Category: Suffering

Purpose – Five Minute Friday

“It helped so much when I realized it all has purpose,” I said.

“So God destroys your life because he has a purpose?” Z asked.

“No. God doesn’t throw us down the stairs to break us into shards that He can fix,” I said. “But when life breaks us, He uses the shards to make something beautiful, if we let Him.”

“If God is all powerful, He can prevent the destruction,” Z said.

St. Mina - Coptic Icon“Yes, He could,” I said. “But He doesn’t. He doesn’t stop people from doing wicked things. He doesn’t stop nature from being broken. He rarely suspends the laws of creation to protect us from the consequences of a broken world. Our freedom, even when we break the world and destroy each other, is more important than protecting our lives and dreams.”

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“How can you insist God loves you when He didn’t protect you from all the horrible things that happened to you?” Z asked. “He could have at least given you a replacement family that loved you. You’re lovable, you know. My mother would have taken great care of you.”

I nodded, “He could have,” I said. “But that would have interfered with Siobhan’s and the minister’s freedom. God doesn’t interfere with our freedom even when we do evil things, even when we shatter other people into tiny shards. But He does pick up the shards and make them into beautiful mosaics.”

“It would be better to be whole,” Z said.

I nodded. “I’ll never be who or what I would have been if my Grandpère hadn’t been killed, or my parents, or if I had lived with people who loved me. I’ll never be the woman who wasn’t raped or abused for most of her childhood.”

“But it’s okay because God has purpose,” Z said.

“No, it’s not okay. What makes you think it could ever be okay?” I asked.

“You’re don’t make sense” Z said.

“Even though it’s not okay and will never be okay, my life is good and beautiful. When I step back, I see glimpses of the portrait God is making with my shards. I’ll never be the unbroken glass I might have been if people had chosen good instead of evil. But their choice isn’t the final word. God has the last word and my shards are already more than I could imagine.”

“So you don’t mind being broken to bits?” Z asked.

“Most of the time, I’m too busy discovering the depths of the portrait He’s making,” I said. “I still hurt but my life is also filed love and joy and the knowledge that the hurt will eventually be healed. It’s like pain management but better. The pain’s hasn’t disappeared but it’s sufficiently healed so that I can live abundantly and the pain has given me purpose, even though it’s not the purpose I would have had. I’m happy to be my shattered and reworked self.”

Image source

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On Friday (and occasionally Saturday if Friday is filled with an excess of other activities),100s of bloggers set a timer, write for 5 minutes, and then post the results over at Kate Motaung’s blog, Heading Home. She provides the prompt on Thursday evening. We don’t edit or concern ourselves with whether our writing is flawless or worthy to be seen. We expose our incomplete, unpolished thoughts and words to each other and our readers and tweet them with the hashtag #FMFParty. Join us.

(I’ve not made a Five Minute Friday post for some time but this prompt segues into something I’ve been writing in my mind and it’s time to get it down.)

Save

I Want My Marmar

I waited outside my classroom in the damp chill for Claire and Gerrard. The other children had all left but no one came for me.

“I can walk,” I told my Friend. “I know the way.”

Two blocks past the school four big boys jumped from behind a thick hedge. Gerard and Charles quarreled with them after school.

“That’s Gerard’s sister,” one of them called out.

“Let’s get her,” another boy said.

Suddenly I was lying prone on the ground. Their fists pommeled my back. A sneaker crashed into my side.

“Let’s go,” a boy said. “Old man Marcus’ll see us.”

Pain throbbed in my arm and back as I pulled myself to my feet. My knees ached. My book and lunch pail were in a puddle. I picked them up and limped home stunned and sobbing.

“I want my Marmar,” I begged my Friend. “I want my Marmar.”

The woman met me at the door, blocked my entrance.

Her fist on her hip, she asked, “Where have you been?!”

“They forgot me so I walked by myself but some big boys beat me up,” I wailed.

“You should have gone back to school and reported them to the principal,” she told me.

The sky was growing dark. Big rain drops had begun to fall.

She pointed towards the school, “Go and report them to the principal.” She stepped back inside, closed the door, and watched me through the glass panes.

As twilight fell, I limped back in the rain with scraped hands, bloody knees, wet shoes and clothes. More tears leaked out when I discovered a rip in my navy, corduroy skirt; my chest hurt.

“It wasn’t her!” I sobbed at my Friend. “It wasn’t her! It was that woman!”

Something dark made me jump. I peered closer, pouted at the shadow of a shrub. “They’re waiting for me,” I said.

The principal, Mr. Evans, gave me a puzzled look as I entered his office, “Did they forget you?”

Tears became heh-huh hiccups as I choked out the story.

When I was quiet, Mr. Evans lifted me into an armchair and dried my tears. His hands shook as he emptied the contents of a packet into a styrofoam cup and added water from an electric kettle. With a smile, he handed me the cup of cocoa. “Let’s see if we can do something about those cuts,” he said. “This will sting.” He cleaned and bandaged my wounds, then drove me back to the house and walked me to the door.

The woman let me in, “Go change into something dry.”

Mr. Evans smiled at me from the porch. As I began to turn away, anger replaced his smile. He didn’t come in but kept the woman at the door for a long time.

Next morning, the pain in my knees woke me. The bandages had slipped; my pajama bottoms had stuck to my scraped knees.

“Stop!” I screamed when the man ripped the fabric from my wounds.

“Gros bébé,” he sneered and smacked my thigh.

 

All Along You Were Trusting Me – Assignment 3

Beloved,

Rage. That was the worst thing. Seeing Grandpère murdered was brutal but the rage that flooded my soul was worse. Ditto Ti Eduardo’s murder. And being raped. And Marmar’s and Papa’s murders. And the neglect and abuse by the minister and his family. And all the abandonment. None of that compares to the rage.

I have so much rage. Rage against myself, I tried to commit suicide so many times. Rage against others, I tried to kill the minister.

He survived only because Charles was inept. Had I been old enough to get drugs, he would have died. But all I could do was use my voice and words to convince Charles to kill his father. When he stirred the contents of the capsules into the milk, I assumed it was a lethal dose. What does a nine year-old know? I was so full of arrogant rage, I would make the horror end.

And all along You were trusting me. Me!

All along You were trusting me to bring my heart with it’s huge load of arrogant rage to You and let You heal me. I deserved to be zapped out of existence. I’m dangerous. Look at the way I treated that security guard. He said I called him ‘a leech, a lowlife, and a non-entity.’ I didn’t call him any of those things but I made him feel that way. He crossed the line and I crushed him.

I ought to have loved him. You love me so much. I ought to have loved him even though he was being a jerk.

When Jesus is in our handsNow You have me praying for the soldiers who murdered Grandpère and Ti Eduardo. Last week, I wanted them dead. Today, I pray but I’m not trustworthy. The arrogant child who wanted the minister dead, who wanted the soldiers and whoever murdered Marmar and Papa to die still lives within me. She’s old enough to know murder is wrong but there are other ways to annihilate people. (Remember Cade?) On some future tomorrow, I will probably try to annihilate someone else. And You will still be trusting me.

You take immense risks. That’s the way You are. This is part of Your plan. This is You putting Yourself in my hands letting me choose whether to crucify You or be crucified beside You. I hate pain!

(This does make beautiful, horrible sense. You get us to love the unlovable by using what You’ve given us. You use the curiosity that has helped me survive in this crazy world. And You make me indebted to murderers and abusers because praying for them leads me to love them in ways I would never imagine.)

You shouldn’t trust me.

Please. I may not be curious about whether an enemy will see me in their children’s eyes. I may go on fuming about some slight and not attend to You showing me how I was rude and annihilating. I’m not worthy of Your trust. The ugliness in my soul is the same ugliness in the world; I so want to make the world in my image. And I only want the salvation of those who cross the line when You hold my feet to the fire. You are not safe in my hands.

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The assignment is to write about something that is both beautiful and horrifying, sustaining and devastating.

Image source

First (The Christmas Card I Wanted To Write)

“[S]eek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well.” (Matthew 6:33)

God reveals the beauty in us.

Pieta, The C.1498 Buonarroti, Michelangelo (1475-1564 Italian) Marble Sculpture St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican City

First, it hurts. Like warm water on frozen fingers. Like Michelangelo chipping away at a block of marble because he knows the Pieta or David is within. Chip. chip. Chip. God is plying his little hammer and chisel. First, it hurts.

Then I remember that first, my parents gave me to God in baptism and entrusted me to His care.

And first, I chose to risk my life on the belief that He really meant, “seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well.” If that promise is a lie, then all the other firsts are meaningless.

And first, He has always made it possible for me to withstand the chiseling and so I remain and let Him work. He loves me. I know that. There is no why. I’m not worthy. There is only love.

And first, there are my friends who share in community I hoped for but could never really imagine. They’re the biggest surprise. They wait with me as God warms my frozen flesh and brings me back to life. They wait as He chisels away. They wait in expectation even when I can’t turn my eyes in hope that there is something glorious in me that He is releasing. They wait even when I can’t find words to say “thank you” for loving me. So I will wait with them. I will have faith in their faith.

First, it’s a glorious new year.

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On Friday (and occasionally Saturday if Friday is filled with an excess of other activities),100s of bloggers set a timer, write for 5 minutes, and then post the results over at Kate Motaung’s blog, Heading Home. She provides the prompt on Thursday evening. We don’t edit or concern ourselves with whether our writing is flawless or worthy to be seen. We expose our incomplete, unpolished thoughts and words to each other and our readers and tweet them with the hashtag #FMFParty. Join us.

Away III

This week’s assignment was to rewrite a previous submission. My goal is to blend Mel’s interior life with her Friend and the internal censor she has developed with her everyday experience. You comments and suggestions are most welcome:

…But you’re somehow a part of my life
And you won’t go away
(1)

Carly Simon’s voice continued on as my clear soprano cracked and faded to a whisper. The rubbery, dark, barrier spanned my heart and mind. I raised my broken soul to my Friend like a shocked child holding a dead bird, pleading, ‘It’s broke. Fix it.’ My Friend’s arms suffused me with radiant warmth; He neither explained nor eradicated the pain.

“She’s off key,” Verna sneered.

I raised my head to look at her indistinct form through blurred eyes, then wiped away my tears with the soft cotton of my pale blue sleeve.

Verna stood with her back to the frosted window. I did not respond. Neither did the other occupants in our dorm room.

“She is.” This time her voice was shrill.

Sprawled across my bed in her pajamas and robe, Kelli swiped a yellow highlight across another sentence in her economics text then looked up and said, “No she isn’t.”

Her dark gaze caught and held Verna’s hazel eyes. Verna lowered her lashes. Kelli returned to her studies.

Verna muttered, “I can hear it even if you can’t.”

“Huh?” Diana, flopped down like a rag doll, shared the braided rug in the middle of the floor with me. She lowered the typed page she was marking with red, green, and blue fine point pens away from her face, and told Verna, “You’re tone deaf. You can’t even play a kazoo.”

We chuckled. I turned my eyes back to the psychology text in my lap.

Verna opened the window a crack and sniffed, “It smells like snow.”

Ama, twirling one of her many slender braids, uttered a breathy plea, “Verna, it’s cold. We have our French final tomorrow.”

Verna shut the window and bounced towards her friend. The phone rang as she passed.

“Crazy coeds r us!” Nancy and I exhaled audibly. Kelli shook her head. “Meh-el,” Verna bleated, her mouth gloating, her eyes like Claire’s had been whenever she lied and the minister beat me. “It’s your fazher!”

I glared at her and snatched the beige receiver from her hand. “Hello?”

“Who was that?” I knew the minister’s voice could be heard throughout the room.

“My roommate.”

“Get a new one.”

“What’s up?”

‘Good,’ the inner censor commended me. ‘Keep it casual, relaxed.’

Mon Dieu! You don’t ask how I am?” he accused.

“I’m studying for finals,” I told him my voice raising nearly an octave.

‘Stay calm,’ the censor warned.

“You can pick up your ticket tomorrow,” the minister told me.

“Thanks. I’ll get it at the airport Wednesday.”

“Get it tomorrow.” His voice held the same menace as when he unbuckled his belt to hit one of us.
“I have finals every day.” An image flashed through my mind. I held my breath; my heart began to pound. “The ticket… it’s round-trip, right?!”

‘Don’t screech,’ the censor chided.

Zut! Don’t raise your voice to me!” the minister commanded. “I said I’d get a round trip ticket. Are you calling me a liar?”

I soundlessly released my breath but did not speak.

‘Good,’ the censor assured me. ‘Ignore his accusation.’

The minister continued, “Bring all your things back with you.”

“Why?” My heart began pounding again.

“Someone will steal them. Nouille!” He muttered the last word, idiot.

I ignored the insult. “My room and the dorm will be locked. No one can get in.”

“Bring everything anyway.” He spoke in his prophecy-from-on-high voice that I had learned to ignore when I was twelve.

“I have a final in the morning,” I sighed.

‘Perfect,’ the censor told me. ‘Remind him that you have a lot of work.’

“Just because you have that scholarship, you think you know everything.”

“I have insurance.” The words tumbled out before the censor stopped them. I ignored her indignant jolt. “It’s nearly midnight here. I’ve got to go. Tell Matthieu I love him.”

I gently replaced the receiver; he would ring back and rebuke me if I let it slam. Kelli’s eyes caught mine. She gave me a small, I’m-sorry smile. My shoulders ached. The darkness of the rubbery barrier loomed within me.

At the stereo, Nancy put on Janis Ian’s Stars. Her elder sister had owned it before she was killed by a drunk driver. We had not listened to it since the Sunday evening after Thanksgiving when Verna had taken extra holiday time and we had the room to ourselves. In the unaccustomed quiet, Nancy played it after she told me she missed her family.

“Why does your fazher sound like…” Verna proceeded to articulate each word, “a loud, old, French peasant?”

I breathed in through gritted teeth, “He’s not my father.” My lips were a tight line.

“He raised you.” All innocence.

I shook my head with such violence my sinuses ached.

Ama dropped her braid, propped her elbows on Verna’s desktop and said, “Verna said he adopted you.”

Only Kelli kept her eyes on her book; I knew she was not reading. I breathed out a defeated sigh, “No.”

‘Careful,’ the censor warned.

“I can’t find a birth certificate or adoption papers. There’s nothing, not even any pictures of me before I was about five.” My Friend’s arms had supported me Verna and the minister lacerated my heart. But now my body sagged under the continuing assault.​

“Did you ever ask?” Diana interest was genuine. Still her question was another blow. “I don’t mean to pry,” she added in a gentle tone.

“This was his answer,” I pointed to the scar above my right eyebrow, shrugged one shoulder, and lowered my head to my book.

“You’re a foundling!” Verna crowed with delight. “Your parents abandoned you.”

“They didn’t!” Heat suffused my body. Unheeded, my book slid to the floor. My fists curled themselves into tight balls. “I just don’t know what,” my forehead crumpled as the rubbery darkness overshadowed me, “happened to them…” The last three words were a whisper. My fists unclenched, became limp. My eyes pleaded for answers I knew none of them had. My face felt stretched, parched.

“What about you?” Nancy cut in with unusual sharpness. “Your father abandoned you.”

Verna’s back straightened, “Mummy divorced my father.” Her voice held a faint British accent that she had picked up during a semester in London; she used it to proclaim her superiority.

“Your father still abandoned you,” Kelli told her. “You haven’t seen him since you were a baby.”

Verna glanced at each of us. I followed the hasty swivel of her head. First, her eyes met Nancy’s hard, blue ones, then Kelli’s dark, exotic stare, then Diana’s dim sighted, hazel look, then my eyes as dark and exotic as Kelli’s, and finally the steady, blue gaze of her best friend, Ama. No one spoke. Even Ama, twirling her braids, waited with us for Verna’s response. Verna turned her eyes to L’Etranger. I picked up my book as Janis Ian explained:

…I’m leaving a light on the stairs
No I’m not scared – I wait for you
(2)

Rubbery blackness blocked the present from the past, an unassailable barrier. I blinked away tears. An electric tingle saturated my body from head to toe; my Friend was hiding me in the safety of His wounds.
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(1) Stephen Sondheim, “​Not A Day Goes By
(2) Janis Ian, “​Jesse

Away II

This was the second assignment I submitted:

…But you’re somehow a part of my life
And you won’t go away
(1)

Carly Simon’s voice continued as my clear soprano cracked and descended to a whisper. The dark barrier stretched within. My Friend’s arms held me in radiant warmth.

“She’s off key.”

I raised my head, peered through blurred eyes, wiped tears on my blue, shirt sleeve.

Verna stood with her back to the window. We did not respond. Her voice grew shrill, “She is.”

Sprawled across my bed, Kelli highlighted another sentence in her book, then looked up and said, “No she isn’t.” Her dark gaze caught and held Verna’s hazel eyes. Verna lowered her lashes. Kelli returned to her studies.

Verna muttered, “I can hear it even if you can’t.”

“Huh?” Diana, plopped down in the middle of the floor, pulled herself to her knees. “You’re tone deaf. You can’t even play a kazoo.”

We chuckled. I turned my eyes to the psychology text in my lap.

Verna opened the window and sniffed, “It smells like snow.”

Ama, twirling one of her many slender braids, uttered a breathy plea, “Verna, it’s cold. We have our French final tomorrow.” Verna shut the window and bounced towards her friend. The phone rang.

“Crazy coeds r us!” Nancy and I exhaled audibly. Kelli shook her head. “Meh-el,” Verna bleated, her smile gaped, her eyes like Claire’s had been whenever she lied and I got the beating. “It’s your fazher!”

I took the receiver. “Hello?”

“Who was that?” The man’s voice was audible throughout the room.

“My roommate.”

“Get a new one.”

“What’s up?”

Good, the censor commended. Keep it casual, relaxed.

“You don’t ask how I am?” he accused.

“I’m studying for a final,” my voice ascended on the final syllable.

Calm, the censor warned.

“You can pick up your ticket tomorrow.”

“Thanks. I’ll get it at the airport Wednesday.”

“Get it tomorrow.” His voice held the same menace as when he unbuckled his belt.

“I have finals every day.” My breath stopped. My heart began to pound. “The ticket is round-trip?!”

Don’t screech, the censor chided.

“Didn’t I say it would be?” I breathed. He continued, “Bring all your things back with you.”

“Why?” Pounding again.

“To keep them safe.” He used his this-world-is-a-sorry-place tone.

“My room and the dorm will be locked. No one can get in.”

“Bring everything anyway.” It was his prophecy-from-on-high voice. I had learned to ignore it when I was twelve.

“I have a final in the morning.”

“That scholarship doesn’t mean you know everything.”

“I have insurance.” The words were out before the censor stopped them. I ignored her indignant jolt. “I’ve got to go. Tell Matthieu I love him.”

I gently replaced the receiver so he wouldn’t ring back to rebuke me for slamming it down. Kelli’s eyes caught mine. She gave me a small, I’m-sorry smile. My shoulders ached. The barrier overshadowed me.

At the stereo, Nancy played an album that her elder sister had owned before she was killed by a drunk driver.

“Why does your fazher sound like…” Verna proceeded to articulate each word, “a raucous, old, French peasant?”

I breathed in through gritted teeth, “He’s not my father.” My lips were a tight line.

“He raised you,” in an innocent tone.

I shook my head.

Ama dropped her braid, propped her elbows on Verna’s desktop and told me, “Verna said he adopted you.”

“No.” Only Kelli, though she was not reading, kept her eyes on her book. I breathed out a defeated sigh.

Careful, the censor warned.

“I can’t find a birth certificate or adoption papers. There’s nothing.” The warmth of my Friend’s arms held the pieces of me together.

“Did you ask?” Diana’s voice held genuine interest but the weight grew heavier. “I don’t mean to pry,” she added in a gentle tone.

“This was his answer,” I pointed to the scar above my right eyebrow, shrugged one shoulder, and lowered my head to my book.

“You’re a foundling,” Verna crowed with delight. “Your parents abandoned you.”

“They didn’t!” Angry heat suffused my body. I glared at her, “I just don’t know what,” my forehead crumpled as the darkness bore down, “happened to them…” My eyes pleaded for answers I knew they did not have.

“What about you?” Nancy’s voice held unusual sharpness. “Your father abandoned you.”

“My parents divorced,” Verna said with pride.

“Your father still abandoned you,” Kelli told her.

Verna swung her head from side to side, found no one to support her cause. I lowered my eyes to my book as Janis Ian explained:

…I’m leaving a light on the stairs
No I’m not scared – I wait for you
(2)

The barrier loomed within. I blinked away tears. My Friend pulled me closer.

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(1) Stephen Sondheim, “Not A Day Goes By
(2) Janis Ian, “Jesse

Why?

The assignment this week asked us to use an excerpt from a previous scene and “write a new and rich description of the world that surrounds this text.” I took an excerpt from “Good Times,” my assignment from last week.

persian carpetMmmph. Mmmph. Mmmph. I drag heavy feet across the reds, golds, and blues of the Persian carpet. My head is down but my eyes don’t see the multi-sided, geometric patterns that so neatly fit thick-soled Mary Jane and then the other. I stop when I reach Papa and place one of my small, tan hands on each of his knees. His breath smells of warm, spicy tobacco. Peppermint too. His trousers exude the fragrance of tweed that has only recently dried.

I try to grasp one of the pale, beige cilia in the fabric under my fingers. Head down, intent on the elusive fiber I ask his knee, “Why did my Grandpère die?”

Papa places one strong index finger under my chin and raises my face until his icy blue eyes meet my dark brown ones. He flinches at my pouting, quivering mouth.

The rustle of silk fills my ears as Marmar flies from the grey wing chair leaving her embroidery on the table under the floor lamp. She sits next to Papa, reaches over his arm and places her hands on my shoulders turning me until our eyes, identical in their darkness, meet.

“He died because it was time for him to go home and be with God.” She places equal stress on each word. She uses the voice that says, ‘I want you to understand.’

My mind sees a soldier in a stiff cap, another in an olive green cap with a bill, a gun. My nose smell hot, metallic sulfur; my ears hear explosions that deluge Grandpère’s white study and fling him against the dark, polished, wood chair rail.

“No,” I shake my head. The words spill out, “God didn’t take my Grandpère. Soldiers shot him.”

Marmar pulls me against the soft hazy blues of her dress; I breathe in the comfort of her musky perfume.

“Yes. They did,” she tells me, her voice soft, singing, as if she must speak this awful mystery in the cadence of her native Portuguese. “But when he fell, God was right there to catch him.”

My lip quivers. Tears puddle in the corners of my eyes, spill down my face. Papa pulls me onto his lap. My lips, pressed tightly together, struggle to dam the words.

Words burst out, “I don’t like God.”

Papa pulls me close against the softness of his yellow, ribbed vest. I bury my tears in the strength of his chest; he holds my shaking body and murmurs softness into my heart. Marmar’s gentle hand strokes sleep into my short curls.

Daunting

I’ve been asked how, after all I’ve suffered, I not only believe in God but love Him more because I’ve suffered. My response to therapists was always, ‘God didn’t hurt me. People did.’ Certainly, there have been occasions when, like Job, I’ve demanded answers. God always answers. And not with dismissive self-righteousness, but by making me more and more human, by showing me that those who hurt me are also human though I’d like an us/them dichotomy.

Would that I could say my us/them perspective no longer exists. Would that I could more clearly see me in them. Them mostly consists of those who hurt me when I was a child. And though I pray for them and hope those who are dead sought and accepted forgiveness before they died, I’m so grateful they are no longer in my life: I’ve escaped the lions’ den and have no desire to go near it again.

Except there’s my writing assignment this week. I’m asked to write from each character’s perspective. And what I need to write is a conflict with the minister from my perspective and from his. Many writers struggle to give their characters flaws. I’m struggling to give the minister humanity. Somehow, I must step into his shoes and see how it’s human to try to thwart and control others. It’s a daunting proposition.

Still, in the midst of this monumental exercise I see an opportunity to forgive a bit more. If the minister was a severely broken human, he was like me and I am like him. If he was a monster then I have the ability to be a monster too. So for the moment, I must put aside my high-pitched objections that insist, ‘I’m not like that!’ For the moment, I must acknowledge that, at the very least, I could be like that. For the moment, I must imagine how I might be if I pushed away the grace of God. Without His grace, I’d be an angry, vengeful, spite-filled, controlling child who demands that life go my way. No matter how uncomfortably, those shoes fit my feet. God saves me from being that person many times each day.

Please pray for me as I complete this assignment. I’ll post the results here.

Sin – Five Photos, Five Posts – 3

Ice cracking Photo-by-Jerry-DaykinNot too long ago, I found myself complaining to God because other people’s sins had cost me a great deal of money. A young friend of mine took on the responsibility of raising her nephews and niece and needed an attorney to help her gain custody. I had the funds and offered to help. As the months passed and the bills mounted, I became frightened and a little fractious: Why should I bear the cost for the sins of people I don’t even know?

One day, when my friend was visiting, a breath of sanity blew through the room. I looked at her and realized that she is the one who is really facing the cost of these sins – she and the children. She will be caring for her nephews and nieces for the next 20-plus years, long after I’ve recouped my expenses. Those kids will bear the scars from neglect, abuse, and abandonment, scars I know only too well. My meager contribution was tiny compared to the cost of the fallout from sin that they each would pay. I remembered that I had offered to help precisely because I too have born the cost of sins committed by others.

That’s the way sin is. Its cost is enormous and affects more people than we can imagine. Sin is like the first crack in the ice on a pond that branches out until the solid surface is a mass of small islands that can safely support no one.

One lie makes it easier to tell another and then another. When we are bombarded by lies, we no longer know the truth or who is trustworthy. We find ourselves on shaky chunks of ice, floating farther and farther apart. Buying drugs keeps the dealers in business. More crime is attracted to a neighbourhood. Eventually, it destroys the quality of life for everyone. How many children are killed in drive-by shootings each year? Adultery destroys families, unsettles the foundations of children’s lives, destroys trust, affects future relationships. Every sin is like that with perilous branchings and breakages. My sin overlaps yours, together, we break and cannot mend.

At times, I find myself in conversation with atheists, anti-theists, those who are fed up with God and am often asked, ‘Why is there so much suffering in the world?’ Sin is the answer. We don’t see the patterns of destruction sin traces in our lives. We don’t see how one sin leads to another and then to another. But I have long believed that my childhood was filled with opportunities for people to choose something other than sin. The soldiers who killed Grandpère and Ti might have chosen not to commit that sin. What other sins did they go on to commit? The man who took me from the park sinned. When he raped me, he sinned again. Had he not committed the first sin, would he have committed the second? What madness did the minister invite into his life when he chose to claim me for his own rather than follow the law and call the police? What does it mean to decide that another person is an object for the taking? And what of the sins I have committed, do commit? How do they make it easier to go on sinning. (I can certainly attest that it was hard to break myself of lying or hiding out because I was afraid to face someone. Choosing sin makes it easier to sin.)

Christ forgives our sin if we repent and I do hope to meet those who sinned against me in heaven one day. But forgiveness doesn’t repair the cracked ice. We break it and usually we can’t fix it. Often, we have no idea how big the crack is or how to repair it. Sin gets passed on. Those affected by sin must choose whether to accept it as an opportunity to obey God or to disobey. We can open our hearts, wallets, and homes as my friend is doing. We can turn away or push someone else off a chunk of ice that seems bigger and sturdier so as to ensure our safety; we can either obey or disobey Christ’s commandment to love as He has loved us. But God is never to blame because our “tiny” actions have far reaching consequences.We are more powerful than we realize. Obedience is more powerful than we know. And disobedience is devastating. We need only look at the many places in our lives that ought to be solid but are constantly being broken apart. My choice to obey won’t heal everything but it will heal some things and is part of God’s will being done on earth as it is in heaven.

* Image source: http://thehockeywriters.com/the-winter-of-discontent-hitchcocks-precarious-throne/

S is for Seeing

9 Crimes“What are You seeing that I’m missing? What takes You from, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ to ‘Praise the LORD…’?” My voice was a soft whisper in the still church. The 3 o’clock Good Friday service was over but the building remained open. Though I was alone for the moment, Kyra or someone else might come in. Please, let them stay away, I prayed silently. I need to understand.

I slid from my seat into the kneeler, propped my prayerbook under my elbows, and rested my face on my hands. Gradually, my shoulders relaxed. I let my eyes find the troubling words.

Praise the LORD, you that fear him;
stand in awe of him, O offspring of Israel;
all you of Jacob’s line, give glory.
For he does not despise nor abhor the poor in their poverty;
neither does he hide his face from them;
but when they cry to him he hears them. (Psalm 22:22-23)

“He does not despise nor abhor the poor in their poverty,” I whispered aloud.

“Oh! Oh!” My eyes opened wide. A ray of light pierced the smoke darkened colours of the stained glass window, “You don’t despise or abhor the poor in their poverty?” Tears washed gently down my face. I let them fall. “But everyone else does.”

The volume of my voice increased slightly. My words spilled out quickly, “I’ve lost everyone who loved me, lost everything, even my identity. I can’t point back to anyone and say, I came from that person. Papa’s legs are gone. I can’t lean against them so the world knows I belong to him. I don’t belong to anyone. I haven’t belonged to anyone since I was four and a half. How could I be poorer? The people who survive are impoverished, we’re left with no one.

“No one really knows me. No one really loves me. They admire me or think I’m weird. But I have to keep everything that is me hidden away just as I tried to do with Cade. It’s easier now. They’re not around all the time. But I’ll be alone for Easter dinner. The Sunday after, they’ll say, ‘You had a good Easter?!’ The only acceptable answer is, ‘Yes.'” The corners of my lips turned up in a rueful smile. My nose had become too stuffy to breathe. The air pulled through through my mouth made a grumbling wheeze. I sat back in the pew and breathed slowly until the wheezing diminished.

“Does this mean You don’t abhor me in my poverty but when I cry out to You, You hear me?” The air was pregnant with a rich silence. The hand that had stroked my back when as a child I had had such difficulty sleeping, now stoked a warm fuzziness through my torso. “Have You been hearing me all along?” I listened to the intense silence. “You have. When nobody else hears me, You hear me.” I finally fumbled in my bag for a tissue, wiped the tears away and blew my nose.

“Why did I not see?” My forehead rumpled. I let out a long sigh. “I know why. I’ve expected people to see my poverty and help me.” I quickly reminded my Friend, “You do work through people. But I guess, I’ve been expecting You to work through people who aren’t open to hearing me, seeing me. They’re nice. I really like them, even love them. But we don’t know each other.” I sighed again, “Still, even though these people don’t hear or see, You do. Even if they think I’m weird, You don’t.”

My forehead rumpled again, “I guess the problem is that I get my identity from You. That’s probably why I’m weird. They’re seeing someone whose identity comes from an unexpected place. I guess I’m Yours.” I looked up, a little smile on my face, “You’re stuck with me. But I don’t really know what to do with that.”

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