Tuesday, June 26

Someone's At The Door

The doorbell gongs. You hastily set aside whatever you're doing and shuffle to see who's there. What started out as a light afternoon rain shower has become a thundering storm of lightening and hail. You pick up your pace, not wanting to leave your visitor in the weather too long.

And then you see them. Through the floor-to-ceiling window adjacent to your well-kept front door you see two clean-cut, perfectly pressed, young men. The Mormon's have arrived. With a sigh of frustration, you turn the bolt and yank open the door. "Good aftern..." Elder so-and-so begins. Without making eye contact, you blurt, "I'm a Christian!" and shut ("slam" would be too harsh an adjective, surely) the door soundly in his face.

You have a fleeting twinge of guilt as you watch them scurry down the front walk, pea-sized hail pelting them as they lunge for their car doors. But the twinge is easily ignored as you give yourself a gentle pat on the back for standing up for what you believe in.

I laugh ironically as I coax this story, and a few others out of the two young men sitting at our kitchen table. They've come to share the good news of the book of Mormon with us ~~ undaunted by our insistence that we will not convert. They are young and idealistic and convinced of the rightness of their mission. And their impression of those of us who call ourselves "Christian" is framed by personal encounters of the impolite kind.

I tell a quick story of my own. My neighbors have seen us talking with the Mormon boys. One by one, sometimes in groups, they've asked me "Are you guys Mormon?" "Nope. Christian." I reply. And God conversations have been started as a result. God talk that I have not known how to initiate has been sparked by our attentiveness to those kind, helpful, earnest young men.

We know that we disagree on many things, us and the Mormon's. We understand that they are at our door to convince us of the truth of their way, and we know that we will not be convinced. But our differences do not justify rudeness. They do not justify judgement. Our differences, and the fact that they've shown up right in our front yard, provide us the opportunity to express the character, the unreserved tenderness, of Jesus.

So, the next time that doorbell clamours for your attention and your visitor is a faith peddler, leave them with something unusual to talk about at their evenings' debriefing. Leave them with the Jesus that you carry about with you ~~ leave them with a kindness, a prayer (they'll always let you pray with them, if you offer), a can of soda (they'll be pounding the street until well into the evening). Leave the judging up to God and just love them like you love yourself.

1 John 4

Wednesday, June 20

A Patch of Green

July 2006 I have a garden. A small, square, city-bound plot. A bird feeder sits securely in one corner, inviting sparrows to dive in-and-amongst the dozens of sunflowers growing there. The flowers are strong and lean and generous. Some hollyhocks (or are they gladiola's? I can't remember which I planted and I'm not good about marking these things.) are sprouting in a patch beside an antique table from Gramma's old farm house; a table laden with old pots and bowls and dipping cans.

The rows of carrots and kohlrabi, zucchini and lettuce are relatively straight and promise a meal or two of a refreshing alternative to store-bought veggies. Saskatoon berry bushes sit unobtrusively beside newly planted mint (goodness knows what I'll do with mint, but how can something that smells so remarkable not be planted?) and a pepper plant is contentedly making its' way toward maturity.

Two young apple trees flank the patch, their pink blossoms a reminder of purity and the determination of beauty to make its mark on this planet.

A picture perfect garden patch? Yes, except that I've neglected a few details.

I have, I should mention here, a minor character flaw. I'm not very good at saying "no." My name means Helper of Mankind and it seems that the title, combined with a thorough religious ~~ Mennonite, more specifically ~~ upbringing have conspired to form me into a relentlessly people-pleasing "Yes!" woman.

So, when our neighbors generously offered us a load of top soil from their yard this spring, you can guess that my response was a quick, "That would be wonderful! How Thoughtful! Thank you!" I said this despite the knowledge that it would be the ruin of my tiny backyard patch of green and growing things. I said it knowing that their offer was not one so much of kindness as it was one of convenience (much easier to haul the dirt across the alley than to the dump).

I have been working the soil in our garden for three years, adding peat and compost and heaps of good dirt into the mix. This was to be the weedless year. The year of bounty!

And then I said a hearty "Yes!" to a load of very bad dirt.

Now my poor kohlrabi and onions are being outmaneuvered by hundreds and hundreds of weeds. Tall, spiky, menacing thorns and delicate, creeping, insidious ground covers. Stink weed is thrilled to assault passersby with it's sour stench and the dandelions are putting down some serious roots.

Every few days I go out and hack away at a bit of the devastation, but I'm losing the battle and will likely give up entirely before long.

I really do need to learn how to say no.

June 2007 That bad soil was the ruin of our garden. This spring, the boys and I spent hours digging up, and hauling away, wheelbarrow after wheelbarrow of weed-infested earth. My intention in accepting the dirt was good: I care about my neighbors. A lot. I want to help them. I want to make their lives easier. I helped them solve a short term problem (dirt removal) by letting them unload in my back yard.

But the long term effort/cost to us far outweighs the short-lived ease that they enjoyed. I would have felt terribly guilty in not accepting their dirt. I would have wrestled with it for days (How dare you?! You could have helped them!!). As it is, I'm still yanking their weeds out of my soil. I've re-worked that corner, hauled away old mess, and loaded in fresh dirt, and finally given up on the idea of a vegetable garden.

I'm going to practice the words, "No thank you," "No," and "NO WAY!" Because just like the soil in my garden plot had value and potential for producing abundantly, the territory of my heart and mind have value and potential for fruit bearing. I need to tend carefully, deliberately, thoughtfully to the sorts of things I till into the mix. There are times when "no" is the only right answer to a question of how I'll spend my time, my energy, my generosity, my love. The cost of an ill-timed assent can far out-weigh the discomfort of a gentle, "Not this time."

My son, preserve sound judgement and discernment,
do not let them out of your sight;
they will be life for you,
an ornament to grace your neck.
Then you will go on your way in safety,
and your foot will not stumble...
Proverbs 3

Tuesday, June 19

Furry Nothings

Late spring moisture hangs in the warming evening air; late-in-the-day sun evaporates evidence of a recent cloud burst. My pace is determined as I begin my trudge to the corner store. I am focused on shedding the days' frustrations, finding peace, hearing God.

What I hear, instead, is a barking dog.

My eyes turn toward the sound. Three young children capture my glance. Three wee, brown, wide-eyed children. Their own stares are fixed,wary. A woman and her dog (a tiny bit of thing; a tuft of black fur on the end of a too-long leash) have rounded the corner and are coming toward the kids. Their eyes do not leave that dog.

To her credit, the woman skirts their small crowd by walking on the street beside them. As she nears, the little boy backs himself up onto the nearest lawn. The dog-master of that particular patch of green does not appreciate the intrusion and, from his station just inside the front door of the house, lets fly a threatening clamor of snarling and wild barking.

The little boy is frozen to the spot. Behind him, a noisy menace, in front of him a stranger wielding another furry threat. His sisters, meanwhile, are caught in this same drama. The eldest sits, locked in one position, on her bicycle. The smallest of the three, a tiny, delicate girl is slowly inching her way down the street, away from what all seems very scary.

The dog walker, a woman of immense proportions, slows her pace, her too-small eyes, and wobbling chin drawing to a near halt in front of the kids. My attention heightens as she, shockingly, spews, "Whatsa' matter? Scared of dogs? Huh?" she demands. "Are ya'?"

She's directing her sneer at the boy on the lawn, ignoring the nearby girls. His eyes do not move from the dog on the leash. His back tensed, hands unmoving in front of his heaving torso, he chokes out a quiet, "No..."

"You ARE. You. Are. Scared. Of. DOGS." Her tone is low and mean. "Why d'you say yer not when you are?" she charges. I make a sound from my place across the street, hoping to draw her attention away from the frightened ones. Suddenly aware that she is not alone, she picks up her lumbering pace. I stare after her, willing her to say one more thing, to make one backward glance. If she does, I'll be after her. She does not.

I carry on in the opposite direction, leaving the children to patch themselves up with reassuring touch and careful play.

The frustrations and fears of my own day quickly crowd my thoughts. I am often immobilized by the barking dogs and bloated, accusing interlopers of my own my mind.

Aren't we all.

With a noisy threat behind us and a wispy unknown out front, Depression, Failure, Emptiness, Fear waddle their way into our thoughts with their spitting accusations of "This is all you are. This is all you will ever be. Don't deny it. You know it's true." And with the fears pressing on all sides, and that voice sounding so sure, so potent, it's hard to disregard the stinging slander.

And then comes that distraction from across the street. Someone bigger than we are can see what's going on ~~ can see it for what it really is. Someone that is not unsettled by noise makers or uncertainty. Someone who can hear our over-inflated, mean-spirited attacker for who she really is. Someone who can send her on her way.

That Someone knows. He watches. He waits. He intervenes. To a point. And when the danger has passed, sometimes He stays outside of the drama, gently observing as those of us caught in these moments of pain and wrong and uncertainty move toward each other. He trusts that we'll reassure each other, redirect each other, remind each other that all is well. That sometimes the threats aren't real, they're just clamoring distractions and furry nothings. That always the cursing meanness is just an over-indulged bully.

The near summer sun begins it's long, slow settling. I walk. I accomplish my errand and connect with a friend for the rest of my evening exercise. And my gaze shifts from street dramas and a full day toward the Someone that is bigger than I, thankful that He is watching.

The Lord is faithful...He will protect you from the evil one.
2 Thessalonians

Sunday, June 10

What Boat?

Once upon a time there was a man named Bob. Bob was a happily successful suburb-dwelling business man with a happy (also spelled d-e-l-u-s-i-o-n-a-l) wife and happy children, happy dogs and a happy home.

One day while Bob was busy doing mellow Bob things, God said, "Hey! You, Bob!" Bob responded immediately to the voice, grateful that the Creator of the World got his name right (Being referred to as "Rob," "Ronald," or even "Doug" is not uncommon for a man with such a complex and unusual name.).

"Er...yes, LORD?"

"Get outta' the boat, Bob."

"Excuse me?"

"Outta' the boat. I want you to get out of the boat."

"For sure. What boat might that be, God?"

"The comfortable, relaxed, chillin' out comfort zone of a boat you've been floating around in for the past eight years. I want you out of it."

"Out? Like into the icy, turbulent, lurching waves of the gigantic untamed sea of life?"

"Uh...well...that's a little more drama than I intended, but yeah. That 'out.'"

"I dunno. It's pretty comfortable here in my metaphorical boat."

"Don't I know it!"

And so Bob was faced with a decision. Remain comfortably in his "boat," sailing phlegmatically through life in a contented fog of self-satisfied oblivion, or step out onto those analogous waves and see what exactly the wave-Maker wanted him out there for.

Bob, remarkably calm in the face of pending disaster, told his devoted (also spelled
m-a-u-d-l-i-n) wife that Great news! God wants me to get out of my comfort zone and start taking some risks for Him! He says I should 'Get out of the boat.'

Aforementioned committed (also spelled h-i-s-t-r-i-o-n-i-c) wife, with a startling lack of calm replied, Stay in the damn boat! Yes, she did. Bob was amused. And then he proceeded to pack all of his figurative spiritual, emotional, and mental bags in preparation for his starboard leap.

He leaped. That heretofore unassuming, silent, compassion-less man jumped into that roiling metaphorical sea where he would quickly becoming assuming, conversational, and responsively compassionate.

And there he floats today. Bobbing along, moving from one white-capped wave to the next. Consistently hearing that same God voice as it tosses unsuspecting sea-flounder-ers into his chunk of the ocean. Bob is very much out of his comfort zone as he reaches out to lend a hand to some sinking soul, or to give a listen to some hollering water-treader.

The boat's long gone. He couldn't find it to climb back into if he wanted to.

His wife, meanwhile, is missing her man, so she's straddling the side, dangling a tentative toe in that chilly, chilly sea. She knows Bob's got it right and the boat is very empty without him. She's strapping the kids to her back and preparing to hurl herself, boys and all, over the side in pursuit of her man and her God.

The dogs will have to fend for themselves.

Bob Is Out of The Boat (P1)

A crowded train car. The smell of unwashed bodies, soiled babies, over-done teenagers, ethnic foods, and false-scented women assaults him as he eases into his chauffeured ride. Lowering himself onto a smooth, cool seat, he reaches into his backpack in search of his O'Brien novel. He pauses. Something tells him this is not a morning for reading.

An hour earlier, my husband was out for his morning jog, dogs at the heel, clear morning wind sweeping up against sleepy lips and a strong jaw line. In those early hour moments, he raised his voice to his Maker with the same question he poses every day: Wherever you are, God, whatever you're doing, I want to join you. Where can I join you?

Time ~~ a little over a year's worth ~~ and practice are teaching him that the commute to work is more than an hour to kill en route to the office. His reach toward God and His request to be part of what God is doing, moment by moment, wherever we are, has drawn him into a challenging, often uncomfortable, state of awareness of the people around him.

This morning he has that increasingly familiar sense that his book should stay in his backpack. He begins to pay attention to the people surrounding him. Two business women standing in the aisle directly beside him. A mother with an unco-operative, belligerent toddler in the next car over. A twenty-something laborer, sleepy eyes and haggard brow testifying to another long week. An elderly gentleman, unsteady on his feet, wearily nudging his way onto the standing room only train car.

And Bob knows that his out-of-the-boat moment has come. He rises as the elderly man approaches and asks, Excuse me, Sir? Would you like to sit down? He sees the man visibly relax as he smiles gratefully at Bob. And as he's about to claim Bob's seat, Business Woman #1 slips nonchalantly past them and into it.

Bob is taken aback. In years past he would, first, have held his own seat, not giving any thought to anyone around him. He does, after all, have an amazing book to read! In years past, had he attempted to aid an old man with the offer of a seat only to have it scooped up by a self-absorbed woman, he would have blushed uncomfortably, shrugged dismissively at the old guy, and carried on with his day.

But this is not one of those years. This is not one of those times. The book is still in the backpack and there's a God thing going on. Bob turns to the seat thief and says, pointedly, "Excuse me, Ma'am, but I was offering my seat to this man. I think he needs to sit down."

Business Woman #1 is not amused. With a fierce glare directed at Bob, she flounces past him and back into her standing position whereupon she engages Business Woman #2 in a heated and bitter exchange about the arrogance of that man. What a jerk! her glare shouts.

Elderly Gentleman, meanwhile, has gratefully claimed the re-vacated seat.

BW 1 and BW 2 continue to fuss and bother as the train pitches and surges its way along the city track. Bob stands alongside them, uncomfortably aware that these moments of overt kindness are intensely public interactions. There is no getting away from the offended ones and not much comfort from the honored ones. He settles in for the thirty minutes it will take to get from the here of home to the there of the work day.

Downtown. Finally. With backward glares and continued complaints, the two women exit the train. Bob is dejected, frustrated, unsure. He had that God sense; he felt certain. The simple offer of a seat to a man in pain should have been a good thing, but it had deteriorated into a morning start of criticism and rebuke. He wonders if he's getting this God stuff right after all.

The next stop approaches and Old Man rises shakily from the oh-so-offending seat. No words are exchanged. But then, the look of gratitude and respect. As he moves past Bob toward the cars' folding doors he briefly, intentionally grasps Bob's arm and gives it a reassuring squeeze.

Bob is undone as he recounts this story. Undone with the frustration of bumping up, again and again, against the injustice and selfishness of our fellow man. Undone by the uncertainty of following Jesus in these Godless times. Undone with relief that despite the apparent undermining of a small kindness, the tenderness of God was felt.

Sometimes, when we obey God's whisper of direction, we make what we feel are strong connections with people. Can I pray for you? we ask. Let me tell you a bit about my God, we suggest.

Always, when we obey the God whisper, we are touched more deeply than ever we touch. Bob is practicing using his hands, his voice, his feet to put action to something he sees God doing nearby. On this day, his obedience led to God using another person to bring the tenderness of Jesus into his own day.

We are, together, learning to trust the gently urging voice of God that says, "Go. Do." We are learning to trust that although no lives (that we can see) are turning to Jesus, no healing is occurring, no demons are fleeing, we are in the process of learning to obey ~~ and learning to accept that obedience to the one small request is enough. For now.

For now, for today, we are required to listen and to follow. A relinquished seat. A listening ear. A responsive, engaged conversation with a clerk, a banker, a tradesman, a mum, a youth. A five dollar bill slipped into an unknowing pocket. A lifted supplication as we drive past an accident. A silent prayer for the troubled one we see across a crowded street.

For now. Today. That is enough.

Bob is out of the boat.

Let Him Go

Acts 3
Peter said (to the begging crippled man), "Look at us!"
So the man gave them his attention,
expecting to get something from them.
Then Peter said,
"Silver or gold I do not have,
but what I have I give you.
In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk."
Taking him by the right hand,
he helped him up,
and instantly the man's feet and ankles became strong.
He jumped to his feet and began to walk...
Our early evening dog walk has landed us at the local video store. My husband is inside, scouring the shelves for something that will interest us both. I'm outside, warm urban air swirling around me, dogs at my feet, waiting. Waiting and lost in thought, mildly aware of the dozens of people going in and out of the liquor store adjoining the movie shop. Vaguely cognizant of the cars moving through the parking lot. Bored. Waiting.
And then he catches my eye. A man of some height, thirty-something, in loose, light cotton shirt and pants, nutbrown, watchful. Signs of mental illness or developmental delay. He's scratching. Incessantly. Scratching his tummy, his legs, his arms, neck, and backside. Our eyes meet and I smile. He grins and moves on, suddenly turning back to quietly ask for cigarette. I don't have one. I tell him so. "Sorry," I say. "I don't have one. I have nothing for you."
I have nothing for you. But the whisper voice of God is saying something different, "I don't have a smoke, but what I do have, I give to you. In the name of Jesus..."
I quell the God thought. I quiet the God thought because the alternative is aggressive, pursuing, provoking, strong.
A split second of decision time: Call him back the Jesus in me urges. No way! the Me in me replies.
Call him back for what? What would I say? What would I offer of Christ? I don't know. I'm inexperienced, unpracticed, wobbly in my faith.
I let him go. No cigarette. No Jesus.
I let him go.

Saturday, June 2

First Aid

A piercing-hot June sun guards the field hockey pitch as morning ebbs to afternoon to early evening. Dozens of young bodies ease, jerk, careen, and soar across the worn turf ~~ child faces blotchy-red with exertion, lips dry from thirst and heat, expressions rising, falling, with goals or the lack of them.

Side-lined parents shout encouragement from their collapsible thrones. "Did you drink? When was the last time you had a good, long drink?" they query, shoving fresh water bottles into sweaty palms as various juniors saunter by for a pat on the back or a whispered reassurance.

I watch my own son. He moves with grace. Such ease! Like he was meant for sport. For competition. For speed. For the win. And then, an injury. Nothing serious (although the adrenaline coursing through my quickly responding body shouts otherwise). Lots of blood and a woozy boy with a deep cut through the heel of his hand. A quick trip to the first aid tent for a badly executed patch-up job. And we're back on the pitch, stick in hand, ready for the chase. The goal. The contest.

My son's courage lags as he wrestles with a swelling injury and break in confidence. "Mom? It hurts. I want to quit. I want to go home. It hurts real bad." The coach understands. Absolutely. Take him home. No problem, he murmurs, his warm Australian accent reassuring the boy that there's no shame in walking away.

I look into the unsettled eyes of my son. I know he's hurting. And I know it's not time to walk away.

Gently, I tug off his now soiled bandages and see the source of his pain: the cut, to be sure, but more, the swelling caused by a too tight tape job. We trodge off to find a sink and clean gauze. Loosely, I re-cover and re-tape his already healing wound. "Flex that hand, buddy," I urge. "Does that feel better? Here take an Advil ~~ it'll start working in a few minutes ~~ and feel how loose those bandages are. Do you think, maybe, you have one more game in you?"

He's relaxed now. He grips his hockey stick. He grins. "Yeah. I want to stay." He's running. Away from me, back to his team. They need him and he knows it.

Our Everyday Faith involves so many nicks and scrapes, slashes and bruises. There are many days, weeks, months when we do not hear the cheer of a side-line crowd hollering that "We can do it! Keep going! YES! You scored!" And then, the injury. Our gashes recoil with the sting of sweat-salt and the throbbing pain of bandages hastily applied, too-tightly wound. And we want to quit. It hurts. It's hard to hold on to God Truth. What with the sun pounding down on us and the win eluding us and the fresh cut stinging us, we just want to quit.

It's not time to quit. Not yet. The team needs us. It really does. We were meant for this sport. For competition. For speed. For the win. We move with more Grace than we know. Maybe a new cut needs re-dressing. Maybe we need a few aside moments of nurture and cleansing and good medicine so that we can get back in that game. But it's not time to quit.

My boy played-out the day, winning MVP for his team. He scored goals where no one else could and spurred his team to play faster, harder; cheering on the youngest players, challenging the experienced, he did not stop until the tournament had run it's course.

And I'm reminded to spend some aside time with my soothing God ~~ cleansing time, pain reducing, wound patching time. Because we don't want to quit too soon. Our team needs us.

May the Lord direct our hearts
into God's love
and Christ's perseverance.
~ II Thessalonians 3 ~