Saturday, January 27, 2024

He's Still There

I found a book a while back.
It's a kid's book modeled after the "Where's Waldo?" series.
Except, instead of looking for a tall, thin fellow in a striped shirt and stocking cap amidst 
a great, swarming mob, you're supposed to locate the artist's depiction of...get ready...Jesus.
It feels like a worthy process to just consider 
how Jesus might be part of our lives; where he might show up,
and how he might be seen, or maybe be there but unseen.
I believe we are mostly unaware that he is with us...most of our days.
Yet he promised us that once we invite him into our lives, it would be impossible to shake him, 
even if we tried.
Still...I think that the issue is less about geography and more about our peace of mind and spirit.
Looking for him in a drawing or picture is one thing, finding him in the middle of my messy life experience is another.
Yet, I think that's exactly where we need to experience him and where he wants most for us to seek after him.
In the middle of community injustices and disease.
In the middle of wars, and rumors of war.
Standing for the hurting, the lost, the disenfranchised.
In the midst of my personal confusion or...
In my immensity of grief. 
CS Lewis said, 

           "God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, 
               but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”

That really makes me go, "Hmmmmmmm."
I have a friend who wrote these words in song titled, "Broken Down," many years back, in reflection upon a cancer diagnosis that took his life at 23 years of age.

   "I think I know you're there, but I could really use a sign.
    And I think I'm doin' okay, but I could use some sleep tonight.
    I think that I'm working this out, but I could use some peace of mind.
    I don't think I've ever been this alone, I don't think I've ever been this alive."

These thoughts all reflect to me the presence of Jesus in moments of life that he may be difficult to be found and yet is absolutely available if I can sidestep those things that would distract me from his spirit.
Can I have one foot planted in the discomfort of my hurt and understand that while he doesn't 
remove me from that space and all its complications he will sustain me there?
I think so.
And I'm grateful for his hand in mine.
It means everything.
But in the moment....I can still hurt.
(Link to the song mentioned, "Broken Down" by Spencer Green)

Thursday, January 18, 2024

Tell Me A Story

A short memory; almost a dream came to me a few days ago.
It was in that sweet moment before the day begins and sleep was still trying to hang onto my body...

I was maybe four years old.
Sitting on my Grandpa's lap as he read me a book.  
It wasn't the first time, but it would be the last.
It was perhaps Dr. Seuss, but I'm not sure.
I remember the bright colors of the characters on the pages.
Short sentences.  Maybe six or eight words was all.
I remember the light from outside, spilling down on us through small, rectangular windows 
in a daylight basement.  The short staircase across from us, leading up to the mud-room on one side and the kitchen on the other.
Grandpa's shop was out the front door, a short distance away.  
There, the night before, under a tin-roof overhang we made ice-cream with a wooden bucket, a crank, rock-salt and a lot of tired arms putting in their time.
It was vanilla.
And it was good, but it took a long time for something you could get in a square box at the store, take home and eat right away. At least that's how it seemed to me, as a child.

I had learned to read myself, just a little bit, but Grandma or Grandpa reading to me
was always better, they sometimes did voices for the characters in the story.
That's the best.
As Grandpa was reading I began to notice that the story he was telling me wasn't the same as
what was printed.
On maybe the third page, I laughed and said, "Grandpa...that's not what it says."
He said, "Sure it is."
I said, "No it's not," still giggling.
He said, "How do you know?"
I said, "Because I can read some, and those aren't the words."
And he forced a smile and slowly closed the book.
"Nope," he said, "It's not the story you're reading, but it's the one I see."
He paused, looked down at the floor, and then said,
"You probably don't need Grandpa to read to you anymore, because you already know what it says."
He gently set me down off the bed, grabbed his work gloves, turned his back to me, climbed the stairs and was out the front door and headed to the barn before I even moved.

Today, I don't think that little boy was in the wrong.
Nor do I resent my Grandfather's response in any way.
He never mentioned that moment again, and we enjoyed a really wonderful relationship our whole time here on this earth.
I think the reason this memory has come back to me is less about blame or guilt and more about something else. 
Way back then...nearly 60 years ago, I didn't know what happened in that moment, but I knew that
something was changing, and at the least, it was awkward.
A long time later, I discovered that my Grandpa, 
in spite of all the amazing things he knew how to do...
He knew about cows: how to round them up, how to milk them, brand them, tag them, feed them, heal them, and bring them into the world.
He also knew the same about horses, pigs, ducks and chickens.
He knew about engines, all kinds: cars, tractors, trucks, mowers and could figure out why they didn't run right...and he would fix them for anyone who didn't understand what he knew.
He could fix clocks: the kind on the wall, the kind that would cuckoo, the kind that would strike a bell, sit on the mantle, stand in a corner, taller than I, or the ones that went on your wrist or in your pocket.
He could build a house, a barn, a fence or a corral.
In spite of all this that he did know...he never learned to read.  
He could write his name and not much else.
When he was quite young he went to work on his parents farm, and there was no time for "schoolin'" in his life from that day forward.  
So, the day he closed that book, it was an end to a thing we had shared and it never came back.
Even at four years old there was a sadness I felt and somehow I also knew Grandpa was embarrassed
but I didn't know why. 
I think that is part of the lesson in this memory today.  
How able am I to let go of what has been and find joy in what comes next?
He loved telling stories.
Fortunately, he kept telling them, they just didn't come out of books, they came out of his life.
AND this might be the other thing that I'm learning.
My favorite stories are the ones I hear about people themselves.
The story that they have seen and lived.
The truth of their moments.
The source of their hopes, passions and even their disappointments or rejection.
Oftentimes their story is very different than the one I thought I knew about them.
Sometimes they're revealed haltingly, with intense struggle or the converse, 
they are told without any feeling at all.
I have even heard some told with laughter in what felt to be wrong places.
Places where there was pain, and nothing that was funny at all; but there it was in their voice.
A concealer, a disguise, a mask.
Dr. Seuss was a good storyteller, but honestly, my Grandpa was better.
At least I'll always think so.
And I'm incredibly thankful for the stories that were his,
                                The ones that came out after he put the book down.