Our community is rapidly experiencing the last 3 weeks of our Apprenticeship year, and a whole host of emotions, swirling thoughts, and frantic ‘final things’ define much of our days right now. As a part of the Entrusting posture, we are reading Parker Palmer’s Let Your Life Speak, which has immediately risen to the Top 5 (3?) books that I have ever read (Not a surprise once I learned that Henri Nouwen was a longtime mentor of Palmer). I could pontificate on endless things regarding this book, but instead let me simply post an original poem of his that has stopped me in my tracks.
The plow has savaged this sweet field
Misshapen clods of earth kicked up
Rocks and twisted roots exposed to view
Last year’s growth demolished by the blade.
I have plowed my life this way
Turned over a whole history
Looking for the roots of what went wrong
Until my face is ravaged, furrowed, scarred.
Enough. The job is done.
Whatever’s been uprooted, let it be
Seedbed for the growing that’s to come.
I plowed to unearth last year’s reasons–
The farmer plants to plant a greening season.
So much has changed in the past 9 months of growth. I am uprooted in ways beyond my intellectual, emotional, even guttural ability to understand. I am becoming a different sort of person: richer, fuller, clarified. Paradoxically however, the seeds of this growth have happened through confusion, isolation as I am confronted with my cultural perspectives, and a gentle uncovering of my hypocrisy as I live within the mirror that is intentional community.
Much of me wishes to continue plowing, nay, even to stay broken and paralyzed. A few words Colin Crawley taught us in regards to healing prayer have anchored themselves within my soul these past several months, namely that ‘Those of us who are living in paralyzed sickness have no concept of knowing what life in freedom feels like.’ In actuality, I often prefer darkness to light because the reality of my life has presented no other alternative. Walking in a settled joy, calm peace, and hopeful freedom feels unnatural to me because ‘my normal’ is the antithesis of these things!
I am scared to walk into my future, let alone to step in confidence. I embrace Florida Scott Maxwell’s words with a grasp that I desire only to deepen:
“You only need claim the events of your life to make yourself yours. When you truly possess all you have been and done…you are fierce with reality.”
As requested by Chris, here’s a closer look at each of the individuals caricatured in Tony’s sketch. Please especially take note of the individually appropriate t-shirts and comments each is making. I will now let the art speak for itself.
Barbara Hillaker already posted this on her Facebook page, but it was simply too brilliant to not share with the wider world.
Humbly, I present ‘The Art Of Tony Cermak’ to you all, representing a ‘minor incident’ that took place after Rhythm last Friday night. (Captions courtesy of Barbara’s wit).
Tony finally gets what's been coming all year. And offers revenge via pen and paper.
Panel 1. Location: Pangani kitchen.
Panel 2. Location: That room we never have a name for, where the blue desk is. Please note the mailboxes in the background, and Busi's hair. And the captions on Sally & Adrienne's t-shirts.
Panel 3. Location: Pangani pool. My favorite detail here is Chippy laughing at Tony.
Panel 4. Location: Dining room. Points of interest: Curtis' contented expression, his Gollywog t-shirt, Maxie's crutches, and Oupa saying "T-shirt."
What is even MORE fantastic (as if it could get better), is that Barbara just told me that she actually took close-up photos of many of us in this drawing. Part II is coming folks!
It’s hard to believe there are just five weeks left before the end of this year’s apprenticeship. As we look forward, and begin to answer questions of what’s next, focus on finishing well here, transition out of the ministries we’ve become involved in and the like we are all experiencing and processing things a bit differently.
I think my favorite thing about this time is that as we discuss what next year holds for each of us we are all doing something amazing. A few may be getting married, or going back to school, or joining the mission field, or having a baby! I’ve come to realize during our last posture [Imagining] that this apprenticeship truly is an on-ramp to what God is calling each of us too.
Mixed emotions that include the sadness of pending good-byes and excitement of experiencing God’s intended plan for us hum and throb throughout our community. At nearly all times of the day one of us can be found withdrawing, another engaging, one crying, another laughing. I believe we actually might be living up to the drama of the way people try to explain us back home. “It’s like a Christian version of ‘Real World*’,” said one of our road trip participants.
[*That would be without the fighting and/or inappropriate relationships!]
I very much look forward to the next five weeks. We’ll be handing off our ministry responsibilities to partners [luckily I have been working with either full time missionaries or South African residents!]
We’ll be having a host of “Goodbye” celebrations. We’ll be creating art that reflects what God has done in us over the past year. I think my favorite thing is that not one of us hasn’t been changed completely this year.
We’ve all been opened up, the yuckiness that held us back from living as God intended has been poured, pushed, and picked out, and we’ve been filled with the Holy Spirit.
It’s been an amazing journey so far, and I’m looking forward to running the race to the end.
Two weeks ago I had the privileged of baptizing four young men. They wanted to publicly display their commitment to Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. This was a pretty special moment for me as I have walked with all of them in their spiritual journey. For three of them, I walked closely with them for three years, since their journey with Christ began.
I’ve never had the privilege to walk with young men like this before. Before coming to South Africa and had spent 7 to 8 years doing one to two year commitments in the Middle East, attending college, and working at home. These guys I have known since 2005 and have followed their lives up to this point. It has definitely been something special to see how God has been able to use me to help shape and encourage these young men.
Our group is made up of five with four of them baptized two weeks ago and the other to be baptized in the next month. They all live in the township of Soshanguve and very close to each other. They come from families that have very little financially, but God doesn’t them this way. He sees them as warriors for His Kingdom and His purposes. My journey with these guys starts back in January 2007 as I began mentoring one guy, Tshepo. Within a few weeks he had invited his friends and the group was formed.
In the first weeks, each guy came to me and shared how he had never thought reading the Bible and talking about God could be cool and how his life lives have changed drastically. Feelings of hate and anger were being replaced with love and joy. Instead of starting fights at school, new friendships were formed with classmates. Instead of ignoring God, looking for God became a habit. And so began their journey into the heart of God.
Over the past three years I’ve been able to walk with them through their struggles and joys, their wounds and triumphs. And it’s culminated in them being baptized.
The baptism was held at a camp where we had a men’s retreat. There was no body of water available for baptism, so I borrowed a small kid’s pool. But it still wasn’t big enough for them to be fully submerged so Johannes and I dunked their heads completely under one at a time. It was a moment they won’t forget as they moved forward in their walk with God.
God is Love.
My next-door neighbor and good friend Adrienne Mickler has been on a crazy journey with God this year, culminating in the raw and powerful thoughts below following a profound experience with God through her boyfriend Ryan this past weekend…I thought her words were too impactful to not post in their entirety. (P.S. If you visit her site, I took the epic profile photo of her!).
God is infinite. I am finite.
Keep that in mind and try to stay with me through this next bit…
Love exists. It is an invisible, intangible force that is undeniably present, manifesting itself differently all over the world. If I can believe in love, than I can also believe in God; for they are inseparable: God is love.
In one week, I experience moments of love given and received more times than I can remember. Things like: an understanding smile from a close friend who can see straight through my mask, a note left for a friend who needs to know she is cared and appreciated for, an anonymous act of service done for another, a meal shared with friends, etc. These are all seemingly normal moments, but they are moments where real love is exchanged.
If I believe that God is love, and I experience indisputable acts of love in a week, than wouldn’t it make sense to say that I experience God? If I am seeking to experience an infinite God in a tangible, finite way, I must look at my human context; for it is there that the tangible reigns supreme. God’s love is manifested for each of us in our everyday. God loves you and God loves me. Just look around.