Friday, February 28, 2014

The Cracks in the Filling





The void, of course, was bigger… much bigger than any political, educational, or even religious system could fill.  It was a massive God-sized void never meant to be filled with anything else but Him and Him alone.

Time has a way of exposing the cracks in our filling.

It truly is a kindness, when you think of it, an invitation to quit trying to make it on our own.  But there is this stubborn streak in each of us that wants to figure it all out.  That wants to be in charge.  That fears letting go of control.   The scared, wounded child in each of us, starving for love, and affection, and protection. Somehow feeling the need to prove that he or she is worthy of love. Somehow needing to earn - even by the skin of our teeth - this right to be loved .

So when the leading communist party took charge and did away with corrupt religious institutions and their ‘god’, the move was largely welcomed by many. The useless religion – and, by association, the useless God - became obsolete, a crutch for the weak, an opiate for the masses, a pie in the sky for the old, uneducated grandmothers who didn’t know any better.

But, the boy who was now a father knew better than the old grandmas  – or so he thought.  He was determined to build a better world for his children. The world of abundant provision and protection, utterly different  from the one he’d known. Being a hard-working man he was already well on his way of fulfilling his dreams.  His college-educated daughters would have every advantage in life that the storms that battered his mountain had ripped out of his own. 

Everything that he was, everything that he had, he invested, he poured into this one thing. 

And now he learns that it wasn't enough.


Why? Why do you need God? We did everything… we gave… Didn’t we do… wasn’t it… enough?

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The Ghost of Christmas Past




What do you mean, ‘You became a Christian?!!’  Cried out the father, his face lobster-red.

I mean… I.. I met God… I … I… I fell.. fell in love with  Jesus… I mean… . The young woman’s usual eloquence left her as she scrambled for the right words to clothe her experience, her 'head-on collision' with God-dressed-in-human-flesh of the carpenter from Nazareth.

God?!! Jesus?!! You are out of your mind! Who bewitched you to talk such nonsense?

The young woman has never seen her father this enraged. In fact, she'd never seen him angry, period. 

What she didn't understand was that all this anger, all this rage was just a veneer to cover up her father's deep wounds, to hide his even deeper fear.  She didn’t realize it at the time that with her simple announcement she awakened the old ghost of Christmas past.  To her father, it was as if the-God-who-took-away-the-Christmas-ham came back decades later this time not for the ham, but to take away his daughter.

The man was devastated.

How could this be?!!! What did I do wrong?!!!

They were all happy atheists, unfettered by silly religious notions.  The catchy socialist slogans,

BROTHERHOOD AND UNITY!

ONE FOR ALL AND ALL FOR ONE!

CARING AND SHARING


resonated deeply with the woman’s father who longed for nothing more than the substance expressed in these words.  Both parents were sold out on the idea of the communist ideals. You can call them naïve. You can label them gullible. But when the communist party came into power it was in the aftermath of a brutal war, filling the void left behind… 

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Love At First Sight





When he first set his eyes on her, he was smitten. 

But what chance does a shy lad from the mountains have with the eyes of the color of the Adriatic on a stormy day?  

With the willow encircled by a flock of strutting peacocks?

When he was called for the compulsory military duty, he thought that was the end before anything even had an opportunity to begin. There was no way she would wait for him for three long years. Surrounded by all the garish suitors, pecking for her attention and affection. 

Alone, impossibly far away, hopeless and utterly powerless, he started writing.

Every day, tossed to and through on the bed of the seas - Adriatic, Mediterranean, Norwegian, Baltic, Aegean, Black - he poured his heart out on paper.

Every day he slipped his heart into an envelope and sealed it with his lips.

On the opposite end of the world, she started waiting for the letters from the quiet carpenter like parched ground waits for the rain.
Three years.  

One thousand letters.

But quiet water can carve its way through a mountain.

So, they got married.  Had one daughter.  And then another.

The boy who now was a father determined that his daughters would never be hungry.  Never go hungry for love.  Never go hungry for attention and affection.

And so, out of tattered suit of his childhood, of his dreams and disappointments, his hopes and heartbreaks this father, without even realizing, sew the best possible suit for the love of God to slip into his youngest daughter’s life.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Sore Thumb




In the flat-like-a-pancake land, the boy stood out like a sore thumb.  Especially when he opened his mouth.

Ha! We knew you are different! You are from… people said, recognizing his unmistakable accent. With that they thought they already knew everything there was to know about the boy and for some reason felt better about themselves. 

They shrugged their shoulders and went to their homes knowing that they belonged and thanked God that they were not foreigners like the orphan boy who spoke with a funny accent. 

So, the boy learned that listening is better than speaking and quiet is better than many words.  

As he moved through life, listening and quiet, he heard and noticed what most of us loud and chattering types tend to overlook. He became more gentle and tender, more caring and attentive to others, as if he somehow knew, as if he somehow understood that they too carried a burden too heavy for their shoulders.  

Even if nobody else could see it.  

Even if nobody else could notice.

And something deep would stir within the boy, something that felt like it was going to swallow him alive. But he couldn't allow it... He had to push it down, hard, hard, biting his lips, clenching his teeth, pushing back the rain cloud gathering on his eyelashes until the stirring subsided and he could breathe again.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Up By the Roots





Being the youngest of the siblings, the decision was made for him not long after his parents died that he would be better off if he left his home.

Better off?!!! How can one be better off all alone, far away from everything he’s ever known, far away from the rock-carved-out-of-mountain shed he called his home?... Far away from the place where he last saw his dad resting in a hole dug in the dirt with the felt hat sleeping on his chest…

But, decision was made and it was final.

So, he pulled up his tender roots and went across seven hills and seven rivers and arrived to a place flat like a pancake, no mountains anywhere in sight.  What a strange land that was!  The mountains was all he ever knew and he’d assumed that the entire earth must be one mountain range after another.  If there was no Sun in the sky one couldn’t tell which way it was rising and which way it set.

And the boy begun to learn the east from the west in this new world to which his skinny legs have carried him.

He could have become bitter.

He could have become angry or resentful or hateful or suspicious of life and everything in it, people and places, traditions and customs.

He could have tried to escape his misery and loneliness and emptiness in any of the millions of ways people try to escape their misery and loneliness and emptiness.

He could have, and nobody who knew his story would fault him for it, because he had every excuse to do it.

But, for some mysterious, inexplicable reason, he didn't.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Those Who Forget History...




One might argue that the boy’s father was reckless. That he should have held something back.  That he should have known better…shouldn’t have put all his eggs in one basket…

Should have…

Could have…

Regardless of what you and I might think or say today from the safe perch of 'historical perspective'.... 

Regardless of how we reason and judge seated in our comfy armchairs...

... sheltered from

the noise and

the chaos and

the pounding of the heart and

the smell of burning

... that we can turn off when dinner is ready... the news receding into a dump-pile of oblivion with the rest for they reach us but they don't touch us...

...

But, the boy saw, and heard, and smelled, and his heart trembled at the fierce wind blowing down the slopes of his mountains, descending  with the roar of engines onto his village.

Piercing the nights with the rat-ta-ta-tas of machine guns.

Upturning his father's basket and everything contained in it. 

The same fiery wind was still blowing as the boy watched his father planted into the ground like one plants a potato.  With his dandy felt hat resting on his motionless chest.


Then he watched, numb, the clumps of dirt cover his mom too.

The money in the burlap sacks turned into ashes.  Overnight.

The little boys understand very little of the big man’s games.  Dangerous games that men with guns play. He understood even less of papier-Mâché  governments.

The new paper money was printed by the new paper Mache government, declaring all the old paper worthless. Simple as that.

No father. No mother. No money. No hope. No God. At least not the one who takes Christmas ham.

The year was 1942.



Wednesday, February 19, 2014

The Coming Storm





The father was pained by the villagers’ ignorance, but was left with very few options.  So, one day he neatly packed all the money he had brought from America into a worn-out leather bag, took his youngest son with him, got on a bus and traveled for several hours through the mountains until they finally reached a city where a place called bank was located.

The city was absolutely magical to the boy's eyes - glistening white, with beautiful buildings and breathtaking sparkly azure that splashed along it’s edges.

The people who worked in the bank seemed to understand the value of the money the father brought and appeared to be really happy to exchange it for their paper money. The money the father received in exchange for one leather bagful filled up several burlap bags. The boy couldn't believe his eyes – he has never seen so much money in one place, and it all belonged to his father.  The ride back home felt like but a moment, such was the happiness of the boy. 

Sitting next to his dad on the lumpy bus seat, the boy suddenly realized, his impossible dreams – the two-room house AND the car - were now quite within his reach. And it made the boy overjoyed, more joy than he ever imagined possible, for he finally felt safe, and secure and well-provided for… He had his father back.


The father, however, didn’t seem to share the boy’s happiness. Most of the ride back he spent clutching the bags that were stacked around his feet, looking out of the dirty bus window. When the bus finally stopped at the village inn, he said,


We must hurry.  The storm is approaching. 

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Where Dollar is Worthless




Overnight their dirt-poor family became quite a celebrity.  Very quickly it became known throughout the Dalmatian mountains and valleys that the American has returned and has brought back a boatload of money.  From mouth to mouth, the boatload swiftly grew into a mountain of wealth of epic proportions.

Everybody knew that this father has been gone for a very long time. And, even if half of what was known of his character was true, he must have saved every hard-earned penny, working all kinds of jobs, day and night, scraping and saving, saving and scraping, thinking of his family, dreaming of the day when all the years of  sacrifices – his and theirs - will finally be richly rewarded.

And the day has arrived at last!

No wonder that everyone was shocked when the money that the boy’s father brought from the far-off country, turned out to be quite useless in their village. 


See, this village was rather remote and the villagers had not much contact with the outside world. Daily their world revolved around minding their vineyards and minding the tobacco fields, and the few scrawny goats and donkeys that grazed on scrawny bramble bushes scattered over the side of the mountain. 

Nobody had seen much less held a dollar note.  They recognized neither names or the faces, nor the language of this foreign currency.  Some even begun to laugh and mock the boy’s father that the money isn’t real at all and it had absolutely no value except for maybe starting fire on the open hearth. 

Monday, February 17, 2014

The Return of the Father



One day, quite unexpectedly, the boy’s father returned from the Land of Promise. After years and years of being away, he traveled the long perilous journey back home, back across seven hills and seven seas that splash against those unattainable shores of the continent where nobody goes hungry, where all children have a pair of shoes  and all dreams come true. 

The man came back wearing a fancy new suit (or at least it looked new and fancy to the boy because he had never seen anybody ever wearing anything remotely as fine as this man’s suit) and sporting a fancy new  top hat. 

The whole village gathered together to see the little boy’s father – and he was quite a sight to behold, looking nice and dandy in his swanky suit and in his swanky hat. Immediately the villagers gave him a nickname that was tailor-made for him just as the suit seemed to be.
 
American.

The boy couldn’t believe his luck he had to pinch himself.

But it was true - his dad was really back! 

His heart was doing cartwheels inside his chest and everything else within him was filled with warmth and joy and silliness he didn't know existed. He thought he was going to burst. He sneaked surreptitious glances at this amazing stranger that looked like him… or rather, he looked like the stranger. 

But he wasn’t a stranger! 

He actually got to call him his father – his dad! And the boy was dizzy with happiness  – more happiness than he’s ever known in his short life - thinking that he gets to be called this man's son.  

Friday, February 14, 2014

Love Like Valentine




I learned the following about the origin of Valentine’s Day from This Day in History:

Under the rule of Claudius the Cruel, Rome was involved in many unpopular and bloody campaigns. The emperor had to maintain a strong army, but was having a difficult time getting soldiers to join his military leagues. Claudius believed that Roman men were unwilling to join the army because of their strong attachment to their wives and families.


To get rid of the problem, Claudius banned all marriages and engagements in Rome. Valentine, realizing the injustice of the decree, defied Claudius and continued to perform marriages for young lovers in secret.
 
When Valentine's actions were discovered, Claudius ordered that he be put to death. Valentine was arrested and dragged before the Prefect of Rome, who condemned him to be beaten to death with clubs and to have his head cut off. The sentence was carried out on February 14, on or about the year 270. 

...

I find it a bit incredulous that what vicious emperor tried to eradicate, what one man was willing to die for, we surrender and abdicate of our own free will every day.  All around the world, husbands and wives alike get sacrificed along with their children on altars of endless work, mindless entertainment and even  noble-sounding Christian service.


The cruel ruler understood what we so easily overlook – that a man with deep affection and ties to his one wife, to his baby girl and a teenage boy will think twice before he gambles it all away in a senseless war.

Apparently young men of Rome grasped and even fought for something some of us might need to learn or relearn, not just on Valentine’s but also every other ordinary day of the year.




Husbands, go all out in your love for your wives. Ephesians 5:25

…Encourage them to love their husbands, to love their children. Titus 2:4

He will restore the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of the children to their fathers. Malachi 4:6

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Meant for Good



And so we wait and watch the little boy’s lanky body grow and see him own his first pair of shoes at about age of eight. The records were not kept very well during that time and nobody knew exactly what his real birthday was, so he had one pulled out of a hat so to speak and assigned to him.  

Like any other boy his age, he dreamt big impossible dreams – building a brick-and-mortar house with at least two rooms, for example. Or even more preposterous, driving his very own car!

And we must let the little boy vow under the empty heaven that if he ever had children, he would never, never EVER allow them to see their heavenly ham disappear on the day before Christmas.  

And there would be no church and no religion, no God and no heaven, just a vast empty sky. And all the love and all the sacrifice and all the protection and provision must be given… must come from a father’s ordinary, merely human heart.  

And  he would never EVER allow his little boy or his little girl, if he had a girl, go without... go hungry for love.

And with that my Dad tumbled headlong and heartlong into the loving heavenly trap without even knowing.


Don’t be afraid. Do I act for God? Don’t you see, you planned evil against me but God used those same plans for my good, as you see all around you right now. Genesis 50:20 

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

And Justice For All




Now, if I was authoring the story, at this time I would assume the role of deus ex machina, I would rip the curtain apart and step in,  crying out from the top of my voice,

Treason and treachery! Treachery and treason! Those who claim to be the King’s servants must follow in their King’s footsteps. They must act justly! Defend the defenseless! Protect the poor!

Like some celestial vigilante, I would feel the urge to intervene and execute divine justice speedily, right there and then. Vindicate the innocent.  Punish the wicked.  

The plot would include at least one sudden horrible chocking death, perhaps of the Priest #1 that very night, preferably as he is trying to stuff his face with a greasy piece of the pig, too large for his mouth. The rest I would allow to suffer miserably from high blood pressure and high cholesterol which would turn into coronary artery disease (a fitting picture of their true heart condition!)  that would eventually lead to their premature deaths.  All this and more would happen if I was writing the story.

But, good or bad, like it or not, access to that divine right hasn’t been granted to me and I am forced to stand right next to you with my hands tied, mute and helpless. And together we must watch and wait, we must seek out and investigate the ways of the divine justice which are rarely quite so immediate and Sunday-school, fill-in-the-blanks obvious, so efficient and algorithmical. Rarely so, should I say... crass... and grotesque?

Together...

...we...

... must...

...wait...

... and watch... 

...watch...

... and wait...


'I don’t think the way you think.' Says the LORD.  'The way you work isn’t the way I work. For as the sky soars high above earth, so the way I work surpasses the way you work, and the way I think is beyond the way you think.'  Isaiah 55:8-9

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

The Price of Heaven




Nobody noticed when the ham slipped out of the tiny smokehouse on Christmas Eve day, wrapped inside my grandmother’s tattered apron, cradled in her skin-and-bone arms,.

Nobody noticed that along with the ham, a piece of heaven slipped out of a little boy’s heart.

Nobody knows what went on behind the furrowed woman’s brow as she braved the bitter-cold whistling wind up the narrow stone-walled path.

Nobody knows what other weight did she carry on her heart even as she carried the ham and gave it as a gift, as a Christmas offering to the men of the cloth.

There is no record of what happened to the fateful ham on the next day. 

Maybe the priests made a big feast for all the poor and hungry, lame and crippled who gratefully received it and blessed God for His gracious provision. 

Or maybe the priests shared it among themselves, wiping their mouths as they patted their bulging waistlines, without any awareness that they might have done anything wrong.  And they thanked God for His generous provision.


Certain mysteries remain forever wrapped inside a mother’s greasy apron and cloaked inside the heaven's mysterious ways..


There was no Christmas feast for the little boy that year. But the emptiness of his 6-year-old heart hurt badder than the emptiness of his stomach.

And in his little 6 year-old-mind God-of-the-lavish-Christmas-feast became God-who-takes-away-the-ham-from-the-hungry that year. 

And God watched it all happen and didn’t do a thing.

Funny things that God allows in His name. 

Monday, February 10, 2014

Broken Heart



I broke my Dad’s heart the day I told him I fell in love with Jesus.

I was so young and enthusiastic and so happy to share this great news with my family.

But what was supposed to be good news turned out to be very very bad news for my mom and dad.  My mom wept like she just heard the news I’d died. My dad didn’t say a word but the anguish spelled out across his face spoke more than all the volumes of Tolstoy’s War and Peace combined ever could.

I was stunned.

I didn’t understand it at the time. How could I know that something that had happened decades before I was even born would leave such a scar on the tender soul a young boy who would become my dad.

It was Christmas time.  The family was so poor that they couldn’t afford to eat meat except for that one special day during the entire year.  The father was off to America, seeking better life in hope of bringing it back to his impoverished family. The mother was left alone on the barren slopes of the mountains of Dalmatia with five children and their seemingly insatiable appetites.


But, once a year they got to feast until they were full.  Until they felt one bite more and they will pop. 

There was a large smoked ham, home-made butter, and corn pudding. Goat milk. They could eat and drink as much as they wanted . The rest 364 days there just wasn’t enough food for all the hungry mouths to feel satisfied. 

But, this one day… this one glorious holy day, filled with aroma of baked ham and drippings, and lavish mounds of corn mush… it was like waking up and discovering in dizzying wonder that you woke up in heaven.

Saturday, February 08, 2014

Fatherly Love



We all have issues with God. 

We think He is not doing His job.

Or, He is not doing His job the way I would like Him to do it.

His timing is off. 

I don’t think I can really trust Him. Does He see me?  Is He even listening?!!!

Our perception of God, for better or for worse, is influenced by other authorities in our lives, especially our fathers.

I was incredibly fortunate to have a father who made my child job of trusting exceptionally easy. I have picture after picture of my Dad and me embedded deeply in my mind and heart that to this day nourish my sense of well-being and safety with him near.  This has made me a fearless risk-taker to a fault, because I know no matter how badly I may fail, I will always have my Dad on my side. Of course, I had to learn the wisdom lesson along the way, but that's for another story. 

When the love of God knocked on my door, it slipped easily and comfortably into the suit of bones-and-flesh provided by my wonderful earthly dad.

An atheist at the time, he has been an amazing example of God’s unconditional love for me.  

As long as I can remember I’ve known beyond a shadow of a doubt that this humble, quiet, hard-working, deeply emotional man loved me with all his heart, and all his thoughts, and all his plans, and all his feelings towards me were love and love alone.  

Funny how God works. 





Friday, February 07, 2014

From Bankruptcy to Riches




I can’t give what I don’t have.

I can’t have unless I receive.  

Jesus’ cousin John AKA the Baptist said once that a man can receive nothing unless it has been given him from heaven.  John 3:27

I can’t receive anything unless it has been given me from heaven.

This is a game changer for all of us. This puts each of us in a place of have-nothings, empty-handed receivers. Heavenly beggars. It's not about what you and I can manufacture on our own. What you and I can clobber together relying on our own wits and wisdom. 

This is wonderfully liberating for both you and me.  I can't expect you to give me what you don't have.  You can't demand that I give you what I don't possess. 

We must first receive before we are able to give.  

We can’t love unless we know we are loved.

We love because He first loved us. I John 4:19

My problems begin when I try, try so hard, to love before receiving God’s amazing love for me.  I must receive His love first, before I am able to give it away - a modest reflection of His free, unconditional, joyful, no strings, no chain-links attached, simple, unadulterated love.

Some of us have a very hard time receiving.  We don't want to be indebted. We don't want to owe anything to anyone.  Including God. 
 
But, if I don’t receive and keep receiving this heavenly love, the ‘love’ I give will inevitably become tainted by self-interest or pride or both. My "love" becomes a commodity that allows me to get something in return on the bustling world love market. It becomes denomination with purchasing power so I can afford my worth, earning me the credentials to breathe the air and occupy space on this earth. 

But is that really love?

And if it isn't, what is?  What is this God-kind-of-LOVE I must receive before I am able to begin spelling l-o-v-e with the alphabet of my own life? 

This is the kind of love we are talking about—not that we once upon a time loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to clear away our sins and the damage they’ve done to our relationship with God. I John 4:10

Thursday, February 06, 2014

Love is Simple




Once I grasp not just with my head but with my heart that all these achievements, all my accomplishments eventually lead to bankruptcy if I don’t have love, my life suddenly becomes rather simple.

Yes, I still understand that we live in a complicated world and our own complicated selves add complications to our lives. But, amidst all the complexities, amidst all the complications, one and one thing only transpires over and above it all.

When Jesus was asked what the most important commandment was in the entire Law, what was the greatest rule for living, He gave this answer:

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets. Matthew 22:37-40

Love God.

Love your neighbor.

Simple?

Yes.

Easy?

Absolutely not!

In fact, it’s not just that it’s not easy. 

It’s impossible!

If you don’t agree, do a trial run.  For a week. Or even for a day.  By the end of the day, if we are honest with ourselves, every one of us will admit that our love account is bankrupt as well.


Without this realization of all-out bankruptcy, it’s impossible to enter into the kind of life God desires for us to live.  But when we finally do realize it, we are ready to begin receiving what God has been intending for us all along. 

Monday, February 03, 2014

Love is Complicated




I find Paul’s sweeping words about love complicating my life tremendously. 

I realize that there is a part of me that wants to speak eloquently, and experience God with my whole being, and I want to understand the difficult matters of faith and help others do the same; I want to trust God for the mountains of my life and see them gone, sunken to the bottom of the sea, and I want to be generous until it hurts.

But the question is, what if God desires to reveal Himself through my stuttering or even silence rather than eloquence?

What if God deems my emptiness being a greater treasure than angelic ecstasy?

What if He leaves me in the dark, confused, and baffled over His words and work in my own or other people’s lives?

Will I still want Him?

Will I still love Him?

Will I still trust and rest in His love for me?
 
Or will I insist that I have what His pierced hand withheld, following the rest in chasing after recognition and validation that comes from man? 

Will I gather up my worth in the sieve of man or will I wait until He comes and reveals things that are hidden?

Part of me wants to slam the Book shut and run in the opposite direction, because I don’t like what I see in this mirror.

But, another part of me says,

Stop! Wait! There is more here… more freedom, more validation, more love than you could ever find looking elsewhere…


And I realize as much as Paul’s words may complicate my life, they are also making it incredibly simple. 

Saturday, February 01, 2014

All We Need Is...




 It's the catch-all word that spans our relationship with lasagna to our relationship with a dog or guinea pig, to our relationship with our life-long, thick-and-thin, for-better-or-for-worse, sickness-and-health spouse or a child. We use it to describe how we felt about a movie, old shoes, news sofa.

When we have it, we often take it for granted.  When we don't, life seems meaningless and not worth living.

It's the one thing every person you meet today (including the one that greets you in the mirror) needs as much (or more!) as their food and water. It always leaves it's undeniable, unmistakable mark on anything with do - cooking and cleaning,  pottery and parenting.

Without it...

Well, this is how Eugene Peterson in The Message describes it's absence in our lives:

If I speak with human eloquence and angelic ecstasy but don’t love, I’m nothing but the creaking of a rusty gate.

If I speak God’s Word with power, revealing all his mysteries and making everything plain as day, and if I have faith that says to a mountain, “Jump,” and it jumps, but I don’t love, I’m nothing.



If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don’t love, I’ve gotten nowhere. 

So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I’m bankrupt without love.

I Corinthians 13:1-3

No matter what I say...

No matter what I believe...

No matter what I do...

I am bankrupt

Without love.