Sunday, February 22, 2009

Smiling through Tears

Spiritual directors invite us to consider the question, "Where is God in this experience?" Some days some of us wonder...

When Christine arrived at the hospital with TEN/Stevens-Johnson Syndrome (a systemic allergic reaction) as a result of taking a prescribed antibiotic to save her life, I wondered. When five children were brought in suffering injuries from a matatu rollover on their way to school, I wondered. When Jesca died at age 23 of pulmonary Kaposi's Sarcoma and cardiomyopathy, I wondered. When two-year-old David developed a high fever and was found to be in sickle cell crisis, I wondered.

When pharmacist Roger's eight-month-old daughter died from malaria in Nairobi, I wondered. When housekeeper Emmah's elderly parents called from up-country to say that they had neither money nor food, I wondered. When Mothers' Union volunteer Magi told me that her adopted orphan was being "chased away" from school for lack of fees, I wondered. When hospital paychecks were issued three weeks late for already-demoralized employees, I wondered.

Where was God in those experiences? I confess I wondered mightily. And then I prayed.

Padre Richard recently gave a sermon at St. Philip's, reminding us that God wants us to smile. I looked around the chapel that day and saw sincere smiles on lean brown faces, regardless of the collective experience of poverty and pain. When he asked us to greet one another, right then and there, the smiles became brighter, even at a time of deprivation and death. (Richard's was the last sermon I heard as my own mother lay dying.) A caring community makes a difference.

Then I remembered the smile from Jesca's mama when I reached out my hand: "Pole/Sorry. I am so very sorry for your loss." And now I remember the smiles of the matatu children after treatment, as we cut off their torn and bloodied (once fluffy organza "mission box") dresses to replace them with brand new t-shirts -- from a smiling Vineyard donor. I remember the smiles on Emmah's face as she hums hymns in the kitchen, regardless. I remember the smiles of kids in America who gave away their Beanie Babies, and I remember the smiles of kids in Kenya who received them.

I no longer wonder. God is here, and God is there. I simply need to re-member. A caring world makes a difference. Padre Richard's closing words posed yet another question, a new song and an unforgettable refrain: "What are we doing to make God smile today (surely through God's own wondering tears)?"

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