Wednesday, March 04, 2009


Today we went to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Memorial. And once again, I heard the story of Janusz Korczak. It's a story worth telling over and over, so here are my thoughts from the first time I visited Israel:

I woke up last night at 2:45, and for some reason, there in the darkness, I thought of Janusz Korczak. You're wondering: who is Janusz Korczak? Well, in my opinion he's about as close to a hero as you're ever going to find, humanly speaking. Janusz was a champion of children, an educator and writer, and the director of an orphanage in the Warsaw ghetto in Nazi Germany. During that horrendous period, thousands of Jews were forced to live in unimaginable conditions in the walled and guarded ghetto; when they realized they were being rounded up and sent to their deaths, they hid their children. Janusz took in as many of them as he could find and cared for them until the Nazis caught wind of his rescue. They paid a visit to the orphanage and demanded that Janusz hand over all those Jewish children; when he refused, they barreled past him and grabbed the children anyway. As the soldiers marched the startled group out of the orphanage, Janusz joined them.

It's possible the children never knew they were headed to their deaths. Witnesses said that Janusz led them in songs, played games with them and kept them happy all during the long train ride. And when they arrived at the Treblinka death camp, and stood in line to the gas chamber, they held hands and walked with dignity. And Janusz perished with them.

I learned of this hero while visiting Yad Vashem, the Jewish Holocaust Memorial, in Israel this past October. After I took this picture of his statue, I stared at those wide, embracing arms and the look of pained and patient compassion, and I thought, I want to be like Janusz Korczak.

I think most of us would like to be like Janusz. Deep at heart, we all wish we could face a moment like that--a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to pour ourselves out on one last grand act; to make our life count toward something profound and weighty.

I once heard a story in which God gives a man ten thousand dollars and asks him to use it for His glory. The man accepts the money and says, "Yes, Lord! I'll find some spectacular way to use what You've entrusted to me--I'll spend it all at once, in one stunning, dramatic display that will make people look up at You in awe and wonder." But God stops the man. "I don't want one act from you," He says. "I want a lifetime of service. I want you to spend that money one quarter at a time."

The one glorious act would be far, far easier. Because I don't like--we don't like--to spend our quarters in secret places. Nor do we like to spend our quarters on people we don't deem worthy--people like the woman who rushes to take the parking space you waited for, pretending to not see your blinker. People like rude neighbors, and crabby relatives, and ungrateful strangers who don't seem to notice you slowed down so they could shove their cart in front of yours. We want to horde our quarters, then, and wait for a worthy spending spree. But God asks something different of us.

Oh, God, if it's true that the Christian life is lived one quarter at a time, I need Your help. Teach me to spend in a way that pleases You, and help me hold my quarters with an open hand. Give me the grace to spend freely. And if it's Your will, let me have enough left at the end of my life that I might still give You one last, spectacular gift.