I am in the middle of reading "In My Home There Is No More Sorrow: 10 Days in Rwanda" by Rick Bass. Last night I read this passage from the book and it floored me. I knew I would need to come back to it and to reflect on its depth. I glanced at the page number to commit it to memory... 39. The number of years I've been alive. Am I as alive as I could be? Should be?
"There is a spirit moving through Rwanda that is profound and surprising. It is a spirit of what most people would call love. I'm not saying that's the whole of it. What I suspect is that there is probably not a word for it - the feeling, the spirit, the phenomenon - and none of us on the outside of it, thank God, will ever quite know what it is; not seventeen years later, and not ever. I wouldn't, on reflection, trade my numbness for what they have. Even an arm's length distance might be a little too close. It's kind of terrifying to witness such capacity for strength, for spiritual growth; who among us would not prefer, really, to remain flabby, vague, untested?"
The author, Rick Bass, visited Rwanda for 10 days three years ago and this book is the essay he wrote about his brief but profound experience in a country that has suffered through genocide after genocide after genocide. The most recent slaughter ended after one million Tutsis were killed by their Hutu countrymen within 100 days' time in 1994. Bass goes to memorial after memorial on his ten day trek taking in the blood-stained walls of churches, piles of bones and stench of decay. He comes in direct contact with both survivors of the massacre and the perpetrators of it. The Hutus and the Tutsis now miraculously live as neighbors and countrymen once again; unfathomable forgiveness has come and life goes on, powerfully, and Bass is at a loss. He would rather embrace his numbness than experience the profound wholeness and depth of a people who have witnessed/perpetrated/been victimized by such evil and yet have overcome through God's mysterious gift of forgiveness.
I am left to ponder my own numbness. When have I chosen to keep at arms length that which I cannot understand? That which I do not want to understand or believe possible. That which I know would require much more of me than I care to give up in order to obtain it?
Is numbness better than soaring on the indefinable heights of the ultimate expression of forgiveness all while the images of soul-wrenching evil still burn in memory, tethering us to the earth and its ways? Is it?
It isn't. Numbness is not better than the display of His splendor. Just ask Moses, who boldly asked God, "Please, show me Your glory!" Exodus 33:18. Just like the surviving and thriving Rwandans today, Moses came down from that mountain after experiencing the glory of God only to have others look away in fear and disbelief. His face was aglow with something they could not comprehend, something they weren't sure they wanted to comprehend. It looked painful. It looked other-worldly. It was easier to look away and remain numb. Easier, but not better. In Exodus, we read how God hid Moses in a crack in a rock while His glory passed by, knowing that Moses could only take a small portion of the weight of the immeasurable glory of God and still live. Is that what we are afraid of? Is that why we remain numb when we could experience the glory of God? Do we fear that experiencing something so beautiful and powerful might just kill us? What a way to go!
May 2014 be a year of shaking off numbness and fear in all its forms. Of living life fully, even when it hurts, especially when it hurts. Of living a life "with such capacity for strength and spiritual growth" that no one can witness it without standing in utter awe of the God who is able to bring terrifying beauty from the likes of evil men all for the display of His life-giving splendor. Glory to God.
When our son was a toddler, we learned a nifty parenting trick. After suffering through meltdown after meltdown whenever it was time to transition from one activity to the next, we discovered that if we gave our son a 5 or 10 minute warning before the transition was about to happen, the meltdowns were a thing of the past. "Tim, it will be time to help clean up toys and say goodbye in ten minutes." "Tim, dinner will be in five minutes, so get ready to stop your video." As long as he knew what was coming and when, he could cope. When he had time to wrap things up or finish on his own terms, he was golden. If the meltdown wasn't completely averted, it was at least lessened in severity.
Don't you wish we had the luxury of those kinds of warnings in life as adults. "Carla, in six months you will not be living here any more and you'll have to start over." "Carla, within the year, that person that you are so attached to will pass away." "Carla, in the next week someone in your family will become ill." Just a little warning, wouldn't that be nice? Just a little heads up so we can wrap our minds around what is coming and finish or adjust on our own terms.
The thing is, these little advance warnings weren't the most valuable things we could offer our son. Yes, they made life a little more bearable in the moment, especially as he was making his way through those toddler years, but it was never meant to be a way of life. After all, we wouldn't always have a warning ourselves. Sometimes we would need to make a transition with little to no warning and we would need him to trust us and spring into action before his emotions could catch up. What we really wanted him to learn were things like - Your Mom and Dad love you and we are in charge. We know what is best and we are working with an agenda that includes more than your immediate happiness, things you just aren't prepared to understand yet. The more you trust us, the more you will see that we have your best interest at heart. We may ask you to do some things that you do not want to do, but it is never out of cruelty. At the end of the day, what we really wanted him to learn to do was to rest in our trustworthiness, and to respond based on our relationship not on an attachment to an established, predictable routine.
The same is true with our walk through life. The routine will inevitably vary, so putting our trust in things always being the way they have been in the past is foolish. Many times God will orchestrate situations in such a way as to soften the blows of painful change. Other times, however, we will be called upon to simply respond in faith-filled obedience, when there is no resemblance of the normal routine anywhere in sight, no promise of how things will be resolved or how long the transition to a new normal will take.
In the end, through the pages of scripture, I have been given three things that are of greater value than a glimpse into the immediate future:
At the end of the day, this is what has been offered to me and it is what I have to offer the world. It isn't a safe, predictable routine, it is a relationship with the One who created all of us and has a vested interest in our future. It isn't an advance warning system of difficult changes that lie ahead and it isn't a promise that life will be easy or pain-free. It is the message of the gospel and it is enough.
Yesterday my son went with his youth group to volunteer with Target:Dayton. They served a meal to the people who came in need of one. Some were homeless, others barely getting by. Timmy was in charge of the coffee.
As we drove home, after the bus dropped him back off at our local church, I asked him about his experience. These are the 3 simple things he shared with me and the profound lessons I learned from him:
1. Tim's quote: "Not everyone there "looked" homeless." Mom's lesson: Not everyone I meet today who could use my help or encouragement will "look" like they need it. That doesn't mean I should withhold it. Target:Dayton provides their services indiscriminately and lets each individual decide whether or not they need them and want to receive them. I should be so generous with my time, resources and attention.
2. Tim's quote: "I didn't know there were so many people in Dayton that were homeless. There were so many of them." Mom's lesson: The need in the world is greater than I realize or have ever actually seen with my own eyes. If I saw it all at once, it would likely overwhelm me and paralyze me. The need is great. I would be wise not to forget that.
3. Tim's quote: "There was a lady who worked there who came up to me and told me I was doing a good job." Mom's lesson: It helps to know when we are on the right track. Serving others isn't easy and when I see someone doing it well, I should tell them so. We all secretly wonder whether what we are doing is making a difference and whether we are "doing it right." Words of encouragement are precious gifts that keep the givers giving.
One bonus lesson I learned: The first time our children (or any one else for that matter) experience something, we need to pay attention to their reactions and descriptions. When we have "been there and done that," we forget the power of a first experience and the unique perspective that comes with it.
The next two weeks will be filled with goodbyes for our family. As our move date rapidly approaches, each time we see someone now, we aren't sure whether we will see them again before we move, so we end up taking a bit more time and a bit more care when we say each goodbye. The students at Lock Haven University have a special place in our hearts. I first opened my own heart wide to them all when I arrived in Lock Haven several weeks before the rest of the family in 2009. I remember attending the first New Life Student Fellowship meeting of the school year and introducing myself as the wife of their soon-to-be Campus Minister. I remember telling this group of strangers to feel free to call me or Facebook or just stop by the house I was staying at any time. I invited the girls to come over for dinner one night and told them to be sure to RSVP so I'd know how many to cook for. Their unique way of responding is now a cherished memory documented in the picture below. To say I loved it would be the understatement of the century. I loved that I had opened my heart to them and they responded by showing me that they were so grateful that I had.
Whenever we open our hearts to others, we take a risk. We risk rejection. We risk being hurt. We risk learning things about ourselves or them that we didn't want to learn. Certainly, there are those who we initially open our hearts to that end up becoming people that we need to be careful with. Jim Cymbala, Pastor of the Brooklyn Tabernacle, says it this way in his book, Fresh Faith:
"Don't you know how to say no? This is not your house! You don't have the right to let in everyone/thing that wants to enter."
Pastor Cymbala is refering to the fact that, as believers, our hearts are God's dwelling place, and that when He takes up residence, He also takes up ownership. We don't get to choose who we let in and who we keep out any more. He decides. "You do not belong to yourself, for God bought you with a high price..." 1 Corinthians 6:20 NLT. Sometimes we agree with Him. Other times we don't. The result should be the same: obedience. We can't keep people at arms-length any more just because they are different or difficult. Nor can we continue to allow others to remain close to us and sin in the way they treat us or interact with us (emotional/verbal/physical abuse, causing us to stumble,) without speaking up. We have to love them enough to set up boundaries that keep them at an appropriate distance to encourage their healing and repentance and not enable their sinful tendencies in our relationship.
Many more times, however, we will open our hearts and be rewarded as a result. Sometimes through finding a kindred spirit, other times by learning lessons we needed at just the time we needed them. Sometimes by finding a catalyst for our own maturity, other times by being able to help another along on his/her journey. We have found all of these things in our relationships with students and friends here in Lock Haven. As we prepare to move, we will once again, open our hearts wide to the people in our new church and city, and wait expectantly to see how God asks us to respond to each and every one.
Until then, we will spend the next two weeks, reassuring those who have a special place in our hearts just how precious they are to us and how very privileged we have been to walk with them these few years. We don't regret opening our hearts to any of you one bit!
This morning I woke up with the topic of true love on my mind. Seriously... I woke up thinking about it.
The world has wonky ways of thinking about true love, and most of them center on how love makes us feel. Terms like "soul mate" are tossed around by people who spend little-to-no time nurturing their own souls, and yet somehow expect to know when they've found someone whose soul meshes with theirs (neglected and unknown as it may be). Many times it seems that what people are searching and longing for is not so much love as it is the byproduct of love. We want the benefits, the perks: We don't want to be alone. We want someone to witness our lives and accomplishments. We want to know the experience of a family of our own. We want to be known and accepted. We want physical intimacy. We want to explore a side of life that we can only explore with someone who loves us.
It seems to me, as I process all of this, that none of that is love at all. None of it. The things we seek and long for are not the core of what love is. Sadly, we can fabricate the byproduct of love without much effort, we can even build a relationship around the byproduct of love without real love having any part of it (for awhile anyway).
Love = Whole-Hearted Commitment
The Bible tells us that God LOVES the world; He loves His children. Christianity involves accepting that love and seeking to build a relationship where we learn to love God by reflecting the ways that He has first loved us. When God first loved us, we didn't even know Him, let alone love Him back. He loved us sacrificially (to say the least).
Sadly, I have found myself settling for the benefits and perks of a love relationship with God without actually pursuing love itself. I get heady over the byproducts of being His child, and skim over the depths of the committed relationship itself. This is an easy thing to do. This is why whenever someone is struggling or dissatisfied in their "relationship with God" one of the first questions we should ask is, "How much time are you spending in prayer?" With the close second being, "When was the last time you read your Bible with intentionality?" Followed by the third, "Are you consistently involved in a local church?" Then rounding things out with the fourth, "Are you reaching out to others to meet their needs and invite them into a relationship with your Father?" Those four acts - prayer, reading scripture, engaging with other believers, and reaching out to others - show commitment. They are the building blocks of a love relationship with God. What makes those four acts meaningful is the attitude of our hearts when we engage in them.
True love is knowing what translates as commitment to the person you are trying to love and doing those things, over and over again, over a long period of time (with the right attitude to boot). Over the years and through the ups and downs, this leads to a sweet spot that is far better than anything you could conjure up on your own. This is true with a spouse and it is true with our relationship with the God of the Universe.
Check these out for more to chew on:
I John 4:16 - 5:2
I Corinthians 13:4-7
Carla Ritz. Proof positive that God uses cracked pots!