Friday, 25 July 2014

Unsung Heroes

... "In the last days there will be difficult times. For people will love only themselves and their money. They will be boastful and proud, scoffing at God, disobedient to their parents, and ungrateful. They will consider nothing sacred." (2 Timothy 3:1,2) NLT

Gentle longer days, shorter shadows. We draw in deep draughts of cool air, stand a bit taller as the sun warms places that have shrunk against the cold. It feels kind, like a grandmother's hug or a curled up kitten purring in your lap. Rolling down grassy slopes leaves boys looking like two bouncy scarecrows, with dry leaves, winter grass and small sticks clinging to their bright woollen jerseys. These are days of eating oranges in the sun, exploring in the garden, while beds lie unmade and dust collects in little rolls under the couch. Raising two boys makes you appreciate weird and wonderful things. Teaches you to laugh when a dried ball of horse-dung hits you between the eyes. To bend down low to explore crawling insects under layers of rotten wood. How to cope with roller coaster mood swings and daring feats of little people. It also makes you think about the silent sacrifices of others. Years of selfless commitment to special needs children, terminal patients, the frail and elderly. This is when unconditional love truly has no conditions, makes no demands.

Just recently I was deeply touched by the footage of a father competing in a triathlon with a son who has cerebral palsy. It shows him running the marathon leg, pushing the boy in a special wheelchair. Swimming the wide river towing him in a rubber dingy to the other side. Then lifting him in his arms and running the distance to where their specially adapted bicycle waits. He cycles with his son strapped into a bucket seat in front of him in the hot sun. Then as night falls they reach the last check point, where the boy is once again transferred into a wheelchair and the man sets off running this gruelling last lap, his own face showing the toll the race has taken. At the top of a steep hill he looks up and a new strength seems to give wings to his feet. He sprints down the other side, the wheelchair at a runaway speed, the end in sight. As they near the finish line, a close-up of the son shows him lifting his stiff, unresponsive arms up in the moment of victory and a salute to his dad. Tears streaming down both their faces.

To me, it showed the powerful bond of love between this father and son. It was also a reminder of the love our Heavenly father has for us. How He continues to carry us to the finish line through trials and tribulations that come into our lives. It was a powerful visual example of how "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me" (Philippians 4:13). Regardless of the sensation that the producers build around a story like this. The music chosen to evoke strong emotions. The last shot is of the son sitting in front of a computer screen. With intense concentration he types out the letters "CAN". Finally, it shows his face lit in a grimace of a smile as he looks at the word.

At the heart of this story are two ordinary people that did something extraordinary. Two children of God. I learnt subsequently that Team Hoyt were inducted into the Ironman Hall of Fame in 2008. A bronze statue in honour of the Hoyts was dedicated on April 8, 2013, near the start of the Boston Marathon in Hopkinton Massachusetts. ESPN honoured Team Hoyt with the Jimmy V Perseverance Award at the ESPYS on July 17, 2013. This somehow spoilt the images in my heart. They must have inspired many along the way with what they have done, but does that count for eternity if honour is not given where honour is due?

We are so hungry for heroes. So much honour and acknowledgement is given to people. People who are authors of their own destiny. Or are they? To the physically strong, the dazzling rich, the wondrously successful. Or even those who think themselves to be humble, who live a life serving others, but at the heart of it is the perception that by doing good we are redeemed. Or with a secret agenda of building up a weak self esteem or receiving acknowledgement on some human or spiritual level.

Who are our children's heroes? Who do they model their behaviour on? Is it the animated supermen, super friends or beings that swoop down from the skies to rescue or fight for what is seemingly right or just? Or the dark hooded and cloaked characters that capture their imaginations with their rattling laughs and fierce array of weapons... What captures their imaginations? Vampires and vixens? Teen idols, young boys and girls with super-powers that can cast spells and evoke magic in a cool and seemingly harmless way... It gets more confusing when popular movies suddenly cast the villain as the hero, or the bad guy redeems himself with one act of goodness and then "rides off into the sunset" tall and proud.

A new dimension of spiritual deception steps up in movies or stories where the "witch" or evil character becomes someone whom young (and sometimes older) people can relate to. The one who "went the wrong way" because he or she was somehow wronged, and then just continued acting out their revenge, justified by hurt or a personal injustice. Some even like to see Satan that way... The poor angel that was thrown out of heaven because he was a rebel.

Who are our mentors, our spiritual leaders? TV evangelists, motivational speakers? Who do we deem worthy of our respect, our loyalty, and why?

These are questions I ask myself as well as you. Each time our children, whom have been entrusted into our care, to raise for God's kingdom, sit and stare at the TV screen with numb (and dumb) fascination, I ask myself some of these questions. They are not always that easy to answer.

The Lion of Judah
But one thing remains. Our Lord Jesus Christ is my "super hero". How this is perceived by a world of people-honouring, self-loving and earth worshipping people, is becoming less and less important to me. This choice leads to inevitable hostility, conscious or unconscious. It still hurts at times, but the depth of it is receding. Like a dull blow to the head that leaves you reeling until the next morning, when only a tell-tale bump remains. I want Christ our Redeemer to be my children's hero, even if I know that it will hurt when they are ridiculed, or when they "don't fit in". Or that they may come to blame us for raising them to be "peculiar".

There is simply no other worthy of that title. I love the way our boys see their dad as their hero. And how he has stepped into that role so beautifully. As they grow up they will see (as we all have at some point), that their parents are oh so fallible. But that the Hero of our hearts is not. The Author and Perfecter of our faith is steadfast and sure. My husband will always be my prince, but only the King of Kings is worthy of my praise and total dedication. He places courage into the hearts of His children, so that we can each be warriors and heroes for His Kingdom. But with the difference that we will no longer need to see our names in the credits. For we know to Whom belongs the glory.

As William McNamara said when he names his grievances with contemporary society - ... "There are no free men to lead me. No saints to inspire me.... It is hard to linger in that dull world without being dulled. I stake the future on the few humble and hearty lovers who seek God passionately in the marvellous messy world of the redeemed and related realities that lie in front of our noses". Life is ambiguous. There are loose ends. It takes maturity and courage to live with both.

When I looked for a good example of a faithful hero that did not receive his "reward" in the Bible - there were many to be found. Think of Moses who never saw the promised land to mention but one. All the disciples who spread the gospel so faithfully, but ended their lives as martyrs. But I lingered over Jeremiah. We want so much to see, after all he endured, how he ran with the horses and preached God's Word to a contemptuous people, that he was successful. Or that he died heroically. We get neither in Jeremiah. "In Egypt, the place he does not want to be, with people who treat him badly, he continues, determinedly faithful, magnificently courageous, heartlessly rejected - a towering life terrifically lived." (Run with the Horses - Eugene Peterson).

In these days, we have many celebrities, but few if any saints. When we look around for what it means to be a greatly blessed, whole, chosen individual, we don't find much. These humble heroes are still around, but they are not easy to find. For them is not the limelight, awards or accolades. They run the race in silence, fight the good fight for righteousness on a spiritual battlefield, with the Lord of angel armies by their side. No stunned audience applauds their victories or songs of praise, but they join heavenly choirs in worship. Walk the tight rope of a narrow road that leads to eternity. But their joy is real, and at the end of that messy, rough and pot-holed road awaits the final reward. An eternal life of glory with Him. We - will - be - home.

But when the Son of Man returns, how many will he find on the earth who have faith?" (Luke 18:8b) NLT

Friday, 11 July 2014

Cold but kind

"Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience." 
(Colossians 3:12) NLT

Ice. A small sharp word that makes your mouth form a grimace when you say it. It lay glistening outside the bedroom window, tiny stalactites dripping from the eaves and treetops. Water becomes glass in places where the frost has collected in drifts and hollows. It crackles underfoot, chokes the water pipes and locks the world in a cold grip. Winter is harsh, bitter, its face is set and its heart unyielding. We shrink against it, huddle and layer and stack, build fires and shelters as a shield. But still it is there. We may lock it out, draw out warmth from every available source, but it waits. Just outside the door, as you slip out for more firewood, it pushes past into all that glorious warmth, laughing with small sharp fangs. Biting into exposed parts, swift and deep, before it is shooed under the bed by the unexpected heat.

There is nothing gentle about winter. It draws out all our resources to survive it, stay healthy, stay "soft". I grow rigid too easily at this time of year, inside and out, with spiky edges and stiff fingers balled into fists in my pockets, rather than held out to embrace. There is beauty, there always is. A raw beauty that demands respect, an acknowledgement that seasons have their own rhythm. And to find our place in this dance, we need to find out who this music is performed to, Who determines the cycles, holds together the atoms?

"For from him and through him and for him are all things." (Romans 11:36) and: ...."all things have been created through him and for him." (Colossians 1:16b). We are tempted to think that the earth was created for mankind to enjoy and relish in. And enjoy we may! But ultimately it was not created for us, it was created to bring glory to the Creator and that is exactly what it does. Regardless of the season, it never stops.“Praise the Lord from the earth, you great sea creatures and all ocean depths, lightning and hail, snow and clouds, stormy winds that do his bidding, you mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars, wild animals and all cattle, small creatures and flying birds…” (Psalm 148: 7-10) It brings a new depth to what it means to worship. We join a magnificent choir, each second of the passing days and nights in an never ending song to our Lord and King. People that love spending time in nature, are all brought to a sense of awe at some point, at times misinterpreting it as an awe for what we see, where it is ultimately for what we cannot see, hear or touch, but sense in the Spirit and hunger to be a part of.

But coming back to my small place in this great and glorious universe, how do I keep praising in all I do, if all I feel like doing, is rolling up in a tight little ball under thick blankets and self-centeredness? When layers and layers of clothing do nothing to melt the hardness and irritation that shutters my heart. So in a moment of self-pity I cried out to Jesus: "Lord how do I do this? This day after day of nurturing and caring, while I feel like being tucked in, served soups and hearty stews, being wrapped up and read to, being encouraged and rocked and sang to. You made this day, this cold that locks me into my house and hurts my titanium-bracketed spine when I bend to pick up and clean up each day... How can I "rejoice" and do this to your glory when it takes so much effort just to stay warm?" Just then, these words flashed through my "me-focussed" mind. "Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience." (Colossians 3:12 NLT). That flowed straight through all those restrictive layers of clothing and warmed all the tired recesses of my heart.

For long I have known about putting on the armour of God. (Ephesians 6:10-18)* It is all we need to stand and battle the attacks by Satan and his forces of darkness each day. It was so sweet to learn at a recent meeting with my sisters in Jesus, that not only does our Lord provide us with the armour, He gives us the clothing to put on underneath also. Clothed with tender-hearted mercy (compassion), humility, gentleness and patience, we are sealed, protected, strengthened, and warmed. And like only a loving Father and Saviour can do, He does not stop there. Col 3:14 encircles it all with a perfect love through His precious blood: "And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity". The clothes, the coat of love, the armour. Nothing gets through. For He Stands Behind Me.

 This more than anything showed me the "character traits" of our loving and Almighty Father and God. He is compassion, kindness, gentleness, patience, bound in unconditional love. But He is also Truth (the belt), the Gospel is all about Him (shoes), He is Righteousness (breastplate), our Faith is in Him (shield), Salvation is through Him (helmet) and the Word is breathed on by Him (sword of the Spirit). Gentle and strong. Compassionate but just. Forgiving but still the Lord of judgement alone. What Jesus showed me is that with Him, the cold is not going to leave, the mundane will not be transformed into something magical, BUT clothed with Him, I CAN overcome it all. It warms me all over to think that as a mother, a housewife, at times my children's unsung hero, at times a snappy stranger, I Can Be Like Him. Being a mother calls for compassion, humility, gentleness, patience (oh yes!) and ultimately love.

For - "If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal." (1 Cor. 13:1). The heart of God is love. If I withold it, or all the virtues that can flow from a Christ-infused heart, my "tongues without love" become a mere discordant, obtrusive, unintelligible dissonance.

These, our little people, will carry into the world what we as parents reflect to them. And out there, in the cold, hard world, people need us to speak and act with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness of spirit, patience and Christ-like Love. How else will they get to know Jesus, if we don't show them what He is like? It is as hard and as easy as it sounds. Just like mothering. With this whole amazing "outfit", God makes available for us to "wear" each day all we need to overcome and thrive. We are made to worship - whatever it takes. For me it means being the best wife and mother I can be. To sing through the hard days and cold nights. To love these two precious beings placed in my daily care, not only when they are adorable, but with a consistent love that overcomes the worst tantrums or messes.

He knows me and loves me enough to know that there is really nothing else I would rather do. Even if in the flesh I long to break out of this skin and space that is my everyday world, my spirit would always long to return. For this is where I truly belong, with Him, with them, a piccolo part of a wonderful symphony. At times I can hear it, like when one of my children laugh as they crunch through a piece of ice from the frost-covered garden. Listen - the earth is performing a concert for its Creator, put on your "suit", pick up your unique instrument and join in the glorious noise!

* Blog from 17-04-2013 titled "On War and Peace" - dealing with Spiritual Warfare.