October 23, 2016
During a recent seminary lecture on the book of 1 Samuel, my professor used an example of building construction, and asked us all, “What size of a 2 x 4 does God have to hit you on the head with?” The question hit hard, considering my own current life issues: basically, after a lifetime of taken-for-granted good health and better-than-average agility, muscles, and energy, I have had a string of physical challenges over the past three years. Some have come as a result of athletic over-training, and others have come, as my husband says, as a result of our decision to live a life that calls us to difficult places and unknown illnesses.
“Where do you live?” is a question I heard recently on an NPR podcast entitled “toxins.” My answer, as I seek out the cause for a painful and unsightly rash that has planted itself on my face, is this: “I live in a land of unknowns.” More often than I’d like, I find my response to all manner of questions to be a shrug combined with an “I don’t know.” I don’t know whether we will have electricity and water tonight (when asked by a house guest if we would be able to cook in my kitchen). I don’t know what’s wrong with my face (when asked innocently, in those exact words, by children passing me by in the hallways where I teach them each day). I don’t know how long I will live in Africa . . . I don’t know how I find it, how I like living here (I just try to fill each day’s responsibilities the best I can). . .
So how big of a 2 x 4 do I need? I pray that it is not so big that I crumble underneath it. But I also suspect that God has a lesson, more directly appropriate for my uniquenesses, tagging alongside the 2 x 4. And I think He showed it to me in a surprising manner, in the throes of one of my usual work week flurries of writing seminary papers, cataloging books at work, and planning teaching lessons for the coming week; in the midst of this juggling act, my subconscious took over my conscious word-processing and began to mull over personal regret. I started to feel the familiar pangs of regret combined with guilt over my past and present failures. I felt like a child before a disapproving parent who has just seen the evidence of transgression, and who is prepared to admonish the fault. But instead of lingering there, I began to talk to myself—to that child. “I did the best I could” is what I said. But the thought continued from there, as I explained, the adult self with experience and hindsight speaking words to truth to the child. “It may not be the best it could be . . . but it was the best I could do at the time. I did the best I could.”
This morning, after telling my running buddy about that image, I arrived for worship practice still in a reflective mood. We walked in to the almost-empty room to find the drummer on his own, jamming to a song I had never heard before, but that instantly carried me away. I grabbed the tambourine and began to dance.
After I had danced for a while, the drummer mentioned to me that the title to the song, “Imela,” meant, simply, “thank you.” I smiled and continued to dance. “IMELA . Imela. Imela. For all you’ve done for me. Imela Imela. If not for your grace Where would I be . . .”
Yes, Lord, thank you. Thank you for the grace you have shown to me, your slow-to-learn child. Thank you that my feet can dance. Thank you that my mouth can sing. Thank you that my heart can rejoice in this moment.
September 11, 2016
“Oh that I had wings like a dove. Then I would fly away and be at rest” (Ps. 55:6)
Lord have mercy. Oh my Lord, have mercy upon me …
Many years ago, as an insecure and immature college student, I stumbled upon this verse during my private devotion. I was, at the time, desperate to find relief from my own troubled soul. I was also functioning behind a facade of put-togetherness, being a stellar student and a Bible study leader with my campus fellowship, and seriously looking towards the future with my boyfriend at the time.
Funny thing: a local friend asked me today what the word meant. Here on our annual church retreat, I find myself with just long enough–one weekend–removed from my daily life to be able to put some words to my feelings. I can’t recall the precise wording of my answer, but I find it ironic that the word has made its way into random daily vocabulary, in a similar fashion to the way that it has become a far-too-present reality for my life.
I am battling myself, you see. Battling the onset of a darkening of my inner reality …a “dark night of the soul,” as Mother Teresa so aptly, and boldly, described it, as her own state.
Once again, as I felt when a college student, I feel as if I must go through the motions of my life while desperately hanging on to a semblance of “togetherness.”
I have children coming into my classroom every day, waiting for me to instruct and engage them. I go through the motions.
I have a congregation watching me each Sunday as we gather for worship. I sing the songs.
I have boarding students in my home for after-school activities. I entertain them.
To be fair, there is a joy in each of these activities: as Robert Frost penned in his poem “Birches,” “one could do worse than be a swinger of birches.” Or, in my case, one could do worse than be teaching these classes, singing on a praise team, and leading yoga sessions. I love these things …but only when I love my own life.
I’m afraid that at the moment I feel rather like the paralytic by the healing waters. I see the hope in the distance, but I cannot seem to get my body there. I cannot move fast enough to find my way.
My body has turned against me, and my foot refuses to heal. For a short few weeks, it had been improving and I was getting back to a semblance of mobility-testing the waters again, and thrilled when I was able to run without pain. But then the pain returned with a vengeance, as if it was back to when I first injured it, over 3 months ago. I am back to a painful, and infuriatingly slow, limp. Back to being the gimp.
What scares me now is that I no longer trust the healing process. I fear that I am not just waiting to get back to my usual self, but instead adjusting to a new, broken, existence.
I know this sounds overly dramatic, but I say it, knowing that is the case, because I need to voice the intensity of my fear. It is real.
I must also admit to the shame that I feel as I come to terms with the depth of my reliance upon my coping mechanism of a daily workout routine. Without my runs, I Eeyore my way through each day, with my physical plodding feeling like a mirror of my inner moping.
Yes Lord, have mercy. Give me a hope for the future. Give me a heart that loves. And please, if You see fit, let my feet dance again …
*this retreat happens to be taking place at one of the most beautiful spots I have yet visited in this country. My friend started taking pictures as we stood on a balcony overlooking the city. I felt the irony at the time, of the beauty surrounding me while I struggled to see anything through the cloudy lens of my inner vision.
August 28, 2016
As we tested microphones for practice this morning, I realized with a start that I had completely forgotten about one of the songs I had intended to learn before this morning. The other vocalist was leading the Korean lyrics, but I was going to lead the English. This meant learning the song, but also figuring out the phrasing, as English translations often don’t mesh perfectly with the flow of the notes, like they work with the song’s original language. In the business of the workweek and then that of the dorm students come Friday night, I had simply forgotten about this song. Until this morning. Grace abounded for me, and for all of us, when the few minutes before the service ended up being enough to get a feel for it. And then somehow, during the song itself, the rest of it came together and it worked–so far as I could tell, at least.
Now I am in no way attempting to advocate for a lack of preparation…though lord knows life as a teacher involves a fair bit of a learning curve in the art of pant-seat-fly-by-ing ;-)
But the fact of today is that I dropped the ball. I should have been prepared and I was not. I am also, however, grateful that I did; this ball-dropping was a way that God allowed me to see the slippery slope I was heading down, and to give me a check on it before I dropped a more significant “ball.”
I have, since this school year began, been striving. And I have been tired: worn out from pushing to accomplish something-anything-but seeing little fruit for my labor, as far as my own perspective goes. Each day I wonder if I can make it through the business of the day …and I crave a sense of doing it well. But at this point in my job, tangible outcomes are just not a reality. The library is, quite frankly, a mess; it cannot hide years of neglect and the absence of a librarian. And I have not yet figured out a good work flow/balance that will allow me to make sense of the library while teaching all my classes in an effective, and wholehearted manner. Thus far, I’ve had to focus more on the teaching, though the truth is that I’d rather be tackling the library! So when this week ended, and I did not see the results I wanted, I refused to allow myself to feel weary. I figured I should have some tangible results if I was going to be tired from the week. Not seeing those, I began a weekend of attempting to make myself feel worthwhile. When this led me to wear out, and then end up needy for affirmation that wasn’t coming, my husband lovingly called me on it. Instead of profusely thanking me as I busied about with attention-seeking household tasks, he simply commented: “you don’t have to make yourself useful.”
I’d like to say that I immediately slowed down and had a peaceful Saturday evening at home; in fact, however, I let my wounded pride simmer and resented his ability to relax. I made myself miserable and, most likely, this was a large part of the reason for this morning’s issues.
But our lives are so much bigger than how we may feel about them at any given moment. And more was happening yesterday than my own off-kilter emotions.
In the midst of it, I was responsible for a couple of high school girls who actually did “need” me in the midst of, and in spite of, myself. It didn’t even matter to them how I felt: imagine that! They needed me to occupy their afternoon with an excursion in search of a swimming pool. It was a longer walk than either had anticipated, about which they were quite vocal. But once we arrived at a pool that was just for us, after two that were closed, it was all worthwhile. We splashed about in the water. They put flowers in each others’ hair. And I jimmied a sling for my camera phone, using swim goggles and the corner of a pool chair, in order to capture our afternoon. The resulting, off-kilter, photos, seemed quite appropriate, all things considered :-)
July 14, 2016
Biking home this afternoon, I listened to one of the podcasts I usually listen to while running: Chris Fabry Live! The program was about the times when others do something for you that you were unable to do yourself. One of the examples made me pause; ok, so maybe I did not pause altogether: these days my only method of biking is one in which I do everything possible to not have to stop, knowing that my old biking habit involves stopping myself with my right foot . . . an unwise move at the moment! Yes, I’m afraid my foot is still uncooperative. And yes, I’m afraid I still struggle with patience for the healing process. In fact, I am more than just “struggling,” more often than not. This is, in large part, due to the vague diagnosis given to me 2 and a half weeks ago–basically saying that he saw nothing on the x-ray and, since I was having a nearly pain-free afternoon at the time, I should be fine to start running on it again. More than two weeks later of no-running has seen no noticeable improvement and I am, quite frankly, starting to lose hope. It feels silly, though, in the face of all the great turmoil in the world . . . why should my mobility matter to me so much, when others are losing their homes, loved ones, and lives? Shouldn’t I be able to just let it go, and be grateful for what I have? I should . . .
But back to the podcast: what this caller said was that she was in a severely difficult period in her life and, when some friends from church told her she should have hope, she replied that, quite honestly, that idea made it worse for her. She had lost hope, and did not see any way to manufacture it. At that point, her minister said that it was ok; he asked her permission to simply let them have hope for her. It took some time but, eventually, she was able to find hope again. Now she looks back with the belief that it was knowing they were holding hope that allowed her to find it once again.
No doubt I am poorly paraphrasing the way she told the story, as my story-telling memory sometimes gets carried away in the telling; but no matter. In this case, I suspect that I am likely telling my own story more accurately than I am telling hers anyway. So there you have it.
I spent the day hearing updates on the racial tension issues in this country, and getting passionately hopeful when I heard people who seemed to be campaigning for justice in a wise and loving manner, rather than inciting hate in the process. But I could not seem to manufacture the same hope when it came to my own body’s failings. I fear that I shall never walk pain-free again . . . never mind run! My husband has gotten back into his running game this summer, and I watch with bittersweet pride as he increases his mileage and skill. “Run an extra mile for me!,” I say, smiling cheerfully as I kiss him goodbye. A bit too cheerfully.
Tonight we sit together in the living room, mostly quiet with periodic comments. My husband, living without his usual “toy” that is getting repaired, talks about his ideas for techie projects once reunited with his computer. My father-in-law closes his computer, after reading various news updates, and sighs, “Stop the world, Lord, I want to get off!” I sympathize, but in a different vein. Stop the world, Lord: I want to walk, and run . . . I don’t want to just be along for the ride!
*Photo is of the consistent joy I have while visiting my in-laws: the simple routine of greeting the chickens, closing up the coop for the night, and collecting the day’s eggs is, somehow, a hint of hope . . .
July 5, 2016
Towards the end of his talk, Pastor Rick picked up a leafy branch he had brought in and set on the podium. He held up a pair of clippers and began snipping branches, letting them fall to the ground as he did so. Quietly snipping for a few moments, he then asked, simply, “Are you being pruned?” I gulped. Yes.
So this morning, when leading my small group Bible Study, I followed the intended lesson up to a point and then, convicted, knew I had to say more than the words on the script. The script, based on 1 Peter 1:13-16; 2:11-12 and Romans 12:1-2, was this:
Peter admonishes the resident aliens to:
Prepare their minds for action
Stay focused on the hope of God’s eternal purposes
Do not conform
As I read this portion, however, I decided to do something slightly different from the intended discussion of each point of the admonishment.
“Let’s camp out for a minute here,” I began. While I read this list of 6 items, I want you to let your heart settle on one of those. Let God speak to you about one of these points. Don’t be afraid to hear His voice to you, as He speaks gently to His children; He will not come after you with a whip and a ‘You better shape up!’ warning; rather, His voice will come as a ‘still, small voice’ of loving refinement, not harsh correction . . .”
Though not necessarily planned beforehand, I realized afterwards that the reason I did this was because I think it can be difficult to take practical action steps when faced with a list of to-dos. Some of us just get overwhelmed too easily to handle more than a couple things at a time! [ok, so maybe some of us can only handle one thing at a time :-)] My hope was that each member of this study would be able to really sit with something that God was speaking to them about in the here and now, and not in some intangible future.
But as so often happens in the world of teaching, be it of the young or the not-so-young, the teacher ends up learning as much, if not more, than the “students.” And as I introduced this exercise, I knew the lesson I was giving was for me.
Stay focused on the hope of God’s eternal purposes
Thanks to the failing of my physical body, I have been focused on about the farthest thing possible from “eternal purposes”; my focus has been squarely resting on my own right foot. Just over a week ago something went wrong in the heel of my foot while I was running: I couldn’t finish the run and had to limp home. After a couple days of this, I went to a doctor who found nothing on the x-ray. At the time of the visit, it was feeling so good that I wondered if it was already better. I congratulated myself on being able to keep from running for 3 days and happily planned the next day’s run when the doctor reassured me that I should be able to run again with no problems. But the next morning it was back to the same level of pain as soon as I attempted to walk, never mind run.
For one in the middle of training for a marathon, with 20 years of running behind me, this present 7-day run of not-running [:-)] is no small thing. I have begun to develop a mopey, and hopeless, mindset of suspecting that I will never again be able to run, that my natural anti-depressant is lost to me, and that I’m being punished for being too reliant on my “earthly” pleasures.
But in this morning’s study, speaking the words, out loud, of my focus, had a cathartic effect. To recognize that I was, in effect, turning my gaze from heaven and directing it straight down to my feet, made me able to laugh at myself in a healing way. Not that I am any less frustrated by my physical frailty, mind you: I am itchy, and impatient, to be able to move as I am accustomed to doing; but the itch is tempered by a realization that my body is out of my hands, and in the hands of the one who created it. Furthermore, this Creator is not someone who is just putting up with my silliness; He loves me. Wow—writing that brings tears. Yes, it is true. He loves His creation: all of us, and all the parts of us . . . whether or not they are performing perfectly.
Tomorrow will bring another day of, most likely, a struggle between my desires and my physical capabilities; but tonight I pray for the ability to redirect that focus, and to draw my eyes away from a foot, and upwards to its Maker.
June 9, 2016
So much for that event-less arrival to the States. We made it through one day of smooth sailing. Day 2 arrives, which is our departure day for Peter’s weekend IT conference in Charlotte. This morning I head out for a nice get-out-the-antsyness run. The run ranks quite high on running-enjoyment scales, in fact, thanks to a beautiful morning and the lovely ridge. Halfway through I pause to ask a lady working in her yard about the park nearby. She says to wait a sec while she puts one of her barking dogs inside. While she does, her other dog lunges at my right calf, takes a chunk out of it, then heads for the back of my left knee. I’m screaming by this point, having vivid memories of my 16-year-old self in the same position with a different dog. And the crazy part of it is that the two wounds I am now sporting are identical to the two scars underneath them! The lady kindly dressed and bandaged them and I headed back on my way. Thankfully there seem to be no actual medical needs, but I must say that I’m rather stunned by the bizarre injury-duplication. As I walked back down the front steps of the owner’s terraced lawn, I mentioned to her that, if It weren’t for the fact that I believe in a good Father, I’d be tempted to call it karma. But as it is, all I can figure is that it’s a reminder that we really never know: as much as I like to hold on to my illusions of control over the hours, the days, and this life, I really just have no idea what may come. May He grant me the wisdom, and the will, to field what comes with grace …
*the fact that there is no accompanying photo to this blog post is not an oversight: I opt to spare you the visuals :-)
May 7, 2016
In two separate occasions today I was moved to tears by words I heard. The first came while I was at work, manning a station for a weekend bazaar held by our school. In between “customers”for my lime-on-a-spoon game, I spent a good deal of time just standing and watching people. I was rather melancholy today, and so found it easier than usual to just let my mental to-do lists go while I took in the activities surrounding me. I watched the children, and families, milling about, and I wondered about the lives behind it all . . . wondered about the souls contained by each of these bodies. Periodically, a little one would come up to me for either instructions or, more often, a “request” for another sticker or stamp, as most of my players had already been through the routine numerous times. I would demonstrate the ginger holding-of-the-spoon and then, a few minutes later, would bequeath a smile onto a little hand or wrist, in the form of either a pink circle of ink or a rainbow-hued sticker. I would return to human interaction for a bit, then, kid gone, resume my musings. In the midst of the musing, I was caught off guard by a song that came through the speakers of the background playlist: it was a Carrie Underwood song that I first heard when I was asked to sing it for the troops in Kabul. I was on the worship team at the time, for Camp Eggers. I didn’t think that much of the song at the time but now, suddenly, I realized that it holds surprising power for me. Some combination of the memories surrounding that time of my life along with my present struggles left me instantly teary-eyed at the wafting sounds of “Jesus take the wheel.” I spoke the words to myself for some time after the song finished. It came out as a prayer, which is exactly what it was. “Jesus take the wheel. Take it from my hands. I can’t do this on my own . . .”
Later in the day, once the bazaar was finished, I heard a quote that is simply called an epigraph, due to the uncertain source. Some attribute it Ian McLaren, who would have said the words around the time of World War 1, but as far as I can tell no one is certain. When I heard it mentioned in a podcast, however, the words had a similar effect to the song I’d heard earlier. “Be kind. Everyone you meet is carrying a heavy burden.” The tears return as I write the words now, fresh with the poignancy of the week.
I have felt broken by my own inadequacies lately, and weary of my inability to do what I want to do, or to be who I want to be. Yet even as I have been feeling that brokenness, I have been overwhelmed by gratitude for people who have stepped into that mess that is me, and who have done great acts of kindness. Hope has been given. Lord help me to pass that hope along. May I bear others’ burdens, as others have born mine. May I be kind.
*This photo came from our Spring Break medical mission in the village. Somehow, it seemed fitting . . .
April 7, 2016
It was the dance that did it. Sure, we exchanged the necessary formalities when one leaves a place where one has been hosted; there were the thank yous [“bareka”], the farewells [a slight bow combined with a nod of the head, and hands pressed together as if in prayer], and the exchange of gifts [2 Guinea fowl, 1 rooster, and a large bowl of their eggs–those of the Guinea fowl, not those of the rooster ;-)]. But I am convinced that the moment of significance–that in which the people of this village really felt, and believed, our hearts, came at the end of the formalities.
We had prepared a few simple things for this goodbye meeting but, knowing a bit about the nature of life here, we also recognized that things would likely not go as planned when we arrived at the designated meeting place at the designated time–or, more precisely, 20 minutes beforehand, to indicate that we were ready for the gathering. This allowed for a gradual trickle of people to start arriving. Soon we realized that a greater percentage of the population than we anticipated would be there; we decided, then, that we should move to the other meeting “hall.” So chairs and benches were placed on top of heads and we walked down the road to the bigger mango tree; the intensity of daytime sun makes the shade of dense trees like the mango to be the only reasonable place to be–even the shade offered by a building becomes somewhat sauna-like with this level of dry heat. As we walked, my husband placed his water bottle on his head. It did not last very long there, but we decided that we should start practicing the method with small items. I used to assume that the head was used for larger or heavier items, but since moving here have noticed it to be simply another way to carry things: we see people with hands free but a head balancing lunch, or a drink. Thinking about the habit of favoring one hand over the other, I suspect that regular head-carrying may improve both posture and balance. I have also noticed a bit of a hunching in the shoulders as of late, so in good meddling-wife fashion, I suggest to Peter that perhaps he should pull this water bottle trick with regularity :-) But I digress–back to the mango tree meeting.
Once we had repositioned ourselves under the larger tree, the aforementioned formalities began. Truthfully, I did not feel as if I had done much to thank for. We had spent the week there on a medical mission and, with no medical background, the majority of our party walked around meeting people while the doctor and his wife labored all day to serve the endless stream of men, women, and children with all manner of skin, limb, dental, and other ailments. For the rest of us, the hardship was less in the work itself and more just in physical discomforts associated with village life.
For one, we joked about how far away the outhouse was. Considering the large quantity of fiber we were consuming, this was an actual issue: we had brought large bags of potatoes to toss in the cooking fire. We had not brought any foil, so just tossed them in with the coals. Depending on how impatient one was at any given point, the end result of the consumption of each potato would be either slightly burned, or just charcoal black fingers and face. The first day, I happily ate several large [hot ;-)] potatoes before deciding I was done. As is my custom, I then slathered petroleum jelly [i.e. all-purpose moisturizer] onto my face and hands. A few minutes later, one teammate came over, smiling at me, and announcing that she was taking a photo. “Ok,” I shrugged, mildly curious about her giggles but too tired to care all that much. Eventually I was alerted to the fact that I was sporting the fashionable charcoal-black makeup trend. Peter and I thought this might make an appropriate time for us to reenact our wedding using current cuisine as a replacement for the wedding cake that we actually skipped over the first time as well [I had instead opted for a DIY strawberry shortcake that seemed more fitting for our simple farm/barn ceremony]. Strawberry shortcake in a mason jar, charred sweet potato … Same difference, eh?
The elements were another “hardship” of the week: namely, the dry heat. We are accustomed to heat, but not used to being outside in it, in the hottest parts of the day. Our work lives in the school mean that we are generally inside when it is too hot to safely be out. For this trip, however, we were wandering the village with no prior knowledge or destination, so no idea how long until the next patch of shade where we may find people to talk to. One morning before setting out I had an idea. Remembering the research I had done on surviving temperature extremes, before my move to Afghanistan, I looked at the sachet of drinking water in my hand. It had chilled enough to freeze. I took a strip of fabric and wrapped it around the sachet, then tied it around my head so that the ice was strapped to my forehead. It was a decent portable air conditioner, with a twist: we drink these waters by tearing off a corner of the plastic. With my sachet already being drunk out of, this meant that as it melted, the water would drip out. Once I had discovered this effect, I began to sing “I’m a little teapot” each time the melted water had accumulated enough for my “pour me out” to be a nice little flow. It was also another patch of brilliance so far as fashion statements go.
These physical difficulties, then, both the expected (heat, inconveniences, etc.) and the unexpected (such as a bizarre rash of large and painful blisters I developed), I was mentally prepared for.
I was not, however, prepared to face the raw ache for significance that began to swell after our first day. Once I saw that my work was not a scripted one, I began searching for what it was that I was meant to do in this village.
Some in our group were gifted at sharing the Word with those we met. Knowing this was not my strength, I began to gravitate towards the children, who were a decidedly more captive audience than my usual students on any given day. I guess those who see me on a daily basis have grown accustomed enough to the song-and-dance routines that it’s not an exciting novelty anymore. That said, I do believe that the combination of music and motion is an effective, and lasting, learning tool. So it was with intentionality that I went through a small set of songs, with any surrounding youngsters, on a daily basis, with the same motions associated with words for each language we were singing at the time [i.e. hands over heart = love, hands forming a large circle = the world, etc]. Sure enough, by the end of the week I was getting used to overhearing snippets of “God is so good,” (“lesa wawama”) and “there’s no one like Jesus” (“takwaba uwaba nga Jesu”) while walking.
I began to settle into my role, assuming that anytime grown-ups were gathered but children hanging from trees nearby, I’d make my way over to the children. Which brings me back to that mango tree meeting mentioned at the beginning.
Before starting this farewell meeting, our Pastor had asked if I could lead them in a few songs, as I had done when we first arrived. That time I had combined a performance by the Easter choir (as most in the choir had come on this trip) with a few other songs most of us knew. This time, I mentioned several of the songs I had been doing with the children, asking him if he thought it would be ok to do children’s songs and motions with the adults. I began to explain to him that I thought it might help grownups, in the same way that it helps children, to associate motions with the words of the songs. But he nodded a cheerful assent before I had finished my overly anxious request.
The first part of the ceremony, then, went as expected, with the thank yous and the gifts already mentioned [we have been periodically “shush”ing the 3 birds in a box behind us as we travel back. For some reason they are dissatisfied with their luxurious instant-noodle-box-turned-passenger-car]. Instead of standing to give a message, Pastor then turned to me and motioned that I should begin. Our group stood behind me, copying my motions, while I faced the people of the village for a short set of easily singable and danceable choruses. I nodded my thanks when we finished and returned to my seat.
At this point a few people stood up and had a short discussion. The translator came back to us and relayed the message that the women would like to give a performance for us in return. Soon no one was sitting anymore. A couple drums had appeared, a voice began to sing, others joined in, and the dancing began. It was a seamless flow of beauty, one song rolling into another as different voices started new call-and-response tunes. Different people also began the accompanying dances, young and old alike, with no apparent difference in agility or energy.
My smile grew, my feet started to move, and soon I was focused intently on my efforts to copy their intricate motions. A few of the dancers noticed me and, before long, I had been motioned into the circle with another lady. I copied the motions as best I could, moving my feet to the beat, then turning a circle before letting myself fall back into the arms of one on the outside of the circle, who would catch me under the arms while I jumped, as if she was throwing me into the air. I did not feel particularly graceful, in the least; but it was, in a word, exhilarating to be a part of the beauty. I was honored.
The dancing continued, for quite some time, until it was time for us to leave. Once back with just out party, we had a time of sharing one highlight each of us had experienced. Three words came immediately to my mind: “song and dance.” At times I worry that I am not spiritual enough to prioritize traditional preaching. But when it comes down to it, I cannot help but circle back to this same center point. We have had a theme song for the trip, singing it together in our morning and evening devotions. In it, we sing the words, “my heart and my hands, I’m making them Yours.” It makes me smile. Yes, Lord–I may not have the words to say. But I have a heart for the beauty of this world: its music and its motion. And I have the hands to join in with it.
March 5, 2016
If you please, could I trouble you with a small request? A simple thing, really: just a little “pause” button …
No big deal, right? Wouldn’t it be the perfect solution to this problem, seeing as the issue is not so much with what I have in my life; rather, this issue is with what I don’t have: time! Life is zipping along at a pace that makes me long to shoot my hand up in the air like I do in the middle of a rowdy class. Only this time, instead of my customary “Silence!” (Reader, please imagine the accompanying French accent and the sternly raised eyebrow), the call would instead be “Wait!” Please, I need a moment. I need to think about what just happened. I need to process, and to somehow document for myself, and for anyone else who may care, what just happened. Don’t you see, world, what a beautiful moment this was? Don’t you get it?
Yesterday our whole school came together to pull off an extravaganza of cultures—a bright rainbow of international displays, performances, and recognitions. England, India, China, Ghana, France, the Philippines, Japan, Ethiopia, Togo . . . we were the world. And those of us responsible for the children dashed about from 7:00am until 3:00, in a whirl of activity that had at least a few of us in a bit of a survival mode. And then, at the end of it all, I sat down for a moment to watch the ending performances. I was tempted to pull out my computer and sneak in a few moments of work towards a deadline I was quite sure I wouldn’t make. But suddenly, I was wowed by the beauty of what was in front of me: a stage full of students drumming and dancing as if the world was their stage. And for these few moments, it was . . . “Wait!”
Last night at the dinner table she paused in the middle of a bit and looked up at us: “How do you know you are saved?” Truth be told, we almost pushed the question away, tabling it for another day. We were, quite frankly, exhausted from the day and selfishly wanting to continue our efforts to trouble-shoot a practical issue we had come across, concerning our international life logistics. But instead, I took a deep breath and explained a few of my thoughts about the subject. It didn’t really take long at all, and it occurred to me that this question is one that I quite enjoy thinking about, after the process it was for me. We came so close to missing the moment . . . “Wait!”
My friend: my beautifully vibrant fellow singer–the one who welcomed me to this country with such wide arms–is leaving me now. This is my last Saturday to practice with her. Tomorrow my last Sunday to worship with her. She loops her arm in mine and we walk to the bathroom together, enjoying the mutual excitement over small luxuries like shea butter and papaya soap . . . “Wait!”
So yeah, God—a “pause” button would be perfect. Just perfect! What’s that? Oh . . . Are you sure? Well, ok—yeah, maybe you’re right. Maybe it would be just a teeny bit unfair if I had such an exclusive right. *Sigh* . . .
Maybe I could work on that tendency to insist on my idea of what should be happening, and on what I should be accomplishing on any given day. Maybe there’s something to that “birds of the air” bit (Matthew 6:26). Perhaps I do spend a fair bit of time in that “worrying” mode. Perhaps I should instead direct that mental energy into some “pause” work of my own. Quite possibly, this magic “pause” button could mean letting go of all the to-dos rolling around in there and, instead, being present in the moment as it is. And maybe—just maybe—if I am brave enough to be present here and now: if I can watch this youngster lost in her drumming and just get lost right with her, I won’t need that “pause” button after all . . .
February 7, 2016
Praise and worship time is a tricky one for me, as it is for most other worship leaders I know, in that it is a struggle to balance the focus on helping the congregation to enter into worship with the ability to do so myself. Oftentimes, I think worship leaders end up with rare moments of being able to enter into a personal “lostness” in the worship, that are bookended by the more usual times of worry over logistics like finding the right notes/harmonies, how many times to repeat a chorus, or whether the key is a bit too much of a stretch for one’s vocal chords on a given morning. Not that I mind this fact: frankly, I love all that comes into play [;-)] with music, so these logistics are actually enjoyable for me. But at times I do long for that the space and freedom to just be in the moment.
In our service, the pastor chooses the songs that are a part of the service, while the praise team handles the introductory singing time. So one of the hymns we sang this morning as a part of the service, during the offering, was new to me. For much of the song, I was actually zoning out a bit, still thinking about how worship had gone today, and distracted by my amusement over the children surrounded me. But when I looked up and started to sing, I was instantly struck by the words displayed on the screen. There are only a few lines at a time, allowing for two languages to be visible at once, so it was easy to zero in on, and be wowed by, these words:
“Holy Spirit brighten little deeds of toil . . .”
The screen quickly changed after I saw them, and a part of me worried—for a moment—that I had imagined them. I was grateful, then, when the pastor launched into a second round of the hymn. And there they were again: those words. Oh, how beautiful, I thought . . . the words themselves, but also the hope—bright hope—that they carried.
I breathed these words with my inhales and my exhales as the day carried on. In between the business surrounding readying myself, and the household, for another week of the work/school/life crazies, I stole moments to savor this thought.
Yes, Lord: let this be my prayer to you now. Brighten the little deeds of toil that so often threaten to draw my eyes down, and to drag my feet to a shuffle. Brighten my speech. Brighten my thoughts. Brighten my life.
*For dinner tonight we celebrated Chinese New Year in the dorms. So part of prep involved making the traditional dumplings. After writing this post, I realized that this day’s version of the “toil” of meal preparation was a rather fitting illustration :-)