Materially, I am among the most privileged in the world, but by American standards, I live in a shack. Two bedrooms with one bath, our 1,000 square foot home is old and in need of continuous repair, which we are slowly and methodically undertaking, as time and finances allow.
But it feels like the mythical curse of Sisyphus, who was condemned to an eternity of rolling a boulder uphill then watching it roll back down again.
The bathroom walls are currently held together by duct tape, the ceiling is drizzling plaster dust, and the tile on the front steps are a lawsuit waiting to happen. You get the picture.
In one of my sleepless nights, I stumble into the bathroom and look at that black duct tape (yes, that could have been done with more finesse, but that’s another story…) – I groan at the sheer ugliness and pray one of those sleepy frustrations “Lord, help me to understand this.”
Decades of priorities, such a homeschooling and traveling to see family at the expense of maintaining the house, explain a lot. The circumstances that led to here are complex, and most of them, we don’t regret. Still, there’s a nagging awareness that in this one arena, no matter what we do, this thorn in the flesh remains.
“And I don’t know a soul who’s not been battered
I don’t have a friend who feels at ease
I don’t know a dream that’s not been shattered
Or driven to its knees”
(Simon and Garfunkel)
For us, the thorn has been financial. For others, it’s been one health threat after another, or relational upheaval, or family deaths. You name it.
So in the wee hours of the night, looking at the black tape on my yellow walls, I see the collage of our hardships, of which mine is by far the most superficial. “Lord, help me understand.”
I must have drifted off to sleep, but when the alarm shakes me out of it shortly after, I remember the prayer. Like a dull ache, it’s just there, lingering in my groggy soul.
After decades with this habit, my morning routine is on autopilot: light a candle, open my Daily Bible, exhale.
And it happens again: He meets me right here in my messy nest, right here in my messier flesh. Cutting through the worries and expectations that hover like black matter around my spirit, He speaks:
“Sitting across from the offering box, he was observing how the crowd tossed money in for the collection. Many of the rich were making large contributions. One poor widow came up and put in two small coins—a measly two cents. Jesus called his disciples over and said, “The truth is that this poor widow gave more to the collection than all the others put together. All the others gave what they’ll never miss; she gave extravagantly what she couldn’t afford—she gave her all.” (Mark 12:41-44, The Message)
Suddenly, I’m aware of the air conditioned comfort from where I complain. Aware of how much I have not given.
As is typical, I sense His questions, rather than an answer: “What may it cost you, Elisabet?”
“Will you draw a line for Me that says, “This far and no further?” “Is that really what you want?”
My gaze falls on the title of the book next to my bed , “i am n”
This single Arabic letter n conveys the life-altering accusation that the bearers, or the occupants on the house where it’s painted, are “Nazarenes,” people who follow Jesus of Nazareth.
“Any person who takes a stand for Jesus in the occupied Iraq, any person who chooses to be “n,” pays a high cost. Without warning, some Christians are dragged from their homes and
businesses by armed militants – and they are never seen again. Pastor’s who share the message of Jesus in their communities are beheaded in front of their families. Children who don’t renounce Jesus are shot. Teenagers may be taken from their homes and families and forced into service of ISIS or beaten, mutilated, and left for dead.” (Pages 15-16)
“What may it cost you, Elisabet?”
My Iraqi siblings don’t love their children any less than I love mine. They feel the un-anesthetized pain of these horrors, and those too unbearable to describe, exactly as I would. Knowing that one word of compromise can spare them, they face their persecution steadfastly. Not because they are super-human, but because they have counted the cost.
Somehow, they’ve embraced the greatest treasure that “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” (Philippians 1:21)
This dilapidated, mortgaged house would be a palace for them, but that’s not the point. Not anymore.
Jesus follows the story of the poor widow who gave it all, with His disciples marveling at the grand structure of the temple, and grand it was. And He answered them, as He now answers my plea to understand, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone shall be left upon another, that shall not be thrown down.” (Mark 13:1-2)
My black tape on the wall is a visual reminder that all of this will be shaken, so that only the eternal remains. In the waves of refugees rolling in over Europe, I see the transience of life itself. The martyrs are living stones in a temple that will never be destroyed, and everything inside me just yearns to be among them. Not to die, but to live.
Everything, Lord, it may cost me everything. Forgive my spoiled perspective and replace my expectations with Yours.
“For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory,
while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:17-18)
“Through the eyes of men it seems
There’s so much we have lost
As we look down the road
Where all the prodigals have walked
One by one
The enemy has whispered lies
And led them off as slaves
But we know that you are God
Yours is the victory
We know there is more to come
That we may not yet see
So with the faith you’ve given us
We’ll step into the valley unafraid”