that his eyes were focused out the high window, to the world beyond, and I heard one word in my mind, 'Sobering'.

I'm sorry to say that I was afraid at first, not of him, but of his stance.  His serious look and the one word, hung over my heart for many days.  Since then, I believe we've seen more terrifying things in our world, than we might have dreamt, even in our worst nightmares.  It is sobering to see the cruelty of this modern age, whether at home or abroad. There is death behind closed doors in sterile rooms through abortions and the distribution of baby flesh, and death in violent boldness, splashed before our eyes in all its brutality, throughout the globe, as seen on our handheld screens.  But there is subtle death as well.  There is death of faith, family, freedoms and empathy.  And when death takes center stage, fear is his captivating thug and joy is forgotten.

But Beloveds, God is still God. And in Him, we find joy! I am one who desires to know the hard things, and then I take them to The Lord.  The angel I saw alerted me of what was to come, but only God knows the depth of His plans and love is always at the foundation.  When our oldest son, the groom, Gabriel, was young, I told him, "God always has something up his sleeves."  He reflected the thought more fully, "And God has some mighty big sleeves!"

Photo by Gabriel's comrade 
As parents of eight, with little ones still at our sides, we find ways to encourage amidst the hard life situations from which we choose not to shield them.  With the Paris shootings, I held closely to a quote from Mr. Rogers.  He said that when he was little and he'd see hard things in the news, his mother always said, "Look for the helpers.  You will always find people helping!"

Line sent us this picture of Gabriel, at the end of nine days of field training.  While cleaning his weapon, he fell sound asleep.  Why?  Because when it was time to lead the helpers, he did so, with courage and confidence in the One who guides our steps.

In these dark days, when the choices of some, affect the lives of many, we must look to Jesus, the Author and perfecter of life.  And the work before us is good, so good, because God gives everyone opportunities to serve! And the angels that surrounded the humble birth of Jesus Christ are still with us!  Whether in warning or guarding, God supplies His power to our willing hearts and hands. His promises are true.

1 Corinthians 15:51-58The Message (MSG) 

51-57 But let me tell you something wonderful, a mystery I’ll probably never fully understand. We’re not all going to die—but we are all going to be changed. You hear a blast to end all blasts from a trumpet, and in the time that you look up and blink your eyes—it’s over. On signal from that trumpet from heaven, the dead will be up and out of their graves, beyond the reach of death, never to die again. At the same moment and in the same way, we’ll all be changed. In the resurrection scheme of things, this has to happen: everything perishable taken off the shelves and replaced by the imperishable, this mortal replaced by the immortal. Then the saying will come true:
Death swallowed by triumphant Life!
Who got the last word, oh, Death?
Oh, Death, who’s afraid of you now?
It was sin that made death so frightening and law-code guilt that gave sin its leverage, its destructive power. But now in a single victorious stroke of Life, all three—sin, guilt, death—are gone, the gift of our Master, Jesus Christ. Thank God!
58 With all this going for us, my dear, dear friends, stand your ground. And don’t hold back. Throw yourselves into the work of the Master, confident that nothing you do for him is a waste of time or effort. (Eugene H. Peterson copywriter 2003)
Salomé and the runt, Hemingway, who lived because of the way she loved him.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Her Path

On the cover of the magazine Relevant, a wounded child stares somberly. Beside her are the words, "The New Face of Martyrdom". She is an innocent girl caught in the Boko Haram persecution of Christians. 
Seven-year-old Ezra commented on it earlier in the school day and finally took a moment to find out more about the little person who looks so similar to her. I let Ezra read the words she knew as her brothers drew in close to examine the heart wrenching pictures. After some thinking time she said, "Mommy, I want to help her. I want to get her food and care. I want to help her!"
I answered, "Okay, someday that is exactly what you can do!"
That was enough for Ezra. She skipped away to play.
For now, we'll pray for them and she'll keep learning, laughing and being a kid, but her someday is right around the corner. So while she thinks and grows, I won't be handing her my phone or iPad to fill every quiet moment with noisy, distracting entertainment.  Her time with books, friends, in nature and through imagination, are open places where the Holy Spirit will deepen her mind and fill her tank. And Dennis and I will teach her what a blessing it is to serve. In these ways, she is discovering God's good design for her life. And maybe someday the desires of today will be fulfilled in the way she lives and loves. Whatever the path, God will make a way for her heart to follow. smile emoticon

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Hearty Compassion & Healthy Boundaries ~ wisdom encouraged by 10-year-old Salomé

Thursday morning, we jumped into the car to take the back route home from therapy. Still laden with heavy morning fog, the sparsely filled parking lot had a haunting look about it.  In a tucked away clearing, the grey outline of a homeless man stooped over and sitting on a stone bench, came into focus.  He looked like an unkempt, grumpy Santa and I'm sorry to say, I hardly noticed him, at first.  But Salomé revived me by answering a noble thought I hadn't had!  "Okay Mommy, you can buy him breakfast, you can talk to him about Jesus and tell him you have eight kids, but you can't introduce him to us!" I had to shake myself free of my cluttered thinking to realize the brave action she was promoting.  So I turned the car in the direction of fast food.

Upon arrival back at the scene, we found a timid young woman offering kindness to the man, through carefully constructed sentences.  'Santa' seemed to disregard her thoughts as he kept to his own topic, which rolled off his tongue in a gruff, demanding manner.  I approached with pancakes, coffee and the works, extra large, with tons of napkins on the side.  As I laid the meal on the stone table before him, I said, "We thought this looked like the perfect moment for a hot breakfast."

The woman brightened, "Oh my!  I was thinking the same thing!"

He proceeded with his pontification while keeping his eyes fixed on the frail Good Samaritan.  I wished to shoo her away as if she were a church mouse and he the villain cat, but instead I stood in silence.  She backed up, possibly seeing this as a perfect opportunity to exit the premises, while my little brood peered up from inside the locked car with their noses just at the base of the passenger window.  I held my ground between them, keeping alert to his every move.

The man stopped talking, pushed his crumpled paper cup from the table's edge and drew the fresh coffee to himself, without acknowledgement to the departing girl or me.  As she passed by, I touched her shoulder and she nodded her head slightly in what felt like solidarity.  When she was safely on her way, I slipped into my driver's seat and off we went.  Salomé reported, with a hint of pleasure on her face, "He's sipping the hot coffee we gave him."

The teachable moments with our children often resonate with my own soul long after the event.  In this case, it is the Syrian refugee situation which comes to mind. You might imagine that as an adoptive mom and follower of Jesus, I'd say, "Fling the doors of our country open, and invite everyone inside!" But I'm cautious with the specific lives that have been entrusted to me.  It's the idea of the airplane oxygen masks.  When in danger, place yours on first, then help the children beside you, then continue to the next person, calmly and with order.  In this careful manner, all will be saved.

When you see the long lines of refugees, does your heart ache?  Of course it does, as does mine.  How can we wisely help these vulnerable people?  Do we have some vague idea that we will build refugee camps here in the U.S.?  Do we hold to an ideal that those people will be fine, once they are safely inside our borders?   There is no omnipotent leader who can restore and heal their lives with the magical golden ticket of citizenship to America as we watch and applaud.  Offering sanctuary, means hard work, with a plan in place.  It also means that we cannot ignore the broiling warfare unleashed upon innocent lives globally.  Tackling this immediate crisis is twofold.

The numbers of refugees around the world is swelling due to the constant battle between good and evil materializing through the atrocities of their fellow countrymen and neighbors.  Thieving murderers kill, torture, and rape, women, men and children, causing them to flee, in the name religious devotion rooted in darkness. As we cautiously screen and receive these displaced citizens of our globe, our united strategy must be to help each individual assimilate to our laws, culture and our communities.  We, the Church, and we, the lovers of humanity, must roll up our sleeves and get to work.  We must be willing to meet each new person with provision, funds, education, friendship and accountability.  We will be their new community, and therefore it necessary that they assimilate into our lifestyle, while we stay the course committed to helping them.  There are many Christian organizations stepping up to this challenge, but they need us to donate our time and our treasures to ensure longterm success.

As we welcome the refugees who have no other choice, we maintain healthy boundaries.  We are not mindless rescuers with no plan.  Serving the needy does not mean risking the safety and wellbeing of our own citizens in the process. We must also protect and defend our freedom to live in peace and posterity in our own land, while supporting the same prospect for them. To do this, our presence in the Middle East is imperative.  A fully engaged, large coalition of likeminded defenders and peacekeepers from every democracy on our planet could defeat ISIS.  As a global humanitarian effort, our resources, creative minds, and funds, should be focused on defending, protecting and securing the civilians who dwell generationally in their own countries.  Love encompasses intellectual and practical plans to raise up a people group from persecution to equality through aide and protection, and to ultimately restore them to their own flourishing country. This includes praying for and funding missionary organizations as well as our military.

The Bible says in Isaiah 33: 7, "Look, their brave men cry aloud in the streets; the envoys of peace weep bitterly.  The highways are deserted, no travelers are on the roads.  The treaty is broken, its witnesses are despised, no one is respected.  The land mourns and wastes away." Our struggles are not a surprise to God.

But God's Word also says this, in verse 2 and 6, "O Lord be gracious to us; we long for you.  Be our strength every morning, our salvation in time of distress... He will be the sure foundation of our times, a rich store of salvation and wisdom and knowledge; the fear of the Lord is the key to this treasure."  He is with us.

With God's help and guidance now, in the Syrian refugee crisis, as well as in Paris, Baghdad, Washington D.C. or wherever else needs arise, I pray that we will persevere with love fueled by faith, no matter what is required of us at home or abroad.  We must remember that Satan is our enemy, not the humans who choose to do his dastardly deeds.  May our actions be fueled by the mighty, sacrificial love of Jesus who can and does transform lives.  And, as we do so, may we collectively seek forgiveness and reconciliation fueled by wisdom and purpose, with the goal of restoration and redemption, on the forefront for all.   Hope springs eternal!