Thursday, December 23, 2010

Who is this George Lucas?

We can thank my mother-in-law for introducing Star Wars into our children’s lives by getting our 5 year old son his first Star Wars LEGO set. He ripped the boxes open and within seconds our home was invaded by the Imperial Stormtroopers and the Droids.

I was mortified.

Star Wars?!!! He is waaay too young for Star Wars!

It wasn’t the complexity of the building process I was concerned about, because that never seemed to be a problem for our pint-size engineer. What bothered me much more was a matter of introducing complex adult issues into his immature mind, and the challenge that creates for me as his parent. But, like it or not, the door was open and there was no going back. From that day on, my son turned into a miniature Star Wars maniac. So far, he’s been mostly preoccupied with recreating cosmic wars against his little sister. Along the way he somehow acquired a prodigious amount of information about the characters and the plot and various twists and turns in the storyline. He learned the difference between the Imperial and the Rebel blaster, the who’s who and what’s what of the Imperial Army and the Rebel Alliance, and all the whys and therefores of the narrative that molded the worldview of generation after generation since the first movie was released. He bought a Star Wars Visual Dictionary with his own money(!) that looks more like Encyclopedia Britannica to me.

Now, all this wouldn’t be so surprising if it wasn’t until this afternoon, years after the initial encounter, that he saw his very first Star Wars movie. Episode IV, to be more precise, which I picked up from our local library earlier today. Watching him watch the movie was as much (or more) fun as watching the movie itself. It was as if he had all these loose pieces of a puzzle, and he finally saw how they all fit together, he could finally place them in their exact spots in the larger, 4-D story-puzzle. His delight was quite contagious. During dinner, he continued chatting enthusiastically about all the fascinating trivia he picked up during the afternoon Star Wars extravaganza. In the course of the conversation, my husband casually mentioned George Lucas and what his intent might have been for the unfolding of the various episodes in a certain sequence.

George… Lucas?!!
Our son muttered hesitantly… And who is this George Lucas? There was no doubt that he was utterly confused. You could tell that he was scrolling down the imaginary database of Star Wars names and faces, from Emperor Palpatine through Chewbacca and Ewoks, but there was no suitable match for the name “George Lucas”.

It was now our turn to be confused. How is it possible that with all these years of borderline obsession with the Jedi and their pecking order, Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader, and R2D2 and Obi-Wan Kenobi, our son never ever heard the name George Lucas? We looked at each other and burst into laughter.

Hmm …George Lucas…. George Lucas…. Well, he is kind of like God to the world of Star Wars. Without him, there would be no Star Wars, nor the galaxy, nor anybody or anything else belonging to this galaxy far, far away. He created it all. This amazing world exists because it first existed in the mind of George Lucas.

It took several minutes for the news to settle in his shaken-to-the core 9 year old mind screaming for a paradigm shift. Until this moment of revelation he was so preoccupied with the fascinating universe which George Lucas had created that for a brief while he simply couldn’t contain the information about the existence of the creator of that universe.

There…there is a George Lucas… there IS a George Lucas and I never even knew it!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

No room

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, December 04, 2010


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.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Complete Idiot's Guide...

Even though nobody in our family can be described as picky, it’s still hard to find a food everyone truly enjoys. We all eat pizza, but I am not nearly as big on it as my kids are, and we all eat Thai, but my kids are not nearly as big on it as my husband and I are. We all like Mexican, but each of us has a distinct preference as to both what we want in our burrito and how it’s rolled up.

But, there is one thing we all absolutely love – and that’s sourdough bread. In our house, heaven smells like toasted sourdough with butter on it. Our love affair with sourdough might have stemmed from my husband’s Northern California roots or from my Croatian aunt’s home-made panja, and we just passed on this shared sourdough gene to our children. Call it nature or nurture, the fact remains that we can easily polish off an entire loaf in one sitting. Now, the grocery store price for a loaf of good sourdough runs approximately four times as much as regular white or even whole-wheat bread. This puts us in somewhat of a quandary and, no pun intended, feeds our passion for more.

So, several weeks ago when I stopped by our local library, it wasn’t a total surprise when with a corner of my eye I spotted Complete Idiot’s Guide to Artisian Breads, I heard it call my name.

Hey, you! You, YOU - I am talking to you - don’t act as if you can’t hear me!

I looked around to make sure nobody is disturbed and discreetly moved few steps away, towards the shelf with foreign movie DVDs.

Stop right there! Pick me! Pick ME!

Shhhh! Stop yelling!
I growled. This is a public library!

Few people looked in my direction. I waited until everyone was back to whatever they were doing before I continued, this time making sure nobody is overhearing the conversation.

You are talking to the wrong person, buddy.
I snarled under my breath. I am NOT a baker. I am a BURNER! I am the Killer of all yeast. I am the Destroyer of everything that crosses our oven’s door. It’s hopeless. I am sorry. Go home with somebody else.

No, no, no. You got it all wrong. You are EXACTLY my kind of a person. See, Complete IDIOT’S Guide…

I don’t appreciate being called an idiot in a public place,
I whispered through my teeth.

Oh, stop being so sensitive and just take me with you… I’ll…

I grabbed a bunch of DVDs in front of me and dropped them into the basket. Then I stepped back to the shelf with the rowdy impostor, picked him up like a used Kleenex and dropped him under the pile.

Alright. Just stop barking. If you insist, I’ll bring you with me.

I used self-checkout as fast as I could and virtually ran out of the library, leaving both librarians and customers equally baffled behind. We drove home in silence. I unloaded the library cargo into our reading basket where the Guide sat squeezed between Pirates Past Noon and The Gollywhopper Games untouched for several days. One late afternoon I heard a murmur…

I-am-waiting… I-am-waiting…. I am waaaaiiiitiiiing….. I-am-WAITING!

I sat down and pulled the Guide up.

Well, thank you! He said politely. I almost got suffocated there, at the bottom of the basket.

I wasn’t going to apologize.

What do you want from me? I asked.

What do I want?!! What do you think? I didn’t come all the way from the library to sit at the bottom of your book basket and smell stinky Pirate’s feet! Let’s get the kitchen dirty! Let’s bake some bread!

We already went through this.
I was tired. I am not a baker. End of story.

But all of you LOVE to eat, especially sourdough. C’mon, it’s really not that hard. Just try it.

As I opened the book and flipped through the pages in front of me a faint aroma of baked bread begun to tickle my nostrils. Sourdough dinner rolls, ciabattas, crusty sourdough boules, garlic-rosemary focaccias….

Fine! I’ll give it a try. Don’t say I didn’t warn you. I know it’s not going to work, but I am willing to try. Where do I start?

Starter! You start with a starter.
The Guide said with a huge grin. Clever, isn’t it?

I could tell that he was in his element.

Ha, ha. Very funny. I said grimly and turned to the Sourdough Starter page. The instructions seemed simple enough – three ingredients in all.

I think I can handle that, I said as I headed towards the pantry.

And so we begun. I fed my little ‘pet’ every day, like a brand-new parent, all worried whether I am doing it right, whether it’s too cold, or too warm, if I should feed it more often or less. We gathered around it and peeked under the lid, whispering to each other as if it’s a sleeping baby tucked under a cozy blanket.

The romance went on for about three or four days and then things turned south. At first, I noticed a slight discoloration. Then the smell. Which got worse. And worse.

This isn’t working.
I told my husband. I think I should just pitch it.

Don’t pitch it! Use it.
Responded my always cautious, methodical, polar-opposite mate.

Use it?!!! Are you crazy? Use it for what – rat poison? It’s bound to ruin the dough!

It’s SOUR dough, remember. It’s SUPPOSED to be sour.

I understand ‘sour’… but, this… this is… UGH!

It’s just flour and yeast and water – no big loss … it’s worth giving it a try. Whatever you make, babe, I will eat.

I looked at my taste-testing superhero suspiciously, for ordinarily I am the one in our family encouraging craziness. I savored the spot like ill-fitting shoes.

This is what it feels like to be the other person in my off-the-wall adventures.
I pondered.

I got a mixing bowl out of the cupboard and looked up the Sourdough bread recipe. I mixed the flour, yeast, salt, butter and water, hesitating for a moment before I poured the gray, smelly goop in.

This is insanity! I am ruining a perfect batch...
before I could finish the sentence I heard the familiar voice taking my train of thoughts into an altogether different direction.

...of plain, boring, white bread, high on air and low on substance by giving it depth and texture and character and personality you all love so much. Hon, the making of sourdough is just like the making of life. You stick with common ingredients, you get common results. But, if you take risks, embrace the bitter and the sour, mix it all well in, you might very well get an exceptional result. You make the choice.

Are you now presuming to be The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Life and Disappointments

Oh, no. Not at all! A much more comprehensive edition of that volume has already been published long time ago. In fact, I’ve seen several copies on a bookshelf in your study – quite dusty, if I may add. And I am not referring to your housekeeping habits. Perhaps you can check it out some time… the same way you did with me…

With that, the Guide fell silent. I waited awhile, hoping with all my heart that he would say something more, challenge some other deeply rooted prejudice of mine with his grace and truth. But, he didn’t. It was as if with this his role in my life was fulfilled and adding anything else would betray his greater purpose.

I finally turned away and slowly walked towards the bookshelf.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

The Bench

Call me hopelessly romantic (or crazy!), but last night, after I’ve already gone to bed, I remembered that earlier in the evening I saw my neighbors’ old wooden bench on the curb next to their house, ready for the garbage truck. I couldn’t check it out when I saw it, so I just made a mental note to come by later in the evening and see if I should engage in a rescue mission or not. Of course, I forgot all about it until, well, until I remembered. So, I got out of bed, put my clothes back on, dragged my husband along, and under the cloak of late night, we picked up the bench from the curbside and brought it to our porch.

Do you want their kitchen sink, too?
He pointed at the pile of construction garbage, eying me suspiciously.

Nooo, just the bench! I chuckled, trying to appreciate his warped sense of humor.

It was too late and too dark to examine its condition right then and there. Our neighbors might have had a very good reason for getting rid of it. In daylight, the bench turned out to be quite beautiful. I discovered that the wobble we noticed while we carried it last night was actually by design, for it was a rocking bench! It had a nice shape, with a gentle curve on the back, and upon closer inspection, it revealed sturdy materials and solid craftsmanship.

You are gorgeous, I said, in accordance with my habit of talking to inanimate objects, Or, at least, you had been. Before the mean Florida elements took their toll and left you with cracked and peeling varnish, filthy and moldy. What am I going to do with you?

The first thing was quite obvious. The bench was covered with dirt so I grabbed a garden hose and wash it all the off. I tipped it back and forth and from side to side, until it was all clean and the pieces of loose varnish removed.

This is going to take a lot more than good cleaning,
I mused. It will require some serious elbow-grease, the scraping of the old finish, the scrubbing of the moldy areas, perhaps even some spot-bleaching… and then it would need a primer and at least three coats of paint...

That seems like an awful lot of work, I continued with the monologue. Are you worth it?

Part of me wanted to cut corners, grab a can of spray paint and finish the job, right then and there. I knew it wouldn’t be right. I knew it wouldn’t be lasting. But, hey, it would be easy! And then, in a month or two, the paint would peel away and reveal old cracked varnish, and grime and mold… and I would have to do it again… and again,… and again…

What a waste, tempting as it may be… I don’t have time or energy for that…
I objected.

But, part of me couldn’t bear to see the beautiful bench rot at the top of the city dung heap, when with some time and effort I might be able to return it to its former glory, prolong its life and ensure many years of delightful, useful service of refreshment and rest to our family, our children, perhaps even our children’s children and to all the weary travelers that our gracious God may send our way. It was up to me to make the decision...

What shall I do with you, old bench…? What should I do with you...?

Friday, November 05, 2010

The Constant

If what you are saying is true, it’s worth giving your whole life to it, I confidently vocalized my conviction. What I didn’t voice was the ignorance and arrogance of this ‘mature’ 20 year old atheist who KNEW it could not possibly be true. This, of course, implied that my life was off the hook, all my own to chart and direct according to my own designs and ambitions.

For the first time in my life I was confronted with the outrageous claims of Jesus Christ, and, to be honest, I didn’t particularly care for them. I already had a plan for my life. I liked my plan. And I didn’t appreciate anybody coming in and messing it up.

But, what if it is true…?

The lingering question settled like a cloud over this self-proclaimed “Truth-Seeker.”

In the subsequent days and weeks He tenderly and mercilessly peeled away layer upon layer of defenses and stubborn resistance until I was ready to say an unequivocal yes to Jesus. Not too long after that my own words came back to haunt me.

I said that if it were true, it was worth giving my whole life to it… now, I know it’s true, but there is no way I can do it. I hate to admit it, but I love my life too much. I know none of it is worth a squat compared to You, but still… I can’t to it alone. I need Your help. Will You help me…?

All I am asking you to do is to listen to Me and follow Me today, just one step at a time.

Just one step? I think I can do that. I can do one step with Your help.

And so the story begins. One faltering step after another. Turning into an amazing roadway of faith and uncertainty, fear and trust, as moments became days and days became years and years became decades. Since then, empires have collapsed, wars erupted, countries have changed names and borders. I have been in possession of four different national passports, my identity stripped away from me with each changing government.

I also became Mrs. Doug and a few years later, Mrs. Caleb’s Mom and Ms. Victoria’s Mom. I had jobs I loved and jobs I hated. Babies have been born to us, and babies have died. I felt lonely beyond words and enjoyed the best of both worlds. Over the years, I’ve been acknowledged more than I deserve, and also deemed obsolete and non-mission critical. Cancers have visited our shores and dumped their baggage with us. I became a gardener and an interpreter. And a scribbler.

In one of the episodes of the TV series LOST the protagonists experience rapidly changing shifts from one time period to another. One moment they are here and now, the next they can find themselves 20 years in the past or 20 years in the future. The continuous change is causing severe stress on their minds, emotions and bodies. For some the changes impact them so profoundly that their very lives are threatened. In the course of the story we learn that individuals who have a strong emotional bond with at least one other person seem to be able to resist the detrimental effects of change. They have a constant. The constant gives them stability, a point of reference, motivation and most importantly, hope when the world around them seems to be falling apart. When I think of the continually changing landscape of my own life, I can clearly see one Constant, Jesus Christ. What an oasis of living hope and stability He is to all who listen and follow Him, just one step at a time.

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever
. Hebrews 13:8

Thursday, October 28, 2010

This morning, on the way to school, we noticed that one of our neighbors was disposing of a gorgeous, tall urn, which, upon closer inspection, we discovered had a small crack at the very top.

This must be the reason why they are getting rid of it. But I don’t care.
I thought.

I’ve been priding myself in turning many a piece of our neighborhood trash into household treasures. This vase wasn’t going to be an exception. The crack didn’t bother me a bit. I visualized the exact place for it in our yard as I hurried the kids on so I could return and pick it up before the garbage truck comes and snatches it away.

If it’s still there waiting for me, it’s meant to be. If not,…
I didn’t finish my sentence for we were at the gate. We said our quick goodbyes. I turned around, hopped onto my son’s bike and raced away. Just as I was crossing the street to enter our neighborhood, the garbage truck turned the corner and headed towards my prize.

Hey! Heeeeey!!!!
I waved frantically. Wait! Waaaaiiiitttt! I yelled from the top of my voice as I ran like a mad vashti, pushing my bike as fast as I could.

I saw the man picking up the urn by one of its handles and tossing it in, onto the pile of bulging plastic bags and cardboard boxes. The truck moved on.

NO!!!! Noooo!
I wailed desperately, still running, out of breath by now, still trying to catch up, making a complete fool of myself. The garbage-man must be deaf.

Finally, I slowed down and watched the truck drive away as the man finally turned around and looked at me quizzically. I shook my head in frustration and turned into our street.

You know, You could have stopped that truck!
I grumbled. Just few seconds, and I could have had that vase! The more I thought, the more furious I got.

I would have been really happy if I had that cracked vase. I really wanted it. It’s environmentally friendly choice. It’s called recycling! I fumed.

Hon... I invented recycling... Turning trash into treasure is My specialt

I rudely interrupted:

I would have had so much fun with it. And now, You ruined it for me! There!

We walked in silence for a while. I shoved the bike against the side of the house and walked inside, still upset. I had so much to do, but now all my motivation seemed to have driven away with that garbage truck.

You do that a lot, you know…


That… running after the garbage trucks…

I DO?!!!! I’ve NEVER done that before! How can You say….?

You know what I mean…

Oh. … Ooooh!
It finally dawned on me. The countless times I get mad at God for not giving me that trinket or the other, the treasures of this world's junkyards, which I know would make me so much happier if only I could lay my hands on them. Today’s incident was just a grotesque or perhaps, rather humorous (although right now it only seems humiliating) illustration of an internal habit I’ve been practicing for years. From yard-sales to peer-praise, and everything in between, somehow, I always manage to blame and resent God for not getting what I want. And all along the real treasures sit at my fingertips dormant.

I’m sorry…

I know. I forgive you. I love you.

I love You back. Thank You ... for letting me see...

“…where your treasure is, there your heart will be also
” Matthew 6:21

Monday, October 25, 2010


It was rather early in the morning, still dark outside, when the voice of my son broke the silence and solitude of my time alone with God. I was struggling to shake off the drowsiness of restless night with a cup of strong Turkish coffee, hoping to dispel the fog that has enveloped my mind and soul by straining to make sense of the words sprawled out across my lap. Not much success in either.

Remember, yesterday…? You promised…

He stood there, in front of me, fully dressed, shoes on, shoelaces tied in double-knots, a picture of readiness to face the day. I couldn’t help but appreciate the stark contrast.

Yesterday? I promised…?
I wrecked my brain trying hard to recall what he was talking about. What did I promise?

Well, you said that if I finish all my work, reading and the vampire bat project, I can have my LEGO magazines back. So, here I am, all done… He looked at me expectantly, beaming with self-confidence.

Some time ago I had to confiscate his magazines because they became a major distraction in his ability to take care of his basic responsibilities. Not because I thought that the magazines were bad, or because I wanted to punish him. I was helping him out by simplifying his overcrowded little life. Needless to stay, that’s not exactly how he interpreted my actions. I also communicated that when he shows sufficient maturity to handle the magazines appropriately, I would be glad to give them back to him. Over the course of the next several weeks, we had a number of ups and downs but eventually he seemed to have grasped what we’ve been trying to teach him, and started taking more ownership over his own life and its implied duties. In fact, he was doing so well that yesterday I mentioned he can have his magazines back… and then forgot all about it. But he didn’t. And so, first thing this morning he came to remind me. To take possession of the promise I have given. I smiled.

They are in the guest bedroom. You can go and get them.

I watched him bounce off towards the bedroom and looked down. Sprawled across my lap was the Book of Promises, the promises the infinite God who cannot lie spoke (and still speaks) to His people over many centuries – some unbelievable, amazing promises… that He would cause all things to work together for good for those who love Him; that nothing, nothing, NOTHING can ever separate us from His love; that He has wiped my ever-growing sin account clean and will not charge it against me; that He’ll never leave me hanging alone on a limb; and that He Himself will from this day, to the next and to the next, until I see Him face to face, stick with me and strengthen my weak body and faltering soul to do everything He wants me to accomplish in this life! And all this, not because I accomplished some long to-do list of His, but freely and cheerfully, no strings attached, no small print, just because His Son traded His life for mine.

However, in my case, it is not God who forgets His promises – I do! And then I sit in the ever-expanding puddle of self-pity, a pathetic anti-advertisement for my amazing heavenly Father until He sends me a little boy who reminds me what real faith is through his confident (shall I add, child-like?) trust and full expectation that what his mother, weak and flawed as she is, has promised, she will certainly do.

"Therefore, let us fear lest, while a promise remains of entering His rest, any one of you should seem to have come short of it. For indeed we have had good news preached to us, just as they also, but the word they heard did not profit them, because it was not united by faith in those who heard."
Hebrews 4:1,2

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

I’ll watch your kids for few hours, and you do whatever you want. The spontaneous generous offer of a kind neighbor sent my mind into excited frenzy. Immediately I thought of countless ways I could spend these few precious hours of freedom…

Should I read? Or write? Should I clean the kids’ bathroom? Maybe I could run some errands? Respond to e-mails? Tackle one of those gazillion creative projects I never have time to do…?

It was a beautiful day outside, and it seemed like such a waste to be indoors. I considered my schedule and the fact that it is mostly driven by the things I have to do and the things I really need to do or should do.

But, what is it that I really want to do?

It didn’t take long to figure out the answer to the question. What I really wanted was to spend this time working in my yard uninterrupted! No restarting the mower a dozen times to attend to one emergency or another ; no pausing half-way to make lunch; no mediating sibling squabbles. Just me and the green jungle under the big blue sky, enjoying undisturbed peace and quiet for the next few hours. Heaven!

Within minutes I was in my working clothes, raking and weeding, mowing and edging. I was on a mission, and by the end of the two hours I was determined to have it accomplished.

The harder I worked the more energy I seemed to harness. I was unstoppable. The neglected lawn started taking shape, the out-of-bounds bushes were tamed under my swift garden clippers. I was zooming by behind the power mower, relentlessly bringing the unkempt blades of St Augustine grass under its irresistible control.

This is what I call fun!
I muttered happily to myself, thanking God for this rare opportunity to be rewarded by seeing immediate results of my labor.

Before two hours were up, everything was done. The lawn mowed and edged, the bushes pruned, weeds pulled out of flowerbeds, and all concrete areas swept clean and spotless. I was impressed by myself! I stepped back to admire my handiwork.

It may not be Better Homes and Gardens yard, but this sure is best I can do with what we have here.

Tired and deeply satisfied, I slowly walked towards the front door. As I turned the corner, on the freshly swept sidewalk leading to our house a grizzly image assaulted my senses. There, in stark contrast to the clean pavement lay a mutilated body of a small creature, which, upon closer inspection, turned out to be a little frog, all bloated in the heat of mid-day, with guts and blood spilling out of its butchered body.

I was dumbstruck!

Who put this frog on my doorstep? I exclaimed. The mysterious appearance demanded investigation and swift punishment of the guilty party. I stood there, above the poor creature, feeling its pain, requiring justice on its behalf. The sky above stared at me blankly, not a word, not a cloud. Then, through its impenetrable silence two words broke out.

You did…

The two simple, one-syllable words cut through me like a knife.

I…?!!! I did it? I did it?!!! But,… but… how…? I was at a loss. How in the world could I have done this? And, when…?

Then, slowly, like in slow-motion movie, I began to reflect on my morning, on what I was doing, and even more importantly, the manner in which I was doing my work… My mission-minded determination, my clear goals and objectives, my power behind the lawnmower… all of a sudden, it all came together. I was in such a hurry to do much good today, and so invigorated by the process that I forgot… or rather, never paused to consider that this world, including this tiny piece of land we call our property, is not just my own. I may be its care-taker, but we share it with other creatures who find their shelter in its sanctuary… My blind intensity powered by my determination (not to mention the deadly tools I was wielding recklessly) didn’t make any room for the smaller and weaker creatures to escape the harm’s way as I was plowing down their homes and hideouts.

I bend over the unrecognizable form of the mowed-over creature, and wonder how many times have I, in my ignorance and arrogance, done the same thing to other smaller or weaker creatures under the pretext of spiritual stewardship, cloaking my sense of moral superiority with a thin veil of religious concern, in one breath straining the fruit-flies and swallowing alligators? … How many people have I pierced through with an impatient, razor-sharp word and mowed over with my arrogant “get on with my program” attitude, insistent on pushing my own narrow-minded, rushed agenda (for it is obvious that it will bring about much measurable good) – rather than waiting on God and caring for His creation like the holy ground it is, tenderly and gently, paying all the more close attention to those who are feeble and wounded, unnoticed and defenseless? My heart sinks into my stomach under the burden of excruciating conviction.

I scoop the grotesque mess of flesh and sinews and trudge to the side of the house, humbled and broken over yet another innocent victim sacrificed on the altar of inflated Self. The hot tears drip down on its tiny body, begging for pardon and forgiveness and cleansing.

Have mercy on me, oh God, have mercy on us…

Saturday, October 02, 2010

It’s only been in recent months that the apparent lack of elevation in our garden started to bother me. Don’t misunderstand me. I like low-sprawling perennials, waist high hedges, easy to pick vegetables and the uncluttered, restful, empty space the green lawn provides (when it’s green!). But what I began to notice is that they all seemed to exert a continual pull on my eyes to focus downward. Suddenly, I didn’t appreciate that any more than I appreciated their apparently constant clamor for attention and validation.

Of course you are absolutely gorgeous, beautiful! And, you.. yes, I love your brilliant, showy colors. Your scent indeed is intoxicating, darling. And yes, you will make a great creamy soup in a few weeks. …But… what I really need right now is something that would cause my eyes to look up, rather than down… towards that outrageously blue sky, and the puffy clouds in the shapes of poodles chasing their tails, and birds playing in the wind, catching its current…Nothing personal against you, but I need… I need some trees!

So, I started thinking trees.

Years ago our now nine year old son decided to adopt a tiny maple seedling and grow his own tree. Clearly he was way ahead of his mother in being an advanced fore-thinker! He watered it and talked to it. He also forgot about it frequently, so I tried to fill in when his mind was preoccupied with more pressing things like LEGO cosmic battles. He would also regularly stand next to the tree to see who is taller. At first, he was the clear winner. However, the tree quickly closed in the gap and the race became very tight. Years later, the tree has outgrown him, his mother, the backyard fence, his dad, the neighbor’s pool enclosure … at the rate its going, soon the little tree will outgrow the house itself! Last spring we proudly hung up a small wooden birdhouse he made and painted on the tree’s lowest branch and since then we’ve been spying from behind the curtain on cardinals and squirrels paying visits to the Sonflower Cafe.

Planting a tree, I learned in the process, requires an entirely different level of commitment than planting let’s say, a squash or a periwinkle. The latter is here for a season, and then it’s transferred to the compost pile. The tree may very well be here long after I am gone. And that’s a sobering thought. The tree, like any other plant, starts small, sprouting from a tiny seed which came from another tree of its kind. But, I can’t allow its smallness to deceive me, for in few short years, it will transcend everything else growing in the garden. I may not even be able to wrap my arms around its trunk! So, I need to ensure that I pick a good spot for it – with plenty of sun and plenty of space for its roots to grow deep and its branches to spread out high and wide.

As the tree grows taller and taller, we will hang brilliantly painted bird feeders on its branches, and cardinals will make their nests in it, and squirrels will playfully chase up and down its convoluted highway system. But more importantly, with its hands continually stretched out upwards, the tree will exert that irresistible pull on the weary, earth-bound eyes of tired pilgrims to look up. When faced with wordless wonder above, perhaps some among them might recognize that even though we may be made out of the dust of the earth, the very breath of God, the untamable wind of heaven still resides inside our battered jar of clay. Some may pause for a few moments suspended between time and eternity, breathing in slowly, deeply, until their lungs are filled up with the heavenly air and their eyes lifted up, filled with wonder to face the One who lives beyond the clouds and in the quiet abode of their own broken hearts. Those will continue their journey refreshed and renewed, embracing the seeming contradiction, listening to the silent message of the trees all along the way, until one day they are finally at home, safe and complete in His arms.

Friday, September 24, 2010

The Door of Adulthood

Our nine-year-old son’s eyeballs looked like they were about to pop out of their sockets when with stunned delay his brain finally registered the words I uttered just seconds before:

You know, this is the least amount of responsibility you will have for the rest of your life.

He blinked, and then he blinked again. His eyeballs returned to their place as he mumbled,

That’s the dumbest thing I have ever heard in my entire life. I have time for nothing – just homework, homework, homework! Besides, I only have twelve awake hours each day.

His little shoulders might have been sagging under the gargantuan load of his third grade homework, but his mind was as quick as ever to retort to the counter-intuitive truth he’d just heard. Whether he was willing to accept it or not, his lazy meandering days of early childhood when time is measured by snacks, library stories, Home Depot kids’ workshops and bedtime routine ended abruptly on the chopping block of growing academic demands. No more unlimited time with LEGO blocks. No more of those tough decisions whether to go to your house or mine for the daily play-date. We have officially tipped the scale and from now on there will always be more things for him to do than hours in the day to do them. My child, welcome to the portal of adulthood.

And, so, now, it’s up to him to choose how to respond to the ever-increasing pressure and pull on his time and energy resources.

Will he, being the type A personality, redouble his effort and try to cram as much as he possibly can into his mind, heart and schedule, trying to prove to somebody, anybody that he deserves the few square feet he occupies on this planet, seeking to make everyone who crosses his path happy - teachers, peers, mom, dad, aunts, uncles, telemarketers, and a god above – not realizing that with each act he is relinquishing more and more of the magnificent real estate of his soul?

Or, would he whine and complain about how much he has on his plate, and how stressed out he feels, wasting exuberant amounts of precious time on the favorite family sport called procrastination?

Will he become depressed and escape his overwhelming reality by living virtual, vicarious life somewhere in Cybergalaxy far, far away, getting deeper and deeper into denial and escapism while nourishing the illusion of connectedness and meaningful relationships?

Will he feel victimized by both external and internal forces, and in response to the sense of powerlessness become angry at genetics, government, global warming, Gutenberg, Google and, of course, God of all, blaming each and everyone for handing him the short end of the stick of life?

Will he paint impressive facades with glorious colors in a never-ending effort to hide his fears, pain and impotence?

Will he continue meandering through life like a perpetual child, never growing up, never taking responsibility for his choices, words, actions, the development of his gifts and relationships, shipwrecked on the island of Neverland with the rest of Peter Pans of this world?

Or, perhaps… he may see these new challenges as an opportunity to engage in the life-long journey of knowing his Maker, discovering more each day what it means to be formed in His image, and the unspeakable dignity this breathes into every aspect of his existence? Will he stick with this amazing truth and all its implications when everything around him seeks to degrade, diminish and destroy the family resemblance with the Creator of the universe? Will he discover that he has access to the supplies of strength which are sufficient to meet each day’s demands? Will he experience for himself that God’s Word has the same effect on His fogged-up spirit as Starbucks doubleshot espresso on his body (and that without side-effects!)? Will he learn to dance with the wind, letting his hair (as well as his small-minded personal goals and agendas) get all messed up and tangled, surrendering to its forces with joy and rest?

Will it ever dawn on him that he will always have all the time that he needs, to do all that His gracious Father has for him? Will he recognize the pull of the noisy distractions and his own need for control and refuse to pursue the phantoms of the outside and of the inside, being gently guided by priorities that transcend time? Will he…? Will he…? Will he…?

And... will I…?

So, we make a full circle. Clearly these questions are not for him only. For, the same threshold of adulthood greets my sleepy, blinking eyes each morning as my feet dangle on the side of the bed and I shuffle to the kitchen for a fresh supply of my daily dose of java juice. The invitation and the challenge offered to each of us every day. What will it be?

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Mrs. P sure hit a jackpot this year, said my fresh-out-of-the oven second-grader after coming home from her first day in school, a tinge of resentment coloring her surprising announcement.

What do you mean?

She got all the kids from Mrs. D’s last year’s first grade class,
she responded. After slight hesitation, she added, And I am all alone in Mrs.K’s class.

I let her statement resonate with me for a while.

I could visualize the wild and crazy bunch of party animals consistently torpedoing even the best of Mrs. D’s attempts to instill some academic prowess and social graces into them throughout the entire last year. I couldn’t help but wonder if Mrs. P would agree on my daughter’s assessment of her class roster fortune. But, I decided that I don’t need to say anything about that.

I also knew that for now it would do no good to explain that Mrs. K comes with the superb recommendations from teachers, students and parents alike and that soon enough she would learn to love being under Mrs. K’s tutorage. Time will do that without my annoying assistance.

Nor did I want to jolt her memory by reminding her of how much she hated being in Mrs. D’s class exactly a year ago. Some of us have a harder time of dealing with change than others.

And, most certainly I wasn’t going to say that a huge part of me was tremendously relieved and grateful that the school administrators put a tad of distance between my little ring leader and her faithful band of rule-busting followers. Although I don’t mind my children enjoying their school life, I don’t see filling-up their fun tank as the primary objective of educational institutions.

But, despite all this, my heart couldn’t help but empathize with the classroom woes of Minnie-Me. How many times have I felt resentful when God’s developmental plan for my life didn’t match my desires? Everyone else gets to have fun while I am stuck all alone in this god-forsaken (or so it seems!) classroom of life, trapped with the Teacher I find too quiet and different for my taste, despite His superb recommendations. His syllabus for me encompasses some of the weirdest courses on the planet, like hearing the inaudible or seeing the invisible. Year in and year out, we wrestle over the issues of sovereignty and surrender; dignity and humility; judgment and mercy. His determination to teach me goes past all my whining and complaining. When I crave the noise and the glittery sillybands of peer praise and acceptance He creates a wilderness to help me find company in solitude. When I discover contentment and even happiness in this wilderness, He sends me into a mass to help me find equally elusive solitude in the crowd. And so it goes day after day, until my soul rests in the bosom of this utterly Other, learning to trust His goodness and care for me even when what He does makes no sense.

So, what do I say to this daughter of Eve… to this child of God? How do I invite her to join me in this unparalleled journey of grasping the incomprehensible which fulfills His destiny for her life? Perhaps I don’t need to say anything. Words are grossly overrated anyway. Maybe all I need to do is point the way by the manner I learn my lessons, in hope that some day she will see and know the Teacher for herself and learn to find the rest for her heart and her soul in Him and Him alone.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Mrs. S., this is not working!

A young man’s exclamation instantly sent my brain into a feverish review of all potential things that could NOT be working, hoping desperately it’s something I already knew about. The day before we had opened up our house and our back yard to our neighborhood kids as hosts of Backyard Summer Club – a four-evening, volunteer-empowered event designed to give elementary age children an opportunity to meet Jesus in a fun, creative and inviting way. When fun and creativity collide with hordes of people of all ages, one should expect casualties.

What is it? I asked trying to sound calm.

There is a big pile of dog doo in the middle of your yard, and all these kids are running around barefoot!

I looked out and saw dozens of kids and teenagers throwing Frisbees and kicking balls around the backyard lawn. Somebody must have let the dog out and apparently failed to pick up after her.

Oh, my! Thanks for letting me know. I’d better get out of there right away.

I grabbed some plastic bags and rushed out of the door but unfortunately just seconds too late. For, there, in the middle of our yard, I found the dog pile all flattened and few steps away from it a little boy standing covered in shame and embarrassment.

Ewwww, he stepped into it! Cried out several others.

The boy’s eyes were quickly filling up with tears.

It’s O.K., hon – it could have happened to anyone. I’ll take care of it.

I ushered the unlucky winner of the The-Grossest-Thing-That-Happened-to-Me-During-the-Backyard-Summer-Club award to the side of the house where I rinsed out his feet with water. Majority washed off immediately, but there were some stubborn pieces that refused to let go of his soft pale skin. I stood there deliberating whether I should go inside and get some rubber gloves, not really wanting to touch it with my bare hands. But as I looked into his dejected face, it became evident what I needed to do. I bent down and started rubbing his feet and gently scraping the remainder with my fingernails. After we finished, I washed my hands and slowly put the hose back, watching him prance away with his feet sparkly clean to join the rest of the group in carefree play.

I lingered behind, soaking in the metaphor we’d unwittingly played out. Life indeed is messy. All of us, sooner or later, find ourselves in all kinds of doo. I don’t mind helping you out, but my willingness goes only as far as your mess doesn’t infringe on me. What I want is a sanitized, rubber-gloved version of Christianity. A Christianity where I can keep you at arms length, never getting so close to your ‘stuff’ to contaminate my fingertips. But, in that aloofness, I miss out on the magical transformation that takes place on the side of the house, where in the communion of filth and cleansing, by the time our feet and our hands are rubbed clean, our faces, just like the little boy’s are also lifted up and we are free again to join in the play with the rest of His children.

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

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

I need to return these, I said to a cheery cashier as I pushed a plastic bag across the counter. It’s one of those creative projects I had in my head which never quite made it into reality, I added as if to apologize. My husband already has too much on his honey-do list, and I can’t do this one without him.

Oh, I totally understand, dear. You got to do what you got to do. And this,
she pointed at the beautiful wrought iron plant brackets which I’d intended to turn into shelf brackets for our laundry room, This is NOT a necessity. This is vanity!

Ouch! That hurts. But, thanks anyway,
I smiled feebly, wondering if God is trying to tell me something through the bubbling woman on the other side of the counter.

I pondered if I was really being vain and frivolous for wanting to turn a mundane, boring room of our house which is designated for a mundane, boring task into something beautiful and surprising. The fact that I live in a country where the gods of home-improvement and interior design reign supreme among the housewives of suburbia made the thought all the more worth considering. Have I bought into the alluring propaganda that if only I had just this one little thing, my life will be complete and I will be truly happy? And what happens if my pursuit of happiness creates a few casualties along the way?

The questions placed a scrutinizing spotlight on the rarely exposed cavern of my internal motives where egotism and generosity daily wage war for my soul... where love and sacrifice wrestle with sense of entitlement and pride – do I deserve this, or do I put it on the chopping block? Do I hold on, or do I need to let go?

The answers, you see, are not always easy to distinguish. For, it is in this place that I also discovered that there are days when beauty is as necessary to me as water and air. Its scent is an aroma of heaven reminding me that life is more than food and body than clothing. And that, sometimes, the most loving thing might be to graciously accept somebody else’s sacrifice on your behalf.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Last night while we were eating dinner our daughter brought up her pet creation theory regarding the probability of co-existence of humans and dinosaurs. For several minutes she elaborated her hypothesis with a keen enthusiasm of her seven-year old mind, while the rest of the family tried hard to listen politely. At last my husband came to our rescue (or so we thought!) and interjected that he might have a word or two to add to the matter.

As he launched into a convoluted explanation fit for a college professor, our stunned daughter did her best to listen with understanding for a total of about six seconds. After that an irrepressible glazed look finally washed all over her face. To my surprise, for the remainder of the Genesis lecture her big brown eyes were fixed without a blink on her brilliant and unfathomable dad, beaming with zero comprehension and absolute adoring love.

I couldn’t help but burst into laughter as I observed the perfect analogy played out in front of our very eyes. Even though most of the time God places the cookies on a shelf where I can actually get them, still too often I find myself at a loss in trying to understand His mysterious hand. His ways go far beyond my grasp. But when my puny mind reaches its limits and a blank stare takes over my face, my heart, just like my daughter’s, can still experience the adoring love for my endlessly smart and sometimes incomprehensible, heavenly Dad.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

No waiting in line

I just keep waiting, and waiting and waiting… and while I wait, others get clean but I stay dirty… And I wait, and I wait…

The discouragement and frustration were pouring out from, not some 1st century leper or 21st century refugee, but from the mouth of our own son. Not much time has passed since he acted out on an impulse and did something he quickly recognized as wrong. But now he was stuck in that dis-empowering guilt-laden place between ‘knowing’ the right thing and actually ‘doing’ it. I decided to step in.

How long do you think you need to wait? I asked gently. One hour? Two hours? A day? Two? Three? A week? Longer than that?

He shrugged his shoulders helplessly, More like eternity, etched out all over his face

The look of his despair reminded me of all the times I have banished myself to self-imposed punishment and isolation in a futile attempt to atone for my sin.

Hon, you don’t need to do this. Do you realize you don’t need to wait? Not one second! Forgiveness and cleaning are yours for the taking – right here, right now? It’s already paid for – in full.

He looked up, not quite sure whether to believe what I was saying. It sounded too good to be true. I chuckled.

If you don’t believe what I am telling you, believe what is written… Let’s see what it says. We picked up their Bible and his sister started reading:

If we say that we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and the truth is not in our hearts. If we acknowledge our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and clean us from all evil.

If we acknowledge our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and clean us from all evil. The amazing truth of these words washed over me afresh. If this is not the gospel, it’s even better! I thought to myself.

So, what does it say, how long do we need to wait before He can forgive and clean us?

It doesn’t say anything… we don’t need to wait…?

No, we don’t need to wait, hon. He is right here, right now, to forgive and clean us.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

It’s almost the end of the school year. Almost. But in the elementary student segment of our family, this simple English language word seems to be interpreted and understood as already. Consequently, the afore-mentioned segments have for all practical purposes checked out of school responsibilities for at least past two weeks. That’s almost a full month before the end of the school year! There is an inordinate amount of whining and procrastinating related to regular homework and special projects. The toys keep sneaking into the backpack and finding their way to school despite the teachers’ and even the Principal’s clear objections. And, of course, with nothing else left to do, life becomes a never-ending party – or at least, that’s what it should be. Threats, pleading and reasoning seemed to have no effect. Finally, I had an idea.

Hey, guys, I have a story to tell you.

A story?!!! Yea, we LOVE stories!

Remember how few weeks ago I participated in a race.


They beamed proudly, as they nodded their heads, thinking about the weekend when their dinner-burning, dirt-digging, memory-deficient mother grew at least five inches in their eyes as she swam 800 meters in the friend relay of Danskin Mothers Day triathlon.

You know… I was so scared when I first stepped into the water. I didn’t know whether I would be able to finish the race. But, I kept swimming and kept swimming and kept swimming…just like Marlin and Dory… and when I made the last turn and realized that the finish line was in sight… oh, I knew I could do it…I was sooo happy! I started splashing around, and playing with noodles and giving the guys in the rescue boats high-fives, and chatting to other participants and inviting them to join me in a big celebration lake party right then and there…

Their eyes grew really big with disbelief.

No, you didn’t…
they muttered hesitantly. How could you…? Did you? Did you really do that?!!!

What do YOU think?

A sudden beam of recognition and new awareness spread over their confused faces.

I think… I think that you are not talking about your race…I think … I KNOW you are talking about US!

Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us
… Hebrews 12:1

Thursday, May 13, 2010

To Tri or Not to Tri

She asked you to do what?!!! exclaimed MaryJo, just before she burst into uncontrollable laughter.

You need to hear her answer first, said Julie, shaking her head.

Clearly my two friends were thoroughly entertained by what they had just heard. They were also mildly concerned about the state of my mind as they stared at me in disbelief. I looked quite doubtful as I responded,

I think I am going to go for it...

Earlier that morning (Friday just before Mothers Day) I got a call from my dear friend Jelena. After we chatted for a few moments, she said she needed to ask me for a favor.

Go ahead. I said, glancing at the clock impatiently. I don’t have much time. I have a meeting at the school in a few minutes.

Can you swim? 

Before I had the presence of mind to wonder why she is asking me such an unusual question, I blurted out,

Sure! I can swim…I haven’t swam in at least 9 years but…

Great! Let me explain our situation… I have been training for the Danskin Mothers Day Triathlon with two other friends. However, our swimmer got called into work and she can’t do it. Would you be willing to take her place? She has already paid the admission, I already have a room reserved at the Dolphin for tomorrow night, you just need to show up and swim Sunday morning. I can pick you up tomorrow at noon…

Er… was my eloquent response to such an outrageous proposal and then, when I sufficiently composed myself, I added:

That’s absolutely crazy! I haven’t done ANYTHING athletic in decades, unless you consider chasing after two small kids ‘triathlon training’. I can’t believe that you would even think of asking me such a preposterous thing!... But, then… I always had a dream of participating in a triathlon… the dream I KNEW I didn’t have the discipline, self-sacrifice and commitment to fulfill… And the very fact that it is crazy makes it attractive to me… What are your options?

Well, either we don’t do it at all… or one of us tries to do it, but neither is a good swimmer…

If you can find somebody else, that would be my preference… but, I can pray about this and let you know.

So I did. I prayed, which is never a good idea if you are not willing to accept an answer you may get. Actually, it was more like I whined and complained in God’s ear…

This is crazy. I am not an athlete. I hate getting up so early in the morning. What if the water is cold? I know I can’t do it if I am freezing… I don’t care if it sounds lazy, but I don’t like making myself uncomfortable needlessly… I am going to be so sore the next day… I am 44 for heavens’ sake! I’d rather relax, read a book and eat my cake on Mothers Day… Why did she even ask me?

But, alongside the barrage of nay-nay-nays there was a quiet stream of steady assurance, loving invitation and generous dose of mirth.

You can do it. It’s going to be fun. You like swimming. You’ll be glad you did it. You will learn so much… And you get to help your friend. I will be with you. You don’t have to, but if you do…

I think it was the free, non-manipulative, non-pressuring invitation and the promise contained in each hopeful if Jesus extends to us that finally won me over. Today I was offered an opportunity – an invitation to a crazy adventure – and it’s completely up to me what I am going to do with it.

If I say no, it won’t be the end of the world. I won’t lose a friend. I won’t be crippled with guilt for the rest of my life. I may have a vague sense of regret which will eventually get drowned by the daily pressures and demands of life. I may shrink a little under the weight of cowardice and unbelief and unknowable what-ifs. But if I say yes!, I will enter a different world, so unlike mine and hopefully my heart will expand a little to embrace the experience, the people in it, and the crazy God who likes to serve us surprises.

I often say I want to live every day of my life by faith, for His glory. I say I want to model the ‘reckless abandon to God’ for my children. But there is a huge abyss between saying and doing. I was standing on its edge. Despite all my well-wishing I suddenly discovered that forces of inertia, resistance and discouragement have imperceptibly transformed me into a middle-aged garden slug.

I don’t want to be a slug for Jesus!
I said to myself, just as the phone rang the next morning.

Friday, April 02, 2010

"It is finished."

All that remains is for God’s children to enter and keep entering this rest afforded to us by the finished work of God the Son. No more striving, no more pleading, no more twisting God’s arm. No more futile attempts to add our own works to the marvelous work of the only One who could accomplish, fully and completely, our salvation. Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Yesterday I received an invitation to a challenge from a dear friend. Would you commit to pray for me every day for the next 30 days for 15 minutes? I’ll do at least two hours.

Every day?!!!??? I cried out. For thirty days?!!!???

Except for inhaling my java juice each morning, I don’t do ANYTHING every day for fifteen minutes!

I can’t do that! I protested. I am too busy. Plus, I am not even the praying type.

See, most of my praying barely reaches the interior of the ceiling of my skull anyway and what good is that going to do to anyone? In addition, even if these prayers reach beyond my cranium, the challenge seemed more like entering into a month long wrestling match with God, and last time I heard somebody doing that (for just one day!), guess who walked away crippled?

No. I am not going to do it. I said to myself, finally convinced. No way.

A long pause.


Er… would You like me to do it?

Even longer pause.

And even though I am not the math wiz either, I started doing a little math. There are 24 hours in each day. My kids learned this in Kindergarten. And 60 minutes in each hour. First grade. Now the calculator comes in handy. Sixty minutes times twenty four hours totals 1440 minutes I have each day. And 15 minutes is about 1 %. It’s like asking for a penny from a buck. A penny!

And you think that’s too much?!!

Suddenly, a crack appears in my crusted heart and mind.

I am the one who needs this prayer thing, more than my friend!

If love and compassion towards my friend (who, by the way, deserves so much more than just a meager one percent) couldn’t move me to crawl outside myself, the sobering truth about my distorted vision sends me out flying. It will do a world of good for my soul to peel my super-glued eyes off of myself for just a penny of my time and focus on somebody outside my puny universe of self-importance. And when one has peeked outside, who knows what other wondrous sights await everyone who accepts the challenge...

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Lately I've been quite absorbed in undercover detective work. I tried to be as meticulous as I can be in my research. I've taken notes. Studied writings. Interviewed friends and relatives. Eavesdropped on conversations of complete strangers. And even though I found ample evidence, my conclusion is that the ultimate proof of God's love towards His wayward children can not be found (or should be even sought!) in our circumstances. It's like putting a cart before the horse. Or, rather, putting the cart and the horse, before a nice, brand new (red) BMW.

What are you doing?!!!???

Oh, nothing... just improving on Your work a bit... You don't mind, do You?

Every day I test God by wanting Him to prove His love to me (again!).

Give me this... don't give me that!!!! Leave me alone. Get me out of here! How could You?!!!! If You really loved me, You would not allow this in my life...

His answer? His final answer? But God demonstrates His own love toward us in this, while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:8


So, I scratch my head a little, thinking who it is that died. ... Then, I scratch my head a bit more, thinking who are those that He died for... and why He did it. ... Suddenly, my petty negotiations are swallowed by the torrent of the kind of love I know nothing about. The love that gives me, not what I whine for, but what His holy passion knows I need the most. A sacrifice that makes me, even me, holy and pure, through and through, in His eyes.

Friday, January 15, 2010


Every day, on the way to school, we walk by a small fenced-in retention pond. It’s a small, man-made oasis of life surrounded by the noise of rush-hour school traffic, the smell of the exhaust fumes and the loud honking of the impatient drivers. It is a home to numerous fascinating Florida wildlife, providing me and my children with some great on-the-go education, entertainment and inspiration, as we pause to admire their beauty and peculiarities. Over the years, we’ve seen new life being birthed and nested on the pond’s banks. Our hearts skipped for joy as we watched waddling baby ducklings race toward us in eager expectation of the fresh supply of breadcrumbs. We’ve seen its waters recede down to the small muddy puddle, the rest of the bottom exposed, dried up and cracked, its inhospitable bosom shooing ducks, wild geese, egrets, blue herons and tortoises away in search for another supply of life-giving water. Some of its inhabitants have survived the harsh conditions and came back, some have not. I see life and death intersect in this microcosm daily.

A couple of days ago I was alone when, with a corner of my eye I caught a glimpse of the body of a great blue heron laying on the frost-covered grass next to the nearby woods. We’ve seen him many times before, standing tall inside the pond, examining us with his unblinking eye as carefully as we were examining him. Yesterday morning, I turned aside to pay tribute to our nameless friend. His dignified head was folded under its enormous wings, his feathers ruffled by the biting wind, long legs outstretched, resting covered with millions of diamonds glistening in the morning light like a fallen hero, like an angel wounded in some invisible cosmic battle. I don’t know whether it was the sight of the dead bird or the weariness of the battle in and around me that stirred the cry inside my soul - the irrepressible longing for a place where cold, death, judgment, noise, comparison, pride and punishment cease forever.

Aaah, Lord.. I thirst.. I thirst for heaven… I thirst for heaven, Lord… I am tired of battle, I am tired of being questioned, I am tired of being compared, and misunderstood, and judged, and having to explain myself over and over again… I am tired of living with one foot here, on this cold, wintry, inhospitable earth, and the other walking in Your step. I am sad when something so lovely and majestic has to fold its wings… and there is a part of me which is envious of the rest it has entered. I am tired of having to dig myself out of the hole of inertia, self-pity and spiritual deadness each morning of each day, after so many years of walking with You. I am tired of ceaseless effort that living this life entails…

I stood there for a while in the ever-increasing puddle of self-pity, tears dripping down my face, when suddenly I caught a glimpse of a big blue splatter of the brilliant sky sprawled right in front of me. I have never before seen the pond from this angle and the image startled me out of my dirge.

My… oh my… This looks like… like a piece of… heaven… here, on earth…

I stared at the motionless water of the pond, reflecting, as in a mirror, the wordless glory of the crisp azure of the winter sky. There was nothing remarkable about this retention pond. It was no more than an enormous pot hole dug by human hands, created to receive the influx of the murky rain water during typical summer downpours, in order to prevent the streets and homes from being flooded. Its shallows are often littered by debris, carelessly deposited there by oblivious children and adults alike, periodically collected by the tired county workers, who also mow the weeds in summertime. And yet, its utilitarian ignobility was also interspersed, even invaded by heaven itself?! !?!! The best of all, my weary heart noted, there was no effort required… just motionless stillness which reflected the sky. No toil, no clever arguments, no defense attorney, no judge. Just restful, peaceful gaze upward until the heaven itself descends on earth and illumines its gloom, discouragement and hopelessness with its silent brilliance.

Monday, January 04, 2010

I was fumbling through my wallet, looking for the insurance card on the way to my first appointment with a surgeon, the morning rush hour traffic keeping a small portion of my brain engaged in the immediate. The rest was equally divided between the forefront of my mind - which was feverishly scrolling down a long checklist of things I needed to do, questions to ask, the practical consequences to consider; and the back – which was being assailed by another set of unspoken questions, fears and the what-ifs. As the light turned green, an old card fell out of the wallet and with the corner of my eye I caught the words I’d heard for the first time almost 15 years ago - a closing prayer of our wedding ceremony. I could almost hear the strong voice of the 88 year old saint, his eyes aglow with the visions of the invisible, calling out the unexpected benediction:

And now, may God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ give you

Enough trials to make you strong

Enough sorrows to make you human

Enough failure to make you humble

Enough hope to keep you happy

Enough friends to give you comfort

Enough faith to banish depression

Enough determination to make each day better than yesterday.

I remember hearing the prayer that day at the pinnacle of my romantic idealism and saying to myself, Wait a minute! What are you talking about?!!! Trials, sorrows, failures – I didn’t sign up for THAT! But, the words were spoken and there was no going back. Being young and inexperienced, I would NEVER have chosen such ‘blessing’ to start my married life – or start anything for that matter. But, the old saint’s wisdom trounced my naivety that day and his invocation became a backbone of our marriage and our lives for all the subsequent years, reaching across the decade and a half into my tormented heart today.

My life’s circumstances are not a random outcome of some blind fate. Its rich complexity is carefully measured by the loving hand of the all-wise God who manifested Himself as fully as we humans can take it, in His Son Jesus. He reaches down into the ignoble glob of my internal being and the resulting external mess and slowly, patiently begins modeling my mind and my heart, my soul and my strength according to the glorious design He purposed in His own heart. He knows the ingredients that it takes, the temperature of the oven and the length of time I need to spend in it to transform the what-is into what-will-become. Left to myself, I am weak, arrogant, insecure, stubborn, sometimes sub and other times super-human android, prone to depression and discouragement, criticism and loneliness. The trials, the sorrows, the failures are all necessary ingredients which chisel the hardened crust of my priorities, purify my motives and purpose, and soften my heart towards Him and others. I need them if I want to become like Him in love, in humility, in grace, in mercy.

And so, today, as the wheels of our Corolla start moving slowly on the way to the hospital, rather than fighting, or resenting, or sugarcoating, I want to embrace this destiny – the whole package – and thank God for the beautiful intricacy of our lives – brimming with happiness, trials, sorrows, frustrations, friends, love, faith and hope. Part of me wishes I could peek into the future and see what the outcome of this battle is going to be, because the suspense of not-knowing sometimes feels almost unbearable. But, perhaps the beauty is that we don’t know and in that not knowing a unique space is created – a treasure room in our hearts that can be filled with confident trust in the invisible God who knows and cares more than we can conceive.