The Resurrection I’ve Seen

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Today was Easter.  Easter is a big deal.  We make a big deal of Easter.

It isn’t a big deal to a lot of people.  Easter for some people is no more than a day of candy, and for others it isn’t even that.  It’s just a day.

What’s the difference between Easter being a big deal and just a day?

There are a lot of easy answers to that question:

Knowing Jesus.

Being raised in a Christian culture.

Hearing the Gospel.

Intersecting with someone who has experienced God.

Experiencing God’s Spirit.

Being indoctrinated in the Christian faith.

 

The way you answer that question–or the answer you would pick from that list–probably indicates something about your relationship with Easter, as well.


 

Easter is Resurrection Day.  We make this the biggest day of the year, bigger than Christmas or Pentecost, because what we believe about God and Jesus and the Holy Spirit and ourselves and the world all hinges on this day.  They all hinge on the historical event that did or did not happen for which we claim this day.

A friend of mine who is a Christian told me recently, “I wonder if I believe this because I was raised with it.”  I think that’s a fair question to ask.  I don’t think it invalidates Christianity, but it is reasonable to consider whether, if you or I were raised in a Muslim country with four Christians among ten million people, would we have heard the Gospel?  Would we be Christians?

 If I’m honest, I then have to ask if I am the most difficult part of being a Christian for some other people.

The most difficult part, for me, of being a Christian is other Christians.  I will say that straight out.  If I’m honest, I then have to ask if I am the most difficult part of being a Christian for some other people.  I might be.  Sometimes I don’t believe what they believe or speak like they speak. Continue reading

Redemption from Ashes

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Something beautiful happened today.

We stood on the freshly dried concrete floor of our friend Elizabeth’s newly-built home and we worshiped God and prayed for his blessing.

Two weeks ago, Elizabeth’s  home burnt to the grounds home burnt to the ground.  She had to guard the pile of rubble so that no one would steal her last possessions.

Two weeks ago, we barely new Elizabeth.  Kim had chatted with her about kids and dogs and recargas.

Eliza and Bella

Elizabeth and Bella sharing Scripture verses and laughing.

 

Today, we sang songs of gratitude together and prayed blessings for this home; then we shared mini-doughnuts and Coke.  And it struck me–and I hope this doesn’t offend you–that we were sharing communion together.

Now, we know Elizabeth.  She is joining our Mujeres de Shalom (“women of peace”) group led by our ministry partner Bella Ndoro.  She even, somehow, has the tiny beginnings of an inventory of 2 cordoba (6 cent) bags of chips.  Corin is more than happy to be her best customer.

The kids chased a ball around outside while we talked and laughed.  kids in front yardAnd I pictured what I had seen two weeks ago when I walked back to see the site of the fire.

 

I have described in detail the broken infrastructure of Nicaraguan government and social services.  But I watched bags of cement delivered, construction workers show up (whom Elizabeth was responsible to feed; we and some other neighbors got to help with that), and in less than two weeks, Elizabeth has a home again.  I don’t know what you think of socialism, but we’re certainly grateful she is not homeless.

I love the word “redemption.” When I speak of redemption, I mean God’s refusal to let bad things just rot, his absolute determination and willingness to bring good out of bad.

I love the word “redemption.” When I speak of redemption, I mean God’s refusal to let bad things just rot, his absolute determination and willingness to bring good out of bad.  “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”  This does not mean that all things are good; some things are horrible and some are evil.  But in all things, God continues to bring good for people’s lives.

Eliza and Mike

I was standing there, looking at these solid, blank walls and this bare floor, a house that none of us–you reading this and I–would consider luxurious.   It’s one room.  But I doubt I’ve ever seen someone more grateful for a home.

And where we were strangers before, now we have started friendships.  Where she was abandoned by her husband, then left with nothing, in that same place we got to surround her and pray and sing and laugh and eat.  Our close neighbor friends, Mileydi and Juan Carlos, and our Servant Partners teammates have become Elizabeth’s new friends.  

When we first began to sing, there were only a few of us in the Eliza with everyonecircle, but as our voices drifted outside, some neighborhood children and two other moms came in, drawn into the celebration. In this barrio, tensions over the sharing of scarce resources and distrust among neighbors can run high. We lean on God to make part of our witness here modeling a better way of living together, of singing and sharing and holding hands as we pray.  Of learning from Jesus how to be true neighbors.

 

[Kim and I wrote this one together.]

 

House Fire

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Friday, a woman’s house burned down.

I got a ride home from coaching basketball practice to see a huge pile of black waste material being loaded into a dump truck by a Cat.  We don’t see big machinery on our street very often.

“Is that trash?” one of my players asked.

“Or maybe sewage?” I suggested.  We live across from an asentimiento, a squatter village.  Either is possible.

We watched for another minute before I got out.  My wife and young son were there with other neighbors, watching, too.

I came up smiling at them, but no one returned my smile.  Then Kim told me what happened.  Everyone in the asentimiento IMG_0074hooks into the power lines and runs electricity, rigged up however they can, to their homes.  The rigged wire had begun to spark and burned her house to the ground.  The destroyed house was across the street from us and two houses back from our close friends.  I walked down to see the site.  The only things left were the brick fire cookstove and some zinc roofing.

 All her other possessions were now that pile of rubble, ash, and cinder quickly getting scooped up to be hauled to the Managua city dump. Two tiny barefoot neighbor girls were darting in and out of the blackened pile, collecting charred bits of wood for their cooking fires.

Continue reading

My Friend’s Baby

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Yesterday, I watched a little girl in a box get covered with dirt.  She was two days old.  We tried to understand what happened to her, how she died, because we want to make some sense of what happened, to make our own evaluation of whether someone could have prevented her death.  Did she get good care?  Was there justice?  But we don’t know the answers to that.  We don’t know the answers to anything.

Our friends buried their baby and we stood with them and watched, because that was the only thing left we could do for them.   The grandfather of the child told us that she is not in that box; she is in God’s arms in heaven.  I believe that.  I believe our son is in heaven and their daughter is in heaven.  I can’t prove that to you.  You can believe that my belief is wishful thinking.

It’s a huge cemetery, much bigger than we realized.  It went on and on.  It’s simple and cluttered and crowded, mostly with wooden markers.  I read many children’s markers on the way to her grave.  It isn’t manicured, it isn’t laid out pristine in precision rows.  No one spent thousands of dollars to reserve a spot, to buy a casket, nor to chisel granite or marble as a reminder.

We surrounded the open grave.  They opened the top part of her tiny box so we could her face, embalmed and still.

Her father gives his kindness to everyone.  He always, I mean literally always offers his smile to me when I see him, and his smile is beautiful.  His smile is kindness and encouragement.  He used to work at our school but he changed schools, so I don’t see him every day like I did before.  He has been married for five years, and for five years they have hoped to have a child.  Then they learned she was pregnant, and carried that hope for nine months.  And then we were watching dirt cover the box.

I had never told my friend that our son died, because you don’t just bring that up in conversation.  But I told him as we walked back through the cemetery.  I don’t imagine it helped, because “help” is not a word that makes sense there.  Nothing makes it better.  There are no “right” words.  No words change anything.  But I wanted him to know I was with him, and that our friendship and our shared grief were why I stood out with there with him at noon on a Sunday, with his family, and his community.  Because there’s nothing you can do, but you still do what you can.

Somewhere out there, where I don’t and can never live, I have an 18-year-old son who plays with my 8-year-old boy.  He’s following his older sister, one year ahead, who’s in college already, figuring out where he wants to go, what he wants to do next year.  Though his little brother is blonde, he has brown hair like me.  Does he love to read and play ultimate?  Does he ignore us and roll his eyes and stay out late and drive us insane?  Is he going to use his passion and brilliance to make the world a better place, or just to make a lot of money?

In this world I live in, I still have the ashes of a baby boy in a tiny little box.  We’ve never felt like it was the right place to bury them.  The baby boy is in heaven, of course, and all my hope is there with him, but I still have the box.

That life and this life are what I recount to myself as I watch them shovel the dirt over that box and it disappears, as I watch the life here of that tiny girl disappear from her parents’ eyes, and all they will ever see of her here are reflections when they see children whose age she would have been, when they ask themselves “Would she have looked like that?” or “Is that how she would have laughed?”  I pray to God that my friends will have a child, a brother or sister to their little girl.  I pray that’s not the only time they will hold their own child here.

And I pray for the time when we will hold all our children again.

 

Fighting for Hope: Fear, Naive Faith, and Trusting God Even When…

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Let’s be honest.  Not honest but self-protective.  Let’s just actually say it.

I don’t know if it’s going to work.

Pick which “it” I mean.  Raising my children so that they live peaceably in their own skin.  Having kids I can be proud I had a hand in parenting.  Looking back at their years of living in my house and knowing I did well by them.

Am I going to do something with my life?  Not just pass through.  Live.  Suck the marrow, blow every speck of gunpowder, make a contribution, leave something worth claiming?

Will it matter that I was here?

We’re afraid and we try to cushion against that fear with comfort.  Comfort foods and comfortable habits, routines that protect us from looking at our naked selves.  Distractions and entertainments.  Not bad in themselves, but when we use them as anesthesia…

There are darker questions, too.  My dad was chronically ill for the last twenty-five years of his life…which means it started when he was younger than I am now.  What if the mental illness…?  Some people live in the “knowledge” that only other people’s children get sick, or get in accidents, or die.  They would never say this out loud, but they live that way.  I’ve had that illusion shattered, and the pieces never went back together.

“But,” some might ask, “what about your faith?  Don’t you trust God?”

I’m giving that question the big smile, the one I set on my face in lieu of ripping tonsils out.

I trust God.  I’ve chosen a life that, in some significant and tangible ways, relies on God’s faithfulness or else.  Or else we’re not okay.  I’m not boasting.  I’m just distinguishing between what I trust God to do (and protect against) and the rest. Continue reading

Chikungunya–The Virus of Memory Lane

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Chikungunya finally found me.  aedesmosquitoes

Oh, my gosh, it hurts!  😉

Please read my self-descriptions in that “laughing because it’s so ridiculous” tone of voice.

 

Last night, my knee started to get stiff.  I’m forty-seven and I played basketball in our gringo-nica-middle eastern pick up game Tuesday night, so I thought I might have wrenched it and was just getting the delayed reaction.  You get older, you still play hard, everything hurts.  Fair enough, that’s the price you pay.

But the knee kept getting worse.  I iced it for a long time, and then could barely stand up.  Dang!  What did I do to my knee?

Then I noticed that I wasn’t feeling right: a little feverish, a little dizzy.  I suffer from insomnia, so honestly I’ve gotten used to mild symptoms like that.

But next I seriously had to plan out getting up, figure out which direction I could push so that I didn’t have to use my right leg at all, and why are my shoulders hurting so bad and–uh, oh.

I had surgery on my right knee, many moons ago.  The surgeon had planned to do arthroscopic surgery to remove two bone chips, but one of those pieces of bone was much bigger than anticipated, so what was supposed to be two tiny incision points and a laser turned into a connect-the-dots-and-open-wide game on my leg.  I only found out when I took the bandage off and saw the long scar, many days post-op, because apparently the doctor had told me…when I was still under anesthesia.

So, my knee feels just like it did during physical therapy post-surgery.  It hurts like crazy to bend, I have to move it manually sometimes, and–

When Kim got chikungunya, she woke up one morning with terrible knee pain.  We couldn’t figure out how she injured it so badly while sleeping.  She limped severely for a few days…and then the rest of the symptoms arrived.

Light bulb!

i didn’t injure my knee in some bizarre 24-hour delayed reaction.  I just have–oh, crap.

Now that I’m forced to admit it, I also had a rash on my trunk several  days ago.  But come on, there are so many rashes available here! (Denial) It didn’t have to be chikungunya. (Denial)

Last night’s “sleep” was an adventure in positioning: I’m freezing, I’m boiling, my knee needs to stay propped but now my shoulder is yodeling, is on my side bett–NOPE! What?  My finger aches?

My wife had chikungunya back in October, and survived it with grace and a bare minimum of whimpering.  But she also missed three consecutive days of school, and she simply never does that.  I mean, never.  Until this stuff.

You’ve certainly picked it up, but here’s the scary part of chikungunya for a guy like me:  it lets you relive all your injuries.  I mean, first-hand, genuine pain and swelling and authentic immobility.  That stupid finger I jammed a couple weeks ago–it’s like it just got hit last night!

In Voyage of the Dawn Treader, the Narnians discover an island where dreams come true. TheDarkIsland Initially they’re delighted–until they grasp that it isn’t where their daydreams or fondest wishes come true, but all those horrible, sub-conscious fears and freaky, surreal combinations of different parts of life.  Now follow me here: the puzzling thing about pain is how, when it’s passed, you can’t fully grasp how bad it hurt.  It’s like it recedes into the fog.

Now imagine all that wonderful pain proceeding out of the fog to pay a visit!

It’s a mosquito-borne virus, so when the mosquito bit someone else with it and then bit me…
The odds were not in my favor; sooner or later, some little Aedes mosquito was going to take a nip out of Kim–or one of the thousands of other folks who’ve suffered it–and find its way to me.

Chikungunya is rarely fatal.  Only if one’s system is extremely compromised initially will it be life-threatening.  Tragically, many Nicaraguans in slums live at a lower-than-optimal level of health, so it’s likely more dangerous here than it would be in a US suburb.  It’s been in the news constantly, and the ministry of health has workers all over the city doing this:

A health ministry worker fumigates for mosquitoes that transmit dengue and chikungunya in Managua, Nicaragua, Wednesday, Nov. 5, 2014. Nicaragua's health ministry announced on Tuesday that they have detected 225 cases of chikungunya nationwide, this year. (AP Photo/Esteban Felix)

A health ministry worker fumigates for mosquitoes that transmit dengue and chikungunya in Managua, Nicaragua.

What are they spraying?  We’re not sure, but it smells a lot like diesel.  Would you rather have the risk of chikungunya and/or dengue or have your children breathing those clouds of (I’m going to take a leaping guess here) toxins for the next several hours until the air clears again?  You can tell them “No, gracias,” when they ask to come in and spray, so then it’s only the fumes blowing in from the street and the neighbors.


I’m going to end with a few quasi-serious reflections.  

I’m not freaking out over this.  It’s inconvenient, and there is no cure (just addressing symptoms), but I’ve watched Kim and many friends, both Nicaraguan and gringo, suffer through it.  I’ll be okay.

It’s also fair to say Kim and I would not have experienced chikungunya if we hadn’t come to Nicaragua.

This hurts and I’m not enjoying being in pain, but even if my symptoms last the maximum time, it’s still temporary.  I know people, I have friends, who live in chronic pain.  They carry on with grace and good humor and generous hearts.  In this moment, while I have a tiny glimpse, I respect their choices, every day, to develop that character.  I’ve seen a chronic illness not always handled with grace, and those choices can make all the difference.

Even saying this, I also get that the temporal piece is so far beyond my grasp.  I’m fine, and trying to laugh, largely because I know this is going away.  For someone to accept that, without a miracle, this level of pain is the daily dose, that takes some powerful character and/or faith.

Finally, I come back to how fortunate and privileged I really am.  I have a comfortable bed and nice pillows, I have clean drinking water and all the ibuprofen I need.  A Nicaraguan friend whose wife had chikungunya recently asked for some acetaminophen.  He had just done a small job for me, for which I had paid him, but he’s unemployed and would have had to decide between buying medicine for his wife and buying food with that money. Putting twenty tablets in a baggie for a good friend is the work of six seconds and doesn’t require even a second thought for me; the cost to me is negligible and I’m grateful for the chance to help.

Being sick drives home this point for me:  We are rich and have the comforts and protections that come with wealth.  My health is not compromised.  I’m going to limp around for a while and then I’ll be fine.  I hope I’ll laugh the whole way.

 

 

“How do you like it?”

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I met a man in the grocery store tonight.  To be precise, I met a gringo with his two sons in one of the nicer grocery stores.  We talked about what he considers Nicaragua’s best export (that would be rum), then swapped info, as often happens in these conversations:

“How long have you been here?”

“Two years.  You?”

“This is our fifth year.”

“Huh.  How do you like it?”

“It’s taken a while, but it feels like home now.  You?”

“I’m ready to go.”

He proceeded to tell me about some things he dislikes:  driving, power outages, customer service (oh, wait, that was me), and then we compiled a list of good things about living here: lower cost of living, less demanding pace of life (he said he had 80-hour work weeks in the U.S.), our kids becoming fluent in Spanish.

I tried to share with him our informal motto, “Flexibility and humor,” encouraging him that getting angry when things don’t work the way we expect really does not help, but learning to laugh and roll with it really does.  He seemed unconvinced.  If I had to summarize his position, it would be “This place DOESN’T WORK RIGHT!”

Saturday, yesterday, was a day that Kim jokingly described as “The Universe conspiring against us.”  She said it with humor because she said it today.  Yesterday, no one was laughing.  Trying to leave for ultimate, we discovered that our van had two flat tires.  One of our dogs had vomited everywhere, including all over the trampoline (you know how trampolines aren’t actually a solid surface?  Yeah.).  All the lights and outlets inexplicably stopped working in the kitchen and nothing we did with the fuse helped.  Our internet was on day 4 of being out.*  We have three phones and none of us could even make a call (we buy calling time by the minute, and we had all three run out).  I was trying to finish a sermon that I stepped in last-minute to cover for someone else, and I was not experiencing precisely the peaceful, meditative mindset that lends to efficient sermon writing.  I was not experiencing a mindset that lends to any sermon writing whatsoever.

My son started begging me to play Stratego.  I initially rebuffed him, explaining “Dad has lots of work to do, and blah, blah,” then amended that to “Sure.”  Because a)he had helped me clean up dog vomit, voluntarily, and b)composing a sermon in that frame of mind might have led to my excommunication.  So we played.  And had a blast.  And he came close to beating me.

Kim came home from successfully buying new tires, which really weren’t in our budget, but neither was having a blowout followed by a head-on.  To our great surprise, the massive communications multi-national corporation sent their repair guy out five hours into their promised forty-eight hour response time–this after Kim had fought through three levels of “customer service,” mind you–and we were back online.  That makes sermon writing easier, especially when you live in the land of I-can’t-transport-my-reference-library-here.

By today, the dog had stopped vomiting, the kitchen power is–again inexplicably–working just fine, no steel belts are showing on our tires, I can work on this blog, and we can even make phone calls.  The sermon went fairly well, I think, though God gets to make that judgment.  Someone gave us a gift, totally out of the blue, that covered a chunk of the tire expense.

Ready for the connection, you who noticed that I went on a big tangent?  I hated living here in Year Two.  I mean, really hated it.  I probably told people, in conversations like that, how ready I was to move back, and certainly I told myself in my head, if I didn’t say it out loud.  I could see exactly where I was then, reflected in his eyes.  And now I’m here.  We have The-Universe-Lays-Siege days and by the next day, we’re laughing about it.  I didn’t laugh during year two.  Maybe twice, and both times bitterly.  If I’d had a longer conversation, I think I might have told the guy all this, an extended version of “hang in there.”  But that may not be right for him.

Here is what I know today:  I no longer expect for everything to work the way “it’s supposed to.”  I don’t go cheerily along while cleaning dog vomit or frantically trying to change a tire while I and my daughters are scheduled to be playing ultimate–I NEED my fix–but it no longer reinforces a mindset that everything just sucks and I would gladly leave in approximately the time it takes me to pack a suitcase and drive to the airport (barring tire blowouts).

We’ve bought four (I said “four”) sets of tires in less than five years here.  I’m not counting the ones the van had when we bought it, so two new sets, two used sets.  A set of new tires costs $500 here, and those are nice Firestones.  We’re putting maybe 6,000 miles a year on our car.  The roads eat tires.  Ravenously.  And the driving surface in front of our home now would likely not fit many folks’ definition of “road.”  I give you this as an example of how differently things work here.

I don’t think things have changed that much in Nicaragua since I’ve gotten here.  But something has changed in me.  Maybe several things.

I don’t feel entitled as much as I used to.  I believe, I mean really believe in my bones, that I am very fortunate, regardless of how difficult things get for us here, because I have seen what real suffering looks like, and it wasn’t our Saturday.

This probably needs its own post, but I have learned to live around suffering without having it make me insanely angry, guilty, or miserable.  I might be getting calloused, but the thing is, if you can’t find a way to bear it, you can’t stay.  I think I’ve found a way to bear it that isn’t numb or indifferent.  So that is a breakthrough.

I’ve internalized “flexibility and humor.”  It took a long time.  I said it a whole bunch of times while I was actually seething internally, but I knew I needed to believe it.  I’m not saying I roll with every punch or laugh off every mishap, but this is my general mindset:  It isn’t going to work the way I expect, Plan A is a fantasy, and I may as well laugh about it because ulcers and high blood pressure just don’t help.

I know some people got to where I am in much less time, and likely far beyond.  Other people left.  It took me a long time to say this, but I’m glad I didn’t.

 

*We lost our internet because someone arrived outside our home wearing shirts that said the name of our internet provider, proceeded to set up a new connection for someone living close by but in an area unlikely for anyone to be paying monthly for internet, and somehow that zapped ours out of function.  It was clearly cause and effect.  We asked the workers to see about making ours reconnect and they nodded and said okay, and then left.  When Kim described this on the phone while making her push to get it fixed, the person confirmed that was the problem and explained, “Oh, those were vendedores.  If you see that happening again, take a picture of them and give it to us.”
Uh-huh.  We probably won’t do that.

The Endurance of Job

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If I am a prayer warrior, I am a warrior following the model of Job. James writes, “Indeed we call blessed those who showed endurance. You have heard of the endurance of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.”

I have heard of the endurance of Job. I’ve also read the book of Job, more than once. I like this book. My friend Oscar, a Nicaraguan pastor, asked me which were my favorite books of the Bible. Oscar speaks only Spanish and my Spanish is an imposition on the graciousness of the Nicaraguans, so when I told him that my favorite in the Old Testament is Job, he decided he must not have understood me. So I mispronounced it three or four more times until he stopped asking.

Job did endure more than I could, or would ever hope to try. In fact, I am grateful to have survived a fraction of what Job did with my faith intact and I pray that God will protect me from ever going through anything like that again.  But Job did not endure silently; he endured loudly.

At the end of the second chapter of the book of Job, Job’s wife says, “Do you still persist in your integrity? Curse God, and die!” Job refuses. “You speak as any foolish woman would speak. Shall we receive the good at the hand of God, and not receive the bad?” In all this Job did not sin with his lips. Starting in chapter three and running through chapter thirty-one, Job “opened his mouth and cursed the day of his birth.”

I could see how Job’s response to his wife, if not exactly gentle, would count as an example of endurance. But I thank God for these next twenty-nine chapters. Because I have hope that I, too, will be an example of endurance. Proverbs 1:7 states, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.” Psalm 111:10: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have a good understanding.” Job learns the fear of the Lord because God answers Job. “Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind…” Job listens and is humbled. “I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.”

But the key I hold onto is that Job got to hear from God because he wouldn’t shut up. Job’s “friends” kept telling him, “You’re a sinner. Look at you! Could it be more obvious? Just repent already.” Job was a sinner, but he wasn’t suffering as a punishment for his sin. He knew that. He just didn’t know who God was yet. He knew about God–”I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear”–but he hadn’t known God—“but now my eyes see you.” Job responds much like Peter will, when Peter catches on to who Jesus might be. “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.”

Job got there by his endurance. He endured boors and accusers who masqueraded as friends. He endured miserable suffering and grief. His greatest endurance was to keep shouting at the sky until he got an answer. God didn’t justify himself to Job; once Job’s eyes had seen God, Job wasn’t asking for that anymore. He had what he wanted.

He got what he came for.  So I’ll keep shouting, too.

Giant Sequoias

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 Over the (U.S.) summer, I got to visit Shadow of the Giants national recreation trail.

We had our every-four-year All Staff Gathering up above Oakhurst, CA, which is within walking distance of Shadow of the Giants, where Giant Sequoias grow.  They were stunning.  Well, both my fellow missionaries in Servant Partners and the Sequoias were stunning, for different reasons, though from the same cause (if you follow me).  All Staff Gathering is like a tiny little foreshadowing of Heaven for me.  None of us are fully redeemed, of course, and I’m pretty sure actual Heaven will make me laugh at my comparison, but worshiping God with a bunch of people who have done crazy things to live the Gospel and have mind-bursting stories to tell about how God has shown up in their slums and in their lives is officially one of my favorite activities in the world! Being around passionate, ridiculous, hilarious Jesus followers makes me want to be more like Jesus.  I’m pretty sure that’s the point.

Sequoia_trees

I could go on with stories about the All Staff time.  I won’t, but if you see me, I probably will.  Sequoias, though.  Sequoias grow 270-300+ feet tall, weigh four million pounds, and live for 2,000 to 3,000 years.  I mean, from when Jesus Christ was born to a thousand years before that.  They are a sermon aching to be preached.  Over their lifetime, they grow and spread 60,000,000 (MILLION) seeds, of which perhaps 5 to 6 germinate and grow to be 100+ years.  But they are nearly impermeable to fire, which was borne out by their scars from fires (how many over 3,000 years?) which ran 25 or 30 feet up–but had no real impact at all.  They did no damage.  But the Giant Sequoia actually needs fire to help it’s seeds germinate and to clear the forest floor of other trees which otherwise take over and suppress sapling Giant Sequoias.  Anyone see parallels?  Anyone else considering all the kicking and screaming against hard situations and emotional turmoil, through which God actually brings something deeper to life in us?  Maybe those times, rather than killing us, are crucial to our growth?  Or that God needs to burn away the competing things in our lives before they choke out the crucial growth, the great growth he has planned for us.  Okay, maybe that’s just me.

As I said, Giant Sequoia seeds are tiny, and it takes millions and millions of them, over a vast number of years, with fire, to have a few trees grow.  But when those trees do grow–colossal.  Immense.  Breath-taking.  In His parable, Jesus describes all the seeds that will not grow to bear fruit, but “Other seed fell into good soil and brought forth grain, growing up and increasing and yielding thirty and sixty and a hundredfold.” (Mark 4:8) Walking in the Giant Sequoia grove and being able to touch them was simply an act of worship for me.  How do I become a follower of Jesus who can stand when the fire comes and not be burned down?  How can I learn to keep loving others and planting the 60,000,000 tiny seeds from which only a few may grow–but those may become breath-taking, jaw-dropping, world-changing.  How do I learn to believe in God’s goodness, his purposes coming about, through the fire?

That’s probably enough tree talk.  It moved me.
(Originally published on the Servant Partners Blog)
(Photo: “Sequoia trees”. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikipedia – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Sequoia_trees.JPG#/media/File:Sequoia_trees.JPG)