My truly empty hands

IMG_5881Darkness hits the mountain range with the same whack of a beaten rug on a clothesline. Billows of heat wallow up like dust clouds through the bedroom window. Sweat drips down the back of my hair, dampening my neck.

Thrusting the damp sheets from my sticky body, I climb out of bed, padding across the tile floor to the balcony. Exhausted and unable to sleep, I wonder at the noise.

There is no quiet. Dogs growl and bark. Cats make strange yowling noises, prowling and mating, and making me restless. Music blares down the street, and I watch the flickering of lights in houses all around the valley.

The noise does not cause me to be angry because I know that eventually I will adjust to the new sounds, smells, tastes, and sights; part of cross-cultural interaction is sensory adjustment. I do not hate the new mountain range, strange and challenging though it may be; no, I hate what the mountain range has shown me to be.

Words I had always thought to be beautiful, but now, hot tears poured shame down my cheeks. I lean over the balcony railing, my dark curls dropping down over my elbows. I know the truth. “Accountable for every word…”

That week, my words had flown straight from my heart, pressed and provoked by circumstances and relationships, through my mouth spewing bitterness, erupting anger, and gushing despair. The dark outlines of mountains testified to my corruption underneath the canopy of stars. Guilty.

Had I not come for service? Had I not anticipated learning a new language? Did I not want to serve “las personas indigenas”? I thought I had come with open hands, but really my hands had tightly clung to my expectations.

Tangled in ‘what ifs’ and ‘how comes’ and frustrated by personalities, I had chosen my response. In a new realm of the unknown and uncontrollable, all the familiar illusions of my dominion came crashing down into deep motes of wickedness. Desirous of wielding my own throne, I had crushed others and, with a tight fist, demanded my own rights.

“How dare she say that to me? I need —-. Did I really deserve?”

Entitlement is a Western counterfeit of personal dignity. I sat down against the wall, knees bent and hands resting against my thighs. What had Lady MacBeth said? “Out damned spot… all the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand,” oh, yes, I likewise, realized that I had not the power to cleanse my stained hands.

Morning dawned sure and slow. The light of the sun gently reminded me of God’s never-ending mercies. The water truck sang out the familiar alarm throughout the valley. O, how I needed the hope of the sun and the cleansing of the water as these natural elements reminded me of deeper spiritual realities.

Just as I need the provision of the fruit of the earth for life, more so did I need God’s provision for my spiritual life. My needs, wants, and desires simply testified to a greater reality beyond my senses, beyond culture, beyond circumstances and relationships.

“I’m sorry. I’m selfish,” I whispered, looking at my truly empty hands.

Never had I understood that I attributed nothing to my own well-being. No, I was not like the drug lords, no I was not like the murderers, no I was not the like wife-beaters, but yes, I was like them.

I breathed in the newness of the morning, reminded that on that day when the real Morning comes, I will stand with the drug lords, wife beaters, and murderers who have also repented, and I will hear testimony of how they have been cleansed of their horrific guilt.

Likewise, I will revel in God’s mercy and salvation, and I will testify, “Praise God because He saved me from a life of selfishness.”

– Mary Kate Barthel, Contributing Writer


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