Friday, November 30, 2012

Advent Season... Yes, Virginia, There IS Life After Christmas

I've written this post last year after Christmas.  As I re-read it, it struck me as appropriate to re-post it at this time, right at the beginning of the busy holiday season, since it seems to put some things into perspective... at least for Yours Truly. May His gracious Spirit guide your feet into the way of His peace.

I seriously considered my daughter’s suggestion that we keep Christmas decorations up until Easter. Besides a very busy January and a few items on my schedule with slightly higher priority than stashing baby Jesus, Mary, Joseph and Rudolph away in the attic, the idea itself didn’t seem too far fetched. In my head, you see, the two holidays go hand-in-hand. Without Christmas there would obviously be no Easter, and without Easter… well, without Easter the Christmas would leave us bankrupt, not only in our wallets and bank-accounts, but emotionally deserted and empty-handed, even while surrounded by all the trinkets and toys, disillusioned by the hollowness of the hope that, like weight-loss commercials, grossly over-promised but never quite delivered. So, I was perfectly happy to, like some devout frog, jump from Christmas to Easter and back to Christmas, trying to live off the fumes of spiritual adrenaline each holiday provides and skipping everything in between.

Today, however, without any forethought or planning on my part, spontaneously snowballed into a Putting-Christmas-Away party. It started as a creative (or, rather, desperate!) way to keep my children distracted from killing each other by having them take the ornaments off the Christmas tree. But, very quickly the cleanup party gained momentum and soon it turned into an all-out ‘reclaiming our spaces’ effort. As the nativity pieces were wrapped into tissue paper and placed in cardboard boxes, there was a clear sense of... relief? … A relief that we get our home back, undisturbed by the massive God-invasion of the last month… But, somewhere in the back of my mind, I noticed I was breathing easier because Jesus didn’t remain frozen in time as some perpetual baby sleeping in a manger, but moved on and grew up into an inquisitive teenager, a robust young carpenter good at working with hands, in every aspect maturing under the cloak of ordinary until the appointed time.

Much of his life was commonplace – no global audience, no ‘likes’ on his Facebook wall, no blog, no Twitter, no choirs of angels applauding his every move, no wise men worshiping the ground he walked. The divine wrapped himself in a regular human flesh and quietly receded into obscurity, eating, sleeping, walking, talking, resting, playing, partying, working – just like us! And, in a strange role-reversal, perhaps by the very virtue of not shrinking from becoming human in all its seemingly boring ordinariness, he somehow breathed unimaginable dignity, worth and purposes into everything you and I might do on any given day of small things. Making it holy.

At the end of the impromptu cleaning party I stepped back and looked at our home, the tree out, the boxes up, the pieces of furniture returned to their usual spots. Everything was back in its place and to an undiscerning eye, life seemed to have returned back to just as it has always been. But, to everyone who welcomed His coming, nothing was as it used to be. Everything changed… or, at least begun the long, slow process of transformation of every detail of our life into something that God Himself inhabits.

Today, if you hear His voice, do not harden your heart…

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Advent Season... Missing Jesus

As introduction to the Advent season, I am revisiting some old posts from previous years that were written as reflections on the birth of Christ.  I read recently that if we speak ( or write!) the truth, it will speak to others and it will speak again to us.  Well, here we are... same truth, new nuances... Isn't it interesting that of all the things that fill our Christmas, the one most easily displaced is Christ Himself...

During our recent visit to my husband’s family, my sister-in-law, who is the incarnation of care and sensitivity to the needs of others (qualities which for some reason seem strangely lacking in our little family), suggested that she and I decorate Mom’s and Dad’s place for Christmas. Neither of them has the health and energy for that kind of endeavor, and it would make their home more cheery and festive during the long, and sometimes lonely holiday season. Kids jumped at the idea, looking for any excuse to get away from the grueling vacation homework drills. The decorating party got quickly on the way with moving the furniture around to make room for the tree and getting the boxes with ornaments out of the garage. The kids carefully took them out, unwrapped each of them, celebrating the unveilings as if it’s Christmas already. The process went on for a while when they came across a tiny royal looking figurine.

This doesn’t look like an ornament
, announced my observant daughter. It doesn’t have a hook.

Oh, it’s a part of the nativity scene, darling, responded my mother-in-law. You know, I had that set all these years, and I never set it up. If you like it and think you can use it, you should just take it with you.

Since free offers is rarely passed in our family, the kids excitedly unwrapped the rest of the pieces – the sheep and the donkeys, Mary and Joseph, the remaining two wise men, a shepherd and a shepherdess.

Where is baby Jesus?
 I asked suspiciously.

Hmm, it looks like He’s missing…

We all dived into the box filled with tissue paper, but no Jesus was found.

Jesus is missing,
 I told my mother-in-law. How strange… maybe that’s why you never set it up – it’s defective. Imagine that, Christmas without Jesus...

My words lingered for a few moments before silence settled on the room.

Hon… you don’t have to imagine… just look around - it’s all over the place.

I sat slowly down, sobered by the thought. In real life, just like in the defective nativity scene, more often than not Jesus is missing from Christmas. We may have all the other props in place, even the sheep and the donkeys, but the heart of the stage of history remains empty. The solemn admonition of the incomplete set inched a bit too close to home.

Mom, mom!!! We found Him! 
I was jolted out of my reveries by the excited screams of my children who obviously didn’t give up on their search.

We found Jesus!

May you and I, like the children who wouldn’t give up the quest until it is completed, also find Jesus at the heart of not only Christmas but also at the heart of every day before and after.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Advent Season... No Room

As introduction to the Advent season, I am revisiting some old posts from previous years that were written as reflections on the birth of Christ.  I read recently that if we speak ( or write!) the truth, it will speak to others and it will speak again to us.  Well, here we are... same truth, new nuances... Funny how different things at different times crowd into the place in our hearts reserved for Jesus and Him alone...

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 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 know 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 seemed 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 turned to the tree as if it’s its fault.

We don’t have room for you! No room.

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, 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 and the time. What else got pushed out by the relentless torrent of unrestrained real and perceived needs, wants, desires, responsibilities, demands, requirements? Is all my worthless junk swallowing 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, his lights blinking brightly.

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

Saturday, November 24, 2012

It's Worth the Trouble

Today, in a strangely counter-intuitive way, these words from Amy Carmichael's Candles in the Dark encouraged my heart greatly.  I am sharing them here in hope and prayer they are an encouragement to you as well.

"Don't be surprised if there is attack on your work, on you who are called to do it, on your innermost nature - the hidden man of the heart.  It must be so.  The great thing is not to be surprised, not to count it strange - for that plays into the hand of the enemy.

Is it possible that anyone should set himself to exalt our beloved Lord and not become instantly a target for many arrows? The very fact that your work depends utterly on Him and can't be done for a moment without Him calls for a very close walk and a constant communion of spirit. This alone is enough to account for anything the enemy can do."

Apostle Paul says that all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.  James brings it up a notch:

Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. James 1:2-4

The book of 1 Peter is full of encouragement for the suffering believers.

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation. I Peter 4:12-13

If we claim to be followers of the crucified Savior, we really shouldn't be surprised.  I guess at some point it gets to be our turn.  It may feel like it, but we know it's not going to last forever. And unlike those who don't know the Lord, we can enter into the suffering knowing it's not meaningless.  It's not for nothing.  The fruit these trials will yield one day will be well worth the trouble - both now and when we see Him face to face.

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us. Romans 8:18

Thursday, November 22, 2012

From Emptiness to Thank-Full-ness

Some of us have harder time focusing on being thankful even (or perhaps, especially!) on Thanksgiving Day.  We hate to admit it, for it feels wrong. Politically incorrect.

What kind of person are you if you can’t name a single thing  to be thankful for?!!!

The reproach stings as much as the loss. But, the loss is too deep. The pain too great.  It envelopes us like a thick cloud on a gloomy day.  It overshadows the sunny reality of God’s goodness and holiness, His lovingkindness and grace.  We know it’s there.  We know it’s true.  We do give thanks for many blessings we have received,  but the gaping hole on the inside leaves us gasping for that heavenly air. Empty-handed.

It may be the season of joy and thanksgiving. A season of overflowing bounty. But, not for everyone.  For me, for you, it might be the season of prayer.  Season of emptying.  Season of death.

Sir, You have nothing to draw with and the well is deep… John 4:11

The well is deep. 

Deep. Empty.

Season of empty deep. But, let us enter in - with open hands.  We may feel empty, but empty is also another word for open.  Let us open our hands and our hearts to the One who emptied Himself…

In faith

That He knows

That He is able

That He is willing

To fill our emptiness

With Himself


Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen. Ephesians 3:20,21

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Give Thanks... To the Lord

Give thanks to the LORD, for He is good;
For His lovingkindness is everlasting.
Give thanks to the God of gods,
For His lovingkindness is everlasting.
Give thanks to the LORD of lords,
For His lovingkindness is everlasting.
To Him who alone does great wonders,
For His lovingkindness is everlasting.
To Him who…
For His lovingkindness is everlasting.
To Him who…

Psalm 136 caught my attention today. It’s the Thanksgiving week – and giving thanks is on many of our minds regardless of whether we believe in God or not. Expressing gratitude for the wonderfully diverse common grace we all enjoy  is a universal good, that transcends times and cultures.  You don’t even have to believe in God – you can be an atheist - and still celebrate Thanksgiving!  And nobody has to wait until fourth Thursday in November to be grateful.

But what sets God’s people apart during this season of Thanksgiving is – a syntax!

Everyone can give thanks.  God’s children give thanks to the Lord.  Their thanksgiving has an address, specific GPS coordinates that zero in on one person - the Lord. The LORD of Lords. The God of gods. In human shorthand, Jesus Christ and, of course, God the Father.  And so, saying ‘thank you’ becomes an opportunity to enter deeper into a personal relationship of love - given, received, returned - with our Creator, Redeemer and Lord.  For His lovingkindness is everlasting. Because He alone is worthy.  Because of who He is… Because of what He does… Because of… you fill in the blanks.

And in the process of unwrapping each generous gift with expressions of our gratitude, to our surprise we discover that in the midst of them stands the best gift of all – which is the Giver Himself.

Give thanks to the LORD, for He is good; For His lovingkindness is everlasting.  Psalm 136:1

Monday, November 19, 2012

Outsourcing Miracles

Every Monday morning I contemplate outsourcing.  The weekends in our family tend to turn our house into primeval chaos.  As the work week commences, and everyone is gone their separate way, I stand with a cup of coffee in my hand, brooding, hovering over the deep of scattered Legos, remote controls, stray socks, candy wrappers and magazines, wishing I could speak the word,

Let there be order!

And, swoosh, there is order.

Alas.  It is not so.

So, I am tempted by the next best thing - outsourcing the unpleasant, dirty work and having it done by somebody else. Delegate it to some professional. Like Merry Maid. Or, The Cleaning Authority.  They tell me my life is too short to clean my own home - being the Authority, they must know. The effect of such outsourcing would be the same.  I get to sip my lemons-turn-into-lemonade, while enjoying order-out-of-chaos, dirty-made-clean. All this sans the tedious, ignoble and exhausting details.  

The more I reflect on the idea, the more attractive it becomes. I could outsource the cooking to Chef Boyardee and gardening to True Green.I could outsource my kids to Dr. Dobson and my marriage to Dr. Phil. I could outsource my friendships to Facebook and my spiritual growth to some short and sweet daily devotional app.

And thus I am able to spring-clean my entire life of all the tedious, ignoble and exhausting details that occupy most of my time and energy, ridding it of the all the stuff that sends me to my knees, both literally and figuratively.  The stuff that keeps me vitally connected to the mess and dirt of living on this earth. The stuff that every day stares at my face, reminding me I am a human, living among other humans... made out of humus... which is another word for dirt.

This brings to mind the thirteenth chapter of the Gospel of John. I don’t know if ‘outsourcing’ was necessarily the word on the disciples’ minds, but there was a dirty job to be done, and the boy – the Merry Maid - who was supposed to take care of it wasn't around. Now, it’s just them and their dirty, stinky feet. Who should stoop to do the job of the lowest of the lowest? Certainly not Peter.  Or James.  Or John.  To their credit, it was dinner time after a very long week. Everyone is hungry and tired.  The emotional strain of constant intense scrutiny of the Teacher by antagonistic religious cream-of-the-crop is wearing on them and they are ready to relax. They need to rest. But, the tantalizing smell of the food being prepared is out-smelled by the nauseating reek of their filth-caked feet. 

Then Jesus - the Teacher, the Rabbi, The LORD - stands up and scandalizes everyone by picking up the pail.

There is a lot of dirty work to be done in this world.  Some of it is menial. Even mindless. 
I can choose to see it as such and miss out on the opportunity, the privilege of being a co-worker with God in producing miniature miracles day after day, week after week - creating small oasis of order in the world of chaos. I can outsource all my dirty work and have it done by somebody else…  and miss the chance of working alongside my Savior, and experiencing a tiny measure of redemptive transformation by turning dirty into clean, even if it is stinky socks or the kitchen floor.  

Incarnation, God-in-human-flesh, God-cooking-breakfast-on-the-beach, God-washing-dirt-off-the-feet forever transformed the ordinary into extraordinary.

And who in their right mind would want to outsource the working of a miracle - big or small - from their own life? 

Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. I Corinthians 10:31

Friday, November 16, 2012

From Anguished to Satisfied

As a result of the anguish of His soul, He will see it and be satisfied… Isaiah 53:10

I don’t naturally tend to put these two together in the same thought or sentence – anguish and satisfied.

The Merriam-Webster on-line dictionary defines anguish as extreme pain, distress and anxiety. The synonyms that go with it are


To satisfy means to gratify to the full.

Isaiah, inspired by the Holy Spirit, says that the second proceeds as the consequence of the first, arises as its effect, brings it to its final and complete conclusion.

Anguish of soul leads to… satisfaction?!!   Concludes with full gratification?  Becomes a source of… pleasure?!!

I scratch my head over this, for when I experience anguish of soul, or pain of any kind, for that matter, all I want it is to stop.  My tolerance for pain is extremely low and if I can, I will avoid it almost at all cost.  I see no pleasure or satisfaction as having any part in it.

But Jesus received the cup of anguish as coming from the Father, drunk it fully and as a result, as a consequence, His soul will be satisfied. 

How? How’s Jesus’ soul satisfied?

The question makes me wonder if something, anything in my life and yours will make Jesus think, feel,

That anguish, that torment of My soul,
on her behalf,
on his behalf,
it was worth it!

And suddenly, my focus, the center of my attention tilts a little
from wanting the pain, the anguish to stop,
from insisting that my soul is satisfied–
to wanting, desiring His soul satisfied.
His anguish gratified
By the way I love
By the way I listen
By the way I live…
To give pleasure to His soul.

For it is in His pleasure, His alone,
that my soul finds pleasure
and satisfaction
and rest.

In this you greatly rejoice, even though
for a little while,
if necessary,
you have been distressed (anguished, afflicted, tormented, tortured)
by various trials,
that the proof of your faith,
being more precious than gold which is perishable,
even though tested by fire,
may result (proceed as a consequence, arise as the effect, bring to final and complete conclusion)
in praise
and glory
and honor
at the revelation of Jesus Christ. I Peter 1:6-8

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Where is Your Compost Pile?

Last weekend, in honor of Recycling Day, our family made our annual pilgrimage to the city dump – or, as my children are quick to correct me, landfill.  Besides free lunch and the bus tour to the highest topographical point in central Florida made solely out of carefully laid out and processed millions of pounds of citizens’ garbage, by far my favorite stop is the compost pile. 

The huge mound of excellent quality dirt is made available to county residents for free, as a way to thank them for faithfully setting their yard waste by the curb each week. The largely unusable by-products of regular yard chores as well as big yard makeovers are turned into nutrient-packed garden-ready topsoil for everyone to enjoy. Year after year, we bring shovels and large plastic bags, fill them up to the top and take home as much as our trunk would accommodate.  Then we drag the bags out and scatter the content inside our vegetable plot, throughout the lawn and flower garden, saving some for seasonal flower pots.  The difference that it makes in the vegetation around our house is astounding. 

Due to a variety of factors, the soil where we live is sandy, porous, generally depleted and poor quality.  Growing anything is like trying to grow a garden on the beach. In order to produce at all, the soil must be supplemented, otherwise the plants suffer and eventually die.  

Jesus refers to our hearts as soil – indicating various degrees of receptivity to His word and its power to transform our lives. He talks about the hard, the rocky, the thorn-overgrown and good soil (Matthew 13:1-23).  He doesn’t necessarily mention the depleted soil, but there are days when that would be the most accurate description of the condition of my own heart.


The factors contributing to this condition are many and diverse.  Sometimes I wish there was a spiritual compost pile where I can restore and replenish the soil of my soul so the seed of God’s Word can take strong root and produce vibrant fruit of the Holy Spirit in my life.

Then, I think of another dumping ground outside the city gates where the Lord was crucified, and with His death, once and for all, transformed all the trash, all the waste, all the sin of the world into a rich, life-giving garden soil that produces eternal life. 

The Cross is the compost pile.  The Cross is the place where I can come and keep coming, not just once a year, but moment-by-moment, day-by-day.  This is where you and I can bring what is dead, useless and depleted, what is discarded and considered a waste in the eyes of the world and even in our own eyes. In this place of exchange, I can replenish my empty bags with the rich soil of hope in the God of resurrection, who rose Jesus from the dead and promises life to all the fools and discards of this world who come and keep coming to Him.

... Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people through His own blood, suffered outside the gate. So, let us go out to Him outside the camp, bearing His reproach. For here we do not have a lasting city, but we are seeking the city which is to come. Hebrews 13:12-14

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Are You My Mother?

It’s been going on for a while in our household. Every morning and every day the same mantra with different variations.

Did you make your bed?, and,

Did you brush your teeth?, and,

Tea for breakfast is simply not enough nutrition to begin your day right., and,

I think you should be practicing now, and… and… and…            

It’s so familiar that I grew almost completely deaf to it, until the ‘you’ in the above statements would suddenly scream at the “I”,

WILL YOU STOP MOTHERING ME!!! You are NOT my mother!

Today it finally hit me. Somewhere along the way, my children started feeling that I need their help in parenting their sibling.  They have been hearing my words, they made the connections especially as they relate to their apparently unresponsive brother or sister and felt compelled to take charge.  Needless to say, their ‘parenting’ has been largely driven by the spirit of superiority and one-up-man-ship rather than a loving concern about the well-being of their sibling. It's also not inconceivable that when the unsolicited advice goes unheeded, the fingernails and the fists come into play to help drive the point.

Regardless of how my children may feel, I don’t need their help in parenting (I admit I do need God’s help, every day!).  In fact, sometimes I find their assistance not only terribly annoying but actually interfering with what I am trying to accomplish.  For my goal in raising our children is not an instant, almost robotic obedience to my words or behavior modification driven by fear or greed.  What I desire to see is genuine growth and age-appropriate maturity.  This is a process which requires that they internalize some valuable life skills, develop character, discipline and compassion in responsiveness not so much to a nagging mother but to the invisible God Almighty. This, of course, not only takes time but also requires that I allow room for them to make their own choice as well as create environment where they can fail safely.  All this, of course, goes way over my children's heads, their capacity limited by their age and experience (for some things in life we begin learning only after we become parents)

Then I thought if all this is true in our little family where both parents and children fail miserably, how much more the perfect, holy, all-wise God doesn’t need my help in parenting His children.   For, if I am truly honest with myself, what I really want from the people around me is neat and clean behavior modification, so my life is not overwhelmed with the messy choices of God's immature, ignorant and disobedient children.  But, God is after our heart and the motives which are hidden to the eye of ordinary humans.  For He knows when our heart is wholly His, the right behavior will follow close behind.

For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put My laws into their minds, and I will write them on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be My people. And they shall not teach everyone his fellow citizen, and everyone his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for all will know Me, from the least to the greatest of them. Hebrews 8:10,11

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

George - The First and the Final Chapter

For those who missed it when it was originally published, I thought it appropriate to re-post the story about how it all started as we close off the chapter of our life that started with George's adoption into our family. As I re-read what was written back then, the old saying of hind sight being 20/20 seems more true than ever.

So, here's

Meet George 

again, as we say the final Good-bye George

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 we were destined for each other.

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 their eyes.  They couldn't believe that we would take him home and have a pet of our own. A new member of our family. The youngest member of the family, as our daughter likes to emphasize, pointing out the new birth order in the family.

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.


In God's gracious and mysterious providence, the day after George died we learned that Tinkerbell is pregnant.  She is due some time at the end of this or beginning of next month.

Monday, November 12, 2012

What Piggy Taught Us By His Death – The Life-Affirming Paradox of Death

It is rather ironic that the very presence of death affirms both life here and now, and raises the question of life eternal.  

This life, its pace and priorities sure look different when viewed from the graveside hill. Death gives us laser-sharp vision that cuts through much of the clutter that suffocates life out of the living.  Very, very few things seem truly important enough for us to pour our heart and energy into it.  Perhaps only one.  Loving God and loving our neighbor. (Matthew 22:37-39). What flows out of these love-relationships is loving and caring for the world He created, which sometimes includes little piggies, like George and Tinkerbell.

Even though death is inevitable, universal occurrence sooner or later leveling out everything and everyone living into a heap of dust, it still feels unnatural.  As if we were never meant to experience death.  And yet, we do… and as we do - often prematurely, unjustly, inexplicably - our hearts gasp for more.  So much incompleteness. So many unanswered questions.  So many unfulfilled longings. So many regrets. There's gotta be more...

Therein lies death’s potential.  Will it become an agent of future life and growth? A compost pile of fruitfulness and new beginning? A seed that, when its outer shell of this life is cracked, bears fruit towards eternal life?

Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. John  12:24

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

Or will it draw us into more and more deaths as we withdraw further and further from the risk of embracing life with its potential for pain and heartbreak? To paraphrase the words of a devastated, heartbroken Friedrich Nietzsche,

What are we going to do when we unchain this earth from its sun? Whither is it moving now? Whither are we moving? Away from all suns? Are we not plunging continually? 

Both with his life and with his death, our furry messenger from God unequivocally affirmed life.  While with us, he brought us joy, he taught us gratitude, he expanded our capacity for love and gave us daily glimpses of God’s love and delight in us as His creation. In his quiet death he again pointed us to his Creator and ours, calling us to trust His love, wisdom and goodness in life and in death, in joy and in sorrow, looking, waiting for the day when our joy will be complete in Him, when with His own pierced hand He wipes all our tears away.

He will swallow up death for all time, and the Lord GOD will wipe tears away from all faces. Isaiah 25:8

He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away. Revelation 21:4

Friday, November 09, 2012

What Piggy Taught Us By His Death – You Are of More Value than Many Piggies

George’s untimely death took place during a season of grief over several other deeply distressing situations and deaths that converged into our lives recently. It’s been a difficult year and there were days when the weight of disappointment and heartbreak was beyond overwhelming.   When wave after wave of grief washes over us with no shore in sight, what we know, what we say we know about God from the places of safety and comfort is tested.  Often, the first thing to go is a sense, the feeling of God’s tender love and attentive presence because our operating life paradigm generally doesn’t allow for co-existence of love and suffering, coexistence of good, omnipotent, active God and real, tangible evil in the world. The Piggy’s death was somewhat of the last straw, the last drop in the already overflowing cup of gall.

As we knelt together, my daughter holding the Piggy’s limp body while I wrapped it in a linen cloth to get it ready for burial, we were all overcome.  Tears flowed freely, silence interrupted only by our sobs. It was more than the loss of piggy that we were mourning.  It was more than our furry friend that we were burying.

Despite the gorgeous fall day, comfort seemed elusive. Then these words of Jesus came  to my mind… and slowly seeped down into my heart,

Are not two sparrows sold for a cent? And yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So do not fear; you are more valuable than many sparrows… you are more valuable than many sparrows… you are more valuable than many… piggies?!!  Matthew 10:29-31

God takes note when a little bird falls to the ground and dies.  God took note when our guinea pig fell to the ground and died.  If He takes note, is attentive of small creatures like birds and rodents, wouldn’t He all the more take note of the greater sufferings of His own children who cry to Him day and night? Nothing that happens in my life and yours is there by random cosmic coincidence.   No death.  No disappointment.  No heartbreak. It is all filtered through the sovereign love of our heavenly Father.  His voice to us is always…

You are more valuable… you are much more valuable…than many sparrows… more valuable than many piggies. Do not fear.

Thursday, November 08, 2012

What Piggy Taught Us By His Death - Life has an Expiration Date

We knew this from the very beginning.  We talked about it.  We thought we were prepared. But when the day actually arrived, well… it’s an altogether different ball game. 

We wondered if it was our fault… If only we did this or didn’t do that… 

There were ‘Why did You take my piggy???’ and ‘I want my piggy back right now!’ and ‘I miss my piggy’ and, ‘Mom, I can’t live without him!’

O.K.  I know some of us are more dramatic than others, because a question of estimated time it would take for the body to decompose was also brought up.

There were also recollections of all the wonderful moments we shared with George, and feeling so blessed that we got to enjoy the best piggy in the entire universe. And then back again to WHY???

Life is a gift that has an expiration date with it.  Death is an inevitability of living in a broken world.  We all know it, but when death knocks on our door… it’s like going from watching a weather report on your TV or iPad from the comfort of your favorite cushy sofa with a glass of Chardonnay in your hand into having your roof being blown off and the ceiling caving in under the hurricane strength winds and the torrential rain. It becomes real.

Death has many shapes and many faces.  It can be a death of a dream.  Of a friendship. Marriage.  A loss of the sense of security. Shattered trust. Or it can be a physical death of a loved one. Each death is a reminder. We live in a broken world. We all are on borrowed time.  Not knowing my own departure date makes each day all the more precious.  I can’t take this gift of life and all the marvelous variety wrapped inside it for granted. For I have no guarantees that I will be with you tomorrow. 

So teach us to number our days, that we may present to You a heart of wisdom. Psalm 90:12  

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

What the Piggy Taught Us By His Life – Gratitude

In the early days after George joined our family, I decided to experiment with him a little bit.  No, not that kind of experiment.  In fact, becoming a proud owner of an adorable guinea pig drastically redefined my casual use of the word ‘guinea-pig’ which, in my mind, always implied the disposable aspect of the species in the service of higher goals of medical science and advancement of human race.  Once a rodent becomes your pet, it’s rather offensive to see it as an experimental animal, but I am getting off subject….

Back then, a thought crossed my mind that guinea pigs might be trained to say ‘thank you’.  Perhaps not in the form and vocalization of the English or even Serbian language, but in a language widely known among rodents as Guineapiggish.  So, every time I gave George food, I also patted his back and asked him,

What do you say, George?  What do you sa-aay? in a sing-songy kind of voice. The kids started doing the same. Soon enough he begun responding with a loud brrrrr-brrrrr sound, which translated into English means thank you. This delighted us to no end and gave us special bragging rights. George became our Grateful Piggy.

It turns out training piggy to say ‘thank you’ is much easier than training humans to do the same. Of course, we already know that everything is much more complicated with humans, especially since I am not talking about the manners type of ‘thank you’ here (not that there is anything wrong with them).  But it is quite possible to have perfect manners and still whine and complain, grumble and blame. God’s Word, however, is unambiguous about this – God’s children are to give thanks in everything!

I understand that this is a sore topic in the world ridden with unbearable pain of loss, unspeakable evil, gross injustices and unfathomable atrocities committed every day, often by those entrusted with power and authority to use it for good rather than evil.  How do I thank God for this abuse? For this betrayal? For the broken heart? For shattered life?

God certainly doesn’t expect me to sugarcoat it.  David didn’t sugarcoat it.  Prophets didn’t sugarcoat it.  In fact, in their writings we see God’s own raw emotions in response to the evil acts of His own children. He hurts when we hurt – ourselves or others; because of our own or other people’s sin. If anybody knows about unjust suffering, it is Jesus. We must be careful not to trivialize pain by thoughtless spiritual platitudes.  

This still doesn’t give me the answer to giving thanks in everything.  I would much rather anesthetize my pain with a box of Pringles. But I also found that I can actually enter it. I can step into it armed with a purpose to patiently endure it, entrusting my mind and heart, soul and strength to the God who is bigger than my pain.  Who promised that He will one day put a complete end to it.  Who promised that He would use it for His good purposes. Sometimes, those are the only two hooks I can hang my faith on and choose gratitude.

After you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you. I Peter 5:10

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

What the Piggy Taught Us By His Life - The Unconditional Love

There was nothing, absolutely nothing that George needed to do in order for us to love him or love him any more than we already did.  We loved him simply for who he was.  We loved him for being our piggy, doing all the normal piggy things like eating, sleeping, floating in the kiddie pool, bouncing across our back yard into his piggy heaven, and playing with other piggies in our neighborhood.  We loved him for his fur and yawns and sneezes and for the way he would lay down his head when he was resting. He didn't need to earn or maintain our love by cleaning his cage or being less messy, or becoming more like his absolutely perfect girlfriend Tinkerbell. We delighted in him the way God created him, in his sweet laid-back personality that seemed to put everyone who came near him at wonderful ease.

When I reflect on all this, it makes me want to stop and ask myself a question:

If our capacity for love towards a tailless rodent that we neither invented nor created is such that it overflowed our lives, isn't then God’s love towards me and you all the more free, and glorious and uncontaminated by  merchandising spirit so often present in what is mistakenly called ‘love’ in our broken world?

The implications of the question actually puts me to shame, for I know very well that my capacity for love is extremely limited, tainted by often hidden self-serving motives and frequently influenced by other factors that have little to do with love.  But, even from this imperfect vantage point, I can get a tiny, microscopic glimpse into the vastness and perfection of God’s amazing love and the foolishness of my puny efforts to earn it or keep it.

Our lives are bookmarked by God’s love – the beginning, the end, and everything in between (Romans 8:38,39) .  Passionate, personal, relentless love of God revealed to us in His Son Jesus.  There is nothing we can do to add to it.  There is nothing we can do to earn it.  Just receive and keep receiving it in simple faith. Moment by moment.  Day by day.

For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. Ephesians 2:8-9

Monday, November 05, 2012

What the Piggy Taught Us By His Life - The Gift of Life

George was adopted into our family as an unexpected gift.   It was a head-over-heals love-at-first sight for me.  I can’t even begin to explain it – it’s a rodent we are talking about!  Then the kids saw him and that sealed the deal.  My husband being out of town might have helped just a little bit, because he is the rational, reasonable one in our household with the power of veto.  Of course, even though George was a gift, it was still our choice to take a risk, open our home and our hearts and receive him.  From the beginning, we knew that this choice assumed certain responsibilities, adjustments in our priorities and, eventually, a heartbreak. We could have declined. But, saying ‘no’ to the gift offered would have also closed the door to an opportunity for much joy and much growth for each member of our family. 

God gives us the gift of life.  This gift takes many diverse forms and every day we need to choose how to respond. Do we accept it, even embrace it?  Do we say ‘yes’, choose to step into the unknown and receive it as it were  by faith, trusting that everything that comes our way is filtered through the loving hands of a loving Father?   

Or do we shy away, fearful of all the possibilities for things to go wrong, fearful of pain it may bring?

Sometimes our ‘no’s are rooted in the heart of wisdom that recognizes our own individual limitations and capacities. We don’t need to say ‘yes’ to every offer that knocks on or door.  But, more often than not, our choice to say ‘no’ is guided by irrational fears and unresolved insecurities rather than love and faith. Where fear reigns over love and faith, our world shrinks down to a self-protective shell and something essentially human is lost in the exchange.

Is it worth it? Or not?

The ultimate gift of Life that God offers is the gift of Himself in the person of Jesus the Messiah.  But, just like any other gift, this one – amazing as it may be – can be rejected.  If received, it will change us forever – both joy and heartbreak we know nothing about will enter our lives. The alchemy of them working together will transform us into the man or the woman God intended us to become from the beginning – His very own son or daughter so we can be like Jesus - unique reflection of His person and character in this world and throughout eternity. With such promise, who can say it’s not worth it?!!!

He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him. But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. John 1:11-13

Friday, November 02, 2012

All Piggies Go To Heaven

It's a very sad day in our household.  Our precious, first ever family pet, guinea pig, George, went peacefully to sniff at the heavenly flowers early this morning.

I wouldn't want to argue with those who consider it frivolous to mourn the death of a tailless rodent when clearly the world is ridden with much more devastating losses.  There are many deaths in our world and each one carries a unique personal loss.

But it seems to me that when death knocks on our door, no matter how small it may appear, we have an opportunity to sink our teeth into communal experience of life in a broken world where death appears to have a final say. We individually taste, each of us in various degree our collective lot - facing Death itself.

For when you love something or someone, and it dies, a piece of your heart dies with it. And only God can heal our hearts when there is a hole left in it.

There is not a question in my mind that George was a furry messenger from God to our family - we learned SO MUCH from him during his life with us. But, even in his death, he continues to bring God's message of love and care to all those who have an ear to hear. With his simple life and his peaceful death, without ever saying a single word, he always pointed us to the One who created him and who created us all.  Who would have guessed that such a tiny pet could accomplish such an important job and leave such a big hole in our hearts when he left?!!!

Way to go, George.  You served the God who sent you into our family well. Enter into peace of your Piggy Heaven. We'll never forget you!

Are not two sparrows sold for a cent? And yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So do not fear; you are more valuable than many sparrows. Matthew 10:29-31

Thursday, November 01, 2012

The Scavenger Hunt

Until the summer I had a head-on collision with Jesus, my only experience with seriously ‘religious’ folks was a Seventh-Day Adventist boy from my first grade class who got into a lot of trouble because his parents didn't allow him to attend school on Saturdays (yes, we did have school 6 days a week before our communist government had mercy on us and put us on a Monday through Friday schedule).  I secretly wished my parents wouldn't allow me to go to school at least one day a week either – religious reasons or not - but they were good communist who believed strongly in the value of education, so I was out of luck. Other than D.Dj., I didn't know anybody – not a single soul - who believed in God, much less followed Jesus.

An orthodox priest who happened to be our neighbor didn't even try to pretend that his wearing the long black robe signifying his religious authority had anything to do with the existence of God.  His priestly office was just a job like any other that helped pay the bills and provided some extra money for Animal Kingdom chocolates and cheap brandy he seemed to enjoy very much.  I loved him dearly for lack of pretense and for introducing me into the fascinating world of collecting photos of exotic animals and putting them in well-protected albums.  We swapped the duplicates of our Animal Kingdom pictures while eating the thin chocolates, making sure the pictures remain pristine.  We never talked about God, or Jesus, or any other similar potentially volatile topic that could ruin our perfect friendship.  

But, everything was different now.  Sharing my personal story about meeting Christ with anyone who cared to listen was just a part of this new life of faith.  Living in the city with the population of more than 1.5 million people, I was convinced that tucked away somewhere there must be others who truly knew Jesus and was determined to ferret them out. I threw myself into scouring various resources in search for an evangelical church within a 100 miles radius. After a couple of weeks of research, I discovered that there were actually three, all relatively easily accessible with public transportation.  I was ecstatic. I couldn't wait to meet my new eternal family so we can grow, mature and live together happily ever after.