Start Small

It has been a summer, and it is barely even summer.

I cannot talk about all that has happened here, but I have felt the wrongful use of power from within the ekklesia–the adopted family of faith, the light-holders, the called. This is a special grief.

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When I was young, my family experienced a profound betrayal. At the heart-wrenching news of a sibling’s diagnosis, the inherited virus that struck fear in the hearts of the most educated and powerful at the time, a church responded as though they were not heirs to a different Kingdom, as though their inheritance did not set them apart to love and courage.

New to the mission field and missionary kid identity, a hemisphere away from the congregation, my heart was still in those stateside walls. I had grown up there. I had stenciled its bathrooms. I had flipped those worship song overheads. And my faith and discipleship had flourished within that loving community. I didn’t have many friends in Kenya yet. We were sent but had not completely left perhaps. On the ground, but maybe a little in the air.

When as a family we were in the throws of the grief of the surprise diagnosis, I was incredibly unsuspecting that loved ones could respond in any way except empathy, sadness, and love. I didn’t know the word stigma yet, and I wasn’t versed in the rationale behind HIPAA. So when that home church board, which had shown Jesus to me in so many ways, rejected my sibling, and questioned our new livelihood and partnership, I grappled. The silence of others was an injurious as the words blasted out. (My parents tried to shield me from much of this, but they also taught me how to use e-mail and read, so…) Grief upon grief. One parent eventually flew back to the States in an effort to find reconciliation, with the help of a mediator. I remember the other parent crying in their bedroom, when the water tank decided to leak through the roof, alone in a foreign country with 5 kids, spotty electricity and that hovering sense of abandonment. Water pouring down the walls, and my own sense of belonging and home pouring out with it. It was disorienting, and though we did not speak of it much or share about it then, it was defining.

That experience forced my faith to differentiate from a place, or an outcome. And it showed me that the most mature, the most devoted, by word, may be the youngest in deed. Everyone has work to do. And fear is a convincing hurricane pulling up the tallest trees.

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A few months ago, I was working with some colleagues to address some sensitive and serious matters. I heard the words “stay small,” during one time of prayer. As an advocate, a first-born, a leader, and achiever, we can all be confident that these words did not come from my head. The words helped me with patience, and to work within the given system, to wait behind leaders, and watch. And the words help me today as I am forced to continue waiting and watching from this place of betrayal and grief, as I see false narratives and am left alone to check my own attitude and actions in this Church.

I find comfort in the smallness, the humility, of the passion of Christ. The disorder he endured and the abandonment central to our Good News disarms my expectations while hosting my pain. I compare alluring human success, the touting of statistics, name recognition and acquisition of comfort, with his rhythm of ministry, his walk of suffering, and I don’t see much connection. I know from his life that collecting successes and platforms was not the aim; the power and the transformation he preached was in the visit to the prisoner, quiet and inconvenient, the feeding of the individual, unknown and undocumented. His stories are small, like the vulnerability of confronting and empowering a woman, in the heat of the day, at a pivotal moment. His record was one of investment into real relationships. Proximity to the pain was central. His acquisition of status did not overlap a hair with this world’s. His smallness and humility was our very victory and salvation.

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I can no sooner slow the growth of my children as I can solve my current problem or convince people to do the right, small thing. So I am left to start small, to stay small, with my self. Am I one that employs language of reconciliation and love but do not meet at the table with the complicated friend? Do I outwardly suggest all means of generosity and inclusion, but side step relationships when they smack of sacrifice? Do I stay at his feet, do I quiet the demons, enough to be draw near to the God of the margins, the Lord of kings? Do I build equity and justice in the small ways, in the daily steps?

There is enough work to do in me to keep me thinking small and to extend far beyond the puffing chest or the raised fist. Giving helps the grief, and blessing out of brokenness is the only way to heal. So far Life keeps reminding me that it is in the pouring out and the breaking, the kneeling and washing that we meet, we share in, and enjoy, the holy. We echo him, and we find him, and that is all we ever could hope to do.

 

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Corners

It’s hard to breathe sometimes, isn’t it?

 

I can name 4 major crises my small circle is facing right now. This morning, in the midst of doing something very inconsequential, scrubbing the neglected corners of my kitchen floor, I found myself on my knees, which is not very inconsequential.

I cannot do much for these loved ones. I can give strong hugs, I can suggest ideas from my finite mind, I can feel–oh, I can feel–their sorrow and grief. But I cannot abbreviate their grief, end the illness, free the captive, raise the lifeless or infuse identity.

As I bent low, making a difference in the dirt, I used a basin older than me. It was my grandmother’s. A woman who is going to welcome her daughter soon in the heavenlies. A woman of faith and gentleness, servanthood and humility, that I rarely resemble. As I considered the hours she spent scrubbing, the moments she must have used this bowl, the small, calloused hands I remember that gripped so many young children’s palms in her own and cleaned so many spills, I felt connected to a lineage of people who endured, who believed, who saw the best in people.

The prayers of my grandmother live on, much like this enamel basin. It helped me to pray on the floor this morning, for the sorrow and trauma my loved ones are suffering, for the milieu of danger and suspicion and blame in our nation, for the strength to wait and be loving.

I don’t know how God endures the grief He must feel over His lost and hurting people. Over our refusal to reach out, our rejection of His citizenship, and our constant evaluation of one other in self-defense when all He has done has been for our belonging and to grow our grace. I don’t know how He faced this earth and said He would stay with us Always.

God the Son bent low and washed feet. It didn’t end cancer. It didn’t fix the betrayer’s heart. It didn’t save them from martyrdom.

All that is wrapped up in Christ’s basin and kneeling eludes me but today this occurs to me: He is with us at the lowest and messiest. This is my God–the One who serves, weeps, and gave up His breath so that even when it is so hard, we breathe on and we have someone to pray to who knows this pain.

I don’t feel any obligation to remain poised in the midst of today’s hurt. But I must stay prayerful. I must stay knelt at a humble basin, facing the dirt, remembering that though the air is thin, this is not the end. We come from a tradition and a Lord who embraced those margins. We are not unfamiliar with the dark corners of life and fallenness. And we are not conquered or calloused under their persistence. I reach deep into the water of faith at these times, and stay low to listen and to love. It is all there is to do.

The Feet on the Ground

Almost daily I lift my children to a small sink and wash their feet. Our outdoor trampoline is a hospitable magnet for the sticky, freeway dust and scrubbing floors and carpets is the pits. So I try to intervene. When I catch one of them after a rendezvous with city nature, I swoop them up to a perch on my lap and swing their feet under running water.

The brief, basic moment of rubbing their boy toes with my hand, watching the dirty slip off with the bubbles, having the weight of them on me, is a sweet one. I cannot help but be thankful for those seconds. So human, so sacred. I need those pauses in these heavy days.

At the sink, I am reminded of a kind Example who loved His followers “to the end” and showed it in a memorable way. Only He could know what that even means. John 13 retells how Jesus was overcome with both a love for the disciples and a profound understanding of Who He Was and where He was going. And so He rose from the table. Rose to kneel, to wash their feet. To upset the flesh, to reveal the real, to demonstrate His tenderness, to break a barrier.

“If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you.”

He does not tell them to do things that they cannot. He does not tell them to do things that are not for their good.

Years ago, when I was much more confident, and much less wordy, I was a resident advisor for a small group of women who lived, hiked, learned, and played (along with some mountain men) in the high sierras. There had been a particularly dramatic couple of weeks with one young woman, myself, and a couple of the people in charge of the satellite college campus. Risky situations, manipulation, emergencies and confusion overtook the pine horizon. The air indeed seemed thin. It really wore on me. Somehow, during a moment of peace and worship, He gently, miraculously reminded me of His example in John. A tiny piece of His heart colored my own staunchly right-or-wrong heart so that I could feel a sliver of compassion. It was strange but compelling and I knew that sometime I would have the opportunity to literally wash her feet and it was in our best interest for me to do so.

On a moonlit porch one night I was that crazy, extreme person, awkwardly trying to emulate my Lord, praying that somehow, in the space between my hands and her feet, He would move and it would be good. It was a short, unceremonious ceremony. We embraced. The moon did not become bigger and stars did not stream out of the sky. But something budged, and we were better for the interaction. It was more real than debate. It was more true than self-preservation. And I gave thanks.

Today as I think upon that strange scene, I realize that there was little else to do except to kneel. That in asking me to do that, He helped affirm who I really am. He helped me be less attached to standing up for myself. My warped perception of myself. There was little to do except kneel and remember Him, remember that she was a sister, and that I was here to serve her. That the problems were peripheral. That time was short.

The more I am faced with difficult situations, the more I realize that most of leading a life of love involves kneeling, bending, groundwork. The more I appreciate that my parents have rarely raised their fists when challenged to a fight. There is little to do with marriage, with childrearing, with sharing Good News, learning new cultures, with dealing with people, with dealing with loss, than kneeling. More and more I come to the end of my self, my answers, my abilities, and all I am left with is the truer self He gives and the posture He demonstrates.

Sure there are times at the table. Times to look each other in the eye. Times of celebration and health, confrontation or unity, and no surprises. But the real issue, the heart of the matter, and the crux of life, is the floor. The lowering. There we pray. There we learn not to fear the grime. There I meet myself, I know what I am truly thankful for, and I see the other better. He knows I am such a slow learner. That for me, there is a lot of standing up for myself, that I have been pleased with the results in the past, but that in the realest of circumstances, it is almost always settling. 

Now, at the sink, He has given me a regular, grace-filled reminder of Jesus’ example and ending-love. That is, the love and presence that sees us through, to the end. Through to the end of the heavy days. Through to the end of the weeping, the fighting, the loneliness. He is here, and He is there. Raising the lowered. Beside the bending.

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