I Lie A Lot

One evening at work I quipped to a co-worker,  “I lie a lot.” He answered, “But they’re white lies.”   I grew up firmly believing that lying was wrong, a sin, a breach of one of the Ten Commandments.  Then, as an adult living and working in an Asian culture for several decades, I learned that what I considered lying in my Judeo-Christian, American sub-culture was quite different from the Chinese perspective of not telling the truth. Lying was not so black and white.

And now I find myself in a new world and culture.  In my present job I spend many hours among those suffering with dementia.

And sometimes I lie. 

As evening approaches,  I try to comfort one who is wondering how he can go home.  Another wonders if we can all fit in one car to leave.   Yet another worries if her family knows she is here.  Another is concerned that our voices and music may disturb those trying to sleep upstairs. Someone starts looking for keys, another wants to go and take care of her elderly mother.

 

And as I enter into their “here and now” perhaps I am not lying.  In their world they are the driver, the care-giver, the one going home, or going to their night job.  And I am affirming what they are living in their mind, their reality.

And so, my internal dialogue continues to analyze and understand as I work and relate and connect with these suffering with dementia.  Perhaps that connection is through a touch, a song, a smell, a picture.

And, yes, sometimes it’s through words that are not truthful today in my world,  but they ring true in their mind and their world that moment.

And so I wonder, am I really lying?

Unplanned Season of Green

The end of August approaches and autumn hints appear: the sound of crickets at night, the slight coolness in the morning, the shortening of daylight, the back-to-school sales, the small flocks of birds hovering about, the lines of mum plants full of buds readying for purchase,  and the beauty of late summer blooms.

One can see that subtle change of color on tree leaves and corn stalks.  Yet, it’s hard to detect this year.  Green is the dominant color.  Green — at the end of the summer. It’s been wet and everything has kept growing.

People’s lawns are green.  Trees and bushes and weeds are thick with large leaves and new growth.  My outdoor hardy hibiscus didn’t flower as much or as long, expending too much energy into leaves and stalks and enjoying too much shade from neighboring trees that grew in feet and density. My coleus have taken off.  Flowers and sweet potato vines in my backyard flower bed have created a dense mosaic of color attracting equally colorful butterflies, bees and even goldfinches and an occasional hummingbird.  I even have to trim back the vines that threaten to suffocate plants underneath.

I could not have known this past spring that I would still be enjoying  springlike green at the end of summer.

This past spring I could not have prepared for the unplanned and painful end of a part-time job that allowed the beginning of a full-time job this fall.

I could not have predicted the sharp and quick decline of my sister’s health and her passing.

I could not have seen how plodding through the Old Testament (sacred scriptures that Jews and Muslims also revere which I find awesome) has given me a deeper love and understanding of who God is and how He really cares for me as individual but also that He cares for the vulnerable.

I could not have planned the surprised discovery of miniature eclipse shadows in  front of my home as I endeavored to experience the partial solar eclipse without traveling or special equipment.

In the spring I had already planned a trip to Canada for this month, but I could have not anticipated all the fun, blessings, surprises, insights, and memories with a variety of people those ten days had provided.

I know we “should”  plan and prepare, and I do. But I think is very much part of our western culture and not necessarily the correct way at times.

I remind myself continually that I need to hold my agenda and to-do lists and my “five-year plans” loosely.   I really do not know what tomorrow will bring let alone years ahead.  But I know that I can hold tightly to God who is just and good and perfect even though I really do not know what is going on or understand what He is doing (or not doing).

And maybe, just maybe, I’ll see green this winter.

 

 

Three Years Back

Three years ago I was in the midst of packing and repacking bags as I came down to the last days of my China life. Thankfully I was able to leave many household items for the new resident of my apartment — an expatriate teacher who would need everything.  Nevertheless, my cherished house plants needed to find new homes, and I continued the emotional interactions of good-byes and last talks and meals with friends. My checklist shrank and grew as I would tick off a finished task but then add a new one.

Settling into life in the USA after decades overseas would be hard.  I knew it would be and was forewarned.  And I could make a quite a long list why it is so difficult and continues to be so.

But, today I thought, why don’t I reflect on, for lack of a better descriptor, the good things I have encountered these past three years back in the USA?  So, I will do my best to keep my naturally melancholy heart less vocal and my pessimistic thinking less obvious , and will not try to give into the temptation to add a cynical remark.

Family:   Within these last three years,  I have been at the bedside of my mother and now recently my sister when they gave their last breaths.  Many overseas workers don’t have that sacred honor of spending the last days and hours with a loved one on earth.

I also have had that deep joy of holding two  great nephews soon after their birth.  This delight I don’t take lightly as I am reminded that many years ago I had to wait over two years to meet their mother, my niece,  who I never held as a baby.  She didn’t come on time, so I had to board my plane without being able to see her as a newborn.  However, looking back, perhaps God knew it would have been harder for me to see her, hold her and then leave right away.

Nature:  Clean air and blue skies with the changing panorama of clouds, multitudes of flowers with every hue and shape, green woods full of trees and wildlife, streams that wind and water, and the rolling fields of corn, wheat and/or soybeans will always touch my soul in a deep way.   I now nurture my own flower garden outside, experimenting with species and colors, cursing the beetles and worms, and pleading for rain, and am awed how plants grow and flourish, bloom and die.  Houseplants sustain the green within my home and during the winter months,  they hint of hope for life ’til springtime.

Convenience:  I can drive around most of the time without much care of the weather.  My car is conveniently steps away from my apartment’s front door.  I have room in my car, trunk, and can fill it without thinking how I’m going to get it on my bike.  Shopping carts are available, and I can push the cart right to my car and unload.  When driving, I can expect most people to follow the laws.

I can make an appointment by phone call for the doctor, dentist, beautician, and am expected to be there.  I can get service at a bank or the post office or grocery store after lining up, and many places will even up another line/cash register/window to keep people from waiting.

I blend in quite well around here, so I actually seem quite invisible.

I am expected to pay the price of the item or produce at the farm market as labeled.

Different Worldview:  I have a different outlook on life that has been shaped from living as a foreigner in a different culture.   I know what it’s like to be a minority.  I have a belief system that has been become more sensitive and attuned to what real truth is based on what God’s Word –the Bible– says and not only what my upbringing and culture has taught me.

And as I writing this, I’m realizing, the list may not end.   These past three years have been HARD but there has been a lot of GOOD, a lot of GOOD.  And I smile.

 

 

Sitting Among Pots of Meat

“There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted . . .”

What?? You have to be kidding.  But that’s what they said.  The whole community of Israelites had just left Egypt where they were slaves.  God sent Moses to lead His people out of captivity and eventually to Canaan– “The Promised Land.”  He used ten supernatural plagues to show His power and to convince, or rather force,  Pharaoh to let His people go.  God also miraculously parted a huge body of water to allow His people to flee from Pharaoh’s army, and then destroyed that army with the same water.  Anyone familiar with the Bible know of these stories.  The people then sang, danced and praised God for his power and deliverance from their enemies.

But 2 1/2 months after these events the people are complaining that they have nothing to eat in the desert and they wished they had died in Egypt.  And they actually recalled that they sat around pots of meat and ate all the food they wanted in that land.

Did they forget they were slaves?

They actually sat around? What slaves would have the time or freedom to sit around?  In fact, the Pharaoh thought they were lazy when they talked of worshipping their God and then increased their workload.

They had pots of meat? I may be wrong but I’m guessing in ancient times, only the wealthy could afford large portions of meat.   Poor people may be able to afford a little meat and maybe only for special occasions.  But slaves?  The ones on the bottom of the social ladder?  I can’t imagine they tasted much meat at all.

And they ate all the food they wanted?  I doubt that. I just don’t think they had a lot of food.  Or owned much of anything. They were slaves!

So why did they say this? I’ve been thinking about it and wondering. . .  is it because their former life seemed so much easier than what they were facing now?  Perhaps they forgot that they did not have meat and unlimited food.  But they did have stability, security, predictability in many ways.

They probably had a roof over their heads, and every day was a long work day with maybe a few breaks for rest and nourishment if they were fortunate.  They knew the routine.  They knew the people around them.  They knew it would be like this for the rest of their lives.  It was the life of a slave. It was predictable.

But now they were no longer slaves.  They were free!  And they had a new life. But they weren’t so sure it was a better life.

It was an unknown life.  With an unknown future.

They saw incredible miracles and yet they didn’t really know this God who sent all kinds of plagues on their enemies, killed babies and soldiers, and provided a dry path in the middle of the sea and deliverance from slavery.

He was leading them by a pillar of fire at night and a cloud by day. And the human leaders, actually two brothers,  that this God had picked out, seemed very unsuitable and had questionable backgrounds. Moses was not eloquent, was easily angered and as a youth he was a prince, then an exiled murderer, and finally  ended up for decades as a shepherd among foreigners.

And now here they were all in the middle of desert with no water, food and an unknown destination.

All at once, the life they knew of a slave morphed into an imaginary pampered life they had never experienced.  It seemed so much better than the present.

And it seemed so much easier than this life of unknown they were now facing.

And it seemed simpler than trying to have faith in a God they didn’t really know and were afraid to know.

I shake my head in amazement and puzzlement.  Yet I stop and think.  Wait, a minute,  I, too, do the same.  I would rather stay in a place or situation I know, or long for the past or the life I once knew, then to move on in faith.  It’s human to feel that way. But the fact is, my past life is gone. And it is not as perfect or painless as I may remember.  And so I must realize that God wishes for me to move ahead in faith, a step at a time, and to know and experience Him in deeper and different ways than before.  And not to complain or dwell in the past that never really happened. I can’t say it’s easy, but then who said life would be easy?

 

Reflections at 60


I turned 60 today.  So after 6 decades of life,  I think I’ve learned a few things  But I’m still learning. One of my favorite Chinese sayings (now that I’m “older”) is “one is never too old to learn” 老到学, 老到活.  So here are a few things I have learned or am learning…

I am not the center of the world.  It’s easy to think that way since I am single and live alone.  But it’s simply not true.

The most precious gifts cannot be bought.  These include people, nature, laughter, music, fun, creativity, health, community, peace and more.  Not possessions, power, entertainment, assets, etc.

People will live forever and are always more important than things.

I will take nothing with me when I die.  I was with both my father and then my mother when they breathed their last breath.  I’ll never forget the sacredness of the moment but also the stark reality that they were gone. Even the shells of their bodies were left behind as their souls left.  They took nothing with them.   So when I get possession focused, I remind myself of this.

Forgiveness is one of the most powerful supernatural avenues for peace. Yet it is sadly under-used.  It’s not about the denial of wrongs but it’s about confronting the wrongs, confessing, reconciling, healing and moving on.

Hope is one of the most driving forces in humans’ hearts. When one believes that some day wrongs will be righted, life will be easier, joy will come, fulfillment will come, the game will be won,  there is a reason for all the hard things of life, then one can face anything.  But if there is no hope, one dies.  Maybe not outwardly, but inwardly.

Good health– mental, physical, emotional and spiritual –needs to be a serious goal in my life.  Modern science cannot fix everything.  Sleep and relaxation needs to be a part of that– hard for those of us who like to keep busy.

Fun and relaxation are part of life.  They should never be my goal in life but they are a healthy component of life. And I need not to feel guilty sitting down with a good book or pencil and sketchpad or walking through the woods or sitting down with a friend and chatting over a cup of coffee.

Life is about being not doing. This is hard!  I realize that I’m so performance driven.   How well I do something should not shape my identity. And what I do outwardly needs to be coming from who I am.

As a follower of Jesus and a child of God I want to “do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with my God.”  I want a heart that is like His heart which cares for those who are unreconciled to Him and for those who are marginalized in society.   I want to know Him and make Him known.

I wonder in ten years what changes I will make to this list… if I’m still around.

 

Almost a Tree-Hugger

My childhood home sat near the dead-end of a street at the edge of town.  Trees surrounded the house and blended into a small wooded lot which led to a tiny creek and swamp.  Remnants of a fence on the edge of our backyard hinted of the division of town and country and legalized the boundaries of two different school districts.  But for us neighborhood kids, the sloped field beyond the fence became a fun hill to sled in winter and during other seasons an interesting place to explore with stretches of grass and weeds and even a man-made dirt bank that kept town drain water from eroding the land .

The trees became my friends. I played among them and in them.  I created little homes within the bark crevices and among their roots and allowed my imagination to make up stories of horses and other creatures which lived there and had exciting adventures.   Massive oaks with tons of acorns seemed to be in abundance but my parents had also planted young maples and locusts.  There were was also a scattering of dogwoods and even wild cherry trees.   The trees made me feel secure and cozy and the seasons provided endless variety and pleasures.  Spring spoke of life and beauty when buds swelled and burst into flowers and  leaves.  Muggy summer nights allowed sleeping outdoors and often we laid on our backs seeking imaginary creatures and people found in the outlines and shapes of the darkened trees.   But summers also brought scary thunderstorms that tore down limbs and leaves and forever implanted within me a fear and awe of wind power. Autumn brought acorn battle fun and endless heaps of leaves to play in. Winter stripped the trees bare, yet with white snow clinging to the dark branches a peaceful pure beauty appeared unlike any of the other seasons.

Trees also were the homes of birds and squirrels — creatures that even now I enjoy watching.

Somehow I felt trees had feelings.  As kids we would get live Christmas trees and decorate them. But then  I would feel a sadness when the needles began to drop and it was time to take down the decorations.  My mom would then drag it to the woods with our help as we got older (our dad worked a lot and wasn’t home much).  It looked sad and forlorn and no longer useful.

Then came one Christmas season when the town authorities decided it was time to make our dead-end street into a proper cul-de-sac.  More houses were being built and a proper circle had to be made.  Trees were cut down and I can still remember standing at the kitchen window and crying as I watched.  I felt  the trees were hurting and dying and I was mourning for them.

Being now older and wiser, I realize trees do not have feelings as humans. Yet my adult heart still smiles as I read (or watched the movies) about the Ents in  Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings and about the Wood Nymphs in  C. S. Lewis’ Narnia stories in which the trees were like people.  Of course trees are still living. And I confess that we humans  have really made a mess of the world God has given us to take care of.    I agree that “all creation groans for redemption.”

I’m not going to argue about global warming or if we all must use clean energy , but what I do feel convicted of is that I have not been serious about taking care of the world.  I have spent most of my adult life in one of the most polluted countries in the world.  Now I am living in a much cleaner environment here in the USA.  But am I doing my part in keeping it clean?  What about all the plastic I use? The fertilizer and weed-killers for my flowers? Do I recycle? Could I use less paper? And the list goes on…

This world is not going to last forever, but God has given me a responsibility to take care of it.  And I want to do my part.

And maybe some day I’ll hug a tree, just because I do like them.

When There Is No Rain

Sometimes I don’t understand.  Well, actually many times I don’t understand.  I believe in God and I believe He wants me to pray to Him.  Yet sometimes He doesn’t seem to answer…in the way I would like it.  Sometimes my requests seem so simple and easy for Him to do… like making it rain.

Summer was brutal this year.  Temperatures rose and the sun beat down.  Leaves on my tough zinnias began to shrivel. Their colorful blossoms continued to bloom but the rest of the stalk suffered.  Other plants gave up.  I lugged water from my sink to keep the thirsty plants somewhat satisfied.   I knew how it was living in a dry area but Lancaster County, PA is not a desert.  We should get several inches of rain within A MONTH — showers and weather fronts dumping the wet stuff onto our happy fields, yards and gardens.  Happens yearly.  But this year it seemed like forecasted showers fizzled out or even bypassed my town.

Why?  I mean why couldn’t God allow the rain to come? As God the creator certainly it would be easy to nudge the rain cloud a mile or so to water my flowers.   And it wasn’t just me who liked perky flowers.  Farmers’ crops were wilting and everyone’s yards in my town were turning brown.

God, you can do it?  I mean a simple thing like that.  He could do it.  But He didn’t always do it.226076_10150163692053285_2849115_n

I KNOW having a drought in this region would not bring death to its inhabitants as it would  in other parts of the world. So it really is no big deal.  I can live with having sad flowers. They don’t look pretty but it’s okay.

Yet many friends and acquaintances I know ARE facing life and death issues:

Pain, grief, sickness and loss.
And in each situation God could do something about it.

Cancer. Alzheimer’s. Infertility. Disabilities.  Poverty.  Fear.  War.  And the list goes on.

He could heal the disease, allow the birth, provide the money or job, bring peace, reconciliation, comfort, guidance, solutions…

We pray, cry, question… and ask for mercy.   Yet it seems at times God doesn’t hear and the heavens are shut.  And I ask, we ask, and then  secretly wonder… is this the God of love?

Perhaps we try to comfort each other with the platitude that God is in control or that He knows what He is doing. I actually totally agree with this but what if a person doesn’t know God in an intimate way?  Hearing that a god  is in control of everything seems to admit that a sadistic being is delighted in harming and confusing His created humans, which consequently offers no real comfort or true explanation.  If anything it may fuel more anger and bitterness and disbelief.

The human part of me at times wants to turn away and follow many others who have become disillusioned with religion’s hypocrisy and false claims.

But the deeper part of my soul knows there is a God.  Yet this is not a god that can be understood by my limited thinking.  He is beyond any human comprehension.  Yet from what I see in His word–His revelation of Himself– He desires to commune with human beings.  His Spirit teaches me and inspires me to journey on in knowing Him.  I learn of Him as I read of Jesus, the God-Man who lived on earth, died and rose again.  So I seek after God even though at times I feel timid or even a bit fearful of what He could do or  allow in my life and this world.

Yet I am realizing that the more my heart  knows Him, and I continue to discover what He is really like, I can rest in His love for me,  even when I don’t understand what is going on. . . yes, even when  death, disappointment,  loneliness and unknowns become part of my life and. .  .  there is no rain.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Labels

English-speaking, wealthy and… promiscuous — labels attached to me as a Caucasian American living and working in China.  True I spoke English and even have a degree in teaching English but I didn’t enjoy strangers shouting “Hello” to me or inquiring if I had time to teach their child on the weekends. Yet I did enjoy interacting with my English students and helping friends with their English (sometimes).  But I was also comfortable in speaking Chinese with those who weren’t my students. Wealthy?  Well, compared to many of the poor who lived in poverty, as farmers in the countryside or migrants in the city, yes, I was rich.  However,  as more and more folk around me began to make more money over the years, their evident assets were quite in contrast to mine.  I wrote bike and they had cars.  I rented, they bought apartments.  I looked for nice but cheap clothes, they wanted brand names.   Promiscuous?  No, not me at all.  But American movies and TV, enthusiastically watched over the years by those in my adopted land, promoted the erroneous idea that “all” American women had and enjoyed affairs and would go to bed with anyone. Also, being single may have had further supported this wrong thinking.  Far from being any kind of beauty and even as I got older, I would encounter advances– both subtle ones and not so subtle ones.

After returning to the USA I realize that there are labels here too.  Perhaps I wasn’t as aware of them decades ago when I first left for overseas.  But now I am getting more settled here … and more aware.

My last name labels me.  Stauffer.  It’s a very common Lancaster County name so locals here will invariably try to figure out what Stauffer I am related to.  (By the way, I am not related to the Stauffer’s of Kissel Hill.)  Truth be told I’m as much of an outsider as those moving into the county or even more so since I lived most of my adult life overseas.

Being single is another kind of label.  This area is very family focused so to not have children or grandchildren for some locals is hard to imagine, and it’s difficult for some (not all!)  folk to find other topics to talk about.

And the label list continues.

During this messy election year I look again at the labels and stereotypes I myself have attached to our major political parties as I grew up: Republicans — conservative, pro-life, small government (and do I dare say, evangelical Christian?!).   Democrats — the opposite.   But to me personally, the lines are muddled now.  I see and analyze and question.   I am  definitely pro-life but do I, or do the Republican politicians do enough to help those who want abortions?  Are we actually doing something about the root causes of these baby deaths rather than just voicing how terrible they are?  Are we doing something to help the poor, the drug addicts, the helpless who may not see a way out of an unwanted pregnancy?  Are we doing anything?

Labels.

I call myself a Jesus-follower.  Another label.  Saying I’m a Christian is true but so many others use that label and really don’t know what it means.  Some say they’re a Christian because they go to church once in a while and they’re not a Muslim, Hindu, or Buddhist. Or maybe they were baptized as an infant or their parents were Christian. They believe there is a God but have no real personal relationship with Him.

I want to be a true Jesus-follower.  He cared for the poor, the sick, the unlovely, the foreigner, the minority, the ones living on the fringes of society.  He condemned those who wrapped themselves in religious piety and didn’t live the words they eloquently spoke.   He followed His Father’s will and wasn’t influenced by those around Him who were of a culture twisted by pride and evil.

And so my heart cry is … May I be given a label that reflects Jesus, and nothing or no one else.

 

Desert Silence

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Silence.

What is silence? The absence of sound?  Or can it also be the awareness of a presence or expectant attitude that creates no decibel for the ear to pick up, yet is felt?

Silence can feel oppressive, dark, or scary but also comfortable, peaceful,  or welcomed.

Mid-day rest-times in the arid area of China where I lived and worked were times of silence I had never experienced before. Everyone seemed to take a nap after lunch.   On the small university where I worked, campus basically shut down for at least an hour. Students shoveled down their simple cafeteria lunches and headed to their dorms for a snooze. Teachers rented spare dorm rooms to nap in or brought fold-up cots to sleep on in their offices.  Department heads and leaders had a sofa in their offices and locked the door for privacy. .

I didn’t work every day but at times I would also take a nap at home. As I would sit or lie on the bed in my guest-room at that time I often thought, this is the quietest time of the whole day.  Silence. Stillness.

No one stirring outside on their bikes or cars, no apartment noises from above or below or next to me, no garbage men collecting the rubbish, no one yelling to fix screens, no children outside in the nearby park,… silence.  Even the noisy sparrows were quiet outside.  Sure nighttime was quiet,  but I expected it to be.  But this was different.  Silence in the middle of the day seemed abnormal and unproductive.

Or was it?

A forced silence that was filled with expectation of what would happen later. Moments of refreshment to gear up for the rest of the day.   A pause to catch one’s breath, refocus, and recharge and then work through the day until nighttime fell.

Silence isn’t a natural part of my life.  My mind spins as I think about what to do, plan, perfect, and produce.  I like to be doing, thinking, planning, writing, revising– reaching for perfection that is always out of reach.  Never feeling anything is completely or satisfactorily finished.   And if there is silence, I like to fill it with nature sounds or music or a speaker on the internet worth listening to… or use the silence to reflect and think and plan for the rest of the day.

Yet I do believe God wants me to allow for silence.  Perhaps even to seek it.

Recently I took a closer look at the well-known Bible story when the Prophet Elijah has an encounter with God. He had seen God supernaturally torch his water-drenched sacrifice on  Mt. Carmel,  showing the idol worshipers and the people of Israel who was the one true God.  Shortly thereafter he fled the queen’s wrath, desiring to die, but was nurtured and taken care of by God’s angel under a broom tree.  He then traveled for over a month to Mt. Horeb where God met him and questioned him.  Elijah complained that he was alone and in response God showed his power through a strong wind,  an earthquake, and then a fire.

But God wasn’t found in those. And I wonder if Elijah was expecting to see Him there.

God was in what some Bible versions say “a still,  small voice” or a “sound of a gentle blowing”  but the true meaning of this Hebrew word is “silence” a heavy silence.  I remember one speaker explained it as a kind of “pregnant silence.”  Perhaps, as one blogger mentioned, it’s the silence that is found in a desert where there is a world all around and a maybe a breeze, but still complete silence. True quietness and silence in the vastness of sand, space and sun.  Nothing happening.  Yet, I think, one may have the expectation that something would happen. Maybe rain would come.  Maybe a visitor would appear.  Maybe a sandstorm would come roaring through.

God was there… in the silence.  Elijah “heard” the silence or the gentle blowing, but whatever it was, it drew Elijah out of the cave and God talked to him.   Again He asked him what he was doing and Elijah responded with the answer  that he alone was left who worshiped God. God was not relating to or answering Elijah perhaps in the way he wanted Him to.

In fact, God did not respond right away but rather gave Elijah a job to do.  THEN he told Elijah that he was not alone,  almost like an afterthought.

But before that revelation… there was SILENCE.   God met him through the silence. Not in the gigantic explosions of His power and might. And not the way perhaps Elijah wanted it.

And even before God’s talk, as Elijah walked to Mt Horeb for 40 days  perhaps there was silence too?  What did Elijah do all that time?  Walked in the desert– alone, quiet, and in silence?  Deserts are barren and with little wildlife.  Was Elijah in forced silence so that he would be ready to encounter God and then be ready for his next task?

To take time to be silent… even if it’s for a few minutes a day.  Or even in the car or on a walk.  To let the mind stop and know God is with me and to know His presence even if there is no manifestation of it.  And then to wait expectantly and yet not knowing when the silence will or should end. Or maybe never end.

But knowing and believing that the eternal, sovereign God I seek and love is also the God of Silence.

.

 

 

Blessed are the Poor?

What is it like to be poor? I really don’t know. I like to think that I do.  I feel poor because I don’t own a house or a new car or make lots of money.  Yet I have a roof over my head, food in my stomach, money in the bank and wheels to get me places.  I am comfortable. I have food in the refrigerator and items in the cupboards and gas in my car’s tank. I’ve got a cell phone and a computer and a closet full of clothes.  I’m not lying awake at night hungry wondering where I’m going to get a bite to eat or if I’m going to get kicked out of my apartment.  My bills are paid and I’m not living from paycheck to paycheck.

I am not poor. And I do not really know what it means to be poor.

I have seen poor people. Real poor people. They lived in the mountains of southwest China. Their houses, made of rocks and wood,  sat precariously on the sides of hills.  Some had huge cracks in the walls caused by earthquakes and shoddy materials.  No electricity or running water.  Outhouses didn’t really exist.  Children ran around with tattered clothes and smudgy faces.   The farmers worked hard in their fields– tiny plots of tired red earth clinging to the sides of the mountains.  Sad looking corn and other various crops somehow survived until harvest time. The farmers ate two simple meals a day– a late breakfast and then in the evening.  Members of one village had to walk miles on a treacherous path to find and haul back drinkable water.  Tiny, run-down schools with cramped classrooms and few materials and fewer teachers provided a bare-bones education. Older students walked to other villages for higher education and stayed in dorms that animal-lovers in the USA would declare unfit for creatures.  Handicapped by poverty and a poor foundation as well as a lack of personal connections, only a small number would be able to make it to any kind of college.

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And I also remember beggars– in every Chinese city I lived in.  I know some were so-called “professional beggars” who made more money  than some of the hard-working shop keepers or construction workers.  But there were others who were clearly disabled and unable to function or work normally.   I always seemed to struggle about what to do when I walked by a beggar or was approached by one. I have had lively discussions with other expatriates who faced the same dilemma.  We white Americans always were considered the rich ones yet I argued inside that some Chinese around me had more money than I did. I hated being stereotyped. I kept questioning what would Jesus do?

And now I am back in the USA and figuring out life here. And I’ve been reminded that most Americans do not talk about money yet it appears there are clearly status symbols of wealth one seeks to attain that lets everyone know who has money and who doesn’t.  But that can be deceiving. One can appear to be wealthy but be in debt and  have no real money or assets.

But I know there has to be truly poor people here in my town, in my county.  I just don’t see them or rather perhaps I’m not looking.  And I know I’m very ignorant about how the poor live. I’ve been brought up that if you just work hard enough you’ll have enough money to live on.  But that may not be true for those caught up in a cycle of poverty that I do not understand.

I am being convicted of not caring about the poor especially now living in a land that seems so rich and self-sufficient.  It would be easy for me to just give money to organizations that take care of the poor in other lands and feel like I’m doing something.  And also easy for me to ignore the needy around me.

Yet I’m not sure Jesus would have me do that.

Jesus said “Blessed are the poor” and I can’t find a lot of favorable words about the rich in all the talks He had with people. Yes, He does speak of the “poor in spirit” yet in other places He talks about those who have little money.  And He has tons of words about neglecting the poor (as well as the oppressed, foreigner, orphan, widow…).  Also Jesus here on earth did not have a home or possessions  (yet some may argue that He being God does “own” everything).

I want to justify my lack of action by saying I am not rich and that His words don’t apply to me.

But compared to most of the world’s inhabitants.  I am rich.

So I really need to do something and help the poor… around me.  And not pretend Jesus’ words don’t apply to me.  Because they do.