Sunday, December 29, 2013

Trust > Clarity

Mother Teresa once said, “I have never had clarity; what I have always had is trust.” and I read those words over, and over again. Listening...thinking...learning.

I have never had clarity --- what I have always had is trust.

Chuckling--- I laugh to myself because i know, there have been times i thought i had clarity, but then it always flew out the window liked a winged bird... and then the chuckling stops when i measure the trust meter i've parked at for all my sunrises. i know i've not always put enough coins in that slot. 

Don't we always seek clarity? Am I the only one in the q-line for “answers”. We want to know the plan. We want to see the road map before we pack the car, right? The only way we'll know what to pack is if we can know where we'll be going and what the weather will be like when we get there. And in our age of internet with instant answers ---- shouldn't we be informed?? We can do a quick internet search and within a minutes know the projected weather for the day in Nairobi-Kenya or Cades Cove-Tennessee. We can know --- so why shouldn't we.

But then life rolls us into places where there are no clear answers, no definable solutions, no projected outcomes, and clarity is lost. What do we do then?
For we've allowed ourselves to be lulled into a sense of believing if we manage the input, we can control the outcome.
Walk into any emergency room in the world ----- and the look on the faces there will say, “we couldn't control the input... and therefore we are not able to manage the outcome... we need help.”
We work to control inputs...
we feel almost irresponsible if we don't.
After all ---- sometimes we can control outcomes by planning, organizing, managing, and preparing.

The lady who knits can control the results of her fastidious work if she prepares, plans, and works with steady hands.
The mechanic can control the condition of the motor by replacing filters, renewing fluids, tightening plugs, etc.
The mother can control what her children eat for dinner by planning, shopping, cooking.
The employee can control the bosses approval by following the rules, doing the work, showing up early and staying late.

Some of us love to control. It feels sort of ….... safe.
But are we called
Really --- 

And what does "control" have to offer to the legless woman begging on the street this morning or the mother of six begging at the gate today ... when there is no amount of input or planning or management or effort that will ever control the overwhelming need.

And how many times do we turn away from the very thing we might have been born to do ---- just because we couldn't get clarity on how to manage or control it...
Are we addicted to safe?
Are we resigned to only touch the input button of life if the outcome button is producing guaranteed results?

One of my clearest memories as a young woman was sitting on my grandfather's porch as he answered my many questions. The world disappeared from around us in those moments.
He never once acted like he was wise. But he was... and God knew the little girl in front of him had lots of questions.

“Pop, if God is so good, and if He is the WAY, then why did He let men like Paul suffer so much?”

The memory is as close as yesterday's air, I was questioning the wisdom of believing and obeying something that had landed a man with beatings, mob-violence, imprisonment, and shipwrecks (just to begin the long list of persecutions Paul endured). So I went to the wisest man I knew --- the one I believed to be the most honest --- who would tell me the truth without judging me for asking.
He looked at me and said, “That's a good question, I'm proud of you for asking donna. Because you see it was not just Paul who suffered for following Christ, there were and are so many more. Look at the 12 disciples who lived with Christ ---- it seems that all of them suffered painful deaths for the furtherment of the Truth, save one. John died of old age we believe... but all the others died as martyrs.”

“Pop, it sounds pretty cut and dry to me ----- following God is not a smart investment of my life.”
He smiled as he paused and allowed me to hear my own words.
Then he said words that have never left me.

“Your life, your existence, has two parts to it donna. The first part you are living now. The second part will come after you die. You get to have really, really GOOD days, but they will be mixed with some really, really bad days. No one can avoid this. Everyone has two parts of life and everyone has good/bad days. You can't change those facts no matter how hard you try, how rich you are, how powerful you become, or how sweet you choose to be. They are set and unchangeable.
“But here's what you can control...

You can have it really 'good' during your days here on this old earth if you want. You can live it up big. You can work to make lots of money and then spend it on all the things you want, the things that will make you 'happy'. You can live where you want to live and do what you want to do. You can love who you want to love and hurt who you want to hurt. You can have it all your way and eat all the chocolate cake you can hold for the rest of your life... but then the second part will come. And if you've lived the first part all for yourself... the second part will be hard. If you've not lived for Christ in the first part, you will wish for all the second part that you had.
But then there's another option.
You can choose God's ways in the first part --- live for Him, obey Him, let your heart break for what breaks His heart, let Him and His ways lead you while laying yourself and your ways down... and life here on this rolling ball will be very challenging on many days. People won't like you very much, they'll say bad things about you and talk you down ---- if you're not joining in with their crowd and doing what they're doing. You'll find yourself in hard places, doing things for other people you never would have chosen --- but you'll know you're right where you're suppose to be. You can give God the first part, and He will carry you through. You'll still have days of goodness, but you won't be the one controlling when they come or how they look. You'll know --- when it's good, it came from God's hand to you. When it's bad, lean into Him and you'll make it through. But donna, for those who choose God in the first part ----- the second part is filled with Heaven. God promises that if we give Him the first, He will amaze us in the second.
“The first lasts a few years --- maybe 80 or so … but the second part lasts for all eternity.

That's the truth of it donna.
You can throw out the Bible along with all that God business and live it up your way.
Or you can do it like some half-in-half-out“Christians” do it. You can hold the Bible in one hand and your ways with the other hand. You can say you love God with your mouth but love yourself most with the way you live. You can do all that and more for the short first part ------ but then the eternal second part will come, and you'll get no do-overs. You'll receive in the second part what you earned in the first.

Then he said, “donna, to simplify it, you can have it great in one or the other... but not in both. And God is good enough to let us decide which way it will be.”

“So Pop, the disciples have it good now ---- but they didn't have it so good when they were where we are... right?”
“That's right donna. They didn't choose to die painful deaths, but how they died was so much less important than how they lived. They didn't want many of the things that came their way. Even Jesus was honest with us when He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane and asked if God would find another way.
“But when God gave no other way, Jesus chose God's way over His wants.”

Pop prayed with me before I left him that day.
As I drove away, I rolled it all through my inner-most self. Still do today.

Pop's words, “You can have it great in one or the other... but not in both... and you get to decide that part.”, well those words make more and more sense every year that passes by. Combine those with Mother Teresa's words, “I have never had clarity; what I have always had is trust.”
There's rich wisdom buried there.

I may not have clarity, but I know i'm trusting the One who is in control of this first part and will carry me through to the second part.

The little cares that fretted me,

I lost them yesterday,

Out in the fields with God.
(author unknown)

©2013 Donna Taylor/Reaching for the Robe

Saturday, December 21, 2013

...what is needed more...

She sat at the round table, taking her tea; it's a daily practice of hers. Most days I buzz by her continuing on with the whirl of “doing” whatever it is that seems so important at the time. But last week, I sat with her and we talked of Christmas.
Eve is a blessing to me, to our home, to our puppies, to everyone. She arrives at our house singing every morning. You can tell exactly where she is on the property if you'll just pause to listen... she's always singing.
Two weeks ago while working in the kitchen, I could hear dear Eve singing in the wash room (she calls it her “store”). Always singing in Swahili, I can often recognize the tune and enough of the words to know she's worshiping our Abba. On this particular day, I thought I recognized the tune. It was a song i'd heard so often in my childhood... “Come thou fount of every blessing, tune my heart to sing thy praise... streams of mercy never ceasing, call for songs of loudest praise..” Subconsciously, unknowingly, I began singing in the kitchen the song her tune brought to my mind. Oh what a comfort to sing that old hymn in this kitchen sooooo far from where I had first learned it.
Sometime later, still kneading dough in the kitchen and still singing, she comes mopping through the house, still singing as well.
Both of us consumed in the work before us, hardly noticed each other's presence ---- until...
simultaneously, we froze and looked at one another...
we paused for about 10 seconds...
and then laughed ---- soul-laughed ...
I said, “Eve, where did you learn that tune?”
“From a mzungu missionary when I was a child.” she answered.
“Eve, do you know the words in English?”
“Yes, but they come more freely in my tongue.”
“Oh Eve, may I sing for you... and you tell me if they are the words you learned long ago?” Her sweet smile said, yes.
And I sang...
“Come thou fount of every blessing, tune my heart to sing thy praise.

Streams of mercy never ceasing, call for songs of loudest praise.

Teach me some melodious sonnet, sung by flaming tongues above.

Praise the mount I'm fixed upon it, mount of they redeeming love...”
I continued on with the next verse --- as she began singing with me --- in her tongue.

Oh Lord.
In a kitchen in Kenya --- two daughters worshiped you in different tongues with the same words, and you drew near. We felt you as close as the air passing through our lungs.

… and You whispered “home” to me. “you're beginning to understand what 'home' is really like”

How often have I shed tears over missing home ----- and there's nothing wrong with that. Surely some of those tears our Jesus cried were over the “culture shock” of being so far from His real home... Heaven.

But still, singing to Him, with her, a song from my childhood, from the other side of the world, and feeling His Holy-skin-closeness... I learned something new of His definition of home.

So as I sat with her for tea-time last week, I should have known class was back in session. But some learners are a bit slower than others...

We talked of the days she would take-off for Christmas to be with her children. We talked of a special meal we could plan for our two families to share during the holidays. We talked of her daughter's recovery from a recent bought of malaria. Then I asked, “Eve, we would like to bless you this Christmas with a gift that will bless your home. But I do not know what is most needed or wanted...” She smiled that timid, humble smile and remained quiet. She's truly such a beautiful daughter of God.
So I said, “Last week in town I saw a jiko (cook stove used here) that is much safer than those usually used. It uses less charcoal and it does not produce carbon monoxide. I wanted to buy it for you Eve, but I felt I should ask you first.” She said, “Mom, may I ask how much it cost?” “Yes, it cost 3800 ksh.” She gasped and said. “Oh mom, I have a good jiko that cost me 250 ksh, and while the other might be safer... I will share with you what is needed more.”
“Clothes for my children.”
clothes ---- for her children ---- shoes for their feet ----- food to cook on the jiko she already has ---- oh Lord.

For how many years have i viewed Christmas presents through the lens of “what do they want...?”
But today, it is truly as it should be...
“what do they need...?”

It's surely the words you asked your Holy self... even You who knows ALL... You looked down at Your scrambling children and faced the words... “What do they need...?
And THAT is what You sent on that first Christmas morning.
You did not send us what we would have “wanted”.
You sent us what was NEEDED.
We would have asked for this... or that... and the gift would have been forgotten weeks later.

But You sent us what we needed. And now over 2000 years later the Gift is still living inside us and being offered again and again to those who haven't yet accepted it.

Eve's words --- “I will share with you what is needed more...”
She didn't see my soul vibrate when the words spilled out of her mouth.

“I will share with you what is needed more...”
and YOU did.

Forgive me Lord for all the years I spent trying to figure out what was “wanted more” ---- when there is a whole wide world around me who is hoping someone will share with them what is “needed”.

3 weeks ago, I visited dear Eve's home. We are trying to find her a safer place to live, but in our driving about one day, she invited us to come visit her children and see with our own eyes “why” she is praying for a better place to live. She raises 4 children, alone. Their father/her husband deserted her before the last were born, twins, a boy and girl. She is thankful he left, because with him left the beatings. She lives in a stick/mud home with 2 windows (no glass) that is about 10x15. The two older daughters sleep in chairs, while Eve and her 9 year old twins sleep together on a twin bed. Small, crowded, dark --- but neat, welcoming, and... dare I say it... Holy. There was a sure sanctuary in that tiny space. She is a beautiful daughter of the Most High God.

“I will share with you what is needed more...”

It's taken 51 Christmases to get me to this place of understanding ---
You shared with us all what was needed ----- forgive us for warping it into wants Lord.

May I be a daughter who remembers, truly remembers, Your Gift ---- You gave us what was needed. And You've placed us in a world full of needs... needs trump wants...
You showed us that didn't You?

Last week, I had a private crying session.
I cried because I couldn't go shopping with my daughter, walk through the Christmas lights, listen to Christmas music, have something warm to drink, share a Christmasy evening with her...

Then I sat with dear Eve at the round table --- and heard, “I will share with you what is needed more...”

Tomorrow she and I will go shopping...
in the open air market (the place where the “discards” from wealthier places are sold) --- with no Christmas sights or sounds.
It will be dirty and dusty and it likely won't smell very good at all.
But our thoughts will be steady on “what is needed more” --- 

My Christmas looks different, yes. But it's being Authored by the One who cares most about “what is needed more”.
I'm learning Lord...
Merry CHRISTmas ---
may you get “what is needed more”.

©2013 Donna Taylor/Reaching for the Robe

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

With Paper Dolls in a Cardboard Box...

With cut paper doll toys in a cardboard box filled with sand, we lay on the grass under blue skies, and he told me a story.

He's a boy in Kenya ---- a boy with a story.
But on this day, he didn't tell me “his” story. Instead, he shared one he made up in his mind.
A story of forgiveness... coming from one who has solid grounds to hold unforgiveness inside.
Allan is his name. I asked if I could share his story with many. His soft smile and gentle nod is why I now humbly share it with you.

He said...

Once upon a time there was a man, a woman, and a baby. They lived in a small house together. They had a garden but nothing was growing there.
One day they found a large parcel. They were excited. They hoped something special would be in the package. But when they looked inside, nothing was there except for one tiny seed.
The man and the woman thought perhaps it was a bean seed, so they planted it in their empty garden.
Every day they cared for the seed. They watered it and watched over it carefully.
Day after day the seed grew until finally it grew into a tree. They were not sure what kind of tree it was until one day an apple grew on the tree.
The man picked the apple and took his knife to cut the apple in half so they could share it for dinner.
But when he did so, they found gold coins inside the apple.
Wow! They were so excited. Never had they ever had so many coins.
The family put the coins in their pocket and went to town to buy food. Each day they picked another apple from the tree. Each day they went to town to buy more food.
Soon they had plenty of food so they began to buy others things with the coins found inside the apples from the tree.
They bought new furniture and clothes and many other things for their house.
Then the man decided to build a very big house so his family could live in a nicer place with many things.
The apple tree kept growing coin filled apples so the family was soon able to move out of the small house and into the big house.

When the man and the woman saw their neighbors on the roadway or passed by them in town, the man and the woman no longer greeted them. They were so busy buying things for themselves they seemed to have forgotten their neighbors.
When the family had lived in the small house they had always welcomed their neighbors and given them kind greetings when they passed by.
But not now.

The family was so busy picking apples and buying new things with the coins inside, they forgot to continue caring for the apple tree.
The tree became unhealthy and was not able to give so many apples as it had before.
Then one day the mother said, “We must remember to water our special tree or it will die.”
And so they did.

Soon the apple tree began growing apples again.
The family was very excited.
One morning, when the apples were nice and ready, the father picked one and cut it open with his knife.
But no coins were found inside the apple, only dust was found where the coins had been.
The family was very sad.
What would they do?

In time, the family decided to sell all their fine furniture so they could use the money to buy food for their stomachs. Then one day the father said, “We must sell this big house we built so we can buy food. We will need to move back into the small house where we use to live.”
The family was very sad and hungry.

One day the family heard voices.
They saw their neighbors coming down the path leading to the small house.

They remembered how many times they had not greeted their neighbors and even ignored them when they saw them in town. They were sad.

The neighbors knocked on the door of the small house.
The man and woman opened the door.
How surprised they were to see their neighbors arms filled with food and water! They welcomed the neighbors into their house and knew ------ they would never forget this kindness.

And the lesson to my story is this...
We must always forgive.

White clouds were floating overhead. Birds sang loudly. Dogs barked in the distance. Wind slid silently through tree leaves above us. And in front of me ----- sat a tiny teacher.

We sat in silence after the story ended.
He smiled a shy “did you like my story?” kind of smile.
I smiled a “that was a wonderful story” kind of smile.
And I wondered...
did young Allan know he was preaching a sermon better than any pastor in any pulpit?
This wounded child was teaching me, the one who was working to minister to him.

I'd learned the lesson of forgiveness before. I'd memorized the scriptures and even told the Bible stories to others. I'd spent a whole year of my life repeating the simple words “be quick to forgive and generous with grace donna, quick to forgive and generous with grace” and worked diligently to live the words, not just say them.
But never had the reminder come in such a way as this; with little dark-skinned hands moving cut paper doll toys across white sand ----- and narrations spoken in soft, lyrically laid words rolling from such a tiny tongue.

We can read of it in Matthew 18: 21-35.
It's straightforward.
Forgive others when they have wronged you or the Father who loves most will allow the “torturers” to torment.
We don't forgive because the offender deserves it... rarely could they ever deserve it. We forgive because we are told to do so by the Father ---- and we can trust that He truly knows what is best.

Is it any wonder my blood chilled through and through as I sat with this child who had been rendered deeds that required MUCH to be forgiven ----- and forgiveness flowed all round.

©2013 Donna Taylor/Reaching for the Robe