Tuesday, September 30, 2008

prequel to a pizza party

one day in the dreamcenter i visited a group of young ladies sharing a room. they were all between 23-28 years old and seemed as healthy as one could be staying in a hospice. i met them and tried to start conversation with a lady named stinbille.

i made the embarrassing and typical mistake a western, white, healthy, shallow kid makes and asked the question,

"how are you?"

as it exited my mouth i mentally reached for the words with open fingers to grab them before they did any damage. i couldn't get them back. she shot her eyes at me coldly and said,

"im laying her in an aids hospice. how do you think im feeling?"

her words hit home. "im so sorry" i stammered, but she turned away and looked at the wall. my buddy and translator came to the rescue...

"do you want to get out of here?" he asked.

i looked at him like he was crazy. this question may have been worse than mine, but he knew what he was doing. she fired back angrily, "what do you think?! of course i want out of this terribly place. are you going to get me out?" he asked again, "do you pray to be out of here? do you wish and dream and hope to be out of here?" and when she quietly said yes he smiled the biggest smile ive ever seen, plopped down on her little bed and asked, "and what would be the first thing you would do?"

"i would hug my baby girl."

when we saw the picture of her little daughter in braids and beads we both laughed and told her she was beautiful. the picture being passed between us even helped her forget my stupid asinine question. i asked what she would do next thinking she might kiss her mother or jump up and down or watch her favorite movie. but her answer was better. her answer connected us forever.

"i would eat a pizza."

i nearly jumped up and yelled back, "me too!! thats EXACTLY what i would do!!" she grinned and asked me how much i liked pizza and thus started the 15 minute discussion of pizza loves, joys, and intregues. it was great. i asked what kind of pizza she would order and her response was simple. "cheese pizza... so much cheese you can't tell its a pizza!" and so we began a friendship through pizza.

after 10 more minutes of food talk she asked me what i was doing visiting them. i explained that we just wanted to enjoy thier company and let them know they weren't alone. i told her we were also telling stories about our hope, the person Jesus. she asked me to tell her a story before i left and we talked about mary and martha. she was great. she exclaimed with a frustrated face, "why was she doing the dishes?! Jesus is in her house! you must sit and listen if Jesus is in your house!" i agreed, laughed, and tried to explain Jesus's presence in the dreamcenter. honestly, i didn't do a very good job explaining, but she asked if i could visit again and bring her a bible in zulu. when i told her yes and got up to leave she looked me right in the eyes, kindof into me if thats possible and said,

"do not forget to come again, and don't forget the bible. people say they will do things and they forget. do not forget."

so i haven't. and i can't.

Sunday, September 28, 2008


my mentor and boss came to guam last week. i really needed to be refocused and find my love for students and ministry again. we ate great food, snorkeled, toured guam a bit, and laughed a ton. a vision for collegiate ministry here on guam is forming in my brain and i'm starting to fianlly think about someone other than myself.

thanks a ton john.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

grape sodas and hope... the last conversation

the last time i saw phumzille she was laying in bed on her back looking through me while i read to her in broken zulu. she had asked me to come by and read, so i did. she couldn't speak. she couldn't smile. her breathing was labored beyond what i thought her little body could perform. i hate to write this because im ashamed i noticed, but she smelled like bile and old urine. the room felt and smelled and looked like hopelessness... but we didn't let it swallow us. we read together. we read of Jesus and his hope. we read about a man who came to save and not condemn. we read a story that changed our lives. we read in broken zulu but not in minor tone. i cried a little and held her hand while she breathed and tried to whisper.

she died a few days later. i hope i wasn't the only one who cried. i walked in her room and the bed was made. the sheets were pulled tightly around the matress. i was told she had died like one might be told a friends pet had run away, and only after she started to walk away did the nurse stop and talk about phuzille like she was a person. and she wasn't just a person. she was a girl. and she was a funny girl. and she was a funny girl who liked to be read to. and she was a funny girl who liked to be read to while having lotion rubbed on her feet. and she was found. and she liked who she was becoming more than she hated who she used to be. and she was pretty. and she didn't eat her dinner because the smell made her sick. and her story is still beginning. and she liked grape soda.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

grape sodas and hope... part 2

as i visited Phumzille i began to notice her body deteriorating quickly. she was in the advanced stages of aids and losing weight. she had contracted tuberculosis as a result and was noticeably weaker every visit. in the dreamcenter single rooms were given to the patients most ill. the doctors did this to keep the healthier patients from losing hope, but it also isolates the most desperate patients while they are dragged slowly toward death. before too long getting a grape soda didn't make phumzille smile and she would have problems staying alert or speaking. a few visits consisted of me holding one hand and bonghani, my friend and translator, holding the other while we told her stories, put lotion on her feet, read to her, and prayed with her. she wanted to play cards once, but didn't have the strength to hold 5 cards in her hands. these were painful visits.

on one of these visits she felt like she had the energy to talk with us. she was quiet for a long time and then began with, "i told God i wanted him close to me. and he has answered my prayers. we are talking and he is near me while i lay here all day. he helps me be more happy as i look out my window." i don't really know how to type what her weak voice sounded like saying such beautiful words. bonghani and i sat mouths open while the tears welled up; i wasn't able to say much, but we gripped her hands more tightly and watched her smile. she began to explain how she had lived a life of rebellion against her mother and God and even the friends closest to her. she felt for a long time that she deserved hiv and went into a pretty serious depression before being brought to the dreamcenter. our guilt is a strange and dangerous thing. i know our guilt dealt with in healthy ways can bring us to Jesus or our families to ask for forgiveness, but our guilt fed by sickness and helplessness and shame can lead to giving up. instead of conviction leading to forgiveness, guilt led to hopelessness with phumzille.

after she told us God had been close to her lately we began to talk about his forgiveness and his willingness to clean us up. i'm sure we read some psalms to her about God separating sin as far as the east and west or maybe we read Jesus's promises to restore, but i don't really remember. i just remember getting to tell her God is a good father who wants to forgive and give hope. he didn't think she was a bad child but wanted to be close to her again. we all grinned and laughed during these light conversations because the weights were being lifted off. this conversation in particular lifted my own weights of disappointment and shame and distance form Jesus and his love for me. i realized for myself that he was indeed close and willing, he was ready to forgive and start anew with us.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

grape sodas and hope... part 1

The day I met Phumzille in the hospice, she may have weighed 85 pounds. Her smile and facial expressions reminded me of my sister Lakyn. The more I visited, the more honest our conversations became, and after getting her sodas while laughing at some translation problems, the talks turned to Jesus. I told her I was visiting the hospice to learn about real friendships and love and hope. I told her I wanted to watch Jesus do great things. One afternoon she began telling me what God was starting to do in her heart the past few days. I recorded a little bit of the conversation roughly in my journal…

“she began to tell me she thought God was reaching out to her and that she should reach back. How beautiful... I got to share the acts 17 passage with her about Paul telling the areopagus that God set the places were we should live ‘so that they might SEEK HIM, for he is NOT FAR from each one of us.’ I got to tell her finding God and having him close to me was the thing that gave me joy in life and that this joy overwhelms circumstances. As we talked about Jesus in the hospice room with her bloody urine in a bag beside us and her uneaten food between us, I realized I was having one of the more meaningful and enjoyable conversations in my life. Truly Jesus pierces our helplessness with light and life. He walks in the aids hospice and meets the most tired of hearts…”

I went on to tell her that God’s presence was not far away but in the hospice room with her. The kingdom of God, the “dance of God”, I said, is happening all around us. This interaction between God and people is ready to steal us away, ready to make us new. He wants to give us hope and joy and company and rest and peace even in these dark hard places. He wants us to reach for him, because he’s certainly reaching for us. I loved telling her God wasn’t a stranger to aids hospices and broken bodies. As we talked we began to inch toward each other and our voices got lower, almost to a whisper. Its as if we were saying secret thing, things if said “from the rooftops” might evaporate or become trite or wrong. We weren’t trying to be dramatic, its almost as if we were saying delicate words. I whispered about the dance of God and its hope as she grinned and whispered back. There were no trite words shared, no minor tones, no empty hopes... just honest conversation.

I’m smiling as I type thinking about her small, emaciated body and her wide, closed eyed smile as she thought about God reaching out to her. She broke my heart and made it beat loudly in the same conversation that day. She was one of my favorite people to have a grape soda with.

Monday, September 15, 2008

remember remember...

for the next few days / weeks i'm going to be reading through my journal i took with me to africa a few years ago. i want to relearn or remember the things i saw God do and what i learned on the 6 week trip. for the next weeks i'm going to try writing some of the stories from the hospice... some may not interest anyone but me, but i want to work through some of those hard questions again. i want to remember. i'm reading through the psalms right now and have been reminded to remember remember remember. so that's what i want to do.

i'm sure i'll interrupt this blog series ("blog series" can only be written by a huge nerd i'm sure, but i swear im not trying to be presumptuous) when i do something stupid i want to tell everyone about or when we move forward significantly in the college ministry, but i want to focus on the people i met in the hospice and how i saw the kingdom of heaven move in those hallways and rooms.

maybe i'll better understand this "at hand" kingdom Jesus teaches about.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

sometimes i roll my eyes at myself

our college fellowship last night went well. it wasn't life changing, but it wasn't disappointing either. there were 10 or so bible college students and 4 from university of guam, making about 16 of us all together counting me and the faculty advisors. we prayed together, shared a little about our lives, i shared a short talk, and we discussed my hopes for the ministry. a few funny things hapened i wanted to share with you:

1. i was late. yep, me. i know my friends in ct can't imagine that, but its true. the college minister who invited everyone to the get together was late. one of my friends called and needed help getting her buddy's car out of the middle of the street. i went to help and didn't make it back before some students got there. its only just this second that it seems humerous to me.

2. i, like my friend kirk, spilled water on the front of my pants before giving the mini-message.

3. it gets dark in guam just like all other normal parts of the world. we met outside this first time and since i was late it got dark by the time we tried reading out of our bibles.

4. kfc took forever giving me the chicken for the meal. all that was going on in my head was the sandlot quote "4...e...ver. 4...e...ver."

5. once i got into my truck after getting the chicken, my truck died. i swore and prayed (cancelling each other out im sure) and it got me home.

6. i think i creeped out a freshman guy. i told him i wanted to buy him lunch this week forgetting that outside of some church and ministry circles its not super normal to do that. he looked confused, but maybe because im bigger than him he said ok. he seems real cool.

all in all the night was intresting to say the least. hopefully we'll have club status on the campus soon and will be able to have meetings like that at uog. thats what we're praying for.

Friday, September 5, 2008

like a good neighbor...

there might only be one thing on this island that i love. now i am of course trying to love Jesus and people and all that, but as far as objects or things to do... i love one thing. i love riding my bike here. im still out of shape and im sure i look like a dork trying to pedal uphills or beat my time, but i really like riding around. i don't have a favorite restaraunt, i don't have a favorite spot to think, i don't have close friends yet, but i have my bicycle...

and now that one thing is wrecked.

i had a bike wreck. the bike is injured. my knee is still bleeding 20 hourse later. my ego is shot. the one thing i love is broken. i know im dramatic, but this was a dramatic event.

i was riding in the rain, which i know is stupid, but i hadn't gotten to ride in 3 days because we are in the middle of rainy season. so i took the bike out after a great day. i was riding in the shoulder going down a hill when i hit the edge of a serious bump and the bike hit the ground. and since my feet are clipped into the pedals, i joined the bike on the pavement. i was only going about 25, but i slid a long way. i did all i could not to slide into the lane beside me, but a guy still had to swerve to make sure he didn't run over me. i cussed. i laid there on the white lane line and started a "cynical bruised ego laugh" and noticed a truck pulled off the road beside me.

the guy who swerved out of the lane so as not to hurt me worse had stopped. "are you okay man? that looked terrible!" was yelled out of his window as i started standing up. i told him i was okay but that my bike looked beat up and he offered to give me a ride back home. i told him thanks about 20 times and tried really hard not to get blood on his truck. he told me the story of how i looked crashing 3 or 4 times and of course it got worse everytime. he was good at telling the story and made me laugh out loud. it was so nice of him to stop. it made me think about the parable of the good samaritan and the question posed to Jesus, "who is my neighbor?" Jesus flipped the question around and redifines the guy's veiw of neighbor. rather than tell the man who his neighbors are, he tells him how a neighbor acts. he seems to tell the guy to BE a neighbor. jesus turns the question on its head and doesn't give a minimum to the man, rather, he gives a new way... going the extra mile for anyone, even an enemy.

this story has been bouncing around in my brain since john dropped me off and told me he hoped we would never meet under the same circumstances. he reminded me how to be a neighbor and how to place someone elses needs before my own. my legs may be bandaged a little and my bike in the shop, but i met a man who understands how to be a neighbor.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

i don't have a title for these thoughts

This post probably has no spiritual significance whatsoever… but I want to express a deep and serious issue of my heart. I want to talk about something that we unfortunately let off the hook. Today I came face to face with one of the more vile and awful ideas of our time. This issue and current evil goes unnoticed and unchecked in our society. And what is the deep and gratuitous evil you may ask?

The bathroom key.

That’s right, I am exposing this corruption for what it is. I hate the bathroom key. I hate it. Hate. I have my reasons, and because I’m me, I’ll list them in a top 5 format.

1. They are hygienically disgusting. Seriously, when is a bathroom key touched? People touch the bathroom key before (hopefully not during) and after using the bathroom. I don’t want to go into much more detail, but seriously… its probably the most germ infested key in the world. I worry my hand is growing an eye ball as I walk to the bathroom.

2. You can never tell when you are going to have to use one. These blasted keys sneak up on you when you least expect it. There you are needing desperately to go to the restroom, you search and search for the toilet, and find its locked. You wait and wait, but no one is inside. And just before you explode from pain and anguish, you realize you have to go get the *&%# key.

3. I feel stupid carrying one around. You know, if I wanted to announce to everyone in the bookstore that I was about to pee I would just stand up and say, “hey everyone, I need to make an announcement. I have tried holding it for an unbearable amount of time and am now too uncomfortable to read. I have to go number 1. I just thought everyone should know. Thank you and goodnight.”

4. They look ridiculous. For some reason every bathroom key I’ve encountered has some strange attachment. Its like they grow tacky objects out of their neck. One may have a rubber fish tied to it, another a bent and distorted coat hanger, and still another an ugly wooden rod entitled “bathroom key.” What exactly are you supposed to do with the foot long ruler with curse words written on it while you’re trying to pee?

5. It gives too much power to the holder of the key. The holder of the key can deny me or anyone else the right and opportunity to use the bathroom in the toilet. I don’t like that one bit. Not one bit.

Again, I know this has no real spiritual significance, and I didn’t want to try to stretch it to find one. So all I’ve got is an angry rant on this Thursday.