Sunday, November 25, 2012

The Window

The first Advent Sunday is only a week away.  If you haven't done so already now is the time to start preparing for this special time of putting flesh on Christ.  Today, in our Quaker meeting house, I shared a story I wrote about a personal experience I had with the Incarnation of Christ to help transition us into the Advent season.  I'm sharing it with you all below.  


A Window
By Kristen S. Sandoz
It was a dry, hot, African day.  I was headed to a birthday party with my African friends in the up-country of Kenya.  I knew I wouldn’t feel comfortable wearing my Levis so I put on the only skirt I had and a coordinating blue T-shirt.  I gave it a second thought and decided to don a necklace with a praying hands pendant, hoping I could dress up my humble outfit with one of the few pieces of jewelry I had brought.  There wasn’t much improvement but I had tried.
Once we reached Nairobi we made a transportation exchange in one of the worst parts of town, from a small cramped stinky bus to an even smaller, more cramped and stinky mini-van.  Out of protection for the white person, my friends insisted I enter the van first.  I fumbled to the back and sat next to an open window, thankful that I would have some relief from the smell of African body odor by breathing the smell of exhaust.
The van started moving into traffic.  I watched the craziness of this city’s life from the safety of my window.  A businessman in his pressed, yet uncoordinated, suit walked down the street with an air of importance.  As he walked, absorbed in his own world of comfort, he passed a crippled man crawling on his deformed knees. 
My attention was drawn toward a row of women wearing brightly colored African kongas tied around their waists like skirts.  Sayings of the wise imprinted on these kongas hugged their swaying behinds as they bent over their fruit neatly stacked on the sidewalks.  Children were everywhere.  Some tugged shyly on their mothers’ kongas, others ran around looking for a handout and others, coupled to their mothers’ backs with a konga, contentedly chewed on mango pits.
Among all these claimed children there were the unclaimed ones, the street boys.  At this time in 1996 some 150,000 of them roamed the streets of Nairobi.  They were wild boys ages 4 to 18.  If you’d seen one street boy you’d seen them all.  Their clothing was held together only by the crusty layers of dirt formed by roaming through garbage heaps while looking for food.  Their feet were callused over as if they had one thick piece of rhinoceros hide glued to the bottom.  Then there was that “look.” The eyes of a street boy revealed all, a yellow glazed disassociated look caused by sniffing gasoline and glue.  This was the coping mechanism used by these boys to survive the hard, deprived life they lead.  There was more though, a cruelty, a rebellion, a desperation, a wisdom of sorts.  It was chilling to look in the eyes of a street boy.  It was like a window into their heart and it exposed too much.
My journey through this city continued.  The van entered a jammed intersection.  I saw three of these mongrel street boys playing in the meridian.  I was proud of myself that I had spied them before they spied me.  It did not take long, however, for them to all hone in on my white face sitting in the open window.  Immediately one of the older boys got up and meandered toward my van as if I wouldn’t realize he was coming.  “Yeah right!” I thought. “I know you’re going to ask me for money.  I am glad I don’t have anything to give you!”  I crossed my arms and kept watching him with a new defiant intensity.  It was mutual stand off as he came to my open window and walked along side of it just staring at me.  “What is this boy doing?” I thought. “Why isn’t he saying anything?”
It was one of those moments that as you’re thinking the question it answers itself with a leap of your heart that suddenly makes everything clear.  “My necklace, this boy wants my necklace!”  I was surprised that I knew the answer to my question.  I fought the instinctual urge to put my hand over my pendant and protect it from what could inevitably happen.  I stayed calm.  I wanted to see if this boy would really steal from me while I was looking him straight in the eyes.  Sure he could steal from people who didn’t realize it, but was he lost enough to steal from someone who knew?
From the margin of my vision I saw his grimy teenaged hand slowly come through the window and latch onto my praying hands pendant.  His oddly colored orange eyes never blinked once as he swiftly relieved me of my burden.  He stopped and I continued to watch him, my hand finally losing its control and drifting to the spot that once showcased a meaningless possession.  As my van eased away I wanted to yell something to him.  “Jesus loves you anyway!” or “I’ll pray for you!”  But nothing came. I was too mad, too awe struck by the brazen ability of this boy to steal from me!  Who was he that he could do that and still sleep at night?  I hoped that no one in the van had noticed what had taken place.  Surely they would not understand that I was trying to teach this boy a lesson!
That night I had a dream.  I dream a lot, but this dream was different.  I was standing in heaven and there staring at me with the most familiar pair of oddly colored orange eyes was Jesus Christ.  He was framed in a window and sitting on his throne wearing nothing but an African konga and my praying hands necklace.  I was shocked, “How did Jesus get my pendant?”  Noticing the confused look on my face Christ spoke to me gently, saying, “Kristen, I have given you many things.  But, when I asked you for one small, little thing, you wouldn’t give it to me.  I had to take it.”

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Justly Story Ch. 3: On the Day of Pearl's Birth

Ch 3: On the Day of Pearl's Birth
By Kristen S. Sandoz

Here we are once again with an adventure before us. You have met in earnest the Witch Hazel. However, I’m sure by this time you have so many questions about our heroine Pearl. How did she come to live with her Aunt Hazel and what happened to her parents? Were they dead? Did they abandon her? Were they really a king and queen? She is a princess, right? How can this be? Well, your questions are very insightful, reader, and you will be shocked at the story I have to tell you regarding Pearl. Be sure you are not reading this up past your bedtime for once you start on this part of the story you will not be able to stop until I have finished. I would not have you get in trouble on account of me for reading when you should be sleeping.  

Well, she is a dear girl! Truly the daughter of a king. She does not know this, of course, but the fact of the matter is “princessness” comes from within and cannot be dimmed or taken away regardless of a girl’s circumstances. One either acts like a princess and therefore is a princess or one does not act like a princess and therefore is not a princess. It is that simple. Pearl was a princess. I hope you aspire to be one too! It is a grand and glorious life, unless, of course, you are a boy, and then to be a prince suits you much better.

Pearl acted like a princess because she was the daughter of a king. So there is the answer to one of your questions. You are so inquisitive! No, her parents were not dead and neither did they abandon her. In fact they had no idea they had ever lost Pearl to begin with. They were the King and Queen of the very kingdom in which Pearl lived. She was kicked out of her very own Royal City and lived as an outcast in her own kingdom. Can you imagine? All the while the King and Queen were unaware of her existence. They lived their lives in ignorant bliss. Well, almost bliss.

It had taken the Queen quite some time to experience that miraculous and mysterious thing of having a baby grow in her belly. When it finally happened the royal couple was naturally ecstatic. When the time came for the baby to be born the whole kingdom was on pins and needles. Everyone knew the Queen was due any day and everyone waited with great anticipation for this first born royal child. But there was at this time another couple who were also waiting for a baby to be born to them only this couple was not so royal. In fact, they were very much the opposite. They were a Thief and a Lying Beggar. The most rotten sort of people, the kind that would sell their own flesh and blood for a pint of beer and a red petticoat and that is practically what they did. Two nights before the queen gave birth to her baby the Thief and Beggar’s baby was born. It was a girl, and when this dastardly couple heard the news that the King and Queen had also had a baby girl they got it in their smarmy heads that their lovely baby, for she was lovely, had as much rights to the royal throne as the Queen’s own child. Plus, they were already tired of their own baby's incessant crying and constant want of food. So they formed a plan. 

It was late at night only hours after the Queen had given birth. There was much excitement as the whole City had waited up to hear the royal trumpets announce the birth of the princess. Hazel was not the Queen’s midwife that evening because of her mother’s history with the royal family. I should point out that if it had been Hazel attending to the Queen and her precious baby girl none of this would have ever happened. Hazel is most conscientious, and consequently our story would never have been written. So in a strange way we should be thankful for Hazel’s absence that night, because it proves that good can come from evil. Never the less, she was not there, and the midwife who was attending to the birth was run ragged with stress and weariness, for it was a very long and strenuous birth. 

This midwife, who will remain nameless, was so overcome with the gravity of her responsibilities--she had never been the midwife to royalty before--that she was simply too busy to pay much attention to the newborn princess. Minutes after the baby’s birth the midwife wrapped her in swaddling clothes and handed her off to an assistant. This assistant comforted the baby by giving her a pinky finger to suck and soon laid the sleeping baby girl down in order to help attend to the Queen who had proceeded to faint dead away. This all worked out marvelously for the plans of our Thief and Lying Beggar. The evil couple had disguised themselves as wash maids and were in charge of bringing clean linens to the Queen’s chamber during the birth and removing the soiled ones. While the Lying Beggar bustled in out of the chamber her husband, the Thief, sat waiting under a pile of sheets just outside the chamber door with his own baby, whom he was pacifying with a cloth soaked in elderberry wine. As soon as the assistant laid the princess down to rush to the Queen in her time of need the Lying Beggar swept the baby up in a pile of sheets, traded her with her own baby from her husband and whisked the princess off with the wash. No one ever noticed the difference. 

Unbelievable, you say? Not in the least! The Queen had not seen her own child yet and the Midwife was less than observant that night. The assistant was just plain ignorant and the babies were both fast asleep, not that they could have given witness in the first place. The most unbelievable part to me is that a day or two after the Thief and Lying beggar made this switch they decided that babies weren’t quite their thing and they discarded the newborn Princess in a basket on the doorstep of the church. 

I will stop my tale here tonight. So many things to think about, I know. Mainly, why do thieves and beggars get away with such awful things? It is so awful! But as the Witch Hazel often quotes, “The rain falls on the just and the unjust alike.”

1…Now my story is done.
2…I love you!
3…Please kiss me.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Justly Story Ch. 2: The Witch Hazel

Ch. 2: The Witch Hazel 
By Kristen S. Sandoz
            Let us start our story today by returning to Hazel and Pearl.  They were both highly regarded among the Outcasters for not only their wisdom and understanding but also for the healing power of their voices.  You can only imagine the intense and melodic sound that comes from one young and radiant voice and one old and, shall I say, well-worn voice.  It is as if the two juxtaposed sounds stirred themselves together into a rich and nourishing formula.  All who came and drank of this formula knew they found a fountain in which to renew their tired souls, weary hearts, and worn bodies.  Of course, the content of the songs Hazel and Pearl sang were of only good, faithful and uplifting things and this helped the hearer in unexpected ways.  One would come to listen to the two ladies sing because of the sound of their voices, but while they were smelling the pie they were being fed spinach, so to speak.

            There is so much to be said on these two individuals that I will most likely be filling in the blanks as I go.  As I have mentioned the Witch Hazel was a great healer not only through song but also through herbs and tinctures and your everyday practical wisdom, which many of us forget to employ.  She learned the art of healing through her mother who was at one time the Official Healer to the King’s family.  Her mother, Hyacinth, was often called upon by King Richmond, who is the grandfather to the present day king, to travel with his family to distant lands.  King Richmond loved to travel and visit the far places of the world.  Unfortunately, he married a woman who was of a weak disposition and was often struck with strange illnesses while traveling.  You would think Richmond would leave his family home while he traveled but he never did.  He loved his wife and children and preferred to have her and his youngest babes close to him even at the expense of the Queen’s own health.  This situation therefore required a healer to travel with the family and Hyacinth was the Queen’s most favored healer.  Hyacinth had children of her own and her husband was dead so she often brought Hazel and her brother, Sage (although he doesn’t come into our story much), with her to serve the King.  It was in this way that Hazel learned so much about healing and herbs and the delivery of babies and other such necessary things.

One day during Hyacinth’s service to the royal family the Queen fell seriously ill in one of those far away lands and Hyacinth was not able to help her.  Despite all that the healer tried the Queen languished.  This shouldn’t have surprised King Richmond for he had been often warned of the folly in taking his fragile wife along with him in his frivolous pursuits.  But he suffered, as many of us do, from the idea that he was King, and somehow this exempted him from having to mind the laws of nature.  The Queen died and Hyacinth was blamed and chased away to live in Outcast Forest.  Everyone knew that it was not Hyacinth’s fault but a that of the King and his insatiable appetite for strange lands and selfishness for the company of the one he loved who was really too sickly to travel in the first place.

There was still much work for Hyacinth in Outcast Forest.  Many from the city would visit her there and of course there were all the Outcasters themselves, who were far more than we would care to count.  All this time Hazel grew in her healing abilities and when there was one in the Royal City that needed immediate assistance and could not be moved, Hazel was sent to do her mother’s work.  When Hyacinth died one night in her sleep, from good old age, Hazel was more than capable of filling her mother’s shoes.  Hazel lived in the Royal City after her mother’s death for quite some time.  She made a reputation for herself and it wasn’t until she was a very old lady of 50 (at least some think 50 is very old), that the vicious rumor started which eventually caused her expulsion from the Royal City.

This part of the tale may seem very sad with so much death and loss but do not fear; it all turns out happy in the end. As the wise old Witch Hazel often says, "The earth smells sweetest after the rain".

One…Now my story is done.
Two…I love you.
Three…Please, kiss me.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Story Game: I'm Good

Sometimes I get it right.  Not often but sometimes.  It feels so good!  Lately Thing Two has been feeling bad about himself.  He tries to punish himself for being "bad" and gets into these funks where he can't seem to find anything good about himself.  This is so heartbreaking.  Especially as he is my birthday boy (born on my birthday) and can be as sweet as pie!  (I actually called him Baby Pie as an infant).  Like many of us he has believed a lie and follows its trail.

So what did I do right?  Instead of lecturing Thing Two on how good I thought he was I played a game with him.  I made it up on the fly.  It's called "I'm Good".  It worked too!  I have to brag because probably 90% of the time I'm beating myself up for getting it wrong.  It just seems so rare to actually feel like I'm doing something good for my boys.  Hmm...guess I need this game too!

Here it is.

I'm Good Game

To Play:
Each player takes turns saying one thing that is good about themselves until all players have said three things.  An adult starts as an example for the first game.  There are a few special rules though.

1) This is not a competition game.
2) All responses have to be positive.  No one can comment negatively on someones own opinion of themselves and no negative answers are allowed.
3) All three things have to be shared before game ends.
4)  A player's turn is not over until they come up with a positive thing about him or herself.
5) The player has to come up with his own good thing about him or herself.
6) No response can be said twice even in a new game.  Unless, so much time has gone by between games that responses have been forgotten.  (We played this game at every meal for three days and it got very challenging and more rewarding each time.)

Tips: Try to encourage players to come up with something unique and to not copy what someone else has said. Sometimes is might be necessary to have player expand on his or her answer with a specific example.