Back To The Future On The Brink Of A New Year

The car bumped slight on the old road, a road tar-cracked the same as it was four decades ago. It is frozen in snow on this day and and frozen in time all the other days.

I see the first farmhouse on the left has gotten a sprucing up.

My mother says it first.

I‘ve always liked that house.

I think it’s because it sits pretty, its long side with the front door greets you right off when you come around the bend. Someone put a tree in the right spot flanking the house’s short end by the road. I instinctively look up.

I am eight years old and I am looking for the owl.

Is this the branch?

Maybe it’s the one up ahead. I can’t be sure. I know it was right about here, where the branches spread over the road.

Memory is like that.

Peripheral things like branches are a mist. It’s the heavy hitters that make the biggest impact, that leave a most discernable mark.

These marked a child well during the farmhouse years:

A rare sighting, lasting for weeks, of an owl perched stoic, head turning at children waving.

Howard’s Farm, unchanged and brick-dug into the earth,  New England postcard perfect against the snow and stonewall boundaries.

Barbed wire slashes through long woolen mittens after coming to rest at the end of a sledding adventure through evergreens and sharp hidden fences.

Slaughterhouse dogs chasing and gnashing, gnashing, gnashing.

Hay diving and rope swinging in barns forbidden, laughing, laughing, laughing.

Tractor trailer trucks bullying a little green pickup, pushing, pushing, pushing.

The memories of where I’ve come from herald loudly on a day when all is calm, all is bright.

My mother and I drive through the little village where glass shards once flew and telephone wires once sparkled on gasoline drenched pavement. The village is quiet on this late December day and not much has changed here either, but there are marks under the snow that she and I share.  We know the empty space where the fire station used to be is ground marked by twisted steel and hinges come undone. We know that just a few yards up the owl searching eight year old stands shoeless and looking for her mother.

We reminisce a little. We tell a couple of stories.

We mention Reney’s Store and the new siding on the town hall and how the house on the curve isn’t as well cared for, missing its famously stacked woodpile.  We don’t need to meniton the terror, the movings or the leavings.

We’ve come through them all and we are on the other side of things now.

Our wanderings of the past forty years have revealed one true thing:

He has never forsaken.

Jesus has not wasted a thing.

Looking back I see now the future He has prepared for me, one not wrought with calamity, but full of hope and, yes, even joy, despite all my wanderings and misunderstandings.

The indelible marks of the past make me who I am and I trust that in His hands, hands marked with Their own piercings, He will make a future that breathes hope for others. A future that glorifies Him.

My new year’s resolution is to be resolute in this:

Because I have been marked by Him, Jesus is my future and my hope.

 

The End Of The World As I Know It

IMG_6981There are days, even at Christmas ,when I need the night sky to be ripped open and angels to rock my world.IMG_6980IMG_6978

Even at Christmas there can be melancholy.

Darkness comes early on the east coast this time of year. The shadows begin creeping by mid-afternoon and there is only seeing what is right in front of me.IMG_6958

This day is the darkest. The sun comes up late and leaves early.

The house is filling up with baskets of half-written cards and  leftover garland and I wonder if there will be enough time.IMG_6979

I forget the world ended as I know it,  stable side when the Ancient of Days broke into the now.

I am only seeing the spilled milk, the muttering over lost keys and the lamenting of harsh words.

Shepherding the details of life can keep the eyes  looking  down, groping in the dark to get it all done.

The people who walk in darkness will see a great light, those who live in a dark land, the light will shine on them.

Oh, to remember I did see a great ligfht when I first encountered Jesus.IMG_6957

Oh,  to remember that the Father of Lights, the giver of every perfect gift, has no shifting shadow.

Oh, to remember that there is a light that shines upon me and I can run, like the shepherds of old, to where He is.IMG_6956

Oh, to remember that when Majestic broke into the grime He ended it; He ended the grip of the enemy of our souls. The world as we know it is lived out through the light of Jesus’ saving power.

He brings the world to its knees first with shepherds, then kings.

One day every knee will bow.IMG_6983

When You Choke On The Words

Has the Peace of last week’s Advent been shattered by last Friday’s  carnage?

Is the Peace of God carried off by the whims of mankind like chaff floating away from a dandelion?

What about this week’s Advent? IMG_6973

Joy.

Can Joy co-exist with Sorrow? Horror?IMG_6977

Do angel’s words ring true or not?

Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which shall be for all people…

Which shall be for all people.

Even armed to the teeth, evil influenced people?

How can this be?

Heaven Forbid.

Am I allowed to forbid heaven anything?

I see that the tryanny of violence is nothing new.

The Roman boot weighed heavy upon the neck of God’s people  when Jesus broke into humanity one night.

Violence and its seeming randomness has tried to choke the hope out of the human heart for centuries.

Then He came. The ultimate in human frailty.

A babe.

Do not be afraid….

How do I not?

Fear presents himself so suddenly, without warning as I sit in a classroom of five year olds, lisping words of love to me, their substitute teacher, whom they barely know.

Fear grips choking when I hear of another classroom of lisping love speaking babes there is unspeakable terror.IMG_6972

Babes in blue jeans and spider man tee shirts, pony tails and glitter belts.

Behold…

Look.

Look where, God?

Where are You when the boot crushes and the bullets fly and the cross holds nails in flesh?

I bring you good news of a great joy…

Did shepherds wonder only at angels visiting, or did they wonder, What good news?

Is there any such thing?

Yes, angels sing.

The good news is that God will fix this,  all of it.

He will wipe every tear and heal every disease and crush every fear and it lies in a feed trough, cold, pink and wailing.

Jesus, Immanuel, God with us in the midst of crushing boots and flying bullets and crosses and nails.

The promise of the gospel is that God is good and He sent Jesus into a broken, evil, life-snuffing world to bring it all back to the Garden and this is the only solid ground I have to back up on when all hell is breaking loose around me, or 200 miles away in a pretty little town on a Friday morning.

which shall be for all peopleIMG_6969

I struggle with this part of the message because I want to take my pen and write in my own words. I want it to make sense and it just doesn’t.

You will bring joy to good people, right God? You’re talking about decent, law-abiding people, aren’t you?

Some say killers deserve hell.

This eye for an eye makes perfect sense until I  get stuck on the word all and realize I am seeing boundless, limitless, cannot ever be contained mercy in that little word.

Yes, Virginia, there really is mercy.

Mercy that is new every morning and available for all who would take it.

Thieves, and liars, and cheaters, and grumblers; even someone like a man named Paul, who had a license to kill.

Is this why the gospel of Jesus Christ, the good news, is so hard to accept sometimes because it is being offered to us all?

I do not know what God is thinking on this side of heaven and  or what He will do with the person who caused so much grief three days ago. I just know that during another three days, Jesus triumphed over evil and darkness and sadness and grief.IMG_6975

IMG_6976The angels were right.  This is good news.

The Punch In The Face Awake, Part Two

I stand alone in the middle of breakfast things.

I think I am conspicuous, sidestepping.

Unable to make up my mind whether to turn right or left or run from the room crying.

I stand in the middle of eggs and spilled creamer and burnt coffee, dumb, staring at tables christmas- decked- holly, greens swagging white cloths twirled around that wide ribbon the Narnia woman so wanted to change into an angel.IMG_6934

I see a lady I’d met a couple of times at the far end of the room and I somehow manage to plod toward her.

I plod like a prizefighter knocked senseless but doesn’t know it.

My hello comes ragged and I do not meet her gaze lest she see.

Lest she see me wrestle the weeping to the ground.

This woman who sits across from me now is Irish and a storyteller and I am happy to let her sweep me inside her stories for a few minutes. I need time to breathe down the lump in my throat.

She tells me she is a backslider.

I eke out a whisper: Aren’t we all?

I scan the big room and the small turn-out.

Even after what I had just encountered with the Narnia woman, I am sliding backward.

Sliding back to the dust and futility of human strength.

Could we have done more?IMG_6928

Advertised better?

Chosen a different venue?

Prayed more?

I feel thin.

The woman is telling me the story of living next door to Alonzo Fields, the chief butler to four presidents.

A house negro, he called himself, responsible for tablecloths and napkins, silverware and glasses.IMG_6932IMG_6931

He new Churchill well.

Truman was his favorite.

He retired his post and lived under segregation humble.

He gave stories and kindness to his daughter’s little white friend. My storyteller.

One day she asked him a question.

 Mr. Fields, what was it like, working in the White House, meeting all those famous people?

He answered simple.

It’s all about setting a nice table.IMG_6933

And without taking a breath she says,

You know, like what you’re doing here today.

For these people.

Punch.

No matter who comes to the table, rich, poor, backslider or Narnia dweller.

No matter how many sit in the chairs.

No matter if they thank you or try to give you money.

No matter if you are tired or think you could have done more.

Set beauty. Set grace and dignity and worth.IMG_6935

Set a nice table.

Jesus whispers. I have set a table. A banqueting table, my beloved. 

See, I am at the table in the middle of ribbon and stories and the poor and spilled coffee. Set the table and I will come.IMG_6936

The Punch In The Face Awake, Part One

Her words hit.

Swift.

Hard.

Without warning.

She probably would have kept her word thrusts to herself if she’d known the impact would leave a mark for the better part of my next forty-eight hours. I came close to speaking about it on the way home later that morning but there was christmas snow falling and the woods blurring through tears choking.

I get out of bed hard. The drive through hill and dale is long.

I just want coffee. I am bone weary this morning at a church outreach and think I can probably manage friendliness but nothing more. Keep an arm’s length and serve eggs.

I forget so quickly that this is precisely the moment when God stretches me and makes me go limp and my heart go broke.

She comes up behind me as I fill my cup. Hair all spiral brown and gray twining around a wool cap looking like a Narnia creature in green and brown tweed. She is made for winter.

Wrinkles grace soft on her face and her eyes show the first signs of weariness so I know she, like me, is between the young and old place. I ask her name and she asks if I have children.IMG_6925

I have five. And two grandchildren.

Five?  And you have grandchildren?

Her words start spilling…about some people getting it right by having all those kids, so many that they can spare some, you know, if…..

Slow of mind and body, I keep thinking, What do I have to give this woman? Is my listening enough?

Look at that one. Isn’t she beautiful?

She points to a little girl holding used up plates, little but with a lithesomeness peeking beautiful.

Yes.

I answer this quiet. I am still thinking about how tired I am.

The Narnia woman looks crinkle -eyed deep into mine.

I lost my little girl. She was fourteen. She died the day before she got to go on her Make A Wish trip.

Punch.

In the face wake up. There are hurting people here.

My breath catches first and the tired drains second.

And her words keep spilling. Spill and spill and spill all over me and my stupid coffee cup and my selfish tired body.

She tells me she makes angels out of wide christmas ribbon because her little girl saw an angel in the corner of the room on her last day. She told her mother to just believe and that it was going to be okay.IMG_6924

She spills her confession of making a deal with the devil, but then she took it back when the angel visited. When something like that happens, you just know that you know it’s going to be all right.  I should probably go to church.

I choke back the hardness forming in my throat and manage to invite her to come to a service.

Come Christmas Eve.

She smiles. I hope my son changes his mind about having children. He’s just scared. You know….with everything that’s happened. He’s all I have now and I want grandchildren…so I hope….I have to go. Where is my friend?

She turns from me for a moment to scan the room and then turns back to face me with crinkle eyes smiling and tears running. She says good bye and that maybe she will see me.

Me with all my children and grandchildren.IMG_6914

I go quiet for the rest of the day. IMG_6927The next morning I light the first candle of Advent, the one called Hope, and think of another time angel visited, punching the heavens with his announcement and the shepherds going straight away to Bethlehem because when something like this happens, you just know that you know He has finally come to make it all right.