Hot Flash

hotflashSomething is terribly wrong. I sense confusion, embarrassment, a hint of panic. One second I try to figure out what the problem is, the next I know and brace myself for the evaporating experience of a hot flash. I stand at the kitchen counter, cutting tomatoes, and I feel my face turn equally red. Gradually, the burning sensation spreads over my whole body, and I break into a sweat. Thank God, it lasts only a minute.

Back to normal, I tuck my hair behind my ear and watch my 14-year-old daughter Aisha. She has just arrived home from school. Squatting, she caresses her small dog that jumps up to her, excited that his playmate has returned.

“Mummy, you know what Francesca did today?”

“Well, no, but I would like to.” I turn to the stove and slide the sliced tomatoes into the frying pan, where little pieces of garlic and peperoncino already are sautéing in olive oil from our own trees. We’re having guests for dinner tonight and I’m stressed, because I want to finish cooking before they arrive.

“She told the teacher she needed to wash her hands, but instead she went to the teachers’ lounge and used her cell phone to photograph the test of next week!”

“Wow… that’s serious, honey. That’s cheating. Does she realize that she’s risking suspension?”

Aisha pushes the dog away and turns on her tablet. “No, I don’t think so. Although she’ll do anything to be popular. She said she’d send it to each of us on Facebook.”

Thank you Lord, for a daughter who is always open with me so that I can guide her and show her Your way.

“Ah, here it is already. So what do I do, Mom?”

I ponder a few seconds before I answer, “Sweetheart, what do you think would be the best thing to do?”

“Throw it away?”

“It would, wouldn’t it?”

“So I can’t even have a look?”

“Do you want to participate in cheating?”

I hear a disappointed sigh. “Well, I guess not.”

I stir in the tomato sauce, add some white wine, and inhale the lovely aroma.

“Okay Mom, it’s gone.”

“Good girl. I’m really proud of you.” I put the spoon away and turn around to give her a big hug.

“Whatever grade you get on the test, it’ll be worth a thousand times more than the grades of the kids who cheated, honey.”

She looks up at me and gives me a big smile.

Grateful for my daughter’s honest heart, I let her go and continue cooking the pasta sauce, the lemon chicken, the vegetables, and the jam tart.

Here in Italy, eating together is an important event. It affirms friendships. In addition, we always pray for opportunities to share God’s love and grace while we have fellowship over a meal. However, this country is famous for its cuisine, and its people are reluctant to try unfamiliar food. I want our guests feel at ease; therefore, I prepare genuine Italian dishes with great care.

By the time our guests arrive, Aisha has finished her homework, my husband Jan has set the table, and I’ve just put the tart in the oven. We welcome the lovely family we recently met and invite them to sit down.

After some small talk, Jan says a short prayer that as usual, results in a brief, awkward silence. Then we dive into the pasta all’arrabbiata.

Suddenly, I hear a little squeak. Aisha stares at her food, frowning in disgust. “Yuck! There’s a hair in my pasta!”

Cringing with embarrassment, I suppress the urge to cover my face. Instead, I rack my brain for some reassuring reply, but before I can open my mouth, she adds, “Is it yours or the dog’s?”

A violent hot flash engulfs me. While my husband tries to distract our guests, I manage to teach my daughter what to do whenever you spot a foreign object in your food: push it to the edge of your plate–silently.

Openness. Honesty. Yes, I thank God for Aisha’s praiseworthy qualities. But Lord, I really could use your help with the fine-tuning.

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(I submitted this article also to the Writing Challenge on the FaithWriters website. The topic was “Facepalm”.)

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Pray for Joe

omnishamblesGive me a few minutes of your time, and I will let you look through three windows into three different lives. Why? I’ll explain you afterwards. For now, just watch.

First window

A strong wind whips raindrops against Judas’ face. The ex-disciple of Jesus doesn’t notice; he just runs.

I have done wrong, so wrong!

Convinced that Jesus was a fraud, he had tried to save his own reputation with the religious leaders by betraying him for a miserable thirty silver pieces.

Why did he talk about dying anyway? A real king would have gathered an army and claimed his position, wouldn’t he?

Yet, while Judas watched Jesus’ arrest and agony, something didn’t tally. Jesus never tried to defend himself.

Overwhelmed by the realization of what he had done, Judas went back to the priests and exclaimed, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood!”

They laughed at him in derision. “What is that to us? See to it yourself.”

Humiliated, he threw the pieces of silver into the temple and ran off.

Suddenly he stumbles over a stone and bumps into the rough bark of a tree. Gasping, he turns around and sees how a thunderstorm rages above Golgotha.

Jesus is surely dead by now.

Guilt crushes him. Without hope of restoration from his sin, Judas tears off a long strip of his garment and lifts himself upon the first branch…

Second window

Lightning cracks. Rain washes away bitter tears of remorse from the face of Peter, Jesus’ first disciple. From afar, he sees Jesus’ body hanging limp on the cross.

The day before, when Jesus announced his death, Peter proclaimed that he was ready to die for him. However, when it came to the crunch, he denied him for fear that he too would be arrested.

Not just once, but three times!

When that rooster crowed, the full realization of his cowardice settled upon him.

Oh how Jesus looked at me!

He still believes that Jesus was God’s anointed King, but doesn’t understand why he had to die.

Now what? Without Jesus, life makes no sense.

Yet, beyond shame and confusion, there is a glimmer of hope. Somehow, he knows this isn’t the end…

Third window

Alone in his office, Joe stares out the window at the heavy rainfall. Puddles reflect the streetlights.

No light for me, only darkness.

His business is about to go bankrupt, despite his best efforts.

First, he contacted a sooth-sayer who foresaw a profitable client. When this happened indeed, Joe’s business prospered and he rented more luxury accommodations. When the client was placed under conservatorship—all assets frozen—while still owning him $400,000, Joe was unable to pay off his own debtors.

The economic crisis dealt the next blow; fewer orders meant less turnover and an often empty account. His supportive wife agreed to pledge their house to the bank so that it would finance his payroll obligations.

Profit margins becoming tighter, he put out work to subcontractors who—without his knowledge—didn’t fulfill their tax obligations and employed illegal immigrants.

Someone tipped off the tax department; the subcontractor fled and Joe was wrongly accused of tax evasion and exploitation of foreign workers. It had been in all the local newspapers.

One by one, his clients disappeared, carrying off his hope.

Last month his brother introduced him to Christians who encouraged him to let Jesus rule his life instead of money, reputation, fear, or shame.

He tried everything: praying, reading the Bible, attending meetings. Yet he didn’t see any change.

They asserted, “You are more than your work. Jesus is alive; he loves you, and has a better plan for your life. Trust Him.”

Easy for them to say. They don’t have to face their creditors every day.

Today his lawyer called. His major creditor has requested his bankruptcy.

All hope is gone now. The end of my business, my house, my life. Jesus, do you exist at all?

***********

What did you see? Three human beings, each in omnishambles. The Bible tells what happened with Judas and Peter (Matthew 27:3-5, John 21:15-17). But what about Joe?

Joe is the pseudonym for someone I met recently. His story isn’t finished yet. And he needs your prayers.

Please pray that “Joe” won’t make the mistake that Judas did. Pray that he will cling to hope, like Peter, who was restored by the resurrected Jesus. Pray that he will learn to trust the living God who redeems and restores lives—no matter how big the mess.

Brainwash

beek3Sunlight filters through bright green spring leaves and tenderly illuminates my favorite place beside the stream. Sitting on a stone, I close my eyes and relax. 

A breeze caresses my face and carries the scent of fertile soil. I inhale deeply. 

The water murmurs a happy song that clears my mind and refreshes my soul.

How fitting that God uses clean, running water as the image of purification.

When I hear gurgling laughs mingle with the music of the whirling water, I awaken from my reveries. Upstream are about ten children and the pastor of the church they belong to; they have come for a day to our house in the countryside.

City children. 

I guess they’re between six and fourteen years old. Perhaps the closest they have ever come to streaming is the downloading of images from the Internet to their tablet through a Wi-Fi connection while they watch an online film.

Digital generation children. 

Ten minutes ago, just after we arrived in the gorge, the older kids complained that their smartphones didn’t pick up the mobile network signal. I notice they’re now chatting with each other instead of with some distant friend through Facebook. 

The smaller children, insecure at first, enthusiastically explore their new environment. Little fingers, trained to manipulate keyboards and touch screens, dive deep into the wet clay and mold grey blobs. Hands, used to holding game boys and joysticks, pick up stones and build a dam. Ears, unplugged from MP3 players, register splashes and gushing water. Eyes that normally cling to TVs and computers follow the course of a floating stick that is searching its winding way between the rocks.

Running along the banks, sprinkling one another, they scream and laugh. Some boys try to follow the water downstream as far as possible, jumping from stone to stone, occasionally stepping into the shallow water. A few girls, huddling together, hold their hands under a mini waterfall, and share their awe of the never-ending flow of clear water.

Cloths are smudged, eyes light up. Barbie shoes are beyond recognition, cheeks glow pink.

When it is time to leave, the pastor reminds the children to rinse their hands. I get up to join them. One of the smallest girls stands on the other side of the stream and stretches out her hands, dripping with mud. She seems desperate. 

I look at her, concerned. “What’s the problem, honey?”

She doesn’t answer, but looks at her dirty hands, then at the water she can’t reach. 

“Would you like me to help you?”

She nods. 

I stand on a rock in the middle of the stream, in front of her, and take hands full of fresh water to clean hers. Scoop after scoop, I wash away the mud from her pulses, her palms, her fingers, the edges of her nails. While washing her, I say a silent prayer.

Please, Lord, let this visit become a vivid memory of living water that cleanses these children’s heads from the digital flow they dive into every day. Not just their hands, Lord, but their minds. Let their minds be purified.

I lift my eyes from the girl’s hands to look at her face. She smiles and, with a spring in her step, rejoins her friends.

 


(I submitted this article also to the Writing Challenge on the FaithWriters website. The topic was “Digital Detox”. The occasion I describe took place on April 25.)