Laughing in the Ashes.


My first glance into the littered kitchen as we unlocked and entered the house began disturbing, confusing thoughts that I would not even allow my mind to formulate. Regina was still innocently chattering at the entryway by the time I came around the corner into the hall and saw what I had feared. Our house had been pillaged.

Every drawer and closet in our house had been disemboweled, and the hodgepodge of litter strewn across the floor reminded me that our well-ordered life is only an illusion – in fact we are all only a moment away from upheaval and utter chaos. I had seen it before – the polished BMW – every gadget working, precisely six things in the glove box, gleaming dash, 100% tread on perfectly black tires –  after the split-second contact with a highway divider, it looked like your embarrassing relative’s two-year collection of trailer trash.

We had everything in its place, security well-calculated, floors neatly mopped before leaving for a ten-day conference – we were in control of life – secure – able to determine our destiny. Sorry. The thin veneer of our “reality” which seemed so bulletproof, in a moment collapsed to expose our true vulnerability. “A rich man’s wealth is his strong city, and like a high wall in his own imagination.

“Don’t pile up treasures around you where they will soon break or burn, or thieves might ransack your house and carry them all away. Real treasure is that which will last into eternity – caring for the Least and the Lost, making yourself a servant to all, investing in your children, rescuing the addicts – these are the “valuables” that no man can take away from you. Invest heavily in this market!” (DB version)

As we sorted thru the rubble – discovering piece after piece that was missing, saying goodbye to this and that “treasure”, small whelps of victory when we uncovered something they didn’t get, then again a sob when something dear was found missing – our emotions were on a Tilt-A-Whirl. At the end of the process we huddled in prayer with our compassionate friends Sarah and Munya, and aligned our compass – true North. We committed our lives and property again to Jesus, released the things that were lost, forgave and blessed the “enemy”, and gave thanks for the true treasures we could never lose.

But I find my heart a corrosive thing. As I walk the streets I find I have quickly forgotten my forgiveness and blessings uttered. I find I am looking at people with a closed, defensive, suspicious heart. My heart is stone. Instead of looking into eyes – receiving their spirit and depositing blessing with mine – I am a stone. I don’t care, I give nothing, I will not bless. I am a “mere man” – not a vessel of God’s blessing. “O wretched man that I am, who will deliver me from this body of death?”

At dusk, when town duties are done, Regina and I walk back to our house hand in hand – again to view the wreckage. Now self-pity is lurking. We take a deep breath and determine to start cleaning. Then the electricity goes out – one of the blessings of African existence. Our battery lamps are stolen. We cannot cook dinner. Then the water goes out. Self-pity is jumping all over me! All the chocolate that our family brought to us is pillaged or I would be stuffing my face right now (as well as the tea, the jams and peanut butter and all the goodies – we did find one bag of brewers yeast! Yahoo!).

So we divvied up the cold pre-cooked potatoes, peanuts, crackers, some smoked salmon that dropped from the loot at the door – took our plastic chairs out in the moonlight, and bowed our heads to “give thanks”.

How can you give thanks when self-pity is firmly embedded in your spirit?

Ok. True North again. Kick out the devil again. Nothing does that better than praise – “Blessed be your name where the streams of abundance flow, blessed be your name. And blessed be your name when I walk thru the wilderness, when there’s pain in the offering, blessed be your Name. Every blessing you pour out I’ll turn back to praise; and when the darkness closes in, Lord, still I will say, blessed be the Name of the Lord, blessed be your Name. Blessed be the Name of the Lord, blessed be your glorious Name. You give and take away; you give and take away; my heart will choose to say, Lord blessed be your Name!”

You know what? That really was a pretty good dinner!

And you know what else? I really love my wife and am so very grateful for her. We even find ourselves laughing in the ashes.

Later that evening as we were reading by our flashlights in bed we had one last chuckle. I was involuntarily calculating the value of our lost “treasures” when it hit me. Ha! Although they got all our most “valuable” possessions except our computers which we had with us, all told their booty was not worth more than $1200! They must have been crestfallen! No sound system, no TV, no couch or car or wifi components. Ha-ha – the last laugh is on them. Not only were they risking their lives for treasure that is not really treasure, but there was not even much of that.

Please pray for us – first for rebuilding our hearts and then our fortunes.

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