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.