Thursday, December 29, 2011

The real deal

This photo was taken on a night that Boo describes as "one of the best nights of my life."  Sandra, the woman on the right, is the founder and director of the Fundacion Salvacion orphanage in Huehuetanango, Guatemala where C and Boo and a team from various churches work for a week every January.  At some point during each visit, Sandra opens up her home to the team and creates a climate of hospitality that leads to belly-laughing fun and soul-nourishing warmth between our team members and the Guatemalan staff and translators.

When Mowgli took this trip a few years ago, he was fairly cynical about the church but he returned from Guatemala singing Sandra's praises, saying, "She's the real deal," which is the highest praise he can offer another person.  Just today, he commented on her authentically loving relationship with her husband, saying how much they love each other and how good their marriage seemed to be, which in Mowgli's eyes, is pretty rare.  For Mowgli, the fact that Sandra, a psychologist married to a doctor, could live a self-centered consumerist life and instead gives her life away to support and care for orphans makes her an example of the best our faith has to offer.

So we were so, so sad to hear today--the day before our team leaves DFW for Guatemala--that Sandra was killed in a car accident, which her husband survived.  She leaves behind three young adult daughters, several grandchildren, the husband Mowgli described and about 70 children who live in a home full of love because of Sandra's vision and sacrifice.

It seems like a real blessing that our team will be arriving on Saturday, ready to occupy the children while the staff and volunteers begin their grieving.  I'm sure that C and others on the team will be called on to offer pastoral care and comfort to the people that they work with every year and have come to love.  He is fighting illness and fatigue and both he and Boo are dealing with sadness and grief.  Please remember all of them this week in your prayers.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us and we beheld his glory, the glory of the only-begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.  John 1:14

Merry Christmas everyone!

Friday, December 16, 2011

It's my blog so I can brag

Everyone is home!  Tonight, we sat down together at home for the first time since early June, including one child who is a brand-new graduate of Guilford College and the other who just finished her first semester at UMHB with flying colors.

Mowgli took a day and a half to get home from North Carolina with all his worldly goods packed in his back seat (with room to spare) and his trunk completely full of books.  Even though he and Boo had already made several trips into the house, I had to take a photo:

So what's next, you ask?  Well, Mowgli got his old job at HEB back today and will pile up money before going back to Asia this summer.  (By the way, he's open to all kinds of other kinds of work, from manual labor to babysitting to help out.)  Sometime during the spring, he'll hear back from the five graduate schools he applied to and he'll also start looking into elementary teacher certification programs.  He's very aware that he has his whole life in front of him and he's ready to start making the big decisions and supporting himself.

With her characteristic hard work and good attitude, Boo did a great job in her first semester and has decided to go back and do it again!  She did well with 15 hours of classes, joined a theater ministry, taught missions at a small church, got involved in the college ministry of a different, larger church, and made lots of friends.

The best part of having the kids back for the holidays is just realizing how much we really like both of them.  If they weren't ours, we'd still be pretty crazy about them and who they've become.  Those of you with grown children know what I'm talking about.  I loved every developmental stage when they were kids and I'm really loving getting to know them as adults.

Friday, December 9, 2011

There's Still My Joy - Indigo Girls

This video goes with yesterday's post. "There's still my joy" is one of the more melancholy songs of Christmas and Indigo Girls offer it here in a low-key, understated way. This video is clearly personal and amateur and I'm guessing that it memorializes the people that are missing from the creator's life. Many of the other images are beautiful as well.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Have a very gentle Christmas

"Be kind for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle."  ~Plato

It's no secret that this is a hard time of year for many people. Some churches have "Blue Christmas" services for people who lost loved ones in the last year or anyone else who is struggling with their grief amidst the hollyjolly and hohoho and mistletoe.

It's not just the bereaved that have a hard time at Christmas.  Whatever you don't have and wish you did--love, money, a partner, children, a job--this time of year just makes the empty place emptier.  Every TV commercial, every carol on the radio, every happy family at church just intensifies the pain.

I love Christmas and I celebrate with enthusiasm.  Maybe you do too.  We don't need to apologize for that or dial it back.  But we can be sensitive and gracious and avoid assuming that everyone else is having the same experience.

And if you're having a hard time this year, be kind and gentle . . . to yourself.  Take care of yourself and let others know how to take care of you.  Show yourself some compassion and find someone else to show compassion to as well.  And know that the original message of Christmas came to "those living in darkness," people like you.

Dear Mr. Gingrich,

I'm not going to take your comments about poor children cleaning their schools seriously as potential public policy because we all know that's not what's going to happen and that's not what you intended.

But I just want to ask you:  when you said that people in poor neighborhoods don't work hard, where do you think the people who clean your offices live?  Where do you think the people who bus your tables live?  The people who mow your lawns and trim your shrubs?  Where do you think they live?  All those people leaving the center of every city every night, collapsed into their subway seats in their soiled uniforms with the dirt under their fingernails . . . where do you think they go home every night?

And the kids . . . the kids who get themselves up and to school because mom isn't home yet from her overnight job at the grocery store (yes, I know those kids) and the child who walks home and locks herself in the house until her mom gets off work at Walmart and takes the bus home to her house in the neighborhood you dismissed so cavalierly, the kids who go without when their day laborer dad can't find work because it's raining and the manual labor he depends on isn't available . . . what about them?   That's not to mention what happens to the family of the "unionized custodian" who loses her job because she is being replaced by a fourteen-year-old.

Insulting the poor is a good way to get elected in some circles.  It worked for Ronald Reagan and his "welfare queens," even though that particular stereotype doesn't hold up to statistical scrutiny.  Herman Cain tried it by telling the unemployed that if they don't have a job, they have only themselves to blame.  He got a lot of applause for that.

The truth is that 3/4 of poor adults work, most of them full-time.  A sizable portion of the rest are either disabled or elderly or work for cash under the government radar.  There are infuriating, frustrating exceptions, I know.  But Mr. Gingrich, to use a broad brush to paint the poor as lazy is not only cruel and unfair but incorrect . . . and it will probably get you votes.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Of Gods and Men

The tears on my face have hardly dried after watching "Of Gods and Men."  This beautiful, heartbreaking film won the grand prize at Cannes in 2010, putting to rest the myth that the arts and the gospel are at odds with each other.

I want to say that this is more of a Christian movie than anything that's been shown in American theaters in the last few years but I fear that would diminish what it really is.  Also, I want to say that it is a Christmas movie but the themes are of violence and waiting and only distant hope and so it would be truer to say that it is an Advent movie.

The film observes the same rhythms of the Trappist monks it portrays--silence, prayer and conversation in rhythmic repetition, making it a meditative experience to be entered into as much as a movie to be watched.  It begins in the days before Christmas and continues to the days before Easter, as the monks look back to their experience of the Christmas mass after their great fear comes upon them and as they look forward to the resurrection hope of Easter.

In between, they face the decision to stay or leave their tiny monastery in an insignificant village in Algeria in the 1990s, knowing that the violent confrontation between Islamist terrorists and corrupt government forces will eventually invade the monastery walls.  As the anxiety increases, they struggle to define themselves--to themselves, with each other, with the village outside the monastery walls--with the kind of courage that incarnates the love that brought them to Algeria in the first place and that bears witness to the hope that is within them.

They contemplate what it means to follow Jesus in laying down their lives to find them even as they know they have chosen their own deaths.  And as they do all this, they pray the psalms and chant the liturgy as they have every day of their lives as monks.

When the movie was over, I cried some and prayed for those around the world who face the same kinds of choices today.  The prayer "Lord, have mercy," which I often pray, had fresh and haunting meaning.  I contemplated whether the Lord does have mercy and I recited the beatitudes and then I stood and looked out the window for awhile.  And then I came to tell you about it.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, because theirs is the kingdom of heaven.