Category Archives: odds and ends

An Hachiko Heart

Y’all. Our dog is insane. We brought this mixed breed pup home when he was just a tiny brown little buddy. He had extra folds of skin on tiny face and huge paws, which should have alerted us to the thoroughbred of a dog he would eventually become. He has a ridiculous underbite which completely counteracts his scary bark. He has a whip of a tail that is his only real weapon, wielded in excited love for any and all who enter our home (except the mail man or woman, who are his sworn enemies).

He was named Mater after the affectionately annoying TowMater from Cars which was popular with our little toddler sons when he came home to be a part of our family. The name fits shockingly well.

Besides the goofy name, he puts up with a lot of ridiculousness in our mad house. He is regularly dressed in costumes and brought into forts and battle scenarios, but he does so in as regal a way as possible.

I walk him nearly every day. Scratch that. He daily drags me around the neighborhood as he chases stray cats and the love and affection of all passersby. On the rare occasions that I am out late, Mater waits for me at the front door.

Even though his breath smells something fierce and he takes our already full and frenetic house to a whole different level of Seismic silliness, I love this dog.

And I learn a lot from him. More than I care to admit, I see myself in him.

Despite the fact that we walk the same route everyday and he knows what to expect, he refuses to stay next to me or comfortably near me. He pulls at his leash until he is nearly exhausted (yes, we know you can train them otherwise, but what with potty training two humans and such, his training fell to the wayside). Then he finally slows down and decides to stay by my side.

Daily, I laugh at him until I remember that I do the exact same thing with the Lord. In excitement or self-reliance or impatience (depending on the day), I run ahead of Him and yank and pull. When I am finally tired enough, I slow down to remember that it is God’s presence that is my joy and my delight. I start to follow the pace He sets for me. Then I wake up and play out the whole scenario yet again.

Thinking about our goofy Mater reminded me of an even more loyal, precious dog, Hachiko. Hachiko was brought from the countryside to live in Tokyo with a professor named Ueno Hidesaburo. The dog would daily meet his owner at that station from which he would arrive back home from his work commute. One day, the professor died mid-lecture, but Hachiko continued to arrive at the station daily at the time his owner would have arrived.

He continued this act for 9 years, 9 months and 15 days. His loyalty has been heralded in all of Japan.

I find my heart longing to be to the Lord as Hachiko was to his master.

Grant me an Hachicko heart, 
Wanting nothing more than thee, 
Willing to wait and wait and wait,
Longing in Thy presence to be. 

The Scriptures are replete with the word wait. In the slow unfolding of the Old Testament, God’s people waited with bated breath for even a glimpse of the coming Messiah. After the Coming of Christ to the earth for the first time, God’s people have the great privilege of looking back upon the face of the Messiah who came through reading the Scriptures.

Yet, we, too, wait. We wait for His second coming when tears will be wiped away and death will be no more. More than the sweet effects of His coming, we long for Him, our Master. We long to see the lines on His face and touch the beautified scars in His strong hands. We long to walk bodily beside our Master for the first time.

On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food and feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined. And he will swallow up on this mountain the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations. He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the Lord has spoken. It will be said on that day, “Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us.” Isaiah 25:6-9. 

Plot 59

A life remembered for an Olympic platform ended in plot 59. On crude cross fashioned from repurposed scrap wood, shoe polish spelled out his name. Born and buried in two very different Chinas, Eric Liddell’s life ended in a prison camp, far from the athletic prowess and pomp by the world tends to remember him.

Though he is best known for his story as captured in the movie Chariots of Fire, the remainder of Eric Liddell’s life secures for him a legacy that continues to send ripples far into eternity.

Born to Scottish missionaries living in China, Eric always called the Chinese his people. As such, he stepped away from his burgeoning athletic career when it was at its height of potential to head back to China as missionary of the London Missionary Society.  There, he taught in a Bible college where he met his much younger wife, Florence. After a long engagement during which Florence was trained abroad as a nurse, the two were married. Shortly thereafter, the couple welcomed two daughters, Patricia and Heather.

During their early years as a family, Eric spent the majority of his time as a traveling missionary in the remote villages far away from the safety and comfort of the missionary   compound where his family stayed. When the tensions between the Japanese and the Chinese escalated during World War II, the families of the LMS missionaries were sent to safety.  Eric Liddell bravely packed up his family on a Japanese ocean liner to head to Canada while he himself stayed in a tenuous China in hopes that things would resolve quickly.

Ever the optimist and the committed missionary and pastor to his remote people, Liddell had no way of knowing how bad the situation in China would grow.  He and all other ex-patriots were sent to Weihsien, a former Presbyterian missionary compound turned Japanese internment camp.  Separated from his family and missing the birth of his third daughter, Maureen, Liddell served as an in situ pastor, missionary, friend, honorary uncle, peacemaker, and confident to the other internees.

Multiple years of the malnourishment of prison camp life and a brain tumor that was undiagnosed, led Liddell to an early death.  Even up until the day he died, Liddell was teaching others the way of discipleship to Christ, despite immense physical and emotional pain. The last words he spoke were, “It is complete surrender,” and the last words he scribbled in his journal were, “All will be well.”

At his funeral, the Salvation Army band that was also interned at the camp played his two favorite hymns, Abide with Me and Be Still My Soul, whose lyrics he had made watchwords of his missionary life.

In a world and culture obsessed with fame and fortune, Eric Liddell modeled a life hidden in Christ and committed to His glory. At great cost to himself and his precious family, Liddell ran a very different race than the one the world and his own flesh might have marked out for him.

Rather than use his worldwide platform as an Olympic gold medalist to cushion his nest egg and/or his ego, Liddell stood on it to declare the gospel to audiences who would have never stepped foot in a church. He ran from fame and wealth into obscurity and poverty because of a greater affection for His Savior who modeled downward mobility.

A quiet life lived in daily, costly surrender to Him landed him in Plot 59 outside an obscure prison camp. No matter. The athlete had completed his most significant race.

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For I am already being  poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I  have kept the faith. Henceforth, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which  the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me, but also to all who have loved his appearing. 2 Timothy 4:6-8.   

 

A Terraced Heart

In South Carolina, lawns were typically flat and flourishing. San Diego yards, not so much.

What San Diego yards lack in size, they make up in depth and character. It is not uncommon to have a yard that backs up to a deep canyon. Resourceful homeowners with canyon-views learn to terrace their yards. Their hard, creative work results in beautiful, multi-level yards marked with nooks and crannies.

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Psalm 84
This past week, I have been studying and meditating on Psalm 84. This well-known psalm boasts three main, “Blessed are those” statements, each coupled an image. Blessed are those who dwell in your house, shown poetically by the sparrow nesting in the house of the Lord.  Blessed are those whose strength is in you, pictured by  saints on pilgrimage to God’s Temple, and blessed is the one who trusts in you, imaged by the content doorkeeper in the house of the Lord.

While in other seasons of life, my heart has grabbed on to the first and the third images, this week, my heart and attention were captured by the middle verses and accompanying imagery.

Blessed are those whose strength is in you, in whose hearts are the highways to Zion. As they go through the Valley of Baca, they make it a place of springs; the early rain also covers it with pools. They go from strength to strength; each one appears before God in Zion. Psalm 84: 5-7. 

A Terraced Heart

The Hebrew word mesillah translated highways above comes from the root word salal. Salal can also be translated as lifting or ladder. A heart full of pathways, a laddered heart, a heart set on pilgrimage to more of God by the strength of God.

In the past when I have thought about a heart full of highways, the image that came to mind was the Autobahn in Germany, a well-paved, smooth, clear highway to the Lord. However, the introduction of the imagery of climbing and ladders shifted my image to one that seems to more appropriately show what pilgrimage to the Lord looks like. A climb, a curvy, circuitous route.

While those on pilgrimage on to the actual house of God would have climbed upward, I often feel like my walk with the Lord looks more like a downward climb to the heart of God. After all, in the gospel, we learn that the way down is the way up.

While it takes great strength to climb upward, it takes equal or more strength to travel the path of downward mobility that leads to the heart of God.

As I thought about these verses, our dear friends’ stunning canyon-facing yard came to mind. The initial level is a beautiful patio. Many people would be content to stay there, leaving the rest of the steep yard uncultivated. However, our friends have slowly, over the course of a decade, begun to terrace their yard downward, level by level. The result is that every time you visit their home, you are shocked to find yet another terrace, cultivated, beautified and planted.  They are not even 3/4 of the way down their property, and their terraced yard is already a maze of hidden spaces.

I long to have a heart that resembles their terraced yard. One that refuses to settle with what I know of God and have experienced of His presence. I long to continually,  by His strength, descend deeper into the untamed and wild places of my heart and the world around me, and begin to experience Him there.

A Place of Springs

The pilgrimage pictured in Psalm 84 is one through the Valley of Baca which literally means weeping place.  Often the pathway to the presence of God leads us through pain, disappointment and suffering, our own proverbial valleys of weeping. However, the psalmists paints a portrait of the tears we shed in those valleys of weeping becoming pools of refreshment for those who will pass through the same valley after us.

What depths of hope and purpose we have in the midst of our downward pilgrimages to better know and be conformed to the heart of God.  Each downturn is a chance to cultivate gospel-terraced hearts; each  valley of weeping is a chance to create a refreshing pool for those who suffer similarly in the future.

May we know the happiness, the blessedness of those who move from strength to strength, deeper into the heart of God!

 

Kindertransport & the Christ

Gil and Eleanor Kraus. Up until a week ago, those names meant nothing to me. Yet, their bold endeavor to rescue 50 children from Nazi-occupied Vienna ranks with Schindler’s List in rescue attempts.

A Bold Rescue
A Jewish couple from Philadelphia with two children, they lived a comfortable life even in the aftermath of the Great Depression.  However, after being approached by the leader of a Jewish humanitarian organization, Gil began to follow his heart and his legally-trained head into a series of decisions that would forever change not only their lives but also the lives of countless desperate families.

One of the uniquely  painful policies of Nazi Germany was that Jews were encouraged to leave Germany to emigrate to other countries; however, having been severely persecuted and stripped of their livelihoods and money, many were unable to actually get out. The United States, which was in a largely isolationist mindset trying to pull its own people out of the muck of the Great Depression, had stringent quotas regarding people allowed to immigrate from each nation. However, even those stringent quotas were not filled in the years of the Nazi reign.

As a lawyer, Gil Kraus came up with a plan to use some of the unfilled visa spots from previous years in a last ditch effort to at least save the lives of 50 children whose parents had received permission to come to the United States but were unable to pull off the emigration for various reasons, mostly financial and logistical.

Eleanor spent months doing tedious paperwork and countless errands which enabled 50 spots for children to legally enter the United States without their parents. Gil pulled strings and sat through disappointing conferences with US officials, trying to come up with an air-tight rescue plan that would be legally-solvent.

Both risked their own lives, entering tense, Nazi-occupied nations and leaving their own children under care of others, that they might be able to rescue 50 children. Even when they arrived in Austria, they knew there was no guarantee their plan would work.

They conducted heart-wrenching interviews with Viennese families, each seeking to get their child or children one of the coveted spots to safety. They had to select, from among hundreds, the children who would be most likely to be allowed to both leave Austria and enter the United States to live apart from the only family they knew.

Once they arrived in the US, the children stayed at a Jewish summer camp until arrangements could be made for foster families to host them until, God willing, their parents (or who was still alive among them) were able to eventually join them. Some were reunited with one parent a decade later. Some never saw their parents again.

These sad, yet hopeful shipments of parentless children out of Nazi territories came to be called kindertransports. As I read the story of these particular rescue, my pillow became wet with tears. As a mother, I cannot imagine the strength it would take to pack up your child and send them away to safety, knowing that you may never see them again. Eleanor Kraus vividly remembers the parents standing on the train platform with forced smiles of comfort and bravery, unable to wave for fear that they would seen wrongly as honoring Hitler.

A Costly Salvation
The heart-gripping thought of parents saving their children at such grave emotional costs to themselves and their own children gave me an even greater picture of the gospel.

God, the Perfect Father, who had only ever known perfect relationship and nearness to His Son, sent Jesus to the earth, knowing full well that He would treated unjustly and would die a torturous death. He did that to secure the most daring and unthinkable kindertransport of history.  His sacrifice and risk, far greater than the huge sacrifices and efforts of the Kraus’, secured salvation for those who would flee to Him through faith in the gospel.

The costs to the Kraus family and their supporters were great. The cost to Christ and the Father were infinite. The spots on the Kraus kindertransport were limited. The space on the Father’s kindertransport are as abundant as His children. The Kraus kindertransport provided earthly safety and opportunity. The Father’s kindertransport provides eternal security and endless opportunity.

What an undeserved, unearned, unthinkable salvation we have received. We have been shipped from the dominion of an enemy even more cunning and crafty than Hitler. We have been carried by, by costly grace through faith, to the safety of the house of the Father. May such a salvation shape the way we live every moment of our ransomed lives.

 

The Velveteen Years

Today, I found a  beautiful old copy of the Velveteen Rabbit on the 25 cent rack at our local library. I bought it, of course, because I love all books, but also because I was having a velveteen rabbit kind of week. As I sat this afternoon and read the beautiful old copy over a cup of coffee, I was reminded of this blog post that I wrote four years ago.

Four years later, I feel more patchy and less the kind of beautiful I pictured I would be in my mid-thirties. Yet, the dailyness of walking with God and seeing both His beauty and my sin, has made me more real. More than that, the gospel has been made for real to me.  I cling to it more, depend on it more, find my confidence increasingly therein.

“What is real,” asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender, before Nana came to tidy the room. “Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?”

“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.”

“Does it hurt?” asked the Rabbit.

“Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. “When you are Real, you don’t mind being hurt.”

“Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,” he asked, “or bit by bit?”

“It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t often happen to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”

We have the great privilege of working with college students. While I wouldn’t trade our calling for the world, it can be challenging sometimes for me to interact with fresh-faithed, prime-of-their-life, beautiful, in-shape college girls. Challenging only because I find myself comparing my well-worn, patchy faith with their conquer-the-world faith. Seeing their energetic personalities and their well-toned bodies makes me take double-takes at my tired momma-self and my more squishy body.

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Compared to these young ladies who are fresh-out-of-the-box I feel like a Velveteen rabbit. But then I remember that all the loose ligaments, all the patched up prayers, all the physical and spiritual dents and dings I carry around with me now are proof of being loved greatly. I remember that I am in the process of becoming Real.

Anne Lamott shares a similar sentiment in her book Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith.

“Age has given me what I was looking for my entire life – it has given me me. It has provided time and experience and failures and triumphs and time-tested friends who have helped me step into the shape that was waiting for me. I fit into me now.”

My favorite word in the New Testament is the Greek word ginomai, which means to become. It is a process word, not a product word. Ginomia gives me hope; it reminds me that God is a God of a process and that we are all works in progress. Ginomai reminds me that I am deeply loved by my owner, that I have been bought at a great price and that somehow, against all odds, there is a God who sees me all unraveled and yet loves me still. He is making me Real, making me into the one He has created me to be in Him.

And, in the words of a wise Skin Horse, “Once you are real, you can never be ugly.”

Here’s to the Real One who is making us Real.

A Radical Approach to Racism

image Black Kettle. Red Cloud. Sitting Bull. These Native American tribal leaders have been my company for the past few weeks as I have been reading Dee Brown’s seminal book (no pun intended) Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee.

While this account is not light reading, it is enlightening. Enlightening not just to the hidden history of the way the West was truly won, but even more so to the insidious nature of racism.

I found myself reading about the gross injustices committed against a multitude of Native American tribes just days after the Philando Castile verdict. Clearly, racism is not a problem of a past century or a premature way of thinking chased away by the advancement of science.

With tears in my eyes and disgust in my heart, I read and reread the story of Black Kettle and his Cheyenne people.

Black Kettle and Lean Bear, another Cheyenne chief, had taken a trip to Washington meet the Great Father of the white man. “President Lincoln gave them medals to wear on their breasts, and Colonel Greenwood presented Black Kettle with a United States flag, a huge garrison flag with white stars for the thirty-four states bigger than glittering stars in the sky on a clear night. Colonel Greenwood had told him that as long as that flag flew above him no soldiers would ever fire upon him. Black Kettle was very proud of his flag and when in permanent camp, always mounted it on a pole above his tepee.”

Many years and honest attempts at keeping shifting and shady peace treaties later, Black Kettle and his diminishing people were camped at Sand Creek, with his tent at the center of the village. “So confident were the Indians of absolute safety, they kept no night watch except of the pony herd which was corralled below the creek. The first warning they had of an attack was about sunrise- the drumming of hooves on the sand flats.”

According to George Bent, a white man who had become an honorary Cheyenne, “From down the creek, a large body of troops was advancing at a rapid trot….men, women and children, rushing out of the lodges partly dressed; women and children screaming at the sight of the troops…I looked toward the chief’s lodge and saw that Black Kettle had a large American flag tied to the end of a long lodgepole and was standing in front of his lodge, holding the pole with the flag fluttering in the gray light of the winter dawn. I heard him call to the people not to be afraid, that the soldiers would not hurt them; then the troops fired from two sides of the camp.”

To spare you the gruesome details, the horrific situation which followed, known as the Sand Creek Massacre, took the lives of 105 Indian women and children and 28 men.

According to Brown, “In a public speech made in Denver not long before this massacre, Colonel Chivington advocated the killing and scalping of all Indians, including infants, saying “Nits make lice!”

Racist actions are bred from racist thoughts which begin in our very broken human hearts. As easy as it would be to point fingers and call those people racists, we must take an even more radical approach to dealing with racism.

In the words of Solzhenitsyn, one personally familiar with evil, “If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being.”

Racism is a radical heart issue, one that begins at the root of every human heart. As such, it must be dealt with radically, not only on the surface.

There are two different ways to weed my garden, as my children can tell you. The quick, painless way to weed is to pull the leaves off the intrusive guests that push their way through the gravel outside our garden. With little effort, the garden looks well kept…until the next week.

The second more painful yet more lasting option is to bloody one’s knuckles twisting, pulling and yanking at the deep root systems whose lengths far the exceed the visible problem.

When addressing racism, I must begin in my heart, recognizing that the capacity to judge and mistreat others is indeed my problem. As much as I rightly want to rightly call Colonel Chivington and his miserable remarks evil, the gospel tells me that I must call my own evil what it is before God.

From Racism to Redemption

Racism: a certain road from pride
to genocide.

Potent. Present. Palpable
In every human heart,
Must be suffocated,
Lest it rip lives apart.

Repent. Resist. Run from
This evil in every form,
Lest we be engulfed
In its hatred storm.

Marches. Pamphlets. Protests
Help but cannot cure.
Rooting out racism
Requires more.

Holy. Human. Hope.
He is full of grace of truth.
Jesus, slain on a cross,
Halts a tooth for a tooth.

Redemption: a road from death
to borrowed breath.

On Being Fed

Having grown up in Catholicism, I have self-consciously walked many an aisle to bed fed a host by a strange hand.

For our First Communion,  all the second graders at St. Rose were dressed to the nines. The girls wore white dresses and flowered veils which I now see as significantly mirroring wedding dresses. If only I had understood that what I was experiencing was intended to be a wedding of sorts, an outward sign meant to express the supposed union of my soul with my eternal husband the Christ.  Instead, I seem to have stood there rather awkwardly in my puffy sleeves.

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Whether I understood it then or not, having been reared in the Catholic School system hard-wired me with a love for and a pull towards the Eucharist.  A Catholic mass is available everyday for those who would desire to take communion daily.

While I do not adhere to transubstantiation (the belief that the bread and wine actually become the body and blood of Christ) or many other tenants of the Catholic Church, I am deeply appreciative of the centrality of the Eucharist in the Catholic mass.

From my now-Protestant viewpoint, there are a few things that I can see and appreciate most about the Catholic approach to the Eucharist, at least on a purely physical level.

It is offered daily. It physically requires us to be fed, rather than to be deluded into thinking that we can feed ourselves. As such, it is by nature communal. It cannot be done alone or in isolation. It is to be experienced in the presence of at least one other human being, often many more. There is a time of silent kneeling before and after receiving communion. These kinesthetics forced our bodies into uncomfortable postures of humility, attempting to teach our souls to fall in suit.

I find that the Protestant equivalent to the daily offering of communion may have become the idea of a daily quiet time. While I do earnestly believe that it is our soul’s great delight to find themselves happy in the Lord (a la George Mueller), I think that at times, daily devotional times can often atrophy into an attempt at self-nourishment.

I must feed myself. I must say or pray the right things. I must dig up a rich truth or principle. Seen and pushed through such an ego-centric, self-centric lens, even a daily devotional time can lead us away from the gospel.

Do not hear what I am not saying. I am not saying that I don’t believe in a personal devotional life. I most assuredly do; even further, I have been greatly enriched by it. In fact, it a passion of mine to teach women Bible study training tools so that they might rightly interpret the Word of God in the Spirit.

At the same time,  I have fallen into ditches of self-dependence rather than God-dependence many a morning. Bridging my Catholic roots with my Protestant training, I find myself desiring to approach my daily time with the Lord in much the same manner as when I was trained to humbly approach, open my mouth and be fed in the presence of a family.

When I come to the Word or to prayer each day, I tend to approach both as a chef might approach a kitchen fridge or pantry. Open the door. Poke around to see what is there and what you are working with. Attempt to prepare a meal from said raw materials. Stand back proud of your meal.

However, I am fighting to rather approach God’s Word and my slivers of solitude with my Savior in what I conceive to be a more Catholic approach. I kneel down in need. I ask. I am invited to walk towards the One who has a meal prepared for me. I need only open my mouth. He will feed me Himself with Himself.  He bears the burden, provides the food, nay, is the food. He receives the glory while I receive the nourishment.