Life is not about waiting for the storms to pass- it is about learning to dance in the rain.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Of Palm Branches and Tribunals

Victory in Defeat

(Another piece of reflection)

Today is Palm Sunday. As we were waving palm branches and singing “Hosanna”, I could see myself as one of Jesus’ entourage.

As the colt slowly pranced through the streets, the crowds shouted “Hosanna”, and we exchanged knowing glances. At last, He was receiving the public acclaim we all knew He deserved. Suddenly the hardships of the journeyings of the last three years seemed worth it.

This was big, really big, bigger than those times He fed huge crowds with a few loaves and fishes; bigger than the lame man who walked; bigger than casting demons out of man at Gadarenes; bigger than stopping the storm. Even walking on water paled in our eyes as we watched the crowds joyfully giving Jesus the worship due Him.

And being the person I am, I, of course began making plans. With a crowd this size we’d have to find a place from which to address these people and others who would follow. Too bad it would probably have to be outside the city. Something about the city lent an ambience of power and glory difficult to achieve in the countryside. After all, we had had large crowds in the countryside before. But now, in Jerusalem, with a crowd this size…it boggled my mind. Maybe we could find a suitable place in the city. Maybe Joanna knows a place, I thought. She’s familiar with the City.

We could barely control our glee. I could see it in the eyes of the others. Each wanted to get back to his village or neighborhood, knowing they would have heard about this.

Validation at last. “Yes, I’m with Jesus. I’m one of His people.” And they’d ask for special front row seats.

Our elation lasted for only a few days. You know the rest of the story.

By Friday night words and phrases used to describe the action include: seized, betrayed, spit in his face, struck with fists, slapped, buffeted, smote, scourged and crucify.

We were devastated.

So devastated that our stalwart, Peter, denied even knowing Him. Most of us either left or hid in the shadows, hoping against hope that no one would recognize us. We were ambivalent about Jesus seeing us. We wanted him to know we were still there but at the same time, we couldn’t escape the guilty knowledge that, like Peter, by hiding we were also betraying Him.

Fear won the day. We remained in the shadows, afraid, yet hoping that at some point he would demonstrate His power. If He could still the rage of the storm, couldn’t He disperse these Roman soldiers and rampaging rioters? It should be small potatoes for Him. But no, the trial process wore on through the night.

And you know the story. The crucifixion came next. And then in the midst of our despair, we remembered: He said that he’d rise again after three days. Was this what He was talking about?

We still didn’t get it. All of us gathered in small groups to wait and see what would happen, wondering if the Romans would knock on the door and take us off to an equally gruesome fate. Or, would the unthinkable happen? Did He really mean He would come back from the dead? As in crucified?

And then word came. He had spoken to two of us on the road to Emaus. Then He had appeared to the eleven. And He left instructions. We were to wait in Jerusalem for “the promise of the Father.” Hopeful, we gathered to await this infusion of power that He promised. Alternating between enthusiastic hope and the sense of doom that had dominated during the trial and crucifixion, we waited until. Until He came as promised!

Today, we look at the events leading to the resurrection and understand clearly, without the crucifixion there would have been no resurrection. However, it’s much more difficult to apply to one’s own situation.

When does a grim situation lead to a victorious ending that will bring glory to God? When is a grim situation just a grim situation? Something that we must endure with courage and determination to follow Jesus no matter what.

Never was that question more on my mind than the weekend that Victor died.

We first met Victor in at 2 am when he arrived on our doorstep in Quito, Ecuador. We weren’t expecting anyone, but by that time in our mission, we were accustomed to students arriving without notice at whatever hour of the day or night. He had come from Peru to study at the Bible School we had established to train young men and women for ministry. Victor turned out to be not only a good student, but also a charming individual, who found a permanent place in our hearts.

Our little boys loved to play soccer with Victor. He had been a soccer prodigy in Peru, making the national team at the age of sixteen. However, like many youngsters, he didn’t handle the money and fame well. A few short years drugs and alcohol abuse led to bankruptcy, homelessness and despair. One evening he heard music and entered a small Christian church. Over the next few months, he cleaned up his life, discovered a talented for music as well as speaking and determined to serve in ministry. This desire led him to our training facility in Quito.

When we left Ecuador to resume residency in the United States, Victor had just graduated from Bible School and was on his way to minister in Peru. Over the next several years we heard from him from time to time. We saw him at a conference in Salt Lake City when he accompanied another missionary to the U.S. Then, late one evening we received a call from a pastor friend in California. Victor had been holding meetings at various churches in California and had run out of places to go. My husband made some calls to arrange some services in California, Arizona and New Mexico, then here in the Chicago area.

Thus, Victor came to join our household. Since his English was very limited, he decided to stay in Elgin for awhile to study. Over the next 20 years he alternately went to college in Minnesota, traveled in Canada, returned to Peru for several months at a time, and obtained a real estate license here in Elgin. Eventually he married. He and Marta decided to settle in Elgin where their only son, Sammy, was born. They purchased a lovely condo, the ultimate American immigrant couple.

Then, Victor was diagnosed with hepatocellular carcinoma. That dreaded “C-word”: liver cancer.

Treatment after treatment failed. Gradually Victor’s condition worsened until it became obvious that the only way Victor would live was to have a living donor donate a portion of liver. After discussion with my family, and a great deal of soul searching, I volunteered. They turned me down. I was overweight, too old and not a relative. Nevertheless, I continued to pray about the matter, even tried uselessly to lose weight. Then a relative of Victor’s volunteered. Ironically, I lost 25 pounds without trying; his family member began testing to evaluate suitability. In a few months she was considered unsuitable. In my new slimmer condition, I called to volunteer again.

Throughout the entire process, I felt that I was led by God. His guidance was clear to me. Losing 25 pounds was a monumental event for me; I’ve struggled with weight control since I had children. During that time I had been praying daily for Victor, that a suitable donor would be found. It was no surprise to me that that donor was to be me. I believed it was divine guidance.

December 29, 2005 they removed two-thirds of my liver and replaced what was left of Victor’s liver. In the next three months I recovered, although at a slower pace than I had anticipated. Victor’s condition steadily worsened. The transplanted liver was viable and showed signs of growth, but from the beginning he developed an infection in one of the bile ducts. It never was fully healed and eventually Victor died of liver failure. It was February 22, 2006.

And I was left wondering if I’d heard the voice of God at all.

I still have no answers. I do still believe it was divinely ordained that I donate my liver, although it didn’t turn out the way I thought it would, believed it should. Unlike the disciples who received an answer after a few short weeks when the Holy Spirit descended on their gathering, I’m still waiting for the illumination of what God was up to. Today, however, I’m willing to rest in the knowledge that God knows what he is doing, that if God is in it there is victory no matter how it looks at the moment. This peace hasn’t come easily; I still have that drive to know why, what God intends, but I’m willing to wait for divine revelation. As long as it takes. In the meantime, I’ll rest in the knowledge that the final Victory is God’s and this is all part of the picture.

God's victory even in apparent defeat.

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