Saturday, July 26, 2008

Building Bridges

I spent two days this past weekend in Canton, Ohio, over at the Evangelical Friends Church-Eastern Region (EFC-ER) yearly meeting.

Thanks to Wess, I was graciously allowed to hang out at the Young Friends' meeting on Sunday. Although I was old enough to be their mother, everyone was very hospitable. So much energy! Most of them were twenty-something… and coming and going all over the world in various mission work or deeply involved in work with their local congregations, and also doing the intense life-work of that age—getting married, going to college, seeking a satisfying means of income….. Did you know that, in Egypt, McDonald’s delivers? And that the orphan kids in the Ukraine thought it was just the most amazing treat when one of the young women took them all out to eat at McDonald’s? They had never been there. They were thrilled that an American would take them out for “American” food. (OK, as a McDonald’s employee, I take an interest in hearing about people’s McDonald’s adventures… sorry if I wax tedious!)

My favorite story came from one beautiful, tall, blonde young woman who had done some traveling in Thailand. She had been in a village, and noticed some local kids playing on a water buffalo…. climbing up on it, pulling its tail and ears, sticking their fists in its nose…. And she got this idea that she would like to touch a water buffalo, so she started to walk towards it. She said it took one look at her, and she could see it in its eyes: Oh no! What is this white giant coming towards me! And it reared to its feet and galloped off through the rice paddies. The kids were not happy with her, for scaring off their jungle gym.

Serendipitously (but not surprisingly!), my new friend Faith was at the Young Friends meeting too. Faith is a member of EFC-ER, employee of William Penn House in DC, and co-planner of the recent Young Friends Gathering in Richmond, Indiana. Faith told everyone about the Young Friends Gathering, both the adventures in planning it and the experience of the Gathering itself. Between us, we encouraged the young men and women to explore the Friends world outside of the evangelical branch, in various ways.

The rest of my time at yearly meeting was spent meeting people and getting to know them a bit, and worshipping and listening to committee reports. Chatting over meals. Being invited out to ice cream by a wonderful kind Friend, about 2 minutes after we met. Attending the Women’s Mission Fellowship luncheon and listening to some of the missionaries tell about the challenges/joys that women experienced in the various mission fields they were in. Crashing the Pastor’s Think Tank (with the permission of one of the area superintendents) and talking with pastors about “Reaching Across Racial, Ethnic, and Cultural Differences in Ministry.” Sharing with Jacci, a wonderful lively elf-like woman, about our mutual concerns for our respective branches of Quakerism—both of us longing for the uniting baptizing power of a consistent pro-life/pro-peace testimony.

My friend Susan Lee from the FWCC was there. She very kindly took me under her wing, and introduced me to people. Everyone was very friendly and kind. One of the area superintendents told me, “I’m glad you’re here. We need more visitors.” (hint, hint, folks! This may mean you!) Dr. John, the general superintendent, stepped out of his way at the Pastor’s Think Tank to say Hi and say he was glad to see me. (I stuck out a bit, with my bonnet. It was pretty clear that I had come from Somewhere Else!) By the time I had to leave, I had several new friends hugging me and asking if they’d see me next year and inviting me to visit their local churches. I promised one of the pastors (his church is in Martinsville, Virginia, but he was born in Mexico) that I would practice my Spanish on him next year.

So I appear to have embarked on a ministry of adoption. It looks like I will be going back to EFC-ER’s yearly meeting indefinitely. How could I not go back to see Ce, my new 94-yr-old friend from Rhode Island, who skipped the Women’s Mission luncheon to go to the picnic, because the luncheon was serving iced tea, and “I like Coke.”

We shared encouraging stories, we shared harrowing stories, we prayed, we sang, we laughed, we cried, we ate ice cream. What more could you ask for?

Friday, July 11, 2008

Behold, a Door Standing Open in Heaven!

If I had died back when I had just become a Christian, I would have hit the ground running (so to speak). I would have taken the stairs two at a time, and thrown myself into His arms, blissfully unconcerned about any raised eyebrows on the angels, or the elders, or the four living creatures (you know, the ones with the wings). I like to think that I would have had the dignity not to cover Him in kisses. Back then, the knowledge that He loved me was still an amazing surprise to me. The knowledge that everything was OK, and everything was going to be OK, was still nothing less than a miracle.

If I were to die now, I don’t think I would be quite so wildly demonstrative. I know that He still loves me. Which is no less amazing and surprising today, than it was 12 years ago. And I still know that everything is OK, and everything is going to be OK. Which is still nothing less than a miracle. He hasn’t changed.

But neither have I. Not enough, anyway. I still feel too much like Just Me. You’d think after roughly 12 years, I would be better at being a Christian. You’d think that I would be stronger, or more faithful, or wiser, or something. You’d think that there would be more of those fruits in me, ripening and getting all juicy… love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.

But, no, I still feel like Just Me. Mercurial, selfish, hot-tempered, impatient, irresponsible, childish, irreverent, vain, thoughtless…..

If I were to die now, I would look pretty pitiful coming to the Throne. I would walk with bowed shoulders, and I expect I would be biting my lower lip. Because of all the gifts I would like to give Him, I would dearly love to be able to give Him the gift of a good and faithful servant, and it just hasn’t happened yet (except for occasional, isolated, accidental obedience). How embarrassing. All I would have to lay before the Throne, after all this time, is Just My Heart. Just Me, creeping up to the Throne, with Just My Heart.

The comforting thing is, of course, that He loves me. And He would accept Just My Heart, and He would forgive me for not being a good and faithful servant. And I suppose I would cry, because I really really wanted to do better. And He would wipe the tears from my eyes, and everything would be OK.

I hope I don’t die now. I hope I die later, after I’ve either gotten better at being a good and faithful servant, or after I’ve gotten better at being kind and gentle to Just Me. Cuz I wanna hit the ground running, and take the steps two at a time, and throw myself into His arms. And cover Him in kisses.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Porch Swallows (Gulp!)

They have finally made their debut. For weeks, we watched the barn swallows repairing the old nest on the kitchen porch, and then we watched them brooding their eggs.

For several days, we watched Mama and Papa swallow coming to the nest with tasty tidbits in their beaks, and leaving with fecal sacs.

And yesterday, it happened! One-two-three-four-five of the ugliest, most adorable little heads peaked over the edge of the nest.

Now we can watch Mama and Papa feeding those tasty tidbits to the quints. About once a minute, all afternoon, they swoop in under the roof of the porch making their little chittery noises. And the quints rear up, mouths at the the ready. I thought raising human babies was tough!

Making a nest on our kitchen porch is a bit like trying to build a house over an alligator pit, what with all the cats prowling around. Kevin says that barn swallows don't leave the nest until they are ready to be strong flyers, so I don't have to worry about any of the quints hopping around on the ground. I hope he's right.

Meanwhile, they're alive and growing, and I figure there's no point in worrying too hard about tomorrow. It's nice to be thought of as "homey" by swallows.

Isn't life wonderful?