Saturday, 27 February 2016

When suffering speaks

I don't know if there is anything worse than burying a child. Standing in that grave with a shovel and digging through sweat, sorrow and gravel has a way of making things far from normal. It takes a little bit to register but then the ache reminds me that it's all too real. Like some spell, my mind pulls away from my body and begins to play back my steps to where I stand. When did this become my story? When did the dying and destitute become so tethered to my journey? When did the crucible become the normalcy? I thought the narrative was more about sharing goodness to the poor and binding up the broken-hearted. I thought my life was meant to be more about the miraculous and less about mourning. I thought God was supposed to be in control and erase entropy from my world.  It's such a humbling feeling to be in the dirt with the ache and questions, face to face with the families who haven't figured out the thoughts hiding behind my eyes.
I'm not here as someone who has a band-aid to the brokenness. I'm not here as a do-gooder to 'make a difference'. I'm not here to offer anything falsely which I don't have firstly. But Love led to this place, with all of my doubts & insufficiencies, to share in the sufferings and be united in death and rebirth. So I don't proffer any theology to make sense of the tragedy or a pie-in-the-sky answer to placate the pain; but love leads me in the silence- to cry with those who cry, pray with those who pray, believe with those who believe.
I don't think the enemy of love is hate. Or fear. Or indifference.
When I was younger, I remember how I would try to understand the meaning of something by figuring out its opposite. I figured I was pretty smart to have that figured out. Maybe a lot of us had the same school of thought- to define what is by knowing what it isn't. So for my grade-school mind, I could make sense of heady subjects like hope and beauty and light. But as we get older, deducing meanings to our elementary definitions of antonyms, don't really help us fully understand life and this world. Things aren't always this or that, black or white. There's got to be more to it. There's got to be more to what love is and what love is not. The older I get, I'm beginning to comprehend that the antithesis of love is control. I'm no Dr. Phil, I'm no philosopher, I'm far from an expert especially on something this abstract. But everything that I know about love as a husband, a father and a servant of the poor brings me to these thoughts. Even in unearthing the ground for a tomb on behalf of someone I care, suffering brings me to a place that relinquishes control and shows me a love that looks like surrender. 

It is no secret how our society is pretty unashamed in what it promotes as gospel. From whom we should fear, to what we should consume, or to how we can be accepted- our post-modern world is built on the systems of control. So much so that we can buy peace of mind craftily packaged as a policy, we can subscribe to the vanity of immortality with every pill and we can swipe our way to our luxurious lives through a piece of plastic. It's all been made easy and we have all been granted the golden ticket- the control of our lives. We can't come across unprepared for a rainy day- we have apps to check for that. We can't be seen wearing something uncool- we have idols to follow for that. We can't be caught in the unknown in the unfolding journey of our story- we have five-year-plans for that. But there's got to be more than our control (or illusion of such).

Maybe the love that holds the world is nothing like our systems of control. Living in a remote village somewhere above the equator, daily our lives bear witness to the extremes of life through unquenchable joy and unimaginable grief. Maybe purpose and pain coexist in reality because anything otherwise would be fantasy. I'm not sure if I can clap along that "happiness is the truth". There's got to be more to it. Because grace comes free but hope is born in the pain and the cost of suffering. We can't have the rainbow without the storm. We can't have the flower without the thorn. We can't hold the value of life & rebirth without the valley of death. There is no control in love. But thanks to our advances as a human-race and our efforts in being god-like, we live in a time where we can choose convenience without the consequence. We can have the prime-rib without getting our hands bloody. We can have the mansion just by signing the dotted line. We can pick and choose pretty much anything, from our insurance policies to our lunch menus. We have control in our lives. We can even distance ourselves from suffering and those who suffer because our definition of "neighbor" looks a lot like the image in the mirror.
But from everything I've seen and everywhere I've been, my eyes are being opened to a world where God Himself dwells in the neighborhood. The power on my life is not in blessing, not in signs and wonders, but the mercy to see the Eternal in everyone. Against an age that sells increase and preaches avarice, I'm learning that my faith isn't bound on the backs of prosperity but being broken enough to share in the sufferings. I don't know much about theology but maybe there is something wrong with our idea of God if we can only see Him, only where we've seen Him. Here in a place far removed from affluence and surrounded with the afflicted, tears seem to be so tethered in the everyday. But those tears have shown me more of the Kingdom of the Heavens than pearly gates or golden floors. More than control and happiness. Sometimes it feels like my personality was all divinely setup for this story. Because I've never been the bubbly, sprightly, happy-go-lucky-type. My albatross has always been that I feel too deeply. In fact, I've found so much comfort that Scripture would call my Savior a "man of sorrows", acquainted with grief. The older I get, the more I come to accept the liberty on my life is that I've lost it all. For the sake of Love and the life of the world to come, my prayer is to keep counting it all loss because suffering keeps uniting me with those who mourn and to the Man of Sorrows.
As a father, I don't know if my life has a greater teacher in the undoing of control than parenthood. Let alone raising a child in a region of the world where we've seen mortality so vividly. We often get asked what kind of parents would willingly bring a child into such circumstances. We remember repeatedly being told how having our own child would change us. That we'd be a little more cautious about our own and a little less concerned about others. I still remember the eye rolls, I still remember the questions. "What if she comes down with something? What if this...? What if that...?" But being a parent, we now love the sick and the vulnerable we care for more than we could ever before, because we've now come to know a love that is more protective, sacrificial and unconditional. There is love that's deeper and divine that the dust. Love that always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love that beckons us to let go instead of withhold. Yes, sometimes we get waylaid with worry. But that Love shows us how weeds of worry have no place in a garden full of flowers. Love that isn't overcome by 'what ifs' but invites us into a life of 'insteads'. Roses instead of ashes, joy instead of despair, peace instead of fear, trust instead of certitudes, love instead of control.

Every place that love leads us keeps teaching us the praxis of surrender. So much so that we are daily "being given over to death, so life may be at work in us". I'm praying that our life is found between the intersection of the beauty that saves the world and the suffering of the human condition. Between the hope of the age to come and the tension of our becoming. Between heaven and earth. We distanced ourselves from easy long ago, and now the meaning we find on our knees looks less like the empire of control and more like an esoteric surrender. We often get asked about our credentials or our experiences about who we are and what we are doing here. But we have no labels that deem to grant legitimacy to our journey. We aren't aid workers or missionaries or whatever else. There is purpose far deeper than the humanitarian imperative or religious spirit. Instead, it is much like how it was once described about the gospel- I'm just one beggar telling another where the bread was found. So we pray that our life looks like love made flesh, broken like bread and poured out like water. To cry with those who cry, pray with those who pray, believe with those who believe. 
Maybe God is not a control-freak, but we are. Maybe evil in the world is the corollary of control. When our selfish abandon of creation is the cost of commercialism, when the platforms of the powerful are congruous to our ignorance, when the hubris responsible for the wars, slaves & suffering in our world is made possible by our indifference- that maybe God doesn't have to be controlling, but that we just have to be a little more loving. Even when I'm standing six-feet-under or when I'm sharing my life with those who hunger, that my love has to look like surrender. That when the dust settles and when suffering speaks, love is leading us to the Sovereign and the Kingdom to be. That beauty can come from ashes, redemption can be birthed from regrets, and grace can bring all things to work together for good. Maybe God's presence looks like absence only to those who've created Him in their image: controlling instead of sovereign. 
From the polarity of the world we are in to the promise of the world to be, it takes faith to fight the aporetic- and believe that there's another world breathing beyond the curtain of wars, avarice and systemic injustice. Though the facts are in our face. Though the distance between reality and finality is discouraging. Though its easier to write off the way things are as the way it's always been- as the way the world spins, my hope is held beyond the veil. And if my trust in the Sovereign and fidelity in what I can't see makes me credulous and foolish- I'd still rather choose faith over fact, imagination over intellect, credence over control. Trusting that this light and momentary suffering is testifying to Life that is at work in the unseen. So even when I see the grave take someone I fought for, I'm taken into wonder for all that I hope for- knowing that letting go is a beautiful thing and that death is just the beginning. 

Friday, 5 December 2014

Till morning comes

As the candles are blown out and the nets are tucked in, something about the night surfaces the contemplative. I can't remember the last time my mind was unencumbered from thoughts that kept me awake. Somehow it's easier to lay sleepless and play through the images in my head, than it is to close my eyes and be carried somewhere over the rainbow. I'm filled with questions, figuring out answers to make sense of it all and fighting dragons that awaken in the silence.
The reality of my inadequacies feel so real, and the brokenness within and everything that surrounds renders me desperate for a grace that is closer that my own skin. I have to believe that beauty is more than just in blue-skies. It has to be more than just when things go right. I have to believe that transcendence is found both in the tears and the tranquil times. I'm holding to the truth that both the beauty and pain predicate the hope of all things new. I'm choosing to believe that both the dawn and the night bear witness to the goodness of the Sovereign.

Love led us to this part of the world where we've been surrounded with the poorest of the poor and the sickest of the sick we have seen. There was nothing that could prepare us for the life that would follow. Like a preamble to the story, all the pages we've lived so far has been a preparation for the present- from everywhere we've been and everything we've been through. Looking back at the journey from the slums of Calcutta to the leper colonies of Addis Ababa and elsewhere, this is the farthest our feet have followed. We came here not knowing anyone or having a place to stay, but full of belief for what was before. Holding onto the whispers and trusting in the undoing, in the early days we often found ourselves on the floor with tears on our face and our suitcases beside. In a place where only a few set out and even fewer stay, love keeps bringing us to a place where life is lived from our knees to serve the dying, the destitute and the Divine in disguise. 
I'm reminded how the cost is always worth it. The currency of our faith is surrender and it's paid for with our tears, scars and sacrifice. In a world that glories over convenience, it gets so easy to distance our lives from any form of discomfort, and forget that everything has a price. The older I get, I realize that even the things that come free in life- like grace, morning dew and mother tongue, are all tethered to the give and take. And just as it is in nature and the human-narrative, the more I let go, the more I have to live for. There's a reason why darkness comes before the dawn, there's a reason why the glassy-seas come after the storm. There's a reason why a pearl forming takes time, there's a reason why the first-breath is a cry. There's a reason why we have to loose our life to find what cannot be lost. Suffering keeps showing me the meaning of being alive and how nothing of worth comes without the cost.
So let my life be measured by the sweat on my brow, by the callouses on my knees, by the tears on my sleeves and the scars on my mind from all that I've seen. Although somedays I can't bear loving anymore children who have an expected expiry date, and somedays start like the last thing I can do is face the world (let alone face myself in the mirror), I'm reminded that love has nothing to do within the domain of feelings and everything to do with the dawning of faith.

I'm filled with hope for the finality of what will be, even amidst the reality of what I see. Even when the need is too overwhelming to bear, we keep praying to not shy away from the need because it keeps drawing us to our knees. Not that our life will be the promise of an answer or a future or a fix for the problems we see- instead all that we are is but a prayer to live life on earth as it is in Heaven. To live emptied out for the sake of love, until there's nothing left of us- realizing that there is no decrease, but only the fullness of Love Himself in us. For the dichotomy of grace- the greater the loss, the sweeter the Cross because there is no sacrifice which compares to the gain and the life of the world to come.

We've found freedom in accepting that our life is much more about beginnings and in-betweens. In the face of our own sufficiencies and the suffering that surrounds us, sometimes we wish we could be everywhere for everyone at every time. But love keeps reminding us that the Kingdom is less about human-effort and more like a seed. And being faithful in the little liberates us from the futility and self-righteousness that leads us to think that the finality was ours to fix. Most days we wrestle with the smallness and mediocrity of it all, instead of embracing the manifest destiny that our existence is 'making a difference'. We have nothing to show for it. How does sitting with someone, sharing in their suffering and giving them a cup of water classify as a core value? How can kneeling beside a child crying in pain and rubbing their head to comfort them be measured on an impact report? We don't have an NGO or a hospital-wing to our name. We don't have a development model and we haven't raised any dead people. We rise everyday the same- nameless, faceless and placeless looking for Jesus in disguise. Against a world measuring success by influence and its increase, wisdom whispers to us that love is marked by obedience, deference and faithfulness in the small things.
From everything we've seen to everywhere we've been, from the brokenness we've beheld to the hope we hold to, I can't understand life without the Light. I have to believe that our existence eclipses something much bigger than ourselves shining on the other side. Love has been carrying us into the dark of the night, the far & forgotten places, where no combination of pixels or phrases can help paint the picture. But in the midst of such suffering, we've also become witness to the power of belief, pushing through the darkness to live as children of the Light- till morning comes. No matter how dark and drawn out the night endures, it cannot push back the dawn. No matter where we are in the world, everyday our lives bear witness to the rising of the morning star and the turning of a new page. From the east to the west, it's always the light that leads us. The waiting is not in vain, and new mercies come with the morning- bleeding through the night and ushering the breaking of a new day to be alive. So let our love awaken the dawn. Let our love trumpet the dawning of a coming age where the sun does not set and the last shall be first.

I'm learning daily to life in the exchange- trust for my questions, beauty for the ashes, and grace instead of the gavel. Laying down my weapons for a wash-basin. Forgetting my dragons for the dawn. Forsaking the crown for a cross. Life is always being defined in the dissonance. I'm reminded that the defining times always happened in the rise and the fall, the push and the pull, the rest and the wrestle- than it did in the linear and the regular. Who we are is always being defined with every breath, every step and every response. It's more about the days when we can't get up out of bed, than the ones we jump off the mattress with manifest destiny. It's more about the times that don't go the way we want, rather than when everything happens as it should. It's more about the moments when we feel like we're a million pieces, than when we feel like a million bucks. It's more about the situations when we feel like the refuse of the world, than when we are one with the empire. Life is always being defined by who we are in the night- 
till morning comes.

Life and love and death are more tethered together than what I thought to have understood. In an age where the word "love" has become commercialized, profaned & prosaic and we've affixed it as an adjective to describe our latest pair of shoes, our favorite TV show, our grandmothers turkey stuffing (and everything in between), I'm restless for something different, something deeper. We can easily deduce love to a force, an affinity, an ideal, a principle, but I have to believe that it is more than the abstract. The provenance leads me to the Person of Love. And in my humanity I look to the teachings and life of Christ, which teaches me how to love and be loved. But I'm getting scared of what I'm starting to see because He is what love looks like. All these years, I've prayed about being emptied for love; but to really love like the Divine is beyond romance or rhetoric- and if I'm doing it right, it's something so ridiculous that I will be the fool of all friends. To really love like Jesus means that I have to take care of the stranger the same way I care for my spouse. That I actually have to love my foes the same way I love my family. If I was really loving like Jesus, there is no separation or difference or distance in my life that change my love. When I can love someone else as one of my own- that's the Cross. Now now, that's foolishness to say that you can love your nephew/niece the same way you love your son/daughter. It's foolishness to think that you want the best for your brother, more than wanting it for yourself. It's foolishness that you want to lay your life down for the homeless the same way you've vowed to for the one who shares your last name. But it's also foolishness to let your betrayer kiss you on the cheek and love him all the same. The wisdom of the Cross reminds me that more of myself and loving my neighbor can't coexist- that being born of love is the death of me. 

From the celestial to the skin, I'm reminded of salvation's parallel and ethereal truths in everything. The older I get, I'm learning to be more malleable than cynical of the simple reminders. I'm learning that it's more than just seeing everything through God, but also seeing God in everything. Even when I stare at the sun over the sub-Saharan, I realize that the same light which blinds my eyes at noon can be seen so beautifully down on the horizon in a few hours. And just as with the sun, it analogues the Gospel narrative how the same God I struggle to understand through the first part of my Bible (when I try to look square at Him), now can be seen so beautifully with colors radiating into the sky when the Light was born into poverty and came down to the horizon of our humanity. And the more I look at that sun and fix my eyes of the light, I'm left with a blinding radiance and my vision keeps casting a brilliance in the center of everywhere I look. So much so that I see the Son in everyone. I see the poor and the sick, the widow and the fatherless, the oppressed and the oppressor the same. There is a love that is more powerful than the noon and there is a hope that is nearer than the night. Even if darkness and suffering covers us till morning comes, we are all moving closer to a dawn that's already come.

Tuesday, 29 April 2014

The beauty in the becoming

I know that things will never be the same. I know that this is as good as it gets. I know that there is suffering to be met and it may be more than we now expect. But the fact remains, ever since we returned from the sub-Saharan, there hasn't been a day where we haven't been in prayer for the ones we've carried and the ones Love will carry us to. For the last couple of years that we've been home, it's been a humbling journey of grace upon grace, surrounded with community, purpose and providence.
It really has been as good as it gets.
And now after all the prayers, tears and time on our knees, we have our one-way tickets to Uganda. Just as humanity's first invitation into the kingdom coming, our hearts are forever sealed in surrender to "leave our nets behind" and follow Heaven into the corners of the earth. To live the rest of our lives upon Love- broken like bread, poured out like wine and laid down for the least of these.

Leaving life as we know it hasn't been without it's fears and questions. Even as the days draw near, the reality of my insufficiencies and insecurities become more real. I'm left scared staring at a countdown into the unknown and the nets I've left behind at the shore. Who am I to lead my loving wife into a life of sacrifice - to dream with the outsiders, serve the sick, and befriend the poor- being the uneducated unqualified uncool college dropout that I am. For someone as ordinary as me, I'm thankful that the foolishness of the world is the wisdom of the Cross. And all to the grace that I've received, I'm honored that I'm not alone in this. That as the mystery of agape, Heaven's heart toward me is also personified in a human being I get to grow old with. My wife is not simply an accomplice in the purposes of Heaven in me, or the third-wheel tagging along the journey- but everyday she draws me closer to my Creator and who He has created me to be. That against the tension of a plastic society which screams unoriginality and ascribes my worth to success, she is always a voice of wisdom whispering to me that life is about surrender. That there's no cost too great, no sacrifice too grave, no injustice too beyond, no neighbor too distant from the cup and cross we live from. Reminding me that love is all we have to give, and all we have to gain. The way her heart cares, searches and stops for the one inspires me to take every step by faith, and to live and move and have my being in Love. The story being written isn't about the both of us- but with every page we are humbled that we get to see the Face of God disguised in the least of these, and in each other.
I still feel like I'm only beginning to understand the Christ I confess after twenty something years of knowing Him. During my younger days, I lived by a conviction of living for my faith. There is this derived idea of discipleship where you just want to be a martyr for what you believe, save puppies and babies from burning buildings, and ultimately die at 27. But the older I get, I'm drawn less to the romanticized notion about going gloriously to an untimely grave. Instead, I'm drawn deeper into the very nature of Life Himself and living in a grace on this side of the grave.
I realize that it's not about living for my faith, but from it. Because the former is another form of religion where life gets easily tangled in the dos and don'ts, a set of rules to measure up and placate to a higher power. But love sets us free from religiosity and binds humanity in a relationship between the Creator and the created. Relationship is about living from my faith. That's where spirituality can't be demarcated into the secular or the sacred, and our identity isn't watered into a "calling" or a "commission"- no matter how noble it may be and how selfless it may seem. Nope, I'm not living for Jesus anymore; I'm living from Him. And in that place* of relationship with Love Himself, I become more human(e) and begin to see this world through Him where all the broken pieces of humanity can be made beautiful.
Because it's so much more than praying that I live to love, but that Love is alive in me- love is more than the action, but also the being. It always starts at the altar when I'm living from love.
Every breath is a journey between death and rebirth. With every day we are drawing closer, pushing nearer, and closing the gap between the world we know and the world we want. In a postmodern society marked by wars and rumours of wars, it's easy to accept the fallout as a second place trophy. It takes much more imagination to be human than to succumb to the system, writing off the way things are as the way it's always been- as the way the world spins. But Love always restores humanity to itself and believes in a better narrative. From the cries heard between the silence of war, to the innocence lost in the darkness of brothels, to the dignity destroyed on the cold concrete of homelessness - our humanity is bound to Love's restoration and everyday we rewrite what it means to be human. From that place*, my paradigms are reversed, my prejudices are undone and my life is sold out to something that can't be bought. That's when being fully human becomes about loving my neighbour, as myself. That's when Christ is all I have to give, and Christ is all I have to get. That's when there's no price too high, no place too far, and no person too different- but I see myself in the stranger, the orphan and the widow. Against an age that has made beauty objective into what is seen in the mirror, Love reminds me that it's rather the lens in which I see others. In that light, every breath becomes lived out as a prayer and Christ is the very the lens through which I see others- and I see the image of whom we were created after in everyone.
I'm not sure if there's such a thing as being ready.
Some circumstances in life are such that we are led to believe in certitudes and our false sense of control. It's easy to bank our trust in the idea of permanence and find our stability in the temporal. But we can never be ready as life happens. Whether it's the diagnosis of a terminal illness, the loss of an unborn child, the headlines of heartbreaking calamities, the horror of unjust realities... we are never really ready. The frame of our human condition comes face to face daily with grace and demise. As prepared as we can be for the peripheral, there is always something that shakes us out of our skin. In a world that sells us security neatly packaged with a monthly premium, satisfies our every comfort with a piece of plastic and promises us eternal youth with every pill, I'm choosing a better way- surrender. Because the power on our life is not how much we understand, but how undone we can be in the unknown and trust in the unseen. The beauty on our life is in the being and the becoming. That's where freedom begins and trust becomes the testimony of our story. Abundant life meets us outside the borders of 'as good as it gets', where we have liberty to leave our nets at the shore and believe that there's purpose in deeper waters- to press on to take a hold of that which Love took a hold of us.

As we prepare and pray for what's to come, Francine and I find ourselves homesick for a place we haven't been yet, belonging to people we've never met, and holding onto ones we've never held. It's a constant wrestle for the release- tethered between now and the next, the tensions of tomorrow and the promises of past, the fragments of who we are and the fruition of who we hope to be. Our prayer is to be emptied out until Love is all we have left to give, and Love is all we have yet to gain. Everything that we are is alive from Love Himself- our pursuit, our providence and our promise. The beauty on us is in the becoming- because Love sees us as we are and who we are going to be. Love sees the world as it is, and how it is going to be- where there is good news for the poor, healing for the broken, freedom for the oppressed, beauty instead of ashes, laughter instead of despair, joy in place of suffering, Heaven (be)coming to earth.

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

from dust to the Divine

I don't remember much about that night, but I'm pretty sure that was the day I died.
Between all my shades and shadows, all the cloudy skies and silent cries, all the metal shacks and the marginalized living within, I know that I lost every breath inside.

Their stories are always knitted with mine. I'm reminded of everyone I've met who live from the corners of the earth, now to the chambers of my heart. From every narrow road I've walked through in far and forgotten places, I'm holding onto to every man, woman, and child that I've shared with in life and death. That in the blue-print of my existence, my journey is not without the other but that we've lived and died together. Every scarred smile, every innocent hand, every young wrinkle, and every redemption story brings me closer to seeing my reflection in their eyes. For me to continue wearing this cross like a crown and live like a servant king to the least and lost. That the more I live, the more I die; and in laying down my life, I see my demise in their eyes and a mirror to the Maker's cry.

The Scriptures come alive in their stories. But I remember the pain in his side and the tears in his eyes, for his family that was taken away. And his words about the hardship of life and all that it's ever been, felt like the weight of an ocean pressing down on my chest. But only his tears were enough to fill a few oceans. And I  remember realizing the more I understand, the less I know. It's one thing to comfort the fatherless, but seeing a grown man cry opened my eyes to the son in the father. Like the lines of the song "how many sons have cried for their fathers, and how many fathers have cried like a son". Yet, the bitter taste of life touches the tongues of the mothers and the elders alike, with hardship that is seen through each tear, each smile and each wrinkle. I remember walking inside her mud-hut with her young girl who smiled like the moon, sitting under a corrugated roof and crushing poverty. But I'm reminded that the Scriptures comes alive with their stories, how they're "sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing yet possessing everything." I'm reminded of them and everyone else I've met from the corners of the earth, whose stories ring true with this Truth. Their hardship teaches me to hope, because until the edge of the very end where all has been lost, and every drop has been shed that all is undone, hope is just an another word. And lately, in my own life I've come to know for the first time what it means to believe in hope against all hope, when the night can't get any darker and the heart can't break any further. Yet, I call this to mind and therefore I have hope that from Eden to eternity, we are not all alone and we are all bound home. 

And I'm reminded if I'm living from heaven to earth or earth to heaven. Because wherever I am from my own backyard to beyond the borders and the ocean in between, I want to live for another world break into ours. For the kingdom coming, till kingdom come. I can hear its echoes resounding. I can see it like coming like the dawning of a new day, with light bleeding through the darkness, shining on the oppressed and the oppressor. I can feel it rushing like whispers through my veins and advancing like tears washing through my fears. There's something new springing up from the ground, and although I don't have wisdom to perceive it or words to process it - from the dust and my demise, there is something that happens in the Divine. And for the sake of love, I'm taken lower still as a life laid down to be raised in the dirt. I'm face to face with grace and the grave praying to do something beautiful for love, becoming beautiful doing it. Not in my ecumenical efforts, but in a world that screams and sells to find yourself, find success, find what's next best - my prayer is to lose myself. And everyday I'm alive starts with rebirth, so that I would lose my life to find myself and find God in the brokenness of (my) humanity. That I would find heaven dwelling among the orphan and the widow, that I would find absolution fighting for the sick and the poor, and that I would find hope befriending the hurting and hopeless. In the dust, there is something happening of The Divine.

And that is the power of love from life's first cry to final breath. From all that is dying to all that is growing, from all of the questions to all of the reasons, from winter's rain to redemption's refrain. Even though there may be days when the horizon seems heavy and hazy, faith gives me eyes to see what can't be seen. That the kingdom is near, and the kingdom is here. And along with the dear one I have to share this cross and this call, I'm praying to always live for this narrow road and that our hearts would be forever hidden into the Kingdom of the Heavens. For more stories to be knitted together into ours, in life and death. 

Friday, 27 April 2012

poured out wine and broken bread

It wasn't like I went off to war, but it's like I came back to one.

I think I understand a little better now. Like a washed-out soldier coming back home, I understand the brevity of our belonging in this world, now more than ever. It might sound inane to draw a parallel between a missionary and a marine, but the battle is the same that nothing feels the same anymore. From feeling like a million dollars to being in a million pieces. From moments when all is firm as gold, to moments when life is fleeting like grass. From deep-breaths that are full of dreams, to sighs that filled with surrender. From blessings guised as success, to counting it all as lost. I'm not talking about a noble-fight against injustice or poverty someplace 18-hours away, but the very war within the 18-inches from the head to the heart.

Something about sitting here 30,000 ft above the ground, flying back from the memorial service of a loved one, makes you wonder about life, death, family and legacy. It's a gripping truth to be reminded how fragile our existence really is, and how much of our lives is really under our control. Caged in earthen vessels, slaves to the second-hand, we live as apparitions of the almanac but truth is that we have very little to do with how the big picture unfolds. We aren't the colors on the canvas, and we have no supremacy even over the stroke of the brush. Although there is a deep importance in living intentionally by choice, as opposed to living at the hand of chance- we are not the Painter, but just the picture-frames as sung by the song-writer. The big picture is bigger than us, and all thing seen and unseen find it's rightful place in the Sovereign.

Yet, as a humanity all our futile attempts to find eternal youth, reminds us of the imminent grave that we daily draw closer towards. Like Bob Dylan said we are either being busy born, or busy dying. Sure, we can change the color of our greying hair, conceal the lines on our aging face, and even control the rhythm of our hearts- but in all our feats and in all our strengths, we can't do a single thing about when our number comes up. We can cash in on the force of the wind, but we can't tell it to come or go. We can paint lights in the sky, but we can't draw lines in the sand that confines the ocean. We can walk on the moon, but we can't walk on water. But what I'm most at war with isn't about when we die. You see, the real fight isn't about death. It's about birth. It isn't even really about when we die; it's about where we're born. And even in believing the proverbial truth that where we are born shouldn't determine whether we live or die, I somehow know that truth is yet to be true. Because I was brought into a world of faith, family, favor and waffles. But the tension is the polarity between the world I am in now to the world I belong. To the world where children don't have hands that would hold them through the hard times, or food that would fill them on cold nights. That's the wrestle and the dance; the fight between where I am and where I want to be.

I'd much rather be serving, than waiting or resting or wrestling the angel. It takes much more faith to be here in the waiting, than it took to be in the living amidst the sick and the poor. Yet, I'm trusting a higher purpose through my sense of purposelessness. When my silence is a scream, my tears are prayers to sing, and my words are incomplete, I'm trusting in the big picture that is bigger than me. Sometimes the question is just as important as the answer. That even though I can't know what the future holds, to trust in the One who holds it all. I'm believing in provision that augments the vision, for doors to be carved out of walls. And I'm dreaming even when my dreams feel so far, like a dreamer. I want to lose myself to find what cannot be lost. To be broken like bread and poured out like wine. To exchange my crowns for the cross. Because if it weren't for the higher purpose and higher way, I would be on the next flight out to the sub-Saharan bushes to feed the hungry and father the fatherless. I wasn't the one who was born there, but I sure want to die there. I don't want to live a life that is safe, but one that is spent. A life that is sacrifice, and one that is service. The impetus of a life for the least of these, lived by the words "He isn't safe but He is good".

A day will come when I'll be reunited with all the loved ones I've lost along the way, but until then I'm between worlds. We are between worlds. Until then, we are being painted into a masterpiece. Between the tension and the release, between the breath and the sigh, between the birth and the death.

Thursday, 23 February 2012

between now and the next

It's like you wake up from a dream and realize that you're lying on a different bed, staring at a different ceiling. There were a few hours of shuteye on a boeing-sized metal bird, some microwaved food on a tray-table, and pit-stops through some people with uniforms. And then, to find yourself in another world which seems all but a dream world now. That you wake up in the middle of the night, lying wide-awake in search for signs of the familiar. "Wait, I know this room! I've been here before". But you're actually so far from here, and don't know what's really real anymore. It's all a dream within a dream, a world within a world.

There's a reality which is so far from real, and one which is so real in the heart now. Like it's the only thing that feels real. Like a dream I didn't want to wake up from. Because even though the body is at home, the heart isn't.
It belongs on the broken road and the hurting ground, for a Kingdom coming where the lost are found. And every corner I've been in this world with a cross and a call, I've found my home with the sick and the poor. The pieces of my heart now live among slums, villages and orphanages from Sub-Saharan Africa to Southern Asia. And whatever little is left of it- is here with me tonight on this bed, in these words. I'm reminded by Wisdom that "to love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly broken." Surely, there will come a day when all the broken pieces are redeemed, but until then I keep breaking myself open and giving my heart away. Like a song that rings on, I'm still holding out for the encore. To sing with voices I've never heard. A song that will take me to places I've never been and people I've never seen. Because the prophecy is far from the precipice. The story is far from over; it is only beginning. Though a chapter ends, the pages ahead will take me to suffering and injustice I haven't yet beheld. And that remains the prayer; to be sent to the corners of the earth with those who suffer much and suffer violence, to suffer with them. To walk with them. To believe with them, for the Kingdom that's coming. Where justice and mercy are not just words that tickle the ear, but touch the sky from the mud-huts and slum-shacks. To plead the case of the fatherless and the widow, for a cause that has always been bigger than benevolence. For Love.

No one said that it would be easy, but who knew that it would be this hard. It takes much more faith to say goodbye, than to say hello. It takes much more faith to wake up from the dream, that to wrestle with the doubts. It takes much more faith to be in the now, than to believe in the next. Because now, these eyes have seen things. These feet have tread through things, and these hands have held "the least of these". How do you go on living when you've seen so much? How do you go on when you've been through much? It's easy to get on a plane facing the unknown with a one-way ticket, but it's much harder to face yourself with a ticket home. The anthem keeps repeating "I saw what I saw, and I can't forget it... something on the road, cut me to the soul". That's the part that nothing can prepare you for; the hardest part. The age-old truth that you should love enough to let go, even as they hold pieces of your heart and your soul. There's nothing poetic or profound with it, but only the pain in seeing their faces still flash in my head. I still remember it like yesterday when they reached for every inch of my hand. I still remember walking through the dirt road for the last time, followed by a village in tears. I still remember the little girl who ran back to clasp her arms around me, pleading that I stay. But even in our lament of losing each other, they understand the calling on a life to serve the poorest of the poor. They understand places where children suffer more, from wars to famines to sickness. And it's humbling thing when an orphan looks at me with tears in the eyes, and understanding in the heart to say that "I want to take care of those without mommies and daddies too". Although it deeply humbles me to hear of friends who encourage me by using big words like "inspiration",  it's an all-together different thing when a small child is inspired to take up this call. So I try to keep it all in (foolish and futile) to stay strong from breaking down, through dirt roads and flying metal-birds and airport check-points. Which brings me to tonight.

I realize now that it's not about the fact that I came. It was that I went. Even when I had nothing to give, it was about the fact that my hands were given to hold. It wasn't about "making a difference", it was about loving the different. And, in an age of pop-culture philanthropy, I'm praying that I live changed as opposed to living for change. It's printed as catchy slogans on our sweatshop-free t-shirts, plastered on our billboards deceiving charitable campaigns for consumerism, and even possible through the click of a finger in cyberspace. Although I completely understand the value of such things (and even engage in them; apathy and avarice starts with me),  I know that the change I wish to see won't come until it costs something. Until I pay for it with my tears, my prayers, my breaths, my fears, my failures, my dreams, even unto the cost of death. Even when the physical sickness becomes a symptom of a deeper unbearable pain. The kind of pain that makes even death an easy choice. The kind of pain where your sweat becomes blood and your tears become food. It was that painful kind of cost that brought any change in this world. It happened two-thousand years ago, through a Teacher and twelve ordinary people, and it still happens today. I see it in my heroes like Katie and Renee and Sarah.
And that remains the prayer; to be built up to be broken again. Broken open for Love until there's nothing left to break. To shine even when it rains down darkness. To live, even if it means the cost of death. So, let their names be written on my epitaph, with whom my love cost something. All the ones I've held in my hands, carried in my arms, wiped away tears, fed to fill and kissed to sleep. But the grave can wait, because the story is far from over.

It goes beyond the rhetoric or the romantic. The "call within the call" has always been Uganda, and was heard ages before I went to a travel-agent to fly me home. The story is just beginning. And now for the first time in my life, I have someone to share this calling with and carry the cross with, Africa and anywhere else. So here I am between now and the next. But, it was always about the in-between. Life being found between the blessing and the curse, the flower and the thorn, the now and the next. I want to stand now stalwart in the calling, till my next appointment with the agent. There are pieces of my heart that still remain to be given away. 

Saturday, 21 January 2012

the hope is real

I saw that same look once in a refugee camp in Mozambique.
I remember it like a photograph printed on my heart. And I saw it again here, in her eyes.

Their faces always flash before me, like images scarred into my soul. Like memories that grow strong across the ether of the past and the present. When darkness and stillness surrounds the four walls of my room at night, it gets all too real. A pain so real that I so really surmise what it means to share in their sorrow. So real that I can still feel their grip in the groove of my hand long after they've let go. So real that I can feel their tears in mine, and hear their cries in the voices in my head. But when I saw that look behind her eyes, she wasn't just a 12 year old girl. She wasn't someone child-like and wide-eyed. Instead, I saw that same look I had seen in the eyes of the young refugee girl, of a youthfulness that was taken. That same look of brevity I saw in place of possibility, and a senescence that had stolen all innocence. That same look where the decrepitude had replaced fortitude. It was like beholding someone much older inside the body of someone so young. But yet, there was more to the look that someone who had lived much and suffered much. Their eyes told of someone who believed, much.

Even though the pain is real, the hope is so real.

And when the heart seems so cold that it forgets the warmth of the light, when the tears have dried up the truth behind the eyes, I'm reminded of that look. I'm reminded of their hope. When I really don't know if I'm coming or going. If I'm giving or taking. If I'm making or breaking. When I don't know if I'm living to die or dying to live. When my words aren't enough and my works (certainly) aren't enough. When my heart longs to stay for what is true and right, for the black and white in a world so full of the grays... I'm reminded of a hope that transcends. I'm reminded of that hope in the lyrics of songs that are heard long after the band has left the stage. "In the words of the prophets, written on the subway walls". In the still small voice that whispers in my night. And so I continue to kneel beside the bed of diseased, rubbing her head hoping my hands will at least be some comfort in the midst of her pain. I continue to hold the hand of the orphan and wipe away his tears, hoping that my presence will be some comfort in the midst of his rejection. I continue to walk with the poor with the semblance of a smile, hoping that my love will be some comfort in the midst of their poverty. Even when my face cracks dry from the salt and I hide in the private places that are anything but peace, the hope is all too real. Even though I go back inside my four walls after the little ones are tucked in, only to taste my own tears, I continue to hope. These tears are kept taut by the hope that is too real, even in the reality of pain. And through the pain, the fire, and the flood, I'm drawn more to the Transcendent.

So I continue to live for the absolution through days spent in green pastures and others that are by the valley of death's shadow. For the redemption that lies beyond what I've seen and where I've been, beyond the dust I tread in and the brokenness that is within. For the volition of a life surrendered among the poor and the broken who show me how to love and be loved. Because for those who have ears to hear, there is a truth that whispers that life is more than what we're going through. And a hope that reminds us of what is yet to be even in the reality of what is, and of what has been. In everything from the menial to the metaphysical, we are creatures who need to be reminded of a grace that is bigger and a life that is larger. For something beyond the aftermath of our human-condition and the afterthought of our post-modern existence. Even as I look inward, I'm holding out hope for a reality which seems so far from real, and for being more than what I am now. The way of my tears leads me to my knees for that hope which will bring down walls and right all wrongs. For that day when all of creation rises with the wings of the dawn, and a world where refugees belong. And in that hope, I start to think about the little ones who I would call my own one day. Even in the crushing sadness it causes to think that they are already walking this world, brought through a birth canal into an orphaned existence, I continue to hope for the day when their eyes meet mine. When I can see the look behind their eyes. And as I fall to my knees as an incipient father, I put my hope heavenward to the Father of the Fatherless who holds us safe in His arms and in His love.

Yes, a day will come when we will live in the light of hope, in fruition and not expectation. 
But for today, you and I need the whispers. 

You are more than what you're going through. Listen to the whispers.