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Archive for June, 2009

I would like to beg you dear Sir, as well as I can, to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.

–Rainer Maria Rilke

I want answers. I want them now. I want to know that others are getting what they need, that my word is effective, that my actions are noticed and appreciated. In short, I want security.

But here’s the rub: God doesn’t call us to discipleship based on earthly security. A spirit-filled life hardly ever makes sense from a rational, logical point of view. When Brendan and I decided to move to Georgia to try out this community thing, we were not necessarily behaving as responsible young adults with a small child might generally be expected to behave. We had almost no money, we were getting rid of most of our possessions, and we didn’t have any guarantee that the community would accept us as members beyond a three-month internship. Yet we knew that it was exactly what we needed at the time.

I’ll keep this brief. If you’re looking for the earthly, human version of security, don’t ask God to take charge of your life. Because even if God decides to give you the gifts of plenty of money, a nice house, and a loving family, he’ll find other ways to rattle you out of your dream-state. When you ask God to take over, you’ll be awakened. And after that nothing will ever be the same.

I’m learning to linger in the mystery. Learning what it means to truly step forward in faith. To raise my hand when God is looking for a messenger, and to say, “Here I am, Lord, send me.” It gives me great peace. And it is anything but easy. But when I stop searching for answers, for logic and rational explanations, when I focus in on living here and now…well, all things work together for good either along with me or in spite of me. As the season of Pentecost gets underway, I think I’ll quit seeking security and start behaving more like a true disciple: live now, trust that the answers will come later.

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My family is such a mess.

I say this with utmost love and all due respect. But we have been in “train-wreck” mode this past week. I’m learning all over again how much damage yelling and nagging can do to my relationships with my dear children and darling husband. The hard way.  The decibels have been through the roof in the car on the way home from day care, at the dinner table, even going to bed there’s been yelling and screaming, kicking and pinching (thankfully the latter was not my doing, but that of my 2-year-old Kellan).

After months of working late, sleeping too little, and living in a maelstrom of impatience, I finally burned my candle all the way down and had to spend two days at home resting. Monday afternoon I got terribly disoriented and had no choice but to go home and go to bed. I slept from 2:30 that afternoon until 10:30 the next morning, with some brief interruptions to care for my children while Brendan did chores and to take them to day care in the morning so I could come home and sleep some more.

On my way to pick up the girls that afternoon I thought I was back at my best, but quickly discovered that I should probably not venture out into the world on a sick day. We drive a 1980 Mercedes Benz 300D (the D stands for diesel) with plenty of quirks. The gauges are a little touchy, and I noticed that the oil pressure was fluctuating wildly, which was the new quirk of the week. I stopped in a parking lot to check it, and sure enough there was barely enough oil in the car to register on the dip stick. Brendan had lost his cell phone a week before, so I resorted to calling my father to see if he knew what kind of oil to put in a diesel car. He wasn’t sure, but suggested that the people at the local auto parts store would probably know the answer.

On to the parts store, where their computer was unable to pull up a directive for the right kind of oil (it could only search back as far as 1982, besides which I learned that Mercedes is kind of persnickety about parts and wants you to get everything, including oil, directly from them in a special Mercedes package). So I had to wait for the woman behind the counter to call another manager at another store and, praise God, they were able to figure out the right kind of oil.

I rushed out to the car and did a sloppy job of pouring an entire gallon of oil into the engine. It did the trick, and so I hurried off to pick up my kids. As I pulled out of the day care neighborhood, my heart sank into my gut and I slammed on the breaks and shouted some choice four-letter words. I popped the hood and jumped out of the car. Sure enough, there was no oil cap to be found. I frantically looked under and over all the engine parts, no cap. And I was in Americus, 10 miles from home, with my kids in tow, and the oil cap could have been anywhere in a 2-mile stretch, hopefully safe on the side of the road and not flattened by the rush-hour traffic.

I managed to start the car with my shaky hands and slowly drove back to the parts store. No oil cap in the parking lot. I looked in the gutters, and peered across four lanes of busy traffic crossing the intersection where I’d turned just minutes before. No oil cap. Panic began to set in, and the four letter words were becoming more frequent. The girls were whining in the back seat of the car…it was 90 degrees, and we don’t have air conditioning. I drove half way back to day care, and did the only thing I know how to do in such situations: I cried and called my dad again for help. “Dad? Um, (voice wavering) what should I do if I forgot to put the oil cap back on and now it’s gone?”

Dad empathized, admitting that he too had made such a mistake in the past. He also suggested I pull over and go to look for the cap. I stopped in a parking lot, pulled into the shade, and began a mantra of “oh God, oh God, oh God, please please help, help me now.” My kids peered at me over the top of the seat, and I could see they were growing antsy. No way could I walk alongside a busy road with two small, tired, hungry children looking for something we might not even be able to find. And there was no way the parts store would have a cap to fit our engine. Stupid persnickety Mercedes people. Stupid exclusive parts. Stupid stupid me…

Since Brendan had lost his cell phone the week before and so I could not call my darling husband to come and rescue us, I called everyone at Koinonia with a cell phone. After five calls to five different people in the span of less than two minutes no one had answered and I was on the verge of a hysterical breakdown. As I was dialing the sixth number Dan called me back, and agreed to find Brendan and help me get a ride back from town for the kids so I could walk around looking for the cap.

So now what? I began pacing in the parking lot, fearing that a frenzied fight would break out in my car. “Let’s get out now…no wait, stay in here…stay out of Mommy’s purse!…no no, give me the keys back…”

And then a man walked by, a short, slight man who was obviously used to walking when he needed to get somewhere. I suspected he was Latino, and his answer to my “Excuse me, sir!” proved me right. He hardly understood a word I was saying. But that didn’t deter me. I wanted to ask him to look for my oil cap as he walked, so I began gesturing and speaking louder in typical American fashion, as though volume would somehow cross the language barrier. He was still drawing a blank, but at this point he had turned and walked towards me and so I started trying to explain in greater detail, confusing him even more. Then I realized it might be easier to show him what I was talking about. I popped the hood and pointed to the smoking opening on top of the engine where the oil cap should have been. He tried to direct me to the auto parts store, thinking I needed more oil. I retrieved the brand new empty bottle from the front seat of the car, trying to explain that I’d already been to the store.

“Lost!” I shouted, and I gestured like I had with my kids when teaching them to say “All gone!” shrugging my shoulders with my palms up. He smiled, said something in Spanish. I decided to try to use my four years of high school Spanish classes and began stuttering in horrible Spanglish. He smiled again, tried to ask what the exact problem was. And then I saw it. I swear it wasn’t there the first time I had pulled over. But there, nestled in the spark plug cables, was the cap!!

“AAHH!! THE CAP!!!” I shrieked. “It’s here!!!”

“Si,” replied my friend, and he began to ask if I needed help putting it back on, if maybe I wasn’t strong enough or something. I suppose he had seen it there as soon as I opened the hood. I suppose he must have been wondering what was the matter with this hysterical, dramatic gringa with the fancy old car. I was now hysterically rejoicing, “Thank you! Gracias! Usted hace nada, pero aqui esta la…cap! Gracias! Gracias!” I took his hand and pumped his arm up and down. He backed away, still smiling, “OK? Every-ting…ok?” he asked uncertainly. “Si, yes, gracias! Gracias!”

And just like that, my car was whole once again and my friend was on his way. It was pretty obvious he needed to get somewhere quickly from the way he had been walking when I approached him. But he was so patient trying to figure out how to be helpful to me, a total stranger. A woman with a car, when he had none. And he didn’t ask me for anything in return, just went along with his business.

I managed to get the girls back in their seats, called Dan to tell him everything was fine, and then I called my Dad. He snickered at my good fortune, and told me he had prayed that God would send me help as quick as he could. Ask and ye shall receive. Dad reminded me that help comes in many forms, and that we never know when we might be a blessing to someone else. We laughed about what the man might tell his friends about this crazy woman gesturing over her car engine and thanking him for doing nothing. Or maybe the man wouldn’t tell a soul, maybe the good deed would be kept just between him and God.

My crisis seems so insignificant compared to the problems most people in the world face on a daily basis. Yet, God uses the most ridiculous, mundane circumstances to teach me how to rely on him more. Even though I would have found another way to get my kids home, there was literally nothing for me to do about losing the oil cap on my car. I would have had to wait at least a week for Mercedes to ship me a new part. My back was against the wall, and it seemed there was nowhere to turn.

I honestly can’t tell you that the cap definitely wasn’t there the first time I stopped. It probably just blended in with the other greasy, dirty parts around it. But I believe God used my bumbling escapade that afternoon to teach me some valuable lessons:

  1. Slow down and pay attention
  2. You never know which direction help will come from
  3. God can and will intervene if you ask him
  4. Nothing is too small for God’s hand to get involved

On the rest of the drive home I drew deep, slow breaths, praying thanks the entire way. I also prayed for help with my day-to-day life, which hasn’t happened for a long time. I asked for help in communicating with my children, for guidance in my relationship with Brendan, for more patience and love. And I do believe the answer, like the oil cap hidden in the engine parts, is here with me already, if only I’m willing to seek it.

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