my own horn

January 18, 2018

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I’ve never felt particularly confident in front of high school students. And I’ve generally felt debilitatingly unconfident in front of middle schoolers. So when I gave what I thought was a pretty decent chapel talk in front of all our school’s secondary students yesterday, it seemed a bit of a personal milestone. One of the things that I find a bit frustrating, to my desire to mull over what is happening in my life, and to process significant events, is that the general pace of the world often feels so much faster than what I’d prefer . . . as if my personal internal clock is running on a perpetually low battery, so that I’m always silently pleading “Wait–don’t move on to the next thing just yet . . . I need to sit with this one first!”
That said, I’m going to take the liberty now to share my chapel talk here. I’m really doing this for myself, out of my own need to document my life. But of course, I don’t mind having readers out there, if this is of use to any of you ;-)
Here’s the talk . . .

Today I’m going to talk to you about finding joy in serving others. First I’d like for us to look at two passages in the Bible. Then I’m going to tell you a story, that you may remember a portion of from Mr. L’s chapel talk last semester.
But first, Matthew 25:35-40 (NIV):

For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

Last week we learned about why we can find joy in serving the Lord, and here we see how serving others is also serving the Lord. When you look into the face of another person, it’s as if you are looking into Jesus’ face as well. Wow! That’s quite a responsibility, isn’t it?

Let’s move on to another verse now, this one from Proverbs.
Proverbs 19:17 (NIV):

Whoever is kind to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will reward them for what they have done.

Does this mean that we should do nice things for people so that we will get nice things in return? I don’t think this is necessarily what a “reward” is. God doesn’t just give us nice things—that’s not the point. God is about good things, and about goodness in our hearts.
Have you ever done something that you knew was right, and good, and known it with such confidence that it didn’t matter who saw you, or who told you it was good . . . you just felt that goodness inside of you? I think that’s the kind of reward God is talking about in verses like this one—the kind of reward that lasts a whole lot longer, and goes a whole lot deeper, than a plate of fried chicken, or a brand new iphone.

I promised you a story, didn’t I? Rewind many years to when I was little . . . we’ll have to go back a long time for that, considering my age ;-)

[I’m going to interrupt my own speech now, for brevity sake, and summarize what I said from here on out. I told them about my family, and about my father’s death. I told them about how Peter and I searched for the grave not long ago, as I blogged about in the previous post to this one. I also told them the bizarre “coincidence” of how my own family story paralleled that of another teacher here, as I blogged about two posts ago. I ended with this quote, from a book I’m currently reading, by Donald Miller (A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, 197)

God does not answer Job’s questions. It’s as though God starts off His message to the world by explaining that there are painful realities in life we cannot and will never understand. Instead, He appears to Job in a whirlwind and asks Job if he knows who stops the waves on the shores or stores the snow in Wichita every winter. He asks Job who manages the constellations that reel through the night sky.
And that is essentially all God says to Job. God doesn’t explain pain philosophically or even all its benefits. God says to Job, Job, I know what I am doing, and this whole thing isn’t about you.
Job responds, even before his health and wealth are restored by saying, “All of this is too wonderful for me.” Job found contentment and even joy, outside the context of comfort, health, or stability. He understood the story was not about him, and he cared more about the story than he did himself.

I ended by telling them that they too—each and every one of them—have a story. That we all have a unique set of gifts that make us perfectly suited to the unique call on our own lives. No one can tell us what that is: but we have access to the One who is willing to speak that into our lives.
So go out, and live your story. Get carried away in the wonder of something so much bigger and greater than you, and so much better than any story you could possible imagine for yourself!

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going backwards

January 2, 2018

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“To go forward sometimes you must go backwards.” So says the fortune in our bag of chicken flavored plantain chips as we sit down at the close of a long New Year’s Day.
And yes, we ate plantain chips for dinner—along with maize from a roadside market stand and boiled eggs, to make it a square meal. Or round, if you must quibble about actual shapes.
Indeed, we did feel a bit as if we had gone backwards today. We traveled a bumpy 8-hour road trip to get here last night. Not knowing when the bus would start yesterday, we had gone into town, packed for the road, with our friends who were headed to church. Once we had purchased tickets and been assured that the bus would leave at 13:00 and that we were to be there at 12:00, we opted to follow our friends to church rather than wait there at the station. It was a lovely service, with songs from both the youth group and the children. Had I been my normal self, I’d have been dancing along with them. As it were, however, nervous about the unknown journey ahead, I could not be on a pew in a crowded room. I got up to stand in the back, seeing many others waiting outside. I smiled at the performances, and recognized the beauty of it all . . . but I was removed, unable to shake the distraction of road-weary and road-worried angst. We jetted out as the service was ending, were dropped back at the station at a punctual 12:01, and then waited in a bar that doubled as a ticket station until the bus rolled in at 13:08.
Soon into the journey, I worried that we would not make it at all. The bus had pulled over to the side of the road for what we assumed to be a passenger drop. When I opened my window, though, and peered down, what I saw was a pair of boots sticking out from underneath the bus and a set of tools on the ground beside him. After 20 minutes of baking in the bus, Peter asked if I was going to go outside and join the children. “Join them as they poop?” I teased, having watched several mothers assist youngsters with their bush business. I did decide to get up, however, and joined the bystanders on the road. As I got out, the man handing tools to said boot-bearing repairman dashed past me, following the trail that led to a nearby cluster of grass-roofed huts. Two minutes later he re-emerged, still sprinting, and handed an unknown object to the man under the bus. The bus horn sounded, people followed the cue to file back into their seats and, soon, we were back on the road. “I guess that nice massage effect we felt earlier wasn’t a good thing,” Peter remarked. “Man!” I quipped, “And I had paid good money for these VIP seats!”
Considering the warnings we had received about the hazards of the roads, it ended up being a surprisingly smooth journey. One bathroom stop led to the discovery of Zambian-made kombucha at one of the snack stands. This combined with window purchases of bananas and cat naps kept me calm. Slanted cell-phone recordings of recent movies with subtitles that appeared to be in a font that translated to jibberish kept me somewhat entertained. And then, well before I expected it, we were rolling into the village of which my first memories are hazy but my last run strong.
We had anticipated being able to spend two days there; thinking through our early morning flight out of Lusaka, we figured that if we took the early morning bus, we should arrive by evening, and then head to the airport for a rather marathon-like traveling run. But asking around about the bus, we learned that we might not be able to find an alternative transport of there was any problem with the journey; it would be best to give ourselves an extra day for the trip.
So we had one day. When I admitted to Peter that I felt like this had been the mission of the trip, he was surprised. Frankly, so was I. I had done an excellent job convincing myself that it was no big deal—that I didn’t expect to find the grave. The odds were stacked against us. We had no communication unless I could connect my phone to wifi (which, generally, was not available). I had no idea who had led me through the woods to find it 6 years ago. I remembered no one there, so far as I knew. It was a shot in the dark.
We headed out, following the visual trail of four photographs, counting power poles and comparing tree branch silhouettes. We found what appeared to be the closest pole to the position in the woods, and we waded through the brush and cobwebs, comparing stones to photos and mental images.
But we did not find it. I felt a sort of numb hopelessness, wondering what we were doing. Why had we spent thousands of dollars to come all this way? Did I really think it would work? Should I have tried harder to make it work? Did I really WANT it to work?
I don’t know. I don’t know why there was not a miraculous discovery, as I do believe miraculous things happen. More specifically, I feel them happening in my own life. This miracle did not.
After boarding the bus for the return trip, I looked at Peter and said “Let’s do this again next year.” He didn’t react for a moment, trying to determine my level of sanity. “I’m serious,” I said. “We know what we should do differently.” He agreed with that bit of brilliance, and we spoke briefly of the possibility. With a couple days of travel left to go, I could not allow myself to get into any true planning mode, so far as that goes—a great deal of energy goes into mentally and physically gearing myself up for the journey at hand . . . but this time next year, who’s to say . . . come what may?