When Numbers Become Stories

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There is a dilapidated stove on the back porch along with some broken furniture and a bag of tattered clothing. A volunteer and I knock on the paint peeled door, unsure of what to expect. Lock jiggling, we see a brown eye through the crack. “We are here from Love INC,” I hear myself say. The door opens quickly to the rest of the face and a smile erupts as our hostess graciously invites us in.

I try not to draw my breath in surprise. An immaculate flat with gleaming golden oak floors beams in front of us. Our friend introduces herself and her children. They also smile big and thank us for coming. They are sitting on the floor eating homemade breakfast biscuits balanced on a napkin. There is no furniture in this home, no plates for the food. Just a single plastic stacking chair in the kitchen which they reserve for mama. Teenage girls grin cross legged on linoleum.

My volunteer and I are here on a home visit. Recently our Love INC affiliate began a Beds and Blessings ministry providing bunk beds, mattresses and bedding for families in need. This is our first client and I like to observe the process at the start so that I can help write the procedures for these volunteer opportunities. Typically these visits are to verify need and check the space to ensure that there is room for our gift. The need was apparent and the empty rooms ensured plenty of space.

The solitary chair is surrounded by mounds of neatly folded bedding used to make pallets for this mom and her six children. They’ve been living like this for the past two months. After recently fleeing domestic abuse, this brave family spent time in a shelter and was now venturing out on their own. They were clearly happy to be together.

Much time is spent at our board meetings discussing people just like this as a number. “Forty three families were served by Love INC this month,” we might say. Or, “50 volunteers gave 412 hours this quarter,” I might boast. But this family? They are not just a number that nameless volunteers visit to fulfill community service hours. No, they are royalty. The children are princes and princesses who treat their brave warrior mama like the queen that she is. They have made a home out of the shambles of their lives. Grateful for napkins and a plastic chair.

What a pleasure it will be to deliver not only two bunk beds, but two single beds, a couch, a dining room table and chairs as well as several small pieces of furniture to this family. At the close of our visit we asked to pray for them. Prayers are welcome and the family gathered in a circle clad with hands of various shades of brown. When my companion and I finish our petitions, our hostess prays for us. She thanks God for sending generous Christians to help and asks Him to bless our homes and families. A familiar lump in my throat and stinging in my eyes threatens to reveal swelling emotions. Because sometimes experiencing the story of a life makes cold hard numbers a beautiful thing.

linking with the amazing people at The High Calling.

…and I chronicle His grace

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A Donkey’s Journey Towards An Epiphany {A Repost}

I remember the first time I gave a man a ride on my back. It was a lovely sunny afternoon, the day the stranger came and took me away. When my master’s servant called out, “What are you doing with my master’s donkey?” The man simply replied, “The Lord has need of him,” and kept walking. For some reason, that was enough for the servant.

When we got to where we were going, there was a Man waiting for us. He smiled at the stranger, put his hand on his shoulder as if He was going to say something and then changed His mind, stroking my neck. And His touch was like the warm sunshine, warm and soothing.

The stranger and his friends placed their coats on me so that the Man could ride on me. We began to ride through the streets and there were people assembled alongside the road as if they were expecting a parade. They were waving palm branches and shouting, “Hosanna! to the Son of David! Hosanna in the highest.”

“Apparently, this man on my back is very important,” I thought, “I must be pretty important as well, to carry such a famous man.”

The people laid down the branches at my feet, making the road before me much more comfortable than the usual dry and dusty road. The longer we went, the more excited the people became, jumping and cheering, clapping and waving.

Finally, we came to the Temple, and He dismounted me. After stroking my nose, He went in. Another of my master’s servants came to me and said, “There you are. How did you get here?” He was further confused by the coats draped across my back. “Strange!” he said as he led me to the Temple stables for food and water.

“Who was that man, I had on my back?” I asked a mare who had been alongside the road and was now being groomed in the Temple stables.

“He is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth of Galilee.”

“A prophet!” I thought. Why would a prophet want to ride a lowly donkey like me?

In the days that followed, I remembered what it was like to carry that Man on my back, His gentle smile and touch. I remembered the honor with which the people were greeting Him and felt warm inside that I should be chosen to give Him a ride.

About five days later, I was back home in my stable when I heard a commotion. I went to look out of the window in my stall. Once again, there were people lined up along the side of the road. “I wonder if the Prophet is having another parade?” I thought out loud. My ears perked up hoping He would choose me to ride on again. The oldest donkey in the stable, Old One, came alongside me.

This crowd was different, although I recognized many of the same faces. They were silent and suspicious. Many men had their arms crossed, or watched stroking their beards. Further down the road, I noticed a Man. He looked like the Prophet I had carried, but it couldn’t be Him. This man had been beaten, and had a crown of thorns on His head causing him to bleed. The drops of blood were dripping into His eyes, and He had gashes of open flesh on his back and legs. But the most obvious reason that I knew it must not be Him was that this Man carried a cross, and even I knew that crosses were reserved for criminals.

“Who is that Man?” I said to the Old One.

“That is the same man you gave a ride to five days ago,” he whinnied.

“That can not be! He was a good man. I know He was. I could tell by His touch. He couldn’t be deserving of such treatment! Especially by the same people who were honoring and praising Him just a few days ago.”

“Nevertheless, it is the same Man,” Old One responded.

“He must have done something wrong, for the people to allow this to happen!” I said. I was surprised at the feeling of shame I had for having carried this man. What would people think? I have transported a criminal, a prisoner?

“There are many reasons people will persecute another man. Often times, it has nothing to do with whether they have done something wrong or not. I only know that this Man comes from God.”

The road passed quite close to my stable, and the Prophet (or was He a criminal?) was almost even with my window now. He stumbled and fell under the weight of the heavy cross He carried. A soldier came and kicked Him, as He struggled to His feet. The Prophet looked up at us, and I could swear He gave a slight smile.

I turned my eyes downward, feeling guilty for my previous feeling of doubt.

I stirred up all of my courage and looked out the window again. With great effort, He lifted the cross from the road.

“But Old One, this isn’t fair! He is a good man. These people, how can they change their opinion of someone so quickly?”

Old One stayed silent, and I remembered how quickly I had gone from pride to embarrassment about my associations with Him.

Just then, a little further up the road, a weeping woman came into the Man’s path.

“I once gave this Man and woman a ride,” Old One reflected.

“You did?” I was amazed that he had never mentioned this before, especially in light of the fact, that I had repeated the story of my ride with the Prophet often in the past few days.

“Yes, I gave them a ride many years ago when I was about your age. This woman was great with child. There were no inns with available rooms that day, and she bore the baby, the Prophet, right there in the stable where I was resting from the long ride. This Man is from God. He is special. There were angels in the room and shepherds came to worship Him. He slept in the very manger I had eaten out of earlier that evening. The stars even sang and worshiped celebrating His arrival. This man is not merely a Prophet, but the Son of God.”

“Can’t we do something? Can’t He do something? Isn’t He known for His miracles?”

“I believe He could do something, but chooses not to.”

“Old One, what will happen if the people kill this Son of God? Will the world end?”

“I do not know,” Old One moved away from the window and laid down with a humph.

All morning, I wondered what was happening to this Son of God. Had the people come to their senses? Did they remember that just a few days before they had been worshiping this man? I also remembered how He smiled at me, even with the burden of His cross, even after I had be ashamed for a moment at having given Him a ride.

Later that day, my master decided to go to the Temple. “Let’s take you out for your first ride,” he said. I guess he didn’t know that the Son of God had already taken me out for a ride.

As we rode toward the Temple, the sky began to darken, and the wind began to blow. Just before we arrived at the Temple, the dust around my feet began to swirl, lightening began to flash. I thought back to my conversation with Old One. Was this the end? Did they kill the Prophet, the Son of God? The ground began to quake. The whole earth was shaking. I began to bray as I lost my balance. People everywhere were running and shouting, “This is the end! What is happening?” Priests ran out of the Temple shouting something about the curtain being torn and that we would all surely die. And then, just as quickly as it all started, it was finished. My master got up and dusted himself off. He checked to see if I was okay, petting my neck. He led me into the Temple stables where pandemonium still ruled the day, and went into the Temple to see if his help was needed.

The servants worked hard to calm the animals. They hadn’t had such a stir in quite some time. About a half an hour later, a strong military horse came into the stables. He began to speak about what he had seen that afternoon. He said that his master was a Roman soldier who had been at that afternoon’s crucifixion.

photo credit: bela_kiefer

“Jesus, the Prophet was on the center cross, and two thieves were on either side of Him,” he started.

“One of the thieves,” he continued, “cried out sarcastically, ‘Are you not the Christ? Rescue Yourself and us from death!’

But the other soldier answered him, ‘Do you not even fear God? We suffer justly receiving what we deserve, but this Man has done nothing out of the way.’

Then he turned to Jesus and said, ‘Jesus, Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingly glory!’

And then Jesus answered, ‘Truly I tell you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.’

And then the sky began to darken and the wind began to blow. The men on the hill tried not to look nervous or frightened, but their scent betrayed them.

The ground began to shake when Jesus cried out, ‘Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit!’ That is when my master recognized his part in what had happened. He fell to his knees weeping, and saying, ‘Indeed, without question, this Man was upright!'”

photo courtesy of Dustin Blay

The horse paused here, as if for dramatic effect. “My master gently and tenderly helped take this Man off of the cross and draped him over me. He and another man took His body to a tomb. His blood remains on me this moment.”

Some of the Temple groomers had come into the stalls now. They paid special attention to the military horse, combing and brushing his coat, washing the blood from his sides.

“Some say, this Jesus was the Son of God,” one said.

“I fear He must have been, for Whose death causes heaven and earth to respond in such a way? I heard that it was this horse that carried His body to the tomb. It is His blood on our hands.”

“Did you hear that He forgave the very men who killed Him?”

The rest of the day the Temple stable was silent. My master came out later, quiet and questioning. When we got back to the stable, Old One was waiting for me. After I told him the horse’s story, I said, “Old One, those men didn’t deserve to be forgiven. Some of them were the very same ones who had given Jesus the parade a few days ago. They deserve no forgiveness.”

Old One chuckled a raspy old donkey chuckle, “Perhaps this is why He came. To give man (and your case, donkey) the ability to forgive.”

I remembered Jesus’ eyes when I looked through the window, ashamed at my association with Him. They were eyes of forgiveness. Earlier that day, I had wondered if it was the end of the world, but now I had a feeling it was the beginning of a new world. A world for which God cared enough to send His Son to forgive even the worst betrayal. A world in which man now had an example of forgiveness. It was then that I realized that forgiveness changes everything, because forgiveness had changed me.

Written by kd sullivan Easter 2011

The Old Woman And The Song – Guest Post By Barbara Dalberg

This amazingly beautiful story was written by my mother shortly after my father passed away…as I have one of the busiest weeks EVER this week, so I thought I’d re-post. Please be praying for God’s leading in my family’s life as decisions about the future will be made this week….(ie. job positions, etc.)

The Old Woman and the Song
It was 3:30 in the morning but the old woman didn’t seem to care. She stumbled from her cozy bed and walked on bare concrete floors into the living room to see the full moon shining in through the western windows. It was a cloudless, star filled sky and the moon was round and framed between towering slender tree  trunks. She stood awestruck. “Madeleine says we are the creatures that know,and know that we know.” A tear ran down her wrinkled face.
The floors were cool and her bare feet felt the chill. “I simply won’t budge from this window to satisfy my toes.” She had to see it all, the full moon shining and the wind dancing with the tops of the trees. The night sky reminded her that there is something even bigger than the lovely ball of Earth …..there is a larger galaxy in an even larger universe and a Good Maker of it all. The moon shone on her like a spotlight and she smiled, “If it ‘knew’ as we humans did, it would see me framed as well…..in my window. It would say, “There’s a woman down there looking up at me. Her hair hangs long down her back and it is streaked with grey. She wears green pajamas and is barefoot. She has a tear running downher cheek.”
She remembered the star gazing rock under the tree branch from which the
wind chime dangled. “I could sit there and observe the stars, feel the wind upon my face, and not be this discontented human window observer. Dare I? At 3:30 in the morning? There’s no one to talk me out of it. There’s no one to know, to worry. Perhaps it is there I will discover what it is I know”. The recent warm spell had caused the snow to recede and the rock had become visible after months of being a lump under many inches of snow. “If I act quickly before talking myself out of it, put my coat on over my pajamas, slip boots on bare feet, (after all it’s probably muddy), I would find myself outside in a matter of moments! But I must hurry!”
Rushing to the closet, the old woman outfitted herself for this unexpected
nocturnal journey and was out the door before she could wipe the tears from herface or blow her nose.  She quietly shut the door behind her, even though in this rural area she was far enough away from any neighbor to be a disturber of their peace. She took small cautious steps because her eyesight wasn’t very good and she hadn’t remembered to grab her glasses. She wished now that she had, for everything looked a bit unclear and she was hesitant to put one booted foot in front of the other.
As she approached the end of the patio she realized that if she were to turn back she should probably do so now, for beyond the patio there would be the stepping stones, the bumpy terrain, and the dark that would make a quick retreat back to the front door more arduous. She hesitated, weighed the possibility of danger against the pure joy of the wind upon her wrinkled brow and made her decision.
She turned to look at the house one last time before proceeding into the
darkness. With no lights left on inside she could still see through the curtainless windows because of the moonshine. “It’s so beautiful…..I miss him”, she sighed, and the wind grabbed her words and tossed them around the trees and up toward the moon and beyond the stars to where all words go when uttered from the heart. She turned toward her destination and throwing all caution to the wind stepped off the patio and made her way to the star gazing rock while the wind whipped her very long grey hair straight up and out, standing on end in every direction.
“I will face down my fears just this once and let my heart have it’s way.” Her lips quivered as she continued to reassure herself while walking further and further away from the house that had become her place of refuge.
The rock was cold and hard and not very accommodating to an old derriere.
And there she sat, under an evergreen branch, overlooking a farmer’s field in
February. She had no way of knowing how much time had passed since she had ventured out into the darkness. At first she tried to relax and smell the pine and hear the wind making melody with the chime. But after a while her thoughts began to wander and she continually glanced back at the house, as if making sure it was still there. She could see it from where she sat and could feel his love wrap around her like the wind.
They had walked this land together in the time before the house, when it was
uncleared and tangled wildness. He had showed her how it would be and she
rejoiced to see him full of dreams and ideas. He walked with her in June wearing his safari jacket, his eyes matching the blue of the sky. And they were happy. In time, the dream became reality. The house now stands in the moonlight, but without him. For after a few months living in the house, one day he said, “I feel dizzy”……and he died in the house. “We were old when we built our house,” she spoke out loud to no one. She recalled saying to him, “An architect should build himself a house. It’s your chance to do it as you please, it’s your house.” His response was always a gentle, “It’s our house.” “Now it is ‘my’ house alone, without him to share it with.” She tried to redirect her thoughts as the tears flowed from her eyes and she reached into her coat pocket to find his handkerchief that was kept there to remind her of him.
Overcome by her grief she quickly stood to her feet, crying out with a firm voice,“It’s enough now, you’ve been gone too long. Come home, I miss you.” But of course her words did not fly off with the wind to beyond the stars but rather dropped heavily at her feet because of their selfishness.
Thoughts of retreating back to the house and being the discontented window
observer filled her tired mind. But she remembered Madeline’s words about
emotions and how they could “…..let loose a storm”. She didn’t have the strength to allow this “….violence of a waterfall to pour through her.” Not here, not now.
She called upon the Good Maker for peace and peace came, along with an
urgency to hear the Song the stars were singing and the wind was carrying to her very spot under the tree branch. There were no more thoughts of the house or of the sudden separation that had caused such great grief, for nothing mattered much in comparison to the hearing of the Song, “……when the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy.”
The Song was ancient; much older than the horizon, much older than the dawn. Somewhere in the singing of it the old woman would begin to remember what it was she knew and what the mist of her sorrow had almost extinguished, the heaviness of her grief had almost smothered. She had not forgotten the existence of the Song, but the joy of hearing it. She had not forgotten the Story, but the life and healing of it’s knowing.
It was with the faintest whisper that she became aware of melody, hidden in the wind of “….is and was and is to come”. The lovely light sound came from such a great distance that she strained to hear the sparkling voices. The wind was now violently blowing through her and in her, so that she no longer needed to strain to hear, for it had blown away the misty, heavy covering she had placed on the fire of her heart. It was there she was surprised to find, in this place of inward peace,that the Song had been waiting for her.
Once upon a time, the Story had seemed too big for the Old Woman, for there is no beginning or ending to it’s telling. She was relieved to know that we were
allowed to hear and know only the part of the Story that concerns our small
world. At the start, Good Maker Architect began with foundations and
measurements, lines, bases and cornerstones, and the loud proclamation, “You shall not pass!” But the Song wasn’t really about those things. The Song was very simply about Love. A great Love. The singing stars and angels had observed the Good Maker’s Love and shouted for joy in response to “I Am” and the outpouring of His creative Self. After all……they had witnessed, “It is good”.
The Song was so lovely that the Old Woman became cemented in her stance,
lest she miss a single word. She was refreshed in remembrance of when the
earth was young and the Good Maker and His children walked in a lovely
garden, and all was as it should have been. But in a dark and catastrophic
moment in space and time, all of what was meant to be was changed, for a
serpent deceived the children to trust in his wisdom and to doubt the Goodness of their Maker. And with the shifting of their allegiance came fear, and the children hid themselves from the One who had made them. They would be forced with drawn, flaming swords to leave the beloved Garden, clinging desperately to a promise that there would come a day when the woman’s seed would crush the head of the serpent who had deceived them.
For thousands of years the Story was filled with adventures and miracles, floods and rainbows, wheels in the middle of wheels, giants and slingshots. There would be plagues and blood on door lintels, manna and tablets of stone. But for many, history became legend and legend became myth and things that should not have been forgotten, were.
It seemed all hope had vanished concerning the promised Seed, when
astronomers followed a Star to a lowly stable where a Baby lay in a manger. The Promise was enfleshed and called, Emmanuel, “God with us”…..born with Jewish skin and bone. This same Child grew into manhood proclaiming, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life and no man goes to the Father except through Me.”
There would be a night to remember when He would consecrate bread and
wine, and institute humility with a towel and a basin. The Promise was then
mocked, spat upon, beaten and crucified, until He uttered, “It is finished”, and the serpent’s head was crushed. And then a most remarkable thing happened.
His tomb was found empty because He had defeated death itself. This victory
ushered in a new age, one of grace and faith. His followers stood looking up into the sky as they watched Lord Jesus rise up into the clouds. “…..remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
What a sight the old woman was to behold as she stood listening under her
branch, her eyes closed and her smiling face lifted up toward the stars with the moon shining down upon her. Her coat had flapped open and her green
pajamas had ballooned with the wind as if she were ready for “take off”…..and
all the while her hair continued to be tossed to and fro in the wild winter wind of February.
“Lord Jesus is with me,” she whispered in awe of the renewed revelation. She sat down in reverence for the moment while a great comfort enveloped her. She and her beloved had lived during this glorious age of grace and faith and had placed Lord Jesus in the center of the time they had been given.
It was then that she saw in her minds’ eye two single figures moving toward one another on a crowded dance floor. These two had eyes only for one another as they sought each other out, dodging other dancers along the way. He was a blonde, tanned Swede wearing an earth-toned jacket, and she a frail, young Bohemian girl wearing a green sweater that matched the color of her eyes. They were at the same place at the same time because of a….mistake, which miraculously determined the course for the rest of their lives. They made their way through the crowd until their arms reached out for the other, and so began the dance that would be uniquely theirs and would continue for forty-three years.
The two became three with the birth of a tiny, beautiful daughter when they lived near the Big Lake. She also entered the dance for she loved the Good Maker and His Song. She hung on tightly to Mama’s twirling skirt, or hid in the safety of Daddy’s arms when the dance became risky and adventurous, knowing he would protect her. In these early years they danced in the ghetto of the Windy City when times were turbulent and the serpent had put fear in the hearts of God’s people. Courage was needed and courage arrived, dressed as a lovely Salvation Army “Sallie”, who reminded the dancers that love was much stronger than fear.
They danced in the Suburbs where a blue Night Light announced the excitement of belonging to God’s family and encouraged His artisans to express His glory.
And all the while the obvious was taking place, the dance involved the
designing of buildings that would help others, and the turning of “places” into
homes… that were always golden oak in color. Early in the morning during these years the young architect rode a subway into the Big City, as he purposed in his heart to make a difference wherever he was. And the young mother strummed a guitar on a Suburban porch and sang of the Good Maker’s greatness for all who had ears to hear.
In their later years they danced in a place called “Terra” where young Disciples came to experience Christ in their midst….and to share the bread and the cup.“We get up, we walk, we fall down and meanwhile….we keep dancing.” She remembered how much he loved these words, and that indeed there were times when the dance floor had been strewn with obstacles and they had faltered in their step and perhaps even missed a beat or two. Their dance was not perfect, nor without flaw, but it was danced joyfully and wholeheartedly until death did part. There were times in the weeks before the great grief, when she would nestle up to his ear and whisper, “You’re the love of my life.” And for a moment in earth time, eternity was experienced in the eyes of the beholder as arms held on to the other.
And now, she could see him take a step away from her, bow to the waist, look
her in the eye, and say with that sweet, gentle voice, “Thank you Barbara, for the dance of a lifetime.” A tear slipped down her face as she saw herself curtsey and reply, “My dear Paul, it has been my delight.”
As the sun began to break over the horizon, the Old Woman became aware of
her surroundings and with a full and grateful heart she made her way back to the lovely house, knowing she was after all a creature who “knew”. She knew that the Lord Jesus was with her and that because death had been defeated, she would see her beloved again.
“I stand up, I walk, I fall down and meanwhile….I keep dancing.”

260. I am so thankful for such wonderful parents who raised me…

261. That God’s hand is on my future…

Counting with dear Ann:

…sharing a playdate with Laura:

…hanging out with L.L.: On In Around button