Lessons from the brain dead

imagesI was absent from one of the most transformative events in my life. It happened to my husband while in Guatemala but left an indelible print on me and I’ve never been the same since.

Back in the day when we believed visiting Guatemala regularly would bring lasting change to the country, we often included orphanage visits as part of our “missions” week. (Anecdotally, our views on short term mission trips and their purpose and product have morphed significantly since those early days. For deeper probing, here are a few resources:  Relevant MagazineThe Poor Will be Glad and When Helping Hurts)

On this particular visit, Paul and his fellow well-intentioned travelers decided to stop at a new orphanage that was home for children with special needs. No one in the group could have anticipated what they were about to see.

He described the place to me as a small home made up of three adjoining rooms. The first and last rooms were filled with beds for the children – the middle room served as their dining room, lounge and play room. The place was lit too brightly by flickering overhead fluorescent lights and smelled of urine and vomit. The staff barely noticed yet another American “tourist” group stopping in; so with lack of direction, the group migrated to the playroom hoping to play with the kids.

Paul held back. He described some kind of supernatural power drawing him to the sleeping quarters made up of rows of beds and cribs.

He heard her before he saw her. Her shallow, slow breathing rattled and gurgled with every breath. Next, he smelled her. It was a hideous combination of bad breath, urine, and body odor. Although the crib was abnormally large, Paul expected to find an infant. It was, after all, a crib.

 

When he peered in, he was quite taken aback by the sight.

 

Her name was Corinna and she was 10 years old and that crib had been her whole world her entire life. She was born severely handicapped and has never walked, talked, fed herself or even sat upright. She stairs blankly to the left – always to the left because her head is stuck that way. Without provision of physical, recreational or occupational therapy to the residents their bones and muscles and brains just atrophy away day after day.

Corinna was not hooked up to any machine or life-assisting devices. She just existed. Her stiff and contorted body pained Paul to even look. But instead of pulling away, he felt compelled to lean in. He put his head right in front of hers. He stroked her hair, he talked to her, and he prayed for her.

 

She barely blinked.

 

A few days later back in Michigan, Paul recounted this experience to me: “Cindy, it was like there was no one there – she was so vacant. And yet, I felt the presence of God with her. All I could think was this: God loves this precious one. She has been bed-ridden her whole life, she has never said a word and never will. She, by all practical purposes, is brain dead. She can do absolutely nothing for herself. She can do absolutely nothing for others – to show appreciation, to show love, to enjoy life, or – especially – to secure her salvation. And yet, God still loves her as much as he loves anybody. God actually sent his son to DIE for Corinna – to give her this life that seems so unlived. God’s love just blew me away as I sat holding Corinna’s hand. The beauty of that moment made me weep with love for her and for what an amazing God we serve.”

 

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Paul and I tried to take a walk together today, but we had to stop frequently so I could catch my breath. I told him to just do the talking because I’m no longer able to walk and talk at the same time.

My medications are causing me more problems than I care to share. And I’d quit the whole lot of them if I didn’t believe in some weird medical-background-way they’re helping me live longer.

And with each tiny sign of deterioration I feel a little less whole, less human. A little less significant. A little less worthy.

And on my bad days I worry. I worry that I haven’t done enough. I worry that I haven’t said enough or shared enough with my kids. I worry that I didn’t accomplish much or do enough good. I worry that I’ll never finish my book and I’ll never have anything of significance to leave behind. I worry that within a generation or two people will forget me and that my life didn’t matter.

Then I worry that I worry about such stupid stuff.

 

But today I remembered Corinna. She who lay there in a crib for 10 years and never once actually “did” a single thing. Although she could barely move, she reminds me of how much God loves each and every one of us – his precious creation, made in HIS image – and that he would have died for us even if we were the only one.

I believe Jesus whispered in her ear every single day, “You are my beloved, Corinna. Of you, I am especially pleased.”

And I wonder how is it that I keep returning to my old patterns of fear and doubt and anger and resentment for my sucky lot in life – because, when I remember Corinna, I remember that I, too, am Jesus’ beloved, no matter what I am able to do or not do, say or not say, be or not be.

Yes, Jesus loves me. This I know.

 

 

Jesus Ain’t Your Sexy Valentine

 

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Clean water crisis. Human-Trafficking. Immigration. Orphan care. Affordable Housing. Failing Education Systems. Gun Violence. Teen-age pregnancy.

Sitting in this hip coffee shop I can hear twenty-somethings all around me talking about what’s wrong with humanity and how they aim to fix it. Millennials are raising the bar for the rest of us. They’re hyper-aware of societies ailments and far more actively involved in finding solutions than previous generations.

Yet increased awareness presents a serious problem that’s pervasive in “woke” people of ALL ages: It has become the “in” thing to do. Buying TOMS shoes, a week at an orphanage in Central America, sending bottled water to Flint, Michigan, and filling food baskets at Thanksgiving – all such Facebook-worthy ways of serving Jesus. I can’t even count the times I’ve seen a Facebook or Insta post with a white, middle-class high-schooler/college kid surrounded by raggedy-clothed, dirty-faced black/Asian/Indian/Hispanic orphans from their recent short-term “missions” trip abroad.

But if we engage in something that’s uber trendy, we must stop and ask ourselves: What’s my motive?

Write a check. Angel tree. Annual service day at a soup kitchen. Donate clothes. “Like” all the posts by the latest hip justice organization. Put said organization’s sticker on our computer. Run a 5k for awareness. GoFundMe pages. Youth groups spending a day in the inner city. Wear a trendy justice t-shirt. Carry a cool mug inscribed #endhumantrafficking.

And why? Why is there such a BOOM in this movement?

I’d like to suggest we’re crazy about this movement of increasing awareness because it’s easy.

Easy. Appealing. Quick. Non-habit forming. No sacrifice.

One could even say these approaches to following the way of Jesus are somewhat “sexy”: We are seen. We are heard. We look good and feel good with our “service”. Others think we’re incredible. Sexy, right? In fact, we could post any of those hot service opportunities on Valentine’s day with #mytruelove and everyone will think we’re holy.

I’m not bashing those experiences or remotely suggesting they be stopped. I most definitely feel there is a place and a time for such things. The problem, as I see it, is that we (Christians) are mostly looking for a quick, non-painful way to appease our Jesus-driven consciences and we’re much too quick to flaunt it for our own acclaim.

We Christians are FAR less likely to do the long, hard, costly, sacrificial and unnoticeable work that is the backbone of the Christian calling.

But Jesus said:

“Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.” Matthew 7:13-14.

He straight-up told us: It ain’t supposed to be easy, friends!!!

Jesus did all kinds of hard, subversive, and not very Facebook worthy things. He hung out with those marginalized by society. He touched people that nobody else would touch. He shared meals with those no one else would. He went to places nobody else would go. Jesus didn’t do sexy things.

If Jesus had a Facebook page, we’d probably scroll right through his posts. It is THAT mundane. THAT uncomfortable. THAT un-sexy.

To go all-in for Christ will most likely lead you to hard, toilsome work with basically no recognition. It’ll be costly and time-consuming. It sometimes costs money, but can also cost friends, reputations, and safety. It’s not usually quick and easy and it’s not usually comfortable.

When I think of the un-sexy way of Jesus, I think of some of these people:

  • A neighbor who has invested YEARS into the life of a troubled, fatherless, high-schooler who doesn’t appreciate it and throws away every opportunity provided for him. But our neighbor refuses to give up and pursues him with relentless love and care. Not sexy.
  • My friend who has visited her father, uncle, and aunt, twice a week, every single week at the local nursing home for over 10 years! As their ONLY living relative, they wouldn’t get a single visitor if it weren’t for her. Not sexy.
  • We know a guy who after Hurricane Katrina sold everything and MOVED to New Orleans. A lot of us did sexy things for Katrina-victims and pasted it all over social media. Our friend LIVED there for two years. Not sexy.
  • We have friends who live in Honduras. They run an organization that works to abolish corruption within the extremely corrupt Honduran government. The work is dangerous – an attorney from their organization was shot and killed in broad daylight by gang members. This work is COURAGEOUS, costly, takes decades, slow progress, and sometimes exasperating. Not sexy.
  • There are many schoolteachers who CHOOSE to work in some of the poorest districts in our city. The pay is poor, their resumes won’t ever be impressive (failing students make teachers look bad – no matter how awesome they really are) but they believe in making a difference in the lives of kids who just maybe need a break in life. They will do this for 20, 30 maybe 40 years and they may never see the fruit of their labor. Not sexy.

The un-sexy work Jesus invites us into may be long-suffering, toilsome, tiring and expensive, but we’re not doing it for ourselves – it’s UNTO HIM!

  • What if we mentored troubled kids – any age – and stuck with them through ALL THEIR GROWING years?
  • What if we volunteered with Kids Hope and actually gave a kid hope?
  • What if we joined a refugee/immigration settlement organization and spent the next FIVE years mentoring a new family?
  • What if we talked to our neighbors, learned of their suffering, and prayed with them weekly?
  • What if we made homemade casseroles and brought them to the homeless camps (trust me, they exist) every week?
  • What if we enter in to the roller-coaster life of the mentally unstable – the bi-polar friend, the depressed sister-in-law, the suicidal teen, the homicidal neighbor?
  • What if we mentored those in troubled pregnancies?
  • What if we helped pay the heat bill every winter for a family who heats their home with the stove?
  • What if we gave up eating out for six months just so another family could EAT?

You know what I think would happen if we did some of these things? We’d be tired. We’d be involved with these issues for a really long time and get frustrated with the slow pace of change. We might even get angry at those we are serving. We’d want to give up and quit over and over and over.

But we’d be doing the work of Jesus, for HIM, and for His glory. Not ours.

“Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Jesus Christ.” Colossians 3:23-24

This is the way of Jesus. And it ain’t sexy.

Don’t make Jesus your sexy Valentine.