Sunday, November 7, 2010

The Little White Dog

I jogged up to the track, stopped at the steps, and began to stretch out before my run. The sun was sinking behind the hills, and pink and purple hues tinged the deepening blue sky. The track - the whole area, really - was deserted. A sense of peaceful stillness lingered over the place. I smiled.

Just then, something caught my eye. Coming around the corner was a small, fluffy, white dog. It trotted along happily, stopping here and there to sniff the ground. It worked its way in my direction, wandering in a zigzagged and haphazard, yet determined, pattern. My first thought was, "Oh! I guess it's not as deserted as I thought." And I glanced around the track, looking for its owner. No one was there. "Hmm, maybe they're walking around from the other path. . . the dog probably just ran on ahead," I mused, and continued to stretch. The dog got closer. I did another quick scan of the area. Still no one followed.Finally I got up and slowly walked toward it, whistling to get its attention. It paused to look at me, then continued its haphazard scurrying. I tried to approach it again, but as I did, I frightened the little thing and he darted away. I tried crouching down and whistling, patting the ground and calling out to it, anything I could think of. It ignored me.

I waited until it got caught up in some serious ground-sniffing, and slowly walked up to it. I wrinkled my nose as the unpleasant odor reached me. Suddenly aware of my presence, it whipped its head around and looked me square in the face. I don't know who was more startled. From a distance, the dog was kind of cute. Almost lamb-like in appearance. Up close, though, the bulging black eyes and crooked nose made for a face that was hard to find. . . endearing. It suddenly occurred to me that maybe this dog was homeless. It was smelly and, well, kind of ugly. But just as soon as these (unkind) thoughts entered my head, I caught sight of a collar, buried in the fuzzy white fur.

I slowly reached out, hoping it would let me check for a tag, and hopefully a number I could call. But alas, it darted out of reach and started to wander away again. This continued several times... I slowly approached, it darted away. I whistled, talked to it, tried to calm it into cooperation. No success.

Finally I sighed, gave up, and went for my run.

But I couldn't get the little, ugly white dog out of my head. For some reason it really upset me. Someone out there is missing their dog! And even though that little face was not the most attractive to me, I'm sure it's precious to them. And the dog is probably feeling scared and lost. And what if it runs into the road, and. . .Should I have done more? COULD I have done more? Why did it have to run away from me?

Then I started to wonder... how often do we act like that little white dog? We wander off, away from what we know, away from where we belong, and we become lost. We scurry around, happy at first with what we think is freedom, but before long, we end up scared, confused, and running in a haphazard zigzagging pattern, trying desperately to find our way "back."

And then, when Someone approaches us, stoops down toward us, and offers help, we shy away. We rub our faces around in the dirt and pretend we "have it all together." We don't need help. In fact, we're scared of the Help. We're scared of what that Someone wants from us. And so we keep running. Running away from safety, comfort, and love. Running into busy streets, into dark, cold nights, into the unknown. And all the while, that Someone is following us, calling out to us gently, so gently as to not scare us away... He's approaching us slowly, hoping we'll give Him a chance and let Him catch us and take us back to where we belong.

Like the little dog, we're smelly and dirty. We're ragged and worn. We've become ugly from the sin we've held onto. And yet, somehow, the Someone who seeks us looks past all of that.

How often must He cry out in anguish, "Why do you run from me?! I just want to help you. I just want to bring you back home, where you're safe and you're loved! Can't you see that you're lost? Don't you know the danger you're in? You have no need to fear Me. Please, stop running..."

And how often do we ignore His gentle, earnest pleadings, and continue to run straight into the darkness, into danger and pain that could've been avoided had we just yielded to the gentle Seeker?

I'm so glad that God is more persistent in seeking us than I was in seeking and returning the little white dog. I'm so glad that instead of seeing us as we are, in our ugly, sinful, messy states, He sees us as His beautiful children.

But, still, despite His love, His earnest seeking, His persistence... there comes a point where He has to let us go our own way. He can't "catch" us against our will. He can't protect us, love us, and bring us home, if we decide to keep running. I was pretty distraught over not being able to help that little, mangy dog find its way home. How much more must God's heart break when He has to hold back, restraining His love and protection and keeping Himself from gathering us up into His arms when we refuse His offer?

I don't want to be like the smelly, ugly, lost little white dog. I want to let Him catch me and bring me home. I want to be washed clean and made beautiful in His love. I don't want Him to have to ask, "What more could I have done to save her?"

I hope, if you're running, that you''ll let Him catch you. I hope He won't have to ask that question of you, either. I hope you'll find yourself in warmth, safety, and comfort of the gentle Seeker's arms. I hope you'll let Him carry you home. Don't keep running. Please.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Slacking, Slacklining, Balance (and some rambling for good measure)

I should be doing homework. That, and cleaning my room. And speaking of cleaning, I should clean the bathroom, too; it's my week. And that laundry needs to be done soon, too. Oh, and really, I guess I should be applying for that job instead of putting it off. Come to think of it, I probably should be working on sending those way-overdue thank-you notes. And answering those emails that I've thought a lot about, but never replied to. Should be, should be, should be...

But I'm not.

Why? I don't know, really. I could chalk it up to procrastination. Or, possibly plain old laziness. Maybe it's because we're on break. Does anyone really have the motivation to get things done over break? All I've managed to catch up on is sleep, and I haven't even done a good job at that. Maybe it's because I'm distracted. Maybe I need to refocus. Maybe, maybe, maybe...

Truth is, I've been struggling with BALANCE lately. I changed a lot when I came to college. In a lot of good ways, I think. But recently I realized that I've changed a lot since I've been here, too. Especially this year. And I don't know if it's a good thing or not. I don't know how to explain the changes. But I can see them... a little more every day. I wonder if others see them, too.

Less time studying, more time learning. Less time sleeping, more time listening. Less time worrying/stressing, more time playing & exploring. More quiet and reserved... yet more outgoing. Less self-confidence, more confidence in Him. More running, less still. More content, less striving. Less trusting, yet more open. More doubt, still more seeking.

This past summer, I tried slacklining for the first time. At first, I thought it was impossible. For me, that is."How in the world am I supposed to get up, let alone walk?!" I asked in frustration, when I realized it was much harder than it looked. I was convinced I would never get the hang of it. At first. But I watched my sister do it, and I kept trying. "By the end of the summer..." we kept saying. And still I kept trying. Over and over. Just trying to stand took enormous effort. I was scared of falling. I was scared of failure. I was tired of putting in so much effort and yielding so little success. I wanted it to come easily. It didn't. Eventually I was able to stand. But that was just the very first, teeny-tiny baby step in the whole process. I never did master walking. The summer ended too soon, I guess. And the thing is, even though I got to the point where I could stand and take a few steps forward, if I were to go back and try it now, I'd probably have to re-learn that first step -- standing -- all over again.

And maybe that's how it goes with finding balance in life. Maybe it doesn't come as easily as I want it to. I'm scared to fall. I'm afraid of failure. I'm tired of trying over and over without success. There IS a "time for everything"... but sometimes I have such a hard time figuring out when. And what. So I keep on standing... and falling. I take a few shaky steps, and fall again. And repeat. It's a process. The funny thing is, even though slacklining was frustrating, it was fun, and I kept at it. I had momentary bouts of discouragement, times when I decided to go inside and try again another day. And another day would come and I'd be back out there, standing, falling, walking, falling, and enjoying every minute of it. And it's the same with life. Sometimes I get frustrated, wishing I was making more progress, faster. And yes, sometimes I get discouraged... but not for too long. Because I think my "legs" are growing stronger. And I think, through the trying and the falling, I'm learning how to find my balance. I hope so, at least.

Sometimes I just want to know that I'm doing the right thing. That I'm making good decisions. That I'm not missing out on the big things in life, or "missing the forest for the trees."

Sometimes it's refreshing to re-realize I don't have to do it on my own. To remember that "He who began a good work in [me] will carry it on to completion." And to remember that, even though falling hurts sometimes, I can't fall out of His reach.

And I'm so glad that He's so patient. Because aside from my trouble with balance, I think I have some trouble with patience. But that's another thought... for another time. For now, I think I better go work on some homework. Oh, and maybe clean my room...

Wednesday, September 8, 2010


(This isn't in any way related to the Philippines trip. Written 1/14/10.)

"Don't judge a man until you've walked a mile in his shoes."

A mile? Really? Is that all it takes to know someone? I mean to really know someone. A mile...

A mile could take me partway through one of my morning runs. A mile could take me a portion of my way through a busy day of classes. A mile could take me on a Sabbath afternoon hike. But is that enough to really know me?

I'm willing to bet that it's not. I think perhaps to truly know someone, you would have to do more than walk a mile in his shoes. Perhaps... you would have to walk a mile into his soul. Because when you walk a mile in someone's shoes, you may see what he sees. You may hear what he hears. You may understand better where he goes, what he does, and how that shapes him. But you still wouldn't know what he feels. What his motives are. The "why" behind it all. No, to do that, you have to go beyond the shoes and into the heart.

Huh. Into the heart. Know someone's soul. Sometimes - a lot of times - we don't even know what's in our own hearts. How, then, can we possibly know someone else's? Even those to whom I am the closest... I know what makes them tick. I know what brings them joy, what they like, what they hate. I know their background and I know their goals. And yet... do I ever truly know their heart? Their motives? Their truest, deepest feelings, to which they may not even be able to give words?

Perhaps there is a part of the heart - the deepest, most inner part of our core - that is known to God alone. After all, man looks at the outward appearance, but God looks at the heart. And if that is so... how then can we judge one another? How then can we cast the blame? So maybe the next time I think about traipsing around in someone else's shoes, I might pause... and remember... that there is only One who knows the heart of every person.

And last I checked, that wasn't me.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

The Call

I want to be a translator. The kind of translator that you can trust to convey the essence of your message in a way that people will understand. The kind of translator who follows your movements and even your pitches. The kind of translator who puts her heart into the message and preaches with passion and power. Yes, I want to be that kind of translator.

The parallel struck me one evening on the way to my site. I had been working with my new translator for several days. Things were going extremely well, and I was praying that they would continue to go so well. I discovered that what made for a good translator wasn’t experience or talent. It wasn’t a dynamic personality or a background in ministry. No, I found that the best translators need only possess three traits: willingness, humility, and love for those to whom the message is being preached. The best translators are like the writing in the best works of literature: transparent. They don’t distract from the message; they convey it clearly, effectively, and powerfully. The less they are noticed, the better the translator.

And as I pondered this, I felt God whisper, “Heidi, I want you to be my translator. I need you to be transparent. Less of you; more of me. I need you to be willing; to go wherever I go, to follow me as closely as you want your translator to follow you, to step out of your comfort zone and take great risks for me. I need you to be humble; to take hold of my message and leave your agendas behind, to relinquish control and admit that everything you have comes from me, to surrender your will and live to do mine. And I need you to give me your heart so that I can give you mine, so that my love can flow through you, so that when I send you to seek my lost children, they will see my heart, my love. And they will follow me.”

Oh, God, I want to be your translator. The kind that you can trust to convey your message in a way that those around me will understand. The kind that will follow you in every detail. The kind that puts my heart – your heart – into the message, and lives with passion for seeking your children. Yes, God, I want to be your translator.

One Evening's Adventure

Many seasoned travelers take special care to ration their water intake when they venture overseas. Some go so far as to set rules for themselves: “I will not drink any water after 4:00.” Others actually measure how much water they drink and make sure they don’t consume any large volume at once. Why do these people bother with such meticulous calculations? It’s because they know that the “bathrooms” they might encounter abroad likely won’t resemble what they are accustomed to, and they don’t want to unnecessarily face unpleasant situations. I used to chuckle at these friends and their particular ways. Not anymore.

It was a beautiful day. A sunny day. A beautiful, sunny, hot day. And it was one of our days off. We spent our time at an incredible resort on the island of Samar. We walked the beach, swam in the pool, played volleyball in the sand, ate delicious food, and tried in vain to digitally capture the breath-taking sights. My roommate brought a hymnal, and we sang throughout most of the ride back to our hotel. The day couldn’t have been much better.

As I was hurrying to get ready for that evening’s meeting, I filled a water bottle and began to drink. I was focused on preparing my heart and mind to preach, and I didn’t think much about what else I was doing. I finished the bottle, refilled it, and ran downstairs to wait for my ride. As I sat in the lobby, I realized that my throat was feeling very scratchy and sore. “Must be from being out in the hot sun all day… or maybe it was all of the singing,” I mused, and took another swig of water.

Soon, my translator’s brother pulled up in their family’s motorcab, and I hopped in the back. My first thought was, “A motorcab! Awesome!” -- I usually rode in an SUV. My second thought, as we started bumpily down the road, was, “Oh, no. Why, oh why, did I drink all of that water?!”

The wheels in my mind started spinning, “Okay, it’s almost 6:00. Only an hour until I preach… Well, maybe an hour and fifteen minutes. I can make it until then. And once I start preaching, I’ll forget everything else. Yes, it’ll be fine. No big deal.” I took a deep breath and tried to enjoy the ride.

We got to my site around the time Children’s Hour began. Children’s Hour was supposed to start at 6 and usually went until the evening meeting began (although starting and ending times were always subject to change without notice). After what felt like 45 minutes, I checked my watch. 15 minutes had passed. Now let me just add that on nights when I wasn’t so eager to begin preaching, I really enjoyed Children’s Hour. But this evening, I was distracted.

By 6:30, I was miserable and too distracted to even think about preaching. So, as calmly as I could, I went to my translator. Pointing across a small field toward a wooden shack with a tin roof, I asked, “Um, is that… uh, is that a bathroom?” “Yes,” she said slowly, giving me a questioning look. I nodded thoughtfully, as though weighing my options. I knew, however, that any “options” had long since disappeared. So, without another word, I picked up the hem of my skirt and trekked across the field.

As I neared the tiny, wooden shack, I heard a loud commotion coming from inside. I was immediately puzzled and a bit dismayed. “Maybe this isn’t it,” I thought. I wanted to forget the whole thing and head back to the tent, but desperation held me there. As I stood there, wondering what to do, the door swung open and a flustered looking man appeared. He immediately began to mutter in Waray, the local dialect. I wasn’t sure if he was speaking to me, or simply voicing some kind of frustration aloud. I stared at him curiously. He was obviously the cause of the commotion from within, but I couldn’t see any reason for it. As I continued to stare, he turned and asked me a terse-sounding question in Waray. Having no idea what he asked, but wanting him to hurry up and leave so I could go in, I answered in equally terse English, “Yes.”

I figured that must have been the right answer, because in a moment he was gone. I hurried inside and shut the door, and was immediately enshrouded in inky blackness. I frowned, opened the door, etched the details of the interior into my mind as quickly as I could, and closed it again.

Suddenly, a deafening uproar stole my attention. It sounded as though one hundred hammers were being pounded into the tin roof above my head. I forced myself to stay, “I’ve come this far. I am not leaving now!” And so stay I did.

When I went to open the door to leave, I felt a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. Somehow, in those few moments, the door had become stuck. Not just a little bit stuck. Not the kind of stuck where you just have to “unstick” that one “stuck” part and it will swing open. No, this door would not move. I was dumfounded. I had just opened this door, twice in fact! I shook my head in disbelief. “I’m stuck in an outhouse. I cannot believe I’m stuck in an outhouse,” I muttered. “I preach in half an hour… and I’m stuck in an outhouse.”

The uproar on the roof was momentarily forgotten as I put all my effort into freeing myself from my dank, dark prison. After much shoving, prodding and pushing, I managed to inch the door open just wide enough that I could suck in and barely squeeze through. I sighed in relief, then discovered the cause of the mysteriously stuck door. A large bucket of water had been pushed up against the door after I closed it.

But I didn’t have time to ponder this fact, for I suddenly realized the source of the deafening, pounding sound. The sky had let loose and was pouring rain. I started to laugh, picked up my skirts, and began to run across the field to the tent. One of the girls saw me and hurried out to meet me with an umbrella, but got to me just before I reached the tent. “What an adventure,” I thought to myself, still laughing.

I preached that evening’s message, blessedly undistracted… except for being mildly damp from my jaunt through the downpour. And, funny thing, I never had to use the “bathroom” at my site again. So, go ahead and laugh if you want. I’m not ashamed; in fact, I have proudly joined the ranks of the water-rationing, over-calculating, meticulous, seasoned travelers!

18 1/2 Sermons

I awoke, shivering uncontrollably. It was still dark, and I couldn’t read the time on my watch. I wrapped my blankets tighter around me and tried to go back to sleep. It wasn’t until the morning light roused me from my fitful slumber that I realized I had, indeed, drifted back to sleep. With concerted effort, I lifted my pounding head. As if in scripted synchrony, my roommate lifted hers. Our eyes met. We groaned, and simultaneously dropped our heads back onto our pillows. We laughed at our pitiful state. And then we groaned again. We finally and begrudgingly consented to acknowledge that Sunday had indeed arrived and that we would have to face the new day. And so we went about getting ready for worship and breakfast. After a short, much-needed prayer session, we joined the rest of the group.

After class, I asked our group leader/stand-in-mom, Stephanie, if she had anything that would help with a headache and/or fever. She kindly provided something that was to do the trick, and by the time I walked to the laundry shop, it had kicked in and I was feeling much better. So much better, in fact, that I took off my sweatshirt and relinquished it to be washed with the rest of my laundry.

By the time I got back to the hotel, I had almost forgotten that I was ill. The only lingering reminders were fatigue and a slight burning around my eyes. And so, grateful for strength and feelings of wellness, I eagerly put my efforts into that evening’s sermon. It was the first night that we were using appeal cards. I was nervous and excited. The sermon was an incredibly powerful one about salvation through Christ. The appeal story was a gripping account of Martin Luther’s dream (“Move your hand!”). The more I practiced it, the more excited I grew. I could not wait to preach this sermon!

By the time evening rolled around, my headache was back, but I wasn’t worried. I’d had a throbbing headache off and on since Friday, but when I got up to preach, it had always disappeared. So I knew I didn’t have anything to worry about. I got to my site and went through that evening’s checklist. Appeal cards? Check. (Hooray! They had warned us that some sites may not have them.) Appeal song singers? Check. Appeal song that they knew? After some scrambling for a hymnal, check. Extension cord yet? (I’d been asking each night for one.) Check!

Things were running so smoothly that I decided to take a risk. The extension cord provided me the opportunity to move to the other side of the front, where I had much more space and could better face the congregation. And so I set up on the other side. But that wasn’t the risk. The risk came when I asked my translator, as politely as I could, if he would mind staying on the opposite side, where we had preached the first three sermons side-by-side. That way (I didn’t mention this part), he wouldn’t be able to read my notes, and would have to actually translate what I said. He immediately pointed this out: “But then I won’t be able to read your notes!” “Yes, but it’ll make it easier, you see. The notes make it harder for you to translate what I’m saying.” I hoped my logic would win him over. Alas, but no. “No, I really believe it’s easier if I can read your notes.” I took a deep breath. “But I don’t always stick to the notes, and when you read my notes instead of…” Oh, forget logic, I swiftly decided. “You know what, let’s just try it out!” And I smiled, hoping that if my logic wouldn’t convince him, perhaps a winsome smile would. He acquiesced.

I was quite pleased with the set-up, and my excitement grew. When the time came, I stood up to take the microphone. Sure enough, my headache was gone! I was still anxious about the appeal, but I was looking forward to it, too. I just knew this night was going to turn out well.

And then, something strange happened. Usually when I preached, everything else was blocked out as I focused on delivering the message. But for some reason, that night was different. Suddenly, I was strangely and acutely aware of another thought; one that had nothing to do with the sermon. “I feel like I’m going to throw up,” I realized. The peculiar thing, however, was that I felt no panic or alarm at this realization. Instead, I thought about how strange the sensation was, wondered why it was occurring, and immediately and resolutely decided against such an action: “I am not going to do that. Certainly not while preaching! How ridiculous.” And the strangest part was that, as I decided this, the feeling left! Once again, my undivided attention was given to preaching.

But moments later, a second feeling interrupted, this one more urgent than the first. And this time, panic and dread swept over me. I realized in disbelief, “I’m fainting!” I took a few deep breaths and tried to steady myself. Perhaps I could coax it away as I had the first feeling. No such luck. “Not now, God, oh please, not now,” I pleaded silently. I started to preach faster, hoping that I could speed my way through the sermon and still somehow finish. It was a last-ditch effort, one similar to that of trying to bail water out of a blow-up raft with a hole in it. I realized with dismay that I wasn’t yet halfway through the sermon. I was running out of options. I paused and leaned against a nearby table. My vision started to go, so I moved across the stage to the side my translator was on. He gave me an odd look. I leaned against a speaker with my head down. I couldn’t explain; couldn’t move. As an unusual hush fell over the tent, I felt the embarrassment of the situation hit me. I mustered what little of my strength was left, and in one motion stepped off the stage, handed my clicker to a man who I presumed to be an elder – although by this point my vision was mostly gone (I’m still not sure who I handed it to) – and mumbled, “Can you finish for me?” And then I collapsed into a plastic chair.

I was vaguely aware of being surrounded by several ladies who immediately began to massage my arms and hands. They felt my forehead and neck, murmured alarms of “She has fever!”, and pulled my hair back into a ponytail. I was relieved when my driver told me that he would take me back to the hotel so I could rest. As I made my way to my the car, I noted that a man was preaching. “Good,” I thought. “At least the meeting is continuing.”

On the way back to the hotel, my feelings of relief gave way to bitter disappointment. This was the sermon I’d been so excited to preach! I hadn’t even preached half of it. And this was the first night with appeal cards. What would happen now? Would he do the appeal? And who was preaching, anyway? How would it go? And suddenly it hit me. What was I worrying about? These weren’t my meetings. They were God’s. And it was time for me to mentally place them back in His hands – the place they’d been all along. I was never in control to begin with – a fact I should’ve learned from that first Thursday. No, things still weren’t going according to “my plan.” But it was time to let go of my plan and take hold of God’s.

Monday night I stood up to preach, battling near-overwhelming fear. I pleaded with God to let me make it through the sermon. I found new meaning in an old favorite Bible promise: Isaiah 40:31. I claimed the promise as I never had before: “They will walk and not faint… they will walk and not faint.” Over and over I repeated the text in my head. Only once during the sermon did I begin to feel faint. I paused, looked down for a moment, and prayed. The feeling left, and God gave me the strength to finish that sermon and every one after that. And hey, 18 ½ rounds up anyway, right? :)

A Typical Day

This is what our schedule usually looked like.

At the beginning of the trip:

5:00-5:30 – Wake up

8:30-10:00 – Worship, breakfast

10:00-11:00 – Class

11:00-12:45 – Free time (work on sermons)

1:00-2:30 – Lunch @ conference office

2:30-5:30 – Prepare for evening meeting (work on sermons)

5:30-6:00 – Wait in lobby for ride

6:00-8:30/9 – At my site

8:30/9-10:30 – “Debrief” with group, get online in lobby

10:45 – Sleep

By the end of the trip:

8:00-8:15 – Wake up

8:45-10:15 – Worship, breakfast

10:15-11:15 – Class

11:15-1:00 – Free time (sleep)

1:00-2:30 – Lunch @ conference office

2:30-3:30 – Random activities/errands (laundry, souvenir shopping, etc)

3:30-5:30 – Prepare for evening meeting (prayer. singing together. oh yeah, work on sermons…)

6:00-9:00 – At my site

9:00-10:00 – “Debrief” with group, get online…maybe.

10:15 – Sleep

Various conclusions might be drawn from these similar, yet significantly different, schedules. But I think I’ll wait and draw those conclusions… tomorrow :)