And He took him outside and said, "Now look toward the heavens, and count the stars, if you are able to count them." And He said to him, "So shall your descendants be."
I found myself drinking coffee with the natives of the Oglala Lakota Sioux tribe at the Pass Creek Church in the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota this morning when the phone rang. Our conversation had been about a couple of mountain lions that had been taking down horses.
I suppose the ringing of the phone shocked me back into the present and away from imaginings of meeting one of those big cats face to face in the darkness. The reality on the other end of the line was no less life-threatening.
A native woman was desperate to get her father-in-law to the hospital in Rapid City, about a two hour drive away through the Badlands. He needed immediate care. She had been counting on the sale of a Star Quilt to cover necessary costs, and the buyer had recently cancelled the order even though she was nearly finished.
Star Quilts are rich in tradition from the Lakota tribe. It is considered a deep honor to invest the time, labor, and skill that is necessary in crafting the textile, using local dyes and materials... to then give it away to honor the life of a person or a great accomplishment. Tradition has passed down that it represents the brightest star in the sky, and offers hope, and is believed to lead toward understanding.
The woman on the phone was asking if anyone at the church might purchase the unfinished quilt from her so that she could use the money to get her husband to the hospital. I watched as the group of Lakota considered her plight. I knew that I had the money in my pocket to cover her expense, but I wanted to better understand the gravity of the situation.
Each person in the room checked his or her pockets for the needed amount, commenting that she needed help and I could see that her situation was legitimate. I listened as she was told, "I am sorry, but no-one here can help."
"I can." All heads turned to me, the odd-ball of the group. I've been the minority since arriving yesterday afternoon, the single Caucasian for miles around. "Tell her that I'll buy it." I pulled the cash from my pocket, project money from Connection Point missions, my church in Sidney, Ohio. I chuckled to myself, realizing that I'd need to explain to our Mission Board why we now own a partially finished Star Quilt.
The sound of a slamming car door a few minutes later alerted me to her arrival. I saw her face at the door, eyes searching for the unknown stranger who had agreed to receive her labor of love. I felt so human in that moment. The pain that I saw in her eyes was pain that I'm all to familiar with myself. It's in those moments when we're so desperate for an answer, that we fear that somehow it will just slip through our fingers at the last second.
The pastor later today would talk about how we waste our lives sometimes in fear, how most of the things we fear never come to pass, and that we should think on things that are true, noble, right, pure, and lovely.
Along with the fear in her eyes, I also saw something lovely, pure, and noble in her face. Isn't this the story that pulses in us all? We push back fear with hope. We answer crisis with action. We work hard and we give of our sweat, tears, and sometimes even blood to honor those we love and to protect what is good in this world.
God made a promise to Abraham all those thousands of years ago, "Look up into the heavens. Can you count the stars?" Think on things that are lovely, that are true and right. God honored Abraham as he hung a giant tapestry of stars in that ancient night sky. Those same stars shined down on that promise fulfilled in the Son of God, Jesus Christ as He continued to shine truth into the earth.
We all are honored to receive the light from heaven, and this quiet exchange this morning somehow just seemed to bring it all home. It won't be all that hard to explain why Connection Point Church now owns a Star Quilt... we are honored to receive what it represents, the capacity to give.
We were created by God who gave us His own nature to love, to give, and to live in community together. May we all continue to remember that there is honor in giving.
"...children must early learn the beauty of generosity. They are taught to give what they prize most, that they may taste the happiness of giving."
- Charles Alexander Eastman, Wahpeton Santee Sioux
Postscript: I hope the Quilters Club, AKA the Church Mice, are looking for a great project to finish!