Ch. 4: “Zambia, The Real Africa”

 

Our plane pulled to a stop on the middle of the tarmac.  Where was the jetway?  People were moving into the aisles so I grabbed my belongings and did the same.  I followed them to the exit as if in a trance.

Stepping out the door of the plane I took my first breath of African air, air I would he inhaling and exhaling for two years.  It was dry, hot, thicker.  I was reluctant to let it fill my lungs.  Was most of Africa sky?

Descending the metal staircase I followed the other passengers to a door in the lower level of an unimpressive cement building 200 yards away.  Was this an international airport?

When we entered the building it was cramped chaos.  I had imagined being greeted by cheerful natives singing rhythmic tunes.  Instead, African women in light blue polyester skirts and crumpled navy sweaters were hollering for immunization certificates.  African soldiers in bullet filled sashes welcomed me with machine guns.  Their eyes were dark and ominous, their faces sober and greasy.  People around me were pushing, trying to hurry.  I felt smothered.  And my nostrils were assaulted by a pungent smell that made me squint.  So it was, with shouting and pushing, machine guns, and the strong smell of native body odor, I was welcomed to Zambia.

Like cattle we squeezed through a door frame and into the next room.  Baggage claim.  There was no formal system for luggage.  No conveyor belts.  And no hurry.  A few African workers wheeled our suitcases in on rickety metal carts and unloaded them along the far wall.

The room was large and undecorated except for a pair of simple and direct posters with warnings about AIDS and sexual partners.  At a few old tables African workers stood ready to paw through clean clothes with dirty hands.

My luggage passed uninspected and Dr. Keller was soon greeting me with a smile and a hearty pat on the back.  “I was afraid you had backed out on us,” he boomed as he grabbed one of my bags.

“I’m thinking about it,” I wanted to say, but managed a smile instead and followed him through the airport.

Outside a small lawn lay like an emerald jewel.  So there was a bit of green.  Scarlet flowers bloomed around flag poles, but the Zambian national flags had wilted.

Dr. Keller’s Corolla was parked in the front.  As he loaded my bags he explained how his diplomatic license plates gave him privileged parking all over the city.  I headed for the right side of the car.

“I wouldn’t get in over there,” Dr. Keller laughed, “unless you’re planning to drive.”

“Oh,” I blinked as I changed my course.

“Everything is British here!” he expounded with delight.  “The trunk is the boot, the hood is the bonnet, the horn is the hooter, the windshield is the windscreen, and gas is petrol.”

And so, with me in the wrong side of the car and us on the wrong side of the road, we headed for Lusaka.

All kinds of Zambian men and women walked beside the road like ushers to the city.  Their ebony faces were forward and purposeful.  “Where are all these people going?” I asked.

“Everywhere,” Dr. Keller chuckled.  “They have no transport so they must walk.”

They wore the world’s hand-me-downs, old polyester suits, and silky shirts, wrap around skirts, ribbed turtle-necks, T-shirts, windbreakers, jelly shoes, flip flops, outdated tennis shoes and leather shoes from another era.  They dressed in styles that spanned three decades.

Dr. Keller provided the background music for the scenes that came and went around me, filling the silence with talk about everything from his fruit trees to how repairs were coming along on the school pool.

There were some unusual cars on the road, European models like Peugeot and Renault, and Zambian hybrids- a make and model of one car patched with pieces and parts from another.  It became apparent that tickets weren’t given for things like, loud mufflers, the emission of coal black exhaust, carrying too many passengers, or the inability to travel more than 20km per hr on a road marked 60.

Skeletons of cars haunted the roadsides. Once broken down, pillagers had descended like vultures, gutting them for parts, picking them clean to the bone.

An old green Volkswagen van sputtered along with people stuffed inside, a picture of claustrophobia.  “Public transportation,” Dr. Keller explained.  Arms, legs, and halves of bodies overflowed at the windows and doors.  The van coughed to a stop and faces grimaced as waves of bodies leaned this way and that until a passenger popped out.

We turned and entered a maze of white cinder block walls at the top of which broken glass had been pressed into a cement frosting.  Houses and yards were hidden behind the walls accessible only through large iron gates.

After a few turns in the maze we pulled up at the Keller’s residence where a Zambian guard appeared in a blue jumpsuit with a broken zipper.  His small black fingers worked the padlock and pushed the gate aside.  He stood in salute as we drove through a sparse yard and parked beside the white one-story home.

As I entered the Keller’s house I was greeted by two carved giraffes as tall as myself.  I was about to smile in admiration but a giant African mask on the wall discomforted me with its gaze.

Dr. Keller’s wife Madge soon appeared followed by another woman.  I remembered Madge from my interview in Wisconsin.  Where Dr. Keller was robust and jovial, she was thin and serious.  Madge gave me a stiff but welcoming hug and then introduced me to Jean.

Jean, a newly hired teacher in her mid-40’s, was to be my housemate.  And just as Madge was Dr. Keller’s opposite Jean was mine.  I was small and slight, she was large and looming.  I was quiet and unsure, she was loud and confident.  My hair was shoulder length and blonde, hers, a little brown cap.  When I held out my hand in greeting, Jean pumped it heartily.

The Keller’s had a lovely house built around a small atrium.  I had expected a thatched roof and matted floors, with water hauled in buckets from a well.  But, the roof was clay shingles, the floor was hardwood and the bathroom, much to my delight, was westernized, and lacked only the water pressure for a shower.

On our way to the living room we paused in the kitchen where a Zambian house worker was fixing lunch.  In the same breath Madge said, “Jackson, this is Miss Brask one of our new teachers,” and “Be sure to boil more water to run through the filter.”

“Hello Madame,” Jackson nodded to me.  “Yes Madame,” he nodded to her.

We settled on khaki couches in the living room while lunch was finished being prepared.  On the coffee table before me sat 12 magnificent stone eggs in a polished wooden tray.  I reached for the amethyst.  As I admired it Dr. Keller explained how each egg had been fashioned from a stone indigenous to Africa.  Tigers Eye, Malachite…

Next he was handing me a creamy-colored oval item the size of a small loaf of bread.  It was lightweight, slightly patterned, and had a hole in one end, which I looked in.   “Guess what this is?” Dr. Keller said.  I had no idea.  “An ostrich egg,” he smiled with delight.  I was genuinely fascinated.

Dr. Keller was a curator in his own museum of African artifacts.  In the next half hour I was shown a variety of carvings called curios, a collection of handcrafted walking sticks and a series of African oil paintings.  Each item had a story behind it, where it was purchased and how it was bargained for.  Everything was beautiful of course.

We sat down to tuna sandwiches and potato chips.  The chips had come from the commissary, a little store on the grounds of the American Embassy where specialty foods that Americans liked could be purchased.

After the blessing Dr. Keller launched into a detailed report of the six Marines posted in Lusaka.  At first I didn’t understand why he was telling me about them, but then it became embarrassingly clear that he was trying to determine which one would be the best match for me.  I didn’t know what to do.  I wanted to interrupt, but he was enjoying himself.  When he was finished and ready for my opinion, all I could say was, “I did not come to Africa to find a man.  I came to teach.”

After lunch I called home to let my parents know I’d arrived safely and was amazed by the connection.  It sounded like my parents were just down the street instead of two whole days and one large ocean away.  I drank in the sound of their voices and gave them an upbeat report of my arrival, projecting more courage than I felt.  When a lump began to rise in my throat I said, “Goodbye.”

Later Dr. Keller took us to see the school.  The American Embassy School of Lusaka was located about five minutes from the Keller’s in a large house that had been a home to the Dutch Ambassador.  As we pulled through the gate a Jacaranda tree stood like a lavender umbrella over the drive.  I thought it was enchanting.

The two story white stucco building was elegant and friendly, with rounded front steps, arched entryways, beautiful woodwork, and blue and white checkered floors.  The 130 or so faculty and students just might feel like a giant family.

My room was in the front and to the left.  It was painted light blue and was ready for occupancy with nine small desks and one larger one, mine.

I wound my way through the other rooms and happened upon a quaint little library.  All the books were unusually lovely- new, hard cover, and obviously the highest quality issued.  I had never seen so many beautiful books and was excited about the prospect of checking one out for myself once school started.  One in particular caught my attention, The Hobbit, a classic which I had never read.

The American Embassy School seemed a cheerful place and I was glad for it.

When we returned to the Keller’s I was offered a bath and a nap, and took both.

That evening we had been invited to the Harada’s for dinner so that I might meet two girls my age.  The Harada’s were Baptist missionaries.  Since I had grown up having little contact with missionaries I knew only two things; they dressed peculiar and possessed a lot of courage.  I wondered if we would eat snake meat and drink papaya juice around a bamboo table.

On the way to the Harada’s we drove by the President of Zambia spacious residence.  Two unflinching guards stood outside the black iron gate.  “President Kaunda is trying to copy Buckingham Palace,” Dr. Keller chuckled.  “You can’t take photos of any official buildings here,” he warned.  “If they see you taking pictures they think you’re plotting against them.”

“Ok,” I said.

Soon I was getting driving lessons.  We came to something called a roundabout.  “It’s the British version of an intersection,” Dr. Keller explained. ”It’s designed to keep traffic moving.”  I could see that several roads met at a circular path.  “You just enter and drive counterclockwise until you reach the road you wish to take out of it.”

A few moments later we came to a stop sign and Dr. Keller drove right on through.  “Never stop at stop signs after dark,” he called over his shoulder.  “It’s too dangerous.  You could get held up or car jacked.  Just drive right on through.  And don’t worry about it.  Everyone does it.”

The next thing I knew Dr. Keller was telling a series of stories he had heard from others in Zambia, stories about people getting robbed at gun point, in their cars, in their homes…  I began to feel frightened, but I could tell that Dr. Keller wasn’t scared at all, he was invigorated, like he was a cowboy, and this was his Wild West.

Soon we were on the edge of town swerving our way down a pot-holed road that led to the Baptist seminary.

I was surprised to find that the Harada’s also had a real house, no thatched roof or dirt floor.  And no snake meat.  A real chicken dinner was laid out near the side door.  We stood in a small living room furnished with white wicker, and my missionary stereo-types vanished when I noticed a TV, VCR and two shelves of American movies.

Wilson Harada was a soft-spoken and gentle Hawaiian man.  His wife Sarah was fair, blonde and quiet.  I liked them both.  They emanated peace.

We sat down to a nicely set table, and before we could take our first sip of lemonade, more guests arrived.  Two young ladies that were the Harada’s neighbors came bursting through the door arguing good-naturedly about who had caused who to be late.  Was it the one who was curling her hair or the one who had burned the brownies?  In a happy whirlwind, they rushed over to take their seats. and I was introduced to Allie and Tracy.

I was dumbfounded.  Speechless.  For sitting directly across from me was the girl with the China doll face.  The same girl I had seen sitting across from me the night before in the London airport.  I was just beginning to wonder about the fair-haired man she had been with when someone said, “Isn’t it amazing that Dana, Tracy and Jake all came in on the same plane?”  At this Tracy cheerfully took over the conversation telling of how she had arranged to meet Jake, a fellow missionary whom she had never seen, in London so they could fly down together.  “I told Jake over the phone that I would be wearing a teal shirt.  Then I had to spend ten minutes describing what color teal was.”  The room erupted in laughter.  “And, on the plane, when I had eaten only part of my meal, Jake asked if I was done, and devoured the rest of it.  A typical man,” she huffed good-naturedly.  As we bowed our heads for prayer, I was thinking that I had been wrong about them being together and me being alone.

I instantly liked my new friends.  Tracy was tall and slim, her dark hair cut straight across the shoulders.  She was polished yet friendly, and had come to Lusaka to produce a film that would educate the Zambians about AIDS.  Allie had been in Lusaka for a year already and was working as a book keeper for the Baptist Mission.  She was shorter, rounder, and had a head of tawny curls.  She was fun loving and warm-hearted.  When the evening ended, I found myself wishing I could go home with them.

Under a black blanket of African sky I climbed in the car with Jean and the Keller’s.  We sped through the stop signs, circled back through the roundabout, and wove once again through the white walled maze.

I fell asleep in my dad’s sleeping bag, hoping no one would be offended that I wasn’t using the bed sheets.

 

 

A Lesson in Gethsemane

I am reading about a scene in the garden of Gethsemane.  The disciples are sad, confused, and feeling threatened.  Nothing is going as they would choose.  When the soldiers come to arrest Jesus they don’t know how to handle things, “Lord, shall we strike with our swords?” they ask.  Peter doesn’t wait for Jesus to answer, but instead lashes out and cuts off a soldier’s ear.

Maybe you can relate to Peter.  Something is going to pieces around you and you don’t like it.  You feel threatened and anxious.  An injustice is happening and you’re used to drawing your sword.  You don’t know what else to do but cut off an ear.  Aren’t battles fought with aggressive action?  Piercing words?  If cutting off an ear isn’t the right response in these moments, what is?

We don’t have to wonder.  If we listen in on what Jesus said to Peter, we will hear what he may be telling us.  Jesus said, “Put your sword back in its place… Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels?  But how then would the scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?”  Matthew 26:52-54 NIV

Jesus is giving Peter three truths here.  First, Peter is to put his sword back in its place.  Reacting in his usual and natural way will not work in this situation.  Secondly, no matter how things appear Jesus is in authority.  John’s gospel reports that when the Roman soldiers arrived on this scene, Jesus did not hide or hang back, but went straight to them and asked, “Who is it you want?”  When Jesus told the soldiers who he was, the entire detachment fell to the ground.  A strong indication of who was in charge of the moment.  Yes, Jesus could call on the angels.  But it wouldn’t be right.  Why?  That brings us to truth three.  Jesus came to fulfill the scriptures.  He came to prove God’s word true, to fulfill each promise and prophecy God had made through the generations.  He was here to bring salvation to people, exactly the way God said it would come.  Through the cross.

I don’t know about you, but when I feel threatened and anxious I tend to lash out.  I can see now that’s the wrong response.  It hurts others and it does not fulfill God’s plan.  I love this scene in the garden, because it gives me a blueprint for walking through things.  I want to learn to handle hard moments like Jesus did, honoring God and his word.  Next time I face a threat and cry, “Lord, shall I strike with my sword?”, I want to remember this scene, listen, and pray.  I want to hear Jesus say, “I’m in control.”  I want to put away the sword of my flesh, take up the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, and ask a new question.  “Lord, what scripture do you want to see fulfilled in me?”  (After all, this is why I read the Bible, to know when and how to apply what is written in it, to find myself and my answers there.)  I want to learn to kneel in that garden and like Jesus pray this prayer, “Show me Lord, how to act in a way that proves your word true, your love deep, your redemption real.  Show me how to live in a way that brings salvation.”

The character and nature of Jesus is amazing in this scene.  Jesus was going through a horrendous trial, more awful than anything we could face.  And he could have been gratified that it appeared someone was standing up for him, that they cared enough to cut off an ear.  But Jesus wasn’t at all gratified by that.  He wasn’t looking for someone to cut off an ear for him.  And he doesn’t want us looking for that either.  When we are living to make people pay, we have a problem.  We’re missing the greater sacrifice.  Jesus sacrifice.  Jesus came to get us out of the eye for eye and ear for ear system.  Jesus didn’t cut off an ear as a badge of his love for us, he suffered in his own self.  He did not strike.  He was stricken.  He did not make another person pay.  He paid.  His life’s blood is on the purchase agreement of our souls.  So let’s not be looking for ears.  Jesus alone is worthy of our constant gaze.  And highest praise.

But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.    Isaiah 53:4-5 NIV

 

 

Heroic Virtue

     “The godly people in the land are my true heroes!” Psalm 16:3 NLT

I read this verse in the Psalms and I wonder, who do I esteem and why?  Who are the godly people in my land and what are they doing that is heroic?

I thought of my friends Mike and Sherry, missionaries, who are returning to an Asian city where they have spent years faithfully doing small, unexciting, and unglamorous things to love the Asian people and tell them about God.  I am sure they have felt at times like they are digging a spiritual inroad with a tool the size of a tablespoon.  Their kind and humble work is heroic.

I thought of my husband rising each day, to study and pray.  I thought of all the messages he has prepared week after week, come what may- aching tooth, bad back, ill mother.  The biggest thing I notice is how he keeps on going, even if things get sticky or hard.  He always presses on.  He loves what he does.  And his silent preparation and patient endurance is heroic.

I thought of my friend Martha who was bedfast for 6 months, because of a surgeon’s error.  She was mad and angry and chewed him out.  Then one day she went back to him to say, “I forgive you and I love you.  Will you fix it?”  Her courageous forgiveness is heroic.  (He did fix it.)

I think of my brother, a stay-at-home dad.  I’ve witnessed first-hand the challenges of his day.  With four kids ages 1-10 he tackles everything from bottles and diapers, to meals and laundry, crying and vomiting.  His days are chaotic, a whirlwind of activity.  He’s a servant to the young.  A man you can trust with the vulnerable.  Heroic.

These people probably won’t like that I’ve written about them this way.  But it has been good for me to take a moment to think about their lives and esteem these Christ-like qualities in their hearts.  I worship God as I value what their faith is depositing in the lives of others.  When I think of them, I’m inspired to dig with a spoon if I have to, to share the love and truth about God, to persevere in what I am called to do day after day come what may, to forgive when it’s hard and to serve the vulnerable.

There are many other people I could write about, but these few came to mind today.  So know this, all you who love the Lord, as I saw and esteemed them, so God sees and esteems you.

“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”  Galatians 6:9 NIV

 

A Broken World Made Whole

Every Christmas I put out the manger scene that has been in my family for about 75 years. The old figurines are beautiful but most of them are showing wear, and you can easily see that many of them have been broken.  Both the shepherd and the angel are missing their legs.  Years ago my grandmother fastened cardboard to the bottom of each so they won’t fall over. One of the sheep is creased with cracks showing it has been glued back together.  The other has uneven feet and must lean against the shepherd for support.  And the donkey, he’s a mystery.  I believe his tail has been pulled and he looks sort of… well, chewed on.  I’m sure if I took this bunch of characters to the Antiques Road Show they would be declared of little value because of their flaws.

In the past I tried to hide my broken manger scene figures behind the more perfect ones or behind some greenery, but lately I am letting them show, because they perfectly represent the value God places on a broken and imperfect person like me.  They inspire me to sing about the fact that I have been invited, cracks and all, to partake of every good thing God offers me through Jesus.  They remind me that Jesus has made me whole and has given me the grace to stand with joy in his presence.

Timothy Keller says that “there is no good reason for God to care about us. But amazingly he does.  He doesn’t love us because we benefit him in some way.  How could we?  He loves us simply because he loves us (Deuteronomy 7:7).  That’s why we praise Him.”

Merry Christmas, from our home to yours!  – Jake and Dana Huffman

Thanksgiving Table

Colorful maple leaves on wooden  table.Falling leaves natural ba

It had been a rough couple of days.  I was assaulted by thoughts, enemy thoughts that kept coming against me.  I was battle weary.  I felt confused and lost.  And got down on my knees to pray.  As I began confessing all my oppressive thoughts, I felt a strong command to my heart, “Remember the great table of the Lord.”  Oh yes, I thought, “Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of my enemies” Psalm 23.  What is at this table of the Lord?  Truths.  Truths that when taken up and taken in, fortify us for the fight within.  These are not “visions of sugar plums dancing in our heads,” but correct thoughts of who God is.

I remember my grandmother’s table and a special meal served at her house.  It was a feast worthy of exclamation.  Fruit was fizzling in purple goblets and mere pats of butter had been shaped like roses.  As each dish was carried out of the kitchen and placed on the table, everyone seated exclaimed things like, “Oh my…” “Wow!”  “This looks wonderful!”  And it was.

But there is a greater table.  There is a table for weary and storm-battered souls.  Sit down in the presence of your enemies and eat there.  Feast on the richness of who God is.  Take in, and savor, what is true of Him and what is true of you:

God is fighting for you.  And he will win. (Exodus 14:14)

He loves you even when you feel terrible and unlovable. (Romans 5:8)

He knows right where you are, even if you feel lost. (Job 23:8-10)

He will never, ever, ever leave you, even if others do. (Hebrews 13:5)

Nothing will stop his persistent goodness and grace to you, nothing. (Psalm 23:6)

These truths give clarity.  They wipe away confusion about God’s nature and what he is able to do.  He’s deeply compassionate and all powerful.  These truths wipe away confusion about where you are and who you are to him.  You are under his watchful eye.  You are deeply loved, and never to be forsaken.  Exclaim over each of these revelations.  Thank God for each truth.  This is comfort food.  Sit.  Eat it until you are fat.  Then give thanks.  Give thanks that this food can and will, change your life!  Give thanks that in the light of these truths, you see the enemy’s lies for what they are, pesky flies at the Father’s table.

Romans 1:21 says, “For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God, nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened…”  What keeps our thoughts from becoming futile?  What stops our hearts from being dark?  Glorifying God (gladly exclaiming over who he is) and giving thanks to him.  This floods our hearts with light, which means peace, calmness, truth, and Jesus, because Jesus is light.  Do these things and your toughest battles are won.  Amen?  Amen.  Let’s eat.

 

 

“Unvarnished” (my journal 11/6/16)

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Dear Lord,

How beautiful that you would love my unvarnished heart!! I have worked very hard this week to polish my writing pieces for my website.  Last night, when Jake told me the pieces were “very good,” but that my journal entries were “the best,” I was hurt.  I worked so hard to be professional.  “I cannot work any harder,” I told you this morning.  I felt angry, at you Lord and him.  And then this morning I looked at my journal and thought– how beautiful that my husband would love the raw unpolished me, more than the polished me.  How beautiful that God would love my real, unvarnished self that pours out to him.  I realized I need to take my own medicine, my “wounds from a friend can be trusted” medicine.  To see how God and my husband are telling me a truth I need to see, how beautiful that God would love the real me.  “While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8

I feel God is calling me to post my journal entries on my website, I just don’t know how.  I fight it.  I want to revise, perfect and edit.  It is hard to be weak and trust his power, but it is his way.  And I must learn it.  Please show me how to do it Lord.

Jonah was mad enough to die that God was merciful to Nineveh’s sinners and removed the comfortable shade tree he was under (Jonah chapter 4).  I was mad last night that God was wanting me to remove something that I am comfortable with, my editing that hides my imperfections and makes me seem more amazing and less sinful.  But, God loves sinners.  God has mercy on sinners.  He does not like Pharisees, who create and follow a bunch of rules to look good.  This is who God is.   And his ways are right.  I must accept how he does things.  He is Lord.  And he is good!  See how good he is, “don’t spiff up for me,” “give me the real you.”

Last night I felt a “bitter root” going down in my heart, a bitter root that I will never be able to do “great.”  But this morning that root was pulled up by the Lord.  And I am so glad.  His yoke is easy, and his burden is light, and I must quit wanting to have my own way.  Now I have peace, because that is what being loved for who you are brings.  Thank you Lord.  And please help me to share this love.

I really feel like the Lord is saying to me, you can be a professional if you want, or you can be effective.  In being a “professional” I was trying to keep my own voice out of my writing, and have T. Keller’s voice or my Bible study leader’s voice, a more rational, and measured voice.  But the Lord told me “You have a voice” little bird.  Sing your song.  Use your voice.  (Like my friend Lola who writes, it would be sad if she tried to have a “professional” voice.  She is a refreshing young bird, singing in her accent.  That’s what it is, one true message- different accents.  Peace.)

Back to my life verse -> “See I am doing a new thing.  Now it springs up.  Do you not perceive it??”  (Isaiah 43:19)

I have been working on my writing about Nathanael (John 1:46) and realized that I was being like him (prejudiced about how God would show up).  Wow.  It’s amazing to me that I think I can so clearly understand what God is doing or not doing and then He blows me away by showing me that He is the best story writer and that His paths are “beyond tracing out”  -but He gives me a glimpse and I am amazed how He shows me once again “my eye is on you sparrow.”  “Trust me!”

Lord, I repent.  You are God, your ways are better, and higher, and my ways are small.  I really do see through the glass so dimly.  Thank you for what you have shown me today.  I worship you.  You are a Divine Weaver of Wonders.

 

Wounds You Can Trust

 

Proof Reading

“Wounds from a friend can be trusted.”  Proverbs 27:6 NIV

When I was in college, a writing professor returned one of my papers with some remarks that were critical and upsetting.  I was living with my parents at the time and couldn’t wait to show the paper to my father, certain he would join me in my outrage.  When I returned home my father was working the night shift, so I left my paper on the kitchen table with a note that went something like this, “Dad, can you believe how this professor has criticized my work?”

The next morning I saw that my father had read my note and left a reply.  There in his bold handwriting were the words “Dana, I have read your paper, and I think your professor has made some valuable comments.”

“Valuable comments!”

I was mad.  And crushed.  I fumed around the kitchen muttering things like, “I thought you loved me!” and “Whose side are you on anyway?”

My tantrum lasted most of the morning.  And then it began to fizzle.  How could I argue against my father’s love?  How could I question whose side he was on?  On many occasions my father had sacrificed his own time to sit and help me write papers for school.  Often he had spent time talking with me about my future.  He helped me choose a college and was paying part of my expenses.  He was my academic cheerleader.  Why would he hurt me?

Love demanded it.  My father knew if I went to school with a hard and arrogant heart I would never become the person I could be.  He knew if he hurt me for a moment he could help me for a lifetime.

Our Heavenly Father loves us dearly.  Sometimes he will tell us tough things.  We should accept those things with a humble and teachable spirit, trusting that he is working for our good, even when it hurts.

“My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, 

and do not lose heart when he rebukes you,

because the Lord disciplines those he loves…”

Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best;

but God disciplines us for our good,

that we may share in his holiness.

No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful.

Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace

for those who have been trained by it.  Hebrews 12:5, 10-11 NIV   

 

 

 

 

 

Faith Training

bigstock-131917565The movie Miracle tells the story of how our 1980 US hockey team won an Olympic gold medal against all odds.  Coach Herb Brooks, knowing both his team and the opponent well, led his players into a season of difficult training.  He wearied them with long hours and demanding drills.  At one point he subjected his players to such a grueling workout that those watching questioned his methods.  Even his own players doubted his affection and were tempted to quit.  Though no one understood it at the time, Herb knew what He was doing.  He was training his players to hang tough with their opponent, preparing them for ultimate victory.  Herb’s team chose to trust and persevere.  And when it was time for the big game against an enemy that had long ruled the ice, Herb’s players beat the odds, got the gold, and gained honor for their country.

Being on God’s team is not always easy.  In fact, sometimes it’s difficult to understand the hardships we suffer.  But, it is through these very hardships that God is working to form in us what is most precious and valuable to him and his kingdom- real and tested faith.  With this faith we overcome the world.

In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.  These have come so that your faith of greater worth than gold… may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.     1Peter 1:6-7 NIV

Learning to Serve Humble Pie

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On my writer’s Facebook page I once compared myself to a cook and my writing pieces to simmering stews.  Stews that I taste and test, as I try to understand what should be added, or altered, in order to make each one… perfect.  Months have passed since I shared that.  And now my so called kitchen is full of writing pieces that have never been served up.  What each piece needs to make it just right is a mystery to me.  Imagine if this were physical food, and I had a family or group of friends to feed?  Imagine if I stopped putting meals on the table in my home, because I couldn’t get each dish to turn out just great.  That would be ridiculous.  And sad.  And that is where I have been.  I am sorry readers.  I have missed serving those of you who have pulled up to my corner of God’s table.

So now I am thinking…. wouldn’t it be better to serve something instead of nothing?  Does a dish need to be perfect in order to nourish or comfort?  Have I been prideful– afraid to give and serve with my weakness showing?

Today, I remember Jesus perfect sacrifice on the cross, and how it came through his vulnerability, humility and nakedness.  I remember how Jesus told the apostle Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9).  I think there is something for me to learn about serving weak and trusting God to show Himself strong.

I want to learn to serve this way, to dish up this humble pie, and give what I have to offer even if eggs shells are in the mix.  And I want to encourage you to do the same.  Let’s not aim for our own perfection, but trust God’s.  Let’s count on God to add what we lack– that missing ingredient, that special sauce, His amazing grace that redeems every dish, and day.

Dear Lord,  We are small.  And weak.  We often don’t know exactly what to say.  And we hardly ever know perfectly what to do.  But here we are.  We want to get out of our kitchens, and our homes, and ourselves, and serve others what you have given us to share.  We are not amazing.  But you are amazing.  You have reached out and rescued us.  Thank you.  Please rescue what we dish up and do today, through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

 

The Most Beautiful Thing in the Room

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It’s a scene I won’t forget.  The party is winding down and I look across the table.  My dad and his 93 year old sister, my aunt, are sitting face to face and knee to knee.  My aunt’s eyes are shining and she is smiling.  She has never looked more beautiful as she listens to what my dad is telling her.  She is hanging on his every word.  I can’t hear much of the conversation, but I hear enough to understand what’s happening.  My dad is orienting her.  My aunt is forgetting a lot these days and he’s reminding her of things.  Things like their shared history and who they are to each other.  “I’m your younger brother” and “We used to….”  What strikes me is my dad’s kindness.  He’s done this for his sister before, yet he patiently does it again.  He’s fully present.  His efforts are wholehearted.  And most notably, his actions show that he doesn’t believe he’s missing out on “bigger” or “better” talks with others.  Beautiful.

The party ended.  And while there were many special moments that night, the one I can’t shake from my mind’s eye is that one I witnessed with my dad and my aunt.  I wonder why I keep coming back to it.  Then it hits me, and I know.  My dad is like Jesus.  And I am my aunt.  I get so easily disoriented, confused and agitated by things that happen in my world, unable to make sense of emotions and struggles inside my soul…  Then Jesus comes near.  And he patiently and kindly orients me.  He reminds me of our shared history.  Of who he is to me and who I am to him.  “I am the way” and “You are my child…”  He has the clarity I lack.  He speaks the truth I need.  And, the fact that Jesus could be involved in far more exciting discussions with much more interesting, influential and “on top of it” people, well… it melts me.  What other god acts like this?  Bends down and sits, face to face and knee to knee, with humanity?  Beautiful.

                 “Come… and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart.”

                                                                                            Matthew 11:28 NIV