I had gotten used to hands in my hair over the three weeks I had been there, but I still had boundaries, and these kids were invading them. After all, we had all just finished eating wild chicken, some kind of slimy greens, and a bland white paste with our fingers, and I’m pretty sure napkins were unheard of in this tiny African village that was so remote that we had to park our van four miles away. So while I was flattered that they called me a goddess and were enthralled with the almost-black, straight hair that reached the narrow part of my waistline, I needed space. And a shower.
I walked near the lake, where a choir of children sang and danced. A mass of people waited to be baptized in the lake behind them–a beautiful sight in this village burdened by alcohol addiction and witchcraft. A figure by the water caught my eye, and I moved toward her. She was crouched by the water all alone–was something wrong? I watched her in my peripheral vision, pretending to look directly ahead at the sun setting over the dam. As I moved closer to her, I saw that she held something in her hand and extended it out toward the water. She was focused intently on it and did not notice me, so I watched. I didn’t have an interpreter nearby, so I could not speak. As I observed, I realized she was holding a stick and using it to fish something out of the water. As it came within her reach, she picked it up and dried it off with her skirt. A beer can. Was she another who was so plagued with addiction that she would scavenge for the last drops of alcohol in a floating can at a baptism service? I was relieved when she immediately emptied it, although confused about her intentions. If her purpose was to empty the water of what littered it, she would be here for a while and would need a longer stick.
She dried the can off with her dress as she walked back toward the gravelly soil. There again she crouched, picking up rocks and broken glass and holding it all in her skirt. I began to realize what was happening. One by one she dropped the rocks and glass into the can. She shook it, and then dropped in a few more. Once satisfied, she ran with the can back to the children’s choir and joined the dancing and singing crowd in front of them, her shaking can the only accompaniment.
In my journal that night, I called it a miracle. A symbol of destruction became an instrument of praise. Right before my eyes, a damaged and worthless vessel was emptied of the filth it contained and then filled up with something new. It had a purpose–to bring worship to a King. I have never forgotten that can and the symbol it was of my own life. This is sanctification. I had a habit of finding tangible ways to interpret the miracles of God in the context of my every day life. Every time I see a beer can I still think of sanctification. Every time I see a Baptism or see flowers blooming faithfully again on a spring run, I think of resurrection. Old habits die hard.
Resurrection. This is Easter morning, Resurrection Sunday. I adore my pastor, but I know he will greet me with the words “He is Risen” this morning. Will I be able to return the greeting with the traditional “He is Risen indeed”? I’ll try to avoid him. Today will be hard for me. My small family is alone on Easter for the second year in a row because of my work and study schedule. This makes my heart sink, because I have always loved the comfort of home and extended family and a big meal as we celebrate this day. I long for fellowship, not take-out food and an afternoon of laundry loads between textbook chapters. I’ve always loved my dad’s powerful prayer before Easter dinner, because his life is a beautiful example of something worthless becoming a vessel of praise–all because Someone who once was dead is now alive. Resurrection gives us hope for lost things, worthless things, dead things. If death could be conquered, can’t disease, addiction, and faithlessness be conquered too? Sanctification continues because the resurrection happened–at least that’s how my dad sees it. Even if I never return to faith, I will always be thankful that my father’s faith in a savior I don’t believe in saved his life.
So yes, my heart stirs on Easter Sunday. Does that mean anything? Only that I’m nostalgic. I never saw what happened to that can after the African Baptism service. I’ve never thought about it until this moment. But I can imagine that some time after it was an instrument of praise in a worship service, it once again became a piece of trash near the water, filled with junk. Once the emotion and excitement of the day were over, the can was just a can…and I am just a person. No one holds me, no one fills me, no one makes me greater than what I am–although emotionally-charged days like today find me longing for miracles again.
Image credit © Noimagination | Dreamstime.com – Beer Can Photo