The puzzle pieces may remain a bit scattered. In this case they do not have to come together in complete fashion to create the visual artifact of this familiar and ongoing story. The visual rhetoric is present in the language alone: “Then war broke out in heaven” (Rev. 12:7). Perhaps, for this specific story, a picture might not be worth just a thousand words. For as my finite human mind cannot imagine a war of such magnitude, I can appreciate the concise words and feel their weight as I am reminded of our present human condition because of war in heaven.
So many questions, turns, and intersections in sacred space. How could war begin in a place of harmony? Why would jealousy grow in an environment of peace? What poison fertilized this emotion?
I wonder when it began to take shape. What subtleties created the shredded corners of this idea? A word from the Father shared only with the Son, alone? The humble character of the Son, so loved by His Father, in a space where many outnumbered the One? Did the emotions remain so gradual that no one noticed for a time? How did Lucifer’s envy begin? At what moment did the emotion of envy grow deep roots inside him, intertwining with jealousy? Was there an opportunity when those roots could have been ripped out, self-determinedly removed? Perhaps to ensure a “point of safe return” into the peace and harmony of heaven?
The “point of safe return” (PSR) is a common acronym used with in-flight transport of patients. It is a marker to indicate that the aircraft has used more fuel than needed to return to the point of origin. You are faced with a decision to turn back or press forward. Once the PSR is crossed, there is no option but to move forward and engage any skill learned to navigate through unexpected circumstances that might eliminate the chance to reach safe harbor.
The PSR is not to be confused with a “point of no return.” The PSR has at its core the premise of benevolent travel ahead: the aircraft is carrying precious cargo. Pilots do not cross the PSR to be heroes or martyrs. Instead, they are required to use every tool in their toolbox, every lesson learned to make the journey ahead to safe harbor. Benevolent travel must be devoid of hubris, pride, envy.
“You can’t change the wind,” he says. “So adjust your sails. Story of life.”
Lucifer crossed the point of safe return and opted for a point of no return. Envy and hubris were too deeply rooted for any chance to move forward in a benevolent, repented manner. In the development of discord, at the apex of oratory, was there any doubt that justice would be wielded?
In order for justice to occur, a conflict must be set in motion, and there was. The highest crime was committed: rebellion against the government of God. The uniqueness of the relationship between the Father and the Son was used to justify the depths of evil in the self-corrupted cherub and launch the cosmos into a cosmic struggle where battle lines were drawn, sides chosen, and there was war in heaven.
War. The powerful emotions that fueled the outburst of hubris in Lucifer were not present in heaven. Scripture does not tell of negative emotions as prevalent in heaven; they surfaced to signal a problem. These emotions were foreign. How do you navigate through an emotion for which you do not have experience, know reason, or recognize method? Was, in God’s infinite wisdom, the implementation of an army to wage war already present as a contingency plan? The chaos of an internal battle in Lucifer became the catalyst for war and a definition of justice.
When war ensued, justice prevailed. Ultimately, Lucifer and his sympathizers were expelled from heaven: “You have been cast down to the earth” (Isa. 14:12).
Once again, my finite mind takes comfort in the idea that evil was defeated. But it was something of a Pyrrhic victory. Lucifer was not expelled alone. Angels were expelled. Collateral damage: familiar faces gone; spaces now left empty. “Their loss was felt in heaven.”* And from that space outside the divine, the seeming abyss outside of heaven, the fallen were witness to creation, humanity, sin, human heartache, tribulations, broken dreams, losses, hope rebuilt, belief, the cross.
Today we keep living in pages of this story that began so long ago. A tragic Bildungsroman, an origin story for humanity, except for the insurmountable grace of God, which still fuels the journey home: the grace, miracles, blessings, hope, forgiveness, promises kept and coming—everything we need to see the story through to its denouement.
But the directional stability of our journey, that point of safe return, is complex. Why? The struggle against the unknown, unexpected, is often unrecognizable, yet very real and very present in our lives: “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood” (Eph. 6:12). We are surrounded by the constant catalyst of doubt.
While the eschaton, in the divine plan for rescuing humanity, unfolds, we continue to be part of a story we know the ending to. As active parti-
cipants in this conflict, our daily struggles, victories, and losses are all sketched on pages, carefully written on, pages filled with text, pages turned, pages wiped clean. Still, even with the knowledge of how the story ends, humanity grapples with a variable that challenges the time and effort given to our individual character formation: freewill. Freewill coupled with doubt—and fear—is dangerous.
The Bible is filled with promises and encouragement for us to actively lose our fear, never doubt, pray for wisdom. The choices we make determine our place in this cosmic narrative. Our choices and actions affect others.
My experiential learning has taught me there is wisdom and empathy in assessing wreckage. You often end up asking: What would I have done differently in the same situation? Can we assess the wreckage of the war in heaven and choose to move forward, past the point of safe return to a point of safe harbor in benevolence, not hubris?
In the middle of the storm, the lighthouse failed to do the one job it was created for.
This was not a storm “unlike any other.” It was a squall, off the coast far enough for the captain to assess and maneuver the boat; far enough for nonseafaring individuals (such as myself) to panic.
After an academic conference, I join several of my peers (now tourists) on a journey to Roman Rock Lighthouse, off the coast in South Africa, Simon’s Town. The lighthouse was built on a single rock in the middle of the ocean. Indeed, an impressive lighthouse, but also a poetic image.
The trip past the coast was not meant to be eventful, just beautiful. Unique. The ocean pristine. As we move farther away from the coastline, conversations end, silence falls among us, as we are swallowed into the scenic beauty of the
sunlight glistening on the ocean, open space and a coastline getting smaller.
In a moment of brazen bravery, I venture to the upstairs viewing deck of the boat, feel the wind, see the waves crashing against the lighthouse, giving a glimpse of the great rock, the foundation of the lighthouse. It is magnificent! I feel the mist of waves on my face (or are those tears?) as I look ahead to where the ocean and the sky meet. Speechless.
Then I see it. Dark clouds. Where have they come from? I look at the coast we have left as the wind stirs and feels different, moving faster between everything and everyone. The captain, steady on his feet, leads us below and checks our life vests as the wind picks up speed. The design of the boat allows us to view the captain steering calmly but steady through tall waves. A two-man crew listens to his commands and execute orders immediately.
In tight quarters, six tourists from
entirely different parts of the world sit quietly watching frothy waves roll past the boat. We move forward, making calculated turns. All crew members help the captain keep the directional stability of the vessel constant. I peek through the windows. The captain is steering the boat into the squall. Counterintuitively, the captain engages the wind, preserving the fuel by working within the peripheral effects of the squall. He knows the territory. He knows where the real danger is below the waves. He is aware of the point of safe return.
In the small space below, facing our own tolerance for uncertainty, common human emotions spill out: doubt, condemnation, hubris, fear. There is a question of capable governance of the boat. As we observe the scenery gone wrong, three of my colleagues speak up and say what usually is shared in small whispers to the wind itself:
“The captain should’ve warned us there could be a squall! He wanted the fee and is not invested in us.”
“We are scholars, not average tourists! I have some nautical training. History is littered with stories of ocean wrecks by a captain like this one!”
“Lighthouses mark dangerous coastlines, hazardous reefs, rocks and safe entries to harbors, or they used to. This one is useless! He will probably run us into the rock we came to see!”
I observe those who remain quiet, rolling their eyes at the commentary. Me? I am praying, watching. As the captain steers us into the squall, the boat cuts through the waves like a knife, using wind to propel us; adequate modifications to keep us safe.
We move forward trusting the experience of our captain, potentially traveling outside the margins of a safe perimeter, avoiding jagged rocks and reefs he is aware of. There is a stream of calm in the middle of the squall: the captain’s grace. It isn’t academia we need; it is intuition. It isn’t extraordinary research in nautical travel we need; it is the memory of the terrain by a seasoned traveler.
As quickly as the squall arrived, it disappears. The cloudy skies no longer a threat, the captain invites us to step back outside and view the lighthouse, the rock it is built on is visible and impressive. I look at the fragmented group. Only three of us have returned to deck, while three remain below. The captain walks among us, nods, and when I thank him, he shakes his head.
“Story of life: calm passage, sudden chaos. Ocean of life no different,” he says, pointing at colleagues below deck. “Never be a squall in another’s life. Can’t travel alone, so don’t judge travelers ahead.” He shakes his head. “You can’t change the wind, so adjust your sails. Story of life.”
As we travel farther away from the memory of Eden, our need for justice increases, because in this story experiential learning becomes increasingly difficult. For humanity, the point of safe return was determined at the cross by the most benevolent act of all: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
The unknown, unexpected, the unrecognizable, are all experiences that remain in the shadow of the cross. They have been conquered before we even try to engage in them. What is left for us are choices. The point of safe return is outside the margins of human accomplishments; in God’s hand.
Even with a constant catalyst, there remains a necessity to shape our character to recognize the risks, wind, lack of spiritual fuel, wisdom to travel in chaos, empathy to recognize past wreckages of others and of our own! Pray to journey in wisdom but assert unquestionable faith to move forward in unknown distance. For now, the story continues.
* Ellen G. White, The Story of Redemption (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1947), p. 19.
Dixil Rodríguez writes from Ohio.
One of the most difficult aspects of moving to a new place and setting up “home” is finding those spiritual and emotional havens. For which community projects will I volunteer? Who needs my help? Where will my spiritual gifts be of service? Where is my new church located? What will my new religious and spiritual family be like? Of all the necessary questions for adjustment, I can always rely on two constants: God’s leading and unknown weather forecasts.
God always leads and makes the necessary introductions for us to serve where He needs us. I volunteer in places where family and friends honestly express: “I would never have seen you participating in that project!” That’s part of saying, “Send me”: you never know where God needs ambassadors.
The second constant I know for sure: God’s introductions do not come with a weather warning. Whether it’s physical or emotional, we can’t predict if our location of service will experience sunshine, rain, or heavy storms. The best I can do is prepare by praying that I will have the heavenly “gear” to get through whatever comes. In that preparation I’m not alone.
Plenty of women and men have prayed “Send me,” but it always begins with a recalled admission: “Here am I.” It’s not that God needs to know where our geographical location is in order to put us to work—it’s a willingness to admit that we’re ready for service, regardless of the weather. That’s not an easy task. Think on it: ready for service, regardless of weather. Imagine all the pictures and images of “what’s left” after a hurricane, tornado, or storm. Are we still willing to serve?
Would you rescind your offer to serve because the sun is too hot or the air too humid? Would you rescind your offer to serve because of the possibility that you may end up in a place that’s unfriendly or dangerous?
God willing, we simply serve and rely on Him to help us through any weather. The forecast uncertain, we may be fortunate enough to receive a warning of any impending storm. What do we do with the very real possibility of a forecast of dangerous weather? When we hear it coming, how do we prepare for a storm?
It was a week of good news. A physical checkup had demonstrated that I was in “good health.” Actually, my physician said: “Everything still looks perfect. You’re a miracle and a blessing. Go and continue enjoying life!”
Anyone who knows my personal story can attribute “miracle and blessing” only to God, not to science. Continued good health? That’s a blessing I never take for granted. Yes, it was a day of good news! Also, the news was right on time, as I prepared to take on new responsibilities in my professional life: more time as a chaplain and less time as a professor.
Yet in my sunshine I heard the faint sound of thunder and heavy rain.
That evening, as I served a new volunteer community, I found myself going through a familiar routine of donning a mask, gloves, and gown before entering a room to visit a patient, Emory. It was a pleasant visit. A man of faith, he shared a brief synopsis of his life and thanked me for my visit. He suffered no delusion that he would recover from illness, but he was at peace. As with many people, he had outlived family and friends. He was on his own, but he was quick to say: “I’m not alone, no matter what it looks like.”
With a bit of time before beginning my new job, I decided to visit Emory again. On my second visit I heard more details of his life. He had served as a missionary, a doctor on a different continent. He had to learn to speak a different language. We spoke of cultural differences, ministering to the sick, the poor, everyone we often call “the least of these,” when in reality we’re just as least as they are, all alike, fulfilling the call to love one another, labor with one another. His words inspired me, and I promised to visit again.
A day later I go through the routine again: mask, gloves, and gown before entering the room. As I say a quick prayer before opening the door, I hear the voice of a nurse behind me whisper: “He’s not well, Chaplain. This will happen quickly.”
I sit with Emory for a while. This time I tell him the stories. I tell him about relocating, moving to a new place, preparing to begin a different ministry. He listens, smiles, laughs. His green eyes look cloudier than the day before, but he tells me he’s not in pain.
In a moment of silence he reaches for my hand and says: “I, too, told God, ‘Send me’; then it all changed. I rescinded my willingness to serve.” A tear runs down his cheek. I hold my breath and don’t move lest his next words are not ready to meet the air we share. “I said, ‘God, I wanted to serve; I just didn’t think it would be like this! So hard!’ My family struggled. Even after we returned, my wife suffered with chronic pain from repeated malaria acquired during that time I had said ‘Send me,’ but . . .” he stops to catch his breath. I see him labor, and I nod. There is no need to finish the sentence.
We embrace the words “God will never give us more than we can handle” and “All things are possible through Jesus Christ”; then we realize that in our service, during our ministry, there may be collateral damage, loss, struggles. We remember we are still human, fragile. We doubt. What was once a distant sound of thunder gets closer, and we remember that sound precedes a mighty storm.
As I conclude my visit, he asks me to pray. I hold his hand, and once my prayer is finished, I feel a gentle squeeze to my hand as he begins to pray. It’s not often that this happens during visits, and I’m humbled to hear his voice lift up words of gratitude and praise to God for all the kindness and joy of the day. His voice is strong, determined, but his words demonstrate that God has been not only a Father but a patient Friend to him. The honest words make tears pool in my eyes. Just as the prayer nears a close, I hear my new friend share a weather forecast:
“God, keep this young woman on this path. Help her stay the course, so that when the storm comes, You will give her strength to run ahead of chariots, creating a path through heavy rain, where You lead. Send your angels to sustain her.”
I hold his hand as he falls asleep.
Hours later, in the safety and comfort of my home, I read the story of Elijah and Ahab for the eighth time. In my mind’s eye I imagine the scene. As a child growing up in the Caribbean, I remember the sight of rain so thick you couldn’t see more than a few inches ahead. How thick was that heavy rain for Elijah? Is it possible to imagine that same heavy rain as not just physical but emotional? How many times have I asked God for guidance through a storm? How many times has He sent someone to help me through a storm?
My “good news week” ends with prayers of gratitude, prayers of comfort for my new friend, and prayers for purpose: “Here I am. As You have blessed me for so long and kept me for so long, send me. Even if it storms.”
Throughout the hours of the night, the sound of thunder grows, and the winds change.
Several weeks later, a new morning, a new reality. Thunder is loud, rain is heavy, visibility is poor.
The early hours of the day find me sitting in my car, dialing a familiar phone number: my parents. I’m calling to ask for continued prayers. I’m headed to work through a heavy storm, and I’m not the only one. As I begin the journey, I remember the prayer of my friend: “Help her stay the course.” My “good news week” is now a reminder of how much I must rely on God to run with me through any storm. To be in the trenches means to serve in faith, running ahead of the heavy rain, ahead into the unseen and
unpredictable. Yet, as Emory reminded me: “I am not alone, no matter what it looks like.”
The request, so obvious to me now, is that all of us “stay the course.” That we run together with the purpose of ministry and mission, true light bearers in the deep dark, listening to the one still voice that can be used to calm and bring peace among the noise. In every capacity we are prepared, secured, comforted with God’s promises; words so clear we should not fear to stumble in our capacity to share the strength and peace they bring. Here we are; send us.
As I stand in line to be screened for temperature checks and answer questions, a familiar nurse I work with recognizes me and walks over to clear me for entry into the hospital. “Tell me, Chaplain, what’s the weather like?”
“Forecast? Heavy rain,” I say with a smile. Yet here we are, still willing to serve. No rescinding. No left, no right, just forward.
“Are we ready?” she asks as she jots down numbers on a clipboard.
Yes, we are.
And just like that, following the footsteps of the One who faced a deadly storm for me, I step into the heavy rain.
“The voice of the Lord is over the waters; the God of glory thunders, the Lord thunders over many waters. . . .
The Lord blesses his people with peace” (Ps. 29:3-11).
Dixil Rodríguez has served as a university professor and hospital chaplain.
Evaluations. Performance reviews. Feedback.
Quality assurance appears to be a topic of much conversation today. There is a genuine interest to know how “we” are “doing.”
I recently called my bank to report a stolen credit card. After completing business, the customer service representative asked: “Would you please stay on the line to complete a short survey for feedback on the service provided?” Suddenly our pleasant conversation became a complex numerical transaction rating the experience from one to five.
Feedback requests are everywhere: surveys arrive requesting evaluations from my dentist, grocery store. Printed receipts have numerical codes listed next to toll-free phone numbers you may call to evaluate the service provided. Feedback. “How are we doing?”
All of us have different abilities and spiritual gifts that transcend borders of evaluation.
In a reward-based transactional world, what happens with feedback provided? Does quality truly improve based on my observation? What if there were no changes, repercussions, or rewards to any feedback, and we all agreed that a “job well done is truly its own reward”? What would be left to improve on? What would be the measure of our improvement from feedback? What are the measures of our improvement from feedback about us?
* * *
A colleague recently requested a recommendation letter for her teaching portfolio. Teaching interviews are unique. Not only are you interviewed by administrators; you also present a lesson (teach a class). The topic is assigned to you, and the audience is a mix of future colleagues and administrators who act the role of students.
“Two of the audience members behaved as disruptive students,” said my friend over dinner. “How is this a fair evaluation? Feedback in numbers and comments from strangers?” She moved food around her plate. “Every day in the classroom I am consciously effective because someone is watching me, assessing; I am nice because someone is observing me; behaving because you never know who is recording you on their cell phone.”
I smiled but quickly realized the depth of what she was observing: that “something” about our self requires editing because of feedback by others. Being a “good person” has no significant gravitas without the proper numbers to back it up. Any form of feedback affects more than just our professional esteem. We often fret over lingering thoughts of what others think or speak about us. Whose evaluations keep us up at night? Friends? Coworkers? Employers? Family?
I’m still pondering the conversation about evaluations and how these often highlight imperfections. It appears that evaluation methods limit the person. All of us have different abilities and spiritual gifts that transcend borders of evaluation. At the end of the day, we’re evaluated by no rubric, but through Jesus Christ. Having accepted Him as my Savior, my defective self is replaced by perfection that’s not mine, but motivates me to excel in my self-development, my desire to serve Him. I’m motivated to care for others, and my reward is fulfilling a mission of service for Christ.
Yes, there are human limitations of feedback toward one another. There are days we fumble through rough terrain and days we seem to sail safely through adversity. When no one is watching, in our service toward one another, how are we doing?
Dixil Rodríguez serves as a chaplain at Kettering Medical Center in Ohio.
There are people in our lives who share similar spiritual values. Among these values, for me, is the importance of prayer for one another. I have many friends who are truly fine individuals and scholars. They share very little about their lives. This is common in an academic environment in which the personal and religious are not engaged in daily discussion by any requirement. Hence, I have few friends who share their spiritual journeys and ask for prayer. Somehow the Holy Spirit introduces us.
It’s a precious request: pray for me. Imagine all that affects, shapes your space: family, friends, work, colleagues, emergencies, daily activities, thoughts, concerns, praise. So many cares and joys to place forward in prayer. What are we asking of others when we request their prayer? What are others asking for when they pray for us?
* * *
It was my last-minute e-mail check before leaving for work. There it was: “May God continue to bless your ministry and the ministry of your colleagues at Adventist Review. I pray for you . . .” The sender included this citation: “We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of His will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Holy Spirit gives” (Col. 1:9). I don’t recognize the name of the sender, but humility overcomes me as I realize someone has placed my name in the presence of God, praying for my service to Him.
What are we asking of others when we request their prayers? What are others asking for when they pray for us?
The e-mail note remains a companion during lectures at the university. A colleague stops by my office to “check in” before a meeting, and we talk for a few minutes. As she prepares to leave, she whispers, “Pray for me. Life is getting complicated.”
A few hours later my friend returns from her meeting, stops by my office, quietly sits, and shares: “I was thinking. God knows what I need, but if you could pray for strength, wisdom, patience,
and . . .” her voice trails off.
Experience has taught me that these are important requests, pleadings for extended guidance and grace. This request is more specific in its intent. I invite her to join me in prayer that very moment. We spend time talking, and eventually the focus falls on prayers we offer for others. I mention prayers that appear to be the topic of the day, briefly sharing the morning e-mail experience. She smiles.
“I have neglected to reflect on prayers sent for me, given by me,” she says. “Only recently have I realized how much I need them. It’s comforting to know that someone prays to ensure that your daily journey includes traveling close to still waters.”
Still waters. Peace. Care. No needs. Comfort for the soul.
On my drive home I think on this: I do not have great wars to fight; no country calls for me. I lose sleep to personal battles, the struggles of being a child of God running through challenging terrain with trees so high the light of heaven can barely be seen. When darkness encroaches on my life, when the body remembers to push forward in faith, I am not alone.
The Holy Spirit never stops moving among us. Part of searching the guidance provided is to continually be willing to lift one another in prayer.
Pray for me.
Dixil Rodríguez writes from Ohio.
Several years ago I was given a bookmark. The bookmark is square, thick metal, and has beautiful Celtic designs carved on it with the engraving: “Live, Laugh, Love.” It’s not a bookmark I would have selected for myself. It’s heavy and slips out of books quite easily, which renders its primary purpose useless.
Yet it is beautiful and oddly profound: Live, Laugh, Love. An invitational phrase; a checklist of sorts. It makes me wonder: could we sum up transformative moments of our lives into just three words?
* * *
The week is dedicated to academic professional development meetings. For four days professors from across the state will spend six hours in workshops, training, and lectures.
I am late to the first faculty lecture series, and I quickly search for a seat. I quietly tiptoe toward the last aisle in the auditorium to an empty chair next to my friend, Dr. Michaels, a composer and music professor. I whisper hello, sit down, and, to my horror, I hear the sound of my Celtic bookmark fall to the floor, hit the tile, and oscillate in vibration.
“Help me learn to play and write music for You, and I will spend my life teaching others to praise You.”
As the bookmark becomes silent in its movement, my colleague whispers: “Your bookmark is set to A sharp.” I try to control a small burst of laughter.
During a break Dr. Michaels examines the bookmark. He finds the metal to be resilient yet problematic as he notices the bookmark’s weight will never “hold still” between pages. “It is a rather persistent bookmark,” he says. “Every time it escapes the pages of a book it will fall and remind you of three rather important general tasks: live, laugh, love.”
Still holding the bookmark, Dr. Michaels shares that as a young disabled boy, he grew up at a time when few resources could help him succeed in school. He never spoke in class. Music helped him communicate. When his grandmother took him to church, he would listen to the choir, hear the harmonies meant for heaven, and say: “I want to write something for God.”
He prayed for a gift and dedicated its outcome: “Help me learn to play and write music for You, and I will spend my life teaching others to praise You.”
I listen, reflecting on the many concerts I have attended in which he conducted original compositions performed by the university orchestra. Amid many standing ovations he always looks up, points to the heavens, then humbly asks the orchestra to stand and accept their standing ovation. I never understood the blessing behind the talent, the answered prayers, in every note he writes.
“You have a bookmark in the pages of my life’s story,” he says, adjusting his glasses. “My three words would be: pray, listen, praise.” He smiles and slowly walks away, using his support cane to probe through a busy crowd he cannot see, carefully touching the back of the chairs, silently counting them until he returns to his seat.
I somehow know that his three words are part of a ministry for me. I follow him to our seats, with my advantage of sight and the challenge to engage other senses, as he has done all his life: to pray, listen, praise. Because those are the roots that sprout life, laughter, and love.
Dixil Rodríguez, a university professor and hospital chaplain, lives in Texas.
If you ever wonder about the emotional state of humanity, visit the airport baggage claim area to view tangible proof that human beings share deep emotions for one another. An observer needs only see, after the plane arrives, passengers at the gate greeted by friends, family, loved ones, all with emotional reunions. Nothing compares to the genuine joy of running into the arms of my family after being away so long.
I think on the definition of “reunion” just as I watch passengers begin to enter the baggage claim area.
“Is this seat taken?” asks an unfamiliar voice. An older couple stands before me, the gentleman holding a bouquet of flowers. They sit, quietly, holding hands. He taps his foot nervously. I casually introduce myself. The couple, Paul and Kathy, are very kind and very uncomfortable. I try to lighten the mood by telling them I am picking up my father, a rare treat for me, since he often leaves his car at the airport when he travels.
Time passes, and we talk as if we are old acquaintances.
Just then Kathy hides her face in Paul’s shoulder and begins to sob. Obviously my story sounded happier in my head than when I delivered it.
“We are here to pick up family too, our daughter,” says Paul. “At least we hope so.”
Over the next hour I “meet” their daughter, Maggie. Five years ago Maggie left Texas and traveled to the East Coast to attend university. After attending one semester, Maggie dropped out. Eventually Maggie stopped calling home. Paul and Kathy alerted authorities, filed a missing person’s report, only to discover that their daughter had been living on the streets for the past several years.
“We are Christians,” says Kathy. “So we made contact with our sister church in that city, sent them her picture, and asked for help.” And they received it. A parishioner at the church sent them a photograph of Maggie. Kathy immediately sent the parishioner a plane ticket with a simple note: “Get this to her.”
They waited three months. I imagine Kathy going through her mailbox each day, checking e-mail, checking “junk mail” in the e-mail box, picking up every phone call, just in case.
Today they are sitting at the airport by faith. Paul takes a piece of paper out of his shirt pocket, the e-mail that announces the time of Maggie’s arrival. It’s been folded, opened, folded again, soft to the touch from wear and possibly from tears.
Time passes, and we talk as if we are old acquaintances. Somehow sharing about Maggie has calmed their spirits. Paul says the experience has cost them several friends at church. The term “prodigal daughter” has been hurtful to them, even though Paul believes that all of us have been in that role at some point in our lives.
As the announcement of the arrival of both flights we are waiting for is made, Paul, Kathy, and I huddle in prayer. There in baggage claim A4, a prayer is offered for safety, grace, mercy, kindness, forgiveness, and peace.
Fifteen minutes later my father and I walk toward the airport exit. There they are: Paul and Kathy sitting in airport chairs, Maggie kneeling in front of them, weeping.
Heavenly Father, she is home. May this reunion, shaped by Your hands, be blessed.
Dixil Rodríguez, a university professor and hospital chaplain, lives in Texas.
As I walk through the produce aisle, I am aware that someone is watching me. From the corner of my eye I see her. She opens produce bags, does not fill them, moves closer to me.
“Excuse me,” I say. “Do you need help?”
Without hesitation she says, “I need your help. My daughter is writing a book. She’s in the hospital and will never leave. Can you help her?”
Six days later, after research, permits, I find myself walking the halls of a familiar hospital, to a place I rarely visit: the case study tower. The daughter is Ruth, 19. She has a rare genetic illness. I see arrows pointing toward Suite 401: “Isolation.” Ruth and I will speak through a thick pane of glass.
* * *
During our first visit we laugh about her initial adventures in the case study. The treatment has not eradicated a precious item:joy. The topic of her book surfaces. She holds up a large sketchbook. The drawings are beautiful! She is illustrating a book for her younger sister, Isabel. Both were adopted into their current family. Ruth remembers when as young girls they were dedicated in church as “the greatest blessing God has bestowed this family.”
Memories presented in sketches, scratchboard images with soft edges. The lives of two blessed little girls. The pictures are almost complete. Words are missing. She needs words.
* * *
For the next weeks I visit Ruth, listen, take notes of her words, view sketches. Ruth decides which of her quotes best describe each sketch. Every visit begins and ends with prayer, both of us holding our hands against the cold glass between us, inviting the warmth of the Holy Spirit to inspire. On the sixth week final sketches are done and lined up on the glass. These sketches show when Ruth was diagnosed, everyday Isabel visits; Ruth missing her, proud of her, praying for her. I notice the detail on the “sleepover sketch,” when Isabel and Ruth slept in gurneys with the thick pane of glass between them, as close as they would ever be. Ruth watches me, holding a pen. I shake my head no. Sometimes it is necessary to put the pen down and let the heart speak.
* * *
Soon the book’s cover page is done, and a sealed letter for Isabel is placed on the last page. Ruth smiles: “Every day you visit I pray, ‘Heavenly Father, when You close the day, may all we have done please You, and may You say: time well spent.’”
At 2:00 a.m. the phone rings.“Hello, it’s Frank, Ruth’s father. About an hour ago . . .”
* * *
Months later I sit in my office, hear the soft knock. “Hello, Dr. Rodriguez? We met briefly, but you may not remember me.” I remember you, Isabel.
As we sit in the cafeteria, she offers grace over the meal: “Heavenly Father, when You close the day, may all we have done please You, and may You say: time well spent.” As we share stories, glimpses of Ruth teaching her little sister, the prayer crosses my mind. Heavenly Father, it was an honest, good book.
Dixil Rodríguez is a university professor and hospital chaplain, who lives in Texas.
There’s a photograph near the library at the university. The photograph simply shows two outstretched hands ready to make contact—as if someone were falling and stretched out their hand and were about to get “caught” by another. I have purposely never read the caption. Often what is not “said” makes the point.
* * *
I remember sitting on a sandy beach under a palm tree observing people. In front of me walked a father and son, treading the line on the sand where the waves just tickle your toes, reminding you that there is a great ocean out there. The little boy, maybe 5 years old, walked slowly, looking at waves, stooping down waiting for the waves to reach him, laughing when he tried to catch the water that escaped his hands. Just as they walked in front of me, the little boy fell. While watching the water come and go, a misstep.
The father stood up and extended his hand. “Hold on to me. I won’t let you fall.”
The father, in calm and slow movements, helped the crying boy back to his feet. He placed an arm around his son and said, “Don’t cry. I’m right here.” The father explained why the boy fell: “Look, the sand here just soaked up the water from the waves so it became softer, and that made it easier to lose your footing. We’ve all stepped on soft sand, buddy. It may happen again, so be careful where you walk.” Then, as if to extend a precious detail to this child’s learning experience, the father stood up and extended his hand. “Hold on to me. I won’t let you fall.”
I remember wondering, God, is that what You do with me? What if I cannot see You, God? Whom do You send to help me up?”
* * *
As I crouch in the corner of the room, I realize the luxury of light. Here we are, 50 students, one professor, and a campus police officer, hiding in the west side of the library, dark rooms designated for heavy protection. First thing on today’s agenda: a shooter drill. The alarm is very loud. Across the room from me are two young women, one who is crying. I crawl toward them and hear one of them say, “Just breathe.” One of the students is having a panic attack. The police officer approaches, but he is late. Amid the dark, voices of whispering students bring some semblance of order in chaos, helping their classmate.
“Try to focus on something. Can you see on the right, the window? There’s a picture of the hands.”
“Yeah, good idea. Focus on that religious picture.”
“No. It’s motivational, like climbers helping one another to the top of the mountain.”
“Or Jesus reaching out to us?”
The voice of the panicked student surfaces: “If it’s Jesus, where are the scars? You know, the cross thing?”
“Maybe He sent someone to help catch someone,” says the officer, gaining agreement from all.
As the quiet conversation continues, the panicked student’s breathing slows down, and I remember soft sand. A child has fallen. In my mind’s eye I see outstretched hands surrounding us at this very moment.
Dixil Rodríguez, a university professor and hospital chaplain, lives in Texas.
Heaven has an abundance of grace. The Holy Spirit knows how much grace I need today. With that grace, how will I help others today? Daily “routines” are often too noisy and busy to notice how we can help others in need. How does the Holy Spirit nudge us to share grace and kindness toward others?
* * *
My neighbor across the street always warns her four children: “I’m about to drive off! If you’re not in the car, you won’t get to school!” I find it amusing, considering the reason she is “driving off” at 6:30 a.m. is only to drive her children to school.
Then there is the daily greeting by my colleague at work: “Can you believe we’re still here?” I used to wonder whether he was discussing the fact we had shown up to work at all, or that we chose to show up at work again. These two early (and predictable) comments make my morning feel comfortably “routine” and predictable. Routines change.
Where does the kindness we show others begin?
On Monday morning I pack books and laptop into the car. Stella, my retired English teacher neighbor, waves from her porch swing. As if on cue I hear the warning: “I’m about to drive off . . .” I smile.
Today, above the noise, a child’s voice: “Do we get lunch today?” I cannot hear the answer. They drive away. I walk toward Stella who has also heard the exchange. “It’s difficult,” she says. “Money must be tight. Her husband is deployed abroad. She can’t find a job, and probably can’t afford the lunch program at school.”
The drive to work is riddled with questions: Why are children not receiving lunch at school? Hasn’t that program been in place for decades? What’s happening? The ripple effect of “my routine has been altered” begins. At work my colleague walks by: “Can you believe we’re still here?” Actually, if it were not for God’s grace, I doubt it.
Aware that he has young children who attend the local public school, I ask about the lunch programs. Details are complex: availability and affordability. Free lunches traded for affordable lunches. There is a cost—even in neighborhoods where free breakfast is offered, lunch is sold. A child will incur a debt or simply not have a school lunch.
Recently community churches joined to pay children’s “late” and “future” lunch fees. “It’s about the county you live in,” says my colleague, offering resources.* Yet resources keep me awake with concern: How does my church’s school fund its lunch program?
Later I share the information with Stella, estimate the number of children in our neighborhood, and prepare a proposal for funding to our homeowner’s association. Our homes and children reside within the same county lines. Where does the kindness we show others begin? For Stella and me, it begins with our neighbor, today.
* * *
What is the level of detail we engage in, observing, listening to people around us—strangers, familiars—and participating in their lives? I challenge you to think on this task. Often the concern with our own human condition blinds us and makes us unable to see divine grace, the need for grace extended to others. Where does the kindness we show others begin in you today?
Dixil Rodríguez is a university professor and hospital chaplain. She lives in Texas.
It is rare to receive an emergency code page at 10:00 p.m. with no room number. At the hospital I am directed to the Cardiology Unit. I stand at the doorway of the room. Lights are dim; a gentleman sits in bed reading a Bible. The patient’s closet is open; a priest’s outfit is neatly hung. Next to the man is a container with ice water for drinking. No flowers in the room. What am I missing?
The nurse tells me that earlier the patient had coded. Since then the patient has been quiet, crying, reading the Bible. His name is Peter.
I walk into the room, closing the sliding-glass door a bit for privacy. I introduce myself. He offers me a seat in a chair next to him. Closing his Bible, he tells me he finally got to Proverbs. Finally got to Proverbs? I glance at the closet. Is he not a priest? He notices my gaze: “Yes, as a priest I could have read the Bible, but other books were placed in front of me: books of policy, traditional rituals—well, I just got to Proverbs.
“I was so consumed with terms such as infinity and eternity. I told my parishioners: ‘This is God’s will’; ‘Trust the path’; ‘Things happen for a reason’; and ‘Your family member is in a better place.’ I had it wrong.”
Peter talks about his failing heart, a boulder of illness blocking his path forward. After much prayer it doesn’t seem God will move the boulder. He is trusting a new path. Peter asks: “What would you do if God decided to not remove a boulder from your path? Are you disappointed? Do you use the time to commune with Him?”
“I have found peace. Please keep my Bible,” he says.
I had never thought of that! I walk to the end of the room, collect a blanket from the warmer. God, how do I answer this question?
Before I can speak, Peter arrives at an obvious conclusion: “Paths are individual. If I trust God, I will wait on Him. I will confess my sins, lie at His feet; His will be done.” I wrap the blanket around him and simply say: “Pray. Earnestly. He is with you at this very moment.” I sit holding his hand, praying quietly, until he falls asleep.
I slip away, find the head nurse, and ask about Peter’s prognosis. “Chaplain, morning won’t find him here.” I return to the room to softly read Proverbs to Peter. He wakes for a moment as the nurse switches IVs and hears me reading. He says: “I have found peace. Please keep my Bible.” He dozes off. I continue reading; tears blur my vision.
Before the sun peeks through the night sky, a code blue alarm sounds in the room. Physicians arrive, and the code blue runs its course. After 45 minutes everyone leaves the room. I stay, remembering the many boulders God moved out of my path. On the horizon God’s work awaits, so I will keep walking. I open Peter’s Bible. Annotations and marginalia fill its pages. A folded page on Psalm 23. Being part of Peter’s journey, I realize it’s not just about “trusting the path” but about “trusting God’s path for us.”
The thought lingers as I fall asleep and the sun rises.
Dixil Rodríguez, a university professor and volunteer hospital chaplain, lives in Texas.