This past weekend as we were all getting ready to go to our faith community’s discipleship group, I found three superheroes in our truckbed…
(Jason’s shirt translates as “Don’t mess with a superhero.”)
The day after I arrived home last week I sought out a quiet place to absorb, to process, give thanks. Our five kids plus about 10 of our faithfully enthusiastic neighbors had asked permission to go to our property’s mango tree to see if there was any ripe fruit, so as the kids bounded out our front gate like a tribe of wild indians, I breathed deep, watching them go, and treasured in my heart each of their steps so marked by freedom and joy, standing in such stark contrast to the general oppression and depravity in our neighborhood and world.
There is a hymn that says that Jesus’ love is vast, unmeasured, boundless, free. I felt as though in that moment I could actually see just how boundless and free that love is as I watched the kids leap across our large property.
As I stood on our front porch watching them go, having already given more than a half-dozen haircuts to shaggy boys, flinging little people around in the hammock, and wiggling my way into wayward teens’ hearts, I could only think to go be alone to treasure all that I had seen before it somehow flitted away from my memory.
So I walked into our Education House’s schoolroom and sat atop a small cement half-wall that divides the rectangular room in two, trying to hide myself in the folds of Christ’s love while contemplating all that He is. As my eyes travelled to a newly pinned-up poster that our sister Jenae had taped on the wall above the whiteboard, I read it, lost in a rare sense of wonder, and could only let out a small breath, staring around the empty schoolroom and saying, “I can see you here. Lord, I can see you here.”
The quote, written in large, block letters on purple construction paper and sprinkled here and there with glitter, read: Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others. (Marianne Williamson)
My thoughts shifted and settled as I remembered one of many things that had happened that morning. A very precious neighbor of ours, a 13-year-old boy who comes from a poor agriculturalist family with about 10 or so siblings and who himself is the size of about an 8-year-old due to malnutrition, mentioned to me while I was clipping his hair that his dad had been offered a “chopping job” (mowing a large piece of terrain with noting more than a machete) for 1,000 Lempiras (which is the equivalent of about $50), he had completed the job after many days of labor (and as the only breadwinner in his family), and then the man who had hired him decided not to pay him.
These kinds of stories are not uncommon for our ears and hearts, although for me it was after having come from visiting a country that can afford better care for its dogs than Honduras can for some of its children. I looked at him, my eyes asking the question that we both already knew the answer to, and he said matter-of-factly, “Yeah, we don’t have any food. We didn’t eat last night and haven’t eaten yet today.”
I then took my turn saying what we both already knew because it is now a rhythm of sharing and love that the Lord has etched among us, a deep rut within the selfishness of our souls where His vast, unmeasured love can flow freely: “You know breakfast will be ready shortly.”
“…And my mom asked if you would –”
“Yes. We’ll send home some food. Don’t worry.”
His undersized 10-year-old brother just received his haircut and two of his sisters are running around our home somewhere.
So last week as my husband and I walked up the long, rocky road to our home together for the first time in over three weeks, everything seemed a less brilliant shade of green, the rocks somehow seemed bigger, and I was hit with a sobering sensation of re-entering a very real battlefield in a hidden little corner of the world where life and death literally hang in the balance.
Sweat poured down my temples and I had to watch my steps so as not to land in a cow patty along the winding path, excitement pulsing through my veins to be seeing the kids for the first time in weeks, although also fully aware that long, demanding days and possibly sleepless nights laid ahead on this journey that has only just begun.
So that first night back home I bathed under cold water from our shower head that drips rather than sprays and laid down in our double-bed, dripping in sweat even though I had just come from the shower, and I remembered that He who has called us is vast, unmeasured, boundless, free in His love for us, and that even if I cannot sleep at night I can rest in Him.
This morning I will be catching the 9:52am flight to Honduras after having been in the United States for the first time in two-and-a-half years. I had not been back since before Darwin and I started dating.
While talking on the phone with our 10-year-old daughter Gleny about a week ago, she told me that her school principal (whom we know very well due to all the letters she sends home about Gleny and Jason’s behavior, academic struggles and progress, etc!) told Gleny to greet me for her. Gleny’s response: “My mom’s not in Honduras right now. She’s visiting the United States to tell people about God and encourage them.”
So after having attended my old college roommate’s wedding, spending almost every night in a different home, and visiting with many people who support and pray for us along with old family, friends, and coaches, I hope that Gleny’s explanation of my purpose in visiting was, in fact, true.
Gleny also asked Darwin if I would be gone a year, which, of course, was not true. After having gone over with the kids various times and with great detail why I would be gone and for how long, I laughed when Darwin told me of Gleny’s latest exaggeration, and I asked to talk with her. Over the phone, I asked, “Gleny, did you really ask you dad if I’m going to be gone a year?”
Her response: “Well, you just need to come home already.”
So right now I’m on my way home. While I’ve been gone Josue turned seven years old and began his schooling in his special needs school, all three of our guard dogs died by tragic accident, our eldest daughter Dayana showed her paintings at a downtown display and was interviewed on television, the electricity and water in our home went out more times than anyone can count, our second-grade son Jason somehow had a huge turnaround in school and is now the leader of his class, our two eldest daughters graduated from a discipleship program in our sister Jenae’s church, I had my three-year anniversary since moving to Honduras, Darwin was able to finally contract a new trash-collector after our previous one broke his contract and avoided all phone calls (and visits to his home!) after having not come to pick up our trash for over two months, and Darwin has somehow survived as a single dad for over 20 days.
Today is actually our two-year wedding anniversary, so today I will treasure in my heart all that the Lord has done in this journey of 730 days. I will treasure in my heart the fact that the Lord has called us together as a family, that amidst the heaps of trash along the dirt road to our home and the daily difficulties we face in our life in this small corner of the world, the only Living God is working out a miracle of cosmic proportions in the lives of a few average people who’ve said “Yes.”
11:57am, Friday, June 5, 2015
As I write this I am rolling through the Midwest on a Greyhound bus toward Springfield, Missouri to be a bridesmaid in my college roommate’s wedding. I have ridden buses in many foreign countries, but I think this is my first time on a large bus in my native land.
Exchanging the scenery, language, and general level of hygiene, the despair among my fellow passengers is not so different from that of so many in Honduras.
In the bus terminal waiting area an obese Caucasian man of about 30 years began playing an arcade game designed for preteens, and when he didn’t get the prize he wanted, he stormed away from the lit-up game, telling his girlfriend, “Baby, honey, f*** that machine. I’m not wasting anymore quarters there.” I was stunned and saddened by his level of anger toward something so insignificant.
Now, as I sit in seat 31 on the bus, a very short young man with blonde shaggy hair a couple rows in front of me called several people on his cell-phone and began a vicious diatribe using all kinds of profanity at full-volume while his young girlfriend slept with her head on his lap. He wears a t-shirt that says, “All I do is win.”
I wonder if he believes that.
Moments ago he went off the chain with a line of cuss words when he inadvertently hit his funny bone on the armrest, and now he is brushing his girlfriend’s hair with a bright blue brush.
I am not making fun of, defending or judging these people; I am merely observing my fellow countrymen after having been away for so long.
I believe riding a Greyhound bus is a good way to see many Americans that otherwise get pushed out of our radar; they don’t exactly fit in with high school varsity football players and respectable middle-class business people. And in a country where so many people have their own cars or travel long-distance on planes, a Greyhound bus is a good place to see those who don’t have such privileges.
The majority of the dozens of people I’ve seen thus far this morning in the bus terminal and now en route have looked very unhealthy, overweight, and angry. I imagine that many of them have grown up on McDonalds, reality television, broken dreams, and not much else.
Now he’s brushing his own hair with the bright blue brush and jumping up and down giddily in his seat. I wonder when he’ll start screaming again.
So I’m not sure where to take this train of thought, other than to say that it’s not Honduras that’s broken or the down-and-out Americans; I could probably board any bus in Slovakia or South Africa or Russia and find these same people – some white, others black, some brown, each with an undeniably unique story, yet each marked by the same void: a void of Truth, of the transformative knowledge that there is a Just, Merciful God, that there is a way into His Kingdom, and that He desires to begin transforming us into His likeness right now, whether we are blue-collar workers, struggling single moms or unemployed rejects. Maybe these people have never heard it or maybe they have and they rejected it; who knows. Maybe they grew up tossed around the foster system, never knowing love, or maybe they stormed out on good, stable homes.
So I imagine the obese arcade-playing man as a young child, a baby even, and wonder if someone had come into his life to teach him the Way, to guide him into the Good Shepherd’s arms, day after day after day, if things maybe would have turned out differently. I see the shaggy-haired blonde kid with too-long jeans and see him as a rejected third grader who was put on the teacher’s ‘bad list,’ while he went home each night to his alcoholic mother because dad was in prison, and I wonder if maybe his vocabulary could be different – edifying, uplifting – if somewhere along the line someone came alongside him to teach him about the God who transforms us, who exchanges rage for self-control and self-loathing for joy.
I don’t know. I don’t have the answers, but I trust in a God who does. As He is giving me new eyes to see, I come to understand more and more each day why Jesus was a man well-acquainted with sorrow: How could He not be?
Creation — even in today’s polluted, concrete world — is dripping with God’s glory, with the divine fingerprint – Just look out the window at the herds of cattle as they somber peacefully through endless green meadows! And the crazy part is that we were placed here as His image-bearers, specially designed to contain His glory in a way that no other created thing can.
And when we don’t fulfill our purpose, when we miss out on our destiny as heirs to the Kingdom, adopted sons and daughters of the King?
We place our worth in arcade games and spew profanity on buses, eating our way to an unattainable happiness, wondering why we can’t win at life.
A few nights ago as we were getting ready to eat dinner as a family, I was in the kitchen making more than a few cooked peanut butter sandwiches with coconut oil for Darwin and I to take with us the following morning en route to a two-day conference we would be attending several hours away. From the conference I would be flying directly to the United States for my first visit in two and a half years.
I had five eager kids circled around me, observing my every move, when suddenly everyone’s interest level skyrocketed: Mom was slipping a few Hershey kisses in the middle of each sandwich!
Hershey chocolate and peanut butter are delicacies in Honduras, and this delicious combination it is not something I have made more than once or twice in three years of living here. Suddenly little hands that thought they were quite sneaky started sliding a Hershey kiss or two off the countertop and into their pockets. It was all quite obvious that the kids were chocolate-crazy, and I laughed and said, “If only you would be patient…” already knowing what I had in store for them.
As I cooked sandwich after sandwich in coconut oil, then wrapping them in aluminum foil to be ready for the next day, little people with guilty hearts would come over to me, laughing, showing the three or four or ten Hershey kisses they had ‘stolen’ before then returning them to the countertop. I kept laughing at their antics and said to no one in particular, “If only you would be patient…”
Little did they know that I had already prepared a special gift for each one of them that I would leave on their bed the next morning as a surprise: a cup full of 25 Hershey kisses, a ‘kiss’ for each day that I would not see them.
So as I continued preparing the sandwiches, 10-year-old Gleny put words to everyone’s question: “Are you and Dad going to eat all those sandwiches?” Translation: Can I have one?
I laughed, ignoring the question and merely re-stating what I had already said several times before.
The next morning as all seven of us rolled out of bed at 4:30am to get ready for another day of school and work for some, travel for others, we all knew it would be our last morning together for three and a half weeks. As everyone shuffled out towards our car parked in the front yard, I made sure the kids had left the house before quickly running into our bedroom to get the little plastic cups full of Hershey kisses to place on each kid’s bed along with a letter and some photos for them to find later in the day once I was already gone.
About 25 minutes later as we pulled into the drop-off point for Gleny and Jason to go to their elementary school, I pulled out of my backpack an aluminun foil-wrapped peanut-butter-and-Hershey-kiss-sandwich for each of the five kids. Each one looked genuinely surprised and then laughed somewhat guiltily as I could almost magically see the thought crossing their mind: Oh, mom was going to give me a sandwich all along. If only I would have been patient…
So this is not a story just about Hershey kisses hidden in people’s bunkbeds or delicious sandwiches way too early in the morning. How many times do we behave just like the children, impatiently grabbing or sneaking the good stuff, thinking that our Father God hasn’t remembered us or doesn’t have the best in store for us? I imagine that our Heavenly Parent looks down upon our foolishness, grabbing a Hershey kiss here and there or trying to guilt Him into giving us a bite of a sandwich while He thinks If only you knew that I have 25 Hershey kisses for you and a whole sandwich, if only you would be patient…
How many of we humans hide out, taking into our own control our God-given sex drive, watching pornography or indulging in extramarital relations while God’s heart breaks, knowing that He has one of many available gifts — the fullness of marriage for some, joyful purity in singleness for others — for us if only we would be patient and trust Him. How many of us jink and jive, striving and manipulating, trying to take care of ‘number one’ in the process of acquiring great material wealth and status, thinking that if we don’t look to get ahead then we’ll be left down and out, while Jesus’ heart breaks for our foolishness, calling to deaf ears to look at the riches of His Kingdom that He has for us, which cannot be bought with anything other than His own blood.
So next time you and I are stressed about a financial concern or inclined to scheme and grab or we forget that the riches of God’s Kingdom wait undisturbed for His faithful servants, I pray that we would remember to be patient, however simple it may sound. Just like a thoughtful parent who has already decided to give a good gift to their child despite the child’s impatience, foolishness and attempted guilt trips, Father God has the same heart for those who have been adopted into His great family.
If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! — Jesus as recorded in Matthew 7:11