Posts Tagged ‘serve

04
Oct
19

The Guatemalan Giggle of Grace

Guatemala 2016 (9)In my life, moments of grace have come in many different forms.

The compassionate word. The gentle glance. The understanding touch. The sweet smile.

My heart will always reserve a special place for that day when grace came in the form of a giggle.

It happened in 2003, on my first trip to Guatemala. This was a trip with two professors and 11 other students from Saint Paul School of Theology.

It was not a mission trip in the traditional sense that phrase has come to be understood. The seminary called it an “immersion trip.” The purpose of this trip was to immerse the participants in the history and culture of a place heretofore unfamiliar to us.

We were not going there to do anything in particular. Rather we were going to Guatemala to learn. In fact, the professor who served as the primary trip organizer encouraged us to think of this as a “reverse mission trip.”

What he meant by this, he explained, was that we were not traveling to Guatemala to bring something TO the people we would meet there. Instead, we were going there to receive something FROM them. That something was their stories, their perspective, and a glimpse through their eyes of the place they call home. It was an outlook he hoped would counteract the usual paternalistic attitude most Norte Americanos take when traveling to this part of the developing world.

After two days of lectures in Guatemala City, our group hit the road. Our first stop was in the town of Chimaltenango to meet with three of the principal leaders of the “Heart of Women’s Cooperative.”

In our semester of reading in preparation for the trip, we learned a lot about the inhuman horrors of the 36-year Guatemalan civil war. The Pulitzer Prize-winning book, I, Rigoberta Menchu provided graphic detail of the arrests, mass executions, torture, rape, and destruction of the indigenous Guatemalan people at the hands of government soldiers.

But we all agreed afterward that until we sat in the same room with two women who actually LIVED that experience, we had no clue what it was really like. These women told us, through tears, of how they watched husbands, fathers, and sons hunted down and slaughtered… About how the women of the village all had to band together to figure out how to survive in the war’s aftermath… and about how they had been propelled to begin their cooperative by a vision of peace for their children.

When they finished speaking, I wanted to speak to these brave women directly and thank them for taking the time to share their story with us. I wanted to look directly into their eyes, take their hands and express my gratitude.

The only obstacle was my limited high school Spanish vocabulary. I knew “Thank you” (gracias) because, duh… who doesn’t? But since I didn’t know the word for “story,” I hurried over to find one of our translators. Fernando, our primary translator was talking to someone else at that moment, so I found Jamie, the high school son of one of the professors. Jamie had been taking Spanish in school for eight years and so was very fluent. I said, “Jamie… quick: how do I say ‘story’ in Spanish?”

Without hesitation, he turned to me and said, “Cuento.”

I thanked him and went back to the women. Taking their hands one by one and looking into their eyes I said, “Gracias para su cuento. Gracias para su cuento.”

To my great surprise and dismay, my heartfelt thanks did not produce the response I expected. The women nodded to me, turned shyly to one another and began giggling.

I turned around, puzzled, and sheepishly made my way back to the bus.

Once on the bus, I found Fernando, the other translator, and explained to him what had just happened. When I finished my story, Fernando threw back his head and added the impact of his laughter to my already fragile ego.

“Oh, Russell,” he said between guffaws. “The word cuento means something like ‘fable’ or ‘fairy tale.’ So, in essence, you just told those women, ‘Thank you for your fairy tale.’”

Which started Fernando laughing all over again… at my expense I might add.

At first, I was just sick. I thought, “How could I say such a stupid thing? These women just finished pouring out their hearts to us, telling us about the most horrific period of their entire lives, only to hear the dumbass gringo come up and thank them for their FAIRY TALE! Jeez! If someone said something that stupid to me, I think I’d want to punch them right in the face!”

“They should send me home right now before I do any more damage.”

As I sat there wallowing in my pool of shame, I suddenly paused and remembered the giggle that passed between those women. Yes, I realized, they knew I had used the wrong word for “story.” They knew I should have said, “Gracias para su historia,” instead of cuento.

But they weren’t mad at me.

They were amused. They knew I was trying to express gratitude even as I failed miserably to do so.

Their giggle said, “Poor Yanqui and his botched SpanishBut he’s trying, isn’t he?”

It was then I realized that in that giggle, I had received grace.

Gracias, mujeres. Via con dios.

 

05
Mar
18

S is for Serve

(This post is the fourth in a series. Recently, my mentor/counselor/friend suggested I create an acrostic from the letters of my name as a way of claiming my God-given identity.)

I hear it when we sit down to eat at a restaurant. “Hi, chauffeurthere! My name is Jean Luc and I’ll be your server tonight.”

I hear it when young men and women volunteer for a stint in their country’s armed forces. They talk about serving their country.

I hear it when someone is thrown in jail. “Joe will be serving a ten-year sentence for armed robbery.”

But honestly, outside of those three settings (and possibly on the tennis court), I can’t tell you that I hear many people using the word “serve” much at all anymore.

Why is that, do you suppose?

Is it because to serve can seem a little demeaning or subordinate? If I serve, I am, by definition, a servant. Aren’t servants the people the rich and famous employ to drive their cars, cook their food, clean their pools, and shine their shoes?

And hey…where is the glamour or power in THAT? You and I are movers and shakers and big fat DEALmakers! The whole idea of serving seems to mean putting the needs and priorities of another person AHEAD of my own.

We don’t want to BE servants. We want to HAVE servants!

But then we hear the persistent, intruding voice of Jesus breaking into our reverie, saying, “… whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave.” (Matt. 20:26-27, NRSV) and we wonder if he might have known something we have missed.

This conversation about serving causes me to think of a woman I once knew long ago. Her name was Susan. Susan worked as a receptionist at a prominent economic development council downtown.

Every time I had a reason to call someone in that office, I got the impression from Susan that there was absolutely nothing in the WORLD that was more important to her than putting me in touch with the person I was calling. If they did not answer their extension, Susan came back on the line and offered to leave her post and try and go track them down in person.

When I told Susan I was fine leaving a message, she assured me that she would do everything in her power to make sure they received my message and returned my call… as soon as possible.

And I have no doubt she did exactly that.

Susan had a true servant’s heart.

Yes, you can say that Susan was just doing the job she was paid to do… and you would be right. But the spirit she brought to that job sent the message to everyone she met that nothing was more important to her than SERVING others.

Susan was no Jesus. But her servant’s heart endowed every phone call with a fresh sort of dignity and worth. Even if I was just calling my friend Jim to invite him to have lunch with me, I hung up the phone feeling revived and energized.

I think the bottom line in all of this is that there IS real power in serving. But it is that peculiar kind of “upside down” power Jesus so famously promoted.

It is the power that comes from giving instead of getting.

It is the power that comes from emptying rather than filling.

It is the power that comes from being all about YOU instead of being all about ME.

And sadly, it is exactly the power that the world seems to be desperately short of these days.

 

Hi. My name is Russell. How can I serve you today?

16
Jan
18

DANG!

freezing-manWhen my cheeks first began to sting, we were at the exact halfway point of the walk.

Prudence told me it was time to turn around and head back. (And yes, prudence and I do talk occasionally). But at the halfway mark, turning around and heading back and carrying on and finishing the walk amounted to exactly the same thing

So we finished the walk. And my stinging cheeks got even stingier.

Rosie the puppy did not seem to be bothered at all by the eight-degree temperature or the 15 mph wind. She was all like, “Hey… I’ve got this fur coat! What’s your deal?”

And I used Rosie as my excuse when I walked back inside and my wife asked, “What were you thinking, going out on a day like this?”

Rosie close upI said, “Well, you know… Rosie has been cooped up inside all day and I thought she needed a little bit of a walk. Hey… we were only gone like 20 minutes!”

Later, on the evening news, the weatherman told us in grave and serious tones that in these conditions, frostbite can set in in less than 30 minutes.

Dang!

And so I did what I can do. I put on another layer, cranked up the thermostat a degree or two, lit the fire in the gas log fireplace, and pulled the afghan up around my ears.

And there I was… all toasty, comfy, and warm. Can someone just hand me the TV remote now, please?

And then I thought about Tom. And Kevin. And Jim. And others.

Tom is a cattle rancher. On mornings like this, Tom has to go out to his farm pond with a big, heavy axe. Tom has to chop away at the ice until there is a big hole in it. Then he has to go around to the other side of the pond and chop the ice and make another hole.

Tom has to do this so his cows will have access to the water in the pond.

If Tom didn’t go out and chop the holes in the ice, the cows would probably walk out onto the ice in search of water. They would then likely break the ice and fall in. And likely be stuck. And probably die.

So Tom really has no choice about getting out in this weather or not.

Tom is also 76 years old.

Kevin is a lineman for the public electrical utility.

Kevin’s phone often rings at 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning on a day like this.

Kevin is dispatched to a remote location where the electrical power has gone out. Either a transformer has overheated and blown up, or ice has caused power lines to break or something else has gone wrong in the grid.

If Kevin didn’t go out in the dark and bitter, biting cold, people might freeze to death in their homes.

So Kevin really has no choice about getting out in this weather or not.

Jim lives on the outskirts of town. It is a generous use of the term to refer to his residence using the word “house.”

Yes, there is a roof. Yes, there are walls, and windows, and a door, and a floor.

But Jim has no electricity. Jim has no running water. Jim has no heating system besides the wood he can find to burn in his fireplace.

Jim walks the four miles into town and back wearing shoes he has made himself… stitching odd pieces of leather together with a large needle.

I don’t know anything about Jim’s story or the circumstances that led him into this situation.

I just know that Jim doesn’t really have a choice about being out in this weather or not.

And so – huddled up here under my afghan in my toasty home – I give thanks. I give thanks for this shelter. I give thanks for the random collection of circumstances that gave it to me. I give thanks that the only frostbite I face is that which I decide to foolishly visit upon myself.

But in my thanksgiving, I also realize the need to be careful. In my thanksgiving, I need to take extra care about my use of the word “blessings,” conveying, as it does, the gift of a divine measure of grace… somehow dispensed to me but not to Tom, or Kevin, or Jim, or the EMT responding to the scene of an accident, or the police officer, or the single mom with no car and no job.

So yes… I am blessed.

But just like Abraham of the Old Testament, I am called to remember: I am blessed. But I am blessed for a reason. I am blessed to BE a blessing. (Genesis 22:18).

Could we even go so far as to propose this blessing formula: The more blessed, the more blessing required?

Why not?

Stay warm, friends. And while you’re at it, find a way to bless according to your blessing.




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