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Saturday, November 22, 2014

Here, There

It's everything you wanted, it's everything you don't
It's one door swinging open and one door swinging closed
Some prayers find an answer, some prayers never know
We're holding on and letting go

~Ross Copperman, "Holdin On and Letting Go"

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Flashes of Memories

It was late fall, early sunset, listening to "Lonely Eyes" as the country music beat accompanied my feet restless for a destination. Thought of my sister, heard her laugh, saw her mischievous smile, then clenched my fists tight to try to stop the tears. I missed her. Thousands of miles and time's invisible barrier now separated us. It wasn't fair. In that moment I understood why my room was still just a room, why the driveway wasn't friendly, why the back deck was just a place to sit, and why the memories of each life remained in carefully sealed boxes. I was waiting. I was waiting for my sister to come home, but she had found a home. I was waiting to go back home, but I never would be able to. I was still the teenager trying to comprehend how her world could fall apart in days and never quite come back together again. My life had rushed on ahead of me; now I wished I had lived those moments just a little bigger, taken more heart snapshots, been grateful for each breath instead of waiting for something to change.

15 years 11 months today. Will I ever stop sitting by the window, nose pressed against the glass, waiting for Daddy to come home?

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Kleenex and 1 am Blogs

I want to go home, she said. Tears streamed down her face, tears of loneliness, of longing. It had been too long, she was weary, she wanted to feel loved again. Safe again. Home was where she felt understood, where she could curl up under a blanket and listen to the rain, where she tore off large chunks of roti and wrapped it around steaming curry, where she rollerbladed to the quick beat of 80's music.

She sat silently, cross legged on her bed, and thought about home. There were at least 4. None of them were less than 5,000 miles away. And she was 34. She was home. Even if it would never feel like it. . .

Thursday, October 9, 2014

A Bible and a Bunny

It's a fire evacuation, what will you take? The first time we prepared for evacuation yesterday, I threw my Bible, a stuffed bunny I've had since I was 1 1/2, and my wallet in my bag. We grabbed photo albums, important documents, and sleeping bags. At the last minute I took my laptop. The second time, when we actually did leave for several hours, I took the same things but this time I remembered my phone charger and diaries. That was it. No spare clothes, no huge flat screen TV, just a few snacks in case we were gone for long. I didn't have piles of shirts on hangers, or suitcases of things. I rushed about wearing a simple dress and flip flops.

The fire is not out; it doesn't pose an imminent threat but the winds can shift at a moment's notice. So we sleep ready to leave, our phones on, waiting for morning when we hope to see a larger containment percentage. Always praying for the firefighters. Grateful for those who serve. And thinking about what's really important.

If I'd had just moments to leave, like some in the nearby community had, I would have taken my wallet so I could prove my identity, the photo albums so I could remember, and left. My past and my present preserved in those simple items.

For this TCK, it was a potential loss too close for comfort. Thankful that God kept His protecting hand over us this time. Praying He will continue.

Monday, June 2, 2014

God Saw

Defined by sin
this burden I have carried 
for so long
I am not me
I am wrong
filled with evil
Falling short of the glory
seen only in the filth
of my confused choices

I struggle to understand
a Father who can love
when there is nothing good
in me
why would He choose
unless it was to,
in some strange way
redeem me only because
it made Him look good

Then I read the words
simple yet so strong
Sin is not what defines
created humanity, my humanity is
and then I understand 
why a Father who loves
chose to do so 
because He saw in me
reflection of Him

and He said, it was very good

(c) Maria Lombart

Please note: this is not intended to imply that I have goodness of my own; rather it is to honour God as my Creator, who sees in me His reflection, who created me purposefully in that way, and who forgives because He does not define me by my sin but as His daughter lovingly created to serve Him. The inspiration for the poem was taken from What a Woman Is Worth, a collection of essays edited by Tamara Lunardo.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Turn Around

Don't forget us! she said as she nodded vigorously, her contagious smile mixed with nostalgia as the thought of a passage in time coming to a close. I returned the sentiment, vowing I would not forget, even as I thought of the class before who had come and gone and wondered about the next one just three months away. I could not forget. I never would.

This is what it means to be a TCK, or third-culture kid. You learn to blend all cultures into one single experience that shifts and alters as the shadows in the late afternoon. In one moment you are Korean, eating kimbap with fried egg at the corner restaurant and wearing a mask over your mouth and nose to shield you from Seoul's pollution. In the next you are Egyptian, hanging on to a single strap in the train as the crush of people tightens and eating foul medammes with thick torn pieces of wholewheat baladi that contain pieces of grit. You blink and you are Dutch, drinking karnemelk with your breakfast of hagelslag on buttered bread and riding a bicycle on carefully marked paths with their own red and green bicycle traffic lights. You turn around and you are African, squealing at night when you unwrap the mosquito net as a fat scaly brown lizard drops onto your bed and eating juicy ripe mangoes and deep pink guavas sweeter than sugar. You look up and you are American, eating an enormous sweet green pickle at the state fair and standing in solemnity as the missing man formation flies overhead at the yearly airshow. You nod and you are Mauritian, having yet another birthday celebration with no fewer than 50 people in one small house and eating bhajia and dholl puri with achar.

Each moment is rich with sensory experience that I absorb to its fullest. Years later, when I try to remember, I must go deep down into my consciousness to bring the memory and its meaning. Yet as soon as I remember, I am there, standing, riding, squealing, laughing, and eating. The memories are as rich as they were in the moment. In the same way, I see each class, each person. I cannot forget, though years pass, for when I pause to remember, the memories will shine as beautiful as in the moment they were created. The experience will always remain because it has shaped a small part of who I am.

So in answer to your question, no. I will never forget.

Friday, April 11, 2014

An Offering

She was there that day
standing in the corner
ashamed of her gift so small
all it was, was all she had
she could give no more

She waited, patiently
watching as they came
the men with their coins
dropping in so loud
trumpets sounded
people praised God
as they swept by the corner
where she stood

The day went by
til the sun began to set
she knew now the time
for her had come
quietly she stepped forth
gently she placed her mite
and it dropped in without a sound

He was there that day
standing in the corner
He saw the gift so precious
in its offering
He knew her sacrifice
her heart had given all
in its longing to be made whole

He turned to those
who were with Him
"Do you see that woman's mite?"
In giving, she will be given
more than she can imagine
For her gift was of greater worth
than all the gold in the world

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

From 1865 to 2015, Will It Change?

I finished watching Lincoln this evening. It is a strange film, the president often mumbles and yet has a strong presence, while it appears he was not as honest as history makes him out to be as his people who obtained the votes offered positions in return. One phrase stuck with me, Lincoln’s discussion of Euclid’s first common notion that things which equal the same thing always equal each other. I imagine Lincoln meant that if whites were human and blacks were human, then blacks were equal to whites.

One thing troubled me, however. It took 89 years from the founding of the nation for blacks to receive their freedom. While we could argue that this was in reality a short time for an emerging nation, I immediately thought of women’s rights. If indeed the abolishing of slavery was to happen in a “short” period of time, then women’s rights should naturally have followed right behind. This was not to be the case. It would be another 54 years until women would receive the equal right to vote as the 19th Amendment passed in 1919. 

Taking this thought one step further, I thought of women’s ordination in the Seventh-day Adventist church and wondered if it could be viewed in a similar manner. When Biblical culture is translated into principle, how does it apply to our culture? How do we as a world church, proud of our unity yet claiming to embrace diversity, balance the tension between cultural and interpretation of principle? Because that is what it is: interpretation, which itself must be based in cultural context. The culture of Bible times would have been biased too, wouldn’t it? It was, after all, influenced by human behavior and sin. For example, it was acceptable to have multiple wives, especially if you were a king. However, God did lay out specific laws that went against the culture of Bible times. Perhaps the question here is whether we are clamouring for Biblical culture (or absolutes as set in the 10 Commandments and principles as written in Leviticus, Numbers, and the Gospels) or the culture of Bible times to be our guide. 

I wonder if 2015 will see a historical moment for the world church or whether women’s ordination will again be shelved or perhaps even shut down. While I do not have a strong Biblical foundation to uphold my belief that women’s ordination should be allowed, I do believe that the God Who created culture also created equality. Jesus made it His mission on earth to demonstrate this through His interactions with every class of person who was considered “below” the sanctimonious. The prostitutes, the tax collectors, the women, the children, the Gentiles, the blind, the Samaritans, the lepers, the lame and the dumb were those to whom Jesus gave special attention. It was His purpose to show the world that the kingdom of heaven was for ones such as these. Not for those who stayed in the box, self-righteous, self-justifying, and self-confident. His words were for the poor in spirit, the hungry, the persecuted, the humble. His heart yearned to give salvation to those who sought it and even in His last hour He turned, not to the mocking priests, but to a criminal. A criminal who believed. Perhaps then, this is how God will continue to work through His church. To give the blessing of service to those who are ready rather than those who sit in judgment on the very same. 

Women received the right to vote a little less than a hundred years ago but they still struggle under the burden of inequality. They are abused, underpaid, and mistreated. In the workplace they are sexually harassed, in the home they are beaten, and in the church they are relegated to menial tasks deemed worthy for them. They go to the religious leaders and ask for justice but instead are admonished to humbly serve those who abuse them, “for in doing so you may save his soul.” Because their lives are lived for their children, they continue in fear or they leave without a fight, to save not their own but the fragile souls of the little ones they have been entrusted with. 

Someone who sits on the General Conference committee and votes against women’s ordination asked me to listen to his position statement in preparation for the next meeting. I shook my head, saying that I was likely not the best person as I had not studied the matter in depth myself and did not have an informed opinion. He smiled condescendingly and said that was okay. I continued to refuse, saying that my opinion would be emotional and based on logical principles rather than a studied Biblical foundation. He said that was precisely what he was looking for, and that sentence still resounds troublingly in my ear. 

I have a bachelor’s degree in Religious Ministry but I am not a Greek scholar and I do not know how to use a lexicon or commentary or dictionary to research the nuances of various words relating to women’s ordination. I cannot debate with those who opposite women’s ordination because they are well educated, they have strong opinions that they say are based in studied fact, and they have a decided agenda that they will not relinquish. I, on the other hand, see only a Savior. I see One Who stooped to form us out of dust and bone, Who sacrificed His very breath and endured the harshest of separation for us, Who waits longingly for a soon-coming day when we shall all go home, and Who stands, waiting. Asking, Why do you take so long? Perhaps if we could relinquish the battle of self and semantics, we could pick up the dusty tools that served us before and set out, man and woman together, to show the world why it is we “live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). Only in Him. Who created us equal.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Stand Up, Sit Down

Altar calls. I know, I've written about them before, but they still irk me. The very first altar call I remember was the one for my baptism. It's a vague memory, but I was a bit shaky as I went forward, convicted that I was doing the right thing, me, the pastor's kid, almost 13 years old. I sat in baptismal classes for several weeks with my best friend; we were baptized on the same day. My grandma and two uncles came thousands of miles from England for the very special occasion. My grandma brought me a beautiful white blouse and an elegant burgundy long skirt and I felt very grownup as I stood in the receiving line afterwards to shake everyone's hand of congratulation.

The second call I responded to was more informal. It was not at a Seventh-day Adventist gathering; it was in a Sunday church several hours drive away on a Saturday afternoon. Eric Ludy stood on the platform while Leslie, his wife, played a song of surrender and I slipped to my knees. In that moment I chose to hand ultimate control of my future relationships to God and have not regretted it since. He was faithful even when I was not and He protected my heart from many possible mistakes. 

The third altar call that I chose to take was at a youth conference in Sacramento. Ironically, the pastor who made the call was later forced to resign from ministry due to his indiscretions but God used him that day to speak to hundreds of young people. Strangely enough, I don't remember what the call was for but I knew I must go forward, even with my friends there who at the time were not a crowd that rose for every call.

Then the calls ended. I have sat through too many altar calls since to count, ranging from the simple to the serious to the spiritually manipulative. My conservative estimate would hover around 500 over the past 15 years. Can you blame me for retreating inwardly tonight when the speaker said, "and in closing, I would like to make an altar call" and proceeded to lay out the terms of his specific call? I was thankful that he was sensitive to the crowd, insisting that this was only for those who felt convicted, and placing it after the closing hymn and general prayer. I knew, though, that as soon as he dismissed the formal meeting there would be a streaming of people to the front. I was not mistaken. My three row mates vanished the moment he said Amen and found their way to the front of the group waiting to pray.

Please don't misunderstand me, though. It is not that I am against altar calls; I am not. I do believe in the power of the moment, the emotion, the conviction, the Holy Spirit's call, the awareness that this is the time to make a decision, and the music creating an atmosphere conducive to surrender. I believe in the support of others making a similar decision and going forward to later encourage each other to remain strong. It is not the principle of the matter that I rebel against; it is the repetitive manner in which it is conducted.

I've always said that any pastor who wants to feed his ego by having a large group of people come forward for an altar call could come here. Rarely will anyone sit through a call; as soon as the trumpet is sounded, whether it be during the closing hymn, a waving of hands, or a standing up among the congregation "while every head is bowed and every eye is closed," there is always a mass response. I wondered tonight if it was out of real conviction, peer pressure, or perhaps guilt. I wondered about the serial repenters; those who went forward for every single altar call regardless of what it was or where it was. Have they no ability to work on their relationship with God, that they must continually repent as if taking mass or sitting in the confession booth each Sunday?

When I said earlier that I had sat through many altar calls, I meant it literally. After my first few years in college where I rose for the calls, then transitioned to a dutiful response out of respect for others watching me, I finally realized that it was not necessary to behave as a spiritual jack-in-the-box, only popping out when the owner gave the command. I began to engage in critical thinking and reasoned that an altar call was an opportunity to answer a conviction that was placed on my heart by the Holy Spirit, not by a manipulative spiritually abusive pastor (unfortunately I was present for several of those). As I accepted the freedom Christ had given me, I began to remain seated when the calls were made.

At first it was rather awkward. I often felt like people were staring at me and wondering why I wasn't standing. I imagined they thought I didn't have "a converted heart" and likely were praying their own little hearts out that I would "come to the Lord" and "be saved." I usually studied my shoes until the speaker had finished the three or more phases of his appeal and everyone sat back down again. It was even more embarrassing when the call was to "stand during the final song if you believe with all your heart that Christ is Lord and want to surrender your life to Him." I would remain resolutely planted in my seat and stare straight forward until the 5-verse hymn had finished. If the speaker was particularly zealous he would then launch into another appeal and the congregation would stream forward.

Tonight I was grateful for a speaker's awareness that not everyone needed to answer his call. I knew there were people who had burdens on their heart that they desperately needed the community to come together with them in prayer for. I knew that an altar call could mean the difference between surrender and someone leaving to follow their own ways. I recognized the value of the experience and when I quietly slipped out, though I was annoyed at yet another altar call, I was not upset that it had happened. I guess perhaps on some level I still wondered if there was something wrong with me because I did not feel convicted, I did not go forward.

When Nicodemus came to see Jesus in the dead of night, Jesus did not send him away and demand that he return in the light when everyone could see him. He patiently dialogued with him, shared some of His mission, and spoke the words of John 3:16 to him, words that would become the most quoted and memorized words of all time. Years later, Nicodemus, now a loyal and faithful disciple of Jesus, provided the embalming material for His body. 

I am of the firm belief that God works on our hearts with a timing that is perfect for each of us individually. God convicts when it is the time to convict; not because it's Friday evening or Week of Prayer. I know God can use those times, but I believe that He is continually working and brings us to repentance only when He has determined it should be so. I am convinced that God is not pleased with the "sacrifices" of the repetitive; that He is looking for genuine change and He asks for a sincere heart of mercy and humbleness.

I likely will be sitting in my seat at the next altar call. Yet in my heart, as I do each time, I will listen for the still small Voice. And if He calls, only then will I go forward.