Lenten Devotional

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Written Winter of 2013 for Lenten devotional

Philippians 2:5-11

Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn’t claim special privileges. Instead he lived a selfless, obedient life…

I am trying to think what it was like for Christ to come to earth and be human. We’re told it was humbling. It must have felt like he lost all his powers, like he was out of control of his situation and vulnerable. What kinds of situations have you been in where you felt like you were out of control and vulnerable? Sometimes when we go to another country and we don’t know the language and the government policies feel cruel and authoritarian, we may feel a bit susceptible. But there are people who feel vulnerable every day of their lives. I thought of my mother and her many years of vision loss…

When Sara Heebner Benner was a little girl, she fed chickens at their farm on Snyder Rd, Lansdale. Little did she know that this exposure to chickens could affect her vision later in life. It wasn’t till she had turned 33 and had given birth to her 3rd child that her left eye started bothering her and she saw squiggly lines where they should have been straight. She went to the doctor and he just shook his head after he saw the growth of abnormal blood vessels and fluid leaking behind her left eye…there was nothing he could do to prevent the almost certain blindness in that eye. So I never knew my mother with the use of 2 eyes. She was blind in her left eye when I was born, her 5th child. But I didn’t realize her limitations because she drove me to school and quizzed me on multiplication facts and Chemistry equations as if nothing were wrong.

While I was in college, her right eye began to also feel the effects of ocular histoplasmosis syndrome. But other than large, uneven handwriting in her weekly letters, I didn’t realize the impact this had on her. She didn’t complain but informed me that Daddy was taking her to a retina specialist to get laser treatments and that this time her vision in that eye could be saved. She could sing the praises of laser therapy but rarely acknowledged the defenselessness she must have felt during this time.

She is 94 years old today and still going strong without the use of a walker or a cane. She talks about how thankful she is for the bright light in her room which allows her to do her favorite activity: reading. She goes to a retina specialist for monthly injections for the macular degeneration that has crept into her only good eye. I flinch and look away when the doctor inserts the needle directly into her right eye, but she takes it all in stride. She doesn’t go out in public much, but on familiar terrain like my home, she walks with confidence. She had a set back by an onslaught of shingles over a year ago, but her loss of vision seems to be something she has accepted a long time ago. She takes my arm when we go places now and detests that she can’t see the faces of people we meet, but she’s undaunted by her lack of control and vulnerability. She has managed to compensate for her disabilities with extra love and kindness to all.

A lot like, I assume, Jesus did. He didn’t claim special privileges, but lived a selfless, obedient life. There is a lot I can learn from his example and other vulnerable people all around me.

God, give me a heart of compassion to understand how you lived…

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Reflections of Lee Eshleman

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Written Spring of 2007

It’s been 12 days since it happened and I still can’t seem to forget it. I think a lot of persons in the Mennonite community may feel the same way. Why would someone so well-liked and so talented take his own life? It nags at me like a splinter in my finger. I go on with my life, but the thoughts keep returning to Lee Eshleman and how someone so full of life and vitality could end his life in suicide.

I have a lot to learn about depression and bi-polar mental illness. I do know that when I’m depressed I can’t function very well. I’m tired yet can’t sleep. I’m thinking yet can’t form cognizant sentences. I’m aware of others yet can only focus on my own hurt. There have only been a few times in my life when the pain was too great that I felt that I couldn’t go on. I heard college friends and even one of my own children talk of suicide. So why is his story any different?

It may be because I just saw Lee perform in “Jacob and Esau” two months ago at Souderton Mennonite Church. I witnessed first hand Ted and Lee’s incredible gift of making the scriptures alive, in a way that will stay with me the rest of my life. I found myself relating to the Biblical characters in a way that I never had before. In contrast, when I read about them, they feel frozen in time and I forget the choices they had and the conflicting emotions they must have felt. But Ted & Lee brought that home in a powerful, hilariously funny dramatic presentation.

I went on the Ted & Lee website to hear in Lee’s own words a clip from the Cathartic Café. He speaks of the times that torment people late at night…

Oh, Lee I remember you and our talks from our Eastern Mennonite University days. I can hear you ask me to pose for one of your pictures and how I turned you down. It wasn’t you…I didn’t like my own body and was afraid of what would be asked of me. I’m sorry, Lee.

I laughed and laughed at you and Ted when you recently performed “Jacob and Esau.” I wanted to talk to you afterwards and tell you what an amazing actor you’d become. I didn’t. But please know, I miss you and I wish I could tell you…

Note: This was found among my writings and I resurrected it with a few extra lines after spending a weekend with Ted and reading his excellent book, Laughter is Sacred Space.  Please order a copy of your own at http://store.mennomedia.org/Laughter-is-Sacred-Space-P1206.aspx

Jordan’s Calling

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Written Fall of 2012

After the Haiti earthquake of 2010, my son Jordan, a quiet 17 year old, found himself in a house in Passe bois d’orme with 10 other persons from his home church including our leader, Jim Frankenfield associated with Water for Life. Jim wanted to help the people most affected by the earthquake, so we all headed to Cote de Fer, a nearby recovering town. But Jim wasn’t prepared for the sensitive Jordan by his side when we came across an old man stuck on his porch with a broken leg and no way to get to the hospital. Jordan saw the old man just as we all did, but his heart went out to him, and he pleaded with Jim that we had to do something.

The next morning, Jim came to me with his concerns. He wanted me to know that he was sorry we couldn’t do more for the old man but more importantly, that we would be disappointing Jordan who was counting on us to help him. Then Jim and I discussed how Jordan kept coming to him repeatedly the previous day with pleas for the old man, saying “We got to help him.” Jim knew as we all knew that the old man needed help immediately and was in danger of dying if his leg was not treated. I told Jim that I would talk to Jordan. I was amazed how much Jim was concerned about my son in the midst of the earthquake damage and our uncertain trip home. He took a lot of time to explain the situation to me and above all, did not want to hurt Jordan in any way.

Well, we did make it home safely and a few days later when we were all together at Jim’s house, the first thing he wanted to tell Jordan and me was that the old man was still alive and had received help soon after we had seen him lying helplessly on his porch. We were all so glad, but Jim especially wanted Jordan to see for himself pictures of the old man on the internet and assure him that he was alive and well.

Jordan did seem to go through some culture shock after his experience in Haiti, but he recovered. In his freshman year in college, he came to me and said, “Mom, the only thing I can ever see myself doing is being a doctor.” I was shocked since I had thought molecular biology was a pretty good major. But I understood…it all went back to his wanting to help the old man in Haiti…

Thank you, Jim….

Even if the Healing Doesn’t Come

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Written Fall of 2012

During this joyful expectation of the advent season, it seems wrong to think of death, but many of us are grieving the loss of Emilee Laverty, Wendy and Jim Laverty’s daughter on Nov 1, 2012. She was only 19, but died tragically of dedifferentiated chordoma. I didn’t know her as well as I would have liked, but her sister, Lindsey has spent a lot of time in our home since she is one of our daughter’s friends.

We as a church body prayed tirelessly for Emilee’s healing, keeping abreast of the current obstacles she was facing through her parent’s diligent efforts on caringbridge.org. It affected our church and the whole community as we patiently waited for God’s miraculous hand of mercy. He did show himself in small healings along the way, but Emilee did not receive the ultimate healing we were all hoping for. It felt like a hard pill to swallow so close to the holiday celebrations of November and December. How could a merciful God allow this to happen?

For a while after she passed away, I found myself doubting my prayers for others. Was God really around? Did it really make a difference that we pray?

I found the words of this Kutless song encouraging:
Even if the healing doesn’t come
And life falls apart
And dreams are still undone
You are God You are good
Forever faithful One
Even if the healing
Even if the healing doesn’t come

And in Galatians 2 (The Message):
Christ lives in me. The life you see me living is not “mine,” but it is lived by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I am not going to go back on that.