Sunday, May 8, 2011

Holy Benches

"Dogs get a period?"

This question was asked by a high school student while on the Zuni Reservation. A dog, which our fearless leader named Scout, had followed us back to the school and when I went outside to do my devotions on my "holy benches", there she was....with her period.

Only I didn't know that until she sat at my feet for a half hour getting her ears scratched while I read my Bible. She stood up and...surprise! Scout was on her period.

It was gross at first and then got hilarious as kids began to trickle outside and join me by the benches. I'd tell them to watch out for the pools of blood on the sidewalk and they'd cringe and say "nasty" and then one girl asked if Scout was pregnant leading us to wonder about Valley's Health education. It was an evening spent outside laughing, watching the sun dip behind the adobe houses, and petting poor Scout who had her period. It was a beautiful evening.

Ironically, I had been razzing one girl on the trip the whole time about how ugly "Rez dogs" were. She insisted she could see their inner beauty. I told her there was none and she shouldn't try to pet them. She found a puppy. "And him? Is he ugly too, Miss Hardeman?"

"Yes. Hideous actually. Not all puppies are cute. Now be sure to wash your hands thoroughly when we get back."

But Scout was different. She wasn't your typical "Rez dog" because she didn't look like she was dying or wanting to kill you. But rather, she was a beagle with a friendly demeanor and soulful eyes which led one girl to remark, "She's like Jesus in a dog."

Then when I wouldn't let them put out food and water which would prevent her from going back home, this clever student quoted Jesus and said, "But Miss Hardeman, I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat. I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink."

Valley students may not know how babies are made, but they sure know their Bible verses.

That evening with Scout and my Bible and laughing with students wasn't the first time I sat on the benches outside the school and felt contentment running through my veins. Because most of what I learned while in Zuni happened while on these benches.
I tried to get a picture of Scout but this is all I could get. Maybe she really was "Jesus in a dog."

This bench is a holy spot for me, a place on the planet where the spirit realm seems to dip down and mingle with the physical. God is near when I am on this bench. God is real when I am on this bench. God is good when I am on this bench.

There are a few other places, a few "holy places" if you will, (and you will because you have no choice) where I've found God ALWAYS shows up when I show up. Selfishly, this is one of the main reasons I was so jazzed about going to Zuni. I couldn't wait to get my butt on this bench. I had been in a weird funk with God- questioning Him at every turn- not longing for Him like I knew I should.

But with my toosh on the wooden bench as the sun rose on the first day, I looked around at the purple hues lighting up the sky, listened to the stillness of a sleeping reservation, and sighed- one of those deep sighs of complete contentment. I was back. And it was good to be back.

For some reason when I sit on these benches, these holy benches, God's voice is louder, His Word clearer, His power stronger. I don't know if it's me or Him or the benches but this spot is almost magical. His Word continued to be illuminating while I sat on the benches, but this year it wasn't just through His Word that He showed me who He is. It was through people. His people. His children.

The very first morning as the sun rose, I was reading in Romans 7 about the battle we face against our sinful nature. I read Paul's words about how:

"Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God's law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. (Romans 7: 21-23)

I sat there pondering this law of sin and then I saw a woman walking, or rather stumbling, my way. Just a few yards away from me a policeman pulled up. He questioned her about how much she had had to drink. She didn't know. Then he took her away in handcuffs.

The symbolism was not lost on me.

Here was a woman enslaved to her sinful nature and need for alcohol and she was literally a prisoner.

Alcoholism is a huge problem on the reservation as many people are seemingly without hope and fall prey to it's numbing effects. Paul, not struggling with alcoholism but with other sins, expresses this frustration with battling with his sin nature when he writes earlier in chapter 7:

"For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do- this I keep on doing. " (verses 18-19)

But right after he writes about this very real, very frustrating battle we all face, he says, "What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God's law, but in my sinful nature a slave to the law of sin." (verses 24-25)

This woman is not without hope. There is someone who can rescue her from her body "subject to death." Should she choose to be a slave to God rather than a slave to sin, she will be free.

This was the largest lesson I learned while in Zuni. God is powerful. He always wins. He has the power to set people free. But they must want it. He doesn't go around throwing His freedom on people who don't want it.

One must CHOOSE to be His slave and paradoxically, become free.

I'm not saying that woman just needed to convert and she'd be free from alcoholism. She needs AA. She needs motivation and accountability. But most importantly, she needs Jesus and His power. Paul writes next that "there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who give life has set you free from the law of sin and death." (Romans 8:1-2)

I also happened to read the book of Ephesians and was reminded of who God is, what He's done, and what His character is like. I especially loved these verses which reminded me of the power we have access to in order to win the battle with our sinful natures:

"I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in this present age but also in the one to come. " (Ephesians 1:18-21)

God offers us power and freedom.

He spoke this truth to me every day of the Zuni trip and every time my butt was on the bench. I saw this power and freedom at work a few days later when I sat on the same bench next to a woman waiting for the AA meeting held at the school. She was 30 days sober. And she was very proud.

It was one of those surreal conversations. We talked about life and her battle and how she's finally breaking free from alcohol. It was fantastic.

The juxtaposition of someone trapped in sin verses someone freed was simply fantastic. And I have my holy benches to thank for this conversation. I have my holy God to thank for this lesson.

I also spoke with several children while I read on my holy bench. Their innocence pointed me to God. This is how He created us- not as cynical, jaded, judgmental people, but as vulnerable, innocent, joyful children. I suspect we'll go back to this one day. I suspect the layers of life's hardships and evils will be peeled away and we'll be like children once again.

I love this part of first John that says: "See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him.

Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is." (1 John 3:1-2)

I love that John admits that even he, the one with the great revelations, doesn't know "what will be." However, he does know that we'll see Christ and that will change us. I think that encounter will strip us of our oh-so-sophisticated human wisdom and leave us jumping for joy like little children.

However, one young boy I met while on the bench was not jumping for joy. In fact, his eyes were void of all joy and hope. This encounter broke my heart.

He had come with his cousin who goes to the school. There was fighting going on in the house so they retreated to the school until things blew over. His eyes were bloodshot and his body language communicated: "Don't look at me. Don't talk to me. I don't like you." But of course that didn't hold me back. Here was our conversation:

Me: Do you go here as well? I don't recognize you.

Him: Nope.

Me: Oh. Do you go to the public school down the road?

Him: Nope.

Me: So where do you go to school then?

Him: I don't.

Me: very confused Huh? Why not?

Him: I got kicked out.

Me: Of this school?

Him: Yeah. And the other one.

Me: too nosy for my own good Why? What'd you do?

Him: I never came to school.

Me: now even more confused But why not?

Him: Just didn't want to.

Me: So what do you do now?

Him: Nothing.

Me: Do you have a job?

Him: Nope.

Me: Do you want a job?

Him: Nope.

Me: What do you want to do when you get older?

Him: I don't know.

Me: Well, what did you want to do when you were younger?

Him: Nothing.

Me: Nothing? I don't believe it. Surely there was something you used to hope for?

Him: Nope.

I wasn't sure if he was lying or not. Surely he had silly, giant dreams when he was a kid- before the world stripped him of his innocence. But maybe not. I grew up in a world where just about everyone I knew thought that they'd one day be in the White House or on the moon or be playing a professional sport. We were taught to dream big. So dream we did.

But maybe this boy never did. It's a depressing thought.

This boy needed hope in a big way. He needed Jesus, the author of hope, in a very big way. I'd love to say I shared the message of truth with him, but I didn't. Instead, I offered him a tamale I had purchased from a street vendor and then silently prayed for him. He knows where to find Jesus. So I continue to pray that he'll WANT to find him.

This poor boy's lack of purpose and joy was juxtaposed with several other children I met while sitting on the bench- children who go to the school and may or may not be Christians but who still have hope dancing in their eyes.

One young boy I met while sitting on my holy bench, leaned real close to my face and then asked, "Are you wearing make-up?" I was and I was curious where this was going.

"I am. How'd you know?"

"Because your lips are covered in sand."

And sure enough, the biting winds had been picking up sand and throwing it in my face but I had refused to leave my beloved spot. I had on a thick layer of chapstick which, unbeknownst to me, had been catching loads of sand. The kids squealed with delight as they saw my astonishment and horror as I wiped the sand onto my arm.

It was on these holy benches that I taught two of the girls the farting song (mentioned in this post) and it was here that I took out my Invisalign much to the disgust of the little crowd waiting for their rides. It was here that I met girls who didn't go to the Christian school but were waiting for their Girl Scout meeting. And I realized talking to them how hungry they are for love and affection. This is precisely what this Zuni school does.
Here's the front of the school with Sam, the school maintenance guy, throwing out the peace sign.

Yes, they share the gospel with all the students. And yes, they learn lots of bible stories. But mainly they share Christ's love and affection. They offer these needy kids the attention they need. Now THIS seems like a wonderful way to share the gospel.

I am so inspired by the teachers who choose to live and teach here. There are no movie theaters or restaurants or shopping centers or Yogurtlands. WalMart is the highlight and that's a 45 minute drive. But they don't seem to mind.
Chelsea teaches the 5th and 6th graders. I spent one dinner laughing until there were tears with her and Ashley- two kindred spirits living and teaching in Zuni.

These teachers are doing something remarkable on the Zuni reservation. They are "standing in the gap" and "holding back the chaos of darkness" as Jeff, our leader often said. They are the unsung heroes choosing to live in a desolate land in order to offer hope to the hopeless. They are living and teaching among the Zunis, sharing their lives with them, so the Zunis can see Jesus and what He's all about.
I love what this school does. I love what it stands for and what it offers. And I really love the benches out in front.


  1. In your nephews four years he has aspired to be a police man, a ninja, a fireman, a karate master, a bug man, an astronaut, and a basketball player.

  2. Pretty sure I'd love sitting on those benches too. Thanks for sharing those moments, Katie.

  3. Can you email me that picture? Thanks - what a fun post! Anytime you want to come back and have supper with us again and laugh till we cry, I'm in!!

  4. p.s. I agree about those benches, pretty amazing things can happen there. Those benches always have someone sitting on them, either kids (that go to our school or those that don't but love to hang around and get attention), us after playing basketball open gym, Zuni's waiting for a meeting or just finding a spot to sit for awhile. Pretty amazing how God always shows up for you there, He sure is good!