The Smallest Things Inspire Me

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I once visited an Iranian grandmother in her home. She made Turkish coffee in delicate cups, and fed me pumpkin pie and chocolates.

“It is always like this, back home,” the man with me said, who was from Palestine. “There is always hospitality.”

“I am very religious,” the Iranian said in response, and quoted the Bible; “That which you do unto others, you do unto me.”

“I don’t believe in the God of Americans,” the Palestinian man confided in us. “They are too afraid of one another. They have no trust and they have no warmth. There is no God teaching them.”

“It is the same God,” the woman argued in a soft, good-natured tone. “Same God, different language.”

They disagreed, but the sun still shone, and the coffee was still good. The lady from Iran showed me photos of all her grandchildren and told me to visit again.

“Any day,” she said. “There is always more.”

My Hands

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We never talked much towards the end. We never talked about the things that mattered, the things that hurt, or the things that were killing us, slowly. We especially didn’t talk about the thing we killed. We parted like leaves being drawn by separate winds, and I later learned you had no idea why; and it shook me violently to realize you had lived alongside my pain and never seen it. Then I remembered that you had lain alongside me in the nights when I  cried, and rather than reach out to comfort me, you had always turned away. It wasn’t that you had never seen me. You had outright chosen not to.

The death of “us;” the death of the life we had created; these things landed like tears in the cup full of sorrow I carried in my heart. The ripples from their fall reached out and connected with the memories of so many tears. I had always wanted to be a gentle person, but my hands had made decisions that gentle hands could not. These hands had signed papers and wielded knives and written a history of my life in ink and blood. These hands. The same hands that somehow knew to offer the backs of themselves first to small children and scared animals; because the backs of the hands can’t pull or poke, or snatch or grasp – and animals and small children, in their wisdom, know this too.

Once, I sat in the bathroom, cradling these hands. I traced their lines and saw their roughness. I remembered the night my mother coughed up blood in the bathroom. These hands, I used to clean it, so that my siblings would not see. I remembered the night that I sat in the bathroom, and clots of blood larger than my fist were falling out of me. These hands, wiping the red stains from my thighs. Bathrooms are the places where women go to bleed in private; their tears and hearts and bodies alike. They are the true temples of the home, where we clean our bodies, let go our minds, and even sing in the echoing tiled chambers that remind us, somehow, of when we lifted our voices in the stone temples of our ancestors. And in this moment, in this temple, I saw my hands were shaking, and I whispered to God, “Why?”

“Why? I know my hands are not gentle. But I would have been a good mother, Lord. I could have been a good mother.”

In the stillness that accompanies the deep acceptance of these darkest nights in our spirit, I heard with such perfect clarity, “Good mothers don’t have gentle hands. They have hands that lift and carry; hands that bear the burdens of those who rest within them. Strong hands, that know how to be gentle; this is what I have given you. For the world is full of My children, and all of them are hurting.”

In the Bible, after God speaks, the chapter always ends with something simple, such as: “And after that, she went on her way and did as she was told.” The truth is never quite as easy; at the same time, there is no better way to sum up this story. After I heard this, I went on my way, and did my best to follow the Word as it had been revealed. And there are stories there too that I am still living, filled with heartbreak and hope, and sadness and joy.

Devotion

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Writing Prompts: Jeremiah 23:9-15 – Psalm 33 – Romans 9:1-18 – Gospel of John 6:60-7

For Scripture says to Pharaoh: “I raised you up for this very purpose, that I might display my power in you and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden. – Romans 9:17-18

On hearing this, many of his disciples said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?” – John 6:60

Sing to him a new song; play skillfully, and shout for joy. – Psalm 33


 

Here I am, Lord; I have woken to a new day of hard lessons. I have pushed back the curtain of the night and let in the sleepy dawn; and here I am, with You. I learned to pray this way by listening for You in the hour before the Light. I learned to pray this way by listening for the quiet voice that could bring peace to my own hurting heart.

This is how we pray: first, for the people I love. I pray for my family, far across the sea.

Second, I pray for the people I don’t know, but who can surely use more love.

And then third, dear Lord, I pray for all the people that I wish to hate. I call them first, “Your children – Your children! – who have wronged me.” Then I stay with You until I can say, “My brothers and sisters, who are hurting, and have hurt others in their pain.”

Hard lessons indeed, O Lord. It is hard to look for the driver behind the glass façade in the furious traffic, and to hope their day gets better as they swing angrily from lane to lane. It is hard to remember every person I meet knows what it is to love and lose that love; to watch a dream get dashed; to be too kind, one time too many; to be flattened by the relentless churn of the day. To understand that their lives, their strife, their frustrations, so often have nothing to do with me. I am like a pebble that the tide of their emotion swept elsewhere, without noticing – but I shall be a pebble that loves the sea, dear God. A pebble that rests on whatever shore it has been cast, and looks up at the sun and sings for the beauty of the strange new land it’s in.

Let me always sing for You, O God. You taught me how to pray and how to sing, and ever since I have known You, they have been one and the same. I have songs for You that no one else shall ever hear; songs I will always rise with the birds and the tide at dawn to sing. Songs that are uncertain and faltering, for they are new; songs not yet polished with practice and precision.

For I am not perfect, God. I am both a slow and an impatient student. And I believe that You place hard lessons and hard people in my path to teach me, time and again, that You are here. You have called me by my name; You have said, “Come, and follow me.” The memory of Your quiet voice tugs at my spirit, and every hard lesson is an opportunity to return to You, and become so close to You that I no longer remember whose was the voice that called, and whose was the voice that answered.

Was it I, God? Did I call You first, once upon a time, in prayer and desperation, saying, “Please, my God; please have mercy, and love me…”

Or was it You who called to me, saying, “Here: these are My children; and you must have mercy, and love them for Me.”?