Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Joy in Despair

For me, in dark moments, moments of grief, I am helped by focusing on moments of joy for the past, knowing that life is a balance of both. As we await the pulling of the plug and the formal end of Ray's life, with the understanding that he really died a week ago and has been artificially kept alive thanks to marvelous modern technology, I think back to something that happened a few years ago and which I describe at the end of my book, Blest Atheist.

Even if there are difficulties ahead, there will be help and protection. There will also be rewards. There always are. With God, the rewards are unanticipated and unusual. The simplest among them are the greatest.

One evening last December, the thought came into my head that I should take my evening walk around the mission grounds early. Normally I walk there around 9:00 p.m., and it was only 6:00 when I felt the push to go outside for my walk.

No, I thought. Why would I want to go now? Even though the eventide falls around 5:30 on December nights in San Ignatio, I still prefer to go later—after dinner and dishes and before retiring for the night. It is a marvelously restful way to end the day. Walking brings out the happy endorphins, and just being at the mission provides great encouragement toward prayer.

No, I’ll go later, I thought and began cleaning the kitchen in preparation for dinner. Then the impulse came again. The “argument” went back and forth a couple of times until I approached Donnie, who usually accompanies me on these walks.

“Donnie, how do you feel about taking our evening walk early tonight?” I asked.

“Why?” he asked.

“I don’t know why,” I answered. “I just feel like we should go early.”

Donnie acquiesced and quickly assembled his pipe tools. (He likes to sit and smoke while I walk.) We opened the door and stepped out under the night sky. And there it was, spread across the heavens: a breathtaking lunar ice halo.

Ice halos are rings of light that surround the sun, moon, or other sources of light, such as street lamps. The ones in the heavens are caused by millions of ice crystals in thin, cold, cirrus clouds floating in the troposphere reflecting and refracting light. This particular ice halo was circumhorizonal, a rare phenomenon for which adequately descriptive words, other than scientific ones, are even rarer. Refracted light from the moon spread in a 360-degree circle all around the sky on the same level as the moon yet at the same time touching the horizon wherever we turned—or so it seemed although in actuality the circle of light was parallel to the horizon and not lying upon it. The halo filled the whole sky, with the full moon in its zenith filtering a stream of light through a gossamer foramen in the firmament onto the mission grounds below.

I could almost hear the proud words, “Look what I did!” The hymn of Isaac Waats came to mind instantly: “The moon shines full at His command, and all the stars obey.”

On the mission grounds canopied by the horizon-to-horizon crystal glow, I walked, my arms extended. Irrepressible joy spread past my fingertips, riding on the splendor of light toward the horizon.

Then it was gone. Had I come at my usual time, I would have missed it.

These then are the things that have been seen and experienced by the blest atheist. All the events reported herein [in the book] have enriched my life, but the greatest of these was God sharing with me the lunar ice halo: “Look what I have done!” The hound of Heaven had finally caught me and then had shown me what I had been missing: “Look what I have done!” Indeed, I could almost hear those words and a few more: “Look at what I have done—for you, for all people, because I love you whether or not you even believe that I exist.”

All the miracles that God has done in my life and in the lives of others through me have been wondrous, but pulling me outside to view the ice halo stands out above them all as the most affirming act of God’s love. The miracles were about healing and turning bad into good. They have been important, of course. Viewing the ice halo, however, was about relationship: God’s relationship with me, God’s relationship with all of us. When God called me from my house onto the street and into the field at the mission, I understood that I was special—not special out of many, but special among many, special like all people are special to God.

On an individual level, I was and am at best only a Good Samaritan, and still God wanted a relationship with me. In so many ways, I was and am but a child who finds the adults who can help a sick child artist, a crying lady, a boy in white, or an orphan dying from brain tumors. Like a child, I have no burning desire for financial gain, material possessions, or fame and power. Those desires were beaten out of me in my youth. Although many of these things have appeared unbidden in my life, my true treasure is the people who have come into my life from all continents of the world. There is where my heart is. I want to “pass on” the good that God has brought into my life by using my linguistic proficiency, cultural acumen, and multi-domain knowledge gained from living in the land of splat! to connect people who need help with people who have the ability to give help, no matter where they live or what language they speak. For what good is money if it cannot be used to help those in need? What good are material things unless they make this world a friendlier place: a blanket to warm a homeless man, food for a hungry family, clothes for those burned out of a home? What good is power if not used to empower the powerless to be free to flourish? What good, too, is dreaming an impossible dream if it does not kindle the dreams of others? What good is reaching an unreachable star if it does not sprinkle light onto a dark existence? What good is happiness if it does not splash joy onto dispirited ground, inspiriting the life within to sprout and reach for the heavens? If, indeed, as I have found, helping those in need, making the world a friendlier place, empowering the powerless, kindling dreams, lighting the dark, and splashing joy across the land is what a Good Samaritan does, then I want to be a Good Samaritan for life. To my delight, God seems willing to use me in that capacity. For certain, God knows my heart and what I treasure.

God has many Good Samaritans. Some, like me, are blessed to help a few wounded souls in intensive ways. Others are blessed to help many people in more extensive, but less intensive, ways. Some God leads with their full knowledge. Others, like me for so many years, God leads through their hearts alone. In return, God gives them a treasure far greater than money, honor, power, or prestige: they know a perfect joy that nothing else can give.

I am sure that others saw the ice halo that night for God encourages all people to step bravely out of the grey boxes in which they are cowering and stride buoyantly forth into a divine world resplendent with color, love, and joy. In our tiny town, though, I was the only one who showed up at the mission to see the splendor on that particular winter evening. Others may have showed up elsewhere for the ice halo could be seen for miles. Perhaps even more were called to behold it but were not listening. Those who did listen experienced an unrelenting tug to come outside and witness an awe-inspiring manifestation of God’s loving caress ephemerally spread against the heavens and permanently imprinted in the mind and on the heart.

Note: Concurrently published on all Mahlou blogs.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Time Out from Blogging in Reverence for Life

You may have noticed a lack of blog posts this week. There is an explanation beyond the fact that I am once again on the road, this time in Washington, D.C. (or more accurately, Arlington, Virginia). I will probably be able to post Quick Takes tomorrow evening since I wrote most of them on the plane here. However, anything else may take a few days.

Upon arriving here, I received an urgent phone call from Noelle. Her significant other of ten years' duration had a heart attack during dialysis (he has no functional kidneys) and is currently unresponsive. X-rays show a swollen brain, and doctors would like to have permission to pull the plug. Noelle, our hopelessly hopeful, never-say-never, that-empty-glass-will-soon-be-overflowing child, wants to wait. Probably Lizzie will be the one to make the decision for everyone, as she did in her grandmother's case ten years ago. That time she decided that keeping her grandmother alive artificially was in no one's interest, including her grandmother's, since even if her grandmother came out of the coma, she would not be able to care for herself or even think since all functional brain tissue had been destroyed by a brain bleed. Since Lizzie is a professor of cognitive neuroscience, doctors are willing to share records and test results with her that they would not normally share with family members; they know that she will look at them dispassionately and make an objective and measured judgment as a professional colleague.

Lizzie has conditionally weighed in on Ray. Not having the x-rays yet and just listening to the description of what has occurred and considering his comatosity, she has informed her sister that in her opinion the situation is "bad." However, she won't give any final advice until she sees documentation.

A little background: Ray lost kidney function in 2006 and was comatose (without brain swelling or damage) for several months, then was on life support in a city five hours away until December 2007. It was a wonderful Christmas present to have him be taken off life support and breathing on his own. Then, in December 2008, he was released into a care facility and transferred to Salts where he was just a few minutes away from Noelle. That was another wonderful Christmas present and a prayer answered. Ray and Noelle have had a full year beyond what they hoped for together (or as together as they can be, considering that Ray cannot even come home to visit).

Until Lizzie weighs in with an informed opinion, we wait and pray. I have asked for Ray to be put on the Old Mission prayer list, and I would ask you to pray, too. It is difficult to know what to pray for since Ray, even if he regains consciousness, will never be able to come home, will always be tied to a dialysis machine, and will likely be in pain much of the time. Since God knows better than I do in all cases, I personally am praying that God will do what is best for Ray. No matter what we personally would like to see happen, the rest of us really are insignificant in this instance. I am sure that God will take good care of Ray without prompting, but I like to pray about it, anyway. I love the support and guidance.

So, with the exception of the Quick Takes and the MMM, I plan not to spend time blogging but being available to my family and to Noelle. (I will be home on Saturday.) Life itself is special, and we should take time to acknowledge that and show our reverence for what God has given us. It is unfortunate that we tend to do so only when Death looms or has completed its reaping. Nonetheless, better now than never.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Quiet Magic

People helping people. Now, that's magic. Maybe even God using them to create a miracle or two.

I have come across two posts about Christmas help via Tweet for a mother and 9-year-old son, living in a van, which was towed, leaving them with nothing. God's good helper, Mark of the Hardly Normal blog, jumped in, after learning about it on Tweet. Pastor Matthew Barnett of Los Angeles Dream Center, after reading the Tweet, met the family at Walmart. Clothes and a Christmas toy were the result.

I cannot tell the story as well as those who were directly connected with it, so I will simply post the URLs and urge you to go to those links. It will be well worth the time and the extra effort to hop on over to another blog/site.

(1) A post on Kat's Korner: InvisiblePeople Tells Homeless Stories--And Changes Lives

(2) The original story with tweet comments and a youtube interview on Mark's site: Magic of Twitter Brings Miracle to Homeless Family

I would also add that Mark, who describes himself as a long-term grinch, now uses a smiling grinch as an avatar!