The other day I was walking across the campus at the Children’s Home on an absolutely gorgeous day. The cloudless sky was a bright, deep blue. It was warm with a gentle breeze, causing the pine trees to dance lightly with the sky. The air was sweet with the scent of pine needles. I thought, “this must be what heaven is like.” I was reminded of a joke told by one of my clergy friends. He would say, “If you don’t like the smell of incense, you won’t like heaven!” As I walked along I thought, I bet the incense in heaven is not clouds of smoke billowing out of a censer like at church. Instead, I imagine it is like the pine straw, occasionally wafting up its sweet aroma as a surprise grace note to passersby.
Today, during my devotional, I read, “From the rising of the sun to its setting my Name shall be great among the nations, and in every place incense shall be offered to my Name, and a pure offering; for my Name shall be great among the nations, says the Lord of hosts.” Malachi 1:11 I doubt heaven is covered with pine straw and we don’t sacrifice animals on the altar anymore so what is this incense that we should be offering up to the Lord of hosts? Several weeks ago, for Epiphany Sunday, we planned on giving food baskets to 3 local families in thanksgiving for the gifts of the 3 kings. I was in PriceSmart buying the food when I was suddenly filled with the Holy Spirit. I knew He was saying, “Yes, this is how I want the children to celebrate Epiphany.” After blessing the food during the church service, we all set off down the hill to deliver the first basket to the family at the gate. The basket started out very heavy but within a few steps, it was almost empty because many children wanted to help carry the food. We were met at the house by the gate by Kimberly, a young pregnant woman. Her face was wreathed in smiles as she accepted the basket, full of nutritious food, milk, and some cookies, for the family. We went to the second house just up the dirt road from the Children’s Home. The bigger boys took the food into the kitchen. There was no food in the house. Dona Reyna, the mom, joined us in prayer and then prayed herself, thanking God for this miracle. Although we had planned this, to her it was like manna from heaven. One minute her family has no food, suddenly they have a basketful! I think at that moment, a sweet aroma wafted up to heaven. Our offering of incense to the Lord in the form of food for His children.
In January a medical brigade came and we held a clinic in a rural church. A mother brought her severely disabled 5-year-old son. His muscles are so week and flaccid, he can’t even hold his head up. The mom carries him everywhere. The team left money to buy a stroller for him. Edson and I delivered the stroller to their home, a long walk down a treacherous dirt road. The mom was thrilled with the stroller and immediately rolled him up and down the length of the porch. Then she smiled and thanked God for the stroller. The incense of her gratitude rises to heaven and God smiles. Most of our children at the Children’s Home have sponsors, or “madrinas and padrinos” (Godparents.) Many of them have established relationships with the children and communicate with them regularly. It is a wonderful thing to see a child’s eyes light up when they hear from their madrina or padrino. It is also true that some of our children either don’t have a sponsor or don’t have any contact with their sponsor. They are all very gracious and are happy when another child receives a gift, card, or visit from their Godparents. Not long ago I asked one girl what she would like from her madrina who was coming soon. After the long wish list from her friend, Genesis (the older one,) who does not have an active madrina, looked at me and said forlornly, “I would like some skates.” Her little face pierced my heart and I determined that she would get skates. I reached out to the other girl’s madrina and asked her if she would add some skates to the list. The look of pure joy on Genesis’ face when we presented her the skates was priceless! Sweet, sweet aroma! Later on that afternoon, we saw many other children helping her learn to skate and learning to skate themselves as she happily shared her new skates (and the only skates at the Children’s Home!) with anyone who wanted to try. The generosity that comes so naturally to the children must lift up billows of incense! (Oh, and now Genesis has her own madrina! Love sends more incense heavenward…)
Our latest team, another medical brigade, went to Col. Emanuel, an impoverished village behind the city dump. We saw a young man and his little brother. We learned that 22 year old, Raul, is head of household for his 4 siblings. His 4 yr. old brother, Sem, had a serious case of asthma. Dr. Ann brought them into the pharmacy to nebulize Sem. Raul was so sweet, so loving, so dear. Sem was adorable. Sem sat on Raul’s lap and they sang little praise songs during his treatment. I learned that Raul lost his job several months ago. “How do you buy food?” I asked. Raul shrugged and said, “We trust in God.” We gave him all of our leftover food and some money. At first he refused the money but we insisted. He was so very thankful. Raul embodies grace as he cares for his siblings and puts all his trust in God. Daily incense offered up to his faithful Savior.
There is a Spanish praise song that I love dearly. It is titled, Perfume a Tus Pies. (Perfume at Your Feet.) The lyrics lead up to “I want my life to be like perfume at your feet.” I believe the incense we lift up, becoming perfume at the feet of the Lord, is the way we live our lives. It is our actions of love and gratitude, trust and hope, that is the pure offering that makes His name great among all nations.
Every now and then I see a post on
Facebook ominously declaring that we are in the end times. My reaction is “Of course we are. We’ve been in the end times since the moment
Jesus ascended.” However, our personal “end time” could come at any
moment. A comet could come crashing down
down right now and we’d all be in line at the Pearly Gates. Jesus
Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your
Lord will come. But understand this: If the owner of the house had
known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and
would not have let his house be broken into. So you also
must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you
do not expect him.” (Matthew 24:42-44)
Whether it is the END TIME or our
personal end time, the message is clear: be ready. What do we
do to be ready?Personally, one thing I
do is say the prayer of confession before takeoff and landing every time I
fly…just in case!
There are two reasons to be
ready.One is to avoid hellfire and
damnation.The other is to live into the
promise that is Christ Jesus — eternal life in His presence.
After almost 8 years in Honduras. what
I have learned is that being ready is not saying a particular prayer or going
to church every Sunday.Being ready is
about how you live your life every day. Soon after I moved to Honduras, I asked a Honduran pastor, “How is it
that the poor who suffer so much, with no end in sight, have such a profound
faith?”He answered me immediately,
“It’s because we set our sights on the next life.”I realized, despite my faith, I and many
Americans set our sights on this life. Our measures of success and security are job titles, the neighborhood we
live in, the car we drive, our school, the size of our investment portfolio… But,
when you set your sights on the next life, everything
Hondurans know that they are totally dependent on God.In our independent, self-sufficient, do-it-yourself
culture, does that make you feel a little itchy?The Hondurans give everything over to
God.The country is one of the poorest
in the western hemisphere and the government corruption is mind boggling.If you ask a Honduran how those conditions
might change, they smile and shrug, “God knows.”It is not fatalism, or complacency, it is
trust. When they talk about a future event, even meeting for lunch the next
day, they say, “Si Dios permite!”If God
permits!And as far as I can tell, they
rarely try to do God’s job for Him.Have
you ever done that?“Don’t worry, God, I
got this!I’ll let you know if I need
help!” Or, do you ever lay out the solution for Him?“Dear Lord, here is the situation so please
first do this, then this… or…you could do that…either way works for me. Amen.” (Personally, I hope God has a sense of humor!)
The Hondurans walk in the
Spirit.And they want you to join them.Last year during Holy Week, Dony, a staff
member, received tragic news.His father
had been murdered for no apparent reason. The morning after the wake, Suzy, our founder, and I were in my car on
the main street waiting for the funeral procession to start. Dony came
over and leaned into the car to talk. Suddenly an older man, slightly
drunk and reeking of alcohol, came up. He tearfully told us his
story. He has no family, his mother abandoned him when he was young.
He thinks God might love him but he
isn’t sure. Sometimes he wants to “leave this world…” but he is
afraid of death.He is even more afraid
of not being loved. Dony, on his way to his father’s funeral, began sharing the
Good News with this man, assuring him that Jesus loves him and will never leave
him. At the worst moment in his life, Dony was evangelizing.He’s ready.
Hondurans help people who
need help.If you are trying to back out
of a parking spot or parallel park, a man (or boy) is always there to help guide
you.Not for a tip, it’s just what they
do.I can’t carry anything around the
Children’s Home for more than about 3 steps. Someone, even our smallest children, will rush up to help.
Soon after I got to Honduras, I
impetuously set off with a car full of food to give to the family of a young
woman who worked for us.We drove 3
hours and stopped at a restaurant.It
was there I learned that the family lived in some remote area where “taxis
couldn’t go.” Well, I certainly didn’t want to go, at least not in a car full
of women.So I walked outside onto the
dirt road to look for help. We were right next to a gun store so, not knowing
what else to do, I started explaining my predicament, in fractured Spanish, to
the heavily armed guard.(Why did I think
that would help?)Well, the woman behind
the counter heard and rushed over, dialing her phone.“I know someone who can help you!”10 minutes later a young man named Israel (!) roared up in a pick up truck.He
cheerfully loaded all the food, hundreds of pounds of it, into the truck and
off we went.We drove for an hour and a
half!All the while he was smiling and
chatting with me.He knew a little
English and I knew a little Spanish. When we arrived, we discovered the house was deep in a ravine.No problem! Israel loaded the food on his
back and ran up and down the treacherous path until all the food had been
delivered.As we set off back to the
village, I was so grateful for his help. I looked at him and said, “Tu eres mi salva vida!”(you are my life saver)He looked puzzled for a second, then smiled
and nodded.He dropped us off at my car
and drove off with a wave.The woman in
the gun store called Israel and he came — because someone needed food and they
are always ready to help. (By the way, it wasn’t until I was back in Tegucigalpa
that I realized Salva Vida is the name of their beer.It was like I had told him, “You are my
Hondurans are clear about from whom
all blessings flow.The last team of
2018 came at the end of October.In
addition to all the other usual activities, they decided they wanted to build a
house in a day for Ernestina, a tiny, homeless, elderly woman in San Buenaventura.The mayor had given her a minuscule bit of
land way down a dirt road in the mountains behind the Children’s Home.The only way to get the materials to the site was to carry them down and
back up a ravine.I was standing in the
woods monitoring the progress when another woman appeared, arms full of wood
that she had gathered for her wood burning stove.Eva, too, is impoverished but slightly better
off than Ernestina.She put down her
machete and wood and smiled broadly at me. “I am so thankful the Lord is helping Ernestina!Thank you letting Him use you to bring this miracle
to her.”Eva knows where that house came from. We were thankful to be part of Ernestina’s miracle.
The team realized Ernestina didn’t have a mattress so they gave me the money to buy her one.I asked Angel, our singing construction worker, if he could help.No problem!I gave him the money and the next day, he recruited a friend with a pickup truck.They went into town, bought the mattress, and then hauled the mattress and box springs to Ernestina’s new house.Again, because that is what they do.If they can help, they do…with a smile.
Hondurans live lives of hope.Jimmy came to us, broken and malnourished,
at 3.One day I saw him at our school
where he does volunteer work. He is 19
now.He was doing his university
homework, playing very complex classical music on his guitar.His fingers were flying over the strings as
he changed chords and picked a sophisticated pattern.I asked him how growing up at the Children’s
Home changed his life.“Suzy came and
gave us the possibility to dream and the possibility of having a better
life.There is a lot of Christian
influence at the Children’s Home. They teach us that our lives have a lot of
value.It changed the way I dream.My hope for the future is more than a degree
from university. More than that, it is to influence society positively. More
than changing my life, it is changing
the lives of others in a positive way.I
want to give a future to kids who don’t have one now.”Through LAMB God has given Jimmy hope…and now he plans
to share that hope with others.
70% of Hondurans live below the
poverty line. 40% live on less than $2 a
day. Unemployment is over 50%. The
government is so corrupt it makes your teeth hurt. There is no end in sight for the poor in
Honduras. And yet, they are always
joyful, ready with a smile, eager to help, full of hope and focused on the Risen Lord. They know this life is less than a blink of
an eye in the context of eternity but the next life is forever. They are
Brothers and sisters in Christ, let us all be ready…for a
life filled with joy!
From the time we are tiny little children, we are told to share. Moms and dads, teachers, and grandparents encourage us to share some of what we have with siblings, friends, and, sometimes, “starving children in…” The Bible exhorts us to share all throughout the old and new testaments.
One person gives freely, yet gains even more; another withholds unduly, but comes to poverty. Proverbs 11:24
And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased. Hebrews 13:16
Often, we are sharing out of abundance. We have a bag of candy and give a few pieces to a friend. We have clothes we haven’t worn in a long time (or no longer fit) so we give them to a charity. We have a couple of $1 bills in our wallets, beside the $10s and $20s, so we give them to the homeless person on the corner. We pledge money to the church, working towards fitting a tithe into the family budget.
What does it look like when we just share? Not out of abundance but out of love? It looks like this:
Little Alex Eduardo just graduated from kindergarten. He got the award for being curious! He also got a gift of an airplane, some cars and signage to go with it. Pamm Ferrand, from the Atlanta team, was walking by as Alex was playing and he handed her the above items. “It’s a gift!” Pamm checked several times that afternoon to see if he wanted them back. “No, it’s a gift!” Our kids don’t have many of their own toys and Alex only received one toy for his graduation. Yet, unbidden, for no particular reason, he shared it with Pamm.
This is actually pretty common at the Children’s Home. Just a couple days ago, a child casually shared part of his small pack of Smarties with me. Candy is a real treat for the kids. No words, just a couple of Smarties offered up.
This leaves me speechless. I imagine what it would be like to have a child with a life threatening illness like CF. I am certain I would hoard any medications I could get my hands on to ensure MY child had what he needed. I am equally certain it wouldn’t occur to me to share the meds that were otherwise out of reach. And yet, that is what she does. She shares out of love and trusts in God to provide. The most touching example of sharing happened twice in June, by the same person. There is a student, Andrea (center), at our school in Flor with cystic fibrosis. Dr. Ann Von Thron and Joseph Klosik (right) have become involved and are able to find CF parents in the US and pharmaceutical companies to donate meds and more sophisticated and effective equipment to help Andrea. Her mother, Reina (left), is overcome by the love and generosity shown by anonymous people in the US. As she thanked Joseph and Dr. Ann, she explained that there is only 1 doctor in all of Honduras who treats CF and meds are expensive and often impossible to get. So, despite her own very limited resources and a child with CF, she shares the meds with other families with CF children.
My experience in Honduras over and over again is that those who have nothing share everything. If they have 2, they give you 1. If they have only 1, they give you half. It makes no difference if you are poor or wealthy. They just share because that is where their heart is.
For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. Luke 12:34
In the Baptism liturgy for my denomination, there is a prayer I just love for the baptismal candidate:
Heavenly Father, we thank you that by water and the Holy Spirit you have bestowed upon these your servants the forgiveness of sin, and have raised them to the new life of grace. Sustain them, O Lord, in your Holy Spirit. Give them an inquiring and discerning heart, the courage to will and to persevere, a spirit to know and to love you, and the gift of joy and wonder in all your works. Amen.
My favorite part is when we pray for “the gift of joy and wonder in all your works.” I imagine the wise men experienced that joy and wonder when they had their epiphany – the tiny baby Jesus, bringer of joy and wonder to the world!
Leafy Sea Dragon
I am also reminded of construction worker, Angel’s, answer when a team member asked how he knows there is a God. “The sun comes up!” God’s creation is filled with constant joy and wonder, if we pay attention. We open our eyes to see a myriad of beautiful flowers, the ever changing sky, the magnificence of the stars and galaxies, wacky fish in the ocean, the majestic mountain ranges, and on and on.
I have thought a lot about our two newest lambs, Daniel and Isaac, abandoned at birth. They have no idea what their lives could have been. Thanks be to God, instead their lives are filled with joy and wonder. All they know is love. These tiny babies are also are bringers of joy to all who encounter them. Can you see this picture without breaking into a smile?
Every once in a while Suzy will give me some advice: “Don’t let [situation/person] steal your joy. Her message is that joy isn’t the same as happiness. Happiness is fleeting, situational, tied to a moment in time. Joy is bigger, broader than that. It is more a state of being, a gift from God that we choose to accept…or not. Jesus doesn’t promise happiness all the time, instead He promises to remain at our side through good times and bad. More important, He invites us to follow Him into a life of love, joy and wonder…eternally.
Some people choose to live a life filled with joy and wonder in spite of circumstance. I recently met and wrote about Doña Santos. (Gracias Papa) She lives as hard a life as just about anyone. She and her family survive by digging through the dumpster along the side of the road. It is generous to call where they live a “hut.” It is really scraps of wood crudely nailed together against the side of a cliff. No electricity, no water, plenty of gaps for wind and rain to flow through. And yet, Doña Santos and her family choose to live lives of gratitude and joy. For her, like us, the holidays are a time to celebrate, to decorate, and to bring the joy of Christmas into our homes.
Despite the hardships of her life, her home is transformed into a place of beauty and celebration to share with all who pass by. She chooses joy and brings joy who pay attention.
What you’re searching for, you already know. God has blessed us with this amazing life, with eyes to see, ears to hear, a mind to discern, and a heart in which to perceive the living presence of God in our midst.
My prayer for you this Epiphany and this year is that God will give you an inquiring and discerning heart, the courage to will and to persevere, a spirit to know and to love Him, and the gift of joy and wonder in all His works.Amen.
One of my favorite songs is called Alaba a Dios (Praise God.)
To me it is exemplifies the Honduran faith. It is about praising God no matter what.
Simply praise Him
If you’re crying, praise Him
when you’re tested, praise Him
you’re suffering, praise Him
no matter what, praise Him
He will listen to your praises
It goes on to encourage us:
God goes before you opening the way
breaking chains, removing thorns
He sends His angels to struggle alongside you
He opens doors no one can close.
A few weeks ago, I was reflecting on the words, “He opens doors no one can close” when suddenly they struck me a new way. I had always thought about God giving us opportunities, new hope when, perhaps, a door in our lives had closed. I realized that they have another meaning and fear flooded my heart. He opens doors in our hearts that no one, not even us, can close. I knew exactly where He was leading with this new interpretation and I was not sure I wanted to follow. Really, for the first time since I have lived here, I was afraid. Not for my physical safety but, instead, for my heart.
You see, for almost 7 years I have driven the road to the Children’s Home countless times. Every time I look at a ramshackle hut built into the side of a cliff. A mass of garbage bags line the front filled with recovered trash from the dumpster in hopes of selling it for pennies to support whoever lives in there. I have often tried to imagine what life is like in there. The rain streams in through the gaps and holes in the roof and walls. Cold wind howls through them at night. Each time I wonder, “who lives there?”
Over the last few months, I have felt more than curiosity. I have felt drawn there as the van zooms by. I couldn’t stop thinking about the people and worrying about whether they have enough, or anything, to eat. Each trip past it, the feeling grew more urgent. But what could I do? I didn’t know who lived there. How many people live there? It could be one family or many families. How would I know how much food to bring? What kind of people are they? Violent men? Gang members? I would have to go with a Honduran man, I decided, IF I went at all. Most of all, I feared that if I made contact with the people who live there, they would move into my heart. The Lord would open a door that I would not be able to close. It wasn’t just about money. Food is expensive here but I figured anything I could do would help. It was more than the time it would require to shop for and deliver food. My real fear was capacity. Does my heart have room for more people? Why are you asking this of me, Lord?
On the last Saturday of October, I took the last team of the year to the airport. It had been a great week and they were filled with joy. Joy turned to dismay as we heard the announcement. All flights in and out of Tegucigalpa were cancelled due to bad weather. They were rebooked on flights leaving Tuesday! We returned to Casa LAMB in varying stages of panic. (“What in the world am I doing to do with them until Tuesday,” I thought. I had not prepared 2.5 days of extra activities!)
Suzy called and offered to come to Casa LAMB on Sunday and have a church service since the children were going to a different church. It was intimate and lovely. After the service was over, I felt a spiritual nudge and found myself saying, “Do you remember that awful hut on the side of the road? How would you feel about taking some food to them?” The team’s eyes brightened! It turns out the Lord had placed the same thing on their hearts and provided reinforcements for me, giving me the courage I needed. We went to PriceSmart and loaded up with rice,beans, flour, sugar and more. Luis, our driver, pulled over by the hut and got out of the van with us. There was a teenage boy standing in front of the hut. “Hola!” We brought food for your family!” He called for his mother. A
tiny woman stepped gingerly across the plywood bridging the gutter between the
hut and the road.She has no teeth, was
dressed in filthy clothes, and thin as a rail. She looked at us puzzled. “Hola!We brought food for your
family.”She looked at her son, “God
brought these gringitos to help us.”She
explained, “We had no breakfast this morning.”She broke into a broad grin as her sons took
the food inside.We introduced ourselves
and she replied, “My name is Doña Santos.”
Yep, the door in my heart was opened. I promised I would come back with more food. This afternoon, I stopped by again with Suzy and Kristen, a visiting friend of Suzy’s. When Doña Santos saw us, she recognized us, raised her arms to heaven and looked up and said, “Gracias, Papa!”
This door in my heart is not closing and that’s ok because when God opens it, He makes your heart bigger. Gracias, Papa.