Coinciding with the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, I set-up an office Olympics where I work. We had three teams: Fiji, Jamaica, and Barbados. I chose tropical locales because, frankly, it has been a long cold winter here and we all needed a hint of the islands. Over the course of three weeks we had a variety of different events such as Recycling Basketball, Paper Airplane Javelin, Lemon Fencing, Synchronized Office Chair Swivel, Finger Skating, and Rubber Band Archery. Each activity only took about 15 minutes out of our day and it was well worth it. The resulting laughter and just the simple act of getting out of our individual offices and workstations and coming together for a few minutes every day around something other than work was refreshing. The closing ceremonies were this past Friday and included a photo slide show (set to the Olympic theme song, naturally) of the participants and spectators at each of the events.
What I found to be the most rewarding part of the whole experience was seeing how everyone in the office rallied around one of our co-workers in particular. She is a quiet lady who works hard and keeps busy. She hails from outside the United States, and has a lovely accent and a gentle spirit. During the office Olympics, her team needed someone to sign-up to compete in Rubber Band Archery and she agreed even though she admitted that she didn't know how to shoot a rubber band. She approached me in the hallway one day and I thanked her for volunteering and she said, she was nervous about it because she didn't know what rubber band archery was. I told her that it isn't a thing... that I just made it up as a fun activity...that nobody knows what it is. She was so relieved to hear that! Have you ever been sure that everyone else knows about something and you are the odd, clueless man out? I explained that I would be setting up some targets and that rubber bands would be given out and that the object was to shoot the rubber band with your fingers at the targets and try to hit them. Nothing to worry about!
The day of the event arrived and I set up a bunch of paper and plastic cups on the ledge of an empty cubicle and let the competitors from teams Jamaica, Fiji and Barbados have a few minutes to practice. She stepped up to the line and acted like she had been shooting rubber bands her whole life. It was like the heavens opened and shined down on her and her alone for those few moments. She knocked those cups off the ledge one right after the other like a sharp shooter, stretching each rubber band back nearly to its breaking point before letting them fly. The staff who were gathered around cheered and watched in awe, even those who weren't on her team. Turns out that someone on her team had sent her a link to a YouTube video of how to shoot rubber bands (Is there nothing you can't find on the internet these days?) and she had been practicing at home since she had signed-up! She ended up winning the gold medal without breaking a sweat and a conversation broke out around the office at how her approach to rubber band archery closely resembled her approach to everything that she does. Her colleagues raved about how if there was skill she didn't have or a program she didn't know how to use, she would pay close attention as it was taught and she would work at it diligently until she became as good or better at it than the person who taught her. Everyone in the office started seeing this quiet, sweet lady in a different light and by the time the closing ceremonies came around last week, when a photo of the rubber band archery champ came up on the screen, the whole office clapped and cheered.
It took stepping outside of the normal routine to be able to see her uniqueness for what it was. Now when we step back into the norm, we will have a new found respect and a clearer picture of who she is and what she is capable of.
How can you create opportunities in your family, your job, your church, your group of friends to shake off the old routine enough to give people a chance to let their uniqueness show and give yourself a chance to notice it? Give it a try! You'll be glad you did.
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.
"Mom, sometimes I have thoughts like, 'Is God really real?'"
This statement is part of a conversation I almost didn't have with my 11 year old son, Timothy, yesterday in the car on the way home from Wal-Mart. Once I had time to process that entire conversation and the events of that day, I knew that I would need to share it here. Some things are just too important NOT to share.
Earlier this week, Hurricane Sandy brought rain, snow, flooding, power outages, and havoc all throughout the northeastern United States. My husband, who has been gifted with a heart that longs to serve others in tangible ways, immediately sensed that he was meant to help those who were affected in some way by the flooding and devastation that the storm caused. He knew he had to go. We have been out on a limb (where God has called us to be) in so many ways, over so many years, that I didn't even bat an eye at this. Could we afford for him to go? No. Did we know how it would happen or where he would stay? No. Did that matter? No.
Jason pulled $500 out of our emergency fund, packed his duffel bag, pillow and sleeping bag, borrowed a church van (loaded with bottled water donated by church members), and I prayed over him and kissed him goodbye at 8:30am on Wednesday morning. Sometime before lunchtime that very same day, I got a phone call from someone we dearly love. He had been planning to make a donation to a disaster relief organization to help with Hurricane Sandy recovery efforts and heard that Jason was going. He asked how we were paying for the trip and I told him that God would provide. He said he was standing at his bank counter and wanted to wire money into our account to help out, and could I please give him our routing number and account number! Guess how much he gave, without me ever telling him what we needed. $500 exactly. That money, combined with the $120 that various people from Grace Baptist of Cedarville had pushed into our hands/pockets as they dropped off bottled water, will no doubt meet whatever needs come up in the days ahead as Jason offers a cup of cold water, a hot meal, the gospel of Christ, and his physical labor to those who need it most.
Wednesday afternoon, as Timothy and I were driving back from Wal-Mart, I hesitated to tell him that story. I didn't know if he was old enough to really understand the process of trusting God in that way. I didn't want to give him a false impression that you could just run out and do whatever you wanted for God and that he would throw money at you to cover the cost. Still, something in my spirit told me it was worth the risk that he might learn the "wrong lesson" in order to share what God had done and give Him glory. When I relayed the story, Timmy had the biggest smile. He said, "Mom, sometimes I have thoughts like, 'Is God really real?' Then I hear stories like that and I KNOW. I KNOW HE IS REAL and I think how stupid it is to think He isn't."
I am so glad I shared that story with my son. Just in case someone who is reading this is wondering, "Is God really real?" I thought I should share it with you as well. Two questions for you today:
1. What spiritual conversation have you not had with a young person in your life because you aren't sure he/she is ready for it? May I venture to suggest you give it a try? Children and young adults are far more spiritually attuned than we give them credit for!
2. What has God done in your life lately that you need to share with someone else? I know how much that story encouraged my son, and I am hoping it encourages you as well. What stories of His goodness have you not shared with others? We need to hear them!
Hebrews 10:25 NLT "And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of His return is drawing near."
I watched this video a few years ago, but someone was talking about it at church today and I had to go back and watch it again. I do NOT want to live a safe life... Remind me of that when I forget! Taking risks isn't easy, but it is where we develop closeness with God and a right perspective of life.
Carla Ritz. Proof positive that God uses cracked pots!