We must endure

“Pero que hacemos? Hay que aguantar.” But what do we do? We must endure.

The phrase caught me off-guard. I am used to hearing North Africans talk like that, especially if they throw in a “praiseGod” or dozen and shake their heads with wry smiles that say what their words don’t. And then their words do, but they are followed so closely with more resigned “praiseGod”s that it all feels more like a question mark rather than a confirmation of faith. But I am not used to hearing Spaniards talk with the same resignation. What happened?

Meanwhile, in America we clamor for platforms that offer unfiltered voice on topics we may or may not understand when, in fact, the world would be better off if most of us suffered from stage fright. 

Are these our only options? Resignation or dogmatism?

Almost every time I walk across town, some wanna-be graffiti slapped to the side of a décor shop catches my eye. “Queremos sentirnos vivas” We want to feel alive. It sounds like a cry, not to oppressors, not even to God, but just hurled into space from a spirit that wants more than resignation or dogmatism. It reminds me of another of another cry:

During those many days the king of Egypt died, and the people of Israel groaned because of their slavery and cried out for help. Their cry for rescue from slavery came up to God. And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. God saw the people of Israel—and God knew.

(Ex. 2:23-25)

Even though the cry was not to God, God heard and God knew. And He liberated His people. After this liberation, the following years in the desert were so hard that the ex-slaves began to daydream of life back in Egypt (Num. 11:5). God had promised a land flowing with milk and honey, but not yet.

Today as headlines continue to make history in ways we never would have chosen, we too are in that “not yet” pocket, basking in salvation (already) and looking forward to God’s promise of heaven (not yet).

What will choose in the meantime? Resignation or dogmatism?

Or life. Abundant life (Jn. 10:10). After all, we have a guarantee of our inheritance as heirs with Christ:

In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.

(Eph. 1:13)

We don’t just have to endure and parrot “praiseGod.” We don’t all have to share our opinions about every topic all the time (and resent those who disagree). We don’t even have to assign divine meaning to suffering.

Yes, hay que aguantar, but that is not all. Whatever “not yet” desert we are stumbling through today is not the end of our stories. And right here in the middle of the dry, we can sentirnos vivos because the gift of abundant life transcends our desert.

BOOM!

I was home alone the day that a man came to inspect the hose on our gas tank. Apparently ours had expired in 2008. Not good, I guess.

“It might explode,” he said.

“What?” I was still trying to figure out exactly who this guy was, how he had burst past me in the doorway, and how in the world I was going to get him out.

“It might explode,” he said again, more slowly this time as if he realized that I was a foreigner.

I was silent, my mind racing in all directions.

He lifted his eyebrows. “BOOM!”

I explained that my roommate wasn’t there and she was the one in charge of the household, so he couldn’t do anything. Surely there was some sort of a law that said a serviceman couldn’t barge into an apartment and do a job against the wishes of the occupants. Right? This was ridiculous.

He gave a long and rapid speech about how it was obligatory and since he was from thirty minutes away, he had to do it now. He probably said more too, but that was what I caught.

“Now all I need is your card or your passport.” His head was in our cupboard and he was fiddling with our tank.

“Wait. Don’t do anything. Wait!” The situation was spiraling out of control. I dashed into my room to grab my phone and call my roommate. Twice. She was in the middle of an English class and didn’t answer.

When I returned to the kitchen, I saw that the man had parked himself on a kitchen stool. The oddity of the situation struck me as I looked at him there. “Do you want a glass of water?”

The question caught him by surprise. “No thank you,” he said.

“Look, I can’t do anything until I talk with my roommate.”

“What time will she be home?”

“Eight.”

“That’s too late. I leave work at six. You have to change the hose. It’s obligatory. Look, if you don’t change it, you might have an explosion. BOOM!”

There he was, booming again, as if a hose expired ten years couldn’t wait a few more days. I heaved a sigh. “If there’s an explosion, I will go to heaven. It doesn’t matter to me.”

Again, he was taken off-guard. Perhaps not every client has said that.

He insisted. I insisted. Finally, he was on the verge of a concession, “You don’t want to pay that price?”

He was going to drop it. I was pretty sure. But it didn’t matter. Obligatory or not, he would not change our hose today. “I don’t want you to do anything.”

We finally agreed that he would leave his information so I could call him after I had talked with my roommate because, I pointed out, if expired hoses have to be changed now, what does he do if someone doesn’t answer their door?

He asked for my number and scribbled it on a piece of paper. I took his business card and took a picture of the contract.

I smiled. I had won. At least for now.

But he was smiling too. “I will message you on whatsapp, okay? Not for the business. For me, like friends.”

Or had he won? I wondered as he walked out of the apartment with my number in his pocket.

Side note: As far as we can figure out, this was a scam. Gas hoses do expire, but the government does not send out servicemen to inspect and change them for 42€ cash. A friend kindly changed ours for 8.50€ to keep us from going “BOOM.” And, no, I am not in contact with the scammer via whatsapp.

Let the tears begin

It came while I was meeting my niece 12½ hours away from home. There it was! My Spanish residence visa. Dad WhatsApped me a picture. I broadcasted the news near and far and even took the first steps to get my plane ticket.

The ecstasy lasted approximately one hour; because when I pulled out my pocket calendar, excitement vanished with a puff of reality. I was looking at today’s date and my departure date on the same page. I had between three and four weeks.

I should have been ready; all along I had known of this possibility. But now it was real. That night, instead of drifting off into agreeable dreams, I cried myself to sleep.

That was a week ago. Now I have less than three weeks left. I’m still tossed to and fro between the delight of moving to Spain and the sorrow of leaving behind my world.

  • My nephews and niece will grow up, knowing me as the aunt who lives far away and brings them olives and cheap souvenirs with Spanish logos.
  • My family will try to keep me in the loop, even as we age and grow apart.
  • My church family will change dynamics as people come and people go.
  • Friends will move away, marry, and have children.
  • Older friends will have health complications and pass away.
  • The community will change as businesses start up and shut down, land is cleared, and landmarks disappear.

The list goes on.

I’ll change too. It’s just that this part of my life and I will not change together. It’s hard to give that up. But how can I cling to a vapor? My reality on earth is temporary. As important as life is to me right now, I don’t want it to weaken the anticipation of the life to come, the everlasting life.

On a roll

If I would have been Elijah, 51 more people would have died.

When Ahaziah, King of Judah fell through a lattice and lay sick in his bed, he wanted to know if he would live. “Go, inquire of Baal-zebub, the god of Ekron,” he told his messengers.

But on the way, Elijah intercepted the messengers to give the king a word from the Lord: “You shall surely die.”

King Ahaziah wasn’t happy with this meddling in his affairs and he sent out a captain with his 50 men to fetch Elijah from where he sat on top of a hill. Elijah responded by calling down fire from heaven and consuming the 51 men.

But the king didn’t give up. He sent another captain and 50 men. These also were consumed by fire from heaven.

And still King Ahaziah didn’t give up.

If I had been Elijah and seen the third party of 51 men approaching me, I would have sighed, “Yes, Lord, I know the routine. Fire from heaven.”

But the third captain fell on his knees and pleaded, “O man of God, please let my life, and the life of these fifty servants of yours, be precious in your sight.”

Elijah had executed God’s will on the former two occasions. Why would God want anything different this time?

That’s why I say that if I had been Elijah, 51 more people would have died. Or at least I would have attempted to call down the same fire from heaven. I would have been on a roll.

I often think about this story when I’m tempted to make a “policy” on how to treat a certain category of people: persistent beggars, inappropriate men, meddling taxi drivers, aggressive women, etc. Yet, God showed Elijah the Tishbite how important it was to listen to His voice in every situation. Likewise, God may want me to say a certain thing to one aggressive woman and want me to keep silent with the next. The point isn’t to get energized by being “on a roll” but to listen in each situation.

Yes, always listening can be exhausting, especially when we hear commands we don’t want to obey. When Elijah heard the angel of the Lord say, “Go down with him; do not be afraid of him” it may have crossed his mind that calling down fire from heaven would have been less of a hassle. But he still went. He still listened.

(2 Kings 1)


Photo by Ricardo Gomez Angel on Unsplash

How far is heaven?

Was it even open?

The handle turned beneath my eager fingertips. It was!

I hadn’t been to the library in months. I wasn’t even sure why I’d come today except that I wasn’t ready to leave town and go home. I wanted to be alone. It was one of those days: interruptions at every turn; repeating everything I said at least once; everyone expecting me to be a team player when I just wanted to grab my journal and disappear until next week.

That’s why the library was such a good place to vanish for an hour. Here, the shelves were lined with stories of people who had lived and breathed life’s struggle. They had faced the same problems I faced today. I felt a camaraderie with these characters beyond the lettered spines on floor-to-ceiling bookshelves.

“Are you looking for something in particular?” A librarian approached me, even as I was still inhaling the tawny scent of explored pages.

She seemed satisfied when I said, “No, just looking.”

I fought the urge to just stand and soak in the stories. I was in the fiction section anyway, so I slipped over to the next aisle. Art. Music. History. Sewing. Biography. Religion. I pulled books off the shelf to page through them before adding them to the growing stack tucked in the crook of my elbow.

There were books for sale- 5 cents each- that town citizens had donated to the library. I browsed that section and found a book about heaven.

Heaven.

I wove through the displays of cheap romance novels and heaved my stack onto the check-out counter.

“Do you need a sack?”

“No. Thanks. I have one in the car.”

“Can I get the door for you?”

“Thanks. I got it.”

I loaded my car and was on the way home–beside the elementary school and the reduced speed limit signs–when I remembered the book about heaven.

I had only forked over the nickel to give the book away. I didn’t read books about heaven. The incessant chatter of an afternoon radio show interrupted my emerging thoughts. I hit the power button.

“Why?” I said aloud. “Why don’t I think about heaven?”

Was it that I was comfortable on earth? Hardly! I was always yearning for something.

“But what is it?” Was I yearning for heaven or the “next big thing” in my life wherein lie coveted fulfillment? Couldn’t I pretend that it was all just a subconscious longing to be with God?

Or was it more like a choice of where I based my citizenship?

“These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seem them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland.”

(Heb. 11:13-14)

On the drive home, the dusty wind and thick, angry raindrops reminded me of life’s trials. But somehow, with the hope of heaven, trials didn’t look so scary.