Transitions

The children from the missionary training had piled into the back of Gustavo’s pickup truck for a ride to the end of the lane. Though they had enjoyed the ride, they knew it was now time for the LONG (not really) walk back.

Little Micah came to me with shoulders hunched over and in his cutest 6-year-old-voice he told me “My legs are too tired to walk back.” I chuckled at him while Satomi suggested that if he couldn’t walk then maybe he could run. But he wasn’t buying it. “That’s more tiring than walking!” he exclaimed. And there he stood, determined not to take a single step.

“Do you want me to carry you?” I asked him. His face immediately brightened (as if he wasn’t FULLY expecting me to offer.) He jumped up and down and squealed with excitement when I told him I would put him on my shoulders.

I moved him to stand in front of me and instructed him to jump high so that I could hoist him up.

“One, two, THREE!” And up he went. He squealed again, but this time in fear rather than excitement.

The anticipated adventure had suddenly turned uncomfortably scary.

The moment his bottom landed on my shoulders, he clutched his arms around my chin with a death grip. I could feel the tension surging through his body.

“It’s really high up here!” he shouted. “You sure you can hold me? Am I going to fall?” he asked, his voice shaky. His feet dug into my armpits, and for a brief moment I considered putting him down. But I knew he was safe; I knew I had him, even if he wasn’t so sure. And so we continued on.

As we walked forward slowly, I reassured him. “I have you, Micah. You’re okay.” I put my hands on his back, holding him as tightly as he was holding me, not of necessity, but for his own peace of mind.

“Look at those trees!” I said, trying to draw his attention away from his fear. “Do things look different up there?” I asked.

“Ummm, yeah they do,” he answered. “I can see a lot from way up here.” We continued to walk forward and I felt his grip begin to relax. “Can you see all the way to the beautiful lake?” I asked.

He hesitantly removed one hand from my chin and pointed to it. “I can see really far. I think I like being up here!”

We laughed together.

I could feel his body slowly relaxing. He slouched down and rested his chin on top of my head, his arms wagging loose. Gradually his feet came out from under my arms.

“You can let go of my back,” he said, “I know I won’t fall now.” With that, he began to direct me to walk this way and that. Once again he was happy, he was comfortable, and he felt safe.

In that moment, Micah showed me something about transitions, and taught me a little more about God.

On Monday morning, I said farewell to Micah and his family and fifteen other missionary families. All of us are in the midst of transitions. We’re feeling excitement and fear and anxiety. There might even be some clutching and grasping, and probably lots of questions.

So my prayer for you Micah, Jin, and Kay; Reina, Serena, Andrew, and Janice; Jonathon, Satomi, and Yuka; Keihwan and Misook; Lily, Gustavo, Lilia, and Savi; Joanne; Janet; Luis Daniel; Lulu; Jean Paul; Carmen; Erica; Tazionepi; Sonia, and Quest is this:

May this time make you squeal with excitement and jump up and down. But when you clasp on in fear- may God reassure you with his strong arms and magnificent love. May your time of anxiety pass quickly. And may you very soon find yourself resting your chin, knowing you’re safe, and enjoying your new view.

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The Backpack

I rolled over.

‘I have to make a Geometry quiz and give them their papers back. Why wasn’t she at school again today? Tomorrow I’ll make that appointment, but when am I going to have time? Did I send the email? Why hasn’t I heard back? I need to write that paper.’

I reached for my phone, checked the time and did the math.

‘Five hours, twenty-one minutes. I should have gone to the gym. Crap, I left my lunch bag at school. I don’t have any vegetables. Did I turn off the hot water?’

I opened facebook and skimmed blindly.

‘Why did he say that? Did I make her angry? He’s going to hurt her. Should I talk to her? What if she gets mad at me? I shouldn’t have said anything.’

I put down the phone and rolled over again.

‘Those kids! They swarmed out of the elementary school carrying those backpacks that were every bit as big as they were. How cute it was to see the older kids take the hands of their brothers and sisters. The little one stood there looking like he needed a bathroom, impatient for his sister’s bubbly teenage conversation to finish.’

The scene from after school was bright in my mind.

‘What a chaotic mess! Cars were everywhere, little kids running through the street, dodging cars and looking for their rides.’

I chucked.

‘That little girl flung her backpack into the car and hit her mom square in the face. It looked like it took all her strength to get it through the window before she opened the door and plopped down in that seat. The mom didn’t miss a beat. In one motion she moved the heavy bag to the back, gave her daughter a hug, and called to her other son. What a good mom. That’s just how little kids are, aren’t they?’

I fluffed up my pillow.

‘How many times have I seen kids at the end of a school day unload the burden of their bags on their parents? And off they go to play, not a care on their minds. All that had been done that day forgotten and their homework left for later when mom or dad reminds them, after they’ve played, after they’ve rested, after they’ve eaten, when they can get help if they need it.’

I smiled.

“Come to me like little children.” “Cast your cares on the Lord.” “My yoke is easy; my burden is light.”

‘They’re doing it right.’

I rolled over again. I shoved all those thoughts in my mental backpack and handed them over, taking care not to smack my good father in the face.

‘Thank you.’

And I fell asleep.

Silent Night

I heard the sound of my FaceBook messenger ding and rolled over to look at my phone.

‘WHY DIDN’T YOU MAKE THE BERRY FILLING!?!?’

It was 5:03 in the morning and the message was from my roommate Anna. I laughed and wrote back ‘DO IT YOURSELF! I’m BUSY folding the pastries!’ I then pulled the covers over my head, hoping to catch a few more minutes of sleep before I started the day.

This messaging back and forth, from one room in the house to another, was a little game Anna and I had started back in August. When the bakers working below us yell back and forth in Arabic, we translate it for one another. When a semi-truck’s loud engine keeps us from being able to sleep, we tell each other what goods the truck is hauling. When cars squeal their tires over and over and over around the roundabout or drift down the straightaway of the main street or blare their radios to an appalling volume, we tell each other how macho they are or all about the girl they are trying to impress. This banter back and forth is our way of coping with the truth that keeps us awake:

There is no such thing as a silent night in Bethlehem.

I’m sorry to dispel any imaginings you might have had, but the images of a quaint little town of Bethlehem that we have sung about for decades is a lie. Bethlehem is big and bustling; its full of loud street vendors and pushy tourists. Traffic is slow moving with big busses and taxis hauling people into Manger Square by the hundreds. Long lines are always flowing out of the Church of the Nativity where people who have traveled thousands of miles wait, sometimes impatiently, to behold the place of our dear Savior’s birth. As they make their way down into the small cave there is not enough room for everyone, which often leads to elbowing and shoving- not exactly conducive to a tranquil moment of awe and wonder at the birthplace of our Lord. Pilgrims are instead subject to stares of “hurry up it’s my turn” and “get out of my way, I want to take a picture.” It’s not exactly peaceful.

It’s not only the noise and the physical crowdedness that inhibits the ability to experience peace in Bethlehem. The feeling of peace is also mightily squelched by the occupation. A 20-foot-high separation wall looms over and closes in the little town of Bethlehem, soldiers armed with automatic weapons drive armored vehicles through the streets, the smell and burn of tear gas hangs in the air, the spirit of oppression and hopelessness and sadness is pervasive.

Peace seems like a far-off idea.

The little town we sing about is not the Bethlehem of today. However, it wasn’t the Bethlehem of Jesus’ day, either.

Mary and Joseph returned to the City of David for the census; we would be naïve to think that they were alone. Hundreds of other families returned to the town as well. The streets were crowded, full of donkeys and carts and people. The town square was packed with loud merchants selling their goods and travelers who were pushy and anxious to buy what they needed. Homes were bursting with family members and guests; there was not enough room for everyone. Many were left without a place to stay and were forced to take residence in caves with the livestock. Not exactly a tranquil place to give birth to a child. The city was occupied under Roman rule with soldiers continually in the streets. Then, too, the spirit of oppression and hopelessness and sadness was pervasive.

Peace was a far-off idea.

But then, in the midst of chaos and commotion, in the crowdedness and the noise, in the anxiety and unease, Peace was born. Not effortlessly, but through great struggle, past fear and doubt, with patience and trusting and persistence, Mary and Joseph gave birth to the Prince of Peace. At first small and helpless, in need of protection and nurturing, but full of the promise of hope, joy and love.

The Silent Night that I sing now, with this new picture, is different. For me, it’s no longer a song about the past, when out of great necessity and longing peace entered the world. Instead, it’s a song about our call- when we, as followers of Christ, give birth to peace. It’s a reminder that in the midst of chaos and commotion, in the crowdedness and the noise, in the anxiety and unease, we have been chosen. The song encourages me that through this struggle, past fear and doubt, with patience and trusting and persistence, we usher in today’s silent nights full of the promise of hope, joy, and love.

My People

I was sweating. All the windows were open and the fans were on, but I was still as hot as I could be. The stove was cranked to the max and I was urging the second pot to come to a boil. ‘Did I read the recipe correctly? Is there something I had left out?’ I asked myself my mental checklist questions. I scanned the kitchen: the salads were topped, the bread was cut, the snacks were out. But something had vanished.

Just a few moments before the room had been bustling. People were laughing and asking what they could do to help. The refrigerator and cupboards were opened and closed again as each item taken out found its spot. The air had been heavy with the sound of chatter. But now everything was quiet and the kitchen was empty but for me and the meal. Finally, both were ready.

I turned the corner into the living room to invite everyone to come to eat and was struck by what I saw. I won’t soon forget that scene.

Eighteen adults were crowded onto two couches, a recliner, and a love seat. Their bodies were crammed into the small spaces while their arms rested on, under, and around each other. For some, their legs fought to keep their balance, and for others their legs did their best to stay out of anyone else’s way. Their eyes were fixed on Carolyn and their minds were fixed on the events of their first day in Palestine. Coming from their hearts was a seemingly palpable spirit of comfort and joy, of love and compassion. But what struck me most of all was the familiarity of their faces. They were the faces of my friends, the faces of my church family, the faces of my supporters and the faces of my encouragers.  And these faces were lighting up my living room.

I took a moment to take it in and to seal the image in my mind and in my heart. And then I took my place with them, with “my people.” I scooted in and squished myself between, happy and finally at home in the midst of them.