Friday, November 9, 2012

Chapter 56: Recording the Ways in Which He Seems to Work

One of the things that has been pressing on my mind lately is the strange way that certain moments and decisions have a huge effect on our lives.

When I was in college, I needed to get a job. I applied at lots of restaurants, since I had experience as a waiter, but none of them were hiring. So I started looking elsewhere for work. My roommate was working at a group home for developmentally disabled adults. I didn’t think I wanted to work there, since I had heard a lot of stories about how hard it was, and I honestly didn’t think I would be able to cope.

But I decided to apply anyhow. Decision one.

I got the job. I really liked working there, even though the job was messy at times. But it was a great working environment and my coworkers were wonderful people.

The nature of the job, however, meant that there always had to be 2 people at the house. And that didn’t always work, since we were often short-staffed. I picked up extra shifts and didn’t realize that in doing so, I was jeopardizing my learning. I didn’t have as much time to work on school, and it stressed me out, but only in a few classes (with a particular teacher who I will call Dr. Pembroke).

After several years of classes with Dr. Pembroke, and working at this group home, I finally got to the point where I was working 55 hours a week (though 14 of those were sleeping hours), going to school full time, doing my pre-student teaching, and being president of the college choir. Looking back now, I don’t know what I was thinking.

But I decided that the thing that needed to loosen up was my homework, since I could give a little in that area. Decision two.

So I didn’t do my all-out best on a big project. I still did it and worked hard on it, but not my best. Dr. Pembroke gave me 17 points on the project. Out of 200. Harsh. And totally unmerited, in my opinion. If I had turned it in to another one of my professors, I would have gotten a B, maybe a C.

Needless to say I failed the class and had to repeat it. But I was supposed to do my student teaching the next semester. That got put on hold. Graduation would be delayed by a semester.

I had been communicating with a school in Alaska. They had been interested in me and even had a 4th grade position lined up and ready for me in the fall. But that wouldn’t work anymore.

If I had not made those decisions, I would have gone to Alaska during the summer. I would never have visited camp and met Laurel, my girlfriend. We got to know each other during the time when I would have been in Alaska.

If I had not made those decisions, I would have been in Alaska and not heard about the job in Nigeria. I would never have gone there and seen that perhaps He is calling me elsewhere. I would have maintained my tunnel vision focused on the continent of Africa.

If I had not made those decisions, I would not have come to China. I would not have even considered moving to Asia. I would not have met any of the wonderful people I know and love here.

You know, when I think back on my story, I can see so clearly that His Hand is guiding me. I don’t know what’s going on in your life right now. I might not even know who you are or where you are from.

But I know that His plan is always good for those who love Him - for those who call Him Lord. I know that even the dirt and shame of our past can be used for His glory.

So though you may be filled with joy or sorrow, peace or shame, know that His way is always best. Really. He doesn't leave us to drown in uncertainty; but He tells us, in no uncertain terms, that He is with us. And in the end, even though there may be tears and brokenness now, he has given us a beautiful inheritance - that we can know and love Him through the sacrifice of His Son.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Chapter 55: On Choices, Confession, and that Next Step

One of the things I have noticed about my walk with Him lately is that it is actually a choice.
- I can choose to read His Word, or I can choose to fill my time with other things (that, frankly, border on the fatally dull at times).
- I can choose to spend time interceding and praising, or I can choose to have a heart that is busy and made of stone.
- I can choose to ask for help from Him or others, or I can bumble along like an ape in a glass menagerie.

One of the more difficult choices for me, but one that I have been having to come back to a lot recently has been the choice to see and confront my pride.

Stupid pride. Gets in the way of relationships and keeps real growth from happening in my life. Keeps me from running to Him when I stumble, mostly because I hate that I'm-not-even-remotely-as-self-sufficient-as-I-think-I-am feeling.

But if I can just admit that I'm wrong. Admit that I don't have it all together. Admit that I regularly return to my own vomit, then everything is ok. It all works out well, right? I've slapped my own hands and sent myself to the Corner of False Humility. The admission of sin is enough.

But, the thief's admission loses something, you see, when his hands are working to steal even as he finishes his confession. 

Repent - A word that society has made into a lunatic on the street corner's cry.

Repent - A word that He has made into a call to hope - hope that we do not have to remain as we are, but that He gives us the power to throw aside the chains He long ago destroyed, and see the beauty of following Him.

Does He relentlessly love the ones He called? Yes.
Does He require a certain quota of good deeds or repented sins? No.
Are we who are His still covered by His grace? Yes.
All the more reason to repent. 

And here it comes back to the choices in my life. I can choose to repent of my sin, or I can choose to simply admit that it's there. So now comes the hard part. . .

What choices do you make, and, more importantly, are they the right ones?

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Chapter 54: On Injustice, Superheroes, and House Maids

Many of my friends in America just started school, but this is already my fourth week of school. It was a good and a challenging summer. It has helped me see more clearly the shape that the next few years might be taking.

One of the things that has been on my heart heavily is the issue of injustice. This world is full of it, and it's pretty clear from His Book that we are meant to fight against that. I heard a great message this summer from a great friend here about this topic. He talked about how injustice is perpetuated by selfishness. As soon as my personal interest takes a part in the justice I am trying to show, it is no longer justice.

Now, Zack and I just watched The Avengers. Amazing movie. I forgot how subtly (and not so subtly) funny it is. But the justice portrayed there and in other superhero settings is imperfect. The justice we learn about in His Book is not based in acting out our own judgments and fighting those people who are serving injustice, but rather in seeking to aid those who are the victims of that injustice.

I watched and read The Help this summer as well. If you haven't seen it, move it right on up to the top of that movie list. Again, imperfect justice there, but it still has helped to open my eyes to what injustice is around me that I might be missing. And there is a lot of it.

How can I serve justice to those for whom it has been denied? How can I grow more closely in my relationship with Him so that I may see what He sees and act as He would have me act? How can I be more just? Where in my life am I ignoring injustice?

It's that last one that worries me. Because I can point out specific places in my past where I have done just that. When I was in the U.S., I didn't help any of the foreigners in the Cities even though I knew I should. After living as a foreigner, I know now how much of a difference support from the local people means. And when I was in college, I served at a center for inner city children. But it was only to complete the requirements for a class. And even then, it was done reluctantly. My heart wasn't in it to actually help serve justice to those children.

So if I have been apt to ignore injustice in the past, it stands to reason that I could be ignoring it now. But where? This is how He has been leading me - to pay closer attention to the people and circumstances around me. I'm still not there, but I'm at least paying attention to it now.

So the question is how will He use this to use me?
 How will he use you?

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Chapter 53: Concerning the First Birthday of the Author's Niece

My niece turned 1 today. I haven't met her yet. I wish I could be there as she learns how to walk and talk. But I'm also thankful that her parents and older brothers do SO much to take care of her. I know she'll be amazing!

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Chapter 52: Being the Dark and Mysterious Tale of Helen the Chicken

In my last post I referenced a story for another time. As promised, here is that story. This is that other time. 

The following is based on a true story that took place in the winter of 2009 and 2010. While names and events depicted are mostly accurate, some minor details including the thoughts of the characters have been changed to help the flow of the story. This story is rated PG-13.

Helen* was a chicken. 

She was born at a hatchery in Ibadan, Nigeria. She had all of the normal features of a baby chick, but she also had a spotted leg^. She was taken home by a fifth grade class along with 149 of her brothers and sisters. All of her brothers and sisters except 25 went to children's homes where some lived long(-ish) full(-ish) lives and others lived even shorter, less full lives.

But Helen and her 25 brothers and sisters stayed in a shower stall - enjoying their heat lamp; their food; the water they could play in, drink from and befoul; and the pleasant company which only a chick can bring.

Unfortunately for poor Helen, her neck was crooked, and her spotted leg had a limp. So while all of her siblings were running around and enjoying their first few days of life in the shower stall, Helen was not. She would sit and watch the other chicks enjoying themselves and she decided at that moment that she would be different.

The chicks soon grew to be too large for a shower stall, so they moved to the small coop outside. It was next to the Kindergarten where the chickens could watch the children play and vice versa. But the change was hard on some of the chickens, and soon their numbers dwindled.

Sixteen chickens, including Helen, made it through that first week outside in the elements. No longer enjoying the warmth and comfort of their shower stall, they had to deal with the harsh elements of the dry season in Africa - blisteringly hot and painfully dry. But the chickens persevered. And Helen knew that the time had come for her to be . . . different.

One morning, the guards found the body of one of Helen's brothers mangled in the bushes far away from the coop. Thinking that an animal had gotten into the coop, they ran to check on the rest of the birds. The other fifteen were still there. No holes in the chicken wire. No signs of forced entry. No cracks in the roof.

Confused by this situation, the guards decided to leave the case as an unsolved mystery. Helen didn't complain. Nor did her siblings. They didn't even complain when one of their number dropped dead in their cage overnight from unknown causes (the autopsy was canceled due to the fact that the body in question was, in fact, a chicken).

Over the course of the next few weeks, Helen's brothers and sisters dwindled slowly and just as mysteriously until one day, there was no one left except Helen.

And then, miracle of miracles, Helen's spotted leg no longer limped. Her neck was no longer crooked. She was as fine a specimen as you could wish for in a chicken (well, except for the spotted leg and fratricidal tendencies^^).

Helen lived for a good long while in her coop. She enjoyed the life she now had. Alone. Different.

But justice even reaches to the animal kingdom. . .

The orange sun rose on that fateful day, over the Harmattan haze hanging in the air. It shed its faded light on a chicken coop where justice was being served.

The guard named Sunday was making his morning rounds. He walked around the Kindergarten building to ensure that all was well. But as soon as he came to Helen's chicken coop, he knew that there was trouble in the henhouse. For there, right in front of his eyes, a black figure twitched and writhed. The figure's skin looked to be crawling with, nay, was crawling with black ants! When Sunday looked closer, he saw the truth - Helen was being devoured alive by an army of soldier ants - twitching in her final throes. He fenced off the area to protect the children from the ants and the horror he had witnessed.

So ended Helen the chicken killer. The evil that bird committed was as great as her life was short.

*Helen's name was not chosen by me. I would not have picked my grandmother's name for a chicken. Helen was actually named after the mother of Constantine.
^Added for emphasis and identification
^^While the author greatly suspects fratricidal tendencies, this is speculation and not grounded in any substantiated proof. If anyone has any different information about the Ibadan Chicken Killer of 2010, information can be sent to the author at the address listed above.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Chapter 51: In Which the Author Chooses a Random Moment to Turn an Introspective Eye on the Past Year of His Life, Recount the Findings in a Numbered List (While He Drinks a Cup of Homemade Chai), and Add Extraneous Detail to Make, Perhaps, the Longest Title This Blog Has Ever Seen

What have you learned about yourself in the last year? What new things have you discovered? Any surprises? I've had more than a few.

For my friends who appreciate numbered lists, here is a shortened account of some of my not-so-shocking-to-everyone-else-but-shocking-to-me revelations about myself:

1. I have learned that I am a one-upper.* Evidently, I have a story for every situation (not true, but I seem to have told a ridiculous number of stories this year). Someone in the group says something about parasites, a fear of butterflies, TV, anything related to extreme cold or extreme heat, urine, vomit, or jellyfish, and I'm all over that like the ants were all over poor Helen (and that's a story for a different time). And these stories are always going a step further than the one before. I'm a one-upper.

2. I have learned to hold a more realistic view of my singing ability. When I was in middle school, I was the best singer that had ever walked the planet. How I had not already been signed up to be on a T.V. show like Making the Band was beyond me. In college, sure I was in choir, but I really wasn't a good singer at all. I was forcing the air or out of tune 100% of the time. This year, I've come to a healthy medium. I know I'm not amazing, but I also know that I have been given a gift.

3. I'm influenced greatly by the people around me. Not so much my decisions as my personality itself. I'm around a group of witty, humorous people - I am witty and humorous. I am around people who are more interested in peace and quiet - I'll be the quietest and peaciest person you ever did see**. This happens with my students, too; if the class enjoys laughing, I'm the stand-up comedian math teacher. With my class that is considerably more somber - I am more straightforward and to the point (read: "boring"). It's shocking to me to learn this. I am surprised how much I can change in a single day!

4. This is the most important one. I have learned that I am just not content when I'm distant from Him. Duh, Warren. But it's true. Things I used to love are less exciting. The novelty of traveling wears off. The joy of living in a new place is dulled. The beauty of a hill or a leaf or the peace that comes with the rain - all of these are like the middle of Groundhog Day: boring, too often repeated, and leaving me wishing I had spent my time doing something else. . . Unless I am close to Him. 
Like every other person who follows Him, I have had my ups and downs. And I will continue to have them until this body is healed and glorified. But I keep learning and remembering that the beauty of this world is pointless without Him. The joy of friendships and the happiness of song are nothing when my heart is far from His. I wish I could remember this more often.

So what have you learned about yourself?

* This also applies to name-dropping. I'll unfortunately (and usually unintentionally) drop names all day long.
**I also learned I like to exaggerate.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Chapter 50: How Godric Reminded the Author of the Truth

When I was in Nigeria, a great friend came to visit. We had a short time together, but it was a highlight of my time there. We talked, made meals, played games, and toured my city. I even made her an Americanized version of Nigerian food.

And at the end, she gave me two books, one of which was her favorite novel - Godric by Frederick Buechner. I put it on my list of books to read and tried to read it many times. But something always kept me from getting past the first chapter.

When I went to Korea last week, I was determined to finish the book even if it took the whole trip. . .  I finished the book in a day and a half.

I was expecting a good read (my friend has excellent taste), but I wasn't expecting to identify so closely with the character of Godric.

Godric is a rogue. He's a man who pretends to be a saint, but uses people for his own purposes. He has many downfalls, and he is far from perfect.


He finds the Truth through one of his money-making ventures. And he follows that Truth.

Over and over and over again, Godric makes mistakes. He messes up in lots of big ways. You pretty much name a sin and Godric had done it at some point in his life. But over and over again he comes back to the Truth. He realizes the error of his ways and ends up being used greatly by the Father.

I am not like Godric in a lot of ways, but I am in this - I sin.
A lot.

Godric reminded me of something I have known since I first found the Truth. His love is not an oops-you-made-one-too-many-mistakes-and-now-I-cannot-love-you-anymore love. His grace is not extended only to those who sin in "small" ways. His grace and mercy are extended to the worst of us (even me!) and in showing that compassion and love, He is shown to be so much greater.

This body of death that I am renting is prone to fondle the very serpent which would devour it.
The old man awakens at the worst times - trying to mock the things I respect most.
The lies of the enemy are ever in my ears trying to turn me from what is good and real.

But the Truth of his unlimited grace and forgiveness is where I will put my faith.
The knowledge that He is a great rescuer who rescues me from myself is where I put my hope.
The love that comes freely from his hands and feet is where I will return to wash and love in return.