Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Good Versus Evil

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.  Romans 12:21

In 2013 Evil gave Good a run for its money.   You could say that Good had a huge fight on its hands this year, as it fought to defeat the many ways Evil tried to pummel it out of existence. 
And the result?

Here’s my good versus evil story: I entered 2013 still throbbing from the pain of disillusionment and sadness over the loss of my church family a few months earlier.  I went from that into what I didn’t realize would be my final trip to Liberia- the most awesome mission trip ever where I worked my tail off, experienced amazing breakthroughs in relationships and local acceptance, poured my soul into a people that embraced me back, and a birthing clinic I was prepared to spend the rest of my life working in. Within one week of returning it was all shockingly turned upside down, and my time with that ministry abruptly and painfully ended.

From these two experiences, the entire year, in a deeper sense, has been an attempt to overcome one of the ultimate evils- becoming bitter and cynical.  And God gave me plenty of help with that, by blessing me with good things expressly for that purpose.  I experienced the love of a best friend who, in spite of being a pastor’s wife, flew all the way to Texas from Washington on Easter Sunday, to be with me for no agenda other than friendship.  I experienced the love of a local pastor and his wife who have interacted with me regularly and had me in their home on more than one occasion.   These two persistent high-quality relationships in particular pretty much kept me from legitimately being able to spew hyperbolic venom about how all pastors and Christians in leadership or ministry are hypocrites.

There were other friends too, those whose good relationships were a part of the rope that kept me from going over a cliff of depression and losing hope.  A life friend I’ve had since I was 19, my boss (that I’ve also known since I was 19) and other beautiful midwife colleagues and apprentices at work, a Wycliffe missionary couple married almost 50 years, still going strong in respect for each other and both dedicated to a life of integrity in missions, a faithful weekly prayer partner, and numerous other meaningful moments with various friends spent over food or coffee, were all relational strands that held me and kept me from going over the edge.

My dear grandmother went to heaven this year, and that also was a deep sorrow, accentuated by the small turn out at her funeral and limited interactions with those there.  Juxtaposed on this pain was the overriding joy of many high points with my children as my closest family members now becoming older, more supportive, and more fun.  They have defied all statistics by turning out remarkably well in spite of being born into some pretty screwed up circumstances that weren’t their fault.  And by the way, so do my beautiful nieces and nephews on my ex-husband’s side of the family.  For the second summer in a row some of us got to meet in San Antonio for a mutual vacation.  I never cease to wonder at and appreciate the close family culture my kids have maintained with their cousins- that happily often includes me- in spite of two divorces that could have split us forever.  A visit from my “sister-in-law twice removed” all the way from Switzerland was more balm of goodness in the wounds of lost and missing relationships.

And of course, there was the goodness of attending thirty births as the primary midwife or supervising midwife.   Every time the light of life comes into this world, it’s another moment of hope for the planet.  Witnessing that ignition of a baby’s first cry, has often fanned into flame what was but a smoldering ember of my own struggling life energy.
Others besides myself have battled this year not to let their good be overcome by evil.  A birthing center being painstaking build by a small NGO in the Philippines was mostly swept away in a landslide, on the heels of a typhoon that flooded most of their homes.  Even as these individuals- ill from being attacked by water-borne disease- struggled to rebuild, another, larger typhoon hit their country.  And this brave little NGO (Mercy in Action: www.mercyinaction.com) fights back against the great evil that tried to overcome their good, with an even greater blow of good. They went into the disaster zone and set up a free birthing tent to help the victims.

They are there doing that good now.

You probably have your own 2013 story, of how Satan’s evil tried to overcome God’s good in your part of the world, in your circumstances, in your family, in your relationships, or perhaps most dangerously, in your heart.  Maybe you aren’t sure at the moment who won.
Hang in there.  It’s a new year.  Join me in making Romans 12:21 a verse to live by in 2014.  Let’s be intentional, by our behavior, our words, our attitude, our investments of our time and resources, and most of all, our belief and trust in a God who is ultimately good, to not let evil win in us, or around us. 

As it says in the Message’s translation of this verse: “Don’t let evil get the best of you; get the best of evil by doing good.”

If you need help getting started, that whole chapter preceding that verse- Romans 12- has some great ideas.
“Give your bodies to God…be a living and a holy sacrifice…let God transform you…don’t think you are better than you really are…speak out with as much faith as God has given you…serve well…encourage others…take responsibility seriously…don’t just pretend to love others, really love them…hate what is wrong…hold tightly to what is good…never be lazy…serve the Lord enthusiastically…be patient…keep on praying…practice hospitality…bless those who persecute you…don’t curse…be happy with those who are happy…weep with those who weep…live in harmony with each other…don’t be proud…don’t think you know it all…never pay back evil with evil…do all you can to live in peace with everyone…never take revenge.” 

With God’s help, let’s do it. 

Let’s knock out evil in 2014.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

An Unexpected Birth

A couple of weeks ago Bilbo Baggins and a company of dwarfs made off for the second phase of their epic trek toward the Lonely Mountain, Smaug the dragon and their long forgotten gold.  To be more exact it was the much publicized Hollywood movie version of Tolkien’s classic story of the famous hobbit’s journey.

The film was long and breathlessly awaited by the Andersons.  Tickets for the midnight premier showing were duly purchased weeks in advance.  Arrangements were made to arrive early and wait in line.  And just as we settled ourselves with the other fans on the dusty carpeted theater floor behind the velour cords and tarnished brass posts, the texts started coming.  

A client. Contractions.  And other details my kids would classify TMI. Some back and forth, some waiting, some confirmation of more signs, much more obvious than any moon rune on a Middle Earth map.

In fact, things accelerated so quickly that, not unlike Biblo, I went flying out the door on my adventure, forgetting not just my pocket handkerchief but also my coat.

As I drove down the dark highway, shivering in the not yet warmed up mini-van, I reflected on the difference between Hollywood filmed adventures and real-life ones. My kids were back in the warm theater, putting on 3-D glasses to view spectacular images and professionally choreographed action scenes.  They were seeing amazing acting, and listening to sound through huge speakers.  But in all its epic explosive glory, their journey was still – pretend.

And then, there was my real adventure.  A first baby.  A difficult journey.  Facing challenges greater than the getting out of Mirkwood, overcoming fears bigger than dragons, being innovative beyond the cleverness of hobbits, exhibiting a fighting spirit beyond the bravery of warrior dwarfs and elves, enduring pain greater than an Orc’s black arrow wound. And then, when all hope seemed gone of completing the journey, the explosive triumph of birth, quickly followed by the concern of needing to resuscitate. Believe me, never did a last minute tear jerking come back to life scene on Hollywood match the joy and tears of relief of parents and midwives upon hearing a baby’s first delayed cry. 

I love adventure stories, and the films that tell them well.  But for me, they will always pale in comparison to the real adventures I get called to take part in.

Today:  I stand in church, my eyes closed, holding the elements, reflecting on Jesus’ birth and death.

I feel my phone vibrate silently.  I glance at the screen.  It’s a text.

About contractions. 

I finish my moment with Jesus, and slip out of the church.

I’m off, on another adventure.