A few years ago, we took a trip to the Philippines. That picture right there? Bananas don’t come anymore fresh! We bought an entire bunch. It took us days to eat them and we had to give half away.
We went to the Philippines to help our sister church rebuild their church building. It was destroyed by a typhoon. If you want a fresh perspective, then fly half way around the world. Everything is different.
We ate different foods for breakfast. Do you know how many kinds of bananas they have? Lots. We sang different songs in worship. And traffic? Yikes.
This handful of people changed our lives. We found common ground in our faith and our humanity. And we fell in love with this church family in ten short days.
It’s been almost three years and it’s still difficult to find the words for what happened to me. But I suspect it’s humility and grace. I never thought of myself as proud, but this fresh perspective gave me a new concept of humility.
Humility is more than a lack of pride. It is what happens when you learn to be authentic in your skin. You stop trying to prove yourself to the world and you accept the person God created you to be.
When I was twenty-one…
I had my life figured out. My twenty-first birthday was in April and I married in September. We were going to buy a house, live there for five years, then buy our “real” house where we would raise our children. I was going to be a famous photographer, maybe we would move to Nashville and wear fancy cowboy boots every day.
What was I thinking? I don’t even like country music. Well, except Randy Travis.
In a few months, I will turn fifty-one and then, in September, my husband and I will celebrate thirty years of marriage. What? How did that happen? The thing that I have discovered about marriage is that it is a four letter word. W-O-R-K. You can say that again! There have been many times that I have wished I knew then what I know now. But, not really. If God had shown me a trailer of my life, I probably would have run screaming from the room.
It has nothing to do with my love for my family. It’s because I would have caught a glimpse of the hard work, the pain, and the struggles. My mind would have said, “No way, Jose”! We never think we can endure the pain. But I would have missed the joy, hope, and love. Now this is starting to read like a country music song. Randy Travis, of course.
As I look back over thirty years, the pain and struggles have faded. The joy, love, hope, and laughter are embedded in my heart and memory. It’s weird, but I think the struggle is actually what makes it worth while. We build relational muscle and stamina over time. This is a good thing because I’m fifty now and it’s getting harder to lift heavy things. There are fewer hills worth dying on. I have sorted through the most important things and it is a small number. Less than ten maybe. And I don’t need to write them down because their preciousness makes them easy to remember.
At twenty-one, I had a lot of energy for a lot of things. At fifty-one, I have a lot of energy for a few important things. At twenty-one, I had my life figured out and it turns out I was wrong about some of it. At fifty-one, I have no idea, but it turns out I was right about the most important things.
Words, specifically the written word, has been a gift to me since I was small. A whole new world opened to me when I learned to read. It brought freedom and hope and truth to illuminate my soul. We didn’t really attend church much when I was a child. And by “not much” I mean zero. But, in the second grade, I began attending Catechism at our Catholic parish. And this prompted an increase in attending mass.
Increase? It doesn’t take much to have an increase over zero. But there we were, sitting on those hard wood pews, reading from musty hymnals, and listening to the acoustic guitar. In the late 1970s, an acoustic guitar in the Catholic Church was revolutionary.
I loved it when we sang. Most of the time I did not understand what was happening during the mass, but I could understand the songs. And I could sing. The rest of it was filled with listening and watching, and I wasn’t old enough to receive communion. Oh, but I could sing.
The words in the songs did something in my heart. They gave rise to hope and love to shine. The same thing happened when the priest began to speak. Father Jim was so animated and passionate. His face would get all red when he spoke and I thought his head might burst. His words reverberated off the linoleum floor. Somehow I knew it was passion for God and not anger towards us. I could feel it. I wasn’t afraid when he preached. Instead, it was something else that rose up inside of me. Awe? Joy? Anticipation?
No, I think it was an awareness of God’s holiness. I was too young to put words to what I felt inside. I only knew that Father Jim’s words were shinning a light on something I wanted to see. Something beyond the here and now. Something we could only see with spiritual eyes. And his words made me long to see into the heart of God.