A Day for Remembering

Memorial DayThe letters PATH were crudely carved into the wooden door of the garage. That door was painted many times during my childhood so the indentations weren’t as sharp as when first “engraved” by a pre-adolescent boy when he had obviously become bored with adult conversation and the toddler girl who preferred playing with dolls.

I heard the story through the years. Pat and his parents had driven from Detroit to our home in the country for a visit. The adults, involved in renewing their friendship, were unaware of the boy’s artistic adventure and his parents were horrified upon the discovery. My mother said that my dad, who loved children, simply laughed and said something to the effect, “Now we have something to always remind us of Pat.” Words carrying importance beyond their utterance.

Why this story on Memorial Day? Because years after the incident described above, I accompanied my parents to attend a military funeral in Detroit. For Pat Hoffman. I remember little of the service except for the haunting melody of “Taps.” To this day, unexpected tears begin when I hear those notes.  It’s not patriotism. It’s remembering.

For those who have experienced the loss of a family member, especially for those who have lost a military family member, this day is not just about barbecues and baseball games. It is day when, regardless of political convictions, of opinions about war, we stop for a moment and intentionally think about those no longer with us. Not everyone has carved initials as reminders, but we all remember something. Take a few minutes today—no matter how painful—and bring those memories to the surface. Stop. Think. Remember. Perhaps weep. And be grateful.

Home Sweet Home?

Refugee Boy w: FoodI admit it: I am a homebody. Unlike my husband who  itches to return to the road shortly after suitcases have been unloaded and accumulated mail sorted, I thoroughly enjoy being within the walls of our condo. Oh, I could wish for a roomier space for my desk and a dining area expanded to accommodate more than six people, but generally I’m quite content to live my life at this address with herbs on the patio, fireplace for the winter and pictures on the walls.

However, as a follower of Jesus, I also want to be flexible enough that should he say, “Move,” I would be ready to pick up and follow his call. (Without too much grumbling!) But the other day in our local paper I saw the picture above. Here’s the Associate Press description: An ethnic Rohingya boy carries a plate in his hands as he walks past migrants queuing up for their meals during breakfast time at a temporary shelter in Lapang, Indonesia… More than 1,600 migrants and refugees from Myanmar (formerly known as Burma) and Bangladesh have landed on the shores of Malaysia and Indonesia in the past week and thousands more are believed to have been abandoned at sea, floating on boats with little or no food after traffickers literally jumped ship fearing a crackdown. (AP Photo/Binsar Bakkara)

This is a boy with no home. No herbs. No fireplace. No pictures. Quite literally, no one—no country—wants him.

What do I do with pictures like this? Do I quickly turn the page to read new political diatribes? Do I re-settle myself on the couch to check sales at the mall? How about easing any twinges of guilt with NIMBY thinking? In case you don’t recognize those initials, they stand for Not In My Backyard, a negative description used by residents when a proposal for a new development is planned near them, believing that the development may be needed in society but should be farther away. In this case, we look at the picture, acknowledge the need it represents but simply say, “Someone else can take care of it. It’s not my responsibility.”

Or maybe I should gaze at the picture long enough to imagine the feelings of the boy as he carefully balances that red bowl filled with…what? Perhaps rice or ground root similar to cassava or taro? Is this his only meal of the day? Note that no one in the food line is rushing out to grab the child’s food. They know that his belly is as empty as their own.

Or should I cut out the picture and place it on a cupboard door so that when I go into my small but more-than-adequate kitchen tonight to put finishing touches on the meal that’s been simmering in the crockpot, I stop to pray for the child and thousands more like him who have no Home Sweet Home. In my praying so I honestly ask God how he wants me to replicate Jesus’ goal, to …proclaim good news to the poor, freedom for prisoners, recovery of sight for the blind, freedom for the oppressed… Am I ready to obediently move out of my comfort zone? Off my couch? Away from my fireplace?

For more pictures to pierce the soul, check http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/05/14/boat-people-photos_n_7283178.html

No Translation Needed

How Great Thou ArtIt happened many years ago but I remember it as though it were yesterday. My husband and I, my husband’s parents and his sister and brother-in-law were in Mexico. We enjoyed a few days in the beautiful city of Cuernavaca, appropriately called The City of Eternal Spring. Brilliant fuchsia and gold flowers clinging to walls transformed them into Georgia O’Keefe-like portraits and when we awakened each morning to find the grass around our hotel damp from showers that only occurred overnight, we from the Midwestern United States thought we had discovered Eden.

Our hosts suggested that we might like visiting Taxco, a city best known for its silver. Buses run from Cuernavaca to Taxco but we found that hiring a taxi for the six of us would be safer and just about the same cost. Soon a friendly young man arrived with his aging but seemingly adequate car and all six of us squeezed in. Our driver spoke not one word of English and the only Spanish known to our party was ALTO, the word prominently displayed on the red octagonal intersection signs and which one of our party (to remain unidentified!) shouted when oncoming traffic seemed oblivious to the fact that these Americans were unaccustomed to the free wheeling driving technique employed—and enjoyed—in Mexico at that time.

Soon we left city streets and began cruising through beautiful, rolling countryside. At one point our driver pulled down the window visor and, smiling ear to ear, pointed to a picture of a small child. Clumsy hand motions finally helped us understand that this was his daughter and even this hands-only awkward “conversation” revealed that she was the joy of his life.

Then our driver rolled down his window, pointed off to the hills and started singing unfamiliar words but to a melody that all of us knew so well. Within seconds seven people, from distant lands and even more distant experiences, in two languages, began singing together:

O Lord my God, when I in awesome wonder,
Señor, mi Dios, al contemplar los cielos
Consider all the worlds Thy hands have made;
El firmamento y las estrellas mil.
I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder,
Al oir tu voz en los potentes truenos
Thy power throughout the universe displayed.
Y ver brillar al sol en su cenit.

 Then sings my soul, my Savior God, to Thee,
Mi corazon, entona esta cancion
How great Thou art! How great Thou art!
Cuan grande es Él. Cuan grande es Él.

At the conclusion of all four stanzas, a holy silence descended. This car which probably would pass no U.S. inspection was transformed into a temple and we had a foretaste of how final hymns of praise with “every tribe and nation” will resound one day through the heavens. With no translation needed.

“She’s Gone”

Jeaneen“She’s gone.” That was the text message our son sent a week ago today. Jeaneen, his wife’s beautiful sister who had fought cancer for almost two years, quietly breathed her last. Her sisters, parents, husband and children now walk without her. They will all experience—in vastly differing ways—the “normal” reactions to grief. Shock and denial, almost constant, overwhelming thoughts of the one so loved, perhaps despair and depression. Yes, I know the Bible says we don’t “grieve like the rest of mankind” because our hope is in Christ, but “she’s gone” will pervade, even invade, their minds and hearts for long days ahead. In our family, it was months—years for some—before we could remember our loved one with laughter, before we could admit his foibles as well as his fortitude.

To live in the reality of Gone without succumbing to self pity or despair is so very hard. Jeaneen’s husband will get up each morning for work. Even with all the support from extended family, he must learn how to comb his daughter’s hair, be a perceptive dad to a sad son, cheer on his children’s teams. His tears will soak his pillow as he learns how to be a once-married man. Gone is real.

Jesus’ friend, Martha, caught it well. “If you had been here…” Jesus had not come “in time” and so Gone had come. Then Mary, the more contemplative sister, the one who sat at Jesus’ feet in adoration, repeated the thought, “If you had been here…” Jesus hadn’t come and Gone became reality.

When Gone is the path in which we walk, psychologists tell us to do the next thing. Spiritual advisors encourage us to trust, believe and perhaps—some day in the distant future—rejoice. It’s too soon to advise those living in the Gone to look at things from God’s perspective, to imagine deep within the soul Jeaneen whole and happy with Jesus. But soon—soon as seen by God—they will find that Gone has lost its power because Jesus is totally, realistically, lovingly, mysteriously filling the space.