Sunday, December 8, 2013

The God who comes searching

Almost two years ago I volunteered at a Franklin Graham festival held in the tsunami-ravaged city of Sendai. I was on the security team (I know, not sure how I pulled that one off either), standing at the doors right at the front of the stage as Franklin Graham gave the altar call after sharing the Gospel with the packed auditorium. I’ll never forget the face of the first woman who came to the front. Because she ran. She ran to the front like someone going home, and when she got there, she looked back at the crowd, and I could see her face when she realized no one had run with her. She looked back at those still sitting or walking forward, and she was shocked. Her face said, “Didn’t you hear what he said? Why aren’t you running up here too?! How can you stay sitting there?!” I will never forget that face.
On Wednesday it was a normal day at the café. I didn’t even notice the rhythmic clapping sound and the accompanying chanting, it just sort of faded into the background. In a quiet moment I looked out a back window and saw a family gathered around the large black memorial stone set up in one of the many empty foundations surrounding the café. They had been clapping and chanting for hours. I asked my Japanese co-worker what they were doing, and she told me they were praying to the dead, asking them to please leave earth and move on to the afterlife. I looked out at them, bowing and chanting and clapping in front of that black rock. I thought about my own prayers that morning over a cup of coffee, the warmth and beauty of meeting with God. “Christianity is so different,” I commented to my co-worker, “They’re carrying such a heavy burden, but our God takes our burdens away.”
Today (Saturday) we held a Christmas concert at the café. A volunteer with an incredible singing voice came, and interspersed with the Christmas songs we explained the story of Christmas. At the end the pastor stood up and gave a Christmas message. It was a beautiful message; he talked about the meaning of God coming to us as a baby, not wrathful and powerful, but humble and small, kneeling down to sit with us in the dust. “God, the true God, is love,” he said, “Please remember that; God is love.” Across from me I watched the face of an old woman in a pink sweater. She hung on his words, hope and tears breaking softly across her face. She looked the same as that woman two years ago.
We forget sometimes how incredible the truth is. Worse, sometimes we get the truth mixed up with lies, and we start trying to earn what Jesus already died to give us freely. We fall into the worldy, hell-spawned pattern of religiousness, and we forgo the very thing that sets the truth apart from every lie. The truth is that God is love, and love gives. God gave us His Son, and in His Son is salvation-- freedom from sin, from being trapped in a place away from God. It is a gift, and as soon as we start trying to earn it, it is no longer a gift and we have lost the truth. I do this so often. I stop living in grace, I start striving, I inevitably fail, and when I do, I turn my face away from God in shame. And then God comes after me. He turns my face back to him and he says, “Christina, why are you hiding?”
“Because I was ashamed, Lord,” I say.
“Because I failed” (because I was naked, and the leaves aren’t covering anything)
“What are you talking about?” he says, “What leaves? None of that mattes anymore,” and he straightens the collar of the white clothes he dressed me in a long time ago, “It’s already done.” And it’s then that I see again the holes in His hands, “All you have to do, is stay here with me.”
It’s true, what he said; His yoke is easy, His burden is light. It’s His arm, tucked around my shoulders, as I choose to trust in His love and stay there with Him. When I remember to look at Him, I know there’s nothing else I’d rather do anyway. This is what Christianity is, and there is nothing like it. Sometimes I have to see it on the face of someone hearing it for the first time to remember, and then I remember why I want so much for everyone to know.

Monday, December 2, 2013

First snow

Do you ever have those moments when you're just going along, doing normal life things, and suddenly it feels like time just kind of stops for breath? You're left standing there in the stillness between moments, staring eternity in the face, and suddenly everything else makes perfect sense, or maybe just doesn't matter as much as you though it did.

I had this one a few weeks ago:

Today was the first snow of the season. It was just a little bit, you had to squint to see the flecks in the air. Mippa had decided not to wear a coat.
“Aren’t you cold?” I asked her as I carried her home, craning my neck and boosting her up on my hip to see her face.
“Yes I’m cold!” she declared, wrapping her arms around my neck and snuggling determinedly into my coat.
I tried to wrap my scarf around her, but it was awkward, with just the one arm available for the task. She seemed more interested in the snuggling anyway, so I hugged her close instead as we walked.
We were passing the old bike shop on the corner when I noticed the snow in the air. It’s a funny place, that old shop; a piece of Japan left untouched since at least 40 years ago. The dingy yellow light glowing from the crumbling awning out front caught the white flecks against the darkness of the old wood and the shadowy interior, and I stopped.
“Mippa,” I said into her dark hair, cool against my cheek, “It’s snowing.”
She pulled back, turning the wrong direction in my arms to look out into the street, “Where?”
“Look, right there,” I told her, pressing my face close to her little one and looking into the bike shop. She aligned her face with mine, and we stood still for one moment in the cold street, waiting. Two flecks fell, catching the light.
“Ah, hontto da,” she said, sounding just a little bit delighted, and rested her head back on my shoulder. Through the dusty glass I caught the curious eye of the old man at the back of the bike shop as he looked up from his ancient TV set.
I think I smiled.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Whale-bait Jonah and the Good King

Jonah always takes me by surprise. Well, not Jonah really; he is utterly understandable, completely relatable and fits nicely into my expectations for reality, because I can see me in his footprints. I know his merciless, biting words in a crumbling city, his desire for vengeance, because I’ve tasted them in my heart, caught before they catch my tongue, but still there, like diluted poison. 
What does take me by surprise, pulling my heartbeat along by a string, is the God who follows Jonah. He is incredible, like the good king in a fairy tale you believed in until you grew up and found the only king around wearing an expensive suit in a big white house, lies dripping through gleaming white teeth. And then, just when you thought all the stories with happy endings and the hero on the white horse was confined to the realms of fiction, a bitter man cries out over an entire city of people who were lost, “For I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love!” and all those people are saved, forever. It’s like a fairy tale (Disney, not Grimm), seemingly too good to be true, when God whispers back to the bitter man the exact number of children he saved in that city.
I can see, really, how people might have trouble believing it. We’re so used to the cold, the biting sting of what we think is reality, how could something so good be so real? I trip over it sometimes, blink in the blinding light and find the darkness behind my eyelids. But then I open my eyes again, and I know, like a pillar in my heart that bridges empty spaces, that this is real. I know because I have been Jonah, bitter, and angry, and I have been Peter, alone and afraid, and I have been ancient Israel throwing myself down at the feet of another alter like a whore. I have been all these, but I am none of them now.
Sometimes I see a glimpse of her, the one I would have been. She is a terrible thing to see, selfish and withdrawn, worshiping and despairing at herself all at the same time as her life passes like grass burning. But I am not her. I am me; Jonah drawn out of the pit, crying, “When my life was fainting away, I remembered the Lord!” I stand on the shore, washed clean and free, like the pit never happened as he takes my hand and whispers, “Come away with me.” And that is more real than anything.

Now, go read Jonah and keep a few things in mind:
  1. Nineveh was really, really bad. They did some pretty horrible stuff to a lot of people, including Jonah's people, the Israelites. You know the story of Corrie ten Boom forgiving one of her guards from the concentration camp when he came to her asking for forgiveness? Think along those lines.
  2. Notice that Jonah's only message to Nineveh was about oncoming destruction, they sought salvation even though no one was telling them it was being offered.
  3. Jonah didn't want to go to Nineveh because he knew the goodness of God, that God would want to and take any opportunity to forgive and deliver Nineveh, and Jonah hated Nineveh and wanted it destroyed.
  4. This one left me in tears when I realized. Read the last verse of the book of Jonah. "120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle." Do you know what God is referring to there? Children and animals, Nineveh's innocent.

Beginning the beginning blog

Hey guys, I've finally gotten around to starting a blog! Why? Well, because I read Jonah today, and I was inspired. Yes, Jonah was the guy who was eaten by the whale and yes, I know, you don't really see the connection between whale-bait Jonah and Christina finally getting around to starting a blog. It's a bit of a stretch, but in a way, Jonah chapter 2 is kind of like a blog post. Okay, not really, it's a prayer, (and it's scripture) but it's a public prayer,and because it's public, people like me get to read it thousands of years later and be amazed once again about how amazing God is in the face of every human weakness, and I find that inspiring. So that is what this blog is about - God being amazing in the midst of human weakness (usually mine since, you know, it's my blog and I could be the poster child for human weakness. Except not really, because God.)
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