The word I keep using to describe the last three weeks is “fast”. I'm talking whiplash, whirlwind fast.
Last week I pledged to my team that my prayer for the week was that my affections for Jesus and for others would be apparent at all times. I just remembered that prayer last night. (Which is typically a bad sign.) The nicest way I could grade myself on how I did would be: CRASH AND BURN.
This morning, I brought my anxious thoughts, my over-stimulated, crossed-eyes, and my self-written report card to Him.
There were so many fruit-bearing, hope-proclaiming, thanks-giving kilometers logged on my giant red Condor last week. Yet I didn’t spend my affections the way I spent my gas money. I didn’t pour out my love the way I poured out my every thought and every minute into “the work”.
But how does it all get donnnne, Goooddddddd!?!
All the love. All the people. And all the things and passions You’ve put in my heart to spread it all around. I failed. And I’m sorry.
Right then and there, my betraying mind started racing back over the events and tasks of the past week. Dwelling, reviewing, and making another mental list for next week. The very thing I was committing not do was happening right there mid-prayer-sentence. Oh sheesh.
As I snapped my attentions back to my Maker, in His gentleness and patience, He reminded me of something that I’d seen over and over again as I raced through the week:The eyes that flickered and sparkled. And, even more memorable, the ones that did not.
Ruth guarded her secrets from the gate of her newly built home, granting us a weary smile as we handed her a bag of clothes for her sons. The house we’d built and always been welcomed into is currently a fortress of pain, caught in a discouraging cycle of brokenness. The eyes that, 6-months ago, had been sparkling and shouting about freedom are now dimmed by bondage.
|Ruth's son, Menzi in 2010, when he was living in a dilapidated shack with his mother, who was bearing the burdens of hopelessness and depression.|
|Caught a little glimpse of the sparkle in Ruth's eyes shining in Menzi in August 2013, when his mom was walking in freedom and joy.|
One week ago, I wrote about Esther edging her way into an environment of inspiration and hope.
While I was writing that very story, Esther was dropping off her malnourished 19-month old twins at Lizzy’s house - wearing only diapers and with a bottle half-filled with dirty water. She said she was taking her youngest baby to the clinic, and she never came back. Esther and her 7-month old son were taken by ambulance to the local hospital because the baby was dying from starvation and not being treated for HIV.
|Esther's twins waiting for HIV testing on the hospital floor.|
|I have a thing with baby toes. Look how TINY these 19-month toes are!|
After one week in the hospital, baby Mangaliso (whose name means Awesome, by the way) is able to cry again, hold his head up, stay alert, and even flash a gummy smile at us every once in a while. He’s got a ways to go, but there’s already amazing improvement!
|Mangaliso in September 2013 - 3 months old|
|Mangaliso after one week in the hospital - Jan 2014. Seven months old.|
In this government hospital, mothers are allowed to lodge in the hospital while their infants are being nursed back to health. So Esther is able to eat and be near her baby, although that means she’s left her other two babies in Lizzy’s care and her already-prodigal 10-year old son to his own devices.
|Esther feeding Mangaliso his vitamins.|
The first time two times we visited Esther this week, her eyes dared a single flicker of excitement and gratitude. I soaked up that temporary spark because it was obvious she was still physically, mentally and emotionally incapable of caring for, responding to, or even recognizing her children’s need. The next time I visited, I rejoiced over Mangaliso’s progress, yet Esther’s head stayed down and her face deadpan. Nothing… nothing was in her eyes.
Esther’s 19-month old, 16-pound twins are improving INCREDIBLY in the loving care of Sifiso and Lizzy and their children. They are clean, well fed and being cooed over constantly. The “big one”, Millicent is walking, talking and laughing. The little one, Pokasi’s distended stomach is improving, cheeks are filling out, starting to crawl, and occasionally releases a smile and giggle.
But their eyes are still dull.
Without hope, without encountering Love that doesn’t waver, eyes stay empty.
Eyes that only see today and don’t know about tomorrow’s promise are desolate and dark.
Eyes show the condition of the heart. They are the measurement of hope.
“The eye is the lamp of the body...” –Matthew 6:22a
In all of the empty eyes I encountered this week, especially in the ones that I had seen full before, I did not lose hope.
I could feel from the depths of my heart that I was being invited into another week of a greater, perfectly authored, and immeasurably higher story. The one that ends with tearless, bright and shiny eyes that never get extinguished.
“Therefore we do not lost heart… we are being renewed day by day… So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” 2 Corinthians 4:16-18
There’s a day coming when there will be no more todays.
The light of our eyes will not be overcome by what’s before us.
There will only be forever’s Eternal Light, glory, and dance parties.
“Never again will they hunger;
never again will they thirst.
The sun will not beat upon them, nor any scorching heat.
For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd;
He will lead them to springs of living water.
And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”
If I fix my eyes on that, on what I can’t see today, I can keep going.
If I see the end of the story instead of the end of the week, I can breathe in His peace and out His promises.
I can let Love take the lead instead of my lists.
I can keep inching into shutdown homes and holding screaming babies as they get tested for HIV.
I can keep celebrating tiny miracles and expecting sparkles to return to empty eyes.
“…let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfector of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross…” Hebrews 12:1b-2a
The Author of the story, the One who wrote the happily ever after we were created for, nudges me even now and reminds of that report card I wrote for myself this morning. That same One who hung on a cross to redeem my every shortcoming says I don’t get to write my report card.
He already died and rose again. He already overcame death, anxiety, physical and mental limitations, broken love, selfishness, longings, starvation, sickness, darkness, and every other perishing thing.
I could never measure up, so He did for me.
He did it for Ruth, for Esther, and for all the others who haven’t yet grasped the joy set before them. He did it for you too. And He invites us to be Light-eyed, loved, known, cherished, and provided-for characters in a story full of humps and bumps that set the perfect cadence for the very greatest ending.