Face

Thirteen years ago I watched my oldest grandchild emerge from his mother, slicker’n bean, his furled body slipping from the midwife’s grasp and landing in a hammock-slung green blanket, his head halo-ed with thick black hair, his mother heaving breaths of relief and exhaustion. I looked into his face as he gulped his first of a million breaths. A few years later I met the next grand baby, just minutes old, a pink girl bundle snuggled on her daddy’s exposed chest, one side of her head blotched red, evidence that birth is trauma. I moved toward her and my son relinquished her to me. I gazed at her as she willed her eyelids open just long enough for me to say hello.

Three and half years later her sister met me with eyes wide open, almond beauties alert and curious. When I looked at her it was like she already knew me. Two months later, my second son held his first, a girl child, also framed by a shock of black hair, her skin blushed dark and rosy. She too was a sleepy one, her eyelashes fluttering like little wings as I brought her face up to meet mine so I could inhale the sweet aroma that pulses from just born skin.

And just last night a boy came in the late hours minutes before midnight and he is the first of my grandchildren that I will not see face to face just moments after his arrival.

Elijah Daniel, this one is.

Elijah. Translation: Jehovah is God. Period.In case anyone was wondering.
Daniel. Translation: God is my judge, my strength. In case anyone thought it was someone else.

Quite the names to possess. Or perhaps be possessed by.

Elijah, the ancient, hard-scrabble prophet wasn’t afraid to stand face to face against a vicious king and he wasn’t afraid to look evil in the eye and call on God’s justice to prevail. And he most certainly was not afraid to face the endless cloudless skies as years of drought dusted up inside his sandals and the anticipation of rain danced upon his parched lips.

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Daniel, a highly esteemed, genteel judge, wasn’t afraid to openly face his window in prayer when it was illegal to follow God. He desired to know God’s ways even when it resulted in face time with a bunch of hungry lions.

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Both men were in your face kind of guys;  the first, verbose, emotional and possessing a flair for the dramatic;  the second, standing out and leading by example, gifted with a wisdom and intelligence that went beyond his years. Attributes that allowed him the privilege of leadership in a society that mocked God. Both men were fearless and met life head on, face to face.

So what of this little boy, this other Elijah Daniel that I have yet to meet, whose face I can only see in a photo, but whom I cannot smell, whose eyes I cannot look into as they struggle to focus. What will become of him, of each of my grandchildren, in a world that is shifting, tremor-ing, every seismic tilt a foreshadowing of what may be coming in the not-too-distant future. Which is that following God and loving Jesus just might warrant a trip to the lion’s den.

Perhaps I am like Elijah and being dramatic, but I don’t think so.
The rhetoric of the world is already loud and clear.

Just like it was on another night in the wee hours when Jesus, sweating drops as big as a blood clot, came face to face for what he was living and was soon to die for.

The rhetoric of Jesus’ day?

Simply that God would never stoop so low as to fit inside a human container. He would never include under his banner of grace that healing and love and freedom is for every race, every tribe, every slave, every criminal, every woman.

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See, Jesus looks at everything and everyone square in the face. Adulterous women. Bleeding women. Tax collectors and thieves. Blind people. Deaf people. Skin-diseased people. Noblemen and noblewomen. Ruthless Romans and lying betrayers.

All were radically changed because Jesus loves to get face to face.

So the worst moment in Jesus’ life here on earth?

Not the betrayals.
Not the lashings.
Not even his bleeding out on the cross.

It was the moment when the sin of the whole wide world came upon him and his own good good father had to turn his face away from him, his only beloved son…when the intimacy of what he had always known under the gaze of his father’s face became hidden behind the black hole of hell.

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Because Jesus lost sight of his father’s face for three days, we, his followers, will know no such thing. Instead we are promised our own face to face encounter with the living God.

May we on this Good Friday be like the ancient Elijah and Daniel and yes, Jesus too, unafraid of the rhetoric of this world we live in, a confident but humble people who look life square in the face with the joy and love of God surrounding us every step of the way.

As for my little Elijah Daniel, I don’t just hope to see him soon, I plan on it. And when I do I will take in every square inch of his chubby face, memorizing it until I see him again.

It’s the same with Jesus. I don’t just hope to see Him. I plan on it.

I figure I won’t be able to take my eyes off him.

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When Spring Wears Sackcloth and Ashes

It is snowing.

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Nothing looks alive, nothing appears to be wanting to burst forth in green.
So unlike yesterday when Spring could actually be smelled.

Today speaks desolation and, after heartbreaking news, it seems fitting that today comes cloaked in sack cloth and ashes.

When an eleventh hour hope has tick tocked by what does one do then? What does one do when an unwanted and undeserved load has been placed upon the shoulders of the rejected and abandoned, the broken-promised, and throughout it all God appears to be silent. Silent like the morning just past my window, a morning shrouded in snow, the absence of any visible sign of Spring, nothing but a white powder mixed with the crinkled brown of leftover dead things.

How can one navigate this kind of silence? How can one pray again, when all of the prayers have been prayed out, when every last drop of hope and desire for something good to happen slides past the raw, constricted throat of grief? What can one do then?

Nothing.
One can do nothing.

But to go static one might as well be dead; however when the exhaustion of waiting in limbo takes its toll, sometimes the invitation to go numb, to go lifeless, looks pretty good.

But what if one looks at nothing in a different way instead, nothing as a not-thing.

A not striving.
A not fixing.
A not blaming.
A not worrying.

By choosing to not do these things, an invitation opens up to do something else, something most humans avoid, which is the practice of lament.

Lament is a kind of grieving and mourning, even wailing, that is visceral and made of blood and guts and it is meant to be looked in the eye and embraced. Grief is hard to do and most of us run from it.

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When everything has been taken, every pebble, every tree, every window box, every bed for weary travelers passing through, every tire swing, every Thanksgiving table, every sunrise in the front window, every field, every sound of safe at home tires crunching, every fire in the fire pit, all thirty years of it, fully lamented, not only by the owner of all these things, but by those who have been touched by this place and its rocks and fields and its old floors and its glasses of wine and its hot coffee left brewing and its invitation to pick any mug you want.

To grieve the injustice of covenant breaking, to grieve the loss of place is to pray without words.

When forced to let go, it feels like a Forsake, a Forgot. It’s so hard to know what God is up to when He is quiet and our religious selves try to squeak out verses that claim He will never leave us or forsake us, or that we, His children, will never go begging for bread. Houses, maybe, we mutter, but not bread.

It has been a particularly hard winter for me and my family. The scrape of suffering is no respecter of persons; pain is pain and loss is loss. We are not Job, but we are acquainted with his well-meaning friends, who attempt to explain the unexplain-able. Perhaps they do not know what to do with our sadness.

I don’t either.

In a little over two weeks it will be Easter. I am not Jewish, but I will be sitting Shiva in my heart until then. Shiva is a period of mourning for first-degree relatives, where grief is embraced and comfort is accepted. No one has died in my family,  but there has been a death none-the-less, and it is deserving of the kind of lament that wears sackcloth and ashes.

Hope is not lost, it’s just hidden under a pile of snow and broken leaves. Hope hid for three days once, shrouded in a tomb after the One wrapped up tight there had His own undeserved load placed upon His shoulders, who was also rejected and abandoned and broken-promised. Then pierced. Then nailed.

I know hope is not lost, but sitting Shiva with lament as my companion, linking my heart to those whose grief goes far beyond my own is the right thing to do and I will do it until Easter. Perhaps Spring will have come by then.

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Get Me Some Dirt

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There isn’t any dirt to be found.

I suppose I could tramp down to the town office and fill my bucket with the sand that’s been set aside for us locals to spread on our icy driveways, but sand isn’t the kind of dirt I’m thinking about. I’m thinking of the kind that seeps into the skin that even a good washing can’t completely remove.

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When my hands sink into this kind of dirt, I feel connected, authentic, transparent. I feel a part of creation, the breathed on part that continues to ripple throughout eternity.  This kind of dirt eventually wears off me, the daily rhythms of my life acting as a scouring brush of sorts and then I forget what it feels like to be dirty. To be real.

When I see my clean hands, my clean feet, my exfoliated face, my conditioned hair, I sometimes think, I’m doing well. I’m showing my best self, I’m dolled up as my grandmother would have said. She might even have said I was presentable.

Which, by definition means I am able to be presented, fit to be offered, fit to be displayed.

This is funny to me.

I was a girl who shied from the camera, who squinted into the sun during picture taking on the beach, who kept her mouth closed when everyone else was saying cheese. Self-conscious of my perceived flaws and limitations, I hid behind a false humility. I pretended to not want what I actually craved…attention and acceptance.

Me…presentable…displayed…offered?  Oh. No. Please, not me.

Here’s the thing.

The trouble with false humility is that it is, well, false.  It is a lie of the worst kind.

It pretends to not desire accolades or attention, but it most certainly, most emphatically does. False humility will cast its eyes down feigning invisibility, only to glance sideways to see if anyone is noticing. False humility stands on the street corner with a scrubbed face, fresh clean clothes and a grumbling stomach for all to see and hear.

False humility is a not me, yes me existence. It will scrub the dirt that is on the outside only to deny the dirt on the inside. False humility is religion at its finest.

You’re so clean. Oh no, not me. If you only knew…
You’re doing so well. You think so? I wouldn’t know…
You’re so presentable. Why thank you. I mean, I wouldn’t go that far, but if you say so…

I need some good clean dirt. I need a smudge of the earth so that I can remember that I come from its dust and one day I will return it.

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It is the ashes of repentance that will lead me out of my ivory tower of pretending. When I submit to the ashes, it is then I begin to shed my false self and reclaim who I really am: a sinner made holy through the blood of Jesus.

Without God I am nothing, but with God I am everything He says I am.

Loved beyond all imaginations.
Accepted with all acceptances.
Presentable to the King of all the Kings.

Able to be presented, fit to be offered.

The real me, all of my human creature-ness that was fashioned from a handful of dirt, is now called into partnership with the most glorious of beings, Jesus Christ. I am grafted into Him and receive all that He does from the sacred soil of his never ending love.

So this Ash Wednesday, I’m getting me some dirt. I’m coming clean and shedding the falseness that still tries to lay claim to me, but it cannot.

I’ve been made clean by blood and I remember it with dirt.

As the black smudge seeps into the cracks of my forehead, may it continue to remind me to be ably present throughout these 40 days on my annual journey to the cross of Christ where real humility is found.

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Eighty

Mom

She wakes before dawn.
It is not a choice.

She dresses in the uniform of a coffee-pouring-how- would- you -like- your- eggs- sir breakfast waitress who works in an orange and brown dining room of a luxury hotel in the city. She arranges her hair just so, smears a line of lipstick and goes to check on her sleeping children.

First, her only boy in the back room, rug-less, windowless, his body curled on a mattress on the floor; then in the opposite room, two of her girls, their long hair splayed on pillows, each in their own bed, one near a Mark Spitz poster, the other, pushed up against a rattling window.

She leans over another bed. From it she lifts her youngest who is snuggled up against her oldest, the little one limp with sleep, the bigger one, turning in a sigh of unwanted waking. She nudges the oldest and whispers what she will always whisper from now on; time to get up, and she walks out of the room.

She tiptoes down a dark hallway, a long map of the United States thumb tacked to one of the walls in an unsuccessful attempt to cover exposed drywall screws, her youngest’s legs wrapped around her waist, the child’s head nodding on her shoulder.

She lays her littlest girl on a twin bed that is the couch. She drapes a coat on the child’s half-sleeping shoulders and she holds the small torso up and stuffs one arm, then another into woolen arm holes  She slowly zips the zipper, an eye on her girl’s five year old chin. She plops a hat on the girl’s tousled head and lifts her once more, adjusting the child’s weight, then leans in for her purse and looks back at the oldest standing in pajamas under a dim light in a broken linoleum-ed kitchen. She whispers what she will always whisper; good-bye…I’ll see you after school. She turns, opens the hollow-core door and closes it, leaving her oldest girl leaning against a section of uncovered drywall, the girl not wanting to wash up for seventh grade, the girl not wanting to make oatmeal for herself and the others still sleeping, the girl not wanting her mother to leave.

Before making her way down a narrow staircase, she shifts her little girl to her left hip and slowly begins her descent, another weak bulb flickering a mustard pool of grainy illumination on the bottom step. She steps off the last stair and pauses. She adjusts her eyes to a darkness that sits like a presence, sits like a person, just beyond what can be seen, and it murmurs to her a guttural reminder of the dark hole her life just fell into.

When she feels like she can see clearly, she begins to walk forward toward a sliding wooden door, the kind she used to pull in the barn back on the farm when she was a girl. She whispers into her youngest’s ear that she has to set her down, but it’s only forminute so stay by mommy, okay?  She feels a small hand grab the edges of her coat. She slides the heavy door open, the early morning light a tangible welcome of what feels like relief. She receives it gladly, though it lasts only as long as it takes for her to walk to her car.

She places her child in the passenger seat and watches the white frost breaths puff from her girl’s full rosebud mouth peeking just above her jacket collar. She slides into the front seat, her own breaths coming quickly, streams of white hitting against the steering wheel. She twists a key in the ignition. She turns to the girl, who is awake now, and asks in a regular voice, ready to go to the babysitters?  Her child nods, head bobbing like a little turtle, and she smiles.

She backs the car out of a graveled shriveled lot and glances up at the kitchen window, hoping the oldest is stirring a pot of oatmeal, hoping that everything is okay up there.  She passes a neighbor’s house where the nosy woman her oldest had dubbed Mrs. Kravitz lives and swings the tail end of the car onto Cottage Street, shifts it into drive and begins a new life as she heads down the empty street on a cold December morning.

A life that, up until she got married, could almost be described as idyllic, especially in comparison to what was to come after her wedding day. Her marriage came with a whole lot of chaos and uncertainty, but it produced five children and for that she was eternally grateful. She loved being a mom. And a wife. It was all the displacement and upheaval and the moving and packing and unpacking and moving again, and then not unpacking because why bother, it’s all going to be moved again anyway.

Then.

For a brief time there was a sense of normalcy. A rooted-ness began to take place, a sense of grounding and stability and relative peace surrounded her and her children and for three years life was pretty good. But another job opportunity, a sure-fire thing, announced itself, and everything went up for auction with the exception of the family photographs and a couple small pieces of furniture her mother had given her. It almost broke her heart to give up her piano.

A year and a few days later after her husband decided not to come home, she began waking before dawn to lift her littlest girl out of bed to deposit her at a friend’s house before having to clock in at her 6 a.m. waitress job. Each morning as she drove down Cottage Street she prayed that the rest of her children would make it to school safely and when her oldest finished making the oatmeal, that she would remember to shut off the flame to the old gas stove.

Every day she emerged from a dark and destitute place, a place no one could see from the road (except maybe Mrs. Kravitz), and she put one foot in front of the other which she continued for the next forty seven years. Over time her footsteps led her and her children out of the old warehouse they christened The Barn, and away from the clutches of welfare and the disapproval of misinformed neighbors. Her right foot, left foot life soon led her back to school and a better job.

She kept on walking and along the way a hunger that had gone dormant earlier in her marriage began to come to the surface. Instead of ignoring it, she walked toward it and bumped into Jesus. He became her constant companion. She received healing and forgiveness and she introduced Him to her children. It wasn’t long after that her footsteps led her over the threshold of a beautiful little house with a wrap-around porch and a stone wall and a real barn in the back.

She unpacked all of her boxes.

She continued to put one foot in front of the other, a faith-infused existence that led her to more schooling resulting in becoming an elementary school teacher at a time when most of her friends were planning their retirement packages. She walked toward each child’s marriage and the arrival of every new grand baby, hardly believing her good fortune that her quiver was near bursting.

She followed Jesus to Russia and over the hills and dales of her own country, bringing encouragement and exhortation in her role now as a quiet, unassuming matriarch. She kept walking despite debilitating illness and profound disappointments that could only be expressed through the veil of thousands and thousands of tears.

And now?

It is no longer dawn, but twilight.

It’s okay, because unlike the dawn, which unfolds into daylight rather quickly, twilight tends to linger, as if savoring the day and all the goodness it had to offer before giving in to eventide.

This woman walks in her twilight, about to enter her eightieth year. She is a woman etched deeply by pain, yet she is clothed in a holy grace that shimmers with the clean white light of Jesus that shows her the way, scattering all her darkness and silencing the presence once and for all; exposing the beauty that was intended for her all along.

This woman is my mother.

She has shown me, all of us who emerged out of that broken-down warehouse with her, how to keep on walking.

May her eighties be a sweet season of her savoring the goodness of her God.

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There’s No Brand For That

I was talking with the Traveler yesterday.

He is the middle one, the second son, the one who came into the world facing the wrong way but then grew up until he was looking over the rest of our heads. He navigated, or better put, white water rafted through his teen years, me white knuckling as he did it, and then he landed, a young man, about to turn thirty, navigating a different landscape.

He has things to say about this. Ponder-ings and wonder-ings.

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This landscape feels familiar and yet the people here speak another language, a language that at first sounds familiar, yet meaning and understanding depends on where the words were first uttered; the mouth, the printed page, Twitter, Facebook.  In this present landscape words become viral, seeping infections invading the collective psyche while the medicine of apology becomes nothing but a dirty band-aid. Unstickable. Good for nothing, really.

In this landscape you need a brand because a brand validates who you are and what you have to offer. Brand is what people see first. Even churches are asked, what is your brand? Yea, we know it’s Jesus, but marketing Jesus is, well, tacky and crass, so we’re going to need something else to get people’s attention and loyalty, so whatcha got?

You need a brand, but for heaven’s sake, be careful not to get branded. It won’t ever go away. It is a searing, flesh-burning mark that lets every one know that you have been found guilty first.

Even after the facts come to light.
Even after the full story is told.

You have been permanently marked and labeled and, perhaps in the end you will be found innocent, but, so so sorry, we have to move on. There’s another virus on the horizon.

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This is the landscape the Traveler and the rest of my children and now my grandchildren must navigate. As a person of faith, a faith that rests on the Word made flesh and eventually seared to a cross, it is becoming apparent to me there are other writings on the walls, other words being forged on the end of an iron rod, ready to etch whatever the truth of the moment appears to be and what on earth do I have to say about this? Do I speak? Do I remain silent?  Both carry an irreversible price.

Because freedom of speech has become a brand.
But not speaking at all can invite a branding.

At the Lincoln Memorial the other day there were three. Three groups swirling around each other as chants, songs, drums and dark, up-from-the-swill speech were whisked into a quaking cauldron resulting in a human maelstrom of perceived truth. All three evidently practicing their faith and evidently following their god.

All three claiming innocence. All three claiming truth. Like someone said yesterday regarding what was true that day under the gaze of Lincoln’s statue:

“I guess it all depends on the angle and what you want to see.”

Angling for the truth. Angling for what we want to see.

This is planet earth now. This is home and it has gotten a bit blurry.

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My prayer these days is for courage.

Courage for myself, but mostly for my children and my grandchildren who may be branded, seared in this life because truth isn’t truth unless it fits the brand of the day.

Following Jesus just might become really hard.

Walking in his ways of love and sacrifice and turning the other cheek and speaking plain could very well be misunderstood, mis-represented and maligned in ways that will live a mark on us.

There is no church brand for that.

He did not retaliate when he was insulted, nor threaten revenge when he suffered. He left his case in the hands of God, who always judges fairly. 1 Peter 2:23

Something hopeful on a dreary winter day.

 

Photo of branding and glasses courtesy of Google images. Irish landscape, my own.

Video courtesy of youtube

Joy Sticks

It’s the week before Christmas and for what seems like the seventeenth time I’m propping up an outdoor decoration that keeps getting knocked down by the wind. Not to mention that I’ve also been running around the driveway in my slippers chasing the blown about fake poinsettias that I put in the window boxes this year because the winter berries were gone before I could get into the woods.

Sorry to Joanna Gaines and all the farmhouse purists out there.

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Earlier when I was trying to reflect on the reason for the season, I lit a Christmas candle to help me focus, but my thoughts drifted to the question of why, within the sphere of this entire universe, some people cannot seem to hang their coat in the closet instead of draping it over the dining room chair?

When I’ve questioned this, I’ve been given what some people think is a perfectly good explanation: I am just going to wear it tomorrow.

I think, well…I’m going to wear underwear tomorrow, too, but you don’t see me hanging it on the furniture. Do people even realize this draped clothing thing ruins the Christmas vibe I’m going for?

You know, deck them halls and all that stuff.
No, no, you don’t get it at all.
I mean Jingle Bells.
You know, Santa Claus and ho-ho-ho and mistletoe and presents to pretty girls.
(Charles Schultz- A Charlie Brown Christmas)

My house is finally twinkled, the cookies are about to be sprinkled and I’ve ordered a prime rib for the first time. Of course my husband wonders if it will be big enough to feed everyone (real meaning: will there be leftovers?), and can I guarantee that it will be cooked to the proper medium rare? Also, will there be rolls?

One, maybe.
Two, I hope so.
Three, only if the kids bring them.

I’ve stamped and tramped cards to the mailbox and I’ve mailed the one and only package I sent this year. I found the Christmas stockings. I added more lights by the stairs. I even got most of the wrapping done early.  I won’t be wondering at midnight on Christmas Eve where the tape went even though I set it down Right Here next to the scissors a second ago.

So why is it that I sometimes find myself barely hanging onto joy?

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I know that Christmas isn’t the source of my joy.

If anything, ’tis the season of striving for perfection and failing.

I know this.
I stopped Doing It All a long time ago.

Now I make Christmas cookies and string lights because I like to and because I think Christmas cookies are delicious and twinkle lights are pretty. But they don’t bring me the joy that I need like the air that I breathe.

Joy is like peace and hope. All three are a part of what we originally were to supposed to live with all the time, but joy and all the rest were stolen from us one day in a garden a long time ago. Ever since we are tempted to live toward sorrow and all that’s wrong.

Misery seems to be all over the place these days.

Case in point: Take the Misery Map. This is the name of the map you can check for delayed/canceled flights across the country. Never mind calling the airline. Just go get yourself some more misery by reading the Misery Map. Not only can you see where your miserable flight got messed up, you can see where everybody else’s miserable flight got messed up.

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Now I agree that air travel can be a pain. However, the reality is we are able to fly across the country in the time it takes me to make all of my Christmas cookies, burn two batches of caramel popcorn and frost the chocolate yule log.

We no longer have to plod through sod for several weeks in a covered wagon fending off rattlesnakes and having to bury the milk cow along the way. All before we’ve gotten out of Ohio. Don’t even think about California. You do know there was a time when hardly anyone made it over the Rockies, right?

The thing is, misery loves company, but no one loves misery.

Misery is like the lonely guy at the bar with his half-empty glass. No one really wants to sit with him, but too many of us raise our half-empty glasses to him with a nod and an amen whenever he laments about how terrible life is.

Don’t get me wrong.
Life can be terrible.

Charles Dickens didn’t sugar coat the realities of incredible hardship when he published A Christmas Carol 175 years, plus two days ago; a small book he hoped would infuse some joy into the bleak London landscape.

When we first meet the Ghost of Christmas Present, the joy he exudes has taken over the room. He is big and loud and full of color and sparkle.  Scrooge, like so many of us, stands dumbfounded at the jolly giant and seems to think this kind of joy is a bit over the top. This guy just may have a screw loose.

Real Joy is like that.
It doesn’t make sense.

Near the end of the chapter after walking through the sorrows of Scrooge’s grim and pinched life, we see the Ghost of Christmas Present has grown smaller, quieter, grayer.

Before he departs he gives Scrooge an unlikely gift.

Two twisted, broken children appear from beneath his cloak and Scrooge sees for the first time the raw reality of the human condition. Their depravity is hard to see. Scrooge asks who they belong to.

`They are Man’s,’ said the Spirit, looking down upon them. `And they cling to me, appealing from their fathers. This boy is Ignorance. This girl is Want. Beware them both, and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy, for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased.

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Scrooge was given the gift of awareness and the opportunity to affect change. In his life and in the lives of others. He was given a gift that goes above and beyond happenstance.

Because happiness depends on happenstance and happenstance is like cotton candy. Sugar on the tongue for a wee second, then it’s gone. This joy to the world we’re always singing about this time of year seems to flit around like a swirling snowflake, kissing our cheeks for a brief moment, only to melt away. This is what happiness is like, here one minute, gone the next, depending on whether you are enjoying a cup of hot chocolate watching It’s A Wonderful Life, or you’re running down the street chasing a fake poinsettia.

Joy is different. It doesn’t flit, it sticks.

It is rooted in the ground, into the fertile soil of our hearts, and nothing, no wind, no flight delay, no coats on chairs, no illness, no money, no death can uproot it. Joy is no sugar plum fairy. It is a forever thing and it’s not afraid to look pain in the eye. When it does, it points to his friend Hope, and Hope in turn points to the one Who came small and swaddled, kicking his feet in a feed trough. The savior of the world.

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We are invited into Joy and not just at Christmas. Any time, any place, we can accept the invitation to Joy, the invitation to Jesus.

We are invited into a big room of Joy Full Ness, where we can live out our days with the rock solid assurance that, no matter what happens in this life, we are deeply deeply loved. We can be joyful in the middle of pain and suffering because hope is our companion.

We can look trouble in the eye and smile with the gladness that can only come from knowing what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown. 

And there were in the same country shepherds, abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them! And they were sore afraid.

And the angel said unto them, “Fear not! For, behold, I bring you tidings o great joy, which shall be to all my people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ, the Lord. 

And this shall be a sign unto you: Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.” And suddenly, there was with the angel a multitude of the Heavenly Host praising God, and saying, “Glory to God in the Highest, and on Earth peace, and good will toward men.

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O come, O come, Emmanuel

And ransom captive Israel

That mourns in lonely exile here

Until the Son of God appear

Rejoice, rejoice, Emmanuel

Shall come to thee, O Israel

 

 

(Poinsettia, Ghost of Christmas Present and Misery Map courtesy of google images.)
The remaining photos are mine.

Reunion

It was misting on the way back to Maine.

The remnants from the rain that had begun earlier that morning in Massachusetts followed the car all the way up route 495.  It made for a dreary landscape.

As you crested the Kittery Bridge, the familiar sense of being home settled on you the way a down blanket does on a cold night. Twilight was descending and with the mist, visibility was poor. You couldn’t see far off, but it was okay. You were able make out the mile markers standing sentry along the guardrails letting you know you were keeping it between the ditches.

You haven’t always.

You’ve gone off course at times.  Your immaturity or your own willfulness took you down the road of your life a fair piece that wasn’t always good. You were forced to turn around and start over. Going off course, intentionally or not, leaves a mark.

Here’s the thing.

If you’re a human, you’re marked.  Sometimes they come early, but after forty years, no one is left unscathed.

When you’re seventeen you have no idea about any of this. Your life is still an open sea. The horizon looks good from seventeen.

On graduation day, when you moved your tassel from one side of your cap to the other like a bookmark moved to the next chapter, you had no idea where you would go, or what you would become.

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The radio kept you alert on the last leg home as you tried to stay focused through the windshield wipers sleepy rhythm.  It’s funny how a song comes on at the right time and says just what your heart was trying to put into words the last hundred miles.

You turned the volume up when you heard the familiar piano notes:

I’m sailing away set an open course for the virgin sea
I’ve got to be free free to face the life that’s ahead of me
On board I’m the captain so climb aboard
We’ll search for tomorrow on every shore
And I’ll try oh Lord I’ll try to carry on

For forty years you’ve tried to carry on and you bear the marks of doing so. There are lines on your face and a sag in your belly. The night you stood under the lights at the Knight’s of Columbus hall at your class reunion, silver and white strands shimmered from the top of your head. You are marked and so are the people you grew up with.

Standing with those who were once children with you is a sacred thing.

You shared the awkwardness and vulnerability of youth transitioning to adulthood with these people. Truly, no one was doing it well, despite what the prom pictures seemed to say.

You played with many of them.
You fought with a few of them.
You kissed a couple of them and to some you turned your immature cold shoulder.

You played four-square and roller skated and drank beer together, and you walked miles and miles through your town sharing your hopes and dreams with whomever would walk with you and listen to your goings on.

You cheered your voice raw at pep rallies and you sang fight songs at Thanksgiving Day football games. You held a day’s worth of school books in your arms navigating packed stairwells and you made out in the bowels of the school basement before the first bell.
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You ate the equivalent of your weight in Friendlies french fries and Harry’s Pizza and you thought nothing of the next forty  years. You were just one of a whole bunch of kids trying to grow up.

Then one day you all said good-bye.

I look to the sea reflections in the waves spark my memory
Some happy some sad
I think of childhood friends and the dreams we had
We live happily forever so the story goes
But somehow we missed out on that pot of gold
But we’ll try best that we can to carry on

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It seems so ordinary, going back home for a class reunion, but ordinary it is not.

Not when you look into the face of a classmate and you see the marks life has etched there. Not when you discover what they’ve gained. Not when you learn what they have lost. Life is good, but it also has a way of beating the snot out of you.

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Every one has a few ragged edges after forty years. You don’t know this when you’re seventeen.

On the day you and your classmates moved your tassels, you all wanted to live happily ever after. At seventeen, you know that fairy tales aren’t real, but youth still has you by the throat, so you wear hope like a coat. You are all sailing away from home for the first time and you are believing for calm seas.

Last Saturday you walked into a room full of people who may have navigated calm seas at times, but for many, it hadn’t been smooth sailing much of the time. But in that moment it was okay, because your lives had just intersected again and memories of youth came flooding back and what was shared together was what really mattered. So many memories, so many stories and so much laughter and then, suddenly,  gratitude came into the room.

Gratitude, because you discovered that you never were the captain of your life and that life really is sacred.  You were grateful because you got to intersect with those who shared your youth, kids who were just trying to grow up too.

Gratitude showed up, because despite the etchings on faces and the graying around temples, you knew there are still seas to be sailed.

It has been hard-wired into the human soul to be known and remembered.  It’s why class reunions can be so hard. Sometimes you are remembered and sometimes you are not. But this is why reunions are also good. Reunions can be the little joggle that’s needed for it to all come flooding back.

You remember.
And you are remembered.

You left the Knight’s of Columbus hall thankful that, these people, in big and small ways, were a part of your growing up. They knew you when.

You drove back to Maine reflecting on time gone by, so swift, like wind. Thankful for the threads of grace you see woven through your last forty years, and so grateful to the Captain of your soul who invited you to sail with Him.

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By the time you reached Portland, it had gone dark and lights from the oncoming traffic had sparkled up the roadway. You were tired, but you told yourself you were almost home.

Then the perfect song came on the radio. You turned up the dial and you began to sing, remembering all the words.

You sang loud.
Just like you did in high school.

A gathering of angels appeared above my head
They sang to me this song of hope and this is what they said
They said come sail away come sail away
Come sail away with me
Come sail away come sail away
Come sail away with me
Come sail away come sail away
Come sail away with me…