My article, Past the Self-Esteem Shop is up on the Relevant Magazine web-site. Hope you enjoy reading it.
Posts from the ‘change’ Category
“The first time I spoke with my brother after he’d left, we couldn’t understand each other. He didn’t speak Vietnamese, and I couldn’t speak English.” I’d just met Marie, and she was telling me about her youngest brother, who’d left their home country at an early age. “He knew he wanted to be a priest, even when he was very young. My father knew it wouldn’t be safe for him in our country. So when my uncle decided to move to the US, my brother left our family and went with him.”
Concern for his safety and knowing that opportunities would be better for him, Marie’s parents agreed to allow him, their young son, to move away. Far away. Far away from the family he knew and loved, he moved to the US and was raised by his uncle.
“Freedom? There is no freedom.” Marie shakes her head and continues to tell me about the state of affairs in her home country. She and her family are part of the small minority of Roman Catholics. “Things are not safe. It’s better here,” she sighs before telling me about the persecution facing Christians in Vietnam. Pressure from the government to follow a state supported religion affects schooling, employment, their safety and their very existence. Bullying tactics make life, in some instances, agonizingly difficult. I shake my head in a mixture of sadness and disgust.
Marie goes on to tell me that she’s been married for three and a half years. Right after her wedding she and her husband decided it would be better for her to come to the US. He plans to follow her after finishing up graduate school at a Vietnamese university. The last time she spoke with her husband in person was right after their wedding. They’ve only spoken by phone since she arrived here. “I’m about ready to take my test for citizenship,” she tells me proudly.
I am greatly moved by Marie’s story. For a moment, I turn to hide the tears I feel welling up. Sacrifice – painful sacrifice for a better life, for safety. For freedom. My own mother left her country, pioneering out on her own to make her way to this land of opportunity and freedom as a young woman in her early twenties. She didn’t leave under such harsh circumstances as Marie, but the leaving was still painful. The courage it took to leave everything she knew, to leave her home, for a new, strange culture is something I stand in awe of each day. My heart is grieved by Marie’s story, and I know that she is only one voice out of many that have bravely sacrificed for a better life.
I can’t imagine the loss her parents must have felt in saying goodbye to their son, not knowing if they’d ever see him again. Saying goodbye to my own son seems unimaginable. Only hearing my husband’s voice over a cold phone line, not to hear him whisper good morning or feel his embrace after walking in the door at night from work seems unthinkable. Being one with someone, yet being so far apart. Sacrifice, I know, is sometimes necessary. I’m ashamed at the things I so easily take for granted, things that should be savored each day.
Now here in America, Marie’s had the opportunity to visit with her brother. After she took classes to learn English, they were finally able to talk for the first time. To talk about their family, their home, and about the brief moments of a shared childhood. Her joy is obvious. So is her big sister pride. “He’s all grown up now, and he made it,” she tells me grinning wide. “He’s a priest” she says nodding. “He’s a priest.”
Photo courtesy of PhotoXpress.com
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.” John 15:1-2
As a follower of Christ, I seek to deepen my relationship with him – most times. Sadly, I don’t live this out at all times. Lent provides an opportunity to look inward to expose those dark areas that have taken up residence in my heart. Like exposing an open wound, this is a painful process, but not one that’s in vain. Jesus talked to his disciples about cutting away what wasn’t fruitful on the vine. Not for the sake of cutting, but that the vine would ultimately bear much greater fruit.
Yesterday, I took cutters to the misshapen hydrangea tree in my front yard. The tree badly needed pruning. Although it’d grown in stature since first planted, it was uneven and vastly overgrown. Pruning the branches, at least three feet off of some of them, was painful for me. Those branches had yielded full and fragrant blooms last summer. Although I knew it had to be done, the question of whether or not it would bloom fully again this year made me hesitant.
God, however, is never hesitant to prune out the areas of our lives holding us back from bearing the fruit he created us to bear. He knows the process is painful for us. Thankfully, in His infinite wisdom He also knows all that we can be, even if we haven’t a clue. And so, he prunes. We, unlike, my hydrangea tree, have a choice to make. As we go through a season of pruning, we can stop in our pain and refuse to go any further, never to experience the life God intended for us to live.
Or we can choose to let go of whatever darkness is hindering our relationship with God. He doesn’t expect us to do it alone, but with his help and in his strength. “Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” John 15:4-5 Jesus goes so far as to say that without him, we can do nothing. We simply cannot be fruitful apart from him.
As the spring sunshine warms my hydrangea tree, shining its rays on the newly sharp cut edges, the tree will burst forth with buds that will grow into emerald leaves. The pain of the cutting will disappear into a multitude of sweet fragrant blooms. Like the sun’s light, God’s light shines healing rays of truth into the hidden areas of our hearts that are most in need of healing and growth. We were made to live fully in the light of God’s love and truth, free and abundantly fruitful. Anything less is living the half life.
Photo courtesy PhotoXpress.com
The Image of God
O, Lord! that seest, from yon starry height,
Centred in one the future and the past,
Fashioned in thine own image, see how fast
The world obscures in me what once was bright!
Eternal Sun! the warmth which thou hast given,
To cheer life’s flowery April, fast decays;
Yet, in the hoary winter of my days,
Forever green shall be my trust in Heaven.
Celestial King! O let thy presence pass
Before my spirit, and an image fair
Shall meet that look of mercy from on high,
As the reflected image in a glass
Doth meet the look of him who seeks it there,
And owes its being to the gazer’s eye.
-Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
A new year brings time for reflection on what has been, what is, what is to come and the possibilities of what could be. I find myself without any specific resolutions, but rather a desire to be that “image fair,” a reflection of the one who is perfect in love. I am grateful that as flawed as I am, through Him, I can be changed. As one who owes her “being to the gazer’s eye,” my trust in this new year is in God, who although unchanging can bring great change and hope. Happy New Year!