Michael (Part 1)

While there are many moments and conversations that are favorites from my trip to the Dominican Republic, my absolute best took place in the Atlanta airport on my return trip to Minnesota. Clinics were over, church services finished, last words said, hugs given, final good-byes, prayers whispered, last supper, bags pulled from conveyor belts, more hugs, and it was all over.

Gone. Just like that. In many ways it was like those days never happened, for how short they were. The rest of my life at home continued on just as well without me being actively present. It was exactly how I wished it to be. Blown like the seeds from a dandelion. Gone to no one knows where. Invisible. Free. Incredibly happy.

Curled up on the black couch with my carry-on bag for a pillow, I thanked God for the amazing week we had just finished. A girl came over to spend the night with me, we shared words, and agreed to watch the other’s luggage if awake. Another woman joined “my” corner. Soon a man pulled up two chairs, covered himself with a white sheet, and filled in the circle. Full. Complete.

None of us ever introduced ourselves. And even though we would spend hours together, names were unimportant, trivial. Not a one of us had the same color of skin, but inwardly we still shared the same color of blood, carried the same breath in all our lungs, and were in that same instant being sustained by the same Creator-God. We were an airport family of sorts. Everyone is always welcome.

A tear oozed from my eye onto my bag. I tried to stay awake. Failed. I woke up around 11p to a man walking by with a camouflaged Gideon’s Bible in one hand and a plastic grocery sack in the other. Also in the hand with the sack, was a phone with a cord dangling from it.

Half asleep I scratched out a “hello”.

“Excuse me, but do you know where an outlet for a phone charger is?”

Shaking the dizziness and sleep from my brain, I told him I hadn’t left this spot and really didn’t know.

I watched him walk over to the massive wall that housed the clock in the atrium—just feet from my spot. He turned and told me he’d found an outlet.

Smile. Good.

Low mumbles into the phone. I laid back down and told God I would have a conversation with the man when he got off the phone. In the minutes that passed, I was uncertain if I’d even seen a Bible or if it was just the hallucinations of a sleep-deprived brain that had seen navy blue Gideon Bibles in brown hands all week.

Minutes later he walked over to us. Ignoring all others, he came straight toward me with his finger marking a spot in the Bible.

“Here. Read this. Starting at verse 18.”

“Do you want me to read it out loud?”

“No. Just read it.”

I read 1 Pet. 3:18 to the end of the chapter and had absolutely no idea where he was going to go with those verses.

Hearing Philip’s words to the Ethiopian in Acts 8, I looked up and asked him some of the most direct words of my entire life, “Do you understand what you are reading? Does it make sense?”

Love Again

Loss changes us. Loss takes away what we love and leaves a hole that may never get filled. Time does not heal all wounds, nor does love always happen again. Sometimes it is far easier to hold onto a beautiful memory or a special photograph than it is to be vulnerable and love again. It is especially difficult when you know that another loss will be eminent and your heart will be broken all over again.

All of us have experienced broken hearts. Times when we think it impossible to ever love again. And when we do not have the effort or desire to love again, we become jaded and cynical.

… but …

God calls us to love with open hearts. We are called to live lives of deep love that will lead to deep sorrow in loss. We are encouraged to love like Jesus—perfectly, completely, beautifully. Jesus didn’t give up on love when people didn’t love in return. Nor did he quit loving when people walked away from him. Instead, he looked at the retreating figure of the rich, young ruler and “loved him.” He loves us when we “get it” and ultimately follow him. But he also loves us when we drift away from him and do our own thing for a time. And wonder of all, he still loves us when we walk away from him—forever.

Thinking about his disciple, Judas, one can’t help but realize that though Jesus knew from the foundation of the world that this man would betray him, he still loved him. Clearly, Judas was treated no differently from the other disciples, as there are no verses in the Bible mentioning, “We had no need to ask Jesus who was going to betray him, as the past three years definitely showed us that he didn’t feel the same about Judas.”

No, Jesus invested into this man, just as he did his other eleven followers. Yet, all the while, he knew that there would be no return on this investment. That for all the time poured into him, there would be no benefits for anyone. When the going got tough, Judas would change sides, listen to the lies of religious people, and make heart-breaking decisions. Judas would kill himself instead of falling at the feet of his dying Savior, Lord, and Teacher—pleading for forgiveness and confessing his great sin.

And, I wonder, do I love like Jesus? Do I choose to love again and again, even when my heart is broken? Do I see the high priority of love and realize that there is no other choice but to love? Will I choose to follow the example of Christ and invest in relationships—even when they disappoint, drift away, or die?

Or, do I shut out love for fear of having my heart broken again? Refuse to love again for fear of abandonment? Keep my heart “safe” from making poor investments in others by not developing relationships at all? These are all questions I’ve been asking myself over the past several weeks.

So, I want to close with the easiest story to tell of all the stories happening now. Baba (African for “born on a Thursday” and the name of the sheep in “The Little Drummer Boy”) was my best boy. This rat made me smile when I got home in the evenings and I loved cuddling with him on snowy, winter nights. He was a burst of joy in every day and a sweet gift from God—especially, considering that he shouldn’t have survived when all but one of his siblings died soon after birth.

Before I went to the D.R., he had a tumor removed from his neck. Within a week it was back and I knew he was living the last of his life. A piece of my heart died when I said good-bye to him early that Sunday morning, as I knew that that could very well be the last time I’d see him with the breath of God filling his lungs. But I knew that God had called me on this trip and it was going to have moments of loss and sorrow—beginning with Baba.

The Wednesday I returned home, I found Baba had slipped away. My heart broke and I cried for him and me and all the other things in life that couldn’t be understood and explained away. I told his buddies that I would never love any of them like I loved Baba. I kept my word for the next two weeks until something broke inside of me and I realized again that love isn’t love until it’s given away. And with all the circumstances swirling around telling me to guard my heart, I made the choice to love instead.

Freely. Strongly. Deeply. In all circumstances. In all relationships.

Like Jesus does.

Home

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It was quite possibly the best ten days of my life. It is also equally possible that they were the most challenging, joyful, sad, beautiful days of my entire life. These fragile, fleeting moments allowed for a far more intentional dependence on Jesus as the only One who really matters and the only One who knows every intricate detail of all of our lives and loves us anyway.

This post is about home.

On Tuesday, July 22, I read Philippians 3. Though there were several things I thought and wrote about, the verse that whispered to my questioning heart early that morning was verse 20, “But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.”

I always thought home would be the place I felt the most comfortable in, the place that held the sweetest memories, or the place that my heart felt the safest, happiest. And though home can be all of these, it is far more than any of these. Home is far less of a place and more of a person—more specifically, Jesus Christ.

There are places that will always hold more of my heart than other locations. For me, Myanmar will always be known as the place of beautiful worship to Jesus, precious orphans, and the place where I began to find healing from my past—thanks to God and Pastor Brad. Lake Michigan, El Golfo, Bethlehem Baptist Church, a cemetery, and a remote pond in a farmer’s field all contain larger pieces of my heart.

But none of these places are home. None of them ultimately satisfy. None of them could possibly still my restless soul forever. None of them could ever, completely, fully be home.

The only reason they hold such a special place in my heart is the Person at the depths of these places. These places are home precisely because they are markers of life-changing events. Home because of Jesus.

More than anything last week, I realized that home is where Jesus is, where His people are. Not so much a place but a Person. Jesus = home.

Jesus, may we be so Yours that any place with You is home.