Friday, January 29, 2016

Watching the Elephants and Events in Life

I remember some elements in life’s path better than others. I am sure that is the case with most of us, though for some each moment is catalogued and remembered like it was yesterday. Some stages and events in my life are remembered as though looking through a fog; not quite as sharp as other memories might be. Our family, as a number of of you who have been following my ramblings over the past years will know, were churched people. I can remember my Grandfather sitting in Church along with some of the other deacons and those long services at special seasons of the year. There were those “other” services when missionaries came to visit and they brought items of interest including costumes, carvings and sometimes instruments from the lands they had visited. I loved the carvings and the instruments. But my favourites were the elephants. Most were small but I could see the mighty strength and the majesty of the creatures so finely replicated, in the local wood of the country from which they came.

Years later, standing on the edge of the woods in North Eastern India, I got to watch in person many times those majestic animals, that could be both gentle and kind, but also wild and dangerous. Just before a visit one year, a person had been killed by a rogue elephant in a rice paddy near where I was visiting. I learned that life could be harsh when even the most majestic of beasts could show how unpredictable and changeable their mood could become when afraid or cornered in a threatening fashion.

On each trip to India I purchased things to bring home to family. The girls wanted rings and clothing and for the boys I brought elephant carvings. My daughter Christy wanted an Indian Sari which I got for her and she has worn it with joy. My son Benjamin wanted a larger elephant than the one I had given him, so I allowed him to trade up to a larger wedding elephant that I had at home. It was a joy to see them pleased and yet I always wondered if they saw the uniqueness of the gifts as important as well, through the cultural significance of the items themselves.

In my collection I have three special elephants that communicate so much meaning for me about events in life in general. My first purchase was a group of standard elephants. They ranged in size from miniature to a medium size being perhaps 4 inches tall. They epitomized the mindset we might have of that majestic beast, so often seen in pictures or on TV. The next trip I purchased others that were quite special in a cultural sense. I had been invited to a traditional Indian wedding and saw pictures of a wedding elephant. It was beautiful and the young couple riding on it were so filled with joy and hope. Like most young married couples, regardless of what culture they are in, they were prepared to meet whatever they must face with the strength and courage of combined effort, reinforced by mutual love and support. But time changes many things and the struggle for even the simple rural couples of the Indian sub-continent, can become a trial bringing hardship and pain.

My third trip I saw something very special as I shopped in a local emporium in Mumbai (formerly known as Bombay). It was an elephant in the wild. These creatures are much different than domesticated elephants used in industry for logging and carriage pruposes. These elephants battle everyday against the heat, drought and the possible attack by lions and large cats of prey. This particular carving portrays the struggle with a pride of lions; one lion is on the elephants back and another is under the great creature’s foot, being crushed to death. This carving shows a real life or death struggle, and we do not know the outcome; we are only party to the conflict, the horrid truth of life at its worst. I could have left that particular carving there, and I almost did. I kept coming back to it sitting there on the display shelf and I could not let it go from my mind. Today is sits together with two or three others. One is a happy carving that my daughter brought back from Cuba to add to my elephant collection, but it typifies what we see in the images we want to think of when we consider elephants in general. Two others are wedding elephants that remind me that though there are uncertainties in life, we begin with hope and faith, coupled with joy and celebration. That
struggling elephant reminds me daily that life, though cruel, is still life and I like to think, as I look at him in that battle to survive, that he will overcome and that some other elephant comes along and helps in the battle toward victory.

I am glad that I have those carvings where I can see them every day, several times a day in fact. I often stop and pick them up; I want to feel the wood and consider the implications of their representation to everyday life. I want to remember my travels among a people, who though foreign to me culturally, were brothers and sisters in the Lord. I was a mere fringe benefit, someone who came to share the hope of Christ and train others to present the Gospel in depth and meaning, that may elude those who could not afford formal training outside their villages, or whose training was limited to that of rudimentary seminary training at best. I was not a miracle worker or a healer, just an instrument of God’s love come to serve in whatever capacity I could, in what little time I was able to stay in their country with them.

We often, perhaps too often, may feel like that elephant under attack. It does not have to be from some physically present enemy, it may be from within. There doesn’t always have to be someone who has hurt us or let us down; it can also manifests itself in low self-esteem or even in some cases a type of self-abasement for things we have done, or lived through in the past. No matter the cause, life can be hard to face on a daily basis. It is then, as the lions attack at our very soul, that we have to remember that it is Satan’s way of depleting our energy and sapping our joy. God’s word tells us in 1st Peter 5:8 that the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. No matter our past or present situation, we must remember that at the core of our pain it is Satan and his ploys, conceived to destroy or to maim at the very least, that becomes our enemy.

I believe that God gives us certain blessings that we can focus on each day and be reminded that He is still in control. My favourites are as many as they are varied, but I try to be reminded to stop and take in the joy of those moments and elements of blessing when they are needed. It is not easy! I struggle daily with diminishing health, mobility and life’s unfortunate twists and turns like most other people. I have not been given a free pass that says, “Advance to go and collect $2oo like the old Monopoly game said. Life can be hard and then it can get worse, but only if we let it. Fighting back in strength beyond our normal capabilities is the key. I see that in this battle found with my elephant. His determination is built in, his battle is real and so are the possibilities that he may not win, but he fights to win nevertheless… always!

I thank God every day for the promise of His word in Deuteronomy 31:6 that says, “Be strong and of a good courage, fear not, nor be afraid of them: for the LORD thy God, He it is that goes with you; he will not fail you, nor forsake you”. It could be understood that God fights all our battles for us, but that is not the case. Consider the case of David and Goliath. David went forth in faith and though he was laughed at by his family and their army and finally by this giant of a man, the enemy of God and his people; he slung a small stone and killed that giant, not by might, but by courage, in faith believing in what God could accomplish in him. We must trust that God is there in that same way for us today, as we walk amidst our own personal pride of lions or even a mighty giant looking Satan, ready to consume our joy and our lives. God gives both the courage and the victory to overcome in Him, if we are open to His peace and grace. Knowing the enemy is part of the battle, but knowing the King of Kings is more important.

Some will question the validity of belief when evidence shows that many or perhaps even most of our battles are still lost. The world cries out, “it is fate, it realism, it is just a stage and we are merely the characters on it for the sake of some reality being played out as some cruel joke by the gods”! Yet in defining the presence of gods there is an element of question that remains.  Who are these gods and what is important about that being a valid answer? Paul pointed out in Acts 17:16-34 that there were statues to some unknown god and he made it plain that this unknown god was in fact the one whom they were searching for all along… the God of Creation… the Father of all mankind and the Father of the Christ, who he came to serve and proclaim; to those who would have ears to hear and hearts to respond.

Life is all about the ups and downs. Not everyone is always down. God provides those moments of joy and we are riding the wedding elephant or sounding the trumpet of the wild and free elephant. Take some time today, if you are feeling down and exercise your right to some joy. Go to your window and look out. Look through the blandness of a winter day and see the simple truth of what is before you. Life is out there. There may be snowflakes perhaps; there are some here on days of late where I live, but they have a certain beauty to them as they float down. It may be a tree, a bird, a cloud formation in the sky or even a sound that can remind us that there is life being lived and we need to be a part of it, because God had created it for our pleasure and us for His. I am sure he is more pleased when we feel joy than when we feel stress and unrest.

Walk to the edge of yourself today. Consider the world from a new perspective. It might take a real struggle that gets you there, but believe me I can tell you from my own experience that the view from there can change your life for a moment… or a lifetime. May God richly bless your day and in doing so may you know that He cares about you… May you always know I care about you as well. Blessings my dear readers, in Christ our LORD!