Saturday, August 4, 2012

a cupful of death

"What's lost is nothing to what's found, and all the death that ever was, set next to life, would scarcely fill a cup."

Last month I lost two friends. I didn't misplace them. They died. It was a grievous month.

Becky is like a sister, growing up in Korea with me. I lived with her family before there was a hostel for MKs in Seoul. Her family is my family. She fought breast cancer and survived brilliantly. Then non-metastatic liver cancer came and took her away. Another fight, not as long. It gave us time to grieve, so we thought. But it still hit like a two by four when Uncle Larry called my cell as I rode along in the car, Becky was finally free.

Koos is a South African friend from our Mozambique days. He and his wife lived in Quelimane for years alongside us. He was a woodcrafter par excellence. He made the beautiful doors in our home. We enjoyed braais with his family. Our children went to the same Portuguese school and we mothers fought the same cultural struggles with it. The anopheles mosquito got him. Cerebral malaria. And we long-timers, we were the ones who were proactive and aggressive whenever there was a suspicion. But it got him and Retha wondered and blamed herself: "if only--"

For many years our hearts grieved because Koos could not make sense of our confidence in God. We tried the Experience Faith book with him and his family. When we discussed Abraham leaving home and family for he knew not where, all Koos could say was, "He was crazy, man." End of discussion. But in the end, Koos got crazy, too, and handed over his life and business to the Lord. After we left.

So here I am, remembering two friends, both in a place I eagerly look forward to.  I affirm that what I've lost is nothing to what they've found. And I will find. This death stuff, it's a drop in the bucket compared to life. But we are the cups, and we don't know much outside our rims.

So I miss Becky and Koos. And I tear up, remembering the litany of those whom I've lost, and miss terribly, beginning with my grandmother back in Korea when I found her cold and still one Sunday morning.

One day I'm going to set my cup of death next to life and see what a pittance it truly was.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

epiphany in intercultural studies

That's me, age two, in my "aerocopter"in Inchon, Korea. My first venture across cultures, and I've been doing it ever since. You can do something so often you begin to feel like you know all about it. Growing up in a shame-based culture (Korea) and having a passport from a guilt-based culture (US), I thought I pretty much "got it." Even though I understood the difference, I didn't realize that the gospel needed to speak into that part of the culture, too.

I was all too aware, though, that western tidbits like the four spiritual laws just didn't communicate. If folks don't feel that their sin is all that terrible to keep them from God, they don't sense their need. I found this often when sharing with Muslims. They are simply trying to accumulate enough good things to outweigh the bad. Redemption isn't even part of the picture: I do my part, God does His.

But I've learned something and then added onto it and maybe, just maybe, this will help you share, too.

If you're acquainted with the guilt and shame based cultures, that helps. But there is a third culture and all three operate along a circular continuum. Along with guilt and shame, there are cultures controlled by fear.

Guilt-based cultures (like our western ones) ingrain a sense of personal guilt when one breaks the taboos, even if one does not get caught. So many are wracked by painful emotions brought on by disobeying the rules.

Shame-based cultures (like the middle eastern ones) make upholding the honor of the family (community) paramount and when someone is caught disgracing the group, retribution is swift and brutal.

Fear-based cultures (like many African ones) operate on a level which controls behavior through fear of spiritual forces which must constantly be appeased, often without understanding.

Most people operate primarily out of one of these models and have fringes of at least one of the other two. By hearing where a person is, we can have an idea of how to bring liberation to a broken heart.

The father of lies has utilized these cultural elements in his warfare against our race. He fills our heads with doubts which stem from our cultural heritages.

The guilt-based he tells: "You are a failure. You never will be good enough. But keep trying harder, because if you don't you'll never find peace." To those with stronger self-images he lies this way: "You are a very righteous person, you try hard, you have a great reputation and image. Keep up the good work, you're doing fine compared to the others."

The shame-based he tells: "You are shameful and unworthy, terribly unclean. But try to get ritually clean and stay that way so you will be able to do your prayers and give alms that will gain credit." To the more legalistic he says: "Wow, you are keeping all the rituals properly. You are impressive and ought to find secret ways to fulfill your private needs so that others won't be affected by your actions."

The fear-based he tells: "You are alone, an orphan, and no one loves you. You can depend on no one and there are evil ones out to get you. Find a safe place to hide and crawl into it or find some spirit to appease and manipulate for your own purposes." To those dependent on their own strength he says: "You cannot depend on anyone else, so you have to build a power base from which to operate and maintain your own strength regardless of the situation of any others. Do whatever it takes to get the powerful spirits on your side."

Amazingly, these models each reflect an unbalanced understanding of the Trinity. Each model tends to cling to a Person of the Trinity more than the others, and the lack of weight on the other two is serious when sharing the gospel.

Guilt-based Christians identify strongly with Jesus, the Son. They have a legal understanding of their sinfulness and He has paid their debt. He is one they pray to, trust in, adore, and are grateful to. They see their position as one of restored innocence or being forgiven.

Shame-based Christians identify strongly with the Father. Much like the father of the prodigal son, God the Father is willing to risk the shame of receiving back a disgraceful son and restoring him to family position. They have a familial understanding and appreciate the restoration of honor.

Fear-based Christians identify strongly with the Spirit. The Spirit is often perceived as a Comforter in the West, but many biblical passages show the Spirit as a Power. The Sword of the Spirit is an offensive weapon. These people see the importance of power encounters and trust in the spirits which manifest mightiest power, and the Holy Spirit is the One.

So, when we share our faith, we have to be careful what we communicate. There are three persons in the Godhead. One God. And He can reach into the needs and lies and make us all new. Let us be aware of how best to do that.

Monday, April 9, 2012

tomb guard poem

“An easy duty, rest assured,” the priests and elders said:
“To guard a rock-hewn garden tomb and keep a dead man dead.”
I saw them carry in the corpse, the wrapping thick with gore.
They laid it on the granite slab centered in the floor.

What job was this for legionnaires? Our indignation rose--
But Rome still gives the orders with her discipline imposed.
The storied stone was rolled in place; we five were out of breath.
And once in place, a seal was set: to break it would be death.

We were alert, the night was cool, no ghostly hauntings there;
Suddenly the garden quaked and Power filled the air.
My breath came short. We double-checked the seal upon the stone.
Before our normal watch resumed, a deep unearthly groan

Issued from foundations and the night grew strangely colder.
Spirits? My heart pitched to hear the grating of the boulder.
Horror-struck, we watched as some Almighty, unseen hand
Rolled back that stone, no effort shown: brought down the Jewish plan.

We witnessed, knowing certain death; to fail was execution.
My fellows fell as petrified, my mind was a confusion.
Moonlight pierced, the stone rolled free and pagan death reversed.
I fought to breathe; I grasped my sword to fight: I felt the curse

Give way and out the gaping hole a figure came in white.
No blood marred Him. He was not death. Dare I trust my sight?
For one brief pause, our eyes full met. He looked at me and smiled,
Then through the waking garden strode. I rooted like a child.

I saw Him rise--I felt His strength, and peace, that makes no sense:
His liberty was my arrest. There’d be strong recompense.
We fled straight to the city and reported what occurred.
Expecting threats, recriminations, the outcome was absurd.

They offered us a soldier’s dream: retirement and gold.
Instead of twenty years, I’m free in ten and not so old!
We simply said we fell asleep and His disciples rolled
Away the stone and took Him off. They paid in Caesar’s gold.

So with a lie I saved my life, betrayed my soul, however.
When I denied I saw Him smile, His peace left me forever.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

crazy little puzzle pieces

We are in intercultural training for a month. This is my first writing assignment: a personal view of culture.

We all carry them around with us in all sorts of random places: in our pockets, our knapsacks, our purses, our cell phone holders, our suitcases, our cars, our cuffs; whatever we happen to be wearing or carrying is a potential receptacle for them. These scruffy jigsaw puzzle pieces are so much a part of our lives, we don’t even notice them anymore. I suspect it’s because we have pretty much forgotten the Original Intent: of putting the Puzzle together. We’re too busy going to work, raising families, meeting expectations, schooling kids (or wondering how to pay to school them). Occasionally we take out one of the pieces and look at it, turn it around, wonder how it fits in, then slip it back into the pocket.

When we were younger, of course, the excitement of getting the Puzzle complete had us much more focused on the pieces. We took them out, showed them to others, compared sizes, colors, designs. I can still remember how exciting it was to find someone who had a piece that matched one of mine. Yes, they all do come together eventually. We believed there was a grand Puzzle, and we were all carrying pieces throughout our lives.

Wherever you go, you encounter puzzle pieces. Everyone has them: rich or poor, educated or uneducated, northern or southern hemisphere, lazy or hard-working, everyone. As I have shown mine and seen others, I’ve noticed they are rich with color, symbols, partial clues as to the big picture. Chipped tiles, sleigh runners, palms, trade marks, pagoda roofs, oceans, crosswalks, rice paddies. I’ve seen so many bits and pieces, it gets overwhelming. Usually the pieces of people in the same localities are more likely to fit together. But I’ve found pieces of mine that fit in the most unlikely situations. It’s effort, but rewarding.

Ah, the feeling of a “connection” when pieces come together. In college, lots of us had connecting pieces and that gave us a feeling of the rightness of things and that it was inevitable that we would eventually find the others and “get it all together.” We were pretty idealistic in college and whether we went to the mission field or stayed home and did the “sending” thing, we gradually let go of putting pieces together. So much effort.

Many times pieces looked like they just had to go together. When they didn’t, it could be frustrating. I knew there were some people who wanted to change my pieces to fit, just snip a bit off here or there. Others tried to force the fit. The bulge was a little too big, but by ramming it, it would stay put. Then the pattern didn’t look right. Sometimes we figured the pieces were too different and speculated that they were parts of separate puzzles: there wasn’t One Grand Puzzle. That disturbed many of us who were convinced there was a Puzzle Maker who specifically designed the One Puzzle. These pieces that turned up in our living could not possibly all be random bits of cardboard without some intention behind them.

I love the process of finding those rare connections. When a piece I have fits with one someone else has, it’s euphoric. Then both pieces are ours, not just the one! Odd thing about those pieces, when they fit together, they multiply--no one loses. I have no idea how that works, but it does.

At various academic institutions I’ve attended over the years, I’ve listened to and watched many people analyzing the puzzle piece phenomenon. They try to explain the relationship we have with our pieces: how we feel our pieces are special and right. It bothers us when folks want us to change our pieces to fit theirs. We resent aspersions cast on our pieces because the pattern isn’t like anything they’ve seen or they stick out where someone would like them to go in. Many end up trying to find ways to force their puzzle pieces to fit others to give a sense of the Puzzle making progress. We all know how that’s going to end.

Over the years as I’ve thought about this Puzzle business, I’ve tried to get a handle on it. What does that big picture look like? Nobody knows because nobody has all the pieces. There is no cover of the box to look at. Some people try to speculate, but without an overall idea, we are pretty much flying blind. You very rarely find edge pieces, too. I’d say in all my looking at others’ pieces and comparing with mine, I’ve probably only seen half a dozen edge pieces. So we are trying to make connections without knowing the limits. Folks with edge pieces sense that they have something special, so they hang onto them for dear life. They can be pretty reluctant to let you try to fit yours into theirs.

I’ve noticed that there are many people out there who don’t get it. They come across the puzzle pieces in their pockets and hiding places. They look at them, stroke them, feel the edges. Then they put them away with a sigh. They don’t have a sense that there is something bigger going on. As a result, some of those pieces get pretty mangled and dirty with time. But I’m convinced they fit in somewhere. Each piece is a part of the whole, so it’s important, even if it’s a bit beat up.

I've heard a theory that by heading out and informing distant peoples about the significance of the pieces and how puzzles work, there will likely be an increase in fitting them together. There are difficulties, however, because some well-intentioned but uninformed folk end up simply telling folks with very odd pieces that their pieces are somehow faulty and need to be re-examined and brought up to certain standards. This provokes outcries from the Purist Puzzle Piece group, convinced that pieces are all equally viable in whatever condition we might find them. At this point, even those with great insight into piece shapes and designs are castigated as being guilty of the same insensitivity as those who are uninformed.

One of the sad things about these cool little pieces is how many people don’t give them any credence. They cannot be bothered with the in’s and out’s of the crannied cardboard. They are not fascinated by the colorations or texture of the finish. Long ago they gave up any hope of them being designed. They reckon the cardboard bits are random cut-offs from various factories that make things out of cardboard. Can you imagine? I want to ask how they think these pieces get into our pockets and fall between the cushions of our sofas. But they have already eliminated the Design idea.

I believe there is a Designer so artistic that we cannot begin to comprehend His Puzzle.

I believe He sees the whole, He knows where every little piece is and He is responsible each one. I believe that the pieces which have been disfigured with handling and the grime of cow dung floors, pieces which have been lost in the cracks of mundane suburban living will be restored one day. And when He has brought us all with our pieces and we see them fit into the whole, we will see something more breath-taking than we could ever have imagined. And we will know it was a burden and a privilege to be entrusted with these little puzzle pieces in this life.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

"what do they teach in schools these days?" (Prof. Kirk)

That is a good question, and it came from a character C.S. Lewis meant to represent himself, Professor Kirk in "The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe." We are asking this question as we muddle through what is passing for education in our own cultural system.

Friend Marcia wrote this comment on the state of education in Christian liberal arts schools of higher education:

Life at college is not the real world. Our students are considered adults while they live with very little discipline and even less responsibility. Worse, administrators are disdainful of parents who remain involved with their young "adults," even though they may be footing the bill. Christian parents are often looking for an institution where authorities reinforce the parents' standards, and with good reason. Secular schools may have authorities antagonistic toward faith.
The best schools would teach their students how to think, how to discipline themselves, and how to shoulder responsibility even when it's not fun. The best parents would, too. But for now, a piece of paper often allows graduates to gain entry into a workplace where they may learn these things, as they spend years paying off their student loans.

Wow, Marcia. You covered a lot of ground in there. All points well-taken.

First, college is not the real world. That pretty much says it. Quite a few young people think or act like it is, and do some pretty irresponsible things. Some crash and burn while others enjoy the security of their parents' safety net. Which ones learn life's lessons? Which parents are being truly parental?

Being a parent is a tough call. I imagine being a university administrator is also pretty tough. Walking the line between helping young people grow up and pleasing their parents can be onerous at best. The focus on "how to discipline and shoulder responsibility" are items not easily itemized on a syllabus and graded on a test. Yet, as a group, educators have determined that education should be thus quantifiable and assessable. Hmm.

My own personal freshman, Bell at Dallas, texted me today:

"I feel like college does not encourage us to be responsible but maybe even enables us to be lazy and waste four years of our lives."

Those of you who know Bell night find this surprising. But she calls it as she sees it.

Where does that leave us? Sounds like young people not particularly well-prepared for real life while saddled with the reality of huge student loans.

We should be asking if there is an alternative which is more realistic to the goals (assuming the goals are responsible citizens here), and more aligned with the financial potential of the "consumer". Can we grab the attention of this world's educators if we continue to send our offspring and pay exorbitant fees? How?

Here I end. Once again with questions.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Christian: adjective and noun

First, thank you, Jarm and Marcia, for your thoughtful comments on my "Tensions in Education" diatribe. I intend to respond later and hopefully work into a dialogue about how we ought to "do" education.

But before that, I feel the need for a parenthetical blog. This is about our glorious and effervescent language, English. I love it. I love words. I love the feeling we get when they come together and we say what we mean. I mourn the passing of parts of definitions because our culture infiltrates and changes (horror of horrors) what a word means. I also delight in new words begin coined and increasing understanding.

Right now, though, I'm thinking of the quirk of English which jumps parts of speech. Words begin as nouns and become verbs, or vice versa, sometimes they degenerate or ameliorate into adjectives. Here my pet peeve has been "impact" which began as the shock of a truck slamming into something hard and gradually morphed into into process of it slamming, whereby it impacted the wall instead of having an impact on the wall. I have begun to accept this errant verb because it's not a hill I wish to die on. (Though chances are you will hear me talk about having an impact on rather than impacting.) I draw the line at the adjective, however. I don't believe in impactful trucks or books or weekends. Sorry.

But that is all neither here nor there. You know, a rambling introduction to warm you to the word in the title: CHRISTIAN.

In Acts 11:26 we read that marvelous verse which records the occasion on which a word entered the language. "And they were first called Christians in Antioch." I still remember the lesson or sermon in which I learned this amazing fact. And the speaker's translation was "little Christs." Being worthy to carry that weighty of a name has always been a burden to me.

But we have left "little Christs" behind and label ourselves Christians and pretty soon we start messing with the language. We figure if we come from America, we're Americans or from India we're Indians. Those are not little Americas or little Indias. The adjective really means "of". It works, it's valid.

I question the validity, though, of calling something "Christian" as a descriptor, unless you are talking about Christ's own words. So many things have willy-nilly been labelled Christian which have so little to do with being "of Christ" and have more to do with being of people who label themselves Christians as a cultural identity and not as a spiritual journey. Let's just name a few so we can see how rampant--and bizarre--it is to use Christian as an adjective:
Christian music, Christian lyrics, Christian school, Christian education, Christian country, Christian culture, Christian band, Christian retreat, Christian book, Christian bookstore, Christian mission . . .

Do we begin to see how strange it is to label things as such? We are so used to it, it seems normal. But what if I talked about Christian food, or a Christian diet, or Christian cars, or houses, or resorts, or airlines? Those are not normal. Those are value-free in this sense. But we have burdened some items (making them more "legitimate" perhaps) by calling them Christian.

I call this False Advertising.

Okay, my argument is that people can be little Christs. Things cannot. But we have another subset of "Christian as adjective" items who are people:
Christian rock star, Christian actor, Christian doctor, Christian mechanic, Christian teacher, Christian lawyer, Christian used car salesman, Christian fill-in-the-blank. This people are Christians, it is not a descriptor, it is them. Let us call each a rock star who is a Christian, a teacher who is a Christian, and so on, to avoid the slippery slope of turning a Noun into a catch-all and meaningless adjective.

Why am I even up on this soap box, you might be wondering? What is the big deal about parts of speech? Well, speech is how we communicate and doing it well will improve our chances of actually saying something and someone understanding. Besides, as little Christs, we desire to communicate Truth, which truthfully, cannot be done in a sloppy, generalized way.

I'm going somewhere with this. All this mulling came from thinking about what makes a Christian education? And as I hinted in the previous blog, we have used the adjective to tell us that Christian university education ends up being more about the rules the students are to follow than about the education they receive. The emphasis is on the curfew, dress code, media regulations, drinking, smoking, dancing, and other subcultural expectations served up by the administration to the parents who wish them. Sadly, surprisingly little emphasis is on mentoring the students into being responsible for their decisions and actions, and helping them learn to walk like "little Christs" which looks more like "do justice, love mercy, walk humbly . . ." than rules which promote the inevitable attitude of Pharisees.

I will speak to Marcia's good comment next blog. But will end with a response to Jarm who said, "A Christian education is one which promotes a Christian worldview." That is a good answer, except that I prefer not to use Christian as an adjective because in the end, the person who is doing the educating will use his own worldview and call it Christian and then we still don't know what it is. I like the worldview idea, though. Maybe a Christian education is one that promotes the worldview of Christ. Which obligates us to try and see the world through His eyes. Suddenly words like grace and redemption and mercy and love start flooding in. Concepts like "inasmuch" and "70 x 7" and "foxes have holes" start defining "of Christ." Or at least being part of the definition.

So, I leave it with you. Do we abandon Christian as a label, and try to live the Noun of it? I will make the attempt.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Tensions in Education

As an educator and a product of the American educational system, I have an interest in what we are doing, where we are going, and what we are trying to accomplish. Looking on the web at various universities and graduate programs, I read about strategic visions and again run up against the "education as product" issue. Granted, we have to make our goals clear, they must be clear to us, but the goals I am seeing sound more like production than development of people.

Along a parallel line in my mind, I am asking questions about how Christians should be and are "doing" education. We have so many Christian colleges and universities with varying degrees of academic excellence and spiritual discipline. The more I think about these things, questions bubble up:

Can an institution be "Christian"? This troubles me because it labels the product, e.g. a "Christian education." What is it that precisely makes it Christian? What do Christians do differently? (Let's talk about this later, but I suspect that it has more to do with required chapel, curfews, dress codes and media regulations than education.)

Where is excellence in Christian education? Where is excellence in our faith? What does excellence have to do, if anything, with how we teach or train young people. (Not our Christian young people, but any young people.)

As Christians we are called to love one another and our enemies. Where does that fit with excellence? If we are developing young minds, are love and striving for excellence mutually compatible?

If our goal is to be among the faithful, how do we find the balance in the educational world? We serve Love and we serve Truth. Those are not exclusive one of the other. But how does it mesh with competition and perfectionism?

These are a few of the ideas that surface when I meditate on what we as educators are striving to accomplish. Any thoughts are welcome.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

a day in the Ivory Tower

Today has been different. I sat by the fireplace in McConn (IWU's cafe), drank coffee and talked with young people serious about what they wanted to do and serious about their dreams. They are not all confident and certain, but they are passionate and engaged. They are in an institution which is educating them. I'm thinking about that.

Is education a commodity which can be bought and sold? Am I an idealist to think that an education is something that comes through hard work and personal effort? Something which requires asking difficult questions. Something which involves listening to those you disagree with, reading books that make you uncomfortable. Something which reaches deep into you and touches the living soul of you and challenges you to do the impossible.

Somehow, it appears that our culture has turned education into a product. Don't get me wrong, I was in a marvelous setting today: I saw young people sitting around working on their computers, reading, socializing, debating, being serious (and sometimes silly). It was perfect for a 21st century version of "The Aeropagus". I heard hard questions, icons shattered, and genuine heartfelt desire to learn and grow.

But within this fertile context, the structure was muddied with required classes, evaluations and assessments, drudge assignments, and a lack of sense of the intrinsic value. Education is being confused with codified, quantified packets of information, handed out, masticated and regurgitated. Education is being choked by training in a way of thought rather than how to think.

But these young people are seeing that their education is theirs to grasp. More than grades and notes and evaluations. More than what a panel of people somewhere deemed part of the basic requirements. And they are going to make changes, I hope. So much depends on a return to genuine love of learning.

Friday, February 17, 2012

par for the course

Suffering is not par for the course. It is the course.
This is not something we want to hear, but I am seeing it every day.

This trip has been amazing and so far we've only gone from Texas to Canada and down to Michigan. Only three weeks into a ten week sojourn. It has encouraged and challenged me. My friends have reminded me of the important things in life. Much as I'd like to give names, that might be invasive. So I will use hebrew letters to identify those who have ministered to me.

Aleph is recuperating from the ravages of chemo and accepting this second bout of cancer with grace and gratitude. Bet, her mother, is as joyful and full of laughter as ever; mindful of the precariousness of life, delighting in its robustness. The hospital stays and uncertainties are not dragging them down. Visiting them is a genuine "upper." Sure we talk about cancer, but we also revel in a son's amazing healing, an exotic eastern wedding, an upcoming grand/great-grandchild. God is honored.

Gimel deals with the effect of addiction in her family. Despite her own weaknesses, she presses on--encouraging all around her and keeping laughter close to the surface. Dalet and daughter are finding wholeness despite the loss of a beloved spouse; daughter is seeking to reach young people struggling with pain. Her tattoo is eloquent: the wrist slash ending in a heart. Jesus is pleased.

Hei is recovering from an invasive heart stimulation, but more aware of the needs and concerns of those she prays for daily. Her heart overflows with compassion. Vav has sons needing to make the right choices, but wisely chooses to allow them to make their choices and pray for them. Saying, "I told you so" would be easy. Watching them deal with consequences is so hard. The Body of Christ is strengthened.

Zayin is paying debts racked up by her deceased mother. Although her deceased ex-mother-in-law left a legacy, none came to her or her children. The injustice of this outrages me, but she says she is doing it to honor her mother. She harbors no bitterness about being left out of the other inheritance. Christ is smiling. Holy Spirit is given a situation to bring glory to God.

Het is caring for her Alzheimer's afflicted mother in law. At great personal and financial cost, she and her husband are taking up the slack from other siblings unwilling to help. Her own parents need more support and care which she struggles to give them. She is a source of encouragement to her sons as they see her example. The church is strengthened.

There are more that I hope to mention. But they are just a reminder of all those suffering, taking on of responsibility, doing the right thing which is the hard thing--being faithful disciples. Eternal realities are being tapped in this life. We are all heading on a course. The choices we make here are setting our direction. When we let suffering guide us into wisdom, the course is safe.

Suffering isn't par for the course. It is the course.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Mom's hard battle

This morning I went to Windsor to see Mom. I'd visited in December for the Christmas party and she had no idea who I was then. I didn't know what to expect, but figured she wouldn't know me.

But without the glitz of decorations, confusion of overly loud carols, and general over-bearing good will of the season, Mom seemed less anxious and more aware. This saddened me. I'd hoped she didn't know what was going on around her. She knows.

It wasn't difficult to convince her I was me. She kept repeating, "I can't believe it's you," as she hung onto my hand. "Life is so frustrating . . ." her voiced trailed off many times to a humming she did to try to focus. "I just sit for hours and look . . ."

"What are you looking at, Mom?" "Junk. Just junk. I'm just wasting my time."

"I can't see any more. I can't hear what they are saying. You don't know what it's like in here." She pats her body. She isn't complaining about the environment; it's is her body that has betrayed her. Her accountant's precision and organization are lost in the confusion of being wheeled here and there for meals and visits to the toilet. "When can I go home?" When, indeed?

"It's such a struggle here."

"Mom, stop struggling. Just relax and let go." Her eyes look haunted. I feel pain and guilt and dread and yes, confusion. She doesn't deserve to be here. No one does. Looking around I see elderly folk nodding off in their wheelchairs along the aisles. One lady rolls her knee socks up and down, up and down.

Mom's hands are bruised and spotted from the effects of blood thinning drugs. Drugs designed to keep her alive. "Dad has been gone such a long time and I really want to see him," she whispers to me. She knows what she's missing. She doesn't understand why she is still here. Nor do I.

I have no answers.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Be Kind

Well, it has taken me much longer to resume blogging than I ever expected. I enjoy the liberty to start a "new post" and see where it goes. But I haven't written for half a year. There is a reason why . . .

A very sad thing happened right after Phil broke his tibia and fibula. Writing about the hospital experience was therapeutic. The trauma of seeing Phil crippled (temporarily, but crippled, nonetheless) quickly submerged under the confusion of being removed from our team. We had grown into a symbiotic relationship with the orphan ministry. We had such great relationships with the Shona people we were interacting with. (See the picture of Synodia, above, who was part of the exciting orphan group I nurtured.) I had been mentally writing blogs and not getting to them because of the fulfillment and delight in the work.

Then we were taken off the team and I had more time than I was used to, lots more time. With nothing to say. Nothing that would make sense anyway. So I felt it better not to say anything and wait.

I have waited. It has been a long journey and I'm not there yet, but I know how to write now. It is a very old philosophy that triggered me; old as Plato, some say. But I read it on Isabel's UD t-shirt. It caught me and resonated deeply.

"Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle."

I have just been through one, so I have a fresh reminder. And it isn't exactly over, but it's receding. It was painful to be taken off a team, then not understand why, then be advised to choose another . . .

My mind raced with protest. Now I remind myself, everyone I meet is fighting a hard battle. I might be part of the hardness of his (or her) battle. If only we could see the inter-connectedness of our struggles, and appreciate one another for the ways we overlap into each other's space. Tendrils of ourselves intertwine with tendrils of those around us. Sometimes we get pulled, and uncomfortably so. But there is perspective to be gained from the discomfort.

Oswald Chambers wisely observed, "As soon as God becomes real, other people become shadows." I see where he's going with this; it's in the perspective. But I am not there yet. In my life, God has a much more shadowy role, and the things others do seem much more concrete. This is an area I want to learn in: not to anesthetize myself to life, but to cling to the reality of God.

When God is REAL to me, then I will be able to be kind and maybe even help someone fighting a battle of his or her own.