Monday, May 6, 2013

love and life

My first understanding of wild love came with the birth of our firstborn, my only daughter.

After 2 hours of pushing, and the threat of a trip to the operating room, this beautiful, pink, screaming girl was delivered into my life, and into my heart, and I'd never known love like that before.

Instantly I understood how much my parents loved me. Why they protected us. Why they worked hard to provide for us. Why my mom stayed up late, stenciling "ESPRIT" on a white sweatshirt from Kmart, so I could have a designer sweatshirt like the other 5th-graders. She loved me like crazy.

It doesn't matter whether your babies came from your body, or came from another: when you become a mama, and when those little munchkins wrap themselves around your heart, your understanding of love changes. Suddenly you get it, on a totally different level.

I write about love, because I have been loved and cared for my entire life. And the knowledge, or revelation, rather, that there are MANY who don't know that love, or protection, or security makes me woozy.

As I read about orphanages and slums and girls being beaten and sold for money, my stomach lurches and I wonder if my heart can take it. I never knew. I mean, I guess I kind of knew, but I didn't understand. I didn't know. How much of this understanding can I stand?

I have been given so much. We eat good food, and sleep warmly, and safely, and I am loved by many, and I am valued by many, and I have a whole 38 years of being filled up.

These gifts, this grace, this love, that has molded and grown and harbored me, has reached maximum capacity in the vessel that is my life. I am full to overflowing, and I have more than 99% of the world and yet I don't feel fully alive. I ache for more joy, more fullness. Something in me remains unsatisfied.


Maybe because written into the fabric of my being is knowing that you can’t be happy unless you give it away. That all of those blessings, all of that grace, is not meant to be hoarded and kept safe and locked up in my little life in Minnesota.

Maybe because God knows that there are so many who lack so much of what I’ve always had.

It’s like there is a wild, rushing river inside of me, pulsing and begging to be released, and it’s the 38 years of blessings that have just piled up inside of me, and it’s crushing me, the weight of it all, and I HAVE TO SHARE IT or I will explode.

Yes, she was right when she said that fire in the belly can come from gratitude for the blessings. That when we are crazy, radically grateful, there is born a fire that cannot be contained. And wasn’t it that old philosopher, Teilhard de Chardin, who said it best:  

Someday, after mastering the winds, the waves, the tides and gravity, we shall harness for God the energies of love, and then, for a second time in the history of the world, man will have discovered fire.”

And that quote, which I have loved since high school, which spoke to me then, and brought tears to my eyes and a lump in my throat then, screams to me now: Love is a fire that cannot be contained. There is nothing more powerful, more catalytic, more consuming, than crazy, God-induced, crazy-thankful LOVE.

We love because He first loved, us, right? And greater love has no man than this, that He lay down his life for His friends, and love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself, and it really all comes down to this:


And I knew it, 17 years ago, sitting in Perkins with my roommate, studying and eating up the Word which was so new and fresh to me then, we had underlined it in the latter chapters of John, where we discovered that it all boils down to this simple, profound truth: LOVE is what matters, because Love is what moves us to change things that matter. Love is what motivates us to extend grace, to extend hope. Love is the beginning and the end, and He has a name, and He is the Word, and by Him all things were thought up and created and ARE.

And Love covers over everything, and Love is what draws us to repentance, and it’s His Love that gives grace, that gives gifts, and His Love compels us to gratitude and loving back, and it’s the circle of LIFE:

He loves and gifts us, we love and receive with gratitude, we pour out and His gifts to us become gifts to others. Repeated over and over again, this crazy, grace-filled love pouring out from God,
to us,
through us,
back to Him,
and it just. keeps. going.

Love in action. Love as a verb. 

This, I think, is where the secret of joy comes from: being crazy-grateful for God's crazy-good grace-filled, love-laced gifts, and pouring out that grace, that love, to the world around us.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

the world outside my window

A warm breeze blows through my open window.

We haven't had a warm breeze here in over 6 months.

It feels heavenly.

And yet, I'm not thinking about my garden, or the budding trees. My mind is thousands of miles away, in the poorest of countries, with a people I've never met, but whose eyes I can never forget.

Poverty has been on my mind a lot lately. It's an uncomfortable topic. Somehow, in all my years, I've felt that it's sort of taboo to talk about the impoverished nations of the world. I remember the Ethiopian famine when I was a kid, and my parents telling me about the children starving in Africa, so I better finish my meatloaf and green beans.

Television revealed a totally foreign world of malnourished, pot-bellied children. Filled with faces of sad, hungry kids, squatting in dirty, trash-filled slums, those images on TV shocked me. It didn't seem real. The pictures made me sad, but I felt totally powerless to do anything. I didn't even feel like I was supposed to do anything. Feeling sad, and shaking my head in sympathy seemed like the only thing I could do.

Maybe my parents sent money, maybe they didn't, but one thing was sure: that level of poverty was not part of our reality. We could change the channel and the Love Boat would be taking us on another adventure, the pleading eyes of third-world children quickly forgotten.

And even into my adulthood, I've not thought too much about those children. I've been busy, having babies, raising babies, making important decisions about houses and jobs and schools. 

But then a couple of years ago, I stumbled onto a few blogs where the writers traveled with Compassion to different countries around the world. Not exactly mission trips, but more of a "go check it out and write about it" type of a trip.

When I first read about their experiences here, here, and here, I was stunned. The stories were so vivid, so personal. Suddenly, those faces that I associated with poverty had names and families and stories. They had smiles and hopes and dreams. They bathed in dirty water, lived in cramped quarters, and ate next to nothing. They had amazingly good attitudes, despite their extreme lack.

They became real. 

They lived in cement block homes, with dirt floors. One-room dwellings with no windows and roofs missing.  

Shacks on stilts in the middle of a jungle.  

And as I sat here in my 2600 square feet of warm and cozy comfort, my eyes began to open. For the first time, I saw their reality--this was their life--and the vast differences between my life and theirs. Never do I worry about where our next meal will come from. Or if we’ll sleep safe tonight. Or if we’ll survive tomorrow.

But out there, beyond my window, 640 million children are without adequate shelter.

And today, and every day, 22,000 children will die from malnourishment.

Maybe the most shocking statistic I learned: that 80% of humanity lives on less than $10 a day.

In the past, knowing this would leave me riddled with guilt. Maybe that's why poverty has always felt like an uncomfortable social topic--maybe we've all just felt guilty that we're here and they're there, and we have it so much better than they do, and what can we really do anyway?

But guilt is the wrong reaction. Not only is it unproductive, it doesn't make sense. None of us chose the circumstances we were born into. I didn’t choose to be born into a comfortable, middle-class family, with loving, protective parents. That I was born into the life I have is purely grace. It's all a gift.

But what if---and this is where it starts to freak me out a little---that gift was meant to be used for greater good? What if my life, filled full with love and joy and relative ease---was meant to be a launching pad for something bigger?

Instead of responding in guilt, maybe action is the better response. 

I can't help where I was born. But God wants to form me, all of us, into His image. He wants to make us more like Him. And maybe His image can't be pinned or followed, but crafted and formed by being His heart to the least of these. By getting outside of ourselves and seeing with His eyes. By loving and serving and laying down our lives. 

And maybe serving the poor isn't all about just helping them. Maybe we’re the ones that need help. Maybe we’re actually the ones that need to be fed, us with our bellies and bank accounts full, with our homes warm and safe, but maybe it’s our hearts that are starving and malnourished. Can we really be happy if we’re consumed with pretty pins on pinboards?

What kind of reality is that, anyway?

I'm not saying that everyone should quit their jobs and become missionaries. We're all uniquely equipped for the plans God has for us, and full-time missions certainly isn't everyone's call.

But I'm beginning to think that when Jesus told us to love our neighbor as we love ourselves, he meant more than just being nice to the mailman. The Samaritan didn't just give a sympathetic head tilt when he saw the man beaten on the side of the road. He didn't assume that someone else would take care of the problem. He showed him mercy. He gave of himself.

Rolling around in my heart is this crazy notion: What if God actually wants us to feed the hungry and remember the poor? Not big agencies, not full-time missionaries, but little old, regular us? What if He really wants us to care for orphans and widows; not merely with sincere words, but with merciful action? What if His greatest desire is for us to know fullness of joy by being His heart to a hurting world?

And what if this whole time I am missing it, and the world is wasting away while I waste time on Facebook, and I have the power to do something, to make a difference?

I never thought the impoverished world was my reality or responsibility but the reality is this:

There is a world outside my window, begging for help, begging for mercy.
They did not ask to be born into their circumstances. 

But I have the choice to respond with mine.