It’s like an awakening.
Sometimes I look around my office and in the grocery store, the bank, the traffic light..and everyone is so busy and on their phones “hmm mm”-ing to their loved one’s stories and trying to do so much stuff all at once but not really truly living.
I can only bow my head.
Because there are a thousand ways to be lukewarm and there’s a reason I know that. I’ve been apathetic about Grace and casual about God and you can lose your First Love faster than you can lose the 100 meter dash. And when you lose your First Love, you don’t just lose your way — you lose your mind.
And then I read about a man who 70 plus years ago as of August 9th, changed my perception of living today.
Maximillion Kolbe. 1894-1941
At the very end of July 1941, WWII, a man escaped from Auchwitz. And the Nazis’ protocol to discourage attempts at escape was simple: One man escapes — ten men were executed in his place. So after the escape of this one man, all the men, looking like bags of bones, are called out of the barracks.
So in front of the barracks, one man is standing: Franciszek Gajowniczek. And he’s thinking: Out of hundreds, I just have to escape being one of the 10 names.
The Nazi commandant calls the first name, second, third, fourth. Franciszek Gajowniczek hopes hard that he would live to see 42… live to hold his children close again…seventh, eighth, ninth names… And then they barked the tenth name: Franciszek Gajowniczek. He falls to the ground. Near starving, he peels back every shred of dignity and he flat out begs, ‘No, I am married! I have children! I am young! I beg of you! I will never see them again!!’
And behind him a man steps forward so all can see his face —- Maximillian Kolbe — a Polish priest. Known to give up his food rations to those less hungry than he was. A man known to give his blanket to those not as cold as he was and to be an active voice against Nazi violence… he steps forwards silently, takes off his cap, and he says:
“Let me take his place. He has a wife and children. I am not married. I am not a father. He is young. I am old. Take me.”
Maximilian Kolbe was only 6 years older than Gajowniczek — 47.
And Kolbe, he was dragged off like a dog with the nine other men, left to starve.
He then spent the next 14 days singing hymns and praying with those nine other men, as one by one, all of them starved to death… And only one month prior to Kolbe being dragged off to starve, he had written this to his mom:
‘Dear Mama, I am in the camp of Auschwitz. Everything is well in my regard. Be tranquil about me and about my health, because the good God is everywhere and provides for everything with love.’”
That last line gets me. Lump in my throat as I realize this: If a man in the midst of one the most hideous scenarios known in the history of the world could write a line like that — not from a bad day at the office or a hard day with the kids, but from the death stench of Auschwitz — how can anyone deny this ultimate iron-clad testimony : A Good God is everywhere — and provides for everything with love.
How can I believe anything different when the obligations pile and the relationships are wearing and I’m buried in worries and a friend tells me the doctors have given her 60-90 days to live and even breathing can cause this pain in your chest?
If Maximilian Kolbe could stand in Auschwitz and write “Be tranquil — because the good God is everywhere and provides for everything with love” — is there ever really anything that should make one lose tranquility? That peace that is supposed to surpass understanding- does it really? Or is it LIMITED to my own (very meek) understanding? The good God is everywhere and provides for everything with love.
At the end of the 14 days, when Kolbe was still alive — still alive and still singing and breathing and giving thanks to God — the Nazi’s plunged a lethal injection into Maximillian Kolbe.
What line was I singing back in January in Atlanta when everything seemed to be going perfectly? “Bless the Lord, O my soul, Worship His holy name…” Let me be singing that in voice and in soul and in spirit all my days.
We often sing it but who lives it?
Kolbe had. And the Nazis had tossed his body into a mass grave.
Maximillian Kolbe was the first man who had ever offered his life for another man in the history of Auschwitz.
He would be the only man.
The man who saw that a good God is everywhere and provides for everything with love.
And Gajowniczek? Gajowniczek would live to be released from Auschwitz. His sons were all killed. But he found his wife and a small home in Poland.He said this:
‘Because of Maximilian Kolbe, every breath that I take, every thing that I do, every single moment, is to me — -like a gift.’”
I am Gajowniczek. I deserve nothing and yet I have so much. How do I so quickly forget that and so easily remember this year so far of challenges and forget the blessings? How can I not sing thanks from my core, my bones and radiate love? How can any of it be less than a gift?
It’s time to be tired of being the living dead.
There is breath in my lungs.And rain on the window and people I love and a cup of tea right here in my lap and provision and shelter and there is today and health and who doesn’t unwrap all these gifts with utter thanks?
I don’t want to act frivolously. Because every. Single. Moment is full of meaning. Because it is all a gift to me from the One who gave me life that I might breathe this breath and embrace every moment and never take anything for granted.
It’s all a gift.
“Four years after his martyrdom, on August 9th, 1945, the atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki but the monastery that Maximilian had founded years before WWII. Miraculously it survived. Maximilian’s Feast Day, when people around the world (who knew!?) celebrate his life and sainthood as a hero, falls one week after Nagasaki Day.”
Each year- a week is spent reflecting on the best and worst that human beings are capable of.