Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Anniversary Roses

I’ve been thinking a lot about marriage recently.

First, we had a wedding at St. Andrew’s that was called off just weeks before the big day. The couple discerned that what had seemed like a right and good and joyful thing wasn’t right for them, at least not now. I can’t imagine how hard the decision must have been for them, but I have great respect for their maturity in putting the brakes on a process that, too often, seems to have the momentum of a train that can’t be stopped.

Then came yesterday, the 19th wedding anniversary for Ann and me. As we sat with the kids at the table last night (the two of us will celebrate another evening), they asked about the dozen roses in the vase in front of us. All the roses are red but one, which is white; and they asked why. I said it stood for the new life that’s created when two people come together and let God make them one at the deepest level of their being. For Ann and me, the details of our life together certainly haven’t turned out as we might have expected 19 years ago – a little bit of tragedy and a lot more unexpected blessing. But through it all, the new creation of the marriage grows and thrives.

And then I look at the calendar and remember that my parents’ anniversary will be this Sunday – 57 years of marriage. I can’t even begin to imagine how that feels. But I do know their white rose has incredibly deep roots.

“The bond and covenant of marriage” may not sound terribly attractive to many in our culture, given the premium we put on the Gospel of Me. Living for ourselves sounds like freedom, and we’re all about that. But, ironically, to give up this kind of freedom returns to us a much greater gift: being rooted in the soil of God’s love, with souls entwined, becoming so much more than we can be on our own.

It’s amazing the rose God can make of us when we give ourselves away.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Mission Trips Into the Reign of God

I took a little trip to Haiti this afternoon.

Really, I only had coffee with Drs. Stan and Kathy Shaffer at the Roasterie, doing some planning for the mission trip I’m leading in November. But in a week of … well, a typical week at church, it was a wonderful foretaste of what our week in mid-November might feel like.

I don’t yet know precisely what we’ll be doing in Haiti, but I do know we’ll spend our time working with our partner school in Maniche – among other things, teaching about good hand-washing technique, visiting kids’ homes to teach the families, and doing some painting at the school.

Whatever we do, I also know this: We’ll be making a concrete difference in the lives of children of God whose place in life we can’t even begin to imagine. For the children of Maniche, simply progressing through school might make the difference between a life of hope or a life of subsistence. For the children of Maniche, the school lunch we provide might make the difference between adequate nutrition or wasting away. For the children of Maniche, learning to wash their hands after using the latrine and before eating might make the difference between living to adulthood or dying young.

So, for an hour or so this afternoon, sipping my coffee, I got to travel into the future – the immediate future of a November mission trip, and the longer-term future of the reign of God. Someday, no child will starve while others feast. For now, those of us who go to Haiti will do what we can do to help that day come a few moments sooner.

Want to go? Let me know:

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Burden or Blessing?

A recent event and two recent conversations make me think God’s trying to tell me something.

The event came last week, when my wife’s step-grandmother died. It was a blessing, healing her of cancer that had progressed beyond the point of treatment. We traveled to Ft. Smith, Ark., to gather with that side of Ann’s family and celebrate her step-grandmother’s life. Near the end of the visit, we received a great gift – her car. It’s not exactly new, a 2002 Honda Civic; but it’s in great shape with very low mileage. Gifts like this have fallen into our laps a few times before, and they always make me stop short. They are moments when gratitude washes over you, when you get a window into just how richly you’re blessed and how often you miss it. We’re trying to discern now what to do with three cars; but with two kids nearing driving age, we may well keep them all and make one a gift for their use.

Then this week, I had a conversation with a parishioner about prayer. She is very wise in many ways, but one thing she said particularly stuck with me. She was talking about a truly difficult time, when she wasn’t sure how to pray or what to pray for. What carried her through was the intentional practice of thanksgiving. When she couldn’t pray anything else, she could take note of all that God had given her – children, work, relationships, plenty to eat, a lovely home, and so on. It was a bridge toward a place of deeper healing because it kept her orientation Godward in a time when the temptation was great to turn away.

And yesterday I had a conversation with another parishioner, this time about illness and recovery. He had endured heart surgery to correct problems that would have killed him, and he’s still dealing with the rigors of recovery and rehab. But what he was taking away from the experience was deep gratitude – not just for the gift of renewed health (which is significant enough) but for the gift of relationships with those who had supported him through the process, everyone from his spouse and children, to friends who showed up, to physicians and caregivers who were God’s agents of physical healing. For him, heart disease was an opportunity to see the blessing of relationship and say thank you.

I struggle with lots of things, but one of the more consistent wrestling matches God and I have is about orienting me toward gratitude. And when I’m feeling especially hard-pressed (or, perhaps, self-pitying), God seems to come through with examples of the contrast reality that the life of the kingdom is all about. The lines between our perception of burden and God’s reality of blessing can be terribly thin. But the choice is ours as to how we’ll chalk things up. Do we choose to see burden or blessing? The answer will tell us whether our primary residence is the kingdom of anxiety or the kingdom of heaven.