"I love you, and you are Mine."
This little one is getting a bit of assistance from his older sister as his hand is traced. We wanted to make sure these children know that they are special, important, and loved. We had them trace their hands and write their names inside the outline. Their names are written on the hands of the One who created them. Your name is written too. We are known. We are claimed.
The Choctaw people in Mississippi have a history of tragedy as do most Native tribes. Some of the older members of this tribe spoke of being removed from their homes and sent to places in the Midwest where they were put into public schools and forced to speak English, though their native language was all they had ever known. They spoke of punishment enforced when they did not understand the rules as elementary age children. Everything that kept them safe and protected had been removed from their grasp. We heard of the struggle to embrace one's identity while as a young person it was the very thing you were told to hide. We were invited in, by toddlers with open arms, middle-schoolers with way too much energy, and the elders who taught us how to sing Amazing Grace in the native tongue. We ate fry bread and hominy, while we fed the community tacos and spaghetti. We learned something new about God as we looked into the depth of those beautiful brown Choctaw eyes.
It continues to take me time to process our recent mission adventure to Mississippi. For me, mission trip is always a whirlwind of a week. In the midst making sure tasks get accomplished and people feel useful, checking to see if relationships are built and tended, and of course challenging souls to be open to The Christ in our midst each day, I can get a bit overwhelmed. Just when I start to get the hang of having all these people around I find myself back in Big Rapids thinking about it all.
Saturday night a group of the Wesley House gang went to see The Shack. I remember vividly my first read of this book when it was published. I loved it. Some of my students read it this fall for our Wesley Book Club, and we all agreed that there were some descriptions of this God-encounter that made us want to go and see for ourselves. I was afraid that the movie would ruin the beautiful pictures I had within my imagination of this story, but it only reinforced the beautiful mystery that pervades the journey of faith. Sure, there are those people who inevitably will cry out that this is all fake, that it goes against Scripture, but I am betting these are the same people who will be utterly surprised at who their neighbors are in heaven. If you haven't read the book, do it. If you haven't seen the movie, do that too. Just remember to go with an open Spirit because you never know what God might say to you in the midst of the story.
There's a scene in the movie that really caught me. I'm not going to give anything away, don't worry. There's a moment where there are a bunch of children playing. One of them is the main character's daughter who was tragically taken from his life. To see his daughter was his deepest need, of course. What moved me about it was not their reunion, but what happened next. As Jesus entered into this child-like chaos the daughter ran away from her dad into Jesus' arms. He scooped her up in this beautiful embrace and they went back to playing in the mob of laughing, goofy children. While much of this story is touching and continues to make me ponder and live into the mystery of God, this moment with children had me needing some serious Kleenex.
"Let the children come to me."
Children know how to receive love. They run to be embraced, seek out the safety of a hug, reach out for a reassuring hand, show their sadness and their joy, and don't worry about what other people might think or say about them. In that moment in this movie I thought of all the children in my life that have shared their lives and love with me, those young spirits that have taught me more about God's identity than I could ever learn from theology books. I also thought about our little friends down in Choctaw. We came in as strangers and they embraced us, we asked them to play silly games and they did, all we had to do was show up and show love.
Jesus was clear that children were important and that this new way of life was going to be radically different. It wasn't about following the new set of rules or setting up barriers, it is about freedom. I learned a lot from the Choctaw children and the freedom with which they entered into our lives. I wonder how different the world would be if as we age we could retain this innocent openness. If the political-correctness of the world didn't creep in an squelch out our excitement to play, to love, and to embrace others.
I loved that scene because I imagine that one day when we meet Jesus we will be so uninhibited that we too run to him, get scooped up and overwhelmed by Love. So many humans lack the ability to fully receive love, which causes us to do all sorts of things to fix and fill our emptiness. I see this everywhere, all the time in ministry. Sometimes I think I'm in ministry because people just need to feel a little love and acceptance, need a hug or reassurance that in all things we are not alone. For me this is what heaven is going to be like. All this judgment and nastiness will be drowned out by cries of joy, our fears will be overwhelmed by understanding, and we will recognize our
I won't soon forget the little-people hugs I received on mission trip, I will continue to see their faces when I take the time to reflect on my experience. The thing I love about the story of The Shack is that it just could be true. Rather than trying to disprove every single thing that might be different than our own thinking, I love to sit with the idea that this depiction of Loving God just might be.
I'm going to be seeking out the inner-child in the people around me. Often that's the easiest part to love, anyway. Remember friends, your name is written on the palms of God's hands. You are known. You are loved.