Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Sometimes He Leads Us Just Across the Street

Have you ever sensed God leading you to do something you didn't particularly want to do?  Not that it was too hard or too scary or too demanding; you just didn't want to be bothered.  For about fifteen years my neighbor Smitty had been alone after his wife died tragically in a car accident.  Through those years I typically visited him two or three times a month.  Although I was doing it, I always had a bit of resistance in my spirit because it was hard in a self-centered kind of way. It's hard to carve a piece of time out of your day to go and sit with somebody when there are other things you'd rather be doing. (Okay, let's keep it really personal here - there are other things I'd rather be doing.)
Four years ago a dear lady friend of his moved in with Smitty for companionship and to take care of him when there was a need for that.  I thought that surely this man would no longer need me to visit "so often" now that he had Julie, but the reality was that I had an inner prompting to be visiting more often.  Though I grumbled in my spirit sometimes, I made it a matter of obedience to do this. I would sometimes take food, but often would just go and sit with them about once a week. A couple months ago I sensed that inner urging pressing me to go more often. (Really, Lord? More than once a week?) Pathetic, I know. Here is this 86 year old man and 89 year old woman, hardly able to leave the house any longer, and I'm grumbling because God wants me to give them two hours a week instead of one hour a week. Over and over I have argued with myself and God before submitting with a gentle spirit and then walking down the street to visit Smitty and Julie. I knew it meant a lot to them, as they never neglected telling me how happy they were to see me and how much they loved me, but my perverse heart still would never settle into an easy rhythm with this divine assignment.
Last week Smitty died. Totally unexpectedly. I was over 600 miles away, up in New York, when he died. Even though I have been good friends with Smitty for over twenty years, I was unable to go to his funeral. It broke my heart, and it made me realize how much this man meant to me. I called Julie twice last week and talked with her on the phone from afar, wishing with everything in me that I could be here to sit with her and comfort her. She loved this man, and she took care of him in his home for the last years of his life, but she was not a family member and had no official place in the eyes of outsiders. Many probably considered her a mistress, though she was not that at all. 
Yesterday I was finally able to go visit Julie. This sweet lady has a beauty that is radiant. I can only hope to be as lovely as she is both on the inside and the outside if I live to such an age. We talked of many things related to Smitty and her relationship with him. She told me things about him that I had never known. One of the things she told me was a new perspective on my role in Smitty's life. According to what Smitty had told Julie, during the fifteen years that he was widowed and alone, I was the only person other than his immediate family members who ever visited him. I was his only friend. In her words, "If he hadn't had you he wouldn't have had anybody."
Friends, this has pierced my heart like a dagger. I had no idea. If God had revealed to me that I was Smitty's only friend, it would have made it easier for me to prioritize him in my life. But God didn't choose for me to know that. Instead, He wanted me to simply follow His leading and go where He told me to go for reasons that He alone knew. 
Now I have a heart devotion to Julie. Next week she will be moving back to her own house in Concord. It will not be convenient for me to visit her, but she will be a priority in my life until she goes to be with Jesus. And I will not complain. 
Moral of this story: you may never know the importance of some small thing God is asking you to do. Just do it. If you can't do it with a good attitude, do it anyway and keep praying for help with your attitude.
I am the blind man hiking the Appalachian Trail. 

Thursday, July 25, 2013

You Just Never Know

1. to inspire with hope, courage, or confidence

On a scale of 1 to 10, my lifetime interest in running, even as recently as four months ago, was a solid 2, as far as activities I might consider doing for pleasure.  It made no sense to me.  Trying to imagine myself running for any reason other than to escape a predator was like trying to imagine eating tarantulas for an afternoon snack.  Nope.  But thanks for the offer.

And then.

A person in my life who happens to be very close to my heart, and who happens to share my name. . . and my DNA . . . and who happens to be the mother of my granddaughter . . . well, she extended an invitation.  I said, "No, but thanks for the offer."  Or, rather, it was more along the lines of, "Are you out of your mind???  You must be crazy!!!"  And that was that.  No, I will not join you in a 10k mud run!  I don't run, remember?  And, in case you haven't noticed, I'm officially a senior citizen.  The reason I know that is because I can get cheap drinks at Wendy's just by asking for the senior discount.  So, no.

And then.

I couldn't get it out of my head.  She was going to do this whether I joined her or not.  She was going to go trekking off to Washington, D.C. to make memories with her sister and cousin, and they were going to reminisce about their incredible shared experience for the rest of their lives.  And I was going to be left out. 

And then.

I lost my mind.  I called her back and said yes.  I hated running.  Hated it with a passion.  But my desire to do something crazy and memorable with my girls was bigger and badder than my loathing of running.  So, with four months to get ready, I started training.

And then.


Somehow I morphed from a quiet, run-disdaining grandmother into Wonder Woman willing to get Down & Dirty.  (We all have our secret selves longing to break free!)  With daughters Sarah & Sherilin, and neice Camille & her husband Clarke, we were a team to be reckoned with.  Not for speed perhaps, but definitely eye-catching!  Our heads were already swelling before we got to the starting line from all the participants running up and asking if they could have their pictures taken with us.  "Well, of course.  And we'll be signing autographs at the finish line."
So, yeah, that's a part of me most of you don't normally see.  Up and over!  An easy ladder wall (cattle ranch gate?) preceded by a slimy crawl below a low hanging cargo net and an awkward leap across some fake inflatable logs, all within the first mile of the course.

At this point we have already been in the river, but would you take your camera out of its safe place while sloshing chest deep through muddy water and back up a slippery riverbank?  Me neither, and so we have no photos to prove that we did it.  But trust me, we did - tutus and power accessories intact.

We wore our muck with pride!  It was into the river and through the woods . . . to the next obstacle we go.

One . . .
two . . .
and three.
Whew! With a little boost to get started, Wonder Granny was
 able to haul herself over the barricades without injury.
A lovely morning for a jog through a cornfield, don't you think?  We did!
After a set of push-ups and a claustrophobic crawl through some tunnels about the right size for gophers, we found ourselves on this grown-up playground equipment.  How can I get one of these contraptions for my backyard?
There she goes.  Still running.  And still wondering at the miracle that took place in the past four months that made this possible.  Is it not a miracle the way our bodies respond when we put out the effort to challenge them beyond their normal range of comfort?
There's no stopping a bona fide Wonder Woman when she's got her mind made up!
My fitness hero, Sherilin, who gets the blame if her mother gets injured in this crazy event!
Even Wonder Womanses need a water break now and then!
Don't even say what you're thinking!  It's not easy being a superhero, you know!
Two of the Wonder Girls and their Wonder Mama, proudly flashing their mud on the happy side of the Finish Line. 
And now our entire amazing team has regrouped with our scrapes, scratches and bruises appropriately camouflaged by our temporary tans from the final ucky blucky mud pit.  A total of 20 obstacles across 6.2 miles of cornfields and forests dotted with challenges just hard enough to make it fun, but not terribly threatening to life or limb for a Wonder Woman of any age.
And then . . . we admire our tutus one last time, resplendent with the glory
 for which they were created.
Did you notice the dictionary entry at the beginning of this post?  Maybe you should scroll back up and look at it again.  My daughters inspire me.  They are encouragers of the highest order.  Hopefully my accomplishment as the oldest participant in this Merrell Down & Dirty Mud Run will inspire you to do something you currently think you can't do.  Yes, you can!  And then you can be an inspiration to someone else!
And now I need to go out for a run.  Just for fun.





Sunday, October 21, 2012

#12 "Here am I. Send me!" (Isaiah 6:8)

The land of the Dominican Republic as created by God is a verdant tropical paradise where even the poorest regions are lusciously adorned with explosions of vibrant colors and textures, serving up a continual feast for the eyes. 

The mountains surrounding Jarabacoa and Pedregal reminded me often of the pleasure our Lord seems to get from the beauty of nature. 

Paul & Sharyn's house has a view of the mountains
From almost anywhere in town the mountains can be seen
Misty morning
The Psalmist said, "Let the rivers clap their hands, let the mountains sing together for joy."  I'm not sure what it sounds like when a river is clapping its hands or when a mountain is singing, but I know the sounds of believers clapping and singing their praises to the One we adore!  Our first full day in the DR was highlighted by worship at an open-air church where even the local chickens didn't want to miss out on the celebration.  We found ourselves moved by the blending of voices singing simultaneously in two languages, as the worship songs were mostly familiar to us Americans.  And we were blessed to have a young lady translate the message for us so that we could participate fully in every part of the service. 

Worship Leaders
Mr. "Pastor"
Mrs. "Pastor"
Throughout the week, evenings were defined by the gathering of our team for devotions after dinner.  What a sweet time this was!  Pete offered his musical talents with the use of Paul's guitar, and Kristi used her beautiful voice to lead us in some very special times of singing that aptly expressed our hearts at the end of each day of service.  We were all swirled up with love for our God, love for the people we were there to serve, love for the missionaries we were partnering with, and love for one another as our hearts were being knit together in new levels of friendship.

Our team with House Upon the Rock staff
The memories we brought back with us are rich, and they compel us to make plans to go again.  And again.  And again.  Even I, who thought I could never be touched the way I was touched in West Africa, am already looking forward to my next trip to Pedregal.  I want to go back to encourage Paul & Sharyn and their children in the great Kingdom work they are doing among the people there. 
Paul & Sharyn at their home w/ daughter Samantha
I want to go back to have a hug and a conversation with Daniel, an inspiring and godly man who was born and has lived his whole life in Pedregal, now serving alongside Paul & Sharyn in House Upon the Rock Ministry, whose love for God and people just oozes from his pores. 
A few Mosaic members with Daniel & his beautiful family
I want to go back to take Dresses of Hope to as many girls as possible, and to start actually getting to know some of those girls and investing in their lives on a more personal level.  I want to go back as a servant, ready and willing to do whatever assignment I am given that has the potential to make an eternal difference in someone's life.  I want to go back and be the hands and feet of Jesus, if only for a week, that some may come to know Him as I know Him.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

#11 A Time to Live and a Time to Die

During one game of stick caps I realized there was a particular sound drifting on the breeze that explained the aroma ever present since arriving at this particular location.  When I needed a break from pitching caps I turned to Maria and pointed back behind the houses while making pig sounds in my throat.  I figured a noise like that would transcend any language barrier, and she caught it immediately and grabbed me by the arm and took me back for show and tell.  The show part worked out really well, but the tell part was lost on me, though I smiled a lot and kept saying, "Si."  I was delighted to see three litters of little piggies in various stages of development, doing what piggies do in their mud havens.  I pantomimed eating and pointed to the pigs, asking if they were going to be using these pigs for food, and received confirmation from Maria and her little friend.  While my camera was out snapping photos of the pigs, they wanted some photos in that setting that included them so I happily obliged. 

We took turns posing and shooting, but just before I was about to suggest another angle a woman came rushing up and grabbed me by the arm, gesturing for me to go with her.  She drew her hand across her neck twice in an unmistakable sign of death, and I willingly followed her to what I was sure would be another adventure.  She was going to take me to see a pig being butchered, and while I didn't relish the thought of observing such a grisly business, I am a realist so I might as well put my eyeballs where my mouth is all too willing to go and watch the part of the bacon that happens between the pig and the supermarket.   Those BLT's might never taste the same again, but I was a guest and this dear lady was trying to share something with me that seemed to be very important to her, judging by how urgently she was leading me through a maze of small dwellings.  Imagine my surprise when we stepped inside an open door and there lay an old woman on a bare mattress, covered only by a sheet, apparently dead.  God gave me the grace to switch gears immediately from thoughts of bacon to thoughts of sorrow and grief in this home.  There was only one thing I could possibly do that would be of any value to this woman and her family, and that was to share her sadness and pray for God to provide comfort and strength.  I immediately expressed my sorrow to her for her loss, and as I reached to embrace her she threw herself into my arms as if I were a life preserver thrown to a drowning person in an open sea.  I prayed for her and for her family, asking God to bring comfort and to meet all their needs, while she cried on my shoulder and petted my arms and back in an emotional display of painful loss.  The two little girls who had come along were sitting in chairs just watching, showing no emotion and saying nothing.  Was the old woman in the bed their grandmother?  Or were these children in this room with me simply because of the openness of the culture and the door?  After the prayer I simply stood and looked at the woman in the bed, with my arm around the waist of the lady who had brought me here, hoping that my quiet show of respect would be understood and received as the love it was meant to convey. 
On a zigzagging path around these buildings . . .
to this door where death lay in wait or had already come.

In the Dominican Republic it is common to bury the dead within 24 hours.  Due to the tropical climate and the cultural belief in not embalming, this is a necessity for dealing with the rapid deterioration of a body.  I didn't have the opportunity to see a rural cemetery where the poor lay their loved ones to rest, but the cemetery in Jarabacoa was unlike any I have ever seen.  My guess is that these above ground crypts are primarily owned by wealthier residents, judging by how elaborate many of them seem to be.  The poor in this town would most likely rent or borrow a burial space for a period of seven years, after which the family would either collect the bones and move them to a different location, or they would have the option of buying a permanent site. 

Perhaps the old woman in the bed hadn't yet breathed her last.  It's impossible for me to be sure since we were unable to communicate with words.  But whether death had already claimed her, or whether her final heartbeats were still in countdown, I can only hope that she knew Jesus before she took her last breath.