Thursday, October 4, 2007

Step By Step: A Statement Of Faith

Stepping off the tram,
my three year old son, Seth, and I
place our feet
on the cobblestones of the old city square.
We stand surrounded by the weathered beauty
of the past thousand eastern European years,
and shadowed by the two towers
of a beautiful twelfth century cathedral
dedicated by St. Francis of Assisi,
who had a penchant for hugging diseased people.

Seth and I begin our walk across the square.

As I hear the click of my steps
on the aged rock surface,
I hear the contrast of my son’s shuffling,
forced by the awkwardness
of two rigid leg braces clashing against each other.
Suddenly I notice Indida, the ten year old Roma girl
who, in good Gypsy tradition,
makes a nuisance of herself
begging from people as they get on and off the trams.
She is standing at the base
of the stairs that ascend
to the vegetable market,
and I begin to plot my course so that she won’t see me.
Sure, friends have told me
that unless she gets a certain amount of money for begging,
her father will beat her at the end of the day.

But that’s not my responsibility.

After all, what can I do
about anything that happens
in a dysfunctional Roma family?
As I make my way past Indida,
the slow pace of my son becomes a real liability.
I worry that the shuffling of his brace-laden feet
will broadcast our presence to her.

Finally, the inevitable happens!

Indida looks over in our direction,
and she starts running toward us.
Now I will have to push her away
when she tries to put her hands on me,
for she knows
Americans are particularly upset
by strangers touching them.
I know she will follow us
until we give her the money she wants.
Just before she gets to Seth and me,
she stops abruptly,
stares directly at Seth’s braces,
and then does the most unexpected thing.
Indida reaches into her pockets,
takes out all the money she has,
and with outstretched hands
offers it all to me.
Looking at Indida’s outstretched hands
revealing her sacrificial offering,
I am overwhelmed
by her spontaneous generosity.
I know what this gift will cost her,
and I no longer see a pesky Roma child.
I am looking at a living picture
of God’s grace
being offered to me
in the outstretched hands of Jesus on the cross.
Quickly, I convey to her my deep appreciation
for her thoughtfulness,
and guide her hands
holding her money back to her pockets.
Her eyes brighten
and she wears the first smile
I have ever seen on her face.
After buying her some ice cream,
Seth and I continue on,
making our way slowly up the steps
to the market.

Now, everything is new!

I am not passing a nuisance to be avoided,
but a light that has scattered my darkness.
My son is no longer burdened
with a handicap that slows him down,
or a father without understanding.
Now I see Seth more clearly than ever
a wonder of God,
precious and deserving
of the best and most I can give him.
Using Indida,
God has reminded me of God’s attitude toward me,
and God’s penchant for hugging diseased people.
God has shown me again
that God’s grace is not limited
to my expectations.
Grace surprises us
when we least expect it.
God conveys God’s gifts to us
using the most unlikely people
in the most unlikely places
at the most unlikely times.