At school and among her friends, Jackie was a pretty, happy-go-lucky girl. Already in her teens, she could be the life and soul of the party. She can talk about anything she knows about without hesitation - that is, except about her mother Victoria. She never mentions her mother. And she would be too embarrassed to accompany her while shopping at a supermarket. She would blush with shame at the thought of accompanying her in the street in case they would be spotted by one of her friends. As a result, Jackie would shout in defiance whenever her mother would ask her daughter to accompany her outside.
Facially, Victoria still retains much of the beauty of her younger years. Neither has she gained any significant amount of weight except the normal filling-out after childbirth. At a passing glance, Victoria looks as normal as any other suburban housewife. Except for her hands. They were both twisted, shrivelled out of shape, and they are the source of enormous embarrassment to her daughter Jackie, who stands physically unblemished. As the mother's misshapen hands created such shame and hostility in Jackie's attitude towards her, her mother just kept everything to herself without ever a protest.
Then one day, after spending a considerable time sensing the tense, distressing atmosphere between the two females, Jackie's father called his daughter aside with a request for a talk. He then explained how her mother's hands got to be they were at present. When Jackie was a newborn, an accidental mishap caused the baby to fall towards the open coal fire. Immediately, her mother instinctively sprang forward and caught her in time, but severely burnt her hands in doing so. When the adolescent learnt the truth, she burst into tears and ran into her mother's arms, apologising and begged for her forgiveness. Thereafter, Jackie accompanied her mother whenever any shopping needs to be done, and asked whether she can bring her friends home to allow them to see for themselves the proof her mother's heroic demonstration of her maternal love.
Victoria's hands had not changed since her father's talk. They were just as shrivelled and distorted as they had always been. But her daughter's attitude had changed in such a dramatic fashion, that what she previously saw before as an embarrassment, now they were the source of pride and eternal thankfulness. During her father's talk, she saw for the first time ever her mother's sacrificial love, and her own life forever changed.*
Coming to think of it, there seem to be a strong correlation between love and the preservation of life and welfare of another. Conversely, selfishness can, and does, destroy the welfare and happiness of another, and could even take a life rather than preserve it. One good example is theft, whichever form it takes. Within the last week, after my beloved hinted that she would love to set foot in France, along with my own desire to experience the Eurostar, we made a booking for both return train seats and hotel reservation. At was after all payments were made and all bookings confirmed, that I decided to check up on Paris Gare du Nord terminus station where the Eurostar will come to its final halt. Written by other travellers, the TripAdvisor website carried far more negative reviews of the French terminus than positive, with a large proportion as mere average.
|Paris Gare du Nord|
Perhaps it may be a natural reaction of the human heart to either exaggerate or understate a matter to make the review a lot more striking, but the majority of these reviews point to one major social disease - theft. Travellers have written about the presence of pickpockets, vagrants, pushy taxi drivers, and other distractions aimed at the tourist who may be well-strapped with cash, but remaining unfamiliar with such surroundings, making them prone to be vulnerable targets. My excitement for the coming trip turned to anxiety, despite that we have to wait until October before travel. And anxiety leads to fear. All because there will be some people there who love themselves far more than others, and will find ways to gratify their own desires on the tourist's expense, causing suffering and distress to the victims.
For such a one as myself who has experienced foreign travel, why this anxiety? After all (if I may boast a little) I know what it's like trying to sleep in a cockroach-infested squalid room at a backstreet hotel in central Manhattan, while listening to a brawl between various Afro-Caribbean groups outside, around two in the morning. So much for living on a shoestring. Or to walk through the seedy East 7th Street of Down-town Los Angeles towards the Greyhound Bus Station, while groups of suspect characters hang around the front doorsteps of residences. I have been approached by aggressive beggars, and in Italy I was a victim of a pickpocket whilst standing in a crowded train from Pisa to Florence, and I had to get through a whole weekend totally penniless. Oh, the ins and outs of solo backpacking! So why the anxiety now?
Because I am not alone any more. Instead, my wife Alex will be with me, confined to a wheelchair until we arrive at our hotel. That makes us both feel very vulnerable, especially at the station. The very thought of any harm aimed at my beloved is the stuff of nightmares. But with us, we know that God is on our side, and nothing can happen unless the Lord grants permission, and such would only be for our own good, according to Romans 8:28. I suppose the "downers" I have experienced as a lone backpacker over the years has reminded me of three important issues. And that is, I have never came to any physical harm, neither did I go hungry, nor did I ever find myself owing to a loan-shark creditor. God has always been with me, and any negative event coming my way was always "filtered" by my Father in Heaven. This is the hope we must both have for the future.
To be realistic, I tend to comfort myself with such Biblical truths rather than rejoice in my security in them. Like a kind of opium in an attempt to put my mind at rest. I can't help recall one of the late Cilla Black's songs, What the world needs now is love. This song was released in 1965, over half a century ago, but it is just as relevant now as on the day it was written. It contains a verse which strikes a familiar cord with my backpacking days:
Lord, we don't need another mountain.
There are mountains and hillsides enough to climb.
There are oceans and rivers, enough to cross,
Until the end of time.
What the world needs now is love, sweet love...
The popular song is actually a prayer, and it's sung to the Lord himself. The singer's heart coincides nicely with the desires of my own heart - the want of a much greater virtue of love in this world to add to its natural beauty. The kind of love that would turn thieves into benefactors, pickpocketing into acts of genuine kindness, offers of a taxi without the exorbitant price they are presently demanding, the want for safety and security, the ability to enjoy the sights of Paris without periodically tapping the sides of my pockets or for my wife to keep our valuables tightly concealed whilst in her wheelchair.
I can't help thinking about that verse which is constantly in my mind while I type this. It is John 10:10:
The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.
It is quite a contrast between the triune deeds of the unregenerate heart, to that of the heart one the believer in Christ. Indeed, the prayer in Cilla Black's song is not so far-fetched from reality as the writer might have supposed. If only the Gospel can go out en-masse on a large scale! If only such hearers were converted by the multiple thousands! Yet Paris has one of its finest attractions: The Notre Dame (Cathedral of Our Lady) which draws in tourists by the thousands each year. But it fails to preach the Gospel of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ alone. Instead it preaches the possibility of salvation through works and continual faithfulness, or be eternally lost. The most unfortunate result of this line of soteriology, is that this does not generate a love for God at any way near as Jackie's love for her mother. Yet it has hold on the majority in Christendom.
Petty theft, including pickpocketing and bag-snatching, is also prevalent in other major cities including Barcelona in Spain, as well as in Rome, home of the Vatican. The city of Barcelona, according to the Media, is one of Europe's worst for petty theft, followed by Rome. Yet the Cathedral of the Holy Cross and of St. Eulalia, a female saint martyred at that location by the Romans, attracts as many visitors as the Notre Dame, along with even bigger numbers to the Vatican itself. Yet they leave such buildings with their hearts remaining unregenerated, even if very impressed with both the exterior and interior artwork. And so the weariness of loss through petty theft goes on. If on the other hand if it looks as though I'm letting London off the hook, pickpocketing goes on at the most touristy areas as well, even if the two major churches - St Paul's and Westminster Abbey, are both Protestant-based Anglican establishments. Like with the others, tourists leave these buildings without hearing and believing the true Gospel.
The true Gospel includes the sacrificial love of God for all mankind through the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. True faith, or believing, must produce a changed life, just as the teenager experienced when finding out about her mother's injury. When the truth was out, she repented from her former attitude and her love for her mother was overwhelming. Our love for Jesus Christ should be the same. But I suppose to have someone there, visible and tangible, makes her object for love much easier than to love someone who is not only invisible and intangible, but died and rose again some two thousand years earlier. I think that this reality of lack of tangible substance together with such a long passage of time make the need to be indwelt by the Holy Spirit an absolute necessity.
|A poster found on Facebook|
Victoria burnt her hands while saving her newborn daughter. The hands of Jesus Christ were nailed to a cross, along with his feet. Victoria immediately withdrew her hands from the fire, and she lived. The hands of Jesus remained on the wood until after death. Both were of sacrificial love, and both have engendered a response, with many laying down their own lives for the Gospel.
If only the fragrance of the Gospel would waft across Paris. Only then I will be assured that Gare du Nord station will be truly safe for vulnerable tourists such as us.
*Although based on a true story, the characters presented here are fictional.