The Carnival She’s Longing For

Dear little girl,

You run and push and tease and bully and the other kids don’t like you. You disregard all authority and rules and choose to follow your own. Your behavior screams out for attention, but not the kind you’re looking for. You are left unsatisfied. You’re crying for love. But it seems so out of reach. Oh how I see your longing. Your craving. Your desperation. Oh how your heart must ache.

The school carnival was today. Parents came to pick up the other kids and take them off smiling and running to the elementary event of the year. You cried and screamed, tantrumed on the floor. You kicked the doors, kicked the backpacks on the floor. You wanted to go to the carnival right then because it had just begun. But your mother hadn’t come for you yet. I’m sorry we couldn’t take you. I’m sorry that no one came for you right at the start. Oh how sad you must have felt to hear the laughter and giddiness and see the bustle and not be a part of it.

Soon all of the other kids were picked up and indulging in the carnival’s riches, except for you. We walked back to the cafeteria to await your mother’s arrival. On our way we passed through the carnival hallway. You probably still remember it: tables of cookies and bars and pie and cake. Eager lines formed to buy tickets. Entire families all out for the grand event. Kids grinning with anticipation and indulgence. We stole a minute in the gym, the hub of the affair. Games and prizes, artists drawing caricatures, laughter and delighted squeals, tickets and treats. You stood in wide-eyed fascination and amazement. The air buzzed with excitement. A childlike ecstasy overwhelmed even me, at twenty three.  We stood and watched, taking it all in. It seemed to call to us, to reel us in. To enrapture us with its tempting thrill and pleasure. I snapped back to reality and realized we had to leave. We tapped your shoulder and turned you to walk back out into the quiet hallway, locked off from the carnival. It was blank, hushed, silent, reminding that this was not where the party was. That we were missing out. Even the cafeteria was emptier with the tables all rolled out for the celebration, a constant reminder of what we were missing. You waited at the window, walked on top of a lone table, and refused to pay attention to our warnings. After a while, I ignored your behavior and began to talk with you and ask you questions. Your eyes were wide with a glint of confusion, as if to say, “You’re talking to me? You want to know about me? You aren’t yelling at me? You’re engaging with me and I’m not in trouble?” I asked you all sorts of questions about your favorite things. I remember that you liked mangos and green beans, and the color violet. Which is different than purple, because it’s brighter, like pink and purple mixed together. If you could have any pet, you’d want a king cobra so you could bring it to school and scare and attack everyone. “Everyone’s mean to me. So I’d bring him with me.” You played absentmindedly with a set of miniature silver handcuffs. This was your toy, ironically; your mother was recently arrested and spent time in jail. You were sent off to a foster family for a bit. Now you’re back at home. Your entire world has been taken, twisted, and distorted far too many times for an eight year old. This should not be your reality. This should not be your childhood and these should not be your memories. But they are. And so cautiously and slowly you moved toward me as you realized I cared and was interested in you, fiddling with your handcuffs and telling me about king cobras.

The minutes passed slowly and you grew more impatient. A PTO mom came by, rosy with excitement and asked when your parents were coming. “I can give you some free tickets now if you want to go get her started at the carnival…!” she graciously offered. We told her we couldn’t and had to wait here until you were picked up. You told us that your mom had forgotten about the carnival and didn’t know it was today. That she probably wouldn’t take you. We said that maybe you’d be surprised and she would go with you, that she just needed to be reminded that it was today. You fearfully asked if we were going to tell her about your earlier tantrum. We assured you that we wouldn’t, but would simply tell her that you were upset earlier because you wanted to go to the carnival. I think as the minutes passed more slowly, our own hearts began anxiously hoping for you. We silently resolved to say whatever we could, just short of telling your mother how cruel it would be if she refused. You softly but desperately pleaded, “Will you tell her that I really want to go to the carnival? Because I really want to. Will you tell her that??” We promised we would.

The clock ticked past our closing time. We waited and waited. At this point there was only 45 minutes left of the carnival. “Will she spare even that, those 45 minutes for her daughter?” I wondered. We called and she flippantly said she was in the parking lot. She came in and you frantically struggled to get your shoes on to meet her down the long hallway. I helped you tie your shoe as fast as I could. Your anxious eyes revealed a heart beating desperately and with great urgency. You just wanted to get to her. You ran down the hall. I didn’t hear what was said, but I didn’t have to. Your shaking sobs and wailing told me. Tears surged out of your angry, lonely, and abandoned eyes. Your mother scolded harshly, “Quit crying! You’re lucky we went roller-skating last week. We’re not going to the carnival. No!” She scrawled her name on the sign out sheet and wrote the time. Fifteen minutes past pick up. You stood behind pleading and crying. “Knock it off! That’s enough! We’re not going. C’mon, get in the car.” Her words jabbed even me, so harsh and punishing. It was as if she didn’t even hear you, didn’t even care.

Couldn’t she see your desperate pleading eyes? Your longings and pleas? Your calloused heart from abrasive rejection? Oh little girl, I saw you! I longed to take you into my arms and hug you and lavish you with joy. To bring you to the carnival and share in your excitement and wonder and glee.

I numbly walked to my car and turned the key. “Why does this hurt me so much?” I prayed. “It’s just a carnival. It’s not a big deal. Just two hours of elementary spoiling and sugar. But is it really about the carnival?” It was so much more. I saw your deeply rooted pain, oozing out in despicable nastiness and defiance. Behavior rising from a crying heart, only to be shut up with rejection and punishment. I saw your fear and wonder at positive attention. Your pure longing and desire, completely discarded. Oh little girl, how I wish I could give you the world! But even more, I want you to know the safety and refuge in the love of One who made you. The One who knows you, you knows your desires. The One who longs to bless you. To hold you. To love you. To teach you. To surprise you with joy. To lavish you with singing. To celebrate you. Oh little girl, how this Daddy delights in you! I want you to know!

Oh little girl, I’ve only known you for an hour, but I haven’t stopped thinking about you. I am praying for you, wherever you are and whatever you’re doing. My heart weeps for your tender throbbing pain. I can’t do anything but pray. And so I will. Our God is greater than all of this. And to Him I will plead for you.

Sincerely,

The one who tied your shoes

 

Lord, will she ever know you? Oh Jesus, I beg of you to make yourself known. That she will know love and know the One who can fill her with life, never to be taken away. Please satisfy her deep hunger and thirst, her parched starvation. Oh good Father, hold her like she’s never been held. And don’t let her go.

This I choose.

sim·plic·i·ty. 

1. absence of luxury, pretentiousness, ornament, etc.;

2. freedom from complexity, intricacy, or division into parts

 

I wrote once about simplicity…seeking answers and wanting to know and understand what that means for me. Questioning how to run from materialistic idolatry, and yet have gratefulness for blessings. Wanting to fully grasp what it means to live with and steward the things that I own. I still question. I still wonder. And I am still seeking. But the more I seek, the more I understand.

I think that my life often becomes inverted to myself; slowly I begin to live for my status or for my things or my job or my relationships and I begin to worship the very things I have been blessed with. These things aren’t bad at all…they are gifts from God himself. But if I turn and live for them instead of the Creator and the One giving blessing, it becomes idolatry. Matthew 6:19-21 warns against laying up treasures on the earth where they will be destroyed; but instead we are to lay up treasures in heaven. A few verses later it says that we can’t worship God and money. I don’t want to live my life serving other idols and worshipping other gods and pursuing things that really don’t matter and will fall away. What a waste!

But it’s not just about having less or giving it all away or moving to lower ranks. Those things don’t entirely stop the obsession with things, the worship of stuff, or our deep internal longings for high status.  I believe simplicity begins with a belief, a choice, a state of heart.  Simplicity isn’t so much a state of having or lacking, but a choice to worship and live for One thing. One God. To choose simplicity is to choose denial of self and to become radically obsessed and consumed with the One for whom we are living. To brush everything else aside and simply live with one purpose. The reality and authenticity of these choices and beliefs about simplicity can be observed by the resulting actions. I ask myself, “If I truly am following Jesus and if I truly am seeking to worship Him only, shouldn’t my actions reflect that? Shouldn’t the fruit of this simplicity and worship be reflected in the way I spend my time and my money and my breath and my words? To spend not for myself or my own pleasure, but for the glory of the one who blessed me with these hours and dollars and the very air I breathe as I speak?”

That is the simplicity I want. That is the simplicity I choose. 

 

 

 

Therefore I will not lose heart

Here I sit, with my personal computer, in my regular routine, in my quaint little apartment above a cozy cafe, my stomach full, and my body well. I am comfortable. Oh how quickly I forget. It wasn’t that long ago that this reality fell away and I entered into something else. Something completely different. No resemblance to this place, this comfort, at all.  And I thought I would never forget. I thought that this was the pivotal moment and my life would turn around. And it was. It did. But now I am here. Far from the place where stories and pain and joy and grief were sewn onto my heart. And I remain unaffected. I live as though it never happened. I brush the elementary kids off my arms at work and sigh at their stories and am absent of patience. I move through life undisturbed by the brokenness of those I am close with. I do my duty and all that’s expected of me and am done. I hate that. It’s not me. I am more than that. God has done a beautiful work in me and I refuse to let routine and apathy take over my compassion and love. I want to live in full remembrance of where I’ve been and what I have learned. 

So I look back and read what I wrote then. I allow myself to feel and remember. And I am moved. 

July 20, 2012

Morning at Shishu Bhavan, one of the Mother Teresa homes for children. 

We walked into the courtyard, totally clueless as to where to go, so we wandered until we found one of the sisters and got our assignment for the day. We would be with the “toddlers”…the healthier children up for adoption. We walked in, no one really noticed. I found a place on the floor and two girls “read”/ memory-vomited nursery rhymes to me in their little school uniforms. I went with one of the sisters to drop them off at their school. I held the hand of a girl about 8 years old. She had plastic glasses and her short dress uniform, high socks, and black shoes. I held her fisted hand as she clung onto the two pieces of candy the sister had given her for the day. As we walked I was so frustrated. I felt lost and unwelcome. And the girl walked so slowly…dawdled along, twisting her body to watch the things and people we passed. When she turned to look, her leg also turned, which made her limp awkwardly and even more slowly. She almost ran into a pole and then again into a bamboo ladder that men were carrying down the street. I was irritated and even said under my breath, “What is your problem? Seriously, let’s walk normally and just get there!” I recognized this hardness and impatience and anger…I prayed “Jesus, I need you. I want to see you here. I don’t know how to love them.  Why can’t I love this girl? I feel so frustrated.” We continued down a little ally and up a dark staircase to the classroom (I literally pulled her up some of the stairs…I showed no love to that child). The classroom was worn and old and faded and dusty. I hate that…why couldn’t they have nice things and beautiful schools like the ones I had?

I came back to the playroom. The toddlers all wore yellow patterned clothes…simple and handmade. They didn’t like the plastic glasses they wore, strapped to their heads with a plastic spiral or a coated wire, and most of the kids tried to take them off. The kids were bald…all shaven heads. It must be easier to take care of…and cleaner. It was shaving day today. Even the girls lost their pretty curls or tiny pigtails. Their heads looked misshapen and awkward. I hated the fighting cries as they went off with the sisters to the little designated shaving room. I peeked in once…the sister holding him across her lap, so calm as she moved the razor across the head of the screaming child. I rocked one boy in the plastic chair horse. He had no expression or emotion, no reactions. His legs were lifeless and so were his eyes. He stared at nothing…jerking his heavy head forward and back to rock the horse. He didn’t like to be touched. I saw him later on the floor alone, rocking back and forth. A sister came by and said, “He is so lazy and needs to walk.” So for the rest of the time he was held by his arms, his body dangling without the support of his legs. 

All of a sudden they all were taken away to eat. I sat and waited, hung some laundry out on the terrace and thought about all of my frustration. I was frustrated with the kids, but also with the sisters. Yes, they played with the kids and held them and kissed them, but it didn’t feel intimate. Not like a parent’s love. But they aren’t the parents. These kids are still waiting for parents. How long will they wait? My anger is at the system and the situation, but I still feel bitter toward the people who are a part of it. It’s easier to be angry at people than at systems. 

I entered the small room where lunch was being served and was hit with a carrot and a glob of rice. I looked to where it flew from and the boy just smirked at me. I sat on the grimy rice floor and began to feed a girl, who soon got whisked away to be shaved. I watched the volunteer next to me feed two kids. She smiled and laughed. The little boy blew raspberry kisses on her arm and touched her face. He pulled her face close and kissed her cheek with his smiling rice coated lips. She fed them without frustration or routine. He ran off to get a bald Barbie doll head to play with. She didn’t look at it disgustedly, but joined him in his play as she continued to feed him. He got up and came to me, held my face, kissed me, smiled and sat back down. He didn’t even know me, but gave me love.

Soon the girl came back, shaven head. I tied a soggy bib around her neck and she sat down in front of the pie tin and spoon full of cold rice and chicken mush that resembled a chunky sort of vomit. I lifted the spoon full of food to her mouth as I had seen the others do. She opened her mouth mechanically and I put the spoon of mush in and scraped it off with her teeth. She sat with it in her mouth, her eyes absent of all life or thought…pure loneliness and lifelessness. Soon she chewed and slowly swallowed. I had to put more in her mouth. I hated it. “Why can’t she be fed and loved. Where are her parents? What is this, God? Why? Why can’t she be loved more?” I held back tears as I looked on this child…holding the mush in her mouth thoughtlessly and blankly. “Would she even know how to be loved? If she were adopted, what would she do? Would she know how to eat? Will she ever know that this isn’t how it’s supposed to be?” I fed her a few more spoonfuls, getting frustrated because my heart hurt so much. “C’mon, chew chew swallow. Eat this. I know it’s disgusting. I’m sorry I have only this to give you.” I thought of Matthew 25, “What you do to the least of these you do to me.” It felt dumb…”Okay, so I’m feeding you Jesus. Literally feeding you in the least of these. But its gross and this isn’t right and I want to love you more but I physically don’t know how and can’t right now.” Soon it was time to leave. I didn’t finish feeding her…I just left.  I hate that I dropped everything and left…will this child ever know real love?

Tonight we prayed as a group and read 2 Corinthians 4. The verse that stood out to me was verse 16, “Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day.” Today I saw my outwardness, my sinful, gross, disgusting heart. My selfishness and ugliness was apparent. I was ashamed of myself. But I was reminded that through this I am being renewed inwardly. My heart is changing. Rid me of myself, God. That’s what I prayed, and you are answering. You are changing me. Give me grace and teach me how to have grace for myself. Continue to reveal my outwardliness and rid me of this sinfulness. I want to be more like you, Jesus. 

 

This is not Abba

“A false and illusionary notion of God…sees God as someone who is gracious to me when I am good, but who punishes me relentlessly when I am bad. This is a typical patriarchal notion of God. He is the God of Noah who sees people deep in sin, repents that He made them and resolves to destroy them. He is the God of the desert who sends snakes to bite his people because they murmured against Him. He is the God of David who practically decimates a people because their king, motivated by pride perhaps, takes up a census of his empire. He is the God who exacts the last drop of blood from his Son, so that his just anger, evoked by sin, may be appeased. This God whose moods alternate between graciousness and fierce anger, a god who is still all too familiar to many Christians–is a caricature of the true God. This God does not exist. This is not the God whom Jesus reveals to us. This is not the God whom Jesus called “Abba.”  ”

-William Shannon

 

Father, Abba, Daddy, I want to know you. I want the REAL you and not a false caricature. I want YOU. I know in my head that you are the Father, and I know in my head that I am your child; but I don’t understand that kind of love. I want you to come near to me and love me with the tenderest love and deepest compassion. I want to be held and kept in your love. Oh Abba, I long for you.

He Loves Me That Much.

I am so far from Him. Why would He want me? I have turned away and gone after other things…my efforts are fruitless and destructive. The life is gone from me. My heart lacks all joy. The laughter on my lips is scarce. I’m tired. I’m questioning everything. I’m unsatisfied. I’m losing my heart, my soul, my spirit. I’ve turned away from the One who brings life, who speaks life, who IS life.

I am ashamed to turn to Him. Why would He want me back? I will probably do it again anyway. I will never be good enough or have anything to offer that is worthy of being offered to One so great. I should just stop. And never return. I am not deserving of Him.

But then I hear Him.

Hosea. A story that speaks of God’s anger at a people who continue to turn away and worship other gods. People whose words are empty and full of hypocrisy. They are a harlot while their God remains faithful. Their sin is ugly and full. Their efforts to worship God have turned into selfish, lustful worship of themselves. They see their sickness and turn to other things for healing. And oh how great is His anger. And they deserve nothing less than the full outpouring of His wrath.

But He gives them yet another chance. They are called to repentance.

Come, and let us return to the Lord;
For He has torn, but He will heal us;
He has stricken, but He will bind us up.
 After two days He will revive us;
On the third day He will raise us up,
That we may live in His sight.
Let us know,
Let us pursue the knowledge of the Lord.
His going forth is established as the morning;
He will come to us like the rain,
Like the latter and former rain to the earth.

He says out of the depth of His love,

“How can I give you up, Ephraim?
How can I hand you over, Israel?
How can I make you like Admah?
How can I set you like Zeboiim?
My heart churns within Me;
My sympathy is stirred.
 I will not execute the fierceness of My anger;
I will not again destroy Ephraim.
For I am God, and not man,
The Holy One in your midst;
And I will not come with terror.

They are called to return.

O Israel, return to the Lord your God,
For you have stumbled because of your iniquity;
Take words with you,
And return to the Lord.

Lord, this is what I say to you.
“Take away all my sin; receive me graciously, for I will offer the sacrifices of my lips. Not money or security or unfailing strength will save me; I will not depend on the security of earthly things, nor will I say anymore to the work of my hands, ‘You are my god.’ For in You the fatherless finds mercy.”

Lord, I hear you say to me

“I will heal your faithlessness. My love will know no bounds, for my anger will be gone forever. I will be to you a refreshing dew from heaven. You will bloom like a lily, whose roots go deep into the soil like a cedar. You will be rooted and immovable in Me. Your branches will spread out like a beautiful canopy, and your scent will be fragrant and lovely. You will again live under my shade. You will flourish and blossom and be sweetly fragrant. Oh daughter, stay away from idols. I AM the one who answers your prayers and cares for you. I am like a tree that is always green; all your fruit comes from me.”

Who is wise?
Let him understand these things.
Who is prudent?
Let him know them.
For the ways of the Lord are right;
The righteous walk in them,
But transgressors stumble in them.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qJHukvnRkHI

“If you could feel those words and the way I mean them right now, you wouldn’t question whether I’m capable of loving you or not. You would say, “Wow. He loves me that much?!” “

 

Scripture taken from Hosea, chapters 6, 11, and 14. 

Permanently Deferred.

Permanently deferred. Because of a system that automatically denies me without even knowing the actual truth. It started out as something small, that really wasn’t a big deal, but as I’ve been continuing to think and process, I realize it’s more than that. I am seeing it with a different perspective.

I used to give plasma at a plasma donation center twice a week; I haven’t gone for about 2 years but decided that I wanted to start again. I went in today and got a physical exam. Everything was fine until she looked at my eyes. I have Horner’s Syndrome; it’s something that happened when I was born. A facial nerve was pinched, and as a result I have lost some muscle innervation in my left eyelid, my left pupil doesn’t dilate normally, the left iris stayed blue while the right eye changed to green, and the left half of my face doesn’t sweat. Usually Horner’s Syndrome is a sign that something else is going on, like a tumor or a lesion or something similar. After medical intervention for the underlying condition, everything can usually go away. But because it happened to me as an infant, it has always been like this and hasn’t gone away. This is just how I am. And it’s really not a big deal. I am perfectly well and healthy…it literally does nothing but give me a good “interesting fact” about myself in get-to-know-you games. And it’s never stood in my way. Until today. Until it became a title and a way to define me.

When I had been examined at the donation center before, it was never a problem. But today she took a second confused glace when she shone the light into my eyes. I smiled and explained that my pupils are always different, I don’t have a concussion or anything. I told her what it’s called and explained how it happened and how it affects me. She continued filling out my chart and then reached to grab a big binder of disorders and cases and diseases. She looked and, “Sure enough, here it is…..oh. This says here ‘permanently deferred.'” She looked back at me confused. “I’m sorry. You look fine and seem perfectly healthy though. I don’t know anything about Horner’s Syndrome, but you seem unaffected…” I interrupted her confidently smiling, “I am. It doesn’t affect me at all.”  She still looked confused, “Yeah… I’m sorry though. I guess you are deferred.”

This label denied access. All of a sudden my body wasn’t good enough. They were fine with it before, they accepted me before. They looked at me and saw no problems. But now that there’s a label plastered on me from a giant systematic binder, I am done.

I wanted to cry. I was rejected. They didn’t want me. I wasn’t good enough.  I began questioning if something really WAS wrong, maybe I SHOULD go try and get this fixed. I went home and researched it…which I had done numerous times before, but for some reason I expected to find some crazy new fact or revelation which would give me a reason to be deferred and “broken.” I found nothing. There’s nothing to heal, nothing to fix. I’m fine.  I’m not broken or unhealthy. This IS healthy. This is me.  But I’m thrown to the side because of the label I have. The label itself isn’t unfair because I really DO have it, it’s true. What hurts is the way the label infers all sorts of other things without taking into account my personal story and reality. The label puts me into a system that works against me, without giving me a chance to explain. I become a thing, a number, something to throw or something to keep. I am no longer a person with a story or a history. I am something to permanently defer without a second chance or explanation.

Now I sit here and wonder, how many times have I taken a label and plastered it on someone without hearing their story? How many times have I passed someone off and their story goes unheard? I’m frustrated with the system. Someone may be perfectly fine and accepted until the label is found out by a pharisaical system; immediate deferral.  For good. No chances. No one knows if anything is actually wrong, no one sees a problem, they just go along with the system and stop caring and advocating.

Something happens to people when a system is in place: it becomes so much easier to take life away and make people inanimate, as if they were numbers to figure or parts to a device that just don’t quite fit so they are thrown. People become discardable. Systems are put in place and suddenly compassion leaves. “I haven’t heard your story, but the system boots you out, so I do too.”

Since when does a system, something created by men, govern the hearts of men? Since when does this thing  have the power to govern the love and kindness and humanity of humanity?

Unheard stories falling into a systematic cycle of permanent deferring. I am not okay with that.

Jesus, what do I do? What would you do? You broke all the systems. You took what people thought was true and came to renew it and make it right. You didn’t come to abolish the law, but fulfill the law. You brought restoration to the things that were broken and made them right again.

Oh God, make it right again.

Daddy Love

Lord, show me how you are a Father.

He walks in with her at his side. I see how he delights in his daughter, this small, wide eyed 5 year-old. He hugs her, smiles, and tells her to have a good day at school. She hugs him again and then runs off, but comes right back. “Hey daddy? Can you wait until I put this in my backpack and then can I hug you again?”  “Oh of course, absolutely!” He looks at me and I see the love in his eyes, “She melts my heart!” he says. They hug again and he holds her as he kneels. He comes to me and tells me that she has been picked on at school; an older student assigned to be her lunch buddy said he didn’t like her. She came home and said “Daddy why don’t the other kids like me? Is something wrong with me?” He was hurt for her, he was sad for her, he wanted more for her.  He asked me if there was anything I could do. Could she change to a different buddy? This boy doesn’t like her and now she has to sit with him…isn’t there a different option?

Oh the love and delight and defense that He has for me. My Father. 

He saw her in the hallway as he came to pick her up. She ran to him and he lifted her up, his blond haired 5th grade daughter. He put her down and came over to me, “Well obviously I’m her dad!” he said grinning as I handed him the sign-out sheet. They waited in the hallway for her sister and she told him an animated story with hand motions and he responded with the same movements. His face showed that he was delighted in sharing this conversation with his daughter. He was enjoying himself, he was listening, he was intrigued with her.

Oh the love and delight and intrigue that He has for me. He claims himself as My Father.

He went out and found her on the playground. She saw him and ran to him and was swept into his strong arms. Her excited, joyful squeal was heard from such a far distance and giggles bubbled out of her smile.

Oh the strength of His arms and the joy that exists in His presence.

He came and his son walked over straight into his arms to be held for a moment. “Hey buddy, I’m glad to see you,” his dad said.

Oh to know His quiet delight as I come to him.

Oh God, you are a good father. And you call me your daughter. Continue to bring this intimacy into a reality where I can see and know and understand. I desire to be Yours.