Friday, March 23, 2012

Signs of spring: blossoms, African skirts, and joy

"You are good girl today!" My Somali friend beams and gushes as she gives me this very high compliment. I smile and hug her... she only says this when she is pleased with my "African look." Hannah braided my hair into cornrows, I'm barefoot, and my skirt is a flourish of bright colors and patterns. So despite my blue-green eyes, pale skin, and blonde braids, I'm about as African as I can get.

Me, looking as African as possible with my daffodils.
Hannah, being slightly more African than me
because of dark hair and actual experience in Africa.

Spring has sprung all over I-House this week, an unusually early start to the 70+ degree weather. The mass of tiny crocuses have come and gone, and have been replaced by daffodils and cherry blossoms. There's this pink-pink bush right outside my bedroom window that is just glorious, too. A week of sunshine has been very good for my winter-weary soul. Tuesday was officially the first day of spring, and also the Persian New Year, so all the women came to Women's Club in their most vibrant colors - pinks, greens, blues, and purples - looking like Arabian and African princesses, kissing and smiling and greeting each other: "Sal Mubarak!" So much joy, beauty, and peace blooming... an answer to our prayers. May this joy and peace continue to grow and flourish throughout the spring!

Monday, March 19, 2012


Last week, I learned a new Zo word: Itna. It was the title of chapter 13 of 1 Corinthians in Pastor Meng Pu's Bible, and as we laid our Words open side by side, I connected that this word, Itna, must mean love. When I asked for clarification, Meng Pu responded, "Yes, love-to-love." I've heard him use this phrase before, and haven't quite figured out what it means yet, so I probe further. "Are there different words that mean different kinds of love in your home language?" His confused face tells me I've used too many words, so I try again. "In English, 'love' is one word. 'I love my family, I love God, I love chocolate.' In Zo, one word? Or different words?" Understanding flashes a green light across his face. "Oh, different word, many different word. Itna mean big-love, God-love."

How else could you describe it? It isn't just a word on a page, and it isn't synonymous with "enjoy" or "like a lot." It is pro-active - it's touching, engaging, being personal and authentic and selfless. It is patient, kind, humble, honoring, selfless, even-tempered, and merciful. It gets excited and energized by the Truth being proclaimed and lived out. It trumps every admirable spiritual gift and discipline, and even faith itself, as the most important, the most eternal thing we can possess. It is the very best way to live, it is here and now, and it never ends. It is Big Love. God-Love.

I try to work out how Meng Pu chooses to translate Itna into everyday conversation: "love-to-love."

God is love, and he loves to love us - he lavishes his love on us so that we can be called his children (I John 3:1). It is his love that is  Itna, his love that redeems, restores, adopts, and includes us in his great inheritance. Is this what "love to love" means?

When we receive God's love, then we are capable of loving God and others deeply and fully, and the love goes on - we truly know how to love because he first loved us (1 John 4:19). So maybe it means that the love is passed on from One to another - love to love to love to love...

In some languages, to repeat a word is to amplify it, to make it more or greater than it is on its own. So maybe "love to love" is a repetitive, overlapping, ampliflying of what we commonly refer to as love. This isn't your regular garden-variety human-earth-based love. The way we love is just a shadow of the true love of the Father. One word just isn't enough to describe it... or is it?

Itna... Big Love. God-Love.