Friday, December 23, 2011

The Divine Intrusion

“… for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord…”

Today.
Out of Eternal Present into the human timeline, God stepped in...today. Not some day or whenever. Today. A day on a calendar, called Thursday or Saturday or Monday. An apparently ordinary day, just like any other day filled with normal life and mundane activities – buying and selling, teaching and learning, cooking and cleaning, blogging and twittering - today - suddenly invaded by heaven itself.

Today if you hear His voice do not harden your hearts… Hebrews 3:15

In the city of David…
A place, specific location with exact geographic coordinates. That’s where you and I live. Right here. A zip code. A street and a house with a number. A grocery store on the corner. The coffee shop. A country inn. Not over there. Somewhere. Nowhere. It’s right here. God’s acts are local. His ways are above and beyond our ability to fathom, but His deeds are manifested locally – a family, an inn in a little town, in a country.

There has been born...Birth initiates something utterly new. Something that didn't exist before suddenly comes into existence and life is changed forever. The day you were born changes everything for you. It's a beginning of a one-of-a-kind adventure, having a ripple effect that only eternity will fully reveal. The birth of God-Child changes everything not only for Him, but for every one of us.

For you… You. Personal you. Not him or her. But you. Me. Pronouns carry tremendous weight that can shift focus and create either walls or bridges. Us and Them. We. The letters in my mailbox are addressed to me. I don’t read my neighbor’s mail. It’s his mail, not mine. God’s love letter to humanity enveloped in the human flesh called Jesus is addressed to YOU. The moment you receive it, it becomes personal. Your mailbox. Your Christmas card. Written, signed and sealed by God Almighty.

A Savior.
Our lives reach far beyond our capacity and control. We are more, so much more than what we can understand or handle. We are designed with insatiable, often misdiagnosed, hunger that only God can satisfy… again, and again, and again…. You can call it a programming, design flaw or you can call it an upgrade. Like it or not, nothing, nothing on this earth or in heaven can put my heart and yours at rest until it rests in Him. Even after I’ve done everything in my power, there is this unfathomable landscape my soul that only Savior can rescue, redeem, tame and restore. I need a Savior. You need a Savior.

Who is Christ, the LORD.
An ordinary human doesn’t qualify for this Savior job description. I can’t do it for me. I can’t do it for you. You can’t do it for me. Neither can Obama, or Ghandi, Muhammad, Buddha, Mother Theresa, Steve Jobs, Tim Tebow, European Union, or United Nations, husband, wife, father, mother, son, daughter, professor, boss. Only the Creator God is fit for this job. The one and only Son of God. The first of many Sons and Daughters of Man. The moment this Creator God, the LORD, became human - with this one decisive action – He forever changed both eternity and the space/ time continuum. He became irrevocably human. From that day on – and will remain forever. And all who receive Him become eternally, irrevocably sons and daughters of God.

The cosmic transaction – the divine intrusion - moved the eternal Word of God out of the realm of religious speculation, personal interpretation and opinion into the realm of historic action – the here, the now, the you and the I – and the Emmanuel ‘God with us’. There are no spectators in this story. Nobody’s sitting on the sidelines. No indifferent bystanders. Sooner or later everyone takes sides – even those who want to be left alone, remain unengaged – their choice made for them by default. What will it be?

Today, just like that day, some receive Him, some deny Him. Some welcome Him with open arms, and some have no room for Him. Some come from afar seeking to worship Him, and some search the neighborhood in order to kill Him.

What will it be? What will I choose?

Today, if you hear His voice, do not harden your heart… for today, in the city of David, there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord…

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Who Mugged Up the Mirror?

Blame it on extended holiday hours, or too many lights on the Christmas tree, or too much blue in the sky, or just plain old human nature that simply can’t handle too much of anything, including a good thing… whatever the cause, the effect was that right around bedtime the pandemonium broke out. Tempers flared. Fists flew. Fingernails clashed. Words were said. By an executive decision, the baths were suspended and the offenders sent straight to bed. Being stinky never killed anyone.

The next day, even after a good night’s sleep, the memory of what had happened lingered heavy over the household. I would have much preferred to start the new day with a sincere apology, but experience taught me that those can’t – nor should be – coerced. A good scrubbing would have to suffice.

I listened to the water running behind the closed bathroom door, rehearsing ways to address the previous night’s issues without instigating the WWIII in the process. What seemed like eternity later, I heard a tiny voice calling my name.

The moment the door swung open, I was enveloped by the billows of steam, creating a pocket of zero-visibility inside the bathroom. In the middle of it, Child #1 stood wrapped in a bath towel, looking sheepishly at me. The mirror behind was completely veiled in puffy white. Then, with the corner of my eye, I noticed something scribbled on it. As the fog slowly dissipated I read the message:

I am sorry for mugging up the mirrer.

I stared at the writing at a complete loss of what I was supposed to do… Thank the Child #1 for taking such meticulous responsibility for the self-correcting housekeeping infringement?!!?? I had an item or two from The Need to Apologize list I was itching to volunteer that, according to my scale, far exceeded in importance the borderline insulting confession.

I cleared my throat hoping to buy some time in order not to add more steam to the situation from my own boiling over temper. Finally, I spluttered:

Is THAT ALL you have to apologize for?


The Child #1 bowed her head and quietly nodded.

We stood in silence in the middle of the bathroom for about a decade or two. The steam slunk out through the open door, gradually clearing up the large mirror. I noticed our reflection, the furrowed brow, the weighed-down look, the fuzzy towel and the softness of the blushed skin. The peculiar apology, I observed, also disappeared, going the way of the mist.

The anger, the exhaustion, the noise, the words that should never be of last night suddenly resembled the thick haze mucking up the mirror of our lives, clouding up the image of the One we were uniquely designed to reflect… I think how all too easily the baggage of life – the restlessness, fatigue, expectations, disappointments, misunderstandings and sometimes even the high-pitched chords of seasonal happiness - perturb the reflection of the Christ-reality, fogging up the mirror we are uniquely designed to be…

The Child #1 looks up, splatters of bashful hope glistening like droplets dripping from her wet hair.

Perhaps, that’s exactly what we need to apologize for… what I need to be sorry… and broken for … … for perpetually mugging up the mirror of my life…of our lives… obliterating, twisting, marring the image, the reflection of the face of God we are created and cleansed to become…


Then God said, Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness…
Genesis 1:26

Alas, even to this day there is still a veil over their hearts when the Scriptures are read – they don’t realize it is removed in Christ. But whenever a man turns to the Lord the veil disappears…But we all, with unveiled face beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image… 2 Corinthians 3:14-18

Saturday, December 03, 2011

Room to Spare

It shows up every year, some time in early December. Out of the dust-covered box lying dormant on the dirty garage floor, buried under loads of other dusty boxes, untouched for eleven months. When it first appeared in the middle of our living room, years ago, my husband and I were newly married, young and quite naïve. At the time, our lives were simple and our furniture few. Happy and ignorant, we went out to shop one of those after-Christmas clearance sales. We came back home jubilant, hauling in the biggest Christmas tree we could afford. The tree was beautiful and tall. When put together branch by branch, it filled at least a half of our living room, imposing its glorious presence on all this empty space. We loved our tree.

Then, a friend gave us his old TV because he was moving to Australia. Later on, we bought an armoire to accommodate our newly-acquired TV and a matching stand to hold our collection of CDs and VCRs (DVDs were not invented yet). Over the years, we kept accumulating more and more stuff – a DIY project here, and a curb-side mall find there; then came our first child with all his accompanying paraphernalia and soon afterward, another with all the mentioned paraphernalia of a different, she color. So, bit by bit, mountain by mountain stuff kept marching across our doorstep. The stuff we needed, or thought we or somebody we knew needed or might need some day kept ringing our doorbell. Slowly but surely, our huge house started filling up all its empty places, obliterating the memory of the simple life we once used to live.

The tree also appeared to grow bigger and bigger each year, transforming from a beautiful symbol of everlasting life that the birth of God’s Son brought into the world, into a household monstrosity, turning our home upside down each Christmas season. Every December, in order to make room for its ever-expanding (or so it seemed) limbs, we have to move the sofa into the guest bedroom, and the keyboard with its stand into our son’s bedroom, and the spare desk into the dining room, and the bench from the guest bedroom…

Honey, where are we going to put the bench?!!!


Making room for the tree has become our number one Christmas chore…er… I meant to say tradition.

This is insane! We need to hire movers or a chiropractor to set up the darn thing. We should just get rid of it. I scowled at the tree as if it was its fault.

We don’t have room for you! No room. Period.

The silent echo reverberated with familiarity. No room… no room… no room…… in… the… inn…

With sudden realization, a mess of conflicting feelings that must have torn the insides of the Bethlehemian inn-keeper settled in my stomach. I could imagine myself standing at the door of our house, suspiciously eyeing a tired, frost-bitten couple with the baby on the way…

I am so sorry, but we have no room for you anywhere in the house…. However, there is a bit of space in our garage among all the boxes, and garden tools, and discarded toys, and bicycles… if you don’t mind…


I took a step away from the tree, staggered by its quiet testimony of the clutter overcrowding my life. The space.

The time.

What else got pushed out by the relentless torrent of unrestrained real and perceived needs, wants, desires, personal and ministry responsibilities, demands, requirements? Is all my worthless junk swallowing up what is really precious before my very eyes? Do I even know the difference?!!! And, how in the world did I come to resent something I used to love... and enjoy?!!

The evergreen assayer stood still, its lights blinking brightly.

Perhaps… what I really need… for Christmas… is to just to make… a little more room… a LOT more room in my life. So the Life Himself can come in.

He came to His own and those who were His own didn't receive Him... John 1:11

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Who is Taking Your Test?

Mrs. S, today I can use your help with this new computer assessment we are trying out. It’s been a bit of adjustment for all of us but we are slowly getting used to it. If you don’t mind, just monitor the process and assist the students if they get stuck.

I pull an extra chair next to the computer station and call the first name from the list. One by one, students came, type their login name and password, take the test with varying degrees of success, and are sent back to their desks with customized messages matching their final score:

Congratulations!
Or,

Try again!
Or,

Better luck next time!

I begin to wonder what the fuss is all about when I call Jaeda’s name. She sits in front of the monitor, types her name but instead of the screen of the first page of the test, a different message is being displayed.

CONGRATULATIONS! You have passed this test!
And in smaller font, a little note below,

There is no more testing available for this student at this time.


I try several times, making sure that the name and the password are typed correctly, but each time the computer comes back with the same message.

CONGRATULATIONS! You have passed this test!


Jaeda looks at me confused. She shakes her head, No, when I ask her if she has already taken the test. I call upon Mrs. D., and at first she seems as confused as we are. Then her eyes light up with sudden recognition,

I know exactly why it is doing that! In preparation for your coming I wanted to make sure that the program worked properly so I took the test, and it was in her name! I guess I already passed the test for her! There is no need for her to take it again.


We look at each other and burst into laughter. Jaeda, somewhat dazed, walks back to her desk, having a bit of trouble fully taking in her good fortune.

Nothing like having your teacher taking the test in your name – I wish they did that when I was a student…

In the echo of the laughter about the improbable exchange, I see with surprising clarity another improbable exchange that took place long ago. Today, I soak in afresh its wonder and thank the Teacher again for taking my place, and not just once, but once for all, passing the test for me.

He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.
2 Corinthians 5:21

Sunday, November 06, 2011

A Glimpse of Eternity in the Daylight Savings Time

It’s my favorite day of the year. The Daylight Savings Time change – backwards. Suddenly, instead of running 35 minutes behind, I am actually 25 minutes ahead! And this is AFTER I've slept in! One morning of the year, everything I ever want to do can fit leisurely in my schedule like a pair of fluffy slippers. The second cup of coffee. Snuggling with George. Sunday comics. Listening in on seemingly casual conversation - Jesus shooting the breeze with a woman by a well (Gospel of John chapter 4). Even the kids suspend their usual squabbles for 47 seconds. And I am actually awake in church.

I savor the glorious elasticity of time, amazed at the effect the arbitrary decision to set our clocks one hour back has on me. Just one extra unhurried hour and I am transformed from a rushed, order-barking general who sees people like uncooperative obstacles in my life’s agenda, into a human BEing, surrounded by other human BEings and magnificent creatures, like our guinea pig George. When the rubber band of time shrinks, I realize, the first thing that goes out of the window is my ability to listen. Without listening, life unravels like a ball of yarn rolling downhill.

Each year, the time warp gives me a unique glimpse into a world beyond the relentless constraints of time. Eternity. A place of rest, quiet… a place of wholeness. Part of me wants to extend this one hour even further before the onslaught of life’s demands devours it with nothing but the memory left. I am reminded that the onslaught will come but I need not be sucked into it. I don’t need to wait to change my clock back once a year to experience eternity. I can live each moment of every day from the vantage point of eternity by leaning into the conversations that reveal more of who God is, so marvelously expressed in the face and the way of His Son. And in the reflection of that mirror, I can discover not only who I am but also who I am meant to be.

This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent.
John 17:3

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Perfectionism - the Silent Killer

Mrs. S., do you have a moment…? I need to speak to you about your child…

I learned that approximately nine out of ten times, when those words come from the mouth of your child’s teacher, you’d better have a moment or two, or you’ll just need to rebook that flight to Cayman Islands. I also learned that nine and a half out of ten times, it spells trouble. The teacher has repeatedly encountered a problem big enough to request parent’s support and assistance.

All our previous do-you-have-a-moment conversations with our children’s teachers proved to be invaluable as their loving feedback has always sought nothing but the best for our family. They have also been extremely insightful, shedding light onto some major blind spots in our family dynamics, usually having me at the root of the dysfunction. I braced myself for the impact, knowing after I survive this, it’s only going to get better.

I am all yours and all ears for as long as you need…


She offered me a chair as she sat down.

I am very concerned about T…
she said. I sat down dumbfounded.

Concerned?!!! What could she possibly be concerned about with T?!!!?? My to-a-fault responsible, hard-working, straight As brainiac is a model student. Her handwriting is impeccable, her homework imaginative, her math assignments immaculate. Sometimes I wish some of that had rubbed off on her brother, but parents should never compare children, especially not in order to make their job easier.

Yes…?

I don’t know how to put this…
the teacher continued. T is amazing. I love getting her work, I love the way she thinks, I love the way she expresses herself… but she … she just tries too hard… Her work is always perfect… However, she takes awful lot of time on making sure that everything is just so, that I am afraid she may fail the FCAT even though I know she knows all the content. The test is timed and they make provision of extra time for some students. But she doesn’t qualify for those provisions.

‘Tries too hard’… ‘always perfect’ ...
Resonate in my mind as I wait for the teacher to continue. She adds no further comments, leaving the giant ball in my court.

I stare at the ample evidence confirming my suspicion that the gene of perfectionism indeed has been passed down to the next generation. The funny thing is that we thought it was a good thing. We even cheered and encouraged its development. We may never admit it openly, but we saw it as an asset, not a liability! In the highly competitive world we live in, in order to be successful, one seems to always need to push harder, give more of oneself, beat the latest record… For some of us, the internal pressure is compounded with the external demands (self-imposed as they may be) of the environment and culture that feeds the psychosis. Going against this culture appears like sabotaging your own or your child’s chance of success.

And yet, the gentle words of the caring teacher point to a different reality – a place of discernment where one knows when to keep going and when to stop; when to push and when to let go. A place where wisdom is found in choosing to fail well, where distinguishing the precious from the worthless is more valuable than acquiring a PhD in Trivialities; where great understanding is reserved for all those who learn to recognize when good is good enough indeed.

It is vain for you to rise up early,
To stay up late,
To wear yourself out chasing illusions;
For He gives to His beloved even in his sleep.


Psalm 127:2

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Holes in my T-shirt

Recently I read a blog (http://vivmabuni.wordpress.com/2011/09/12/naming-t-shirts/) about what she calls ‘quirky’ and what I call ‘ingenious’ idea of giving people ‘soul’ T-shirts, with inscriptions that capture that person’s personality trait or life situation. Of course, unlike Viv, the kindhearted person that she is, most of us wouldn’t even dream of posting on a public blog some of the things spelled out on the soul T-shirts we give out to other people (and this - not saying it - is a good thing!) . The idea of giving away the soul T-shirts, practiced by many whether we acknowledge it or not, jump-started me into thinking about what kind of soul T-shirt do I wear. In my characteristically modest way, I would say that on the front of my shirt, in bold ALL CAPS cool font, a single word is spelled out:

HUMBLE

The back of the shirt would sport all lowercase, less conspicuous

brag

The Humble Brag.

I’ve stolen the nifty descriptive phrase from the Urban Dictionary. The reason why it caught my attention was that I was seeing the wide-spread epidemic of the defined behavior all around me – on FB, on blogs, in the paper… Finally, in the spirit of the speck and the log (check out Matthew 7:3) it dawned on me that the whole world couldn’t be going crazy – it must be ME! And, sure enough, so it was! What a relief!

I was quite amazed by how easy it was for me to spell out what my soul T-shirt says on the outside. But, then, I sensed that there was a message on the inside of my soul T-shirt, written with the invisible ink, that nobody can see…. So, as is my habit, I started a dialogue with the Nobody….

So, whatcha think…. What does the INSIDE of my soul T-shirt say?

You know it…

I do???

A-ha…

Really? You kiddin’ me… I have no clue…

Sure you do. It’s scribbled all over, right next to those moth-eaten holes that Nobody sees….

Moth-eaten holes… this is going too far! My soul doesn’t have any moth-eaten holes!!!

….

Or… does it?


So, while Nobody is looking, I flip my soul T-shirt inside out and to my amazement, I see, with my own handwriting, messages that Nobody can see.

You are not enough… You are not enough… You are not enough… You are not enough….
The ‘You’ clearly referring to Nobody.

And next to the words, for the first time in my life I see some huge, some tiny holes… each one bearing the shape of particular discontentment with life and circumstances, my family and myself… The times when my situation seemed either too big or too small for God to care about and consequently just having Him in my life simply wasn’t good enough… Having Him wasn’t quite sufficient, for it was OBVIOUS that I MUST have this thing or that, approval from this one, and a FB like from another, a perfectly harmonious marriage, and equally perfectly respectful kids ALL THE TIME. The times when my intense desire, my craving – my coveting - for something notably beautiful, and good, and right punctured a hole on the inside of my soul’s T-shirt and made me forget who it is that made me, who counts the bones in my body, the freckles on my face and the hairs on my head.

A single peek on the inside and I am sobered by the fact that what really matters in my soul’s T-shirt is what Nobody sees.


And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do. Hebrews 4:13

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Meet Gorge

It wouldn’t have been as much of a surprise, if for the past five years my children haven’t been listening to my daily mantra,

We need to simplify! And …

Less is more! And …

The more you own, the more it owns you!
, and so on and so forth.

Mission Simplify affected every area of our lives. Every new acquiring of possessions carefully evaluated, every new commitment brutally examined. I became a Don Quixote battling the tidal wave of physical as well as mental clutter and distractions.

So, when I learned that a friend is looking for a new home to their guinea pig, I was the one most surprised to even crack the door of consideration open. I know that owning an animal is a responsibility and represents dedicating extra time and work to their care. Even our children know this and consequently haven’t pushed the pet issue too much. Our daughter’s insatiable need for nurturing critters has been satisfied through occasional dog-sitting opportunities and by adopting lizards, frogs and snails in our back yard.

When I tentatively mentioned the guinea pig to my husband, his immediate response was,

Are you crazy?!!!

I saw no need for him to bring up the fact already agreed upon by everyone that knows me. However, I took it as a cue and I decided not to raise the subject of the guinea pig again.

In the days and weeks that followed I resisted the nagging thoughts about the rodent as temptations to sidetrack me from what I really need to do – get rid of more stuff, not add to the pile. I argued with myself that if he had a tail, I would call an exterminator. If I lived in Peru, I would serve him to my children for supper in a stew. No need to get all misty-eyed and emotional.

Then, after several weeks have gone by, I learned that George is still waiting for a new family to adopt him. And, it just so happened that I needed to go to George’s family home one day that week. Of course, being under the same roof, I had to ask if I could see him.

I never should have asked, for the moment I saw him, I fell in love with him. I knew he belonged to us.

After spending a sleepless night, I piled up the kids into the car the next morning and drove to pick him up. The kids couldn’t believe it. They still can’t believe we have a pet of our own. A new member of our family. The youngest, as our daughter likes to emphasize, member of the family. She walks around the house, talking to herself, asking her brother,

Can you believe that we have our own pet?!!! And he is soooo cute!

After a few days of sheer wonder, she finally broke down under the weight of the paradoxical nature of her mother’s recent actions and asked,

Mom… Why did you decide to adopt Gorge? Why did you choose to bring him home?


I mulled the question over for a while. I thought about how bringing a new living creature under your roof is work, and a responsibility, and a mess, and an expense, and an adjustment of schedules and priorities. We even had to rearrange the furniture in several rooms in our house, in order to accommodate Gorge’s cage.

But, it is also a way, small as it may be, to affirm life in the world where evening news are dominated by stories of death; to celebrate joy in the world overwhelmed by narrative of gloom and depression… A seemingly insignificant, yet living way to feel and touch and hold God’s love towards His creation embodied in the furry ball called Gorge.

Hon, I … I just wanted you… I wanted US,
I corrected myself, I wanted us to get to experience God’s love for us… in a way we never could have… without bringing Gorge into our family.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Sidewalk Artist

Once upon a time there was an artist who went out with his paintbrushes and a bottle of paint. He found a gray sidewalk, stooped down, and with one knee on the ground, opened the bottle and started to paint.

As he was painting, a car drove by. A passenger rolled down the window and yelled,

What a waste of time! See all these cars driving by too fast for anyone to see what you are doing! If you want to be seen, put your work on a billboard!


Then, he rolled up the window and they drove away.

But, the painter kept painting.

Then a bicyclist rode by, pausing for a moment to see what the man on his knees was up to.

It’s about to rain, he said to the artist, pointing at the dark clouds on the horizon, and all your hard work will be smeared and washed off, and nobody will ever see it… why bother at all?

And he pushed off and went away. But, the artist kept creating.

Then a jogger came, running in place as he watched the man with the brush.

Hey, dude, that’s cool! But, nobody will see it so small and against such gray background. It’s way too inconspicuous. You should have chosen brighter colors and bigger image so it would catch everyone’s attention.


And he ran off.

By now the artist was already done. The small black owl, with feathers unruffled, a tiny heart inside her chest, and a face aglow with joy seemed to wink at her creator. He smiled back at the owl, took the brushes and the paint and walked away.




What do you think…?

Why did the artist choose the owl as his subject?
Why did the artist choose a gray sidewalk for his background?
What made his work seem wasteful?
What made it meaningful?
Who do you relate best to the story? Why?
In what ways does the sidewalk artist resemble God?

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Life is a Burrito

You want a burrito for lunch?

What do you mean, ‘burrito’?

What do you mean, ‘what do you mean, ‘burrito’?’
I am stumped. You know burrito… flour tortilla, refried beans, ground meat, shredded cheese… I wonder if the morning has started too early today.

Ah, yea, yea!! Don’t forget the sour cream!
She chimes as she trots off to brush her teeth.

So, I proceed to make a burrito – spreading the beans around, adding the meat in the middle, sprinkling the cheese and microwaving it for 36 seconds to a melted perfection. I put the sour cream and start wrapping it.

What’s THAT?!!??
She mumbles with the toothbrush inside her mouth.

A BURRITO – remember?
I vaguely recall having this very conversation just seconds ago.

But I don’t want it – like THAT…
She looks at my work-in-progress and rolls her eyes. That’s not the way I make my burritos – it’s too messy!

My eyes suddenly grow to the size of the large plate holding the offender. Part of me wants to reroute the final destination of the innocent culprit to the garbage disposal. Another part tells me that there is more to this story than meet the eye.

For I recall countless times of agreeing with Jesus on what’s on the lunch menu of my life… Loving like He loves, with a mound of joy, and a sprinkling of patience, adding growth and depth… And, I inject, Don’t forget the transformation of the boring and mundane… Then, excited about the yummy prospect, I jump into my day only to find that God’s way of wrapping the burrito of my life is slightly different from mine… and a lot more messy!

For love comes easy to me when the other person is lovable, but I have a really hard time finding those around.

Love the unlovables,
He whispers, for that’s how I love…

I expect to magically ingest patience off a smooth platter of stress-free living, but He mixes up the unlikely ingredients of rejection, misunderstanding, disappointments and isolation and invites me to dine on the feast He Himself dines upon

I equate joy with fleeting emotion of happiness when the sky of circumstances is bright-blue and the light breeze is cooling my face. Instead, He sends the storm that obliterates the distinction between the up and the down, and invites me to hold His hand and find my true joy in Him and Him alone.

This is too messy! I cry out. This is NOT the way I prefer to wrap MY burrito. And He laughs, and replies,

But, hon, this is exactly what you asked for. For, this is the only way that the growth, and depth… and the transformation of the boring and mundane can take place…


…But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God has chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty…
I Corinthians 1:27

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Freedom of Speech - When a Blessing Becomes a Curse

Human race has been endowed with incredible God-like ability of expressing ourselves through language. Articulating his or her first word is primary developmental milestone in every child’s life. This represents only the beginning of a sacred journey intended to teach us to use words creatively, to speak well of our Maker and His creation, and to discover appropriate ways and context for expressing our innermost thoughts, desires, needs and boundaries.

Words can be incredibly powerful. They can inspire, impart life, meaning and direction to our existence. They can also start wars and revolutions and end marriages and friendships. Every day words are used to deceive and manipulate, to reveal what should remain hidden and hide what should be exposed.

Words also can be incredibly impotent. The unbelievable proliferation of words in our global culture of blogging, social networking and minute-by-minute news updates has created unprecedented word hyperinflation, a bulging, ever-increasing river of loud noise that says nothing or at least rarely anything worth hearing. E-technology has allowed us to create links, to cut and paste long quotes with just a few clicks of a mouse and dump them thoughtlessly into the churning river of verbiage flooding the banks of our lives. None of us knows quite how to deal with so much well-intentioned at best and mean-spirited at its worst linguistic pollution.

The problem with words is that they are easy to say and in the cut-and-paste world of Internet, even easier to write. Almost anyone can do that. But, engaging our mind, our moral person inside, understanding the context of our expression and our (already overloaded, I might add) audience before we do our dumping is altogether different story. In a moral universe, I am responsible for what I put out there. I am held accountable, justified and/or condemned by my own words. Perhaps what we need is a little (or a LOT) less of empty shells of sounds and letters, void of content and meaning, and more of ‘word becoming flesh and living among us’?

That, of course, is much easier said then done.


The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood.
John 1:14

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Root Canal of the Soul

I love going to my dentist. The office is tastefully decorated, furnished with super-comfy chairs and it has a TV screen in each room where I can catch up on morning news. The staff is friendly and Nicole is the best dental hygienist in the world. She is just the right combination of gentleness and toughness – gentle on teeth and gums but hard on plaque. She is extremely conscientious and so sweet she poses a threat to good dental hygiene. By the time she is done with me, my teeth are so clean I don’t want to eat for a week lest I ruin her work. The feeling, unfortunately, goes away after a couple of hours. She never ever comments on the condition of my teeth, leaving the diagnosis to the Big Kahua, which, in my case, is Dr. M. The only thing I hate about her is that each visit she asks me the same question:

Do you floss… daily?


If only she left out that daily at the end, or replaced floss with brush, our relationship would be perfect.

Yesterday was my regular 6 month checkup.

We breeze through the cleaning and the usual one-way conversations since my mouth is temporarily disabled by all the instruments of torture and her two piano-player hands. As she attacks the plaque deposits with a pick and an axe, she complements me on my home care. I only grunt and mumble, her comment leaving me quite perplexed – if I am doing such a great job at home, how come there is still so much crud left in my mouth that she acts like a underground miner?

When she is done, she hands me a soft-bristled yellow brush and another package of floss and tells me the doctor will be in shortly.

He comes in, shakes my hand and turns to the computer screen behind me, his laser attention focused on the not too attractive display of my X-rays. After several minutes of pregnant silence, I can’t bear it any longer:

So, what’s the verdict, doc?
I am savoring my freshly cleaned mouth, and Nicole’s earlier compliment on good home care, expecting to pass the test with flying colors.

Still looking… responded Dr. M, with his back turned. He wasn’t being chatty for sure.

Looking where?!!! I am right here! I had hoped to impress him with my shiny smile, but he never gave me a chance.

The silence was now pregnant with twins… or triplets… or octuplets… Finally, he walks over to me and without a single glance inside my mouth, he declares,

It’s not good. That old filling continues to crack and crumble and you are now getting a decay behind it. We must do something about it…


Your home care is good, he adds but that doesn’t seem to matter so much anymore. The staff will help you with the rest. Good bye.

I feel something resembling pieces of gravel inside my mouth. I vaguely remember my last visit and a word about the old filling and cracks and the paper that spelled out the damages in multiple hundreds of dollars terms. I also vaguely remember the fog descending on my mind when I saw the aforementioned terms. Six months later the fog turned into a hammer.

Now fully awake, I realize that my problem is much bigger than a soft-bristled brush can solve. It reaches back into my past when the dentist visits took place only when the pain got to be more than I could bear. The old filling may have patched up my inconsistencies at the time, but its crumbling structure indicated it has outlived its usefulness. Further delays only compound the damage and put me at a risk of losing my tooth. It’s the kind of price I am not willing to pay, either with my teeth or with my life. For there is another Doctor who is more interested in what His x-ray vision detects than in the shiny veneer that can fool everyone else. And when He sees a crumbling foundation, He'll move heaven and earth to dig as deep as He needs until my foot is set firmly on the Rock.


For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and intentions of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.


Hebrews 4:12,13

Monday, August 08, 2011

Perspective

MOM! Where are my P.J.’s?

Right there!

Where???

Right THERE… you just walked right past…
I make no attempt to hide the exasperation in my voice.

He continues walking towards me, away from his pajamas, in the exact opposite direction from where I was pointing. I stare dumbfounded at my ‘gifted’ child, the master of overlooking the obvious, as he steps up to me, pauses for a moment and turns around. He aligns his field of vision to mine, makes a clicking sound with his tongue having spotted the crumpled pile of clothing. He takes a couple of steps, grabs the P.J.’s and turns around with a rascally grin,

Perspective, Mom… perspective… is everything.

Come to Me…
Isaiah 55

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

What's in the name?

I didn’t have much say either in the name my parent’s picked for me or in choosing the family I was born in. My initials were given to me in the beginning as an expression of trust and hope for a life of growth, excellence and service. A life that with each passing day would breathe in meaning and significance, uniqueness and continuity to this phonemic combination that stood for Me.

Year after year I grew into this name. I filled it with passion and experiences, failures and victories. Hopes and dreams. I became very much attached to it. I liked who I was and took great pride in all my accomplishments.

Twenty years into this journey, I hit a major roadblock. I discovered a structural fault in this process of building my name that required not just some cosmetic changes but a major overhaul of the foundation. My life’s blueprint neither included nor even took into consideration the Master Architect, the One and Only God revealed in Jesus Christ. After much turmoil and resistance (for no house can have two masters), I ran out of ammunition and like a blind puppy threw myself into this new identity of a child of God. I became a part of God’s strange, diverse and sometimes seriously weird family. I began to bear a new family name – Christian - entering into the complex, controversial family history carrying some unbelievable promises and privileges and some equally unbelievable baggage.

I still kept the name my parents gave me on the day I was born, discovering more and more each day how who I was and had been fitted in this new identity and new name. I’ve discovered the deaths I was called to die and life I was called to live. More often than not, I begrudged both equally. For grasping truth with my mind, and articulating with my lips, I learned, is not the same as living Him out.

As if my identity seismic shift wasn’t enough trouble to deal with on my own, few years later I was offered to receive a new name. A whirlwind romance and a few years later I became Mrs. S.

Few years after that my husband and I were granted an awesome responsibility of naming another human being. And then another. We talked and researched. We agonized and prayed. With reverence and hope we named our children trusting that their names would become unique expressions of lives of faith, growth, excellence and service to God and mankind. That with each passing day they would breathe in meaning and significance, uniqueness and family continuity to the phonemic combination that stands for ‘CG’ and ‘VG’ respectively. And, through that process, I became Mrs. C’s Mom and Mrs. V’s Mom.

With each layer of identity, with each new name, I experience a profound sense of loss – loss of independence, loss of the sense of control over my life as I take a terrifying step of faith, as I plunge out of the security of familiar and safe into the unknown. But, as I learn to grieve well and loosen my grip on my own life, embracing the paradox of life out of death, I become more of who God intends for me to become. I don’t lose or erase who I was – I build upon what God has graciously, generously imparted into me. Rather than being diminished by the change, I become even more Me! Once the new name begins to sit more comfortably on my shoulders I am amazed afresh by His love and His wisdom towards me.

And year in and year out, as I discern new ways to hold all my names with open hand, I am able to take on more and more of the marvelous mystery of who I am and one day will become – the one of a kind daughter of the One who never changes, whose Name is the only name that will remain forever.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Cookie Crumbs for Jesus

Last Sunday my in-laws treated us to a wonderful brunch at Ettore’s European bakery on Fair Oaks Boulevard. The tough decision of the day was choosing between blueberry pancakes and waffles? Omelet or Eggs Benedict? Honey-baked ham or bacon? The waitress recognized us from the church that morning, so we enjoyed a rare privilege of being served on first-name basis. After finishing our food, we lingered for a while, savoring the fullness of the meal we just consumed and light conversation around the table. Satisfied by the former and bored by the latter, our kids wandered off and explored the restaurant, especially the bakery showcase of outrageously tempting desserts. When we finally got ready to leave, our daughter came back with an enormous chocolate chip cookie in her hand. A kind restaurant worker noticed her gawking at the display and I guess, had pity on the ‘poor starving’ child and gave her the cookie. Too full from the lunch, she took few nibbles and deposited the rest in a paper bag, saving it for later when she would be able to enjoy it more. We loaded up the car and were on our way when, at the stop light, we heard a gentle tap on our window. An old, disheveled man in tattered clothes was holding a hand-written cardboard sign,

HOMELESS PLEASE HELP NEED FOOD

We all scrambled around the car frantically, but the only food item we had was the half-eaten cookie. We asked our daughter if it is O.K. to give the man the cookie, and she shook her head in agreement.

The light has already turned green as we hurriedly handed the bag to the man, apologizing for the incomplete offering. He received the greasy bag with both hands, his face lighting up like the fourth-of-July fireworks of gratitude. The broad smile revealed haphazard array of teeth in various stages of decay. We rushed off, not wanting to delay any further the waiting line of impatient drivers stalled by the exchange. His exuberant words of thanks and blessing trailed behind us in the wind.

Impressed by our daughter’s generosity, I turned around to tell her how much we appreciated her giving spirit. But, instead of a glow of self-satisfaction, her face was contorted with anguish and washed with tears.

What’s wrong?!!! I was in shock, wondering if we might have overstepped her personal boundaries by volunteering her cookie away. Are you sad that you parted with your cookie?

Nooooo…. She wailed. I… am… saaad… I… am… sad.. that I didn’t have more to give to that man…

Her sobs continued on for several minutes, interrupting the silence that descended on our car.

Her words pierced my heart. We were still full from the tremendous bounty of God’s table. We waddled out of the restaurant and rolled into our car. At the next intersection Jesus knocks on our window, unshowered and unkempt, in need of daily food. I see a half-eaten chocolate-chip cookie handed to the hungry as a noble sacrifice, deserving applaud and affirmation. She sees the insufficiency of her offering and is broken for not being able to do more for the homeless man.

I think I deserve a pat on the back every time I offer God the leftovers from the table of my indulgences. But, when I see Jesus face to face, the grief will be not over parting with crumbled chocolate-chip cookies of this life’s goods, but over all the missed opportunities I had to show His generosity and love to the least of His brothers.


Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me.
Matthew 25:40

Friday, June 24, 2011

GPS

Being the late technological adapters that we are, in preparation for our big cross-country trip, we finally broke down and purchased our first GPS. Needless to say, we all are slowly adjusting to our new, quite chatty traveling companion. We noticed that sometimes she (well, I don’t really know whether it’s a he or a she) likes to play the role of the junior Holy Spirit – especially when our driving speed exceeds the posted speed limit. I admit it takes getting used to hearing God talk to you in an audible voice,

Warning! ...Warning! But, our kids have been doing that since the day they made a connection between the number signs on the side of the road and speedometer on our dashboard.

However, there is one thing I really, really like about the GPS. It happens every time we miss our exit or take a wrong turn. After a series of simple and clear directions which, in the chaos of driving experience I managed to miss or ignore, I would expect her to starts shouting,

You dumb idiot! Are you listening?!!!! What were you thinking?!!! Which planet issued YOU a driver’s license????

But, instead, she suddenly falls silent (my father-in-law’s GPS at this time announces, ‘Recalculating… recalculating’), takes a big deep breath, and resumes in its steady, calm voice giving direction towards the destination, incorporating the unwanted detour into the journey. No judgment, no condemnation – just a solid assurance,


You are not lost… you are not lost to me. I will bring you to our desired destination, wherever you may be …


Your ears will hear a word behind you, “This is the way, walk in it,” whenever you turn to the right or to the left.
Isaiah 30:21

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Complete Idiot's Guide to Loving your Enemies

As far as I am aware, nobody really knows about the existence of the book (although, some, I gather, might have a suspicion or two, but fortunately they are not the blabbering type). Even though in other areas I am not a detail kind of person, here I pride myself with impeccable accounting. The book is my masterpiece. It’s the most comprehensive panoramic record of numerous grievous wrongs inflicted on my poor soul through the years. I have worked very hard at it most of my life. The book was birthed on the same day I was. Its earliest record goes back to the hospital where I was born. Hardly had I pushed my way through the birth canal when the nurse who barely caught me on the way out, whacked me as hard as she could on my back.

If THIS is my welcome, I insist on being sent back!
I yelled as loud as I could, but everyone around me ignored it and cheered and applauded instead. I knew immediately it was going to be a rough ride.

The most recent entry tells of an incident that happened in the church this morning. But, I wont’ go into that.

Now, I know I am supposed to forgive – which, of course, I have done already, many times. But, guilty pleasure though it may be, I admit it is by far my favorite bedtime reading.

The Book of Grudges.

Some chapters I almost have memorized, Botox for Backstabbers, Murdering with a Smile for example.

The table of content also includes:

Gossip – the Secret Weapon of Mass Destruction
With Friends Like This, Who Needs Enemies?
Who Put YOU in Charge? The incompetent losers and places of authority
Thanks for Being Such an Ungrateful Pig!
Why Waste Time? (or, Bring Back the Guillotine!) Simplifying the justice system by becoming an all-in-one Prosecutor, Judge and Executioner

Last night, as I skimmed through the pages I noticed one particular name being repeated over and over again. The habitual offender.

I could feel my temperature rising. The more I pondered, the more furious I became. I spent most of the following day swinging from raging banshee plotting revenge to despondent, Woe-Is-Me, weeping inconsolably as the lake of self-pity around my feet grew to the size of Atlantic Ocean. I was just about to switch again when I got interrupted by a cheery,

Whatcha doin’, Big G?
The last person I was in the mood to talk to today.

Hi there, King of Oxy-MORONS, I answered morosely, hoping he’ll go away if I am rude enough.

That’s hilarious!
He burst into laughter. I like it! Guilty as charged! His eyes twinkled and I thought I caught a glimpse of a wink.

Although… the way you said it, he added, it sounded more like name-calling. So, whatcha been readin’, The Short History of the Universe? He was looking over my shoulder as if trying to see the book. I could tell it was a trick question. I knew that he already knew what I was reading.

Sort of…
I could feel a major case of grumpiness descending on me, but I wasn’t going to let it keep me from setting the record straight.

Alright, since you asked for it! I think that THIS,
I thumped my forefinger on the cover of the book now in plain view, This is just outright wrong!

I agree.
His voice mingled with mirth and something else, I couldn’t quite distinguish..

I am sick and tired it! I am tired of being criticized, gossiped about, back-stabbed, betrayed, thrown up on, misjudged and misunderstood. I am tired of friends who only remember me when they need me and of enemies who have made up their minds about me without even knowing me!

He was nodding as if he truly understood what I was talking about. I decided it was time to bring it up a notch.

Something needs to be done - and I mean, IMMEDIATELY!


Oh? Like what?

When opportunity knocks on my door I sure can hear it, and I was ready to give him my piece of mind.

Well, since you inquired… You know those repeat offenders from the book…?


I know them. He answered quite engaged, almost amused, at this point

Well, they got off the hook too easily! Not to name any names, but you know who I am thinking of. It’s just not fair.


I see..
. Buoyed by his apparent understanding, I continued.

I want him to FEEL what he’s done to ME! Alright, to put it bluntly, I want him to suffer. And this is where you come in … you could pull some strings… you could send a bunch of chinch bugs into his lawn, for example, or a virus into his computer. A red sock could just happen to fall in his white wash, and turn all his underpants bright-pink! I was already feeling much better.

So, you want to hire me as your hit man?


I wasn’t thinking quite in those terms, but if you wish to call it that… My voice trailed off, before I continued.

I admit I haven’t really considered the payment aspect of our agreement… Perhaps, I could finally return all those overdue books to the library…? Or, I could volunteer at school, even though those bickering brats are driving me crazy…That would be right up your alley, a real sacrifice, wouldn’t it?

A shadow passed over his face.

I mean... I didn’t mean to haggle with you over the price as if we are in the farmer’s market? I promise I will not disappoint you.
Somehow it felt as if I’ve just taken one foot out of my mouth only to put the other in.

So, do we have an agreement or not?
I sighed. I am sure we can figure out the details later.

Yes, we have the agreement.
He said, his voice firmer than usual. Now, give me the book.

What?!!!


Hand the book over to me. His voice was immovable like the base of Mt. Everest and soft like a seaside breeze

No way! Sorry, can’t do it!
I clutched the book tightly to my chest, as he stretched out his hand towards me. I noticed a purple scar pulsating in the afternoon sun.

I am not going to yank it out of your hand, hon. You need to give it to me.
His voice was barely audible whisper by now, riddled with pain. I paused.

Then what?
What happens when and if I give you the book? I wanted to keep all my options open.

Then, you love them…
He said simply, as if it’s the easiest thing in the world. You love your enemies…

Excuse me?!!

You love your enemies. He repeated patiently, as if deaf to the mockery sputtering out of my mouth.

Love them?!!!! Are you crazy?!!! Whacking them on the head with a rubber mallet was more along the lines of what I was thinking ….Where I come from, that’s how we deal with our enemies…

And where I come from, He paused briefly, where I come from, this is how we deal with our enemies. We love them. Just as I have loved you…

But… but, what about the repeat offenders? I stuttered weakly, my hands going limp.

The repeat offenders?
His eyes sunk deeply into mine, past the crusty blinders, past the festering wounds, past disappointments and shattered dreams, past losses and un-cried tears. The repeat offenders… , He enunciated every word, They are… to be loved… most of all.

I hardly noticed when the book slipped between my fingers and fell to the ground. I thought he would bend over and pick it up, but he didn’t move. His gaze was fixed on me, a category five hurricane of grace and conviction, cleansing and gentleness.

You must love the repeat offender… just as I have loved you.




Let me give you a new command: Love one another. In the same way I loved you, you love one another. John 13:34

It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all. And yet, for this reason I found mercy, in order that in me as the foremost, Jesus Christ might demonstrate His perfect patience, as an example for those who would believe in Him for eternal life. I Timothy 1:15,16

Friday, June 03, 2011

Copycat

Mom, look at the tree I made!

I was up to my ears in the pile of dirt and cow manure when my junior assistant gardener called my attention to what she’d been busily doing most of the morning.

Hon, you don’t MAKE trees, you PLANT them, I was about to correct her linguistic latitude, when I turned around and looked in her direction.

Well, perhaps I was wrong… I guess you COULD make trees… sort of! I thought.

For, inside our small vegetable plot there stood a tree - if one could call a tree what in actuality, was a medium size broken off and dried up branch, stuck as firmly as her tiny hands would allow into the sandy ground. I was taken aback. Nowhere in nature have I ever seen a tree quite like this one. It was impressive. It was glorious. Every square inch of its brittle branches was covered with every blooming flower found in our garden that day – there were day lilies, and passionflower, and impatience, and azaleas, and spider lilies, star jasmine, and four-o’clock,.. . I looked around the back yard. Except for the blazing tree, all the other plants and shrubs were stark naked, their every last bloom effectively picked clean, carefully transferred and attached to the dead branch.

Wow! What can I say, hon?!!! It’s… it’s gorgeous!

She admired her work for a while, then dusted her hands off and proudly trotted off into the house. Her work in the garden was finished for the day.

I stand next to the flaming bush wilting quickly under the blaze of Florida sun and reflect on my own daily work and ‘glorious achievements' in the garden of life. Part of me wonders whether the effect is much different from what my little apprentice has accomplished today. Having neither courage, nor skill nor patience required for authentic growth, I hop around life like a restless mountain goat, diligently picking clean the blooms from other bushes. Once satisfied with my exotic collection, I artificially try to attach it to the dried-up twig of my own life, in hope that the plagiarized blooms of others would cover up the impotence of my shriveled heart. For a short while my tree may look quite impressive - like a Disney cartoon on steroids! But soon enough the ruthless heat-waves of life wither it up, launching me on another quest after the phantom, now further and faster, in desperate search for other extraordinary blooms growing in other people’s yards. And all along, the grotesque irony of the vicarious blooming seem to escape my notice. By the end of the day, I have a feeling that something has just slipped through my fingers, but I am too exhausted from the chase to consider the insanity… All I can hear in the back of my tired soul is a distant echo…

…a copycat of a copycat, a shadow of a shadow…

Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.
John 15:4

Friday, May 27, 2011

Validation

Last week, as I was going through my daughter’s backpack to retrieve her homework folder along with the empty candy-wrappers and a half-eaten, few days old PBJ sandwich, I came across a note written on a piece of yellow pad paper:

My bro got mad at me, and called me stupid, idiot and dumb! Spelled out in neat, rounded handwriting of my fastidious daughter. Below the sentence, in a different handwriting, with less emphasis on proper spelling and grammar and neatness, read the following:

Your, bro is meam, ! stupib, idiot and dumb.

I took a deep breath, counted to ten, and then to one hundred, and backward, before I called her on the carpet.

What’s this?
I glared, the gathering of information not being my primary goal in asking the question.

Oh!
She sensed that something might be wrong. M. asked me to write a report on my brother, she answered sheepishly. M. is her second grade classmate.

Ooooh… I responded in the now-I-get-it voice, and continued. And THIS is what you came up with?!!!

I did my best to keep the lid on my fury. Being her parent, I knew full well that the ‘report’, albeit somewhat truthful, was… well, incomplete to say the least. That there was an all-important side conspicuously missing from the meticulous reporting of my budding newscaster. Being the parent of both, I had a unique insight into the particular event that generated those angry words, I knew the instigator, the perpetrator and the so-called victim. I know where they came from and where they were going. I know the WHOLE story. The fact that in order to validate her own point of view she went to a complete stranger, painted her brother in this light and invoked the kind of libelous response from her validating ’friend’ was…well, infuriating. We had already addressed the above situation when it happened, and the apologies were extended on both sides. I thought it was behind us.

Isn’t that called’ gossip’
, my blissfully unaware son chimed in, busily working on his latest LEGO project, happy that he doesn’t have to pay for the pro bono services of an in-house defense attorney.

I took another deep breath before I turned to my daughter, and spoke as gently and as forcefully as my heart commanded.

We are family, we belong to each other. When we have problems, we deal with them directly. We solve them among ourselves. We speak the truth – the WHOLE truth - and hear each side. We forgive and learn and move on. We don’t throw old, forgiven offenses into each other’s face. And we don’t go around talking to the outsiders, who neither know us nor care about us, about other members of our family!


The echo of my voice was too loud to miss…I paused to listen and let the words sink in.

Precisely My point, dear child. This is what it feels like for Me, when you and your children – when MY children go deep sea fishing for validation of their bruised feelings… running from one stranger to another, rather than coming to Me with family grievances. I am just as heartbroken and outraged when My children badmouth My other children, skewing the truth if perchance they may gather up a few broken trinkets of stranger’s validation for their injured ego. Forgetting that once for all, My Son paid the ultimate validation price for each of them – for the perpetrator and the victim who, in turn, became a perpetrator… Your validation begins and ends with Me….

The next morning, as we were getting ready for school, I noticed my daughter writing something on the bottom part of the yellow pad paper containing the incriminating message. She tore off that part and threw it into the garbage where it belongs. Then. she carefully folded the note she’d just written and gave it to her brother as they trotted off to school. That afternoon, as I was retrieving homework folder from his backpack, along with the crumbled chocolate chip cookie and empty Nerds container, I found the following note, decorated with beautiful underwater scene, a mother dolphin swimming among the seaweeds with her brood:

Dear C,

I’ sorry I wrote things that hurt your feelings. Will you forgive me?

Your sister,

T

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The Munchkin Menu

Mom, do I have to order from the Munchkin Menu? I am getting a little tired of it… our nine year old son leaned towards me and whispered into my ear as I studied the entrees too good to have to decide on just one. We’ve been on the road for several days and have eaten in restaurants more often than we ordinarily do when we are at home. The kids have certainly consumed their share of French fries, hamburgers and chicken fingers and I couldn’t blame him for getting ‘a little tired of it’.

I flipped over to the “Munchkin Menu” (specified ‘for children 10 years and younger) and sure enough there was listed the standard kids’ fare of chicken nuggets, burgers and PBJ sandwiches. I could empathize with his predicament. I glanced towards his younger sister, but she seemed happy enough with more burgers and fries, the limited assortment not bothering her a bit.

What do you want?
I asked.

Well, that rib-eye steak caught my eye… He answered sheepishly.

Straight for the bull’s eye, huh? I chuckled. Since the steak was on the top of the list of adult entrees. I encouraged him to look over the entire menu and make his decision after he has familiarized himself with the options. Eventually he settled on the sautéed tiger shrimp, garlic mashed potatoes and the loaded baked potato (the love affair with potatoes runs in our family).

As he gobbled down his newly acquired freedom, I savored the milestone. Growth. Just yesterday we transitioned from milk to solids, and from that day on, we steadily added variety to his baby menu. As his geography expanded, so did the foods… in Hungary, he ate goulash, in Serbia, sarma, in Bangladesh, curry, in Northern California, sourdough bread. If variety is spice of life, his life became well seasoned.

Then I thought of another menu, containing the entrees which feed my soul. The irreplaceable, never-to-grow-out-of-style, fresh, daily supply of the milk of God’s living Word (I Peter 2:2)… Even after decades of living this life of faith, the wonder of being a child of God doesn’t get old – not even when I became a parent! Especially when I became a parent!

But, as the years go by, I can’t continue to consume predigested food only… There comes a day when I want to sink my teeth into a rib-eye steak… and chew on it… and let it permeate every cell of my body and energize my muscles and blood stream… when hearing the Word of God is inseparable from doing… from being… When knowing slowly, agonizingly turns into living. The day when I leave the Munchkin menu behind and embrace some adventuresome, exotic combination of bitter herbs, fiery spices and serious protein which will give me strength and zest for the journey ahead.

For everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.
Hebrews 5:12, 13

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Do you know all your notes?

The last concert of the year is quickly approaching and judging by the commitment to practice and dedication to apply the weekly instructions of the violin teacher, it seems like parents are the only ones feeling the pressure to perfect the performance.

Every day I work hard on biting my tongue to keep myself from nagging incessantly. Finally, I decide that a more indirect approach might be more effective:

Does everyone know the notes of their solos and group piece in preparation for the concert? I ask my son, trying not to sound too obvious.

Yes, we all know them. He answers casually, dragging the rosin against the bow.

At least we are beyond step one, I think as I sigh a big sigh of relief. Perhaps there is hope…

Well, maybe all of us but L.
He adds, after thinking a little… L. is a beautiful, tender-hearted girl in his small violin class who also suffers from a mild form of autism. Her presence and participation in the violin class has been a tremendous blessing to all our children as they learn that playing their violins together goes beyond producing the right notes at the same time. Over the years, mutual encouragement, love, grace and patience, alongside giving your own personal best have become much weightier factors in preparation for performing in a concert.

Actually, she does know all the notes, he explains, but when she plays she transfers them into different notes, and then she takes out some notes and adds new ones. But, other than that, she knows all the notes.

I stare at him in amazement, wondering at his ability to affirm beyond what is audible. For I know that I would be the first one to point out all the notes played incorrectly, to notice every missing note and get annoyed at every added note to a familiar classic. My heart is both weighed and warmed by the stark contrast and I ask God to give me the extra ear to hear what he hears, to have the grace that knows and loves beyond performance, that listens not to imperfect notes we are producing but to the longing of the heart beyond what is seen and heard.

He goes back to practicing Minuet No. 2 while in between the notes I think I can overhear a conversation, from an altogether different realm, discussing the way I play the solo of my own life:

Well… actually, G. does know all the notes, but when she plays the solo of her life, sometimes she transfers them into different notes… and she is known to forget some notes and add her own new ones… But, other than that, she knows her piece…


And grace, and patience, and love enter again along with the assurance that all the vagrant notes will one day find their home in Him.

For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ John 1:17

Friday, April 08, 2011

Is That Doing Any Good?

Is that doing any good?, my Better-Homes-and-Garden poster child neighbor chirped, nail-clipping the dark green blades of his St. Augustine grass to the exact fraction of a millimeter height, while I stood barefoot in the dirt, old jeans fashionably folded up above my knees, hand-watering an ever-increasing balding patch sprawled across the front of our house.

Nah! I was tempted to say, I just derive peculiar pleasure from wasting my time, energy and resources on useless activities that accomplish nothing good. Yep, that’s me… doing the same thing over and over again, expecting different results, only to prove to the world that the definition of insanity hasn’t changed!

Instead, I twisted my face into a grimace that was supposed to be a replica (rather poor, I admit) of a friendly smile, and turned back my attention to the dead lawn, muttering under my breath,

Grow, damn it! Grow!!!
, quoting a garden sign I saw in somebody's front yard, which captured the exact sentiment I was feeling at the moment.

I’ve been at this gardening thing for more than fifteen years and one would think that by now I should have it down, that I could almost be called a professional, based on the amount of time, money and sweat I’ve dumped into the thankless bottomless pit called our front lawn. Admittedly, during those fifteen years I have learned a thing or two about lawn and garden care - from watering to mowing, from fertilizing to pruning. I also learned more than I ever cared to know about creepy crawlies. I discovered that there is such a thing as the right time and a season for any given garden activity and, well, not so right time. I had all the 'yes-es' and the 'no-nos' of the Southern lawn tucked under my belt.

So, why in the world is our lawn at its most definite worst since we moved into our house?!!!


And why do I have this nagging feeling that my perfect-yard-neighbor might be right to question the impact of my determined efforts (annoying as it may be to me that somebody else is pointing out the obvious)?!!!

I was still holding the hose, when I noticed that the ditch next to our sidewalk has turned into a small river, running towards the drainage hole.

My golly, he is right!!! All this water is draining right off the lawn into the sewer!!!


I hurriedly turned off the water, completely mystified by what was going on. I thought of all the fertilizer and pesticide and thousands of gallons of water I have poured down the gutter and into the retention ponds and beautiful Florida lakes… and the thought made me a little queasy. A lot queasy. My lawn might as well have been a ping-pong table and everything I was doing in hope of promoting growth was bouncing right off of it! I was on the verge of tears.

I went into the garage and rummaged through the gardening tools until I found a hand trowel. Back in the yard, I started digging (or trying to dig) a small hole in what was supposed to be the lawn. The dead grass on the top was still wet from my recent watering fiasco, but once I dug a bit, the soil underneath was as dry as a bone. Few feet further, I dug another hole. Same thing. Dead surface wet; below, the soil was as dry as in the middle of a desert and as hard as rock. I discovered a tangled mess of dead roots, the remnants of who-knows-what, intertwined to create an effective barrier for any water, nutrients or bug killers to penetrate the surface and reach the roots. A wave of despair swept over me.

How did this happen?!!!!
I cried out. I know that some people can grow a garden inside a pool of nitrogen peroxide. But, for me, gardening IS a rocket science. It took me years to learn each of these - regular watering; fertilizer and weed killer in their time; pesticide when activity observed; mow weekly; edge when needed; attentive presence – daily; patience - moment by moment. And, then, it took few more years to start implementing them on regular basis. By now, I knew what I was doing and I tried to do everything right… And THIS is the result?!!! The nausea and the despair wrapped their fingers around my throat and begun to squeeze.

I sat on the sidewalk with my face in my hands. The dirt from my fingers rubbed onto my cheeks, sticking to the blotchy layer of sunscreen. I thought about the days when I had so much fun rolling in the mud, frolicking in the dirt, looking like a pig while happily pretending to be a gardening queen, with nothing to lose. Every trip to my garden was an amazing adventure, so much to hear, so much to discover. I was learning to listen to the blades of grass and the earth under my feet and the wind that was calling my name. Then, somebody suggested Bonus S., and somebody else, few weeks later, Dursban. We bought a spreader and a weed-whacker, a blower and a self-propelled mower. We installed an automatic sprinkling system. Not too long after that I begun to notice that the dirt was bothering my skin, and started wearing heavy-duty gardening gloves, and long-sleeve shirt. I also added a hat to protect me from the harmful rays of the ruthless Florida sun. I was becoming more and more concerned about minimizing the dirt and the UVAs and UVBs exposure. Pulling weeds, being one of the dirties jobs in the garden, was the first to go. So, instead of getting on my hands and on my knees, all messy and grubby, I discovered that there was magic pink pixie dust that both feeds the good grass and eliminates the weeds (don’t ask me how the dust knows the difference, it’s still a mystery to me, but that’s what it says on the package!). So, the weeding became a forgotten art. To get rid of the bugs I started using magic pixie dust of a different color.

And so, little by little, a handful of magic dust here and a buzz of sprinkling system there, I effectively created a technological barrier between me and my yard, and along with weeds and bugs, I also successfully eliminated all up-close and personal interaction between me and my garden, all the face-to-face and heart-to-heart times, all the pillow talk and the mutual back-rubs. No digging and getting dirty, no dark brown soil under my fingernails, no archaic tools and activities like digging or pulling weeds. I retired my shovel to the back corner of our garage. It became my mission to discover an effective formula for successful gardening which would render heat, sweat and dirt obsolete, while producing marvelous results evident to all. I was already looking forward to the roll-out of the garden apps which would allow me to do all my yard work with a few pushes of my (still brownish) thumbs, sitting at my desk inside our air-conditioned house.

But, my garden would have none of this white-gloved, 21st century techie-gardener-
-professional nonsense. It missed ME soooo much that it got so sick, with such severe case of sclerosis of its sandy little heart, that, in order to save it, I had to go back to the sweaty and dirty work of digging and weed-pulling, uprooting and re-planting, listening and talking to the inanimate objects, a pig wearing a hat, during which process the soil of my hardened heart was getting loosened and soft along with the garden dirt which stuck to my skin and sunk under my fingernails.

And, now, as the rain mingles with sunshine,
and time,
and patience,
and rest
we both wait,
and hope,
and trust
and pray
that the good God would graciously bless and allow the growth - not only of the what is sown in the garden, but also (or even more!) of what is sown in the gardener’s heart.


For My people have committed two evils: They have forsaken Me, the fountain of living waters, to hew for themselves cisterns — broken cisterns that can hold no water.
Jeremiah 2:13

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Organic... what?!!

Would you prefer organic or regular tomatoes, Ma'am? The saleswoman answered my question with a question, without lifting her eyes.

Before making a reckless choice, I decided to cease the teachable moment and acquire a bit of education in the process. Despite being married to a Californian, the West-coast organic craze never managed to stick to my rebel roots.

What’s the difference?
I cautiously responded with another question, causing a whiplash, as the lady lifted her head, looking at me with astonishment. Even though she didn’t say anything, I could see, Which planet have you landed from? and, Or, is this a trick question?, clearly spelled out all over her confused face.

I stood there without a blink, patiently waiting for the answer, appreciating the fact that the look on her face might very well make up for the cost of the overpriced vegetable.

Well, the organic means… there are no artificial additives, pesticides, and they don’t use radiation or chemical fertilizers to grow fruits and vegetables…They ripen on the vine and are not picked while still green so they can be transported easier… Also, …

I got exactly what I asked for and some… it felt a bit like being a dog chasing a car and actually catching it.

What about their taste? I interrupted before she could launch into a lecture about the use of nanotechnology in agriculture, going straight for the bottom line. What do they taste like?

They taste like tomatoes SHOULD taste. Since we got them, Ma’am, that’s all we eat.


Hey, if they are good enough for you, they are good enough for me. Just hit me with a box!

I gathered up the rest of my purchases and went home, feeling good about having made a healthy choice for our family. What greeted me when I opened the prized box was a … huge disappointment! I wanted to kick myself for not thinking to ask (and she never volunteered any information) about the looks of organic tomatoes! Part of me felt, well, superficial to be so concerned about the appearances and part of me considered going back and talking to the manager about the failure of disclosure. I couldn’t help but wonder if organic was just a euphemism for distorted, undersized and ugly.

When kids came from school, my worst suspicions were confirmed.

What’s THAT?!!!
Having been raised in the world of hydroponic clones, all uniform in color, shape and size, they didn’t know what to make of malformed, bruised and esthetically challenged pile sprawled over our kitchen counter.

Children, these are TOMATOES…. ORGANIC tomatoes!
I introduced the species like some long-lost relatives, secretly hoping they would exhibit the same inquisitiveness their mother showed in the produce store. They were unimpressed.

Are they like this naturally or did something happen to them?


I was on the verge of turning something – or somebody – into spaghetti sauce.

Next time, your only choice for dinner would be virtual tomatoes! I threatened.

I like the look of regular tomatoes much better.
My esthetically sensitive daughter chimed in. They are very – predictable (she used the word with such flair, as if to show her brother she knows something he doesn’t) - all evenly shaped, without spots and bruises, similar in size and… pretty!

Yea, and they all taste like cantaloupe, which tastes like turnip, which tastes like cabbage! And they all share the same – nutritional - non-value! Her brother glared at her as he stomped his foot as if to punctuate his last word.

I was stunned by the war of words erupting between my offspring over the beleaguered vegetable and decided it was time to intervene.

Alright, kids… as they say, The proof is in the pudding!
They both turned and looked at me, crying out in unison.

In the eating, MOM! The proof of the pudding is in the eating!


Pure and uncontaminated - organic - religion in the sight our God and Father, is this: Reach out to the homeless and loveless; stand up for the fatherless and defenseless in their plight, and guard yourself diligently against corrupting illusions which come from the godless world around you.
James 1:27

You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless, how can it be made salty again? Matthew 5:13

Friday, March 18, 2011

When Love Stinks

Yesterday, I read the following status update on a friend’s Facebook page:

Thank you, cat, that you are a good hunter. But next time you get a mole, could you not hide it under Nico's bed until we smell it?


It might be that I am reading too much into and between these lines, but I see a wonderful love story unfolding here.

Nico obviously loves the kitty. She feeds her, scratches her belly, plays with her and lets her sleep on her bed. She even cleans the litter box after her. Kitty loves Nico back. She loves being fed, playing with Nico and the fact that she scratches her belly and lets her sleep on her bed. But, in kitty’s mind, this relationship is terribly one-sided. She really wants to scratch Nico’s belly in return but last time she tried it, her claws got in the way.

Clearly interspecies friendships require overcoming some grave communication challenges. The kitty would like to give Nico what Nico wants… the iPad2, for example, but her paws here are tied. So, she settles for the next best thing – a mole! Nothing but the best for Nico! Not some garden lizard, or an ordinary house mouse, or even that annoying fat rat that lives in the garage. Catching a mole demands patience, planning, strategy and sacrifice. But, Nico is more than worth it! So, one day, when all the stars were aligned, the kitty puts one of her seven lives on a limb, snags the prize, and lovingly leaves it as a surprise gift carefully tucked under Nico’s bed. The kitty waits and waits, already looking forward to the extra play time and some serious belly scratching as a reward for her gift. As hours turn into days and days into weeks, the kitty’s dismay becomes obvious.


What’s taking Nico so long? I think she doesn’t like me anymore...Yea, I noticed how she doesn’t play with me nearly as much as she used to…And last night she kicked me off her bed along with her covers!
The tormented cat refuses to eat and chooses to sleep on the chair in the living room.

Finally, one day, Mrs. Nico’s mom goes into Nico’s room mumbling something, and then torpedoes out… screaming?!!! And these were not happy screams, mind you! Definitely NOT happy, grateful surprise screams. The kitty, both scared and offended, hides under the birou in the hallway until the commotion is over. That night she discovers a little note, in Mrs. Nico’s mom’s beautiful handwriting:

Thank you, cat, that you are a good hunter. But next time you get a mole, could you not hide it under Nico's bed until we smell it?


The kitty is confused. The note seems to send mixed signals. Even though she is admired for her amazing hunting skills (they do recognize, after all, how hard it is to catch a mole!), she still feels that her love gift is somehow unappreciated. In fact, that it downright stinks.

But, what is the cat to do?!!! How can a kitty show her love for her owner?!!!


Just then she hears Nico’s voice as she walks in, calling her name…

Hey, Kitty, Kitty! Come over here, Kitty Where aaaaare youuuu, Kitty, Kitty? C’mon, Kitty, let’ play! Let me scratch your belly, Kitty… Hey, Kitty, Kitty… Heeeey!



"We all live off His generous bounty, gift after gift after gift..."
John 1:16
"All our righteous deeds are like filthy rags..." Isaiah 64:6

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Lent

I am ashamed to admit that it is only this year that I have, for the first time in my life as a follower of Jesus, briefly considered giving up junk food and after-dinner desserts in feeble attempt to join millions of others who, in keeping with centuries long tradition, are participating in Lent – the season of fasting and prayer preceding Easter.

What kind of child of God am I?!!! God is worth much more than a plate of Nachos and a bowl of Rocky Road,
I thought. But the thought didn’t sit well. It seemed terribly petty to think of God in such terms… as if He gets perturbed by my second helpings of ice-cream and extra cheese on my nachos and giving those up would somehow make the Celestial Calorie-Counter happy. Passing these up would do a lot more good for my waistline and my cholesterol count… but I could also see my self-satisfaction going up as these go down. In the context of Lent, that appeared, well… counterproductive.

Perhaps, I should give up socially sanctioned form of voyeurism during this time and not log into my Facebook account?


Now that would be a real sacrifice, worthy of the divinity that invented social networking, being Three-in-One. No vicarious living other people’s exciting lives in substitute for my boring hum-drum existence; no open platform for shameless bragging about great accomplishments of mine or my own; no instant ego-boost exchanges that wear off as quickly as the click of the mouse, leaving me ravenous for more…

Hmmm… now that would really hurt! I am not sure I am quite ready for that level of sacrifice yet…

Maybe instead of giving something up for Lent,
I started to negotiate with myself, I should do something exceptional… like running a 5k race, supporting a worthy cause! The idea was so brilliant, I couldn’t even take credit for it! Now, that would be a sacrifice pleasing to God!

The internal debate of Lental considerations left me tired and hungry. What should I do? What should I NOT do? What should…? The swirling world of I, me, myself battered the will and the motivation out of my drained soul exposing two weary, empty hands.

Isn’t the Lent about... what He has done… and NOT about what I do or don’t do…? More about Him… less about Me…?


He must increase, but I must decrease John 3:30

Friday, March 04, 2011

Powered By...?



Mom, can cars be powered by magma fuel?

We were walking to school, and a stream of cars was passing us by, when my endlessly inquisitive son started the barrage of not-so-out-of-his-character series of outlandish question.

No, cars can’t be powered by magma fuel. I responded tiredly.

What about the geyser – can they be powered by geyser energy?


No, cars can’t be powered by geyser energy.

What about…?

Before he could continue, I interrupted and launched into a weary sermon on the nature of the obvious.

Cars can’t be powered by magma fuel. And they can’t be powered by geyser energy. And any other energy except what they are designed for. Cars must use the kind of energy they are designed to be powered by. Some are made to use fossil fuels. If diesel, you must use diesel. If gasoline, you need to use appropriate grade. If it’s an electric car, it uses electricity. You must use the right kind of energy as its source of power. Anything different can ruin the engine...

Suddenly I paused. We’d had a rough morning and all our attempts to resolve the ever-increasing tension seemed to create more frustration, which in turn, added more tension. I was drained and the day hadn’t even started.

… And God’s children, I continued, lowering my voice to a near whisper as my lungs were filling with fresh air, God’s children are designed to be powered by God’s Spirit. Trying to get power from any other source is both ineffective and can ruin their 'engine'… God’s children must get their power from God’s Spirit…


Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,' says the LORD of hosts.
Zechariah 4:6