Almost Beyond Belief

road in the dark

Why do we tend to fear

Things we do not understand

Like love and God

And sometimes life itself

So big they are

So often out of hand

Throwing them aside is easier

Than taking a chance

Somehow

Beyond all knowing, I think

He cares

He understands

The questions, the fears

Even the choice, sometimes, to disbelieve

It’s hard, God knows

Only He knows just how hard

Life, and love, can be

Our hearts full of joy and pain

And loss and questions why

Sometimes

I think, almost beyond belief

He smiles, and loves

In spite of it all

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Could You Live without a Mirror?

John Piper, in his book The Purifying Power of Living by Faith in Future Grace, shares this true story:

Evelyn Harris Brand, the mother of Paul Brand, the world-renowned hand surgeon and leprosy specialist, grew up in a well-to-do English family. She had studied at the London Conservatory of Art and dressed in the finest silks.But she went with her husband to minister as missionaries in the Kolli Malai range of India. After about ten years her husband died at age 44 and she came home “a broken woman, beaten down by pain and grief.” But after a year’s recuperation, and against all advice, she returned to India. Her soul was restored and she poured her life into the hill people, “nursing the sick, teaching farming, lecturing about guinea worms, rearing orphans, clearing jungle land, pulling teeth, establishing schools, preaching the gospels.” She lived in a portable hut, eight feet square, that could be taken down, moved and erected again.

At age 67 she fell and broke her hip. Her son, Paul, had just come to India as a surgeon. He encouraged her to retire. She had already suffered a broken arm, several cracked vertebra and recurrent malaria. Paul mounted as many arguments as he could think of to persuade her that sixty-seven years was a good investment in ministry, and now it was time to retire. Her response? “Paul, you know these mountains. If I leave, who will help the village people? Who will treat their wounds and pull their teeth and teach them about Jesus? When someone comes to take my place, then and only then will I retire. In any case, why preserve this old body if it’s not going to be used where God needs me?” That was her final answer. So she worked on.

At the age of 95 she died. Following her instructions, villagers buried her in a simple cotton sheet so that her body would return to the soil and nourish new life. “Her spirit, too, lives on, in a church, a clinic, several schools, and in the faces of thousands of villagers across five mountain ranges of South India.” Her son commented that “with wrinkles as deep and extensive as any I have ever seen on a human face … she was a beautiful woman.” But it was not the beauty of the silk and heirlooms of London high society. For the last twenty years of her life she refused to have a mirror in her house! She was consumed with ministry, not mirrors. A coworkers once remarked that Granny Brand was more alive than any person he had ever met. “By giving away life, she found it.”

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River of Reason

scales

There are times I think that in my life I’ve done more harm than good.

When I regret not having done those things I know I should.

 

There are times it seems as if a mountain blocks my way

And though I’ve heard it comes to pass, the sorrow tries to stay.

 

There are times I feel the way is harder than my heart can bear

Times I reach out and feel that there is nothing, no one, there

 

There are times I seek to pray but cannot say a word

Times I admit I wonder if a single prayer was heard

 

Then there are times that joy abiding comes to fill my heart

Times I understand that I play a special, unique part

 

In a rhyme that runs so deep it was formed before time started

In a love so vast that from it none could e’er be parted

 

In a reason for this life that calls unto my very soul

In a purpose helping others find that which makes them whole

 

There is a meaning that goes beyond life’s passing, changing tide

Given by the One who in my heart always will abide

 

[Originally posted in March 2012]

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What Is More Important Than Life?

According to the New Testament, “ministry” is what all Christians do. … What ministry looks like is as varied as Christians are varied. It’s not an office; it’s a lifestyle devoted to advancing other people’s faith and holiness. In this sense the only life that counts for anything is a life of ministry – whether you’re a banker or a bricklayer. …

This conviction is what makes the lives of radically devoted people so inspiring to watch. Most of them speak the way Paul did about his ministry: “I do not consider my life of any account as dear to myself, in order that I may finish my course, and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus” (Acts 20:24). Doing the ministry that God gives us to do is more important than life. – John Piper, Future Grace

 

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Treasures on the Path

Storm Clouds

Every cloud is silver lined,

Or so the stories say,

But how and why the heart doth pine,

When loved ones pass away?

Does the cloud reach out a hand,

To dry a tear-stained face?

Turn the hourglass, allowing sand

To fall back from its errant place?

No, voice echoed in my heart,

It cannot do these things,

But it shows that though raindrops start,

There’s one who sees all things,

Perhaps the storm will pass your way,

Quench your joy in chilling wrath,

But when again the sunbeams play,

You’ll find more illumined your morning’s path,

For as your tears awaken your soul,

And cleanse your heart from errant ways,

As the heartbreak makes you whole,

A treasure on your path now lays,

And as you walk the way that’s shown,

You’ll find the storm left in its wake,

A treasure that you sought to own,

But from another could not take,

Treasures of love that come only through pain,

Treasure of joy only sorrow can bring,

Treasure of peace through the wind and the rain,

Treasure of flight, like a bird on the wing,

Delight in the treasures laid on your path,

For only therein may your heart awake,

It is in love and not through wrath,

That nobler form your trail take,

And when your heart seeks for the joy,

Evoking serenity through pain,

When deepest dreams you will employ,

Realized only after the storm and rain,

Hidden truth your thoughts expose,

And lift them as diamonds from a cave,

As thorns would hide a lovely rose,

Yet a lover’s hand would risk to save,

Thus see the yonder morning’s glow,

As radiant light outshines the storm,

Lift your eyes to colored bow,

Take in the iridescent form,

Let your gait hold steady now,

As the morning’s path you tread,

Not seeking shallow joys somehow,

But treasure you’ll find instead.

 

(Written in 1999. Dedicated to Trina Milne, 1978-1999)

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God is Up to Something Good

[The] glorious might of God that we need to see and trust is the power of God to turn all our detours and obstacles into glorious outcomes.

If we believed that our hold-up at the long red light was God’s keeping us back from an accident about to happen, we would be patient and happy. If we believed that our broken leg was God’s way of revealing early cancer in the x-ray so that we would survive, we would not murmur at the inconvenience. If we believed that the middle-of-the-night phone call was God’s way of waking us to smell smoke in the basement, we would not grumble at the loss of sleep. The key to patience is faith in the future grace of God’s “glorious might” to transform all our interruptions into rewards.

In other words, the strength of patience hangs on our capacity to believe that God is up to something good for us in all our delays and detours. This requires great faith in future grace, because the evidence is seldom evident.

– John Piper, Future Grace

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Art with a Purpose

Stained Glass with Cross

In her article, “Beyond the Disciplines: Art without Borders,” Suzi Gablik mentions a kind of art that has “some worthy agenda outside of itself, and a socially redeeming purpose” (par. 2). I love that concept and idea, as opposed to art driven by “professional recognition,” marketplace competition, and “brisk sales” (par. 3), which seem more to steal the heart out of art than to develop true art. As an aspiring writer, I find myself caught in that conflict, hoping to write for a purpose, to write something that has meaning, yet comparing the popularity of that form of writing against works that fit a popular genre and are therefore automatically popular.

I admit that, more than once, I have found myself inwardly irritable toward those whose works are published and popular because the authors are better at marketing than writing. At such times, I have to assure myself that writing from the soul is worth more than an impressive royalty check, because I am not only writing for myself. What do I want my readers to see? What do I want my children to see as they grow old enough to read my writings? A succumbing to popular opinion and pop culture, or a rendering of the soul on paper? When I think of it in that terms, the answer is easy. I want to write to make a difference in the world, no matter how small the ripple.

On Friday, February 26, I picked up my kids from school and drove them to the Save Mart Center, to stand in line for the Rock and Worship Roadshow. Ten bands for ten dollars is hard to beat, as far as entertainment goes. The bands varied widely. Danny Gokey and Mandisa, both finalists in American Idol. Both singers with powerful messages of hope and the strength that comes from God. Newsboys and Phil Wickham, both Christian pop rock bands. One band, Audio Adrenaline, sang a song titled “Kings and Queens,” and throughout the song, video clips were playing of village children in Haiti. The clips brought tears to my eyes, though I tried hard to keep them back. After the song, the lead singer spoke of a ministry they began in Haiti 11 years ago, The Hands and Feet Project, which they continue to this day. The tagline of the project is: “Caring for the orphaned and abandoned. Fighting to keep families together.” Having lived in India and seen such poverty firsthand, causes that promote help for the helpless have always been close to my heart.

Later that evening, between bands, a man spoke about Compassion, the reason the ten bands had come together for this tour. Not “compassion,” the emotion – though that probably played a part – but Compassion International, an organization started in 1952, which welcomes sponsorships of children from poor and developing countries. Currently, their program sponsors over 1,700,000 children, providing food and education to children, rescuing babies and mothers from poverty, and meeting critical health needs (Compassion). Each of the bands could have been touring on their own, making more money, and entertaining audiences with their music. Instead, they play for a dollar to promote a cause: feeding and educating those who could not receive it otherwise. Art for a purpose. Music for a cause. And it has made a difference. At the same concert last year, over 800 children got sponsors that single night.

How many children, overall, have had their lives changed because of the power and attraction of music? How many have been fed and educated because of the tug on the heartstrings to help the least of these? I don’t know. The official numbers might easily be found, but there is no way to determine the total effect. Because there is not only the effect on the children and families who receive sponsorship, but on the families who give it.

In 2011, we began sponsoring a boy, Stiven, from Columbia. He is about the age of our middle child, Allen. In addition to the almost embarrassingly small amount we send each month – $42, easily spent in the U.S. at a single restaurant – we write Stiven. My children write him. I read to my children the letters he writes back, in which he say that he thanks God for us. I read to them the magazines that Compassion sends each month, that tells of homes and buildings constructed in Haiti after an devastating earthquake; of a teenage mother in Ethiopia so sick and poor she could not care for her baby, who now receives nutrition and education; of families who can now earn a living and perform a skill to support their families. So many stories. True stories. Of a world changing because of the power of art and music mingled with the power of love.

But the stories still untold are the stories unfolding in the lives of my children. My boys love to draw; my daughter loves to read and write. My children take weekly piano lessons, although they would often rather play than practice. But I wonder, what will they do with the art and music that is building up inside of them now? I hope that they will choose to bring hope to others through their art and music and writing. In some way. It doesn’t have to be by joining a world-famous band, or writing a bestselling novel. Maybe it will simply be sponsoring one child. Maybe traveling overseas and seeing the world and those in it with new eyes. Choosing compassion (the emotion and the action) and finding a purpose in art. That of making this world a better place.

Suzi Gablik observes, “In Western culture, artists aren’t encouraged to be integral to the social, environmental, or spiritual life of the community. They do not train to engage with real-life problems” (par. 3). She is right, and such a narrow focus destroys the core of what art truly is, a rendering of the soul on paper or canvas or a sheet of music. Art, by its very nature, is drawn from some deep spring within us, a spring that brims over and refuses to be quenched, and thereby must be expressed. But the spring cannot be dammed up and controlled; such an act would staunch the very blood that brings it life.

Gablik notes the widening of interest in a “transdisciplinary approach” to art, a form “in which the individual artist becomes an integral component of a larger social network” (par. 9). One aspect of this approach welcomes artists showing an interest and becoming involved in “social and environmental domains” (par. 9), just as the bands we watched were promoting meaningful, social causes. I feel that, to some extent, this has always been the thrust of meaningful and enduring art. Gablik comments on the need to adopt a multidimensional form of art that “is more in harmony with the interconnected nature of the real world” (par. 17). Art – whether a poem or a painting, a symphony or a sculpture – pulls back, for a moment, the blinds that we often keep over our eyes while we walk all too quickly through our days. It reveals something of our true selves, or of the selves we are called to by God, or of the harmony of nature, or of our place within that greater rhythm.

Art invites us to stop, to reflect, to take in with deep, life-bringing breaths the beauty that surrounds us. When artists remain true to themselves and true to the One who has created them with art deep within their soul, true to the world in which they live and the people within that world, they create unique works that promote change for the better in some lasting way. And that art is infused with purpose.

 

Works Cited

“About Compassion International.” About Us. Compassion International. n.d. Web. 6 March 2016.

“Hands and Feet Project: Caring for the Orphaned and Abandoned.” Hands and Feet Project. n.d.. Web. 6 March 2016.

Nicole, Britt. Gold. Britt Nicole. Capitol Records, 2012. MP3.

Suzi, Gablik. Beyond the Discipline: Art without Borders. New York: Landau-Alan Gallery, 1967. Green Museum. The Monongahela Conference. Web. 6 Mar. 2016.

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