I know you are done with Christmas, but I want you to hear the story of the snow globe wiseman and a mother who is grateful every New Year.
Not Three, But One
Of course, traditionally wisemen come in sets of three. But when my son was 19 he gave me a stocking stuffer of one bearded Mideasterner trekking in a snowy globe. This gift was unwrapped after we had worshipped together at a candlelight service singing Silent Night, Holy Night.
I remember looking at my soldier holding his candle and realizing that this could be our last Christmas together. I was thinking about a Georgia graduation days before and
the Ranger commander’s voice ringing out his declaration: “Family and friends, I am here to tell you that your Ranger will see combat! I guarantee it! But I am also here to tell you that he is among the best fighters in the world!”
Our son was deployed to Iraq that New Year’s Eve fourteen years ago. My little wiseman snow globe became a symbol of that time and our soldier.
Prayer and Peace
Looking back, I marvel that there was so much peace about this deployment. Later, I would hear combat stories and shiver in wonder. But during this time, I had an army of family and friends praying for him. A couple of times I imagined two soldiers walking up the sidewalk and ringing our doorbell with bad news. But generally there was much peace, and our son came home.
Today, he saves lives in a hospital ER. This Christmas I showed him the snow globe and asked if he remembered it. He did not.
Recently he asked me what I say to atheists who ask why I believe in God. He said, “You know what I tell them, Mom? I say, ‘I am just not that lucky.’”
To this God I am eternally grateful for a mother’s prayer answered. And the little wiseman snow globe is my yearly reminder.
The countdown for T-day has begun, and I’m wearing a purple bracelet to remind me of the true meaning of Thanksgiving. Actually, it is a visual to recalculate whining tendencies. The bracelet declares, “Gripes Be Gone!”
Speaker and writer Linda Dillow gave two dozen women and me the bracelets at a recent teatime event. Linda is a Bible teacher, who mines scripture for spiritual nuggets. During this talk she asked if we knew what four horrible offenses God held against the Israelites when his miracles freed them from Egyptian slavery. The Apostle Paul lists the wrongs in First Corinthians 10: sexual immorality, idolatry, testing (rather than trusting), and grumbling. Linda asked, Isn’t it interesting that grumbling makes this list? Who knew the offense was and is THAT bad?
Dillow Insight on Griping
Here’s another observation Linda drew our attention to in First Corinthians 10:6 (ESV): “Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did.” In other words, we have this example to teach us not to do likewise. Then, Linda challenged us to reexamine our attitudes in those moments that are uncomfortable or difficult. Attitudes of thankfulness fortify the command, “Gripes Be Gone!” She recommended daily journaling to record all the ways we receive God’s care. Give thanks!
So I’m wearing my little purple bracelet and watching out for gripes. When I catch myself, the band is moved from one wrist to the other. (One audience member declared she was not removing her bracelet but simply stretching the band and giving herself a whack.)
Please, No Bleating!
I looked up one definition of gripe:
1. “to express a complaint or grumble about something, especially something trivial.
“they gripe about the busywork”
synonyms: complain, grumble, grouse, protest, whine, bleat….”
How about you? Would you like to take the bracelet challenge and discover how well you can keep the gripes and bleats away this Thanksgiving?
Here’s one more “gripe” observation for Thanksgiving that might be appropriate. The second definition of gripe is:
2. “to affect with gastric or intestinal pain. ‘It gripes my belly like a green apple.'”
Therefore, watch out for getting too stuffed like a turkey! Happy Thanksgiving!
A Humorous Aside:
For those interested, here is what the Israelites complain about in the wilderness, shortly after their freedom from Egyptian bondage:
Now the rabble that was among them had a strong craving. And the people of Israel also wept again and said, “Oh that we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we ate in Egypt that cost nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic. But now our strength is dried up, and there is nothing at all but this manna to look at.”
Now the manna was like coriander seed, and its appearance like that of bdellium. The people went about and gathered it and ground it in handmills or beat it in mortars and boiled it in pots and made cakes of it. And the taste of it was like the taste of cakes baked with oil. 9 When the dew fell upon the camp in the night, the manna fell with it (Numbers 11:4-9).
Do you remember the marvelous story from Jesus concerning the lost son? Recently, I viewed artistic interpretations of the Prodigal Son from the Larry and Mary Gerbens Collection owned by Calvin College. This collection illustrates how one little powerful parable about two young men and their father can communicate forgiveness and love, as well as greed and hard-heartedness. Calvin College gave me permission to share some of the art with you.
I hope the artistic interpretations accompanying this story help you appreciate the Prodigal Son in fresh ways. Also, I recommend theologian Henri Nouwen’s study of Rembrandt’s Prodigal (The Return of the Prodigal Son: A Story of Homecoming). Nouwen’s meditation is the kind of little book that wedges into the soul. Like Nouwen, I came away from this parable realizing that at times I have been like one of all three main characters. Dr. Tim McConnell observes that Jesus left his home and Father, not from rebellion but from humility, to provide an opportunity for all prodigals to come home. How about you? What is your take away from this story?
“The Father and His Two Sons”
Luke 15:11-32 (New King James Version)
Then Jesus said: “A certain man had two sons. And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the portion of goods that falls to me.’ So he divided to them his livelihood.
“And not many days after, the younger son gathered all together, journeyed to a far country, and there wasted his possessions with prodigal living.”
He Should Have Left the Party Sooner
“But when he had spent all, there arose a severe famine in that land, and he began to be in want. Then he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country, and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. And he would gladly have filled his stomach with the pods that the swine ate, and no one gave him anything.”
“But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you, and I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Make me like one of your hired servants.”’
“And he arose and came to his father.”
Love That Knows No Boundaries
“But when he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him.”
Changed Minds and Hearts
“And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight, and am no longer worthy to be called your son.’”
“But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet. And bring the fatted calf here and kill it, and let us eat and be merry; for this my son was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ And they began to be merry.”
The Son Who Judged by Works
“Now his older son was in the field. And as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. So he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and because he has received him safe and sound, your father has killed the fatted calf.’ But he was angry and would not go in.”
“Therefore his father came out and pleaded with him. So he answered and said to his father, ‘Lo, these many years I have been serving you; I never transgressed your commandment at any time; and yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might make merry with my friends. But as soon as this son of yours came, who has devoured your livelihood with harlots, you killed the fatted calf for him.’
“And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that I have is yours. It was right that we should make merry and be glad, for your brother was dead and is alive again, and was lost and is found.’”
Reject or Believe the Story
Included in the Geffen collection are artworks that reject the way Jesus told the story, and spin an interpretation on the Prodigal returning to a home that is gone. One of the puzzling cleverness of a parable is that one might not understand it or may reject it.
But for those who comprehend Jesus’ meaning in the Prodigal Sons, there is great peace and joy.
“The Father and His Two Sons–The Art of Forgiveness” is an occasional traveling exhibit out of Calvin College from the Larry and Mary Gerbens Collection. A book with this title is also available for purchase (Eyekons Publishing).
If you like actor Robert Powell’s portrayal of Jesus in the movie Jesus of Nazareth, here is his six-minute recitation of The Prodigal Son:
For 2017, I am reflecting on what it means to have mustard seed faith. Jesus declares in Matthew 17:20 that we remove mountains if we have a tiny bit of trust in him. Do I believe this? Atheist Philippe Petit has helped me form an answer. Here’s how.
In 1974, Petit, age 25, took a 55-pound balancing pole and illegally walked, knelt, laid down and contemplated the universe for 45 minutes on a high wire strung across the World Trace Center’s twin towers. He called the project “Le Coup.”
The highwire artist’s book, To Reach the Clouds—My High Wire Walk Between the Twin Towers, is poetic, obsessive, crazy, and specific about an impossible feat. His memoir starts out describing his ego: “Rebel poet? By four-years-old, disdain for my fellow man starts to show: I climb onto everything to distance myself.”
Petit’s parents legally emancipate him on his 17th birthday. He understands. By age 18 he has been expelled from five schools for practicing pickpocketing on his teachers and doing card tricks under his desk. A Paris street performer on a unicycle with impromptu high wire acts is the life for Philippe. He practices and performs, wowing crowds and provoking police.
Mountain Busting Begins with Enchantment and a Toothache
Philippe’s dream of a WTC highwire act begins in 1968 at age 18 with a toothache. While waiting to see a dentist he thumbs through a magazine and reads an article about NYC’s future World Trade Center. The towers will rise 110 stories and “tickle the clouds.” He is enchanted. He draws a line between the two towers. He sneezes to cover up the ripping out of the article. Under his jacket it goes, and he is out the door, without getting the tooth fixed!
Philippe tucks the article in a “Projects” keepsake box and forgets about it for a while. He begins to do more difficult tightrope walks and improvises equipment to perform illegally on the towers of a Paris cathedral (1971) and the world’s largest steel arch bridge in Australia (1973).
Faith in Tandem with Patience and Urgency
In between these feats, he reads a WTC article and is alarmed, thinking: “What if they [the towers] are completed before I link them for eternity? I must keep an eye on them. Once they are officially opened, it may be impossible to take them by surprise.”
Tired of Paris and encouraged by American girlfriends, Philippe visits NYC, Jan. 6, 1974. He’s too busy to visit the incomplete Twin Towers, until three weeks later. “I force myself to go meet them.” And when he sees them, and touches a wall, looking up: “I cannot breathe. Cannot move, talk, think. I am dismayed, my dream dissolved. I feel fear. Glued to the railing, I am an invalid. I stare, I look, I glance, I observe, I watch. My scrutiny yields only two monoliths, beyond all scale, and carves deeper into me the word: Impossible…I long to flee but still the colossal magnet controls my destiny.
“Obscene Syllabic Obesity: Im-pos-si-ble!”
Philippe finds one tower exit door ajar and runs up the stairs. “I bump into construction workers as my body language declares, ‘What are you looking at? I’m the owner of these buildings!'” Then, at the top, among the construction, he views the other tower and sees “a word stretched across the gap between rooftops in all its obscene syllabic obesity: Im—pos—si—ble!”
Then, there is a mind change: “…teeth clenched, eyes half closed, in horror, in delight, I manage to whisper
my first thought (whisper, so the demons won’t hear): ‘I know it’s impossible. But I know I’ll do it!’ At that instant, the towers become ‘my towers.’”
Removing a Mountain Takes Help
What the rest of the story tells you is that Philippe cannot accomplish Le Coup without the support of a handful of imperfect people–some who are friends and others who are strangers. As one reads the book, one realizes all the individuals have their roles and come together in an amazing way. Philippe uses the word “miracle” several times in his book for the unexplainable coincidences. It’s not difficult to understand that God is right there in the mix with Philippe and his little band, giving them the desire of their hearts.
Against all odds, at sunrise, Aug. 7, 1974, Philippe Petit performs his WTC high wire act a quarter mile up in the air without a safety net. Of course, the authorities are freaked out and arrest him after he steps back onto the roof. But NYC loves a gutsy guy.
His punishment ends up being a free performance in Central Park. WTC officials give him a free life-time pass to visit the towers whenever he desires. Of course he first tells them how he worked around all their security protocols.
Sadly we know the towers do not outlive Petit. At age 67, however, the artist is still busy. He has an artist in
residence space in NYC’s Cathedral of St. John the Divine. In Petit’s book acknowledgment he quotes the church’s retired Rev. James Parks Morton, his “spiritual father”: “Philippe does not believe in God, but God believes in Philippe.”
I like the thought that God has more faith in us than we have in him and in ourselves. And I am encouraged to believe if Philippe could do what he did with the object of his faith being his own abilities, I certainly can remove some mountains with the object of my faith being Jesus who said, “Nothing is impossible with God.”
I have much to learn about mustard seed faith, but this is my takeaway from Philippe:
<><Faith begins with an idea bigger than oneself. It begins with an attraction one might not fully understand.
<><Faith works with both patience and urgency.
<><Faith, although a gift, often requires preparation, perspiration, and perseverance.
<><Faith overcomes discouragement; the timetable of mountain busting is controlled by the one who created time and is not limited by it.
The challenge of mustard seed faith is to spy the mountain, accept it, and then work in tandem with the author and finisher of faith (Hebrews 12:2). After that, watch the topography transform.
Want More of Petit?
For more on Philipe Petit try his memoir and other books. Online, you can find numerous You Tube clips and a TED talk by him. I enjoyed the Academy award-winning documentary film, Man on Wire (2008), by UK director James Marsh and the biographical drama The Walk (2015), directed by Robert Zemeckis and starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Petit. The Caldecott award-winning picture book, The Man Who Walked Between The Towers (2003), by writer/artist Mordicai Gerstein, began my interest in Petit. A beloved three-year-old and I read it often and then line up tiles and pretend we are high wire artists.
Recently, I went to hurricane-hit Galveston County, Texas, with the Billy Graham’s Rapid Response Team (RRT) chaplains in tandem with Samaritan’s Purse volunteers. It was a hope-filled experience. Even now, hundreds of Americans are still quietly helping recent disaster victims find a new normal.
The “Orange Shirts” of Samaritan’s Purse
Many of these volunteers work under Samaritan’s Purse and are nicknamed the “Orange Shirts.” They come from all over the country and do home clean-up and rebuilding. They range in age from teenagers to senior citizens. Working with them are the “Blue Shirts” or RRT chaplains who offer emotional and spiritual care to volunteers, home owners, and their communities. Chaplains do a lot of listening, a lot of praying, and a lot of traveling in rent-a-cars from one work site to another. In between, they are available to pray and visit with anyone who shows interest.
Some Q’s and A’s
Do volunteers alleviate all the disaster problems? No. Statistics are fairly constant that 70-80 percent of disaster victims already are dealing with a crisis before a disaster occurs. Problems, for example, might be legal (divorce), medical (dialysis, cancer, drug addiction), financial (unemployment, bankruptcy), or emotional (grief, depression). One of my trainers says “travel in their lane” when offering comfort and “listen, listen, listen.” After a disaster, healing comes more readily when victims articulate their stories and feelings to a safe person.
Do I feel spiritually worthy to be a chaplain? Not really. I bank on the fact that God uses weaknesses.
Am I trained and vetted? Yes. Earlier this year I spent five days at Billy Graham Association’s training facility “The Cove,” Asheville, North Carolina. Prior to that I filled out a lengthy application form which required seven references and an FBI check. I also had a phone interview with a staff member. Training courses are available online too, and some are mandatory.
Why did I feel that I should go? It is difficult to explain, but I sensed a nudging and a calling to do it.
Was I scared? Yes, a little bit. I was uncertain I would last the week.
Did God show up? Yes. He was right there.
Many Hands Needed
Because there is overwhelming needs after a disaster most help from both religious and secular organizations is welcomed.
Samaritan’s Purse is probably best known for its Christmas shoe box ministry for underprivileged children, but it also is an international relief ministry. Following NYC’s 911 in 2001, Franklin Graham witnessed so much emotional and spiritual pain that he started the BGRRT chaplaincy program. Since then hundreds of chaplains have been trained and now regularly receive email lists of deployment dates.
Some, but not all chaplains, are trained for manmade disasters such as the recent Las Vegas shooting. When a chaplain finds a week-long date convenient, he or she emails back availability. Then a staff member in North Carolina puts together a team and lets the chaplains know when they will be deployed. I served with eight other chaplains in Santa Fe, Texas, among about 90 Samaritan’s Purse volunteers. There were seven such sites in Texas at that time. Our site had over 800 work orders for damaged properties garnered from Samaritan’s Purse staff who make the initial contacts and assess damaged homes.
Our group was housed in the educational center of Santa Fe’s First Baptist Church–Alta Loma. Cooks prepared breakfasts and suppers for us in the church dining hall (we also packed brown bag lunches). Samaritan’s Purse rolled in a semi-truck equipped with eight private, air conditioned showers. [Thank you!]
After my “rookie chaplain” experience, the homeowners and local churches now remain in my prayers. They are my heroes as they persevere with daily tasks and work to get their lives back together the best they can. This Thanksgiving and Christmas will be rough for them so keep them in your prayers and donate where and when you can.
There were other new heroes for me. I came away with greater appreciation for Samaritan’s Purse staff and the “Orange Shirts,” who work all day in sweltering heat and do yucky jobs like “mucking out” flooded houses.
Let’s just say when stuff rots for eight weeks there is a lot of yuckiness to remove. I heard minimal complaining from the volunteers. They really are the salt of the earth.
Billy Graham’s RRT Chaplains
Of course my heart is with the “Blue Shirts,” who are compassionate “people persons.” It was a privilege to serve with each one.
Would I do it again? Yes, my two blue shirts are clean and folded in the suitcase with the air mattress.
I want to thank photographer and Samaritan’s Purse volunteer Johna Brock from Wisconsin and Chaplains Donna and Linda for giving me permission to share many of the above photos.