Tuesday, May 27, 2014

You Have to Receive It

It should have taken two hours, maybe three. But, the detours through the bush, the potholes, and the road blocks added at least an hour. By the time we arrived at the meeting, we were very late. My colleagues welcomed us with hugs and warmth. They hurried to offer us seats and greeted us with clapping hands and wide smiles. Cookies and soft drinks were immediately provided, and after some refreshment, the moderator turned to me. "We are ready for you now."

I began to arrange my big bag of stuff. The handouts, the sample books, the folders, all jammed into an overstuffed pack. As I placed it on a heavy wooden bench, I noticed that it was not all that stable. Unfortunately, I noticed a bit too late. With a loud crash, the bench fell onto my foot. I tried not to cry out, but it was impossible to hide the pain. I could feel the swelling begin and the pain throbbed. My colleagues rushed towards me, apologizing as if my clumsiness was their fault, and I assured them that I was okay. I limped forward, to the front of the cinder block building, and began to speak.

I had rehearsed many times and I was delighted by the responsiveness of the men and women, the great questions, the enthusiastic engagement. When it ended, they clapped and thanked me. The moderator suggested that not only do they applaud my presentation, they also give me the gift of the spirit. I was confused, but watched, as they all rubbed their hands together, quickly and repeatedly, as the moderator spoke of his gratitude for my work and excitement at the new resources. And then, he said, "One, two, three..." All the people gathered stopped rubbing their hands and clapped three times, in unison. Then, they held their arms, palms out, towards me. "The spirit of gratitude," declared the moderator.

I smiled, unsure how to respond to this incredible kindness. The moderator looked at me gently. "You are supposed to receive it." And so I held out my hands, palms up, and brought them to my heart. "I receive it," I said. "Thank you." And having received the spirt, the love, the gratitude, I limped back to my seat.

As the hours passed, my foot continued to swell. By lunchtime, my limp was obvious. Rev. Naomi Daka, a good friend, came over to me. "We have decided," she smiled. "We will heal you in the African way. The water is already boiling. Follow me."

Outside, there was a fire and a pot over the open flame. The water was, indeed, boiling. She looked at me, with laughter in her eyes, "You will not cry?" She teased. I laughed. "Um, that looks hot." She had mercy and poured in some cooler water from a bucket. "Sit down."

I sat, feet hanging from my car, and she knelt in the dirt, in her clergy collar and long black skirt. She took a basin and a ripped cloth, dipping it in the steaming water. "It won't hurt," she promised.

She removed my foot from my shoe and held it gently for a moment. And then came the rubbing and pulling and kneading and stretching and squeezing. I bit my lip. She continued to massage and wash and immerse my foot in warm, healing water. "How is it?" she asked. As I stood, I felt the muscles stretched out again, the throbbing decreased. "It is much better," I replied.

She rose from her knees and brushed off the dirt, ringing the cloth in the basin of water. I thought of Jesus and the disciples and dirty feet, of Peter's resistance...No! I am not worthy. You will never wash my feet. You have to receive it, I thought. You have to receive the blessing.

I have been spending time lately, far too much time, focusing on the image in the mirror. The person who is full of imperfection - the Peter who denies and hides and messes up over and over again. But God is asking me to open my hands to the spirit, to place it on my heart, to feel it in my feet, to lower my injury into the basin, to let the servant of Jesus wash me clean, to remind me. I am blessed. I am loved. I am worthy. I just have to receive it.

It may be the hardest thing, to receive the blessing, to find ourselves worthy of love. But with open hands and wounded feet, with a limp and a broken heart, we can find that this is exactly when we need to receive it. Exactly when we sit and place our feet in the warm, healing waters. And we know. Jesus is there, with a towel and a smile, ready to immerse us in undeserved grace. Ready to remind us, again and again - all we have to do is receive it.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

In Need of a Savior

Lately, I have been going through a rough patch. I have tried to dig myself out of the hole, out of the sadness, out of the frustration and guilt, the confusion and blame, the conviction that I cannot do enough, that I will never be enough. 

I have tried to focus on the things that are going so well: The HIV/AIDS portable library that we have just completed. The curriculum previews over the next few months. The community schools and trauma programs where we are placing young adult volunteers. The new church start that is taking off in northern Zambia. Conversations with colleagues who are excited about the new resources. Fascinating discussions on HIV/AIDS, sexuality, healthy masculinity, gender based violence. So many things are beautiful and good here. There is transformative work being done and I am so blessed that I get to be a part of it.

But none of these things will pull me out of the pain. Nothing I do will help me to find my way back to joy. I am so accustomed to carrying joy, so convinced that this is not only my name (Kari Joy) but also my purpose, that I cannot figure out where the joy went, why I seem to have dropped it along the way.

And then I remember a conversation with a friend, when I was in the midst of working on an anti-genocide campaign, addressing the horrors of Darfur. My friend, a secular professor of political science, asked me this question, “How can you do this? How can you work on these things without just giving into despair?” My immediate response was, “It helps to believe in God.” She looked at me and slowly nodded. “Yes,” she said. “I guess it would.”

There is a song by Tori Amos called “Crucify” and in it she sings, “I’ve been looking for a savior in these dirty streets, looking for a savior beneath these dirty sheets...” There are so many ways we look for a savior - in our work, in our accomplishments, in other people, in substance abuse, in money, in prestige, in possessions. But every day, every hour, every minute, I am in need of a real savior. I am in need of God, to lift me out of sadness and despair, to set my feet on solid ground. I just can’t do it myself.

I have been reading a lot of Psalms lately, and it helps to remember that frustration and sadness are just as much a part of prayer as praise and gratitude. It is okay to feel lost and alone, afraid and confused, angry and frustrated. But it is also an amazing gift that we have a God who hoists us up on those big, sturdy shoulders and carries us home. We have a God who leaves behind 99 sheep and comes out, just to get us, whenever we feel lost. We have a God who will carry us, when we are shaky and frail, and hold us until our legs are strong enough to bear the weight.

I have every expectation that God is carrying me back to lush pastures, to a place where my feet will land on solid ground, and not only will I be able to stand, I will be able to jump and skip and spin and hop. I have every expectation that God is holding me close, and promising that the joy never fell away in the first place. God is carrying the joy for me, and pretty soon, I will be able to carry joy again. 

A lovely former congregant made this
for me to remind me to carry joy.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Zumba in Zambia

Let's just say there is a lot of giggling. And some really hysterical dance moves. And maybe, on occasion, an unseemly wiggle. And only women. That part is important, what with the unseemly wiggles.

It is one way we take care of ourselves. Women come in veils, covered from head to toe, and underneath the black robes they are decked out in workout clothes. Other women arrive on their way to work, Zambian ladies in three piece suits, changing into tennis shoes. Some come from home, having dropped off children at the international school, like the Italian woman whose son goes to school with my boys. Some of them are 10 years younger than me. Some of them are 30 years older. They are Muslim and Christian and Jewish and Hindu and secular. They are all shapes and sizes, all colors, all ages. And together, we rock some pretty awesome moves.

We dance to Latin music; the Spanish words flowing into Zambian rhythms, as we mix Dominican merengue with Timbuka drum struts. Every once in a while, an American hip hop song appears, and we throw in a few body rolls. No matter what we are doing, though, we are laughing. Because we know we look ridiculous. And we simply don't care.

I love to look around during these sessions, not to see the ways that we all butcher the dancing, but to observe the remarkable diversity in that circle. From so many different parts of the world: all over Africa, the Middle East, Europe, Asia, America... From so many different religions, from such different socio-economic backgrounds, such different languages. We all have different reasons for being here in Zambia. And yet, when we dance together, when we workout together, we laugh together, we encourage one another, and we moan in unison every time our instructor requires us to plank.

When the class is over, the women headed to the office put their heels back on. Our Muslim friends don their robes. I grab a skirt and get ready for a meeting. We do live in separate worlds with different world-views and real issues that can create distance and division. But at the same time, at least for awhile, we can see each other. We breathe together and laugh together and dance together and remember that we are one - all of us children of God...children of God who sometimes engage in unseemly wiggles.