Thursday, March 22, 2012

there is no point B!

There is no point B.
Did you know that?  I didn’t.  In my Christian life, I always thought I was supposed to be moving from point A (acceptance of Christ and initial salvation) to point B (final perfection and glorification).  And this assumption always left me with a nagging sense of guilt, because no matter how many lessons I learned (or how many times I circled back around to learn the same lesson at a deeper level), I never seemed to be getting any closer to the goal.  Nor did I ever seem to be experiencing any more of Christ, regardless of what spiritual disciplines I tried or how much I dutifully read my Bible.  
Guess what?  There is no point B!  
There is only point A, and more of A, which is to say, there is only Jesus and more of Jesus until his love envelopes all that you are, defines all that you are, and is powerfully expressed in everything you touch.”  

~Judith Hougen, Transformed Into Fire
Wow.  If this is true, I have already reached my destination.  I’m already there!  I already have the complete, glorious fullness of Christ wondrously living, breathing in me.  All that’s left is to discover the reality of Him-in-me more deeply and fully every day, to learn how to experience His love minute by minute, and to live out of that experience of love.  

On the previous page, Judith shares a quote from Thomas Merton, prefaced with the comment, “A few times in my life, I’ve read something and instantly known that my life lived on the other side of those words would never be the same.”  I felt a little skeptical, like, would what came next actually live up to that description in my own life?  
It did.
Merton is talking about prayer, but his thoughts can be expanded to the whole spiritual journey into discovering your true self in Christ:
“We were indoctrinated so much into means and ends that we don’t realize that there is a different dimension in the life of prayer.  In technology you have this horizontal progress, where you must start at one point and move to another and then another.  But that is not the way to build a life of prayer.  In prayer we discover what we already have.  And you realize that you are already there.  We already have everything, but we don’t know it and we don’t experience it.  Everything has been given to us in Christ.  All we need is to experience what we already possess.  The trouble is we aren’t taking time to do so.” 

~quoted in Transformed by Fire, p. 119 (emphasis mine)

I closed the book and got into the shower, with those words reverberating through my soul.

All I need is to experience what I already possess.

I closed my eyes and felt the warm water beating down on me, and I imagined the warm river of God’s love flowing over me and through me.  All I need is to experience what I already have: I’m already full to bursting with Christ’s Presence and power and love!  All that’s left is to choose to take long, slow minutes here and minutes there to close my eyes (or fully open my eyes) and experience Him, in me.  
I’ve been suddenly full of peace this morning.  The knowledge that there is no point B and that I can stop striving to get there and just be filled with Christ, the knowledge that all I have to do is enjoy what I already have, is setting me free.  

Monday, March 12, 2012

for when you take water for granted

I used to take indoor running water completely for granted.  
Not anymore.
For reasons we have yet to understand, the man who controls the water pump in our village only turns on the water three times a day.  To combat this, we installed two huge tanks in our basement that fill up when the town water’s turned on, and a pump to move the tank-water through our house when the town water’s turned off, creating 24-hour running water in our house.  (I think we’re only house out of 4000 in our village who considers this a priority.  Those lucky enough to have indoor plumbing just deal with the on-off mess, and those without just draw water in buckets from the local pump on their street.)  In warm weather, our tank system works great.  In winter… not so much.  

After our delectable two weeks in warm tropical sunshine, we returned to sub-zero temperatures to find the water pipes to our house from the street frozen solid.  (A common occurrence - every house on our street currently has their pipes frozen, for lack of proper insulation and being buried too shallow.  Why they didn’t bury them deeper to begin with, since the winters here have always been frigid….)  We hired a welder to use his element to thaw the pipes, and the town water obligingly flowed into our tanks for the day and we did laundry and took showers … and then the pipes froze again overnight.  In the past month since getting back, we’ve called that same welder every 3-4 days - once we’ve used up all the water from our basement tanks, and then spent at least one day dipping water out of the two barrels we store in our kitchen and bathroom.  

We are so ready for spring.
But… I’m trying hard to be thankful.  And here are the things I’m most thankful for in this trying situation:
1. Running water.  I will never take it for granted again. 

2. This welder, willing to come a couple times a week for a minimal fee and spend 2+ hours in our basement thawing our pipes. 

3. Our tank system, and my husband who faithfully maintains its finicky valves and adjustments. 

4. My new house helper, Ellen, who is used to not having running water and happily dips water and boils it on the stove to wash my mountain of dishes each morning. 

5. Her sparkly head-scarf that catches the morning sunlight and throws it in dancing dapples across the ceiling, eliciting shrieks of delight and wild gyrations from both my boys!   

6. How my daily mountain of dishes magically shrinks and transforms under her capable fingers from slimy, grime-encrusted to shining and clean.   

7. The fact that spring is just around the corner...

Thursday, March 1, 2012

of friendship and inequalities

The inequity here just kills me sometimes.
In New Zealand or America, we would not be considered rich.  We would probably barely qualify as lower middle-class, at best.  We’re a one-car family, we don’t pay for private preschool or daycare, we don’t go out to eat, we don’t buy lots of luxury items, we don’t even own our own home.  
But here...

This morning I sat at my kitchen table drinking tea with one of my best friends in this place.  We munched chocolate chip cookies that tasted suspiciously like Chips-A-Hoy, bought from a local store, and I wondered when was the last time she had extra money to buy cookies.  I poured milk into a pitcher from a 1.5 liter carton that cost more than 4 times as much as the raw milk she buys and pasteurizes at home.  

I cut up apple and orange slices for the kids, which were devoured in seconds.  Unless they had their own apples stored in the basement, this family wouldn’t have been able to afford the price of fresh fruit for the last three months at least.  

I served leftover pizza with our chicken soup for lunch, and my friend remarked innocently that she made my pizza recipe one time and her family loved it, but cheese has gotten so expensive they can’t afford to buy it any more.  I wince.  I pour more tea.  
James brings home vitamins for me from the drugstore, and I think of all the bottles of baby Tylenol I’ve given my friend for her little 10-month-old baby girl at the head of the table, and how she has to scrape together money for every prescription, every shot at the hospital, even every single diaper they buy.  

Later, sitting outside together in the winter sunshine while the boys ride trikes up and down the driveway, my friend asks to see pictures of our recent holiday. Grudgingly, I bring out my laptop and bounce her baby on my knee while my friend eagerly scrolls through snapshots of another world: miles of blue ocean, wet sandy beaches, Will and Ben with their floaties swimming in a pristine pool, our family on a boat going to an island to feed monkeys. Her little boy comes over to the see the monkeys and asks, “What do monkeys eat?” And when she tells him bananas, his eyes get big. Here, bananas cost 50 cents apiece. I can almost hear him thinking, “Those are some really rich monkeys!”

When my friend gets to a photo of a stunning pink tropical flower, she turns to me and says, “You went to heaven!” I smile and nod and say, “We’re thankful to God!” but inside I’m cringing again. My life feels worlds away from hers.

Before they leave, she asks me if we’re going to use the logs of wood James chainsawed down in the backyard.  These late winter days, everyone’s scrounging for fuel to feed their indoor furnace-stoves.  She asks to borrow my lightweight umbrella stroller this summer if we’re not using it anymore.   She asks if my mom sent any more used kids’ clothes from the States.  She tells me she’s only been able to go to the bathroom once a week lately, and when I tell her the answer is to drink lots of water and eat more raw fruits and vegetables, she laughs and says, “Well, water’s free, but I can’t afford fruit and vegetables!”  I run inside to our overflowing fruit bowl and bring out a bag of apples and a ziploc of raisins for her to take home.  

After we kiss each other goodbye, I slowly climb the steps up to my nice, warm, diesel-furnace-heated house (with a thermostat - my local friends don’t even know what the thermostat is when they see it on our wall - they’ve never seen one before).  I put my boys down for naps, and crawl under my own blanket with a heavy heart.  
Not once did our talk turn to spiritual things today.  Not that that necessarily needs to happen every time... but today, especially, I felt like what I have came between us.  That what I have to give her physically was a distraction from I have to give her spiritually.
Don’t misunderstand my friend.  She has been a true and genuine friend who has loved me unconditionally since we met and who is frank, open and honest with me.  I really enjoy our friendship.  She just can’t help wanting what I have.  Good baby Tylenol that actually works.  Warm kids’ clothing that doesn’t fall apart.  Fresh fruit and vegetables.  Extras like cookies and cheese.  Who wouldn’t want those things?  In the West we even feel like we’re entitled to them. 

And it’s because she and I are so close and she feels so comfortable with me that she asks so much.  In some ways, that makes me feel good.  In other ways, it makes me feel pretty wretched.  
What other choice do I have but…
to be grateful for what I have, 
to be generous with what I have, and 
to visit her more often at her house than at mine, so the symbols of our differences fade 
and what stands out are the things we have in common:

Our motherhood.  Our wifehood.  Our womanhood.  Our personhood.  

Our friendship.