Someone To Run Toward Me

I live in a one hundred and ten year old house. It sits on a mixed foundation of granite and brick. There is a basement, but only under the kitchen. I venture down there occasionally to re-set the circuit board when I forget I can’t blow dry my hair, make toast and run the dryer at the same time. The remaining foundation is a spider-infested crawl space that I hope I will never have to go into. My husband has mine-shafted into it by shimmying his man body through an opening in the floor of the bathroom closet that is hardly big enough for a ten year old.

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I love him so selfishly in that moment because I do not have to do it.
I would let the house flood.
I would never add insulation or a water vapor of any kind.
I would not put up a support beam, instead let the crack in the dining room wall inch its way toward the ceiling.

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I hate tight places.

To be trapped, pressed, and crushed in the dark completely alone is one of my worst nightmares. The only way I could endure is if I knew someone was coming for me.

But, I live in a small village in a smallish state in North America and no one is raining barrel bombs from airplanes on my little New Englander that sits near a railroad crossing and where one would probably say that the side yard is where it’s the prettiest. The only invasion comes from the occasional chipmunk and some sugar ants when the weather is hot and dry.

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So.

I don’t have to worry.
Or think about what’s happening far away from me and my spider-infested crawlspace.

Then, last week in the car, I turned on the radio.

The reporter was simply, mundanely, reporting the death of a man who regularly went into blown apart buildings to rescue people suddenly hammered into the ground with their tables and couches and teapots and lamps and bedframes and bureau drawers and the morning’s breakfast crushing them into the most devasting bone-breaking dirt-eating alone-ness.

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Every day, sometimes all day, ancient brick and mortar homes much older than mine are torn apart by barrel bombs raining from the sky that leave stone upon bone. People who refuse to leave their beloved city whimper and wail from crawlspaces too small to crawl from.

The day of the radio broadcast, I waited out the red light on Minot Avenue and learned that someone actually takes the time to fill a barrel with nails and splintered wood and shards of glass and metal and all things wire designed to puncture and shred.

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As I made the left turn onto Court Street I found out that a “double tap” is when, after a pilot drops the first barrel, he circles in the sky to see where it lands and waits for a crowd to gather around the smoke and rubble. He watches as rescuers run toward those needing help and then he drops the second barrel.

I felt my jaw tighten. It happens when I’m trying not to cry.

I leaned over the steering wheel at the top of Goff Hill that overlooks Lewiston, my closest city, and that’s when I discovered the terrible reality that in some parts of the world killing is not enough.

A person’s home must be so completely destroyed it can never be re-built.
A person’s body must be so ripped apart it can never be healed.
A person’s soul must be so utterly condemned it could never be forgiven.

There is an enemy bent on destruction right down to the very ashes of brick and bone.

The thief comes only to steal, kill and destroy…

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So…this man who died.

Turns out he’s famous, but I wasn’t paying attention two years ago to know that after yet another bomb blast, Khaled Omar lay down his weary body on a pile of rocks to rest after digging for hours looking for children thought to be trapped under the ruins of their home. While he lay there, he heard a baby cry.

Khaled went toward the sound and began digging again and sixteen hours later from the moment the rescue operation began, he reached into a hole and felt the swaddling clothes of a ten day old baby and he pulled.

…I have come that they may have life,  and have it to the full.

I made the left onto Turner Street and the broadcast replayed the audio of this rescue from 2014 and I could hear the sound of men, their crazy excitment, their crazy anticipation, and their crazy hope manifested in the timbre of their voices all coming together in a symphony of chaotic joy.

I was a mess at the roundabout near Starbucks.

I barely made out the rest of the story about this  Khaled Omar and others like him called the White Helmets. A group of volunteers in white hard hats that, while everyone else is running away from the bombings, they run toward it.

The reporter ended the broadcast by saying when the people of this besieged city were asked why they stay in light of all the danger, especially being trapped under a bombed out building, they responded by saying, “This is our home and we know if something happens, someone will come for us.

Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.

I couldn’t get out of the car. I had pulled into the plaza to make a Goodwill drop off and I was undone.

This time, not because of the terrible things I’d just heard.
This time, in a parking lot, I was undone by Hope.

Someone will come for us…

When all hell is breaking loose from a barrel or an addiction or a terrible diagnosis and everything normal isn’t anymore, sometimes the only way we can endure is knowing that someone will come for us. That they will run toward us in our entrapments, our addictions, our shame.

“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.

While we are a long way off…

Seems like the whole wide world is a long way off.

Tilting into violence in everyday places.
Toppling into addiction.
Teetering into identity confusion.

Khaled Omar was killed rescuing others.
This is what the enemy does.
He thinks if he can kill the rescuer, he has won.

He thought Calvary was his greatest triumph, but the tables were turned again and that victory belonged to someone else.

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For the Son of Man has come to save that which was lost.

Jesus ran toward humanity that day.
He reached into our entrapments and pulled us toward Him and it cost Him everything.

Therefore, we can endure anything.
We know someone has come for us.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I Am A Psalmist

The whole wide world seems to have been stripped naked of any cloak of decency and her whole wide broken self stands battered and bruised.

So many tears streaming down faces and so many tears ripping the flesh of both the innocent and the violent.

So much blood on the pavement.

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So many taking their last breath inhaling asphalt.

So many walking hollow, never to be put back to rights again.

Our world, a fractured fairy tale indeed.old bible

The persuasive rhetoric, the biggest guns, the strictest laws…they all pretend.
Pretend that they can actually change the human heart.

I know my own heart, as dark as the most violent of men, has never been changed by any of these things.

The girl was five years old. I was twelve. She was a neighbor’s daughter that I babysat sometimes because the money was good and the gourmet leftovers stashed in the back of the refrigerator were out of this world. However, I did not like this child. Despite her young age, she was mean. She cussed and hit and didn’t play nice. She was a bully. She bullied her little brother and she bullied my baby sister. One day I decided to end it.

It was one of those summer days when you can hardly take a breath the air is so heavy. The girl had come by to play with my sister and sure enough the taunting and bullying began. Something rose up in me. I’d had enough of the choking, kicking and hitting.

Some might call it justice, but it wasn’t. True justice is noble and compassionate and full of light. I was not noble or compassionate that day. I was full of darkness.

I called the girl to me. She hesitated so I quickly grabbed her by the arm and shoved her behind the sliding wooden door that was the entry point of the old warehoue where we lived. As I started to pull the heavy door to the right, she tried to escape but I blocked her with my right leg and used all the muscle I had to close the door. I stretched my legs between the framing and held onto the door handle.

I knew it would be only seconds before the screaming began.

Where she fought, pounding with all the strength a five year old could muster, was pitch black. I know because I battled fear in that room every single day, waiting for my eyes to land on something, anything, familiar just to get upstairs. I would grope my way for the metal poles with flourescent flowers painted on them that brought some semblance of light so I could see something that would make the black go away. It was the darkest place I’d ever been and fear licked at my heels in that room every day. I knew it was breathing down on this little girl in full force. I did not care.
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I was justified. And my justification made me a retaliator.

It doesn’t take a weapon in my hand to prove the violence that can reside in me.

“The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it?”

Without God and given the “right” circumstances, the right pain, every one of us is capable of taking matters into our own hands.

Because when God doesn’t matter, in the end, no lives matter.

Where does love even come from? From where do mercy and forgiveness originate?

If we are all fading to black in the end and love is just this subjective thing and my rights and comforts in this life are the only thing that matters…then it’s okay to keep a little girl in the dark when she’s being a jerk, right?

 Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.  Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.  This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our transgressions.

God always goes first.
Love always begins with Him.

When I was twelve I didn’t know God. He didn’t matter to me and the little girl screaming and begging me to open the door didn’t matter either. I was taught that justice was about teaching someone a lesson.

Then, when I was seventeen,  Jesus showed me that justice was about Him and His mercy triumphing over judgment. Jesus, who was stripped naked and indecent, bruised and battered…who tasted the blood of thorns and bled His blood on a crossbeam, showed me that He came, not as a retaliator, but as a Reconciler. Violence meets Love in the flesh and it is the violence that eventually dies.

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So I became a psalmist.

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I don’t write songs or hymns.  I cry them.

I cry the questions of the psalmist when I want enough to be enough.

How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?
    How long will you hide your face from me?
 How long must I take counsel in my soul
    and have sorrow in my heart all the day?
How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?

I lament the lament of the psalmist when the world keeps weeping over and over again.

I am worn out from my groaning.
My eyes flood my bed every night.
I soak my couch with tears.
 My eyes blur from grief.
    They fail because of my enemies.

I confess the confession of the psalmist when I want someone to be taught a lesson.

Create in me a clean heart, O God,
And renew a steadfast spirit within me.
 Do not cast me away from Your presence
And do not take Your Holy Spirit from me.
 Restore to me the joy of Your salvation
And sustain me with a willing spirit.

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When God matters, you are able to see the cross of Jesus Christ in places of shame and you learn that His love covers a multitude of sins. You see that His mercy triumphs over judgment because He has taken matters into His own hands. The cross crosses the great divide between me, once a retaliator, and a God who reconciles.

I don’t have to stand on a bridge.
I am able to cross it.

This is where we see really see Justice in all her nobility and compassion and light.

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Then I thank the thanks of the psalmist.

Enter his gates with thanksgiving
and his courts with praise;
give thanks to him and praise his name.

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Good Friday’s Clarion Call In A College Town

I am a disturber of ducks.

I see the mallard first, standing on one leg atop a small rock near the reeds. He is so still, so perfectly iridescent with his blue green head. I instinctively grab my phone and stupidly try to sneak up on him. He drops his hidden orange leg. I see movement of a speckled brown and white mound. The mallard’s mate is ruffling her body up and over a divet in the ground she’d been lying in. I could have stepped on her lovely, camoflaged self.  She and her companion slip almost imperceptibly into the pond. It is clear in the way they make small circles in the water and shake their tail feathers they are agitated. I slide the phone back into my pocket. I am a disturber and an agitator. All I  wanted was a picture of a one-legged duck I could post on Instagram.

On a rare Friday off with nothing needing doing, I had headed to Bates College for a walk around the pond. I needed to get out of town, away from the familiar walking path I normally take in my neighborhood. Bates is pretty and small in that New England collegiate way. I love the place. It’s a miniature sanctuary in the middle of the city. Even though the sound of traffic can be heard in the distance and students and faculty are always out and about, it never feels crowded or noisy. The cat o’ nine tails that edge the pond and the path that encircles it seems to buffer the mad, mad world that contorts a few hundred yards away.bates.jpg

I love it when I’m lucky enough to hear the bells toll. They make me think of God. To me they are a clarion call to pray, to celebrate, to remember. Sometimes they peal wait. Sometimes they clang make haste. 

On this day I was trying to find my way back to right thinking. On the first go around the pond, it was the mallard that reminded me how reflexively tied I am to getting the right picture instead of picturing the right thing. I quickened my pace. I was thinking that school is hard and that the brokenness of children was taking its toll and nothing in this mad, mad world seems right. Nothing at all.

We are Alice falling down the rabbit hole.
Up is down. Down is up.
Right is wrong. Wrong is right.

These children.
Living in a world so far off course it is hardly recognizable.

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These children are not afraid of the monsters under their beds, but they are afraid of going hungry. These children are not afraid of the latest horror movie or the blood-fest video game some teenager has shown them, but they are afraid that they’re stronger than the adults in their lives who are supposed to be taking care of them.

They’re afraid that getting to school, preparing a meal, finding clean clothes and staying away from abuse is all up to them.

“And whoever receives one such child in My name receives Me; but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.

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These children. So quick with a hug and a fist.
So quick with a profanity, so quick with a gift. Here, I made this for you.
So quick to hold hands, small fingers imperceptibly lacing through mine.

The tales they tell while they are coloring.

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It is on the fourth go around the kid hurt that tries to choke the hope out of me by whispering, “You will never be able to fix this,”  is loosening its grip.

Of course, it’s true. I can’t fix it. Every school day I am confronted with the reality that humans are a messed up lot and we’ve messed up our wee ones. However,  I do not have to give in to the Despiser of our souls, the one who loathes children from their womb- beginnings and is hell-bent on destroying them the moment they inhale their first God-given breath. “See that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that their angels in heaven continually see the face of My Father who is in heaven.

By not giving in to his lies that all is lost in the next generation, I become a disturber and an agitator of another kind. I become like Jesus, who turns tables on the plans of the enemy.

When the bells tolled four o’clock as I rounded the bend near the Arts Center, I was awakened  once again that I am not the fixer. I am a bringer. I can bring what has been fixed for me on today’s Friday, the Good One.

I can bring mercy and I can bring hope.
I can bring hands that guide, pick up, and rescue.
I  can bring hands that wash, hands that button and zip against the cold.
I can bring hands that wipe tears.

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I walked up the natural amphitheter and turned back toward the pond. It was settled for me again that to believe the gospel of Jesus Christ is to believe that the cross is enough for a mad, mad world and all its children. To believe that Jesus fixed it like He said He would back in the beginning. This is my clarion call. This is my prayer. Let the bells toll.

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But Jesus said, “Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to those who are like these children.

 

 

 

 

The Wind And Its Mercy

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The wind blew my neighbor’s screen door right off its hinges. I had woken earlier in the night to its howl. I thought it was the train. Then the bang of tree limbs against the side of the house penetrated my sleep haze. It’s just the wind. I rolled over and went back to sleep. I like the wind. My mother does not.

Perhaps it has something to do with her jostling about in my grandmother’s womb during the Hurricane of 1938. hurr1938(pvhn3.wordpress.com)

When I say I like the wind, I mean I mostly like the wind. I have a line. It’s an invisible line, but I know when the tempest crosses it I find I’m the first one up at the window scanning the sky. I’m watching how fast the clouds move…how far back the trees are bending.

I remember one night when I was little having to leave a big tent in a hurry, my father throwing one of my sisters up onto his shoulders. He wouldn’t let another sister go back to get a sneaker that got pulled off her foot as hundreds of us made our way across a mud-sodden, shoe sucking field. The wind whiplashed our hair into our mouths and pressed our shirts into our chests.

In the headlights of the cars trying to leave the field -turned -parking lot, I could see my father’s face had gone tight, the muscles working at his mouth. It was an unfamiliar sight as he was, and still is, a man who is hardly afraid of anything. A man who, two summers ago, didn’t blink an eye in an overhead lightning storm, calmly rooted to his front porch regaling me with yet another story while I jumped from my rocker at every flash and peal. He is a man who stares down dangerous things like copperheads and bully police officers.

Yet, even this man has a line.

That night in Pennsylvania when word came during an outdoor church service that a tornado had touched down a mile away, instead of staring the thing down, my father chose to high-tail us out of there. Wind does that sometimes. It makes us want to run.

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Most of us welcome its cool gentle breeze on a hot day. We breathe in her autumn flurry as she rustles the leaves into a dance.We laugh out loud at her gusts that carry our kites over the dunes.

It’s when the wind takes a turn and threatens to knock us down…to fiercely flatten us…promising to pummel then push us up against a wall…it is here that we learn we are at its mercy.

It’s like when you decide to walk the two miles to the doctor’s office for your son’s nine month checkup on a beautiful fall day, only to have the pediatrician say, “I don’t like the look of his liver….I need to run some tests.”

A gust flutters your heart on a very long walk home.

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Or when you’re dreaming about the new house your husband is building and what your new kitchen will look like and maybe there will even be a sewing room. You overhear the girls giggling about the color of their new shag carpet and finally, the boy will have his own room. Then one day you and the kids are abandoned, the place you’re living in, with its ugly lime green cabinet and mattress- on- the- floor beds is abandoned, too. That new house? Just a wind ravaged shell of framed nothin’.

Hurricane force winds changes the whole landscape of your life.

hurricane katrina(Hurricane Katrina in Black and White- http://biotech.law.lsu.edu/)

Maybe it’s the day your uncle kisses your aunt good-bye, tousles his sons’ heads and whispers in his six month old daughter’s ear right before the end of it. You never walk the fields of his farm with him again because a man came drunk-careening down a hill at six o’clock in the morning and didn’t see your uncle pull out of his driveway.

You taste the bitter pill of a tornado’s destruction.

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Wind.
It blows seeds and rips trees.
How do we live with its uncertainty?
How do we breathe peace when we don’t know what the next storm will bring?

The only way to embrace all the windy days is to realize they are all His.

Who has ascended into heaven and descended?  Who has gathered the wind in His fists? Who has wrapped the waters in His garment? Who has established all the ends of the earth? What is His name or His son’s name? Surely you know!

Surely we know, we need to know His name is Jesus. The One that can hold the wind in His fists holds us, too. He is the only One who promises to get us to the other side.

That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side.”  Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him.  A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped.  Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.

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For the life of every living thing is in his hand, and the breath of every human being.

But as for me, I trust in You, O LORD, I say, “You are my God.” My times are in Your hands…

My times are in his hands when an out of the blue incident happens in a far away land and my son is there in the midst of a storm that blows hard for six days and I can’t go to be with him. I know he is being buffeted about, that a dishonest and injurious wind has him pushed up against the dark side of humanity  and nothing nothing nothing is in his control or mine or his dad’s. We get bits and pieces of the truth like debris blown about desperate for a place to land.  I know this boy. He who has stood up to injustice his whole life is now facing some of his own and that his heart, my heart, so many hearts are being shaken to the core and I can’t do a thing about it.

I am at mercy.

Mercy is not just a thing one receives. It’s a place. It can’t be seen, but one knows when one has been there. We are smart to get low when the ferocity of a tornado or hurricane blows through the landscape. And we are oh so wise when we find ourselves at the threshold of God’s ferocious mercy and we realize we must get low.

It is in this place of mercy where God’s majesty and power and His amazing amazing amazing love that we discover how much this love covered us. How much His love rescued us. How much His love searched through the rubble of our sin-blown, wind blown lives and put us back on solid ground.
And not one of us deserved it.

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So like God to cloak His majesty and power in invisibility and then show the results of His power in the dirt, the bud, the water, and yes, the wind. Dare I say, the human heart, too?

“The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

This is the wind of mercy.
This is the wind of grace.

Many heartfelt thanks to all the friends who rallied around the Traveler and helped him move forward. There are some windy days when we just need a little help from our friends.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Put On Your Boots

It is the middle of February.

It is the time of year when Winter says “Hold on, I have no intention of leaving anytime soon. Keep your hat on. And your mittens. And your really long scarf. Just because it’s raining and puddles brim deep at the end of the driveway in forty degrees, I’m keeping the landscape under the grip of snow and the rivers still slogging slow under thin ice for awhile.”

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I am slogging too.

Slogging is that thing of working really hard….grinding it out.

Progressing at a slow and heavy pace is what one does in February.

Like the river across the field as it makes its way toward the Falls by the bridge, its moves so imperceptibly underneath a weight of white.

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I, too, am moving  forward.
I am slow, but I am sure.

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February cold brings an arctic blast that blisters the skin and shivers the bones.

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In the icy words.
In the the frosty glare.
In the sort of flinty resolve that stubbornly resolves to quit rather than persevere.
It blows the harsh wind reality that sometimes things just don’t work out.

Did Jesus, in His humanity, ever think, just once, that things might not work out?

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Was it when Judas believed he knew better how this salvation plan should go down that he so willingly betrayed Him with the kiss of friendship?

Or maybe it was before that when His friends were in a sleep deep and He in a deep bloodsweat?

Or perhaps it was the time Peter demonstrated his loyaly to Him with his big fat mouth and a sword, then later when a girl connected the dots that he and Jesus hung out together all the time… he cut and ran…followed by the rest of the gang.

Its so easy to  slide off the rails when people are involved.

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Especially when disappointment comes and unmet expectations get in the way of thinking straight. Or you get the call another relationship has blown up. The times someone else is done with you and leaves.

When these things happen you do one of three things.

You think….whatever….and stay stuck in your cynicism.
You quit.
You buy a new pair of boots.

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I bought the boots.

I have a nice pair of black fur-lined boots, but they weren’t up to the slogging I needed to do during recess with my students. The boots I had were okay for moderate snowfall, but too low on the calf and not super waterproof for me to really get into with the kids.

I needed boots that would take me into the deep stuff.

I needed to be able to navigate a terrain that required lifting my legs up high just to go a few feet. I needed to be able to go where the kids were going. It was either that or stand on the sidelines and watch from a distance.  My other option was to quit recess duty altogether because it was just too hard to stay involved.

It’s true.
Sometimes February can be the coldest month and it’s true, sometimes things really don’t work out.
Not everyone buys into what you’re trying to do.

Sometimes when you take a step forward you fall through the crust of disappointment that makes it feel like all the hard work you’re doing doesn’t matter.
Sometimes you get the snowball of criticism in the face.

So you have a decision to make.

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You can put on the boots.
You can keep slogging.
You don’t give in to sideline living.
And you never, ever quit.

Jesus never quit.
Not a kiss, nor a sword, not a flattering promise, or an abandonment were enough to keep him from doing what He came to do.

He came to us and for us. He loved more than all the other loves. He poured his own sinless blood. He slogged it out.
For. every. single. human.

I put on my new boots yesterday and took a different route than I usually do on my walk about town. I followed the river to the Falls.20160217_142726

Here’s the thing about February.

She might tell us we need to keep our winter gear on for the next several weeks, but there is something she’s not saying. Underneath all that white stuff still blanketing ground?

Mud.

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Keep slogging.
Don’t give up.
You’ll leave footprints.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Geraldine

There is no snow.

The landscape on Rt 11 bleeds a bleak brown in forty degrees.

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Christmas comes anyway.

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Twinkle lights have been strung on the small lilac tree at the side of the house and the big wreath with its old red bow graces the fence.

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A peeling shutter bears a smaller one with a sign telling the postman where to leave the packages so the rain doesn’t slog all over them. Window boxes are filled with pine and winterberries. At the edges of a dark kitchen Handel’s Messiah can be heard playing.

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I can’t find the candles I put on the windowsills.  When the Fiery Irishgirl moved in last Thanksgiving, I put boxes on top of boxes to make room at the inn and I promptly forgot what it all is and where it all needs to be.  It has become one big puzzle shuffle of boxes and cartons and totes.

A year of living with my black-haired beauty and her little man turned ten makes the house merry and bright and we are learning how to make room for the things we are hungry for.

A bit of space.
A bit of quiet.
A bit of beauty.

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The rest of our things, the rest of our life, has been stacked, towered and leaned and we are learning to just go with it.

Things.
There are so many.
We think we need them because of the life remembered that comes through them.

Photographs.
Baby shoes.
A ticket stub.
A baseball cap.
A recipe scrawled and butter dripped by a grandmother. A dish polished smooth by a great-grandmother.

Today I pull Christmas boxes from a closet cave.

In one of the boxes buried beneath sword-wielding nutcrackers and winter wonderland snow globes lies the nativity story told in yarn and plastic. There is a bit of reverence here as I peel back the paper, humble lodgings, this. So like God to tuck away majesty in the ordinary.

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I am remembering the day Geraldine came bearing gifts.

My eye caught her awkward gait going past the window one day just before Christmas. She banged on the door threatening to crack it wide open. I opened up to see her standing there in a huge black Russian fur hat, (which she wore all year long), a man’s coat and two or three dresses layered over stained trousers tucked into broken down work boots. She stepped into the kitchen and promptly shoved a package wrapped in convenience store wrapping paper and wreaking of cigarettes into my hands. Merry Christmas.

Geraldine.

A not-so-quite old woman, hair white and wild from never combing, toothless, a Harry Potter-esque scar on her forehead, (“A beer bottle come flyin’ out a window and got me right in the head back when I was livin’ in Auburn. Stupid people.”) I’d find her pacing in front of my kitchen window every few days, her signal that she wanted a visit. As I’d step into the driveway to greet her she would, with shoulders leaning forward, take two steps back. Like she wanted to be close, but was afraid.

My hands were deep in mulch the first day I met her. Cleaning out a small flower bed just days after moving into our new house, I leaned back on my knees and caught a slight movement to my right. Pushing away leaves, a flicker of white flashed. I looked up. At the corner of the neighbor’s house stood this woman dressed in a stained white slip layered over a frayed housecoat. Her legs, bone china sticks, peered above a pair of work boots.

old boots
(Google Images)

I said hello.

Nothing.

Again, hello.

She inched closer. I shielded my eyes to get a better look at her.

Her white hair stuck up and out in every conceivable direction. When she turned slightly I could see it had matted and there was burdock stuck all through it like she’d taken a nap in field somewhere.

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She stood before me filthy, smelling like cigarettes and urine. Small crusts of dried food edged the top of her hairy lip. Rocking forward, her voice cracked.

“Whatchorname?”

No hello.
No handshake.

Right off Geraldine wanted to know my name and she wanted me to know hers.  From that day on she spoke my name every time she saw me. She spoke my children’s names. She shouted my husband’s name. She loved him best, I think. She spoke the dog’s name and got it wrong. Instead of Gideon, he was called Gilligan until the day she moved away.

In the beginning she wouldn’t come into the house. Truthfully, I wasn’t too keen on it, either.

The smell of her.

It was a presence that settled into the room, settled into you long after she’d gone.  When she began patting, then hugging me, I had to brace myself for the assault of what it means to truly be unclean.

dirty hands
(Google Images)

The Christmas Geraldine came with her gift was the Christmas when a sword pierced my heart and I realized I wasn’t doing her any favors by being her friend. I wasn’t doing her a favor by being nice to her, or trying not to stiffen when she touched me. There was no goodwill in the occasional sighing and whispering complaint when she showed up unannounced wanting company. Instead, it was me God was doing a favor for by allowing her to become my friend. This strange, dirty, simple-minded woman, who some might count among the least of these, schooled me that day.

Geraldine rocked and swayed in the way she always did, smiling toothless.

“It aint’ much and I figured the kids would like it too cuz of the baby Jesus and everything….”

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I unwrapped it, my head bowing, my eyes spilling.

Cuz of the baby Jesus…

How did she know? Had I shared the gospel with her? Had I told her about Jesus? How did she know that His story, His coming, told in plastic and yarn would be the one thing that would mean the most?
Would be the best gift.

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Yes, Geraldine schooled me that day when she saw past my religious do-gooding, which turns out to be nothing but starched up kindness and propped up politeness.

christmas cookies
(Google Images)

The sort of kindness that drops off Christmas cookies, but won’t step into the squalor of a dirty apartment. The sort of politeness that will speak to the unlovely, but never look them in the eye.

Geraldine could see better than me. She knew what would bless me the most because somehow she knew me. No token gifts from this lady. No propped up religiosity. No proper pretty packages, no crafted tags and bows.

British Christmas
(Google Images)

These days Geraldine’s Christmas story is given a prominent place in the dining room. I put it right where I can see it. Truly see it. The majesty cloaked in the ordinary.

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Like Geraldine. My friend.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Listen, November Speaks

“Nature should be read as one of God’s books which he made to reveal himself.”-                                                                                                                  Richard Baxter, 1656

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Saturday the brittle sound of brokenness cracks loud. Metal tines scrape and drag the piles of russet brown and speckled gold debris that just 40 days ago still swayed green above my head.

Not so now.

The garden has the musky smell of things dying and returning to the earth. I pull the last of the purple coneflowers and black-eyed Susans. Their roots resist like they don’t know it’s their time to go.

There is a time for everything,
    and a season for every activity under the heavens:

   a time to be born and a time to die,
    a time to plant and a time to uproot…

The rake cuts deep into the dirt and its handle cuts deep into me. Skin separates from the crook of my thumb. There is blood.

I never wear gloves and sometimes I think this is not the best idea, but it doesn’t stop me from reaching into the dark places to pull out the spent blooms because I want to feel all of it. In April, I touch a stem and leaf’s beginnings and in November I touch their endings.

I need to touch the message of the gospel with my bare hands.

scooping dirt

A hard thing indeed, this time to uproot.

All those tendrils and root- wisps have a strength that belie their size as they cling cling cling to the life they know is still in the dirt.

Sometimes it takes muscle.
Sometimes it takes a cutting away.
Sometimes it takes blood, sweat and tears.

I grip a mottled stem still green in places and pull. The slow ascent of the stem begins as I pull harder harder harder until it finally rips apart from its home in the ground.

hands around stems

Life does not depart easily. Yet when November whispers, “It is time to go” the trees and flowers eventually bow down and give up their leaves.

The melancholy of November is the melancholy of the gospel.
It is the beginning of a coming darkness.

hands in dirt

For me, November speaks of darkness coming to another garden. A garden wet with its own spilled blood, sweat and tears. A garden where Jesus asks His father twice, if at all possible, if there is any other way, perhaps he, too could stay earthbound.

…yet not my will, but yours be done.

Nobody, no living thing, ever wants to die. It wasn’t part of the original plan. Nothing about death seems right.

Trees without leaves, a child without his mama, a mama without her baby, a man without his wife. Must the ground claim everything?

It used to be after the glorious shower of Autumn was over and the landscape was left brown and wanting, a dark shadow would come and live at the edges of my thoughts. In New England, the barrenness of November can mean a wait of almost six months before new life springs from the ground again and for some of us this would mean a silent fight to keep joy.

leaves and lampost

Now, when clouds hang low and twilight comes early, the message of the gospel resounds in the rustle of fallen leaves. All is well because the darkness holds no power. It can only point to a coming light.

The gloom of the cross held for a moment, but could not keep, the most glorious of Light, Jesus. The ground could not claim Him. And because of Him, it will never claim us.

The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.

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These days I embrace November and her message of the gospel.
Darkness has no claim over me.

Joy pushes past the edges of my thoughts and I smile at the crackle of leaves as I stand in an empty garden.

I know what’s coming.

(Listen here to “Light Of The World, You Stepped Down Into Darkness”)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CBKzCpkXJR4