August 28, 2012

Playing catch-up

I'm all out of words these days and it's just enough to make me batty. Because it's in the words, and it's in the getting them down, that I make sense of life all around me.

So when there aren't any? I'm all clouded up, in a fog. 

But I think maybe I'm missing all of these faces and I think I'm ready to talk. The end of summer is pressing in and we've done well here. Tanned little bodies and a backyard full of bats, balls, butterfly nets, bug jars. In the everyday hours, my feet waded in the river and my knees bounced a boy at the pool. We ran in too-tall grass out back, swatted at monster mosquitoes. We blew endless bubbles and I lost, over and over, to a four year-old at Old Maid. She laughed hysterically every time, fell over backward, when I pulled that old hag from her hand. We blended smoothies and I tricked them right before their eyes, tossing in handfuls of spinach, avocados. We traveled and summer-camped, watched Gabby and co. flip for Gold.

Life, this summer, was good. Mind and body, we were all in. My heart, however, has been keeping it's own time ... trying hard to catch up.

When I got off that plane all jet-lagged and beaded-up, a friend said I didn't have to have any answers. He said, "When people ask what the trip meant to you? Tell them, 'I'll let you know in three years.'" And I laughed nervous and thought, "Well that would be really rude." But the truth is?

I might have to tell you in three years.

On the surface, our team touched down and we served long days, long lines. We pushed through and then re-boarded a plane. It was quick and methodical. But I've spent my life pouring over statistics and books and relief organizations: praying that Jesus would feed his hungry, fill hearts and bellies, stop the brutality, ease the oppression. I waited for the time to go and see, touch, look someone in the eyes. Just. Learn. Something. And while I was there, I was all there: body, mind and spirit.

Hands and feet, finally.

And now? I'm looking at little faces in my kitchen and we're flipping pancakes. And all the while, those other faces hang in my mind. Lovely faces. And while I'm listening to my girl explain why koalas sleep all day, I'm hearing Mandela Beatrice in Uganda. How she waited all night at age six, the same age as my girl. How her parents never came home. How it was the LRA and an ambush. How she longs for a mother to rub lotion on her back, buy her a bar of soap. How she sang right then and there: "I'll never leave my Lord"... then asked me to pray everyday for her future.

I'm thinking of a fifteen year old with a daughter turning one. An orphan- turned- mother and who really needs all of the details? I told her she was a wonderful mama, the way she bounced and sang to her girl, blew raspberries on her tummy.

I'm remembering Bweyale, a resettlement camp, and the metal fence dividing the Compassion school children in green from the refugee children in rags. The two women who smiled like the sun-  peaceful eyes, warm words, beautiful English. They held my hands and told how they walked from Sudan. Walked. How they fled from war. Lost children along the way.

They spoke of how it won't matter if there is peace some day. They won't go north again.

So I'm here and life is good, more than good. I'm just in a bit of limbo, in the healthiest sort of way.  I'm not angry or despondent or detached. My heart just got home a bit later than my feet and that old fire in my bones is raging. I'm restless and trusting God who is here and there. Trusting I didn't spark the fire on my own.
I'm thinking on those faces and all of the joy, beauty amidst strife, across an ocean and I'm resisting the urge to frantically DO. I'm choosing to cool off and quiet down by staying close to the One who knows and sends and preserves life. I'd like to get back on a plane or earn a new degree. I'd like to hold up a megaphone.  

But just for today: I'm trusting that He knows how often they cross my mind. I'm trusting that they don't ever leave His. I'm reading and learning and telling. I'm waiting quiet, praying with zeal like it all depends on me ... knowing full well that it does not. 

And I'm remembering all of the faithful who are scattered over this planet- loving, serving, risking, reconciling, advocating, chronicling, innovating for change. I'm remembering that God is not absent, nor is He silent. He is present in all ways, in all places, at all times. He is visible. He is tangible ...

in His people.

August 14, 2012

For the hungry heart

I learned, as a girl, to believe in the promises of God- learned how to trust. My mom spoke Jeremiah 29:11 over us and I scribbled the same reminder in the front flap of all my journals:

Hope against hope, I trust in You.

And sometimes it can feel downright insane to trust in what you can't see - when life just seems all wrong. Sometimes, trusting in "what will be" is the only way through.  

As a high school senior I couldn't see beyond the next twenty-four hours. I wanted to believe in the promises of God when all went haywire. I wanted to believe He had a plan, maybe even a back-up too. I had messed up and I needed to know that all would be well.

Because from where I stood, the  locusts were feeding on my days and on my future. I needed to know He would buy back what time was devouring. 

When I was seventeen I walked New York City with a youth pastor who served up grace and truth like no one I've met since. We had walked the streets of Quito just one year before and our conversation was still going. He fearlessly led our group of teens to the city. We slept in rows and our sleeping bags overlapped on the second floor of a men's homeless shelter.

For ten days we called The Bowery Mission "home". By day we served up steaming plates and then washed them again. We painted walls and stairwells, gave out sandwiches and soap on the Midnight Run.
Each day, the men filed into Bowery chapel pews, always a precursor to a hot, free meal. And for some reason they invited us to lead worship ... us white kids from white suburbia.

We did our trembling best.

But really, they led us and when we looked out into their faces, all we really knew was that we didn't know a thing.

Because those men walked in off the streets and they were glad to open their mouths for praise before they ever opened them for food. They bellowed six simple words that soared up to the heights, cut right to my core. The men meant what they sang. And I felt hollow.

It is well with my soul.

I stared straight ahead and my eyes welled up. I tried to sing but that sound of their words ... it plunged into deep places. And I envied them.

I needed it to be well with my soul too.  

We walked up and down Bowery Street in July heat and the city smelled of concrete and rubber, exhaust and stale urine. My eyes blurred and stung while I cried on the inside for some soul healing.
All the while, I couldn't eat. Not at The Bowery, not anywhere. Not for a good year before and not for several after. Not well, at least. Never letting myself get full ... my hungry heart starving right out in the open.

by LuciaM

Each night, bakery trucks rolled up to the curb and we met them outside, assembly-line ready. The pastries, breads, donuts and bagels hauled in from all over the city, just twelve hours stale and unsold. The men who were hungry for a sweeter life fed on the city's finest treats. And those sweet smells crazed me and the youth pastor watched real close, watched me pine away and pass them along the line, right under my nose. He wondered with grief while I denied myself anything good at all.

But the men were thankful. They fed their mouths and filled their guts with the bounty. It was the city's goodness and they swallowed it down as if it were God's.

And it was. 

It's strange now, how my memories of that time aren't so much about homeless men ...
but of hungry me.

That pastor walked me through Central Park and through The Met. We looked at art and I told him how my life seemed to be turning out all wrong, one grey/green sloppy brush-stroke at a time. I forgot about hope and a future. I was disappearing into shadows, my self melting into my mistakes. He offered plain bagels and he pulled out his bible right there in the middle of the city.
He said how sorry he was, acknowledged the hunger. And he offered me Jesus.  

It has been sixteen years since I slept hungry in New York City. But a few weeks ago, I drove down Bowery Street.

On the way to a birthday surprise with friends, the street sign caught my eye and the moment snuck right up. And I hadn't been back since my heart has been well. Suddenly there we were, away from home and on city streets.

And can't Jesus prove a promise kept at any moment He chooses?

Because for the better part of July, we'd been living in a cabin in the woods. We' been working for friends who said "come." I played camp nurse while my family played hard.  

We lived simple on our friends' Pocono property where kids pulled in by the busload all summer long. Weighed down by heavy living, they stepped out of New York City concrete and into God's creation. They came hungry and hoping, unable to name the deeper need. They sang by campfires, slept in cabins. They prayed to crazy rhythms I still can't find and, at Fort Plenty, they ate their fill.

They came to me with belly aches and tears and it wasn't a nurse they really needed.
Because I can recognize Homesick and Hungry when I see it.

And for a few sweet weeks, we sat back and watched their souls fill right up.

For each of the seven days they came, they took in mounds of love, heaps of encouragement. They drank down God's promises over broken lives.

Promises that are hard to conceive of ... near crazy to believe.
They sat in a chapel where the praise went up and the light streamed in. They heard about a plan and they imagined a future. They listened and believed as others spoon fed the hope.

And I didn't catch the irony until we drove Bowery Street that night, the four of us together. Our closest friends for all these years, all this time ... this camp. They work for The Bowery.

So when we took a night off to celebrate, we made our way toward their headquarters, toward the city. We sat on hot concrete and we talked of time and change and friendship. I held my husband's hand while we marveled over our children who slept back at camp, how our God knew long ago about their plans for a hope and future. How He knew about our plan.

How He knew about mine.

We laughed hard and sang loud in the backseat. We ate cannolis and gelato, shared cappuccino. I was filled with all things good and my God made sure the moment wasn't lost on me. My husband and the others kept right on talking while my eyes stung quiet in the backseat. I took it all in: the heat and the smells and all the bounty that's been mine since then. This time, when the sweet smell of grace passed under my nose, I inhaled it long.

I received all the good and I whispered "thank you" from a satisfied place.

Later that night, we drove from Little Italy and back towardcamp. I brushed remnants of city sweets from my teeth, washed July sweat from my skin. Our drive past Bowery Street had been inconsequential for the others. I didn't fill them in. But for me? It was the sweetest celebration of the night:

a celebration of a God who keeps promises,
a God who fills empty spaces,
a God who is always enough.

It has been sixteen years since I was hungry in New York City.

And I'm not hungry anymore.
It is well with my soul. 

Thankful today for Rich and Suzy- for showing Jesus in radical ways, for celebrating life so well. Grateful to Dave S. who walked and talked with Truth and Grace. And humbled for the privilege to serve among the all-stars of Mont Lawn Camp. Thanks for loving His kids, every single day. 

August 3, 2012

Come in close for the filling

My girl climbed into our bed this morning and she wrapped her arms around my waist, pressed her little legs against mine. She brushed the bottoms of her feet up and down along my shin and calf, patted the small of my back with her teeny palm. Connecting with every limb. 

She whispered "good morning" and "I just love you, mama." Then she flip-flopped to her other side- scooched backward even closer and right into my curve. And it doesn't seem so long ago that I cradled her here every second ... all wrapped and growing in multiplying mother-love. This morning she whispered like a little pal while she inched closer, her spine meeting my chest.

Determined for togetherness.

Then she reached behind her, grabbed my dangling arm, and pulled it right over her waist. Enveloped.

My girl wore me like a blanket.

And just the night before I asked her a "would you rather ...?" It's their silly question-asking game and it's our way to get a pulse from time to time. She replied, "Oh, a hug. A hug. I would rather have a hug!" Because I'm always wondering how to best fill these little folks. And this one? She is a time and touch girl. Even more, she knows when her "love-tank" is running low.

We haven't done the communal sleep thing here, not in all six of our kid years. "This is our special place," we have always said. Sometimes, though, this wee one finds her way into our warm, close space. She seeks out proximity, the filling up that comes from contact.

We are under sheets and her wispy hair mingles on my pillow. Her back rises and falls with my belly. She is all wrapped up and hidden and when she comes in close this way? I can practically hear her little heart filling up to the brim.

'Cause I am a touch girl too, and when my Todd hugs me tight I giggle and make the same sound every time: "bloop, bloop, bloop" like a bubble rising to the surface ... it's my tank filling to the top. And he knows when I'm out of steam and when to embrace well.

My girl sat up with new purpose this morning, flung off the sheets and spun to meet me. She kissed my nose the Eskimo way and said it plain: "Now that is the best way to start the day."

She hopped out and she was off. Dressed-up in mom love and ready to go. I didn't rise as quickly and I wondered ... how do I keep inviting her, all of them, into this space? Not our bed, per se, but into closeness, into safety for the filling.

How do I stay filled up, invite them into the overflow? Because there are days when I just don't got it. There are days when even my husband doesn't come in for a hug. No ... these days it looks more like a backing away slowly.

But really? We weren't meant to fill. We were meant to spill.

And when the tank is on empty ... we don't invite in. We repel.

So how do I give good mother-love when I've simply got nothing at all?  And how, in these school days coming, these growing years passing ... how in the world do I (we) stay filled?

How do I teach them to put on God? To wear Him like a blanket. How do we all wrap up, live in, a Father embrace? How do we find him at the start of a day and then hold on, tucked inside and under?

Isn't it the closeness that fills us up and isn't it in the together-space that we grow? Secure, sure, safe.
Isn't He always inviting us into an embrace? Waiting to fill us right up and over?

I'm thinking on curriculum and a school year, what can feel like chronic fatigue, small groups, and how to go out into the world right here in my town. I'm wondering how to serve three children and a man and how to keep heart tanks brimming. I get tired.

And I've got to have something to spill. I've got to have some togetherness.

This morning I started with a fresh reminder from a girl of four who whispered it right and well-- right into my morning rising:

Just come in close and put on God.

Wear Him like a blanket today, right now, every moment. Wrap up in His sure covering.
And in the quiet space of sure love, get filled up.

Then ... go and spill over.

Yes, I am certain. This is the best way, the only way, to start a day.

"But as for me, it is good to be near God." Psalm 73:28

We do a lot of love-tank assessing around here. You can read more about Gary Chapman's Five Love Languages here. And perhaps we can begin chatting again, you and me? I know it's been a while.(I've missed you!!) Want to talk about how to put on God? How do you start your day, friends?