Thursday, July 31, 2014

The Detour Ahead

I’ve been reading through the Book of John for a while now. Few months ago, I even wrote several blog entries that captured what spoke to me at the time.

Like, running out of wine ... at the most importune time! And restocking the emotional and spiritual wine cellar when all your supplies have gone empty and dry.  When I feel like I am scraping the bottom of the barrel and coming out with… nothing. 

Its life giving message continues to blow a gentle wind into my sagging sail, reminding me that Jesus, indeed, is the wild card of hope in this hopelessness-and-death-filled world of ours.

The world in which passenger planes are shot down over an embattled Ukrainian sky.

The world of violence of every stripe and color, nation and language. Where blood is shed of the same color and cries of loved ones echo the Esperanto of grief.

The world where Ebola virus doesn’t spare the innocent, including the messengers of good will and hope.

The world suffering from the epidemic of divorce, suicide and brokenness of every kind. Where storms and fires rage, where the budding branches of life are senselessly snapped in two in its prime, full of promise and hope….

But, I am not going there. I would be a fool to think that I am equipped to pontificate on large global issues or deep personal grief and believe that my words can shed light into this darkness and bring order into such confusion and chaos.

What I am going to do is take a detour. Or at least it may seem like a detour. First, I’ll skip a bit.  Not because what I am skipping is unimportant or without meaning and significance. On the contrary! I want to leave some for you to chew on your own. 

But, I will do is take this detour and sit down for a bit and eavesdrop on a very private conversation. And you are welcome to join me.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Home At Last

Change is inevitable part of life.  Just as we finally start feeling ‘at home’ – comfortable and at ease - in a place, or a situation, or in a relationship, something changes and we are thrown out of balance. Our nest is upset!

We grieve the loss.

We experience the stress that saps our energies.

We realize the limits of our capacities – for not just hardships but even for enjoying the good.

When this happens, some of us redouble our effort to stay in charge.  To keep control. To ensure with every power of our being that some things MUST NEVER CHANGE.  We become the micromanagers of our little universe, insistent on our own way of doing things.  We become unbending and dogmatic. With so much out of my control, I feel like I must, at all cost, maintain reigns on at least SOMETHING, no matter how insignificant in the large scheme of things it might be.

But, as the time goes on, ever so slowly, even the worst control-freaks of us begin to change, grow and adapt to the new situation. We slowly begin to release the clutch of our tiny fists on that elusive sense of being ‘at home’… 

We let go of what we couldn't have held onto... and despite the pain, despite the loss, surprisingly enough we find… it’s O.K.
The world hasn’t ended. At least not yet.

The earth is still spinning on its axis.

But we see it with a different set of eyes. The boundaries of our back yard slightly expanded, our heart a bit enlarged to receive more of God’s diverse goodness and grace that often comes from the most unexpected places.

The surprising gifts of joy - fleeting as they may be -  whispering to us that there is a greater, more permanent Home being prepared for us and we are not quite there yet. 

Do not let your heart be troubled; you believe in God? Believe also in Me. In My Father’s home are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you; I am going now to prepare a place for you. If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also.  John 14:1-3

Thursday, July 24, 2014


That’s NOT true, protests my Internal Editor.  I feel right at home wherever I am.

But the words, even though they have some ring of truth, sound hollow even to the Critic.

The truth is, on an average day I don’t experience the raw uncensored misery of my child on her maiden voyage far away from home.  But, without overreaching my boundaries, I dare say that all of us are plagued by this sickness in one degree or another. I am not an exception. 

You don’t have to live a million miles away from your place of origin.  You don’t have to be in a different country or on a different continent. People around you may all speak the same language but one can still feel homesick. One can still experience the loneliness of feeling out-of-place.

 If I am honest with myself, I would admit that it took being immersed in my child’s anguish to connect with my own being-out-of-place grief.

Being at home means some of the same, and a little different things for each of us.  It spans diverse landscape of locations and relationships, habits and routines, vocational calling and skills.

Most of us learn about this ‘being at home’ feeling in a certain location, specific address, with precise GPS coordinates.  We know the layout of the rooms, how the furniture is arranged, so we can safely navigate it even in complete darkness.  It’s the familiarity that provides sense of safety and stability we all need, but some of us feel that need more than others.

Take us out of that place, and the ground under our feet starts to shift.  The familiarity is gone.  The stability is gone, along with the sense of safety.  Even the simplest daily tasks require effort and create seemingly unnecessary stress.  Everything is different – the door knobs, the toilets, the faucets, the electric outlets, the food that we eat, the seating arrangements around the table…

But, it goes beyond, way beyond all of that. What used to be effortless now demands – and drains - all my mental and emotional powers.

We shut down to everything except for one five-word statement:

I want to go HOME...

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Home Sweet Home

Our little family took a huge leap this year and went on an international trip that took us away from home for over three weeks. 

This is the first time our preteens left the US soil in a very long time.  Last opportunity we had to travel as a family overseas they were not even four and two.

A lot has changed in meanwhile.

Young children are blissfully oblivious.  As they grow, they become more aware of the complexities of the situation they are placed in and each of us deals with change and stress differently.

The sheer privilege of the international travel was quickly lost under a mountain of real and imagined fears. 

The fact that we, as parents, were well acquainted with wide range and nuances of cultural stress didn’t help our children as they faced their own.

For three long weeks, we kept hearing,

I want to go home.  I want to go home.  I want to go home.

And there was nothing – absolutely nothing – we could do to alleviate this pain.

No words.

No coaxing, no yelling, no screaming.
No bribery.

No bending over backwards.

No distractions, no threats, no promise could ease the raw discomfort of being away from home.

It was excruciating to watch our child suffer such anguish, such unmitigated misery while surrounded by love, surrounded by affection, attention, great food, absolutely no lack of anything.

In this home-sick state her capacity to receive any of it was diminished, really reduced to nothing. She couldn’t, she wouldn’t receive any of it.

One night, utterly desperate, I cried out:

Now you know how I feel all the time!  I couldn’t believe my own words!

Saturday, July 19, 2014

The Real Thing

It’s just like the movies!, exclaimed our movie buff.

It’s just like the books!, exclaimed our book worm.

We just boarded the long anticipated Hogwarts Express at King’s Cross Station near Diagon Alley on the way to Hogsmead. We are squeezed in our little compartment with a family from Taiwan who are taking every-angle-selfies with their smart phone. 

I stare at my children, suddenly stunned by the realization that all they know about the trains is what they learned and saw in movies and books.

They have no first-hand knowledge, no first-hand experience of an ordinary train!! At least not the one that they can remember. I know that they were on trains in Europe as babies. But that was long time ago.

Trains were such an integral part of my life in Europe - the cheapest and most convenient mode of transportation. I feel like I spent more than half of my life listening to the steady rhythm of wheels on tracks cris-crossing the old continent. One can say that my blood runs along the train tracks rather than through the blood vessels.  

But I can’t recall any recent instance where we as a family or ether of our kids were on the train except for the airport shuttles. And airport shuttles certainly don’t count.

I shake my head in disbelief and mutter to no one in particular,

It’s… it’s just like the real thing.

What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the Word of Life— and the life was manifested, and we have seen and testify and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was manifested to us— what we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ. These things we write, so that our joy may be made complete. I John 1:1-4

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

The Swaying Power of Love

I wish there was an easier way.  I wish there was a quick and easy sixty second download that would allow me to learn these lessons on my feet rather than laying prostrate, like Neymar, out of the game, helpless and powerless on a stretcher.

A way to life that carries me uninjured, healthy and strong, from victory to victory without tasting the bitter humiliation and regrets of defeat. 

A steady ascent of successes without fumbles and failures and the cruel replays of their could-haves and should-haves.

I want to insure not just my own life, but the lives of those I love against calamities that leave me … that leave us …empty-handed and broken-hearted.

But, for some reason I don’t fully understand, it’s only when I am limp on a stretcher, with the game continuing on without me… when all my usefulness is put aside and all my contribution stripped down and shriveled to a niltch… it’s only there that I begin to grasp… there really is more to me… than all those ecstatic victories and epic defeats.  

I am more valuable to God than scoring the winning goal in some cosmic World Cup?!!? 

YOU are more valuable to God than scoring the winning goal in the World Cup!

I am more to Him than the sum total of my feats and failures… and in His light, you become more to me than the sum total of your victories and defeats.  

Our accomplishments add no value to us; our fiascos take away nothing from His love... 

This may taste bitter in my mouth, but when I finally swallow, when I finally digest it's sweeter than honey.

And so, in His presence - perfectly loved, prostrate on a stretcher - these victories, these defeats both lose their swaying power over our hearts… and we are finally free to receive them as they come and let go of them as they go... free to begin to love as we've been loved...

 In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. I  John 4:10-11

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Kicking the Cup

Of course, we all lose sight of it.

In the heat of the game, in the fever of the competition, we - ah so easily - forget that there could possibly be more important things in life than winning that Cup.

Than reaching that goal. 

Than accomplishing that mission. 

We are so God-damn focused on the prize we lose sight of the people - soft, vulnerable, injurable people around us.

For a while it all makes sense to our logic-driven, winning-driven, training-driven, rational and competitive, glory-seeking world.  The world that without batting an eye would sacrifice one life for the perceived good of the higher goal. Loftier mission.

Until life serves us a surprise. 

A ruthlessness so gentle that it reminds us how hopelessly lost we’ve become, how utterly blind to what truly matters… what’s really important… .

A mercy so severe it permanently re-configures our emotional landscape. A grace that takes us out of the game, makes us impervious to the allure of its prestige because something precious got lost between the plays… the upheaval so great we would gladly give up the Cup and all its benefits in exchange for this one injured brother… one crippled child of God laying limp on the stretcher…

Friday, July 11, 2014

More Important than Winning the World Cup?!!!

Even those who couldn’t care less about soccer and didn't catch the Mundial fever, couldn’t help but be astounded by the unprecedented 7:1 score in Germany-Brazil World Cup semi-final match.  The historic defeat has spawned reactions that have been resonating throughout the globe.

Amidst all the hubbub, the controversy, the mourning and the wailing, something stuck with me. And it kept haunting me because it seemed not to have received much weight or attention (at least not that I noticed) in global rehashing of the dismal humiliation.

For, just days prior to the fateful debacle, the host team of the World Cup watched in stunned shock as their star player, forward Neymar was carried off the field in a stretcher after serious vertebrae injury in the quarter-final duel with Columbia. To add insult to injury, there were no disciplinary actions against Columbian player Zuniga – not even a yellow card, who shrugged the incident with little more than an “Oh well such are the rules of the game…”

In addition to this, Brazil’s captain and top defender, Thiago Silva, received a yellow card – his second during the World Cup - which banned him from playing in the match against Germany.

With not one but two key players out of commission, the Brazilians entered the semi-finals shattered beyond what any self-help pep talk, any training, any experience on the soccer field could remedy.

And with their devastating loss that shook the foundations of the prestigious competition they might have taught us that sometimes in life there are more important things than winning the World Cup. Something that is so easily lost in the heat of the game and the cut-throat competition... so easily forgotten when our eyes are focused on the prize...

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Who's Picking Up Your Tab?

Seriously???UROS CASTI?!?!!, I chuckle in disbelief.

What does it mean? Our twelve-year-old asks absorbed in scrolling down the Clash of Clans notifications as he utilizes this newly acquired access to his life-line.

It… it...  means ‘It’s all on Uros. Namely, Uros pays everything, we all get to enjoy it. Free to us... to anyone... at Uros’s expense.’

The tab’s on Uros.

I scratch my head over this crazy Serb who opened his Internet door wide – no password no key, to friends and strangers, even foreigners alike.

This Uros doesn’t ask for your gender, or nationality, or political or sexual orientation or your creed before he lets you in.  He doesn’t interrogate you about what you have done or failed to do nor does he require special initiation rite.  

Truly it's up to you.

The door is open. Just come.

Uros doesn’t seem to concern himself with how you may use or abuse his wild, surprising generosity.  He doesn’t worry about how he might be empowering and enabling the behaviors and attitudes he may disagree with or disapprove. I agonize over this, because my 'generosity' is balanced and calculated. 

Uros also fails to leverage his generosity to further his impact. He gets absolutely no bang for his buck. He doesn’t tell you to go to this site and like this page nor does he block that site or that page. He doesn't use his generosity to further a cause of his choosing nor hinder his enemies. 

Free access. At his expense. Open to all.

The tab’s on Uros.

Who’s this Uros? Our son asks finally peeling his eyes off the screen.

I don’t know, but I have to find out.  Because I want to meet this Uros and learn how I can become more like him...

For of His fullness we have all received, and grace upon grace. For the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ.  John 1:16-17

After these things I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven, and the first voice ... said, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after these things.” Revelation 4:1

Jesus said to them again, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All who came before Me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not hear them. I am the door; if anyone enters through Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly. John 10:7-10

Friday, July 04, 2014

Uros Casti

There is no free WIFI in Serbia! I bark at our techno-addict, who whipped out his phone searching for available networks before we were even able to get our luggage. We’ve just landed in Belgrade after a very long miserable day of travel. The silver lining for at least some of us was the USB ports on the intercontinental flight to Turkey that allowed us to top off our mobile devices before we dived in the shuko 220V limited Internet access zone.

But what good is a fully charged phone if you can’t connect to the wireless?

I could visualize three weeks of pure torture as our wired family suffers not only through the language barrier and the cultural shock but also through going-cold-turkey-on-Internet withdrawal.

We arrived at my parents’ miniature one bedroom condo, overwhelming the space with our extra-large bags and quadrupling the number of residents per square meter.

Here we go, I think, I hope we survive this..., but my dismal train of thoughts is suddenly interrupted by joyful screams coming from the bedroom.

I’m in, I’m in!!
In what?!!!

I am in. I am connected!! I am connected to the wireless!

That’s impossible! My parents don’t have internet.

Well, somebody here does – and now I am connected. See?

I peer into his phone screen, and sure enough, he is right.

How’s this possible?

Well, there is an unsecured network, he points to his settings. See - the name is UROS CASTI.