Monday, May 25, 2009

Even for a duck

After a long day of fun in the sun, playing ball, flying a kite and grilling out, we turned on to our quiet street, a load of happy sun-kissed people, worn and ready for baths and bed. But in the shade of a tall tree, we noticed two ducks sitting right on the street. We unloaded ourselves and crossed the tar, hoping to get the Mallard and his wife to stand and rush, inadvertently removing themselves from the real danger of a vehicle tire.

The male stood and led the way, drawing his lady to a nearby tree, hopping up and over the curb to reach a spot to hide behind the trunk. Then we saw it, the way she was walking, one leg flinching with the effort. She was injured, slow, tired. She didn't panic as birds do. She seemed unconcerned, no energy left to fight her fear.

So we said things like "Oh look, she's hurt." And we watched her limp slowly over the curb, struggling to lift herself.

My heart was breaking, even for a hurting bird, watching her pain and wishing I could end it. I was biting back tears and trying to answer all of the three year old questions coming my way. Her end was very near, I could see that. My controlling tendencies started to hop around in my head and heart. For a moment, I tried to think of a way to fix the situation. Then I started to think about what our pastor had said that morning, about the inevitable pain of life. He said it like it is, "Your life will never be void of suffering. Never. That's just LIFE." Then he talked about how it's not so much about the suffering itself, it's about whether or not we have the faith to believe in greater purposes. Do we truly believe that God does not just leave us in our pain, does not strike us down with ailments and death with a big stick, but that He takes all of it and works it together for good? That pain is an inevitable result not of God's will, but of a world that fell away from Him? That He will rescue us at times, and not at others, according to the very best bigger picture that only He can see? That kind of trust is terrifying.

It won't stop the pain, it will simply bring hope in place of despair.

Asher watched the duck so closely, without a sound for the longest time. Until suddenly, a guttural cry came from him, a heart-piercing and loud, "OOOOH, ooowie....OOOH." There was so much sadness in his sound, buried in layers of empathy. Our friend who was with us, watched him and let out a soft, "Wow." Yes. That boy knows pain. And so, he loves any creature deeply enough to feel theirs with them. I suppose that's what we're to do with all this suffering. Love, feel for each other, lifting the burden even just a little, in a moment on the street as we observe, feeling helpless.

Miles stepped closer, carefully inching his way toward the ducks like a curious moth to an intriguing flame, firing off questions about what happened, why is her leg like that, and did we run her over when we drove by? "No, honey. No. She was like this before we came along, we didn't do it." He thought about it for a while and then he said, "God doesn't like it that the duck is hurting."

No, I don't think God does like it even one bit. And knowing that He doesn't somehow lifts the fear of the inevitable suffering in our future. If He doesn't like pain, He groans as Asher did, because He too knows pain, and I know that when He cries out, something happens. Peace. Mercy. Grace. Love.

Asher's groans, my tears, and Miles' questions serve their purpose in reaching the ears of a God who I believe cares deeply. Our cries are love. He is love. Love even for a Mallard duck, limping on a quiet street. How much greater is our love for each other, all held together by His love for us? When we enter each other's pain, we're showing a level of trust that we may not have even known was there. And it's good.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

So, why did God plant the tree?

This is cross-posted at The Midnight Cafe.

The question that stuck with me after my most recent meeting with my Bible study group was this: Why did God put the tree in the garden in the first place? I mean, ultimately, the tree represents the ability of people to choose their own destruction. If God did not give people the ability to choose, life would still be perfect in the garden of Eden. Perfect. Instead, the "gift" of free choice means that we live in a world where murder, rape, hunger, disease, and greed exist right alongside compassion, generosity, abundance, health, and joy. Love crashes and shatters against evil every day. Perfection does not exist.

So, why?

The best answer that I know of is that God wanted us to CHOOSE. God wants us to freely choose relationship with God, which means that there has to be another choice. Otherwise we are robots, creatures who worship God because that's what we were created to do, but not because we choose God. And, honestly, I believe that God wants to be chosen. God doesn't desire relationship with beings who have no choice.

God gave us the dignity of being free. God grants us the respect of autonomous beings.

I mentioned (in my Bible study) that it's a little like being parents. We could, potentially, protect our children from risk (and also choice and freedom) for much of their lives, maybe even their whole lives if we did a good enough job of isolating them. But then who would our children be? We've all heard of people who have been so isolated they can hardly function, and they certainly cannot think for themselves. They have no personality, no individual personhood.

Having read a fair amount about different types of parenting, I know that kids who are raised by more strict parents, especially strict conservative Christian parents may be less likely to endure a tumultuous adolescence, but they are also less creative, less adventurous, and less engaging than their peers who have been allowed more freedom...including the freedom to make some stupid choices.

Another wise parent in the Bible study group responded that, of course, she allows her son some choices...but she wouldn't let him set himself on fire and dance naked on the kitchen table. ;) In other words, she limits his choices to protect his life.

It seems that God didn't do that. God put that tree right there in the garden and did not prevent people from eating the fruit that would lead to unspeakable pain and evil.

I'm sorry to admit that I became swallowed up in my own thoughts after that and lost the discussion, and by the time I returned the topic had moved on (we were discussing The Shack, and there's plenty there to talk about).

Here's what I was thinking, though. It's true that while my children are young, I protect them from the serious choices, choices that could mean the difference between life and death. I don't let Mane run out into the street or set herself on fire. But, very recently, I've been faced with the fact that I cannot do that with Vespera. I cannot protect her from every choice that has the potential to harm her.

If I remove her choice, her freedom, even in cases where her life could be in danger, I destroy our relationship. I'm willing to beg, plead, and persuade when I think she's making an unwise choice. But if I cross over the line into removing her freedom, I open a chasm between us. We can talk, negotiate, and argue...unless I take away her freedom. Then I've shut down communication, broken the lines, built a wall, or whatever else you want to call it. And we are left with a quiet, empty chasm between us.

And God is a God of relationship, a God who wants to communicate with us, even if it's to argue and persuade. There's simply nothing to say if we don't have any choices. So, God gave us choices to keep our relationship.

I've been trying to post this for 3 days and keep changing it. So, go easy on me. I'd love a discussion if ya'll have anything to say, ask, or argue.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

How Great IS our God?

I saw the below video this morning and wanted to share it here.

You know, I think about myself so much, that I make me (and my problems) really big and important. This video reminded me how very small I am in this big old universe. Not unimportant, just very small. Which reminded me of our discussion here recently on faith and humility and other things.

You may have to stick with it just a few minutes to really get into it, but I'm pretty sure you won't be disappointed by the end. No matter what you believe about God, this will get you thinking. If you aren't able to sit through 5 parts at once, the post will still be here, come back later (with popcorn), this is really good stuff.

If you have older children, I think this would be a really good thing for them to see. It really drives home what miracles we (they) are, and how much God loves us. I think that's so important for kids to fully grasp starting at a young age. (I say "older children" only because it probably won't keep younger children's attention.)

OK, enough rambling Heather...


Oh OK, just one more thing. I have this tendency to doubt that God is actually really intimately involved with humans. I see all the sick kids, the death, the disease and I want to scream "WHAT are you doing???" But today I was reminded that He's there and He's HUGE. He is the One that picks up the pieces, helps us take one step further...even when He could have left us to do the pain thing all by ourselves. We see it. We see the miracles coming after death, disease, and pain. He didn't have to do that. But He made it so that the greatest good will eventually come from every pain and sorrow. There is an eternal hope.

The End. (of my part anyway) :)

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