Sunday, April 22, 2012

Stories Worth Listening To

My husband has the gift of becoming friends with strangers, a talent that I wish I possessed with such a genuine spirit as he has. His ability to ask good questions and let people know he's really interested in their stories gives us many great conversations with people we'd never know had such fascinating lives.

Like these guys.

Paul and Peggy.

We had the very great pleasure of meeting Paul and Peggy this past weekend over dinner at a bed and breakfast, and I think we did more talking than eating. We quickly learned they were in the area to learn about a local prison ministry that they were considering beginning a branch of in their home church, and we gladly asked them to give thanks with us for our meal. (What a joy when strangers are suddenly brothers and sisters!) Over the next hour and half, we sat and listened to their story.

A Mennonite couple, married 54 years, these two spent most of their lives overseas on the mission field. First in Puerto Rico, then in Peru and later Kenya and Zambia, working with Wycliffe Bible Translators and JAARS. They were in Peru in 1956 as Jim Elliot and his comerades were killed nearby in Ecuador; Paul was a radio operator and remembers hearing all of the news breaking and happening on the radio.

They spent years in Kenya living in tents, eight hours from Nairobi, teaching other missionaries how to survive in the African bush. Peggy recounted how a favorite weekend activity for their family was rising early to watch the sunrise over a watering hole at a local game preserve.

As a young man, Paul told us, he only ever wanted to be a farmer. His life was changed, however, by a man named R. G. LeTourneau, who is quite famous in his own right (inventor, philanthropist, Christian legacy, and founder of the university). LeTourneau wanted to help the impoverished peoples of South America by helping them cultivate their lands for farming, and so planned a mission to clear jungle and turn it into roads and farm land, and bring in Mennonite men (well-known for being good farmers) to teach how to farm well. Paul was one of ten young men who spent two years in South America with LeTourneau, building roads. He told of exciting plane landings in small villages, and of dinner at the LeTourneau's home. After these two years with LeTourneau, Paul said, he was never content just farming. He and Peggy farmed for a few years after their marriage, and then left for the mission field, where they stayed for almost half a decade.

After this evening of listening to their stories, told with such joy and obvious pleasure at their own life and God's goodness, I wondered if perhaps some of heaven or the New Earth will be spent thus, hearing and telling with joy the stories of God's goodness and provision on this earth.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

This and That About a Baby

Halfway there. Twenty weeks. Holy cow. (Crank some Bon Jovi for me?)

I just began reading a (so-far) excellent book entitled Give Them Grace: Dazzling Your Kids with the Love of Jesus by Elyse Fitzpatrick and Jessica Thompson, a mother-daughter duo. The idea is that your children are not perfect, will never be perfect, and as Christian parents, giving them more law ("Be good!") is not a gospel-centered way to nurture them. The law does not make us perfect as adults, so why do we think it will make our children perfect, or even teach them true obedience? Our tiny sinners need the radical, crazy gospel of Jesus our Savior. They can't do it, they can't please God, they can't get it right, and they need to know they can't, so they'll actually understand the gospel. They write: "Our children aren't innately good, and we shouldn't tell them that they are. But they are loved, and if they truly believe that, his love will transform them." By God's grace, I pray I can love my kids with a gospel love, and not out of a selfish need for this precious child to behave and "be good." He can't be good.

(Incidentally, I always wish I could tell my parents this in a way they'd understand at my job when they seem shocked that their little darling disobeyed/bit/hit, whatever. I just want to say, "Your kid is a sinner, and will never be perfect; don't be shocked that they act this way." But without the grace of the gospel, they don't understand that.)

I've been thinking about what it will mean to be a parent, to give up all these things that I think I want and need, to put my dreams and ambitions on hold, perhaps for a very long time, for the sake of nurturing this tiny human to the fullest of my small ability. It's scary, but good; I know every reason I could throw out for not having a child this young, this early, are all completely selfish reasons. I want to choose to embrace this wonderful, beautiful, greater, sanctifying good over what I think I want from my life. And I'm trying to work it into some sort of a nice poem, but right now, all I have is this rough start, based on one of my favorite children's books:

Goodnight comb. Goodnight brush.
Goodnight nobody.
Goodnight mush.
Goodnight stars. Goodnight air.
Goodnight freedoms everywhere.
Goodnight self. Goodnight sleep.
Goodnight quiet, dark and deep.
Goodnight youth. Goodnight brands.
Goodnight carefree evening plans.
Goodnight silly, careless, wild.
Goodnight self: Goodnight child.

Good morning, beautiful baby.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

The thoughts of others better than mine

I find it impossible to celebrate or meditate on certain days or aspects of Christ without thinking of this or that poem or line or hymn. Palm Sunday and the Easter week perhaps more so than any other. And I do not mean to undermine the Scriptures by my literary bent, only that some ideas, days, character qualities of Christ have been deepened or beautified for me by the well-written understanding of others who have wrestled and written before me.

Palm Sunday, the day that Jesus came into Jerusalem in great celebration as the beloved Lamb who was to be slain, is today. And ever since a dear college professor introduced this poem to me freshman year, it has never failed to enter my thoughts on Palm Sundays.

The Donkey
G. K. Chesterton

When fishes flew and forest walked
And figs grew upon thorn,
Some moment when the moon was blood
Then surely I was born.

With monstrous head and sickening cry
And ears like errant wings,
The devil's walking parody
On all four-footed things.

The tattered outlaw of the earth,
Of ancient, crooked will;
Starve, scourge, deride me: I am dumb,
I keep my secret still.

Fools! For I also had my hour,
One far fierce hour, and sweet:
There was a shout about my ears,
And palms before my feet.