That Man, Joseph

I slacked off my writing last week.  My parents dodged snow storms and smog storms to arrive for a Christmas visit a week and a half ago.  Snow storms delayed their departure and smog here changed our travel plans.  When freeways close because of smog I give thanks for trains!  In the midst of the Christmas season, I find it hard to rest and engage with the Story of Christmas.

When I found some time last week to take a longer look, I noticed Joseph, a man caught up in an event that centered around others.  Mary, the unwed mother who needed protection.  Jesus, the baby who needed protection.  The Roman government that offered no protection and Herod, the ruler, who pursued Joseph’s charge in order to murder him.

In all of this Joseph thought of himself only once according to the account in Matthew.  Before being let in on what was going on, he thought about his honor in marrying a woman pregnant by who knows who.  But even in that, he meant to keep it quiet and protect Mary from the society they lived in that stoned women in situations such as hers.  He still protected even in that moment…even in that moment when all appearances said he was the wronged one.

Then, an angel came to him and spoke to his heart.  I love this.  The angel first spoke to his fear.  Do not be afraid.  The angel went on and gave Joseph his role in this monumental event.  Take Mary as your wife because she is carrying the One who will take away the sin of the world.  And…he did it at great personal cost to his reputation.  A cost that stayed with the family all their days.  DSC_0093

The story takes some wild turns too.  Learned astrologers and scientists come from distant lands with loads of gifts far greater than what a carpenter ever saw in his life, I assume.  Then, another visit from an angel to the one, Joseph, charged with the protection of the One destined to save the world.  This time, marching orders.  Flee and flee now and then wait.

Joseph’s life again centered around protecting this Child and His mother and this time the cost was leaving their homeland under the dark of night without any explanation to loved ones.  They became sojourners in a distant land.  Jesus became a Third Culture Kid spending the young years of his life in Egypt.  Joseph made a way for them as a refugee.

I wonder if they heard reports of the massacre that took place after they left?  How did they feel when they returned and all those other families saw their son, Jesus, and remembered their own sons murdered?  I imagine the benefits of their departure caused friction in relationships.  How could others restrain their feelings of jealousy in the grief of a lost son?  I bet Joseph endured a lot.

Joseph disappears from the story by Jesus’ adulthood and most suggest he passed away.  I don’t like that the story goes this way…that Joseph misses the chance to see the fulfillment of the promise the angel told him.  But the legacy this man leaves is truly tremendous.  He protected the Savior of the world at great personal cost but he also raised James and Jude, Jesus’ brothers who became pillars of the early church.

Whatever feuding existed during Jesus’ ministry gave way to broken hearts in His younger brothers’ chests.  I imagine that is Joseph’s legacy as well.  Raising humble men willing to sacrifice their lives others because of the One who takes away the sin of the world.

That’s the mark of a man.  Mary gets plenty of press…and Joseph does too…but I still think he deserves more.

The Art Journey

My husband dreams of buying an original piece of art one day so we stray into art galleries on our rare weekends away.  We stroll through discussing what we see.  What we like.  What we don’t.  Picking out that original piece of art gradually changed from a notch on our belt…something to hang on the wall and accomplish, a box to check, into a marriage journey of sorts.

A few years passed before I took my husband seriously.  Buying this original piece is a life dream of his.  I like art and I like original art but I tend to be, how shall I say it?  Cheap.  My husband is frugal and between the two lies a great chasm.  The cost stared me down for years, a barrier to enjoying our art gallery browsing.DSC_0069

At one time, my husband liked the “painter of light” and I most definitely did not.  The ensuing years fleshed out how I felt and forced him to define why he liked what he liked.  Too perfect, too defined, too cliché to me.  Safe, complete, harmonious, calm to him.  I looked at Kincaid in the mall and understood the peace he craves in contrast to the chaos of his upbringing.  I still don’t like Kincaid or art in the mall but I understood why he liked Kincaid.  He began to understand me too.  He began to appreciate the messiness in art that describes so much of life.  The play of colors slashed across a canvas whispered to him and then he understood me just a little more.  Life is messy.

Eventually I embraced our quest for original low-end art.  I accepted my husband’s dream and took it on as my own.  Now I dream the dream as well.  We finally realized with a spark of shock after 14 years of marriage that the pilgrimage to our piece of art is more about our marriage than the art.  Through art we discover each other.  As my love for a style I don’t even know how to name clashes with my husbands mild distaste for same said style, we meet, my husband and I.  We discover each other.  We grow and change and put words to the changes through the media of brush strokes and colors on a canvas.

I feel we never will find our piece of art.  Our search spans like a railroad track that veers closer and closer but never quite meets this side of heaven.  In fact, I almost oppose actually purchasing a piece because I enjoy the journey so much.  Wandering the streets of the world and popping in shops…talking about us through art.

The blank wall remains open filling up with more than the permanence of a painting.

What place does art take in your life?

Lost!

20121101-132501.jpg“Mommy! We’re lost!” my son piped up from the back seat. We cruised around previously unexplored sections of our side of town. Our new car made it possible to explore more extensively and I like exploring. As I pondered the intersection I replied, “I’ve never been here before, but we’re not lost.”

How often I feel like him! I sit in the back seat, out of control and my soul is screaming, “I’m lost! I don’t know where I am or how to get home!” I hold no roadmap or sense of direction. I sweat and scramble to make a plan and carve a path in the thicket of life so I know where I stand or how to arrive at a destination, any destination. So I feel secure. I pretend to save myself.

5 years ago a host of friends moved away and I felt abandoned on a road I wanted to abandon, too. I enjoyed the journey before with my friends but now with the space cleared the openness and silence overwhelmed me. The expanse left felt like the valley of the shadow of death to me and I was no happy, contented sheep. Why was I on this road anyway?

I knew little of the shepherd on the next stretch though I learned. By the rod and the staff I learned as I felt poked and prodded through my fears. I learned His voice and His ways more in the coming years. Now, 5 years later I experience the same phenomena, a host of friends moving at the same time.

His peace and His rest reside in green fields and bubbling brooks but before that, and after and all around sometimes, come the valleys of death. I know my weakness and fear. I feel lost and I hear His voice more clearly now echoed in my son’s words.

“You have never been here before but you’re not lost.”

Yielding in an Unyielding Culture

100-0031_IMGI’m astounded by the risks pedestrians and bikers take on their road back home or to work.  The shortest distance between two points consists of a straight line.  Conservation of energy reigns supreme to most foot and bicycle traffic so hoe-bearing old farmers tramp across eight-lane highways looking neither right nor left.  On a rainy night people invisibly weave in and out of cars on dark, soot covered bikes cloaked in black jackets.  Have I explained why I dislike driving in the rain?

From the comfort of my car, I remind myself of the days I rode bikes in driving rain.  The days I arrived home with mud spattered up my back into my hair and my hands turned to ice on the bars.  The early days when I achieved my personal challenge of keeping my feet on the pedals all the way to school to avoid sinking into piles of  mud.  So, now, stopping to allow a horde of pedestrians cross a busy street on a rainy day brings a wide smile to my face.

Yielding defies all local logic.  Most become paralyzed in disbelief when I give way.  I see the confusion on their face as they struggle to decode the situation and then discover the unbelievable.  Someone stopped….for me.  Often they spring forward when the idea dawns that the coast is clear, a new surge in their energy.  I especially like stopping for one person in this country who believe to the core of their beings they rank only one of “too many.”

Giving way.  Yielding.  Such a small thing to give way yet what a difference it makes to give away a few seconds, to not be first that time, to not claim my right according to the law, to surprise someone with a small kindness, to recognize an individual soul.

I do not always yield, believe me, but I like the state of my heart when I do.

What uncommon courtesy puts a spring in your step?  What uncommon courtesy do you like to gift others?

When Boundaries Get Crossed

Picture me standing in line for the lady’s room at a coffee shop with my daughter mentally pondering my spiritual growth.  Just a year before at the same shop I’d struggled with impatience.  Women in our host culture seem to take eons in the restroom. Eons.

Maybe its just that personal spaces are few and when privacy comes, it must be enjoyed…for awhile.  Now, look at me waiting patiently! I felt thankful to be in such a place and be able to recognize this growth. I mentally patted myself on the back.

A few minutes later, after stepping in to have our moment, an older women enters the restroom and waits about 2 seconds before she starts pounding on our doors.  Literally, pounding.  The locks rattled, the door shook.  It was a shocker!  She loudly complained of how long we are taking and asks us to get out so she can have her moment.  She continued to grumble and berate us loudly and did not cease to pound.

I know enough language to be sassy.  I can express things I wish I could not.  What proceeded to transpire still fills me with a mixture of pride and shame.  Pride at the fluency and shame at my use of my fluency.  We conversed…ok…spoke loudly…ok…argued.  I suggested she find other places to have her moment.  She asked me to show her one.  I replied I could not do that at this moment.  She continued to loudly complain and urge me to hurry up.  I offered to learn from her vast experience about how best to do that.  And it went on. It was a charged conversation.

Ten minutes later when the adrenaline dissipated in my veins, I doubled over in hysterical laughter at the absurdity of what transpired in that restroom. To have someone literally try their level best to evict you from a bathroom stall, well, it just crosses a boundary.  Apparently, it’s a boundary I did not want crossed.  Isn’t that how it is with boundaries?  We realize their importance to us when they are crossed.

I’ve heard it called “Hulking Out”, what I did.  It’s not pleasant, attractive, or in the slightest bit useful.  I had to explain and apologize to my daughter.  Actual repentance in my heart occurred later that day.  I realized just how short my fuse can be…so very short…which humbled me.  All that pride of how I learned so much patience?  Gone. Back to square one, I stood there with a truer picture of who I was and it was not who I wanted to be!  I hulked out, tried to force my right and win by argument…by power. It’s not the first time in my life that I’ve hulked out.

A crossed boundary often kicks in my survival instincts. I try on being dangerous. But that’s not the dangerous God wants for me.  His power came in His laying aside His life and rights for others…not claiming them for Himself.  He gave everything.  Am I willing to forgo survival?  To pass on using my strength which is no strength at all?  To be truly dangerous God’s way is to be the right kind of dangerous.

I think being dangerous for God’s kingdom that day would have been using my 10 minutes of language ability on my captive audience toward a much different end than protecting my right to a bathroom stall!

Waiting for My Club

People gathered around me.  More and more people.  They stood in a circle.  Circles are not lines and lines are not circles. I began to grow anxious and strategize.

Waiting.  I stood at the Subway sandwich counter.  The store depends on a nice, straight line.  I was next but the line was neither straight nor nice.  Those devices that corral people into single file orderliness?  Nowhere.

Does The Way consist of being willing to give up my place in line?  Do I press my claim at the expense of another?  I have kids waiting, though.  Waiting for sandwiches.  I’m waiting, trusting God to make it right, to make even this chaotic gathering orderly.  Am I willing to be wronged? To be treated unfairly?  Am I willing to accept life in a broken world when it comes at my expense?  Will I willingly wait an extra 10 minutes in line?

The artist donned her gloves and met my eyes asking for my order.  She saw me.  My heartbeat slowed.  This time I enjoyed things as they should be…or, should I say, as I think they should be.

I know.  It’s a line at Subway but lines in this country provide the crucible which reveals my true nature.  These everyday moments stare me down.  When I’m asked to lock up my purse at the grocery store but know for foreigners its more of a desire than a mandate, do I comply?  When the cashier asks me to pay for my toiletries separately or the parking attendant requests that I re-park my car nose out like a drug dealer making a quick getaway, do I grumble?  Do I even do it?

Will I throw my lot to God and submit to what seems ridiculous…and to what really is ridiculous?  Or will I do what I like to do and fight, press my rights, stake my claim?  I who have no rights?  I who follows the One who did not hold to His rights?

Ouch.  I don’t do well at this.  It feels like a freefall…a total loss of control.  And, it is but from the few times I’ve fallen from my rights, it’s been fabulously freeing.

I may be waiting longer for my sandwiches in the future.  And, I’ll need to perfect my drug dealer parking skilz too.

What is one of your crucibles?