Carved into this statue at the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi is a prayer: “not seek to be loved but to love.”
My prayer this year, too.
She just turned six, and she wanted her face painted.
She couldn’t tell me, but her mother said she loved butterflies, and purple and pink were her favorites. So I loaded up my brush, drawing it gently across her cheeks.
A flicker danced across her lips, too small for me to see it.
But her mother noticed. “Oh, you like it! Does it feel good on your face?”
I brushed her dark hair off her face.
“I’m just making sure I don’t get paint in your beautiful hair, mija,” I told her. “You are going to look so pretty.”
The butterfly took shape, iridescent pinks and purples blending. I began the details, outlining it in black, adding swirls of white to the wings. When I leaned over her wheelchair to paint its body down the middle of her nose, she smiled again. This time, I saw it.
“You look like the butterfly queen, lovely girl,” I told her. Her eyes flickered open, not seeing, but still seeking the new voice. “So beautiful.”
Her smiling hospice nurse came over and laughed, “oh girl, your bath tonight is going to turn pink and purple!”
Her mom hugged me, and they were off — heading for family pictures in the pumpkin patch as my heart broke in a thousand pieces for the butterfly queen who will never see 7.
And then, I turned to a little boy with bright eyes, and loaded my brush to turn him to Batman.
Because this is how we survive this fallen world.
In the valley of the shadow of death, we paint butterflies and Batman masks. We brush the hair out of each others’ eyes and remind each other we are still beautiful in our brokenness. We hug strangers, we hold our friends’ hands. And as much as we can, we offer grace and mercy. We are bumbling, flawed people, but we try our best to love each other anyway.
Because we were loved first.
When I would tell people I was headed out for a week-long mission trip with middle school kids, I got a lot of sympathetic looks — and a few inquiries into my sanity. Why on earth, they wondered, would I voluntarily spend a summer week working outside, sleeping on an air mattress, surrounded by 6th, 7th and 8th graders?
I wasn’t sure sometimes, myself. But I know why now.
The last evening we were in Abilene, our van of middle school kids pulled up to a stoplight. On the median, a homeless man was asking for donations. Unprompted, the kids started scrambling.
Someone found a Gatorade. Another grabbed a bag of pretzels. One kid got out his wallet, and pulled out the money left there. Just a couple bucks, but we were headed to an arcade. That didn’t stop him from pressing it into the hands of the youth minister driving the van.
The man was happy and grateful — and then he said, “hey, I know you. You’re the kids from San Antonio who have been here this week.” He talked about one of the places he knew we’d been. A feeding program for the homeless and working poor, where earlier in the week kids from our group had helped make lunch, then sat and talked with the people there.
A week. And a homeless man on the sidewalk knew who we were, and why we had come. He’d seen them.
I saw them, too. Watched them sing as they picked up trash from alleys in 100-degree heat. Heard them laugh as they sorted pallets of donated food for the food bank. They cooked and then delivered meals for homebound seniors, sat alongside kids at a summer feeding program and talked to them as if they’d known them all their life. I worked alongside them to paint the home of an elderly woman. Then, as we drove away, I glanced back to see her standing on the porch dabbing away tears as we drove away.
And I never heard complaining. Not when it was 109 degrees outside. Not when they had to wait in line for the one working shower. Not when a stomach bug swept through and knocked out a tenth of the kids.
Instead, night after night when they got back, I saw kids line up to share their “God sightings” for the day. I saw them worship without inhibition, with their hands and hearts lifted towards heaven. I saw them pray, sometimes in pairs, sometimes in front of the group, sometimes off in a corner by themselves.
We had water fights while washing church vans, played enough Justin Beiber to last me four lifetimes, drank enough Sonic slushes to fill a small pond, and had whole days where they decided to talk in country accents and start every sentence with “Oh Sweet Mama!”
I would not trade a minute of it. Well, maybe the parts that involved cleaning up after the aforementioned stomach bug. I would definitely trade those.
But this week, I fell in love with a group of middle school kids, and a little more with Jesus. Their theme for the trip was “let love win,” and this week? It was a total knockout.
I never saw your first steps, heard your first words, watched you smash your first birthday cake, or saw you off to school that first day of kindergarten, fresh and full of promise.
You came to us with those firsts behind you, and other firsts I wish I could obliterate. First police report, caseworker, first foster home, first heartbreak.
But because I can’t erase them, I tell you the other firsts.
How I called our caseworker crying after meeting 3 other children at the shelter, siblings beautiful and tiny, and told her “we know in our hearts they are not our children.”
And she said, “It’s ok. I met your boy today.”
A week later, we met you, and let you roast marshmallows over candles for s’mores, and use my camera at the zoo, and tucked you into bed in the room we hoped would be yours.
Then, as I tucked your sister in — the one who didn’t want a brother, who was insistent that she needed a little sister for the bottom bunk in her room — she whispered to me, tears in her eyes, “Mom, I think we found our boy.”
So we had, son.
As you well know, it’s not easy every day. Your dad and I are reading Nehemiah together this week, and I think of you as we read about the rebuilding of Jerusalem’s wall, the exiles sifting through the rubble to find stones strong enough to work with. Sometimes, like them, I wonder if my hands are strong enough for the work.
Then, I remember it is not up to me.
“They are your servants and your people, whom you redeemed by your great strength and your mighty hand.” (Neh. 1:10)
So we celebrate the firsts we can. I have missed much, precious boy.
But I was there the first time you dipped your toes in the ocean, the first time you hit a baseball, the first time you got so engrossed in a book you didn’t want to sleep.
And I was there the sunny Saturday afternoon you told your grandpa that yes, you believed with all your heart that Jesus was the Son of God.
And then, with your dad and grandma, waded into the waters of the Guadalupe River and was baptised into Christ.
And though your baby book is missing plenty, your mother who just does not scrapbook is still saving this day — the one that frames all others in your life. I will cling to it when finding stones in the rubble seems beyond my strength and remember your life is guarded, as it always has been, by the nail-pierced hands of the Son of God.
On a shuttered stretch of road, even the Pik-N-Pay has dimmed its lights for the night. School buses wait coralled like cattle, sleeping standing up.
But Lighthouse Baptist Church keeps sentry. Blinking red and bright, its marquee testifies in all caps.
I’m tempted to lift a hand off the steering wheel to give a witness, say Amen. Preach on.
But the sign has more to say.
“April 16, 6:30 p.m.”
Good book says no man knows the hour. Lighthouse Baptist Church apparently begs to differ.
First, from our trip to the Natural Bridges Wildlife Ranch yesterday.
1. Teasing a bird big enough to peck off your head.
In this picture, my daughter is screaming “Tina, come eat your ham, you fat lard!”
“Tina” was not amused.
Back to THINGS THAT WILL NOT END WELL.
2. Posing without your pants on with Dora the Explorer and Barney the Dinosaur.
I am not even going to comment on how Barney is posed. Really, Reille? This is “rehabbing your image?” Pants on the ground, pants on the ground. Looking like a fool with your pants on the ground.
3. Letting Drunk Interns Pick the Clip Art for Your Press Releases.
Florida Family Policy Council sent out a news release last week protesting a judge’s decision to approve a lesbian couple’s adoption. Which merits no mention because it’s what they do. But they included a picture of the couple in question.
Only it wasn’t the couple in question. The image used on the Florida Family Policy Council Council story is on the left. The real couple is on the right.
You can read the rest of the story here:http://www.boingboing.net/2010/03/16/florida-family-polic.html
Here’s what I want to say about that. I love Jesus a whole bunch. I am sure the people at Florida Family Policy Council would say they do, too. So, let me tell you something IN LOVE.
Jesus doesn’t need this kind of ridiculous hate-fueling, truth-twisting crap to accomplish his work. He can change lives and hearts and minds without you resorting to this kind of poisonous distortion. If you really think God is sovereign, why fall back on desperate scare tactics?
OK, that’s all.
Saturday morning, the rest of the house is asleep. Even the dogs, one of whom has already claimed the pillow I vacated, just raise a canine eyebrow when I ask about going outside.
So it’s just me. And the fish. Continue reading