Sunday, September 23, 2012

Mary & Martha

Luke 10:38-42

   Everybody who has gone to church or opened their Bible more than once all know the story of Mary and Martha; the two sisters with completely opposite personalities. It kind of makes you feel sorry for their brother Lazarus, who had to live with them.

   Basically, Martha was a Martha Steward type person; everything had to be “just so” when guests popped in for a visit. So she buzzed around the house like an angry bee trying to clean the closets and the bathroom that she had just cleaned that morning while preparing a multi-course dinner with all the trimmings the likes of which her guests had never seen nor were likely to ever see again. She terrorized the “help” with her drive to have everything perfect. If what little we know about her characterized her daily tendencies, I would venture to guess she was a highly driven personality with OCD. In most traditions she is depicted as the older sister who looks like one of the evil stepsisters in Cinderella. (I don’t know why older sisters are stereotyped like this. I'm an older sister and am NOT that way)

   Inversely, her sister Mary is always depicted as a young and beautiful maiden with a dreamy sweetness that just makes you want to gag. While Martha is freaking out and screaming at the servants, Mary sits calmly at the Lord’s feet soaking in His every word, as she ought to be. Jesus even commended her for it while chiding Martha for freaking out. But what if this kind of behavior was normal for Mary? What if, instead of tending to her chores, she was off picking flowers or daydreaming on the way to market? In this scripture passage, Mary is always held up as the model person because for once she chose to do what was right. But what if she was a horrible procrastinator with the attention span of a gnat? We know that she was a very relational person who would rather be involved in an interesting conversation than in making the perfect matzah balls.

   So what does all this have to do with living life in the 21st century? In every sermon  and teaching about these two that I’ve ever heard, Mary can do no wrong and Martha is an evil ogre; therefore, all women should strive to be like Mary. But when a woman acts like Mary, she is frowned upon as being unproductive and the Proverbs 31 woman (which clearly describes a Martha if ever there was one) is thrown in her face.  I don’t know about you but there seems to be a mixed message here. 
So here are a few things I have learned about myself and my christian sisters that it has been my privilege to live with. First of all, I am very much a Mary type person. I can fully relate to her. If we had lived in the same era and had a chance to meet, we would have become instant best friends for life and would have probably wondered off into the sunset never to be seen again.

   For some reason, the Lord has seen fit to have me live in community for extended periods of time with a few Marthas; hyper-active, very driven, OCD Marthas. We can and do drive each other crazy. Guess he wants us to learn long suffering grace or something.

   Nothing drives a Martha more batty than to see Mary sitting around appearing to be unproductive, or working on a project that she herself considers a leisure time activity, when there is so much REAL work to be done. That is why we see Martha more or less chewing out Jesus for not putting Mary “in her place”. Think about it. It took some real hutzpah to chew out God in front of everybody over a little housework not getting done. But Martha is like that. She is driven sometimes to the point of tunnel vision. 

   Mary had real hutzpah too. I mean look where she was sitting; in a room full of MEN, LEANING against the Master’s knee, probably right up next to the beloved disciple John. It just wasn’t kosher for a woman to be where she was in those days. But did she care? Not one bit. She was a rebel and didn’t care who knew it. That’s why Martha needs Mary; to remind her that sometimes there are more important things to consider than just decorum and the tasks at hand. Mary teaches Martha to relax and enjoy the sunset with friends because those moments are once in a lifetime and too quickly over. The dishes will still be there after everybody goes home.

   But Mary needs Martha too. Being a Mary, I can honestly say that one thing that can really get my passive aggressive dander up is to be constantly badgered about mundane things like housework when I’m off in my own little world or trying to concentrate on something that has caught my interest. That’s why I need Martha; nothing would ever get done if it were left up to me. I probably wouldn’t even eat without Martha’s voice telling me that I should go into the kitchen and fix something before I pass out. Mary can be a bit ADD so Martha helps her to stay focused and on track. Martha reminds Mary that sometimes the task can’t be put off until she feels like doing it. Some things need to be done immediately and maintained  in order to facilitate good relationships.

   If the two sisters let their differences get in the way, things get ugly real fast. But with Martha’s drive and Mary’s vision working together, they can become an unstoppable force in God’s Kingdom.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Races & Teams

The other day was too hot to go outside so we stayed in and watched TV. But the only thing worth watching was the Tour de France. You know, the Super Bowl of professional bicycle racing that a guy named Lance something or other won a bunch of times? 
While I do admit that it is pretty fascinating to watch the brightly colored clump of riders turn into a long ribbon of rainbow as they pass through narrow streets and around tight curves only to bunch back up again once the obstacle is passed; I have never had any particular interest in watching the race beyond the highlights shown in the evening news.
So, needless to say I knew next to nothing about the race. I mean what’s there to know? A bunch of insanely well conditioned athletes don eye searingly bright skin suits and helmets to take a bike ride through the French countryside as fast as they can. The one to reach the predetermined finish line is the winner, right? Wrong.
Out of curiosity, Randall went online to look up information about the race. After all such knowledge might give one an edge in the next game of Trivial Pursuit or home Jeopardy. Anyway what he found was a real eye opener.
Did you know that even though everyone racing in the Tour de France are exceptional world-class athletes, not everyone in the race is there to win the race for themselves? It’s true. Every cyclist rides in a carefully selected team. One person from that team is selected to try to win. So, what do the other people on the team do? That’s where it gets really interesting.
Danger increases substantially the further back in the pack a “Rider” is, so the team protects their “Rider” by creating a wall around him so that he will not be wrecked by other riders or passing traffic. The team also forms a wedge to push to the front of the pack in order to place him into the best position to win. Another thing they do is allow him to “draft” off of them, this helps him to conserve energy until time for the final push. Then they open a way for the “Rider” to push through and drive for the lead. Without his team to support him the “Rider” would have no chance of crossing the finish line. So even though it is the individual “Rider” in the spotlight, it is actually his whole team that wins.
Of course there are many other aspects of the Race that you can look up but I got to thinking about this one. 
Each and everyone of you are on our team. Your prayers help to protect us. Your financial support helps to move us forward so that we are in the best possible position to join the team in Brazil and then to push on to accomplish the work of the Lord. Your encouraging words help to strengthen us en we feel like giving up. We could never do this without you. Thank you so much for selecting us to be your “Riders”. When the race is done we will all share in the victory together.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Returning to Brazil, thoughts on Leaving - by Paula

Well the container is loaded and on its way to the port. Our suitcases are mostly packed, just a few let over odds and ends that need to be stuffed in somewhere or left behind. It's a weird feeling saying good bye to everything I've ever known. 

We have waited over six years for this day. Worked toward it,  sweated over it, wondered if it would ever come and now it's here. Where did the time go? I'm not sure I'm ready for this and yet I've been ready for years.

I know I'm not the only one to ever leave my home country to live in another country but I never realized it'd be so hard. We all have seen pictures and read stories of immigrants, I even know several expats myself. This is something no one ever talks much about.

I could leave easier in the winter I think because I don't enjoy the cold weather much after December. Maybe. But I find myself getting sentimental about every little thing. How sunlight gives off tiny rainbow flashes when it touches the dew laden grass or the joyful chorus of birds as they give thanks for another day. It's like I'll never see or hear these things again, each moment is precious and I try to lock them in my memory forever. 

Yet I know that the country that will be my new home is incredibly beautiful. I've been there and fallen in love with it. There will be new sights to see and new birds to listen to. Winters are not as harsh there and I have important work to do there. I'm excited and scared. What if I can't learn the language? What if people don't like me? What if I become wildly successful in the work I am called to do? What if...a gazillion other what ifs swirl around in my head. The unknown can be so intimidating. 

I don't want to make mistakes, even though I know I will. Somehow, making mistake in my own culture seems less awful than making mistakes in a culture that I don't know. I guess because in  my home culture I can figure out how to make amends but in another culture I may end up making things worse just out of pure ignorance. If I was a child it would be easier because people cut children some slack. They're expected to make mistakes but adults aren't given that grace. We're expected to know how to act and what to say even when we don't. 

But the really hard part is saying good bye to the people who are a part of my life. I said goodbye to my best friend and her family. We almost teared up but managed to put on brave smiles for each other. Then I said good bye to my only son. He's grown now but my mind went back to his first day of kindergarten when he looked up at me with his big blue eyes and asked in all seriousness," Mommy, who'll take care of you while I'm gone?" Geez, I managed not to cry when we parted ways but now I can't stop the tears and I still have to say good bye to my daughter and parents.

I'll be glad when we're finally on the plane and flying over the Amazon. Then I can stop saying good bye and start saying hello to new friends and my new life.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Root Bound

I’ve been helping my friend with a landscaping project this week. This has been a bit more involved than just putting in a few flowers here and there around the yard. We actually removed four large shrubs of unknown variety and replaced them with azaleas, gardenia and some perennial flowers. We also created two new flower beds as well as planted her herb garden. So we’ve been busy. 

Of course, all of this activity necessitated a few trips to the local garden center, to pick out plants. We took our time, carefully choosing the healthiest looking  plants with just the right color. After all, we wanted the newly landscaped yard to look amazing. Once our choices were made we could hardly wait to get the plants home and put into the ground.
I won’t go into detail about preparing the flowerbeds at this time but suffice it to say that my friend’s yard is a potter’s dream. Once the holes were dug we began to carefully slide the precious plants out of their plastic pots. And that’s when we saw the roots. Some of the roots were loose and easily arranged in the hole. These plants took right off and began growing, with no visible sign of distress.
But other plant’s roots were tightly twisted in upon themselves and impossibly bound in a knot that refused to come loose. Even though we wanted to disturb the roots as little as possible, we had to pull these roots apart in order to give the plants a chance to live. This made me think.
God takes His time carefully choosing us for His purposes. He lovingly prepares a place for us to serve Him. I imagine the joy it gives Him thinking of how beautiful our lives will be once He places us in the spot He has chosen for us. Some people slip right into the “ground” with no problem and thrive.
Others however only look good on the surface. But when God tries to move them to the place He wants them to be, He finds that they cling so stubbornly to the way things have always been that He has to forcibly pry them out of their pew. Then instead of thriving they hang their heads, complain and refuse to grow. Some even shrivel up and die. 
I don’t want to be like that. I want to be like the mint we pulled up and threw on the compost heap…it’s already starting to grow a new patch.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

We’re going? … We’re GOING!!!!

While chasing a dream, have you ever settled for less? Have you ever second-guessed your goals? I am reminded of a scene from “Sahara” where the hero, Dirk Pitt and his sidekick, Al Giordino are riding camels through the desert...

Al: Well, we're in the desert, looking for the source of a river pollutant, using as our map a cave drawing of a Civil War gunship, which is also in the desert. So I was just wondering when we're gonna have to sit down and re-evaluate our decision-making paradigm?
Dirk: [coming up on the fortress seen in the cave painting] I don't know - it seems to be working so far. 

Some of the best advice I’ve ever received concerning our pursuit of mission work, is to “Hold it loosely,…” meaning we ought to be flexible in what we perceive our calling is, in respect to what God may ultimately be calling us to do. 

Most recently, as the approval for our visa’s dragged on and on, Paula and I believed our vision of serving in Brazil was fading. After five months volunteering at the JAARS Center in North Carolina, we had all but resigned ourselves to the idea that maybe we were actually called to work here. I literally prayed one day.. “Lord, if THIS is where you want us to be, I will accept that and only ask that you open the doors to make it possible.” Within a week of praying that prayer, Paula and I received word that our visas to Brazil were approved and in trusted hands (my parent’s). 

Repeatedly I am reminded that while God wants each of us to enthusiastically join in His work, He is more desirous that we chase after HIM enthusiastically. Even though the work is important, it is secondary to our worship of Him.

Are you chasing His work? or are you chasing HIM?