Saturday, August 31, 2013

Between a rock and a Holy Place

The toughest professors in my most challenging college courses never came close to teaching me at the deep levels of cognitive and spiritual development surrounding me these days. Truly, my rate of growth, only reflects the harsh reality that there was so much i did not know. I've never thought of myself as “highly intelligent”. But i never realized “just how little i knew” until stepping into the arenas where logic doesn't compute and no amount of “want to, try to, hope to, maybe i can if i work hard enough” will make an ounce of difference. When in one place there are innocent little ones being broken physically struggling to get through another day of hunger and pain, but then just a few lines of latitude and longitude traveled reveal the same sort of skin covered innocent ones being emotionally ruined by lavish unnecessaries piled around them.
But always in the back of my mind I remember ---- the Garden of Eden.
Eden was God's plan... His gift... in Eden no one person would have had too much while another suffered without.

These reflections are not meant to present some magnificent theological finding.
They're just the ponderings of a daughter ... who is … growing.

The scriptures roll through my mind --- “the Lord gives and the Lord takes away, blessed be the name of the Lord”... and I say “Amen”. The Lord is blessed, He is holy and just and loving and merciful. But what of His children?
How often are we acting out “the will of The Lord” in our day to day living?
How much do I act out “the will of the Lord” around me?

The struggle of ---- do I give food to the street children who are ever near me these days. I buy a bag of oranges and give one each to the two boys with jiggered feet and torn, filthy clothes in front of me. And I look at the bag in my hands. And I struggle – missing Eden. Some would actually criticize saying, “don't give them any food, it only encourages them to stay begging on the street”. And I get that point. Others would say, “what would Jesus do, he would surely give them food...”. And I get that point too. Some would say, “just get out of there, come back home to America, where you can avoid the tension, and eat your oranges in peace...” oh God...
I even say to myself, “what are you thinking donna, you're so far away from “home”, from your kids, don't you know you are risking never being near them again with this obedience...”. We aren't suppose to admit things like that are we? But...

Yesterday a pregnant, filthy street woman who looked to be 90 years old came to me as I bought onions at the street market. Oh God!!! her hand is out, she needs help! She carries a little one inside. She's also “mindless” as some of my Kenyan friends would describe it. Dear God, how did her life come to this?? Logic says --- “donna, you can not give her what she needs... you can help her for the next few minutes... but in the end, you can not 'fix' her life...” and this logic is accurate. But... what about the words, “do unto others as you would have them do unto you..”?
In all this tension, this terrible tension ---- my tininess is painfully clear. Like a tiny bush on the side of the escarpment bordering the Great Rift Valley.

Many would say, “oh the problems are just too great, it's too overwhelming, i'll look away or better yet i'll stay far from it, ---- i'll just keep living my life --- and i'll pray for them...” Sometimes it feels like the only possible response to the great need in this world.

But then God plucks a daughter from the peaceful place found at the easier lines of longitude and latitude, and He places her in the middle of where His heart is --- and she stops to hear HIS VOICE.

She realizes she knows too little.

She cringes at the contrast of the two worlds. And He grows her in His ways. “He must increase... I must decrease” (John 3:30) becomes a heartbeat, no longer just inked words on neat white paper.

She realizes she's a pebble with many rough edges. She's tucked in with all the other pebbles at the bottom of the stream. The flood waters come rushing over her. She can hardly breathe. Other pebbles surround her, she can endure if they can, right? But then the water somehow plucks her up from the sandy bottom. She misses the comfort of the spot she had always occupied in the middle of those who held her securely in her place. Still the rushing waters have swept her away. She crashes into bigger, unrelenting boulders that line the boundaries of the water's edge. Every collision knocks off a sharp edge on her, an edge that had been unseen by her until the moment of impact. But when the chiseling blow comes, she knows --- that sharpness had been there all along, and it needed to go for her journey down the stream to flow more gently. It's a painful journey down the waterway --- but it's so very necessary. She realizes, while tucked into the sand, the rough edges had not been so evident. The sand could cover up. Only the part that was exposed had felt the rushing waters; and those waters had nicely smoothed the portion that had felt their constant flow. But only when the current had pulled her away did the jagged, sharp, far-from-smooth sides show. The steady stream didn't seem to notice or care, but she did. She knew. She had thought she was smooth... but now her jagged edges protruded and collided. She was being changed, transformed, altered, awakened.
For as she found herself carried by the rushing waters, she was seeing things she'd never seen before. She was impacted by boulders she'd only heard of before. In truth, she had been afraid of the thought of such huge boulders and hoped she might never have to encounter them. Tucked safely in her stream-bottom-sand-bed, she had felt certain she would be safe from them. And yet, she was now learning, the giants didn't break her to pieces, they were only allowed to chip off tiny pieces of the jagged sharp sides she had hoped would never be seen.
She was a pebble being tossed about at the will of the rushing stream. She had no control over her course. Helpless. But.... not hopeless.

She knew as she encountered another giant boulder, she could do nothing to alter it ---- but if she just let the waters carry her through, the boulder would impact her, and she would be changed. What needed to go would be chipped away. If her already smoothed side was the surface that hit the giant rock, she would slide off easily, nothing would chip away. Only the jagged edges would chip away when they hit the giant hard places.

The One who made the stream. The One who plucked her from her safe, sandy bed. The One who was over the boulders and set her course for the journey through them. That One would someday gather her up at the end of her journey, and hold her in His great hands. And He would hopefully be able to say, “oh little one, it's been a hard journey hasn't it? You've been tossed about, but look at you now. You're smooth in my hands. There is nothing about you now that would prick another. There's no side of you now that has not been touched and shaped. The boulders were cruel. Not even I wish for the boulders to be so hard. But since they have chosen to be that way... I have chosen to use them in ways that will bring about my good purposes. For you see, i've been steadily at work to help you. You're heart had cried out to me, you wanted more of Me; you wanted to bless others, not cut them with your sharp edges. So the work began. And little one --- all along the way, you thought you were having no impact on the giant, hard, unrelenting boulders --- but you did. Look back. My rushing waters that carried you through have been working on smoothing those hard places in this world. You alone didn't change them, but the combination of you along with many others like you mixed in with my waters ---- together we've made a difference. Some of the boulders are now many tiny pebbles rushing down the same stream you've just traveled. And some of the cruel boulders are even now being slowly worn down and weakened. Little stone in my hands ---- I will use you and the many like you ---- to transform even the hardest places. You will never understand the hard places, your mind is not equipped to do so. But I do. And i'm at work.

I, God, know the pregnant homeless lady who ripped at your heart yesterday. I know her intimately. You can't change her any more than you could change the boulder beside the stream. But I, God, I will continue to flood my waters over her. She will not have one day that I, God, am not willing to draw near her and smooth away all that is rough and wrong. She might not feel like she has a choice. But remember my Word --- if she will turn to me, she will find me.

You --- just be my pebble.
Allow me to toss you according to my good will ---- your course is not hap-hazard. I chart each turn and curve.
The awareness of all that you do not “know” and the starkness of all that is wrong in this fallen world. The moments of newness that overwhelm you and make you face your intense inability and weakness ---- just be a pebble in those moments and allow Me, the One who is not weak, the One who loves you dearly, the One who is not overwhelmed, allow ME to carry you through.

I will accomplish what needs to be accomplished.

You just attend to releasing yourself into the rushing waters, let the rough edges be removed, and in the end, I will then allow you to see all that “I” accomplished during your journey.

©2013 Donna Taylor/Reaching for the Robe

Monday, August 12, 2013

Elephants and a Boy --- Salt and Light...

He was standing between bushes on the side of the mud road. It would be better described as a narrow mud trail. His clothes, old and frayed, were almost the same color as his skin, like perfect milk chocolate. His smile. It glowed. Tiny and barefooted, he stood there alone, but he knew how to welcome someone.
He waved loudly, I waved back and smiled --- trying to match the glowing smile on his tiny face. But then I noticed the twitch of his eyes. His whole forehead jerked as muscles in his eyelids moved in abnormal ways. My mother-heart jumped ---- but then we were past him ---- and I whispered to Abba.

We were on our way to speak at a Pastor's Conference. Several dozen men were expecting us; we had been asked to encourage them on unity and reconciliation.
We were almost there, the Pastor's were gathering, but we were “watching” for the arrival of the Holy Spirit. For in truth, we wake daily knowing, only what Abba says through us will be worthy. We had prayed and read and prepared ourselves as best we could ---- but we live with the keen understanding, we are clay vessels ---- vessels that are only valuable because of what we hold inside. So we look for the daily refilling, we ask for the overflow, we watch for the Holy One to pour Himself through. We were eager for what He would give, He knows what is needed, He just watches for which mouths will open for His Words. After all, how could we possibly know what another stands needing to hear? We can not know what Abba is doing in the life of another ---- but we can open our mouths to let His Life and Truth and Light flow. Amazingly, we so often do not even know what was said that helped them ---- even though we witness the flow. For it's one of the wonderful mysteries ---- God among us, ministering and delivering what is needed, if we remain obedient to just show up.

We drove on through the mud trail and finally arrived at the church. Children were the first to greet us – it's most always that way here. Ladies waved from a distance, but children were all around. Barefoot, beautiful, glowing in the morning light, they watched after each other and reached with eager timidity to shake our hands and greet us with, “How are you?” (said with the most lovely accent and always inflection on the “you”). And then sliding into the mix of them, was the little guy from the bushes. His smile captivated. All their smiles do. They are unhindered by the mud between their toes or the tears in the clothes ---- they were open and excited --- they had someone to welcome, they shined with something so much more lovely than gold.
The cutey up front is the little one with the eye spasms.

As we shook hands and giggled together, we were thankful for the gentle way God was easing our nerves with His little ones. We never stand to teach with a gloating confidence ---- we are always willing, but always a bit unnerved. It takes obedience and attention to not allow human flesh to hinder the flow of God. Any pitcher meant to carry good, clean water ----- needs to be scrubbed clean itself. The children were ministering to us with their eager goodness. So often the smallest among us do the most good.

But I noticed the eye spasms of the first little boy. They had increased. Between each muscle twitch his eyes would almost close. It was disturbing to watch. The mother in me wanted to load him up and take him to the nearest doctor. But it is most important to show respect for the adults around him first, to see what others have already done.

As we met with others during the morning, and sipped Kenyan tea before we were to begin the first session, the children lingered near, including the little boy with the twitching eyes. I learned that just the day before a medical clinic had taken place at this very church. Hundreds had come and been cared for by a team of Kenyan doctors and nurses. An American team had raised funds for the clinic and provided meds to be administered. Ministry at its best, in my opinion, many working together for the good of those in need. Unity ---- with a focus ---- that blesses outward. So I asked if the little fellow had been seen by the doctors, did they know what was wrong with his eyes? The kind lady said he probably had not been seen, the doctors only attended to those who stood in line to see them, and there had been a long line all day. But why had no one stood in line with him I asked. I thought of the man who had sat beside the pool at Bethesda year after year, never able to get into the healing waters because no one had helped him. She replied, “We should have thought of this and made sure he was seen, but you see, his mother left him long ago and his father is a picky-picky driver who is gone from sun-up to sun-down. So there was no one to wait with him in line.” She was remorseful I could tell. But I quickly reminded myself she had organized a clinic where hundreds of people had been cared for ---- attention was needed for the boy, but words of appreciation and encouragement were in order for her.

She called a friend over, a pastor in the area who knew of the boy's situation. He explained that months ago the boy's father had taken him to a doctor nearby and had learned there was some sort of neurological disorder developing in the boy that did not allow proper filter of sunlight. He could see better at night than he could in the day. He wasn't in pain, he was just unable to hold his eyes open in the light of day.
And I reminded myself ---- he is a boy whose father is working long hours to try and provide --- he has a father who faithfully returns to him each night. May God bless that father.
I asked who watched over him during the day while his father worked. She waved her arm wide and said, “All the mothers surrounding him”.

The Pastors were gathering, it was time to focus on why we had come. But the little guy tugged at my heart.

Inside the little tin church there were not lights. Doors opened wide let in the needed sunlight. Many men sat in a large circle and worship began. Breezes wafted through as bird songs dominated the loud voices of worship around us. Just outside the open doors a water spout stood, giving clean water from a deep bore-hole. Children lined up with their assortment of plastic jugs waiting their turn to gather the needed water for the day. These little ones did not have to walk miles for water. They only had to walk to the church each day --- such a beautiful thought in so many ways. And while they waited in line --- they danced to the worship. The children teach us, if we are willing to learn.

Introductions were made, we began to share what God had placed on our hearts, the air inside the stick-pole, tin covered church was wonderfully sweet. We all sensed Abba's nearness. Then as we spoke I noticed movement just inside the doorway. Steve was talking so I was allowed the time to look more closely ----- and warmth flooded me as I realized it was the little boy with the twitching eyes. He noticed my eyes on him, he smiled so sweetly, as his eyes held steady. No spasms or squinting. He sat as peaceful as a lamb, completely still, looking around, smiling.
We talked for the full length of the time requested of us --- almost four hours. And for much of that time the little guy sat inside the nice shaded church. Other children carried water and later played in the distance. But this little guy ---- he stayed nearer the shaded places inside the church.
While his father transports riders on his motor-bike all day, this son finds his solace in the shaded, breezy church.
And I wondered ------------ whose eyes are healthier?

In this world we want eyes that can see clearly in the light of day and we understand we should not be able to see well in the darkness. It's what we expect, what our eyes were “designed” to do, right? But as I watched the little boy who found rest in the shaded church and danced to the worship and sat quietly as if he were a grown man listening to all that was being said inside the church ---- I pondered it all.
To be able to see clearly ---- even in the “darkness” ----- it can be done --- with the Light?

Bats and roaches and leopards come out at night...

Darkness is equated to the evil one's arena in the scriptures...

But where do we sometimes find those who are hurting the most in this world?

Here in Kenya, we have been cautioned by Kenyans that we should be where we need to be by nightfall. An occasional drive home from a rare dinner out is ok, but it should not be often. Here on the “dark continent” (as it is often referred to) it is wise to be safely tucked indoors before darkness comes.

Dark places can be very dangerous.

But, this little boy spoke to my soul, without saying a word ----- “the light is wonderful, but it can be blinding for those in the darkness” ---- “bright light is hard on eyes that have only ever known darkness” ---- so as I live out the Light that I so dearly love and cling to, may I be ever so patient and gracious when I encounter those whose eyes are stung at their first glimpses of the Light.
Without words, a little boy with damaged eyes, can teach me.

In caves not far from our home, elephants journey deep into the catacombs searching for salt deposits. They make this journey at night, in the darkness. During the light of day they graze on vegetation that is life-giving but it lacks the salt they need. So at night they take the journey into pitch black caves, scrape the walls with their tusks and eat the salt they find there. How interesting --- they go searching for salt in the dark...
… I wonder how many living in the light of day are still hungry for more Salt... too many times God's good news is watered down, and the saltiness is too. Or could it be at times there are too many other “spices” offered on the table, when truly only good Salt is needed.

I remember --- my Savior was often found in “dark” places ---- shining the Light and delivering life-giving Salt.

Makes living on this “dark continent” taste right to this southern born day-light-loving girl.

Matthew 5: 13 - 16
You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.
You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden.  Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.

©2013 Donna Taylor/Reaching for the Robe