Saturday, September 27, 2008

WALKING BUDDIES: Part 14 - Walking Sacrifically - September 27, 2008

“Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love,
…and sacrifice him… as a burnt offering…”
Genesis 22:2 NIV

“Lord, I really don’t want to write about sacrifice and I don’t think my readers are eager to visit this topic either. So how about we” …

“No, really Lord, the timing is just awful. Sacrifice is a downer topic—not a good way to start a weekend, so let’s talk about” …

“You’re not going to give up, are you, God. Gee, you’re stubborn.” … “I’m sorry—I meant tenacious, and that’s a very good quality.” …

Oh, all right, I’ll sacrifice my wishes and write about sacrifice.”

There’s something threatening about the word “sacrifice” that causes my heart rate to go up and makes my muscles tighten. God’s walking buddies in Biblical times make big sacrifices for their faith. That’s not a journey I want to take. I want to hide from God when he’s looking for a sacrificial lamb.

One leg of Abraham’s journey involved a call to sacrifice—a test of his faith, really:

GOD: "Abraham!"

ABRAHAM: "Here I am."

GOD: "Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about."

I don’t know about you, but I find this quite disturbing. What kind of God would ask a loving parent to sacrifice their child? Wasn’t this a pagan practice? Wasn’t Jehovah, the God of the Hebrews—his chosen people—different?

Did Abraham ask such questions? Did he resist God’s instructions? The Biblical account only tells us Abraham’s actions:

“Early the next morning Abraham got up…” and “took with him two of his servants and his son Isaac…” and “set out for the place God had told him about.”

Evidently, if Abraham did question God, he came to a place of obedience overnight. What was Abraham thinking and feeling during the three day journey to Moriah? I would have been an emotional mess. When this little group arrived at the mountain, Abraham and Isaac continued on alone:

ISAAC: “Father?”

ABRAHAM: “Yes, my son?”

ISAAC: “The fire and the wood are here, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?”

ABRAHAM: “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.”

Did Abraham lie to his son? Was Abraham protecting his son from the truth as long as he could? Was he simply unable to utter the appalling words? I don’t think I could say, “Son, you’re the sacrifice—you are the lamb.”

When they arrived at the place God had told Abraham about, he built an altar, bound Isaac, placed him on the altar, and raised his knife…

ANGEL OF THE LORD: "Abraham! Abraham!”

ABRAHAM: “Here I am.”

ANGEL: "Do not lay a hand on the boy. Do no do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.”

ABRAHAM: You mean to tell me that this was a TEST? You never intended for me to slay my son? How cruel! How could you put me and my son—my only son—through such agony?

This last response is what I imagine I would say. Abraham, however, took the ram that God provided and made his burnt offering. And then he named that place, “The Lord Will Provide.” He focused on God’s provision and promise, not on his pain.

What is God calling you to sacrifice? You may be experiencing difficulties with your child (or spouse or friend…) that seem impossible to solve and you are called to practice tough love and let go. Or maybe you’re clinging to a bad attitude, habit, or addiction. Maybe you nurse resentments, bitterness, hurts, the need to be right…

What—or who—is your Isaac? Abraham invites you to the altar where, “The Lord Will Provide,” and encourages you with his example to lay your Isaac down. Scary? You bet. Possible? Yes. Worth it? Absolutely!

FYI: The metaphor of laying down one’s Isaac is inspired by a song written by Bonnie Keen entitled, “Isaac.”

Sunday, September 21, 2008

WALKING BUDDIES: Part 13 - Walking Expectantly - September 20, 2008

God said, "…your wife Sarah will bear you a son, and you will call him Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his descendants after him. Genesis 17:19 NIV

Like many women, when I was in my mid twenties, I longed to have a baby. There is something mysterious that kicks in that makes a woman swoon at the fragrance of baby powder. Forget the perfume counter—head for the baby department and go goo-goo-ga-ga over teeny-tiny booties, Pooh printed receiving blankets, and those marvelous onesies. Ahhhh… I love the fresh, sweet scent of a baby.

In spite of the warnings from our mothers about how, even with protection, a girl can get pregnant, so “don’t have sex until you’re married,” for some of us, getting pregnant is not so easy. And for others, it is impossible. Even with all the new medical magic that helps scads of women with uncooperative uteri get pregnant, still there are those who just cannot conceive a baby of their own.

To want a baby and not be able to conceive causes great agony. And the grieving process—the death of the dream of becoming a mother—can be lengthy and exhausting. Sarai, Abram’s wife, longed year after year for a baby. She wanted to give her husband a son. Long after she was of the age to conceive, God told Abram that Sarai would in fact have a baby of her own. Growing impatient with God’s time delay, Sarai and Abram decided to “adopt.”

There were no adoption agencies in Biblical times, but surrogate adoptions were provided for in ancient times. Here’s how it worked: when a woman was unable to conceive, her husband would have relations with another woman and the barren woman would claim this baby as her own. In Abram’s and Sarai’s case, the surrogate mom was Hagar, Sarai’s Egyptian maidservant.

One source I read said that this was accomplished with the surrogate mom “sitting on the lap of the adoptive mother during both insemination and birth.” No wonder modern medicine has labored so intensively to come up with alternative methods for barren couples to conceive!
Women, can you imagine if you were Hagar at the time of delivery? (Men, you’ll just have to hang out with Abram for awhile, pacing outside the tent…) You’ve gone through many hours of sweaty, painful labor and finally its time to start pushing—but wait! “Where’s Sarai? Somebody get Sarai in here STAT!” You are in no mood to wait, let alone to maneuver your aching body onto Sarai’s lap, and then make sure “your” baby drops between Sarai’s legs so the baby will become “her” baby. Um… I don’t think so!

This entire process was further complicated by the fact that, after she became pregnant, Hagar despised Sarai, and Sarai was jealous of Hagar because she was with child. Sarai mistreated Hagar—with Abram’s blessing— resulting in her maidservant running away. But an angel appeared to Hagar in the desert and encouraged her to return to her mistress, which she did.

In giving us “the rest of the story,” Genesis makes no mention of whether the surrogate process was followed. I’m guessing that it didn’t, but that’s my “Not with my man, you won’t, sister!” cultural, Christian bias. Hagar gave birth to Ishmael, but the enmity between Sarai and Hagar persisted and a split in the family eventually occurred. And we think that families today are dysfunctional!

Miraculously, Sarai (now know as Sarah) gave birth to a son who she and her husband, Abram (now known as Abraham) named Isaac. Just like us, Abraham and Sarah were impatient with God’s plan and took things into their own hands. But their Divine Walking Buddy kept his promise, walking with them through their wavering faith. We may meddle and mess things up, but God is faithful.

“For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11 NIV

Sunday, September 14, 2008

WALKING BUDDIES: Part 12- Walking in Faith - September 13, 2008

The Lord had said to Abram, “Leave your country…
and go to the land I will show you.”
Genesis 12:1NIV

Last week I introduced you to Nabeel Yasin, “the poet of Baghdad,” whose poetry was loved by the Iraqi people, but blacklisted by Saddam Hussein. Fearing for his life, Nabeel and his family fled Iraq in 1980 and sought refuge in many cities throughout the Mideast and Europe.

Like nomads, they wandered for literally years, longing to find a place to call home. They hunkered down in Budapest for ten years, but in 1992, following the falling of the Iron Curtain, and the rise of Nationalism in the Socialist country, Nabeel and Nada thought it best to move on, finally sinking their family roots in London.

Abram—better know as Abraham—also knew well the wanderer’s life. He grew up in Ur of the Chaldeans with his brothers, Nahor and Haran. Haran died and their father, Terah, decided to move his family to Canaan. Instead, they settled in Haran. Abram was already married to Sarai (his half sister) at the time of the move.

When Abram was seventy-five, God said to him, “Have I got a deal for you! I have some land that I’d like you to have, no strings attached. I know you’re gonna’ love it. So, pack up all your possessions and gather up your immediate family and livestock and be ready to go tomorrow at 7:00 a.m.”

“Just where exactly is it you’re taking me?” Abram asked, with a touch of skepticism in his voice.

“Well, it’s kind of hard to explain, but I’ll get you there safe and sound—promise!”

“So you expect me to pack up, no questions asked, and go heaven knows where? For all I know you may have some swamp land you’re trying to unload.”

“Now, now, it’s not swamp land! It’s prime property, stretching to the horizon in all directions.

“Sounds too good to be true, if you ask me,” countered Abram. What’s the catch?”

“Like I said earlier, no strings, no catch. In fact, I’m going to bless your descendants and they will be more numerous than all the stars in the universe...”

“Let me sleep on…”

…and you’ll be famous and revered for eons and eons for the faith that you put in me.”

“Famous, you say?”

“Come on, you gotta’ get packing!”

“Okay, but you’re gonna’ have to break the news to Sarai.”

Obviously, I’ve taken liberty with the Biblical account of God’s call to Abram—a projection, no doubt, of how I might react if God instructed me to pack up and leave home with no clue as to the itinerary or destination. Moving away from family is no small deal. Its life changing: there’s homesickness, second-guessing of the decision, feeling like an outsider in an unfamiliar community, trying to adjust to a new house, the “you can’t go home again” phenomena—and what if the grocery doesn’t carry my favorite ice cream bars?

What God actually said to Abram was:

"Leave your country, your people and your father's household and go to the land I will show you. I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you." (Genesis 12: 1-3 NIV)

Abram set out, obediently, traveling to Shechem, to Bethel and then on to the Negev. Abram veered off course and went to Egypt to sit out a famine, later retracing his steps to the Negev and back to the Bethel area. He packed up camp again and went to live near the trees of Mamre at Hebron.

Wow, that’s a lot of moving—and there was no “Two Guys and a Truck” back then. But most amazing is Abram’s obedience and trust in God. Abram is the Olympic gold medalist of faith.

When you’re wandering through a desert in your life, think of Abram: trust, obey, step out in faith. Your Divine Walking Buddy is before you, behind you, and beside you.

WALKING BUDDIES: Part 11 - Walking in Integrity - September 6, 2008

During a recent trip to San Diego, my daughter and I got pedicures at a salon overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Crazed by the sunshine and salty sea air, I opted to have my toes painted blue. Yes, blue. Bright blue. With raised eyebrows, Beth shook her head at her mother’s bizarre behavior.

“Do you want flowers?” the nail tech inquired.

To which I wholeheartedly replied, “Of course!”

I left the shop quite pleased with my blue-slushy colored nails with white, rhinestone-bedecked flowers. What fun to switch roles with my daughter and be the trendsetter, while Beth played it safe with classic red!

Back a few years, I would not have had bucked fashion rules or peer expectations, and I would have gone to great lengths to spare my daughter embarrassment. Older and wiser now, I’ve become a woman of integrity, from my highlighted hair down to my blue painted toes.

While I am able to say and demonstrate what I believe in small things, am I able to do the same with more important and controversial issues? I know that I am free to speak my mind, but I often censor myself. Occasionally I fear that if I speak up, I will be judged or rejected, laughed at or ignored, as if my opinions are not worth listening to.

However, I do not need to silence myself because I fear punishment or death; but there are many people in this world who do. I am awed by and admire those brave souls who will not bow to tyranny; who speak their truth at great cost to themselves. One such individual is the Iraqi-born poet, Nabeel Yasin.

Now renowned as “the Poet of Baghdad,” Yasin began writing poetry during his childhood. He grew up in the 50’s and 60’s in a close-knit, middleclass, Shiite family, the son of hardworking parents with strong values. He was only eight years old when his brother, Juma’a, was imprisoned and brutally tortured—the first of many imprisonments for three of the Yasin brothers.

“It is your duty to write,” his mother told Nabeel, at age fifteen. “You have been blessed in ways that others have not. And though you should be careful how you do it, you must use your talent.” Saddam Hussein became vice-president of Iraq in 1968, and as he quickly rose in power in the Ba’ath party, Nabeel was penning his own passionate thoughts in his increasingly popular poetry.

Although Yasin did not affiliate himself with any political party, his ideas about freedom and self-expression, fueled by hatred for his brothers’ enemies, resulted in arrests, interrogations, imprisonments and brutal beatings at the hands of the Ba’athist regime. In 1978, his passport stamped with “enemy of the state,” Nabeel went into hiding to avoid certain death. Reluctantly, in 1980, he and his wife, Nada, and infant son fled their beloved homeland.

The Yasins sought refuge in many cities in the Mideast and Europe, finally settling in London. Unbeknownst to Nabeel, though his poetry was banned by the Ba’athist regime, copies of his poems were distributed covertly and memorized by many—a candle of hope burning brightly during over two decades of war and tyranny.

“Two generations of Iraqis, some 60 per cent of the population, have been raised in the shadow of war,” wrote Yasin in 2007, coming of age entrenched in “an ideology of violence” that dates back thousands of years. While Yasin believes that Iraq needs assistance from the west, he believes in the youth of his homeland and fervently encourages Iraqi poets, writers and artists “to “ignite a new set of cultural aspirations among the young.”

Would I stand up for—and stand firm in—my beliefs if my integrity was similarly challenged?

Could I find—and inspire—hope in the face of such destructive ideology?

Every country can point proudly to their poets, preachers and politicians who act courageously and inspire hope.

May I—may we—follow their courageous examples of integrity.

May we set courageous examples of integrity, and ignite hope, aspirations and integrity in others.

“As long as I have life within me, the breath of God in my nostrils…
I will not deny my integrity.”
Job 2:3-5 NIV

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

WALKING BUDDIES: Part 10 - Canine Companions - August 31, 2008

“Ask where the good way is, and walk in it.”
Jeremiah 6:16

I’m a dog lover, to the very marrow of my bones. I can’t imagine life without my four-footed walking buddies. Together, we’ve traipsed through fields, tromped through the woods, meandered along streams, and wandered up and down lakeshores. I bubble over with joy as I watch my buddies explore new territory with wild abandon.

Let me tell you about my walking buddies and what I’ve learned from each of them about walking with God:

· Muffin, a fluffy, blonde Cock-a-poo-Pom-pet-store-pooch: Once while Muffy was secured on a chain in the yard, a little girl stopped by and asked, “Does that puppy belong to anyone?” Yes, she was that cute! Muffin camped, hiked and boated with us all over Indiana and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula She especially loved to romp in the snow. Like Muffin, I love to cavort and play with God.

· Midnight, a silky, cocker spaniel/Scotty: a freebie from a frazzled friend, who—after several sleepless nights—decided she was not up to raising a puppy. Midnight was a complexity of sweetness and stubbornness. A poor excuse for a walking companion, Midnight walked whenever and wherever she pleased (usually on the lam). At times, I’m as stubborn as Midnight is black. I run off, returning to God only when I’m good n’ ready.

· Trixie, a shy, dainty, red head with white tipped paws and chest—A Humane Society Heinz 57: After we adopted Trixie, a friend exclaimed, “Hey, I know that dog! She used to hang around the ball field near 10th St. School. She’d role over and beg to have her belly rubbed.” Yep. That’s Tummy-Rub Trixie, all right. After being a stray, free to roam at will, she adapted quickly to walking on a leash. Sometimes I am open to God’s affection, like Trixie, hanging around the park, eager for a belly rub.

· “A female, 100% housebroken, golden/Labrador retriever”: During high school, our daughter, Beth, wanted a big dog to run with. Dad did not want another dog, so he set stringent specifications, thinking Beth would never find a dog with such qualifications. We name her Panda—located via the Indianapolis Trader by a not-to-be-outwitted teen. I can’t live up to God’s expectations, but He promised to adopt me anyway—just as Rex kept his word to Beth, adopting that 100% housebroken Trader pup.

I’m a lot like a Leader Dog puppy, too:

· Leader Dog puppy #1: Grace, a rambunctious yellow Labrador retriever with a nose for trouble. Like Midnight, Grace had a stubborn streak, but, amazingly, she graduated from her training at Leader Dogs for the Blind and lives and works in Costa Rica. As with Grace, I have a nose for trouble, but I can shape up and walk straight.

· Leader Dog puppy #2: Hope, a sweet, shy and compliant golden retriever. Leader Dogs for the Blind released Hope from the program late in her training for being shy, nervous and more a follower than a leader. We jumped at the opportunity to adopt her as a pet. This fall, Hope and I will work on certification as a therapy dog/handler team so we can visit schools and health care facilities. I’m a lot like Hope, more of a follower than a leader. My primary calling is to stay close to home and love my family.

· Leader Dog puppy #3: Faith, an affectionate and assertive golden retriever. Near the tail end of her formal training, Leader Dogs released Faith from the program due to kennel stress. We adopted Faith with the intention of finding her a home where she can utilize her training. On September 22nd, Faith will fly to Colorado to join Canine Partners of the Rockies where she will be trained to work with a person with mobility challenges. I sometimes fall short of a goal, but like Faith, I am teachable and full of potential to cross-train and serve in other ways.

Is it true that dogs resemble their masters (or is it that masters resemble their dogs)? I certainly aspire to resemble my Master. How ‘bout you?

“Walk humbly with your God.”
Micah 6:8

WALKING BUDDIES: Part 9 - Creeping & Crawling - August 23, 2008

I’m itching to write about my grandbaby. My little guy is not walking quite yet, so how do I work him into this series? Aha! Before we can walk, we first must crawl.

Every person on this planet—except, perhaps, Adam and Eve—crawls on their belly, and hands and knees before walking upright. As I read Genesis, it sounds as if Adam and Eve were created as physically mature adults. Were they intellectually and spiritually mature as well?
Just imagine: no brush burns on your tummy and knees, no boo boos from falling down or stumbling into things, no swats for touching no-nos. They had it easy, but blew their unfair advantage, and made life difficult for everyone.

I take care of my grandson one day a week and so have the opportunity to watch Evan’s progression from helpless infant to soon-to-be toddler. Like most babies, Evan’s curiosity is boundless and fuels his constant motion. I erect barriers with furniture and pillows and when he is unable to circumnavigate or climb over them, he screams in protest.

When set free to explore, Evan scoots across the hardwood floors like a swimmer sprinting across a pool. While he is quite capable of crawling on his hands and knees, Evan prefers to scoot, pulling himself forward with his arms. The main advantage of this mode of travel is the ease of flipping himself around quickly to head off in a different direction. As he swooshes around, he reminds me of a duck on water, turning this way and that, creating nary a ripple.

Evan has his sights set on all things outside his reach. He’ll climb a pile of pillows on the sofa, just to see what’s going on outside or to gain a more advantageous vantage point of his environs. He grunts and groans as he exerts himself, but nothing stops the kid. Up, up, up he goes. If I’m holding him on my lap or in my arms, he is compelled to break loose and creep up my torso. If I didn’t have a firm grasp, he’d plummet headlong over the summit of my shoulder.

Remember those old Popeye cartoons in which Sweet Pea would climb out onto a flagpole, or some other equally perilous place? Popeye would down a can of spinach and dash to the infant’s rescue. Well, Evan is my Sweet Pea. His daddy, Matt, did little crawling and took to his feet at nine months of age. He got himself into some heart-stopping situations in which I assumed the role of Popeye (I relied on adrenalin rather than spinach). Just thinking about Matt’s precocity still makes me shudder and I pray that Evan will not follow in his daddy’s fearless footsteps.

Spiritually, when we were infants, God cradled us in his arms, infusing us with his palpable love. When we were toddlers, God held our hands and provided boundaries and caregivers to keep us safe. Throughout childhood, our spiritual caregivers introduced us to the Bible, schooled us in the Ten Commandments, and, hopefully, taught us about God’s love and grace. During our adolescence, God provided priests and prophets (aka, parents, pastors, Sunday school teachers, etc.) to guide and direct our spiritual growth.

And, throughout our adulthood, God continues to cradle us when we’re confused; hold our hands and provide boundaries when we act immaturely; deepen our understand of his Word; and provide spiritual mentors and walking buddies when we are rebellious, or get in over our heads by acting without thinking. We are never completely spiritually mature, but God meets us where we are.

In many ways, I will always be a crawler, creeping along at a snail’s pace, slow to learn and hesitant to trust in God. Even so, my Heavenly Walking Buddy has eyes in the back of his head, and he has my back. Oh, he let’s me take my spills from time to time, but always—always—he calls me to grow and heal, and survive and thrive spiritually. His arms are wide open, whether I sprint or crawl in his grace.

“I am with you always.”
Matthew 28:20 NIV