Sunday, November 09, 2008

Some time ago I wrote a long very personal letter to a friend. There was a misunderstanding between us, a difference in perspective and opinion, and my commitment to our relationship seemed to require a thoughtful, honest and loving explanation of who I am and where I was coming from in the matter. I spent several days over this message, carefully pondering what is important to convey and what is not, in order to ensure that there is a better understanding, a broadening of our ways as we live Christ-life in this world and that our friendship would be strengthened rather than weakened as a result. The letter was finally completed and I sent it off. It was as if I’d sent a piece of my deepest me by the click of a mouse. I eagerly waited for the response. I got it. In one short sentence there was a polite acknowledgment of the receipt and a generic “hope for the best”. And that was all. I kept waiting. And waiting. I worked hard trying to understand how such a letter could generate such anemic response. What I sent wasn’t a mass mailer, a forwarded forward of something somebody 8 degrees removed forwarded to somebody else. It was personal. It was my heart and soul and mind. For days I did my best to show grace and understanding – being myself deluged by the plethora of reading material – even good reading material and the careful selection of what I must and what I simply can not afford to read in the context of the constraints of a busy ministry and family life we all live. In my head I could fully explain such inexplicable response, but my heart…. my heart was tottering under a boulder weighing a ton. I couldn’t bear it anymore. I went to the Lord and poured my complaint before Him. The accusations and the explanations. What I did and said in the letter, and most importantly why. The deep, deep disappointment over how it was received, the frustration that I couldn’t “just get over it”, for what’s the big deal?!!! It’s just a letter! I was only about half-way done with the presentation of my case when from the depths of my soul came an echo, I understand.

I understand
?!!! I stopped mid-sentence. I understand? Was God of the Universe trying to tell me that He understands? I stepped out of my little puddle of self-pity and pondered the two simple words. The “I” of the Word of God, the great I AM who not only spoke the world into existence but went through the trouble of enlisting dozens of willing and unwilling individuals over a period that spans centuries in order to give us, to write down for us the heart of His very heart and the mind of His very mind so that the most misunderstood living Person can reveal Himself to us and as a result rebuild, fortify and expand our friendship. He meticulously chose not only what to say but also how to say it so we can know Him – know Him as He truly is, not as we project Him to be – making Him a conglomeration of our own prejudices, limitations and hurts. Then He sends off the letter. And He waits. And waits. And waits. We may politely acknowledge the receipt and periodically skim over the words, too busy, too preoccupied to connect with the heart of the Author. Feeling misunderstood still?
My droplet of grief merged with the ocean of love and sorrow.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

I found some rogue blooms in my garden today – surviving offspring of their outlawed parents. Outrageously bold they banned their heads together in an eye-catching display of brilliant orange and yellow on a gloomy, overcast day. I didn’t plant them. I didn’t want them. But, somehow, their rebellious audacity warmed my heart and lightened its burden on this day.

Sometimes I think, I don’t like this plant in my garden. I’ll pull it up and put something else in its place. I’ll do all I can to ensure this will grow here and this won’t.

I have a vision for my garden, what it should, or shouldn’t be. But God, in His infinite wisdom, love and mercy messes up my landscaping dream and causes the blooms of His own desire and design. Should I not rejoice in them and receive from His hand the unexpected, even the unwanted? Isn’t both the garden and those who tend it His own to do as He pleases – by His unrivaled yet mysterious hand creating beauty and hope out of what brings me disappointment and frustration? So, I look at the brilliant faces of the audacious rebels and ask myself if I should redouble my effort in stomping them out, refusing the joy because I haven't chosen them? Or do I yield to their beauty and surrender to the unseen hand carrying out purposes which are so much bigger than my little patch of land and the scrupulous strategies I diligently apply to protect it.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

We went trick-or-treating with some dear friends of ours last night. Four days before Election Day. As we walked from house to house, there was a sign in somebody’s front yard, “Obama for President.” Our friend’s son (who is also Caleb’s best friend) made a remark about the sign and announced that he didn’t like Obama. He liked McCain.

The Pandora’s Box of current political turmoil flew open and its contents exploded into our faces.

What do you mean?!!!!
Exclaimed Caleb who I'd thought had remained largely ignorant of the impassioned debates of this election season. His simple black-and-white world was splashed with the brilliant colors of conflicting emotions. My mom, my sister and I are voting for Obama! Then he added, My dad is voting for McCain. His shocking pronouncement reverberated through the civic-conscious parts of our group of trick-or-treaters.

This is the first time that Nathan and Caleb disagreed on anything. Their shared passion for Legos, Star Wars and harassment of their baby sisters has fueled their extraordinarily harmonious relationship since the day they set eyes on each other. My husband was mortified. I was both mortified and found the situation quite hilarious. Our friends were mildly bewildered. They looked at me. I guess there was an unspoken assumption that we all agree, if not on everything, then at least on the choice of the candidate. My own personal wrestling with the decision as well as the process have remained largely …well - personal. I clarified Caleb’s statement by saying that I am still undecided. We couldn’t really engage in a deeper conversation about my own grappling with this year’s elections. I wasn’t too concerned about this, knowing that our friendship, love, appreciation and respect for each other would carry us through even the most turbulent waters of current politics. However I was concerned about Caleb and Nathan’s launch out of the honeymoon phase of their David-and-Jonathan friendship into a bumpy political landing.

When we returned to the house I called Nathan, who is a bit older, to me and said, Nathan, how are you and Caleb going to solve this Obama-McCain deal? He shook his head dejectedly, a worried look all over his face. I may have an idea, I said and bent over, whispering in his ear, You just love each other, honey. You keep loving each other. When the time came for us to say our good byes, Caleb and Nathan hugged each other with this inseparable, crack-each-other’s-ribs looong hug. The next morning I asked Caleb the same question I asked Nathan the previous night. I think we already solved it, Mom, he said, We already solved it.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Every day on the way to school we walk by a small retention pond. Wild ducks, white herons, and large turtles have made their home around this enclosed piece of prime, lakefront real estate. Few days ago, on the far side of the pond there stood another animal I haven’t seen around before. It was too far to discern what it is as it stared motionlessly at the murky water. But then it started to move. And as we watched it move, it became obvious it was a cat. We knew from the way it walked, from the way it moved that it was a cat. The way it walked revealed its identity. It is the way you and I walk that reveals our identity. The way we cook, the way we eat, the way we wait, the way we go, the way we vote, the way we win, the way we lose, the way, the way, the way...

Enoch walked with God; then he was no more, because God took him away. Genesis 5:24

For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light Ephesians 5:8

To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in His steps. I Peter 2:21

Saturday, October 04, 2008

My Garden May Need Me, But I Need It Even More

Yesterday I got to talk with my dad and in the course of our conversation he asked,

How’s your garden?

My garden? How’s my garden?... How IS my garden?!!

Coming from anybody else the simple question would have unleashed an avalanche of guilty excuses, a flimsy attempt to justify my wobbling priorities. But from my dad… Not only do my dad and I share a passion for outdoor activities, gardening especially, but he also loves me and knows me, since I am his daughter. His question was a form of thermometer, a loving check if I am taking proper care of myself as I am busy caring for the whole world and a few universes beyond.

In the garden I am in touch (literally!) with the dust from which I was made, an amazing and humble reminder of who I am and who I am not. Its patient ways of endurance, the dynamics of its constants and ongoing changes, its setting in the larger context of the sky above and beautiful (albeit weed ridden!) earth below have a way of freeing me (at least temporarily) from my dogmatism, pettiness and steam-roller intensity, making me an altogether more pleasant person to be around. Being hard-working introvert like my dad, time alone to think and work, ponder and sweat is an absolute necessity, right up there with food and water and rest. Over the years, we have spent many hours working together or side by side, weeding and pruning, uprooting and planting, marveling at the amazing world around us and relishing each other’s company. Knowing all this, my dad’s question wasn’t surprising and yet, in another sense, it did catch me off guard since it’s been… what?... maybe months, that I actually worked in the garden, other than fulfilling my civic duty of every-other-week mowing of the front lawn (the back yard getting not nearly as much attention!). Have I not known my dad’s heart and his love for me (more than my garden!), I would have felt enormously guilty.

Aaah, my garden…
I replied with a chuckle. It looks great considering the amount of time I spend… or rather, not spend in it.

I don’t know if it was a quiet conviction of his caring question or a faint memory of why I actually enjoy being in the garden, getting dirty and sweaty, but this morning I decided that I need my garden as much as my garden needs me. So, I put on my grubby clothes and got out there to get an accurate assessment of the current condition. I started out with the parts that are obvious, and generally kept in decent order. Not bad, not bad… I thought with relief. Then I moved further to the right and further to the left and what I found was a mess! Over the past couple of months, many plants have died and many have clearly suffered from neglect, disease and extreme summer weather. Everything, I mean, everything was covered in encyclopedia-worthy assortment of weeds, some several feet tall. I thought of my sunny report to my dad and laughed at my optimistic ignorance. If this is great, than I am Michael Phelps!

I plunged into work and reflection and as I worked the ground I couldn’t escape the glaring connections between the condition of my garden and condition of my soul. With each dig of the shovel sunken into dried up dirt, I could sense my heart’s soil loosening and losing its crusty shell under the gentle hand of the master Gardener who is also my Dad. It dawned on me that this peculiar and personal interaction the two of us have established amidst the dirt and the weeds of my garden has taken much deeper root in the heart of this city girl than she realized! I do need my garden as much (or more!) as my garden needs me – not to prove anything, or accomplish some work that will be evaluated and approved by my Father (or my father). I need the garden because over the years it has become a sanctuary, a place to think, process, pray, cry and listen to the One who created me and speaks this strange language of my earth-bound soul.

Friday, September 19, 2008

It was through an unrelated unfolding of circumstances that I became a privy to the expounding of the same event by two different individuals. With the one I share a gut-level personal and vocational history while with the other I live under the same general umbrella of external commonalities. My introduction into the story came first from the gut-friend. Then my umbrella-friend came by and casually related their observations of the same events. The disbelief about how different the story and the take on it was superglued my feet to the floor! As my umbrella-friend chatted away, a word came to me I couldn’t ignore, They are only telling you what they think you want to hear. What?! Are you talking about me? Or my friend? I almost muttered loudly. As I listened to the chatty account, a growing sense of sadness filled my mind and heart. I wondered why anybody would tell me only what they think I want to hear. Are they afraid of how I may respond? Do they not want to hurt my feelings by giving me a piece of harsh reality? Is there a privilege that may be lost by exposing the truth? Is it simply easier to keep polishing the veneer and ignore the messy chaos churning underneath? And how can anybody presume upon knowing what I want to hear? Where is the truth then? It is sacrificed on the altar of happy talk and mutual back-patting. Maybe next time I talk to a friend I need to ask, Do you want me to tell you only what I think you want to hear or do you want to hear the whole story? And the other way around, Are you going to tell me only what you think I want to hear, or are you going to tell me the real story?

Thursday, September 18, 2008

There is a song we sing in our classroom I absolutely hate, Mom. I want to get up, take the CD and break it in two! complained my son as he munched on his blueberry mini-wheats this morning. Visualizing this getting up and breaking the CD in two while his first grade teacher is watching in disbelief immediately got my attention.

What song is it, my dear?

It’s that song, We got the whole world in our hands, we got the whole wide world in our hands... I hate it. It’s not true.

Aaah, it’s a variation of that song, He’s got the whole world in His hands, isn’t it? I said and proceeded to sing the original version. He nodded enthusiastically and started singing with me. Then he said, See, that’s why I hate singing it in school. We don’t have the whole world in our hands, God does!

Chuckling on the inside to observe the frustrations of the prophet-in-training plaguing our entire gene pool, I pondered how to respond. In a split second I was immersed in my own dilemmas of being a follower of the Jesus way in a world that out of ignorance or arrogance rejects His way and establishes its own. I also remembered my own childhood when I cheerfully sang blatant communist propaganda rhymes to the tune of Ode to joy (of all things :-)!) without even realizing that there was a God-centered original that lost its core in the take-of.

Then I slowly but deliberately walked over to him, scooped him up into my arms and as I begun to tickle him and kiss him all over, I kept asking, In whose hands are you now? In whose hands are you?

Yours! He giggled and wiggled, And God’s, too!, I added. See, the whole world IS in God’s hands, but He has also given it to us, to love it and care for it under His guidance and provision. So, in a sense, both are true – the whole world is in God’s hands, but He also has given it to us so we can learn to care for it the way God intends. We don’t have to break the CD, or cry out, Foul! when we hear the distortion of His songs (although we may feel like doing it!). What we need to do is lovingly show what it is like to care for the little piece of God’s real estate entrusted to us, the part “we hold in our hands” not in our own but in God’s way.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Vacation n. (from Latin vacare, to be empty) 1. freedom from any activity; rest; respite; intermission 2. a period of rest and freedom from work, study, etc.; time of recreation, usually a specific interval in a year 3. the act of making vacant

Vacant adj. (from Latin vacare to be empty) 1. having nothing in it; devoid of contents; empty, void; 2. not filled or occupied; 3. not filled with activity or work; free; leisure

Getting away for a vacation this summer was like attempting to get off I-4 at the right exit during Friday afternoon bumper-to-bumper traffic. As June and July rolled into August, we kept missing one exit after another, moving further and further away from a chance to spend some valuable time together as a family while the off-ramp of the beginning of the school year was approaching us like a freight train. The main culprit for this congestion has been Doug’s work load which, rather than diminishing, exploded with the beginning of the summer. Twelve new language recordings of a recently produced movie Magdalena – Released from Shame started spinning on his plate like 12 miniature hurricanes, all ready to make a landfall in the early fall.

I felt a growing sense of urgency to step out of this crammed-up tunnel where we are (or at least we think we are) in charge into that Reality in which it is hilariously obvious that God is God and we are not - the spacious universe of empty and void where the Spirit of God can hover over the deep of our souls and speak again the Word of Life, re-creating and re-newing, enlarging and energizing our shriveled-up, tunnel-vision existence.

Against all hope, exactly one week before school started we loaded up the car and headed to Englewood, Florida where some dear friends graciously allowed us to use their trailer. Having resisted the internal pressure to jam-pack our time with all the fun and exhausting activities suitable for an average vacationing family, I still felt restless and unsettled upon our arrival. As we were unloading the junk from our car, I grumbled a prayer, There, God! Here we are. If You wish, show Yourself to us. We sure NEED it!

The next day we grabbed a handful of sand toys, PB&J sandwiches and some drinking water and trotted off to the beach. When we got there, we encountered no burning bush (although the sand was pretty hot under our feet) and no lightening or thunder (whew!). What I did notice was how BIG the beach was – much bigger than our kitchen or laundry room, our house or the back yard, or even the sprawling Campus Crusade for Christ Headquarters! It stretched out endlessly as far as you can see in both directions, and it offered (free of charge!) unlimited supply of sculpting material which, during the course of our vacation we formed into a giant sea turtle and a bona fide Florida Snowman :-). There were nesting grounds of sea turtles lovingly marked off with yellow tape triangles and hidden treasures of seashells, baby crabs and shark teeth buried all around!

There were no guards and no gates (at least not the kind of gates to keep people out). The only rule spelled out was Swim at Your Own Risk with a map of what to do if caught in a rip current. No No Diving, no No Running, not even Wear Your Swimsuit at All Times. But nothing could have prepared us for the shock of seeing six-foot foaming giants relentlessly pounding the shore which sent dread up and down our spines. For a while, we just stood there in the shallows, hopelessly trying to secure our footing in the constantly shifting sand. But, as we watched the bodysurfers and people on boogie-boards having a time of their lives, the dance of the ocean emerged, beckoning us to jump in. Within minutes we were completely won over by this wild beast, getting drenched again and again, seaweeds hanging over our heads, submerged and surrendered, going down and popping back up, going down again, following its intrinsic rhythm, dancing according to its beat. We were like newly hatched baby sea turtles who have struggled their way down the hot, dry sand to the refreshing home where they truly belong.

And even though we were so small in this all-encompassing vastness, it was as if our joy and the dance, our fear and surrender mattered immensely; as if at least some of the ocean’s many mysterious purposes were being fulfilled in this free interplay between its waves and both big and little children frolicking in the foamy hem of his garment. Of course, it is hard to have fun in the ocean standing at a safe distance on dry ground, trying to keep your hair from getting all messed up or even trying to keep your head above water. We have to let go, we have to get dunked, we have to get drenched. And in the dunking, in the drenching, the hard shell cracks and the new life of another baby sea turtle joins in the dance.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Last week we went to our favorite Farmer’s Market and bought a few plump, “please-bite-into-me” handfuls of cherries. I love cherries. As a kid (and not just a kid!) I used to climb on our neighbor’s tree in a village near Belgrade, sit on a big, sturdy branch and eat to my heart’s fullness, my legs dangling down, waving at the ground at least ten feet below.

I must admit that while enjoying the fruit of the tree it didn’t even cross my mind to consider the intricate connections between the fruit in my mouth and the stem to which it was attached – which, in turn, was attached to the twig, attached to the branch, attached to the tree, attached to the root which, with its elaborate system of capillaries was attached to the loamy soil beneath – all this in just one direction. In the other and all around there was the Sun, the rain, the air; alterations in weather in their slow yearly rotations - the seasons, as we like to call them, which with their periods of growth and dormancy, blossoms and the harvest produce this amazing juicy feast – a delight to the eyes and the taste buds, a celebration of life and an excavation of joy laying dormant in seemingly simple, ordinary experiences.

The inescapable but often overlooked fact is that somebody must have planted and taken care of the tree with love and patience (and lots of hard work!) – pruned it in its season, maybe grafted in a better, more durable or blight-resistant variety, sprayed it against harmful insects and disease so that over a number of years the tree became not only a quiet fruit producing factory, but also a refuge from the heat; a home for the baby swallows; the place for the children to hang an old tire and swing around and around, their laughter bouncing off other trees in the orchard; a firm pillow to lean against while taking a Sunday afternoon nap in its shade; purifying lungs for the entire neighborhood; a quiet secret-keeper; an ever-present, non-judgmental confidant to the brokenhearted and despairing.

My ego-centric, consumerism-driven appetite saw none of this but the cherries – something created for sole purpose to satisfy Me and give Me pleasure. Somebody much wiser saw an entire universe of mysterious connections – fruit being just one (delightful nonetheless) by-product of this monument of grace and mercy.

From there my thoughts wandered into even more fascinating universe of God’s revealed Word and the cherry picking approach I so often have as I consume my pet verses and passages for my own pleasure, mindlessly spitting out pits on those who are passing by – twisting the meaning and misinterpreting the Author’s intent; misapplying the truth, carving the self-serving nugget out of God-purposed context, in a single motion amputating the word of God from the Person of the Triune-God and reducing His glorious majesty to a cherry-producing vending machine. As if this is not bad enough, more often than I care to admit I have participated in “bowls of cherries” parties where this cherry-picking practice as it relates to God’s word is perpetuated in the entire communities of those who are called by His Name. This approach may be understandable and permissible for those who are new to the life of grace, to the babies in Christ; but, to remain there indefinitely would mutilate beyond recognition the family resemblance the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit desire to manifest through our broken lives…the family likeness that would transform our self-serving existence into a nesting ground for the swallows… a faithful branch attached to the Tree of Life, on which carefree children could clamber up without fear and thoughtlessly pluck out soul-satisfying cherries, oblivious to the wondrous universe all around.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Yesterday Caleb had a wonderful early birthday surprise showing up at his bedroom window – not one, but two beautiful butterflies were born just outside his room, sending my wonder-struck children into a screaming frenzy at seven o’clock in the morning. When I calmed them down, we all tiptoed excitedly on the wet grass to more closely examine the miracle that took place in our backyard. The butterflies were even more glorious when we looked at them still holding onto the chrysalis, swaying imperceptibly as they were drying off their delicate wings,

Then I remembered something… About two weeks ago, as I was mowing the lawn, I noticed with creepy-crawly disgust of an anti-bacterial-soap sanitized urban girl that there were dozens of hideous, dangerous looking maggots inching their way up our house. I was too tired and too scared to walk over to the garage and pull out the most powerful insect killer and counter-assault this invading army, so I let them be. Who would have thought that something so ugly can turn into something so exquisite?

As I looked around I noticed hundreds more caterpillars diligently munching away on our neighbor’s Passiflora incarnata cascading over the fence into our backyard. But this time, rather than being disgusted by the ‘maggots’ I thought, Munch away, little butterflies, munch away…

So often when confronted with unsightly features of the people-maggots ‘in-the-process’ – the metamorphosis – of turning into butterflies, I quickly reach for the human version of the most powerful insecticide that's handy. How impatient and destructive I can be towards these 'pests', proudly oblivious of the glorious processes at work all around me in the butterfly garden of this life. Then, I think of even more glorious transformation of the horrid, life-annihilating cross of Christ, which became the door, the only door to Life, life indeed. If God can do something so magnificent through the death of His Son, how much more should I trust Him with lesser nuisances that show up on the threshold of my life?

Maybe next time I see the prickly wormish-looking creature around my house or in the street, I need to ask myself What kind of glorious winged being is he or she being transformed into even as he is polishing off my Asclepias syriaca. Or even better, How can I become a better host to these creatures by planting more caterpillar-attracting plants…a seedling of Truth, a grafting of hospitality, a sprig of delightful winsomeness of Jesus…and my whole life may become a feast for the hungry caterpillars on the way to becoming butterflies?… Maybe that’s what Jesus meant when he said, He who wants to save his life will lose it; but he who loses his life for My sake, shall save it.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

I think my plants positively hate me after what I've done to them today. Every little pretty pink flower got cut, every bush pruned away from the house and brought back within the boundary of the garden. Florida summer requires occasional buzz cuts otherwise the jungle takes over. There is a part of me that hates pruning as much as my plants do (or at least I think they do, but maybe I am just projecting my own feelings on them). It doesn’t seem to make sense to cut perfectly healthy plant down to the bone so to speak… except that its vigorous limbs (a friend once called them “overachievers”) get out of bounds. But the more I am turning into a gardener, the less I am concerned about the “little pretties” – the eye-catching prodigious blooms immortalized by a photographer’s lens at just the right moment and then artfully paraded on the pages of Better Homes and Gardens for the novices to drool over – and the more I am interested in the health and the vitality of each plant and how it fits in the larger design of the garden as a whole. Is it stressed out by too many limbs and needs to be simplified so her energies can be channeled into just few healthy branches which would eventually produce vigorous growth? Is it dead? Or sick – either under attack by plant-munching insects or malnourished through insufficient supply of water and nutrients? Has it been serving the garden well for several years now, and it’s time to retire it into the compost pile and give some new plant a chance?

My plants don’t have my eyes (most of them don’t have eyes at all). They can’t see themselves (for better or for worse) or the way I see them fit in the particulars of our small plot of land located in the central part of the large peninsula called Florida dangling off the United States of America proper. They don’t even know how beautiful they are and the magical effect their simple existence can have on me and other lovers of beauty. The pain I inflict on them by cutting their healthy growth may not make much sense, but if they do surrender to the two laws of gardening - the law of death administered by my pruning shears and the law of life already active within them – the results can be quite astounding.

Like my plants, I acknowledge my need to surrender to the Gardener’s pruning tools and continue yielding myself to the law of the Spirit of Life in Christ Jesus active within me thus allowing the life-generating interaction of the two principles to have their full effect in me. The death and the cutting that I am experiencing now is not a random, indiscriminate or even angry outburst of impersonal fate or chance. It is an infinitely wise, skillful, loving hand of the master Gardener at work, cutting away what once was alive but now is dead, subduing the unruly outshoots of this proud overachiever, channeling the energy of many life-sapping directions and activities into just few. The pruning is never an end to itself. The pruning has its life-giving effect both for the plant in particular and for the unique, personalized design of the garden and how it fits with the lawn and the house, the patio and the swing, the street and the neighborhood, but most importantly with the owner of it all and his children. When God puts His surgical knife to a recurring thought process or activity, attitude or personality trait, ambition or drive all I see and feel is the pain, my pain! I don’t see how I may be blocking somebody’s view or access to the source of light, causing somebody to trip over, or damaging the roof on their house. I am blind to how my overgrown limb is casting a truth-thwarting shadow on the presence and activity of God in my brother's life. But Spirit of Jesus does – and His love for me as well as for my neighbor makes Him pick up that pruning knife and patiently, determinedly, lovingly cut away.

Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it, that it may bear more fruit. Gospel of John 15:2

Monday, July 21, 2008

I decided to revisit the issue of appropriate - to use politically incorrect word - punishment for Tia’s crime of kicking her brother in the face after we all took naps. Naps are good. They put space and breathing room into volatile situations, and God knows there are a lot of those in our household, so we need naps! When Tia woke up, she forgot (or at least acted as if she forgot) about the issue at hand and asked sweetly to watch Dora the Explorer. I said

You can’t watch Dora until we resolve the situation with your brother. Tell me what happened.

She proceeded to paint her picture of the incident, explaining how Caleb made a terrible mess and she told him to clean it up right away and he just wasn’t listening to her, so her foot plastered itself against his face. Voila! It was quite obvious she saw no other recourse but taking justice into her own hands.

This is not the first time that one of our children assumed the role of the parent and quickly executed what seemed to them an appropriate form of discipline to their straying sibling. I find it most peculiar that the moment they grasp a certain family rule (e.g. you make a mess, you clean it up) they naturally assume the right and the authority to enforce its rigid implementation. To say that they may have understood the letter of the law but completely miss the spirit of the lawgiver is a mild understatement. After hearing Tia’s side of the story I said to her:

In the law it is written,' An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth'. Applying it to this situation, it means An eye for an eye, a kick for a kick. So the just punishment for you would be that Caleb kicks you in the face.

Her face froze for an instant. She stared at me with horrified disbelief, her eyes x-raying my head back and forth as if to read my thoughts and detect whether she heard the words and understood their meaning correctly. I stared back at her with my best poker face, glad that she couldn’t read my mind and wondering if I was crazy to take this approach after all. But there was no turning back now. Seeing nothing but an expression of serious determination, Tia jumped off the bed and with righteous indignation cried out,

Then I would run away and hide, because it is not right to kick people in the face and it is better to use words.

My poker face started crumbling like an old cookie.

I am so glad you said that Tia, I chuckled. You are right, it is not good to kick people in the face and we need to use words. Why didn’t you do that in the first place – why did you choose force rather than words with your brother?

She was stumped. The two-edged sword of the living Word was slicing my little judge/jury/executioner as a purple onion . By your words you shall be justified, by your words you shall be condemned. My five-year old just experienced the head-on collision with Mount Sinai. The bewilderment over the seeming moral incongruence of the law lingered over her the rest of the afternoon, until her brother woke up from his nap, ready to take the witness stand in the ongoing family trial.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

The quality of music in the small Anglican church we have been attending this summer is absolutely superb. The team of musicians is far above average and it is wonderful to see them use their exquisite gift to minister to God and His people. I find that I quickly lose my busy, preoccupied self as I surrender to its call to worship. Today I was pondering that much of life is about learning to hear the music and responding to its rhythms and beat with song and dance. Most people, of course, don’t even realize that there is such a thing as music first of all to hear, and then, to respond to. And those who do (or at least say they do), in reality sing only their own tune, each his own, according to their own timing while their noisy cacophony of voices makes it impossible to even hear the music, much less enjoy and respond to it. Annoyed by the dissonance, I put out my best effort to hear the music and ignore the noise of voices, in a futile attempt to align my own to the melody played by the master musician. I wondered if he was as annoyed as I was by the musical carnage that was happening in the pews (my own voice, of course, being as much a culprit as everyone else’s!). But, he kept playing and playing, seemingly unperturbed by the discordant blare. His eyes were closed and his determined face like a flint, fully absorbed in hearing the inaudible music echoing through his mind and heart, music that originated in an altogether different realm. His violin was an open vessel, both receiving and pouring out the cascades of heavenly rivers. Undistracted by the well-intentioned din, his whole being as well as his violin was an irresistible invitation to join him in hearing and responding to the song from the Other place. As the final chords were being played, the crowd at last seemed to catch up, ending the piece with breathtaking harmony. I felt like both laughing and crying. So often in life I get perturbed by the dissonance I see and hear all around me (and most frequently inside me). I know the tune, I hear the song, and I am sooo mad at everyone who is singing it off key! But, if instead of being mad, I chose to ignore the noise and determine to keep hearing the music, keep responding to the Master Musician, and keep surrendering my violin to His music, my life too may become an irresistible invitation to join in listening and hearing, singing and responding to the great Maestro Himself.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Tia kicked Caleb in the face today. His bruising is quite evident and it pains me to see one of my children hurting the other in such a violent way. Today they have suffered through a long and boring swearing-in ceremony as I became an adopted citizen of the United States and I can understand that they were at their wits end and quite on edge - ticking time-bombs waiting to explode. On the way home in the car, Caleb was desperately annoying and provocative and part of me empathizes with Tia for wanting to put a boundary on his inability to stop this irritating squealing and “in your face” squirming by pounding some sense into him! After we arrived home, I actually went into our bedroom to give myself a break from it all or I would have been dangerously close to punching him in the eye myself. When I walked out, the above mentioned crime of physical hostility had already occurred, Tia was banished into the study and Caleb was sitting on the family room floor in a puddle of self-pity, fishing for some empathy from me. I had none. I am not excusing Tia’s lack of self-control, I am just seeing how in many instances both the perpetrator and the victim have a part in the outbreak. I don’t know what we need to do to help Tia control her strength except, maybe, explaining to her that she is just like her mother She came to me later with her peace offerings and said how she prayed for Caleb and suggested we put an ice-pack on his face. I responded with a statement that what would really count in my eyes and Caleb’s (literally!)would be for her to stop fist-fighting her way through life and adopt a more constructive way of resolving conflict. Later I asked Caleb what he thought God wanted him to learn from this. What he would do differently if similar situation presented itself in the future (as we know it will). He bowed his head for a few moments and said,
God said nothing. I can’t think as long as my eye and face hurts.
That was a fair statement. In fact, part of me was shocked by his perception, awareness of limitations and, most of all, moral and spiritual honesty. We can’t think clearly when we are in pain. We can’t hear what God is saying when we are hurting as a result of somebody’s out of control behavior. We need to wait. Rest. Recover perspective. Then I asked him what he thought should be her punishment. (He asked the same question himself soon after the incident happened and we never addressed this aspect of execution of justice). He stopped for a second and said,
I already told you, I can’t think. I am in pain. I'll let you guys decide what would be fair.
I was taken aback by his implicit trust and surrender. He knew he was in pain. He knew his judgment was clouded as a result. So, he entrusted the judgment to us. He knows us well enough to believe that we would be more objective and fair in meeting out justice than he could be under the circumstances. How mature is that?!!!!! I think this is what Jesus meant when He said we need to become like little children. I need to let this lesson penetrate my mind and heart and dominate my decisions when I am in pain. When I hurt and want the justice executed quickly and preferably with some pain imposed on the offending party so they get to experience how it feels to hurt. Can I surrender my right to judge and my demand for the execution of justice to the all-knowing, all-loving God the Father and rest my case in His gracious, righteous and just hand? Or do I cling to my pain and proceed with execution of my justice by choking off life out of my opponent – no negotiation, no lessons and most importantly no life of the Spirit of God among us?

Monday, June 30, 2008

Last night I spent three hours with a friend, shoveling through the manure of our lives, getting neck-deep into things we don’t understand and don’t like about the way our marriages and our parenting is unfolding (and I would add, what those ugly facts reveal about us!). We talked about the out-of-control emotional outbursts, which, in reality, are only a shadow, a weak manifestation that barely scratches the surface of the hidden reality of deep-rooted passions and disappointments; about our desperate need to plunge that deep with Christ and seek to at least begin understanding this untameable, mysterious underworld. We talked about not judging - I even read Oswald Chamber’s entry for June 17, mainly focusing on not making measuring rods for other people because there is always one more thing that we don’t see and understand as we come to them in criticism and judgment. After she left, I kept wondering, What was this all about? What did we miss? There were a lot of raw emotions – anger, hurt, sadness, frustration, tears. The words that we shared, what was expressed was barely touching the tip of the iceberg of the subterranean world of our thoughts, feelings, motives, wounds of the past, stabs of the present … We spent a fair amount of time talking to Jesus about all this. The prayer unfolded as a rushing river taking direction all of its own, the waves of the eternal truth of the eternal redemption, complete forgiveness in the Messiah and Spirit-empowered life splashing over us. Nevertheless, we were still left helpless and frustrated with all this burden of knowledge (partial as it was) to crush us under its weight. Then this morning it dawned on me that we never came to the place I have visited many times myself when found in the similar situations. The place where the Holy Spirit imparts knowledge as power. (This is the quote I was wrecking my brain to remember last night but couldn’t; this morning it came to me effortlessly!) The place where this crushing, frustrating burden (I see people like trees…) is transformed into fertile soil of personal spiritual growth (I see everything clearly) Because that’s where the empowerment has to come – it’s not about God changing other people to conform them to my image, to my idea or ideal of what they should be like, but letting God be as creative and unique and unrepeatable and patient and persevering with them as He is with me. We dug a little bit around the roots, but we were digging around the wrong tree, and we were not digging deep enough! We stopped one step too short. We dipped our toes into the ocean, but didn’t jump in and allow the ocean to wash over us and then pop us back up with its own inherent power and laws. God uses these excruciating experiences of our lives as a powerful mirror to show us what we are like to Him all the time. He invites us to soak up, drink up, dive in to the crud of life, experience the dredge of emotions we try to avoid, deny, suppress, justify, dress up with our own rationalizations instead of standing naked before Him and crying out, God, I am naked and in pain. I hurt and I am angry. Show me what You want me to take away from this! (which is just a different way of saying, God, be merciful to me, a sinner! But, by choosing to indulge in all these luxuries of Self (or rather, not refusing to indulge) we are cutting off the root from the plant, and consequently the vitality and intricate connections of Life itself wither in us and we die. But, if indeed I refuse my right to Self, if I come to Jesus and stand before Him, naked and hurt, and remain standing in His presence, not refusing the Father’s cup, the bitter gall is slowly but surely transformed into life-giving nectar. I know I am capable of the same atrocities I so passionately see and condemn in others. I’ve done them many times myself. But now, but NOW God wants me to stop rationalizing my own excuses, and absorb the full emotional power of these events so next time I find myself in the same or similar situation, tempted to do the same thing, I will have this emotional imprint on my soul that would put reins on my unattainable heart, and perhaps, and perchance I won’t do the very evil I am driven to commit because I have seen with my own eyes how devastating it is to others and even more importantly, how heartbreaking it is to our God and Father.

Stripes that wound scour away evil, and strokes reach the innermost parts Proverbs 20:30

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Snow White revisited

It was probably a year or two ago that my daughter asked me to join her in watching Snowhite and the Seven Dwarfs. I can't remember whether we had read the story before or not, but I knew this was the first time for her to see the movie and thus experience the full emotional impact that the audio-visual media inherently carry with it. So, we watched it with delight, trepidation and unbearable tension which only Disney (or so it seems) can create. We were screaming warnings, throwing our arms in frustration at the futility of our efforts to hold off then heroine's doom. We saw the wicked queen getting what she deserved in a supernatural act of heavenly justice, and yet our fears were not appeased, our sadness not erased by her fate. We wept with the Dwarfs, forlorn and dejected, joining them in spirit around the glass coffin where the beautiful Snowhite rested in perfect peace. The music enhanced the mood of dignified sorrow and suppressed grief.

Suddenly, my daughter gets up from her chair, walks over to the TV and shuts it off. I stare at her utterly confused, wondering what in the world she was doing. The movie is not over yet. The best part is yet to come. This is not how it ends. Then it dawns on me, She doesn't know how the story ends! She must be thinking, 'Snowhite is dead, and that's the end of the story'. It's time to shut off the TV and move on to something else.

Then I think of all the people who feel the same way about Jesus. Too bad, a good guy died. It wasn't fair, but that's the end of the story. Let's flip the channel, move on to the next thing.

But, that's not how the story ends. That's not the last page of the script. He is not on the cross. He is not in the grave. He is alive, as alive and accessible to us today as He was to Mary and the disciples on that extraordinary Sunday morning. Will I come to Him? Will I keep coming, each day? Or do I keep living like He is still in the tomb, shutting off the unveiling of the story before I heard how it really ends?

Dancing with the crowd

So, I am reading this book about the life in former Yugoslavia under the regime of Josip Broz. The story acts like a time-space travel machine, transporting me into the homeland nested in the Balkan peninsula and the childhood of a naive little pioneer, enthusiastically waving her little hand at the white-clothed object of her worship passing by in a luxurious limousine. Layer by layer, the countless deceptions are being peeled away before my eyes as I devour page after page of this documentary portrayal of, in so many ways, my own life also. I feel so stupid for being so naive, so unquestioningly obedient in playing my own little part in somebody else's grand scale charade. Of course, the time and the distance, the years and maturity, and ultimately my own personal encounter with the Truth give me the courage to face the lie and acknowledge that I too was shamelessly fooled, just like almost everyone else.

But, then, suddenly another layer appears, catapulting me into to the present - the here and the now - and asks the same question: Whose charade am I unwittingly playing my little part here, now? If I allow for the distance of time (or rather, eternity) to set me on a more objective ground, and looking back to my life right now, will I feel as ashamed and stupid for being so naive today in unquestioningly following the cultural and social cues, the modern day religious "in" crowd, playing my little part in somebody else's grand charade? Or do I look to my cues to Somebody else, even if it means I dance alone, looking very much like a lonely fool today, but, later, maybe... not so foolish in the end.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Off with her Head!

A friend of mine recently caught a water moccasin, one of the few venomous snakes living in Florida. Once she chopped its head off and thus removed the threat to her family's life and well-being, she decided to skin it, study its insides with her kids, and use the skin for a hair-band when it is ready. (She had repeated several times that they never kill wild animals unless they are dangerous to her family or their domestic animals). I was so impressed by my Joan of Arc. Chopping the head of the slithering Leviathan, saving her children's lives and doing something educational and creative! Wow, that's my kind of girl! I thought when I heard her story. Still under the impression of this marvelous example of fortitude and creativity, I went into our garage to set out the garbage for the next day's pick-up. I was too lazy to turn on the light, so I was stumbling in half-darkness when with a corner of my eye I saw something move. I jumped to the ceiling and when I landed back on the ground, I was next to a beautiful, coiled up orange, black and brown snake! Now, I am used to seeing snakes around our yard, black, skinny variety and on one occasion we even had a black racer in our house for a couple of days (don't ask me why for a couple of days!). But, this one was colorful. And color means danger. The alarm goes off in my mind. I scream from the top of my lungs, calling my husband, and with the same breath, like the evil Queen from Alice in Wonderland, I shout, Off with her head! Off with her head! In the back of my mind, I could already see the dramatic accessory gracing my hair, and with all its exciting details and nuances, the story of how I became the proud owner of such trophy begun to form in the crevices of my brain which were not completely flooded by rushing adrenaline. My husband raced out, a picture of Saint George saving his damsel in distress, wielding an old broom like a lance against the fierce dragon. But, instead of chopping its head right off, first he stopped and studied it for a couple of minutes; then he went on-line to check whether it was venomous or not; then he went back into our bedroom, retrieved a digital camera, took photos of the evil creature, and then went back on the Internet to study further in order to determine what kind of snake it was. This was taking way more time and intellect than I was ready to invest. My patience was fraying like the old broom in his hand. Be done with it! Off with her head! It echoed loud and clear in my mind. But he seemed to show no interest in such a violent way of resolving the enigma now stretched out on our garage floor, the curious head lifted up as the snake's eye studied us without blinking. It was a beautiful creature. And its eye seemed to show incomparably more intelligence than I was exhibiting in the moment. We stood there, mesmerized. It wasn't moving. We were not moving. We just stood there, and studied each other. When we peeled our eyes off of her and went back on-line, we were finally able to determine that the unexpected visitor was a corn snake, non-venomous, small rodent eating snake relatively common to this part of Florida. It was a good snake. It's the kind of snake you want around your house because it keeps mice and rats out. And I wanted it killed! In my fear and ignorance, driven by my rushing adrenaline, I was the judge, the jury and the executor, pronouncing the verdict, Guilty! and the matching penalty, Off with her head! without stopping to acquire the necessary facts to substantiate or dismiss such assumption. Then, I step back and think of all the other situations where driven by ignorance, fear and raging emotions I jump to the verdict and carry out the penalty without pausing to... breathe, think, to gather the missing pieces of information… maybe even pray? And another beautiful creature is maimed or destroyed by my ignorance and stupidity.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Do You See Any Weeds?

Sometimes I see our garden is a battlefield. The titanic struggle rages on as I stand alone on one side and the evil world of weeds, pest and merciless drought on the other. At the moment, the weeds and pests are definitely prevailing. I am humiliated and deeply discouraged. The other day, however, our daughter surprised me when she confidently exclaimed:

But Mom, I don't see any weeds in our garden.

I was completely taken aback because it is quite obvious that in our garden there is hardly anything else to see but the weeds.

My daughter is completely blind! I thought horrified. Then it dawned on me,

Perhaps it wasn't her who was blind, but me

My visionary daughter was blind to the things that were clearly blocking my vision. She didn't see our garden as a battlefield and the weed-infested wasteland. She saw our garden as an immense gallery of butterflies, bug-eyed froggies, stubby-tailed lizards and an extravagant fireworks display of flowers – an endless kingdom of miracles inviting her daily to play and learn, frolic and grow.

I need more of such short-sightedness, I sigh as I internally take a step back from my intensity laden mission.

I get so lost in the battle and the weeds that I become blind to the glory all around me - the miracle packed reality hidden to the driven, preoccupied, inattentive eye. 

I ponder some more, wondering where this apparent incongruence will take me next.

Part of me also realizes that sometimes I am completely blind to the weeds of my life. I confidently proclaim, 

I see no weeds, all the while it is quite obvious to the eye of an experienced Gardener that weeds are everywhere. 

For, a true garden lover knows the difference between a weed and a marigold. Sometimes he lets them grow side by side, until the marigold has taken strong roots and can withstand an earthquake that pulling the weed next-door entails. He also persists in fighting pests and weeds until his flower beds are freed from impostors, seedlings planted and even the most secluded corner of the garden is full of the colorful luxury feeding every sense and, most of all, the soul of the gardener himself. Most of us, however, live in blessed ignorance and incompetence of a child while weeds prevail. 

Is there a wise gardener who knows and believes that I can do better, create more beauty than what currently, pathetically is? Can that person come alongside and show me how to reach that place of beauty and goodness? Am I willing to let go and surrender to his loving guidance, even when what he does makes no sense to me and seems to destroy me?

And so one mirror leads to another and the life starts getting an unspeakably richer dimension.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Should Patrick be allowed in?

Most of the morning the kids have been preoccupied with working on a combined project and at one point my daughter said:
Mom, see, I built God's temple. And I also drew a picture of it. I was taken aback by this display of architectural and constructive abilities of my 4 year old. Yes, the building and the drawing were simple, but the drawing was an accurate representation of the original. I thought of Moses and the Tabernacle.
We need people now! she announced as she turned to her brother:
May I have all your Lego mens? she asked. I need a lot of people to fill God's temple. Together they raced back into his room and came back triumphant, carrying a dozen or so of the little plastic figurines. The evil Patrick was among them.
Hey, you can't let Patrick into the church. He is the bad guy! cried out my black-and-white world son.
But God can change his heart. We need to let him into the church! my redeemed-by-grace daughter protested passionately as she carefully made room for Patrick inside the Lego crowd filling up the church.
The agony on my son's face begged for clarity and resolution.
Is God going to change Patrick's heart, Mom?
I don't know, my dear.
I answered. I don't know. But, we need to let Patrick in. We need to let him in.

Same Difference

Our daughter brought two almost identical Dalmatian stuffed animal puppies to her school today. On the ride over I was informed that their names were Pocahontas and Hokey.

They are VERY different, you know,
she frowns.

How's so? I ask looking in the rear-view mirror.

Well, this one has white ears with black spots and this one has black ears.

Oh, wow! I never noticed that before.
Paying attention to details is definitely not my strong suit.

Oh, yes! she continues on. Also, this one has an American flag, which means that she comes from America, and this one doesn't. After a short break she concludes with a sigh,

They are very different, but they still love each other very much.

And why is that? I wonder what love's got to do with it.

Because they both have the same red collar,
she answers simply.

Now, that makes perfect sense to me,
I laugh to myself at the irrational logic of this unlikely cause of affection. And then it dawns on me,

Well, of course! Even though they are so different or, rather, may appear to be despite the fact that in reality they are very much alike, they have the same collar. Which means, they have the same Owner and Master. And having the same Owner and Master should make them love each other despite their differences.

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love.
I John 4:7,8