This is the second time it’s happened. The irony is I rarely have time to ever prune the rose bushes anymore, but there she was again.
The first time she drove up the kids and I were all out on the front driveway in our ridiculously quiet and obscure culdesac, when a dark grey minivan pulls up, around, and then closets us in with her car. A woman gets out, but she leaves the motor running. Now I have 4 little kids, within a 6 year span, and even though there was a welcoming smile on my face, my first thought was okay lady, you take one of my kiddos and these pruning shears will be what you dream about while both you and I are in prison. Standing there in my jeans, leather gardening gloves, and rusty scissors, I realized I could be overreacting.
She was from India, you could tell by her accent, and she introduced herself as Rena. She spoke of her children, her newness to the area, and complimented my babies. She wore a bright and beautiful smile as she asked amiably if she could steal some of my roses off of the many bushes I have. I told her she didn’t have to steal them, and that she was welcome to them whenever she wanted to come pick a few. They were free to her for the taking as a welcome to the neighborhood, and to feel free to clip a few whenever she wanted. She thanked me graciously as she grabbed my children and hugged them profusely. You see, she began explaining, the flowers were for her god.
Errrrr! My racetrack became a quick quarter mile, and the brakes squealed to a fast halt.
“Excuse me?” Unaccustomed to her religious culture and upbringing I was sure I heard her correctly, but wanted her to repeat herself so I could recover from my shocked expression.
“Oh, my god LOVES when I give him flowers. I drive around the neighborhood looking for the best ones. I’m making him some food today, and I’m going to give him these roses, and he will be very happy with me.”
I don’t know why this surprise drive-by was so shocking to me. There are dozens of beliefs other than mine, but in my peripheral there are only atheists, agnostics, Mormons, Catholics, and then there are the other born-again believers like myself. The other interesting thing about this encounter was the small chapter book my third grader had just finished reading to me only days earlier. The Gods Must be Angry is a true story, and became in instant favorite in our household. The boy inside this book accidentally knocks the family idol shelf down while playing, the god falls to the floor, and its head breaks off. This leads to the family wondering why their god cannot fix his own head, or another idol cannot put the others head back on. Where is their power, the family wonders, so they start to listen to the Christ loving missionaries in the village. Their entire lives are changed after seeing and then experiencing the love and power of Jesus Christ for themselves. In my real life, the pendulum had just swung in a direction I only knew existed in books. Other than seeing the money and incense laden Buddha’s while paying for spring rolls, I had never personally met and then known about someone’s idol shelf. I was immediately intrigued.
“What is your god’s name?” I asked
She exclaimed, “Oh, he has many names. I’m going to make a big feast, and He is going to be so happy!”
Knowing she drove into my life for a greater purpose, I make a quick attempt to tell her that my family and I worship Jesus. Rena nodded her head with a look that seemed to say, duh. You were born and raised in America, of course you would believe in Jesus, she seemed to say in her expression. She overly thanked me, hugged all of my kids, gave me an amazing smile, and drove off to put my roses around the neck of her big shiny statue. I can’t tell you how I felt when she left. Grieved, for one. Respectful of everyone else’s choices, I can’t help but feel sad when I see someone spending their energy, time, and resources on something that can’t help them. A powerless power over them. I prayed that one day I would see her again, and that the door would be open for her to ask questions about our faith, and ultimately, Jesus.
Can I say something? It’s never been a contest, nor has it ever been a competition. It’s not my god’s better than your god, therefore I’m better than you are. Nothing could be further from what my thoughts or intents really are. My God is better, but only because He’s real. It’s not about me at all, and someone who understands that, and has experienced His presence, wants to introduce Him to anyone they can. I realize you could argue that to Rena, or any other person who does not put their trust in the name of Jesus, to them, their god seems very real. Real enough to make a platter of food for…Real enough to place flowers in front of. Perhaps even real enough to hope against hope that they are doing enough; serving enough, praying, blessing, sacrificing…enough. Jesus remains the polar opposite. He served, He blessed, and He sacrificed Himself, so that you and I would be free.
People misunderstand. They see Old Testament commandments as regimental rules, and having to give up worldly vices as the work it takes to remain in God’s favor. But you see, when you recognize your sin, or at least the future verdict of it, realize you need forgiveness, ask Jesus to do just that, and turn from your sins, which is true repentance, the Holy Spirit of God comes to live inside of you. He does some housecleaning. He puts new desires within you. It’s no longer a drudgery to keep a commandment, it’s an honor. There’s no more disdain of church, there’s a longing to belong in one. There’s no longer a constant fear of death, only an occasional wonder of who you get the privilege of talking with first once you get there. Jesus becomes the change in you. He’s the hope in you, and He is so adamantly in love with you, you cannot ever lose His favor.
Fast forward to last month, and the next time I have to trim those dumb flowers. Every time I pulled the van into the driveway I would see thorns reaching desperately that much closer to the paint job. It was time to tackle the roses again, and it just happened to be my birthday. Like de ja vu, not 2 minutes after I put my gardening gloves on, and picked up my rusty shears, here comes the dark grey minivan with my beautiful Indian acquaintance. I was dumbstruck, I thought, you’ve gotta be kidding me, does she have a camera on my house? I’m glad to see her again, and to have another opportunity to share with her the love of Jesus. Turning on my smile, to her credit she at least turns off the car this time, and bounds up the driveway arms outstretched in welcome to my children. She sees the small pile of roses, and her mouth waters. I’ve never really liked roses, and she wants them. Win win. With great effort I try to overlook what purpose the flowers are going find, and battle just to love her. Not to speak, just to listen. Not to judge, just to befriend. Today she’ll be making a large garland.
“It’s a celebration,” she declares boisterously, “because today is my god’s birthday!”
“Oh!” My lame reply slips out.
“It’s my mom’s birthday too,” the kids proclaim. “Your god was born? Our God always was…”
And of course.. if the garland is grand enough, the food seasoned enough, the house clean enough, the guests devout enough, than her statue, her god, will be “very happy” with her. I turn to watch her profile as she clips off a few young buds. Their colorful faces just barely peeking out from their green leaf blankets. Surprisingly, my kids are all chatting quietly amongst themselves in my peripheral. Watching her, I wonder how many days the flowers will adorn her shelf, how many wilted petals, or inevitable brown spots are allowed until the favor wanes. Until her need to seek out more. I ponder how many people around the world are hunting, even now, for just the right gift to adorn, hoping they have done enough. Hoping they can make the grade. Hoping it gets them in.
Turning toward my new friend, I can’t help myself.
“If you ever want to know more about the God above all other gods…the King of kings…please come over and have tea with me. I would love to tell you about Him, and how much He loves you. You’re always welcome here.”
Brilliantly smiling, she says, “Yes, I will do that.”
“For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”