What Would I Sing of Nicaragua?

Our trip to Nicaragua is finished, and now I’m left to wonder how to describe it all.  We were based at a home for girls that have been rescued from an area where thousands of families lived off the city dump. Called “La Chureca,” that dump has now been cleared, but the problems weren’t eliminated–they were just moved. We visited an area called Cristo Rey, where as many as 4,000 families live off the dumpsite there. Of course, all the children are at risk for disease, lack of health care, and malnutrition, but the girls are especially at risk for trafficking.  That’s why Villa Esperanza was created. It is a group home designed to rescue girls from these extremely high-risk areas, and it served as our home base.

We also spent a great deal of time in Motastepe, a small barrio near Villa Esperanza. I can hardly describe how loving and generous these people were with us.  They stole our hearts with their kindness, beauty, and warm welcome towards us, and we will surely never be the same.

If I were going to write a song about Nicaragua and its people, I may have to enlist my songwriter hubby’s help, but a few ideas come to mind that should somehow be included.

Enchanting

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Beautiful Tereza

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Heartbreaking

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Destitute

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Courageous Eliezar and Garnet

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Heart-stealing Ixsell2013-08-02 06.20.05-1

Family loving

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Joyful

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Precocious

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Precious

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Redeemed

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It will take me a very long time to process all that we saw and experienced.  I’ll post here as I can, but if you would like to learn more in the meantime about the work that is being done in Nicaragua at a special place called “Villa Esperanza,” I encourage you to click here to learn more.

If I could just be like my dog…

Each week, I get these little gems in my inbox called Wednesday Words from Leigh McLeroy, a gifted writer. Leigh is author of numerous insightful and poignant books such as The Sacred Ordinary and The Beautiful Ache.  She graciously agreed to let me share this week’s post with you. Check her out at www.leighmcleroy.com where you can also sign up for her weekly Wednesday Word.

(By the way, Leigh’s dog is the most adorable Cavalier King Charles spaniel named Owen. I didn’t have a picture of Owen, so I substituted one of my dog Shorty, who I think is pretty handsome too.)

Along for the Ride

Owen likes road trips. He does. His crate fits perfectly in the back of my car, and he’s always ready to hop in. He never begs to see an itenerary. He never questions my route. He doesn’t ask if we’re “there yet,” or whine for a rest stop, or water, or a toy. He gets settled in his crate, I get behind the wheel, and off we go. I’m in charge of the driving – and my sweet, four-legged friend is along for the ride.

I usually put something interesting in the crate to occupy his attention – a chewie rawhide or a beat up toy – but before long Owen’s lying down, his eyes drooping closed and his breathing even and slow. He’s not afraid to sleep while I navigate; he trusts me to get us where we’re going.

If the trip is long and I stop for a bit, I’ll open the back and take Owen out for a break: a turn on the leash, sniffing and exploring, and a drink and a bit of a treat to eat. I don’t leave him unattended; I never forget he’s there. When it’s time to crate up again he doesn’t balk; he goes in easy and settles down quickly. He’s along for the ride.

You see where this is going, right?

My dog’s faith puts mine to shame. In contrast to Owen, I wonder often what the driver (let’s call him God) is up to; question the route he uses to take me where he means for me to go; feel the need for frequent updates to reassure me that we are, in fact, making good progress. And in no way do I relish being “loaded in” for travel facing backward, with no visibility and no control over the trip.

He means to get me from point A to point B, and to mature me in the process. I find it difficult to give myself to this “going” without seeing – to say “yes” to the journey and say nothing more. I struggle to relax, and fear that if I close my eyes we may veer hopelessly off track.

Even writing these words I feel ashamed. I’ve followed him long enough that I should be more confident with his way-finding skills. I should enjoy the trip, and be relieved to not be minding the map. I should feel free to sigh and sleep – to snore even – knowing he is getting us where we need to be. After all, he is the navigator. And I’m just along for the ride.

Then he got into the boat and his disciples followed him. Without warning, a furious storm came up on the lake,so that the waves swept over the boat. But Jesus was sleeping. The disciples went and woke him saying, “Lord, save us! We’re going to drown!” He replied, “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?” Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm. The men were amazed and asked, What kind of man is this? Even the winds and the waves obey him!” (Matthew 8:23-27, NIV)

© Leigh McLeroy, 2012

http://www.leighmcleroy.com
“Speak what you feel, not what you ought to say.”

Manoah’s Wife

Sometimes God’s complete disregard for human customs is amusing.  In the story of Manoah’s wife, we’re dealing with a time when, according to custom, women were property–generally useful for sex, having babies, keeping house or working the fields. Companionship was optional.

The story of Manoah and his wife offers many delicious, God-initiated ironies. First, God sends his messenger to whom? A nameless woman! Second, where Manoah is determined to discover God’s name and take control of the situation, isn’t it ironic that God, instead, only re-emphasizes that Manoah’s wife has all the pertinent details?

As Manoah presses for a name, God only responds that his name is “wonderful,” beyond knowing. Ironically, at the same time, God is making himself known to them in a truly personal and marvelous way. But it is all on God’s terms–not Manoah’s. The story also shows how God sees us, even when we are invisible and nameless to the rest of the world, and, even better, he includes us in his story.  Manoah’s wife became an important part, indeed, of God’s story.  Centuries later, another unknown, invisible girl likewise became pivotal to God’s story.  Perhaps the wonder of our relationship with God is that even though his name is “wonderful” and beyond understanding, he still draws near, reveals himself to us, and invites us, just like these people, into his story.

Not Safe. But Good.

Not Safe. But Good. (Photo by dogrando.)

Lesson Three was one of my favorites because, to tell the truth, I find great comfort in a God I can’t control.  Oh sure, I sometimes try to treat God like my personal Santa Claus, but of course that never works. Years ago, Barry and I attended a church that emphasized asking God for all kinds of things–healing, jobs, marriage restoration, financial help. While it’s true that God is our source for life itself, I don’t like it when the focus is all about me.  Look, I have NO TROUBLE focusing on me. My trouble is focusing on God who is SO MUCH BIGGER than me. I don’t need help worshiping myself.  I need help remembering that God is a holy, awe-inducing, incomprehensible, uncontrollable God who is worthy of every ounce of devotion I can give.

In The Chronicles of Narnia, when the children first learn about the great lion Aslan, they ask if he is “safe,” being a lion and all. Their friend replies, “‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good.”

That’s the kind of God I want to worship.  Not a safe God. A God who challenges and stretches me, but who simultaneously fills the new spaces created by the stretching. A God I cannot tame but who is so good I have nothing to fear. Jesus said of his own life that he had the power to lay it down at will and the power take it back up again. That he chose to do so proves his wild and fierce devotion to us. Why would I not return love like that?

“No one takes [my life] from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.”  John 10:18

Where is your brother?

As I re-read Lesson Two this week (Why are you angry?), this time I landed on God’s 2nd question to Cain:  Where is your brother?  The first part of the story focuses on Cain challenging God’s right to be God and to, therefore, make the rules. Cain essentially challenges what later becomes the first commandment to love God with our whole being, putting no idols before him–not even ourselves. Maybe especially not ourselves. God, in turn, confronts Cain on that issue.

But God’s 2nd question confronts our responsibility towards others as do most of the rest of the 10 commandments. In the story of Cain and Abel, as in the commandments, God equates true worship with, first and foremost, wholehearted, unabashed devotion to himself, followed by a commitment to one another. No lying, cheating, murder, slander, even jealousy. It all starts, though, with devotion to God. Without worship of God as our starting point, are we capable of true devotion to one another? What is the impetus? If I am the source of my own moral decisions, when someone else gets in the way of something I want, be it an object, a goal, an idea, or even a perceived right, my only responsibility is to do what “feels” right. But if God is the object of my worship versus my own ego’s demands, my decision points are derived from God’s ideas of how to treat people versus mine.  I’ll just be honest. In my case, this is so much safer for myself and for those who have to live with me!

Trust what you see

Several years ago, I got stuck between two team members in a confrontation. Call them Joe and Steve.  A coffee date was set for the purpose of working things out. Steve apologized right away, admitting he had screwed up.  Joe wasn’t having it. An apology didn’t give him a chance plunge the knife and twist it hard. Steve tried to apologize again—several times, but he got nowhere.  Finally, in frustration, he said, “I don’t know what else to do. I’ve said I’m sorry.”  Joe leaned in, narrowed his eyes with a sadistic glint, and with a twisted grin he said, “Why don’t you say it again?”

I knew in that moment that I no longer wanted to work with Joe. It wasn’t a matter of forgiveness. I’m not perfect. Lord knows I’ve said stupid things. I just knew that I didn’t ever want to inflict that kind of behavior on my clients or other teammates.  Still, in the ensuing weeks, I wondered if I should let bygones be bygones.  One morning, I was reading in the Proverbs, a treasure trove of wisdom and always a good place to find insight. These words practically jumped off the page at me:

Don’t make friends with an angry man, and don’t be a companion of a hot-tempered man. Proverbs 22:24

I took comfort in those words. I know I’m required to treat others as I wish to be treated, but these words reminded me that I’m not required to befriend everyone. Wisdom offers protection. But how do you discern between the person who simply needs that extra measure of kindness and mercy versus the person you should avoid?

Jesus said, “You’ll know them by their fruit.” Unfortunately, we have all become adept at the fine art of putting on our best “Facebook” for the public. So how can we distinguish the authentic person versus the fake? Whether it’s the newscasters, the politicians, or the scandel-ridden public figure, we’ve seen the best of the best make mud look like diamonds. Jesus warns us not to be fooled though. Just look at the person’s life, he says. You can’t get fruit from a weed. If you see goodness, faithfulness, or kindness, you are looking at the real deal. If, though, you see someone talks one way but consistently lives another way, Jesus teaches us to trust our eyes.

Do you trust what you see?  Or do you second-guess, think you’re being “too hard” on someone, and backtrack from believing what is right in front of you?

Is God Holding out on You?

I have a friend who was so hurt over a broken relationship that she became obsessed with the offending party’s wrongs. In fact, she looked for new offenses, each new one a confirmation of her own “rightness.” In doing so, she was blind to her own ungracious heart, and by focusing all of her attention on the matter, she made it an idol.  I’d like to say I don’t get it, but I do. There are times I’d rather be vindicated than obey God’s command to worship him only and to love others. After all, “worship” literally means to “ascribe worth.” How many pointless arguments and vain pursuits do we attribute worth by giving them attention and energy, and what lengths do we take to justify ourselves in the process?

The temptation of Adam and Eve began in their minds, as all temptation does. Did you catch the subtle, slimy tactics that the serpent used? At first, the serpent hints that God’s instructions aren’t reliable. “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”

Then the suggestion that God is actually holding out on them is served up like a delicious dessert:

“God knows that when you eat of [this tree], your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

Shadows are thrown on God’s character and motives. This divide and conquer tactic is extremely effective. You are off the hook for your own bad behavior, while doubts are thrown on the other person or on God. All you have to do is hint at someone’s shortcomings or failures, and you come out smelling like a rose. Commonly known as throwing someone under the bus, it ain’t pretty. The ensuing division is the loose thread that unravels the entire garment of community and friendships. Sometimes, we even throw God under the bus, rather than do the right thing.

I am most tempted in this way when I’ve been offended or wronged. Those are the times when that “love your neighbor” rule goes out the window, and I’m ready to drop-kick someone under the bus!  I put more importance then on being justified versus trusting God to grow me past the offense.

What about you?  Can you think of situations where it has been easier to blame and cast aspersions on others versus obeying the command to forgive, to trust, and to honor God first with our attention and energy?

On a side note: If you find yourself tripping up over whether or not there was a real serpent, a real garden, or a real Adam and Eve, can I just offer a suggestion?  Get past that argument and remember that the accounts in the Bible are given to point us to God and tell his story.  They teach us about God’s character, God’s relationship to us, and how we can and should relate to God and to one another. So rather than getting all hung up in the “literal or not” argument, just ask yourself, “What can I learn about God in this story?”