I Was Here…

What is it about our names that we feel the need to carve them in things?  Wet concrete.  Bathroom stalls. Trees.  The Luxor temple .  Names etched all over the world prove the reality of our experience and existence.  At least we hope they do.

I carved my name on the world one time.  After my first two years overseas I wandered my campus, the campus where I learned to speak an incredibly difficult language, and remembered the moments of my presence.  I purposely journeyed and recalled first days in class, first friends, and my purpose in undergoing such trying two years.

Towards the end of the journey I used my key to carve my name in a bamboo grove near a favorite meeting spot on campus.  A key is an unwieldy tool for carving a name.  My name etched in a particularly fat bamboo pole stared at me in all its amateur ugly but it stuck in there solidly white in a background of green.  I took no picture of my name but it looked worse than this one.DSC_0128

Carving my name felt permanent.  I know now that bamboo is grass.  Bamboo grows fast.  Super fast.  People cut it down to use as scaffolding or to hang laundry on to dry.  It floors houses because of its eco-friendliness which rests in its ability to replace itself and fast.  Did I say it grew fast?  Bamboo can grow a few feet a day which is why people feel not the least sad to hack it down.  Hardly the kind of media to use when one tries to make a permanent mark in the world.

But bamboo possesses a strength which makes it suitable for many tasks.  Asians love bamboo.  They sleep on it, eat it, eat from it, hang clothes on it, paint on it, paint it, carve it, write poems about it, feed it to pandas, and build walls using it.   If ever a perfect plant existed for such a numerous people, this might be it.  After 12 years in Asia I understand the Asian love for bamboo.

My name long since grew up and out and over that bamboo grove.  My permanent mark proved anything but permanent.  But the task of marking my name on something stays with me.  The fact that I chose bamboo of all things seems significant.

It reminds me of the strength that comes not from being brittle and hard and tough but from growing from a strong network of roots connected to the Source.

I think about the way it grows so fast and hope that I, too, grow in season.

Bamboo sways and whispers and sings.  I hope my life also sings a melody of God’s grace as I live among others.

Have you carved your name on something?  What significance does it have for you?

Plain Old Pain and Sore Pain

At 20 bucks an hour, medicinal back massages are a steal.  Last furlough I vowed to indulge in this overseas luxury more often.  Cross cultural life stresses the body and the mind.  Massage works wonders…if you can stand the pain.

Massage in America surrounds you in an experience of soothing luxury.  Relaxing smells and soft music with a fountain trickling in the background usher one into an experience of stressless comfort.  Not so in Asia.  A successful massage in Asia uses one hour to hit every pressure point and problem area with torturous force.  No music or fountains…just hard work.  It is not for the faint of heart.  If I scream, which I do, I only communicate a job well done, not a request to stop!

Two words describe pain in this language and we learned them from the masseuse.  There are more, but these two strike me with meaning.  Pain and sore pain.  Pain is just what it means…pain.  No purpose.  Negative.  Undesirable.  Bad.

Sore pain…now sore pain is good.   The masseuse explained that sore pain means new blood flowing to the knotted muscle and washing out the toxins.  Sore pain eventually allows the muscle to release the poison and relax resulting in more freedom of motion without limiting pain.

Sore pain is why I get a massage.  Sore pain serves a purpose.  Sore pain yields.  Sore pain is not futile.  Sore pain leads to loose muscles that enable me to enjoy daily life without as much plain old pain.

As in my spiritual life there is pain that leads to more pain and serves no purpose.  That kind of pain makes me act funny as I protect myself.  And, then, there is sore pain.  The word a friend speaks that brings to light a sin issue I need to face.  Or, maybe it is doing the thing I fear will incur disapproval from others.  Pressing these areas brings sore pain.  But, sore pain is worth it.  Sore pain brings new life.  Sore pain gets out the poisons.  Sore pain eventually brings peace and freedom.

Sore pain still hurts.  I scream when the masseuse hits certain pressure points.  I cry and can get angry when someone pushes on a stiff spot.   But the promise of cleaning out the toxins and moving unencumbered by a stiff soul makes me crave it even as I want to scream.

When I visit the masseuse I always try to go with a friend.  We bond as we listen to the masseurs grump about our physical problems and as we hear each other yelp.  Taking a friend along on the journey of sore pain of the soul helps me endure.

Between the screams, and sometimes through them, we laugh a great deal.

What stiff places in your soul need to experience sore pain these days?

Slop

photo (1)Some men occupy their days and fill their pocketbooks carting slop.  Bicycles carry huge, blue, open vats of slop to unknown places where the pigs live.  It sloshes around, a thick, chunky mixture of food scraped from plates or expelled from woks.  The muck on the containers repels a pedestrian before the smell ever reaches the nose.  No one washes the containers between loads.  I do not ask to know this…I see it clearly.

I never pictured slop in my mind until I encountered it overseas.  America is clean.  Slop travels mysteriously through some opaque tube into a closed truck with some words about sanitation written in green or white on the outside.  Only a few come face to face with this ugly reality of life.

My children, however, grow up smelling smells and seeing things I never set my eyes on as a child.  Slop is one of them.  I say slop and they know…their minds pull up a picture of a nasty blue container crusted with who knows what.  Slop is real to them.  Their faces contort when I talk about slop.

So, last week when I read the story of the Prodigal Son and they listened again…I added some detail and brought it home to them.  I told them that pig food he ate?  He ate slop.  Their faces dropped.  Unimaginable.  How desperate.  How disgusting…eating slop.  Anything is better for dinner than slop…even slavery in your own home.  Going back as slave became a totally reasonable and necessary choice to avoid slop.

photo (2)We walked along puce green for a few minutes as we imagined eating slop.  I hope they remember slop for the rest of their lives.  The smell, the look, the grime…because maybe the grace of the Father offered to them will astound them.  Instead of slop…or slavery…a beef barbecue as a treasured son?

I hope and pray they choose the barbecue because they know a life apart from God resembles eating slop.  I pray they know the grace of the feast that the Lord offers when the best they dare expect hope for is slavery.

And, for myself, I hope I receive the gift daily to enjoy the barbecue instead of trying to earn a meager meal…the best I fear I deserve…as a slave.

Cisterns and Springs

Mountain walks provide soul nourishment I never fully appreciated until I lived life surrounded by the noise of dense population.  Exploring and listening to the myriad sounds of silence lifts my soul.  On one such walk, I stumbled upon an interesting contraption to gather rain water and irrigate a small plot of land.  I snapped a picture and filed it away, not knowing for what I wanted to use it. DSC_0019

Fast forward 6 months and here I sit, thinking of that picture.  This image of a cistern captures my attention again.  Cisterns hold finite, defined amounts of water to sustain life.  Someone rigged this one to fill by itself but in general, cisterns require significant labor to fill because water weighs a ton.  Cisterns lose their effectiveness quickly.  Water left a few days becomes stale.  Containers break and they run out when drought arrives.  With cisterns, one knows how much water one possesses, making it easier and practical to divvy out and a source of fear as water runs low.  Rationing is reasonable and necessary with a cistern.

6 months after taking this shot I see what I missed then.  So often I live life as though my sustenance comes from a cistern.  A limited, contained, quickly stale, rationed source.  A fearfully fragile pot that I fill myself through much hardship.  Water weighs a ton.  My spiritual life feels like hard work and I decide on my portions.  I ration my efforts based on how much water I see in the container and the labor I know it takes to replace it.  Exhausting.

So when Jesus speaks of a spring bubbling up, my ears prick.  Springs produce water through no effort.  They spill water all around for anyone to gather.  Their limitless supply confounds the mind as the source stays mysteriously buried underground.  Springs clean themselves and never sit to stale.  Rationing?  Impossible and unneccesary.  Drought may come but the spring reaches farther down to draw up water.  Fear subsides as I see Jesus, the fountain of living water.

As I contemplated the cistern spiritual life I’m prone to lead or the spring-fed life Jesus offers, I want to throw down my heavy buckets and come to Him.  I search for ways I ration my outpouring–and the Lord reveals many–and gather with others at the spring for my daily drink.  The spring always bubbles up and I rest, quenched.

What differences do you see between a cistern and a spring?

Renovating

Nomads move around. We are nomads. I think true nomads like moving. I do not. It’s not exciting like those international home buyers shows. We’ve pondered apartments with toilets in closets, bathroom sinks in dining rooms, and grime beyond belief. I’ve moved, pregnant with two small kids, into an apartment sight unseen.

The gold used to be an unfinished apartment. We looked for the apartment shell–concrete everywhere and holes in the walls and ground for piping. Then, we put in floors, cabinets, sinks, tubs, and toilets…just how we liked and not in the closet. Times changed and that’s out of our budget now. Now, gold is an apartment with everything but a kitchen. I like to do my kitchen my way.

The worst, though, is having to renovate an apartment. Renovate sound so exciting and new. Made to order. But first, the sledgehammers come in. The dust is kicked up and grunge never seen gets revealed. People traipse in and out. People I don’t know. Renovating is messy, loud, and if we never had to do it again, I’d not be sorry.

My life is full of some ugly stuff. I’m not an unfinished apartment and I don’t like renovations on my heart either…at first. I don’t just put on Christ over a blank shell. There’s also this bad job I did on my own that needs to be ripped out.  The trying to be functional and pretty apart from Christ that needs to go. It doesn’t come out easily either.  I usually don’t even notice how ugly it is until someone walks into my life and points it out. Or, I see the job that Christ can do in someone else and then notice the grunge I’ve lived with so long.

Then comes the bashing, the knocking down, and the unsettling. Things are removed, but behold, there’s always more!  It comes down with a bang and a cloud of dust that chokes me and the people around me. Thankfully most of them see there’s a renovation going on and are excited about what’s happening even as they cough on my dust.

What is God tearing out of your life as He renovates you? How has someone come alongside you recently and shared in the joy of what God is doing?