Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Auntie, I want up!

This is Isaac. Isaac is adorable. Just plain straight up crazy cute. And he spends a lot of time at our house.

Yesterday, I was working from home, and there were nine kids in the house, a pretty normal afternoon. The older boys were painting at the dining room table, some other kids were coloring, and others were playing foosball. (Yes, we have a foosball table in our home. It is a loan from neighbors who are now in the US....)

Sitting at my desk, trying to write curriculum, I could hear the noise of the ball flying across the wooden stadium, children arguing over crayons, and the older kids, occasionally showing one another their creations. From time to time, one of the young artists would bring in a masterpiece for me to admire.

Just as I was working on a story application for Jesus' healing of the 10 lepers, Isaac walks in. I am ready for him to ask for an apple, to ask for more crayons, to ask me to make the other boys share the foosball table. "What do you want, Isaac?" I asked him, as he is one who is usually full of demands. Really, he is so crazy adorable, he can get away with this. He looked up at me with his enormous eyes and replied, "Auntie, I want up." I needed clarification on this. Not a banana? Not a toy? Not a glass of water? "What do you want, Isaac?"

"Up, Auntie. I want up." Well, okay then. I lifted him onto my lap, and he became an octopus, arms tight around my back, legs around my waist. "You just want up, Isaac? I am just going to be working here." He nodded and said, "Yes. I just want up."

And so, I turned to the computer and commenced with the rather challenging task of writing curriculum while embracing a three year old child, who was clinging to me like a life raft. His brother came in, trying to pry him away with a few toys, but Isaac would not budge. He just wanted up. He just wanted to be held. He just wanted to rest in someone else's arms for awhile.

I didn't get a lot of writing done, but in holding little Isaac, I realized how much I am like him. None of the toys or crayons or foosball tables or paints or apples or bananas in the world can really satisfy me. I can keep gathering things together, and try to build up a life that makes me feel safe. I can have a healthy savings account, a good safety net, a reliable car. But mostly, I just want up. I just want to be held. I just want to rest in someone else's arms for awhile.

And the arms that have always held me are those amazing arms of love that never fail. The one who will lift me up is the One who is always there, no matter what, no matter how I fail. When I just need to be held, I know that God is there to hold me. And when I say, "Auntie, I want up!" God is waiting with open arms.

Love is what we need. Open arms, open hearts, open lives. Open to the power and strength and gentleness of God. Open to loving one another.

Isaac was not satisfied with any of the things in the house. What he needed was love, arms wrapped around him, the promise that he is not alone. I know that I have never been truly satisfied by any of the things in the world, either. What I need is love, arms wrapped around me, the promise that I am never alone. And I am so grateful to follow a God who offers this time and time again. No matter what, no matter where, no matter who, when we say, "Auntie, I want up!" God is ready with open arms.

Thursday, October 17, 2013


Over 800 women. Coming from Zimbabwe, Malawi, and all over Zambia. Sitting on the hard, concrete floor all day long. Singing and dancing all day long. Praising and preaching all day long. For five days. The building was overflowing. The Spirit was overflowing.

The theme of the conference was Women in Ministry and Leadership. The guest of honor, Rev. Suzzane Matale, spoke of women’s equality, education, and empowerment. Her passion, her eloquence, her energy was incredible. She offered a message of liberation, which was linked intrinsically to Biblical literacy. The freedom, the hope, the justice, the equality that she preached came straight from her reading of the scriptures. God wants you to know that you are beautiful, she said. You can do anything. Anything at all. The women were on their feet, cheering, laughing, clapping. Overflowing.

At the end of the talk, she had us all look into the eyes of another person and say, “I love you. I need you. I care.” Looking into the eyes of a beloved colleague, I knew how very true these words were. “I love you. I need you. I care.” The love. Overflowing.

I was also blessed to be one of the speakers, with my talk translated into three different languages. It was overwhelming to look out and see all these women, all this joy, all this love, all this power. My gratitude. Overflowing.

My talk focused on how we can overflow with the presence of God, when we open ourselves to the Holy Spirit, take care of our own needs, and live in love with one another. I spoke of strong Biblical women and Jesus’ message of liberation, freedom, and justice. I filled a pitcher full of water, and just kept on pouring until it overflowed. The living water, I said. It is for us and it can fill us, until it just spills out all over the place...Living water. Overflowing.

All week long, God was spilling out all over that place. Overflowing. My friends, my colleagues, so many women, filled with the Holy Spirit. Overflowing. What a blessing to sit among these faithful women of God; to be drenched. Let it flow, my friends. Let it flow.

Monday, October 7, 2013

I Will Dance With You

In the circle of pastors, I was the only white person in the room. Mostly men, a few women, leaders of the denomination. And I have to admit it, there were a few times that I wanted to leave, a few times that some words about gender made me squirm, a few times that I wasn’t sure how to respond, a few times that I was just so sure that I didn’t belong, so sure that I had gotten in too deep.

It was a real conversation, about women and power, about family and leadership, about children and parenthood. And one of my beloved colleagues, a friend who I deeply admire, spoke up, “I think it is that Western culture has come here too quickly. We don’t know what to do.” I stopped squirming and I started to listen. Real concerns about gender, real concerns about power, real concerns about how the church can embrace gender equality and still maintain its Zambian identity, still uphold the value of the family as they know it. I stopped squirming and started listening. And this is what I heard...

A man I do not know all that well, a Zambian colleague in his fifties, spoke up, “I have children who are teenagers. They are the children of a pastor, and I wanted them to act like it. I wanted them to show that they are my children, the pastor’s children. I wanted them to make me proud.” He paused and shook his head. “They knew that I did not like secular music, and when I was in the home, they would only play Christian songs. But one day,” he said, “one day, I came home early. The children scrambled to turn off the music, but it was too late. I walked in and found all four of my children laughing and dancing to secular music. They apologized right away and looked at me with fear. They were so afraid they would get into trouble.”

He smiled ruefully. “I asked, and I found out that they were doing this often, when I was not home. They were dancing without me. And so, I told them to turn the music back on. They didn’t do it at first, but I requested it again. ‘Turn the music back on.’ And then I said, ‘I will dance with you.’ And we all danced together, and we all laughed together, and it was fun. It was good. It was beautiful.” He paused again. “They need to be who they are. I cannot tell them who to be. But I can dance with them, and trust that God will be with them in their future. God is in charge of their future, God is in charge of who they will be. I am not in charge of that, so I can dance with them and they can choose the music.”

I loved that image, this 50 year old, staid Zambian pastor, dancing with teenagers to secular music, in his parsonage home. When I told him later how much I loved his story, he said to me, “It took me time to learn. I wish it had not taken me so long to learn that I needed to let them be themselves. But now I know. They need to be who they are.”

If only we could do that in ministry, in our churches, in our families, in our lives. If we could let people be who they are, and love them where they are. If we could just say, “I will dance with you,” instead of criticizing the dance music, or asking that the volume be adjusted. We can do our own dance moves, but can’t we dance together? Can’t we be who we are and give other people the same courtesy?

It made me think about about the challenging discussions on gender. I will be who I am, a woman in ministry, with a husband who is usually home with the children. And they will accept me, and love me, and try to understand why it is that Joel almost always cooks dinner. They will dance with me; will I dance with them?

These uncomfortable conversations are one way that we dance together. When we tell the truth about who we are, what we think, where our challenges lie, and then we listen to the other people talk about who they are, what they think, where their challenges lie. This is how we dance together. This is how we let people be who they are. And when we do this, we all move forward, when we do this, we all get a bigger, better, more wonderful glimpse of God.

I am grateful for the challenges of working here, for the ways that it draws me out of my comfort zone, for the conversations that make me uncomfortable. Because these new dance moves come in handy. These new partners introduce new rhythms. And I love to dance, oh how I love to dance...

So, thank you, Rev. Kalinga, for dancing with your children, for letting them be who they are, and for letting me be me. May we all learn from you. May we all join the difficult, interesting, life-giving, challenging, beautiful, squirmy, messy dance. May we choose some different dance partners, choose some different songs, and see where the music takes us.