imela

October 23, 2016

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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.

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