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Learning to Receive

The Gift of Weakness



… but [God] said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” So I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ, for whenever I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:9-10)


“The greatest in the Kingdom of God,” said Jesus, “is the servant of all” – the one who washes feet, cares for the poor, wipes the brow of the leper. Think Mother (now Saint) Theresa of Calcutta.


God’s Kingdom here on earth is upside down. The greatest are servants. The poor are rich. Love conquers hate. The way up is down. The weak are strong.


Not long ago, I was diagnosed with supraventricular tachycardia (SVT). The electrical currents that make our hearts beat run from the top of the heart to the bottom. In SVT, a misfiring occurs, and an electrical current gets into a loop that causes a fast heartbeat. The episodes can last from a few seconds to days. Even a 15-minute episode can leave me feeling wiped out.


My wife and I served as campground hosts in Southern California for the first three months of 2024. (Not a bad place to spend the winter.) Kathy flew home on Easter. Tank the fuzzy wiener dog and I set out driving the camper the same morning about 04:30. On that initial driving day, we faced high winds, thick fog, hard rain, hail, sleet, snow, and closed freeways due to accidents. We finally made it to a Cracker Barrel in Albuquerque. (Cracker Barrel and Walmart allow RVs to park overnight. One is expected to buy something.)


The next morning, I was taking Tank for a walk when the most severe episode of SVT I’ve ever had hit me. During it, my pulse raced between 150 and 170 beats per minute. I was unable to sit up, much less move around. It lasted a full five hours and left me exhausted and weak.


Kathy urged me to get a hotel. I eventually made it to a hotel in downtown Albuquerque where the campervan would be safe, and Tank would be welcome. I was there four nights and still didn’t feel 100%. Twenty hours of driving time left to go. Loneliness, worry of having a medical emergency in a strange place where I don’t know anyone, concern for who might take care of the dog, and a general feeling of anxiety and displacement set in. I was literally in the desert with God (and a fuzzy wiener dog).


My family was worried. My two oldest daughters texted me their concern. My son offered to fly out and spend a day or two helping me drive at least part of the way. My youngest offspring called to encourage and cheer me.


I texted some friends and asked them to pray for me. Loving assurances flooded in. One of those friends, Marsha Stevens-Pino, is considered the mother of contemporary Christian music. She wrote praise songs (famously, “Come to the Waters”) and sang in a group called Children of the Day. Then, she came out as gay and was summarily dismissed and ostracized by the evangelical movement. She’s never been bitter, doesn’t seem to have ever been angry; conversely, she’s been consistently forgiving and loving. She’s one of the most Christ-like people I’ve ever met. She’s still singing praises to Jesus in her 70s.


She texted me assuring me of her prayers and offering a bit of medical advice. (She’s a nurse.) Then, half asleep, she “accidently” Face-Timed me. It was what my wife would call a divine appointment.


Marsha is married to Cindy. Cindy loves to drive. She drove fuel trucks in the Air Force and drove a big RV thousands of miles for their music ministry. Cindy very happily offered to fly from Florida to Albuquerque and drive me home to Cincinnati. Marsha encouraged me to “not be a guy,” and accept help. She reminded me that there are people who love me. (That, despite my seeing myself as unlovable most of the time.)


And, so, away we went across the Great Plains with my new friend Cindy at the wheel and Tank curled up in his dog bed. The scenery on that route is pretty boring, but the company was divine.


No doubt, the greatest in the Kingdom is the servant of all, and it is more blessed to give than receive; but I needed to learn to receive. All that flows from God is a gift. Every breath, every bumblebee, every stranger’s smile is a grace. Freely we have received. That’s why we can freely give.


In a capitalistic society it is sadly true, as the Sharks sing in The West Side Story, that “you get what you pay for, sometimes less, but never more.” But not with God. God is not transactional. Life is not transactional. No Karma. No tit-for-tat. No quid pro quo. All that is beautiful, all that is good, is a gift. We earn nothing of eternal value.


God gifted me with a loving spouse, children, and friends. God gifted me with a little dog that makes people stop and smile. God gifted me with a few days in the desert and a new friend to keep me safe on a long drive.


God is gifting me with wisdom.


I’m learning to be still and know that God is God.

I’m learning that God meets me in others.

I’m learning the blessing of weakness.

I’m learning to treasure relationships.

I’m learning to receive.

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