Friday, October 27, 2006

the feast of KINDNESS

I spoke about one of my favourite Bible stories almost 2 weeks ago at church: the one where Elisha defeats the raiding enemy people by hearing their ambush plans from God and after he has captured them, preparing a feast for his enemies instead of killing them (2 Kings 6 if you want to check it out). The bit about the servant’s eyes being opened to see the supernatural fleet of horses and chariots of fire that were God’s protection around them is really cool, but the part that struck me this time around in the story was the feast of kindness. Amidst all of the killing and conflict and rooting out of evil in the story of a nation of people trying to dwell in a sometimes wild and somewhat unconquered land, this unlikely act stands out in bold contrast.

This past week has been a bit of a tough one for me: all the activities and guests and medical appointments and paperwork deadlines and phone calls and travel plans and care-giving just seem to clump together sometimes and the last few days have been like that. I found myself getting a little tired and grouchy from the constant demands and expectations and even found myself listening to the ugly anger-demon at one point. Sigh. And during this most inconvenient of weeks when I was at a dangerously low level of generosity, God very clearly asked me to prepare a feast for one of my friends. After several days, I realised that if I didn’t make time to do it soon, I was going to procrastinate my way right into disobedience, so after another full day of activity and service, I drove to a drugstore that was open late at night and asked God to show me what would make a good feast. It was a fun and productive excursion and I came home with the beginnings of my feast. I added a few personal and handmade touches and completed the project just after midnight and delivered it the next day.

My world did not turn into a glorious glow of warm pinks and oranges radiating kindness and beauty after I had completed the task, in fact, I just got more tired and ungracious. And then God began to speak to me about another feast. I don’t live a very stressful life and most times set my own schedule and just go with what comes my way, but one of the things my fluid schedule has robbed me of (my own fault, I admit) is making time to feed my soul and body. I don’t mean taking a day off from all activity, though that is a very healthy and godly principle, but being able to live from a constant attitude of rest and fullness because I am constantly drawing life from an eternal source and at peace within myself. If I cannot come up with patience and kindness and mercy and gratitude and generosity and grace when I am feeling less than 100% and under pressure, then of what use is my faith? How am I different from the rest of this tired and cranky world who is always in need of more grace than it gets? Love and compassion that become thin after lack of sleep are no good to me. Patience that does not rise to the occasion in the most demanding situation just isn’t real patience.

I have used tiredness, lack of food and drink, my introverted personality, and an occasionally demanding schedule to excuse my sharp words, my cold heart, my lack of interest and unwillingness to serve, when the fact is, I have not pulled up to the feast that is God himself and despite that fact, have tried to pull a feast for others out of my own pantry which is sorely depleted many days. It is to be expected that I will have lack. Every person on this earth is born with lack, but the idea of being a follower of Jesus is not to simply reproduce his good works and kindness by imitation, but to eat of his flesh and drink of his blood and thereby BE life. When I partake of Jesus and offer some of this incarnation to others, it is a gift of an everlasting nature; it is not food that rots or a cheap, glittery trinket that looses its appeal all too quickly. I can give and give and give of this feast and my soul’s cupboards will never become barren, because I am not the supplier; I am simply another guest at the infinite table.

So this is an ongoing quest for me: to have the strength and fortitude and sensitivity to be a giver of love and life no matter what my natural state. Not to serve despite tiredness and busyness, but to radiate love because I am overwhelmed by the incredible brightness of being the apple of my lover’s eye and the constant object of his attention; to never leave the ocean of a love so deep and wide that all the days of my life will not be enough to explore every inch of it. I am loved totally and wholly at all times - how can I not be a lover 24/7?

"I can't see unless it's you there with a spark to keep me lighted up" - Gabriel Mann

Saturday, October 21, 2006

the bathroom lady comes over

I had an interesting experience a few weeks ago when I contacted a company to come out and give me a quote on installing a shower in my bathroom. The person on the phone called me to get directions to my house, which is totally understandable as I live next to nowhere. I explained all the twists and turn, starting with…when you get to a split in the road, keep to the left. The lady called me back fifteen minutes later, saying that she had turned right at the split as the way left just didn’t seem right to her and now she was lost. That was a bit odd, but I instructed her to turn around and take the appropriate exit and then told her which street to turn onto from there. She called back in ten minutes, at a crossroads, not sure what to do next. I explained which street she should be on and after telling me I had spelled it wrong which was why she could not find it, she seemed to be okay. Five minutes later, the phone rang again. She was getting annoyed at this point, calling my neighbourhood retarded and letting me know she was going in circles. I reiterated which turns to take and pointed out some landmarks she should be seeing. She said there were no such landmarks that she could see, so I tried another tactic and stayed on the phone as she drove. She panicked when she saw a cul-de-sac sign and was telling me this could not be right when I assured her that it was right and I would get her to my house. Finally, after nearly an hour, she arrived at my front door, flustered and irritated at the city planners and probably me as well. I tried to be gracious and told her all that mattered was that she was here now.

Things didn’t change much as we walked into the bathroom and I told her what I wanted done. Her first response was, “Why?“ Taken aback a bit, I explained what I was going after, the limited space we had, and how I envisioned the bathroom being used. She again asked, “Why would you do that?“ I could hardly believe what I was hearing, but I said I was open to suggestions. Without so much as checking the plumbing (I had opened up a back wall to let workmen see where everything was) or much of anything else, she proceeded to tell me what she would do instead and that any bathroom would cost $4500, in fact I could spend up to $100,000 if I wanted to! I asked when this work could be done and she reassured me they could find time before Christmas (within 3 months), which was not soon enough for me, but I kept listening. However, at the point that she misunderstood where I wanted the fixtures and I had to act it out for her to illustrate that putting the vanity in the corner the way she suggested would only leave 4 inches for anyone to stand in front of it…I had made my mind up that this woman would not be getting my business, despite the fine reputation of her company. I thanked her for her time and let her out. However, one idea she had suggested about configuring the room stuck with me as very viable and perhaps more aesthetically pleasing than my original plan. In the end, I decided to go the new plan inspired by the non-listening lady and together with a local contractor, finalised the design details.

My encounter with this woman had a real impact on me as it highlighted several important lessons I need to learn:

1. LISTEN. LISTEN. LISTEN. It was most frustrating being with someone who did not listen. I know sometimes I can get so stuck on my own agenda or way of thinking that I am not the best listener. Listening is how you build trust. I must learn to listen better and not always assume I know better.

2. Don’t dismiss something simply because of a negative or obnoxious presentation. So often there are riches concealed in less than desirable packages. In the midst of useless blather, there was a geniunely brilliant idea from this lady. Let me be someone who can look past the way something is offered, and recognise truth no what form it takes.

3. Being gracious is a good thing, but I did that lady no favours by not kindly pointing out that her lack of listening was not a very positive selling point for her company. I never gave her a chance to learn and improve, and that was wrong. She deserved to know this and to have it presented to her in an accessible, non-judgemental way. Simply avoiding the conflict was cowardice on my part. I must learn to tell the truth in love.

Bathrooms are a good place to listen and learn things.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

from the shower to the grave

After almost a year of thinking and planning and measuring and calling people and sighing over large sums of money and looking at all the models available and realising walls were in the less-than-ideal places and asking plumbing questions and overall indecision…we are getting our guest bathroom downstairs remodelled and a shower installed. I love having a house with space for visitors and friends, and one of the first things I had hoped to do after we bought this home was to install a shower in the second bathroom so that our guests wouldn’t have to traipse up 13 stairs to use the shower on the main floor. Instead, we ended up doing almost everything else first, for no other reason than every time I tried to make the shower thing happen, I hit some obstacle, until a week ago when everything just seemed to fall into place. Timing, it seems, is something you just can’t fight. But we do.

There is a natural ebb and flow to seasons and growth and rest and work and play, but our North American mindset too often sees big goals instead of slow and steady growth and tries to force its way into the desired end at an efficient and cost-effective pace. Growth hormones and chemical fertilisers and all sorts of unnatural processes are utilised in the growth and production of our everyday food supply in order to ensure larger, plumper, juicier, more consistent and generous portions along with long shelf-life, and we are finally starting to notice that this may have adverse long-term affects. Now, I am not an organic fanatic, but I do believe that ‘natural’ is the healthier way to go in every aspect of life. Fighting against the flow of something just seems to be a waste of energy in most cases. And that brings up the next thought…what exactly constitutes ‘natural‘? Because this world has been ravaged by evil and selfishness and the effects of millenia of sin and corruption and weeds, the ’natural’ or ’normal’ state of things is hard to recognise sometimes.

I have naturally wavy hair. To straighten it every morning with 30 minutes of hot air and awkward arm movements seems totally ridiculous to me. I am also short-sighted and need glasses or contacts (which I deem necessary and not ridiculous) in order to see anything clearly past 3 feet away. Both are natural, but the latter is not normal. Weeds and bugs that eat away at plants and kill them are also natural, but not normal. A lion killing a deer for food is natural and normal but not ultimately the way things should be. In the garden of Eden, there was no food chain - everyone ate from the fruit of the land without death for death is never the way things should be.

And I guess that is the way one can judge if something is healthy - does it involve death? At its core or over the long-term, is it killing me or helping me live? Though I am mostly a vegetarian, I have recently realised that meat is required for me to be healthier and have more stamina and strength. Death is not always the dead-end it seems to be (excuse the play on words). This strange mixture of death and life is often evident in this fallen and imperfect world where one catches glimpses of redemption sprinkled throughout. Redemption seems linked with death in the ways of God, yet there are totally evil ways to die and very right ways to die. A man sacrificing his life to avert a disaster and save many is a right way to die. A man throwing himself off a building in despair is a wrong way to die.

How did this go from installing a shower to the topic of death? Really, the two are related. Why do we take showers? The plain and extraordinary process of living produces dirt and old skin and sweat and oil. We need to slough off the old and decaying and dying in order to aid renewal and rejuvenation of the body and skin, plus it makes us smell better. Death smells bad and I don't want to smell bad.

This whole walk of faith is a process of day by day getting rid of the death in my life and embracing the things that bring life, of being a shower-builder and not a grave-digger, of smelling like life and not like death. I am all too aware of the death around me and point it out often and that makes me a negative person sometimes. I need to breathe deep the breath of God and become one who can sniff out the faintest whiff of life in the deepest heap of decay and dung. That would be the most natural and normal and right thing I could become.

Monday, October 02, 2006

TASTE & see

Oh taste and see that the Lord is good… Psalm 34:8

There is so much of God
to know
Experience
See
Hear
Taste
Touch
smell and feel
that he has invented a space and place called…eternity
so that we can begin to fathom
who this one we call FATHER is

He is a perpetual feast
a cornucopia of adventure
and mystery
beauty so rare and captivating
that in a lifetime of gazing
we will not be able to fully comprehend it

This wild
bigger than life GOD
asks us to come
taste
participate
grab hold of
and enjoy the very essence of himself -
It is not a polite sampling he invites us to
no dainty drawing room portions
but the reckless
throw-caution-to-the-wind
do not hold back
dig right in partaking
that a 2-year-old indulges in when presented with chocolate pudding
or honey
or watermelon.
The experience is smeared all over his face
and caught in his hair
his eyes shine with delight
and nothing else exists right then but the sweet stickiness of joy in his mouth.

Throw away the fork and knife of care and worry
and calculated rations.
This feast has no end
the table is never empty
and the invitation is always open.

So…
is there a gnawing hunger in the pit of your belly
for something
not tinged with disappointment and bitterness?
Does your throat ache for a cool, refreshing wetness
that carries life and rejuvenation in its very molecules?

Taste and see that the Lord is good…
What are you waiting for?

(the above is a little something I wrote awhile back but just found again and enjoyed!)