This Good Man

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This good man
~who has left us behind~

whose farm-hardened hands
wielded not only heavy hammers
but cradled a trembling wee bird.

This good man
~who has left us behind~

raised many a calf and chick
and a plethora of pups and piglets
and enough canaries to fill a thousand homes with song.

This good man
~who left us behind~

whose gentle smile
and generous heart
volunteered thousands of hours of selfless service.

This good man
~who has left us behind~

who raised no children himself
yet loved and nurtured a slew of nieces and nephews,
keeping track of every single one.

This good man
~who has left us behind~

who plowed and planted,
harvested and gathered
and saved and gave and gave and gave.

This good man
~who has left us behind~

who dressed for the farm every day
yet changed his jeans and tee shirt and muck boots
each week to Sunday’s best button-down shirt and sweater.

This good man
~who has left us behind~

is the only man to ever have owned both
a church organ in his front room
and a gold FireBird Trans Am in his back shed.

This good man
~who has left us behind~

has shown us the way to follow Him:

by his faithful service
by his love for the land
by his love for the garden
by his love for his animals
by his love for his family and friends
by his love for his church
by his love for the Lord.

This good man~
This good and humble man~
This good and humble and gentle man~

has gone down the lane ahead of us a bit
and will be waiting for us around the bend,
watching and waiting, waiting and watching,
keeping vigil until he can
someday see us coming on the horizon
and beckon us in and welcome us home.

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Uncle John Smit

A Heart Full of Grace

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We have a new definition of greatness: it means that everybody can be great, because everybody can serve.  You don’t have to have a college degree to serve.  You don’t have to make your subject and your verb agree to serve.  You don’t have to know about Plato and Aristotle to serve.  You don’t have to know Einstein’s theory of relativity to serve.  You don’t have to know the second theory of thermodynamics in physics to serve.  You only need a heart full of grace, a soul generated by love.  And you can be that servant.
~Martin Luther King, Jr.  in a February 1968 sermon:  “The Drum Major Instinct”, A Knock At Midnight: Inspiration from the Great Sermons of Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.

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No matter how big a nation is, it is no stronger that its weakest people, and as long as you keep a person down, some part of you has to be down there to hold him down, so it means you cannot soar as you might otherwise.
~Marian Anderson, American opera singer at two presidential inaugurals, Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient and US State Dept. Goodwill Ambassador

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Dr. King’s words and wisdom in his sermons spoken over fifty years ago continue to inform us of our shortcomings as we flounder in our flaws and brokenness, persisting in our resistance to serve one another out of humility, grace and love.

Perhaps today we can unite in our shared tears:
shed for continued strife and disagreements,
shed for the injustice that results in senseless killings,
shed for our inability to hold up one another as a holy in God’s eyes.

We can weep together as the light dawns on this day, knowing, as Dr. King knew, a new day will come when the Lord God will wipe tears away from all faces — all colors — just as He created them.

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As nightfall does not come at once, neither does oppression.
In both instances, there is a twilight when everything remains seemingly unchanged.
And it is in such twilight that we all must be most aware of change in the air
– however slight – lest we become unwitting victims of the darkness.
~William O. Douglas

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Be careful whom you choose to hate.
The small and the vulnerable own a protection great enough,
if you could but see it,
to melt you into jelly.

~Leif Enger from Peace Like a River

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Do you know why this world is as bad as it is?
It is because people think only about their own business,
and won’t trouble themselves to stand up for the oppressed,
nor bring the wrong-doers to light.
My doctrine is this,
that if we see cruelty or wrong that we have the power to stop,
and do nothing, we make ourselves sharers in the guilt.
~Anna Sewell from Black Beauty

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…if I respond to hate with a reciprocal hate I do nothing but intensify the cleavage in broken community. I can only close the gap in broken community by meeting hate with love. If I meet hate with hate, I become depersonalized, because creation is so designed that my personality can only be fulfilled in the context of community.
Booker T. Washington was right: “Let no man pull you so low as to make you hate him.”

~Martin Luther King, Jr.

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The Health of Self-Forgetfulness

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The nail of each big toe was the horn of a goat.  Thick as a thumb and curved, it projected down over the tip of the toe to the underside.  With each step, the nail would scrape painfully against the ground and be pressed into his flesh.  There was dried blood on each big toe. 

It took an hour to do each big toe.  The nails were too thick even for my nail cutters.  They had to be chewed away little by little, then flattened out with the rasp, washed each toe, dried him off, and put his shoes and socks back on.  He stood up and took a few steps, like someone who is testing the fit of a new pair of shoes. 
“How is it?”
“It don’t hurt,” he said, and gave me a smile that I shall keep in my safety deposit box at the bank until the day I die.

I never go to the library on Wednesday afternoon without my nail clippers in my briefcase.
You just never know.

~Richard Seltzer from “Toenails” from Letters to a Young Doctor

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I know for a while again

the health of self-forgetfulness,
looking out at the sky through
a notch in the valleyside,
the black woods wintry on
the hills, small clouds at sunset
passing across. And I know
that this is one of the thresholds
between Earth and Heaven,
from which even I may step
forth and be free.
– Wendell Berry from “Sabbath Poems”

 

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Whenever I lose perspective about what I’m trained to do
and who I am meant to serve,
when I wallow in the mud of self-importance
rather than in the health of self-forgetfulness~

I wash out a plug of wax from a deaf ear
and restore hearing
or clip someone’s crippling toenails
so they can step forth in freedom.

I’ve been given these tools for a reason
so need to use them.
You just never know.
.

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Exactly Right

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I watch where I step and see
that the fallen leaf, old broken glass, an icy stone are placed in
exactly the right spot on the earth, carefully, royalty in their
own country.
~ Tom Hennen, “Looking For The Differences” from Darkness Sticks To Everything: Collected and New Poems.
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If the pebble, the leaf, the mushroom
are placed exactly right
where they belong,
then so am I~even when I would rather be elsewhere,
even when I could get stepped on,
even when I would rather hide in a hole,
even when exactly right feels exactly wrong.

I’m placed exactly here,
not as royalty,
but as peasant.
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Scattered Joy

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The settled happiness and security which we all desire,
God withholds from us by the very nature of the world:
but joy, pleasure, and merriment, he has scattered broadcast.
We are never safe, but we have plenty of fun, and some ecstasy.
It is not hard to see why.

The security we crave would teach us to rest our hearts in this world
and oppose an obstacle to our return to God:
a few moments of happy love, a landscape, a symphony,
a merry meeting with our friends, a bathe
or a football match, have no such tendency.

Our Father refreshes us on the journey with some pleasant inns,
but will not encourage us to mistake them for home.
~C.S. Lewis from The Problem of Pain

 

It is easy for us to lose focus on the “why” of our existence:
so much of our time and energy spent seeking safety and security,
striving for a journey filled with happiness, joy and contentment,
as if that sole goal is our only ultimate destination and purpose.
This is not our home, we are mere wayfarers.

The nature of a fallen world leads us down roads
filled with potholes and flat tires and hurting people
scattered by the wayside, often alone, oppressed and suffering,ourselves sometimes among them.

Though we rejoice in the glimpses we have of joy broadcast like seed,
sprouting brief moments of happiness,
and the temporary comfort of contentment,
God calls us to know discomfort
so that we gratefully accept the gift of grace,
and understand what it means to give it to others:

For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat,
I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink,
I was a stranger and you invited me in,

36 I needed clothes and you clothed me,
I was sick and you looked after me,
I was in prison and you came to visit me.
~Matthew 25:35-6

 

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A Shudder of the Heart

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Follow Breanna and Jim Randall on burmachronicle.com

…you must not swerve from the engagements God offers you.  These will occur in the most unlikely places, and with people for whom your first instinct may be aversion.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer says that Christ is always stronger in our brother’s heart than in our own, which is to say, first, that we depend on others for our faith, and second, that the love of Christ is not something you can ever hoard.  Human love catalyzes the love of Christ.  And this explains why that love seems at once so forceful and so fugitive, and why “while we speak of this, and yearn toward it,” as Augustine says, “we barely touch it in a quick shudder of the heart.”
~Christian Wiman from My Bright Abyss: Meditation of a Modern Believer

This young couple and their unborn child leave for Asia today to serve as long term missionaries to strife-filled Myanmar.  I’ve known them both for over a decade and for the last several months they have stayed at our farm waiting for this day when they had enough funding and support to leave for a place few people visit, and where even fewer would choose to live and raise a family.  Yet off they go, with so many hugs and hopes accompanying them.

Breanna’s family had arrived at our church over ten years ago with three very blonde daughters in tow — Breanna the oldest.  I have watched her grow through her teens into a determined woman of faith, seeking where she might best serve and never leaving a doubt in any of our minds that God would direct her to where she was needed most, whether it was to use her writing or cooking skills, or to share her entrepreneurial spirit to help others plan and execute their own business.

Jim knows Myanmar well, having served as a missionary there for much of the last seven years, learning the language and working on an updated translation of the Burmese Bible.  He first came to our church as part of a small group of local university students who sought a worship home that was steeped in scripture and dedicated to mutual support of the church body, both here and abroad.  He sat at our kitchen table ten years ago and talked about his computer programming major and how he hoped somehow to make a difference in the world with the skills he was learning.   We (and he) could not have imagined his hope would lead him to a rural village in Burma and the challenging itinerant life of a missionary.   He would return to the States occasionally to report on what he was seeing and experiencing, and on his most recent visit home two years ago, there was Breanna in the front row, all grown up and full of questions for him about life in missions.

Ten years ago no one expected these two would find each other.   Yet God has plans for His people that we can never guess at, swerve from nor try to circumvent.  Their love for each other catalyzes the love of Christ in people they reach out to — never hoarding, never shrinking from a call to go to a place unlikely and unappealing.

For those of us they leave behind, it has been a time of farewells and tears and no few “shudders of the heart” as we bid them Godspeed to their new home far away.

For Jim and Breanna, the seemingly endless goodbyes now become hellos as they bring a love so yearned for to new brothers and sisters on the other side of the earth.

 

 

I Will Not Wear Purple

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When I no longer have to go to work
I will not sit in tea shops
Wearing purple and a ridiculous red hat
Laughing too loud and trying too hard
To look carefree when what I really want
Is more work:
To keep busy with needs in my family,
My church and my neighborhood.

Babysitting for a young mother who needs a nap
And I happen to have an empty lap to fill,
Cooking a meal for someone who cannot manage
And I have too much for myself,
Sitting with the ill when they are lonely,
And so am I.

When I no longer have to go to work
I will not sketch flowers on white plates
Or paint landscapes in watercolor,
But instead will get dirty and grow blooms myself
To take to those who need fragrant beauty
Instead of a picture on the wall.
I will trellis heirloom tomatoes
Simply to share a thick slice of rich flavor
When someone is hungry and needs to be filled.

When I no longer have to go to work
I will find plenty to do
Though my body fades and hair thins,
Though my voice weakens, and back is curved, still
My prayers will be continually
Praising the One who made me;
Even when I no longer have to go to work,
Work will come to me.